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self-awareness

A couple of years ago I coached a client who worked at a high-end fashion company.

He knew he made a mistake taking the job on his first day.

The onboarding process consisted solely of being shown where his desk and chair was. Nobody came around to say hello or offer their help if he needed it. There was no training, no welcoming, no nothing.

He sat in his chair wondering what exactly he was supposed to do.

“Okay,” he realized, “I have to figure this out on my own.” And so began a trial-by-fire process to learn the ropes. Every time he made a mistake, his boss would come out from her office to scold him publicly. In fact, the only reason she ever emerged from her office was to scold him.

That was how he learned the job: by training himself, making an innocent mistake, and then being told he did it all wrong.

When his boss sat down with him for his first performance review she told him, “We’ve never had someone make this many mistakes before.”

This was actually a line she had used on each person who held his position before him. He later learned that his boss was getting the same hostile treatment from her own boss, the president of the company. The president treated everyone under him the same way, and an atmosphere of fear and shame pervaded the entire company.

[There was even spyware on every computer in case the president decided to arbitrarily see what any person was doing at any particular time.]

The reason I’m sharing this story is to show how deeply a leader’s behavior can propagate throughout an organization. How a leader relates to the people around them can set a precedent for the entire culture.

The Emotional Footprint

Most of us are familiar with the idea of our carbon footprint, and we try to take steps to reduce the negative impact of our lifestyle on the Earth.

We understand that if we throw garbage on the ground, drive a car that gets 5 miles per gallon, and never recycle, those choices will have a real impact on the environment that only compounds over time.

Most of us take steps to make sure we’re not unnecessarily destroying the Earth with our carbon footprint, but we might not realize we are leaving an emotional footprint too:

The effect that a person or company has on the work environment of an organization and its people.

An emotional footprint is the result of emotional contagion, be it positive or negative. As a leader, your emotions and the way you relate to the people around you affects the organizational environment, oftentimes in ways you might not anticipate.

It’s when the emotional footprint is negative that is cause for concern. Like an oil spill in a coral reef, toxic emotions or interpersonal practices from a leader can cause drastic damage to the balance of an organization.

Emotional contagion spreads like wildfire.

So many factors contribute to the emotional footprint impressed upon a people and an organization. Just like there is a variety of different ways to pollute the earth, there is a plethora of ways a leader can sour the emotional environment of an organization.

It can be small, ongoing things.

It could be a bad mood or a short temper. It could be nitpicking, micromanaging, and mistrust. It could be ego or an unwillingness to admit mistakes. It could simply be a harsh and unappreciative communication style.

Or it could be something extreme, like Jackie Bucia, who was the emotional equivalent of the BP oil spill for the automotive group she worked for. In 2011, Jackie asked her employee, Debbie, to give her a kidney. After Debbie underwent surgery and gave away her kidney, Jackie (allegedly) fired Debbie for not recovering quick enough from the surgery leaving Debbie without health insurance.

Actions like the above pollute the minds of the people in the organization, which causes unproductive group dynamics, a lack of trust, and a decline in creativity and collaboration.

For example, if the CEO treats all employees – regardless of status – with respect and appreciation, then that sense of equality and respect will diffuse throughout the organization.

If, on the other hand, the CEO acts like she is a queen and every other employee is her servant, the emotional atmosphere will be tense; the struggle for power will hinder people working together towards the common, organizational goals.

For a leader, it’s always a good idea to conduct an emotional footprint test, to gauge the overarching emotional vibe running through the organization.

Emotions spread like wildfire, and if you have an outbreak of negativity polluting the air you want to contain it before it destroys productivity and morale.

Keep an open door policy

The easiest and quickest way to feel the pulse of your organization is to promote a culture where people feel comfortable to speak their mind, and share their feelings.

Promote psychological safety. Create a comfortable environment where speaking your mind is accepted, and expected. Feeling safe to be vulnerable, to take risks, to just be, can be powerfully motivating. Google conducted 200+ interviews over the course of 2 years looking at more than 250 attributes of 180+ active Google teams. They found the teams that had achieved psychological safety were the most successful.

Create a space where leaders accept feedback from employees, anyone can ask for help, and employees are allowed to make mistakes, especially when they are taking a risk or developing a new skill.

Check yourself before your wreck yourself

Leaders must maintain a healthy daily dose of self-awareness. Before you enter the workspace conduct a self-examination:

·     What kinds of thoughts are floating through your head?

