I’m really excited to share today’s episode featuring Jen Thornton! We dive into the addiction of being right; what it is and how it impacts the leader and the people that they interact with on a regular basis. Our talk today will provide you with a better understanding of why some leaders are the way that they are and as well as some advice to help you avoid the same traps yourself as you grow in your leadership walk. -ZH
Zack Hudson: Jen, welcome to Passing the Baton podcast. So glad to have you with us today.
Jen Thornton: Thank you for having me. It’s going to be fun!
ZH: I agree, I’m looking forward to our time. So to help our Baton Carriers across the world get to know you a little bit; tell us about your journey as a leader and then some things that you’re working on right now that you are excited about.
JT: So, my leadership journey started when I was actually pretty young. I won’t give out my age, but it was before the Internet was popular and everyone hung out the mall and I wanted to work at the mall. I got to work at the mall and I started my career in retail, so I was leading teams and running a good-sized business.
So that started my leadership journey, and I spent about half of my career in operations and retail and the other half of my career in HR. During the last chapter, I was able to work in great countries like Hong Kong and the UK and Mexico and all over the place had a ton of fun doing it.
But you know, I think what I discovered is it’s hard enough to align executives if you add language barriers and culture barriers….. and it’s really fun trying to align executives, and that’s what I got really passionate about.
Once I really fell in love with that alignment and that process of really strategically looking at talent, I decided to take a leap of faith and almost four years ago open my own consulting firm and that’s what we do today. Here at 304 coaching and we get to help people create incredible talent strategies to match their business strategies.
ZH: Yeah, I love that we have a lot of similar journeys. Actually, I did retail too for quite a while and now I’m in HR these days and in the healthcare industry, so it’s different backgrounds obviously, but similar journey, similar passions.
Let’s jump into our topic today. because we’re talking about being addicted to right and the seven deadly sins of leadership. We are going to tackle this whole concept of leaders falling into this trap of being addicted to being right. Can you unpack that a little bit on what that means and how do we get to this point?
JT: The thing that’s really interesting about the human mind is, you know everything we do is really driven by chemical responses within our brain and what we know about the brain. We’ve made some great learning breakthroughs over the last 20 years and new research continues to come out as we explore addiction.
Addiction is basically at its simplest form, a dopamine hit, so we get it from sugar or shopping, retail, whatever our addiction might be. We get a little dopamine hit and it makes us excited and happy. What we also know is you need a little bit more the next time to get that same high.
When we are right and we prove to someone that we know what to do and we’ve made a great decision. Guess what?
We also get that same exact dopamine hit!
Over time if we start to enjoy that dopamine hit a little too much, then the next time we have to be more right and we actually start to form an addiction to that dopamine hit for when we are right.
I think we all know that person that maybe we worked with early in their career and they were super smart and climbed the ladder fast and just always knew like how to tackle a project or do something, and then before we know it, we’re like, man, they’re just not even themselves anymore.
They used to be really open minded and collaborative, and now they’re combative and you can’t tell them the truth. That person obviously has become incredibly addicted to their own viewpoint and what’s important to them, and they start pressuring other people to believe what they want them to believe, and to think what they want them to think. They want everyone to fall in line and agree with everything that keeps their addiction going.
ZH: You know that’s a good point that it’s not necessarily that I wake up and I’m the bad guy, right. It’s a gradual process and I think that dopamine hit is underappreciated for his impact in steering our decisions both personally and professionally.
So how does the addiction to being right negatively influence relationships and results around them?
JT: It’s interesting when you start to think about these people and I’m sure all your listeners probably have somewhere in their mind instantly thinking, oh that’s what’s going on with that person, right? What we start to see is when that starts to happen in the workplace, it’s incredibly dangerous for the future of the organization, because when people stop telling the truth to their leaders, they start just agreeing to agree so that they’re not in trouble.
The leaders of your organizations then no longer know what’s important.
They no longer know the truth about your product or your customer, or the things you need to really run your business. We also find that there is a lot of punishment, so if you don’t think the way that I tell you to and you don’t talk the way I tell you to then you will be punished because you know you’re out of step in out of line.
We need people out of stepping out of line in the workplace, because that’s actually innovation, right? Innovation is stepping outside of that line, but if you’ve created this environment where you will be punished for stepping out of line because you know the executive or executives are so passionate about their beliefs, then it can be incredibly difficult.
I always use the example of Kodak.
They had the actual first digital camera, but their executives honestly said to the creator that no one would ever want to watch their pictures or will get their photos on the TV. So they thought it was a ridiculous idea and they shelved it. Now, Kodak is really no longer the Kodak that we all remember, and they walked away from that project because they had made assumptions and didn’t listen to the creators in their company.
ZH: That example really leans into some of the ideas about the seven deadly sins of Leadership, right? The seven deadly sins are often referred to across cultures across the world and you can tie those back to leadership pitfalls and traps. Just a refresher they are;
Why don’t you pull out a couple of these in and talk about the impact that it has on leaders that you hear a lot about.
JT: we’ve already talked a little bit about Wrath. You know, “If you don’t think the way I think, there will be punishment.” You can see this in some meetings.
If you’re a leader and you ask your team really difficult question and they all look at each other and don’t say a word they’re waiting for you to tell them how they are supposed to think.
The reason why is if they think incorrectly, you’re going to lash out to them and that’s one of the first signs of the consequences of wrath and one of the ones I see the most often as punishing people for not thinking the way you think.
When I think of sloth, one of the telltale signs of the addiction to being right is telling everyone how to do their job even though you have never done the job yourself. They have no idea how to do the other person’s job and they carry about saying. “You’ve got to do this and you should do that,” but they aren’t willing to do it themselves. They are so deep in their addiction they think they’re an expert in everything.
“Giving advice” but they’re not willing to do the work or actually learn it either.
Envy is another one. The brain actually enjoys status. It actually wants status, because status provides a validation, and confidence and allows your brain to feel safer to go out and explore and do better.
But when you’re addicted being right, you start to get so attached to feeling. You want to have status. You want people to be envious of you and that also starts to build overtime.
All the deadly sins of Leadership can begin to play in on each other.
ZH: As you think about leaders in your life and some of these concepts, it may be an “ah-ha” moment of realization on why the person acted the way that they did. Our leader can become addicted to being right without even realizing it times, and that’s really what we started out with.
Our listeners may even see a little bit this in themselves as they hold up this concept of being addicted to being right to the proverbial mirror.
Let’s walk through some practical steps that we can begin to grow through this trap.
JT: When I think about this issue, we all have a little bit of it of these characteristics.
Watch your team around you, watch how they respond to you if you ask them a really challenging question about the business, one that you know where someone might be a little free to tell you the real truth.
If they don’t tell you the truth, you know you have a problem.
Put your team in a room and ask them, “What’s the one thing we did last year that wasn’t great for the business?” See if they actually tell you. If they don’t, then there’s a good chance that you’ve created an environment where honesty is not popular.
The other thing too is I always ask leaders ask themselves as they’re driving home, “Did I learn something today from someone on my team?” If you aren’t learning from people that you’ve hired around you, then you’re probably hanging on to this addiction a little bit, or there’s a piece of it that we all have to manage.
The first step is to get your team to kind of like jolt out of it, right?
You have to kind of do something big for them to see that things might be changing around here or communication style might change. One of my favorite exercise to do with clients is to have what I call a crazy idea meeting where you present a problem that needs to be solve.
In this example, maybe you have a product that’s down let’s say 5%
Tell your team, “Hey, at Thursday at this time we’re going to talk about how we can get our numbers up with product X.”
Now if you say to them, “We’re going to go brainstorm or I want your feedback,” you’ve instantly created fear and you’ve shut down their prefrontal cortex, which means they can’t actually think of new ideas.
If you’re that leader who thinks no one can think of new ideas, it’s because they’re in fear of you.
In the meeting let the team know that you want their ideas. You want ridiculous ideas! You want crazy ideas, and in fact you’re going to reward people for the most ridiculous ideas they bring to the table. That tells people that they are not going to be judged because they’re right or wrong.
If it’s really insane and impossible, celebrate it even more because you’re letting people know that things are changing and you can celebrate big thinking and big ideas.
Put all those ideas out there, and even though all those ideas may be impossible, what’s really cool is there’s going to be some underlying themes that you’re going to find. Things will start to fall out of that meeting that are actually really usable and they’ll come out in a way in which allows people to use their brain and tell the truth and help you start to stretch yourself and get used to people telling you the truth.
Get used to not knowing the answer and then after the meeting, give out of your awards. Hopefully it’s just a bragging right, right? That’s all people need is to brag that they had the idea.
Make sure that you send him a follow up email, thanking them for their time and then letting them know that you appreciated all of their ideas and their innovation and that you appreciate them speaking up.
ZH: I love that example and the intentionality to show people that you’re willing to change and that you’re willing to step out your comfort zone.
