How to Boost Your Performance through Rituals with James Lipton

How do you prepare yourself for a new activity? I didn’t put too much thought into this until I was at a conference a few years ago. I can’t remember the topic but I distinctly recall standing at a urinal when a guy walked into the bathroom and shouted at the mirror, “You are Lizard King! You can do anything!” He then left as quickly as he had appeared.

Ten minutes later I was shocked as the “Lizard King” was introduced as the keynote speaker. After the presentation, I asked him about his display. He wasn’t embarrassed, although he claimed that he didn’t see anyone in the bathroom. The keynote stated that it’s simply his pre-speech ritual. “It must psych you up?” I asked. “It use to,” he responded, “now it’s just something I do to center myself before I stand in front of a crowd.”

Similarly, in a recent interview, Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton discussed his pre-show rituals. It begins with the hours of meticulous research Lipton conducts on the person being interviewed. This can take months and Lipton prefers to do it by himself. He then transcribes his notes onto his trademark blue index cards and marks them up with post-it tabs and highlighters before they are neatly stacked in a 10-inch pile on his desk while taping the show.

My nightmare, somebody steals my cards.—James Lipton

Rituals like Lipton and the Lizard King are more than simply superstition or habit; they have been shown to have a positive affect on performance. In a study published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Alison Woods Brooks found that many top-level performers use rituals to help them prepare. These rituals significantly reduce anxiety and produce a higher quality work product. By mitigating the distracting, disruptive indicators associated with anxiety through pre-performance routines, Brooks concluded, “although some may dismiss rituals as irrational, those who enact rituals may well outperform the skeptics who forgo them.”

The lesson here is that we need a consistent ritual that precedes our stress-inducing events. You can go big (like screaming into a public bathroom mirror) or more subtle. Drink a glass of room temperature water. Read a poem or inspirational quote. Click your heals three times. Whatever you can do to center yourself and jumpstart that inner “on” switch. I’m sure Lipton would even be okay if you used index cards, although maybe you can find a color other than blue.

How ‘Fake News’ Damages Your Company and What You Can Do About It

Since the election, the idea of “fake news” has been prominently debated. Whether from willful blindness or a general sense of gullibility, stories that appear real have spread throughout social media…but this is not a new phenomenon.

200 years ago it was reported that after cutting down a cherry tree, a six year old George Washington guiltily told his father, “I cannot tell a lie…I did cut it with my hatchet.” Similarly, Paul Revere didn’t ride through the streets of Concord, Massachusetts yelling, “The British are coming” and Isaac Newton did not discover gravity when an apple fell on his head.

While these stories are technically fake news, they are distinguished from today’s fake news in their intent. When Mason Locke Weems penned the cherry tree tale in 1806, he was trying to illustrate Washington’s virtue so as to inspire young Americans to emulate him. Elias Phinney relayed Revere’s ride as an act of patriotism. And John Conduitt used Newton’s apple story as a metaphor so the less educated could understand the concept of gravity.

The fake news in our current political climate is more in the vein of Marie Antoinette’s, “Let them eat cake.” This quote was inaccurately attributed to Antoinette when a French Revolutionary anti-establishment pamphlet distributed it as a cartoon. In publishing such an untruth, the author was not trying to generate a metaphorical narrative; rather he was seeking to fuel the insurrection and overthrow of the French government.

As Antoinette can attest, fake news is inherently destructive in nature. Whether it’s from protesters or government leaders, these stories have no purpose but to disparage those with opposing views, stoke irrational fears, and spread falsehoods. There is no way to rationalize it; if an argument is well-intentioned, the truth should be sufficient to convince the masses. If it’s not, you need a better argument.

Consider how your company reacts when a malicious rumor is started. These localized fake news stories have long lasting negative ramifications on your team. Not only are they distracting, but the fabrications harm reputations, working relationships, and the overall culture. This then affects performance, productivity, and the bottom line.

There are two action items we can learn here. One, we need to do a better job identifying and quashing fake news. If you think this sounds easy, think again. A recent Stanford study found that students cannot determine fake news from real news. This lack of critical thinking is particularly alarming considering their nonstop media consumption. Participants had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles and were unable to identify where information came from. In addition, more than 80% believed a native ad identified with the words “sponsored content” was a real news story AND only 25% recognized and were able to explain the differences between a verified Twitter account and one that simply looked legitimate.

