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 Civility and respect for other’s rights to have their opinions are beginning to feel as outdated as a wall calendar.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 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.
Here’s 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.
That last point about making conflict either productive or unproductive is crucial. Conflict, handled constructively, can be an instrument of growth. Handled unproductively, well, too many of us have experienced unpleasant attacks—that sometime get so bad that relationships and friendships are lost.
Wondering which side of that productive/not productive line you sit on? 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
|Refuses to see other’s position
||Open to exploring another point of view
|Respond with anger or accusations
||Respond calmly and respectfully
||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
|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
Thanks to Joe all those years ago, today, 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 about their right to think differently.
I have to understand and respect that I’m never going to change someone else. Only they can do that.
I know I can’t control the other person’s response, but I’m in total control of mine.
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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“You’re a total idiot! No one in their right mind thinks that way.”
Those words were from a conversation happening at the far end of the coffee shop. A conversatiion that kept getting louder and louder. Everyone in the shop knew the people back there were talking about immigration.
The “idiot” fellow had shared that immigrants deserved compassion. From the ugly debate and name-calling his words produced, it was obvious he was in the minority.
I was recently involved in a similar but less passionate discussion about regarding leadership. My conversation partner believed the best leaders were the ones who kicked butt and took names. I believe the best leaders practice tough empathy because effective leaders are both tough and tender.
My conversation partner was one of many in a long string of people who got worked up about leaders being tender and humane. That’s for wussies was their thinking.
Why are caring and connection so threatening?
Time for research.
I looked into emotion, fear, love, neuroscience, psychology, leadership, and change management.
Not defaulting to fear
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. What a 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’s so unsafe about a leader who cares?
A couple of answers popped into mind:
Expressing love does 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. We put ourselves on the line.
My pushback to these thoughts? Fear and love aren’t forever either/or choices. People need them both.
Sometimes we need a warm heart; others times a cool head. Sometimes we need a boot in our bottom; other times it’s the comforting hug. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree, but not be disagreeable towards those who see things differently.
How can we learn to replace defaulting to fear with seeking to understand and doing what’s right for the situation?
I found these words from Umair Haque, author, economist, and 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 as well as my colleague and I.
In those situations, no one was getting through to anyone. No heads or hearts were being changed. All anyone was doing was making noise. Rattling our sabers of fear, certainly not extending compassion or empathy or promoting goodness.
Create a chain reaction of goodness
To find the sweet spot of respect without defaulting to fear, it’s necessary to:
- Honor and 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 chain reaction of goodness.
Image credit before quote added: Pixabay
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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.
Image credit before quote added: Pixabay
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Toby is struggling to understand why his boss is now unhappy with job performance that once made him happy.
Toby’s employer experienced significant change in the last 18 months including new ownership, new management team, and all new systems. The new owners also want a different style of leadership, one that’s inclusive and flexible.
Toby has worked for the company for 15 years and describes himself as a “get it done” guy. To Toby, his yearend performance review was a disaster. His boss told him future promotions were unlikely because he is too competitive, too logical, too critical, and too focused on results and tradition.
His takeaway from his boss’s feedback? To start looking for a job.
Toby reached out to Aaron, a former colleague, and asked for advice. He was surprised by the advice Aaron gave him. Aaron told him to quit looking for a job and get busy living up to the possibility in what his boss had told him. Say what?
Aaron pointed out that Toby’s boss had used the word too in describing Toby’s performance. The boss hadn’t said that being logical or results-oriented, etc. wasn’t wrong, just that Toby was too logical, too results-oriented, etc. The boss hadn’t said those weren’t the right things to be. He said Toby was just too much of them.
Toby had over-used his strengths and turned them into weaknesses. To get back on track, all he needed to do was take a more balanced approach to leading himself and his team.
5 things for Toby to do to keep his strength a strength
When we’re good at something, it’s easy to overuse a skill. Almost any skill that’s overused become a weakness. Toby can “dial back” his preferences to be the inclusive and flexible leader his employer needs him to be. Toby can:
- Compete externally and collaborate internally.
Toby likes to win. In his zeal to be first or best, he forgets that his colleagues and employees are on the same team and often treats them like adversaries. Toby can channel his competitiveness by learning to work with, not against, his co-workers and team so together they all can compete externally.
- Use curiosity to temper his tendency to be overly critical and judgmental.
In these days when it seems more acceptable to loudly proclaim I’m right and you’re wrong, curiosity has fallen into disuse. Sameness is comfortable and quick, which causes leaders to miss the power and magic in differences of thought, opinion, perspective, and experience.
As many managers do, Toby relies heavily on his experience to quickly make decisions and formulate strategies. He can use a travel trip to learn to be a better leader. Experienced travelers know that there are usually many routes leading to a destination. Someone who opts to take a back roads route still reaches their destination.
