Get out of the box

I just finished a book called “Leadership and Self Deception: Getting out of the Box” by the Arbinger Institute.  According to the book, “the box  is a metaphor for the experience of self-deception. In  the box,  we distort how we see ourselves, others, and even the world of work in order to justify what we haven’t done (or what we have done that we might regret).” When we are in the box, we are pointing our fingers at everyone else.  We rationalize outcomes looking to diminish our role in any failures. images 2

I am constantly in the box.  I’m pretty sure that I rarely have ventured out of the box.  If the bed isn’t made, it’s my husband’s fault.  I’m impatient because my son isn’t ready to leave, it’s my son’s fault.  I’m leaving work late because a coworker needs some advice, it’s my coworker’s fault.  It’s amazing.  I’m never at fault.  Geez.  I must be perfect. And quite the bulldozer as I roll over everyone in my life.

So obviously, I haven’t perfected getting out of the box however  I am starting to realize steps to take to get there:

1. Wake up.  One of the things I realized is that I am so frequently gliding on auto pilot.  I’m not paying attention to my own thoughts and how “me” centric I can be.  The first step is I need to pay  attention to my view of the world and change the focus to others’  desires.  As Cher said in Moonstruck, “Snap out of it!”

2. Flip.  Change perspectives.  I’ve spent countless hours surfing bleachers as my son is a high school wrestler.  If you have never watched a match, the big take away is that in a matter of 2 seconds, who ever has the upper hand can change without notice.  Your son is on the bottom, down on points when suddenly,with 8 seconds to go, he flips his opponent and pins him for the win.  You can flip your perspective just as quickly.  What’s it like being on the receiving end of me?

3. Service. Be of service to others.  Be the giver.  Hold the door open.  Let the car in front of you merge in.  Put the kids to bed, even if it’s not your turn.  The way out of the box is to focus on the needs of others.  If I  start with service,  my focus is outside instead of inside. Live the Rotary International motto, “Service above Self.”

4.  Let go of reciprocity.   I think this is where I get hung up.  If I stay late to work on a report for my team, I expect something in return.  Maybe it’s a “thank you” or some quid pro quo on the project that I’m spearheading.  If I mow the lawn, isn’t my husband going to make dinner?  I need to let go of the prospect of reciprocity.  When I start looking for the pay back, I end up back in the box.  Suddenly the focus is on you again.  Let. It. Go.

5. People versus Objects.  The biggest take away from the book is that I have to see people as, well, people.  The minute I  start to see people as objects, I am  back in the box.  If you think about it, you can’t have a relationship with an object (at least not a healthy relationship).  Once you’ve turned your partner, your child, your colleague into an object, the relationship transactional.  A means to an end.  You are back in the box.

I am a work in progress.  I appreciate that the book acknowledges that everyone has this problem.  None of us are living outside the box all the time.  Gives me room for hope.  It gives us all room for hope.

Pointing Fingers

I’d love to know how much time and energy gets wasted pointing fingers.  We seem to be constantly searching for Fault, who to blame – The fall guy. We feel so vindicated once that football coach is fired, that worthless sales guy is let go or your daughter finally drops that no good boyfriend. Now it will all be better. But it isn’t.  Pointing fingers can be….er, pointless.

I’m not trying to assert that root cause analysis isn’t important. It certainly has its place when figuring out what went wrong with a plane crash. I’m just saying it’s not very productive in everyday life.  If the stakes aren’t high, what is the point of all this finger pointing?  It creates camps of co-workers on one side or the other; it creates division.  The assumption mill goes crazy along with the gossip mill and, worst of all, the complaint mill.images

I recently joined a peer to peer group and one of the rules of engagement is to not ask “why”. Well that seemed a little unorthodox, my Human Resource filter is always looking for the “why” but what was astutely pointed out by our leader is that “why” is all about blame. We are in the group for solutions and that is all about “what, how and where”. Makes you think doesn’t it.

So how do we get off the blame train? Here are some ideas:

1. You. It starts with you. Forgive yourself.  Calm down your inner critic.  I’ve seen co-workers blame themselves and then beat themselves up for months. I’ve seen managers bring up the doofus they hired ten years ago and waited two years to fire. This is not going to instill confidence in yourself…or anybody else. Don’t live in blame mode.

2. Debrief with compassion.  The team should certainly review what went right and what went wrong at an event. Be careful not to attach anyone to the failures. “Well it was Joe’s decision to get the dancing Elephant, what an idiot!”  Don’t start driving the bus over anyone.  Learn from the failures and successes and move on. No corpses left behind. The team won’t be afraid of the debrief going forward.

3. Potential. Dr. David Rock advocates “listening for potential” in his book “Quiet Leadership”. It engages you as a listener. Instead of thinking for ways to respond or problem solve, you listen with the intent for the speaker to find their own potential. It’s so much more proactive.  It’s difficult to point the finger if you are looking for potential.

4. Stop judging. Half the time, people are pointing the finger because they want the spotlight off themselves. If they start judging others and their actions, they feel better. Put someone else down and then, by default, you raise yourself up. This may work for a while but eventually you will find yourself alone. No one hangs out with guy who is driving the bus over folks.

5. Commitment. There are going to be times when you hold your child accountable for failing grades, your assistant for the botched report or your dog for the “accident” on the carpet.  Keep it as confidential as possible, maintain their self esteem and show them confidence and commitment that we can move forward from here.

It’s easy to fall into finger pointing and this isn’t going to end anytime soon. Start in your corner of the world and see what effect it has on others. As Bob Marley said, “who are you to judge the life I live? I know I’m not perfect and I don’t live to be, but before you start pointing fingers make sure your hands are clean.”