The Top Ten

by Terry L. Sumerlin

Perhaps you remember the old Listerine mouthwash commercial that said, “I hate it, but I use it twice a day.”  That describes my love/hate relationship with social media.  In view of a study that has determined that most people check social media upwards of seventeen times a day, I’m disturbed by how easily it can become addictive.  On the other hand, I can see that it has value.  It provides opportunities for interacting in a positive way with friends and for interacting in business.

Generally, I post for business reasons primarily on LinkedIn.  Since leadership, people skills and communication are my presentation topics, posts are usually in the form of “Leadership Tips.”

As a change of pace, I thought it might be helpful if, in this issue of Terry’s Leadership, I give you the posts that seemed to resonate most with my LinkedIn contacts.  The top ten.  I hope that you, too, find them of value.

LEADERSHIP TIP: Most of us grew up hearing: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Novelist Charles Martin takes a more realistic approach. “If you want to hurt someone…way down deep, use words.” On the other hand, if you want to make a deep down, positive difference in a person’s life, words will do that too. Choose wisely.

LEADERSHIP TIP: What we know doesn’t make us leaders.  How well we communicate what we know does.  “Diamonds are only brilliant when they reflect.” (Charles Martin)

LEADERSHIP TIP:  The best thing about people skills is what it does for communication.  With great people skills, what is communicated is less likely to be misunderstood, misinterpreted or misjudged.  With great people skills it’s also more likely that others will want to listen to what we have to say, and that we will receive the benefit of the doubt on the close calls in judgment.  Other than that, people skills in communication are pretty much useless.

LEADERSHIP TIP: I recently read that David Brinkley once asked advice columnist Ann Landers what question she most frequently received from her readers.  Her answer: “What’s wrong with me?” From this we conclude that, in every interaction, the person with whom we’re communicating might feel as insecure and uneasy as we might.  This could not only serve as the basis for empathy and understanding.  It could also serve as the basis for effective communication.

LEADERSHIP TIP: Everything we do or say, in every way, every day, throughout the day, intentionally and unintentionally, sends a positive or negative message to others.

LEADERSHIP TIP: The power in communication is not always in what we say and how we say it. Often, it’s in what we don’t say and how we keep from it.

LEADERSHIP TIP:  You can’t reason out of someone what hasn’t been reasoned in.  Trying to make a point is pointless — as well as stressful.

LEADERSHIP TIP: Building a network is not a matter of how many people we talk to. It’s a matter of how many remember what we said to them, and of how it made them feel.

LEADERSHIP TIP: We all appreciate independence and the wonderful sense of freedom it brings. What we often fail to recognize is that independence is relative. For instance, all college students are independent until the 30th of the month. The fact is that all of us are independent until something, regardless of how mature we have been (or not) in our planning and preparation. That’s always a good thing to keep in mind when we need others and when others need us.

LEADERSHIP TIP: Trying and failing is certainly not the worst thing that could ever happen. Failing to try is!

 

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The Most Powerful Disconnector

by Terry L. Sumerlin

Have you ever been angry?  That’s a little like asking if you’ve ever drawn a breath, isn’t it?  We’ve all been angry and likely will be again.  That’s okay!

Anger is simply an emotion, as are fear, sadness, joy, surprise, frustration and many other states of mind.  Because anger is an emotion, it would be foolish for me to tell you that we should eliminate anger from our lives.  In fact, there are times when we should be angry.  Such times would be when insensitivity, injustice, unkindness, rudeness or disrespect is present.  Anger, per se, is not a problem.  Sometimes, how we channel our anger at home, in the workplace and in society – is a problem!

I do presentations on “Powerful People Connectors.”  However, there are also powerful “disconnectors.” I speak on those too.  The most powerful disconnector I know of is uncontrolled anger.  I know this from sad experience, and perhaps you do as well.

Oftentimes, the first thing that we want to say or do when we are angry is the worst possible thing.  We’ve all heard about counting to ten, right?  Though perhaps trite, it’s actually very good advice.  Delay is often a very good approach when anger is involved.  Count to a hundred if necessary!

Too often we succumb to what we think is an urgent need for immediate action.  Then later, if not immediately, we regret what we’ve said or done.  The result is relationship disconnect – sometimes permanently.  So, let’s look at some important things to keep in mind when we, or when others, are angry.

