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Leadership Thought #463 – You Need To Have Thick Skin To Lead Others

Leadership is not for the faint of heart.  It certainly has its ups and downs and can test anyone’s emotional fortitude.  However, this is the very reason so few people can do it well.  If you take every small slight and failure personally, the job will eat you alive.  Whenever you assume a position of responsibility, you automatically also assume a roster of critics and malcontents who aren’t always aligned with your leadership vision.  Since you can’t realistically fire everyone who disagrees with you (nor is this advisable), then you need to figure out other ways to handle the pressures and scrutiny.

I’ve found that the best leaders I work with welcome the criticism.  They don’t always like it, but they accept that a key aspect of leading people is harnessing disparate points of view and feelings.  I don’t care how smart you are, no one person has all the right answers.  And, since we are all human, we will inevitably make mistakes.  To some extent, your critics keep you on your toes.  They help you maintain your ‘A game” and not take your position for granted.  If you are willing to listen to and embrace their feedback, you will definitely make better decisions.   Of course, there will always be points of diminishing returns, but don’t be too quick to assume you’ve reached this level of dysfunction.  Getting better often involves hard work.

In my life I’ve found that if you can navigate the rocky waters of professional disagreement effectively, then  you actually end up building new advocates for your point of view.  Sometimes the people who were most resistant initially end up becoming your most loyal colleagues.  Give me someone who is up front and honest with their opinions over someone who is more passive-aggressive any day. Healthy relationships are only ever possible if people can be authentically honest with one another.  I’ve also found that much of the initial angst and tension between two people is often due to poor communication and misunderstandings.

Leadership means embracing the spotlight not withering under it.  The very act of putting yourself out there and assuming others will follow is an act of unusual self-confidence.  Most people are hard-wired to follow not lead.  However, everyone can be a critic.  So be it.  As they saying goes, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” As a leader you will have good days and bad ones.  You will make great decisions and have many others you would like to take back.  You will trust people who disappoint you and lose good people to your competition.  You will be forced to make decisions with imperfect information and sometimes fail as result.  Many external market forces will be beyond your control to predict and/or influence. Some of your employees will make your life easier while others will require more work than you’d like. Not everyone will always think you are wonderful.

However, when all is said and done, leaders are in the minority people in this world who get to actually influence the future.  They ultimately reap what they sow as a business and individual.  Leaders have the opportunity to make a real positive difference in the lives of their family, employees and community. Maybe even this world.  Leaders get to stretch their personal capabilities in ways others will never experience.   Theirs will be a life of their own making.  Aren’t the benefits of leadership worth a little scrutiny and criticism?  You need to have thick skin to lead others and it is almost always worth it!


Leadership Thought #382 – Dealing With Anger

Today I received some very disturbing news.  It was information that would make anyone angry.  There is nothing worse than betrayal especially when you have a long history with someone and have trusted them.  It never ceases to amaze me how people will rationalize their behavior and not take personal responsibility. The fact is that actions do have consequences and sadly there is often collateral damage to an individual’s behavior that can linger a lifetime and affect many people.   A pebble will cause a ripple in the ocean whether the act is good or bad – it is important to always remember this.

The question you have to ask yourself when this happens is, “what can I really do about it?”  Unless you are the police and the actions are illegal, you can’t control the behavior of another adult.   People have and will continue to act in thoughtless self-centered ways.  This is especially true of the “me” generation which elevates the wants and needs of the individual over the common good and basic moral behavior.  All you have to do is open the paper or listen to the latest bit of neighborhood gossip to find countless examples of bad or questionable behavior. 

Unfortunately getting angry for any prolonged period of time ends up hurting the victim much more than the perpetrator.  The latter probably gives the matter very little thought after it happens while the former may spend years in therapy dealing with it.  Many books of personal development will tell you that you need to reach a place of forgiveness to heal and move on.  I’m not sure I fully agree with this advice although I do think it’s important to reach a place of acceptance.   As part of this journey you should experience your feelings robustly instead of minimizing them or feeling bad about having a human reaction to a difficult life moment.  We all have them.

However, once you’ve allowed yourself to “feel” you eventually need to find a way to move on.  Do your best to avoid a revenge mentality.  You can’t let the person who is the cause of your anger or emotional pain win.  You need to be better than that.  The universe works in mysterious ways and I do believe in “karma.”   Ultimately all of us have to live with the consequences of our actions.  Positive energy begets further positive energy and negative energy does the same.  We can choose to accelerate the positive and decelerate the negative or the opposite. It all really is up to us.

