I talked with my grandmother this morning, she’s 92 and I call her a few times each month. Her memory is not what it once was, and often we have the same conversation - the weather, family, my work, people. We almost always talk about people, particularly the attitudes that people hold.
I find it insightful and it often relates to my work. She drops some elder-wisdom on me, and I truly enjoy how she words things. I doubt that she would find meaning in the phrase “emotional intelligence” though we often talk about exactly that - particularly the area of self-awareness.
During one of our recent chats, she said something along the lines of “and Tim, some people are just grumpy with themselves and how are they gonna be kind to anyone else, if they can’t be kind to themselves.” That one stuck with me for a while. I first connected it to self-awareness and self talk, and as I thought on it more I recognized the aspects of a growth mindset hidden in her words.
Acting “grumpy with yourself” doesn’t just represent your self-talk, it’s deeper than that - it shows how you treat yourself, how you experience yourself. And, I deeply believe that the relationship we have with ourselves influences ALL of our other relationships. As a leader, think how much of your work relies on relationships - could you estimate that as a percentage? And what about your results? What percentage of your results come from relationships?
In my coaching work, I often encourage leaders to look at their self-awareness, at their self-talk, at their mindset. Imagine how your mindset filters your worldview. How might a different filter shift that view? How might that different view affect your relationships, your results?
Like any shift, it starts with creating awareness. Are you grumpy with yourself? Are you willing to look at that? Are you willing to look at how it affects you? And, if you find that you are, do you want something different for yourself? Do you have the desire to treat yourself better?
I’ll leave you with this old adage - “would you let someone else treat you, the way you treat yourself?”
A former co-worker, when facing an interaction with someone she found unpleasant, would often say “I need to find something to like about him.” I always saw the wisdom in her approach, but the execution eluded me. Most of the time, people I experienced as unpleasant simply kept that label until I experienced them differently. She, on the other hand, would seek more information about that unpleasant person, actively looking for some common ground on which to build.
Recently, I attended a talk by Marga Odahowski, a corporate Mindfulness Consultant, who asked the question, “What does your routine keep you from noticing?” It’s a great question, and I want to pass it along to you.
I am not criticizing routines, personally I’m a big fan - I strongly believe that mine make me efficient and effective. I am sharing Marga’s question because it’s insightful and powerful. If answered, it creates awareness and that can lead to different approaches, to different efficiencies, to different results.
In her own way, my former co-worker used a version of this question when she met someone who rubbed her wrong. Like many mindfulness related activities, the question encourages you to create a pause between stimulus and action/reaction.
A personal example, I have INTJ preferences and often find it challenging to work with people who have ESTP preferences. It isn’t that I dislike them, it's more that their “seize the day” approach often feels at odds with my detached, analytical style. I’m learning that my “routine”, in this case, keeps me from noticing the spontaneity, energy and pragmatic, problem-solving often associated with ESTPs.
What’s the leadership lesson in this? I’m glad you asked, as a leader, you typically don’t have to look far, or hard to find someone you experience as difficult - an employee, a client, a peer, a manager - opportunities abound.
What’s your routine in those cases? Does it include labeling them as someone to contend with? What hidden gems might you not be noticing about them? What strengths might you be overlooking? How might their differences, or even difficulties add a perspective that you might not have?
I’m working hard on finding things to like about people, especially when that isn’t my immediate reaction. I hope to encourage you to do the same. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, on Marga’s question and on your own experiences.
I recently shared A Lesson About Resilience and talked about understanding resilience as including both toughness and vulnerability. Toughness, or tenacity gets you back up after a fall and vulnerability lets you own that failure. What makes resilience so important for leaders?
In her 2013 HBR article “Surprises Are the New Normal; Resilience the New Skill”, Rosabeth Moss Kanter states that “the difference between winners and losers is how they handle losing”.
I’ll share a secret with you… we all fail; at some point, in some way. And, if you never lose, then you aren’t playing hard enough.
I recently worked with a struggling leadership team. As we explored their team dynamics, two members adamantly talked about how much they didn’t want to fail; didn’t want to risk failure. As I listened, I heard a lot of ego, I heard a lot of “I”.
I won’t go so far as to say there is no room for ego in leadership; I will say there are different aspects to ego and some of them connect to good leadership and some don’t. Fear of failure keeps your focus on you, the individual, instead of on your role as leader of a team.
Think about the impact you have on the work environment. Do your people, your employees; do they see you fail? Do you create an environment that is intolerant of failure? What effect does this have on your people? Have you considered this?
Do you model resilience? Does your team see you get back up, dust yourself off and take that next step? Do they hear you own failure, do they hear you say “Well, that didn’t work out like I thought it would. What can I do differently when I try again?”
Failure is inevitable; resilience is not. Show your team, show your people what resilience looks like. Show them how to get back up and try again.