The old saying of “prove me wrong” was used a lot when I was growing up. The thought and motivation behind the statement is to get the other person to step up and prove your idea, ability, or skills.
As I grew in my own leadership I found that statement inherently flawed. When I wanted my people to step up, I lead with the statement, “Prove me right.” One word makes a huge difference.
Starting in a positive place
When you tell someone to prove you wrong, you are starting out from a negative perspective. You’re saying, “I’d don’t believe in you or your ability to show me otherwise.” This motivator may have worked a generation or two ago, but no one today wants to work for someone that doesn’t believe in them.
Turning the phrase around is still challenging to the other person. “Prove me right,” says that, “Look I believe in you, maybe more than you do, now go validate my trust and belief in your ability.”
Starting out in a positive place as a person tackles a challenge is a valuable boost of energy to get them going.
Encourage them along the way
A leader with a prove me right attitude checks in with their people and see how they are doing to meet their goal. They will support the person through advice, guidance, mentoring, and offering resources for the person to hit that challenge and goal.
Be mindful to check-in periodically with the person you offered the challenge to. Make sure that they are staying on track and provide a good environment where they can be transparent with the struggles and questions that they have. If they feel like you are going to be judgemental, not open to listening, or dismissive then they will not open up to you.
A prove me wrong mindset leader waits around until the project deadline is up before they re-engage. This person is going to hit you with, “I told you so,” or a degree of skepticism before they acknowledge your win.
Validate and celebrate
Regardless of the outcome celebrate the effort that the person or team put in to meet the challenge or goal. Maybe they blew away everyone’s’ expectations. Celebrate big with them and point out individual achievements in front of the whole team or a group of people. Perhaps they fell well short of the goal. Take time to celebrate the progress that was made and look back to assess what impacted the final result and what the team could have done differently. Avoid signaling out a person and instead focus on the activities, behaviors, and outside factors that came into play.
Why bother making the distinction?
The difference in the two statements and mindsets is only one word, but you can see how differently they impact your team.
Be intentional in every word that you use when motivating your team. While you may not give it much thought, the wrong word or phrase can linger in a team member’s mind long after you’ve moved on. If you find yourself later regretting what you say, slow down, prepare more ahead of time and stick to your general script.
If you find yourself too scripted, think more in terms of guardrails and step out of your comfort zone to be a little more flexible and authentic in your conversations with others.
Lead your people with the right attitude that lifts them up rather than forcing them to prove their worth to gain your attention. They will perform better, stay longer, and perhaps one day contribute at levels that neither one thought was possible.
I really admire boxers for their dedication and commitment to reaching a goal. Think about all that goes into a fight that can last as little as a minute long. They thoroughly watch what they eat months ahead of time, They are constantly training, and they sacrifice other non-essential items that distract them from the upcoming fight.
From the prep, to the fight and recovery; a good boxer can teach us a thing or two about leadership.
They are constantly improving and preparing
Watch any boxing movie and the vast majority of the time of the film is focused on the training and planning as opposed to the actual fights. A boxer quickly loses their standing and reputation when they stop furthering their experience.
When I talk to successful and well-respected leaders, one of the most common traits that they look for in other leaders is the act of being a continual learner. On the flip side, I’ve seen and coached many leaders that plateaued in their careers. At some point, they had a sense of arrival and stopped pushing their personal expertise and lost the desire to continue to change.
If there is one trait or ability that I would recommend to keep sharp, it’s this one. Being a continual learner feeds so many other aspects of your leadership. It keeps you agile against a constantly shifting environment, helps you stay relevant, and helps you relate better to others.
They know how to dodge a punch
Boxers practice dodging punches just as push as they do on focusing on their hitting skills. It doesn’t matter how hard you hit if you are constantly taking punches too. While you might not be in a physical fight on a regular basis, there’s a good likelihood that you face verbal and emotional fights on the regular.
Some people easily fall into these traps and find themselves in fights that they know that they shouldn’t be in. Dodging these proverbial punches heavily ties back into our EQ series.
Self-management – Ok, you got hit, now what? How you react here makes all the difference. A good boxer knows that they are going to get hit and have to keep dodging if they are going to be successful. Understand your hot buttons and work to control those in the heat of the moment.
Social awareness – Boxers learn to quickly pick up on the non-verbal cues of their opponents in order to react quickly and last longer in the fight. Hone in on the social cues around you to anticipate when things are about to take a turn for the worse. How does the room feel? What is the demeanor of the people around you? Who is not acting like their normal self?
