Category Archives: Personal Effectiveness

Running Into Angry Arms

Have you noticed that the presidential race is fueled by anger?Screaming people

Tuesday was primary election day in Maryland, and I voted for a losing candidate. He isn’t angry about the right things for enough people. People of all stripes feel that their rights are being violated and declare, “it’s ‘s not fair!”

It’s difficult to be angry about the same things as everyone else because people are mostly angry with others who are angry with them.

Frustration, anger, and bitterness know no bounds.  We all carry and nourish them everywhere we go—home, work, and to the ballpark, and it is easy to see the havoc they wreak.

Somehow we have deluded ourselves into believing that politicians are responsible for and capable of making life fair and for ensuring that our “rights” are never violated.  So, we “run” to politicians who share our brand of anger, huddle with like-minded malcontents for affirmation, and harden ourselves against “them,” whoever “them” are.  We run into angry arms for justice.  To me, that is inane.

The unyielding insistence on being treated “fairly” is foolish.  We ourselves don’t always treat others fairly and cry out for understanding when we don’t.  So, really, we don’t always want fairness. We don’t want our just desserts once we realize what they are.

The “fairness economy” is a losing system; it feeds self-centeredness, bitterness, and resentment. Humans have a penchant for distorting reality and esteeming themselves more highly than we ought to. Psychologists even have names for our distortions, e.g., self-serving bias, self-enhancement bias, self-confirming bias, and the ultimate attribution error.  When others don’t treat us in accordance with our rosy self-portraits, it feels demeaning, and our anger is aroused. Then a battle ensues.

What if we didn’t make “getting our due” the supreme rule in life? What if we pursued a more noble cause in our businesses?

The apostle Paul commended people to live in the “servant economy” when he wrote:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Can patriotic American capitalists make this a guiding principle instead of “getting my due”?  Would that be contradictory? I think not.

  • When salesmen count their customers more significant than themselves, the customer is helped, sales are made, and loyalty is won.
  • When leaders consider their staff’s needs above theirs, people are treated with dignity and appreciation; they grow; they take risks and support their leader and his/her goals.
  • When team members look out for their boss, the team tackles problems, overcomes challenges, and meets their goals.
  • When colleagues look out for each other, trust is built, people learn, and the work climate is positive and productive.

If we would esteem others more highly than ourselves at work, we would take a giant step away from anger and towards reconciliation.  “If” is a big word though. There is a reason why people turn to politicians for justice.  It’s easier to toss the burden on someone else rather than to carry it personally.

I want to live in the servant economy.  How about you?  Which economy do you want to live in – fairness, servant, or another?

 

If I Can’t Be Divergent, I’ll be Candor

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Last weekend I went to see Divergent, a movie based on a trilogy written by Veronica Roth.  Most of us read the series and were eager to be disappointed because, well, the movie is never as good as the book.

Our seats hadn’t yet warmed when the conversation began.

Jennifer: Which faction would you be?

Me: Who me, why I’d be Divergent of course.

Gail: No, you can’t be Divergent. You have to belong to one of the factions.

Me: Then I would be Candor.

All: Ahhhh yeah, of course. What else?!

I am candid person; I know that healthy and productive relationships depend upon it. And right now, I am feeling the love.  A few days ago I reunited with a client over lunch. When the conversation turned to my ponderings about my brand, she gave me some welcome and flattering feedback.

What stands out to me is how well you ‘speak truth to power.’ You have the ability to speak the truth in a way that people can hear it. Not everybody can do that, and I really admire you for that.

It was music to my ears and warm fuzzies for my heart, but just how valuable is this kind of Candor? According to Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, it’s brought in about 10.3 billion in the box office from its fourteen films – from Toy Story to the current smash hit Frozen. In an interview with Fast Company, Catmull previews his book Creativity Inc. and attributes much of Pixar’s success to the candor practiced by their “Brain Trust” in quarterly meetings.

A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Our decision-making is better when we draw on the collective knowledge and unvarnished opinions of the group. Candor is the key to collaborating effectively. Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional environments.

Dysfunction has its costs: it cuts off communication, impairs decision-making, stifles creativity, kills productivity, and annoys customers. Let me say that again: it really annoys customers.

