Having a bit more time on my hands these days I have the pleasure of helping one day a week with my daughter’s school crossing.
This week I asked my youngest daughter Edie and her friend to say good morning to everyone who crossed.
Though both were anxious at first, eventually they got into the swing of it.
Simply because being outwardly friendly to someone, even those they completely did not know, got an outwardly friendly response and more – smiles, changes in demeanor, changes in body language; ‘the works’ really. No negativity whatsoever.
Really it’s not hard.
Say hello the first time.
Try and get their name in as well the next time.
And then move on up to asking how they are doing or wishing them a pleasant day.
At no cost, you feel better too.
Observe carefully and you’ll notice most awkward moments are created by what we don’t say rather than what we do – it’s just that we take more note of the few awkward moments we create when we say the wrong thing.
Simply because we can’t see or hear something doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Often, in fact, it’s right in front of us.
More often than we admit we choose not to see or hear things. It starts as a young child and the habit only becomes more subtle and more discreetly executed as we get older.
Statistically speaking 49.999% of us are in the bottom half of our chosen field of expertise, be it sport, academics, leadership or even parenting!
The perception we typically create for ourselves, however, is that we are in the upper quadrant and, in some studies 90% of people believe they’re above average!
Known as Illusory Superiority this bias has some interesting outcomes – and not always as you might expect.
Ola Svenson (1981) surveyed 161 students in Sweden and the United States, asking them to compare their driving skills and safety to other people. For driving skills, 93% of the U.S. sample and 69% of the Swedish sample put themselves in the top 50%.
Interestingly there is also a tendency for people in the face of a challenging task to suffer from the “worse-than-average” effect.
What makes these two tendencies interesting in unison is that it suggests as managers we will often overrate our ability to deliver a message and underestimate the threat our staff experience in new and challenging tasks.
Rather than pat ourselves on the back for delivering a great message and then expressing great disappointment when our staff don’t execute as expected, we should ensure that we examine deeply where such ‘missions’ fail.
Is an irate manager the result of our own unreality (about their ability) rather than an intrinsic failing in those we manage?
How often as managers do we check in with staff on their comfort with what is being asked of them?
How often as managers do we reassure our staff of our belief in their capability to do challenging tasks?
Simply because there is no noise, no feedback, no protest, doesn’t mean it is not there.
One of the best books I’ve read this last decade is Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree. It is both heart-wrenching and reaffirming, honest without judgement and a candid look into the struggles of the author himself.
The subtitle is Parents, Children and the search for identity. The exploration is of value to everyone. At its simplest, it’s the two sides of the coin that people with disabilities (which Solomon applies in the broadest sense) both face and find themselves on. It provides reflection for understanding the very grey/gray area surrounding all of our stories; what they mean to us and how they are perceived by others.
My current read is Michael Pollan’s How to change your Mind in which Pollan explores (as researcher and exponent) the world of Psychedelics. Apart from the fascinating history and recounting of experiences, one brief excerpt really struck me having read several of Pollan’s books.
Pollan is completely candid in response to his own question of whether he really wanted to go into the depths of where psychedelics would probably take him:
“…No!-to be perfectly honest. You should know I have never been one for deep or sustained introspection. My usual orientation is more forward than back, or down, and I generally prefer to leave my psychic depths undisturbed, assuming they exist.”
Boom! There goes my long-held belief that everyone wants to dig deeper into who and why they are here, and all that stuff.
No, they don’t!
I’m not sure if I’m envious or sorry for those who don’t want to delve like I do. And so I loop back to Andrew Solomon, his wisdom informs me the correct response is to ‘accept’. It is what it is, it just is.
Everyone deserves to be and, I expect, wants to be, validated. Without such a ‘process’ “identity” can be challenging or even impossible to find.
When I find others who “want to know more about themselves” it validates who I am, and because of that I readily validate them.
What do we do when we encounter those whose identity is different to ours? Do we reach out to validate or do we shy away? Do we attempt to understand or do we avoid the dialogue?
I suspect we are all ‘guilty’ to varying degrees of staying within our own ‘identity cocoon’ when so much richness lies just outside of it. I also accept that occasionally my own responses have strayed into the realms of ignorance, conceit and arrogance.
