Ideas for Professional Growth—Week of June 21, 2015

best practice on blackboardNote from Art: Every week, I provide a few simple (but not simplistic) ideas for you to Do/Experiment/Explore in support of your professional development. Use them in great professional health and personal gain.

Do:

Identify the one tough discussion you’ve been avoiding and find a slot in your schedule this week (earlier is better) and make it happen. Unresolved issues…a tough feedback discussion, an apology owed to a colleague and all of the other difficult discussions we attempt to avoid, rent space in our minds and add to our background stress. It’s time to clear this issue out and move forward.

To ease your pre-discussion anxiety, take the time to sketch out key elements of your discussion.

  • Define the core issue in clear terms. If this is a feedback discussion, you have to isolate on the behavior and the business implication of the behavior.
  • Know your desired outcome.
  • Plan your opening sentence. Yes, script this one out. The opener sets the tone for the entire discussion.
  • Prepare your attitude. If you expect the issue to result in an emotional response, you need to plan your vocal tone and facial expression.
  • Find neutral ground to conduct the discussion.

Much like speaking in public, the thought of it is more stressful than the reality of delivering a speech. Get this locked on your calendar and don’t let this week wind to a close without moving forward on this lingering difficult discussion.

Experiment:

Add some life to your regular team meetings. Too many managers squander precious contact team with team members by defaulting to what I describe as the Around-the-Table Update March of Death. You know this meeting. The leader kicks off, shares a few updates on his/her activities and then one by one, everyone in the room does the same. At the end of this in a large group setting, people are drooling from the mind-numbing boredom and irrelevance of most of the updates.

Instead of defaulting to the Around-the-Table approach, mix things up from meeting to meeting. Assign a key, highly relevant topic and have everyone share their ideas or insights.

Examples include:

  • What are we doing great that we should be doing more of?
  • What are the most disturbing things our competitors are doing that we need to respond to?
  • Everyone talk with a salesperson or customer service representative before the next meeting and ask them one of: what they are hearing about how we’re doing/how our competitors are doing/what’s changing in their business, and come prepared to share.

If those don’t suit you, identify your own topics and question. Just vow to take advantage of the gray matter in the room and do something different than the default march of the updates.

Explore:

OK, this one is literally about exploring. Given the challenges, risks and complexity of the world we live and work in, it’s helpful to find inspiration in unusual places, and the age of polar exploration offered many incredible examples.

Read my post, 5 Priceless Lessons from Amundsen and Scott (and/or dig in and research the topic at a deeper level) and consider the challenges they navigated, the approaches of the two great explorers and ultimately what worked and what failed. How can you apply the lessons to your own world of team development, innovation and exploration?

OK, I’ve done my part. The rest is up to you. Have a great week as you Do/Experiment/Explore! -Art

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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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Manage How You are Perceived or Someone Else Will

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!

Bob is one of those technical professionals born with an incredible ability to translate external noise…marketplace developments, customer needs and competitor moves into hit products and business ideas. He was in a role leading a small team and his team had produced a series of new hits for his firm.

Bob believed he could help his firm if he was given the opportunity to lead a larger group. However, for several years, Bob had fallen victim to the infamous open-faced “but” sandwich comments of another senior leader. He had been passed over for promotion on several occasions.  (The open-faced “but” sandwich is analogous to the feedback sandwich…positive, negative, positive. In this case, someone makes a positive statement followed by a lingering, negative but, but no positive statement to top things off.)

I know Bob has done a good job with his team, but…do we really think he’s ready to lead a bigger group?

That statement created enough doubt with the senior leaders to derail any discussion of promotion. The subtle assassin in this case was a senior manager who had his own designs on who should lead this expanding team. It wasn’t Bob.

While this very real situation might sound like sheer dirty politics, it was a situation that Bob actively fueled. Bob had presence issues.

He was one of those people who would walk down the hallway deep in contemplation with whatever was on the top of his shoes. He never met a day where smiling seemed to be worth the effort. And if you happened to call him on the telephone and he answered, you weren’t certain whether to run over and hand him a tissue or look around for sharp objects.

