Turning Your Endings into New Beginnings

This recent article in the New Yorker caught my eye.

Soon I was laughing out loud.

Let’s just say I relate. After all, who knew I’d be pursuing a new career after my 70th birthday and lovin’ it.

Changes!

I’ve seen a lot of them. Whatever era you hail from, there’s an iconic playlist anthem about starting over. Whether it’s Stevie Nicks (Landslide), David Bowie (Changes), or Beyonce (I Was There), changes and fresh starts play a decisive role in our lives.

The global pandemic is winding down, and there’s a lot of “churn” and foment happening.

Starting over. Reboot. Makeover. Shot at redemption. Fresh Start.

Call it what you will. We’re at that point again.

Not every New Beginning comes about because we want it. Sure, many do.

We can get excited about moving to a new place or starting a new job. But sometimes, the process of a Re-Do can feel more angsty than positive. We might be leaving someplace where we’d rather stay. Even if the outcome is good, proper, and necessary, there are always memories and baggage to sort through. The new beginning which follows can feel more overwhelming than exciting.

So, how do you cope with these situations? How do you do it in such a way as to take something positive away from experience?

It’s not quite as complicated as you might think. And no, it’s not just a matter of a fresh mindset, though this can help. Sometimes your endings will take a little more work to shift them into new beginnings.

Here’s my brief guide.

Start with Saying Goodbye

There comes a time when you will have to let go of the past to make friends with the future. It’s really up to you what this looks like. Some people find journaling about the process helpful. Others need to process verbally and talk things through. Depending on your circumstances, counseling or coaching may be a good idea. Whatever you decide, remember to give yourself time to process. Some baggage takes a little time to unpack. It’s never good to rush the “goodbye stage.”

 

The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you’re not going to stay where you are.” –  “J.P.” Morgan

Look for the Silver Lining

OK, maybe this fresh start wasn’t at the top of your list, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t an excellent opportunity to accomplish something you’ve intended to do—Hunt out the good in the situation. Who knows, it might be you even have reason to celebrate this fresh start you didn’t see initially.

Get Your Head on Straight

Once you’ve started looking forward, it’s time to assess the situation. What are your options? What do you need to accomplish, and what would you like to do? The great thing about a fresh start is it’s a chance to fix other stuff too. For example, you might need to move right now, but this doesn’t mean you can’t work on a few other things on your wish list, such as making sure you’re moving somewhere with a home gym or workout option nearby to create a new exercise plan.

Take a Reality Check

Not everything on your wish list needs to be dealt with immediately. Some things might require funds or other resources which aren’t available just yet. Others are simply too much of a fresh start all at once. There’s a lot to be said for pacing yourself and not setting yourself up for failure. What’s reasonable here?

 

“The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” —Steve Jobs

Take Stock of Lessons Learned

If you’re being thrust into a change, chances are you didn’t have the optimal outcome in whatever was just ending. The good news? You can still take away something good from experience. So, before you get too deep into the fresh start, take a moment to ask yourself what you learned from the previous situation. There are lots of knowledge nuggets in endings that will serve you well going forward.

Adopt the Choice

No one likes being told what to do. If you feel like this fresh start is being forced on you, it can easily lapse into resentful feelings of victimhood regardless of the good you’ve found or the goals you’ve set. There comes a time where you need to step back and say, “Yes, I do want a fresh start,” making this situation your choice. This puts control back in your hands. Whatever happens from here is more like you want it to be.

Adjust Your Mindset

No fresh start will go well if you harbor resentment over the change. This is especially true if you feel forced into things. It might be you have to do some things you’d rather not initially, but this doesn’t mean you can’t embrace the change and still get some good out of it. Start looking for the best outcomes. If you need an added adjustment to the situation, try making a list of all the positive things which can come from having a fresh start right now. Find an outcome that excites you and makes you feel better about this Fresh Start.

 

“Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

Know What to Hold Onto

You don’t need to ditch every aspect of your life because you’re engaged in a new beginning. There are things from before which were good and will be valuable moving forward. Take stock of these things, making a list if necessary to remind yourself you already have some great resources you can use in this fresh start.

Take Breaks

New beginnings can be draining, especially if there’s a lot of physical or mental work involved. Schedule some breaks when possible to prevent burnout or overwhelm in the new situation.  A little playtime can do wonders for keeping your spirits up. The nice thing? You don’t have to go all out on these breaks. Even an afternoon outside or with friends can change your mood for days. You get the most benefit from breaks when you take them regularly, so be sure to add them to your schedule nicely spaced out. That way, they come often enough to be beneficial, but not so often as to keep you from making positive strides on your fresh start.

Try Again

Sometimes the most daunting thing about a fresh start is the actual getting started. You might find yourself holding back, not wanting to take chances, and certainly not volunteering for new activities. While this might seem sensible, it’s the worst thing you can do. New beginnings are all about taking chances and trying new things. The way to get started and find a better attitude? It may take a few false starts but accept you won’t be perfect at whatever you’re trying to do, especially not on the first try. Remind yourself it doesn’t matter if you fail. This gives you another opportunity to learn.

You like that, right?

Try a Mission Statement

If you’ve come this far, you’ve set some goals for yourself and even feel like you have a reason for this fresh start. You may want to take this information and turn it into a personal mission statement that outlines your goals and what you want out of this next chapter. Why? Sometimes everyone feels discouraged, and it’s this statement which you’re going to come back to time and again to re-energize yourself. So it might help write this down and post it where you’ll see it and feel inspired throughout your day.

Appreciate Your Strengths

Look, you just came through a tough time, and you’re still going. This alone is worth more than anything else on this list. So take a moment to realize just how far you’ve come and how wonderful it is you’re moving forward.

Take it One Step at a Time

Nothing happens overnight. There will be various stages to your fresh start, involving many smaller goals and lots of small successes. Celebrate each marker as they come, and you’ll feel like you’re getting somewhere (because, of course, you are!)

 

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” —Martin Luther King Jr.

Ask for Help

Hey, no one ever said you had to take on a Fresh Start all by yourself. There’s a lot to be said about support systems. Invite trusted individuals into your process by letting them know what you’re doing and asking for their encouragement. If you have mentors, go to them for advice. Or find a mentor if you don’t have one already. Remember, the key here is you want support for your New Beginning. The last thing you need is to “get the stink eye” from people who will only be critical or put down your efforts. This is the perfect time to create boundaries and keep those out while at the same time keeping your tribe close to where they can encourage you the most.

Persist

How are you at being stubborn? If you’re still not feeling it and are struggling to get going on this Fresh Start, the best thing you can do is just keep plugging away. Go back through your list and remind yourself of everything here. Try again and keep trying. The funny thing is that this persistence will pay off in the long run, especially if you can maintain a positive attitude and be open enough to try new things. Sooner or later, the fun will creep in, and you’ll realize just what a glorious opportunity this is. In the meantime, the very fact you’re still carrying on is something to take pride in.

