To Manage Difficult People, First Learn to Manage Yourself

August 27 , 2021 •  6 minute read by Saeed

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

– Viktor E. Frank

If you Google ‘How to Manage Difficult People’ you’ll get about 2 billion results!

By contrast, if you Google ‘How to Manage Yourself’, you’ll get just over 1 million results.

As a coach I help people with both sides of this coin regularly and I can tell you that the return on investment is much greater when you focus on yourself.

Your success in work and life depends upon how you manage yourself and your emotions, your inner resources, your impulses and your abilities. In short, your success depends upon your self-mastery. Moreover, self-regulation or self-management is the second of the three key areas of personal skills that make up emotional intelligence.

Why focus on yourself?

That’s simple. Learning techniques and gaining tools to de-escalate a difficult situation is valuable. Customer service reps and other front line workers are often taught verbal de-escalation and how to defuse difficult situations in which a patient, family member, or even another employee is angry and out of control. This has value.

However, it also has limitations. Namely, one response does not fit all. Although these techniques have been proven effective in de-escalating some tough situations, every person is unique and may respond differently. Every event has multiple variables that even the most skilled negotiator may not be able to control.

Self-control, on the other hand, is entirely up to you. Self-control is NOT masking or hiding your emotions but recognizing and expressing them appropriately. This is about taking responsibility for your own actions, and ensuring that what you do matches with your personal values.

1.      Pause and get curious

The first and most important component in any process that includes the self; i.e., self-control, self-regulation, self-management or self-discipline is self-awareness. As your first act, get curious about yourself. I find that, if I take a deep breath and ask a question of myself, it gives me enough space to make a choice about how I want to respond—rather than reacting with a knee-jerk response. It allows me to get curious about my initial reactions, feel into my emotions, and make better decisions. How does my current mood influence how I am feeling about the other person? What values are being stepped on? What traits in others bother me? Why?

2.      Consider the story you are telling yourself 

In the absence of information, we fill in the blanks with details of our own. Do you remember the last time you were proven wrong about something you absolutely believed was true? Perhaps you are feeling rejected after you haven’t received a response to your email; you believe it is because you are not that important. Before you make these attributions, ask yourself: what other explanations might be possible? In the example of the email, what else could be going on with them that would stop them from reaching out to you? Could they be busy or sick? Are they a well-intentioned person who often forgets to follow through on commitments? 

3.      Look for positive intentions

Human beings naturally attribute more weight to negative emotions than positive ones. This is known as negativity bias. As a result, your knee-jerk reaction may be to assume negative intent. Positive intent is simply about giving people the benefit of the doubt. It means choosing to assume that your colleague’s behavior (and impact) is not the same as their intent and that they are working to the best of their ability with the resources and information they have. At its core, positive intent is believing that we’re all doing the best we can. Practicing positive intent is as much a muscle memory habit as it is a mindset. It means assuming that the person actually means well, rather than rushing to judgment. To assume positive intent is not always the easiest change one can make, but by doing so, you create the conditions for a win-win resolution.

4.      Be congruent

In the most simple terms, being congruent means being honest with yourself so that your nonverbal communication is in alignment with your verbal communication. It is when the inside and outside are one. Too often, people’s mouth will say one thing but their body language will convey a different message. Someone who lives with congruency understands what it is they stand for and acts in direct accordance with that understanding. They are able to convey clearly, honestly, and assertively what they think, why they think it and what they want as a result. The difficulty is we often don’t know our true beliefs and values. We often don’t know what we want. And we often fear rejection if we speak our true mind. It is important to recognize however, that feelings of inherent trust come from someone who is congruent. Congruency is the cornerstone of authenticity.  

5.      Speak from the heart

When you speak from the heart, the conversation becomes less about expressing frustration and more about staying engaged and genuinely connected to the other person. It becomes less about re-acting and more about inter-acting. When you speak from the heart, you place your difficult conversation with a difficult person in a different context. Unless you do this, it’s unlikely that someone who is in conflict with you is going to want to stay engaged. People, in general, are egocentric. They want to know that you get where they are coming from, that you get their perspective. You don’t have to agree necessarily but you do have to understand. Speaking from the heart means being emotionally attuned to yourself and the other. It means being open even if what the other has to say is hard to hear.

A Final Word…

All this is simple enough in theory but in practice it can be a bear. And that’s why you have to practice. Practice is the pre-requisite to mastery. The practice is made all the more difficult because this level of self-awareness alongside taking a clear stand on issues and experiences you are passionate about, and being in congruence, being honest with yourself and speaking from the heart all require a level of vulnerability.  They require courage. Indeed, vulnerability itself is an act of courage because when you allow yourself to be vulnerable; you merge with your authentic self. We tend to avoid vulnerability because it’s uncomfortable and because it triggers fear and self-doubt. But vulnerability does not signify weakness. It signifies strength. Indeed, to live a remarkable life, you must take consistent action in spite of your fears and doubts. That’s the very definition of courage. Your choices define who you are. Your ability to manage yourself, will define your choices.

Good luck.

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If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

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©2021 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Want Success? Study Failure.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

~ Henry Ford

Failure matters. Why? Because failure is like gravity – it’s everywhere. In fact, we spend much, if not most, of our lives creating and dealing with failure.   

“Move fast, and break things!” is fundamental to the Silicon Valley ethos. But do we really learn from our failures?

Behind our exclusive and societally sanctioned worship of success, is an equally paralyzing fear of failure (a.ka.”atychiphobia”). Failure is part of our blame culture. The fear of failure is buoyed by feelings of shame and guilt and unworthiness bringing the opportunity to learn from failure to a grinding halt.  

But history is replete with people who went on to achieve great success, after repeated failure. And despite their vast differences, they all had something in common.

Albert Einstein was considered an epic failure. He did not speak until he was 4-years-old and did not read until he was 7. His parents thought he was “sub-normal,” and one of his teachers described him as “mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams.” He was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. He did eventually learn to speak and read. Even to do a little math. He won the Nobel Prize in 1921 and created the beginnings of quantum theory.

