Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Superworker to supervisor

S is for Supersexy Superhero by -karla k.-
S is for Supersexy Superhero, a photo by -karla k.- on Flickr.
How do you select your up-and-coming supervisors?  If you are like most leaders you look to the superworkers for your candidates.
The Superworker
The Superworker does what he or she is required to do and more.  You can count on him to work autonomously.  You can rely on her can-do mindset about her work.  You notice that your superworkers have attracted followers among their peers - they answer questions and rally the troops on a daily basis.
The Superworker might be a young whippersnapper with great education but not an extensive amount of experience.  You notice them because of their intellect and you see potential in them.  Or your particular Superworker might be a long-time employee whose desirable traits are experience and loyalty to the company.  They might not have the same educational credentials, but they have bootstrapped their way into a valuable level of expertise.
You might be considering tapping either of these two individuals on the shoulder for supervisory responsibility, but wait just a minute.
Supervisor vs. Team Leader
The Superworker is one who does the content of the job - the Supervisor's role is to help others do it.  Sure, there are plenty of roles out there where the Supervisor is a player/coach combo, where they are doing the work alongside the people they lead.  But consider whether the Supervisor role you are filling is a team leader or a true supervisor.  The team leader doesn't have responsibility for hiring, disciplining, etc.  They are solely accountable for the effective flow of work.  Your informal leader can be effective here, because he or she has the interpersonal skills to attract people to the work.
A Supervisor will also handle hiring, firing, discipline and scheduling in most instances.  The Supervisor comes with accompanying authority from the company, and this changes his or her relationship with the rest of the people on the work team.  There are several likely outgrowths of this situation:
  1. The person who used to be the post-work bar buddy might now be perceived as the long arm of the law, and therefore excluded from the informal relationships that they used to be part of. 
  2. The change in the responsibilities in the new Supervisor's own mind can cause them to oversteer or be heavy handed in how they relate to their former peers.
  3. The new Supervisor can have a difficult time separating from the old comfortable technical tasks, and avoid the real supervisory portions of their new job description.  So you don't really have a supervisor in function - only in name.
New Role Calls for Different Skills
The new Supervisor needs more in the way of interpersonal capabilities, because they have several potentially difficult jobs to do:
  • Separate themselves from their former peer group without alienating them so they can be effective in performance management.  Perceived favoritism is one of the potential consequences of failure to separate, and that can cause legal problems for the company as well as performance problems in the department they supervise.
  • Communication skills and process knowledge for setting expectations and providing performance feedback.  The goal of performance feedback is to obtain the desired results , not to throw one's authority around.
  • Results focus and context.  The day to day operation is important, but the Supervisor benefits the company most when he or she can connect today's activity with the impact on the company's bottom line and overall strategic direction.
  • Willingness to become the voice of management.  A Supervisor spoils the soup when they give an instruction accompanied by a comment like "I know this is stupid, but management says we have to ......."  This is an attempt to maintain rapport with the individual contributors for which the supervisor is responsibile, but it compromises his or her effectiveness as a leader representing the company's interests.
Facilitating the Transition from Superworker to Supervisor
Some individuals come to the workplace with interpersonal skills that are observable, and they are probably some of the easier individuals to transition to the more interpersonally-focused role of supervisor.  There are, of course, other qualifications to be considered beyond being a "nice guy", but human relations skills are really the combination of readily trainable behaviors and supporting habits of thought that are not as easy to instill.  You can train them in skill areas and provide a supportive work climate, but THEY have to make the choice to develop the habits of thought that support the role in which they are placed.

If you are planning to take no chances and develop them for the Superworker to Supervisor role shift, recognize that it is probably the biggest single career change that an individual will make.  It is to your advantage to start the process of preparing them before they are assigned to a Supervisor role.  Transition to leadership is not the same as transformation into a leader.  If you delay in helping them to come along, you will be subjecting the people that report to them to a process of supervisory trial and error.  And who among you would like to be tried and erred upon until your boss gets it right?  'Nuff said.

For more than 20 years, Summit has assisted client companies by providing the interpersonal skill development, attitudinal development process, and goals and results focus that enable successful transition to Supervisor roles.

Monday, August 29, 2011

How mental binoculars bring success

binoculars by yaratmak
binoculars, a photo by yaratmak on Flickr.
Are you running your life based upon what's right in front of your face?  Are you focused on what you are experiencing right now?  You can only make a difference in your work and in your life through the actions you take right in this moment.  But how do you determine what is the right action to take?

Today's actions require a context in order to determine what is the right thing to do.  And you determine the context by putting on a set of mental binoculars.  What is your vision?  Where are you headed?  Is it in focus?

Binoculars have to be set correctly for your eyes in order for you to see clearly, but once you adjust them you can see detail that would be impossible to notice otherwise.  Same goes for envisioning your future.  It might seem blurry at first, but as you start to develop your sense of direction and fill in some important motivational details, your vision will pull you toward itself.

If you stop looking through your binoculars you will lose sight of the details in your vision.  It's the same with your mental binoculars.  You can keep the vision top of mind when you document it and revisit it regularly.  It's only when the vision is in the foreground that today's activities can be influenced by it.  Start by asking yourself these questions:
  • What would be my ideal day?
  • How will my home look, and where will it be located?
  • What work will I be doing?
  • What will I value about myself?
  • Who will be with me?
  • What will be my prized posessions?
These are just starters - feel free to add and answer your own questions.  This is your vision.  If you have a life partner, it might be a beneficial exercise to do parts of this together.  Alignment between the two of you can contribute to a mutually satisfying relationship.  But even if you are in a committed relationship, the responsibility for your life rests on your shoulders - not on your partner's.  It has to rest on you, because a) you are the only one who knows what you want, and b) yours is the only behavior you can control.

Once you reinforce your vision enough times that it becomes a habit of thought, your daily actions will become more congruent with it without having to apply as much consciousness.  But if your view of your desirable future is quite different from your current circumstances, you will probably have to reinforce it early and often.  Your current habits of thought have helped to create your current circumstances, and so you will have to apply some mental energy to dilute the old thinking with new attitudes more congruent with your desired destination.

