Do you double-guess yourself? Get a mentor!

The puzzle of politicians and other ambitious people

Many years ago, a student of mine, Phil, asked a simple question: why do people elbow their way onto committees and into public positions, and then not do what they have yelled, screamed, kicked, agitated, mobilized to do?

Isn’t it odd to put so much energy into something and then not do it?

A study of student politicians

Phil’s study was simple.

Students spend a lot of time in queues. He used his queues to find student leaders who had promised publicly to do something for their club or society the very next day.

He was looking for

  • elected leaders (who had volunteered for that job out of all the public posts available in a University)
  • volunteered to their task
  • offered and promised to do it in front of other people
  • expected to do it and complete the next day.

He found his leaders as he queued for lunch or the library or whatever and secured their agreement to be interviewed fully that evening in their study-bedroom and then again, the following evening, after the task was completed.

Two interviews : one before and one after an action that they had promised publicly to a valued group.

Findings

This is what he found:

Success rate

  • 100% of students were totally confident that they would start and complete the task the next day
  • 100% began the task
  • 50% succeeded completely (yep, only 50%)

Effects on confidence

  • 95% turned up for the post-event interview and two who were late courteously left notes rescheduling
  • The confidence of those who completed remained high.
  • The confidence of those who had not completed had plummeted (as we would expect).

Reasons for success and failure

  • When we analyzed what had gone wrong, in every instance, students had tripped over their own naivety. They tried to buy 100 T shirts of the same color without a prior order, for example. Or they hadn’t realized that long distance calls need to be pre-approved.
  • It seemed luck whether someone tripped over a practical detail or not; and therefore, luck whether they had succeeded in their task or not.

Response to failure

  • Though it was essentially luck whether they succeeded or not, if they had tripped up, their sense of self-worth (or self-efficacy) plummeted. The students had no way to see the pattern of events and no way of knowing that their success or failure was down to luck.

Intrepretation

In the West, we are always being told to take responsibility for our lives. I am not sure I buy into this view. I think it is more important to understand cause-and-effect, and what can be influenced, and how.

In the case of these students, they had now way of seeing the overall pattern – after all that is why we were doing the research.  But, an experienced mentor or coach could help them interpret their own success or failure.

This is the advice that they would have got from an experienced mentor

  • If the day had gone well, good – enjoy the buzz of success and set a new challenge in the morning.
  • If the day had not gone well, sorry – you are feeling down, take note of what went wrong, Learn That You Cannot Anticipate Everything, and set a new challenge in the morning!

Without a mentor, life gets tough

How can we possibly distinguish between what is “down to us” and what is the normal ebb-and-flow of life without a good mentor?

Having good uncles, aunts, pastors, teachers, bosses, company-appointed mentors probably influences a youngster’s prospects in life more than anything else.

More than money, more than good looks, more than brains, more than personality. I didn’t put parents on the list because we might be too close to the action to advise young people well.

The big question that people might ask is where are the mentors today? Where do we find mentors as we go through life?

What is the process of mentoring in the UK today?  How do people following very different paths from their parents find mentors?

I’d be willing to argue that the strength of a modern society is our ability to mentor youngsters who come from very different backgrounds from ourselves.

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The management of poverty or the poverty of management?

If you have never read The Spectator magazine, you should give yourself a treat. It is extraordinarily well written and often has news long before the mainstream British newspapers.

It is also very Conservative. Though timely, erudite and often very funny, it serves more to tell you what you don’t believe, than what you do. It is bit like exploring the inside of a hat, to work out what the outside looks like, and you do it, because the inside is more fun than the outside. Perverse?

Today, in an article intended, I presume, to support the Conservative leader, David Cameron, they wrote about poverty in the UK and two topical issues: the use of metrics, which Brits love to hate; and problem of immigrants who work for less than locals – an odd complaint for a Conservative party I would have thought, but nonetheless! Both these issues point to two themes that are current in contemporary Management Theory.

METRICS

The article suggests what is wrong with so many metrics. A metric is a signpost. It tells you which way to go. A metric is not the destination.

There is only one destination that is acceptable in management and politics – that is the agreement and happiness of our constituents that we have arrived in the right place.

If we arrive in a place and they decide they don’t like it, we can’t make the argument that we followed the metrics. It just doesn’t wash!

Pick some metrics that guide your leadership. Don’t make metrics the substitute of leadership !

To the issue of poverty and politics in the UK: don’t ask Gordon Brown the numbers about poverty.  Ask him, are you happy about poverty? He blusters and says yes. Ask him, are you interested in my views on poverty – are you going to ask why I asked? He asks! You tell him.

Give him the problem you wanted solvand come back next week and tell him how well it has been solved!

Where do metrics fit in? When it is your job to supervise ‘leaders’ like teachers, nurses and police officers, ask them what metrics or signals will help them achieve satisfaction with their leadership. Don’t impose the metric though. When you do, you do not improve leadership, you do the opposite. You relieve them of the responsibility of their actions beyond that metric!

