Why is it so hard to do the right thing?

Many years ago when I was still living in Israel, the government launched a national campaign to reduce the outrageously high rate of casualties on the highways. The campaign slogan was: “On the road be wise, not right.”

That slogan stayed with me over the years. I found it to be such a powerful and relevant principle for living.

In my work I coach leaders and teams. I have seen that even when people genuinely want to work together in a more authentic, courageous and effective way, it is often hard for them to do so. In most cases, people know what works and the right thing to do. However, it is still often hard to actually follow through.

For example:

  1. People know that gossiping about colleagues, “trashing” them and throwing them under the bus are undermining and hurtful, but they still do it.
  2. People know that saying one thing and doing another doesn’t work, but they still do it.
  3. People know that blaming other teams and people doesn’t fix the problem, in fact it makes it worse, but they still do it.

So why is it so hard for us to do what we know is right and truly effective?

I guess it is our survival mechanism…every creature in the jungle has one. Ours is our brain… or more accurately our memory. Here’s a likely explanation about how this works:

If we only remembered the good experiences that happen to us, we would walk around with a big smile on our face in blissful ignorance unconcerned with, and unattentive to potential threats and dangers that could come our way.

In order to prevent the exposure and vulnerability that occur when being overly positive, our brain holds onto negative experiences. In fact our brain thinks that even if we remembered the good and traumatic experiences equally, we could get complacent. It won’t even take that chance. So, our brain tends to mainly promote the traumatic, hurtful and negative experiences. For obvious reasons it feels these are more useful to keep us out of harms way.

It’s not that we walk around all day, everyday feeling traumatized and upset… well, some of us may be in that state from time to time… these memories tend to come up when the brain feels they could be most necessary for survival. For example: these memories often arise when we are about to make a bold personal or career decision. When we are about to take a risk or put ourselves in a vulnerable position, the brain alerts us through these memories that “this is not a good idea.

Having awareness of this mechanism empowers us to think for ourselves and make our own choices rather than allow our instinctual brain to think for us.

The assumption here is that we have a brain but we are not our brain.

We always have a choice whether to be right or be wise. By the way, not choosing is the worst form of choice. It’s choosing without taking responsibility.

If you choose to be right you will do things like:

  1. Gossip about others rather than communicate.
  2. Dwell in negative, cynical, sarcastic conversations.
  3. Blame others when things don’t work.
  4. Hold back information and communication that could benefit the greater good.
  5. Cover your behind when you feel vulnerable or exposed.
  6. Pay lip service to commitments and projects.
  7. Behave in passive aggressive ways.

If you choose to be wise we will do things like:

  1. Refuse to participate or engage in gossip, negative and backchannel conversations.
  2. Always have a positive outlook.
  3. Address issues openly, directly and completely and not let issues fester.
  4. Take responsibility for challenges and failures.
  5. Communicate and share information even when you feel vulnerable.
  6. Call people to the carpet when they are not doing what they said.
  7. Do what you say or let people know you won’t do it.

Being wise means doing the right thing, doing what you know works and always staying true to your principles, values and higher Self.

Being wise does not mean being perfect. If you want to be wise, you will make mistakes, screw up, stumble and fall. But, every time you recover and return to your commitment, you will become stronger for it.

Being wise, however, definitely requires courage.

Lastly, if you choose to be wise because it is consistent with who you are that choice will greatly empower and energize you. Try and see.

Photo by: Michael Krigsman

The Risk of Circumstantial Decisions

I was chatting with a good friend who is in a major career junction in his life. My friend is a fairly senior leader in one of the service functions in his company. He had been doing the same type of job for the last 15 years. Over these years, he advanced, he was promoted and grew the scope of his responsibilities. However, he remained in the same function serving similar business and sales units for all these years.

He was mentally tired of doing the same thing for so long. He felt he needed a change. He just wasn’t sure what the change should be.

His dilemma was – to look yet again for the next-level role within the same support function he was already a part of, or to make a more radical move into one of the business units in order to start a new career in sales.

