Vice President Biden tells a story of when he first entered the U.S. Senate, shortly after his 30th birthday. Upon his arrival, he tended only to see the differences between himself and many of his
Republican colleagues and quickly developed contentious relationships with those with whom he disagreed. Montana Senator and Majority Leader at the time, Mike Mansfield, took Biden under his wing and explained that in the Senate, “We have to work together despite our differences.” He told Biden that every Senator was elected by his constituents because those constituents saw something inherently good in that member. He challenged Biden to do the same – to find the good in each of his Senate colleagues, no matter how vehemently he may disagree with them. Biden followed that advice and rather than focus on partisan differences, he looked for common ground. By doing so, he discovered the good in each of his colleagues. Over time, despite a rough start, they discovered the good in him as well.
First impressions can be fraught with judgments about differences and unfair speculation about what motivates those differences. Too often, people don’t move past that stage, at least not very quickly or easily. Peer advisory groups are hard-wired for helping us seek out the good in others because it’s why we are there in the first place. We’re looking for the value our peers bring to the room. By listening, learning, and opening our minds to new ways of thinking, we see our peer group members for their pluses, rather than their minuses. Covey’s Habit #5, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” could not be more apropos. As peer advisory group members, we don’t look at others for what makes them different; we look at our peers with an eye for what makes them special. It’s a big reason peer advisory groups accomplish so much. And best of all, it influences the way we look at everyone in all aspects of our lives.
On Friday, I participated in a peer advisory group session with my marketing colleagues at Vistage. Everyone at that table is so special in his or her own right. They have so much to contribute, both to the individuals in the group and toward our common purpose as a leadership community. I learn so much every time I’m around them. It’s one thing to hear Joe Biden’s story and understand the lesson. It’s quite another to stick your hands in the clay, so to speak, as a peer advisory group member and experience it for yourself. It’s just one more reason this brand of interaction is so meaningful.
Imagine if we had a few Mike Mansfields coaching legislators on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill. If that happened, Congress might actually accomplish as much in 2012 as our group did on Friday.