·     Do you feel happy or sad?

·     Are you feeling introverted or extroverted?

·     Are you inspired, indifferent, or unenthusiastic about work?

Rest assured whatever is going on in your head is going to create a chain reaction. If you are stressed, frustrated, and angry at the world, those emotions will play out in the workplace and they will spread throughout your team.

Create a positive onboarding experience

Make the first impression the right one. When a new hire starts make them feel welcome. Get the team together and give your new member a chance to get to know everyone.

Sounds simple and yet it is overlooked more often than you’d think. Many leaders simply do not take the time to incorporate a positive onboarding experience, which in turn sets the tone for that new hire’s experience at said company.

Submit yourself to a 360-Degree Assessment

A 360-Degree assessment is a chance for your supervisors, direct reports, and peers to anonymously give you feedback about your strengths and weaknesses.

This is a very quick and easy – though not necessarily painless – way to get a snapshot of how your coworkers think of you.

Have the 360-Degree assessment be conducted by an executive coach or leadership development team to help analyze your feedback and develop a plan to improve upon the negative aspects of your personality or leadership style.

When it comes down to it, we’re talking about self-awareness, and widening the scope of your self-awareness isn’t always easy. It’s emotional, it’s personal, and directly confronts your ego. In the long run, however, you’ll be thankful you did it.

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A few years ago, I fell into a bit of a mental slump. My leadership development company, Equilibria Leadership Consulting, had just completed a two-year long project with our biggest client to date and we did not have another gig on the horizon. We did not have another gig on the horizon because I committed huge mistake #1 of owning a company: “forgetting” to do business development because I was too busy delivering.

I hate to admit it but my anticipatory anxiety flew through the roof. I feared the worst: we would not land another client, I wouldn’t be able to pay my employees, I’d have to close up shop, find a new career, divorce my husband, sell my car, move to the country, and raise cats. I was happy about the cat thing but pretty bummed about the rest.

I also felt extraordinarily guilty and stupid for committing “huge mistake #1” of owning a company. I felt like a complete failure.

It also didn’t help that I had just returned from my honeymoon and was probably dealing with a wine withdrawal, having spent the previous two weeks drinking in Italy and France.

Suffice it to say my anxiety over the business was affecting my ability to think clearly and objectively move forward. The fear and anxiety directly impacted my self-efficacy. I remember feeling mentally sluggish, lacking vigor.

Turns out this isn’t rocket science. Our self-efficacy directly impacts our motivation and ability to forge ahead. In short, our belief in ourselves (or lack thereof) influences how much energy you have to move through life and accomplish your goals.

The way you think about yourself makes or breaks your bottom line.

A 2011 study performed by Kathleen D. Vohs, Roy F. Baumeister, and Brandon J. Schmeichel found that if you are mildly exhausted and you have a strong sense of self-efficacy (one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task) then the mild exhaustion won’t affect your ability to forge ahead.

But if you don’t have a strong sense of self-efficacy then even a slight mental drain will join forces with your insecurity to ensure you drag yourself down and make you even more exhausted.

I’ve always been extremely driven and ambitious, waking up early and working steadfastly throughout the day, so this was an unusual state for me to be in; that further compounded matters as I couldn’t stop asking myself, “What’s wrong with me?”

There was an unhealthy cycle at play: fear I wouldn’t land another gig created anxiety, which created mental exhaustion, which affected my self-efficacy, which created fear I wouldn’t land another gig, and so on and so forth.

My husband, who normally needs career pep talks from me, was now the pep talker. We pepped and talked daily for a couple weeks until the fog lifted (and maybe the wine, cheese, and bread started to leave my system).

I can tell you from first-hand experience that when you are not feeling up to par professionally, you will need to bolster your lifestyle with every other possible gain to ensure you don’t drag yourself down a rabbit hole of exhaustion and self-defeat.

Since we can all feel less than at times, we need to either remember to eat, sleep, exercise, and laugh on a daily basis, or remind ourselves that our insecurities and exhaustion are joining forces to keep our productivity at bay.

So, in short:

  • Self-confidence increases your energy level and your immunity to the effects of mental exhaustion
  • Lack of self-confidence decreases your energy level and weakens your immunity to mental exhaustion

We need to think of our belief systems the same way we do our bodies and muscles. If you were going to run a marathon you would train. You’d build up your stamina. You’d run a bit every day. You’d stretch. You’d watch what you ate. You’d try to get the right amount of sleep. All of these factors play important roles to get into the right physical shape for the marathon.

