Leading with Trust

2 Key Steps Self Leaders Take In Moving From College To Career

Since graduation, I’m finding post-college life to be a bit lonely … a bit scary too. After walking across the big stage and grabbing my degree in early June, I returned, jobless, to my home in San Diego to seek a meaningful career. Graduation was the last big “milestone,” the last item to check off my pre-adulthood list. Now I’ve been turned loose to blaze my own path, and I’m finding the job market to be ruthless and the competition fierce. After so many dead ends and rejected applications, it’s quite easy to feel lost or discouraged.    

In transitional times like these, when bosses, teachers, and other sources of mentorship are in short supply, younger people should consider looking inward — they should consider self leadership. Self leadership is when an individual takes it upon themselves to find the motivation, knowledge, skills, and help they need to thrive personally and professionally. To do that, a self leader must be proactive. They must strive to create change instead of responding to it.

I want to talk about proactivity in two contexts: its presence in one’s personal life, and its importance for those who are reluctant to seek help. I’ve struggled in both areas, but I’ve learned and grown because of it. I’d like to share my experiences with you here.

A semblance of structure goes a long way.

When I was in school, I always had responsibilities to attend to, like class or one of my two campus jobs. They kept me productive and gave me a little bit of predictability. Once I graduated and went back home, I had no class. I had no campus jobs. There was no particular reason to wake up early in the morning; I was free to do anything, free to allocate my time however I chose. It seemed nice on the surface, but I could see the long-term danger it presented.

Settling into a routine is often looked down upon because it precedes one’s fall into the ever-treacherous “rut.” But living without anything to define your day can erode your motivation, opportunities, and potential. Preventing this erosion doesn’t require a militaristic regimen, though. You just have to be proactive and set some sort of structure. In the month since I’ve graduated, I’ve made an effort to get up each morning before 9:00 a.m. and workout (usually an hour spent lifting weights, doing some cardio, or working on my jump shot). Physical activity clears the mind of morning blurriness. It relieves stress and leaves you ready to learn.

After exercise and following breakfast, I’ll put aside five or so hours to do something productive: job apps, LinkedIn/resume updates, or writing articles like this one. It is often painfully boring, specifically the career-related stuff. You can only change up resumes so many times, and bragging about yourself in each iteration of a cover letter can make you feel phony. But when I envision the future I want — good money, fulfillment through my craft, health — I realize five hours a day isn’t the worst thing in the world. I commit myself to those five hours as if it were my career.    

Self leaders don’t sit in front of the TV all day. They are proactive about doing what is required to succeed, and success often requires things that are boring, tedious, or difficult. It’s up to the self leader to push themselves through the gauntlet. Value must be found in positive visions of the future and in the work that forms that future.     

Asking for help is not admitting failure.

Sometimes, success means soliciting assistance, feedback, and support from others. This can be difficult for those who take particular pride in their perceived talents. I was (and to a certain extent, still am) one of those people. Asking others for help seemed like a desperate act to me. I mean, if I was really worth my salt as a writer, editor, or “young professional,” I could do it all alone. Survival of the fittest, right? Getting a job, getting my work published, improving my craft … that was all on me, and I didn’t think there was much else others could provide. I was confident in my ability to learn, adapt, and improve, and that was good from a self leadership standpoint. But this overconfidence also blinded me to the fact that I’m not all that — not the best writer, not the smartest, not the most qualified … and not the most mature either. I thought others would hold me back, but they were actually what would propel me forward.

This realization came at a time of creative frustration. Graduation was near and I was exhausted. Barren of ideas and of any confidence in my ability, I questioned — for the millionth time — whether I had it in me to do any of this. Instead of wondering, I sought advice and feedback from friends. For the first time, I invited others into my editorial process. I gave them rough drafts of what I was working on, and they returned them with comments that were at times harsh. That hurt (a lot), but it humbled me and revealed errors in my work that I wouldn’t and couldn’t have noticed before.

The job search functions in a similar way. I’ve learned that established professionals are willing to help if you ask, but you have to ask. Very rarely will recruiters or higher-ups come to you out of the blue. Getting help doesn’t mean you’re talentless. It isn’t a last resort. It shows that you value progress, and it shows that you’re adept at diagnosing and addressing your weaknesses. Making it on your own without help is admirable if you were forced into that situation, but it’s neither admirable nor noble to purposefully limit yourself. That’s the antithesis of self leadership: self sabotage.

