The Importance of Exercising Your Core-4 Professional Muscle Groups

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, guidance and inspiration for strengthening your performance and supporting your development as a professional. Use the ideas in great career health!

Our core body muscles groups…those muscles in your pelvis, lower back and abdomen all work in harmony to provide stability and to help propel us through our daily lives. A strong core is critical to long-term fitness health and stability, while a weak core leaves us susceptible to muscle injuries, lower back pain and other muscle-related maladies.

For the past seven months I’ve been involved in a rigorous physical regimen…a midlife makeover of sorts and for as much as I would gravitate to what my trainer calls the “mirror muscle” exercises, he has pushed me hard to balance my work and to ensure proper focus on my core muscles. The results for me have been transformational.

Much like our physical core, there’s a set of professional core muscles that require on-going exercise and development for optimum health.

Your Core-4 Professional Muscle Groups:

1. How we lead others…our leadership skills.

2. How effectively we translate noise and issues in the external world into patterns and then decisions and actions—our perceptual acuity.

3. How we present and handle ourselves in a variety of circumstances—our professional presence.

4. How well we’ve mastered the art and science of running our businesses—our operational acuity.

As we advance in our careers and strive for that next level of responsibility, our Core-4 professional muscles provide stability and support for our efforts and they help us propel through the issues in our businesses with confidence, character and energy.

For individuals living through what I term a Level-Up experience—a new role filled with ambiguity and uncertainty, the Core-4 professional muscles are what you will draw upon to navigate the new challenges in front of you.

When these Professional Muscles Atrophy, they Set Artificial Limits on Our Advancement:

I frequently encounter professionals who need help reviving or developing one or more of these professional muscle groupings as part of strengthening their own performance and/or striving to get to a new level of responsibility in their careers. In many cases, one or more of these under-developed professional skill sets serve as limiting factors in a person’s advancement.

  • A project manager had outstanding technical skills yet struggled to win the hearts and minds of her teams. The feedback on her was that she viewed people as resources to plug in where needed and her command and control style was off-putting to many. It was not viewed as a good day when someone was assigned to one of her projects. As she adapted her style to take on a more personal-professional approach, her team performance and post-project reviews both increased.
  • A great product manager striving for a promotion to vice-president was perceived by colleagues and senior managers as cold and aloof. While his business acumen and success in identifying offerings were undeniable, the presence factors worked against him at promotion time in a big way. Through video feedback he was able to see how others perceived him and coaching helped him strengthen his presence with staff and executive audiences. Once the presence improved, the barriers to promotion melted and he earned that VP slot.
  • A tactically excellent promotions manager was perceived as topped out because of his weakness in contributing to strategy work. A blend of education/training and strong coaching on looking externally and translating competitor and customer issues into ideas and opportunities for his firm helped strengthen his perceptual acuity and supported his rise to a new and broader opportunity.
  • A star on the factory floor was viewed as an excellent candidate to move into a broader operating role, however, his limited understanding of how other parts of the business functioned was viewed as a barrier. A blend of external education and internal assignment rotation helped round out his understanding of individual functions and how they connected, and several years later, he’s a star in a much more expansive operating role.

All of the individuals in these examples benefited from a great boss interested in helping them develop and grow. And all required development in one or more of the Core-4 professional muscle groups. While we’re not always fortunate enough to have that great boss…or in my case, that great physical trainer, every one of us is accountable to ourselves for spending time in our “professional gyms” and strengthening those critical components of our successful success.

Are You a Professional Couch Potato?

How hard are you working on developing your Core-4 professional muscle groups?

Much like the mid-life spread that too many of us fall victim to, it’s easy to let these muscles atrophy. When meeting prospective new coaching clients, I look and listen for how they spend their time developing themselves. What are they reading? What are they writing? Who do they engage with in social media? Are they pushing themselves by taking on new experiences in the workplace? Have they invested their own time and money on strengthening their skills?

It’s common for me to find mid-career professionals who have spent years metaphorically sitting on the couch doing nothing to exercise those critical muscle groups. Yes, work-life balance, children, family obligations are all facts of life for most of us as we move towards mid-career, however, ignoring the needs of your professional self for development is akin to ignoring the need to exercise and stay fit.

The next few “It’s Your Career” posts will offer you some practical guidance to help you assess your own Core-4 conditioning program and to identify and begin strengthening in those areas. And while having a trainer to guide your efforts, you still need to do all of the hard work.

