How aristotle can help with sexual harassment

He lays his hand on her knee. “Well, sweetie, we should work on this together”, he speaks with a broad smile – leaving open whether he is referring to the content on the desktop or the interhuman relationship. She freezes. Unable to move or speak. Her heart is bumping, in her head thousands of thoughts – “Should I speak up?”, “Is this already sexual harassment?”, “Am I too upright?”, “We need to work for at least half a year together…”, “He will rate me at the end of the project…”, “Speak now or never…” … tic toc, the seconds elapse.

What would you do? How do you react when you are witness of such a moment?

Situations like these need one thing for sure: Courage. Courage to make a decision. Courage to speak up. Courage in this sense is not an extreme in which one person leaning. It is not about being an extremist on a scale. It is rather acting based on a virtue.

According to the greek philosophers aligning the daily actions with a set of virtues lead to a fulfilled life – simply set – to happiness. Therefore lets see how ancient philosophy can help us today.

Aristotle describes courage as a balanced state – a “mean” – between two extremes. Courage lies between cowardliness and rashness. A coward will never step up. Fear is holding him so intensely that he is not willing or able to overcome the barrier. Fear of rejection is so powerful that a lot of people never act how they want to. They always assume the worst reaction of their environment – and so they rather stay silent than speaking up. The other extreme are people acting in rashness – without considering consequences. They are not afraid, but overconfidence can lead to unhealthy decisions, too.

Courage is a mean with regard to fear and confidence.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 3.6

Therefore, courage is action in confidence despite fear. An action that is rooted in a virtue that drives behaviour. Courageous people know that feeling of fear. That bumping of the heart. That moment when you know that it is up to you to make that decision. Mixed in that emotion is a deep confidence that for some reason it is the right thing to do. And right there it is – courage!

Coming back to the hand-on-the-knee-story. As you have guessed correctly – it is a real story. What happened back then?

She actively takes the hand of him off her knee telling him clearly: Never put your hand on this spot again! She sets a healthy boundary. They still can work together. But touching the other person is out of line.

STOP! Don’t do a career!

In the newspaper of last weekend was an interesting cartoon – the hierarchy of needs by Maslow reframed for a classical consulting career. It named this order from bottom upwards:

  1. Finalize high class MBA
  2. Buy a Porsche
  3. Become shareholder of the consulting company
  4. Become naming partner of your company
  5. Hike Camino de Santiago (and find yourself)

If you know some consultants you might find a person for each stage. Because there is some truth in it: Some are doing the career for money and status. They are good in what they do, get rewarded and walk on. Only when the reward is so high that it is hardly possible to increase it any further – but the emptiness inwardly stays the same – people start changing their paths to look for fulfillment in a different area of life.

But what happened to people who have searched for fulfillment in that different style? People who have eaten, prayed and loved. People who were gone for a while to hike the Camino de Santiago. People who sold their ferraris. All of them found new aspects in life, increased inner peace and got deeper insights. But basically they had the same 24 hours on a daily basis as everyone else. They needed to make a living, too. Although they had a special time dedicated for special actions, they all came back to a regular life – some with different jobs but at least with some sort of work that paid the bills. So in consequence, it seems that it is less about the lifestyle but rather about the mindset of a person.

So why do people hit No. 5 in the named hierarchy of needs?

People need to have an answer to their “WHY”. Why are you doing what you are doing? As long as you are running an imaginary path that you didn’t even choose nor created you will hit a point in which you wonder: why?

Why the stress? Why the hustle? Why the long hours?

In the beginning of your career you are certain that the answer will come along the way. Thoughts like “when I reach x amount of salary …” or “if I become partner …” postpone the essential question of “Why are you getting up in the morning?”. You just assume that the answer will be behind the next promotion.

Spoiler: You will not find the answer to your “WHY” along your career path.

Therefore it does make sense to invest some severe thinking and time of reflection right now – and create that new mindset. Who are you? What do you like? Why do you get up in the morning? What motivates you?

When you found your answers, you can still be successful in your career – but you probably have stopped to do a career only to chase for an answer you assume coming with the next promotion. You are having fun in doing what you are doing – and if that happens to be a highly paid job it’s totally cool.

What is the benefit when you do what you love?

You become more resilient towards setbacks. Because you are not working for a future result, the dependency of the targeted reward decreases. If you get that promotion: Awesome! Celebrate! If you don’t get that promotion: you still liked every day of your work because you know why you got up in the morning.

Your colleagues and friends will like to be with you, because everyone will sense that you like what you do. You will be more at ease with yourself and therefore more likeable for all around you.

All of this starts with a bold answer to the little question: Why are you doing what you are doing?

Be a LEADER – without holding a management position

If you love to lead, get inspired how you can influence people without being an officially assigned leader yet.

You can easily spot leaders in the soccer arena. They are the ones that announce the strategy, coordinate their teammates and lead the team to success. They don’t even have to wear a batch – just by their behavior leadership is visible. Leadership guides people to a certain behavior that lets them accomplish a goal. For some that would mean to get a short call on what to do next, others need a hand of encouragement on their shoulder to regain faith in the potential victory. A leader knows how to interact with each teammate in a given situation.

