Walking Shoes

We’ve all known hard-charging Type A entrepreneurs who have a “take no prisoners” attitude. These people are the doers. They are decisive and they know how to execute. But sometimes there is a downside to this sort of personality. Yes, sometimes those of us who are very driven may have a tendency to be insensitive. This usually isn’t intentional but nonetheless it can have a detrimental effect on our team members and the culture we are trying to build.

There are a number of ways that insensitivity can manifest. It can be as direct as making derogatory or belittling comments to as subtle as failing to acknowledge someone with a friendly greeting in the morning. Think about an exchange like this. Team member – “I’d like to volunteer to work with Jim on the Norton project.” Entrepreneur – “No, you just need to stay focused on what you are doing.” While it may be absolutely true that the team member needs to keep doing what she’s doing, the way the entrepreneur delivered the message could be construed as insensitive. A different selection of words would make all the difference. How about this instead? “Jan – thanks for the offer. Your project is critically important and I’m counting on you to get it wrapped up. But I will take a rain check on having you help with the next one.” This statement acknowledges the team member with an expression of appreciation and also affirms her value. And it gives her hope that she’ll be given another opportunity in the future.

So, how do we develop the appropriate level of sensitivity without going so far as to sing Kumbaya all the time? There’s a very simple method that I’ve learned over the years. I will admit to once-upon-a-time being the insensitive Type A hard-charger that was described in the opening paragraph. I justified my behavior by believing that I was simply being expedient in my dealings with others. After all, I was moving at 100 miles an hour and the quicker I could get through with one meeting the sooner I could move on to the next. But I gradually became aware that my people skills were suffering. I wasn’t doing anything to cultivate relationships or goodwill. Eventually I developed a new awareness by just putting myself in the other person’s shoes. How would I feel if someone spoke to me a certain way; said something in a certain manner, or failed to somehow acknowledge me?

The key is to practice, practice and constantly practice. I try to pay attention to how everyone around me is feeling. In a restaurant, I want to make sure that the wait staff is properly appreciated. At the office I try to make eye contact with members of our team as I walk by and greet each and every one of them. I pay attention to the language that I use, going the extra mile to avoid careless statements that could be misconstrued. Again, I’m always testing what I say or do against the basic premise of how I would want to be treated if I were the other person. After a while it becomes very intuitive.

The mark of a good leader is the manner in which he or she treats others. Running roughshod or being humble and sensitive? The choice is easy when walking a mile in another’s shoes.

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.

dirty shoes

Watch Your Language!

Words, words, words. Research by Louann Brizendine of the University of California indicates that on average, women speak 20,000 words per day and men speak 7,000. I share this to point out how many opportunities we have as men and women to create positive or negative energy with what we say. Our words can be uplifting or demoralizing; they can be helpful or hurtful, and they can be passive or aggressive. In my opinion one of the most important things to remember is that what we speak is an affirmation.

As entrepreneurs and for everyone in general, we want our affirmations to be positive. Affirmations have power. They pattern our conscious and subconscious minds. The seemingly innocent things we say are cumulative and can have a profound impact on our lives. Let’s look at some of the “benign” statements that are made every day.

“I didn’t have time . . .” I’ve been working hard to eliminate from my vocabulary any reference to not having enough time. I realize that I make a choice about how I spend my time and I’m not somehow under its spell. Sure, there are things that don’t get finished, but I chose which tasks those were. Understanding this has helped me become much more adept at prioritizing what I do each day.

“I can’t do . . .” This one is dangerous. The more we say this, the easier it becomes to admit defeat – and “I can’t” is clearly the flag of surrender. As cliché as it may seem, I try to replace “I can’t” with my childhood memory of the 1930 story by Watty Piper, The Little Engine That Could. I’ve decided that I’d rather “think I can,” try and fail, than “think I can’t” and not try at all.

“I’m sick.” I refuse to acknowledge this. It’s true that I may get a sniffle from time-to-time but I’m not about to affirm that I’ve succumbed to ill health. If I do feel a bit under the weather I will affirm that I’m healthy and whole. That, along with lifestyle changes I’ve made, powers me past whatever may be trying to ail me.

“I hate . . .” I’m guilty on this one and realize that I need to change. I say things like “I hate red lights, idiot drivers and incompetent bureaucrats.” Unfortunately there’s a touch of anger – albeit fleeting – that is present when I say, “I hate.” And anger – even a short and subtle burst – can have a physiological effect on our bodies. A combination of brain chemistry and muscular response can weaken our immune systems.

“Why did this happen to me?” There are a multitude of variations of victim-speak. “He/she screwed me,” or “I didn’t win the contract because my competitor is unscrupulous.” I’ve been working for years to recognize the fact that I’m in control of my own destiny and I’m not about to give my power to others, especially through verbal (and negative) affirmations. If I lose it’s going to be of my own doing and not because of someone else.

That which we affirm has a higher probability of manifesting than that which we do not. Why then would we want to affirm anything but positive results for ourselves?

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.

Little Engine That Could