That’s why I press my clients to say what needs to be said – in healthy, productive ways.

So, I am proud to be from Candor. How about you? What is your faction and are you proud of it?

FACTIONS[1]

p.s.
I still truly believe I am Divergent.  I wouldn’t be Candor if I didn’t tell you that.

 

 

 

 

A Formula for Courage

A Formula for Courage

I recently read Breaking the Fear Barrier by Tom Rieiger of Gallup Consulting.  In it, he makes the case that parochialism, territorialism, and bureaucracy grow from fear.  Managers fear losing the ability to control their outcomes so they build organizational barriers, e.g., unnecessary or self-serving rules and policies, to protect their interests.  Ultimately, those barriers do more than protect parochial interests: they protect the organization from succeeding.  Rieger also offers sound medicine for organizations that are wrapped up in fear and bureaucracy.

Rieger Sets a Low Bar

His advice is good, but he sets an awfully low bar for people.  He seems to accept that people will not be courageous and recommends methods for breaking barriers erected out of fear. Rather than treating the nasty symptoms – the barriers of bureaucracy – we should aspire to overcome the fear that gives rise to it.  Cowardice succumbs to fear whereas courage overcomes it.  I don’t know about you, but I would rather overcome than succumb.  Courage is a virtue; cowardice is a vice.

We fear failure, we fear looking silly, we fear seeming inferior to others, and we fear losing what we have.  Fear stops us from voicing a dissenting opinion, changing jobs, confronting poor behavior, facing problems, and so on.

It’s plain to me that people need a formula for courage more than they need a medicine for dealing with the symptoms of cowardice.

Life Calls for a High Bar

I would like to offer my addendum to Breaking the Fear Barrier.  I’ll call it “A Formula for Courage.”  Everyone should learn this formula by heart because courage is an essential element of a virtuous character.

Ingredients:

  • Moral Compass
  • Worthy Goal
  • Humility
  • Self Sacrifice

* Note: Some formulas call for a measure of love.

I confess that I don’t know the proper portions, but I am confident that each is needed.

Moral Compass

A moral compass is the first ingredient because you must want to be virtuous and know what virtue looks like in order to pursue it.  Your moral compass also gives you a clear vision to see where the trials of today are headed and to know what to do about them.  Today’s small transgressions often lead to grave consequences tomorrow.  A strong moral compass provides you with that foresight and the wisdom to face trials now.

Worthy Goal

Why would anyone stare down a giant, risk failure, or endure personal harm?  Because the cause is worth it!  Of course, if you haven’t set out to accomplish anything or set your mind on being a certain kind of person, then you have no reason to take a risk.  When I am coaching people, I’ve learned that they need to be reminded of their values and goals when they are facing tough situations.  Often, all it takes for people to move to action is a simple reminder of who they are striving to be.

Humility

Have you seen the t-shirts proclaiming “It’s all about me,” “Queen Bee,” or “I’m with stupid”?  Don’t wear them.  Courage requires a clear understanding that “it” is not all about you.  Instead, it’s about putting a transcendent goal above your personal interests, and courageous leadership means placing that goal and other people before you.  The Apostle Paul counsels Christians in Philippi as follows:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

I’ve noticed that humble people are generally trusted and admired.  I’ve also noticed that the same people who esteem others for their humility often bristle at the notion that they should submit to others or truly serve people.  It feels demeaning, and perhaps it is, but true humility and submission are hard to separate.

Self-Sacrifice

The ultimate act of valor is to give one’s life for another person or cause.  Boys, even grown men, fantasize about being the hero who rescues another person from imminent bodily harm.  In real life self-sacrifice comes in smaller increments – kind of like Chinese water torture.  The little opportunities for self-sacrifice can seem like occasions to erode dignity one annoying drop at a time. Instead of the drama of life or death, the stakes we face are things like approval from others, a chance at a promotion, bonuses, inconvenience, and our fragile egos.  This type of self-sacrifice is a bit less glamorous and a lot harder to choose.

That’s it – that is my formula for courage.  I don’t expect Mr. Rieger to include it in his second edition, but one never knows!

What do you think of my formula? Will you try it?  Would you change it a little and make it your own?

