You Ate Your Pizza With WHAT?

Lance Communication, Leadership Leave a Comment

I recently got to attend a conference in which software engineers and product developers discussed the technical ins-and-outs of cognitive computing and all the sub-topics that fall under that umbrella term (AI, deep learning, machine learning, natural language processing, etc). As I am neither a software engineer nor a product developer, my presence in the room was purely in the form of curious learner/technophile/groupie.

What struck me the most was the fundamental challenge facing the programmers and how similar it is to the challenge faced by my reading-teacher Wife: parsing out how meaning is understood, which is so far beyond mere text recognition.

For example:

  • We ate the pizza with anchovies.
  • We ate the pizza with forks.
  • We ate the pizza with Joe.

Forget the words ate – pizza – anchovies – forks – Joe. The key to your brain drawing the correct picture of meaning for each sentence requires deciphering the malleable meaning of the word with, which is different in each instance.

Because, just as “sounding out” a word isn’t the same as reading it, neither is knowing the mere definitions of words the same thing as understanding the meaning they are intending to convey. Context is a powerful shaper of meaning, able to bend the by-the-book definitions of words into something either rich and deep or nonsensical and contradictory.

This is an important concept to grasp, for leaders as much as for AI programmers and reading teachers. The context in which leaders communicate matters equally if not more than the words used. As the executives of Wells Fargo have since learned, telling your sales teams to behave ethically is insufficient when those messages are delivered within a broader context of unreasonable goals coupled with the constant pressure to perform or be fired. The message said “sell ethically” but the context said “do so at your own peril.”

Image credit: lincolnmurphy.com

Consider the confused meaning between fairly common intended messages leaders often give and the contradictory context in which they are delivered:

  • “We need to be bold and take risks to succeed!” … but project failure is punished either overtly (demoted or fired) or covertly (pushed to the side, seen unfavorably by leadership) — Should your people take risks or avoid failure?
  • “Tell me what’s working and what’s not.” … but the delivery of bad news is met with anger and intense scrutiny while good news is accepted at face value  — Should your people plainly say what needs to be said, or leave it to somebody else?
  • “I need you to focus on this and make it a priority” … but it is simply one more “priority,” added to the already long list of “priorities” that are somehow all “critical” — Should your people go deep on a few things and leave others untouched, or spread themselves thinly across the many things so that no one thing is ignored?

Guess which one people pay attention to?

 

Roots

Lance Excellence, Integrity Leave a Comment

Recently our family spent the weekend in a cabin in the woods of Hocking Hills in south-central Ohio. As we hiked through the 150-foot-deep gorge that houses Old Man’s Cave, we came across a massive tree. Actually, it was a pair of trees, growing closely together. The height of the trees was enormous, so much so that the only way to capture their entirety was to use the panorama feature on my phone’s camera. They were so tall that to an observer standing on the surface away from the gorge, they would’ve appeared as normally tall trees … nevermind that they had to grow some 75-100 feet just to reach the surface.

What was most striking about these trees, however, was their base. For all the majesty of these trees’ reach into the sky out of the gorge, the most impressive thing about them was that they grew to any height at all because of where they got their start: on a rock. The enormity of these trees growing out of their rocky start was a compelling sight, and a reminder:

You don’t have to be limited by where you started.

Too often in our culture we are told that the fortuitous advantages and tragic disadvantages of the circumstances of one’s birth play a disproportionately heavy role in the shape of one’s life. We tend to look at origins and prejudge future success and failure … and we also tend to look at a person’s current situation and judge what the beginnings of their story must have been like.

My first job assignment as a prosecutor coming out of law school was representing the county child welfare agency in its efforts to intervene on behalf of abused, neglected, or otherwise dependent children. I will never forget one hearing in which a public defender was representing a mother whose addictions and struggles had resulted in her kids being placed into foster care. In the heat of the legal arguments over what the agency was requiring the mother to do in order to be reunited with her kids, the public defender lashed out at me: “It’s easy for you, sitting there as a lawyer in your nice suit! You have no idea what it’s like to be poor and struggle!”