Just hold the conversation about what we want to achieve and how we are going to achieve it! That’s all!

OVERPAID BRITS & OTHERS

The second story was about a Scottish joiner whose job is now done by a Pole at 6 pounds an hour. Apparently the joiner’s wife stood up and asked Cameron what he was going to do about it! Exactly what I recommend. He took the job as leader, give him the problem. His answer – ban Poles!

Bizarre.

Couldn’t he have said: Here is my aide. Call him/her and make an appointment – we will work this out.

To the aide, he says: find me the smartest MBA student on our books.  Ask him/her to give me a briefing in a week.  I want to know about all and every industry that uses joining as a skill.   Could s/he also social-network other students to brainstorm any and every industry who can possibly use joining to advantage?  And give me a list of the top ten business people in the UK who might use joiners.

And then meet the joiner, find out what he really wants, with the MBA student on hand, and work out who should be meeting with each other to use this skill, and joining is a skill, that is obviously not being used.

Get the right people together and ask them to produce a business plan for how the joiner is going to use his skill to make lots of money (and lots of taxes).

And ask them to report back to him in a week.

Who is betting the answer would include “more Poles please” and a air ticket for the Scottish joiner to nip over to Poland to do the recruiting with his wife in tow to explain the Scottish school system (she is a school teacher by all accounts).

People don’t ask politicians questions (or managers for that matter) as a prompt to blame someone else. They want a solution.

They want positive ideas based on our skills, passions, interests, wants, hopes and dreams. This is leadership.

BUSINESS MODELS OF THE FUTURE

Managers are struggling with contemporary ideas about human capital.

In addition to money being capital, in addition to land being capital, we are capital.

Our hopes and dreams, our sense of entitlement (!): this is our capital.

Businesses of the 21st century will be built around who we are and what we want to be.  That is the challenge of management and leadership.

Building our lives around us.  Positively.  Cheerfully.  Collectively.

Cheers to The Spectator.

David Whyte on YouTube

Here

Hat-tip: Sally.  Thank you.

UPDATE:  David Whyte is a English poet who now resides in Washington, USA.  Marine biologist, NGO worker and poet, David Whyte is a resource for anyone who is interested the meaning of work in our time.  He writes on our lost sense of meaning and how to recover it by reaching out to all that is around us.

His books and CD’s are available on Amazon.

This link is to one of his rare appearances on YouTube.

The limits of positive psychology? Stopping the past leak into your heart.

Can we really be positive in bad situations?

I have never been totally happy, no pun intended, with positive psychology’s approach to objectively bad situations.  I am totally persuaded by our ability to make the best of good situation.  I am persuaded by our contribution to sort-of-bad situations.  I am persuaded that in a terminal situation, we may as well be happy.  I can also  point you towards little experiments that cost you nothing but your time and that you can try on your own.

Where positive psychology might have little to offer

But there are three situations where I am not persuaded positive psychology can help us much, though in truth, nothing much helps in these situations.

First, when you are in a bad situation alone, and I mean socially alone.  I haven’t looked closely at being physically alone.

Second, when other people will harm you, unless you harm them first.

Third, when you have experienced sustained social abuse and your fight/flight mechanism is on a hair trigger.

Thinking about tragedy with movies

I watched a Scottish movie over the weekend, 16 Years of Alcohol, that illustrated a combination of these three situations.  The protagonist grew up with an alcoholic father and joined a gang.  While he was generally terrorizing the neighborhood, he met a girl and was motivated to change his life.  The story is about his intelligent and thoughtful attempts and ultimately his death on the streets.

We can compare this story to Goodbye Mr Chips, which I watched last weekend, and the well known movie about hope, Shawshank Redemption.  In Shawshank, we have a protagonist who out-thinks and outwits people and is able to leave the situation by tunneling out of the jail.  In Goodbye Mr Chips, the protagonist has a mentor who is slightly above the situation and he is able to grow himself and ultimately change the environment around him.   Put this starkly, I think you already see the shape of my point.

In 16 Years of Alcohol, the agent of change, a young woman, was a resource but not sufficient to change the situation for the protagonist.  And  importantly, he did not exit the situation.  I’m afraid he should have left town!

Where is hope in a hopeless place?

The protagonist asks himself at one point: where is hope in a hopeless place?  There was an excellent line though where the young lady suggests to the protagonist that the past does not come looking for him – that he went looking for the past.  And he talks about stopping the past leaking into your heart.  These are good points – with slightly more resources and slightly less stress, he might have made it.

Extreme hardship and an abiding memory of struggle and courage

This is a realistic account of dealing with extreme hardship.  If you are interested in using positive psychology to move on from bad places, you should have a look.  Though a tragedy and not a feel good movie, you are left with an abiding memory of struggle and courage.  It is a respectful account of people brought up in the hardest places in our society.

