Tag Archives: purpose

The Positivity Paradox and the Suppression of “Negative” Emotions

Lots of press about positivity these days. Dr. PurpleMandala is positive about that. What she likes is that beneath it all and fundamentally, the premise is that you are in control of how you experience the world and thus, how you perceive the world. No one else. That does not mean only experiencing positive emotions. It means experiencing the full range of your emotions to understand and perceive your world so that you can navigate it toward your purpose. Your emotions are data and that data is telling you something. From this viewpoint, how can any emotion be negative?

In her book “Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life,” Harvard Medical School professor and psychologist Susan David explains the reflexive ways we handle emotion. She says we have a “Tyranny of Positivity” that not only encourages us to ignore emotions like sadness, anger, despair, and grief but that also we live in a culture that actively promotes vehicles to suppress them.

The relentless expectation to be positive inundates our worklife, homelife, and innerlife. We deny or avoid emotions that might indicate something other than life is great. When we can’t ignore them on our own, our culture gives us many things to distract us: media, alcohol, and drugs top this list. It makes for a cold and lonely world where each one of us believes that we are the only one to recognize the breakability of our existence and the grief that comes from losing people and things for which we care about as we move through life.

There is a paradox for leaders embedded in the Tyranny of Positivity. If a leader is to be relentlessly optimistic to inspire and engage the team, how can they also be authentic without displaying their less socially acceptable emotions, too? This is the essence of the Positivity Paradox. Research has indicated that Hope, Self Confidence, Optimism, and Resilience, in combination, have the strongest relationship with both satisfaction and performance. Sometimes humans, even leaders(!), must move through a murky pool of less socially acceptable emotions. How do you acknowledge your emotional state? How do you identify all your emotions, not merely the positive ones, in a productive and insightful way to add to your innerlife? Can you wrestle with all your emotions of your innerlife? And our innerlife positively affects our worklife and homelife. What are you going to do about it?

What is Your Internal State?

As a wise colleague once said, “If you want to find something on the outside, you must first find it on the inside.” Or, in other words, “wherever you go, there you are,” a saying popularized by Buckaroo Bonzai. While coaching executives and with my ongoing work with myself, the truth is that our internal state is the most important aspect of our lives to attend to and manage. And we can manage it. By doing so, we can direct how we perceive our world, what we get done, and what (and who) we attract.

What is your internal state of being? How do you feel right now? How do you usually feel? What is the noise inside your head?  Are you covering up negative feelings with food, alcohol or some more sophisticated gamesmanship where others are the blame for your problems? With what are you surrounding yourself?  With whom? How are your family and friends with their internal state? What is your purpose? Check-in with yourself and others, you might be surprised how you’re feeling. You can change how you think about things. Your reaction to the world is in your control.

A lotus is the most powerful of flowers as it makes its way through the murkiness to the light. Much like our hidden feelings, they too must make their way to the light. Without this process, they remain ever present, controlling us, sometimes choking and stifling us in ways that we don’t understand and keeping us from seeing the light.

“Mythology may, in a real sense, be defined as other people’s religion. And religion may, in a real sense, be understood as a popular misunderstanding of mythology.” -Joseph Campbell

It is all a matter of perception, our world. Understanding our own beliefs in depth and their foundation more importantly, will enable our understanding of other’s beliefs and their foundation.

In this quiet time of the year, reflecting with renewed interest on what gives us each our sense of purpose – our destiny – is of primary importance.

Once the New Year begins, it will be difficult to slow down the sense of urgency that prevades our life on all levels. What do you love? What makes your heart sing? Who do you love and do they love you? Where are you when you feel calm and attentive, not stressed and overloaded?

Our life is not meant to be a war zone filled with unnecessary drama that pulls us into dark and meaningless places. Find the light by knowing when you light up most. The world will be thankful for your work.

Living in a VUCA world: It’s all about energy

Madonna’s song “Living in a Material World” captured the mood and feeling of the 1980s. What phrase captures the moment now? According to some leaders of the largest businesses in the world, we are living in a VUCA world. What is VUCA? VUCA is a military acronym that stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

In my day job, I do research with others in my firm along with a well know international university. We are trying to learn what great leaders do that makes them exceptional. Ideally, we want to identify common themes about their thoughts on various leadership topics and how their reflections might differ from the way you and I go about perceiving our world. Our purpose is to not only be able to identify what characteristics make up superior leaders, but to also understand if what makes them exceptional can be coached or taught to others. We ask ourselves if great leadership can be learned then what is needed to create more of them, so that the world will be better led.