Thomas Edison was only a mediocre student. His teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything” and he was fired from his first two jobs for being “unproductive.” He failed over 1,000 times trying to invent a commercially-viable electric light bulb. But obviously Edison has had a huge impact on society, or we would all be in the dark. He held over 1,000 at the time of his death.

Stephen King did not start as a wildly successful author. One of his most successful books, Carrie, was rejected by 30 publishers. After so many rejections, King reportedly gave up and threw the manuscript in the garbage. But his wife retrieved it and urged him to not give up. King has sold over 350 million books.

Oprah Winfrey was born into working-class poverty to a single teenaged mother. She was fired from one of her first jobs in TV after the producer declared she was “unfit for television.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” He went on to be nominated for 59 Academy Awards and is the great animator of our time.

JK Rowling was divorced with a child to support and on the dole when the idea for the young wizard, the first Harry Potter book came to her. At that point, she considered herself a major failure. She was diagnosed with clinical depression and was suicidal. According to Forbes magazine, Rowling is the first author to become a billionaire.

Henry Ford burned through all the money from his first group of investors without producing a car. In fact, he failed and went broke five times before he eventually succeeded. The Ford Motor Company has been one of the most profitable automotive companies in the world over the years, making him into one of the richest individuals in history.

Robin Williams was voted “Least Likely to Succeed” in high school.

Charlie Chaplin was initially rejected by Hollywood studio chiefs because his pantomime was considered “nonsense.”

Beethoven was told he was “hopeless as a composer.”

Marilyn Monroe was told by the director of the Blue Book Modeling Agency:”You’d better learn secretarial work or else get married.” 

Van Gogh sold only one painting during his life.

Emily Dickenson published less than a dozen poems during her lifetime but went on to become one of the most famous authors of modern times publishing more than 1,800 poems posthumously.

I could go on but you get the point.

The Bottom Line

So what do all these have in common? What’s important to notice is that each and every one of them had grit, perseverance and the ability to overcome setbacks. Each and every one of them was somehow able to reach deep down inside of themselves and tap into their reserves of self-belief and self-determination.

Fear of failure is a hallmark of a FIXED mindset and often contributes to us staying inside our comfort zones – a.k.a. no-growth-zone. By not fearing failure, you are one step closer to having a GROWTH mindset and living a big life!

Think of success as a license to fail.

Good Luck.

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These articles take several hours to research and write. If you find them valuable, please like, comment, and share with your network so that it can benefit others.

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©2020 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, MA, CPCC

Top 10 Reasons Why 90% of Business Strategies Fail (a.k.a. Poor Execution)

July 13 , 2020 •  5 minute read by Saeed

“To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.” Steve Jobs

Organizations are as alike and unique as human beings.

It is widely known that strategy execution is difficult for many organizations as evidenced by studies that suggest only 13% of companies effectively execute on their strategies. There is clearly a disconnect between the plan outlined by leadership and the on-the-ground strategy execution by employees on the front-line. 

In my individual coaching and consulting work, I have routinely found that many of the challenges both individuals and organizations face can be traced to a lack of what we will call execution discipline.

You can think of execution discipline as both mindset and methodology. If you lack either, your execution will falter. So what are some of the most common barriers to execution you ask?

Let’s take a closer look.

1.      Ambiguity

Author Patrick Lencioni, says, “The enemy of accountability is ambiguity”. Vague/changing requirements lead to poor unfocused execution, missed project deadlines, scope creep and all other manners of mayhem.

Tip to overcome this:  A clear, well-managed scope that is understood by all is the key element to successful projects. Develop project work plans/accountability charts to establish clear ownership and accountability and have regular check ins to evaluate progress and make sure the focus has not changed.

2.      Analysis Paralysis

It’s a common problem. You are studying the problem too long without acting, feeling stuck and not advancing your goals.  A recent Stanford study suggests that over-thinking not only impedes our ability to perform cognitive tasks, but keeps us from reaching our creative potential as well.

Tip to overcome this: Get out of your own head and talk it out with someone else. When paralyzed by a particular decision, reaching out for someone else’s opinion, literally anyone else’s opinion, can help you break through the paralysis.

3.      Communication

If your implementation wheels are stuck in the mud, you might have inefficient communication & information flows – it’s vital to keep everybody informed on the project status at all times. Lack of efficient communication will lead to errors and delays. This may include difficulty of gaining access to information.  In these environments, it often takes too much time to make decisions, is too arduous to get approvals for resources, and is too difficult to navigate the “chain of command.” The lack of access to information and communication can also lead to unnecessary conflicts.

Tip to overcome this: Communicate early and often. Effective communication takes time and effort and commitment from organizational leaders for it to work. It also takes understanding what communication channels are available to you, optimizing those channels and creating new ones where needed.

4.      Follow-Through

The effectiveness of a meeting can be measured in terms of its outcomes. If people don’t follow-through on action plans, tasks and decisions after the meeting ends, then one needs to question the value of having a meeting in the first place.

Tip to overcome this: The leader is the single most important factor in follow-through. It’s your job to be clear at the end of every meeting who is responsible for what and by when. A leader can use these tools and techniques to achieve more effective follow-through after a meeting including written action plans, delegating leads, and establishing clear deadlines (backed by accountability).

5.      Indecisiveness

This is a close cousin of Analysis Paralysis. In today’s world, we have infinite access to information and choices of products. Psychologist Barry Schwartz coined the phrase “Paradox of Choice” to describe his findings that increased choice leads to greater anxiety, indecision, paralysis, and dissatisfaction. Einstein bought several versions of the same grey suit because he didn’t want to waste brainpower on choosing an outfit each morning.

Tip to overcome this: Intentionally limit the amount of information you consume or the number of choices you have available to you. James Clear has a good approach that he lays out in Atomic Habits which entails controlling your environment for maximum success.

6.      Perfectionism

Voltaire, the French writer, said, “The best is the enemy of the good.” Confucius said, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” And, of course, there’s Shakespeare: “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”

Trying to get everything “perfect” = you take longer to produce results. Perfectionism becomes a career limiting behavior as you move up through the ranks. Being a perfectionist when you’re a manager can hold you back even more than if you are an individual contributor as you burn through results and people.

Tip to overcome this: Adjust your standards, make your standards situational and embrace this new axiom: good enough is good enough.

