My good friend David Tebbutt (www.tebbo.com) drew my attention this week to the musings of occupational psychologist Peter Honey. His post (http://peterhoney.org/2018/lifes-lessons/) briefly explored eight core life lessons, which I have reproduced below along with my personal reflections. The headings and sections in italics are Peter Honey’s.
B is for Behaviour
As far as other people are concerned, you ARE your behaviour. What you say and do is all they know about you. Everything else, your thoughts, motives, attitudes, beliefs and feelings, are guesswork.
Steve’s observation: This has raised its poignant head many times over the years. Never forget that your personal brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room, as I am often reminded by my better half. It is the essence of our reputation and has a bright side and a dark side (https://www.hoganassessments.co.uk/media/1480/leadership.pdf). Bright side reputations bring attention like moths to a lamp, show us at our very best and bring access to opportunities denied to our more moody coworkers. Dark side reputations are associated with conflict, irascibility and negativity although they are often paired with well developed social skills under specific circumstances that partially compensates, avoiding firing but preventing promotion.
Unless we have a spy in the conversations, our reputation can be something we are blithely unaware of unless our behaviour results in a critical issue. In most cases our negative brand simply quietly damages our opportunities. In the absence of a “quiet word” from a manager with a half-decent EQ, the ultimate revelation that your interpretation of your personal brand as “life and soul of the team” which was actually regarded as “toxic” by your coworkers can be tough to recover from.
Don’t get me wrong, team sceptics can be very valuable in times of strategic development, placing a dragging brake on corporate exuberance, but if your behaviour is seen as not “constructive” and more “obstructive” then you might find your input continually sidelined. Behaviour is always under your control, but if you feel it isn’t you might be in need of NLP and/or a new job. Remember also that behaviours developed at work bleed into your personal life.
Ultimately none of us can know each others unexpressed motives, attitudes and intents so Peter is spot on here!
B is also for Beliefs
‘Moderation in all things’ applies to beliefs as well as to everything else. Wars are caused by clashes between strong, intransigent beliefs. Your beliefs are tentative conclusions, not facts.
Steve’s observation: Exceptionally apposite in a world of social voices where opinion is daily traded as fact and broadcast to the world, regardless of the origin of the opinion or the robustness of its generation. Beliefs should always stand to be challenged and if you refuse to listen to the dissenting view then your belief may not be as strong as you thought and probably shouldn’t be widely broadcast.
In many ways blind belief systems can be seen as defensive because they lead to entrenched positions, so attacks on those systems are often aggressively repelled. Doubt is not an enemy of belief but an admission that all is not known or understood which can be a very positive position. A depth of doubt may lead to a reassessment of belief, which is not a negative thing. The world is ever changing. The best challenges to belief come from yourself and keep you growing and evolving.
C is for Choices and Consequences
Life is just one choice after another and every choice you make has consequences. Some choices have life-changing, often unintended, consequences. It’s a good idea to anticipate possible consequences before making big decisions.
Steve’s observation: Decision theory talks a lot about evaluating the consequences of actions. Individuals ability to predict the consequences or their actions differs widely and the ability to look multiple steps ahead is a function of the situation, the available data, your intellectual capacity and the stakes involved. Too often we are under pressure to make a decision without full appreciation of the consequences and there is a sort of badge of honour in the startup world that rapid decision making is more important than evaluating the consequences, because outcomes can always be ameliorated by more rapid decision making. In reality, as we get closer to the crisis point our manoeuvrability becomes increasingly hampered by our failure to predict.
John C Maxwell’s mantra of “fail early, fail fast” is often taken up by early stage CEO’s but always conjures up a punch-drunk individual staggering from one calamity to another in the expectation that somehow they are winning. Better to keep an eye on the consequences and, by that, plan for failure and prepare for success – covering off the crisis always makes success more likely whereas serial failures aren’t harbingers of eventual success at all, despite the oft quoted experiences of Thomas Edison. In fact a 2008 Harvard Business School study correlates well with a 2011 Startup Compass study that showed startup CEO’s who failed are no more likely to succeed second time around than a new entrepreneur. The studies show that the likely cause is that people learn better from success than failure and failure often hunts for a scapegoat rather than analysing failure objectively.
H is for Humour
Humour is the shortest distance between people. Situational humour, not joke-telling, and gentle, but confident, self-deprecation works best.
