leader

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.

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!

How Would You Vote on This Leader Development Debate?

I was recently interviewed to be a coach for a leader who runs a company owned by a venture capital organization. After laying out the situation for me, the person seeking to hire me asked a question I hear a lot at the end of an interview: “Based on what I have shared with you, Scott, can this leader be developed?” My answer to this question is almost 100% of the time a dramatic Yes!

Man putting a ballot into a voting box - USA

It is not can a leader develop, rather, how difficult will it be for them and what are the chances that the desired change will be observable by followers? My position on leader development is simple: Anyone who has a positive, healthy, mental outlook can be developed through coaching - IF they really want to change. In coaching, we often spend too much time focusing on the skill of the coach and not enough on the desire of the leader to change.

I love what Angela Duckworth says at the end of her book, Grit, about this. You can grow your grit in one of two ways; from the inside-out, which is to cultivate your interests and practice. Her perspective is that you can also grow your grit from the outside-in via parenting, mentoring, friendship, and yes, even coaching. The question is not if change can occur, the question is how and how long.

I thought it might be fun to look at the “can the leader be developed" debate via a case study. This will give you an opportunity vote on whether you think these types of leaders can really learn and change.

Case Study

You have an opening in your organization that has been created by the retirement of someone who has previously held a few different roles in the organization, but held the one he is retiring from for about 8 years. There have been several applications made since the posting of the job, but the choice has been narrowed down to two candidates. One is an internal candidate and one is an external candidate. Neither candidate is perfect for the role, so you know that some development is going to be required for this new leader even though both have a lot of experience. Experience is key, but part of your challenge is deciding on the type of experience you will value most. You get the feeling that some changes need to be made in the role. In your interviews, both candidates claim to be agents of change and have somewhat of a track record to support their accomplishments.

The Internal Candidate

Industry experience is on her side. She has been around for over 25 years and has strong support. In fact, in a meeting with the person who is retiring from the organization his quote regarding this internal candidate was that "Your decision is a no-brainer. The future success of the organization and everything that he has worked on his entire time in the organization depends upon the internal candidate being chosen.” You value the perspective of the retiring leader, but as you reflect on his actions and reputation he really has been a “bully” in how he has accomplished organizational changes.

There is no question she is bright and has a strong network in the organization.Those who love her almost have a blind passion for her. People who you have seen think deeply about problems and how to solve them in other circumstances, seem to just answer robotically in a sort of “corporate speak” type affirmation when you ask questions about her qualifications for the role. You get this blind stare from them that feels like, “What other choice do you have?"

Since this candidate is internal there is quite a bit of history on her performance. Your impression, as you reflect on her accomplishments, is that you are really not clear on exactly what she did. Your knee jerk reaction is that her decision-making at times has been poor. It even seems like over time her story changes to fit her image, you want to call it unethical but you really can’t because you just don’t feel like you have all the data to make a claim like that.

As you pour through her files, your impression is that her judgment hasn’t always been the best, but there is nothing in her Human Resources file that supports your feeling. The feeling you get is that the entire file isn’t there, like something is missing or been deleted but you can’t put your finger on it.

You write down on your yellow note pad: Internal Candidate development needs are decision-making and judgment. Perhaps a bit unethical.

The External Candidate

Talk about slinging from the hip. This guy just doesn’t hold back at all. Opinionated and brash is what comes to your mind. You are surprised that of all the external candidates the organization looked at his name rose to the top. There were several other qualified choices, but in the end, this “outsider” rose to the top. Go figure.  You even ask yourself if you should start the external search over, but alas, getting a leader in position is more important that starting over. It seems like this search process has drug on way too long.

This external candidate has a lot of experience, although all of it has been built in a different industry. When you check around to get the scoop on him you find that there really seem to be two kinds of responses from those you talk with. Those who love him... really love him. Those who don’t... really don’t. Doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.

Since the candidate is external you wonder how his experience will translate into your organization. His external accomplishments are right in front of your eyes. You cannot deny his ability to make a tough decision. Countless people you talked to about him tell stories about the decisions he has made even when they were not the most popular.