It is apparent to the leaders we interview that the world is a much more VUCA place than it once was. Whether this is true, or whether there is only a perception that is true does not matter to these CEOs. To them, the environment of social media mixed with immediate access to global information creates a complex, ever changing landscape of stakeholders that inverts the classic organizational pyramid on its head.

Interestingly, most of the leaders we have interviewed believe that, positive energy is the element that matters most in their own lives and the lives of others. It’s the key critical resource needed. They claim to focus on requiring this energy to have clear, positive and inspiring points of view. They want energy to manage and attend to the needs of the stakeholders that routinely confront them. They want energy to confidently engage, energize and inspire the teams they build. They want energy to develop depth of expertise and the wisdom to apply it. To them, the mechanistic drone like approach to work that infiltrated the Industrial Age is no longer relevant and definitely slipping away. Are these desires and perceptions different from yours?

How do you help the world be better led? It starts with your next interaction. Be the person, be the change you aspire to see. Become conscious of your real purpose in life and access the positive energy of yourself and others around you. Some might do this on a grander scale affecting many more people, but each of our interactions count; especially if we are to create a new shared consciousness or collective unconsciousness that focuses on a more positive way of interacting in our current VUCA world.

A Brain the Size of a Golf Ball

“If you have a golf-ball-sized consciousness, when you read a book, you’ll have a golf-ball-sized understanding; when you look out a window, a golf-ball-sized awareness, when you wake up in the morning, a golf-ball-sized wakefulness; and as you go about your day, a golf-ball-sized inner happiness.
But if you can expand that consciousness, make it grow, then when you read about that book, you’ll have more understanding; when you look out, more awareness; when you wake up, more wakefulness; as you go about your day, more inner happiness.” – David Lynch

Leadership – leading others, your family, or yourself requires consciousness, so the best way to improve your leadership is to expand your consciousness. How do you expand your consciousness? It starts with understanding that you may not have the full picture of reality, or understand other peoples’ perception of reality. This is the primary way that conflict arises: numerous people can view the exact same situation with vastly different perceptions.
Leaders often become leaders because they are comfortable making decisions. They have a level of confidence in their own perception of reality that gives them this ability. Often this confidence is perceptible by those who are unsure about what is happening, and the unsure gravitate toward those who appear surer.
This same attribute can backfire when that confidence continues in new, ambiguous and even chaotic situations. Great leaders continue to increase their consciousness as they become more senior through involving and gathering a broader range of perceptions so that they expand their conscious awareness of what is really going on.
How do you expand your consciousness as a leader? The number one best way is to remain curious. This is especially true when you feel the most sure of your own view. How do you do this? Ask questions. Probe deeper. Listen to the silences, if any, after you speak. Do people feel comfortable sharing their real thinking with you, or do they stammer and hedge their opinions? Has anyone yelled at you or acted angry with you? If not, mostly likely others are holding back around you. By being curious and encouraging other to share their minds and hearts with you, you will ensure you continue to expand your own consciousness, improve your leadership impact and grow your brain bigger than the size of a golf ball.

Inside out, change your scripts, change your world

We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted t0 change, you’re the one who has to change. – Katharine Hepburn



The Truth About Executive Psychological Assessments

At the most senior levels of leadership in organizations, psychologists often perform psychological assessments to do two basic things:

  1. Selection: To glean understanding of a leader’s ability to fit within the role, context and culture of a new organization or to ascertain whether a promotion will be successful or not.
  2. Development: To help leaders deepen understanding of their leadership impact through what we call “developmental” psychological assessments.

Assessments themselves vary from in-depth intensive one to one interviews, to full blown – multiple day assessment centers, to online survey tools, or various combinations of these. There is a proliferation of business speak and intellectual debate about the viability of some of these tools, including which are better and which are worse. I’m not here to reflect on the merits of the innumerable different methodologies or tools; rather, I want to discuss why you should do them and how you begin. This leads to who should do them which solves your methodology questions, because in the hands of the right professional, the process and tools become less of an issue.

There are three reasons why you absolutely need to do assessments in the first place:

  1. People lie. To themselves, to their colleagues and to their families. Sometimes unintentionally, sometimes because they do not understand what great looks, sometimes on purpose. Assessments attempt to get to the reality about an individual that goes beyond perception.
  2. Leaders have personal agendas. It is difficult for leaders to distinguish between reality and what they perceive to be true. Leaders project their own fears, dreams, or issues onto those around them if they do not understand this about themselves. Frankly, most do not. It is because of this that it is difficult for leaders to objectively judge the merits of those around him or her.
  3. People are extremely complex. People that think they can uncover everything during a brief interaction are delusional (see points 1 and 2 above). Additionally, online tests and surveys at best capture just a few dimensions.

