Leading with Trust

Your Personality Is Not An Excuse For Bad Behavior

One of my pet peeves is people who use their personality as an excuse for their behavior. “I can’t help it, that’s just who I am” is the phrase that’s often uttered to rationalize or justify an action, position, or attitude. In some ways it’s almost the perfect defense to any argument, isn’t it? “You mean you want me to change who I am?” How can you ask someone to change the very essence of what makes them who they are?

There’s no doubt that our inborn temperament and  natural personality traits shape the way we perceive and react to our environment, however, we are in control of the way we choose to respond to situations. Part of being a successful and trusted leader is learning how to regulate your thoughts, emotions, and natural personality traits so that you can respond in a manner that is appropriate for the situation at hand. Using your personality as a crutch to stay in your emotional comfort zone will only limit your leadership potential and alienate those around you.

Your personality is not an excuse for…

Being rude to people — If you frequently find yourself saying “I’m just being honest and telling it like it is,” then you’re probably relying too much on your default nature of being direct and to the point. Those are great traits to possess, but they shouldn’t be used as an excuse for being harsh or inconsiderate with people.

Not giving feedback when feedback is due — It’s difficult for most people to deliver constructive criticism to others, but people often hide behind their personality traits as an excuse to not give feedback. Whether you’re introverted and shy and find it difficult to engage others, or an extroverted people-pleaser that can’t stand the idea of someone not liking you, you have to learn ways to give feedback. You owe it to yourself and others.

Avoiding or inciting conflict — Along the same lines as giving feedback, dealing with conflict is probably the most common area where we stay in our emotional comfort zone. This is especially dangerous for people who tend to fall on the edges of the spectrum in dealing with conflict – either avoiding it or gravitating to it. Whatever your natural style of dealing with conflict, it doesn’t mean that’s the only way to deal with it. Just as important as knowing your natural tendencies, it’s important to know how others tend to deal with conflict so that you can “speak the same language” when trying to resolve issues.

Blaming others — It’s easy for us to blame others for whatever shortcomings we may have in our life or career; it’s much harder to honestly examine ourselves and take responsibility for the choices we’ve made that have led us to where we are today. For example, if you have a personality need to always be right, and you demonstrate that by constantly arguing and debating with colleagues, you shouldn’t blame others when people stop including you in projects, meetings, or decisions. “They don’t want my opinion because they don’t respect me and don’t want to hear the truth”…no…they don’t want your opinion because you always think you’re right and it’s annoying!

Our personalities are what makes us the unique individuals we are, and the beauty of organizational life is that we’re able to take this diversity and blend it into a cohesive whole that’s more productive and powerful than the individual parts. Learning to be more aware of our own personalities and those of others, combined with a willingness to stretch out of our comfort zones and not always rely on our natural instincts, will help us lead more productive and satisfying lives at work.

Are You Suffering from FOMO? Five Steps to Restore Margin in Your Life

I was feeling stressed and overloaded last week. I had too many important things to do and the lack of margin (time & space) in my life was causing tension and anxiety.

There was the training class I was observing and co-facilitating, the important meetings with colleagues to figure out solutions to significant organizational change issues, last-minute details to iron out for my global team meeting of 50 staff members next week, the online college class I’m in the middle of teaching, the pending deadline for a magazine article, an upcoming client training event to prepare for, and as President of my local youth baseball league, getting a season’s worth of games scheduled and helping my 19 year-old son get the snack bar operation up and running.

It’s all good stuff that I enjoy doing and feel blessed to have the opportunity to participate in, and I have no right to complain since I made the choice to accept these various responsibilities. Many of these obligations are temporary, and once taken care of, I’ll have a healthy amount of margin restored to my life. Yet for many people, living life with no margin is a daily reality. Consider these statistics:

  • 26% of adult Americans report being on the verge of a serious nervous breakdown
  • 53% of employees would opt for a personal assistant rather than personal trainer
  • Compared to 1970, American managers are working an additional month per year
  • Americans are working more hours than any time since the 1920s. 63% of Americans log more than 40 hours per week at the office, and 40% log more than 50 hours per week
  • 62% of workers routinely end the day with work-related neck pain, 44% report strained eyes, 38% complain of hand pain, and 34% report difficulty in sleeping due to work-related stress
  • 66% of people read email seven days a week and expect to receive a response the same day
  • 61% continue to check email while on vacation
  • 26% of Americans take no vacations at all
  • 88% of employees say they have a hard time juggling work and life
  • 70% of working fathers and working mothers report they don’t have enough time for their children

The sad thing is that many of us bring this problem on ourselves. The reason we have no margin in life is that we suffer from FOMO — Fear Of Missing Out. Whether it’s our own competitive ambitions, workaholic nature, or the fear of economic uncertainty that drives us, we often feel the need to accept every opportunity that comes our way.