After commiserating with a trusted member of his team that he had been passed over for promotion again, related that he had reeived the lame comment of, “Bob, senior management thinks you need more time to develop as a leader,” and the equally lame suggestion of, “Let’s find a training course for you to attend,” his team member offered him a stark insight.

“Bob, this has happened several times. This has nothing to do with whether you are ready for leadership. Everyone on your team believes in you. People higher up don’t have faith in your ability to lead a team because you don’t carry yourself like a leader. Around here, that’s a problem.”

It hit Bob like a ton of bricks. He had spent his entire career assuming that good work always is rewarded and the fact that his physical presence might be a factor was upsetting. After thinking about it for awhile. Bob decided to seek help. He asked for coaching instead of training and through the feedback the coach collected, Bob learned that his presence problem was much larger than he had ever imagined.

He began the work of behavior change…and worked at it relentlessly. He continued to push out hit ideas from his team and the combination of his visible presence change and the continued great work earned him his long awaited promotion just six months later. He neutralized his competitor’s objections and today he is a senior technology executive with one of the world’s largest firms. His leadership and his natural gifts now help his firm on a much larger scale.

5 Lessons from Bob:

1. Don’t assume you understand how others perceive you. Our self-perception is often very different than the view others have of us. Get help from trusted contacts and ask how you are perceived.

2. Don’t forget to ask for help finding your superpower. It’s not just the weaknesses we struggle to see. In what is potentially more limiting, we don’t always see what it is that we do that leverages our skills at our best. When you are focused on work that ignores your true gifts, you know instinctively and this dissonance creates stress. Find and follow your superpower and you’ll be happier and I will wager a future paycheck, more successful.

3. If you don’t think someone will use your weaknesses against you, you are naïve. This is the way of the world. We all have competitors…for resources, for budget, for position and for compensation. Don’t give them ammunition.

4. People close to you typically appreciate you and accept you for the person you are…and that’s nice. However, it isn’t helpful. Some will open up and share honest perceptions and feedback, but you have to ask and to be genuine in your need for the real story.

5. Get a coach. Identifying poor behaviors isn’t so difficult Changing them is brutally hard. Most people fail most of the time at this. How’s that diet or fitness program going? But remember, the coach won’t do the work for you. Commitment comes from you.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It’s a sharp-elbowed world out there where rules of fair play are subjective. Don’t limit your own advancement and growth by believing that your great work will take care of itself. It won’t. Manage the perceptions about you or someone else will.

Ideas for Professional Growth—Week of June 14, 2015

One Inch at a TimeNote from Art: Every week, I provide a few simple (but not simplistic) ideas for you to Do/Experiment/Explore in support of your professional development. Use them in great professional health and personal gain.

Do:

Make the effort to align with your direct manager on her goals. One of the questions I ask coaching clients is, “What are your boss’s goals?” The most common answers include: “I don’t know,” or, “I haven’t asked,” or, “She hasn’t shared them with me.

While not every manager is forthcoming about their own goals…and in essence, how they are being evaluated, it is worth inquiring. Armed with insight and context for your manager’s priorities, you are better able to support her efforts, and ideally, align your own goals with hers.

Great team members understand the importance of helping their boss succeed and they intuitively get that reciprocity is a powerful tool for gaining support, particularly in the manager-employee relationship. Today’s boss is tomorrow’s sponsor for your next promotion and a future peer. Forge a great relationship from the beginning by understanding and seeking out opportunities to help your manager succeed.

Experiment:

De-personalize brainstorming. Brainstorming is something that almost every group engages in at some time and while the intent is noble, there are more than a few issues that detract from the effectiveness of this technique in practice. One idea is to use what researchers describe as nominal group techniques to minimize socialization challenges in groups. That’s a $5 label for something that simply means finding a way to draw out input by keeping the source of the ideas anonymous. From loudmouths who dominate discussion to the boss participating and everyone agreeing with him, to the reality that the best ideas may be lurking in the gray matter of the quietest attendees, it makes sense to change things up in search of more value.

Try sending out the brainstorming question a day or two before the event and asking people to generate a list of ideas and then returning them anonymously before the session. (You’ll have to create the means for anonymity, but it is worth the effort.) On the day of the meeting, pre-draft flip-charts or fill a whiteboard with the ideas. Mix them up. Don’t provide any attribution. In the live session, encourage people to read and build and jump on existing ideas as well as to add new ones.

