Career coach and Understanding Your Basic Motivations
You can begin by thinking of yourself as a leader in charge of your own destiny. All leaders play many roles both inside and outside their offices. Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them
Your Basic Motivations
Life can get so hard, busy, and all-consuming that we just “go along to get along,” losing control of our destiny as we fly through our days on virtual autopilot. So, stop here for a moment to ask yourself these five important questions:
1. Why do I do what I do? A lot of people accidentally take a job, become dependent on the income it provides, and just keep going along an almost accidental career path.
2. If a wizard could grant me one wish about my career, what would I do with it? I sometimes worry about suggesting that someone consider a major career change in difficult economic times, but it never hurts to dream. In fact, if we forget how to dream, we will never find true happiness in the world.
3. Why do I care for and support my friends and family the way I do? It pays to think about the important people in our life, many of whom we often take for granted. Nevertheless, we may need to make some changes in our caregiving, as we will see in later blogs.
4. What don’t I like about my work? My life? My self? No one wants to dwell on their flaws and shortcomings, but an understanding of the areas in your work and life where you have fallen short of expectations can help you design a self-improvement program for getting better results.
5. What sort of legacy do I want to leave behind? Short-term thinking is the assassin of long-term success. People who think of immortality in terms of the contributions they make to their work and family derive the most joy from life.
It may take a while to answer the tough questions, and your answers may change over time, but continue to keep drilling down until you reach your core and can state your Why in a few simple words.
At the core, your Why will go beyond your own personal and financial success to involve those you serve and love. Exercise a little caution, however.
You’re always walking a tight-rope between your own expectations and those of others. Too much selfishness can estrange you from your supporters; too much attention to their needs can cause you to lose sight of your own.
Finding the happy medium between the two will empower you to take more control over your life, filling your heart with more joy and fulfillment and, as a huge plus, making everyone around you happier too. That’s how you expand your role as a leader.
When we know ourselves we stand a little taller; we become more confident. We are better able to collaborate, participate, step up and volunteer our strengths, and admit when we don’t know something. We are more authentic and more comfortable with who we are. People are drawn to and will follow that kind of leader.
Taking the time to identify and then live our core motivations results in lifting our life up to its highest potential and brings hope and inspiration to everyone around us.
Designing Your Motivational Game Plan
Your answers to the tough questions set the stage for an action plan aimed at maintaining your motivations at a high level. A continually high level of motivation depends on gaining some deep insights into what makes you tick.
Deep inside each of us, there are a few passionate desires that will figure prominently in our quest for greater fulfillment in our life and work. They are what I call our Vital Dreams. To help my clients discover their vital dreams, I walk them through the following simple but revealing exercise.
Create Your Vision
Creating your overarching vision requires imagination. Don’t simply think about what you have done in the past or what lies easily within your grasp.
Think boldly, outrageously, even off-the-wall. When Eric set aside his fifteen years working as a talent agent, he surprised himself by picturing a new role for himself counseling substance abusers.
Whenever he had witnessed or read about someone’s life crashing and burning in the wake of alcohol and drug addiction, he wished he could do something to prevent that all-too-common downward spiral.
Those feelings sprang, in part, from his experience with family members who had suffered the corrosive effects of addiction.
West Coast career coach Shari Sambursky offers this advice to people who have embarked on a vision quest:
Signs from the universe are all around you. They may come in the form of the promotion you were hoping for that didn’t come through, or doors being closed to the opportunity to advance in your current job.
While these may seem like grave disappointments, they may, in fact, be the blessing in disguise guiding you toward your purpose.
The key is to recognize the signs, the nudges, and act on them. Acknowledging there is a deeper purpose for you and recognizing the excuses you are making around staying where you are is the first step.
So many people are thirsting for their passion and purpose in life but don’t believe, make time, or value this innate ability that exists within us all.
Most often the path to find this deeply seated passion that fulfills you requires putting on your warrior hat and taking a discerning look at your pains in life because when you connect with your pains, your soul evolves.
You learn more about who you are, why you are the way you are, and it provides the opportunity to invite gentleness and compassion into your life.
Motivation, determination, and a willingness to give it your all will provide the drive you need.
Rely on Your Inspiration
Your vision of your best self should inspire your drive. Inspiration springs from your unique set of personal and professional values.
If Eric values helping people overcome their addictions, doing that will fuel his drive toward that dream. Back when he first started out as a junior talent agent, the idea of helping struggling actors inspired him, but gradually he found that helping super-stars achieve more fame and make more money had lost its luster.
The same happened to me when I realized that helping people deal with family dysfunction and psychological illness inspired me less than helping people become extraordinary business leaders.
The way you obtain fulfillment may change as much as mine did. That’s why you need to keep reviewing your value system and figuring out what matters most to you right now.
Remember, this is a life-long journey that can take surprising twists and turns. When you think about your values, about the ideals that truly inspire you, try to make them tangible and concrete.
The Happiness Project:
“Feeling right” is about living the life that’s right for you—in occupation, location, marital status, and so on. It’s also about virtue: doing your duty, living up to the expectations you set for yourself.
For some people, “feeling right” can also include less elevated considerations: achieving a certain job status or material standard of living. . . . “Happiness,” wrote Yeats, “is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”
Pull out that whiteboard or journal or laptop and scribble down the words that best describe the values that inspire you.
Write down serious ones, fun ones, soaring ones, and down-to-earth ones. After you explore all the nooks and crannies in your heart of hearts, narrow your personal “brand” to three simple words.
After a lot of soul-searching, some of it gruel-ing, Eric ended up with “service, humility, and gratitude.” Teri came up with “authenticity, nurturing, and health.” I came up with “truth-seeker, levity, and discovery.”
Specific adjectives help make your values concrete and actionable. You cannot picture “Being nice” in your mind’s eye, but you can see something more concrete, such as “Sharing expertise.”
Scripting Your Unique Career
To this point, we have been exploring the role our basic motivations play in shaping our visions, drives, and inspirations. Now it’s time to link those motivations to our careers.
Before you can change direction, you must let your own unique perspective and intuitions guide your hand as you plan your road forward. A few years ago I interviewed Shama Hyder, CEO, and founder of Zen Marketing.
I chose her because I admired her for accomplishing so many amazing feats in her young life. Imagine my surprise when I learned that she had suffered her share of setbacks.
After completing graduate school and a thesis on social media in 2007, Shama followed her initial plan to work for a major consulting firm but was rejected by them all. She was, it turned out, a few strides ahead of the social media revolution.
Frustrated by this turn of events, she chose to strike out on her own, hoping more forward-looking clients would pay for her expertise.
Her revised script worked. In two short years, the independent business consulting company she founded became an award-winning full-service Web marketing and digital PR firm with an average growth rate of 450 percent a year since opening its doors.
Shama’s story reinforces the need to:
Understand your unique talent.
Discover where you can best apply that talent.
Remain open to applying your talent in ways you had not originally imagined.
Stay the course, regardless of the setbacks you encounter.
To become the COO of your own career, you must make flexibility your ally, adapting to all the unexpected events and twists and dangers. Flexibility—and grace and agility—are your greatest strengths.
Clarifying Your Vision
Now that you understand your motivation, have refined your vision, and are burning with drive and inspiration, reevaluate your plan using the tools—feedback, opportunities, and gut instincts— shown on the Career Success Circle.
The tried-and-true business practice of obtaining 360-degree feedback gives you the perspectives of your full circle of influence: boss, employees, colleagues, peers, teammates, close and extended family members (choose discerningly), mentors, etc.
If you don’t feel comfortable soliciting feedback in your current work setting, then identify former colleagues who know you well, can keep a confidence and will provide you with accurate feedback about how others perceived you in a business setting.
Tell each of your selected advisors that you want absolute honesty, without all the sugarcoating people often use to minimize discomfort caused by the cold hard truth. If you do this right, the results will amaze you. You will almost always see a fairly wide gap between your perception and theirs.
Identify a small group of business colleagues, peers, and friends who will honestly answer these three questions:
1. What should I continue doing in my career/job? What do I do really well?
2. What should I stop doing? What is getting in my way of doing even better work?
3. What should I start doing? What am I not yet doing that would further my success?
Much of life comes down to these three options: the insight to continue doing the right things, the courage to stop doing the wrong things, and the resolve to start doing some new right things. Posing these questions on a regular basis will help you make better decisions about what works and doesn’t work in your life and career.
Evolving in your life and your career takes more than insight, courage, and resolve. To see and seize hidden opportunities for growth, you should always look to others for help. Your network of friends, family members, coaches, mentors, and peers can prove invaluable to your success.
When doing this activity, keep in mind that you are looking for inspiration. Now, open your mind to all possibilities, perform some imaginative experiments, and search for ideas you can turn into action. Record your answers to these questions:
Which of my key relationships will help me move forward? Who gives me great advice and support? Who might serve as a connector, catalyst, and network builder as I consider a career shift?
What new opportunities for growth can my network suggest? What new experiences will expand my horizons?
What can my network provide that will help me prepare for my better future? Can I find ways in the coming months to test out some of their suggestions?
The answers to these questions should provide you with a refreshed perspective on how you can better rely on your network in your quest for your true calling.
Heed Your Gut Instincts
In our heart of hearts, deep down in our psyches, we know better than anyone else what will make us happy. Unhappy people should always listen to their gut instincts when imagining their next act. If your current work and life situation cause you a lot of anguish, listen to your inner voice.
To cancel out some of the noise, find that quiet place where no one can reach you. Turn off your phone and computer. Switch off the light. Take five deep breaths, hold each one for ten seconds, and then exhale slowly.
Picture something simple and beautiful, perhaps a red apple or a bright yellow sunflower. Now replace that image in your mind’s eye with the happiest moment of your life.
Clutching your high school or college diploma. Accepting your first job offer. The morning your son was born. Finally, think about your future work and family life. Paint mental pictures of yourself feeling the way you felt during your happiest moments.
Spend some time during your quiet moments asking your gut a few questions. Although you should make your own list, you might start with these:
What makes me smile inside?
What makes my stomach ache?
What big mistakes have I made by not listening to my gut?
Neuroscientists have discovered that the heart really does play a major role in our lives. What happens to us can “break our heart” or make it “sing with joy.” Getting in touch with your heartfelt feelings about your experiences will help your brain make better decisions.
Confidence: Conquering Your Worst Fears
Why does confidence matter? Because you need a lot of it in order to make the changes that will lead you to a remarkably successful career. With genuine self-confidence, you can do anything; without it, you can do nothing but fall prey to your most desperate fears.
If you don’t feel self-possessed, self-assured, validated, loved, and worthy of respect and attention at work and at home, your life and work will disappoint you.
Discovering Your Discomfort Zones
What makes you feel uncomfortable? You need to know your discomfort zones, as well as you, know the ones that make you feel comfortable. Otherwise, you’ll never overcome your fears.
Whenever you lose your nerve and find your confidence waning, that usually means that you fear to leave your comfort zone.
For me, it often happens when I worry that others will think that I’m not as smart, funny, interesting, compelling, or powerful enough to win their respect or command their attention.
Think about the last time you suffered a lack of confidence. What worried you? Did you fear to come across as weak, underprepared, or boring?
Our first step toward conquering our fears, then, is identifying exactly what we need to bolster within ourselves in order for us to feel, think, and behave with more genuine confidence. Of course, this involves asking ourselves the tough questions about our current level of self-confidence.
Asking the Tough Questions About Your Confidence
Suppose you come to me for career advice. Rather than exploring your background, education, and skills, I will start our session by asking you eight questions designed to gauge your self-confidence.
Your answers would lead us to a short list of the areas where some adjustments could get you on track toward greater success and fulfillment. Sit back and ask yourself these questions about your current level of confidence.
1. Do I consciously attend to my physical and mental well- being? You need a strong, healthy body to make the necessary changes. Pay attention to your physical and mental health, spiritual needs, nutrition, and exercise routines.
2. Do I understand how my thoughts and emotions affect me? Successful people develop and maintain a high degree of self-awareness. Record the thoughts and emotions you experienced during a typical workday and think about what triggered them.
