When someone steps forward in a manner that sets themselves apart from the crowd, are they a natural leader? Natural leader, maybe. Better leader, perhaps not. Quiet people can be better at leadership.
A gentleman named BG Allen has pulled together a compendium of resources on the topic of introverted leaders. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Susan Cain’s blockbuster TED Talk on the Power of Introverts and related book, introverts are reluctantly being put into the spotlight as potentially great contributors to society. Introverts are being overlooked and misunderstood because they are in the minority and the nature of their difference reduces the likelihood their views will be heard.
Allen has found multiple sources that get into the unique contribution of introverts as leaders. I tried to find if Allen had written a book about this. He hasn’t, but an Amazon search on “introverted leader” reveals a dozen books on the topic. There are great articles in Allen’s compendium, from Fast Company, Forbes, and Psychology Today. The Psychology Today article cites studies showing that introverted leaders that are not just adequate, they can also be superior leaders.
Although I am an extravert, I have personally benefitted
from strong introverted leaders over the years.
You might have experienced the same thing. When we are at our very best, we come from a
strong sense of internal strength, knowing our values and thoughts with a clear
sense of introspection. I look up to the
strong introverts in my life who seem to be the masters of this internal
journey. It would be a good thing if we
could cultivate this virtue in teams and in society by putting introverts in
roles where they can lead by example and help others develop this strength.
As I aspire to be a better leader, I find that I’m a little
bit stronger when I hang back a little and let others talk. I’m more clear-headed if I wonder why I think
the things I think. And I can cause
others to be stronger by taking care to understand what’s going on inside their own head and heart, independent of
what sprang into my own mind seconds ago.
I think this emerging evidence of introverted leaders is best understood when you think of who are the very worst leaders. The very worst leaders are those with poor emotional intelligence, bullies, narcissists, people who value their own excellence first and negate the contribution of juniors, and most importantly those who get ahead by smooth-talking their way into the next promotion. These personality vices are often the mark of the extravert. In order for an extravert to become increasingly excellent at leadership they must avoid these pitfalls, seek solitude, and look inside themselves just a little more often than comes naturally to them. Just pretend to be a little bit shy, and you might achieve greatness. And if you’re already like that to begin with, be proud about it. And tell somebody.
[This is an edited re-post of “Then The Introvert Spoke, And
It Was Good” from November 16, 2017.]
Ever notice how some people are extra-careful about choosing the right lighting for a room, deciding what tone to use when they speak, or trying to eliminate small errors in final reports? It turns out that people like that have different things going on in their brains. And there is a name for it: A Highly Sensitive Person. Such people bring unique value to the workplace when they are understood and can put this strength to best use.
What is a Highly Sensitive Person?
The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is a bundling of personality traits identified by Dr. Elaine Aaron beginning in 1991. The Highly Sensitive Person website, book, and related movies and workbooks teach people how to self-identify and manage their unique situation. Among other things, the highly sensitive person has the following traits:
Easily overwhelmed by bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens.
Notice and enjoy fine scents, tastes, and sounds.
Make a point of avoiding violent movies or TV.
Make a point of organizing their lives to avoid overwhelming situations.
Have a “rich and complex inner life.”
Being highly sensitive is common, found in 15-20% of people, and is innate. A sensitive person’s outward behaviour is often confused with introversion, shyness, or being inhibited, each of which is a different thing. Often a sensitive person is told “don’t be so sensitive” in a manner that deems the trait abnormal and impacts their self-esteem. For this reason self-assessment, self-description, and self-determination are key to wellbeing.
Highly Sensitive People use several parts their brains quite differently, according to Andre Sólo in an article in Psychology Today from January 2019. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex connects emotions, values, and sensory processing. High sensitivity turns up the dial of this part of the brain, increasing emotional vividness such that some experiences have a much greater impact, subjectively.
The Human Rights Implications of Being Sensitive
These intense experiences are real – not imagined – in the mind of the sensitive person. The perception that an experience is dramatic is true-for-them, regardless of whether less sensitive people feel that way. We don’t get to collectively dictate the sensitivity norms of the group and downgrade the significance of the individual. Rather, the proper collective view is that we all experience vividness in different ways and we need to accommodate these differences. And that means there’s a little extra work in making things okay for the person who is sensitive.