Same is true in the business world. Even if you don’t hold a management position yet, you already can lead your colleagues. “Leading” means to bring people from one place to another – often into new places people would not have attend without leadership support. For example, you encourage a colleague to take an unknown task that develops his/her skillset. Or you talk to an intern who benefits from talking to you to develop a vision for his/her career.

Especially when you are heading for a management role in your career, start to think about leadership. Why do you want to hold a management position with leadership attached? What is your leadership style? What attributes should others see in you?

Here is a sentence to think about: A leader is someone people follow.

With this picture the perspective changes. It isn’t so much about I want to be a leader, but rather I am a leader when people choose to follow me. There is an aspect in leadership that is expressed by the behavior of others towards me – as a free-willed resonance of my own behavior.

Therefore, here is some inspiration on how you can grow your leadership based on your own behavior – and independently from your management position at work:

Listen

Most people engage in a conversation in order to respond – not to listen. In a classical situation each one in a group would have the next story at hand as soon as one person has stopped talking. There is not so much of a conversation but rather a story-after-story talk. How does it make you feel?

If you want to let people feel important, listen to them. Engage in their story. Ask questions based on what you have heard. Comment on their feelings and be present with true empathy. When people feel truly heard, they will open up and will remember you as a person who cared. Based on that care, trust evolves – and that is the fundament you need in your leadership.

Train this skill as often as possible – it will help you in all your future staff conversations.

Ask

Asking questions gives your counterpart space to think and to express her/himself. People love to speak about themselves. And if you are the one building that stage for their thoughts, they will like you. Again, this positive vibe is a good basis for leadership.

Serve

Serve in order to get your ego in check and remind yourself what leadership is about: to lead others so that they are more successful. Your leadership serves them – not yourself.

A lot of people want to get into a management position, to show everyone how great, clever and successful they are. They might even mix this understanding with their version of leadership – wanting to be served by their employees. How do you feel around those people?

Serve on a regular basis, e.g. take away all left over cups in your office – especially if they are from your colleagues. Go that extra mile for your client, help the team assistant, hold the door. And every time remind yourself that your leadership serves them – not your ego.

Encourage

Speak words of encouragement, affirmation and opportunity as often as possible. Recall that the last moment you got a positive word regarding your own career from a colleague. It has been a while, right?

Somehow our society isn’t using words of encouragement that frequently. And yet, they are so important for people to be built up inwardly and to reach their goals. Think of pros in sports – they work a lot with affirmation in their mindset in order to perform well. Same is necessary in business – and you can invest in your colleagues by speaking uplifting words.

Love to read your thoughts. Feel free to comment.

Get into first row!

When you are standing at the shore of your comfort zone, you will feel the waves of fear clushing to your feet. That is the moment when you have to make a decision whether you take the challenge.

When was the last time you left your comfort zone and how did it make you feel?”, my colleague starts our weekly team meeting with this thought-provoking question.

One teammate shares her last attendance at the sports lesson. Being quite new to the course she thought about staying in the last row, giving her the chance to check on the sport mates and copy movements quite easily. But before the class started, the trainer asked her up front since there was some space left and so they wouldn’t have to squeeze themselves in the back. She took heart and moved to the first row. Now being in sight of everyone and role model herself for the following rows of sport mates who cannot see all movement of the trainer, she even invested more power, strength and preciseness in all poses than she would have staying in the last row.

She smiles while she is telling the story and you can tell that she is proud of her accomplishment despite the uncomfortable first feeling of walking into row one. The whole team is cheering with her and together the discussion evolves into being in row one in the job as well.

Everyone agrees that getting out of the comfort zone first feels very insecure, vulnerable and crazy. But with each time you step further outside, you learn that actually leaving the comfort zone is a good thing because you are rewarded with success and an enormous powerful feeling of accomplishment.

While I am writing these lines I am feeling the result of a successful walk out of my comfort zone as well. I love to hold meetings, teach and moderate even complex gatherings – but when I have been asked to speak in front of ~400 people it was outside my current comfort zone for sure. Nevertheless, I took the challenge and it went quite well.

“Take the challenge” involves an inner fight that each one of us has to fight for him/herself. Usually the comfort zone is surrounded by fear. Fear of disapproval, fear of rejection, fear of failing. So it is pretty easy to tell when you are standing at the shore of your comfort zone – you will feel the waves of fear clushing to your feet. That is the moment when you have to make a decision whether you take the challenge.

When you walk towards your fear, you are leaving the comfort zone.

The reward for taking the challenge and overcoming fear is personal growth. Additionally to the immense feeling of accomplishment you will soon see the growth in your character, personality and life. And this growth will have a positive impact e.g. on your relationships and job.

The team meeting ended with the insight that you can even become comfortable with leaving the comfort zone. When you overcome fear on a regular basis and learn that you have the ability to handle all situations you become strong and bold.

Are you ready to leave your comfort zone?

Ask! Thought-provoking!