Taken aback, my emotions pushed me to respond before my brand new legal brain could stop me: “You don’t know me! You don’t know where I come from! Yeah, you see me as a lawyer in a suit now, but you don’t know the road I had to take to get here.” What that public defender had seen was the top of my tree; she didn’t have a clue about the rocks where I had started. She didn’t know that my childhood was largely defined by the dynamics of drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, and domestic violence. She didn’t know that I knew what it was like to have to put items back at the grocery store because they weren’t eligible for purchase with food stamps. Nor did she know that while the suit I was wearing in court was nice and new, my first ever suit jacket was a thrift store purchase for my 6th grade graduation. (I would’ve gladly repeated 6th grade instead of wearing that brown corduroy jacket with elbow patches if I had been given the choice.)

The temptation is to believe that the circumstances of one’s roots dictate the limitations of one’s tree. That just isn’t the case. The critical factor in life isn’t where the seed of your beginnings originally fell; it is simply that you grew and kept growing, on whatever soil or boulder you happen to have been placed. Instead, aim for the air beyond the rim of the gorge, and grow to a place that passers-by see your height and wrongfully conclude that you must have had roots in the best of soil.

How Shall We Be Known?

Lance Faith, Integrity, People 1 Comment

I haven’t written here in awhile because I’ve had this question of faith heavy on my mind over the last month or so. During that time, my energies and time normally devoted to exploring how leaders do leadership has been focused on the question of how Christians do Christ.

If we are to be in the world but not of it as Christ prayed the night before His crucifixion, what does that mean now, as the cultural terrain of our modern world is in a dizzying state of flux? The conversation can’t stop at simply repeating that, as Christians, we are to be salt that flavors the world and light that illuminates it. We must go beyond that and wrestle with the questions of what flavor we bring and what our light is aimed at: is our flavor is that of judgment or love? Does our light shine to illuminate the identity of others as sinners, or their identity as the objects of their Creator’s unfathomable love?

The following is how I answer those questions for myself. If it speaks to you and you want to use it elsewhere or share it offline, it is available here as a pdf.


NOTES

1 – Shepard Fairey, Greater Than Fear, 2017, commissioned by The Amplifier Foundation, as part of a protest to the inauguration of Donald Trump as President.

Source: http://cnn.it/2n4D5pW

 


1 – Brae Carnes, a transgender woman of Victoria, British Columbia, protesting an amendment to a Canadian transgender law governing bathroom access. Her protest campaign involved taking selfies of herself in men’s restrooms to illustrate how out of place she is in them despite her being born male.

Source: http://dailym.ai/2mG6hA4

 


4 – Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the season of Lent, which is the period of prayer and fasting leading up to Easter Sunday. Lent was originally a period of 40 days when it was adopted as a practice of the Catholic Church at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. In 601 AD, Pope Gregory changed it to 46 days in length (40 days of fasting and 6 Sundays of feasting). At that time, he also added the practice of marking the foreheads of parishioners with ashes in the shape of the cross.

Source: http://bit.ly/2mGc4po


5 – The WWJD bracelet, reminding wearers to ask themselves “What Would Jesus Do?”

The original phrasing of the question is credited to Charles Sheldon, a minister from Topeka, Kansas, who repeated the question throughout a series of sermons in 1886. A century later, Michigan youth minister Janie Tinkleberg read Sheldon’s book, In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?. Inspired by the message, Tinkleberg reduced the question to its now famous acronym and mixed it with the friendship bracelets that were popular in 1989.

Source: http://bit.ly/2nH8iOv


6 – Polaris, also known as the North Star, sits relatively still while the rest of the star field appears to orbit around it due to the rotation of the Earth. Polaris’ static position at nearly 90ᵒ above the North Pole made it ideal for navigation using the night sky. It also stands as a linchpin to the mathematical proof that the Earth is, indeed, not flat.

Source: http://bit.ly/2nBge76


7 – Tom Cruise as United States Navy lawyer Lt. Daniel Kaffee in A Few Good Men, 1992.

Source: http://imdb.to/2npvfby

 


8 – Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments, 1956.

Source: http://imdb.to/2mJTttG

 


11 – In the middle of December, 2013, NYPD Officer Carlos Ramos came across Robert William, a homeless man suffering the sub-freezing temperatures of New York City while wearing only a thermal undershirt. Officer Ramos stopped his patrol, took his coat off, and then gave the sweatshirt he was wearing underneath to the man in need.

Source: http://dailym.ai/2nTeemD


13 – Joe Pesci as lawyer Vinny Gambini in My Cousin Vinny, 1992.