Here’s how you begin:

  1. Find a business psychologist with a PhD and significant experience working with and within organizations. This is important! There are numerous inexperienced professionals who are well intentioned but have never faced the intricate dynamics of organization life themselves.
  2. Uncover what’s important for your organization to achieve its business strategy. Then marry these criteria to a vetted leadership model. If you must, build your own that speaks to the organization’s unique culture, but ground it in the current best thinking.
  3. Conduct assessments against the criteria developed in the previous step for those entering the organization, for those you promote and for those that you think have a chance to be leaders.
  4. Do this for yourself and your employees. Lead by example, which should be a no brainer, but sadly, it is not.
  5. Craft developmental plans that help people engage in gaining additional insight into their impact. Help them uncover their purpose. Follow up, follow up and follow up. Make it fun.
  6. For a kick, step back and look holistically at your results to determine trends and areas of strengths and weaknesses in your leadership pool; plan accordingly.

And that’s how it’s done. Who knows what might be lying underneath all those smiling faces (or yours)? Having an objective external view of your talent gives you a clear picture of how to manage risk as it relates to executing your strategy. Everything thing else is lies, agendas, and delusion.

Soul Annihilation

“Work is a soul sucking experience,” I mulled during my few moments of eating breakfast this morning. Despite devoting years to trying to understand exactly what this work thing is we do, why we do it, and how to make it less soul sucking, I found myself at ground zero once again.

What event had placed me here? The day before, I had been in yet another corporate meeting where a decision to move forward was in the process of being reversed. It was as a result of a theoretical argument made by non-operations people about how operations “should” be done. There was merit in their view, but it ignored the day to day reality that our operations people had vetted with clients. We were on the verge of postponing a decision that would enable us to put a stake in the ground and to do something different to engage our customers and beat the competition. It was a commitment to change. But people were waffling. Systems theory would have predicted that all systems try to retain homeostasis, so I understood intellectually what was going on in the organization; the organization was attempting to maintain its own center of gravity, that is, protecting itself from change.

But what was really going on with me, personally? Why had this de-energized me? Frustration? Yes. Chagrin? Maybe. But it went much deeper.

When had I been happiest recently? The answer was clear: when I was painting a potting bench my husband had hand-made for me. At the time, I had found my joy curious. With complete and utter wonder, I watched the paint that I had chosen glide like silk over the bench. Side by side we painted, silently caught up in the spell of accomplishment, awed by the results of our efforts and the simple peace of being with one another. There was evident progress and satisfaction from a job well done.

I thought about my draining corporate experience and how something as simple as painting could be so rewarding. Then it occurred to me that what I was experiencing during my breakfast mull was alienation. Karl Marx described alienation as the result of living and working in a world based on social classes. The idea goes that the average person in this complex web of social classes loses the ability to lead their life and chose their own destiny. By working “for” someone, something, (not ourselves) pursuing our own destiny – life, is at best secondary. Many times it is not thought about at all. Thus, we cannot determine the character of our own actions or those of others, define how we relate to others, or own the things and use the value of the goods and services we make with our labor.

I wonder if we are experiencing a spike in the collective experience of alienation. Perhaps the surge and pull for “organic,” moving back to small farms, getting “off the grid”, disconnecting, etc.  is reflective of our collective unconsciousness of alienation. Additionally, there is more marketing on how to simplify your life, some examples of which include a venue called the “Container Store” and a magazine called “Real Simple” that has as its mission how to help you simplify every aspect of your life. (I find it curious that month after month the magazine is quite thick, making me think it is really not so simple to be real simple.)

We all feel this alienation pull at us from time to time, but especially when we experience a disconnection between our destiny and how we make our money. The literature abounds with research and self-help books that proclaim that success comes from doing what we love. Perhaps doing what we love is what helps us also to avoid the abject despair of alienation, too.

I write about perception, hopefully with depth, that helps us more clearly capture our individual purpose. By making the unconscious conscious we ensure we can more closely align what we love with what we do and avoid the feeling that we are mere cogs in a machine someone else created for us.

What makes you happy? When were you last happy? These questions must be mulled over so that we are not lulled into giving up our time and energy for “the other.” Otherwise, where does that leave us at the end of our short precious life?