Young or old, what role does proactivity play in your life? Are you doing something to work toward that future you want? It’s good to go with the flow when you can, but some things require a more active approach. Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts, ideas, or feedback.

About Zach Morgan

Zach Morgan is a writer, editor, and recent grad living in San Diego, CA. He’s looking to use his talents to make an awesome company even better.

5 Signs You Need Some Time Off…Stat!

Human CannonballThe start of this year had me feeling a bit like I was shot out of a cannon. BOOM!

I hit the ground running with several important projects and I haven’t stopped. Not only has the pace stayed high, but the work itself has been arduous and energy-draining.

We can sustain a high volume of work for only a certain period of time before it starts to take its toll. I’ve been noticing a few warning signs in my own attitudes and behaviors that are signaling me it’s time to rest and recuperate. If you’re experiencing these symptoms or similar ones, perhaps you need a rest too.

  1. Irritability—I’ve found myself being irritable with loved ones for no apparent reason. Things I normally wouldn’t think twice about – comments, jokes, behaviors, or even facial expressions – are causing me to react in unpleasant ways. Nothing major, but just enough for my wife to call me “Mr. Grumpy Pants.”
  2. Impatience—I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling tired or stressed I usually become impatient. I don’t have energy reserves to call on to allow me to exercise patience. I just wish people would drive faster, lines would be shorter, and people would be less bothersome to me. Sound familiar?
  3. Loss of Perspective—Sometimes I get so far into the weeds of a particular project or issue that I lose sight of the bigger picture. I find myself stressing out over every little issue and decision, when in the grand scheme of things, those things probably won’t carry much value. If you find yourself willing to fight every battle and take every hill, you’ve probably lost perspective of the big picture. We have to pick and choose our battles wisely.
  4. Tiredness and Fatigue—When I’ve had the pedal to the metal for too long, I start to run out of gas. I get to a point where I want to hit the snooze button on the alarm clock, don’t feel energized about getting into the office, and generally just want to rest. Chronic stress will lead to these symptoms and we have to be careful to know when we’re crossing the line from normal tiredness to unhealthy levels of stress.
  5. Disengagement/Lack of Motivation—Past experience has shown me that if I don’t invest in rest and recuperation, I will eventually get to the point where I just “check out.” The major warning sign to me that I’m approaching this point is when I think to myself, “I just want to be left alone!” You know how it feels when you get to this point, right? You’re tired of all the demands on your time and attention and you just want to get away from it all. That’s when you need time off of work.

There is a distinct difference between running a sprint versus a marathon. As you know, sprints are short, fast bursts of energy followed by periods of rest and recuperation. Marathons are endurance runs, with a slow and steady pace to conserve energy over the long haul. You can’t complete a marathon running at a sprinter’s pace. You have to pick one or the other. The same is true with our work. We can run sprints or marathons. We can’t do both.

If you’ve been running at a sprinter’s pace and are experiencing these symptoms or similar ones, it’s a sign you’re due for a well-deserved break. What do you say we check our calendars and plan some time off?

The 4 Unmet Needs That Lead to Disengaged Employees

4 Basic Human Needs for Engagement

Thanks to Tanmay Vora at QAspire.com for the sketchnote

Everyday the spirits of millions of people die at the front door of their workplace. There is an epidemic of workers who are uninterested and disengaged from the work they do, and the cost to the U.S. economy has been pegged at over $300 billion annually. According to a recent survey from Deloitte, only 20% of people say they are truly passionate about their work, and Gallup surveys show the vast majority of workers are disengaged, with an estimated 23 million “actively disengaged.”

This issue presents a tremendous challenge for organizational leaders. Even worse than dealing with the effects of people who leave your organization (studies show replacing employees can be 1.5 to 3 times their annual salary), you have to manage these disengaged workers who have decided to “quit and stay.” You’re still paying them to under-perform and ultimately undermine the effectiveness of your organization!

In conducting over 19,000 exit interviews of employees who voluntarily left their jobs, Leigh Branham, author of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, identified four basic needs that weren’t being met that started people on the path to disengagement and ultimately quitting a job.

