Leadership Caffeine—The Struggles Really Do Make Us Stronger

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine series is over 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader and manager seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward. Thanks for being along for the journey!

The world of leadership development lost a giant at the end of July this past summer, when Warren Bennis passed away. In tribute, I’m including his classic article, “Crucibles of Leadership” (HBR, fee required) with Robert Thomas in one of my leadership courses this year. Revisiting this article is always inspirational both for myself and for the students who share their own crucible experiences including: personal loss, business and career struggles, and being on the receiving end of discrimination, sexism and racism. I’m humbled not only at the hardships these good professionals have endured, but at their remarkable attitudes about surviving and leveraging the experience for good in their lives.

In case you’re not familiar with how Bennis and Thomas applied the term crucible to professional development, consider: “…the crucible experience was a trial and a test, a point of deep self-reflection that forced them to question who they were and what mattered to them. It required them to examine their values, questions their assumptions, hone their judgment.”

Almost to a person, the students in my courses describing their own crucible experiences look back at them as transformational in their careers. The strength it took to endure the hardship translated into resolve and commitment to persevere, to make right a wrong for others and to do good in their own lives.

In my own hiring practices, I look and listen for the challenges and struggles, more than the successes. While this doesn’t crop up in many articles on best practices in hiring, I’ve used it to good success.

Consider this very real crucible scenario I encountered a few years ago:

I traveled from my home city across the country to interview two very different candidates for an important strategic leadership position on my team. The first candidate boasted a nearly spotless record of achievement and accomplishments and his career progression looked like he had been shot out of a cannon, gaining responsibility and altitude with each passing year. His life story read like a storybook…the one we all wish we might enjoy.  He was indeed a solid professional and almost a no-brainer of a hire.

The other candidate’s record was good, however, there were several points in time when things appeared to have gone wrong. A start-up failure was the first red flag, followed by a few years of seeming under-employment. Strikes one and two in many books. As I probed a bit more, it was clear the individual quickly had established herself as a leader in her under-employed role. A definite positive. Finally, upon closer review of her background, it was clear there was a gap of about 7 months followed by still more under-employment, albeit, once again moving quickly to a position of responsibility in a struggling not-for-profit. The roller-coaster was confusing to me. However, since that time she had rebounded nicely, recently passing the three year mark in a role of significant responsibility with a well-regarded firm. And while my position was likely a stretch role for her, she was in the game, but not nearly as attractive on paper as the other candidate.

I always like to do my own reference checking (I know, H.R. professional everywhere are shuddering) and during the course of the discussion with one of her bosses from the under-employed phase of her career, he volunteered how much he admired her for her ability to navigate life’s challenges. I probed a bit and it turned out that she had spent several years living through a litany of crucible moments, including serving as the care-giver for a terminally ill parent and then navigating the loss of her spouse and her new role as a single parent. I was told that her start-up had fallen victim to an unscrupulous financial advisor, although according to her former boss, she viewed herself as 100% accountable for that employee and in fact had repaid all of her friends and family investors over the years.

I reached back to her and asked very generally for her to talk about the challenges she had encountered and what they had taught her. What I uncovered was an attitude in the face of adversity that was truly remarkable and humbling. I doubt I would have conducted myself as well as she did.

The first candidate was compelling for all of the right reasons.

I hired the second candidate without hesitation. There was no charity case here. Both candidates were qualified, although one was stronger on paper. Nonetheless, I was (and am) committed to fielding the absolute best talent to help our organization grow and an individual who had fought through hardship and evidenced the ability to survive and ultimately prevail, would bring a level of personal and leadership depth and hunger to succeed far beyond that of my more traditional and well-heeled candidate.

