The Destructive Power Of Restlessness – Season 2020, Episode 23

Since I wasn’t alive during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, this is my first pandemic experience. But I have experienced disruption. My working life really began during major disruption in the 1970s because of the oil crisis. Thankfully, I was a teen and didn’t know any better (or different). From then until now I’ve encountered numerous downturns that weren’t gentle slopes, but more like rock slides. Maybe that has something to do with how I approach market disruptions. Mostly, I don’t get too preoccupied with them because they’re so much bigger than me.

I don’t remember ever feeling dispair. Uncertainty? Of course, but maybe because I started out as a high-schooler when the economy was awful…I just don’t pay much attention to it. I certainly don’t claim to have some special mental toughness or special gift. Experience and perspective must be the reason.

There is a game that is played far above my level. Sports stopped during the pandemic, but the game of business ramped up to super-major-league levels. Unfortunately, the play happens out of sight of the public. We’re only able to see the score when the game is finished. The winners are business people able to leverage the restlessness of others to their advantage. It’s among the reasons why some companies experience exponential growth during tough times. It’s why others are able to acquire valuable assets at greatly reduced investments. And it’s why others fail and fall off the game board giving increased opportunities to the competition.

Restlessness in markets has an upside if you’re able to take advantage.

Restlessness also has a powerful destructive force in our professional and personal lives. And in our organizations. This is why we have to be more keenly aware of it and work to manage it in our lives and in the lives of the people we serve.

Today I just want to focus on one big element that makes restlessness destructive and see if we can help leverage it, instead, to serve us positively.

Restlessness kills curiosity because we grow increasingly impatient. 

This pandemic is an ideal manifestation of it. People are anxious and exhausted. The polarization of opinions is growing. All because we’re restless with the situation. We just want to get past it. Never mind a deeper understanding. Out goes whatever curiosity we may naturally have. And if we lacked curiosity before the restlessness set in, then we’ve ditched it all together now.

The formula is ridiculously simple: curiosity prompts the quest to truly understand, which in turn drives our understanding. Greater understanding arms us with better data from which to make a decision resulting in improved actions, assuming we can execute as we want.

It starts with curiosity, which requires patience. Insert the pressure of “no time” or the perception that we have no time and patience goes down (or away). There goes curiosity.

During this pandemic, I’ve actually heard a phrase uttered by folks who ought to know better. “My mind’s made up.” Translation: I don’t care what you or anybody else says. I already know what I want to do. I don’t have time for any input or insights.

It’s a recipe for a fatal decision. I’m not saying that’s guaranteed, but we dramatically improve our odds of making a very poor and costly decision.

The destruction caused by our unmanaged restlessness goes deeper though. It erodes our relationships. When we lose our curiosity we lose interest in others. We stop caring what they think or how they feel. Selfishness grows. We know what we know and we arrogantly think we know best. Maybe we do. Maybe we don’t. But our restlessness propels our ego forward while shoving other people aside.

How many “smartest guy in the room” people do you know who excel at curiosity and seeking understanding?

Exactly.

None.

Restlessness can contribute to making any of us be like that. We think what we think and we lose our open-mindedness to listen to others. We don’t care what they think, or why. We don’t want to understand their viewpoint because our mind is made up. We already think we know better.

Never mind that we might have it wrong. Think of the consequences of our leadership and influence.

When others see our curiosity dwindle they notice immediately. When others notice we no longer listen to them, we lose our influence. Everybody wants to be heard and understood. Leaders owe that to anybody they hope to serve. It’s especially harmful to us if our restlessness is temporary. We cause long-term damage due to a short-term problem.

So what should we do?

  1. Be mindful of how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. You can’t manage restlessness until you first recognize it. Get in touch with how restless you are.
  2. Gauge your curiosity. It’s the best measurement of the negative impact of your restlessness. When you find yourself not asking questions in an attempt to better understand others, then you know you’re in trouble and need to course correct.
  3. As good as it feels to think you’re smarter than everybody else, know that it’s a delusion and therefore, dangerous. Don’t view your curiosity as a challenge to your smartness, but a confirmation of it. The more curious you are, the smarter you are. So act curious if you must, but be curious enough to learn more so you can deepen your understanding.
  4. Go three steps deeper than you may want. When you begin to think, “Okay, I’ve got this. I have everything I need” then dig deep and figure out three more good (or great) questions to ask that can bring you an even deeper understanding.
  5. Embrace kindness. Your restlessness will cause you be abrupt, harsh and judgmental. Your leadership influence will be tarnished for a very long time if you don’t manage restlessness.
  6. Care. Care about yourself and your impact. Care about the people you lead. Care about the truth, facts and getting it right. Care enough to foster dialogue and conversation. Most of all, care enough to listen so you understand.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

What Do We Have In Common? – Season 2020, Episode 22

Two extremes. One is our tendency to notice things just like the things we own. If you drive Limerock Edition of a BMW M3 you’ll quickly notice anybody else driving the same car. That flashy orange is easy to spot. But you don’t have to drive something quite so exotic. You’ll notice every car on the road that is identical to your.

