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: 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.

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.

What Can Leaders Like You Learn From Jean Nidetch?

If you are like me when you read the title of this blog you thought, “I don’t even know who Jean Nidetch is, so what can I learn from someone I don’t know?”  However, I think there is a very important lesson for leaders to learn from this pioneering entrepreneur and trendsetter. PAY-Jean-Nidetch

I met Jean this morning as I was reading the Wall Street Journal.  Buried in the Business and Technology section was an article about Weight Watchers founder, Jean Nidetch, passing on at age 91.  My initial thought upon reading the title of the article was that I was impressed she had made it to 91!  My second thought was that I had never thought about how Weight Watchers got started. Although nearly every female in my early childhood life had at one time or another proclaimed to be on “Weight Watchers”, I knew almost nothing about it.

I was fascinated as I read the article and learned about how this organization came into being. Suzanne Knaper, the writer for The Journal puts it this way, “…Ms. Nidetch, a perpetually overweight housewife, discovered an important weight-loss tool that was missing from traditional diets: empathy."

Wow! That hit me like a ton of bricks.

I ran across a great quote by Jac Fitz-Enz the other day that resonates with where I am heading in writing this article on empathy:

"Sometimes, if we cut through the brain and get to the gut, we learn the truth."

When I teach seminars on Emotional Intelligence I often ask the group for a common definition for empathy. The response I get back more than any other is; “walking a mile in the other person's shoes.” I love this definition, but to take it one step further (pun intended), “walking a mile in the other person's shoes, even when the shoe doesn’t fit.”

[Tweet "Empathy: walking a mile in the other person's shoes, even when the shoe doesn’t fit."]

It is easy to be empathetic when someone is just like me. It is much harder to have empathy when someone is not like me. How about you?

According to Steve Stein and Howard Book in The EQ Edge, "Empathy is the ability to be aware of, understand, and appreciate the feelings and thoughts of others.” Alfred Adler put it this way, “Seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another."

As I talk with people in organizations, one of the most significant areas for improvement  I hear about the leaders they work with can be described as lack of empathy.

This symptom manifests a number of ways. It may sound like this:

  • I feel like my boss just doesn’t care about me.
  • I try to communicate but he/she just doesn’t listen.
  • We are talking, but I feel like they are not present with me.
  • I feel like I am not a priority for them.
  • I have 50% of their attention, but I don’t know where the other 50% is.
  • They just don't understand what they are asking me for
  • It is so frustrating to not be understood

I know some of you are worried right now that by being an empathetic leader you will be viewed as soft. Well, not so fast. While empathy often lands in the "soft skills" of leadership, I think empathy is actually the hard stuff of leading others. Stein and Book recognize this when they say, "Empathy is more than being nice, it is more than sympathy, it is more than giving up your position." - The EQ Edge

Being Empathetic is about being compassionate, caring, listening, and being flexible if needed. Empathy is perhaps recognizing that an employee doesn’t have the skill set to do a job, working with them to develop the skills, if they still can not perform at an acceptable level, helping them find something they are better at. Even if this is not what the employee wants. Empathy is understanding what is good for the organization, the leader, and the follower, and finding a winning space for all three.

This is what Jean Nidetch pioneered for dieters in the 1960’s. A caring and compassionate place of support and encouragement for those who needed to get healthy with respect to food.

So I was thinking,  I wonder if my readers have such a place of support for leadership?

Do you have a safe place to come and talk about leadership issues you are facing? Do you want to learn more about leading, but just can’t find the time or the discipline to get the improvement you want? Are you getting feedback that your leadership is less than adequate for what your organization is expecting?

If you are interested in this type of supportive environment for your leadership, I want to help.

On Monday's at Noon EST, Noon CST, and Noon PST I will be holding small leadership circle groups. Each group will meet once a month, for one hour, via video call (or you can phone in if you don’t have video capability that day).  Your group will include 4 people, along with myself, who will come together and talk about leadership issues you are facing.

Here is how we will use our time:

  • 20 minutes - Discuss a short assignment Dr. Scott has given the previous session (something like a short reading or reflection).
  • 20 minutes - Case presentation by one of the members on a leadership issue you are facing.
  • 20 minutes - Group discussion on the case.

In addition, upon joining one of these groups you will receive, at no additional charge, a one-on-one monthly 30-minute phone/video coaching session with me. This time is completely yours and can be utilized however you see fit.

The preparation time is minimal and the value is huge. We are only taking a limited number of people for this opportunity and the price for this will never be this low again. So if you have considered an opportunity like this in the past, Act Now, Act Fast.

These sessions do come with some commitments on your part:

  • You commit to 6 months at a time so that the group can form and build trust.
  • You will do your best to prioritize and be present for every session.
  • You will come prepared to learn and grow.

These sessions also come with some commitments on my part:

  • To provide a safe learning environment for all participants.
  • To have you in groups with people you do not know to maintain privacy and confidentiality.
  • To challenge you to leadership heights you never thought possible.

The cost for joining one of these groups is $225/month (or save 10% and pay $1,200 for the entire 6-month commitment upfront).

If at any time you are not completely satisfied we will refund your money, no questions asked (or at least I won’t try and talk you out of your decision, although I may be interested in why you would want to leave).

If you are interested in joining one of these groups, click here to complete an informational form and my assistant, Brandi, will be in touch to set up a 30-minute phone conversation for us so I can answer any initial questions you might have.

Empathy, such a misunderstood, yet valuable leadership trait.

Thank you, Jean Nidetch, for leading the way and teaching us so much. Rest In Peace.