Reframing Failure

Its time to re-frame failure. To avoid the word, people have tried to soften it by calling it a setback, major disruption, mistake, error in judgment, etc.  Use whatever word you like, it isn’t the word that is the problem, but how you interpret it, or personalize it. The stories  below are examples of how famous people have turned failure into success.

Thomas Edison: As a young boy, teachers wrote him off as someone who was unable to learn.  He was fired from his first two jobs for not being productive. He found his niche as an inventor, after 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb, 1,001 was a winner!

Bill Gates was a Harvard University dropout and co-owner of a failed business called Traf-O-Data. He was passionate about computer programming and built Microsoft, the world’s largest software company. Microsoft went public in 1986, and by 1987 Gates became the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.

What these individuals have in common is that they didn’t consider themselves as failures. They saw each step as a learning opportunity, that brought them closer to their goal.  They learned from their failures until they succeeded.

Nine out of 10 small businesses  fail. Seasoned entrepreneurs encourage new entrepreneurs to fail often and fast. Why? This mindset helps entrepreneurs learn from failure to improve their service or product. 

Why are we afraid of failure?

We can take failure personally by tying it to our talents and worth because we have been conditioned for success throughout our lives, for example:

  • When we were young, we were encouraged to do well in school and pass each grade. Passing a course or a grade is associated with success in life.
  • In sports, usually only the top three competitors are rewarded for their success.
  • There is competition to get into elite career programs. Getting into an elite program is an indicator of success, status, and the best of the best.
  • We need to compete successfully to get a job.

All of these reinforce success and avoidance of failure.

Studying failure

Columbia University’s Teacher’s College is studying failure through its research centre. The research centre is helping students understand that failure is a normal part of learning that leads to success.  This 2016 study, of 400+ grade 9 and 10 students, found that students thought they needed to have a natural ability to be successful. This thinking is a problem for students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics because they would give up and drop out if they struggled in class or failed a test.

The researchers normalized failure by sharing stories about the struggles inventors and scientists faced before they succeeded. As as result of hearing the stories, science grades improved. Marks dropped for students that only learned about success .  The takeaway from this study is that failure is normal when you are learning or doing something new, and it is important to understand, learn where you failed, and do better the next time.

Reframing failure

Make peace with failure and move on.  You might need to feel bad about it in order to make peace with it, but don’t let it drag on, find a way to get the discouragement out of your head. Vent, journal or do what helps you clear you head and gain perspective.  Consider what happened, what you learned, and what you would do differently next time.

Taking action will help you move on. It will also help keep you from rolling it over and over in your mind.  Re-frame it as a learning and growing opportunity.

It’s a bad idea. Knowing when it is a bad idea is important so that you don’t waste time or money on it. Test out the idea, look at it from different angles, read up on it, check if it has been done before, talk to experts, learn from the mistakes of others. Take small steps to get some small wins, build confidence, and move towards your goal. 

Develop a growth mindset. Carol Dweck, a psychologist and author talks about a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset.

  • The fixed mindset sees talents and abilities as things we’re born with, so when we fail, it becomes a reflection of who we are. 
  • The growth mindset is where we keep learning.  Dweck’s research found that those with a growth mindset achieve more over the long term.

Continuously Improve.Learn from industry, manufacturing, and health. These sectors have taken the lead to promote a culture of safety by learning from their failures to improve products and outcomes. They’ve re-framed failure as quality improvement.

  • The airline industry is a great example of learning from failure. When an airplane crashes, there is a thorough analysis that goes into identifying and learning what caused the crash and preventing future crashes. This analysis requires openness, patience, curiosity, and a tolerance for ambiguity. It has resulted in improved airline safety worldwide.
  • The car manufacturing industry focuses on quality management and continuous improvement, to make their cars safer.
  • Hospitals review deaths and adverse incidents to improve future outcomes by identifying the root cause and system issues involved.

Plan for roadblocks and barriers. Plan and manage your risk(s) when they arise to overcome roadblocks or barriers.

Celebrate wins .This will motivate you to keep going.

Focus on what you can control. Take action to improve the things you can.

Takeaways

Success and failure are a part of a continuum. The same qualities that causes someone to be successful can cause them to fail.

Industry is leading the way to learn from failure. They are re-framing failures as opportunities to improve safety and outcomes.

