Posts Tagged ‘Perceptions’

Brain<rant>

Buzzwords always abound in businesses. Each year sees new ones come and (if we are lucky) a few worn ones disappear. After all, Buzzword Bingo exists for a reason! Some of the most annoying to me are using verbs as nouns such as in “That’s a good ask.” Why not use the word “question” or “request” as the correct noun in that situation instead of misusing the word “ask”? Who knows how many years I’ve endured hearing people tell someone to “reach out” to someone at work when a simple “contact” will do the trick. You start “reaching out” to me at work and I’m calling HR on you!

So pardon me for a few paragraphs while I go on a somewhat controlled rant about a currently popular phrase that is so grossly overused and abused I feel I must take a stand. The term is “thought leader” or “thought leadership.”

The phrase isn’t new, of course, but it has become so commonly misused that the phrase is, to me, largely meaningless any more. Here are my issues with it and with how it is used:

1. Too many companies and individuals set a goal of becoming a thought leader in some field. They want to start blogging or publishing or public speaking or some combination of public activities with the explicit hope of being considered a thought leader. This seems completely backward to me. Their mistaken focus seems to be on the accolades and reputation they hope to earn because of their actions rather than the quality of the actions and benefit to others that comes as a result of their work. I’ve even heard the ridiculous discussion of whether or not the content for such “thought leadership” articles should be original or contracted out to an agency! What!? If you don’t have the ability to think your own thoughts enough to get them in writing, then you aren’t a thought leader even in your own company (maybe even in your own head), much less in any industry.

2. Any entity that refers to itself as a thought leader isn’t one. If I see “thought leader” in your Twitter or LinkedIn profile, I will not follow or connect with you. I do not care what you have to say because my first impression is that you are simply pompous and full of yourself. On the other hand, if it is others who are calling you a thought leader, then perhaps I’ll be impressed with their assessments and pay attention to what you say, but not if you are the one using it to describe yourself. Humility is a good thing. Learn it.

3. Companies cannot produce thought leaders en masse. For example, a colleague and I have been exploring employee advocacy software options over recent weeks. I can’t count how many times sales reps from the companies have tried to sell their products on the notion that we are helping employee advocates of our company become thought leaders through the use of it. Well, sorry again, but when the advocacy program largely depends on retweeting and reposting content we suggest with perhaps minor personal edits, that doesn’t make anyone a thought leader. Since when does retweeting others make anyone a thought leader? And since when did a single company have thousands of thought leaders as employees? Come on, people. Get real.

Here is my point: “Thought leader” is a title earned and bestowed by others as a result of unique, innovative, exemplary work over time. It is not a goal that anyone concerned with actually doing good work will waste time pursuing. It is never a term you should use for yourself.

Should you be so fortunate as to have others consider you a thought leader and refer to you that way, then accept their compliment with humility, be grateful that you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on others, and go on about the business of doing your very best work. History and others are far more likely to accurately describe you, your work, and its impact than you will yourself.

So go out there and do your best every single day. Only be concerned with that. Let others decide who they consider thought leaders to be. Don’t waste your time (or mine) associating the term with yourself. That’s for others to decide after you’ve earned it.

</rant>

earthWhat is your worldview? Can you articulate it? Do you understand what the term means?

Here’s one definition: “The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world” (thefreedictionary.com). That perspective may center around a philosophy, religious faith, self-constructed set of ethics or other criteria an individual deems most right and valuable in understanding and living life.

As I sit back and observe the differences between people, the frequent and openly hostile conflicts in the realms of politics and social issues, it comes down as I see it to a matter of conflicting worldviews and the resulting differences in values and actions consistent with those worldviews. How we see things around us and how we interpret what is happening in the world depends on our worldview. We then act (usually) in sync with our own worldview.

Naturally, worldviews can collide just as easily as some can live in relative harmony with others. I agree with the following from Michael Lind:

“A worldview is a more or less coherent understanding of the nature of reality, which permits its holders to interpret new information in light of their preconceptions. Clashes among worldviews cannot be ended by a simple appeal to facts. Even if rival sides agree on the facts, people may disagree on conclusions because of their different premises.”