The Gravity of Shame

With the May snow swirling outside my window, I watched a newly emerged spring green leaf fall helplessly to the ground, as if to say, “too much! I can’t bear being exposed any longer and I want to die.” As I watched the drama, I imagined the full life this leaf might have lived. She would have enjoyed a warm summer with the pleasurable feeling of energy being pumped through her veins. She might have lived out her purpose of turning sunlight and water into a magnificent tree all the while dancing with her sisters and brothers in the calm breezes as well as storms. At the end of her life, she might have turned into a bright orange blaze in the hush of fall before winter brought her death.

This thought lingered with me, and as a staunch friend of both projection and anthropomorphizing, I began relating to this. What can make us shudder from exposure and make us wish we were dead? What makes us fall from our true purpose? “Shame is a soul eating emotion,” Carl Jung once observed. Shame makes us feel vulnerable and exposed to the harsh elements of other’s cool judgment real or perceived, or worse, our own cold judgment of ourselves. We hide from it and avoid situations where it might, like some ever present menace, be provoked.

There is a price to this hiding and avoiding. We miss out on some of life’s joys and avoid experiences that would make our lives richer and more complex. For many of us, it is not the abuse that others do to us that causes our shame; it is our own internal scripts that are reflective of our self-perception and our perception regarding how the world perceives us. From the smallest of self talk to something bigger, we gut check ourselves moment by moment each day to avoid risk, humiliation – shame. Often these scripts go unexamined as they are part of our belief system, and we are as sure about them as we are sure about gravity.

Whether coaching leaders, teams or individuals, part of the real work is helping them to uncover what holds them back from their highest purpose. There are many theories about this including limiting belief systems, fear of failure or even fear of success, but I believe that at the root of these resides shame. Shame that we might be unworthy, shame that we are inadequate, shame that others might see who we “really are” and that might not be good enough, smart enough, or tough enough.

What holds you back? What makes you hide yourself from others? When do you do a gut check before speaking your mind? Find a friend or sounding board and talk it out, or write, draw, or create the emotion so that it sees the light of day. Shame survives best by being hidden, unexamined, and by the belief that you are the only one feeling this way. Ignoring it will not make it go away and can make it grow. Becoming conscious of your own shame and sometimes, just sometimes, merely asking and answering “what makes me feel shamed?” can help shame defy gravity and float away like the May snow.

The Battle for Alignment

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight Eisenhower

I think of this quote often. I live it daily and so do my partners and clients. Not only do I consult to leadership in a variety of different organizations, but I also lead within organizations in which I’m employed. I have made this choice, as opposed to being an independent consultant, because I think there is great value in the insight gained from being a leader in a complex organization when you consult to leaders within complex organizations.

Without fail, there is a time each week when this quote comes to mind. Although I’m someone who enjoys spontaneous and evolving conversations, I prepare in advance as much as I can. I do this through reading, talking to colleagues and in general, collecting and organizing a variety of points of view so that I feel I understand the landscape – as I think it is going to be – in an upcoming “battle.” In this instance, I liken gaining alignment between people to a battle as sometimes it can feel that way. I find this to be the essential requirement of leadership, to bring others together for the sake of getting something done in a certain timeframe. Underlying this is energy engagement, which I feel is what a leader “really” does, but that is a topic for another day.

Even after the alignment is created, which can be a battle in and of itself, the plans that are created don’t work. People change their minds, other priorities emerge, technology doesn’t work, one person is left off an email, or perhaps organizational priorities shift. Clausewitz once opined, “Everything in war is very simple. But the simplest thing is difficult.” The same is true in getting things done in organizations.

What do I recommend to clients and what have I learned to do myself?

  • Be clear about and “in love” with the effect you want to achieve.
  • Maintain emotional distance and do not be “in love” with a specific way to achieve it. It is OK to shift and do things differently even if the decision has been made to do it a certain way. Consciouly chose the right path, not the default path.
  • Take your own emotional pulse – if you fall “out of love” with what you’re trying to achieve, others will too and maybe your intuition is trying to tell you something. What is shifting your focus?
  • Be prepared for wildcards and the unpredictable, something unplanned will happen. Knowing this can take the emotional edge off when things go astray.
  • Be open to new information to build or shift your vision

The battle for alignment is an ongoing process that requires renewal and revisiting as the twists and turns of execution unfold. Eisenhower had it right, planning is necessary while plans go astray. And they always will. How we adjust to it is what organizational life is all about.