“If a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, does it make a noise?”
I believe that the answer is... NO! The noise is made when the sound waves strike the eardrums. The metaphor is that no matter what happens in the external environment, we can choose how we receive and process it. That’s the immaculate reception!
Think about it. If this were not true, everybody would be affected by every situation the same way. Without choice, we would be twigs in the river of life, victims of current circumstances. Top performing leaders understand that if they let negative circumstances dictate their daily actions, they are giving those circumstances control over them. Choosing to respond, and not react, to negativity reveals one of the deepest truths in leadership and life: It is in the receiving that meaning is made.
Between stimulus and response is a space called choice.
- Why can't our engineers get it right?
- Where’s service when you need them?
- Why can’t marketing give us what we need?
- Who messed this up?
We all ask these questions at various times. It’s normal to be hard on ourselves for a short time, especially when we make mistakes. However, the problem with asking these “negative questions” for too long is that they lead to victim thinking. They suck us into the dark abyss of the “woe is me” mindset. Instead of helping us fix the problem or learn a lesson, negative questions seduce us into pointing fingers and assigning the blame. Asking negative questions limits our options, because like an ostrich with its head in the sand, our view of the world becomes limited. Negative questions may feel good in the moment, yet over the long haul, they leave us stuck in the muck because they don’t lead to productive action.
Optimists choose to ask “positive questions.” Positive questions focus on action and personal responsibility. Leaders who ask positive questions move themselves and others from victim thinking to meaningful activity. They encourage others to pull their head out of the sand, and see more options.
I like to keep a list of these positive questions with you (e.g., 3x5 index cards, appointment book, PDA, post-it-notes...) to review anytime you feel yourself slipping into the deep, dark abyss of sinking thinking. Here are several of my favorite “generic” positive questions I often ask:
- How critical will this seem five years from now?
- What does this irritation tell me about me?
- How can I see this differently?
- What’s my lesson in this “messin?”
- Who can help me deal with this?
- How can I let this go now?
- How can I shine my God-given talents in this darkness?
- What positive questions could I ask myself right now?
Choosing to ask these questions will help you and your team see your own light during the dark night. Choosing responsibly is the fourth key competency of a commanding leader because choice determines how well leaders handle failure, tackle adversity, and stay positive when things seem so negative.
Let me know how these ideas are helping you.