3. Do I persevere despite setbacks and obstacles? Every journey encounters roadblocks, detours, bad weather, and even the occasional collision. Seek peace in your specific safe harbors—the activities/practices/people/surroundings that ground you and make you happy.
4. Do I believe that I deserve to achieve greatness? A sense of self-worth drives positive actions. Surround yourself with people, environments, and rituals that restore a healthy ego.
5. Do I feel comfortable expressing my opinions in public? Everyone presents themselves to others in different settings each and every day. Whether you make formal presentations to large groups or just interact with a handful of teammates, get some coaching or take a class on how to express your opinions to others.
6. Do I see a world filled with infinite possibilities? People who have found their true calling don’t see life’s glass as half-empty or half-full; they see it as overflowing with opportunities. Learn about and practice the art of positive psychology.
7. Do I eagerly assume new roles and responsibilities? Flexibility fuels growth. Think about your inclination to cling to the status quo then explore the reasons you consciously or unconsciously erect defenses or build comfort zones that resist change.
8. Do I take pride in the way I look? Like it or not, people do judge a blog by its cover. Imagine that your “cover” projects your unique brand to the world.
Designing Your Confidence-Building Game Plan
After you have answered the tough questions, you can begin work on an action plan for building more self-confidence.
The following three-phase exercise will help you dismantle the walls you have erected to protect your innermost fears from exposure. Once you recognize the real source of your fears, you can begin dealing with them in ways that will boost your genuine self-confidence.
Fortifying Your Confidence Factors
Since participating in this blog’s Taking Stock exercises, what specific factors in your overall confidence makeup do you need to bolster in order to get on the right track toward your true calling? What, exactly, do you need in order to move closer to the success you seek?
Nothing succeeds like success. That oxymoron makes sense when you think about it. A little success at something, say striking a golf ball down the fairway, emboldens you to do it better, hitting it straighter every time you play. A little confidence breeds a little more, and a little more breeds a lot more.
And with greater confidence comes the courage to decide exactly what you need to do to achieve higher levels of success. Cecilia began with baby steps, keeping a journal, joining Toastmasters, and putting a little more adventure in her life, before she began taking longer strides, actually starting to write her blog (tentative title: Great Party!) and offering a one-day workshop at the local library.
Veteran employment staffing executive Karla Hertzog offers a great example of someone who overcame an intense fear of exposing her weaknesses in a world that prizes vision, creativity, and strategic brilliance:
I am not a visionary or a creative, but I know a good idea. So I forced myself to join high-profile, national trade groups and sat on big boards. I felt I had to do this in order to continually get exposed to innovation and successful leaders. This was a very painful learning experience for me.
I was afraid I didn’t bring as much value to the table as others and I realized my opinions were the same or better than the others, so over time I forced myself to speak up and became a better leader and participant.
List What You Need
Some people keep their needs secret, even from themselves, because they don’t want to seem weak or inadequate. How do you feel about listing your needs? Do you feel comfortable writing them down and sharing them with a trusted friend, family member, or coach? If not, try detaching a need from some of the emotional baggage it carries.
Let’s say you have written down “I need to end my friendship with Bobby because he always makes fun of my dream to help other people.” The idea of cutting any cord causes pain and fear. Yes, you’re making a big change for your own well-being, but it will still make you sad. Just understanding and accepting this fact will help you soldier through the experience.
Create a list of your five most important needs. Make them concrete and specific. Don’t write, “I need more love”; instead, write “I need my spouse/friend to offer more unconditional support when I make a mistake.” A list I created while researching and writing this blog looked like this:
What I Need to Succeed
1. Make five more contacts with leaders outside of the United States.
2. Post a YouTube video displaying my approach to career coaching.
3. Blog a new speaking engagement every month for the next 18 months.
4. Write 1,000 words a day until I hit 50,000 for a complete manuscript.
5. Find a proofreader who can double-check my complete manuscript.
Ask for What You Need
Now that you’ve got your list in hand, what do you do next? You ask for what you need.
I have found over the years that friends and family, mentors and coaches, and colleagues and peers usually love it when you ask for help. In some cases, even those who undermine your confidence will agree to mend their ways. For example, imagine a co-worker who responds to your efforts to build your self-confidence with a cynical and even mocking tone.
She thinks she’s being funny and has no idea that her remarks hurt your feelings. If you give her a little constructive feedback about how her tone makes you feel, she might become more supportive.
Keeping Your Eyes on the Prize
You can’t reach the finish line unless you can see it clearly in your mind’s eye. As you speed around the track you must make quick and sometimes intuitive decisions that keep you moving forward. Those decisions require confidence.
Intel’s Senior Vice President and General Manager of Software and Services Group, Doug Fisher, explained to me how his confidence helps him make good decisions under pressure:
Take an Occasional Time-Out
Someone once said, “Life is one fool thing after another; love is two fool things after each other.” Our work and our lives can get so busy and frenetic as we struggle to hold it all together, that we find it hard to see beyond our present circumstance. We all take our eyes off the prize that we want to win in the future at one point or another.
That’s when we most need a healthy dose of confidence. Confidence helps us pause, relax, collect our thoughts, and focus. When Cecilia acts on her needs list, planning more parties to build her bank account, applying for scholarships, and writing five pages a day, she finds herself so exhausted she wonders why she’s driving herself crazy. There’s a good reason, of course, but she’s lost sight of it in the hustle and bustle of daily life.
When that happens, you need to heed your body’s cues, monitoring such reactions as your rapid heartbeat, your sweaty palms, and your quivering voice. These physical responses, as well as more subtle internal clues, such as increasing self-doubt, signal an unhealthy response to stress. That’s when you must force yourself to take a break from your efforts to get ahead.
Playing around with confidence-building experiments allows you to practice without fear, makes what scares you a familiar friend, and reinforces your flexibility and optimism.
1. Divide a sheet of paper or document page into three columns labeled Best Case, Middle Case, and Worst Case.
2. Write a short paragraph describing an experiment you could do to develop your self-confidence. Cecilia picked the free blogstore consulting gig, writing down the supplies she’d need, and the ways she would promote the event.
3. Now think about actually doing the experiment. Pretend you are writing a script for a five-minute video, starring you. Picture the best possible outcome, a mediocre outcome, and the worst possible outcome.
Cecilia imagined a big turnout with a steady stream of customers, a moderate number of twelve or so, and none. As we know, it did not turn into a worst case, but it came pretty darned close.
If you do this activity before you actually complete an exercise like the one I assigned to Trong, you will find yourself well prepared for any eventuality. No matter how well or badly it turns out, you will gain a little more confidence each and every time you issue yourself a confidence challenge.
Risk: Thinking Like an Entrepreneur
Think of any risk in terms of both the short game and the long game. In the short run, you will always run into obstacles and setbacks, but you must not allow them to detour you from your long-term destination.
Joaquin commits to his long-term goal of running his own PR firm, serving musicians, writers, and fine artists who need state-of-the-art branding and marketing consulting.
Unfortunately, he does not attract enough clients in the first year to break even.
Having prepared for the possibility that this might happen, he acts quickly when, eleven months into his new venture, he reaches the point where he must dip further into his savings and even takes a part-time position working for a large corporate PR firm.
Nine months later, he has built his business sufficiently to return to his own company full time.
Good fortune favors the prepared. Chicagoan Kelly Douglas, CEO of Itzy Ritzy, a children’s accessories company, told me how she evolved from working as a high-tech analyst at Accenture in New York City to an entrepreneur:
First, you have to be bold and make opportunities happen, they are not just going to fall in your lap. Second, you have to follow through; you can’t just wait for people to always respond to your requests.
If someone does not get back to you, follow up again and again, and if still no response, it’s time to regroup and assess the next best steps. Finally, you have to really network and form relationships that will get you where you want to go, and sometimes that means working for free.
Yes, there’s no law against that, but too much pro bono work can put you in the poorhouse.
Keep Your Eye on the Bottom Line
When I began my coaching business in 2009, I focused on helping my entrepreneurial clients raise their RQs.
I stressed risk-taking because I had observed that approximately 75 percent of the entrepreneurs I met, including myself, had grown up in homes where one of their parents had started a business or behaved entrepreneurially for someone else’s business. The parents passed their entrepreneurial mindset on to their children.
Note this crucial point: You can think and act like an entrepreneur wherever you work. Today’s corporations value creative thinking and innovation every bit as much as the one-woman band. When I began to shift my client base into the corporate world, that fact became abundantly apparent.
My new clients wanted me to help fortify their emerging leaders with the sort of intrapreneurial spirit they needed in order to come up with major breakthroughs on limited budgets.
Both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs need to keep their eyes on the bottom line. That’s what Joaquin did, keeping track of his new firm’s balance sheet so he could see when he needed to take action and correct for a deficit.
Business is business. To succeed in any business you must yoke your passion to results, which hard-nosed businesspeople measured in terms of profit and loss. “Did I make or lose money?
Is my gamble paying off or not?” Don’t leave it to your boss or your accountant. Anyone can master the essential rule of profitability: spend little money to pull in big money. The difference equals profit.
However, profits alone do not measure success. As the old saying goes, “It’s better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable, but I’ll settle for moderately wealthy and moody.”
Your true calling can supply everything money can and cannot buy. Psychologist Abraham Maslow came up with the hierarchy of human needs:
physiological (a healthy body), safety (a sense of security), belongingness (family and community), love (emotional well- being), esteem (respect), self-actualization (success), and self- transcendence (a proper perspective on one’s position in the universe). Money does not figure into them all, but it does figure. Which brings us to another old saying, “Money isn’t everything, but no money isn’t anything.”
Asking the Tough Questions About Your RQ
The following eight questions will help you dig into your past and present relationship with risk. Your answers will point to areas where you can work on raising your RQ and, as a result, approach your work and life with a more entrepreneurial mindset.
1. Did my parents take any major risks in my early life? Did I? How did they turn out? Some people develop a friendly relationship with risk because the gambles they observed or took as youngsters paid off handsomely. Others avoid risk because earlier ones turned out badly.
2. What runs through my mind when someone I care about takes a big risk? Do I fear they will fail? Do I envy them? As with childhood and adolescence experiences, we tend to base our reactions on whether we have seen other people succeed or fail when they gambled on their future.
3. Which entrepreneurial risk-takers do I admire the most? Can I name friends, family members, colleagues, mentors, or even fictional heroes and heroines whose bold moves inspire me? The more role models you identify, the more likely you will emulate their behavior.
4. What emotions do I feel when I think about taking a big risk myself? Does the thought of risking something valuable scare me, or does it make me tingle with excitement? Careful: too much of either emotion will sabotage your chances of making a successful change.
5. Can I list my “negotiables” and “non-negotiables”? What can I afford to lose? What must I hang onto at all costs? Gambling everything seldom, if ever, makes sense. But neither does betting nothing on your better future. On a scale of 1 to 10, you want to get yourself somewhere between 3 and 7.
6. When I think about the risks I have not taken, do I feel any regrets? Do I wonder what might have happened if I had accepted rather than avoided taking a chance on making a major change? Asking, “What if?” about the past can help you create a better future.
7. Would I take bigger risks if I knew the game was rigged in my favor? Have I always assumed that the game favors the house and that the odds are always stacked against a successful outcome? Sensible optimism usually leads to better results than wary pessimism.
8. Can I identify two great outcomes that might result from taking a greater risk in my life? What rewards would I reap from a successful change in my work or personal life? The happiest outcomes benefit both your professional and personal life.
Designing Your Risk-Taking Game Plan
Your answers to these tough questions can help you draft a blueprint for a better future. As a first step, you should complete this three-phase exercise. It will help you re-wire your orientation toward risk in ways that will support a more entrepreneurial mindset.
Put the answers in order of importance, not necessarily the order in which you answered them. Phase One: Write Down Your answers to the Eight Tough Questions
Pick three of your answers. Perhaps you’ll want to pick the first three you Phase Two: choose Three for immediate action listed in order of importance, although you may want to include at least one easier one at this point.