Although there is not an explicit duty to accommodate under the statutes, the challenge here is that we are considering how someone was born and whether they can choose to be any different. Since the Highly Sensitive Person is in a genetic bind, it seems considerate to put in an effort to accommodate them. Indeed, if you’re thinking about how you would want to be treated if you were in their situation, you’re getting a feel for what this sensitivity is all about.
Amongst the things you can be sensitive to is the emotions of others. Highly SensitivePeople have more active mirror neutron systems. Using your brain’s mirror neurons, Sólo describes that you“…[compare] the other person’s behaviour with times when you yourself behaved that way – effectively ‘mirroring’ the other person to figure out what’s going on for them.” This mirroring “allows us to feel empathy and compassion for others.”
This empathy takes us out of the realm of differences (often a euphemism for having a flaw) and into the possibility of superpowers that can save the day. Consider the many ways in which having greater empathy can make things better. You can catch small insults, say “hey, be nice”, and if you were at fault you could patch things up with a considerate apology. Maybe you can put together small pieces of information and realize that someone needs help, and solve problems without people asking for help. And if you were selling something, you could read who was not buying and who was a promising prospect.
HSP’s become more conscious in a social context, such that other people pop up on their radar more significantly. For the HSP,
“Your brain is fine-tuned to notice and interpret the behaviour of everyone around you. If someone is bad news, you know it. If someone is not going to treat you right, you see it coming. And if a situation isn’t right for you, you know that, too.” (Sólo)
Greater awareness of the social context means sensitive people act as the canary in the mine who can give early warning that something is not right. It’s a double-edged sword, as it can make a person warm, caring, and insightful. But in the workforce, such people may need to also back away from labour relations conflict, physical hazards, and corrosive leadership styles. But then, perhaps workplaces need to universally strive for harmonious labour relations, the minimization of physical hazards, and the curtailment of bullying? Could it be that feedback from sensitive people puts everyone on track for greater effectiveness and wellbeing? Perhaps we could all increase our willingness to be caring and insightful, to explore a rich inner world, and organize our lives and workplaces to reduce abrasive and unpleasant social interactions.
It may be harder to assert that sensitivity is important than it is to assert theinverse. That is, that insensitivity is a liability, and behaviours that come from deliberate insensitivity must be flagged as inappropriate. Thumbing noses at sensitivity can be an early indication of sexism, bigotry, bullying, and abusive leadership styles. Sensitivity cannot be a small thing if its opposite is regarded as a major problem. Therefore, compliance needs to make interventions on his very important issue.
How To Get the Most Out Of Being a Sensitive Employee
Let’s return to the upside of the situation. Many people regard sensitivity as a great asset in the workplace. In a Forbes article from November 2016, Melody Wilding asserts that “…managers consistently rate people with higher sensitivity as the best performers in their organizations.” Wilding’s article, addressed to the sensitive person, describes five ways you can get the most out of this strength:
Have confidence in your communication skills. Sensitive people are “attuned to subtle gestures and tone” which means you hear more than just the words that people are saying.
Speak up if others have missed something. Sensitive people can spot things that don’t add up, picking up on overlooked risks or subtle details about job candidates. These almost-overlooked tidbits will be new information, and businesses pay big bucks for new information.
Jump into teamwork. The ability to stay attuned to the team’s mood increases a sensitive person’s ability to identify the upsides and downsides of team efforts. So yes, you can increase the flow of information and nuance in team communications, which is great. However, this sensitivity also makes it harder for the person to come down with an authoritative decision, as you will need to bring the whole team along when arriving at a final decision. There is a subtle sub-plot, that authoritarianism might not be the best leadership style for you.
Use your creativity to solve problems. Because sensitive people have rich inner worlds, “this can lead to fascinating breakthroughs, innovative solutions to problems and a unique sense of clarity…” I don’t think it’s the sensitivity itself that causes creativity. Rather, it’s a three-step process: hang back, listen to yourself, produce intuitive outputs. Sensitive people are far more experienced at this. That means their creativity is a strength that can be leveraged by the larger organization.
