It’s Your Career: Learn to Embrace Ambiguity as Opportunity

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!

One of the core capabilities of successful senior leaders and individual contributors is their ability to cope with and leverage ambiguity as a tool to create.

While many of us stop or even freeze when faced with unfamiliar situations, others recognize the opportunity to leverage uncertainty as a means to showcase our problem-solving and informal leadership capabilities while solving a vexing workplace challenge.

Instead of viewing the blank page or the empty picture frame in front of you as intimidating and a reason to grind to a halt, recognize that the right reaction is to do something to place words on the page or an image in the frame.

From defining and developing new strategies to creating new roles on your team to being tasked to create a new function and supporting processes critical for the future of the business, there are many tremendous opportunities shrouded in ambiguity, where the right moves will propel you forward.

5 Key Do’s and Don’ts When Faced with Ambiguous Circumstances:

1. Do Work to Internalize the Situation as Opportunity. For some of us, the lack of a template is intimidating and even frightening. While the reaction is understandable, it’s out of sync with the expectations of those around you. Your boss and team members are looking for forward progress and actions that begin to address the inherent problem(s). If solving this were easy, someone would have already taken care of the issue. Know that you’re being measured on incremental progress, not sudden magical answers.

2. Don’t Go to Ground. Your first reaction might be to don the cloak of invisibility and hunker down in search of solving whatever riddle is in front of you. Don’t. By disappearing into silence in search of answering the dilemma on your own, everyone else around you simple notices the disappearing act. Your perception that you have to go away until you have the solution is wrong.

3. Do Actively Build a Network of Contributors. Cultivating a strong advisory or problem-solving network in the workplace is a leadership power tactic. By connecting people with different skill sets in pursuit of solving a vexing issue, you’re improving the odds of success and you’re displaying effective informal leadership skills. Looking at it from another perspective, the most powerful people in a firm are the ones who get things done by bringing diverse talents to bear to solve a problem. It’s the friendly, ethical way to enhance your power and visibility, while doing the same for others who become attached to solving the issue at hand.

4. Don’t Ignore the Need to Make Noise. Silence is not golden in this case. The quieter you are about the work and progress on the initiative, the more you reinforce a perception that nothing is happening. Develop a communication program to keep stakeholders informed of progress, lessons learned and what to expect in the near-term. Also, know that sharing information on small victories reinforces the idea that something positive is happening. Your goal is to buy time and help, and the credibility gained from cultivating an accurate perception of your forward progress is critical.

5. Do Shine the Spotlight on Those Helping You. Nothing turns people off faster than obnoxious self-promotion. On the other hand, you can build goodwill by showcasing how others are helping YOU resolve an issue or create something new. Your team members will appreciate the limelight and you will be attached to the positive progress and the willingness to promote others ahead of your interests. Consider this an investment in your own future when you need to draw upon a broader or different audience for help with the next highly ambiguous situation.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Situations ripe with ambiguity can be intimidating or at least unsettling. In reality, they are ripe with opportunity. Instead of focusing on the fear of doing something wrong, recognize that the one thing you can do that is absolutely wrong is to let fear paralyze you into inaction. Engage with others, build a problem-solving network and put those first brushstrokes down on the empty canvas.

Related Post: 5 Common Sense Ideas for Growing Your Power at Work

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 Art’s book: 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.

 

5 Radical and Irreverent Ideas to Help You Find Focus at Work

Image of a magnifying glass hovering over the word FocusA typical day in most workplaces is one unending series of large and small distractions that combine to keep most of us from making much forward progress on our one or two real priorities that matter. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people mutter around 5:15 p.m. that they are finally getting to the task they had started the day intending to complete.

Sadly, the workplace environment may be the single biggest inhibitor of effective workplace productivity.

5 Radical Ideas to Help You Find More Focus:

Health warning. Applying these ideas without a bit of common-sense and discretion may be harmful to your boss’s view of you. On the other hand, you might just make enough progress on your priorities to earn the boss’s undying gratitude.

1. Ignore Your Outlook Calendar. Yeah, I know…you would rather not wear underwear to work than go an hour without your precious calendar. This marvel of software engineering may be the greatest tool on the planet for organizing and systematizing distractions in the form of useless updates, never-ending status check-ins and meetings with no particular purpose that anyone can discern. Unless it involves a boss, the boss’s boss or a real boss in the form of a customer, try ignoring the rest of the filler in your schedule and use the time wisely on something that matters.