Don’t be afraid of new beginnings. Don’t shy away from new people, new energy, new surroundings. Embrace new chances at happiness. L.E

You’re still in the game, and you’re still trying. So take a minute to give yourself a hand for being amazing!

Until next time .

Early in my career, I was a 6th-grade teacher in an inner-city school that was politely ranked as “difficult.”

One of my early moves was to make homework optional.

My learning agreement with students was that they would have to put in the work if they actually wanted to learn anything.

While I could teach them almost anything, I couldn’t actually make them learn anything.

It helped if I could spark sufficient interest and curiosity to kindle inner motivation. Then suddenly, students were delving into topic areas on their own and enjoying it.

While I couldn’t force kids to learn, it was up to me to provide a positive learning culture and present opportunities. One little guy who struggled to read suddenly became an avid reader. He was keen on hot-rod cars. I accidentally (on purpose) left a couple of hot rod magazines lying on my desk. He asked to take them home. I said he could bring them back and read to me the parts he liked the best.

And a reading program was born!

While there’s some overlap in the understanding of these terms, it’s generally known as unstructured learning, leveraged learning, and self-directed learning.

One enormous benefit of my stint in the teaching profession was that I became steeped in the “Socratic Method” learning system. This allowed me to perpetually channel my inner 4-year-old to ask questions. That’s something I cherish to this day.

This learning approach has worked well in becoming a leadership practitioner in Project Management and then as a Founder and CEO.

How It Works

Everything we learn in formal education is well structured and predefined.

First, teachers and professors tell us what they think we need to know. Then at regular intervals, we cram to prove that we understand what they’ve been saying all along.

The process takes anywhere from 12-20 years, and we compete with peers to get good grades.

When we hit the real world, many of us hardly apply what we’ve spent years learning in a formal setting.

That’s unless we pursue specific things for what we currently do or intend to do. (I.E., Accounting, Law, or Medicine)

 

“We have sold ourselves into a fast-food model of education, and it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies,”  Ken Robinson, the author of The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.

How It Can Work

The real question is, how do you learn the hard, essential things that matter to your success in life and career? How do you explore and dig deeper into complex topics you deeply care about?

In the mid 90’s, I came across an article published by the Center for Creative Leadership that put forward some bold ideas about how people learn at work.

70% of what we learn is from hands-on, on-the-job training, problem-solving, and just plain doing it.  20% is from trial and error, failure, peer learning, and observing others, and 10% from formal classroom training and courses.

Much like your daily weather forecast, it’s not highly prescriptive. The great thing about this model was that it recognized that up to 90% of our work-related learning can happen very informally.

This new way of looking at things spawned a whole new movement of “learning organizations” characterized by strong teamwork, and a high capacity to solve problems.

“Being a student is easy. Learning requires actual work.”
— William Crawford

I embraced this style of unstructured learning many years ago. I followed curiosities, read many books, and reached out to experts I knew who succeeded in the things I was interested in.

Many significant achievements that I’ve been a part of over the past decades are directly attributable to unstructured, self-directed learning.

It’s also important to recognize that everything necessary we’ve learned or accomplished is because of a teacher or a guide. In my instance, many teachers. It just wasn’t formal. Quite often, they didn’t even realize they were teaching me.

Consider this: If you or I set about to climb Everest, where conditions are harsh, and every step could be a life or death decision, we’d definitely want a Sherpa guide.

Hard skills don’t lend themselves to some YouTube instruction or easy hacks. I’d like someone experienced to show me that way and teach me step-by-step on the path forward. Right?

While mastery is the goal, I consider myself an ever-learning practitioner in the topics of Leadership, Human Behavior, Faith and Spirituality, Organizational Development, Investing, Coaching, Consulting, Writing, and Film Making, to name a few.

 “Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.” Richard P. Feynman

Unstructured learners find and stick to learning methods that work best for them.  They find a “flow” that creates an environment and routine to sustain the creative learning process.

Build your own “learning scaffold” that can be used over and over again.

I’m amazed watching my grandson assemble complex and functional Lego creations from a bucket of random pieces. He has a personal creative learning process that he developed, follows, and repeats with every new product he produces.

 “Perseverance, pleasure, and the ability to retain what you learn are among the wonderful byproducts of getting to learn using methods that suit you best and in contexts that keep you going,” Kio Stark Handbook for Learning Anything.

If you don’t love the process of learning, this probably won’t work. Sometimes, it’s necessary to master a new skill or topic to advance your career, but this is when you find your bigger why and hold on to that motivation to keep learning.

The Basics

Here are some of the basics that can help you become a successful unstructured learner:

  1. There’ll be core content and foundational basics to whatever topic or discipline you pursue. So, immerse yourself in the basics first.
  2.  Find topics that augment and support your life’s purpose — it’s fundamental for sustaining the process.
  3.  Know what learning methods work the best for you and then explore, search, and discover. Build a personal learning scaffold that you can re-use.
  4.  Channel your inner four-year-old and ask endless questions. It takes at least 5 “why’s” to start getting to the bottom of things. Ignorance can help you dig deeper and learn faster.
  5.  Know what you don’t know — and use that to ask the basic questions. It’s astounding to me how ordinarily smart leaders deflect and B.S. their way through stuff when all that is needed is a simple “I don’t know.”
  6. Find a guide and/or cohort of like-minded people who share your interest.
  7.  Create your own feedback process. Double down on what’s working

Every unstructured learner invests in their unique process. Build your learning method and make it your own. Tricky things, topics, domains, and skills take time to master.

If you’re curious enough, don’t be afraid to invest in hard skills that will serve you for life. Commit to a process you can sustain.

Don’t rush it and burn out. Learning anything new will probably change your life for good.

The joy of mastering new skills or figuring things out on your own is a fantastic and worthwhile experience.

Until next time.

P.S. This October, I’ll once again be offering LeaderLab TM, a high-value blend of Executive Training and Coaching for successful applicants.

Watch for details in your inbox in the coming weeks. 

 

                                                      Photo by Author 

Recent times have given us the opportunity to pause, reflect, perhaps change direction, or clarify what matters.

Pandemic restrictions have fostered an imposed simplicity of life and lifestyle that many were never previously accustomed to.

One outcome has been a resurgence of Minimalism. This countercultural movement has been around for centuries.

Minimalism has influenced art, music, design, architecture, science, business systems, and personal lifestyles.

I love it when an ancient concept comes roaring back with new relevance.

Wholesale changes in our lifestyle include spending less, saving more, working more simply from home, and rediscovering the great outdoors.