Another extreme is our tendency to notice things out of the ordinary. They stick out. Okay, to be fair, the Limerock Edition of the M3 will stand out as extraordinary…so if you own one it fits both of these extremes. One is sameness. The other is differentness.

We’re all unique and as Angela Maiers is so fond of saying, “You matter!”

Yet we all feel we’re so different. Sometimes we even feel like nobody knows or understands what we’re going through. Intellectually we know that’s not true, but our feels are quite real all the same.

You could certainly make an application to these extremes in this current social unrest brought about by racism. Nothing new about racism. I’m in line at the bank drive-through and notice a bunch of pigeons. They all look the same. There’s about 6 of them. In flies one that is a very light tan color. The rest of them were dark grey. He or she (I can’t tell if a pigeon is male or female) was different. They clearly noticed. They didn’t misbehave, but you could tell the grey ones stuck closer together. I’ve seen such things before though even though I’m not an anthropologist. 😉

Creatures, including humans, notice differences. Sadly, as people, we have the capacity to more fully understand the differences…than say, a pigeon. I could be wrong about that, but I don’t think so. I’m basing that on my assumption that humans have higher intellectual and communication abilities than pigeons. 😀

All it requires of us is curiosity and communication. Well, to be perfectly clear – non-judgmental curiosity and communication. There is a difference.

Asking questions in hopes that we might better understand is key.

Here’s the fascinating thing about the quest to understand differences — we tend to understand that we’re not so different after all. We have quite a lot in common. As for the differences, they can expand our ability to think, understand, and have compassion.

I’ve seen a number of stories written chronicling people of different races who have, for the first time, engaged in sober conversation with somebody of another race. The conversation topic? The current focus on racial inequality. Many of these stories end with both people admitting they had never had such a conversation and never had an understanding of how the other person felt. Or known what that might be like, to be the other person. And in every story I’ve read both parties concluded they had quite a lot in common in spite of the vast differences of their life experiences. Both are still human and experience all the same human emotions common to us all.

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,” is the refrain of that famous song by Mahalia Jackson. It’s a hymn that mostly speaks to the truth that Jesus knows. But the other truth is, many other people do know – and do understand. We just don’t often enough talk with each other with the aim of truly understanding each other so we can learn to be more kind toward one another.

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows but He knows my sorrow
Yes, nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
But glory, Hallelujah
Sometimes I’m standing crying
Tears running down my face
I cry to the Lord, have mercy
Help me run this all race
Oh Lord, I have so many trials
So many pains and woes
I’m asking for faith and comfort
Lord, help me to carry this load, whoo
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Well, no, nobody knows but Jesus
No nobody knows, oh the trouble, the trouble I’ve seen
I’m singing glory, glory glory Hallelujah
No nobody knows, oh the trouble, the trouble I’ve seen
Lord, no nobody knows my sorrow
No nobody knows, you know the trouble
The trouble I’ve seen
I’m singing glory, glory, glory, Hallelujah!

What do we have in common?

Everything that’s important. Feelings. Emotions. Thoughts. Insights. Experiences. Beliefs. Fears. Anxieties.

All those may be different, but I don’t care who you are or what you’ve experienced, or how educated or uneducated you are – you know about love and hate. You know about fear and comfort. You know about family and enemies. You know about safety and danger. You know about kindness and unfairness. We all know those things – and so much more.

Something else we have in common – the capacity to do better. The only way to be better is to behave better. The road to kindness is paved with being kind. Nothing more. We can’t think about being kinder. We can’t wish it. We can’t plan on it. We just have to make up our mind to be more kind – and that will result in our doing the things that kinder people do.

We have far more in common than not. But sometimes we relish a focus on our differences hoping to feel superior to one another. It’s not the differences that separate us, it’s pride, arrogance, and self-centeredness. It’s that notion that I’m sure happy I’m not you…because I’m better than you.

