Today’s post is the featured article from the May 2012 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.

john-newI see you. Simply put, it is a customary greeting in Central Africa. It is a brilliant recognition of the individual. The standard American greeting “How are you?” is often said without the intent of receiving a real answer … and even if genuinely requested, rarely is it authentically answered. I see you is actually meant! My research indicated that saying “I See You” means you recognize another as a person, as an equal, as a fellow human being, and as a friend.

I have never been to Central Africa, yet learned this beautiful custom right here in the USA from my work with the incredible organization of Best Buddies. Best Buddies, started by Anthony Kennedy-Shriver in 1989, creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Those with these disabilities are the “buddies.”

Each time I would speak at a national conference for Best Buddies, I would see a number of attendees wearing bright red t-shirts with white letters that simply said “I see you.” Nothing fancy. Simply stated. You see, in the world of Best Buddies, what you choose to see means everything. When volunteers are paired in one-to-one relationships with the “buddies” the lessons begin.

The question becomes … who really is the teacher?

Whenever I was invited to speak at a Best Buddies event, I was the one who left with another lesson learned. The “buddies” were masters at “seeing you.” And by their example I learned to open my eyes. I particularly remember Kevin. One year I was invited to speak to a group of about 15 “buddies” who were working on their presentation skills. I have never had an audience more attentive, more responsive, more grateful … or full of joy. Some of the participants in this particular session were to be selected to speak at the closing session of this national conference in front of about 1,500 people. I was the resident “professional speaker” to share a few tips. Kevin was working on his presentation when I asked him about his topic. He simply said, “I want to talk about the importance of looking at others’ abilities rather than their disabilities.”

Kevin knew what it was like to be seen for his disabilities.

Kevin revealed an important characteristic of a leader … an ability to look at others and be drawn to their abilities. Kevin knew this changes everything. We worked together on his speech over the next couple of hours. As we worked together, his presentation skills continued to improve … and I could see more clearly!

Often leaders become blinded along their journey. There are many species of this blindness. It comes in many strains, but all can be fatal to their ability to genuinely lead. Yet it doesn’t have to be.

That is, if they choose to see.

This is not a lesson that needs to be studied at Harvard or some expensive leadership retreat. You can easily learn it at a Best Buddies national conference when you are surrounded by a group of participants with “intellectual disabilities” and incredible vision!

I see you … I know, it sounds so cliché. So flavor-of-the-month. That is until you try it. You don’t have to change your words. Just change your approach. The next time you are in a meeting and you are frustrated with an opposing point of view … just think … I see you. When you are with your team and you are sharing your challenging expectations … just think … I see you. When you get home at night and greet your family … choose to see.

We talk a lot about the importance of vision in leadership. Vision is about the future. Seeing is about the present. And unless we learn to see, the vision may never become a reality. Because seeing is believing. And when a leader learns to believe in others anything is possible.