Tag Archives: Decision Making

How Much Can You (Mentally) Bench? Six Ways to Build Your Mental Toughness with Ron Howard

When discussing the characteristics of successful leaders, one trait is often overlooked. It’s not the need for charisma, confidence, or communication skills, we talking about those incessantly. No, it is the need for mental toughness. Famed filmmaker and actor Ron Howard discussed this undervalued attribute during a recent conversation on the podcast Off Camera with Sam Jones:

I was talking to a friend of mine who’s a Wall Street guy, and he’s always been a bond trader. He said that when he recruits young talent, they have to understand math, but he loves to get men and women who are athletes, highly competitive athletes. And I said, ‘Oh, it’s because you are trying to win, right? It’s kind of a zero sum thing.’ He said, ‘No, they know how to lose. They know how to lose and get back up and go, and go hard. No one reaches that caliber of athletic achievement without losing a helluva lot more than they win. And they learn how to cope with that.’ And I think if we’re doing this type of work and you want to make it your life’s work, you have to have that mental toughness or at least that understanding.

Mental toughness is the ability to respond resiliently to pressures, setbacks, adversities and challenges. It involves remaining emotionally steady and focused while continuing to make rational decisions under pressure. Like Ron Howard’s friend, mental toughness is often associated with athletes. After all, they spend a significant amount time in high-pressure, highly competitive situations, with arenas of onlookers and the objective to achieve a specific goal within a compressed period of time.

This unique atmosphere compels athletes to learn how to conquer fears and evade despondence in their quest for victory. For instance, a recent study examining professional baseball players found that players with greater mental toughness performed better in on-base plus slugging, a key performance metric that reflects a player’s ability to get on base and advance base runners (and is considered among the most predictive metrics of team wins). They also performed better under stress, kept their emotions in check, and were able to bounce back quicker when things did not go well.

Obviously, star athletes must have some innate, natural ability—coordination, physical flexibility, anatomical capacities—just as successful senior executives need to be able to think strategically and relate to people. But the real key to excellence in both sports and business is not the ability to swim fast or do quantitative analyses quickly in your head. Rather, it is [mindset] mental toughness.—Grant Jones, Sports Psychologist and former consultant to Olympic and world champions in seven games

This is not just applicable to the sports world. In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, psychologist Angela Duckworth’s research shows that this skill set is more reliable than cognitive or technical skills when predicting success. If this sounds like an overstatement, consider the results of her study. Focusing on new cadets at West Point military academy, Duckworth examined the student’ high school rank, SAT scores, Leadership Potential Score, Physical Aptitude Exam, and Grit Scale (which measures perseverance and passion for long–term goals). What she found was that while intelligence, strength, and leadership potential were beneficial, those scoring highest on the Grit Scale were 60% more likely to successfully finish the initiation program than their peers.

These results were replicated in a number of other studies:

In the Journal of Managerial Psychology, researchers concluded, “mental toughness can be a significant indicator of potential for level of achievement and managerial position attained.”

A study in the Journal of Management found that leaders exhibiting mental toughness are more successful in obtaining their followers’ trust, respect, and buy-in. They are also more likely to be perceived as influential, while less resilient leaders who appear ambivalent or emotionally-unfulfilled are less likely to be seen as persuasive.

In a nationwide survey conducted by Price Pritchett where CEOs were asked to name the most important traits of their company, the top answers were staying power, can-do attitude, and resilience, all characteristics associated with mental toughness.

And good news! Research has found that mental toughness can be developed. Professional athletes regularly engage in training their psychological readiness. Jason Selk, author of Executive Toughness and director of mental training for the St. Louis Cardinals, coordinates daily “mental workouts” with players, including such practices as controlled breathing, visualizing a personal “highlight reel,” and imagining successes that are going to happen in the next game. You can also consider:

Practice self-control. To be mentally tough, we need to be able to manage our thinking and emotions. This means not allowing the business environment or the opinion of others to control our decision making. To do so, when experiencing pressure, immediately stop, take a few deep breaths, and assess the situation.

Be inner-driven. Mentally strong people harness their internal motivation so they can decide how/why to push themselves. They do not allow negative outside forces to hijack their thoughts and emotions.

Practice flexibility. Do you know why the Caribbean has so many palm trees? Because they bend in a hurricane. Just like the palm tree, success in our dynamic work environment depends on our readiness to adjust quickly. To remain mentally elastic, approach new situations with a creative mind, be aggressively curious, and be open to alternatives.

