I Stink at Positivity

When you listen to people, you can hear the funniest things. We were connecting with a friend the other night and were talking about being positive.

“I stink at positivity!” They blurted out.

We all laughed.

For the remainder of our time together I kept coming back to that statement. I haven’t been able to shake it.

Our words reveal so much about us.

We can be so hard on ourselves.

Our words can create self-imposed limits.

We stop pushing against and become defined by those limits.

Spend the next few days listening to your own words, and those around you. Listen especially for the “I am” statements. Once you understand the landscape, maybe a similar approach can be used to reverse the trend.

Instead of limits, we could speak of possibilities.

“My positivity can be better, and I am making progress.”

This conversation reminded me of another recent interaction I had with someone who runs. I kept hearing the same statement over and over.

“I am not a runner.”

When I pressed further, I realized that this person ran about five races last summer. They trained hard, but past self-limits had convinced them that they were not a runner. They had convinced themselves that “a runner” was a specific kind of person who was better, faster, and thinner than they were.

We talked about how contrary this self limit was in the face of the evidence.

Running Shoes: Check.

Running regularly: Check. (But the internal voice kept telling them it wasn’t enough.)

Running outfits: Check.

Running five races: Check.

The evidence was clear: and it added up to a runner.  However, the self-limiting narrative remained. It took few tries, but eventually they were able to articulate the change.

“I am a runner.”

Without these self-imposed limits…we may just Change the World.

Inspired Vision or Dictated Standard?


(Image courtesy of my daughter who loves to snap photos while we drive.)

While working with a group of senior leaders they described some compliance issues especially with those further down within the organization. Procedures were not being followed, routine issues were on the rise, along with a rise in negative attitudes.

Many of these leaders have a behavioral bent towards adherence to and creation of rules, so I pushed in a little with some questions.

Were these particular procedures and rules important?

Yes. This is a high risk endeavor with lives on the line.

Okay, then why is there such pushback on these rules, procedures, and policies?

The culture below us seems to create this tension.

How do you communicate these procedures and rules?

Memos and operating procedures.

With a few more questions, a few additional clues were revealed. The memos, and operating procedures were then implemented by middle or front-line supervisors who didn’t always agree with or embrace the policies. 

Instead of seeing the importance of these procedures, the policies were viewed as a dictated standard instead of part of a larger inspired vision of keeping everyone safe.

Out of context, the constant emphasis on procedures can feed a negative culture. Those leaders needed to inspire a larger vision and continually explain why these small changes added to that overall vision.

As with all leaders, they needed to tell their own story and not always rely on others to explain their inspired vision.

Imagine how many times we try to get our employees, our organizations, our families, our kids, or our friends to follow some rule or procedure, yet it doesn’t resonate or create action. Instead we are left with the grumbling culture around us despite the fact that those rules would help keep everyone safe, ease some difficulty, or just make things run more smoothly.

Maybe we can all learn from these leaders.

Inspire a vision and provide the context for changes and rules. Stay on message about how these changes are important to the organization, the family or the relationship.

If not, simply dictating a standard may not be enough.

I still have work to do…

About a month ago, I attended training on a new tool to help match individuals to a job, or to help coach them on a deeper level. This new tool can identify someone’s capacity in various attributes, and how they view the world, understand systems and people. The tool doesn’t stop at the outside world.

This new approach also takes a peek at how you are doing on the inside. Do you understand and balance your various roles, do you see your future as bright or muddled, and are you moving forward or just hanging on.

During the training, the instructor eventually passed out our results throughout the room. My little table of four slowly received the results and each person began flipping through the pages to gain some insight. Somewhat guarded, we all peered at the pages occasionally glancing at the others at the table. Eventually we shared the results.

Despite the individual variation, there was one theme. Each person at the table had a good handle on other people and how to help them (most were consultants or HR professionals), but all of us could use a little work on ourselves. I couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy and my Narrator seemed to try to tell me that unless I get my own act together, I shouldn’t be telling others how to improve.

In the far left corner of the room, there was another consultant. This consultant has been working with individuals and companies for almost 43 years. When speaking or providing insight during the session the room hushed as if everyone in the room wanted to let the words and insight of this wise sage penetrate our minds. It was amazing and intimidating at the same time.

This consultant called me yesterday. Mostly because of my half-joking statement at the end of class when each of us was asked to say what we learned the most during the training.

“I learned that I need to be coached by you” I said speaking directly to that consultant.

It got a laugh, but imagine my surprise during our call. When we were discussing some of the potential areas I may need to develop and work on, I heard the following.

“You know Carl, when I read my own results and report, I realize that I still have work to do.”

It was reassuring that someone who has worked with others almost as long as I have been alive still has work to do and their development journey is far from over.

This conversation reminded me that there are two paths.

One path makes a bold statement.

“I have it all figured out and I will tell you how to make your life, career, job, and world better.”

The second path echoes the simpler statement I heard while on the phone.

“We are on this collective journey together. We still have work to do and if some of the insights we learn help us…great. Let’s see where this takes us.”

I still have work to do, and I look forward to this journey together.