Friday, July 29, 2011

A Sales Pitch In Disguise

Disguise by Steve J O'Brien
Disguise, a photo by Steve J O'Brien on Flickr.
At a networking coffee meeting, one acquaintance said to the other, "I'm really glad to have the chance to get to know more about you and your company.  By the way, have you met (name omitted to protect the guilty) yet?  If you were meeting him for coffee he'd sit down and whip out a sales flip chart.  Then you'd be stuck for an hour listening to his pitch!  I hate that."
Networking has been vaunted as the modern way to do business.  People do business with people they know and people they like, so it helps to be known - most of the time.  Remember the second part of the adage - people they like?
As in any social interaction, networking meetings have rules of etiquette, and if you violate them you are likely to be known (part one of your goal) but not to be liked (cancels benefit of part one of your goal).  As a matter of fact, the more networking you do as a salesman poorly disguised, the worse it is.  Your reputation as a huckster will spread faster and farther afield than your personal efforts could take it.
The challenge in networking etiquette is that different rules apply in different cultural environments.  But here are a few guidelines to consider:
  • Networking is about building a relationship - about making a friend.  You have to earn the right to make a sale.  To illustrate from non-business life, remember those disco years?  Ask somebody to come home with you before you know their name and you're likely to get slapped.  It's the same thing in sales.  Networking is finding out their name, their interests, their Zodiac sign - of course this is said tongue in cheek, but it's about making a friend.  Period.
  • The person who asks the questions is in control of the conversation, not the person who rambles on.  You won't find out information that will help you later if you're not doing any listening.  Any good relationship has two participants, not one participant and one spectator.
  • Consider the location when you ask questions.  Sure you want to know about the other person, but if you are in a public place like a mixer or a coffee shop there are other ears nearby.  This isn't the place to uncover detailed information or deep, dark secrets.  If you make the other person feel uncomfortable it doesn't help you to build the relationship.  When you are in sales mode you might need to help the other person recognize pain that can be cured by you or your services.  But now is probably not the time.
  • In an effort to make connections, don't badmouth others.  You never know who will know whom, so you might inadvertently insult their neighbor, cousin, former classmate, or even brother-in-law.  Remember that the other person assumes that you will behave toward them in the same way - perhaps spreading less-than-flattering information about them for the sake of appearing to be smart and in on things.  This is a downward-spiral conversation that does not help you become liked and trusted.
  • Be real.  They want to know you - the real you.  It might feel risky, because what if the real you isn't very likable or credible?  Rest assured that there are style and personality matches for almost anyone who enters the situation with honorable intentions and a desire to reciprocate good for good.  As for the credibility issue, do your homework.  Know your stuff.  This is fundamental to your success.  If you're a newbie - really a newbie, not just an experienced person wearing a new toolbelt - say so.  Many if not most people like to be in the position of being able to help.
  • Be consistent with the understood agenda for the meeting.  If you want to get acquainted, do that.  If you want to talk about mutual personal interests, do that.  If you want to find out some names of prospective customers you could contact, come right out and establish that as part of the agreed-upon purpose for the meeting.  Don't sneak up on the other person and ambush them.  It won't help you to whip off your mild mannered disguise and suddenly transform in to Sup-er Salesman!  Yuck.
If you are there to network, then network.  The purpose of networking is to know and become known.  If you have another, hidden agenda, trust that it isn't hidden.  You will be as easy to spot as a cow in a band uniform and silly glasses.  And it won't work in your favor.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Checking Your Mental Nutrition

Fruit & Vegetable Box by karimian
Fruit & Vegetable Box, a photo by karimian on Flickr.
Current USDA nutritional advice says that half of your plate should be comprised of fruits and vegetables, and the balance divided between lean meats and grains (preferably whole grains.)  On Sesame Street your long-time friend Bert raps about the benefits of eating your colors.  From the very beginning of childhood, diligent moms and dads work to instill healthy habits of food consumption so their kids can grow healthy and strong.  Even the fast food behemoth McDonald's is succumbing to pressure and starting to modify its menu (and striving to improve its reputation) by offering healthier choices.
So assuming that you're paying attention to your food intake, here's the question for today - how is your mental nutrition?  Are you paying as much attention to what's going into your brain as you are to the items that are going into your mouth? 
Your brain stores the things that it hears - it doesn't evaluate them.  Are you sitting in front of sensational TV or reading scandal magazines?  Are you a news addict and find yourself having a hard time falling asleep at night after hearing about the most recent disaster in vivid detail?  Are you reading, and if so is it bubblegum or cantaloupe that you're consuming?
The old computer data phrase "garbage in, garbage out" applies to your brain.  If you are storing information about what "normal" behavior is at the Jersey Shore, how is it influencing your clothing choices and your behavior in Anytown, USA?  Over time you become acculturated to the things to which you are exposed.  After a steady diet of crime shows on TV you can start to believe (as some of my foreign friends believed) that everyone in America walks the streets carrying a firearm and willing to use it.  You can start to assume that every woman in the world except you (or yours) is 5 feet 10 inches tall, weights 115 pounds and has long, beautiful hair.  The usual, the typical, isn't interesting enough (I suppose) to put on TV.  Most reality shows aren't representative of the reality that most people live.
If you want your child to understand our society and its history, you put history into his or her brain.  It might not only be through books - movies, family vacations, plays, games, etc. can help the information sink in.  Your child won't learn history by reading Spiderman comics or by watching Scooby-Doo on television. Well, they might see Nazi villians on Scooby-Doo, but that's beside the point.  Scooby-Doo villians aren't history.
This is not to say that there is no place for mental chocolate chip cookies.  Fun is good.  Actually, fun can create the disarmed mental state that allows good mental nutrition to sneak in, even when you're not paying attention.  A healthy mental nutrition plan doesn't have to smell like cooked cabbage or have the slimy texture of canned asparagus.  But just as the FDA now recommends for your body, you need to choose your plate.  The food you put into your brain can help you grow, or it can simply make you fat. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Conquer that elusive to-do item

