Do you make rational, logical decisions? Most of us think we do. You might want to reconsider your opinion.
Let me give you two names: Hillary Clinton & Donald Trump. We are in the home stretch of a Presidential election campaign here in the US. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out but I do think each of the candidates has demonstrated a basic fallacy of human thinking. That is, while we like to think of ourselves as logical, rational creatures, we aren’t.
The story goes that when Steve Jobs was trying to entice John Sculley to leave Pepsi-Cola and join Apple he used a powerful communication tool. He asked Sculley, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want to change the world?” Given that comparison, Sculley of course, moved to Apple. Steve Jobs was a Master Communicator. He was adept at going beyond the facts to inspire, engage and influence.
Steve Jobs once said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.” Like him or not, the man knew where his priorities were and was able to devote his energy and attention into making his aspirations a reality. Isn’t that 80% of the battle? Knowing what’s important to you, personally, and then focusing your effort there and not being diverted.
I’ve been spending a bit of my time the last few years helping people to identify who they aspire to be in their lives, so that they can focus their energy and effort on the things that really matter to them. The process usually involves helping them to identify their key stakeholders and to operationalize exactly what it is they want their lives to be – how they aspire to live out their hopes and dreams and values.
A common issue I’ve heard from many of the people I’ve worked with is just how challenging it can be to stay focused when other people – colleagues, friends, family – attempt to involve you in their issues.
I’m trying to change the language that I use. It’s been an uphill process. All right, maybe you need a little of the backstory. A few months ago a colleague and I had a difference of opinion (notice I didn’t say disagreement?) about a business project. Somehow during that conversation she shared with me that I sounded disgruntled. It was like a slap in the face and my immediate reaction (internally) was denial. I’m not feeling disgruntled. Why would she say that? This is more about her than about me. When the sting started to fade I was able to consider the comment a little more constructively. What did I do that might cause her to see me that way? I came to a realization that the language (words) I often use and the focus of my casual conversation (problems, challenges and personal disasters) might be contributing.
I was reading an article – interview really – in the March HBR about Charisma and it got me thinking. The interview was with William von Hippel who, along with his colleagues, published the results of their study on thinking speed and Charisma. Their research seems to indicate that people who think quickly are perceived as more charismatic, independent of their IQ or other personality traits.
Well crap! That’s not what I want to hear. I am many things, but quick thinking? I think not. I’m great at Trivial Pursuit or even “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”, but nobody in my family wants me on their team for Celebrity Name Game or Pictionary. Does that mean that my dream of being charismatic – or at least more charismatic – is doomed to failure? People with higher levels of Charisma get noticed and listened to. They’re more influential. I’d like that, wouldn’t you?
Last week I put together a proposal for a perspective client and had a colleague look at it before sending it out. After reading it, she pointed out some of the ways that I could improve the proposal, and did it in a way that left me feeling good about the whole exchange. I immediately made the changes that she recommended. It got me thinking about the skillful way that she made her suggestions and the art of giving effective feedback.
It’s such an integral part of building and maintaining strong relationships. We all need to be able to do it, but so often we have trouble with it. We stress about it, put it off and when it finally reaches a tipping point it often comes out in a way that ends up being seen as a personal attack or as unfair, or as just plain WRONG. It pushes the emotional buttons of the other person to the point where they become defensive and stop listening to the feedback. Feedback like that does no one any good. The good news is that there are a few simple rules to follow to make the feedback you give easier for others to hear and accept.
I was in Barbados conducting a leadership seminar. Nice work if you can get it, right? Especially since there was snow on the ground in Philly. I was having dinner at the open air restaurant on the second floor of the Hilton Resort looking out over a magnificent courtyard with pools, waterfalls and palm trees. It was beautiful! I watched a family of four – a Mom and Dad and two teenage kids – maneuver into the courtyard and select a centrally located table, pretty close to the pool and the trees. As they sat down, each one of them opened a device – laptops for the parents and tablets for the kids – and then they spent the next 45 minutes with their heads buried in their devices! Here they were in paradise, and they couldn’t even take advantage of it because of the virtual leash tying them to someone, somewhere else.
We were talking about building relationships in a personal leadership seminar I was teaching and Rachel brought up an interesting issue. She had been working hard to build a positive work relationship with one of her colleagues, but despite her best efforts, she didn’t feel that she had made much progress. She felt a bit frustrated and discouraged. She’d done everything she could think of, including grand gestures to win this person over, and despite his “thanks for the help” he always reverted back to the same apparent lack of interest. She was wondering what she was doing wrong and if it was a hopeless case.
Susan had worked hard to become Principal at Walden Elementary School. She had paid her dues as a teacher for 10 years while she completed a Doctorate in Education. She took over as Principal three years earlier and she hit the ground running. She had friends on the staff and she cared passionately about the children. She wanted what was best for each one of them. Now here she was today, in front of all of her students, their parents and their teachers having to say goodbye. She had lost her job. Her last words to them in the goodbye assembly were “My intentions were always to do what was best for the children”.
There were probably a number of contributing factors that led to this moment. It’s very seldom just a single issue. But one of the factors contributing to Susan’s abrupt end may go back to a gap between her intentions and how her team saw those intentions.