Set aside a block of time in the coming month to put your action plan in motion. Phase Three: Design Your “Think like an Entrepreneur” Action Plan
Like a lot of people I’ve put through this exercise, Joaquin selected the first three questions for his first month’s action plan. At the end of the first week, he shared a heartbreaking story with me.
When he was a twelve-year-old boy still living in Mexico City with his family, his father, a highly respected architect, decided he could better support his family if he abandoned his solo practice and went to work for one of the city’s largest architectural and construction firms.
The move proved a disaster, however. The top executives of the firm were accused and finally convicted of engineering a vast corruption scheme involving kickbacks and below-standard building materials. Though Joaquin’s father had done nothing wrong, guilt by association ruined his reputation and forced him to take low-paying work.
Deep humiliation over his failure to support his family in style caused him to withdraw into a dark depression. He stopped conversing with his wife and children, except to bemoan his stupidity overtaking such a terrible risk.
Joaquin had not talked about this period of his life since coming to the United States to complete his education and obtain an MBA in marketing. “Making a mistake like that scares me to death,” Joaquin finally admitted to me and, more importantly, to himself.
This admission set the stage for some guided research
into people who had won big after taking a huge risk. The list included Coastal Carolina University football coach Joe Moglia, who gave up a lucrative career as CEO of TD Ameritrade to lead the Chanticleers to an unbeaten season, and Apple founder Steve Jobs, who dropped out of college to pursue his dream of building a revolutionary computer.
These role models helped Joaquin replace his fear of loss with greater optimism about making the transition from corporate marketer to the promoter of emerging artists.
Confronting Your Fear Factors
Accept risk as a reality. You take a risk every time you cross the street. Look both ways, and then expect to reach the other side in one piece.
Nothing good in your life and career will just fall into your lap these days; in general, you have to go out and hunt for it with an eager, entrepreneurial mindset. That idea makes you uncomfortable? Get over it!
Take the Discount of Discomfort
You have to fight for yourself, and self-promotion is critical. Speaking for myself, women have to get past taking their work so personally. Men seem to be less sensitive about their work and thus more successful in a lot of ways. For me, I recognize that I am a sensitive person, I do have thin skin, but I think my sensitivity is part of what makes me a good writer.
Once I recognized that I was not ever going to be able to thicken my skin, I seriously considered if this was the business for me. I decided it was, and then I decided it’s not personal, it’s business. That’s when things really shifted for the better for me.
All of us, both male and female, can take what happens to us so personally that we fear to expose our vulnerability. We worry that others will see us as weak and unlikely to succeed in a bold new endeavor.
Pay a Visit to the Risk Lab
Developing your mental risk-taking muscles requires the same tried-and-true process that applies to all of the attributes of the successful entrepreneur: self-awareness, a willingness to improve and change your behavior, experimentation, evaluation, and a commitment to try and try again until you finally succeed.
Each of us brings our own unique background and qualities to the process. One size does not fit all. But we all need shoes.
Joaquin needed a certain kind of traveling shoes to take him out of his fear of following in his father’s footsteps. I needed to replace the sensible shoes of the clinical psychotherapist with a pair of sky-high entrepreneurial heels.
The kind you need depends on who you are, what you do, and how you relate to other people, a topic we will explore in the next blog when we discuss character.
With that in mind, let’s move into the risk lab, where you can playfully and creatively mix and match the components of your own unique “entrepreneurial concoction.”
Your answers to the questions below will help you identify your unique entrepreneurial ingredients.
1. List two skills you possess that could benefit you even more if you took a risk and made a major change in your work or life. Joaquin wrote down “imagination” and “passion for helping improve the lives of others.” These skills could help ensure success in the new direction he wanted to take.
2. List two aspects of your current comfort zone you cannot live without. Do the same for two you could easily jettison. Joaquin’s non-negotiables were “food on the table for my family” and “my health.”
He promised himself to keep building his rainy day fund and not to work himself into a nervous wreck. His negotiables were “a fancy office” and “a new car.” He’d work out of his garage and keep driving his battered old Subaru.
3. Imagine the worst-case and best-case scenarios for your desired move. Joaquin figured that if the worst happened and he failed miserably, he could always go back to the world of corporate marketing. In the best case, he would finally take joy from seeing his dream come true.
This experiment can provide the swift kick in the pants you need to go from dreamer to doer, from fearful mouse afraid of taking a risk to an entrepreneurial lion willing to bet on a better future.
Remembering Your Passion Purpose
Memorize those three elements of entrepreneurial success:
1. The right product: your skills and experience.
2. The right time: now or possibly six months or a year from now.
3. The right audience: new employer, different industry, different target market.
I call this the entrepreneurial trifecta.
Flesh out your own entrepreneurial trifecta.
1. What is your perfect product? Think in terms of the skills and experience you can transfer to a new job or a new endeavor.
2. When should you make your move? Draw up an aggressive schedule, promising to make a bet by a specific date.
3. What audience should you tackle? Name potential employers who could provide you with your dream job. If you want to start your own business, give it a name.
While success does not depend on your winning a popularity contest, your ability to attract and hold people to your sphere of influence does. Spend some time carefully rating yourself with respect to the following characteristics of strong workplace relationships. Do you display that characteristic Always, Usually, Sometimes, or Seldom?
I left out “Never” because, in that case, you need more than a blog to teach you how to get along with others (just kidding). You might also ask a mentor or trusted coworker to give you some feedback on your relationship-building skills.
I feel confident about my interactions with others at work. Do any of your colleagues make you feel uncomfortable?
Do others freely open up to you on a personal level, or do they tend to avoid engaging in conversations about anything that does not pertain to work? Jane comes to see that her inherent shyness keeps her at arm’s length from her teammates and others in the company.
To protect her sense of vulnerability, she maintains a hard exterior shell and uses highfalutin jargon to maintain a distance between herself and her colleagues. This insight prompts her to ask more questions about her workmates’ lives outside the office and to offer them some stories of her childhood in Calcutta.
I deeply care about the people at work. Can you put yourself in the shoes of a colleague who has been going through some troubling personal or professional issues? Have you developed relationships with people with whom you can share your own concerns?
As Jane relaxes her guard and learns more about her teammates on a personal level, she finds them much more open in her presence. To her amazement, people love her funny anecdotes about life in India. Telling these stories, she reveals a dry sense of humor that makes her colleagues laugh out loud.
I readily admit that I need help with a problem. When you express a need for support, do others rush to your rescue? It doesn’t take a psychotherapist to tell Jane that she has avoided asking for help because that would reveal the fact that she does not know everything about everything.
While she finds it hard to start admitting mistakes or gaps in her knowledge, she takes heart from the fact that the first time she tells her teammates about a problem that has been baffling her she receives a warm reception, not the disapproval she had feared.
I do what I say I will do. If you cannot deliver as expected, do you quickly explain the reason for the setback?
Jane has built a reputation for getting the job done well and on time. People trust her to do her work. However, that trust does not extend to the personal level, where they suspect she worries more about her own advancement than the welfare of the team.
This realization leads Jane to put herself on a less aggressive timetable for promotion. Paradoxically, this puts her on a faster track when her boss sees how well she has been relating to her peers
I provide encouragement to my coworkers. Can you act as the cheerleader when the team needs an emotional boost?
Jane cannot see herself performing jumping jacks and waving pompoms to add to the positive environment at work, but she can certainly offer sincere encouragement to her fellow workers and put more effort into congratulating someone on a job well done.
She gets a chuckle from Bob when she offers him a high five after he solves a nettlesome problem with a bug in the software.
Fruitful and dynamic relationships thrive in an environment where people trust one another. Anyone can learn to be a more trustworthy person by simply looking more carefully at the social dynamics taking place in their work environment.
Be Transparent and Loyal
I use the word “transparency” to mean “honesty on steroids.”
Let’s assume you enjoy relationships based on trust and honesty. Is that all you need? No, you need one more essential ingredient: loyalty. You need people who will stand up for you, no matter what; who will stay by your side when the going gets rough; who you can always count on to “have your back.”
Asking the Tough Questions About Your Character
With the three essential elements of character in mind—loyalty, transparency, and trustworthiness—ask yourself these six thought-provoking questions about your current working relationships. Your answers will help you develop an action plan for improving your skill at reputation management.
1. If my name came up in a conversation among the leaders of my organization (or among my colleagues or clients), what would they say? Will they mention your loyalty, transparency, and trustworthiness? Others will often comment on these overriding traits more than on your performance on a recent project.
2. Can I list at least two occasions in the past few months where I displayed a high level of trustworthiness, honesty, and loyalty?
Do those traits generally guide your behavior, or do you struggle to make them a part of your daily character? Remember to keep the descriptors in your Blind Spot and your Facade panels in mind as you answer this question.
3. Would people call me an optimist, a pessimist, or a mix of the two? Do you consciously champion the work at hand, or is it hard work to maintain a positive attitude when the going gets tough? Anyone can whistle through a rose garden. It takes more character to sing during a hard-fought battle.
4. Do people approach me for advice and help? Do they share both their triumphs and setbacks with you? In almost every group of human beings, one person serves as a Big Brother or Big Sister. People naturally gravitate toward the person they can trust as an honest and loyal confidant.
5. Do I make my own voice heard? It’s important to be able to ask for advice and help, and equally important to share your accomplishments and failures. Others not only feel flattered when you share your innermost thoughts and feelings, but they will also do whatever they can to help and support you.
6. If I could change one aspect of the way I relate to other people at work, what would it be?
Do you need to make a more conscious effort to become more trustworthy, transparent, and loyal? Everyone wants people with the character on their team. Regardless of how positively you answered these questions, you probably see some room for improvement.
Designing Your Character-Building Game Plan
To help clients consciously develop the sort of character they need to summon success in life and at work, my father, Organizational Management Consultant Patrick D. Curran, and I created a tool we call Your Power Bank.
No matter what you do for a living, and regardless of your position in an organization, you can use this tool to enhance your position power.
By “position power,” I mean the power to influence others, whether you work for, with, or above them in your organization. The same applies to those you influence as a solo entrepreneur. It all starts with character.
Your Power Bank consists of five pillars that represent your history with your coworkers: your character, your competence, your relationships, your shared values, and the favors you have exchanged.
1. Character: These are your personal attributes. They include the way you present yourself, your drive, the credibility you have built with coworkers.
2. Competence: This refers to your demonstrated competence, your reputation as an expert in your field and your track record for getting things done.
3. Relationships: This refers to the quality of your working relationships. Strong workplace relationships are built by maintaining regular, open communication with one another and your ability to understand your coworkers’ needs.
4. Shared Values: These are the values and norms you share with your coworkers both in the workplace and beyond.
5. Exchanges of Favors: Your ability, willingness, and track record for helping others typically determines whether others will help you.
Think of these pillars as safety deposit boxes where you add, store, and retrieve the currency you need to increase your influence. The more you invest, the more you withdraw. Like a savings account, the more regularly you make deposits, the more your account will grow.
Managing Your Power Bank’s Deposits and Withdrawals
As you grow and manage your Power Bank, you want to make sure that you obey three basic rules of the game. You should always strive to:
1. Become the “go-to” partner. Be the magnet that draws people to your sphere of influence.
2. Heed your organization’s culture. Respect the “way we do things around here.”
3. Maintain your integrity. Remain true to your core values.
Heed Your Organization’s Culture
Regardless of the gap between your passion and your organization’s mission, you must never, ever sacrifice your core values. Without a reputation for unflinching integrity, you cannot expect people to trust you completely. To put it another way, you must remain faithful to who you are as you do what you do to the very best of your ability.
Otherwise, you can kiss your relationships goodbye. You can’t feign a strong character. People will sense faked or superficial trust, honesty, and loyalty. I often tell clients that they should never forget the three most important aspects of relationship building: authenticity, authenticity, and authenticity.
Each of us possesses our own unique character. A strong person needs certain qualities, such as trustworthiness, honesty, loyalty, integrity, empathy, and sensitivity to the needs of others.