It makes us feel better about ourselves. Superior. And yes, that fosters bigotry of all kinds – not just based on race. There’s plenty of bigotry to go around. Intellectual. Social. Financial. Racial.

Permit a Bible illustration. It’s recorded in Luke 18:9-14

“And he spake also this parable unto certain who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and set all others at nought: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I get. But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, God, be thou merciful to me a sinner. I say unto you, This man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

Context matters. Pharisees were very righteous people. Well, to be accurate they could be known for feeling superior to everybody else. They largely enjoyed being noticed for being more spiritually superior. Publicans on the other hand were tax collectors. As a group, they were generally corrupt because they’d take bribes and behave with greed. But the fact is, both groups are just like any groups. We could make generalizations about them as a group and we might miss the mark horribly when it came to how any individual Pharisee or Publican might really be.

The story, told by Jesus, isn’t specifically addressing that truth, but He is addressing how we think about ourselves and how we view others. I came across something interesting a few weeks ago that speaks the truth of this parable.

But still we blow on other people’s candles, fooled into thinking if their candles go out then our candles can’t help but shine more brightly. That’s what the Pharisee thought. He was fixated on his life and had no concern for the Publican. And he was surely guilty of judging the Publican in general and not as an individual.

The parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 perfectly illustrates the same thing adding to it the answer of how we ought to behave toward each other as neighbors. When the pandemic began I started a YouTube playlist of sermons and this was the first one I published, entitled “A Certain Samaritan Answers The Question, “Who Is My Neighbor?””

Our experiences differ, but even in those differences are similarities. I’m an old white guy. I don’t know what it is to be pulled over by police because I’m black and the cop thinks I’m out of place. But I do what it feels like to be treated unkindly and to be misjudged. I do know what it feels like to be mistreated and misunderstood. Those are common to all of us. Which makes the current situation more frustrating. That some among us can’t seem to find the path forward to understand that just because I haven’t had that specific experience doesn’t mean somebody hasn’t. Nor does it mean that I can’t understand it enough – even though I haven’t experienced – to imagine what it might be like so I can elevate the compassion I feel toward the person who has experienced it.

I talk quite a lot about how we can benefit from surrounding ourselves with others who have a different experience, different insights, and different viewpoints. All true. In my opinion. But perhaps the greater power is our ability to surround ourselves with others who will embrace the curiosity and communication necessary so we can all learn from one another and teach one another just how much we have in common.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Profitable Disagreement – Season 2020, Episode 21

Is the ideal really full compliance and cooperation?

I suppose it depends on the situation. What’s the context of the group or team? What’s the purpose of their coming together? Lots of factors might influence how we approach things…and will influence our expectations, too.

First, we ought to define what we mean by compliance and cooperation. I can make the argument that full compliance and cooperation may not mean I agree with everything said. Or done. It may mean that I’m in such a safe space that I feel free to openly share my insights, concerns, and thoughts. I know many people might view it differently, thinking it means you just go along and don’t make waves. Without waves though, there’s no momentum. We have to work much harder to go anywhere until there are waves for us to surf.

Is the ideal being productive, effective, and efficient?

Could be. Likely true.

But full compliance and cooperation may not resemble being productive, effective, and efficient.

Some groups and teams put a premium on avoiding debate or tension of any kind. They see disagreement as destructive so their culture has little tolerance for it.

Those in charge – bosses – can easily fall into that trap, too. Fixating on what they feel is best and what they think needs to be done, the boss may be intolerant of opposing viewpoints. Many a boss has been frustrated by what they see as a lack of cooperation. It can even result in the loss of a well-intended productive employee if the boss grows too disgruntled.

The viewpoint is understandable. Most of us don’t have much fondness for disagreement because of our life experiences. We’ve seen people behave poorly. Maybe we’ve even behaved poorly ourselves. Many of us associate anger with disagreement, but that’s a very narrow view. Disagreement doesn’t have to include anger or any of the negative emotions we often associate with disagreement.

Let’s talk about what we lose when we can’t – or we refuse – to understand how disagreement can be profitable.

Truth.

This presupposes that you value truth. We all claim we do, but sometimes we deceive ourselves preferring to avoid having our assumptions, beliefs or thoughts challenged. We know what we know. Or we think we do.

Fixating on tactics and strategies may help us execute more effectively, but nothing beats genuine kindness and curiosity.

