Monthly Archives: March 2012

So you want to start your own business . . .

get ready to start businessGet Ready!

I talk to a lot of people whose life goal is to start their own business.  For most of them, it’s a “some day . . . ” kind of dream.  You can’t start too soon. There are tremendous opportunities to use your jobs between now and when you’re ready to learn things that will help you.  There are lots of skills that you need to develop to be able to hit the ground running with your business.  Why not be ready to succeed when you start your business?

To start your business, you need at a minimum (and not necessarily in this order):

  • Confidence
  • Money
  • A Product or Service
  • Customers
  • Marketing skills
  • Management skills
  • Finance knowledge

You can buy some of these, but most of them you had better have enough to be able to oversee the basics until you can hire it in.

I know lots of people who have had their own business.  Some were successful executives who bought or created a business after many years running large corporations.  Some were middle managers who bailed on the big corporation either by choice or through layoff.  Some were entry level employees who just couldn’t take the structure and lack of autonomy in the company they joined.  Some were young people who never joined an organization, but went out on their own immediately.

Get Set!

The ones who succeeded had tons of confidence and drive.  This doesn’t mean that they didn’t have doubts, but they continued to believe it would work out or they would figure it out way past where many of the rest of us would have walked away.  (Of course there are always people who are lucky and come up with an idea that is a killer idea that people swarm to, but that is pretty rare–like winning the lottery).

There is a great book, Effectuation: Elements of Entrepreneurial Expertise, by Saras D. Sarasvathy, which explores the ways that entrepreneurs think differently than corporate leaders.  The researchers asked successful entrepreneurs to help them develop a entrepreneurial game that would provide a simulation of creating a business.  They compared the way the entrepreneurs thought about creating a business–including ideas, product development, financing, overcoming problems–with the ways corporate leaders did.  They found that entrepreneurs do not close down the options in the same say as those who are successful in corporations.  They approach the problem looking for how to make it all work, rather than how to pick some of it and make that work.    The author, who did her research at Carnegie Mellon and is presently a professor at the University of Virginia, believes that people can be taught to think this way–just as people can be taught leadership.    Thinking like an entrepreneur is only part of the battle, though.

From a practical stand point, no matter how well you think like an entrepreneur, and no matter how great the idea for the business is, you also have to be able to manage the business well enough to get it on its feet.  Once on its feet, you can hire people to help you.  From the time you start the business until it is producing enough revenue to hire the help you need, you have to be able to get the product produced or deliver the service, market it and manage the finances.  You also have to be able to provide the necessary cash–either your own, or you have to figure out how to persuade someone else (usually through a business case) to give you the money that is necessary.

It is easiest to accumulate this cash and to develop the marketing, managing and financial acumen while sitting in an organization and using the resources of that organization to develop your skills.  I don’t think this is cheating your current organization.  As long as you are there, every skill set you develop benefits them.  The book that really helped me understand this and was the blueprint that I used to get ready to start my business was Soloing, Realizing Your Life’s Ambition, by Harriet Rubin.  I wanted to start a coaching and consulting practice.  This book may not work for you if you’re starting some other kind of business–but find the book that does work for you!

Go!

There may be specific skills that you need for the kind of business that you’re getting ready to start.  Take the classes, get a job in the kind of business you want to build, do whatever it takes.  When you are ready–take that first step.  The nice thing is that you can start your business while you are still earning a living in another organization.  You don’t have to dump one to do the other, until you are ready.

Go for it!

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Filed under Books, Career Development, Career Goals, Executive Development, Goal Setting, Success

I Hate My Boss!

BadBoss

Unless you’re independently wealthy, you probably have to figure out how to deal with a boss you hate–at least for a while.  Pretty much everyone has this problem at some point in their career.  The good news is that you can and will learn more from a bad boss than from a good one (especially about yourself).  The bad news is that this isn’t easy.

STEP ONE- REFRAME

The first step is to take YOUR emotions out of it.  The best way I know to do this is to REFRAME the situation.  We assign all kinds of import to the boss/subordinate relationship.  We bring a ton of baggage to it.  We want approval–sometimes even love–from our boss.  We realize that the boss has power over us, so we are afraid of the interaction when  it is unpleasant, and more so when it is always unpleasant.  Maybe he will fire me!  All of this sets us up to be more emotional in our interactions with a bad boss.  As long as you’re focused on your boss’ power over you, and your needs that aren’t getting met (appreciation, approval, respect), it is unlikely to get better.

