Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Make Marmalade and Scrub the Floor

"I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It's amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor."
-- D.H. Lawrence

A frequently quoted saying that I've found true in my own experience is "mood follows action." A key element of leadership to me, then, is the ability to take right action (or sometimes ANY action) in spite of mood.

A negative mood can be turned around by "making marmalade and scrubbing the floor." Simply by changing our focus from ourselves, our fears, doubts and anxieties onto simple, productive action, we can break the grip of negative thinking -- if only for the moment.

In a previous post entitled "A Leader Manages The Mood of An Organization" I described various ways in which the entire "mood" of an organization directly reflects the mood of the top leadership.

That post begged the question, "So when I'm leading, does that mean I need to be in a good mood all the time?" In a general sense, yes. That is precisely what it means.

It doesn't mean you can and should feel good all the time -- or that you shouldn't display dissatisfaction with unacceptable performance -- but when in front of others who look to you for leadership and guidance, consistency of mood is important. If you've ever worked for a moody boss, you know how stressful it is. Like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. And in this case, that's not a good thing.

So, if I'm going to the office and I'm in a negative mindset, should I go back home? Maybe, but that's not always possible or advisable. A better path is to focus on right action. What's the next positive action I can take? Think of any action, no matter how small, that will make a difference for yourself or someone else.

Take an action step toward executing on one of your business or personal goals. Maybe it's a goal you've been procrastinating on. Even a very small action can bring a sense of accomplishment if you've spent months "thinking" about a goal but haven't actually done anything to act on it.

Maybe you've been letting papers pile up on your desk. Simply organizing them and cleaning your desktop is a productive action that will lead to a change in mood.

If all else fails, a friend of mine recommended the next time I'm in a negative mood to look at myself in the mirror and repeat the following phrase out loud: "This is serious stuff." Each time I say it, emphasize with emotion a different word in the sentence: i.e., THIS is serious stuff. This IS serious stuff. This is SERIOUS stuff. This is serious STUFF. I guarantee, if you do this, you will not be able to keep a straight face for long.

There are many types of marmalade-making actions. The most important thing is to do them.