Handling Essential Conversations by How Leaders Respond

Negative facial emotions expression. Young blonde expressive angry furious nervous woman. Emotional girl full of anger and bad feelings at work.

It’s the stuff comedy legend is made of. During a movie or television program, a situation presents itself and then a character in the show classically overreacts. They might rant or rave. Or cry. or wave their arms. More often than not they make something bad even worse by their action or reaction. It makes for great comedy but not great relationships. Certainly not great leadership. Instead of reacting, we find success when leaders respond.

[tweetthis]Reacting doesn’t make for good relationships. And certainly not for good leadership.[/tweetthis]

Why We React

Marshall Goldsmith calls them Triggers. In his book by the same name, he describes them as any stimulus that reshapes our thoughts and actions. So some triggers can be good. If we program in our minds a trigger than stimulates the desired behavior then we can build a positive habit. Where things go wrong are the triggers that are automatic. That’s where we tend to react. Some of the things that can cause automatic triggers are

Our Emotions

Negative triggers tend to set off negative emotions. Those negative emotions, left unchecked, will set off reactions.

Let’s say, for example, that an employee comes to you with a problem. There is a major problem with a phase of your pet project. The employee says, “I don’t see any way we can proceed. I think we are just going to have to cut our losses!” What?! This was YOUR BABY!

What happens? Your face screws up and turns red. Arms and body assume an aggressive stance. The words come. “What is wrong with you people! Can’t you do anything right! You’re incompetent!”

The result is we cause a reaction in the other person. They get defensive or aggressive. Communication shuts down. Nothing gets solved.

The unconscious mind is in control

Have you ever talked with someone or watched someone who tends to let everything come out of their mouths? I refer to it as “stream of consciousness speech“. It hits the mind and it comes out the mouth. There’s no governor there. No filters. Whatever occurs to them just gets blurted out.

This occurs because left to its own, our subconscious mind has no limitations. Societal norms. Consequences. Considering the feelings of others. None of that exists there. It’s all about me. So the things we would really like to say and do in our perfect world can just come out when the unconscious mind is in control.

Mindset

Indoor portrait of funny bald european man making crazy face while standing over gray background. Actor performes on stage in play for children. Guy acts weird to avoid conversation with policeAccording to psychologists, a mindset is a belief that affects how we think about something. That belief drives the way we handle particular situations related to that something.

If we believe that all of our employees are inherently lazy and will slack off given the first opportunity, how will that affect our interactions with them? Especially if we see one of them stop to rest even for a moment?

Having a negative mindset about a subject will cause us to react instead of respond. Just having the mindset itself wells up negative emotions. Add another trigger and things explode. 

Overwhelm

While we actually have a huge capacity for information and stimuli, that capacity is affected by flow rate. What I mean by that is how fast and how much information and stimuli come at us impacts capacity. Too much too fast doesn’t allow our mind to make room for more. 

Think of it like making a water balloon. You attach the balloon to the faucet and then turn on the water. If you turn on the water to full immediately the balloon will fill fast and likely blow up from the overwhelming volume of water. On the other hand, if you control the flow of water you allow time for the balloon to expand and not explode.

Sense of Entitlement

This one doesn’t require a lot of explanation, does it? I am sure we have all encountered people who feel they are entitled to something. Especially if you have teenagers living in your home. And when we feel entitled, as if it is inherently ours, we feel the unfairness and injustice of it all when we don’t get it. The feelings of unfairness and injustice trigger emotions that cause us to react instead of respond. 

How to Change from Reaction to Response

When leaders respond instead of reacting, it’s a game changer. By choosing to respond, you permit yourself to take potentially negative outcomes and turn them into positive results. It impacts you and it impacts the people to whom to respond. You put yourself back in control – of both the situation and yourself.

[tweetthis]Reactions create chaos. Responses create results![/tweetthis]

Business cartoon showing a leader pulling his hair out in response to declining sales as the team tries to remain calm.As dire as the consequences are when we allow ourselves to react, choosing to respond can go 180 degrees in the other direction. Outstanding positive results are possible when leaders respond instead of react.

So how do we turn the tables? How do we choose to respond instead of react? Try starting with these simple steps.

Breathe

Always, I mean always, take a breath. The simple act of taking a breath exerts control over the reaction reflex. It doesn’t have to be a deep breath, although that helps. Just breathe in and breathe out. 

CHECK THE EMOTIONS

After that breath, identify what emotions you are feeling. When a situation triggers emotions, that’s when dangerous reactions can occur. Name the emotions. When we name them, it helps us to control them. It’s okay to have emotions; in fact, it’s unavoidable. However, when negative emotions are in control there is almost never a positive outcome.

