Leadership and Learning: Reading is fun!

I like to read books. A lot.

I’m that annoying person who, during the course of a conversation, will tell you 2-3 books you should read because they are really good and would probably solve all the world’s problems and what do you mean you don’t have any time to read?

I’ve always been like this, and I thought everyone was like this. As a new manager, I used to suggest books for my team to read ALL the time, and I was surprised they weren’t as excited about it as I was. They good-naturedly (mostly) gave me a hard time about it, and occasionally someone would read a book.

Here’s the thing – even if they NEVER read the book, they were exposed to different ideas that might change their approach or encourage them to do a little research about topics that interest them. Basically, I made curiosity an expectation.


It’s for this reason that I say leadership and learning need to go hand in hand. As leaders, it’s easy to be pulled in a number of directions and use the excuse you’re too busy to learn anything new. Poppycock. If you don’t have time to read, use your commute to listen to Audible.com. Seek out people you don’t normally interact with and ask them about their work. Have lunch with a person you admire. If you have the means, find a conference or two to go to and connect with others in your line of work – or even outside of your line of work to expand your horizons.

Once you’ve done all that to keep your thinking fresh and current…SHARE. Share with your team, share with your peers, share with the world (Twitter isn’t ALL about cat videos, you know).

[Note: I just finished reading ‘Contagious’ by Jonah Berger. Check it out. Great stuff about making a message viral.]

Like I said, I love to read. It’s how I learn, it’s how I share. If I tell you about a book I read and I think you should read it…it means I care about your development and think you have potential.

When my boss suggests something to read – as an employee I LOVE it. When I suggest a book to my team – as a leader, it’s my job.

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.
– Maya Angelou


Got a book or interesting tidbit that you want to pass on? Share in the comments below!

Why should I change? He’s the one that sucks. (The importance of self-awareness)

For fans of Office Space, you probably recognized the immortal words of Michael Bolton when discussing the embarrassment of having the same name as that ‘no talent ass-clown’. It’s a great movie (I used to make it mandatory viewing on my team) and a very funny line…and it illustrates perfectly one of the common pitfalls of leaders everywhere – the lack of self-awareness.

We’ve all seen it. Leaders who lament the shortcomings of their people, loudly stating what those people SHOULD be doing. Well, guess what, Mr./Ms. Thang – you’re probably not doing everything right, either. I read somewhere once that we criticize loudest the things in other that we don’t like in ourselves. It’s not a 1:1 correlation (its not like we dislike an embezzler because we also embezzle); rather, it’s a reminder to think about our OWN behavior.

This talent for self-awareness is a vital component of a successful leader. Granted, it’s more fun to point out the shortcomings of others (schadenfreude, anyone?), but far less constructive. It’s the old trap of, “do as I say and not as I do” – and we all know how we’ll that turns out, right?
A few ideas on how to make self-awareness a regular part of your day:

  • Admit you suck at something: I’ve mentioned many times in this blog that the reason why you’re a leader is because you DON’T suck at a lot of stuff.  But you do suck at something (it’s okay, we all do).  Once you’ve admitted that, you’ll be in a better state of mind to practice self-awareness.
  • Get some help: Okay, self-awareness is all about you (hence the whole “self” thing).  And you will eventually be able to self-monitor and make corrections to your behavior on the fly.  But if you’re new to this sort of thinking, it’s a good idea to have a third party help you through observation, providing feedback, or even challenging your assumptions.
  • Accept it’s going to take time: The whole concept of “he’s the one that sucks” is that you don’t want to make the effort to chickenchange yourself because you know it’s going to be difficult; therefore, the OTHER person should undertake that task.  Tough cookies.  You need to take the time and make adjustments to the only thing you can control –   yourself.
  • Check yourself before you wreck yourself: Every day, take some time to think back on the day’s activities and give yourself a grade.  Did you achieve the outcomes you wanted?  Did you achieve them the way you wanted to?  Figure out what you want to do differently tomorrow and give it a go.
  • Think like G.I. Joe: Self-awareness doesn’t come with a how-to guide.  You might realize you’re doing something stupid…and have no idea how to fix it.  This is where G.I. Joe comes in.  Remember – now you know, and knowing is half the battle.  Go, Joe!!!

So there you go.  While Michael Bolton (the cool one, not the saxophone one) had a fairly good argument to refuse to change, you don’t.  Practice a little self-awareness, improve yourself, and you might be surprised how much better everyone else starts getting, too.

