Do You Hear What I Hear?

Henry Kissinger is famous for saying that one of the most difficult things for a young leader to do is to “speak truth to power;' to go up the power gradient with information that is contrary to what the hierarchical, authoritative, and referent position believes to be true.

There is inherent organizational danger when communicating things to a leader that they may not be seeing:

  • You could be rejected, which leads to embarrassment.

  • You could be dismissed, which leads to self-doubt.

  • You could be humiliated, which leads to isolation.

  • You could be discounted, which leads to demoralization.

Alternately, there is huge upside in communicating to a leader what they are not seeing in the moment:

  • You could be celebrated for the input.

  • You could be included in the decision-making process.

  • You could be honored for your courage.

  • You could be valued for your contribution.

Whether a reality or a figment of our imagination as a young leader, “speaking truth to power” can be overwhelming. This is the risk tension that the young leader must face.

Receptivity of the Leader

No matter the current stage of our leadership journey, we have all been there at some point and can relate to emotion of the young leader when faced with the risky decision to “speak truth to power.”

However, it could be argued that the senior leader has even more at stake.

Unless they create a safe environment in which others feel the freedom to share, the senior leader runs the risk of missing key information that may never find its way to them. With that in mind, much of the burden falls on the senior leader to create an atmosphere that mitigates the risk for the young leader.

How are you doing in this area?

5 TIPS FOR CREATING A CULTURE THAT HEARS

Here are my top 5 tips for leaders who want to improve their chances of hearing the information they need in order to make informed decisions and lead well:

  • Slow down your cadence.

    Most of the leadership mistakes I have made were because my world was moving too fast and I did not slow down in order to see more possibilities. The faster I went the more convinced I became that I was right, and the further away I got from the truth. Take a deep breath, count to 10, sip a warm beverage, pray, do whatever you need to do in order to slow your pace.

  • Become curious.

    Suspend your need to be right and work really hard to understand an alternate position. Before you jump to a conclusion or shoot down an opposing opinion, spend some time to discern the message they are bringing to you.

  • Always say thank you.

    You would be surprised how often I observe leaders who turn and walk away from an interaction without expressing gratitude. Very rarely, if ever, is their intent to be unkind or degrading, however, the pressure of the moment takes the brain to the next thing rather than allowing them to focus on being fully present in their current interaction, with awareness and sensitivity to the needs of the relationship. Researchers at USC found that simple acts of gratitude provide benefits ranging from feelings of reward and satisfaction to simply helping people to hold on to their humanity. Try the simple act of saying “thank you” more often and see how it might contribute to more open communication.

  • Spend time reflecting.

    At the end of your day, take the time to review. Play back the interactions you had with others, resisting the temptation to become defensive. Ask yourself questions such as, I wonder what they were really trying to ask me? Why did I feel such a strong need to defend myself? Why did I feel such a strong need to exert power in the moment? What unintended consequences could my actions have? Be honest with yourself as you learn and grow from the challenges and successes.

  • Do the inner work of developing your soul.

    Psychology data says you are as intelligent right now as you will ever be. Your personality is fully formed, so you know if you are extroverted or introverted. You have most of the skill you will ever need. With that in mind, what is your next step in development? Could it be that you need to work on developing the soul of your leadership?

HOMEWORK

Pick one of the 5 tips above and work on it every day for a week. For example, in every personal interaction and every email you send, say “thank you." Work on making your attitude heartfelt, and let me know what outcomes you see. I’d love to know how these tips contribute to more open communication within your team or organization.

To Thine Own Self Be...Authentic?

To Thine Own Self Be...Authentic?

Self-expression is an element of emotional intelligence that is often misunderstood.

What Do Followers Want From Their Leaders?

I have been thinking a lot recently about the dynamic relationship between leaders and followers. Primarily, my thoughts have centered around the fundamental concept of what it means for someone to lead me and what words best describe me as a follower, what I want a leader to contribute to my life. I don’t expect that what I am about to share will rock your world in any way. In fact, prior to reading on. why don’t you answer these questions for yourself, and then compare your thoughts to mine?

  • What does it mean for someone to lead me?
  • What word or words best describe what I want a leader to contribute to my life?

Let me tackle the second question first:

Contribution

As I spent some time contemplating what I want a leader to contribute to my life, these four things came to mind:

  • Trust in the vision they are creating. I think there is an inherent assumption that if I am going to allow someone to lead me in some way, then I am going to invest my time, talent, and/or my resources working toward whatever picture of the future they have. For me, if I am allowing someone to have influence over my life in any substantial way, I have to have some assurance that they are credible and have access to the knowledge and skill to get us moving toward our desired future state.
  • Hope that the future is safe and abundant. While risk is inherent in any leader-follower relationship, I do think the Hippocratic Oath has merit not only in medicine but in leadership: First, do no harm. Resilience and optimism are both integral parts of the faith that we all put in leaders that have influence over us. We do not expect them to be perfect. It is reassuring that as we journey we will do it together and watch out for each other.
  • Love me for who I am and how I was created. I am not talking about romantic love, but a brotherly love. A kind of love that recognizes the influence a leader has over me and yet respects my value and recognizes how I fit into the organization. No matter what happens this leader will have my back and I have theirs. This love values my strengths and accepts my weaknesses, a love that shows compassion.

How about you? What words did you come up with that you want a leader to contribute to your life?

As I reflected and examined the question above I noticed that in each of the descriptions I wrote another word kept surfacing that is a perfect one-word description of what it means for someone to lead me:

Influence

Influence is the sum of positive (I choose to focus on positive rather than coercive) behaviors that you as a leader exhibit that have an impact on the choices I have as a follower.

As a leader, you have a vision you are trying to implement, and an idea for how to get there. As a follower of yours, I recognize that you have some kind of authority over me. You don’t need to flaunt it. You have some idea about the direction you want all of us to go. You recognize that we have choices and hence you must be adept at getting your vision clearly articulated. You must be skilled at getting your thoughts and ideas integrated and communicated into the social structure of the organization. Influence is the idea that I “buy in” to your thoughts and ideas and am choosing to come along with you. As time moves on you continue to have some degree of power over my choices in the form of increasing my faith, knowledge, experience, and my integration into the community you are leading. As leaders, we must never forget that while it may seem desperate at times for some followers, they do have a choice whether to remain under your leadership or not.

Influence is the idea that I “buy in” to your thoughts and ideas and am choosing to come along with you. As time moves on you continue to have some degree of power over my choices in the form of increasing my faith, knowledge, experience, and my integration into the community you are leading. As leaders, we must never forget that while it may seem desperate at times for some followers, they do have a choice whether to remain under your leadership or not. As a follower of yours, I really desire to align myself with the social norms you create. You don’t need to degrade me in public. As your follower, I know you are going to do things for me and expect things in return. Share what you expect and then work with me to see if I can hit your expectation.

What Is Your Influencing Style?

As you might have guessed, psychologists have been studying this idea of influence for almost 100 years. While some of the terms have evolved, the ideas supporting the original make-up of what it means to influence have remained fairly constant.

Using an Influencing Styles Inventory Assessment leaders can discover the style they prefer to use most often, the benefits of that style, and some of the traps that overuse or misuse can cause.

Click here to download a free example of an Influencing Style Assessment

This Influencing Style Assessment gives leaders the opportunity to obtain a certification to use with followers in their organization. This certification gives leaders and coaches a tool to find ideas and strategies for those in those in their sphere of influence to make them more effective.

Using The Influence Style Indicator

Angela is a new member of my team who is responsible for our marketing and social media efforts (you are reading this article, thanks to the hard work of Angela to get it out over many different media platforms.)  I asked Angela to take the assessment and answer some questions about the Influence Style Indicator so you could learn more about it

Angela, How easy was this assessment to take and how long did it take you to complete it?

It was very easy, I received an email with a link directly to the assessment, and I completed it in about 15 minutes.

What is one thing that you learned about yourself from the assessment that you didn’t already know?

I learned that it does not come naturally to inspire others when I am trying to influence, and I actually learned that I was wrong about what I thought it meant to inspire others with my influence.

How do you see using this assessment as you influence others on our team?

I want to be more inspiring when influencing our team. The assessment showed me what it means to inspire with influence, which brings unity to a team. I was given many practical examples for how to inspire in a constructive way that moves things forward. I learned that even though the style of influence I most often tend to use is in making rational appeals for why my leadership should be followed, I really feel that inspiration is something I'd like to work into my influence style. I would love to be someone who leads others in ways that make them feel hopeful about not only my leadership but also their personal well-being.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to be more influential as a leader in their organization?

After taking this assessment, I would tell someone who wants to be more influential that they should really listen to themselves more closely when they are presenting their opinion on anything, not just in the workplace. Good influence is not just self-aware but requires a thoughtful care that often comes out through our words. There are many ways to influence, negative and positive, and when we are trying to influence others to go along with our plans, we can get so caught up in wanting to get our way that we do not stop to think about the best way to go about making that happen, and how to behave if that does not happen.

If you are interested in learning more about this assessment and how it can be valuable to your organization or your practice as a coach we would love to connect with you. 

When Negative Self-Talk Creeps In

A good friend of mine (and an avid reader and commenter on this blog,) Ken, submitted my name as a speaker for an organization he is affiliated with. He emailed me asking if I would consider giving a talk and facilitating a dialogue on the value of emotional intelligence (EI). I am always humbled when anyone thinks that I might have something valuable to say when it comes to EI. It is one of my favorite subjects to talk about, and I often use the EQi 2.0 in training programs I do and with almost every coaching client I work with does a self-assessment that shows them what their leadership habits may appear like to others.

Now, here is what you need to know about Ken. His job is to serve as a hospice chaplain in Polk County Florida. His request was for me to come and speak to a group of his peers and his boss on the subject of how EI can be of value to a hospital chaplain.

