Monday, October 5, 2015

Open for transformation

When you change job or life titles, you make a transition.
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 You are now Ms. Smith rather than Miss Jones, or you are now Vice President rather than Department Chief.  But your change in title doesn't make a change in you.  You are still the person you were yesterday or last week unless you embrace the idea that your new title may require more than transition - it may call for transformation.

Transformation is a becoming process - it is not instantaneous, regardless of what they show you  in Disney princess stories.  There is no fairy godmother or wizard waving a magic wand.  There is no sprinkling of fairy dust that helps you to fly.  Transformation in the real world requires intention and action aligned with the intention.

When you consider your new role, what does it mean that you do? What's your vision? How do you need to think? In what ways do you need to interact with others in order to fulfill the role that the title demands? What new skills do you need to learn, and what of your current talents do you need to hone?

You might think that you are already ready.  You might think that this next stage is the reward for action that you have already taken, for skills you have already acquired - and you might be right, in part. But thinking that this new role is your due creates complacency and prevents you from being open to learning. In the days, weeks, months, even years that you have been contemplating this step you have been seeing it in hypothetical, maybe even romantic, terms.  Reality and what the actual role requires might be quite different.

Here's an almost universal example: when a young adult contemplates parenthood they see the cuteness, the snuggles, the bedtime stories.  But the transition into parenthood includes tantrums, toxic diaper changes, sleepless nights and worries as well.  The new parent's love for the child pulls him or her into an intention of doing the job "right," whatever that means.  And the new parents willingly undergo the learning curve that helps them to transform into real parents.

When you know the transition is coming you can start ahead of time to do the learning that helps your transformation to be a smoother and perhaps even a shorter process.  The way that you think about your new role influences your behavior, but you might have to help yourself to transform by choosing actions in a mindful way - you might need to set specific behavioral goals to help yourself to develop new beneficial habits.

Transformation is a continuous process.  As you grow, you see the next opportunities for growth.  As external conditions change, there is an accompanying need for you to adapt to survive, to manage or even to capitalize on them.The bad news - and the good news - is that you are never "done."  If you open yourself to be continuously transformed (aligned with intention, of course) you can continue to grow - no matter your title, no matter your tenure, no matter your chronological age.

Friday, October 2, 2015

6 challenges you face working from home

The idea that you could work from home can sound pretty appealing,
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especially while you navigating heavy traffic on a long commute or contemplating the drive during a winter storm. There's something cozy about the idea of making only a 6-foot commute in slippers and robe, still bleary-eyed, to hook up the coffee IV and check emails.

When telecommuting started, one of the concerns on the part of employers was whether or not the remote worker was really putting in a full day. Enough time has passed, though, and enough accountability systems and new communication methods developed, that many employers have accepted - even embraced - the idea. They have been able to keep talented workers on board by allowing them to work from home, and they have been able to grow their workforce numbers without investing huge dollars in bricks and mortar to accommodate them.

Enough remote workers have garnered enough experience by now, though, that they have concerns of their own. Sure, it can be great to work at home, but there are pitfalls as well.
  1. If you're remote and a significant percentage of the company's employees are together at another location it's easy to feel out of the loop. Nobody is going to call you up or tweet you every time a joke passes through the office. And sometimes it seems that even the major pieces of news don't reach you on a timely basis - out of sight, out of mind.
  2. When you have to rely on some of the corporate office resources for the completion of your work it can appear that your assignments are placed in lower priority than those of the onsite colleagues that are close enough to schmooze with support staff and expedite their projects in person. And you might be right.
  3. Production tools like high-volume copiers aren't there with you at home. Although you can work on your phone, laptop or home computer, you still have to run into the office or down to Kinko's to complete some of your tasks. And you have to exchange your pjs for street clothes. If you were in the company office you'd be already dressed, but you'd just walk down the hall.
  4. Your employer's perception that you have more distractions and interruptions isn't completely off-base. Yes, your dog barks when the mailman comes - usually right in the middle of a business phone call. And when the kids are off school they are vying for your attention unless you have a well-orchestrated plan to entertain them, and a quiet corner in which you can work undisturbed unless there's blood, a broken bone, or a small kitchen fire.
  5. Social connections can be the glue that keep the team working well together. When you work at home you have to plan to connect with your colleagues, because you can't make meaningful eye contact across the cubicle wall or snag someone on your way out to lunch. Moreover, if you're an extrovert (one who derives energy from people contact) it can be energy and productivity sapping to be by yourself all day.
  6. You are always at the "office" and your work is always there calling your name. You have to choose to close the desk, close the door, and/or engage in some "we're closed for the day" ritual to make sure you maintain some sort of balance.
When both the employer and employee plan around the potential pitfalls of working remotely, it can be a great, productive arrangement.  Both parties benefit when they maintain a schedule of communication, meetings when everyone comes into the office, and regular phone calls to touch base. They can incorporate more visual methods for communication like Facetime or Skype, so remote workers can be face to face even if they are not in the same room.  It's not the same as bumping into your work friend at the break room coffee pot, but it helps the new model of work operate more smoothly.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Trying to convince them? Save your breath!

