Most of us want to be known as mature leaders. We want people take our leadership seriously and treat us like we belong, whether that be professionally at work or personally amongst our family and friends. In this training session, I’m going to explain the Pendulum Philosophy, which gives leaders a framework to detect areas of immaturity and shows how to compensate for them.
When it comes to leadership, maturity is hard to define. But we know a mature leader when we interact with them. So how do we grow in maturity? We need to know our pendulums. Confused yet?
Years ago, I developed what I call the Pendulum Philosophy. Here’s how it applies to personal development and effective leadership.
The Pendulum Philosophy
Think about one of those big, old-timey clocks where the second “hand” swings back and forth. That’s a pendulum. Another more technical definition is “something that alternates between opposites”. Basically, a pendulum moves between two extremes.
We all have personal pendulums. When given two seemingly opposing strengths, skills, attributes, or decisions, we have a natural bent towards one or the other. For example, think about planning and spontaneity. Stereotypically, if you are a good planner, you probably are not very spontaneous and vice versa. Picture planning on the left side of a scale and spontaneity on the right. The further you move from the middle to the right, the more spontaneous you are and the less planning you do.
The Pendulum Philosophy can be applied to most things in life. Take conflict for example. Do you lean toward initiating conflict or running from it? How about self-perception? Do you have a bent towards being overly critical of yourself or do you have an elevated view of your strengths? Do you talk too much or too little?
At this point you may be wondering, “Why is this important? It seems like common sense.” And you are right, it is common sense. The simplest lessons in life are generally the most valuable; you just have to be cognizant of them.
The Power of the Pendulum
The pendulum is all about self-awareness. In a previous training session, I mentioned that self-awareness is one of the top 7 lessons that have shaped my leadership over the last 20 years. It leads to maturity, which in turn leads to effectiveness.
Let’s look at our planning versus spontaneity example again. Both of these are inherently strengths. Planners typically are very productive because they are organized. They plan their work and work their plan. Spontaneous people excel at creating memories. They are typically the life of the party and are gifted at cultivating relationships. However, every strength comes with a curse. Those inherent weaknesses become greater as the pendulum moves to the extreme. An extreme planner can easily become ineffective in relationships. They lack flexibility and don’t allow room for interruptions. Their family and close friends can become very frustrated because they are more willing to stick to their schedule than they are to make themselves available. On the other end of the spectrum, extremely spontaneous people can become ineffective at tasks. They start projects and never finish because something more exciting comes up. Family and friends may become annoyed with extreme spontaneity as well because they lack dependability.
This curse or weakness can distract from your strength. The more powerful the weakness, the less impactful the strength. The Pendulum Philosophy makes you aware of this curse or weakness. The goal is not necessarily to become more “well rounded”, but to become more aware and therefore effectively avoid the extremes.
I am a planner. I know that my first instinct will always be to plan. This is a strength, and is not something I shy away from. However, I need to recognize that there are times spontaneity is good. I will never be gifted in that area, but I can learn to loosely hold my schedule at times and be more available to help my friends and family when they are in need. Knowing my pendulum allows me to rethink my natural bent and potentially make a course correction if needed.
The pendulum philosophy can be applied to an almost unlimited number of situations. This week, think through these five common strength areas. Which are you naturally bent toward?
Are you more critical or unaware?
Other people. Are you more judgmental or compassionate?
In 1954, Billy Graham was conducting his first crusade in London, which received a lot of criticism. (It would be noted later that Graham received criticism almost everywhere he went.)
He recounts in his autobiography Just As I Am, “A columnist for the Daily Mirror (London), Bill Connor, under the name Cassandra, wrote a devastatingly clever article against me; it appeared the day we arrived in Britain. I wrote him a note telling him that while I didn’t agree with him, his column had been very well done. He wrote back that he would like to meet me.”
After their meeting, “Cassandra” wrote another column about his interaction with Graham. Connor still made a few verbal jabs at Graham’s expense but he also painted him in a much more favorable light.
