Framing: The secret for improving performance and happiness

Do you ever have one of those days when you wonder, why am I even bothering?  Sometimes work and life can be overwhelming.

What if I told you, there was a simple mental technique to improve your attitude and your performance?

I call it framing.  It can help you at work and home.

I first realized the power of framing, when my children where small.  I was up late one night, feeding a new baby.  I had a movie on in the background; it was about Nixon.  The scene was paranoid, sweat, jowly Nixon, knocking back a scotch in the Oval Office.  With Watergate closing in on him, Nixon flashed back to a moment in his childhood during the Depression.  His mother, looking bone weary, struggling with a failing farm, tells young Richard, “You just can’t trust people.”

I thought, that poor woman, she’s just trying to keep body and soul together, and she has no idea she’s talking to Nixon, the future president!  Poor thing, I thought, if she had known her words would be remembered in the Oval, she would have chosen more carefully.

I took the thought track further, thinking, at this very moment, some parent is talking to the future president and they don’t even know it either.

Then the realization hit, oh my god it might be me.  It was a defining moment.  I wondered, how would you parent if you knew you were raising the future president?

Notice, the question is not, how do you help your child become president?  The question is, how do you parent if you know your child is going to be the leader of the free world.  She’s going to have her finger on the button, she’s going to be making the difficult calls, and you won’t be there to help her.

I know, it sounds grandiose.  But that frame worked for me.  It was my North Star during the long slog that is parenting.  At times it helped me be stricter, at other times more forgiving.  It made me think less about controlling behavior in the moment, and more about infusing decision-making skills and values that would provide guidance in the future.

Framing is an essential skill for leaders.  Whether it’s imagining your new hires are future CEOs, or envisioning your clients creating the next technology breakthrough, when you frame your team in the context of their best and highest possibilities, your own work and life have more meaning.  You perform better, and you enjoy it more.   The job of a leader is to frame the context and meaning of the work for others.

In the many years since Nixon helped me become a better parent, I’ve come to realize, framing is one of the easiest, and yet often overlooked, techniques for improving attitude and performance, in yourself and others.

Was I a perfect parent?  Hardly.  Nor am I a perfect leader.  Knowing my actions in both arenas affect future generations helps me pause and do better than I might otherwise.  Full disclosure, there were moments as a parent I was so tired all I could do was model humility, explaining to the future President (s) sometimes you order pizza, go to bed and hit the reset button for another day.

At this very moment, someone is raising the future president, someone is hiring her, someone is training her, and someone is helping her become a better leader.

Consider the possibility; perhaps, the person shaping our future is you.