Outstandingly Great Blog
A simple perspective shift that leads to greater success.
Many professionals have a mindset that limits their ability to be successful, make money and get what they want. Specifically, at some point in our lives we get the idea that the things we need to learn – about life, success, leadership – only come from experts, those older, wiser, more successful, or senior than we. But this thinking is mistaken and limits our ability to grow, make an impact, and obtain widespread professional success.
In reality the important and much needed lessons about how to lead, motivate, and treat people surround us. They are being offered to us not just by those who have “made it” (managers, the C-Suite, parents, people with power and money), but equally by our subordinates (direct reports, interns, students, children) and peers (coworkers, team members, classmates). We encounter them at every turn, but only if we decide to do so. The opportunity to learn and grown and get better is everywhere if only we decide to see it and to let it in.
I recently have been coaching my MBA students and with every coaching session I gain insight. I become more aware of my sharp corners – the places where I get in my own way and self-sabotage. Indeed, there are aspects of my personality and communication style that are working for me, but there are also pieces that are not and it is my students that lead me to those. One might think the students would be the ones doing all the learning and while I do like to think that they also are getting something out of the sessions, not all of them do of course. I am at peace with that. It is very much like life – some people are open minded, hungry to improve and willing and courageous enough to take a long, honest look at themselves and others are defensive, scared, desperate to be right, and only seek affirmation. But those who are brave enough to take the deep dive come out enriched, stronger, bigger and readier to take on the world and leave their lasting mark. However, as it happens, I learn equally from both groups of students.
They share their lives with and let me into their deepest sorrows and greatest triumphs to varying degrees – some our open books and others keep me on a need to know basis. They tell me where they are getting it right and where they are making missteps. Throughout this process I have lightbulb moments like – “that hurts me too, I feel proud just like she does, I did that same good thing one time, and shoot I am guilty of that horrible behavior too.” Thereby each conversation is an opening for insight into myself. Everything the students share becomes a point of self-reflection.
Interestingly, the sessions don’t have to have this result for me. It is a choice. My reaction could be different and my thinking could be more along the lines of – “I don’t know what he is talking about, why does that stupid thing make him feel badly, I never do that and his doing so makes me feel superior.” I could offer good advice as a coach, share conventional wisdom, talk about standardized leadership principles and that would be fine. The students certainly would get something out if it and they wouldn’t have any idea about my – judgmental and closed – innermost thoughts, but I would remain static, suffer and miss out on becoming more effective.
I mention all of this because each of us has this very same choice to make every day in every situation we encounter and with every single person we speak with whether it be a 10 year-old-child, a low-level employee, a beginner of any kind, or our less intelligent, informed or experienced counterpart. In each moment we can all ask ourselves, “What can be learned here?” Each encounter gives us the chance to figure out how we can do things better – not better than the person with whom with are connecting but better than we personally did before.
This endeavor is not about judgement, superiority, or affirmation. When someone else shares their obstacles, frustrations, mistakes, we can discipline, dismiss, judge, or move past it in some way or we can pause and honestly acknowledge to ourselves our own humanity and see that this person with all their stuff is simply a mirror image of us with all of our stuff. They were closed when they could have been open as have we. They were harsh when they could have been kind as have we. They were impatient when they could have been generous as have we.
If we are interested in being our best, most successful, and prosperous selves we always must ask, “What does this tell me about myself?” Be careful that your answers are not “I would never do that, I am better, that is dumb.” The conversations and interactions we have are the map to our most impactful self. Whether you open it and begin the journey is entirely up to you.
Happy and expansive travels.
There is an idea in Buddhism that says essentially, “the universe gives you everything you need.” So, if there is a lesson you need to learn – no problem, the universe has you covered and will present a situation for you to learn it. If there is something you need to appreciate – not an issue, the universe will create an opportunity for you to feel appreciation.
This Buddhist concept popped into my head repeatedly during the three days I spent camping in the Ocala National Forest over the New Year. While I very much enjoy camping, it also is really hard. Every single thing you do takes so much longer – no easily accessible running water and only lantern light. No matter what you try – no shoes in the tent – the dirt invades and there is no real keeping clean – immediately after you shower your three-year-old he trips over a tree stump and lands knees and palms into the ground. Further, the woods possess some sort of magical power that makes my bladder perpetually full, endlessly unrelieved and no real restroom within 100 feet.