Push-Up Demonstration by US Navy
Push-Up Demonstration, a photo by US Navy on Flickr.
Take a look at your to-do list from yesterday.  Did you check all of them off, or are there a couple of items left over?  Are they the same items left over from your prior list?  Do they simply go onto the bottom of any and all intentions as though acknowledging them will make them happen on their own?
Life happens, and not necessarily on your schedule.  Not everything gets done every day.  But there is probably something behind those elusive tasks for you, and you won't check them off  of your list until you determine whatever it is that keeps you from following through on them.
Often the items on the bottom of the list arrived in that position because they aren't fun to do, or because you are not sure whether you can successfully complete them, or because somebody else (not you) determined that they should be on there.  Sometimes your daily schedule is so filled up with routines and habits that you haven't allowed much room for the new or additional tasks.  Priority and time availability are two different problems, but both need to be addressed if you are going to act purposefully and in alignment with your goals.
  1. For the important but not urgent tasks - If you want to have strong shoulders you have to do your push-ups.  Your shoulders don't care whether you think you have time or you don't - the push-ups are needed in order to make them strong.  Perhaps nobody will notice that you are doing them now, but the proof of your commitment to them will reveal itself in time.  What are your push-ups?  Allocate specific time slots for them to make sure they get done.
  2. For the  not-so-fun tasks - Can you connect them to your values and your purpose?  Are you all about helping and doing service?  If so, determine how the task in question helps others.  Few parents adore changing dirty diapers, but they do so because the comfort and welfare of their children is on the top of their priority lists.
  3. For the scary tasks - Gather the information that you need to know in order to do them successfully, and build the research into your work plan.  If the task is known but large, break it down into pieces.  If you have a one-week project, only the part that fits into today goes onto today's list.  Otherwise you're setting yourself up for not meeting your own expectations.  Also, manage your self-talk so that it is supporting and not sabotaging you.
  4. For the over-full day - Evaluate the routines and habits that are currently filling your calendar and jettison anything that is not achieving the results you want.  Ultimately you have to make room for the important things, and your time is a finite resource.  If you haven't done so in 3 months or more, track your time use so you can see where the leaks are and be intentional about re-forming your habits in better alignment with your goals.
  5. For the side tracks and interruptions - You might handle so many interruptions in the course of a day that only 50 percent of it is available to you to work your to-do list.  One remedy for the situation is to plan accordingly and build in 2x the estimated time to get a particular project done.  Sometimes this remedy is not available or you don't want to choose it.  So another option is to set some boundaries to preserve uninterrupted time to check things off your list.  Make a sacred 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. closed door and parked phone time.  Answer emails only in one or two time windows per day.  You don't always have to answer the door just because the doorbell rings.
  6. For the ongoing weight of it all - If you are not performing up to standard - yours or your company's - and it's happening routinely, this job might not be a good match for your skills and talents.  You might be trying to squeeze yourself into a suit that doesn't fit.  This is a big realization, and the steps to make things better for you may involve substantial risk.  So before you rashly say, "It's been real but not very" to your boss and quit, try items 1-5 above first. 
If you have been dealing with this for a long time, you might feel like you want to escape.  You want to wave a magic wand and make it all go away, or you fantasize about calling "Uncle!" and starting over somewhere else.  The grass may look greener over there, and your eyes might not be deceiving you.  But they might be.  And this opportunity is right here, right now.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The small change that makes a big difference