Think of a relationship that isn’t as important to you.  Maybe an acquaintance, or a sales person, or a customer (that one is my favorite).  Think of your boss as someone in that other role.  How would you treat that person.  Hopefully you wouldn’t be rude, but you would be matter of fact, and you would continue to try to make the situation work out.  If you think of your boss as a customer, then you can position yourself to try to make her happy (the customer is always right, right?), but you’re not going to blow up if the customer is rude.  You’ll deal with it.  You’ll be responsible and even-keeled and you won’t stew over it forever.  Remember, REFRAMING is only the first step, but it is an extremely important step.  It will be hard to be able to do the next steps if you can’t get yourself to this more neutral stance.

STEP TWO- UNDERSTAND

Oh, you’re not going to like this step.  You need to see the situation through your boss’ eyes.  You may need help to do this.  Ask others–several others.  Ask them for their opinion of what the boss’ perspective is.  How does your boss see you?  Why?  Does he think that he’s told you what you need to do and you haven’t done it?  Does he think you’re just not right for the job?  Does he think you don’t listen?  Does he think you’re more trouble than you’re worth?  Forget all the ways that he’s wrong.  Really understand how/why your boss thinks what he does.

I once was having lots of problems with a boss and I just couldn’t understand it.  I had made so many improvements in the brief time I’d been in the job!  From my perspective, I was doing one of the best jobs I’d ever done.  Maybe he was a sexist.  Maybe he was an idiot.  Maybe he just didn’t know what he was doing.  (You can imagine that there was no “maybe” in my thinking.)  No matter how hard I tried, he wasn’t satisfied.  It seemed like everything (including the situation that I had walked into) was my fault in his eyes.  One day he said pretty much exactly that.  I suddenly realized that although I’d only been in the job for three months (too little to fix it, I thought), he had only been with the company and my boss for two months.  He actually thought that it was all my fault.  No wonder I was on his wrong side.  Telling him that I had just started was not sufficient to change his opinion of me–we had been pushing each others buttons for a while.  It was enough, however, for me to finally understand the problem.

Once you can see the boss’ perspective, you have many more options.  You DO NOT have to agree with the perspective.  You just need to see it.  You also need to figure out what makes your boss tick.  Does she make decisions based on lots of facts and details?  Does she rely on others’ opinions to make decisions (others who have issues with you?)?  How does she like to be communicated with?  Does she like frequent updates?  You need to spend the time and energy to figure your boss out.

STEP THREE- MANAGE THE BOSS

Now you need to start to manage your boss.  Who gets along with your boss?  What do they do?  (This may be especially difficult if you don’t like the person who is succeeding with the boss—but you don’t need to like them.  You need to understand what they DO that works.)  Start to communicate in the way that your boss prefers (not the way that you prefer).  Provide the information that your boss needs to make decisions.  Stop making it obvious that you don’t like/appreciate/respect your boss.  Remember she’s the customer.

Pay attention to your assumptions about what the boss knows, wants and needs.  Look at the others who are succeeding with the boss—what assumptions do they seem to be acting on?  Pay  attention to the way that you communicate with the boss.  Do you question the boss when others just say OK?  Do you make sure you’re clear on what the deliverable is?  Does the boss know what you’ve accomplished?  Are you cheerful or glum?

Your job is to help your boss succeed.  Are you doing that job?  It is really possible to turn this “bad boss” situation around.  I’ve done it.  I have had lots of clients do it.  In fact,  it is more common to fix this situation than not.  Don’t give up.

STEP FOUR= FIGURE YOURSELF OUT

Now it’s time to focus on you again.  WHY  does your boss bug you so much?  What buttons is she pushing?  Who does she remind you of?  What do you think that she should be doing (for you) that she isn’t?  This is how you can learn more about yourself from a bad boss than from a good one.  As long as those buttons are “pushable,” then you are not in control of your performance.  Sometimes you don’t even know that they are there until a bad boss starts pushing them.  Don’t blame the situation entirely on the boss.  This is a relationship like any other—two are responsible for it.  The more you understand about yourself, the more successful you’ll be in improving this situation.

