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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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.

Attention Span

There is a conflict within my personality.

I have a gift where people want to open up to me. It happens even with strangers, and it’s a little like when people find out that someone is a doctor and want talk about their boils-I get all kinds of interesting stories thrown my way from people who have little to no personal interest in me.

Most of the time, I have a vested interest in the person sharing. Especially when it’s a friend, I want to do the best I can to serve them and be there for them through whatever they’re going through.

The problem is, I get easily distracted. I have a self-flattering theory that I am the psychology version of a “meatball surgeon” in a M.A.S.H. unit during the Korean War. Instead of piecing together parts of a bullet hole-riddled stomach, I was designed to help shoulder the emotional burden for people during emergency situations. Emergencies are fast-paced, require quick responses, and short-term, patchwork solutions. None of those things require having to pay attention for extended periods of time.

A real surgeon I am not.

As an extravert, I naturally do best being in front of audiences. As a leader, I should be fully capable of becoming the audience. Listening well to people is imperative for building influence and for being a good leader in general.

Points For Attention-Span Development:

  • Interact. Although I should still let the other person do most of the talking during situations where they need to unburden, there is a concept referred to as “active listening”: remember what is said, ask questions that engage deeper reflection on the part of the speaker, further clarify a murky concept, or encourage the speaker to expound upon what they are saying.
    • This works with textbooks and articles as well, only the interaction there is doing things like note-taking, and even affiliating a piece of music to the information for enhanced recall.
  • Meditate. When alone, I need to consider tuning out all distractions and focusing on one concept in my mind for periods of time that I gradually extend. Eventually, I’ll add distractions and see if I am able to focus on the singular concept despite what is going on around me. Such mental exercises are often thought to increase overall ability to focus in real life.
  • Monitor. Sometimes, when someone has been the sole speaker for ten minutes or more on topics that are not situation critical, they are being poor conversationalists. As a “bottom-line” personality, I will sometimes politely interrupt. Although having a long attention-span is a good thing, I still need to be the guardian of my time. I should not enable people to take advantage of my willing ear. There are those who are natural talkers and those who are natural listeners-it’s good for both types to meet in the middle and actually have an interactive discussion. Think of conversation like a dance-if someone is speaking for more than five minutes on a given topic, it is polite to check and see if who you are speaking with is interested. During that pause, it is polite to either contribute to the conversation yourself, or be honest and politely change the subject.

For more information on extending your attention span, check out this lifehacker article from 2010:

http://lifehacker.com/5596964/how-to-rebuild-your-attention-span-and-focus

Know Myself

It’s always been a little difficult for me when people try to give me compliments. It’s like, I don’t want to believe it when people start to brag on me, so I frown and by the way I thank them, I realize it sounds like I’m not really grateful. I’m totally grateful. I’m just afraid.

“What does this have to do with Leadership, Business or Success,” you may ask.

Everything.

Success is a dance that has everything to do with understanding truly where my strengths and weaknesses lie (i.e. Self-Discovery!). Negotiation, whether for a sale, on a resume, in an interview, to get promoted, and more…all of these things require me to be on point with my strengths and weaknesses. If I were to have a weak ego, or conversely, a large one, I would either be underselling myself or overcompensating for a weakness. My ambitions would either get eliminated, or devoured.

A major tenet of this process- “Know myself.”

I have to realize that my weak ego is a choice. It’s hard for me to admit that I’m a charitable person with a good singing and radio voice, or that I’m a good writer, but that doesn’t make it untrue. I just work hard to be better than average in some areas. As the Bible says, the person who buries his talents in the ground has them taken away from him and given to the person who has more-literally that was speaking of money, but figuratively I think the analogy is correct. I need to start taking inventory of my talents before I lose them.

For more about having a healthy ego (they refer to it as “true humility”), see this cool chart I found: http://www.swordofthespirit.net/bulwark/truehumilitychart.htm

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:

Combating the Lethargy Complex

When I am out of work, or simply lacking direction or motivation, I tend to become lethargic. I find myself engrossed with entertainment and nonsense activities, first as a comfort for the lack of purpose, then as a soul-sucking habit that demolishes my time. Eventually, it gets ugly and the amount of square footage I move in a day reduces itself about 40 feet-the distance to the refrigerator from my room and back.

Thankfully for me, that’s not a problem this time around. I’m developing certain habits that are keeping me afloat:

  1. I exercise. God knows I used to hate doing this, and sometimes it’s still a chore, but there is literally nothing besides purpose that keeps you emotionally afloat more during dark times than exercise while being a positive thing overall. Plus, it feels good to meet goals!
  2. I learn. I used to hit an obstacle and I just stopped-when an obvious way didn’t present itself, hopelessness would soon follow. Today, I refuse to give up on finding a way. I read a lot now, I watch TED talks, I listen to podcasts, I’ve started to network and I do these things in order to learn how to succeed. I feel like there is a formula here that is universal, and part of that is being eager to learn.
  3. I socialize. There was a time, because of my pride, when bumps in the road would cause me to isolate. In my mind, I was standing alone in my depression with my chest out and head back waiting for my doom (which I imagine comes in the form of a tsunami, ala Star Wars: Rouge One style). Today, my friends know what’s going on when “bumps” occur. We hang out and it gives me energy to get through the week.
  4. I network. A month ago, I barely knew what this was. Today, I know that networking is socializing with people with an ear to their needs, and an awareness that helping others really does lead to getting helped, eventually.
  5. I take self-inventory. What am I good at? What am I bad at? What can I do better? What interests me? What do I want to learn about?
  6.  I clean. Something else I used to despise. Studies have proven, however, that we are happier when the environment around us is clean.
  7. I create routine. I’m still working on this one, but an organized person driven by purpose can be comforted by a certain amount of routine.