Gulp! I have to admit, the email produced mixed feelings in me. Like I said above, I was humbled for sure, but scared out of my pants as well. Hospice chaplains...really?! While I might know something about EI, my immediate “knee-jerk” reaction was, I don’t know anything about hospice chaplains!

Then the negative self-talk started to creep in:

  • You’re no expert in hospice care.
  • What do you know about how to fit EI into their world?
  • You have never even studied EI in this context, what if there is no data?
  • Your not a very good public speaker.
  • Maybe you should call him up and back out.

Now, am I the only one this happens too? When you are hit with a complex, tension-filled situation what do you do? Do you immediately become filled with fear, anxiety, and self-doubt? How do you stop the negative self-talk from creeping in and taking over your thinking?

Here is a quick and easy method that I use when this happens to me: I use an acronym I call "STOP." It is a four step method that helps me turn my negative thinking into a more positive and constructive use of my time and energy.

STOP

Stop: Do something to interrupt the cycle of negative thinking.

Take a deep breath: Breathing relaxes your tension, releases dopamine, and calms you down to think more clearly.

Other focused: Exercise empathy and become curious about what it is like to be in the other person's shoes.

Purpose a question: Asking questions can have a calming effect and bring you more into a zone of safety than one of fear.

Here is how the model helped me get rid of the negative thinking and increase my confidence in this situation:

When I first noticed the negative thinking creeping into my mind with the thought, you’re no expert in hospice, I should have taken the time to put this model into effect. Unfortunately, even though I teach this stuff, I got all the way down to, maybe you should call him and back out before I put this into practice.

Stop: Psychologists call this pattern interrupt. I noticed the negative thinking and I did something physical to draw attention away from the negative thought. In this case, I was sitting down when I read the email. When I finally noticed the negativity, I stood up. I concentrated on doing something different. Distract yourself away from the source of negativity.

Take a deep breath: When I stood up, I took several yoga style breaths. Focused on bringing my belly button to my spine. I actually could feel myself starting to calm down. This is often when I will also say a prayer, asking God for wisdom as I navigate these treacherous negative waters. I distracted myself from the negativity for a moment. That is the goal with this step.

Other Focused: I tried to take the thoughts off of myself and my shortcomings. I put my thoughts onto Ken and his team instead. I began to think, what might they need from a model like emotional intelligence? What value could it bring them? Notice the questions starting to form when I start to turn my thinking from self-referential to other-focused.

Purpose a question: I crafted an email back to Ken asking him, what are some common situations that hospital chaplains find themselves in where they need more EI? What had other speakers done that the chaplains found valuable? How had he used EI in his work as a hospice chaplain?

I noticed, then, that my fear and anxiety were dissipating into curiosity. I was moving from a lack of self-consciousness into a state of confidence by focusing on the value I could bring to this group of dedicated servants.

Self-Actualization and Optimism

According to authors Steven J. Stein and Howard E. Book, EI always exists in balance. This is pretty easy to see when we think about a leader who is very self-confident but lacks any empathy or interpersonal ability. We often put a label on a leader who has this balance of qualities as being someone who is arrogant at best, and a real narcissist on the more clinical side of the psychology

In my case, I am usually a fairly self-perceptive person. This means that in part, I get a lot of meaning and purpose out of my life and the work I do. This is a real strength for me.

Most of the time I am optimistic, which means I have a positive outlook on the future and am fairly resilient in the face of setbacks. However, this ability can come into question, especially when fear or anxiety enter the stage. My optimism can turn into a negative downward spiral of self-critical thinking.

What I need when I am faced with these fears and anxieties is to balance my self-actualization and my waning level of optimism.

The STOP model helps me to put the brakes on the negative thinking, so I can use all the meaning and purpose I get in my life to teach and coach emotional intelligence, regaining my level of optimism.

I am happy to report that Ken and I have a call scheduled to talk through what value EI can bring to the hospice chaplains and the talk is scheduled for mid-April.

Homework: Where do fear and anxiety creep into your leadership? Can you anticipate when these events occur? When you feel your thoughts going negative, try using the STOP model to see if it can bring you back into emotional balance.

Are You Listening to This Voice In Your Leadership?

Every leader needs a voice who will speak truth to and help them see things that are not obvious. Henry Kissinger is famous for saying that one of the most difficult things for a young leader to do is to “speak truth to power;' to go up the power gradient with information that is contrary to what the hierarchical, authoritative, and referent, position believes to be true. We have all been there at points and felt the emotion of that moment. There is inherent organizational danger in communicating things to a leader that they are not seeing in the moment:

  •  You could be rejected which leads to embarrassment
  •  You could be dismissed which leads to self-doubt
  •  You could be humiliated which leads to isolation
  •  You could be discounted which leads to demoralization

The young leader has information that someone in a decision-making position needs to hear, and is frozen in the moment by these potentially negative outcomes.

The other side of the proposition is, all things being equal, there is huge upside in communicating to a leader what they are not seeing in the moment:

  • You could be celebrated for the input
  • You could be included in the decision-making process
  • You could be honored for your courage
  • You could be valued for your contribution

Whether a part of reality or a figment of our imagination as a young leader “speaking truth to power” can seem overwhelming. This is the risk tension that the young leader faces. Some of the mediators that go into the “speak truth to power" equation are:

  • Culture of the organization-What is the level of freedom that truly exists for information sharing?
  • Young leaders' personal-risk tolerance-Where do they fall on a spectrum between “wary” and “adventurous”?
  • Receptivity of the leader to feedback-What is the historical behavior elicited when contrary opinions have been shared?

Receptivity of the Leader

I think we can all pretty easily agree that the young leader when faced with a decision to speak truth to power, has a burden that can feel like wearing a shirt made of lead.

However, as more senior leaders in organizations, how much of the burden falls on us to create an atmosphere where much of the risk is mediated for a young leader? How much of the responsibility is ours to create the environment in which others feel a freedom to be able to share?

I argue that much of the speaking-truth-to-power-dichotomy rests not in the hands of the deliverer but the receiver. And yet the senior leader is the one who often times has the most to lose by missing key information that was never brought to them. In the fast-paced, get it done now, microwave culture that organizations exist in today many of us cave into our survival reptilian brain that tells us to do whatever we can to survive.

Many times these environmental and personal factors are not acting in our favor. As leaders, we have to put effort into creating a persona and a culture so that the voice we need to be able to hear in our organization comes through.

5 Actions you can work on today

Here are my top 5 tips for leaders who want to improve their chances of hearing all the information they need to hear to be able to make an informed decision:

  • Slow down your cadence-Most of the leadership mistakes I have made were because my world was moving fast and I did not slow down to see more possibilities. The faster I went, the more convinced I became that I was right, and the further away I got from the truth. Take a deep breath, count to 10, silently sing a familiar tune very slowly (I like; “Row, row, row, your boat), pray, do whatever you need to do to slow your reality down.
  • Become curious-The practice is to suspend your need to be right or heard and to work really hard to understand the other person's position. Before you jump to conclusion or shoot them down because of what you know that they don’t, spend some time to really discern the message they are bringing to you.
  • Always say thank you-So before it feels like I am your mom or kindergarten teacher, just hear me out. You would be surprised at how often I observe leaders in interactions where they turn and walk away without expressing gratitude. I don’t think it is an intent to be mean or degrading, the pressure of the moment takes the brain to the next thing rather than finishing the relationship with the current interaction. Researchers at USC found that simple acts of gratitude provide benefits ranging from feelings of reward and satisfaction to just helping people to hold on to their humanity.
  • Spend time reflecting- At the end of your day take the time to review the day. Play back the interactions you had with others. Resist the temptation to become defensive and ask yourself questions like:  I wonder what they were really trying to ask me?  Why did I feel such a strong need to defend myself?  Why did I feel such a strong need to exert power in the moment?  What unintended consequences could the action I took cause?
  • Do the inner work of developing your soul- The psychology data says you are as intelligent right now as you will ever be. Your personality is fully formed, so you know if you are extroverted or introverted. You have most of the skill you will ever need. So what is your next step in development? Do you need to work on developing the soul of your leadership?

If any of you would be interested in joining a group on what it means to develop the soul of the leader send an email to Info@DrScottLivingston.com. My assistant will coordinate a time for us to talk about your interest and what a group like this will look like.

Homework:

Pick one of the 5 Actions above and work on it every day for a week. For example, in every personal interaction and every email you send, say “thank you." Work on making your attitude heartfelt and not rote. If you try any of these let me know how they go for you, I would love to hear.

Is This Leadership Question on Your Mind?

It happens every year. Around the second week in January, just when I am recovering from my holiday vacation, my lovely wife of 32 years will ask me a very pointed question. It is a question that comes from her desire to know me and connect more deeply with me. Her question is:

“Scott, what is your word for the year?”

The answer gives her peace about where I am in life. I do not see it as a nagging question. Her intention is not meanness, nor is it meant to put me on the spot, although, it is direct. Her intention is to to get me to focus. To be honest, I like the question, it is deeply reflective of where I am at the moment, and what I am thinking about our future.

If you read this column with any regularity, you know I like to talk and write on a number of leadership-oriented topics. I am interested in many things. I love sports, reading,  running and walking, and sitting around. I like sushi and steak (hamburgers are my favorite!) I listen to smooth jazz and “that Old Time Rock and Roll.” I love God, and people who screw up all the time. I guess you could say I am a classic Jack of all Trades, Master of None. I tend to bounce around a lot.

That said, it is totally fair that my wife wants to focus my attention. She deserves to know a single avenue I am going to go down in any given year. What am I going to concentrate on? What can she ask me about from time to time to see how I am doing?

