There I was, staring at the clock. It was late at night, or really early in the morning, and I had a meeting the next morning. Sleep was eluding me. Like a surfer, I would almost catch the wave to take me where I needed to go, but then it would dissipate before I could get going.
I tried deep breathing. Prayer. Meditation. I have never sought pharmaceutical help, but I have tried various herbal remedies. That’s when I remembered that I had purchased a new product that had melatonin in it. Melatonin is a hormone that supposedly helps with sleep. There have been times when that has been an aide to me, so I wandered downstairs to try it. Getting back into bed, the exhaustion once again seemed to take over…
Suddenly, I was wide awake. Completely wired as if I had three cups of coffee. Not only was I no longer tired, I had a surge of energy. When that happens, I get up and read a book or do something productive around the house.
A few hours later, I picked up the bottle.
There, in the fine print, I read the words on the label. “Valerian.”
Valerian is an herb that helps some people sleep. I tried that before many years ago. I was one of the small percentage of people who don’t react with sleep, but in the opposite way. Apparently, this pill had a nice dose of it mixed with the melatonin.
How often do we read the fine print? How many times do you see an asterisk and read that footnote?
Nothing is more important than our character. A reputation or personal brand built without character inevitably fades, fails, or fizzles. Integrity is solid. When we have it, our friends can rely on us; our business partners trust us, and even our competitors admire us.
“Personal brands built without character fade, fail, and fizzle.” -Skip Prichard
When you meet someone, it doesn’t take long to know if they are living a life with intention, with purpose, with a design. Many people float through life waiting to see what will happen, going with the flow, and allowing others to decide the future. It’s the people who shape the future that stand out.
Living life with intention requires you to choose your actions and discipline your life in every moment. Mindy Hall, Ph.D. is the President and CEO of Peak Development Consulting, LLC. She has worked with clients around the world to strengthen leaders and help them live with intention. I had the opportunity to talk with her about her experience, her research, and her new book, Leading With Intention: Every Moment is a Choice.
Let me illustrate with a story from the book. A vice president of human resources worked in a company where the corporate offices were set up with two entrances: the front door from the lobby, which visitors were encouraged to use, and a side entrance marked “Employees Only,” which staff were required to use. The company’s senior-most executives could choose either door, and it was about the same distance from their parking spaces to their offices no matter which route they chose. Going through the side door took them past many other offices and common areas, allowing them to interact with other people in the company. Many of the executives, however, used the front door of the building, as they felt it provided quicker access to their offices, and therefore made better use of their time. What they failed to realize, however, was the gap between their intent and their impact.
The perception the executives created among employees was that they thought of themselves as separate—that they didn’t care to interact with the employees and did not have to follow the same rules. This behavior, although seemingly innocent, contributed to an “us-versus-them” feeling that began to impact the organization in very real ways—lack of belief in the espoused values of the company, lack of trust in the executives, and lack of engagement—all of which impact performance: Unintended consequences, but ones that show how easily actions send messages and how small behaviors can have a tangible impact.
These kinds of stories play out thousands of times a day at companies around the world. So much of our organizations’ potential is tied to a completely controllable variable: a leader’s awareness of their impact and their ability to choose behavior that intentionally shapes that impact.
“A leader’s currency is in his interactions.” –Mindy Hall
How Others Perceive You Depends on How Present You Are
Compare and contrast with me two executives. One is leading with intention and the other clearly isn’t. What would you observe immediately that distinguishes the two?
You can see it most easily in how aware they are of their impact: the tone they set and how they are “showing up” to the organization. The most tangible dimension of this awareness takes shape in their communication skills—how present they are with others. What verbal and non-verbal cues are they sending to signal their engagement or lack thereof? Are they able to connect with their audiences in both informal and formal communications?
A leader’s currency is in his interactions, so the ability to inspire everyone from front line employees to senior executives and board members shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“Every action has an impact; choose wisely the impact you want to have.” –Mindy Hall
Live on this planet long enough and you will have an experience that changes your life perspective. Whether its watching someone heroically battle a disease or your own near-death experience, these moments linger in our memories and impact our future.
