Pure Poison

I met a guy who presents an interesting case study for entrepreneurs – we’ll call him Seth, though that’s not his real name. Earlier in life, he was a successful entrepreneur running his own company. He had a wife and kids and money in the bank. Then everything blew up. His wife divorced him and took a substantial amount of their assets including the dream house that they had built. Unfortunately this is a story that plays out every single day across America. There are a myriad of causes for such break-ups – infidelity, money issues, alcoholism and drug use, physical abuse and general incompatibility, are just a few of the more common reasons. Generally speaking, divorce is often a major life setback for most of those involved. But this blog isn’t about divorce, it’s about what happens next when a major negative life-changing experience occurs.

Seth became despondent and bitter. He felt that his marital problems were the fault of his ex-wife who in his opinion had become mentally unstable. He spent three years fighting her in court and when he lost, he appealed the decision. Seth spent a fortune on legal fees only to lose again and ended up paying her more than if he had accepted the original decree. He was convinced that he got a raw deal and day-by-day his obsession with his plight grew to massive proportions. When he was with his friends, all he could talk about was how badly he had been screwed by his ex and the court. Seth was consumed with his bitterness and hatred. At one point, he purchased the lot next door to his ex-wife’s house and planned to build an even larger “dream house” as an “in-your-face” gesture.

What did all of this accomplish for Seth? He lost his business and contracted cancer which fortunately he beat, but not after many rounds of chemotherapy and painful surgeries. He developed debilitating back issues and suffered with chronic ear and eye problems. For Seth, his life pretty much ended up in the toilet. While it’s not my intent to judge him, I think Seth’s hard road can serve as a wake-up call for entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs alike. It’s my belief that wallowing in negative energy for days, months and years, attracts negative experiences to our lives. There is scientific evidence that such negativity has an adverse impact on our immune systems and is akin to drinking pure poison.

Adversity is a fact of life. Sometimes it may be more significant than at other times. But when we choose to focus on it; obsess over it; and keep replaying it in an endless loop, we generate more adversity and negativity. Breaking out of this cycle is absolutely imperative. One of the key elements to avoiding this trap in the first place is to understand and practice forgiveness. Merriam-Webster defines forgiveness as: “to cease to feel resentment against an offender; to pardon.”

It’s quite possible that Seth could have avoided many of his problems by committing to the act of forgiveness when it was clear that his wife wanted a divorce. He would have avoided spending large amounts of money on lawyers and would have had to pay her less at the end of the day. He may have been able to avoid many (or all) of his health challenges. Had he moved on and focused positive energy on building his business, he may have been able to prosper rather than losing the company that he started years earlier. The forgiveness to which I refer was not just for the ex-wife – but also for Seth himself. Somewhere in his subconscious mind, Seth likely knows that he contributed to the demise of their marriage. While the anger and bitterness that he exhibited appeared to be directed at her, in all likelihood he was acting out some of his own guilt as well. When we forgive someone else, we may want to forgive ourselves too, for it usually takes two to tango as the saying goes.

Bitterness, anger and hatred are the equivalent of drinking pure poison. The antidote is the act of forgiveness of others and ourselves.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 94 – Team ‘Tude.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Spock-Like

When I was a kid growing up it seems like my mother was always cooking something in a pressure cooker. I have no recollection of exactly what food she was preparing; I just remember the mystique of the pressure cooker. I think I must have been warned that there was an inherent danger with this device and I never wanted to stand too close. It’s possible that I was told that the thing could blow up at any second and I would be maimed by flying shrapnel, pork chop bones or some other lethal object. In retrospect, I think this admonition was one more way to keep me out of the kitchen while Mom was cooking dinner.

Anger is like the pressure cooker. It can simmer for a while and then seemingly explode in an unpredictable manner. From a physiological standpoint, the amygdala is the part of our brain that is the culprit. When the amygdala sounds the alarm to the body that something is present that will make us angry, our adrenal glands start pumping and testosterone is also produced. We begin speaking in a louder and more rapid voice. Our muscles tense, our cheeks flush and our heart starts beating faster. Anger is the ticket to higher risk for heart disease, and it also accelerates the aging process as well as decreases lung functions. Pure and simple – anger isn’t good for us.

