Monday, October 31, 2011

In disguise

Pug In A Pug Costume
Pug in a Pug Costume - a photo by DaPuglet on Flickr
What's your disguise?  Are you wearing it for fun, or for protection?  Has your disguise become such a habit that you don't know what you look like without it?

Fun in disguise
Sometimes it's enjoyable to pretend to be somebody that you are not, even for an evening or a weekend.  Who hasn't employed engineering or camouflage to hide an unsightly middle or graying (or missing) hair?  The surprise of an unexpected or especially pleasing appearance can add spice to a relationship or loosen inhibitions in a social setting.

Of course for some the fun in disguise relates to the fact that everybody else is doing it too.  The costume is all a part of the custom.

Protection in disguise
But sometimes the disguise isn't for entertainment value.  Sometimes the costume is designed to conceal the attributes, physical or otherwise, that you don't think are appealing or even acceptable to others.  When you aren't feeling good about the authentic you, it can be tempting to hide behind a social uniform, certain clothing, jewelry, a sports car, or the like.

Perhaps if you look like everybody else, or like the people you want to attract, they won't know that you don't really measure up.  Perhaps they will never find out that you are only masquerading as someone who is successful or confident.

Disguise as a habit
Once the costume has achieved its desired result - acceptance, attraction, or even acclaim - it's hard to choose not to continue to wear it.  Even when it's not appropriate, the suit or the full makeup can become so much a part of the wearer that it feels strange to see yourself without it.  You continue to put it on even when it doesn't fit the current situation.

Disguise that doesn't disguise
How do you know that your disguise is really concealing the person that you are?  An inauthentic vibe can be sensed by other people.  You have seen it yourself, when the words another person is saying seems out of sync with their body language, or when their behavior doesn't align with their appearance.  Sometimes you look harder, to try to get to know the real person behind the disguise, but sometimes the noticeable presence of the fakery is off-putting enough that you don't feel motivated to try. 

You wonder about the motivation behind another person's disguise.  Are they trying to take unfair advantage of you or others by intentionally misrepresenting themselves?  Or is it only all about them, and their feeling better, more secure, about themselves?

Imagine all of the time and energy you would save if you didn't worry about what costume, literal and figurative, you were going to wear.  The attractiveness of the authentic you is stronger than you realize.  And the ease of not having to work past the costume helps other people shed theirs as well.  How about taking off your mask - and keeping it off?

Friday, October 28, 2011

You and your boss

Is your boss spying on you
Is your boss spying on you,a photo by topgold on Flickr
In the land of business-related soft skills you have more than one set of relationships to manage. If you are in a customer-facing role, your interactions with them can contribute to customer loyalty and sustainability for your company. The employees you lead comprise one relationship category, and your peers are another.  The emotional bank accounts that you accumulate with each of these groups can create either smooth sailing or rocky seas when you are trying to achieve results the workplace.  But you have another relationship to manage, and this one just might trump them all - your relationship with your boss.

When it comes down to it, your boss is your number one customer.  Your relationship with him or her has impact on multiple levels:
  • Your access to "nice to know" information
  • Your access to resources
  • The overall climate of the workplace, which in turn impacts your results and the enjoyment and satisfaction you get through your job, and even people beyond you
  • Its influence on the leadership methods you use with your own staff
  • Your opportunities for career enrichment projects and/or career progression - or the lack thereof
Your boss may or may not exhibit strong soft skills.  In many companies managers are still promoted because of their technical expertise and not necessarily because of their ability to be effective leaders.  Some of them do not model the sorts of methods that you want to emulate.  Some of them still manage through threat and intimidation, and don't make your job easier.  But even if you have a psycho-boss, the following principles can improve your actual performance AND their perception of your performance.

  1. Remember first and foremost that your job is to make them look good.  All of the other principles support this one.
  2. No surprises.  If your boss is to look good, he or she needs to be informed on what's going on in the company.  This applies to bad news as well as good news, and can be even more crucial in cases of bad news.  Sure, you may want to spare them (and yourself) the poke in the reputation and hope that the problem will be solved or go away before you tell them.  But that's risky.
  3. Solve your own problems.  You might be very effective at identifying issues and problems, but that's the easy part.  Develop solutions.  Test them and implement them within your authority level.  Even if you need a go-ahead before you act, have your ideas lined up before you talk to your boss.  Exception:  if there is a crisis with the potential for extensive damage, it may not be a good idea to wait.  Communicate about it to your boss, but also let him or her know that you are on it and will provide timely updates on its resolution.
  4. Inspire trust.  One part of being trustworthy is to make and keep commitments.  Deliver on or before due dates with quality work product.  Another component of trustworthiness is to keep your negative opinions to yourself.  If you are tempted to fuel the grapevine behind your boss's back, you can be certain that it's only a matter of time until the boss will know about it, and will draw conclusions about whose team you are supporting.
  5. Communicate in their language and on their optimal timeframe.  If they respond to data, provide data.  If they are grumpy before 10 a.m., see them in the early afternoon.  If they prefer details, give them, and if they prefer only the bottom line, do that.  If they like reports to be printed on hot pink paper and oriented in landscape fashion, give them that way.  If your goal is to help your boss accumulate positive habits of thought about you it doesn't matter what your preferred modes and times of day are.  Remember, they are your customer, so your job is to be responsive to their needs and to anticipate their preferences.
You might be fortunate enough to work for a boss who is well-developed in emotional intelligence.  This makes your job of creating a positive relationship with him or her easier.  But even the most difficult boss relationship can be improved when you pay attention to managing it.

