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The Mindset of Success

The Mindset of Success
By Justin Wright

When thinking about what it takes to be successful, and how to have the mindset of a winner, there are specific qualities that we must focus on. Developing this mindset requires riding the fine line between happiness and dissatisfaction, between comfort and drive, between acceptance and vision. It is crucial to have two disparate qualities that act as a yin and yang in balancing our goals and desires: being grateful, but never being satisfied.

What does this concept mean? How can we be grateful, yet not be satisfied with our position in life? It requires us to be thankful for the blessings and opportunities we have been given while also asking more from ourselves. Despite being happy with the things we currently have, the people who are currently present in our lives, and the friendships and relationships we enjoy, we must always search for the next piece of the puzzle. To accomplish great things requires us to always be pushing the envelope; yet we must always stop to (briefly) smell the roses.

Gratitude practice

The first piece of the equation, gratitude, is crucial for maintaining a positive mindset and remaining hopeful for the future. Starting each day with a gratitude practice can quickly shift our mindset from a negative place to a positive place. Understanding that there is much in our lives to be thankful for is a necessary prerequisite to wanting more for ourselves. If we don’t stop and appreciate how far we have come, how will we ever be satisfied with our accomplishments in the future?

There are many successful people who miss this key step and float through life battling unhappiness and even extreme depression. Look to Hollywood as an example of this: how many movie stars, despite achieving colossal success, battle depression? How many stars have we lost in recent years to suicide? This is not solely due to lack of gratitude, and many of these individuals were battling their fair share of demons, but being grateful can set the stage for increased happiness and quality of life.

I recommend the following: begin each day by deeply reflecting on 3 things you are grateful for in your life. Be as specific as possible, and dedicate yourself to this practice on a consistent basis. If you are unable to do it first thing in the morning, ensure that you complete this task at some point during your day. Focus on three simple items; write them down and think deeply on them. Let these thoughts fill your mind and try not to take these moments for granted. After this practice, make a note of how you feel. Start to think about how your thoughts progress each day after completing your gratitude practice. You will find that your thoughts tend to shift, ever so slightly, the more often you start your day with being thankful. Why does this occur?

Neuroplasticity

In modern neuroscience, we understand that the brain is not fixed and permanent. Every thought we have, every action we take, every stimulus we encounter molds and changes the brain. The way different synapses fire and the proportions of grey matter available are all in constant flux based on our life experiences. We have discussed this in the past, but the thoughts that we most commonly have actually alter our brain chemistry. This is the underlying principle of neuroplasticity.

If you are a chronically negative person, your brain activity will show up differently on a CT scan than someone who is chronically positive. Furthermore, we attract the kind of energy we put out into the world. We are also extremely impressionable; this endless loop can destroy your ability to think positively and be productive if you let it. The more negative thoughts you have, the more negative people you attract. The more negative people you attract, the more negative thoughts you hear. The more negative thoughts you hear, the more negatives thoughts you have. This can continue in perpetuity.

There has also been recent research that correlates the length of our telomeres with the positivity or negativity of our thoughts. These telomeres affect gene expression and can actually reduce or increase our life span. Daisy Robinton recently did a TED talk on this phenomenon. In summary, our thoughts not only affect our quality of life, they can actually affect our quantity of life.

By focusing on gratitude for what we have and reflecting positively on what we have already accomplished, we take control of our brain chemistry and move the needle in a better direction. We learn to greatly appreciate our most valuable resource: time. This also causes us to waste this resource less as we focus on the things that bring positivity into our lives. This is only one side of the coin, however. It is equally important to have a mindset focused on the future and to be constantly pushing ourselves forward.

Never stagnant, never satisfied

Gratitude is important, but it can also be taken too far. If we focus on what we currently have to the point of becoming complacent, we will lose the drive and determination to continue making forward progress. Setting goals is crucial, but it is also necessary to update and revise those goals as we accomplish them. Life is constantly moving, and if we lose our determination to keep progressing then we will get swept away by life’s current.

