Truth never goes out of style

Truth never goes out of style

friend of truth

 

“Oh, come on. It’s just a little white lie. Why are you making such a big deal out of it?”

“Because it’s a lie, and it’s not so little.”

“Dude, you’re never going to get anywhere with that mindset. Sometimes you just have to stretch the truth. Everyone does it.”

Does everyone lie?

Well, kinda. Research about lies and truth doesn’t tell a reassuring story:

  • Psychologist Robert Feldman has studied lying for more than a decade. His research isn’t reassuring—60% of people lie during a typical 10-minute conversation and that they average two to three lies during that short timeframe.
  • USC psychologist Jerald Jellison determined that people are lied to about 200 times a day.
  • A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that 25 percent of the time, people lied for someone else’s sake.

This (and other) research doesn’t square very well with a survey done by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge authors. They found that the most valued leadership quality is honesty. It led by a mile, signaling that integrity, truthfulness, and authenticity are hallmarks of character-based leaders.

To riff on an old AmEx tag line, honesty, integrity, and authenticiy are attributes no leader should leave home without.

Honesty consists of the unwillingness to lie to others; maturity, which is equally hard to attain, consists of the unwillingness to lie to oneself. ~Sydney J. Harris

If you’re a leader who sees value in truth and honesty, here’s seven things you can do to keep them front and center in leading yourself and others.

7 ways to keep truth front and center

 

1) Hold yourself and those on your team accountable for full truthfulness instead of what author Ralph Keyes calls “ledger-book” morality.

Ethics are judged on a sliding scale…If we add up truths and lies we’ve told and find more of the former than the latter, we classify ourselves honest…Conceding that his magazine soft-pedaled criticism of advertisers, one publisher concluded, ‘I guess you could say we’re 75 percent honest, which isn’t bad.’~Ralph Keyes

2) Encourage healthy debate and diversity of thought, opinion, and perspective. The most effective leaders encourage differing points of view and are careful not to position those who disagree as being wrong, a loser, or not likeable. They discourage groupthink and refrain from shooting the messenger.

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.~Niels Bohr

3) Watch for opinions that masquerade as facts, and correct them when they get conflated.

4) Be transparent. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Hidden agendas serve no one well. Own up, not double down on, being wrong.

Leaders who are candid and predictable—they tell everyone the same thing and don’t continually revise their stories—signal to followers that the rules of the game aren’t changing and that decisions won’t be made arbitrarily. Given that assurance, followers become more willing to stick their necks out, make an extra effort, and put themselves on the line to help their leaders achieve goals. ~ James O’Toole and Warren Bennis

5) Make sharing the truth easy to do. Recognize and reward those who have the courage and candor to speak truthfully.

6) Welcome both/and polarities and manage the interdependent tensions that exist between them. Dr. Jean Lipman-Blumen says leaders must manage overlapping visions, mutual problems, and common goals and the diverse nature of individuals, groups, and organizations. Difference isn’t an untruth; it’s the new normal.

People with different lifestyles and different backgrounds challenge each other more. Diversity creates dissent, and you need that. Without it, you’re not going to get any deep inquiry or breakthroughs. ~ Paul Block, CEO of Merisant

7) Don’t give yourself a hall pass by believing your little lies are OK while those of others are unacceptable. Practice the South African philosophy of “ubuntu.”

[Ubuntu is] the essence of being human…it embraces hospitality, caring about others, being able to go the extra mile for the sake of others. We believe that a person is a person through another person, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably with yours. When I dehumanize you, I inexorably dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms and therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in belonging. ~ Desmond Tutu, social rights activist

Untruths move from the fringe to the mainstream when we allow them to do so. It’s up to us whether or not we allow that to happen.

I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody. ~Lily Tomlin

 

Image before quote by Scott Webb from Pixabay

 

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What conflict and courage have in common

What conflict and courage have in common

leverage conflict

 

Just like spring breezes and pollen, conflict is in the air.

Contentious attitudes are everywhere. We find them in the media, in workplaces, in our social media feeds, in the streets, between friends, and at the dinner table. Civility and respect for other’s rights to have their opinions are beginning to feel as outdated as a wall calendar.

A number of people have shared how they’re struggling to stay calm and deal with the friction and discord swirling around them.

I’m struggling with that, too. You?

I’m also struggling with discovering I didn’t know people I thought I knew. It’s been hurtful to be on the receiving end of their unpleasant attacks. Their darkness tugs at some dark spot in me that cries out to respond in kind.

Lessons from a wise man

That feeling isn’t new. I experienced it back when I worked in labor relations and contentious was the flavor of the day, every day.

