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The Promises of Giants by John Amaechi

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The Promises of Giants is a promise to race toward a tomorrow that will not look like today.  Our job as giants is to make sure that people see us seeing them as superheroes and not as monsters. There is immeasurable power in your face alone! The most impactful and memorable leaders make people feel good with just a look. Reflect the best in others, and that is what you are likely to get from them.  This promise cannot be kept without being bold in our ambition and acknowledging our vulnerabilities to ourselves and those with whom we quest.

It will feel risky and at times even frightening, but the potential rewards are immense and there for the taking. If we can approach life with the courage and enthusiasm of that eager child who is unashamed of their dreams, we lift the ceiling on creativity, innovation, accountability, compassion, and resiliency.

Written by a tall black man, John Amaechi OBE who became an NBA basketball player then a psychologist.  Throughout his life people immediately judge him when they see him and assume he is a basketball player, he writes powerfully about coming out as gay to his team mates. 

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Perhaps we should ask who they want to be, not what.

If you are not open to focused introspection and you do not practice it on a routine basis, you will not be a great leader. To be authentic, emotionally literate, intellectually curious, adaptable, connected and engaged with those around you, introspection cannot be ignored. For the rest of your professional life, that introspective voice will be your primary source of feedback. The farther you advance, the more difficult it will become to acquire useful external feedback. 

The Effective Feedback Model: asking yourself these seven questions will keep your bravado in check as well as your imposter syndrome:

1 What is the feedback’s intent?
2 Is the feedback contextual?
3 Who is benefiting from the feedback?
4 Is the feedback useful now?
5 Is the feedback real?
6 Is the feedback cruel?
7 Is the feedback shared?

Success needs to be enduring & relative to you. You can be nice & successful – you don’t need to be a monster to become successful. 

People like marginal gains that require little personal effort; think of swimmers who wear a special suit that makes you faster. 

A commitment to success is a commitment to expend the required emotional and intellectual energy—and leaders are required to put in more time and energy than others. Your emotional energy is the only currency of value here.  When we demonstrate the ability to be bold, paired with the willingness to be just a little vulnerable, good things usually follow.

Intrinsically, boldness is conflated with courage and so has a more positive spin and is perhaps looked on with more favour than vulnerability, which is often associated with weakness or a lack of courage. But the two are a powerful combination and each far less powerful on their own. 

Sharing your goals with others in a measured, intentional way can help you find and connect with potential allies. 

Aim to challenge your own preconceptions before they leave your brain as speech or action.  Everyone harbours bias. It is not something to be proud of, but it’s also not something to self-flagellate over to excess. You don’t need to feel guilty for being white or guilty for being male or straight. Doing so benefits no one.  If you are in those categories, it is critical that you appreciate and understand your inherent privilege and how it affects your world view. 

White, middle-class men who grapple with discussions of privilege. It is understandably a complex reality for them to embrace, fraught with potentially painful personal revelations and unnecessary guilt. But it is imperative that everyone does this work. If you don’t appreciate your privilege, you do actual damage just by your dismissal of its existence.

An interesting survey was mentioned about associations with different identities, roughly 10,000 respondents over three continents.

• For “the LGBT+ community” people’s top words were:
○ Gay, Equality, Lesbian, Rainbow, Pride, Love.
When asked what they believed other people thought, they said:
○ Different, Gay, Strange, Wrong, Weird, Hate.

• For “women,” people’s top words were:
○Strong, Weak, Mother, Caring, Beautiful, Determined.
• When asked what others thought of “women,” the responses got distinctly worse:
○ Emotional, Weak, Mother, Sexy, Annoying, Cleaning.

• For Black people, the most common answers are complimentary, but stereotypical:
○ Strong, Athletic, Beautiful, Proud, Sports, Music.
• However, when asked how others perceive Black people, the answers notably diverge:
○ Criminal, Athletic, Poor, Lazy, Uneducated, Scary.

As people all claim to possess such positive associations but unanimously believe that others have negative associations, who are those “others”? Respondents claim not to personally hold these negative associations, and yet they find it remarkably easy to create a list of them in just 90 seconds.

Biases reside in all of us, and we must do everything possible to prevent them from negatively influencing our actions and behaviours. 

Embracing “unconscious bias” gives a free pass to “work on yourself” over an indeterminate period of time and a sense of automatic immunity from scorn from those who are “working it out in their head” and yet still behaving poorly.

Unconscious bias should be more accurately described as “entrenched assumption,” to stop people thinking they’re dealing with an inaccessible slice of their psyche that they could not have been aware of and thus are not responsible for.

Treat people fairly, and be consistent in the application of your standards. Call out misbehaviour when you see it, even when it’s uncomfortable.  When interacting with other people approach every one of your colleagues as if they have boundless potential until they prove to you otherwise.  Be sure not to judge others too quickly, for example their mistakes are judged not as individual incidents but as confirmation that they’re limited by their “otherness.”