Seek challenges. You cannot become mentally tougher if you are not inserting yourself into situations that test your intellect, skill set, or ego.

Don’t be an expert. One trap of ambitious professionals is believing they’ve reached “expert status.” Experts fall into a routine; they see things a certain way and stop considering alternatives. Retain your probing, creative mindset and don’t let experience blind you from new possibilities.

Embrace uncertainty. Mental toughness is not synonymous with being all-knowing. But it does mean that we cannot allow ambiguity to cloud our judgment or spur panic. Think through the options and act on them. Avoid knee-jerk responses and keep your sights on the end-goal.

While we may not be able to compete with professional athlete on muscle strength, we are capable of being contenders in mental strength. Don’t let adversity thwart your confidence. Practice resilience so when the next challenge transpires, you can flex those skills and tough it out.

When Did Opposition Become Obstruction?

In today’s political climate, there has been a focus on the “oppositional” party. How the “less represented” party tries to push their agenda forward has always been a talking point. The difference is in the tactics that have been used during the previous Presidential administration and have continued into the current one. It’s the difference between opposition and obstruction.

By definition, oppositional parties tend to be against the policies of the “ruling” party and/or person(s) in power. This is an important part of a democracy. Through debate and discussion, they ensure we retain checks and balances. The ruling party is held accountable and the views of a broader range of constituents are represented.

While oppositional parties work against those in power, traditionally they have also been willing to work with their foes to some degree, while retaining the focus on their agenda. That is the key differentiator between opposing and obstructing.

The duty of the opposition is to oppose.—Winston Churchill

Obstructionists are those members of the opposing party who refuse to not only work with those in power, but purposely block their opponent’s progress. It does not matter whether the decision is justified and reasonable, which it often is. It does not matter whether they agree with the progress being proposed, which they often do. And it does not matter whether the majority have the right/ability to make the change, which is often the case. An obstructionist’s goal is to stop the rival at whatever the cost.

The obstructionist knows that to give a little is to concede. The fallout is irrelevant as are the consequences of their actions. Even if an obstructionist loses, they can show that they are not complicit in the outcome. Could they have made the solution better with their insight? Sure, but then their supporters would think they’re weak and without core principles.

If there is a nuclear tactic being used here, I submit it is the use of that obstruction where a willful minority blocks a bipartisan majority from voting on the President’s judicial nominees.—John Cornyn, U.S. Senator

This was not always the case. Politic use to be about compromise; it use to be about taking part in the process without an instinctually defiant stance. When you disagreed, you argued your points. You bargained for your agenda. You helped shape the solution so it included some of your party’s input. But this only happens through participation…and obstructionists refuse to participate.

This is a lesson for leaders. If you want to make an impact, if you want influence within your organization, don’t allow your feelings of opposition to transmute into obstructionist behaviors. Removing yourself from the discussion does not mean you are more ideologically pure, it means you are giving others a valid reason to cut you out of the decision making. While you may not like what others are proposing, a willingness to compromise will allow your concerns to be heard and may shape the end-result in a way that makes it more palatable for those who oppose it. Or, you can cover your ears and repeatedly yell, “NO.” I’m sure your opponents didn’t want to hear your views anyway.

Three Ways to Provide Meaningful Context with Questlove

Ever had a new, ingenious idea that was met with a thud? I’m sure YOU haven’t but you’ve probably seen it happen to others. I was speaking with a CEO recently who had been working on an exciting new direction for her company. She had questions about strategy, but what we really should have been discussing was her communication plan when launching it.

At the company-wide unveiling, she eagerly revealed the plan. There were charts and graphs and every other quantifiable measure to support her idea. And then there was silence—a bleak, soul crushing silence.

It turns out that no one, including her leadership team, had any inkling this was coming. They thought they were attending a quarterly review, not a turn-the-world-upside-down upheaval. Change, in itself, can be scary, but what’s even scarier is when you don’t understand the what’s, why’s, and how’s. What my colleague was missing was context.

Context involves our ability to interrelate something you already know with whatever change we’d like to instill. Questlove, a music aficionado, record producer, and drummer/joint frontman for The Roots, recently discussed this on Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin:

No one has ever had success in music without being contextualized in an artistic community. So, you think you like Stevie Wonder, but no, you associate Stevie Wonder with Smokie [Robinson], The Temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Motown family… The only people that had success without a family or contextualization are one-hit wonders… Everyone is associated with a movement. Look at The Police. They were part of that post-punk movement, early new wave movement, Talking Heads. Even if they don’t do it by design, we as consumers think that.