But we also develop our own special blend that makes us who we are, enables us to perform efficiently in our work, and allows us to build satisfying and productive relationships.
Select three people whose character you most admire and hire them to serve as “tellers” in your own Power Bank. You might pick a boss or mentor, a brother or sister, your mother or father, a world leader, or even a fictional hero or heroine.
Then make a list of the four or five attributes they possess and you most admire. Do you own these traits? If so, to what extent do you display them on a daily basis? If not, what exactly can you do to acquire and sharpen them?
Here’s an example from our friend Jane:
1. Character role model: Deepak Chopra.
2. Character traits I most admire: Knowledge, family loyalty, serenity, generosity of spirit, and willingness to share his knowledge with others.
3. Traits I share Knowledge, family loyalty, and serenity. I should work on becoming more knowledgeable about group dynamics and find ways to extend more loyalty to my workmates.
4. Traits I need to develop: Generosity of spirit and a willingness to share my knowledge with others. Every morning on my way to work I will try to think of specific skills I can offer at least one person at work.
Imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery, but it is also the surest way to acquire and to develop the character traits you need in order to achieve greater success in your life and career.
Harmony: Orchestrating a Life While Pursuing Your Life’s Work
Many successful people question the meaning of their life at some point, often at many points, and find themselves wishing they had achieved more harmony between what they do for a living, what they do for their loved ones, and what they do for themselves. This can happen to anyone at any age.
If it happens to you, what will you do? Will you seize this opportunity to take a hard look at your life and craft or blaze a different path that will help you feel more satisfied?
Composing Your Unique Harmony
You hear a lot about the work-life equation from career advisors, who suggest that life is a balancing act and advise that you need to place equal weight on both sides of the equation: a great career and a wonderful personal life. In my opinion, that way of thinking can lead to one of the most debilitating psychological problems of the modern era.
It’s what I call the “all doing, all being syndrome” (ADABS). The disease springs from the idea that you can have it all. But I’m sorry to report that no one, not even the bravest and smartest among us, can ever have it all, both a spectacular career and a perfect personal life all day, every day.
I prefer to think in terms of harmony. Jill may find harmony working sixty hours a week and spending weekends with her family. Jose may find it working thirty hours in his home office while being a stay-at-home dad. Each of us must follow our own drummer.
Over the years I have detected a common theme in the lives and careers of those I’ve coached. Now, these are intelligent, well-educated, and savvy professionals who possess a lot of life skills, but more often than not I found most of them in need of increasing their understanding of their own emotions.
As we discussed Daniel Goleman explored the concept of Emotional Intelligence, a person’s self-awareness with respect to human relationships and interactions. A deficit in this area often contributes to ADABS. Someone suffering from this syndrome thinks, “Since my success in the world depends on me and me alone, I must do everything myself.”
That sort of thinking may facilitate taking accountability for results in your life, but it can also turn you into an overcommitted, overworked, and very unhappy individual.
Even the most talented one-person band can’t keep playing all the instruments 24/7. Sooner or later, you wear yourself out while the success you so fervently desire slips further and further beyond the horizon.
However, with a little more self-awareness and a higher level of Emotional Intelligence, you can treat, if not cure, the causes and symptoms of this career-stifling syndrome.
Listen to What Your Actions Say About You
“Surrounding yourself with the right people is critical and enabling. But it also requires you to stop needing to do everything yourself or insisting that it be done your way. It demands a leap of faith that others can do what you did and do it as well or better. Happily, I was finally able to take that leap.”
The need to control everyone and everything in your world is a principal cause of ADABS. I have yet to meet a truly successful and happy control freak. Unmanageable people and unexpected events always get in their way.
Let Go of Your Desire to Control Everything
Like the keys to success that we’ve looked at so far—motivation, confidence, risk-taking, and character—harmony is a state of mind.
To build more of it into your life and work, you need to limit your desire to control everything that can affect your success. Paradoxically, you do need to exercise a certain amount of control, especially self-control, in order to gain success in anything.
However, too much control can work against attaining your goal if it becomes a bad habit that makes people dread working with you. As with any bad habit, it can take a tremendous amount of time and willpower to get back on a healthier track. Just ask anyone who has ever tried to stop smoking or lose weight.
People can often achieve an important self-realization by using a three-step process I often recommend to those suffering from the ill effects of ADABS:
Step One: Identify three instances in the recent past when you tried and failed to control an outcome. Phillip listed three occasions during a recent campaign when he did work he should have delegated to a volunteer.
Step Two: Name the people in your sphere of influence who could have done a fine job doing what you tried to control. Phillip admitted that he could easily have let the campaign's speechwriter, travel scheduler, and chauffer do the jobs he had hired them to do.
Step Three: Remind yourself that getting the right result matters more than the way you get it. Phillip would have written a different speech, bloged Cleveland before Columbus, and driven on side streets rather than the freeway. So what?
Evaluate Your Relationship Boundaries
We all feel tugs on our time and attention from friends, family, colleagues, clients, and even perfect strangers. Finding harmony depends on drawing appropriate relationship boundaries that define “where I begin and you end.” Boundaries separate acceptable and necessary demands from those that disrupt the harmony in our lives.
Since Phillip had drawn almost no boundaries, he lost his “I” to all those people who expected him to do all and be all for them. When he started to set more self-fulfilling boundaries, he had to take specific relationships into account.
For example, he decided he would drop anything he was doing to honor a request from his girlfriend but would not perform personal favors for any of his colleagues or clients. He also erected a fence around his personal life, taking less work home at nights and minimizing the occasions where he mixed business with pleasure.
Redrawing boundary lines can cause some initial problems, of course, as people who previously enjoyed total access to your time and attention now find their access restricted.
In the early weeks of his boundary-setting campaign, the people in the campaign office expressed frustration when they had to do something the old Phillip would have done for them.
But as time went by, they actually enjoyed and benefited from the opportunity to display their own talents and abilities. His girlfriend loved the new rules because Phillip has become much more available and attentive at home. You should spend time explaining your new boundaries in a positive way:
“In order for us to accomplish our goals, I must set some new rules governing our interactions with each other.” You can do everyone a big favor if you also help them create more effective relationship boundaries.
In an effort to determine your susceptibility to ADABS, take a few minutes to answer the questions below and evaluate your relationship boundaries.
You might discuss your evaluation with a few people in your sphere of influence, choosing those who will not feel offended if the discussion reveals a need to draw new boundaries with them. Rate your tendencies on a scale of 1 to 4 (1 = Never, 2 = Seldom, 3 = Often, 4 = Always).
Do I frequently apologize for missing a deadline or failing to deliver on a promise?
Do I feel powerful when other people rely on me more than they do on others who could provide the same support?
Have I sacrificed my own needs in an effort to make other people happy?
Congratulations if you confidently said “Never” to all of these tendencies. Obviously, if you responded “Always” to any of them, you’ve got a serious case of ADABS and need to embark on a program to change your ways. If you rated any of them as “Often,” you probably need to set some new boundaries.
Even if you answered “Seldom,” you may need to make some slight adjustments to a boundary. Keep in mind that you are seeking clues to the ways in which a lack of appropriate relationship boundaries has invited a certain amount of disharmony into your life.
A full-blown case of ADABS can severely impair your career. The harder you try to do it all and to be there for everyone all the time, the less you end up doing for anyone, especially yourself. You end up feeling exhausted, angry, and unhappy.
Those around you feel short-changed and resentful. Before you begin treating a case of ADABS, you should ask yourself some penetrating questions about key issues that can contribute to a state of disharmony in your life.
Asking the Tough Questions About Harmony
By now you know that I cannot silence the therapist in me, but even without my training in psychology, I would strongly believe that our early experiences in life dramatically affect the way we think and behave like grown-ups.
Our ideas of harmony and balance are also continually influenced by our mentors, heroes, and aspirational role models. These ten questions will transport you back to your formative years as well as your current role models for life inspiration and guidance.
1. Did my parents or primary care providers maintain a degree of work-life harmony? The models we encounter early in our lives greatly influence our behavior as adults. If we grew up in a chaotic household, we may recreate those same conditions when we strike out on our own. And vice versa.
2. Did my parents amicably share household and family responsibilities or did one person go to work while the other stayed home? The economic challenges that make it necessary for both partners in a relationship to work may require a major shift away from your experience with a stay-at-home Mom or Dad.
3. Were my parents relatively calm and stress-free, or did they often seem frenzied and stressed-out? Financial and interpersonal problems can create an unsettling experience for a child, who, later in life, might accept, rather than try to solve, problems that cause disharmony.
4. What values guided my family’s approach to work and home life? If parents stress their own careers over the welfare of their children, their children will often repeat that pattern in their own lives. Of course, the converse holds true as well.
5. Who were my role models as I was growing up? Sometimes a child finds someone outside the home to emulate, a friend’s parent, a fictional character, or a teacher. The more harmony a young person observes, the more likely he or she will strive for it later on.
6. Do I find myself behaving like my mother, father, or other role models now that I’m an adult? Look for both positive and negative behaviors you can’t help repeating. Reflecting on the models you encountered earlier in your life and on the way you model behavior yourself can greatly reduce the likelihood that you will develop a bad case of ABS.
7. How has my upbringing influenced my definition of harmony? Regardless of your earlier experiences, you can define harmony in your own terms and not just accept the models that affected you in the past.
8. Do I continue to look for role models who might help me orchestrate greater harmony in my life? It’s never too late to study people who have found more fulfilling ways to live and work.
9. Would the most important people in my life, both at work and at home, congratulate me on developing greater work-life harmony? As always, feedback from people who care about you can help you see yourself more clearly.
10. Do I make a conscientious effort to provide a good role model for others? Taking accountability for the way you influence others seeking greater harmony can keep you focused on “walking the walk.”
Adopt an Attitude of Ownership
Rahul’s approach illustrates the value of setting appropriate boundaries for yourself, and thereby demonstrating to others that they can do the same. If Phillip watches the candidate for state office set smart boundaries, he sees more clearly how he might do that himself. It all comes down to your ownership.
If you own accountability for the result, you will make adjustments as to who will do what and by when to get that result. Everyone involved in getting the result will also own the result, and sharing the workload will make it happen.
When Phillip tells his family about changing course and going after an MBA, he discusses ways in which he must alter his work and life to make it happen.
Of course, they offer to share the burden as much as they can. By owning the result himself, he encourages those who care about him to share ownership of it. The same happens when he informs his team and the candidate about his plans. They agree to adjust their workloads in ways that will support his dream.
Make Every Second Count
British Columbia’s Nick Kellet, Co-Founder at Lists made social - Lastly, a company that brings needed structure to social content by combining crowdsourcing and interactive social polling, shared his secret to finding harmony: “I believe we follow the ‘one percent rule.’ It explains how we split our time between creating and consuming.
One percent of the time we create, 9 percent we contribute/comments/shape, and 90 percent of the time we consume. I think this holds true for our ability to absorb change. Ninety percent of the time we consume existing processes, 9 percent we tweak and refine them, and 1 percent we actively seek out change and innovation.”
Once you feel comfortable with the idea of delegating and sharing responsibilities, you can turn your attention to creating a team that supports your quest for harmony.
A team approach not only combats the harmful effects of ADABS, it frees you to concentrate on what really matters. To help you think more deeply about creating a strong team, I invite you to play a version of Fantasy Football. Even if you know nothing about football, you’ll quickly get the hang of this exercise.
Pick a major project you hope to tackle in the coming months, perhaps taking a class in financial planning, or looking for a new job, or adding a major service or product to your business. Now, make a list of skilled people you could recruit to help you complete the project. This is your dream team.
You can play the same game to think up ways to create more harmony at home. Which friends or family members could work with you to complete a major project, such as a room renovation or a three-week vacation trip?
What outside help might you recruit, perhaps a contractor or travel agent? Can you think of service providers with whom you can barter for their time and expertise?
Knowing that I needed help getting my blog published, I recruited a literary agent and writing collaborator to help me fulfill the dream. Eventually, a great publisher and editor joined the team.
