Leading with Trust

Fail Your Way to Success – 4 Tips for Going from Zero to Hero

zero-to-heroFifty years ago this week, Jim Ryun failed his way to success when he became the first high school track athlete to run a sub-4 minute mile. Ryun decided to try running only after being cut by a church baseball team and his junior high basketball team. Ryun said, “I’m glad those failures were there because I didn’t linger in a sport that I couldn’t do anything in. I failed on to the next thing, until I found something. That was a gift from God to me.”

“I failed on to the next thing, until I found something.”

In reading about Ryun’s story this week, I was struck by his positive point of view about failure. It reminded me of key lessons I’ve learned over the years through my own experience (yeah, I’ve failed a lot!), as well as from John Maxwell’s excellent book on the subject, Failing Forward.

1. Redefine success and failure — Too often our society views success as a win-lose proposition. You know the mindset…if you’re not a winner, you’re a loser. We have distorted definitions of what success and failure mean, and unless you change the way you perceive success and failure, you’ll never feel satisfied with your lot in life. Failures are just life experiences that didn’t turn out the way you intended. Learn the lessons and move on. Don’t obsess over the situation and don’t use absolute language like “I’m never going to succeed,” or “I’m always going to fall short of my goal.” Don’t dwell in self-pity by ruminating on “Why me?,” but instead focus on “What can I learn?”

2. Be purpose driven — It’s easier to recover from failures when you’re living on purpose. Your purpose is your reason for living, the values and beliefs that drive you to be more of the person you want to be. If you aren’t clear on your purpose in life, you’re like a ship without a rudder, your direction controlled by the randomness of the current. When you’re unclear on your purpose, failures seem more catastrophic and debilitating. When failures occur within the context of pursuing your purpose, they become learning moments for growth and maturity. John Maxwell says that, “More than anything else, what keeps a person going in the midst of adversity is having a sense of purpose. It is the fuel that powers persistence.”

3. Persistence pays off — Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Woody Allen famously said, “80% of success is showing up.” Both quotes convey the same idea – persistence pays off. Orville Redenbacher (yes, the famous popcorn guy) spent 15 years perfecting the corn hybrid used for his popcorn. He spent another 10 years making his popcorn the best-selling brand in the world. When asked about his philosophy, he said “I’ve followed the classic homespun principles. Never say die. Never be satisfied. Be stubborn. Be persistent. Integrity is a must. Anything worth having is worth striving for with all your might. Does it sound corny? Honestly, that’s all there is to it. There is no magic formula.”

4. Separate you from your performance — Our tendency is to derive our self-worth from our performance. If we succeed, then we’re worthy people. If we fail, we’re losers. The reality is that when it comes to achieving success, many things are out of our control. We can do everything right trying to achieve a goal, and something completely out of our control happens that causes us to fall short. Does that make us a failure? No, it just makes us human. Erma Bombeck, the famous humorist and writer, suffered many failures throughout her life but kept them in perspective. She said, “What you have to tell yourself is, ‘I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.’ There’s a big difference…Personally and career-wise, it’s been a corduroy road. I’ve buried babies, lost parents, had cancer, and worried over kids. The trick is to put it all in perspective…and that’s what I do for a living.”

Tell yourself, “I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.” There’s a big difference.

Fear of failure holds us back from taking risks. We paralyze ourselves, stuck in a state of inaction that leads to resignation and dissatisfaction – a zero life. Instead, we can become our own heroes by learning to redefine failure as opportunities for growth. We can discover our purpose and pursue it with persistence, all the while growing in understanding that even when we fail at a certain goal or task, we aren’t failing as a person. That’s what it means to go from being a zero to a hero – learning to fail forward.

Everyday at Work is a Job Interview – 5 Tips for Demonstrating Your Value

Job Interview

The dress code in my office is business casual, but every once in a while I like to wear a tie. You know…look good, feel good…dress for the job you want, not the job you have…all that good stuff. Actually, there are times I just like to dress up for no special reason. But whenever I do, invariably I hear the same wisecrack from one or more team members: “Why are you all dressed up? Got a job interview today?” My response is always the same: “I interview for my job every day!”

Although I say that somewhat jokingly, there is an element of truth I’m trying to reinforce with my team—every day you show up to work is an interview for your job. In today’s economy you have to continually demonstrate to your employer how you’re adding value to the organization. I’m not talking about approaching your job from a state of fear, constantly afraid of being let go if you don’t hit a home run every time you come to bat. I’m talking about having an understanding and appreciation for how you have to “bring it” each day you walk through your company’s front door.

Here are five key principles that will help you increase your value and contribution to your organization:

1. Accept the new reality – My brother Ron had only one job his entire life. He recently retired from a 40+ year career with a national grocery store chain, having been employed by them since he was a 17 year-old high school student. Those days are gone. We live in a new reality of a dynamic, constantly shifting, and evolving global economy. It requires businesses to be agile and shift their strategies to take advantage of new opportunities, create new markets, or ward off upstart competitors. You have to come to grips with the need to constantly stay relevant in your job or profession. Complacency and stagnation makes you vulnerable and less valuable to your organization. If you aren’t adding value, you’re probably expendable.