The ability to dodge a proverbial punch can save you and the other person from a painful interaction.
They get back up after a defeat
We get knocked down in life. Sometimes it may be a smaller thing like feeling down and disappointed with someone close to you, to something big as suddenly losing your job or a family member.
A boxer with any worth doesn’t quit and walk away after their first defeat. They take time to re-assess the fight and then work to heal and start training again. Don’t give up because you have had a setback, no matter how big or small it may be. Take time if needed to heal mentally, emotionally, or spiritually and then get back on the road to recovery and growth.
Put the work in ahead of time, be agile in the moment, and take care of yourself along the way.
As a kid, you may have loved playing with magnifying glasses. As an adult, you may need one to function a little better! Whether digital or in the analog world magnifying glasses are something that we can take for granted but can teach us a thing or two about leadership and life.
It obviously magnifies
The primary function of a magnifying glass is its ability to help you see things better, bigger, and clearer. Think about your team, those you work with, and your friends and family. As a leader, you should magnify their lives in many ways.
Magnify their talents and general awesomeness: Showcase, call out and recognize the talents, skills, and accomplishments. This helps your team feel more confident in their role and creates more personal buy-in to your leadership. Take time in the real and in virtual meetings to highlight and celebrate others. This is also a great way to model the behavior that you want to see in those you interact with on a daily basis.
Help others see themselves: We speak often about the power behind strong emotional intelligence. The foundation of EQ is self-awareness and it’s also an area that many leaders struggle in without even knowing it. Do your part to help others see aspects of themselves and how they come across to others. Take an empathetic and caring approach so that the person accepts the feedback well.
Use your talents to magnify the situation: You have unique talents, abilities, and skill sets that others don’t. Leverage those skills to show others the bigger picture and impact of what’s going on around them. If you are great at technology, you may bring up how a project impacts a system and explain the larger implications. In your personal life, you may use your talents to help a person learn a new skill or to understand a situation better.
It can be used to bring the heat
When focused under the right conditions, a magnifying glass can literally bring the heat. Certain types of magnifying glasses can even start a fire with enough precision.
In Facelifts, overhauls, and funerals we talk about the need to assess your life and situation and make adjustments accordingly. Shrubs and plants can be pruned so that they grow healthier, fuller, and stronger, Burn out the dead parts of your life and your leadership so that you can continue to grow.
As a leader, you have the responsibility to help others excel in their role and meet their career aspirations. This often means helping them refine their own ways and behaviors in order to make it to the next step in their career. Bring the heat when needed in a concentrated way. You don’t want to come in and scorch the earth! Be precise and intentional in your approach.
It magnifies only what you want it to
Most magnifying glasses are relatively small and while they are great at doing what they do, it only works where you point it.
Make sure that you are magnifying the right things in your life. It’s easy to get down on ourselves and then have a confirmation bias to affirm the negative situations currently happening to you. For example, maybe you got reassigned to remote work during the pandemic and didn’t like it. You missed your friends, the perks of the office, and getting out of the house. If you keep magnifying the downside, your confirmation bias will only keep bringing out negative things that catch your attention.
Be aware of your current mental and emotional state. Are you focusing on the right areas? It very well could be different depending on what aspect of your life you are looking at. Maybe work is going well, but you’re struggling in a personal relationship. Move your focus when needed and point it in a positive direction. There is enough negativity out there as is, without us needing to overfocus on it.
Focus on the right things, bring out the best in your team, and be willing to burn away the things holding you back.
I’ll admit that I am an awful card player. Even though I would get destroyed in a high-stakes game, I have always admired the tenacity, mental fortitude, and the surprising complex mental game happening underneath the cards in the players’ hands.
There are several things that we can learn from poker players to help strengthen our own leadership and teams.
Learn to read people well
A professional poker player becomes an artist when it comes to reading other people’s body language or “tells”. From the vein on your neck that moves as your heartbeat increases to abnormal eye movements and fidgeting, a great poker player picks up on the smallest nuances to get an understanding of what’s going on in your head.
We talked before about the power of body language. Just as there is power in how you exhibit and leverage your body language in communication, there is also power in how you correctly observe and assess other people’s body language. Slow down and take time to observe others. We’ll cover how to grow your observation skills in the upcoming episode: Growing Your Observation Skills.
Having a strong ability to grow your observation skills, can help you fully access the situation at hand, what the true undercurrent of the conversation is, and potentially address the root cause of an issue before it worsens.