One of the biggest causes of FOMO is social media and our hyper-connected world of technology. I’m an advocate of the power of social media and the use of technology to improve our lives, yet it also has the ability to become a digital leash to work and rob us of margin. Daniel Gulati’s HBR blog article, Facebook Is Making Us Miserable, discusses how social media can create a culture of comparison which is a key driver of unhappiness. We see the posts  of our friends and colleagues (which are almost always positive in nature) and feel that if we aren’t experiencing the same level of success or happiness then something must be wrong with us. So FOMO drives us to keep up with the Jones’ and we cram more stuff into our already hectic lives.

Succumbing to the dangers of FOMO reminds me of the airplane scene from the movie Jerry Maguire. Single-mother Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) is in coach-seating, sadly gazing at Jerry (Tom Cruise) in first-class who is engaged in spirited conversation with a beautiful woman colleague who seems to have everything in life that Dorothy doesn’t. Dorothy’s toddler son asks “What’s wrong, Mommy?” She replies “First class, that’s what’s wrong. It used to be a better meal, now it’s a better life.”

So what can we do to help restore margin in our lives? Here’s five steps:

1. Be clear on your purpose and priorities — If you don’t have a clear purpose and priorities that guide your decisions, then other people will determine your course for you. Our current position and condition in life is the result of a series of small decisions we’ve made over the course of time. Sometimes there are big, life-changing experiences that cause stress and anxiety, but usually our feelings of being overloaded result from the accumulation of little commitments and obligations we’ve taken on without thoughtfully examining if they fit into our overall purpose and goals in life.

2. Say “no” — This is extremely difficult for many people! Most of us want to be helpful and serve others, yet every time we say “yes” to something, we are in effect saying “no” to other potential opportunities. Sometimes we say “yes” out of ego or pride. We think we can do the best job so we take on the responsibility. Saying “no” to opportunities that don’t fit your overall purpose and goal can give other people an opportunity to step up to the plate and experience growth and success.

3. Learn to be content with your limitations — We all like to think we can do anything we set our mind to, and it’s almost counter-cultural to suggest otherwise. The reality is that we can’t do it all. Those who are happiest in life are those that have learned to accept their strengths and weaknesses for what they are, and to focus their time and energy in areas where they perform best. There’s a tremendous amount of relief that comes from being able to say “You know, I’m not the best at doing that. Why don’t you give someone else the opportunity?”

4. Plan for problems — One of the reasons we are over-stressed is that we don’t plan for problems. So when problems inevitably arise, we don’t have any margin to deal with them. We’re always under the stress of deadlines, limited budget, and few resources. When accepting responsibilities, we should plan for contingencies. What if it takes longer than expected? What if I don’t have all the right resources? What if the budget dries up? What if the client changes her mind?

5. Take your vacation days — This may sound mundane, but it’s a practical strategy to prevent burnout. If you’re fortunate enough to have paid vacation days, take them! Vacation days are part of your paid compensation, and neglecting to use them is giving away money that you’ve earned. You don’t have to wait for that dream vacation to the Italian Riviera to manifest itself before you take time off work. Make the effort to intentionally plan time away, and when you do go on vacation, leave the smart phone and laptop at home.

Relationships are developed in the margins of life, and leadership is about developing people. If you don’t have margin, you probably don’t have time to be a leader.

People Have the Right to Remain Stupid – Three Principles for Over-Controlling Leaders

I would like to propose a workplace version of the Miranda Warning. You’re probably familiar with it, but if not, it’s the warning given by police officers in the United States to criminal suspects before they take them into custody and question them. The Miranda Warning (aka, Miranda Rights) goes like this:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”

My workplace version of the Miranda Warning is to protect employees’ rights to make their own decisions and to remind over-controlling leaders to back off, quit grabbing control (because you think your way is the best and only way), and let people choose their own course of action. Here’s my workplace Miranda Warning that a boss should be required to give an employee before swooping in to take control:

“You have the right to remain stupid. Anything you say or do can and will have natural consequences involved for which you will have to assume full responsibility. You have the right to seek my advice prior to making this decision but you are in control of your own choices. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”

I developed this workplace Miranda Warning after reading Tim Sanford’s book, Losing Control & Liking It. A few weeks ago I wrote an article based on Sanford’s approach to handling issues of control in relationships, the essence of which is learning to better understand who is truly in control of a situation and letting that person take responsibility for it, rather than engaging in a struggle for power and control.

Empowering your employees means letting go of control. You’ve hired them to do a job so they should have the appropriate amount of autonomy and control in performing their work within specified boundaries. Letting go of control means trusting your people to make the right decisions, yet understanding that ultimately the choice is up to them.
Sanford offers three principles for leaders to remember when giving up control to employees. These principles serve as a self-regulating mechanism for all of us when we’re faced with making decisions:

1. You live and die by your own choices. There are many people and circumstances that influence us on a daily basis, and many of those things are out of our control. Yet we have control over how we choose to respond to those situations. When my kids were younger I would always get a chuckle when they would say “You make me so mad!” which invariably was in response to me not letting them do something they wanted to. The truth is that I didn’t make them mad, they chose to respond in an angry fashion when they didn’t get their way. We all have the ability to choose healthy, life-affirming choices, or negative, destructive choices.