Similarly, you need to prep the mind for the marathon that is your life. You need to get it in shape. So if you lack confidence, self-efficacy, or if you feel lazy, unambitious, and cynical – all of these factors are going to hinder your performance level.

If you’re getting enough sleep and eating well but still lack the energy to accomplish what you want to accomplish in life, take a look at your belief system. What are you telling yourself on a daily basis?

Are you filling your own head with doubt, insecurity, and cynicism? This type of negative self-talk will become a self-fulfilling prophecy as you drain yourself of the energy needed to accomplish the goals you are telling yourself aren’t possible in the first place.

Exhaustion we pretty much know how to deal with: sleep, the food you eat, exercise, etc. But what about self-efficacy? There isn’t a confidence diet, I’ve never seen an “Eat these three foods to believe in yourself” article.I offer the following three suggestions as a starter kit for keeping your self-efficacy intact:

  1. ACT. That’s not an acronym. I mean take action, even if they are small actions. Action begets action and as you accomplish small goals your confidence will rise. It’s amazing how great accomplishing a goal can feel. It removes so much anxiety. When we stagnate our anxiety increases and those two (stagnation and anxiety) will reinforce each other until the end of time. So don’t worry about the BIG goals. Instead focus on the small wins you can accomplish on a daily basis. Maybe it’s something as simple as registering a website domain. If you act in any way, shape or form, you’re way ahead of the majority of the world.
  2. Get a coach. If you lack the motivation to accomplish small goals on your own then you need outside help to motivate you, reveal your mental blocks to you, give you pep talks, and pump you up. Until you can self-motivate I recommend seeking outside motivation. A coach can give you the tools you need to prop yourself up when you’re alone.
  3. Talk to someone who is doing what you want to do. Learn how they got to where they are, what steps they took, what obstacles they faced. You might learn that they went through periods of self-doubt as well. Maybe they’ll share how they overcame them. When you meet another regular human being who has done what you want to do the road to the goal becomes less mysterious.

The two main actions that worked for me were talking to my husband, who served as a coach, and accomplishing small daily goals. Even though it felt like drudgery, the small daily actions kept me moving forward until the habit of moving forward was re-established.

The talking and the acting eventually broke the spell. Once the fog lifted I resumed my normal activity level, got back on track, and soon enough I started doing the work necessary to land some business.

I still recommend devouring as much bread, cheese, and wine if/when you find yourself in the south of France.

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We all talk to ourselves when we’re alone. When we’re walking down the street, when we’re sitting in front of the computer, when we’re waiting for our car to come out of the car wash.

And when we talk to ourselves there’s a narrator with a particular bent. Sometimes our narrator is inspiring, but sometimes our narrator confirms our deepest fears for us. Of course it’s always us narrating our own story.

You’d think we’d always choose an inspiring narrator, yet so many of us – myself included – fall prey at times to a terrible, uninspiring narrator. Where does this narrator come from? He/she is born out of our core beliefs.

Our core beliefs are all the ingrained positive and negative thoughts that influence how we think and feel about ourselves, and the world around us. Unless discovered and diminished, core beliefs tend to solidify and resist change.

Here is a list of some common negative core beliefs:

  • I always get the short end of the stick
  • I must be perfect at all times
  • I can never change
  • I must only look out for myself because no one else will
  • I am not a people person
  • I am never listened to or respected
  • I must strictly adhere to my plans

To compound matters further, our core beliefs start to hang out with our cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are beliefs our minds tell us to reinforce something that is untrue, and they typically reinforce something negative.

So you might start with the core belief, “This always happens to me” and end up with the cognitive distortion, “This will happen to me forever.” (Overgeneralizing)

Another example would be starting with the core belief, “I am never listened to or respected” which is then cemented in the brain with the cognitive distortion, “I must be boring and insignificant.” (Emotional Reasoning)

Do this enough and you will build a world around you that reflects your inner negativity, which will add to your stress, which will reinforce your negative self-talk, and so on and so forth. It’s a self-inflicted Murphy’s Law. The loop has to stop somewhere.

[There are approximately 15 cognitive distortions that psychologists have sorted out over the years that you can find here.]

How Negative Core Beliefs Affect a Leader’s Reaction to Stress

These negative beliefs and self-talk undermine a leader’s ability to handle stress effectively.