In years past I have had words like:

Family Vacation Perform Read Persevere Wisdom

Last year my word was commit. I had a lot of business opportunities, and I really needed to focus on the next step to take in growing my business. The biggest need I had to meet as a leader was to commit to something and stick with the plan. I am the kind of guy who has an idea for a new book about twice a day, but who gets bored easily so that the book I thought about writing in the morning doesn’t seem nearly as interesting as the book I thought about writing in the afternoon.

2016 was a year I needed to commit to something and see it through to the end.

Powerful Leadership Question:

Why is having a Word For The Year such a powerful concept?

Perhaps the idea is best summed up by something I read recently about presidential inauguration speeches. After analyzing all the inauguration speeches given by the 44 U.S. presidents, researchers found an inverse correlation between the length of the speech given and the historical success of the president. In simple terms, the shorter the inaugural speech, the better the president. For example, Washington’s second speech came in at just 135 words. Jefferson, Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson all are credited with short speeches. After a quick Google search, I found that the longest speech belongs to William Henry Harrison who spoke for 1 hour and 45 minutes using over 9,000 words. He also delivered the address in a snowstorm, came down with pneumonia, and died a week later.

Brevity Has its Benefits

A Word of the Year can be a pin-pointed theme for your year. These attributes are what I look for when I am choosing my Word of the Year.

  • Focused. This word keeps me grounded and centered. Since I have such an ability to stray off topic and chase rabbits down trails, The Word For the Year gives me a central point to return to often.
  • Measurable. I can easily set goals around my word of the year. This allows me to be intentional and look for examples of how I am displaying my commitment in my life.
  • Simple. Since it is only one word, I do not get distracted by complicated plot twists. It is easy for me to remember what I am trying to focus on in that given year.
  • Memorable. While I am not completely losing my mind (some on my staff might disagree with this,) I find that it is easier and more efficient to search my mind for one word I want to remember than for some phrase or quip.
  • Communicable. My word of the year is easy for me to communicate to others. The message is much less likely to get lost in translation if I keep my thoughts to one word.

My Word for 2017

This year the focus of my leadership life is contentment.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear this word? Lazy? Complacent? Comfortable? Peaceful?

For some, this word probably sends shivers up your spine. You may be saying something like, “interesting word for a guy who runs his own business!”

However, when I was researching this word I started with its definition. Contentment is defined as a state of happiness and satisfaction. This does not mean that I stop trying, it does not mean I won't try my very best. In our company, we have adopted a verse from the Bible that says, “Whatever you do, work at it as for the Lord and not for men.” It reminds us that we need to have an attitude that reflects the work we do, which has an element of spirituality to it.

So, in no way does the word contentment mean complacent, or indifferent, or even comfortable!

What it does mean to me is that at the end of the day, when I finish the work I set out to do, or even if I don't get everything done that I hope to….I will be content. When I really want to meet with someone for an hour, but who only has 15 minutes instead, I will be content with the time I get. If I put a bid in on a project I really want to do and I don’t get the work, I will be content.

My real goal here is to put my very best effort in, knowing that I can be happy knowing I did my best. I don’t think contentment excludes self-examining where I could do better, nor does it mean accepting mediocrity. That is not my best. I will NOT be content if I do something without giving it my all.

The reason I chose contentment as my word of the year is to remind me that if I have done a good job, finished the race, and done the best I could with the talent and effort I have, then I should be content.

Homework:

What is your word of the year? Have you ever thought through something like this? What kind of focus would this bring to your leadership life if you committed yourself to defining your year by one thing? Comment with your word and definition below so that we can connect throughout the year about how our words of the year are shaping us in 2017!

Do You Make These Mistakes in Leadership?

I was having a conversation with a really close friend the other day. This person is a high-level leader who has a lot of autonomy in his role. He can make many decisions that can affect many lives. His board of directors gives him a lot of latitude to direct the vision and mission of his organization. His team loves working with him.

He knows leadership. He not only articulates this in the way he speaks, but I can see the actions of his life. He is:

  • Self-aware and others-aware.He knows his strengths and weaknesses, and is not afraid to admit when he doesn't know something. He is keenly aware of how others are presenting themselves.
  • Communicates vision. He repeats the vision for his organization over and over and over. I mean, if you are part of his group and cannot articulate what the organization is about, then you must be trying not to understand. You might not like it, You might not agree with it, But there is one thing for sure…You HAVE HEARD IT!
  • Displays cognitive and emotional intelligence. He is smart enough to be in his role and knows when his emotions are in play and how to manage them.
  • Balances task and relationship. He realizes that leadership is about both Leaders have followers and they need to work together to create the organization's vision.
  • Understands positives and negatives of culture. He knows that culture has both cool stuff about it and warts, and that is all just part of the cultural paradox.
  • Change Matters. He moves his team forward because he knows if he stands still, they become irrelevant. He is keenly aware of dynamics of change like conflict, stress, and speed.
  • Strategic and systematic thinker. He has a strong ability to know what the root issue is that needs to be addressed. He listens compassionately to all concerns and can keep his team focused on what the whole organization needs.
  • Spiritually connected. He interacts with people showing both grace and mercy at appropriate times and has a strong moral compass.

He both knows leadership and acts as a leader. As you can tell, I am a fan. I am not in any way saying he is perfect, just that when it comes to leadership he really gets the core essence.

The Conversation

Our dialogue was actually quite short. Neither of us had much time that day, but the conversation was about something very important to both of us. We both are members of an organization that is struggling. Its current leadership has been in place for a few years.

Leading this organization is in no way easy. What is easy is to sit back (like I am doing) and be critical.

My intention is not to be negative or critical but to turn some of our observations of this organization into a learning moment for all of us.

Here are 5 leadership mistakes we quickly identified. Perhaps you could use this list as a reflection of where you are in your own leadership.

The Mistakes

  • Personal Agenda. The leader has become emotionally attached to his initial vision and doesn’t seem to be allowing himself the capacity to learn.
  • Incremental Change. The leadership team has gotten into the weeds of the change that is needed. They are too focused on the tactics of making the change happen rather than staying strategic and delegating. This is causing the change to be micromanaged and blame is starting to occur.
  • Spirit of Defensiveness. When strategy gets questions and an answer is given confidently. When people want more depth, the same answers are given only louder and with more extraversion. This behavior is turf-protection rather than a spirit of openness and curiosity.
  • Vision possibility. While the vision for the organization is inspirational, it is one that is hard to relate to the practical. While inspiration carries with it emotion and cultural comfort, a vision has to do more than give a feeling of eating “Momma’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes." George Bernard Shaw gets attributed with one of my favorite vision quotes that makes the distinction between inspiration and possibility: “you see things; and you say, ‘why'. But I dream things that never were; and say 'why not!’.”
  • Lack of personal awareness. Perhaps the biggest issue is that many people tell this leader he is great all the time. I think he has started to believe it. While I am sure he feels some pressure in the role, my concern for him is that he is falling prey to the invulnerability fallacy.
  • The invulnerability fallacy. Because he has risen to the top, and many in the organization were excited he took the role, nothing can go wrong for him.

Self-Check

It is good for all of us to get really honest with ourselves from time to time. If you are sitting there telling yourself, “Well none of this happens to me so I am doing well," then perhaps you are suffering from the fallacy of thinking that you are all-knowing. I think as leaders we need to constantly be challenging ourselves across a number of leadership domains.

I think as leaders we need to constantly be challenging ourselves across a number of leadership domains. This is one of the reasons that coaching is so important. Every leader needs to have a voice who will speak truth to them. Who can help them see things that are not obvious. It is very difficult for someone who is internal to the organization and wants to stay, to deliver meaningful, long-term feedback. Once in awhile, someone will speak one word of truth, but very few will have the intestinal fortitude to continue on. This is one of the real values that coaching can bring. Hopefully, you are working with a coach, and this coach is providing you the challenge you need in your leadership life.

Every leader needs someone in their life who will keep them honest and humble, who doesn’t have much to lose in delivering bad news, a trusted voice who can lead the leader out of the wilderness, someone you can put your faith in because you know they have your best interest in mind.

Homework:

I have given you 8 positive leadership dimensions and 5 things that can go wrong in leadership. Do a reflective assessment of your own leadership. Not that these two lists are in any way definitive, but use them to think, reflect, and assess what your leadership looks like. Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. 

What Advice Would You Give to This First-Time Leader?

As a part of my personal morning routine, I try really hard to spend at least 30 minutes in reflection, meditation, and prayer. I have been using a book recently to assist me in this quiet time called “40-Day Journey with Parker Palmer." The thing I like most about Palmer’s writing is the powerful way he provides insight into paradox. For example:

  • The inner life and the outer life
  • The darkness in the world and the light in the world
  • Action and reflection
  • Strength and weakness
  • Living while dying and dying while living

My mind has been in a couple of places this past week and my morning quiet time has proven quite valuable for me. My quandary has been a paradox of sorts between leadership and management. Reflection, meditation, and prayer, if done in the early morning, can have a profound impact on how you see your day, your week, and your world. If you do not currently use this leadership tool, I really recommend giving it a go and see how it might change your world.

The Story

My youngest son Greg and his beautiful wife, Sylvia, spent the week after Thanksgiving with my wife and me at our home in Florida. Their trip to the sunshine state had several purposes:

  • Vacation - Greg has been working for Enterprise Car Rental for a year and had earned some much needed “PTO" (paid time off).
  • Thanksgiving - As much as possible, we wanted our immediate family to celebrate the holiday together (we were missing our daughter and her husband this year who are spending a year in Madrid, Spain teaching and traveling).
  • Promotion - Greg recently accomplished a major feat! After only a year at Enterprise he passed their rigorous management training program and will go back to central Ohio as an assistant branch manager. He has really worked hard for this promotion and, at age 23, Kim and I could not be more proud of Greg’s effort and accomplishment.