Strengthen your Self-Management skills
In addition to great observation skills, a solid poker player also has to have strong self-management skills. Just as you are observing others, those same people are also observing you. Being able to control yourself in stressful and high stakes situations is essential if you want to keep your money.
As you learn to strengthen your self-management skills reflect on past experiences and seek to find and understand what your “tic” is. I know a leader that begins to shake his leg in the chair when he’s frustrated. Others roll their shoulders as they tighten up with stress, and breathe differently when they are upset. If you aren’t sure what your tells are to others, ask those that are close to you and are fairly observant. They can give you the extra insight to understand how you are communicating with others without even knowing it.
Be a risk-taker and be willing to fold
Poker players are certainly risk-takers. In fact, every hand that they play has some level of risk involved, because they don’t have all the information at the table. If they did, it really wouldn’t be a fun game. As a leader, you’ve also got to be a solid risk-taker. Without risk, you won’t change and without change, you won’t be relevant in the future. See examples: Sears, Blockbuster, K-mart, and others. Lean into risk and step out of your comfort zone to grow.
As one player takes a risk in order to push another player or to learn their body language, they also know when it’s time to fold and walk away.
Let go of emotional attachments to processes, projects, and even people sometimes, so that you can let go of things that aren’t healthy for you or your team. Outside of the emotional aspect, people have a tendency to hang on too long just out of stubbornness. They don’t want to feel like a loser or that their way is antiquated. Help those people see the why behind the change and provide them with tangible steps to get from point A to point B. Then schedule regular check-ins to help support the person.
Be the poker player in your leadership and life; learn the full story that the people around you are telling, have strong self-management, and take some risks. You’ll begin to realize that a deck of cards can be a start to becoming an artist when it comes to engaging with others.
You rely on thread every day, whether you realize it or not. Yes, the obvious example is your clothing, but think about other subtle items that you count on like seatbelts, most books, and other items in your daily life.
Today we’ll look at how we can model that purpose of thread and become better leaders ourselves.
It connects things together
Thread’s number 1 purpose is to connect things together.
Be the thread by connecting people across your network. Build continuity between groups in your work environment. Help make a connection for someone who is trying to find a job. I find a lot of joy and value in being able to a part of someone’s story by helping them connect with the right people/resource.
Subordinates of connected leaders are three times as likely to be high performing employees!
If done right, you won’t even notice it
My father was my scout leader growing up and he also sewed all of the patches on our uniforms. The patches were on there but it wasn’t pretty. Thread mostly matched the patch and it was sloppy at best. His goal was to get the patch on there and didn’t hold a lot of value on the finer details of how it looked. His sewing did the job, but sometimes the sew job brought more attention to itself than the actual award did.
Being a great connector means that there will be many times when you are essential to success, but should not have the spotlight. Set ego aside and let others have the spotlight. The whole project or goal may have hinged on how you helped them connect to the people and resources that they needed, It doesn’t matter. In the long term, you’ll gain more equity in your team when you equip for success and then move out of the way rather than equipping and then holding up the trophy at the end.
Now that I’m back in scouts leading my son, I take our uniforms to a professional that uses a machine and invisible thread. It looks great and you can’t even see how it’s sewed on.
The more it’s used the stronger it becomes
I’ve had to do some crazy sewing for some of the costumes at Disney running events. There are never instructions, just crazy ideas to turn into reality. There are times where 1 pass of thread wouldn’t work to secure the two pieces….there were times when 5 passes wouldn’t do it! Every pass always makes the bond a little stronger. You just keep going until you get the desired look and strength.
A one-and-done connection with someone might be good, but it will weaken over time and certainly won’t hold up against stress and wear and tear. Invest time in your connections and network, especially those that are important to you. Not all of your connections with others should be at a 10, just ensure that you are making the extras touches and passes with those that you care about and those that you want to get to know and support more.
Be the thread for others. Be a leader that connects people to others, do it well without hogging the spotlight and be present enough to keep those relationships solid.
Zack Hudson: Well, welcome to the Passing the Baton leadership podcast. So glad to have you with us today Sir!
Tim Spiker: Zack, thanks a lot. Looking forward to talking with you and with your audience.
ZH: Yeah, I’m looking forward to sharing your story. I’m actually reading your book The Only Leaders Worth Following and I’m looking forward to diving into it, but before we do, why don’t you let Baton Carriers know just a little bit about your journey.
