Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How is your social life?

I have a couple of single friends who dread the question, "So how's your social life?" Usually the question is accompanied by a couple of Groucho-esque eyebrow wiggles, completing the code that the question is asking about potential romance. Needless to say, it's not all about romance. Whether you're young or old, married or single - how is your social life?

For some clients my question is the first one that anyone (including themselves) has asked them in a long time. Some respond by saying, "Well, I'm really not the social type. I'd rather be at home in my workshop or reading a good book." OK. Others have answered, "I have a lot of social engagements, but they are really for work. I'd rather spend more time with people I'm choosing for myself."

Whether your social calendar is jam-packed or clean and free of obligations, consider the following:

  • Are there people you could call in the middle of the night if you had a problem?
  • Are your social relationships two-way or a bit one-sided?
  • Do you prefer a wide circle of acquaintances or a few close friends?
  • Do your social connections cover several different parts of your life, or do all of your friends come from the same circle (other sports parents, church, neighborhood, etc.)
  • Are your friends largely similar to one another, or are they diverse?

There is no one best answer or ideal profile for social development. The key is that you are choosing to grow more and more in alignment with what you want for your life. Is there something you would like to try, or somebody with whom you would like to pursue a closer connection? Then go for it.

You don't have to be perfect to have friends, and you don't have to have a lot of money, the coolest stuff or the best job. If you develop them your connections can carry you through even the toughest times that you will ever face. Perhaps you are in the position right now to be a friend to someone who really needs some support.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Signs that you might be stressed out

Khayal : Stressed out
Originally uploaded by KhayaL

The first step in solving a problem is to identify it. Nobody wants to feel stressed out, yet many people live with negative stress on such a constant basis that they don't even notice it on a conscious level any more. Their stress goes underground, manifesting in a variety of ways. If you are experiencing some of these symptoms you might be coping with stress:

  • Inability to go to sleep, or to stay asleep as long as you want to
  • Lack of appetite for food
  • Overeating and resulting overweight or obesity
  • Lack of libido
  • Chronic pain
  • Irritability
  • Avoidance of people
  • Disinterest in pleasurable activities

Without attention, chronic stress is believed to be a contributor to depression. So the sooner you get your arms around your situation the better. You can choose coping mechanisms to minimize the impact of stress, or you might decide that the better choice is to identify and eliminate the source of stress.

Some effective coping mechanisms for you may be:

  • Exercise
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Massage
  • Yoga
  • Positive self-talk
  • Avoidance of stress-inducing people or situations
  • Keep a stress journal

Your stressor might be temporary as the approach of a tax deadline, or it might be as large as a major financial setback or an unsatisfactory relationship. If you want to identify the underlying reason for chronic stress it might be as simple as sitting down and making a list of possibilities. You might know what it is, yet have been avoiding dealing with it directly because in order to resolve it you will have to make some major decisions in your life.

When you choose to take action you are choosing to be in control of your stress, and that alone sometimes reduces feelings of tension. When you are sitting and waiting for things to happen you are placing yourself in the role of victim, the one who is acted upon. When you decide to do something about it you become the creator of your circumstances.

Of course there are situations and circumstances that you cannot control. But taking the action that is within your realm of personal capability is a good step toward relieving your stress.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Nitty-gritty startup details

small space
Originally uploaded by ladyfort / sallyent

This is part two of a series on startups from my Peak Performance blog archives...Enjoy!

OK, now you've decided that you're in - you're going to move ahead and become your own boss. What next? Here are some ideas, but be sure to consult your attorney and accountant (or get them if you don't already use someone regularly) to make sure you're doing everything according to Hoyle (that means legally) in your state. Ignorance is not a defense you can use later.