This finding indicates that students may focus more on the content of social media posts than on their sources. Despite their fluency with social media, many students are unaware of basic conventions for indicating verified digital information.—Sam Wineburg & Sarah McGrew

The second action item is that as leaders we must take responsibility for this fakery within our organizations. This begins with educating those on our team to be discernable absorbers of information. When new information is presented, teach them to evaluate it based on the following questions:

  1. Do you know the source? Is he/she reliable and trustworthy?
  2. Can you verify the information?
  3. How does it measure up to what you already know?
  4. Does it make (common) sense?
  5. Do you understand the complexity of the information?
  6. Do you understand the context of the information?
  7. What biases do you have that could affect how you interpret the information?
  8. Have subject matter experts corroborated the information? What about the company’s executive team?
  9. How current is the information?
  10. What is the intent of the person disseminating the information?

Fake news is an epidemic. Thankfully, you are in a position to be the Senior Editor of your organization’s “news” outlet. When fake news stories arise, no matter how trivial, report the truth. Don’t allow even one minor fib to become part of the dialogue. The more you practice this, the more fact-checking will become engrained in your culture.

Nine Ways to Be a More Assertive Leader with Logan/Wolverine

When I’m asked about core leadership traits, of course I mention ethics and communication and all the other basic competencies of anyone striving to make it in a company (or society-at-large). However, successful leaders have a characteristic that sets them apart from the masses—they are assertive.

Assertiveness is your ability to demonstrate healthy confidence, to be direct and honest. It is not aggression or seeking dominance over others, but simultaneously standing up for yourself while respecting other people’s rights. It’s like Wolverine from the X-Men movies and Logan.

Wolverine conducts himself with quiet self-assurance. He says what he thinks, speaks up when something bothers him, and has no problem making his opinions known. Sure, some will say he’s the very definition of aggression with his proclivity to destroy and his hair-trigger temper, but these bouts typically occur when he’s provoked, not because he seeks them out. No, Wolverine is assertive. Thankfully we don’t need his retractable claws, indestructible skeleton, or regenerative abilities to follow suit. Just try these nine suggestions.

Display confidence. If you want to be seen as assertive, consider your posture, tone, and general persona. Speak clearly. Stand up straight. Make eye contact. Don’t fidget. And walk with purpose.

Be direct. Assertiveness and brevity go hand in hand. No need for elaborate explanations, keep your requests simple, straightforward, and respectful.

Take responsibility. If you are waiting for other people to solve your problems, you might be confusing passiveness with assertiveness. If an aspect of your life needs to change, own it and do something about it.

And take responsibility. Being assertive means being accountable for the consequences of your actions. Take your lumps, learn from them, move on.

Say no. Unless you agree with every request, you need to exert some assertiveness by saying no. Be courteous, but be firm.

Stop apologizing. Too often, “nice” people feel guilty for asserting their needs and wants. Unless you’re nearing diva territory, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t apologize; just be polite and appreciative.

Don’t be pressured into justifying your views. When people are uncomfortable, they often try to defend or rationalize their decisions. Be able to explain your opinions without feeling compelled to make excuses for them.

Say what you think. No one knows what is on your mind unless you tell them. If you need something, say it. If you have a problem, speak up.

Be patient. Learning to become more assertive takes time and practice… so keep practicing.

Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth: Part 4— 10 Ways to Create a Culture of Trust

Check out Part 1 of this series where we discuss the logical fallacy of believing you are entitled to your opinion, Part 2 involving the destruction nature of alternative facts (lies), and Part 3 about deceiving with the truth.

Now that we’ve covered false opinions, lying with the truth (paltering), and lying without the truth (alternative facts), it’s time to discuss what we can do about it. According to Stephen M. R. Covey in The Speed of Trust, trust is the most powerful form of motivation in organizations and is the ultimate source of influence. Therefore, to build and maintain a culture brimming with inspiration, engagement, and authenticity, we must embrace the truth.

It should seem easy to embrace truth, but how well is that message getting to those on your team? Are they sheltering you from the hard reality? Are they paltering to make it sound better then it is? Or are they lying by omission and commission because they are scared of the consequences associated with delivering bad news?

