Greatest Strength/Greatest Weakness: A Lesson From Donald J. Trump

Observing the political or cinematic stage is so fascinating because it provides a common framework for us to discover insights into our shared humanity.   The current political theater that is delighting the pundits also illustrates how we use our strengths for success or failure.

Many psychologists, real and armchair, have analyzed Trump’s psychological profile and fitness for the highest office. As an applied positive psychology practitioner, I observe Trump through the lens of his strengths. Two of his most obvious Gallup strengths are Competition (self-explanatory) and Significance (needing to be seen as important in the eyes of others). Trump loves to win.  He also loves the accolades and applause of his followers. When we are using our strengths well, it’s exhilarating and satisfying. The degree to which these strengths fuel his motivation to run for the country’s highest office could only be known by Trump himself.

Like all strengths, Competition and/or Significance can bring individuals to unimaginable success. The desire to win and to be better than a competitor can help one raise their game, or their team’s game, to the next level. The need to be seen as important can motivate achievement and accomplishment. Trump’s stunning successes in the Republican primary is a case study of skillful use of these strengths.

However, strengths can also be overused and misused. Some pundits are hypothesizing that Trump neither expected to win, nor wants the Presidency. If so, Trump may be competing for the sake of competition without consideration for what’s best for the country. He may also be willing to win at all costs, as he ramps up the rhetoric to arguably dangerous levels.    Significance can also be misused if one uses verbal abuse and bullying to feel more important, powerful, and better than others.

The rise and fall of Trump’s popularity is a lesson to us all. We develop our world-view and strategies based on early lessons and information. We often use those lessons as a frame of reference going forward as we create strategies for the future. Early successes with our strengths may teach us that using our favorite strengths is a good strategy. More is always better, right? Failure to re-evaluate our strategies combined with poor self-awareness can result in overuse and misuse; our strengths become our liabilities. Trump’s troubles are not the result of misfortune or a stellar opponent, as Clinton is as flawed in her own way as he is. Rather, he’s his own worst enemy.

Trump’s political tale beautifully reflects our shared human journey to find wisdom in our changing world and circumstances. The strategies that worked in one job, in another decade, with other people, may not work now. Trump’s opportunity now is go inside to understand his internal stage, as it is for us all.   Failure to do so will likely result in a tragic downfall.

Fall With Style: Lessons From Buzz Lightyear

Animated movies’ universal appeal is in part due to the timeless messages woven through their story lines. One quote I love is from Toy Story, where Woody jealously claims that Buzz Lightyear does not fly, but rather falls “with style”.

But Woody, they’re the same thing.

I’m speaking metaphorically, of course, about our response to failure and challenge. What do we do when we fail? Do we give up and quit taking chances? Do we blame others or circumstances? Do we fail to learn and keep repeating our mistakes? Or do we experiment with risk, employing a rapid turnaround time for experiments, and then use the data to learn how to better our lives and strategies?

This idea of failing well is discussed by Barbara Corcoran from Shark Tank in business and Lance King with regard to students. People that acknowledge and take responsibility for their failures and then learn from them tend to do much better than those that fail badly, whether in business or in academics.

Failing well in business is used deliberately to spark innovation in a process called rapid prototyping. Innovation breakthroughs occur after learning from a series of rapid, small failures. In a safe environment, rapid prototypers quickly determine what doesn’t work and what works well, then use that information to improve design.

How can we apply this concept in our personal lives?   None of us set out to fail. But should we?

Sometimes we have a tendency to make decisions without acknowledging the existence of our blind spots, and then we’re all in with the strategy. We defend and rationalize the strategy, even if it’s not working, often blaming others or circumstances if things go poorly.   If we are in denial about recognizing failure or our shortcomings, we can go quite far down a destructive pathway, possibly damaging good relationships or opportunities, then repeat our mistakes.

As a recovering perfectionist, I understand that admitting shortcomings is a very difficult thing to do.  Failing to admit my shortcomings then produces the thing I fear the most:  failure.  The worse things get, the more I have to dig in and defend myself or my failed strategy.

Imagine using that approach of denying our failures and shortcomings in business. Will that company be competitive in today’s market economy?

It’s so easy to see that denial in others and the havoc it can play on their lives. We don’t see our own blindspots and refuse to explore them when things are going poorly. In science, we call problems surrogate markers; chaos, challenges, and failure in our lives means we have a failed experiment and need to take a rapid prototype approach to finding a solution. Blaming, ignoring, and denying is antithetical to innovation.

Woody at first struggled with adapting to having a new leader in the group, but eventually learned.  We should take a lesson from both Woody and Buzz and fall with style. Then we too can then fly.

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!

 

 

8 Tools For Thriving During Change

fish escape concept

Embrace change!  Photo credit

The only constant is change, yet we often fear, dread, or fight change. It’s a natural tendency since, as a species, we tend to be wary of threats to our wellbeing, and change is just as likely to bring challenge as opportunity.