Source: http://imdb.to/2nHqK9q

 


14 – Diogo Morgado as Jesus in Son of God, 2014.

Source: http://imdb.to/2n4UXkC

 


18 – William Henry Margetson, The Good Samaritan, date unknown, private collection.

Source: http://bit.ly/2mKhy3p

 


 27 – Nicolas Poussin, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, 1653, Musée Du Louvre, Paris, France.

Source: http://bit.ly/2mGjUzg

 


29 – This warning is written for the driver, not the passenger sitting closest to the mirror. The reason for the warning has to do with the need to use a curved mirror in order to compensate for the distance between the passenger-side mirror and the driver. In order to increase the viewing angle for the driver, image distortion is the result.

Source: http://bit.ly/2mK8CuU


 31 – Christians protesting homosexuality on the campus of Syracuse University, November 18, 2009.

Source: http://bit.ly/2nTC2ad

 


32 – The creation of the transgender symbol is credited to Nancy Nangeroni, Holly Boswell and Wendy Pierce of the International Foundation for Gender Education.

Source: http://on.mash.to/2mGs76

 


33 – Members of the protest group “Black Lives Matter” embrace members of the counter-protest group “All Lives Matter” at a rally in Dallas just days after a gunman murdered five and injured nine other members of the Dallas Police Department. When gunned down, those officers were standing guard, ensuring a peaceful environment for a “Black Lives Matter” rally in downtown Dallas on July 7, 2016.

Source: http://lat.ms/2nbSPYO


34 – Sunset upon the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum in Rome, Italy.

Source: http://bit.ly/2n513BK

 


35 – Thomas Couture, Romans in the Decadence of the Empire, 1847, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.

Source: http://bit.ly/2n54lVv

 


38 – On June 17, 2015, 21-year old Dylann Roof entered the nearly 200-year-old Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a place he had visited three times before. After sitting in the Wednesday night Bible study for 40 minutes, Roof opened fire on the 12 parishioners as they closed their eyes to pray. Roof emptied 7 magazines from his handgun in the attack, shooting each of the 9 dead at least 5 times. Those killed ranged in age from 26 to 87. The families of the 9 victims responded just days later with public pronouncements of forgiveness for Roof. In the words of Nadine Collier, whose 70-year-old mother, Ethel Lance, was one of the killed: “If God forgives you, I forgive you.”

Sources: http://cnn.it/2nHI12e; http://nyti.ms/2npZYoO; http://bzfd.it/2n4X9bK; http://nydn.us/2npGa4U


39 – Pioneering FDNY firefighter Regina Wilson with the rest of her academy graduating class in 1999.

Source: http://nydn.us/2n57Aw2

 


40 – I wish I knew the story behind this photo. The photo itself is everywhere on the internet, but I can’t find its origin. If anybody reading this knows, find me on LinkedIn or Twitter and let me know!

Source: http://bit.ly/2mKnt8J

 


41 – Former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow during a workout for Major League Baseball scouts. Tebow, known equally for his intense work ethic and commitment to charitable work as much as for his athletic accomplishments, is currently a member of the New York Mets organization. His goal isn’t to make it to the Major League roster – he has his sights on a higher purpose: “I want to be someone that was known for bringing faith, hope and love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.”

Sources: http://bit.ly/2npWwL5; http://bit.ly/2mmiuPl


42 – Hip-hop/dub step/rock/classical violinist, dancer, choreographer, composer and YouTube music video star Lindsey Stirling. To see and hear this diminutive Mormon play her music is to see passion personified. In 2010, Stirling failed to advance beyond the quarterfinals of America’s Got Talent, as Piers Morgan, Sharon Osbourne, and Howie Mandel all concluded she was not good enough to play a theater in Las Vegas. Stirling not only has released three albums and gone on multiple international tours, but she is the highest earning woman on YouTube: thanks to over 9 million subscribers, her videos have been viewed a staggering 1.7 billion times.

Source: http://dailym.ai/2mjtm0j


43 – Members of Christ United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tennessee, providing Christmas dinner to inmates at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer him, saying ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

Matthew 25:35-40 ESV

Sources: http://bit.ly/2nU0NGX, http://bit.ly/2nU17VZ


44 – “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

I Corinthians 15:17-19 ESV

Source: http://bit.ly/2nLuG9n


45 – Romanian gymnast Robert Stănescu performing on the rings at the Glasgow Grand Prix 2009.

