Be Great at People (deepened)

Last week I attended a week long Vistage Academy. It was one of the best trainings I’ve been through in my entire career. In this week’s news letter, I’d like to reflect and share with you some of the learnings that have wide application for any business leader.

These practices expand on the Be Great at People practices covered earlier. Let’s double click on the ACT practice delving deep into how to make it useful across a business. Improve your implementation of Accountability, Coaching and Transparency with 5 powerful tools to apply to that practice.


We spent a good part of the week talking about Mindset. If you have not already, you should read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. According to her, we embrace either a fixed or growth mindset. Shifting to a growth mindset is one of the most useful things we can challenge ourselves and others to do. Research has shown that people with a growth mindset tend to be more successful in school, work, and life. They are also more likely to be happy and resilient.

A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort and practice. People with a growth mindset are more likely to:

  • Be motivated by mastery and growth they see in themselves and others.
  • Challenge themselves to learn and take on new challenges.
  • See mistakes as opportunities to learn.
  • See failure as an opportunity to grow.
  • Persevere in the face of setbacks.
  • Be open to feedback.
  • Make joy-based decisions.

A fixed mindset is the belief that intelligence and abilities are fixed and cannot be changed. People with a fixed mindset are likely to do the opposite of the above. Fear is the opposite of joy for the last bullet.

My big breakthrough this week was realizing that, although I normally tend toward a growth mindset, there are areas where I lean toward fixed. For example, I often tell myself I’m not a people person. With this fixed mindset, I shy away from some social situations with the fear-based idea that people might not like the introverted me. Looking at this with a growth mindset reframes the idea to accepting that the more I do it, the better I will get and the fear is likely unfounded. Starting with joy and a growth mindset, I can recognize that I have unique experiences and I am inquisitive and listen well to add value to most social interactions.

Matt Mochary challenges the CEO’s he coaches to shift from a fixed mindset and fear-based decisions by making a bet. He says he has never lost when he has challenged someone who was making a decision while working from these limiting mindsets to do the opposite. Once you do this a few times, you only need to be reminded of the destructive mindset you are working from to drive better decisions.

Four Fatal Fears

So, what are the fears we should be on the lookout for? The four fatal fears are:

  • Fear of failure. The need to succeed. It can be paralyzing and prevent us from taking risks or trying new things. It results in playing not to lose rather than playing to win.
  • Fear of being wrong. The need to be correct. It can lead us to avoid challenging ourselves intellectually or speaking up in meetings or admitting when we are wrong. It results in playing small instead of playing big.
  • Fear of rejection. The need to be liked and included. It can make us afraid to put ourselves out there or challenge anyone. It results in playing to please rather than playing to serve others.
  • Fear of emotional discomfort. The need for emotional comfort. It can lead us to avoid situations that make us feel uneasy, or to ask for help. It results in playing it safe instead of learning from emotional vulnerability.

This list was first made by Larry Wilson a leadership coach and it was popularized by the psychologist Maxie Maultsby. Wilson believed that these fears were fatal because they would lead to intellectual, emotional, and spiritual death if they remained unconquered.

It is OK to want to avoid your fears, but to need to avoid them is fatal. Maultsby argued that these fears are learned, not innate, and that they can be unlearned (he believed in a growth mindset.) This unlearning starts by shifting mindset as discussed above. Acknowledge when these fears are driving action so that productive assumptions, emotions, and mindsets can replace them. Treat these fears as a warning that a mindset shift is needed.

The Power of Gratitude

We spent a lot of time practicing gratitude throughout the course. I had not journaled about gratitude before, but found the assignment to do it as homework each night fulfilling. I was not previously aware of the science behind a gratitude practice. Benefits include:

  1. Improved mental health: It can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improve overall well-being and life satisfaction and increase happiness.
  2. Better physical health: It can reduce stress, improve sleep quality, and boost the immune system. According to a 2012 study in Personality and Individual Differences, grateful people experience less aches and pains, and report feeling healthier than other people.
  3. Increased resilience: It can help cope with adversity by shifting our focus to the positive aspects of our lives. A 2014 study in the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology showed that gratitude increases self-esteem.
  4. Stronger relationships: Expressing gratitude to others can strengthen relationships and promote positive interactions. According to a 2014 study in Emotion, thanking new acquaintances makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship.
  5. Increased empathy and generosity: It can encourage us to be more generous and giving.

