‘For Others’ beats ‘For Me’

Here’s a thing that just happened at Kroger. The cashier circled a little survey thing on my receipt and said to take the survey. My brain was about to go where it usually goes the half dozen times a day a cashier asks me to take a survey (i.e. someplace else). My batting average for taking those surveys is about .010 (non-sports fans: that’s 1 in a 100). And that one time usually ends in a frustrating dead end because of some technical glitch. Today was different though. Right as I was about to send my brain into don’t-care mode, she said, “you and me might win a prize.”

Guess what. I’m going to take that survey. Why? Because something psychological happened. I went from, “the odds are next to nothing of me getting something of value in return for spending my time on this survey,” to “oh, she might win something. I bet she hopes I take this survey so that she stands a chance of winning something.” In other words, I am willing to spend my time on that dumb survey if it means I’m doing it for someone else and not for some sort of value I might get.

This is a psychology built into most of us. As a leader, we can take advantage of this psychology by:

  • asking for favors (don’t forget the two magic words – because and please)
  • pointing out the broader benefit our efforts bring to the organization or to the world
  • remind everyone who we are doing this for
  • don’t spend so much time trying too make your thing seem like it’s worth what you are asking for it. spend your time instead on demonstrating its value to others.

Agree? Please let me know what others you can think of because I’d really love to hear what you have to say. See what I did there?

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What inspires you?

I am not feeling particularly inspired today for some reason. Rather than coming up with a bunch of reasons/excuses, I thought I would turn it around. How do you motivate yourself when you are feeling uninspired?

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Do you use The Voice?

Sometimes you just have to use “The Voice”. My daughter was at a retreat this weekend with some team building. You know the kind: you’re in the woods with ropes and weird wooden structures and someone shouting inspiring clichés to you. There was some kind of team balancing on a fake boat going on. The team was to work together to keep their balance long enough to sing Row Row Row Your Boat three times.

My daughter tells me that she had the idea for everyone to sit, thereby lowering the collective center of gravity and making the balancing easier. With time running out, everyone sat except one girl. The boat continued to pitch. The squalls and steep swells were about to send the defiant one overboard as The Captain (my daughter) tried in vain to reason with the standing sailor. Finally, just before a rogue wave threatened to send them all to Davey Jones’ Locker, The Captain deployed her weapon of last resort: The Voice. “Sit. Down.” She was firm and respectful. Loud and calm. The landlubber sat immediately and just as quickly, the boat settled in. The team began singing in unison: “Row Row Row Your Boat Gently Down the Stream…”

The Voice works because it appeals to one of the base emotions: fear. Accordingly, The Voice should be rationed as a last resort, though, because of the emotion it triggers. Effective, independent leaders of our day and age recognize that it is important to maintain a relationship free of fear and other negative emotions. When the alternative, however, is devastating failure, then as The Captain, you have an obligation to use everything at your disposal to serve the team.

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Well I didn’t see that coming

Most of us understand risk. It’s hard wired. Our prehistoric ancestors knew what the odds were when they chose to hunt in an area with a large Masterson population. They calculated that the nutritional bounty was worth the risk of being eaten by a lion. What about uncertainty, though? Uncertainty is like risk without knowing what the odds are. Humans have not evolved to deal with this.

What if we go ahead and cover the the risks we can calculate (i.e. Buy insurance). For uncertainty we might just have to go with our gut. Either way, we can’t just punt. But it helps to know the difference.

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Why are we even here?

A colleague is having a baby any day now. He’s worried about missing work because the culmination two years’ work is going live any day now as well. In fact, this will be one of the most highly visible project startups in the company. A career maker at this early stage.

Guess which is more important?

As I mentioned to him, why are any of us even here? At this place, leading? Instead of sitting on a beach or fishing or hiking on a mountain somewhere.

Love what you do. That’s fine. But don’t ever forget why you do it.

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Everything will be Okay

Everything is going to be just fine. I have no idea whether that is true of course. How could I?

Still, I act as if.

Because I can’t think of any alternatives that leave room for me to be of service to others or to myself.

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What’s your Story?

Responsible people – independent people – know that there is a story about their life that explains how they came to be who they are. Ask them and they will tell it to you. It typically starts somewhere around adolescence with a child who was extra interested or extra good at certain things. The story will describe particular challenges encountered and triumphs achieved. Sometime in early adulthood, the story takes a turn toward making money. How he first started making money. How he discovered he was really good at something or how he became good at it. The story traces a line of success that seemed like it would end only with a triumphant early retirement. Then the disillusionment part of the story pops up. He did everything right. He found his “thing” and he worked hard at it. Kept his nose “mostly” clean. But the triumphant early retirement seemed less attainable than ever. So a dramatic change. A plot twist. More success. Smash cut to… the Next Big Thing.

Yep. Every independent person has a story they are happy to tell. And we all know that the story is not The Truth. We know it’s not The Truth but we still treat it as though it is. Until one day when we decide to start writing a new story. We know the new story – the one about our future – isn’t The Truth either. But it can seem just as real as the story about our past.So, if this untrue story about our past describes what made us who we are today, then why can’t the untrue story about our future describe what will make us who we want to become? Pro tip: it can. A future tense story, however untrue it may be, can nudge us ever closer to us having our wildest dreams come true.

Write your story. Make it seem real. Just be careful not to start thinking of it as the Truth.

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