Ron Garan also had a life-altering experience, but not one on planet Earth and not one most of us will personally experience. Col. Ron Garan is an astronaut who has logged 71 million miles in orbit. On the International Space Station, Ron was struck by the fact that 15 nationalities collaborated on creating an engineering feat in space. His perspective shifted as he gazed back at our planet, realizing that we needed to apply the same creativity to working together for the good of our world.
The Orbital Perspective is a call to action to shift our perspective from looking at things as they affect us locally, in the short term, to how they affect us globally over the long-term. It’s a shift from looking at the next election campaign or quarterly report to looking at the 20-year plan and beyond. It’s the acknowledgement that each and every one of us is riding through the universe together on this spaceship that we call Earth, that we are all interconnected and family. It’s the understanding that there are no passengers on Spaceship Earth, only crewmates and as crewmates we have a responsibility to mind the ship and take care of our fellow crewmates. It’s the acknowledgment of the sobering contradiction we see when we view our planet from space between the amazing beauty of our Earth and the unfortunate realities of life on our planet for a significant number of its inhabitants. It’s the firm belief that nothing is impossible — that it is within our power to eliminate the suffering and conflict that exist on our planet and that we do not have to accept the status quo. Above all else, the orbital perspective is the acknowledgement that we need each other. The days are long gone where we can effect the type of change that’s required by adhering to the old way of doing things or having a go it alone attitude.
“The orbital perspective is the acknowledgement that we need each other.” -Ron Garan
It’s May 31, 2008. You are about to journey into space. You say you were surprised at how calm you felt as you were “strapped to four and a half million pounds of explosives.” How did that feel?
I did say that in the book, but then I go on to say, “Sitting there, I felt some apprehension, of course. But I was also reassured by the idea that what we were about to do would make a contribution to humanity and, at this point, that the outcome of the launch was largely out of our hands.” To me, it was a risk-benefit tradeoff. In this case the benefits greatly outweighed the risk. I also wondered what I was getting myself into.
Describe the first time you looked down at Earth. Was it different than you expected?
The thing that really struck me when I looked at the Earth for the first time from space was how thin our atmosphere is. It was very sobering to think that the paper-thin layer of our atmosphere is keeping every living thing on our planet alive. But also the overwhelming emotion was intense gratitude. Gratitude for being given the opportunity to experience that perspective and gratitude for the gift of our indescribably beautiful fragile oasis we call home. The view was basically what I expected; the emotion that is caused was not.
“Working together multiplies cost effectiveness while reducing duplication of effort.” -Ron Garan
A conscious leader is someone who understands that people don’t leave their psychological selves at home when they come into the workplace and that includes the leader. This kind of leader accepts that all human beings are not rational and that our rational minds are constantly influenced by our unconscious motivations, hidden agendas, unresolved childhood issues, fears, anxieties, fantasies, prejudices, obsessions, and complicated emotions like anger and guilt. Conscious leaders understand that what is going on unconsciously, out of awareness, is often more important than what is happening on the surface. They know that the rational mind, both the individual one and the corporate one, can only be strengthened by dealing with unconscious issues, not by pretending that they don’t exist.
Starting with themselves, conscious leaders seek to make what is unconscious conscious. They want to know the whole story about themselves – what emotional baggage they carry, what defenses they habitually use, how others really see them, what their Achilles’ heels are. They are committed to self-development and increasing self-awareness.
Conscious leaders know that in order to create workplaces where people will want to be, they must understand the psychological principles of people at work and apply them daily.
The Power of Honest Feedback
Give us an example of one way a leader can be more conscious.
A leader who is open to honest feedback is going to really know how others see him or her. They may not like what they hear, but they dig down deep in themselves to understand the root of the behavior in question, and then they can begin to fix it. We have a lot of what we refer to as “narcissistic leaders” — probably the same amount that we have always had, but our culture seems to condone and even admire their grandiosity and bravura. When I work with a leader like that, it is usually because the board or some other entity has insisted that this person curtail their behavior. It is not easy for them to change because they cannot believe that their charisma and success aren’t enough.