We could find plenty of books and other training materials that would give us frameworks, templates and tactics. Lots of experts are willing to tell us how to go about conducting a meeting. Or having a conversation. But the net bottom line, it seems to me, is if some people in the group or team are jerks, then we have to deploy tactics to help mitigate their destructive power. What a waste of effort in the long haul?

Organizational behavior experts talk about gratitude and lower ego, but what if a person isn’t grateful? What if they truly do believe they’re the smartest person in the room? What if they don’t want to listen, much less, understand a point of view that is different from their own? What do you do then?

Craig Weber, the author of Conversational Capacity, appropriately points out we’ve got 3 choices when such a person is in charge. One, we can ignore them. Two, we can deploy strategies and tactics that may (heavy emphasis) help minimize their negative behavior. Three, we can hit the eject button and leave. Craig argues, if you’re going to leave, then you may as well use strategy number 2. What have you got to lose?

Sometimes it may be others besides the boss though. People who just don’t understand how disagreements can be valuable. Then what?

Such questions are impossible to distill into some neat tidy package, but I’m gonna try anyway. 😉 Every situation is different. The people in a group or team differ. So do bosses or those leading such groups. So permit me to restrict myself to things I know to be absolutely true through years of experience, and even then, be aware – these are hardly foolproof. They’re just things I hope can help you better figure out for yourself what may be best.

One, make up your mind you’ll be a leader in kindness. 

Brace yourself for a real truth – being kind is a competitive edge. That’s right. Choosing to be kind will set you apart from the crowd.

I honestly believe most people want to do the right thing, but I reserve the right to be wrong, too. Also, I’m painfully aware of human nature to compete, fight back, run/hide, be in charge, etc. Human behavior is reasonably predictable in that when push comes to shove, most of us will push and shove to get our way. By and large, selfishness is a curse everybody lives with. Some of us manage it or tame it better than others. Some of us aren’t even trying to curb it.

I’m wrapping up many different things under the single banner, kindness. Things like gratitude, humility, being genuine, being curious, understanding and compassion. Roll ’em all up and you’ve got kindness. Exclude any of them you negate kindness. In its place you insert self-centeredness, arrogance, conceit and pride. All of those are the enemy of kindness, which means – they’re more common than kindness. The reason is simple – it’s easier to embrace those behaviors than it is to behave with kindness. We can act with arrogance, conceit and pride without even thinking about it. But we have to work really hard (and concentrate a great deal) to maintain kindness.

You get to decide. Which is it going to be? Kindness, the road far less traveled? Or arrogance, the superhighway of humanity?

Kindness will not only serve YOU better, but it’ll help you serve others. Avoid kindness if those are unimportant to you.

Two, determine to understand.

The hard part is tapping the brakes long enough to forego quick conclusions or assumptions. Again, those are easy. By default, we can behave with those in the forefront. We naturally think if it’s our opinion, then it’s right. If your opinion differs from mine, then you’re wrong. All of us are prone to overvalue our own judgments while undervaluing the judgments of others. It’s the great divide in every endeavor, made most clear when we examine the national political scene in America.

Here’s the kicker. Don’t confuse curiosity and trying to understand with agreement. I know you’re fearful you might be asked to agree with somebody, but resist being a contrarian. Opt instead for trying to understand the other viewpoint. Work to learn WHY. Why do they think what they think? What makes them feel that way about something? Lean hard into your curiosity and if you don’t have much of it, then build it. Ask yourself how you’re hurt – in the least – by better understanding a person or their position on anything? Where’s the harm in it? On the flip side, consider the high (sometimes, the extraordinarily high) value of learning something you didn’t know before.

Three, respect what you understand. Enough to avoid easy dismissal.

Ask anybody who ever created something worthwhile about differing viewpoints and you’ll likely hear stories of how something that at first seemed unreasonable or ridiculous paid off after some consideration.

Here in the DFW area one of the more famous business tales is of Herb Kelleher, who helped found Southwest Airlines. Over drinks, Rollin King outlined for Herb an idea for the airline on the back of a cocktail napkin. One important detail is Herb’s directive to King, “Convince me.” Translation, “I’ll try to understand your business idea.”

What are you trying to understand? Maybe more importantly, what are you trying to avoid understanding?

The crux of it is likely this question – what are you afraid of? Why are you fearful of gaining greater understanding? Scared you’ll be convinced?

Don’t dismiss things because you don’t understand them. It’s fine if you choose to dismiss them because you do, but you can still do it in a way that fosters deeper discussion and dialogue.