Ready to hit the professional gym?

Here’s Your Warm-Up:

Our next post in this series will focus on one of the most overlooked of the Core 4…strengthening professional acuity. While the term is a bit odd, this focuses squarely on helping you improve your critical and strategic thinking. In preparation, invest some time scanning different business publications (FastCompany, INC, Forbes, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review) or their respective websites and look for examples of firms doing interesting things with technology, design or their business approaches. Take a few notes and we’ll put these to work in our next post.

 

Six Ideas to Help You Have Better Days at Work

Businessman Being Hit with Boxing GloveEveryone has difficult days, however, when every day feels like a slow, painful, stressful march up a rock-strewn path toward certain calamity, it’s time for you to take action. Here are a few ideas to help you re-frame your daily activities and reset your attitude.

Six Ideas to Help You Have Better Days at Work:

1. Shrink your goals and create little victories. View every encounter or task as an opportunity to succeed…and internally acknowledge the successes. This technique is often referenced in the context of the Navy Seals as one that allowed them to survive and succeed one of the most rigorous training programs on the planet. Every successful step during this stressful program places them one step closer to achieving their goal.

Instead of focusing on the less tangible yearly or quarterly goals, spend more time succeeding in the present. Remind yourself that every day offers a host of challenges and encounters ripe for earning victory. Whether it’s taking the burden away from that stressed out customer, sharing challenging news with executives or, making the calls needed to support your sales pipeline build, every step and every encounter offers a chance for you to say, “OK, I succeeded with that one. Next!”  You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how acknowledging small victories will improve your attitude and steel your resolve and confidence for solving the bigger challenges.

2. Defuse stressful situations by employing a “seek first to understand” approach.  Instead of arguing with that same character in the other department, ask questions that when answered will help you understand why he is so animated about a change in process or policy. When you encounter squabbles on project teams, take the same approach. This is a classic negotiating technique where striving to uncover shared interests allows the two parties to work towards or design a proper outcome. More often than not, we engage in verbal arm-wrestling over positions and approaches without cultivating a clear view to the real interests of all parties. Questions are your best friend here!

3. Try Admitting Your Mistakes…instead of hiding from them. It’s typically not the mistakes that we make that are damaging to our credibility and our immediate environment…it’s what we do once we’ve made them that determines the real impact. How you handle one of your mistakes says a lot about your character and whether people can trust you. With a genuine dose of humility, try a simple, “You were right and I was wrong,” or some variation based on the situation. This approach can prevent emotional boil-overs and help cool simmering slow-burns.

4. Try Offering Your Help. The words, “How can I help?” or, “Here’s how I can help…,” are lifelines for individuals and teams struggling through complex issues, and your support is a great way for you to build professional equity and credibility with your coworkers. Of course, once the offer is made, stand prepared to deliver.

5. Practice Preparing Your Daily Attitude. I’ve referenced this one before and it bears repeating. A participant in one of my workshops offered how she managed to move her attitude from negative to positive with a simple daily ritual. She would arrive at work a few minutes early every morning and use those minutes in her car to begin focusing on how she wanted her day to unfold…from beginning to end. While things have a habit of not going as planned in most workplaces, she offered that the simple adjustment of walking in the door and walking around to greet her team members helped her improve her attitude and set a better tone with her team every morning. As she walked out the door at night, she would think about the achievements of the day (small victories) and how tomorrow offered another great set of opportunities to succeed. The other workshop participants (and the workshop leader) found this approach to be priceless!

6. Ask for Help—Seek Outside Perspectives on Big Issues. While I encouraged you to offer, “How can I help?” above, it’s important for you to recognize that in some circumstances, an objective outside perspective is essential to identifying or evaluating a situation. Instead of stewing and stressing over a big decision on your own, identify someone who is experienced enough to offer valuable perspectives and far away enough from your situation to be objective. While you may own the call and the implications of the call, seeking external input is an important and stress-reducing step we should all take more often in our work.

The Bottom-Line for Now

Creeping negativity is a morale killer in too many workplaces and a potential career killer if you’re the one spreading it. If you’re daily attitude needs a bit of adjusting, you owe it to yourself and your colleagues to take action. And who knows, you might just stimulate some creeping positivity and help make work a better place for everyone around you. For those of you who have some additional ideas and approaches for improving your days at work (and reducing stress), please share. You’ll be doing us all a public service.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter with subscriber-only content! 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.