NAVIGATING the MANY hurdles in LIFE by free wind spirit *
NAVIGATING the MANY hurdles in LIFE,
a photo by free wind spirit * on Flickr.
The small change that makes a big difference is the shift you make in your thinking from "I can't" to "I can" and then from "I can" to "I will".   
The mini-movie that comes to mind is teaching a child to ride a bike.  My daughter was standing there at the top of the slightly sloping driveway, helmet securely in place, straddling the bike.  The training wheels had just been removed.  "Pedal down to the end of the driveway."  She looked back with fear in her eyes and exclaimed, "I can't!"
Her dad and I reassured her, "Sure you can.  We'll give you a little push."  "NO!  Don't push me!  I can't do it!"
She resisted, despite encouragement and an attempt to appeal to her logic.  She got off of the bike, unclipped her helmet and threw it on the ground, and then stalked away.
From "I Can't" to "I Can"
There were real reasons why she was afraid to ride the two-wheeler.  She was aware of the dangers of falling and the resulting pain, and she wanted to prevent herself from being injured.  This little girl also knew that there was information with which she did not feel confident, like "What do I do if I'm going too fast?" "How do I turn this thing without tipping over?"  She had so many questions inside, and they rattled around so fast that she couldn't articulate them.
Some people have developed attitudes of "I can" and I suppose that they are lucky.  Their attitude of "I can" leads them to try new things and expect to succeed, or at the very least to learn something.  But if you are not one of the "naturally" confident ones, you can help yourself get into the "I can" mindset:
  • Name the hurdles you have to overcome.  This includes the information you need to obtain, skills you need to master, habits you need to reform.
  • Determine multiple potential solutions for clearing the hurdles and define action steps - including accountability dates.
  • Manage your self-talk.  Tell yourself you can and work on noticing (and remembering) the situations where you have already proved that to yourself.
From "I Can" to "I Will"
My daughter was still debating the benefits of the two-wheeled bike when she saw a younger neighbor girl whiz past the house on her pint-sized bike.  Almost immediately I saw her spine stiffen as she built her resolve.  The bike riding had made the shift in her brain from impossibility to possibility to commitment.  She was determined that if the other, younger girl could ride she could too.  Once she overcame the internal "I can't" she got on that bike and rode.  The questions answered themselves through her experiences as she repeatedly rode up and down the street, turned around in the driveway, and slowed down to a stop.
Sometimes the commitment of "I Will" has to be extra strong when the "I can't" self-talk has been loud and persistent.  Sometimes outside drivers (peer pressure, incentives or threat of punishment) can be enough to move you forward for now despite fears, doubts and obstacles.  But the hurdles will eventually prove to be too numerous or too high unless you can find the "I will" inside yourself.
When you summon the power of "I will" you will try multiple solutions to help yourself jump over obstacles.  You will persist.  You will keep going, giving the seeds you sow time to bear fruit, and you will do so despite the cynicism and discouragement you hear from other people.  You will view setbacks and mistakes as opportunities to learn and you will take their lessons, integrate them, and take more action.
"I can't" is predetermined defeat.  "I can" is the language of possibility.  And "I will" is the commitment that makes big things happen.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Lessons from Tina Fey

tina-fey by xenotrope
tina-fey, a photo by xenotrope on Flickr.
Sometimes it's easy to forget that the words "artist" and "savvy businessperson" are not mutually exclusive concepts.  One of the current heroes for creative types and businesswomen everywhere is Tina Fey - alumna of Second City and Saturday Night Live; star, producer and writer of "30 Rock"; author of Bossypants, rated #26 on; wife; mother of Alice.  She is best known by some for her impersonation of Sarah Palin during the 2008 Presidential campaign.
Recently Tina Fey was selected to receive the Mark Twain Award for Humor, which places her in the esteemed company of Lucille Ball, Whoopie Goldberg, Steve Martin and Lorne Michaels. 
Fey comes from a middle-class suburban household outside Philadelphia, PA - her origins weren't particularly unique or advantageous.  She went to college, moved away from home afterward -that much could be anyone's story, really. 
Structure and support systems -
Fey would say that part of her success has been the ability to operate while being very, very tired.  Writing sessions and production meetings sometimes last until the week hours of the morning.  She has a husband who comes from the entertainment industry, certainly a factor that would enable him to appreciate the long and wacky work schedule.  She hired a nanny to help to make sure that Alice has had one-on-one care while Tina is at work.
"Yes, and..."
Writing and performing humor is hard work, and part of the process is the collaboration among a team of writers.  Fey cites the improve principle of "Yes, and..." as being crucial to the development of material.  She says that you can't waste energy debating the realism or value of another person's contribution.  Instead, you go with it, and build on it to create something that is truly the product of all brains in the room. 
writer's note:  This concept brings back contrasting memories of corporate brainstorming sessions where participants could hardly wait to debunk a colleague's prior contribution, even though the evaluation process is supposed to wait until later.
Acknowledgement and leveraging of other talent
Part of what makes improv effective is the interplay among the cast.  Fey has surrounded herself with some of her trusted colleagues (friends) and heroes.  She credits her career success to Lorne Michaels, who opened several doors for her.  She openly cites Alec Baldwin (her costar on 30 Rock) as someone she admires as a colleague and comedic actor.  She raves over Darrell Hammond (detailed impersonator) and Will Ferrell (broad strokes of impressions).  She still adores Amy Poehler, a friend since Second City, and with whom she has worked since then on SNL and in her movie "Baby Mama."  She features Tracy Morgan, another Saturday Night Live alumnus, on "30 Rock."  The process is still a collaboration, even though she's the self-named "Bossypants" of it all.
It will be better when you're no longer counting
Tina Fey is the third woman to receive the Mark Twain Award.  She was the first female head writer on Saturday Night Live.  She was part of the first road troupe for Second City that did its own material instead of the tested material developed by the home troupe - without clearing it ahead of time, of course.  At the Twain Award ceremony, Fey said that she will be glad when there no longer have to be references to "first, third, etc." as it relates to achievement for women - when women will stand on their individual merits and their gender will no longer be considered a notable phenomenon.
In case you wanted to know about Tina Fey's Career, some highlights:
  • Desk job at YMCA after college to fund improv classes.
  • Part of touring company for Second City.
  • Writer, then head writer for Saturday Night Live (SNL).
  • Weekend Update performer on SNL.
  • Wrote 3 movies - "Mean Girls", "Baby Mama" and "Date Night"
  • Left SNL to create "30 Rock"
  • 2010 Recipient of Mark Twain Award for Humor

