By: Lynn Carnes
Recently, I’ve watched a couple of true-story movies that involved pivotal and historical moments where a key person had a chance to stand up in the face of dissent. In our corporate lives, we often deal with make-or-break decisions in the face of disagreement, conflict and even bullying. What I loved about both of these movies is how they brought us into the agony of making such a difficult decision in a crucial moment.
One moment ultimately led to the longest running news stories of 2010, involving oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. The other cleared Captain Wesley Sullenberger of pilot error in ditching US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in 2009.
In the Deepwater Horizon story, the pivotal moment happens when a Transocean employee has to make a go/no go decision to complete the oil well in the face of extreme pressure by a BP engineer. The Transocean guy wants to better understand some conflicting data; the BP guy thinks he understands the anomalies and wants to complete the well asap. (We all know how well that turned out.)
These guys had a history and many other smaller decisions had already been made. Corners had been cut.
With 20/20 hindsight, we can now see the cascade of poor decisions, happening well before theDeepwater Horizon oil spill. However, the final call could have changed the outcome.
In the pivotal scene, Senior Toolpusher Jason Anderson is facing contempt, almost ridicule fromBP engineer Donald Vidrine. It’s Anderson’s decision to make, but Vidrine clearly wants a “go” decision and he’s pulling out every bit of pressure he can muster. In the movie, the tension is thick while Anderson and Vidren face-off and it was intense, especially since we viewers know what’s about to happen.
While there was certainly some Hollywood drama baked into this scene, I’ve seen it happen more time than I can count in the halls of Corporate America.
Someone with authority takes a position and dares everyone else to disagree with him or her.
This doesn’t make them villains – exactly the opposite. It usually reveals their fear. However, all too often by those around them, including me, read it as confidence or a brick wall and we act accordingly.
Watching the scene where the character has to make the final go/no go decision of the movie made me wonder: Given the same set of facts, what decision would I have made?
Would I have had the courage and wherewithal to stand up to someone calling me stupid if I see the data the same way he sees it?
In the movie Sully, Captain Sullenberger is facing off with the NTSB over his decision to ditch US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River. The NTSB had data to indicate that the plane could have made it back to LaGuardia or Teterboro Airport. Even though all lives were saved in the event, Sullenberger’s career would have ended in disgrace had the NTSB called his decision pilot error.
In a public hearing with hundreds of people in the room, and facing deep scrutiny by stone-faced NTSB investigators, Sullenberger stands by his decision. Rather than wilt in face of extreme pressure, he shows the NTSB a key data point that they had missed in their investigation: The simulator pilots were warned in advance of the emergency they would face and therefore immediately turned to the airport rather than taking a moment to assess the situation.
Sullenberger calmly points out the time-lag and insists that they run the simulation including a 35 second assessment period. Now the simulator pilots cannot make it back to the airport. Furthermore, the NTSB admits that in the best case, it took the simulator pilots over a dozen attempts before making a successful “dead-stick” landing at either airport. Sullenberger had only one chance in real life – and it saved 155 people.
Developing the ability to stand up in the face of dissent requires cultivating courage, clarity and confidence in what you know and awareness of the limits of your ability.
Pivotal decisions are made with much more than simple smarts. In my experience, they are made based on the cascade of emotions and physical sensations flooding our body at these moments of truth. More often than not, we take care of our feelings, unconsciously of course, rather than standing up in the face of dissent.
We see the hardened faces, we feel the potential for ridicule or being shunned and we might not even be completely sure of our own point of view. So we go along and hope for the best, especially if we are working in a culture where results, authority and order are prized traits.
Rarely are the consequences life and death. Hard decisions will frequently have a time or money component, both of which were in play in the Deepwater disaster and US Airways forced landing.
In a fairly low risk scenario, I stood up to a banking decision many years ago. We had made a “go” decision on a large and complex loan. While I had not initiated the deal, it would be mine to close and oversee for its duration.
Unlike most of our local loans, this one was secured by real estate assets in another state. None of us had seen any of this real estate in person. We had pictures, we knew the borrowers well, we had appraisals and we had all of our analysis. What struck me as odd was that no one was talking about doing the final due diligence, which was to actually see what was securing the loan.