We can learn from industry to normalize failure, to use it to improve what we are doing, and see it as a step closer to success.  

What about you? What will most help you get back on track after a failure or setback?

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Leading with an Attitude of Gratitude

Photo by Debby Hudson, on Unsplash

Canadian Thanksgiving is coming this weekend. The word thanksgiving is a great word, because it is a reminder to take some time to be thankful for what we have, and for those who love and appreciate us. It can be tough though, because it is a habit that needs to be developed through practice.

When I was younger, I didn’t really have an appreciation of Thanksgiving.  My family cooked a turkey, but that was about it.  When I went away to university, I really noticed Thanksgiving for the first time.  I was too far away to go home, and I lived in residence. When my friends would go home for Thanksgiving, it was lonely.  Occasionally a friend would say “hey maybe you can come home with me for Thanksgiving dinner” but wouldn’t follow through.

During those times, I would try to make the best of it.  I took myself out to dinner, hung out with others that were staying around, go to a movie, walk around and enjoy the fall colours, and sometimes I had a pity party.  It was a tough holiday.  

It isn’t easy to be grateful when you don’t feel grateful. Those times are the hardest to dig deep to find some small thing to appreciate.

I made a point to invite those without family or plans to Thanksgiving dinner or any other holiday dinner after I graduated. I know that they were grateful for the offer whether they joined us or not, because they knew that someone was thinking of them.  My children started this practice as well and is something they continue to do.  It is a way for me and for them to help show our appreciation for others, especially those who are lonely.

I am grateful for the lesson that lonely Thanksgiving holidays in school taught me. Holidays and celebrations can be hard on those who are alone.  I know from experience how a small act of kindness can make a difference in someone else’s life and how good it feels to be remembered.  It can also make a big difference in your life and how you see the world.

So, what does gratitude have to do with leadership? When I read various articles about leadership, frequently, a key quality of leadership mindset, is an attitude of gratitude.  There is nothing like a manager who tells you that they appreciate the work you do. Similarly, having family or friends tell you that they appreciate you is special. It makes a difference. Good leaders take the time to appreciate what they have, and those around them regardless of their situation in life. Many give their time and money to build a better world.  

What we reflect to the world, is reflected back to us… 

What are you grateful for?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Relationship Capital and Influence

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on unsplash

What is it and how does it work?

I was listening to an interview, and the term relationship capital came up. It was explained as the opportunities that present themselves in the relationship without ulterior motives attached to the relationship, 

and,

It is the network that helps you navigate the corporate culture, understand your shortcomings, and pushes for your success. Ultimately these relationships lead to a goal of some kind, for example wealth, prosperity or success.

For me, relationship capital means building solid relationships that has led to big results. I have worked with my colleague friends on contentious issues and come out with great solutions that make the organization look good.

I remember going into an interview and being asked about how I managed stakeholders and built relationships.  I was floored, not because I couldn’t answer the question, but because someone was asking it. To me it seemed like something you learned when you were growing up-like how do you make friends and keep them? I mentioned simple things like speaking face to face, or by phone, developing personal connections and following up with them after meetings if they didn’t attend, etc. The interviewers found these strategies great, they nodded and seemed to get excited. I realized at that point that building and nurturing relationships was a skill, and maybe some people just don’t have it, or they have poor skills resulting in financial losses, damage to organizational image, or loss of trust.  The road to building good relationship capital requires consistency of effort and character over time.

All of this to say that building relationships and nurturing them in work and in your personal life is not intuitive or natural to some people. There are lots of courses to learn how to build good relationships to prove it.

Do’s and don’ts of building a relationship

Do’s

Stakeholders, clients, family, friends, require us to pay attention to the relationship. Building these relationships takes time and effort and if it is genuine then a strong bond can form. Relationships flourish when they:

  • Involve mutual reciprocity or a mutual willingness to help and support one another
  • Respect the time needed to build trust and the relationship
  • Value integrity

Don’ts

Mistakes that people make in building relationships:

  • Premature asks (asking before there is a relationship)
  • Poor or no follow up
  • Being a champion in a way that does not fit with the organization’s brand ​

What strategies help to build relationship capital?