Joe had been a labor relations attorney longer than I was old and was willing to help me learn the ropes. The first lesson he taught me was how to disagree without being disagreeable; the second was not to make things personal by attacking others.

He believed conflict wasn’t logical or rational but rather emotional and relational. What we think shapes how we feel and act. For many, feelings become facts.

The same issues that lead to protracted conflict (e.g. values, status, and identify), are also the triggers of strong emotions. People who feel ‘unfairly attacked, misunderstood, wronged, or righteously indignant’ are typically overcome with emotion and respond with hostility and aggression. ~Michelle Maiese, Emotions, Beyond Intractability

Joe said only a silly person believed they could ever solve a conflict based in differences of opinion or perspective. He said people needed to accept that, in those situations, conflict is a fact of life. His wise counsel for dealing clashes of interests:

  • See conflict as something ongoing that needs to be managed; not exterminated like termites.
  • Aim for a constructive, goal-oriented solution that gives everyone a small win.
  • Strive for outcomes that improve performance.
  • Look to advance the greater good; there’s something bigger than all of us out there.
  • Accept that differences of thought, opinion, and perspective are both healthy and uncomfortable.
  • Handled without skill, patience, or compassion, conflict can easily become ugly, leaving people frustrated and angry. Don’t go there. Find a way to let respect over-rule self-righteous anger.
  • Take the high road and be productive, not the low, unproductive one.

Imagine you’re a party to a conflict that’s flared up because of differing principles and values. Think about what you would normally do when you feel your needs, interests, or concerns are threatened. Then, take a look at the table below.

If more of your actions fall on the left side of the table, take a step back and reflect. It’s likely you’re not letting people feel heard, respected, or free to voice a dissenting opinion. Aren’t those things you’d want people to do for you?

How conflict makes us productive…or not

Unproductive Productive
Refuses to see other’s position Open to exploring another point of view
Respond with anger or accusations Respond calmly and respectfully
Becomes defensive Acknowledges thoughts or feelings and doesn’t try to justify
Reasons or argues others out of their invalid thoughts and feelings Approaches issues with facts, not emotions, saying when you do xx in this situation, I feel yy
Withdraws love and compassion Continues to care and be compassionate
Nonverbal communications (facial expressions; posture; gestures; pace, tone, and intensity of voice) are hostile Nonverbals are agreeable, pleasant, nonthreatening, and friendly
Focuses on winning and losing Understands that success is more than a score or coming out on top
Passionately defends individual power and rights Seeks mutual interests
Dredges up the past Focuses on the here-and-now and the future
Refuses to let go of any contrary issue Knows when to pick a battle
Makes it personal Doesn’t let things become personal
Always goes with the gut; doesn’t see the need to research or seek to understand Gets the facts from checking multiple sources
Denies being wrong Shows courage and openness to being wrong
Co-mingles and conflates people and problems Respects people, attacks the problem
Jumps to conclusions Gathers additional information before deciding
Intolerant of differences Welcomes differences
Refuses to negotiate or compromise Aims for inclusive consensus
Is eager to escalate, exaggerate, or embellish Stays level-headed and keeps to the facts
Demands my-way-or-the-highway allegiance Commits to working together to work it out
Presumes that others will live up to and/or accept their expectations Gives others room to have their own expectations

 

Whenever I’m facing a vocal someone who passionately sees things differently than I do and who’s starting to get under my skin because all they can say is that I’m wrong, wrong, wrong, I take a step back and think—thanks to Joe all those years ago.

I know I can’t control the other person’s response, but I’m in total control of mine.

I have to understand and respect that I’m never going to change someone else. Only they can do that.

I have endeavored to remember that the object of life is to do good. ~Peter Cooper, industrialist and philanthropist 

 

Image source before quote added: Pixabay

 

 

 

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Ready to create a reaction chain of goodness?

Ready to create a reaction chain of goodness?

leadership goodness

“You are a total idiot! No one in their right mind thinks that way.”

The conversation coming from the group at the far end of the coffee shop had kept getting louder and louder. Everyone knew they were talking about immigration.

The “idiot” fellow had shared that immigrants deserved compassion. From the spirited debate and name-calling his words produced, it was obvious he was in the minority.

I’d recently been involved in a similar but way less passionate discussion regarding leadership, i.e., that my conversation partner believed the best ones kicked butt and took names. I believe the best leaders practice tough empathy, that they’re both tough and tender.

Why are caring and connection so threatening?

Time for research.

I looked into emotion, fear, love, neuroscience, psychology, leadership, and change management.

Machiavelli’s words about fear—that it was more reliable because it can be “maintained by dread of punishment, which never fails” and that “it was safer to be feared than loved” popped up several places.

Safer. Fascinating word choice. Machiavelli didn’t say fear was better than love, just safer.