2. Take charge of your own career development – As employees, all of us should expect our employer to help develop us in our role, but career development should be seen as a privilege, not a right. Organizations have an obligation to provide the right training, tools, and resources to enable employees to maximize their potential in the job they were hired to do. But career development (promotions, moving into new roles, etc.) is a privilege and is not the employer’s responsibility. Is it a smart thing for employers to facilitate career development in order to attract and retain key talent? Absolutely! But it’s up to you to keep learning, to further your education, improve proficiency in your job, and develop new skills in alignment with the direction of your organization’s goals and strategies. No one else except you is responsible for your career development.

3. Have an ownership mentality – How would the value of your contribution be different if you acted like you own the place? Would you be more emotionally invested and passionate about the work you do? Would you produce higher quality products? Would you be a little more prudent or cautious with company expenses? Would you care a little more about the customer experience? People who approach their jobs with an ownership mentality care about these sorts of things. They view themselves as stewards of the company’s resources and work hard to promote the success of the entire organization, not just their particular role, team, or department.

4. Build your brand – Whether you realize it or not, you have a brand image at work. Your brand image is not only how people perceive you (your reputation), but also what differentiates you from everyone else in your company. Tom Peters, the guru of personal branding, says, “If you are going to be a brand, you’ve got to become relentlessly focused on what you do that adds value, what you’re proud of, and most important, what you can shamelessly take credit for.” Forget your job title. What is it about your performance that makes you memorable, distinct, or unique? What’s the “buzz” on you? Forget about your job description too. What accomplishments are you most proud of? How have you gone above, beyond, or outside the scope of your job description to add value to your organization? Those are the elements that make up your brand. Check out this article if you need help developing your brand.

5. Consider yourself an independent contractor – Most of us are governed by at-will employment agreements with our companies. Either party can decide to end the employment relationship at any time for any reason (within certain legal boundaries, of course). You would be well-served to view yourself as an independent contractor in the business of you—You, Inc. You have hired out your services to your employer in exchange for a specific level of compensation. At some point in time, either by your choice or your employer’s, that business arrangement may change or end. In the meantime, focus on building a portfolio of accomplishments you can use to secure business with future clients. See rules 1 and 2 above.

Thinking of yourself in these ways might be new to you. It takes a shift in perspective to view yourself as not just an employee doing a job, but as an independent contractor running your own business. If you make that shift, you’ll realize you have to constantly develop your skill-set (i.e., the services you have to offer), build an attractive brand image, and consistently demonstrate to your client (i.e., employer) how you’re adding value. Remember, you are in the business of YOU!

Leadership Development Carnival – January 2014

leadership_carnival logo

Welcome to the January 6, 2014 edition of the Leadership Development Carnival! One of the best ways to improve as a leader is to reflect upon your past experiences, catalog the lessons learned, and apply that information to your future leadership activities. Fortunately for you, 28 of the top thought leaders in the field of leadership have assembled their best blog posts for 2013, effectively serving as a world-class library of leadership wisdom for your benefit. Enjoy the best of the best!

Dan McCarthy at Great Leadership – With so many great books on leadership, why are so many people in leadership positions clueless? Dan tells you why in 10 Reasons why Managers are Clueless about Leadership.

Joel Garfinkle at Career Advancement Blog – Joel provides insight on how to build a workforce that wants to stay with you in Six Articles to Fix Your Employee Retention Issue.

Mike Myatt of N2growth Blog – This Forbes article by Mike has been read more than 1 million times for good reason. In order for leaders to keep their best people, they need to know the 10 Reasons Your Top Talent Will Leave You.

Chris EdmondsThe Purposeful Culture Group – My friend and colleague Chris Edmonds shares that employees have The Right to Work Place Inspiration. Top organizations ensure their KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) align with their WPI’s.

John Hunter at the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog – In his article, Managers Are Not Non-Leaders: Managers Need to Practice Things We Classify as Leadership Traits, John discusses how management is often demeaned in comparison to leadership and we have much to learn from each discipline.

Chery Gegelman of Giana Consulting’s Simply Understanding Blog – In the first of a three-part series, The Single Best Way to Develop Leaders: Throw Them In!, Chery highlights the personal growth that happens when leaders take on challenging assignments over their heads.

Dana Theus of InPower Consulting – Dana illustrates the bottom-line benefits organizations receive in Activating The Hidden Face of Workforce Diversity.

Linda Fisher Thornton of Leading in Context – There is a trend toward considering our responsibilities broadly, beyond making profits to also making a difference. Here is Linda’s list of 16 Trends Shaping the Future of Ethical Leadership. As we head into the New Year, let’s help our leaders be ready for this positive, proactive, ethical leadership future.

Dr. Anne Perschel of Germane Consulting – In The One Thing Leaders Need to Know, Anne shares that some, but not all, who hold leadership titles are leaders. This post is about those leaders, the ones who are actually leading, which means you are evolving – and so are others.

Jim Taggart’s Changing Winds Blog – In his post The Leader Sets the Tone, Jim discusses the importance of three critical leadership attributes: Integrity, Modeling, and Consistency.

Frank Sonnenberg at Frank Sonnenberg Online – Frank gives the honest, straight-forward truth about balancing success with humility in Be Humble: Don’t Let Success Go to Your Head.

