The Game is Not Over: Bouncing Back from a Defeat

“Fortitude is the marshal of thought, the armor of the will, and the fort of reason.”

– Francis Bacon

Losing an election, a local council vote, a legal challenge, or failing to remove a barrier to the change you want to see can be discouraging, and emotionally draining.  Rarely, however, does your opposition’s victory eliminate every opportunity for you and your allies to move your cause forward. To use a tennis metaphor, your loss may have been a point, or a game, or even a set, but it wasn’t necessarily the match. Here are a few things to consider once you’ve dusted yourself off and are ready to jump back into the thick of things.

Feeling Bad – Once a setback has occurred, don’t spend more than a few minutes feeling sorry for yourselves (OK, it may take a day or two). It is important to honestly evaluate your missteps and tactical errors. Don’t beat yourselves up for your mistakes. Learn from them.

Accepting Criticism – People may criticize leadership groups or individuals. That’s normal. Admit your own mistakes. Own your failures. Follow that up by reasserting your dedication to your cause and inviting a committed group of people to start planning your next action. You’ll do so with the confidence that you won’t make the same mistakes twice.

Reaffirming Goals – Remind yourselves why your goals are still important. Reaffirm your shared values with all of your allies. Don’t dismiss those who are not yet ready to jump immediately into direct action. Give them space, and let them know that they are valued, and they’ll be back when your cause’s energy builds again.

Cultivating More Leaders – Finally, remember that a leader’s job is not to find followers, but rather it is to create more leaders. Have one-to-one meetings with people who joined you along the way, who may not have been with you during earlier strategy planning. You’ll find more leaders, and more ways to articulate your messages, and make your case for change.

The fight is not over.

Leadership and the Dunning–Kruger Effect

“Useful men, who do useful things, don’t mind being treated as useless. But the useless always judge themselves as being important and hide all their incompetence behind authority.” – Paulo Coelho

terminar-rubik

In 1999, a couple of psychologists from Cornell University, named Kruger and Dunning, published some research findings* which essentially said that there is a tendency for unskilled individuals to overestimate their own ability, and a tendency for experts to underestimate their own ability. This incorrect self-assessment of competence became known as the Dunning–Kruger Effect. When organizing to effect change, this tendency creates unique challenges.

Over-Estimators

If someone has assumed a leadership role, the failure to recognize their own lack of skill, as well as the extent of that inadequacy, is a potential recipe for disaster. This is doubly problematic as the researchers also found that over-estimators also fail to accurately gauge skill in others.

I have written previously about emotional intelligence, and how people can develop their capacity for it. Similarly, I believe that people can train themselves to more realistically assess their abilities in a variety of skills. The fact that under-performance is accompanied by tangible evidence in the end, means that there is incentive for people to seek honest, realistic self-assessment.

Under-Estimators

The real tragedy lies with the under-estimators. Undervaluing your own abilities isn’t just sad and unfortunate on a personal level. It has an impact on group morale, commitment, productivity, and ultimately, success.

One strategy to overcome this challenge would be to use appreciative inquiry, or one-to-one conversations, to map the assets of individuals. People sometimes forget about skills and talents that they have, and require others help to uncover those assets.

If you have examples of how an individual’s over-, or under-estimating their own abilities has played out in you work, please share them in the comments below.


*Kruger, Justin; Dunning, David (1999). “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The Fear of Being Called a Radical

image: public domain via pixabay
image: public domain via pixabay

“Seen from the point of view of a lie, the truth is often touted as radical.”

― Mango Wodzak, Destination Eden

One of the realities of organizing people to create social change, is the fact that there are people who would like to see change, but fear being seen as a “radical” for publicly calling for fundamentally different policies from the status quo. That fear is real, and should not be dismissed as a simple lack of commitment. The courage to act is situational.

The reluctance to be perceived as an agitator comes in part, from the branding by the media of extremism and zealotry, as ‘radical.’ It’s right-wing radicalism, and left-wing radicalism, and radical Islam . . . if somebody wants an idea to wear a black hat, they call it radical.