With my team in place, I could focus my time and energy on what I do best, creating content for the blog. Yes, I could have done it alone and self-published my blog. But I’m glad I decided to replace “I” with “we.”
Vision: Connecting the Dots to Your Future
Making the Case for Strategic Thinking
Strategic thinking paints a picture toward future success; tactical maneuvers get you there. It’s all about connecting the dots between here and there. The late management consultant, writer, and educator Peter F.
Drucker described strategic thinking as, “.. . the continuous process of making present entrepreneurial (risk-taking) decisions systematically and with the greatest knowledge of their futurity.”
There’s our old friend “risk” walking hand in hand with “future.” They never follow a straight path because the dots can meander to the left and right. But they always move closer and closer to their destination.
That’s why they always invite their loyal companion “flexibility” to accompany them on their journey.
When I talk about vision, I always stress the fact that it does not mean that you lie awake at night dreaming about a better future, but that you draw a mental picture of a clear and achievable destination you can reach step by step (or dot by dot). That’s strategic thinking. It’s one of the most fundamental business challenges you’ll ever face.
How to act and be seen as strategic and visionary in my day-to-day work is an ongoing issue for me. Somehow, I end up in organizations that are very top-heavy. I am typically in a managerial or supervisory role, but I have no one to supervise.
It’s very difficult to learn and grow as a manager, become more strategic, and have a seat at the proverbial table when you are mired in the details of execution every single day. I jump at opportunities where I can offer strategic recommendations, but those opportunities are rare.
Whether you hope to climb the ladder at a Fortune 500 company or wish to grow a business of your own (or anything in between), you won’t get far without some serious strategic thinking: “Where, exactly, do I want to be in five, ten, even fifteen years?
What steps must I take to get there?” The rush of daily life and work can muddy the picture. Work, work, work, play, play, play, there’s never enough time in the day to sit back and develop your vision of a more fulfilling future.
That’s why I advise clients to avoid what I call the “shiny-object syndrome,” the tendency to get derailed from deliberately and steadily connecting the dots by all the interesting distractions that come our way. No matter how much fun they promise, they more often than do not belong in the picture.
That promotion that takes you away from what you really love to do? Forget about it. Or what about that fascinating new product that will take more time and money to develop than the business can afford? Strike it from your to-do list. Let your vision guide your daily decisions.
Asking the Tough Questions About Your Future
As you sketch your vision on your drawing board, make sure you ask yourself these nine important questions that will help you convert a hazy idea of a rosy future into a colorful painting you can hang on your mental wall.
1. Have I clarified my basic motivations? You should have made some progress toward answering this question. Now you should ask it with respect to your vision of the future.
2. Does my vision reach far into the future? A good vision does not encompass just one or three or five, or even ten years. Think thirty, forty, fifty!
3. Who will I serve? Obviously, you will mention employers, colleagues, and customers, but think more expansively to include your community, your country, and perhaps even the world.
4. Have I developed an effective communication plan? People cannot join your team or hand you the right tools if you keep them in the dark about your needs and desires.
5. Which tools will I need in order to fulfill my vision? Some tools may lie within easy reach. Others may take time and effort and even a financial investment to acquire.
6. Do I see all the dots I need to connect in order to get from where I am to where I want to go? You should be able to pin down a dozen or so specific subgoals you need to reach before you arrive at your ultimate destination.
7. Have I prepared contingency plans to address detours and setbacks along my path to the future? You should always ask “What if?” from a negative perspective, thinking about what you will do if something does not turn out the way you imagined or wished it would.
8. Do I define failure as a successful learning opportunity? When you crash into a lemon tree, take time to gather up all the fallen fruit and figure out a way to make a great big pitcher of lemonade.
9. Do I keep patience, perseverance, and professionalism by my side at all times? You will never find more trust-worthy companions on your road to success.
Business people ask these questions and others all the time, because every successful ongoing enterprise demands positive, resourceful answers to each and every one of them.
Going Back to the Drawing Board
Dreams are for sleepers. Visions are for the wide-eyed and alert. After Carla achieved her vision of running a thriving textile business, she found herself wondering about the next dots. “Where do I go now?” she asked herself.
To answer that question, she needed to go back to the strategic drawing board, setting a new destination and imagining what steps she needed to take in order to get there.
Anyone who sits down with a clean drawing board should keep four basic guidelines in mind: think long-term, serve others, communicate your vision, and choose the right tools.
Think Long Term
Once Carla envisioned an alluring future, she needed to consider all the dots she would need to connect to get from here to there. Doug Mendenhall, a real estate investor, shared with me his thoughts on Carla: “It is the label, ‘She’s so strategic,’ that usually means she sees the bigger vision, the forest through the trees.
So again, being ‘strategic’ in this sense is practicing being visionary.” In other words, good strategic thinkers don’t stroll through the woods looking at individual trees, they climb aboard a helicopter, from which vantage point they can see how all the individual trees form a forest.
It takes time and effort to do that, not to mention a lot of mental toughness, patience, perseverance, occasional restraint and caution, and a willingness to sacrifice some short-term rewards (tapping one maple tree) in order to reap the long-term rewards of a bright future far down the road (a 50-acre maple-sugaring business).
Oh, and throw in a lot of confidence, a high RQ, and all the other keys to success we are exploring in this blog, especially flexibility because the exact size and shape of the forest never turn out 100 percent the way you envisioned it.
As a first step toward a future where she would incorporate her own artwork into the home and office décor, Carla drew up a one-year plan. For the next twelve months, she would focus as much of her time and attention as possible on connecting the foundational set of dots.
This included enrolling in a business-planning course at her local small business development center and beginning to trademark many of her favorite prints, as well as collecting cost estimates from textile manufacturers.
It also involved joining entrepreneurial associations with members who started a product-based company. Also, she started doing market research, asking friends, family, and potential customers for advice about the products they would buy from her.
Visioning may strike you as a selfish act, but it’s your future. Whether you offer tangible products, like Carla’s line of wallpapers and curtains, or a service, like my training and coaching business, you must ultimately work for the satisfaction of colleagues and clients. If you don’t serve others well, you’ll see all your connected dots go up in smoke.
Good news: When you make other people happy, you make yourself happy. As your grandmother may have told you, “What goes around comes around.” That explains why Carla spent every waking minute trying to find out what people really needed, not just what she thought they needed.
A strong dose of reality supplied by others can keep you from connecting dots that aren’t really there.
It helps you maintain a healthy perspective about your aspirations and makes it unlikely you will abandon your dream when you hit the inevitable bumps on the road to success. Wind River Systems’ Scott Fenton talked to me about applying the notion of service inside the walls of a corporation:
If you are looking to become more strategic, focus on becoming a trusted advisor for your organization’s leadership. Work to understand what is important to them, then help them problem-solve.
And build those relationships over time. I worked to learn something about every department of the organizations I have been a part of so I would be sure to offer counsel that took into account each dimension of our business’s total landscape.
Scott makes daily deposits in his Power Bank in order to move further toward his vision of himself as a corporate leader. To him, leadership means serving others. You can only serve yourself by serving those you lead.
Communicate Your Vision
Do you openly share your vision with the important people in your life? It surprises me that so many people keep their dreams of a better future to themselves as if talking about their inner-most desires would make them seem foolish or starry-eyed.
After all, when you share a treasured dream, you risk someone poking fun at or even stomping on it. “You want to be the Chief Financial Officer at a Fortune 100 company? You’ve got to be kidding!”
And on the flip side, others of us worry that the failure to connect our dots to the future could reflect a certain amount of ineptness or strength—as if everyone else has somehow figured out their big vision for themselves. Either way, you cannot let such doubts and worries deter you from working toward communicating your vision to others.
How else can they help you make your vision a reality? I know from experience that letting others know your dreams will earn you more respect and encouragement that you can realize. Suddenly, doors begin to open, dots begin to connect, and the path to tomorrow grows a bit more navigable every day.
Choose the Right Tools
The visioning tools that work for me might not work for you, and vice versa. However, as you practice the art of strategic thinking, you will learn how to select the right tools for the job.
Taking Stock and Adapting to Surprises
Helmuth von Moltke, an eighteenth-century Prussian general who wrote extensively on the art of war, advanced the idea that no strategy survives the first encounter with the enemy. In other words, all your best-laid plans must adapt to the surprises that occur the instant you put your strategy into action.
This does not render visioning useless, but it does make it absolutely necessary to develop contingency plans for the times when Murphy’s Law comes into play: “If anything bad can happen, it will happen, and at the worst possible moment.” In order to adapt to the many surprises as you connect your dots, you can follow a few proven rules for correcting your course.
Carmen Voillequé, the co-founder of Strategic Arts and Sciences, a firm that provides advanced strategic visioning, planning, and coaching for organizations and networks, has inspired me. Her blog Revolutionaries: Transformational Leadership: The Missing Link in Your Organizational Chart has influenced my development as a leader.
She advises me to never stop asking questions as I design and implement my career strategy. Questioning can help you move from one dot to another because it teases out the negative and unexpected consequences of your tactical moves. The insights you gain will help you correct your course. In an interview with her, Carmen gave an example:
Whether you are a new employee at the bottom of the organizational chart or the CEO, I guarantee that you are not asking enough questions. In fact, the higher we progress in our careers, the less we seem to ask. But asking questions is the number one way that you can obtain information, especially negative information.
The better you are at encouraging negative information to flow upward, the better you will be at troubleshooting customer and employee problems, heading key complaints off at the pass, and preempting destructive conflict in your organization.
You know the saying, “Every problem is an opportunity in disguise”? We pay a lot of lip service to that saying, but it’s not so easy to put it into practice. This exercise should help you take a close look at a problem and convert it from an irrevocable setback to a springboard to success.
Choose three major problems you have encountered in the past, ones that really upset or even derailed you. Describe what happened next. Did they paralyze you with anguish, or did you take immediate steps to deal with them?
How did you resolve the problems? Did they cause long-term damage to your career? If you could turn back the clock, would you have done anything differently in order to make the most of the bad situation?
Reduce Surprises by Studying the Competition
A good strategist avoids surprises by getting inside the head of the enemy. Leadership expert Pete Rooks taught me that the odds of success increase when we know our competitors as well as we know ourselves.
He drew this insight from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles;
if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”
Over the years, I have delivered television segments and speeches, mostly on the subjects of success, leadership, and business. Interestingly, most questions I get from my audiences concern the setbacks people encounter along the path to success. They wonder how I coped with major setbacks and disappointments. How did I bounce back from a defeat?
Emotions play an important role in our ability to conquer setbacks. Think about three occasions when your strategy did not go as planned when some unexpected event set you back and forced you to take an entirely different path. For each of these setbacks I want you to answer three questions.
1. How did it make me feel? Did I feel disappointed, angry, depressed, or vengeful? Or did I react with more positive emotions and in a relatively calm manner?
2. Could I have made better decisions about going forward if I had replaced negative emotions with more positive ones? Would laugh in the face of defeat have served me better than breaking down in tears?
3. How do I feel about the setback now? Did I turn the problem into an opportunity, or did I let it push me onto a path I wish I had not taken?
Your answers will help you stress positive steps you can take to overcome setbacks and surprises.
We all tend to get unhappy when something bad happens, but more self-awareness about our emotions can help us keep moving forward, even if we need to modify our path—remember, flexibility is your friend—and connect some dots we did not see.
Community: Designing Your Powerful Network
In this blog we will equate designing a network with joining and expanding the “community” in which we live our lives and pursue our careers. This community may include business colleagues and competitors (yes, competitors), as well as mentors, teachers, advisors, and immediate and extended family members.
This broad concept of networking can even include the city or town in which we live, our country, and the world at large. When we build strong bonds with our community, we create a safe haven for the sharing of ideas, concerns, and talents.
Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn have made it possible to build far-flung communities by enabling us to connect continuously with people, both personally and professionally, but no gadget or website will ever replace the human need to build and cultivate mutually beneficial relationships face to face.
When we do that, we assemble an army of comrades in arms who will do whatever they can to ensure our success and vice versa. The Golden Rule applies. If we “do unto others” with our help and support, they will do likewise in our hour of need.
