Thriving During the Trump Presidency

Last week I attending an inspiring and beautiful tribute to the late Martin Luther King Jr (thank you Office of Institutional Diversity and Michelle Garfield Cook!).   I did not realize prior to that event that I was carrying a large load of grief and sadness for the upcoming presidential transition.  Dr. King’s vision never seemed in so much jeopardy.

Yet I’m trying to maintain my sense of optimism.  Here’s what is helping me:

  • 20% of the US is freaking out right now, which is a different 20% that freaked out when Obama was elected. We felt they were being unreasonable and over-reactive at the time, and so I probably am overacting to some degree as well.
  • We’ve had 8 amazing years with the Obamas’ wisdom and grace. His election, twice, says as much about America as this current election.
  • Even if Trump may not be the best mechanism for needed change, change will happen. Change is usually painful and difficult, and the lower we fall, the more change we will be willing to undergo.  For that reason, I usually celebrate the opportunity when someone hits rock bottom, and I will celebrate this now, given that most of us are in agreement that something is broken in Washington.  Good change will be informed by understanding, compassion, justice and an aspirational vision for a better future.
  • All this catastrophizing I’ve been doing is causing me pain. I remind myself that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”  (Shakespeare).  My thinking is causing me pain so I’m trying acceptance.
  • Acceptance does not mean being passive. Acceptance means I understand that our reality is changing and that I should take whatever action I can to create a positive outcome.  I keep trying while also accepting my limited ability to make an impact.  I will use my negative emotion to motivate me, and use my strengths to contribute the best way I can.  For example, I have not felt the urge to blog now for 6 months and now I am once again inspired to do so.
  • All things are impermanent.  The Obama presidency had to end, and so will Trump’s.  We will survive, and even better, our post-traumatic growth will be spectacular.

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    Growth and beauty during adversity.  Photo credit

Equity and Diversity in Name Only

 

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Justice for all; Photo credit

‘No justice, no peace’

We all understand this phrase in the context of our larger society.  If we don’t have fairness, due process, appropriate consequences, and a semblance of equal opportunity, we cannot have a harmonious society.  The most evident examples of this philosophy can be seen with events such as the OJ Simpson trial, Rodney King, Treyvon Martin and the many subsequent shootings of unarmed black men, all sparking outrage nationally or even internationally.  Similarly, relationships where fairness and reciprocity do not exist tend to be troubled (for example, see J. Nicholson).

The importance of equity is evident on both a macro and micro scale.  What about in between?  What is the importance of justice in a group or on an organizational level?

A 2014 report by Coffman and Neuenfeldt at Bain & Co. demonstrate that companies that provide a sense of gender equity in career opportunity and advancement tend to have higher levels of satisfaction and engagement by both men and women, which then correlates with better business outcomes.   The report then explains how women’s ambitions and confidence erode in the workplace over time, in part due to the workplace culture, too few role models, and implicit bias.   Bain then makes a broad set of recommendations for promoting equity in the workplace, primarily by having managers on the frontline and organizational leaders globally “encourage, develop and support their female employees.”  Finally, the report suggests the power of encouragement at all levels as key to fostering confidence in others.

On the other hand, there is also a risk to taking a half-hearted or poorly-managed  approach to equity efforts, which may then result in equity and diversity in name only (EDINO; I made up that term). As a double minority, I am acutely aware of the companies that have speeches, branding and policies that promote equity and diversity.  Ad campaigns, marketing materials, and programs that demonstrate commitment to diversity is terrific.  After all, it wasn’t that long ago that you would find no minorities (or only negative stereotypes) in print or television, and silence on the need to create equity in the workplace.

However, if that same company that brags about their commitment to diversity still has substantial pay discrepancies or persistent underrepresentation at the higher levels or in certain units, you may have a company that has EDINO.  True, the organization may be in evolution and in the midst of creating what is, in effect, slow change and is actually living its values in word and action despite appearances. On the other hand, progress that is inordinately slow or intractable may be the result of hidden, competing values.  Those competing values may have to do with implicit bias, but other factors may also be invisibly at play.  For example, resistance to any kind of change, a desire to protect existing privilege or status, especially one’s own, ineffective leadership or management, lack of effective training to identify and overcome implicit bias, or a misguided belief that ignoring or burying diversity concerns is in the best interest of the organization may be undermining an organization’s ability to create real change.  Structural issues, such as the institution’s policies and procedures or the informal practices regarding hiring and promoting may also be making the change more difficult.