It is likely that you have seen this phenomenon occur to people you know: they get a big promotion or accomplish some major goal, they become comfortable in that success, and they start to let things decline. Maybe they stop paying as much attention to detail in their business. Maybe they win a championship and stop training as hard for the next season. Maybe they land a big role in a movie and stop taking on as many auditions. Whatever the reasoning, becoming caught up in our accomplishments and not staying focused on the future can lead to stagnation.

In order to remain successful, accomplishments should be celebrated briefly and then new plans should be created. After a big win, the focus should always remain on the future. Some of the greatest athletes of all time became great because they were always focused on the next game and the next season. They enjoyed the fruits of their labor, but once the celebration was over they shifted gears and began preparing for the next event. Business works much the same way; after a big sale or a major product launch, the most successful businesspeople are already planning and preparing for the next deal.

Yin and yang, perfectly balanced

As you can see, both sides of the coin are equally important. If we never stop and smell the roses, if we never appreciate the fruits of our labor, then misery and dissatisfaction are sure to follow. It is impossible to be happy when we are constantly focused on the future and never shift our gaze to the present. Learning to be truly aware of what is going on in the current moment, and learning to be grateful for our position in life, is critical for achieving true happiness.

On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to become too comfortable with where we are, years may pass by and we may waste the time we have. Life is incredibly short in the grand scheme of things, and failure to plan for the future and reach for the stars can cause our lives to truly flash before our eyes. One of the worst things that can ever befall us in old age is regret. Regret  rears its ugly head when we become complacent, when we refuse to take risks or continue pushing forward. Becoming comfortable and stagnant is a fast lane to regret later in life.

Both gratitude and dissatisfaction must work together, in perfect balance, in order for us to be both happy and successful. Being able to count our blessings in the present allows us to be grateful and happy. Being able to check off goals and continue setting new ones allows us to build a future that fulfills us. These two things together create a potent recipe for a life well-lived. They allow us to leave a legacy while enjoying every step along the way. Combine these principles in your life to shift your mindset towards success and take one step closer to the future you deserve.



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The Importance of Butterflies

The Importance of Butterflies
By Justin Wright

Whether you are standing on the starting line of a competition, in a boardroom prepared to give a major presentation, on the phone closing a deal, or even asking someone out on a first date, the feeling is typically the same. An increased heart rate, a cold sweat on your body, an uneasiness in the pit of your stomach all indicate this changed state. Many associate these feelings with nerves, with being anxious or worried about the events that are about to unfold.

I want you to reframe these feelings, to turn the negative thoughts of anxiety into positive ones. Understand that whether we are nervous or excited, the physiological signs are the same. Your body will react the same way regardless, but your actual performance is highly dependent on your mindset leading up to the event. Learning to control this nervousness, and channel it into positive excitement, will often be the difference between success and failure. As a great mentor, Justin Su’a, once said, “It doesn’t matter how you feel, it matters what you do.” Learn to control your mind, and those butterflies you feel may actually empower you to achieve your potential.

Fake it till you make it

The concept of “fake it till you make it” is nothing new. In fact, many life and business coaches teach this exact concept to countless people every year. As human beings, it is natural for us to doubt our own abilities. It always seems like everyone else was given a manual on how to live a successful life except us. All those top athletes, entrepreneurs, investors, actors, etc. must know a secret we don’t, right? In theory, if we pretend that we are on the same level, i.e. if we “fake” it, then eventually we can succeed in the same way.

This concept of feeling like we are not prepared, like we don’t know what we are doing, is called “imposter syndrome.” In short, it makes us feel like we lack the necessary qualifications to achieve success in whatever avenue we are pursuing. It is the constant feeling that we are lacking the right information, that others know what we don’t and eventually our ruse will be discovered. The truth is, everyone else who has achieved success has experienced these exact same feelings and emotions at one point or another.

