Protecting Your Mental Health

I don’t recommend starting a blog post with a disclaimer. That said, here’s my disclaimer: this is one of those blog posts I’m going to write even though I’m not actually qualified to speak, or write, on the subject. 

It’s about protecting your mental health. Now, I’m not exactly a touchy sensitive kinda guy. When I’d see or hear of someone needing a mental health day or time away to “recharge” I used to scoff at the idea. 

My thoughts were that the person needed to toughen up. You know, put on their big boy or big girl pants and get back at it. I figured that people who couldn’t do that were somehow weaker than those who could. 

But I’m coming around to the idea that I’ve been wrong about all that. Imagine my surprise as it began to dawn on me that it was needing to put on big boy pants to look invincible that actually made me weaker. 

I still struggle with the whole idea of mental health days and needing “down time” once in a while. There’s a part of me that says there are some people simply milking the whole mental health focus to get out of work. I still marvel at the ease with which some people say “I won’t be working tomorrow, I need a mental health day.” 

As certain as I am that some people are abusing the privilege of protecting their mental health I’m equally convinced that protecting our mental health is vital to our overall quality of life. 

So…how do we actually go about protecting our mental health? Well personally I’ve began setting rather firm boundaries. The people who add stress to my life are no longer allowed to be a part of my life. And yes, this is causing a difference kind of stress but it’s a far more temporary stress. Some of those people are even family so I’m forced to be in their presence from time to time, but that’s different from letting them be an actual part of my life. When I listen to them talk or interact with other people it’s like I’m watching a reality television show. 

I can think to myself that they are kinda knuckleheads but they don’t have any impact on my life so who cares. I’m a work in progress on setting these boundaries but it has made a difference for me already. 

Make no mistake, there will be people who are downright mad about you setting boundaries. Those will likely be the people you most need to be setting boundaries with. The people who truly care about you will be excited about seeing you take control of your life. 

As you fight against the people who would destroy your boundaries you’ll realize how important boundaries really are. Your mental health will improve rather quickly. You’ll discover how your mental health is directly connected to your physical health. It’s not an overstatement to say that in many ways you’ll feel like a new person. 

Now a note to the guys reading this. As hard as it may be for you to accept, mental health is not a woman thing. It is a human thing. Protecting your mental health does not make you weak. It might even be one of the most manly damn things you can do. 

Again, I’m not at all qualified to write about this. I’m no doctor. I’m just a guy who is beginning to realize that my physical performance is affected by my mental performance. I’m also beginning to understand that just like I can control how I perform physically, I can also control how I perform mentally. 

So can you!

If It’s Worth Doing Then It’s Worth Doing Poorly

“Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.” Those words were penned by Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, in a letter to his son back in 1774.

The 4th Earl of Chesterfield knew was he was talking about. There is no purpose in doing anything worth doing unless you intend to do it well. 

At least eventually. 

Successful people are willing to do something poorly until they can do it well. Often very well. There was a kid who lived in North Carolina and loved basketball. He wanted to play for his high school team. He gave a mighty effort to make the team but he wasn’t good enough. The sophomore at Laney High School didn’t make the varsity team, instead he was sent to the Junior Varsity to develop more. 

He was told that his shooting was okay but his defense was mediocre. Plus, he wasn’t nearly tall enough at 15 years old to be guaranteed a spot on the team. He went home after hearing the news and cried alone in his bedroom.

Lots of people would have given up at that point. He could easily have been one of them. He could have decided to switch sports and give his second favorite sport, baseball, a try. But he persisted. He was willing to play basketball poorly until he could play it well. 

He worked and worked. Made bad shot after bad shot, until most of his shots weren’t that bad. He worked especially on his defense. He began to enjoy denying other people the opportunity to make a shot almost as much as he enjoyed making his own. Oh, and he grew a bunch too. 

But it was his willingness to play poorly (keep in mind “poorly” is a relative term) until he could play well (well is a relative term too) that made him into the player he turned out to be. He became a good enough player that he actually played for a bit in the National Basketball Association. He even contributed to his team winning some games. 

