Why you need some "Debbie Downers" to rein in optimists

Why you need some "Debbie Downers" to rein in optimists | practice (split each time) | 4 leadership anxiety traps and how to avoid them
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April 18, 2024
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Leading the Way
Why you need some "Debbie Downers" to rein in optimists
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Too much positivity in business in the form of "Usula Upbeat" type employees who engage in wishful thinking can make leaders miss emerging dangers, writes Adam Hanft, CEO of Hanft Ideas, who recommends balancing optimists with some "Debbie Downers." "We must widen our definition of diversity so those who are genetically wired to fight rose-colored cognition have a visible and honored place in the enterprise," Hanft asserts.
Full Story: Inc. (tiered subscription model) (4/17) 
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Put it into practice: You can temper the extremes of your "Debbie Downers" and "Ursula Upbeats," by inviting them to see both opportunities and challenges to find the best way forward for the business, Hanft advises. One alternative is to feed data into generative AI and see what blind spots it reveals, writes Hanft, who predicts it could "be a bracing moment."
SmartBrief on Leadership
4 leadership anxiety traps and how to avoid them
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Leaders can make themselves unnecessarily anxious by focusing too much on negative thoughts that lead to all or nothing conclusions or over-generalization of situations that prevent them from seeing opportunities and solutions, writes LaRae Quy. "If we practice a more balanced way of analyzing outcomes daily, it helps to dial down our level of anxiety when confronted with a more threatening situation," Quy notes.
Full Story: SmartBrief/Leadership (4/17) 
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Put it into practice: Avoid trying to read another's mind, projecting your own insecure thoughts onto them, which amps up your anxiety, Quy writes. Instead, focus on your own thoughts and beliefs and reframe negative with positive ones to reinforce how you've successfully dealt with stressful situations before, Quy advises.
Read more from LaRae Quy on SmartBrief on Leadership
Smarter Communication
We all change and grow over time, but often our colleagues may have us pigeonholed in old paradigms that can hold us back in our careers, write executive coaches Darcy Eikenberg and Sarah Mann, who recommend talking openly with coworkers and managers about new skills you've acquired and asking for different responsibilities. "Holding on to long-held work assignments may help you feel productive, but it also means your colleagues are more likely to associate you with your previous role or responsibilities," they write.
Full Story: Harvard Business Review (tiered subscription model) (4/17) 
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Put it into practice: You can end up pigeonholing yourself in lower-level work unless you take the time to reevaluate the role you want to play and find ways to delegate work and take on new projects, write Eikenberg and Mann. "Left to our own devices, most of us default to what is known and comfortable," they note.
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In Their Own Words
Leaders can maximize their executive team by hiring top talent (and quickly letting them go if it isn't working out) and being willing to make unpopular decisions for the good of the company, says Owen Tripp, co-founder and CEO of Included Health. "It's actually about setting a moderate tone on something and just being pragmatic and practical, which isn't necessarily going to drive a lot of engagement," Tripp says.
Full Story: LinkedIn (4/17) 
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Daily Diversion
New ant species named for the one who must not be named
Voldemort (E. Charbonneau/Getty Images)
A new ant species discovered in Australia has been dubbed Leptanilla voldemort in a tribute to "the antagonist in the Harry Potter book series, Lord Voldemort, a terrifying wizard who, like the new ant, is slender, pale and thrives in darkness," according to University of Western Australia scientists. Lead author of the study, Mark Wong, describes the ant who must not be named as "surely a predator, a fearsome hunter in the dark," who preys mainly on soil-dwelling centipedes.
Full Story: Interesting Engineering (4/16) 
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That David or Debbie Downer in your office may often seem like a buzzkill, especially when you're tossing around new ideas and they keep shooting them down. Those naysayers can have a positive effect, however, when embraced instead of sidelined.

I recall reading a study years ago that showed groups with at least one "devil's advocate" came up with more creative solutions than those without one because the contrarian made the group think deeper about a problem. In short, they avoided the "groupthink" that dominated groups without a challenger.

Researchers warn, though, that over the long term, naysayers can be detrimental to team cohesion and cause internal conflicts, so leaders must be careful about how dominant they allow their David and Debbie Downer's to be. Just the right amount of challenge can temper a Ulysses or Ursula Upbeat and result in better decisions and more effective strategies.

If this newsletter helps you, please tell your colleagues, friends or anyone who can benefit. Forward them this email, or send this link.

What topics do you see in your daily work that I should know about? Do you have praise? Criticism? Drop me a note. And don't forget to send me photos of your pets, your office and where you spend your time off.
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