Cynicism: forever your nemesis

The role of leader can be a solitary existence. You are the ultimate decision maker. You are the creator and protector of the company vision. You shape and nurture the company culture. You inspire individuals to achieve extraordinary things through the power of teamwork. You are responsible for the livelihoods and wellbeing of your employees and their families. You revel in your successes and pummel yourself with every failure. You cherish your strengths and, deep down inside, you are aware of your shortcomings. If accountability is your leadership watchword – cynicism is forever your nemesis.

I just completed leading Strategies’ four-day “Beyond Being the Boss” leadership course. On the afternoon of day one, I asked the group to define the word “cynical.” It was as if Pandora’s box burst open letting loose a barrage of emotions. Perhaps the most prevalent was the conflict between wants and needs as individuals versus the wants and needs of their companies. Some leaders want to kick back and enjoy their success. Some are just so tired that they want to get out. Others want to grow their companies but resist working through their leadership blockages.

All of this emotional baggage leads to cynicism and, ultimately, feelings of resentment and entitlement. It begins to show up in your demeanor, how you communicate and your leadership behavior, and none of it is good. It’s like a dark cloud that follows you everywhere. If any of this is resonating with how you’re feeling, it’s time to reconnect with who you are as a leader and business owner. Most of all, you must reposition where your company fits into your life. Once cynicism takes hold, it will continue to burrow deeper into your leadership thinking and behavior. Purge it now.

Here are some no-compromise strategies to fend off cynicism:

  • You are not your company: When you get hardwired into every facet of your company, you’re inviting cynicism. You are the leader. You are an owner, partner or stockholder. You are not your company. A company is a legal entity comprised of assets, liabilities and equity. Unlike you, a company can live on for generations. When you and your company are one and the same, it will exist according to your lifecycle. When you lose interest in it, ignore it, or abandon it – or die – it will die. Just as you transition through your leadership lifecycle, new and more energized leaders will lead your company. You are not your company. Let your company grow and evolve. That’s what leaders do.
  • It’s not everyone and everything else: When cynicism grabs hold of you, it feeds on those around you in the form of blame, justification and denial. Everyone around you becomes the problem. The customers become the problem. The economy becomes the problem. You keep pushing the “do more, sell more” button and frustrate the hell out of your team. You run reports, build truly amazing spreadsheets, and bark orders, and nothing seems to work. Where’s their fearless leader? Where’s the vision and inspiration to achieve the extraordinary? Keep pushing the wrong buttons and you’ll get frustration and stress, and see some pretty amazing employees quitting their once-fearless leader. Purge cynicism from your thinking and behavior first.
  • Take a sabbatical: Take six or seven weeks off. I bet you’re thinking, “Neil has lost his mind. I can’t take that much time off.” Well, I took a three-month sabbatical in 2007 so I wouldn’t lose my mind. I was depressed and needed to separate from my company and reconnect with my vision, goals and what achieving my full potential really meant to me. As leaders and owners, we sacrifice damn near everything for our companies. That is so wrong. That is so unhealthy. I dare you to take six or seven weeks off in 2012. Bet you’ll find every excuse why you can’t. But what if you found every reason why you could? Find the reasons and take a sabbatical on your terms.
  • Recognize cynical thoughts: You have them every day. They sound like, “This won’t work.” “We tried that before.” “They don’t care.” “They’re lazy.” “I can’t do that.” “They’ll never finish it on time.” “We won’t make it.” “I’m the owner; I can do what I want.” These thoughts lead down the road of defeat. They erode confidence and feed resentment. The secret to banishing cynical thoughts is to go positive, inspire, and innovate. You must empower yourself before you can empower others.

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Please share your thoughts with me about today’s Monday Morning Wake-Up. Click above to comment.

Neil Ducoff, Founder & CEO of Strategies and author of No-Compromise Leadership

Pass this e-mail on to your business colleagues, managers and friends. They’ll appreciate it.


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