I worked with someone like this and I knew that underneath the fascinating façade, he was quite damaged, never felt loved for himself from an early age, so he compensated by creating a larger than life self that he believed would be worthy of love. In the coaching, he worked hard to understand how others saw him and how he made them feel. He began to see what good behavior looked like. So although we couldn’t change the structure of his personality at such a late age, he was able to become conscious of what the right behavior would be and he would mimic it.
He is actively engaged in trying to modify his behavior and his impact on others. He uses techniques like active listening to help him have real conversations with his direct reports. He understands that it isn’t “all about me,” and the discipline it takes for him to listen has been rewarded by the input and ideas that are growing his company. He tells me that he reminds himself of his story every two hours!
Understanding How We Deal With Change
What is one commonly misunderstood psychological principle? How does it relate to organizational leadership?
It is generally acknowledged that more change has occurred in the last decade, largely due to the advances of technology, than at any other time in human history. And there appears to be no end in sight. Principle 8 focuses on the fact that change is a constant in every workplace. Whether the change is initiated by a world event, the marketplace, or comes from within, it will require a particular kind of leadership if it is going to be accepted and implemented on both an organizational and individual level.
“All change is loss, and all loss must be mourned.” -Harry Levinson
Our natural, evolutionary response as human beings is to fear change and to resist it. It represents the unknown and unfamiliar and carries with it the possibility that we will suffer harm. Over time, we have learned that change can also be positive and lead to good things. The complete truth about change is that it is always hydra-headed; it is about both winning and losing. In corporate restructuring, for example, change usually results in two groups, those who will win and stay and those who will lose and leave. But it isn’t as simple as that in reality. For even the people who get to stay often talk about how things were before the restructuring because something was gained but something was also lost.
My mentor, Harry Levinson, used to say it this way: “All change is loss, and all loss must be mourned.” When we do not allow for the mourning appropriate to the occurrence, successful change is jeopardized. Mourning seems like a natural thing to do. Think about the crying and other shows of sentimentality at any high school or college graduation. If leaders jump the gun and demand the swift, dispassionate adherence to change, resistance will kick in and there will be corporate consequences. The recent recession brought dire economic consequences to many, accompanied by anxiety, depression, and in some cases, suicide. The extent of the changes that occurred, and the speed with which they happened, did not give people the time and resources they needed to adjust to their drastically altered circumstances.
A swift-moving, action-oriented business model leaves little time for people, whether they are going or staying, to readjust and acclimate to a changed environment. No one is immune and everyone feels vulnerable. The unspoken contract between employer and employee, and the trust that goes with it, are forever broken.
You start your book by saying, “Character matters.” It’s hard to believe anyone would disagree. Do you think they do? Why is character more important than ever?
You’re right, Skip. Everyone would agree that character matters. But then ask the same folks if good people, or good companies, finish first. I’ll bet many of them believe it’s nice to possess strong moral character, but you have to be ruthless to get ahead. They’d probably acknowledge, however, that “looking the part” yields rewards. To them, moral character is a sideshow, not part of the main act. The truth is, strong moral character builds trust, strengthens respect, promotes loyalty, and translates to rock-solid reputations. Most importantly, every day you exhibit weak character, you’re letting yourself down. Remember, you have to live with yourself for the rest of your life.
“Character is the glue that bonds solid and meaningful relationships” -Tony Dungy
Great question. As I say in Follow Your Conscience, “It’s not always easy to admit a mistake, persevere during tough times, or follow through on every promise made. It’s not always comfortable to convey the hard truth or stand up for your beliefs. In the short term, it may not be beneficial to do right by your customers, to put people before profits, or to distance yourself from a questionable relationship. BUT, in the long run, doing the right thing is the clear path to both success and happiness.” The bottom line is, listen to your conscience. That’s why you have one.
4 Stages of Trust
Everything is built on trust. Would you walk through the four stages of trust?
1. Relationship. The first stage of trust represents the beginning of a relationship. We generally start off with some preconceived notion about others. This is where a person’s or a company’s reputation comes into play.