“Let me take a look at your Twitter profile,” offered my table companion. We were attending a Chamber-sponsored event on how to make the most of social media. “That’s my area of expertise, and I’m happy to offer up a style suggestion or two. Maybe you’ll decide to become a client.”
Curious, I took him up on his offer.
A few days later, I received an email from him that read in part:
The biggest problem with your Twitter account is that you follow too many people. Your following count makes you look less authoritative and diminishes the value of your message. Be selective and exclusive in who you follow. Think of it as a hierarchy of prestige. I suggest you curate who you’re following and drop those who aren’t influencers or a recognized name. You want to look superior, distinguished, and special, not ordinary.
His advice disturbed me. For lots of reasons.
My dad taught me to be confident yet humble. One of his favorite put-downs for someone acting “high and mighty” was to say, “he forgets we all put our pants on the same way.”
There’s no “hierarchy of prestige” in that mindset. Just common sense and goodness.
In one study, two-thirds of the participants agreed with the statement, deep down, you enjoy feeling superior to others. Lots of other studies contain similar findings. There’s even a name for the mental state of thinking you’re superior to others—the self-enhancement effect.
Research shows the self-enhancement effect is most pronounced with moral characteristics. What does that mean? It means we not only see our abilities as above average, but we also see ourselves as more moral, just, trustworthy, loyal, etc., than our peers. That’s too big for your britches territory.
Self-enhancement thinking can lead to self-righteousness. That’s problematic.
My interpretation of the consultant’s recommendation? He wanted me to position myself as being better than other people. Special. Elite. Exclusive.
Creating such a narrative about myself smacked of arrogance and narrow-mindedness, not messages I wanted to convey or even let myself believe. Other social media experts advocate the same approach to those you follow back. For me, curating those I follow back to create an image of exclusivity and superiority felt inauthentic and dishonest.
“What is intellectual honesty? It means always seeking the truth regardless of whether or not it agrees with your own personal beliefs.” ~Perry Tam, CEO Storm8
A very thin line exists between confidence and arrogance. Not crossing that line requires vigilance, commitment, and self-awareness. Curiosity, a desire for humility, a sense of humor, and being kind to ourselves and others are involved, too.
Authenticity over style
Maintaining intellectual honesty and avoiding the trap of self-righteousness requires a few do’s and a couple of don’ts if we’re going to lead ourselves and others with grace and goodness.
Respect others as equals.
Be willing to listen to opposing points of view.
Check our ego at the door.
Be confident without being arrogant.
Judge or label people.
Accept our presumed superiority.
Attack people who hold different beliefs.
Be something we’re not.
I thanked the consultant for taking the time to look over my Twitter account and for sharing his thoughts. He asked if I wanted to become a client so I could capitalize on more of his experience and increase my influencer status.
“No, thank you,” I replied.
“I think you’re making a mistake, so may I ask why you’re not interested?”
“Of course. I walk to a different drummer. I want to be seen as knowledgeable, not superior. Accessible, not exclusive. Kind, not elite. If that means people judge me as not being distinguished, then so be it. They wouldn’t be my target audience, anyway. I’ll take substance over style any day.”
“Have it your way,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders and walked away. Convinced, I’m guessing, of my lack of superiority. I’m good with that.
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.
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.
“After the first finger was pointed, the meeting went downhill fast,” said a distressed friend describing a really awful day at work.
“Everyone was in a race to the bottom to throw each other under the bus. Such hateful things were said that I wanted to disappear.”
What a lost opportunity! Imagine if someone had stepped up and stopped the downward spiral with what I call the “Charleston approach.”
That’s choosing to act with grace, curiosity, appreciation, and kindness.
That’s what the family members of the victims of the horrific Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina did a year ago.
In facing the one who took the lives of their loved ones, they could have resorted to rancor and labels. They didn’t.
Incredibly, they reached across the divide and offered not judgment but forgiveness.
The lesson I’ve taken from their example is that if one chooses, the grace of goodness can transcend polarization.
Leadership is both something you are and something you do. ~Fred Smith, Founder Fed-Ex
Hate won’t win. ~Emanuel surviving family member
We get to choose.
That’s incredibly powerful. The surviving Mother Emanuel family members could have pointed the “I’m right, you’re wrong” finger.
No one would have thought ill of them if they had.
What they chose was to transcend differences of thought because they saw a greater good.
To see the greater good, they had to think big. Not thinking bigger—that is, not looking for the greater good that rises above individual preferences—gives rise to mistrust.
Mistrust then fuels all the ugly “isms”—racism, sexism, ageism, and the like—that divide us unnecessarily.
Wrapping ourselves in our “rightness” and others in their “wrongness” builds walls, not connections that serve a greater good.
In a world where the six degrees of separation have become four, where we’re dealing with the hate and horror of the Orlando shooting, where we’re experiencing the animosity of a contentious presidential campaign, it’s time, isn’t it, to replace mean-spiritedness with curiosity, compassion, and a skoosh of vulnerability?
Being mean and lashing out is easy.
Deciding, choosing, and using the “Charleston approach” is hard. Really hard but really purposeful.
It means stepping up to be our best self. We must develop self-awareness, self-knowledge, self-control, and open-mindedness.
It means being eternally vigilant in assessing if our beliefs have hardened into dogma. When we’re no longer open to considering what others have to say because we know our position is the right one, we’re putting our lack of skill in doubting on display.
It means being mindful of the degree of our skepticism. Asking questions is a good thing that can become a bad thing if we’re unwilling to believe other’s answers.
It means being willing to seek out the hidden flaws and virtues that lurk in our blind spots and being gentle with others regarding theirs.
If we choose, we can replace our unfounded judgments—thoughts like liberals are idiots, feminists are bad, and the like—with curiosity. When curiosity takes the lead, we approach what’s different with the orientation that there might be something to be learned from other’s points of view.
When we chose to make this shift, we let go of our absolute rightness. When we let go of the need to alway be right, there’s room to accept ambiguity and paradox because we’ve decided to exchange automatic rejection based on selective facts for openness.
That choice is liberating.
When we use the “Charleston approach,” we’re choosing to think big, not small.
We’re choosing to react with curiosity and compassion, not hate or violence.
We choose to be the tipping point in which we start to appreciate differences rather than work to extinguish them.
Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong. ~Lao Tzu
To end the “-isms” that divide us, we have to resist being the rock that sees anger, judgment, and harshness as the answer.
When we decide to be the water, we can:
Bridge the distance between races, sexes, and generations in a world primed to respond with bias and ill will.
Celebrate the power and possibility that comes from differences in thought, opinion, and perspective.
Engage in courageous-yet-respectful conversations in which we use our head to manage and our heart to lead.
If I had enough “Charleston approach” pixie dust and the help to spread it, we could end the polarization that gets us nowhere. Ready to be the water, join in, and scatter some “Charleston approach” pixie dust in your corner of the world?
Even though we often act as if it was true, many of the options we face in life, love, and leadership aren’t limited to an either/or choice. Many times, if we look at little deeper, we’ll see a bountiful array of both head and heart opportunities.
One area where an either/or or both/and orientation shows up in stark contrast is in how we work with others, whether it’s at the office, home, in the community.(more…)
My movement from hurt feelings to sympathy happened fairly quickly after a friend apologized for not reaching out to me during my sick leave.
She said she had meant to call or send a card countless times but that something for work always got in the way.
Her remorse was obvious.
What resonated so much was how I could identify with her good intentions getting lost in the swirl of appointments; endless to-do lists; and dealing with grumpy, impatient bosses addicted to impossibly short deadlines. (more…)