Julie Winkle Giulioni – Despite the ubiquitous use of the term, not all groups are teams. In Team, Group, or Train Wreck, Julie discusses how teams share some essential qualities that distinguish them from other collections of individuals.

Don MaruskaJay Perry of Take Charge of Your Talent – Don and Jay are calling for a revolution in talent development, and in their article, Putting the Keys to Talent Development in Your Hand, they give you a new paradigm for viewing talent development.

Jennifer V. Miller of The People Equation – Jennifer offers an opportunity for women to step up and claim their leadership potential in the post 37 Women with Something Interesting to Say About Leadership. “This post resonated with both men and women. I heard from countless people, thanking me for giving voice to a frustration that has long existed in the blog world as it relates to women and leadership” says Jennifer.

Mike Henry, Sr. of The Lead Change Group – Written by Tal Shnall, Mike shares the post Five Ways to Improve Communication With Your Teams. These five tips will help you become a better leader-communicator in any environment.

Wally Bock’s Three Star Leadership Blog – Brutal honesty is supposed to be a good thing. Gentle honesty is better. In his post Gentle Honesty, Wally reminds leaders that their people should leave a conversation about performance or behavior thinking about what will change, not how they’ve been treated.

Joan Kofodimos from Teleos Consulting’s Anyone Can Lead Blog – In her article Biggest Coaching Mistakes Managers Make, Joan shares 9 of the most common managerial missteps when trying to coach employees.

Mary Ila Ward of Horizon Point Consulting – Mary asks 2 Questions for Striving Servant Leaders in this concise, yet pointed post, that will cause all leaders to stop in their tracks.

Lisa Kohn from Chatworth Consulting’s Thoughtful Leaders Blog – When we hold on to our misfortunes it’s as if we hand over our power to them. We give away our power, and then we feel powerless. In Don’t Give Your Power Away, Lisa shares that we have a choice as to whether or not we allow our misfortunes to have such power over us. We have a choice, as always, about what we focus on, what we notice, what we tell ourselves, and where we put our attention.

Jesse Lyn Stoner’s blog at the Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership – My friend and colleague, Jesse Stoner, says “The assumption that change has to start at the top is wrong. Stop waiting for senior leaders to provide leadership. You have the power to provide leadership within your own sphere of influence.” In her excellent article, Stop Waiting for Someone Else to Provide Leadership, Jesse give leaders four important questions to discuss with their teams.

Beth Miller at Executive Velocity – So often leaders don’t take time for themselves by getting good feedback, assessments, and coaching to develop themselves to their true leadership potential. In Leaders: Fight the Gremlins, Beth encourages leaders to make a New Year’s Resolution to create a personal development plan so they can avoid or resolve potential derailing behaviors.

Bill Treasurer of Giant Leap Consulting – In his post Leaders Are All Around Us, Bill shares the important truth that although role models like Steve Jobs can be helpful, we have leaders all around us, more accessible and ready to make a difference.

Steve Roesler of All Things Workplace – Everyone is talented in some way. In Target The Right Audience For Your Talents, Steve Roesler suggests from experience that where you choose to use your talents is key to satisfying you and everyone involved.

Jon Mertz of Thin Difference – Taking a mindful approach to challenging situations and conversations enables us to respond in better ways. In his post A Mindful Difference: Respond vs. React, my friend Jon highlights four steps leaders can take to be more mindful of how they respond to others.

Ted Coiné, Shawn Murphy, Meghan Biro, and Matthew Fritz from the Switch & Shift blog – Ted reminds us that what goes around, comes around in Good Karma is Good Business, while Shawn outlines 9 Leadership Essentials to Cause Meaningful Work. Meghan follows up with 5 Actions That Spark Employee Engagement and Matthew discusses three principles of The Leader’s Greatest Harvest.

10 Essential Items for a New Manager’s Survival Kit

survival_kit3Stepping into a management role for the first time is a daunting task for anyone. Most new managers are eager to make their mark as leaders and approach their supervisory opportunity with verve and enthusiasm, yet don’t have a good idea of the nature of managerial workIt doesn’t take long for reality to set in before new managers realize that leading people is a whole new ballgame. What made them successful as individual contributors will not ensure their success as managers.

Upon promotion to a supervisory position, all first-time leaders should be issued the New Manager’s Survival Kit. This metaphorical kit includes the basic items a new manager needs to survive the transition from being an individual contributor to a people manager. This kit doesn’t include everything a new manager needs to succeed on the job (see Dan McCarthy’s 25 Tips for New Managers for an excellent list), just a few essential emergency relief items.

1. Compass – To succeed as a manager you need to know where you’re going, and you need to navigate your journey from a couple different perspectives. First, you need to be clear on your own leadership point of view – your values, beliefs, and desires for being a leader – for it is these ideals that will keep you grounded and motivated in your career. Second, you need to understand the path of success from your boss’ perspective. What does success look like in your new role? Make sure you’re clear on your goals and objectives.