The Importance of Owning Your Own Career

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, guidance and inspiration for strengthening your performance and supporting your development as a professional. Use the ideas in great career health!

Too many of us wait for someone else to create the circumstances that allow us to be happy in our work. Expecting someone else to lift us up from our current situation is a fool’s errand blended with a real life frustration dream. No matter how much we sulk or complain about our lot, the only person responsible for changing the situation is the one staring back at us in the mirror.

You own your career. Not your firm.

You own your professional development. Not your boss.

Ultimately, you own the task of finding and participating in work that leverages your superpower and feeds on your passion to do something.

Too many of us struggle with the internal knowledge that we have more to do…more to give, yet our daily work doesn’t leverage this drive to do or give more. Others move from role to role in pursuit of a paycheck and some sense of happiness, but fail to focus on and develop what I call their superpower… their unique, innate talent.

The business press talks about the high level of employees that describe themselves as “not engaged” in their work or their workplace. Instead of an engagement index, it’s more appropriately referenced as a misery index. From the latest report, it appears that there’s a bull market in professional misery.

Finding Inspiration:

In one part of my professional life, I teach. Over the years, I’ve developed relationships with a number of fine institutions from my community college to DePaul University in Chicago. I do this to give back…to serve and to ensure in part that I keep learning. (Yes, the teacher is often the beneficiary of ample wisdom and creativity from the students.) Whether the students are those just getting started or those starting over, I am consistently inspired by the many who are striving for something for themselves.

I am in awe of the single parents who hold down multiple jobs…days cleaning houses and evenings waiting tables, who enroll in online coursework to pursue a degree that will support their movement towards something they believe is more their calling. I would put some of these students up against the best of the more well-heeled classes. Their life experiences and common sense and passion for their coursework and for their advancement are remarkable and inspirational.

There are the military professionals in my courses across all institutions who are so passionate about and dedicated to their country that they deserve all of our thanks and respect. Often, I find them striving to gain the skills and knowledge to extend their service into something else that gives back. They teach us all to lead and think based on experiences that we as ordinary citizens cannot possibly relate to.

And there’s the mid-career professional returning to earn an MBA or other advanced degree. These people juggle demanding professional roles, travel and family in an exercise that is more about fortitude than intellectual challenge.

While education and training are important components of improving our situation, the moral to the story isn’t about going back to school, it’s about taking action to improve yourself. It’s about being accountable to yourself and not waiting for someone to come along and lift you up. Instead of wallowing in some state of unengaged misery, these people use their current situation as fuel to drive learning, improvement and change. They are accountable to themselves and they know that movement is required for change.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I love working with and teaching and yes, hiring people who understand the importance of taking ownership of their own careers and their own development. There’s something about this person with a value set that emphasizes personal accountability that makes me want to do everything I can to help them along on their journey.

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.

 

Level-Up #3—Cultivating Grace or Fire Under Pressure

levelupThe Level-Up series at Management Excellence is dedicated to supporting your professional development as an emerging executive.

There will be bad days, tough situations or pivotal debates on key issues with colleagues that will trip your trigger and stimulate your fight (as in argue) or flight reflex. For some of us who never met a good knock-down argument we didn’t love, the situation will tempt our fight or fight-harder reflexes. And for those who tend to operate on the quiet side of the equation, sometimes you just need to be heard.

Learning to match just the right level of emotion or passion to each situation is important in gaining support for your initiatives and gaining much needed credibility with team members and your firm’s senior leaders. Knowing how to temper your emotions in the heat of a business battle is equally important.

For those Predisposed to Engage Aggressively in the Debate, There’s a Line:

I managed to get away with stepping over what I would now perceive as a reasonable line in a number of challenging moments during the level-up phase of my career. In hindsight, I’m fortunate that I did not derail right out of a role or off into a position penalty box. While I cannot recall having a distinct strategy, I believed to my core that my passionate engagement was on the side of goodness for my firm. I came out fine and mostly unscathed. I’m certain luck helped in a few instances.

My mistakes and those that I see frequently involve miscalculations on whether to engage and debate passionately (fight) or withdraw and reassess options. For many of us, the idea of compromise feels a lot like defeat.

