Is your skin thick enough?

Are you like a Rhino?

No, I am not implying you eat everything in sight to arrive at the weight of 1,800 pounds that a rhino can reach. Nor am I implying you should charge to knock down anything that gets in your way. I’m thinking more of your need to develop the thick skin of the rhino. At two inches thick the rhino's skin is almost like an armor plate. 

You need a mental thick skin to meet the barbs and scratches of life in the spotlight. At the same time, as a leader you need to have the courage to say what you mean and mean what you say. And to do this even when others don’t like it. This idea of leaders needing a rhino's skin is not mine, it belongs to a very famous lady, Eleanor Roosevelt.  Keep reading to discover what it means.

A lady with “rhino skin”

Eleanor Roosevelt was very involved in her husband’s politics, and became a strong political figure in her own right. She was capable of taking public positions that generated controversy. This lead her to write: "Every woman in public life needs to develop skin as tough as rhinoceros hide."  

Evidently she developed it, since it is said she was the first president's wife to testify before a Congressional committee, the first to hold press conferences, to speak before a national party convention, to write a syndicated column, to be a radio commentator, to earn money as a lecturer.

After Franklin's death, Eleanor remained a powerful figure in national politics and as United States representative to the United Nations. At the UN, she worked eighteen to twenty hours a day, drawing on her political skills to win passage, in December 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

Lessons from the “thick skin” lady

The next time somebody, or something, tries to “get under your skin” to steal your plans, ruin your day and wreck your peace, here are some clues you can take from Eleanor, the “thick skin” lady: 

  1. Don’t take things personally.  Eleanor Roosevelt said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." What others think, feel, say, and do is rarely about you. It is more about them. If you take things too personally, you will suffer needlessly at the hands of those who believe they can feel good only when they make someone else feel bad.
  2. Force a (convincing) grin. This is a great defusing technique both for you and the other person. Recent research shows that you can feel better by smiling. Yes, even a forced smile. It sends the message that you are not going to be provoked into anger. It’s as if you're saying, “I know what you're trying to do, and I won't let you.”  
  3. Stand tall. Don’t let the unwarranted criticism of others bring you down. Leaders are easy target for those that like to throw stones. Don’t let their potshots kill your inner confidence and make you feel inferior.  
  4. Do what is right. Another quote by Eleanor Roosevelt is: “Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”  What is most important is to follow your deep felt beliefs and values and be true to them. Even if there is pressure from others to act in unethical, or underhanded ways, don't cave in. Your authenticity will give you greater influence.
  5. Face fear.  Eleanor Roosevelt also said, "You can gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, "I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along. You must do the thing you think you cannot do." As a leader many times you have to act at moments where you feel almost paralyzed by fear. Making a tough decisions, or taking a difficult path you are not sure how it’s going to end requires courage. Forging ahead, even when you think you are not capable of going agains the current another step is facing your fears and conquering them.
  6. Be direct. A leader needs to be able to clearly present what is meaningful. In the following quote Mrs. Roosevelt was talking about politics, but I think it applies equally to business: “Sometimes I wonder if we shall ever grow up in our politics and say definite things which mean something, or whether we shall always go on using generalities to which everyone can subscribe, and which mean very little.” Decide to wrap yourself in your thick skin and be the one who brings definite meaning.

Next time you start feeling sorry for yourself, just remember the rhino. When following your heart, and doing what’s right, you will no longer worry that what you say and do will offend others.  Learn to develop your Rhino Skin!  If Eleanor Roosevelt could do it so many years ago, you certainly can do it today!

Reflect and Share

If you already had a two-inch-thick skin, not having to worry about “what will people think”, what would you be doing differently?  

Executive Coaching is a great way to grow as a leader. If you feel the need to grow your "thick skin", I invite you to consider my Executive Coaching Program. You can have a free conversation with me to explore a) In which areas you need to develop a "thick skin;" b) How your leadership could be different; c) How to have more direct conversations. You’ll leave the session renewed, reenergized and inspired to develop a powerful results driven leadership that inspires people to gets things done so that you can be the business hero and still have a flourishing personal life. Schedule a conversations with me directly on my calendar by clicking on the button below.