2. Mentor – Or more accurately, the contact information for your chosen mentor. Think of it as the “phone a friend” lifeline from the “Who Want’s to be a Millionaire?” TV game show. There will be many times you’ll need to phone a friend to ask for advice, vent, or commiserate with someone who has walked the same path. We all need a sage guide to help us on our leadership journey.

3. Seat cushion – For better or worse, the reality of organizational life is that managers participate in a lot of meetings. When you first move into a supervisory position you might wonder to yourself “What am I going to do with my time now that I’m not on the front lines?” The answer is meetings, meetings, and more meetings.

4. Thermos – Managers frequently work long hours, sometimes at an unrelenting pace. You’ll need a thermos for your coffee to keep you energized and focused, especially when you’re in those meetings, meetings, and more meetings. Did I say that managers have a lot of meetings?

5. Hearing aid – Arguably the most important of the survival kit items, a hearing aid is essential for your success. Listening is one of the most valuable yet underused skills for managers. Through listening you will build trust, establish rapport, learn about your people, and understand what’s truly going on in your business.

6. Tissues – Inevitably you will have someone cry in your office, and occasionally, you may feel like crying yourself! Always have a box of tissues on hand to gracefully handle those emotional moments.

7. Megaphone – One of your primary roles as a manager is to cheer your people on to success. The most difficult transition for new managers is learning how to achieve goals through other people rather than doing it themselves. You’ll need to learn the three P’s of motivating people: Push, Praise, and Play. Some people need to be pushed to perform their best through challenging assignments or strict accountability, while others need to be praised in order to bring out their best work. And of course every manager’s favorite, some people just need to play. Those are the self-motivated individuals that just need to be put in the starting lineup and given the freedom to do their thing.

8. Task list – Whether it’s a productivity app on your smart phone or an old school to-do list, you need a method to keep yourself organized. Managerial work is characterized by brevity, variety, and fragmentation, so you need a way to keep track of all the tasks on your plate. I use a combination of techniques including elements from David Allen’s Getting Things Done philosophy, ABC task prioritization, and Urgent vs. Important analysis.

9. Inspirational reading material – I won’t give you a list of critical books that new managers should read (that’s the subject of a different blog post!), but I will say that new managers need inspirational reading material to help them learn the skills they need to master as well as to stay inspired on their journey. Leading people requires mental, emotional, and physical stamina and it’s important to make sure you’re feeding your own soul so you’re equipped to give to others.

10. Mirror – Yes, you could use the mirror to help start a campfire or catch the attention of a rescue plane if you’re stranded in the wilderness, but in the office you can use it to look at your reflection, because at the end of the day you have to be comfortable, satisfied, and proud of the person looking back at you. One of the best pieces of advice a new manager can receive is to “be yourself,” for that’s what it means to be authentic. As you experience the highs and lows of leading people, occasionally check yourself out in the mirror to see if you’re being the kind of leader that you’d like to follow.

Are there other items you would include in a new manager’s survival kit? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Lost in the Crowd? Three Steps to Help You Stand Out!

stand-out-from-the-crowdWhat is one thing you do better than anyone else? For some people, that may be easier to answer than others. If I asked LeBron James that question, I’m pretty sure he’d say that he can play basketball better than anyone on the planet. For most of us though, the question would prove to be quite a stumper. Try answering it for yourself. It’s not so easy, is it?

Granted, out of 7 billion people in the world, the odds of you being the absolute best at a particular something or other is pretty remote. But the point of the question is more general. What is it that you do really well? Probably better than most people you know? Knowing the answer to that question can help unlock levels of job satisfaction and engagement that you didn’t know existed.

Here are three steps you can take to understand the unique value you bring to your work and how you can stand out from the crowd.

1. Identify your strengths. Sounds pretty basic, huh? Well, it is pretty basic, but believe it or not, many people don’t have a good understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, or personality traits that help or hinder their success. Assessments such as the DISC, MBTI, Strengths Finder, or Marcus Buckingham’s newest StandOut survey can give you insight into what motivates you or how your personality preferences shape the way you perceive work experiences and “show up” to other people.

2. Understand the type of work or circumstances that best leverage your strengths and personality traits. One of my first “real” jobs was working for a popular Southern California fast food chain. I lasted one shift. The reason? My supervisor drilled into me the importance of following all the rules to the letter and corrected me whenever I deviated from them, yet he would go into the back of the kitchen and smoke a cigarette whenever he wanted (clearly in violation of the rules). I knew that I would never be happy working for a boss who didn’t display integrity in his actions. For me to be at my best, I need to be surrounded by people who have honorable values and strive to live up to those values.

One way to identify situations where you’ll thrive is to make a list of all the times where you’ve felt “in the flow” – those instances where you’ve been so absorbed in your work that you’ve lost track of time. What are the commonalities among those experiences? It might take a little digging and analysis, but you can probably find some themes running through those experiences. Perhaps it’s the type of people you worked with. Or maybe there was an element of problem-solving involved. Maybe it was the opportunity for you to use certain skills, like writing, teaching, or public speaking. Whatever the theme may be, it’s a clue to what really engages you and prepares you to take step #3 below.