Never Engage in an Emotionally Turbocharged Issue Blind:

It’s likely I set the all-time record for mistakes and gaffes when as a rising product and marketing director, I managed to tick off one of the top senior executives of my very large Japanese employer. He was making a ceremonial visit that turned somehow into a very detailed business discussion over forthcoming products and the end-of-life management of our cash cow product in particular. The dialog moved tactical and I believed passionately in moving this system out of market with a bang…leveraging it to capture market share in its last year. He didn’t. I argued passionately (and with volume in my voice) for my case and the situation became uncomfortable. As I later learned when the meeting adjourned, the senior director offered to my boss, “He really ticked me off. I like him.”

I got lucky. I showed passion for a product that was very personal to those who had engineered and enhanced and supported it for many years. I respected their baby. I was a newbie, and I was willing to fight. While I violated almost every cultural norm in the situation, I had established my reputation for strength and the willingness to advocate for what I believed was right for the firm. My motives were perceived as pure.

Too Loud, Too Long or Too Quiet are All Problems:

I’ve observed many others stubbornly hang on to a position that seems to everyone else in the room to be mostly self-serving. In this case, the incessant arguing seems irrational and selfish, unleashing a credibility killing cloud of hot air that becomes suffocating to others.

Hang on too long to the wrong position for the wrong reasons and you’ll do yourself more harm than good.

I’ve also worked with professionals who erred by spending too much on the side of quiet reserve. While a strategic retreat when you are losing a firefight is a reasonable approach, the failure to know when to stand up for your position and ensure that you are heard communicates weakness and works against you with those responsible for your Level-Up opportunities.

7 Suggestions for Matching Your Response to the Moment:

1. Sometimes you have to jump through the walls. Overcoming the resistance of the status quo in many circumstances requires extraordinary energy. Your willingness to engage passionately for something you believe is in the best interest of the business will wear down resistance and even build enthusiasm. It’s appropriate to let the fire in your belly for an issue turn into passionate and constructive debate.

2. Not every situation demands that you jump through walls. Sometimes it’s appropriate to walk through the door. Save your passion for the big issues. This skill will become particularly important in senior management and boardroom settings.

3. Don’t cross the line and make the debate personal. Ever. When that happens, you’ve lost the debate and you’ve lost credibility with everyone in fallout range.

4. Do seek first to understand. Always. This is a recurring theme in my coaching and posts. Too many people focus on their position…their approach and far too few strive to find shared interests. Once the interests are uncovered for an issue, you can construct an approach that serves various constituencies. Again, this is a critical skill to cultivate that will set you apart from peers and help those who must select you for more opportunity to develop confidence in your approach.

5. Learn to self-regulate. If the battle has been lost, withdraw and offer your support. It’s better to be respected for advocating an idea and then accepting that it’s going in another direction than it is to be known as that pain in the a@@ who won’t let go.

6. Know your opponents. My example above with the senior director of a firm from a very different culture was extremely dangerous. He allowed my to violate his cultural standards because we were in our environment. He was enlightened. I wasn’t. Don’t expect to find someone quite as enlightened in most circumstances. I’m fortunate that I wasn’t put in the permanent penalty box in that environment after picking a fight blindfolded.

7. There’s a time to make noise even if you’re quiet by nature. Cultivating the courage to step into an important issue and assert your opinion will help build your level-up credibility. People recognize your quiet nature and heads will turn and resistance may melt when you shift your style momentarily and engage. The failure to engage is a limiting factor.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I appreciate professionals who debate constructively, passionately and intelligently for their points. In fact, I love working with these types. It shows me they are engaged and motivated to do what it takes to get beyond the sticky gravitational pull of the status quo. If the results are good and the passion is more than self-serving hot air, I look for reasons to promote these types. For those who simply like to argue, don’t expect much support in your quest to level-up.

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—The Power of Displaying Passion for Your Work

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!

There’s something infectious and likeable about someone who displays obvious passion for their work, particularly when the enthusiasm is anchored in fixing, improving or innovating around something meaningful to others and to the firm. For professionals climbing the rungs of the organizational ladder or navigating boundary crossing in highly siloed organizations, visible enthusiasm for your work will serve you well during your journey.

What you project about yourself, your attitude and your enthusiasm for your work are all important components of your professional presence…how people perceive you as a professional. Since others must choose you for more responsibility, it’s important to have your presence working hard for you and not against you. Putting your passion for your work on display is one way of projecting a stronger, more positive presence.

