Many leaders make assumptions that ironically limit their leadership capacity every single day. One assumption is that they always objectively view the leadership and performance capabilities within themselves and their team. Another is that they are already so smart and experienced that they can shrug off learning and development. These assumptions are a blind spot. The belief that the way that we see life is objective…we assume we are right, that how we see is “the way it is” – is often the very thing that creates a leadership stumbling block. This is a closed mindset.
In other words, we really don’t know what we don’t know and unfortunately, all too often we are not open to examining our own thinking. Why? I believe one reason is that we assume (there that word is again) that to raise our hand for leadership development implies that we are “broken” – that we need to “fix” ourselves. Our society as a whole seems to assume this connotation is true as well.
Busy work is not productivity. It is just activity. We have too much of it and it is costing us our excellence in performance. It is costing us our health and happiness due to the killer, stress. It is a contributor to poor relationships – who has time for relationships after all? It reduces creativity. In 2012 Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine et al. did a study in which they deprived 13 people in IT business access to email for five days and studied them intensively. They found that people without email concentrated on task for longer periods of time and experienced less stress. This would support the McKinsey Global Institute’s study that revealed that skilled workers spend a quarter of each working day responding and writing emails. That’s 25%!
There are many people going nowhere fast. When we see life in pieces – such as “to do” lists without an overarching purpose, we can lose our meaning for living, our zest for life. Passion is lacking because we are too busy to develop it, too busy to “in joy” our work. Most people have forgotten who they are at their core, and life is a series of going through endless motions.
My conclusion, based on my experience with perception and also neuroscience (which is validating my conclusion) is that, our energy is going where our attention is going. We believe that to be successful we have to work really hard. What, enjoy work? Now that would be a novel idea! We believe that more is always better and that to rest is to be lazy. We believe that “enough is never enough” so we keep working harder and harder – instead of smarter. Smarter would include purpose, clarity and innovation. It would include re-energizing so that you can be more efficient in less time. Then you can have more time to have some fun.
Emotional and mental agility is a skill set. Repressing feelings instead of learning how to manage them reduces performance levels and can negatively impact health. Of course it is not rational to believe we can “check our emotions and feelings at the door.” It is not very intelligent to believe we can disconnect from our body’s physiology. Numbing or distracting our self is not the same as actually disconnecting.
Unfortunately it was a type of cultural “code” at one time to think that we could ignore our feelings.
The intention was to avoid discomfort. Yet, when we become more self-aware, we can learn to become comfortable with feelings. The feelings were not checked at the door; they were circulating in the mind and body causing havoc within the body and inauthentic, and not surprisingly disengaging relationships within the office. It was just an example of being asleep or in denial about what was really going on within us. I used to deny my feelings admittedly; I bought into this myth at one time myself. An added benefit to me for quitting this self-deceptive practice has been an even healthier body – and heart.
One important, intelligent and giant step forward is to recognize that “you are not your thoughts and feelings.” We get into trouble when we buy into thoughts running through our minds as if they are facts/truth. We need to question our thoughts before mindlessly accepting them. You must learn to “name them” if you are ever to get a grip on self-managing your state of mind. You must be mindful to call out the thoughts and to begin to notice the repeating patterns.
You can’t get unstuck without becoming aware of them – so that you can take charge of them. You can learn to redirect them in healthy ways, and in so doing, reconnect with your passion for life, joy and inner peace.
Here are three common patterns for managing thoughts, emotion and feeling. When we are not aware of what feelings are or that we can manage them, they tend to:
Emotional intelligence, as a term was first documented in an article by Slovey and Mayer in 1990. We have multiple intelligences, not only IQ as Howard Gardner from Harvard University has theorized. If we want to perform at our very best, with confidence and purpose, we must know ourselves. IQ has its place, yet, in order to apply the data and factual information, we also need to have an understanding on other levels of our intelligence beyond just the facts themselves. Problem-solving effectiveness depends also on our emotional intelligence.
It’s time to stop the attitude of, ‘checking your emotion at the door” as this is only a self-deceptive concept. Decision-making involves our emotional brain and without it, there have been studies shown that even making simple decisions – such as what to wear in the morning – can be insurmountable. By the way, there have also been psychological studies revealing that people who seem to be so out of touch and repressed in their emotion are more likely to test as psycho/sociopaths. I think I’ll happily learn about healthy emotional states of mind, thank-you.