Source: http://bit.ly/2mYSeHJ

 


46 – Students in prayer at the Passion 2017 conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

Source: http://bit.ly/2ncaHCP

 


47 – Stocking the “Neighbors 4 Neighbors” mobile food pantry by members of the Toccoa First United Methodist Church in Toccoa, Georgia.

Source: http://bit.ly/2mjg43V

 


49 – In 1958, Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested for the charge of loitering outside of a courtroom in Montgomery, Alabama. King was waiting for his friend, Ralph Abernathy, who was inside appearing for trial. This photo was taken by Charles Moore, a 27-year-old photographer for the Montgomery Advertiser, and was one of several distributed nationwide by the Associated Press.

Source: http://bit.ly/2nUfFkI


50 – During halftime of the football game between Florida and Ole Miss on October 3, 2015, the family of Florida native Chief Warrant Officer Kristian Denkins was invited to the field to see a video message from him. To celebrate finishing his fifth tour of duty in Afghanistan, the soldier worked with the team to orchestrate the surprise reunion that his kids never saw coming. Watch the video at the link and feel all the feels.

Source: http://bit.ly/2mYPSIM


51 – Warrant Officer 1 Shawn Thomas, a member of the US Army Green Berets, was killed on Feb. 2, 2017, while deployed in Niger, Africa, training local troops in fighting the local terrorist group, Boko Haram. He was 35 years old, and left behind his wife and 4 young children. Warrant Officer Thomas served seven tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning 2 Bronze Stars, 4 Good Conduct Medals, the Meritorious Service Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal. His arrival and reunion with his grieving widow, TJ Thomas, was captured by Lisa Williams, a passenger on the flight that brought his body home to North Carolina. Williams’ video – shared on Facebook with TJ Thomas’ blessing – has been viewed over 10 million times. Watch the video at the link and cry all the tears.

Sources: http://bit.ly/2n7cF6Y; http://bit.ly/2nqqZIE


52 – The divided loyalties of Warren and Carol Reckmeyer were on display as the couple entered Busch Stadium in St. Louis on August 17, 2015, to see the Cardinals host the San Francisco Giants. The photo of the couple – married 63 years at that point – was captured by St. Louis native Pete Hubert, whose friend shared it on Facebook. It went viral after a St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist saw it and shared it on Twitter.

Source: http://abcn.ws/2nCHPEO


53 – During a visit to a Tallahassee middle school with some teammates, Florida State University wide receiver Travis Rudolph saw a boy eating his lunch by himself away from the other kids. Rudolph took his pizza and sat down with Bo Paske, unaware that the boy had autism. A teacher shared the photo with Bo’s mother, who shared it on Facebook in a post describing what a great act of kindness it was for her son who normally is left to eat lunch alone. After the post went viral, the team presented Bo with his own customized Seminoles jersey (bearing his name and Rudolph’s number), tickets and field passes to an FSU game, and invited Bo to spend the day as an honorary member of the team, eating lunch with them.

Sources: http://on.si.com/2nevDcx; http://on.ncaa.com/2nKsE9s; http://usat.ly/2nLouyj


55 – Nelson Mandela (left) spent 27 years in jail as a political prisoner opposed to the official system of racial segregation in place in South Africa since 1948 known as apartheid. F.W. de Klerk (right) became South Africa’s president in August, 1989; six months later, de Klerk released Mandela from prison. Working together, the two men led South Africa through the transition to a free and democratic nation while avoiding the violent reprisals and civil war that often accompany such change. In 1994, Mandela succeeded de Klerk as President in the country’s first democratic election. The two men were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Sources: http://bit.ly/2nDwJPZ; http://bit.ly/2nsCDTz


57 – On May 13, 1981, an escapee from a Turkish prison named Mehmet Ali Ağca attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. The Pope was shot four times, severely wounded by two shots hitting him in the lower intestine. Ağca was sentenced to life in prison by an Italian court. Two years later, the Pope visited Ağca in prison, where he communicated the forgiveness in person that he had already stated publicly. In 2000, at the Pope’s request, Ağca was pardoned and released to Turkey to serve an original life sentence there. Ağca eventually converted to Christianity and was released from his Turkish prison in 2010.

