Monthly Archives: August 2012

Will Your Style Get You To The Next Level?

You have gotten to where you are based on a lot of things, but a key element of your success is your style.  Are you the “expert/straight-forward/opinionated” person?  Are you the “social/make everyone comfortable/cheerful” person?  Or are you the “large/take charge/tell ’em the way it is” person?  Which ever style you have, it has worked for you so far.  What ever success you’ve had, you style has contributed to it.  As you move up organizations, though, your style isn’t necessarily going to be as  helpful at the next level.

Think About It

When you look up the organization chart, do the people have a style like yous?  Or do they have a different style?  What styles do you see?  Are there a range of styles?  Or does it seem that everyone above you has one style. Look closer.  There are two possibilities.

The Top Has The Same Style As You

It is possible that you were hired in the ‘style’ of the organization.  If so, then you need to check out the nuances of the styles of others above you.  It may actually be harder to discern the ways in which you need to work on your style if the top of the organization has the same style as you.  You have to look harder at what is different.  Do they vary their style when they are talking to different people–customers or superiors or subordinates?  Does that work well?  Do they connect with you well?  Are there people in the organization that they don’t connect with?  Can you tell why?

The Top Has A Different Style Than You

This is actually more common, especially in bigger organizations.  There are two aspects to this.  The first is whether or not a different style is actually going to be more effective at a higher level in the organization.  The second (and more important) is whether people making decisions about promoting you perceive that it takes a different style to be successful at the next level.  Either way, you need to figure out whether you can/should adjust your style.

So How Do You Do That?

The first thing you need to do is overcome your reluctance to change your style.  You style is not you.  Think about the way you were in junior high school v. the way you were in high school v. the way you were in college.  You had different styles, right?  Those changes weren’t necessarily voluntary, but over time you learned to present yourself differently to fit in, to be comfortable in the situation, and to get what you wanted.  You are different at work, at church and at home.  A lot of this difference is external, a lot of it is style.  The real you is more like the way you are at home, but you manage to (easily) be different at work.

What we’re talking about here is simply being deliberate about changing your “outside” style to be more effective.  If you’re introverted and you’re a sales person, you figure out how to be more extroverted to be a good sales person.  This is the same.  What do you need to be ‘more’ of or ‘less’ of to be successful at the next level of the organization?

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Sorry. You Are Not Indispensible.

We all see ourselves as the hub of our own universe.  This is not a bad thing–and it is natural.  It does create blind spots, however. When we evaluate our importance to the organization it is through our own eyes.  We know what we do, did and frequently compare our performance against our peers (and even our managers).  The thing is, everyone is doing the same.  Let me try to be clearer.

My Perspective

When I work late to finish the report that is due tomorrow, I feel virtuous.  I gave up dinner with my friends to make sure the report got done.  I went to the extra effort to talk to all the affected departments and get their input (and that is what took so long and why I had to stay late to finish it before tomorrow).  I am aware that I went over and above, doing special research to make sure all my recommendations were right and would work.  I worked extra hard on the graphs and had to teach myself some new techniques in Excel and PowerPoint (again, that probably contributed to why I had to stay late to get it done).  My intent and goal is for this report to be perfect.  I don’t know exactly what it is to be used for, but whatever that is, I want whoever uses it to be blown away by how good it is.  This organization is very lucky to have someone who cares so much and works so hard.  What would they do without me?

My Boss’s Perspective

The report was on time.  It looked pretty thorough, but it was pretty detailed and there wasn’t a concise Executive summary.  It was a little off point of what I was looking for, but I can use it.

So What Causes This Kind of Disconnect?

What I Should Have Done:

  • Before even starting, I should have been VERY clear on what the purpose of the report was, who the audience was, what the report would be used for, and what its relative importance was.
  • It is completely fine to develop new skills (Excel, Powerpoint) in the process of creating work product, but that is on you–not on your organization, especially if the product of those new skills is not specifically necessary for the product you are creating.  The fact that it caused me to have to work late to create the report is not a reason for the organization to be happy with me.
  • Perfectionism can get you into more trouble than it is worth sometimes.  I should have made the report good enough to satisfy the goal, but I should not have spent a lot of extra time making it perfect–unless there was some reason (outside of my standards) for it to be perfect.
  • I need to appreciate the fact that my standards–working hard, working long hours, learning new skills, making sure I’ve talked to everyone and was inclusive, and that the report was perfect–do not (usually) translate into the organization’s view of my performance (or my indispensability).
  • I need to be understand that my boss is not aware of my intent, my hard work, my learning, or my extra effort unless someone tells him/her.  It is not inherently obvious from my work product.
  • Meeting the goal of the assignment precisely and specifically for the intended audience is WHAT COUNTS.