Determine your mindset

What preconceived ideas do you have that driving your emotions? Is it true? Does it apply in this particular situation? It may be similar to something you experienced in the past but is it the same? Usually, something is different. A different circumstance. A whole other person than the one involved before. How do the differences change what we do?

Consider your words

What we say when we respond sets the tone for the rest of the conversation. It affects us and it affects the person(s) on the other end. Consider these two sentences.

“That was the stupidest thing you have ever done!”

“Do you think that was the best choice?”

The first is a reaction that will consequently trigger a reaction in the other person. They will get defensive or hurt. Their reaction will be to fight or flight. Either way, you will not get what you want out of this. The second is a response that is non-threatening and actually has the other person respond instead of react. It leads to a discussion that finds solutions.

Question Everything – the Right Way

As in the example above, asking questions is usually a great way to avoid reacting and to disarm a potentially explosive situation. It has the added benefit of allowing you to gather more facts so that your decision making can be more informed. Let’s look at follow-up questions to the one above.

Why do you think that was the best choice?”

“What do you think you could have done differently?”

“What do you think we should do now? Why?”

If, in fact, the person’s choice was not a good one then both of you will discover it this way. And by using this method you not only are more likely to find a resolution but you will have also helped the other person learn a valuable lesson. Perhaps next time their decision will be better. Certainly, their trust in you will increase.

Leaders don’t react. Leaders respond. Because responding is how leaders are able to get the best out of themselves and others.

How can communication improve your team? RESPOND NOW and schedule a free Discovery Strategy Session to see how I walk alongside you on this journey!

 

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The Message They Give When They Say It’s Not Personal

Michael Corleone Sets a Tone for Many a Businessman

It’s a well remembered piece from the movies. That scene in The Godfather when Michael Corleone comes up with the plan to kill the rival mob boss and the corrupt police chief in one fell swoop. His brother Sonny laughs it off and reminds him that it is business and he is taking it personally. Michael replies “It’s not personal Sonny. It’s strictly business!”

It’s Not Personal

Have you ever heard somebody tell you, “don’t take it personal, it’s just business!”  It seems to happen whenever does something that they know is going to upset someone else. It’s a popular way to justify treating others badly for our own personal gain. It helps to avoid the emotional aftermath of a highly charged exchange.

It’s hard to say if it occurred before The Godfather came out or not. Yet for a long time, there was an emphasis on separating your personal life from your business life. After all, business is business. When you are at work there is simply work. Personalities, lives, emotions, the things that make us human all have no place in the world of business. Right?

Don’t Buy the Lie

It is all personal. Image of New impersonal person in a minimalist corporate officeBut the truth is you spend 1/3 of your day involved in the work that you do. Think about that for a moment. A twenty-four hour day. Let’s say you sleep for 6-8 hours (lucky you!). There is from 1/4 to 1/3 of your day right there; leaving 16 hours. Therefore, if you work full-time then a minimum of 50% of your waking hours is spent at work.

So you are being asked to put aside everything that is happening in your life for that 8+ hours. The stress not only of your life but your career as well. And when someone does something that causes a well-up of emotion in you, you are being asked to squelch it because, after all, it’s only business.

It’s ALL PERSONAL!

Don’t believe it! You are emotionally invested in the work you do. If you’re not, you have a whole other problem. I recommend changing jobs. You cannot perform your best unless you are emotionally invested. As a result, the work you do cannot help but be personal.

But it’s not to be taken personally. And that’s the key.

The Fine Line

So if it is all personal but not to be taken personally, how do you do that? Admittedly, it’s not easy. Especially when we emotionally invested there is a tendency to think that anything that gets in our way was put there specifically to stop us.

There is where the development of emotional maturity comes in. When we are emotionally secure we learn to express emotion, to feel it, and yet not let it push out of control. We balance the rational and the emotionally charged.

How to Avoid Taking It Personally

Here are four steps that are going to help you along that way to developing emotional maturity.

Recognize your true value.

Be always aware of what it is you add to a situation to make it better. When you understand what your true value is then you are less likely to take things personally.

Understand that no one really targets you personally.

Most people are way too wrapped up in their own lives to spend much time thinking about you. So when you think that someone is out to get you, actually they are probably not. I’m sure you have probably had your kids come to you and tell you, oh this teacher hates me. And the teacher probably isn’t giving them a second thought when they get home.

Take the time to communicate and listen with your leaders.

Communicate to them what your desires are, what your concerns are. But also listen to the input they have for you because you are going to find that a lot of times the reality is a lot different than your perception.