Here’s the thing. It takes a superhuman effort not to get angry, especially when things aren’t going as planned. Now think about leadership and anger. Is there a productive correlation? The answer is obvious. To be strong and effective leaders we must curb our temper. Perhaps we’ve experienced the type of boss who has a hair trigger. When he goes off the meltdown is epic. His face gets beet red. He yells and screams. There may be a plethora of profanities laced throughout his diatribe. In extreme cases he may even shove files and papers to the floor or even throw something. What is the usual result of such a tantrum? There’s a general feeling of embarrassment and a specific sympathetic reaction to the party that is bearing the brunt of the boss’s emotion. Everyone keeps their head down and makes a detour away from the boss for the rest of the day. Overall, morale is destroyed. Fear is palpable. Is there any silver lining here? The simple answer is, no.

If all of the preceding is true, what is the point in getting angry? You guessed it – there is none. Do we truly feel better after we get angry? Do we enjoy the headache that ensues; the elevated blood pressure, and increased anxiety? I’ve worked for decades at “lengthening my fuse.” Those who have known me for a long time can attest to the fact that I rarely get mad anymore. This doesn’t mean that I’ve become a pushover. I’ve just learned that the toll that anger takes on my colleagues and me is just too high.

Here’s what I’ve discovered. When something is about to trigger an anger response I recognize the need to become stoic. A stoic is defined as “a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.” Think Mr. Spock in Star Trek or Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption. I have also come to realize that maintaining a positive mindset in every circumstance is critical to problem solving. Anger is a negative emotion and does nothing to get to a solution. This doesn’t mean that I don’t feel disappointment or even a momentary flash of “extreme dissatisfaction.” But staying in such a feeling is poisonous in every respect and is not the way I want to model for others.

Temper tantrums are for little kids and are usually best ignored. The best leaders are able to control their emotions and help their team move in a positive direction no matter what.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 60 – Innie or Outie?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Intensitivity

Dear Entrepreneur:

I watched you the other day as you “took command” of a situation involving a vendor who works with your company. Obviously the vendor did not perform his service satisfactorily – you certainly let him know this in no uncertain terms. I did get a little concerned when I saw the veins begin to pop out in your neck. I’m sure glad I wasn’t on the other end of that call!

Sincerely – One of your employees

Just reading this feels a bit embarrassing. Have you ever known anyone like this? Some entrepreneurs pride themselves in being very direct and matter-of-fact. They pull no punches and sugarcoat nothing. They wear their bluntness as a badge of honor. Unfortunately they have become confused about the virtues of honesty and transparency, and feel the need to demonstrate these traits in an extremely intense manner. But to what end? Did this approach resolve the situation? Did it build a stronger relationship? Is the vendor more or less likely to want to go out of his way for the entrepreneur in the future?

This brings us to an interesting point of discussion. Is it better to be more assertive or more aggressive? When we’re assertive, we’re able to be direct and straight-forward without becoming angry. Being aggressive typically brings with it a sort of heavy-handedness that evokes negativity. It’s a real art to being able to deal with a situation assertively where everyone walks away with generally positive feelings – but the message has been clearly delivered.

What can we do to re-pattern our aggressive tendencies and convert them into a more positive and assertive approach? Years ago, I took a Caliper Profile. It’s a computerized test that identifies traits and tendencies and is an excellent tool for hiring people. On a scale of 1 to 100, my Assertiveness score was a 99 and my Aggressiveness score was a 92. I was told that this was a bit of a dicey pattern. I could just as easily flip from being assertive to being aggressive – and sometimes too aggressive. Knowing this, I’ve been working for years to try and tone down my aggressiveness. I’ve learned that I need to keep my temper in check and try and remain as James Bond-like as possible. Sure, that may sound corny, but the goal is to be unflappable and even-keeled.

I try to remember to keep a smile on my face even when the bullets are flying at me. I attempt to stay on a fact-path and eliminate emotion from my conversation. Every once in a while when someone else is being aggressive I’ll succeed in lowering the volume of my voice. In turn, the other person may begin to calm down and lower his or her volume as well. Once the temper is in check, being assertive is much easier. Clear and persuasive arguments can be made in a cool and calm fashion. Now I’m working more on the intensity I convey, particularly with my body language. When I’m feeling quite passionate or positive about something, I can sit forward in my chair and raise my voice a bit – even though I’m not at all angry. I have to try harder to be less animated which some people can misinterpret as aggressiveness.

We are much more likely to reach our goals when we replace aggressiveness with assertiveness. Then the badge of honor we wear is that of positive outcomes instead of trampled feelings.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

James Bond