Monthly Archives: October 2010

I Learn to Believe What I Hear Myself Say 3

You may be asking why I am spending so much time discussing this statement. I do so because I believe it to be foundational to exceptional leadership. It forms the basis for your personal development and for the coaching you will provide to those you lead.

Now that you understand the reality and power of Self-Talk, it is critical that you come to a point that you begin to master it. That may be easier said than done. The problem is that our self-talk is so automatic and convincingly true in our own minds that we seldom think to challenge it. But we have already demonstrated that our self-talk is not always true. It is often an emotional reaction to an event, or a biased perspective not based in fact. In fact, our self-talk can be outright lies we have become convinced to be truth. All of these result in the emotions that often form the foundation of our responses. Without analyzing or challenging your self-talk you will tend to be more reactive than you are to have an appropriate response.

It is so difficult to master control over our self-talk that I have produced a written exercise that has proven to be quite effective if practiced with discipline. I call it the Self-Talk Monitor. Some experts have actually created computer based training programs to guide people through this process. These tools have have proven very effective in the treatment of all kinds of emotional problems. This Self-Talk Monitor is designed as a written exercise because it requires discipline, repetition and regular practice to first convince us that we do it, and then lead us through the process to change it. Though normally laid out in a table format, I will just explain it here.

First of all, it is important to recognize that events, situations or problems do not cause emotions, as is so often thought to be the case. In other words, the fact that someone calls me a poor author (the event) does not result in my emotions of sadness, anger, or disappointment. The event simply triggers my self-talk, which can lead to any number of emotions. If I am vested in your approval, it may lead to the previously described emotional responses. If not, I may simply appreciate your feedback as constructive criticism for my own improvement.

The table we use ask participants to begin by analyzing their emotions first because when we feel anger, sadness, despair, or any other emotions we can usually track them back to a situation, event or personal interaction that led to them. Step one is to write down the emotion. Clearly state your feelings using words like, anger, frustration, rage, sadness, despair etc. Step 2 is to identify the action that followed the emotion. In the above example your comment about my authorship may have “made me” angry, resulting in my sending you a scathing e-mail defending myself. I use the quotations because you cannot actually make me angry. Step 3 is to identify the the situation, event or personal interaction that led to that emotion, i.e. your comment about my authorship.

Now that you have the emotion and situation that led to it identified, write down the self-talk that led you to experience this emotion (Step 4). Now, you will need to ask yourselves the following questions: “Is this how you wanted this to turn out?” “Is this how you want to feel?” “Is this feeling working for you in a productive way?” “Is this going to contribute to my success and effectiveness?” If your answer is “NO”, you’re ready to make some significant changes that will lead you to greater success and effectiveness.

The next step (Step 5) in this process is probably the most difficult. Remember, our self-talk is automatic. We don’t even give it much consideration. It happens so quickly that we don’t even recall that we had a conversation with ourselves. We just react to it with our emotions and behaviors. On top of this, we actually are in love our automatic self-talk. We believe it is accurate, truthful, and the best response to the situation at hand, so much so that it is difficult for us to challenge it. That is why it takes discipline, and sometimes coaching to come up with alternative self-talk. And it is this skill that separates the exceptional and successful from those who cannot get out of their rut of living a reactive life.

Speaking of “ruts”, there are some people who are so comfortable in their ruts that they have carpeted and furnished them, and have even invited the decorators in to spruce them up a bit. But that does not have to be the case with you.

The great thing about searching for alternative self-talk is that the options are wide open. It is kind of like brainstorming. Get creative and begin to consider other things that you could say to yourself that would lead to different emotions; other perspectives on the event that may be equally as true as your original one. The point is for you not to get locked into the destructive emotions and subseqent reaction. If your self-talk has been destructive, filled with cynicism, bitterness, obsessions with your failures and lack of effectiveness, you definitely have some work to do to break free from this destructive Strong-Hold.

I love what the Bible says on this subject: The Truth Will Set You Free, but that is a topic for another discussion.

I Learn to Believe What I Hear Myself Say 2

Part of my job as a counselor, coach, parent or supervisor is to help people recognize the self-talk that keeps them from positive progression, and to help them modify it for a different outcome, or to help them say out loud the things they need to hear from themselves, things that will motivate them and increase their confidence.

When one very distraught young lady called me she was so distraught that she could hardly stop crying. When she was finally able to talk I asked what had upset her so. To my surprise, she said “I had a flat tire.” Now I know flat tires can be inconvenient, frustrating and upsetting, but I don’t think I had ever known of someone being so upset because of one. She wasn’t quite suicidal, but she was certainly feeling hopeless and helpless, and leaning in that direction.

I asked her what it was about the flat tire that had caused this level of distress. She told me that she had missed work for a couple days for personal reasons that she described as “life and relationships not going well”, and was heading to back to work on a cold and snowy morning. When she got to her car, she noticed she had a flat, and when she checked her trunk, she also became aware that she didn’t have a jack in the car, and really didn’t even know how to change a tire. She said she had been a bit of an emotional mess lately and just wanted to call me to let me that she was going to quit her job.

