What Others Think of You Doesn’t Matter; Until It Does
What Others Think of You Doesn’t Matter; Until It Does
Somewhere out there in the world is a quote, which has been attributed to many people in various forms, but here’s the one I came across most recently, and which I rather like: “The opinion that other people have of you is their problem, not yours” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Another variation is the ever-popular “what other people think of you is none of your business.”
When I first became acquainted with this idea, my heart resonated with it powerfully. There was such freedom and liberation in being told that the opinions held by others were not nearly as important as my own opinion of myself. I can totally get behind the wisdom of that, you know? That being said, I’ve come to believe that the quote needs to be tweaked a bit; because sometimes, the opinions of other people do matter. Here’s what I mean.
As an individual out there in the world who’s trying to do something, accomplish something, create something – whatever that “something” might be – your reputation is important. wWen it comes right down to it, your reputation is nothing more or less than the sum total of what others think of you, the opinions they hold. If a majority of people hold a similar opinion, and that opinion flies in the face of how you’d like to be experienced, that could be problematic. Why? Because there will be a gap between how you say you want to be experienced, and the actual prevailing experience of you.
If you go around in the world believing that the opinions of others are irrelevant, then you run the risk of being like an ostrich with your head in the sand, unaware of the reputation you’ve got in the community; or, perhaps more accurately, you’ll be completely aware of your reputation but unaware of the effect of that on the work you’re striving to do. This lack of awareness can result in your desired impact being less than it could be.
Is that what you want?
The best way to be with the opinions of others is to truly know yourself inside out and backwards. Know what matters to you, what you’re striving to create, the impact you’re working to have. Once you know this, you can show up with the express purpose of bringing all of this to life. And, if or when it comes to your attention that somebody’s opinion of you is less than desirable, or when those opinions fly in the face of who you’re trying to be, you can evaluate and determine how to move forward in a way that serves your vision.
Understand; I’m not for a moment suggesting that you need to take on the judgments of others, the insecurities of others, or even the opinions of others. Their opinions are in fact just those – their opinions. Knowing how those opinions line up or deviate from your own opinion of yourself, however, is important. When you can confidently articulate who you are and how you want to be experienced, you can address any deviations with the power of this confidence. You can question another’s opinion of you, without giving it validation. You can attempt to set the record straight, if it matters to you. And if it doesn’t, you can move on; but you’ll move on with integrity and wisdom, rather than with an attitude of “your problem, not mine.”
Bottom-line: pretending that the opinions of others are irrelevant to you is naïve. On the flip side, giving complete credence to the opinions of others is unnecessary. No matter who you are or what you’re up to in the world, your job is to know the impact you want to have, then pay attention to the feedback you get, and tweak as necessary. What others think of you does matter; it has to line up with who you are at your core. When your reputation matches your character, you’re definitely in the zone.
Mistake? Or Choice? Do You Know the Difference?
Twice is a pattern.
Years ago, I heard a colleague of mine say this and was struck by the truth of the statement. Patterns are often thought of as recurring more frequently than twice; and yet twice is, in fact, a pattern.
Recently, I’ve had opportunity to think of this idea as it relates to mistakes. I’m a big advocate of allowing space for mistakes, and fostering the learning that comes from them. Mistakes are tangible learning opportunities and need to be treated as such. That being said, how often can you repeat a mistake, before it’s not a mistake any longer?
Here’s what I mean. I recently read that “you can’t make the same mistake twice; the second time you make it, it’s no longer a mistake, it’s a choice.” And I stopped in my tracks. The truth of this statement is paradigm-shifting.
As leaders, we often allow folks repeated opportunities to learn from mistakes. To be clear, we allow repeated opportunities to learn from the SAME mistake, made more than once. What I’m slowly but surely coming to terms with is that, when the exact same mistake is made more than once, learning hasn’t actually transpired the first time. More importantly, it’s not likely to transpire after this second attempt –or the third. So long as someone is making the exact same mistake, they’re actually choosing to do what’s already been done. In other words, it’s a choice – not a mistake.
So, why does this matter?
As leaders, our job is to support folks in their learning and growth (as well as engaging in our own learning and growth!). When we notice that learning is not transferring – when we see folks choosing to make the same “mistake” repeatedly – we can consciously draw their attention to the repeated error. And we can ask the following question: what’s stopping you from doing things differently?
