gratitude

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.

5 of My Top 100 Reasons to be Thankful this Christmas Day

Merry Christmas to you and your family!

I thought I would take today to share with you 5 of my top 100 reasons to be thankful this Christmas. 

First, I am thankful for my beautiful wife who I get to enjoy life with. 

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I am thankful I get to work with so many of you in such amazing places. 

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I am thankful for really cool and mysterious things in this world, such as this square with 16 numbers that allows more than 300 possible combinations of 4 numbers that always add up to 33, the age of Christ when He was crucified.

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I am thankful for beaches and sunsets. 

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I am so thankful for the joy I get to experience in life. 

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Last, I am so thankful for you, my readers! Please CLICK HERE to download A Minimalist's Guide to a Personal Leadership Retreat as my free Christmas gift to you when you enter the promo code MERRYCHRISTMAS at checkout! 

Have a blessed Christmas, 

Dr. Scott Livingston

An Open Letter to my Friend at the Fairfield Inn, Clarksville Tennessee

So, I am sitting eating breakfast this morning at a Fairfield Inn in Clarksville Tennessee with my lovely wife Kim. I am having my usual powdered eggs and overcooked bacon and Kim has chosen her much healthier granola and Chobani Greek Yogurt. The place is packed with people who have that look of road exhaustion even though they just woke up.

The tables are so close together in this dining space that sardines would have been envious. Kim and I can’t carry on a conversation because of all the chatter around us. So as we sit and try to enjoy the meal that comes with the price of our room, we also become observant of the conversations around us.  Not evesdropping you understand, just unable to avoid the sound waves bouncing around the room.

The first conversation is coming from a couple who seems to be traveling with the man's mother. The guy is a know-it-all. I mean, you know the type: has an uninformed opinion about everything. Mind you, we only sat at our table for about ten minutes, but this guy has commented on everything, including how bad a president Donald Trump has been versus the eight great years under "Barack." He actually just used the former President's first name. My first thought was how disrespectful we have become as Americans. How have our freedoms have been taken so for granted that respect is something only recognized when Aretha Franklin is singing?

Mr. Know-it-all then goes on to solve the healthcare crisis by telling his mom, “I know exactly what we should do. We need to tax the rich and take away…. Hold on, Hold on," he says, "I have a call coming in." He presses a button on his smart watch and tells the person on the other end of the line they are at breakfast, then turns to his mom and starts telling her why his Google watch is better than her Apple watch when it comes to the phone app.

I was actually beaming a bit nauseous just listening to this guy when I heard a little chirp from the table behind us.  A young family sat down and the mom was busy pouring milk over Cheerios when her little girl says, “Thank you, Mommy." I mean, my heart just melted like butter in a microwave. 

Then it hit me. Each of these two scenarios had main characters. Each of the main characters had a choice as to how they are going to show up for breakfast. The little girl sure could have told her mom that the kind of milk she had wasn’t right or that she didn’t need anyone to pour her milk for her. There were probably dozens of responses the little girl could have made, but she chose to be thankful.

To my know-it-all friend I just have to say: I don’t think that many people at the Fairfield Inn in Clarksville Tennessee care about your opinion. Even if you are 100% right about whatever it is you are pontificating on, your opinion just doesn’t matter that much.  

Perhaps being a little bit more like the Cheerios girl would make this world more like the place we all really want it to be.

Leader Challenge

Leaders, I know you have opinions and I know you have problems to solve and decisions to make. 

People are not doing things exactly as you think they need to be done. I know you would never say that you are the center of the universe, but sometimes, as leaders, we don’t we act like it.  It is all about our vision, our agenda, our goals, our, our, our.

Maybe this week as leaders we spend less time on our own personal agenda and we become more appreciative of those who are on our teams and really make things happen for us in our organizations.

How about this Memorial Day Weekend, instead of complaining that the Affordable Care Act isn’t that affordable for people anymore, or that your Facebook news feed just isn’t loading fast enough, just be thankful.

Be thankful that:

  • You don’t have to work on Monday
  • You have a job and get to work on Monday
  • You have a family
  • You have friends
  • At some point in history a soldier cared enough to die for you so you could have a profile on Facebook.

Just watch yourself today. Practice some self-awareness, and if you find yourself starting to complain, or pontificate about a subject, show some impulse control and turn your self-aggrandizement into gratitude.

Perhaps we can all use the Memorial Day for its true purpose: to remember those who have died so that we can complain if we choose to. 

Now, I don’t want to come off too heavy or seem like I am preaching. That really isn’t my intention. So, after you have really thought about your choice, and being thankful for all you have, then by all means do something frivolous.  Have a BBQ with your family, go play 18 holes, take your kids or grand kids to the park, or join me in watching the Greatest Spectacle in Racing…."Gentlemen start your engines."

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.

My Public Declaration

Earlier this week I was feeling a bit stuck. I felt like there was something I wanted to articulate this week, but I was having a really hard time pulling it together. It felt like I was procrastinating. I had something that I needed to get done and I knew I needed to work on it, but it just wasn’t coming to me.

As I described the situation to my friend Joanne she said, “Are you sure you are procrastinating? Could it be that you are incubating?”

Now there was an interesting idea and perspective!

Joanne’s thought was that I had an idea that was just stewing around in my head but it wasn’t quite ready to come out yet. She suggested that I try a gratitude journal to see if that would help me break through.

Old typewriter with text gratitude

So I did, and here is what I wrote:

Top Ten Things I Am Thankful For In this Season of Life

  • I had an amazing week this week!
    • On Saturday I spent the day facilitating a training with 50 leaders who examined their own emotional intelligence.
    • Monday I spent time with some amazing coaching clients.
    • Tuesday I facilitated a new workshop we are doing called “What You Know About Stress Is Killing You.”
    • Wednesday and Thursday I worked with some amazing young leaders, helping them process an emotional intelligence 360.
    • Friday I spent the day with my wife, Kim.
    • Saturday Kim and I ran in the Everglades Half Marathon.
    • Sunday we had an amazing day of worship at Grace River Church.
  • A body that allows me to still run and exercise.
  • Spending time in the morning with God.
  • Writing this blog.
  • A home without discord.
  • Kids who call me during the week to check in.
  • The picture I got from my Granddaughter this week that was drawn just for me.
  • Airplanes so I can work with cool people and see my boys & their families in Columbus and my daughter and her husband in Madrid.
  • My Team: Brandi, Gretchen, Amy, Rick, Tom, Joanne, & Tim.
  • My beautiful wife who is the most amazing, faithful woman I know.

What Gratitude Did for Me

After I finished my list, which took me less than 5 minutes to do and just flowed off the end of my pen, I had an amazing insight.

What had been incubating in my head were the great relationships I have! My family, my clients, my team, and all of you who take the time to read these words.

I am so thankful for all of you. It is you who make my life joyous and complete.

My thanks to all of you for your encouragement and support in 2016. May God richly bless you and your family this holiday season.

Homework:

Since this is Thanksgiving week, you don’t have any homework from me. Enjoy your week with your family and friends.  If you're feeling ambitious this week, try creating your own Top 10 list of what you are thankful for. If you do this I encourage you to capture the emotion at the end of creating your list. How did expressing thanks make you feel? Now share this emotion with others. You will be glad you did!