If you are a Leader you need to combat negativity and maintain a positive attitude (no matter what!)
Based on a conversation with John Milgram and Ralph Dise
“It can be lonely at the top,” but it doesn’t need to be, and it shouldn’t be.
Many people would be surprised at the number of successful corporate executives who feel like fakes—these are highly successful people who attribute their success to luck, timing, or coasting by with a great personality. This includes CEOs of big, successful companies.
Many of these CEOs feel lonely and isolated – and that’s precisely the problem. As a Leader you should not let yourself get isolated in the first place.
It is natural to feel isolated, and that’s precisely why encouraging others is important
It’s understandable though, how Leaders can become lonely and isolated. In our culture, starting from a young age, many children are told “don’t do this”, “don’t do that”. We spend the first couple of years of our children’s lives teaching them how to walk, and then the next sixteen years telling them to sit down and shut up. When and if you’re called upon, it’s a sign of weakness if you say you don’t know something.
But being a Leader doesn’t mean you have to be Superman. Leaders are human, made of flesh and blood, and put their shoes on one foot at a time—like everyone else. Many of the best Leaders are very hands off – they’ve learned to delegate everything to their colleagues and subordinates.
As Leaders, if we’re going to be open to new opportunities, one of the most important things we can do is to work to better understand our own personal strengths and weaknesses, and the strengths and weaknesses of our organizations, and then enlist others—from the HR department to the people who are working in the field—to fight the good fight against our ingrained culture, and tell everyone who works with us: “You are stronger than you think you are.”
“It’s up to you to build a positive culture.”
As a Leader you must maintain a positive attitude, no matter what. But attitude and affirmations are not enough. You need to show you mean it, because actions speak louder than words. Follow through to better understand your people’s strengths—and then find ways to put them to good use. With use, your strengths—like your muscles—will naturally get stronger and more resilient.
Kunstler’s Law and “The Geography of Nowhere”
In “The Geography of Nowhere” (Simon and Schuster, 1994), James Howard Kunstler offers a scathing critique of America’s urban and suburban landscapes, with our endless highways, bedroom communities, and strip malls.
It’s really a critique of our culture. Unfortunately when you compare many parts of the United States to other developed countries, which have put a great emphasis on developing livable communities, it rings true. It should make us think about what constitutes a good human habitat, a good community—and if you’re a corporate Leader—a good organization.
Kunstler received great praise for his work, and like others who’ve worked hard and suddenly achieved acclaim and success, he found acclaim and success somewhat unsettling.
In his own beautifully self-deprecating words, Kunstler says:
“‘The Geography of Nowhere’ was moderately successful. It seemed to help people understand their feelings about a subject that had long bewildered them. I became something of a low-grade guru. I received many invitations to speak to civic groups, professional organizations, and colleges around the country. My initial reaction was panic that people were looking to me for illumination. What could be more natural than to feel unworthy of other people’s esteem? I am aware that many successful figures secretly feel like frauds, including people far more knowledgeable and accomplished than myself. This is apparently a universal neurosis. Everybody feels inadequate. I’ve since formulated a social principle called Kunstler’s Law, which states that: “In any room containing 100 people, 99 of them each think that they are the only one in the room who doesn’t have his-or-her act together.”**
As a Leader you need to stop the negative self-talk and the negative feedback
Kunstler‘s observation is dead–on target. Many CEOs, Corporate Chiefs, and Leaders feel like fakes and frauds, and secretly think: “If only someone really knew ‘the real me’, they’d know that I am a fraud (or a loser, or a jerk).” If you’re ever going to succeed, you need to stop the negative feedback and the negative self-talk. Stop it dead in its tracks.
Here are “Three things you can do to combat negativity“:
1. Surround yourself with positive people – Negative people and negative thinking will only bring you down. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t listen to bad news. You should just have a positive attitude when you hear it, and deal with it accordingly. It’s not what happens…, it’s how you react to what happens that really makes the difference between a winner and a loser.
2. Listen to motivational tapes and read motivational books – You need to hard-wire your brain to think positively. Two of the best books ever written are ‘Think and Grow Rich’, by Napoleon Hill and ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’, by Dale Carnegie. They’re classics. They’ve helped millions of executives and managers to get their heads on straight, so they can take advantage of the opportunities that lie in front of them.
3. Celebrate positive attitudes and open-mindedness – You should work always to have a positive attitude, no matter what. If you see someone maintaining a positive attitude despite the circumstances, especially when the going is rough, let that person know you really appreciate it. If one of your employees was faced with a difficult situation, and they work their way out of it, celebrate that success. If someone finds a new way to solve an old problem, praise him or her openly for looking at things with fresh eyes.
As a Leader you are responsible for your culture
If you are a Leader, you set the tone of your business, your household, your civic organization – whatever you do. If you’re a CEO, a division chief, a human resource Leader, or a father or a mother, you have people looking up to you. They will follow your lead, whether you’re leading by intention or by default—so be mindful of how you conduct yourself and the cues you’re giving them.
Do you create a culture of fear and intimidation? Do you tell your people what they should and shouldn’t do? Do you show them just how wrong they are? Or do you project confidence and tell your people that you trust them? Do you celebrate successes and tell your people that working together you can accomplish great things, that working together there’s nothing you can’t do?
If you’re a Leader, and there’s negativity in the workplace, it’s up to you to get rid of it. The tone of an organization is set by the CEO and the HR Leader.
“You really are stronger than you think you are—and if it’s feeling lonely at the top, it doesn’t need to be.”
• “A positive culture doesn’t just happen; you have to create it.”
• “Work on your strengths and make yourself stronger”
• “Stop listening to the negativity of the news media—and start consuming positive thoughts from other sources”
**Excerpted from “Home from Nowhere”, by John Howard Kunstler, Simon and Schuster, 1996.
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