Are You the CEO of Your Brain?

You think you’ve got it under control. Signed, sealed, all but delivered. You are in charge.

Suddenly, the Itty-bitty Shitty Committee cranks up the volume in your head. Can’t, shouldn’t, better not, watch out for, told you so, what if. The cacophony becomes overwhelming.

Suddenly, nobody trusts you. And why should they? You are no longer the CEO of your brain.

The Diagnosis

If you are not the CEO of your brain, who is? There can be no good answer to that question, at least not from the perspective of those listening to you—your customers, coworkers, those you hope to lead. If you are not the CEO of your brain–nothing good follows.

Don’t confuse being the CEO of your brain with being perfect, excellent, or even self-confident. It is simply about being comfortable with who you are. If you know who you are and are at ease with it, then people trust you. They say you have integrity, that you are transparent, that you have no hidden agenda. They may even say you care.

By contrast, when the Committee has taken over, the inmates are running the asylum. No one is in charge, and fear stalks the land between your ears.

The Prescription

As far as I know, all wisdoms of the world offer a two-step solution to the dilemma. The first is to fix the acute situation; the second is to amend the chronic condition.

The acute situation. Stop the noise. Put the plug in the jug.  Just don’t do that. Stop the pain. First, do no harm. Staunch the flow. Take the first breath of oxygen before passing the mask to your child. Admit there is a problem. Take 10 deep breaths. Count to 100. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

The chronic condition.   Do what you can, leave the rest. Live in the moment. Detach from the outcome. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Right-size your ego.  Resign from the debating society.  There is a God–and you’re not it.  An expectation is a premeditated resentment.  The only true mistake is a repeated mistake. You’re just another bozo on the bus.  Learn to laugh at yourself.

The Prognosis

Since the underlying condition is Life, the long-term prognosis is not good.  However, considerable success can be had in the interim.

Much of that success seems to depend on recognizing that the chronic cure comes not by a single dose, but by a regimen.  Excellence is but a habit, said Aristotle.  So are sanity, sobriety, and gratitude.  That doesn’t mean you can’t have a constant itch for improvement–just don’t let it ruin your sleep.

This is how you become the CEO of your brain; not by revelation, but by repetition. After a while, the Committee steps down, and you’re back in charge, where you should be.

And that’s when people can trust you.

Does This Make My “S” Look Big? True Customer Focus

I’ve led dozens of learning programs on being a Trusted Advisor.  One thing I’ve learned: without a doubt, the most popular element of the Trust Equation is Self-Orientation.

By “popular,” I mean it’s the one most people identify as a huge opportunity for improvement. Which makes sense, since it’s deliberately placed in the denominator to highlight its ubiquitousness.

Simply defined, self-orientation is about focus. If someone says about you, “I trust that she cares about _______” and fills in the blank with something that relates to them, then your “S” is little. And that’s good.  (“I trust that she cares about how this project will impact my career”; “I trust that she cares about what’s best for the team”; “I trust that she cares about our reputation.”)

Alternatively, if the words that complete the sentence relate to you in any way shape, or form, then you’ve officially got a Big “S.” And that’s bad. 

We all know the stereotypical used car salesman – a classic “Big S” caricature. He’s disingenuous, in it for himself, armed and ready with manipulative tactics to get you to do what he wants. As I’ve come to better understand what “S” is all about, I’ve come to appreciate its subtlety. In reality, self-orientation sneaks into our interactions with others in more insidious ways. This means keeping it small can be challenging.

Think of self-orientation as referring to two levels of focus: results and needs.

High Self-Orientation Level 1: Results

Most of us are pretty clear about the results dimension–the more obvious of the two. We generally know what we should be doing to be other-focused in this regard. “Little S” strategies include:

asking lots and lots of questions from a place of curiosity to figure out what success really looks like

negotiating for true win-win,

doing the right thing, even if you’re incented otherwise. The latter includes the provocative notion of referring a client to a competitor if the competitor could do better for the customer.

“Big S” results behaviors (the bad ones, remember) include rushing to a solution, making a bad first deal, or “hoarding”—time, resources, ideas. “Gigantic S” equals stereotypical used car guy.

High Self-Orientation Level 2: Needs 

The other dimension of self-orientation is needs.The question here is whether or not you’re focused on your needs–or on theirs.

For example:

–          Are you focused on your need to look smart (and so you invoke Death by PowerPoint … or simply talk a lot) or are you focused on their need to be heard (therefore you listen without distraction, even when it’s uncomfortable to be silent for what feels like a long time)?

–          Are you focused on your need to be liked (hence you avoid confrontation—sometimes or always) or their need to have all the data required to make good decisions (meaning you’re consistently willing to speak a hard truth if it’s necessary, even when it feels awkward to do it)?

–          Are you focused on your need to be the hero (so you subtly compete for attention or recognition) or are you focused on their need to feel confident (meaning you check your ego at the door and give them the credit)?

I chose these three examples because they’re the ones I struggle with the most. Even though my “S” scores on the Trust Quotient are actually pretty low, I’m well aware of my own quirks and foibles and I work every day to manage them—sometimes with greater success than others.

What Makes My “S” Look Big? Being Human

Self-orientation rears its ugly head most often when we feel some sort of fear—fear of looking bad, fear of rejection, fear of loss. All of these fears fall into the category of perfectly normal. And they’re what make your “S” look big.

What makes a difference is having the ego strength to see it, acknowledge it, to “get off your ‘S’,” and move on.   After all, obsessing about “Big S” mistakes is just more … “Big S.”

Ah, the joys of being human.