In reality, however, almost all change seems radical at some point. The American Revolution was instigated by radicals.  A century ago, in the U.S., the idea that woman should be able to vote was considered radical. Civil rights leaders are considered radicals for insisting that we don’t deny basic human rights to people based on arbitrary, human constructs criteria such as race. Transformative change requires certain realities to be radically different.

“RADICALISM, n. The conservatism of to-morrow injected into the affairs of to-day.”

― Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary

Radicalism and zealotry do not inescapably go hand-in-hand. Some of the zealot’s actions (irrational violence for example) often defy logic, and frequently serve to actually undermine their own stated objectives. Rational radicalism is strategic. It is guided by logic and evidence. As Saul Alinsky said in his book, Rules for Radicals: “Radicals must be resilient, adaptable to shifting political circumstances, and sensitive enough to the process of action and reaction to avoid being trapped by their own tactics and forced to travel a road not of their choosing. In short, radicals must have a degree of control over the flow of events.”

When we look back at human rights leaders, suffragists, and the participants of great social movements in our history, we find “radical” people advocating for the militant notion that the humane thing, the fair thing, the moral thing, the ethical thing to do, was something for which they were proud to be labeled as “radical.”

Disagreements Among Friends

“Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

Just because you have the same goals, doesn’t mean that you will agree with like-minded people about everything. People with shared values are going to disagree from time to time. These conflicts are not often about “deal breaker” issues. They are frequently based on cultural differences.

We have different communication styles. Some groups have different ways that people come to know things, or different attitudes towards disclosure. Not everyone prefers the same decision-making processes. Leaders have to be aware of these differences, and help figure out a way to choose effective strategies even if they differ from their own preferences.

Obviously, we can’t know all things about all cultures. There are no universal intercultural problem-solving methods. There are things, however, that are pretty universal:

  • People from all backgrounds want to be listened to and understood.
  • In every culture people respond to respect and disrespect.

Getting to a state where this becomes easier requires active listening, honesty and honest sharing. This may mean postponing an action or project until compromises have been negotiated.

Delays can be frustrating, but ultimately, the trust that has developed by taking the time to iron out disagreements now, will pay big dividends in the future.

All of this is easy if you keep a sense of humor. It’s amazing how a little self-deprecating humor can ease tensions when people are anxious over disagreements.

You Don’t Need a Leadership Course in Order to Lead

“Real leadership comes from the quiet nudging of an inner voice. It comes from realizing that the time has come to move beyond waiting to doing”
– Madeleine Albright

To get things done in this world you don’t need a credential, or a badge that says “leader.” If the world’s greatest writer wrote a book illustrated by the world’s greatest artist titled, How to Ride a Bicycle, it would be a poor substitute for sitting on a bike, finding your center of balance, and pushing on the pedals. We learn by doing. Leadership is no different.

Every time that you: A) imagine something being different, or being better than it is; B) decide to do something about it, either alone or with others; and C) act to make that change happen – YOU ARE DEMONSTRATING LEADERSHIP.

Leadership doesn’t require great scale. It doesn’t have to be obvious to everyone. Leadership is collaborative or distributed more often than it is positional. It doesn’t need to be heroic; it just needs to effectively move you toward a goal. You lead anytime you do things like:

  • have the courage to challenge someone’s racist or sexist joke;
  • accept responsibility for (and learn from) your failures;
  • do what is right, rather than what is easy (to paraphrase Dumbledore);
  • see the gifts and talents of others, and acknowledge them; or
  • listen with the goal of understanding – even when someone’s views or values conflict with your own.

Anyone who has a vision for something different and the desire to make that change happen can be a leader.

Risk-Averse Versus Risk-Taking

“The most important thing to remember is this: to be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become.”
– W. E. B. Du Bois

When your goal is to create change in the world, embracing risk is the foundation of leadership. Attempting to mitigate all risk out of an action eliminates any possibility that that action will result in substantive change.

Risk-averse people naively expect that success will simply to come to them.  Risk-takers understand that success requires creative, strategic pursuit. Your goal is to get people to act, and wholeheartedly embracing risk is the only prescription for overcoming complacency, apprehension, and fear of failure.

