One Surprising Influence That Can Derail Your Decisions

Patrick McDaniel is the founder of WiseInsights.net, which combines practical research and timeless wisdom to help you keep moving forward despite the challenges of life. Want to learn about 49 other decision making distortions? Download the infographic: 50 Hidden Influences That Can Wreck Your Decisions.

Why do you aspire to be a leader?

Let’s be honest. We want to be leaders because we like leading and influencing people and organizations toward better things. We like impacting lives.

But impacting lives can also be risky.

If you are a leader (in any context like work, family, ministries/organizations), one thing that is unavoidable—

Your decisions WILL impact the lives of others. For good…or for bad.

That is a sobering reality.

 

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” –Roy Disney.

 

Making Decisions as a Leader – An Unseen Danger

Here’s where it gets downright scary: There are factors at play in any decision you make that are often hidden and frequently mess up your best intentions.

These factors are like little gremlins that hijack your ability to make an unbiased decision. That can mess up not only your life but also those you lead.

Let me show you how just one of these distortion factors (technically known as “cognitive biases”) can screw up even your best efforts to make sound decisions…and how to combat it.

 

“We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us.” –Ken Levine

 

One Common Corrupting Influence You Can’t See

One common decision making influencer is called priming. Just like the proverbial “priming the pump,” we are influenced in certain directions when we are first “primed” by another variable.

Here are some bizarre-but-true examples of the priming effect. You can find these discussed in detail in the brilliant book Thinking Fast and Slow by Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman.

 

“It’s in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.” –Tony Robbins

 

The Surprising Results of One Research Study

In a test performed by Psychology Professor John Bargh, participants were asked to do a word puzzle. One group received random words to work on while the second group got random words that were sprinkled with words associated with the elderly.

The words sprinkled in did NOT contain any explicit words like “old” or “elderly.” Instead, they were things like: Florida, forgetful, bald, gray, wrinkle.

When each group was done, they were asked to go down the hall to participate in a second experiment. In truth, the whole point of the experiment was found in that hallway.

What did the researchers discover?

  • The group that had the elderly related words walked down the hallway “significantly more slowly” than the other group.
  • This test group was subconsciously conditioned (primed!) to increase their awareness of the state of being elderly. Unknown to them, they were sort of identifying with this topic.
  • None of the participants were even aware of the elderly related words or of their slower walk. Instead, they insisted the earlier word puzzle had no effect on their subsequent behavior.

This is very common with these hidden influencers–you insist you are not influenced by them. This is one reason they are such a problem for us…they pull us off course while we insist that they haven’t.

Were the results of the above experiment a fluke? Read on.

 

“Not to decide is to decide.” -Harvey Cox

 

More Revealing Results from a Second Research Study

In another experiment with two different groups of study participants, one group was unknowingly primed with rude words and concepts while the other group was primed with politeness-type stimuli. They then recorded how participants in each group interacted with a neutral party on an unrelated topic.

You don’t need me to tell you how this turned out.

Researchers found that the individuals who had been primed with rude stimuli interrupted the experimenter and their peers three times more frequently than the participants who had been primed with polite stimuli.

 

This unseen influence can impact your behavior positively or negatively by a magnitude of 3X.

 

Hmmm… another coincidence?

Keep reading.

How Leadership Turning Points Can Change Your Direction

Make the Most of Leadership Moments

Turning points. Leadership moments. Whatever you call them, all of us have experiences that change us.

Bernie Swain has had a backstage pass into the lives of numerous public figures ranging from US presidents to business leaders to sports legends. As the founder of Washington Speakers Bureau, he has interacted with, listened to, and learned from many celebrities and leaders.

 

“The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it.” –Richard Bach

 

His new book, What Made Me Who I Am, takes us behind the scenes of these incredible lives to ask them about their turning points.

As we listen to their stories, what can we learn about our own lives?

What lessons of our own potential can be gleaned from these experiences?

 

Control Your Destiny

You open your book discussing turning points, those moments in life when everything changes. Your book is about these moments. Tell me about that moment in your life.

Funny thing about the turning points, they can be obscure and go unnoticed if we don’t pay attention. That happened to me. It is the lesson I learned.