Four, avoid hitting the shut down point.

The more you can discuss, the better. When discussion can no longer happen, you’ve hit the shut down point. And we all have one. It differs from person to person. My shut down point may not resemble yours, but we all have one. That place we reach where we say to ourselves, “I’m done.” When we reach that point we shut up and stop contributing. It’s just no longer worth the effort. To be ignored. To be ridiculed. To be judged. To be barked at. Or whatever other negative reactions we get to our thoughts, insights, opinions or feelings.

Handling disagreements while avoiding the shutdown point is THE key. Sadly, too many have that key missing from their ring.

It’s not so hard really. Simple things can help.

Instead of, “What? Are you crazy?” say “Explain more about it.” Or, “Tell us more.”

Instead of, “That’ll never work” say “Why might that work?”

Instead of anything confrontational or threatening – or even anything that might indicate your disagreement – aim the dialogue toward deeper understanding.

“Help us better understand why you feel that way.”

Ask questions to get more clarity on what’s being said.

Repeat back what you THINK you heard and then ask for confirmation, “Do I understand that correctly?”

Most of us have some understanding of the ways we can say things to avoid shutting others down…but the problem is, too frequently we WANT to shut them down. Especially if they don’t see it the way we do. But we all pay a heavy price for such behavior. We lose our best ideas. We prolong our problems and challenges. We delay brilliant solutions. We negate terrific opportunities. All because we’re too bull-headed and arrogant to listen, understand, and open our minds to the fact that there may be some better ideas than our own. Or there may be some opportunities for us to see things more clearly.

Over on Netflix during this pandemic, my wife and I watched a 10-part documentary series on The Innocence Project, a legal initiative aimed at freeing convicted felons who are innocent. A few of the episodes focused on the unreliability of eye witness testimony. Numerous stories illustrated the point with victims who were dead solid sure that the people they identified were the people who harmed them. Only years later, thanks to DNA testing, were proven to be innocent. The colossally high price paid by both the victim and the accused of decades spent in prison we demonstrated over and over again in the series. Imagine being a person who improperly identified somebody who spent 30 years in prison…only to find out, you were wrong. Imagine being imprisoned for 30 years all the while professing your innocence, but nobody listening…until somebody finally did.

People can get it wrong. We can all get it wrong. When the stakes are extremely high – like life or death or imprisonment. When the stakes are lower – like seizing a business opportunity. Or finding a solution to a career or business problem.

Contrary viewpoints can pressure test the truth. The truth can withstand it.

Disagreements can be profitable. We just have to open our eyes and our minds to see the value in it so we can foster it more and more.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

The Litmus Test Questions – Season 2020, Episode 20

Technically, a litmus test is used to test the acidity or alkaline content of something, but we often use it more generically to mean a decisively indicative test. Some means of determining the validity of something.

Eight or nine weeks into this global pandemic have shown us the best of us and the worst of us. Maybe you’ve seen John Krasinski’s YouTube channel, Some Good News. He’s Jim from the hit TV series, The Office. Well, more currently, he’s Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime. His weekly YouTube episodes are just what they claim – some good news. There are lots of good news stories of people behaving with extraordinary kindness and generosity.

Then, there’s politics. Or coronavirus opinions. Just today the Speaker of the House called the President “morbidly obese.” The hateful language runs both ways. Wide-open. As does opinion on COVID19. It’s all a hoax. It’s going to kill us all. One extreme spews hateful sentiment toward the other extreme.

Weeks ago I began muttering a question that has since become one of my litmus test questions for any human interaction on any topic. Hint: I’ve got three of them now.

“Is this helpful?”

But that’s just the beginning. We need to embrace it more deeply.

Let’s take all the political jaw-jacking that goes on in our nation’s capital. I don’t care how you vote. I don’t care who you support or who you oppose. The problem isn’t one party or the other. It’s everybody. And it proves how insensitive we can be to those we oppose and how sensitive we can be to those who oppose us.

I’m not naive about positioning, marketing, and leveraging media coverage. There’s another game being played under the surface by both Democrats and Republicans. Both sides know the importance of visibility and air time. That’s largely why the rhetoric continues to escalate. Being quotable trumps NOT being quotable. Even if the quote is hateful, foolish, or downright idiotic.

Is it helpful? Well, they think it’s helpful to their agenda. And those who agree with them think it’s helpful. That’s why we have to go a bit deeper and ask, “Helpful for what?”

