Have You Discovered Your Leadership Lighthouse? Why Should You?

A Global World

Today, we live in globalised world which is more connected than ever before, and movement of people and goods has never been easier. It is driven by economics and money, and it is possible to sit in your couch and order what you want from the opposite corner of the world, and have it delivered to you in a few days.

Open markets, lower trade tariffs and an ever increasing movement of people, goods and information to any part of the world has resulted in great prosperity for everyone involved. Major world problems like poverty, hunger and disease have decreased considerably over the last 50 years. The health and well-being of people all over the world has never been better.

However, living in a consumerist society driven by economics has also resulted in greed, corruption and a pursuit of economic success at any cost. It is no surprise then that we saw scandals like Enron in 2001, the financial crisis in 2008, and the Volkswagen emissions scandal in 2015-16. These scandals resulted from cutting corners in the pursuit of success by leaders in these companies.

Have you discovered your leadership lighthouse?

The Leadership Lighthouse

Just like ships need a compass and a lighthouse to navigate in the vast oceans, our companies and their leaders too need a leadership lighthouse to find direction in the vast ocean of global competition. The speed (of a ship or a business) is not the only thing matters. Our leaders need to realise that the direction they choose to go and take their companies along is more important than the speed.

The Leadership Lighthouse is a set of values (to guide us), standards (to measure us), and boundaries (to keep us in check); which will act as a moral compass as leaders take decisions and navigate their companies in the race for success in the global economy. These standards and values guide us in finding the right direction in challenging and exciting times.

Find Your Own Way

The whole essence of leadership is to bring our own unique values, talents and skills into the world, and to express ourselves in alignment with those. When we accept the standards and values others’ have set for us, we surrender our own will and judgement. By figuring out our own leadership lighthouse, we allow our unique light to shine upon the world.

If we only follow what everyone else is doing and not take the time and effort required to find our own leadership lighthouse, which is unique for everyone, we will soon find ourselves lost and confused. But once you have put in the effort and identified your unique set of values, motivations, desires and talents; you can nurture them and let them guide you.

If we stop and look back at the history of the world, be it in the business world or outside of it, you will find that every human achievement is an achievement of the individual who went against the norm and followed their own leadership lighthouse.

Questions to Discover Your Leadership Lighthouse

How Can You Find Your Leadership Lighthouse

As mentioned above, our leadership lighthouse is the set of standards and values that define and inspires you. It will guide you during challenging moments by serving as a moral compass, and give you a solid ground to stand upon when you face turbulent times.

To find leadership lighthouse, try answering the below questions :-

  1. What do you want to achieve in the long term?
  2. What really matters (is important) to you?
  3. What makes you happy, angry or sad?
  4. What are your duties and obligations with regard to different aspects of your life?
  5. What have you learned from the biggest failures of your life?

Answering these questions will require some sincere and dedicated effort on your side, but once you do that, you will have more clarity on how you define your own leadership lighthouse. I would also like to add that it is a continuous rather than a one-time process. You should revisit the above questions every now and then as a “health-check”.

Knowing your leadership lighthouse will give you the confidence and assurance to follow your own path instead of the path others have decided for you. Once you nurture and develop your strengths and act consistent with your standards and values, you will allow your own unique light to shine upon the people and the world around you.

The Role and Importance of Emotions in Our Professional and Personal Lives

When I started working at the age of 21, my manager was only a few years older than me. Both of us being very young and passionate about work, we developed a good friendship. As I completed my first year at work, I sat down with this friend (manager) to discuss my performance. I wasn’t ready for what came next.

In the meeting he was very formal and distant in his approach which I found unfair. Due to our friendship, I expected an informal conversation. Instead, what I got was “feedback” and “improvement points”. When he was done with the performance cycle, it left me in a very bad mood and it affected our friendship. While he was only performing his job as a manager, I was too naive and felt betrayed as a friend. It took us more than a year to mend our friendship, and I am good friends with him to this day.

This incident was very tough for me, and it was not until many years later that I recognised why it was so. At first I blamed my manager friend for being more of a “manager” than a “friend“. Later (after we mend ways) I blamed myself for being too emotional and developing friendships at work. I came to the (wrong) conclusion that emotions and rationality are mutually exclusive, and I shut myself down emotionally.

It was much later that I realised that emotions were not the culprit. Instead it was my inability to handle my emotions which led me to react impulsively. With experience I have come to believe that emotions are absolutely necessary for doing any meaningful work. They only seem tough when we don’t know how to handle them.

I have already written about how to handle our emotions in the workplace. In this article I want to stress on the importance of emotions as the driving force behind decisions.