When we ignore the need for a larger community on which we can rely when we need something that will promote our professional and personal success, we court failure in both arenas.
Stephen may start out like gangbusters, growing his business and making a lot of money, but sooner or later he will encounter a business problem or opportunity where someone from his network could have saved him a lot of time, money, and anguish.
A powerful network involves more than people helping people. It provides security, safety, and a keen sense of belonging that means every bit as much as a big paycheck. Most of my clients, especially younger workers, tell me they want more meaning in their lives.
Nothing can better satisfy that yearning than designing a powerful network, making friends wherever you go, joining clubs and professional associations, volunteering for charitable work, or actively participating in a spiritual or religious organization.
All of the successful people I know value their networks highly. Some cast their nets far and wide, while others develop smaller, more focused communities.
For me, community means not just my family, friends, and professional business connections, but also my pro bono training clients, which include such nonprofit groups as Girls Who Code, Girls Inc., and the Junior League.
These experiences have helped me satisfy my desire to serve emerging female leaders and they have afforded me friendships from which I will enjoy the rest of my life.
Networking Your Own Special Way
Like all good things in life, networking comes in many shapes and sizes. My brother Kevin, a genetics professor in the morning and a sailor in the afternoon, have a powerful network that consists of his scientific peers and his sailing buddies. Internationally connected customer service guru John Goodman’s network spans continents.
For some, their network is at the scale of a large organization, while for others it involves a handful of clients and suppliers associated with a small business. And, while corporations provide a built-in community, entrepreneurs must forge one on their own.
A network is a must, and it’s up to you to populate your own. Who will you choose? When training and coaching, I like to keep it simple by urging my clients to understand what they do for others, and what others do for them. The answer to that question will tell you a lot about the size and shape of the ideal network for you.
While “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a universal principle, it plays out differently in each of our lives. The way you practice that principle and use it to strengthen your network depends on the core values.
It derives from your unique nature, background, education, talent, and experience. Nevertheless, the way you shape and participate in your network should always follow three basic rules: invest in the welfare of others, consider your own need for support, and tailor your network to your special talent.
Invest in the Welfare of Others
Of all the traits you need to succeed in life, powerful motivation ranks near the top of the list. Serving the needs of others rewards the self much more than selfishness ever will.
That principle influences their interactions with other people. Intel exec Doug Fisher, recently remarked to me, “It takes time to mentor, influence, and change lives.
Being a leader is about people, and for me, this means creating an environment where I have genuine interactions with employees at all levels in the organization. This means being truly interested in others, listening and believing you can learn from them as much as they can learn from you.”
Doug practices what he believes, refusing to seal himself off in an executive suite and preferring, instead, to work with people in open spaces where he can easily connect with them, and vice versa. The more he serves his people, the more they serve his needs and the company’s interests.
Consider Your Own Need for Support
Think of your network as two sides of a valuable coin. On one side you give; on the other you receive. Too often, we do not fully appreciate the side that needs support.
Philadelphia’s Tyrrell Schmidt, former Global Head of Segment Strategy and Marketing in the healthcare industry, didn’t fully grasp the true value of her community until her employer moved her and her family to the other side of the globe.
Growing up, we take communities for granted. We receive affection and friendship, schooling and mentoring, and food and shelter without giving much thought to how others fulfill our needs.
As adults, however, we must make a conscious effort to join the communities that will provide the personal and professional sustenance we need. Doing that involves more than saying hello to people as you commute from home to office. This limited view of the community cannot provide the support you need.
Sometimes I may seek advice, but often I find they just reflect you back upon yourself so you can see yourself more clearly.” Colleagues, mentors, and experts give you support and constructive criticism; these individuals give you a clearer view of yourself. Stephen plays eighteen holes of golf with clients and fellow financial advisors once a week.
He so enjoys the camaraderie of fellow members at the Fairview Golf Club that he volunteers on the club’s social committee, where he has met several local businessmen and women who have become sounding boards whenever he needs professional advice.
Tailor Your Network to Your Special Talent
We serve effectively in areas where we can apply our special talent. If you like to play music and strum a mean guitar, you might offer to teach classes at the local library.
Or, you might use your accounting skills to prepare tax returns for senior citizens. The mother of a teenager in your guitar class may end up connecting you to her best friend, a marketing consultant who can help you with a new ad campaign in exchange for teaching her son some advanced guitar techniques.
Or a tax preparation client who once ran the human resources department at the local community college may become a terrific evaluator of prospective hires. If Stephen had consulted with her, the turnover at his firm would have been much lower.
My colleague, Inc., Forbes, Fast Company, and Success magazine contributor Laura Garnett calls it tapping into our Zone of Genius™.
For Stephen, his genius for financial analysis and retirement planning transferred beautifully to a one-night-per-week gig providing pro bono services to local fire and police departments. There he met young men and women who mentioned his service to their parents, many of whom eventually became paying clients.
Welcome to our Talent Show. No matter what you do for a living, no matter your level of education or your experience in life, you possess a special talent. Pick one, whether it’s as high-flying as a knack for rocket science or as down-to-earth as vegetable gardening. Then answer these questions on a separate sheet of paper:
What community do I wish to join?
In what three ways can I contribute to the community?
What three benefits might I gain from the community?
Remember to think of the community as your powerful network. Start close to home, selecting a local community, such as other rocket scientists in local colleges and universities or gardeners in your neck of the woods.
Then, think about moving outward, like the ripples in a pond, expanding your network to the state, national, even global level. Starting locally takes little time and energy, and the simple act of joining or creating a community at the local level can eventually lead to involvement at the national level. Just remember, baby steps are the key.
Think the same way when you imagine the benefits you hope to derive from participating in a community.
Start with a modest and easily accomplished goal, such as making several new friends, then add a somewhat more ambitious goal, such as bartering your talent for much-needed financial advice, and finally set your sights on a supersized one, such as a partnership or merger with another person or company.
Communities function like living, breathing organisms. They come to life, they thrive, they age well or badly, and sometimes die. Make sure you do everything you can to keep yours healthy by investing not just your time but also your heart in their continued growth and well-being.
You can grow so comfortably in a community that you start taking it for granted, but, as with all relationships, it takes some thoughtful effort to keep it vibrant and alive.
Asking the Tough Questions About Networking
Whether your current community consists of you and a few racquetball partners, the local Chamber of Commerce, or the United States House of Representatives, you should continually assess your current and long-term professional needs and areas of the desired service.
These seven questions will help you evaluate your current approach to designing a powerful network:
1. Do I broadly define what I mean by community? For example, in any business, your competitors are part of your extended professional community. You can teach and learn a lot from a professional or trade association.
2. Whom do I serve? Ask yourself if you have been attracting, building, and participating in communities at a level that satisfies the needs of others.
3. Who serves me? Explore the ways in which you benefit from each of your community engagements.
4. Can I serve my community better if I engage more fully? You may think you cannot afford the time to get more involved, when, in fact, you lose a lot of opportunities because you fail to engage sufficiently with your community.
5. Can my community better serve me if I engage more fully? Full engagement affords you opportunities to get what you need from your community.
6. What can I do to serve others more fully? Assume more of a leadership role in your community, serving on its Board or on an important committee.
7. Should I look for or start a new community? If you and a given community do not make a good match, look for a new one.
Evolving Your Network
Whether you think of your network as a river you ride with other people toward a sea of success or as a pond into which you drop a pebble whose ripples expand ever outward, your involvement with your community should constantly evolve. As your abilities deepen and your needs evolve, so must your network.
Connect Needs with Skills
We tend to gravitate toward people with similar backgrounds and interests. At first, we may interact with them purely as business associates, but over time they may become true friends.
A community may consist of only two people, you and a mentor or you and a protégé. In either case, it’s a two-way street involving an exchange of skills and needs.
Your needs must draw upon their skills; your skills must serve their needs. You can solve this equation in a smaller group, where people will invite you to share your needs during the very first encounter.
When Stephen volunteers to serve on a subcommittee researching online continuing education, his commitment communicates both his desires and needs. Now he has positioned himself to serve the greater good while simultaneously serving his own self-interest.
By the same token, you need to make the community aware of the skills you bring to the relationship. Your new associates can-not read your mind. Whatever your particular talent, such as public speaking, teaching, writing, finance, or public relations, tell your community about it. Otherwise, no one will benefit from what you can bring to the party.
Keep Your Network Open for Surprises
Sometimes you get the most from people who do not share your particular background and perspective. Henry Ahn, Executive Vice-President, Content Distribution and Marketing at Scripps Network Interactive, told me how he often benefits from a community in ways he never anticipated.
“I have been fortunate to work for people who kept giving me responsibility and expanding my comfort zone to take greater risks.
I used to be very much numbers focused, but now I look at the business from more of a broad perspective, especially how to develop and maintain good relationships.” He did not go looking for sharper social skills; they came looking for him as he took on challenging new responsibilities.
Open yourself to the possibility that you can learn from people who may not at first seem to offer what you need. Opposites attract. And opposites can make great partners.
An article in Forbes cited research in the field of network science that indicates the power of an open, versus a closed, network:
Most people spend their careers in closed networks—networks of people who already know each other. People often stay in the same industry, the same religion, and the same political party.
In a closed network, it’s easier to get things done because you’ve built up trust, and you know all the shorthand terms and unspoken rules. It’s comfortable because the group converges on the same ways of seeing the world that confirm your own.”
The article goes on to point out that, in contrast, open networks invite people with different backgrounds and interests and skills and need to benefit from each other. Open networks: Help form a more accurate view of the world (an isolated group makes more errors than a diverse group that receives a wider range of input).
Facilitate the timing of information sharing (specialized subgroups convey new information more quickly to the entire community). Enhance the role of translator/connector between groups (an intermediary introduces an individual or subgroups to people who might otherwise never meet them).
Generate more breakthrough ideas (a collection of people with different backgrounds and perspectives come up with more creative solutions than a team that consists only of people who share the same perspective).
The article concludes with the words of Apple founder, Steve Jobs, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” There you go. It’s all about connecting the dots. The more diverse the dots, the merrier.
Influence: Mastering the Key to Effective Leadership
Walking in Their Shoes
Do you want to win an election? Do you want to influence people to vote for you? Do you want to gain funding for a project? Then, influence your lab mates and your boss so they see you as the best possible candidate. In order to convince voters to cast their ballot for you, you must first and foremost try to see the situation from their point of view.
That takes empathy, the humble act of walking in another person’s shoes in order to see the world from their perspective. And true empathy involves a careful eye and a patient ear, watching and listening for the clues that reveal the other person’s hopes and fears.
If Jessica got to know her colleagues over a pint of lager and a pizza, sympathizing with their dreams and complaints while confessing her passion for a new line of research, she would greatly increase the odds that when it came time for her boss to allocate funding, her name would be on everyone’s mind.
When you expand your understanding of what motivates other people (and vice versa), you position yourself as a person of influence. You “get” them; they “get” you. That mutual understanding forms a bond of trust and respect that will help you help one another.
Observing Effective Influencers
Who has won your admiration for their ability to influence the people around them, including yourself? I would pick my friends Kerry, Bruce, and Steve, who bring tremendous wisdom, charisma, and good humor to even the most difficult situations. They can always spare time for a friend in need.
When I talk with them, I receive their full attention. They ask astute questions that help me focus and express my thoughts. They “get” me. As a result, I listen carefully to their observations and advice. They influence the way I act. When it comes to the gentle art of influence, they do it with style.
Identify Their Signature Style Taking Stock
We’re going to play a game I created called “The Influencer’s
Thesaurus Game.” You play the role of the influencer. Below you will find a number of attributes that generally describe a highly persuasive person. For each trait, rate yourself as Strong, Mild, or Weak. Your ratings will provide some hints about modifications you may need to make in order to become a better persuader.
Empathetic. Do I listen carefully to what my colleagues and friends say without rehearsing my response while they are talking?
Open-minded. Do I welcome ideas and opinions that differ from my own?
