Learned Helplessness

Reading social media today I came across an article on Learned Helplessness.  You need to google it to get a full understanding however it really struck me how this might happen to our teams.

The article I read was about horses and how they often begin to ignore pain and other stressors simply because they can’t get away.

As leaders we often want our teams to work a certain way.  We want to push them into a behavior that makes sense to us, the leader!  We either can’t or don’t want to deal with behavior that seems outside of our norm.

We punish, belittle, even use sarcasm to get behavior we want.  By doing this we often make our team become numb to their own pain.  Now there are behaviors that do not go well when working with a team, however by using punishment we often get to our results faster and with little work on our part!

Take the horse for example, Duke doesn’t like pressure.  (Pressure for horses means bad things and they react to that pressure). Horses also don’t like things they can’t process.  Noises, shifts in their vision all cause them to spook.  It is our job to get the horse to trust us to keep them safe.  We do this by exposing them to these pressures and noises and by showing them that we are keeping them safe.  We want them to trust us!  However, some people use other methods to train their horses.  They punish them, they leave them tied tightly to force the spook out of them. Horses who are trained this way learn they can’t escape and eventually become really good horses on the outside but they are no longer horses on the inside!

As leaders are we doing this to our teams? Are we tying them down to simply get behavior we want instead of teaching them to trust us.  Teaching our team to trust us means we have to make difficult decisions, we have to stand up to our leadership for our teams.  We then often have to go back to our teams and tell them we failed.  We have to show that we aren’t perfect and that is a hard thing to do!

Think about this as you lead your teams, what if you were honest with them!  What if you told them the truth that you spoke up at the last meeting but you were turned down. Or that you feel that the decision is a good one for the organization and that you support it even if it means something bad for the team?

When someone on your team works in a way that is different or in a way that maybe needs improvement, try understanding why they work that way and getting them to trust you that your way might be better?

Being a good leader isn’t about forcing people into a mold it’s about getting them to trust you and know that you have their best interest at heart!!

Do what you love!!

Leaders, how many days do you go home and think I just can’t do this again?  I can’t make myself go through another day!  Then you remember the mortgage and the car payments, and the kids and all the other bills that need to be paid and you do it again.

Not all of us love our jobs, and I would guess some of us down right dislike it alot!!  As leaders we put ourselves out there, we support our teams we strive to be better and we sometimes forget that we need to find something that feeds our soul!

This doesn’t have to be your job, in fact it’s OK to not be but there has to be something that you do that you love!  For my amazing husband it’s greeting new people at our church.  He has a sixth sense for new people like seriously can smell them from inside the building!  He takes great pride in welcoming them and then having me meet them later!  This and coaching are 2 things that he loves more than most anything else!

For me, welcoming people at church is OK, it’s not something I love, I’ll do it but it doesn’t make me smile.  Today I did the thing that makes me smile. I rode a horse!  For an hour all I could think about was sitting in the saddle and attempting to steer. (I am still learning so doing more than 1 thing at a time is still really tough!) My smile was huge! I felt joy like I haven’t felt in a very long time!

You see I was not control, I didn’t have to teach the other riders in the room. I had to focus on my horse and the horses around me but all I was responsible for was my horse and myself! I was doing the thing that feeds my soul!

This weekend take time to figure out what feeds your soul! As leaders we are no good to anyone if we aren’t taking care of ourselves!  So go feed your soul!!

Trust the process

I am the last person who can really handle that phrase! Trust the process?  Screw that I am trusting myself!  However in my many years on this planet I have learned to do exactly that, trust the process!  For me as a Christ follower this often means trusting in God and that HE has the plan.

As leaders, we often want to skip steps to get to the end, we forget that trusting the process is probably what got us there in the first place! I had my first ‘official’ riding lesson with Duke yesterday.  He did great, me, not so much!  Learning to ride is alot like learning to read braille after you lost your sight or picking up a new language.  The process is slow and methodical and sometimes boring.

Yesterday I walked, then I stopped, literally every 5 steps she had me walk and then stop! Why well because if I can’t stop this amazing 700lb animal (he’s little for a horse) then I am in big trouble! Oh and he’s afraid of everything!  Our trainer says he’s reactive!  Yea to the planet! (but that’s another story)

So after walking and then stopping, and walking and then stopping and then walking and then stopping ( you get the idea) she had me trot.  This is like a slow job on a horse, and then what did I have to do, well stop.  And guess what he did stop!  Why because we learned to walk first and then stop!