Law of attraction, positive thinking . . . how old is it?

A long back story

I took out Goodbye Mr Chips from my local library thinking it would be nice to relax for a couple of hours with this gentle, slightly sentimental, very inspirational movie. For non-Brits, this is a classic pygmalion, teacher story with romance thrown in. Think To Sir With Love, History Boys and Freedom Writers. I think when Yanks write pygmalion stories they are typically about basketball coaches. Britain has teacher stories.

Goodbye Mr Chips is a double-pygmalion story. Mr Chipping is an awkward “Latin master” in a “public school”.  If you are non-Brit, read exclusive private school (or prep school in Americanese – a prep school here preps you to go to public school which takes you to the army academy or university).

Mr Chipping has two mentors. A charming relaxed fellow teacher and his wife. They are the catalysts in allowing Mr Chipping, or Chips as he comes to be called, to incorporate the softer side of his nature in his teaching style, reform the rugged-masculine-bullying culture of the school, and to encourage boy-after-boy, and their sons after them, to blend the feminine sides of their nature with the masculine demands of their school and obligations to country.

I thought I was borrowing the musical version with Peter O’Toole from the library.   When I got home, I discovered I a new version with Martin Clunes, the star of the TV show, Doc Martin. He makes a marvellous Mr Chips with the mixture of clumsiness and kindness that we also see in Doc Martin. (He doesn’t sing btw, and nor do we hear the boys singing which we did in the earlier version).

The story seems slightly different too – but so be it. After this long back story, this is the quote I wanted to give you.

“I found that when I stopped judging myself harshly, the world became kinder to me. Remember I told you once, go out, and look around the world. Do that now. Only this time, let the world look at you. And the difference, I assure you, the world will like what it sees.”

Positive psychology is more than positive thinking

This is the concept which takes positive psychology far beyond positive thinking. It has echoes of the pygmalion effect, popularized in the musical My Fair Lady in which a flower girl becomes a lady. It includes the Galatea effect, ably researched by Dov Eden, who also researches the pygmalion effect in work settings. Basically, the Pygmalion effect is the effect of other people’s expectations on us. So a teacher creates clever pupils by expecting more of them. A teacher creates dull pupils by expecting failure and subtly communicating doubts and restricting the resources and time we need to learn. The Galatea effect works the other way around. It is the effect of our own self-perception.  It is not that seeing is believing. But that, believing is seeing.

Is this new?

George Bernard Shaw wrote Pygmalion 100 years ago. 150 years ago Goethe wrote:

The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Goethe

The idea that we shape the future is so new to us in the west. The idea that the universe comes to us sounds a little new age.

Of course, we cannot do anything. We don’t want to do anything.

But there are some things, we want to do. And if we can imagine those things, if we believe in them deeply without effort, if they make sense, if they seem right in themselves, if we believe in them enough to take the first hesitant step,

if we believe in them enough to take the first hesitant step,

then the universe conspires to help us.

Skeptical?

This is tautological, of course. It will work because it is right and it is right because it works.

Ask only whether what you want is right, and why you would want anything that doesn’t work!

A coaching style of leadership . . .

is well explained in this Times on line article.

UPDATE:  The TimesOnline ran a series on various leadership styles modeled it seems on the Blake Mouton grid.  It illustrates the style with British iconic figures and explains the advantages and disadvantages of each style and how to work with such a leader.

Reminding myself of the importance of recreation through Steve Pavlina’s personal development forum

I’ve just joined Steve Pavlina‘s personal development forum. The posts are a bit reminiscent of “Dear Auntie Jane” though the younger people in the group won’t remember the one-to-many days when people wrote in to a newspaper or magazine. This is truly many-to-many in 2.0 spirit and people who join are knowledgeable about personal development and willing to share their ideas.

I posted a few replies to youngsters who felt disoriented and benefited in 2.0 spirit from reflections on my own life. I moved countries last year having done so five years earlier (so fourth city in five years). I was well aware how much time I was spending networking professionally and attending to functional things.

It’s really important to lead a full life with relationships close and social, casual and professional. Everyone should be pursuing a good range of sport, cultural and social activity. It reminds me of David Whyte quoting Rainer Rilke’s poem about the fire and the night. We don’t want to concentrate on the fire. It ignores the night. We want to look at the night which holds everything including the fire.

Hard as it can be when we are under pressure of immediate things-to-do, we need to cherish our wider night of activities we hold dear. Mindtools has an database system for building goals in all areas of our lives – though you can do it on paper too. It is well worth an annual springclean to check through our appreciation of the fullness of life and let the mundane details and work take their place in the wider scheme of things.

Minutes after  I drafted this post, I discovered MindGym, a coaching site with a fresh approach.  Oddly, they think it is a good thing to be taking work home with you.  Sure, we all do – but a good thing?  Must take that up with them.  And folks, the MindGym is British! Yeah!  Must definitely get in touch with them.