What My Boss Should Have Done

  • My boss should have been very clear about the goal, purpose and audience for the assignment.
  • My boss should have been clear about any expectations of over and above/extra effort.
  • My boss should have made efforts to understand how hard I worked to meet the goal.
  • My boss should have found ways to give me constructive feedback and to appreciate my effort in order to motivate me to continue to work toward getting better.

Next Time

The next time you notice that you are congratulating yourself on how hard you’re working, on how great your work is and on how indispensable you are, ASK YOURSELF if your boss sees it the same way.  Ask yourself if you DELIVERED what was needed, when it was needed, for the intended goal.  Because when you consistently deliver exactly what is needed, when it is needed, maybe you can become indispensable.

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The Way You Think Is Wrong

No Matter Who You Are

No matter who you are–black, white, Hispanic, French, Executive, Gen X, Retiree–the way you think is wrong.  Oh, I left out Democrat or Republican.  Our brains are truly wonderful things.  They are efficient processors of information.  There are a lot of tools that our brains us to make us more efficient and effective in our daily lives of being human.  I call all of these, generally, being on autopilot.  Being on autopilot is your enemy in terms of controlling your future.  Being on autopilot is also your friend in terms of making you more efficient at all the things you have to do in daily life.  The key is to learn the tricks your mind plays on you and to learn to turn these tools on and off to make better judgements when appropriate.

Let Me Be More Specific

Our brains use a number of tools or shortcuts that help us process information:

  • Halo Affect: assumption that because someone is good at doing one thing, s/he will be good at doing other things
  • Availability Heuristic:   assumption that because you think of something more frequently it is more likely to happen
  • Generalizations:  assumption that people, challenges, mistakes, organizations,  . . . pretty much everything . . . are just like the ones we have already experienced.  We tend to generalize trustworthiness, bad intentions, skills, incompetence, etc. based on other similarities.  Examples:  Asians are smart, Senior executives are bad, old people are degenerating,  Gen X’s are . . . (depending on your view).
  • Illusion of Understanding:  assumption that familiarity with something means you understand it
  • Hindsight bias: the tendency to view things as more predictable than they are
  • Motivated forgetting: re-remembering things to avoid blame
  • Overconfidence bias: the belief that your abilities are greater than they are–80% of drivers believe that they are in the top 30% of drivers
  • Recency bias:  giving more credibility to more recent data–the last presenter, the last candidate, the last answer
  • Clustering illusion:  seeing patterns where none exist

We All Do It

All of us use these tools.  They were developed back in the day when we lived in caves and hunted.  They are tools that help us make instant decisions without a lot of effort.  The problem is that they don’t work as well with today’s problems as when we were outrunning lions and tigers and bears.  The worst part about them is that we are generally unaware of them.  We value eyewitness testimony over other kinds of evidence, even though it is highly defective.  We choose candidates like us because we are generalizing and making assumptions at the subconscious level without really evaluating the basis for our assumptions.  We take risks based on shortcuts our brains make without even being aware of them.

What Can You Do?

The best thing to do is to educate yourself about these “tricks” that your mind plays.  There are several great books that can help:

Then Practice!

Learn to take control of the way you think by practicing.  Ask yourself, “Why do I think this?”  “How do I know this?”  “How can I think of this differently?”

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The Water You Swim In

Culture is Like Water to a FishUnderstanding Your Organization’s Culture

Organization culture for people is like water is for fish.  It is there.  It is critical to how the organization works.  It shapes people’s interactions.  It guides how work gets done, what is considered success, who is powerful and who is not.  It is also invisible.  People are not consciously aware of it.  It is probably the single most important thing in the organization, and most people know nothing about it.

If you want to be successful in an organization, one of the first things you should do is work on understanding the culture.   You will be able to use the culture to help you be effective.  You will be able to avoid getting into trouble by understanding the rules of engagement, power and territory.  You will be able to use the informal networks to grease your requests and deliverables.

What is Organizational Culture?