People are going to have to sit down and decide: Are we going to want to go over the moral consequences of telling an untruth? The mere fact of it being untrue? Or the fact that it’s bogus, baseless or groundless?—Geoffrey Nunberg, linguist professor at the University of California, Berkeley

Cultivating a truthful organization begins with us; we must lead with facts. To build up your level of trust through fact-based leadership, consider these ten ideas:

Pay Attention. You can’t define and confront reality if you don’t know what the team is feeling. Listen, show respect, and exhibit empathy for their opinions and emotions.

Lead with Questions. Instead of being the “answer guy/gal,” push, prod, and probe with questions. This Socratic style will enhance your understanding and provide a clear picture of reality and its implications.

Own Up.  The easiest way to build trust is the simple acknowledgement of what’s really happening. Don’t pretend things are better than they are, but to avoid spreading doom n’ gloom, back up the bad with what is being done to fix it.

Conduct Autopsies. When things go wrong, it’s easy to dissect until you know the person(s) responsible. Instead of blame, work on solving the problem. If you can do this consistently, your team is more likely to bring you the issues without fear of reprisals.

Avoid Loyalty Tests. Some employees believe that they’ll get ahead by agreeing with you, even when you’re wrong. If you can escape the ego trap, show the team that healthy dissent will be rewarded, whereas mindless obedience will not.

Drop the Two F’s. To reestablish trust, leaders may need to change the behaviors that have propagated the lack of trust. Fear and Force are a dangerous combination that squash the unpleasant truths. Control these behaviors and you’re halfway to Trustville.

Engage in Dialogue. If you want the truth, your go-to reaction cannot be defensiveness. Stifle your natural instinct to debate or argue so your team knows they are being heard.

Teach Debate. According to Deakin University philosophy professor Patrick Stokes, “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.” To maintain truth, we sometimes need to fight for it. Show your team how to construct and defend their argument so they can effectively battle those who spread falsehoods.

Build “Red Flag” Systems. Develop a process where people can disagree in a safe way—no restrictions, no repercussions, no risk of alienation. These red flags can be used to challenge the team or the leader, share a personal anecdote, respond to a co-worker, present an analysis, make a suggestion, or ask a question.

Live it. Like every other leadership tenet, you have to model it before others will follow.

An organization based on lies will not last. An alternative fact does not increase your accounts receivable. No one needs your “opinion” about the effectiveness of the latest marketing campaign. And paltering can only result in decisions based upon faulty, incomplete information. Lead with facts and accept nothing less from your team.

Truth: So innovatively simple.

 

The Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth series:

Part 1—You are NOT Entitled to Your Opinion

Part 2—The Destructive Nature of Alternative Facts (i.e. Lies)

Part 3—Deceiving with Fact-based Lies

Part 4— 10 Ways to Create a Culture of Trust

“Cape, Spandex, Briefcase” in the News

Nothing like some public recognition to get the blood pumping. In this case, I’m talking about my little ‘ol parable, Cape, Spandex, Briefcase: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes.

After my publisher let me know that it won a medal in the 2017 Axiom Business Book Awards, I was off the wall. While the sales won’t [yet] buy me that house in Tahiti, to be acknowledged for providing value to the business leadership landscape is certainly motivating. If you are unfamiliar with the Axiom Awards, this is the 10th annual event. According to the site:

The Axiom Business Book Awards are intended to bring increased recognition to exemplary business books and their creators, with the understanding that business people are a very well-read and informed segment of the population, eager to learn about great new books that will inspire and inform them, and help them improve their careers and businesses.


Cape, Spandex, Briefcase
won the bronze in the Business Fable category. Don’t scoff at the third place; I lost to John Kotter… yes, THE John Kotter. I feel validated just by being on the same list as him. And there were great books in other categories, as well—Strategy that Works: How Winning Companies Close the Strategy-to-Execution Gap, The Art of Authenticity: Tools to Become an Authentic Leader and Your Best Self, and An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization are just a few other Axiom winners I’ve enjoyed and highly recommend.

When writing Cape, Spandex, Briefcase I was cautiously optimistic about diverging into a less traditional book format. I tried in earlier drafts, but relaying the information as a fable seemed more effective, more engaging, and much more fun. Thanks to everyone at Axiom who agreed.