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How resilient people are different

In previous posts I’ve explored some of those differences, qualities such as intentionality, resourcefulness, and the motivating force of a few fundamental purposes and principles that inspire and guide them.

As I have thought more deeply about resilience I was reminded of the work by Jerry Sternin and others on “positive deviance.”

“Positive deviants are people whose behavior and practices produce solutions to problems that others in the group who have access to exactly the same resources have not been able to solve,” Sternin told me in a 2004 JSD interview. “We want to identify these people because they provide demonstrable evidence that solutions to the problem already exist within the community.”

Sternin and his wife, Monique, applied the concept of “positive deviance” to their life-saving work for Save the Children in the villages of Vietnam and to solving other seemingly intractable problems. (You can read more here.)

Positive deviants, I concluded in an earlier post, have one or more of the following habits which I think also apply to many resilient people:

1. Writing to gain clarity and to communicate;

2. “Counting” things to improve their performance (most things that count can be measured, even if only in rudimentary ways);

3. Reading widely in search of new ideas, perspectives, and inspiration;

4. Continuously seeking more effective and efficient ways to do things;

5. Engaging the support of others when challenged by stretching goals or demanding circumstances;

6. Persisting over many months and even years to achieve important goals because the values represented by those goals were so important;

7. Seeing things in unique ways that were in opposition to accepted wisdom or common practice; and

8. Assuming that important problems can be solved, and that working alone or in collaboration with others they would contribute to their solutions.

As you think about resilient people you have known, what behaviors or attributes would you add to this list?

Acting in spite of our fears

[I]n truth, fear is a useful thing. Once upon a time, fear was a signal to run from a lion or some other danger, and that was pretty useful. These days, we don’t usually have much physical danger (the lions have more to fear from us), but the same fear signals still happen, even when it’s trying to pursue our dreams or becoming vulnerable to other people. These days, the fears aren’t physical — they’re more about not being good enough.  —Leo Babauta

It’s not that resilient people are fearless.

Rather, they act in the face of the kinds of fears identified by Leo Babauta in a recent survey:

Fear of failure

Fear of being inadequate

Fear of rejection

Fear of not being prepared

Fear of being a fraud

Fear of ridicule

“You might notice,” Babauta concludes, “that they are all really the same fear. The fear of not being good enough.”

He suggests a new mental framework for viewing fear and a mindful approach to facing it.

“Just because fear is present, doesn’t mean we have to run,” Babuata writes. “In fact, we can practice acting mindfully even with fear in our bodies. The practice is to notice that there’s fear, and notice our habitual reaction. Stay with the fear, and notice how it feels as a physical sensation. Notice that it’s not so bad, that we can actually be OK in the middle of that physical sensation.”

What methods do you use to act in spite of your fear?

Starting off on the right foot

Most of us have been encouraged throughout our lives to stand up for ourselves, for others, and for the things we believe in.

But most of us have failed at one time or another to do so because of fear or other compelling reasons.

Consulting-expert Peter Block describes such people as “walking bent over,” adding, “If you walk bent over at the beginning of a consulting relationship, you will find it very difficult to stand up straight again.”

The importance of starting off on the right foot by standing up for what they believe and by defining the boundaries of relationships is a life lesson that resilient people have learned, often the hard way.

In addition to consultants beginning a relationship with clients, Block’s admonition applies, for example, to:

• Parents with their children,

• Teachers with their students, and

• Supervisors with those they supervise.

And so on.

Resilience requires standing up straight at the beginning. It also requires that when we find ourselves compromised we do whatever is necessary to stand up straight again. “Better late than never” is advice that applies here.

That usually means confronting problems head on without judgment and blame, having difficult conversations, and seeking win-win solutions.

So, while resilient people have learned the importance of establishing “ground rules” at the beginning of important relationships, they have also learned that it is never too late to start again.

What has your experience taught you about the challenges of starting off on the right foot and, if necessary, of starting again?

Can emotional intelligence be developed?

The ability to “read” other people, vividly imagining their unique psychological experience, is the compass by which we navigate our social world. —Hunter Gehlbach (March 2017 Kappan)

More often than not, resilient people possess the kind of people skills that we now associate with emotional intelligence, skills that are too often in short supply in many organizations, particularly at the highest levels.

Over the decades I’ve observed that people who are successful in a particular job sometimes run into difficulty when they are “promoted” into positions that require more sophisticated interpersonal skills, such as leading teams, supervising other adults, or resolving conflict in satisfying ways.

While they have the technical skills to do their jobs, they often lack the “soft skills” to be successful in their work.

These skills include the ability to listen deeply, have empathy, identify and manage their emotions and respond appropriately to the emotions of others, display authentic positive emotions, and so on.

