Give and it will be given to you – the Paradox of Gratitude

Surprisingly a thankful heart benefits the thankful person the most. Although people will be smiling and happy when you express your gratitude towards them, you will be feeling this warm and comfy emotion of happiness, too. It is you who feels the joy and calmness resulting from a heart of gratitude.

I am always astonished of these paradoxes of life. Though I am giving, I don’t lose anything. Even more – I am winning. Winning friends, good relationships and a heart that is at peace.

Give, and it will be given to you.

Jesus [Luke 6, 38a | The Bible]

This principle can even be found in the bible. It seems to be one of these deep truths in life that it true for everyone regardless of age, culture and gender. The effect of expressing gratitude is deeply rooted within us. When we are truly thankful, it is us profiting the most from that state of heart.

As we are heading into the christmas season, it is a good moment to pause and reflect on what you are thankful for. Interestingly the effect of gratitude is only working, when thankfulness is expressed unconditionally. It’s when thanks is given freely, without expecting anything in return, that the true power of happiness and inner peace is released.

Having that in mind: Whom do you want to say “thank you”? Which people in your life – family, friends, colleagues, clients – need to hear that you are thankful for their support, help, work or just being there?

Get practical and write a WhatsApp or christmas card. You will be surprised how happy people will be hearing an honest ‘thank you’.

If you have thanked people in your life, reflect for what you are thankful for in your life. Say thanks to the universe, God or whoever you attribute your blessings to. Health, a home, your job and your family are only partially in your hands and when you see blessing in your life, it’s a good moment to be thankful.

Merry Christmas.

My life is f***ed

When bad luck is piling up, it is easy to get lost in despair. Losing sight of the blessings in your life, will leave you empty and defeated. Get inspired how to handle those moments.

Emptiness. Thoughts are running and yet there is no precise idea. Every inch of my body is hurting. I have fought. Argumented. Given my best. And yet: didn’t win. And then again, it doesn’t really feel like ‘not winning’ but rather losing. Losing 100%. While my mind is still spinning, this feeling of failure is creeping in. The emotional journey is hitting fast forward button and all of a sudden I am convinced that I am a failure. The failure in person.

From a lot of talks I know that this vicious cycle is quite common to many people. It is invisible. It starts slowly. It intensifies when energy level is low. And then it drags all emotions down and sucks up all energy, hope and vision of a person.

It can hit you in your educational journey, family life or business endeavour. It can hit you for a few minutes or follow you over weeks. It can affect your smile only for a day or your whole life for a season.

So, what can be done when sensing that emptiness or when you are in these moments of despair?

Very often the emptiness starts due to one or two moments that didn’t go well – e.g. an argument with someone or a hope didn’t materialize. Because a strong emotion is connected to these moments, our brain tends to focus on these occasions much longer than on others. This in turn leads to increase of the bad emotion and the start of the vicious cycle.

In order to escape this cycle – at any stage – you need some strategies. Here are some proven ones.

When certain parts of your life are in turmoil it is helpful to actively focus on other areas of your life. Your life doesn’t consist of that one educational path or that one relationship or the one deal you didn’t win – although your brain is telling you that this is THE ONLY PROBLEM.

Write

Take action and write down everything you can be thankful for. Especially in the area you feel defeated. Yes, the one relationship didn’t have an awesome moment – but what about all other relationships!? Yes, the one teacher gave you unfair feedback – but what about all other teachers!?

Start reminding yourself that you are more than your feeling of emptiness. You are more than failing in a moment.

While writing you will feel stress leaving and calmness settling in. Your brain is forced to think proper sentences and put your thoughts in order. That’s why journaling is such a great tool when your emotions are spinning.

Move & Create

Once you are calm, it’s time to check what you need in order to recharge. Most likely, movement should be involved, independent of how you are feeling. Maybe you meet some friends and just relax with them (but don’t start the vicious cycle again by complaining about your problem). Or you get some creativity started by writing, cooking, baking, drawing … creating something. Creating requires concentration and new thoughts – shifting your focus actively.