Friday, July 22, 2011

How lack of leading messes up customer serice

L1080634 by harrimanhikers
L1080634, a photo by harrimanhikers on Flickr.
If you are the only one who knows where the group is supposed to be going, where should you be?  In the front, of course.  When you are in the front you prevent the people under your charge from twisting an ankle, from walking into a dead end, even sustaining serious injury.
The other day we went to a large kennel, one we have patronized for many years with cats and multiple dogs.  The kennel is known for its spotless facility and reliable service.  But with all due respect to someone learning their job (and she told us she was new,) our visit was less than satisfactory.
The kennel is out in the middle of a rural part of our community, with winding roads and a sprawling footprint.  The place can house 200+ animals at one time in multiple buildings.  With no animal pun intended, the dog kennel is a rabbit warren of gated hallways, all with closed doors to prevent against an escaped puppy from wreaking havoc.  You enter a gate, pass through a door, at the end of the hall go through another door, turn a corner, etc.
Our "helper" told us our kennel number as our two dogs were pulling excitedly toward the sound of barks - our doggies are quite sociable.  She walked behind us, calling directions:  "Turn left, then go through the door, then down the hall to the steel door on your left and then turn right."  Yes, really, they were the directions.  She, the person who works there every day and knows where she's going, didn't show us where to go.  She followed us, correcting my mistakes along the way. 
It took us a couple of wrong turns (mine) to find our dogs' camping spot, and she stood by while we opened the gate, positioned the rugs we provided, and laid out the toys.  She didn't hold the door or reach out to help tuck leashes into the bag, or to help us hang the bag on the kennel.  She just stood there.  And on the way back out she followed us again.
Admittedly I am direction-impaired indoors.  I get lost in office buildings when I visit prospective clients.  But this woman did not lead.  She did not make it comfortable and easy for us to go where we needed to go.  And she was a bit terse in tone when I made a wrong turn.
By the way,she punctuated the end of our drop-off visit when on our way out she commented about two little Jack Russell terriers who passed us with their owner on the sidewalk on their way home, "Boy we are really ready to see them go.  That screechy barking is hard to take first thing in the morning!"  My husband and I are not particularly Jack Russell fans, but we were taken aback that she would insult a customer's family, er, dogs in that way, and in front of incoming customers!  Needless to say we'll be letting the owner know that this person needs to be trained in customer service or she needs to be outta there.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The game face and the paradigm of threat

hockey guys by C2Bush
hockey guys, a photo by C2Bush on Flickr.
To what extent are you aware that you put on a facade or "game face" rather than reveal the person that you really are? The game face generally isn't used when you're feeling confident and upbeat. You put it on when you're feeling a bit uncertain, fearful, or sad and you don't want anyone to know it.

Every person has his or her own frame of reference (assumptions and attitudes) about relationships with other people, whether business or personal. Some come to the table with the assumption that the world is generally a safe place, people are generally nice, and that it's OK to be whoever they authentically are.
Others operate under the paradigm that the world is dangerous, people are generally out to get them and that job #1 is to prevent them (the enemy) from having the opportunity to do so. When operating under the paradigm of threat people make assumptions like:You can tell they're lying because they're moving their mouth.
  • They'll take advantage of any sign of weakness to overpower me or make me look bad.
  • Everybody else is more competent than me (or smarter or richer) and I hope nobody figures that out.

The defensive, self-protective position creates behavior like:
  • Hoarding resources or information.
  • Avoidance of other people.
  • Calling attention to other people's flaws in an attempt to distract attention from one's own.
  • Taking a proactive attack position to be able to make the first strike rather than feel vulnerable.
  • Spreading misinformation (gossip.)
  • Collecting a cadre of allies for the purpose of defending against or attacking a threat. 
    Let's say you recognize that you operate under the paradigm of threat in certain situations. Just because you think they're against you doesn't mean they really are. Chances are pretty good that it's not even about you. What would happen if you would test your assumption that the world is out to get you?

    If you decided to behave as though the setting and/or other people were not threatening in some way you might: 
    • Share information more freely.
    • Choose to interact with people even when you're not forced to.
    • Let people get to know you as a person, not just as a job description.
    • Relax and enjoy your day more.
    • Be able to focus on your work product rather than on other people and what they are doing. 
If you are in a situation where you are experiencing a continous threat you may be well advised to change your setting.  Go somewhere else - not every person is a good match for every culture or every interpersonal situation.  If the feelings of defensiveness follow you from situation to situation it's an indicator that it might not be more than habits of thought (lack of trust, insecurity) that you need to put to rest.  Otherwise the problems will follow you wherever you go.