    Tuesday, October 25, 2011

    There are neither rewards nor punishments

    Venus Fly Trap
    Venus Fly Trap - a photo by superhoopsa on Flickr
    "In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments - there are only consequences." - R.G. Ingersoll

    There are only consequences.  Why then, do we talk in terms of rewards and punishments?

    By definition a consequence is simply the result of a chain of events.  It is the natural outgrowth of conditions or actions.  So by definition a consequence is the order of things.

    The concepts of punishment and rewards arise from the respective values that are associated with consequences.  Take this situation, for example:

    Your child misbehaves, so you send her to her room.  Your action has two different impacts depending upon the age and temperament of the child.  Child number one, who is 6 years old, can't bear to be isolated.  She cries "Nooooo!" at the idea of being separated from the rest of the action and sobs all the way up the stairs.  Child number two, who is 14 years old, dashes happily up the stairs, goes into her sanctuary - er, bedroom - and settles in with her iPod for some alone time.  She locks the door.

    For the first child your applied consequence was interpreted as punishment.  In the second child's case your consequence was welcomed.  Your action derived its value not from the action itself, but from its interpretation by its objects.

    Some consequences are independent of any judge's intervention.  When you don't plant seeds, no crops grow.  If you don't refuel your car and keep driving, eventually the car will run out of gas.  If you don't apply for a job you won't have one.  It is an if....then proposition.

    If your current circumstances are not what you would choose, step back, detach your emotions for a moment and observe the consequences.  The current circumstances are not punishments, they are only outcomes.  You give them greater power, perhaps more than they deserve, by becoming too emotionally overwrought about them.  Then look upstream at the actions you took (or neglected to take) that led to the current situation.  If you want your circumstances to be different you change your actions.

    Easily said, sometimes not so easily done.

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    Coaching for Professionals

    Surgeons at work
    Surgeons at Work,
    a photo by salimfadhley on Flickr
    Is there anyone who is exempt from performance improvement?   How about professionals like surgeons, whose residency has been in the rear-view mirror for years, and whose repetition of procedures has led to an intuitively effective analysis of the patient's situation and execution of intricate technique?

    A recent article by Atul Gawande in The New Yorker asserts that yes, even highly trained professionals in their peak performance years can benefit from coaching.  This goes for surgeons, it applies to experienced educators, and it translates to the business environment as well.

    Gawande's decision to hire a coach stemmed from a feeling that he had plateaued in his performance.  For years he had beat the standards for his procedures.  Then he wasn't beating them any more.

    His perspective on the practice of surgery is that it is a late-peaking career.  A surgeon has to develop the experience and the technique, but also has to have the stamina to be effective even in lengthy and complicated procedures.  But despite the assurance that came from knowing that his practice benefits from time and experience, Gawande didn't want his effectiveness to start to wane.

    In this instance, surgical expertise was important in a coach, although Gawande admits that an effective coach's biggest value is not in his or her technical expertise - it is the ability to observe and listen in a detailed fashion and then to provide feedback.  An effective coach doesn't think on behalf of the coachee - the coach's job is to help the coachee to think.

    Why There is Resistance to Coaching
    Some of the resistance to coaching comes from a prospective coachee's impression that coaching applies only in the case of fair or poor performance.  This mistaken belief is based upon the idea that the coach is going to watch, identify "wrong" behavior and then correct the coachee with the "right" way to do it.  So to hire a coach is, in some minds, an admission of fault.  In some professions like surgery, confidence is a critical component in peak performance.  So the tendency can be to ignore opportunities for improvement so as not to shake one's mojo.

    Client-driven Process
    What coaching resistors don't realize is that they drive the coaching process, not the coach.  The relationship begins with a scope of work conversation where the professional, not the coach, identifies the areas around which the coaching process is going to revolve.  The coaching relationship is initiated by a detailed self-assessment of strengths and areas for improvement.

    Once the coach is provided the context for the coaching relationship, he or she can then pay particular attention to the performance dimensions identified by the coachee.  And the relationship progresses with the coach asking the coachee questions, either about performance they observed directly or situations surfaced by the coachee during a coaching session.  The coach's goal is not to correct the coachee, but rather to help the coachee think about the details of what is working and not working as well as desired within specific performance situations.  The coach may or may not possess technical expertise with which to suggest specific solutions.  But regardless of the coach's training in the coachee's technical field, the optimal situation is where the coachee develops his or her own answers.

    Generalized vs. Specific Observations
    An effective coach breaks performance down into components instead of making generalized observations.  For example, Gawande's coach (a trusted technical expert) identified his draping method as a potential area for attention.  He didn't say, "Gawande, you're not a team player," or "Gawande, you don't drape your patient effectively."  He told the surgeon that his method of draping, although effective for his own accessibility during a procedure, hampered visibility and some access for other members of the surgical team.  He told Gawande which of the team couldn't see or reach well with the drape positioned in Gawande's preferred way.  Gawande changed the position of the drape and was able to improve the team's performance.  He and his coach didn't overhaul Gawande's performance - they fine-tuned it.