You need to recognize the addiction, because your team obviously recognizes it You’re providing affirmation with your team and encouraging them to be honest and giving them a chance to earn trust from you right as a leader. It helps them see that they can put themselves out there in a weird or, crazy idea kind of way, and I’m be affirmed instead of being slapped on the wrist.
You talk about the strategy to combat the addiction to being right as part of this idea of conversational intelligence. Tell us a little bit more about what that means.
JT: Conversation intelligence is education. You may start to think about emotional intelligence, but conversation intelligence really goes one step further, and the reason that it starts to stretch you is because it starts to teach you.
When you think about the way that many of us were taught to lead was the idea that, “I’m the boss and I’m right and I have to have the answers. I am the person offering you experiences and knowledge, not the other way around.”
It’s very fear based.
When we are in fear or are judged or feel like we might not be a part of the tribe, our brain kicks in and it’s that section that is built there to keep us alive.
Back in the day, you know it kept us in the cave and made sure we didn’t get eaten by the big Dinosaur. It kept you really safe and that’s its purpose. In today’s world, your brain still tries to keep you safe, so if you’re at work and you start to feel judged or you are in fear for your job. Your primitive brain kicks in and your prefrontal cortex closes down.
It’s then much harder for you to learn because that’s the part of our brain where we learn. If you’re struggling at work and fearful for your job, it’s actually going to be even harder for you under this type of bad leader.
Conversation intelligence helps us understand how to use our language to create incredibly deep trusting conversations and to ask questions that we don’t know the answer to. It’s learning from people so that we can create environments where we get the most out of our team and our team is really high functioning and happy while doing a great job and creating great results.
ZH: It’s been such a great time understanding how our addiction to being can right can impact ourselves and those around us. Tell us how our baton carriers can find you out there and where they can connect with you.
Someone recently asked the Reddit community why people are rude, loud and aggressive towards frontline employees in retail, food, and service industries. By far the most common answer was because they felt like it got results. You’ve likely run across this person at some point in your life and may even have this person in your work environment today.
Tips to deal with aggressive people
Give them time to cool down. If possible don’t address in the heat of the moment. Give them a chance to cool down and then talk to the person. If this is not possible, move the person to another location and then address the situation. Pull them into a hallway, a different conference room, etc to remove them from the environment that they were in.
Keep a healthy distance. Make sure that you are not violating their personal space (4ft +) when you talk to the person. Conversely, do not let the person invade your space. Step back or ask them to. Violating this space during this instance causes more non-verbal tension.
State the impact of the behavior and your expectations. Start the conversation off by stating the impact of their behavior. How has the outburst hurt productivity, working relationships, and their reputation? What is your expectation on how they should respect you and other members of the team? Stay calm and don’t fight aggression with more aggression.
Keep the spotlight on them. The person may try to shift the blame on others for their outbursts and behavior. Keep the focus on them and keep the power of the conversation.
Ask for commitment and don’t avoid conflict. Once the situation calms down, ask the person for their commitment to cease the behavior. Again state your expectations and consequences should the behavior continue. Don’t avoid conflict. You allow the behavior to go on, and passively approve of it when you fail to address it.
Other things to do
In addition to dealing with an aggressive person, there are other things you should consider as well.
Document incidents. You can do this in a number of ways, but I recommend emailing yourself and keeping a folder on it or creating an electronic copy that chronicles the behavior. With email, it will be timestamped when you send it, with an ongoing document, make sure that you include dates on individual incidents.
Cataloging these incidents will help you recall them better if asked, gives you a written trail and can help you see just how big of a problem that it is.
Involve HR. HR is there to protect your rights and to ensure that you are having a great employee experience. If the aggressor is your boss (or they aren’t addressing the issue), you may need need to reach out to a partner from the HR department.
Tips for dealing with aggressive customers
First, acknowledge their anger and perceived slight. This often catches them off guard because they are expecting an argument or fight. Next, acknowledge how you’d feel in the situation and then move quickly to resolve the problem. Be sincere and authentic during the exchange, while keeping your cool.
In-depth insight on conflict can be found in these past episodes:
The aggressor wants all of the control in the situation, even if they begin to lose control of themselves. Keep your power by being a calm, confident, and matter of fact leader. Document and involve others if needed to bring a long term solution. You are stronger than the aggressor.
The year 2020 fundamentally changed how many go about doing their work!. In a matter of weeks, you may have found yourself going from visiting with the co-worker next to you to suddenly setting up a work station in your dining room. That sudden and sustained shift is stressful and its impact can be long felt on your professional and personal journey.
With the right focus and attention, we can enjoy all the perks of working in a virtual environment and thrive to greater success.
Keep focus in the chaos
Stay focused on your assigned tasks and responsibilities by avoiding distractions in your home. This one can be really challenging depending on your home situation. Your significant other, kids, TVs, streaming, social media, and other things all tug at your attention throughout the day. Be creative and set up a good working environment the best that you can.
Keep your calendar updated to provide structure in both your home and work environment. Scheduling both sides of your life ensures that one is not a distraction for the other. You don’t want that grocery list or messy kitchen to be a day-long distraction on your work.
If you have children doing virtual school, help them with a similar setup so they can stay focused on their school work. We live in an older house and converted our formal dining area into a school space for both our kids. We weren’t sure how it would work, but it turned out great for both in the end.
Build and protect work routines and boundaries
It’s very easy to let your work and life blur together when you work in a virtual environment. I have spent the last 7 years working out of a home office to various degrees and it is always something that I have had to be mindful of.
Success comes down to setting and protecting boundaries, otherwise, you’ll find yourself sitting down for just a minute to do something only to lose a couple of hours of personal time as you continue on in your work. Things will no doubt pop up after hours that may require your immediate attention. Obviously address those, but let them be the exception and not the norm.
If the people that work with you know that you have no boundaries, they will likely take advantage of it whether they know it or not. It could come in texts, emails, or calls that normally wouldn’t take place if you had a good set of boundaries.
Communicate often and with intent
Since you may not see your leader all the time anymore, you need to be intentional about communicating with them. Set up a weekly check-in time and also update them throughout the week on your projects and outstanding items. it will help both of you when your leader has a good sense of where you are in your work.
Keep an open line of communication with your peers as well. Head off a sense of isolation by staying in touch with those you work with. Find out what’s going on in their personal life and how you can help them in their professional life.
Be transparent with your leader about your journey
No one is perfect and no one should expect perfection from you in your virtual work environment. Breakthrough the pleasantries with your leader and stay transparent and authentic in the struggles that you may be facing in your situation. It’s always great if you can bring a potential solution along with a problem to your leader, but sometimes you are at a total loss and simply don’t know what the solution could be. Don’t let that hold you back from talking to your leader. They need and want to know.
A leader can’t lead and help if they don’t know that you need a hand.
Follow these tips to keep a focused workspace where you feel connected with others and good boundaries to feel a great work-life rhythm.
We are honored this week to have Aman Agarwal, the president of SANPRAM, to sit down to talk about how to communicate technical concepts and terms to non-technical people. Aman shares several actionable concepts to help any leader be a better communicator with those that they work with and are looking to influence.
Thank you so much Aman for joining us!
Thanks for having me!
Yeah, so tell us a little bit before we jump into our topic about this. This whole concept of communication. We’ll talk about the whole hurdles and all that in a minute. I don’t wanna spoil the show before we get going, but tell our baton carriers really across the world, just a short synopsis about your journey as a leader, and then maybe some things that you’re working on right now.
I was an engineer building self-driving trucks and other stuff in silicon valley. Before that, I was a B2B sales guy for some large tech companies. Now I run an education company that helps non-technical entrepreneurs and executives how to be more technical fluent while they build technical companies.
Yeah, that’s the big switch! So how did you make the switch from doing self-driving vehicles to leading an education and training company?
While I was working among engineers and salespeople, I realized that there was a huge communication gap between the two sides. You talk to engineers and sales guys, both were saying that the other guys were stupid. It’s pretty comical. In parallel, I was also teaching as a hobby online and I was writing these long-form essays online at medium that explained cutting edge technology in simple layman words and those got really popular. That helped me realize my true passion was in teaching technical concepts. It just so happened that during COVID that I realized that this gap is real, and I can help to bridge it. So I started SANPRAM to do just that.
Very cool. Well, let’s jump into this whole idea of communication, right? So how to connect the technical for non-technical people. You know, there’s always going to be a communication hurdle for leaders and organizations to conquer. I think about a new leader that needs to learn about their team’s communication preferences, how those people process information, and then we add in the complexities like remote work and COVID as well as new agendas or technology that you’re going to speak to. It’s a lot right! So when you look at leaders in companies that are been successful is because of how they successfully communicate and connect with others.
I think that leaders sometimes struggle when they don’t know how to conquer that communication hurdle at times, and specifically when it comes around this technology piece that you’re an expert in. Many people may say “You get it or you don’t, or they’re idiots and I’m the smart one in the room”, but what are some ways that we can adapt their communication that a leader can adapt their communication to meet their audience? You had some fun things on medium, some drawings of kitchens and stuff like that. So let’s dive into that. Some practical pieces today.