Just as no one has ever had success in music without being contextualized, no leader is successful in business without contextualizing their ideas. With context, the leader sets the tone so they can initiate commitment and support for change. It taps into individuals’ established schemas and mental models so they can create the mental links necessary to apply the new information to their construction of reality. If this seems complicated, these three simple techniques can help you provide context to your team.

Know thy audience. Everything is interpreted through someone’s context. It shapes the meaning in all communication. Thus, when your message is delivered in a context that is not compatible with the audience, miscommunication is inevitable. Maintain an understanding as to what your audience already knows and how they are most receptive to learning.

Squash fears. Change is often associated with fear, and fear is often associated with a lack of understanding. So illustrate how the new plan meshes with the current strategy. Explain what, if anything, it is replacing. Describe how it will reallocate resources, job duties, etc. and how it will affect individual employees.

Provide history. Every new concept has a background, a past. It may involve an update, revision, or enhancement to a current concept; a best practice; or a new industry standard…but it didn’t materialize out of thin air. Plot out the history so others can visualize how the project started and why it is necessary.

Very often we assume others can comprehend these connections without explanation; after all, it is so clear to us. However, as in the case of the aforementioned CEO, she had been thinking about her new direction for almost two years before the launch. That is two years of pondering, brainstorming, and intellectualizing. Two years of making the associations she needed to bridge the gap between her vision and the current state of the company. Two years of contextualizing.

Want to learn from her misstep? Inform your team of the issue at hand through a workable framework. Address their concerns. Give them the background information you already possess so they can visualize the decision making leading up to your resolution. It may not seem like much, but it’s the context they need to associate your new Stevie Wonder with their classic Smokie Robinson.

10 Leadership Quotes to Get You Through the Holidays

To start 2017 with a fresh list of topical pop culture references, the following are ten leadership quotes to inspire you through the holidays.

dj-khaled

“The key to success is to motivate yourself and to motivate others. And to surround yourself with great people. And understand that you got to work hard if you want success. You have to know what success could come with. When you get all these keys, you’re going to be able to navigate success and prosper in your life. I ain’t never had nobody telling me this when I was coming up. I wish I had somebody.”—DJ Khaled, Business Insider

harland-williams

“I think for some reason my mortality played into it; its like when I’m dead and gone I want to have one piece of work that is pure. I want to leave it behind, whether you love it or hate it and whether anyone ever sees it, it was for my own fire that burns inside.”—Harland Williams, Fitzdog Radio

pete-holmes

“That’s the difference between craft and a career. A career is like, ‘I’ll have a fulfilling money thing,’ and a craft is something where you wake up every day and say, ‘I can’t believe I get to do this.’”—Pete Holmes, You Made it Weird

Shirley Manson

“I have absolutely no idea [why we’ve had such a long-lasting career] other than we have an incredible work ethic — all of us in the band. We all have a defiant streak in us — we don’t take a lashing sitting down. We tend to get up on our feet. We carry on even when things are difficult. I think you’ll find that in any career that’s lasted, that tenacity.”—Garbage’s Shirley Manson, PAPER Magazine

l-a-reid

“It’s important for my executives to feel that I am with them unconditionally, not only when they are doing great but when they struggle they can feel I’m with them and I have their back… I think people just need to feel like somebody has their back so they can make a mistake if they need to. I learned from being in the recording studio–I work with great singers and in order to do a great recording they have to mess up.”—L.A. Reid, Chicago Tribune

chris-rock

“One of the best compliments I ever got was Conan [O’Brien] saying to me, ‘You know what I like about you? You’re smart enough to be scared. So many guys come on cocky, they don’t want to go over their stuff, they don’t want to do a pre-interview. You’re always smart enough to be worried ‘til the last minute.’ That will not stop. You get some guys who get all cocky and they fall right on their f—king face.”—Chris Rock, Esquire

phil-mr-olympia-heath

“It can be ten people or thousands of people, I want them to see something special. I want them to say, ‘I saw the best in the world at something,’ and maybe that will inspire them to go do something in their life with the same vigor.”—Phil “Mr. Olympia” Heath, New York Times

zack-stentz

“If your name is on it, you need to own it. Whether you are in favor of the decision or whether you weren’t. Its like, ‘yeah, that happened, that was the decision that was made. My name is on it and I cashed the check.’”—Zack Stentz, Fatman on Batman podcast

bill-maher

“I love to change my mind. That’s one of the great things of not being a politician. If you are a politician you can never change your mind because then you are a flip-flopper. You have to know exactly what you think when you’re 18 years old and don’t change it when you are 65. That’s a politician. No! As new information becomes available, sometimes you do change — or maybe you just evolve.”—Bill Maher, Salon

