All leaders have been there... You're in a meeting, talking with a friend or driving in your car and out of nowhere you get the mental and emotional equivalent of a gut punch. A negative thought peeking around the corner like a creeper whispering "hey, it's me, that random thing that upsets you and... I'm here to ruin your whole day."
Before you know it, your whole attitude changes. You're angry, moody and just want to eat the unhealthiest thing you can find. Then, after eating an entire bag of chips and feeling even worse, you ask yourself "how did I get here?"
One of the hardest things in life to do, is to not let that negative thoughts take control and turn into a negative attitude. Negative thoughts are pernicious and extremely damaging to anyone trying to stay focused on their goals and living purposeful lives.
This is especially true for leaders, who must maintain a positive attitude to make the impact they need to make on their team, their work, family or anything else. If leaders want to be successful, they must maintain a positive attitude.
I'm not a medical professional and I won't pretend to be. There are plenty of really smart people that study battling negative thinking for a living. I've linked below to a few articles I've found really helpful on this subject that will take a closer look at combating negative thoughts.
For the purposes of this post, I just want to share my own real life experiences and challenges with this topic, in the hope of encouraging other leaders so that they know they are not alone.
For me personally, I'm very hard on myself and my struggle is against self doubt and an over analyzation of my words and actions.
For example, I will have a difficult coaching conversation with someone about performance or growth. The conversation goes great all things considered and we both leave the table feeling good about what was discussed.
As has been my practice for a long time, I will analyze the conversation afterwards in my head to see if there is anything I could have or should have said differently. This is a healthy practice because I believe it makes me a better leader but it comes with pitfalls as well.
If I'm not careful, the negative thoughts that lie just below the surface will hit me hard during this process and often at the worst times. Thoughts as simple as, "well that went terrible." "That person is going to quit now." "You made them angry with the way you said that one thing and that derailed the whole conversation."
If I don't stay disciplined and keep the process constructive I find myself dwelling on the negativity and it can change my entire attitude, oftentimes, it becomes defensive. This can then devolve further into a hesitancy to have the difficult conversations that I need to have. It might also keep me from seeking the feedback I need from my people or worse getting defensive when they offer it to me.
Attitude of leadership
As a leader, your attitude sets the tone. If your attitude is defensive or negative it can be devastating to your ability to lead. A leader must fight tenaciously to maintain a positive attitude, even when it's the last thing you want to do.
Unfortunately, negative thoughts require zero effort. They show up unannounced and unwelcome and attempt to crush all of your hopes and dreams. They don't care how great your day is going and unless you have a really well trained mind, the natural instinct is to dwell on the negative thought.
On the other hand, positive thoughts require effort, LOTS of effort. You must be actively aware of what is happening in your head and tell yourself to be positive. I do mean that literally, you have to tell yourself to be positive. Then say it again and again and again until your outlook shifts.
You can say it in your head or even better, out loud. Unless, you know, you're in public and people will think you’re weird. It doesn’t matter but it can work, if you work at it.
Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
- Lao Tzu
As Lao Tzu cautions, your thoughts are extremely powerful. When not controlled they can turn from seemingly innocent thoughts that live solely in your mind, to destiny shaping actions.
The point is this. Many people think thoughts are organic, natural occurrences that we as humans have little control over and that just isn't true. While yes, the word thought is a noun and thoughts can pop into our heads without warning, what do you do about it?
Will you actively fight for the positive attitude that leaders MUST have? Or will you allow your negative thoughts to control your attitude?
The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
- Winston Churchill
Your thoughts matter and they can directly influence everything from what kind of day you will have, to the kind of leader you will be. How will you let your thoughts influence your attitude?
Here are the links that I promised above!