STEP FIVE- MOVE ON

If doing these four steps doesn’t work, find a new job with a new boss.  DO NOT bad mouth the boss, however, as you do it.  You’ll set yourself up for a bad situation with the next boss—if you even get the job.

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Filed under Career Development, Communication, Executive Development, Personal Change, Reframe

What If . . .?

What if you could do it over again?

You’re 18 and Can Do It All Again

What if when you were 18 years old, you were given a list of all the major things that you would accomplish between the age of 18 and your age now.  All the good things, the bad things, the decisions, the important people  What if then you were told to look over the list and decide which of those things you would keep, and what you would do differently.  Would you undo the bad decisions?  Would you do better with the good decisions?  Would you hold on to all the people you’ve let slip away?  Would you tell people things that you hadn’t?

What pattern do you see in  what you would change?  Would you take a different job?  Work in a different industry?  Get a different education?  Have different relationships? Would you be kinder?  Would you work less?  Work more?  Would you focus on different things?  Would you write a book?  Would you take better care of yourself?  Save more money? Live some place different?

How Would You Decide?

What process/rational would you use to make your decisions?  Would you consciously use your (now) more developed sense of values?  Would you seek counsel from someone (different)?  Would you have a different set of priorities now that you would apply?

You Do Get a Redo (From Here On) . . .

OK,  you can’t remake/redo the decisions between year 18 and now.  BUT you can remake/redo/start again from age now till the end of your life.  What’s going to be different?

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Executive Development, Goal Setting, Personal Change

You Only Need 3 Things for a Successful Career

Career SuccessWhat if I told you that you only need three things to have a successful career.  Only three.  Would you believe me?  Probably not.  Let’s try it anyway.  You need to be able to adapt; you need to be a learner; and you need to be self-reflective.  That’s it.  If you have those, you can have a successful career.  But, you say, what about finance skills, strategic skills, negotiation skills?  As long as you are a learner, you’ve got it covered.  What about  leadership skills, EQ, presentation skills?  If you are self-reflective and a learner, you’ve got it covered.  What about managing change? Mergers and acquisitions? Financial crisis?  If you are adaptive and a learner, you’ve got it covered.  You see where I’m going with this, right?

A Life Long Learner

To have a successful career these days, you must be a life long learner.  A Bachelors or an M.B.A. won’t do it.  You can/will learn very important things in the process of getting those degrees.  Certainly they aren’t a waste of time.  They aren’t necessary to having a successful career (Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates), nor are they a be all, end all.  Maybe in the wayback days a degree was enough, but not any more.

If you got out of college more than 5 years ago, you didn’t do marketing with social media.  Your IT skills didn’t include any ‘clouds.’  LinkedIn wasn’t  used to recruit employees.  Nobody ever heard of a TARP.  Iphone  apps weren’t a business, to say nothing of iPads.  They weren’t reading XRays for your hospital in India. You see the point.  You HAVE to keep learning.  If you approach your career as a learner, then the problems that arise are just opportunities to learn.  They aren’t overwhelming barriers.  If you have the belief that you can figure it out, you can.  If you’re a learner, you know you can.

Be Adaptive

All of us at one time or another get stuck in our rut.  Your career can’t be a rut, though.  Does anybody remember what happened when the housing bubble popped?  When mortgages cratered, construction stopped, and unemployment started growing?  If you were lucky enough to be unaffected, you may not be next time.  If you were affected, you came out better if you were adaptive.  Things are speeding up quite a bit.  Unadaptive people will be run over by the next crisis.  The new book, The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, by Hoffman and Casnocha, recommends that you do ABZ planning.  This can apply to either your career or your company.  Plan A is based on your competitive advantage and you iterate the plan, making moderate changes as necessary.  Plan B is a pivot, changing either the goal or the route, as necessary.  And Plan Z is your safety net, your fallback if all else fails–how you keep a roof over your head and food on the table if other plans don’t work.