  1. Build trust. People love this idea, but it comes with a catch-it requires action.For example, if you say you will follow up, do so, be accountable and reliable. Be honest and ethical and you will gain respect and build trust.
  2. Communicate. I believe that most problems that arise in relationships are because of miscommunication. Just the other day, I was speaking with a colleague friend, and we agreed to a plan of action. Somehow the message got mangled, and I got a call from her boss asking for more information. If he hadn’t called me, it would have resulted in a lot of unnecessary work with possibly incorrect information. Luckily, I have a great working relationship with both, and it was easily resolved. I can call on any of my colleague friends, because I have developed a relationship with them, and they will help me, and I will do the same for them. These relationships have paved the way for many successful initiatives.
  3. Set boundaries. Let people know what the goals are and what is at stake. Let them know what is and isn’t possible and the rest is negotiable
  4. Let others know if you suspect a problem is coming. Those in charge don’t like surprises about projects if they are accountable-it puts them in the hot seat. If you suspect something might become a huge issue, let others know about it, so that it can be addressed. This also builds up the trust bank, when they know that you are in control of the situation.

Building relationships out of difficult circumstances:

How does it work when clients are difficult or resistant to change? Meet stakeholders/clients who are resistant to change.  This is hard to do because it can feel unpleasant, time consuming, and messy to come to a satisfactory solution.  However, if it is managed well it can be really satisfying!

I have learned is to expect resistance and plan for it with any change. The following has worked for me when I have experienced resistance:

  • Clearly identify the problem, I am trying to solve.
  • Clearly state the goal.
  • Provide foundational information to ensure that everyone has the same basic understanding and context about why this is important.
  • Identify and get agreement on basic principles. These are the basis for how agreement on decisions can proceed. For example, a principle might be, “Safety is important.” When disagreement happens, go back to see how the suggestion aligns with the principles.
  • Identify negotiables and non negotiables to find common ground.
  • Listen to feedback and concerns. This provides valuable information on obstacles to implementing your plan.
  • Explain the decision. People will want to know what the decision is based on, and whether their feedback was considered. Not all feedback can be used, and it needs to be weighed carefully along with the overall goals, principles, etc.  Honest discussions that are respectful work best in this situation.
  • Have a respectful discussion, they should never be personal or aggressive. Rules of engagement may need to be used if discussions are contentious, heated or get out of control. Stop the discussion and remind people about appropriate behaviour and comments. If that doesn’t work, stop the discussion entirely and have it another time.
  • Keep the lines of communication open.

Developing good relationships is a lifelong process that will enrich your personal and professional life.  

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Seasons of Transition

Photo by Patrick Hendry of Unsplash

Why Transitions?

Why this topic? This last year was full of transitions for me, and now we are entering a transition season-fall, and the beginning of the school year.

We may face one huge transition, smaller ones, or a bombardment of transitions, one after another.  

This last year I had transitions that included births, deaths, retirement, an engagement and impending wedding, manager changes in the workplace and health issues. Most of the time I managed the transition well by focusing on what to be grateful about. Some transitions are definitely easier than others.

The transitions I had the most trouble with were those that involved death and my impending retirement.  Why? Death of a family member was a hard transition to face because it forced me to come face to face with my mortality and loss. It isn’t something I typically think about, but when it hit me smack in the face, I had to face it.

Retirement, because it made me face my mortality again and reexamine who I was, and who I wanted to be, since my work self is changing. I never realized how closely my work self is tied to my personal self.

Death and retirement triggered a grieving process that I am still going through and coming to terms with. They made me confront my fears and my losses. These transitions are making me think about the legacy I want to leave behind. They are also nudging me to let go of the past and move forward.  All of this involves a whole lot of mindset management.

Successful Transitions

Curious about transitions, I looked to see if there is something new or different that I could share-there really isn’t. I investigated how people successfully dealt with their transitions. One thing that struck me when I was doing my research, was those who dealt most successfully with transitions had the following common characteristics:

  • Grit/Determination: They went through the transition with sheer grit. Some of these people lost homes, family, savings and lived on the bare minimum. They determined that they would get themselves out of the situation they were in and have a better life. They set a goal, changed their mindset, and then did the work to achieve the level of success that they have. Some examples are Mary Morrisey and Victor Frankl.
  • Vision and Goals: They had a big vision for themselves and their family. It was the vision that helped them move forward. They figured out how to overcome the obstacles in their way.
  • Serve others: They used their mess to become their message. They used their journey through their transition to help others in a similar situation.
  • Learned from failures and mistakes: They didn’t give up when they failed or made a mistake, they saw it as a learning opportunity.
  • Overcame fear: They overcame their fear by going through, rather than avoiding the change.