In addition, we have a certain change style, where our affinity and comfort with change ranges from low to high. Conservers prefer to take a measured and incremental approach to change, whereas Originators like rapid and broad change. In the middle are Pragmatists who prefer change that is practical and effective. Each style has its advantages and disadvantages; respect for and understanding of our own and others’ change styles can help change occur more smoothly and effectively.

We do not always have the luxury of the pace and extent of change matching our change style.   Often change is faster or slower, broader or narrower, than our comfort would dictate. When change is not under our control, it will feel challenging.   As with any challenge, I use my main Go To Tools to help turn that challenge into an opportunity:

  • Be mindful and present – Plan for the future but don’t dwell on it. Worrying about the future creates anxiety. The present moment elicits neither sadness, regret, nor anxiety.
  • Take care of yourself first – Rest, exercise, a healthy diet, and time for play are good antidotes to stress.
  • Reflect – Change is scary. Acknowledge your fear, anxiety, distress, or sadness. Feel it. Put a name to it. Feel it some more. Then let it dissipate.
  • Identify and challenge your belief or schema – What is the belief that is causing your emotion? If it’s a negative emotion, then name and challenge your belief or schema.   Introduce doubt into that belief. If it’s a positive emotion, then savor and amplify your optimism.
  • Identify the downside of the status quo – What’s bad about maintaining the current situation? What opportunities will pass you by if you resist change? What damage can occur by failing to grow?
  • Find a positive perspective – Your negative feelings result from focusing on the worst-case scenario. Instead, consider what is the best possible outcome.   Imagine it in full detail. What does it look like? How does it feel? What did you learn? How did you grow? What is the pathway to this outcome?   What challenges might you encounter, and how would you surmount them? What would your future self, who is enjoying this positive outcome, say to your current self?  Say it to yourself. Repeat as necessary.
  • Identify your strengths – Given this ideal outcome, identify what strengths (either StrengthsFinders or VIA) that you can use to achieve this outcome and surmount those obstacles. Make a plan.
  • Identify your support – Who can help you on this journey? Maybe you need a sounding board, a sage, a playmate, a home team, a cheerleader. Enlist their support, and be specific about what you need from them. Continue to communicate with them so they understand what their roles are as the situation evolves.

Now, go get ‘em! You have a positive future, go create it!

How To Be A Good Friend: Part 3

We all know the importance of communication in a relationship. When things are going well, good communication keeps things on the right track. When things are going wrong, you need to talk it out.  You just need to communicate more, right?

Yes and no.

When a relationship is having conflict, it’s probably not the amount of communication at issue, but the quality of both the communication itself and the internal world of the participants that is causing trouble. For example, if I think I’m right and you’re wrong, communicating that in greater quantity will not help the relationship.

What comprises quality communication in a relationship? Here are 8 components of quality communication:

  • Being present – You’re not worrying about your kids, your job, or even what you’re going to say next. You’re giving your partner your undivided attention to both their words and nonverbal communication. Being present also means being calm. If I’m pissed off or terrified, I am likely not being present.
  • Listening to understand – When you listen to understand, you’re trying to grasp the meaning of their words, not just the literal, surface content. You’re dispensing with any assumptions you may have made about their perspective or motivation. You listen with a clean slate, hearing between the lines, not taking every phrase literally.
  • No judging – Everyone has a different internal world, none better or worse than another. Respect the other’s reality, and they are more likely to respect yours.
  • Don’t take it personally – If discussing a difficult topic, this issue likely, at its emotional care, has nothing to do with you (see below).
  • Don’t interrupt – Let them completely finish what they have on their mind. You’ll get your turn, hopefully, later.
  • Reflect back – Summarize what you heard (again, without judgment or taking it personally), and ask if you got it right. Receive corrections and edit until it’s right then ask if there is anything else.
  • Go deeper – For intimate relationships and/or conversations, ask your partner to explain why this particular issue is so important to them to get to the painful (or joyous) belief behind their feelings. Try to avoid using the word “Why”: “Help me understand why this is so painful/wonderful for you.” Reflect their response back.
  • Ask – Ask if they’re willing to hear your perspective. If so, then share your viewpoint being as authentic as possible, avoiding blame and judgment on the other. Remember, your interpretation on your view of the world is your choice.  You’re entitled to your opinion, but remember that it is your opinion, not fact.  Share the feelings elicited by your partner’s behavior or words and the pain at the source of those feelings.

For example, I might say to my partner “When I was telling you how excited I was about my promotion, I felt hurt and ignored when you interrupted me and changed the subject. Giving me adequate air time, especially during important moments, helps me feel valued and appreciated.”

The deeper you can authentically go into your wounded, vulnerable place, the more impactful the communication.     In your vulnerability is where it becomes clear what is the real issue, buried deep beneath the surface argument. (Please see any of Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability if you’re unsure the benefit of making yourself vulnerable).