One of the things that Sylvia and Greg wanted to do on vacation was to spend a day at the beach. One afternoon we all got in the old Kia Sorento and headed over to Melbourne Beach. While we were sitting and enjoying the sun, sand, and ocean, Greg made the statement, “It is interesting, up until now at Enterprise it has been all about me and what I do to perform. When I go back to work next Tuesday I will have 3 other people who will have a say in my performance.”

The Paradox

Many of you who have been in leadership for a while may remember that moment when you had this same realization. Some of you are new to leadership and may be experiencing this same thought and feeling. Some of you have been in leadership for a while and may just be waking up to this seemingly unsolvable puzzle.

How can something be totally about me and not about me at the same time?

This is one of the intriguing things about leadership. Perhaps it is the tension that exists between management and leadership. Perhaps it is the tension that exists between task and relationship. Perhaps it is the tension that exists inside of both task and relationship, for each of them have a “what about me?” and “what about my followers?” component.

The Advice

As we sat on the beach, Greg turned and said, “You know, Dad, you should blog about that. I think a lot of people new to leadership would like to know what to be thinking about as they get started in a transition like this.”

So, never being one to hold back when asked to give an opinion, here are the questions that were on Greg’s mind that day and what I came up with as a response:

  • How do I motivate the people on my team when I am not around? Some of my team is remote so I don’t see them every day. 

    So I think this answer is two-fold. First is to find highly motivated people like yourself. There is only so much external motivation a leader can provide. If they don’t have a high internal motivation, then something is wrong and they need to find some other method of self-actualization. No amount of external motivation, even big bonuses, will give them the satisfaction in work they desire. Having said that, if you have someone who is self-motivated, the best thing I know to do to motivate someone is to care for them. Show compassion. Really listen and give them ways they can solve problems. The ultimate goal you are striving for is that when you are not around, they would say “I wonder what Greg would do in this situation?” That is leadership!

  • How do I know when to manage and when to lead? 

    Leadership is about the team! Find out who they are. Find out what they like. Really work to get to know them. Let them know you will have high expectations for performance, but ultimately caring for the customer and the employee is what you are there for. They will do amazing things for you if they know you care about them and that you have their back as best you can as a first line leader.Management is about the process. It is organizing and planning. Be as transparent as you possibly can about “why” things are the way they are. Most managers focus on the “how." Really dig in and explain the "why" so there is understanding about the processes. Don’t just tell them what to do, show them how and then explain why. 

  • How Do I Organize the Work? 

    Work with your supervisor (leader) on this one. Get advice on best practices they have seen. Seek out a mentor who has been really successful in your role. Each organization will have its own secrets to success. There is nothing like a good mentor when trying to figure out organization. When they share advice, implement it! Give it a fair try! It is frustrating as a mentor to give advice then have someone not take it and show up for the next meeting with the same question, or worse, having failed because they thought they knew better than to take the advice of wisdom.

  • What is the best way to give feedback & build trust? 

    The best way to build trust is to keep your word. If you say you are going to do something, do it. If you declare you are going to “win” and have really high standards then you need to hold everyone on the team accountable for performance. You cannot have different standards for performance. You may have to make individual decisions based on circumstances but never have different standards. As far as feedback goes, my experience is people want it straight. They don’t want it sugar-coated. They don’t want 3 positives and then the “negative bomb." There are three steps I follow for feedback: 1. Give the situation the event occurred in. 2. Give the observed behavior they exhibited. 3. Give the result you observed. This is feedback. If you want them to change, coach them on what they could to in that situation, what the desired behavior looks like, and what result you expect. Ask them how they could do it differently next time to obtain a better result.

  • How do I achieve balance in my life?

    One of the conversations I have with many of my clients is, “all work and no play makes Jack/Jill very dull."  I don’t really ascribe to the "how to balance life" equation. I see life much more as flow and energy. What gives you energy and what sucks the life out of you. For all of us what we really control is our time, and to a lesser but equally important domain, our health (both physical and spiritual). Ensure as a leader that you find ways to revitalize yourself before, during, and after your work time. Make sure you have good positive thoughts going into your brain first thing in the morning and eat something for breakfast. Stay active during the day. Pay attention to the relationships you care most about. Never, ever, ever take them for granted. You will be tired and tempted to be isolated when you get home at the end of a long day. If so, how can you reenergize yourself so that those relationships you care most about at home feel as valued as your customers and your employees? Find your energy flow. No segment of your life gets all your focus.

Some of these answers could have been much bigger and broader and probably deserve some context. If you have thoughts on how you would answer these I would love to hear them. Why not leave a thought as a comment on my site?  If you send me an email that is cool, too, and with your permission I will post your comment on the site for you. I really do think a lot of young leaders have questions like this. Let's create a “Leadership Wisdom” forum that can serve as a repository for their leadership questions.

Homework

You have two assignments this week. The first is to provide your comment and leadership advice to the above questions. There is nothing like experience weighing in on questions like this. The second is some intentional personal reflection.  If you are not spending time in personal reflection in the morning, I highly encourage this discipline. Take 30 minutes with a spiritual book (I like using the Psalms or Proverbs from the Bible) or a book by a spiritual leader (I love using work by Parker Palmer and Ken Boa), and find a short passage that takes less than 5 minutes to read. Then spend the rest of your time reflecting on what the reading means to you. If you decide to implement a practice like this, I would love to hear how it is going for you.

How to Know Your Leaders Are Trustworthy

Let me start by saying I usually do not write on political leadership. However, November is coming upon us quickly and this election season has been nothing short of eventful. Is that what you would call it…eventful? Personally, I’ve had some good conversations about the upcoming elections with colleagues, friends, and for what I'm most thankful for, my kids. It's been interesting and equally rewarding seeing them do their own research as well as engage in conversations to find out what their mother and I think. What I've gathered from my kids and other individuals is a feeling of indecisiveness when it comes to the election. What I believe invokes this indecisiveness is the lack of trust in either of the candidates. Looking at their past actions and decisions, as well as hearing their claims and promises, presents some nonalignment that makes voters increasingly uncertain in the decision they will soon have to make.

Hand drawn TRUST process for presentations and reports, business concept on blackboard..

At times I want to laugh out loud when I hear the pundits saying things like, “We are working on making our candidate seem more trustworthy." Trust, from my perspective, is not a short-term fix when it is violated. The time to think about trust is before the violation occurs. My hope and prayer for you as a leader is that you never have to work on restoring your follower's trust. I hope that in all you do, you remain trustworthy in the eyes of your constituents.

It is undoubtedly certain that trust is crucial in leadership, and if trust is broken it makes following leaders more difficult. In Robert Galford and Anne Seibold Drapeau's classic article The Enemies of Trust (Harvard Business Review), several examples of how trust can be destroyed are provided. You may be thinking, "I don't need an article to tell me that!" as I imagine many of us have experienced broken trust from leaders or even entire organizations (even as I eluded to with the current election). Instead of looking at trust from when it's broken, I want to give you two items to reflect on as a measure of the level of trust you have earned as a leader.

Be Clear and Consistent

In previous blog posts I have emphasized the importance in communication. I've also mentioned the importance of repetition so that what you communicate is remembered and repeated by your followers (hence why I keep repeating the importance of communication.) Yet, communication loses it's value when the message is not clear and consistent. If a leader isn't clear when articulating expectations, it is difficult for followers to trust that the leader even knows what it is that they want to be accomplished. Equally, when multiple messages get communicated, the inconsistency of the message leaves you with questions and hesitation, not assurance.

Not only should the message be consistent, but the standards of followers should be on an equal level. Galford and Drapeau suggest that leaders may show favoritism to certain employees so that particular employee stays with the organization, however, the leader "doesn't take into account the cynicism engendered in the rest of the organization." (The Enemies of Trust, HBR)

Be Honest

It's hard to talk about trust without centering the topic on honesty. Honesty is a compliment to trust. Think about a time someone was dishonest with you and the hesitancy you experienced trusting them the next time they gave you their word. That's a pretty basic example of the value of honesty, but let's think about some other circumstances where honesty from leaders is valuable. For example, Galford and Drapeau discuss the problems with false feedback and a leader's inability to be honest about their follower's performance, whether good or bad, hinders future decisions of termination or even promotion with employees. Not only does this lessen follower's trust in their leader, but it limits the growth of the organization.

Leaders also must be willing to trust their followers. Putting faith in your followers to complete a task or step up in their own leadership gives value and recognition to the follower. We all know leaders who "hoarded responsibility" from an employee, leaving the employee resentful for not having the opportunity to use his/her skills and develop professionally.

I have a feeling we are all going to be hearing a lot about trust between now and November. These are two metrics I am using to evaluate trust in political candidates. How about you? What will you be using to assess whether or not you trust your leaders?

Where to Go From Here?

You might be thinking, "This is an interesting perspective, Scott, but what do I do with it?" My goal with this post is not to leave you with a list of "should's and shouldn't's," but to simply get you thinking about the leaders in your life. Whether it's the ones you know and follow personally or the ones that are connected in your community, what do you trust or not trust in their leadership? Is their communication clear and consistent? Are they honest and trusting of their followers? What would help you trust your leaders? Or, an even bigger question might be, to help your followers trust you?

Homework

Spend some time reflecting on trust and what it means to you. How much do you value trust? How much do you expect your leaders to be trustworthy? What are some other habits of trust that you look for in a leader that we didn't mention? Let us know what they are in the comments below.

How to Eliminate the “F” Word From Your Leadership

I don’t often find myself with a lot of time to watch television, but when I do here is the ritual I go through:

  1. Sit in my comfortable easy chair.
  2. Turn television on.
  3. Press “Guide” button on my Direct TV remote.
  4. Punch in the numbers 247, which is TBS.

All of this to see if my favorite show of all time is playing, The Big Bang Theory!