It is important to remain confident, to understand that no one has all the answers, and sometimes the best thing we can do is rely on our current knowledge and our intuition to solve the problems at hand. When attempting to be truly great at something, we will always encounter unique problems that have not been solved before. The key is to trust ourselves and make a decision; whether we succeed or fail we are gaining valuable knowledge for future decisions. This is the exact process that every other successful person has gone through. They didn’t have the answers either, but success is almost always experienced by those willing to put their best foot forward and try. They are nervous as well, they sometimes have doubts as well, but remember: it doesn’t matter how you feel, it matters what you do.

What are “nerves” exactly?

So let’s dig a little deeper into these moments of decision-making, into these times when we must trust ourselves to drive forward. Any time the stakes are high, it is only natural that we feel this weight and this pressure. These feelings are accompanied by what many refer to as “nerves”: the same physiological signs of stress we already described. The increased heart rate, cold sweat, and knots in the stomach are our body’s way of telling us that it’s time to take action. This is our sympathetic nervous system, correlated with our fight or flight response, doing its job. Along with the sweat and the elevated heart rate comes a heightened alertness and ability to take action when this system is properly harnessed.

On the other end of the spectrum is the parasympathetic nervous system, or our restful state. Since we cannot be in a state of heart-pumping, adrenaline-producing, high-octane action all the time, the parasympathetic response allows us to wind down and recover from the higher-stress activities that the sympathetic response handles. Gaining a deeper understanding of the two systems is critical for remaining confident during these times of stress.

Our nervous system is always responding in one of these two ways. There aren’t two different sympathetic states, but there are different ways to respond to this state. The best athletes and businesspeople in the world aren’t part of an exclusive, success-only sympathetic nervous system club. They have simply learned to harness these feelings and physiological changes in a positive way. The symptoms are the same, but the execution is very different. How exactly do we tap into this higher-level execution when we feel the signs and symptoms of our sympathetic nervous system kicking into gear?

Mindset controls everything

Performing well under pressure is oftentimes just a matter of changing the way we think about these symptoms. If we perceive them to be a bad thing, to be signs of nervousness, uneasiness, and doubt then our performance will likely suffer accordingly. If we instead understand that both good and bad performances are preceded by the same physiological symptoms, then we are much more likely to do what needs to be done. The same feelings are felt by elite performers and catastrophic failures; learn to accept these feelings as part of the process and understand that they do not control the outcome.

Feeling those butterflies, feeling the elevated heart rate, feeling that cold sweat on your body can actually be nothing more than a reminder that you are ready to take massive action. These signs and symptoms can remind you that you are, in fact, excited to tackle the challenge in front of you. Nerves can be positive instead of negative when we realize that our sympathetic nervous system is turning on because we care about the outcome of what we are doing. Caring about something and being excited to perform are positive traits. Some of the best athletes in the world still get so worked up before a big game that they vomit in the locker room. Why? Because they care enough about performing well that it excites them, and their bodies respond accordingly.

Nerves are like a traffic light

The nerves that you feel before high-pressure situations are simply like the red light on a traffic signal that is about to turn green. It is an indicator that it is almost time to shift into gear and start moving forward. While it can be crippling if we are afraid of these feelings, our sympathetic nervous system is actually what makes us capable of performing well in these exact situations. Understand that nerves can be positive just as easily as they can be negative, it simply depends on our perception of these feelings. Doubts are normal, and feeling nervous before a big event is more common than you think. Just remember to take a deep breath, focus on the excitement instead of fear, and simply do regardless of how you feel.



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Morph Your Mind Podcast: Overcoming Toxic Relationships

In Episode 32, co-hosts Justin Wright and Chrissy Barron discuss the negative effects of toxic relationships, friendships, etc. It is important to set boundaries with these people and, on occasion, eliminate them completely from our lives. Our happiness requires balancing the energy in and energy out; avoiding “energy sucks” is critical to this happiness.

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Everyone Steps in Dog Poop

Everyone Steps in Dog Poop
By Justin Wright

People are afraid to get help when they need it. We all deal with our own irrational fears as human beings, but this one may potentially be the most harmful. Awareness about mental health, and the disorders that many suffer with, is just now gaining traction, yet many go without seeking the help they desperately need. As human beings, it is our job to shift this understanding. It’s okay to have problems, and it’s important to understand that seeking help does not make you weak.

We are pack animals by nature; we have a basic psychological need to be accepted and supported by our community. In many cases this need is beneficial and has helped keep us alive for generations. Unfortunately, this need for acceptance is also at the root of many social fears. Being accepted is so important, in fact, that many would rather suffer in silence than face the possibility of being ostracized.

This phenomenon extends to self-development as well. In order to develop mentally and emotionally, we must be willing to admit that we currently have faults which need improving. If we are afraid to own our faults, then this progress is impossible. We cannot fix that which we refuse to see; this is why all rehab programs start with accepting that we have a problem. This is often one of the hardest steps, all driven by the fear that we all share.

Social anxiety

Social anxiety is at the root of this fear. Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist, recently published a book titled How to Be Yourself which discusses social anxiety in detail.

“Social anxiety is often thought of as a fear of judgement or a fear of people, but that’s not accurate. Social anxiety is a perception that there is something embarrassing or deficient about us and that unless we work hard to conceal or hide it, it will be revealed and then we’ll be judged or rejected as a result.” – Ellen Hendriksen (1)

It is these perceived deficiencies which prevent us from sharing our true selves, or even admitting and taking ownership of our faults. What is important to understand is that we are not the only ones who feel this way. The magic happens when we open up, when we start to own our mistakes, our faults, and our errors. It helps bring down the walls of those around us because the same solidarity that we seek within our communities makes us empathetic with others going through similar struggles.

Everyone steps in dog poop

One important thing to understand, always, is that everyone has their own struggles. No one is perfect, everyone has skeletons in their closet, and, regardless of external appearances, everyone is fighting their own personal battles. This can be a difficult thing to understand when we are bombarded with photoshop, Instagram filters, and the age of influencers where everyone appears to be “living their best life.”

In summary, everyone steps in dog poop sometimes. While you may not want to admit that you too have poop on your shoes, it doesn’t change the fact that we all have more in common than we think. Sometimes it just takes a matter of shifting perspective to realize that your problems are not entirely unique, and someone else is struggling through the same thing. More importantly, there are likely people in your current circle dealing with similar issues.

It is time that we all be a bit more open about our faults. In order to embrace a growth mindset and become the best version of ourselves, we need to run towards, and not away, from our mistakes. Failures are a great opportunity for learning, as long as you understand that failing does not make you a bad person. As Ray Dalio describes in his book Principles, failing is perfectly acceptable, but not learning from that failure is not. (2) Remember: the first step to learning is accepting. When we accept our mistakes, and accept those around us despite theirs, we can begin making progress.

Secure your oxygen mask first

There is a reason that, in an airplane emergency, they tell you to secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. If you lose consciousness, it doesn’t matter how much you want to save those around you. Once incapacitated, you lose the ability to assist anyone else. Mental wellness works much the same way. Until you start working on yourself and your personal development, you can’t help others in your life.

How often do you try to listen to the problems of loved ones and provide your perspective? How often do you find others admitting their shortcomings to you while vehemently denying your own? Embrace your whole self, embrace your faults, embrace your failures! Until you take a good, honest look in the mirror, you cannot expect to help those who come to you for advice.

You deserve to be selfish when it comes to your mental health. You deserve to be the best possible version of yourself. Don’t feel guilty for needing to focus on your own mind and your own thoughts. In the same way that we often experience social anxiety thinking our problems are unique, many of us feel guilty for focusing on ourselves instead of others. What is important to understand is that, as much as we may want to help others in our lives, we can only do it if we put our oxygen mask on first.

Set boundaries

While there will be people in your life who support you, who push you to grow, and who openly share their faults with you, there are many others you will encounter who live in a world of denial. These are the people who refuse to look in the mirror, whose social anxiety has crippled them and prevented them from embracing their faults. The story is usually the same: nothing that happens to them is their fault, they are always being dealt a bad hand, life isn’t fair. Those who view the world in this way cannot grow until they shift this mindset. They need to go from being a victim to taking ownership of their own existence.

The problem with people like this is they can’t complain unless they have someone to complain to. They seek out friends and family to be the targets of their rants, because they crave an audience to unload their negativity on. They seek the validation of others who also think life isn’t fair and who are equally dissatisfied with their circumstances. Misery truly loves company as they say.

People either bring energy into our lives or take energy out, there is no middle ground. These negative people drain our energy and look to bring us into their circle. We must set firm boundaries so that we do not succumb to their views. Nothing will hold you back more than those who refuse to take ownership of their own destiny. Understand this, and understand that these situations are just like the airplane emergencies we previously mentioned. Firmly secure your oxygen mask by setting limits on the time you spend with these individuals. Have an honest conversation with them about their impact on your life and, if they cannot see the light and respect your wishes, sever ties and move on. The temporary pain is better than months or years of being held back.

Elevate your circle

Just like it is your responsibility to be selfish and take care of yourself, you owe it to those around you to be a positive beacon for them. The people we spend the most time with are the people who will, in large part, determine the trajectory of our lives. If you surround yourself with winners, you will also be a winner. You also need to realize that you are a part of that circle. Your contributions, your viewpoints, and your actions will also affect the success or failure of the group as a whole.

The more you embrace your own shortcomings and take ownership of your failures, the more those around you will do the same. The more comfortable you are with receiving criticism and discussing your faults, the more comfortable those in your circle will be with similar feedback. Imagine how much more you could accomplish if you were constantly surrounded by people checking and balancing one another with the goal of making everyone better?

Optimizing team performance

This process is the underlying key to optimizing team performance. If you want your circle, your team, your company, or any other group to operate at its peak, you must all embrace your mistakes and learn to critically analyze your failures. Learn to extract the lessons from these situations and use these lessons to continue growing as a person. It all starts when you realize that you are not the only one on the sidewalk with dog poop on your shoes.

 

References:
(1) Tucker, Ian. “Psychologist Ellen Hendriksen: ‘We are each our own worst critic’.” The Guardian, 4 Apr. 2018, www.theguardian.com/science/2018/apr/14/ellen-hendriksen-we-are-each-our-own-worst-critic-social-anxiety-disorder-interview.
(2) Dalio, Ray. (2017) Principles. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.



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The Other Side of Trust

The Other Side of Trust
By Justin Wright

There are three main categories which determine the likelihood of a team’s success: trust, communication, and shared values. If any one of these fails, it becomes difficult to overcome this failure. Imagine a glass with a crack running down the side; over time, that crack will continue to expand until that glass shatters. The same can be said of a team that lacks transparency and trust, has poor communication, or does not create a culture of shared values.

If we specifically analyze the importance of trust in the equation, I think we can all agree that it may be the most crucial of the three categories. If you do not trust the members of the team, or the team itself, to look after your best interests, it becomes impossible for you to achieve peak expression. The team will in turn lack flow, and thus be unable to contribute at the highest level to that team’s success.

When most people think about trust, they are referring to it in the standard sense: honesty, transparency, truthfulness, and the general sentiment that those we are interacting with have our best interests at heart. There is, however, another side to trust that must be properly analyzed when you are looking to build a winning team.

Trust is based on consistency

Trust, in this context, is developed when an individual’s actions consistently meet the expectations for those actions. If a coworker consistently meets deadlines and produces high-quality work, your trust in that individual with respect to those tasks increases. In turn, this increases your trust in that person in general. If someone is always meeting the bar we have set for them, then they become dependable. Dependable and reliable individuals are more likely to be trusted than someone who is hit-or-miss with their performances.

Think about people you currently trust in your life. They likely all share one thing in common: you highly respect them. Respect is earned through repetition, through proving your value to those around you. Respect brings with it a certain pedigree that is directly based off of previous actions. Having a positive track-record of success breeds confidence in your abilities and makes others more likely to respect, and subsequently trust, you to get the job done.

Even if we are simply speaking on a personal, and not professional, level, the way someone has acted in the past determines how we treat them in the future. If you have a friend who always blows you off, you will likely roll your eyes the next time they “promise to be there” for you. Thus far, none of this seems problematic. We are able to essentially sort people into buckets based on their reliability, and that influences our level of trusting those individuals with certain responsibilities. What happens, however, if you are consistently placing a teammate in a position that they are ill-suited for, or a position where they are destined to fail?

Strengths and weaknesses

Every individual has strengths and weaknesses; no one is good at everything and, likewise, no one is bad at everything. Finding the avenues in which we excel is a key component of finding long-term success in any pursuit. When the goal is maximizing work output, we should be focusing on maximizing our exposure to our strengths and minimizing our exposure to our weaknesses.

The concept of self-development is incredibly important, but in the pursuit of becoming better people it is also easy to put undue emphasis on our weaknesses. Working on weaknesses has its place, and our goal as humans should be to work on areas we tend to struggle with. When it comes to team performance, however, we are looking to optimize that team.

This requires us to triple-down on our strengths and to avoid our weaknesses like the plague. In sports, players have different roles on the team based on their position. A great quarterback in football has no place on the offensive line while a soccer goalie would likely struggle as a midfielder. This is specialization at its finest: you must optimize the team by placing the best people for a certain task in those specific roles.

Many problems at the team level can be solved by understanding this concept. How many businesses are putting people in positions they struggle with? How often does the standard hierarchy of leadership keep people who are strong managers with great interpersonal skills at the bottom of the totem pole, plugging away at monotonous work? It’s no wonder why many teams consistently fail.

Success breeds trust

When people are put in positions that they are best suited for, they are able to succeed at a higher rate. This success builds trust within that team which then strengthens the team as a whole. If everyone is placed in their best possible position, the members of that team will have confidence that the end result will be positive. This will continue to increase the trust amongst those team members exponentially.

With increased success comes increased trust and, as a direct result, the team is more willing to tackle larger challenges. The stress and stimulus required for growth is now in place, and as that team continues to tackle these challenges head-on, they will continue to progress and thrive. Everyone on the team will directly benefit from this growth.

The unfortunate reality is that the other side of the coin also applies. If team members are placed in positions that go against their strengths, that force them into positions to confront their weaknesses, then they are more likely to fail. These compounding failures erode the trust within the team. This in turn erodes the team cohesion and backs that team into a corner. They are less likely to take on challenges, they are less likely to grow, and they are less likely to ultimately succeed. All of this stems from mismanagement, from placing people in difficult situations and expecting them to rise to the challenge.

Self-development versus team-development

This mismanagement stems from a misunderstanding between self-development and team-development. If you are looking at improving an individual, then putting them in uncomfortable situations and forcing them to adapt is a useful tactic. When we are made uncomfortable, when we are forced to face our fears or confront our weaknesses, then we often grow as individuals. The problem is that as soon as others rely on us, as soon as we are placed in a collaborative environment, the same stress can cause us to crumble and cause the team to lose faith in our abilities.

It is often said that the same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg. We can apply this concept to a discussion of the individual versus the team. Positive stress promotes growth, and the classification of stress required for personal growth differs from that required for growth of the team.

A collective group is always stronger than an individual person, as long as that group is working as the most efficient version of itself. If people are placed in weak roles, the group is working against itself constantly. This breeds resentment and slows down forward progress. The stress in this case is negative, and the machine will break down. The goal of any team should be to reduce internal friction, to create flow. If everyone is positioned to succeed, and has the confidence to execute on the things they know well, then the whole unit will move seamlessly towards a common goal.

Strike a balance

I am not suggesting that you abandon self-development or avoid your weaknesses entirely. This practice is detrimental to becoming the best version of ourselves. What is important to understand, however, is that you must strike a balance on this front. When you are working with others towards a common goal, you must continue to specialize. Do what you are good at, and challenge others on your team to do what they are good at.

Find time in your life to work on yourself and work on areas that need improvement, but when it comes to success as a collective group then you must avoid your weaknesses at all costs. This requires some level of overcoming the ego, as oftentimes leaders are placed in roles for all the wrong reasons. Individuals should become leaders because they have strong management and communication skills, not because they have been there the longest or are skilled at one facet of the job.

Find ways to optimize your team by removing as much internal friction as possible. Set people up for success, because putting people in their strongest roles will build forward momentum and foster increased trust. Remember, after all, that trust is one of the most important criteria which determines a team’s likelihood of success!



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Morph Your Mind Podcast: Confrontation and Hard Conversations

In Episode 30, co-hosts Justin Wright and Chrissy Barron cover strategies for having difficult conversations both personal and professional. We are hard-wired to avoid confrontation, but sometimes it is necessary to move things forward in a meaningful way.

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Morph Your Mind Podcast: Burn the Ships

In Episode 29, co-hosts Justin Wright and Chrissy Barron encourage you to fully commit and dive in to whatever pursuits you are on right now. Unless you burn the ships and leave yourself with no escape plan, you cannot truly experience full expression of self and achieve long-term success.

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Teamwork: A Matter of Perspective

Teamwork: A Matter of Perspective
By Justin Wright

What makes a great team? What are some of the factors that can help us determine the likelihood of a team’s success or failure? There are countless factors that go into building a winning team. Successful collaboration relies on effective communication, shared vision, transparency, honesty, the list goes on. There is one factor that may not be as obvious, however: perspective.

Understanding perspective, and how it can affect our interactions with others, is critical to building strong relationships. A team succeeds or fails based upon the strength of the relationships within that team. In order to develop this bond, understanding perspective, particularly the perspectives of other people on that team, becomes a key factor in long-term success.

Perception management

Perception management is a topic I discuss often with teams I work with. This concept is about understanding how people may view certain things, regardless of the objective truth surrounding them. For example, business owners often have to make changes that affect their employees financially in the short-term in order to strengthen the business in the long-term. While this is a positive action that provides a strong future outlook for the team, the perception of this action is often negative due to the immediate, short-term effect. It is difficult for most people to see and appreciate the long-term vision, and thus managing the perception of these actions becomes important.

You must understand how your actions or comments will be perceived by those around you when working in a team environment. Regardless of whether what you are saying, or doing, is true or false, it will have a ripple effect on the team. This requires us to step outside of ourselves and focus instead on others. This external, versus internal, focus is at the heart of embracing different perspectives.

Most of you have probably heard the adage that “if you want to truly understand someone, you must walk a mile in their shoes.” The reason for this is that we all have a unique worldview based on the sum of our life experiences up to that point. Everyone is taking the exam of life having studied different information. This means that our responses to life’s many questions will all be entirely different, because our experiences are unique. If you think about things from this perspective, debates and arguments are no longer black and white. It is the grey area between each end of the spectrum where team cohesiveness is developed.

Avoid judgement and embrace understanding 

Understanding this grey area allows us to better connect with those around us. With regard to developing a strong team, this connection is critical. Arguably most important, this understanding will make us less likely to judge others without better understanding their individual situations.

Think back to the last time you negatively judged someone else. Likely they made a statement or took some action that you disagreed with. Think deeper still. That reaction was likely based on your personal life experience. The information you have available, the experiences you have had, the specific upbringing that you have been through all shape how you react to certain situations. Step back and try to think about that same situation of judgement from the other person’s perspective. Maybe their life experience has contributed to their differing viewpoint, or their particular history causes them to act differently than you would in a similar situation.

We have an innate need as human beings to find acceptance amongst those around us. This need is primal and evolutionary: those who traveled in packs were more likely to survive their environment. Animals still exhibit this trait in the modern world. At our core, we are all pack animals. This need for acceptance also requires us to feel safe in the presence of others. Hostile environments set off physiological responses in the same manner as if we were staring down a hostile predator in prehistoric times. We must feel safe and accepted to thrive. Successful teams are the ultimate example of this phenomenon at work in the modern world.

Safety and teamwork 

Author Daniel Coyle analyzes the intersection of cultural acceptance and effective teamwork in his book The Culture Code. One powerful example is a study in which an individual was planted in business meetings at various companies, in various teams, and instructed to play a certain role. This plant would either be combative, insulting, or disinterested and had the goal of derailing the meeting and negatively affecting team morale. Most importantly, this individual was incredibly effective in this regard.

Meeting after meeting went off track, and teams that typically worked well together were left bickering and aimless. By introducing one bad seed, even groups who were often productive and successful in many capacities started to crumble. There was, however, one shining example of a team that held strong and kept forward momentum throughout the meeting despite the constant negativity of the subject in question. How did this team manage to succeed where the others had failed?

The team in question had a strong leader, and not in the traditional sense. This individual was not particularly powerful, was not firm in his speech, did not have a commanding presence, yet despite all of this he was able to completely negate the negativity and keep his team on track. He was able to do this because he made the rest of the team feel safe, feel important, and, most importantly, feel respected. Any time the plant made a negative comment, the leader included him in the discussion. He flipped the script, asking how the actor would handle a certain situation. He also defended the team and their opinions from any negative commentary, facilitating an open discussion where everyone involved felt like their voice carried weight and had value.

In short, he made the team feel safe. He created commonality and respected the viewpoints and perspectives of everyone. He even allowed the negative individual to contribute openly to the discussion, showing that even someone who was clearly being combative had an opinion worth hearing. He actively facilitated debate and discussion.

Debate, don’t argue 

What is the difference between arguing and debating? Arguing is often combative in nature, it is our attempt to force our perspective down someone else’s throat. We don’t want to cede any ground and there is often a winner and a loser. More often still, there is the intent of isolation and separation, of making someone feel bad for having the opinion that they have.

Debate, on the other hand, is more collaborative in nature. It is perfectly acceptable to disagree with someone else. Oftentimes, some of the highest performing teams in the world have disagreements amongst their members. This is not inherently negative, and open discourse is important for ultimately getting closer to objective truth. When debating, we agree to disagree; we try and understand the perspective of someone else while providing evidence to the contrary. We defend our viewpoint while being open to new information. Debate often leads to compromise, or to a common ground where both parties shift slightly from their initial positions.

Debate is critical for building trust and for fostering a feeling of safety within a team environment. Members of that team need to be comfortable offering up a differing opinion, knowing that it will be met with critical analysis and not by hostility, aggression, or personal attacks. The only way to get closer to the truth is by discussing the merits of both sides of that truth. All of this requires gaining a better understanding of the unique perspective that each individual brings to the discussion. We cannot understand someone’s view unless we look at the point of contention from their side of the lens.

Shift your perspective to strengthen collaboration

While you may disagree with someone’s viewpoint on your team, it is important to understand why they have that viewpoint. Looking at a situation from the perspective of that individual will provide you with more evidence and information about the subject being discussed. There is a parable about multiple, blindfolded individuals all touching different parts of an elephant and being asked to describe what they were feeling. Instead of sharing this information and collaborating effectively, they instead argued and bickered about how the other perspectives were wrong.

In order to collaborate effectively, we must compile all available information in order to make the most well-informed decision possible. In the parable above, this is the equivalent of taking off the blindfold. Had the individuals in question shifted their perspectives, they may have more quickly realized that they were all describing different parts of the same thing.

The modern workforce requires us to be agile. Effective teamwork relies on a number of attributes, but trust, safety, and collaboration are at the heart of all of them. In order to strengthen this collaboration, in order to build winning teams, we must understand the role that different perspectives play in the larger discussion. The next time you are faced with a debate and a discussion about differing viewpoints, do your best to see things from the other individual’s perspective. You may just find that you are both describing different parts of the same elephant.



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