As he put it: “I could climb one more rung in the same ladder or put myself at the bottom of a new scale.”

The prospect of starting a whole new career in sales was the more appealing option to my friend. In fact, he received an attractive offer to transition into one of the local sales organizations as a sales leader. However, he had many reservations and fears about this potential transition.

As we were sipping our tea, he outlined the pros and cons of this decision.

His main pros were: (1) His direct functional boss supported his move out of the function, (2) The regional and local sales leaders also supported his move into their organization, and (3) The regional sales leader even offered allowances in responsibility to support his transition into the role.

The offer my friend received to move into sales seemed very appealing. In fact, my friend described it as a “once-in-a-lifetime offer not to be missed.”

On the other hand, my friend’s main cons and fears were: (1) what if he failed, (2) what if he disappointed the people who believed in him, and (3) his direct boss, as well as the regional and local sales leaders were themselves in a career junction and looking for their next assignment, so the likelihood of them staying around in the long term seemed slim.

My friend turned to me and asked – “What should I do?”

My guidance to him was:

1. You should feel very proud about the offer you received to move from a support function to sales. Not many people receive such an offer. It is a testament to your great personality, brand and leadership qualities and energy.
2. However, only accept the offer to move into sales if you are sure you want to develop a new career in sales. In other words, being a sales leader should be your aspiration and you must be willing to do what it takes to learn this new trait.
3. No matter how much encouragement and support you are currently receiving from people around you to make the move, sooner or later these people will all move on and you will be left alone, needing to stand on your own two feet. So, only make the move if you are fully prepared to continue your course with enthusiasm if/when this happens.
4. In fact, even the allowances that the regional sales leader is making today will soon expire and you will be expected to perform the complete duties of a sales leader, with all the personal stress associated with it.
5. In addition, given that you are “putting yourself on the bottom of a new scale,” it is inevitable that you will make mistakes, screw up, fail and disappoint people around you. Furthermore, there will be many moments along your journey when you will feel inadequate and that you are letting others down. It comes with the territory.
6. Because of all these things – ONLY make the decision to move to sales if this decision is based on your personal stand, not on circumstances and expectations. I call this type of decision an unconditional decision.

The moral of the story is:

When you base your decision on circumstances and these circumstances change, as they often do, the whole foundation for your decision is invalidated and you can easily abandon your direction or give up.

But, if you base your decision purely on your stand – even if circumstances around you change or worsen, the merit of your decision remains in tact and you are likely to stay the course and weather even the fiercest of storms.

Photo by: Daniel Oines

Why is Leadership so important NOW?

In today’s market environment, thriving and struggling businesses alike seem to be experiencing increasing challenges in competitive, economic and market conditions.

In these times when the business opportunities and challenges are bountiful and the tangible material and physical resources such as budgets, expenses, resources and travel are scarce, most leaders I speak to seem to feel a growing need to unleash and promote the intangible assets. They seek to boost the mental and leadership energy, creativity, ownership and resourcefulness of individuals and the team as a whole.

Leaders often talk about the fact that in today’s environment “the only constant is change.” In this environment, any team weaknesses or dysfunctionalities that could have been avoided or overlooked in stable times can’t be ignored. Obstacles to success must be addressed and fixed in challenging times in order for the team to work at its full potential.

Unfortunately, most individuals and teams in organizations are quite reactive to circumstances, so when things are going well, they feel strong, empowered and focused. But when there is a lot of change and/or circumstances make a turn for the worst – they often lose their cool confidence and inner balance and get into an individual and collective funk.

The longer circumstances stay challenging, the worse morale and confidence usually get. This eventually affects performance and results in a negative way. I am seeing this happen in many companies.

It gets worse when people listen to the media and hear stations like CNN constantly bombarding the screen with gloom and doom. And, the more people hear about companies who are laying off people, the worse this morale and confidence downward spiral gets.

This vicious circle is avoidable when people and teams have the right leadership mindset and competency to self-generate their own attitudes and mindsets, no matter what the circumstances are.