When you talk, avoid hyperbole.

Avoid saying things like “you always do this” or “you never do that”. Also avoid the negative people that are going to affect your life.

If you take these steps, you are going to get closer to being able to emotionally invest in your life and not take things personally.

What are your coping methods? How do you separate being personal and not taking it personally? Leave your comments here or email me at psimkins(at)BoldlyLead.com.

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A Leader’s Gratitude Makes the Difference

Can we be thankful but not really grateful?

As we enter the Thanksgiving holiday here in America obviously the topic of gratitude comes up. Listening to my pastor on Sunday, he suggested in his talk that more often than not we are thankful for things but not grateful. Do you agree?

What I got from this was that thankfulness is a verbal expression but gratitude is an action.  In the story, Jesus rids ten men of Leprosy but only one comes back to show gratitude to Him.

Were they all thankful? Most certainly. Only one truly showed gratitude and that made the difference.

No Matter What

nighttime view of our cabin in georgiaIt’s been a weird month.  Lately, every month has been a weird month. I’m sure you can appreciate that as well.

My two youngest kids are about to complete their first semester of college. That’s a totally new feeling for me as I realize how close they are to striking out on their own.

We had a sudden need to go car shopping when one vehicle expired. Finding one that had the right features within our budget was a real struggle but we finally found one and completed the purchase. Just in time to drive it up to Georgia for a few days at my sister’s cabin. I am writing this from there.

Where is Your Focus as a Leader?

I mention this not to just to give you a family update but rather as an example. There were things that didn’t get done when I wanted them done because of these many distractions.

As a leader, I can put my focus on that OR I can focus on what went well.

  • I was thankful to find another car. My gratitude is the action of the stewardship I show in how I care for the vehicle and use it.
  • We are thankful our kids are in college. Our gratitude is to support them and encourage them in this experience.

As leaders, the actions we take in gratitude affect not only us but those we lead as well.

  • You can be thankful to be in business and in gratitude approach each day in a positive manner.
  • Thankful for the team you have and show gratitude by the way you treat them
  • Express thankfulness for the level of productivity your team has achieved and demonstrate gratitude by helping them to reach higher.
  • You can thank each customer for their business and show gratitude by rewarding them for their choice and their faithfulness.
  • Because you see despite all the disturbances in our week, the family was able to spend time together and to celebrate Thanksgiving and share a large, very filling meal.  Rather than harp on the inconveniences, we instead focus on the good and positive things that happened.

Gratitude is an action and therefore is one of a leader’s strongest tools.  Gratitude in practically the ultimate in positive thinking.  It doesn’t ignore the fact that there are problems. It doesn’t disregard that we are not where we wish to be or who we wish to be. It rejoices in what we have been blessed with so far, no matter how big or small.  And it turns that attitude into an action that creates more positive effect in both ourselves and our team.

[tweetthis]Gratitude is an action and a leader’s strongest tool. #gratitude[/tweetthis]

Gratitude is Out Loud

Gratitude, when properly practiced, becomes a way of life and a way of thinking.  The proper practice of gratitude is to engage in it daily.  Waiting until the holidays to express gratitude is not the appropriate application.  That’s called ritual.  What we want is authentic, heart-felt thankfulness for how your life has been blessed and how others have influenced you positively.  In fact, the key to effective gratitude is to remember that gratitude is loud and persistent.  The more often you promptly proclaim your thanksgiving and the more openly your share it, the more blessings multiply and opportunities appear and actions yield results.

[tweetthis]The key to effective gratitude is to remember that gratitude is loud and persistent. #gratitude[/tweetthis]

I am thankful I am here with family celebrating this season. My gratitude action is that I am stopping here to enjoy that. What will YOU do?

Action Plan

  • Start your own gratitude journal, beginning today and through to the rest of the year at least.  Each day, first thing in the morning (including weekends), write down ONE THING for which you are grateful.  From that, determine ONE ACTION YOU WILL TAKE to demonstrate your gratitude THAT DAY. Start now.

P.S.

Wow! After I finished and posted this, I ran across this excellent article supporting these thoughts. Give it a read.

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Rich Leaders and Learners

Tim SandersTim Sanders was the third speaker at the L2:Learn-Lead event on October 10, 2014.  Tim was the “Maverick CEO” of a company called NetMinds and is a former Yahoo executive and a noted author and speaker.
Tim’s emphasis was on People-Centric Tools for Leadership.  Here are some notes from his talk at L2.
  • Talking about purpose, he remembered a book he read titled Working the Room by Nick Morgan.  Nick said that the only reason for giving a speech was to change the world.
If you don’t want to change the world, then get off the stage. -Nick Morgan
  • Success is not a destination, it is a direction: FORWARD.