I have fallen in love with The Big Bang Theory. If you don’t know the story line, the characters are all really smart Ph.D types (except Howard, his educational pedigree is that of a lowly astronaut engineer type), whose relationships are all tested primarily by Sheldon Cooper’s regimented and deeply eccentric personality. Sheldon, along with his best friend and roommate, Leonard Hofstadter (for whom there is a written roommate agreement), may be able to easily explain complex issues in physics like quantum string theory, however, basic social situations (especially when it comes to women) confound and elude them.

Man with a cloud instead of his head

Smart Vs. Wise

The Big Bang Theory constantly reminds me that an individual may be smart, but that doesn't always mean they are wise.

I don’t often foray into the political arena in this blog. However, as I watch the political scene unfold in the US, I cannot help but reflect on the fact that the candidates keep trying to portray their level of intelligence. What we need in this country is wisdom along with intellect.

Donald Trump, who claims to have huge intellect (which should be questioned, because wealth is not an indicator of how intelligent someone is), cannot seem to get out of his own way in the legal case involving Trump University.

As a graduate of Yale Law School, I have a hard time questioning Hilary Clinton’s intellect. Although, similar criticism can be given to Clinton in the handling of her private email server. I am sorry, Mrs. Clinton, but the “not knowing” defense as Secretary of State of the United States of America is unfathomable.

When smart people make such huge public blunders, what is actually happening?

Dr. Richard Sternberg draws the conclusion his book A Handbook of Wisdom, that the opposite of smart is stupid, and the opposite of wisdom is foolishness.

The question we often ask of leaders who knew better than to act the way they did is, “How could such a smart person be so stupid?” This question really doesn’t capture the essence of the action.

Donald, how could you be so stupid to ignite racial tension to protect your personal brand?

Hilary, how could you be so stupid to blatantly ignore rules and laws you had working knowledge of?

But according to Dr. Sternberg’s assessment, the candidates are not stupid, they've acted foolishly.

Foolish acts by smart people are not because they lack intellect. The problem with the foolishness has little to do with their cerebral processing, but more to do with deeper issues of character.

While it is easy to get lost in the fictional story of television or the laissez-faire attitude of the American politician, the fact is, we observe really smart people doing really foolish things all the time.

Defining Foolishness

If as a leader you are going to remove the “F” word, then knowing what foolishness looks like might be of value. The leadership literature (thanks to Dr. Sternberg) has identified five different dimensions of foolishness:

  • What-me-worry? (unrealistic optimism) - I am so smart and/or powerful it is pointless to worry about outcomes.
  • Egocentrism - The interests of the leader are the only ones that are relevant.
  • Omniscience - Thinking the leader knows or has access to perfect knowledge.
  • Omnipotence - Over-extension of granted power by followers.
  • Invulnerability - Complete protection from error or mistake.

If we go back to our candidates for President and examine their actions in light of a foolishness metric, what do you think? Perhaps Mr. Trump suffers from Unrealistic Optimism and Egocentrism, while Mrs. Clinton from Omnipotence and Invulnerability. It would be a totally different campaign if these two candidates recognized these behaviors in themselves and focused on changing them.

Taking the “F” Word Out of Your Leadership

Foolishness is something to be guarded against by all leaders. It has been suggested that the reason leaders commit foolish acts is rooted in how humans see reality. For this, we must examine a couple of different models for how we, as humans, process reality.

True is True and False is False: Some leaders have an ability when they hear true information, the information is accepted as such, and when false information is heard, it is rejected. In this model, the mind of the leader acts in a linear fashion to establish true from false or rational from irrational.

An Extra Step: Another view is that our minds are actually in a state to automatically accept what we hear as true. Yet there is an extra step involved to reject something as not true.

This process of rejection literally takes more energy from us than automatic rejection. It is argued by Dan Gilbert that people may indeed hear something that is untrue or irrational and have the capacity to reject it, but fail to take the actual step of rejecting the untruth.

We have all experienced this, especially when we are emotionally vulnerable, or even physically or mentally exhausted. We know something isn’t true, but we just don’t have the energy to debate it (anyone ever raised a teenager?).

Taking the "F" Word Out of Your Followership

What about the American public? Why do we constantly let our politicians get away with such behaviors? How about we stop blaming the “liberal press” or “Fox News” and put the foolishness meter on ourselves!? Perhaps it is time to stop aligning with individual parties and to start examining the character of the leaders we are electing. Perhaps we need to remove the “F”word from our followership as well. Perhaps we need to put a little more energy into the process, rather than shake our heads and tell ourselves we don’t have enough energy to even think about it.

Homework

Which of the five foolishness dimensions are you at risk for succumbing to as a leader? Why not ask those on your team to give you an evaluation to see if they have ever observed any of these in your leadership.

What I am Learning About Choice

Who needs another diet book, right? There are so many on the market, what could possibly be said that hasn’t already been said? That is what I said to myself when my good friend, Jan Tilley, told me she had just written her third book on making good choices with what we eat. Jan’s new book on what it takes for people to “be well” is called “Eat Well to Be Well."

You really want to buy a copy of this book! And I don’t get any royalties for this statement, so I hope you will be curious enough to go out and get a copy. It is $20 that very well could change your life…for good! My thoughts this week come from reading Jan’s book, and I hope you have the same experience when you read it.

food-healthy-vegetables-potatoes

My Revelation

When Jan was telling me she was taking on this project I thought to myself, “I wonder how many diet books have been written?”So I went out on Amazon and found out! There are 171,292 entries for “diet books” and 7,009 that were newly released in the last 90 days!

Talk about a competitive market!

I took Jan's book with me on a trip a few weeks ago and started reading. It really is a great read!

Jan writes not about diets, but about healthy choices. Choices that will sustain you so that “…you have a fighting chance to live a healthy, strong, vibrant life well into old age."

Choice.  An interesting word.

A word that says the decision and the repercussions are mine. I am the one accountable. I am the one responsible. The choice is mine to be healthy.

So that

  • If I am working like a dog, and don’t exercise - I chose that!
  • If I get angry at someone at work over something that doesn’t matter - I chose that!
  • If I skip breakfast and don’t do my best in the morning meeting -  I chose that!
  • If I had a bad day and take it out on people who matter most to me when I get home - I chose that!

I think it is so easy to believe the lies like:

  • My boss is putting so much pressure on me I don’t have time to exercise.
  • I deserve to be angry, my rights were violated.
  • Breakfast, who has time for that…I am not hungry anyway.
  • If you had a day like I had, you would take it home with you too.

Yet we recall... choice.

It is so easy to blame others for my situation:

  • The boss
  • McDonalds
  • Drug Companies
  • My spouse
  • My kids
  • My mother

But really, how long are we in western society going to continue our blame mentality? When will we take ownership for our own choices? Maybe it is time to admit that we are not healthy because we do not want to be.

A Quick Story

A few weeks ago I had a trip that took me to the West Coast, the Mid-West, the deep South, and back to the East Coast. I had several interactions with friends and clients on the journey where the conversation turned to health. Here are bullet summaries of what was said:

  • Friend One: “I am 90 days from my doctor putting me on insulin."
  • Friend Two: “My doctor needs to up my dose of Lipitor.”
  • Friend Three: "I am tired all the time, I just don’t have any energy.“
  • Friend Four: “I just don’t feel good about how I look.”
  • Friend Five: “My knees hurt so badly I can’t exercise anymore."
  • Friend Six: “ I lost 15 pounds on XX diet, but I have put on 25 since I stopped.”

As I was reflecting on those conversations, I had a couple revelations:

  • The reason that so many people write diet books is that the market is really big! A lot of people buy them, a lot of people are trying to figure out this health thing, so authors keep writing them!
  • I really care about all these people. Why can’t they make the changes they need to make to be healthy?

Change Is An Emotional Choice

In his book “The Heart of Change,” John Kotter says that the core matter of change is about speaking to people's feelings. That any successful change is brought about by helping each other see the problem or solution that influences the emotion and not just the thought. Kotter goes on to say that the single most important notion for change is quite simple, “People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.“

Something not going your way? Are you not getting the outcome you desire? Have you not exercised in weeks? Are you working your entire vacation?

What needs to change?

According to Koetter, you do not need any more information or data. What you need is for the feeling you are experiencing to be turned from negative to positive. To see the possibility rather than to succumb to the inevitable.

Call To Action

Many of you who read this blog I have met at some point over the course of my life personally. I know some of you personally and many of you by acquaintance. I want you to know that I care about you. I care about your health and I care about your well-being. If you have a change that you need to make, I hope you will consider the emotional aspect of what you need to do. You will never make the change if you are focused on blaming your circumstance or gathering more data.

5 Steps to making Your Incremental Change

  • Write it down
  • Start today
  • Start small
  • Get an accountability partner
  • Focus on the positive feelings of making the change
  • Keep Going. Don’t stop until your change becomes your lifestyle

Many, many thanks to my friend Jan, who’s book really stimulated these thoughts. I hope you found them to be of value in your leadership life.

I really do think you should own a copy of Jan's book. If you haven’t purchased it yet, I am going to ask Jan to guest blog next week so that you can meet her and really think about interacting with what she has to say about healthy choices.

What Great Leaders Do When Bad Things Happen

It seemed like a complete disaster. It was a project that our team created, organized, and executed, yet the outcome we received was far from what we desired. Sound familiar? It should, as we’ve all experienced the feeling of failure at one point in our lives. Whether in the workplace, in a sporting event, or other moments in our daily life, this failure can cause many different emotions such as frustration, disappointment, and most of all, fear.

In his new book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World, Adam Grant (Wharton’s four-time teacher of the year) gives some practical advice when we face fear. Instead of letting fear drift into anxiety or dread, reframe it into excitement. For example, in a study of people who fear public speaking (listed as one of the biggest fears people experience), the participants were divided into two groups. One group was given these three words: “I am calm." The other group was given three different words: “I am excited."

