Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Power of the Approval Trap

Exceptional Leaders rewrite the negative scripts that could leave them feeling beaten down and defeated.

Even the people who were fortunate enough to have positive and loving parents or guardians in their lives, who never heard a comment that was misinterpreted by them to mean they were dumb, stupid or incapable, went through puberty. Few were fortunate enough to escape the terror of zits, crooked teeth, demeaning nicknames, wearing the unacceptable outfit, the outdated brand, or the embarrassment of our family. It is simply far too easy to learn that “I’m not okay unless they approve of me.” Of course “they” can be anyone from classmates, teachers, parents, friends, and can grow to include colleagues, bosses, spouses and children.

It is true that approval from others can certainly shape our behavior. To demonstrate this, a professor divided his class in to three groups. Each group was given an assignment to get their rats through the maze as fast as possible. When giving the instructions to the students, he told the first group that their rats had been of really low genetic qualities and wished them luck. The second group was told that their rats were your average run of the mill barn rats. The third group was told that their rats were bred for exceptionally high intelligence. The results of the experiment are as you imagined. Those exceptional rats completed the maze in record time, far better that of the other two groups. It was only after the experiment was complete that the professor confessed to the students that there was no difference in their rats. The only difference was the perception of those conducting the experiment.

I believe something similar holds true for people. It is true that the approval or even the perception or judgment of others, especially leaders, can shape our behavior. There is usually just enough truth to some of these negative messages that come our way that we fall for them and become trapped in them. This kind of negative conditioning is an easy and destructive trap to fall into. However, exceptional leaders do not allow such messages to form the basis of their self-image and keep them a prisoner to their mistakes and failures. They take a more objective look at themselves. Yes, they realize they make mistakes from time to time. They may even experience failure. However, they also have successes and they chose to learn from both. This may be what keeps them both humble as well as optimistic.

Additionally, these Exceptional Leaders realize that the perceptions they hold of others can have an incredible impact on how they see themselves and how they perform. Exceptional leaders view others from their strengths, their potential and their capabilities, often seeing them as even more capable than they see themselves. They challenge them to do beyond what they believe they can. More often than not the people they lead rise to the occasion, often surprising themselves, and even more grateful that an Exceptional Leader believed in them and challenged them to excel.

Exceptional Leaders Remain Optimistic

Exceptional Leaders have learned to avoid the inundation of negative messages.

To hear local or national daily news of any community or nation, one would be afraid to make any of them their home. We have bad news coming at us from all over the world 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with everyone and their cousin feeling the need to report the crud they see or hear about. It has now become common place for people to capture the sensational and post it online for the world to view. It is enough to lead even the most optimistic people to depression and to make the rest want to find a place to hide until it is all over. I am sure that I don’t have to reiterate the statistics here about the regular diet of sex, violence, murder, rape, and general depravity that is served up on your television or the internet on a daily basis.

When was the last time you tuned in to the News in your local community and heard about all the good things that are happening, the thousands of dollars individuals and local businesses have given to charity, the hundreds of volunteers that have recently served the needs in your community, or the larger and smaller acts of kindness that are performed by members of your community every day? Unfortunately, in our voyeuristic society, good news seldom sells.

Have you noticed that Exceptional Leaders spend little time filling their minds with the negative messages that are thrown at them from all corners of the earth? They likely keep up with current affairs, news related to their business, community or industry and possibly a few items of personal interest such as sports and entertainment. However, they do not allow themselves to be inundated by the plethora of negativity that can be so destructive. Instead, they focus on the things they can control and embrace the things that lead them to the outcomes they desire. They actually go out and create good news, such as jobs and opportunities. And they refuse to allow the negative messages around them to keep them from moving forward in a positive direction. The following story was given to me by a Wal-Mart Executive, and serves as a reminder of the power of buying into negativity.

The Man Who Sold Hot Dogs There was a man who lived by the side of the road and sold hot dogs. He was hard of hearing so he had no radio. He had trouble with his eyes, so he read no newspapers. But he sold good hot dogs. He put up signs on the highway telling how good they were. He stood on the side of the road and cried: “Buy a hot dog, Mister?” And people bought. He increased his meat and bun orders. He bought a bigger stove to take care of his trade. He finally got his son home from college to help him out. But then something happened. His son said, “Father, haven’t you been listening to the radio? Haven’t you been reading the newspapers? There’s a big depression. The European situation is terrible. The domestic situation is worse.” Whereupon the father thought, “Well, my son’s been to college, he reads the papers and he listens to the radio, and he ought to know.” So the father cut down on his meat and bun orders, took down his advertising signs, and no longer bothered to stand out on the highway to sell his hot dogs. And his hot dog sales fell almost overnight. “You’re right, son,” the father said to the boy. “We certainly are in the middle of a great depression.”

You are in Charge

Those early events in my life marked the begining of my personal reformation. I am grateful every day for these things that put me on a new path, even the tough things that led me to this discovery in the first place. It was these events that allowed me to break free from the negative conditioning in my life. I shudder when I consider what might have been had I not had these encounters, had I never stepped out of my comfort zone, had I never discovered God’s grace, had I never launched on these reconditioning exercises. If you are battling the chains from your past that have you trapped in a perception of yourself as inconsequential or as a failure, don’t give in. Whatever the events are that have shaped you to this point; they can be countered and reshaped to a healthier and more objective perspective. Don’t let these negative Strong-Ties become a Strong-Holds for you.

The tendency to view life as hopeless and without solutions is tempting. As frustrating as this negativity is, sometimes it is much easier than the change that will be required to break free. It is often easier just to accept a fatalist point of view. Once we acquire a “no control” perception of the events in our lives, we tend to lable future events as unavoidable, inescapable, and beyond our ability to influence. When we give up and come to the conclusion that we have no control, that we cannot change, it is then that we are doomed to a life of mediocrity. On the other hand, when we begin to see life as something we have control over, a place where we can make choices, even if they are small ones, we are well on our way to success.

Dr. Neil Miller at Yale once conducted an experiment to show the power of negative conditioning. He placed two rats in cages that were wired with electrical current. Rat #1 had a lever to shut off the current for both cages. Rat #2 had no control over what happened to himself or the other rat. It turned out that Rat #1, given the ability to manipulate the lever suffered no adverse effects of the stress. He absorbed the stress in ways that did not compromise either health or longevity. Rat #2, on the other hand, suffered immensely, with negative effects on the reproductive system and a compromised immune system. When electricity jolted the cages massive hormones were released in both rats. However, after Rat #1 learned he could stop the electrical current, his stress level would rise, but quickly return to normal. Not so with Rat #2. The current sent Rat #2’s adrenal hormones sailing upward and they never returned to normal, even when current was turned off. Stress became distress. The rat was overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness, even to the point of becoming physicaly and psychologically distressed.

The good news is that you are not a rat in a cage who has no control of the events of your life, or the manner in which you will respond to those events. You have been created with a free will. Yes, you may have had experiences in your life that have conditioned you to think negatively about yourself and your abilities, but you can change how you will think about the events how you will respond to them. You can become an exceptional leader, and that is not just a mess of positive pop psychology. That is the truth. And you have heard about the truth, haven’t you. I understand it will set you free.