Monday, July 18, 2011

SoCiAl MeDiA MoDeRn: Innovation at the speed of a tweet

NOTE:  Here's a post from Team SummitHRD member, Jim Poland.  Jim is our Strategy Wonk & Chief Twit (Twitter broadcaster, that is . . .).

How mOdErN is your business being?  Are you, as a key leader, innovating every day, every week?

Do you rEaLly encourage innovation in your company,
                                                                 and at the customer service counter?!

It's a NEW TweeORLD out there!

Jack Dorsey, a key co-founder of Twitter shares his thoughts about the
                                                                                                mixed media event
which he emceed with President Obama via @TownHall (

There could be significant benefit
                                      and payoff
                                          awaiting you
                                          through embracing
                                             the nanosecond change
                                                                  of social media
                                                                         and the mobile digital era
                                                                                 we have all been flashed into.

Want to consider how to be more mOdErn?
                                           Want to think more
                                                 STRATEGICALLY THAN EVER BEFORE???
                                                                                         There is help.  Just ask.

-By Jim Poland, Exec Coach

Check out my profile!

Visit @JimPolandcom on

Here's a special treat for family-owned business leaders:
Go to SlideShare  at

Learn how Team SummitHRD is embracing social media at:
SummitHRD page on FaceBook  on
@SummitHRDcom  on
@ChangingResults  on
@JuliePoland  on
Julie Poland  on  Linkedin  at
Mike Bingham on  Linkedin at
Jim Poland  on  Linkedin at

U.S. Armed Forces personnel and their families make sacrifices for you, your family,
and your business everyday.

Hire a veteran, please.

And, support your Veterans Affairs efforts in your community.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Tattoos and piercings and gauges, oh my!

Head tattoo. by bainebiker
Head tattoo., a photo by bainebiker on Flickr.
There is nothing inherently wrong with having a head full of tattoo ink, ears draped in metal, or studs and bars protruding through your skin.  For some people these items are means to express their creativity, their individuality, even their rebelliousness.  Some of it is art, beautiful to behold, and some of it is downright disturbing to some observers.
A tattoo never hurt anybody.  But these modes of permanent body decoration can stand in the way of success.  Is it fair that people are judged by all of their appearance, including their grooming, clothing, hairstyle and body art?  Maybe not.  But it's what IS.  It happens every day.
Diversity brings flavor to culture.  Differences in backgrounds, in ideas, in education, help to minimize the blind spots in your company, assuming that you're up to the sometimes rocky process of negotiating through them to a productive outcome.  Schools include entire program structures designed to increase acceptance of diversity across lines of race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.  But what about tattoos, piercings, and gauges?  Are they to be included in the diversity umbrella, and their wearers accepted regardless of their appearance?
It depends.  There are some industries, some jobs that are immune to the impact of nontraditional styles of dress.  The arts, some blue collar or back shop jobs are unaffected by the worker's appearance - indeed, sometimes the message transmitted by the scary tongue piercing is desirable.  It conveys a particular image that attracts buyers of a certain profile.
Even though it seems as though every third adult under the age of 35 is sporting at least a little bit of ink, the acceptance of large quantities of body art, and the mutilating effect (there, I said it) of piercings are still not in the mainstream acceptable code of business appearance.  This does not mean that people with tattoos are evil biker gang members, nor does it mean that a pierced eyebrow telegraphs a sadistic streak.  All it means is that these things become a physical distraction.  They speak louder than your words.
It is the association between body art and the archetypes of the evil biker, the criminal, the woman of ill repute, the drug addict, that speaks to people.  Like it or not, it takes time for new ways of adorning oneself to catch on.  
Are you in an industry where it's important to be in the vanguard?  Does your business prosper when you look a bit edgy and a little bit dangerous?  Then go for it.  Decorate every inch of yourself.  But these are not shirts that you can toss into the trash or donate to Goodwill when the trend fades.  These decorations are permanent.  This is different from race, or ethnicity, or religion, or intellect.  Decorations are fashion choices, and other people don't have to accept them or adapt to them.
Unless you're the boss.  And even if you're the boss, you still have to think about your customers, and whether your appearance will be an unnecessary obstacle to them choosing to work with you.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How to make the improbable possible