Aristotle said: “Anyone can be angry.  That is easy.  But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not easy.”  That’s a powerful statement!  It brings to mind two very important warnings.

First, be careful about being angry with the wrong person.  We sometimes let anger simmer until it boils over on an “innocent bystander.”  This person is impulsively viewed as a convenient or vulnerable target for venting anger in the form of rudeness or verbal abuse. This bystander might be our co-worker, our spouse, our child, our friend or a total stranger.  Though our provocation, frustration or bad day isn’t their fault, they become the “cat that we kick,” as opposed to our dealing with the situation or confronting the person(s) who really triggered the anger.

Second, we need to be careful about our motives.  Is our anger for the right reason?  Are pride and ego fueling it?  This can be evident in the relating of events: “I set him straight in no uncertain terms!”  In such instances, though ego gets a boost, maturity and relationships take a hit.

To Aristotle’s wisdom, we would add that of C.S. Lewis.  He addresses the need for accepting responsibility regarding how we channel our anger.  He said: “It is only our bad temper that we put down to being tired or worried or hungry; we put our good temper down to ourselves.”  Most of us have been guilty of this form of excuse making.  Instead of just taking responsibility for our bad temper and its manifestations, sometimes we just excuse them.  Then we wind up repeating our actions in the future, while excusing them just as we did in the past.  A better choice would be to just apologize and state our resolve to stop doing what we’re doing – no excuses.

When we apply the preceding concepts, in addition to avoiding relationship disconnect, we will be better prepared to help others when they are angry.  Here are some simple, though not necessarily easy, steps we might take to help them: (1) Speak softly.  (2) Ask questions that draw the angry person out as to the real cause of his/her anger.  (3) Empathize, but don’t beg the person to not be angry.  If anything, that will make the situation worse.  Instead, we might say, “Were I in your shoes, I would feel exactly the same way.”  (Were we that person, we would obviously feel as that person feels.)  (4) Ask the person what would need to happen for them to feel better.

Some angry people we can help and some we can’t.  When we can’t help, we need to be careful not to “catch” the angry person’s unhappiness.  In this connection a familiar quote comes to mind: “Don’t put the key to your happiness in someone else’s pocket” (Chinmayananda Saraswati).

Whether it’s a matter of our anger or that of another, if the relationship is important to us, we must keep that thought uppermost in our minds.  Whatever gets in the way of that relationship cannot be good.  

TERRY’S LEADERSHIP: Let’s not allow anger to disconnect all-important connections.

 

 

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A Great Way to De-Stress

by Terry L. Sumerlin

As we sat and sat on the runway of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, waiting for our turn to take off, I stared out the window.  The two hours it would take to get from Miami International Airport to the port where I would board the ship were shrinking at a maddening pace.  I kept thinking of how much easier it would be to catch the cruise ship before it left the dock.

The dignified, middle-aged lady sitting next to me was even more stressed than I was.  When I politely asked as just a matter of greeting, “How are you?,” her answer clearly indicated that she was not having a red-letter day.  She looked like someone who’d just gotten bad news from the parole officer and just wanted to be left alone.  So, we sat in silence.

When we were finally in the air (with time to spare for me to get to the port) we both began to relax.  As we engaged in small talk, the lady told me that she was employed by the state of Louisiana, traveled abroad extensively, was fluent in French and at one time taught English in Europe.  She was a fascinating conversationalist!

When she asked what I do I told her that I’m a conference speaker and was taking a cruise out of Miami to speak aboard ship.  She seemed pleased and for well over an hour we talked, laughed, shared stories and had a pleasant time.  In no time at all we landed.

Just before landing, she remarked that she felt much better than she did when we boarded.  I did too!

She got off the plane about five minutes before I did.  I got off and immediately began looking for my daughter who was to accompany me on the cruise.  To my surprise, just inside the terminal was my one-time distant and previously stressed friend, apparently waiting for me.  She said that she just wanted to tell me to have a great cruise.

Dickens said: “No one is useless in this world who lightens burdens of another.”  That day my new friend was wearied by the circumstances of the day.  She felt burdened.  In conversation I tried to make myself useful.  Perhaps I helped.  For certain I helped myself.

TERRY’S LEADERSHIP:  To ease your own stress simply focus on helping someone with their burden. 