3. Intentionally seek your “sweet spot.” Your “sweet spot” is that place where you find fulfillment in your work. You have two basic choices when it comes to identifying your sweet spot. The first is to leave it up to chance. You can hope that you stumble upon the type of job that is a good match for your personality and skills. Not a good option. The second choice is to actively look for situations that are a good match for what you bring to the table. Take what you’ve learned in steps 1 and 2 and apply it to your current situation. If you’re in a job that’s a complete mismatch for your personality and strengths, begin to put a plan together for how you can transition to something more in alignment with your natural gifts. If you’re in a job you like, but need a little more pizzazz in your work, map out new projects, tasks, or areas of responsibility that could benefit from the application of your strengths.

Discovering your strengths and learning how to use them in combination with your personality traits is an evolutionary journey. It doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes there is a lot of trial and error involved. However, taking a purposeful and introspective look into yourself and following these three steps can put you on the path toward finding a higher level of fulfillment and success in your work.

Do You Have an Image Problem? Four Steps to Develop Your Personal Brand

Brand Me...PleaseWhether you realize it or not, you have a brand image at work, and if you don’t take charge of it, someone else will.

Your brand image is not only how people perceive you (your reputation), but also what differentiates you from everyone else in your company. When your colleagues think of you, what is it that comes to their minds? If you can’t answer that question, then you have a problem. A brand image problem.

Tom Peters, the guru of personal branding, says, “If you are going to be a brand, you’ve got to become relentlessly focused on what you do that adds value, what you’re proud of, and most important, what you can shamelessly take credit for.” Now, I’m not into shamelessly bragging about personal accomplishments, but I do think it’s important, and possible, to tactfully and appropriately share your successes. It’s part of what it takes to succeed in today’s workplace.

Forget your job title. What is it about your performance that makes you memorable, distinct, or unique? What’s the “buzz” on you? Forget about your job description too. What accomplishments are you most proud of? How have you gone above, beyond, or outside the scope of your job description to add value to your organization? Those are the elements that make up your brand.

If you’re not quite sure what your personal brand is, or how to go about creating a brand, here are four steps to get you started.

1. Identify your core values – Your values guide your beliefs and actions. A brand is a trusted promise which requires clarity on what motivates you from the core of your being. Consider popular brands like Apple or Nike. Apple’s brand conveys the values of being creative, passionate, and visionary. Nike’s brand of “Just do it” reflects the values of excellence and dedication. What values reflect the way you “show up” in the workplace? Mine are trust, authenticity, and respect.

2. Identify your strengths/personal attributes – A personal brand combines what you value with what you do well. What is it that you’re really good at? What unique personal attributes do you bring to the table? Maybe it’s courage, decisiveness, enthusiasm, patience, perseverance, or trustworthiness, just to name a few. There are a number of surveys you can take to help you identify your character strengths and attributes.

3. Assess your current brand image – One of the best ways to understand your current brand is to ask those you work with to describe your brand image. In addition to asking others, you can use the following sentence starters to help you analyze your brand:

          • Inside the company I am known for…
          • Three things I’m really good at are…
          • Something about myself that I feel proud about is…
          • Some “WOW” projects I’ve worked on are…

4. Develop your brand – What if there weren’t career ladders, only great projects? What if you were your own brand manager? How could your career growth be different if the leaders you worked with were brand loyalists that backed you no matter what? What if you approached your performance review as a “portfolio” review where you highlighted your project accomplishments over the past year? If you viewed your job performance through these lenses, you would need to change the way you go about things. Set the following goals to develop your brand image:

By this time next year…

          • I plan to be known for these projects…
          • I plan to be known for these skills…
          • I plan to have added these contacts to my network…

And…

          • My principal resume-enhancing activity over the next three months is…
          • My public visibility program is…

Gaining clarity on who you are, what you love, and what strengths you bring to the table will help you understand your brand identity, while continuing to master your craft and assembling a portfolio of successes will fulfill the promise of you being a trusted brand that others can rely upon.

So You Want to be a Manager? Six Things to Consider Before Taking the Plunge

Juggling TimeEarly in my career I didn’t set out to be a manager. Like most people, I considered moving into a supervisory or managerial position the natural next step in being able to earn more money, gain responsibility, and add valuable experience to my resume. Obviously I knew there was a difference between being a manager and an individual contributor, but I didn’t fully understand and appreciate the difference in the type of work I would be doing day in and day out.

Boy, I wish I had known.

Not that it would have changed the arc of my career path, but I would have performed better and developed faster as a leader if I had better understood the nature of managerial work. There is a big difference between managing people and managing tasks, activities, or projects. Drawing from Henry Mintzberg’s The Nature of Managerial Work, here’s six characteristics of the life of a manager. If you’re considering the pursuit of a leadership position, or even if you’re a newly promoted manager, understanding these characteristics will help you form the right mindset and approach to what it means to be a manager.

1. Managers work hard, often at an unrelenting pace – A manager’s work never seems to be done. They often arrive early, leave late, and even lunch seems to be used for meetings and the opportunity to connect with others. Working across global time zones and the pervasiveness of technology in our lives means it’s easy for managers to always be “on” and connected to work.

