Flip Your Focus

Here are some extra things to think about, and resources to download, to help you Flip Your Focus.


A Lance to the Side of Leadership


Flipping your focus isn’t just found in leaders who’ve only worked in businesses. Think about cyclist Lance Armstrong. He fought cancer, then won the Tour de France, the premier cycling race, seven consecutive times. After his career, he raised hundreds of millions of dollars to provide support for people with cancer with his Lance Armstrong Foundation and those yellow bracelets.

However, one thing kept tormenting Armstrong. He won those titles amid allegations that he used performance enhancing drugs. He said he never cheated, not once. Accusation after accusation kept coming. He continually said he was clean and never tested positive for drugs.

Then in 2012, a United States Anti-Doping Agency investigation concluded that Armstrong indeed used performance-enhancing drugs, and was even the ring-leader of the whole operation. He was immediately banned from cycling, stripped of his Tour de France titles, and was forced to resign as chairman of his organization. The organization he founded changed its name to the Livestrong Foundation. Nike soon ended their relationship with the company, and many other organizations followed suit.

Later, Armstrong confessed to Oprah that his success story was “one big lie.” The sad part about it, he admitted that the doping, the drugs, the cheating, there was nothing wrong in any of it. He didn’t really feel bad about doing any of it. He got caught up in the moment and caught up in his own legend.

Sounds to me like, “It’s not you. It’s me.” A script that never flipped.

What is sadder for me, is what the people who looked up to him as a person with integrity, who beat cancer, and came back to live a healthy life and become a champion, probably think of him now. He gave hope to millions. And later, we all found out he lied about his own story. His integrity, or lack thereof, caught up to him. He never flipped his focus and it affected so many more than just him.


Pay Attention to Integrity


Integrity is definitely needed when deciding what action should be taken. Here are some quick tips to build and improve your integrity over time.

  • What would Mom think about you? Ask yourself if the behavior you are about to engage in, or the decision you are going to make, would be approved by your mother, grandmother, or primary school teacher? If you think that’s a bit too-far out there, what would your current coach or mentor think? What would your wife, husband, or partner think? Fifty years down the road, how would you describe what you are about to do to your grandkids? What would they think?
  • Engage in mindfulness practices. Prayer, meditation, or reflection can go a long way in understanding where your integrity is in decisions. Take the time to do this.
  • Promise and then deliver. Be clear about what you can do and the timeframe around it. Confidently commit to what you can do. Then deliver on it. A proven track record of constantly promising and then delivering builds your integrity. And proverbially speaking, when your “mouth writes checks that you can’t cash,” your credibility and integrity take a hit. The more that happens, the more difficult it is to recover.


Ways to Think About Doing What is “Right” When Making Decisions


Learn from Why Good People Do Bad Things. 

We tend to think that only bad people do bad things. But that’s not necessarily the case. Researchers have shed light on the fact that good people, even us, may do bad things, or may not do the “right” thing even though we know better. We oftentimes don’t do the “right” thing because we don’t fully comprehend the entire situation, we don’t see the big picture, or understand the actual choices we can make.But you don’t have to fall into that trap. Here’s how you can maximize your chances of doing the right thing.

Frame the decision as an ethical one, not a business one. 

In their research, Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel had certain groups think of a business decision and make a mental checklist, which usually included things like, “What would be gained,” or “How will the future be affected?” Other groups were asked to think of an ethical decision and make a checklist as well, which had things like, “Is it fair,” or “Will people be hurt by the outcome?” After doing an unrelated task meant to distract them, Bazerman and Tenbrunsel offered the groups an opportunity to cheat. Interestingly, those who were primed to make a business decision at the beginning were more likely to lie than those primed to make an ethical decision. According to Tenbrunsel, if you are primed to make a business decision, you want to prove your competence and your worth. What matters in these circumstances is your success. That’s your main goal (and a pretty good example of, “It’s not you. It’s me.”). It may be totally obvious to think in “business” terms, like cost-benefit analyses and how to come ahead financially, in a situation at work. MBA programs probably say that’s exactly what you should do. But only having that type of thinking may ultimately make you blind to your integrity and what is ethically the “right” thing to do. So, flip your focus and base your actions and decisions around an ethical framework, not a business framework.  

Think about the future, don’t dwell on the people in the present.