In other words, there may be bona fide issues above and beyond implicit bias that may be contributing to maintaining the status quo.  Regardless of true intent, the gap between what the organization says and does will not be lost on its employees and the community.    Not only is the organization failing to enjoy the many benefits that diversity brings to the workplace, but now they have a hypocrisy issue as well.

On an individual level, this gap between one’s stated beliefs and actions results in cognitive dissonance.   Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort that results from competing beliefs, or when we act in ways that are contradictory to our beliefs.  When I am experiencing cognitive dissonance, I use self-reflection to identify my underlying beliefs, followed by serious evaluation to resolve that conflict.  This reflective process creates the pathway where I act in ways that align with my values.  This process of reflection, analyzing, trying something new, then evaluating the outcome is how we learn about ourselves and to better navigate our world. Like individuals, organizations that take the time and effort to learn and grow will be more knowledgeable and enjoy better outcomes.

I’m not going to lie (believe me!):  this process takes effort, time and even some courage.  We have to be able and willing to look at ourselves and admit some hard truths.  I’m not always able and willing to do that since it’s easier to blindly believe in and defend my virtue. However, once I have accepted an unpleasant truth, I feel a sense of relief that I can now address a problem directly and effectively.  Forward progress is made possible by forgiveness: a realization that I’m only human and it is my destiny to struggle and fail on the path to success.

Resources:  Government Equalities Office, Department of Business Innovation & Skills, Business case for equality and diversity, January 2013; Immunity to change: How to Overcome It, Lahey & Kegan Harvard Business Press,  2009.

The Purpose of the Moment

In The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy, authors Berg and Seeber remind us that academia used to be a place where faculty had time to think and reflect.  Academic research was once done for the sake of expanding our general understanding of the world and ourselves, and not necessarily reduced to a commodity as it is today.  This is referred to as “research capitalism”, originally put forth by Coleman and Kamboureli, where academic researchers are in the business of new knowledge, a market driven by the funding agencies.  Academic focus is no longer on scholarship, they argue.  Instead, the priority is “faculty compliance with institutional imperatives,” which is increasingly involved with raising grant money.

This erosion of reflective inquiry to the tide of academic goals and imperatives parallels a much larger loss from our lives.   Our modern selves subscribe to the virtue of busyness, where we seem to equate busy or productive with important.  You may be familiar with the Covey Time Management Grid, where we have urgent/not urgent and important/not important forming a grid that helps us to gain clarity on how we should prioritize our tasks and To Do lists.  Simply noticing when we are prioritizing urgent/not important or not urgent/not important is the first step toward effective time management.

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Important/urgent grid

, where we seem to equate busy or productive with important.  You may be familiar with the Covey Time Management Grid, where we have urgent/not urgent and important/not important forming a grid that helps us to gain clarity on how we should prioritize our tasks and To Do lists.  Simply noticing when we are prioritizing urgent/not important or not urgent/not important is the first step toward effective time management.

Productivity is important.  We all have important tasks that should be completed.  However, I also agree with Berg and Seeber that we need to slow down.  Paradoxically, sometimes what is most urgent/important is what you should not be doing.  Sometimes, we should not work, not try to achieve, to fix, to create, to accomplish, to read, to write, to plan or to calculate.  A constant stream of busyness around tasks, whether important or unimportant, leaves out something very essential, ie just being.  By incessantly working on our To Do list and our urgent/important tasks, we’re missing out potentially on our best, most creative work, and our most beautiful, joyous moments.    We give away those moments, one at a time, for the next item on our To Do list.