An important part of that understanding is knowing who we are and what we can do… Ultimately, we must synthesize our understandings for ourselves. ~Howard Gardner
Self-awareness helps us to raise our emotional intelligence. Self-awareness is not only awareness of your “self”; it includes your ability to become aware of the emotional states of others and your relationship to society at large. Not only are you able to be in tune with your internal landscape; you are better able to navigate the external world landscape all around you. The foundation to developing emotional intelligence begins with addressing your “Intrapersonal Self-awareness” – by making friends with your feelings.
Performing on the stages of life with enjoyment and success will require among other qualities a sense of humor. It will also require self-management. Often times we face challenges when we attempt to achieve new heights – be it getting into physical shape at the gym or starting a new business. Optimism and lightheartedness can go a long way when you have to have to rise to the occasion to learn and grow out of your current comfort zone. Things don’t always work out as plan so,
“If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it!” ~Jonathan Winters
While you are swimming, hopefully you are learning new skills to enable you to complete the course. We can always learn to swim better as the waters can become unexpectedly choppy at times. I have found that it matters not how smart you are, how many degrees you may have or who you know – sooner or later uncertainty will find you and the environment will shift. You see to perform at your best you will need a growth mindset, one that is flexible and willing to expand. Are you able to relax and also enjoy the journey?
You will need to have good people skills, as it is getting quite tough to go it alone; the Lone Ranger is no longer popular. You will need to think and see clearly to avoid potholes along the way. Here are five factors that can fuel high performance that are not often taught in “How to be Successful” tips when making a career shift, starting or expanding a business. These are factors that are not as simple as taking a sales course and hiring a new accountant or consultant. They are skills or traits that we all need to develop within ourselves to a functional degree if we desire to perform at our very best.
Understanding optimism is important to elevating your performance. Finally, the power of feelings and emotions are beginning to be openly discussed within the context of science, business and leadership. Historically, the term, “touchy feely” has been used to dismiss important aspects of ourselves that we were not comfortable dealing with. We perform at our best when we approach performance from a holistic perspective.
We human beings are an “eco-system.” We are not just a mind in a body. We have spiritual and emotional aspects to ourselves also. Optimism points to the important role that feelings play alongside our intellect in making decisions that influence our future performance – in all areas of our life. Optimism is an attitude that chooses to look for the good in situations, with positive feeling. So how do I define optimism as it relates to performance?
Optimism is not about denial of current reality; it’s about the resiliency to rise to life’s challenges with faith, hope and courage.
Often when I hear the discussion of “optimism” there is a connotation of ignoring the facts. There is an implication that one is looking through, “rose colored glasses.” There is a type of cynicism or stigma that if one is optimistic, they must have their head in the sand. No, I disagree. I’m an optimist and I know that this attitude has elevated my performance over the years and it is not because I pretend that there are not roadblocks or challenges.
Quite the contrary; optimism allows me to look right at the scary issues, stand my ground with composure and stay open to insightful solutions to overcome them. We need to stop “facing reality” as the pessimists do. I assess the situation that I am currently in and I address what needs to be immediately addressed but I divert my intention and attention to solving the problem, not continuing to “face it” and talk about it. That is where negative attitudes and pessimists fall down in performance; they need to stop facing reality so much and focus on finding new solutions. Besides, as Einstein said,
Emotional intelligence helps us to be smarter about our emotion. Emotion is a part of our mind-body connection. It is another expression of our intelligence. Feelings are the effect of our emotional perception. They add color to our lives. I say “perception” because how we look at a situation determines the meaning we assign. Let’s keep this simple; there are only two classes of emotion – love or fear.
If we ‘emote love’ our feeling sensation that follows for example, will be in the category of well-being and thus, ‘feel good’ or what many refer to as positive. We tend to (though we at times make poor choices) move toward things that we think will make us feel good or better. Feelings in the emotion of love category would include, joy, peace and enthusiasm. Emotion moves us. It is energy in motion…E-motion.
The opposite, fear, especially when chronic, can harm our well-being. The emotion of fear tends to move us away from the situation. If it is a threat to our life, it’s useful. If it’s due to irrational fears…like worry about things you can’t control…it can be harmful. It can hinder our leadership performance and weaken our people skills. Emotional quality is important to our decision-making ability.