    When individuals talk about themselves and others in generalized terms, especially when being critical of performance, the result can be a generalized feeling of inadequacy and failure.  This doesn't serve anyone, and certainly not an already above-average performer.  Performance improvement relies upon an open attitude toward performance improvement, and even professionals with some sensitivity to criticism can respond well when coaches provide feedback specific rather than generalized terms.

    Maximizing Performance
    Good and even outstanding performers are often overlooked when companies select individuals to receive company-sponsored coaching.  When that is the case, is it any wonder that professionals might be reluctant to be recommended for a coaching relationship?  They may look around and perceive that they have been targeted for remedial assistance, even if that is not even close to the case.  In a company-sponsored coaching process, it's very important that all parties understand its purpose, to prevent resistance at the outset from impeding near-term progress.

    Self-sponsored or self-chosen coaching passes by the potentially negative perceptions.  The self-sponsored coachee approaches the relationship from a perspective of self-improvement, even self-interest.  It is a personal choice, and therefore the coachee's openness tends to be greater from the outset than is sometimes the case for a company-sponsored situation.

    Professional athletes use coaches to optimize performance and extend their peak earning years as long as possible.  Opera stars continue their vocal coaching throughout their careers.  Why should professionals in medicine, education, or business be any different?

    Friday, October 21, 2011

    Clean Up Your Own Mess

    Clean up your own mess...
    Clean up your own mess...
    a photo by theoriginalbman on Flickr
    Ok, so you've spilled some chocolate milk.  Grab a towel and clean it up.  What are you waiting for?  You're old enough and tall enough to do it yourself.  (My in-laws told their kids they were old enough and ugly enough to do it.  I suppose that got the kids' attention.)

    Mistakes happen, and if we're looking at them properly we're learning from them and preventing ourselves from making them again.  Errors and shortcomings are part of the growth and achievement process, though, and that means that there are going to be occasions where boo-boos are going to leave you red-faced - either literally or figuratively speaking.

    Why clean up your own mess?
    Cleaning up, making things right, is a part of taking responsibility for your results.  You could ask someone to do it for you, but then you wouldn't be able to learn from the fallout of your mistake.  You wouldn't ever find out, for instance, just how hard it is to remove an old chocolate stain from your best white shirt.  The process of scrubbing that shirt yourself until the last remnants of the brown splotch disappears will burn the spill and its consequences into your brain.  You will feel victorious about fixing it.  You will have learned valuable information about stain removal.  And once you have that stain-fighting experience you likely will take measures not to do it again.

    From a customer loyalty perspective or even a personal relationship perspective, a prompt and graceful recovery from a mistake can actually strengthen the bond between you and the other person.  Your actions to make things right will communicate that you are sorry better than words could do, and potentially more importantly, the energy you invest will communicate to the other person that they are valuable to you.

    Why not clean up somebody else's mess?
    There are reasons to help, and reasons to make a point of not stepping in.  Early on in life or in their career an individual might not have the tools with which to solve a problem that arises - even one that they create.  It might be helpful to step in then to create a better pathway, a better habit, before the mistake becomes ingrained through repetition.  Stepping in can also contribute to the confidence for that person to step into unfamiliar territory - they know they have you for backup.

    But after a point, the other person is not fully responsible if you don't allow them the opportunity to deal with both the upside and downside results of their actions.  You are potentially wasting time and resources if you are checking every piece of work for them.  Checking and auditing activities are rework, and if you are a supervisor or manager you're too expensive per hour to the company to sustain this type of task.

    It can be tempting to clean up after someone else because you want them to be able to look good, or to save face.  Whether you like them or not, whether they are your family or not, whether they are your boss or not, ultimately they are not helped to become more effective if you are stepping into their mistakes, problems, and messes.  Talk to them in private about the mistake, make them aware of building trends or common threads that could help them going forward.  But when you perpetually fix it for them you are telling them that they are not capable of doing it correctly themselves.

    Creating the opportunity for messes
    It can be tempting to try to control everything.  Certainly there are some messes with ramifications so large that they could be devastating if not prevented.  But the vast majority of mistakes are just mistakes, and they help people learn faster.  Why not give them the room to learn hands on?  Remove the fear that is associated with making mistakes.  It is in experimentation that improved, even transformational methods, products and services are created.  And to shut that down for the sake of preventing a little bit of spilled milk is to close the door to a better future.

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    Guilt is your friend, shame is not

    Murphy, Silly dog, Guilty dog?
    Murphy, Silly dog, Guilty dog? a photo by Grimmgirl3 on Flickr
    You know when your doggy has done something wrong - he hides, cowers, dips his head and shows you those big brown eyes that make your heart melt.  Sure, your sock is now in shreds or the leg of the kitchen chair has brand new tooth marks, but it's hard to stay angry with a face like that.  Your puppy appears to feel guilty, and that's the important thing.  He knows he did wrong and he's sorry.

    When you feel guilty it's because you have done or are doing something that is inconsistent or out of alignment with your values and beliefs, or against an external moral standard.  Something else - self-interest or a bit of temporary pleasure, perhaps? - motivated you to make a choice.