Me?  I loved it and lived it long before Marie Kondo started cleaning up, Elon Musk decided to sell all his houses, or some guys made a Netflix movie about it.

The recent past has allowed us some head-space to evaluate everything. I mean everything from how we “do life” and how we do “do business.”

If you hold vague negative feelings about things like consumerism, clutter, debt, and all forms of distraction, you’re well on the way toward a minimalist lifestyle.

Don’t freak out. It doesn’t mean you have to toss it all and adopt a monastic existence.

The basic tenets are to combat the chaotic excesses of modern-day living.

History abounds with minimalists who adopted a simple living lifestyle in support of a greater life mission.

JESUS OF NAZARETH   Rabbi | Prophet | Healer

“What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul.”

CONFUCIUS  Philosopher | Chinese Mystic

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

 

LEONARDO DA VINCI – Inventor | Painter | Sculptor

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

More recent examples include:

 HENRY DAVID THOREAU – Writer | Philosopher

“Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplify, simplify, simplify! … Simplicity of life and elevation of purpose.”

LEO TOLSTOY – Author | Essayist | Educational Reformer

“There is no greatness where there is not simplicity.”

ALBERT EINSTEIN – Physicist | Nuclear Scientist | Scholar

“Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

More importantly, Minimalism has become a viable antidote to what I’ll call the info-demic. Never before have we been carpet-bombed with so much information. So often, the data is conflicting and confusing.

Like guard rails on a mountain road, or radar in the fog, there’s a measure of wisdom in functional Simplicity.

There’s really no manual or rulebook for adopting Minimalism.

Here’s my take on how it works in real life.

Desires and Expectations; Deliberately expecting less from those around me and the world, in general, allows me to appreciate what I have. That doesn’t mean I stop striving for better. I can only do the best I can, and others can only give what they’ve got. Often that leaves gaps of unmet expectations. Approaching those gaps with a measure of grace and understanding smooths the bumps. Sometimes you find pockets of joy along the way.

Possessions; This means being intentional about owning only what you really need. I’ve started ditching stuff that no longer serves a purpose and stopped buying things for the sake of ownership.  This frees up resources for me to be generous with the people and the causes that I love.

Relationships;  Minimalism in this realm is brutal to explain but here goes.

Relationships have different degrees of value. I think of them as relationship “buckets.”

Some are purely transactional– like the guy who cuts my hair. We have some friendly chit-chat about family and life, but that’s about it.

Then there’s the relational bucket. Here’s where I relate and stay in touch with many folks, but it’s more at the “acquaintance” level.

My standard Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram Disclaimer:

Hi Ray! Great to hear from you, and I hope you’re doing well. Thanks for your Invitation to connect, but it was probably an algorithm suggestion – right?  Fair warning – I’m a minimalist FaceBook contributor. I do enjoy staying in touch with what’s going on for others (minus cute cats and what so and so had for breakfast)  So – just so you know – my FB “friend” bar is pretty low. You don’t have to loan me money, bail me out of jail, or visit when I’m in “The Home” or anything.

This usually gets a good response and opens the door for further conversations.

Thirdly, there’s the transformational bucket. These are my “spark” people who inspire me with their intellect, wisdom, care, love, and humor. Time together is always an energizing, uplifting, and nourishing experience. Hopefully, I do the same for them.

In the end, it’s about discerning which relationships add genuine value and making enough time for those who mean the most to you.

Thought Life;  Thought life minimalism involves confidence to not over-think (worry), underthink (neglect), or race ahead to check off as many boxes as possible. It’s being present and engaged while keeping the bigger picture in mind. Each day is a chance to engage fully in the joys, triumphs, sorrows, fears, faults, and near misses that make up a life.  Each day is a chance to do better and make a difference for yourself and others.

A Myriad of Benefits

Go ahead. Google “Benefits of Minimalism,” and you’ll quickly get the picture.

Personally, I enjoy the less stress, more freedom aspect of Minimalism. The additional freedom allows me more time to be productive. It leaves more room for people and causes I care about. Decision making becomes much easier because either it fits my value system or it doesn’t

Wrap Up

You see, simplifying, and removing clutter, whether it’s figurative or literal, isn’t the end result – it’s merely the first step. Understanding why you’re doing this gives you the traction to keep going.

Until next time,

Lorne

 

 

 

Resilience

Photo by Biegen Wschodni on Unsplash

I love this time of the year. The unmistakable scent of damp earth, cut grass, and fresh pollen evoke the real prospect of new growth and possibility.

Knowing that it’s getting warmer and lighter every day here in the northern hemisphere is such an appropriate metaphor for coming out of the darkness and hibernation of this past year.

It’s a great time to be alive.

An operative word for this time is resilience.

Our world has changed in ways we haven’t fully processed yet. A lot of strong conversations are taking place.

I believe that resilience is our current best response.

Resilience buys us time to adapt!

 

“More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom.” Dean Becker

 

Foolproof planning these days requires a more perfect knowledge of the future.

That’s just not available to anyone right now.

Resilience is that deep commitment to a mindset and a skill set that builds and rebuilds ecosystems that work even when things don’t work out as planned. Especially when things don’t work out!

Resilience buys us time to adapt.

Flexibility in the face of change is where resilience comes from.

As leaders, some look to us and rely on us.

I’ve often wondered why building resilience isn’t a key business imperative. My observation is that quite often just being human is at odds with work life.

Work can routinely bring stress, negativity, setbacks, and outright failures — and most of us are challenged to combat the effects.

We often equate resilience with overcoming extreme hardship or impossible odds.

Adequately understood, resilience can serve as an ever-present, daily mentor, helping us rebound from the collected frictions and pressures of work life.

Most of us just motor on— unaware of the increasing toll of emotional depletion — and building resilience isn’t considered.

I’ve been fortunate to have highly resilient people to learn from in my life.

I’ve also had personal challenges and circumstances where I could apply what I learned.

Here are seven observable characteristics of my resilient friends and mentors.

Networks of Support

Having a robust support system is an integral part of resilience. It really doesn’t matter who has your back in life – parents, friends, relatives, teachers, coaches, or colleagues. Real friends (not the Facebook kind) will give you understanding, guidance, and comfort when you’re struggling with a problem. They help you define your priorities and provide honest feedback just when you may need it the most.

Asking for help or counsel from the people who support you is a valuable life skill.

From my decades of work with marginalized populations, having a solid network always was a key determinant of capacity to rebound from the impact of life trauma.

“Others” Mindset

Resilient people aren’t very self-absorbed. They give freely of themselves to those around them. It may appear counterintuitive, but being generous or devoting time to a worthy cause (like volunteering) are helpful strategies to take the focus off your problems.

Helping others can help expand your life skills and problem-solving abilities. Giving back to yourself is also helpful. Proper care of your health and periodically rewarding yourself contribute to thinking and acting “resiliently.”