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Four Communication Myths

by Terry L. Sumerlin

One of my favorite writers, Sydney J. Harris, was a longtime columnist for the Chicago Daily News.  Known for his penetrating and thought-provoking comments on people and life, he made this often-quoted observation: “Information is giving out; communication is getting through.”

Are we getting through? If not, why not?  I’m not smart enough to know all the reasons.  However, from personal experience as well as from platform experience in talking about communication skills, I’ve concluded that most communication fails for one major reason:  we have bought into certain myths regarding the process.  Let’s examine four of them.

Myth #1 — We communicate when we talk.  Though we generally communicate when we talk, we often make erroneous assumptions about talking.  First, we assume that talking is the only means of communication. It’s not.  We’ll cover that in Myth #2.  We also tend to make an erroneous assumption about the communication process.  We assume that all talking is communicating.  Consider this:  We communicate successfully when the other person receives the message we intended to convey.  Conversely, we communicate unsuccessfully (we fail to communicate) when they don’t receive that message, regardless of the message we intended.  At such times, we talk but we don’t communicate.

Unfortunately, many put all the emphasis on the message sent rather than on the all-important message received.  Again, “communication is getting through.”  

Myth #2 — We can choose to not communicate.  It is true that we can stop using words, if that is what one means by “not communicate.”  It is not true that we are able to not communicate.  Words are only one form of communication.  The most powerful form is body language.  In fact, body language provides an excellent clue as to why we often fail with words.  It’s because our words are saying one thing while our body language is saying something else.  For example, I may claim to be happy.  But if I forget to tell my face, the message received is, “Terry’s not happy.”  Similarly, a person may say, “I just don’t have anything to say.”  However, body language might say that there is more going on than is admitted.

In light of such, we must guard against sending messages of anger, boredom, insecurity, frustration or nervousness during those times when we’re unaware that we’re communicating anything at all.  We’re always communicating.

Myth #3 — People skills don’t matter in communication.  Think for a moment of a great communicator.  Who comes to mind?  It might someone you know personally, or maybe someone you don’t know.  It could be someone either living or deceased.  Perhaps it’s someone famous.  Whoever that person is, think about what makes him or her a great communicator.  Is it just the ability to put words together in speaking or writing?  That’s certainly a vital part of exceptional communication.  People skills are also vital!  If, as we’ve noted, communication is mostly about the message received and if no one wants to receive our message because of who we are, what difference does it make how well we deliver it?

Most great communicators are the type of people that others want to listen to.  They’ve earned that right through great people skills.

Myth #4 — One size fits all in communication.  We’re all familiar with the “fits all” concept in certain types of apparel.  It generally means that the items thus produced are cheaper to make and therefore cheaper to buy.  Communication is much different.  One size does not fit all.  Also, effective communication, unlike mass produced items, doesn’t come cheaply.  The price involves lots of personal effort, which also involves an individualized approach.

For instance, some people are introverts and some are extroverts.  Some are get-it-doners, some are get-it-righters. Some are leaders, some are followers.  We’re all different. We respond to different communication styles.  Great communicators know this, and tailor their approach.  Poor communicators just say whatever pops into their head, and let the other person figure it out – or not.  Afterwards the poor communicator is clueless in figuring out what went wrong.  “All I said was…”  The question is: what got through?

LEADERSHIP TIP:  Good communication = good relationships = good life. – Geoffrey Tumlin                  

 

 

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What We Must Know About Body Language

by Terry L. Sumerlin

A young lady, dressed in business attire, enters a restaurant. Waiting to be seated, she leans slightly on the hostess stand as if it’s been a long day. When she’s seated, as per her request, it’s at a table as far away from the other guests as possible. She orders, eats her dinner and reads — without saying anything to anyone but her server. Well, that’s not exactly true. To anyone who notices, though not verbally, she says a great deal. She’s not rude. However, through body language, she says: I’m tired. This is my down time and I want to be left alone to eat, read and unwind.

This illustrates the first thing most of us need to know about body language. Every time we are in the presence of others, we are communicating by this very quiet method. It is unavoidable.

We tend to think that the easiest way to avoid saying the wrong thing is to just say nothing. There are times for all of us when that would certainly be an improvement! However, the best way to really avoid sending the wrong message is to always be conscious of what we say and do. Facial expressions, gestures and posture send a message, apart from anything we might or might not verbalize.

