Leadership and Vulnerability

True or false: Effective leaders don’t ever show their feelings.

I’ve been around long enough to remember the days of the stoic, authoritarian CEO that leads the company into the ranks of the Fortune 500. That leader still exists and can be successful, but that is not the only type of leadership style that can be effective.   And that stoic approach has its downsides.

For example, consider emotional intelligence (EI) which involves perceiving the emotions of self and others, using emotions to facilitate thought, understanding emotions to enhance reasoning and managing emotions to facilitate growth. Though stoicism doesn’t necessarily preclude having or using EI, an EI leader will also help others manage their emotions, whether good (as in cultivating motivation and passion) or bad (helping to manage conflict or when others are discouraged).

Effectively managing the emotions of others requires that one manage, not suppress, one’s own emotions.  One approach is to give voice and validation to the feelings of others. In face of a setback, for instance, an effective leader may express their own concern and disappointment for the outcome (voice and validate), but then identify the silver lining and path forward to renew and reinvigorate the group. In this manner, the group can find closure, learn and grow from the experience together, rather than requiring that individuals find their own path out of their disappointment.

Imagine the scenario where good/bad fortune befalls the organization or one of its members. How will the group respond if the leader speaks of the event without emotion? What if the leader instead helps the group celebrate/grieve and savor/process the moment, thus prolonging/mitigating the positive/negative emotion?

I used to believe that an effective leader shows her emotion only within what is considered the acceptable middle-ish range. Consider Howard Dean, the former governor from Vermont and 2004 presidential candidate. His campaign began to lose steam after a video showed him fired up about a political or social issue to the point of screaming, considered outside the range of political decorum.

However, I’ve also seen a compassionate leader cry through an entire speech, and remain as beloved as ever. In other words, I think in the end, leaders must be authentic.   Kouzes and Posner, authors of the popular book the Leadership Challenge, state that leaders should model the way, inspire a shared vision and encourage the heart. These are not possible without being in touch with and expressing your authentic feelings, motivation and desires in a genuine way.

So go ahead. Show your soft underbelly once in a while. Leaders are only human, after all.

When You’ve Changed

You know how the You that you are right now feels entirely natural? Probably you’ve been that version of You for a long time, and she feels right to you.

Well sometimes that You is actually You v.2 (or some larger number), and though she may feel natural to you, she may feel different and alien to other people.   Granted, any feeling of weirdness in your relationship may actually originate from Her. Maybe she’s moved onto v.2, not you. Or maybe you both have changed.

The more that you change, the more that you may feel awkward around those that have always felt comfortable to you. On the other hand, you may find that people who previously escaped your notice or were annoying may now seem fascinating and compelling, since you may now see them in a new light.

That new light also applies to those that you know well, and that new perspective may or may not be flattering.

Yes. Trouble.

The reverse is true too. As you change, others will see you in a new light, and they may or may not like what they see. But once you have a new perspective on life, it’s hard to return to the old one. Evolving into yet another new perspective or belief system, i.e. You v.3, is possible, but there’s no guarantee that the new belief system will make that relationship comfy again.

But you know, life happens. Our lives change. It’s inevitable. Change may mean that we have to redefine our old relationships on new terms. However, those new terms may improve the relationship, especially if we’re leading the change with our newfound wisdom and patience.

However, I feel it is important to do a gut check during all this change. If your increasing wisdom and patience is causing more fights and tension with loved ones, maybe you’ve not yet grown your wisdom and patience. You may be growing in other directions, which may be a good thing, but realize that your change may not make much sense to others. Perhaps an extra dose of forgiveness and gratitude (both for yourself and those around you) would help smooth the interaction until you do find acceptance, positive perspective and patience from your change.

Imagine yourself as the teenager in the house. That teenager is undergoing rapid change. Don’t you just wish she’d show a little patience, tolerance and openness?

Can Our Organization Change?

Good question posed at a seminar that I was giving recently on organizational change.

I think the parenthetical modifier at the end of that question, however, was the unstated “…for the positive?” If the question had “…for the negative?” at the end,  the question would probably feel pointless and the answer obvious to most people.

Do you agree?

I suppose my assumption about the question’s implied direction of change is fairly cynical.  Perhaps we’ve seen it happen once too often: one toxic person enters an otherwise healthy dynamic, and people are moving on to greener pastures in short order.

Yes, work culture can go downhill in a hurry. But can it go up in a hurry too?

If you believe that culture can go downhill, can’t you also believe that it should also be able to go up too? If one person can create toxicity, why can’t one person create positivity? If one person can cause others to disengage, one person can also inspire others to engage.

Even if you don’t believe that an organization can change, the world changes all the time. Therefore, it seems unlikely that an organization can be indefinitely immune to the changes around it.