Prepare for stimulating situations. As a survival technique, sensitive people need to think-ahead how they will respond to tough questions and difficult situations. If they wing it and things take a turn for the worse, sensation overload can cause them to be overwhelmed, freeze, or draw a blank. As with creativity, it’s another three-step process. Sensitivity increases the personal consequences of poor planning, so they must plan, and their planned responses are better as a result. Desperation provokes the intrinsic motivation to develop planning skill. It’s a dystopian sci-fi future-of-work kind of skills growth… adapt or be savaged.
Wilding’s recommendations are compelling because they give the sense of how someone with a unique trait needs to not just survive but also leverage their superpower for best outcomes. Being “the best you” means you need to identify what’s different about you, choose to be the real you, and figure out how you’re going to rock it in a way that others may not anticipate or understand:
“As a highly sensitive person who experiences strong emotions, you might feel like you’re carrying a heavy load at times, especially at work. But the truth is you likely have a huge amount of untapped value to share with your co-workers, clients and in your career as a whole. It’s time to start viewing your sensitivity for what it is: your greatest strength.”
It’s the research you’ve all been waiting for: nobody is normal. You might think I’m trying to reassure you that you’re normal-enough to be accepted, but no, that misses the point. Everyone is unique and weird in their own way, and this is what allows everyone to function at their best as individuals.
The study is by Avram J. Holmes and Lauren M. Patrick, under the title “The Myth of Optimality in Clinical Neuroscience.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Feb 20, 2018.
The authors were looking at the complex environmental circumstances under which mental illnesses develop. There is an emerging effort to develop broad datasets that isolate what causes someone’s brain-function to diverge from the ideal mental state. In the process, they tried to define the ideal mental state. About that: there’s not a single ideal mental state.
“We challenge this concept… arguing that there is no universally optimal profile of brain functioning. The evolutionary forces that shape our species select for a staggering diversity of human behaviors.”
At Inc.com, Jessica Stillman notes that “…for all but the most obvious maladaptations, there is almost always a mix or good and bad results from any given variation.”
“Take anxiety, for instance. …science shows that anxiety is probably keeping you safer, pushing you to be better prepared in important areas of your life, and improving your memory, even if it often doesn’t feel good… Or look at risk taking. If you’re a little further on the fearless end of the spectrum, your chances of suffering some life-threatening mishap are likely higher, but so are your chances of starting a world-changing company. Our strengths and weaknesses are intimately tied together.”
This research confirms what has long been understood from folklore, the humanities, and the school of life: everyone is different and we need to honour and cherish these differences.
Now that there is data to back it up, can we assert this wisdom more boldly? I think we can and should. There are profound implications for emerging workplace issues such as equity and inclusion, work-life balance, wellbeing, and performance management.
Equity and Inclusion
The research brings depth to the thinking around equity and inclusion. Looking at demographic traits is one window into the ways in which totally arbitrary types of people get ahead while others are left behind. If we want everyone to be at their best, we must strive to open our definition of what “best” looks like, be it sex or race or personality profile. If there is a “type” who is tapped or favoured because they fit the mold, we need to step back and consider if we are being drawn into a bias, be it conscious or unconscious. We need to look beyond types, consider the individual, and brace ourselves for plenty of surprises about who’s going to rock it, and how.
There are also implications for work-life balance. As employees go through major life events there may be special moments when they are a perfect match to your workplace. But their home lives are important, and personal lives beckon for time, attention, and commitments.
Striking the balance is key in supporting employees to show up in their best form and deliver their best strengths. That balance hinges on allowing everyone to be themselves both at work and at home. Sometimes an employee’s personality brings favourable differences in what they can deliver at work. And sometimes an employee makes decisions in their home life that allows them to be their best at home. Don’t make them choose between the two, they’re busy being themselves.