The culture is the set of assumptions, beliefs, customs, behaviors, rites, rituals, behaviors and values that exist within an organization.  These sometimes come directly from the founder (think Steve Jobs), then get influenced by subsequent leaders (think John Scully, then Steve Jobs).  The culture is sometimes a creation of combined organization cultures, or an organization culture that has been transplanted into another geographic region—Apple in China, Honda in the US.  The culture is never JUST what the company says it is.  In 2000, Enron’s stated values were:

  • Respect We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don’t belong here.
  •  Integrity We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, then we won’t do it.
  •  Communication We have an obligation to communicate. Here, we take the time to talk with one another and to listen. We believe that information is meant to move and that information moves people.
  • Excellence We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do. We will continue to raise the bar for everyone. The great fun here will be for all of us to discover just how good we can really be.

Obviously, there was more at work in the culture than what they said.  There were other things driving behavior.  The culture rewarded conformity and punished dissent.  Individualism was valued over other behaviors (Jeff Skilling’s favorite book was Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene.)  There was a belief that the people who worked at Enron were the “best and the brightest.”  Eighty hour work weeks were the norm.  There was a “rank and yank” performance system.  Cumulatively, these things and lots of others, describe the Enron culture.

Disney has a very different culture.  Google has a differently culture.  Organization cultures are the (organizational) DNA combination of all of kinds of inputs.

How Can You Figure Out Your Organization’s Culture?

 Answers to the following questions can help you begin to understand the culture:

  • Who founded the company and what were his/her beliefs?  About   the organization?  About the way things should be?
  • Is the founder viewed as a hero?  A villain?
  • Is the founder still with the company?
  • If not, what impact have subsequent leaders had?
  • Are any of them considered saviors?  Heros?  Villians?
  • What are the stories that are told about the company?
  • What kind of person(s) seem(s) to be favored?
  • What behaviors are accepted?  Regulated? Discouraged?
  • How does communication flow?
  • What parts of the organization’s history are important?
  • What traumas have happened to the company?  Are there psychic scars from those traumas?  Do people still talk about them years later?  Have behavioral norms been put in place to avoid the same trauma in the future?
  • What is the dress code?  How rigidly is it enforced?
  • What are the social norms?  Do peoples socialize together?  Have  lunch?  Spend time outside of work? Are there cliques?  Does inclusion/exclusion impact your career?
  • Who speaks in meetings?
  • What is the power structure? How do people break into the power structure? What kind of people are in the power structure?
  • What are the performance evaluation norms?
  • How is information shared/not shared?  Who controls it?

Once you’ve thought about these, identify the ways in which you can use/benefit from how the culture works.  Focus specifically on:

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How Do You Know If You’re a Good Leader?

How Can You Judge Your Leadership Skills

Let’s start with how you know whether someone else is a good leader?  You just know, right? Yes, you know when someone is a good leader for YOU.  Each of us is looking for something different from a leader, and when we find the right leader for ourselves, we know it.  Or do we?  Sometimes.  There are leaders who make us feel good. They make us want to do better.  They inspire us.  We do our best for them.  Those are the ones we “know” are good leaders.

There are lots of ways to measure a leader, though:

  • How followers ‘feel’
  • The followers’ opinions (head not heart response) of the leader’s performance
  • The results that the leader accomplishes through others
  • How much the followers grow and develop   
  • The leader’s manager’s opinion
  • How the leader evaluates her own performance

Each of these is measuring a different aspect of the leaders’ performance.  How can you know how you are doing on each one?

Use a Feedback Instrument

The absolute best way to tell if you’re doing well as a leader is to take a 360° assessment focused on your leadership.  A 360° assessment captures feedback from you, your followers and your manager.  This provides you will a full view of how you think you’re doing, how your followers think you’re doing and what your manager thinks, and it provides you with information on the disconnects among those opinions.   Your company may regularly assess its leaders with one of these, or it may have one available if you ask.  Ask your manager or your human resources representative. 

There are several, but one of the best is the Leadership Assessment Instrument (LAI™) produced by Linkage.  It evaluates how you’re doing on the tasks of leadership, what your leadership skill level is and what leadership ‘traits’ you have.  Another one that is focused on the behaviors of leadership is the Leadership Practices Inventory, developed by the authors of The Leadership Challenge.  This instrument evaluates your performance against the Kouzes and Posner’s five leadership practices.  I also like the Center for Creative Leadership’s Benchmark assessment.  This last one has the advantage of providing feedback that flags ‘career derailment’ symptoms.  There is also an assessment for Situational Leadership and many others.  Any assessment that focuses on leadership behavior and outcomes would be a good start.