Throughout it all I was reminded, “Alexa, the universe is giving you everything you need, exactly as you need it, right now.” It is possible that what I was meant to learn was obvious and I know it certainly wasn’t complicated, but somehow these simple truths never stick.
With everything taking so long and being so inconvenient I was forced to be patient. There is no rushing through all that dishwashing by hand three times a day. Only focus and deep concentration got that job done. No email to check, text to write, phone call to answer just me and soap-water-scrub-water- repeat.
Oh! and that dirt – it sure did force me to let go of any illusion of perfection, of our carefully packed belongings being orderly and the precious children being nice and tidy, well cared for. I was liberated from all that frantic, desperate, obsessive, grasping for control and order. Finally, perhaps cliché, but there is nothing as glorious as a pristine night sky totally and fully uncorrupted by the suburban light pollution to which I have grown so accustomed as to render it unnoticeable. You have to see the brightness of those stars first-hand, nothing but in-person bearing witness will do. It will stir you and move you and fill you to the brink with gratitude for being alive. So, I must express my gratitude to the open air, portable toilet stationed outside our tent to which I made about 10 trips HOURLY. Thank you, good ole’ ‘Luggable Loo.’
When I was young, my grandma found delight in wrapping paper. She would ooh and aah over the vibrant colors and fold it away in a perfect square for later enjoyment. I didn’t understand. I thought her making a fuss over paper silly. Knowing the teenaged me, I rolled my eyes. Yet, there I was at the dish washing station marveling at the delicate lace patterns the soap made on the side of the green camping cups – sometimes reminiscent of ocean spray, others unique like fingerprints, at times mimicking abstract cloud animals. The universe gave me that too – visiting hours with grandma’s ghost and the best superpower of them all, wonder over a small and easily overlooked miracle. A pretty good survival skill in these days of more, more, more.
The universe gave me all these party favors at my New Year’s Eve celebration in the woods. Thus, despite the obscene amount of gear crammed back into my mini-van, I returned to suburbia lighter, less burdened and more uplifted.
I had planned on writing my New Year’s musings well-before we departed for Alexander Springs. However, despite thinking and thinking I never came up with anything worth saying. Eventually, I surrendered deciding, “There will be other new years and time for messages then.” Yet, 7 hours, 5 minutes, and 10 seconds away from 2019 I found myself writing this note standing at my food storage container desk, my ankles bug bitten, my feet covered in campsite dust and the universe doing what it does best – providing me with exactly what I needed. As I enter the new year, I hope I finally can remember this truth, but no matter, the universe will continue doing what it always has done for you and me both.
Cheers to a year filled with what you need!
Successful people are adaptable. Research shows that in terms of the competencies one needs to be successful, adaptability is up there with self-confidence, emotional self-control, and inspirational leadership.
Yet, so many of us dedicate significant amounts of time and energy to planning. And then when our plans don’t work out (as so often happens) we dedicate significant amounts of emotion to being irritated, frustrated, bent out of shape, and placing blame.
So, on one hand we have the critical importance of being adaptable and on the other we have our natural tendency to be totally inflexible. This is a problem – a problem I know intimately.
Like most other important business lessons, I was reminded of the futility of planning at the hands of my children. On Friday morning, I went to my kids’ school to volunteer in the classroom. I had confirmed the date and time with the teacher days in advance. I had reviewed with her the materials I needed to bring and the treats I was going to share with the children. I looked over my papers the night before and set my alarm early the morning of. I arrived at school just as I had planned, excited about my morning with the children.
With smile wide, I ran smack into the other mom who had also volunteered to be in the classroom that morning. She had confirmed the date and time with the teacher days in advance. She had reviewed with the teacher the materials she needed to bring and the treats she was going to share with the children. She had looked over her papers the night before and set her alarm early the morning of. She arrived at school just as she had planned, excited about her morning with the children.