7.      Procrastination

Procrastination is as old as time. The Greek poet Hesiod, writing around 800 B.C., cautioned not to “put your work off till tomorrow and the day after.” Procrastination isn’t just a bad habit, it’s a bad habit that with adverse health outcomes. In research settings, people who procrastinate have higher levels of stress and lower well-being.

Tip to overcome this: You’re likely procrastinating the task because you a) don’t know how to do it or b) don’t like doing it. Find something positive or worthwhile about the task itself – dig a little deeper and find some personal meaning in the task and if you don’t know how to do it, boy do I have a website for you: Google. But all joking aside, if you really want a great resource to overcome this check out the work of David Allen. 

8.      Resistance

Do not be surprised by resistance! Resistance is the normal human reaction in times of change but much resistance to change can be avoided if effective change management is applied on the project from the very beginning (i.e. get employee buy-in). Effective stakeholder management is the ability to identify individuals affected by/likely to affect the successful outcome of the project. A skilled project manager will ensure a collaborative working environment where project phases can be analyzed and discussed by all stakeholders.

Tip to overcome this: Isolate the source of resistance by interviewing each team member to see how your employees are responding to the idea of implementing the project.  

9.      Resources

It should hardly be a surprise that if you have inadequate funding/investment/sponsorship for your project, you may not realize its full potential. Internal competition for resources can also be an impediment especially when times are lean.

Tip to overcome this: Often, project leaders fail to understand the level of investment needed in infrastructure, personnel and other resources because they do not have a realistic view of what it’s going to take to see the project through to completion. It is therefore critical to make a realistic assessment before project start, use the resources provided and create a plan to gain the resources needed.

10.  Systems

This includes not only systems to advance the work but systems to measure progress.  The old proverb, “You manage what you measure,” is paramount to strategy execution. Many organizations are still using spreadsheets to track objectives. This can work between a manager and employee, however, these systems do not make it easy to aggregate results or create transparency.

Tip to overcome this: Adopt technology that can provide predictive analytics on goal attainment. Predictive analytics is not an exact science; however it provides a reflection point on how a goal is tracking. The more a goal has visibility the more a goal will be managed.

A Final Word…

It is vital to successfully launching a new effort that the leaders understand the strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies of the organization or system in which they operate. Try to anticipate barriers to implementation so that you can develop strategies to minimize their impact or avoid them altogether. Changing how your organization executes strategy may seem like a complicated and challenging change management project, but it can be done relatively quickly and incrementally with immediate results. If you want to know where to start, start at the top. 

Good Luck

Wait! Before you go…

If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

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©2020 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Remote Leadership: 5 Coaching Tips to Tune-Up Your Virtual Teams

July 13 , 2020 •  5 minute read by Saeed

“The enemy of accountability is ambiguity.” ― Patrick Lencioni

The challenges presented by COVID-19 are unprecedented and continue to evolve. The shift from face time management to virtual management and the use of technology to communicate and collaborate means that many organizations are exploring ways to help their employees work productively from home.

However, working from home requires a different kind of leadership for managers charged with leading virtual teams. Without this kind of leadership, engagement and collaboration can suffer – with subsequent falls in performance and productivity. The rules that apply to face-to-face teams do not necessarily apply to virtual teams.

Teams are the building blocks of an organization whether you sell butter or are searching for the next cancer cure. Without a strong and resilient team, getting there will take twice as long.

First, it’s important to recognize that all employees, managers and non-managers are experiencing these changes at the same time, but not in the same way. Individual people will experience this transition in different ways. While you may have some team members who are ready to implement a fully virtual work environment, others may experience the transition as isolating or discombobulating.

Here are 5 tips to help you foster a stronger and more productive team.

Tip #1: Check in Frequently and with Empathy

It is important to gauge where an individual team member might be on this spectrum of change by talking with them about their feelings, concerns, and answering questions. Pay attention to whether the employee is focusing on the future or the past and listen to their reactions in a non-judgmental mode.

Check in frequently with employees and ask for updates (personal and professional). Ask open-ended questions to create dialogue. Be patient, truly listen to answers, and respond directly. Above all else: be a good human being. The way you communicate with others can be more important than what is actually said. Research reveals that employees who have supportive leaders generally contribute more of their time, energy and knowledge. You would not be wrong if you believed that the reverse is also true.

Tip #2: Leverage Systems and Structures  

Organizations are really just collections of interdependent systems, structures, processes and protocols.  In order to create the results we want, we must manage these systems. And results are really just the byproducts of the systems we choose to either manage or ignore. Teams need clearly defined work processes to help keep everyone on track and moving towards established goals (you do have established goals right?) Tools such as SlackDropboxMicrosoft Teams and others all you to create a virtual collaboration ecosystem to get the work done while keeping everyone on the same page.

Tip #3: Revisit Priorities & Establish Clear Goals

Lack of accountability can be an issue for virtual teams, particularly when working cross-functionally. Leaders need to be vigilant about defining and communicating goals in virtual teams to prevent ambiguity – the enemy of accountability.  What are expectations in this new context? Set expectations for completing projects or performing ongoing duties. Put the details in writing to the degree possible. Define work systems and timelines. Goal clarity ensures that everyone understands how their work fits into the overall vision of the enterprise.

Tip #4: Foster Trust through Transparency

It is also important to share information openly and transparently, even when you don’t have all the answers. Vulnerability actually helps foster trust. When trust is enhanced between members, it promotes and improves more effective communication and collaboration. Trust also travels in two directions: Horizontally between team colleagues and vertically between employees and their supervisor. Trust starts with respect and empathy. 

Tip #5: Maintain Motivation and Engagement

To keep a virtual team motivated and engaged, be sure to celebrate successes and milestones regularly. In one successful virtual team I led, we started each meeting with a question to enable team members to continue to develop relationships through learning something new about each other on a regular basis. These are not cheesy icebreakers. “What did you eat for breakfast this morning?” is about as useful as what happens to that breakfast later in the day. Rather, they are thoughtful inquiries that help illuminate how people are coping such as: “What have you seen on the news recently that gives you hope?”