The goal if you’re a leader, at least how I think of it, if you’re a leader or a manager and your goal in communication with the people that you are working for is three things:
1) Claritywith respect to what they are supposed to do and what’s expected of them.
2) Agreement with the direction. Do they understand what they have to do once they leave the meeting? It’s surprisingly common how that’s not really clear. I know what I’m supposed to do and I know what’s expected of me, but do I agree where this is going? What’s the high-level strategy here? Where is this project going and why?
If you are clear on the former but not on the latter, then you’ll slowly become demotivated and lost. You may think, “You know, I’m doing this thing, but let look at a job board and Linkedin and see what else is interesting and happening out there.
4) Buy-in to the vision and direction.
These three things become your North Star in communication, especially when you are explaining a technical concept to non-technical people. This provides you clarity in the direction that you need to go.
The best way that I like to think about taking a person through this journey is to tell a story. Storytelling the cornerstone of my teaching philosophy and communication behavior. This idea comes from my background in filmmaking. Filmmakers are really good at communicating their stories. You enter a cinema, and the film is happening in a completely different universe than the one that you are living in, but by the end of the film you feel like you live in that universe yourself. You are friends with the characters, you know what going on, you feel the same things that they do. Filmmakers are really good at pulling you into a narrative by making you one of the protagonist of that story and really draw you in by revealing information piece by piece and building the whole world around you that makes you comfortable to live there.
That whole storytelling ethos that I learned as a filmmaking student forms the way that I teach today. All of my essays are all about stories, stories, stories.
You bring up a point in some of your essays too. I’m thinking about drawing from something that the audience already knows right to deliver that powerful message. Talk to us about that because that’s a great strategy talked about. You know, leading them along a journey rather than pulling them to you. You talk about the illustrations about the kitchen and some of that other stuff that you have in your essays.
The analogy that I like to use is if you are telling a story then the story has to begin in a very familiar place to the listener. If you are reading Harry Potter (or watching the movies) you start in the cupboard under the stairs where there is a boy doing his own thing…and it’s all very familiar. Everything that you introduce from here on from the ogre smashing in the door to the magic wands is gradual. You slowly get used to new concepts as you go along the story.
When I talk about how computers work, I use the example of a kitchen that has a cook, some storage place, counter space, ingredients, and recipes. I then relate the idea to technical terms, so an ingredient is data, and a recipe is a software program and then I spin the narrative in a direction where the person no longer needs to remember that I’m not talking about food. They can absurd the vocabulary as it comes in.
I just love the idea of really connecting it from their point of view, by going to them and starting where they are and meeting them at their own starting place to get your message across. Whether it’s the kitchen analogy or even the Harry Potter example that you have. You start out where they are, and yeah, I can relate to you in an odd way. A kid hanging out of his house and then also in this crazy stuff happens and then it’s like, oh, it’s totally fine that there’s a Hawk with horse, legs and everything else so.
You know another point that you bring up is this whole idea of considering the words and the level that you communicate with others. So avoiding over technical and overuse of language.
I think there is a huge risk in corporate cultures where you want to sound smarter and more sophisticated. In scientific literature, this has reached unprecedented levels. Research papers are much harder to read today than they were 50 –60 years ago.
I’ve had experiences myself where my academic advisors would tell me, “Hey, you are using very simple language, nobody is going to take your research project very seriously if you talk like this. You want to make it sound very cool.” I dislike the whole culture that this creates and I think that the jargon that you use should only be as complex as it takes to get the message across. If you are losing your audience then you may want to reconsider the way that you are communicating.
Yeah, that’s so true. Yeah, I coached leaders and organizations all the time on just simplify, simplify, simplify. I think sometimes we and, probably in the academic world, try to validate ourselves through our words by using these grandiose words that make us sound more important than we are.
You’re right, it’s really about just about connecting the message. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated. The best messages are those stories and memorable pieces and simple things that we latch onto.
So you talk about leading the people down to a conclusion instead of trying to drag them to your position and challenging people to take small steps. You talk about this whole I + 1 concept and how you can build out people’s technical knowledge and understanding. Share a little bit about this and how we can apply that to what we’re doing today.
I + 1 is a concept called Comprehensible Input. It’s a concept that has been borrowed from the world of foreign language learning. I personally am big or foreign languages. I’m learning my fourth language right now after English, French, and Chinese. It’s all about the idea that you can only absorb knowledge when it’s just a little bit out of your comfort zone, but it’s not so far out of your comfort zone that you feel like you are reading hieroglyphics or you’re listening to some exotic language where you are falling back on the subtitles. If it’s too comfortable then you aren’t really expanding your fluency.
Language acquisition, and the same for any technical knowledge or concept, is about starting with a small body of words or concepts and then expanding them one by one.
The “I” is your starting point, and you are adding one thing at a time. So, it compounds over time and before you realize it you’ve become exponentially better. It’s like the game Tetris. As the bricks keep falling into place, they become like scaffolding so that new pieces are easier to put into their place. So instead of dropping a huge block into your memory, and you think, “I can’t take this, I’m going to reject this whole thing…”
Game over instantly!
Yes! It’s game over! Instead, you want to build it piece by piece to build that scaffolding so that whatever knowledge you have right now becomes the framework that you can add new knowledge on top of.
It’s very relatable because it’s a small concept where instead of trying to teach me what an engineer does or what a developer does, or whatever else outside my general expertise……it’s not me trying to learn their whole job or that whole culture or circle. Let me just learn a term here, term there, and start to connect the dots that way so that as I grow my knowledge, I can sit down in a meeting and speak intelligently about this or communicate right back to that person.
It’s going back to meeting the person where they are. So now it makes total sense. I love the idea of gaining a little piece of just understanding each time. if you try to jump in the deep end it’s it is that game over mentality for sure.
Even more than words, it’s more about the concept and the narrative.
Why does this technology exist? What does it mean? Then the jargon begins to fall into place quickly. The jargon is easy to remember once you know what that jargon is about.
So you know when we think about communicating, what are some of the reasons that we miss that communication connection with the other person? What keeps us from from bridging that gap?
This comes from both sides, the technical and non-technical sides, and CTOs (Chief Technical Officer) who go to the board meeting and they start talking about the sausage factory that they are running and then they realize that nobody cares about how you are making the sausages.
The key is empathy and the willingness to become aware of the other person’s perspective. This becomes another “I” in the I +1 concept based on what you think that they care about. You then slowly guide them towards what you care about.
So, if you need to talk to the finance person about technology you say it in a way that connects with them. Instead of “We aren’t adding any new features,” you say, “Last year 80% of the features that we added weren’t used by the customers. This year we are going to be more intentional about which features we greenlight, so engineers are only spending time and money on things that lead to more revenue.”
Look for ways to bridge the gap with empathy with others.
So, let’s talk about one last tip in communication. We’ve talked extensively at Passing the Baton about the power of storytelling. You’ve referenced that a couple of times today, and you’ve really leaned into that experience you’ve had in film, and storyboarding too, in a way to build a story to communicate to others. So how can a leader apply that concept in how we communicate with others?
When you go up to the stage and you give a PowerPoint presentation, one thing that you can do is to avoid a huge amount of data or information on one slide. It’s not I +1, it’s more like 1+ 100! Instead of showing a whole flow chart, you start with the first block. It’s like the first frame of a movie. On the next slide, you have the first block and the next block, so the audience can absorb the info and begin to see what’s coming. Think of it like an animator moving the pieces around instead of just changing out to totally different pictures.
You want to go through your story without overloading your audience, so you don’t lose them altogether.
Yeah, I was notoriously resentful of the whole PowerPoint Presentations anyway, because people lean too much on it. In my couple of last years, I’ve had to use PowerPoint more so I understand the power of it when it’s used the right way.
I talk to people about thinking about your presentations as a story from point A to point B and it really helps people dial in the details in the polish to make a great presentation. Storytelling helps turns your presentation from one that’s meh to one that’s over the top and memorable. That’s what we need when we’re presenting to people; something memorable that they can hold onto and can relate to.
Thank you so much for you hanging out with us today. Before we jump off, tell us where we can find you on the web.
The best resource will be our site SANPRAM.com When you go there, the listener will see the free resources and essays that we have that they can use to improve their own technical fluently. If they like what they are learning they, can sign up for more!
Thank you so much for hanging out. Love the connection pieces of connecting the non-technical with the technical. Appreciate you!
One of the challenges of remote work is that there are fewer opportunities for everything. There may be little to no chances to just hang out with your co-works or team anymore. Certainly fewer opportunities exist to have an impromptu brainstorming or problem-solving session.
With fewer opportunities to connect and grow together, it’s important for you as a leader to have good operational behaviors to close the virtual gap between you and your team.