David Whyte has a great quote where he says “never allow another person to define you in a way that is too small for you to live.”   I wholeheartedly agree with this bit of wisdom.  Ultimately prolonged or unchecked anger only leads a narrow definition of who you want to be in this world.  It is harmful to the psyche, damaging to the soul and detrimental to your physical health.  What should you do with your anger?  Experience it, accept it and push yourself to become a better not bitter person as a result of the experience.  If necessary seek out professional help.  It may be hard to deal with, but the alternative is not a good way for anyone live.

Leadership Thought #236 – Drop The Mask And Be Real

Too often in life we respond to situations the way we think we should rather than expressing our true feelings.  We build up walls around our emotions to prevent others from seeing our personal vulnerabilities.  It’s sad but most of us have grown up believing that our emotional reaction to something is either good or bad rather than part of being human.  One of the ways we do this is to overcompensate with the opposite emotion, e.g., fear turns into anger, disappointment is shrouded by acting like you don’t care, etc.

Unfortunately not being true to yourself and authentic with your emotions often leads to feelings of avoidance and repression which almost always leads to some level of unhappiness and/or dysfunctional behavior.  We also typically end up with the outcomes we do not want because others misread our intentions.

The reality is that how we feel about something isn’t wrong.  It’s how we act on these feelings that get us in trouble.   Being sad is okay.  Getting stuck in a rut of sadness and becoming morose and preventing any joy from entering your life is not okay.  Once any emotion begins to dominate your life and becomes a running theme that affects everything it is a time to seek professional help.  You can be “too much” of anything including being too happy.  No one can be upbeat all the time.  It is too exhausting to pull of and begins to appear as artificial and disingenuous.

I am a firm believe in the concept that your life is what you make of it.  Good and bad things happen to everyone.  What’s important is that you acknowledge your emotions regardless of the situation. Don’t rush too judgment about how you feel – simply allow yourself to experience it.  Be honest with yourself and others when this happens.  This doesn’t mean you turn every encounter into an exchange of emotions, however, when it is something significant you should be open and genuine about it.  There are also many situations where you will be able to work whatever you are going through alone as long as you allow yourself the emotional space for this to happen.  It is fact of life that the sooner you deal with anything challenging or difficult the easier it is to overcome or manage.  Drop the mask and be real!

Daily Leadership Thought #112 – Keep A Journal

I’ve been keeping a journal for years although admittedly there have been some long breaks in between entries at times.  It is a good discipline to develop.  Not only does journaling provide you with an opportunity for daily reflection, it also serves as an outlet for your feelings about what is taking place in your life at any given time.  Instead of keeping things “bottled up” inside, you now have a vehicle for emotional release (which is always the preferred alternative).  I’ve found it useful and enlightening to go back and read my entries from both difficult and happy periods to watch the arc of my journey and how I ended up processing things including making decisions and taking action.

There is no one approach that works best for everyone.  I ask myself the same four questions every time I make an entry:

1) What went well today? Why?

2) What didn’t go well today? Why?

3) What positive changes (if any) do I need to make given what happened today?

4) What is my biggest lesson from the day?

It’s amazing what focusing on basic questions like this on regular basis will do for you. It will help you identify trends and patterns of your own behavior and how you cope.  It will give you sense of how the people around you affect your quality of life.  It will capture the lessons you learn along the way.  And, it will keep a record of the daily triumphs and struggles that mark your own human narrative.  As I’ve stated in other blogs, I believe everyone’s life is a novel and we are all in the process of writing our own story.  Keeping a journal will allow you to put some of your story on paper.

Daily Leadership Thought #66 – Empathy Matters

Life can be difficult at times.  Whether it is business related or not, the people around you need to know you care about them.  This doesn’t mean you have step out of character or assume a new personality, but instead find your own way to let them know you appreciate what they are going through.  Your actions can be subtle or more direct.  The more important thing is that the emotional support genuinely represents you. 

It also doesn’t matter what you think regarding the relative significance of an event or struggle.  Individual experience will always begin as subjective.  One person’s mountain is another’s mole hill.  Life is simply harder for some people and its best to accept rather than resist this reality.  However, empathy doesn’t mean enabling a victim or “woe is me” mentality.  It means I care about you and what you are going through.  In the end we are all taking this journey of human existence together and accepting our common humanity makes the ride less bumpy…

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