Category Archives: Self Control

How to Present Executive Presence with James Corden

I’ve been reading a lot about the Buddhist idea of presence and how we can be more aware of the “now.” According to its teachings, regret, fear, and anger come from comparing our current experience with a past, future, or alternative experience. This tension generates negative emotions that distract us from concentrating on what is occurring right in front of us.

In Western society, this concept of presence was popularized by British philosopher Alan Watts and his 1951 book The Wisdom of Insecurity. Like Buddhism, he argues that the root of frustration and daily anxiety is our tendency to live for the future, a “constantly retreating phantom—the faster you chase it, the faster it runs ahead.” According to Watts, to escape this toxic cycle, we must maintain a full awareness of our present experience, which he differentiates from judging it, evaluating it, or relating it to some arbitrary ideal.

If the ancient teachings of Buddha or an acclaimed English academic don’t convince you, consider what The Late Late Show host James Corden said in a recent interview with Chris Hardwick:

[Being present is] the only way you can juggle being busy. You need to think, ‘What’s the thing I have to do now and I won’t think about anything else other than being the best version of myself now.’ So, if all I’m thinking about now is trying to make this the best [interview] it can be, I can leave here and go, ‘And now I’m going to try to be the best host or boss tonight.’ And when I get home, I’m going to try and be the best husband… And if that’s what you are always trying to do, you will only be a success. It’s the moment when you go, ‘Aww, I’ve got that on Thursday and I don’t want to think about this or that,’ then it’s all a disaster, then it all falls apart. When you think, ‘I’ve just gotta get through this so I can get to that thing that’s more important,’ well that thing may never come, it may never arrive. So actually, if you just go, ‘when I get to that, I’ll think about that. Right now, I’m just going to think about this,’ then, I find, that’s the only way I can juggle everything.

As intelligent people, it may seem obvious why fixating on the past and future is a diversion from the existing moment. However, as leaders, we must do more than just “live in the now;” we must demonstrate that we are present for the moment, for the team, for the vision, and for the tasks at hand. Sound daunting? It’s easier than you may think.

The most successful leaders know that appearing present is about providing your undivided attention. This can be illustrated through something I call the Dean Test. Named after Dean “the King of Cool” Martin, let’s say you walk into a meeting with a bunch of strangers. Who’s in charge? Using the Dean Test you can pick out the most senior leader by looking for the person who is least distracted.

Whereas everyone else is checking their phone, rummaging through folders, and desperately gawking at the clock, the leader is unencumbered by logistical details or outside interference. They are projecting a sense of freedom, authority, and calmness as they converse with those in the room. They focus on whoever is speaking, listen attentively, and inquisitively dig into the issues being presented.

By displaying a composed demeanor, the leader is exhibiting a quiet confidence that says, “Your time is as valuable as mine, so I will pay attention because this is the most important place I need to be right now.” Showing respect is the fasted way to build respect, and everyone appreciates attention from the boss. Plus, you absorb more of the information since you are engaged in what is being said.

The only thing that exists is this. Everything behind is gone and everything forward is unknown. All you’ve actually got is now. Everything else is dust; this is the only thing that is happening. So if you’re just trying to do this now, and when you get home do that, and tomorrow be wherever you need to be, then you’ll be alright.—James Corden

Feeling a sense of presence is not always easy. We all have competing prioritizes that take us away from the here and now. So start with behaving as if you are present. Keep your phone in your pocket and focus on your surroundings. “Pretend” as if whatever you are doing right now actually matters. The more you act purposefully, the more natural it will become, and the closer you’ll get to emulating Buddha, Alan Watts, James Corden, Dean Martin, etc.

The One Way to Constructively Defuse an Argument

Constructive conflict is a healthy part of any organization. Deprived of it, we end up with a lack of innovation, status quos are not challenged, necessary questions are avoided, and there is a lethal amount of consensus. The key is how we address this conflict.

One way to face conflict is fast and furious. Like the multi-sequel movie franchise, we can follow Dom Toretto’s philosophy:

I live my life a quarter-mile at a time. Nothing else matters; not the mortgage; not the store; not my team and their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.

When we lead through a “quarter-mile at a time” mindset, we are likely to engage in such practical strategies as seeking compromise, utilizing empathy, avoiding blame, apologizing, and forgiving past actions. However, while these techniques can be effective, they do not work when we are in the midst of a heated argument where we feel emotionally invested. So how can we improve our ability to resolve our interpersonal conflicts?

According to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, you are more likely to resolve conflict through superior reasoning strategies when you consider the situation in the long run. By distancing yourself from your current feelings, you are better equipped to unravel negative events and find resolution. Otherwise, according to another study, you are prone to ruminating, recounting, and re-experiencing the negative event indefinitely.

Still not convinced you are better off with a marathon (versus sprint) mentality? A study in Psychological Review found that imagining the future is a natural outlet to thinking more abstractly about an interpersonal conflict. Once we are able to transcend the present moment and put the negative events in context, we are less focused on recounting it and more focused on thinking about the bigger picture. And with enhanced adaptive reasoning strategies, the research reported that participants had a greater influx of positive emotions and insight.

To resolve conflicts, we need to think beyond a “quarter-mile at a time.” How will it pan out tomorrow, next week, and next year? It may not be as harrowing as a fast and furious solution, but the measure of successful leadership is not reliant on how quickly you reach the finish line.

Weekender: Jeff Bridges on Practicing Good Habits

jeff bridgesWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a rug of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why a rug? Because that rug really tied the room together (and it’s the weekend)!

Would you describe your leadership style as discipline-based or more guided by gut reaction? If you choose the latter, consider what Jeff Bridges was once told by legendary actor (and his father) Lloyd Bridges.