She was a great hire and continues to prosper in her career.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Your struggles and even your failures are important elements of who you are as a leader.  A track-record of chronic failures is different than having encountered and survived a profound setback in your life. It’s the setbacks, the unexpected crises and your approach to surviving and persevering through these crucible moments that forge your character as a person and as a leader. Learn, live and lead. And as a hiring manager responsible for building your team’s and your organization’s leadership future, open your eyes to people who understand what it means to struggle, survive and ultimately succeed.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

It’s Your Career—When the Words, “Enjoy the Journey” Suddenly Make Sense

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsThe “It’s Your Career” series at Management Excellence is dedicated to offering ideas and guidance on strengthening your performance and supporting your development as a professional. Use the ideas in great career health!

Almost all of us have heard some variation of Remember to Enjoy the Journey at some point in our lives. Whether it was our parents or grandparents offering hard won advice to our younger selves or, an experienced manager sharing perspective on a tumultuous period at work, these words likely bounced around and then exited our brains at the time, with little thought to their truth and significance.

For most of us, the focus much of our careers is on the next step, the next rung and the next week or quarter. We’re myopic in pursuit of some form of so-called success—usually the next promotion and a bigger paycheck. And then you blink and you measure time in your career in decades and suddenly those words boomerang back and in a moment of clarity, you are your parents or grandparents and you understand exactly what they meant by Remember to Enjoy the Journey.

And you panic because you’re not sure you appreciated the people and the experiences together enough. Yet in hindsight, while the journey was tumultuous, the path often unpredictable and the obstacles unexpected, you know you had more fun than pain. In particular the people you fought together with in pursuit of those long forgotten goals are now the only memories worth anything to you.

Of course, Remember to Enjoy the Journey is guidance for our lives, not just our careers. When things happen you don’t expect, this is placed in painful perspective. You never fully appreciate a beloved parent quite as much as when they’re no longer there. The recent, sudden loss of a relative…a gentle giant and prince of a man in our family reminds me that I could have worked harder at appreciating him while he was here.

For the workplace, I’ll offer a few suggestions to help you keep your own journey in perspective. Even the most experienced of us can use a reminder to enjoy the ups and the downs, because together, they make up the journey. As you go about your business and navigate the politics and issues that seem so important, keep these thoughts in mind:

5 Ideas to Help You Enjoy the Journey Just a Bit More:

1. Stop trying to change people. You cannot. Appreciate your team members for who they are and what they do, not for who they are not and what they don’t or can’t do.

2. Take a new approach to disagreements in the workplace. Most dysfunctional workplace fights emerge because people are fighting over their respective positions (views) when in reality, it’s the interests (what people truly want to achieve…not how they want to achieve it) that count. Strive first to understand the interests of your counterparts and skip the fight over approaches. Build bridges by helping each other achieve interests.

3. Tackle the big problems with vigor and speed. No one who ever uttered the words, Remember to Enjoy the Journey, intended to say that the journey would always be enjoyable. It’s not. Recognize that the today’s biggest problems are the richest in opportunities to learn and grow.

4. Surround yourself with people who share your values and your joy in pursuit of building whatever it is you are building. There’s no substitute for great team members. They can be challenging, quirky, different and have very different world-views. Just make sure the values are aligned and the goals are the same. Great team members truly bring joy to the journey.

5. Say “Thank You” a great deal more. There’s nothing warmer for both the giver and receiver than a heart-felt “thank you.”

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Seriously, remember to enjoy your steps on the journey every day. You won’t repeat this day or pass this way again.

Have your own thoughts on keeping it all in perspective? Share them here. We’ll all benefit!

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

It’s Your Career—Resolve to Conquer Your Fear of Speaking

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsThe “It’s Your Career” series at Management Excellence is dedicated to offering ideas and guidance on strengthening your performance and supporting your development as a professional. Use the ideas in great career health!

A frighteningly few number of people genuinely relish the idea of getting up in front of an audience at work and talking.That’s too bad, because there are few skills that will take you further and help you more in your career than developing your speaking skills.

