Rules One, Two and Three

Recently I posted three “rules” on my social media sites that a LinkedIn member asked me to comment more on:

  • Rule #1: allow yourself to learn from smart people.
  • Rule #2: don’t allow yourself to be offended by stupid people.
  • Rule #3: sometimes the smart people are the ones who think very differently than you. They’re usually worth listening to.

These rules have several points of inspiration. One is an ancient proverb that says, “The one who loves a quarrel loves transgression; whoever builds his gate high invites destruction.”

This piece of ancient wisdom suggests a mindset that is useful in all situations when you are presented with points of view that are in opposition to your own. This is especially true amidst the recent onslaught of opinions being put forth on social media. It is actually the continual shouting of people taking sides against each other that was the stimulus for me to create these rules to better manage my own reactions.

The word transgression means an act that goes against a law, rule, or code of conduct; an offense. One way to think about this ancient axiom is that the person who loves to argue vehemently also loves to offend while demonstrating no concern for how they should conduct themselves. And what the second part of the proverb – whoever builds his gate high invites destruction – says to me is that the people who seek to defend what they believe they already know aren’t protecting themselves at all. In fact, they are inviting their own ruin!

Why? Most obviously, trying to influence someone’s point of view by offending them is hardly a winning strategy. Secondly, if I allow myself to believe my opinions are under attack, my natural inclination is to defend myself. Moreover, to the extent that these attacks are from people whose opinions won’t change – and yes, at those emotionally charged moments I’m thinking they’re being “stupid” – I’m defending myself in a battle of opinion that I cannot win. In this case, it’s better to follow Sun Tzu’s (The Art of War) advice, “If a battle cannot be won, do not fight it.” Finally, metaphorically defending myself with the proverb’s “high gate” prevents me from learning anything new. In today’s rapidly changing Information Age, those who refuse to learn get left behind.

A better approach, hence why it’s Rule #1, is to engage with people from whom you can sharpen your thinking by increasing your perspective. The old proverb relates to a more recent one – Steven Covey’s Habit 5 of successful people, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

That can often come from intentionally seeking out the views of those that think differently than you. This is rule #3, which was inspired by an interview with billionaire entrepreneur Sean Parker, the co-creator of the pioneering music-sharing service Napster and ex-president of Facebook (and if these accomplishments aren’t enough, he was played by Justin Timberlake in the movie The Social Network­). When asked, “Who do you bounce ideas off of?” Parker responded, “People I’ve argued with. I think most of the things I’ve done so far were largely considered really unpopular or really fringe when I started doing them.” In other words, one of the most renowned innovators of our time isn’t successful by building “high gates” to protect his point of view. Rather, he influences others by lowering his gate to allow in others that can influence him.

Having others agree with my views on flags, people’s rights, names of sports teams, a new product strategy, or who to hire for a key position is not something I get to choose. But I cannot allow that lack of choice I have in what someone believes to become a distraction to me. What I can choose is to learn and grow in my own understanding by productively seeking intelligent points of view that enhance my perspective.

As Carl Rogers said, “The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” And according to Einstein, to do that, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

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Wisdom from the C-Suite

It is ironic how often people hear from others (like me) about what great leaders do and how infrequently people hear from great leaders themselves about what they are actually doing! Recently, I did have that opportunity as part of a yearlong leadership development program I am co-facilitating.

Each year’s cohort begins with a dinner followed by a Q&A session with several members of the organization’s C-suite, including the CEO. The firm’s success as measured by its exceptional growth; profitability; high employee engagement and low turnover; and impact on the communities it serves across the country, are all a testament to the wisdom and insight of these leaders.

Here some nuggets I captured from that session:

  • Leaders need to be inquisitive and willing to keep learning. Furthermore, they need to be aggressive about finding new opportunities for learning.
  • It is of utmost importance to keep transmitting the culture as the company grows in size and complexity.
  • The reason “soft skills”, i.e. relationships matter in business is the value of spontaneous human interaction.
  • People when they are encouraged will do great things.
  • You can’t work with the people you want; you have to work with the people you have.
  • I’m not leading if I’m telling.
  • Vision emerges from the relationships that exist.
  • You can’t overvalue situational awareness.

Which one(s) of these speak to you? Which do you need to embrace?

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A Job to Love

Which was your favorite job?

A few weeks ago, my daughter asked me which of the two jobs from my younger days I liked more: selling audio equipment at an electronics store or cooking at a Howard Johnsons. After reflecting on the question for a bit I finally decided I couldn’t decide. I loved them both.

Why did I love them both? Because both jobs provided three of the most important reasons why you, me or anybody else would love their job:

  1. I was using my strengths, i.e. doings things I do best.
  2. I was appreciated and validated for my strengths.
  3. I was working with people I liked, not just at work but socially, too.

Why does using your strengths matter? People working in their area of strengths feel they are being authentic to who they already are rather than who their role requires them to be. Using your strengths means you will feel more expert in what you are doing, and more engaged and energized when you are doing it.

The strengths-based engagement is more than just about making people happy. It also means they get more work done. A Gallup survey[1] found that employees using their strengths were more productive, stayed in jobs longer, and produced greater customer satisfaction.

This leads to my second point. Because I was highly productive and I created satisfied customers, I got constant positive feedback. Research has consistently shown that people “flourish” – function at their best – in environments and relationships where positive comments of support, encouragement, appreciation are heard three times more often than negative comments (disapproval, sarcasm, cynicism). And in a study of 60 business units, the highest performing teams were those where positive comments were experienced five times more often than negative ones.[2]

Finally, because I was working with people I liked, I worked with great emotional safety and freedom in communication. That meant constructive feedback could be received knowing it was for my improvement. It also meant people expressed interest in each other. Research by Marcial Losada and Emily Heaphy showed that the highest performing teams talked about themselves (individually or their group) less and advocated for other peoples’ or groups’ positions more frequently than their own.

What my daughter’s question proved to me – and I think should prove to you – is that our job satisfaction and performance isn’t based on what we are doing, or even how much we are paid to do it. It’s all about doing things we’re best at, receiving more support than criticism, and being around people who have your back.

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[1] Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton

[2] The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams: A Nonlinear Dynamics Model, Marcial Losada and Emily Heaphy. American Behavioral Scientist 2004; 47; 740

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