“All leaders get criticized. It’s their response to criticism that sets them apart,” write Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley. If you try to accomplish something that adds value or makes a difference, you will be criticized. One of the areas that separates great leaders from the good leaders is how they respond to and manage criticism.
When it comes to criticism, the first question we must ask ourselves is, “Is this criticism constructive or destructive?” If it is constructive, we embrace it and engage with the critic. If it is destructive, we dismiss it.
If the criticism seems to have even a hint of truth or if it is constructive, we should embrace it and, if possible, engage with the critic. This calls for radical open-mindedness and extreme humility. An attitude that is constantly seeking to learn and grow.
When reaching out to a critic, we should respond in kindness, even complimenting where appropriate, just like Billy Graham did. The goal is to learn. As author and leadership mentor Fred Smith says, “Turn your critics into coaches.”
Find the Kernel of Truth
When listening and processing criticism we need to find the “kernel of truth.” Dawson Trotman said, “There is a kernel of truth in every criticism. Look for it, and when you find it, rejoice in its value.”
Even if the critic is 99% wrong, there may be 1% of truth that provides valuable insight. There’s a saying that goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know and what you don’t know can kill you.” We all have blind spots; criticism is a way to perhaps bring those blind spots into view.
Don’t Dwell on Criticism
We don’t need to engage with all criticism. Some critics are off base and we need to dismiss it. Fred Smith also says, “Sometimes if a racehorse pays too much attention to horsefly, it makes the fly too important. Some people’s only taste of success is the bite they take out of someone whom they perceive is doing more than they are.”
Most of the time criticism comes from people who are dissatisfied with their own life. Instead of taking responsibility and ownership for their current situation, instead they attack other people. As the saying goes, “hurt people hurt people.”
This is probably the toughest step when dealing with criticism. It’s hard to just simply dismiss criticism and not think about it. But a way to help with this process is by taking captive our thoughts and self-talk and comparing them to the truth. Is this criticism actual reality or distorted truth? It’s also good to have an inner circle of friends to process criticism with. People who will tell it like it is.
Give Equal Weight to Compliments
Jon Acuff talks about “hater math.” One “hater” is greater than 100 compliments. We remember the one time someone criticized us and forget about the hundred times someone said something genuinely complimentary of us.
I think it’s very beneficial to keep a praise journal. What are the accomplishments that have happened in your life? What are the genuine praises that you and your work have received? Yes, we need to be careful that we don’t become arrogant over our achievements. But this journal can be a source of encouragement in those seasons when we feel like we can do nothing right and the critics let us know it.
Take time to celebrate and remember your successes.
Think back to the last time you received criticism. How did you respond and manage it? Write down both the positive and negative ways you reacted.
I was at a conference a few years ago and heard pastor and author Andy Stanley say, “Do for one what you wish you could do for all.” I don’t know if you are like me but I can too easily buy into the myth that significance or influence is about the masses. The myth that the more people you lead, the larger the audience you speak to, the more followers, likes, or comments you have means you are more successful.
The problem with this view is that it’s false. As the old saying goes, you can be “a mile wide but an inch deep.” That’s the problem with the masses. For an instant they may be engaged with what you have to say, but that moment is fleeting. Your words don’t connect beneath the surface to their heart and your influence is very little.
I believe that leadership and influence is found not in the masses but in the one-on-one or smaller group interactions. It is found in the brief moments of a day that, at the time, don’t seem significant but over time add up to something significant. It’s like chopping down a tree with an axe. A single swing won’t do it. But if you hit the same spot every time, eventually you will accomplish your goal.
If we want to have significant influence with others, we must have a paradigm shift.
Influence That Everyone Can Achieve
The paradigm shift is this: Focus the majority of your conversations and interactions on the other person by asking yourself, “How can I add value to this person right now?” Most people care more about what they have to say and what’s going on in their life than what’s happening with you. It’s human nature.