With wellbeing efforts, every high-functioning workplace needs to evolve beyond claims-cost-reduction and mandatory anti-bullying courses. If a workplace has developed a strategic and holistic sense of why they are advancing wellbeing, they are likely to happen upon the World Health Organization’s definition of mental health. That definition emphasizes that to feel “well” people need to realize their potential, work productively, and make a contribution to their community, among other things. How could that be possible if the corporate standards of performance disregard the unique ways in which each person is exceptional?
Performance Management and Competencies
This research raises questions about performance measurement against prescribed competencies. Yes, employees need to deliver outputs at the right levels of quality, cost, and timeliness. Yet the more specific we get about the kind of excellence expected, the narrower the opportunities for people to excel.
Competencies were originally put forward as a cutting-edge practice that blended skills and attitudes that employers wished people would deliver in their style of daily work. Competencies allowed employers to get beyond people-as-machines applying skill and effort to the tasks specified in the job description. But there is a flaw. Top-down descriptions of desired competencies undermine the ability of individuals to define their unique strengths from the inside-out.
As people put themselves forward we need to accept them warts and all.
If people are to flourish they need to be coached to identify their unique talents, develop their own learning objectives, and deliver work in a way that allows them to grow into their exceptionalities. We need to recognize what is great about each person, anticipating that there may be a downside. As people put themselves forward we need to accept them warts and all. In order to develop people for their best growth we need a workplace culture of trust, sympathy, and encouragement.
By contrast, exercises where we score people against a half-dozen competencies sent down from corporate seem hopelessly archaic. Allowing a privileged few to define themselves as excellent and encourage others to play along seems narcissistic and biased. And telling others to achieve work-life balance and wellbeing according to the standards of those with power reveals an antipathy for wisdom.
So spread the word: everyone needs to get their freak on. If people can know themselves and be themselves, they’re far more likely to deliver the goods.
[This is a re-post of an article from April 3, 2018]
I know you’re terrified to use bleach on your clothing. You
probably destroyed a cherished garment a decade ago. Never again, you said. But
bleach damage is a result of using bleach incorrectly. And if you follow the
instructions, bleach can overwhelmingly improve the value of your wardrobe. Let
Instructions say use one cup of bleach for a single full
load of laundry in a large or high-efficiency washer. If washing a half-load of
laundry, scale down to half a cup of bleach. You need a measuring cup that you
only use on bleach. Pour the bleach into the receptacle that says “bleach only”
at the beginning of the load. Do not throw it in on top of the dry
clothes. Don’t use Oxy-Clean in the same load, as chlorine bleach and Oxy-Clean
cancel each other out. Then add your other detergent, press go, and that’s it.
Now you “know how to use bleach.”
People Fear Bleach
For Nonsensical Reasons
The 400-page book Laundry by Cheryl Mendelson – which is a delightful read – spells out a number of misconceptions of bleach. Garment labels are required by law to give instructions on how to wash clothing while causing no damage to the garment whatsoever. To prevent lawsuits, instructions are overly-restrictive in a practice called over-labelling. The most common type of over-labelling is to prescribe non-chlorine bleach (e.g. Oxy-Clean) or that you use no bleach whatsoever. I only obey this instruction with dark garments. Loads of whites, greys, or colours are all made better by bleach.
Concern about damaging garments is misplaced even if it were
true that garments are harmed. Consider if bleach damaged your garment by 1%,
which is enough to mandate prohibitive labelling. If you only bleached the
garment three times ever, you will have lost 3% of the garment’s quality.
Compare this outcome to the effect of ugly stains that prevent you from wearing
a garment. In that case, the damage is 100% because you are avoiding the use of bleach. Not using
bleach is, in this case, far more damaging as using bleach regularly. If you
destroy the garment, you are no further behind, because it was destined for the
garbage in the first place. There is no
downside to destroying a garment with bleach, if you were never going to wear
the garment because of a stain. So move on with your life and put bleach to
its proper use.