We Experience The World Through Our Emotions

We walk around the world and make sense of it through our emotions. When we experience an event, different emotions get triggered based on our values and beliefs. Emotions make our experiences good or bad, valuable or not, and pleasurable or painful. If we introspect we will found that every decision we end up taking is derived from an emotion that touched and moved us.

These emotions can overwhelm us occasionally, but without them we would have no connection with people or events around us. While emotions can sometimes bring pain and tears, it is only through them that we feel joy, happiness and peace in life. It is very important to realise that emotions are our strength, and not our weakness.

It is our emotions that make us human. The little moments of joy when we play with our kids, the smile on our faces when we help someone, the tears in our eyes when we see something cruel and terrible (even if it is on TV) – it is these emotions that connect us all as human beings.

Seeing a tweet by a billionaire CEO and to be able to feel empathy for him/her makes us bridge the economic, physical and social divides and come closer. On the other hand, if we are privileged in any way, being able to empathise with the less privileged and act for them brings us closer. Emotions help keep our egos in check, and prevent us from being indifferent towards the less or more privileged in our society.

The Role and Importance of Emotions in our Lives

Emotions and Reason are Not Mutually Exclusive

Most of us believe that emotions and reason are opposites of each other, and it is often presented as a fact that you can’t act rationally if you are emotional. In many workplaces, emotions are frowned upon and an excessive display of emotions (joy, tears, anger) are seen as a liability.

On the contrary, what I have learned over the years is that emotions can be our biggest asset. They can give us important information that can shape our lives if we listen to what they are trying to tell us. The key is to learn how to express our emotions without repression or explosion.

Emotions can help us clear the fog of rational choices and reveal our moral lighthouses. They help us choose wisely when presented with two equally good or equally bad choices. Emotions clarify our thinking and help us see rational choices in a new light while pure rationality often makes us run wild with ideas, even at the expense of others. Rationality without emotions can look enticing in the short term, but it can be a menace in the long term.

It Is Impossible to Be Rational Without Emotions

While it is true that emotions can overwhelm rationality at times, it is impossible to be rational without being emotional. Today there is scientific evidence to prove that we, as human beings, are incapable of making decisions if we can’t feel our emotions. You can read about the works of neurobiologist Antonio Damasio to see that without emotions, there is no decision making possible. [1][2]

He worked on a patient with a severed connection between the frontal lobe (where rationality originates) and cerebral amygdala (where emotions originate) in the brain. After the surgery, the patient could think, but he could not feel anything. He noticed that while he was able to engage in rational thought all the time, he was not able to make a choice over the other.

When Emotions Overwhelm Us?

We all have been in situations where we don’t want to do what we know is the right thing to do. When emotions overwhelm us, we can get sucked into the temptation of the respective emotion and (re)act in a way which provides us emotional relief. For example – When you couldn’t control your frustration and vented it out on your manager because it felt good to spurt it out.

Emotions are very good messengers, but poor masters. We should always listen to them and let them play a big role in our rationality, but subjugating reason to emotional whims can cause us short and long term harm. In the end we should always use reason to choose the best option available for us, and use emotions as a lighthouse to guide us on the right path. This will help us in making the right choices (which might not be the easy ones) in life with conviction.

Emotions Intelligence is a Skill. Train Yourself

Now that we have seen that there is no action possible without emotions, we can conclude that emotions are not bad or good in themselves. It is our ability to handle them that make us interpret them as so. It is a skill that, just like other skills, can be developed.

Learning to deal with uncomfortable emotions builds confidence and opens up new pathways which were earlier closed to you. Emotional people are often regarded as weak in certain societies, but I believe that the ability to handle one’s own emotions is one of the most useful skills a human being can acquire.

Increased emotional awareness can be a great asset we all can make use of not only to make the right decisions for ourselves, but also to create a better world around us. A world which is not mine or yours – but ours.

Focus on Interests, Not on Positions – The One Tip Which Can Make Every Conversation More Productive

There was once only one orange left in a kitchen and two chefs were fighting over it.

“I need that orange!”

“Yes, but I need that orange as well !”

Time was running out and they both needed an orange to finish their particular recipes for the dinner. They decided on a compromise: they grabbed one of the large kitchen knives that was lying around, split the orange in half, and each went to his corner to finish preparing his meal.

One chef squeezed the juice from the orange and poured it into the special sauce he was making. It wasn’t quite enough, but it would have to do. The other grated the peel and stirred the scrapings into the batter for his famous cake. He too didn’t have as much as he would have liked, but given the situation, what else could he have done ?