The answer to this question can be quite illuminating. It could point to a fear of trying something new; perhaps there’s a lack of understanding of HOW a different choice will yield a different result; or maybe folks are simply uncomfortable with change. Regardless of the answer, knowing it can be helpful in ensuring that mistakes aren’t repeated.
Bottom-line: mistakes made more than once are choices, not actual mistakes. As leaders, creating room for mistakes is one thing. Creating room for repeated mistakes, is a surefire way to undermine progress.
Leadership & Gratitude
Great leaders are grateful. And they express their gratitude. Great leaders understand that the expression of gratitude goes a long way to enriching any experience and garnering successful results.
It’s a well-known fact that people who feel appreciated work harder and deliver greater results than those who feel as though they’re not valued. Think about it: when you feel as though your efforts are valued, that your work is meaningful, that you’re not just a warm body taking up space or filling in a spot on the schedule, you are more likely to work with greater enthusiasm, right?
Great leaders know this. And they get deliberate about expressing gratitude.
How do you get deliberate about it? Here are a few strategies:
- Create a system in which you thank at least 5 folks a day for their contribution. This ensures that everyone feels appreciated over time.
- Host a luncheon at the end of a project or time frame, specifically as an expression of gratitude for everyone’s efforts.
- Make it a point to send thank you notes or emails when you notice something that has been beneficial to the team.
A few things to bear in mind as you strive to be more deliberate about expressing gratitude:
- Be sincere and specific, whenever possible. A generalized “thank you” is fine once in a while – and without specificity, it loses meaning and impact. Be specific; make it real.
- Be spontaneous. In other words, even when you have a system in place for expressing gratitude, make sure that you say thanks outside of the system as well. You don’t want gratitude to become rote.
- Deliver gratitude in person when possible – and look folks in the eye. Show them you are genuine in valuing their contribution to the workplace.
Bottom-line: folks don’t often think of the expression of gratitude as a leadership quality. And yet, great leaders know that showing appreciation for the people that surround you, is essential to increased productivity and boosting workplace morale. Model the art of gratitude; and savour the positive shift that comes with it.
Leaders Gotta Leap
This past summer, a new zipline ride of sorts opened up in Niagara Falls (on the Canadian side). The Mistrider allows riders to zip along towards the falls at a crazy height (and equally crazy speed, to some extent). The moment I saw that this ride was available, it went to the top of my summer bucket list.
Needless to say, I was super-excited when the opportunity arose to actually take part in this adventure!
In preparation for the ride, I did my research. I checked out all stats and watched videos of others riding the zipline. I ensured that, to the best of my ability, I knew what to expect. I also gave thought to who I wanted to ride with me; the end result was that my hubby, daughter and I would ride, and my son would video the whole thing.
As we approached the front of the line, my heart started to race. I became giddy with excitement. My daughter actually laughed at my childlike exuberance – I mean, I was actually giggling! What respectable 45 year old woman does that? (Me, I do that!)
When it was our turn to be harnessed in, I felt my nerves start to settle. And then, unexpectedly, my heart leapt into my throat, as I realized what I had just committed to. In one minute, the glass gate in front of me would open and there would be no turning back. And I knew, in that moment, that every fear I had about heights, about speed, about falling, about faulty carabineers, would all come racing to the forefront of my brain. Which meant I absolutely had to give myself over to the process and trust.
So that’s what I did. Following a split second of panic, I allowed myself to mentally leap into the space of trust and go where this ride would take me.
The result? The most exhilarating feeling of surrender and freedom and joy and accomplishement all at once.
For me, this experience held a leadership lesson. Too often, leaders rise to the challenge in front of them, walk to the edge of what’s known – and then stop short. What lies ahead is unknown, uncharted territory and for all anyone knows, anything and everything could go to hell in a hand basket. Or it could all go very, very right.
When you as leader are standing on the edge of the unknown, you need to take a breath, trust in the preparations you’ve made up to this point, trust in the folks you’ve gathered around you, and leap.
Notice the implications of what I’ve said there. You’ve got to have done some prep work. You’ve got to make sure that the people around you – colleagues, employees, clients – are folks you trust. And then, you’ve got to let go and leap.
If you don’t leap, then you’ll remain stuck. Your process will be stuck. Your project, whatever it is, will be stuck. And stuck does not serve.
If, however, you DO leap, then everything will move forward. You WILL get to where you want to go, because you’ve actually created the circumstances to facilitate that.