This leads us to the second thing we need be aware of regarding body language. It can be, and often is, more powerful than words. In fact, when our words and body language convey conflicting messages, guess which message is received.

To answer that question, call to mind something you might have observed at a meeting or conference. The speaker tells you from the podium that he is excited to be your speaker. Yet, there’s no smile, no eye contact and no gestures. The speaker appears far from relaxed. Do you believe that he is excited? After all, that’s what he said. But his actions say something different. His actions say that he lacks confidence or that he is scared to death.

Let’s transfer that concept to communication both in and out of the workplace. It’s a nice thing to tell friends, employees and customers that you appreciate them. However, they are more likely to believe your words if they see the smile on your face, the acceptance in your eyes and the warmth in your posture.

This conflict between body language and words, and the power of the former over the later, is something that has been observed by animal trainers. They say that oftentimes the main reason some amateur trainers have little success in training pets is because the animal is confused by conflicting messages. The voice says one thing and the body language says something else. The animal instinctively ignores the words and obeys the body language. People often do the same thing. For that reason, we need to be sure that our body language always matches our verbal communication. If they don’t match, our words are going to lose the battle between the two – every time.

The third thing we need to keep in mind is that since communication is a two-way street, we must always be monitoring the other person’s body language as well as our own. For instance, if the other person tilts the head, it might mean he/she doesn’t understand or doesn’t agree. If she looks at her watch, it might mean she is pressed for time. In that case, now might not be a good time to talk. For effective communication, we must listen and look for what is said, and then we must adapt accordingly.

Finally, we must not to jump to hasty, erroneous conclusions regarding the actions or mannerisms of others. Body language is best assessed contextually and as a total package, rather than when isolated.

By itself, the fact that the arms are crossed may not mean anything other than that the room is cold. It doesn’t always mean a person is unapproachable or defensive. It might, but it also might not. Similarly, one might wink because of a nervous tick rather than because he’s flirting. During a program one might raise her hand to straighten her hair, rather than to ask the speaker a question. Common sense is always important to accurately determine what message someone is sending.

LEADERSHIP TIP: We are always communicating by what we say as well as by what we do. To communicate effectively, always be conscious of the message we and others are sending, whether by words, actions or both.

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Our Communication Vehicle

“Words are vehicles upon which thoughts travel.” Audiences have heard me say that for years. I’ve been unable to find the original source of the quote. So I have sort of made it my own.

The words conjure up, in my mind, a vivid image. Let’s see if they do the same for you.

Think with me, if you will, of your dream car. For some, it might be the car they now drive. For others, ownership of a certain dream car might be just that — a dream. Regardless of whether you now own it, or would like to, get a clear picture of that car in your mind.

Now let’s transfer that picture to a type of vehicle that provides transportation for thoughts. For that, would we want a clunker or a dream vehicle? Keep in mind that the automobile we drive every day can only get us from point A to point B. A vehicle of thought, on the other hand, can take us to fulfilling business and personal relationships, as well as to positions of influence. Those things being true, what might a dream “vehicle of thought” look like? Using the letters of the word “car” as an acronym, let’s build our ideal vehicle of thought.

First of all, let the “c” in car stand for clarity. Mark Twain said: “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening.” It’s also the difference, many times, between being understood and being misunderstood.

Along this line, I’m reminded of the story about the first sergeant who told his new recruits: “I want you to put on a clean pair of socks every day.” One young recruit discovered at the end of the first week that he couldn’t get his boots on. Some folks require more clarity in communication than others, but basic clarity must be standard equipment on all communication vehicles.

It must also be equipped with the ask-for-feedback package. Thus, the letter “a” stands for ask.

As a writer, I know that I do not always choose the right vehicle for my thoughts. So, I have a wonderful editor, Paul Smith, who gives me feedback on everything I write. Sometimes I’m surprised when he tells me what a certain phrase conveys to him. It’s not what I had in mind at all.

For all of us, whether we’re writing or speaking, it helps to ask others if we’re being clear. More specifically, before we take part in an important meeting or conversation we should ask our spouse, friend, co-worker, supervisor (or anyone whose opinion we value) if what we plan to say is clear and proper. Also, when we are face-to-face in conversation, and the other person has a puzzled look on his or her face, we should politely ask, “What is your understanding of what I just said?” Most importantly, we need to habitually ask ourselves before speaking: “Is what I’m about to say clear and is it going to come out as intended?”

