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!



Fate or Free Will?

How much of our lives are dictated by free will versus fate? I bet that everyone’s answer is different, depending on how much value one places on the cognitive versus the mystical. An evidence-based person will lean strongly toward the free will side, whereas a highly spiritual person may choose fate. I imagine that the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

After all, we don’t have complete control over our lives. Where we are born, into which family, and with what genetic make-up have a huge impact on who we are and our life’s trajectory. Yet we also know that major life choices can be agonizingly difficult since those choices may have repercussions for years to come.

Finding that balance in the fate/free will life perspective is tough too. Erring too far on the fate side may make someone complacent about their life, whereas erring too far on the free will side may make someone feel overly responsible and need to control.

What matters, in my opinion, is how we handle the events of our lives, regardless whether they emanate from fate or choice. For example, the best way to grieve after the loss of a loved one is to find or create meaning in the loss. The loss can become a path to growth or wisdom, or a motivation to do good deeds. In his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Harold Kushner makes the case that when we focus on why, we’re asking the wrong question. Instead, he asks us to focus on now what?   What good will come out of a bad situation?

It’s not just loss that is hard. Even positive change can be difficult to adjust to and even traumatic. You’ve heard the stories of how winning the lottery is just as likely to ruin one’s life as it is to create happiness and wellbeing. Those winnings can either be used to create meaning and purpose and to elevate others, or it can be used to create infighting, division, resentment and fear.

Regardless of whether an event is subjectively good or bad, emanated from fate or choice, in the end we’re left with deciding what next? Do we learn, grow, improve, or take action? Or do we become complacent, fight with each other, blame someone else, or fall into depression? Do we learn to make better choices or learn to let go and be more accepting of what we cannot control?

Undoubtedly in my lifetime, I have tended to err excessively on the side of free will. My challenge continues to be able to lean into accepting and embracing the parts of my life that are driven by fate and beyond my control.   I must believe that, just like every other part of my journey to become my best self, the future can be even more spectacular than I can imagine, so I should not try to control it.

Perhaps those of you who err on fate must learn to be more proactive and involved in determining your destiny. You have more power than you realize. Use it to grow kindness and wisdom in yourself and your world.

Needy People

Sometimes I feel like everything would grind to a halt if I weren’t keeping things running, and that no one appreciates me or what I do.   Do you ever feel this way?

I don’t actually feel this way too often these days though in my younger years I used to feel like this was more often true than not. I felt that those around me were needy, were unable to take responsibility for themselves (well, some of those someones were children), and that I had to do everything without thanks or acknowledgment. I felt powerless to change it because even asking for help or improvement seemed to make no difference. More importantly, asking for help also required that I admit to myself that I’m not Wonder Woman. I felt powerless and trapped.

The feelings that ensued included resentment, anger and despair. Such negative emotions are good because they signal the need for a change. I had to have a mega-ton of negative emotion before realizing that I was unable to change their behavior, so all I can do was change mine.

First, I had to recognize what I can and cannot control and influence. Though I was successful to some degree teaching my children to be self-sufficient, with adults I have to rely much more on influence. Either way, I had to learn that my ability to control others was zero and that it would be a responsibility that I would not want anyway.

Second, I had to realize what role I was playing in others’ helplessness. The more that I did for others, the more that help became expected or needed. Stepping out of the way and allowing others to be uncomfortable, fail, or flounder permits them to learn their own lessons. Stepping back also provides me a little sanity once I can find the balance of (mostly) avoiding Told You So with compassion for their struggle.

Third, I had to learn to acquire some perspective on my expectations. Is it the end of the world if someone forgets their homework, doesn’t make an A, the event isn’t flawless, or I look or appear less than perfect? Going from 95 to 100% is not worth the resulting exponential increase in stress. Consider the cost to benefit of “settling” for 95%.   I believe those around me feel it’s a good trade!

In short, I learned to stop being a martyr (that’s what it is) and quit doing things that would cause me to become resentful.  Most of the time, others were not even asking for my help. I just did them and then got mad at others because they were not sufficiently appreciative of my sacrifice.  Who is the needy one now?

10 Ways I Make Myself Unhappy

“Life is difficult.…. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult.” ― M. Scott Peck

Sometimes I’m under the delusion that life is supposed to be easy. Things are supposed to go the way that I want or envisioned. If not, I make myself miserable.