Whether it's at work, at home, or in the public arena, we think
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that effective leaders find ways to bring people around to their own points of view. Consider though, that the key to swaying others' opinions is probably to start with people who don't have an already established view on the topic. For others, to paraphrase an online friend, "We have about as much chance of convincing one another as Niagara Falls has of taking a break." Here's why:

Our fundamental attitudes (habits of thought, world views) are different.

If you have a high degree of certainty that the world is either black or white you won't be convinced by the other guy that there are shades of gray. If deep down the other person thinks that people are inherently bad, you won't be successful in persuading him or her that people are good. That is the case because individuals sort the evidence around them to confirm that which they already believe.
  • You can quote data to try to convince, but if it contradicts the other person's point of view their first response will be to attempt to discredit your source. If you keep on "educating" you will stand a good chance of ticking them off for talking down to them as though they are slow learners, and that doesn't help to bring them over to your point of view.
  • You can play on their emotion, but if  they notice it you will be ineffective, and you will lose credibility for being manipulative.
  • You can cite testimonials, but they will know several others that cause them to draw a different conclusion than yours.
  • You can tell them that everyone else believes the same way that you do, but they might think that "everyone else" are morons.
  • You can position your message as exclusive to appeal to my their inner snob, but they will come back at you about the views of the masses - if nobody else thinks like you do, you must be wrong.
You are more likely to be convincing by asking open ended questions and then taking time to listen.  Ask follow-up questions that are free of assumptions and judgments to help the person articulate why they think the way that they do.  By doing this you will be able to ascertain the other individual's commitment to his or her current point of view, or help them think their own way into changing their stance on the issue. If she or he is already "dug in," you might be better off saving your breath. Let the outcome demonstrate which one of you was "right". And even then you'll probably be able to find a way to interpret that the "right" one was you.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The line between opportunity and distraction

Do you find it difficult to maintain your focus?  Find yourself
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being pulled in different directions by new and interesting ideas?  You're not alone.  
A businessperson confided to us a while back, "I'm just like a crow - I'm always attracted to the next shiny thing." His concern was that he found himself whipsawing from one business tactic to another, never quite completing one thing before the next caught his eye. He recognized that the constant changes in direction were harming his results.

In contrast to this guy and his production ADD, several companies for whom we have facilitated planning shared their concerns that they had cultural habits of being too locked in and static. They realized that this stance caused them to miss openings in the market that could have been quite profitable. As a result they included goal categories like "Be open to opportunities for new product development, for acquisition, etc." in their strategies. 

Where's the line between being profitably opportunistic and wastefully distractable?

Vision and Mission
The line starts with the vision you have for yourself and your company, and the big initiatives you already have included in the mission portion of your plan. If a new potential product or initiative comes along that's in alignment with your vision - that's real opportunity. If it's not in alignment with where you've said you're going, beware - it could be only a shiny distraction, one that could dilute your allocation of resources toward the things you've already defined as goals.

Delay between action and results
In order to start doing something new you're generally going to have to make room by stopping doing something you're already doing. What are you going to give up to pursue this new direction?
Sometimes companies (and individuals) are susceptible to the shiny new things because the existing strategies have been slower than they expected to produce the results they want. This might mean that the old strategies weren't the best - or instead it might mean that not enough time has passed for them to bear fruit. Few initiatives produce instant results. It takes patience to see a plan through.