  1. What is the legal structure of your business going to be? This is one on which you should consult your attorney - this is general information here. If you are a proprietor you file your taxes under your Social Security number as an individual. Partnerships need partnership agreements (this document determines your obligations and your relative compensation, decision making authority, etc., so give it a lot of thought.) There are simple corporate structures that are appropriate even for small companies. The benefit of incorporating is that it shields your personal assets in case of a business downturn. It costs some money to incorporate and your expenses for tax preparation might go up a bit.
  2. What will you call yourself? Do you want a name that's specific to you and your business, like Joe's Lawn Care, or do you want something that could sound global? A number of my startup clients agonize over developing a conceptual name that won't limit them to certain services or create misperceptions - of course then they wind up spending a lot of time explaining (not always well) what business they're in. You'll want to register your name in your state and also check to see whether there's a URL available that will be easy for prospects to find on the web if you're planning a website.
  3. Where are you going to locate your business? Many of my clients are service providers whose main offices are in their home. Clients don't typically come to them - they go onsite to the client, so house tidiness and zoning aren't issues. Zoning and your housekeeping habits aren't the only considerations - Do you have small children at home? Are you trying to achieve balance by being with your family while working? Can you be undistracted by them, or by the lure of unmowed grass, or by Dr. Phil on TV?
  4. What are the key pieces of equipment you need? In my business I'm pretty much set with a phone, a computer, a 4-in-one printer and a car - oh, and my PDA, but you can do fine with a hard copy calendar as well. The rest I can do at Staples down the street if I need to. I have a second phone line for my business with a distinct ring so my 5-year-old won't answer "Who is it?" when my clients call. It also prevents customers from hearing a voice mail greeting that says "Sparky the dog is the only one in right now, and he's too short to answer the phone, so leave a message." Some of my cohorts work entirely from their cellphones - of course the feasability of that depends upon cell coverage in your area.
  5. Where are you getting the raw materials for your company? Will you be just using intellectual capital from your own brain, or do you need to be making some contacts with resources? Can you build a satisfactory relationship with just one, or do your prospective customers need you to have ready access to a variety of resources?
  6. How will you track your progress? You're already probably thinking about Quicken or Quickbooks to track your finances, but think upstream from there. Financial results are a look in the rearview mirror. You need a way to project your future success so you'll know whether to make course corrections along the way. You'll be engaging in business development activities before you'll be earning revenue, so how will you measure your interim success? By numbers of appointments? By numbers of quotes and percent of quotes resulting in sales?
  7. Who will help you avoid potholes and shortsighted decisions? Who will slow you down enough to think through a potentially big decision? A business coach can help you - they are trained to resist the urge to give you a constant stream of recommendations, although they do come with their own years of business experience that can be a resource for you. A coach (or an advisory board) can provide an outside accountability for you, to help you stay on track or overcome obstacles that you're too close to see.
  8. Now the thing that ties everything together: do you have a business plan? Your Vision will help you determine who you want to be and what your purpose is. Values define your internal rules of engagement. Mission lays out your desired achievements in the 2-3 years. And near-term business goals, sales and marketing plans, and financial projections show you how to move your hands and feet from day to day.

This thing of being self-employed can be an emotional roller-coaster. There are the moments of victory when you've just made a sale and you can measure your success in dollar signs. There are moments of frustration when your actions have not yet produced the results you want, and you can't decide whether to persist or change directions. There are moments of envy when you see the corporate guy next door pick up his annual new car while you're waiting a while longer to part with your hard-earned cash and your ride is getting a little bit grizzled. And there are moments of unmitigated pride when you see a happy customer and know that you made a positive difference in their life or their business.

The life of self-employment isn't for everyone, but if it's for you, welcome to the club.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Starting your own business?

Young Entrepreneurs
Originally uploaded by Matt McGee

The volatility of these economic times cause some of us to yearn for autonomy. Even though the daily news about our potential opportunities is mixed, some of us want to stretch our capabilities and implement our big idea, and we don't necessarily want to wait until all of the planets are in alignment. I found a post on this topic from my Peak Performance blog and I thought it warranted a replay:

I've been self-employed for nineteen years, longer than I've worked at anything else, and I've been witness to dozens of startups who have had widely varying levels of success right out of the gate. A lot of my coaching clients are folks at crossroads of some sorts: job change, downsizing, divorce, newly completed grad school, etc. Some of them are working to assimilate the emotions of the change and get back to an action-taking model. And many of them fantasize about, or seriously consider, self-employment. Should you take the plunge? Here are some questions and considerations for you.

  • What is your goal? Is it greater autonomy? Higher financial rewards? Flexibility of schedule? Opportunity to implement an innovative idea? Really think about this one, because your goal might have multiple paths, only one of which is working for yourself.
  • What is the extent of your financial resources? Are you able to take a risk on a startup because of having some capital to invest, and for how long can you sustain yourself and your family before you get a return on your investment?
  • Who wants what you're wanting to provide? Is your potential market big or small, local, regional, national, even international? If you don't know yet do some research or small tests to find out. Be conservative here, because it does nobody any good for you to lead yourself down a rosy yet completely blind path.
  • What are your areas of expertise? Are you narrow and deep in your knowledge, or do you have a broad base of skills and background upon which to draw? After all, it's likely that at least the beginning you'll be the main sales force, strategic planner, technician, bookkeeper, manager, and perhaps even the cleaning service. Are you willing and equipped to do these, and if not, do you have the resources to hire them?
  • Do you like to start from scratch or do you like to pursue known successful paths? If you've got a bit more money to invest and would prefer not to have to create everything you might check into franchise opportunities.
  • What is the sales cycle for the product or service you want to sell? In a business to business consulting practice the principal says he plans on eating in three months whatever he's doing right now. So he projects his cash flow based upon his current activity. Some folks dream of selling to large corporations, but they're seeing only the vision of big paychecks. They don't see the longer, more convoluted process of getting approval on the projects or products they're selling. Refer back to your answers on question #2.
  • What is the sales process for the product or service you want to sell? Will people come to you, or do you need to go to them? If you expect them to come to you how will you get the word out? (And please don't say that you'll just put out a really riveting sign - you'd be kidding yourself.) Do you need cash registers? Sales receipts? Proposal formats? Invoices?
  • How often will your customers buy from you? I'm not even talking about service quality here - I'm talking about how often they'll need to make repeat purchases. For example, if I like my barber I'll be back every 5-6 weeks. So unless she really makes a mistake in serving me she's got my business and that of her other clients regularly for the forseeable future, a book of business that has value. As a contrast, how often do you buy a refrigerator? Are you OK with always starting over to create this year's clients, or is it important to you to have some residual or annuity (speaking figuratively here) income?