4 Big Benefits in the Workplace of Conquering Your Fear of Speaking:

1. You separate yourself from the herd. Your willingness to stand and engage coupled with the competence developed through practice puts you in a smaller group and helps you stand out to your senior managers, peers and colleagues across your organization. Of course, people are looking for more than hot air! Message quality, authenticity and supporting actions are essential!

2. You develop a platform for your ideas. In a culture where ideas to improve, fix, or do something new are potentially worth their weight in gold, you need influence and a platform to ensure your ideas are heard, explored and acted upon. There are few better ways to support developing influence and cultivating interest in our ideas, than being able to describe and advocate for them comfortably and competently in large group settings.

3. You are increasingly perceived as a leader. While there’s no connection between extroversion and effective leadership that I am aware of, people PERCEIVE that you have leadership qualities if you can confidently articulate your views. It’s OK to leverage this perception. And remember, there’s a reality in the workplace that you have to understand how you are perceived and manage this appropriately, developing comfort and confidence in your speaking skills will aid this cause. Again the health warning that no one loves a pontificating blowhard, so message quality and authenticity count!

4. You develop self-confidence that leads to strengthened self-esteem. And when that unexpected but much coveted invitation to present at the board meeting or executive offsite occurs, this self-confidence will be one of your best assets in surviving and succeeding in this new setting.

It’s time to confront your fear of speaking and make this critical skill a valuable part of who you are as a professional.

6 Tips for Cultivating Competence and Confidence in Your Speaking Skills:

1. Practice! Seek out some easy opportunities to practice. Departmental or team updates can be fairly non-threatening.  Alternatives include community events, classroom visits, or school committees. I teach a number of graduate management courses every year. Nothing forces one to up the game more than being accountable to an intelligent group of professionals for quality content delivery and facilitation.

2. Seek feedback. Ask your boss and peers for specific feedback on your speaking performance and effectiveness.  What should you do more of?  Where do you need to improve.  Don’t settle for, “that was great!”  No one gets better by being told they were great. Ask: What worked? What didn’t? How could that presentation been more effective?

3. Seek help. Search on “Toastmasters” and find a local chapter and join! These remarkable groups of professionals all understand the benefits that accrue from strengthening speaking skills and will become your best feedback and support network. In the rare chance you end up in a chapter that doesn’t work for you, don’t give up…just switch to another one. I’ve pushed more team members than I can count into Toastmasters and almost to a person they have prospered in part because of their growth in self-confidence.

4. Reference a good book or great blogs. My favorites: “The Exceptional Presenter” by Timothy Koegel or the blog (Public Words) and books of Dr. Nick Morgan.

5. Engage a Coach. People use coaches for great reasons. They view us objectively and clinically and can offer the critical input we need to eliminate weaknesses, close gaps, and enhance strengths. Ask your manager if there’s an opportunity for your firm to bear the cost. If not, don’t let that slow you down. The cost is small when factored over the course of a career and evaluated against the potential benefits.

6. Volunteer. Yep, you heard me. After a lifetime of sitting in the back row dodging the teacher’s eyes, it’s time to stand up and assert your great ideas. Once you recover from the out-of-body experience from raising your hand for a speaking opportunity, you’ll find it exhilarating.

The Bottom-Line for Now

Don’t let a common and irrational fear of speaking in large groups stand in the way of your success. Developing the confidence to stand, deliver and engage is liberating and professionally profitable.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

Leadership Caffeine—Ideas to Help You Adjust Your Attitude and Improve Performance

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine series is over 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader and manager seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward. Thanks for being along for the journey!

While Woody Allen offered, “80 percent of success is just showing up,” I might politely suggest the phrase is missing a key ingredient: attitude.

There’s a profound difference between showing up and showing up with the right attitude.

Our attitude is visible on our faces, discernible in our words and palpable in our body language. If you’re having a bad attitude day, month or lifetime, you can be certain that everybody you come in contact with knows it and feels it. When you walk into a room with a lousy attitude, it’s like a storm front approaching. Everyone sees it and wonders how bad it’s going to get.