Steve’s observation: The English and the Scots, and to some extent the Irish, are masters of self-deprecating humour, not only in its hilarity but in its measure. Being continuously self deprecating is an exhausting prospect for the observer and smacks of self pity and can damage your reputation, but used with measure it is disarming and infinitely charming deflection of gushing appreciation or criticism. Sharing a joke is definitely the shortest distance between two people but even self deprecators have to be aware of the growing list of socially unacceptable topics where the humour has to be very good indeed to avoid social chastisements.
Culture is important where humour is concerned and a lot of humour doesn’t translate well. In some cultures self-deprecation may be interpreted as a confession of incompetence with some pretty serious consequences, so know your audience or take advice. In the 80’s a Ford exec presenting in the Toyota HQ in Aichi and was advised by his hosts not to tell a joke as they don’t translate, but being a singular character he pushes ahead and opens with a joke, which is duly translated and at the end the audience laugh appreciatively. Afterwards he mentions the the joke seemed to go well when his local chief explained that the joke hadn’t been translated and the translator simply said “our esteemed guest has told a joke so please laugh”.
M is for Mistakes
Mistakes are inevitable and, if handled properly, are wonderful learning opportunities. Self-justification and blame are the enemies of learning from mistakes.
Steve’s observation: The biggest enemy of learning from mistakes is the search for fault. Fault is different from reasons or causes as they lead to remedy, but fault is where the buck stops. Will Smith just summed it up perfectly in a video he posted this week (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USsqkd-E9ag) looking at the very real difference between fault and responsibility. Fault stops investigation in its tracks, it’s like the full-stop (period) at the end of the sentence and brings recrimination to the fore. Responsibility drives actions, either in remediation or it mitigation but it is definitely the point where the learning experience begins. When we look for fault then we seek to deflect, pass the problem on and find t a new home. A favourite phrase of mine that those who know me would have heard many times is “it’s not the cock-up that matters, but your response.”
N is for Negative Thinking
Negative thinking is a learnt habit and all habits can be broken. The solution is to practise ‘not thinking negatively’, a neutral place, half way between negative and positive thinking. This is more realistic than positive thinking which is often a stretch too far.
Steve’s observation: Probably the biggest barrier to success in the human psyche is here. Negativity is habit forming and ultimately destructive. My partner and I get so frustrated at how bad California drivers are that each journey became a road rage incident inside the car. So we developed a rule that limits us to one driver disparaging comment per journey, and that works because you don’t want to fire your abuse canon too early so we tend to reserve it for the most egregious of offences. Travelling is now calmer and more relaxing.
Imposter syndrome drive a lot of negative thought, the feeling that we are somewhere or with someone that we don’t deserve. Acceptance of how others see us most positively is more valuable than our own nagging doubts, and pretty soon that becomes humility rather than negativity. The N word rises most often when we feel undervalued, though, as if we aren’t moving forwards in our business or personal life. The key to unlocking your positivity is short term goals and making a list of one item that you can tick off (Hint: don’t choose “world peace”).
P is for Pretending
Even when you don’t feel, say, enthusiastic, if you pretend you are, you’ll start to feel more enthusiastic than you otherwise would. Let your behaviour shape your feelings, rather than the other way round.
Steve’s observation: Actors can teach us a lot in this regard. “Fake it till you make it” has a lot of merit to it, as has “do the job you want and not the job you have”. Really these phrases remind us that we push us despite our self doubt, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t show integrity or appear “fake” in your dealings with people. The goal is to find a happy medium of projected quiet confidence, which is highly seductive!
T is for Thinking
Almost nothing matters as much as you think it does while you’re thinking about it. You can choose your thoughts in the same way that you can choose your behaviour. Events, even unwelcome ones, are powerless to dictate your thoughts and feelings.
Steve’s observation: An ex-colleague of mine had a great quarter that was full of plaudits for him and his manager, who played very little part in his success. His manager approached him for a Q3 briefing and enthusiastically asked, “That was great quarter Nigel, what are you planning for the next quarter?” Nigel’s response was reflective and brave and he replied, “Next quarter I’m going to think.” We don’t do enough of this in our reactive, high response world where a failure to respond to an email or personal message might have the sender calling your boss for an explanation. Lack of thinking time is a virus and we need to vaccinate against it by building in thinking time, moving away from our primary function and looking at the broad picture before diving back to the detail.
Part of startup culture is a ridiculous focus on hours worked and blind tenacity. I use a slide to illustrate the downside and it shows a bull steer running headlong at a fence repeatedly in an attempt to make forward progress, whilst next to him is an open gate. If we don’t look up we see only the swamp and not the approaching alligator. Make time for your intellect to work, calm you fast-twitch reactive muscle and do a little thinking.