The problem is compounded because their low emotional intelligence means that these otherwise competent people are likely to lack the introspection required to identify the problem and the skills to do something about it.

And the situation is further compounded because many people mistakenly believe that emotional intelligence is something you are born with, not something that can be intentionally developed over time. (A useful resource on this subject is Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead With Emotional Intelligence.)

What do you think:

Do resilience and emotional intelligence go hand in hand? Can someone be resilient without those skills?

Is diminished emotional intelligence a barrier to effectiveness for otherwise competent people? 

Does a lack of introspection and a belief that emotional intelligence can’t be developed mean that those people are unlikely to change?

The emotional dimensions of change

“The President-elect, it turned out, had a gift for the behavioral arts. He intuitively grasped “loss aversion” (our tendency to give more weight to the threat of losses than to potential gains), and perpetually maximized “nostalgia bias” (our tendency to remember the past as being better than it was). He made frequent subconscious appeals to “cultural tightness” (whereby groups that have experienced threats to their safety tend to desire strong rules and the punishment of deviance), and, perhaps most striking, his approach tapped into what psychologists call “cognitive fluency” (the more easily we can mentally process an idea, such as “Make America great again” or “Lock her up!,” the more we’re prone to retain it). Even his Twitter game was sticky: “Crooked Hillary!” “build the wall.” (…[R]epetition works.)” —Sarah Stillman

Human beings don’t like change, and we are not particularly rational about it.

That means that fear and anger and even hope can trump evidence and logic (pun intended).

Which means we are more easily manipulated by demagogues than we would like to believe.

It also means that if we seek to influence others it is important to understand that reason alone seldom produces lasting change.

If “reason” isn’t sufficient, what works?

1. Research and other forms of evidence provide a rationale for change and are essential to some people before they will consider the change.

2. Well-selected anecdotes (preferably based on personal experience) and testimonials from individuals respected by group members can be very persuasive. So, too, are images and video (think back on photographs and video clips that have changed public perception related to important problems).

3. Remember that the emotional response change evokes in others is not necessarily about us (although it may feel that way) nor about the ideas or practices we promote.

Being forearmed with an awareness of the emotional dimensions of change can increase our resilience during this present moment of heightened national anxiety and fear.

It can also enable us to remain deeply engaged over the many years and decades required to bring about meaningful and lasting change in any important field of endeavor.

Our words matter…

As this political season has taught us, the feelings that words evoke are contagious. They can uplift and unite us or create hatred and division.

Likewise, particular words have a unique emotional resonance to each of us because of the meaning they possess in our life experience.

Here a few words that have such resonance for me:

Empower, as in enabling others by delegating authority and responsibility

Voice, as in “expressing our uniqueness” or enabling others to express their uniqueness (see “empower”)

Conversation, as in thinking deeply with others about important topics with an openness to learning

Learn, as in changing what we belief, understand, and/or do

Teach, as in promoting the intellectual, emotional, and physical growth and well being of others

Witness, as in “bearing witness to” the life circumstances of others.

What words most resonate with you?

Don’t feed shame…

Dennis

Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change. —Bene Brown

In a comment on last week’s post on self-care Jim Knight made an important distinction between guilt and shame which caused me to think more deeply about the importance of that distinction and how it can have a profound effect on both our personal and professional lives.

Sometimes people confuse what they do with who they are. 

For instance, more than once I’ve heard someone say: “When I get angry I just say whatever comes to mind [other problematic behavior can be substituted here]. That’s just who I am.”

The distinction between guilt and shame is reflected in that confusion.

Guilt, as I understand it, occurs when we have done something to violate a moral code. We have done something we regard as wrong.

Shame is when we are what is wrong. We are the mistake, not our behavior.

Children are shamed, for example, when in response to a misdeed they are asked, “What’s wrong with you?”

Once shame has become well established within a child or adult’s neural networks it can be very challenging to help that person separate their behavior from who they think they are as a person.

As a result, even a request for a conversation about “improvement” or change can activate shame and make it very difficult for the person to attend to the conversation.

Once we become aware of this distinction we are more likely to notice the presence of shame within and around us.

But what can we do about it?

First, be very careful with the language you use when speaking to others and in your self talk. When we are concerned about someone’s actions, focus on observable behavior. Don’t contribute to anyone’s shame by digging deeper for their “issues,” a task far better suited for professionals.

Second, when shame has been triggered anticipate the possibility of a defensive response: “Why do you think there’s something wrong with me?”

Third, to minimize defensiveness ensure that the conversation remains focused on behavior. Because people who are accustomed to being shamed may find it very difficult to separate their behavior from who they are as a person, it may be necessary to repeatedly remind them of that distinction.

I encourage you to think deeply about how shame and guilt affect your life, both at home and at work, and how you might counter it.


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