The quality of your internal world is also critically important to good communication. Your internal world is related to the Arbinger Institute’s concept of being in the Box and your mindset. Briefly, when I am in the Box, I am focusing on my own needs, wants and desires and justifying that position by mentally and emotionally diminishing the other to be irrelevant, a problem or a means to an end. When communicating, I’m more concerned about being right, being heard and understood, or not being blamed or criticized.   My mindset is inward, focused on my own needs.

In contrast, when out of the Box, I view others needs, wants and desires as important as my own. I’m communicating to first understand, and then to be understood. I’m deeply interested in the speaker’s needs, wants and desires so as to be helpful to them, or at least, to do them no harm.   I respect their boundaries as well as my own. My mindset is outward, focused on understanding their needs, and trying to help or support them in a way that does not violate my own boundaries.

Given that this is neither easy nor simple, I find it helpful to take a strengths-based approach to communication. I use my Relator to motivate me to deepen my relationships, and I use my Capacity to Love and Be Loved and Consistency/Justice and Perspective to maintain a positive energy during difficult conversations.   A mindfulness practice is essential for staying present. I view improving on this critical skill part of my lifelong journey where I continue to learn and grow, using large doses of Forgiveness when my partner and I fall short of our expectations.

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.

How To Be A Good Friend: Part 1

Positive relationships are essential for a good life, yet we are rarely taught how to create good relationships. Likely we have learned relationship skills by observing those who were similarly unschooled. I learned and practiced a lot of dysfunctional behaviors for a long time without ever even knowing there was something wrong with my unhealthy beliefs and practices. Creating a healthy relationship is such a fundamental skill, I believe relationship skills should be taught in K-12 Health class.

We tend to have many types of relationships, some casual and others intimate. However, the skills for creating good relationships are fairly much the same, though the relationship itself may dictate the degree a given skill is employed. A key element to all good relationships, regardless of the depth of commitment or closeness, is balance. In other words, there has to be give and take across the various facets of the relationship such that there is sufficient reciprocity in the long run.

Creating balance can be tricky since assessing balance is subjective. The relationship should not be transactional, in other words, I-call-you-only-if-you-called-me-last-type of behavior.  For example, I know Chris does way more for me than I realize, so if I only focus on what I do for him, I will over estimate my contribution to the relationship.   Also, if I only focus on the picking-up-around-the-house scorecard, for example, I contend I will always win by that measure. But he does so much for me in other areas, which I ignore at the peril of our relationship.

Therefore, when taking stock of relationships we should try to account for all of the ways we give to each other. I may only focus on the money or time I spend on a relationship, but there are other types of relationship currencies that may go unseen, yet should be accounted for. Here are 3 relationship facets, often unseen, that may affect your relationship net balance:

Affirmation –

Friends often have a tendency to either blindly affirm or refute their friend’s stance or behavior.   For example, if I complain about how I’m treated at work, my friends might either just say “Yeah, what jerks. You’re not doing anything wrong and look how they’re mistreating you.” Or they might say, “You never seem to get along with your boss. Maybe you’re too sensitive or stubborn.”

Though the former approach may seem more supportive at face value, both approaches lack balance and objectivity. They both contain judgment (either for or against), and neither help the other learn, grow or find solutions. The approach may even make the situation worse by reinforcing and validating dysfunctional beliefs or behavior.

Instead, a good friend invests effort in listening to trying to understand, and helps the other explore options and responses without controlling or dictating the outcome. Showing unconditional support for the other, without blindly affirming or judging their behavior, is a loving and helpful way to balance affirmation for your loved one.

Effort –

All relationships take effort, including initiating and planning get-togethers and keeping the energy lively and positive. The latter might include finding interesting topics to discuss or things to do, or constructively managing conflict when it arises. The care and maintenance of the relationship should be shared; if the burden falls almost exclusively on one side, then the friendship may not be a partnership unless reciprocation occurs in another area.

Some young people are surprised to learn that good marriages require a lot of effort, not in terms of paying the bills and taking care of kids, but in doing the hard work of creating a successful relationship. No one ever told me this. I’m telling you now in case you haven’t heard.

Intimacy –

Open and honest sharing of oneself and one’s feelings is an important element for our closest relationships.  There is no one right level of intimacy for a given relationship since everyone has different needs and styles for sharing. Regardless of the degree of intimacy, relationships should have balance with each person contributing in a way that works for the relationship. For example, if one friend does all the listening and rarely shares, it may be a red flag that the relationship is one-sided. That dynamic may work for the pair if reciprocation occurs in other areas.

Since relationships run the gamut from casual to intimate, partnerships to dependencies, a good relationship does not necessarily need to have all of the above facets to be positive or healthy. Rather, healthy relationships tend to have a global balance across the various ways that the partners give to each other, thus enabling its sustenance and success.