What if we start each interaction with Stephen Covey’s Fifth Habit “Seek first to understand and then be understood.”?
If you read Pollan’s book you may believe the simpler answer is that we all just try some psychedelics, but given the challenge associated with that, how about we simply begin with a change in mindset with how we approach each day:
Who’s identify can you validate today?
How could you do that?
*Note this is the first in a brief series of posts I have written around the concept of identity. Post to follow are:
Te Reo and my search for identity.
Corporate culture and personal identity.
Why we need to be able to greet in multiple languages.
Excuse: I’ve been busy so haven’t got around to posting another blog.
Reason: I’ve been distracted lately and haven’t given this blog the time it needs.
A somewhat benevolent Chairman once pulled me up for giving an excuse. It was a lesson well learned and a cue I since have used often for self-improvement and to tune into the conversations I have and assess the credibility of those I’m engaged with.
Anyone who talks with genuine reasons is well ahead in the credibility stakes. Just pouring out excuses is an easy habit to slip into but an unattractive trait to wear:
Sorry I’m late the traffic was unbelievable!!!
Sorry, I failed to allow for the traffic (which I know about) and left later than I should have.
Sorry I didn’t do “x” I’ve been so busy lately.
Sorry, my bad, I didn’t give “x” the priority I implied I would and I overlooked it. I will have it to you by 4pm today.
Sorry I meant to call but forgot.
Sorry, I should have called you. (No reason, but an admission of fault)
I forgot to do my homework, I was busy with other things.
Sorry, I wasted too much time on my tech and didn’t do my homework.
I know I said I wouldn’t do it again, next time will be better.
I let you down, and I let myself down, I’m sorry.
I didn’t mean it.
Sorry, I should not have pushed my sister.
I didn’t mean it.
That was unkind and unthinking of me. I apologise.
It’s likely some of these will resonate, we all have our guilty moments.
The strength is in acknowledging ‘guilt’ or fault and not falling into the 5-year-olds plea of “It wasn’t me”.
If you can add a commitment to a genuine reason then the value of the apology goes up significantly:
I will have the work to you by 4pm…
I will call them straight away (and you do)…
I’ll work late tonight and have that on your desk in the morning (and you do)…
I promise not to use any tech until my homework is completed.
But mostly, next time you are addressing an incomplete task or action, contemplate whether your response is the real reason or the excuse of a 5-year-old.
How is it we can run and catch a ball without making complex mathematical calculations?
Well, inbuilt for most of us is a process called the gaze heuristic.
The gaze heuristic is a heuristic employed by people when trying to catch a ball. Experimental studies have shown that people do not act as though they were solving a system of differential equations that describe the forces acting on the ball while it is in the air and then run to the place at which the ball is predicted to hit the ground. Instead they fixate the ball with their eyes and move so as to keep the angle of the gaze either constant or within a certain range. Moving in such a fashion assures that the ball will hit the catcher.
How is this relevant?
Several times people have mentioned or alluded to the basic premise leaders are born not bred. Certainly for much of my management career I have believed this.
Now I don’t.
Well not absolutely.
I think as a guide it stands, but I think it ignores two critical aspects:
Firstly even born leaders need to keep being bred – to learn new skills, to revisit things they knew before, and to keep learning what they didn’t know they needed to learn.
Secondly there are always leaders lurking who wouldn’t be classically picked as future leaders, and circumstance can mean they pull themselves through or someone or something else does.
I’ve harped on long enough in various guises about the first aspect. The second aspect though needs to be noted.
Leaders looking for, and at, leaders can’t afford to ignore those ‘not born as leaders’. They may go about things quietly or lead with dogged determination – not the sort that barks everyone day and trumpets their glory (they are pretenders) – I mean the ones who have a belief in themselves and a self knowledge that they have plenty to learn if they wish to lead effectively. There are endless variations.
I typically observe these unheralded leaders as being either fearless or, at times, verging on what appears to be reckless ignorance. They are full of surprises.
My aim with this post is to speak out for those leaders ‘not born as leaders’, and to draw out some of your thoughts and experiences on this topic.
These ‘not born leaders’ support one of my belief’s that you can grown anybody into a pretty damn good leader.
And because ‘we’ don’t, perhaps that is why the old wives tale of born not bred has perpetuated.