Goals can help to keep you on track with the steps that will take you closer to your vision, but once you have it as a frame of reference in your conscious mind, you will start to notice opportunities that might not be documented in a plan.  You can take advantage of serindipity, coincidence, inspiration, etc. - those on-the-spot situations that take you closer to the life you want.  Vision doesn't kill spontaneity - it helps you sort the opportunities within a frame of reference.

What do you see through your binoculars?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Grasshoppers beware

Grasshopper by Alan Jordan
Grasshopper, a photo by Alan Jordan on Flickr.
If you are on the East coast of the U.S. today, you may be spending your day boarding up windows in preparation for the landfall of Hurricane Irene.  Or you might be packing the car and heading inland to higher and dryer ground.  You might be at the pharmacy refilling important prescription medications or stopping at the ATM to make sure you have plenty of cash on hand.

Or perhaps you have decided that all of the predictions are so much ratings-grabbing hype, and you are staying put.  This will be no big deal.  The stores will be open and all you'll have to do is watch TV for a few hours or a day before all returns to normal.  If you are choosing this path, you might be a grasshopper - and if you are one, watch out!

The tale of the Grasshopper and the Ant is one of Aesop's most famous fables.  Here's how it goes:

In a field one summer's day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart's content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.

"Why not come and chat with me," said the Grasshopper, "instead of toiling and moiling in that way?"

"I am helping to lay up food for the winter," said the Ant, "and recommend you to do the same."

"Why bother about winter?" said the Grasshopper; "We have got plenty of food at present." But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil.

When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger - while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew: It is best to prepare for days of need.

You might think that it is a sign of weakness to get all excited when a storm is looming, literally or figuratively speaking.  Perhaps your attitude is that to flinch, to bug out, demonstrates that you are a rookie.  If you can't stand the heat stay out of the kitchen, and all of that.

Maybe your situation isn't that dire.  Perhaps you are resisting asking a question because you don't want to look stupid or foolish.  How much time and how many resources will you waste if you don't ask it? 

You can hurt yourself and your business by staying in bunker mentality all of the time, afraid to peek your head out over the top to see whether the storm is still raging.  But there are times when the consequences of inaction are dire enough that it's important to make like an ant and get to work.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The shape and size of your baggage

"He sure is carrying a lot of baggage."  "She would be great to date if she didn't have to bring up all of her baggage all of the time."

Baggage Claim by wbirt1
Baggage Claim, a photo by wbirt1 on Flickr.
Rule #1 about baggage:  Everybody has some - it's only the size, shape and weight that varies.
Rule #2 about baggage:  You can choose not to carry your old baggage everywhere you go.  You can decide to replace it with new lighter, brighter luggage that will take you where you want to go.

The weight commonly referred to as "baggage" is the total of your negative, self-limiting attitudes and habits of thought.  But where did it come from?

From Julie Poland's e-book Secret Messages:

"The human mind is an amazing thing. Like other complex mammals, humans are designed to live in the care of parents for a long time.  There is so much growing to do, and so much to learn.  During the first few years of your life you learn how to walk, talk, hold a spoon, ride a bike, climb steps, make a friend, and hundreds of other bits and pieces of knowledge and skill that help you function as a human being. 

You absorb all of this information and put it in long-term storage.  Twenty years or more after you first learned to roller skate you can brush the dust off your skills and do it again.  It’s incredible to consider how much of this information is inside, waiting and ready for the moment you will need or want to put it to use.  What’s more, this internal reference library of your memory doesn’t distract you from the things and events that are right in front of you.  It just waits.

You use certain pieces of this information every day: how to brush your hair, how to hold a fork, how to button a button, where to find foods that need to be kept cold or frozen.  Your knowledge is so well ingrained that you don’t even have to be aware that you’re accessing the information – you use it unconsciously.

It wasn’t easy to acquire the basic set of knowledge and skills you use every day.  Your parents held you gently by the hand and guided you.  They repeated difficult words so you could model the sounds and they pointed to the objects the words represented.  They balanced you as you took your first steps, and held you up during the first fifty times that you stumbled and fell.

Almost all of the things you learned then that you still know today, you learned through a process of repetition.  You tried, failed, tried again, failed again and so on until you mastered them.  Your parents’ patience was sometimes tested when you didn’t remember (again) to wash your hands with soap after using the bathroom, or when you left the front door standing open and the dog escaped from the house.  They reminded you when you didn’t automatically say thank you when you opened a birthday present from a grandparent.  They prompted you, over and over, until you knew what to do and did it every time.

Most of us heard words of encouragement from our parents, and congratulations when we conquered something new.  Some of their messages to us were things to do, like to pick up our clothing off the floor.  Many of them were things we should not do, to keep us safe.  Some of them were words of frustration or disappointment.

“Good boy, Joey!  You are such a big boy!”

“Why are you such a pest?”

“You are the laziest kid I have ever seen!”

“Never cross the street without holding my hand!”

“Don’t talk with your mouth full.”

“Don’t spend your money all in one place.”

“You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

In addition to the skills and knowledge you learned and now retain in your subconscious, your brain has stored these messages too.  They have become your attitudes, your habits of thought.  They, like skill information, wait for the moment when the situation warrants, then they pop to the surface and affect your actions.  Your parents’ words often wind up coming to life in your behavior.

We didn’t only learn by being told; we also learned by observing.  Our parents weren’t always aware that we learned from them that bosses are mean, or that football is the most important thing about Sundays.  We learned that wives are meant to be kissed - or shouted at.  We learned that money is an abundant resource for security and enjoyment – or it is scarce, and those who have a lot it are not to be trusted.  We watched them make dinner for a sick neighbor - or swear at a referee.  We saw them drink beer - or pray."