Not only should clarity and asking for feedback be part of the standard equipment of our communication vehicle. It should also be equipped with responsibility. The “r” in car should serve to remind us of that.

Of all the things our society needs, a sense of responsibility would have to be at the top of the list. Many don’t want to be responsible for much of anything.

As an illustration, we’ve all heard folks say that they are self-made. Of course, when such a claim is made it is always with reference to success — “self-made success.” Have you ever heard anyone claim to be a self-made failure? No one wants to accept responsibility for that.

Similarly, few want to accept responsibility for communication failure. Yet, it too is “self-made.” How could it be otherwise? (There are certain exceptions involving the other person.) If I’m the one talking, I’m the only one who could possibly be responsible for what comes out of my mouth. Knowing such, and consistently applying that knowledge, should keep my C-A-R from crashing. And when it does crash, I’m generally the one who is “liable.”

LEADERSHIP TIP: Always keep your vehicle of thought well maintained, and all its equipment in proper working order.

 

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When Not to Talk

by Terry L. Sumerlin

I was asked if so-and-so is still alive. When I answered “yes” for the millionth time, the response was the same – for the millionth time: “Well, I’m surprised one of his ex-wives hasn’t killed him by now.” The fact that the fellow’s daughter happens to be one of the exes might have biased him, and stirred his emotions, just a tad. However, I wondered why we must go through the same song and dance every time he sees me.

I’d had enough! First of all, I don’t care how many ex-wives my acquaintance has, nor is it any of my business. Also, and more important, I feel it is just as bad to listen to gossip as it is to tell it. So I decided to put a stop to it with a simple suggestion: “Why don’t you give him a call and take that up with him?” It suddenly got very quiet.

From a moral point of view, gossip is an ugly thing. But our primary focus here is not moral, religious or theoretical. It’s practical because of the impact such talk has on organizational morale as well as relationships.

Although, as we all know, you and I would never engage in this destructive form of speech, perhaps some gentle kick-on-the-shin reminders about gossip would be in order. Keep in mind, though, what Ronald B. Zeh said years ago: “The gossip of the future may not be a backbiting, nosy, tongue-wagging two-face, but a super-megabyte, random-access, digital interface.” Gossip can be spoken or written.

The first thing we need to remember is what this form of speech says about one’s character. Though we will grant that sometimes what we say about others is not as much a matter of character as it is carelessness, we need to give more thought to what we are about to say and then sometimes just not say it. It’s so easy to drift from simple, innocent, harmless conversation about others into that which is harmful and should not be repeated, even if it’s true. Some folks just talk too much, and should be more careful about what they say.

On the other hand, deliberately telling or repeating that which we know to be harmful to another’s reputation strongly suggests a character problem. This, by the way, is vastly different from saying what must be said about someone, saying it to the right person and saying it for the right reasons. That’s responsible action, and requires courage. The other is irresponsible, abusive and cowardly.

Another thing about gossip is what it does to the reputation of the one who makes it a habit. It makes that person someone who can’t be trusted. It tells others that anything said to him or her, even in confidence, is not secure. It also says that if that person will gossip to you, the same person will gossip about you. As a result, trusting a gossip becomes a huge issue in relationships and business.

Gossip also indicates a lack of emotional and/or intellectual maturity. Those who are comfortable and secure with themselves don’t feel the need to tell things about others in an attempt to tear them down. Rather, they are inclined to say things that build them up. In this respect, they’re genuine leaders!

With regard to maturity and how it impacts what we talk about, it might be good for everyone to keep in mind what Socrates said: “Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.”

Finally, slander can come back to bite us. What makes its way to our ears, and then is repeated by us, can just as easily make its way to the ears of those who will take action.

Notice that for the first time I used the word “slander” in place of “gossip.” It has legal connotations. Slander that we have spoken, and is then repeated back to us, could be very embarrassing. It could be worse than embarrassing when repeated back to us in court.

LEADERSHIP TIP: Before speaking, carefully consider the what, the how, the why, the of whom and the to whom.

 

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How to Really Listen

by Terry L. Sumerlin

“I heard that!” Often we say this when we strongly agree with something that has been said, or when we know something to be true. My question is, “How often do we really hear that?”  In order for us to really hear what is being said, we have to really listen. How do we do that?