Takeaways

Transitions involve managing your mindset in the midst of change. People will look at how a leader handles transitions, because it is a refection of their character and resilience. True character emerges during these times and it is what people remember about how the transition was managed-for better or for worse- character wins.

Here are my favorite strategies for better transitioning:

  • Plan: If you can, plan for the transition. For example, I have been planning for my retirement. I want to work on this blog and make some changes to it. I want to start a podcast, write some books and do some speaking. I have skills I would like to use in another capacity, so these things keep me going. This transition is a bit scary to me, and I know I will find my rhythm.

Sometimes when you can’t plan ahead for a transition, you can reset your thinking.

  • Take care of yourself.  Do something for you. Take a walk, hug a pet, read a book, clear your mind, exercise, meditate, do something to remove the stress that has built up. 
  • Distract yourself and keep busy. It helps to focus on something else besides your trouble. Switching gears helps us to regain control over our life. Do something fun or creative, it will help create a sense of well being.. Do something for someone else.
  • Have a routine. It will help normalize things, give some structure to your life, and will help you to focus on other things.
  • Get Help: If the situation is unmanageable, seek out professional help.  Some things we can do for ourselves and for other things, we need to seek professional help to get us through.

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If something resonates with you, let me know.

The Self-Confident Leader

What is it about self-confidence that is so appealing?  

  • We are drawn to people who believe in themselves.
  • Confident people are simply happy with where they are in life and believe they are capable of reaching their goals.
  • Confident people seem to know what they want, and are not afraid to ask for it, or go after it.
  • They’re typically comfortable in their own skin and well-adjusted.
  • They have a sense of ease which is appealing.
  • They are not afraid to express themselves.
  • Confident people transform the energy in the room.
  • They are authentic, they do not try to be something or someone else.

Think about someone you know who is confident. What is it about that person that says confidence? Then think about someone you know who lacks confidence. What is it different about the two?

The person who comes to my mind that exudes confidence is my husband. Why? 

  • He is confident about his abilities and is comfortable with who he is.
  • He is decisive, takes action, and follows through.
  • He is a positive person and tries to find the positive in all situations.
  • He values integrity and honesty above all things.
  • He isn’t afraid to try new things. He sees it as a challenge and is willing to work to master it.
  • He doesn’t worry about what others think about him.
  • He has a positive energy that transforms the room.

How did he get this way? Part of it is personality,part is hard work and taking calculated risks, facing his fears and building upon his successes.

Self-confidence is:

  • an individual’s level of certainty about their ability to handle things.  
  • essential for the leader to influence collaborators, or followers.
  • the leadership trait that was most often identified in a 2002 study.
  • developed at an early age and is influenced by others, experience, our successes and failures, and how they are interpreted in our minds.
  • the level of general self-confidence that we each acquire in childhood remains fairly stable over our lifetime.
  • formed through our successes and failures, how others react to us and what we expect of our future performances. 

Axelrod in her chapter on leadership and self-confidence, discusses the idea of self-leadership to build self-confidence.  Self-leadership involves changing our way of thinking to believe in what we want.  She states:

“…after we fail at a task, most of us automatically berate ourselves, but if we practice self-leadership, we can observe that we failed only because it was a learning experience and assure ourselves that we will succeed next time…positive expectation helps guide our thoughts in a constructive direction and manage our emotions, so it helps builds task-specific self-confidence, which can enhance performance because people who believe they can perform well tend to do better than those who expect to fail…self-leadership may be the leader’s single most important skill, …to shape our internal life story to foster success…”

Leaders

Take Risks: Leaders who are confident tend to have positive expectations and are willing to take risks. The willingness to take risks, along with believing in their own competence helps build success.

Our level of self-confidence also affects our willingness to complete a task when we fear failure. Those with a high level of confidence will adjust their goals to be more manageable and achievable.

Manage their emotions:  A leader who remains emotionally stable, manages his/her anxiety and anger during difficult confrontations, and focuses on constructive language will be more successful. This self-control will put the leader in a positive light. On the other hand, lack of self control can damage trust, commitment, and the leader’s reputation.

