The headline quote by Susan Sontag (full quote is "Whatever is happening, something else is always going on."), remains one of the more illuminating bits of wisdom I have ever read. It means that whatever we may feel we know about a situation on the surface, there are hidden layers that we know nothing about.
Keeping this truth in mind can change how we relate to and understand the people with whom we work. Take the example of a web developer that my writing partner, Tim, told me about. This gentleman, who had previously been as reliable as the tide, was driving his employer to distraction with his erratic performance on a project. He missed deadlines, did substandard work and seemed lost. Rather than come down on him, his supervisor asked him if there was anything wrong that he needed to talk about.
It turned out that in recent weeks the developer had not only been dealing with his father having a painful and risky surgery, but had been undergoing tests for a possibly deadly form of cancer. By keeping in mind the "something else is always going on" rule, his boss avoided disciplining a valued team member who really needed support. An increased understanding gave this leader greater options for leading in a personally challenging time.
Every person has a backstory, and no leader-no matter how perceptive-can claim to have read every word of it. Better we should keep Ms. Sontag's wise words close at hand.
How would greater awareness and sensitivity to those around you change how you lead?