Bleach and Industrial
A lot of managers and human resources professionals are
perplexed and intimidated about how to deal with unions. This looks strange to
those experienced with unions because, although some things are complex, the
basics are extremely simple. When you are dealing with a labour relations
puzzle the first question is almost always; “what does the collective agreement
This is where things go completely sideways for a lot of
people. First, there are people who did not personally sign the collective
agreement, who wonder why they are bound by it. But they don’t question
invoices from utility providers, contracts with clients, or precautions imposed
by risk management. Only the contract with the union faces this
faux-bewilderment for which the acting quality is well below community theatre.
Questioning the basic legitimacy of the collective agreement says more about
the questioner than it says about unions.
Admit it, you’re only pretending
to dislike unions in order to curry favour with someone powerful. But real
executives think that a deal is a deal
and that unions are simply one of their many bargaining partners. Move on.
The second challenge is those collective agreements are a
type of instruction manual. A large
percentage of the population never reads instruction manuals. Consider how many
times you retrieve a box from the garbage so you can read, then re-read, the
instructions to heat a frozen meal. It ought to be embarrassing but instead, we
have hip internet memes where we all get to laugh at ourselves, collectively,
that we can’t read instructions. But it’s not ha-ha funny. We’re laughing at
how stupid we are, collectively. Safety in numbers. But if you want to get the
job done, stop laughing. The union isn’t laughing. Instruction manuals aren’t
In brief, if you are a manager in a unionized environment
and there is nothing in the legislation or the collective agreement that
inhibits your use of power, according to the rules you are allowed to do as you
please. It’s called management rights
and it’s biased towards the discretion of the manager. A manager even has the right under industrial
relations law to do things that are contrary to the employer’s interest,
disobedient to that manager’s superiors, and contrary to any measure of professionalism or competence.
But there’s one catch. If you don’t read the instructions,
you might be barred from doing something incredibly basic. And that will make
you look ridiculous.
As with the use of bleach, so-to with the use of authority
in a unionized environment. Bleach and unions are both practical tools to
achieve the desired outcome. They are to cause good where intended, act as a
remedy to a precise problem, and have the side-effect of causing harm to those
who are negligent. You are not being asked to apply high intelligence. Rather,
you must take care that you follow
the written instructions, be diligent and
prudent in your handling of the active ingredient, and make regular use of this skill-set so that
you don’t get sloppy.
Remember, when putting bleach in your wash basin you have
the goal of getting the laundry done. So too, when interacting with a union you
have the goal of achieving business goals by providing direction to staff. If
you make the caustic agent something that you fear, neglect, and refuse to
interact with, you will gradually lose the freedom to step out into the world
looking your best. Stains will gradually destroy your favorite garments, while
labour contempt erodes your confidence to advance brave and respectful
So get over your arrogance and fear, and read the
instructions. It will make your willpower look bright and fluffy.
Hey you, lonely person. Don’t look away, I know you’re
lonely. No, I haven’t been looking through your things. I just know you’re lonely
because it’s in the data. Everyone’s data. And if you follow me, I will walk
you through the rest of the data. I
can help you get out of these deep dark woods. The first step to beating
loneliness is to understand it. This will only take seven minutes. Ready to go?
As we make our way through this fast-changing world of work,
we uncover unpleasant emotions. One such emotion is the soul-crushing sense of loneliness. And like other trends, it’s
something people are reluctant to talk about. We’re particularly unlikely to
discuss loneliness at work, in close quarters with those who are obligated to
be in our company.
How Bad is
Loneliness? Really Bad
There’s a sobering overview of the loneliness research in AARP.org, the web site for the American Association of Retired Persons. As far back as 2010, correlations emerged between loneliness and adverse health conditions.
“…the percentages of the lonely
among those diagnosed with obesity (43 per cent), sleep disorders (45 per
cent), chronic pain (47 per cent), and anxiety (56 per cent) were considerably
higher than the 35 per cent who are lonely overall. Could loneliness be
contributing to these conditions? ‘Studies have shown that people sleep more
poorly, exercise less, eat more fats and sugars, and are more anxious when they
feel lonely than when they are not…’”
That last quote was from the late John Cacioppo from the University of Chicago, who was a pioneer of loneliness research. Cacioppo cited evidence that loneliness has adverse impacts on diabetes, sleep disorders, weakened immune systems, Alzheimer’s disease, and high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The Wikipedia article on loneliness notes that higher cortisol levels can cause “anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems [again], and weight gain.” And in a predictable game of fill-in-the-blanks, if loneliness is causing depression it’s also causing… alcoholism. Yeah, I know you knew about that, I’m just spelling it out for the others.