Funny how a single word can unlock a whole new line of pondering. What is unsafe about caring?

Expressing love makes us vulnerable—we have to get close; fear can be elicited from a distance.

Detachment doesn’t ask for an emotional investment, empathy does.

Reaching out is harder and riskier than walking away.

Fear and love aren’t forever either/or choices, though. We really need them both, no matter what we’re doing in life, love, and leadership.

Context matters.

Sometimes we need a warm heart; others times a cool head. Sometimes we need the boot in the bottom, other times it’s warm hug. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree, choosing not to be ugly towards those who see things differently.

How do we learn to not default to fear but rather to first seek to understand and then do what’s right for the situation?

I found these words from Umair Haque, author, economist, Director of the London-based Havas Media Lab that helped me answer that question:

Those who truly wish to be leaders in an age of discontent—not merely its demagogues, bullies, hecklers, and tyrants—will have to turn reject and refuse ruling through fear, and toward leading with love.

 

Leading through love means overcoming the ever-present temptation to abuse and belittle people, to guilt and shame them, to mock and taunt them — to force them into line.

 

It means creating the conditions for them to grow into following the principles that you espouse. It means not just arguing tendentiously with nor patronizingly explaining to people things that they are not ready to, equipped to, nor prepared to understand, but putting faith in people — even those who damn you — first, always, everywhere.

Wow. Those are some powerful thoughts on getting right with fear and love.

After reading Umair’s words, I thought about the fellas in the coffee shop and my colleague and I.

In those situations, no one was getting through to anyone. No heads or hearts were being changed. All we all were doing was making noise. Rattling our sabers of fear, certainly not extending compassion or empathy.

To find the sweet spot of respect without defaulting to either fear or love, it’s necessary to:

  • Respect other’s right to think, feel, and act differently.
  • Accept that we’re not always right.
  • Not allow evil and hatred to make us numb to what’s good, paraphrasing Henry Adam’s remark that evil is done by those who think they are doing good.
  • Be mindful when words and phrases like either/or, should, or need to be control our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
  • Assure we’re practicing both logic and emotion as we chart our lives.

My promise to myself: to replace my wagging finger with grace and aim for creating a reaction chain of goodness.

Image credit before quote added: Pixabay

 

 

 

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Women can be both good leaders and good women

Women can be both good leaders and good women

good women

 

Ever have one of those days at work when you feel like you just can’t win?

Like you left the job interview last week feeling proud that you’d finally done a good job at presenting your accomplishments. Today you learn you didn’t get the job because you’re “too aggressive.”

Like you counter-offered a higher starting salary—only to see the job offer be rescinded because that’s “not how team players work.”

Like you stepped up as you’ve been advised and took credit for your good work. You made your case and asked to be paid fairly. And got shot down.

What’s going on???

Gender bias.

Those on the receiving end of your interactions tapped into their gender bias and concluded you were acting too masculine. Men, not women, talk about their accomplishments and expect to be paid at or above market.

Because of gender norms and bias, we expect leaders to be assertive, forceful, competitive, demanding, task-oriented, and self-assured—all actions society associates with masculinity.

Women, on the other hand, are expected to be modest, friendly, warm, supportive, and unselfish.

So, when a woman speaks confidently about her abilities or negotiates for more money for herself, she’s messing with people’s minds. Men are the ones who take charge, not women. Women take care.

Alice Eagly, a professor of psychology and management at Northwestern, says that leadership paradigms make it hard for a woman to be both a good leader and a good woman. So true and so awful.

Leadership practices need to change so that both men and women take care and take care.

That day is still in the future, which means we have to deal with gender biases today.

Dealing with the disconnect means women need to continue self-promoting and negotiating—keeping one foot in femininity and the other is masculinity.

3 ways good women leaders bridge the gender gap

 

Here’s how that works:

  • Start a conversation with your boss by asking how things are going for them (feminine) and then segue into about one of your recent work accomplishments (masculine). As you share your achievement, include a few details about how the team, company, department, the boss, etc., benefited by what you did. Demonstrating the advantages to others offsets your self-assurance with the cultural expectation of modesty.
  • Thoughtfully flex when using your pronouns. Especially “I” and “we.” Don’t shy away from using “I” when outlining your actions in successfully managing a sales project to positive results (masculine). Sprinkle the conversation with a few “we” remarks as you describe how the team contributed (feminine). Using both pronouns balances competitiveness externally with unselfishness.
  • Tactfully saying “no” or disagreeing (masculine), and gracefully offer an alternate solution or position (feminine). Offering help shows friendliness alongside assertive confidence.

Feeling a little annoyed about having to take the added step?