Stick -to -itiveness

Doggedness, grit, hardiness, stamina – call it what you will. Resilient people learn to accept emotional pain and stress as part of life.  They don’t allow their difficulties to define them. All the resilient people I know avoid personal pity parties. Instead, they recognize their feelings, acknowledge the problems being faced facing, trust that their ability to meet their problems, and believe they have the strength to maintain their emotional balance.

Change Happens

Accepting the fact that things are going to change is a fundamental part of resilience. When your goals, plans, ideas, or hopes are ruined because of unavoidable circumstances, a flexible and positive attitude will allow you to focus on new projects or new hopes. If you accept the things you can’t change or control, you’re free to put your effort into the things you can change and control.

Choice of Attitude

Most of the time, we don’t get to choose the obstacles and difficulties that life puts in our way. We always get to choose our attitude toward adversity. During hard times, it’s helpful to find something positive to think about and imagine a positive outcome. Even if you don’t have all the answers and even if the solution to your problems isn’t apparent, you can choose to believe that things will work out. You can tell yourself that your issues are manageable. You can choose to see yourself as a fighter, not a victim.

Reframe Perspective

When a resilient person faces adversity, they’re likely to avoid making things worse by jumping to extremes. Resilient people tell themselves that their troubles won’t last forever. They don’t see every bump in the road as a catastrophe; they understand that things can’t be perfect. Having realistic expectations of themselves, others, and what can be achieved is the answer.

Humor

It’s been said that “laughter is the best medicine.” And really, if you can drum up some self-deprecating  humor and laugh with others, you will lighten your load and lighten up!

Appropriate laughter and humor are beautiful ways to connect to others. They help release the feeling of stress that adversity causes you.

Laughter is also good for your body – it changes your body’s response to stress.

Conclusion

Can we strengthen our capacity to think and act more “resiliently”?

Absolutely, yes.

Think how a trainer at the gym helps you concentrate on certain muscle groups for strength and endurance. Similarly the various components of resilience can be exercised and strengthened.

Check the work of Dr. Fred Luthans. It points to evidence that resilience can be learned.

Another helpful article from Harvard Business Review – How Resilience Works 

Have a great month!

 

 

 

Photo by Steve Harris on Unsplash

Amazing Ways We Fool Ourselves

Historically, April 1st should be the most light-hearted day of the year.

If ever we needed a splash of levity in our sea of seriousness, it’s now.

It’s a day of hoaxes, pranks, and practical jokes with people we love. The best part is nobody gets offended, at least they’re not supposed to. If the recipient responds with cursing or tears, you know things have gone too far.

It’s a chance for self-deprecating humor. It acknowledges that there’s a certain amount of folly that resides in each of us.

Back on April 1st,1976, the BBC nailed it. British astronomer Patrick Moore announced on BBC Radio 2 that at 9:47 AM, a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event was going to occur. Listeners could experience this in their very own homes.

Due to this unique alignment of planets, the earth’s gravity would be reduced by a certain level. Whoever jumped with all their might at just the right time could possibly float in the air! People worldwide who hadn’t noticed the date were jumping up and down, hoping that they could achieve levitation. Other classics are the penguins of King George Island taking flight and the great spaghetti harvest.

Special day aside, there some amazing ways we fool ourselves year-round. Sometimes this comes with tragic consequences. It’s become more evident and rampant over this past year. That’s what I’m writing about this month.

Nobel prize-winning economist and social psychologist Daniel Kahneman states that we have two thinking systems. One thinking system is “fast” and the other, “slow.”

Fast thinking is the area where we can often fool ourselves.

We apply mental shortcuts, “hacks,” or biases when problem-solving or deciding things. It’s the realm of gut instincts, snap judgments, and hardwired systemic flaws in our thinking.

Slow thinking is a more deliberate examination of thoughts and motives.

We need both systems.

Biases are those deeply ingrained codes in our caveman software that can’t be quickly unlearned.

They have a profound impact on the following:

  • Our Perception – how we see people and perceive reality.
  • Our Attitude – how we react towards certain people.
  • Our Beliefs – how we interpret and respond to events
  • Our Behaviours – how receptive/friendly we are towards certain people.
  • Our Attention – which aspects of a person we pay most attention to.
  • Our Listening Skills – how much we actively listen to what certain people say.

It’s helpful to think of them as optical illusions. You know- things that appear to be there but really aren’t. Or that photo distortion app that makes for a very unflattering selfie.

Here are just five of the biases I’ve run into recently.

Negativity Bias (Good Plus Bad=Bad)

We want to think we’re rational, well-adjusted human beings, but our brains are naturally hardwired toward the negative.

Have you ever found yourself over-thinking a mistake you made a while ago? Are you replaying in your head a conversation that didn’t go so well?

That’s the negativity bias at play: not only do we register negative stimuli more readily, but we also tend to dwell on these events for longer.

A Queen’s University research study estimates the average person has about 6,200 thoughts per day. Other studies indicate that a high percentage (67%- 80%) are negative, and up to 95% are exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before.

So…if 80% of our thoughts are negative and 95% of them are repetitive, we have a serious “built-in” flawed perception problem.

Quite simply, negative events have a more significant impact on our mental state than positive ones.

Kahneman suggests an end-of-day exercise where we intentionally reflect on at least three good things that happened that day to bring positive counterbalance to our natural tendencies.

While the negativity bias may have been a helpful survival mechanism for our ancestors, today, it has a powerful—and often unconscious—impact on how we behave, think, and make decisions.

Groupthink Bias

Groupthink is a genuine phenomenon that happens when a group of well-meaning people makes dumb decisions to identify or belong to a particular group.

Another term for this is conformity bias.

In this scenario, any kind of dissent is unwelcome. Any reasoned questioning automatically makes one a social leper.

This bias is often fueled by a particular agenda—plus the fact that group members value harmony and coherence above critical thinking.

This bias causes people to simply “follow the herd” rather than thinking things through and using their own independent ethical judgment.

History is riddled with tragic examples of groupthink. The mass suicide known as the  Jonestown Massacre is just one of them. Hence the dark meme “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.”

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the strong tendency of people to seek out information that exclusively supports views they already hold.  Evidence and information get interpreted in ways that affirm their pre-existing beliefs, expectations, and hypotheses.

Any contradicting evidence or information that may lead to a different conclusion is ignored.

A humorous illustration of this is the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy, where the cowboy unloads his pistol at the fence and then paints a bullseye around the closest cluster. He wants to believe he’s a good shot and manufactures proof to support that notion.

A close cousin to this is the Belief bias. If I believe something strongly enough, it must be true.

The question to be asked. Is this really true? Or do I just want it to be?

