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A client recently boasted about his ability not to take things personally. I found the statement particularly surprising because the most frequent complaint about him is that he can be extreme in his reactions, which has cost himself several critical relationships. On the upside, he is known as the person with the most heart, the most passion, the deepest commitment in the company. He takes his success personally. The problem is, he takes obstacles to that success equally personally; he reacts with a “fight or flight” response – and he always chooses to fight.
Taking things personally doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Here are three ways to use it to your leadership advantage:
1. Use your passion to motivate and ignite others. Have you ever seen the guys w ho fire up a football huddle before the start of the game? Their enthusiasm and energy is contagious. Use your commitment to team or organizational goals to ignite passion in others.
2. Learn from resistance and constructive criticism. Abraham Lincoln engendered what Connors & Smith, in their book The Oz Principle (2010) define as accountability: “a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results…” He was passionate about abolishing slavery, but was also passionate about reuniting all of the States. By taking to heart the fears and objections of those who ad amantly opposed him, he was able to speak to those concerns, eventually allowing the 14th Amendment to be passed. Take others’ fears and concerns to heart to develop a more compelling position or to change your own behavior.
3. Be emotionally intelligent. Face it: people do not check their emotions at the door when they come to work – and that includes you. (As an old psychology adage says, “You take yourself with you wherever you go.”) Recognize why some people and situations “push your buttons.” Own (but do not necessarily act upon) your internal feelings and reactions, so they don’t end up owning YOU.
So, the next time someone offers you constructive criticism, say, “Thanks. I’m taking that personally. And that’s a good thing.”
As an executive coach, I often hear well-intended executives like Bob say things like, “I need to be a better listener. I need to be more patient with people.” When asked why, Bob says he knows it is the right thing to do, or he’s received feedback about improving his listening. When pressed on how to do this, Bob says, “I just need to be more mindful. I need to tell myself to listen more.” Often several months later, nothing has changed; Bob is still described as a hothead or a know-it-all who doesn’t take time for people.
Why? Because this goal isn’t powerful to Bob. It doesn’t compel him to change from current state. It also isn’t “sticky” – it doesn’t have enough upside to help him gut it out when things get dicey. Sound familiar, like a New Year’s Resolution you have made, abandoned by mid-January?
Here’s a story of a powerful and sticky goal. In 1967, 20-year-old Kathrine Switzer became the first female to finish the Boston Marathon officially. She overcame significant obstacles to finish that race, including being attacked by a race official at Mile 2. Do you believe Kathrine got to the Boston Marathon by simply “being mindful” of becoming a better runner? Or because she felt she “should?” Of course not. She began running at age 12. She trained for years, running through bad weather, sickness, and injury. She had a coach and family who pushed and supported her. She wanted to do this race – badly. As a result, she was prepared for adversity, digging deep inside herself when facing incredible opposition. Her commitment to reaching her goal was so sticky that it could overcome physical harm.
If you want to embrace the framework of Endurance Leadership, start by setting a powerful goal. A powerful goal is not easy. It’s going to take a lot hard work. As my Ironman friends would say, “If signing up for it doesn’t make you want to throw up, it’s too easy.” Listed below are some examples, with the leadership qualities they target:
Second, make the goal “sticky.” What will compel you to stay true toward this goal when you are faced with the equivalent of running outside in 9-degree temperatures (e.g., you lose your best team member, your peer group has a toxic member, pressure on your deliverables jump through the roof)? Perhaps it’s a deep sense of satisfaction you will get from knowing you were a team member’s best boss. Perhaps it’s the pride of knowing your strategic contributions are critical to organizational success. Perhaps it is a promotion. Whatever it is, make sure it is something that matters deeply to you.
Locke and Latham (2002) showed that If you’re not challenging yourself, you are not getting better. Endurance athletes perpetually have a powerful and sticky race on their calendar. What is yours?
Up next…Endurance Leadership, Step 2: Build a Game Plan
In 2011, I had big goals: I was going to complete an Ironman triathlon in November. I was going to best my annual billable targets by at least 20%. I was going to lead my high-performing team to new success. Then, on Aug. 6, a terrible bike wreck left me with a broken pelvis, a crushed Ironman dream, and a question mark regarding when (or if) I could return to work. I was devastated. The blow was as soul-crushing as bone-crushing.