As you pour through your notes on him, since you don’t have a formal file and some of the information he promised you has not come in yet, your impression is that while he can make the tough decision, he is a bit of a lone ranger. Your biggest concern is around fitness for the role. Really it comes down to his social skills, and he can at times be unpredictable and insensitive.

You write down on your yellow note pad: External Candidate development needs are Organizational Savvy and Executive Presence.

Your Decision

If these were the candidates you had to choose from to fill this important leadership position in your organization, what would you do? What questions are rumbling around in your head? Can you use good impulse control as the owner of this decision, separate yourself from your emotion, and make an informed decision? If you have all the information you need, what would you base your decision on? Does developing as a leader come into the equation? Which of the two candidates is most coachable? Which one seems to desire learning and development the most?

The Development Debate

You have a tough decision. Speaking strictly from a leadership perspective, which of the two candidates from the case study will respond to development and coaching? You know you are going to have some work to do no matter which candidate you choose. What kind of stories will you be able to tolerate as you observe the candidate you choose as a leader?

You glance down at your yellow note pad, which has reduced all the clutter and noise about your decision, to two sentences:

  1. External Candidate Development Needs: Organizational Savvy and Executive Presence.
  2. Internal Candidate Development Needs: Decision-Making and Judgment.

Which of these two is most likely able to change and develop upon the retirement of your current employee?

Homework:

Watch the Presidential Debate tonight (Monday, September 26th) along with almost 100 million other people. Since no leader is perfect and we all need to develop, strictly from a leadership development perspective, what goes into your decision? I would love to know what you think. Send me a comment or a note. I am not really interested in how you will vote, rather I am much more interested in what you think about the nuances of leader development.

Leadertivity

This morning I was reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about how Microsoft is growing into middle age. Since I am there too, and the article was titled “New Tricks for an Aging Microsoft”, I thought it was worth my time to give it a glance. As I was glancing over the column the thing that stuck out to me is that Satya Nadella’s point of emphasis for the 40 year old company is productivity. tEREUy1vSfuSu8LzTop3_IMG_2538

I began thinking about my own productivity. How am I doing? I shifted immediately to my calendar and looked at all the phone coaching appointments I had today and thought, “Whew! I am busy!” But then it hit me that I have coached other leaders before on falling into the trap of being busy and not being strategic. Had I fallen into the same trap by looking at my calendar or my routine tasks and not being productive? The answer was a firm and resounding yes. So while what I have on my calendar is tactically important today, most of the tasks are not helping me become a better leader by investing in those who read this blog to become better leaders.

I am not demeaning the important work you have to do today. Some of the routine tasks and meetings you have with those in your sphere of influence are really important and need to be implemented. That said, are you leaving any time in your busy schedule to develop yourself or those on your team or in your organization to become more productive leaders? Are you encouraging them in the art of “Leadertivity”?

[Tweet "Are you leaving time in your schedule to develop yourself to become a more productive leader?"]

I went to Dictionary.com and looked up the word Leadertivity. You guessed it, the word is not there. But I had to chuckle because the suggestion that the website provided said, “Did you mean Leadfoot?” I clicked on it and the definition is “a person who drives a motor vehicle too fast, especially habitually”.

When I was thinking about Leadertivity, driving a car was not what I was thinking. However, it seemed there is a parallel. The question I had for myself is “am I habitually investing in the productivity of leaders? Am I creating or enhancing value in myself or in others on a regular basis so that my organization and the organizations I serve are in a better place to face their future and make their vision happen?” That is Leadertivity.

[Tweet "Leadertivity: creating or enhancing value in myself or in others on a regular basis."]

What are you going to do today to invest in yourself as a leader? Perhaps you could offer some encouragement to a young person showing promise. Maybe there is a difficult choice you have to make and sitting down and writing what you think and how you feel could offer you some clarity. Or maybe there is a relationship that seems out of whack and you need to search your personality to see if there is a change you need to make in your approach. Whatever it is for you, invest in Leadertivity today.

[reminder]How are you creating or enhancing value in yourself or in others on a regular basis so that your organization is better equipped to meet its future?[/reminder]