Additionally, it is essential to provide regular feedback on the performance of your virtual team members. Through regular communications and “one-on-ones” with team members, you’ll also have an early warning on issues that are more difficult to see coming on virtual teams. These methods, along with regular check-ins with your team, enables for continued engagement on the project.

A Final Word…

There is plenty of research that demonstrates that dispersed teams can actually outperform groups that are co-located or that people working from home are actually more productive, not less, than their in-office counterparts. To succeed, however, virtual collaboration and team work must be managed in specific ways. Leaders would do well to keep an eye out for new stressors, provide information in a timely fashion, manage conflict proactively, and promote trust and collaboration while providing adequate resources and support.

Good Luck  

Wait! Before you go…

If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2020 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

10 Questions to Test the Quality of Your Leadership in Uncertain Times

March 13 , 2020 •  3 minute read by Saeed

“Communicate everything to your associates the more they know the more they care. Once they care, there is no stopping them.”

-Sam Walton

As an executive coach and consultant, I have worked with hundreds of successful leaders at every level. These leaders are able to successfully foster the growth of their companies, departments and teams. Based on data I’ve collected over the years, I have found that these leaders share some common traits.

Uncertainty did not arrive with COVID-19, the downward spiral of the stock market or with the latest political headlines, though it does feel especially intense at the moment. This uncertainty includes but also extends well beyond current events and it begs the question: will your business or industry look radically different one year from now?

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, upset, and anxious when faced with uncertainty. Uncertainty in an organization has the tendency to create hearsay, amplify political rumblings, and cause water-cooler conversations among employees.

Uncertain times can severely test (and expose) the quality of your leadership. In the early days of a crisis, great leaders cut through the clutter of conflicting data and opinions, identifying the areas that need attention and allocating resources accordingly.

“Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”

Mike Tyson

Great leaders are humble enough to admit they don’t have all the answers. At the same time, they are the rock to which people cling in turbulent times. Through their words and actions, they lift the collective strength and tenacity of the entire organization.

Here are ten questions to test the quality of your leadership in uncertain times:

1.      Do your leaders have the ability to cope with complexity?

2.      Are your leaders giving people more flexibility in dictating their own work schedules?

3.      Are your leaders putting support mechanisms in place and using organizational resources effectively?

4.      Are your leaders communicating often even when they don’t have all the answers?

5.      Do your leaders demonstrate poise and composure to reassure all stakeholders that the ship is not sinking?

6.      Are your leaders open to new information to help better decision making?

7.      Do your leaders have the flexibility to make quick decisions and communicate them clearly?

8.      Does your organization have a culture of openness that encourages ideas and insight from all levels?

9.      Do your leaders foster a culture that inspires people to overcome difficult situations?

10.  Do your leaders engage your employees by empowering them to be part of the solution?

A Final Word

The success or failure of an organization and their people during these uneasy and turbulent times lies in the hands of its leaders. Outdated mindsets create gaps in the workplace that breed stagnation and resentment rather than inspire camaraderie and cooperation.

Great leaders realize that in order to be successful they have to create more leaders at all levels of the organization. A successful leader and effective coach are one in the same. Your people need to become inspired and motivated to help them adjust and continue to be productive employees.

There are positive and proactive steps leaders can take to get their house in order to feel more confident, even when the future is unclear. Telling people what to do is antiquated. You must engage your employees, get their buy-in, tell them what your plan is, explain why you are making the decisions you are making, and always, always, always, support their continued growth and progress towards clearly defined goals.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2020 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

How to Think Like a CEO: The 10X Impact One Mindset Shift Can Make

July 3 , 2019 •  6 minute read • by Saeed

“A flower does not think to compete with the flower next to it. It just blooms.” 

—Zen Shin

I know. It’s tough to be an employee.

But what if the company was yours? What would you do? How would you behave? What would you think about? What would you start paying attention to? What would keep you up at night?

I was recently invited to speak on leadership at an event. Before the talk, I watched as my clients were working with the venue staff in last minute preparations. They asked for some simple syrup to go with the ice tea. Simple syrup. Simple request.

For the uninitiated, if you’ve never heard of simple syrup (that would be me), allow me to explain. Simple syrup is basically sugar dissolved in water. The solution is heated in a pot to fully dissolve the crystals and then cooled before using and/or storing. It’s actually better than just adding sugar to your ice tea because it dissolves more easily.

Much to their disappointment however, my clients were told there was no simple syrup in the building and there was no time to make any.

During this exchange, I began to notice one of the waiters who was working in the background setting up the room listening intently to the conversation. He suddenly disappeared into the kitchen for what seemed like a long time. After about 20 minutes or so, he emerged with a tray of freshly made simple syrup and a look of serious pride on his face. We were all amazed and naturally pleased. He was all smiles as he described how, well, simple it is to make simple syrup.

I knew I had just watched an act of leadership that would probably go unnoticed. So I made sure it didn’t. During my talk, I told the simple syrup story to the rest of the group who had by now arrived and had no idea that the sweetener for their ice tea was the result of a simple act of leadership. The group applauded his efforts and I am sure it made his day just as he had made ours.

This is the CEO mindset in action – enterprise wide thinking that puts the customer first. The 10x impact one mindset shift can make was on full display that day and its impact still reverberates.

The CEO Mindset

If we could see inside the mind of a successful CEO, we might discover many things. Here are the 10 most important modalities of the CEO mindset + one more that wraps around all others which I will mention in the final word.