    You won't feel guilty unless you recognize that the choice or the behavior is wrong, as defined by you or by someone else whose opinion matters to you. 

    Moments of guilt are when you go into parent ego state, judging your actions.  "How could you do that?  You know that was cheating/lying/violating your diet/hurting their feelings!"  Guilt creates an internal negative dialogue, with the intention to cause you to fly right next time and avoid the extra emotional baggage. 

    The bulk of your values and beliefs are conditioned into you.  The most deeply seated ones have been with you since you were a preschooler, the result of early messages from your primary caregivers.  So the internal voice of guilt contains an element of other people (probably your parents) and their values.

    So guilt can be your friend.  When you feel a pull in your gut, it's telling you to stop what you're doing.

    Shame, on the other hand, may have nothing to do with what you are doing or what you have done.  Shame is feeling badly about who you are, that somehow you are not enough or are not worthy.  Sometimes its origins are from a long time ago, sometimes in abuses that go back to childhood, and you might need the assistance of a counselor or other trusted person to talk to in order to get to the bottom of it. 

    The shameful element of you is a secret that you keep, to the point that you might even speak out against the very quality that you possess.  An interesting article about shame can be found here.  There have been a number of celebrities and political figures in the news who are "protesting too much" about homosexuality, for instance, and later have been found to be homosexuals themselves, in denial and in shame about it.

    Guilt and shame are both negative emotions that prevent you from being the powerful, undiluted, unique you.  Hiding them won't get you to the place that you want to go.  They won't dissipate - rather, they will lurk under the surface and pop out from time to time.  You need to take them out, examine them and their sources, and then you will be able to move forward more effectively and with more peace of mind.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011

    Your personal toolkit for change

    Change Direction
    Change Direction, a photo by Envisage on Flickr
    What has worked for you when you have decided to change?  What methods have helped you to be successful in shedding old habits and adopting new, more beneficial ones?  For today we're talking about the personal changes, the ones that may or may not be visible to anyone other than you when you look into the mirror in the morning.

    Preparation for Change
    You might be thinking about the change right now, but not quite ready to take action on it.  Preparation involves a weighing of the "should" reasons and the "want to" reasons.  Generally the "should" reasons don't truly inspire change - they tend to result in guilt from not changing, but they aren't strong enough to overcome habits that have some form of satisfaction attached to them, however destructive or unhelpful they might be.

    You might need to experience some sort of "aha" moment in order to notice the urgency of change calling you.  Or smaller events might start to pile up into a critical mass to become more noticeable.  This might not be a quick part of the process.

    Belief in the Possibility of Change
    In team development sessions I've issued the challenge, "I will give $5 to the first person who comes to the front of the room and shakes my hand," and nobody moves.  Nobody, despite the $5 incentive.  I assure you that I have showered, and rarely have I kicked or spit on someone (on purpose, anyway.)  They didn't come forward because they thought the offer was a scam.  They couldn't believe that someone would arbitrarily give money away.  They did not act because they didn't believe.

    Evidence helps to build belief.  When you hear success stories, or read case studies or lab results, you can start to build a connection between doing the necessary action and achieving the desired results.  Unless you really want to change and your current circumstances are desperate enough for you to run away from them no matter what, you'll sit and wait until you see a path that might work for you.  Only then will you start to take the action that will result in change.

    Structure and Process for Change
    Different people respond well to different types of structure and process when pursuing change.  A number of them are listed here in case you are struggling with change and want to try a new way of going about it.
    • Rules and guidelines - It can be freeing to limit your options.  At least at the beginning, you can focus on your motivation and not worry about every choice - they are made for you.  Of course, you probably want evidence that the rules and guidelines are effective before you turn yourself over to them.  Spas have schedules and pre-selected foods, for instance.  You show up at the door, strap yourself into the program, and off you go.  The challenge in the lock-step approach can be the transition back into the rule-less outside environment.
    • Peers and buddies - Accountability partners can be an effective method for instituting change.  Even if you have a tough time meeting your commitments to yourself, you may be willing to do so for another person.  In addition, it is helpful to some people to know that they are not alone, that there are other people who have surmounted the same challenges that they have. 
    • Goals and plans - Change is an amorphous word.  What does it mean for you, and how will you know when you have achieved it?  Define it in specific, measurable terms, and then develop a game plan.  Write your plan down so you won't lose sight of it in the thick of daily busyness.  A written plan creates absolutely no guarantee that events will follow without surprise or setback.  But in planning you can address known and potential obstacles, thus reducing their power to hold you back.
    • A Coach -  A coach's job is to help you to see yourself as you are now, and to "hold the bicycle upright" for a while for you as you start to define and learn your new path.  This is your change, so you need to be the one riding and balancing.  But the coach is informed about the methods that can help change happen, and if one doesn't work for you they can help you to find another without losing time and momentum.
    • A Place to Go - Some people respond well to having a "place" where they focus on the change.  One person might exercise at home, but another might stay more consistent when they go to a gym or recreational facility.  Church is, for many, a place where they focus on spiritual growth.  It doesn't replace prayer and meditation during the week, but it helps believers structure the focus into their weeks, making sure it will happen.
    None of these tools is a guarantee of success.  You can have effective process and structure, but if your desire for change is not enough, you still might not do whatever is necessary to help it happen.  It's been documented that some people won't change their diets or exercise even when told by their doctors that they will die if they don't.  Perhaps for them death is not a horrible option.  But more likely it's the temporal pleasure associated with the short-term behavior that prevents them from dedicating themselves to the long-term benefit.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    You know who you are

    Lao Tzu Center of Being by AngSocialMed
    Lao Tzu Center of Being, a photo by AngSocialMed on Flickr.
    If there were ever a question that served as an instant setup, it would be, "What do you think I should do?"  It opens the door to the would-be advice giver, who may or may not have education or information to be of real assistance. 