Have one-on-ones with your team
It’s important to schedule a regular cadence to check-in individually with your people. For newer ones, they should be very frequent (multiple times a week), for your more experienced members perhaps it’s weekly or even bi-weekly depending on the need and scope of work.
One-on-ones are very productive because it offers your team members a chance to address things that have come up between meetings. I have mine weekly and typically write out a list ahead of time of things to cover or updates to give. Some items may include important project updates, non-critical people issues, questions on clarity, and updates from previous topics.
Always open the meeting on a personal note and avoid jumping straight into business unless you meet very frequently and/or you are both pressed for time. The thing you open with first is your most important topic. Show your people that they are important connecting with them before you start with the business topics at hand.
Have an open calendar
People can get weird about calendars. Whether it’s a feeling of invasion of privacy or they lack trust in others, some people choose to keep their calendars locked down so that no one can see them. As a leader, you should at least open up your calendar for your team to see and ask them to do the same for you. This will give you both a chance to look and schedule time together without a bunch of back and forth beforehand.
You can always keep certain events and time private if you need to. Look for the privacy setting when you create an event, it will typically mark the time as busy or unavailable when others see your calendar.
Be on time
Does your day consist of going from meeting to meeting? It can be hard to keep yourself on schedule for the day when each meeting has an X factor of talking heads and oversharing. Do your best to end the meeting on time so you can be on time for the next one. It shows you respect the other person’s time and have them as a priority.
I typically watch the time in my meeting and then give us a verbal warning if I don’t feel like we are going to wrap up on time. I may say something like, “Alright, we have five minutes left. What follow-up is needed as we wrap up this topic?” If there are outstanding items still to cover, schedule more time later to discuss and follow-up on.
Knock it out now
With fewer opportunities to pop-in on one another, it’s more important to make decisions in the moment. Don’t make a rash or ill-informed judgment call, but do your best to provide an answer, direction, and clarity in the moment.
Provide an answer to someone when they ask for it, rather than putting it off unless it requires further follow-up or knowledge gathering. Every time you delay a decision or push the topic until later on, you are hitting the pause button on that action item. Because of the nature of remote work, you’ve likely just stopped all progress on the topic whether you realized it or not.
Take care of questions and decisions in the moment if at all possible.
You can be a great leader in the booming age of remote work. Carry the proper mindset and build strong operational behaviors to lead your team, and yourself, well.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 virus in the human population. We have lived through one of the most devastating events that have happened in the history of humanity, and one area that has fundamentally changed is how we go about doing our work. More people than ever are doing remote work.
Leaders should be aware of the natural gap that is created in this remote environment and adapt the right mentality to meet the new demand.
Carry a clear perspective
While you’ll have a natural pull towards people on your team that you have a lot in common with, or people that are high performers with high potential, remember to treat everyone like they are winners and they matter. I have seen some leaders truly shine and this is one of their secrets. I’ve had this leader in my life as well and it’s both affirming and aspiring. I know that she really appreciates and values me, and I also know that she gives that same love and support to others on the team.
Make them feel like there is no one winner. Make them all feel like winners.
Know your people well
Another mindset in order to close the virtual gap is to know your people well. Take the relationship past the transactional and business at hand, and get to know those around you.
Understand what motivates them on a personal level (Not just at work).
Gain a level of mutual respect where you both are free to share more vulnerable parts about your life. What are some things that you struggle with, avoid, or need help on?
Learn the person’s body language. As long as you have those cameras on during the meetings, you should still be able to lean into this aspect of reading a person somewhat.
Know about their loved ones. This can look different depending on the person and life stage. Regardless of whether it’s a best friend or a spouse and kids, learn those people’s names and ask about them when interacting with your team.
Knowing people well helps you dial in your message and direction that meets the person right where they are. This mindset becomes a weather forecaster for people. You’ll start to see signs of an impending change or struggle in a person before it fully manifests itself.
Trust & Empower
Do you want to save yourself some time, make your team feel better about their job, and lower your stress? Empower your people as they work in a virtual environment.
Give your team members responsibilities and trust them to do great things. This will help you re-allocate your time from doing tasks that you shouldn’t do to doing extra coaching, mentoring, and development time.
Assume that your people are coming to you with the best intentions and that there is a legitimate need when they ask for it. Value your people and the fact that they are seeking your guidance and help. Always start from a positive place in your interactions.
Affirm and Confirm
With an avalanche of emails, you might tend to let the trail drop once a resolution is sent. Great remote leaders take the time to send one last confirmation that word of thanks to the other person(s).
This may seem trivial, but these small gestures add up to a big deal in the long term. You are reinforcing that you are responsive and attentive towards your team and colleagues. Always end an email chain on a positive note. Remember that minor things matter.
Having the right mentality makes all the difference when you are leading your remote team. Trust and empower your people and help them keep the right perspective.
Let there be no mistake. The journey that you take yourself and others on is just as important as arriving at the destination. It’s “The How” and “The Why” balance in what you do. Honor in leadership matters because it’s all about “The How.” It’s defined as good quality of character as judged by other people and high moral standards of behavior.
Honor is essential to effective leadership. Here are some tips to help you gain and increase your honor with others.
Let go of ego and the addiction to being right
Our own need to feed our ego and the addiction to being right are two of the biggest traps in leadership. The allure of both of these ideas only increases as you rise in leadership. Both cause the leader to put themselves over the people that they serve, skew their perspective on critical decisions, and can cause physical, mental, and emotional damage to others as well.
Support, develop, and surround yourself with some people that don’t feed your ego. Work with people that are smart, continuous learners, and brave enough to speak up in tough situations.
Look at the perks of your job that feed your ego. Do you need that front parking space or other special perks? It’s ok to let go of some of those things to keep your ego at bay.
To fight the addiction to being right:
Avoid groupthink that feeds the addiction to being right. Again find people that will speak up with a different opinion.
Give your people a safe place and the trust to speak up when needed.
Affirm other ideas that people have. Encourage and foster creativity in your group.
Strengthen your own-self awareness to realize when you’ve made a mistake or gone too far. Show authenticity and honor by admitting those mistakes to others. They already know anyway!
We’ll have more tips on fighting the addiction to being right in show 257: The Addiction to being right and the 7 deadly sins of leadership.
Check the soil that you are rooted in
There is no doubt that leaders without honor have just as much passion as those that lead honorably, while many unhonorable leaders truly believe that they are in the right. The misalignment comes in how they’ve rooted themselves and what they are feeding themselves on a regular basis.
Check your own soil from time to time to see how you are rooted and what you are taking in on a daily basis. We’ve talked for years about how a person’s perception is their reality. (Even when it’s wrong.) Social media, the topics you regularly search out, and who you associate with highly influence your perception whether you realize it or not.
Let’s say you are at work and a boss that you respect says that the sky used to be red and because of modern technology it turned blue. You would be right to think that’s ridiculous and insane because you are rooted correctly! As time goes on, you hear your co-workers talk about it. One of them shares a picture of a sunset where the sky truly is red. You then go to the internet and check out fringe groups and Youtube videos that are saying the same thing. You then start lowering your defenses and are more open to the idea. (You have now unknowingly started changing your soil and what you are consuming) Before you know it you are all in on a conspiracy theory. Sounds crazy? This type of behavioral trail is exactly what leads others to:
As a leader in business and in your home, you have an obligation to lead with truth, honesty, and transparency with those that you influence. In order to do that, you need to be well rooted yourself first. You can have honorable intentions in your own mind, but can’t actually lead with honor if you lead other people astray and away from truth and reality.
Other ways that you show honor to yourself and others
Lose graciously and win humbly
Seek to affirm instead of condemning
Listen more and talk less
Deesculate yourself when you feel anger towards someone
Educate yourself about an opposing view
Treat others like you want to be treated
Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say to a friend face-to-face
Keep promises that you make to others
Accept responsibility for your decisions
You may not lead a country, large business, or have a large team that reports to you. It doesn’t matter. You have people out there that are relying on you to lead them and yourself well. Lead with honor so you will lead yourself and others down the right path towards your destination.
Aspirations and Ambitions. I’ve heard both referred to as positive and negative over the years. Some might say a younger employee is ambitious as they prove themselves in a new role at an organization. Ambition is also sometimes used to describe someone’s self-centeredness in their own career journey. Aspirational leaders are seen as very people-focused in how they lead themselves and others. It can all be used to describe someone who has a lack of self-awareness when it comes to their goals and true capacity and capability.
How are you leading yourself as you reach for your future goals? Are you more aspirational in your approach, or are you very ambitious in reaching the finish line?
Aspiration, or something you aspire to do or be, is often a bit open-ended. It’s typically grounded in a desire for personal growth and teamwork and less focused on timetables and structure.
Examples of Aspiration
To lead a team of people
Learning new parts of the business
To lead at a certain level in an organization (Often not job-specific)
To achieve a certain lifestyle level for you and your family
Ambition is typically laser-focused on hitting a specific goal. Often times the thought or the idea has very actionable steps to take and a deadline to hit the goal by.