So as the most junior person in the room by far, I simply asked this question in final loan committee meeting: “Does it strike anyone else as odd that none of us have seen any of these assets in person? I’m not trying to get a boondoggle here or anything – just wondering how everyone feels about that.”
It was kind of comical to see how everyone reacted. It was a “well, duh” moment, and the next thing I knew, I was on a plane to go visit our collateral.
Thinking back on it, I accidentally stepped into a strategy that I would later learn to cultivate. I asked a sincere question with no judgment or preconceived notions of what the answer should be.
It would be many years before I recognized and began to cultivate the ability to stand up in the face of dissent, discomfort and disagreement.
I’ve certainly come to learn that cultivating clarity in my “inner world” is required to build this particular skill. Practices like reflection, journaling and meditation strengthen my ability to gain access to my own wisdom.
If I am caught up in fearing the judgment of others, in wanting to be liked, in needing to fit in or be seen as a team player, I have very few resources at my disposal to gracefully disagree or point out anomalies in the group think that is all too common in this fast-moving world.
How do you gain clarity when someone in authority or whom you respect has a strong point of view? Where do you find the resolve to stand up when the river of opinion is flowing in a way you believe to be dangerous? In what ways are you cultivating clarity in your inner world?
As always, I would love to hear how you are answering these questions! And if you find this useful, please share! Chances are someone else will find it useful as well.
Know someone who would love this article? Share it with them.
By: Lynn Carnes
Do you ever start your day with great intentions and before 9:00 am, it’s nothing but putting out fires? Ok, don’t laugh. It might very well be every day that the distractions, texts, phone calls, and bad news seduce you away from doing the great work you had (operative word HAD here) planned for the day.
Look, your job requires you to be responsive. When an important client calls or something breaks, you want to be able to handle it. But are you handling it with a frustrated, anxious mindset or a receptive and prepared mindset?
Beating yourself up for not exercising this morning? Ripples of that thought are echoing in your voice when you answer the phone.
Worrying about how you are going to prepare for that presentation or agonizing over what to do about the team member who’s suddenly performing below par? Your anxiety surrounds your very being – and covering it up just telegraphs that you are covering something up.
Whatever your mindset at these moments of truth, like it or not, it’s leaking into your interactions.
Where does this mindset come from? And how do you change it?
Racing into a busy day seems like the best answer – after all, it feels smart to get to work when there is a pile of work to be done.
However, racing into the day just creates a racing mindset – and when have you ever had a great performance when your mind was racing?
Recognizing this issue, for many years, I meditated most mornings. I also followed a pretty regimented routine to get out of bed, turn on the news, stretch, do several rounds of sun salutations, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, make my tea and THEN meditate. Only after doing all of this did I start my day.
The problem was this: many of those days would still get away from me. If I were to divide my time spent between being reactive and responsive, it skewed heavily towards the reactive .
So I took a look at my daily architecture, focusing most carefully on the morning routine.
Why the morning routine? This is where I could stack the deck in my favor.
It’s one of those lessons I’ve learned from water skiing. In a lesson I will always remember, Corey Vaughn was in the boat coaching, and he was really focusing on my “gate”. The gate happens in the first few seconds of the 20 seconds in the course. I expressed some annoyance at working so hard on something that seemed so basic.
Here’s what he said to me: “Your gate is the place where you have the most control, and where you can repeat the same process every single time to set yourself up for success. Once you turn in for the first buoy, all hell can break loose. A good gate can make up for a lot of errors in the course.”
And danged if he wasn’t right. A good gate has helped me more in the course than any single other area of focus. The same principle applies to my day.
So what would a “good gate” look like in the morning?
My usual morning routine had a toxic component that involved a habit of over 20 years: watching the news before I did anything else.
That external input influenced my mood in so many ways. It certainly diluted my ability to capture insights gained from “sleeping on it” and it simply set me up to be frustrated more often than not.
So I tried an experiment: I meditated and journaled FIRST and then did my stretching. What a huge difference it made. I was able to set my intention for the day and get clear on what I would need to DO and how I would need to BE before having the talking heads set the conditions for my day.
I also just got much more intentional about creating a daily architecture that set me up for success. No more allowing my day to run me; with a solid framework, I have become much, much more productive. Plus my inner experience is much more calm and centered.