In other words, I create my own unhappiness. Here’s how:

  1. Thinking life is supposed to be easy or fair
  2. Being critical of myself or others – this is often unconscious and instantaneous
  3. Assuming or feeling I’m being criticized, judged or treated unfairly
  4. Deciding a situation is bad then failing to find the silver lining or question my assumption
  5. Ruminating about the past and what I should’ve done differently
  6. Worrying about or trying to control something that I really cannot control
  7. Feeling powerless when I can take action
  8. Believing someone else has control over me
  9. Being afraid of failure
  10. Thinking there’s something wrong with adversity

Though we tend to assume that happiness, contentment, and joy are our desired states, disappointment and struggle are also important elements for growth and change.

“Joy is sometimes a blessing, but it is often a conquest. Our magic moment help us to change and sends us off in search of our dreams. Yes, we are going to suffer, we will have difficult times, and we will experience many disappointments — but all of this is transitory it leaves no permanent mark. And one day we will look back with pride and faith at the journey we have taken.” – Coelho

Adversity is an opportunity to re-examine our habits, assumptions, beliefs and strategies. It invites us to re-examine our circumstances and find a solution, an improvement, a new perspective, or a new path.

“When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat, and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way.” Coelho


The Quest for Perfection

You all know that I’m a recovering perfectionist. I’m proud of the progress I’ve made but like with any other addictive tendencies, it’s a tendency that never completely goes away.

Did I really say addictive?

Let’s face it. There’s something rewarding and dysfunctional in the belief that we can have or have achieved perfection. Creating perfection is delusional at best, yet we love to bask in the fantasy that perfection is within reach.

The challenge of creating that balance between wanting to improve versus feeling bad or inadequate becomes strikingly clear to me when I play the piano. I love the meditative, creative and generative aspects of playing an instrument. Even though I’m not a huge music fan, I also enjoy creating something melodious and hearing the beautiful tone of the keys.

Yet when I practice, it starts as a fun discovery of learning what I can still manage to play and the sounds I can create.   Eventually I get bored with that (unfortunately, a common theme for me) and so I may instead attempt the futility of perfecting how I play a piece. If I could find just the right tempo, key stroke, loudness and expression, I keep saying to myself, I can really enjoy it.

In reality, if I were able to achieve perfection, I likely cannot reproduce that perfection a second time and anything less will feel like a disappointment. If I could reproduce it, I would quickly get bored because now it lacks challenge.

Yes. That’s the delusion of perfectionism, the belief that I will be satisfied and happy when…. The truth is I’ve created a lose:lose scenario instead of enjoying the activity for its own sake.

One of the most profound lessons I’ve learned from Dad is that it’s about the journey, not the destination.  The journey itself is the source of satisfaction and joy. The fact that I have to learn that lesson repeatedly speaks to my tendency to focus on the endpoint as an excuse to not enjoying the now.

The piano teaches me that I am choosing to create frustration and dissatisfaction in both the journey and endpoint. Rather, I should play for the sake of creativity and human expression, and viewing mistakes as opportunities for discovery.  Impressionism, jazz, youngest children, and serendipity could all be considered mistakes that turned into something fantastic.   Embrace the mistakes, the noise, the messiness, the deviations as opportunities to break free from our rigid sense of right/wrong and perfection.

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.”

― Leonard Cohen

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.

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!

Setting and Accomplishing Career Goals

Some say that the best way to achieve a goal is to define it and create a step-by-step plan to achieve it. I completely agree with that approach, especially when the plan is broken down into manageable pieces.

The problem with this approach is that we sometimes have no idea what our goals should be, especially as they pertain to our careers.   Speaking as someone who has spent most of my life knowing my goals with some certainty, this strategy worked quite well until I realized that I was focusing on the wrong things. The bigger the goal, such as a career goal, the more likely I was aiming for something that I thought I should pursue, rather than outcomes that were a good fit for me. I also have fallen for the trap of focusing on the wrong priorities, like salary or status instead of pursuing deep meaning and satisfaction from my work. I knew that those goals were wrong for me because when I achieved them, eventually they felt like hollow victories.

As a result, now I’m more circumspect about putting my head down and myopically working towards career goals. In addition, futurists say that 60% of the jobs 10 years from now have not yet been created and many of the current jobs will disappear. Therefore, it seems foolish to blindly work toward objectives when a terrific opportunity may become available while focusing on a career objective that may become obsolete.

In other words, we must be adaptable to be successful in the uncertain, future economy.   As luck may have it, adaptability is among my lowest strengths. However, I am managing the discomfort of uncertainty by trying to be present and open instead of worrying about controlling the future.   I am more successful at this on some days more than others; I’m just proud to be making progress in this arena.

Breathe deeply with me, folks. We’re more likely to be happy and successful by positively channeling our energy instead of over planning and trying to control what we cannot control. After all, we might as well enjoy the crazy, uncertain ride!