In order to act more intelligent with our emotion, we will need to recognize that our mind has two aspects, intellectual mind and the emotional mind. Our mind is not only, ‘logical’ as represented by the left-brain. Our mind is also intuitive and deeply connected to our emotion and feeling states – the right-brain dominates in this realm.
The right-brain can be thought of as a metaphor for our heart – our connection to others, our spiritual and intuitive aspects and our purpose/big picture context for our lives, as examples.
The qualities of our right-brain mirrors what we commonly think of as our, ‘heart’. If we only think of our mind as hard, cold and calculating, we will act without heart – without wisdom. A heartless mind is no way to live. Our brain hemispheres contribute in different ways for important reasons – two hemispheres really are better than one. One is not better than the other; both are required for optimal performance and effectiveness.
Since optimism can be learned, why is pessimism so rampant? Do we have any say in our attitude or is it simply, “just the way we are?”
“If you think you can do a thing or you think you can’t do a thing– you are right” ~Henry Ford
This now aligns in general with recent research in neuroscience. Pessimists are people who tend to see through a lens of pessimism and optimists have a brain bias that is toward optimism. Reality is not objective in these types of situations in particular. Your reality is real – to you. Life contains both and sometimes we get what we want and sometimes we don’t. The question is what meaning or story line do you assign to the outcomes that you see?
Is it one of what can be learned? What can you change? Do you just let your emotions swing you wildly out of control? Do you focus on what is missing or “wrong” or do you look for all the other great things in your life to be thankful for that you DO have?
You see, this choice of happiness or stress and overwhelm is within our control to a huge degree. Whether pessimism was learned or genetic, you can change it. We just have not known it was possible and we are just now learning how to consciously do it with more ease and less effort. I’m glad I had the courage to get a head start on the science…I have so much more emotional self-mastery now. Trusting intuition can be a beautiful and powerful thing.
Enhanced self-awareness and more skillful self-management are the foundations of emotional intelligence and are building blocks for optimism and resiliency. They are essential for maintaining motivation and preventing burnout. Research has shown that optimism is associated with enhancing intrinsic motivation and performance. It has a tendency to inspire others instead of discourage them.
I was listening to a video by an author where he defined ‘self-actualization’ in terms of ‘ego’ or selfish individualism – a type of narcissism. This goes to show the limitations of language and how meaning can be confused. The ‘self’ in self-actualization in my mind is just the opposite. It is the freedom from the mental constructs of the ego-self. And, it’s an ancient concept.
It is the awareness that there is a ‘core’ you that is beyond the labels and judgments of the ‘autobiographical memory’ of the brain’s cellular memory that forms the ego – in neuroscience terminology. Self-actualization is another way of saying, ‘enlightenment’. It is the ‘real you’ Self. It reaches beyond the social conditioning that says, ‘you are only this or that’. Or, ‘you cannot be, do or have this or that’ – just because society holds you in an itty-bitty box of judgment.
Self-actualization is about recognizing more and more who you really are and hopefully accessing more of your true potential. It is freeing your mind from the limitations that create distraction, disease and dysfunction. So, just to be clear, my definition of self-actualization leads a person to be more collaborative with others, not more selfish.
Leadership, as do people, evolves. Seeing through the eye of the leader has taken on a whole new level of meaning in light of recent advances in cognitive neuroscience. When a leader realizes that how she or he perceives their self, their team members and the organization powerfully matters to outcomes, there is potentially even more motivation to bring clarity to their vision. I was reading an article written by professor Eric Kandel, a neuroscientist at Columbia University that appeared in the NY Times weekend edition for April 13, 2013, What the Brain Can Tell Us About Art. A noteworthy comment was made regarding creativity:
“…This insight implied that the brain is a crativity machine, which obtains incomplete information from the outside world and completes it.” (Assigns the meaning)
At the end of the article, Dr. Kandel makes an interesting comment:
“All of which goes to show that the real “eye” of the beholder is the brain itself”
Truly. How we see reality is subjective and then we take the actions to prove ourselves, “right”. When a leader sees him or herself with blind spots, they can under perform unnecessarily or even worse, project their low expectations onto those around them and also contribute to a reduction of the effectiveness of their team.
When a leader’s expectations of success are limited, it impacts the performance of the whole team. You underestimate the power of the mind to produce “self-fulfilling prophecy” to your own peril. How do we begin to consciously become the Creative Directors of the performance of our teams and organizations?