TS: I’ll tell you the story about how I started in the in this leadership development space. I was waiting tables at a restaurant in St. Louis, Mo (which is in the center of the United States for the international listeners) and I was invited to do it open house for a marketing company. I found a couple of things when I was getting ready to study marketing in grad school and I thought there would probably be free meal there.
I got there and there was an open seat in the middle of the room. I thought it would be a little presentation, so I took the seat in middle of the room….and that turned out to be very important. Because I found out about 3 minutes in that I was at a recruiting event for an MLM company, and they wanted me to sell water purifiers to all my family and friends.
And I’ve got nothing against MLM companies, but I wasn’t interested. But what happened just after that effort, is that I realized what was going on and started talking about what means to be an employee
It was such a dark cloud of doom and gloom, and I just sat there with everyone else in the presentation and I just thought it didn’t have to be that way.
How come when somebody says, “What’s it like to work for Zack?”
Why can’t that answer be, “You can’t believe the results we’re producing.”
“I can’t believe how much I’m growing.”
“I can’t believe the wholeness of my life and my family is a part of this in a meaningful way.”
Why couldn’t that be the answer?
That idea launched me on my leadership journey to learn as much about leadership as I could.
ZH: So tell me some things that you are excited about doing these days.
TS: We ran into some research in number of years ago and ultimately with the group I was working with, I figured I’m not going to be able to speak freely because an unusual message, and we’re not going to be able to do that freely inside a consulting firm or even inside a company’s leadership development team. About seven years ago we took the plunge and went out and created an organization.
What we’re excited about doing is bringing this unexpected message and an unconventional method to the marketplace. It’s just been a real joy over the last seven years.
ZH: I’m currently reading your book The Only Leaders Worth Following and really appreciate the whole concept of the book, which is that ¾ of your leadership effectiveness comes from who you are and not what you do.
So why is that number important to consider as we look at our own growth and how we invest in others?
TS: Well, investment really is the is the keyword. When I say 3/4 of your effectiveness as a leader comes from who you are, not what you do. It kind of sounds like I stuck my finger in the air one day and that’s not actually what happened.
This number is from hard statistical research that I got a chance to be a part of a number of years ago, and so it’s so critical when you look at that data and then you think about how we invest in leadership development across the globe.
Are we really investing 3/4 of our dollars and our energy and our time in becoming more well developed from the inside out? (I will say it’s not even close to that ratio honestly) Knowing the data becomes important if we want to be efficient and effective in order to take that 3/4 ratio into heart.
ZH: I have a operations background so when I was trying to sell leadership programs it was always about showing the numbers and money besides just the soft and warm and fuzzies behind leadership. We were able to get some programs built out by showing the value. I think that ¾ number is very relevant in showing the true context around the focus of leadership the way it should be rather than the way we approach it sometimes.
Let’s dive in the Who of Leadership. The first concept you talk about here is Others Focused. Tell us a bit about this as well as some tips on how we can begin to strengthen this in our own leadership walk.
TS: At a certain level it’s pretty simple. It starts with the idea of even though I’m in the position of leadership, do I think that this is all about me and my enrichment in my next step? My promotion, and my accomplishments? Or am I showing up as somebody who is about the people around me that I’m influencing daily?
The others focused concept is that it is not about my ego, my bank account, or my advancement. It’s about the people that I am bringing along with me.
That’s what it means to be Other Focused.
ZH: What are some ways that maybe we’ve been caught up and we become…. Maybe I don’t know that self-centered is the right word, but that’s what I’m gonna go with right now that turn it from more of focusing on ourselves to be more focused on others.
TS: Yeah, I think it’s fine to self say, self-centered and honestly using words like self-centeredness, is why we started the company, so that we can freely talk about those things because most of the business and consulting world know these things exist, but they don’t want to openly talk about it.
You know some of the ways that we combat that sort of thing is just being exposed to the concept that the very best leaders that most of us have followed are generous with their time.
They talk about people who told them the truth, even when it was hard. But they did it in a way that showed that they cared about them. They weren’t trying to abuse them. There is story after story about leaders or other focused around us, and one of the things that we work on in a pretty specific way around this is the idea of being curious.
“Am I a curious leader?” We got to expand that idea out from intellectual curiosity to the people around us.
How do they see things?
How do they feel about things?
What are their perspectives?
Use this simple phrase when engaging with others:
“Tell me more about that.”
Whether you are a leader, or practicing for when you will be a leader, there is an exercise that you can do here.