Then in an instant our well-orchestrated plans crumbled. There was a miscommunication. The teacher only needed one volunteer and now she had two. The other mom was superfluous. I was a duplicate. We were both very annoyed and disappointed. Our morning had been shattered. One of us would surely be sent home or left standing in the corner while the other performed the morning’s duties. While I can’t speak for her, I wasn’t just annoyed and disappointed, I was angry too.
Neither one of us was particularly adaptable in that movement and because of that neither one of us could figure out a solution. Luckily, the school receptionist, on the other hand, was a study in flexibility and with clear and unemotional thinking rearranged us so that two moms became better than one. She split the class up, sent me to one room with class A, sent the other mom to another room to class B and midway through the morning had us switch rooms so that we could spend time with the other class.
It was a lovely morning and the reshuffle worked out perfectly. I walked out of school thinking how the morning had turned out so much better than I could have planned.
And so often that is how life is. Plan A is average. It frequently doesn’t work out because life is messy and humans are imperfect and in the scheme of the cosmos we are just ants who have very little control over anything. The real shame isn’t that Plan A falls apart it’s that we waste time mourning it and don’t shift to Plan B. And, if we let it, in most cases, Plan B is better.
My daughter is brave. Not because she talks a big game, but because she takes courageous action. Last night she auditioned for a musical. She took the stage, sang for strangers, and attempted a dance she didn’t know (poor thing doesnt even take dance lessons). I wouldn’t have done what she did when I was 10 and I likely would not do it now. She is a wonder and an inspiration.
Most of us are cowards. We play it safe – speak up only when we know the answer, follow the rules, resort to the tried-and-true, elect the sure thing, follow the masses. We are terrified to do the thing that makes us vulnerable, singles us out, exposes us to risk. We avoid failure and shun embarrassment.
Playing it safe, is so…well, safe. It is predictable and gets moderate results. We avoid disaster, but we also avoid doing anything of real importance. Don’t pat yourself on the back for sitting on the sidelines, for being a critic. Anyone can do that!
Do something risky. That is how you change the world, that is how you innovate, that is how you matter. Do something courageous and then take your bow.
One. Saying, “I am sorry” is not the same thing as saying “I am wrong” or “I am at fault” or “I am to blame.” I am sorry that this thing happened or that my email made you feel this way is different than saying I did this thing and I am at fault or that my email was out or line or incorrect. When to take responsibility is and the benefits of this approach are topics for another post. The point here is simple – “I am sorry” is not an admission of guilt. So, maybe it is something you could say more often. Those three words make a big impact and go a long way towards connecting with more people (clients, managers, subordinates) having more of an impact.
Two. Trying to understand someone else’s point of view is different than agreeing with them. We engage in conversations with the wrong mindset. We listen for disagreement, check for accuracy, and look for windows to rebut. This approach doesn’t move us forward – it isn’t profitable and doesn’t lead to innovation. It is more effective to strap on your seatbelt and to make a mental declaration that you are in it for the long haul. Decide to be in the conversation until you can see the other persons point of view. Commit to understanding their perspective and to continuing the dialogue until you appreciate where they are coming from. Respond with “I really hear what you are saying.” This is not synonymous with “I agree with your approach.” You lose nothing and create the opportunity for connection and collaboration down the road.
As they say on Game of Thrones, “Words are wind.” People say all sorts of things, but then do something different. People say all the right things and then do exactly what they say they don’t want to do. People who want to change their behavior revert to old habits and do the most comfortable thing when confronted with an opportunity to try a new approach.
They say they want to be less judgmental, but when given the opportunity to be empathetic they evaluate instead. They say they want to take a risk, but when presented with the chance to try something new, they opt for the safe road. People say they want to be more nurturing, kind, open-minded, hard-working, responsible, inspirational – the list goes on, but then chose to be distant, punitive, narrow-minded, efficient, non accountable, and route.
The next time you are confronted with a choice do what feels the most unnatural, makes you the most uncomfortable, and seems totally wrong. Whatever your gut tells you to do, do the other thing. That is how we change behavior. When we do something different, we get a different result. Don’t expect to to enhance your life (to have deeper relationships, reach greater levels of success, to leave a lasting and meaningful mark) by doing the same old thing time and time again.