There are so many considerations when pondering going out on your own, and these are just a few to get you started. Being self-employed can be fulfilling, romantic, exciting and rewarding or it can be a nightmare of huge proportions that puts home and key relationships at risk.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

15 ways to jumpstart your creative thinking

Originally uploaded by h.koppdelaney

No matter how creative a person might be, sometimes the ideas run dry. Recycling isn't always the best policy in the idea business - you don't want everything you write or do to be an echo of something that has already been done. Don't get me wrong - applied creativity, the process of putting a new twist on an existing concept is valid. It's just that you might have something completely fresh to offer.

Here are some places to look and things to do if you want to stoke your creative fires:

  1. Walk in nature and look around. Listen.
  2. Look at something really closely, perhaps even through a microscope.
  3. Look at something from really far away, so you can see the macro forms and relationships.
  4. Observe a kindergarten teacher at work.
  5. Observe a kindergarten student at play.
  6. Talk to an expert.
  7. Talk to a complete non-expert.
  8. Read - books, periodicals, blogs or other Internet sources.
  9. Listen to music - classical and jazz have been known to stimulate brain function.
  10. Play games with your head: "How would I handle this if I were _______(Tom Clancy, Bette Midler, Barack Obama, Margaret Thatcher, Peter Max, Simon Cowell...)
  11. Pray.
  12. Stand on your head, or assume some different physical position.
  13. Change your location.
  14. Grab some crayons and color on a blank page. Let your mind wander.
  15. Play with a building set.

The great thing about your creative mind is that it does not have to go through "B" to get from "A" to "C". You might even find that your brain jumps to "L" or "Q"! These fifteen exercises are intended to create associations, whether conscious or subconscious, that serve as a platform for new ideas. You might find that a handful are particularly fruitful for you with the unique way in which your brain works.

You might not be wild about the first ideas you generate, but don't rule them out right away. Creativity starts by generating a volume of ideas without judging them. You can separate the sheep from the goats later.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Are you networked out?

this is social networking?
Originally uploaded by skampy

I'm pausing here to take a couple of breaths. I'm exhausted by all of the social networking, networking groups, networking lunches, requests for my birth date...

Are you networked out?

Let's see if I can do a count of all of the places I can catch up with friends or current or future clients:

  • LinkedIn
  • FaceBook
  • MySpace
  • Flickr
  • Flixter
  • Twitter
  • Classmates
  • Blogsites where I can comment...and that's just the online networking! I've also got
  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Trade Associations of every flavor
  • BNI and other leads groups
  • Vistage, Young Presidents and other peer groups
  • Conferences

The problems with networking

I'm a social kind of person, and I can usually hold up my end of a conversation. But I could probably fill my entire week with networking activities, to the point that I don't have time to get my work done. I know colleagues and customers who invest major dollars and major hours attending see-and-be-seen events for their networking opportunities. Remember work? Those activities that garner the money to feed the kids?

For some, networking is a comfortable alternative to making sales calls. They think that if they stand in a large room with a coffee or adult beverage in one hand and an open bag of products and services in another that someone will tackle them and say, "Where have you been all my life! I'm in desperate need of whatever it is you're selling!"

Online I'd estimate that I receive a couple dozen requests every week to sign a petition, join a cause, find out the song on the day I was born, throw a snowball or send a small puppy. C'mon - I'm on the computer to do my job! I don't mean to be uncaring when I haven't returned your virtual cocktail at the online happy hour. I'm just trying to be productive.

Making networking more beneficial

One of the best ways to improve your networking is to determine why you're networking. If you want to socialize almost any place will do. But if you are looking to build relationships with certain categories of people you need to be more targeted about the places where you hang out. Go to where your customers go. Go to the places where your prospective clients are networking.

Remember that networking is not a group sales opportunity. You aren't there to pitch your product - you're there to establish a relationship. It's true that people do business with people they know and like, and networking can start that process. But if you're following your own agenda and forgetting that the other person also has theirs you won't create the foundation for them to know and like you.

Think about unhooking from the networking that you're doing right now that is not meeting your goals. Be choosy about the events you attend and the networking sites you are on. If you want to invest an equal amount of time, but in better places you'll have to give something up. It's better to be highly visible in a few strategically beneficial places than it is to be barely visible in many.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Telling - and accepting - the truth

Picture this scenario - you have been asked to give feedback to a colleague on the qualities that make them effective and the ones that could use some improvement. In the past what have you done?

