When my eldest son Josh was six, we moved into our home. Our neighborhood was built in a wooded area and, unfortunately, the building of this community displaced wildlife. We had new landscaping and the deer were thrilled with the fresh vegetation that had been planted. My husband and I talked, evidently quite a lot, about how to prevent the deer from eating our new plantings.
Our son Josh, being young and impressionable, had a nightmare about the deer. It was a wake-up call to me, quite literally, to be more careful about what I talked about and what stressors I brought into our home.
A few months ago, I was working with a chief financial officer, Beatrice. Beatrice told me that her chief operating officer Marsha was just so negative, and it was wearing her down. Beatrice would come in each day, excited about her work and her to-do list, but she soon felt disempowered. When I asked more clarifying questions, I learned that Beatrice and Marsha arrived at work early and started their day by going for coffee. They enjoyed this morning ritual, and they genuinely liked and cared about each other.
As Beatrice continued, she said that she often felt overwhelmed after their talks. She felt anxious about how the board might respond to a new project she was presenting, possibly because Marsha raised a number of obstacles in a fearful way. She worried that when she gave performance feedback to Vince, he would become explosive, because, you guessed it, Marsha had given Vince feedback before and it had not gone well.
I learned that Beatrice “coffeed” with Marsha because she was lonely at the top. As an executive director, there were few people Beatrice could confide in since she couldn’t talk about personnel issues or her own vulnerability with her staff. Marsha was Beatrice’s only confidant.
Unlike Beatrice, my son Josh didn’t have much of a choice about what he listened to; he was a child in his home. As a child, it is more difficult to just tune someone out (although by the time many kids are teenagers, they have tuning out parents down to an art form!).
As Beatrice and I talked, we discussed how Marsha squashed her enthusiasm, increased her anxiety, and simply, “rained on her parade.” When we discussed stopping the coffee habit, Beatrice was concerned about hurting Marsha’s feelings. As we explored further, Beatrice recognized that by giving Marsha a “voice or platform” she was actually enabling this negativity.
Jim Rohn, a motivational speaker and businessman, famously said that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” This statement, while not scientific, is widely accepted and acknowledged as true.
Who do you spend time with, and do they take you down or do they help you advance to your next, higher level?
“Please, oh please, tell me that people can change,“ I hear frequently. And more specifically, can my boss, my co-worker, my spouse, my teenager, or my mother-in-law change? All of us in consulting professions hear that same question over and over, although it takes a variety of forms:
“Do you believe there’s any hope?”
“He’s too old to change, isn’t he?”
“She’s in power. Why would she do anything differently?”
Sometimes the question is posed as a statement.
“I’m 40 years old, I’m not going to reinvent myself now.”
“I am going to retire in a few years, so let the new kids learn that stuff.”
“She’s too stuck in her ways to try this.”
I’ve said that everyone can be a leader, or can become a better leader. I am even writing a book on the topic. So, clearly, I believe that people can and do change, at all times of their lives and regardless of the circumstances. However, they have to want to change. They have to be motivated. No one changes because YOU want them to change. They change because something within them has prompted them.
In the past decade, research into how our brains work has turned earlier beliefs about brain development on their heads, so to speak. People can change, because their brains can, and do, change. The question is, how can we steer our brains in the direction we want them to go…toward the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, rather than the trash dump? We know these everyday steps create the change:
- Voice the desire to change, write it down, and commit.
- Ask people you trust to help.
- Set clear and measurable goals with dates.
- Create mindfulness routines.
- Move toward the change slowly, consistently and predictably.
If you would like to explore how you can change, let me know. While we can’t change others, others are constantly watching us. And when we change, they change as well!
How have you successfully changed in the past? What changes are you interested in for your future?
I heard him as I was walking down the hall, “I can’t believe you screwed that up! You are so incompetent! Now I will need to stay late! Aarrgghh!”
As I entered the cubicle area, I saw him ride his broom into his office just as he slammed the door. (Okay, so I made the broom part up.)
I looked around to see if everyone else was horrified. They were not. While there was no way that anyone in the vicinity could have missed hearing the yelling, no one looked up from their desk or rushed out of their office. In fact, it was just the opposite. Everyone pretended to be doing their work so they wouldn’t be next in line for screaming and bullying. Yes, being yelled at like that is bullying.
The next week, I was at a different company and the executive director was furious. Her face was red and she was pounding the table at her monthly staff meeting. She shouted, “I am the executive director! I don’t need to put up with this!” I knew from working in this organization that everyone had heard that rant more than once before. Even I had heard it more than once.
It’s interesting. Most organizations have policies that state that this type of behavior will not be tolerated. When lower-level employees are unpleasant or harsh, they are often counseled or reprimanded, but when the IT guy who understands the legacy database starts screaming, no one does a thing. Why? “We can’t afford to lose him,” I hear when I ask.
Well, I hear it sometimes. A few great organizations say, “We need the IT expert, but we aren’t going to tolerate demeaning behavior.” When that happened in one organization I worked with, we met with the IT expert and set up a performance plan and a coaching plan. In six months, her behavior improved…a lot! And not only did her work behavior improve, but so did her home life. We are not different people at home and at work. When we become approachable and less volatile at work, that same behavior spills into our home, and vice versa.
Elizabeth Jeffries in her new book, What Exceptional Executives Need to Know states that “What You Permit, You Promote.” Whoa! When I read that, I thought, “How True!”
What does your organization permit that needs to stop? Let me know — I am interested in hearing.