The emotional climate that makes brains perform BETTER
From Boundaries for Leaders
What kind of mood and energy do you foster when you enter a room?
When you give feedback?
When you make a request?
When you make a correction?
When you communicate agendas and set performance targets?
What kind of experiences do you build into your teams, reporting relationships, culture, and climate that make sure that there are positive chemicals flowing through the brains of your people?
These are the questions we should be asking ourselves when attempting to assess the emotional climate in our work environments says Henry Cloud, author of the book titled “Boundaries for Leaders.”
And why is the emotional climate important? Because mood matters. Mood research in scientific studies has shown that moods and emotions, both positive and negative, are “contagious.” We “pass on” good or bad feelings and “infect” others’ well-being.
Cloud says, “The cold scientific facts are that your people think better when they are not stressed, afraid, or depressed. Yet many leaders do not put a lot of thought into creating a positive emotional climate for their people and sometimes they create the exact opposite. As a result of their leadership they create stress, fear, and sometimes even depression.
As you recall in a previous blog we discussed how the cognitive capacities in the upper brain operate using logic, judgment, creativity, problem solving, advanced forms of thinking, working memory, planning, prioritization, big-picture thinking, empathy, and so on. It’s all the good stuff that creates high performance.
In the lower brain it’s all about the fight or flight response. It is action oriented not thinking oriented. So in a toxic climate, all those stress hormones are released into the brain essentially shutting down all the functions that make us smart.
Cloud likens it to a car engine where the chemicals and hormones in the brain are the gasoline that fuels the engine. He asks, “Do you want to put premium gas in your car or will toxic sewer water do? One produces high performance, the other causes a stall.”
He says by all means give boundaries but check your tone. One very successful CEO put the Mood research into a simple, powerful policy at his company: if any leader wakes up in a bad mood, he instructs them to “stay home. I don’t want you bringing that into the office.” As with the flu, it’s best not to infect the whole office with your bad mood.
Place looked like a war zone—our hometown called Chocolate Town—had been ravaged by heavy rains and flood waters a couple years back. Streets were all torn up and filled with heavy road equipment, diesel fumes, flagmen, and dust that rose like smoke from gravel beds kicked up by cars driven by people like me who were getting more than a bit ticked off with all the congestion associated with repairing underground storm water drains. No vacant back streets, side alleys, or alternative routes to skirt the carnage either--all had been found out and filled with bumper-to-bumper sour pusses like me just trying to get and return without burning too much daylight. So I vented. I released. I exhaled the scoundrel—the irritation that was hounding me— as I reminded myself over and over again to just “let it go.”
Now for me, that’s easier said than done, but it can be done. And when I do let go, when I do say goodbye to life’s irritating annoyances it generates a much better and healthier me.
Release does that—the opening of the hand or heart, rather than the tightening of it—liberates, unshackles, unfetters. Ann Landers once said, “Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”
What needs unfettered for you? What needs let go of? What do you need to say goodbye or farewell to?
The following is a list of farewells that could help trigger some ideas for your file:
1. Farewell to trying to read minds and expecting others to read yours. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
2. Farewell to looking for perfect relationships. There are no perfect people just different versions of imperfect ones.
3. Farewell to inventing problems that don’t exist and lead to self-sabotage. Separating mind games from reality helps build confidence.
4. Farewell to thinking about only the negative or bad parts of things. Viewing situations more positively leads to good places.
5. Farewell to always blaming others or always blaming yourself. Either way is unrealistic.
6. Farewell to denying your mistakes.
7. Farewell to not living your life your way, the way that’s right for you.
8. Farewell to letting the little annoyances get the best of you.
9. Farewell to thinking life is supposed to be easy.
10. Farewell to thinking giving up and starting over is a sign of failure.
Letting go is good for what works when the holding on is creating a little too much hold on us.
The story of David and Goliath is often told and retold because of its answer to the question of “why?” Why did David do what he did and does that have anything to do with your story—the one you are living out at this very moment?