Source: http://on.mash.to/2nKP5ve


58 – Five months after the fighting began, the first Christmas of World War I arrived in 1914. Up and down the Western Front, the trench lines of the British/French/Belgian allies and the German invaders were sometimes as close as 100 feet apart. On Christmas Eve, soldiers on both sides could be heard singing Christmas carols. The next day, the men emerged to shake hands, share food and cigarettes, and even games of football/soccer. The temporary truce also enabled each side to retrieve their dead comrades stuck in “no man’s land” for weeks and give them a proper burial. The peace was tragically temporary, as 3 more Christmases would pass before the Armistice of November 11, 1918, officially ended the war. Total casualties of WWI included more than 9 million soldiers killed, close to 10 million civilians killed, and another 21 million soldiers wounded.

Sources: http://ti.me/2nKwKOO; http://bit.ly/2nDAuoB; http://bit.ly/2mN3xlo


59 – British Red Cross worker giving water through the razor wire line at the Turkey/Syria border.

Source: http://bit.ly/2mIpO3a

 


60 – In the early morning hours of June 5, 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was taken at knifepoint from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah. Over the course of the next 9 months, Smart was often chained to a tree and subjected to perpetual sexual and emotional abuse by her kidnappers, religious fanatic Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. Mitchell is currently serving a life sentence in federal prison, while Barzee is now in a Utah state prison until 2024. In the years since, Smart has worked to overcome her horrific ordeal: she is now a wife, creator of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, and a public speaker and author advocating for missing children and the victims of sexual abuse.

Sources: http://nbcnews.to/2nWLObB; http://bit.ly/2neQNHu


61 – The worst mass shooting in US history occurred on June 12, 2016, at the Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Florida. At approximately 2 am on “Latin Night” at the club, Omar Mir Seddique Mateen began shooting the gay club’s patrons inside. During the subsequent 3-hour shooting-filled standoff with police, Mateen called 911 multiple times, identifying himself as “an Islamic soldier” and pledging his “allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State.” Mateen killed 49 people and wounded another 53 more before being killed himself by law enforcement. The people of Orlando responded the next day by lining up to donate blood for the dozens of hospitalized victims, while multiple Chick-Fil-A locations set aside their corporate policy of being closed on Sunday in order to prepare and deliver free food to the lines of blood donors as well as first responders.

Sources: http://n.pr/2mNbUgN; http://bit.ly/2nWFQaL


62 – On June 27, 2015, an unnamed street preacher stood among the festival goers at ComFest, a community street music festival in Columbus, Ohio. Flanked by a large “Jesus Saves From HELL” sign, the preacher loudly proclaimed the wages of sin to passers-by. Just one day prior, the US Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, ruling same-sex marriage to be a constitutionally protected right nationwide. Zea Bowling, a 1st grader who was walking by on her way to buy pizza, stood with a tiny rainbow-colored gay pride flag in protest to the preacher. The scene of the screaming preacher and the silent child quickly went viral (8.6 million views on YouTube alone), reinforcing the cultural image of Christians as angry and hateful in the face of even small children when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.

Sources: http://bit.ly/2n19ufq; http://bit.ly/2mNjCHZ


63 – Mihály Munkácsy, Christ Before Pilate, 1881, Déri Museum, Debrecen, Hungary.

Source: http://bit.ly/2mNc4VI

 


64 – In 2010, members of the Marin Foundation began attending the Chicago Pride Parade as part of their “I’m Sorry” campaign. The purpose of this campaign is for Christians to counter the messages of judgment at gay pride parades with messages of love and, in particular, expressions of apology for, as one sign put it, “the way the Church has treated you.” This image of Foundation member and pastor Nathan Albert hugging a parade marcher quickly went viral, being shared over 34 million times. Two years later, it was the #1 image on BuzzFeed’s “21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity” article, which has been viewed over 9 million times since it was published in 2012. This expression of Christian love has not gone unnoticed by the LGBTQ community.

Sources: http://bit.ly/2nUn0o2http://bit.ly/2nkWVvS; http://bzfd.it/2nkLOmA; http://bit.ly/2nCl7vS


65 – Leprosy was more than just a disease; it was a life sentence to perpetual isolation from meaningful human interaction and contact. The gospel of Mark records what happened when Jesus was confronted with a man suffering from leprosy: “Moved with pity, [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.” Jesus didn’t heal the leper at a distance. Jesus crossed the ultimate taboo line by physically touching this man, affirming his dignity as a human being worthy of connection.