To be less critical, Toby can seek to understand by asking questions before acting and judging. Curiosity is a handy tool for expanding comfort zones, controlling bias, and building collaboration (something that can help him with his too competitive thing—people’s input can be melded with what he knows to fashion win/win outcomes).
- Seek to improve both economics and engagement.
Toby is a numbers guy. Nothing wrong with that. Where Toby goes wrong, though, in pushing for results is in forgetting that it’s people who make the results happen. Without strong connections that make people feel valued and recognized, workplaces have unhappy employees and lackluster performance. However, when bosses choose to build authentic, caring connections and value both money and meaning, both results and relationships, employees are engaged, performance is strong, and everyone wins.
- Maintain the best of the old while embracing innovation.
Aware of Toby’s strong preference for what has always been, his boss encouraged him to envision a tree when he’s faced with something new that triggers his skepticism and resistance. A tree has roots, his boss said, to give it stability and help it stand strong. But the tree grows and takes in the sun because of its new branches and leaves. A tree that fails to grow new branches will be stunted and may become root-bound and die. New growth rooted in tradition, the boss said, is what makes all of us grow and be better. Toby can choose to learn how to take in the new while holding on to traditions and values.
- Lead with both a logical mind and an emotional heart.
A line that Toby frequently uses with his team and others is “just give me the facts.” Facts, data, and logic are good, however, they’re not always enough to persuade people to act. That takes emotion. Aaron suggested he lead with his heart and manage with his head, so he can better connect with those around him. Toby can learn to make kindness, compassion, and respect part of his routine leadership practices just as he does with logic, competition, and focusing on the bottom line.
The seat of knowledge is in the head, of wisdom, in the heart. ~William Hazlitt, philosopher and essayist
Over-reliance on a strength isn’t uncommon. Who doesn’t want to showcase what they do well? The tricky part of being an effective leader is getting past the blind spot created when a strength has turned into a weakness. Toby is fortunate to have people in his corner who are willing to coach him in finding a “Goldilocks’ just right” balance.
To receive a better performance review next time (and maybe a promotion), Toby doesn’t have to learn a new skill—all he needs to do is refine and recalibrate the skills he already has.
Image credit before quote: Pixabay
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Kinda funny, isn’t it, how we lose sight of things that we shouldn’t?
A few years ago, those of us at BIG did lots of speaking and training on the 7 C’s of leadership, which we defined as character, connection, cognition, capability, compassion, courage, and commitment.
Then life intervened as it so often does. The BIG team moved on to other topics our clients wanted and eventually to working at other places. After my heart nearly pooped out on me, I rethought what I wanted to do with the second act of my life and started The Jane Group.
In thinking about what I want to do in 2019, much of what I plan to speak, write, coach, and teach about is rooted in something from the 7 C’s.
I want to assist people and organizations to welcome differences, reduce bias, shake up the status quo, be inclusive, be kind, be respectful, manage with our head and lead with our heart, and use power the right way.
All those messages boil down to us leading ourselves so we can lead others inclusively and kindly, and that’s where the 7 C’s come in.
Fascinating how things come full circle, isn’t it?
The 7 C’s of being a leader
With lots of the new year still in front of us, now’s a great time to revisit the 7 C approach. The list is succinct enough to be remembered yet goes deep in both hard and soft skills.
- An inclusive leader with character walks the talk for both being good and doing well.
- He has a moral center, knows right from wrong, and doesn’t have any hidden agendas.
- She is a consistent and credible role model for integrity, ethical behavior, authenticity, honesty, and transparency.
- He knows what values are important to him, practices them daily, and assures there’s congruence between his values and actions.
- She practices tolerance, embraces differences, is inclusive without being judgment, and invites the elephant in the room to dance.
- He is determined yet self-disciplined.
- She treats those with and those without power the same.
- He can be trusted.
An inclusive leader who practices connection makes the time to meaningfully connect with others. She collaborates and values community. He actively listens to what others have to say because understanding their point of view is important to him.
She communicates clearly, assures alignment between her verbal and nonverbal messages; engages in clear and concise two-way exchanges, not one-way monologues; and says just enough to accurately convey her meaning. He knows when to recognize, criticize, celebrate, have fun, and says thank you to someone every day.
- An inclusive leader who has cognition is self-aware and actively uses their self-knowledge to relate to others.
- He knows his strengths and puts them to good use both for himself and in service to others.
- She knows her weaknesses and works to minimize any negative impact they may have.
- He seeks feedback, asks clarifying questions, and reflects on what he hears.
- She practices simplicity yet knows when to take the deep dive.
- He sets boundaries, appreciates what’s mandatory and what’s discretionary, and finds the balance between tradition and innovation.
- She’s curious, open-minded, and eager to expand her comfort zone.
- He thinks critically, seeks to learn, and is unafraid to challenge the status quo or seek the common-sense solution.