  1. They are self-aware. Everything in life starts with self-awareness. Successful CEOs have a highly developed and functioning awareness of themselves, their situation and those of their numerous stakeholders. They are also well aware of their own thinking and how they learn (meta-cognition). Everything, everywhere, at all times starts with self-awareness.
  2. They have vision. Successful CEOs have a vision. They set goals and keep score to track progress always anchored in that vision. It may seem like stating the obvious but unless you know where you are going, it’s hard to get there. But many people, work without a vision or a destination in mind. The result is they go around in circles.
  3. They are focused. Along with a clear vision of where the organization is going, they maintain a keen focus on what is at stake. They harness the attention and focus of the entire organization in the same direction. Leadership is about focusing the entire group’s attention on what’s wildly important. Successful CEOs know this and are good at harnessing attention.
  4. They communicate early and often. They are excellent communicators that seek to understand others by asking probing questions. They listen genuinely for the responses and act on the input they receive. They also know that months or years of good work and team building can be destroyed by a few careless words. Inspirational pep talks have a lifespan of about 30 minutes. They are like showers – you need to take one every day. Cruel words, however, echo for ages. Successful CEOs mind their manners and theirwords.
  5. They value relationships. They seek to build consensus and are relationship builders who can foster cooperation and support when faced with conflict. They don’t burn bridges recognizing that the same people they met on the way up could be the same people they meet on the way down. They leverage their network to achieve their goals but they also know how to give value to the people that surround them. They take care of people first.
  6. They don’t blame. Successful CEOs are able to hold themselves and others accountable without blame. When things go wrong, they face failures and negative events head-on. They take responsibility instead of shifting blame despite the possible consequences. When all is said and done, they own their mistakes, learn from them and move on. No collateral damage.
  7. They think continuous improvement. They continually look to understand, correct and improve and they adjust their thinking based on qualitative and quantitative data they intentionally collect to achieve better results. Critical to this is the confidence that improvement is possible and the understanding that without improvement competitors will triumph. They have a learning mindset and create learning organizations and environments.
  8. They think Return on Investment: They know what their time is worth. They review schedules, meetings, and tasks and consider if they are generating a true return on their time and effort. For those that are not, they might reduce or modify them to get more “return”. Successful CEOs manage and protect their time like a precious commodity. They know their self-worth and exhibit it in all their behaviors.
  9. They see opportunities; not obstacles. They realize that there’s positive power in seeing problems as opportunities. The best CEOs always think in terms of opportunities and have zero tolerance for complaining. It takes practice to adopt a CEO mindset and it’s easy to spot when someone doesn’t have it – that mindset or lack thereof is almost always directly proportional to how much people complain. Successful CEOs see everything as a problem that needs a solution and an opportunity to improve.
  10. They think big. Lastly, successful CEOs think out of the box and think big. Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook would not be the companies they are today with small thinking. You are the best judge of your ability to think big. By exposing yourself to the right people and incrementally challenging yourself both vertically (accepting responsibilities above your position) and laterally (increasing the number of responsibilities within your position), your capacity to “think big” will grow.

A Final Word

There is one final mindset shift that can not be overlooked and encompasses all others. Successful CEOs maintain a positive mental attitude even in the face of adversity. They know that they must set a positive tone for their companies because without the influence of a strong leader, organizations succumb to negative mental inertia. The CEO must always be injecting a positive mental attitude into the enterprise. So should you.

True transformation requires a mindset shift. As organizations begin to grapple with more volatile times, higher demands are placed on everyone to exhibit CEO level leadership – not just those with the title. Not only do we have to do away with the idea of a single leader in charge because our volatile times demand it, but we have to do away with this idea because our own success demands it.

Successful CEOs think differently than individual contributors. It’s a CEO’s thinking, training and instincts that drive their actions and decisions. You don’t need to be a CEO to think like one however – thinking like a CEO is a mindset shift that you can adopt and that will help you become more successful no matter what you do. We can learn to remodel our personal skills and abilities into CEO level competencies if we learn to think like a CEO. If we do, we can make a major change in the way business gets done across the board. The result is that the entire organization benefits.

Think about the good leaders for which you have worked. Aren’t they usually the first ones in the office and the last ones to head home? Aren’t they the people who attack a problem head on, solve it and learn from it? Aren’t they the ones with the positive outlook?

Thinking like a CEO requires a significant mindset shift. How do you do that with something as intangible as mindset or thinking?

It’s as simple as simple syrup.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Your Communication Style May Be Killing Your Career

June 7 , 2019 •  5 minute read • by Saeed

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

George Bernard Shaw

In life many of us are taught that we should always concede, appease or defer to others. Sometimes this is cultural. Sometimes it’s familial.

We are taught that it is selfish to consider our needs above those of others. We are taught not to assert our needs, wants and desires.

And like a bean bag chair, what gets pushed out the other end is either passive or aggressive or passive-aggressive communication and behaviors that are self defeating, and cause more harm to relationships.

I have seen many careers go down in flames in the flash of an eye because the person had not developed assertive communication skills.

Moreover, assertive people tend to have fewer conflicts in their dealings with others, which translates into much less stress in their lives.

First let’s define assertiveness.

Some people mistakenly think they are being “assertive” when in fact they are being aggressive.

Assertiveness is the ability to honestly express your opinions, feelings, attitudes, and rights in a way that respects the rights of others.

Aggressive communication and behavior involves communicating in a demanding, abrasive, or hostile way. It is insensitive to others’ rights, feelings and beliefs. The usual goals of aggression are domination and winning, forcing the other person to lose.

On the other end of the spectrum is passive-aggressive communication. We have all experienced the person who expresses their feelings in an indirect way through passive resistance, rather than by openly confronting an issue. Instead of directly communicating the desires and needs, they resort to sulking; ignoring; complaining; procrastinating; deliberately being late or slow; intentionally dropping the ball; acting in a way that will frustrate others; giving you the silent treatment and ‘acting innocent’ when they have done something to hurt someone.

Assertive communication is important because it helps us avoid:

  • Resentment: I feel anger at others for manipulating, exploiting or taking advantage of me.
  • Frustration: How could I be such a push-over? Why did I let them walk all over me? What’s wrong we me?
  • Anxiety and Avoidance: When we begin to avoid situations or people that we know will make us uncomfortable, we may miss out on fun activities, job opportunities, relationships, and lots of other good stuff.

Some people may believe that they don’t have the right to be assertive. Others fear repercussions of acting assertively and others still just lack the skills to express themselves effectively.

It is extremely important when communicating that you focus on the person’s behavior and not their personality. This is what it looks like in action:

1. Tell the person what you think about their behavior without accusing them.

2. Tell them how you feel when they behave a certain way.

3. Tell them how their behavior affects you and your relationship with them.

4. Tell them what behavior you would prefer them instead.

Assertive communication has three important components:

1. Empathy/validation: It’s important that you first demonstrate that you understand the other person’s feelings. This shows the other person that you’re not trying to pick a fight and it takes the wind out of their sails.

