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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.