In the past few months, I’ve watched a few annual events on television that I usually enjoy very much – the Super Bowl, the NBA dunk contest, and the Academy Awards. And while I did have fun watching all of these once again this year, I noticed a theme that I found fascinating. Most of the commentary about each event was that they were “disappointing,” “boring,” or “not as good as they usually are.” And while clearly sometimes a sporting event or awards show can be more (or less) exciting based on the nature of how it plays out, I also think in today’s world of instant feedback, social media chatter, and computer-generated graphics, we’ve become more critical, negative, and even spoiled, to our own detriment.
I remember something a mentor of mine said to me a while back. “Mike,” he said, “there are two things you can do that will dramatically improve the quality of your career and your life. They’re simple, just not that easy.”
He went on to say, “The first thing is to be easy to impress. Be in awe of people, talent, nature, art, technology, work, and the world around you. Embrace a sense of wonderment, like a child does. There are so many extraordinary people and things around us all the time, we just don’t often stop to appreciate them and allow ourselves to be impressed.”
He continued, “The second thing, and this one is even harder, especially these days, is be hard to offend. In other words, don’t take things so personally and allow yourself to get offended so easily. Imagine, Mike, if you woke up tomorrow morning and said to yourself, ‘It’s going to take something enormous to offend me today.’ That would probably be a good mindset to take to work and out into the world, don’t you think?”
He then said to me, “Most of us, unfortunately, have these the other way around. Once we’ve lived a bit, gained some professional experience, or think of ourselves as somewhat sophisticated, we often get jaded. It takes something pretty remarkable to impress us. And, sadly, we get offended very easily and blame others for our stress, frustration, and disappointment.”
Then he challenged me, “Mike, I dare you to make a commitment to yourself to be easy to impress and hard to offend…and see what happens to your career and your life.”
I never forgot that conversation and his feedback. I think of what he said to me all the time, and try to follow his advice. While this is a pretty simple concept, I do find that it’s not all that easy to practice in our world today.
However, as I travel around the country and the world working with people, leaders, teams, and organizations of all kinds, it’s clear to me how important this mindset can be. Unfortunately, we often justify our lack of being impressed and how easily we get offended, instead of realizing all the ways these things hold us back.
Moving forward successfully in our lives and careers has a lot to do with how we see ourselves, others, and the world around us. While it may be easy to get caught up in the drama, stress, and negativity of those around us, our environment, or the world we live in, ultimately, we have a choice. And, if we choose to be easily impressed and hard to offend, it will have a dramatic and positive impact on our career and our life. Try it out…I dare you!
A few months ago, I had a chance to see the wonderful musical Anastasia on Broadway. I was on a business trip to New York City and brought our ten-year-old daughter Rosie with me. We got tickets at the last minute, and they happened to be in the front row, which was a new and unique experience for both of us. Because of where we were sitting and the design of the set, not only were we able to see the actors up-close, we could also see down into the orchestra pit, which was cool.
As enthralled as I was with the story and watching the performance on the stage, I was also incredibly impressed by the talent, coordination, and synchronicity of the conductor and the musicians. Of course, I’d been aware of the music at previous shows I’ve seen, but sitting where we were that night had me realize how vitally important these musicians are to the overall production, even though I’d never taken the time to fully appreciate it until that moment.
If you’ve ever attended a play, sporting event, or concert, chances are you paid primary attention to the people on the stage or field, but not as much to all the people behind the scenes working to pull off what made the event so fantastic.
The Difference Between Your “Job” and Your “Role”
Whether it’s an organization of three people or a group of 3,000, teams thrive when everyone does their part and every role (and person) is valued and appreciated.
When most of people think about their “job,” they think of what they do—engineering, sales, project management, marketing, human resources, operations, design, finance, and so forth. While these descriptions may encapsulate what you do and the title you hold, they’re not actually your job. If you’re part of a team, you have a specific role, which is what you do. However, your job is to help fulfill the goals, mission, and purpose of the team and, ultimately, the company.