Think & Decide

Once you are recharged you can go back to the moment of despair and check if you need to change something in your life. Maybe you really need to change your path. Or maybe you just need to learn how to deal with the situations you are in because these moments won’t change even if you change your studies / relationship / job.

This is how to build a great team out of nothing

What do you think is needed in order to have a great team at work? Does it evolve by accident or has it been built by purpose?

Your answer to this question is very relevant and will influence your leadership style and mindset. If you are convinced that a great team evolves by accident, you will never invest in people but rather be jealous of functioning teams around you – telling everyone how “lucky” they were having such a team. But if you are assuming you can build and influence a team, you will act and speak differently.

As a house is built with an architectural plan, I am convinced that teams can be built on purpose as well. And even if you enter a functioning team, it needs maintenance to stay strong. Let’s have a look at some major aspects:

Select People

You don’t need many people – start with 2 or 3. Select carefully upon mindset and values. Be clear which values are important to you and which mindset you want to have in the team – and then look for people who align with you.

Personally I am a great fan of a “can-do-attitude”. People who think in solutions rather than in problems are part of my tribe. I have found that ideas develop much quicker when throwing them into a room of people who want to contribute to the solution instead of nagging of all the disadvantages. Nagging requires zero talent. Thinking strategically ahead of how things could work shows creativity and is fun to discuss on.

Write yourself a list of what you need to see in people in order for you to invest in them. And then be selective. Not everyone needs to be part of your tribe. But if you have the right people, you will enjoy every meeting!

Accept timing

Building a team requires time. You will need to invest a lot over quite a long time. If you have the vision, you are the one walking in the front. You need to be the example and role model – and your people have the freedom to adopt everything that inspires them. This freedom is so very important. And it is also the reason why you need to find the right people first.

Everyone is free to make his/her own choices. You want to be such an appealing example that people freely follow. And that needs time.

It also needs rituals. A regular meeting or call. Set up projects and events where everyone can contribute. Take care that the people in your team meet on a regular basis. For a virtual team this could be a weekly call. For a team that works on a daily basis it might be the break out session on the rooftop terrace of your office or the monthly bagel breakfast. Just make sure that the interaction is not only evolving around content driven work, but involves personal aspects. These personal aspects will lead to finding out similarities – and when people see a part of themselves in others you create that stickiness that leads to strong teams.

To get away from content driven meetings you can start with some small talk or an inspiring question. Here are some ideas:

  • What did you wanted to become when you were a child?
  • Who is your favourite music/movie star and why?
  • Which book do you recommend to the group and why?
  • Which food should be all taste?

Have a plan

If you are the builder of the team, you need to have a vision. Why are you building the team? What do you want to achieve?

There are tons of reasons: you want to develop a certain product or set up a service; you want to develop people and bring them to their next level; you want to earn a lot of money and with your team you earn more than working alone; you want to have fun at work with your team.

It can be all of them or a few. The only important thing is that you have a plan. This plan will lead you through tough times when you have trouble finding the right people or if you have selected a person that is not contributing to the team spirit.

I am convinced that this list is not sufficient. What ideas would you like to add?

A pinch of energy

Use your finest memory to regain strength during the day and relax even under pressure. Get mentally strong to conquer your toughest days.

English chitchat mixes with french laughter while the chinese lady next to me is writing text messages in her beautiful font. I am in the middle of Germany and yet surrounded by the world. This is a moment I cherish – being just another art piece in this international patchwork. I am smiling when I think back at that moment – and instantly I am relaxing. Suddenly, life seems brighter and better.

Having these moments of relaxation during the day is important. It strengthens your resilience and energy level during the day. And it is that energy, that you need to be at your best. Being inwardly strong so you can cope with failure easier, smile at the client even under pressure and handle challenging tasks smoothly.