"Me too!" syndrome
Another factor that increases your potential for chasing shiny things is seeing somebody else being successful using new or different techniques. The temptation to copy them and dash in the same direction can sometimes be strong, especially if that someone else is viewed in high regard. But think twice before going there.  Even proven success on someone else's part might not create adequate justification to abandon your strategy and follow if it's not consistent with the picture you have created for yourself.

You need criteria to decide whether that new move or shiny opportunity is good for you or not.  Your company's long term plan creates your criteria.  If you don't have a vision or a plan yet, it's high time that you put one together, and then test the new opportunities against it. Otherwise the shiny new things might trip you.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Unexpected insight for you from Warren Buffett

In their book Now Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham
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and Donald O. Clifton cite the example of Warren Buffett, undeniably one of the most successful investors ever.  Here's what they had to say about him:
"Surprisingly , his strengths are not those that you might expect to see in a successful investor.  Today's global marketplace is fast-paced, extraordinarily complicated, and amoral.  Therefore, you would think that the creature best adapted for this world would be blessed with urgency, a conceptual mind to identify patterns in the complex market, and an innate skepticism about everyone else's motives.
Buffett cannot claim any of these strengths.  By all accounts he is a patient man.  His mind is more practical than conceptual.  He is inclined to be trusting of other people's motives, not skeptical.  So how did he thrive?  ...
Warren Buffett has used this patient, practical, and trusting approach since he formed his first investment partnership with $100 in 1956.  He has honed it, perfected it, and stuck to it even when the temptations to adopt a different strategy were tantalizingly sweet....His distinct approach is the cause of his professional success and, to hear him tell it, also the cause of his personal happiness.  He is a world-class investor because he deliberately plays to his strengths."
Is there a way in which you can use the principles from this Warren Buffet example in your work life?  Are there areas in which you are expending energy that could instead be adding to your energy if you were using the skills that come most easily and naturally to you?
Some businesses (and careers) grow because of the Principal's natural desire and talent for getting to know new people.  Other businesses thrive because their owners have a natural knack for developing deeper one-on-one relationships with individuals over time.  Some leaders are naturally drawn to (and effective in) situations that call for turnaround and restoration, or healing.  Leaders can certainly develop themselves, but they see stronger results when they develop the talents that are already there and look for ways to develop them into strengths, and then succeed by using them.
It is not only possible, but likely, that you are not taking full advantage of your strengths, or of the simple methods that could make your work life easier AND at the same time full of more of the results you seek.  And if you want to uncover your strengths so that you can get more leverage from the work you do, one way you can do so is to click this link to go to the Clifton StrengthsFinder diagnostic.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Oh the stories you tell!

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"I am successful." "I am disorganized."  "I am an addictive personality."  "I am an intelligent and creative person."  "I am nice."  "I am influential."  "I am fat."  "I am not musical."

Do you find yourself saying any of these things about yourself?  Yours might be slightly different, but but the sentences above are examples of themes in the stories people tell about themselves.  They are beliefs, some deeply held, about how each story teller sees himself or herself in the world.  The stories talk about competence, incompetence, value, prestige, etc.  You are telling stories about yourself, too, but might not even be aware of the things you are saying.

Stories and selective perception
The world is full of data that bombards you every day, and your stories help your brain decide which information to notice and which to dismiss.  For instance, when you buy a new car you suddenly notice other cars like yours on the road because your brain engages in selective perception.  You drive in the midst of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cars in the course of a day, yet your eye is drawn to the vehicles of the same make, model, or color of yours.

Your brain works in the same way when you tell yourself a story about you.  If you have a story about being tongue-tied, you are likely to notice even small instances where you have difficulty choosing the best word, or where you stutter.  Your brain is attracted to information that reinforces your story - to information that makes the story "true."

Stories don't have to be true to have an effect on you
Your stories about you are based in large part on emotions that certain behaviors, situations, and results have elicited in you.  When you experience an emotionally charged event - like being laid off from your job - the strong emotions lock the event in the forefront of your awareness.  And it holds the potential to become the context, the theme, for future stories you tell yourself (and others) about yourself. ("I'm not worth keeping.")

Here's a common problem with stories: what if you misinterpreted the meaning of the event?  What if your recent breakup was truly about them and their emotional immaturity, and not about you?  If you have a strong enough self-story about being unattractive or unlovable, you might have a difficult time entertaining any alternative explanation to the story that says that you're not worthy.