I remember what the story did to me upon hearing it for the first time as a child. Two opposing armies, lined up across a steep valley gawking at each other and a nine foot Philistine replica of Big Foot wearing full armor mocking and challenging the Israelites, over the course of forty days, to see who would blink first. That’s a lot of blabbering.
David, the youngest son of Jesse, sent by his father to check on his brothers checks in at the front line, hears Goliath’s taunts and responds with his own version of “just who do you think you are?” and “you’re saying what about whom?”
The rest is history and I don’t think any bookie living then or now would’ve gotten the odds right on the outcome. But I do remember how that story awoke in me a visceral sense for justice—righting wrongs.
David was all about righting wrongs. Righting wrongs is about hope. It’s about taking action, showing courage in the face of danger, inspiring faith, and generating trust and loyalty from others because of it. It’s the mark of a true leader.
The story you are living out at this very moment may well be that of David as you lead to take action to right some major wrongs. This requires courage but it will inspire hope in others when you do. It will also generate more trust and loyalty from them.
Righting wrongs can also be about humility, making mistakes, apologizing, and making whole.
Too often ego and pride get in the way of righting wrongs. Rather than seek ways to repair a wrong we try to cover it up, justify it, or ignore it. But it will never go away. Wrongs live on as chronic pain and the only relief from it is to right it. I know this all too well, and would guess you do too.
If your story at the moment is not that of David’s but a little more personal—an estranged relationship or something in the past—then make yourself or someone else whole again by righting the wrong, even IF you feel you didn't do anything wrong. And forget the self-justifications. Anyone can justify anything they do or say. Self-justification always blames others and makes excuses for actions that others often times wouldn't see you justified in doing. It may make sense to you but not to them. In fact, they have the same right to justify their actions as you do.
And btw, self-justification simply gets in the way of anyone trying to make things right with you. Rather than accepting their apology and giving them forgiveness it keeps them "on the hook" for all that's happened and in their eyes is a form of "piling on" when what is needed at the time is a simple, "I forgive you", and a "let's move on."
So be the leader in moving on. Be the first to make the first move in making whole what has been broken by doing three things: use words like "I'm sorry", "please forgive me", and "I forgive you", even IF your "justifications" are telling you otherwise.
The people who have done this for me are people I admire and respect the most because it makes my heart want to do the same. In some ways it shames me because deep down I know I should have been the one taking that first step. And shame can be good because it should lead to guilt and remorse--the kind of place and kind of pain that can only be exited from and relieved by being truly sorry and wanting to make things right again.
Someone once said, "Show me a generation of people without a sense of shame and I'll show you a generation of people without a sense of guilt. Show me a generation of people without a sense of guilt and I'll show you a generation of people without a sense of remorse. Show me a generation of people without a sense of guilt and remorse and I'll show you a place worse than hell because even in hell there will be guilt and remorse."
Whew, strong words I know, but true. And how we need it today, at this hour and at this moment while we still have the opportunity to create something better out of us and our world.
First game ever of hide and seek was played out in a garden called Eden. Today, the game has reached new heights--new levels of hiding, concealing, veiling, obscuring, camouflaging, and masking.
In the sports section of our Sunday newspaper a major league baseball player named Braun grabs the headlines of a beat writer who says his “apology can’t be trusted.” And the reason why? He’s still hiding out behind his lawyers after getting caught cheating using performance enhancing drugs. He says, “Braun’s faux apology shows no such promise of spiritual overhaul. It was clearly written by a legal/agent team and issued as a release so as not to alter the message with a possibly messy personal appearance. If no one can look you in the eye, no one can probe your story and ask questions in person, then no one can spot a hint of insincerity.”
He calls Braun a “calculator.” “Calculators never come clean about anything with anyone. They are inherently dishonest, even when they seem to be apologizing. They are manipulating even when they seem to be capitulating.” And he says, “So far, Braun appears to be the kind that can’t be trusted, ever. The one who will never face himself in the mirror and see anything beneath skin level.”