It’s not likely very helpful for running the country, but it’s very helpful for trying to gain a political advantage.

Yeah, I know. It’s all so big and so out of control, there’s not likely much reining it in. It’s just a grand illustration of poor behavior among people who enjoy wearing the title “leader.”

Okay, enough about politics. I hate politics. I’m a Capitalist. 😉

During this pandemic, I’ve heard lots of people comment about the strife and contention. Personally. Professionally. In many areas of life. I’m hearing complaints, “They won’t engage in an honest discussion.” Hot topics have long been difficult subjects in which to have an open, honest dialogue, but this pandemic has given some greater opportunities to dig into viewpoints and opinions they don’t want to be challenged. It’s not helpful.

When we think about leveraging the power of others in our lives we’re really focused on surrounding ourselves with people willing and capable of helping us grow, improve, and become better. I realize not everybody wants that. Mostly the highest achievers among us do. I’m optimistic that others will see the value and pursue it more vigorously, which is why I’m dedicated to evangelizing the message through this podcast, and in every other way possible.

Who you surround yourself with matters a great deal. 

As you take a closer look at your circle of friends and influence the litmus test question may be useful if not invaluable.

“Is this helpful?”

“How is this helpful?”

Let’s personalize it though. Unlike national politics or sports debates for entertainment, let’s make it as personal as possible. Ask the litmus test question about YOUR life. Remember, we’re interested in our growth, improvement, and opportunities. And we’re mindful that the noise in our lives has an impact on us. Surely I don’t have to convince you of that fact.

I’ll tell you some things I’ve done during this pandemic to help myself. I didn’t do it right away, but by the time we entered week 3 of staying at home I’d had enough of the social media grand-standing close-mindedness. I unfollowed, unfriended, muted, unfollowed, or whatever else I needed to do to silence the people who proved unwilling to engage in open, honest dialogue. For me, most of these people were hollering loudly about how the pandemic was fabricated and not real. Others were constantly complaining about government overreach. Still, others decided it was the right time to further their viewpoint about everything from climate change to having children vaccinated.

After a few weeks of being bombarded by it all I started asking myself – and some of these other people who surrounded me in social media – “How is this helpful?”

That only sparked further vitriol. An unexpected surprise that I should have seen coming. To be fair, I asked that question only of myself at first. I simply tried to understand the highly opinionated viewpoint. Mostly I wanted to know why people felt the way they did. Why did the conspiracy theorist think the coronavirus was totally made up? Why did others think when the governor of Texas gave “stay at home” orders that it was government overreach and violation of our liberties? Mostly, I was very curious why so many seemed devoid of understanding and compassion – even for government officials who were clearly up against something so colossal and unforeseen.

My initial notion was that people were under enormous pressure. Perhaps their businesses were heavily impacted. Maybe their personal income was negatively impacted. But that wasn’t the case with the most highly opinionated people. I began to scroll back through the social media of these people, intentionally going back months prior to the pandemic. Turns out, the highly opinionated people – many of them – had largely been behaving that way before. I just hadn’t been so sensitive to it I reckoned. Until now.

That caused me to take a serious look at people, one-at-a-time. And I asked myself, “Are they helpful? How?”

Care to guess what I concluded about almost all of them? There were only a few exceptions and most of them were folks I just found entertaining because I found their commentary kinda funny. And my new-found sensitivity wasn’t based on my own viewpoints because it was week 3 and I honestly didn’t have any strong opinions about much…which isn’t shocking because I can be largely indifferent about MANY things. It’s a talent. 😉

I concluded that most of these voices weren’t helpful to me in any way. They contributed nothing to my personal growth, improvement, or opportunities. But I dug one level deeper before ditching them. “What will I miss if I walk away from them?” When I concluded “nothing,” I began to knock them off my list one by one.

Simultaneously I began to get more finicky with Linkedin. Lately, 9 out of 10 requests hit me with a sales pitch immediately upon approval. I used to think it was snotty to not accept Linkedin invitations, but I’ve changed my position on that. “How is this helpful?” I started asking that question of the connection requests. And I was willing to give people the biggest benefit of the doubt. Sadly, most connection requests still blitz me with an overt automated sales pitch the second I accept their invitation. Oh, well.

By week 4 I was really getting into a groove of looking at the voices that influenced me in social media, my content consumption patterns, and the people in my real life. You know what I mean, the actual people with whom I have some relationship.