I asked her if she had spoken to her supervisor yet, and she said she had not. Stop and think about this just for a moment. Why do you think she had not called her boss? You’re right! She said she didn’t think he would believe her; that he would think she was just making another excuse to miss work. She was convinced that he would probably think she was a lazy ‘good-for-nothing’ and that he would likely fire her for being late again. I asked her if her supervisor had ever treated her as poorly, and she said he had not. I asked if she was aware of him having treated anyone else as poorly, and she said that she was not aware of any examples of such treatment of others either. I said, “Wow, you’ve concluded your supervisor is going to be a jerk, but have no basis for that conclusion.” I also told her that her assumptions about him may be accurate, but right now all this frustration and negative emotion is based on what she was saying to her self and not based on facts or experience. I went on to suggest to her that she had talked herself into an emotional frenzy and even into quitting a perfectly good job. She reluctantly agreed that this is exactly what she had done.

I asked if she would try something for me, and, though a little reluctant, she agreed. I asked her to call her supervisor and tell him what had happened. I went on to tell her that either way, she wins. If he turns out to be a jerk, she wouldn’t want to work with him anyway, and she can go ahead and quit. If he turns out to be different, she may save herself the trouble of starting all over again. I also asked her to call me back and let me know how things worked out.

The next day she calls and begins the conversation by telling me that the company she worked for was the best in the world and her supervisor had to be the very best person she had ever worked for. Wow, what a difference 24 hours makes! She told me that he responded with a lot of concern when she told him what had happened. She said that he even asked one of her coworkers to go pick her up and bring her to work. Her coworker not only gave her a ride to work, but he also helped her get the tire changed and fixed. She could hardly believe it. The rest of our conversation was a discussion of how to manage the self-talk that leads to destructive emotions. She was all ears.

The next time you are frustrated, check your own Self-Talk. As an Exceptional Leader, be aware that most of the emotion you encounter from your employees is a result of their self-talk. Some of it may be true, some of it not. Part of your job may be to help them sort out the difference.

I Learn to Believe what I Hear Myself Say – 1

The following story drives home the power of Self-Talk. It is a story entitled “The Scriptwriter” which first appeared in Gavin DeBecker’s book The Gift of Fear. I ran across this after attending a Workplace Violence Prevention training session with Gavin.

A man driving along a remote stretch of highway gets a flat tire. Preparing to put on the spare, he realizes he does not have a jack to raise the car. Far in the distance he sees lights of some small farmhouse and begins the long walk to borrow a jack. It is getting dark, and as he walks along, we worries that the people will be reluctant to help him. “They’ll probably refuse to even answer the door, or worse still, pretend they’re not home,” he thinks. “I’ll have to walk another mile to the next house, and they’ll say they don’t want to open the door and that they don’t have a jack anyway. When I finally get somebody to talk to me, they’ll want me to convince them I’m not some criminal, and if they agree to help me, which is doubtful, they’ll want to keep my wallet so I don’t run off with their stupid jack. What’s wrong with these people? Are they so untrusting that they can’t even help a fellow citizen? Would they have me freeze to death out here?” By this point he has reached the first house. Having worked himself into a virtual stage of rage, he bangs on the door, thinking to himself, “They better not try to pretend there’s no one home, because I can hear the TV.” After a few seconds, a pleasant woman opens the door wide and asks with a smile, “Can I help you?” He yells back at her, “I don’t want your help and I wouldn’t take your lousy jack if you gift wrapped it for me!”

The story is easy to identify with, and can even be humorous. In the context of what Gavin DeBecker is addressing, it can also lead a person to even more destructive or violent behavior. Actually, we all engage in Self-Talk, whether we take time to recognize it or not. Unfortunately, Self-Talk is what keeps so many people trapped in their current situation, stuck in their depression, or marooned on an island of mediocrity. On the other hand, Self-Talk is what leads others to see opportunity where many see only obstacles, and others to rejoice in what may be viewed as the most devastating circumstances. The good news is that we have power to chose our own Self-Talk, which will be a subject of a separate discussion. In the mean time, take a moment to slow down and ask yourself, “What was it I just said to myself?”

Example of Exceptional Leadership

I just read the cover story of the September 27th issue of Fortune Magazine about Mike Duke, CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. First of all, I was glad that Mike was spotlighted in the manner in which he was. I know him personally through various interactions at Wal-Mart when he was leading the logistics division and I was leading Resources for Living; and through interactions in our community and through our church where we attend together, and where he is most frequently seen serving as a “door greeter” welcoming people to the worship services. Secondly, I was impressed with Brian O’Keefe, the editor of the story, who did an exceptional job of highlighting the qualities and characteristics of what it takes to be an Exceptional Leader of such a one-of-a-kind company. Qualities like discipline, work ethic, focus, determination, humility, attention to details, capacity for making tough decisions about the direction of the company and about getting the right people in the right place. If you haven’t already done so, I would encourage you to read the article with pen in hand, and identify the qualities of exceptional leadership demonstrated by Mike. If you don’t have a copy close by, just click on the title of this blog and it will link you to the article on Fortune’s site.

The article also mentioned a few things that may be easy to pass over too quickly, things that are crucial to Mike’s capacity for exceptional leadership. Mike grew up in a small community in Georgia where a great deal of life was centered around his small church, his family and his community. I believe these are a few of the things that have helped form his personal faith, his core values and his commitment to the values-based culture that continues to permeate Wal-Mart today.

I have a tremendous appreciation for Wal-Mart. I have enjoyed working with them directly, supporting their leaders and Associates through Resources for Living, and providing leadership and team development programs for various groups through my work with the Soderquist Center for Leadership and Ethics. They have been a part of my life and livelihood for over 20 years. I cannot help but believe that the company is in good hands to continue to add value to the lives of its nearly 3 Million employees, and to the hundreds of millions of shoppers who will benefit from them every year. I believe I can confidently say that Sam would be proud.