    And what happens after the solicited advice is given?  The very person who asked for it evaluates it, debunks it, discounts it, then goes on his or her merry way.  Sometimes individuals and companies pay thousands and thousands of dollars for advice and then ignore it.  (Ironically, the perceived value of the advice goes up with the amount of money invested in it, not by the quality of the advice itself.)

    Technical knowledge aside, why ask someone else what you should do?  They will have to answer you through the lense of their own experiences, not yours.  They will have their own resources of skill and knowledge, but they will filter them through their own value system.  Their answer, by definition, is not your answer.  It comes from their context, not from yours.

    Two heads can create more than the sum of the parts, but ultimately your question is about you, not about "we."  There are certain times at which your answer needs to be completely yours, one that fits you like a second skin.  And nobody but you can give that to you.  You need to look inside yourself to find it.

    It might be more comfortable to hear the reassurance that comes from an outside source, particularly from an outside expert in the subject in question.  But the expert is not the one who is going to follow through.  In that expertise are you looking for data with which to make your own decision, or are you creating an accountability reliever in case your decision doesn't create the results that you wanted to see?

    You can trust yourself.  If up until now you haven't acted in alignment with the way you want to be, check the influences that are pulling you off track and get back on your program, no matter how many times you have already faltered.  If you see failure as educational and temporary rather than final and an end, you can falter time and time again and not be deterred.  You take another step in your chosen direction, within your chosen value system.

    Making choices that nobody else is making, or choosing paths that friends and family don't quite understand can be difficult.  But if you borrow someone else's vision for you, you will have more difficulty following through.  You will be pushing forward rather than allowing yourself to be pulled by a compelling vision - your compelling vision.  Look inside for the answer.  You know who you are.  You know what you want.  It's yours.

    Monday, October 17, 2011

    Sustainability Is Not A Trend

    Is your company currently in the process of implementing a sustainability strategy?  No need to crunch your granola, or to run outside and hug a tree.  Environmental impact is a real issue with real implications on the future of your business and the future of the planet that we share, but green impact is only one component in the sustainability picture.
    One of the delays for some businesses in choosing to move forward on a green strategy is that it doesn't seem to have competitive impact.  Investment in green technology reads like an expense to many executives, not like an item that will return enough financially in the short run to make it worthwhile.  And after all, aren't many executives held accountable primarily on the basis of quarter-to-quarter financial results?
    A sustainability strategy encompasses more than green, more than environmental interface.  It involves the alignment of people and process as well.  For example:
    • Succession Planning - Aging leadership won't be around indefinitely.  In closely held companies the leadership is often experienced even with the most basic of technical functions, and because of the growth of the company, tomorrow's leaders won't come with the same experience.  Tomorrow's leadership will need to be developed, to be prepared, before they are called to larger responsibilities.
    • Updating/upgrading of Production Capacity - Businesses with fully depreciated assets have been benefiting from strong cash flow, postponing reinvestment for a variety of reasons.  But without preventive maintenance and planned replacement of equipment, production continuity is ultimately placed at risk.
    • Assessing Funding Sources - The continuing covering of operating losses via debt funding can only last so long before the lender is no longer to take the risk, or before the company can no longer handle the month-to-month service on the debt. Unless and until the root causes of the operating losses are identified and corrected, the business is not sustainable.
    • Performance Management Systems -  Sustainable performance is best achieved when workers are well matched with their roles, given clear expectations, trained to meet the expectations, and held accountable for results.  Fear motivation doesn't create sustainable performance, because workers become calloused over time.  Incentive motivation is also temporary - bonuses quickly become integrated into financial expectations and only serve to demotivate when they shrink.
    Sustainability is not a trend.  Its purpose is to create the foundation for a strongly performing going concern.  If you do not yet have a sustainability strategy in place it may be high time that you start to develop one.

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    Lessons from Mike Sleppin

    Michael Sleppin is Senior Partner at Paradigm Associates LLC, a performance improvement firm headquartered in New Jersey.  His more than 20-year tenure with Paradigm follows diverse business experience, including being a COO with international reach, a conference speaker, and a syndicated columnist.  His Paradigm client base spans 27 industries, including transportation, construction, services and distribution.

    Summit has had the privilege of Mike's friendship ever since we began back in 1990.  He still is an active contributor to the affiliates of Resource Associates Corporation, where he has gladly shares his years of experience and insights to help their businesses (and their clients' businesses) grow stronger.

