Are you for-the-business?
By “business” I mean your business. Your “business” is the whole point of what you do every day at work and what you and your organization are trying to achieve. This could be an actual bottom line dollar figure or “your business” might be the policy or the agenda, the technical or legal results, or the innovation milestones that you are driving, to give a few examples of what we mean by “business.”
To find out if you are for-the-business, consider the following questions:
- Where is your focus and what gets your attention?
- What guides your decision-making?
- What do you give voice to?
In other words, what do you follow and what do you move past? If you are for-the-business, you don’t allow your vision to be clouded or your actions to be influenced by your personal agenda, ego, or surrounding drama. These are details and they are always present, but they are not the main event when you are for-the-business.
When you are for-the-business, you bring a crisp focus to what serves the results you are working to create. This crisp focus is signified by asking questions like what is the outcome of this action, as opposed to who likes it. You look to where the data is pointing, not where your alliances are. You also recognize disagreement is healthy and you are comfortable and skilled with conflict. (How to handle conflict is coming in Lesson 7, so stay tuned for that.)
Being for-the-business in what you say, what you do, and what you care about demonstrates your integrity and it sets you up to achieve the goals you and your organization have set for yourselves. Doing it successfully requires pulling yourself above the fray; working skillfully with self-awareness about your blind spots (Lesson 2); and applying a clear-sightedness that comes from stepping off the ladder of inference (Lesson 3).
Each of these tools is a big part of supporting you in keeping your focus on useful subject matter.
The following is a real-life case note:
A few years ago, a senior-level client was having a lot of trouble at work. Interpersonal friction seemed to follow him around. For him, everything that happened was filtered through the things he felt others should have done for him or how he felt he deserved to be seen. (Recall from Lesson 3 how this works: these are filters on the ladder of inference; my client was applying these filters to the observable facts.) My client’s work-life was filled with high stress and conflict and his effectiveness had begun to suffer because he was not able to collaborate or influence his peers. In a word, he was miserable. He frequently perceived emails and comments people made in meetings as a personal attacks. He was consumed with thoughts like, “My peer in that meeting was trying to make me look incompetent, probably because I threaten him.”
This particular example might seem extreme, or it might actually feel familiar. The truth is, it’s not uncommon.
Had my client been able to be for-the-business, life would have been a lot easier. So, “what happened to him?”, you might be asking. For this particular client, over time — using the technique I’ll introduce you to below — this client was able to bring his focus back to the business (and back down off his ladder of inference) so he could have the impact he knew he was capable of having.
- Here’s how to reset your focus in three steps so that you are definitely for-the-business.
Let’s walk through each step.
Step One: Ask yourself—are you being triggered?
If you find yourself overly upset, negative, or reactive, it could be the case that you have been triggered. As we all know, the workplace can be a breeding ground for conflict. One key difference between having a workplace that leaves you triggered and one that is stimulating is whether you are self-aware about the things that trigger you and you work to manage them.
Do you know what your triggers are?
A trigger can be a word, a behavior, or anything that stirs up negative feelings.* Pay attention to what does this for you. Common examples include:
- Meetings where there isn’t an agenda
- People arriving late
- Certain manners of speech (e.g., when someone says “irregardless”)
- Where things are not 100% correct; and so on.
Instead of reacting to triggers with seething anger, with an outburst you might regret, or by disengaging, you can use the trigger as a flag or a cue that it’s time to hit the reset button.
Step Two: Check out whether any of the following filters is at work in your mental landscape:
- You want to teach someone a lesson or get your pound of flesh
- You are “should-ing” all over the place (e.g., “I can’t believe she interviewed for that job I wanted, she should have known I was interested” or he “shouldn’t have gone against me in the meeting”)
- You have feelings of entitlement (e.g., “I deserve _____”)
- You are picking someone apart and it’s nasty (in your mind or out loud)
If you notice that any of these filters is present, then take a closer look. These filters are all signs your focus might not be for-the-business right now. (Instead, it sounds like it’s somewhere halfway up that darn ladder of inference!)
Step Three: Use the following challenge questions to tune your approach:
- What actions and communications would serve the business goals right now?
- Is what you’re doing (or what you feel like doing) useful here? Does it further the business goals?
- Are the things you are focused on fair, data-driven, and future-focused?
- Are your drivers appropriately transparent? (to yourself? to others?)
- If past-focused, are you using the lessons of the past in a way that is focused on creating a better future?
What is the quality of your thinking?
What you give voice to, the language you use, and the actions you take, are all windows into the quality of your thinking. Use the three steps described here to reset, ground yourself, and get back to being for-the-business. Now that’s how Challengers demonstrate integrity, a big part of executive presence.
*Note, our use of triggers in the CCO is not to be confused with the concept of trigger warnings (alerts that one is expected to issue if something might cause a strong emotional response). Here, we are simply referring to something that prompts an emotional response in you which distracts you from your purpose and knocks you off your best game.