2. Say “No” to People Who Just Want to Talk. These human time-sinks (the analog equivalent of heat sinks in electronics that suck the heat out of the environment) amble into your assigned work space, plop their rear-ends down and regale you with tales of irrelevant crap. Before you know it, you’ve been lulled into a catatonic trance by the drone of their voice and you only snap out of it when mercifully, your Outlook meeting alarm goes off, offering you an excuse to trade this waste of time for another. Learn to politely shut these people down in the interest of getting your work done. Do this consistently and you’ll train them to stay away. Steel yourself for the sad puppy dog looks you get when you politely nudge them the hell out of your office.

3. Quit Deleting Things from Your E-Mail In-Box. Much like my Outlook comment above, I feel a ripple in the force for this one. Efficiency experts everywhere, you have permission to be outraged by this idea! In reality, there’s not a damned thing you’ll do better if your e-mail in-box is pristine. It might satisfy some goofy psychological need, but here’s a dirty little secret for most of us: the search function makes your in-box the greatest digital filing cabinet you’ll ever not own. The 1.2 million e-mails in my g-mail in-box (OK, it’s only 67,000 and I have to pay google $5 a year for storage space) are happily searchable at light speed and I know where everything is. And face it. At the end of your life, if you could have back the hours you invested over a career in cleaning up your in-box, I bet you would like that time back.

4. “Just Say No” to Powerpoint.  Seriously…one more flipping trip through a death-march of serial boredom perpetrated on me by individuals who missed the memo on bullets, font-size and pixels on screen, and I might lose it. What started out as a cool way to share ideas has turned into the single biggest inhibitor of effective dialog ever invented. Turn off the projector and the computer, stare at your colleagues and start talking. If you need a picture, go to a white-board. You’ll be amazed at the quality of the conversations when people are freed from the tyranny at staring at a screen until they start drooling.

5. Let the Little Things Age On Your To-Do List. This isn’t a game of volume, it’s a game of quality. If you’re a chronic “To-Do” list maker, make certain to focus on the one (or at most two) major issues on your list. While you might feel like you’re making progress by knocking out a bunch of the little items, it’s a never-ending trap that guarantees you’ll never make it to the big items. Somehow those pesky mosquito-like tasks multiply and just when you swat a bunch out of the way, the new ones return. Let the buzzing continue, because there are dragons that need slaying.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Time is our most precious asset. It’s irreplaceable, and the top performing professionals I know are remarkable at focusing on what matters and pushing the other items out of sight and out of mind. It’s easy for us to be lulled into the rhythm of the daily workplace and all its inherent distractions. It’s essential for us, for our teams and for our organizations to fight the distractions and find the time to focus on the issues that matter. If you cannot connect an activity to serving a customer, serving an employee or team member or helping the company beat a competitor or achieve key goals, it’s not an activity worth pursuing.

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 Art’s book: 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.

 

5 Common Sense Ideas for Growing Your Power at Work

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsWhile we often associate the concept of “power” in the workplace as something bestowed by title or gained and maintained through political gamesmanship, you neither require a promotion, nor do you need to plot and claw your way to the next level to grow your power.

In most workplaces there’s an over-abundance of the stuff just lying around waiting for someone to pick it up and apply it. There’s no reason why that someone can’t be you.

First, Some Context on Power at Work:

Power and it’s close cousin, Influence, are not dirty words. Both are components of every organization’s environment and both must be carefully cultivated for you to succeed whether you lead teams or functions or serve as an individual contributor.

Those who leverage power drive the organization forward by making decisions, by developing, or leading key initiatives and by bringing the right resources and expertise to bear for a given challenge.

Nothing significant happens in an organization without the application of power and influence wielded by those who have carefully cultivated these qualities.

5 Ideas to Help You Grow Your Power and Keep Your Integrity Intact:

1. Start simple. Pick a visibly vexing problem and lead the charge to solve it. It’s amazing how many visible workplace problems go unattended. It’s the fire in the garbage can syndrome. Groups look at it, talk about it, wonder about it, but no one seems to do anything about it. That’s your cue!