    Seeing Mike yesterday brought back memories of some of our favorite "Sleppinisms":
    • On sales prospecting, "If you're in the orange juice biznezz (that's how he says it), you'd better have plenty of oranges."
    • On choosing your target market:  "Go to the places where you have something in common with the people you are selling to.  It will make the process of developing credibility and a relationship much easier."
    • On sales tools:  "I don't use a computer.  You don't need a computer to be successful in sales.  All you need is a phone and a car."
    • On being prompt:  "My appointment wasn't until eight, but I was up - so I went over there."
    • On time management:  "Start scheduling in your least productive hours of the day.  Preserve your best productivity hours for yourself and the tasks you know you need to do.  For me that means scheduling my first appointment in the late afternoon, and work backwards from there so I keep my mornings clear."
    You might expect that Mike could be a bit full of himself, given the level of success he has achieved, but in that you would be wrong.  One of his most engaging lessons is one he doesn't tell, but rather is one you observe.  While he has amassed the resources that could probably enable him to buy and sell most of us, he's not flashy.  He lives in a lovely gated community for the over-55 set that he calls "Grumpy Manor."  And he's quite willing to tell jokes at his own expense.

    Mike's biggest value, to us at least, has gone beyond the business tidbits he shared - both the tips and the stories that we have had the opportunity to pass along to add value for our clients.  He is all about the relationship.  He asks about our families and tells us about his.  He shows up, and when he is there he is completely present and engaged. 

    This level of caring, combined with his experience, has enabled him to achieve an incredible level of trust with prospective clients.  And that trust has enabled him to walk into the room on the first day of a team development process, have the company president hand him a big check and ask, "Now, what is it that you're going to do with my group?"  Mike replied, "Sit down.  You might learn something." 

    When we grow up we want to be just like him.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    Choosing to sharpen the saw

    sharpening the saw by plaineye
    sharpening the saw, a photo by plaineye on Flickr
    This falls into the category of "no kidding," but it's a thought that is not always in your top-of-mind awareness:  A sharp saw cuts more effectively - and thereby is more safe - than is a dull saw.
    Sometimes you don't stop to gauge the sharpness of the blade before you start working, and you find yourself working harder than you would have needed to with a fully functioning one.  Then comes the choice:  do you stop sawing for a few moments to hone the blade, or do you keep on working, frustrated that your progress is slow, but determined to complete your project?
    Saws dull with use, so when you don't stop periodically to sharpen yours, you ultimately will be cutting with an ineffective tool.  You might have prepared.  You might have started this work with a high-quality, razor-edged blade.  But now it's not working as well as it had.  You waited long enough that its performance declined.  And now that the blade is so thoroughly worn you will need to invest more time in bringing it back to useful sharpness than would have been the case if you had kept it honed along the way.
    It takes intention to fully prepare the blade (your brain) before you start.  And it takes equal intention, perhaps even more, to make the decision to stop and learn more.  Some jobs and some industries know this so well that they require continuing ed hours in order for professionals to retain licensure.  The overall knowledge base changes over time, and the unmaintained saw could be downright dangerous.  Imagine if your health care provider weren't aware of the latest in resuscitation techniques, or forgot the skills that haven't been needed in a while - and you or your loved one were the one seeking help in the Emergency Department of your local hospital.
    Your job might not involve life and death or the threat of lawsuits for malpractice.  But you may be impacted by sales slumps, slower than desirable production cycle times, or increasing materials costs.  If you think that you know it all, have done it all, and therefore are the equivalent of an eversharp saw, well, you're kidding yourself. 
    Perhaps you haven't chosen to undertake continuing education because you don't want to reveal  to others that you are underinformed or downright ignorant in some relevant knowledge base.  You're willing to settle for less than great performance on the basis of pride?  Or perhaps you see yourself as so indispensable that you can't be away from the office to attend a conference or a class.  You won't be indispensable for long if your information is obsolete.
    Start with the areas where you see less-than-peak performance and find out what you do not yet know about them.  Take time to sharpen yourself.  In choosing to do so, you are not only increasing your value to your company.  You are increasing your value in your own eyes as well.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Stop working so hard

    Remember the simple machines that you learned about in elementary science class - the inclined plane, wedge, screw, lever, pulley, and wheel and axle?  The point of each of these machines was (and still is) to keep you from working harder when you could be working smarter.  You can use these to multiply your strength, sometimes dramatically.
    Is there a way in which you can use these same principles in your work life?  Your job may not be physically demanding, only mentally so, but are there areas in which you are expending energy that could be instead multiplied by a simple technique, or a device, or a different sequence of activities?  Have you integrated unnecessary complexity into your work processes?  And last, are you forgetting to apply the leverage that comes from using the skills that come most easily and naturally to you?
    In their book Now Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton cite the example of Warren Buffett, undeniably one of the most successful investors ever.  Here's what they had to say about him:
    "Surprisingly , his strengths are not those that you might expect to see in a successful investor.  Today's global marketplace is fast-paced, extraordinarily complicated, and amoral.  Therefore, you would think that the creature best adapted for this world would be blessed with urgency, a conceptual mind to identify patterns in the complex market, and an innate skepticism about everyone else's motives.
    Buffett cannot claim any of these strengths.  By all accounts he is a patient man.  His mind is more practical than conceptual.  He is inclined to be trusting of other people's motives, not skeptical.  So how did he thrive?  ...
    Warren Buffett has used this patient, practical, and trusting approach since he formed his first investment partnership with $100 in 1956.  He has honed it, perfected it, and stuck to it even when the temptations to adopt a different strategy were tantalizingly sweet....His distinct approach is the cause of his professional success and, to hear him tell it, also the cause of his personal happiness.  He is a world-class investor because he deliberately plays to his strengths."