Bottom-line: as a leader, you have got to ensure that you create the right conditions for success. Having done that, you will face a moment when the only thing left for you to do is leap. Leap into the unknown, leap into what’s next, leap to success. Because without that leap, you will stay stuck. And staying stuck will never get you anywhere.
I Quit!– Leading When You Want to Throw in the Towel
Every leader has been there at one point or another. That space where all you want to do is quit.
Everyone from everywhere wants a piece of you.
Nothing – like, NOTHING – is going right.
Nobody is listening.
You’re surrounded by complaints.
Problems seem to be multiplying.
You’ve given your all, and it seems to have been for naught.
Any progress you thought you were making has stalled.
Curveballs are coming from everywhere.
And any support systems you’d put in place have suddenly disappeared.
Honestly. In these moments, throwing in the towel would seem to be the most sane option. I mean, who could blame you?
I’ve been in this space a few times in recent weeks. It’s not comfortable. It’s not fun. And it sure as heck is NOT what I would have anticipated even a few months ago.
As leaders, when we take it upon ourselves to tackle a situation, to deal with a challenge, we expect that at some point, our efforts will bear fruit.
And sometimes, that just doesn’t happen. So, what are you supposed to do?
Many would argue that throwing in the towel is the logical, understandable next step. And it might be. My sense, however, is that before you throw in the towel, there is one more approach that just might turn things around.
It’s time to chunk it. And here’s what I mean.
In those moments of extreme overwhelm, when anything and everything seems to be going wrong, part of what’s happening is that you’re looking at things through a wide-angle lens. You’re seeing everything, and some of what you’re seeing is distracting to say the least.
Narrowing your scope of vision can help to eliminate some of the distraction. And by doing so, you can start to tackle “bite-size” chunks of the problem instead of the whole problem. This is what it means to “chunk it”.
Now, before you chunk it, there are two other steps to take. The first is to walk away. Whatever is staring you in the face and causing you to feel like it’s time to yell “I quit!” walk away from that. Go for a stroll around the block. Or go sit on a park bench. Or just close your office door, close your eyes, and take a mental trip to the beach. Walking away is about removing yourself, as much as possible, from that which is sending you spinning.
Having walked away, now breathe. Deeply. Several times. Each time you breathe, exhale angst and inhale calm. Slow your mind down.
Now you can look at the problem with fresh eyes. And ask yourself, what ONE THING can I tackle? What ONE THING can I do? What ONE THING can I address? Whatever your answer, do that. No more, and no less. Once that is done, move on to the next ONE THING.
Sometimes, there might be nothing you can do. And that is okay. Keep breathing. Keep working on other things that need your attention. Allow things to unfold.
Bottom-line: all leaders will hit the “I wanna quit” moment at some point or another. It’s okay; in many ways, it speaks to your passion. Recognize it as a sign to pull back a bit, stop trying to do it all, and regroup. It may well be time to hand over the reins. However, deciding to do so from a space of grounded presence is always better than throwing in the towel. In the face of overwhelm, remember to breathe, step away, and chunk it. Small chunks are easier to manage.
Leadership, Impact & Responsibility: How Do These Go Together?
Years ago, I learned about an important leadership relationship. The significance of this particular relationship has been profound in my world, shifting the way I lead and am led. In the wake of learning this lesson, I have been so cognizant of this particular relationship that I cringe when I see other leaders ignoring it.
One of the most significant leadership relationships is that between impact and responsibility.
It’s true that in and of themselves these concepts are essential to effective leadership. Leaders need to be aware of their impact. And leaders need to be responsible for what happens around them. Too often, however, leaders ignore taking responsibility for the impact that they have on the space around them. By failing to do so, they create tension, rifts and angst where such qualities need not be.
Last week, I had a great experience of this. Sitting in a meeting in which a difficult topic was being addressed, the leader of the meeting was answering questions and addressing concerns. Despite the difficult content, the meeting itself was going very well. The leader was sensitive, transparent and open in her dialogue. Until she wasn’t.
There came a moment where, on the heels of an answer she had provided, a participant asked if she could add something. Without explanation, the leader said “no”. Moreover, she said it in a firm tone, without making eye contact with the questioner, and without looking at anyone else in the group. The group as a whole giggled nervously; the one who asked permission let it go. And you could feel the collective air in the room get sucked out. People held their breath and waited to see what would happen next.
What I recognized in that moment was that the issue – the sense of angst – wasn’t so much about the denial of the request. After all, simply put, permission was asked and denied. The angst was around how the request was denied, and the lack of context around it.
