Opinions and Body Parts

[Be forewarned, this one includes some crassness…]

It would appear that mankind is never at a loss for words. We like to hear the sound of our own voice. From the lowliest fool to the loftiest prince, humanity always believes it is entitled to its opinion. As Americans, we tout the 1st amendment as the holy of holies, and rightfully so. Oppressed speech is dehumanizing.
Yes, you are entitled to your own opinion…
But here’s a thought – try to have an educated, informed one.
Supporting Corollary – God gave you two ears and one mouth, which certainly means that you should listen twice as much as you speak.

Opinions are like elbows and “another part of the anatomy.” Everybody has one. (I am fully aware that there are an unfortunate few who were born without full arms. I’m assuming that if anyone was born without the said “another part of the anatomy”, that person more than likely perish hours after birth unless some emergency surgery took place, I’m not aware of this type of a medical event taking place, I could be wrong, I might be ignorant, please disregard for the sake of the metaphor.) Elbows are quite useful in assisting the arms to manipulate and articulate movement. The said “another part of the anatomy” is also useful, as an orifice used to eliminate bodily waste. Otherwise, an individual would be continuously full of crap. Sorry for such a crass metaphor. But let’s face it. How many of us know a few folks who spout out nothing but loads and loads of crap? Nothing in of itself very useful. The problem is that the crap is being eliminated from the WRONG orifice!

Most opinion is conjecture, (if not weighted down with hyperbole.) This in itself is not a bad thing. The scientific method begins with conjecture, if based on good observation. Therein lies the problem. How many opinions being spouted out by the masses are based on educated deduction and not assumption? And how many opinions are simultaneously vulnerable and robust enough to be tempered, even transformed, when another opinion challenges it?

On a daily basis, we are bombarded moment by moment by the steady flow of opinions from numerous people on various mediums. How often are our opinions formed by a smorgasbord of untested ideas from people we don’t know and probably wouldn’t care about if we actually really knew them?

You can never really know exactly what the public at large is thinking. If you take ten people off the street, whom you think all have the same opinion on an issue, and have them discuss their issues, take away any kind of demagogic individual in a group discussion, and you will find that they all have different frames of reference regarding the issue. All of them have different stakes. Different perspectives. Different contexts. Different risks. Some opinions might accurately represent society as a whole, or might not.

In no way, shape or form am I saying that one shouldn’t have an opinion. First of all, that would be impossible. Second, to say that would be hypocritical, because I’m sharing my opinions on a blog. What I am trying to convey is that too often our beliefs are based on the untested opinions of random people whom we may or may not want to be influenced by. We don’t take the time to critically test the opinions we form that are influenced by the untested opinions of others! We sometimes mistake having a conviction with untested passionate propaganda.

When confronted with a difference of opinion, what is usually the outcome? Well, it depends on the individual characters of those who have the differences of opinion. A lot of time, argument and discord ensues. (Argument in and of itself is not bad. The original idea of argument is “to persuade.” A lot of arguments I’m referring to do not fall under that category.) If one of the individuals happen to have a modicum of maturity, then the discussion can usually be steered in a civil direction. Maturity displayed in this example is “having your opinions and beliefs challenged without feeling personally attacked.” A quote by Dave Willis — “One of the truest signs of maturity is the ability to disagree with someone while still being respectful.” And Archbishop Desmond Tutu has stated, “Our maturity will be judged by how well we are able to agree to disagree and yet continue to love one another, to care for one another and cherish one another and seek the greater good of the other.” [Thanks to Melissa Crawford for helping me find these quotes.] I found this one…”In all tests of character, when two viewpoints are pitted against each other, in the final analysis, the thing that will strike you the most is not who was right or wrong, strong or weak, wise or foolish… but who went to the greater length in considering the other’s perspective.” Mike Dooley

We are all different, and we express ourselves through opinions. Sometimes we should critically analyze our opinions. Sometimes we need to withhold our opinion. Sometimes we need to maturely discuss and even argue our opinions. To argue is not to battle with words, and the winner comes out on top. No, to argue is to state ones opinion with the good faith that the other party will listen, providing that in due turn you will also listen to the other party’s opinion. With this in mind, you “seek first to understand, then be understood.” (Stephen Covey, habit 4) The solutions to our problems are not due to some intangible force “out there”, but upon our being willing to be vulnerable, responsible, visionary, and purposeful. This is done in harmony with the one who sits across the table from you, who at one time you viewed as your adversary, but is now required of you to view as your friend.