In my last blog I quoted Alan Kay who said “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Can you imagine the possibilities any team could generate when its entire workforce genuinely believes that “no matter what the circumstances are – we can invent our future and control our own destiny?”

Thinking and behaving in this way allows people to own their thoughts, behaviors and actions. It equips and empowers everyone to catch and stop the negative, disempowering and fear-based or stress-based feelings and conversations before they take over. People then can turn a negative dynamic and atmosphere into a more positive, productive and energizing one.

The notion of inventing the future allows people to stay centered and focused when things are turbulent around them.

When people understand the power associated with inventing the future rather than merely reacting to it, they start creating exciting objectives, projects, milestones and events to work on in the present. This creates even greater possibilities to look forward to in the future.

Unfortunately, I still see many team environments in which circumstances are challenging and victim-mentality becomes accepted and rampant. In these situations, people excuse and justify poor performance and low morale.

However, when the entire team is in that same positive, proactive and self-generative mindset, people go out of their way to support, empower and encourage each other to go beyond and behave in an un-circumstantial, un-stoppable way. I have actually seen teams that have used these phrases as mantra’s to become a high performance team.

Courage is magical!

I believe courage is the single most critical ingredient for achieving great things. It is the key to achieving our dreams and aspirations.

Yes, knowledge, experience, credentials, skills and a good plan or strategy are important too. However, I have seen more people fail to achieve their dreams and aspirations because they gave up along the way than people who went all-out all the way and fell short.

Courage comes in many forms, expressions and styles. Sometimes, standing for what we believe and fully expressing ourselves with a loud and assertive voice is an act of courage. But, sometimes, remaining thoughtful and calm in the face of turmoil, or being vulnerable, or listening to other’s views with openness and generosity requires courage too.

Being Courageous is very different than being Fearless. It does not mean we are without fear. In fact, courage is most opportune when we are most afraid.  As Nelson Mandela said:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

If anyone knew something about courage, it was Nelson Mandela.

The good news is that we all have the innate ability to be courageous. We have the ability to bring forth courage and live by it every moment and day of our life, no matter what our circumstances are.

What we often seem to underestimate is just how powerful and magical courage really is, so we don’t fully bet on it.

Early in my career when I was struggling with achieving my sales goals, my mentor at the time told me something that impacted my entire life thereafter. He said, “If you do the right thing for long enough eventually you will get the outcome you want.” I believed him, and, it worked. I became the most productive and successful sales leader in the company. I have experienced this first principle time and time again in multiple areas of my own life and the lives of others.

If we are willing to be courageous, take a stand for what we want and then start living, acting and behaving consistently with our stand, sooner or later the universe supports and lines up with our stand.

When we avoid taking a stand, we often feel lost, ineffective and uncertain about what direction to pursue, what to work on and how to proceed. We often fall into a waiting mode, hoping that someone else or something external will make things clear for us. We sometimes ask ourselves “what should we do?” as if there is a right answer. Or we compare ourselves to others, looking to emulate or surpass them. This often leaves us chasing “should” dreams that we don’t genuinely feel passionate about.

People often ask me, “How do I know what is right for me and what I should take on?” Alan Kay, ex-Apple fellow, answered this most clearly and powerfully. He said:

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it!”

He meant, we just need to take a stand. Even if we only have a sense of what we want, we should take a stand.

Taking a stand requires Courage. It seems that most people avoid taking a stand because they are afraid of the consequences, not because they have no idea of what they want. They know what they want, but question or doubt their ability and fortune to achieve it.

When we face new or daunting opportunities and/or challenges, we often need to just take one little step at a time. Eleanor Roosevelt gave a very practical and powerful recommendation for how to do that. She said:

“Do one thing every day that scares you!”

This is a great way to practice being courageous. Try this out and see what you discover.

I have written many things about the topic of courage. In fact, this is why I named my blog Leading and Living Courageously. I encourage you to read some of my blogs from the last year. To mention a few: “Be careful what you wish for” and “Empowering quotes about courage.”