The impact of a lousy attitude extends quietly outward, systematically poisoning the working environment.

Think of managers you’ve worked for that projected a pissed-off, mad at being born and madder at having to deal with you and your colleagues, demeanor. What did that feel like?  How did people react to this person? How effective was this leader?   (And while you would like to believe that these characters don’t end up in leadership roles, inexplicably, they do.)

Alternatively, think of managers and leaders you’ve encountered that projected a pragmatically positive perspective, even in the darkest of times and most troubled of situations. Their impact creates a ripple effect that promotes progress, problem solving and innovation. Positive leaders beget a positive environment.

Of course, even genuinely positive people have bad moments as well. I found myself recently in a setting where I couldn’t find a single positive reason why I was there and it took every ounce of energy to attempt to remain engaged and interested. I suspect I failed. For others, the speeding ticket on the way to work, troubles on the home-front, the shadow of a family member’s illness or any one of a number of life’s issues can put pressure on the best of attitudes.

Regardless of circumstances, when you hit the office, it’s best to mentally shift gears and focus on your bigger purpose.

Preparing Your Attitude is a Daily Ritual:

I love the daily ritual for “preparing her attitude,” shared by one manager in a workshop.  “Every morning, after arriving at work, I sit in my car for a few minutes and think about how I will measure success today. I focus on the impact that I want to have on people around me, and I remind myself that I’m in my role as a leader at the discretion of those I serve. This act of focusing helps me push out all of life’s and the morning’s stress points.”

Priceless advice for success! I’ve suggested this to a great number of coaching clients and they’ve applied it to success. So, if you walk past a colleague sitting in her car in the parking lot, lost in thought, know that she’s simply adjusting her attitude for success in the upcoming work day. Perhaps you should give it a try, you and your colleagues might be pleased with the results!

In case you are in need of a little attitude adjustment, consider the following ideas:

5 Ideas to Help Prepare and Sustain a Positive Attitude:

1. Vow to measure success by progress made, not distance left to travel. Instead of focusing on the magnitude of workplace problems, consider how important it is for you and your team members to take positive steps towards resolving them. Turn your attention to identifying obstacles that you can clear away and plan on valuing your daily success by how far you’ve helped team members travel.

2. Shift your view on the workplace as battleground. Nothing poisons an attitude more than viewing the workplace as a battleground filled with adversaries or enemies. Every meeting isn’t a fight…it’s an opportunity to exchange ideas and develop approaches. The person arguing with you likely has an underlying interest that he/she has not disclosed and yet you seem to be fighting over positions. Strive to understand by asking questions and then strive for agreement on positions. If you’ve burned bridges across the workplace, resolve to invest time every day in repairing at least one relationship. If necessary, be the bigger person and apologize. And then move forward.

3. Rethink and reset your daily priorities. What are the most important items you must make progress on today? Chances are they don’t involve clearing your e-mail in-box, rearranging your office or sitting in seven status update meetings. Too many managers navigate their days without making serious headway on the issues that will move the performance indicator for the firm and the team. Mentally reorder your priority list and put the people and problem issues you’ve been avoiding at the top of the list.

4. Plan to quality-check yourself in real-time. Ask yourself after every encounter: “Did I live up to my commitment to help?” If the answer is, “no,” retrace your steps and fix the problem immediately.

5. Remind yourself: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”  Whether it’s the speeding ticket, family challenges, self-esteem issues or career frustration, every person you encounter is waging some internal battle. Respect the person and impact them positively and you will be easing that burden just a bit. Empathy is a virtue in leaders.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

You choose your attitude every-day and for every encounter. Spend a few minutes today reminding yourself of the responsibility you have to serve and help others, and prepare your positive attitude before you walk in the door. And when you end your day, remember to measure your successes instead of dwelling on your failures.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

 

It’s Your Career—Is It Time for You to Go?

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsThe “It’s Your Career” series at Management Excellence is dedicated to offering ideas and guidance on strengthening your performance and supporting your development as a professional. Use the ideas in great career health!