Learning from high-achievers—and the author, John Amaechi’s life experience achieving success is more to do with an individual’s ability to endure repetitive mundane tasks. The ability to tolerate the dull, uninspiring, painstaking planning. The willingness to enthusiastically embrace the repetitive, onerous, physically and mentally taxing hours of practice so the eventual outcome or performance looks effortless.

FEE is an acronym for what is required for success – Focus, Effort and Execution

Focus—a single-minded, unwavering concentration on the creation of, and then progress toward, a clear, discrete, and well-defined target or goal
Effort—the discipline to apply yourself to mundane, vexing, or obscure tasks and preparation with consistent eagerness and enthusiasm
Execution—undertaking everything you do with the goal of eliminating unnecessary variance so that everything you do is not just effortful but done to a tight tolerance based on your plan.

John Amaechi’s mother was a general practitioner he recalls her working hard and being very supportive towards him.  She was able to use only a few words, delivered with cool confidence and genuine care being able to reignite the resolve of an entire family that only minutes earlier had been paralysed and exhausted by sorrow.  The point is that nothing you do is so routine that how you do it stops being important, impactful, or even game-changing.

These seven factors for resilience—a healthy mindset, active learning, balanced nutrition, physical activity, occasional pauses, consistent recuperation, and a good night’s sleep. Harness the power of introspection to see yourself clearly and commit fully to winning and all that it requires. Be bold yet vulnerable. Act with vigilance against biases. Reject excuses and embrace discomfort.  Make one change and improve.

Some organizations are unwittingly making their people feel more and more like robots, providing their employees with minimal autonomy.  When organizations treat people—both their workforce and their customers—as robots or cattle or vending machines, it becomes acceptable to demand compliance to even the most shocking orders and policies. And an acquiescent, beaten-down rank and file will follow orders, tuning out their own logic, ethics, morality, and judgment.  Instead promise to see and treat people as unique, individual beings and as more than just their job descriptions.

When we ignore the unique complexities of the humans in our human resources and box them into their job descriptions, we create a grim existence where people are not quite full people.  This can cause a toxic stew the cult of busy, which mandates that all serious professionals ned to look and sound like they have no time to breathe. 

Don’t just ask others to do things and begrudgingly assist others, instead selflessly seek out and create quality time and meaningful interactions.  Before interactions, make a conscious effort to clear your mind of mental clutter and distractions. Use mindfulness to give others undivided attention. 

Inattention can be purposeful. We can choose what and who not to pay attention to, this allows you to tell a clearer story about our priorities and what we value. And one of the worst mistakes you can make as a giant is to use your inattention as a weapon, instead be a familiar presence for your people.

Our challenge as leaders is to find ways to touch people using the language they respond to, you don’t have to wait until end-of-year appraisals to give purposeful feedback. 

The amount of time that teammates have worked together can be more predictive of performance than were the individual experiences of each team member.  For example, evidence shows that fatigued but familiar flight crews are less error-prone than better-rested but less familiar crews.

The familiarity that results from being present builds trust. It encourages innovation. It fosters an environment where people interact informally and exchange random ideas that have the potential to coalesce and grow into new and exciting directions.  Culture is important and we all can influence this.

Interestingly another survey is mentioned that 80 percent of respondents say that other managers, but not themselves, are primarily responsible for the non-optimal culture within their own organization.  “It’s not me—it’s them.”  However everyone is part of the problem, just as everyone can be part of the solution.

In the early 1990s, the researcher William Kahn introduced the concept of “psychological safety,” defining it as the ability “to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status, or career.”  It was further explored in the team context by Amy Edmondson, who described it as “a shared understanding that the environment is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”  I have summarised her book The Fearless Organisation

Psychologically safe teams are not “soft”—they are not places for poor performers to hide from scrutiny. In contrast, they are the most robustly challenging environments where little escapes scrutiny; where people share their nascent ideas fully expecting objective challenge, suggestion, and support in equal measure.

There are few things more precious to us than our own identities.  We’re offering a delicate, invaluable truth, and, once it’s offered, we have no control over what is done with it.  Voluntary, “earned disclosure” is always as much a statement about the person receiving the information as it is about the person offering it. Earned disclosure is a profound statement about the recipient that trust—the ability to be vulnerable—is so powerful for organizational bonding.  Successful teams require such earned disclosure. Over time individuals may grow more and feel comfortable sharing personal idiosyncrasies with teammates. 

Teams know something that groups don’t know, if you leave one person to shoulder all the blame, they are less able to function. The weight of an error can be too heavy for one person to bear in public and can crush an individual. When the entire group carries the weight, you know they are an effective team.

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