As part of slowing down, Berg and Seeber talk about being more mindful teachers, having a reflective approach to scholarship and connecting with our colleagues.  I would expand the notion further to say that this type of reflective inquiry is important in all aspects of our lives.  Our inner world unconsciously drives so much of our perceptions and beliefs and is the source of our creativity.  When we are constantly in action-mode, we neither access our inner wisdom, creativity, and intuition, nor can we really examine our subconscious beliefs to understand how they drive our understanding of ourselves and our world.

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman describes our unconscious self as System 1 and our conscious, rational self as System 2.   The problem, according to Kahneman, is that we tend to over-use System 1 intuition, confidently believing our subconscious guesses and shortcuts to be accurate representations of complex situations.   In essence, System 1 interprets our world using heuristics and biases, and System 2 tends to be lazy and simply rationalizes the beliefs of System 1, instead of taking the effort to think things through carefully.

It doesn’t have to be that way;  we need reflection to intentionally listen to System 1 in an objective way, yet recognize that its messages and beliefs are often flawed.  We can then use System 2 to re-evaluate System 1 information and find a wiser course.    Thus, reflective inquiry allows a dialogue between both System 1 and 2 so that we can make the most of our intuition and wisdom and to find our creativity. This reflective inquiry requires down time and is not on most people’s To Do lists, yet is arguably both urgent and important.

Maybe it’s worth putting reflective inquiry in the urgent/important category, and a regular entry on our calendars.  What does your System 2 think about that?

Part 3: Thinking-Feeling Spectrum: Befriend Your Alien Brain

In Parts 1 and 2, I wrote about the thinking-feeling spectrum and how our tendency to prefer T or F leaves a shadow tendency that seems to play a strong but invisible role in how we feel and behave.    I likened it to an ambivalent, sometimes hostile alien that resides within us, sometimes exerting a negative influence on us, without our knowledge.

Your alien thoughts/feelings can actually work for you, but you have to befriend it and become its ally.  Like a temperamental child, the alien within wants to be recognized and heard.  Failure to do so means the alien will ramp up the stakes, screaming and thrashing at me until I acknowledge its needs. Like an unruly toddler, that internal tempest wreaks havoc and damage until it is heard.

The hardest part is acknowledging the alien’s existence and dysfunction.  But have you noticed that when you listen to a toddler and truly try to understand their world, they get strangely calm and cooperative?  You can then negotiate with them, “I know you want to go have an ice cream sundae but we don’t have time to do that now.  How about I give you an apple right now, or a cookie when we get home? Which do you want?”

Our inner alien is the same way.  “I know the way your co-worker talks to you makes you feel unimportant and inferior, just the way your parents did when you were a child.  You can believe it and feel angry and resentful, or you can go to the gym and work through your frustration and realize that this isn’t about you.  Which would you prefer?”  Suddenly, inner alien is cooperative, because she just wants to be heard and acknowledged.   She’s your Lifelock monitor who alerts you issues (have you seen those commercials?) but it’s your responsibility to deal with the problem.

Make no mistake: she will scream in my head until I do.  Furthermore, I’ve learned that she’ll scream at others through my tone, behavior, perspective and choices without my knowledge.  Others can sense her, even if I can’t.   Others refer to my alien as the b***.  Now you know what I’m talking about.

I’ve learned this lesson the hard way as I’ve spent many years in denial about my aliens.  I don’t always know they’re there, or if I do, sometimes I just can’t quite wrangle and calm them.  It gets easier with practice and time.  Now, I feel like I mostly have cleaned house, though I do still relapse and invite those crazy little devils back into my life.  Living without them though is an amazingly light and freeing feeling.  There are few things that I have done that have had such a profound impact on the quality of my life.  And like all things I have been afraid of, shining a light on them always seems worse at first than it really is.  They’re not scary in others.  You see them.  You know what they need to do.  Do the same for yourself and exorcise that troublemaker.

Part 2: Thinking-Feeling Spectrum – Our Alien Brain

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In Part 1, we discussed the Thinking-Feeling spectrum and the presence of the dynamic interplay between T-F despite our T or F preference. If we only factor in one set of data, we are unaware of the unseen influence of the other half on our internal experience and our external world view.

