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power points

To master the world you must master yourself, advises Toronto-based executive coach Craig Dowden. And high on the list of what you must master are your mindset, emotions and strengths.

Our mindset affects how we process information and affects our experiences. “Imagine you’re getting ready for an upcoming meeting and are thinking, ‘This is going to be torturous and a complete waste of time.’ Guess how the meeting turns out?” he writes in A Time to Lead.

Mr. Dowden places great stock in having a “growth mindset,” in which we are energized about new opportunities, rather than a fixed mindset, in which we prefer tasks we already do well and don’t expect to make mistakes. A growth mindset allows us to handle challenges and setbacks better, because we have a more flexible approach.

Indeed, for those with a growth mindset, a setback becomes a puzzle to figure out rather than a reason to give up. We are likely to put more effort into improving ourselves because we believe such change is possible, rather than a waste of effort.

Mr. Dowden warns you not to let your successes lure you into a fixed mindset, confident there is nothing to improve. Also, don’t assume only less-enlightened souls have a fixed mindset. He notes that research by Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck, who first delineated the fixed-versus-growth distinction, has shown that we can slip in and out of a growth mindset. You need to be aware of your mindset at any given moment, and shift to a growth mindset in instances when a fixed mindset can be particularly problematic.

Mastering your emotions is also critical, because when you allow them to take over it is virtually impossible to realize your potential. Mr. Dowden urges you to view emotions as invaluable internal sources of information on how you are doing in any given moment.

Positive emotions suggest you are comfortable. Negative emotions are an early-warning system, indicating you need to pay attention to what has created that tension. Neither type of feeling is better than the other; feelings are simply a reflection of your emotional state.

You need to be a detective when it comes to your emotions, digging deeper and providing a more specific label than just, in a positive moment, “I’m feeling good.” Are you optimistic, energized or excited? Mr. Dowden refers to a study of people with spider phobias who were exposed to the arachnids and then labelled their emotions. The results suggested that the more precise we are in acknowledging and labelling those emotions, the more effective we will be in managing them.

He cautions against venting our emotions, which can give a false sense of catharsis. It can also be contagious, inviting another person to do the same. But if you feel the need to vent, it’s important to pick someone who is a good listener and skilled at helping you to see the situation differently. Indeed, ask them to challenge your interpretations and push you to see things through a different lens.

Mr. Dowden also encourages you to identify your strengths and focus on using them as much as possible, because research indicates that can make you more resilient, engaged and successful. After identifying those strengths, consider how often you leverage them in your work and then ask what opportunities exist to employ them more often. As well, who can support you in using them more frequently?

The only time not to focus exclusively on utilizing your strengths is when you have a major flaw – one so critical it can wreck your career. You need to correct that fatal flaw to sail ahead.

Quick hits

  • Once a positive behaviour becomes a habit, we don’t think about it and the habit can slip in stressful times, notes Ottawa-based productivity consultant Chris Bailey. To combat this, once a week he reviews his habits that produce dividends to make sure he hasn’t taken his foot off the gas.
  • Venture capitalist Paul Graham suggests checking whether you have any opinions that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of your peers. If you don’t, that may indicate you are just thinking what you are told.
  • A study examining whether a smile can influence your feelings found that while the impact of one is small, the effects could accumulate and produce meaningful changes in well-being over time.
  • Power is influence over external events while peace is influence over internal events, says Atomic Habits author James Clear.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.