If you take as an example the core belief of “I must be perfect at all times” it’s easy to see how this will create anticipatory anxiety: you will not be perfect at some point in the future.

That anticipatory anxiety becomes a daily stress – either in the forefront or as a constant background buzz. The reaction to that daily stress is to mount even more anxiety and high-wire behavior to avoid the fear from coming to fruition.

Then, should we find ourselves imperfect at some point (which we of course will) we do not have the required cognitive energy to handle the stress as the anticipatory anxiety has already burned it up.

As another example, a leader with negative core beliefs might react to the news that sales are down by thinking, “This always happens to me.” Or in anticipation, “this is going to happen to me.”

Again, this response does not have the required resilience to think about how to change course. It has already deemed the current reality as permanent and unfixable.

We all write scripts for ourselves for how we will act or not act in certain situations. Rather than write yourself as the character that gets killed in the first act, write yourself as the hero who thinks outside of the box, who keeps the negative self-talk at bay.

How Negative Core Beliefs Affect a Leader’s Ability to Lead

When we bombard ourselves with negative self-talk, our anxiety mounts. As our anxiety mounts our stress builds, and it becomes contagious for all around us.

You might have an MBA from Wharton and a law degree from Harvard, but if you are a stress case your peers and colleagues will not notice your credentials; they’ll only notice your stressed out behavior.

Neuroscience backs up the notion that people find it hard to work for leaders who do not handle stress effectively. Everything that goes on in our environment affects the brain’s limbic system (emotional center). So it goes to reason that a stressed out leader will contaminate the emotional wellbeing of those around him/her. Frantic people make other people frantic.

Effective stress management makes you and everyone around you more efficient and productive.

How to Manage Our Negative Core Beliefs

Become Cognizant. Listen to your inner voice. How is it talking to you? Would you tolerate it if a friend talked to you in the same way? Pay close attention to your exact words and write them down. You’ll begin to see how the voice in your head contributes to stress.

Challenge the negative thought. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is my negative thought?
  • What evidence proves this thought true?
  • What evidence proves this thought false?
  • What unhealthy feelings and behaviors does this thought cause?
  • What will eventually happen if I continue to think this way?
  • What advice would I give a friend who feels this way?
  • What conditions should I accept right now? What won’t change?
  • What can I do to make my thinking more positive?
  • What words will express my new healthy thought?

How to Ultimately Beat the Negative Self-Talk

We don’t have to become Pollyannas to shift our self-talk. Simply by maintaining a healthy dose of realism we can improve our psychological health and ultimately our leadership skills. It is a learned optimism.

1. Get a coach or therapist. If your brain is looping with negative self-talk I highly recommend a coach or therapist to help break the spell. It is a sign of strength to admit you need help and allow an outside perspective.

2. Commit to Your Life. Pardon the new age analogy, but if you were a plant would you be flourishing and robust or would you be withered and half-dead? Get yourself in shape, physically, socially, and professionally. Water the plant! The more you are fulfilling what you see as your innate self the less time you’ll have to listen to the negative self-talk, but also…the less it will actually be talking to you in the first place.

3. Perceive Control Over Situations. You can choose how you react to a stressor and thus exert some degree of control over it. This takes practice, but you have to start. Don’t fret if you aren’t a master at perceiving control over situations at the beginning. You need to create new neural pathways in your brain, which requires repeated tries.

4. View Stressful Events as Problems or Opportunities. Those who cope successfully with stress tend to look at the silver linings as well as the clouds. Plus, once the event happens you have to react to it in some way. Might as well do it in the way where you and those you lead stand to benefit.

5. Give yourself some space. If you find that you are consumed with negative self-talk and cognitive distortions you may need to clear your head with a vacation or some time off. I recognize this may not be possible given your circumstances but see if you can carve out some personal time to re-boot your brain.

The bottom line is how do you want to feel about your life on a daily basis? While it may seem like you do not have control over your thoughts, actually the opposite is true: you do. And in each moment when you hear negativity in your head you have the opportunity to halt it and switch to something that feels good.

There’s no question life throws “unfair” curveballs our way. I’m not asking you to like them, but I am suggesting that once the curveball is acknowledged you don’t dwell on how bad it makes you feel.

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My colleague and I had no choice but to rent a car one night when a canceled flight left us stranded, five hours away from our destination.