 

Feedback, The Breakfast of Champions

The other night I watched two teenage sisters shine. They shined so brightly that their audience beamed with pride at their character and accomplishment. The girls volunteered to make a presentation and be coached in front of roughly fifty adults at a meeting of the Institute for Cultural Communicators (ICC). After diligent preparation and no small amount of creative labor, the girls stood in front of their audience ready to deliver their performance. What happened next reminded me of a paper my wife wrote entitled “Feedback: The Breakfast of Champions.” The girls confidently delivered their presentation. Then they consumed enough “breakfast” for a team of champions. Again and again they performed and consumed, performed and consumed. It was beautiful– and so were they.

With each cycle their presentation improved. The girls listened carefully and graciously, though it was no doubt trying to be jostled around by such direct feedback– don’t do that, try this, now this… In the end, the performance was greatly improved and so was, I believe, the audience. We, the audience, witnessed two young ladies gracefully accept and respond to a public critique of something they personally created and performed. The contrast with the adult workplace was glaring, at least to me.

As I reflect on the contrast and draw on my years of experience, here is what I see.

ICC Workplace
Interdependence Autonomy
Feedback is expected and wanted by both parties Feedback is threatening to both parties
Feedback is essential to the process Feedback is an exception to the process
Critics are viewed as partners Critics are viewed as rivals
Accepting feedback is sign of character Accepting feedback is sign of weakness

I doubt that these girls have always taken feedback so well.  Most people don’t.  But I am pretty sure I know how they got to this point:  Their goal is to improve, and their learning process is collaborative. Twice a month they gather with other students and adults to work on their communication skills.  In those sessions they routinely give and get feedback just like breathing– in and out, give and get—and the results are exceptional.

…I wonder what would happen if adults in the workplace did the same thing

What is Common Sense Anyway?

It’s common sense, anyone can do it.

That’s what the mechanic told me when I asked him what special skills it took to keep a 40-yard long bohemeth of a machine running. The machine made GE light bulbs and had thousands upon thousands of moving parts.  His job was to keep the machine tuned and running in perfect order – plain and simple. Except, it really wasn’t simple at all.

One Man’s Trash is…

My job was to figure out what skills were needed to do the job so GE could hire more people like him. But he wasn’t of much help. Common sense my foot! This expert mechanic had mastered so much, but he was aware of so little of of it. He just knew it, and it seemed all so simple. I didn’t know “it,” but I wanted to, and GE was counting on me.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

The mechanic is not alone. Workplaces are filled with people who don’t know what they know. As result, organizations often have a difficult time developing younger, less experienced workers. And right now, experienced people are walking out the company door to retirement and taking their common sense with them.  One man’s trash is a company’s treasure.

Developing Common Sense

When I met this mechanic in the back  in the 80’s, I was convinced that he was wrong. I was convinced that he possessed inherent abilities that made him so good at his job.  But now, I can appreciate his perspective.  I still believe that he had a certain set of natural intelligences that “funded” his performance, but I also know a little more about what he called “common sense.”   Now this topic is one my favorite things to talk about. So, when had the chance to make a series of training videos for my alma mater, West Chester University, I decided to make them about “Developing Good Judgement” otherwise known as common sense.

Developing a Camera Sense

The link below will take you to my first video, shot in one take back at West Chester University. I am looking forward to making several more, and to developing more “camera sense” as I do.

Please let me know what you think!   http://bit.ly/H76nue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Six Million Dollar Employee

What would you do if you lost both your legs?

Bounce Back

When teenage rock climbing phenom Hug Herr lost his legs in 1982, he used the “tragedy” as a spring board into an exceptional life.

In 1982 Herr was an average student and world-class rock climber. That was before he got caught in a blizzard that took one friend’s life and the lower part of his two legs.  A few months later, he was ascending the rock face with his homemade prosthetic legs.  Soon, he was modifying his prosthetics to do things human legs couldn’t. He made those early devices of wood using the rudimentary skills he learned in shop class. Now, Professor Herr leads the Biometrics Research group at the MIT Media Lab where they design Star War’s style prosthetics. These new, sleek robotics are made of alloys, powered by batteries and biodynamics, and are guided by sophisticated software. Herr now says he feels bad for people who have to make do with their human legs.

