#16 Overreactions, Assumptions and Comparisons at Work and in Life by Executive Coach Mary Lee Gannon
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Comparison Harrison Versus Observation Nation
Who has not looked at another person and compared them to ourselves, our child, our parent, our friend, our boss? Who hasn’t compared another situation to ours – our family, our job, our home, our lifestyle, our love-life, our friendships. This inner voice is Comparison Harrison. He’s part of your ego. Wave to him, don’t turn away. We need to bring him closer to challenge what he tells us.
You might feel resentful when someone else gets the promotion. Someone else has direct reports who compete to be on their team. Other people don’t seem to work as hard as you do yet seem happier.
You may notice that someone else’s kids behave better. Someone else’s kids call them more often. Someone else is calm in the face of a crisis while you get easily upset and don’t sleep well. Someone else is getting in shape while you’re gaining weight. Someone else’s spouse is crazy about them. Someone else has a spouse. Comparison Harrison reminds you that life isn’t fair. As if anyone ever promised us that life was fair.
Working hard has always been your namesake but you’re realizing it isn’t the only springboard to higher advancement. At a certain level everyone works hard. Though it is certainly crucial, working hard is not your only signature strength - not even your best strength. Don’t lean on that as your platform.
What if you could observe all of your frustrations and jealousies for the purpose of setting your own vision for yourself, not judging yourself against someone else?
You look at other leaders and wonder why you can’t be like them. They have better eye contact and confidence. They dress and look the part. They are self-assured and put together. When they speak people listen intensely without interrupting.
Their leadership model is not yours. You need your own.
You have the power of Observation Nation. Observe others to learn not to compare. You need not be right. You want to get it right. Observe them so that you may practice observing yourself. Observe them for the purpose of learning. Not to judge in jealousy. Let me say it again: Those with the greatest executive presence do not judge others or themselves. They observe. They admit when they are wrong. They don’t point out when others are wrong. They never assassinate another person’s character. They may questions them, but they don’t make it personal.
You never hear them say, “I’m so stupid.” Or “He’s so stupid.” You may hear them say, “I wonder what she was thinking when she said that.” Or “Sometimes I don’t see things clearly and I think I did that here. Let me open my perspective.” Or “Help me understand….I’m confused.”
If you are reading this right now you are interested in learning how to lead better and be happier in the process. You’re tired of feeling exhausted and unfulfilled. Bravo to you for not having an accidental career. As long as you are leading, always be learning how to lead better and with grace. This is how you remain current, likable, valuable, and not obsolete. A self-aware leader is always learning.
Executive presence can indeed be developed. It is not something you learn by instruction which is why it is not taught in school. It is the way you conduct yourself – your manner which is underpinned by a comfort with self. It shows outwardly by your behavior – your leadership skills, relatability, compassion, ideation, humor, voice cadence, body language. Most importantly, it is driven internally by your thoughts, emotions and your ability to regulate both.
Other books on leadership presence stress tactile and behavioral aspects of excelling, how to dress, body language, eye contact, how to stand and sit, and what to say when. If you are not self-assured with confidence hard-wired to your core, a new situation could leave you feeling like a puppet or an actor in a drama – not authentic. Confidence and high self-esteem come naturally to you by working on mastering The Three Things - Mindful Self-awareness, Self-regulation, Self-acceptance. Actually, your relatability overall will improve in every area when these Three Things are your areas of focus.
Recently, I heard a podcast interview of an accomplished businessman running a company ranked 3rd among its competitors, serving five million customers. He talked of how he grew up poor, never got over the need to strive for better because he never wants to go back to the dreaded feeling from his childhood of being less than others. He identifies his need to strive as the key to his success which he feels is necessary to perpetuate his drive. I could relate to this feeling in my early leadership roles.
Additionally, he also never feels satisfied and is ok with that. He believes this continual need to strive is essential to his success. He believes his leadership model is built on the premise that he needs to just keep pushing ahead because it will go away in a flash if he doesn’t. This made me sad for him – his company is growing yet he feels compelled to be on this work treadmill as the only way to sustain his measure of accomplishment. He never gets to happiness because it isn’t possible. The treadmill to nowhere keeps spinning. It’s as if were he to get off it, his success and his value would come to a screeching halt. Later in the podcast he talked of sometimes being impatient with himself and staff. Hmm. I bet. Tension will always show up somewhere in the face of fear-based leadership.