All of these are basically enabling me to effectively pursue the most important thing of all: purpose. Purpose isn’t about mere survival. It’s about finding a career where I am not struggling financially, where I am utilizing my talents and discovering new ones and where I am challenged, but can find peace when I need it…something I love doing. Through all of this, I really believe I will find my purpose. I hope you do as well.

Thanks to my good friend AJ Buerer for initiating this conversation, and for the many ways in which you’ve helped me and taught me to do these things.

The Leadership Tenets of Seth Godin

In 2014, Guy Raz interviewed an author and entrepreneur named Seth Goden for NPR’s “The Ted Radio Hour”. The episode that aired was entitled “Disruptive Leadership” and Guy was asking Seth his impressions on what it means to be a leader. In the following section I give you a summary of his ideas for what leadership is, followed by excerpts from the interview:

  1. To Be A Leader Means Fulfilling a Need, and Doing so in a Superior, Popular and Unique Manner.
    • “…it starts with this: you’re not allowed to say I’m going to make an average product for average people, and then go find a tribe that’s going to adopt it. This is the mistake that people who grew up-as you and I did, with Mass Media-make all the time. Our instinct is to make average stuff for average people to have it appeal to lots of folks when in fact, tribes never want that. What the tribe wants is the obscure, the remarkable, the edgy, the thing that’s worth talking about.”
  2. To Be A Leader Means Disrupting the Status Quo.
    • “…the art of disruption, then is being able to figure out what is the likely path to get you from here to that better place with the least amount of appropriate fall out.”
  3. To Be A Leader Means Building a Culture (Tribe Creation).
    • “…they build a culture, a secret language, a seven-second handshake; a way of knowing that you’re in or out.”
  4. To Be A Leader Means Having a Curiosity About People.
    • “They have a curiosity: a curiosity about the people in the tribe, a curiosity about outsiders. They’re asking questions. They connect people to one another. Do you know what people want more than anything? They want to be missed. They want to be missed the day they don’t show up. They want to be missed when they’re gone. And tribe leaders can do that.
  5. To Be A Leader Means Committing.
    • “And finally, they commit: they commit to the cause, they commit to the tribe. They commit to the people there.”

You can find Seth Godin at sethgodin.com, the “Disruptive Leadership” episode of “Ted Talk” at http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/261084166/disruptive-leadership, and finally, you will be hearing more about the man here because I enjoyed Seth’s interview and I believe he may have more to say about this topic.

Critical Lesson-The Tenets of Insistance

I’ve come to understand that I have struggled with being critical. I see a problem and I want it fixed, even if I have to do it myself. The issue is, it isn’t always my place or responsibility to do so. When responsibilities fall to other people, they are just that, their responsibilities. Most of the time, people in leadership roles don’t want my unsolicited advice. They certainly don’t want, nor need my criticism. If I ever have people working or volunteering for me, I need to give them some latitude to succeed as they choose. Even outside of the professional sphere, people have free will, and I have learned and am learning not to judge their actions.

The problem with criticism is that it demolishes my influence with people. Without influence, I cannot exercise my leadership gifts and honestly, I become a pariah.

In order to combat this issue of criticism, I’ve come up with a code of conduct. I call it The Tenants of Insistence. Rather than saying what I won’t do any longer, I have listed situations where I should insist, making the list positively oriented. I’m hoping it will make a difference in how I handle this problem of mine in the future.

The Tenants of Insistence

  1. The Boundary Tenet. I insist in situations where I need to defend my personal boundaries.
  2. The Physical Harm Tenet. I insist when physical harm may come to innocent people.
  3. The Good Student Tenet. I insist on being open to learning, even if it overrides the other tenants for a time.
  4. The Work-Learn Union Tenet. I insist on only working and volunteering for superiors from whom I can learn.
  5. The Stone-Thrower Tenet. I insist on being uncritical concerning the actions of others, and allow them to fix their own problems.
  6. The Law of the Land Tenet. I insist on obeying the will of established authority, unless doing so would put me at risk for violating the other tenants.
  7. The Impersonal Tenet. I insist on not taking it personally when someone reacts adversely toward me, except in so far as I can better myself and my conduct. I will, however, distance myself from corrosive influences to preserve my peace.

Expect edits occasionally, I will do my best to make these better, and perhaps in the process, add a few more. I hope you find these as useful as I already have, dear reader.