Regardless of the messages that you learned as a child, you can put your old baggage down - you can reform your habits of thought - but you have to make a conscious decision to do so.  Those worn-out bags were built up through a process of repetition, and you can use the same process to form new ones.  You can choose to carry thoughts - luggage - with you that is lighter, brighter, and wheeled.  You can choose to acquire the habits of thought that are congruent with the direction in which you are going.
One more thought - you can't do anything about the baggage that the guy or gal next to you is carrying.  You might be able to help them to add some new luggage - bright and light like yours - but they have to choose to put the old ones down to make room for something new.  You can notice their skills, call attention to their achievements, etc.  But ultimately it's each person's choice what sizes and shapes of baggage they will carry.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It's the first day

Boarding by carrier
Boarding, a photo by carrier on Flickr.
In our neck of the woods it's the first day of school today.  The kids and their parents will be back into their routines (thank heaven!) and back into intentional brain-growing mode.

Vacation is fun, a break and a refreshment, time to recharge and follow your own agenda on your own timeframe.  But for the kids in my house at least, the days start to wax long and the ideas for fun things to do start to run short.

Now it's the first day.  A feeling of progress, moving to a new age and stage, appreciating the achievements that came before in preparation for the new challenges that await.  The first day gives the opportunity for a clean slate - new friends to meet and a new teacher who does not yet know that you have kept a messy desk or forgot your homework or overslept.  No matter what grades you earned last year, this year - starting today - you have the opportunity to make new choices.

The changing of the grades, of schools, provides a clear-cut opportunity to break with what was and build upon it at the same time.  But what about those of us who don't take three months off or change offices, not to mention buildings?

For every person it's the first day today.  The successes and failures of yesterday, last week, and last month are history.  Today you can - you must - throw them over your shoulder, take your actions and make your decisions based upon today's conditions, within the context of your vision for tomorrow. 

As an adult in the worplace there is no teacher in the front of the room to grade all of your actions and to tell you that you have progressed to the next class, or to the top reading group.  Sure, your boss might promote you, but how often does that really happen?  Are you still waiting for the authority figure to tell you that you have performed well in order to believe that it's true?

As you look forward to today, your first day, how will you generate performance feedback for yourself?  How will you help yourself to know whether you are on track and doing an effective job?  What are the results you are focused on today?

Today - right now - is your first day, your fresh start, your opportunity at a do-over.  So what are you going to do about it?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A thought-provoking convergence

Human rights have been a big topic in the global news lately, but race relations in particular have been on my mind.   My book club read the bestselling novel The Help a few months back, and I HAD to see the movie this past weekend when it came out. The film was wonderful, pretty faithful to the book, and although the characters are vividly drawn in the book, there's something extra that can be added by seeing them visually represented and hearing them saying their familiar lines.

The movie (and the book) reminded me that although the Civil War is now 150 years ago and the book's storyline took place 50 years ago during some of the most contentious times of the Civil Rights Movement, the battle for equal treatment and self-respect is still not over for many people.  I think the book should be required reading in 20th-century history classes, or at the very least the movie would bring a sense of perspective.  If you don't experience it, it's harder to see injustice when it's happening.  And of course if you don't notice it, you won't do anything about fixing it.

Yesterday, on impulse, my family decided to spend the girls' second-to-last summer vacation day in Washington, DC.  They love the museums in the Smithsonian Institution, and it's only a 2-hour drive from home.  It was a beautiful, sunny day, a bit too cool to swim - and they have been swimming a lot since June  (translation:  they are sick of it).  In addition, over the summer many of the DC museums are open for extended hours - until 7:30 p.m. - so even though we decided to go at the last minute we knew that we could make the trip worthwhile.

Once our 15-year-old suggested the trip and I jumped on the idea, hubby dear remembered that the new Martin Luther King Memorial would be open to the public for the first time yesterday.  That was the final decider as we raced home, grabbed some lunch and goodies for the trip, and headed to Washington.

The toughest choice we had to make all day was whether to visit the MLK Monument first, or to save it for later in the day, when the evening light would show it best on photos.  We opted to hit the American History Museum first, and save the monument for the icing on our day.  If you are within easy traveling distance to Washington and don't often visit there, you're missing something awe-inspiring.  We are museum fans, and learning some intriguing new information seemed apropos to warm up the girls' brains right before the start of school.  But the size and architecture of the buildings and monuments surrounding the National Mall is awe-inspiring, even before you go inside.  And of course they are free of charge to visit.

The girls got so involved in the exhibits at the museum that it was evening before we left.  We had a picnic supper on the Mall, watching dozens of joggers pass by singly and in small herds, ears plugged into the ubiquitous iPods.  A group was throwing Frisbee (which brought back memories of his twenties to my spouse,) and another group had organized a kickball game.  As we ate, the sun dipped lower and lower over the horizon, reminding us that Summer IS drawing nearer to a close, even though it's officially not over until mid-September.  Would there still be enough light to see the monument?
We piled into the car and navigated the downtown traffic to the Tidal Basin area.  We drove past a LONG line of people waiting to get in to see the new monument, and the younger of our girls, legs already aching from three hours of museum-hopping, bemoaned the idea of standing for one more minute.  So we found a parking spot along Potomac Park and took an end-around, walking on the edge of the Tidal Basin, ducking under sagging branches from the cherry trees that line its banks. 

Suddenly as we turned a corner we were rewarded by the emergence of the giant portrait of Martin Luther King, purplish in the dusk light and looking out over the reflective water of the Tidal Basin.  Beautiful - and thrilling.  He gazed across, arms folded, at the Jefferson Memorial on the other side of the water.  The gathering darkness didn't detract from the effectiveness of the monument.  For me, at least, it reinforced my sense that the shadows of these struggles for equality are still among us.  King himself is not here, but his words and his spirit - and the need for work like his - are still very much present.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The tool of revolution

Yesterday my husband spent the afternoon on monitter.com
Communication by Xraijs_
Communication, a photo by Xraijs_ on Flickr.
(a site that can follow multiple Twitter feeds) staying on top of developments in Libya.  On Richard Engel's Twitter stream (@richardengelnbc) the flow of the action was not being interpreted by the journalist - other contributors were providing a continous feed to his site.