2. Serve as a Network Connector. Cultivate relationships with peers and higher-ups in functions other than your own. Look for opportunities to bring members of disparate groups together on projects or one of those problem-solving activities you grabbed control of in #1 above. Your knowledge of and access to other resources, particularly people or teams with unique skills is a valuable source of power.

3. Tune in to Your Boss’s Goals and Help Her Achieve Them. Nothing cultivates upward influence like actively supporting and advocating for your boss. Leverage those cross-functional relationships you’re busy developing to push her agenda along. As she succeeds, you succeed.

4. Attach Yourself to High Visibility Projects. There’s nothing particularly shameful or evil about striving to participate in the big projects with senior executive visibility. Do a good job with the first three on this list, and your odds of successfully attaching yourself to the firm’s “Failure is Not an Option” initiatives go up considerably.

5. Make Heroes Out of Your Colleagues and Team Members. Seriously. A grateful network is a powerful network. Help those around you gain visibility and achieve their goals and you’ll gain long-standing support from a growing group of thankful co-workers. Contrary to the many misguided attempts I’ve seen from people who lived to grab the spotlight, I prefer to shine it on those around me making things happen. It never hurts to have a large number of people who are grateful to you for your support.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Jeffrey Pfeffer in his excellent book, Power—Why Some People Have it and Other’s Don’t, offers ample evidence for the importance of cultivating power to lead a happy (and even healthy) work life. Healthy and happy are what it’s all about. Instead of associating growing power as something requiring you to step all over others on your way to the top, try the noble frontal assault on this important workplace asset. You might just be surprised how easy it is to become that person calling the shots, guiding the resources and making things happen across your organization.

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 Art’s book: 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.

What the Boss Learns About You in Every Conversation

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsWhile you may not know this, that idea you bounced off of your manager the other day and your response to her questions on one of your projects both play a critical role in your near future success and the speed of growth in your paycheck!

The best managers work in a perpetual mode of talent scouting, focused on assessing the people on their teams and actively looking for individuals they can trust with more responsibility. The impressions you create when the boss is present run deep and will positively or adversely impact your next steps.

What Effective Managers are Listening and Looking For:

  • Do you understand our business?
  • Do you understand our customers?
  • Do you think through issues from all perspectives?
  • Do you bring fresh creativity to solving problems?
  • Do you understand how your ideas or approaches might impact other parts of the organization?
  • Do you rail and rally against “this is the way we’ve always done it” thinking?
  • Can you build coalitions and rally resources to resolve problems?
  • Are your ideas innovative?
  • Do you display leadership even if you’re not in charge of anyone but yourself?
  • Does your thinking and do your approaches align with our values?
  • Have you sought out others for help?
  • Are you operating with a sense of controlled urgency?
  • Have you learned from prior mistakes?
  • Are you striving to develop yourself and advance your career?

On the Dark Side:

  • Are you attempting to manipulate me?
  • Do you have an agenda that you’re not openly highlighting?
  • Do you focus on others instead of yourself?
  • Do you strive to show everyone you are the smartest person in the room?
  • Is the solution to a problem always to give you more people and power?
  • When you talk, does my spider-sense tingle on whether you fit our culture and values?
  • Do you take credit or dispense credit?
  • Do you delay, forestall and derail with your hesitancy?
  • Are you on auto-pilot in your career and in this job?

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Someone once asked me when I take the time to evaluate performance and my response was something to the effect of “During every conversation and in every meeting.”

Jack Welch once offered this comment on the role of a leader: “Leaders relentlessly upgrade their team, using every encounter as an opportunity to evaluate, coach and build self-confidence.”

I love coaching and helping build self-confidence, but the best bosses are always in “evaluation” mode. And while evaluation is best handled over time and through many exposures, don’t discount the impact of your performance in the moment.


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 Art’s latest book: 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: Nine Key Skills Demanded By Our Times

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 seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward. Thanks for being along for the journey!

As a result of vocation and experience, I spend a great deal of time bridging generations and striving to support leadership and professional development for those just reaching the executive suite and for those just starting out on their career journeys.

It’s a fascinating contrast in perspectives.

