Caught in the Act

Bosses, parents, teachers, clergy and government officials are well trained to catch you doing something wrong.  There are elaborate systems for checks and balances, controls and consequences. It’s apparently very important to catch the mischievous child or the wayward employee in the act of disobedience.

With so much effort spent catching people doing something wrong, it’s time to start catching each other doing something right.

In our society, wide spread labeling is an insidious force that robs individuals of achieving their true potential.  When a parent tells a child they are average, slow, or stupid, these sharp words become a self-fulfilling prophecy as the erroneous labels are internalized.  When a boss repeatedly lashes out at a team member pointing out their every flaw, confidence becomes shattered and performance plummets.

When a kid is slow to pick up violin or painting, teachers and parents routinely label her as “not creative.”   Physicians dispense labels like ADD with reckless abandon.  And business leaders are quick to pick favorites while admonishing the laggards.  These labels seep into our souls, and we end up becoming their personification.  Label a kid as a troublemaker, and trouble he will make.

The good news is that labeling can work the other way too.  Catch a team member in the act of delivering great work, and you’ll inject her with confidence and energy.  Label a colleague a rock-star, and they’ll kick out the work version of a Grammy.

This last week was a thrill for me, having been invited to the White House with nine other entrepreneurs to be recognized as a Champion of Change.  President Obama launched this program to celebrate Americans who are making a difference, innovating, and “winning the future.”  As I watched the faces of my fellow award recipients beam with pride, I realized the power of catching people in the act of greatness.

Each of us will return to our home states full of positive energy and confidence, and will over-perform as a result.  We’ll energize our communities.  We’ll help others.  We’ll make a difference.  One simple label will embolden us to reach our true potential.  Think about how you’d behave differently if you were Jim Smith vs. President Barack Obama’s Champion of Change, Jim Smith.

Most of us have self-talk that’s so negative we’d be institutionalized if we said it out loud.  Maybe you should catch yourself in the act of doing good more often, and celebrate those wins auspiciously.  Maybe that extra shot of energy you give yourself will be the difference maker in reaching your own goals and dreams.

This week, let’s all flip the poison of negative labeling, and catch each other and ourselves in the act – in the act of doing things right.  These new, positive labels will tip the scales in favor of results, momentum, and overall achievement.

By the way, great outfit!