You Know Better

Really, you couldn't have eaten one more bite?


I am not sad that this morsel is all that remains of the french lemon yogurt cake.  I am bewildered.

That last, little chunk wasn’t left because someone was too full. It was left so they could legitimize not washing the cake plate or knife.

In Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box, by The Arbinger Institute, when we do something contrary to what we know we should do, it’s an act of self-betrayal.  Betray oneself enough and pretty soon we start seeing the world in a way that justifies our action. As you can imagine this is a slippery slope that leads to all sorts of bad feelings (like resentment) and dinged relationships.  Unknowingly, living a web of self-deception ultimately provokes those around you to also “live in the box”. While the plot of the book is a bit contrived, it does provide a structure for this thought-provoking work.

Yet another reason I adore my dog, Dougal. Given the access, he would have gobbled the whole cake with complete integrity.

Living in total alignment, baby!


Ever Hear “You’re Too…?” (intense, emotional, hard-driving, idealistic, etc.)

Ouch! This feedback strikes at a gut level. It may be surprising that what you consider normal is perceived by others as extreme. This disconnect occurs when your unique qualities manifest with more intensity than that of the average person. The irony is that you feel criticized for something fundamental to your success! People with this “too” intensity hear things like:

  • You’re too much of a perfectionist; you can’t expect us to keep up.
  • You’re too goal-oriented; you only care about results, not people.
  • You’re too busy; you never have time for friends or family.

Ignoring these perceptions can restrict your career options, as well as personal relationships. The challenge is pausing long enough to recognize your current impact and identify your desired one.

Take Chris for example, who earned a critical role based on superb attention to detail, great intelligence and unparalleled dedication. This intensity, however, yielded an unanticipated result. Chris’ “efficient” directness was perceived as condescending, and colleagues worried about getting on Chris’ “bad side.” People said Chris was too task-oriented and too fast-paced. There was also significant personal impact. As the workday grew longer and longer, there was less attention to family, individual rejuvenation and personal health, which was suffering.

Like Chris, you may wrestle with this internal tug of war. On one side stand the “too” qualities that you have come to rely on. Staring back is your unintended, limiting impact. So how do you integrate this feedback while remaining true to yourself? You may even wonder “Why bother? Things have gone okay so far.”

Work through the following five steps to find out. After all, “okay so far” just doesn’t cut it for the intense, passionate “too-something” person.

 1. Take Inventory

Find some blank paper and uninterrupted time. Record your responses to the following:

  • List five influential people in your life right now. They would say I am “too ____________.”
  • In what other ways are you “too” something?

2. Look at Your Present Impact

It’s not often that we genuinely assess how our way of moving through life affects those around us and, ultimately, ourselves. Go beyond the quick, obvious answer and search for the most honest response.

  • How does being “too” something help you succeed?
  • How does it get in the way?

These observations offer the “You Are Here” point on the journey to creating your most desired impact.

3. Define Your Desired Impact

What does “impact” mean to you? Consider the ripple effect of everything you do, say, don’t do or don’t say. Think in terms of your effect on others, your environment and yourself. The results may be expected and hoped for, or unanticipated and undesirable. The following questions will help clarify what you want to generate from here forward.

  • How would you like to be described by your peers? Superiors? Subordinates?
  • Ideally, what would your family/friends say is special about you?
  • When will you be successful?
  • What legacy would be most satisfying?

4. Discover the Gaps

Notice the space between your current and desired impact. In this step, you will outline some possible strategies for narrowing that gap. For the moment, ignore practicalities and shake off any sense of “rules.” Let all sorts of ideas mingle on the same page. What possibilities emerge when you consider:

  • What are the easy options?
  • How could I challenge myself?
  • What strategies would the five most influential people in my life offer? (To crank it up a notch, go ask them!)
  • What could I start today?

You now have a list of possible options. Among them is the potential for sharing your talents more effectively. Don’t squelch your “too” talent; just use it with greater awareness and precision.

5. Bridge the Gap

Review your list from Step 4. Ask “Which option(s) would be most effective?” Pick a few that you are willing to commit to. To help you succeed, address the following:

  • When will you begin?
  • How will you evaluate this strategy?
  • Who can support your efforts?
  • What is your truest motivation for persevering?
  • How will you hold yourself accountable?

