In a rather dark phase during my university days, I remember reading Dale Carnegie’s book – “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.” It was one of those classic self help books written in the post depression era.
I don’t remember much from the book beyond one idea that stuck was – live life in day-tight compartments. The idea here is that it helps to localize the effects of a bad day. If yesterday was a bad day, it is tempting to let it spill over into today. Instead, Carnegie recommended we practice taking life 24 hours at a time.
I was thinking about it over the last few weeks as I was watching episodes of The West Wing (which, by the way, has to be the greatest TV series ever made if you geek out about teams and leadership). The show, for the most part, takes us through momentous days in the lives of the team of White House staffers. And, every once a while, when they’ve had a good day, the President calls it out by saying something to the tune of – “You’ve had a good day. Go get rest and I’ll see you tomorrow.” And, typically, after a series of bad days, it is something to the tune of – “Break’s over.”
Here’s what we know – fluctuations are a part of life. A run of good days or, for that matter, a run of bad days will never last. If it is a good day, call it out, get rest and get started early the next day. If it is a bad day, call it out, get to bed quicker and get started early the next day.
The more we can keep perspective, the better. And, a nice way to do that is to live in day tight compartments.
One of the implicit assumptions most humans make in conversations is that mood has to be directly linked to current situation. Most conversations that involve a non-rhetorical “how are you?” go something like this – “All is well, so I am well” or “That bad thing happens, so I am not feeling great.”
This thought process is both flawed and weak. Yes, our environment has an effect on us. But, WE get to choose the response. The first step to discovering this super power is to disentangle what is going on with how we feel. These don’t need to be in sync. You could be walking through hell and high water professionally and could still be in a great mood. That is the difference between feelings and states. The state of happiness acknowledges that there will be minor ups and downs while keeping the perspective that things, overall, are just fine.
There is space between the situation and our response and it is entirely up to us to use it. As humans, we tend to crave a certain stability. When we learn to disentangle situation from mood, we realize very quickly that we don’t have to look outside to find that stability. It is within us.
And, what’s more, it has always been there…
I found myself irritated by an exchange recently where I felt I was being unfairly judged for the second consecutive time without good reason.
After letting it sink in for a few minutes, I moved onto other things. However, the irritation was still at the back of my mind. I don’t like the feeling of irritation and I have come to think of anger as a weak reaction. So, feeling that irritation made me wonder about how to let go completely.
After sleeping on the thought, I realized that the issue was the way I had framed the situation. In thinking about the situation, I had implicitly assigned blame on the other person. In my language – “They had judged me.” And, to add to it, the solution, in my own language, was – “I wish they were upfront about what they expected.”
I switched the frame to think about what I could have done and what I had learnt from it. And, voilà, it all became clear. I should have done a much better job setting expectations upfront. I didn’t this time. But, I’ve learnt my lesson and it is time to move on. Letting go was so much easier once I’d accepted responsibility.
It is very hard to let go of things you don’t feel you influence. You can, thus, take control by re-framing the situation and focusing was in your control. Once you do that, you acknowledge the mis-step, accept responsibility, learn and move on.
Re-frame. Then, let go.
Two prime ministers were sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly, one of the aides walked in and began furiously explaining something that had gone wrong.
The resident prime minister admonished him gently – “Peter,” he said, “kindly remember Rule Number 6.” On hearing this, Peter calmed down, apologized, and withdrew.
The politicians returned to their conversation but found themselves interrupted by another hysterical staffer. Again the prime minister said – “Marie, please remember Rule Number 6.” Complete calm descended once more and she, too, withdrew with an apology.
When this scene repeated again, the visiting prime minister said: “My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of this Rule Number 6?”
“Very simple,” replied the resident prime minister. “Rule Number 6 is ‘Don’t take yourself so damn seriously.'”
“Ah! That is a fine rule.” After a moment of pondering, he inquired, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?”
“There aren’t any.”
When we follow Rule number 6 and lighten up over our childish demands and entitlements, we are instantly transported into a remarkable universe. The new universe is cooperative in nature, and pulls for the realization of all our cooperative desires. – Ben and Roz Zander
Source and thanks to: The Art of Possibility by Ben and Roz Zander
In the short run, you might be able to act your way out of showing your true intent. You could pretend to care even if you don’t. You could pretend to be trustworthy even if you aren’t. You can pretend to be curious even if your intent is only to self promote. And, you can pretend to only want to influence when your intent is to manipulate and engage in politics.
Great actors can do all of this in the short run. They can outshine those who really care.
In the long run, however, your intent will show. It is impossible for the actor to cover all bases over a long trail of actions. Company A might have the best customer service ad campaign of all time but if its staff consistently brush customers away, the ad campaign’s effects will come to naught and may even result in negativity.
Actions, over time, unmask intent.
So much better, then, to just be upfront about what you care about and be consistent all around.