One requirement for really listening is really respecting the person speaking.  Showing respect to the speaker can be difficult sometimes.  Perhaps you have noticed how much easier it is to listen to some people than to others. There are those whose body language, tone of voice or word choice is distracting. And then there are those who never seem to get to the point.  We’ve all been in the rather challenging position of trying to listen to someone ramble on endlessly, when the speaker at last attempts to sum up the interminable yarn by saying, “Well, to make a long story short….” You want to scream, “You missed that opportunity an hour ago!”

Aside from the fact that some talkers make it hard for us to be good listeners, leaders nonetheless show respect by listening well to everyone.  That doesn’t mean everything everyone says is as gold, or that we must give everyone our attention forever. But it does mean that they are fellow human beings, and that we can learn something from everyone.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”  I don’t think Emerson was saying that everything others might teach us is correct or that it is to be imitated.  From others we might learn what not to accept or practice.  But we can still learn from them.  Knowledge and wisdom come in all forms, but only to those who show respect by really listening to others.

Taking this thought a step farther, respect will lead us to be focused listeners. Among other things, this means that– without texting, e-mailing, Facebooking or anything else– we give the speaker the greatest compliment of all: our undivided attention.  Too often, not understanding is not a hearing issue.  It’s a focus issue.

Focusing involves eye contact and concentration.  It also involves awareness of distractions.  In addition to the technological distractions just mentioned, there are also those having to do with environment, prejudices, self-conscientiousness, stress or anxiety.

We might also include in this list those thoughts we are preparing to express in response and the urgency we feel to express them.  This feeling is a real listening challenge with many.  In fact, it has been humorously said that most would not bother listening at all, were it not for the expectation and hope that when the other person is through talking it will be their turn to talk.  Awareness is necessary before one can successfully eliminate this “urgency” and all other distractions that can affect our listening focus.

Once we become more aware, we are in a frame of mind to step up our focus by interacting with the one who is speaking.  This might involve such actions as leaning in, nodding, rewording various statements, smiling or interjecting one or two word responses of agreement and encouragement. We might also ask questions like why or how, in order to draw ourselves in and the speaker out.  These conversational tools help us to forget about ourselves and to focus our attention on the person talking.  These tools are the essence of effective listening – and class!

LEADERSHIP TIP: Effective listening starts in the heart, and spreads to the eyes and ears.

 

 

 

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Getting Real about Optimism

by Terry L. Sumerlin

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Positive or negative? “Yes,” you say? Good answer, because most of us are not entirely one or the other.

On the other hand, we have all run across those who are somewhat like the little old lady I heard about. She said, “I always feel bad, even on days when I feel good, for fear I’ll feel worse tomorrow.” It would be hard to say much that might help such folks. For the rest of us, perhaps some observations regarding optimism might be helpful in our daily lives.

First of all, let me say that a lot of junk has been said about optimism and a positive attitude. I suspect that I’ve said a lot of junk on the subject. Speakers often leave the impression that, with the right attitude, one can accomplish anything. That’s not true!

Just suppose, for instance, that a very optimistic, non-athletic, six foot, fifty-something guy, suddenly decides to become a professional basketball player. Suppose he gets a professional basketball player as his coach, trains very hard every day and strongly believes in his goal. He even visualizes stardom and imagines that he can hear the roar of the crowd as he makes the game winning shot in the final game of the NBA finals. We know that no amount of work, visualization or optimism is going to take him where he wants to go. Aside from size and lack of talent, the fact is that young men play professional sports.

Based on such, could we say that attitude doesn’t matter? Actually, it not only matters, but there are times when it matters a lot to each of us.

For instance, it mattered a lot to me five years ago. That was when I had surgery for cancer. Believe me, I needed and wanted an optimistic surgeon.

Don’t get me wrong. Optimism wasn’t all I was looking for in a surgeon. But, answer this: Was I looking for a highly trained, eminently qualified surgeon who was not optimistic? I certainly didn’t want to be operated on by someone who would say to me just before surgery, “Terry, I sure don’t have a good feeling about this.”

My point is that optimism doesn’t equip or qualify one for anything he or she is not already qualified to do. Nor, by the way, does it change facts. However, it does equip one to do all the things one is equipped to do much better than pessimism.