Are Authentic: When leaders reach a level of success and seniority, they may have to take a stand about their personal values, beliefs and principles. This may attract criticism and polarize people. When faced with harsh critics, the best advice is to ignore them if your decisions are ethical, and principle based. Don’t let them get in your head, if they do, banish them like you banish your inner critic. 

Takeaways to Build your Self-Confidence

Imaging/rehearsal: Picture the activity in your mind and what a successful outcome looks like. Rehearse what might happen, what might be said and how you might to respond to the scenarios your mind generates. This acts as a rehearsal for the real thing and prepares us for what might happen. Athletes and many who have life coaches or mentors, are coached to use this method to visualize success.

Constructive self-talk: Catch your inner self-talk to identify destructive patterns. Confront and silence the inner critic, boost your confidence, and reduce anxiety. Speak to your inner critic and tell it that it is wrong, it is a liar, you are going to send it for a time out, it is going to a parking lot, etc. A tip someone shared with me was to wear a rubber band on my wrist and snap it every time the inner critic started. Then call out the critic and re frame the thought to a more positive message. Catch it before it changes the message in your head.

Competence: Focus on what you do well; your competence and abilities. Avoid comparing yourself with others. Be proud of what you do well.

Eliminate triggers: Avoid negative thinking or spending time around things or people that can make you feel bad about yourself-anything that leaves you thinking you’re not good enough. Re-frame your thinking-change your mindset.

Bounce back from your mistakes: No one is perfect. Even the most confident people have insecurities, and there’s no one alive who hasn’t made a mistake. Don’t let one wrong turn, or even a few of them, make you think you don’t have what it takes to achieve your goals and reach your success.

Surround yourself with people who believe in you: Nothing is as powerful as people who think you’re great, who believe you can do the impossible, and who have all the confidence in the world in you. Surround yourself with those people and be intentional about maintaining those connections. Stick with the people who lift your perspective and avoid (or at least tune out) those who make you feel bad or doubt yourself.

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

Jim Rohn

Take pride in yourselfSome people think that taking pride in yourself means that you can’t be humble. You can recognize and appreciate who you are and what you’ve accomplished without being arrogant. Sometimes it’s the motivation we need when things get tough.

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Successful Leadership Problem Solving

Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash

Good leaders have a problem solving mindset which makes them so effective, have better control of their lives, and have more success.

Successful problem solving happens when you are clear about what your problem is. Correctly identifying a problem is critical to solving it.

  • It sounds so basic, but some problems are not easy to identify, which makes it more difficult to solve them.
  • Sometimes people have a solution, before they understand what the problem is. 
  • Sometimes the problem is so complicated that layers must be peeled away before you can get at the root cause.
  • It is a trap if you think that defining the problem is easy. In all my years as a policy analyst, defining the problem is the most difficult part of policy work because you need to get to the root of the issue. If you can’t identify the problem, you won’t be able to fix it, or move on.  

Problem Solving Steps

The problem-solving process is the same no matter what the problem is:

  1. Identify the problem(s): It may help to talk it out with someone. 
  2. Gather information: interviews/talking with others, research, data, internet reviews, annual reports, other reports, minutes, etc.
  3. Analyze your information: Use the information gathered from step two and begin analyzing and synthesizing the information.This includes identifying options or choices and what to consider before you make your best choice. Often step 2 and 3 go together.
  4. Put together an action plan: What are the steps you need to take to make it happen?
  5. Review what you learned:  Once you have implemented your plan, you may want to review the process, (immediately, so you can document what worked and what didn’t at various intervals, 6 months, 1 year, etc.)

Example:  Having a difficult conversation

The Context

A golf trip is being planned by a group of golfers once travel opens from COVID. Some golfers are concerned that not everyone is immunized or will be before the golf trip. The immunized golfers are hesitant about having non-immunized golfers join them, but are afraid to raise it for fear of offending the non-immunized golfers. They are also afraid that by socializing with the non-immunized golfers, they could potentially infect their close family members once they return home from the trip. (Partners were not invited).

Identify the Problem:

Do I have this difficult conversation about what to do about the immunization issue, or do I let it go?

It may be helpful to talk it out with others to clarify the problem. 

Information Gathering and Analysis:

Identify concerns of the golf group both immunized and non-immunized. 

