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.
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There is a new four letter word in the corporate world. I hear it with virtually every client I meet with. The word?
Given that the tools designed to help us with our busy-ness have exploded into a huge industry, you would think we would be saying “I’m so productive.” “I’m getting more done than ever.” “I can’t believe how easy the cloud has made my life.” “My scheduling software makes my life a breeze.”
Our tools are running us. Emails ding. Texts ping. Phones ring.
And we answer. Actually, we jump.
“Need that report? Let me get it for you yesterday.” “Want those numbers? Sure, I’ll drop everything to get them to you.” “Where’s that file? No worries, I will drop this very useful work I’m doing right now to help you find it.” “Want me at the meeting? Of course I’ll be there.” Not every time. But enough to be harmful.
At first glance, it sounds like the ideal employee. Fast, responsive, caring, engaged.
This ideal employee is also just as likely to be over-committed, frantic, insecure and burned out.
123RF Stock Photo (Olegdudko)
The hacks designed to help us with busy aren’t working. No number of better calendars, to do lists, note taking apps, or other new and better tools are helping me or my clients with dealing with being too busy. Busy is more a reflection of our inner world than it is an indicator of our outer world.
Busy is how we handle more than we can handle.
We let our days run us, instead of us running our days.
Pretty soon that means our life is running us and we are not getting what we want out of life, nor are we doing what we are here to do. Because we are doing what everybody else want us to do. This may sound crazy – but we have become slaves to the external demands on our time and it’s sucking us dry.
Earlier this year, I realized that my day was starting with the question: “what’s happening in the world?” I turned on the news and for 30 minutes, would go through my stretching and yoga, while at the same time allowing my head to be filled with whatever the news director of the channel wanted to tell me that day. Trust me when I tell you that no news director had my best interest at heart in planning the days news. What they care about is ratings and whatever agenda their particular brand carries to get those ratings.
By the time I finished breakfast and went to do my meditation, much of my day’s mood had already been set. I wasn’t really even aware of what was happening; then one day, I heard a business man I respect mention the importance of controlling “inputs” in context of establishing a strong daily architecture.
Now, I’ve prided myself on very clearly structuring my mornings so that my day has the best start possible. As I mentioned, I do yoga, eat a great breakfast, meditate and plan. My first reaction to the idea of a structured daily architecture was self-congratulatory. “I’m good.” I thought. However, when I really looked at it, there was a hole big enough to drive a truck through.
I was letting the news media speak more loudly to me than the wisdom I might have captured through starting my day in reflection.
So I tried an experiment. In early July, I started meditating FIRST. Just this one shift in my daily architecture made a humongous difference in my approach to the rest of my day. And it got results. In every venue where performance mattered (like skiing, teaching, coaching) I could tell a difference. My skiing improved enough for a long-time coach to refer to “new Lynn” vs “old Lynn” when talking about how I might try something new.
As we come to the end of 2017 and start considering how to approach 2018, I suggest reviewing your daily architecture (i.e. The habits and routines that frame your day). Where could it be better? What are you choosing to do that is taking away from your ability to run your life?
Where are you allowing external factors to determine your inner state of well-being?
These questions barely scratch the surface. If we are to really solve the busy problem, our questions have to go deeper. What do we do about our true reasons for always being available? What is speaking in our inner world that makes us do things we would rather not do? What has made “no” a dirty word? What’s so bad about failure?
Stay tuned – we will address these questions and more in the next blog.
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After my last blog about getting back on the horse, it seems I’ve been surrounded by lessons in dealing with fear hits, managing nerves and preparing for big events. This is the season for state water ski tournaments, and we have had several people training on our lake. There has been lots of talk on the dock about how to prepare, whether the training is working and how people react to the pressure. We all have our ways, whether it is to get quiet, be more talkative or something else that works for us.
Thinking about better ways to respond to pressure everywhere reminded me of a story in my banking days. I was doing my first big presentation of my first big job. Talking has never been a big problem for me, so I wasn’t really nervous going into it. In fact, I was overly confident, thinking about how I liked to just wing it. Things would just flow beautifully right out of my mouth. So I was counting on being able to say something smart when my turn came. We were sitting at a big table, and as other people made their presentations, I was kind of smug, thinking in the back of my mind I would be great when it was my turn.
Finally, it was my turn to speak. All eyes turned to me. In that second, the adrenaline hit me-- hard. My heart started pounding. My palms got sweaty. My mouth was suddenly dry. Everything brilliant thing that I had prepared to say left my brain – just flew out of there like a bunch pigeons scared by a gunshot. Now the only thought in my mind with all those eyes on me was “Am I even wearing clothes?” I could not remember feeling this exposed ever in my life. No wonder public speaking is one of the greatest shared fears with humans. Only I would call what I was feeling pure terror. And I was unprepared for it.
I started talking – and I have no idea what I said in those first few sentences. I’m pretty sure it was jibberish. At some point, I said something that snapped me out of it. Their eyes changed, my nervous system calmed down and I got connected to my material and to them. By the end, it was an accidentally good presentation. But what did I DO that made that shift? How did I get through that without making a complete ass out of myself? What could I have done in preparation to be ready for the nerves? And what could I have done to reengage my brain after I got that adrenaline hit? Because no amount of preparation keeps that adrenaline from hitting when we are doing something big, something that really matters.
Making intentionally good presentations – as opposed to accidental hits or misses – became more and more important as I took on added responsibility in my role. It wasn’t until much later when I started becoming an athlete and working on building a capable mind that I began to learn what makes the difference between getting lucky and being intentionally grounded and confident.
On a whitewater rafting trip with my family, we all got to experience some good adrenaline taking a trip that involved being in our own kayaks and a couple of Class IV rapids. This was definitely not for chickens – usually I couldn’t tell if my heart was pounding from the workout or the steep drops through the rapids. The river is full of rocks, and getting stuck on one or hit by another was a very real possibility. We watched several in our crew end up in awkward situations.
About halfway down the river, my nephew made an observation that I’ve never forgotten: “Hey Aunt Lynn, if you look at where you want to go instead of all the rocks, your kayak just goes right by them!”
Good point! It’s not like it was the first time I’ve ever heard that principle. I use it in snow skiing in tree filled slopes, I use it in tennis and I even highlighted it in my TEDx talk. Focus on what you want and you get more of that. Flow is restored.
What do you do when you get hit by that sudden request to have a mystery meeting with the boss? How do you handle the nerves when getting in front of a lot of people? How do you remain centered and calm when the pressure gets high? What is your self talk when you are in fear or think you are messing up?
We can be more prepared if we are willng to become more aware. It is possible to deal with those fear hits with deliberate practice.
I would love to hear from you! And stay tuned for news of a workshop that is all about flow.
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