  • Have you laid it out for them bluntly, figuring they would just have to deal with whatever you had to say?
  • Did you tell the truth as you saw it, choosing your words and tone carefully so you could maintain the quality of your relationship?
  • Did you edit your feedback so you didn't hurt their feelings, to the point that your message was diluted, or perhaps even completely lost?

Now let's turn the tables for a minute. What has happened when someone has given YOU feedback?

  • Did you thank them and take their information seriously?
  • Did you think "well, consider the source..." and blow it off?
  • Did you attempt to modify your behavior as a result?
  • Did you react so negatively to their feedback (whether you expressed it to them or not) that it interfered with your ongoing relationship with them?

In his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni says that absence of trust is the first dysfunction, and the foundation for a whole pyramid of ineffective teamwork. Lack of trust leads to fear of conflict, which results in lack of commitment. Without commitment members of the team will avoid accountability, and ultimately that leads them to become inattentive to results. And if a team is not achieving results why are they there?

What is your part in creating the trust that is foundational to effective teamwork? Perhaps you can create a mutual expectation with your team, or with a work partner, to share the unvarnished truth with one another. Perhaps you can hit your internal pause button the next time someone offers you some not-so-positive feedback and not allow your defensiveness get in the way of your potential for improvement.

Each of us sees the world through our own unique set of lenses, so there is no one single "truth" that we will all ever see. The closest we can come is to seek to understand another person's point of view, and to share our own with our best intentions engaged.

Friday, March 20, 2009

How far can you stretch? Test yourself

mitzy grind 1995
Originally uploaded by Nino rolling gallery

in line skating since 1988

How high can you go? How good can you be? How far can you stretch?

Some brain scientists say that we use only between 4 and 10 percent of our mental capacity. You've probably heard that statistic before, but I'm wondering - do you see that as the good news or the bad news? Are you glad that you have so much room to grow, or are you feeling a bit resistant at the idea of having even more to add to your to-do list?

Some people make a career of stretching in a certain sport, or with progressive levels of academic advancement, but neither of those might call to you. Steve Pavlina, whose blog I've been following for quite a while, has tested alternative sleep patterns and a variety of eating programs to see what they did to his overall health and performance.

The key to your view of continuous personal development is whether you want to pursue it. What is it that you don't have to force, but that naturally draws you toward it? Are you a hobbyist singer? Would you like to get really, really good? Do you run? What would it mean for you and your self-image if you were to train and then compete in a half or whole marathon? When you stretch yourself in the areas of your natural interests and gifts you become more of the person you are - amplified, intensified, attractive to others.

You don't have to jump directly into the deep end of the pool. Take small steps, but keep them aimed in the direction of your desires. As you see yourself making progress you'll feel your enthusiasm grow.

You might have to make some choices in order to allocate the time for the things you really want to do. A "should" item on your list might have to go to make room for a "want to." But imagine how different you will feel and how motivated you will be when your life is filled with activities that fulfill you instead of drain you!

Here's a challenge for you: think about one thing you'd like to do more of, and set aside 1/2 hour to do it this weekend. Start creating the "you" that you can become, and start building the life that you have always wanted.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shared accountability gone overboard

Meddling Moth Paper Toy
Originally uploaded by davis.jacque

Along with an increased use of team function comes the concept of "shared accountability." In concept, shared accountability creates partners instead of competitors among company functions. Leaders are expected to look out for the overall good of the organization rather than to center themselves completely in their own functional silos. Resources and knowledge are shared so the team can win.

When shared accountability goes overboard, however, some leaders see it (consciously or not) as an opportunity to spread their tentacles of control into all of the functions in the company. They see no differentiation between providing support and attempting to usurp the decision-making authority of the functional leader. Under the guise of shared accountability they'll keep banging the drum on an issue after a decision has already been made. The impact of this approach is power struggle, inefficiency and shifting sand.

The informal organization, the one of the strong personalities, connectors, and influencers, has long been a force to be dealt with. But there is a reason why the establishment of clear lines of authority is important. Ultimately the buck has to stop somewhere, and ultimately a decision has to stand. If the decision was ill-advised, well then the person who made it will deal with the fallout.

If the fate of the entire organization is at stake over one decision perhaps it makes sense to continue to hammer away, even if it's not your area of authority. But perhaps the long term interpersonal consequences of meddling, back-channeling and refusing to let issues rest are greater than the potential fallout from this particular decision.

Effectiveness AND efficiency are valid measures of success. If an organization makes only one or two decisions because every issue has to be put through the meat grinder they will certainly fail the efficiency measures. And if they are chewing up time cost that could be better allocated to the pursuit of new initiatives for the sake of re-chewing the current ones they are being the opposite of accountable - they are eating their young.

Lecturette ended.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Extrovert vs Introvert in Managing Energy

Has this ever happened to you? You're in the middle of a project that requires a lot of intense internal processing when gradually your forehead goes numb and you hear nothing but a faint buzzing sound. You're searching for ideas but your brain is completely inert. If this has been your experience you're not going crazy - you might be an extrovert (or extravert.)