An inclusive leader with capability stretches the limits of their potential and inspires those around them to do the same. She encourages creativity, is adept at change, and maintains balance between stability and innovation. He coaches for competence and knows when to go fast and when to go slow. She is skilled at the fundamentals of conducting business—planning, organizing, directing, and controlling.
He knows when to control and when to empower. She focuses equally on people, principles and profits and never sacrifices one for the other. He holds himself and those around him responsible and accountable.
- An inclusive leader who has compassion is unafraid to smile, laugh, care and is fearless in showing love, joy, kindness, and respect.
- He is there for others, knowing when to speak with candor and when to be diplomatic.
- She seeks out and celebrates both similarities and differences.
- He displays empathy without sacrificing accountability and ownership.
- She knows when to enforce the rules and when to bend them.
An inclusive leader who has courage takes a stand for what’s good and what’s right, even if doing so is unpopular. She shows grace under pressure. He acknowledges his fears without letting them rule his life. She believes in herself and shows strength of mind and will. He embraces possibility with childlike wonder.
She is confident that she brings value and helps others believe the same about themselves. He dares to be sincere, caring, and authentic.
- An inclusive leader who has commitment has conviction, sees things through, holds themselves accountable, and assists others in doing the same.
- She pursues mutual understanding and respect even in the presence of opposing opinions.
- He assures the work gets done and that relationships are maintained.
- She lives up to her potential and strives to make a positive and sustained difference.
So, when people ask me about a “secret sauce” for inclusion, civility, and leadership success, I ask, “How are your 7 C’s?”
Image credit before quote: Pixabay
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Power is a powerful thing. Leadership, to be effective, involves wielding power to produce desired results.
Leaders are set apart from the people they are responsible for leading precisely because of the power inherent in leading. Leaders are expected to assert power to affect results, and their effectiveness is judged by those results. The more substantial those results are judged to be, the more powerful leaders become…and the more susceptible they become to the trappings of power.
You controlling power
It is sadly common for leaders to become intoxicated by power, more obsessed with gaining it than putting it to good use for the followers they are privileged to lead.
When leaders become drunk with power, hubris is sure to follow, and followers are sure to be misled.
Leadership, ideally, involves using and distributing power in a way that best serves the interests of those being led. Hubris, conversely, upends the central service-focus of leadership, applying power not for the good of others, but for the aggrandizement, gratification, and protection of the leader’s own interests.
As the purest form of selfishness, hubris uses power to serve itself. It takes a tremendous amount of self-governance and discipline for a leader to direct power toward noble aims, without becoming compromised by it.
Left unchecked, the acquisition of power becomes fused with a strong fear of losing it, causing the leader’s motivations and actions to be directed by fear, paranoia, and distrust. Even leaders who start out with noble intentions can become inebriated with power and corrupted by hubris.
The evil Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader’s master and mentor in the Star Wars movies, was right when he said, “All those who gain power are afraid to lose it. Even the Jedi.”
Hubris or growth?
In our new book, The Leadership Killer, retired Navy SEAL Captain John Havlik and I share one key way to identify whether or not you’re ego might be hijacking your leadership. It was shared with us by Patrick Decker, CEO of Xylem, a multibillion-dollar water solutions company.
As he was rising through the corporate ranks, Decker was fortunate to participate in a leadership development program where he received some mentoring advice from Larry Bossidy, the retired CEO of AlliedSignal (later Honeywell).
Decker had asked Bossidy what to pay attention to when moving people into new and more substantial roles.
Bossidy replied, “Watch for whether they grow or swell.”
What to watch for
Decker explains, “When moving a person into a leadership role, I pay attention to the behaviors that start to show up.
- Does the new leader sponge up as much learning from others as possible?
- Do they get inquisitive?
- Do they ask for help and guidance?
- Do they show humility and solicit the input of others?
- Do they dedicate themselves to developing their direct reports, empowering them, and creating opportunities for development?
- Or does their ego start to take over?
- Do they get territorial, focus too narrowly on their own objectives, or become jealous of their peers’ successes?
- Do they use intimidation as a shortcut to getting people to move?
Swelling is how you can tell when new leaders are letting power go to their heads, and the surest sign that a leader is headed for trouble.”
This post is excerpted from The Leadership Killer, by Little Leaps Press.
About the authors
Bill Treasurer is the founder of Giant Leap Consulting and author of five books on courage and leadership, including the international bestseller, Courage Goes to Work. Bill and Giant Leap have worked with thousands of leaders across the world for clients that include NASA, Saks Fifth Avenue, UBS Bank, and eBay. @BTreasurer BillTreasurer.com
CAPT John “Coach” Havlik, U.S. Navy SEAL (Retired), led special operations teams around the world during his 31-year naval career, to include the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, the SEAL’s most elite operational unit. CAPT Havlik was a nationally-ranked swimmer and is a member of the West Virginia University Sports Hall of Fame and Mountaineer Legends Society. @CoachHavlik CoachHavlik.com
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