Source: http://bit.ly/2nkwQwJ


67 – Unnamed man giving his shoes to an unnamed homeless girl in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Source: http://bzfd.it/2n75nQM

 


68 – In 1998, an anonymous client hired Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, advertising firm The Smith Agency to develop a series of ads featuring short, conversational messages from God. The ads were to be placed on billboards along highways and roads throughout Broward County, Florida. A total of 17 messages were produced.

Sources: http://prn.to/2nL4oE0; http://bit.ly/2mlYUCM

 

Anxiety Goggles

Lance Fear, Leadership, People Leave a Comment

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are — Anonymous

A friend of mine recently went skiing. She’s not a brand new skier, but is still a self-described novice. She explained this as she shared a video her husband took of her coming down the mountain. As she explained it, she had felt at the time that she was flying down the blue/intermediate run at breakneck speed. Humorously, the video showed her moving at a much more … measured … pace. The point of her sharing the story was the hilarious gaping chasm of difference between her sense of dangerously speeding down the slope as she experienced it, and the much more pedestrian reality.

That difference is Anxiety and its distorting effect on how we view what’s happening to us in a nutshell.

Whether it is fearing the consequences of falling down the side of a mountain, or the insecurities of answering for a negative result to one’s boss, the anxiety we feel about the situation actively warps our perception of what is actually happening in the situation. We end up afraid when we should be excited, nervous when we should be calm. Think of it like an emotional version of the stroboscopic effect in photography/videography, which creates some real-looking but unrealistic images for our brain to process. Here are two mind-bending examples:

That is what anxiety does to your emotional picture.

Worse still: when we are surrounded by others who are all feeling the same anxieties, the distortion effect amplifies as we share our experience with others. Each person’s anxious state confirms the same for others. In this environment, a person who isn’t exhibiting the same symptoms of stress isn’t looked at as a person to follow — “She’s not worried. Let’s take a deep breath and calm down too.” — but as an anomaly — “She doesn’t act like she cares at all. What’s wrong with her?”

This is a recipe for overreaction and a shortening of focus. On the mountain, this means going slower than you really need to and laughing at yourself after. In business, it means reacting to the noise of short-term volatility instead of the longer-term signal (more on this in a later post). In social relationships (whether marital or political), it means shadow boxing against what we know the other really means instead of simply dealing with the face-value of things they are actually saying.

Having worn anxiety goggles like this a time or two in my life (yes, that’s me in the image at the top), there are two things I’ve found that help tremendously in social/professional environments:

SELF-AWARENESS – simply being aware of this phenomenon and the possibility that how you are seeing/experiencing the situation may not match up with the reality of the situation is a huge first step. This enables you to take the goggles off for second, step out from behind anxiety’s distorting effect, and consider the possibility of a different take on what’s in front of you than what your emotional vision is telling you.

SELF-WORTH – when you develop a healthy sense of who you are that is independent of what you do and the praising or criticizing judgments of others, anxiety loses an effective angle on you. No longer can anxiety kick your amygdala into high gear by screaming in your head “WHAT DOES THIS MONTH’S BAD PERFORMANCE SAY ABOUT YOU?!?!?!”

That last one is an important point to realize. The more we allow our sense of self-worth to be tied to the ups and downs of performance and other’s judgment of it, the more havoc anxiety can wreak — not just in our head, but also in our actual ability to perform. By believing that external judgments of our performance define our value, we actually make it harder for ourselves to perform at our potential in order to secure those praiseworthy judgments we seek, according to research at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (or “the M-word up north” as my Ohio-born-and-bred son now says).

college students who based their self-worth on external sources–including appearance, approval from others and even their academic performance–reported more stress, anger, academic problems, relationship conflicts, and had higher levels of drug and alcohol use and symptoms of eating disorders. …

College students who based their self-worth on academic performance did not receive higher grades despite being highly motivated and studying more hours each week than students who did not rate academic performance as important to their self-esteem, Crocker found. Students who based their self-worth on academic outcomes also were more likely to report conflicts with professors and greater stress.

“They feel motivated to do well in academics, but having their self-worth on the line doesn’t help their performance,” Crocker says. She speculates that students who base their self-worth on academic performance might become anxious and distracted and threatened by feelings of failure, and, as such, their anxiety might then interfere with their memory.

