Can’t We All Just Get Along?

When my son was 18 months old, we had him tested for autism.

He was slow on motor skills, had sensory issues, and, despite the fact that his playmates were already stringing together sentences, the only word he could muster was “Hi.”

Over and over again.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

The pediatrician called in two lab-coated autism experts to run a series of tests.

Does he accept help solving puzzles?

Can he transition to new activities without clinging to the old ones?

Does he get overly mad if his toys are taken away?

As a parent, there are few things more distressing than helplessly waiting on the sidelines for a diagnosis of your child.

Still, after about 30 minutes of tests, we were told that he “seemed fine.”

Exhale.

Cut to Christmas of that year and we’re visiting with my cousin, a psychologist with experience counseling children with special needs.

“I can tell you right now with no test that he’s not autistic.”

“How?” I said.

“Because he wants to develop relationships. People with autism struggle to see the difference between a person and an object like a chair.”

He went into to a deeper and more nuanced explanation than I’ll cover here but, suffice it to say, his observation kicked off a long discussion on the importance of people skills.

That was six years ago and, since then, not a day has gone by where I haven’t thought about the “soft” skill of relationship building.

Of course…. we all know it’s not soft.

Just look at Washington.

Because this week – thanks to the ladies – Congress b-a-r-e-l-y managed to pull up the plane right before it crashed into a mountain – and the root cause of it all?

You guessed it.

Inability to collaborate on puzzles.

Inability to transition to new activities without clinging to old ones.

Becoming overly mad if toys are taken away.

In short, a failure to develop relationships.

Simple as that.

Why is it we view coldness in children as a medical condition and a “strength” in adults?

Odd.

And yet, this is an opportunity – once again – to understand just how desperately we need leaders who get the power of self-awareness, communication, values, and interdependence.

In other words, leaders who develop relationships as opposed to simply viewing each other as objects along the path.

Hint for the relationally-challenged: You don’t have to be a badass. (Really, you don’t.)

Armor is not persuasive.

Harsh words are not inherently more believable.

And “cutthroat cultures” shouldn’t have to be navigated, they should be squashed.

This requires – what else? – leadership.

And rule number one isn’t to shout the loudest.

It’s to be someone others want to follow. 

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