Less successful people often give up when they are right on the cusp of making most of their shots. They become demoralized with doing something poorly so they stop trying. They likely have a lot of “help” in becoming demoralized as the people around them continue to reinforce the notion they that aren’t very good. 

If you want great success then you must be willing to do something poorly until you improve enough to do it well. Few people succeed on their first attempt. 

But, here’s the caveat. You must be honest with yourself while attempting to move from a poor performance to a great performance. You must have some form of measurement in place to objectively evaluate whether or not you are making progress. Once you objectively make that determination you’ll know what to do. 

But whatever you do, don’t quit. Perhaps stop trying to make the basketball team and go out for the debate team. Trying something else is NOT quitting. It is redirecting your efforts to an area where your chances of success are greater. That’s called being strategic.

Oh by the way…that high school basketball player who couldn’t make the varsity…his name is Michael Jordan. You can Google him if you’re interested in knowing more about the guy many people consider the GOAT. 

Praise and Criticism

Truth be told I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t prefer to be praised rather than criticized. Receiving praise and recognition from anyone always makes us feel better. Even when we’re almost certain the person giving the praise is blowing smoke up our you know what, that fake praise still feels better than well needed criticism. 

Praise and recognition can be very useful for building our self-confidence and self-esteem. It reaffirms that we are on the right track and we should do more of whatever it was we’ve been doing. Plus, it just downright feels good. 

Some criticism is the so called “constructive” kind. Other criticism is meant to hurt and demean people. We can’t control the intent of other people’s criticism towards us but we have complete control over how we receive it. 

I personally try to accept all criticism as constructive criticism. I’ll listen to it and then think on it for a while. I’ll look at it from different angles, I’ll share it with a mentor to get their take on it. Then I decide what to do with it. I’ll either decide the criticism was indeed intended to harm me in some way and I’ll quickly discard it. Or, I’ll decide that even though it was perhaps intended to demotivate me, there was a kernel of truth in it and I’ll try to take whatever corrective action I can. 

When I determine the criticism was meant to be constructive I’ll thank the person.  I may even ask for their help in improving in whatever area they saw a weakness.

But here’s the thing about both praise and criticism. Never accept either one without attaching a personal expiration date to them. Neither of them are forever. Assuming that your actions of today will continue to make you successful in the future is very limited thinking. You need to continually ask yourself how you can get better. No matter how good you may have been yesterday, or how good you are today, if you’re not better tomorrow then you’re losing ground to someone who is. 

Accept the praise, enjoy it a while but don’t forget, if you’re still trying to live off of last week’s praise next week you’ll likely be getting kind of stinky to the people around you. Greatness doesn’t come from doing something well once, it comes from doing something very well, again and again.

Likewise, criticism needs a relatively short expiration date. Ponder it for a time, learn from it what you can. If there is a lesson for you in the criticism then accept it. Learn from it, act upon it and ask yourself how you can prevent yourself from slipping back into that poor performance. Then toss the criticism into the trash heap of ancient history. Never dwell on criticism.

Praise and criticism both have the place in the toolbox of leadership. Just as a leader must keep their praise and criticisms fresh, the people on the receiving end of those tools must realize that neither was intended to last forever. 

Go Fly a Kite

There is an old fashioned idiom, mostly used in the United States, that says “go fly a kite.” It was used and once in a great while still is, when a person was being annoying. To “get rid” of the annoying person you would say, “go fly a kite.” 

It was a way of telling someone to go away.

But when you stop to think about it “go fly a kite” is some awesome advice. Flying a kite isn’t the easiest thing to do. First off you need a kite, then you need some string. Then you need favorable wind conditions. 

The favorable wind conditions mean being able to launch your kite against the wind. That’s against the wind. Imagine that! The person telling you to go fly a kite was challenging you to go against the wind. You could fly your kite with the wind but it wouldn’t be as easy to get it in the air and it wouldn’t fly as high. To truly succeed in flying your kite you have to have the wind against you. 

What was likely meant as an insult could easily be turned into a challenge that leads to success. 

As with every statement presented to you as an insult it’s completely up to you to decide if you’ll accept it as such or you will turn it into a challenge to improve yourself. 