Music theory by Craig Blackmoore
Music theory, a photo by Craig Blackmoore on Flickr.
If you are like many people that I know and coach, you have ideas about what you'd dream could happen in your life, but you have not yet made the connection to make them happen.  There are opportunities, experiences, jobs, partners, that you haven't pursued - not because you don't want them in your life, but because you cannot envision yourself there.
Remove the obstacle, shrink it substantially in terms of its motivational killing power, by finding out, in detail, what's required to achieve whatever it is that you want to achieve. 
Here's an example:  a high school student is interested in a career in music therapy.  College is still three years away, but she went online and found out the admissions requirements for the program at the college in which she is interested.  She gulped a bit when she digested the size of the list of items she'd need to know well enough to demonstrate.  The education will be the reward for fulfilling the qualifications, to earn the right to be there.
This student is gulping, but she's not stopping.  She's aligning her high school course load to prepare her.  Thank heaven she checked the requirements so early in her high school career, so she will have time to learn what she needs to know.  Music therapy has now made a shift in this student's mind from a fantasy to a goal.
There are so many other examples of individuals making (or not making) the connection with their dreams simply by identifying the requirements:
  • The teenager who envisioned himself a Navy Seal, yet dismissed the idea that he might have to learn to swim.  Really well.  To save his life and the lives of others.  Failure to identify and pursue the required knowledge and skills (not to mention swimming lessons) meant that this young man never joined the Navy, much less the elite Seals.
  • The unemployed adult who fantasized about owning his own business.  He talked to SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) and the local office of the SBA (Small Business Administration) to find out what he needed to know to develop his game plan for his business.  He developed his plan and implemented it, and made his dream a reality.
How do you really know whether something is possible for you or not?   Only you can determine whether it is - your best friend might have a vested interest in holding you back, your dad might have preconcieved notions about you from back when you were a surly teen, and your neighbors might only be able to see you as they always see you - as the nice guy who mows his lawn in a checkerboard pattern.  What is possible is more often decided by "want to" rather than "allowed to," "expected to," or "can".
You have to find out what is required, and then determine whether you have the desire to do whatever is necessary to make it happen.  If you find out that you have to be able to stand on your head for 5 minutes straight in order to do what you want to do, you might realize that you aren't interested in working up to that 5-minute headstand.  You make a decision not to go there.  Or you might want the ultimate outcome so badly that you are willing to do ANYTHING that's required to get you there.  When you make this conscious, intentional go or no-go decision you are being active in creating your future.  You're not allowing it to slip through your fingers, or to fall into the hands of circumstance.  You can be choosing to make the improbable possible for you.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The popular activity trap

Spider Web by tim phillips photos
Spider Web, a photo by tim phillips photos on Flickr.
Spider webs are beautiful, aren't they?  They accumulate sparkling drops of dew in the morning and they are astounding in the symmetry and detail of their construction.  But beware, lest you forget the spider web's purpose - to entrap you until the eight-legged carnivore can eat you up!
Yes, perhaps this is sounding a bit dramatic, but consider the lure of popular, pleasurable activities like web-surfing, online socializing, even some meetings and phone calls.  They are attractive and sometimes they are an integral part of your company's standard practices.  But that makes them no less lethal.
When you are engaging in popular activities it's often at the expense of time that could be invested in goal-achieving activities.  Popular simply means that it seems as though "everyone is doing it" - it doesn't make the activity right, or right for you right now.  I'm sure your mother exclaimed to you at one point or another in your youth, "Would you jump off the Golden Gate Bridge just because everyone else was doing it?!?" 

Some of these popular activities are tension-relievers.  Tension relieving or goal achieving, that's the choice for your time use.  It wouldn't be a stretch to say that tension relief now could result in more tension later, as target dates slip and productivity numbers are not met.
This is not to say that work should not be fun.  The crucial point is that there be a clear connection between your activities and your results.  In business cash is king, and the closer your current activities are to the generation and collection of cash, the more important it is - fun or not.  Okay, maybe you are not directly responsible for producing hard dollars in your role.  If not, what are the tasks that make the greatest contribution to your desired results?  Those are the ones on which you invest time first, before you move on to the nice-to-do items.
Tension relief isn't the only reason why people become trapped by popular activities.  Often the activity helps to prevent an individual from risking a poor result, especially if they were to make a genuine, full-out effort.  If there's no direct effort you can be described as a slacker, but perhaps to you "slacker" sounds better than "failure" in the name-calling game.  You can live in the land of potential and never prove whether you're worth your salt in actual performance - or not.
If you choose to remain in potential-land instead of risking failure for the sake of the possibility of achievement you are likely to wind up with an unintended consequence - poor self-image, even imposter syndrome, where you don't believe that you deserve the credit you ultimately receive.  Remember this: the most important audit you'll ever undergo is the one you do every morning when you look in the mirror and you ask yourself whether you are meeting your own expectations.  And that's a direct result of how well you know in your gut that you have worked toward the results you want to achieve.
Popular activities, temporary pleasures, task avoidance - they are all glittering webs engineered to work to someone else's benefit at the expense of yours.  Keep your eye on your goals, and study the connection between what you're doing RIGHT NOW and the outcomes you seek.  That's your best defense against becoming entangled and stuck.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Is lack of this simple skill interfering with your success?

teen reading during Teen Read Week
A photo by Circulating on Flickr
One of the best-loved and best-remembered times from childhood is story time.  Being read Treasure Island  before bed by Dad, sitting on the porch swing devouring a book over summer vacation, stretching out on a beach towel and reading with the sound of crashing waves in the background - all can evoke feelings of relaxation and nostalgia.