I plan to continue gratitude journaling to help me get in good mindsets and to literally re-wire my brain for the better. A 2015 study in NeuroImage by Indiana University researchers, found that a gratitude journaling group showed greater neural sensitivity in areas of the brain involved in decision-making, emotion regulation, empathy and social cognition, compared to the other groups.

To join this gratitude journaling group, follow the study instructions for the 12 week trial:

The participants were asked to take a few minutes to reflect on the positive experiences they had during the day and write them in their gratitude journals each night before bed. Specifically, they should write about “three things that went well today, and why they went well.” They were asked to be specific about the events or experiences they were grateful for. Examples provided included getting a good grade on a test, spending time with friends or family, or enjoying a nice meal. They also encouraged the participants to try to find new things to be grateful for each day, rather than repeating the same things over and over.

Active Listening

Transparency and Coaching require active listening to be most useful. Our group instructor beautifully described the skills used as depicted by the Chinese character Ting. The character combines symbols suggesting listening is with ears, eyes, and heart as if the speaker were a king.

Ears: Hear the topic and words and hear the voice pitch and emotion being shared.

Eyes: Pay attention to the speaker’s body language and other non-verbal clues to understand their message more fully.

Heart: Listen with empathy. Understand the from the speakers point of view. The character shows the outcome of a meaningful conversation is to have “One Heart” by the end.

King: If you imagine the speaker is royalty, you will give them you full attention, show respect and support, not make judgements, and take what they are saying seriously.

I am surprised the character no longer has two mouths in it. Because, to actively listen, you need to also ensure understanding by:

  • Restating and asking clarifying questions to deepen understanding.
  • Reflecting in you own words to help them hear how the message sounds.
  • Summarizing the main points of what you have heard.

Google ‘active listening open ended questions for deeper understanding,’ if you want to explore more. Creating deeper understanding can even help the speaker find better solutions to issues discussed themselves. I especially like:

  • Say more?
  • How is this impacting you – at work? – personally?
  • What does it look like in 10 years if nothing changes?
  • What is the belief underlying all of this; I must ___ to be worthy?
  • What is your biggest fear?

Approaching conversations with all the active listening components makes them more useful to all participants.

Feedback Model

Feedback is a specific practice of active listening to address behavior that may be holding someone back or hindering results.

Trust is the foundation for good feedback and all resulting growth. We talked in our training about choosing to trust and then working together to earn it. Show respect and act in the best interest of all parties without judgement.

Their are many models for feedback. The one we explored is closest to the GIVE model. In it the person giving feedback will:

  1. Get permission. Start by asking the person if they are open to receiving feedback. This builds trust by showing that you respect their time and feelings.
  2. Identify the behavior. Be specific about a recent observation. Include the situation, behavior, and impact witnessed.
  3. Validate the person’s feelings. Invite a response. Actively listen to ensure you understand how they feel about the behavior or performance.
  4. Explore openness to change. Ask how to best move forward. Work together to focus on a desired outcome for next time and alternative behavior that may achieve it. When possible, agree to next steps for improvement. Thank them for being open to change. 

The response to feedback should acknowledge that the giver is acting with the best interests of the receiver in mind. A simple “Thank you,” is appropriate. Stay curious, open and appreciative throughout the process.

ACT suggests that 360 degree feedback maximizes transparency and resulting growth. Managers and reports should practice giving and receiving mutual feedback.

You can practice any of these tools in 1-to-1 meetings and incorporate them in all team interactions. In addition to Transparency created with feedback, the tools make Coaching and creating Accountability more routine and useful for any team. They build the trust and interaction skills required for good culture and to maximize performance.

Please follow, share, comment, like, and reach out. Message me on LinkedIn or connect on Twitter if I can answer any questions or help address a specific need you have.

Follow your Passion, find Joy in your work, and create Freedom in all life’s priorities.

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