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Bridges was asked what advice he wished he had received when beginning his career. He responded:

I got the advice — I just didn’t take it! My dad would say, ‘It’s all about habit, Jeff. You gotta get into good habits.’ And I said, ‘No, Dad, you gotta live each moment. Live it as the first one and be fresh.’ And he says, ‘That’s a wonderful thought, but that’s not what we are. We are habitual creatures. It’s about developing these grooves.’ As I age, I can see his point. What you practice, that’s what you become.

I’d like to think that a zen-like (aka Lebowski-like) style would be preferable in the workplace, but implementation and intent are not always congruent. Ad hoc decision making leads to inconsistent leadership, confusion amongst the team, and a lack of focus. If your staff cannot rely on a reliable message, they cannot help you follow through on any long-term objectives.

You and your staff are habitual creatures. Provide and practice habits that fulfill your grandiose vision. It takes discipline and foresight, but as Lloyd Bridges said, “What you practice, that’s what you become.”

Why I Won’t Play Pokémon Go: My Guide to Limiting Workplace Distractions

pokemonUnlike most smartphone owners, I have not downloaded the app sensation, Pokémon Go. While I am typically first in line to consume pop culture, I’m familiar enough with my bad habits to know that the minute this game is uploaded to my phone, I would become obsessed to the point of atrophy. Case in point, I am still haunted by the wasteful Candy Crush summer of 2012.

My refusal to play Pokémon Go certainly puts me in the minority. A recent study found that a third of U.S. Android smartphone users have downloaded this game, surpassing Twitter as the most popular current mobile app. For those of you who are not familiar, Pokémon Go is a virtual scavenger hunt. Players explore the real world with their smartphones, hunting for 151 different cartoon characters at grocery stores, parks, and coffees shops. Did I mention that they are also playing Pokémon Go at work, as if our team needs another distraction.

Office workers are interrupted approximately every eleven minutes, academic studies have found. Once distracted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task, says Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California.

Another study measured the amount of brainpower lost when someone is interrupted. Two subject groups were tasked with reading a passage and completing a test—one merely did the assignment, while the other was told they “might be contacted for further instructions” at any moment via instant message. When the second group thought they were going to be interrupted but weren’t, they were 14% less likely to answer correctly. When they were interrupted, their scores dropped another 6%.

Distractions steal our time, hurt our productivity, impede our creativity, and damage our efficiency. Even worse, many of our distractions are our own fault, making them wholly avoidable. Larry Rosen, author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us, states that these self-induced distractions are becoming more prevalent and difficult to manage. There is a compulsion to check email, text, social media, and games like Pokémon Go. “We might be in the middle of a meeting but if we don’t check in we start feeling anxious,” Rosen says.

To effectively manage self-inflicted interruptions, we must build our ability to concentrate and minimize distractions. Here are a few tricks that (along with discipline) may work:

  • Take tech breaks. Give yourself a pre-determined amount of time to read through social media or hunt down a Pikachu. Then, silence devices and set the timer. Until the buzzer sounds, you work on that one assignment. No flipping through emails, responding to tweets, or switching screens.
  • Be less accessible. Close your door and tape a sign saying “Do Not Disturb. Genus at Work.” Do this at a set time throughout the week to ensure that you are allowing yourself time to work undisturbed.
  • Hide. If your workspace is too distracting, find somewhere else to work. Leave your phone in your desk and retreat to a less visible area.
  • Stop pop ups. On your smartphone, tablet, and laptop turn off the notifications that interrupt you throughout the day. This includes banners, sounds, vibrations, and badges.
  • Get help. If motivation is the issue, download apps like Freedom and Zero Willpower that will block alerts and social media access at the times of your choosing.

Don’t fall victim to the Pokémons lurking around each corner. They want to break your concentration and take you off task. If you can control the urge, you remain the hunter; however, if you succumb to their temptation, they are now hunting you. You and your team do not have to become prey to a bunch of pocket monsters. Fight the distractions so you can spend time on things that really matter… like Tetris.

Weekender: Keegan-Michael Key on Perceiving Challenges

Keegan-Michael KeyWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a peel of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just the peel? Because it’s the weekend!

Have you ever seen a leader throw a temper tantrum over the minorest of minor issues? When this happens, it is clear that the individual has experienced a temporary lapse of what really matters. While this is bound to happen to anyone, the leader cannot afford to damage their reputation or appear petty. Keegan-Michael Key offers a perspective that may help.

Comedian and actor Keegan-Michael Key is best known for his television work on Key & Peele and MADtv and his recent movie Keanu. In a recent conversation on the podcast Off Camera with Sam Jones, Key discussed how maturity and experience have changed the ways he views life’s daily challenges.

At the end of the day, in our industry, it’s always just a series of challenges. So the difference is, do you look at the challenges as opportunities or do you look at the challenges as problems. And that is something that as I’ve gotten older, I’ll get into a weird mode where I’ll say, ‘alright, the stakes are really high this time.’ No, no, no, no. Why? Why weren’t they higher here? The issue or the challenge is just a challenge. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a $50 million comedy or you’re doing a play at a 60 seat black box. How do we decipher and give clarity to every moment?

What an interesting view on maintaining perspective. If we can view setbacks as nothing more than challenges, it takes some pressure off knowing that the stakes remain manageable. Then, in the moments when we feel like we’ve stumbled, our frustration might not feel so frustrating or maybe it won’t last as long.

Glitches are bound to happen, but your mindset can affect the impact they have on your confidence, attitude, and behavior. With a dose of perspective, your newfound Zen-ness can provide some inner peace and set the tone for your entire team.