Alluring. Do people gravitate toward me in business and social situations?
Cogent. Do people find my arguments reasonable, even if they disagree with my position on an issue?
Logical. Do I take care to articulate my ideas in a clear, concise, and compelling fashion?
Convincing. Do people change their minds about an issue after I offer my opinion on it?
Eloquent. Do people pay attention to me when I speak?
Energetic. Do I display positive body language that aligns with my conversation?
Inspiring. Do people get excited when I suggest a plan of action?
Powerful. Do people look up to me and come to me for advice and support?
You must often execute a delicate balancing act. While you need to not impose your personal values on others, you should expect others to respect your principles.
Asking the Tough Questions About the Art of Influence
In our list of words describing people who exercise great influence, we included the word “power.” Anyone who strongly influences others exerts a certain amount of power. When you influence someone to embrace your perspective, you feel powerful. These six questions should help you retain the balance of power that takes place when you are leading.
1. How do I feel about influencing others? Successful influencing may make you feel powerful, but it can also make you feel uncomfortable.
2. Do I approach the people I hope to influence with confidence? Feelings of confidence usually signal a sense that you wish to influence people for their benefit.
3. Do I give up easily when I encounter resistance to my ideas and suggestions? Sometimes you need to present your perspective several times before you win a convert to your point of view, but other times you need to accept the fact that no amount of influence will bring the other person around to your way of thinking.
4. Have I ever followed an influential person down a path that made me feel uncomfortable? While you can often make more progress toward your goals by doing something that takes you out of your comfort zone, a high degree of discomfort may indicate that you may have abandoned your core values.
5. Do I use my influence to help the people around me perform to the best of their abilities? You often benefit from the best performances of other people.
6. Would other people describe me as a stubborn person or as an open-minded colleague? Know when to stick to your guns and when to lay them aside.
The Influence Window
Let’s turn to the Influence Window©, a model we developed that will help you harness the power of collaboration and, as a result, become a more confident leader.
The Influence Window helps you match your choice of leadership style to the dynamics of a particular working relationship and the urgency of the situation. You can use the subtle art of influence to keep you in the driver’s seat as you wind your way through countless negotiations.
Collaborate Toward Understanding
Collaboration gets the best results when two or more people of more or less equal competence and experience come together to achieve a goal or solve a problem. The teammates act as equals, accepting ownership for the result, exercising deep empathy, sharing candid opinions, lending loyal support, and listening carefully to different perspectives.
No one acts defensively or covers up mistakes. Openness, transparency, full disclosure, and a shared sense of accountability rule all interactions.
At the lab, collaboration would work best for Jessica’s team, if everyone possessed similarly advanced degrees and had worked in the field for many years. But this was not the case, so a different approach would be used.
Guide Toward Results
However, some situations do not lend themselves to collaboration. In some cases, once you have decided that you have collected enough information from the other party and have formed an opinion about the matter at hand, you find it most effective to move into a guiding style.
You make this shift when the situation demands a strategy or solution in a short period of time when the people involved bring different levels of experience and competency to the undertaking.
This is when the group needs someone to guide them toward the best strategy or solution. They feel some pressure to perform quickly. A good guide uses logic, careful explanations, patience, and encouragement to move people toward desired results.
People in the group must respect and remain open to learning from the guide. Note that the guide does not operate in an authoritarian “command-and-control” mode but serves as a coach, a teacher, and a model for the behavior that he expects from the group.
When Jessica joined a new team at the lab, it was composed of a few raw recruits and others with far less experience than she brings to the project. Because the new team has to meet a tight deadline, it will get the best results if she patiently coaches and teaches her new teammates at opportune moments.
Direct Toward Compliance
There comes a time when collaboration and guidance won’t get the right result because you need a group with varying degrees of competence and experience to comply immediately with an order and cannot afford the time discussing the matter.
You must state your case without little or no explanation and make it clear that you expect people to follow orders, no questions asked.
This approach applies to situations where you have to deal with a chronic problem, perhaps a person’s unacceptable rebel-lion or tendency to sabotage the work of others, or an extreme emergency, such as an impending bankruptcy, where inaction can invite dire consequences.
Disengage to Refresh Your Mind
When nothing you do exerts the influence needed to achieve the objective or solve the problem, you may need to disengage from the group and step back to consider your options.
Do not think of this approach as surrender or rejecting accountability. Yes, you might decide that you want to leave this group or situation altogether, but, more often than not, it is helpful to use a brief period of disengagement to refresh your mind.
At the end of your “vacation” from the situation, you can re-engage with more energy and creativity.
Sometimes, in your absence, groups make significant progress on their own. When you return, you can use that progress as a way to stimulate yourself and the group to keep working hard.
If Jessica gets stuck and starts to feel the pressure so intense that she can barely think straight, that’s the time for her to say, “Look, guys, all this stress is burning me out. I’m taking a long weekend to recharge my batteries. I’ll come back in a much more positive frame of mind and we can resolve this issue then.”
When I teach people how to use the Influence Window I usually spend a full day helping them role-play each of the four basic styles. Pretend you’re writing the scripts for four different episodes for a training video.
In Episode 1, you must create a situation in which a collaborative approach makes the most sense. Then do the same for Episodes 2, 3, and 4, where three other situations lend themselves to each of the other three styles of influence (guide, direct, and disengage).
And keep in mind, these styles are most effective when you have prioritized applying the Power Bank to your relationship first. Without an investment in your power bank with someone, it can be very challenging to be able to make an impact with the various Influence Window styles.
Base your scripts on your own experience or on actual scenes from movies and TV shows.
For example, a team working on coding a new software program would find collaboration more effective, while most military operations require firm direction. In between those two ends of the spectrum you will find activities best suited to either guidance or disengagement.
How would you and the members of a team behave in each of your imagined scenarios? Completing this exercise will help you develop some “influence memory” that can come in handy when you find yourself with little time to prepare a careful approach to influence others.
Avoiding Major Missteps
Now that we have explored four basic ways in which you can influence others, let’s take a few minutes to explore how you can handle some of the common pitfalls that may erode your ability to influence others.
Resist Parental Management
Beware of the powerful impulse to be parental in your management. As a manager, it is not your job to guard, defend, and protect.
Yes, you should use your role as a manager to remove key roadblocks, but you should not also remove all speed bumps, slippery roads, and terrain that may call for a four-wheel drive while you are at it.
A little struggle can go a long way when it comes to employee leadership development. As a manager, you must support, challenge, and nurture.
Exerting parental influence can cause a lot of problems during collaboration because it creates a hierarchy that erodes equality among team members and stalls learning. Of course, it does less harm when you are guiding or directing people.
Take a Stand
While you might think of collaboration as the ideal approach, you do not live in a perfect world. In an imperfect world, a full democracy can do more harm than good. The group debates an issue like a jury, trying hard to reach a unanimous verdict.
In a messy world where there is no one right way to get a good result and more than one solution to a difficult problem, all that discussion and debate can lead to a hung jury.
Days and weeks can go by with no real progress. No matter which step of the ladder you may be on at the moment, always stand up for your ideas and perspectives.
Play the Hand You Are Dealt
No matter how skillfully you influence those around you, you will encounter situations in which no amount of influence will change the hand you have been dealt. The company you want to join has put hiring on hold.
You cannot go over budget, no matter how much you argue for more funding. Your customer simply cannot afford to buy what you’re selling.
Danielle Scelfo, Vice President of San Diego’s Adaptive Biotechnologies Corporation, talked to me about the need to accept certain organizational constraints:
All successful companies are challenging to manage internally. Budgets typically fall short or can be reduced, support such as increased headcount may not be available when needed, and, like life, you have to find a way to achieve your goals with the resources you are granted.
Those who can manage to persevere in the face of adversity are the most successful and highly valued employee assets to any organization.
Determine Your Deal Breaker
Having to adjust everything about who you are in order to “succeed” in an organization, including your style, your personality, your voice, humor, and image, reveals that you are simply not a good fit there.
If so much of who you are has to be modified in order to advance and be well thought of in this culture, then the answer is that it’s time to reclaim your confidence, develop and refine your personal brand, build a large support network outside the company, and get out there in the market to assess where else you can apply your great talents, gifts, and capabilities.
Nathalie Molina Niño, a global business strategist and serial entrepreneur, offered this opinion:
Short term: Start working on an exit strategy; don’t rush, but also don’t delay. Knowing you’re on your way out will help you survive in the interim. Long-term:
If you think you can play the game and move up the ranks without something inside you dying (think “performance”), do it. But do it for one and only one reason, to get there and change the organization.
Remember each of these corrosive experiences and vow never to have another woman go through them, too. Change it from the inside. But know it’s a big sacrifice, and it won’t work if it sucks you in or breaks your spirit. In my experience, this strategy takes a certain kind of person. It’s not for everyone.
In the short term, Bridget followed her own instincts, built excellent relationships with the men in the firm, and enjoyed a successful career at that company by tempering the advice of her boss. In the long term, she moved a more inclusive and gender-balanced company.
Fortune: Keeping an Eye on Your Finances
Determine Your Financial Value System
Commercial Director of Sage One, London-based Nick Goode has learned during twenty years in the software industry that financial success hinges on figuring out your unique relationship with money.
That relationship can span a wide range of feelings, from “I won’t move a muscle until I know I am going to get paid” to “I’ll only work at what I love.”
Both can make sense. In Nick’s experience, those feelings arise from a combination of our upbringing, the social or religious context in which we live, our confidence, and our beliefs about individuality versus community. Few of us really think about these factors as deeply as we should.
Nick Goode shared an exercise he finds quite useful when someone’s weighing the chances of landing a major salary increase at work. It helps to put the marriage between your financial values and your value as a worker under a microscope.
Begin by rating your feelings about your current earnings from 1 (totally dissatisfied) to 5 (totally satisfied). If your ranking falls below 4, write down your feelings. Think hard about your emotions. Do you feel cheated? Does it make you angry that your source of income does not value you highly enough?
Do you feel ashamed of yourself or jealous of others who seem more fortunate? Does your situation depress you? Has the disparity between your work and your compensation ever bothered you so much that you put forth less than your best effort?
Then, again on a scale of 1–5, rate how well you have prepared yourself to do something about the feelings you listed in the previous step. Your ranking should fall between 1 (not prepared at all) and 5 (totally prepared). If you score 3 or less, think deeply about what, specifically, you can do to shift from unready to ready.
Should you meet with the source of your income to discuss your feelings? Should you start looking for another job or a business to start? As you think about taking action to close the gap between your sense of self-worth and what others will pay you for your work, try to maintain a realistic perspective.
You may feel you should be making $100,000 a year as a carpet layer when the market simply will not pay you more than $50,000 for your services. If you can’t live with a smaller amount, you probably need to find another line of work.
Perform this exercise from time to time throughout your career because both partners in a marriage can and do change. As your need for more income increases, as Sasha’s did, you need to make sure that the value you place on your work remains in line with what other people are willing to pay you for your effort. Otherwise, you will be setting yourself up for an unhappy union.
Think Today and Tomorrow
A well-known Aesop’s Fable tells the story of the ant and the grasshopper. The ant toiled so desperately all summer to store food for the winter that she led a pretty boring life.
Her friend the grasshopper played all summer, and while he enjoyed himself immensely in June and July, when winter rolled around he found himself desperately hungry and shivering in the cold while the ant relished the fruits of her labor in a nice warm den. Which are you, Ms. Ant or Mr. Grasshopper? Or are you Mrs. In-Between?
Whichever work and spending habits best describe you, you need to sit down and engage in an absolutely honest conversation with yourself about the balance between enjoying today and preparing for tomorrow. All work and no play makes Ms. Ant a dull girl today; all play and no work makes Mr. Grasshopper a handsome corpse tomorrow.
It pays to take some time almost every day to hold yourself accountable for continually balancing the need to live life fully and the necessity to prepare for the future as your earning and spending patterns evolve.
Owning Your Bottom-Line Responsibilities
Throughout this blog, we have talked about taking accountability for what happens next in your life. Fate may deal you a bad hand. You may fail to land that lucrative job or account, you may not win that major promotion, or you may even find yourself out of work.