“What is the favourite question when starting a feedback session?”, curiously I throw this question into the discussion. We are having a chat with several mentors working with their mentees for quite some years now. “What rhetorical phrase works well for you?”, I continue. I don’t get an answer straight ahead but rather an “uff, good question. I think I have never thought about it.”

I smile. As a coach there is no bigger nor better compliment than “that’s a good question”. Being thought-provoking is the key element in coaching – and throwing a question into a discussion that cannot be answered right away feels awesome.

But aside from having fun in asking good questions, the thought process that is triggered by a good question is so valuable! People start thinking new thoughts, walking on new path and getting a new perspective. A thought-provoking question can inspire your friends / team / colleagues / boss.

When was the last time you asked a thought-provoking question?

Even as the youngest team member you can influence a whole discussion by asking a good question. For sure you have to put some thoughts into the creation of a valuable question – just a plain “why” helped you when you were a 2-year-old toddler.

Therefore, let me ask you this: Which question made you think intensely? What did you ask that made your boss/team go “uff, good question“?

I am looking forward to read your thought-provoking lines.

Road to recharge

“I need a break! I am exhausted!”, the mind signals. You know these moments when you are overwhelmed by life. With these 4 powerful steps you will get to your peaceful place.

Too many to-dos, tasks, responsibilities. The week has been crazy again and a break is desperately needed. But how to find peace? 

Truth is – although you need some peace and silence, the thoughts keep rushing through your head, leaving no space to truly recharge.

With these 4 powerful steps you will get to your peaceful place. 

1. Take the decision to calm down 

First and foremost this decision needs to be taken. Are you ready to calm down!? If so, find a silent cosy place, sit down and breathe. Take a pen and paper with you.

2. Put aside your inner hustle

Put all thoughts that are now spinning to paper. All those to dos you fear to forget. Take a note and assure your brain that they will not be forgotten. They are safely stored on the piece of paper and you can relax.

3. Become mindful

Breathe. Inhale deep through your nose, fill your lungs and your whole tummy and exhale through your mouth. Inhale again. Notice how the air is filling your corpus. Feel how your tummy expands. And let the stress leave with the continuous flow of air.

Continue breathing.

4. Recharge

While you sink into mindful breathing start thinking what you are thankful for. Who is in your life you highly value? What talents do you have?
What have you accomplished you can be proud of?

When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love rushes in.


Kristin Armstrong

Stay in the attitude of gratitude for a while. Feel how stress lowers and new love and vision is rising for those who are most valuable to you.

When you feel ready you slowly get back into your daily life. This exercise can be done daily in 10-15 minutes. Or you start a whole day or vacation with these steps in order to leave any stress behind.

Empowered by Laughter

“Laughter is fireworks for the soul”, they say. Enlightening this powerful resource at work, will make your day easier.

London. I am in a pub with colleagues. One of them just shares a hilarious story. Everybody laughs. A good laugh. A freeing one. Times flies, stories being shared and as soon as I am inhaling the rainy fresh air of the night, I am feeling energized and reloaded.

What a good laughter is capable of. Its amazing.

I should laugh more. Especially at work. This thought creeps slowly through my mind and I am realizing what has been missing the past weeks. A strengthening, energizing laugh. Running from meeting to meeting, creating tons of slides, squeezing in emails and calls just took too much attention and power.

But actually, when is it easy to laugh at work?

Recalling from experience it is easiest when I know “why” I am there. Working with purpose, knowing there is a goal I am heading to and I am enjoying the ride – with colleagues having a similar mindset.

Let’s take a closer look.

Laughing because you have purpose

I sit in a room full of inspiring motivated people. Everyone is sharing one’s story. Everyone is quite honest. Even with hopes and fears. One cite of a well-situated woman strucks me at heart. She seems to have everything. Being healthy, living in a wealthy environment in a spectacular scenery, having time and money for travelling … the whole package – but she admits the absence of meaningful work and purpose in her life leaves her desperate and empty. And hence, with less laughter than she’d like to have.

My life is nice. But nice isn’t enough.

A lady

Her statement resonates within me. I’m a big fan of living my life outside the comfort zone. Only in a stretch situation I am one step closer to my goal. Although this stretchy moment can cause some fear, the joy that rushes in when I have grown, mastered an obstacle and overcame fear leads to a massive smile and satisfaction.

Where are you just playing „nice“? Remember: you are missing out on a good hero’s laugh.

Laughing because you have people to laugh with

Is it just me or is a day easier when you are with the right pack!?

Luckily I get to work with great colleagues a lot – some becoming friends over time. And I see there is a certain dynamic when a good mix of people is together. Even if a task is hard to manage, a tight timeline needs to be met or a client is getting crazy – with the right team you can handle everything and feeling energized despite stress.

If you haven’t found your tribe yet, continue searching. Some people are meant to work together. In the meantime invest in your mindset and become the best colleague you want to work with. [You might get some inspiration in this classic book from Dale Carnegie (1936) which is used in all US elite universities in the general curriculum: How to win friends & influence people]

Colleagues are key. Make yours laugh today.

Thanks at this point to all my colleagues who are laughing with me. I feel blessed and privileged to have you in my life.