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.

    adversity-overcome-stress-growth-inspiration-motivation-1024x686

    Growth and beauty during adversity.  Photo credit

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!

 

 

How To Be A Good Friend: Part 2

In addition to balance, healthy relationships also need boundaries.   Identifying and enforcing boundaries can be difficult, especially with adults. In contrast, identifying and enforcing boundaries with kids and pets seems pretty evident: don’t break things, eat your dinner, go potty in the right place, etc.   With adults, appropriate boundaries are more difficult to name, establish and enforce, yet critical for creating positive relationships.

What is meant by boundaries? Boundaries have to do with knowing what behavior is and is not OK with you. Communicating and enforcing those boundaries is what Dr. Phil means when he advises us “teach others how to treat you”. For example, violence and abuse of any kind should not be tolerated, and a clear boundary should be conveyed and enforced as necessary. On the other hand, verbal abuse may be subjective, subtle and insidious.   If someone makes you feel bad about yourself, diminishes your value or worth through words or gestures, or tries to control you, it may be verbal abuse.

It’s not just verbal or physical abuse that may require establishment of boundaries. Failing to respect one’s feelings, property and requests may also cross a boundary. What’s tricky here is that it’s easy to assume that others should know your boundaries. Some are probably no brainers: if I loan you my car, don’t damage it in any way; if I give you a gift or do you a favor, say thank you.  A relationship that has balance would also require some reciprocation.

However, the appropriateness of most interactions and dynamics are subjective. I may not care if you return a book I loan you unless it’s my favorite book, or expensive.   Sarcastic comments may not bother me in general, but comments about my kids may upset me. This is why communicating your boundaries is important. It’s not fair to assume the other can read your mind or understand the nuances of your preferences, no matter how well you think they may know you.

If you’ve communicated your boundaries and they still insist on crossing them, then you have new information about the level of trust and safety in your relationship. You can then use that data to determine how you wish to enforce your boundaries.   With someone who does not return my property in a timely manner and in good condition, I may decide to no longer loan them my things. With someone who always arrives late, I may choose to let them know that next time I will start without them. With someone who is always negative, I may choose to limit the length of our visit.   With someone who continues to be verbally abusive or critical, I may choose to end the relationship or interact only by email.

In the end, its up to you to decide how important that boundary is to you, and what is an appropriate response. Failing to enforce a boundary tells the other that your boundaries are not important to you, and thus that boundary should not be important to them.  Consider your kids and pets. Inconsistent enforcement is ineffective. For them to really learn to respect a boundary, that boundary has to be enforced every time, and preferably with patience and love. Communicating with patience and love is more likely to create a spirit of cooperation and deepen the intimacy with the other.

‘Not-A-Minority’s’ View of Diversity

During the 3.5 years I have been blogging, I have not spoken about race or minority status hardly at all. I guess I’m not a good advocate for the underrepresented, since I’d much rather listen than talk about this subject.   Everyone has such a unique perspective, and I can learn so much by just letting others share their experience and beliefs without having to advocate for my own.

I have to confess though that part of the reason I don’t talk about it is probably much like other people: it makes me uncomfortable.   When I was living in Texas and talked about how I was treated differently for being Asian, I was told I was imagining it or being paranoid.   Now I just feel like it will be perceived as whining even when I know it’s not imagined.   Either way, feeling like it is unsafe to talk about mistreatment is its own form of abuse.

Diversity itself is diverse given we self-identify in so many ways: race, ethnicity, gender and gender identity, religion, disability, age, etc. Furthermore, each group has its unique issues and concerns, all of which are valid even if we don’t understand or agree with them.  Since our issues are so unique, we minorities often don’t even understand each other, which can lead to disharmony or even conflict.  Until we truly try to understand each others’ unique reality, we will struggle to work effectively and collaboratively together.

I feel the discussion could benefit from shedding light on our unique perspectives.  Here is a sliver of some of issues minority groups face.  This list is not comprehensive because I don’t fully understand other groups’ issues (and plus I’m trying to keep this blog-sized), so please share your experience so that can be added to the list, or corrected where I’m wrong or inaccurate.

  • Blacks are treated with a high level of scrutiny by police and shop owners
  • GLBTQs have to decide every day who to come out to and how (the shopkeeper, a colleague, etc.)
  • Muslims are treated with suspicion in general
  • Women feel vulnerable in places and situations that men take for granted, and often feel unwelcomed in certain leadership ranks
  • Jews are treated like they are greedy and untrustworthy
  • Asians are sometimes not considered a minority, even by other minority groups, but are still excluded from many ranks, disciplines, and social groups.  We are not believed to be US citizens.
  • Hispanics are assumed to be academically unqualified and poor.  They are believed to be illegal immigrants.
  • The elderly are treated like they are invisible or can’t hear
  • Members of the majority may be generically grouped as bigots (‘you whites,’ ‘you men’), even if they are advocates and proponents for the underrepresented

This list does not even include violence, murder, discrimination, bullying, imprisonment, and harassment based on minority status.