Put on a New Pair of Glasses

Everyone gets their share of lemons in life – some get a boatload, and some get a just a bushel. But, as Mr. Herr’s story illustrates, it’s not how many lemons you get – it’s how you use them that counts. What happens in our lives often matters less than how we interpret our experiences.  Experiences in themselves are not always inherently positive or negative. Researcher Barbara Frederickson found that people with 3/1 ratio of positive to negative experiences a day feel a sense of well-being. On average, Americans’ positivity ratio is somewhere around 2/1, which may account for the level of discontent in American organizations. Like many researchers before her, Frederickson emphasizes that whether a person experiences a ratio of 2/1 or 5/1 actually depends what they notice and how they interpret it.

Debbie Versus Harry

Various streams of research suggest that discontent has as much to do with personality and personal expectations as it does with reality.  Some personalities believe that “bad” things are just bound to happen to them, and despite how hard they try, they can’t affect their outcomes. People like this learn less, overcome fewer challenges, and are in poorer health than their more optimistic peers. Besides that, these Debbie Downers are just hard to be around. In contrast, Happy Harries see failures as learning opportunities – as obstacles to overcome. To these folks, problems are temporary, situational, and solvable. That’s how they explain things to themselves. Consequently, they learn more, overcome greater challenges, and get things done. People enjoy being around them too.  So one big reason why some people “fail” and flounder interminably is their explanatory style – they see themselves either as strong protagonists in their world or as backstage hands.

Be Realistic

Negative emotions can also be rooted in unrealistic expectations. When life event’s match our expectations, we tend to feel satisfied.  When our life goals are met, we tend to feel positive about ourselves. But when life doesn’t match up, look out!

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues linked Americans’ “happiness” to three things:

  • A positive life evaluation, which is largely based on whether a person has met their his long-term goals,
  • A sense of emotional well-being, which comes primarily from strong relationships, and
  • A $60,000 salary, regardless of the local cost of living.

Organizational leaders need to be concerned with positivity and “happiness” because it affects team productivity and ultimate success. Attitudes, both positive and negative, are quite literally contagious.  Happy Harries are more resilient and accomplish more and continually improve.  As they succeed, so does the organization.

So, what can managers do to drive their teams’ positivity ratio closer to 6/1 where high-performing teams hang-out?  One solution is to hire teams full of people like Hugh Herr – smart, positive, resilient problem solvers who work hard.  He is a Six Million Dollar Man!  Given a huge budget, an exceptional recruiting program, and a strong personnel assessment process, you just might find another “six million dollar man.” Realistically though, there are few people exactly like Hugh Herr out there to found. But there are million dollar people to be found, and here is what you can do to find and keep them.

  • Invest wisely in your candidate assessment and selection process. Psychologists have refined tools for determining the fit between a person and the workplace. Personality assessments cut through the masks people wear to distinguish the real Happy Harries from the pretenders.
  • Build relationships with your team members, and encourage them to build relationships in the workplace.
  • Frame situations for employees to help them see opportunities and the big picture.  Of course, this will require you to develop a positive perspective yourself as well.
  • Set challenging, realistic goals with people based on their talents and the situation.
  • Ensure that people have positive experiences at work, especially success in completing their work duties.
  •  Communicate clearly what people can and should expect in and from their workplace.
  •  Learn to genuinely appreciate people, and be generous in how you show your appreciation.

Managers who make a habit of doing these things find their team members acting a lot more like Hugh Herr than a huge mistake.

Easier said than done though, isn’t it? Most managers are everyday folks who struggle to get through the challenges of the day – putting out fires and responding to whatever is thrown at them. Leadership is very demanding; don’t toil away all by yourself!  If you’re striving to do more with your leadership or your team, reach out to your fellow leaders and to Credo Consulting for some support. Wise managers know that leadership is not a solo sport: it’s a team sport.

Research References

Diener, E., Kahneman, D., Tov, W., & Arora, R. (2009). Income’s Differential Influence on Judgments of Life Versus Affective Wellbeing. Assessing Wellbeing. Oxford, UK: Springer

Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing. Fredrickson, Barbara L.; Losada, Marcial F. American Psychologist, Vol 60(7), Oct 2005, 678-686. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.60.7.678