Best Advice: Lock Your Kryptonite in a Lead Box

This post is part of a series in which LinkedIn Influencers share the best advice they've ever received. Read all the posts here.

No matter how seemingly “powerful” people are, they all have weaknesses. The Greek hero Achilles had his heel pierced by an arrow. And even Superman was rendered powerless by glowing green crystals known as kryptonite, which could only be remedied by encasing the offending crystals in lead.

No matter how successful we become, we’re still human (with the exception perhaps, of Superman). Realizing our potential for success isn’t about an absence of weakness, but rather developing a strategy to overcome it.

Which brings me to one of the best and most memorable pieces of advice I’ve ever received. Around five years ago, I was talking to one of my mentors, a leadership development coach who I work with regularly. I was frustrated with some of my colleagues. They weren’t acting the way I believed they should, and I was struggling to find the right way to handle it. The whole situation was getting to me, and I was wearing my discontent on my sleeve. It was draining my ability to be effective.

He helped me recognize the problem wasn’t the situation itself, but rather my reaction to it. He said: “Barry, lock your kryptonite away in a lead box.” That is, take my emotional response and visualize locking it away where it didn’t have the same power over me. That pause would give me a clearer head, help me see the situation differently, and certainly more rationally. This would in turn affect the way I presented myself to others, and how I worked to resolve the issue.

Emotions aren’t a bad thing in themselves. I’m certainly not suggesting they have no place in business. It’s only when they cloud our judgment that we get ourselves into trouble. So when someone disagrees with me, or something doesn’t go the way I planned, I recall my mentor’s advice. I take a moment to pause. And I use that time to refocus my mind and shift my outlook. It makes all the difference in the world.

To this day I’m grateful to my coach for his masterful advice which has worked wonders for me in my career. I believe I’m a much more effective CEO as a result.

Conquering your own personal kryptonite…

  1. Ask yourself: what emotions or perspectives could be clouding your judgment? If you want to succeed in business, or as a leader, you need a high level of self-awareness. To make the most of your powers––whether of the super or more earthly variety––you must be honest with yourself about your development areas as well as your strengths.

  2. Let your guard down. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and talk about your weaknesses. Not only can you use insights you have gained about yourself to learn, but also to strengthen your connection and trust with others.

  3. Remind yourself to pause. It may feel a little awkward at first—much like any form of exercise. But practice enough and muscle memory will kick in. You’ll find yourself naturally taking time to reflect before reacting.

  4. Apply it at home as well as at work. I should add that thisisn’t just a formula for better listening and decision-making in the workplace, but also in our personal lives, where emotions are even more likely to impact our interactions and relationships.

  5. And finally, handle any advice carefully. I wrote in my post to young CEOs, that they need to “listen to the right people and ignore the rest”. It’s a really important balance. You must filter the advice you’re receiving and decide what’s right for you.

    One piece of advice I chose not to follow was from my high school guidance counselor, who told me not to bother going to college, as my English grades weren’t good enough. As I wrote in my post about increasing access to college education, I didn’t accept her counsel and worked hard to complete my accounting degree and later my law degree. I believed I could achieve more than she expected of me. Sometimes the best person to listen to is yourself.

So I’m really interested to know, does my kryptonite story ring true for you? What benefits have you noticed from taking time to refocus before you react? Has this made you more effective at work or at home? Please add your voice to the conversation in the comments section below.

Barry Salzberg is the Global CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (www.deloitte.com/global). Click the 'Follow' link below to stay up to date with Barry's exclusive LinkedIn Influencer content.

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