Bernie SwainAs a graduate student, I’d worked as assistant director of a local community swimming pool. It was a good job, and the summer income was important to pay for graduate school. About once a week, usually a Friday or Saturday, we would keep the staff after closing and have a few beers. It wasn’t exactly allowed, but the director of the pool, who I had known since I was twelve, saw it as a morale booster and looked the other way. One night we decided to invite more friends than usual. About an hour into the party, a member of the board who lived nearby noticed the overhead pool lights and called the pool director. When he arrived, he closed down the party. I was fired the next day and replaced by the daughter of the board member, who had arrived home from college the day before.

Although I routinely dismissed the incident and had my share of laughs about it over the years, my wife Paula understood I was troubled by it. She knew I’d never really be happy unless my success or failure was in my own hands. “You will never be truly happy or confident in your future if you can’t make your own decisions and control your own destiny,” she told me.

That was all it took to undo a 15-year career on the verge of being a success; the power of passion.

 

“Follow your dreams. They know the way.” –Yohi Yamada

 

Imagine your life if you had lived your childhood dream and become a baseball player. What wisdom would that Bernie Swain be sharing? Do you think your life would have been as fulfilling?

I was happy with my career in athletics. Would I have loved being a baseball player? Yes, of course. But then what? Maybe I would have transferred my passion to doing something else, but maybe not. Life has a way of taking us to many forks in the road. Our lives are full of influences and defining moments, turning points. A mentor in high school put me on my career path, and one seemingly unimportant event at a summer swimming pool changed everything. All things considered, I found a passion that made me wake up every morning excited about a new day. And nothing is more important than that.

 

“All dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” –Walt Disney

 

Combine Passion with Honesty

Your incredible business had humble beginnings. Go back to that closet for a moment. Why was it that your agency took off and endured when so many competitors disappeared? What can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

Agencies like ours, even Hollywood agencies, don’t stay on top for long. In the lecture business, it is about 10 years. Why did we become No. 1 and remain there for the last 27 years? Honesty and trust! Whether it was because we mistakenly agreed to a handshake deal with our first speaker and then with all speakers, or we had a built-in desire to do things the right way, we were honest, hardworking and trustworthy. The lesson for other entrepreneurs? Find your passion and always do what, in your heart, you know is the right thing to do. Passion and honesty, it is a great combination.

 

Learn a Powerful Lesson from Robert Reich

You’ve interacted with some of the most successful people in the world for over 25 years—presidents, sports heroes, actors and authors, on and on. The book is full of their stories, a peek behind the curtain. Off the top of your head, is there one story that you consider a ‘must-read’? Why?What Made Me Who I Am

There are a number that I love, but probably the story of Robert Reich. 4”11” tall, he was bullied through his school years. Uninterested in current events and politics entering college, he devoted a life to equality and justice for others to honor the life of another boy who protected him and who was killed during the civil rights movement in the south.

“When I was a vulnerable child, Mickey protected me from harm. I, in turn, feel a responsibility to protect others. I was honored to know him, and I hope, in some small way, that my life’s work honors his idealism, his courage, and his sacrifice.”

It is an amazing story of a life dramatically changed.

 

Use Failures to Win

Failing is a turning point for many. When I talk about failure, who comes to mind? What did you take away from that?

In my book, I write this about Lou Holtz: “I’m not special, and I’m not particularly smart. I haven’t found any magical formula for success. But what I do know is, adversity is part of life, no matter who you are, what your age, and what you do. You will never outgrow or outlive it, but you can be motivated by it. As I have learned along the way, you have two choices in life: you either stay down or pick yourself up. In life and football, you can’t count on anyone else picking you up. Georgia or Michigan State isn’t going to call and say, ‘Coach, you don’t have a quarterback, let me send you one.’

Rarely can you find a truer statement. Almost every day in our first year could be described as a failure. We could have given up at any point. If you can find your true passion in life, and that takes some soul searching, you develop a never-give-up attitude. I never thought once about quitting. But that will not be true for entrepreneurs who lack real passion.

 

“Failure is good as long as it doesn’t become a habit.” –Michael Eisner

 

5 Common Traits of Successful People

A Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul

A Management Guide to Winning

How do you create an environment that encourages teamwork and creativity? 

As a manager, do you need to choose between results or relationships?

Is it possible to create sustainable results instead of thinking only of the next quarter?

