If you like Downton Abbey, you love Lady Violet Crawley: She's the queen of the imperious stare and definitely gets the best lines. (Here she is in action.)

But what might surprise you is that some of the Dowager Countess's quotes apply to business, leadership, and even happiness:

1. "There's nothing simpler than avoiding people you don't like. Avoiding one's friends--that's the real test."

Some of your employees drive you nuts. Some of your customers are obnoxious. Some of your friends are selfish, all-about-me jerks.

Too bad. You chose them. If the people around you make you unhappy, it's not their fault. It's your fault. They're in your professional or personal life because you drew them to you--and you let them remain.

Think about the type of people you want to work with. Think about the types of customers you would enjoy serving. Think about the friends you want to have.

Then change what you do so you can start attracting those people. Hardworking people want to work with hardworking people. Kind people like to associate with kind people. Outstanding employees want to work for outstanding bosses.

As Jim Rohn says, "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with." Choose those people wisely.

2. "No one wants to kiss a girl in black."

Some people instantly make us feel important. Some people instantly make us feel special. Some people light up a room just by walking in.

And some people don't.

Want to avoid being a "girl in black"?

Become a master of Social Jiujitsu, the ancient art of getting you to talk about yourself without you ever knowing it happened. SJ masters are fascinated by every step you took in creating a particularly clever pivot table, by every decision you made when you transformed a 200-slide PowerPoint into a TED Talk-worthy presentation, if you do say so yourself.

SJ masters use their interest, their politeness, and their social graces to cast an immediate spell on you. And you like them for it.

Social Jiujitsu is easy. Just ask the right questions. Stay open-ended and allow room for description and introspection.

As soon as you learn a little about someone's accomplishments, ask how they did it. Or why they did it. Or what they liked about it, or what they learned from it, or what you should do if you're in a similar situation.

No one gets too much recognition. Asking the right questions implicitly shows you respect another person's opinion--and, by extension, the person.

We all like people who respect us, if only because it shows they display great judgment.

(Kidding. Sort of.)

3. "Every woman goes down the aisle with half the story hidden."

Maybe they're hesitant, or insecure, or shy...but people often ask a different question than the one they really want you to answer.

One employee might ask whether you think he should take a few business classes. What he really wants to know is whether you see him as able to grow in your organization. He hopes you'll say you do, and he hopes you'll share the reasons why.

Your husband might ask if you thought the woman at the party was flirting with him. What he really wants to know is if you still think he's flirt-worthy and whether you still find him attractive. He hopes you'll say you do, and he'll love when you share the reasons why.

Behind many questions lies the unasked question.

Pay attention so you can answer that question, too, because that is the answer the other person doesn't just want, but needs.

4. "It's the job of grandmothers to interfere."

And it's the job of bosses to interfere.

Granted, no one wants to be micromanaged. That's good, because most people hate to micromanage others. But freedom and responsibility are earned, not given. Show me you can fly on your own and I'll gladly focus on something or someone else.

The best employees take it as a challenge. They step forward and say, "I can tell you don't quite trust me to handle this the right way. I get that, so I'm going to prove you can trust me."

But ultimately, it's your job to make sure that every job is done the best way it can--because you're the boss.

5. "You are a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do."

Ever heard someone say, "If I got promoted, then I would work harder"? Or, "If the customer paid more, then I would do more"? Or, "If I thought there would be a bigger payoff, I would be willing to sacrifice more"?

Successful people earn promotions by first working harder. Successful businesses earn higher revenue by first delivering greater value. Successful entrepreneurs earn bigger payoffs by first working hard, well before any potential return is in sight.

Most people expect to be compensated more before they will even consider working harder.

The most successful people see compensation as the reward for exceptional effort, not the driver--whether that reward is financial or personal or simply the satisfaction that comes from achieving what they worked incredibly hard to achieve.

6. "I wonder your halo doesn't grow heavy, it must be like wearing a tiara round the clock."

It's easy to assume you have all the answers, especially when you're in charge--and before you know it, you've become a sanctimonious, overbearing prig.

Here's a better approach. Ask questions. Maintain eye contact. Smile. Frown. Nod. Respond--not so much verbally, but nonverbally.

That's all it takes to show other people that they are important.

Then, when you do speak, don't offer advice unless you're asked. Listening shows you care a lot more than offering advice, because when you offer advice, in most cases, you make the conversation about you, not them.

Don't believe me? Who is "Here's what I would do..." about? You, or the other person?

Only speak when you have something important to say--and always define "important" as what matters to the other person, not to you.

7. "What is a weekend?"