My own experience affirms this notion. As a person with a strong T tendency, I have not always been in touch with my feelings. Even now, though my self awareness is much improved, if I have emotional garbage flying beneath my radar, I tend to be more reactive, less patient, more judgmental, and more impulsive. I back it up with logic and explanations and accuse you of being unreasonable.   The thoughts in my head were pretty much absolutely true, no matter how unrealistic, dysfunctional, or abusive they were. They would then invisibly fuel my emotions in this treacherous downward spiral, ensuring my misery.

Hudson: “We’re on an express elevator to hell, going down!”

I’m less of an F but can imagine the same dynamic, but in reverse, holds true. We hold many unconscious beliefs that impact how we view the world and ourselves and thus how we feel. If we are unaware of those beliefs, we cannot see how they drive our feelings.

In other words, we often disassociate our thoughts from our feelings, as if there is an alien in our head (or heart) with which we have no connection. And unfortunately, as a T, I’m here to report that the thoughts in our head do not represent a friendly alien. At best, that alien is complicit in justifying our automatic behavior (see Haidt’s Righteous Mind). At worst, the alien is a constant stream of negativity, fear and anger that damages ourselves and others.

Ash: You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.

Lambert: You admire it.

Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.

Unlike the movie Aliens, we just can’t take automatic weapons and blow out the scary alien in our head.   But we can tame them. It’s not easy at first, but improves with practice.

Ripley: How do we kill it, Ash? There’s gotta be a way of killing it. How? How do we do it?

Ash: You can’t.

Parker: That’s bullshit.

First, be present. Being sad or angry means we are living in our past. Being worried or anxious means we are living in the future. Living in this moment we have everything we need. Notice dysfunctional thoughts and feelings. Acknowledge their presence but don’t give them any power by believing them to be real or permanent.

Kane: Quit griping.

Lambert: I like griping.

Second, be mindful. Notice when you are not being present. Come back to the present moment when you find yourself straying.

Third, toxic recurring thoughts should be challenged. Those thoughts tend to be very one-sided, so be open to exploring other perspectives (see Katie’s Who Would You Be Without Your Story).

Finally, find a more balanced perspective using your forgiveness and gratitude.   Remember that the alien in your head is here to steal your peace, and the bigger, braver part of you, your Riley, is here to restore it. Think of that alien as the holy-terror child within that needs to be heard and validated, but doesn’t get to make the decisions about your life and peace of mind.

That’s how you teach the Alien some manners.

Ash: There is a clause in the contract which specifically states any systematized transmission indicating a possible intelligent origin must be investigated.

Parker: I don’t wanna hear it…

Brett: We don’t know if it’s intelligent.

Parker: I wanna go home and party.

Dallas: Parker, will you just listen to the man?

Ash: On penalty of total forfeiture of shares. No money.

Dallas: You got that?

Parker: [chuckling] Well, yeah.

Dallas: All right, we’re going in.

Parker: [to Brett] Yeah, we’re going in, aren’t we?

Part 1: Thinking-Feeling Spectrum: Our Self-Concept

Who are you?  Really?

Do you believe that you are the sum of your thoughts, knowledge and beliefs? That your identity is entirely dependent on those thoughts?  If so, what happens when you change your mind, beliefs or knowledge?  Are you the same person?

Or do you believe that you’re a feeling, emotional being who happens to have thoughts and ideas?  What happens if you don’t have an emotional reaction in a given moment or are stuck in depression? Who are you then?  What does it mean if your emotional reactions are context-dependent?  Are you still you?

One way to think about the questions above is from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator’s T (thinking) and F (feeling) personality types.  We are on a T-F spectrum in terms of how we tend to make decisions, whether using our head or our feelings. I also think about the T-F spectrum as the mechanism by which we interface with reality.   I’m guessing that T’s tend to use their head to take in information, both about themselves and others, and use that information to decide who they are.  Similarly, F’s view themselves and the world through the lens of their feelings, using that information to define themselves.  (After all, I’m a T and this theory makes sense.)