2. The work is characterized by brevity, variety, and fragmentation – There’s no pattern to a manager’s work. It can be discontinuous and random, and the significance of the activities in a single day can range from serious (disciplining or terminating someone) to trivial (scheduling the next office potluck). Research has shown that most manager’s activities are completed in less than 9 minutes and only 10% of the activities take more than an hour. Meetings, emails, voicemails, reports, performance management, coaching, making decisions…the list goes on and on.

No matter what managers are doing,
they are plagued by what they might do
and what they must do.

3. Work can be an activity trap – Managers often become expert firefighters, always reacting to the latest emergency or hot topic. They work in a stimulus-response environment that encourages them to prefer live action rather than quiet reflection. This causes managers to become adaptive information manipulators rather than reflective, future-oriented planners, an essential skill to master in order to lead teams, other managers, and the organization.

4. Meeting, meetings, and more meetings – Like it or not, managers spend an enormous amount of time in meetings for a variety of purposes. Meetings are used for ceremony, strategy making, and negotiation. They are often necessary for coordinating activities, people, and resources, and are often the primary way for getting work done through other people. Even more important than the formal meetings are the “hallway meetings” that managers conduct to negotiate, lobby, and align opinions of other colleagues.

5. Managers are “boundary” people – Managers are responsible for building relationships with not only their team, but also other levels of management, other groups in the company, and outsiders. They have to manage a complex set of relationships and sometimes spend as much as 30%-50% of their time with outsiders, 30%-50% with team members and other groups in the company dealing with requests, information exchanges, and making strategy, and often less than 10% with their own manager.

6. Managers often have little control over the use of their time – Managers have less autonomy than they think they have. Some studies have shown that managers spend as much as 50% of their time in a reactive mode, and in my experience, there have been days where it felt like 100%! Some days it feels like you are a slave to your schedule. Yet managers do have a lot of control when you consider it is often their decisions that define how their time, and the time of others, will be committed, and that they can use obligatory activities in their workday for more than one purpose (e.g. scheduled meetings can be used for negotiation, gathering information, coaching, giving feedback, etc.).

I’m not trying to scare anyone away from being a leader, but it’s wise to count the cost before you jump into a supervisory or managerial role. Being a manager requires a different skill set than what it takes to be an expert, high-performer in your role as an individual contributor. But if you do decide to take the plunge, there can be a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction in helping other people achieve goals and higher levels of performance than they would have achieved without your help.

So, do you really want to be a manager?

LOS v.2013 – Three Steps to Upgrade Your Leadership Operating System

LOS v2013With 2013 just one day away, it’s time to consider upgrading your LOS—Leadership Operating System. Your LOS is a collection of the leadership traits, styles, techniques, and strategies you use to lead and manage people, and it’s imperative to make sure your LOS is up to date if you want to maximize your effectiveness. Failing to upgrade your LOS may result in your leadership not only becoming outdated and sluggish, you run a higher risk of suffering a fatal system crash.

I recommend you follow these three steps to upgrade your LOS for 2013:

1. Do a backup of 2012 — Before you begin any system update, it’s a good practice to back up your existing data. Backing up your LOS involves taking stock of your leadership experiences this past year. What worked well for you in 2012? Where did you do your best work? Give yourself a pat on the back for your successes and don’t be shy about tactfully sharing them with your boss, especially if he/she isn’t one to naturally recognize your efforts. Conversely, a good LOS backup also involves cataloguing where you fell short and reflecting on the lessons you learned from those experiences.

2. Determine the new LOS programs you want to install — What new things do you need to learn in 2013 in order to be a better leader? Where do you need to improve? The best leaders are continuous learners, always seeking new ways to improve their craft. Examining the areas for improvement you identified in your backup is a good place to start. Another helpful strategy is to ask for feedback, especially from those you lead. It takes some courage and willingness to be vulnerable to ask other people how you can improve, but the uncomfortableness will pale in comparison to the insights you’ll gain.

3. Reboot — It’s time to Ctrl-Alt-Delete your leadership from 2012. Installing an updated LOS means you need to have a fresh start before you can move forward and there’s no better time than the new year to reboot your system. You may have accomplished some amazing things in 2012, and likewise, you may have had some epic failures. But you know what? Your success doesn’t last forever and your failure isn’t fatal. Honor and learn from what 2012 brought you but leave it there in the past. The new year beckons and there is much work to be done.

No one likes following a leader who runs an outdated Leadership Operating System. Running an old LOS may allow you to accomplish the basic tasks of leadership, but if you really want to perform at your best AND get the best out of your followers, take the time to upgrade your LOS to v.2013. You won’t regret it.

Happy New Year!

Discover Hidden Talent – How Many Jeremy Lin’s Are Sitting on Your Bench?

The sudden rise to stardom of New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin has taken the sports world by storm over the last two weeks. Seemingly from out of nowhere, Lin has gone from a no-name bench-warmer to the darling of New York and the NBA, leading the Knicks on a seven game win streak. During his last seven games, Lin has averaged 24.4 points, 9.1 assists and 4.0 rebounds, all the while reviving a moribund team, moving them up two places in their conference standings.