    It is not only possible, but likely, that you are not taking full advantage of your strengths, or of the simple methods that could make your work life easier AND at the same time full of more of the results you seek.  Examine your work processes.  And if you want to uncover your strengths so that you can get more leverage from the work you do, one way in which to do so is to click this link to go to the Clifton StrengthsFinder diagnostic.

    Friday, October 7, 2011

    Accounting for your risk tolerance

    One of the key contributors to chronic stress is living out of alignment with your core values.  And one of the components of your core values is the degree to which you are willing to knowingly assume risk.
    The word "knowingly" is important, because ignorance doesn't create misalignment.  If you drive across a bridge that is faulty, unless you have information that causes you to be aware that it is not structurally sound it could be crumbling under your tires and the risk discussion would not apply.
    It would be too general and therefore inaccurate to make a claim that a person is risk averse or an overall risk-taker. There are different categories of risk, and one individual might have a high tolerance in one area while avoiding risk in another.  Here are some risk categories:
    • Risk of bodily injury
    • Financial risk
    • Interpersonal or relationship risk
    • Risk of making a mistake or failing at a task
    • Business risk
    To illustrate with a couple of the preceding examples, one person might be willing to do extreme downhill skiing, thus risking bodily injury, yet feel out of sorts unless his or her bank accounts are in order and carrying substantial balances.  One part of the person's value system supports and even encourages risk while the other avoids it.
    Sometimes risk can be calculated, as in some forms of business or financial risk.  It becomes a matter of determining whether the resulting numbers (potential upside vs. downside) fall within a tolerance that is considered to be acceptable by the parties involved.
    The challenge in this is that your risk values, like many of your other attitudes (habits of thought), are conditioned.  This means that they have been ingrained over time and are internalized to the point that they are not necessarily in the forefront of your consciousness.  You might not even realize, for instance, that you have financial risk-aversion until you go through the process of planning to start your own business.  When your home equity is about to be placed on the line for your business debt, suddenly you feel uneasy. 

    The situation cues the relevant risk value to be brought to the surface and the misalignment is exhibited, often through feelings or physical symptoms like generalized anxiety, fatigue, insomnia or stomach pain. You could choose to treat your symptoms with medication or behaviors intended to distract you from your stressor. But you won't make the symptoms go away permanently until you resolve the misalignment and make the changes that will help you behave in more congruence with your risk values.

    Thursday, October 6, 2011

    Is equal treatment fair treatment?

    I realized this morning that it has been more than six years since a friend and colleague said, "If you want to make sure that your website always has fresh content you should seriously consider starting to write a blog."  At that time she had to explain that blog was short for weblog, and it started the Summit journey into early morning writing for the benefit of clients, friends, and followers.  This morning's post is a freshened-up version of our second-ever post from our first blog, called "Peak Performance: From the Coach's Desk."  Enjoy, and have a great day.

    Back in my bank management days the tellers in the branch office would get quite peeved about special treatment received by large depositors. The big customers were given better interest rates, package pricing on services, and sometimes invitations to lunches and special events courtesy of the bank.  "I think we should treat our customers equally," they would complain. "It's not fair that so-and-so should wait in line while Mr. Bux gets personal service from the bigwigs."

    In considering equality, how much does relationship count, and how much should it?

    In another equality topic, parents have complained for time eternal that their child would do better in school if the teacher would just adapt by using blue paper, or by giving more structure, or meet their child's individual needs. In this case equal treatment is considered wrong.  Each parent wants his or her Johnny or Jenny to be acknowledged as the one-of-a-kind person that they are.  They want to see customized education so that their offspring's full potential can be developed.

    Of course a parent wants that.  Every parent wants the best for their child.  So is the perceived benefit of special treatment only a perceived benefit when you are the one on the receiving end?  It can be a bit dicey to start to create individualized policies for unique situations. It opens the door for people to look over the hedge and think the grass is being made greener for someone else.  But do we not have a responsibility to accommodate the uniqueness of individual needs and relationships, and not always default to the policy book?   To fail to do so is shortsighted at best.

    At what point and by what criteria does a customer or an individual qualify for special handling?  Market expectations right now would say "immediately."  Mass customization has become the standard for manufacturing and individualized instructional plans are expected in schools.

    Who doesn't want to be special?  Who doesn't prefer a made-to-order whatever?  Perhaps equal opportunity to be handled differently is the goal of every consumer of goods and services.  If that's the case, how are you and your company rising to meet that expectation?

    Wednesday, October 5, 2011

    Women Entrepreneurs - More Than One Model For Success

    Awareness and Improvement Principle #1:  When you are seeking to improve your results, one size does not fit all. Your next best step depends upon your vision for your business and for your life, measured against the current state of your business and your life. 

    Awareness and Improvement Principle #2:  It is often helpful to benchmark your business against others', to see what is possible from looking at the stars in your geographic market, or to test your model against comparable business entities.