 

“Winning well is all about achieving the bottom line while inspiring the human spirit.” –Hurt/Dye

 

In a practical guidebook, authors Karin Hurt and David Dye share solutions for managers who want both a meaningful work experience and results. Karin is the founder of Let’s Grow Leaders and David of Trailblaze, Inc. Both Karin and David are focused on helping leaders improve their productivity and effectiveness. Their new book, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results—Without Losing Your Soul is chock full of advice for managers looking to take their game to a higher level.

After reading their new book, I asked them to share their research and experience.

 

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” –Helen Keller

 

Become A Winning Well Manager

You share a few different management styles and then discuss the “winning well manager.” What distinguishes this type of person? Is it possible for anyone to become that type of manager?

Used by permission. Used by permission.

Managers who win well bring confidence and humility in equal measure and focus on both results and relationships.

Where the other three manager types tend to focus on short-term goals, managers who win well have a longer time horizon. They build teams that will produce results today as well as next year.

Managers who win well build healthy professional relationships with their employees. They maintain high expectations for results in a supportive environment where people can grow and take healthy risks.

They master the art of productive meetings, delegation, and problem solving. They run meetings that people consider a good use of time. These managers practice steady, calm accountability along with celebration.

As a result, their employees tend to stick around (often until they get promoted), and there is a steady line of people wanting to work for them.

 

“If you’ve communicated something once, you haven’t communicated.” –Hurt/Dye

 

Create Genuine Connections

If a new manager takes over a team and sees that it is a low-energy environment where people barely get through the day, how does she turn them into an energetic, sustainable team?

We offer a lot of tools and techniques in our book, but it all starts with creating a genuine connection with your people. Start with building relationships and get to know them as human beings. Then help them see why the work they are doing is so meaningful and vital to the larger mission of the organization.

Building a foundation of real trust and genuine connection makes all the difference. Take time to understand and cultivate their intrinsic motivation.

 

Use Confidence Bursts to Build Momentum

How do the best managers set expectations in that perfect zone, setting a goal that’s not impossible, causing demotivation, but also not a layup, causing the team to stretch?

Winning Well managers do set aggressive goals but they also work to make those goals feel achievable. One of our favorite techniques is the use of “confidence bursts” or breaking down expectations by focusing on a single behavior during a finite period of time to build confidence and momentum.

The idea is to create a full-court press of the given behavior to prove what is possible at individual and organizational levels.Winning Well Bookcover

Build a temporary scaffold of support around employees with lots of extra attention, skill-building, fun, recognition, and celebration. The risk is low—it’s just one day and it doesn’t feel like a big commitment to change. Once people experience success with the behavior, their confidence improves, and the ceiling of what they perceive as possible moves a little higher.

Every time we’ve done this, the results have been head-turning and remarkable. The best part comes in the afterglow discussion: If you (and we) can make this much magic on this day, why not every day?

We find that a few sets of these intervals spaced one month apart can lead to remarkable and lasting results.

You’ll know the behavior has sunk in when the impact of these “burst days” begins to dwindle but the overall results stay high. The behaviors have become so frequent that the extrinsic motivation is no longer necessary. The value in the behaviors has become an intrinsic choice.

 

We’ve all seen managers struggle with either too much empathy (and thus accepting excuses or not removing a team member) or not enough empathy (cold, uncaring). What tactics have you seen work to coach in this area?

Don’t Let Leadership Go to Your Head

This is a guest post by Jason Cooper. Jason is a communications professional at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to leading a multi-media communications unit at the university, he helps leaders improve their communications. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Stay Grounded

Leaders are usually in leadership positions because they have proven themselves in some capacity. They may have had the best technical skills, or the boldest and best ideas, or maybe they found themselves in a leadership position because they knew how to work with and motivate a team of people to accomplish far more than they could alone.

As leaders rise, however, there is a tendency to let it go to their heads. The faster a leader rises, the more likely this is to happen. Pride begins to set in, and pride is the gateway drug to arrogance.

 

“Pride is the gateway drug to arrogance.” -Jason Cooper

 

Leadership, Skill and Value

Leaders must strive to never confuse their skills with their value. I may be “better at” something, but that doesn’t mean I am “better than” someone. People matter! They may have a different skill set or serve in a different capacity, but they matter.