“Please don’t do that.”
“Because I said so/am the boss/am the leader/am your parent.”
This is about the worst thing you can say if you ever plan on gaining someone’s respect.
It is okay if it needs to be said in a hurry and is explained later. Sometimes, in a crunch, it is tough to take time to explain the “why” behind things when you are in-charge. In those situations, you just follow on trust.
There is a good chance that your team disagrees with your rationale when you get to explaining it. It matters, however, that there is a rationale and, more importantly, that it is explained.
But, if that is meant to be the answer with no further explanation, then some changes are in order.
When folks learn of a daily learning blog, one of the common questions is something to the tune of – “How do you think of an idea every day? Does it get easier over time?”
On the whole, yes. It certainly feels much easier to write now than 8 years ago. However, every once a while, there are days like today when no idea really seems good enough. I’ve played around with 5 post ideas in the past 15 minutes and nothing really seems to work. It can be downright frustrating.
I have come to find that this sort of frustration is caused by one thing – wanting to write as quickly as possible so I can move onto something else that is on my mind this morning. Calm and mindfulness facilitate good writing. And, in a state of mind like the one I am in right now, the more I try to push a post through, the less my muse cooperates.
The solution at such times isn’t to give up – it very well could be though. I’ve just found that it matters that I just keep writing. Write, then delete, Then, write again. Eventually, there comes an idea worth sharing.
And, when even that doesn’t work, write about the process.
There are many principles that govern human life and happiness. One of the more powerful ones is the idea of integrity. Integrity, as I’ve written many a time, comes from the word integer – which means whole.
In our lives, we see integrity when we see people make and keep commitments or, put another way, when they live by what they say. When you walk what you talk and talk what you walk, you are truly whole. And, this wholeness is the foundation of building trust because trust involves consistently keeping promises that you make in public. It is at the root of self confidence because self confidence comes from self trust. And, it is at the foundation of every good relationship.
As Clay Christensen might say, there is no such thing as 99% integrity. You are either fully in or not in at all. Or, viewed differently, if you want to live a life of integrity, there is no space for pseudo commitments. Either you are in, or you are not. This is particularly hard when we are almost encouraged to say things we don’t mean to be socially amicable – “let’s catch up for coffee sometime” or “I’d love to do that sometime.”
Every pseudo commitment eats away at our integrity. The less we believe our own words, the less we trust them. The less we trust them, the less self confidence we have. It is hard to never say yes when you mean to say a no. It is hard to make commitments. It is harder to keep the commitments we make.
But, then again, nothing that is powerful comes easy.
I made a scheduling mistake the other day and completely missed a call. After doing so, I went through the following process –
1. Apologize. The first step, as soon as I realized I made a mistake, was to apologize profusely. It sucked doing that and I felt horrible. I hate going late for meetings, let alone miss one altogether.
2. Understand what caused the mistake. When mistakes happen, they happen because multiple things go wrong at once. For instance, in this case, the call was scheduled at an unusual time during the weekend and I had somehow missed it in my review of the weekend’s calendar on the Friday. Was that the issue though? On digging deeper, the issue I landed on was that I’d done my week planning exercise in a hurry on Monday morning after a busy weekend. I generally spend ten minutes on Sunday morning going through all my meetings for the week and moving them from my calendar to my OneNote. The daily planning exercise that follows every evening builds on the ten minutes on Sunday as it is just a minute’s glance at the next day’s calendar to make sure we are in sync.
Planning has a high return-on-investment when things get busy. This was the price I paid for not having taken ten minutes at the beginning of the week.
3. Focus on a creative, constructive and corrective response. In short, focus on what you need to do and stop beating yourself up. I was lucky that the wiser friend who I’d stood up took it very nicely. He didn’t even want to talk about it – we just rescheduled and ended up working through what we needed to do later in the day.
While our past relationship helped make sure he didn’t read much into this, a miss like this can have negative consequences. And, that’s why I’ve learnt to use mistakes as an opportunity to examine my systems.
So, if you don’t do something well, at least make sure you extract maximum learning from the experience.
There are many great definitions of leadership, management and culture. My favorite, and most actionable, definitions are as follows –
Leadership: Doing the right things (effectiveness)
Management: Doing things right (efficiency)
Culture: This is what people like me in this team/organization do
Are these complete? No, there definitely are more complete definitions. But, definitions, in my book, should help point us to action. There are many hundred things leaders should do. But, there’s none more important than leading the team to working on the right things – i.e. being effective. Similarly, there are many things a manager should do. But, the role is about efficiency. And, culture has way too many complex definitions and metaphors when it should simply get at the fact that it defines the default behavior for a person, team or organization.
Hat tip to Stephen R Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) and Seth Godin (Change the culture, change the world) for the definitions.
PS: I am working on a 1 pager synthesizing everything I’ve learned about these 3 – more to follow in a couple of weeks.