Unfortunately, we live in a performance culture in and out of work. Social media constantly reminds us of the perfect life. We repeatedly compare our lives to what the culture shows us is ‘normal.’ We repeatedly ask ourselves. What have I accomplished? Is who I am with important enough? What do I have? How can I get that?”
Our culture grooms us to purchase based on the sense of urgency to get more – more thin, more stuff, more money, more attractive, more young, more house, more friends, etc. Except MORE is a concept that has no endgame. You can never feel fulfilled if there is always more to get or if you have to continually get better to have value. This is why we have more depression today than ever before. We are constantly reminded of the flawed expectation that more is linked to happiness. When do we finally get enough to be happy? We don’t. It’s impossible.
It is human nature to compare because this is a metric for well-being. We judge our circumstances compared to others so that we may gauge our safety. It is helpful in the wild to observe how others are protecting themselves from the elements, gathering water, keeping the fire burning, and trapping food. In modern society it is not helpful to compare what we have, own, do, or how we behave so that we can see if we have more, can get more or can be more. It is helpful to observe for the purpose of mastery – mastering that we are already enough just as we are.
Observe don’t compare. A good way to separate the two is that when you think Comparison Harrison has shown up, wink and get curios about it. Name what you are feeling. You might say to yourself, “Yeah, I’m feeling a little jealous here. What can I learn from this?” or, “It’s nice to see them happy.”
Honor the feeling that is present. Don’t turn away from it. Name it. Naming it disarms its power. This makes room for Observation Nation. This makes room for your compassion to grow.
Comparison Harrison is a thief of joy because it is grounded in the assumption that you are not enough. Observation Nation puts you in the third-party perspective – mindful of your thoughts without judging yourself or others, recognizing early signs of comparison, jealousy, feelings of being less than others, not good enough, and giving you the opportunity to observe for the purpose of acceptance. Sure, jealousy may show up. It is a thought. It is not you – the thinker. Face it. Honor it. Don’t turn away. Allow yourself to be with the discomfort. Get curious about what it is trying to teach you in The Still Space. Allow it to flow through you.
You are not separate from others. We are all part of the same world. Everyone is linked by humanity. You are part of others. And they are part of you. In this state we are all connected. There is no room for jealousy because you wouldn’t be jealous of yourself.
Reaction Jackson Loves Assumptions
Mastery of executive presence and life fulfillment includes one very important fact: We can’t break the dreaded cycles we’ve become accustomed to until we unravel the negative fiction stories we tell ourselves and replace them with the truth.
This is why you write a Grit Story. You are working to challenge the life messages that are laced with notions you drew from negative life experiences. You are unraveling the assumptions from the truth so you may start with a blank slate and rewrite the stories with only the truth. Remind yourself of that perspective every day. “No assumptions. Only truth.”
Sounds good in theory until ‘Reaction Jackson’ shows up and then it’s game over. You know him – the big, hairy, smelly, ugly, sticky, fearful part of yourself that fears the ultimate worst will happen – you’ll be judged, rejected, cast out, and end up alone. When he shows up all bets are off.
Reaction Jackson steals your confidence and hides the truth. Reaction Jackson hijacks good sense and reason. It reminds you of how you are going to feel badly about yourself. It’s like a big DANGER sign jumping up in from of your face that moves you to fight-flight-freeze mode. In this primitive brain state you go back to the familiar negative stories that are laced with assumptions. Back on the treadmill to nowhere. And the dreaded cycle of over overthinking, perfectionism and paralysis continues.
Be mindful of what you pay attention to. Be mindful of how you pay attention to what you pay attention to. Let your mind watch itself without inserting emotion or judgment into the observation. Your worth is not tied to achievement but to your deeper values and your skill of mastery. Be curious and compassionate to yourself. More is never enough. There will always be more. You can never get enough of the things you don’t need. You’re already enough just as you are. You are building mastery.
Life isn’t for striving. It’s for living. It’s for enjoying every moment. Leadership isn’t a title. It’s a mindset. It isn’t the executive office. It’s reverence from your team. It’s not being in charge. It’s creating a no blame environment where failing early is accepted as part of the innovative process. Leadership is not a bonus. It’s efficacy. I will give you lots of actionable advice here to help you find confidence, connection and calm. But if you don’t first unravel and challenge the misconceptions that hold you back it won’t be as helpful.