We all love to form, hold and defend our positions. Whether it is at home with our spouse, or at work with our colleagues, once we form a position on a certain topic, it is going to take some convincing to loosen our hold on our “coveted” position. Isn’t that true?

As human beings, we function and operate in this world by forming positions on different subjects we face in our day to day interactions. However, when we encounter opposition or resistance to our point of view, or when we oppose others’ point of view, it is very common for us to defend our positions and it takes some convincing for us to yield from our position.

What I have discovered with my experience of dealing with people over the last many years is that if we focus on people’s interests instead of their positions, it can become much easier to negotiate and converse with them. To clarify my point, and to understand the difference between positions and interests, consider the three points (and corollaries) below.

1. Positions are WHAT You Want. Interests are WHY You Want It.

In the story above both chefs wanted the orange, and that was their position. What you WANT, the specifics and details of it, is your POSITION. One chef wanted the orange for its juice to prepare a sauce while the other for its peel to prepare a cake. This was their INTEREST behind wanting the orange.

Corollary 1

Focusing on positions puts us against one another, which is not a good start to any conversation. On the other hand, distinguishing between the positions and interests helps us discover people’s common desires – like fairness, accomplishment, happiness and prosperity. These desires might not be same for both parties, but they often are compatible, which makes for easier negotiation.

conflicts

2. Look Behind Superficial Positions To Discover People’s Hidden Interests.

The positions we form can be, and often are, superficial in nature. Considering the above story again, it is obvious now that it would have been better for the chefs to peel the orange and take the part they needed for their respective recipes. However, they choose to focus on each other’s positions (the what) and hence ignored their interests (the why).

Corollary 2

When we focus on positions, our EGO gets involved which makes it difficult to move ahead. Looking to discover each other’s interests helps us to understand each other better. It presents an opportunity to collaborate and work together to produce not just better results, but also better relationships.

3. To Uncover Interests, ask “WHY?”

In the above story, what the two chefs got was an undesirable compromise, and I am sure their relationship didn’t get any better because of this.

It is very easy to form positions as human beings, but it is always helpful to ask ourselves why we want what we want. Asking this question can help us discover our hidden interests, which can then lead to many flexible alternatives instead of just one fixed position.

Corollary 3

Focusing on positions alone can lead to unpleasant arguments and/or undesirable compromises. Understanding each other’s motivations behind the positions can lead to win-win situations. It can make 2+2=5 happen.

Conclusion

It is very common to confuse positions and interests. When we act in a “my way or the highway” manner without considering the views of the other side as legitimate, it becomes very difficult to make progress in conversations. Negotiating in this way can do more harm than good, as people tend to dig-in with their opinions and justifications, and their positions tend to move further apart.

However, looking to work together by asking the “Why?” question, and taking efforts to understand each other’s concerns can create a pathway where there was none before. It can result in a partial solution in a not-so-ideal case, and it can allow for magic (any solution better than what both sides wanted initially) to happen in the best case.

What To Do If You Can’t Achieve Consensus in a Conflict?

In the previous four articles, I have written about what conflicts are, what not to do when they happen, how to prepare to solve them through a conversation, and some practical tips to follow during the conversation itself. However, doing all this doesn’t guarantee the result you desire.

Conflicts can be complex, and there are times when people (including you and me) are more interested in winning (or getting our way) rather than working together to get what we really want.  Human beings are complex emotional beings, and often we end up attaching the outcome of a conflict to our personal identification.

That leaves us with the question of what to do if we can’t achieve consensus in a conflict resolution conversation?

  1.  Follow Pre-Decided Escalation Rules

If you have done your preparation well, you already know how to escalate the stalemate to your superiors in the organisation so that they can help. If you have not decided any escalation rules earlier, now is not a bad time to do it either.

The only thing we must keep in mind with deciding escalation rules or escalating an issue itself is to not do it unilaterally. It is always beneficial to work with the other party to decide whatever escalation rules you can come up with, and then if the situation demands, to escalate the issue together.

Escalating an issue alone without first communicating to the other party hurts the trust and the relationship which might make it even more difficult to resolve the conflict in the future.

  1. Take A Break, And Try Again

If you have reached a stalemate, one common option is to take a break and reconvene later. Taking a pause at this time gives both sides space to reflect on the discussions so far and evaluate options. You might decide to harden or soften your position during this time, and get a different perspective of the big picture.

When you meet again after a break, it is important to redefine the common purpose which both parties are seeking. Then you can work together to understand each other’s point of view and negotiate again.

What If Nothing Works?

What If Nothing Works?