Loneliness kills people one by one, in different ways. In
spite of its universal nature, loneliness is not a collective experience. There
is no great-big-party in hell where people with similar sins and vices dance
and writhe in a place with bad air conditioning. In this hell, you are always
misunderstood. Things that are important to you, you cannot convey to others, even
when they’re sittingright there.
How is Loneliness
Back to Wikipedia, loneliness is “a complex and usually
unpleasant emotional response to isolation. Loneliness typically includes
anxious feelings about a lack of connection or communication with other
beings… [and] can be felt when surrounded by other people.”
In addition, it’s a subjective experience, so “if a person
thinks they are lonely, they are lonely.” That last comment implies a life-pro
tip: you are the boss of defining
yourself as lonely. It might not make you look like the boss if you talk about it openly, but if you reflect
on what’s going on inside you, you might feel more control by defining yourself
in this manner.
What’s special about loneliness is that it’s intangible. For
example, isolation is a feature of geography and communications, and as such
there are major businesses devoted to real estate, transportation, and
telecommunications that help remedy isolation. Depression, although it has
taken decades to get here, is now recognized as a medical condition related to
biology for which pharmaceutical companies provide a partial remedy,
professionals devote their careers, and employers pay for insurance to cover
treatment and time away from work.
But stuck in the middle between isolation and depression is
this mysterious linchpin, loneliness, for which there is no major entity that
makes it their responsibility to offer a remedy.
Except, perhaps, the workplace. Positive workplaces, that
How Leaders Can
Reduce Loneliness in Their Workplace
If you are in a leadership capacity, you have an opportunity to create a positive environment that mitigates loneliness, for others. Four authors published a paper in January 2011 which covered this quite well. The paper is Effects of Positive Practices on Organizational Effectiveness, by Kim Cameron, Carlos Mora, Trevor Luetscher, and Margaret Calarco from January 2011. In a study of the health care sector, workplace effectiveness improved on a variety of measures when employers:
“…provide compassionate support
for employees, emphasize positive and inspiring messages to employees, forgive
mistakes, express gratitude to and confidence in employees, clarify the
meaningfulness of the work being done, and reinforce an environment characterized
by respect and integrity. No one positive practice stands out as the single
most important determinant of improvement, but positive practices in
combination appear to have the most powerful impact.”
It’s important to realize that each of these positive
practices fosters connection and understanding. But it’s the general environment of inclusiveness
that makes the difference. And this would make sense, as fostering authentic
connections are a general approach to others, with workplace culture mostly
coming from the very top.
How Can Individuals
And what can you do, just for yourself? Loneliness is an area where an accurate self-assessment goes a long way. There is a quick loneliness quiz online that is a shortened version of the full loneliness scale produced in 1996 by Daniel Russel. The assessment is important because you need to differentiate between three items that are easily confused with one another: isolation, loneliness, and depression.
Specifically, isolation often causes loneliness, and
loneliness often causes depression. Isolation is the lack of contact between an
individual and society. Loneliness is an unpleasant emotional response arising
from disconnection. By contrast, depression is a persisting low mood
accompanied by additional medical symptoms. You could face any combination of
these three challenges, and possibly just one. So assessing yourself then
taking charge of your own self-description is the first half of the battle.
An article in TheCut.com by Cari Romm summarizes recommendations from seven therapists on how to overcome loneliness. One of them recommends you engage in small talk with people you encounter throughout your day. Don’t be needy and desperate – not just yet – instead this is a time to build rapport. Most importantly, this small talk can become second nature for when you are at the early stages of developing a more important impression, such as with new in-laws or a new boss.