When you are dealing with the ups and downs of life in a corporation, flexibility is essential.  Reorgs, company sales, downsizings, new projects, killed projects happen constantly.   You need to be in what Hoffman and Cosnocha call “constant beta.”  Nothing is end state–it is always a work in progress.  If you can have this mindset, you’ll be ready for anything that comes.

Self-Reflection

Being self-aware through self-reflection is like having a personal level tool.  It will help you figure out that things are out of kilter and help you figure out what exactly needs to be redirected.  Self-reflection is  essential  for being able to manage the only tool you have fully in your control for a successful career–yourself.   Howard Gardner, an expert on developmental psychology noted “it is important that the leader find the time and the means for reflecting, for assuming distance from the battle or the mission,” in his book,  Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership.  You learn as much though self reflection as through any other method–if you take the time to do it.

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Executive Development, Personal Change, Success

Which Comes First, Success or Happiness?

One of my favorite coaching clients recently told me a story.  She said that her brother went into a florist and while checking out, spotted a framed Master’s or Doctorate diploma in Engineering on the wall. He asked the store owner why the diploma was there. The man said, “To remind me why I am a florist.”  My client went on to say, ” while it’s great to succeed, make sure you’re succeeding because you’re doing what you want, not succeeding despite what you want to do.”

My experience is that unhappy people can’t experience their success.  Others can look at their accomplishments and think, “Wow, that person is really successful.”  S/he is an Executive VP or a CEO or a millionaire or a business owner.  Those are the hallmarks of success, right?  If you talk to people with these credentials, however, you’ll sometimes find that not only do they not see their success, they are driven to hit the next goal, and the next one, and frequently you’ll find that they are not happy.  For folks who have not hit these marks yet, and strive for them, that seems incredible–how can they not be happy if they have . . .?”

There are several reasons these folks aren’t happy.  Sometimes, to my client’s point, we’re working toward someone else’s success.  We’re doing what we think we should, or our parents wanted us to, or because we believe that it is the only way to pay our kids through college.  For some people, there is a lot more happiness in striving than in achieving.  That’s true in part, because we think there is a magic in achieving and everything will fall into place once the goal is achieved. When the magic doesn’t happen instantly, then there is a tremendous disappointment and disillusionment.  Some folks don’t believe deep down inside that they deserve success (or happiness, for that matter) and they never see that they’ve achieved it.

Look at it the other way, though.  Are happy people successful?  I’d have to say, yes, in my experience they usually are.  There are several situations that are work related that can contribute to your happiness.  First, if you are working at your “calling,” then it gives your life and work meaning.  Second, if you are challenged and building your skills, that usually creates happiness.  Third, if you can see that you’re making a difference, then that usually contributes to happiness.  Happiness is less about the end state (success by some people’s definitions) and more about what is happening now.  If you like what is happening now, however, you are usually focused on it and delivering at a high level, and that leads to success.

So, are successful people happy?  Sometimes.  Are happy people successful?  Usually.  Happy people’s success is usually self defined, though, rather than “other” defined.  Others usually agree, though.    Seems to me, then, that it would be more productive to work on being happy, rather than being successful, because you’re more likely to get two for the price of one.

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Executive Development

Rot at the Top

Is All Corporate Leadership Rotten?

When I taught leadership, I always discussed Manfred Kets de Vries’ (see his book, The Leadership Mystique)  theory that  when organizations go down the drain, it is usually because of rot that started at the top.  Many (most? all?) of my students took this out of context and seemed to think that corporate leadership = rot at the top.  This is troubling on two levels–first, it is very distressing that my students  have enough evidence of misbehavior of folks at the tops of organizations to generalize to all corporate leadership.  Just as troubling, though, is that if you think that corporate leadership is immoral and corrupt in general, then you don’t strive to be a corporate leader.  Or, worse, you sabotage your career when it gets close to where you start to see yourself in a leadership role.

There certainly are lots of examples of organizations whose leadership has behaved corruptly and immorally.  There are also examples of organizations where the behavior may not go all the way to corrupt, but certainly isn’t admirable or something to aspire to.  There are hundreds of thousands of organizations, however, where the top leadership is genuinely trying to do a good job and trying to help the organization to succeed.

Leaders Are People, Too.