So, what could have been done differently?
The leader could have spoken to her decision, providing a context for it. Or, assuming that such a context would somehow have been inappropriate, she could have acknowledged that her denial had created tension and that the group needed to trust that that wasn’t her intent. Or, she could have changed her body language to soften the delivery. Eye contact alone can soften impact.
All of this, of course, requires an awareness of impact and a willingness to be responsible for it. As I indicated, for all intents and purposes the meeting continued without anyone rumbling – and at the same time the sense of angst was palpable. Any questions that were asked after that exchange were asked with trepidation. Which means that something was lost that didn’t have to be.
Here’s the bottom-line folks: as leaders, we know (or we should know) we have an impact. Moreover, it matters. And if our goal is to be truly effective leaders, then we must take responsibility for the impact that we have – always. Leadership, impact and responsibility are inextricably entwined.
Leadership and Setting Boundaries: Why It Doesn’t Work
As leaders, there is so much for which we are responsible. At times, it can feel as though the troubles and challenges of the whole world are on our shoulders. It’s as though every challenge that arises, every dilemma that is faced by anyone within your team needs YOUR input, expertise or suggestion to resolve.
Leaders are often seen as the ones with all the answers.
The challenge, of course, is that as leaders we generally collude with this perception. When someone comes to us with a challenge or problem, there’s a tendency to, in fact, solve it. Sometimes this is done because we’re flattered; sometimes it’s done in the interest of time (it’ll take too long to allow the solution-seeker to solve the problem on his own); sometimes it’s done out of habit. Regardless of the reason, when leaders provide solutions rather than source solutions, they unwittingly feed the story that they alone can be problem solvers. And so the burden builds.
Boundaries are the key to avoiding the problem-solving burden of leadership.
In any leadership development program, you will be told that truly effective leaders draw good boundaries. They tell people what they can and cannot approach them with, what challenges to bring their way and what to handle on their own. And, in my experience, in practical application, the drawing of boundaries is not enough. In and of themselves, boundaries are ineffective at lifting the leadership burden.
In order for boundaries to work, you have to stand by them, consistently.
This is where too many folks fail. It’s easy enough to say, “my expectation is that you will __________.” What’s hard to do is stand by that expectation when it isn’t met. Need an example? Imagine that, in an effort to increase your own self-care, you establish a “closed-door” time period in your day. This block of time is set up to ensure that you get 30 minutes of time that you dedicate expressly to eating lunch, meditating, and going for a walk (or whatever is suitable to your situation). The rule is, while your door is closed, no interruptions. For the remainder of the day, you hold an open door policy. Seems simple enough, right? One would think.
The first time you close your door (after having told everyone about your new boundary), there’s a knock after 5 minutes. Someone “needs” you to deal with a scenario. “Need” is a powerful word – it implies an indispensability on your part and it can be a powerful lure. You have two options here: succumb to the lure, or stand by your boundary. Too many leaders follow the first choice – which is why boundaries, in and of themselves, DO NOT WORK.
It takes courage to stand by your boundaries.
It takes confidence, and a belief that your boundaries actually serve the big picture. You’ve got to understand that boundaries, effectively articulated and consistently honoured actually make for smooth-running systems. If you want to relieve the perceived burden of leadership to some degree, then it’s time to start HONOURING boundaries, not simply establishing them.
Bottom-line: boundaries are good things. And, they cannot work if you don’t enforce them. Without enforcement, they’re not boundaries, they’re suggestions. And they add to your burden rather than decrease them. Establish your boundaries and honour them. This is the key to more ease-filled leadership.
The One Question You Must Ask When Things Go Wrong
No matter who you are, where you work, or what you’re working toward, at some point things will go wrong. As a leader, the sooner you can get your head around this idea, the better for all concerned.
Human nature being what it is, our general tendency when things go wrong is to look for someone to blame. And if we’re not looking for someone to blame, we’re certainly looking for a CAUSE of some sort – some circumstance that resulted in mistakes.
In and of itself, this search isn’t problematic. After all, if you don’t look for the source of the problem, you can’t very well remedy the situation. That being said, most of us stop short of asking one critical question. And avoiding this question pretty much guarantees that the problem will never be fully resolved.
How did I contribute to this problem?
This is the question that every leader has got to get comfortable with. Whether you’re talking about a budget oversight, a scheduling snafoo, a missed deadline, an agenda going off the rails, or something else altogether, when a problem arises, leaders must be prepared to get curious about their role in it.
