Choose to ignore the voices of negativity

…which are pervasive

I want to share an account I heard many years ago from someone who later became an important leader in my life.

He told the story that as a young boy in a farming community in Northwestern Ohio, probably during the 1940s, he visited the local grain elevator. Looking up onto the counter, he saw 3 dishes, each with an egg broken into them. One of those eggs had a green yolk. Wide-eyed, he was looking at those eggs when the man behind the counter said: “We have learned we can change the color of the yolk in the egg, by what we feed the chicken”.

This account has remained with me for well over 25 years. I have found it has so many applications in work, leadership, and life.

What voices do we choose to hear?

Those voices feed us. We think about them, our thoughts become our attitude, our attitude becomes our behavior and our behavior becomes our reputation. The color of our “yolk” becomes a result of what we feed on.

Our lives are filled with the opportunity for negativity. Crimes, war, disasters, piracy, nuclear proliferation and more fill the news. The economy, layoffs, off-shoring, corruption, the global meltdown, deficits, trade imbalance, and lots more dominate today’s business discussions.

As an example, about 12-18 months ago I was at a local meeting of IT Executives. It was the middle of this current recession and the greater Hartford, CT area was filled with news about downsizing, layoffs, even local Fortune 500 companies who “may not make it”. But that evening one person made a comment that went almost unheard and certainly not remarked on. She told us there were currently over 800 IT job openings in the New Haven to Hartford corridor and the companies looking to hire those people were having difficulty finding them.

Quickly  we could say to ourselves, too low level for me, I don’t have the right skills, I’d probably have to make a long commute, I don’t know those industries, it must be a lot of travel….and on and on.

More often than not we hear all the reasons “can’t, shouldn’t, or are strange” when we propose new ideas, solutions, or ways of addressing some difficulty.

I will tell you that what I heard that evening was opportunity – 800 chances to negotiate new knowledge, new relationships, new skills.

We also must acknowledge that some of the loudest voices in our lives are the “voices in our head”. What is that self-talk saying to us?

The same man who told the story of the 3 eggs also quoted James Allen who in his book, As A Man Thinketh said:

You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.

Allen of course was paraphrasing the verse from the Old Testament:

‘For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:’

Proverbs 23:7

If we lead others, others will key off what we communicate based on our thoughts, attitude, and behaviors, what we feed on impacts others – profoundly, perhaps.

We do not always choose the voices we hear, but we will always choose the voices we validate. Warren Bennis is his book On Becoming A Leader proposes that people want three things from those who lead them:  direction, trust, hope.

Allow me to go back to the foundation premise of this blog – Proactive Axioms. We must take personal responsibility to overcome the voices of negativity, even if they are in our own head, and establish truths for ourselves that become so ingrained in us that they are self-evident and need not be re-established over and over again. They become the filters of information.

Choice is key to listening, not to the despair, but to the hope and direction needed to survive and thrive in our labor, our community, and ourselves. This is more than looking at the glass half empty or full; it means self assessment and work.

Choosing  to ignore  all the voices of negativity around us takes discipline, integrity, and a willingness to not be accepted, even by those close to us at times.

It means being willing to question our own bias and background in order to see if our rationale is based on facts and truth, or fear and uncertainty.

It means searching for what is now being called “Level 5 leadership” -the foundation of which is humility.

It means doing the hard work to find opportunity in crisis, seeing another move instead of a brick wall, seeking common ground instead of conflict, and looking for truth and trust where it appears there is only intrigue and suspicion.

It is easy to listen to the voices of negativity, but don’t.

  1. Bob Rouse says:

    Truth to Power

    To often we “go along to get along”. Raising questions about a course of actions, pointing out the weak points in a proposal, or discussing the risks in a project plan can lead to being labeled a nay-sayer. The Emperor does not want to be told he is naked; same for the Empress.

    Rather than be seen as a wet blanket or to be perceived as negative, people will just stay silent or worse voice support. They withhold information, their best judgment or long experience.

    How does a leader make it possible to encourage candid criticism? When does a leader use “my way or the highway?” When a legitimate concern slows the momentum of an initiative, how does a leader react?

    Contrarians are a valuable asset. Their point of view provides a check on exuberance and jumping to attractive but flawed ideas; this is far from being negative. They are among a leader’s best advisors.

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