This process is difficult enough when your mind is calm and rational. Try to execute mindfully composed leadership in a crisis moment and it can feel impossible. The crisis need not be of catastrophic proportion to raise your anxiety barometer to out of control. It could be as simple as one more expectation added onto your already busy day. Notice the triggers.
When the fear response is activated it takes 15 to 20 minutes to reset biologically. If this happens often enough and for long enough, your adrenals become fatigued and your immune system tanks. Long term fear can affect your metabolism, memory, inflammation, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. It can also contribute to psychological disturbances such as depression, anxiety, loss of satisfaction and burnout. These are symptoms of your mind, body and spirit calling for relief.
Fear is a warning signal. You do not have to give attention to the doom and gloom assumption behind the fear. Just be with the feeling and get curious about what it’s trying to teach you.
Reaction Jackson has two faces. There are basically two types of fear: 1) in the moment fear – imminent danger and 2) anxiety fear - fear of something that might happen such as being rejected for not being good enough. The latter is more complicated to address. Anxiety is fear of what might happen and what that means for our survival - whether a real threat or not. Anxiety fear produces stress from remembering the past or projecting something into the future. Most of the time you can’t control the fear stimulus or trigger so you need practices to stop the pattern. No matter what the fear, the remedy is to stay in the moment – not go back or into the future. Stay in the present.
Most fears stem from a core belief of not being good enough which will ultimately lead to abandonment. Other ways the fear shows up are:
• Jealousy - a fear of not being lovable.
• Perfectionism - a fear of failing.
• Judging or feeling judged - a fear of inadequacy.
• Separating yourself - a fear of being rejected.
• Anxiety - the future is grim.
• Afraid - every possibility is a threat.
• Sadness - no room for even a sliver of joy.
• Anger - no one and no situation can please me.
• Shame - everyone is judging us, reinforcing that I am just plain bad.
Deliberately change your response to any fear the moment you notice it – in The Still Space - to eradicate it. This shift occurs by changing:
• your behavior
• your physical focus
• your mental attention
• the stories you tell yourself about it
Choose, act and focus differently.
Those with executive presence have a cool head, soft face, and an ease about them - a strong back and a soft front. They have go-to practices that keep them grounded. In a crucial moment you don’t have the opportunity to distract yourself with music, chatting, reading, headphones, a podcast. This is where The Still Space comes in handy.
One of my clients was stuck in a pattern of negative interactions with a colleague. She felt judged and minimized when they were together at the executive management table, so she tended not to speak up. She felt he didn’t like her and nothing she could do would change this so to avoid confrontation she played small. She worried about his judgment so often that she thought her job might be in jeopardy.
When we are stuck, we tend to let our thoughts take over, pushing good reason to the background while impending peril screams at full force. This robs us of good leadership presence.
She wanted better presence. Deep down she needed to feel her power so that she could stand taller when he was around.
Confidence and power grow with action. My client and I put together a plan whereby she met with him individually and told him she wanted a better working relationship with him and asked what that would look like. His response was vague. His previous behavior had indicated that he thought her performance was underwhelming. They were peers. It was not his position to judge her. She did not feel she needed to defend her contribution to the team, however she came armed with statistics and relevant data she collected that contributed to the team goals. She felt strongly prepared for the conversation. She felt validated to demonstrate her unarguable results.
Sometimes the reason people don’t like you has nothing to do with what you think or they say is the reason. This is why interrupting the pattern of our thoughts with action helps.
After she had this meeting, she was at first disappointed because even though she made the case on her value she sensed that he still disliked her. Yet this was eye opening. She had validated her value not only to him but to herself. She could now see that the problem was with him not her. It was personal to him and his flawed assumptions. Not grounded in fact.
What changed, however, was his behavior and hers. She is now speaking up more at meetings, feeling more herself and he is less critical. Her presence is stronger, and she feels worthy to be at the table. She feels less intimidated by him. He still may not like her but his respect for her grew in the process of her validating her work that was important to the team. The process of validating her value for herself helped her release the need for his approval. She deserves to be where she is and enjoys contributing to the team.