What Would Happen If We Only Focused On The Good?

Posted on April 24, 2013


focus-on-the-goodI’m currently reading a book titled Frist Break All The Rules written by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. It’s a book based on research surrounding what the worlds greatest managers do differently and it challenges what is referred to as “Conventional Wisdom” or generalities of personalities or roles in the workplace and describes how to achieve the best results from your people. I am reading it from a few perspectives. True, I would like to be a better manager in my professional life, but in January I dedicated 2013 to be the year of  “Passing No Judgment” and I committed to making it my personal theme for the next twelve months. In general, I am using this theme to open myself up to new people, new opportunities and new successes by releasing myself from pre-conceived notions, not being judgmental of people, places or experiences in hopes of not only getting the best of these things, but also learning to trust my decisions and my instincts because my choices will be completely my own and not (overly) influenced by others. A mantra for the year being;

“People will show you the best of themselves, if you give them the time and space to do so” 

I digress, back to the book.

A chapter I read today resonated with me and I wanted to share it as I think many  can relate, and apply it not only in our work lives, but also in our relationships – be it, spouse, friends and even family.

The below is a heavily paraphrased portion of the chapter Tales of Transformation.

Why is it so tempting to try and “fix” people? Conventional Wisdom first spins us this tale: You can be anything you want to be if you hold onto your dreams and work hard. 

  First, the promise that each of us can “be anything want to be if we just work hard” is actually quite a stark promise. Because if we can all “be anything we want to be, “ then we all have the same potential. And if we all have the same potential, then we lose our individuality. We are not uniquely talented, expressing ourselves through unique goals, unique capabilities, and unique accomplishments. We are all the same. We have no distinct identity, no distinct destiny. We are all blank sheets of canvas, ready, waiting, and willing, but featureless.

 Second, the message that if you keep working away on your nontalents (*talents separated from a skill or knowledge as something that can not be acquired or taught, or as Seth Godin refers to it, our Art) your persistence will pay off in the end. On the surface this is a solid, if clichéd, morsel of advice; “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. The best managers reject this. Why? Because if the focus of your life is to turn your non-talents, into talents, then it will be a crushingly frustrating life.

The chapter goes on to explain that persistence is necessary if you are tying to acquire a new skill (remembering that a skill is different than a talent), and persistence can be appropriate if you are trying to create some new awareness so that your non-talents (say, for empathy) does not interfere with your talents (perhaps in sales or healthcare).

But persistence directed primarily towards your nontalents is self-destructive – no amount of determination or good intentions will ever enable you to re-wire your hard coded mental patterns (natural talents).  You will reprimand yourself, berate yourself and put yourself through all manner of contortions in an attempt to achieve the impossible.

 The chapter touches briefly on how similar truths surface in our personal relationships, and this is what really began to resonate with me, and with my 2013 personal theme.

Most often, a bad relationship is one where your partner came to know you very well… and wished that you weren’t that way. Perhaps your partner wanted to Perfect you. Whatever the cause, you ended up feeling as though you were being defined by those things that you did not do rather than for those things that you did. And that felt awful.

How often do we do we experience this in our lives? It may not have been in a romantic relationship – but maybe with a boss? A colleague? A friend or acquaintance? How many times has someone made us feel like no matter what, we just aren’t enough?  More importantly and most unfortunately, how many times have we done this to other people? Disregard or dismiss them for what they are not, and overlook all the things that they are?

Why is it that even when working with our most productive employees, most beloved spouse, best friend or most importantly ourselves – we spend most of our time focusing on the non-talents, or weaknesses, instead of what is incredibly unique or powerful about them (or ourselves).

 No matter how well intended, relationships preoccupied with weakness never end well.

 This chapter left me full of thought for the day and I perhaps it will with you as well.

What change would we invite into our lives if we focused on seeing only the good in people (including ourselves)?