Examples of Ambition
Complete schooling or certification by X date
Get a promotion in your job in a specific timeframe
To learn a new skill set or ability
To fit a certain financial threshold by a set point in your life.
Land a specific GPA in school or to get accepted into a certain college
Do they work together or compete?
On the surface, aspiration may look like a passive and weaker strategy compared to ambition, especially for “A” type personalities. In reality, aspirations can be just as powerful as ambitions. Aspirations are all about the journey, while ambitions can turn into a, “Get there at all costs” mentality.
So now which one is better?
The answer is neither. Both have their place in your life. There are things that you should absolutely be ambitious about. Your schooling, personal care, certain financial goals; all can be very successful aspects of your life when you push them to greatness. Aspirations help you work towards large scale goals while lifting up others along the way.
Just like everything else in life, there should be a balance in the categories of goals that you have for yourself. Be overly ambitious (Ep 43) and you will potentially burn every bridge that you have built in order to get yourself to your goal. Sit in the comfortably of aspirations without action for too long and your aspirations will transform into dreams that you may not bring to reality.
Do both the right way
There is certainly a better way to go about both paths towards reaching your goals.
Aspirations: Be mindful of pushing your personal growth while on the path to your aspirational goals. Set stretch goals for yourself wrapped around knowledge and experience tied to a certain period of time. Check-in with yourself on occasion to see how you are doing. How have you changed in the last 6 months or a year and moves you closer to your goals? What relationships have you built along the way?
Ambitions: Have awareness of how your ambitions are impacting others. Are they inclusive or exclusive to others? Do people feel like they are a part of your story or a resource that you are using and will move on from? Focus your ambitions through the lens of relationship building and adding value to others along the way. Your ambitions can actively work against you if you go about them the wrong way. Show appreciation and recognize others that are a part of your success.
Harness the power of both ambitious and aspirational goals to pave a way for your ideal future state.
Today marks our 250th episode of the Passing the Baton podcast. I’m thankful every week for our Baton Carriers out there that listen to our show or read the newsletters all over the world. Thank you for your engagement and for allowing the show to be a part of your leadership journey.
I am a huge supporter of inclusive leadership. I believe that you should include others in as many of your daily duties as possible to grow their buy-in, experience and it ultimately lightens your load. Here are several reasons why you should commit to including others in workplace activities.
Including others raises their knowledge level
There is nothing like gaining knowledge at the source. It’s just more impactful than hearing it second-handed or in a training video or message. People learn quicker and retain knowledge longer when they experience something. In the talent development community, we refer to this as experiential learning and it’s the reason why new training avenues like VR are so impactful. They create an experience that we remember.
Including others in your daily work routine is the natural progression of the one-level-up mentality. (Everyone can do the job one level above their own) You may not think much of mundane items like making a schedule or approving a budget, but it’s valuable knowledge for someone else. Don’t take your small responsibilities for granted and teach others how to perform them.
Involving others in meetings can be helpful as well in growing their knowledge. Set out the expectations beforehand. (Are they an active participant or merely there to observe). Stick to meeting boundaries, and connect afterward to check for understanding and learning points. Having someone sit in with you during a meeting also opens up the opportunity to sub in for you when you are unavailable.
Including others creates ownership
When others are included, their ownership in whatever it is is naturally increased. It’s one of the main benefits of including others in your hiring process. They have a sense of ownership over the role and they will put in extra effort in order to ensure that the new person is successful.
Inclusion also helps the person understand the why behind what needs to be done. Understanding that why always drives more ownership to complete the job well.
Including others raises retention
People stay longer when they feel valued, respected and cared for. Isn’t that exactly what you are doing by including them in the strategy of your team?
Inclusion is sometimes even more effective than a raise in keeping someone with you longer. Sure the money is great, but you can give them a phenomenal raise and if they feel isolated, not appreciated and not challenged than they will leave anyway.
Think of increases in salary and growth opportunities as part of an equal package instead of an either-or scenario.
Including others fleshes out your strategy
Yet another benefit of including others is that it provides you with another perspective on the meeting, strategy or idea that you are working on. You may discover a new more efficient way to complete those mundane tasks that you hate doing. I’ve seen this benefit regularly pay off in marketing meetings. Oftentimes they walk out with a more encompassing strategy after presenting to people with different perspectives.
Be supportive and encourage the person to share ideas and perspectives when you involve them. Otherwise, you may lose out on valuable knowledge yourself.
Include others in your strategy sessions, daily routines, and even mundane activities and watch your team grow stronger and stay longer in the new year.
Rabbits! We aren’t going to talk about being rabbits today, instead, we are going to work to keep ourselves from chasing the proverbial rabbits that steal our attention throughout the day. Our attention span has been decreasing for the last 20 years and currently sits around 8 seconds. Just like most skills, you can grow, strengthen and lengthen your attention span.
I hope I haven’t already lost you.
Start at the shallow end
Think of growing your attention span as a runner training for a marathon. You don’t immediately start running 13 miles a day. You’ll likely hurt yourself and cause yourself a significant setback or you may just quit altogether.
Your attention span is like your leg muscles. It may be good enough to get you through a short sprint to hunt down your rabbit, but it won’t carry you far. Your brain needs some good training to strengthen it enough to carry you the distance.
Utilize techniques like the Pomodoro Technique to keep your brain engaged for a certain amount of time and then give it a rest. Start with whatever time works best for you. 30 minutes for someone may seem like an easy starting point and for others, it may seem like Mt Everest.
Just as in a good training program, pick your unique and healthy starting point and then work up from there.
Make a distraction to-do list
We have the knowledge of the world at our fingertips and with that power comes the rabbit called “Curious Thought.” You know it as, “Let me check the weather for tomorrow real quick,” of “I wonder what the lightning deal on Amazon is right now,” or “Who was that actor in the movie I was just thinking about?”
We stop what we are doing and start chasing the curiosity rabbit. I saw this play out in my own life recently while on the phone with my brother. He was helping me with some behind the scenes image coding on the PTB website. By the end of the conversation about picture formatting, I had run across the web looking up info on SEOs (Search Engine Optimization), downloaded two unrelated plug-ins for the sites and moved to a new statistics platform. Everywhere I looked, there were more rabbits!
Instead of letting the rabbits run rampant on your time and attention, make a distraction to-do list. Jot down the things that pop into your mind to distract you and promise to address them once you finish what you are working on. I also keep a slightly bigger, mid priority project list, that I can jump into when I need a break from what I’m working on.
Cage the rabbit to your list and keep moving.
Maximize your most attentive times
More than likely, you have periods throughout the day where you are more attentive than others. For me, it is the start of the day until lunch and then later on in the evening. I stack those times with important tasks, things that require a lot of focus and items that need my creativity. I then work on the more mundane and procedural functions and tasks on my calendar during the less attentive times.
Going back to our training program analogy, I run, walk, run.
Do some self-reflection to determine your optimal focus times. It may be easy for you to discover or you may need help from others to get a good understanding of your sweet spots. Once you know those blocks of time, adjust your tasks accordingly.
Here are some other quick tips to help you grow and protect your attention span.
Build up your willpower to combat the rabbits in your day.
Remove temptations that easily distract you. Keep a clean and tidy work area.
Exercise. Here is yet another benefit of exercise. Studies show that completing a workout stimulates your brain’s ability to stay focused.
Meditation and prayer have proven benefits when it comes to strengthening attention.
Listen to music. I am constantly listening to music as I write and create. Music engages the parts of your brain that hold your attention. My music habit is different from what I normally listen to and even more different from my exercise music. It’s engaging but not distracting.
Your attention doesn’t have to be stolen by those pesky rabbits that pop up throughout the day. Stay focused and engage your mind to increase your attention.
It’s hard to be empathetic with a person when they don’t come out and tell us what the situation is or what they are going through.
Develop a keen awareness and remember back to the power of body language (EP 186). People often telegraph that they are struggling and their need to talk before they communicate it verbally.
Take a proactive approach and reach out to the person. Then listen well and be willing to open up at least a little to the other person. Sometimes leaders in an effort to connect with others end up making it about themselves instead. Be very aware not to turn the focus towards yourself during the conversation.
Remember that empathy goes both ways and when you make yourself vulnerable and listen well you are allowing the other person to return empathy back to you in the situation.
Roadblock #2: Prejudice both known and unknown
The prejudice that we have towards general cultures or types of people can be a major hurdle to empathy.
Clairborne Paul Ellis was a man that grew up in poverty and thought that African Americans were the ones that were the cause of these troubles. He followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the KKK. His hatred for African Americans became a driving force in his life. He was later asked to be a part of a community group to tackle racial tensions in schools because of this prominence in the town.