This thought pattern can easily lead to conclusions that are inaccurate or even unethical.

 

Diffusion of Responsibility Bias

Diffusion of responsibility occurs when a leader needs to decide but then waits for someone else to act instead. It becomes a ripple effect. The greater the number of people that are aware or involved, the more likely it is that each person will do nothing, believing someone else from the group will probably respond.

Psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latané set up a Bystander Apathy experiment where a distress call made it appear that a person nearby had suffered an injury. When subjects heard the cry, and though they were the only ones who heard it, 85% of them helped.  But if subjects thought there was another person who heard the call too, only 62% helped. And if subjects thought that four other people also listened to the cry for help, just 31% took action.

Diffusion of responsibility makes us feel less pressure to act because we believe, correctly or incorrectly, that someone else will do it. When we don’t feel responsible for a situation, we feel less guilty when we do nothing to help.

In this way, diffusion of responsibility keeps us from paying attention to doing the right thing or ignoring our own conscience.

It’s complicated, but there is hope. Here’s a TEDx explainer.

Self-Serving Bias

The self-serving bias is where we seek out information and use it in ways that advance personal self-interest. We often unconsciously make selfish decisions other people might view as questionable.

It can also take the form of a person taking credit for positive events or outcomes, but blaming outside factors for negative events.

The irony is that we can easily spot this trait in others, but we have difficulty seeing it in ourselves.

An example might be doctors who believe that they are immune from the influence of gifts they receive from pharmaceutical companies. Studies show those gifts have a significant effect on what medications doctors prescribe. One study found that 64% of doctors believed that the freebies they received from suppliers influenced other doctors. However, only 16% of doctors thought it affected their own actions.

So, the self-serving bias often blinds us to how we are prejudice in favor of ourselves. Indeed, it can cause even the most well-intentioned of us to overlook our own wrong actions completely.

To summarize, these five biases are just a small random sampling. The good news is that when we encounter them, we can switch to “think slow “ mode and ask some questions.

Here are some helpful questions the I borrowed from Annie Duke’s book THINKING IN BETS

  • Why might my belief not be true?
  • What other evidence might be out there bearing on my belief?
  • Are there similar areas I can look toward to gauge whether similar beliefs to mine are true?
  • What sources of information could I have missed or minimized on the way to reaching my belief?
  • What are the reasons someone else could have a different belief, what’s their support, and why might they be right instead of me?
  • What other perspectives are there as to why things turned out the way they did?

Hope this helps,

Until next time,

 

Lorne

 

 

 

 


Degrees of Truth, Grasping For Reality,

and Why That Concept Still Matters

I love this fight scene from Monty Python & the Holy Grail.

The fictional Black Knight valiantly denies King Arthur from crossing his bridge and loses all of his limbs in the process.

“Tis but a scratch!” – Black Knight

“A scratch? your arm’s off!” – King Arthur.

“No, it isn’t!” – Black Knight,

Well, what’s that then?” – King Arthur

(Black Knight looks down at his detached arm and pauses)

“I’ve had worse.”  

As the battle ensues, the Black Knight is reduced to a trash-talking torso

hollering “I’m invincible” and “Come back here. I’ll bite your legs off!”  

After all, he’s a Black Knight, and everyone knows that Black Knights are totally invincible.

“Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”.- Oscar Wilde

Take away: Coming to terms with the truth of the situation can sometimes be a painful experience.

It’s said that John Cleese wrote this scene because he hated the saying, “You never really lose until you give up.”

The deadly assault on the Capitol by a bizarre coalition of self-proclaimed

neo-Nazis, white supremacists, camouflaged preppers, Christians, and Viking

wannabe’s, has got to be one of the great head-scratchers of our time.

If you’re anything like me. me you’re wondering, “why are things so haywire?” and “where’s the truth in this situation?”

Everyone wants to believe they’re thinking independently, understanding how things work and why things are happening.

But everyone has only seen the world through the narrow lens of their own experiences and their social network.

There’s a strong force in our human nature that propels us toward interpreting reality in a self-serving and unrealistic way.

There’s an equally strong force that pulls us to conformity.

Demagogues have always understood and exploited this human flaw.

Throw in a compelling storyline that may or may not be true, and suddenly

typically smart people are embracing and defending ideas that range from

goofy to disastrous.

It shows up all over the place.

The same story, again and again.

The best leaders can grasp the reality of situations and take appropriate action for themselves and others. The best leaders also resist self-serving behaviors and mindless conformity.

I really admire that.

To make sure I’m still on track, I revisited my assumptions and framework on the various truth types and how we’re governed by them.

OVERRIDING TRUTHS

“Gravity’s not just a good idea; it’s the law.” Seth Godin

This is one of those absolute, axiomatic truths that just “is.” It doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not.

Gravity is the truth that keeps you from spinning off into outer space. You can ignore it, but there’ll be a price to pay.

You can pretend it isn’t true. That also comes at a steep cost.

The same goes for the seasons of the year, death, and taxes.

Takeaway: The same way gravity keeps you grounded, there’s always an

absolute truth that overrides everything else in any given situation.

WORLDVIEW TRUTHS

(Also referred to as personal or experiential truth)  

We all have a worldview, whether we know it or not. It’s the set of our beliefs and assumptions that serve as our personal operating system.

Most kinds of truth we experience are about the past and the present. These are the easiest to see and confirm, but there are also truths about cause and effect. I.e., stove element- hot! Ice cream – yummy! Etc.

“The only source of knowledge is experience.” Albert Einstein

We all experience things at our own pace and time. Personal experience truth is the truth that’s mostly determined by you.

How you react and respond can only be seen and reported by you.
It’s how most of us interact with truth most of the time.

As we live out a truth based on experience either through direct or indirect participation

“Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.Rita Mae Brown

Take-away: Your worldview is essential, but it can also change as you learn,

change and grow through experience.

MISCELLANEOUS TRUTHS  

Beyond the types mentioned above, there are many perspectives on veracity that fall along a continuum of sorts.

In the strictest sense, truth is provable, objective, and not “opinion.”

“Likely truths.In the sciences, these are called theories. A theory isn’t always right. Instead, it invites skepticism, opinion, debate, and rigorous testing.

A “half-truth” is a deceptive statement that includes some element of truth. The information might be partly accurate but intended to evade, misdirect or lay blame.

“Truthiness,” coined by Stephen Colbert, is a belief or assertion that a particular

statement is true based on the intuition or perceptions of some individual or

individuals, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or

facts.

Truthiness can range from ignorant assertions of falsehoods to deliberate

duplicity or propaganda intended to sway opinions.

Outright BS – (Not the Bachelor of Science ) Well, that’s self-explanatory.

Take away – The more you know yourself and align yourself with facts and reality, the better off you are.