Anyone with a smart phone can now be a part of making history.  A young man climbing to the top of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo to replace an Israeli flag with the Egyptian one has been transformed (elevated?) by connected onlookers to a Twitter hashtag - #flagman - where postings document his flag-draped ascent, broadcast his arrest and call for his release.

A few months back, @reallyvirtual (Sohaib Athar) was an IT tech until he unwittingly documented the entry of Special Forces into the compound of Osama bin Laden.  The world became eyewitness along with him as the operation unfolded.

The smartphone has become far more than a businessperson's convenience, or a technology-lover's toy.  Its role in newly unfolding history is as a catalyst for group movements.  It allows intelligence to be shared immediately among thousands, even millions, of participants.  It enables local and regional developments to occupy a global stage.  And it perpetuates a contributor-based information stream that defies censorship and third-party editorializing.

The management of the message has long been one of the major functions of governments around the world.  But with the advent of smartphones and applications like Twitter, Facebook, HootSuite and Monitter, no longer can leaders pacify the masses by telling them that everything is OK, or that their country is returning to the "before" state of normalcy.  Instead the masses are talking among themselves, and they are sharing on-the-street data about what is really happening.  Together they are forming a mighty force for change.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Your ring could cost you a job opportunity

18 carat diamond engagement ring by diamond_girl_77
18 carat diamond engagement ring,
a photo by diamond_girl_77 on Flickr
It happens in the traditional young woman's fairy tale all of the time - her young man asks her to become his wife and presents her with an engagement ring.  She and her friends are all a-twitter because it's a ROCK - a big honking diamond ring.  It supposedly demonstrates her value to him, but also his current prosperity and future prospects.  What could be wrong with that?

Beside the fact that the dream of the hand-held satellite dish (big round diamond) creates the potential for unrealistic expectations and disappointment, a recent article in the Washington Post says that a ring that's too big can cost a woman a job opportunity.

Imagine this scenario:  a woman is applying for a job at a nonprofit organization.  The interviewer is distracted by the intermittent flashing of the engagement bling.  In addition, the nonprofit works with economically disadvantaged individuals.  The interviewer becomes skeptical that a) this person will be able to relate to the organization's clients, and b) she has enough money already and so doesn't really need this job.

Of course the ring has nothing to do with the woman's qualifications, capabilities, or with the applicant's motivation to do an outstanding job.  This revolves around the societally-based assumptions about what the ring means.  Regardless of whether the conclusions drawn are correct or incorrect, this woman is better off leaving her engagement ring at home.

Does this seem shallow to you?  Perhaps it is.  But it's gut check time.  Would you be accepting and welcoming to a candidate who was not neatly groomed when they came in to an appointment?  Would you draw certain conclusions if a man wore an awful tie, or if a woman's skirt was only barely long enough to cover the critical parts?  Would you intentionally hire someone who was outside the usual parameters of your company's image?  It's not the garment or the hairstyle - it's what these things represent in your attitudinal framework that matters to you.  They are symbolic of other characteristics to you - self-image, seriousness, conservatism or liberality, creativity, prosperity, even morality.

Whether it's a job interview, a presentation, or a first date, you are sending messages before you say word #1.  You are sending them through your clothing, your promptness (or lateness,) even by the amount of space you consume.  Because these nonverbal messages are also being interpreted nonverbally (the other person will probably not tell you what they are thinking,) you might not have an opportunity to correct or overcome the messages your nonverbal communication is sending. 

Why create unnecessary variables, completely avoidable obstacles for yourself?  Who would have thought that an engagement ring could mean no job for you today?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Choosing your age

3/13/10 Birthday Girl 100 Years Old by dlv1
3/13/10 Birthday Girl 100 Years Old, a photo by dlv1 on Flickr.
How old are you really?  This lady was celebrating her 100th birthday when the photo was taken, and except for the number on her tiara "you would never know it."  What does that mean?
What do you expect of others (or of yourself) at a certain age?  Wrinkles?  Gray or bald head? Slack muscles?  A rocking chair?  How about skydiving, or taking a college class?  How about backpacking or running a triathlon?
The age of your body
It's a thrill when the wiiFit game calculates your wiiFit age - the drums roll and your little mii stands in the spotlight awaiting the verdict.  Ta da!  Your wii age is 7 years younger than your chronological one.  Youth itself isn't the point - it's knowing that your body will perform the tasks that you need it and want it to do successfully.
You can't control everything about your health, but you can influence it through the choices you make about being active, eating and sleeping right, managing stress and keeping appointments for preventive health care.  Obvious, right?  But this is one of those topics on which the gap between knowing and doing can be a chasm.
Aside from eating your veggies and taking your vitamins, how old do you act?  Do you choose the tennis match at the park with a friend or the show on TV?  Do you challenge yourself, or do you keep your activities in a familiar groove?  Are your choices allowing rust to accumulate in your joints and atrophy to sap your muscles of their strength?  You might not notice it now, but on the day that you do you will have a lot more work to do to catch up and bounce back than you would to maintain - starting today.
Reinvigorating the brain
How old is your information?  For what purposes do you take in new knowledge?  Is your world expanding or contracting mentally right now?  I work with a lot of retired businesspersons through SCORE, and a few in particular stand out as being the technological knowledge bases for our chapter.  One gentleman, Wally, is in his nineties, is still quite active mentoring new businesses and in the leadership of our chapter - and he does his own grocery shopping. 
If you are regularly saying, "We have never done it that way" or "That won't work," you're demonstrating that your brain is getting old.  It's becoming, in my one friend's words, "like concrete - all mixed up and permanently set."  Try things, experiment - most of the time you're not going to fall off of the side of a hill, and some of the time you - even you - are going to learn something.
If your kids are grown and out of the house now you have an opportunity for a second act.  Education isn't something that has to be relegated to the teens and twenties.  So what if you don't use it for your work?  Learn more about something that interests you, about which you have a passion.  Create new pathways.  That will keep your brain young.  (Alzheimers and other forms of dementia are physiological conditions.  We're making no representations here about the impact of these activities on these diseases.)
Refreshing the attitudes
If you have notions about what a person at age 40, 50, 60, 70 and beyond should be like, think again.  Years ago, there was only one likely place to find an 85-year-old - underground.  But these are habits of thought, not necessarily factual.  Now you find even the older old in workplaces, in restaurants, on cruises and tours, in athletic competitions and on college campuses.
With whom do you choose to spend your time?  If you want to stay current and think like a young person, go where they go.  Hang out with them.  Sure, you might have decade upon decade more life experience than they do, but not all of the new and amazing ideas have been invented yet.  Sometimes the brain with the most current information and the fewest experiential filters is the one that can be the most successful at innovation.  If you're an "older person," whatever that age is in your mind, you might be more experienced, but you might be surprised at how smart the young people are. 
Great-Aunt Bernice was a funny lady, witty and pulling no punches.  She was 84 when I spoke last with her (now 30 or more years ago,) but she made a huge impression.  Perhaps she liked to shock people, but it was quite refreshing to hear such bold language coming from a pint-sized lady with a bun in her white hair.  "That nice young motorcycle rider needed a place to stay, so I told him he could stay at my house until he got back onto his feet."  Aunt Bernice friends with a biker? (I envisioned a surly, scary gang member.)  At the time the thought boggled my mind, but I remember that even then I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.
You can't control everything, and your aging process is no exception.  But you can make choices that will help you to optimize your enjoyment of life and your contribution to the world in which you live.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Do you hop onto the bandwagon?