Ellis worked alongside an African American woman named Ann Atwater. He hated Atwater and obviously had no empathy towards her. Ellis eventually learned about Ann’s similar stories about poverty and began to realize that his situation had nothing to do with another people group. His empathy began to grow and it pushed him to action. He renounced his KKk membership, became lifelong friends with Atwater, and organized a union that had a 70% African American membership. Ellis’s story is a powerful one that shows how empathy can impact your own life.
Question the prejudices that you know about in your own life and dig down deep to find those ones that you don’t realize that you have. Make an effort to connect with people from those groups and situations in order to establish a new perspective on things.
Roadblock #3: Missing the person for the problem
I’ve recently had several different leaders across multiple industries reach out to PTB about how to handle employee performance issues and potential actions that should be taken. It seems to be the number one thing that makes leaders hesitant or afraid of.
People know, or have heard at least heard, horror stories of these events. Conversations gone sideways. Freakouts. Violence. The fallout afterward. I’ve never had this happen to me once I harnessed the power of empathy.
The problem is that the leader gets hyper-focused on the problem, or what the offending person did and they act out in hostility or anger when having the conversation. This, of course, causes a reaction in the other person, and thus another horror story of accountability gone wrong is born.
You may understand and know the problem, ensure that you use your empathy to understand the root reason why they acted the way that they did. Treat them like a person by giving them honor and respect no matter the situation. They are still human after all. Taking this approach will make these conversations much more successful. I lean heavily into my empathy skills while having these conversations. As odd as it sounds, I’ve gotten multiple handshakes and hugs after letting people go. Empathy is powerful.
Use your knowledge in empathy to grow your ability to connect with others in a meaningful way. Your likability with others will increase, your decision-making ability will be more thought out and your ability to navigate tough employee conversations will be strong.
Empathy is certainly a learned skill much like riding a bike or any technical skill at work. Now that we understand what empathy is (EP 245) you should have an idea of where you can begin to grow your own empathy.
You need to be open to empathy
You first have to be open to the idea of allowing yourself to tap into your own emotions and those of others. This point of entry into empathetic growth is why you will never be able to force someone to grow in this area. You can’t tell a person to close their eyes and imagine themselves in the other person’s situation if they aren’t open to it. They may close their eyes, but they will not establish a connection.
In order to be open to growing your empathy, you must first have a strong sense of self, confidence, and comfortability with engaging in emotions. You won’t reach your fullest potential in empathy without this foundation.
You don’t have to walk a mile in their shoes
There are variations of a saying that basically states that you shouldn’t judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. The premise of the saying is that you should understand and live out an experience before you cast judgment on someone else. That’s not necessarily needed to make a good empathetic connection.
Let’s say that a co-worker is devastated because they bombed their first presentation in a meeting. You haven’t had that experience, but you can remember how you felt in a similar situation. Maybe it was a time you let a bunch of friends down or disappointed a boss that you really looked up to or your nerves got the best of you in a situation. Connecting how you felt in those situations to how your co-worker is feeling is a great bridge for solid empathy.
I may not have lived out that exact scenario, but I understand the emotions that you are feeling.
Understand that the bridge to true empathy is not created equal
It is easier for us to have empathy with people that look like us and have similar backgrounds. That’s because we can easily relate their experiences to our own. It’s a short and wide bridge to cross.
Understand that it takes more mental work to make connections to other groups and backgrounds. That bridge is longer and more narrow. Be very mindful of these situations. Listen more, ask questions, and look for ways to establish that connection with the other person.
Think objectively in the situation
Know that people communicate through filters. They want to protect themselves or they are only talking about the scenario from their point of view. I’m not saying that the other person is a liar or trying to deceive you, but know that their emotions may be clouding their judgment, communication, and mindset.
Understand the impact on the person while thinking about the bigger picture of what’s going on around them. This helps me connect well with a person while making informed decisions on the larger view of things.
An objective example of this would be when two employees get into a disagreement. One comes to you feeling disrespected and hurt. You can connect with that person in how’d you’d feel if you were slighted. Staying objective helps you avoid making a brash decision and seek to understand the other side as well. You may even find out that there were a number of things that lead to the blow-up.
Having a strong objective view helps you have empathy for both sides when working through people issues. It is always to good to have empathy for all sides in employee and family conflicts.
These tips give you a great start in growing your empathy with others. We’ll share roadblocks to growth and more tips next week.
A good leader is served well when they have a strong sense of empathy towards others. Empathy is everything in leadership; without it, there is no true understanding and without understanding, there is a failure in leadership.
Trusting partnerships, stronger family ties, and better working relationships come when both parties have empathy for each other.
What empathy is and what it is not
Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s perspective and share their thoughts, feelings, and motivation. It’s not a requirement that you’ve actually experienced what the person is going through or the situation behind the difference between you and them. It’s more about being able to put yourself mentally in their shoes to understand the emotional state of the other person.
Strong empathy does require for you to have a good grasp of your own emotions and self-awareness. You’ve got to know yourself before you can fully understand others.
Empathy is not an all-loving, non-confrontational person that just wants everyone to be happy and joyous. You must understand the other person and let that understanding help in your leadership and decision-making process. You still have to lead and you are still going to make decisions that don’t make everyone happy. Having great empathy helps you make better decisions.
Three types of empathy
Your empathy can be broken down into three different aspects of thought, emotion, and action.
Cognitive Empathy (Thought) focuses on the ability to have an understanding of how the other person is feeling or what they are thinking at the moment. It’s understanding the reasoning behind their thought process. Having a strong sense of cognitive empathy helps you communicate with others in a meaningful way that reaches them right where they are.
Emotional Empathy is truly connecting with the emotions that the other person is going through. It’s the burden or pain you feel for others in a tough spot. Your ability to cry or tear up for a character in a film, show or play is due to your emotional empathy in that person.
Compassionate Empathy (Action) pushes you towards action in these scenarios. The tug of the heart to do something to help the other person is a result of this. Compassionate empathy is also what drives better decision making in good leaders.
Putting it all together
We are going to use the example of a co-worker going through the loss of a loved one. A person with little or no empathy skills will shy away from connecting with the person. You may feel that giving the other person space is what they need when in reality it’s an excuse that you give yourself in order to not have to deal with the issue.
You may feel sympathy for the person. You feel sorry for the person going through the tough time or maybe you’re even a little sad that they are sad.
Empathy takes the connection deeper than sympathy. Your cognitive empathy helps you understand what’s going on in the other person’s mind. How close was the person to them? How does this impact their daily life? What responsibilities are they suddenly having to carry?
See? We are already more complex than sympathy. The other two parts of empathy carry it even further.
With emotional empathy, you connect with the emotional toll that the person is going through and understand how it may change their behavior and decision-making ability. You connect with the heartache that they are experiencing.
Finally, compassionate empathy pushes you to act and help your colleague. This is where you change to assist the other person. It could be taking on their workload so they can step away, bringing them a meal, or being there for them outside of work. Compassionate empathy makes you do something about the situation where sympathy does not.
Think about your empathy level with others as you go through your daily routine this week. Next week we will cover practical tips on how to strengthen your empathy towards others.
I once worked for someone where nothing was ever good enough. I felt like I had to prove myself over and over again no matter how long I had been in the role. It gets exhausting and it crushes your morale and drive to do better.
You shouldn’t have to live life running through fire every day to prove your worth as a person and as a leader. Here are some thoughts to help remind you that you have nothing to prove.
Judge your success by your own standards
Our society today is one of comparison. We want to be like the person living their best Instagram worthy life, our extended friends and family that live in our dream house, or even the jerk that is sitting in the job that is meant for us.
The problem with comparing yourself to others is that it will always be an unfair comparison and you’ll never be truly satisfied. Judge your success on your own standards. It doesn’t mean you stop pushing yourself for growth. It means to focus on your individual progress instead of putting it up against other people’s situations.
We talked about this more in-depth way back in PTB Episode 36: Who is your competition?
You can’t please everyone
As an early leader, I know I tried too hard to please everyone. I felt that I wasn’t the best leader unless everyone was happy. Understand that you aren’t going to please everyone. It’s impossible, because of so many variables in ethics, upbringing, lifestyle, and perspective.
Lead by what’s best for the group and have confidence in your leadership and decision-making ability. When you live your life this way, you have nothing to prove to the naysayers and doubters. When a person doesn’t care for your leadership style, accept it, and keep moving forward.
It only matters what a few people think
It’s easy to get hung up in what other people think of you. You see these scenarios play out in school, work, professional & volunteer organizations and in social circles. Like a good golden retriever, we want to please others and be liked.
At the end of the day, the most valuable relationships in your life will likely total 10 people are less. This is your innermost circle. These people matter. Outside of that, most people you meet will likely exit your circle at some point in time.
You can give too much mental space and attention to people that are inconsequential to you in the big scheme of things.
One of my favorite scenes from the Office is when Andy is destroying himself because people on the internet are trolling his youtube videos. It’s funny how much he loses control but it’s also funny because that reaction is a reality for many people.