Braun was caught and cornered just as Adam and Eve had been caught and cornered. Only difference, which is a big one, Adam and Eve weren’t calculators and they didn’t have attorneys to hide behind. When light was brought to bear on their actions they came clean, God saw to it. And God saw to it because it was in their best interests to do so. It is for all of us. All of us need someone to look us in the eye, probe our story and ask questions in person to check our sincerity.
Facing ourselves in the mirror, looking beneath skin level, and exposing our souls to light, is critical to living an authentic and credible life. Running for cover and hiding out causes distrust. Transparency creates trust. Transparency lets light in. Opaqueness keeps light out. And that window shade needs retracted for any kind of spiritual overhaul to take place.
Every level of human interaction, anywhere, needs transparency for trust and credibility to grow and for spiritual awakening and overhaul to occur.
What we don’t need are more “calculators”—manipulators trying to figure out the most convenient way out of getting caught and cornered and never acting from the heart but only with the next move in mind. That's the path of shadows.
What we do need is the path of Transparency. It’s what works when credibility isn’t working.
Drift is a gradual change in position, a gradual deviation from an original course, model, method, or intention. In the game of golf drift will cost you. Wander beyond borders or stray from the fairway and you will suffer the unintended consequences of drift. Play the game with focused intention--the way it was designed to be played--and reap the benefits.
Friends can drift apart
Memories can drift away
Thoughts can drift in, drift off, or drift to sleep
A project can drift along and not be finished on time
Clouds can drift towards us
Continents can drift across an ocean bed
Laws can drift with the tide of sentiment
Saving can drift into greed
Morality can drift with the current of convenience
Conversations can drift into arguments
Listening can drift into passive reluctance
Peace can drift into chaos
Care can drift into indifference
Belief can drift into doubt
Patience can drift into intolerance
Our lives were not designed for drift. We were not created to live rudderless, pointless, meaningless, useless, worthless, or purposeless lives. We were created to live intentionally—to be proactive and deliberate—in navigating life.
We sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in uncertainty, driven from end to end. Blaise Pascal
Every day you spend drifting away from your goals is a waste not only of that day, but also of the additional day it takes to regain lost ground. Ralph Marston
The moment of drifting into thought has been so clipped by modern technology. Our lives are filled with distraction with smartphones and all the rest. People are so locked into not being present. Glen Hansard
It depends on how it is done but what we are drifting into, which is that people grow up without any sense of a spiritual dimension to life, is just impoverishing. Douglas Hurd
In the last four years, I heard the same thing over and over again from people: 'We've had enough,' 'Our country is drifting,' 'We've lost our way.' Ted Yoho
Drift is a matter of small things. Its effect is cumulative.
Diligence is the answer.
Read with interest a newspaper article in the sports section written by Michael Marot of the Associated Press titled: NFL struggles to make sense of college video game stats. It was his response to what he observed at the NFL's annual scouting combine held recently in Indianapolis where every little minute detail of a college football player's athleticism is scrutinized to determine their draft ability.
All prospects are tested on the short shuttle, 40 yard dash, vertical jump, and standing broad jump. In addition, they are assessed on skills according to their position. For example, a quarterback is tested on pocket movement, 3,5,7 step drops/throws, 7 step rollout going right and left, and then throwing routes to receivers. Wide receivers and tight ends are tested on sideline tap-tap drill, over the shoulder catch, multiple catch/gauntlet drill, and pass routes. Offensive linemen test out on direction wave drill, long and short pulls, drop and flip drill, including pass pro mirror and rush drills. Defensive backs, linebackers and defensive linemen all have different drills as well, but you get the picture.
Another beat writer put it this way, "the combine is information overload. It distills football players' onfield skills and their nuanced worth into rigid digital rankings of non football tasks and rough facsimiles of the game's dynamics. It takes the football out of the player."
Back in my day we didn't have the scouting combine so coaches made decisions about us based on our performance on the field. In other words, we earned our way onto NFL rosters by what was on film. That was our audition.
The real question about all of this is this: how much data collecting on performance is necessary and is it reliable? Does it measure what it is intended to measure? Does an evaluative opportunity accurately assess what a person is to know and be able to do in certain situations?