Which group performed their speeches better?

This one-word difference caused listeners of the talks to rate the “I am excited” group as 17% more persuasive and 15% more confident than the “I am calm” group.

Turning your fear into excitement can energize you to act. If you remain to calm for too long, there is a potential for negative self-talk and anxiety to set in. My hypothesis here is that the old advice of “remain calm” when you are in fear is really, "lower your anxiety and get moving." To remain calm for too long can cause paralysis in times of tension and complexity.

When you face times of tension, stress, and fear, how do you react?

We developed the CHECK list that we wrote about last week to give you a tool that will help you move forward when you are experiencing situations that bring fear.

Consider the Situation

It can be difficult to look at your situation objectively, considering the result of the project didn’t meet your expectations. Ask yourself the following questions to help you reflect and move forward:

  • What went well?
  • What could be improved?
  • What needs to change or be omitted?

Hear from Others

Take it to your team and colleagues. Ask them the questions that you asked yourself above. Create a space that allows them to speak into the situation and feel positive through a process of brainstorming the solutions. Including them will motivate them in moving forward. If your team is stuck, consider bringing a coach into the situation to offer a fresh perspective and facilitate conversations or the planning process.

Eliminate Negativity

It requires a full 360 shift perspective to begin to see failing as a learning opportunity instead of as failure. Ryan Babineaux and John Krumboltz talk about this feeling of failure in their book, Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win. In their research, the authors found that people who are happy and successful spend less time planning and more time acting. Now, there is planning involved prior to action, but what these people do is act on their plan without emotional fear based baggage. These folks get out into their universe to try different things and learn from their mistakes. From their perspective, failing is learning, not failure.

Conduct a Plan

Once you've looked at the situation objectively and heard from others, you can go back to the drawing board and work out a plan for moving forward. As mentioned earlier, try not to dwell in the planning stage. Instead, implement action. Consider adding some check-ups throughout your plan to track the progress along the way. Include someone in these check-ups for accountability.

Keep Your Head Up

Believe in yourself and in your team. Let others see your positive attitude and resilient behavior focused on moving forward. They will follow your lead and look to you for support or motivation. Approach your project from a different angle than before to give it a fresh feel for you and your team.

Homework

Reflect on a project or situation that didn't go the way you planned. Write down what went well and what could have been done differently. Share these thoughts with a colleague or mentor and brainstorm a plan for improvement next time.

Win or Lose, Emotional Intelligence Matters

After the Super Bowl on Sunday night, the quarterbacks from each team were bombarded by the media with questions. For Peyton Manning, it was all about whether he would cap his career on a high note. For Cam Newton, the questions reflected his fresh defeat. Whether you're a rookie like Newton, or a seasoned veteran like Manning, it is important to think through how we will respond emotionally whether we win or lose. Let's look a little closer at both players and think through what we can learn from them.

iStock_000071727009_Large

Let's Start with Manning

After his win, we heard Manning repeat again and again what he planned to do, which did not involve releasing any clues of retirement. He gave a lot of credit to Coach Tony Dungy who encouraged him not to make any emotional decisions. Note that this advice came before a Super Bowl victory, because either outcome of the game would affect Manning's emotional decisions in the moment.

In the midst of the rush, you risk saying or doing something that you wouldn't when your emotional state is leveled and you are thinking clearly. In Manning's case, he could be feeling pretty good about his victory and desire to do it again. It's important for him to level emotion and take on a posture of humility in the weeks to come.

Now, Newton

I can't help but sympathize with Newton in some ways. It's early in his career and he had a great run this season. Stats and predictions for a victory pointed his way, yet just as he said in his brief interview after the game, “They just played better than us.” From his body language (hood up, eyes down) and his short answers, it was obvious that Newton was emotionally defeated.

No, he probably shouldn't have walked out of his interview, however, I think his emotional response could have been worse. Perhaps for Newton, at this point in his life and early in his career, the best thing he could do to avoid an emotional reaction was to just walk away. This was his immediate reaction. How he lets this loss affect him and his leadership moving forward will be crucial.

What this Means To You as a Leader

Sometimes things are going to go your way and you will win. The question becomes, how are you going to display your victory?

One of they key characteristics that attracts followers to a leader is humility. Winning with grace is a very attractive leadership attribute.

Humility can be disregarded at times because it is misrepresented as lacking toughness and grit. However, in an article in the Military Review, authors Joseph Doty and Dan Gerdes say this is not the case. They describe a humble leader as lacking arrogance, not aggressiveness. Humility can even carry a spiritual tone, since the leaders activities are seen as free of ego and self-aggrandizement. Peyton Manning may have the title of 2x Super Bowl Champion and leader of all-time passing yards, however, his posture of humility over the years is what attracted his fans and followers.

And then there are times when things are not going to go your way and you are going to lose. The question then becomes, how are you going to show grace in defeat?

Nobody likes a sore loser. Just look at what happened to Donald Trump in New Hampshire when he displayed poor character as he spoke about his loss in Iowa last week. His poll numbers started to drop, so much so that the Wall Street Journal says he must change his message to avoid another primary disaster.

The question is not if you are going to have a setback in life. The real question is when are you going to have a setback in life, and how do you respond when you do?

In the emotional intelligence realm, the trait that is needed by leaders is called resiliency. Leaders need to have an ability to recover, to get back to their original form when things do not go their way.

It will be interesting to see how Cam Newton recovers from losing the Super Bowl and how he'll channel this experience to shape his leadership for the next season.

What can you do?

  1. Picture yourself in the moment after you succeeded and then again as if you failed. How would you hope you'd react in either circumstance? How do you plan to respond? Do you know yourself well enough to know when you are in control or when you just need to walk away? Think about these things.
  2. Ask trusted mentors or coaches for insight. They will consider the situation in a way you may not have based on their past experiences. They will also be honest about how you may react, because they know you well. Make sure you really listen to them and consider what they share.
  3. Write out your plan and immediate response whether you win or lose. Think through your stance and posture as well. Stick to this script. This way, you don't risk saying or doing anything you didn't mean.

Homework

Identify the next big moment in your career or in your life. Think about the questions above and write out a plan of action whether you win or lose. We'd love to hear from you, so don't forget to comment below.

You Need This More Than Anything Else to Lead Effectively In 2016

Last summer my wife Kim and I ran a “Hit & Run 5K” This was a traditional 5k with an obstacle course built into the run. It was a blast, and even though my 5K time was pathetic, we laughed so hard it made my side hurt. As you ran this 5K you would come up to an obstacle that had to be navigated in order to continue the course. These obstacles were of the blow-up variety, so they all had some bounce to them and many of them included a water feature as well.

Atlanta, GA USA - March 5, 2014: A woman begins to slip and fall into the water trying to run through the wrecking balls event, at the Ridiculous Obstacle Challenge (ROC) 5K race.

One of the obstacles we had to traverse was a rubber air mattress that had plastic pillars all around it that were filled with air. People stood behind the pillars and pushed them into you as you ran across the mattress. Their goal was to knock you off balance so that you could not go straight through the course and finish the obstacle. These pillar pushers were trying to keep you from hitting your goal time.

Many of you, during this week between the Christmas holiday and the New Year, find yourself on such an obstacle course. You are trying to get in some meaningful family time while closing out 2015 and preparing for 2016. It is like your family, 2015, and 2016, are plastic airfield pillars that are trying to knock you off course, inhibiting your ability to finish the race you are running.

There is an important leadership concept that is continuing to surface in the leadership literature, and my guess is that it is only going to get more study time as the years go on.

What I am going to continue to reinforce with those I train and coach is the idea of Rejuvenation.

If you are going to run through an obstacle course, from time to time you need to recharge your batteries. No leader can stay on the course, being battered from all sides, all the time.

Henry Thompson, in his most excellent book The Stress Effect states that leaders have an effective energy zone they run in. If the stress gets too high, they can be subject to burn out. If the stress is too low, they can rust out. As you prepare for 2016, how are you going to be intentional with your rejuvenation?

I hope you didn’t miss that last sentence. If you did, go back and read it again.

Here is the key: Be intentional with rejuvenation.

Leaders face immense stress and pressure from all parts of the organization and their lives. You have to be equipped to handle the stress that is going to come your way. One of the best ways to be equipped is to plan for different types of rejuvenating events.

Here are some tips to help you rejuvenate as your day goes along:

  • Be self-aware of the impact that stress of others can have on you. Many of us have a habit of picking up on the emotional stress that others bring when we interact with them. Own what you can own, but do not be subject to stress that someone else is feeling. Be empathetic instead of sympathetic with them.
  • Pay attention to what you eat for breakfast and lunch. I had a conversation with my physician recently about my diet. I told him I loved hamburgers. You see I really lovvvvve hamburgers. I just know that when I eat one, I go into a food coma for about 3 hours. So, if I have one for lunch, I might as well take the rest of the day off.
  • Drink 100 ounces of water every day. This will rejuvenate your cells as they dehydrate. It wall also get you up and moving to the restroom more which will give you the short break you need to refocus when you get back to your desk.
  • Find an exercise you like and commit to it. I love my boot camp and exercising 5 days a week. It works for me. It might not for you. Try yoga, try walking in the park, get a dog and walk it. Ride your bike. I know this one isn’t new, but if you are going to rejuvenate and be an effective leader, you have to find some way to release the cortisol that is accumulating in your muscles throughout the day.
  • Find a leadership group to join. Talking with like-minded peers is therapeutic. When done once a month for an hour or two , it can revitalize your energy. There is real power in sharing where you are in your leadership life and hearing where others are as well.
  • Get a coach. If you have some intense conversations that need to be released, there is nothing like a coaching relationship to help you clear your head so you can navigate your leadership course.