As a Christian, I try to have a biblical worldview. Like anyone else, I’m sure I stray from my ideal at times. I don’t claim to have and know the biblical worldview. Mine is informed by my understanding of what the Scriptures teach and the firm belief in the absolute authority of those Scriptures as truth for all people for all time. The values that guide my life therefore are drawn from that worldview and the actions that result day in and day out should be consistent with that way of seeing and interpreting the world around me. (If you’re curious about whether you have a biblical worldview or not, you might be interested in this quiz on the topic.)

It is important for me to remember daily that it is unreasonable for me to expect others who do not share my worldview to believe or act in accordance with my worldview. They are living lives consistent with their worldview – not mine. Likewise, those with worldviews conflicting with mine do not have the right to expect me to adjust my beliefs and actions to accommodate their worldview. That is not to say that all worldviews are equally worthy of adoption. It is just an acknowledgement that we don’t all share the same one.

So rather than shout past one another in the midst of differences, rather than beat up others verbally, emotionally or in other ways to advance our own cause, perhaps we would do well to spend more time trying to understand one another’s worldviews that are at the core of why we believe and act as we do. That doesn’t mean we have to like or agree with anyone else’s beliefs or actions, but I think our world could benefit from more civil discourse that gets at understanding one another – maybe even learning to like or love one another in spite of differences – than continuing toxic exchanges that neither side hears nor understands because their worldviews just don’t filter life in the same way.

Jeff Almost Hairless PortraitFor a long while – maybe a year or two – I’ve threatened to shave my head, or at least to get a buzz cut.  Nobody seemed to like the idea but me.  My dear wife, Linda, was definitely against the notion, so out of respect for (and maybe a little fear of) her, I kept basically the same haircut I’ve had for 30+ years.

And then came my extended vacation in May when I would be home for three weeks nursing Linda from her knee replacement surgery.  This was my chance!  I could get it cut and then have three weeks without seeing too many people if it turned out horrible and I chose to grow it back.  And I could outrun Linda!

I went to my regular barber and told him what I wanted.  He was quite surprised but did what I asked.  I had to laugh, though, at his comment, “I left it a little longer on top than on the sides so you wouldn’t have that totally crazy look.”  Ha!  After a couple of weeks I thought it needed to be even shorter, so I went back to the barber and had it cut back even more.  In recent weeks, Linda and I have used my beard trimmer on it weekly to keep it at a low height.

I couldn’t believe the difference in how cool my head felt immediately, which was nice given the warm temperatures.  I love not having to mess with it, not having it going in every direction after laying down, not being a bother when I run, etc.  Even though I still shower daily, of course, the lure of being able on some Saturday mornings to run a quick wash cloth over it and go on my way is intriguing.  The possibility of wearing a toboggan in winter – the knit cap, not the sled – on my head is really nice since I refused to wear any kind of hat when my hair was longer because of a hat always messing it up.

What has been interesting to observe has been the reaction of others.  The only ones who have been overtly positive and encouraging are my fellow workers who do the same and share the same positive reasons for having little or no hair.  Other reactions have ranged from “Why did you do that?” to “Grow it back!” and “You had such nice hair before.”   Most just don’t say anything and go on their way drawing their own conclusions without asking me or – more likely – not noticing or caring in the least what I do with my hair.

The oddest reactions so far have been the ones where people assume I have recently had chemotherapy and consequently lost my hair due to some dire physical condition.  They don’t ask me that, though.  They ask other people behind my back, but the word eventually finds its way to me.  I guess they’re just being concerned and don’t know what to say to me.  Folks, if you want to know something about me, just ask.  I’m not one who is prone to hiding my thoughts from others.  Sometimes the ball is in your court to simply ask rather than make assumptions.

Why did I cut my hair off?  I was tired of messing with it.  That’s all.  Life is a little simpler without it.  A few moments of time are saved each day without it.  I like it.  It may take some getting used to for those who have known me anytime after fifth grade when I went from a flat top haircut to having it long enough to be parted, but you’ll get used to it eventually.

With it thinning as it was, anyway, I’ve probably just taken some preemptive action to avoid that awkward period of years when there really isn’t enough on top to do anything with, but when too many men keep trying to make less and less look like earlier days when they had more.  That won’t be an issue with this style.  And those age spots that were eventually going to show up anyway are now out on display for people to get used to.  My granddaughter can play connect-the-dots on my head with them if she wants.  It’ll be fun for us both.

I’m surprised by the attention my hair – or lack of it – has received in these last couple of months.  I cut my hair to suit myself.  You’re free to discuss it with me if you like, but I will welcome your criticism and suggestions for change just as soon as you tell me that I’m the one who gets to decide how you cut your hair.

Valary and Me

Valary and Me

I spent a wonderful few hours yesterday with a dear friend from high school, Valary.  Except for a recent class reunion, I don’t recall that we’ve crossed paths geographically since our graduation in 1975.  We’re connected online via Facebook, but with her living in California and me in Kentucky, opportunities to catch up in person just don’t happen.  So when we realized that we would both be visiting our hometown of Winchester, Kentucky at the same time, we carved out time to commandeer a booth at a local Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant.  Over 2.5 hours later, we thrilled the servers by finally leaving.

We talked about all kinds of things in our time of catching up yesterday, interrupted at least once every 10 minutes by the very… um… persistent servers wanting to check on us.  I could write several posts here from the insights shared in our conversation, but one in particular stands out to me.  In a nutshell, it is this:

We don’t know all the struggles and detailed personal history others experience in their lives – factors that are critical in understanding how people arrive at their current place in life – why they think, feel and act as they do.  Consequently, we often make wrong assumptions about others based on very limited information and understanding.  We see gaps in their story and fill in those gaps with our own wild imagination.  We have fill-in-the-blank relationships, and we fill in those blanks incorrectly way too often.

Instead of creating and acting on our wrong assumptions about others, wouldn’t it be better for us to take the time to hear directly from them so that we can better understand their story?  Don’t just make up something to fill in the blanks of other people’s lives.  Then them fill in those gaps of our understanding.

As Valary and I talked, I learned so much about her and others that shows how little I really knew going into yesterday’s conversation.  I can now appreciate her and those others even more than before because she has filled in some glaring blanks in my awareness.

There is too much misunderstanding and conflict around most us every day, both interpersonally and on a larger scale between groups and nations.  It is a shame that much of the conflict may stem not from the facts of a situation, but from wrong assumptions, suppositions and prejudices that negatively impact our response to others before we even know their true, whole story.

After talking for 2.5 hours to Valary at that restaurant booth, it’s safe to say I know her better than ever, and I appreciate her far more than ever, even though she’s been a friend for decades.  That’s what talking one-on-one with someone can do for us.  We need more of that.

Fill-in-the-blank relationships are dangerous.  We need others – especially the people themselves – to help us fill in those gaps in understanding.

Thank you, Valary, for that important reminder.  Godspeed.

It is what it isEvery now and then I hear someone resign themselves to the perceived reality of a situation by saying with a bit of a sigh, “It is what it is.”  When I hear that (imagining the voice of Winnie the Pooh’s Eeyore character), it is usually offered as a concluding statement that indicates there is no hope for changing the situation.  The implication is that we just need to accept it and move on.  Others present in the room when such a pronouncement is made typically nod in agreement and the conversation ends because, after all, “It is what it is.”

Or is it?

While I don’t claim that we will always be successful changing the circumstances about which we tend to say “It is what it is,” I want to encourage you to not automatically accept the statement as the final word.

What if it doesn’t have to be the way that it is?  What if all that is needed is for one or more determined, hard-working people to put in the effort to transform the situation into something entirely different?  What if it can be changed, but nobody has invested the time, energy and resources to make it happen?

I may be OK (reluctantly) with accepting a situation as “the way it is” if I know I have first done everything in my power to try to change it, but I really shouldn’t accept unwanted situations until I have exerted every bit of effort I can muster to make a positive impact.  As the graphic above suggests, there is always the possibility of making a difference in our future reality.

Don’t resign yourself to unfortunate circumstances under the false assumption that “It is what it is.”  Work hard (and pray) to change what is into what it can become.