The Modern Leader Needs to be Able to Lead With

A Clear Mind

To Unclutter and Clear Your Mind

  1. Reduce your sources of information.  Own the first 45 minutes of your day and avoid email and social media.  Spend the time in devotion and reflecting on someone who helped you in the past and think of someone who will help you.
  2. Create a culture in the workplace that is upbeat and hopeful and action-oriented.  Remember that culture is a conversation about how we do things around here.
  3. A Clear Mind is an educated mind.  READ DAILY books and periodicals of significance that help you grow.
  4. Remember if you let your calendar get full you will be an ineffective leader.  You need time to think; to be curious.
Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it killed the competition. -Sam Walton

A Creative Tendency

  • Most issues in a company are design issues, not people issues and need creative solutions
  • He has found that highly successful salespeople have creative projects within their life.
    • Creativity = Problem Solving
  • Make NEW mistakes
  • Trust people
  • Policy is the scar tissue of an organization.
If you have to rely on policy, you need a corporate cultural change.

A Compassionate Way

  • You can only effectively lead those you love.
  • Treat everyone like family
Mentorship is a program of highly effective leaders, not HR
  • Learn to listen without power – give empathy
What I like about Tim Sanders is that I believe he “gets it”.  Tim has learned that motivating through fear, dismissal, and non-emotional focus just doesn’t work for any extended period of time.  Either people burn out or they become totally disengaged.
Work is personal.
You can’t spend 1/3 or more of your day in one place and not have it be personal.  As a result, the rest of our lives are influenced by what happens at work and what happens at work is influenced by what’s happening in the rest of our lives.
If you want to create sustainable productivity and empowering employee engagement, as a leader you must spend time learning about your people.  Their hopes, their dreams, their fears.  You don’t have to solve their problems, in fact if you do then you are doing them a disservice; but you do have to know where they are and what’s going through their minds.
That’s how a modern leader achieves success.

What do you think?  Is there a “fine line” between relational leading and task-orientation?  What would be your two-word theme for how you lead?

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Hitting the Wall

Do you find yourself, or someone you work with, becoming a clock watcher?  You know, waiting for the hands of the clock to point to quitting time so you can hurry out the door and do something exciting.

Why Do You Do What You Do?

Dog SingingIt’s been said in various forms that runners run, writers write, teachers teach, and speakers speak.  And they do it because they have a passion for doing it.  They can’t imagine doing anything else.  They can’t imagine not having that as a part of their lives.
You may remember the scene from the movie, Sister Act 2, starring Whoopie Goldberg.  She is dressed as a nun and talking to Rita, a girl who is the best singer in the choir.  Rita has quit, pretending like she didn’t care, even though it is quite obvious she loves to sing.  Whoopie tells her  “If you wake up in the morning, and you can’t think of anything but singing, then you should be a singer, girl!

It’s passion.

Passion provides clarity, it helps us discern direction, and it fuels our actions.  When we are passionate about something, we feel compelled to act towards it.  The more that passion builds, the more we feel compelled to take action.
The opposite effect is, one that I have seen too many times in too many organizations, is people becoming passion-less. They have absolutely no passion for what they are doing and they become like the walking dead.  In fact, John Maxwell said that passionless people ARE dead, they just haven’t made it official yet.
So remember this:
[snaptweet]No matter what your formula for success is, if it doesn’t factor in passion, it just doesn’t add up.[/snaptweet]

So how you discover or re-awaken that passion?

  • WHAT MAKES YOU SING, WHAT MAKES YOU CRY – Look at your daily or weekly activities.  You will find your passion in either the things that make you shout for joy when you do them or the things the tug at your heart so much that you feel compelled to action.  You will discover the little nuggets of passion inside these things.
  • WHAT’S THE END RESULT YOU DESIRE – What do you want to accomplish?  In a business environment, that doesn’t mean job description or corporate objectives. It means what is the end result, what do you really want to see happen here?
    For example, for me what I want to see happen is that I manage to inspire people and businesses to engage in continual, daily growth so that they become the best that they can be; they can realize their potential and become more effective and more profitable at what they do.  And that drives me to do what I do.
  • WHAT CAN YOU LET GO OF TO DO MORE OF WHAT YOU WANT TO DO – While it’s true that passion fuels action, it’s also true that action fuels passion.  The more you do those things you enjoy doing or feel compelled to do, the more your passion builds for them and the more effective you are going to become.

What about you?  Share here how you feel about what you do and how you build your passion.

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