Almost all of life’s greatest achievements were accomplished “against the wind.” The wind might have been a bunch of negative nellies who told you that you couldn’t do it. The wind could be circumstances outside of your control. The wind could be self-inflicted laziness that is preventing you from even getting started. 

Whatever the cause of your wind you’ll likely need to go against it to reach your full potential. Just like a kite. 

But know this…somewhere in the world, likely many places in the world, a kite is flying this very moment. It’s flying because someone decided to go against the wind. Steve Jobs was warned the the iPhone would not succeed. He was told to go with the wind and keep making computers. Leave the phone business to the phone people. He went against the wind…it seems to have worked out. There is a tremendous amount of success happening in the world everyday…almost all of it because someone decided to go against whatever headwinds happened to be in their way. 

You can choose to be that someone today. If someone tells you to “go fly a kite” or makes some other insulting comment just say, “thanks for the inspiration, I’m on it.” They may be a bit confused but you’ll be on your way to proving them wrong. 

The Bubble of Ineffective Leadership 

One of the challenges of being an ineffective leader is that being ineffective causes you to become even more ineffective over time. There is a definite downward spiral for all ineffective leaders and these ineffective leaders pick up speed on their way down. 

One reason that happens is because ineffective leaders either never knew, or have forgotten, that leadership is about people. They stop communicating on a regular basis with many of the people in their organizations. If they are a leader at the top of the organization their communications are primarily with their top lieutenants. Everything they hear and know is filtered through the lenses of those lieutenants. 

Ineffective leaders in essence “live” in a bubble that ordinary, everyday employees can’t penetrate. These employees can plainly see the bubble from the outside. The devastating thing about living in a bubble is that you can’t see it from the inside. The fact is that most ineffective leaders would tell you there is no such thing as a leadership bubble. That makes it doubly hard for them to escape it. 

They honestly, albeit foolishly, believe they are as plugged in and connected as anyone in the organization. This despite the fact that they may not have spoken face-to-face in the last year, or years, with more than a small handful of those ordinary, everyday people. 

They are comfortable hearing what they want to hear. Delivered from people who are adept at delivering information the way “the boss” wants to hear it. The information is frequently “cleansed” before they ever hear it. 

The challenge for ineffective leaders living in a bubble is that they not know what they don’t know. They also have no idea which of the things they think they “know” just ain’t so. These bubbles form around ineffective leaders over time. They become locked in without ever realizing it happened. 

If these “bubbled up” ineffective leaders ever did break free from their bubble the most likely thing they would hear from their people is “how can leadership be so clueless about what’s going on.” These bubbled up leaders would be shocked. 

Effective Authentic Leaders are aware of the dangers of these bubbles and work to make certain they are never trapped inside one of these formidable barriers. They make themselves highly visible to every member of the organization. They want their information unfiltered. They listen well and not only to the things they want to hear. They listen intently for, and to, the things they don’t want to hear. 

Authentic Leaders “walk slowly through the halls” making sure they are as assessable as they can be. Bubbles can’t form around an Authentic Leader because they allow ALL their people to get close to them. 

If you’re struggling to lead your team it’s very possible that you are in a bubble that you can’t see. Get out of the office and walk slowly around your organization. Talk to as many of your people as you can. Each one of those people are a “pin” poised to burst that bubble around you. 

All of those conversations will be a breath of fresh air, for you AND your entire organization. 

Lead Yourself Before Leading Others

I have known a whole lot of people who, for one reason or another, aspired to lead others. Some struggled with leading others because their motives for wanting to lead others were, shall we say, less than noble. 

But a good many of them with absolutely noble motives still struggled because they forgot step one in the process of leading others. That step involves leading yourself exceptionally well. 

As a leader you are the model of successful behavior for the people you lead. They are far more likely to do what you do than they are to do what you say. You can tell them to have a positive attitude but if your attitude is less than stellar then theirs will be too. You can tell them that punctuality is important but if you show up whenever you want then you can expect much the same out of your people.

And please, don’t tell me you’ve “earned the right” to show up whenever you want. Don’t tell me you’ve worked for the special privileges you’ve given yourself. 

As a leader what you have earned is the right to model successful behavior. You’ve earned the right to think, speak and act in the identical manner that you expect your people to think, speak, and act. 