You determine your happiness
At the end of the day, you determine your level of happiness no matter the circumstances in your life. No one can take your happiness away from you unless you allow them to.
Your definition of happiness may be very different from someone else’s. Others strive for the biggest beach house that they can’t afford and you may just want to live in a tiny house on the side of a mountain.
Chase what makes YOU happy instead of allowing others to build a narrative that you have to prove yourself towards time and time again.
You have nothing to prove to anyone but yourself, (a new job or client being the exception). Push yourself for growth and let success follow you.
I’m a big-time management guy. It’s a subject that I get a lot of questions about at Passing the Baton and when I’m meeting people in the real world. Recently the question and idea came up about the desire for time versus the desire for more personal experiences. Could the aching desire for more meaningful memories actually be disguising itself as a desire for more time?
I want more time to spend outside of work
Let’s say you are already doing well with your time and you still want more time outside of work. Evaluate your time in a given week and see how much leisure time you actually have. It’s likely higher than you think.
Use your calendar to determine your average amount of leisure time. This alone may be the wake-up call that you are spending more time doing things that have little significance.
Pull out your hobby, friends, family, education, and health maintenance time. Examine the quality of those times. Are they being utilized well or is there a lot of wasted time? How about technology’s impact on those times?
Time perception is real. How we perceive our time impacts how we spend it. If you feel like you have no time, you are likely more stressed about it and aren’t using it all efficiently. On the other hand, those that feel like they have a good grasp and control over their time get more out of the moments they create.
What you think you spend your time on and what you actually spend your time on might be more different than you realize.
I need more space
I always tell people to schedule their free time. I know it sounds weird. John shares a story years ago when he started doing this. He started scheduling daily water intake and playtime with his kids. Wouldn’t you know it, he started getting healthier and enjoyed more memories with family.
Scheduling off times and space protects it from other time-wasters and other priorities from stealing it away from you. Place memory-building activities on your calendar. It doesn’t always have to be a grand adventure; it can be as simple as a date with someone or a phone call to an old friend.
I need help being in the moment
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become much more aware of being in the moment. I no longer take the situation or time for granted anymore. I think of it as memory imprinting. I’m very aware of what’s going on around me and I’m actively building that memory as I live it out. It may sound odd, but it has certainly helped me. Here are some tips to help you with memory imprints.
Call out details in your mind as you are in the moment. What are the smells? What are you wearing? What is the weather like? What are the key things going on around you? I love doing this on film sets. There’s always a ton going on and its fun to remember all the behind-the-scenes things happening when it comes out on the big screen.
Think back and reflect on the time soon after it wraps up. This will help solidify the memory in your mind. I usually reflect back immediately after it’s over and then a couple of times the following days.
Eliminate all distractions. Another plus about the film industry is that you are not allowed to have phones on set. It forces you to be fully in the moment. That experience has taught me that there are times when I need to put up my phone. I know that I have missed memorable moments because I’ve had my face in a phone. Make sure that you are not that person.
Grow an appreciation for the moment. Realize that the moment you are in is a snapshot, never to be repeated again. (Even if it’s an ongoing event like work or Friday nights with friends) Each event is different and the circumstances of these events will change before you know it.
I need help remembering
Our minds can be a frustrating thing. You want to hold on to retain quality memories and experiences, but it’s constantly dumping that info so that it can process new ones. There are a couple of options that I would recommend to help catalog and enjoy your memories.
Daily Journal – Use it as part of your morning routine or at the end of the day. This doesn’t have to be a significant amount of writing every day, just enough to catalog the high points. A side benefit of this is that it may open up creativity and a larger desire to write and compose. It also gives you a semi-detailed look back so that you can see the progress that you’ve made.
1 Second Everday APP – I found myself frustrated that I wasn’t remembering as much as I wanted to. The creator of 1SE felt the same way and that’s why he built this app. Basically what you do is take a picture every day and then the app catalogs it and can make things like slideshows and movies out of them. You can also just browse daily pictures if you’d like.
The app forced me to be on the lookout for good moments and appreciate them more as they happened. It also helped me remember them. I’m currently looking back 7 months and I remember the details of every one of those events. I highly recommend the app to others.
The desire for more memories is often the starting point of some type of time management. Regardless of the motivation, I would encourage you to pursue it. Passing the Baton teaches online classes several times a year and I would certainly recommend Lee Cockerell’s Time Management Magic for people to read.
Managing to the exception is something you encounter on a daily basis. You see warnings and disclaimers all the time in the food industry and on the product that you buy. Who would have thought that Legos are a choking hazard and a rare steak is not fully cooked? Have you ever worked in an environment where they had some weird rule or restriction because someone at some point did something they shouldn’t have?
How does exception management happen and how can we fight it?
How it manifests
You’ll often see managing to the exception come about in one of three ways:
A) A project, product, or service is slow to implement because it’s not perfect. There is a demand to keep refining the process to meet the need of every possible scenario.
B) Anytime a leader lets something of small importance drive a decision of large importance.
C) Policies and procedures are written in anticipation or as a response to a one-off encounter or event.
What it does to your team
Managing to the exception can have several negative effects on your team.
It may make them feel like you don’t trust them.
It inevitably leads to less productivity.
It lowers the value of other policies and procedures that are truly important.
It may cause people to doubt your decision-making ability.
It can make the employee feel like they are a liability and not an asset.
Call it out
It’s important to call out exceptions when you see them so that they don’t then become engrained in a project or a policy. It’s okay to say, “I think this is the exception to the rule,” during a meeting. You’ve likely seen one of these side notes or comments ending up taking over a meeting. Have the courage to speak up and nip it in the bud so that you can continue on with things that are more important. If there is still debate on the validity of the issue, bring it offline and talk with the person about their concerns.
Ask yourself if the issue or concern is a deal-breaker or not. If it is, address it on a large scale. If not, take care of the exception and move forward.
Have a look back period
A yearly review of policies and procedures is a good practice to ensure that you are not bogging your teams down with unnecessary regulations and hurdles to efficiency. What needs to be updated? What needs to be erased? Look for things that are outdated and are holding your team back.
I typically recommend a set of policies and a set of guidelines for organizations. Policies are strict tactical pieces needed to do your business. How you handle your money, ethics, information security, and safety would all be examples of policies. Guidelines would be just that. “Here are our preferences and guardrails in this situation.” Dress code, customer issues, branding standards, and vendor management would be examples here.
Ideally, your policies should be small compared to your guidelines. Both offer a standard, with guidelines offering flexibility to suit the situation while policies are set in stone. Some companies have bloated policies because they have no guidelines.
Handle the one-off and exceptions when they occur, just don’t let it drive your business and how you approach your team.
Studies show that over a third of all meetings are unproductive. Maybe you have sat through a few yourself! Many high profile leaders and CEOs take meetings very seriously to keep the meeting times and the company as efficient as possible.
Meetings don’t have to be a huge time suck and resource waster for you or your team.
Stay on track
Have you ever become frustrated because you found the meeting going off the rails because the room is talking about everything but the items related to the reason for the meeting? It can happen easily enough and before you know it either your meeting is running over or you didn’t accomplish the goal and you have to meet again.
My friends in the talent development industry often deploy a “parking lot” strategy to keep meetings focused. They will bring a giant sticky pad of paper upfront and if something comes up that begins to bring them off-topic, they will note it in the parking lot and have someone follow-up on it after the meeting. I’ve seen meetings where the parking lot is filled and others where it’s empty because no one wants their idea up there.
Agendas with times for each person are another great tool as long as everyone agrees to keep to it. Put an expectation and plan in place to keep your team focused on the reason for being in the meeting.
Respect the time and try to beat it
If you use an agenda with time allotments, make sure that you stick to it and do your best to beat it. I’ve been in meetings where a financial update was always given a standard 10 minutes. The person could have updated the team in 2 minutes, but always used 10 minutes because that’s what they had.
If you reach the end of your time, table the rest for next time, or follow-up in a post-meeting communication. If the issue is of top importance for the meeting, ask if someone can give up some of their time so you can finish. Just don’t make it a habit to do so.
How many slides do you need?
Many people use slides because it helps them keep on track and it enhances the communication to the team. Just as many people use slides as a crutch by simply reading each slide or use it as a filler for their allotted time.
Check yourself on the reasons for your slides and the value that they add to the group. If you are just simply reading slides, try to do your portion once without them. It will push you in your presentation skills and will likely lower your time. Help for good powerpoint presentations is out there if you search for it. The Atlanta Chapter of ATD usually offers a seminar of creative Powerpoint a couple of times a year and it’s one of our most popular events.
Do you even need the meeting?
Sometimes we caught get up in meetings just for the sake of meetings. For some leaders, it gives them a sense of connection and work accomplishment. Go through your calendar and determine if the meeting is actually warranted. Perhaps two can be combined into one. Maybe you can meet less often. There are likely hidden efficiencies in your meeting calendar.