The Grand Columbia Bandwagon by jdcow
The Grand Columbia Bandwagon, a photo by jdcow on Flickr.
How do you make a determination of what you are going to do, what you are planning to buy, read, watch on television?  What criteria have you used to choose where you are going to live?  Do you have a tendency to hop onto the bandwagon?
The bandwagon used to carry the circus band, leading the parade when the show came into town.  The bandwagon created noise and excitement, and people (children and adults) would run alongside and follow it to the big circus tent.  The bandwagon's goal was to help to sell tickets.
Hopping onto the bandwagon is a euphemism now for people who go along with what everybody else is doing.  The bandwagon is popular, and often so because it seems exciting.  And if everyone else is doing it, it must be good, right? 
Not necessarily.  Consider these:
  • The intention of the original bandwagon was to make money by carrying people along in the emotional excitement of the moment.  Many of today's bandwagons do so because of the profit motive as well.  How many children think that you "have to" own a wii, or and ipod, or an Xbox, or a (fill in the blank). Commercials often use the bandwagon premise that "everybody who is anybody has one."  Their goal is simple:  to encourage you to part with your hard-earned cash.  You could go so far as to say "Beware the bright and sparkly things," because their intention may be to distract you via emotion from what is really (or really not) there.
  • Don't confuse popular with proven or successful.  People tend to enjoy novelty, variety, and so they are often willing to try methods or products if only for a change of pace.  It doesn't mean that these items or methods will work for you, or work at all.  Sometimes the trends come and go so fast that their true impact - positive or negative - never has time to be fully proven.  The people will have moved on to the next new thing, and the next.  Remember the grapefruit diet?  Those mandatory at-one-meal magic food combinations that burned fat while you slept?  Snake oil, anyone?
  • Bandwagon-jumpers are followers.  Perhaps this should have been the first point. Leaders set their own destinations and establish their own desired results.  Sure, unexpected opportunity can be a part of success, but how do you know whether this opportunity right here is good for you?  You need the context of a destination, an outcome to determine whether you may benefit from it or not.  The bandwagon is headed where IT wants to go.  Your intended destination is irrelevant.  Actually, the bandwagon's job is to divert you from your intended destination.
  • Where is innovation on the bandwagon?  There is none, and this harms you and your business, because your competitive edge comes partly from having something that nobody else has.  The process that some companies call benchmarking can sometimes morph into a form of bandwagon jumping.  Market intelligence about what everybody else is doing can lead some companies to change themselves to be more like the market leaders.  Most times they will only be a faded version of the original.  Perhaps they need to be the opposite thing in order to make their own niche in the market.  If the biggest boys are playing football and you are small, perhaps you would have more success playing soccer.  Play your game if you want to have a better chance of winning.
If you are looking for company, perhaps the bandwagon is the place for you to be, because good or bad, cheesy or high quality, there will be other people already there.  Perhaps your own product or service could benefit from a bit of "everybody is doing it" as a promotional concept.  But day to day and moment to moment, the most effective methods are likely NOT to be sparkly and quick - they are more likely to be plain and basic - fundamentals.  Not glamorous, not noisy, and perhaps not popular with everybody else.  But if the result is more important to you than the crowd, they are the vehicles to choose to take you there.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

If it is to be, it is up to......