The technique that is used in the first paragraph is called “visualization” or sometimes referred to as “inner balcony”. You use this technique by recalling your favourite places, situations and people. While thinking of that very moment, your brain experiences the same emotions (or lets say: dopamine-rush) as you experienced when you were in that moment. Your brain doesn’t care whether it is actual happening or if you run through a memory – it will react. And you will get the relaxation, happiness and stress-detachment you need.

What is your favourite memory to indulge in?

Why are you such an asshole?

What makes people turn into their worst version in the workplace?

I guess, no one starts in the job with the intention to become a management asshole. Nevertheless, when listening to young professionals and checking on organizations a lot of assholes can be found.

But when almost none wants to be an asshole in the beginning, how come that so many assholes can be found in management positions? What happens along the way? Where is the transition point where assholes are made?

The Start

The term ‘asshole’ is emotionally loaded, and it depends massively on the perspective whom one would classify to belong into that category. Still, if you walked into a group and asked, “who is the asshole?” – most likely all fingers will point to particular people. Therefore, it is worthwhile to check on the defining traits of an ‘asshole’.

An asshole believes the game of business can be won

An asshole is someone who believes he/she can win the game of career or business. Simon Sinek describes this mindset as a finite mindset – believing that career or business is a game with a finite end that can be won. But that is not true. Business is an infinite game that will continue even when we retire. The only question is, in what shape do we leave the company!?

With a finite mindset people will always try to win single battles – believing it leads to an ultimate victory. Truth is, the battle will harm a lot of colleagues – you might even “win” the next promotion – but the distrust and hate resulting from that behavior in your peer slowly kills the company.

An asshole believes that values are bullshit

Usually a company defines values. When these values are not put into action people will feel that they are shallow. It gets worse when people – especially the ones in leadership – start making fun of the company’s values or actively act against them. A mindset often displayed is “I do my own rules”.

There is something about leadership where we expect leaders to align their behavior with the company they are representing. And when they are undermining the company’s values by speaking or acting against the common values, the impact on the staff is much higher than of a regular staff member.

When talking to leaders they often express that they don’t understand why their behavior is even relevant to young professionals – referring to themselves as normal staff members. Unluckily they are not common staff members, but their organizational role adds a certain visibility and role model function to them. They are perceived as part of the brand young professionals work for. Therefore, when these role models act against company values, they are perceived as assholes.

An asshole believes “I” is more important than “we”

While students and young professionals are trained to work together and finding win-win-situations, the asshole puts “I, myself, me and mine” first. It is not about “us” working together, but about “me” who is doing a career. When this mindset comes into play, soon collaboration collapses.  

An asshole believes that quitters are weak

Part of the asshole’s personal narrative is being special strong when ‘surviving’ in a toxic environment – instead of changing the environment for the better. Hence, a high attrition rate fuels the misperception of being special strong because he/she is ‘surviving’. You can easily tell whether someone is believing in this narrative by listening to their wording – very often they will refer to their work environment as hard. One must be very special to make it in there. Warlike wording is very common in such communications.

The Transition

Having examined some of the defining traits of an ‘asshole’ let’s have a look when the transition from “collaborative young professional” to “management asshole” is happening.

When talking to young professionals in their second or third year they are already complaining – about colleagues who take advantage from collaboratively produced results, about bosses who shy away from communicating tough decisions or about backbiting in the department.

They are hurt. They are disenchanted. They have to make a decision.

Without realizing you get into these defining moments where you need to decide how you handle your emotions. Will you let disappointment, sadness and disillusion manipulate your inner compass?

Truth is you can only take care of your own mindset and actions. Some of your colleagues will decide to take that advantage, mistreat project members, lie in order to be well-positioned. But how will you react? What kind of leader do you want to become?

Whenever you are hurt by a colleague or boss, ask yourself whether you want to turn into that type of person. Actively think and decide. Because it is always easier to put yourself first instead of the team, hold a grudge instead of forgiving or bullying others instead of speaking friendly when you are angry.

Becoming an asshole is the easiest of all choices. It is following your ego and emotions without reflection. Going in for revenge, holding that grudge, giving backbiting room in your behaviour. And all of a sudden you are the asshole you never wanted to become. Unluckily your team members are most likely too intimidated to tell you – and so you get lonely without knowing why, telling every quitter that he/she is too weak to ‘survive’ in this job.