The Need for Trust — The number one priority for any leader is to build trust with his/her team members. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, and in the workplace it’s a non-negotiable if leaders desire to tap into the full effort and passion of their employees. Employees won’t give you their best if they don’t believe you have their best interests in mind. They will shy away from taking risks or making themselves vulnerable if they don’t feel safe and trusted. They expect company leadership to deliver on their promises, to be honest and open in communication, to invest in them, and to treat them fairly. The ABCD Trust Model is a helpful tool for leaders to understand what it means to be trustworthy and build trust with others.

The Need to Have Hope — I’ve had the privilege of meeting football legend Rosey Grier, a member of the “Fearsome Foursome” when he played with the Los Angeles Rams, and now a Christian minister and inspirational speaker. He said something I’ve never forgotten. When speaking about his work with inner city youth in Los Angeles, Rosey said “Leaders aren’t dealers of dope, they are dealers of hope!” So true…leaders are dealers of hope. We need to instill a sense of hope in the people we lead. Our people need to believe they will be able to grow, develop their skills, and have the opportunity for advancement or career progress. It’s our job as leaders to foster that hope and support our employees in their growth.

The Need to Feel a Sense of Worth — Despite its struggles and challenges, work is an intrinsically rewarding experience for people. We derive a tremendous amount of self-worth from our work, whether it’s something we’re employed to do or whether we volunteer our time and effort. Employees have a need to feel confident that if they work hard, do their best, and demonstrate commitment and make meaningful contributions, they will be recognized and rewarded appropriately.

The Need to Feel Competent — Employees need to be matched in jobs where their talents align with the challenges of the work. If the work is too simple, then it’s easy for people to lose interest and become disengaged. If the employee is in over his/her head and the work is too challenging, it can lead to discouragement and frustration. Leaders are on a constant quest to find ways to place employees in that sweet spot where they are challenged at just the right level. But it’s not all on the shoulders of leaders to do this work. Employees need to take responsibility for their own development and learn how to manage their motivational outlooks.

Employee engagement is a broad and complex topic, so much so that most leaders feel overwhelmed at how to make a meaningful impact. Focusing on ways to meet these four critical needs will lay the foundation for an environment where your employees develop and thrive in their roles.

Quit Trying to Motivate People and Focus on These 3 Things Instead

Got MotivationWhat if I said you were wasting your time trying to motivate your employees? Would you think I’ve committed leadership heresy? Would you say I’ve gone off the deep end and lost touch with the reality? Maybe I am a heretic. Maybe I have gone a little bit cuckoo.

But I’ll say it anyway. You’re wasting your time trying to motivate people.

The reality is people are always motivated. The question is not if they are motivated, but why. That’s the question my colleague Susan Fowler is imploring leaders to ask as they consider how to best lead their team members in achieving their goals and those of the organization. Susan’s recent book, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging, along with the training program Optimal Motivation, explores how leaders can help their people tap into the psychological needs that drive their motivations. Once you and your people understand why you do what you do, you can master the ability to choose a more positive and productive motivational outlook.

For too long leaders have relied on “carrot and stick” strategies to try to motivate employees. Because B.F. Skinner was able to get pigeons to turn around in circles by offering them food pellets, we assumed we could get people to perform specific behaviors by offering them their own version of food pellets: bonus checks, reward trips, certificates to hang on the wall, etc. That may work for the short-term and for rudimentary, repetitive kinds of tasks, but it won’t unlock the long-term passion and commitment of your people that leads to sustained engagement in today’s knowledge economy.

Rather than focusing on carrot and stick strategies that only address external motivation and short-term results, focus on these three psychological needs that help people tap into their deeper, sustainable levels of internal motivation:

Autonomy – It’s human nature to desire independence and to feel in control of our lives. That desire doesn’t stop at the office door. Help your people be clear on the goals they have to achieve and the boundaries they’re operating within and then give them the authority and responsibility to get the job done the way they see fit. As much as possible, engage them in designing the work systems, creating the metrics used to manage their work, and evaluating the quality of everything they produce. When people are in control of achieving the goal they take more ownership and use their discretionary energy to help the organization succeed. Helping employees develop autonomy is not “letting the inmates run the asylum.” It’s giving them the space and freedom within defined boundaries to manage their work with an ownership mentality.