You see as leaders we want to skip steps to get to the end, but we can’t we have to trust the process.  We have to learn to walk and then stop!  We can’t rush things because when we do we get hurt or our careers get stalled or our team fails!  When I rush the process in riding, I get hurt (very very very hurt lol)

If you are struggling find someone you trust to talk it through with!  Sometimes having a fresh perspective can help, however you have to find someone who will tell you the truth not what you want to hear.  In this case your best friend or spouse is probably NOT the best option.  They are going to tell you what you want to hear, and that’s OK! But you need someone who is going to be honest and tell you, you need more time before you ride the bigger 1200lb horse!

Today your challenge is to trust the process.  Trust that things are going in the right direction and if you aren’t sure find someone to talk it over with!  There might be things you can be doing or (here’s a novel thought) you might have to be patient! (Of which I am not!) Good luck! And remember walk, then stop, walk then stop, walk then stop!

Never Stop learning!

I have recently started taking horse riding/ground work lessons.  Working with a horse is VERY humbling experience because they are smart, way smart and BIG! Like 1500lbs big.  They don’t apologize for the size or the way they operate and you have to earn their respect to get them to do the things they need to.  Add to this they are a prey animal which means they are constantly sure something is trying to kill them and yea it’s a new experience.

For me, I am one of those people who feels confident with everything I do.  Even if I am not sure, I go in with a confidence that I can handle the task.  Training a horse has taught me to be humble, focus on 1 task at a time and to learn that I don’t know it all!!

Being a leader is alot like horse training,  You have to be willing to humble yourself, stop believing you know it all and take it 1 task at a time.

As leaders we often fall into the trap that as leaders we know it all!  That there is nothing that we don’t know, don’t get me wrong being confident is important!  However, being over confident can be deadly!

For example, if I am trying to back my horse up, this is a big deal for them because they can’t see what’s behind them and then have to trust me to not put them in a place that will get them killed.  And trust me ANYTHING can kill them, leaves, dirt, air.. really!!  So the horse has to trust me to not put him in harms way. Just like my team has to trust me that I won’t do anything to put them in harms way.

For people, this is obviously different than horses.  For our team, they want to know that their work is going to be acknowledged, that when they do something right they are going to get the kudos they deserve.  Alternatively if something goes wrong, as a leader we will want to absorb that.  We don’t want to pick on our team unless it’s a serious error that continues to happen and then it becomes a performance issue. Protecting our team is very important!!

Learning is also important as a leader.  We must continue to push ourselves to grow in all areas, even ones we feel good about.  I highly recommend that as a leader you step out of your comfort zone and learn a skill that is not something you would normally do.  This can be just about anything, but being humbled by a skill that we aren’t good at is soo good for all of us!

Learning to humble ourselves and learn something new will make us a better person AND leader!

If you need me I’ll be watching horse training videos and trying to get my 1500lb friend to back up!

Being Open

Everyone hears about a company’s open door policy, it’s the one that says “you can talk to us about anything”. We all know that’s not true, I mean really as leaders do we really want to hear what someone thinks is wrong with our company?  Of course not!  So saying that you have an open door policy is really just a way to make it sound like you are open to suggestions

I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a company where I felt comfortable walking into the boss to say this is wrong!  However, what if we as leaders were open to hearing things that might be wrong?

Working with horses you have to be relaxed. They can read your body language like nobody’s business and if you are tense they are going to assume that something is going to kill them.  You see horses are prey animals so literally the entire world is going to kill them! I am not joking ask anyone with a horse and they will tell  you that at some point in time a leaf was going to kill their horse! (or so the horse thought)

So when I go to work with the horses I have to tell myself to relax.  I have to take deep breaths and calm myself down.  If I don’t I am either going to end up on the ground or at the very least with a horse who really doesn’t trust me because if I am not calm then something is wrong!

So as leaders we have to do the same thing.  We have to calm ourselves down, we have to open up and listen and if we can’t then we need to be honest with our teams about that!  When someone comes to us to talk and we are in a place where we can’t honestly listen and take it in, we have to tell the person that.  We need to say, “I am not in a place to have this talk because my day has been really stressful and I want to hear what you are saying” then ask if you can reschedule.

When you do reschedule make sure you are prepared.  Take a walk, take deep breaths and be ready to hear what the person is saying. You don’t have to fix the issue, you might not be able to, but you have to listen and you have to be open!  If we are going to say we have open door policies then we need to be really be open to hear!

This doesn’t mean you have to make the changes suggested, but you do have to listen (ACTIVELY) and ask questions and get information and even go back and ask for more clarification if you aren’t sure.  If it’s something that you can control and can change and it’s good for the organization then change it!  If not then be honest with the person.  Let them know the idea was good or not and why you couldn’t implement it now.  Even asking them if they have ways to modify it to fit the organization.

You see being a leader isn’t about tell people what to do, or how to do it, it’s about listening to how others want to get it done!