An extrovert picks up energy from external sources. He or she can tend to have a difficult time maintaining momentum when working on a solitary project. An extrovert will enjoy processing ideas out loud with others rather than ruminating on them by themselves. They can engage in activities like reading and writing, but need to break them up with interpersonal interaction. An extrovert can, however, party all night long because their energy is being recharged by the presence of other people and external stimuli.

An introvert gets energy from his or her solitary or internal life. He or she can tend to be energy zapped by crowds or by the expectation for a lot of interpersonal interaction. It doesn't mean that an introvert is ineffective in these settings - it simply means that they will need to expend energy to participate in them.

A friend of mine who is a self-described introvert is interpersonally very effective, but after a big event has to "go to his cave" to recharge. He seeks out one-on-one interaction over chatting with a group, and when positioning himself in a room will find a spot that allows a quick and discreet escape from the throng.

In case you were wondering, there is thought to be a genetic link to extroversion and introversion, but studies of twins have indicated that the genetic component may comprise only 38-58% of the answer. The rest is attributed to individual environmental factors. Brain studies have indicated that introverts have higher levels of cortical arousal (requiring less external stimuli than extroverts.) Extroverts are theorized to have higher sensitivity of the mesolimbic dopamine system, which means that they have a higher response to potentially rewarding external stimuli.

Although there are many criteria that can help you select the best role for yourself, or to help you choose a candidate for a job that you supervise, extroversion/introversion is a great place to start. If you want peak performance you'll place people in the roles that align with their natural temperaments. And if you need to engage in activity that you find energy-zapping, consider its introvert-extrovert characteristics and experiment with flipping to the other mode. You might find that you're recharged after a quick visit to the water cooler to chat, or by a moment of meditation in a quiet space.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Are you feeling like you're surrounded by morons? That nobody but you knows what's REALLY going on in the world? Perhaps it feels like other people are dragging you down into the mire when you are trying to fly. If any of these scenarios sound familiar, there's only one thing to say: Must. Change. Attitude.

I'm not telling you that you need to change their attitudes. Unfortunately, the only thing you can do about the way they are is to change the way in which you might be affecting the way they are. If you are intimidating to be around, for example, you might be interfering with their ability to think clearly when you are with them. If you tend to berate people for their mistakes you create a setting in which people will be gun-shy, afraid to make a move lest they be caught in the cross-hairs of your temper.

Another action you can take is to assess how much you are engaging your own emotions about somebody else. Why are you allowing them to have so much power over you? If you are allowing yourself to be subject to their ups and downs you're painting yourself the victim, even if you think you are better than them. Let me paraphrase for emphasis: even if you think you are smarter, better, cuter, more whatever than another person, if you are allowing the way they are to hold you back you are making yourself a victim. That's no place to be!

As for the other guys and gals, they are in control of their own habits of thought, their own assumptions about the world, other people, and how they operate. Think about these things to help you reel in your frustration:

  1. In most cases they are doing the best that they can. Most people don't start the day thinking, "How can I screw up today?"
  2. Look for their good intentions. There is a vast difference between intent and impact sometimes. If their heart is in the right place you can help them with the tactics.
  3. There is something that they are outstanding at doing. (If you instantly went somewhere nasty just now you have got an attitude problem!) If you have influence over the tasks they do, place them in a role that will enable them to do the things that they do best. That will help you from a results standpoint, and it will make their life more rewarding as well.

The best and the worst news about attitude is that the only place to start is by looking in the mirror. You create the world that you live in. Choose carefully.

Monday, March 16, 2009

It's the execution that counts

Are you living on "Someday Isle?" Have you had an idea that has been rattling around in your head, but that you've not made a move to implement? Perhaps it's time to get on it - but heed these famous words while you're at it:

  • A really great talent finds its happiness in execution. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • An idea can be as flawless as can be, but its execution will always be full of mistakes. Brent Scowcroft
  • Do not reveal what you have thought upon doing, but by wise council keep it secret being determined to carry it into execution. Chanakya
  • For the execution of the voyage to the Indies, I did not make use of intelligence, mathematics or maps. Christopher Columbus
  • Ideas are easy. It's the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats. Sue Grafton
  • The execution of any thing considerable implies in the first place previous persevering meditation. William Godwin
  • Those who govern, having much business on their hands, do not generally like to take the trouble of considering and carrying into execution new projects. The best public measures are therefore seldom adopted from previous wisdom, but forced by the occasion. Benjamin Franklin

Friday, March 13, 2009

Are you going to finish strong?


I received this from my friend and colleague Mike Bingham. It's too good not to share with you.

Have an inspiring day!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Are you indispensable?

Some people strive to be indispensable. I suppose when neighbors and friends are losing jobs or fearing that they'll lose jobs one line of defense is to become as indispensable as possible. That way an employer will choose someone else if they need to cut staff to get through tough times.

In movies and plays, becoming indispensable has been a classic ploy of one who wants to ingratiate himself or herself with an object of affection - or of manipulation. Being indispensable can mean collecting "chips" for the favors you do so that someday you have a stockpile you can cash in when you need something.