Society changes. Organizations change. People change. It’s just a question of how we change. Do we adapt? Do we grow? Or do we entrench and deteriorate?

The choice is yours.

Yes it is. You’re more powerful than you believe. Though it may only require one person’s vision to initiate change, that change also requires buy-in from others. Courage is required of those who choose to support that vision, especially from the first follower who commits to that change.

That vision and commitment may not even be explicit. Just as one person’s negative attitude can change the tone of a conversation, it can also change the tone of an organization’s culture. Therefore, one person’s message of optimism, hope, gratitude, compassion and empathy can also infuse and transform the culture of an organization. All it takes is buy-in from other people.

That can be you.

And you.

And you.

Now we have a movement.

Office Politics

Office gossip

Office gossip

Jonathan Haidt, author of A Righteous Mind, says that gossip has helped the species survive by keeping cheaters in line. Gossip is a deterrent to bad behavior and warns the unaware. So, you shouldn’t feel guilty about spreading a little delicious news around the office, right?

I’m not so sure.

This argument makes perfect sense on one level. But on another, gossip can also create such a toxic environment that it can affect job satisfaction, employee retention and even the bottom line.

Imagine this scenario.   Suri complains about Ali to Tony. Tony then complains to three more people about Ali, who complains to his own team. Next, you have the Suri/Tony camp at war against Ali’s camp. Bad feelings grow and behavior deteriorates, even to the point of obstructionism and maybe even sabotage. In other words, though neither side is likely to see their own role in this dynamic, both are guilty of bad behavior. The gossip has fueled the behavior, rather than keeping it in check.

So next time you feel the need to gossip, think about how you might be fueling a political downward spiral that will likely affect you and how you feel about your workplace, either directly and/or indirectly. Also consider how you’re spending your time, which your employer is paying you to help the company be successful.

The more justified you feel in participating in toxic office politics, the more likely you should examine your own behavior. Remember the concept of projection: that behavior you dislike in others is actually a quality in yourself that you hate.   When I’m honest with myself, my hypocrisy becomes self-evident, which takes the steam out of my indignation. In its place emerges an opportunity for compassion, peace, and constructive problem-solving. How about spreading that?

What Is Hard For Us

Knock knock. Who’s there? Interrupting Cow. Interrupti.. (MOO!).

This is the joke I was trying to teach my 86 year old Dad. His first language is a dialect of Mandarin. His English, though good, is still somewhat limited. Cultural references might as well come from Mars.

The lessons did not go well.

“Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side,” was slightly easier.   Not by much.

He got tired and asked if we can talk about something else.

I feel his pain.

When considering my VIA Character Strengths, humor is at the bottom, #24. Literally. I guess I know where I got it.

It’s not that I have no sense of humor. I just can’t tell a joke to save my life.  These two jokes are pretty much the only ones I know.   (Well, there’s one about a skunk in a blender, but that’s pretty gross). I laugh at other people’s stories and jokes.  Though if someone in the group that doesn’t get the joke, that person is likely to be me (or Dad, apparently).   I can be snarky and sarcastic to make people laugh.   I can do funny dances, especially when out in public or in front of their girlfriend, that make people moan and slap their head. That counts as humor, right?

I have to resist the urge to just give up on being funny. Aristotle (I think) said that we can improve any of our virtues, even the ones at the bottom. Just like I can work on my perseverance or temperance, I can also improve my humor.

So let me try again:

Yo mamma is so fat, when I swerved to avoid her in the street, I ran out of gas (Laugh of the day, jokefactory.com).


Maybe not.

Coincidence and Inevitability

Susanna rising from ashes

Susanna rising from ashes

Whether or not you believe that God or some universal order influences the trajectory of our lives, you have to admit that the paths that our lives take can be pretty remarkable and unexpected.

We hear stories like this all the time. ‘If I had left a moment sooner…’, ‘If I hadn’t been there…’, ‘If I hadn’t gotten sick…’ We also hear stories about how a seemingly benign life event also puts someone on a new life path or journey. Then suddenly, our lives can be completely different, whether on the outside, inside, or both.

Harold Kushner talked about the philosophy of our individual lives as threads in a tapestry, where on the backside, they seem to twist and turn seemingly without order. Only when one flips the fabric over does one see that pattern that is created.   Regardless of whether you believe there is a pattern, the tapestry analogy may reflect the course of so many of our lives. We may not ask for it. We may not want it. We may do our best to fight it. But most of the circumstances surrounding our lives are not in our control. Some events have the impact of irrevocable change to our internal and/or external world.