Anxiety about external judgments doesn’t just work on individuals like this; it does the same thing to entire organizations. As Simon Sinek describes in his book, Leaders Eat Last:

In fact, the more financial analysts who cover a company, the less innovative the company. According to a 2013 study that appeared in the Journal of Financial Economics, companies covered by a larger number of analysts file fewer patents than companies covered by fewer analysts. And the patents those companies do generate tend to have lower impact. The evidence supports the idea that “analysts exert too much pressure on managers to meet short-term goals, impeding firms’ investment in long-term innovative projects.” Put simply, the more pressure the leaders of a public-company feel to meet the expectations of an outside constituency, the more likely they are to reduce their capacity for better products and services.

For leaders, whether of families, teams, or multi-national corporations, the takeaway is the same: if you want your kids, team members, or employees to maximize their performance through a clear view of what they are facing, then leading in a way that removes anxiety rather than creates/inflames/uses it is the only answer. Three suggestions:

  1. Don’t overreact to the noise of the moment — people are already inclined to do that. Be the example of calm focus on the bigger issues and longer term.
  2. Separate judgments of performance from valuations of people — whether in reaction to a child’s test score or a sales team’s monthly result, putting people on the emotional rollercoaster of “you’re great when your results are good / terrible when they are bad” adds the variable of psychological anxiety to the already complex problem of performance. Be the simplifier of problems, not the complicator.
  3. Don’t make your personal approval the goal — as social animals, people are wired to seek acceptance and avoid rejection. Don’t exacerbate this by allowing people to think pleasing you as the leader is the point of their job. Keep them focused on the accomplishment of the mission before them, and not on your own emotional state about them.

Silence Isn’t Golden

Lance Fear, Integrity, Leadership Leave a Comment

“Change starts with voices.” — Tony Reali

Over the weekend, a long-time friend from my school days launched a blog, and left her comfort zone in the process. An occasion like this is a good reminder of the benefits and hurdles to being an open book.

We all have our own insecurities and fears, issues and hangups. Despite this fact, we all tend to believe ours are unique — not in the “you’re unique and special!” kinda way, but in the “everyone has issues, but man, do *you* have ISSUES!” way. As a result, the impulse to hide our weaknesses keeps us quiet, afraid to be judged by our flaws instead of our strengths. This, like nearly everything Fear has to say, is a lie used by the Enemy to keep us from speaking up, because he knows three things that he desperately wants us to forget/ignore/be ignorant of:

1) Talking about our “stuff” is therapeutic — it starts us moving in the direction away from the cloak of Shame and towards other people in our community who can provide the care and encouragement and perspectives needed to begin healing/overcoming.

2) At the same time, speaking up lets those in our network of connections who are feeling the exact same things know that they are not alone either. It also models for them what it looks like to operate as the subject of our life’s sentence, and not its object: we do things to and with our fears, not the other way around. This helps others begin doing #1 in their own lives.

3) The more we do this, the easier it becomes, creating a flywheel effect of healing and empowerment. These are the things that leave an impact, much as light does to the darkness, and salt does to the meal. (Matt. 5:13-15)

The path that led me to giving a public speech (!!) about the emotional effects of my getting fired was a long and hard one. During my year of unemployment, I was utterly terrified to talk about it, as if giving words to it gave material substance to the awful feelings of shame and doubt about myself as a professional, as a husband, as a father, and as a man. No doubt this played a part in my remaining unemployed for so long, as the tension of protecting something — even if completely understandable — inevitably shows up in the pressurized moment of a job interview. Even after returning to work, it would be some time before I was comfortable enough to talk about it. Before I arrived at that place, there were moments of painful embarrassment, like the time an opposing defense attorney brought up what had happened as a means of shaming me into a more favorable plea bargain offer. (Yes, that really happened … and it was the closest I’ve ever come to being in a physical altercation as an adult.)

It’s tempting to keep our insecurities hidden and explain it as an act of being private rather than afraid. But, as my TEDxDayton comrade Scot Ganow explained, the value of privacy isn’t in keeping things secret, per se. Rather, it is in the power to decide the terms (what, when, how, etc) of disclosure. Being private doesn’t necessarily mean being quiet, but being afraid always does.

When it comes to the things we are most insecure about, the benefits of taking the risks of exposing ourselves to others are too great to let Fear win. God has given us all journeys full of both triumphs and failures, and voices with which to share them. Let us use them all so that others may find courage to do likewise.