Relatedness – We are hardwired to have interpersonal connections with other people to one degree or another. Your people are much more than worker drones showing up to do a job for eight hours. They are complex, rich, dynamic people with amazing life stories and the relationships they have at work are primary threads in the tapestry of their lives. Leaders can foster a sense of relatedness by encouraging people to connect on the job through mentorships, buddy systems, and activities that foster team morale. As the boss, make the effort to share more information about yourself and the organization to increase transparency and authenticity with your team. The Johari Window is a helpful model that illustrates how you can improve communication and build trust with others by disclosing information about yourself.

Competence – People have an innate desire to continually develop competence in their skills, talents, and abilities. Continuous growth and learning is critical to help people address the challenges and obstacles that come their way. Neglecting to develop the talents of your people is leadership malpractice. People who are ill-quipped to handle workplace challenges quickly become overwhelmed and give up, while those who are committed to ongoing development are able to flexibly adapt to changing business conditions.

Motivation isn’t something that a person either has or doesn’t have. Everyone is motivated in one way or another. They key question is “What is the quality of their motivation?” I have a belief that you can’t motivate anyone. It’s up to each person to choose their level of motivation. But what I can do is help create an environment that encourages and allows people to be optimally motivated.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to develop Optimal Motivation for yourself and others, join the free Leadership Livecast Motivating People Doesn’t Work…What Does? on February 25 or 26.

Ditch the New Year’s Resolution and Do This One Thing Instead

DSCF4077

Photo Credit: deathtothestockphoto.com

Admit it, you’re in trouble with your New Year’s resolution, aren’t you?

That’s okay, you’re not alone. Surveys show that just a few days into the new year, 22% of people have already broken their resolution, 11% have abandoned it altogether, and just 8% will actually keep their resolution the entire year.

So ditch the New Year’s resolution…go ahead, just do it. I give you permission. But do this one thing instead: choose a word.

One word.

A couple of months ago I spent a weekend at a men’s retreat with Jon Gordon and that’s where I learned the power of one word. Jon’s written a number of best-selling books including The Energy Bus, The Carpenter, and One Word, co-written with Dan Britton and Jimmy Page.

The concept is simple yet powerful. Spend time in solitude and reflection to determine one word that will provide focus, clarity, motivation, and purpose to your activities this coming year. Not a mission statement…not a phrase…but a word. Just one word.

The word applies to all dimensions of your life: mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, and relational. Choosing one word forces you to think deeply about what’s important, not just what’s urgent. It forces you to consider the impact you want to have on others and how you want to feel about yourself when the year is done.

Jon would say the word chooses you as much as you choose it and that was true in my experience. The word I chose during the retreat, and that I’m carrying over to this year, is invest.

I’m in a new season of life where I want to invest in relating to my sons (22 & 18 years old) as adult to adult and not just parent to child. My children don’t “need” me in the same way as they have in years past and sometimes that hurts. Occasionally I find myself mourning the change in our relationship rather than celebrating the season we’ve come through. Invest reminds me to get out of the victim mentality and be active in creating new ways to relate to my children. You never stop being a parent; it just changes complexion over the years.

I want to invest in rediscovering my wife of 26 years and developing new aspects of our relationship. Since our lives are no longer driven by the activities of our children, new doors are open to us that have been closed in the past. I want to invest in personal friendships that have taken a back seat over recent years as my focus has been on family and career. I want to invest in my physical, emotional, and mental health by developing healthy and nourishing hobbies, like cycling and golf.

I want to invest in being a better leader at work, by making a positive contribution to the organization and helping my team members reach new levels of success. I want to invest in my spiritual life by developing more regular times of prayer, meditation, and reading Scripture.

Invest…just one word but multi-dimensional in implication and potential impact.

Life gets busy and we find ourselves occupied with the urgent circumstances that arise. It takes intentional effort to focus our energies and simplify life and the one word process can help in that regard.

So ditch your new year’s resolution, if you haven’t already done so, and choose one word instead. Leave a comment letting me know your one word and why you chose it. I know Jon would appreciate you tweeting him with your one word also.

Make 2015 a great year!

%d bloggers like this: