By Steve Adubato, PhD
As leaders, we’ve all had these thoughts before:
“Why can’t that executive just stop being so argumentative?”
“I wish the stakeholders would see my point of view on that merger.”
“If I could only get that salary increase, everything would be great.”
And my personal favorite:
“If I could only be 100% healthy—then I would be 100% happy.”
It’s natural for all of us in leadership positions to see the problems and challenges in our lives based on a specific set of circumstances. We think to ourselves, “If I could only change the circumstance, then things would be different. Everything would be just great.” We’d be happier, we’d be more pleasant, which would make us more positive communicators and leaders with better attitudes. But it’s not about changing our circumstances, it’s about changing our attitude.
Recently, I looked back at some of the work of the late Dr. Richard Carlson, the author of the mega-selling book series “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” Carlson also wrote a less well-known book called, “You Can be Happy No Matter What,” in which he talked about the way most of us look at and try to “solve” problems by obsessing over trying to change our circumstances.
Carlson’s view on problems was very different, which has a direct effect on our communication and overall leadership style. Carlson argued that “circumstances are always neutral,” but our reactions to them are not. Of course you want your boss to be more understanding, you want that raise and you wish that your partner or professional colleague were “less argumentative.” We want to be healthy all the time. But, ask yourself how often you’ve actually been able to change someone else’s behavior, or a particular circumstance.
It is great when you can change a circumstance and there is nothing wrong with us trying to do that, but things get dicey when we convince ourselves that changing our circumstances is the only way to happiness. Further, if we are fortunate enough to change a situation, we assume everything will be fine moving forward now that the particular issue has been resolved.
But, for that guy who complains about not getting a raise, and finally DOES get it, look what happens just a few months after. He is complaining about something else like “Why does Jim get the corner office with the big window and I am stuck in this tiny room facing this stupid wall?” Carlson argued, quite compellingly, that sometimes it is a lot more effective to focus on changing our mood and how we choose to look at a situation as opposed to obsessing over actually changing our circumstance.
Have you ever noticed that when you are in a bad mood virtually everything bothers you? People you live and work with, the job itself (if you are lucky enough to have a job these days), the weather, traffic, children, and whatever else impacts your life simply aggravate you more. But, the next day, or maybe even just a few hours later, when your mood has lifted, those same circumstances don’t seem as negative as before.
Further, when you are in a better and healthier frame of mind, we often see more creative options, alternatives and potential solutions to the nagging problems we face every day, even the big ones. So, doesn’t it make more sense to focus on trying to change our mood and attitude and try to be more consistently upbeat than it is to engage in a futile exercise of changing everyone and everything around us? Or wishing things were different?
The next time you find yourself blaming your circumstances for your inability to be an effective leader or communicator, take a step back and think about your reaction to the situation. Can you alter your attitude? Can you bring a positive spin to an otherwise negative situation? Not only will you reduce your own negativity, but your employees will feel it, as well.
Today’s leadership lesson: Your attitude is YOUR choice. Only YOU can decide whether to see that glass as half full or half empty. When I’m on my game, I choose to see it as half full, but when I’m not—it makes things a lot worse.