The impact of your story doesn't stop there.  You may inadvertently behave in ways that reinforce a negative story.  If you believe that you are not lovable, you can become so clingy and intent upon making the other person repeatedly prove that they care about you that you drive them away.  Sadly, you might feel some satisfaction in being right, even if you are upset about being dumped.

Who you are now vs. who you can become
Some stories describe only one event on one occasion.  And yet sometimes you might be generalizing that one event into a bigger and longer-lasting "I am" story.  You are not a static human being.  Yes, you have a certain temperament and a set of preferences.  But you also have the power to choose.  "I am" stories create shortcuts in your decision making process that might not work to your advantage.  You may be ruling out possibilities (and opportunities for success) because they do not align with your current "I am" story.

Choosing your stories
Your stories create habits of thought.  Just like other habits, your habits of thought can be changed.  If you want to write a new story you'll need to be intentional about it.  Write your new story down and read it to yourself daily.  Take time to look for examples of actions you have taken or things you have said that reinforce the new story.  Or set short-term behavioral goals that would be congruent with the story you want to make true.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Five factors for engaged volunteers

Back when we were young enough to do so, several of
the Summit coaches volunteered for the York Jaycees (Junior Chamber of Commerce). That's where we honed some of our leadership chops and made lifetime connections in the community.  We sold baked potatoes at the York Fair and hosted an annual chili cook-off to raise money for charity.  And at the end of every membership meeting we recited our creed, which ended with the words, "Service to humanity is the BEST WORK OF LIFE!"

Now that we're - ahem - just a tad more "seasoned" in our careers, our involvement has moved into Rotary (community service and polio eradication) and SCORE (small business mentoring).  The creed from back in the Jaycee days is still ingrained in our hearts as we continue to find ways to serve.  But the challenge of volunteer leaders no matter the organization is to develop a crew of engaged and dedicated volunteers who are equipped and willing, even excited, to step up and pitch in.

Volunteers are only there because they want to be there.  They aren't being paid.  They can shirk their responsibilities or walk whenever they choose to do so.  So what has worked to attract, engage, and retain them? We've listed 5 factors below.  These might be single motivators, but most often are in combination in a volunteer:
  1. They believe in the cause for which they are volunteering.  Some may be rabid advocates, and some more moderate supporters, but they are mission driven.  When you keep the mission in the foreground, you help volunteers see past the small inconveniences or conflicts involved in volunteering and stay grounded in a sense of purpose.
  2. They like or respect the organizer.  Volunteers will often show up when the right person asks them, as a personal favor to the requester. The effective volunteer leader builds relationships with the individuals involved, and seeks to make good matches between volunteers' individual capabilities and interests and the work that needs to be done.
  3. They enjoy the other volunteers.  Jaycees have fun.  It was a different kind of fun years ago when the organization was a guys-only thing (don't ask -you don't want to know).  But loyal chapter members develop a strong rapport that comes from shared experiences and shared values.  Susquehanna SCORE mentors work in pairs, partly to build camaraderie among volunteers. Savvy leaders of volunteers create opportunities for small team projects or even purely social events that help the volunteers connect and - dare we say it - have fun.
  4. They are interested in this particular event.  Some people like to plant trees, some like to work with kids, some would rather eat chili or perfect the dressing and presentation of baked potatoes.  Not every volunteer in your complement has to be involved in everything.  Sometimes you need to have all hands on deck, but when you have the opportunity to give people breaks, or to focus their energies on their pet projects, you help to prevent volunteer burnout. Also note that you need some diversity in volunteer skills and interests to be able to deploy them in this way.
  5. They feel needed and appreciated.  Your volunteers are donating their time, and want it to be worthwhile.  They like to be busy. There is a "what's in it for me," even in volunteerism. When you know your volunteers and can identify their WIIFM you can help to make their experience rewarding. Beyond that, it's important to notice what your volunteers are accomplishing and thank and recognize them.  
If you need volunteers for your organization to function effectively, your job as leader becomes to influence the above five factors.  Unlike the workplace, you don't have as many clearly drawn lines of authority - effective management of volunteers relies heavily on relationship power rather than position power. If you do your job well as leader of volunteers, you can help them realize that service to humanity is truly the BEST WORK OF LIFE!