That being the case, two things come to mind. The first of these has to do with how to maintain a more optimistic attitude.

To accomplish this, we must always be vigilant regarding what goes into our minds. Whether it involves what we read, hear from friends and co-workers or listen to on TV, our thoughts are constantly being affected positively or negatively.

I like to say that I’m so optimistic that in our house we have snooze button on our smoke alarms. However, throughout the day, my mood can and does change very quickly, as a result of all the (mis) information we’re subjected to. I’ll bet the same is true for you. For that reason, we must all pay attention to our mind food. Junk food for the mind produces junkie thoughts – which produce a junkie life!

The other thing that comes to mind is how a positive, optimistic attitude toward people enhances our people skills. My author friend, Geoffrey Tumlin, has a formula that I like very much. He says, “Good communication = Good relationships = Good life.” If communication is that important, what about the importance of having the right attitude toward people as a proper basis for communication?

People who like others, and who try to believe the best of others, convey optimism in conversation. That is true even in difficult situations. Conversely, those who are pessimistic and negative about life in general rarely have good communication skills, good relationships – or a good life.

LEADERSHIP TIP: Remember what the right attitude cannot do, but most of all, remember what it can do.

 

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DARTing Past Fear

by Terry L. Sumerlin

I was not exactly paralyzed by fear. But I was very uneasy. Yes, afraid!

I had thought about giving it a try for a long time. After all, people of various ages, from all walks of life, use it regularly, and have for a long time. Major cities thrive on it. But I could not convince myself to check it out – alone.

I have given it a try with my wife, though. In such cases Sherry is always my navigator, someone I can depend on when the system makes no sense. With her I know I will not get hopelessly lost.

What am I talking about? Metro type trains and subways. San Antonio, where I grew up and lived for 45 years, doesn’t have such. And Lavon, Texas, where I now live, certainly doesn’t have it (as well as a lot of other metropolitan type things). But nearby Dallas has DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit). Along with other destinations, DART goes to the airports from areas all around the Dallas Metroplex. So recently, I got to thinking about the advantages of airport runs from the nearby town of Rowlett.

Sherry wouldn’t have to deal with Dallas traffic to and from the airports (twice) to get me there and back. That’s assuming I didn’t drive myself to the airport, and then have to find a parking space. That can be a nightmare – and very expensive.

The train seemed the logical alternative. Logical, but scary. It’s a long trip, with several transfers, involving lots of room for error. What if I miss my flight? Can’t get to my speaking engagement on time? Am sued for breach of contract? Blackballed in the speaking industry? Fear causes us to imagine all sorts of ridiculous things.

Finally, I put my fears aside and took the plunge. Sort of. One morning Sherry and I took the DART train and bus to Love Field Airport and back. We took the exact route I was to take in a few days, as a stress-free-type rehearsal for the real thing. Then, when the day actually arrived for my flight to Oakland, I was equipped with prior experience, along with a cheat sheet (“DART for Dummies”) from my wife, to insure my success.

Though I was as nervous as a cat, it was a successful adventure. As my speaker friend, Ron Hoesterey, would say: “It was not a problem to be solved. It was an adventure to be enjoyed.” It was fun.

Without having to worry about driving in traffic, I tried to settle back and watch Dallas come to life, as we glided along at sunrise. What was once scary actually became a piece of cake.

What does all I’ve said have to do with you as a leader? A lot!

You see, everyone has fears that involve things outside their comfort zone. We must recognize such in ourselves and others.

Also, in the same way that my wife bolstered my confidence and helped me become more comfortable with a new situation, we all need help, and we can help one another, to cope with life’s challenges.

Additionally, my experience illustrates the need for a plan and experience (even rehearsal) to overcome fear. Resultant success can help us build the confidence necessary for us to take on greater challenges.

In my case I felt confident enough that, after arriving in Oakland, I hopped on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), and explored much of Oakland and San Francisco. Did I know what I was doing? No! Was I scared? Yes! But I also had a great time.

Success not only has its own reward, in terms of confidence gained. In my case there was an additional reward. True to what Sherry had written at the bottom of “DART for Dummies,” when I stepped off the DART platform at the Rowlett DART Station, a beautiful woman did pick me up to take me home.

Leadership Tip: I completely agree with Helen Keller. “Life is a daring adventure, or nothing.”

 

   

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