For example: “I know that you have a lot going on and it’s sometimes difficult for you to meet all the demands of your day…”

2. Problem Statement: Using “I” messages, describe your difficulty or dissatisfaction with the situation and why you need something to change.

For example: “…but I feel anxious when you don’t return my emails because I am not sure how to interpret the silence…”

3. Solution Statement: This is a specific request or solution for a specific change in the other person’s behavior you would like to see.

For example: “Moving forward, could we agree that you will just let me know that you received my email with a simple short reply even if you don’t have time to answer my question?”

As you practice this approach, you will become more comfortable with assertively communicating your needs, wants and desires. Remember that voice tone, eye contact, and body posture are important parts of assertive communication.

Make sure your body language matches your words. Your listener will get mixed messages if you are speaking firmly while looking at the floor.

Speak at a normal conversation volume, rather than a shout or whisper, and make sure that you sound firm but not aggressive.

Tell the other person how you feel as honestly as you can, and remember to listen to what they say as well.

A Final Word

The purpose of communication is to share ideas and negotiate relationships. Communicating assertively will not guarantee the other person will change his or her behavior and give you what you want, but it will help you establish limits and boundaries with others. Assertiveness is a skill which requires you to practice in many different situations. You objective should always be to create mutual purpose while you balance what’s best for yourself, others and the relationship.

In the words of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, “Communication works best when we combine appropriateness with authenticity, finding that sweet spot where opinions are not brutally honest but delicately honest.” The result for both parties is win-win.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Your Workplace is Broken and It’s Your Manager’s Fault

June 5 , 2019 •  9 minute read • by Saeed

“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boos the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, its amazing what they can accomplish.”

~Sam Walton

In high school, I had an English teacher who used to say that if you have one good friend in the course of your lifetime—just one—you should consider yourself lucky. Mr. Smith was right and the same can be said about good managers.

While the world’s workplace is going through extraordinary change, the practice of management has been frozen in time for decades.

Employees often cite lackluster benefits, low engagement, and lack of a challenge for their low levels of satisfaction. But when it comes to high levels of turnover, one culprit is likely to blame: poor management.

It’s been said that people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers, and in companies with high turnover, this is often true.

Turnover is costly to an organization in terms of both money and morale and losing a high-performing employee can be detrimental to a company’s health.

While a competent boss is likely to retain employees, an incompetent manager is likely to have the opposite effect. According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review, there is a strong correlation between a competent manager and an employee’s satisfaction. In other words, the more competent the boss, the more likely the employee is to stay with the company.

But that kind of competence is an endangered species and when turnover is high in a company, that’s a sign that Nessie may be lurking just below the surface (Nessie is the adorable name given to a large marine creature believed by some to inhabit Lock Ness, Scotland).

Fear and Loathing On the Shop Floor

A 2012 study, conducted by psychologist Michelle McQuaid, the author of Five Reasons to Tell Your Boss To Go F**k Themselves, found the majority of Americans are unhappy in the workplace—and more often than not, they say their boss is to blame.

In fact, 35% of U.S. employees said they would willingly forego a substantial pay raise if their direct supervisor got fired.

Gallup research found that 60% of government workers are miserable because of bad bosses. Significant percentages of US workers describe their bosses as follows:

  • Self-oriented (60%)
  • Stubborn (49%)
  • Overly demanding (43%)
  • Impulsive (41%)
  • Interruptive (39%)

Even more alarming, research by New York-based psychologist Paul Babiak has suggested up to 4% of business leaders in the US could be psychopaths.

Too often businesses focus on the bottom line but neglect the human beings who are the backbone of the organization.

What human beings need (besides good leadership) is psychological safety.

Just Google Psychological Safety

Google conducted a massive two-year study on team performance, which revealed that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety, the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake.

It may be stating the obvious that when people are afraid, it hampers their creativity. Employees won’t take risks or try new things if they are in a constant state of fear.

When you manage via intimidation, people will fearfully work to meet expectations – but they will never exceed them. They will do the minimum required to keep you off their back but that’s as far as they will go. If you want to get optimal performance from people you have to not only capture their heads, but also their hearts.

When you create a safe, encouraging work relationship where it’s ok to make mistakes, you’ll end up with employees that are more proactive, creative and innovative.

Your Bad Boss Could Be Killing You (Literally)

Poor leadership is also resulting in elevated levels of anxiety, uncertainty, fear and indecisiveness across nearly all workplaces. But far worse, studies show that bad bosses are also bad for your heart.

In these studies clear links have been established between aggressive, intimidating or “bad” supervisors with increases in anxiety, depression, the deterioration of personal relationships away from work and, yes, even heart disease.

One longitudinal study conducted by Swedish researchers at the Stress Institute in Stockholm found that employees who had managers with the following traits are 60% more likely to suffer coronary heart disease:

  • Their managers were incompetent.
  • They were inconsiderate.
  • They were secretive.
  • They were uncommunicative.

In another large-scale study of over 20,000 employees conducted at the Karolinska Institute, results showed a strong link between leadership behavior and heart disease in employees.

Conversely, the Karolinska study also showed that employees who rated their managers as inspirational, positive and enthusiastic also reported less short-term sick leave.

Good management is clearly good for the bottom line, morale and turnover, but as it turns out, it’s also good for your cardiovascular health.

How So Called Leaders Fail to Lead

Besides their poor communication skills, lack of transparency, and their myopic vision, there are a number of other key ways that poor managers fail to lead. The list is actually quite long but I have tried to whittle it down here to the most problematic and observable behaviors of toxic bossary. If you recognize more than one of these signs in your boss, it may be time to start browsing the help wanted section of your local newspaper (is there still such a thing?)

1) They Are Narcissists Who Lack Empathy: Practically everyone I know, including myself, has either worked for a narcissistic boss or been exposed to one. You know the type: they are quick to claim credit and quick to assign blame. They treat everyone like they are dispensable, using people for their own gains and then discarding them, either literally or emotionally. Unfortunately, this one trait overrides every other.