Tattoo by JD | Photography
Tattoo, a photo by JD
Photography on Flickr.
The mantra (dare we say cheer?) was repeated over and over again with the group of newly minted salespersons:  "If it is to be, it is up to ...ME!"  The team leader stood up on a chair on the platform at the front of the room, gathering steam.  "Louder!  If it is to be it is up to...."  "ME!" came the shouted reply, repeated faster and faster, with bigger voices until people rose from their seats and pumped their arms into the air.
They were pumped on that day, all tooled up and ready to go.  They gathered strength and inspiration from one another, and the energy rolled through the room.
Fast forward to a few days later, back at the office with suitcases unpacked and the routine back into place.  Somehow there is not time to do all of the things that they were so excited about only a few days ago.  There are problems to solve and competing priorities to handle.  The feeling of "can't" starts to leak into the day.
So the would-be salesperson makes a quick trip to the rest room on the way for a coffee reload and happens to glance in the mirror while washing his hands.  He remembers how invigorated he felt when he was at the sales meeting, and how frustrated he feels now that the luster of the rally has worn off.  He sees a furrow between his eyebrows - a frown, for heaven's sake.  This is not good, he thinks.
Then he remembers, "If it is to be it is up to me."  "If it is to be it is up to me, if it is to be it is up to me, if it is to be it is up to me."  He returns to his desk, forgetting his coffee, and gets to work.  He picks up the phone and starts to schedule appointments.
If "IT" is to be
What is the IT for you?  Unless and until you define what IT is - that result that you want - it will be difficult to determine the best action that you can take.  You might have an easier time defining what you DON'T want, but if you stay there mentally you will be doing the equivalent of turning off the television.  There will be no picture, and therefore no direction.  In addition, the law of attraction says that you draw toward yourself whatever is in your prevailing thoughts.  Dwelling on the things you don't want to have happen will attract them to you.  Thoughts create actions, which create results.
It is up to ME
A lot of the dissatisfaction in the world revolves around what other people are or are not doing for us, to us, etc.  You probably have internal habits of thought (values) about what mothers and fathers do, how bosses and employees behave, and so on.  It would be easier if everyone else a) had the same attitudes and b) followed through and fulfilled the expectations set by those attitudes and expectations.  But they don't.  So, at risk of oversimplifying, you have a choice to make.  Are you going to continue to frustrate yourself by expecting what they can not or will not do or give, or will you deal with them as they are?  What "should be" is a matter of opinion.  What "is" can be observed and measured.
It would be comforting to think that you could change another person's attitude, but the fact is that you can't.  Yes, you can have some influence over the climate in which you live and work, and you can choose to interact with them in ways that you know are the most beneficial to your relationship with them.  But ultimately it's every individual's decision whether or not to change behavior.  It's yours too, and your behavior is the only behavior you can control.  Might you be less angry and less frustrated if you just chose to acknowledge that "it is up to me" and then follow up with the appropriate action?
Personal accountability starts at home, and you can see it (or the lack of it) when you look in the mirror.  Every day is another opportunity to meet your own expectations.  "If it is to be it is up to me, if it is to be it is up to me, if it is to be it is up to....."  Go get 'em.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The first step on the road

Long Road Ahead by geoff.greene
Long Road Ahead,
a photo by geoff.greene on Flickr.
I have a lot of admiration for marathon runners.  They go and go, passing limit after limit of reasonable (in whose mind?) endurance.  The training is incredibly demanding, no matter the race.  But most runners will tell you that once they are going they are pulled along by a runner's high.  The endorphins that accompany that level of physical exertion help them manage stress, to think clearly, etc.  They derive a myriad of benefits.  And they are pulled, attracted to do more.
I'm thinking that perhaps the marathon runner isn't the model to think about first thing on a Monday morning.  Perhaps the person to consider is the person choosing to take their FIRST STEP on the road.
So many factors hold them back - the inertia that stems from inaction, destructive or unhelpful habits, their self-image, fear of failing - even fear of succeeding.  They might not have time, or they might not have support from other people.  They might be worried about whether or not they can afford to pursue this course of action.  They might not be certain that the route they are choosing will take them where they want to go.
But despite all of the strands of resistance that try to hold them to their spot, to their "place" in the world, they are stepping out on that road, hopeful, determined, ready to create their future.  The first step takes courage.  It's not until later, perhaps much later, that the person discovers the payoff from his or her adventure. 
For today, it's the squaring of the shoulders, the taking of the deep breath, the look forward at the horizon, and the first step.  The possibilities are limitless.  The potential excitement, knowledge, and reward are still glimmers just out of sight over the crest of the hill.  But without that first step on the road they will remain undiscovered.
On what road are you ready to take the first step?
The Summit coaches help motivated journeyers, whether it's their first step or their thousandth.  The focus, support, and self-discovery available in a coaching relationship can help you to navigate uncertain terrain and sustain your energy.  Visit www.summithrd.com for more information.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Unleashing the full power of your group

bees by enviro warrior
bees, a photo by enviro warrior on Flickr.
Consider the worker bee - she contributes to the health of the hive, and she does so by going out on her own, collecting pollen and bringing it back.  An average hive holds approximately 50,000 of these little workers, each of them making their contributions to the good of the whole, and to the sustenance of the next generation.
Nobody tells the bee where to go to collect her pollen.  Biologists have studied a shaking signal which seems to indicate that work is going to be reallocated to foraging or in-hive activity, but each bee is on her own.
There is often a conflict in organizations when major change is undertaken:  should it be driven by the top, or should it be delegated throughout the individuals in the group?  The word delegation itself describes a situation in which the leader prescribes the activity, even though the worker bee actually executes it.  In delegating it is incumbent upon the leader to know what to do, at least in a general sense.  In addition, there is some variability in the responsiveness of workers that is based upon their buy-in (their want to) related to the completion of the task.
If you are like most people, you probably think that your own ideas are the best.  Same goes for the guy or gal who works next to you.  Rather than fight this tendency, the leader can capitalize on it.  What would happen if you (in the leader role) would let go and allow people to pursue their ideas, their passions?  What would happen if you gave them the room to find their own pollen?
This idea creates unease in the heart of some leaders, who envision anarchy or, perhaps worse, stagnation, in the group as a result of removing their hands from everyday activities.  The leader's perspective depends upon whether his or her habits of thought allow for the possibility of a self-motivated workforce.  He or she might be still operating from mental models of Scientific Management, where control and compliance and small, finite tasks are the mode of operation.  Interestingly, when workers are determining their own courses of action rather than being controlled by their leadership, motivation tends to go up, not down.  The sense of autonomy, of control over their own destiny, leads them to be proactive.  They start to take more initiative because they have an internal attraction to the implementation of their ideas.
So what about the concern about anarchy?  Will the leader lose all control of the group if he or she allows people the space in which to operate autonomously?  The leader doesn't abdicate entirely when employee-driven work becomes the methodology of choice.  In this scenario the leader's role becomes to define the quantity and quality of production needed, or sometimes the general direction  in which the bees are likely to find success.  Complete lack of direction, especially when it follows a history of fear-based leadership, can create the lack of action that leaders worried about.  Employees need a general sense of where the group is headed, and then respond most effectively when they are given the room to determine their own routes to get there.
If employee-led change and improvement is a new concept in your business, understand that the shift will not take place overnight.  While there is job satisfaction in autonomy, there is also fear of making a mistake that will reap negative consequences from one's boss.  In some respects it's easier to sit back and let the boss decide, because that makes the boss accountable for the results.  In more extreme situations where command and control were previously applied in a heavy-handed manner, and where the boss always made the call, it might take some time for employees to start to trust their judgment. 
It can take 1-3 years to change the culture in your company.  During that time there will be resistance, and there will be experiments that succeed and fail.  Management support, training, continuous reinforcement of the intended direction, and the celebration of even small victories along the way will help the employee-driven work environment to take hold.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What do you have in common with a sheepdog?