In other words, you’re there to do whatever you can to help the team win. The challenge with this is that most people take pride in their role and they want to do it really well, which is great. However, when you put your role (what you do specifically) over your job (helping the team win), things can get murky—your personal goals become more important than the goals of the organization.
It takes commitment and courage, but teams and organizations made up of people who understand this simple but important distinction—who realize that everyone on the team has essentially the same job but different roles—have the ability to perform at the highest level and with the most collaborative environment.
At that Broadway musical a few months ago, the actors on the stage, especially the lead actors, got much of the attention from me, Rosie, and those of us in the audience that night. However, without the musicians, the set and costume designers, the lighting and technical experts, the stage manager, the ushers, the marketing team who promoted the show, the ticket takers at the door, and so many other people, that show could not have happened and we would not have been in the audience.
Remembering that every role and every person on the team is vital to the overall success of the team is a simple, yet important thing to remember. And, operating this way can help your team and organization succeed at the highest level.
Negativity can be the downfall of even the most talented teams. Over the past 18 years as a consultant, I’ve worked with many organizations that had great people, quality products or services, and innovative ideas, but the environment in which they worked was filled with so much negativity, they weren’t able to reach their full potential.
Creating a positive work environment is not simply something that feels good, it’s a key driver in the success and performance of the individuals and teams that make up the organization.
If you think of the most enjoyable work experiences you’ve had, and the most successful teams you’ve been a part of in your life, you’ll probably notice that the environment in which you worked was positive.
In the video below, I share these five specific tips for how to create a positive work environment:
- Stop Complaining
- Listen to Each Other
- Stop Gossiping
- Have Fun Together
- Appreciate One Another
I give examples and tips about each of these ideas in the video. Feel free to check it out, share it with others, and integrate these principles with your team to create the most positive work environment possible.
Trust is vital to the success of a team and to the health of the culture. When teams trust one another, they can create a sense of psychological safety, which means the group is safe enough for people to take risks, speak up, make mistakes, resolve conflicts, and be themselves – knowing that they won’t be ridiculed, shamed, or kicked out for any of these things.
In order to build deeper trust, connection, and psychological safety, it’s important for teams to take time, even in the midst of their tasks, challenges, and goals, to focus on their relationships with one another and the dynamics of their group. Over the past eighteen years since I started my consulting company, I’ve delivered and facilitated hundreds of team building programs for our diverse clients – companies of various sizes and in all types of industries (technology, finance, retail, healthcare, education, government, non-profit, and more).
I’ve learned the hard way that there are lots of ineffective team building activities that can be boring, cheesy, and a waste of time. However, there are some specific team building activities that can be really useful and valuable, which not only bring the team closer together, but create the conditions for them to perform at the highest level.
In this video, I share three team building activities that I’ve used successfully with our clients to enhance their trust, connection, and performance. Feel free to check out this video and see how you can use these activities at your next meeting, offsite, or team gathering.
Self-righteousness is dangerous and damaging to our relationships, our teams, and our ability to communicate and collaborate. Removing our self-righteousness is a challenging but important thing for us to do as leaders, people, and those who want to positively influence and impact others.
This does not mean watering down our opinions or decreasing our passion. Believing strongly in our opinions, as well as in our values and beliefs about life, work, and everything else, is important. However, understanding the difference between conviction and self-righteousness is essential.
When we’re coming from a place of conviction about something, we believe it to be true, we think it’s “right,” and we’re often willing to speak up about it, to defend our position, and to engage in healthy dialogue or debate about it. But we must also have enough humility, awareness, and maturity to consider we might be wrong—or that, at the very least, there may be other ways to look at it, even if we can’t see or understand them. We’ve all had experiences when we were convinced we were 100 percent right about something, only to realize we were wrong. As humbling as this can be, keeping it in mind can help keep us from crossing the line over to self-righteousness and give us the perspective to stay in a place of healthy conviction.
When we do cross over into self-righteousness, we’re no longer interested in hearing what anyone else has to say if they disagree with us or have a different perspective. We’re right and anyone and everyone who doesn’t see it our way is wrong.