Narcissists are fixated on controlling all outcomes, usually through micromanaging behaviors, sometimes subtle and sometimes guileless. They are usually hyper competitive and disingenuous. They will not think twice about firing you on the spot if you fail to agree with their point of view. These workplaces often have an undercurrent of fear because the employees have seen other staff members thrown out at a moments notice and fear the same could happen to them. Worst of all, narcissists lack remorse having very little to no ability to feel empathy for others. Due to their inflated sense of self-importance, the feelings of others are not something that keeps them up at night.

The Fix: Narcissists love flattery due to their over-inflated egos. If you are independently minded and refuse to kiss up to your narcissistic boss, or worse yet, challenge them in any way, your head will invariably be on the chopping block and the guillotine will fall swiftly and decisively. The best advice I can give you is to make a decision (to leave) before one is made for you.

2) They Take Credit For Your Work: A study done by the Society for Human Resource Management found that only 37% of polled employees were happy with how their ideas were received by their supervisors. In Good to Great, Jim Collins highlighted Level 5 leaders who were characterized as being exceptionally modest (which is one reason why few of them were well-known prior to the book). As the old saying goes, modesty is a virtue. Modest leaders share credit, which encourages their colleagues to contribute more effort and feel better about themselves and their help in producing organizational success.

The Fix: If you are the manager-leader, acknowledge your employees’ hard work and ideas and give credit where credit is due, both publicly and privately. Strong, confident, and effective manager-leaders take pride in the success of their people and are happy to sing their praises. It creates a win-win situation and is at the foundation of employee engagement. If you are the employee and your boss is not a narcissist, they may not realize they’re hogging the glory. If this is the case, having a private discussion with your boss may be enough to do the trick.

3) They Are Micromanages: There is nothing good about a practice that will eventually lead to a massive breakdown of confidence and competence in your employees. That’s gthe impact of micromanagement. What may be perceived as short term gains (control and task completion) never outweighs the long term loss of micromanaging otherwise perfectly competent staff. It is likely that they will end up becoming dependent on you, resenting you and eventually leaving you.

The Fix: Consider the reasons why managers micromanage in the first place (ego, insecurity, inexperience, perfectionism, arrogance). Train and coach managers in effective delegation techniques that provide the needed information for job completion without micromanagement. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey suggests that you delegate results rather than methods. Tell your employee the objective you have for the task at hand and let them go. As long as you get the result you’re looking for and your team member learns along the way, we have a win/win.

4) They Show Favoritism: Poor leaders promote a culture of favoritism, often protecting or promoting those who reinforce their own ego. Once on a job, a manager confessed to me unabashedly (because she was also a narcissist) that she had a favorite on the team. The favorite got special assignments, special perks, and they were friends outside of work (all telltale signs). Not only are these arrangements unfair and unethical, but they kill staff morale. The blindside of their ego also doesn’t realize that the favoritism is rarely reciprocated. The teacher’s pet in my own example left for a better paying job the first chance she got.

The Fix: If you are the one favored, the most professional thing you can do is to not accept the benefits of favoritism. If the shoe is on the other foot, don’t resent the favored employee. After all it’s not their fault. You may have to other colleagues to check your perception or to HR if the situation is particularly egregious. Failing that, be patient, always endeavor to maintain trust, maintain your self-belief and stay positive. 

5) They Are Critical: To put it mildly, these bosses never learned how to give constructive feedback. Criticism is like a productivity poison injected into your veins. It has a negative effect on your self-image and studies have found that your self-image has far more to do with your performance than any other indicator. Many people who face endless criticism from a bad boss wind up quitting – as they should.

The Fix: First, easier said than done but try not to take it personally. Recognize that getting defensive, withdrawing or reciprocating the criticism is counterproductive. Try balancing out the criticism by getting positive feedback from other sources. Find a mentor or two, inside or outside your organization, to give you the constructive feedback you’re not getting from your boss. If you are a manager who is struggling with how to give constructive feedback, attack the problem, not the person; describe observable facts, not opinions or hearsay; and offer specific suggestions for improvement. 

Houston, We Have A Leadership Crisis

Combine too much work, too many demands, too many unrealistic expectations with too little appreciation and too many managers who, well, couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag, and you have a full fledged leadership crisis.

Companies make crucial mistakes when developing new managers, especially first time, front of the line leaders.

A survey of 1,367 executives by the Institute for Corporate Productivity reported that even among the best, highest performing companies, 66 % reported that they were ineffective at developing leaders and were getting worse.

Often, people are promoted into management roles for all the wrong reasons. The criteria used to promote is subjective, political, and/or not well thought through. Critical training opportunities are overlooked in the crucial first 90 days or not provided at all.

There is no correspondence between power and competency. It is more important than ever that we get leadership development right. The onset of new technologies means all kinds of professions are now in the cross hairs of change and nearly every organization is in the middle of some seismic industry shift.

This radical shift requires radical reformulation of the leadership ethos. Good leadership is a workplace right, not a privilege.

A Final Word

In Stanford Business School Professor Bob Sutton’s brilliant treatise on the subject of leadership aptly titled “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t,” Professor Sutton makes a well-reasoned argument that these despots, tyrants, and bullies are bad for the people that work with them and for them, and for the organizations that harbor them.

But he is also emphatic about this point: even if assholes are successful, life is too short and too precious to tolerate them.

Personally and professionally, I have yet to come across a workplace where leadership is not broken. Twenty-first-century success depends on good leadership and good leadership depends on trust, integrity, generosity, and empathy, among a slew of other character traits. There’s no team without it. And without team, there is no organization.

Underlying every team’s who-did-what confrontation are universal needs such as respect, competence, social status, and autonomy. Recognizing these deeper needs naturally elicits trust and promotes positive language and behaviors on the part of leaders.

Be weary of bullies, despots, ego-driven narcissists and tyrants. Bosses behaving badly or ineffectively lead to workplace zombies, high levels of stress, burnout, and attrition. McQuaid who’s taking on workplace bullying, one boss at a time, says ridding the workplace of the scourge of bad bosses will save our economy $360 billion in lost productivity each year.

We must demand more and expect better from our leadership. It’s good for the bottom line, good for the customer and good for the economy. Most importantly, it’s good for our health.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

People Simply Empty Out

May 27 , 2019 •  8 minute read • by Saeed

“I recommend you all get fired. It’s a great learning experience.”