But for some people, reading is not fun.  It's a chore, rife with frustration and unmet expectations.  Usually when a person doesn't enjoy reading it is not a matter of learning disability, nor of intelligence, but rather a lack of strategies through which to engage with the material.

Julie B. Wise, Penn State instructor and reading specialist, is getting ready to launch her book, Reading Secrets, which is designed to teach strategies to increase comprehension and retention of reading material.  Ms. Wise works with college and high school students, and also advises reading specialists in school districts around the Northeastern U.S.  Her goal in writing the book is two-fold:
  1. To provide a resource text for teachers to use to improve reading skills in their students.
  2. To help students transform reading from an obstacle to an integral tool in their success in school, in work, in life.
Reading Secrets is based in sound reading theory, but it's not theoretical - it's hands-on and practical.  Wise demonstrates how to use tools like index cards, sticky notes, and doodling to help information sink into the reader's brain.  She talks about the styles of learning (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) and how to adapt reading style to the way in which the reader naturally best absorbs information.  Wise discusses the impact of distractions, and the importance of knowing your purpose when you read.

Skill in reading impacts educational success, which lays the foundation for work that is engaging and financially rewarding.  But beyond the obvious, reading helps to connect the reader to other people and the world.  It enables an individual to be secure in the lifelong activities and transactions that rely upon reading comprehension - loan documents, insurance policies, contracts, medication instructions.

We'll post "how to buy" information in a few weeks when ReadingSecrets has its official launch.  In the meantime, get out there and read!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Are you going to sail - or bail?

Sailing by JarleKristoffersen
Sailing, a photo by JarleKristoffersen on Flickr.
What is it that's important to you?  Are you making room for it in your life right now, or are you finding that yet another day, week, month, or year has gone by without you getting around to it?
A coaching colleague poses it this way - "Are you going to sail, or are you going to bail?"  Now picture this:  you're out on the water in your boat and there's a small pool of water at your feet.  You ignore it for a time because you're wearing your sailing shoes, and they are not going to be damaged by a little water.
Before you know it, the water is deep enough that you need to get some of it out of there.  So you grab a bucket and scoop the water out of the boat.  Even though you are bailing the water out of the boat, new water is seeping in to replace it.  You won't be safe until you go ashore, determine the site and severity of the leak and fix it.
A pair of newlyweds talks with pride about opening a joint account and setting a family budget.  Their goal is to get their credit rating in good shape and buy their first house in a year or so.  Then less than one week later the bride complains that she feels like she doesn't have any money.  She is feeling constrained by the budget.  Sailing in this instance means keeping her eye on the bigger goal and sticking with the budget.  Otherwise she and her husband will be scrambling (bailing) to assemble a downpayment, or their dream of home ownership might be delayed.
A person trying to lower his BMI is on the WeightWatchers program.  He knows that he has 29 points per day that he can consume, as well as 49 weekly splurge points.  But he has a big eating event coming up, and he's worried that he'll overreach his points allotment and backslide on his weight loss progress.  He can choose to sail by thinking ahead and choose lower-point foods in the other meals earlier on that day.  Or he can exercise more heavily that day, accumulating activity points that will offset the dinner.  If he budgets his points he won't have to bail later, starving himself to compensate for overdoing it on this one occasion.
If you want to sail and not bail, you start by identifying your desired outcomes in specific terms, and the dates by which you want to accomplish them:
  • Muscles that can bench press 200 pounds by December 31, 2011
  • A financial reserve of $_____________ by your 55th birthday
  • Three new customers by September 30, 2011
Then you follow the goal planning methodology of outlining the implications of achieving the outcomes, obstacles you can anticipate, solutions to the obstacles, and action steps.  Ultimately your plan will include a budget of some sort, whether it's money, points or time.  If you stay focused on whatever it is that you want, you will be less likely to feel constrained, and more likely to realize that you are making room for the desired outcome to be achieved.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Alternative venues for you and your coach