That’s OK, but try to look at from the perspective of laying the groundwork to level the leadership playing field as worth the extra effort. Women are the strangers in a strange land that unconsciously (sometimes consciously, too) favors the masculine.

This means—until the day arrives when a woman can be assertive and a man compassionate without raising eyebrows—that we need to be “double agent” while working behind the scenes to change the rules of the game.

Being too masculine stops us in our tracks: he’s assertive, she’s pushy. Relying only on the feminine derails us, too: she doesn’t have what it takes.

Women get caught up in negative stereotypes about women, too. We can be quick to point a finger. Who does she think she is?! What a pushy broad!

Ingrained biases die hard, however, we have to police ourselves so we can advance the cause.

That means valuing masculine attributes the same as the feminine ones.

When that happens, a woman who self-promotes and negotiates for herself isn’t doing something unusual, she’s simply doing business as usual.

Image credit before quote added: Pixabay

 

 

 

 

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5 leadership gifts that keep giving

5 leadership gifts that keep giving

leadership gifts

It would be great, wouldn’t it, if chocolate was one of the four food groups?

That’s an idea I’ve suggested (just a wee bit tongue in cheek) for lots of years. Despite my extreme fondness for chocolate, though, I don’t indulge every day. Some days I want a different treat. Why? The joy of variety.

Over a caffe mocha (of course!), a friend and I were discussing the general state of world affairs, which led to talking about success, civility, inclusion, leadership, and respect. My friend and I both worked in corporate America for many years, sometimes at the same company at the same time.

None of our corporate employers were interested in the joy of variety; they were interested in only one flavor—numbers.  Reports, meetings, discussions, performance evaluations, etc., centered around the bottom line. We were ambitious, so we conformed and played along in valuing results more than relationships. Today, the memories—and shame—of my complicity haunt me.

If you love chocolate like I do, imagine how frustrating it would be to walk into ice cream parlor after ice cream parlor to find that vanilla was the only flavor sold. If you own an ice cream parlor and love vanilla, imagine how wearisome it would be to have to deal with those people “who can’t get with the program” and keep demanding chocolate.

Don’t these situations parallel what many people encounter when they go to work? The expectation to do things “one way” or else? The pressure to conform or else? The frustration? No wonder employee engagement is at an all-time low.

Having standardized business processes and procedures makes good business sense; otherwise, there’s confusion and chaos. But standardized everything, the one flavor approach from processes to thinking to doing leaves no room for joy of variety (the 31 flavors!) in thought, opinion, perspective, and experience that brings zest to life, love, and leadership.

Being ‘right’ is the easy part. Finding the ‘rightness’ within the opposite point of view is the challenge. ~Barry Johnson, author Polarity Management

One corporate boss was extreme in his preference for numbers and results. I struggled with his unyielding orientation.

As you might imagine, that boss and I had our challenges. While our approaches were different, we had the advantage of liking and respecting each other. Our spirited debates were sometimes epic.

Over time we realized our region was most successful when there was a focus on both results and relationships. Our path of learning to accept “multiple flavors” was a bumpy yet rewarding one filled with lessons, loud voices, and laughter as we learned about our blind spots and tested our tolerance for seeing beyond our own preferences.

5 leadership gifts that keep giving and giving

While that boss and I learned many things, five items made a profound difference in how we approached one other, issues, and those around us.

We learned:

1) To be mindful about using the word should. Thoughts about what should be introduce personal bias, which reduces open-mindedness, which in turn increases right versus wrong arguments, which leads to reduced opportunity and morale.

2) To replace the word or with “and.” Either/or thinking zaps innovation and inclusion; both/and thinking boosts them. Using “and” expands comfort zones, too. That boss and I discovered that we usually preferred one side of “or” to the other. However, when we considered the big picture, it became easy to see that the words existing on either side of the word or were both equally important over time, like results and relationships.

3) To be curious. Taking Walt Whitman’s advice to be curious, not judgmental, was a game changer. We learned more, reduced bias, and had fun seeing things we would have missed before.

4) To pay attention to our hot buttons. When people or events set us off, we reflected instead of reacting, which made a positive difference in us as leaders and people.

5) To express gratitude and appreciation. We discovered that letting go of being the all-knowing tough guy who’s got everything under control is liberating, that recognizing others is great fun, and that focusing on what we had instead of what we didn’t have lightened the mental and emotional load.

Instead of contradicting each other’s view, the task is to supplement each other’s view in order to see the whole picture. Each of them has key pieces to the puzzle. Paradoxically, opposition becomes resource. ~Barry Johnson, author Polarity Management

Five little big things made all the difference in us becoming “31 flavors” leaders and, more importantly, better people—a gift to ourselves and others that keeps giving.

 

Image credit before quote added: Pixabay

 

 

 

 

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