Homework: Pick one of the 6 Leadership Rejuvenators outlined above and implement it starting the first week in January. Commit to doing this one thing for the next 6 months and see if you can notice any change in your leadership energy. If you decide to implement one of these, please let us know. We would love to hear your story so we can learn and grow as well.

Healthy Holidays

[guestpost]Today we welcome guest blogger, Gretchen Holcomb. Gretchen is the newest addition to our team and has some excellent ideas to share with you about how we can enjoy the holiday season without neglecting our health.[/guestpost] There are three things about me that my loved ones all know about me: I always have a plan, I set goals for myself regularly, and I love helping others.

About a year and a half ago, I combined these aspects of my life to lose some weight, adopt new healthy habits, and lead some family and friends in this same initiative. When I started my health journey it became clear to me that if I wanted to lose weight I had to break some old bad habits and develop some new good ones. These are a few habits that have been essential for me to implement in order to achieve successful results.

  • Eat 6 small meals each day, balanced with lean protein and good carbohydrates.
  • Drink at least 100 oz. of water every day, or half your body weight in ounces.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes 3 - 5 days a week. This can be as simple as walking.

Homemade pastry and roasted poultry on festive table

With the holidays coming up, it can be difficult to avoid the temptation of traditional dishes and delicate desserts. Here are some extra tips that have helped me along the way:

  • Focus on friends and family, not the food. Make it a goal or a game to learn 5 new things about 3 people at the party.
  • Stay out of the room where the food is, so you aren't tempted to graze. Just think "out of sight, out of mind!"
  • Eat before you go to the holiday party. Make sure the meal includes a balance of protein and good carbs.
  • Keep water close. Take a water bottle with you where ever you go.
  • Offer to bring a healthy snack to the party, like a veggie tray. This way you are sure to have at least one healthy choice at the event.

Although weight loss can be an added bonus to getting healthy, I find that when I practice healthy habits I sleep better, my heartburn is reduced, and I'm even able to focus and think more clearly throughout the day.

The first step toward health is educating yourself on the benefits of creating healthy habits. If you are interested in learning more about how simple, healthy habits can make a significant impact in your overall health, click here to support a new book, “Eat Well to Be Well,” from our friend and Registered Dietician, Jan Tilley.

HOMEWORK

Identify one of the tips provided and commit to practicing that habit over the holiday season. Comment below and let us know which one you choose so we can encourage you along the way!

That One Leadership Thing...

This one thing is something we don’t think very often about, but stirs deep inside all of us. Our thoughts about this one thing are usually precipitated by a reflective question when we are deep in contemplative thought:

  • What am I doing here?
  • What value am I bringing?
  • What is next for me?
  • What impact have I had on those around me?

If we have a pulse, we can not help but consider this one leadership thing from time to time: Leadership Legacy.

iStock_000001453342_Large

One very common definition for a legacy is "something we are handing down to others." This "something" can be property, like when a great aunt leaves you a sum of money from her will. The "something" can be a tradition, like a student that attends the same school as a parent. In our context, this "something" is a value that makes life better for the benefactor.

Leadership Legacy

I want to think for a moment about what you are leaving to those who follow you.

My thought here is not around all of the great ideas and intentions you have. It is not about your quarterly, three-year, or five-year plan. It is not about the sleepless nights, or stress you are feeling in the moment.

Rather, it is about your impact. Not only your day to day impact but your overall impact as a leader.

The Question

What do you want you want to pass on to those who are in your sphere of influence?  What do you want to give them? What value do you want to impart to them?

Here is what I am sure about:

You will pass on something to your followers. You will. Intentional or not, they will remember you for something. You must choose whether you will intentionally pass on something of value, or leave your legacy to chance.

The Story

Nearly every morning I try to spend at least 30-minutes in reflection, Bible Study, and prayer. It is how I like to start my day. I feel more centered when I do this.

Sometimes I just study a chapter in the Bible by reading and meditating. Other times I use a study book. Currently, I am reading The Art of Living Well by Ken Boa and Gail Burnett. In the introduction of this book, Gail talks about when she was young and the worst thing the average teenager could do was to cheat on an exam. As she had children of her own, her self-proclaimed discipline focus was “the war on drugs." She did everything in her power to keep her kids from becoming involved in drugs. When her kids became adults she was really glad to know they did not get involved in drugs and equally shocked to discover they had been guilty of cheating at school from time to time.

The assumption Gail had made was that her kids would naturally pick up her ethical value against cheating. Similarly, as leaders we often assume that others in our organization must share the same fundamental truths and values.

What about YOU?

Is there anything in your leadership life that you are assuming the people in your organization just know? How intentional are you being about what kind of legacy you are leaving behind?

Homework

Sit for 30-minutes every day next week. Grab your Bible, or an inspirational book, and search your leadership life. Ask yourself what it is that you really want to pass on to your followers. What would it look like for you to be intentional about building your legacy around your values?

Turn Your Thinking, Change Your Life

In the Monday blog this week your homework assignment was to think about a situation where things are not going your way.  I recommended a 5-Step process for you to walk through to see if you could turn your negative thinking into a positive explanatory style. Why is it important for you as a leader to become skilled in turning your negative thinking toward the positive? Perhaps we should ask the Congress back in the late 1700’s what they thought of George Washington’s performance.

The most conservative estimate of the numbers I could find for General Washington was 8 wins & 6 losses. In the American Revolution he won Boston, Harlem, Trenton, 2nd Trenton, Princeton, White Marsh, Monmouth, and Yorktown. He lost New York, Kip's Bay, White Plains, Fort Washington, Brandywine, and Germantown.

Some scholars even put his record for wins in the 4 to 5 category.

Let’s let the historians argue this one, we are more concerned about what lesson we can learn about leadership. 

With some of the losses, (especially New York) coming early in the war, it would have been so easy for him to just quit. Give up. Forget it. Say it was not worth it. But he never did.  There was a burning inside of this leader to see the war through to the very end because it was the right thing to do.

He did not quit when things were down, and Congress didn’t quit on him either!

Congress did not fire Washington because things were not going the right way, they got help for him. Enter the French into the war to change the entire picture of history. This, along with Washington’s insistence on his troops receiving the smallpox vaccine about which John Adams said “…smallpox is ten times more terrible than the British, Canadians, and Indians together.”  (mountvernon.org)

The general had a couple of weaknesses.

Disease was an obvious one. The second was a lack of funding and Naval power.

Washington and Congress worked together to resolve the issues, not change out the leader.

In an interview with Harvard Business Review (June 2014) Twitter CoFounder Biz Stone was commenting on what boards tend to do when things are not going the way they think they should. “If things don’t look so good, they change the executive.” His advice to the readers of the interview is to resist this temptation. “Let’s not fire the CEO, let’s help the CEO. Let’s figure out where he’s weak and make him stronger."

Question: Are you thinking negatively about the performance of someone in your organization?

Rather than firing them, why not display some impulse control and get them the help they need? Why not figure out what they need to be stronger and give it to them?

I know there are times when it seems like you have no choice but to make a change in your organization. If that is you, perhaps the advice of Biz Stone is some of the best I have ever read on the subject.

“Even when it’s necessary to change CEO’s, it can usually be handled much more gracefully than it is."

Grace! An interesting concept. The simplest definition for grace I have ever heard is "giving someone something they do not deserve."

Assignment: Show someone grace in your organization next week. See what that kind of leadership might do for morale in your organization.

Have a great weekend,

Scott

PS. If you know someone who might be interested in reading a blog on leadership, why not forward them this link and have them subscribe?

 

A Vaccination for Leadership Failure

Who wants to fail as a leader? No one. None of us wakes up in the morning and says, “Let me see how I can totally screw up the thing I am working on today."

And yet…Here is my story.

4 Things to Look for in Wise Counsel (2)

A number of years ago, I had been a fairly successful sales professional and tapped for a management development program. The company I worked for was growing like crazy. Most people spent less than 2 years in this program before they were tapped for their first management level job. I thought I had arrived! Look at me! Watch me climb! Nothing will stop my career! These were all thoughts I had at the time. I was on top of the world and it felt great.

My wife and I moved from my sales territory in Decatur, Illinois to the corporate headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. Our family consisted of my wife and I along with our 2-year-old son Zach, and a precious baby girl due in about 6 weeks. The plan was to be in Indianapolis for less than 2 years before our next move into my first management level job. So, I did what every person with a dream, a wife, and 2 young kids does….

I went out and bought a 2 seat sports car.

I rationalized it by telling myself, "Hey, we already own a minivan. No problem."

Fast forward 5 years later. That's right, my 2-year window for promotion had gone to 5! The company hit a tight spot. No one got promoted for 3 years beyond my 2-year window. And on top of the career slow down, my wife and I had another baby boy! We were now a family of 5, with a minivan and a second car that is a Mazda Rx 7.

Great car, yet totally not practical when my wife took the minivan to go shopping one Saturday and left me with the 3 kids and a couple of friends kids. Scott and 5 kids on a Saturday morning, normally not a problem, until Zach comes out holding his hand over his eye and blood dripping down having just been whacked on the head with a toy by one of the other kids.

Question: How do I get 5 kids and me in the Rx7 and to the hospital to get Zach stitched up?

The Lesson

There is an ancient Proverb that says “Before his downfall a man's heart is proud."

I will admit it. I was full of pride. Proud of my career. Proud of my family. Proud of how I had achieved.

What is the problem with pride? It blocks your vision of reality. As leaders, we puff ourselves up for everyone to see.

What are some things that feed our pride as leaders?

1. People come to you for decision making. 2. People look to you for safety (job security). 3. People look to you as an expert in your field. 4. People feel comfortable knowing you are there. 5. You make people feel they are important. 6. You give people a feeling of optimism. 7. You give people a sense of hope. 8. You are near the top of the food chain. 9. People seek your advice and counsel. 10. Your opinions are sought and considered.

