Envy–A Very Deadly Sin

There’s a new boy in the neighborhood, and Louie is not happy. Although Lou loves when a new gal pal moves in, he is not very fond of this little pup, Big Mac.

Lou and Cindy
Louie getting some much needed love from Mac’s mom!

Life was going along just fine for Louie. Everybody loves on him when they see him, and they pay attention when they hear him whine for their attention as we walk. He gladly accepts invitations into other people’s homes, and thoroughly enjoys running around the yard with his buddy, Mick. And then came Mac. Mac is seven pounds of fluffy white and brown hair and super power energy. And everyone thinks he’s adorable…except Lou.

At first, Louie was okay with the idea of a new dog in town. He checked out Mac via the smells he left in his owner’s front yard, and Louie was intrigued. Then Lou saw him from a distance and things seemed fine. But when they met face to face, Lou immediately ran the other way. Mac had too much energy and in your face action. Mac’s mom and I gave them time to warm up to each other but one afternoon I noticed something. Louie was particularly clingy to Mac’s mom, as though he needed reassurance that she still loved him. Then Lou gave Mac a quick snarl as a warning and went off to play with another dog he has known for some time.

Oh the dreadful feeling of envy that slithers almost unnoticeably into our hearts. We’ve all experienced it. It usually creeps in with its pal, comparison, and causes resentment of what we perceive as someone else’s advantage—in Louie’s case it was the serious cuteness of another pup, resulting in lots of attention from everyone.

Louie tolerating MAC
Louie tolerating MAC

I thought about this in regards to the common leadership adage of surround yourself with those who are smarter than you. What is not part of that quote is to be sure and check your level of confidence. Many leaders say they are looking for others who can be a great addition to their teams but then squelch any opportunity for the new person to actually use their skills for fear it may outshine them. Those leaders will find acceptable ways of expressing their resentment by using the big “but” approach—“He may be a good sales person BUT he doesn’t have a clue how to write a decent proposal.” Or sometimes we question someone’s motive because we are actually envious toward them.

I once read a story* of two men, both of whom were seriously ill and occupied the same small hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back.

The men talked for hours about everything. Each afternoon when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window. The man in the other bed would live for those one-hour periods when his world came alive because his roommate described a park with a lake, on which birds swam and by which children played. Although the other man could not hear any of the sounds, he could see them in his mind’s eye as the gentleman by the window beautifully described all the activity.

That is until envy slithered in: “Why should he have all the pleasure of seeing everything while I never get to see anything?” It wasn’t fair. At first, the man felt ashamed because he enjoyed the man’s friendship and thoughtful descriptions of what was going on outside the window. But as the days passed, his envy eroded into resentment. He began to brood, and he found himself unable to sleep. He should be the one by that window— and that thought controlled his life.

Late one night as he lay staring at the ceiling, the man by the window began to cough. He was choking on the fluid in his lungs. The other man watched in the dimly lit room as the struggling man by the window groped for the button to call for help. Listening from across the room, he never moved, never pushed his own button which would have brought the nurse running. In less than five minutes the coughing and choking stopped, along with the sound of breathing.

Now there was only silence—deadly silence. The following morning the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths. When she found the lifeless body of the man by the window, she was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take it away–no words, no fuss. As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after she was sure he was comfortable, she left him alone. Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look. Finally, he would have the joy of seeing it all himself. He strained to look out the window beside the bed and found it faced a blank wall.

Envy is indeed a deadly sin and more pervasive in leadership than we think. If we as leaders are not careful, we can allow envy to kill spirits and damage our team’s morale.

As for Louie and Big Mac, I am sure Louie will learn to love Mac—all in due time!

*The Tale Of The Tardy Oxcart – November 20, 1998 by Charles R. Swindoll

 

Lou, Eve, and MAC
Lou, his gal pal Eve, and…MAC

 

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Courage Often Masks Fear And Pride

Dreamin'If you’ve read this blog since the beginning you know the issues I’ve had with Louie, my adopted pup, and how fearful he can be. I’ve learned many valuable lessons from our trainer, Zig, but one in particular continues to make an impact on us. Zig shared that Louie puts on an act of bravado by growling and barking because he’s masking how fearful he actually is. “You don’t want him to act out in fear because that can be very dangerous,” said Zig. “You can never be sure what a fearful dog might do.”