What I’ve realized since that fateful time is how much my endurance athlete mentality helped me recover. Further, by embracing leadership as an endurance sport, I could more effectively deal with the opportunities, surprises, and setbacks that inevitably crop up as a leader. I’ve used this mentality with coaching clients as they’ve faced an array of leadership challenges: a high-performing employee suddenly quits; a boss unexpectedly foists more aggressive revenue targets on the team; functional responsibilities are added onto an already crippling workload; an opportunity arises to take a big international job while raising a young family. As a result, these leaders didn’t just survive, but excelled in the face of exciting events or rogue reversals of fortune. I, too, used these strategies to thrive personally (see photo below) and professionally. More to that story at the end of the series.
Over the next few months, I’ll share my Ten Tips (+1) to Endurance Leadership that will propel you to a podium finish. I look forward to your input.
Me finishing Ironman Chattanooga, Sept. 2015.
This morning, I received this email from a doctor’s billing office: “Dear ANN, We’ve screwed up. And, for any inconvenience we’ve caused, we’re VERY sorry. We’re doing everything in our power to inform you of the issue and whether it applies to you…”
My first thought was, “Now THAT’S refreshing!” When was the last time you experienced that kind of up-front honesty from a provider or vendor (or political candidate)? When were you last totally transparent with your client, colleague, or spouse about a screw up? When did you last hear, “I’m sorry?” and not, “I apologize if that bothered you,” or “We recognize we made an error.” We know that failure is human, yet we struggle with taking active ownership of our mistakes. Why? Because, as research shows, there may be some real benefits to it:
Yet substantial research highlights the benefits of a sincere, well-placed apology:
So, is it better to apologize for screwing up, or not? It depends on your goals and your relationships. Do you want feel great about yourself, regardless of how others might perceive you? Do you need a strong power position in this situation? Then maybe you don’t apologize. On the other hand, is your goal to bolster good relationships with those who have been offended? In these situations, a sincere apology is probably the best course of action. To make the best of your screw-up:
To err may be human, but to apologize is to reflect true personal and relationship leadership. Think carefully about when, how, and why you offer it – or don’t bother.
[i] Okimoto, T., Wenzel, M., & Hedric, K. (2013). Refusing to apologize can have psychological benefits (and we issue no mea culpa for this research finding). European Journal of Social Psychology, 43, (1), 22–31.
[ii] Connors, R., Smith, T., & Hickman, C. (1994). The Oz Principle. London: Penguin Books.
[iii] Basford, T.E., Offermann, L.R., & Behrend, T.S. (2014). Please Accept My Sincere Apologies: Examining Follower Reactions to Leader Apology. Journal of Business Ethics, 119 (1), 99-117.
[iv] Schumann, K (2012). Does love mean never having to say you’re sorry? Associations between relationship satisfaction, perceived apology sincerity, and forgiveness. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 29 (7), 997-1010.
[v] Beyens, U., Yu, H, Han, T., Zhang, L., & Zhou, X. (2015) The strength of a remorseful heart: psychological and neural basis of how apology emolliates reactive aggression and promotes forgiveness. Frontiers in Psychology, (6), 1611.
[vi] Lavens, P. (2011). Negotiation and Apologies: The Role of an Apology, the Role of the Law, and the Role of the Lawyer. Bond University Faculty of Law.
Last night, after facilitating a lively conflict workshop, I chatted with a few attendees about the importance of regular self-reflection to true self-awareness. Our discussion ranged from therapy to honest conversations with family members to use of 360s. “What is a 360?” one person asked. I was surprised, but not shocked, that he did not know about 360-degree surveys. Widely appreciated as a critical assessment tool in coaching and consulting, it is rare these days that I come across a leader who has not participated in a 360 feedback survey – willingly or not. Simply, a 360 asks an individual to answer questions about her behaviors, and for boss, peers, and direct reports (as well as customers, vendors, or family members, where appropriate) to do the same. When leveraged well, the result is a full and honest picture of how the individual perceives herself, and is perceived by those who know her best. Used in the context of a coaching or development program, the effects can be quite positive for facilitating greater self-awareness and behavioral change.
You would think that we would all jump at the chance to participate in one of these, right? After all, we’ve become a society obsessed with feedback, from Facebook “Likes” to Fitbits to RescueTime. An avid triathlete and workout junkie, I can’t seem to do even a brief, ten-minute workout without strapping on my heart rate monitor and my Garmin 910xt that tracks every mile and every heartbeat. We LOVE feedback, right?
Well…hang on. Most of these are private tools, ways we can evaluate our activities and performance in our own private Idaho. It’s like checking out your backside in a two-way, full-length mirror. But a 360? That mirror just became a giant, Jumbotron-sized movie screen, simultaneously broadcasting the view of our derrière from the perspective of 20 other people, right into the comfort of our living room. Hold the popcorn, thanks – I think I’m going for a walk. Seriously, who thought THIS would be a good idea??
