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

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

Whether I Belong…

I’ve been hunting on “familiar” ground for leaders from whom I could garner some wisdom. “Familiar” though the territory is, I’ve again been reminded of how different I am compared to most of them. At first, that made me glad that I’m casting a wider net beyond what I’m used to. I didn’t want to continue to pursue a position in a field that I don’t belong in. Then, I began to consider the positive angle-perhaps I have some gifts they do not.

It’s also good to be speaking to people who are inherently different from me, as Rosalinde Torres talks about in her TED talk concerning what it takes to be a great leader. It makes me feel like I’ve already learned quite a bit about operating with people who are tribally somewhat different than I am.

I’ve also decided that I will pursue leaders in the fields of my interests. Ministry is one of them, especially creative outreach ministry. Broadcasting (all forms) is another. Teaching at a college level is another.

In the end, I hope to meet fascinating-to-me people from a broad swath of employment. Whether the support I’ll gain will send me back to school, or grant me a position, or both remains to be seen, but I have a lot more faith in the process now.

My first informational interview was this morning, and it went well.

No Excuses…

I met my first contact today. It was about as dramatic as one might imagine-I was put on stage (literally) and had my mettle tested by this leader whom I sought to connect with. I went in with my head down and my ego laid low. Perhaps the old Indiana Jones line applies-“The penitent man will pass. The penitent man. The penitent man will pass…”

The realization happened long before this moment that I needed to do this right. I needed to come in sharp. If the blades came out, they would find me prepared for them. I wouldn’t get a second chance.

I’m happy to say I didn’t lose any limbs today! Perhaps a toe or two, but…things went pretty smoothly. I have a meeting with this leader tomorrow morning (Tuesday).

I think I’m in the right place in this journey because I am challenged. Where I am found wanting, I do what I can to adjust. Tuesday, I’m simply going to ask this leader his professional story. It’s hard to go wrong listening. Wisdom is what I’m after. And perhaps, I can find a way to honor this person who surrendered his pulpit for a few minutes to someone who entered into his church service without any forewarning and little introduction.

Remember, reaching the TRUST stage has everything to do with listening for needs. Needs to be met. Needs that perhaps you can help with and then curry favor and friendship with people who will then want to do the same with you.

I just watched another encouraging TED Talk entitled: “Why you will fail to have a great career.” It’s perfect. One of the best TED Talks I’ve ever heard! Larry Smith systematically calls us out as the viewers for how we make excuses for not pursuing our highest purpose. Normally, I outline these, but I feel like Smith’s message is best experienced in it’s entirety without any prelude. I’ve seen it five times, and I found it an hour ago. I hope you enjoy as I did:

Stamina

I needed some encouragement today. I started to doubt myself and asked the questions: “What if nobody ever wants to interview with me?” “What if I am doomed to never achieve?”

Watching Roselinde Torres’ TED Talk on “What it takes to be a great leader” completely changed my attitude. I’ve committed to this project and I will find a way.

Roselinde took a year off from her employment to face down a crisis of epic proportions. There were lots of leaders all around her, but very few of them seemed to be meeting the critical objectives of their organizations.

She asked two questions:

“Why are the leadership gaps widening when there is so much more investment in leadership development?”

AND

“What are the great leaders doing distinctly different to thrive and grow?”

She figured out three things.

  • How people spend their time matters. Can you distill your activities into an effective strategy for predicting the future trends in your industry and then act on them in the present?
  • The diversity of your network-people beyond your tribe of all industries, cultural backgrounds and life backgrounds-is a key to success and you typically find people to join your projects from outside of your immediate tribe.
    • “This […] is about your capacity to develop relationships with people that are very different from you.”
  • And finally, stepping out and emotional stamina:
    • “Great leaders dare to be different. They don’t just talk about risk-taking, they actually do it. And one of the leaders shared with me that the fact that the most impactful development comes when you’re able to build the emotional stamina to withstand people telling you that your new idea is naive, or reckless, or just plain stupid.”

We’ve heard that resiliency is a leadership trait that matters in previous articles about challenging the status quo (though doing so should always be within your own sphere of influence). Sounds like that’s something we can hold on to as a trait of leadership.

You can find Roselinde Torres’ TED Talk “What it takes to be a great leader” here:

The Big Questions

I was going to announce today that some big things are coming to the blog. I wanted to start interviewing local community leaders, specifically on what leadership means to them. I had what I considered to be some very basic questions lined up. Now, after listening to the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t up my game a little.

“Great questions, they do at least three things: questions reveal values, questions reinforce values, questions reinforce behavior.”

It isn’t that my questions are wrong, or poorly put, necessarily. I think I just need to go a bit deeper. As Seth Godin put it, in order to be a leader, your product can’t be average-any interview I post here, although always positive and friendly, will always be of the best quality I can make it.

You can find The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast on iTunes, the episode I referenced is entitled: “The Questions Great Leaders Ask”. Check it out!

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

Mosaic Vision

Sitting at Chick Fil’a over delicious chicken-based fare, my friend A.J. and I had a conversation about a leadership opportunity where I wasn’t able to accomplish the goals set out before me. To be fair, the goals were pretty astronomical and the odds of failing were high. That said, it happened, and at the time, it devastated me. A.J., as is often his role in my life, was less focused on my mistakes and more focused on what could have been done better. The line of thought that followed made me consider leadership in a new light.

Have you ever seen one of those collages where the picture of somebody’s face is created out of thousands of tiny pictures?

What if, being a good leader, a good visionary, means that instead of simply trying to create my “big vision”, I interview everyone in my organization, draw out their “small” visions, and piece them together over time?

By doing it this way, I could also throw my full resources into accomplishing the smaller vision goals until such a time as they are either complete or sustained. I might then have budget to throw into the next set of visions.

What results is a big-picture dream work made out of smaller vision pieces that I, as a leader, or as a part of a group of leaders, help to guide and create. Obviously, not every smaller vision makes the cut, but members usually have more than one idea. People generally don’t like change, but if it’s their idea, and comes in small enough parcels, they become enthusiastic about that change, and sell it to everyone else. They are also more likely to buy into the Mosaic vision as a whole.

Credit for this one goes to the sea of books on leadership and business AJ has read and shared with me. Thank you as always, my friend!

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.