These leaders are people too.  They used to be middle managers and before that they were college students and before that, they were fifth graders.  They do things right and they do things wrong.  They have crises and families and flaws and strengths.  They aren’t perfect.  But neither are they perfectly bad.  These leaders can be influenced by leadership at all levels of the organization.

Informal leadership at all levels

Step Up to Be a Leader

Organizations that have leadership at all levels of the organization are far less likely to have bad leadership at the top.  Leadership doesn’t require a title.  It requires stepping up, doing and saying the right thing.  It requires not going along, when it would be easier to do so.  It requires asking questions, and listening to people who are closer to the issue.  Leadership doesn’t require positional power.  It requires personal power.  Personal power comes from being respected–because you are very knowledgeable about things that the organization needs (expert power), or because you have the ability to influence others (referent power) or because you are connected to the “right” people (connection power).

Organizations are becoming more aware of the power of informal leadership.  An organization called Keyhubs helps organization evaluate and leverage informal leadership networks.  Work on becoming a leader–wherever you are on the org chart–so that when your organization realizes they need to care about informal leadership, you are sitting there,  leading.

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Filed under Career Development, Executive Development, Leadership

White People Don’t Know They’re White

Before I Explain What I Mean

First, let me tell you why I’m writing about this.  This is a post about people not knowing what they don’t know.  When you don’t know what you don’t know, it really gets in the way of being effective.  If you are completely unaware of something, then you are missing out on a whole world.  If you are basing your understanding of the world on the assumption that everyone thinks like you, you CANNOT communicate effectively because you are starting from the wrong place.

Now Let Me Explain

I have to be careful how I explain this.  I told a close friend that white people don’t know that they’re white–several times–and  years later a conversation made it obvious that not only did she not understand what I meant, she didn’t believe me either.  I have always thought I was pretty aware of the issues of race relations. I know now that I really didn’t have a clue.

A few years ago, I worked for a large minority organization.  I was one of two white employees.  I was aware of my “whiteness” all the time.  My mind did that to me.  It made me think about it all the time. There are lots of studies about this–we notice differences.  Most importantly, we notice how we’re different.  I was aware of my difference.  It was a new experience for me.  Minorities feel this all the time–wherever they are in the minority–in the grocery store, at movies, at restaurants.  That awareness–that you are different–and the assumptions you make about what the others are thinking shape your interactions with people.

A Fish In Water

If you never have a minority experience, though, you never become aware of your “whiteness” or your “otherness-of-any-kind”  (this doesn’t just apply to white people–it applies to all majorities).  If you never have that experience, then you never really “get” it.  Being white in many communities in the United States,  is like being a fish in water–the fish isn’t aware of the water.  It just exists in that environment.  There is a lot of baggage that goes with that water–privilege, history of mistreatment, institutional racism–that many white people are not consciously aware of.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t there, though.

The hyper awareness that minorities experience helps create the assumption that white people are equally aware of minorities.  They aren’t.  Of course there are situations where what I’m saying isn’t true.  And certainly, there are racists who are more aware.  Most white people, though, are not only unaware of their own “whiteness,” they are pretty oblivious to non-white people, too. They don’t walk into a grocery store and notice all the minorities.   At a conscious level.  There is stuff happening at the subconscious level, though, for everyone.

I learned from one of the best professors I ever had, Dr. Martin Gooden at Wright State University, that there is a thing called in-group favoritism.  People see  members of  their in-group as having positive characteristics and members of their out-group as having more negative characteristics.  This applies to OKC Thunder and Dallas Maverick fans, to Democrats and Republicans, and to majorities and minorities.  This happens without our thinking about it, at the unconscious level.  It has very far-reaching impact though.  It gets in the way of openness to getting to know each other.

Let’s Make It Better

So, why is this important? Because it plays out all over the place.  Non-white people don’t experience the freedom of not thinking  about being a minority.  They also aren’t aware of what they experience at the unconscious level–their unconscious assumptions. White people don’t understand that  non-white people have a difference experience.  And all that unspoken/not understood stuff plays out at work, at church, in politics, everywhere.

Until we understand this and pull it out into the open, it never gets any better. That means that we need to talk about it.  We need to understand the tricks our brains play on us.  We need to understand the water we swim in.

 

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Filed under Communication, Diversity, Inclusion