Another challenge to soliciting feedback is that negative feedback is inconsistent with our self-image. If you’ve ever asked, or been asked, “Does this ______ (fill in the blank: dress, shirt, mumu) make me look fat?” you know there is only one answer to this question, because saying “yes” would create cognitive dissonance between what the asker wants to be true and what is true. The already daunting proposition of feedback may worsen if the information could impact our performance reviews, raises, or promotions. So, needless to say, the notion of a 360 can seem pretty daunting to even the stoutest of hearts – or the firmest of butts, if you will.
Here’s how to make that butt-gazing 360 a powerful and positive tool:
Even if you don’t have access, resources, or support to a formal 360 tool, take advantage of informal feed-forward opportunities. Ask those around you, How Can I be better? This single question could make a huge difference in your leadership, work interactions, and overall interpersonal success. Over time, that butt-highlighting Jumbotron may become a little less scary.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work with a dynamic, experienced executive coach? Now is your chance to find out. In celebration of SmallBusinessSaturday (Nov. 28), I’m offering The Gift of Coaching. I’ll provide a free coaching call to any developmentally-minded or curious individual who is interested in learning how to ignite their leadership – for life!
To receive your session, email your contact details by Wednesday, Dec. 2nd to firstname.lastname@example.org. Sessions will take place in December or January, as schedules allow.
Give yourself a gift this season – an opportunity to explore your potential and ignite your leadership!
Hopefully you’ve had a chance to read my post on mentoring from earlier this week. It was brought to my attention by one of my best and frequent mentors (husband Dave) that the Mentoring graph might not exactly be intuitive, and suggested I provide a bit more explanation for those less familiar with the concept of mentoring. I’ve now revised the post and included a link here, to help elucidate the model. See? Mentoring works!
Despite (or perhaps because of) its popularity in our business nomenclature, we may have become desensitized to the importance of mentors and the scores of ways we regularly receive mentorship. Think about when were you most recently mentored. What were the circumstances and outcome? How did it help you achieve your goal(s)? What type of mentoring relationship is it? Does the person know you view them as a mentor?
Great leaders are cognizant and deliberate in how they use others to reach their goals – and quick to recognize that their success is built by standing on the shoulders of others. Tune in to the ways you utilize your mentors, and you will be more likely to approach those relationships with intentionality – and gratitude.
I’m a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn’t have the heart to let him down. – Abraham Lincoln
Sometimes I have to marvel at my good fortune. Between Thursday and Friday of last week, I’d been given hours of counsel on how to propose work to a potential client from two very different perspectives. The counsel was not from a paid consultant; on the contrary, both conversations were with peer mentors. From two different coasts, backgrounds, and consulting perspectives, they provided varied and valuable insight regarding how to approach this vexing opportunity. Just a few hours prior to the first call, I’d felt adrift and anxious about how to respond; after the second call, I felt energized and equipped with a clear, well-informed game plan.
Over the past few years, I’ve recognized my own personal need for greater mentorship. Perhaps it is being a sole proprietor of a business, a raging extrovert in search of camaraderie in what could otherwise be a lonely existence. Perhaps it is a corollary of Mark Twain’s famous quote: as I age, I’m astounded at how much smarter those around me seem to have become. Or maybe it is more reflexive, the youngest of seven who had some excellent mentor siblings. Whatever the reason, I notice that I have very little interest in ‘going it alone’ these days; instead, I regularly turn to peers and senior members of my profession to build a superior consultancy, and to personal relationships to ensure I’m living my life aligned with my ultimate mission. .
We all know the benefits of mentoring: for both parties, it enhances our thinking, creates clarity and perspective, expands our network, and provides us with more visibility – all of which could lead to better career opportunities or more fulfilling life goals. What a deal! So…why does finding a mentor seem so difficult? Nod if any of the following may be true for you:
If you feel stuck in this mentoring riptide, take heart! There are likely excellent mentors all around you – with no formal process, fees, or programs required. To help you find your way, determine a few things:
Once you’ve determined your internal parameters for mentorship:
Lastly, Be Grateful. I am grateful for the scores of mentors I have active in my life. Every one is helping me build toward my life’s ultimate mission, professionally, personally or both. I engage each person or group at least once per quarter (most once a month), and the payoff is worth every bit of the time. To each of you, THANK YOU!