If the above two steps don’t help you in moving forward, you can try these :-

  1. Walk Away With Your BATNA

If the disagreement has reached a point where you can’t reach a solution acceptable to both parties, it might be prudent for both parties to walk away with their respective BATNAs (Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement). Not reaching a consensus in a conflict is not a bad outcome. Sometimes the best outcome is to not agree with the other party while still respecting them and keeping the relationship healthy.

Once the discussions are over and everyone walks with their BATNAs, you can look back and reflect upon the whole process. There might be lessons for you which might help you in future conflicts, and evaluating the choices you made is a good exercise after the discussion.

You should also acknowledge yourself for putting in the effort required to resolve the conflict. Give yourself credit for working together and strengthening the relationship, irrespective of whether you got the result you wanted or not.

  1. Seek Mediation By A Third Party

Another step forward (if both parties agree to it) could be to seek mediation from a third party. This is different from escalation as escalation means involving your managers or seniors in the conversation. The rules of mediation seek the involvement of an independent third party.

And of course, the rules of mediation should be decided by both parties together. Below are a few ideas to keep in mind before you go down the path of mediation.

  1. The third party must be agreeable and respected by both of you. Do not accept a third party mediator you don’t trust, and never force a third party on another.
  2. The third party should play a neutral role and not take sides. It must listen to both sides then take a decision based on merits of the arguments and facts presented. Decide the rules of argumentation and reasoning together before starting the process.
  3. Discuss possible solutions and compromises. See if you can agree on any tentative agreements. Take it step by step. Even if you can’t reach your desired outcome, see if you can reach half way.
  4. Close the mediation and finalize any agreements. Do a final check to see if both parties are satisfied? Do both the parties consider the mediation and final resolution fair and pragmatic? Without a YES to the above questions, any solution or agreement is unlikely to last the distance so don’t ignore this step.
  5. Create a provision for future conflicts. What will you do if one party goes back on the mediated settlement? Can any party seek a revision to the mediated agreement?
“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow.”
― Thomas Paine

 

To sum up, the above four steps will help you to amicably close a conflict resolution process – with or without an agreement. I believe learning to effectively manage conflicts in a constructive and respectful manner is an important skill to learn, and one which gives people more confidence to work together.

Conflicts can lead to misunderstanding and destroyed relationships, or it can be an opportunity to collaborate constructively and strengthen relationships. In the high pressure business environment we all live in today, if we can develop this ability to resolve conflicts amicably, it can become a competitive advantage for us and the companies we work in.  

 

Eight Practical Tips for Making A Conflict Resolution Conversation More Effective

So you have prepared well (read my previous article), and are walking into a conflict resolution conversation with trust and respect for the other person. You have established ground rules for the conversation, and you know your BATNA.

Even with all this preparation, it is easy to get sucked into our emotions and give into reacting impulsively. Below you will find some practical tips I find really helpful to navigate a conflict resolution conversation efficiently.

I have gathered and collected these tips from various books I have read and trainings I have undertaken, apart from my own mistakes and learnings in the past.

What Not To Do When Conflicts Happen

An enemy is a person whose story we have not heard. – Gene Knudsen Hoffman

  1. Speak in a Non-Attacking Manner – Use “I” language rather than “You” language. For example – Say “I felt angry when you said that.” rather than “You made me angry by saying that.” Take responsibility of your own emotions, and remember the aim is to work together.
  2. Listen and Understand. Summarise and paraphrase what the other person says to make sure you understand his/her concerns and they know it is very important for you to do so.
  3. Walk the Talk – If you feel angry or frustrated by hearing certain words or voice tone, make sure to not use the same words and tone to the other person. I have often seen that observing my own thoughts and emotions helps me to understand others better.
  4. Separate the Facts from the Opinions –  Work together to challenge each other’s assumptions, and distinguish opinions backed by emotions from opinions backed by facts and data.
  5. Stay Silent – Use the power of silence to give the other person and yourself space to process what is being said in the conversation. It creates positive energy instead of building tension and enables us to handle tough situations in a more mature way.
  6. Speak Up Only If It Makes Things Better – Speak Up only when what you have to say will help the conversation in one way or the other. If what you have to say will not make the situation any better, don’t say it. In other words, do not vent or speak only because you had a thought in mind. Speak only when it helps you move towards a desired result.
  7. Give Time for Emotional Release – If someone is venting out, don’t interrupt. If it gets too heated, take a break. Wait for the (emotional) storm to pass before making repairs. Jumping in too early to fix things might backfire and cause more damage despite your good intentions.
  8. Don’t Push –  When you push people, they will push back. Present your thoughts without trying to push them through, and be open and flexible to listen to others’ concerns and thoughts. Give people a choice to accept or reject your ideas, as you cannot force them to your point of view anyway. Work together, not against each other.