In Summary 

Centuries ago, a famous religious leader declared “the truth shall set you free!”. 

This phrase’s original context and intent refer to spiritual freedom from the bondage of our mortal sins.

“The truth shall set you free” has become part of our common English lexicon.

It is one of those axiomatic truths that has a liberating effect

wherever applied.

This works in business, in relationships, and yes, even in politics.

Yours Truly,

Until next time,

Lorne

 

2020: Blessed, Stressed, and Downright Hard.
(Revisiting The Big Why ) 

Too soon to debrief 2020?
C’mon, admit it. You’ve been thinking about that as well.
It wasn’t as though you didn’t have a plan. Getting lambasted by massive upheaval has seen a lot of plans, hopes, and dreams go flying out the window.
(not to mention jobs and in some instances, personal and mental health, and well-being)

LEADERSHIP IS HARD 
Finding personal motivation for hanging in there when the going is particularlychallenging is a key to forming resilience.
Having a clear personal reason for leading—a  “Big Why”—is not only a good strategy but it’s the secret sauce for developing sustainable resilience and tenacity that perseveres when resistance arises.
Usually, I’m pretty resilient. My rear-view mirror “take” on this past year is like that great line from the 1976 flick Gumball Rally.
(1st rule of Italian driving)
“What’s a behind me,…. is not important!
For whatever reason, when I face the worst, it fires me up to become positive, driven, and eager to be part of building a better solution.
On the other hand, the monumental difficulties of this last year have caused the empath part of me to be working double overtime.
I need to hit the pause button every once and a while to remind myself and those around me, that there are still a lot of good things going on and we can we live hopefully and with courage in this coming year.

Author Simon Sinek burst onto the public scene making one point: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” in his TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” (52 million views), Sinek lays out his view that the key to bringing change is to “start with ‘why.’” Your inner motivation or purpose is directly linked to rallying others to buy-in to a cause.

START WITH WHY
In the talk he draws a diagram of three circles; the center circle is labeled “why” and two outer rings are labeled “what” and “how.” “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” he says. The key factor for bringing change to the world is not in the strategies (the what) or the tactics (the how) but in the motivation (the why). For Sinek, the key to unlocking change is to find those people who share at the center of their being your same central beliefs and motivations and engage them in joining you.

Leadership, at its core, is about gathering people together to create value, in order to accomplish or produce something worthwhile that needs to be done. That mission is usually focused on a need or pain point that if addressed, benefits everyone, and makes our world a better place.

In this way, leadership is born not of the desire to lead but—at the center of our being—a desire to serve others in light of the painful realities of the world. It flows not from a desire to achieve, succeed, or accomplish, but to serve others at the point of real need and in turn experience that as one’s own calling.

For most of us, this is straightforward enough. For those of us whose leadership is characterized by words like transformation and mission, we are eager to make a difference and meet those needs. It’s a big part of how success is measured on our scorecard.

The prolonged Pandemic threat has had a blunt-force-blessing effect by forcing an examination of the status quo, plus adding some new perspectives.
Existential threats tend to do that.

  • The business world as we know it is transforming and resizing.

  • We’re personally needing to adapt, transform, and resize our worlds as well, to accommodate imposed changes.

  • Relationships have taken on fresh new meaning and value.

  • Simplicity, complexity, and uncertainty seem to cheerfully co-exist everywhere.

  • Usefulness and people’s time have become a new form of currency.

As I engage with executives and leaders, the recurring themes are eerily familiar; Survive, stay together, deal with rampant anxiety, regain a market share, return an organization to sustainability, or even “save the company.” The question before any leader of an organization is to “save the company for what?”

Fact is, the end-user of whatever product or service you work hard to produce, may not care all that much if your organization survives.

What they do care about is if you care about them!

Resilient leaders endure through resistance because of the deep care they have for people in pain in the world and the deep belief that their organization, institution, or company is meant to meet that need. The Big Why (Purpose) is both critical for an effective strategy and vital for forming the resilience to see it through.

It’s All About Purpose 
One of the best statements of “Purpose” comes from the ubiquitous Agent Smith character in Matrix Reloaded. I always liked Smith’s banal politeness, even while he’s trying to kill you.

“There’s no escaping reason, no denying purpose, for as we both know, without purpose we would not exist.
It is purpose that created us,
 purpose that connects us,
purpose that pulls us, that guides us, that drives us;
it is purpose that defines, purpose that binds us.”
Agent Smith

I doubt if Mr. Sinek could say it any better.

Thinking It Through 
How would you describe your personal “Big Why”?
What is your deepest reason for life and service?
What is your motivation for developing resilience as a leader?
How does your ‘Big Why’ help you face the challenges that come from leading and serving other people?

Until next time.
Lorne

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Courtesy Lucas Ludwig on Unsplash

 THE CURSE of “INTERESTING TIMES” and A FEW ANTIDOTES

“May you live in interesting times”- Unknown 

This Confucius-style saying poses as a blessing while delivering an underhanded curse.

If received as a “curse”, it wishes that your times be filled with turmoil and difficulty.
It’s a buzzkill observation when misfortune, hardship, and mayhem seem to hold more interest for us than do peace, prosperity, and calm.

BTW- There are way more history books written about war and famine, than about peace and plenty.

If the saying is received as an affirmation or blessing, the ferment of change always opens the door to exciting new possibilities.

Certainly, we can agree that our current pickle, being in the middle of a full-throttle,  global pandemic qualifies as “interesting”. With the first psychological shock waves subsiding, we’re in a pervasive, collective reality that adversely impacts us all.

Maybe it’s Murphy’s Law gone wild, or maybe we’re at the bottom of a big honking learning curve with a very steep upside.

As the COVID-19 crisis persists, no training or experience in previous downturns has prepared us for it.

Governments, businesses, schools, hospitals, churches, and families are all scrambling to cope with the insidious nature of our current era.

Over the past months, I’ve had numerous personal conversations with fellow leaders about the current situation and its greatest challenges. The current over-all toughest challenge is the mind-numbing complexity brought about by uncertainty.
The frustrations spilled over.

“It seems that every way I turn these days, I’m facing a no-win-situation” Young CEO in the Charity Sector. 

“ It’s like I really have four jobs. There’s the one I signed up for, you know, the job description. Then there’s the job my board expects me to do. My staff has high expectations of me to help them do their job while keeping them safe. Finally, there are the expectations of stakeholders and investors. The pandemic has really complicated all of this”. CEO in the Housing and Community Services Sector.

I launched these conversations to research an online leadership development project that I’m working on. The results were much broader and richer than I anticipated. It will inform my work for some time to come.

If we take a good news/bad news approach, the bad news is that uncertainty is non-negotiable. It’s the X factor that seems to lurk around every corner.

It’s just that recently there’s been so much of it.