“No one needs to work. You work because you want the things it gives you. I don’t just mean the ability to buy mansions and boats; I mean self-worth and fun. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than writing and directing and stand-up. I mean, that’s allowed me to buy mansions and boats, but when I’m in the mansion or the boat, I’m thinking of a funny joke.”—Ricky Gervais, Esquire

I may not say it often, but I appreciate your continued interest in reading leadersayswhat. I hope it helps make you a better leader both for your success and the success of everyone you influence.

Have a happy new year, and as my spiritual advisor sings, “Maybe this year will be better than the last.”

David

To Minimize Biases, We Might Need to Minimize People Input

cognitive-biasWere you surprised by the election results? If not, you were in the minority. Most professional pollsters had Clinton winning by anywhere from 3% to 11%. We can chastise their incorrect results, but first we need to consider the accuracy of our own decision making and what we can do to increase precision in the future.

When Trump won the election, I immediately bashed the forecasters; they were all so certain of a Clinton win and had been for weeks—on the night of the election, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight predicted a 71% probability of Clinton winning, and out of 21 possible scenarios, Election Analytics had only one where Trump could prevail. Then I read an article on Defense One and it began to make sense.

The output of polling results is only as good as the data put into the model. And unfortunately, this data is manipulated by people. According to Kalev Leetaru, a big data specialist who discovered the location of Osama Bin Laden through a statistical analysis of news articles, the problem with the election polling was tied to flawed judgment about which data was relevant.

When it comes to the kinds of questions that intelligence personnel actually want forecasting engines to answer, such as ‘Will Brexit happen’ or ‘Will Trump win,’ those are the cases where the current approaches fail miserably. It’s not because the data isn’t there. It is. Is because we use our flawed human judgment to decide how to feed that data into our models and therein project our biases into the model’s outcomes.—Kalev Leetaru

For the most accurate election predictions, the best indicator was from the artificial intelligence system, MogIA. Through it’s 20 million data points pulled from online platforms (Google, YouTube, Twitter, etc), MogIA has successfully predicted the last four presidential elections. Why? Because as per its developer,

While most algorithms suffer from programmers/developer’s biases, MoglA aims at learning from her environment, developing her own rules at the policy layer and develop expert systems without discarding any data.—Sanjiv Rai, founder of Genic.ai

People are chalk-full of biases that distort how information is absorbed and comprehended. One of the more common biases is motivated reasoning, where we interpret observations to fit a particular pre-conceived idea. Psychologists have shown that much of what we consider to be reasoning is actually rationalization. We have already made the decision about how to react, so our reasoning is really cherry-picking data to justify what we already wanted to do.

All leaders (and people) are susceptible to these types of biases. How many times have you hired someone only to find that they are not the same person you interviewed? Sure, they look the same, but the intelligent, driven professional you met is starkly different from the person you are know working with. Somehow your intuition led you down a wrong path. Rationalize it as the result of outside forces, but you decided who they were within five minutes of interviewing and then looked for proof to support your gut.

To remove some of the bias, aptitude tests have been found to be highly predictive of performance, as have general intelligence tests and behavioral assessments. Interviews, however, are far less likely to foretell who will succeed. Research from Society for Judgment and Decision Making found that people make better predictions about performance if they are given access to objective background information and prevented from conducting interviews entirely.

If we want to make the best decisions for our organizations, we cannot rely solely on intuition, nor can we dismiss our instincts. There must be a balance between logic and perception. This begins with collecting and analyzing data is the most objective manner possible. Once we understand the facts, we can consider the less tangible factoids before coming to a final decision.

If this past election teaches anything, it’s that we cannot fall victim to our cognitive biases. Something feeling correct does not make it correct. Find ways to avoid being emotionally or intellectually invested in the findings; that’s the best way to keep an open mind. Include others who will challenge your biases and have no preconceived notions, like an independent contractor. Or maybe we should try to concern ourselves more the actualities and lean away from trying to predict outcomes. I’ll try to remember that in the mid-terms.