Far too many professionals linger in stagnant roles or struggling firms long beyond the optimal expiration date of their involvement. Instead of seeking out new challenges that support learning and skills expansion, otherwise competent, motivated individuals tend to linger in bad situations hoping for circumstances to shift more to their liking. More often than not, they are disappointed.

This is the career equivalent of the classic cognitive trap, escalation of commitment. Instead of cutting our losses, we value the time invested and recall better days. We falsely believe that with just a bit more time and effort, things will change. In reality, the time you’ve put in is gone. It’s a sunk cost, and the only thing that matters is what happens today and in the months and years ahead for you in your career.

Most of us are conditioned to place a premium on loyalty and dedication in our co-workers, and we wear our own commitment as a statement of who we are as professionals. Sadly, in this era, there’s little reward for standing firmly planted on the deck of a sinking corporate ship or facing the daily tirades of a miserable manager. There are no gold watches and there is no one to look out for you in your career but yourself.

Please give yourself permission to do what’s best for you in your career, including changing roles, departments or even firms.

Beware The Gravitational Pull of Running in Place:

With apologies to physicists everywhere for the very inaccurate science suggested in the header of this section, the fact is that there’s a strong force that keeps is locked in position, repeating our daily routines week in and week out, in spite of our internal understanding that this is going nowhere…or at least nowhere good.

When I talk with employees or clients about why they’ve lingered for so long in a situation that has moved from bad to lousy, they typically offer some form of the following three responses:

  1. I believe I can make a difference and improve things.
  2. At least I know what’s wrong here. I could easily jump into something worse.
  3. I have financial commitments. It’s not a good time for me to make a job change.

My response in order: (1) that’s noble, but after a good effort with no change, you are simply naïve, (2) that’s a lame excuse to stay in employment jail, and (3) the best chance you may have for easing those financial burdens is to make a change.

Fear and Loyalty:

My own translation is that most of us struggle with the elements of fear tinged with low self-esteem. For many, throw in a smattering of that nagging feeling that if we leave we are being disloyal to the firm that sends us a check every few weeks or to the manager who has helped us along.

First, the fear issue. The thought of change is disconcerting. And yes, changing positions, firms or industries comes with a set of all new challenges. Your routine will change. The political dynamics in your new department or firm are different than what you’ve grown accustomed to in your prior role. You might not be the expert…and in fact, you might be momentarily dependent upon other experts. Or, it might not work out. Those are all tangible concerns and some of them breed fear. Nothing should be as frightening however, as wasting the time of your life or the time of your career. If you’re not learning and being challenged, you’re dying professionally, and the thought of that should scare the heck out of you. Fear breeds resistance and you have to find a way to cut through that resistance.

Now, the loyalty issue. I’ll offer it from my own perspective as an executive. I value the intelligence and hard work of the people on my team and I appreciate every single day they make the decision to walk in the door and help the cause. I know very well that it is my job to foster an environment and provide the support, coaching and feedback that keeps the good ones coming back every day. Any manager worth his/her salt gets this.

However, I also understand that I am dealing with individuals who have aspirations and sometimes those aspirations cannot be met in my world. It’s a sad and proud day when a long-time valued contributor moves on to a new role. And it’s an honor when I’ve helped them along the way and served as a reference for the next opportunity and have welcomed them into my extended professional network.

No one owes me or any other manager anything more than their best efforts during their time of employment. That’s code for saying that I don’t expect nor will I reward any excess loyalty. I respect your need to take care of yourself in your career.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

If you are stuck in a position that no longer is challenging, or where you are no longer learning, it’s up to you to seize control and improve this situation. Don’t let the fears or false beliefs or even laziness keep you from resolving your career problem. I admire individuals who strive to solve the challenges within their present firms and I respect those who after giving this a valiant effort, decide to take their talents elsewhere. Give yourself permission to make a change.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.