Twice a day for seven days, (14 times this week) I’m going to say, “Tell me more about that.”
I’d say about 98% of the time when I use that phrase, I learn at least an edge of something that I didn’t know previously. It may be just a perspective or an idea that somebody else has that I didn’t know about. That improves relationships and it gives me more information as a leader. Time and time again, leaders tell me that they struggle because they have so much imperfect information.
And so these are two things that come out of being others focused:
I’m interested in you.
It improves the relationship and improves the information.
ZH: Yeah, we’ve talked something similar here, Passing the Baton about how to become more likable with others and that’s one of the ideas that we share. Just asking questions and just being involved in the other person, not really sharing so much about yourself, because people like to talk about themselves, right?
And they walk away saying, “Tim was awesome!” but may not have said anything, you just asked questions the whole time.
TS: I’ve heard this phrase many times were like, “You’re so smart,” meanwhile you’re thinking to yourself, “I didn’t say anything.”
So just taking a genuine interest in others and fighting against that battle against self-interest. It’s going to be a battle for life that will never end but, it’s worth the fight because of the type of relationships and information that it produces.
ZH: So the next concept that we need to work in order to grow our Who of Leadership is called Inwardly Sound. Tell us about this idea here.
TS: One of the analogies I like to use with Inwardly Sound is to imagine that we’re going out on the ocean. We’re going to get out on this boat and we think about the hull of that boat. You want it to have integrity.
Essentially, we want to be able to take a beating and still be together. You want to be able to be able to survive waves and wind and weather of all kinds. You want to be able to count on it.
Take that same idea and apply it to a person. When somebody has integrity to the extent that I can count on them that when the challenges of work in life come at them, they’re not easily blown over. They can take a punch and continue because they’re clear and who they are. They are settled in here. They’re not insecure in seeking out everybody’s approval all the time.
They have that centeredness and subtleness about them. They are port in the storm to use another analogy around water, but not just because they’re a friend. I’m saying they are a port because they’ve done the work to understand who they are.
That’s a leader who’s inwardly sound.
ZH: I think focusing on the core who we are helps us be better leaders in the workplace and in our personal lives as well. What are some of the benefits for leaders that leverage the power of the “Who” they are in their leader?
TS: There’s a connection point here. When we become more inwardly sound and others focus, we become more trustworthy.
We trust the person who’s about us and not about themselves more than the person that is self-centered.
There is a deep connection between being trustworthy and engaging.
There’s a very direct connection between these two things. We’ve got 300 studies worldwide that connect engagement to performance. We discovered the who not what principle through this research, but this arc of leadership is what I’ve just been describing. The connections between Inwardly Sound and Others Focused to trustworthiness, to engagement and eventually to performance.
That’s why this matters so much in leadership.
ZH: Another analogy that I think of is trust is the key to a door. It’s hard to get in when the door’s locked and if trust is the key, without that it’s hard to get through to have engagement in a meaningful way.
TS: We do a little exercise with our clients where we read an email to them and we tell them to imagine it’s coming from a trustworthy person and not trustworthy person and then we ask them to rate their engagement afterward.
And Zack, we don’t change a single word in either email. It’s the exact same email.
On average with the groups that I work with, the average increase engagement by changing the trustworthiness of the leader is 275%.
ZH: Wow. Yeah, I can see I can see that.
TS: Imagine somebody you really trust is. And they say, “I’ve got a great opportunity for you,” and now imagine somebody you really don’t trust saying the same thing.
We see that totally differently, right?
ZH: That’s right, they’re like, “Hey, sit in the table in the middle of this conference room and have a free lunch on me. Trust me.”
TS: Yeah, that’s right.
So these is a big connection between trust and ultimately the results that we’re able to produce as leaders because of that discretionary effort of engagement.
ZH: I love the power that comes from being Inwardly Sound and Others Focused, so let’s break down a couple of misnomers as we start to wrap up our time today.
Isn’t others focuses the same as being customer centric?
TS: Oh man, I love this question because I’ve seen this go off the rails. Many times in this conversation, people will be repeating back Inwardly Sound and then they will say and “Outwardly Focused.”
And I’m like no, it’s Others Focused.
It’s about the people.
It’s important in business for us to be customer centric but customer centricity is a great strategy for many businesses, that’s exactly what it is. It’s a strategy.
if I’m just focused on customers and I’m not paying attention to the human beings around me that I’m actually leading then I’m not really an Others Focused leader. I’ve actually taken all of the personal sacrifice that goes into being Others Focused and just taken that out of the leadership equation and I’m not going to have that trust that we’re talking about, so there’s no problem.