Through this process, you will boost your self-awareness and sense of personal leadership. Chris dramatically shifted peer perceptions, created a richer life outside of work and addressed serious health issues. By calibrating your style, you will find greater ease in your interactions and more support for your vision.

(Originally published September 2004 but still relevant!)


Provide Platforms for Bravery, Not Mediocrity

Sustained uncertainty, hostility and fear in our environment weights us down.  It can make those with “stable” jobs more timid at a time when boldness is really what’s needed.  We have to stop pandering to a status quo that breeds mediocre.

I liked  Seth Godin post on Organized Bravery, especially:

“During times of change, the only organizations that thrive are those that are eager to interact and change as well. And that only happens when individuals take brave steps forward.

Giving your team cover for their cowardice is foolish. Give them a platform for bravery instead.”

What brave thing have you been wanting to do?


Tiny Yeses Add Up to Big Things

In our current state of perpetual overwhelm, many are trying to regain some control by setting boundaries and learning how to say no. This conscious choosing is a great strategy. As part of greater mindfulness, however, don’t lose sight of the possibilities that hitch a ride with a Tiny Yes.  

 Tiny Yeses might look like:

  • Helping out with a colleague’s project
  • Taking a class in a new area of interest
  • Becoming the social media voice for your organization

Tiny Yes!

Years ago, despite a new business, toddler and traveling husband, I gave a Tiny Yes to joining a task force at our community foundation.  This would satisfy my philanthropic itch and might also be good for business.  Within a few months, the committee chair had to resign and I was asked to lead the group.  Gave another Tiny Yes.  Got more involved in the community and met many interesting people.  One of them asked me join a board for a local nonprofit.  By now I was getting the hang of these Tiny Yeses.

Over the years, what started as a small, somewhat scary commitment has led to involvement on 3 boards, including a 2 year stint as board president.  I love being involved in my community, meeting incredible people I might not have encountered otherwise, and expanding my professional skill set. Once I couldn’t have imagined fitting all of this in, now I can’t see my life without it.

After awhile, if you’re energized by the Tiny Yes it won’t even feel like something extra. You’ll probably be looking for ways to become even more engaged and proficient. Pretty soon, you’ll actually have built a track record and some expertise. I’m not suggesting unfettered yessing, just “yes” to something that intrigues and excites you. Relatively recently, I gave a (naive) Tiny Yes when asked to speak at Ignite Boulder.  One of the other speakers is a terrifice programmer whom I’ve partnered with to develop an iPhone app. (The Daily Debrief productivity app will be off to the Apple store by May.)

Where might a  Tiny Yes take you?


One Option for Overwhelm – Be Bigger

During dinner, my 12 year old was unnervingly quiet.  We asked what she was thinking, expecting some girl-drama tale of woe.  Instead she somberly reeled off facts and figures about rain forest destruction.  Tears welled up as she mentioned the number of species lost just since we sat down to eat. 

Apparently, a guest speaker from EcoCycle did an excellent job conveying a sense of urgency about environmental concerns.  My daughter’s big take away, however, was to do more recycling.  She knew that just wasn’t enough and slumped at the table – a hopeless, defeated shell.

I was pretty frustrated.  How could they stir up my kid without offering more substantial ideas for affecting change?  On an intuitive level, she sensed that her energy and concern exceeded the resources, conceptual understanding, and influence required to tackle an issue of this magnitude.  I couldn’t fault her paralysis.  Most “grown ups” look away, feeling the environmental train has left the station and there’s not a way to call it back.  

Good thing the world is full of undaunted twentysomethings!  They have passion and smarts undampened by the cynicism that sometimes piles up with the birthdays.  Lily, daughter of my dear friend/colleague Viriginia, is my most current breath of fresh air.

Ironically, on the day my daughter felt overwhelmed, I received an email from Lily announcing the International English Minga which she created to help save a corner of the rainforest. Check out her 10 minute video to learn about this innovative sustainability project.  You’ll also get a boost of inspiration from watching her unfettered enthusiasm and commitment.