I'd pose to you that if you're a leader who is indispensable you're not doing your job as well as you could. See this guy on the beach? He could be spending uninterrupted hours in a beautiful spot with his loved ones - instead, here he is talking on his cellphone. He's checking in with the office because he's so indispensable they can't get along without him. If he were doing a good job of developing the bench strength in his company or his department somebody else would be able to take the point while he engages in some much needed R & R.

Perhaps he's not really indispensable - an old colleague of mine said that nobody's irreplaceable. Perhaps this guy simply hasn't spent enough time out of the office to feel truly comfortable being anyplace else. Perhaps he's being a helicopter boss, hovering because he doesn't trust that things will be done in exactly the same way that he'd do them. Even if it doesn't matter that they aren't being done exactly his way. It's an ego and control thing.

If you feel like you just can't break away, think about what's at the root of it. You don't have to be indispensable. You are more than your job description, and you might be interfering with the development of someone who could be your company's future star. You might be sacrificing your relationship with your family because you can't bear not to be needed at work. Consider how much better your quality of life would be if you were less indispensable and had more choices.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Measuring the squishy stuff

whats that squishy stuff
Originally uploaded by youthsoaka

One of the things that keeps some leaders away from approaching people issues is the difficulty they have with measuring the "squishy stuff." When it comes to improvement in morale, demonstration of more productive attitudes and such, their answer is "I'll know it when I see it." Unfortunately, this approach has a few shortcomings:

  • My ability to see improvement is partly dependent on my attitude. If' I'm conditioned to see a person with negative intentions I have a hard time noticing behavior that doesn't support my impression of him or her.
  • Unless I can link the "I'll know it when I see it" to a measurement I won't be able to determine whether it's worth my time and money to invest in development or coaching to improve it.

The key to the attitudinal and morale squishy stuff is to translate them into behaviors. If someone is motivated, for instance, I need to define the specific behavior that would represent motivation to me. Motivation for a salesperson might be signified by a certain standard amount of prospecting meetings, or by the number of services cross-sold. If I can define the impact of the behavior on finances, customers, management, or growth, I can make a reasonable assessment of the real progress the person is making.

When I'm communicating my expectations with my staff it doesn't serve me well to exhort them to "straighten up their attitudes." What in the heck does that mean? If, however, I help them understand that I expect them to greet every customer within 30 seconds of their being the next in line - now they know what I'm talking about. And now I have something observable upon which I can follow up with them.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

If you want to quit

When people get uneasy about their current state of affairs they sometimes start looking for the exits - looking for ways to escape, to quit. While quitting might initially seem like a welcome relief, there are some factors for you to consider:

In favor of quitting

  • You might be able to allocate your new free time to generate an additional source of income.
  • You might be able to separate from a situation that is a source of pain for you.
  • You might find yourself (finally) on your own agenda instead of someone else's

Against quitting

  • You could be trying to avoid problems that are solvable, and after which you would be more satisfied. In other words your decision might be premature and unnecessary.
  • Quitting, especially if you have done it before, might add to a self-image of failure, of "a quitter."
  • Suddenly taking your ball and going home can damage relationships with the people who are counting on you.
  • If things are rough in other parts of your life, this thing that you're doing could be providing needed balance and a positive outlet for your energy. This is particularly true if you're thinking about quitting a volunteer role you currently fulfill. If you are struggling, volunteering can help give you perspective - you see people who need help more than you do.

Criteria to make your decision

You might have your own criteria that help you determine whether to choose to quit what you're doing or not, but without trying to convince you one way or the other here are some questions for you to answer:

  • Is this in alignment with my purpose?
  • Why did I choose to do it in the first place? Are those reasons still valid?
  • Are there other people affected by my decision? Am I concerned about them and the impact of my decision on my relationship with them?
  • Is my desire to quit temporary? Am I acting impulsively or irresponsibly?
  • What am I choosing to do instead?

Sometimes the decision to quit isn't a decision at all - it's an emotional reaction when something isn't going your way. But there are circumstances under which the decision to quit is exactly the thing you need to become more in alignment with your values, and with the person you want to be.

Monday, March 9, 2009

What possibilities await you today?

Originally uploaded by eigirdaz

Yes, I know it's extra early this morning, but are you awake to the incredible possibilities that today could be holding for you? Or are you out of bed shuffling to the shower and muttering, "another day, another nickel ninety-eight...?"

We aren't stuck. We always have choices, but it's easy for us to get into a groove that has walls high enough that sometimes we don't peek out over the top to see what's out there. We think that circumstances or other people are holding us there, but it's not them. It's us. It's our fear of the unknown and the assumption that it must be worse than the known, no matter how bad it is right now.

Sometimes when the outlook is looking the bleakest is the very time when something outrageous and unexpected is just the medicine we need. Football teams don't generally throw Hail Mary passes until the big score is absolutely necessary in the final seconds of the game. On other opportunities they might pass for shorter yardage, or even stick to the ground game. We do the same, keeping our feelings of risk to a minimum on most days.