The addendum to this is that “Our brains perceive ambiguity as a threat, and they try to protect us by diminishing our ability to focus on anything other than creating certainty,” says Christine Carter, Ph.D., a Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center.

If we are in a state of perpetual high alert, preparing for potential bad events, this results in a chronic stress pattern build-up. Physiological symptoms are mental churning, random anger at the slightest of provocations, being perma-cranky,
or feeling physically drained for no apparent reason.

On the flip side, the good news is that there’s a trail forward. There’s always a way forward. It’s just that it’s not always real obvious.

The trailhead is the realization that you can take charge of everything within your control and be intentional or mindful about not worrying about the things you can’t.

This valuable principle has been around for centuries.

Epictetus, the Greek philosopher from the early 2nd  century observed that things are either under our control or not under our control.

His Enchiridion (The Good Life Handbook) begins with this basic idea.

“Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.” Epictetus

This truth-powered concept is echoed in the well-known 20th century Christian Serenity Prayer;

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference. – Reinhold Nieburh 1934. 

Regardless of your worldview, the idea of focusing on the actions and experiences within your control has been around for centuries.  It’s as valid and effective today as it was back then.

Another Approach I’ve Been Thinking About…

Minimum Viable Outcomes

Another approach for tackling the complexities of uncertainty is the idea of a Minimum Viable Outcome combined with small wins.
The main elements are core activity, realistic expectations with small wins, and forward momentum in a strategic direction.

Protect the main thing! 

Minimum Viable Outcome (MVO) refers to those core activities that you do best while paying attention to the small margins between success or failure.
What really needs to happen next?
And why is it important?
What’s the smallest measurable outcome I can deliver to address this?

Set realistic expectations! 

It doesn’t have to be perfect. Perfect almost never is.
What would be a small win in the right direction?
Small wins can be the super fuel of your inner work life.
It’s great for your mental health AND it can help catalyze and inspire others.

Find your trail!

It’s hard to steer a parked car. Things work so much better if you generate some forward momentum.
Momentum comes when you begin taking some small steps. Take them in a direction that makes the most sense.
Take them humbly and with fingers crossed.
Make mindful note of your progress.
Progress isn’t like flipping a switch or having one big AHA moment. It usually comes in a small series, more like a slowly dawning revelation.

Like you, I have good days and bad days that toggle between optimism and pessimism. I can go from seeing optimistic signs of progress in the morning to feeling doomed by dinner. (watching the news cycle doesn’t help)
It’s OK to stay informed while battling the urge to tune everything out. The flood of information can both important and overwhelming. I find myself switching between outbreak updates and wanting to mindlessly watch silly Netflix videos. (that’s so not me)

On the whole, I’m confident we’ll get through this. Trying to figure out what “this” is and what it means, can be exhausting.

If you’ll pardon me, I have to go decide which shirt to wear on my next Zoom call.

Until next time,
Stay safe,
Stay strong,

Lorne

The First Time I Got Fired 

One of my first summer jobs in high school was working on a concrete forming crew. It was grueling, sometimes dangerous work setting up heavy oil-soaked panels in the hot sun, but I kind of liked it. I took pride in building the forms straight, strong, and true.

Being quite young, I didn’t know much about leading people.

My boss was one of the partners and he was always in a big rush. He had a furious temper and would unleash a stream of expletives at the slightest provocation. On top of that, he had a pronounced stutter which only got worse as his emotions flared.

One time he and I were working together setting up big panels on a windy day. It was a struggle as wind gusts kept pushing over the panels.

Even back then I had a problem-solving, “make it better“ mindset.

I tactfully suggested that if we slowed down a bit and set up bracing as we went, it would prevent the blow-overs.

He declined, and we forged ahead with the setup as if going harder would solve the problem. The second time the whole wall blew over, he cut loose with the predictable torrent of non-stop cussing.

I stifled a snicker.

By the third time it blew over, the absurdity of the situation overcame me, and I started laughing. Couldn’t stop.

Beside himself with rage, he turned purple and cut loose with a tirade of unfiltered, stuttering wrath.

Only this time it was aimed at me.

His crescendo ended with him screaming “you’re f-ff-f-f- ff f-f fired! *

Confidence Can Be Taught

Since then, I’ve been on the receiving end of a few firings. In retrospect, it was always for the better.

Each time it was a learning experience that matured me, made me smarter, and grew my self-confidence.

Since those days, I’ve gained even more confidence in accurately reading situations, and working with all kinds of people, in all kinds of situations.

Let’s face it. As leaders in this mid- pandemic era, we could all use an extra shot of realistic confidence.

Gaining confidence in leadership is a learned process.

The same goes for competence.  

In fact, confidence and competence go hand in hand.  

Join me for LeaderLab, a 6-week online learning experience beginning on October 5. 

It contains straightforward and practical ideas on how to build your own confidence and competence as a leader and how to strengthen and develop your efforts going forward.

This training comes from decades of earned experience paired with lessons the wisdom of others.
This is immediately applicable to you, no matter if you lead a team of hundreds, or only yourself.

“My personal mission is to offer you the tools, programs, and strategies to enhance your leadership competence and confidence” LE

Peek at the agenda and see if it resonates. 

The Agenda

•          Working with Yourself
•          How the COVID Era has Changed Leadership
•          Leading When You’re Not In Charge
•          Leading and Managing Change
•          Making Tough Decisions
•          Working Effectively in Teams
•          Understanding & Improving Systems
•          Thinking Critically (Without being Critical)
•          How People Think/Organizational Culture
•          Effective Communication/The Feedback Loop 

Features Include

•          Six weekly sessions live group learning sessions via Zoom (recorded)
•          Email and phone support with scheduled check-ins
•          Two 30 minute 1-1 personal coaching sessions with Lorne.
(ICF Certified Leadership Coach)
•          Highly interactive co-creating approach.
•          Course materials adapted to your specific needs.
•          Weekly sessions begin Monday evenings October 5 through November 2
•          Start time 6:30 pm Pacific Time
•          Each session 60 -90  minutes in length with lots of time for Q &A
.          My results-oriented guarantee

Space is limited to10 participants and spots are beginning to fill,  so if you’re thinking about it, or have further questions let me know.   
Web Link for LeaderLab 

Until next time,
Lorne

*PS  I was invited back to work one week later, but by then I had found something else.


Hang in there with me for a bit. This is Part 1 of a 2 Part-er
I’m trying to capture the prevailing mood of what’s happening these days.
We’re navigating the vague ambiguities of just about everything, and I’ve got
to admit, I’m struggling to come up with the words.

There’s a new kind of antsy with the current “half normal” weirdness we find ourselves in. It’s distinctly different from the zombie apocalypse weirdness of the total lockdown. It’s distinctly different from the zombie apocalypse weirdness of the total lockdown.

