Build up your tolerance

This post starts like many… as an interesting situation that my mind twists into a leadership lesson.  This one starts at the grocery store.

While picking out some apples, oranges and mangoes, my wife Linda noticed that I picked up 3 or 4 pieces of fruit before deciding on just the right ones.  She rightly pointed out that if all of the customers do that, I am likely picking up a lot of their germs, and then if I don’t wash the fruit before I eat it (which I don’t), I will then be ingesting all those germs, pesticides and chemicals.

She had made a pretty good case, but it was my turn for cross-examination.

My argument?  I rarely get sick.  Once, maybe twice a year, I have to stock up on orange juice and DayQuil to get me through a sniffley patch.  Whether my lack of sickness is due to ingesting (and then building up a tolerance to) those germs, or my daily intake of the fruit itself, I don’t know.  I do think there is something to that tolerance thing, and that’s what struck me as a leadership topic.

As leaders, how many things do we do that (at least at first) make us uncomfortable?  And how often to those get easier with time?

And why do they get easier?  Because we have built up a tolerance for the unsettling feeling we get just before we have to discipline someone, terminate someone, or address any situation where the stakes of the relationship and the stakes of the situation are high.

We learn that the pit in our stomach is just energy, and we can choose how to use it.  I remember in the early days of my leadership career how that energy would be used to think of ways to get out of doing something.  I gave in to the nerves, because I had no tolerance for it.  I couldn’t take it.

Later I learned to push through the initial awkwardness and use the energy to propel me forward, not backward.  As time went on, the awkward phase got shorter and shorter, and the positive energy just appeared without much effort.

Here are some things to think about as you build up tolerance:

  • It’s going to be okay – unless you are taming lions with a toothbrush, chances of your survival are pretty good.  Use that confidence to take the first step in turning that pit of energy into something that will help you, not hold you back.
  • It’s not an overnight process – don’t expect to go through one situation and be an old pro.  Just like I wouldn’t eat an apple that was covered in mud and axle grease, we shouldn’t try to rush this process too much.  A little here and there goes a long way.
  • Pace yourself – Seinfeld fans know that “unbridled enthusiasm” was Billy Mumphrey’s down fall. Part of the redirected positive energy will be used to move yourself forward, but part of it should also be used to keep yourself calm, so you can continue moving forward.

Thanks for reading!





About the author: while Matt has a tolerance for moderately dirty fruit, he very little tolerance for boring training seminars.  That was one of the driving forces behind the creation of Lessons In Fun, an interactive, immersive, more-fun-than-you-should-be-allowed-to-have-at-a-training-seminar seminar!  Click here for more information or to register. Seats are limited!



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