The Oscar Pistorius trial is viewed by millions and has triggered a multitude of amazing emotions. These emotions vary from passionate judgement of guilt to turnaround assumptions as evidence was led and tested in court, to withholding of judgement until all the evidence is made available. The court case has still some way to go before we receive a verdict from the presiding judge and assessors. The purpose of this article is certainly not to prejudge the verdict but to comment on some key leadership principles that we as leaders may learn from the Oscar Pistorius trial. We believe that these principles are crucial to our progress as leaders in the workplace, home and society in general.
Closing the loop
Our day seems to consist of two major choices – those of making judgements of situations without all the facts, and those choices where we have the relevant facts at our disposal. Wisdom is about a third choice – that of deciding that choices and opinions do not need to be made until we know the facts. Peace of mind is found in the humility to close the loop before making judgemental choices.
Leadership is about closing the loop before making decisions.
It is quite amazing how many harsh judgemental comments are being made of Oscar’s guilt and motivations before we have access to all the evidence from both sides of the proceedings! Oscar may be found guilty or not guilty on the various charges against him, but the issue of leadership is how this trial reveals our general inclination to jump to conclusions and judgment before the loop has been closed.
How does the reader rate him or herself in terms of making judgements before closing the loop?
Remember the old cowboy movies where the bad guys stampede hundreds of cattle over the prairies? Emotional stampedes occur when our judgments run away with us and we may find ourselves in dangerous space. During one day of the Oscar court proceedings evidence was led by a police internet expert who extracted more than a thousand electronic messages from cell phones found on the scene. He then read out four of these messages of communication between the deceased and the accused. These four extractions gave indications of bad feelings that the deceased may have felt towards the accused. One of the messages contained a message: ‘You frighten me sometimes’. Leading newspapers all over the country had front page headlines: ‘You frighten me’ leaving out the ‘sometimes’.
The next day the expert continued his evidence and was then asked by the defence to read out multiple other communications that indicated a loving relationship between the two. The emotional stampede of the previous day suddenly seemed very presumptuous and possibly irresponsible.
The race horse and the pig
It is worthwhile repeating the story of the race horse and the pig.
While on holiday with my wife in the Golden Gate a friend told me the following story. ‘A wealthy farmer decided to invest in a very expensive race horse which he imported from overseas for over R20 million. Soon after the horse arrived on the farm he became very sick. The vet was called in, yet the horse seemed to grow worse. Eventually he became so ill that he could not stand on his feet. It reached the stage where it became clear that they would have to shoot the horse.
The pig overheard the conversation and he called upon the horse and told him his life was in deadly danger. The pig desperately urged the horse to get a grip and start to exercise, but the horse felt too ill to respond. The next day the pig overheard the farmer and vet once again evaluate the condition of the horse and they decided that he would have to be shot the next day.
The pig once again ran to the horse and urged him to please get going and prove to the farmer that he would be OK. The horse was too despondent to respond.
The dreaded deadline day arrived and the pig once again urged the horse to respond. He nipped him on the leg; he tugged him by his tail. Eventually the horse responded sluggishly and the pig led the horse onto the practice pasture. As he felt the grass under his feet, something inside the horse responded. He was a champion racehorse! He started trotting and eventually the trot turned into a gallop. He could feel his confidence returning in his veins.
The farmer was in his study, feeling despondent after making final arrangement to have the horse shot. When he came outdoors, he saw the race horse galloping around the paddock. He was amazed and delighted. He immediately phoned the vet: ‘Thank you so much, Frank, your treatment has kicked in. The horse is galloping and seems to be miraculously better. We are going to hold a party to celebrate the good news! Please come over. I know you like pork. We have a nice juicy pig that we can slaughter for the party.’
How often have we been the innocent pig in the story? How often do you and I make snap judgements that judge other people harshly?
The legal process in our country
The Oscar trial is an expensive exercise that is costing the accused and the tax payer millions of rand. As citizens of our democratic country we may appreciate the principles that govern our legal system. It is built around hundreds of case histories and legal experience from all over the world and it is designed to be fair. We may differ on the question whether the practice of our legal system is really fair to all concerned, but as leaders we should appreciate the guiding principles that drive our legal system.
The principle of closing the loop by listening to both sides of the argument is applicable not only in our courts of law but is relevant in all our daily workplace and home situations.
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