Identify what is non-negotiable.

Identify logistics of lodging, meals, golfing, local rules and requirements, etc.

Find out what the safety risks and requirements are for the immunized and non-immunized, including risks to family members. Many of the golfers have family members with chronic and respiratory illnesses that could put their health at risk.

What are the requirements if someone gets the virus? What is the impact to the group? If quarantine is necessary, are there other arrangements that need to be made?

What happens if someone is hospitalized with COVID or becomes ill? Would someone have to stay with them until they were better?  How will that situation be managed? Would medical insurance cover them? Will someone from the family be able travel to be with their sick family member? 

All these items need to be thought out and planned for.

Action Plan:

Plan for the difficult conversation. Identify how and when to have the difficult conversation. Plan what to say and how to say it:

The leader of the golf trip started the conversation by admitting to his non-immunized friends that this was going to be a difficult conversation and that he was taking a risk with the friendships by doing so. He indicated that his safety and the safety of his family was the most important thing to him.

He acknowledged that his friends had a right to choose not to be immunized. He also acknowledged that as the leader of the event, he had a right to protect his family and others on the trip. He mentioned that others were concerned about how this would affect them and their families.

The leader laid out all the information he gathered and all the questions that needed to be answered. As they began discussing the issue in a calm and rationale manner, it became clear that the non-immunized golfers had not considered all the “what if’s” and had more to think about. The non-immunized golfers went away to consider the discussion and the potential scenarios.

They had a follow up discussion a week later and the non-immunized golfers decided that vaccination was the best option for them and their families. (They had been thinking about getting vaccinated, and the questions raised made them do their own research and reach this decision-no strong arming was involved).

The discussion ended with a temperature check on the relationships. The leader asked how the non-immunized golfers felt about the issue, discussion and relationship. The response was: “All is good.”

Learnings:

Leaders don’t step away from a difficult conversation but find ways to manage it. This real-life example is relevant because difficult conversations happen in the work environment and in a personal environment.

It was an awkward situation and an uncomfortable discussion that brought out all the issues into the open and “cleared the air”. They were fully discussed so that everyone could move on.

Thoughtful problem solving played a key role.

Having a difficult conversation can be productive, calm, rationale and without drama. 

Fully displays leadership skills and character traits such as communication, integrity, honesty and compassion.

Takeaway

This is an example of excellence in leadership problem solving: All of us will run into messy people problems based on emotions, principles, or politics. Most people want to run away from these kinds of conversations, it is an act of courage to face the problem directly.

  • This method of problem solving is a time-tested process that works no matter what the problem is.  
  • Sometimes as a leader you have to do the hard thing. Do it as compassionately as you can.
  • This also serves as an example of how to have a difficult conversation, whether in your work life or in your personal life.
  • Every decision you make has a consequence, be ready for the consequences.

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters. Quote Master

Be the Leader of Your Own Life First!

Being the leader of your own life means taking control of your decisions, thinking, emotions and actions. It is inside out leadership.  

Today’s society is looking for a different type of leader than in the past. People want a leader who is willing to listen and learn from others and from their own successes and failures. It takes a learning mindset; someone who is willing to be a leader of their own life.  Focus on the things that will make you a better leader at home, this will then make you a better leader at work.  When you can effectively lead your own life, you can do a better job of leading others.

When Leadership and Humanity Collide

When you as a leader, believe the best in people, it produces powerful results – it reduces individual stress levels, increases loyalty and trust, and improves creativity. It is a safeguard to jumping to wrong conclusions about others.

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I wanted to end the 2020 year by sharing my experience about believing the best in people, compassion and leadership.

Here is my story: my stress levels had reached a point where I was having trouble thinking straight. I don’t know if anyone else has experienced this or not, but it really bothered me because I don’t normally react that way to stress. The stress had built up over time and I didn’t notice how much until I found myself with muddled thinking.

The first time this happened, I was working for the worst manager of my life. This manager labelled everything as URGENT!! This constant exposure to URGENT!! (the manger really did use exclamation marks), impossible deadlines, and poor management style created a stress response in me that resulted in muddled thinking and less than stellar work. If I didn’t meet the deadline, it was a big problem. If I met the deadline, but made a mistake, it was a big problem. This manager’s management style was to berate, humiliate and threaten staff. Needless to say that the strategy was not very effective and consequently people left. This is not leadership. 