The role of wisdom in change is knowing when and how to fight and knowing when to accept. Self-knowledge also helps us to understand when we’re fighting change because the direction of the change is bad or because we are defending the status quo out of fear. Unfortunately, most of us must learn the hard way to differentiate and decide. In the meantime, here are my suggestions for managing change:

  • Play devil’s advocate with yourself and understand the holes and shortcomings of your beliefs about the change in your life.  Don’t go through the motions of arguing the reverse side with the conclusion forgone. Instead, really try to see it from the other side by distancing your opinion from your emotions. This exercise will help with your ability to persuade others and strategize going forward.
  • Include in the devil’s advocate exercise the belief that you have control over these events.  If you realize that you don’t have control, start processing your grief and your strategy to manage the change.
  • Be open to the opinion of others. Getting defensive will only reinforce their belief and blind you to what you may be missing. Use the truth of their argument, even if it’s only a kernel, to reconsider your thoughts and plan. Honor the notion that their perspective is their truth.  It doesn’t have to be your truth or a universal truth for you to respect their viewpoint and consider there may be some validity to their opinion.
  • Consider that change gives you a new vantage point of yourself and the world.  You may not like the view from that new perch, but a new perspective is an opportunity to learn, grow, and re-strategize. This view may allow you to launch into a new direction that you were not able to consider from your previous vantage point.
  • Be honest with yourself about the feelings this change is creating. If you’re fearful and anxious, ask yourself why.   What is the worst-case scenario (within reason)? What is the best possible outcome? Now, create that best possible outcome and embrace it for the adventure that it is. Your improved attitude will increase your odds of achieving it.
  • To reinforce your new positive attitude, consider the successful endings that have occurred with others’ stories about change. Creating successful change is about resilience. You can become more resilient, especially if you embrace change as an opportunity.

The recovering control freak and perfectionist in me still sometimes rebels against the unknown or change. Some days I feel it’s all I can do to stay present and optimistic with life’s changes. But it is well worth the effort since my precious energy can then be directed at finding the path to the best possible outcome instead of spinning my wheels. Then, I feel like the phoenix rising out of the ashes. Envision that!

The Noise In Your Head

Romeo on a tear

Romeo on a tear

Do your thoughts race constantly? Do you have a hard time quieting your brain? Do you sometimes have a hard time focusing on the subject at hand?

You might be ADD, but you also may have let your mind get out of control.

My little schnauzer-poodle pup is the same way.   He will literally run in circles on the leash or chase his tail all day, probably like many of our brains. If you think about it, your brain in that state is probably as productive.

When I ask Romeo to sit or stay, he can actually do it. He can’t do it for long, but experience tells me that his ability to do so will grow with practice.

Just think what your brain can do if you practice your self-discipline. You’re not even a dog.

If you’ve gotten this far in this blog, you probably sense that your racing brain is a problem. It’s hard to focus. It’s hard to relax. It’s hard to enjoy yourself. That’s because when you’re wrapped up in your thoughts, you can’t feel your emotions. You’re either in your head, or you’re in your heart. The two can communicate, but you tend to focus only on one or the other.

By focusing on your thoughts, you may be able to ignore the sadness, despair, resentment or fear that you feel. But you are also ignoring the sense of peace, inspiration, love and joy that you feel.

Furthermore, the thoughts in our head are usually not very helpful or constructive.   Usually that voice is full of must and should statements, or statements of judgment and negativity, all of which generally create unhappiness. That unhappiness then reinforces our desire to stay in our heads and out of our hearts.   That’s an awful downward, yukky spiral.

Reverse the spiral. Go up! Yes, you may open yourself to sadness or anger, but it’s better than that emotional purgatory where your mind is trapping you. Here are a few ideas for shutting down that annoying brain:

  • Lose yourself in something you love to do – You know what that is. Go do it.
  • Do yoga – Whether you love it or not, yoga teaches one to be mindful and present with one’s body.
  • Meditate – Yada yada yada, I know you hate this, but do it anyway. Shirzad Chamine, author of Positive Intelligence advocates that we meditate 100 times per day in 10 second intervals. If you can’t sit for an hour, be mindful for 10 seconds at a time. Even Romeo can do that.
  • Be mindful – You don’t have to meditate to just be mindful with your task. Next time you take a walk (or any other activity that doesn’t require your concentration), focus on one of your senses at a time for as long as you can manage.
  • Brain dump – Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, suggests that we write without thinking for 3 minutes per day. She says it’s the equivalent of the brain dump and helps to empty the brain and creates space for thought and inspiration.
  • Connect with something greater than yourself – Pray. Commune with nature. Play with a baby. Savor the love you feel for your family. Do whatever it is that makes you feel connected.

If you commit to a practice of accessing your spirit/emotions/body rather than your mind, you may find a more peaceful, centered, and effective you. What do you have to lose? Except your mind?