Are you too Smart for Your Own Good?

Young cute professor woman gesturing holding chalkA long time ago, people believed the sun revolved around the earth and that bloodletting was an effective way to treat a variety of ailments.  We now know none of those previous ‘truths’ are true.

Decisions are made based on what we know at the time.  Sometimes, poor decisions are made when all the facts or factors are not known. Sometimes, the opposite is true: For example:

  • When we know we’re not good enough or smart enough or rich enough or poor enough, we give up before we start.
  • Compassion dies and conflict flourishes when we use our knowledge to judge others who have chosen to live or act differently than what we know (believe) to be right.
  • When we know young people are lazy and old people have lost their usefulness, we lose the opportunity to see our world from a new perspective and perhaps, in the process, gain new insight and new ideas.

Many times, what we ‘know’ is nothing more than misconceptions, current societal expectations or even other’s truths we have taken on as our own. Just because something didn’t work once, doesn’t mean it will never work again. Just because it didn’t work for someone else, doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. It takes courage to put aside what we know and ask:

  • Is that really true?
  • Is there a better way?

Knowledge is fluid.  Recognize, value and respect the knowledge, experience and wisdom you have, but don’t stop pushing against boundaries of that knowledge.

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This is a revised version of a blog posted way back in 2013.  I am working with a group of very dedicated people and as we continue to grow and improve, all of us have, at times, had to be reminded to open our minds and be willing to put aside what we know.

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

Pros and consThere are times in our lives when, in spite of all the experience we’ve gained, in spite of all the books we’ve read, in spite of all the advice we’ve asked for and received, there is no clearly obvious answer to the question “Now what?”

When sitting still, when maintaining the status quo is not an option; when the pros and cons have been written down, when the risks, benefits, potential outcomes have been analyzed and then analyzed again and there is still no clear solution, then what?

When the only obvious choice is to move, close your eyes, take a deep breath and go with the option that feels right, or perhaps, just feels less wrong. Once you’ve started to move, don’t second-guess your decision even if everyone else around you is. I don’t mean you should stubbornly refuse to alter from the course; just recognize you made a decision based on what you knew and felt at that moment.

Not making a decision is a decision. Not making a choice is a choice.  Sometimes a movement in one direction is just what’s needed to clearly demonstrate movement in the other direction was the better option.  So turn around.  At least you moved.

Speak Up and Be Heard – Repost

How many times have you walked out of a meeting frustrated and angry at yourself for not speaking up at the meeting?

I used to be that person.  I would sit in corporate meetings afraid to speak up.  I was worried I would come across as argumentative if I saw an issue from another point of view or that my peers around the table would laugh at my idea.  The problem? Very often someone else at the meeting would come up with a similar idea, comment or question, would verbalize it and get credit for the very thing I had thought of earlier.  In almost all cases, the idea, comment or question I was worried would make me look foolish in front of my peers was worthy of sharing. It was my own lack of trust and respect for the skills and knowledge I possessed that was holding me back from achieving my goals.

How many of you recognize yourself in that scenario? The corporate boardroom table could be replaced with a dinner table or a volunteer committee meeting.  No matter what table you are sitting at, each and every one of you is there for a reason.  You bring life experience, skills and knowledge that hold weight, that are valid and that should be heard.

Take some time to reflect on your values, your experience and your knowledge.  Recognize where you have some knowledge gaps and identify ways to fill those gaps.  And last but definitely not least, learn to trust and respect the skills and knowledge that you possess.

My journey from silent observer to active participant was a journey of baby steps.  I will never forget the deep breath I took before I offered my first unsolicited viewpoint at a meeting, and the feeling of pride and accomplishment after.  There were set backs along the way, but with each new attempt, my confidence grew.  And along the way, I’ve discovered that being wrong isn’t the end of the world.  It’s an opportunity to learn and to grow.  How you handle those “cringe-worthy” moments is more than half the battle, but that’s a whole other article!

Speak Up!

How many times have you walked out of a meeting frustrated and angry at yourself for not speaking up at the meeting?

I used to be that person.   I was worried I would come across as argumentative if I saw an issue from another point of view or that my peers around the table would laugh at my idea.  The problem? Very often someone else at the meeting would come up with a similar idea, comment or question, would verbalize it and get credit for the very thing I had thought of earlier.  In almost all cases, the idea, comment or question I was worried would make me look foolish in front of my peers was worthy of sharing. It was my own lack of trust and respect for the skills and knowledge I possessed that was holding me back from achieving my goals.

How many of you recognize yourself in that scenario? The corporate boardroom table could be replaced with a dinner table or a volunteer committee meeting.  No matter what table you are sitting at, each and every one of you is there for a reason.  You bring life experience, skills and knowledge that hold weight, that are valid and that should be heard.

Take some time to reflect on your values, your experience and your knowledge.  Recognize where you have some knowledge gaps and identify ways to fill those gaps.  And last but definitely not least, learn to trust and respect the skills and knowledge that you possess.

My journey from silent observer to active participant was a journey of baby steps.  I will never forget the deep breath I took before I offered my first unsolicited viewpoint at a meeting, and the feeling of pride and accomplishment after.  There were set backs along the way, but with each new attempt, my confidence grew.  And along the way, I’ve discovered that being wrong isn’t the end of the world.  It’s an opportunity to learn and to grow.

(This is an updated version of a blog originally posted in 2011.  After attending a Toastmaster’s convention this weekend, I was reminded that it’s not only the technical skill of speaking that’s important.  It’s also believing we have something to say that is worth listening to.)

What’s Behind the Mask?

The mask of invincibility says “I can do anything you throw at me”. The mask of invincibility refuses to acknowledge weakness or error.

Confidence on the other hand, recognizes knowledge, skills and talent. Confidence also recognizes and acknowledges uncertainty, mistakes and vulnerability.

All too often, leaders, especially new or emerging leaders, believe they need to appear invincible in order to inspire trust and confidence.

Four common errors are:

  1. Instead of asking for advice, they hunker down and plow through new learning or challenges on their own. Saying “I don’t know.  Can you help me understand that?” creates connections.  Honesty inspires inspire trust and confidence.  Pretending to know closes opportunities to connect with team members and brings into question honesty.
  2. Other leaders don’t like to share the missteps and gaffes they made on the journey to their present position.  Demonstrating success through trial and error, by getting back up again after failure, is powerful.  Saying “I understand. I once did the same thing” shows compassion and common ground.  That builds confidence and trust much more quickly than a mask of invincibility.
  3. Some leaders feel their position means they cannot let their team see the silly, perhaps slightly goofy side they show their friends and family. Some leaders, sadly, lose that silly, perhaps slightly goofy side, when the mantle of responsibility is dropped on their shoulders.  The ability to laugh, to have fun and take care of business creates connections, which in turn builds relationships, that lead to feelings of confidence and trust.
  4. And last but not least, some leaders feel they have to demonstrate a serious work ethic so that their team members know they also need to work hard.  I’m a firm believer in “practice what you preach” , but when leaders get so caught up doing all the important work they have to do and don’t take time to get to know the important people on the other side of the office door, they once again lose the opportunity to create the connections necessary to inspire feelings of trust and confidence.

Early on in my career, I had a manager who wore Mickey Mouse ties, told some really bad jokes and regularly left his office to walk through the building and talk to the people on his team.  This ability to show his human side did not take away from his ability to lead the team. In fact, it did the direct opposite.  It created a sense of “we’re in this together” and that is never a bad thing.

What are your thoughts on this?

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