The second time this happened, I was working for the best manager of my life. I was faced with impossible deadlines over a long period of time and I was sick. The result was stress, muddled thinking, and less than stellar work. The difference in the second scenario was the response of this manager. His response to me when we discussed it was, “I knew there was something going on with you.” This manager is good and kind, and he believed the best in me.  His simple response spoke volumes.  He knew that what was happening was not normal, and he gave me the space and grace to work it out. I was able to lower my stress level so that I could function normally again. This is leadership and speaks to compassion and believing the best in people.

By modelling behavior, my manager showed me what true leadership looked like. My manager, who is also one of the best leaders I have ever worked for, really does believe the best in his staff and trusts them. He has a genuine interest in his staff’s well – being because he knows that it affects the overall performance of his team and reflects on his management. Beyond that, he is a genuinely nice and kind person who likes people. 

A colleague, who was having a hard time at work with his manager, felt misunderstood and underappreciated, said “people go to work to do a good job and take pride in their work, they don’t go to work to screw up, frustrate a manager or hurt someone.” His comment reminded me that most people have good intentions in mind. When we assume that we know what others are thinking, this gets us into trouble.  Expectations and misunderstandings if not sorted out, will lead to hard feelings and dysfunction.

Real life examples

I have also been thinking about some people in my life that model “believe the best in others.” My Aunt Mary, who died several years ago, was outstanding in this category. She believed the best in people and had compassion for others, and she made me want to be the best around her. She was good and kind, and accepted people for who they were – I never felt judged around her.

I have a friend, Theresa, who believes the best in people and shows compassion when people are not themselves. When Theresa was faced with an unpleasant comment from a friend, Theresa responded with “I guess she has something going on in her life right now.” She could have gotten angry and started a good old – fashioned fight, instead she let it go and gave this person the benefit of the doubt.

What does the research show?

Compassion gives you more powerful results, here is why:

Physical Response:

An angry response increases the individual’s stress level when they are in fear and anxiety mode. Neuroscience shows that when people act as if they are threatened, their reasoning, mental and intellectual capacity is diminished. This in turn reduces productivity and creativity.  Brain imaging studies show that when we feel safe, our brain’s stress response is lower.

Increased loyalty and trust

In my last blog I talked about how humble leaders inspire feelings of warmth and positive relationships at work, these feelings spill over into employee loyalty and outstanding bottom line results.

A study by Jonathan Haidt of New York University showed that the more employees look up to their leaders and are moved by their compassion or kindness, the more loyal they are. So, if you are more compassionate to your employee, not only will he or she be more loyal to you, but anyone else who has witnessed compassionate behavior may also experience elevation and feel more devoted to you. Employee trust in turn improves performance.

We are especially sensitive to signs of trustworthiness in our leaders, and compassion increases our willingness to trust. Brains respond more positively to those who have shown us empathy, as neuroimaging research confirms. 

Loss of creativity

An angry response stops creativity by increasing stress levels which in turn makes people shut down

Takeaways

I learned from the real life examples above how important it is not to jump to conclusions, because misunderstanding happens very easily. Your assumptions about the person may be wrong.

Talk to the person. Whether you are a manager, leader, mom, dad, sister, friend, brother…, communication is a key skill to success. Use it. Maybe the person can’t talk to you about what is happening yet, give them space, but find a time to discuss it, because if you don’t, it can lead to further misunderstanding, fester and create other problems.

Calmly listening and talking it out, leads to better outcomes for both parties and it creates a sense of relief that things are out in the open.

When we believe the best in others, we get the best from others.

The truth is we don’t know what is going on in the lives of others, so why not give them the benefit of the doubt. Wouldn’t you want someone to extend that to you? Wouldn’t you want someone to believe the best in you even when you aren’t your best? YES!!!

I speak from experience when I say yes, I do want someone to give me the benefit of the doubt when I’m not at my best.

If what someone has said to you, or done to you, has offended you, either let it go, or talk to them about it, nicely! Chances are it was a simple miscommunication, and they will appreciate the opportunity to correct the misunderstanding. If you let it go, then don’t bring it up again or keep thinking about it.

We live in a world that is hard and judgmental and we have the power to make it better.  I challenge you to pay if forward and believe the best in others!