Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Leadership and Self Deception

I recently read a book that I can’t stop thinking about.
Leadership and Self Deception, an Arbinger Institute book, has got to be one of the best business books I’ve ever read.  Only, its not really just a business book.  Its more like the best relationship/parenting/human interaction book I’ve ever read. 
It begins with the idea that you see yourself differently than other people do.  And if you are incapable of comprehending how other people see you, you could be walking around being a living nightmare and have no idea.  And the main problem is that you are not only being a big jerk, but you are also deceiving yourself.  You are living from moment to moment justifying and rationalizing your own perceptions and actions.  It’s a very self involved approach to the world, and also totally unproductive.  And also, something we all do all the time.
Here are a few things I took away from this book:
You can be doing and saying all the right things, but if you’re motivations/intentions are not good, the people that you are dealing with know it.  For example, if you begin or end any statement with “I mean no offense” (or any similar phrase) but you actually do mean offense, you are fooling no one.  You can’t tell someone that you’re trying to help them, when you are really trying to put them in their place.  People get the nuances.  In short, it MATTERS how you feel about people, not just the things you say and do.
When you stop yourself from doing what you KNOW you should, a bad cycle begins.  For example, you pass a homeless guy on the street and think, I should give him some money/a sandwich/some water.  You don’t do it, and spend the next few minutes rationalizing why.  He got himself there.  He doesn’t deserve it.  He should pull himself up by the bootstraps and get a job.  Blah, blah, blah.  What you do in that moment is place a frame around someone else that suits your own self perception.  YOU are obviously a kind, caring, generous person.  The problem is THAT guy.  
The thing about this mental exercise is that we don’t just do it with strangers on the street.  We do it to the people closest to us.  Thoughts like “I would help my spouse by changing the baby’s diaper but, he/she wouldn’t do it for me” over time translate into “My spouse is selfish.”  In fact, if you thought you should help change the diaper and didn’t, you may have been being selfish.  And that’s just one little incident. But you deceived yourself into thinking you weren’t the problem, which makes the other person the problem.  And if that continues it becomes something you always see in your spouse.
You follow me?  Do you see how this kind of behavior can affect every relationship you have, all the time?
People who can see themselves clearly don’t feel the need to blame others, judge others, put others down, point fingers, etc. etc.  For example, if you’re feeling taken for granted, chances are you’re just too focused on yourself. 
Its almost impossible to change a bad situation/relationship unless you start seeing yourself more clearly.  I think we all know it’s super easy to find fault in others.  And the kicker is, we might not always be wrong about the fault we find in others.  But, in the long run, we can’t DO anything about other people.  We can only try to handle ourselves properly.  This requires SEEING ourselves properly. 
When a friend recommended this book to me, it was after I’d been involved in a rather ugly situation with someone else.  And, starting the book, I thought a lot about how badly this other person needs to read this book.  But, then, I realized how badly I needed to read this book.  The fact is, that ugly situation would have been cut very short if I had reacted differently, less defensively, in the first place.  That doesn’t change the other person, or the way they feel about me – but there is only so much I can do about that.  The point is, it certainly changes me. 
I wish I’d come across this book a long time ago.  I actually listened to the audio book first, and then got the e-book so that I could go back and reference certain parts when I’m thinking about it.  I find that lacking though, and want to get the book.  Especially now that they’ve released a new edition.
Everyone should read it.
That is all.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Proud to be an American… except for when its totally embarrassing…

How frustrating has the last few weeks in politics been?  Of course, some aspects are more frustrating than others depending on your point of view.  This is, of course, going to be all about my point of view. 
Let’s start with the ridiculousness of the “compromise,” shall we?  In the simplest terms, Democrats came to the table saying there needs to be revenue increase and spending cuts that won’t disastrously affect important social programs.  Republicans wanted severe spending cuts, no raise in revenue, and some kind of short term deal so that this would have to be revisited again before the next election (because its been so much fun for all of us).
We ended up with severe spending cuts, no revenue, and a short term deal so that this will have to be revisited again AFTER the next election.  Did you catch the compromise? It resides solely in the word AFTER.  Not much of a compromise really.  More like a hostage situation.  (American people=hostages, tea party=hostage takers, Obama and leading democrats=really, really, REALLY bad negotiators.)  I also like to compare it to a two-year-old throwing a tantrum over wanting ice cream.  (tea party=two year hold, Obama and leading democrats=lame a$$ parents who cave into the two-year-old’s demands because they are afraid of said two-year-old).  Please note that in this scenario, the two-year-old also complains about the flavor of ice cream after eating the ice cream.  What a brat, right?
Never mind that economic expert after economic expert has lined up over the last few weeks warning against spending cuts without revenue increase.  This kind of thing might have only done a little damage if we had a strong economy right now.  Of course if we had a strong economy right now, we wouldn’t be in this mess.  Cutting spending without increasing revenue is going to do serious damage to an already struggling economy, plain and simple.  It’s a completely unbalanced way to approach the problem. 
So, why wasn’t it more balanced?  Because the Tea Party Conservatives all signed a pledge saying they would never raise taxes.  It was an inexplicably stupid thing to do.  But, really, I blame the American people.  As a nation (not me personally, let’s make that very clear) we voted in these people with a diehard “never give up, never surrender” attitude.  We asked them to do what they’ve done.  Well, I didn’t.  So that means I’m totally justified in all the bitching I do about it.  (See that?  I swore.  Now you know I’m really fired up.) 
In case you’re not understanding why this isn’t working, I’ll go ahead and use a household finance analogy.  I generally don’t approve of comparing government finances to household/business finances, because not only is it a gross over simplification but its comparing apples to oranges.  A government’s “bottom line” is not a dollar amount.  ANYWAYS, in this case I think it will work:
Say you’re working on your household budget.  You’re trying to tackle your debt.  Someone suggests to you that you should perhaps cut back in some areas, and ask your boss for a raise.  So, what you do is, cut out your entire food and health budget AND tell your boss that you will work more hours for the same, and even often, for LESS pay.  Would you do that?  It doesn’t make sense, does it? When it comes down to it, the government is our employee.  It cannot handle its household budget if WE DO NOT GIVE IT A PAYCHECK.  Focus, people.
Gird up your loins, ya’ll.  This is gonna get a whole lot uglier before it gets better. 

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