Lousy leaders are ‘better’ at everything. Arrogant talent is a barrier to the growth of others. Humility opens doors for others.” ~ Dan Rockwell

 

“Humility opens doors for others.” -Dan Rockwell

 

Leaders who alienate people by their arrogance rarely last. But leaders who value people and elevate others create long lasting impact. Research continually reinforces that the ability to engage with people is a key indicator for success and employee performance.

 

Arrogance and Humility

No one sets out to become arrogant. We can each think of someone who we have known who over time has grown to be full of themselves. If arrogance is in fact something that can develop over time, then it also stands to reason that there are things we can do to avoid it happening to us. But it can be tricky. One can simply go through the motions in order to wear their humility like a shiny badge of honor.

A professor of mine in college would, after leading the class in sharing positive feedback regarding our in-class presentations, transition to sharing criticism with the phrase, “Lest a man [or woman] think more highly of himself than he ought…” In his honor, here are a few suggestions on how to cultivate humility.

 

“Leaders who alienate people by their arrogance rarely last.” -Jason Cooper

 

 

7 Practical Ways to Cultivate Humility

 

1. Have lunch with the janitor.

Seek out those who by the world’s standards are near the bottom. Get to know them. Ask them questions. Treat them as equals (because ultimately they are). You’ll find that you are not so different from them.

 

2. Intentionally share the credit with your team even when they aren’t around.

Start the Life You’ve Always Wanted Now

Get the Life You’ve Always Wanted

Bob Pritchett is the CEO and founder of Faithlife Corporation, an organization serving 3 million users around the world. His latest book, Start Next Now: How to Get the Life You’ve Always Wanted is a plan to advance your career. It is a short book full of career advice designed for those looking to advance their careers. I met Bob several years ago. He is a purpose-driven leader who wants to make a difference. Recently, I asked Bob about his work and advice.

 

“Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” -Dale Carnegie

 

Give Yourself Permission to Explore

You start with a simple question, “What do you want?” but that question is profound and not always easy to answer. What do you recommend to people who don’t know what they want?

Give yourself permission to explore. Read broadly, and set aside time to try new things. Explore things that interest you, things that you enjoy. Many people choose their goals from a distance and spend a lot of time in planning and preparation and education before learning if they really want to do the thing they’ve been preparing for.

Volunteer. Interview people doing things you might want to do. Try job shadowing. Find some way to do or experience the thing you’re exploring and find out if it’s for you.

Don’t be afraid of pursuing the wrong thing; a small investment in a dozen different directions is much less expensive than going all in on the wrong goal.

 

“You don’t get ahead by leaning back; you get ahead by leaning forward.” -Bob Pritchett

 

Raise Your Visibility

What practical steps do you suggest for raising your visibility?

I have several suggestions in the book. One of the easiest is to dress up.

When you dress as casually as your co-workers, you signal that you’re done moving up. It’s a way to fit in and be invisible in the crowd. People who want to get ahead signal that fact to the people who can help them get ahead by dressing the part.

Dress up tomorrow. Just raise the bar one level beyond your norm and be ready for the comments from your peers. If you don’t hear any, keep taking things up a level until you do.

 

“Raise the bar one level beyond the norm.” -Bob Pritchett

 

How does one increase visibility without losing humility or looking self-promotional?

Start Next NowWe cultivate a heart-attitude of humility through a pattern of service to others. If you do work that serves your team, your organization, and your constituency (customers, students, congregants, etc.), people will notice. There’s nothing better for your reputation than being ‘caught in the act’ of generous service.

In your career or organization, though, you still need to be intentional about increasing your visibility, even if it’s in small ways like dressing for your next job or constantly re-introducing yourself or working on projects that people are going to see. In most businesses the products and services need to be marketed, and showing that you can market yourself — while it may earn disapproval from jealous people behind you — can be an important part of signaling that you can handle more responsibility for the business.

 

Confront Fear

What recommendations do you have for “confronting fear”?

Many people are afraid of being exposed as incompetent. But incompetence isn’t anything to be ashamed of. It’s a temporary state of affairs.

 

“Fear is the fence that bounds our success.” -Bob Pritchett

 

If you’re proficient in something today, you were incompetent in it at some point, and you acquired the skills and knowledge you needed to become proficient. We need to stop being ashamed of or afraid of what we don’t know.

Understand that fear is a normal feeling, and get used to appreciating it and then pushing ahead.

 

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