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Mentoring – A Leader’s Investment in the Future

Most leaders have a concern about the future. In fact, if they don’t have a concern for the future, I would really hesitate to call them a leader. If a leader is trying to uphold the status quo, then I seriously doubt they are worth following.

With an eye on the future, a leader will also come to some sobering truths, one being that he or she can’t do this leading responsibility alone. It’s an “all hands on deck” kind of thing. Of course, not “all hands” will be leading in the same capacity. But teamwork is essential for the ship to move forward.

With this in mind, a leader should be on the alert for opportunities to serve his or her fellow shipmates. A team consists of individuals, each who have, in addition to a loyalty to the vision and mission of their organization (or at least we hope,) aspirations and dreams of their own. Your fellow ship hands won’t be on your ship all their lives. Some of them will move on to other endeavors. Some will stay and serve faithfully for many years. Regardless, it is your responsibility as a leader to help them navigate their lives. Not only are you navigating for your organization, you are assisting others in their growth.

Having said this, it is not your responsibility to chart a course out for every detail of their lives. Nor do you invade their sense of autonomy, offering unwanted counsel. But, in the context of a relationship of trust, respect, and love, be aware of those moments when your colleagues are open to encouragement. Look for ways you can offer assistance. Humbly ask them if you can show them some guidance. If they are willing, then share, and then pay attention. If they respond with openness and appreciation, take that as a signal of them being available for further discussions down the road. If you sense they are closed, then you are better off waiting for other signals later on. Let them take the initiative in approaching you. In fact, anytime a constituent comes to you for assistance, that is a great opportunity to begin planting the seeds of a mentoring relationship. Just don’t make this “mentoring” relationship an “official” thing.

It’s also important to note that you do not navigate for others in arenas in which you have no competence. Help them find the appropriate resources, then point the way. But steer clear of rocky areas where you have no experience.

It’s also necessary to point out that you do have authority to discuss with your people matters to which they are directly responsible for in the organization in which you are their superior. This is not an option for them. Of course, you do it with kindness and respect, but firmness. Even in these moments you have great opportunities to invest in their lives.

All of this also depends on the idea that you are a growing individual yourself. If you are not pouring fresh water into yourself every day, then you have nothing of value to offer others. You need to develop your own inner resources, and have a collection of external resources to offer as well.

The people you lead are your future. You need to help shape the next generation to take the helm once you move on. This is part of the legacy of a leader. Navigate the ship’s mission, and your crew. Help them find the North Star.

The Gift of Listening

The Gift of Listening

If you want to make progress with people, you have to offer them a gift – the gift of a listening ear. One of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is Seek First to Understand, then be Understood. The only way to understand others is to listen to them. So shut up. Zip up your bone box.

In 1886 a young socialite had the honor of dining in the same week with both William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. Both statesmen were running against each other for the post of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The press asked her of her impressions that the rivals had made on her. She replied, “After dining with Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest person in England. But after dining with Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest person in England.” ¹ Mr. Disraeli had the gift of making you feel as you were the most important person in world. As a result, the young lady felt affirmed and of value.

There are some ways to NOT listen. Do not “listen” and simultaneously be thinking about how you are going to respond. That is not listening. This is the same as shutting them out. When listening, don’t be looking around the room or area. Instead, give them eye contact, with a genuine soft smile. Have an open look to your eyes, don’t stare them down with intimidation. Don’t interrupt. Again, that’s the same as planning your words, only you could care less about what they are really saying. Also, pause three seconds before saying anything when it is your turn to respond. It will seem like an eternity, but it will show that you are processing your partner’s ideas.

A benefit of actually listening? You might actually learn something about your conversation partner. What if by listening you gained some insight on this individuals needs? As a sales professional, this could be valuable information. What if by listening you learned something about their point of view or position? As a negotiator, you might find a true win-win solution. What if by listening you discerned the persons fears or pain that has been affecting their behavior? As a family member you might learn how you could show them love with actions, not just words, (although words are necessary, too.) What if by listening you were told what their biggest problems or concerns were? As a public office holder you might learn a practical way of serving your constituents. If you are constantly talking, you are not in a position to serve and love those you are trying to connect with.