The conversation around Trump’s statement that Judge Curio’s Mexican heritage made him unqualified for the job is upsetting on several levels.  Though many Republicans said that Trump’s comment was racist and wrong (Republican leader Paul Ryan stated this was the racist comment was “textbook”), a poll reported on MSNBC stated that 66% (!) of Republicans did not think that comment was racist.  Several who ‘spoke out’ against it merely said that he shouldn’t have said that.  Kind of like: you never tell your wife her dress makes her look fat. Even when it does.

Oh wait. I thought we were all just being paranoid?

Racism and bigotry is alive and well but I believe that much of it is flying below the radar. If you ever catch yourself telling a woman or a minority that they’re being overly sensitive, making something up, or the mistreatment is their fault, ask yourself – really ask – whether unconscious bias is present.

Before you reject the presence of unconscious bias out of hand, realize that we all have unconscious bias (thus the term). Admitting we have such biases take courage because it requires we face an unstated fear. But like other fears, they hold much power when in the dark but diminish in the light.   Being open, accepting and even compassionate for someone else’s reality, and your own, can lead to much insight, growth, love and healing. We all deserve that.

Finding the Sweet Spot: Assertive vs. Pushy

Though assertiveness versus pushiness can be a fine line for everyone, I feel this is a particularly tough issue for women. We are more inclined to try to get along compared to men. Often when we do assert ourselves we’re called the B word.   If we take the softer approach and talk from the perspective of our feelings, we’re accused of being overly emotional.

Ladies, sometimes it feels like we just can’t win. It’s no wonder we sometimes just don’t do anything at all. Am I right?

I try not to shy away from topics that I struggle with, else I’d have nothing to write about. I can only reflect on the hard-earned lessons I’ve learned over the years. Thankfully there are more lessons to come, many of them from you!

In my opinion, there are three main ingredients that are key for a successful discussion of a sensitive nature. First, you must stay calm.   Staying calm means that even if a situation upset or hurt you, you enter the conversation with peace and serenity. You are a still pond. You are a rock. You are a loaf of French bread. For example, I can be serene talking about something that happened in the distant past compared to just moments ago, or talking to an objective third party compared to someone who caused my pain. You can have emotional distance, even while talking about your feelings, so have the conversation only when you are calm.

Second, while being calm, assume that the other person is reasonable at heart.   Thus, your chosen words are not judgmental, but neutral. You are open, listen and try to understand what belief is causing this behavior. Becoming judgmental or defensive will only undermine your cause and you will be called the B word.

Finally, be succinct. Rambling, justifying, bemoaning, judging, and elaborating will make you lose your audience. And you’re serene, remember? State:

  • The fact – “I saw you leave out My Little Pony toy”
  • The way it makes you feel or the consequence – “It makes me feel like you don’t care about my stuff” or “I can’t find it when I want to play with it”
  • Your request – “Could you please put my toys away where they belong when you’re done playing with them?”

Bam, bam, bam.

An observation: this might be a huge deal to you. You might’ve cried about this for days and are trembling inside when having this conversation. The other most likely doesn’t even have this on their radar, and will just be like, “Okay.”

If not, be prepared to listen to their reality. You’re serene, right? So you’ll let their emotion wash over you so that you can listen deeply and objectively. If you really try to understand, you’ll find that their emotional reality will make sense to them in the same way that your emotional reality makes sense to you. In other words: it makes no sense except to the one experiencing it. And then you can find a sensible middle ground, laugh at how silly/human you both are and have a hug.

Ha ha. Not really.

Or maybe so?

Resources: Crucial Conversations and The Power of Positive Confrontation

To Plan or Not to Plan?

This is such a great time of year as so many of us are wrapping up Commencement. We just returned from Jackson’s graduation at Denison University. Those graduates had an amazing 4 years there and really have enhanced who they are as humans and world citizens.

The student delivering the senior class address was named Sterling Keiser. Her message to graduates and incoming Denisonians: Have no plan. Yep. Contrary to the practice of millions of anal compulsives and control freaks world-wide. Her rationale: Her plan went out the window at Denison, almost from the get-go.

I can just hear my Dad grinding his teeth to this message. His message to young people: Have and pursue a plan; don’t give up. His rationale: If he had given up after small and large setbacks, he would not be where he is today (and I don’t mean the senior living community he’s living in).

That’s the trouble with advice. Like a horoscope, advice is so dependent on the person and the situation, it’s almost random in it’s utility. Nonetheless, there are pearls of wisdom in both offerings.   I would wordsmith the two messages into the following combination: Be open while planning and pursuing your vision.