2. You can choose smart or stupid. Since we live and die by our own choices, we have to decide whether we want to choose “smart” or choose “stupid.” Sometimes the choices are easy – legal vs. illegal, moral vs. immoral – but sometimes choices come in shades of gray. It’s these gray areas where leaders often get uncomfortable and choose to step in, take control from the employee, and make the decision themselves. That only serves to demoralize employees, create resentment towards the boss, and bottleneck every important decision with one person. Leaders have to learn to trust principle number 3.

3. There’s always somebody or something whose job it is to make your life miserable when you choose stupid. Whether you call it karma, cause and effect, reap what you sow, or just natural consequences, if we choose “stupid” there is eventually going to be a cost that has to be paid. Maybe the cost is an upset customer, a disappointed colleague, or a missed deadline. Those are difficult situations, but sometimes that is what’s needed for someone to fully grasp and learn from their mistakes. Leaders that habitually jump in to rescue employees to prevent or minimize mistakes can actually be creating a co-dependent relationship or excusing poor performance. Sometimes it’s best to let people experience the full consequence of their actions.

It can be scary giving up control, especially for a leader. We have a preconceived notion that we’re always supposed to be in control, but the reality is that there is very little that is directly under our complete power and control. That’s why we have teams. We need the diverse skills of many different people to complement each other and produce something better and greater than anything we could do alone. But that means letting go of control and doing our best to help people choose “smart” over “stupid.”

Lose Control and Like It – 4 Ways to Handle Responsibility and Control

You really don’t have as much control as you think you do.

Leaders like to think they’re in control of a lot of things, because after all, that’s why they’re in charge, right? They’re responsible for making sure the work gets done correctly, on time, and on budget. So if they’re responsible, then dog-gone-it, they’re going to be in control! The reality is that responsibility and control are spread among all the team members you lead, and effective leaders learn to distinguish when they need to assume responsibility and control and when it needs to be left to the team member.

I recently read Losing Control & Liking It, by Tim Sanford. His book is specifically about parenting teenagers (I have two boys, 19 & 15), but speaking from experience, leading and managing people is often like raising teenagers so the principles definitely apply!

Sanford explains that when we look at our interactions with people and events, we can split them into two categories: What you can control and what you can’t control. We’re defining control as that which you have direct and complete power over. You may be able to control certain aspects of situations or influence people or circumstances, but when you consider that definition, you really only have control over yourself—your actions, attitudes, values, emotions and opinions. We like to think we have control over our employees, but that’s just an illusion. They are in control of themselves.

Another way to categorize our relationships with those we lead is by responsibility: What you take responsibility for and what you don’t take responsibility for. Responsible is a compound word: response-able, meaning “able to respond.” The only things you are able to respond to are those that you legitimately have ownership or control over. Friction develops in our relationships when we try to take responsibility for those things we don’t control or when we choose to shirk our responsibilities for those things we do control.

When you overlay these categories of control and responsibility you have a grid of four ways of interacting with others regarding issues of control and responsibility

TOSS – You could describe TOSSers as lazy, irresponsible, untrustworthy, avoiders, deniers, or blamers. These are folks who would rather “toss” responsibility to someone else, rather than assuming responsibility for behaviors or outcomes that are under their control. This is probably the most unhealthy of all the four styles and this type of behavior causes chaos and discord in organizations.

HOLD – HOLDers take responsibility for what is under their control. Trustworthy, honest, authentic, reliable, and dependable are all words that would describe these people. This is a healthy way to interact with others over issues of control and responsibility. No blaming. No excuse making. No shirking of responsibilities. Relating in this manner breeds confidence and trust in your abilities and in others.

GRAB – In an effort to control the uncontrollable, GRABers choose to take responsibility for people and things out of their direct and complete control. Micromanager, manipulator, intimidating, co-dependent, or martyr are all adjectives that describe a person who uses this style. Leaders often fall prey to this style of relating because they think they can “fix” people or situations. GRABing control may result in short-term wins, but over the long haul it stunts people’s development and creates a state of learned helplessness.

FOLD – FOLDing is a healthy way of relating to others regarding control and responsibility. When you practice this style it means you mind your own business, you’re honest with others about what’s your responsibility and what’s theirs, and your trustworthy enough to be counted on to respect the proper boundaries of control and responsibility. Relating in this style means you fold your hands and let the consequences fall where they may, even if it may be painful to stand by and watch.

Your goal as a leader is to influence your people, not control them. Provide them with the necessary training, tools, and support to enable them to be in control of achieving their goals. More often than not, those who are in control of their work will accept responsibility for what they produce. If you find yourself dealing with people who choose to “toss” responsibility of their shortcomings to others, resist the urge to “grab” control and try to fix the situation. HOLD your ground or FOLD your hands and let others learn from their experiences.

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