Explore:

Edward DeBono’s “Six Thinking Hats” approach to strengthening group discussion quality. Most of our group discussions are messy swirls of opinions, facts, questionable facts, biases and even political agendas. DeBono helps us quit arguing our way forward through meetings by teaching us a simple but not simplistic approach to conducting group discussions and gaining the benefit of everyone thinking and talking in the same direction.

I reference this topic in workshops, keynotes and my writing. I’ve quit counting how many people have looped back and described their success with the technique. Buy and read the book and practice with the approach. It’s currently under $10 at Amazon, and you’ve got the world’s best laboratory to put this to the test in your workplace. I’ll wager your favorite coffee drink you’ll find this an improvement over current practices.

That’s it for this week’s idea prompters around Do/Experiment/Explore. Use them in good health, great productivity and in support of your own professional development. -Art

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new 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: 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.

Ideas for Professional Growth: Week of June 7, 2015

Success One Step at a TimeNote from Art: Every week, I provide a few simple (but not simplistic) ideas for you to Do/Experiment/Explore in support of your professional development. Use them in great professional health and personal gain.

Do:

“Master the context or it will master you.” –Warren Bennis

Reassess your calendar commitments for the upcoming week. Compare the amount of time you are spending on critical items such as development, feedback or brainstorming discussions with team members, contact time with customers or networking time across functions and in your industry, versus attendance at routine internal meetings. If the status and internal meetings win, you’re out of balance.

Too many people equate busyness with effectiveness and engagement. To them, a fully blocked calendar is a positive. To me, it is a warning sign suggesting that the individual has lost track of their true priorities.

The real “must do” items involve supporting the development and performance of others; working with others to solve problems and engaging with others to cultivate new relationships in search of pushing strategic initiatives forward.

Take the initiative this week to delicately and diplomatically eliminate routine and redundant status meetings and create time to focus on your true priorities.

Experiment:

“Fail faster to succeed sooner.” IDEO

Experimentation is the critical ingredient for innovation and innovation is everyone’s responsibility in an organization. The opportunities to experiment in the workplace are many, yet we often get caught up in a routine that stifles the urge to experiment. For this week, look for at least one opportunity to change something up and then do it.

Some idea prompters:

  • Shift the responsibility for leading an operations meeting to one or more of your team members. Let them control the format.
  • Have lunch every day with someone in a different function and talk about ideas to better support each other.
  • When your team members suggest an idea to improve something…reduce costs, improve service or streamline an activity, ask them to put it into action and to report back on results.
  • Instead of linking a developmental plan solely to training for a high potential on your team, define a series of unique assignments or rotation opportunities.

Explore:

“Do not go where the path may lead; go where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Gain insight into the leadership and teaming perspectives of Navy Seals in Rob Roy’s excellent, The Navy Seal Art of War: Leadership Lessons from the World’s Most Elite Fighting Force. The short chapters and great content about leading and serving will keep you turning the pages and taking notes. I knocked this out in two sittings and found inspiration in each short chapter.

Explore how Evernote can become the most indispensable productivity tool in your toolkit. This fabulous application allows you to take/make/capture notes, web pages, documents, images etc. in your self-labeled notebooks. Because it syncs with all of my devices, I always have access to my content. I use the premium edition to support multiple users. This is one app that truly delights in its utility!

That’s it for this week for idea prompters around Do/Experiment/Explore. Use them in good health, great productivity and in support of your own  professional development. -Art

 

MBA Class of 2015—It’s Time to Rededicate to Learning

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsEvery year I offer my heartfelt encouragement to the many newly minted MBA students leaving their classrooms and cohorts behind at graduation. In prior years, my “Congratulations! Now What?” post was intended to offer some transition guidance for leveraging the degree. For this year, I’m emphasizing the need for new graduates to retain their hunger for learning and shift their efforts to regular and far-reaching exploration of the ideas changing our world.

Class has ended, however, the real work of leveraging those tools and the fundamental knowledge you gained in your program is just beginning. The winners in our world…those who will advance their careers into senior roles or launch successful new ventures will be the ones who are able to make sense of both the macro forces propelling change in our world and translate those insights into solving problems for increasingly smaller (micro) markets.