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to feedback instruments through their organization, nor can afford some of the better (and more expensive) ones.  There are other ways to evaluate your leadership effectiveness.

How Can You Evaluate Your Own Performance as a Leader without a 360°?

In order to effectively evaluate your leadership effectiveness, you need to take your blinders off and become an objective detective.  You also need to be willing to ask others for their opinion and support.  Start with your company’s Human Resources department.  Do they provide manager feedback sessions where they ask your followers what they think (outside your presence) and tell you the results?  Would they be willing to do this, even it if is not standard procedure?

If no, then ask yourself the following questions.  Ask others.  Don’t honey-coat it.  Try to see the situation through your followers’ eyes.  Try to see it through your manager’s eyes.

How Your Followers Feel

The way your followers feel about you is semi-obvious. There are always folks who will ‘kiss up’ regardless of how they really feel.   You know who those folks are.  Ignore them.  Ask yourself:

  • Do your people enjoy being around you?
  • Are your people afraid of you?
  • Do your people seek you out to tell you good news?
  • Do they come to you when they need advice or help?
  • Do you find out things about your people through others, or through them directly?
  • Do your people meet your eyes and smile, or do they look at you briefly when they speak to you and then move on?
  • Are your people interested in you as a person?
  • Do your people share personal things with you?

These are all signs of affection, respect, trust and affiliation.  They are signs of how your people feel about you.

Your Followers Opinion

Of course feeling comes into the evaluation of how your people think about you, but your followers’ opinions are also more rational.  This is the one that is the hardest to gauge without getting someone else to ask them.  If you don’t have someone else to ask them (like HR), then consider asking them yourself.  This won’t work very well if they don’t trust you, and you have to take what they say with a grain of salt, but it’s worth a try.  Think about posing questions like:

  • If you were doing this job, what would you do differently?
  • What kind of feedback would the person who is unhappiest in this group/department give me?  How about the one who is happiest? (Thus taking the away the necessity off  of them to tell you what they think directly)
  • What’s working well in this department? (You’ll have to extrapolate here to what they think about you).  What isn’t working as well as it should?
  • What should I be doing that I’m not doing?
  • What should I stop doing?

You could give them a list of questions and ask them to sit together and answer them and then to type up the answers and give them to you.  You could use some of the questions above and include some others:

  • What do you like best about (my) management style?
  • What do you like least about (my) management style?
  • What do you wish someone would tell me?
  • What do you want in a leader?
  • What do you not like in leaders?
  • What is the best kind of leader for you?

How Much Your Followers Grow and Develop

This one is a lot easier to see with the naked eye.  When you start leading people, or when they first join you, take note of their skills, strengths, and weaknesses.  Actively plan on how you will work on developing them.  Evaluate them frequently on those items.  This should be done much more than the usual semi-annual or annual basis.  Make sure that you are giving them assignments specifically designed to grow them in the areas they need to grow.  Your evaluation of their growth is also an evaluation of yourself as a developmental leader.  If they aren’t making enough progress to suit you, what can YOU do to speed it up?

Your Manager’s Opinion of Your Performance

You shouldn’t wait for your performance review to evaluate this.  Remember that managers are not necessarily focused on leadership when they evaluate you, so take some time to understand what you manager believes about leadership.  Ask him/her.  Ask for his/her evaluation of your leadership skills.  Take note of what s/he seems to value.  Ask again after a period of time.  Have you made progress?  Ask what you should be doing differently.  Remember that regardless of whether you agree with your boss or not, his/her opinion of your leadership abilities can make or break your success in this company.

Results

Have you delivered through people?  Take off your rose-colored glasses on this one.  Take away all the things that would have happened anyway, whether you were there or not.  Take away all the luck.  What results did you and your team get?  What of that is attributable to you and your leadership?  What could/should you have done differently to get better results?  Is there someone you should have listened to more?  Someone you should have reigned in more, or managed more closely?  Is there someone who you should have taken risks with?  What will you do based on your learnings here?

Which of These is the Most Important?

It depends.  Which of these is the thing you believe is most important?  Which of these does your organization believe is most important?  Which of these do you need to grow the most?   Which of these comes to you naturally? 

Remember, leadership development is personal development.  Start anywhere and start learning.

