The importance of good leadership skills

Ron Kaplan, the C.E.O. of Trex, a manufacturer of outside decks, learned from his father that the number one job of a leader is to “make the staff feel secure” which comes from your presence, integrity, and reliability. Being focused, fun, and real the mantra of my website communicates a certain presence, style, and way of being! I love congruency and authenticity as a way of guiding others and living successfully!

Mr. Kaplan prefers to give advice by asking questions, a style I prefer as well. When I used to teach at a community college, I preferred to ask questions instead of lecture feeling that students learn more by having to think and be proactive about learning than rote memory.

As a marksmen, Mr. Kaplan learned the power of focus and concentration, a necessity in a sport as precise as shooting! Focus responds to presence and a quiet mind. To quiet the mind, it’s fundamentally important to meditate and practice mindfulness, something I work on daily and practice over and over. In my last blogpost on sports psychology I talked about holing out from the fairway to end a golf match in style. I have no doubt that shot went in from nearly 140 yards out largely because I continually practice meditation and mindfulness!

Sports Psychology

I was in a nine hole golf match last week in Westport, Connecticut not LaQuinta, California where I took this picture last month. On the ninth hole with the individual and team matches all squared I was casually talking with my playing partner, a retired finance guy, and really enjoying the moment especially the camaraderie of playing with a really nice guy. I asked him to range find the distance to the stick after driving the ball down the middle. He told me it was 138 yards to the back left pin placement. Choosing a pitching wedge, I recall going into pure focus mode, completely empty of all thought. I took an effortless swing and hit the ball directly into the setting sun having that flush feeling of striking it solidly. A moment later, my opponent yelled from across the fairway that the ball was “In The Hole!” I held my hands up, did a little salsa waggle and high-fived my playing partner having effectively ended both matches. Afterwards, we decided to play up 16 to play the last three holes before dark. On 17 my partner said he didn’t make his usual two birdies. I asked him if that was his intention and he said that he tries to make two birdies every time he plays. I shared that I intend to have at least one experience of Magic every time I play! He responded by saying I had clearly pulled it off holing out from the fairway!

Magic is possible for all of us in business, life, and sports if we learn how to get crazy present and enjoy the experience as opposed to the outcome. The key is present moment time which enables us to get into the zone where Magic happens! To become more and more present practice following your breathe and bringing yourself back to the here and now as often as you can. The more you do this the happier and more focused you become, a great way to do intimacy, business, and sports!

Police tactics in the interrogation room

An article in the May issue of the Monitor on Psychology published by the APA (American Psychological Association) titled ‘Deception in the interrogation room’ informs us that police can use a variety of deceptive practices to coerce a suspect into a confession. For example, it is permissible to tell a criminal suspect that his confederate confessed when he had not and say that a suspects fingerprints were at the scene when there were none! There are some limits, however, like telling a suspect that his statements won’t be used against him but other forms of outright lying are permissible. As the authors write, “although most potential jurors view police tactics as coercive, they generally believe such tactics are necessary to elicit truthful confessions and unlikely to elicit false ones.” Very interesting!

Lessons on Good Management

Adam Bryant interviews S.D. Shibulal, the C.E.O of Infosys, the technology consulting firm in this week’s Corner Office. Mr. Shibulal learned early in his career to tell the truth and acknowledge when he doesn’t know something after being caught in a lie in front of a group of underlings. I too am a huge believer in authenticity and veracity as a way of creating trust and building solid long-term relationships. Telling lies, half-truths or hedging and fudging is a short cut leading to mediocrity at best and mistrust more commonly. Whenever possible tell the truth and acknowledge your mistakes. If Bill Clinton had done so our country would have been far better off. There are countless other examples of politicians and business leaders lying or fudging the truth and often we see right through it losing respect for them in the process.

Mr. Shibulal also addresses the issue of being open to honest feedback and the importance of doing one thing at a time. From a 360 review, he learned how disrespectful it was to take phone calls during meetings. Now, he leaves his cell phone with his secretary before a business meeting. This is also a good practice with children and romantic partners. Too often in life we are distracted by our phones and not fully present or present at all for that matter. He states, “I’m better off focusing for 30 minutes on what I’m doing, rather than trying to do multiple things.” Well said!

The key to success in life and business

Michelle Peluso, the C.E.O. of Gilt Groupe, the online shopping site hasn’t had an office in over a year! Her desire to connect and understand the various teams under her leadership has lead her to sit in the open with everyone. She has no interest in an ivory tower feeling disconnected from her people. Learning this approach and the power of positively from her father, an entrepreneur himself, and curiosity from her mother, a teacher, she brings passion and purpose to life and business.

In terms of hiring, Ms. Peluso loves loyalty. She says, “I understand that maybe it’s more generational, and maybe I’m crossing over to the old generation, and soon I’m going to be talking about how I walked to school barefoot, uphill both ways. But I like grit and persistence and loyalty.”
I do too!!

Her advice to women: grace! She states, “if your going to live a bold life, and if your going to take risks and try to step out of your comfort zone, you are going to occasionally fail, make some mistakes, and occasionally disappoint yourself… Grace is meeting those moments on your journey, then picking yourself back up, being humble enough to learn and not be to hard in yourself.”
Well said and a great perspective for both men and women as well as parents!!

Good parenting skills

The feature article in the April 13, 2014 New York Times Sunday Review section entitled “Raising A Moral Child” by Adam Grant covers the fundamentals of good parenting that every person, not just parent, should know. Essentially, we need to be mindful of the difference between shame and guilt and make sure we are never shaming our children or others for that matter. Shame is the feeling that one is a bad person while guilt refers to one’s behavior being wrong. If we learn to praise good character and punish bad actions essentially we are on the right track. Children who are praised for good character show far more generosity and caring in research studies.

Generosity, the act of giving without strings attached, can be encouraged by parenting and discouraged as well though the actions of others not their words. Thus, if a parent acts generous and caring, children will copy this behavior and eventually internalize it. The opposite is true as well. Therefore, if you want to raise kind, generous, and moral children, then act that way yourself and be sure to punish actions not character.

Great leadership skills

Brad Smith is the chief executive of Intuit, the software company. He learned leadership skills by becoming a black belt by age 18 and teaching 150 students soon after. There, he learned that “success is creating the environment where people can be their best selves and continue to grow and develop.” I love it! In my business I do likewise for the people I coach from athletes to entrepreneurs to adolescents trying to figure out life!

Mr. Smith, interviewed by Adam Bryant of the Corner Office, says that he learned from his father to: “never mistake kindness for weakness.” Again, I love it. Too few of us are truly kind. It takes courage to be kind. Anyone can be critical and judgmental. “Always be kind and generous but always stand your ground,” he states a core lesson from his father. Well said!

Mr. Smith also believes in the value of making mistakes, acknowledging your wrongdoing, learning and improving. When interviewing prospective hires he asks them to tell him about their biggest mistake and what the lesson they took away. In helping college students make career decisions he guides them to go for what excites them, to pursue their passion or what makes their heart beat faster, another lesson from his father!

I like Mr. Smith’s style and perspective; it’s positive, no-nonsense and progressive. With this kind of leadership, more corporate environments would be both humane and fulfilling!

Dogs are very smart

I am a dog person. I playfully postulate that there are two basic sets of humans: dog people and non-dog people. If you are a dog lover then this article by David Hochman in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times is worth reading. The thesis is that dogs are far smarter and more capable than many people realize. For instance, a 9-year-old Border Collie in South Carolina may know up to a thousand words. Another dog in Japan is capable of detecting early stage colon cancer at an astounding 98 percent success rate! The next time you are tempted to believe your dog is stupid, you might want to put a little time, energy, and money into training him or her better. Much like humans, the more stimulation we give our pets in terms of memory and learning the better!

Memory loss

Learning more about the mind and it’s abilities is always fascinating to me! An article by Sumathi Reddy in the Personal Journal section of the Wall Street Journal suggests that forgetfulness is not only pervasive as many of us suspect but linked to our genetics in a substantial way. For instance, one study found that 75 percent of people may carry a gene mutation that leads to higher incidences of forgetfulness. As we age, the brain shrinks making us more prone to memory and concentration lapses too. The good news is that there is plenty we can do to help ourselves. When we encode memories if we pay closer attention to our behavior we are more likely to remember things. In other words, the more present we are, the better our memory! This is part of how I teach others to succeed in life, business, and sports. The more in the here and now we are, the better our performance no matter what the activity!

Retrieval is also better if we can trace our emotional state to use as a clue to where we put a lost item in the first place. In other words, the more mindful we are the better our memories. This is also true of success and performance. Stress, depression and fatigue decrease memory, concentration and performance. On the other hand, putting ourselves in a great mental state improves many aspects of living including memory and performance!

Mental health

Nicholas Kristof’s column in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times chronicles the travails of Mike Yurchison, an Iraq war veteran battling head injury and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). His girlfriend of three and a half years is struggling too, not sure if she can continue to hang in there with him considering all the challenges of dealing with a man shattered by war and mental illness. According to Mr. Yurchison, psychiatry has helped him become addicted to opiates and otherwise he has found these doctors “unhelpful.” This is too often the case. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are killing themselves at alarming rates. Mike’s brother and close friend, both veterans, recently killed themselves. We also see periodic rampages at military bases such as Fort Hood where medication is often part of the picture.

The issues are complex and challenging and some doctors are fantastic. War is a terrible thing too. However, mental health treatment, especially for veterans, too often relies on medication that is far more harmful than most doctors care to admit. Anti-anxiety meds are addictive and other meds prescribed for anxiety and depression are often toxic to the body. Prescription medication is a multi-billion dollar business after all. I recently had a dinner with a psychiatric nurse who is now medicating her entire practice. This woman was anti-meds just a few years ago.

As a society, we need more intense involvement well beyond medication for those suffering from mental illness. This would involve both communities and professionals and is especially true for veterans. I share this perspective from years of experience as a licensed psychologist helping countless people with severe anxiety, PTSD and depression to eventually get off most or all medication. We can do better.