One of our greatest needs as humans to feel important or significant. When you focus a conversation on someone else by asking them questions and being genuinely interested in what they have to say, that person feels valued. So when you take the time to listen, hear about their success and struggles, that person feels that they matter to you.
What makes this approach so powerful is that in today’s world, we elevate talking or sharing our points of view. Just look at social media. People would rather share than listen. Listening has become a lost art. And yet it is the key to unlocking influence.
Years ago, Gallup wrote a book entitled, How Full Is Your Bucket. The premise of the book is that we all have a proverbial “bucket” that can be filled or drained during the day. Most people go through life constantly focused on getting their bucket filled. The problem with this approach is that if two people engage in a conversation where they are each focused on having their own bucket filled, they end up draining one another’s buckets.
What if you decided to go against the crowd and made the decision that you would be a bucket-filler? What if your goal was to figure out what fills another person’s bucket and focused on their bucket and not yours?
This doesn’t mean you don’t have strategic and intentional relationships with people in your life who help fill your bucket. I think every leader needs an inner circle where they can go for replenishment. However, a leader’s focus should be on meeting the needs of the people around them first and foremost.
Here is what most people don’t realize: when you seek to fill other people’s buckets, something magical happens. Your bucket gets filled. As the ancient Hebrew proverb says, “The one who waters will himself be watered.”
I have two challenges for you today:
Pick one day this week where you make an intentional effort to focus conversations and interactions on the other person. Make it your goal to fill their bucket. And remember their bucket probably gets filled differently than yours. At the end of the day, debrief. Reflect on these questions:
What did you learn about yourself in those conversations?
Was it difficult not to make those conversations about yourself and your wants/needs?
Pick two or three people in your life for whom you want to be a regular bucket-filler. Maybe it’s your spouse, child, co-worker, or close friend. I guarantee you that over time your influence will grow with them as you consistently fill their buckets.
Do you have a hard time focusing on routine tasks/projects? Or maybe you struggle with negative self-talk?
If you are like me, the answer to both of those questions is a resounding “Yes!!!”
The foundational component in both of those situations is distraction. Our mind gets distracted either by external or internal forces. When it comes to internal distraction, I found one technique to be very useful. It’s called “Bounce/Hit.”
In today’s video, I’m sharing the concept and how I apply it in everyday life.
What’s your Bounce/Hitphrase?
Take some time to come up with a word or phrase that will help you minimize distractions and negative self-talk so that you can focus on the task at hand.
Leadership, (or the lack thereof), is revealed through adversity and uncertainty. The measure of leadership is not found in how one leads in security and success; it’s how one leads in uncertainty and chaos.
Right now, we are living in uncertain times. Our generation has never experienced a pandemic like this and the effects it has had (and will continue to have) on our medical, economic, and social systems.
Eventually, the curve will flatten (or fluctuate) and we will figure out how to live in a new norm. As that happens, we are going to see two types of leaders emerging from this chaotic season. The true leaders who rose up and had a significant impact on their workplaces and communities. And the other category. The fake leaders who were merely pretending to lead will crumble due to their lack of maturity and courage.
The question is “Which category will people say your leadership falls into?”
Here are five tools to help you lead both yourself and your team effectively through uncertainty:
Note: I’m going to focus on leading your team but all of these tools can be used to lead yourself and your family.
Confront the Brutal Facts
Great leaders run to problems, not away from them. It doesn’t mean they have all the answers figured out and it doesn’t mean they aren’t fearful. It simply means they have the courage to lean into the unknown and figure out the best path forward.
Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, calls this “confronting the brutal facts.” He says, “All good-to-great companies began the process of finding a path to greatness by confronting the brutal facts of their current reality…It is impossible to make good decisions without infusing the entire process with an honest confrontation of the brutal facts.”
A leader must have the courage to accurately diagnose their current reality even if the information comes back bleak. It’s like getting a checkup at the doctor. We have to know exactly what the data is telling us before we can start coming up with solutions.
Once we know our current reality, the next tool is communication.
