Imagine a world with perfect circumstances. You’re at a bar, the sun is shining. You look at a waiter, he comes over immediately. You want a specific drink? They have exactly the one you want. He brings it over to you in under 60 seconds (with a smile) and it has the perfect temperature. The price? 50 cents.
I’m not going to lie, that would be awesome :). Reality is often far from how we wish it would fall into our laps, however. The reality might be that you sat yourself down in a shady beach bar without power and three coolers for a fridge, and that your waiter is preoccupied with taking selfies of his very own six-pack.
Here’s the thing though: why would you bitch, moan, or whine about it?
I will tell you why: because it’s easy. Many people, some scientists and some not, have described how we all have this human tendency to be the authors of our own sob stories. Our ego beefs up the facts and choices we make with villains and unfair circumstances so we can’t become the hero.
In the professional world, this sounds like “it has always been this way, we can’t change it” or “I don’t see why department/person X can’t do their jobs right”. Blame and resistance become the two main ingredients of our stressy judgement cocktail. We teach ourselves to be helpless and then cry about it and it’s absolutely human.
Here’s the thing though: happiness is not the result of perfect circumstance
That is the good news. Happy people who move forward productively go through the same motions, but they choose their response. In some literature you will see responsible written as “response-able”. Others talk about “editing the stories” we tell ourselves down to the facts to curb our inner Shakespeare.
What response do they choose? It’s almost always related to accountability or ownership. Once the drama is sucked out of our story and we see reality for what it is, happy people focus on adding value. They ask themselves: “What can I do to improve this situation?” All or nothing thinking is replaced with next steps.
Here’s the thing though: it’s a journey and you shouldn’t go by yourself
This human condition is chronic. The need for approval, validation, being right, avoiding conflict, blame, defensiveness, etc. will always lurk in the dark even for the Stephen Covey’s of our species. With this being the reality (wink wink), the best strategy is not to go at it alone and not to expect that you will be great at it immediately and all the time.
This mindset would actually feed the beast and it’s what your ego would want. Using no additional resources, relying on yourself, … It’s a Hollywood blockbuster in the making called “Look at me and my suffering” with you starring as the depressed hero and your circumstances as the villain. Do you see how sneaky this is?
Here’s the thing though: this is the centerpiece of a (professional) crisis
With burnout rates at an all-time high and a lot of pressure on organizational productivity, HR professionals and CEOs are looking to new organizational design paradigms and new ways to develop performance. Most of these initiatives like agile teams, continuous feedback cultures, etc. are marked by more autonomy for the employee.
The point is that we are skipping over the fact that, objectively, we’re expecting leadership skills and behaviors from more than our leaders. In fact, in many organizations, we’re expecting everyone to think and act as a leader; in terms of their development, goals, careers, communication, etc. without preparing them for this change.
The greatest gift we can give our organizations and especially our employees, in my opinion, is the mental resilience and tools to succeed in our companies and beyond. The ability to look at a situation, distill the facts and move forward productively will get people talking about what matters and have great ROI.
How you can actually achieve this as a company is material for a great discussion over free coffee (do contact us!).
Interesting related books
Byron, K. (2003). Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life. Harmony.
Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Free Press.
Lencioni, P. (2002). The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. Jossey-Bass.
Wakeman, C. (2010). Reality-Based Leadership: Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the Workplace, and Turn Excuses Into Results. Jossey-Bass.
Willink, J., & Babin, L. (2015). Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. St. Martin’s Press.