The talking-heads of the sports world have been proclaiming that Lin was a complete unknown who came out of nowhere to achieve this success, but the reality is, Lin was a known commodity who just needed a chance. Coming out of high school in Palo Alto, CA, he was offered the chance to walk on at Stanford, Cal, and UCLA, but chose instead to attend Harvard where he was a standout player. Although he went un-drafted by the NBA, he was signed as a free agent by multiple teams and played in the NBA Developmental league before finally getting his chance to start with the Knicks. It simply took him being in the right place at the right time for him to showcase his skills.

Lin’s story serves as an excellent leadership reminder when it comes to talent management. How many potential Jeremy Lin’s do you have sitting on your bench?

People Just Need a Chance
Our organizations are filled with people who have a wealth of talent that is left untapped. How do you explain the worker who toils in anonymity all day long only to go home at the end of the day and excel in a given hobby (sports, music, art, etc.)? Why do we not tap into some of those skills and abilities in the workplace?

A little over a year ago my organization started experimenting with in-house, high-end, multimedia productions. It was amazing to see the latent talent that existed in our company. People came out of the woodwork from various departments to lend their expertise, such as camera operators, video editors, script writers, and web designers. All these folks needed was an opportunity to showcase skills that weren’t being fully utilized in their current roles.

Don’t Stereotype People
There’s no doubt that Jeremy Lin has been stereotyped. Lin is frequently described as “deceptively quick” or “stronger than he looks,” as if an Asian-American isn’t supposed to be quick or strong. U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who played basketball at Harvard, knows Lin, and has worked out on the court with him said “This is classic low expectations and, frankly, stereotyping. He was under-appreciated and under-recognized. The fact that he’s Asian American, those two things are absolutely linked.”

In our organizations we frequently stereotype people based on personality assessments, job roles, or competency models. There is nothing wrong with these tools, but if they’re utilized to pigeon-hole people we run the risk of limiting people’s potential. My organization is a big user of the DISC assessment, which profiles people based on behavioral preferences. I’m an “SC” on the DISC, meaning I tend to be more of an introvert, prefer steady and structured environments, follow-through on tasks, don’t like sudden change, and pay attention to the details and quality of my work. For years I was thought to be a “behind the scenes” person until I was given an opportunity to MC an all-company awards ceremony. Afterward people couldn’t believe how well I did in that role and were asking me when I was going on the public speaking circuit! Little did they know that I had a tremendous amount of experience of public speaking and teaching both large and small groups in my church.

Take a Risk
It’s easy to get trapped in sticking with the tried and true. Leaders often have their “go-to” guys that have proven themselves trusted and reliable to get the job done. We stick with them because it’s less risky than giving a new person the shot at the choice assignment. A key part of being a successful leader is developing the talent around you. That requires taking a risk and giving people the opportunity to succeed.

A member of my staff was recently given an opportunity to lead a client-project review during an all-company meeting. She worked with the project team to develop a theme for the presentation, based on the movie The Matrix, and she beautifully orchestrated an outstanding presentation. Her colleagues were amazed at her professionalism, presence, and poise, and since that time she’s been in high demand for other internal projects that require those same skills. Was it risky to put her in that position? Yes. Did it payoff? Big time!

A Star is Born
How many Jeremy Lin’s do you have sitting on your bench, just waiting for an opportunity to shine? Leader’s aren’t just responsible for bringing in new talent, they also need to look for ways to uncover and unleash the talent that’s already present in the organization.

“Everyone who thinks this an overnight success fundamentally gets this wrong,” Duncan said in an interview with USA TODAY. “Jeremy has been very good for a long time and just never quite had the opportunity.”

Don’t stereotype. Take a risk. Give someone a chance. Who knows, you just might have a superstar hiding in your midst.

Seven Lessons Yard Work Has Taught Me About Leadership

Doing yard work has taught me valuable lessons about leadership. As I’ve mowed the grass, trimmed trees, pulled weeds, fixed sprinklers, tended plants, and performed numerous other chores in the yard over the years, I’ve been surprised at the number of parallels yard work has provided to my journey as a leader.

Here are seven lessons about leadership I’ve learned from working in the yard:

1. The view from the street may look good, but close inspection tells the real story — I learned this first lesson shortly after planting grass seed in the front yard. Soon after purchasing our house, I worked for weeks remodeling the front yard. I dug up the old lawn, roto-tilled the soil, raked out the old grass and weeds, fertilized, mixed in fresh soil, rolled the ground, planted seed, and watered it religiously on schedule. After a period of weeks I was rewarded with the lush growth of a new lawn that had tremendous curb appeal. From a distance it looked great, but when you got up close, you could see areas of sparse growth and patches of weeds that had sprung up.

I realized that others viewing my leadership probably had a similar view. From a distance it may look like I had everything together, but closer examination would certainly reveal flaws and areas that need improvement. As the caretaker of my personal leadership garden, I’ve learned that I have to be more concerned about the view up close and not worry about what others may think. If I’m taking care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.

2. Don’t let the weeds get out of control — It takes constant diligence to keep your yard looking nice. If you don’t keep a regular maintenance schedule, your yard is soon overgrown and the weeds get a foothold that is hard to erase. I’ve learned that being an effective leader requires constant learning and growth. I have to be diligent in taking time to invest in my ongoing development as a leader. If I remain complacent, then my capabilities begin to wither and I’m not able to perform up to my potential.