Ideally there are already some leaders with integrity in place who can serve as examples and be an active corrective towards misbehaving colleagues. Being in such an environment raises the probability of having less assholes in management.

Nevertheless, even if there is little leadership around you, you can decide for yourself. You are aware of the asshole behaviour. If you want to change your environment, don’t become one!

The Future

Independently from the status quo you can decide to be part of the change. Whenever a society should have been changed in the past, every leader started investing into the next generation. In people whos mindset still can be formed or at least changed. In Business context this ‘next generation’ is not limited to age but rather to mindset and personal narrative.

Therefore, first check on your own mindset and self-believes. Are you the leader you would like to follow?

If you are, watch out for leaders, peers and team mates who have the same mindset. Huddle together, align on values and step out boldly as leaders of the new generation. Create the working environment for which people stand up an hour earlier. Build that team which people don’t leave even if they get a higher paycheck offered. Design that trusting team that clients cherish and love to have on board.

A compliment a day keeps burnout away

They are doing an experiment: walking to people and tell them that they are beautiful. The result is captured on video and the faces are stunning. Everyone smiles. Shy. Proud. Happy.

Watching these clips even makes me smiling. Seeing happy people resonates within me and I get happy, too. Can you relate? When we smile during the day all of the sudden the tension of a moment is gone and life seems easier.

What if we could use this effect at work?

Last week I could see this effect on my colleagues, too. I actively looked at my colleagues’ reaction when I had the chance to speak support, hope and encouragement in their lives. They all smiled.

Getting in contact with someone who has good and honest intentions for us opens our hearts and gives us a moment of relaxation. Having those moments at work gives back energy and people can progress in their day more energized. All that is needed is you. This one person that is watching out where to spend the next honest compliment or the next story of hope.

Let’s do a challenge this week: Find one person a day that smiles because of you.

You are not good enough

When doing a career, stop sabotaging yourself!

Just recently I watched one of my favourite stand-up comedians. He was putting himself in the perspective of someone living and thinking only in stereotypes and thereby the whole scene clearly got preposterous. Although the audience knew that he was acting out, the truth of the displayed mindset was too real to applaud immediately. Rather – the audience went quiet every once in a while, knowing that this mindset was part of their reality, too. The comedian got to his goal. Making his audience aware of the little box in their heads that sets boundaries to their mindset.

Sometimes your mindset is bound to stereotypes or limited by lies, too. As long as they are not challenged, you probably won’t even notice which fixed assumptions are navigating your thoughts.

But here is an important aspect: Your thoughts are directing your decisions. Your mindset is influencing your behaviour unconsciously.

As long as you are happy with your life, choices and results, you probably won’t see a need to check on your mindset. (Sidenote: it still might be valuable to reflect on your self-believes.) But when you are not as successful as you want to be or if you are successful but extremely exhausted, it might be helpful to check on your assumptions.

For the next few lines the scenario is plainly focused on success in business – although you can extend the thought-provoking ideas also to your private life. One classical mindset will be taken as an example and examined from the out- and in-side. Maybe you find yourself in this. Maybe you have a different mindset that needs challenge. In any case, be bold to rethink your assumptions.

Let’s assume you are convinced: “I am not good enough.”

This conviction can be deep inside you although you are very successful in your career. Still, whenever there is a new challenge, you will need to prove to you or others that you are good enough for it. In consequence, you are almost always overachieving. You are best in class or top in your peer. Nevertheless, deep within you, you know exactly what you could have done better… in essence: you are not good enough.

This inner mindset of not being good enough costs you a lot of energy. It is this fear that keeps you up all night studying and turning the numbers on a sunny sunday. And even when you score best, deep within you are not satisfied. This voice isn’t silenced.

For your own time of reflection let me ask you this:

  1. How well does your mindset serve you?
  2. What other assumptions do you believe and where are they leading you to?