The more youthful of the two groups stare at today’s world of volatility unblinking. It’s what they know and what they’ve grown up with in their short lives. Change, speed, technology, globalization, events that shock the entire economic system….it’s familiar ground.

Those with experience still deal with the notion that “this feels really different.” In my own case, the global world of business looks nothing like the world I encountered when I was fresh out of college. It does indeed feel different just about every day.

Regardless of perspective there are some critical core skills required to lead successfully in this environment. Leaders…and professionals of all ages and experience levels, take heed and invest in cultivating these nine skills required for success in this era:

Nine Key Professional Capabilities Demanded By Our Times:

1. Acting and Leading Authentically. It’s more critical than ever to be able to build trust on teams, trust across cultures…and trust as a leader, and the best starting point is to be yourself, let people see your strengths and weaknesses and work hard to get to connect with and get to know those you work with and for.

 2. Learning to Adjust Your Altitude. Helping your organization successfully navigate through today’s minefield of change requires the ability to connect the big picture…i.e. the macro forces and emerging patterns in markets and industries to the details of execution inside our organizations. You need to see the forest and the trees.

3. Learning to Leverage Extreme Ambiguity.  Unfortunately, ambiguity combines with fear to paralyze teams and individuals and exacerbate problems. Today’s leaders must embrace ambiguity as an opportunity to create, not a requirement to hunker down and wait until the smoke clears. It never does.

4. Recognizing the Need to Adapt. It’s nice to be the one promoting change and guiding teams into new frontiers. However, change will impact you as well, and your ability to adapt versus retreat is critical for survival and success. Ask anyone who has ever survived and then succeeded following a merger and they will quickly highlight their acceptance of the situation and their focus on adapting to the new role, culture and mission as critical to their success.

5. Paying Attention to Building High Performance Teams. Most of our work takes place on teams and in projects. Your ability to enable and support successful team development is mission critical in this world. There are common conditions surrounding high performance teams, and most of them don’t spontaneously generate. As a team leader, you own forming and framing the environment, promoting values, teaching teams to talk, argue and decide. You own feedback, coaching and ensuring proper organizational support. As a team member, you need to approach every assignment as an opportunity to strengthen your network, gain new skills, support your team members and showcase what you can do to help the group achieve.

6. Growing Your Cultural Intelligence (CI). There’s a nearly perfect probability that your business will become increasingly intertwined with global suppliers, customers, partners, competitors and team members. Developing CI is an organizational initiative, and one that must be pursued in the planning or early phases of your global outreach. If you are increasingly involved in leading teams with contributors from around the globe, you are absolutely on the spot for advancing your Cultural Intelligence. Your results depend upon it.

7. Learning to Switch Gears from Leading to Following. Strengthening your skills as a follower is as important as strengthening your skills as a leader. As functional and national boundaries dissolve or at least shrink, your ability to move seamlessly from leader of one initiative to committed follower for another is critical to your success. And your efforts here set an outstanding example for those around you.

8. Recognizing the Need to Grow Your Power. Those with power are the ones who get things done inside organizations. The best way to cultivate power is to volunteer for it. Grab the initiatives that need ownership and draw others into those initiatives and suddenly, you are deciding what gets done and who does it. Welcome to power. No need to over-throw the boss or stick knives in backs. Just solve some problems.

9. Cultivating an Innovation Mentality. Gone are the days when innovation was just for engineers. It’s an innovation-driven world, and the most compelling innovations are occurring in how we work, communicate, market and make money.  If you’re leading others, one of your Key Performance Indicators is how innovative your team is. Their innovation is a reflection of your leadership. If you’re working as an individual contributor, every team and every project needs great ideas. Learn to take risks and learn to sell hard and then prove your ideas. Build a reputation as an innovative thinker and doer, and the world is yours!

 The Bottom-Line for Now:

I’ve just offered a long list of really difficult things for you to do. Awareness is the first step. Audit yourself against the nine critical skills above and then take action to strengthen the already strong and improve the weak. Seek external feedback from those you trust to provide you the unvarnished truth about yourself. Find a coach. Approach each opportunity with a “Beginner’s Mind,” and seek to learn through more education or via your own self-education. And most importantly, don’t delegate your development and growth to your firm or your boss. Take control. While others choose you for success via promotions and new challenges, you own making their choice an easy one.

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 Art’s latest book: 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.