You may have heard the phrase “thoughts become things.” What people think about often becomes actual reality in their life.
Many parents and other leaders don’t have this figured out. They believe that actions/behaviors becomes things, so they focus their time on training and reinforcing the actions and behaviors they want to see from their children and team. But researchers at Burnham Rosen Group discovered that it’s more effective to train people to think differently, because the right thoughts will lead to the right actions that will lead to the right outcomes. Burnham Rosen calls this the Thought > Action > Outcome sequence.
But “Mama always told me” to remember what she and Dad told me. And I do. Perhaps nothing has stayed with me and influenced me as much as certain things my parents told me. A close second are certain messages I heard from teachers and other leaders – especially in the first 20-25 years of my life. I’ll bet you’ve had similar messages stick with you from the key “grown-ups” in your life.
Recently, I shared this concept with a coaching client, and he immediately observed that those messages had become his own “self-talk,” for better or for worse. As parents or leaders, we need to be intentional with our messaging to contribute to self-talk that produces positive results.
It’s true that thoughts become things (results). But when you look more closely at how that happens, and how a parent or leader can influence results, you see a more complete formula:
Messages drive thoughts, which drive actions, which drive results.
How can we be more intentional with our messages? Start by beginning with the end in mind. For example, what is the #1 result you want from your kids? Erin and I have a detailed vision for our children, but I could boil it all down to this result: children whom we enjoy and who grow into happy, independent adults that enjoy us too.
Once you have identify the result(s) you want, determine what actions will produce that result. Then decide what thoughts will drive those actions. And finally, what can you say that is likely to inspire that thinking?
Over my 17 years of parenting, as I’ve done this analysis and learned from thought leaders, I’ve identified 11 key messages that my kids need to hear from Erin and me to create the result we passionately desire. If you are a parent, you may find some or all of these helpful with your own kids.
And I suggest that these messages aren’t just important for children. Each of the 11 messages meets a fundamental human need and can lead to powerful results. Most other people you lead directly – especially if they haven’t heard these from their own parents – probably need to hear them, though perhaps with some modifications.
The top four messages are particularly powerful, for both children and anyone you lead directly. Because these four are so universally important, we get into more detail about them in our podcast episode 22, Messages They Need to Hear from You.
- You are a genius.
- You are a leader.
- You have special gifts that the world needs.
- I believe in you, and I’m proud of you.
The final seven messages won’t be covered in the podcast, so I’m including some explanation for each:
- I enjoy being with you. Everyone needs to feel they are liked as an individual for who they are, not what they do. The easiest and most necessary way to communicate this message requires no words at all: a genuine smile.
- You belong to me/us. So many people are hungry for belonging; sociologists have long said this is a primary driver for street gangs. Make your kids feel that they belong to a special group – your family.
- You are a blessing to me, and to the world. I want my kids to know they aren’t an accident. We are glad they’re here, their presence and helpfulness in our home makes a difference, and their life has a purpose that will benefit the world. As Psalm 127 says, “Children are a gift from the Lord.”
- I will always love you, no matter what. Kids mess up sometimes, and sometimes they even do wrong things on purpose. And so do we grown-ups. Regardless of how bad things get, kids desperately need unconditional love from us. Make sure you say “I love you” often. Try to avoid using it as a form of feedback, such as “You did a great job in today’s game; I love you.”
- God loves you. Many who read this don’t believe in God, and I respect that. But if you do, be sure that your kids hear this vital message clearly and frequently: God loves you, no matter what. I also tell my kids that even though I mess up as an earthly parent, their real father in heaven loves them perfectly.
- You can do it. You can do anything you want! The classic movie Rudy tells about a kid who achieved his dream of playing football for Notre Dame University, even though he had no size or natural talent. In a world full of critics, kids need parents to be their cheerleaders and let them experience the freedom offered by personal initiative. We can also help them realize they may have more fun and impact if they play to their strengths, but cheerleading should take precedence.
- I’m here for you, and I want what is best for you. Most parents know they need to send an “I’m here for you” message so kids can feel secure physically and emotionally. But we need to be careful that we don’t just push what we want on the child – for example, my financial dad didn’t push me into business; he let me pursue my love for communication. We also need to let the child truly grow by not “saving” them from every natural consequence; at age 17, I backed our van into a Lincoln Continental, and my parents let me pay the fine and increased insurance expense myself.
We can quibble over some of the specifics of these messages. But remember, Messages > thoughts > actions > results. If you think about the results you desire for your kids, I think you’ll agree that messages along these lines are vital – especially while the kids are young, but also after they’re grown.
What different/additional messages do you think are important? And do you agree that other people you lead also need to hear these or similar messages?
Jesse Lahey, SPHR, is the host of the Engaging Leader podcast and the managing principal of Aspendale Communications. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.