Focus on your customers, sure, but being Others Focused is not about customer centricity. It’s about all the people that you’re leading in influence.
ZH: Alright, I will throw another one at you.
So all I have to be is Inwardly Sound and Others Focused and that’s it right? I’m going to be an exceptional leader after that. Is it that easy?
TS: It is not, but the What of leadership still matters. When you think about the What of leadership, think about vision and driving, culture, strategy, execution and motivation.
The analogy that we use around this to see the connection between the Who and the What of Leadership is that of a tree.
The root system is the Who of Leadership. everything we see is the What of Leadership. When we say, “Who not what.” We’re not saying that the What of Leadership doesn’t matter. We’re e answering the question about what is the foundation of your leadership? Where does it begin?
It begins with the roots and ultimately impacts the What of leadership. We need to have a really healthy and effective What. So much of that is impacted by Who we are.
I’ll tell just a quick story to make the point.
If I’m in charge of strategy, but I am also an insecure proud and non-curious leader. Imagine who I don’t have in the room to talk about strategy. I probably don’t include anyone who’s smarter than me. Imagine who I don’t listen to because I’m not humble. It’s about my ideas and if I’m not curious about other people’s ideas, we’re not engaging. So you see how Who impacts my ability to be a strategic thinker. That’s the connection between the two. What really matters and it’s deeply influenced by Who.
ZH: Thanks for hanging out with me today. I definitely recommend the book. Where can our listeners hang out with you, and where can they find the book?
TS:you can find the book on Amazon and all the other kind of electronic resources there.
Online, you can find us at theonlyleaders.com if you’re interested, you can be a part of our contact list and all the things that normally go along with that, so I would love to have anybody join along with this from the leadership side who would like to be a part of it.
ZH: Thank you so much for being on the show with us and appreciate your time.
Empathy, Sympathy, and Pity. Besides a catchy title to a podcast, it’s three words and that have different meanings and that can get a leader tripped up and cost the leader personal credibility when they get these three confused.
The ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
We covered the topic of empathy in detail on previous shows and newsletters. Empathy is certainly the strongest of the three emotions. It requires a connection to the person and the situation and will also cause you to act in a caring and compassionate way.
Empathy is the gold mine for relational leadership. It allows you to quickly build trust with others to establish great working relationships that pay off. Acting on empathy also empowers the leader to connect with the team while holding on to strong expectations and standards.
As a young leader, I was very black and white. Either you met the standard and expectation on you didn’t. I thought that when someone had clear expectations and resources to get the job done and they didn’t then, it was on them. Growing in empathy helped me to begin mastering the grey areas of leadership. It allowed me to meet them where they were and then show them a path to their own greatness.
I’ve yet to meet a person that didn’t value a strong relationship with their leader where they felt valued and challenged to be their best.
An Affinity association or relationship between a person or thing where whatever affects one similarly affects the other.
Sympathy is a way to connect with others, but it usually means that the leader’s feeling is not as intense and the connection level is not as deep either.
Sympathy can get the best of leaders in a number of ways. For some leaders, sympathy leads to lowering their expectations or leading inconsistently across the team. This is especially true for leaders that aren’t balanced in their approach and are too relational in their leadership and relationship with the team. For some savvy employees, they will take advantage of this dynamic will turn you into an enabler to their inconsistent and bad behaviors.
For other leaders, they may feel sympathy, but then don’t know what to do with it. Do you ask if you can help? Do you just express it verbally and then try to awkwardly move on? I would suggest some type of action when you feel that sympathy for others. Don’t ask, because they may not feel comfortable asking for help or assistance. It can be a small gesture like a gift card to a restaurant so they don’t have to worry about cooking a meal to clearing out and covering a schedule so they have some time away.
Act on your sympathy towards others.
The feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others.
The definition itself doesn’t sound too bad, but pity often comes across as condescending. You can be seen as putting yourself on a pedestal, believing that you are better than someone else or that you feel sorry for them.
The feeling of pity often leads to inaction. You see it, recognize it and then keep moving on. Take the feeling of pity and then turn it through the lens of empathy. Route the feeling through a positive and healthy approach so that the other person feels valued and cared for during your interaction with them.
Pity is a feeling and emotion which means it isn’t bad. It’s just an emotion! How you act and react to that feeling is what can give someone a negative view of your personal behavior and beliefs.
