The Things We Think & Do Not Say

No, I am not about to have a Jerry Maguire moment. But the title of Jerry’s infamous “memo” has always stuck with me and it seems to fit here.

This is simply a call for constructive honesty.  And it absolutely applies in your personal as well as professional life… Why do we sometimes avoid saying what we’re really thinking?  Because many people don’t care for conflict… And… many times we believe that “saying what we’re thinking” will lead to conflict… So… we consciously or subconsciously avoid conflict by not speaking our mind

So then, why do we sometimes avoid conflict?  Perhaps we lack the skills to successfully navigate conflict (maybe we don’t know how to voice disagreement in a constructive manner… or maybe we’ve never seen positive conflict resolution role-modeled!).  Maybe we think we’ll “get in trouble” for speaking our minds… with a boss, with a spouse??  Or, perhaps we have just given up the fight … we’re too “worn out” to stand up for what we believe?

If we don’t constructively state what we’re thinking, we sub-optimize the decision at hand because we withhold a critical input that might change the result/decision.  Also, these unexpressed opinions we have bottled up tend to create cynicism that can lead to toxicity (oh by the way your Doctor will tell you the same is true in your personal life – tons of medical research backs this up).  And usually, we end up saying it later anyway… in the wrong place at the wrong time… as negative “water cooler talk” or as an unproductive explosions that add no value at all.

Are you ready to try a different way?  Have confidence that your voice is valued:  the people who depend on you absolutely want to know what’s on your mind.  Make a choice to speak up even if it leads to disagreement… that’s actually healthy.  And practice doing it “the right way…” for example:

  • Don’t just shoot down what you think is a “bad idea”… suggest a better idea instead.  (If you are consistently negative with no positive suggestions, you will wear people out!);
  • Don’t “go in hot”… when possible allow yourself a bit of time to decompress before trying to work through a really difficult topic with someone;
  • Ask yourself if you are presenting your ideas in a way that will improve your relationship with the other person!
  • Deliberately pick a time, place, & setting that make sense to have a thoughtful discussion.

By the end of the movie, Jerry Maguire has stumbled onto something bigger than he could have imagined… and it all started because he spoke his mind.  Being honest with himself and with others led him down an unexpected path but ultimately to a richer life: he found love, a family, a successful business he actually liked working in, and the admiration of an industry. Hmm, maybe there’s something here for each of us…

Bottom line: as leaders we have to learn how to speak the truth as we see it, in a manner that leaves our relationship with the other person even stronger than it was before.

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Are You A Know-It-All?

Somewhere back in grade school, each of us became conditioned that we should always know the right answer.   We were tested on our knowledge of the facts, and how well we could regurgitate them.  15X15 always equaled 225, and the symbol for water was always H2O (I think).  Those of us with excessive drive who were destined to become future leaders learned a lesson: we were rewarded for knowing the “right answer.”

Fast forward.  You have now been in the workforce for 20+ years.  You have an important title and lead a lot of employees.   Do you still think you have to know all the answers?   Think again.  The world you move in today is not a fact-based place… it is an arena of gray, where decisions are based on a combination of the best available info, plus a healthy dose of judgment.

If you are still acting like you have to know all the answers, here’s what you are telling your team:
> None of you are as smart as me.  I know more than all of you.  You could never do my job because I know everything…  Yes, I have all the answers.
> Don’t try too hard because I’m just going to shoot you down if you come up with an opinion I don’t agree with…  Because I have all the answers.
> If there’s a really difficult problem at hand, I will always be your fallback so don’t worry too much about it yourself.   Don’t stretch yourself to find new and different solutions… Because I have all the answers.

This is a silly game that your team doesn’t really believe anyway.   Why don’t you ask them to solve some really difficult problems, and then hold them accountable for the results?  This will polarize your team: the stars will embrace this accountability and rise to the top, while your lower-performing leaders will also become more obvious.

Bottom line: everyone knows you don’t have all the answers, so stop acting like it.  Let your team get in the game and you’ll optimize results while developing your people.

Leaders: Change Your Mindset

Leaders: you have to have the right mindset.  If you don’t, then it’s unlikely that you will be able to effectively lead for the long term.

This applies equally to your personal life & your professional life!  

  • Start by getting clear on what mindset you want to have.  Think about it.  Write it down.  Borrow the points from my last post on mindset if you want somewhere to start (like everything else in life, if you don’t have a target for this, then you can’t know how you’re progressing).
  • Self-assess.  How does your mindset today align to your aspired mindset?  What would other people say about your mindset based on your words & behaviors when they are around you?  Are you role-modeling the mindset that you want your team members to have?
  • Change your mind(set).   In the end, the only person who can change your mindset is… you.   And the way you change it is simple: you make a decision that you want to be different.  If you’re feeling brave, share your goals with someone important to you that you trust: a team member, a boss, a close personal friend, a spouse?

There are no pre-requisites for growth… meaning: you can start doing this right now.