Stop Thinking About What Other People Think 5055

I checked today’s Ballard Street daily cartoon and here it is. Fitting. Given that this weekend I’ve been thinking of how sometimes people think our vision of the future is nonsense. We come up with ideas, plans, and strategies that we’d like to execute only to find somebody (maybe a whole bunch of somebodies) who don’t think our idea has legs.

In the last few years, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time thinking about how important our beliefs are. Beliefs that our idea is valid. Beliefs that our execution will work, and if it doesn’t, that we’ll figure out a better execution that will. Our beliefs in ourselves and what we’re pursuing. 

Small business owners aren’t immune from caring what other people think. Generalizations about every group or segment of the population abound. But the truth is, we can’t lump everybody in the same pile by ascribing the exact same traits to everybody. 

Entrepreneurs come in every possible shape and size. Physically, emotionally, personality and any other way you’d like to measure folks. Introverts. Extroverts. Highly educated. Quite undereducated. From happy childhoods. From abusive childhoods. For every measuring stick you can find (or think of), there are successful business owners at each end of the spectrum. What binds us together is our humanity. In show 5053 I talked briefly about being human. A good human.

Last night on 60 Minutes there was a story about Elizabeth Holmes and the Theranos deception. It’s a story of greed, lies, and boldness to appear as something other than what you truly are. Raising millions and millions of dollars, the founders took the company to a one-time valuation of $10 billion. Today, it’s worthless and facing an avalanche of lawsuits and government investigations. It’s a story of intentional deception to orchestrate what people think so they’ll invest. To say it’s poor human behavior is a gross understatement. It displays the depths some people may go to in order to foster a persona that is completely fabricated. Dishonest.

Contrast that story with you. Not raising any money or looking for big outside investors. Working hard to build a profitable sustainable business that you and your family can be proud of. Serving your employees, customers, and community. Committed to doing the right thing. Overcoming all the hurdles presented by the market, regulators and whatever else would kill your enterprise. A good human being. Battling whatever odds are against you. Because YOU believe. Deeply.

And now somebody – somebody you care about and who cares about you – is expressing their disbelief. We all have people in our lives who love us – or claim to – but they don’t really believe in us. Or our idea. Or our execution. 

We’re business people. Sure, we’re dreamers, but we’re not *just* dreamers. Like Neal in that Ballard Street cartoon, we take action. Okay, I don’t advise any of us to follow Neal’s choice, but he’s making the point pretty well. He stops thinking about what other people think. 

Because we’re good people we care what others think, especially the people closest to us. That doesn’t mean they dictate our lives, but they may – more than we’d like to admit. It certainly means thoughts creep into our head when they express hesitation or outright disagreement with our plans. We can begin to doubt ourselves. Or not.

But there’s an even more practical daily application in our businesses. Thinking about what other people think can negatively impact our daily work. Not that others disbelieving in our work isn’t practical. There’s a big impact. Doubt is always an enormous enemy. I’d argue it’s THE enemy! But our day-to-day operating can be impacted, too. So it’s a double-edged sword that can cripple us.

Do you have an employee who is underperforming, but you’ve not done a good job of confronting the issue? You’re unsure how to approach it and how to coach it?

Do you have fears when you face a big negotiation?

Are you sometimes fearful to share any bad news with people who may be able to help you…because you don’t want them to think badly of you?

We’re business owners. With feelings, thoughts, ideas, emotions…and whatever else makes us US. It’s disingenuous to say, “Just don’t worry about it.” That can make us worry about it more. 

Fear is a big, big deal. Fear of what others think is a large elephant in the room for many of us. Just today I read a story posted by the World Economic Forum about being popular at work. There’s status popularity and then there’s likeability popularity. Some of us are driven to be liked. We care what people think of us. 

I’m not going to kick this week off busting your chops. Telling you how stupid that is. I get it. 

I don’t get the Elizabeth Holmes way of life. I can’t imagine living life every day knowing that you’re only growing bolder in your lies. So don’t expect me to throw rocks at you for caring what others think. She should have cared a bit more. I’d like to think somewhere she just lost her way, but I don’t know. 

Here’s what I want to leave you with today – it’s not that what others think about us, or our choices, doesn’t matter. It’s simply that you and I can’t allow what they think to matter more than what we think. It’s OUR LIFE. These are OUR CHOICES. This is OUR BUSINESS. 

Then how can we accomplish this – this caring less what others think?

  1. You know that you must deeply believe in what you’re doing. That’s what has helped you get to where you are. It’s also what will take you further into the Land of Success. You know this. You believe this. Don’t stop believing this.
  2. Give grace to others who express disbelief in you or your plans. They’re not you. They don’t know what you know. They don’t feel what you feel. They’re as uniquely them as you’re uniquely you. And some may not be able to express themselves clearly. Be empathetic toward them, but don’t forget that you aren’t them. 
  3. Eliminate toxic people. Some people who disagree with your plans or work don’t come from a place of caring. Some want you to fail. Others are jealous. People who habitually tell you what you should do, and what you shouldn’t do are too judgmental to allow close proximity. Shove them to the outer circles of your life if you can’t kick them to the curb altogether. I’m in favor of banishment, but I realize it’s not always possible. Severely limit your interaction with these people (at the least).
  4. Replace those people with people who will help you – not by agreeing with everything you plan, or do, but by helping you think more clearly. We need people who will ask us questions. Not in a judgmental way, but in a way to help us think through things we may not be seeing. Gather people around you who are capable of helping you gain insights. Safe, supportive people. But people willing to challenge us so we can grow and move forward.
  5. Never forget that you control your life. Others only have whatever control we surrender to them. Do what you must do. Great leaders see the future first. Don’t expect others to always see what you see. Some will. Many won’t. You have to deeply believe in what you’re doing so you actually can visualize and feel as though it’s already been achieved. Guard that as ferociously as you’d guard and protect your family. Don’t let others penetrate the sanctity of beliefs. If they’re so easily influenced then you may want to spend time thinking more deeply about how much faith you’ve got in them (your ideas, strategies, plans, actions or whatever else). Increase your faith. That’s why step 3 and 4 are so important. 

As with many things, sometimes it’s addition by subtraction. The people who influence us in destructive ways have to be eliminated from our lives. And we have to concentrate on eliminating serious doubt from our lives. It can be done, but it takes a sober, thoughtful, ongoing approach. And some patience. It’s like developing an underused muscle. Start flexing it and it’ll get stronger. 

And add others who can be supportive. It’s the old empty and refill principle. Get rid of some stuff. Replace it with other, more useful stuff. Start today!

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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Grow Great a public sector leadership podcastAbout the hosts: Randy Cantrell brings over 4 decades of experience as a business leader and organization builder. Lisa Norris brings almost 3 decades of experience in HR and all things "people." Their shared passion for leadership and developing high-performing cultures provoked them to focus the Grow Great podcast on city government leadership.

The work is about achieving unprecedented success through accelerated learning in helping leaders and executives "figure it out." 

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