Don’t Take It So Personally

On a clear, crisp, fall day last week, I sat in my favorite cafe with a nice cup of Chai, waiting for someone – an Executive Director with a large non-profit organization.  He had e-mailed earlier the week before, wanting to brainstorm a few items on his mind.

He was a bit late, and after ordering lunch, sat down and sighed.  “There’s been lots going on.”

We had spoken a few months earlier about working on updating their strategic plans, piloting some new marketing initiatives, and doing some research into getting to know members and their concerns.

Turns out he’s been busy.  “I’m getting lots of great ideas and have met with more than 50 member companies, but am finding that the board is very resistant to anything new.  After all, they’re so used to doing things the same way and very few of them want to try anything different.  I wish I could just go and implement these programs now, but I think there will be lots of buy-in required.  It’s frustrating.”

We brainstormed for a while, and he left the meeting re-energized and ready to present plans to the board.

I noticed a few things from this meeting:

  • most of us, business owners especially, like people to embrace our ideas (nothing new here)
  • most of us don’t like to hear criticisms
  • we like to act, to launch, to see results, RIGHT NOW!
  • people either fit in and like what we say or we cut them off

Not so quick.

There is a lot of value in surrounding yourself with (a few) people that don’t think like you do, don’t always agree with what you have to say, and always present a different angle that poses an issue for what you’re about to do.  There is a good place for them in your network. I know of many CEO’s that surround themselves with executives that aren’t like them.  A mature leader can take well-founded criticism in stride from her colleagues and inner network, because plans that are launched after considering different angles are better laid out.  It’s healthy to build an Opposition department in your company.  There is even a book about this.

In my business dealings, I have a mentor that acts as this role.  For any major ideas and plans, I schedule a call and run my plans by him.  He is objective, impartial to the outcome, and doesn’t even live in this city.   It is never a pleasant process and I dread the call most of the time, because he always presents things that might go wrong, risks I hadn’t thought of, and opportunity costs that are involved. I don’t take his comments personally, but instead value his views because it supports a well-rounded plan, considering different angles and risks.

I’m not saying that you tolerate and surround yourself with a lot of people that don’t agree with you.  That would be emotionally draining and demoralizing.  However, that isn’t saying that you shouldn’t have ANY critics in your world.  A few critics, intentionally placed, can save you from group think and going down a tunnel-visioned pipe dream.

For the executive director, he now saw his board in a different light.  They serve a new purpose, and any plans that have been vetted through them are stronger than ones that bear only his views.

Who in your network serves this purpose?  Don’t take what they say personally.  Position them for a greater purpose instead.

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