One of the goals of Better Men / Better World is to help men measure "better" in their lives. After all, if there is no measurement taking place how can one determine improvement?
I know how difficult a process this can be on us. Who really likes performance reviews or 360 feedback programs right? Would rather get a right knee replaced or hyperventilate inside an MRI machine. Funny though how each of these proceedures is designed to do what we're talking about: test and measure and then do something about making things better.
1 Timothy 4:12 says, "Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity."
These are behaviors that are observable and measurable. They originated from a standard that originated from doctrine that originated from truth determined by the God of our universe. And they are for our benefit as well as the benefit of others. And I can trust that the payoff will be well worth the effort.
The question is, how do I know I am getting better in what I say, the way I live, in my love, faith, and purity? The answer to this question lies in first defining specific behaviors so I know what they look like and mean, similar to what the NFL does in their scouting combine. If for example I want to measure my love I could make a list of the behaviors listed in 1 Corinthians 13 and make it an assessment. On a scale of 1-10 I could assess how well I am doing with "patience", "kindness", "self-control", "selfishness", etc. This would give me a baseline from which to work and to set goals and objectives from.
Objectives are the things I should know and be able to do. And goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely action steps taken along the way to "better." Here is an example of setting a goal about self-control: I will read two articles about self-control this week, write a short reflection on it, and practice one or two drills recommended at getting better at it.
Again, better is all about what we should know and be able to do, and then setting goals and objectives that get us to a standard we want to reach.
I know its work to do this but "better" is not easy. The choice is ours.
In the 1996 movie titled "Eraser", U.S. Marshal deputy John Kruger (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger), is assigned to "Erase" the identities of the witnesses he is assigned to protect. The movie's tagline: He will erase your past to protect your future.
The great thing about Christianity is the fact that it has a hero with a similar tagline: He (Jesus) will erase your past to protect your future.
Every man knows, deep down inside his gut, how much of a wrecking ball he can be, or become, in his own life as well as the lives of others. Track him down and those tracks reveal his history: his connection to a whole series of past events with someone or something. Over time he becomes identified with these connections, for good or bad.
The bad connections are his reminders. They stare back at him everyday. They hound him at every turn. They sleep with him at night and awake with him in the morning. They shackle his hands and feet and tell him that his future is doomed. He does things he doesn't want to do to erase these reminders. And at times it works, but not for long, or just not long enough. What he needs is something or someone beyond himself to help him get beyond himself; to clear his history and to give him a new identity.
I understand the need for clearing the history on my computer or iPhone in order to free up more memory space. Yes, clearing can free up. But I also understand the need to be reminded of my history so I don't repeat what I don't want to repeat. George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." This is why I allow the history on my iPhone or computer to stay awhile. It's a way of holding me accountable; reminding me of what or who I've been connecting with.
The good news of the Bible is the message of Jesus when He says in John 10:10 "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." In short, Jesus becomes the "eraser" of our past in order to free up our lives and reshape our futures.
And in Ephesians 1:13 it says, "when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago."
And what are we to make of this? Not only can we have our history cleared but we can have a new identity when we become connected to Christ; a connection made possible when we say "yes" to what He can do for us. And it is at that moment, when we say yes and turn ourselves over to Him, that we enter His witness protection program. Come hell or high water nothing again can touch us the way it once did because He already did what needed to be done in clearing our past when He died on the cross. In short, He took the bullet intended for me in order to set me free. He erases our past to protect out future.
When our history rears its ugly head to remind us of our past or keep us down, Jesus steps up to remind us He cleared it so we can move on to a better world by becoming a better man.
Revolution. The word reverberates with thoughts of rebellion, revolt, uprising and upheaval. It rings with the idea of insurgency and insurrection. However the word is spun its gyration pulsates with the call to do something about something. It’s a call for change and transformation; a yell to make some noise about what it is you don’t like but would like to do something about.
Rebellion is always at work in the human heart. And when things reach a tipping point is when it is at its best, for good or bad.