Here’s a reality of leadership that many people miss. If your people have a bad attitude the first place to look for the source of that bad attitude is the mirror. Your people will often reflect the attitudes they see in you. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you can hide it from them. The only person you’re fooling is yourself. 

If you can’t control your emotions, your attitude, your actions, your feelings, your thoughts, and your interactions with other people, then don’t expect anyone who follows you to control any of those things either. 

Leadership is not about telling people what to do or how to behave. It is about showing them. 

If you have aspirations to lead others well then you must first lead yourself exceptionally well. Forgetting that, or convincing yourself that you can skip that step will cause you, and the people you are trying to lead, nothing but trouble. 

Your people will not follow, in fact, they cannot make the emotional attachment required to actually follow. You will fall into the trap of trying to manage them and then the real problems begin. 

Don’t do that to your people or yourself. Learn to lead yourself and you’ll find leading others to be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. 

Defining Followers

One of the common statements you hear when discussing leadership is “you may hold a leadership position but if no one is following you then you aren’t leading, you’re only going for a walk.” 

I use that from time to time in presentations myself. I use it because as a presenter you want to say things your audience can relate to and that is a very relatable statement. It gets a few laughs and smiles. 

But true followership goes much deeper than merely following behind some individual who may be aimlessly walking about themselves. People in general have been too impressed with the number of “followers” someone has, particularly in social media. I have a bunch of social media followers. The numbers alone look impressive, especially to people who don’t understand what “followership” really is. 

The reality is I have relatively few people truly following me on social media. At least when I use my definition of “following” or “follower.” 

Using my definition of “following” the first statement in this post would look like this: “You may hold a leadership position but if you’re not positively influencing people to be the best version of themselves possible then you aren’t leading. No matter how many people you’re responsible for leading.”

Influence is the heart and soul of leadership. If you have the ability to influence others, and use that influence to help them challenge themselves to be their very best, then you are an Authentic Leader. 

This is where the massive difference between trying to manage people and actually leading them comes in. Holding a leadership position gives someone the power to force the compliance of their people. They do that through rules, penalties and consequences. But that’s managing not leading. 

Authentic leaders have no need for their people to comply. They have something much better, they have the commitment of their people. Their people are committed because they see first hand how committed their leader is to them. 

Authentic Leaders invest time with their people to help them learn, grow and develop. Oftentimes to develop into leaders themselves. They model successful leadership characteristics and “show” the path to success. Lesser leaders don’t have time to “show” much of anything, they are too busy “telling” their people how something should be done. 

Let me give you a very recent and very very personal example. Some of you may know that on the day before Thanksgiving our 15 month old granddaughter, Daisy, was taken by ambulance to the hospital. She was in grave danger. The doctors and nurses at Children’s Hospital in Phoenix are nothing short of miracle workers and we believe God used them to bring Daisy back to good health. In less than a week she was well enough that I felt comfortable traveling to a business meeting. (BTW, after 9 days is the hospital she is back home and doing well)

At the business meeting I ran into a person I’ve known for a long time. He was recently promoted into a very high leadership position. When I saw him I tried to congratulate him on his promotion. He said thanks but immediately shifted gears to what he thought was way more important. He asked how Daisy was doing. He wanted to know everything. He was genuinely concerned. He cared and it showed as he listened intently and offered any help he could. I’d walk over hot coals for that guy. He earns the commitment of people. 

I’ve thought about that brief conversation with him several times over the last few days. It made me remember that as a leader, people are at the center of everything a leader accomplishes. In a brief hallway conversation he influenced me to pay more attention to who people are and a little less to what they do. 

Influence is the essence of leadership!

I also had the opportunity to congratulate another recently promoted individual. He said he had heard about our granddaughter as well and he was “glad” that her being in the hospital didn’t prevent me from attending the meeting. The difference between these two “leaders” was striking.

If you’re an Authentic Leader then you know that your leadership isn’t measured by the number of people in your organization.  It is not about the number of people who report to you. Your leadership is measured by the number of people you influence in a positive way. 

Remember, if you’re not influencing someone to be the very best version of themselves they can possibly be, then they may report to you but they are NOT following you.