*Check out the awesomeness of Doug Savage’s humor at http://www.savagechickens.com/

Some cheese with your whine? (dealing with the victim mentality)

As you may have figured out, I have a “thing” about accountability – I happen to believe it’s one of the most important character traits a person can possess.  I even wrote a whole article about it (see?).  So I fully acknowledge that when I address the topic of victim mentality, I have a bit of an agenda.  Okay, disclaimer out of the way.  Let’s do this!

Most of us have been “blessed” with the experience of watching someone play the victim – “It’s not my fault.” “He’s just out to get me.” “That’s not fair.” “I wanted to give you a raise, but they wouldn’t let me.”   The fascinating part about it is that the victim mentality knows no boundaries.  From the fresh-out-of-school entry-level clerk to the tenured CEO, anyone can take refuge in the sanctuary of the victim mentality.  Um…yay?

The tragedy of the victim mentality is that it quickly becomes a way of life for people.  Why?  Because it works.  It allows managers to avoid tough conversations because now it’s someone else’s fault and the employee can’t be mad at them.  It allows employees to avoid taking responsibility because now everything was out of their control and it’s not fair to blame them.   And the rest of us let them get away with it because it’s easier to just say “fine” and secretly resent them than it is to call them on it, all the while moping that you’re the only one who seems to do anything around here…thereby perpetuating the victim mentality.

no_whiningSo in the spirit of personal accountability, here is some guidance on how to overcome victim mentality for the following scenarios in your workplace:

  • If you’re listening to your employee or a peer play the victim: First, try not to roll your eyes.  Were you successful?  Good!  Now you can empathize (but don’t sympathize!).  Acknowledge that from their perspective, you could see it might feel like they were a victim (don’t say it that way – tailor your phrasing to the words they’re using).  Then you might start asking some probing questions, such as, “Did they explain to you why it was important to meet the deadline?” Or perhaps, “So when you read through all the fine print, did it not outline the penalties for early cancellation?”  Basically, you’re helping the other person see that they had some ownership, too.  Don’t be a smartass, though – that doesn’t work out well.
  • If you’re listening to your manager play the victim: Oy…what to do?  This one is tough, no question.  If you have a good relationship with your boss, you might be able to use humor to point out how silly they’re being.  (No, really, this works…as long as you trust each other).  Many times, all you can do is nod politely and say, “wow”.  Once your boss is done complaining, ask an action-oriented question, such as, “So what I can I do to help you move this forward/solve the problem/support you?”  Sometimes that’s enough to snap them out of it and get them in the right mindset attain.  Again – don’t be a smartass.  Just sayin’.
  • If it’s you playing the victim (non-manager role): Stop it.  (Need more?  Sheesh.)  Self-awareness goes a long way towards changing any behavior, so become a little more introspective about your complaining.  What’s your inner monologue say?  Is there a lot of finger-pointing, “they”, or “fairness” creeping in? Ask yourself, “What did I do that contributed to this outcome?” and acknowledge your role in the situation.  If you can’t seem to do that, ask a friend to play devil’s advocate to help you learn from the experience and break your victim habits.  Hopefully, they won’t be a smartass.
  • If you’re playing the victim (manager role): The most common issue I see in this case is from a manager who won’t own the message.  It might be that a policy has rolled out that they don’t entirely agree with, or they didn’t address an employee’s performance until someone else noticed the issue and said to deal with it – whatever it might be, some managers try to soften the blow by siding with the employees against a common enemy (usually “leadership” or the ever-popular “HR”).  Here’s the thing – the moment you use the word “they”, you have completely abdicated your authority and credibility to someone else.  Why should your employees see you as a leader if you let someone else push you around?  My advice is that you learn when to fight (not in front of your employees) and when to support (in front of your employees).  You don’t have to agree with everything you’re asked to roll out; but you need to ensure you are aligned with the company and can send a consistent message.  Learn why a decision was made, and figure out a way to communicate that decision without tipping your hand to either support or discontentment.  Not sure how?  Start listening to upper management roll out new policies.  No, not every policy change is a winner, but your employees are looking to you for cues on how to act.  If you’re a victim, they will be, too.

Will there be times in your life when you actually are a victim?  Yes.  So why not save all that energy for use when the situation calls for it, and not when you forgot to mail in your payment?   The reality is, your inner monologue contributes to your reality – if you think you’re a victim, you ARE a victim.  Wouldn’t you rather be the one running your life?  I know I would.

 If it’s never our fault, we can’t take responsibility for it. If we can’t take responsibility for it, we’ll always be its victim.
– Richard Bach

Got a good technique for overcoming a victim mentality?  Or just have a funny victim story to share?  Post it in the comments!