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Just a Paycheck

Just a Paycheck

Just a Paycheck”

If the reason that you’re working at the job that you have is for “just a paycheck,” you’re wasting your time and maybe your life.  I’m not talking about people who are working at a job to fund the things that they like to do, or their family, or the things that are important to them.  I’m talking about the people who really see that they are just working for the money.  I’ve been told this by lots of people.  It’s all I can do not to  get on my high horse when someone says it to me.  If you’re only working ‘for the paycheck’ that radiates from you.  You have no energy.  You have no enthusiasm for the tasks of the job, or even for your co-workers. You aren’t looking for a better way to do things; you’re just doing the bare minimum of what it takes.  It is highly likely that you’ll be among the first to go in a layoff, just because it is easy to put someone on a list who clearly isn’t having fun and who isn’t doing anything extra.

NO, you say.  It doesn’t show.  You’re doing the job; you’re just not enjoying it.  Ask yourself if that is true.  Look around.  Are you seeking to do better?  Are you taking on more without it being foisted on you?  Probably not.  And you probably aren’t taking on more because you don’t have the energy for it.  When you frame your experience in such a negative way, you don’t have energy.  You resent being there.  It’s all you can do to get to the end of the day, and it’s really hard to get there in the morning. 

Reframe!

I’m not saying that your job is fun.  It probably isn’t.  Your boss may be terrible.  Your co-workers may not be worthy of your time.  So what?  Find something that is worth being there for.  It could be as simple as reframing your experience to being about what your paycheck lets you do outside of the job.  It could be what you’re learning from this experience.  Or how it fits into your career path goals.  Or that you are LUCKY to have a job in these tough times.  REFRAME the way you think about it.

If you are able to reframe, it is likely that you will suddenly find that you have more energy.  You may have enough energy to look around the organization for a better job, or a better boss.  You may have the energy to figure out what you really want to do long term.  You may have enough energy to figure out how to get another stream of revenue that will enable you to find another job/career/hobby that will make you happy(ier).

Get A New Job!

If you can’t reframe,  GO FIND ANOTHER JOB—before someone forces you to.  I work with so many people who would be glad to have their old job back—somehow they can see a lot of value/interest/fun in it now that someone has decided they are out.  Find a job that you can do for other reasons than a paycheck.  Find a job that you can/will be good at and that will help you feel better about yourself.

LIFE IS TOO SHORT to work for ‘just a paycheck!’

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Filed under Career Goals, Derailment, Executive Development, Job Hunt, Recession Proof, Reframe

What We Can Learn From the Olympics

People who make it to the Olympics are REALLY good at what they do.  Even people who finish LAST at the Olympics are way better than most of us.  How do they get there?  Well, the easy answer is that they work very hard.  It is way beyond that, though.  They start out good.  They are good enough that someone, someplace, gives them positive feedback that motivates to keep going, to keep getting better. They keep getting better.  They make steady (or better) progress.  At some point along the way, they get a coach.  The coach is not better at what they do (usually) than they eventually become, but the coach knows how to motivate them, how to guide them to better performance and how to critique them,  push them, and persuade them. They practice, practice, practice.  According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, the people who are the elite at what they do–sports, music, art, academics–have put in 10,000 hours of practice to get there.  They also have a lot of support–parents, teachers, coaches, other family who set up the environment and resources to help them get there. People in the Olympics understand the importance of visualization and they do it over and over.  Did you see the gymnasts, the divers, the runners, imagining their way through their performance?  You could tell that is what they were doing by the little jerky movements they did as they imagined themselves through the routine.  They didn’t just do it once.  They did it over and over till it was time to perform. They used powerful, positive (and effective) self-talk.  It is not a coincidence that the fastest man in the world says he is. The competitions were full of examples of athletes motivating themselves through positive self talk. The athletes in the Olympics won and lost, learned from it and did it again.  They put ALL of themselves into what they were doing.  They weren’t just sitting there thinking about what they were going to do this weekend or what was for dinner.  (Well, maybe they did think about what was for dinner–they were definitely burning a ton of calories.)  They were focused, though, while they were doing what they were doing.  And you could tell when they weren’t focused.

So, What Can We Learn?

  • Be motivated to be the best
  • Practice, practice, practice what you want to be good at
  • Get a coach
  • Get, use, create, and appreciate a support group
  • Use positive self-talk
  • Visualize
  • Focus

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