Although there is no goal post and no running out of the clock we can think in a similar way about today and the opportunities that await. Perhaps you need an advance of yards, not inches right now. If so it might mean that you'll need to go to the air - take a few risks - explore some possibilities that you have not considered so far.

Sometimes the very thing that you dread will have no more hold over you once you've gone there and gone through it. Many times the anticipation of "the worst thing that could happen" has more hold and more impact than the actual worst has.

You will probably be able to find reasons why you should not stick your neck out. But what if, instead, you decided to peek out over the top of the rut and explore your possibilities? A whole new perspective and a whole new life could await.

Friday, March 6, 2009

What could transform your business?

How do you feel about the idea of transformation? You might think that we would stand like a child and wait for a wizard or a fairy to change us instantly into a knight or a princess or a multi-millionaire with a diversified portfolio. You might think that we'd be wide-eyed and curious and hopeful about what the change would do to transform our lives. But most of us don't look at change in the same optimistic way that a child does. Not any more.

"Evolution, not revolution" is the mantra I've heard in a number of solid, conservative companies over the years. They have been willing to rattle the proverbial apple cart a bit in order to achieve improvement, but they've held back from getting too aggressive out of concern about tipping the whole thing over. But what if evolution takes too long? What if the rattling isn't shaking enough of the waste loose to make room for more apples? What if you need some big changes right now to achieve the results you want?

One key question to ask yourself and your key leaders is, "What is it that we cannot change, but if we could change it, would transform our business?" Then challenge your assumptions about whether the impossibility of that change are really true.

  • Are you resigned to the fact that you "have to" invest in a certain marketing mix?
  • Have you stopped looking for innovation in your production?
  • Are you living with situations that are nonproductive or unnecessarily time consuming?
  • Are you fixing the same problems over and over again?

Some of the issues we deal with every day are like the cracks in our sidewalk - we notice them the first time they appear, and we might be a bit bent out of shape about them. But over time we stop seeing them, even if it means that we're taking an extra long step every time we cross them so we don't scuff our shoes. We tolerate the things that we think have to be instead of challenging them.

Well, if you've been waiting for the "right time" to address these things it appears that the right time is right now. Look through different lenses. Challenge the things you thought to be facts that might, in reality, be someone's theory and not facts at all. You won't necessarily know how it will all come out before you start, but isn't that the adventure that the creative child inside all of us is seeking?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Quick check-in on your goals

goal #6. 307:365
Originally uploaded by sungazing

How are you doing on the goals you set for yourself? This is a quick gut check and troubleshooting resource for you:

If you're having a tough time:

  • Have you come upon unanticipated obstacles, or some that are not responding to your first solutions? If that's the case revisit your goal plan and see whether there are some other obstacles you might have missed or other possible solutions you might not have considered. The existence of a thoroughly laid out goal plan isn't a guarantee of success, but if you do a lot of the thinking while you're planning (re: obstacles and solutions) you'll more easily prevent yourself from being blindsided or feeling stuck.
  • Are some of the obstacles outside your ability to control or influence? The state of the U.S. economy, for example isn't something most of us can control and we can only influence it if a whole bunch of us work together. If you've got an obstacle like this, focus instead on the ones you CAN control or influence through your solutions. And if there are multiple obstacles outside your control and influence, consider whether you're really working on a goal, or whether you're wishing for the fulfillment of a dream that somebody else has to grant you. If you're placing somebody else in the driver's seat you're setting yourself up to be a victim rather than the creator of your own future.
  • Are you just not sticking to your action plan, and you don't know why? My bet is that you do know why if you stop to think about it. I'll bet that there's something else for which the rewards are more immediately apparent to you that's getting in your way. If I want to save money for vacation this summer but want a new outfit NOW I have to be very clear on the value of the vacation to stick with my savings plan. Beef up your attention on the longer term rewards, and make sure you're writing them down so you can remind yourself when the going gets tough. One more thing: make sure this goal is something you want to do, not just something you think you should do. Shoulds are somebody else's goal that you're imposing on yourself.
  • Can you see yourself achieving your goal? It's very hard to sustain behavior that's inconsistent with your self-image. If the goal is really important to you, focus on your self-talk by affirming the self you WANT TO BE, even if you're not even close to there yet. Talk as if you have already arrived. And give yourself shorter benchmarks on your goal plan so you can prove it to yourself through short-term results. That will help you see yourself being capable of achieving the big one.

If you're making good progress on your goals:

  • Congratulations! You must be moving your hands and feet in the direction you want to go. Be sure to celebrate your victories, because this fuel will help you sustain the self-confidence to continue to stretch yourself.
  • Keep in touch with your self-assessment. Some people drift or feel let down after they achieve a big goal if they don't have another one waiting in the wings. When you lead a goal-focused life you are, in effect, engaging in a continuous personal improvement project. It's a journey, so instead of a finish line you'll have a series of opportunities to score.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Change Up Your Thinking - Try A Mind Map

Writing is a very sequential activity - one concept follows another in a logical order, at least that's the way it's usually supposed to work. But sometimes that sequential thinking, much like you'd do when outlining, doesn't account for the interrelationships between concepts. And sometimes an outline just doesn't cut it when you're trying to generate depth or variety in your ideas.