Risk ≠ Recklessness. The desire for change is not just emotional; it is also rooted in logic. Risk is calculated. It is a carefully considered series of if/then statements that reach a conclusion that risk has a return on investment. Without risk, the logic model remains theoretical. Risk demonstrates people’s capacity to achieve a stronger, more vibrant society.

risk-averse vs risk-taking

Somewhere along the line our concept the word risk became profoundly one-sided, framed primarily in undesirable terms. Don’t get caught in that mind trap.

risk
noun
1.
exposure to the chance of injury or loss; a hazard or dangerous chance:
“It’s not worth the risk.”
– dictionary.com

Risk is at the Core of Leadership

Be United
The idea of strength in numbers can make risk less scary. Leaders aren’t simply assessing risk on a personal level. They have locked arms with stakeholders sharing a common vision of what change needs to take place. Risks are shared as well.

Be Committed
Willingness to risk is a measure of commitment to values and to a shared vision of the change that needs to happen.

Be Creative
Willingness to risk is also a measure of creative thinking. If you can’t imagine a better future, it will never come about.

Be Radical
Transformative change is radical change.  Ending slavery was a radical idea. A woman voting was a radical idea. Don’t be concerned about being seen as radical. Be concerned about doing what is right.

Life is a continuous risk-taking process that goes something like this: risk, success or failure, learn, and repeat. You are working to change something. Change is impossible without risk, and change is required to better people’s lives.

Excellence Versus Perfection

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen, Anthem

excellence vs perfectionTable based on a poster from http://thebluecollarsuccessgroup.com/

There is not a great deal of conflict or controversy around this comparison as it relates to leadership. Perfection exists as a concept, but not as a practical reality. Good leaders encourage people to strive for excellence, not perfection. If you always wait for perfection nothing will ever get done. As psychologist and author Harriet Braiker put it, “Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.”

In terms of leadership, both of excellence and perfection find themselves under scrutiny in the context of achieving success. Success is usually measured by comparison to others. Our most visible manifestations of leadership are in campaigns — contests for the public’s hearts, or their imagination.

If in these challenges our competition is excellent, then we have to be more excellent — we need to be perfect, right? No.

In his 1989 book, The Heart of the Order, sports columnist  Thomas Boswell describes the difference between success and excellence this way:

“Success is tricky, perishable, and often outside our control; the pursuit of success makes a poor cornerstone, especially for a whole personality. Excellence is dependable, lasting and largely an issue within our own control; pursuit of excellence, in and of itself, is the best of foundations.”

If success is perishable, and perfection is unrealistic, then leaders in this “pursuit of excellence” are really part of an ongoing learning community, a network of people absorbing and acting on their shared knowledge and wisdom.

If we can agree that excellence is preferable over perfection, how can we make sure that excellence has substance? Look at the mission statements of nonprofit organizations, schools, and businesses. Apparently everybody is already excellent, because the claims of excellence are everywhere.

Maybe excellence is more of a constant reminder of betterment, of constant improvement, more than it is a state of being. Maybe the best way to achieve excellence is to maintain a modest intellectual curiosity, and an attitude that we want to learn something new every day of our lives.

Fixed Versus Growth Mindset

“If, like those with the growth mindset, you believe you can develop yourself, then you’re open to accurate information about your current abilities, even it it’s unflattering. What’s more, if you’re oriented toward learning, as they are, you need accurate information about your current abilities in order to learn effectively”
― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

We need to be aware that we have ideal mindsets, and real mindsets. Even though we like to believe that we embrace growing and learning, fixed mindsets contribute greatly to keeping us from accomplishing goals. The comparison below is based on Carol S. Dweck’s 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

mindsetLike so many of the ideas we discuss here, changing your mindset requires courage. We are afraid to fail. We are afraid of criticism. It’s pounded into us from an early age.

Leaders can help people bolster their courage. Ways that you can help others (and yourself) to overcome fear, and demonstrate more courage include:

  • Build confidence – Try to capture the feeling of confidence that you have when you are inside your “comfort zone.”
  • Wade outside the comfort zone – Know personal limits, and start small. It is always easier to face the things you fear when you are with someone else. Be there with people when they take those baby steps toward facing their fears. When you get to the uncomfortable place . . .
  • Avoid hesitation – Don’t allow for more time to come up with excuses. Accomplish something small, and then lock that success away to bolster your confidence next time.