However, I don’t really like the binary nature of that scale.  We all think.  We all feel.  Trouble is, we may not be very aware of the end of the spectrum that we are unfamiliar with.  Ts are often unaware of their feelings and Fs are often unaware of the thoughts and beliefs underlying their feelings. This is where we get into trouble.

Thoughts and feelings are interactive and synergistic.  Our feelings are profoundly influencing our thoughts, and visa versa, even if we don’t realize it.  That complex dynamic then determines our behavior  (I’m feeling more F-ish today, and this feels right.)

Being in touch with both our thoughts and feelings help us to have a more complete understanding of who we are, how we feel, why we think what we think and why we feel what we feel.  Our habits of thought, feeling and behavior that define our personality, in the end, are really just habits.  We can break and change those habits, yet we’re still the same person underneath, aren’t we?

I like the person you are – that combination of your hidden and portrayed self.  It’s one of my gifts to see the best in others, including that hidden part of you.  I also hope for your growth and improvement in your life’s satisfaction, sense of authenticity and empowerment.  Changing habits that are maladaptive does not change who you are, it merely helps you be a better version of you.  You can be happier, more peaceful, have better relationships, and improved health by taking a holistic and appreciative view of yourself and your world.

All that being said,  the question of Who am I? remains unanswered especially if you acknowledge that most of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are malleable.  I am not a theologian or philosopher, so I will leave that question to those wise scholars.  As an applied positive psychology practitioner, I reflect on that T-F dynamic and how we can use that self-knowledge to create the best possible life.

But I think I’m out of space.  I feel I must finish this discussion in my next blog, Part 2: Thinking-Feeling Spectrum – Our Alien Brain.  Perhaps the outcome of your thought-feeling dance will be for you to join me.

Our Responsibility Regarding Bully Leaders

I hadn’t actually heard the term before, but when I googled it, it turns out bully leadership is a thing. It’s several steps beyond an authoritarian leader, since while both authoritarian and bully leaders fail to obtain input from others, bully leaders use fear and intimidation as their primary tools for influence.   Though that style may feel effective and efficient, in the end, it does not pay off.

The most visible example of the consequences of bully leadership is – you guessed it – Donald Trump. While 30% of the public feels The Donald is an effective leader, the majority of the country and the world see right through his style. We are seeing that bully leadership is, in the end, destructive and devisive. It may feel “great” to align oneself with the bully leader, until the bully turns on you.

Do you use bullying as part of your leadership style? According to PD Strategies Blog, Business Insider and Innolect Inc, a bully/toxic leader has the following qualities:

  • You punish others, in small or large ways, if they do not do as you wish or if they appear disloyal, creating lasting damage to them.
  • You don’t try to understand others’ feelings or circumstances, and use criticism, badgering, harassment, threats and blame to control them while failing to provide the support they need to be successful.
  • You want to beat others and win at any cost.
  • Those around you no longer challenge your thinking.
  • You feel you’re better or smarter than others, and that you have the best ideas. You take credit for the work or ideas of others.
  • You use information against others instead of sharing proactively.
  • You use power excessively and will do whatever it takes to get your way or advance your agenda. The end justifies the means.
  • You don’t understand your own or others’ emotions or motivations or how to use that information to be effective.

Though bully leaders may be able to move the bottom line, in the end they hurt they organization. Consider Trump again. Indeed, he made incredible gains initially, winning the Republican primary beyond all expectation and conventional wisdom. In the end however, his take-no-prisoners approach is threatening to unravel the Republican Party and has the potential to greatly harm the country if elected.   He has been described as dangerous by many prominent thought leaders around the world.

Bully leaders thrive when their superiors look the other way to their toxic and damaging behavior.   With regard to our elected officials, we the American people ARE their bosses. Our electoral process is designed for us to choose the right candidate for the job. Therefore, we must be the ones to say “No, this type of behavior is not OK” and must not be fooled by the initially positive outcomes.

Government is not the only place to hire or promote bully leaders. They are in our organizations, families and communities.   Those who condone the behavior, either implicitly or explicitly, share the responsibility for the bully’s outcomes.

So get out and vote this November. If you have not registered to vote yet, do so now!