Enter the mind map. It certainly need not be illustrated like the one pictured above, although if that spurs your thinking, then go for it. The concept is this: start with a box or a bubble that contains the overall subject - like this one, "Uses of Mind Maps." Then start arms off the main bubble with the main subsets.

When an idea pops into your head, branch off of whatever other idea it connects to. Here's a simple example - drawing a family tree is a mind map of sorts. I have a branch that is my nuclear family, I have a branch that goes up to each of my parents, and then branches to their parents. Each of my parents have siblings, which form their own branches from my grandparents, and their families branch out from them. You can get wildly complex mapping a family if you're doing more than just determining your individual line of ancestry. And that's even before you account for steps and halfs and all of the extra stuff that comes with blended families.

There are times for divergent thinking (where you're seeking to generate a lot of ideas quickly) and times for convergent thinking (when you're trying to organize them or narrow them down.) You can start with a mind map (divergent) and then if you need to wind up with a more sequential or structured product (convergent) you can organize your mind map output into an outline or some other sequential format.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Yahoo Has A Big Idea Chair - do you have one?

Yahoo, Big Idea Chair
Originally uploaded by objetosdedesejo

I stumbled upon the website of Yahoo's Big Idea Chair. Here's the profile from the site:

I am a large comfortable purple chair. I am currently enjoying my time in Lee
Clow's, John Hegarty's & Alex Bogusky's offices. I make sure they are
comfortable while they create innovative advertising. I am an award for creative

What a cool concept, on a number of levels! Some questions (I know, I've got them all the time) popped into my mind.

  • Is it important for you and/or your company to be coming up with big ideas right now?
  • Are you currently recognizing the big idea generators, and if so, are you doing it in such a visible way that everyone wants to come up with one?
  • Do you have a place where you can go to brew your own big ideas? A special room, a special chair, etc.?

Of course HAVING a big idea isn't the point. ACTING on the big idea is the point. Unless you do something to make it real, whether its final form is exactly the same as the original idea or not, your idea is just a bunch of electricity without a wire to take it somewhere. But the idea is the place to start.

Your idea doesn't even have to be the first and only of its kind. Perhaps there's something that has already been done that you can tweak, or apply in a new fashion. Perhaps there's an existing foundation upon which you can build a completely unique structure.

Look beyond your business surroundings for inspiration for your ideas. Take George de Mestral, for instance. He was an amateur mountaineer and inventor who went to take his dog for a walk. During the walk he and his dog were covered with pesky burrs, and when they returned home he stuck one of the burrs under his microcope. The concept for Velcro was discovered by deMestral in the tiny hooks he saw on the outside of the seeds - hooks the seeds use to stick to animals and be transported.

I've got my own idea cooking, although I didn't get it while walking the dog. You'll hear more about it as it develops.

Monday, March 2, 2009

When opportunity knocks, are you noticing?

What are you REALLY thinking about yourself and your future? Are you feeling bullish on today, ready to get out there and conquer? Or are you seeing yourself in a holding pattern, perhaps even feeling the beginning of a downward spiral? When opportunity comes knocking, are you in the state of mind that you'll notice it?

You are engaged in selective perception every day, meaning you're not taking in every bit of stimulus that's coming your way. You are sorting, mostly subconsciously, for the information that's relevant to you for the purposes you have at hand. Now think about this for a second - how do you determine what's relevant? If your perception of stimulus is subconscious that mean's it's habitual. You'll reinforce existing beliefs and existing patterns. Up until right now, how's that been workin' for ya?

If you want to notice more opportunity, if you want to affect your perceptions in a positive way, you need to create a framework for relevance. This is accomplished by establishing a general intention, or by planning a more specific goal. Here's a simple example - I'm considering buying a car. I've got a specific brand, model, and perhaps even color in mind. Suddenly everywhere I go I see THAT car - driving beside me, parked in parking lots, etc. I've set up my selective perception to be stimulated by the sight of that car.

Part of the reason that it's stress-inducing not to have a direction is that although you're receiving stimuli from an overwhelming number of sources, you're not able to perceive them. There are limitless opportunities, but it feels like there are none.

You might not feel ready to set a specific goal yet, for any number of reasons. But if you want to have a positive impact on your selective perception, at least establish a general positive intention. If you are looking to expand your income, release yourself from the need to know HOW you're going to do it right now. Just keep that intention front and center and your brain will sort all of the incoming stimuli to help you notice the ones that are relevant to your intention.

This isn't motivational hooey - it's physiological fact. If you'd like to check out a great article on selective perception by Mary O. Howard, B.B.A., M.A., Master of Arts, Advertising & Cultural Communication at The University of Texas at Austin, click here.