It’s Your Career—Try Reframing the Problems to Stimulate Success

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!

How we frame a situation guides our development of options and biases our decisions. In my coaching work, framing is almost always an issue with under-performing professionals. Here are five common situations that can benefit from some active, personal re-framing.

Framing Error 1—Professional Development: “My company isn’t supporting my development.”

Reframe: You own your own professional development, not your company. Now, more than ever, you must take responsibility to invest in yourself for education and training and the most valuable of all developmental activities…participating in a series of challenging assignments. Seeking out these new challenges must be a deliberate part of everyone’s career strategy.

Framing Error 2—Politics: “Getting ahead around here requires me to play the games. I’m not going to do it.”

Reframe: All human groups are political. Given that someone must choose us for success, ignoring the politics and power issues in your work environment is naïve and limiting. A good strategy is to focus on cultivating “clean power” (no backs stabbed, no games played), by identifying and resolving the thorny issues that reside in the gray-areas between functions. This is typically project/team effort and requires that you gain buy-in across functions and involve a network of resources to resolve the challenges. Place your team members in the spotlight of success with these initiatives and you’ll not only gain the support of higher-ups but of a growing network of your colleagues. Congratulations, you will have grown your power without playing any questionable games!

Framing Error 3—Lack of Advancement: Blaming everyone but the person in the mirror for your lack of advancement.

Reframe: If you’re not advancing in your career at a pace that you believe is proper, it’s time to look in the mirror, not at the boss or your coworkers. Much like the use of “swim buddies” in the Navy Seals (someone who watches, supports and challenges you), you need a “feedback buddy” who will share the hard truth on your presence, your weaknesses and your strengths. We’re notoriously poor at seeing ourselves as others do and cultivating a clear understanding of this view offers ammunition for improvement and for better managing the perceptions about you.

Framing Error 4—Blaming the team. “My team isn’t performing up to my expectations.”

Reframe: You’re likely the one not performing to expectations. Reassess your role. Ask your team what they need you to do to better help them succeed. And then do it. You’ll be amazed how much better you will feel about your team when you’re doing your part.

Framing Error 5—Blaming the strategy. “This strategy just isn’t working. What were they thinking?”

Reframe: While it is possible the strategy is flawed, more than likely, there are problems of coordination, communication and execution. Look closely at where the situation is breaking down and collaborate with co-workers to identify solutions and offer insights to senior leaders. No senior leader expects the strategic plan to unfold exactly as it was drawn up on paper. Strategy refinement is an iterative process based on real-world feedback. Be part of the solution here by sharing insights and offering suggestions for strengthening.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It’s easy to sit back and view the world of challenges as other people’s problems or other people’s mistakes. The human tendency to take credit for successes and offer blame for failures combines with framing errors to create a cognitive stew of biases and poor thinking. Get out of your own way by reframing the issues and problems, and then take action. Get this right and you’ll be dealing with a whole new set of framing challenges as you gain responsibility and grow in your career.

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.

 

Friday Leadership Ideas to Help You Finish Strong for July 10, 2015

One Inch at a TimeEvery week I share a few ideas to help you finish strong. A great ending sets the stage for success next week.

1. Call a Timeout and Assess Your Progress on the Big Items

Days turn into weeks turn into months and the daily urgent issues keep us sprinting, often unable to stop and catch our breath and assess where we’re at on the bigger plans we established earlier in the year. Take time today to call a timeout (or lock one in to your schedule soon) to assess how you’re doing with the important and bigger picture activities you committed to months ago.

The issues that are often pushed off to some never-to-be reached time in the future include critical personnel decisions, structural changes, new program creation and the ever-important employee development actions. Oh, and don’t forget about your own developmental plans. How are you doing on your own personal growth objectives?

Too many great professionals let the days manage their agenda instead of the reverse. The daily fires will never disappear, however, the big issues that promote significant positive change take focus and discipline. Recommit to working on the big items and then do it!

2. Change Your View

I’m a constant nag on the need for all of us to better understand the view from functions other than our own. Spend too much time observing the world from your department’s windows, and you start to develop functional tunnel vision. Reach out to a peer in another group and ask to be invited to a team update or, invite him/her to one of yours. Do this regularly and strive to learn more about the view others have on market or organizational issues. Better yet, find common areas to collaborate on for improvements.

If you’ve been sitting too long with the same view, it’s time for a change.

3. Revive Your Summer Reading Plans

Read and grow smarter. My suggestions for business reads:

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, by General Stanley McChrystal

And

Team Genius: The New Science of High Performing Organizations by Rich Karlgaard and Michael S. Malone.

(Are you hearing a consistent theme with my recommendations?)

For sheer great writing and a unique view into Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in the time leading up to World War II until Franklin’s passing, try “No Ordinary Time” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The intimate insights into these two remarkable individuals coupled with the challenges of navigating extreme uncertainty and risk by Franklin, are fascinating. This is one of the only historical biographies I’ve consumer where I could not stand to put it down.

That’s all for this week! Finish strong and the new week will look brilliant. -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 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

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.

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.