Today we will elect our next President. Which makes it a great day to reflect on the need for leadership and what makes a leader effective. Is it politics or presence? Principles or vision? The ability to lead a group of people toward a common goal, or the skill to negotiate a desired outcome based on diverse agendas?
We do our best work when we know we can quit. We can walk away…take this job and…well if you have heard the song, you know the rest. It gives us a certain type of freedom that we are not confined nor enslaved. If we don’t like the way we are being treated, or the job we are performing, we have the courage to walk out the door.
Sometimes it’s difficult to be heard. You are in the meeting, you offer a good solution, and somehow the conversation keeps going as if you weren’t there. You look down at your clothes, confirm to yourself that you left your invisible cape at home, and sit somewhat puzzled looking for another entry point into the conversation.
Then somebody else brings up the same thought. The idea is so close to what you said it sounds like a delayed echo. The powers-to-be perk up as if they are hearing the idea for the first time and quickly adopt the resolution. You leave the meeting wondering what just happened. How come that other person was heard and your suggestion fell on deaf ears?
Most of the time, this is not due to favoritism but meeting presence. To be heard, especially around seasoned professionals, you have to own the room. Walk into meetings as if you are bigger than your body. Sit tall, alert, and tell yourself you are as valuable as anybody else in that room. Your presence should be felt and your thoughts heard. And, it all starts with how you feel about yourself when you walk into the meeting. Be bold and step into the room like you own it.
Last spring, I received a call from a woman who had just been laid off from her job. Despite the fact that she had a long commute and found it profoundly difficult to leave her young children each day, she loved her work and was the primary financial contributor to her family.
She had 6 months of severance so we talked about opportunities. She wanted to start her own company, but admitted she was extremely risk adverse and felt she needed the security of a large organization (as ironic as that was at that point). After further discussion, she agreed to dedicate the next 3 months to setting up her own business out of a home office.
A month later, I received an email that she had landed a small client. Three weeks later she sent me a note that she contracted with another. Last week, she let me know that she just signed the largest contact to date working on a project for the company that laid her off. She was now making substantially more money than she was as an employee while working at home and being accessible to her children. Now that’s security. Trust your opportunities. They tend to lead us where we really want to be.
What I often hear in coaching sessions with clients is “I didn’t say anything.” They had the answer, they knew it was right, or they knew the decision being made was wrong, but they didn’t speak up. They decided to keep important and sometimes vital information to themselves to support the group norm, to be “liked”, or to not be seen as adversarial.
What I tell my clients is simple. You have a responsibility as a corporate citizen to speak up. In most cases, you were not hired to be liked, or to be complacent. You were hired because you are smart, you have a point of view, and you have an obligation to help your company be a better organization. Your voice is important.
At the end of the day you may not be heard, or you may be wrong, but without your voice nobody will know what could have been. If you want things to be better, show up and say something. Don’t let fear, or self-doubt diminish your contribution.
I have heard it all too many times. Hardworking, eager to please people, who have been demoralized by the negative feedback of a well-intended perfectionist.
It’s not that the perfectionist meant it. Really. They just tend to have highly developed detail-oriented filters. They see what’s wrong, what’s missing, or what is not done the way they like it. Most will even tell you that there is no criticism intended. They are just pointing out what is most obvious to them. What will make it perfect in their eyes.
If you are blushing right now, feeling this might describe you, here is a little hint. Hold your feedback until you can focus in on a few things you like. Then mention them first. Not only will this help your improvement feedback to be better received, it gives praise to the many people whose efforts are motivated by pleasing or helping others. And don’t forget to apply the same formula to yourself. After all, there is an eager to please person in all of us.
Yesterday, I was reminded of something I try to remember. Sweltering in the heat of the day, and after many hours of working, I became irritated about something quite petty and was short with somebody that was simply trying to assist my request.
When we put in too many hours in an attempt to “get it all done” we are destined to hit a point of diminishing returns. We try to keep doing or giving, but the expenditure of energy costs more than it earns. The quality of our work and interactions with others is compromised. Instead of our efforts having a good impact on the world around us, they begin to have a negative and sometimes costly one.
This is the time to stop and acknowledge that we have crossed over to the dark side of our efforts. It’s time to get some fresh air, silence our minds, and find a cool place to take a nap. If we wish to have a good impact on the world, we must remember to nurture the spirit within that makes the world good.