Two hours into the drive, we encountered what felt like a monsoon. It was then we discovered that one of the windshield wiper blades was bare metal, sans rubber. Though I am a fan of some alternative music genres, metal scraping on glass is not one of them.

It was pitch black, the only light source coming from large trucks. At times we had to stick our heads out the window to see where we were going. We called the car rental company (a large national chain we all know) for roadside assistance, which amounted to them suggesting we find a 24/7 Walmart. No luck.

Prognosis: we were down one blade for the entirety of the trip, forced to listen to metal on glass wipe back and forth for hours. It was dangerous and excruciating.

When we returned the car, we were given a $100 gift certificate (good for one year) and went on my way. I wanted to ask for a free future rental along with a full repayment of my graduate school loans, but the customer service rep was so nice and empathetic I took the gift certificate.

One year and three days later I needed to rent a car again, but I was told that the gift certificate’s expiration was final and “absolutely nothing could be done.” We can successfully perform a heart transplant on someone but issuing a new gift certificate for a rental car, that’s beyond our human capability. For several weeks after I dealt with reps that told me there was nothing they or anyone could do for me. They saw “one year” and their brain thought, “game over.”

Here was a customer service department deeply rooted in what Carol Dweck calls a “fixed mindset.”

If you haven’t read Mindset yet by Carol Dweck I highly recommend it. I have been rather obsessed with the concept of fixed vs growth mentalities she outlines. A fixed mindset being one that, in plain terms, believes change is not possible, whatever the scenario. A growth mindset would be one that believes the possibility of change does exist, whatever the scenario.

If you struggle with your piano lessons at first and have a fixed mindset you’ll think you’re never going to get better, it’s not going to get any easier, and it’s a waste of time. Someone with a growth mindset will approach the task thinking that while it’s difficult now the fruits of their labor will ripen later.

Many of us can feel the hot breath of a fixed mindset when we are on the phone with a customer service representative for a large corporation. If you want something from Comcast or Verizon that involves anything resembling a discount before your plan is up chances are you’re not going to get it, but then tell them you want to cancel your plan and suddenly you are transferred to the customer retention department who are leading the way in growth mindset, albeit much to our annoyance.

It’s understandable why large corporate customer service departments would have rules to follow. Without them, there is no consistency. However, perhaps one of the rules should be:

“Remember that customers are calling because they need help.”

The mantra “the customer needs help” should pulse throughout customer service departments. When people need help they are in a position of vulnerability. Vulnerable people have their guard up, primed to fight, expecting their needs will not be met. It takes very little to turn a situation from bad to ugly or conversely surprise someone with just a modicum of empathy.

A fixed mindset in customer service creates a vacuum. It suffocates the interaction between customer and company. A growth mindset breathes oxygen into the conversation, allowing for empathy.

There is a story I love in Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness where he and some Sketchers reps are hanging out in a hotel room and they want to order a pizza but don’t know who to call. Hsieh has them anonymously call Zappos to prove how amazing his customer service department is. The Zappos rep they speak with does in fact find them a pizza place in their area that will deliver to them. That type of culture starts with the premise that someone is calling you because they need help. Zappos is not in the business of finding pizza delivery, but they are in the business of customer service.

After reading Mindset I am convinced the fixed vs growth mindset debate is at the core of all failures and successes, whether in business or our personal lives. With a tight fixed mindset every time you get into a fight with your romantic partner you will call it quits. You will then get into that same fight in every subsequent relationship. The fixed mindset will prevent you from ever evolving from that fight. The fixed mindset puts a stranglehold on your personal evolution.

A growth mindset will lay the grounds for emotional maturity. Even if you don’t agree with the other person’s point of view you can rise above it and think, “I don’t agree with their argument but what is it they want? Maybe we can get to where we both want to be without insisting the other agrees with us.”

When it comes to customer service, a rep can think, “I have to adhere to my company’s policy but maybe there’s something I can do to help.” It comes down to the individual. How do you want to lead your life? How stuck or unstuck do you want to feel?

If you are a customer service rep and someone calls with a request outside of the company policy it is very easy to simply say “No.” You don’t have to make up your own rules to have a growth mindset though. The reps I spoke with could have thought, “I don’t have the power to issue a gift certificate but I empathize with her experience of listening to metal on glass, and being afraid for her life. Maybe I can help her in some way, maybe I can plead her case to my manager.”

