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A blog by Ryan Quinn, Robert Quinn, Shawn Quinn, and Amy Lemley

Positive Leadership – “Whether You Believe You Can, Or You Can’t, You Are Right” – Henry Ford

–By Schon Beechler

In Monday’s blog I wrote about our natural tendency to come to snap judgments about other people and external events.  But it’s not just others we judge – we do this to ourselves as well.  Most of us have a running monologue inside our heads with our explanations for what’s happened in the past and our expectations for the future.  Some of our “self talk” has an overly positive bias in the form of over-confidence and lack of humility. These judgments are detrimental since they can lead us to take unnecessary risks and to alienate others. At the same time, many of us color our internal world with an overly negative brush – questioning or beating ourselves up. That’s an even bigger problem – but something you can change.

For example, last year I met a bright, personable and successful executive, Bill, who confided that he wasn’t sure that “he was good enough” to successfully lead his organization and was afraid to try “something dramatic and risky” in order to turn the business around. And it starts early. When my daughter was in kindergarten she came home proclaiming, “I’m no good at math.” She was 5.

There is a lot of scientific evidence that our self-talk becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, most of us believe that self-criticism is what keeps us in line. We’re wrong. Research studies show that while persistence is a key driver of success, it’s the persistence of the Learner in us, rather than the Judger, that fuels our success.

Marilee Adams, Ph.D., was a psychotherapist  for over 25 years, is a personal coach, and leadership trainer. She has developed a very simple and useful framework about how we approach every situation.[i] She says that we all have both a Learner and a Judger self and we can chose, moment by moment, which of those two selves we want to invoke.  When something happens and we invoke our Judger self we ask, “What’s wrong with me? Whose fault is it? Why are they so stupid? How can I prove that I am right? Why bother?” On the other hand, when we invoke our Learner self we ask, “What do I want? What works? What are the facts and what can I learn from this situation? What are my choices? What action steps make sense? What’s possible?”

Dr. Adams notes that even if we find ourselves in Judger, we can “switch lanes” at any time and move into Learner. Let’s take Bill, the talented but self-doubting executive whom I worked with last year.  With some coaching Bill changed his question from “Am I good enough?” to “What am I great at? How can I use my strengths to turn around this company? Who can help me succeed?”  Those new Learner questions helped him find the courage and a dramatically different approach. A few months later he wrote to tell me about the successful turnaround of his company and new-found acknowledgment and respect from his co-workers for his great leadership. Most importantly, he now believed in himself.

Pause for a moment and think about yourself.

Are you aware of the self-talk and kinds of questions that you ask yourself? How does it impact what you are willing to try (and not)?

How does your self-talk influence your motivation and your attitudes about yourself and others?  How does it impact your successes or failures?

Please share your thoughts with us in the comments box below. We’d love to hear from you!


[i] Marilee Adams. 2009. “Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: Ten Powerful Tools for Life and Work.

Marilee Adams,. 2009. The ChoiceMap. Downloadable from www.InquiryInstitute.Com

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4 Responses to “Positive Leadership – “Whether You Believe You Can, Or You Can’t, You Are Right” – Henry Ford”

  1. admin says:

    What I’m struck by after reading your article is how great a role empathy and your peer group plays in whether you operate as a learner or a judger. If you’re a very empathetic person and are surrounded by judgers, I think you begin to evaluate yourself through your peers’ eyes. If you’re in an environment full of learners, the questions you ask when evaluating yourself or others changes as well.

    I’ve noticed that my self-evaluation changes depending on who I think is “watching” me – that is, who can see my work.

  2. admin says:

    “If you don’t recognize a young man’s will for meaning, you make him worse, you make him dull, you make him frustrated, you still add and contribute to his frustration… there must be a spark, a search for meaning. Let’s recognize this, let’s presuppose it and then you will elicit it from him and make him become in principle what he is capable of becoming.”“If you take man as he really is, you make him worse. But if we seem to be idealists in our overestimating, overrating man and looking at him that high… you know what happens? We promote him to what he really can be.”
    Victor Frankl

    Watch the inspiring and very funny Victor Frankl in a rare short video which includes the quote above at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wr6itOBLVQA

  3. admin says:

    One of the challenges for people who use their Judger self a lot is the constant judgments that they place on themselves. I see that in myself and many execs I work with.

    Greater Good featured the following on self-compassion which I think, in part, may be the ability to suspend that Judger self when thinking about our own actions and “worthiness.” I think it’s worth pondering….

    More on the Benefits of Self-Compassion
    Posted: 11 Mar 2011 11:49 AM PST
    This study builds on what we know about the relatively new psychological concept of “self-compassion,” the act of accepting our flaws and extending kindness toward ourselves during difficult times. The authors found that people with higher rates of self-compassion also reported fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression, and reported higher overall quality of life than people with lower self-compassion scores. They also found that reporting high self-compassion is a stronger predictor of well-being than reporting high levels of mindfulness, the moment-by-moment awareness of our internal thoughts and feelings and external circumstances. The results point to the importance of cultivating compassion toward ourselves, not just others. —Janelle Caponigro

  4. Ryan Chua says:

    If we think we can’t do it then we can’t do it. If we think we can then surely we can. Self-talk should be very motivational. You’d wanna talk to your self to improve and not waste time worrying about what you don’t have.

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