False reads and the human equation

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” - George Bernard Shaw

Not long ago, I went to see the doctor with chest pains. A few weeks before, I was down with the flu and couldn’t seem to shake the effects of a lingering and nagging cough. Thinking the cough was to blame for my chest pains, I went to the doctor in hopes of getting some relief.

Chest x rays came back clear but with a concerned look on her face, the doctor told me that my EKG came back abnormal.

“Have you ever had a heart attack in the past?” she asked with a stern face.

“Not that I am aware of,” I shot back.

“Well, according to the EKG, it says you have, and your heart skips a lot,” she responded.

With a referral in hand, I was left to my imagination as to when I may have ever had a heart attack in my past and was I in danger of having another before I could see the heart doctor? Needless to say, it was a long week of waiting coupled with many unanswered questions.

The visit to the heart doctor put my concerns (and my imagination) to rest. Not only did a new and more sophisticated EKG reveal no sign of a previous heart attack, it actually showed a heart that is in pretty good shape. As it turns out, the doctor explained, my first EKG was read by a computer, not a human. The doctor simply read to me what the computer said.

This experience served as a reminder to me of the importance of the human equation in leadership. Whenever leaders are content to settle for what’s seen on the surface we can miss important things that make a big difference. Here are a few good lessons for leaders going forward.


Sometimes your first read on the situations you deal with and the people you lead are not accurate. There’s always more to what meets the eye than you can see at the moment. Don’t be too quick to make judgments. Your snap decisions and assessments can be wrong. Better to take your time in making judgments than having to go back and clean up messes you made because of a false read. Doing so is a disservice to your people and a setback to your leadership.


Even the most well-intentioned leader can read situations wrong now and then. But a smart leader will surround him/herself with other leaders who have more knowledge in some situations that can be valuable. When in doubt, defer to others who can help you make more accurate assessments and decisions. This cuts down on unnecessary tensions and helps you avoid costly mistakes. Always give your people the benefit of the doubt and the benefit of your maturity.


While both doctors who attended to me were concerned, only one took the time (plenty of time) to talk to me, ask questions, gather history, and thoroughly explain things to me that made sense and put me at ease.

Your skill as a leader is developed not as you try to place everyone in a box and where relationships don’t exist. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

The human equation in leadership is as important as ever, if not more so. For all of our advancements in technology and communication, there’s just no substitute for building relationships the old fashioned way. It matters that much.

False reads happen to all of us. Second opinions strengthen us. Relationships empower us. Don’t ever underestimate the power of the human equation.

©2019 Doug Dickerson

Read more at https://www.dougdickerson.net/

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