When you actually listen, the other party will feel respected. They will discern authenticity and genuineness. You will be building trust. If you respond with authenticity, you will show that you have the other individual’s best interests at heart. You will be seen and heard as being trustworthy. You will be able to position yourself to show love, respect and trust. And your opportunity to influence them will have grown considerably.

Real listening can’t be faked. You are either listening or you are elsewhere. You have to be present. As mentioned in the title, listening is a gift, and like a present, you have to be present in order to give it.

1. Olivia Fox Cabane, The Charisma Myth (Portfolio/Penguin/2012)

The Absolute Necessity of Trust and Faith

I have mentioned three important values many times in my posts. What are they?

Trust. Respect. Love. All three of them are essentials if you want to influence people. Today we are going to focus on trust, and trustworthiness. Trust is defined as the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. When you are placing your trust in someone, you are placing a little bit of yourself into them. It’s an investment. There’s some risk involved. You are being vulnerable. But when it pays off, the payoff has a synchronistic effect. The sum is greater than its parts. The relationship is strengthened mightily. You now deem that individual as trustworthy, or able to be relied on as honest, truthful, reliable, dependable.

It is important to have faith in the people you are working with. If you are responsible for the development of your constituents, then at some point in time, you are going to have to release them. You give them responsibilities, you let them go to do their work, and you trust them to get it done. (Of course, this assumes they have been properly trained to do those responsibilities.) Once you let them go, keep your hands off. Otherwise, you are betraying your trust. If by chance they fail, unless it is a moral failure, don’t sweep your trust under a rug. Provide the constructive criticism they need in a respectful and kind way. Help them fail forward. Evaluate where they went wrong. Help them discover their strengths so they can develop them properly and put those strengths to work. Help them leverage their weaknesses. And let them try again. Do all of this feedback in a corroborative way. Ask questions and listen. Get their take on what happened. Guide them to the best solutions and course of actions after they have learned from their mistakes.

At the outset of a working relationship, instill confidence in your people. Help them envision their future optimistically. And help them develop a growth mindset, a mindset that says, “I can do this. I can adapt. I can hustle and work hard until this is accomplished.” Also, help them see their past wins, and work on some smaller wins together.

In the religious arena, specifically Christianity, there is an acronym used to explain faith…

Forsaking
All
I
Trust
Him

….the idea that you repent and turn away from everything you used to depend on for salvation, and entirely trust in Jesus for that salvation. Not intending this to be a Sunday school lesson, I think this is a beautiful picture of how it works in the realm of influence, too. You have to let go of controlling your people, let go of trying to micro-manage them, let go of trying to force their work into your preconceived notions of how things must be done, and trust them for the results. You do that when you get on a plane –  you let the pilot fly it, and navigate it, and all those other elements of what’s involved in getting from here to there at 25,000 feet in the air. You do it when you elect to have surgery – you let the surgeon cut you up in unforeseen ways and then patch you up and let you walk out of the hospital in the same day, (quite miraculous these days, if you ask me.) So, let you your people go to do awesome, miraculous things. And when they succeed, they will return the trust to you. And when this happens consistently, you will be building influence in your people.

Equipping and Nurturing your People

One of the marks of a good leader is that he or she develops others into leaders. They take the time to equip others. According to John Maxwell, if you leave your organization to pursue other endeavors, and your organization falls apart, then you didn’t do your job.

Most, if not all, lofty endeavors require teamwork to render them successful. Relationships within an organization, especially those of individual teams, are key to its success. And the leaders within the organization, from the top CEO to individual team leaders have responsibilities to create a leadership culture. Relationships will be the foundation of this culture.

It is important for the individual members of the teams and organization to know that their leaders have a genuine concern for them. That they are thought highly of. That their well being is considered. Nurturing others is a significant part of this process. Respect, love, and trust are key values here. People just want to know that their leaders have their back. They don’t want to feel a knife in it later.