    Awareness and Improvement Principle #3:  Women business owners often have different factors to consider than do men, and at the same time have fewer role models.  (Only one in four businesses in the U.S. are run by women.)

    Michele DeKinder-Smith addresses all three of these principles in her book See Jane Succeed.  Michele started her own business as the agreed-upon sole breadwinner in her household.  She grew a successful company (and now another), but had to make some life-changing decisions along the way.  And as an outgrowth of her own personal and business journey, she developed the idea that there is not only one "Jane, the female entrepreneur."  Michele says there are five:
    1. Accidental Jane - This Jane didn't set out to start her own company.  Instead she wound up there after circumstances like conflict with a boss that led her to leave her job.  Accidental Jane often has a very successful business, and seeks to control it to "enough" income, "enough" work hours, and people with whom she enjoys working.  If it grows rapidly, she can morph into
    2. Go Jane Go - When Go Jane Go talks, people listen, so she is crazy busy at work, volunteering all over the place, and doing it all.  Go Jane Go is making good money, but can become unhappy about the lack of life balance she has.  This Jane wants to be the best, and the best is a moving target that she never quite feels like she reaches.  She has trouble saying no.
    3. Jane Dough - Jane Dough sets out in the first place to create an enterprise, an asset.  Her life balance is better than Go Jane Go because she is willing to delegate.  Because her eyes are on the horizon, this Jane may over-delegate, and in the process miss some key issues.  In addition, she can be very controlling, and thereby disenfranchise her team.
    4. Merry Jane - This Jane's business is created and maintained at a level that enables her to have life balance while making an economic contribution to the family.  Merry Jane tends to work the fewest hours of the Janes because other priorities are in front of the business for her, like caring for aging parents or children.  In other instances, this business is a second or side business for Merry Jane.
    5. Tenacity Jane - Tenacity Jane is going through tough times, but committed to find a way to make the business work.  Any of the Janes can find themselves in Tenacity Jane circumstances at some point in the life of their business.  But often Tenacity Jane arrives there because she knows her craft but not how to market, or she is under capitalized, or because she doesn't charge enough for her services.
    DeKinder Smith draws the five Janes with clarity, and not only describes them as they are, but gives each of them an action plan to help them meet their goals for their businesses.  If you are a woman business owner, it's hard not to recognize yourself in at least one of the Janes.  We're going to be discussing it at our next Executive Women's Roundtable session.

    Tuesday, October 4, 2011

    Taking charge of your self-talk

    Sometimes kids teach adults about how to live well, and today's lesson is from Jessica. 

    Like the old potato chip ad that said "bet you can't eat just one," I'll bet you can't watch this just one time.  Jessica's energy is contagious - and if you choose to start your day in this way (perhaps without standing on the sink!) it's likely that yours will be too.

    You might be thinking "I'm not talking to myself", and if that's the case you're proving yourself incorrect, because through those very words you are already doing so.  If the conversation between you and you is going on all day every day - which it is - why not choose the topic and the tone for the conversation?

    You can choose to reinforce the statements that hold you back and zap your confidence:
    • "I am such an idiot."
    • "I always say the wrong thing at the wrong time."
    • "I can't carry a tune in a bucket!"
    • (Fill in the blank ad nauseum)
    Or you can choose to reinforce the things you like about yourself and help yourself move forward with assurance toward your goals:
    • "I am a patient parent."
    • "I take time every day to plan my work."
    • "I am an effective speaker."
    Jessica talks in terms of now, not tomorrow.  "I am" and "I like" are helping her notice what is right with herself and with her surroundings.  Even if you are trying to affirm a characteristic that is a stretch for you right now, say it as though you're already there, as though you already embody it.

    If you have a hard time bringing yourself to affirm a characteristic or a quality like "I am a leader," try affirming a behavior that you think characterizes that quality. 
    • "I model the behavior I would like to see in other people."
    • "I do what I say I will do."
    • "I make a point to notice good performance in others and compliment them on it."
    When you're talking to yourself it's no time to be humble.  Your self-talk creates the habits of thought that lead to your actions, and your actions create your results.  You can think your way into a new way of behaving.

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    Assessing Your Harvest

    Harvest by raghnallg
    Harvest, a photo by raghnallg on Flickr.
    The fields are full with haybales, spent corn stalks, ripened pumpkins and gourds.  Trees are heavy with pears and apples.  What are you harvesting? 

    What have you planted?  And what are you planting now?  Because the seeds that you plant determine your harvest.

    If you have planted beans you'll get beans, and if you plant corn, corn will result.  The wise farmer builds variety into his planting, to make his land productive for as much of the year as possible.  And he manages his crops so that one yield from one crop leaves behind nutrients for the planting of the next crop.

    The wise farmer plans around the seasons.  He knows that you don't plant cantaloupes when winter is coming on.  He saves his fragile plants for the times of the year when the air is warm, the sun is plentiful and the rain visits often enough to keep his fields growing.

    Even the wisest farmer is subject to the weather.  Hail pits his strawberries some years, and sometimes drought dries the stalks before the corn has a chance to mature.  He can fertilize, and protect against bugs that would like to reach his crop before him, and he can water his fields.  Despite his labors, in some seasons the harvest is not plentiful.

    But he plants again.  And again.  How is your harvest, and what seeds are you planting now?