Dad was pursuing his vision of living and working in America. Setback after setback did not deter him. He was flexible with the implementation of his plan and would find alternative paths around obstacles. What seemed like disastrous failures turned into much better options.  His dream was strong, compelling and authentic to him but also vague enough that it left much room for flexibility and opportunity.

I know less about Sterling and the plan that went by the wayside. Perhaps her original plan was too specific and narrow or not authentic to her true passions and desires. Indeed, too narrowly defining yourself and your vision for yourself means that you may miss out on something more wonderful or authentic than what was originally constructed. Those options often appear as setbacks, deterrents, and missed opportunities. Here’s an exercise: consider every “bad” thing or “wrong turn” that happens to you and envision the best possible outcome. Consider modifying your plan accordingly. Turning a closed door into an open window takes practice, patience, optimism, hard work and creativity but it might just take you places that you’ve never dreamed.

Leadership at All Levels

I’m not sure whether I’m more cognizant of those who fail to either do their jobs or comply with the smallest professional courtesy (like returning a phone call or email), or if such unprofessional behavior is actually more prevalent lately.  So when I see others stepping up to work above and beyond their required duties, it’s a joy and inspiration to me!

I see this extra effort from faculty and staff all the time, mostly in small ways. But most recently, I’ve seen this big-time from our students. Usually there’s a visible leader at the helm who has a vision and can rally the troops with her organizational skills, positivity, work ethic and energy.

In addition, there are many many students who work quietly and with dedication outside of the limelight. They volunteer. They make suggestions. They work without complaining. They do necessary tasks that will not ever be recognized. They quietly contribute their magnificent talent and time to the cause and make it better.

This system of shared or horizontal leadership empowers individuals and brings a sense of teamwork, builds relationships and makes use of the team’s best skills and talents for the task. In doing so, each person is engaged, grows her own strengths, and are more likely to be able to step up when the leader is absent.   While observing such student teams, I see an emerging leader in every single team member, and my faith in our young generation and our future is so rejuvenated.  Thank you, young leaders, for your idealism and commitment to improving our world!

Regarding Employees

Our capitalistic system requires that we pay to procure products or services. If purchasing a service, the real or implied contract is that the recipient must deliver that service in a satisfactory manner else lose their job or the customer’s business.

That expectation of salary for service creates potential problems in the creation of a quality relationship. After all, the relationship is quid pro quo or Thou Shall Do Something For Me, not necessarily based on a genuine concern for the other. The Arbinger Institute, author of the books Anatomy of Peace and Leadership and Self-Deception, regard this expectation as treating another not as a person, but as a vehicle or means to an end. This may be especially true for a star performer – after all, my employees are there to make me look good, right? And they’d better keep doing it.

At the other extreme are employees that create problems. Those problems may either include a lack of productivity, disruptive behavior or poor work quality. In this case, management is likely focusing on the problem and the employee’s weaknesses, not their strengths. Employers may be regarding those folks not as people but as obstacles.

Alternatively, an employee may perform adequately, neither rising nor falling significantly above or below the threshold of productivity to attract the attention of management. The employee may not be on the radar of the employer at all; they’re pretty much left alone to do their job. Again, the employee may be regarded as an object – in this case, as irrelevant. Management is not focusing on strengths or weaknesses as they may be ignoring them completely.

Each scenario, though understandable and common given human nature, sets us up for conflict and dysfunctional relationships.   The scenarios where the other is an obstacle or irrelevant also increases the odds the employee will be either unengaged or actively disengaged (complaining, creating problems, angry). In the meantime, management is probably feeling pretty helpless, victimized and perplexed by employee attitudes and work performance.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. Employers are not the only ones guilty of the behavior. Employees may feel management is irrelevant, gets in their way, or is a vehicle for their own needs, such as income, and desires. If these attitudes are pervasive among both management and staff, then the whole organization may be mired in relationship dysfunction.

There’s no way, given our system, to avoid those Thou Shall expectations when you’re paying someone for a service. However, that does not mean that we must be blind to the subconscious dynamic that is associated with that expectation. Arbinger suggests that we have a choice as to whether we transition from regarding others as people (where their needs, cares, hopes and fears are as important as our own) to seeing them as objects (vehicles, obstacles or irrelevant). In other words, if you are to reward, punish or review an employee, do you consider their needs, cares, hopes and fears? Are you sensitive to those needs? Do you treat them as you would want to be treated? Paying someone does not give another permission to disregard their humanity.

Managing Office Politics

The term “office politics” refers to overall culture at work, but often in a way that implies negative connotations. I usually hear about it in terms of how workplaces gossip and cliques manifest from informal power struggles.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Office politics can be transformed to a positive culture where each person feels valued, engaged and supported in a way that enables their success. Each person knows that their teammates have their back – whether they’re present or not. Every person in the organization plays a part in creating and sustaining such a culture, but management plays a key role in either generating or discouraging such an environment.