That’s your bad luck. But only you can turn it around. However, you must get a handle on your financial situation.
Set Your Fair Market Value Advocate for Dollars and Cents
Nick Goode observed that a lot of people shy away from talking about money with their employer. He thinks that’s a big mistake.
“After all, your job revolves around money. Never feel shy about saying, ‘I need money because . . . [your valid, personal reason that aligns to your first principle]’.” He went on to say, “If money genuinely does not matter to you, and you can live by that principle, well done.
Most people will need to buy a house, raise or support a family, have fun; be prepared for change, to retire and give back to society. I personally don’t believe that money can be insignificant to 99 percent of people.”
That does not mean you can ask for more money just because you want and need it. You must earn it. Companies struggle to hire the right people to deliver the right results.
If you’re delivering or surpassing the results the company expects from you, then you deserve more money and should say so. Losing your ability to deliver results could cost the company a lot more than your raise. As Nick pointed out, it could cost them a proven moneymaker.
If you work for a company and do a good job, you probably possess more negotiating power than you realize. When you feel you truly deserve a raise, try asking for between 20 and 30 percent more than you think you will get. You just might get it.
Asking the Tough Questions About Your Fortune
For this blog’s Tough Questions I consulted with an expert on the subject of personal finance. Alice Tang, ChFC,® brings fifteen years of experience as a financial advisor to the subject. During that time she has consolidated the most important financial concerns into four essential questions:
1. When has money created joy for me? Think about the first time you made a major expenditure to acquire something you strongly desired, perhaps your first new car.
Did it make you as happy as you thought it would? Or, did you suffer the pang of regret many people feel after parting with a lot of money? Your answer to this question will tell you a lot about the roots of your feelings about money.
2. When has money caused me pain and tears? This flip side of the first question usually involves the loss of money. Have you ever risked or gambled a sum of money and ended up regretting that bet or investment? Again, your earliest experiences frequently play a major role in the way you feel about money today.
3. What is the value of money for me? Review your basic feelings when you think about money. Do your thoughts energize and excite you, worry you, or make you nervous? You will probably find yourself somewhere between “money is everything” and “money doesn’t matter.”
4. How would I like to be remembered? This question takes you back to the concept of leaving a legacy, which includes not just the love and respect you won from those who knew you well, but also the money you will leave behind for your heirs.
Do you want to provide for loved ones after you’re gone, or do you want to spend it all before you die? If you haven’t thought about this question before, you have probably been thinking too short term about your fortune.
Thinking Your Way to Financial Success
Love it or hate it, you can’t do without money. So you might as well put it to work for you. I can’t offer specific financial advice because each person must design a financial plan that fulfills his or her unique needs and aspirations. But I can provide some general rules for making money work for your career success.
Embrace Prosperity Thinking
Justin Krane teaches his clients to practice prosperity thinking by aligning their beliefs, expectations, and feelings about financial matters with optimism and confidence.
That helps them emphasize the love side of the love/hate relationship most people have developed with money. Since both prosperity and poverty thinking can become self-fulfilling prophecies, you might as well choose prosperous over poor.
Visualize Your Good Fortune
Building wealth takes courage, focus, and a belief that you can make it happen. Alice Tang explained how we begin to think about money as children. Whether your parents could afford expensive toys and clothes or constantly reminded you that the family budget would not allow them to give you all that you desire, you began to harbor strong feelings about money.
Even if you took it for granted, it meant something to you. An abundance of money may have made you feel safe, secure, or proud. A scarcity might have instilled feelings of insecurity, anger, or shame. Both positive and negative emotions can motivate us to succeed financially.
Regardless of your own feelings about money, you need to decide whether it will control you or you will control it. Alice’s experience with her clients has taught her that before you can take control of your emotional relationship with money, you must make a conscious effort to understand it. You can replace negative associations with positive ones.
If you can visualize a financially secure future, you have a better chance of creating it than if you picture yourself living out of a shopping cart under a bridge. Visualization provides a powerful strategic tool for developing a healthy relationship with money.
Schedule Regular Financial Health Checkups
If you don’t measure it, you can’t control it. Unless you are a financial expert like Alice, you will need help planning your finances. A good accountant or tax preparer can keep you out of trouble with the IRS and help you make sound decisions about your financial future.
Work with your financial consultant, be it your spouse, parent, another family member, a certified public accountant, or certified financial planner to establish a short- and long-term plan.
Then schedule regular, perhaps quarterly, check-ups to measure whether or not you are staying on target. You might consider working online with a financial management software program such as Mint.
Regardless of the team, you assemble to help you keep an eye on your bank account, consider the financial implications of every career move you make. A setback may require a short-term adjustment, as might an unexpected windfall.
A smart financial partner can keep you from making such mistakes as continuing with no-longer-accurate assumptions or by moving forward with the false assumption that a surprising stroke of financial luck will repeat itself down the road.
Keeping Happiness on Your Balance Sheet
Once you have designed a unique short- and long-term financial plan that will help you grow your idea of a fortune, you need to remind yourself of the other meaning of the word, the fortune that money can’t buy.
Preoccupation with the bottom line can actually keep you from gaining the love and happiness that make life worth living. How do you avoid that trap? Follow Frank Sinatra’s advice and “do it your way.”
Author and business strategist Carmen Voillequé of Strategic Arts and Sciences describes the advantages of following your own path:
Be unconventional. When we live a life circumscribed by the expectations of others, we lead a limited life. The greatest gift that you can give yourself is the permission to be different. Let go of your need to have everyone you love or care about understand your life choices.
If you are truly going to fulfill your highest potential in your life and work, you will have to push boundaries, challenge notions of “acceptable behavior,” make mistakes, and redefine the very notion of success as we know it.
Meeting the expectations of those around you might feel nice, but it will also mean falling far short of your greatest capabilities and passion.
This applies to money, too. Your family and your professors and fellow MBA candidates may expect you to go to work on Wall Street and make a fortune as an investment banker, but if your heart tells you would find fulfillment writing about finance and investment, for far less money, then perhaps you should follow your heart.
After Sasha takes stock of her worsening financial situation she may discover that she not only needs to change her spending habits, but she would like to apply her talent with people outside the corporate walls. It would take a lot of careful planning, but she could, over time, make a successful transition from corporate life to the proprietor of her own headhunting firm.
All of us tend to work harder at a job where we can apply our passion and drive and talent. That sort of work will inspire you to bounce out of bed in the morning ready to take on the world. This does not mean that everyone should leave corporate life and follow the path of the intrepid entrepreneur.
Most new businesses fail within the first five years. Find an existing company where you can do what you love and do it so well you make good money for the organization and yourself. Whichever route you take, make sure you engage in work that makes your heart sing.
Recognizing Your Pivot Points
Each time we reach the end of one episode in life’s journey, we must pause and evaluate our current values, level of success, and sense of fulfillment at work and at home, as well as our motivation to remain on the same path or strike out in a new direction.
In my own case, I have asked all the Tough Questions I’ve posted in this blog a number of times in my life. Then, I thought seriously about what changes I should make today in order to ensure a better tomorrow. I have performed three major pivots so far:
When I turned thirty and realized that no amount of success as a therapist would fully fulfill my hopes and dreams.
When I moved 3,000 miles across the country with my fiancé and felt a burning desire to create my own business while drawing on my previous careers in psychotherapy and sales.
When I celebrated my fortieth birthday and decided to up-level my work by committing to an in-house role with a dynamic, fast-growing company.
Heed Your Gasp Gap
Name Your Vital Values
Asking the Tough Questions About
Staging Your Next Act
When you reach a major pivot point you should revisit all of the Tough Questions.
1. Do my basic motivations still hold true? Much has occurred in your life and your work over the years, so seize this opportunity to examine what really matters to you now.
2. Have new fears arisen in my life? Consider whether your confidence remains high or has declined in light of new fears.
3. Do I think like an entrepreneur? Ask yourself if you have fallen into a rut where you feel less inclined to take risks.
4. Have I continued to link who I am and what I do to how I relate to people? Take time to reevaluate your Power Bank and how people perceive your character.
5. Have I orchestrated my life while pursuing my life’s work? Weigh the amount of harmony you have created between your personal and professional life.
6. How does my present situation compare to the future I envisioned? Decide if you need to connect some new dots to a new future.
7. Does my network continue to serve me well? Consider expanding or contracting the number of communities you have joined.
8. Do I practice effective leadership? Determine if you have mastered the Influence Window.
9. Have I kept an eye on my finances? Measure your fortune in both senses of the word.
10. Do I really need to move on to the next action? Make sure you have reached a true pivot point and not just an unexpected detour along your chosen path.
Deciding When It’s Time to Make a Change
You know my fondness for good questions. Take a look at Bruce Hazen’s outstanding blog, Answering the Three Career Questions. He provides an excellent guidance system for keeping your career on course:
1. When is it time to move up in work that you want to sustain? (Moving up means progressing, not necessarily getting a promotion.)
2. When is it time to move out when the work or organization or your boss is no longer a fit with who you are becoming?
3. When is it time to adapt your style to get more success in an organization that you like?
Bruce suggests that people look for clues that they should consider leaving their current position and look for something more attuned to their desires and talent. I paraphrase his “ten classic conditions” that often indicate time for a change1:
1. Your boss does not consult with you. Finding yourself “out of the loop” usually signals that decision makers in the organization do not value your input and think the business can get along quite well without you.
2. Your boss scrutinizes you more closely. Increased micro-management and documentation of everything you do suggests that your boss does not trust you.
3. Coworkers stop conferring with you. A growing sense of isolation from your colleagues may be telling you that people have already begun distancing themselves from you.
4. You receive a poor performance review. Failing to hit your numbers or achieve your goals may indicate that you and your job do not make a good match.
5. You find yourself constantly at odds with your boss. Frequent arguments and disagreements mean that you and your boss will never find common ground.
6. Organizational leaders, including your boss, talk about “transition.” Mergers and acquisitions often result in downsizing and elimination of duplicate functions, possibly yours.
7. Leaders expect new employees to turn the organization around. The arrival of supposed superheroes tells you that the company is suffering severe problems no one expects you to help solve.
8. Your new boss works at another site. Those in power may be preparing to move your job to another location without offering you a transfer.
9. Training and development activities have disappeared. A lack of growth potential makes it clear that you have reached a job or career plateau as far as management is concerned.
10. Organizational leaders behave in mysterious and inscrutable ways. Perhaps they have seen the future and the future does not include you.
Note that these questions suggest that in most cases, employees find their bosses, not the organization itself, incompatible. Before you bail out of the company, check to see if the pilot, not the aircraft, has flown you off course.
Weighing All the Options
Pivots can occur in both your personal and professional life and a change in either can dramatically affect the other. Job loss can cause great suffering in your family;
the death of a loved one can distract you from your work or even immobilize you; divorce usually diminishes the financial security of both parties and forces one, or both, to work at more than one job to make ends meet.
Retirement leaves a big hole in your life if you haven’t figured out what to do with all the new time on your hands. Whatever the pivot, you can look at it as a wake-up call to think about other changes you should consider making. You might decide not to change things, but quite often you will begin to move in a new direction. Let’s look at both ends of this changing spectrum.
Stay and Serve Resolutely
Certain pivotal moments in our professional lives reinforce our core values and remind us why we love doing what we do for a living. National Basketball Association referee Joe Crawford gets a new lease on life when he added teaching to his on-court skill at spotting fouls.
He told me when April rolls around at the end of a season, he and his referee crew will have worked hard during some seventy-five games and head into the playoffs feeling totally exhausted.
Move Slowly in a Radically New Direction
No matter how radical the change you wish to make, you must keep in mind that it begins, as all new journeys do, by placing one foot in front of the other, with the belief that over time you will arrive safely at the new destination.
Harness sing Speed and Adaptability
No matter how brilliantly you launch yourself into a new career, unanticipated events both good and bad will take you by surprise, causing you to grow and evolve in ways as you never expected when you began the new act.