Stop Using Ridiculous Strategies and Start Being Intentional
Small changes can have a big impact on how you show up
My friend, Carol Isozaki, is a well-known leadership trainer, coach, and founder. She has given seminars and talks throughout the country, including keynoting at the Women in Product Conference. Carol often talks about something she calls “unintentional ridiculous strategies.” This topic had such an impact on me that I even wrote about it in my book because I realized how much I had been employing this form of self-sabotage.
For today’s post, I wanted to dive deeper into this subject. I will teach you what an “unintentional ridiculous strategy” is, and share some ways to proactively avoid them on a day-to-day basis.
What is an Unintentional Ridiculous Strategy?
You may be wondering what her concept of “unintentional ridiculous strategy” is. It’s basically the act of sabotaging yourself without realizing it. Here are some examples that illustrate this:
How many times do you go into a meeting and say to yourself, “I am definitely not going to add value in there,” or, “I am going to drain the energy out of the room”?
How many times do you go into a conference and decide, “I am going to sit in the back by myself,” or, “I will just take notes and listen without engaging with anyone”?
How many times have you gone into a 1:1 with your manager or skip-level and thought, “I am going to talk about trivial things and not make a good use of this time,” or, “I am not going to ask for feedback or discuss how to get promoted”?
The answer is never. You would never decide to do something you know will sabotage your growth. But how many times have you walked away from a meeting having done just that?
These are unintentional ridiculous strategies at work. We would never intentionally do these things, and yet we allow ourselves to do them every day.
Why do we do things that we know won’t work?
Objectively, we understand that never speaking up or advocating for ourselves harms our careers. But we often find ourselves doing these things anyway because we don’t even notice when we’re doing it. We allow life to get in the way, or we get caught up in what we're doing. We get distracted on Zoom because a crisis comes along. We tell ourselves, “Next time, I’ll ask for that promotion,” or, “I’ll just sit back for this one meeting.”
The problem with this strategy is that it is not a strategy. It is a terrible fallback position. Rather than being thoughtful about our participation in every meeting, we are allowing ourselves to be buoyed like a leaf floating along on a river. We go where it takes us, without any agency of our own. When we do this, we’re getting in our own way. We’re slowing ourselves down by not taking ownership of our journey.
The good news is, that there are ways of breaking free of these habits and making your voice heard.
Change the environment
When I worked with Yuji Higaki, he rarely spoke up during meetings. I decided to start holding him accountable for speaking up at least once every 30-minute meeting and twice every hour-long meeting. I remember the panicked look he would get on his face when he knew that time was passing, and he was going to have to say something.
The thing is, Yuji had incredibly interesting and insightful things to say, but he would only say them in closed rooms, in front of his own team. When we were outside that comfort zone, he would shut down, because he was afraid of getting something wrong in front of other people. What he didn't realize was that by not saying anything, he was getting it wrong. He was not having the influence he wanted, and that was holding him back. I coached him on this for a long time.
Today, Yuji is the leader of engineering for Niantic, the company that created Pokémon GO. Funnily enough, he no longer has a problem speaking up. He started his new job with the intention of showing up every single day. And, lo and behold, he did. A few months after he joined Niantic, he even told me they would be surprised to hear that he used to have trouble speaking up. I wanted to beat my forehead against my computer, wondering how I had failed as a manager. Kidding! (Sort of.)
It turned out that the environment was what had been holding him back. Yuji joined Facebook as an engineer on Platform, but when he joined Niantic as a leader, he suddenly occupied a different place—and he had to live up to that position. He stopped employing the unintentional ridiculous strategy of just sitting back because he no longer could. How could he call himself the head of engineering if he never spoke with confidence and ownership? Rather than being one of many engineering directors, he was now the leader, and he found his voice when he intentionally took on that mantle.
We tend to let our job titles or positions affect how we show up. When we don’t see ourselves as leaders, we have a hard time leading. When we don’t see ourselves as communicators, we have a hard time communicating. But sometimes all it takes is to reframe your situation. Rather than seeing yourself as a listener, reframe yourself as a persuader or an influencer. Choose an active role you want to play, and let that guide you.
What will people remember?
If a person shows up to a meeting and doesn't say anything, did they show up at all? Every time you go into a meeting, you have a chance to leave your mark on the people around you. It’s an opportunity to make your perspective known, and to make a useful contribution. But if you didn’t participate, what was the purpose of being there?
I remember one cross-functional leader who sat in the back for a two-day product review involving every team. She said nothing as she watched team after team come in and shared their metrics and roadmaps. I don’t think she planned to be silent, yet that was exactly what happened. Later, I asked her why she didn’t say anything. She said she didn’t feel comfortable speaking up. I pointed out to her that her team was there, waiting to see her lead across the org in the same fierce and vocal way they had come to expect from her. From that point, she started to open up more, leading to better insights and outcomes.
Imagine that whenever you finish a Zoom call or leave a meeting, you leave a photograph behind. Is that picture vibrant and memorable? Or is it faded and barely visible? You might not notice it at the time, but you leave an impression every time you show up. That could either be an impression that you’re dedicated to the company mission and the work of your team, or an impression of indifference. You get to choose. That cross-functional leader didn’t leave anything memorable behind, because she remained silent for two days. In the process, she was doing those around her—and herself—a disservice.
Next time you’re sitting in a meeting, considering staying silent, ask yourself, “What do I want people to remember about me in this meeting?” What that picture looks like is up to you.
Pick an “Intentional Winning Strategy” instead
One of the best ways to break a bad habit is to replace it with a better one. Rather than going with your default strategy of sitting back and letting the river wash you away, choose intentionality instead.
Take a moment before each meeting to make a game plan. Take a breath before you go in and answer these three questions:
What do I hope to accomplish here?
What will I do or say to achieve that?
What does a successful outcome look like?
Then act accordingly. It can help to make a note of your answers to use as a reminder during the meeting, especially if you catch yourself defaulting to being passive. Keep your intentions at the front of your mind, and allow them to guide you.
When the meeting is over, grade yourself. Did you accomplish what you hoped to? Or did you fall back on unintentional ridiculous strategies? Remember, this is a process. You don’t have to always ace it, but holding yourself accountable is important for getting true outcomes. You get more of what you measure, so if you aren’t measuring your impact, you aren't making tangible progress.
One thing I found useful for staying accountable was to find a meeting buddy. Just as I gave feedback to Yuji and held him accountable during meetings, try asking a friend or colleague to nudge you along and push you to speak up. This keeps you on track and ensures you are employing intentional strategies, rather than defaulting to backbenching it.
As I recently wrote, there is a huge bias in favor of those who speak up and show up during meetings. It’s critical to be proactive in deciding what you want to say and how you want others to perceive you. Pick the moments that count, and use them to make yourself heard.
Choose how you show up. Learn to be intentional.
If you want to bring Carol to your organization to help your teams avoid these strategies, learn to speak up, and be all-around amazing, please reach out to her. She transformed my team, and she can do the same for you.
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Along with writing about work, I write also about other things. Here are some of my favorite posts:
Lessons From My Immigrant Parents: Things I learned all too well from my immigrant parents
Behind the Scenes Book Cover Edition: Other things you don’t think about when writing a book
What I Learned About Empathy: And how it can help you connect with others and allow others to connect with you
Memories Through Food: How Taste Passes on Culture: Food shapes memory and experience in unexpected ways
Such powerful suggestions and examples around being intentional about showing up. Thank you.