Admittedly, for many people, this is hard to swallow. And, truth be told, there may well be times where a leader’s role in a problematic scenario was negligible or, in fact, non-existent. Until you ask the question, however, you cannot know this for sure.
Too many leaders assume that the problems around them arose solely as a result of others’ mistakes. In many cases however, there was a way in which a leader’s presence (or lack thereof), choices, decisions, directions, expectations, etc; played a part. By holding the question, “how did I contribute to this problem?” with a curious energy, leaders can model what it is to be accountable, and take corrective action to ensure similar problems don’t arise in the future.
Don’t get me wrong; if you didn’t do something wrong, then there’s nothing for you to own. More often than not, however, there is something that a leader can take responsibility for, that would result in a different outcome going forward.
Bottom-line: in every relationship, all parties bear responsibility for whatever outcome transpires. In the case of problems arising, all folks – leaders included – need to look at their role in those very problems coming about. Getting curious about one’s contribution to a problematic scenario is far more productive than playing the blame game.
The Key to Being a Flexible Leader
One of the qualities of a great leader is the ability to be flexible.
Leaders who are flexible are those who are able to adapt their ideas to fit with the circumstances at hand. Flexible leaders have a clear vision, and go with the flow when it comes to bringing that vision to life. Leaders who the ability to be flexible are those who listen to their teams, finding ways to blend and incorporate diverse thoughts, rather than ignoring the ideas of others in favor of their own.
Generally speaking, flexibility is a quality that is much admired in leaders. People like to feel like their requests will be accommodated, their ideas will be considered, their thoughts will be given merit. Flexibility – otherwise known as the ability to accommodate – and effective leadership go hand-in-hand.
It is possible, however, for flexibility to be an undesirable leadership trait.
When flexibility starts to look like “wishy-washiness”, things can quickly go off the rails. This usually happens when a leader becomes more concerned with being liked, than leading effectively. In other words, when leaders confuse flexibility with likeability, problems arise.
The ability to be flexible is not about ensuring that people like you. Instead, flexibility – or the ability to accommodate – is about understanding that as a leader you might not have all the answers, and that others may well have ideas that can enhance, enrich and evolve direction. From this understanding, when one is flexible, choices and decisions are made in service of the team’s big-picture agenda.
So, how do you know when your desire to be flexible is actually serving the team’s agenda? It boils down to your motivation. If, as a leader, you feel called to be flexible because you don’t want to upset someone, you’re not really be flexible, you’re striving to be likeable. If, however, the flexibility you want to demonstrate comes from a belief that a change in plan will serve the bigger picture, then you’re on the right track.
Bottom-line: as a leader, being flexible can be a very good thing – unless you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Flexibility that moves your team closer to its agenda is what is called for. Anything else is likely about winning popularity – and that will always end in tears.
Cut to the Chase: How Brevity Makes Communication Better
Wah wah wah wah wah.
Admit it. You have been in conversations where that is all you’ve heard. You’ve zoned out. And when asked for a response, you couldn’t give one. Odds are there was so much detail being provided that you got lost. This scenario happens a LOT. And as leaders it’s a scenario you’d best avoid.
Leadership requires clear communication.
Often, we confuse clarity with details. While details can be helpful, they can also create murkiness. From a leadership standpoint, your communication must provide NECESSARY details, without traveling into that murky space.
The ability to “bottom-line” is the key.
Bottom-lining is the art of saying what’s needed – nothing more and nothing less. Bottom-lining keeps things simple. You assume a certain level of competence and understanding. You give listeners credit for being able to ask for more information, if they need it. In short, you trust yourself to share what you need, and your listeners to ask for what they need.
So, what is it that prompts us to “overshare”?
Simply put, we don’t create containers that are conducive to clear communication. Instead, we create environments where we are constantly moving. We don’t give people time to share. Within this framework, there’s a fear that something will get overlooked – so we try to cram everything into the time and space we have, which leads to detail-overload.
What’s the solution?
Slow down. Think. Trust.
It’s a simple process – and it’s an effective one. It’s about being present to what is – the question being asked, the problem being presented, the person looking for a solution. Then, as the old adage says, think before you speak. Say only what needs to be said. And trust that it’s all that’s needed.
Bottom-line: details aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. When used in excess, they can actually be more trouble than they’re worth. So cut to the chase, and allow the rest to unfold.