What kind of culture are you nurturing? Think about who you work with and answer these questions for the whole range of people you work with, rather than just the best or worse case scenarios.

  • I tend to see what others are doing wrong.
  • There are people that I’d rather not deal with.
  • Certain people are making my job or life really difficult.
  • I tend to like to vent about others to my work friends.
  • I love to share a juicy story about a colleague.
  • I try to spend as much time as possible with the people that can help me.
  • I feel better when others confirm to me that I am right.
  • I know that I’m right most of the time.
  • I don’t feel worthy of or capable in my job.
  • I wish that others would get their act together and start doing their job.
  • I am not ready to be involved in decision-making.
  • It’s important to me that I’m viewed as productive and competent at work.

If you’re human and being honest with yourself, you probably had at least a few of these statements feel true to you in at least some circumstances. It’s natural. We all do it. However, please be aware that this tendency, which is often subconscious, is what contributes to a negative work culture. The Arbinger Institute calls this natural human tendency going into the “box”.

Going forward, try to catch yourself in the act when you’re in or going into the box. What does your body feel like? What thoughts are you having? What sorts of situations cause you to feel this way?

Now think about what you tend to do when in the box. Are you at your best, most helpful and peaceful self? Do you tend to be productive and creative when in the box? Probably not. We tend to actually lose productivity, collegiality and/or work quality when distracted by negative feelings.

Therefore, it makes sense to manage the box. Notice when you go in and know how to get yourself out. How can you find calm, peace, forgiveness and compassion for the person that is trying their best and struggling, just like you?

Creating the right office culture starts inside you. You can only give what you have, and if what you have is anger, resentment, entitlement, or victimhood, then that’s what you’ll sow at work. Instead, cultivate generosity, helpfulness, appreciation, and compassion inside and that’s what you can grow in others.

Read more about office politics in HBR here.

Evolving the Misfit Into A Hero

"Queensland Lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri)"

“Queensland Lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri)”

Every office has one. You know, that person that just doesn’t fit in. They always seem to have their head in the clouds, or they’re off on their own. Folks have pretty much given up trying to understand where they’re coming from.   They march to their own drummer and no one seems to know how to get them in line. To make matters worse, that poor misfit consequently is often the subject of jokes and snide comments. Maybe occasionally you’ve even participated in that gossip.

I have observed a number of these misfits over the years. In one setting, they may be unproductive and/or misunderstood and/or difficult to get along with; an enigma. But funny thing is if you take that Fish Out of Water (FOW) and put them in, well, water, then they can really sparkle.

Organizational culture is a strong but unseen force that we old-timers tend to take for granted. This is how things are, except they are not that way everywhere. New employees may have a tough time transitioning to a new organization, especially if it has a strong culture and orientation and onboarding are minimal. Even with a strong orientation, some just may never feel at home in an organization if the priorities, values, and tendencies are afar from their own. For example, I will probably never feel at home at a financial institution since money is the last thing I want to think about.

Tendencies are also important in a culture. The Gallup organizations defines our strengths are our natural patterns of thought, feeling or behavior. Like-minded people tend to have similar strengths. Therefore, having an office with many like-minded individuals tends to result in smooth interpersonal dynamics. Using the Meyers-Briggs personality as an example, an office full of introverts will make the sole extravert feel out of place, and visa versa. Introverts gain energy from being alone; extraverts gain energy from interacting with others. One is not better than the other. They’re just different.

While personality homogeneity may tend to create a smooth cultural dynamic, the potential downside is group-think and over-relying on a narrow range of skills. In contrast, a successful team accesses a wide range of strengths and uses them effectively. For instance, the office may need an office advocate. That FOW extrovert may be a good choice for this social role since they will be energized by meetings with others.   The extrovert will also be saving the rest of the team from doing a task that is effortful for them.

Now who’s the office hero?

In sum, the FOW actually represents an opportunity to make your team stronger and round out the team skill set.   Else, the FOW just quits in disgust, leaving the others in their group-think mode. Managers have a responsibility to help the FOW find the tasks and roles that best suit their skills and tendencies, and to value the unique role they play in the group setting the example by role modeling.

Remember, we’re all genius at something. Focusing on the shortcomings and struggles of another is not only unfair and unkind, but also unproductive. Challenge yourself to discover the genius and glory of the person you don’t understand. Seeing them in a new light may also help you to see yourself differently. You’re a gazelle, have you ever felt like you were suddenly under water?

It may also be true that the FOW may need to find a pond, and the gazelle a dry stretch of land.  But in the meantime, we’re a delicate ecosystem that is full of God’s creatures that are all interdependent. Help that FOW find a little water, and you may find that she can evolve and grow lungs.