This requires more energy and verve. It requires effort. Work. That’s where the wall goes up. The aversion to effort blocks our human potential. It’s not just about being a good customer service representative, it’s about being a fellow human being, listening to what’s being expressed to you, and having empathy. And energy!

There are of course factors other than company policy at play here: how much reps are paid, the success of their personal lives, everything that has happened to them in their respective lives before getting on the phone. All of those experiences combined with their emotional make-up have contributed to them having either a fixed or growth mindset.

The good news is our stories can be rewritten – and our brains rewired – simply by encouraging, training and helping reps have some freedom of thought.

Which is why it is important to empower your customer service reps to have some freedom of thought. Establish a policy that puts service first and reminds them that people are calling – not because they love to argue and complain – but because they need HELP.

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Dear Employee(s),

 

Letting everyone know that I’ve made Bob the point person for all issues coming to and from me so that I can focus my time more effectively. If you need something from me please first email Bob who will serve as the liaison from you to me. Likewise I’ll be sending Bob things to delegate to everyone. I think this will really help with workflow in the office. Just a heads up so that you know why Bob will be emailing you things like progress update requests. OK that’s all for now!

— -

Dear Boss,

Excellent choice! This will save Bob time as well, allowing him to collectively insult us in one email rather than doing it individually, which was his previous method and honestly a real time waster for everyone! Two birds, one terrible person, I mean stone. We’re excited for the new procedure. After all, we’ve always hated Bob, and we always will. OK that’s all for now for us too!

— -

Why your plan will surely backfire

Your employees will not blindly follow any leader. A recent Gallup survey found that only one person in ten can cut it in management. Oftentimes an employee is hired due to skills while attitude is ignored. Power is a sensitive topic and promoting the wrong person can create a domino effect of inefficiency in the office.

— -

Maybe Try this instead

Listen to your employees. Make it a point to read the dynamics in your office. When they drop comments casually about their coworkers. Is one coworker mentioned a lot? Are the comments about the person tinged with negativity or positivity? Hear the underlying message – what F.I.T. President Joyce F. Brown calls the “third ear.”

Place value on the people skills/soft skills and not just the technical skills of a potential manager prospect. If “Bob” isn’t someone people feel safe and comfortable around, thereby negatively affecting group cohesion, then he may not be the best candidate. Trust and respect need to be present in order to build cohesion. If your employees don’t respect your appointee you might find yourself the victim of a passive-aggressive coup d’etat.

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We have loved numbered lists since the beginning of time. If the Ten Commandments had been written today it would show up in your Facebook feed as “The 10 Things Every Good Person Does.”

While the Ten Commandments provide an excellent list for the basic dos and don’ts to live a moral life it unfortunately doesn’t get specific on “The 5 things every leader needs to know” or “The 6 ways to retain customer loyalty.” Granted, Thou Shalt Not Kill is as good a place as any to bolster employee engagement, but we want specifics. Time is precious. Tell us what to do and how to do it, and fast. We don’t want to make a mistake.

The recent upswing of numbered lists allegedly gives you a fail-safe guide for success, but I’d like to suggest that this is not possible, and I’d like to give you 3 reasons why:

1. Things Change. 

Everything is in flux. You just aged since you read the former sentence and your entire cellular make-up changed as well. While some things remain more or less inconvertibly true, some do not, and most never get resolved. For instance:

Is soy bad for us or is it good for us? Should we eat margarine or butter? Does Sweet n Low cause cancer? Does anti-perspirant cause Alzheimer’s? 

When it comes to your company, how do you know if what was best yesterday is right for you today? The #1 thing successful leaders do every day (from a list of 15 things) on Forbes.com, is “Make Others Feel Safe to Speak-Up.” In theory I would suggest that too, and yet I could also foresee a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario and possibly muddle what was once a clear-cut decision in your mind.

Maybe an open door policy once worked for you and your employees but now most of the original employees have moved on to other jobs and the new crew abuses the policy. Do you keep it in place even if a numbered list says it’s one of the 7 things you must do?

Though overused, it’s always good to remember Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous advice, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

2. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.

If Bob jumps off the empire state building are you going to? I know that’s a childish point, but the sentiment rings true. How many successful leaders and entrepreneurs do you think became successful because they adhered to a list they read on the Internet?

Better yet, how many do you think achieved a certain degree of success after reading a list of 5 things they had to do to become successful, and then they became more successful when they read a list of 6 things, and then they really hit the top of their industry when they read the 7 things list?