The great writer CS Lewis says that the problem with your pride is that it is in competition with everyone else's pride. Pride at its very root is competitive. “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man,” according to Lewis.

More money. Bigger house. Better looking. Smarter. Prettier wife. More loving husband. Successful kids. Faithful servant. Harder worker. Coolest job.

The problem with pride is not the metric, but what we do with it. It is in our nature to compare. It is how we know where we are. The problem with pride is an inability to be content and a desire for control. It is a scarcity mentality that says for me to be up in life you must be down.

This is a lie.

Great leaders find ways for everyone to be up.

What I have learned over the years is that when I begin feeling like this, full of pride, I better watch my next step.

The Vaccination

When things go wrong, we begin to think about treatment. Treatment is about fixing the problem. Vaccination, however, is about prevention.

Treatment in the medical world is meant to help you recover from something that has happened to you. A vaccination is meant to prevent the disease in the first place.

The second part of the Proverb I mentioned above states, “but humility comes before honor."

Being humble. Putting others ahead of your pride. Being modest in your opinion of yourself. Thinking of others as better than yourself is one way to overcome pride.

The question I have been asking myself is, are there any strategies for preventing pride in the first place?

How can you vaccinate yourself against pride that often accompanies Leadership?

Here is a shot in the arm that can help you prevent Leadership Pride. This might sting a little, but here comes the needle...

Seek Wise Counsel.

That didn’t hurt too bad, did it?

Looking back on my story, I really should have sought wise counsel about buying that car. Not only was it impractical, but the assumptions I used to frame my reality regarding my career and my family were askew. They just were not based in reality. Just because the business was in an up cycle didn’t mean it was going to stay that way forever. Some wise counsel at that time could have been just the vaccination the doctor would have prescribed to prevent me from making such a poor decision.

There is another Proverb that says “Without counsel plans are frustrated, but with many counselors plans succeed."

As you are thinking about getting wise counsel in your life, what should you look for? Here are a few things I have found as I have researched the topic:

4 Things to Look for in Wise Counsel:

1. Experience. Why not ask someone who has been down the road what the path looks like? 2. Impulse Control. Look for someone who is not going to be swayed by your emotional rationale. You do not want someone who will agree with you all the time. You want another perspective on what reality looks like. A person who is patient enough to hear you out. 3. Courage. Having an ability to disagree with you is paramount to you being able to learn and grow. 4. Empathy. Someone who can see your perspective even if they do not agree. Empathy differs from sympathy in that the empathic person will ask the hard question when it is in your best interest. The sympathetic person will just agree with you in whatever state you are in.

So often in leader development we screw up and look for a treatment remedy for what has happened. Why not look to prevent these potential failures in leadership by vaccinating yourself against tragedy? Seeking wise counsel may be one good shot in the arm for you as a leader.

Your Homework

Look for a leadership decision you have coming up. Seek out some wise counsel. Lay the topic out for those you are seeking input from, without bias or telling them your preferences. Consider what they say to you before you act.

Call to Action

Please click here to go to my Facebook page and leave a comment about the value you have found in seeking wise counsel in your leadership life. We would love to hear from you.

P.S. - There is still time to enter our Leadership Survey Contest.  It will take you less than 3 minutes to complete, and you just might win a $50 Amazon gift card for giving us your opinion!

Why I Am Scared to Death Right Now

I had a conversation recently with a leader who has faithfully read this blog since its launch. It went something like this:

Hey Scott, I really enjoy reading what you write. Your perspectives are insightful and practical, things I can use every day as I lead my team. But…

There it was.

What I call "the big eraser."

Whenever I hear the word BUT, I get a picture of my first-grade teacher Mrs. Eskew saying, “Scott, would you please erase the blackboard before we go to lunch?” (Ok, now some of you are laughing because I am old enough to have had blackboards and chalk in my formative years.)

I never liked that job. It always felt to me like all the good work we did that morning was being wiped away with a single stroke.

When we hear the word BUT at the end of a string of compliments, our minds suddenly forget all the good things the person said and we prepare ourselves for the attack.

That is what it feels like too. An attack! All the compliments we received when the person started are going to be wiped away with one fell stroke of the feedback we are about to get.

The But

The person giving me feedback continued, “...BUT I tried to download one of the tools you offered and it did not work for me."

I don’t know about you, but when I get feedback like this I experience a full range of emotion:

  • Frustrated that the person had a bad experience on my site.
  • Embarrassed that I had showed a weakness in my system.
  • Curious as to what I could have done better.
  • Appreciative that the person cares enough to tell me what is not working for them.

The person who gave the feedback was not trying to hurt me. In fact, they were trying to be helpful. I really appreciated it. In fact, I tell all my clients to give me feedback because that is the only way we improve.

However, even when we ask for feedback we brace ourselves a little because the unknown can at times be a place that causes fear.

The Ask

So here is why I am scared to death right now:

As I reflected on the story above, I realized that I really wanted to get feedback from all my readers about what they are thinking. The only way I am going to be able to deliver what you all want is to ask you. It would be silly for me to continue to guess at what you want and risk not adding value to your day. So, I am asking for your feedback.

I have been doing this blog for about 6-months now, and I really need to hear from you on what your leadership needs are.

Click here to take a short 10 question survey, that will take less than 2 minutes for you to complete.

For those of you who would like a little extrinsic motivation (see last week's blog for more details on this topic), we will randomly select the name of one survey participant to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card. If you want your answers to be anonymous you are free to submit the survey without including your name, but you will be ineligible to win the $50 Amazon gift card.

The Solution

On Wednesday's Leadership Tip of the Week, I will be sharing with you a practical 4-step process for overcoming emotional moments, like when someone gives you feedback and uses the word “but." This process will help you prevent your emotions from getting the best of you, enabling you to get your thinking mind back in order to receive the feedback. This model is useful and practical any time you feel your emotions starting to take over your thinking.

You won’t want to miss it, so be sure you watch the video.

The Appreciation

I just want to take a moment and say thank you. You all are the reason I do this blog. My desire is to help you and those in your organization to become better leaders. So, what are you waiting for? Why not forward the site to a friend who you think might get some value out of the work we are all doing together?

I truly believe that organizations rise and fall on leadership. My team and I would like to say how much we appreciate you spending your time with us each week. We really do value your feedback, so thank you in advance for helping us develop leaders.

Please click here to take 2 minutes and help us understand what you want in leader development by completing the short 10 question survey.

See you on Wednesday with the Leadership Tip of the Week,

Scott

Failing or Succeeding With Titanic Leadership

A few weeks ago I wrote an article and a leadership tip of the week on the topic of "Failing is Not Failure." Many of you sent me comments and emails on how this thought stimulated your thinking. I thought it would be good to get more perspective on this idea, so I asked my good friend Dr. Randall Spence to provide some of his thoughts on the topic.

If you enjoy reading about leadership with a spiritual emphasis you will enjoy reading his blog at www.RandallSpence.com, or connecting with him on Twitter.

Randy, take it away.....

All of us fail.

We fail in life. We fail in our relationships. We fail in the leadership of our organizations and ourselves.

The question is, do we learn from our failures? Do we attempt to use failure as a mechanism for growth? Or do we allow failure to defeat us, squashing our ambition and our efforts?

Antarctic_Iceberg_18

The Impact of Failure

The impact of failure on us often prevents us from seeing that right there within the failure, often hidden in plain sight, is the next opportunity.

Let me illustrate with a story about the Titanic.

In an article in the Harvard Review, Tony McCaffrey talks about the Titanic and that fateful night when she collided with the iceberg in the North Atlantic. What the ship's crew did not calculate in that nightmarish moment was that the very thing that sank the ship could also have saved the passengers, virtually everyone.

Let me explain.

According to McCaffrey, the newspapers of that time estimated the size of the iceberg to be between 50 to 100 feet high and 200 to 400 feet long. The Titanic was navigable for a while after the collision, so the crew could have pulled alongside the iceberg where many, if not all, could have climbed on to find flat places to stay out of the water for the four hours it took before help arrived.

Instead, the crew was fixated on the fact that icebergs sink ships and thus failed to see the sheer size and shape of the iceberg, or to reckon with the fact that it would not sink. In other words, the crew failed to see how the very thing that represented failure could also provide for their safety.

The iceberg could have served as their lifeboat. The iceberg that was to kill so many could also have saved virtually everyone.

Functional Fixedness

There is a term for our inability to see opportunity in the midst of failure. The term is functional fixedness and was first articulated in the 1930s by Karl Duncker. It means that we tend to fixate on the common use of an object and thus fail to see other possible uses.

If you grew up like me watching MacGyver, you know that he did not suffer from functional fixedness. If you recall, he was forever getting into bad situations but always managed to escape by using things most of us would never dream of to get himself free or to solve the dilemma. He might take some baling wire, his pocketknife, a few rags, and rubbing alcohol to make an explosive or something else rather outlandish. MacGyver could do this not only because he was a science wiz, but also because he could see beyond the obvious uses of baling wire, a pocketknife, rags, and rubbing alcohol.

Path to Success

I would broaden this definition of functional fixedness a bit to say that in times of personal or business failure we often fixate on the cause of the failure and fail to see that within that failure, sometimes hidden in plain sight, is the next opportunity. It may take some creativity and mental exploration to find it, but it may be right in front of us staring us in the face.

Where does it feel like you are failing in life or in your business today? Look over your answer from every angle.

Do you see a way to use the problem you are facing as a potential way to rescue yourself?

Think about it a bit. You might need a friend, mentor, or coach to help you navigate these waters.

We would love to hear any examples you might provide for this. You can leave a comment below or email us at Scott@DrScottLivingston.com.