Many times, we may do what isn’t ethical because we personally know, and like, the parties involved. Many of us want to help people, which is a noble thing to do. It’s totally natural and normal to care about and help the people we like. Yet, doing so can cloud our judgment and prevents us from seeing what’s wrong in our actions. We also don’t pay attention to future implications because we are so focused on the person in the present. By no means am I saying you no longer should help people, or that how you feel about someone shouldn’t be part of your decisions. But, according to research by Lamar Pierce and Francesca Gino, don’t let your relationship or wanting to help someone be the driving force and only reason behind your decisions. Rather, think about the future implications of the decisions. Take yourself out of the situation. Understand exactly what the cost to the future will be based on what you do now. How will your decisions truly affect you? The other person? Other people connected to your decision? Believe me, that will be hard because we can’t predict the future, and it’s so much easier to deal with the people we like in the present. But in order to flip your focus and do the “right” thing, that’s how you can do it. Fully understand the possible aftermath of your decisions, and be transparent to all parties involved about why you are making that decision. If you don’t, you may become blind when it comes to doing the “right” thing.

Know the triggers and pressures that prompt making the wrong decision.

There are circumstances or situations that would predict us acting unethically, or doing the “wrong” thing when we know all too well that we shouldn’t. Bazerman and Tenbrunsel and dean of Harvard Business School Nitin Nohria summarized research that indicated we are more likely to act unethically when: we work in uncertainty; we are under extreme time pressure; we work alone; or there are big rewards (usually monetary) tied to our work. If you are in any of these situations, you are more likely to go down a path you don’t want to go or make a decision you don’t need to make. Act with integrity and do the “right” thing particularly under these circumstances.


Certain Things to Mention When You Must Say “No” to People


Yes, you can say, “No.

I get that you probably want to please those who ask for your service or help. It doesn’t matter if it’s your boss, your coworkers, customers, or other important stakeholders. You want to have the reputation as a great team member who comes through in the clutch, in a time of need. You want the same said about your team too, undoubtedly. You don’t want to disappoint others or come across as being lazy, impolite, unsympathetic, uncaring, or selfish. I feel the same way. I hate saying, “No,” to any of these important people. I feel guilty even thinking about it.

Even though we know deep down inside there’s just no way it can be done, many of us can’t say, “No.” And when we say, “Yes,” and then end up not delivering on what we said we would do, it gets us in trouble. We lose credibility. Our integrity suffers. Or, by chance we actually do fulfill the request, it’s at the expense of others who depended on us, and we lose our credibility with them. Plus, the quality of work probably falls below expectation, and your performance might not have been at its best. Further, your team may feel like they weren’t heard, weren’t consulted, their input didn’t matter, and were thrown under the bus because you didn’t say, “No,” on their behalf. They’ll feel demotivated and less engaged. They may not look kindly on you as their leader either. Their trust in you may start to waver.

So what do you do? You can’t say, “No,” as a leader, right?

Well, yes, you can! Give yourself permission to say, “No.” Your integrity will not suffer if every now and then when you obviously know the request cannot be fulfilled, you say, “No.” In fact, saying “No,” can be a blessing because it will set some boundaries. Of course you want to help, be up front with that. But be transparent about why you are saying “No,” given the parameters and circumstances surrounding the request in that moment in time. You could mention things like:

  • All the jobs, duties, and responsibilities that are on your plate, or that of your team.
  • All the priorities you or your team has.
  • The due dates, timelines, and deadlines for your current work.
  • The resources that are needed or must be shifted to get things done.
  • Wanting to help, but others are depending on you just as much to get something done.
  • Asking for suggestions of how to reprioritize tasks so everybody’s work gets completed in a timely manner.

By stating these, or other things that bring clarity to everyone involved, maybe others will understand why you must say, “No.”

Then it’s up to you whether that “No” is the final word, or, if it’s the bridge to another conversation. Sometimes it must be the final word, and that’s OK. Most people really will understand, give them some credit. Other times, that “No” does not have to be the final answer (which I hope give comforts to those of you like me, who feel really bad or guilty about saying, “No,” to others). You may want to determine how else the task can be done or request be fulfilled given the circumstances and what you just said. Start to negotiate (notice, you can’t spell “negotiate” without the word, “no”). By saying “No,” and being clear about why, you can work from a place of strength and one where you truly want to help and serve others given the circumstances. You can start the conversation to work together to find the proper and best alternative.

You can still have integrity and say, “No.” You are telling the truth aren’t you? Rather, it’s when you say, “Yes,” and you don’t deliver, will your integrity take a hit.