Managers appreciate employees who show how much they enjoy their work. (Perhaps more than you will know.) Executives are hard-wired to notice people who seem to thrive and enjoy their work and new challenges. And peers and other resources tend to rally around individuals they perceive as genuine in their interest to right a wrong, fix something that is broken or do something new for the greater good.

Your showcasing your personal passion for your work is an admission ticket to the early stages of that precious asset we seek from others, known as trust. Your enthusiasm excites a similar emotion in others, something that is sadly often dormant in your many un-engaged co-workers who have grown accustomed to accepting the status quo. Armed with the trust and support of others, you can move mountains.

Alternatively, a dour demeanor or one that seems to project a constant aura of boredom or worse, righteous indignation laced with I’m just here to do my job and by the way, I’m right and you’re wrong, has the opposite effect of the positively passionate individual. I’ve known, managed and coached plenty of both of these individuals over my career, and without a doubt, the individuals who showcased genuine interest in others and authentic enthusiasm for their work and their firm’s work have grossly out-distanced their often very intelligent but less excited peers.

While putting a smile on your face and ginning up some halfhearted enthusiasm won’t get you too far…people will see through your attempt at a façade. Those striving to grow and advance in their careers will be well served by discovering (or re-discovering) what they love about their work and putting it on display. And by the way, if there’s nothing left in the tank that resembles passion for your work, it’s time to consider a new direction.

5 Ideas to Strengthen Your Professional Presence and Put Your Passion on Display:

1. Start with shifting your attitude from “I’m here” to “You’re here!” One of the great role models of professional presence in my career was an incredibly successful business owner who was widely viewed as the patriarch of his industry. He was a marvel to watch as he arrived at a conference or entered a room. Some people project the aura of “I’m here and I’m important, please acknowledge it.” His approach projected “You’re here and I’m honored to see you and I acknowledge you.”

Whether you were a senior executive or someone fairly low on the ladder, he sought you out, engaged with you and left you feeling like he appreciated you. Needless to say, that approach earned him widespread respect and massive cooperation for a number of his industry initiatives. The “I’m here” attitude projection is a derailment factor and the “You’re here” showcases interest and enthusiasm for being in the presence of others. It is indeed a powerful approach to leverage.

2. Execute on social blocking and tackling. The basics count! Smile more, engage with people with the “You’re here” attitude suggested above and practice and employ active listening techniques. The latter emphasizes listening more than talking, striving to understand the views of others by asking questions and then working hard to offer supportive ideas or direct help.

3. Seek first to understand. While much about passion is you putting your enthusiasm for your project or work on display, it’s imperative that you understand how your ideas fit with the interests and initiatives of others. Too often in the workplace, people are at cross-purposes over approaches. They focus and argue on “The What.” They fail to understand that they completely agree on “The Why.” No one loves a pontificating blowhard who fails to listen to the views of others. Everyone appreciates someone who can listen and understand interests and blend or meld ideas.

4. Accept and project that you are there to solve problems. Too many professionals display a sense of righteous indignation over the problems they encounter…and of course these problems are always because others are too ignorant to get their part right. That’s bull. Your job is to enthusiastically seek out and engage with others to make things better (improved quality, reduced time or cost, improved effectiveness etc.). Stop thinking and projecting that you are the only smart one in a sea of idiots and start recognizing and displaying through your actions that you are here to help fix and strengthen.

5. Turn the volume up but remember, it’s not about you! Many good professionals struggle with articulating how important they perceive their work is and how excited they are to be engaged in it. And when they do find the courage to share their enthusiasm, the message comes out muddled or it seems self-serving to others.

Do find or create opportunities to share your genuine excitement. Project review meetings, executive updates and even workplace social situations are all appropriate venues to showcase your enthusiasm for your initiatives. Make certain however, to anchor your excitement in why the initiative is relevant/helpful/germane to creating something new, fixing something that needs fixing or doing something important more effectively. It’s not about you!

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Showcasing your passion for your work sends a strong message to everyone around you. It screams, “I’m engaged, I’m here to help and to solve, and let’s do something great.” As an executive, and a coach, I love this attitude. I’ll move mountains to help these people. Sadly, this type of enthusiasm is either dormant in many or simply in short supply. Odd, because it costs absolutely nothing. Try it on for size, you might just like the results in your career and your life.

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.