Scottish sheep herding dog 1 by bluechalk-mco
Scottish sheep herding dog 1,
a photo by bluechalk-mco on Flickr.
First, let's get this out of the way - this post is going to discuss the role of the sheep-herding dog, and is not meant to be a character assassination on workers, comparing them to sheep (wink)...
What happens after you give a work instruction, or you pen the date on your most recent strategic and business plan?  Do you wait to find out later whether or not it was completed?  Does the plan document gather dust in a locked filing cabinet somewhere?  The best plans don't mean a thing if they do not drive action.  But what does that have to do with herding dogs, and with you?
Is your role to be a sheepdog in your company?  The herding dog hangs back, watching the flock carefully.  (Herding dogs are selected for the quality and intensity of their "eye.") The herding dog gets its direction from the farmer - it doesn't decide on its own the direction that the sheep should take. If the flock starts to meander in the wrong direction, the herding dog moves to the outside, guiding the flock toward the desired destination by moving them closer together (and they generally will move to stay out of the dog's reach).
The herding dog is not above making a quick nip in the leg or flank to help move a recalcitrant animal along, but the mouth is not the dog's primary tool.  Watching, influencing, and following while leading are its functions.
The herding dog covers more mileage in a day than the animals that it tends.  It has to be here, there, and everywhere, making sure that the group is continuing to move as a cohesive unit in the direction that the ultimate leader - the CEO/farmer - intends.  The job requires physical stamina, concentration, clear understanding and prompt follow-through on commands.
So - are you a sheepdog?  What methods do you use to provide performance feedback along the way, so that people only have to make minor course corrections (if necessary) at one time, and so the company isn't surprised somewhere down the hill by a goal that isn't met?  And although it wouldn't be advisable to give a literal nip at the heels of a nonperformer, what do you do for extra inspiration when it's evident that someone needs a little bit more in order to get them where you need them to be?
Last thoughts - and then the metaphor can take a rest for now:  who is setting the ultimate direction for the flock?  Is it you - are you the sheepdog and also the CEO/farmer?  Or is one of your job requirements to be as outstanding a follower as you are a leader?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Before you give advice...

Advice by laughlin
Advice, a photo by laughlin on Flickr.
Is giving advice your avocation?  Do people ask you for it, clamor for it?  Some of the most prolific advice-givers do so out of the generosity of their hearts (kind intention,) but then become puzzled that their recommendations are not welcomed or followed.  Eventually, if their internal advice-editor-censor is ineffective enough, the perpetual advice-giver can wind up like the physician with no patients, hearing only the sound of crickets and a dry desert breeze around them.
If you know that you tend to lean toward the advice-giving end of the interpersonal spectrum, it might be important to answer these questions:
  • How often do you give advice, and to whom?
  • Do they request your advice, or do you volunteer it?
  • How do they respond to you advice?  Do they follow it, become defensive, ignore it,.....?
  • Why do you give advice?  Is it because you know more than they do?  How do you know that you do?
  • Have there been changes in your relationship since you started advising them?
People who are perpetual advice-givers are often operating under one or more of these assumptions:
  1. They understand the other person's situation, skills, values, and priorities well enough to prescribe.
  2. They know (better) what course of action to take.
  3. That the advice is welcomed.
Oftentimes the assumptions above are being incorrectly made by the unsolicited advisor.  You don't know all of the background, you may or may not know what "better" means in laying out a course of action, because that has to be defined by the person affected directly by the situation.  As for their openness to advice, many people will tough it out and politely listen when you subject them to your opinion - and then they will go on their merry way.  They won't confront you or argue with you.  They will just go away.  The disadvantage to you in this behavior is that you might not see it until they don't come back.  You might not know just how much your advice machine is interfering with your relationships until you're already paying the price for it.
When you give unsolicited advice, the impact on the other person is that you see yourself as one-up, smarter, more experienced, etc. than they are, and the feeling they get from that is not positive toward you.  It's a different story if you have a negotiated relationship like coach, boss, etc., that gives you the authority to prescribe a course of action.  Or the strength of your relationship with them might open their willingness to hear you, at least right now. Your prior education or experience, once known by the other party, might cause them to invite you to weigh in on a current situation that they are facing.  Just beware the urge to spout your impeccable credentials at every turn - you'll sound like a braggart. 
You might derive psychic benefit, satisfaction, from helping people through your advice.  But consider this last point:  when you advise them and they follow through on it, you are sharing in the responsibility for a positive result.  Even if they don't completely do as you said they should do, both of you will know that the idea came from you.  Do you really want that level of responsibility in someone else's life?  If you want to be an advice-giver, it's better to take two actions first - figure out what you need to do to earn the right to advise people, and get yourself some Errors and Omissions insurance to make sure that you don't place yourself at legal risk if your advice doesn't pan out for them.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What are you going to do about it?