It was time to distill the questions into something more than on being helpful. There was something more valuable to me when it came to the people who were physically in my life. It was a question that was congruent with the other two and it gave me a great trifecta of litmus test questions.

“Are they safe?”

I’ve got people in my life who are unsafe. Many of them have never proven safe, which is why my relationship with them is very casual and shallow. I keep them that way because unsafe people – for me, at least – are people who I don’t fully trust. I shoved this litmus test question to the top when I started to closely examine the people who know me personally. That is, unlike social media connections, these people know who I am and I know who they are. We know each other by name. That’s what I mean when I say these were people I know “in real life.”

What does it mean, to be unsafe? For me, you can determine what it means for you, it means they’re harshly judgmental, critical and don’t have my best interest at heart. It means they’ll readily use how I feel or what I think against me. Safe people are just the opposite. They exercise understanding and compassion. They won’t betray me or relish my failures.

Are they safe?

Are they helpful?

How are they helpful?

That became the sequence as I examined this circle of people. You may think, “Well, if they’re not safe, how can they be helpful?” Good question, but I have at least one answer. Contrarians or people who you know oppose you can serve to help you grow, improve, and spot opportunities. Not all of them, but some of them. Maybe.

Some in my unsafe circle are helpful. They give me an idea of what their peers are thinking. By staying in touch or staying connected with them I’m able to know what’s important to them. It helps me better understand them and what they stand for, even if they are unsafe for me personally. That’s valuable to me. That’s HOW they’re helpful.

If the answer to that second question is, “They’re not helpful,” then I’m happy to politely steer clear of them as much as possible. The reality is that in order to say “yes” to the people who make us better we must say “no” to those who don’t.

I suspect we not often enough think about these things choosing instead to simply accept the facts of those who surround us. I’m guilty. But we all know we have people in our lives who are toxic, hurtful or worse. We just keep moving on with them in our lives. Likely because doing something about it means having a conversation or confrontation we’d rather avoid. But maybe not. It’s up to us to decide. It’s also up to us to figure out if the price for that pain is worth ridding ourselves of the person is unsafe and unhelpful.

In our quest to improve the people who surround us it’s important to note this isn’t based on some superiority on our part. It’s about taking individual responsibility for ourselves. Wisdom is getting it right in real-time. Making smart and wise choices in the moment. Smart and wise are determined by thoughts, decisions and actions that make us better. Not selfish, or self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. That’s why every wise parent urges their kids to select quality people to be their closest friends. We ought to embrace that behavior in our own lives…all of our lives.

These litmus test questions can help us as we figure it out for ourselves. Next time we’ll focus on how we can be a person for others – a person who can make sure we pass the litmus test questions for them.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Opportunities In Leadership – Season 2020, Episode 19

During the past seven weeks as we’ve mostly been sequestered to stay-at-home due to the Covid19 pandemic, my conversations have organically focused on one big question.

Where are the opportunities?

As I’ve worked with business owners and other executives who are part of larger leadership teams, it was understandable that everybodyincluding me – needed time to process what was happening. For the first 2 weeks, most of us were stunned. The second we had to close up shop, we jumped into action to figure out what we needed to do. For those who didn’t have to close up shop, we jumped to figure out how to leverage our business for as much success as possible.

I’m blessed. And thankful.

While my clients were disrupted, they have all found ways to thrive during this time. Not so surprising really because one of the things I’ve found fascinating in the past 11 years of coaching executives and leaders is that high achievers are the ones most prone to seek the assistance of a coach.

Putting the pressure on the truth reveals the validity of it. Putting pressure on leadership reveals the truth about it. It’s our opportunity to shine. Or not.

Questions provide the path toward satisfying our curiosity. Our curiosity determines our understanding. And without understanding, there is no compassion.

Judgment is easy. Understanding and compassion are hard.

This current pandemic is providing all of the opportunity to elevate our leadership, if only in our own lives. It’s really allowing us extraordinary opportunities to serve others in powerful ways. The question is, will we see the opportunities and take advantage of them?

Let’s talk about just a few things we can all do with the opportunities.

One, look through the wide-angle lens.

Much of the time we rather enjoy zooming in. We enjoy zooming in on the weaknesses, problems, and wrong-ness of others. Bringing them into clearer focus while simultaneously blocking out weaknesses, problems, and wrong-ness in our own lives. The frailties of others can make us feel stronger about ourselves.