It’s important to understand the differences between these three types of feelings and what your natural reaction are to them so that you can react appropriately when the situation occurs.
People hold on to long memories of how others treated, handled, and helped them when they needed it. Grow your self-awareness around these so that you can lead others well, become a model leader for others to follow, and turn tough situations in a positive direction.
Maybe you’ve worked for, or are currently working with, a seagull manager. You know the type; they fly in, make a mess all over everything, and then they are gone. In this management style, the person typically only shows up when a problem has arisen. They then come in with little understanding or context and then proceed to wreck productivity, morale, and progress.
Do you have a seagull manager? Here are some of their characteristics and how to handle them.
They come flying in, often out of nowhere
Have you ever fed one bird at the beach or park and suddenly you have a ton of birds around you? It’s like they just materialize out of thin air sometimes! Seagulls managers are the same way. They usually appear with little to no notice and are there because of a problem, either real or perceived by them as an issue.
Ready yourself by leaning into your emotional intelligence skills. The awareness about the behavior ahead of time will help you quickly prepare yourself when they suddenly show up. Have your self-management and social awareness skills high, so that you don’t overreact to the person in the situation that they are bringing. Letting your emotions get the best of you because you were unprepared will only compound the issue and interaction that you have with the leader.
They are loud and call attention to themselves
Seagulls are ridiculously loud for their size. Oftentimes your first indication that they are around is that you will hear them before you see all of them.
A seagull manager rarely slips in with little notice and gets out without attention. Instead, everyone knows that they are there and what their business is. They want you and everyone else to know that they are in charge and they are here to “fix” the issue at hand.
Redirect these people the best that you can. Move the conversation to a less populated area. Lower your speaking voice so they have to talk at a lower level use the environment around you to your advantage in order to lower the disruption.
They make a mess everywhere
Seagulls are messy. They poop everywhere and obviously don’t care what mess they make. Seagull managers act in the same way, verbally dumping negativity and critically charged comments. Some of these managers may even be a straight-up bully. Pushing the envelope in how they treat people in order to get the results that they want. Seagull managers don’t care either. It’s getting what they want at the cost of the people around them.
If the manager is acting unethically or against the company’s set values, you have an obligation to talk to someone about it. Partner with a good HR representative or a mentor to help you navigate that process with respect and empathy while holding to the standards that you and the organization have.
…And then they are gone
Just as suddenly as they are there, they disappear. You’re left with a mess to clean up and it’s likely that your whole day is shot as a result. Don’t worry though; they’ll be back for the next problem!
Pull your team together and focus on the positive moves that you make together to move the team and objective forward. Try to stay away from spending a bunch of time talking bad about the leader or what the leader just did with others. It’s a waste of energy that is not productive, besides, they all know that the person is a bad leader anyway.
Instead of letting the circumstance dominate your day, own the opportunity, and rally your team. One of the positives of a seagull leader is that your people will likely be much more committed and dedicated to your personal leadership because they see such a stark contrast in leadership styles.
Know the seagull manager and what their typical characteristics are. You can lessen their disruptions through good leadership and being mindful in the moment.
Everyone wants to be successful. Your definition of what that success looks likes varies from person to person, but we all want to be good at and succeed in the things that matter most to us. So if we define our own meaning of success, then why are so many people successful and still miserable?
Going beyond comparing your status level to others, chasing success too far can lead you right off a cliff and into valley filled with unhealthy mental thoughts, depression, and an unrealistic view of yourself. This valley makes you feel defeated when you are actually quite the opposite.
One more thing
As technology, people and society evolve, more people begin to have the “one more thing” mentality enter their system. It’s the chase for a healthy goal and then as soon as you meet that goal you chase after a new one or one that is a little further out. When we hit these goals, it stimulates the pleasure parts of our brains and we want another hit.
Drugs are an obvious example of continuing to come for more but look at areas like work and even hobbies like video games.
Your work can become a chase for recognition and promotions, “As soon as I get my next promotion, I’ll be happy.” It then happens and six months later you aren’t happy anymore. In video games, it’s the open worlds and carrot on a stick model in games that get people to play them in an unhealthy way. Open worlds like Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim, and others leave the game open so that there is always one more thing on the horizon without an endpoint. Fortnite is often criticized for its rewards system that keeps you hooked into playing the game.