Anna Wintour

When you get fired, it can feel earth shattering. But for such a seemingly catastrophic event, getting fired is more common than you might think. Business icons like Steve Jobs, Anna Wintour and Oprah Winfrey were all famously fired at some point in their career. In fact, in 2010 Wintour told a conference audience: “I recommend you all get fired. It’s a great learning experience.”

There are also a whole slew of reasons why the firing might not have even been your fault. In many cases, people get fired not because they are so bad, but precisely because they are so great: Setting reasonable boundaries in a chaotic work environment, raising “elephant in the room” issues that management is afraid to address, working with a small minded boss that falsely perceives you as a threat, challenging convention or delivering such stellar results that you outshine your masters. These can all be hidden reasons for being shown the door. Getting fired from the right place for the right reasons can be a badge of honor. Their loss is your gain.

In 1969, publisher John Martin offered to pay Charles Bukowski $100 each and every month for the rest of his life, on one condition: that he quit his job at the post office and become a full-time writer. 49-year-old Bukowski did exactly that, and just weeks after leaving work finished writing his first book, Post Office, a semi-autobiographical story in which Bukowski’s fictional alter ego, Henry Chinaski, muddles through life as an employee of the US Postal Service. It was published by Martin’s Black Sparrow Press in 1971. 15 years later, Bukowski wrote a letter to Martin and spoke of his joy at having escaped full-time employment.


Hello John:

Thanks for the good letter. I don’t think it hurts, sometimes, to remember where you came from. You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don’t get it right. They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s OVERTIME and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.

You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”

They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.

Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:

“I put in 35 years…”

“It ain’t right…”

“I don’t know what to do…”

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?

I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.

I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”

One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.

So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.

To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.

yr boy,


(Source: Reach for the Sun Vol. 3; via Letters of Note)

In Celebration of Motherhood: The Ultimate Leadership Role

May 12 , 2019 •  7 minute read • by Saeed

“Mothers who work full time – they are the real heroes.” Kate Winslet

In 1936, the US was gripped by the Great Depression and one photographer, Dorothea Lange, decided to abandon her portrait and studio work to document the suffering she was witnessing all around her.

As Lange was driving through Nipomo California on a mild March day, she passed by a pea pickers camp but continued to drive on tired from her day’s work. But something mysterious nagged at her and she turned around after initially driving 20 miles past the camp. Photographers know this nagging feeling all too well. Something unbeknownst to her was beckoning her back.

As it turned out, the image she would snap of Florence Owens Thompson, Migrant Mother, would become the most iconic photo of the Depression and arguably of the 20th century. Lange spent 10 minutes and shot six images. In the final image Migrant Mother gazes into the distance with all the suffering and weariness of poverty upon her face juxtaposed with a clear sense of dignity and grit. Her children cowering behind her for protection communicate all the strength of family, motherhood, and yes, leadership.

She is on her own.

In contemporary U.S. society, leadership continues to be viewed as a masculine activity. Yet, in a study of 60 women leaders (Erkut & Winds of Change Foundation, 2001) close to 40% of prominent women from a variety of fields spontaneously made reference to motherhood when describing a good leader or leadership training. This is not to say that fathers don’t embody some or all of these qualities or to suggest that it is necessary for women to be mothers to become effective leaders. Rather, it is simply an acknowledgement of the role of motherhood and the significance of the traits mothers exhibit universally as it pertains to leadership.

  1. On modeling the way: Moms lead their children every day. As the old adage goes, children follow what you do and not what you say and the same holds true for leadership. The best leaders are role models first and your first role model is your mom.
  2. On being a servant leader: While servant leadership is a hot topic in leadership circles today, it is actually a timeless concept practiced by mothers everywhere. The concept is rooted in the quality and trait of those leaders who want to serve first and no-one embodies this better than your mom.
  3. On emphasizing growth and development: Who is more invested in your growth and development than your mom? Who has coached you through your life’s struggles and always kept encouraging you to persevere and succeed? You guessed it. Mom. It is her encouragement and inspiration that has helped you grow and flourish.
  4. On communicating core values: The best leaders consistently communicate the core values of the organization and live those values. Values are in your DNA and they were probably passed onto to you by your mother first and foremost.
  5. On fostering purpose and passion: Studies have shown that people are at their best when they are passionate about what they are doing and when they have tapped into their life purpose. Leaders (and mothers) unleash the enthusiasm of their followers (and their children) with stories and passions of their own and encourage you to lead purposeful and heart-centered lives.
  6. On fostering health and well being: The best leaders know that people are not assets. They are human beings. Without them, there is no organization. The health and well-being of your team or organization is dependent on the health and well-being of its members. The best leaders know that and so does your mom.
  7. On creating communities: Collaborative leaders understand that one of their more important roles is to create communities. Leadership is the result of a social contract and only occurs in a social framework where you influence the direction people are going in and unite them in accomplishing a common goal. I am willing to bet that it’s your mom that’s at the center of the community created around your family.
  8. On demonstrating grit: Mothers (and the best leaders) are tough-minded on standards and tender-hearted with people. In her book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” Angela Duckworth illustrates how grit matters just as much, if not more, than both talent and luck to achieving extraordinary things. This, for me, is the enduring legacy of Migrant Mother.

A Final Word:

When it was first published, the image of Migrant Mother sparked a flurry of philanthropy but no one ever knew what had happened to Florence Thompson. As it turns out, a reporter discovered her living in a trailer park outside Modesto California in 1978. She was 75 years old. She married at 17 and when she was 28 and pregnant with her sixth child, her husband died of tuberculosis. That’s why he wasn’t in the iconic picture. Thereafter, she would put her babies in bags and carry them around as she worked the fields. Maintaining her dignity throughout her ordeal, she was initially reluctant to allow Lange to photograph her and her family as specimens of poverty. In 1983 Thompson suffered a stroke and was unable to pay her hospital bills. Her children used her identity as Migrant Mother to raise the funds she needed to pay her expenses. She died soon after the stroke but her dignity always endured and does to this day as a symbol of motherhood and humanity in the face of extreme adversity.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

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