Resist that. Instead, opt for zooming out to take a wider view. You’ll have to willingly give up whatever temporary positive feelings you get by thinking worse about others. In its place, you’ll get something that has more lastly value – understanding. And if you put in the work, you’ll gain something even more valuable than that, compassion.

Looking through the wide-angle lens affords you the first major positive of making a wiser decision. That decision is making up your mind to see things more clearly. That alone makes it worthwhile, but that’s just the beginning.

Are you afraid somebody might change your mind?

Are you fearful that your opinion may change?

What are you afraid of? Why wouldn’t you put the wide-angle lens on the camera of your own vision?

There’s more information in a wide-angle shot than a zoomed-in shot. More information gives us a broader view with improved data so we can see how to best frame a viewpoint or an opinion.

Narrow views, represented by zooming in, rob of us vital information that might help us see more clearly. Besides, how will you know where to zoom in if you don’t first zoom out?

Two, embrace curiosity.

Without curiosity, you can’t get to understanding. And without understanding, you’re never going to achieve compassion. So there’s your motivation.

How do we embrace curiosity? Focus on the other person, not yourself. Let yourself wonder WHY. Why do they think what they do? Why do they feel the way they feel?

These actions are all habits that many of us just haven’t embraced. Or we’ve neglected them for too long.

All children have these. Look around at the kids in your life. If you don’t have any kids in your life, then be careful. Don’t be a creep, but you’re surely able to see enough kids behave to watch how curious they are about most things. And how broadly they view things. They can go from one activity to another in the blink of an eye. All that flittering around looks frenetic at times, but it’s mostly kids being kids. Going wherever their curiosity or interest takes them.

There’s a lesson in curiosity. Be interested. Be interested enough to find out.

Three, lean into understanding. 

Understanding doesn’t require you to agree. Agreement or disagreement is still the right of every person. Here’s the thing about understanding…it helps us reduce our disagreeableness!

I don’t understand men who put their hands on women. But I don’t understand men who may be violent with other men.

Joe grew up very differently than me. He grew up in poverty, drug addiction and abuse. There was also crime. I can’t relate to any of those things because they’re not part of my personal experience. But hearing Joe explain the circumstances of his childhood and young adult life helps me understand how his life evolved. It doesn’t matter whether I agree or disagree. Whether I approve or disapprove. It just is the way it was for him. And it helps me understand how people could embrace bad behavior. And how people might make choices that seem foolish to me.

Right is right. Wrong is still wrong. But understanding can help looking at the challenge or problem with something more productive than judgment in mind. Namely, how can we learn and improve the thing now that we better understand it?

Like everything else so far, this is a habit. We benefit greatly in establishing and maintaining these habits. By embracing these behaviors we foster continuing in these behaviors. And we’ll grow increasingly more accomplished at these things with repeated practice.

Four, say hello to compassion.

Here’s where the rubber really meets the road because this is where we can begin to really serve one another better. This is where improvement and growth are found.

I’m not merely sympathetic to Joe’s story as he tells me about growing up watching his mom being beaten by his father. Or by telling me how horribly abusive his father was to him. I feel compassion for everybody involved, including Joe’s abusive father, who himself was abused.

Compassion is sympathy in action.

Now I can’t take any action – except in my mind – toward anybody other than Joe. I don’t know the other people, but if I know Joe then I can engage my compassion toward him. But let’s not underestimate the action taken only in our minds. Nothing is more powerful than our minds. What we think matters. What we feel matters. It determines how we act. It also determines the choices and decisions we make.

My compassion toward Joe changes how I approach him. How I approaching talking with and listening to him. And that alters my demeanor toward him. Hopefully, in ways that better serve him. In making him feel safe, rather than harshly criticized. In making him know I care about him enough to want to help him break the cycle of abuse in his own life.

When compassion kicks in we see each other as people – human to human. That’s what fosters a connection. And from that connection stems our joint ability to help one another.

Sadly, too often we just want full compliance from others with what we want…and we’d rather forego any discussion. Just agree with me and let’s go with how I think about it. All of us.

It’s why during this pandemic the one thing that has vexed me most has been the highly-opinionated person who insists they’re right and everybody else is a moron. No curiosity. No understanding. No compassion. No value!

Today is your opportunity in leadership. Namely, to demonstrate how urgent and important it is that we behave more kindly toward one another. That even in our disagreements we opt to avoid being disagreeable. That we avoid strife and contentions as much as possible, choosing rather to try to understand each other because compassion and our ability to help each other is at stake.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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