Tag Archives: Progress

Insults and the Insulting Leaders Who Use Them

I recently read an article on foreignpolicy.com discussing how the media and U.S. policymakers commonly depict North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, as irrational. The piece explains the current state of affairs from Kim’s point of view and provides historical reasons that may validate his behaviors. While I’m certainly not condoning Kim, it does remind me of the power in diplomacy.

Many U.S. politicians have verbally assaulted North Korea over the years. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said, “We are not dealing with a rational person, who has not had rational acts, who is not thinking clearly” and President George W. Bush labeled them as part of an “Axis of Evil.” My question is why you would want to insult someone with whom you’d like to build a constructive relationship?

This isn’t the first time I’ve considered this. I remember when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi continuously insulted Republicans while she was concurrently trying to gather votes for the Affordable Care Act. Or when a Congressman shouted “You lie” to President Obama during a joint session address. Or when a Democratic Congresswoman called her Republican colleague a “Howdy Doody-looking nimrod” during a budget debate. You could even go back to when Theodore Roosevelt disagreed with then President Benjamin Harrison calling him “a cold-blooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid old psalm-singing Indianapolis politician.”

In each of these cases, one politician was in the process of garnering support for his/her legislation; and in each case, they allowed productive debate to be disrupted by empty slurs…and they were empty. There was no substantive argument or strategic need for discord. It was frustration, pure and simple, boiling over in ineffective ways.

In the newspapers, we see this [politician] insulting that one, that one says this about the other one, but in a society where the standards of politics has fallen so much – I am talking about world society – we lose the sense of building society, of social co-existence, and social co-existence is built on dialogue.—Pope Francis

Now I am not so naïve as to argue for kumbaya-like unity, nor am I compelling you to admire your rival, but insults are not the pathway to results. Even President Trump on occasion (very rare occasion) has recognized the destructive nature of insults:

We don’t need to like the other person or agree with their point of view. We do, however, need to find ways in which to support a culture of mutual respect where work can get done with all affected parties. This, if nothing else, is a core responsibility of a leader.

As leaders, we must be focused on getting things done. This sometimes entails swallowing your spiteful thoughts in the pursuit of progress. You cannot bring people together if you’ve already alienated them and their ideas. It does not mean you should pretend to be in accord; just that you can be nice.

Don’t let pettiness distract from your ability to influence. In the midst of intense discord, feelings are raw and people tend to act out, but this does not excuse impolite behavior. Find an outlet for your resentment, but also find the right time and do it in a way that will not sabotage your deal. With practice, who knows, maybe you’ll even win them over to your side.

Why Leaders Should Be More Like Ebenezer Scrooge: A Five Step Process

a_christmas_carolThe story of Ebenezer Scrooge is one of my favorite holiday traditions. As much as I’d like to say that I read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol every year, in truth I read it once, really liked it, and have since made a ritual of watching Scrooged with Bill Murray. With every viewing of this movie plus the multitude of other renditions, I wonder why calling someone a “Scrooge” is such a bad thing.

As leaders, we should strive to be Scrooges. If this sounds wrong that’s because you are focusing on the pre-Christmas Ebenezer. That guy is a selfish, egotistical miser who says things like, “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be…buried with a stake of holly through his heart.” But this is not the message of A Christmas Carol, it is simply the beginning.

A Christmas Carol is the story of self-improvement. It’s about learning from your past, having foresight into your future, and making the changes necessary in the present. This is not a feel-good self-affirmation; it’s a motivator to introspectively pick apart our flaws and work towards becoming a better person.

We can’t be forced to change our ways. There is no Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come to serve as a catalyst for evolving. Our fate will not be on display to pressure us into an epiphany. All we have is inner drive. Unfortunately, the determination to change is not enough; our bad habits are too embedded into our psyche. Therefore, according to Prochaska and DiClemente’s Stages of Change Model, we need to follow these five steps to make positive behavioral changes that stick.