3. Less is more — If you plant too many varieties of vegetation, you run the risk of having plants that are incompatible with each other. The combination of the type of soil and amount of water and sunlight determine whether a plant will survive, thrive, or eventually wither and die. I’ve learned it’s better to have a few species of plants that have similar needs rather than having some plants that do great and some that end up being an eyesore. As a leader, I’ve found I’m more effective if I focus on doing a few things really well rather than doing a mediocre job at a lot of things. Finding that sweet spot as a leader where you can leverage your strengths is key to being a success.

4. Regular overhauls are needed — Every once in a while you have to schedule a work day to do a yard overhaul. Even when you’re able to keep up with the regular maintenance, there’s a few times each year where you’ve got to carve out some time to remove dead plants, plant new ones, fix your irrigation system, or even rake all the Fall leaves. Leaders need to schedule their own overhaul times throughout the year. I’ve found it helpful to take a day or two away from the office and take personal stock of how I’m doing and where I want to go in the future. It’s also helpful to periodically review your activities and see what needs to stay and what can go. Do you really need to be attending that weekly meeting or would no one miss you if you didn’t? Do you still need to generate that regular report or does the need for it no longer exist?

5. The long view — Patience is required when taking care of your yard. It takes time for it to reach its potential and no matter what you do you can’t rush Mother Nature. There aren’t any quick fixes in developing a nice yard and neither are there when it comes to being a good leader. Developing as a leader requires that you learn from your everyday experiences. You have to be patient with yourself, knowing that the leader you are today is not what you will be five years from now. Keep creating the conditions that will allow you to grow as a leader and the growth will come in due time.

6. Using the right tools makes all the difference — Doing yard work became much more enjoyable (and easier!) the day I discovered the oscillating hoe. Instead of pulling weeds by hand or using a hand-spade to dig them up, I now run my oscillating hoe back and forth over the ground and it pulls the weeds right up. My leadership has also benefited from using the right tools. Whether it’s obtaining more formal education, working with a leadership coach, connecting with mentors, attending training workshops, or even being smart with technology, I’ve learned to keep adding tools to my toolbox so that I have the right tool for the right kind of job.

7. Sometimes you need to call in a pro — There’s been a few times where I’ve gotten in over my head with a project in my yard. After spending too much time spinning my wheels and getting frustrated over my lack of progress, I finally decided to call in a professional to help me with the job. My life would have been so much less stressful if I had done that in the first place. Sometimes it’s necessary to call in a professional in our lives as leaders. A leadership coach can provide a non-biased view of whatever issue you’re facing and having that outside perspective can lead you to new areas of growth and insight that you’d never receive on your own.

Yard work can be dirty, tiring, and downright frustrating…much like leadership! Yet at the end of the day it’s rewarding to look back at the tangible results you’ve achieved and the difference you’ve made in your surroundings.

Have you experienced any leadership epiphanies doing yard work or any other “mundane” activities? If so, share your story by leaving a comment.

Courageous Career Coaching – Ten Questions Trusted Leaders Aren’t Afraid to Ask

“What would we need to do to keep you here?” If you’re like most leaders, chances are the last (and only) time you’ve asked that question is when one of your valued employees was about to resign. In a last-ditch effort to keep her from walking out the door, you ask the question that you should have asked long before she even started to contemplate leaving your organization.

Leaders are often afraid to engage in career development discussions because they feel unprepared to respond to the employee’s desires, or even worse, powerless to do anything about it due to organizational constraints. Yet in order to establish a high level of trust with those you lead, it’s critical your employees know you’re genuinely interested in, and committed to, their career growth.

Last week the Gallup organization reported that 71% of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work, and we know that disengaged employees are more likely to leave for other jobs, or worse, “quit and stay” at their current job. Research by The Ken Blanchard Companies has identified job and career growth as one of the 12 critical factors that create engaged and passionate employees, and it’s important for leaders to know that employees believe it’s the primary responsibility of their direct manager and senior leadership to influence and improve the environment for growth.

So how is a leader supposed to know what employees want or need in order to be engaged, committed, and grow in their work and career? Here’s a revolutionary idea: Ask them. Regularly.

Career growth discussions should occur on a regular basis, not just once a year when a performance review is conducted (and even then “career planning” is often just a euphemism for next year’s goal setting). Margie Blanchard advocates that leaders engage in “courageous career coaching” with employees and created 10 key questions to facilitate the process (see below)¹. It takes courage to ask and act upon these questions, but when you do, it sends a clear message to employees that you are committed to helping them grow in their jobs and careers.

Have you asked your staff any of these questions? Are there other questions you would add to this list? Leave a comment to share your thoughts and experiences.

Courageous Career Coaching Questions

  1. Why do you stay?
  2. What might lure you away?
  3. What did you like about your prior job (where you stayed several years)? What kept you there?
  4. Are you being ____ (challenged, recognized, trained, given feedback) enough for now?
  5. What would make your life here easier?
  6. Are things as you expected they would be?
  7. What do you want to be doing 5 years from now?
  8. What would we need to do to keep you here?
  9. What is most energizing about your work?
  10. What about your job makes you want to take a day off?

¹Adapted from Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans

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