I recently reflected on this wisdom Zig offered more than two years ago. After an intense amount of work on building Louie’s trust in me and in others, his fear has all but subsided (except for a chance confrontation with a cat or someone new at my door). Occasionally, I see a fearful reaction arise and in a second, if he can’t run (which is his first choice), he turns into a fierce dog. But just as quickly, with one command from me, he leaves it and moves on.

What is it about fear that causes such strong reactions? Sometimes, we are afraid of something and in a second, we make a rash decision to lash out or run. Sometimes sheer determination can look like courage when in reality, we are aggressively masking our fear.

Police officers, firefighters, and other emergency personnel know what it’s like to make split second decisions that override their fears. Their training has prepared them to act in the best interests of others despite how they feel inside because lives are at stake.

But what about the times when fear drives us to make a split second decision that is not in the best interests of us or others? Many times fear and pride go hand in hand and it becomes a vicious cycle. Fear of losing jobs, relationships, social status, leadership, or influence can drive us to make ourselves look better on the outside and attempt to make others smaller by comparison.

I thought about this crazy cycle as I watched the Bengals loss of the playoff game. Was it the fumble or the two plays at the end, or the penalty flags thrown? Or was it the vicious cycle of fear and pride?

I’m not a football strategist and talking football is a far stretch from dealing with little Louie and his fears, but everyone in leadership can learn lessons about dealing with fear and pride. Fear itself isn’t necessarily wrong – it’s a sign that we could be in danger and need to take the necessary physical or emotional precautions. And certainly we can take pride in a job well done. But when fear is unfounded and pride is rooted in self-centeredness, the perfect storm develops and the vicious cycle begins. Sadly, the consequences can have an ongoing ripple effect as we witnessed during the playoff game.

We need to choose our mode of operation before we find ourselves in situations where we might become fearful and reactionary. Firefighters and Police Officers are well trained prior to facing the dangers of their jobs. We would all do well to spend a little time assessing our fears, examining the issues that could cause us to operate out of self-centered pride, and identifying steps we can take to eliminate a knee-jerk reaction. Though I still have a long way to go, I’ve learned to stop for a moment before responding because that brief moment might prevent a negative reaction I may later regret. A “Help me Jesus,” is never a bad idea either!

As for Louie, I think he acts tough not only out of fear but also out of his love for and desire to protect me. He has learned to control it because when I give a command, he listens. Somewhere behind those big brown eyes, he knows I love him and will always protect him.

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Let me know what you think of Louie’s assessment of fear and pride: danise@di-advisors.com

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Juicy Morsels of Gossip

Jazz showing disdain for gossip!

Few of us can resist engaging in gossip. I’m not sure why, but if we reflect on our day yesterday, my guess is that many of our conversations involved tidbits of information about others (all justified, of course). Perhaps all of us could learn a few tips from my adopted pup, Louie, on this subject.

Louie and I were taking our usual early morning walk and the sun had not quite risen. As we were rounding a bend, we heard voices, which gradually escalated. I continued walking as we passed a couple who were in the middle of a disagreement while walking toward their respective cars. Louie’s ears perked up as he gave an alert signal—or more of a “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!” signal. He wanted nothing to do with this couple and took off in the opposite direction.

I, on the other hand, lingered for a few minutes and pulled him back, hoping he would take a potty break. Why? Because I wanted to listen in! I didn’t even know this couple, but I wanted to peek into their world long enough to learn all about this conflict. But Louie was determined to get as far away as possible…so I turned and headed in the direction he wanted to go—away from the arguing couple.

Louie’s (and most humans’) aversion to conflict is future blog material. This was different. This was not MY conflict that I needed to deal with but rather someone else’s conflict, which I wanted to enter into from a safe distance as a fly on the wall. As you read this, you are probably agreeing with me that you do the same thing. Why is that?

There is something in human nature that can’t resist throwing ourselves into someone else’s drama. And with limited information, we decide to share what little we know about the situation with others, mainly to make us feel good about ourselves. After all, we aren’t arguing with someone as we walk to the car—so there must be something wrong with those people, not with us, right?