Be sure to, “Stop and smell the rose,” during your journey. Appreciate and celebrate your achievement and success with those that are important to you. Have the self-awareness to know that you are chasing that one-more-thing mentality and build the willpower and commitment to change direction.
The poison in the well and unobtainable goals
Once we go down the one-more-thing path, we can take it a step further and start setting unobtainable goals. Often financially focused but they can be materialistic and status goals as well. (A certain size house, social status or following online). When you set these goals and you fail to meet them you begin to poison the rewards and pleasure parts of your brain.
You no longer feel satisfied with goals and accomplishments that once made you happy because you didn’t hit the unobtainable goal that you set out for yourself.
Have long term stretch goals but focus more on the short term goals to keep a healthy perspective. Make sure that they are realistic and obtainable with practical steps to get to where you want to go.
Change your goals
A healthy strategy may be to totally change your goals and priorities from time to time to keep you from going over the cliff. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that this is likely one of the reasons why I do this in my own life.
I spent three years in the running world, where at one point I did over 40 races in a year and moved from not running at all to running a 50-mile race. I then drastically changed my focus to volunteering and professional development. It doesn’t mean I don’t run anymore, it just means I have changed my focus so it’s not a driving focus in my time and commitments right now. If I had continued to push it further at the time, it would have only been an unhealthy thing for me.
Set some good stretch goals that are realistic and commit to re-evaluating your interests and passions. Cleaning the palate with a different set of goals expands your experience in life and overall satisfaction. An example of this would be to set a stretch promotion goal. Once you get that promotion, stop to evaluate what goal you can set in a different part of your life. Perhaps its to expand your education, a travel goal or a goal to serve others in your city.
Success is a good thing until you chase it so hard that it becomes unhealthy. Use your circle of friends and family to keep you accountable and on the right track with your personal expectations. Don’t defeat yourself with unrealistic expectations of yourself. Enjoy the success that you have!
There are absolutely advantages in working from home; accessibility, a higher level of engagements, and lower costs for you personally among other things.
Working in a remote environment can be a challenge too. While Emotional Intelligence is a major differentiator in the real world, you can leverage and even grow your EQ in a remote world.
Turn the camera on
Whenever you turn on your camera you are putting a little bit of yourself out there. You are displaying vulnerability and authenticity to those that you are meeting with. This can help you and the other party build empathy with each other.
Be mindful of your background: Ideally, you want a clean and nondistracting background. Clean up the space behind you before jumping on the call. At my home studio, I have two closet doors that are in view. I always make sure that those are closed so that they aren’t a distraction. As fun as the virtual backgrounds are to use, stay in the real world if possible. They can be distracting themselves and don’t always work right.
Respect the time: In general, video calls do run shorter than an in-person meeting. Be mindful of the time and land the meeting a couple of minutes early to allow for people to close up and get ready for the next appointment.
Present yourself and your environment in a way that is positive and connects with others: We’ve all seen the joke about the guy in his underwear with a suit jacket on his video call. Put a little bit of effort into how you look to others. You don’t want to show up looking like you just got out of bed. Also, consider the impression you are giving others with your environment. You don’t want the amazing views of your condo to distract the new employee that just started at the ground level.
Lead with and master small talk
Some people hate small talk, but when it’s done with intent and with the right focus it can really add value to the relationship. Using small talk to build rapport and connection before you jump into a heavy topic can be invaluable to how the conversation goes.
Great small talk is always other-focused. Here are a couple of examples to contrast:
Before we get going, tell me how John’s baseball game went…..
Did everybody have a good weekend?
The first examples show you are being specific with the person, empathetic towards their personal life and affirms that you listen to the other person.
The second is not as strong with EQ. It’s generic and seems like you are just checking the box without a real interest in the answer. If I’m in a one-on-one I will back the conversation up if the person jumps right into the business. It shows them that they are my priority over the reason for us to being together.
Transform your small talk from an awkward silence filler to one where you learn and connect with others.
Be transparent and show authenticity
It may sometimes feel like as a leader you have to have all the answers all the time, besides, your people are looking to you for advice and guidance.
Be ok with admitting when you don’t know the answer. Your people will value your honesty and will build your trust level with others.
Acknowledge when you can’t fully connect empathically. Instead of trying to relate in an unrealistic way or turning the attention back to you, tell the person that you don’t understand the challenge that they are facing. Just being there and acknowledging the moment means a lot to people.
Use the opportunities in remote work to grow your self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Grow your EQ and your impact on others will increase no matter the distance.
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.