Two experts think the increase in loneliness is due to our “persistently frantic state of busyness.” Jaqueline Olds and her partner Robert Schwartz teach at Harvard Medical School and are co-authors of the book The Lonely American. When interviewed for the AARP article they note that busy people
need a bit of solitude and downtime at the end of the day, and there’s nothing
wrong with that. But if you put socializing at the end of your to-do list, then
you won’t see people and you’ll feel more isolated. You will also feel as if
everyone else is leaving you out, even though you’re the one who started it all
by sending signals that you don’t want company. So what started off as a
reasonable wish fed on itself and became destructive.”
This interpretation jives with Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, which ultimately links declining community involvement to longer commuting times. However, it is just too important to give social interaction a low priority in your time-planning. As I discussed in an earlier post, it is tempting to assert that we are “too busy” as a status symbol, but those who have their act together are always working on those things that are most important to them. You need to decide that social interaction is part of who you are as a human. And that you are on this earth to be human.
A sense of connection to something outside ourselves is
important: loneliness runs at 27% for religious people but 43% for the
non-religious. If you have decided that God isn’t your cup of tea, you need an alternate sense of connection to the
universe, and some other way to
participate in a community. Loneliness runs at 28% (which is low) for those who
donate time to school, hospital, or another non-profit and 26% for those who
belong to a book club, garden group, or other social organization.
You may or may not require God’s love, but you fundamentally
need community and connection.
In this disruptive era, it’s as if all of the adults became
anxious and depressed teenagers at a high-school dance, after we just got 51%
on a big exam, and our crush sent mixed signals just before they moved away. It
seems that the adults are just as susceptible to adolescent anxiety as the
Every job in every sector is under intense change, and at
the very least we’ll each have to pick up some new tools and apply them to our
current job just to break even. But
it’s far more likely that your job is the subject of a double-or-nothing bet.
Can people change? Yes, but they have to work at it. There is an interesting article from the British Psychological Society about malleable personalities. The idea of a malleable personality is that we can change who we are based on the circumstances, or in a chosen direction of who we want to be. This idea is newer than most people think.
There has been a shift in psychiatry away from the decades-long theory that our brains are fixed after a certain age. Instead, our brains are subject to neuroplasticity, in which we are always growing and adapting. I was first exposed to the concept a decade ago by Dr. Norman Doidge in his 2007 book The Brain That Changes Itself.
Doidge was one of the earliest researchers in the psychiatry
of neuroplasticity. He had a really hard time convincing fixed-mindset people
in his own field that people can change. Major shifts in scientific thinking
can take decades within the academic
discipline. Then the researchers need to convince the general public, which takes
So, let’s see how quickly we can pick up a new concept and apply
it to our lives, starting now.
The newer research about malleable personalities was about
helping teenagers cope with anxiety and depression. The researchers created a
30-minute video for teens to watch, explaining some new concepts:
“They heard from older youths
saying they believe people can change,
and from others saying how they’d used belief in our capacity for change (a “growth mindset”) to cope with problems
like embarrassment or rejection. The teenagers learned strategies for applying these principles…” (Emphasis
The study showed noticeable improvements, relative to a
control group, in depression and anxiety over a nine-month period. The study
looked at both the self-reporting by the teens and the opinions of those teens’
parents. The researchers were particularly enthusiastic that this brief video
is scale-able, can be offered to all teens universally, and can set up kids for
a more successful intervention later in their lives.
Adopting a Growth
Mindset in a Changing Workplace and Changing World
Although the study is limited to teens in a clinical sample, the findings may be relevant to the general population’s adaptability to change. Workplaces are in upheaval because of technology and globalization. Every region is gripped by either unemployment or unaffordable housing. Inequality and social media are making people increasingly anxious they haven’t made it. Democracies are vulnerable to demagogues who offer temptations to turn back the clock.
In the workplace, what should we do?
Adopt a growth mindset, change our personalities as we see
fit, and give ourselves permission to become two or more different types of
people. Scheme to have a backup plan or a side-hustle. Put down the smartphone
and start reading. Regard societal upheaval as a topic of exceptional cocktail banter.
Then talk about your feelings, eat a sandwich, and have a
You’ll need the rest. Because tomorrow is another person.
[The above is a modified repost of an article from December