Never Say ‘Never’

It’s happening at what feels like an alarming rate: a Personal Certainty gets uncertain or even wrong. You know a Personal Certainty. They begin with ‘I will never…’, ‘I will always…’, ‘I don’t ever….’, and so forth.

Perhaps you know the saying, “Man plans. God laughs.” God laughs at me a lot.

I guess I deserve it. I have spent so much of my life trying to plan and control my life. It’s no wonder that little of it works out as planned. Thank goodness, actually.

This has been a great lesson for me: lean into that uncertainty about life. Yes, I suppose it could turn out so much worse than I expect. But I feel like the more open I am to the unexpected, the more likely that things will actually turn out better than expected.

However, old habits die hard. Really hard. So I still often catch myself saying, ‘I’ll never…’ or trying to control the future. Now I try to stop myself mid-way and reflect on my usual assumptions. Where did that belief come from? Is it still relevant? Why do I believe it to be true? Is it really absolutely necessary? How can a ‘bad’ outcome actually be a ‘good’ outcome? That very exercise is an interesting dive into my iceberg beliefs and can yield some revealing things about my inner psyche. Even trying to imagine the circumstances in which I will be doing the very thing that I can’t imagine doing is an entertaining exercise in and of itself.

So I tried some of my usual ‘I will never’ statements on for size:

  • I will never go back to practice Pharmacy. Maybe I will. What kind of practice model might entice me back?
  • I will never go back to school. I already violated that once. Why not again? What might it be next time?
  • I will never live in the country. At least I hope not. But if I did, what sort of landscape or circumstance would be compelling enough to take me there?
  • I will always care about the environment and recycling. Maybe someday the environment won’t need me to worry about it.
  • I don’t ever want to go skydiving. Well, maybe it were free and it was important to a loved one that I try their beloved hobby at least once….
  • I will never love olives or pickles. Well, unless the olive is in a tapenade. OK.

See? This exercise allows me to open my mind to what was previously unimaginable. Thinking about something does not commit me in any way to it. Like contemplating a pickle tapenade (eww) does not mean I have to actually eat it. Rather, I’m just exercising an open mind by saying ‘maybe’ more frequently and giving myself permission to imagine the improbable.

Take your strongest Personal Certainty and imagine what scenarios might actually change that reality for you. Does it seem slightly more plausible now?   Which Certainties have been standing in your way?  Keep imagining options until the impossible seems likely.    Deep fried pickles?  Yum!

I’ll Be Happy When…

What came to mind when you read this sentence stem? Did a couple of goals pop into mind?

On my list during my lifetime included: when I pass this test, when I finish school, when I get that job, when I go on vacation, when I get married, when I have a family, when the kids are independent, when I get promoted, when I retire.

Sometimes those goals were not quite as lofty or distant: when I get home, when I finish that project, when/if I get that grant.

I’m old enough to have actually achieved most of those milestones. And yes, I am actually happy when I reach one of those milestones.

For about a nanosecond.

Given this bad habit of living in the future, writing my annual report has become one of the best days of my year. That exercise requires me to acknowledge all that I got accomplished during the past year instead of my usual MO of just breezing by those milestones without even so much as a mental pat on the back.

Sick, right?

Have I just gotten into some weird habit of perpetual delayed gratification? Or have I developed some masochistic Puritanical guilt for enjoying life? Regardless, my underlying dysfunctional belief system includes the lie that I have control over the future and that my external world determines my happiness.

Living in the past is just as bad. Living in the past may mean ruminating on ‘what if’ regret statements or harboring resentment from past transgressions. Sometimes these misdeeds happened decades ago; I sometimes hear (adult) people complaining about resentments that have occurred during childhood.

Alarming, right?

The dysfunctional belief system around living in the past includes the lie that someone else or something else from my past is in control of my current happiness.

You can see the fallacy of both future/past foci: that external events control my happiness. No.   Rather, how I choose to arrange my inner world determines my happiness.

Furthermore, that choice is pretty much the only thing I have any control over at all. I have absolutely no control over the past except for how I choose to view the past. I have little or no control, really, over the future. I can influence the future, yes, but control? No.   9/11 taught me that lesson.

So it seems to me that the best option is living in the present. Living in the now means to be totally engaged with my present reality. The task at hand. My immediate environment. The person I am with. Whether I choose to judge my current circumstances as fantastic, pretty good, or awful, or to just acknowledge it without judgment. That choice will determine how I feel in this moment.

Consciously make that choice in this moment to create love, awe, and inspiration and refuse the choice that create anxiety and resentment. It’s in your control.

Sweet, right?