  1. Precontemplation. In this first stage, we are Scrooge on December 23rd–making a change has been the farthest thing from our mind. The signs have been all around us, but we’ve fought or just ignored them.
  2. Contemplation. In this stage we’ve begun to think about the need to change a behavior. The impetus is different for everyone. For some it takes a particular event to wake us up, like Scrooge’s surprise visit from his deceased business partner Jacob Marley. For others it involves years of deliberation.
  3. Determination. Now we begin to mentally prepare for action. While Scrooge woke up on Christmas morning with a new outlook on life, we may download a new calendar app or buy running shoes. This stage involves mapping out our plan of attack and scheduling a start date. This culmination of willpower is the resolve to change and the fuel needed to attain your goals.
  4. Action. Time to activate your plan. Give Bob Cratchit a raise. Get medical assistance for Tiny Tim. Start moving!
  5. Maintenance. Day 1 of a new behavior is easy; true change takes persistence. Scrooge wasn’t just a more virtuous person on December 25th. As the book states, “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more… He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man…” Maintenance involves continuing to chase your goal every day, with every decision, and every deed. It requires that we uphold a high life-condition where our changed belief continues to manifest as action. Create short milestones so you can appreciate the sense of accomplishment and reward yourself along the way.

Want to be a better leader? Be a Scrooge—remain in a constant state of self-improvement. Want to be a better leader? Be a Jacob Marley—guide others towards elevating their skills and performance. And if you really want to be a better leader, be a Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Yet-to-Come—foster a culture where people can learn from their mistakes, understand the repercussions, and make changes before its too late. Or say, “Ba-Hum-Bug” and suffer the consequences.

Rob Lowe on Enduring Success

rob_loweWhen you think about success, are you aspiring towards a quick win or a long-lasting career? There’s no magic formula to ensure a lengthy track record, but Rob Lowe has some advice that will make your success more likely.

Rob Lowe has been an internationally acclaimed actor for over 30 years. His career has spanned the 1980s (The Outsiders, St. Elmo’s Fire), 1990s (Wayne’s World, Tommy Boy), 2000s (The West Wing), and 2010s (Parks & Recreation, The Grinder) – these are just a few of my favorites; to list all of Lowe’s work would be a website all on its own. The point is that Lowe knows something about maintaining a successful career over a long period of time.

In a recent interview, Lowe discussed how when faced with adversity, he’s been able forge ahead.

The main thing for me is if something bad happens, my first instinct is ‘What can I do about it?’ ‘Can I do better?’ What can I not do the next time?’ And I genuinely believe it’s a way forward. But I see a lot of people whose first instinct is ‘I’m a victim,’ ‘society has f–ked me,’ and ‘poor me.’ And that is just not me. Even when I’ve been f–ked over, I don’t go to the victim place.

Avoiding a “whoa is me” mindset may be easier said than done, but that does mean it is unattainable. If it were, you would be sulking over a setback instead of reading a blog about becoming a better leader. Based on what Lowe said, let’s focus on three research-based action items that any aspiring leader can utilize.

Get Introspective

After experiencing a loss, we need to take some time to contemplate what happened. This is not a “feel good” exercise; learning from direct experience is most effective if coupled with reflection. A research study from Harvard found that “intentional attempts to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience” builds confidence and leads to higher self-efficacy and productivity.

Once you decide to get introspective, keep in mind that it’s not enough just to reflect after an obstacle, we need to ask ourselves better questions – questions that are emboldening versus self-defeating, are not designed to beat yourself up, and lead to constructive results. Start with Lowe’s “What can I do about it,” “Can I do better,” and “What can I not do the next time,” and then create a few of your own.

Get Moving

Progress does not happen by standing still. One study found that when compared to sitting in one place, movement had a significant effect on individuals who show signs of despair.

You may not consider yourself prone to moping, but even the most optimistic person will feel the effects of losing a battle. Before you go down the rabbit hole of dejection, focus on action. Use Lowe’s three questions to create a game plan to get back on top. You may not immediately be going in the right direction, but movement is more likely to lead to improvement.

Get Lexiconical

After experiencing a defeat, the nomenclature you choose to use matters. According to Lim Chow Kiat, Group Chief Investment Officer at GIC, her company is meticulous about word choice. For instance, they stress terms like “sustainable results” so employees focus on the long-term success of the company and their clients versus short-term gains. It may seem perceptual, but it sends a message about the leaders’ goals and priorities.

The right words can stimulate or hinder constructive attitudes and behaviors. We need to rephrase loss so it becomes a call to action versus a personal assault. Use words that inspire the team, not attack them.

While unfortunate things happen, this is not an excuse to succumb to victim mentality. If you want an impressive track record of success, brace yourself for the occasional loss. And when they happen, use the opportunity to get better. As Lowe said,

You have to be around long enough to have ups and downs. And everybody has them, even the people who you think, ‘Wow, they’re untouchable’… You know who doesn’t? One hit wonders.