3. Why 5? Or 6? Or 10? Or 9?

The truth is I don’t have a #3, I just thought 3 sounded better than 2, and that’s also the point of making this a list of three.

Who decided there were 8 things successful people do? And do all successful people do all 8 things all the time? If they’re doing 8 then what about the other successful person who is doing 15 and the other successful leader who is only doing 5?

What’s the right list? How many things does a successful leader do?

successstepsThe number is arbitrary. Doesn’t “The TEN Commandments” sound better than “The 9 Commandments?” Or what if they were “The 8 and sometimes 9 commandments depending on the person?” Would that list be as convincing or eye-catching as THE TEN COMMANDMENTS?

Numbered lists – and lists in general – format information in a way that our brains like. It’s compartmentalized, it’s visual, it’s clean. It’s easier to remember the information. We know what we’re getting, which is a huge advantage when you scroll through an endless Facebook feed.

In 2011, Psychologists Claude Messner and Michaela Wänke discovered that we feel better when we have to work less to process information. A list reduces the amount of work we have to do.

We’re also more likely to complete the article and completing the article makes us feel good. We’re thus more likely to click on a numbered list again, recalling the time we felt so good when we completed the last numbered list.

We are all born with instinct yet some of us never know whether to trust it or not. Though your neurochemistry tells you it feels good to adhere to a numbered list, it’s important to cultivate your intuition through trial and error.

Don’t let a numbered list replace your ability to make decisions (And don’t call me a hypocrite me when I write a numbered list blog post in the future, because I will.)

Of course don’t ignore facts, and do learn from others, but craft your own leadership style. Try things out, see what works for you and what doesn’t. Once you figure out what’s imperative for success, please tell us how many things there are and publish the list!

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From: boss@ourcompany01.com
Date: Mon, Mar 26, 2016 at 2:19 PM
Subject: Argh – not getting a response!
To: jodi@ourcompany01.com

Hey Jodi,

Do you have your COG #s ready to send? See below…

 

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: bob.employee@ourcompany01.com>
Date: Mon, Mar 26, 2016 at 2:19 PM
Subject: Argh – not getting a response!
To: boss@ourcompany01.com

Hey,

I’m trying to finalize the COG for this week but I need Jodi to fill in her #s for her accounts

before I can send it to you and she hasn’t responded to any emails I’ve sent her, which

is a pattern lately. Can you see if you can get her to send me what I need so I can finish?

I have so much to do and I hate waiting around for this!

Thanks!

 

Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

“Good morning everyone, just a brief announcement to let you know who has a problem with who in the company. Dan doesn’t like the way Trish leaves things in the printer. Mike is upset that he isn’t invited to lunch with the others. Kathy thinks Carol gets special treatment and Rich thinks Tom is straight up dumb.”

You would never of course make such an announcement, but forwarding someone’s email is essentially doing this. If someone came up to you and said, “I’ve got a problem with so and so” chances are you wouldn’t go straight to so and so and say, “I know someone who has a problem with you and here’s why.” The reason you wouldn’t do this is because it’s cruel to all parties and feelings would be hurt on both sides. You would also alienate yourself and be considered untrustworthy.

Maybe Try this Instead?

At the very least you can simply copy/paste/reformat the email sent to you, reformatted to sound neutral. You could also ask the employee with the complaint to start a new email and cc you so the recipient feels the urgency. Or you could encourage the employee to try and work it out a different way with the offending party, giving them the opportunity to work on their conflict management skills. If all else fails and you can’t help yourself from engaging in this habit, let employees know that whatever they email you is liable to be forwarded, so they have the chance to consider how comfortable they’d feel if what they wrote were broadcast to the rest of the company. A good old-fashioned warning always takes the sting out of sucker punch.

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The philosopher Jean Paul Sartre famously wrote about the “gooeyness” of human nature. Being human is a messy, complicated, and perplexing experience and thus, leadership – leading ourselves and leading others – is one of the most difficult, rewarding, and if we’re being completely honest, sometimes painfully annoying, jobs. All leaders should invest as much time mastering the soft human mental side of business as they do the hard financial side. The more we know about the tiny firings and misfirings of our brain chemistry, the power of environmental conditions, the inner workings of group dynamics, the nature of deeply rooted psychological defenses and biases, and the function of cognitive processes, the fewer mistakes we will make with our people and the more quickly we will correct the mistakes we do make. The following is some advice at the root of leadership excellence.

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