Don’t like the rules? Break them. Don’t like your marriage? Get out. Don’t like your kids? Leave them. Don’t like your work? Leave it. Don’t like honesty? Lie. Don’t like giving? Take. Don’t like patriotism or fidelity? Be disloyal and unfaithful. Don’t like being good? Be bad.
On the other hand, don’t like lying? Tell the truth. Don’t like taking? Give. Don’t like disloyalty? Be faithful. Don’t like divisiveness? Unify. Don’t like being bad? Be good.
It is obvious we live in a world of good and bad, right and wrong, justice and injustice, morality and immorality. At the fulcrum is the decision we all make about what to do about it—the tipping point. Rebel against good and it can be bad. Rebel against bad and it can be good.
Christmas is the tipping point in the history of man when God made a decision to do something about rebellion’s bad side. And He did more than just dip a toe into the matter. He became “all in.” He said “enough!” So He led a revolution that changed everything. He led a revolt against bad. He led an insurrection against injustice. He led an uprising against immorality. He came alongside us to give us hope and the opportunity for transformational change in our struggle against bad. He gave us a blueprint for revolution.
I love this kind of leader. I love His heart because He wants to make my heart good. And He wants to make my heart good because He is good.
Yes, He is good. His heart is good. His way is good. His revolution is good. And it makes me want to not only be a part of it, but to make some noise about it as I celebrate His coming this Christmas. And the best way to celebrate is by choosing the good in everything we do when we reach those tipping points - everyday!
There is a colorful illustration in the life of the great violinist, Paganini, which shows the value and power of attitude on the pursuit of excellence.
The colorful, nineteenth-century showman and gifted violinist Nicolo Paganini was standing before a packed house, playing through a difficult piece of music. A full orchestra surrounded him with magnificent support. Suddenly one string on his violin snapped and hung gloriously down from his instrument. Beads of perspiration popped out on his forehead. He frowned but continued to play, improvising beautifully.
To the conductor’s surprise, a second string broke. And shortly thereafter, a third. Now there were three limp strings dangling from Paganini’s violin as the master performer completed the difficult composition on the one remaining string. The audience jumped to its feet and in good Italian fashion, filled the hall with shouts and screams, “Bravo! Bravo!” As the applause died down, the violinist asked the people to sit back down. Even though they knew there was no way they could expect an encore, they quietly sank back into their seats.
He held the violin high for everyone to see. He nodded at the conductor to begin the encore and then he turned back to the crowd, and with a twinkle in his eye, he smiled and shouted, ‘Paganini…and one string!’ After that he placed the single-stringed Stradivarius beneath his chin and played the final piece on one string as the audience (and the conductor) shook their heads in silent amazement. ‘Paganini…and one string!
All it took was a single, solitary click of my mouse on the download button to make a sucker out of me. In the blink of an eye my computer screen was flashing alerts and beeping madly at me telling me the obvious—I had been duped into thinking I was downloading a safe and secure “free” online program to allow me to do what I had wanted to do.
Not so fast Mr. Naïve man for trusting Norton and its promise of protecting me from all things bad like adware and malware. This one had hoodwinked both of us and $99 dollars and an hour or so later, with the assistance of some online help, I was able to get out of the muck, back in the game and complete the project I had been working on.
But the con had worked; not all of it, but a part of it. Create something to look like it can help you in what it is you are doing (a program) and in doing so create a disruption (adware/malware) that creates a different kind of need (get rid of it) and a charge to meet it ( $ ).
Of course the phone number on the screen to call to get rid of the adware was coming from the same con man that created the issue in the first place. So, considering this fact, I called someone else from a more trustworthy source. And of course I was relieved when this source solved my problem without any apparent side effects to date.
Decisions are click-able moments that lead somewhere, and somewhere out there, there are cons who want to lead you somewhere else in order to cash in on those decisions. The writer in the book of Matthew understood this which is why he tells us that in a world full of predatory wolves we are to be as “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.” Snakes are known for their subtlety and shrewdness while doves are harmless, sociable creatures which mind their own business. Thus we are to use sound judgment in how we go about our business of " getting better" in a predatory world.