Tag Archive for: Courageous

We sentence ourselves in our sentences

I learned many years ago that how we think and speak about ourselves and others determines the space and mood we live in. Speaking, thinking and even feeling are really very similar in nature. They all involve having a conversation. Thinking and feeling are speaking with yourself. We wouldn’t really know how we feel if we didn’t say to our self “I am sad”, “I am scared” or “I am angry.” And speaking is verbalizing our conversations to others in an interaction.

In the world of conversation, there are two types of conversations: empowering and undermining. Engaging in empowering conversations make us bigger, stronger and more energized. Engaging in undermining conversations, obviously, make us more circumstantial, resigned and cynical.

Sometime the distinction between the empowering and undermining is bluntly clear. For example if someone thinks or says: “I am not good enough,” “I am not smart enough,” or “I will never have a really great marriage or career,” that is obviously a disempowering belief. But, if someone thinks or says: “achieving my project is going to be really hard,” or “its going to take me a really long time to realize my dream,” it may not be as apparent that this too is an undermining paradigm.

One of the reasons why we keep engaging in thoughts and conversations that have a negative impact on us is we don’t do a good job telling facts apart from interpretations. We often engage in undermining conversations about past events, present situations and future possibilities as if we are merely innocently reporting on facts, while in reality everything we are thinking and saying is purely our interpretation.

In fact, many times we set ourselves up for invalidation when we take on an aspirational goal. If we fall short in achieving it, we get sucked into self-deprecating thoughts and feelings about the goal and ourselves.

For example, I have seen people who wanted to better themselves set a bold objective of doubling their income, but ended up achieving 70% of their goal. Even though their achievement was still admirable, they said things like: “What was I thinking” or “I shouldn’t have taken on such a big goal.” I have seen this with many types of goals.

The vicious circle of undermining conversations thickens when we add uncomplimentary conclusions and assign subtle negative meaning to these events. Many times I heard people say things like: “I am just unlucky,” or “Someone like me can’t have that type of success.” These comments are often subtle, but they are harmful. We forget that we are the ones who made up the game in the first place. (Many references to the vague “people.” Do you have a specific story that could work here?)

Furthermore, the way we express our conversations is also often disempowering. When people refer to yesterday’s shortfalls, they often say: “I am failing with this result” or “this is not working” rather than “I failed to achieve this result last month” or “it didn’t work last time.” The first implies “I am a failure,” hence most likely I won’t ever succeed. The other implies “I failed in last month’s goal,” which means nothing about my ability to achieve it in the future. In fact, the second allows us to learn from our shortfall and identify what could be changed, corrected and/or improved in order to succeed in the future.

Lastly, any type of conversation in any area of our life with an explicit or implicit reference to “I am not good enough,” “something is wrong with me,” or “I should be different,” is untrue and more important harmful and destructive.

So, how do we get free from these undermining cycles?

  1. Develop your self-awareness around conversations.
  2. Become aware of the self-deprecating mechanism outlined here, by catching yourself in real-time when you entertain undermining conversations.
  3. Start telling the difference between facts and interpretations.
  4. When you feel, think or say things ask yourself – “is this empowering or disempowering me? You will be able to tell by how you feel about the conversation.
  5. Make sure you are clear that your interpretations no matter how valid they may be, are not true or facts.
  6. When you acknowledge an undermining feeling, thought, or conversations, have the courage to say to yourself “thank you for sharing” and don’t buy into that conversation.
  7. Instead, create an equally valid conversation that does empower you.

The more you practice this the better you will become at it.

Enjoy the ride.

Empower yourself to have more courageous conversations

In last week’s blog I stated that most people in most organizations avoid having the courageous conversations. They want things to change, they want more empowerment, responsibility, involvement and authority, but when push-comes-to-shove they often have diplomatic, watered-down or politically correct conversations.

In private conversations with leaders, managers, and employees in many organizations, most acknowledge that they are not as courageous as they need or want to be.

So, in this post I want to suggest some steps that could empower people and teams to go to the next level in this area:

First step – Fess up – In order to change their behavior, people need to first own up to their current behaviors and dynamics – in this case to their avoidance of courageous conversations. In so many cases, change doesn’t happen because people are either blind to their shortcomings or they are in denial and don’t admit them.

Second step – Embrace your alternate options – Have you heard the saying: “The truth will set you free?” When most people fess up to their shortcomings, gaps or lack of ownership, authenticity and/or courage, they feel relieved. And from that space, they can start thinking about, “So now what?”How else COULD I act and/or behave?” and “What else COULD I do?” For many people, this new space of possibilities is energizing. However, some people prefer to avoid responsibility; they can’t seem to get beyond blaming others and being victims of their circumstances. One very effective way to take ownership is to consider the “benefits” and “cost” of avoiding responsibility for having the courageous conversations. I have elaborated on this several times in previous blogs.

Third step – Make a choice and take a stand – When people own up to their alternate options, they can make real choices – choices about how they will think and behave differently, and what they will, in fact, do differently. Steps one and two are about completing the past. Step three is about creating the future. Making a choice is, in essence, taking a stand; promising a new course of action, launching a new beginning, and propelling oneself to a new trajectory.

Fourth step – Act and behave in accordance with your stand – Authentic choices lead to new actions and behaviors. People can reinvent themselves by following steps one through three and then beginning to act and behave consistent with their stand. In many cases, when the new actions are radically different from the past ones, people feel somewhat awkward, inadequate, and out of their comfort zone. I often refer to this as being “beginners.” They may even need to “fake it till they make it,” at first. However, if they are willing to stay the course and correct themselves when they stumble, fall or screw up, sooner than later the new actions and behaviors will start to become part of their new DNA.