It would be accurate to say that because of uncertainty in today’s world, most workers face a lot of anxiety in the workplace. A leader has an opportunity to build trust by taking the time to encourage his or her constituents, as a whole and individually. There is potential in all people, it might need some prompting, shining, nudging, uncovering, refining, and aligning to reveal it. This takes real effort on the leader’s behalf, and even the willingness to be vulnerable at the times. A healthy self esteem is essential in the leader’s life in order to get their hands dirty in people work. When people feel safe around their leader, they are in a prime position to take on the tough challenges that a leader sets forth, as long as the leader also gives good direction, clarity in vision and goals, constructive feedback and accountability.

The idea of equipping comes from the idea of a fisherman repairing his net. A leader is in the business of evaluating his people, and seeing where they can grow, and then nurturing that growth. Giving your folks the resources they need is essential for them to grow in their day to day challenges. One on one mentoring and quality group training must not be neglected. Emphasis on quality. I know that in my current work endeavors, training has been reduced to sitting at a computer terminal for 30 minutes at a time attempting to digest rehashed material every 6 months. There is virtually no coaching in a positive light. When you are coached, it is because you’ve messed up. It is a reprimand, not an attempt to equip the individual for success. I could go on, but digress. An investment in quality training for your people will show them that you are concerned for how they do their work.

Empower your people. Give them the power to make decisions on how to do their work, as long as it gets the job done. Set some boundaries, of course, but let them do their work. If they are coming to you to get permission to do their work, then something is wrong. If they need to take care of a customer or client issue, let them do it. This is, of course, assuming that the customer/client is indeed important to the organization.

These are just a few ideas on how a leader can invest into the well being and success of his or her people entrusted to them. People don’t necessarily want a best friend as a leader. They do want someone who is generally likable, trustworthy, respectful, and considerate of their well being. Not a nice guy or gal. But a good guy or gal. There’s a difference.

People…geesh.

“This job would be okay, if it weren’t for the customers!” says just about every retail worker on the planet. Well, maybe they never say it. But they do think it. Maybe not just retail workers. If you bleed and/or breathe or perform a combination of the two on a regular basis, then I bet you’ve thought it. Maybe you thoroughly love your job now and people are just wonderful. But at one time, you, too, were a card carrying member of the “I hate dealing with stupid people” club. If you never have been issued your card, just wait.

The point is, people can suck. Dealing with people can suck. Sure, there can be blessings, and lots of them. Usually it takes some years of suffering and some miles on the maturity gauge to get to a point where card carrying members  don’t need their card renewed because they have learned a few tricks. I’m not sure I have enough punches on my card to redeem it for the prize yet, but I’m learning a few things.

1.) On this side of eternity, it’s always going to suck. Two things about this. #1, A good chunk (notice I did not say majority) of people are always going to be selfish, needy, conniving, bitter, difficult and/or any combination of the aforementioned. We will always have difficult people with us. We can’t really fix them ourselves. #2, I kinda suck myself. And guess what? You kinda do, too. We all have our moments. Hopefully as we get some mileage, we have fewer sucky moments that we’re responsible for. But, if you’re breathing or bleeding, guess what? You’re also in the “I suck” club.

2.) Part of the reason people suck is that they live unmotivated lives. I used to think that these kind of people were lazy and entitled. (Some of them are.) Now I see that they just don’t have a big enough “Why” in their lives. Along the same vein, people who are born with the potential to be creative are not exercising their creative muscles. All folks are creative. ALL. Capital A Capital L Capital L Period. But fear, insecurity, and low self esteems prevent folks from exploring their creativity. Non existent creativity results in folks not solving problems. Including their day to day problems that put them in that sucky state of mind.

3.) You can’t change people. People have to want to change themselves. We’ve heard that so many times it’s almost cliché. But it’s true. Believe me, I’ve wanted to change so many lousy customers so badly, I could’ve throat punched them. But coercion never works. You may think coercion changes people, but it’s only temporary. Only influence from a safe relationship built on trust and respect, and yes, love, can begin to plant seeds of change, but it’s a interdependent relationship. Not a lot of folks want to invest that kind of emotional capital. That’s unfortunate, because it seems to me that a lot of these folks, especially the younger generation, need mentors in their lives.

So there are three things for now. We all suck. We’re unmotivated. We can’t change people.
Are there solutions or alternatives? I think there are. But my 500 words are up, and this is definitely a good intro to a “To be continued” kind of series. So for now…

Suck it up, buttercup!