False hope is de-motivating and demeans your employees. Leaders need to trust that their employees can handle honest but difficult truth. When you know your current reality, you need to provide transparent communication to your team.
How do you practice transparent communication? Use these steps.
Straight talk: Don’t beat around the bush and use too many words. Be concise and to the point. When communicating in written form, use short sentences and paragraphs, and bullet points.
Be authentic: Be real with your team. If you don’t have answers right now, let them know. They will appreciate the honesty. Most people don’t expect their leaders to have all the answers. It’s actually refreshing.
Be confident: You can communicate that you don’t have the answers while still being confident. Where does your confidence lie? Not in yourself. It lies in your team. You can be confident that you have the right people to figure out solutions.
Confirm your commitment to the team: Remind them you are committed to them as individuals, not just employees. Andy Stanley says, ““People won’t give their best unless they know their leader is committed to give his best.”
Create opportunity for open dialogue: Once your team hears “the brutal facts,” give them the opportunity to vent, express their worry and/or frustration and work through their emotions.
It’s important to recognize that you need to communicate to your team before you come up with solutions. The longer you don’t communicate and stay silent, the more uneasy they will feel. Sometimes the best communication can be: “We are not quite sure how we are going to navigate this unique situation. For now, we are going to give everyone paid time off and we will let you know by the end of the week our next steps.”
This moves us to our next tool which is finding solutions.
Involve your employees in the process of finding solutions. When they are informed of the current situation that the company sits in, then they can be a part of the solution. And they might surprise you with their ideas. Also, when you involve your employees in the decision-making process, they will be more bought in.
Remember, in times of adversity some of our best innovations and ideas come out.
When it comes to finding solutions, whatever solutions you decide upon, your key leaders need to be the first ones to make sacrifices. In Simon Sinek’s TED Talk Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe, Sinek tells the story of when Barry-Wehmiller, a large manufacturing company in the Midwest, was faced with the problem of having to save 10 million dollars due to the 2008 recession. Instead of conducting layoffs, CEO Bob Chapman created a furlough program. Every employee, including him, would take 4 weeks of unpaid vacation. They didn’t have to take the 4 weeks consecutively. But they each had to take 4 weeks total by the end of the year. This allowed everybody to make a little sacrifice and saved both money and people’s jobs.
Another example is Gary Kelly, CEO at Southwest. His first solution was to immediately take a 10% pay cut. Of course, this one solution will not completely solve all of their issues. But it’s a start.
During these uncertain times, it is almost impossible to create a plan or solution for the next month, let alone for the next 3 or 6 months. The best thing you can do is create “mini-plans” or solutions for the next two weeks. This gives you time to continue the process of confronting the brutal facts and making the necessary adjustments each step of the way.
Remember, if you don’t keep communicating, your silence is loud. Your team will start believing the information they read on the internet or hear on the news. (Which is not always bad.) But your job as a leader is to control (not manipulate) the information so that your team has the most accurate information to make the best decisions for themselves and their family.
Our final tool doesn’t occur last in the process, but is a mindset that we must have throughout leading in uncertainty.
Earlier I mentioned confronting the brutal facts. Just because the situation looks bleak or is unknown doesn’t mean we can’t see the positive in any situation. We must put into practice the Stockdale Paradox.
In Good to Great, Jim Collins tells the story of Admiral Jim Stockdale who was the highest-ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the Vietnam War. Stockdale received the Medal of Honor for his leadership of his men during this time. He fought for the rights of prisoners, created internal communication systems so prisoners didn’t feel isolated, and even exchanged secret intelligence information with his wife through letters.
Collins got the opportunity to interview Stockdale and he asked, “How on earth did you deal with it (being a P.O.W.) when you did not know the end of the story.” Stockdale replied: “I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end.”
Collins and his team came up with the Stockdale Paradox: Retain faith that you will prevail in the end regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
That’s what great leaders do. They lean into the unknown no matter how bleak it looks and also stay positive knowing that they and their team will not only survive this adverse season, but find ways to create a new norm and thrive in the midst of it.