What is your daily architecture? Where have you allowed external inputs to influence your internal state of being? In what ways is your internal state of being serving you. And where is your mindset getting in your way?
Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_mikerogal'>mikerogal / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
In order to help you stack the deck in your favor, I’ve built this “Daily Architecture Tool.” It’s a fairly quick review of your routines with suggestions that develop your internal locus of control. My clients have found this practice hugely helpful and I hope you do to.
Let me know how it goes for you!
Know someone who would love this article? Share it with them.
By: Lynn Carnes
It’s that time of year again – when we join the gym, clean closets, start a new diet, set big goals, and make all kinds of promises to do better in the coming year.
According to U. S. News, 80% of our resolutions will fail before February. Then we get to feel bad, like we have failed.
Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? More importantly, is true change even possible?
Yes. Change is possible. IF you can get over your inertia. This is a bigger deal than we often realize, because inertia feels like “normal”. It doesn’t seem like anything to worry about.
When we try something new, we quickly get in a groove and pretty soon we are on a plateau or fall back to our old ways. Inertia takes something that’s new and novel and turns it into a usual routine full of comfort.
Going through the motions won’t get you there – wherever your “there” is. It takes energy to overcome inertia. Otherwise, we get stuck and it’s hard to move us without something strong to jerk us to reality.
Flying home this Christmas, we boarded our flight early and happily settled into our pretty good aisle seats. The captain came on and said maintenance was fixing a little problem with a valve and we would be out of there in 10 minutes. No big deal. Then the airline system called to say the new departure time was 10:35 (for a 10:20 flight) Again, no big deal. Next call said 11:15. Next call said 11:50. Then 12:30. At this point, the flight attendants said we could wait in the boarding area if we took all of our stuff. Many people packed up and moved. Not me. My brain had already decided it was “no big deal.”
Inertia was fully settled into my entire being.
I had my headset on, my computer in my lap and the thought of packing up and gathering my bags was just too much. Waiting an hour (by that point) didn’t seem so bad. So we sat. (Not sure if my family appreciated this.)
Until the next call. 4:30. What?!?!?! It was like a cattle prod hit my seat.
We got ourselves off that plane fast – and to the counter where we were lucky enough to be able to rebook on a 3:30. Something we might have never considered before the 4:30 change. Oh, and the original flight was cancelled at about 3:00. We would have been there for another day if we hadn’t rebooked.
Inertia is the normal state of things. Even as the world around us is changing ever faster, we are inclined to stay the same.
In his TED talk, Adul Gawande talks about how he eventually developed inertia (my word) in his medical practice. After asking another physician to observe him with the express intention of helping him be better, he started improving again-after going through some discomfort.
It takes energy to move something. It takes big energy to move big things. Summoning that energy is not usually comfortable. That’s why changing by yourself is incredibly difficult.
It helps to have that wake up call – otherwise, you could be stuck here for a long time.
So how do you get beyond New Year’s resolutions? Is change really possible? Yes. And it takes energy, work, commitment, and often some help.
One of the most useful exercises I have found for myself is based on the book Immunity to Change by Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey. I’ve created a journaling exercise based on the core exercise in the book.
I’m going to warn you though – this exercise requires you to look at stuff about yourself that you probably have conveniently put on the back burner. In fact, it will make you downright uncomfortable if you work through it honestly – and that’s why it works so well.
You can download it here.
This exercise has helped me break through inertia many times in my life. It’s not easy and it requires you to look at your own beliefs in ways that are going to make you uncomfortable. That’s when you know you are breaking through.
Done with intention, it’s like a secret sauce for true change.
If you like it, please share this blog with your colleagues and friends. And let me know how it goes! Just click the share button on top left of this blog!
Plus, if you get stuck, I’ve got one super important trick to help you stay on track. Stay tuned or if you can’t wait, hit me up in the comments and I will share it with you.
Feel free to share it with your colleagues and friends. And let me know how it goes!
Know someone who would love this article? Share it with them.
Inspiring new ways to look at learning, growth, and reinvention, whether in leadership, athletics, art or life.
Once you have subscribed, you will be sent a confirmation email. Please go and check your inbox, if you do not see a confirmation email, it may have gone to your spam folder.