The best descriptor is the secret phrase that got me through French in high school.
“Je ne sais pas.” ~ Simply “I dunno.”

August usually signals one of the more carefree months.
“Normal” means barbecues and beaches, a buffer time to ease off a bit, and recharge.
Later on, comes that creeping back-to-school, back-to-work, Sunday-night feeling.
 
But in August 2020?  What kind of school? What kind of work?    

What this will mean for many of us is a return to the home office (or couch) where we’ve been Zooming in varying degrees of casual since March.

 

Take a simple idea and take it seriously.”
—Charlie Munger

This pithy quote stuck with me and served as a visceral kick-starter.

The Idea: What if I start talking with fellow leaders about the toughest challenges that they are facing right now in our COVID-impacted world?  

One of my projects over June and July was to invite 40 Leadership Conversations with leaders I know.
A huge “thanks” to those of you who participated in this.

I started personally inviting leaders to a focussed 15-20minute conversation with me around”
What is the toughest leadership challenge facing emerging and existing leaders in your sector today?”

The conversations have been rich and varied.
I’m still wrapping up, collating, and compiling results.

Why 40 Conversations? 

Well, that seemed like a nice round sample number.

A bit of a stretch for me, but doable if I buckled down
(BTW, if you’re wondering “why didn’t I get a call on this?”, there’s still time.
More is better and I’d love to hear your story, so just hop on  my scheduler, pick a time, and we’ll make it happen.)

Why now?  We all have a bit more time.

Bigger Picture Why? 

I need help articulating current realities for an Executive Leadership course I’ll be offering in October.

Leadership realities are often way more fluid than can be captured in the latest business bestseller. LE 

Our Topic? What is the toughest leadership challenge facing emerging leaders in your sector today?

Here at HeyWhat’sNext? HQ,  I like to ask the hard questions, keep us on our toes, mix things up, try new things.

This month is no different.

Most leadership newsletters give you a litany of best practices.

Boring.

How many give you an opportunity for real-time feedback on leadership issues?

Here’s “40 Conversations” Part 1 Let’s get to it.

Today’s Toughest Leadership Challenge: Tackling Uncertainty 

THBigee: Dealing With Uncertainty

The one thing that was top of mind for most everyone I spoke with was the topic of “uncertainty”.  Most leaders I know are Ok leaning into a certain amount of the unknown. COVID has ratcheted this up to a whole new level.

Privately, it has everyone a bit freaked out. It casts a pall over everything.

A trusted friend, who is always a good bellwether on all things leadership says, “Yeah it’s very weird. Usually, I have a sense of plans and direction, but suddenly all my reference points have been wiped out. It’s hard to know if we’re even moving in the right direction.”

When we come up against situations that are charged with anxiety and ambiguity — a pandemic, a recession, a job loss, an unwanted family change — most of us have trouble thinking about an upside. We can easily become paralyzed by circumstances. It’s tough to see the bigger picture let alone figure a way forward. Scientists call this a status quo bias.

There’s Always Options 

The key here is not to get stuck in “paralysis by uncertainty”  It easy to be overwhelmed by the array of possible negative outcomes. Start rethinking things in the broader context.

To my way of thinking there are three distinct mental models that are clear options when thinking through the chaos of uncertainty.

  1. Victimhood
  2. Survivorship
  3. Accept and Navigate

Victim Mentality

One is that of defeatism and victim mentality. “Nobody ever tells us anything” and “They’re doing it to us again” are some of the common narratives of this mindset.  It’s surprising to me how many “progressive” organizations, actually have little open and transparent communication. So “us against them” rumors are an easy way to explain what’s going on and why.

It comes quite naturally. Most people can quickly identify what’s wrong. It’s less instinctive to focus on what’s right and build upon that. It takes much more courage to correct a problem than to point and complain about the problem while waiting for somebody else to fix it. For some, it brings on personal existential crises.

Left unattended, cynics and naysayers can easily hijack our emotional well-being. You might need to point out that raising complaints without possible solutions can be unproductive and even harmful. If team members or co-workers insist on remaining a victim, I’ve gone so far as to encourage, or even help them to find another work setting. Unfortunately, with this mindset, things aren’t that different in a new job,

Survivor Mentality

The second mindset is that of a survivor. These are the “let’s just get by” folks. Imagine a body of water where the surface is the status quo.  Survivor mentality says “let’s just wait and see what happens” while furiously treading water. Sooner or later survivor mentality succumbs to victimhood or eventually “gets it” that change is necessary and either adapts or looks elsewhere.

Navigator Mentality

The third mindset is that of a navigator. These folks look at an upcoming change and say “Hmm, this is really happening. How can I make this work for me and others on my team?”

Leaders who foster a climate of openness and welcome genuine dialogue about what’s happening earn a whole lot more respect and trust. It’s been my experience that with the right leadership coaching approach, staff colleagues and even family members can unlearn victim and survivor mindsets and actually become navigators.

Challenging the fear-based narratives by weighing objective evidence against imaginary outcomes needs to be on-going. Keep desirable alternatives or what you would prefer to happen front and center. Harness the power of imagery —you have a clear picture of what outcome you want from this situation. Ask yourself, what would a successful outcome look like? What would you be doing with the key players involved? How would you be feeling? What mindset have you adapted to rise above the difficulties and problems?

If anything, over-communicate and be very “present” during times of high uncertainty. Make the vision of the future, the picture, a very real presence in your communication. If they see a vision that you have, they will find new ways there. If they don’t see your vision, they will only find ways to do the tasks.

My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.
French philosopher Michel de Montaigne

During times of necessary, non-productive downtime, we often get stuck imagining extreme either/or outcomes.

Creative leaders who are adept at managing uncertainty think realistically in terms of probabilities.
I.E. It’s possible that a meteor can land directly on your house, BUT it’s much more probable that it won’t.

They also think in non- binary terms that include “both /and”.

If we can remember there is a context vaster than we might initially have thought, filled with more options than we might have envisioned,
we are much more likely to find what I call the best minimum viable outcome.
(A Minimum Viable Outcome is the most  basic outcome you want to achieve)

Most importantly, with that broader mindset, we can weather the discomfort of unproductive uncertainty with greater optimism and calm.

Remember Those Options? 

I recently reread Victor Frankl’s account of his years in concentration camps. I was struck by his observation of how critical it was to their
survival that his fellow prisoners could find meaning in their lives, even with their suffering.

His conclusion is a powerful testament to the potential for growth even in unthinkable circumstances.
He wrote: “Everything can be taken [from a person] but one thing: the last of human freedoms
— to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

The opportunity to exercise that freedom is available to all of us — and it is key to finding a way forward in uncertain times.

Stay safe! Stay strong!
  
Until next time.

Lorne