Cultivating your perceptual acuity and developing the ability to translate the big issues into insights and ideas is now mission-critical for you. In the past few years, you’ve simply had to satisfy your professors that you are able to apply the tools they are teaching. Now you have to please a much tougher audience…your customers, your bosses, your stakeholders and in some cases, your investors.

I encourage you to take a few moments to celebrate your accomplishment and then after a very short break, recognize that it’s time to get back to work. Here are a few ideas for you to apply as you rededicate your efforts to learn and grow in your new, beyond school life.

4 Ideas to Stimulate  Post-Degre Learning:

1. Devour the content being developed in your chosen vocation. It’s great to start close to home and for the moment, you’ve chosen a distinct area of emphasis for your work. While your degree doesn’t make you an expert…it absolutely offers you a license to better engage with and understand the real experts. Learn who the movers and shakers and thought leaders are in your discipline and get to know what they’re writing, saying and doing to advance practices. If they’re blogging, join the conversation.

2. Put the MBA tools to work and really study your firm’s industry through multiple lenses. Cultivate a close, intimate view of the industry dynamics. Study and map the ecosystem, value-chain, competitive forces and follow the money and power. Who’s winning? Who’s losing? Who’s in danger of being disrupted out of existence? What are customers doing? And then address the all-important question of how you can maneuver or act to grow your firm’s strength or leverage new opportunities.

3. Read. Constantly. Every Day. Even if you hate to read. If I had a dollar for every MBA graduate I encountered in interviews who had not touched a book for several years after the program ended, we would have a nice lunch. Instead of exploiting your freedom from assigned reading, take the opportunity to rededicate yourself to find the people writing about and acting on changing the world and read what they are saying. You don’t have to believe their ideas or adopt their ideas, but you do have to think about how their ideas might fit in your own world. You must always be looking for insights and Ah-Ha moments for vexing challenges in your firm and the work of others will serve to catalyze those moments.

Some Reading Prompters:

  • Read periodicals that cover a wide range of topics. A few of my favorites: FastCompany, INC., the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes, Fortune, National Geographic, Popular Science, Outside, MacWorld, McKinsey Quarterly, MIT Sloan, HBR, a variety of fitness magazines and just about anything else that crosses my path.
  • A few of my books in process: The Attacker’s Advantage (Charan), The Soft Edge (Karlgaard), No Ordinary Disruption (Dobbs et. al.), the updated edition of Blue Ocean Strategy (Kim, Mauborgne), The Advantage (Lencioni), Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader (Ibarra), Power Cues (Morgan). My own library of must reads for all professionals is considerably lengthier than referenced here, but this is a great, mostly current starting point.
  • Read History. Given today’s geopolitical tensions, it’s essential to understand the historical precedents. Those who don’t know are doomed to repeat… . Currently, I’m losing sleep because I cannot put down Doris Kearns Goodwin’s, No Ordinary Time, focusing on the lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Read enough history and you will see patterns of human behavior that transcend the times. How might these patterns apply to our own times?
  • Create an Internal Reading Club. Leverage all that great reading by talking about it with your colleagues. Always strive to translate the insights into “What this means for us is… ,” or, “Here’s an idea we can adapt to our own environment… .”

4. Become a Bridge Builder. The books and magazines are great, but you want to tap into the gray matter of people who see the world through different lenses. Internally, become a relentless networker across functions. Learn what’s going on in other areas and find mutual opportunities to collaborate. Externally, it’s time to join and contribute. From your alumni association to industry conferences to professional seminars and workshops, the ideas and answers are out there in someone else’s mind.

Learn to build and connect bridges and watch your reach, knowledge, power and influence grow!

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Rather than bestowing wisdom (only gained through experience), the MBA degree is an apprenticeship that offers exposure to the tools and concepts of management. Much like the tools of a master craftsman that enable creation, your true challenge is to apply these tools in solving problems and creating new opportunities for you, your firm and your stakeholders. To do this, you need ideas. A lot of ideas. Go forth and prosper, armed with the insights of those pushing the boundaries of our thinking and seize ideas to apply to your own situation. Best of success and happy learning!

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.