When you love what you do, you don't put in time at work and then escape to "life" in order to be happy. You enjoy life and you enjoy work. You feel alive and joyful not just at home but also at work.

When you love your work, it's a part of your life. The day of the week is much less important than the exciting, fulfilling things you get to do.

8. "Don't be defeatist, dear. It's very middle class."

No one goes far without possessing one essential quality: irrational optimism.

To be successful, you must embrace belief, which means pushing aside all those self-doubts: feeling you aren't smart enough, dedicated enough, adaptable enough, or simply that, in spite of your best intentions and best efforts, you won't succeed.

Often, other people make it even harder to maintain that optimism. Family and friends tend to shoot multiple holes in your ideas, not because they want to bring you down but because they care about you and don't want to see you fail.

That's why people rarely say, "Hey, that's a great idea. You should go for it!" Most people aren't wired that way. Most people--myself definitely included--are a lot better at identifying and listing potential problems. We like to play devil's advocate because that makes us seem smart.

And that's why you need to be irrationally optimistic: Not because the odds are stacked against success, but because irrational optimism helps you succeed in ways that education, connections, and experience cannot.

9. "We don't always get our just desserts."

Dues aren't paid, past tense. Dues get paid, each and every day. The only real measure of your value is the tangible contribution you make on a daily basis.

No matter what you've done or accomplished in the past, you're never too good to roll up your sleeves, get dirty, and do the grunt work. No job is ever too menial, no task ever too unskilled or boring.

The most successful people never feel entitled...except to the fruits of their labor.

10. "No life appears rewarding if you think about it too much."

Happy people focus on what they have, not on what they don't have. It's motivating to want more in your career, relationships, bank account, etc., but thinking about what you already have, and expressing gratitude for it, will make you a lot happier.

One easy method is to write down a few things you are grateful for every night. One study showed that people who wrote down five things they were thankful for once a week were 25 percent happier after 10 weeks. In effect, they dramatically increased their happiness set-point.

Writing down what you're thankful for will also remind you that even if you still have huge dreams, you have already accomplished a lot--and you should feel genuinely proud.

11. "Does it ever get cold on the moral high ground?"

Everyone wears armor: armor that protects but in time also destroys.

The armor we wear is primarily forged by success. Every accomplishment adds an additional layer of protection from vulnerability. In fact, when we feel particularly insecure, we unconsciously strap on more armor so we feel less vulnerable.

Armor is the guy joining a pickup basketball game with younger, better players who feels compelled to say, "Hi, I'm Joe-I'm the CEO of ACME Industries." Armor is driving your Mercedes to a reunion even though taking your other car would be much more practical. Armor is saying, at the start of a presentation, "Look, I'm not very good at speaking to groups. I spend all day running my huge factory."

Armor protects us when we're unsure, tentative, or at a perceived disadvantage. Armor says, "That's OK. I may not be good at this, but I'm really good at that. So there."

Over time, armor also encourages us to narrow our focus to our strengths so we can stay safe. The more armor we build up, the more we can hide our weaknesses and failings--from others and from ourselves.

Take off your armor. Be authentic. Be genuine. Be vulnerable.

Sure, it's scary. But it's also liberating, because then you get to be the person you really are, and, in time, start to really like the person you really are.

Which is the surest road to happiness.

12. "Sometimes it's good to rule by fear."

According to research conducted by Henry Evans and Colm Foster, emotional intelligence experts and authors of Step Up: Lead in Six Moments That Matter, the highest performing people and highest performing teams tap into and express their entire spectrum of emotions.

Evans and Foster say anger is actually useful when harnessed and controlled because it fosters two useful behavioral capabilities:

  • Anger creates focus. Get mad and you tend to focus on one thing--the source of your anger. You don't get distracted. You're not tempted to multitask. All you can see is what's in front of you. That degree of focus can be extremely powerful.
  • Anger generates confidence. Get mad and the automatic rush of adrenaline heightens your senses and reduces your inhibitions. Anger--in small doses--can be the spark that gets you started.

Say you lose a major contract to a competitor you and your team didn't take seriously. Don't be afraid, in the months that follow, to bring your team back to that moment. If you're frustrated with your team's performance, don't be afraid to say, "Let's go back to that day. Remember what happened when those [jerks] took that contract. Remember how we all felt. Remember the letter they wrote us canceling our contract. Every time I read it I get mad."

Expressing those feelings will not only help you stay focused, it helps your team stay focused. It's a powerful reminder that sometimes business cannot be business as usual.

Used correctly, anger can take you and your team to places you haven't been before.

Published on: Jan 18, 2016
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