But when we display this behavior at work, it destroys a team. And when a leader is the one who instigates gossip, they cultivate an unhealthy, distrustful culture. An article in Harvard Business Review stated, “Gossip is not a problem; it’s a symptom. The symptom disappears when a critical mass of leaders stop enabling it, create trust in healthy communication channels, and invest in building employees’ skills to use them.” I know that to establish a “no-gossip zone,” leaders must:

  • Model a no-gossip policy in their own lives
  • Not engage in others’ drama
  • Refuse to listen to others when they start to gossip
  • Step back and ask themselves, “What is going on with me that I feel the need to share this information?”

These are just a few no-gossip strategies, but they offer a good place to check our own behavior. Louie had the right idea: turn and walk the other way. Don’t get involved in other’s business unless invited for counsel. Use your words to build up and affirm people; be careful about what you say. I believe this proverb says it best: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.”

Whether you are a leader or team-mate, if you have even a slight inkling you should not share something about another person—STOP! Don’t do it! Turn and walk away. Establish a no-gossip zone for your entire organization, and you’ll see a difference in your organizational culture.

Louie and his gal pals “chatting.”

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Pretty Little Liars

I may sound like a broken record, but if you know me or you’ve read this blog long enough, you know how strongly I believe in authentic relationships. Humans desire deep connection with others, and dogs are no different. Trust is the foundation of a strong relationship, and without it, the relationship is weakened.

When Louie and I first met, he was so full of fear that it took months to build trust. During that timLou's cribe, I quickly realized that Louie had a knack for knowing truth—he’s an amazing pup!

For example, he can tell where I’m going and what I’m doing simply by seeing what outfit I’m wearing. If I am dressed in a business suit and heels, he knows he is not going for a walk. If I put on my gym shoes, however, he knows his chances for a walk are greatly improved. If I combine my workout clothes and gym shoes, he waits to see if I grab the leash or head toward his cushy canine crib, which determines whether he goes with me, or must wait for me to return home.

I know Louie is not only greatly influenced by what I wear but also by what I say and how I say it to him. If I am dressed for business and say “I’ll be right back” while sending him to his crib before I leave, he knows that in actuality I won’t be right back, and he reacts to that. Saying “bye bye” to him has a different meaning as well. That means we BOTH go bye bye, to the park or somewhere else for fun. When he goes into his crate and I say bye bye, this does not make sense to him. If I have my flip-flops on and start to walk out the front door and he is not in his crate, when I say, “I’ll be right back,” he knows I will be right back. That action usually means I am going to the mailbox. My actions and my words align. He picks up on my cues and watches my behavior just as we do when someone is sharing information with us. If their words and their behaviors do not match, we don’t trust them.

I learned early in life not to lie. But this lesson particularly impacted me at age 18. I was studying to be a Radiology Technologist under the supervision of a wonderful radiologist, Dr. Howard Feigelson. He would carefully examine every set of X-Ray films I took to him, diagnose what was going on with the patient, and then critique my technique. If my films were not perfect, I had an excuse for everything–the patient moved, the patient breathed, that particular machine overexposes, etc. Dr. Feigelson would sit back and look at me over the rim of his glasses and just say the nickname he coined for me, “Dani.” I knew I had been busted. He was a wise man and could easily tell my words and my behavior did not line up. He then proceeded to teach me proper radiology technique as well as the dangers of habitually justifying poor performance.x-ray-skeleton-dog

As I reflected on these life lessons years later, I realized how Dr. Feigelson combined truth with love. The point wasn’t only proper technique. It was the importance of being truthful and authentic. Although my parents had certainly taught me this, it was “real world” experience that made it stick. I realized I made excuses because I never wanted to disappoint him. But when I made excuses, I disappointed him even more.

This brings us back to my original point that trust is the foundation of strong relationships, which begins with being honest and truthful. We may not outright lie, but we don’t exactly share the truth. Eventually, people can tell that our words don’t match our actions. Consequently, trust erodes and authenticity shrinks.

Learning to BE Authentic takes practice and, hopefully, this may help:

  • B: What is the belief at the core of your excuse? Is it fear of exposing a mistake? Is it fear of not being liked? Is it the fear of rejection? Is it fear of inadequacy? Take time to process these questions and understand the belief.
  • E: What emotion are you feeling because of the belief? Be very clear in naming that emotion and challenging it. Why is this causing such angst? Is it worth the price you will pay in sacrificing the relationship? How will you feel if you “get by” with this excuse versus being honest?
  • A: Authenticity is strengthened when you align your actions. To build trust, we must first align our hearts and our minds internally and then our words with our actions externally.