Look at the tenor of the political discourse in our country and our world right now. Many of us, myself included, have very strong political opinions, and there are serious issues that divide us. Instead of engaging in healthy and productive debates about these things, there is so much intense self-righteousness we seem unable even to listen to one another, which is almost as scary and dangerous as any of the specific issues or challenges we’re facing. We end up demonizing people who don’t agree with us, refusing to talk or listen to them—or, when we do, we make our case in such a self-righteous way that we create more separation and disconnection. Turn on cable news, or read the comments section of many news websites or blogs, and you’ll see the intensity of self-righteousness playing out right in front of you.
And this doesn’t happen just with politics; it happens right in our own lives, families, and work environments. We separate ourselves from those who don’t think like we do or hold the same ideas, opinions, or beliefs. At work our self-righteousness leads to disconnection, unresolved conflicts, and factions within teams and organizations. Lines get drawn between departments, offices, regions, and levels within the company, making it more difficult to make decisions, collaborate, and get things done.
At an event a few years ago, I delivered a keynote address on authentic leadership in which I spoke about, among other things, the damage self-righteousness can cause. Afterward, a man approached me and said, “Hey Mike, thanks for your speech. I got a lot out of it.” He reached out to shake my hand. “I’m Dan.”
“Thanks, Dan,” I said, shaking his hand.
“I know your talk this morning was about leadership,” he said, “and while I was thinking about my team and how I lead, I couldn’t help but think about my mom, especially when you were talking about self-righteousness.”
“What specifically made you think about your mom?” I asked.
“Well,” Dan said, “my dad died a few years ago, and my mom’s getting older. I’m the oldest of four. We all agree that she should sell her house and move into a condo. Doing this would definitely make her life easier, and ours as well—since we’re constantly having to help her with so many things around the house that she’s getting too old to take care of, or that my dad managed when he was around. But she can be so stubborn. It’s hard to get through to her. My siblings have all stopped trying, but not me. I try to talk to her about it, but we end up fighting, which drives me crazy. It never occurred to me until today that maybe one of the reasons that she doesn’t listen to me is because I’m so incredibly self-righteous with her.”
I could see that Dan was starting to get emotional as he talked about his mother and their situation. I said, “I’m sorry to hear about your father’s death. I know every situation is unique. But both my mom and dad have passed away, so I do have some understanding of the emotional and practical challenges involved with losing a parent. I can tell how much you love your mom. You wouldn’t have come up to talk to me about her and this situation if you didn’t love her so much.” I paused before asking, “How do you really feel?”
“How do I really feel about what?” asked Dan.
“About everything going on with you, your mom, and your family?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “I guess I feel scared.”
“What do you feel scared about?”
“My dad took care of her and of so many things. Even though I have a family of my own and have a lot of responsibility at work, I’m not used to taking care of my mom like this. I worry about her—worry that it will continue to get harder as she gets older. And I just want to do what’s best.”
“That all makes sense to me,” I said. “Have you had this conversation with your mom?”
“No, not specifically.”
“It’s up to you, of course, but you might want to let her know how you really feel. I bet she would hear you and understand,” I said. “The natural human response to self-righteousness is defensiveness. Your mom is just defending and protecting herself, which is what we almost always do when we feel self-righteousness coming at us. Being self-righteous doesn’t make you a bad son or a bad person; it just means you’re human. You could apologize to her for it. And I bet you have some good ideas and suggestions that might help her and her situation. If you can let go of your self-righteousness, she might actually be able to hear some of them.”
Like Dan, most of us can be self-righteous at times, and we often aren’t aware of it because we’re so focused on being right. It takes quite a bit of self-awareness to notice our self-righteousness, and it takes willingness and maturity to let it go, or to at least look at things from a different perspective. It can also be helpful to have people around us whom we trust to point out when we’re being self-righteous but may not be aware of it.
If we want to connect with those around us in an authentic way, and create an environment of openness, trust, and collaboration, we must be willing to recognize, own, and remove our self-righteousness.
How does self-righteousness show up in your work and your life? What can you do to remove it in service of your relationships, communication, and collaboration?
Portions of this article are excerpted from Bring Your Whole Self to Work, by Mike Robbins, with permission. Published by Hay House (May 2018) and available online or in bookstores.