I recently had the privilege of speaking with Michelle Pizer, host of the annual Crack the Leadership Code summit. We discussed the challenges of being a new leader, how leaders can utilize confidence and courage, leadership lessons from our current political climate, and the ways we can harness and maximize the five superpowers outlined in Cape, Spandex, Briefcase: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes.
Now that the election is over, we can take a deep breathe and return to our nonpartisan lives. No more vitriolic Facebook posts or uncomfortable dinner party chatter. We have all united around the newly elected President, right? Please?
In one of the country’s more divisive political cycles, I made no secret of my views. The oversharing crazy train drove through and I jumped onboard with the rest of the wannabe pundits. I had my facts and stats and was ready for anyone who even casually mentioned the election.
As a result, these last two weeks have been spent mending relationships. I’m not apologizing for my convictions, mind you, but I didn’t have to come on so strong. Most seem to have forgiven me (and may even unmute my Facebook posts). For those who haven’t, I’d like to deflect accountability by citing a recent research study.
A new article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology examines our motivation for speaking out about our beliefs. There seem to be two battling mentalities: 1) people who believe others’ attitudes are fixed, and 2) people who believe others’ attitudes are changeable.
Those in the “attitudes are fixed” camp have a heightened sense of certainty in their own position, making them more likely to stand up for their views. However, it also deters them from trying to convince other people, since a fixed attitude lends itself to a sense that others’ thoughts and opinions cannot be swayed. These two contrasting effects explain why your Uncle will argue with you about politics even when you aren’t arguing back—he isn’t trying to convince/educate you (as you are unpersuadable); he just want to defend his position and possibly get it off his chest.
Those in the “attitudes are changeable” camp believe opposing opinions can evolve. They see disputes as an exchange of ideas, not a competition. As a result, these individuals tend to be less combative and avoid conversations with obstinate opponents who display no willingness or intent to alter their views.
As leaders, we spend a significant amount of time trying to persuade and influence others. Consider whether you lean towards a fixed or changeable mindset before engaging in your next debate, and take stock of your opponent’s predilection. You may need to take it down a notch so they are more receptive to your efforts to “educate” them on the proper way to view the world. Frame your purpose for the conversation at the onset so they understand your intent and leave openings so they have a chance to respond. If this doesn’t work, I still have a few Twitter zingers saved up from the third debate that will surely convince them of your supremacy.
Welcome to anotheraddition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a letter of thought to start your weekend off on the right track. Why just a letter, man? Because it’s the weekend!
For newer leaders, there is a moment where your new responsibilities become painfully apparent. Going into the job, you thought you understood the burden of being the “big man/woman” only to learn that reading the job description cannot prepare you for the overwhelming feeling of ownership and exasperation. When Rob Burnett took over as the executive producer of Late Show with David Letterman, he had just such a realization.
On the Fitzdog Radio podcast, Rob Burnett discussed a particularly bad episode that occurred early in his tenure. There was a moment in rehearsal when everything was going wrong. They couldn’t settle on an idea and Burnett was being overly tentative.
At 4:00, rehearsal is over and [David Letterman] gets up and he leaves. And now everyone is looking at me ‘cause no one knows what the show is, and we’re taping at 5:30. I go up to his office and I say, ‘So what are we suppose to be doing?’ And he looked at me very sternly and said, ‘This is suppose to work the other way around.’ And he turned and left. That was a real turning point for me because I realized he’s right, it’s my job… Dave is the kind of guy where you can’t say, ‘Should that guy be wearing shoes or sneakers.’ You have to say, ‘That guy is wearing red sneakers.’ And he’ll say, ‘No, he should be wearing shoes.’ It’s too slack the other way.
Treading lightly may have served as a beneficial crutch before you were in a leadership position, but once you are in the power seat, it is up to you to express certitude. So stop asking for permission and start acting like you have the authority to make decisions. As Burnett learned, even your top talent want a degree of guidance and direction. Provide options. Have a plan. Prepare for the worst-case scenarios. And speak with conviction.