Louie knows that sometimes when I say, “I’ll be right back” that I will not be right back and he reacts to that. And people sense when you make excuses, and are not being honest. It is not worth the time or energy to be anything but truthful. While we do not want to hurt others feelings, being honest is the most loving gift we can give to others!

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Louie’s favorite gal pal, Kacki passed suddenly last week. During our walks, we would head up the hill toward Kacki’s home where she would be sunning herself, relaxing. Even before she was in sight, Lou would hold his head up high, trying to get a glimpse of this beauty. And there she was, just waiting and watching for her little buddy Louie! She wouldn’t blink an eye or move her head, yet her tail drummed the beat of her happy heart. She loved seeing Louie and he so loved his Kacki girl. Kacki, we hope you’re enjoying the beautiful view from the hill you adorn today! We miss you and will always look for you at the door!

Don’t Adjust To Your Dog!

Louie and I really enjoyed our training sessions at the Queen City Dog Training Club. Between the sessions we attended and the benefits of Zig’s wisdom, we’ve learned a lot. But one lesson in particular stands out.

During this lesson, the instructor would have us give several commands while walking around the ring, and would observe how quickly our dogs responded. We would walk quickly and then stop; our dog would stop and sit next to us. Louie would stop and sit but always at a 45-degree angle and while looking up at me. It looked as though he wanted to be able to see my face. Because I knew he was supposed to be right at my side, I slowly stepped closer to him until we were side by side.

“Don’t adjust to your dog,” came the command from our instructor and it was directed toward me. I looked at Louie and said, “Pay attention, Lou. You’re going to get us in trouble.”

Once again we were told to walk around the ring and were given the command to stop and have our dogs sit next to us. Lou sat at an angle again but this time I looked at him and then the instructor. She looked at me and said, “Don’t adjust to him. Scoot his bottom toward you.”

And so I did, muttering under my breath, “Why are you doing this?” He looked at me as though asking, “What did I do?”2014-06-27 21.33.41

After repeating this routine several times, I was ready to give up. Finally, Louie understood and sat perfectly still right next to me. Our training session was over but the lesson was not. The words, “Don’t adjust to your dog,” echoed in my mind for weeks.

What was wrong with adjusting to my dog? After all, it was just one step toward him. It was hardly noticeable and in the end, we achieved what we wanted to achieve—our dogs sitting right next to us. Then it dawned on me—when I moved toward him, I was adjusting to poor performance. And I let him know that the poor performance was OK, even celebrated, if I patted him on the head.

Being flexible is very important as a leader. And we discussed in our last post about the importance of clarity in communicating our expectations. But adjusting to poor performance is a different matter. Sometimes we adjust because we are tired of keeping the standards at the level they need to be. Many times we simply give up and take whatever we can get.

Have you ever walked into your garage and immediately noticed the pungent smell of garbage? If you stayed in the garage long enough, you would adjust to the smell and eventually no longer notice it. That is until someone else walks in and points it out.

While not accommodating poor performance is very important for leaders, it is also true personally. So many times in society, we make adjustments in order to fit in or accept something that is wrong because we don’t want to appear politically incorrect.

Recently, Evi and I listened to a radio drama about a monk named Telemachus. The story was set back in the days of the Roman Empire when the gladiator games were all the rage (long before the movie hit the big screen). Troubled by the sight of thousands assembling to see men fighting and killing one another at the Roman Colosseum, Telemachus tried to convince them that their conduct was wicked and cruel. He stood in front of thousands who were doing what was the socially accepted form of entertainment in that day and challenged them to stop such cruelty. He was immediately struck down and killed. However, his death was not in vain because after the day Telemachus was murdered in the Colosseum, no gladiator fight took place there again.

This may seem like a dramatic example compared to adjusting to a dog’s slight disobedience yet Telemachus recognized that if he didn’t take action, they would continue to adjust their society to a path of moral compromise. His actions contradicted everything his society said was acceptable. People made money from the events and the gladiators were considered mighty heroes. Taking a stand cost Telemachus his life but it changed the Roman society and ultimately the world.

The next time you have to make a tough choice to do the right thing, don’t adjust to your dog—even if that dog is one cute pup looking up at you with big brown eyes saying, “Did I do good, Mom? Uh? Did I? I know I did, right?”

 

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