A businessman holding an umbrella in a storm. by jason.wheeler
A businessman holding an umbrella in a storm,
a photo by jason.wheeler on Flickr.
Many, if not most, people resist the idea of change.  Perhaps it's the idea of being changed, of having change thrust upon them.  Change in the abstract might not be very threatening to contemplate, but change in the specific - changing yourself and your behavior - starts a mourning process.
During the mourning (storming) phase of change it is common to overhear comments like, "We're fine - they are the ones who have the problem" or "This will go away in a month or so and things will all be back to normal."  Denial, blame shifting, defensiveness, and passive or active resistance all are symptoms of the grieving process. 
The old ways, no matter how unsatisfactory, are known quantities.  They are familiar, so it's natural to cling to them.  The new path might not yet be known.  It might require a process of discovery, and eventually the discovery process can become energizing and renewing.  But before discovery can happen, you have to let go of the old, the familiar.  It's like pruning a rose bush, where you have to cut off the old blooms and the dead wood in order to see a rebloom and stronger, more beautiful flowers. 
The pruning away of old habits can hurt.  And it's the pain that causes some people to shrink from the change, for some leaders to question whether the decision was correct in the first place.  In the midst of the storm it's tempting to seek the most convenient shelter rather than persist through the storm toward the ultimate destination.
Whether the change is individual or corporate, it ultimately comes down to every individual's moment of truth, where he or she asks, "All things being as they are, what can I do to make it better?"  In this simple question the individual puts on the mantle of personal accountability and starts the journey toward discovery and renewal.
In what parts of your life are you in the midst of a storm right now?  What areas are causing you pain?  Are you resisting letting go, even if you know the habits and environment you are wrapped in right now aren't serving you?  If not you, then who is going to have the courage to straighten their spine and choose growth and purposeful change?  What will happen if you sit on your hands for a while longer?  Will the timing be better for some reason, or the resources more readily in place?  Or are you waiting because you just want it to go away on its own and leave you in peace?
If it were easy everybody would do it.  Are you ready to step out and create the future that you want, even if it's dramatically different than the present that you have?  What are you going to do about it?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Building a wall, brick by brick

Brick Wall by Jamie.Sobczyk
Brick Wall, a photo by Jamie.Sobczyk on Flickr
Have you built your wall on purpose, with intent?  Or has the wall suddenly appeared, from a series of ugly interactions - or the avoidance of them - the accumulated upset and frustration stacked like blocks tall enough that you find yourself behind a mounting pile of impenetrable material?
Walls can serve a purpose.  They can keep you safe from intruders, they can prevent conflicts of interest by blocking sensitive information from passing among groups.  Walls can shelter you from the elements.  Remember the story of the three little pigs - straw and sticks couldn't stand up to the wolf's huffing and puffing, but the brick house stayed firm.

The walls we're talking about today are not physical walls - they are the emotional walls that arise betwen people, that erode relationships and reduce a team's ability to sustain motivation and achieve results.
The Wall of Unintended Words
Sometimes the heat of the moment causes you to say something that you don't really mean.  But once the thought has been expressed it's like an egg, broken in the frying pan.  You can't unbreak the egg and you can't unsay the words.  Some hurtful words will be remembered for years, and brought out on parade for a reprise (and a stab in the gut) during future times of stress.  Your harsh words build a wall of mistrust between you and the other person.  Sometimes you can chip away at the wall by doing nice things for the other person, but the situation and the relationship might require more than one gesture of repentance.  In addition, healing might take time - time that you can ill afford - and the injured party is the one who has control over the timeframe.
The Wall of Withdrawal
There is one benefit to harsh words, unintended or not:  you know where the person stands.  When the person becomes silent, withholding information, you don't know how to respond to keep the wall from growing higher.  Sometimes when you don't want to pile on bricks of unintended harsh words it's tempting to say nothing.  But this does not prevent a wall from being built - it only changes the type of material in it.  This wall is built quietly, sometimes feeling peaceful at first until you realize that it's not lack of conflict that you're experiencing, but rather isolation and detachment.
If you are the person withdrawing, understand that the other person can't improve the situation even if they want to do so without the information they need from you.  Even if you think they should be able to read your mind, or that the situation should be obvious - they can't and it's not.
Preventing Wall-Building
You don't have to agree all of the time to prevent walls from being constructed.  You need to talk things through to solve problems and agree upon actions that will bring you closer to your goals.
  1. Know what your intention is before you start.  Are you seeking to clear the air, to solve a problem, or to gain commitment to your way of thinking?  The purpose of communication is not only to consume and create hot air - it's to influence something, to obtain a certain result.  You need to know what the desired result is.  Knowing your desired outcome won't guarantee success, but it will help you to choose the most appropriate mode, location, etc. for the interaction.
  2. Keep your shared goals in mind.  Even if right now you are angry enough that it feels like your head is going to explode, remember the long view.  You and this person have something in common, and your relationship is important to it.
  3. Describe behavior, don't attack the person.  Actions that seem like irrational behavior in the other person might have some logical and understandable motivation.  You just don't know what it is unless and until you ask about their thought process.  Behavior change is a gift that one person can choose to give to another, but there is only one likely response to a personal attack - self-defense with a counter-attack right behind it.
  4. Keep the topic focused.  Leave the kitchen sink and all of the accumulated hurts and infractions of the past ten years out of it.  This is about what is happening right now, and what you would like to happen moving forward.  Exception:  If this is the final straw you might have to bring in the accumulated effects of a number of prior situations.  But keep them focused in one area.  For example, if you can't abide one more tardiness incident it's fair to bring up the pattern of tardiness and the number of infractions that brought the situation to this point.  It's not helpful, however, to discuss their poor wardrobe choices, cluttered car or other shortcomings that aren't directly related to the discussion at hand.
  5. Do it now.  Conflicts postponed tend to grow.  When you sweep them under the rug they will emerge again.  If you are eating your upset you are likely to explode at some point, out of proportion with whatever inciting event causes the explosion.  And when you don't talk about it you are adding bricks to the wall of withdrawal.