The technology leaders from last week’s blog managed to generate meaningful breakthroughs in elevating the quality and effectiveness of their teamwork and communication by using these steps and increasing their authentic and courageous conversations. They did it together as a team so this made it easier for each of them to step up.

Today, they look forward to their meetings because at least 90% of their time is focused on the essential topics. People feel they can truly affect change. They had that mandate before, but now they feel they have “each other’s permission” and the environment to effectively do so. As a result, the team members feel much more comfortable to engage in whatever conversations that are necessary to reach alignment and make decisions fast. They also started to hold each other to account for commitments and deliverables much more courageously.


Are you having the courageous conversations?

The senior leaders of a large and successful technology company wanted to improve their overall effectiveness as a team, including their communications and meeting productiveness. The leaders acknowledged that their conversations and meetings were not where not effective and that included:

(1) The short-term financial updates and immediate fire drills always took over the meeting’s agendas and the team never got to discuss the more strategic topics of opportunity and change,

(2) When the leaders did get to the discussions the same few team members always dominated the conversation and other team members felt unable to contribute,

(3) The team debated issues endlessly without reaching conclusions, alignment and decisions,

(4) Important decisions that affected everyone were made behind the scenes with the same few inner circle team members, and

(5) When the leadership team did make a collective decision (especially change-related) people often didn’t comply, follow up and/or reinforce.

The senior leaders had frustrations with, and complaints about other colleagues in the team. However, for the most part they blamed their boss, the CEO for not “making the meetings productive”, and not “empowering the senior team to make the key decisions”

Meanwhile, the CEO was frustrated because his senior leaders were not having the necessary conversations with each other. They needed to work together and behind the scenes between the meetings to confront things, resolve issues, align on strategies and plans, and hold each other to account for decisions that were made in prior meetings.

Instead, people were escalating the tough issues to him, expecting him to resolve and make the decisions, even on issues the leaders were fully capable of, and empowered to solve. As a result, people felt the meetings were a waste of time because most of the time was spent on reviewing updates and reports, confirming decisions and other mundane topics that could have easily been handled elsewhere.

In short – The leaders were simply avoiding having the courageous conversations.

I see this dynamic at all levels of seniority in most (all) organizations. People want things to change, they want more empowerment, responsibility, involvement and authority, but they are not willing to step up and have the courageous conversations with stakeholders, team members and each other.

Yes, these conversations can be messy, unpredictable and uncomfortable; they could cause tensions, conflicts and even deteriorate trust temporarily or permanently. But the cost of avoiding them – for the leaders – is not being able to provide leadership, make the difference and drive change. And, for the organization, not functioning on all cylinders.

So, how do you change this?

It starts with people owning up to their avoidance of courageous conversations. In next week’s blog I’ll share a framework that works for teams and individuals for starting to take on the courageous conversations.

I will also share the end of the story of the technology leaders and how they generated a meaningful breakthrough in their courageous conversations.


Stay tuned…

Three Empowering Quotes About COURAGE

W.H. Murray, the leader of the Scottish Himalayan Expedition that pioneered the path to the top of Mt. Everest knew something about COURAGE; what it takes, what it produces and what the consequences are of not ‘bringing it.’  He shared his experience:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.

Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:

That, the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.

I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

My work is about Encouraging, Empowering, Enabling and Energizing people to generate a high level of success and fulfillment at work and in their lives. And as far as I can tell, courage is THE single most critical ingredient for achieving that.

Courage comes in many forms, expressions and styles. Some times standing for what we believe and fully expressing ourselves with a loud voice is an act of courage. But, sometime remaining thoughtful and peaceful 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. It is not the absence of fear but rather embracing our fears, no matter how daunting, and behaving in a way that is true to our values and commitments anyways.

The good news is that we all have the innate ability to be courageous. We have the ability to generate courage and live by it every moment and day of our life, no matter what our circumstances are. What we sometime seem to forget, however, is just how powerful, magical and full of genius courage really is, so we don’t fully bet on it.

I think M.H. Murray describes this very eloquently in the third paragraph of his quote, especially “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.”

Early in my career when I was struggling with achieving my sales goals, my mentor at the time told me something that impacted my life. 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 time and time again in multiple areas of my own life and I have seen it in the lives of others, including with my clients.

If we are willing to be courageous, take a stand for what we want and then start living, acting and behaving consistently sooner or later the universe lines up with our stand. It enables us to achieve it, or close thereby. Yes, we need to believe what M.H. Murray says otherwise it won’t work to our advantage. See more about this in my blog “Be Careful What You Wish For,” on March 27.

Where 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 fall into a waiting mode, hoping that someone else or something external will make things clear for us. We sometime 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 we know what is right for us?” “How do we determine what to take on?” and “How do we know what the future will bring?”

Alan Kay, ex-Apple fellow said it most clearly and powerfully. He said:

 “The only 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 are committed to, take a stand. Even if we could go ‘either way,’ take a stand. Taking a stand requires Courage. It seems that most people don’t take a stand because they are scared of the future, not because they have no idea of what they want. They do know what they want, but doubt their ability and fortune to really achieve or obtain it.

If you want to become really good at the courage game, you need to practice on a regular basis. Eleanor Roosevelt gave a very practical and powerful recommendation:

“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.