Watch the Feet

Discernment is a critical skill; in business, in entrepreneurship and in life. Knowing good people from bad people and what to expect from those around you can mean the difference between success and failure.

What is discernment?

It is perceptiveness and acuteness of judgement and understanding.

In this case, it is perceptiveness about people, the ability to discern integrity, authenticity, congruence with espoused values and stated intent. Most people experience discernment by its consequences, when trust is broken, hypocrisy is exposed or a call to action is met with procrastination. It is a critical entrepreneurial skill, both in self-appraisal and in the appraisal of others.

How Does One Get Discernment?

Discernment is a skill that is learned in trial and error and diligent practice over time. It is a skill that separates the smart, the intelligent and the knowledgeable from the wise, observant, practiced entrepreneurs. It is a skill that is worth a great deal of money, time and emotion.

Chances Are, You Know this

How many times have you seen or heard about someone saying one thing and doing another? Politicians come to mind right away. Bernie Madoff also comes to mind. How many times has this affected you? Perhaps an investment gone awry, or a boss ignoring your raise, or a friend lets you down, or a system fails to support your needs. The list is long. It's easy to be a victim. It's also easy to find oneself on the wrong side of this imbalance as well. How many times do you see and gloss over this "integrity gap" yourself?

Indeed, it is all around us. Performance management gurus teach doctrines of success with many different versions of how to avoid this by "Walking the Talk", or "practicing what you preach".

The problem with these simple aphorisms is that many people learn to rationalize their perspective in a coherent story to themselves and others, a persona, that is like cement. But their actual behaviors do not align with this story. The mouth says one thing and yet the feet say another, no matter what they try to do. Leaders do this all the time, in public (see "why does a dog lick its balls?"), and they are clueless that their incongruence is evident to many.

Have you ever heard the saying 'Do as I say, not as I do", which highlights the insincerity of a leader. It is also seen in entrepreneurs who suffer from "overpromoteritis, the tendency to stretch the truth in order to convince investors, stakeholders, colleagues and employees that things are better than they appear, or that the business plan is on schedule, the opportunity is bigger, or that the prototype actually works, etc. Resume "fluffing" is a generally accepted practice in dis-integrity.

But it is hard to recognize

It's particularly difficult to identify when someone is in "dis-integrity" because human nature is so fickle, cultural values are increasingly incoherent, and honesty and integrity are constantly pressured by social norms, unspoken taboos, neediness and social settings built upon confounding white lies. It is no wonder that people are commonly out of integrity with who they really are.

The question arises, "how does one ever know another's true colors?" A great way to test for this is to take someone to lunch, let them order, and then watch how that person treats the waiter.

Life Out of Balance

It's unfortunate that so many people are out of balance with themselves and that their mouths and feet do not line up. It's not necessarily anyone's fault. Our culture and our myths promote false personas. Everyone is taught, particularly in business, to be who they need to be (vs. who they are). This can be on a "career path", a "success path", an heroic entrepreneurial path, a tenure track, or a retirement track. Few are taught to pursue who they really are on a "life path". Few people are taught from an early age to simply "show up" and be authentic. So most practice some form of inauthenticity.

As a consequence many people are simply out of congruence with their espoused values. Indeed, many people don't know what their core values actually are. Hence, they waffle in uncertainty, without a compass in life to guide the alignment of their feet and mouth. Many people are trying desperately and passionately to be who they think they need to be, that they are not themselves. They are, without knowing it, passionately disingenuous, desperately out of integrity.

Leadership is on the Line

This creates a substantial problem, because everyone is a leader, in one form or fashion. And leadership is the most importance facet of our lives. And yet, one of the most critical elements to leadership is integrity, namely congruence of self. This is the hallmark of reliability, trust and longevity of leadership. Leadership is crucial to entrepreneurial success. But when the mouth and the feet do not line up, there is a "leadership gap", which inevitably leads to crisis.

This problem is both inward, as a leader, and outward in the other critical element of entrepreneurial leadership, namely discernment, the ability to judge others in order to avoid the consequences of others' "dis-integrity". If one is to be a success as an entrepreneur or a manager or even as a volunteer coordinator, then "people skills" are mandatory. Discernment is top on the list of people skills one must master in order to be effective. Entrepreneurs must ask the questions; "who do I trust; which employees should I hire, who is telling me the truth, which investors should I trust, which vendors should I use and how do I know who I should partner with, etc.? They must master discernment.

The dilemma is, "how do I do this?" "How do I practice integrity?" to survive as a leader, and "how do I practice discernment" to keep myself out of harm's way?

KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) - Watch The Feet!

It's very simple. Watch the feet. Practice listening to the mouth and then diligently watching the feet.

It may sound overly simple, but it is a highly effective tool. Much like a martial art, where continuous practice of small movements lead to the mastery of muscle memory resulting in effective mental and combat effectiveness, repetition of "watching the feet" leads to mastery of discernment of peoples' patterns of integrity (including self) resulting in greater personal integrity and leadership discernment skills.

A Small Discernment With Big Results

It may also seem small, but over time this tool has big results. It can be transformative, changing one's perspective on self and others, permanently.

But, be aware that transformation has consequences. Watching feet can result in enlightening perspective that reveals the true nature of what is going on around oneself. Lots of people lie, cheat, make excuses, obfuscate reality and abdicate leadership. Watching feet is a mastery skill that takes off the rose-colored glasses of idealism, replacing it with the often stark reality of awareness.

A Back Pocket Strategy

We teach mastery tools that anyone can carry around in their back pocket. These tools can be practiced at any time, anywhere on self and on others. These are Back Pocket Strategies for Success.

If you are experiencing an urge to "watch the feet", contact us, we can help.

Random Testimonial:

“I've known Stewart for several years, and worked with him jointly in consulting several of our clients. He is one of the most brilliant thinkers I've known. He has the innate ability to go both very wide and very deep with the clients he works. His work at helping them transform their businesses has been integral to their growth. I am proud to call him a friend and colleague.” June 29, 2008

Jack Rued, Managing Partner, OneCoach Consulting, OneCoach (colleague)