You know that gut feeling? The one that tells you to do or say something? The one that hits you like a hockey puck and knocks you over – almost without your permission? Yes, they call that intuition – and it’s a special gift. In the prehistoric days, intuition was the essential mechanism that kept us alert and alive in the wild. Today, it serves a far less animalistic purpose and yet still informs our judgement calls.
Acting on intuition can be a terrifying thing. No information, no data and no time to support your gut. What if someone judges you for it? What if it gets you into trouble? Takes you down the wrong road? What if you misunderstand your inner voice? What if you’re wrong?
You may not be right. But there’s no way to know ahead of time. That’s why they call it a risk. Many situations do not have time or the infrastructure for the kind of research most decisions call for. Sometimes you just need to listen to your belly and do something. It takes balls. Or ignorance. Or blind luck. Whatever it is, you don’t have time or reason to think. Just do it. And see what happens. Intuition can be a magical thing if used diligently.
We preoccupy ourselves with speculation. More than half of our stress comes from inferred details that may not even be true. We can keep working ourselves up over nothing. Or we can just ask. Ask the truth. Try to get to the bottom of things. You don’t need to be confrontational. If it helps to fight ambiguity with more ambiguity to sound less direct or confrontational, that’s fine. However you do it, just do it.
…then say it. You will stress yourself out more by keeping it in. You will stress others out more by being passive aggressive and cryptic. You will waste time prolonging the inevitable, enduring unnecessary hardships or twisting the knot too tight. Before you open your mouth, you should always think about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. But there’s never really a good reason to keep your mouth shut entirely. It’s important and therapeutic to speak your mind. It’s equally important to let others speak their minds as well.
How many places can you sing aloud without fear or hesitation? The shower? Home alone? The car maybe? Where are you allowed to speak your mind, scream or share ideas? How many places can you truly be yourself?
Venues where you can let loose and be honest are rare and extremely important. Most environments are filled with people around whom you naturally curtail your speech and behavior to go with the flow. If nothing else, we keep quiet in consideration of others.
It is healthy – necessary, even – to control the podium on a regular basis. As much as we consume, we must create. And we must create honestly – from the heart and without censorship. To do that, nothing or no one can stand in our way. Some artists and public figures build the confidence to live honestly with little friction from the world around them. Most of us have no forum to build that confidence on our own. Nevertheless, we need that release. Audience or no audience, we must be honest with ourselves.
More than just a meditation space, we each need a cone of solitude where no one can stifle us, our voice or our ideas. Where we can express ourselves without constraint. I do my best thinking in the shower and best speaking in the car (in fact, I dictated most of my recent posts to my smartphone while driving to work).
Where can you be yourself? Where do you dream the loudest? How can you optimize that space to capture your voice – and sing louder?
Everyone is a critic and thinks he or she can oversee others. The truth, I’m afraid, is that critics are the last people you want to work for. We all want to be treated well, have our opinions valued and respect our leaders – not get kicked around by opinionated and scattered fools. I’ve been fortunate to have great leaders in my life. But no one is perfect. The most common mistake my managers have made is setting expectations and not walking the talk. You cannot live a lie. People can smell it from a mile away. Expect your team to do something and fail to do it yourself? You lose credibility and respect.
If you want to keep a team organized, you need to be an organized person. If you want your people to lead healthy lives, you need to set the example. If you expect everyone to meet deadlines, you need to do the same. If you want your people to be frugal, you must not spend a dime more than you need to. Leaders need to have their own shit together. I’m not saying that, as a leader, you need to set all these expectations. What I’m saying is that, as a leader, you must lead by example. You must not exclude yourself from your own expectations. That would make you a dictator, not a team player. You will be ousted from the throne. Demonstrate to your team that you can follow and value your own instructions. Do that, and your team will respect you. Sit back, point fingers and do your own thing? I smell a mutiny.
If you want to foster a culture of open ideas, you cannot stand in the way. Do not shoot suggestions down, do not fight back and never stifle the feedback loop. Close your mouth and bite your tongue if you have to. Whatever it takes to let your team know that they are being listened to and that there is room for their ideas. After ideas have been heard, let open debate ensue. Invite extra opinions and open your ears even wider. Make sure opinions are genuinely collected and heard. Show the idea collection process with surveys, emails, whiteboards, etc. if you think it will help your team see and appreciate your reception to their opinions. And do not fear disagreements. Disagreements are healthy – they suggest that ideas are being contributed and tested. As with any relationship, team relationships stand to grow and strengthen through overcoming disagreements.
If you need to make a quick decision and do not have time for collecting feedback, don’t close the deal immediately. Help everyone understand why you feel the way you do and thank them for their understanding. At the very least, it shows you respect their autonomy and the other contributions they make.
For most people, you cannot script honesty. Actors get paid the big bucks to bring someone else’s words to life. Most people can’t do that. Most people stale up when forced to read a script. If you mean to be honest with your audience, words must come from the heart and without censorship. If you cannot deliver a genuine message from a page, throw the page away. Skip the expensive production value if you need to. Keep it simple: one shot, one take. Nothing between you and absolute truth.
Do you even know? No one can genuinely create a sense of urgency without cause or reason. Everyone is competing against the clock (we’re mortals, after all), but why? For what reason? Is it a race? Against whom?
If you have a clear opponent to beat, that’s easy. Wave the enemy’s flag in spite and embrace competition as a positive energy in your organization or life. Move forward and fast, as if it were a fun game.
If you are a startup or non-profit without grasp of a market, what are you competing against? Most small organizations compete against sinking bank accounts. Young companies not yet cash-flow positive must sweat their burn rates and execute on their vision before running out of money. If the money drain is your greatest enemy, make a big deal about that, too. Don’t hide it from your people; share the bank statement with managers if you want them to understand that particular sense of urgency. They will understand.
You cannot motivate people from scratch. You can only give them the tools, information and environment to hopefully inspire them to motivate themselves. As a leader, you must know what you are competing against. And do not forget to share that information with your people who suffer the whip every day.
The most respected men and women follow through with their commitments, return favors, honor agreements, and exceed expectations. Without question, dependability is a virtue. Do not make promises you cannot keep. Breaking a promise causes more trouble than passing on the promise in the first place. Never string people along. Never say “maybe.” If you know you can or cannot, say so. If you do not know for sure, make no promises – make the facts known, do your research, and return with a definitive answer (if you have no intention of doing the research, get it out of the way and just say “no” now). Do not be afraid to say “no.” Smart people respect and value honesty over weak commitments.