Coaching by TheHopscotch
Coaching, a photo by TheHopscotch on Flickr.
Some people aren't ready to use a coach's services because they haven't determined that the payoff (or the consequence avoidance) is big enough yet to make an investment in personal growth and change.  Sometimes they don't hire a coach because they aren't sure how to select one.  But sometimes they don't take action because they can't imagine how and when the coaching process would take place.
There is really good news about the means by which coaching can take place.  You're only really limited by your preferences and your comfort zone.  Here are some venue options for you and your coach, and some of the benefits of each:
  • In your office.  It's the ultimate in convenience for you, because you don't have to break your daily routine to access the coach.  In addition, time in your office with your coach can help to connect the issues you discuss to the application of action ideas.  Downside - some people might ask questions about the person who routinely comes and goes from your office.  In addition, you make your coach selection from choices located reasonably near you, which can limit your options in some locations.
  • In a coffee shop.  You can meet on neutral ground to avoid the in-office curiousity.  You have the opportunity to be confidential.  Downside - Be selective in choosing your location, because some coffee shops have a climate that generates interaction among customers.  You don't want constant interruption as five of your neighbors pop in for their morning brews.
  • On the phone.  Phone coaching enables you to access resources located almost anywhere, and gives you access at any time of day that suits you and your coach.  Some of Summit's coaching clients like to talk early in the morning (5:30 or 6 a.m.) so they can prepare for their day.  Others prefer 10:00 or 11:00 at night because they work 3rd shift and align their coaching time with their work schedule.  You or your coach can have the flexibility to travel and still keep your appointment.  In addition, the privacy of phone coaching prevents the "who was that?" question, and can help you feel comfortable being candid, even on tough issues that don't exactly place you in a positive light.  You can be coached while you're wearing your pajamas!  Downside - if you're reliant on cell signal you can negatively impact the quality of the coaching experience.  Connection is critical to the interaction, and it involves more than simply paying attention.
  • On Skype - For some people it's important to see the other person to have an intimate conversation, and Skype solves the logistics problem of the in-office session.  When communicating computer to computer it's free.  Downside - You will need a webcam, and sometimes the bandwith available won't support a good connection with both voice and video.  And you probably won't want to be coached before you make yourself presentable.
  • Via Instant Message - Your coach asks you questions to help you gain clarity in your thinking, and to help you to determine "right action" - the next appropriate steps - to take.  You can "talk" things out via the keyboard just like you can do using your voice.  Downside - If you aren't a good touch typist you might find yourself frustrated at the slowness of the conversation.  Also, be aware of your predisposition to be distractable.  Your coaching process won't be as effective if you try to carry on other IM conversations simultaneously - you won't be engaged enough to make the mental connections that will help you build greater confidence and competence.
  • Via Twitter - This is another version of coaching via instant message.  In this situation, your coach can even do group coaching by opening a "#" stream for a group of coachees.  Downside - You would probably only choose this venue if you are already comfortable with the 140-character world.  You might want to know some Twitter shorthand to save you keystrokes.  Plus you won't be able to ramble - you have 140 characters per Tweet - although you can, of course, Tweet several times in a row to communicate a more complex point.
Some coaches have a preference in their venues.  You may make your coach selection partly based upon whether they use the mode that you prefer.  Be open to the options, because you might not know ahead of time which venue works better for you.  For instance, even "non-phone people" have found that they can be focused and comfortable in phone-based coaching once they try it.  And consider changing your venue from time to time, because different sensory stimulation can provide new connections and insights.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What are you waiting for?

Waiting by Marc Fletcher Photography
Waiting, a photo by Marc Fletcher Photography on Flickr.
 Sometimes all you can do is wait.  You're expecting news, or you're expecting a child, or you have planted a seed and want to harvest its fruit - but you have to wait.  Staring at the plant won't make it grow faster, and frankly, you don't want the baby to come too early, lest it suffer health challenges resulting from its premature appearance.

Sometimes you have to wait.  But sometimes you don't.  Sometimes waiting is the worst thing you can do.  Waiting is a passive thing - you hang on, looking for somebody or something else to change your situation, your circumstances.  In the meantime, you stew, you brood, you complain - because you want something to be different.  And as long as you're waiting, you are taking yourself out of creator mode and handing your potential for achievement and influence over to somebody else.

How long should you wait?  Sometimes bad situations will pass without intervention on your part.  There was a quote posted online the other day that read, "Don't make permanent decisions based upon temporary circumstances." It would be a shame, for instance, to sell your house out of financial desperation one day before you receive a large inheritance.  Time and timing would solve the problem for you.  But how long is too long to wait?  You have been told that "This too shall pass," but how long is it going to take.

There is an heir apparent who has been waiting for her CEO to sell the company for as long as she can remember - 12 years, 15 years....  She wants to buy the company, and the owner seems to be entertaining the idea, then he drops it for the umpteenth time.  He never seems to consider her a viable buyer, even though she has the financial resources to do so.  Whatever his reasons, she feels like Charlie Brown in the old comic strip when Lucy promises to hold the football for Charlie Brown to kick it, only to pull it away (again) at the last minute, landing Charlie Brown flat on his back muttering "Good grief".  She continues to hang in there despite her frustration, because she has got a long term payout coming. 

About seven years ago her executive coach made a passing comment, "Ten years is a long time to wait."  About once every three months or so when she talks to her coach she reminds herself out loud, "Remember all that time ago when you told me that ten years is a long time to wait?"  She recognizes that she has voluntarily handed over her creative power, and placed her career and personal development aspirations in his fickle hands. 

Now about 7 years into that 10-year wait for the payout she is seriously considering options for a change in direction, a second act for her career.  She has come to the end of her waiting, despite her loyalty to the owner and to the employees she leads on his behalf.  And although she has not yet determined her exact direction, the process of becoming more active in inventing her future has reinvigorated her.

What are YOU waiting for?  Are you looking for the perfect wave before you climb onto the surf board?  Will you miss the wave if you're watching for it from the shore when it comes along?  Is your wait based upon a known sequence of events that needs time to unfold, like the maturing of a plant - or have you handed your creative power to someone else?  It's important to know the difference, and to claim your power when IT is waiting for YOU to act.