Include only those that are truly needed
As you look at your calendar of meetings, perhaps you see ones that do need to happen but don’t really require that you attend. Work with the leader of the meeting to excuse yourself and ask for meeting notes if needed. Reverse the idea for the meetings that you lead. Look at the room and determine who really needs to be there.
One of the most frustrating things for a good employee to deal with is sitting through meetings that are unnecessary for them to be in. It’s a waste of their time and your resources.
Keep your meetings focused and as short as possible. Determine the right people in the room and free people up to do their jobs outside of the meeting space.
I know why we’re here. A rescue op, save the dinosaurs from an island that’s about to explode. What could go wrong? -Owen (Chris Pratt)
Jurassic World is one of the highest grossest movies ever made and for good reason. It’s got a relatable hero, action, drama and of course dinosaurs. Through two movies (and an upcoming third), we see Owen and the gang navigate all sorts of dangers while strengthening the relationships with each other. There are a few leadership lessons that we can learn from a dinosaur trainer.
Calm under pressure
Owen is certainly a leader that remains calm under pressure. You see this at the beginning of the first movie as he is training the velociraptors and then continue to see it play out over the next two movies. In several scenes, Owen stays calm under chaos and lives as a result, while those around him that can’t handle the pressure and don’t make it out alive.
Being level-headed in tough situations will serve you well. Understand where your strengths and weaknesses are in regards to your reaction in challenging situations. For me, it’s easy to remain calm in crisis situations while I have to more mindful while dealing with people who are generally angry and lash out at others.
Remember that being a calm person doesn’t mean you have to be a bump on a log with no personality. Owen is witty, sarcastic and funny. Be yourself and keep calm when the pressure mounts.
People who fail to learn from the past often repeat it
The underlying principle in Jurassic World is people repeat their failures when they don’t learn from them. Strip away some of the fluff and Jurrasic World is exactly like the original Jurassic Park. Nice park, everything looks great, evil person tries to steal Dinosaur IP, Dinos get loose, run for your life.
Failure is needed for you to grow as a person and for your company to grow. It shows that you are trying new things and continuing to push forward in your journey of growth. We sometimes have a tendency to be ashamed of those failures and quickly try to sweep them under the rug and move on.
Take time to reflect on the whys and reasons behind the failure. It will teach you valuable lessons and help you move forward in a healthy way.
Don’t celebrate too early
A classic scene in all of the Jurassic movies is the early celebration. It’s like the helicopter pilot in Jurrasic World who thinks he made it out only to be eaten by a giant dinosaur in the end. Make sure that you celebrate your wins with your team and yourself, just not too early. It’s cost athletes their win, companies their lead, and embarrassment for others.
Make sure it’s a done deal and then party.
Leaders have to put themselves between danger and their team.
Videos that show people putting themselves in harm’s way to save or help someone else regularly go viral on the internet. Almost always, it’s a regular person and complete stranger to the one that needs assistance. We love a good hero that sacrifices their safety for those of others.
Owen puts himself between his friends and danger constantly in the new Jurassic World movies. His concern is obviously higher for those he cares about above himself. What monsters out there have you have thrown yourself in front of to protect your friends, family, and co-workers? Maybe it’s not a killer dinosaur, but perhaps it was a bully, a safety issue or a tough conversation in a meeting. I often see my role as a leader as a shield to keep as much of the garbage from hitting my team as possible. A good leader does what needs to be done to protect their team.
Live your life like a good dinosaur trainer. Be brave, level headed, and learn from your mistakes. Step up to help others and celebrate after you’ve accomplished your goal.
There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, to see if we could become something more. -Nick Fury
The Avengers have fully taken over the world. Their universe in TV and film has spanned over 10 years and amassed billions in ticket sales alone. It seems we can’t enough of our beloved heroes. Underneath all the space travel, intergalactic wars and Avenger-level threats lie several leadership lessons we can take away and apply in the real world.
Ordinary people, extraordinary powers
If you look at the Avengers, most of them are ordinary people who came across extraordinary power along their journey. It’s the reason why we relate to these characters so well.
Spider-man: High school kid bit by a spider.
Captain America: Underweight Army soldier injected with super serum.
Hulk: Scientist covered in gamma radiation.
Star-Lord: Regular guy who grew up in space.
Ant-Man: Nerdy ex-con who uses a shrinking suit.
Captain Marvel, Black Widow, War Machine, Winter Soldier: Military personnel.
Black Panther: Leader of his country Wakanda.
Sure the suits and accessories are cool, but it’s their character that gives them true power. They are inspiring, brave and bold all the while carrying the human flaws that we have. Let your character be your superpower. Be bold as you help others achieve success. Be brave in those though moments of decision making and leadership moments. Be humble as you lead others.
Continual learners and leaders of development
Every character that has been around the Marvel Universe for a while now has shown some type of character and personal development. Perhaps the greatest of those is Tony Stark.
Tony is the first character from the universe that we meet. He’s incredibly cocky, naive to the collateral damage he creates and can’t hold down a meaningful relationship. Over 10 years, you see Tony become a true hero both inside and outside of the suit. He’s grown to be a caring man, understands the values of relationships, and is certainly sacrificial. Ironman didn’t stop growing as a person once he had the suit, although he could have.
He is a great reminder for us to continue on in our own journey. Maybe you are building the next great thing. Perhaps you just got that job you always wanted. Don’t stop there. Keep growing and investing in yourself.
Even the greatest heroes fail
Marvel movies are filled with our favorite heroes failing. From Captain America failing to bring Bucky back to the good side to the whole team’s failure to save the universe in Infinity War. If you think about Thor, he fails about as much as he succeeds.
Some stay down longer after a defeat than others, but they all bounce back and face their failures head-on. They learn lessons from their experience and use that to help them come back stronger than ever.
It’s ok to fail. As a leader, you need some level of failure in your life. It keeps you grounded and shows that you are trying new things. Don’t let those lessons destroy you. Learn what you can, sit on the sidelines for a minute to regain yourself and jump back into the action.
You cant hold onto it forever
Several of the original Avengers have come, and are continuing to, realize that you can’t hold on to your spot forever, no matter how much you enjoy doing it. They built in their own succession plans in friends, family, and colleagues. Yes, the Avengers know the value of passing the baton.
Plan your time in leadership and life like it is short. In all likelihood, it’s already shorter than you think it is. Grow the next generation to take on the legacy that you have built.
Learn these lessons and assemble a great leadership reputation.
(Leia) would say, hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you can see it, you’ll never make it through the night. – Vice Admiral Holdo
The newest trilogy of Star Wars movies closes out the Skywalker Saga; a story told over nine movies and three generations. The final three movies introduce the group of heroes that are responsible for carrying on the mission set by those that came before them.
In a way, it reminds me of the newer two generations entering the workforce. Both are forced to deal with the success and failures of the generations before them as well. There are a few good takeaways that we can learn from these movies.
The latest trilogy dives into characters more than either trilogy before it with the story really focusing on Rey and Ben’s story of self-discovery. Who am I? What’s my purpose in this place? While Ben chases after identity without even realizing it, Rey is desperate to find out who she is and who her parents are.
We all want to have a purpose in this life. We want life to mean something. Take time for yourself to Find your Calling (PTB Ep. 161). People sometimes miss this step in pursuit of a great job, career or relationship. Your identity as a person is not what you do or who you are with. Search your identity out. Take a vacation or time for yourself without distraction. Reconnect with your passion projects, causes, and hobbies.
Understand your why and let it be the force that guides you in your journey.
Do it your way
There is a very vocal minority out there that don’t like the newest movie. “That’s not how Luke is,” or “She’s shouldn’t have powers so fast.” These people are constantly putting the newest generation up in comparison to their own. Thinking that Luke’s generation is the gold standard, they find it almost impossible for anyone after them to live up to the task.
Do things your way. Rey’s training was not like Luke’s, but Luke’s was not like anyone else’s before him either. If you are part of the newer generations entering leadership, learn from those before you but be bold enough to do it your own way. You get to write your own story. For those that have been around a while, be a good mentor and teacher to those coming after you. Give them the freedom to try new things and don’t quelch their creativity and uniqueness.
Rey and her friends were victorious because they relied on each other and forged their own path.
Breaking Generational Sin
The Skywalker Saga originally started out as the story of Luke and then shifted to his father. It then shifted to Darth Vader’s grandson in the third trilogy. Each generation of Skywalker dealt with the pull of the Dark Side with some being more successful than others.
Emperor Palpatine is present throughout all three trilogies and can be seen as the embodiment of evil, tempting each generation of Skywalker to fall to the Dark Side. Darth Vader lost. Luke thought that he won. It wasn’t until the third generation that Palpatine (evil) was truly defeated.
People struggle with generational sin. It can be difficult to step out of the shadows, traps, and habits of our parents. It is possible to defeat. Show determination. Get help. Stay accountable. You are not doomed to repeat the failures of those before you. Some past shows that can help you on this journey include: