Leading from the Bottom

Leading from the bottom is never easy. When you find yourself in a place of lesser respect with your peers and you don’t want to be there, there are ways to climb out from the pit. They are difficult. They require commitment, self-honesty, tenacity and courage. That said, take it from someone who used to be a failure, who used to be a quitter: giving up should always be your last resort.

I had to start by asking a not-so-simple question: “why am I here?” It’s easy to point to others around you in your organization and say: “it’s their fault and here’s why”. There are bullies and cliques in every organization, and we will address them in a bit. Generally speaking, however, I discovered the only thing I can fix is myself. Taking self-inventory and finding out where I stand is Leadership 101. I’ve learned to ask myself when challenges arise: “am I sabotaging my influence, and if so, how?” On accepting difficult truths considering that question, and making some hard changes, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how my influence has increased, propelling me in a positive direction.

But what happens when the criticism is unfair, the reputation is no longer earned, and you are still the butt of jokes and condescension? What do you do when the problem is external to you?

I’ll tell you, I spent years doing the wrong thing: I took it personally. It’s hard not to. That led to me to becoming as critical of them as I saw them being critical of me, which was a huge mistake and an instant saboteur for all influence on top of my flaws. It just made them look “right” when they said negative things about me in the eyes of others. When I learned how to take inventory and started making the hard changes to eliminate those flaws, I still found myself under the gun more than I should have been.

I have two words to describe the right way for handling the criticism of others: love and kindness. Remove all criticism from your lips, treat people with respect no matter how they treat you, ignore the scoffs, side-eyed glances and casual as well as implied insults. Be kind, and practice love for others. It’s that simple. I speak from experience when I say you will become a beacon of light and your reputation will follow. Just think about the man or woman you know that everyone likes-if ever anyone spoke a harsh word against them, it would be piled back on their heads.

Proverbs 5:21-22

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.

That leads me to this: one can practice a “charm offensive” without having made any personal changes. Politicians do this quite frequently. When it counts, however, character is what true leaders look for. If someone has no character, they collaborate with other leaders who do the same. Eventually, they will stab that person in the back. When walking in shady circles, people get backstabbed all the time: there is always someone smarter and better equipped than they are.
I can honestly say, after having worked out some character flaws, and having put down the defensive criticism, I was able to love others again and I find myself respected today. The exclamation point to my story hasn’t happened yet, but God has been developing a testimony in me that I cannot ignore.
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Facing Rejection

When attempting to get anywhere in life, rejection happens. It’s a facet of reality that most of us fear. Jia Jiang, in his TED Talk “What I learned from 100 days of rejection” faces down that fear in the best possible way and talks to his audience about what he learned from his experience.

Before you face rejection:

  1. Come Prepared to Do What You Want to Do.

When you face rejection:

  1. Don’t Run!
  2. Listen For Them to Ask You “Why?”
  3. Echo Potential Concerns
  4. Explain Yourself/Negotiate
  5. Ask Them Why They Rejected You.

Pretty amazing stuff!

You can find Jia Jiang’s TED Talk on “What I learned from 100 days of rejection” here:

The Virtues of Procrastination

“You call it procrastinating, I call it thinking.” -Aaron Sorkin.

How many of you would have guessed that moderate procrastination is a good thing?

My friend AJ and I took a first step last night: we have started a podcast about the books we read in our mutual journey toward leadership, business, success, and self-discovery! And already, there’s been lots of talk of future procrastination…

In Adam Grant’s TED Talk on “Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers”, procrastination is lauded as: “…a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue when it comes to creativity.” Fantastic! I think I need to hold off on writing more for this blog and go see if I can dig out my Super Nintendo from my old room! Unfortunately, Dr. Grant, a PhD in Organizational Psychology and top-rated professor at Wharton, founded a study that seems to indicate too much procrastination can actually decrease inflow of creative ideas around a project.

Although AJ and I have batted around the idea of a podcast before, truthfully there was never anything we felt mutually motivated to speak about until my journey toward the subtitle of this blog started a few months ago. That makes this particular venture a new idea. A new idea that we are in no particular hurry to publish.

As Grant says:

“Originals are quick to start, but slow to finish.”

We’ve accepted that we want to do this project correctly. We’ve also accepted that it’s likely it will take awhile to get things right. Grant indicates that successful “originals” skip the step in creative creation where you take poor-quality project results personally, and instead, accept them as an inevitability toward making something great.

So, we don’t have a name yet. We might take a year to get our first material out there. There are lots of things we need to learn about podcasting in the meantime…

“The first movers [have] a 47% failure rate compared to 8% for the improvers.” -Grant

All that said, I think we’re on the right track.

You can find Adam Grant’s fantastic TED Talk on “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers” here:

Failing Forward

I’ve been reading John Maxwell’s “Failing Forward” and considering some of the lessons therein.

I have a tendency toward perfectionism. When I make a social misstep, or a networking misstep, I have a hard time forgiving myself. I’m irrationally afraid I won’t get another chance. In other words, I’ve been entrenched in “Conditional Regard”, the ugly cousin of “Unconditional Positive Regard”, where I only accept myself when I meet certain criteria. The fact that they are unreasonable criteria is only icing on that cake.

Though Maxwell makes it clear through his stories that we must be aware of how wide or narrow our windows of opportunity really are, I discovered something that applies to all forms of performance anxiety:

Giving myself grace is the only way out.

As long as I am serious about change and it’s evidenced through a majority of my behavior, allowing myself grace when I make mistakes is acceptable. In fact, it’s necessary. What I had to figure out was there is a difference between a mistake and a backslide. A mistake is something I usually recognize right after it’s happened and it’s not something I want to repeat. A backslide is a series of “somethings” that I barely acknowledge and allow to continue unchecked. Guilt is only useful for the second one, but not the first. Guilt slows you down, but grace powers you forward. If I allow guilt to overtake me for a mistake after my performance record suggests positive momentum, all I’m doing is sabotaging myself from continuing in a positive direction.

Maxwell’s core concept is found in the title- “Failing Forward”. In it, he suggests that in order to succeed, you need to give yourself permission to fail. I’m new to this, but I’m beginning to understand just how important that permission-that grace is-to my personal growth, my networking, my business, and my life.

Influence & Unconditional Positive Regard

There is a concept in Psychology circles called: “Unconditional Positive Regard” (or U.P.R.), which gives us a leadership framework for showing our support to others, even those who it might be difficult for us to do so. It goes like this:

  • Accept the person.
  • Praise the effort.
  • Reward results.

Now, I grew up in a crime and punishment household like most of you. I don’t know what would have happened if my parent’s didn’t believe in “spare the rod, spoil the child”. God knows, we don’t want to spoil anybody, that would probably make an already bad situation worse. But if a person is not doing irreparable damage to my institution, I think that institution-wide U.P.R. should be the step I start with long before “retraining” people even becomes necessary. For instance: my parents did reward me for good grades. As a result, I made it through higher education with a firm drive to keep my grades at a respectable level, long after I had aged beyond the reward system. Positive management style, positive employees/volunteers/children, positive results.

The science is fascinating: when you reward people who meet your standards on a regular and unbiased basis, it creates a cognitive dissonance that strongly brings people-with-problems in line with your naturally high achievers or those who already strive to meet your standards. Even if achievement and reward doesn’t drive them to shift their behavior, peer pressure might just do the trick: when your neighbor gets a raise, then your other neighbor gets a raise, human psychology suggests you will emulate what they do in order to join them. I am who I work with.

Furthermore, when the pressure of constant corporate punishment no longer looms over your office, church, bakery, salesfloor or candle shop, it fosters an environment of trust. Trust, if you remember in Christopher Barrat’s TED talk comes right before “Buy”; BUY a product, BUY positive performance, BUY success for yourself as a leader because those under you feel safe, driven and the need to succeed themselves.

Unconditional Positive Regard is unique, and in today’s society, is difficult to find because it is human nature to either directly confront, or passively distance ourselves from people-with-problems. As a result, U.P.R. may actually be a huge source of influence that is largely untapped.

Unconditional Positive Regard was a concept developed by Psychologist Carl Rodgers. For details on the concept, check out the wiki here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconditional_positive_regard

Achieving Greatness

Climbing Up

In November 2014, Susan Colantuono gave a TED talk about achieving equality for women in the higher echelons of the business world, and in doing so, she gave a broad guide to everyone in how to make it up the corporate ladder.

She enlists three phrases to describe what attributes management looks for when seeking to promote someone:

  • “Use the Greatness in You.”
  • “Achieve and Sustain Extraordinary Outcomes.”
  • “Engage the Greatness in Others.”

This forms a sentence: “You have to be recognized for using the greatness in you, to achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes by engaging the greatness in others.”

Susan hints at there being a promotional hierarchy to these three, without directly stating that with all of them. It would seem finding work has to do with proving the greatness in you. Being promoted to middle management has to do with proving that you’ve engaged the greatness in others. Getting promoted to the top has everything to do with proving you have Business Acumen, Strategic Acumen and Financial Acumen-a subcategory she came up with that branches off from Achieving and Sustaining Extraordinary Outcomes.

Learning More About Business

I went to college and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Pastoral Ministry at the end of 2013, which covered a little bit of everything concerning Counseling, Public Speaking, Non-Profit Leadership and Management, as well as Theology. I remember missing the business class. Oh, I had one. It was very good, in fact, entitled “Business as Mission”, but it was a substitution put in place to allow me to graduate the following semester. I can probably tell you something about an excellent missions strategy, but not much, unfortunately, about how money works in church. It’s enough, as I am learning how to be great and engage the greatness of others that I want to learn a little bit about business in general.

You can find Susan’s TED talk here: