Collaborator in Chief

November 11, 2016

The result of the recent presidential election means Donald Trump will become leader of the United States of America. However, I don’t recall him ever previously referred to as a business leader or any kind of leader for that matter.

While he is reportedly a successful businessman, he has absolutely no governing experience. Ironically, this was seen as an enormous strength rather than a weakness in this election. But business acumen doesn’t naturally translate into effective governing.

“Businesses tend to be dictatorships, where the edict of the CEO is carried out by an army of minions,” said Program Director A. G. Block of the University of California Center Sacramento. “Governance is a messy process where coalition-building is required and governors need to be good listeners willing to compromise. Goals also have social implications that business executives often do not consider when making business decisions. And their constituents in the business world—their stockholders—tend to be, for the most part, a homogenous group with one common goal: profits. As governor, the constituency is a varied mishmash with a variety of goals.”

The leader of the United States of America obviously cannot conduct himself like the CEO of a company. It is a unique leadership position that requires working collaboratively with others to protect and serve the citizens of the country. And our Founding Fathers ensured that the three branches of government provided the necessary checks and balances to keep a tyrant or dictator from taking over our democracy.

In a previous blog post I pointed out that Trump has demonstrated leadership qualities such as confidence, tenacity and negotiating skills. However, effective leaders also need to demonstrate integrity, humility, and the ability to inspire and motivate people. His performance in the presidential campaign provided few examples of integrity and humility.

His ability to inspire and motivate people certainly contributed to his success in bringing to the polls the disenfranchised voters who felt largely ignored by both parties. Yet it was his divisiveness that also brought out the worst in them rather than the best.

Though Trump can accomplish certain things without the help of Congress through Executive Actions, these can be easily overturned by his successor. This is exactly what he intends to do with many of President Obama’s Executive Actions. And this is no sustainable way to govern.

Important legislation can only be enacted with the help of Congress. And this requires collaboration. Though President Trump will have an easier time with an all-Republican Congress, he will no doubt face a great deal of opposition with many of the proposals he campaigned on from both Democrats and Republicans.

To be a successful President, he will need to collaborate with others rather than try to command and control them. He will need to learn the ability to compromise: to give a little in order to gain a little. Now that we are politically more divided as a country than ever before, this requires even greater collaboration skills.

It comes down to taking into account the importance of the tasks equally with the relationships. No one person in Washington will be able to accomplish big things without strong alliances with willing participants. And this requires the ability to collaborate successfully.

In their book Collaborative Leadership: How to succeed in an interconnected world, David Archer and Alex Cameron identified 10 key lessons for a successful collaborative leader.

1. Find the personal motive for collaborating
2. Find ways of simplifying complex situations for your people
3. Prepare for how you are going to handle conflict well in advance
4. Recognize that there are some people or organizations you just can’t partner with
5. Have the courage to act for the long term
6. Actively manage the tension between focusing on delivery and on building relationships
7. Invest in strong personal relationships at all levels
8. Inject energy, passion and drive into your leadership style
9. Have the confidence to share the credit generously
10. Continually develop your interpersonal skills, in particular: empathy, patience, tenacity, holding difficult conversations, and coalition building.

These lessons are just as important in running a country as they are in running a business. Reading over this list, I can’t help but think that many of these lessons do not necessarily come to mind with regard to Trump’s reputation as a businessman. If Donald Trump hopes to make progress on his campaign promises, he will need to find a way to collaborate effectively with the House and Senate.

Finally, leadership is not something one can be appointed to or elected to as it is something to be earned. True leaders are those who gain respect through their overall effectiveness combined with the way they lead their people. It is certainly about getting results, but it is also about the relationships that are inherently necessary in reaching those results. And those relationships require effective collaboration.

Thriving in the Workplace

October 28, 2016

We live at a time when employee engagement is especially low. Employees are dissatisfied, discouraged and disinclined to be optimally productive. This is bad for both employers and employees.

According to Gallop’s 2012 State of the American Workplace, 70% of American workers said they feel they are not engaged at work. This comes at a time when competitive pressures and the technological rate of change are ever increasing.

Engaged employees are those who work with passion and feel a connection to the work and their company. They have a positive relationship with the people they work around and to the work itself. They are also vastly more productive than those who are not engaged.

Disengaged employees may show up to work, but they lack the enthusiasm and energy necessary to thrive. Disengaged employees are pervasive yet most are not actively disengaged, which can be especially harmful to an organization. Nevertheless, it is this lack of engagement that really hinders organizations.

It also impacts the ability for employees to thrive. And without thriving employees, organizations can’t bring about the innovation and creative problem solving required to be competitive in the 21st century.

The solution is for employers to provide an environment suitable to engage employees and for employees to do their part to be engaged. This second part is just as important as no amount of incentives will raise engagement without the employee’s own involvement.

While it is possible to find and hire employees who are naturally inclined to thrive regardless of where they work, the workplace environment can certainly accelerate or hinder this.

Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porat along with their research partners at the Ross School of Business’s Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship found that thriving employees are those who are not just satisfied and productive, but also engaged in creating the future—the company’s and their own.

In their research regarding what enables sustainable individual and organizational performance, they found that thriving employees were 32% more committed to their organization and 46% more satisfied with their jobs. Not surprising, these employees were also less likely to miss work.

In order for employees to thrive, Spreitzer and Porat identified two components: vitality and learning. Vitality is the sense of being passionate and excited, which can spark energy in themselves and those around them. Learning is in the growth that comes from gaining new knowledge and skills, such as developing expertise in a certain area.

It’s the combination of the two components that is required because learning without vitality can result in burnout, and vitality without learning leads to work that is too repetitious and boring. It is also the partnership of the employer and employee to be actively involved.

To encourage vitality, employers should provide an environment that generates a sense that what employees do for them really makes a difference.

Employees should seek out organizations for whom they can get passionate and excited about as well as put forth the effort to actively participate. Vitality cannot come from outside the individual because it is intrinsic and, although it can be supported by the opportunities inside the organization, it must bubble up from within the individual employee.

With regard to learning, employers need to provide opportunities for employees to obtain new knowledge and skills. And employees need to maintain a growth mindset and choose to continue learning while on the job. No amount of teaching will lead to learning without a willing student who is ready and interested in gaining new knowledge.

Spreitzer and Porat further identified four mechanisms that can help create the condition for thriving employees. They are:

  • Providing decision-making discretion
  • Sharing information
  • Minimizing incivility
  • Offering performance feedback

This makes sense as these mechanisms are necessary for employees to feel empowered, knowledgeable, comfortable and self-aware.

And organizations can either encourage or discourage these mechanisms. To encourage them, they need to be more than HR policies or corporate value statements because it is a part of the corporate culture. To fully embrace these four mechanisms means everyone in the organization needs to adhere to them and they need to be reinforced each and every day.

Thriving employees need to feel that their contribution is making a positive difference, they are able to directly influence the results, they are free to speak openly even when they disagree with the status quo, and they are able to continue learning and growing in their career

A thriving workplace is one where both organizations and their employees take responsibility. This partnership is mutually beneficial. Organizations can attract and retain top talent while increasing profitability, and employees are more satisfied, encouraged, and inclined to be optimally productive. A thriving workplace is a win-win.

The Measure of Leadership

August 10, 2016

How do you size up a leader? Do you choose and accept him or her based on the perspective of your particular newsfeed? Or do you assess a leader based on who your friends and family respect? Does it depend on the size of the company or organization, or on the particular political party affiliation he or she happens to represent?

Each year Fortune magazine chooses the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders and this is different than your typical list. You won’t find Bill Gates, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton on it. Instead you’ll see names like Christiana Figueres, Pope Francis, Aung San Suu Kyi and John Legend.

According to the article, “It isn’t enough to be accomplished, brilliant, or admirable. We recognize those who are inspiring others to act, to follow them on a worthy quest, and who have shown staying power.”

On the other hand, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos comes up as number one on this as well as many other such lists. Well-known leaders such as Tim Cook, Angela Merkel, Nick Saban and Marc Benioff are also included.

There are many reasons why we follow someone, but it seems that some type of benchmark would be helpful: a litmus test if you will for whether or not you will choose to admire, work for or vote for a particular person.

We live at a time when many of our business leaders are more focused on creating shareholder value than treating employees and customers respectfully. And while middle income workers’ wages have stagnated during the past 20 years, corporate boards continue to reward CEOs with salaries often 300 times the average of the rank and file worker.

The media continually refers to our government representatives as “leaders,” yet clearly most are not demonstrating leadership. And when congress (members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate combined) has only a 14 percent approval rating yet 95 percent of incumbents are re-elected, we the people are clearly not living up to our side of the responsibility of democracy.

Leaders You Admire

Think of the business or political leaders you most admire and for whom your respect has lasted over the years. These may be folks such as Herb Kelleher, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jack Welch, etc. What leadership qualities do they possess that have sustained your loyalty?

Now think of newer leaders you have recently chosen to follow. This could include Howard Schultz, Barack Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, etc. Do they possess similar leadership qualities or have you allowed your standards to be somewhat compromised? Is their leadership likely to stand up over time?

Litmus Test for Leaders

Before I attach my allegiance to a new leader, I like to evaluate him or her based on the following criteria:

  • Is there alignment with my own values? This seems like it should be the very baseline for whether or not I can willfully follow anyone.
  • Does he or she make me feel safe? Author Simon Sinek suggests this is a vitally important factor in whether someone can lead others effectively.
  • Does the individual inspire me? John Quincy Adams said “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
  • Does he or she demonstrate integrity? “Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” — Warren Buffett
  • Has he or she created other leaders? Many mistakenly think leaders are only about gaining followers. “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself,” said Jack Welch. “When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

All of these are important when I consider whether a so-called leader is worthy of my respect and willingness to follow, work for or vote for.

In business or politics our leaders should continually be held to a high standard and one for which we hold them accountable. It is therefore incumbent upon us to demand more from those we choose to follow. Whatever your litmus test, it is important that you apply it before you accept your leaders. Then and only then can you “follow them on a worthy quest.”

Learning Skills: Knowing vs. Doing

June 17, 2016

So often knowledge and skills are linked together as a single unit. And while there is certainly a strong link between what we know and what we can do, these terms need to be uncoupled in order to better understand them.

The knowledge we acquire is a direct result of our learning through school, reading books and trade journals, attending training programs and seminars, etc. Staying on top of the latest research and thinking in our professional domain is vital to becoming and remaining successful.

Skills are what we are able to do with this knowledge, yet it doesn’t necessarily follow from our knowledge acquisition alone. Theory and practice are different: just witness fresh college graduates joining the workforce. But it’s not only in newcomers where this shows up since skills, like knowledge, need to be continually developed in order for each of us to stay current.

Knowledge Transfer vs. Skills Training

So how do you learn and improve your skills? Is it wrapped up in training programs promoted as “skills training,” yet delivered for the most part as knowledge transfer?

When looking at how employees are trained, there is often a tendency to focus on knowledge rather than skills. The primary reason is tradition and convenience, and because it is much easier to present knowledge to a large group of people rather than set up conditions under which these people can develop skills through practice.

Training & Discretionary Spending

The amount of money companies spend on training is often a good barometer of economic activity— when companies are growing, they increase spending on training; when they are slowing down, they cut back. Training is the most discretionary of all corporate spending.  And the larger the company, the more likely it is to invest in training and development.

In 2012, according to the Association for Talent Development (formerly ASTD), US companies spent more than $164 billion on training and development. And according to the “2014 Corporate Learning Factbook,” US spending on corporate training grew by 15% over the previous year—the highest growth rate in the previous seven years.

This increase in spending on training is not only associated with growing economic activity, but also due to a skills gap. In fact, more than 70% of surveyed organizations stated this “capabilities gap” is one of their top five challenges.

Skill Practice Yields Learning

While knowledge can be fed into the brain to be stored and retrieved as necessary, skills need to be immediately practiced in order for them to be truly learned and retained. Today there is far too little effective skills training in the corporate world.

Skills training needs to be taught differently than knowledge training. The teacher needs to be less the “sage on the stage” and more of a “guide on the side.” Some examples include:

  • Programs and classes that are experiential where students actively practice a skill as a way to truly learn it. A particular skill is demonstrated by the instructor, then immediately practiced by students where they can be corrected as necessary. This can be done outside of the workplace where students can first gain competence along with confidence. Useful for improving public speaking or presentation skills, for example.
  • Executive Coaching is an excellent way to uncover issues or concerns, educate why they are ineffective, and then help change behavior through practicing new skills in the workplace environment. Beginning with the coach’s suggestions on alternative approaches, the client can then try out new behaviors in the workplace. Through reflection and direct feedback with corrections and/or modifications, the client can further refine practice of the new skill. Especially useful for improving communication, conflict negotiation, and increasing overall executive presence.

In their book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, authors Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool discuss what they call “deliberate practice” where the focus is solely on performance and how to improve it. Whether it’s to become a grandmaster chess champion, a concert violinist, a professional golfer or a successful business leader, quality skill development won’t be found in a book, online seminar, or traditional training course. It will come through this deliberate practice.

According to Ericsson and Pool, this deliberate, purposeful practice requires:

  • Getting outside your comfort zone — “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Neale Donald Walsch
  • Doing it in a focused way with clear goals and a plan for reaching them — “A goal without a plan is just a dream.” Dave Ramsey
  • Finding a way to monitor or measure your progress — “What gets measured gets managed.” Peter Drucker
  • Maintaining your motivation — “People say motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily.” Zig Ziglar

In the same way learning to play the piano requires music theory, it also requires continually putting fingers on the keyboard in order to enable muscle memory, among other things. We have to stop thinking that simply hearing, reading, or watching something will enable us to learn or improve a skill.

Skill development requires going beyond knowing to actually doing. It requires deliberate, focused attention that stretches us just beyond where we’re comfortable. It demands continual monitoring and adjustments. And the motivation to keep you continually moving forward.

Listening Your Way to Success

May 31, 2016

How often do you struggle to get people to buy what you’re selling?

I’m not suggesting you are a sales person, per se. However, all of us are selling something whether it’s seeking the boss’s permission to proceed on a project, persuading a co-worker to do something in a particular way, convincing your spouse to vacation in a certain location, or cajoling the kids to do their homework and clean their rooms.

This form of persuasion takes place in each of our lives every single day, and some of us are more successful at it than others.

In this age of message bombardment, it’s important to recognize that people selectively tune out the noise in order to hear what’s important to them. Because they are inundated with both wanted and unwanted to information, they fortify themselves to listen selectively.

So given this resistance, how do you get your message across?

Persuasion Cycle

In Mark Goulston’s book, Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, he explains the importance of successful communication through the Persuasion Cycle, illustrated above. Goulston says all persuasion moves through the steps of this cycle and therefore it’s important to to speak to people in a manner that moves them from:

  • Resisting to Listening
  • Listening to Considering
  • Considering to Willing to Do
  • Willing to Do to Doing
  • Doing to Glad They Did and Continue Doing

The secret to getting through to anyone is by having them buy in. This occurs only when you are able to get people to stop “resisting” to “listening” to “considering” what you are saying.

“Ironically, the key to gaining ‘buy-in’ and then moving people through the rest of the cycle is not what you tell them, but what you get them to tell you—and what happens in their minds in the process,” says Goulston.

As the title to his book implies, listening is a huge part of successfully persuading others. And effective listening requires seeking to understand before being understood as Stephen R. Covey described in his seminal book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

It also requires hearing what is unspoken yet conveyed through tone of voice, eye contact and other body language. This requires you to be curious, and using all of your senses to truly tune into the other person.

Listen Better by Asking Right Questions

Getting people to reveal their resistance involves not only listening, but asking the right questions. No matter how many facts and details you share about your perspective, until you ask the right questions to uncover resistance you will fall on deaf ears. And learning to ask good questions is perhaps the most important leadership tool you can master.

You can also help persuade others by exercising your empathy muscle to make the other person feel heard. The gift of being heard is all too rare and goes a long way towards successfully connecting with other people. When they feel heard, they are much more willing to open up and reveal what’s most important to them.

Though most of us will say we are good listeners, the reality is we are not. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we will admit that instead of actively listening, we are distracted or thinking about what to say next. This is counterproductive to moving through the Persuasion Cycle.

If you really want to enhance your ability to persuade others to buy what you’re selling, follow the steps in the Persuasion Cycle and improve your ability to truly listen.

Virtually Connected Yet Digitally Distracted

May 13, 2016

Our reliance on smartphones not only enables us to connect with each other at any time and any place, it has also changed the nature of our connections in a profound way. Because we have a phone that connects us to our families, friends, bosses, co-workers, acquaintances, and just about everything else, it has almost become an extension of our bodies.

I remember I used to get so upset while waiting in line for something because when I finally got to the front, the clerk took a phone call and provided immediate service to that person instead of me. Once alerted to this, everyone began calling while they were waiting in line.

Today, two people can be having a very serious conversation, yet when someone’s phone beeps with a text or other alert, the conversation is interrupted (whether or not someone looks) and no longer are the two fully engaged. Our connections are no longer as in-depth because research has shown that even having a phone within sight keeps people from venturing as deep. Knowing that at any moment what you say can be interrupted, keeps you from making yourself vulnerable.

According to Sherry Turkle, author of the new book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, this age of technological innovation enables us to always communicate, yet we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We have become distracted so much that we can’t be with others without turning to our phones. Research found that each of us look at our phones on average every 6.5 minutes. I suspect it’s an even lower number with younger people.

Loosely Connected vs. Fully Present

Rather than be fully present with the person physically before us, we are choosing to stay loosely connected to those in our wider circle for fear we may miss out on something or not respond quickly enough to their request. Why have we become such slaves to our technology?

“Technology gives us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship,” writes Turkle. We choose to connect minimally with lots of people at the expense of losing the ability to connect deeply with someone. And this decrease in real conversation is leading to a serious lack of empathy.

How does this translate to the workplace?

Ben Waber and Alex Pentland from the MIT Media Lab developed a tool called a “sociometric badge” that allows researchers to track employees’ movements as well as a range of measures about their conversations: who they talk to, for how long, on what topic, with what pace of speech, with what tone of voice, and how often they interrupt each other. This badge can analyze intimate aspects of conversation such as body language, interest and excitement, and the amount of influence people have on each other.

This helped quantify what was previously unquantifiable and the results were as follows:

  • Face-to-face conversation leads to higher productivity and is also associated with reduced stress;
  • Call centers are more productive when people take breaks together;
  • Software teams produce programs with fewer bugs when they talk more;
  • The conversation effect doesn’t work the same way for online encounters.

“We think of productivity as . . . sitting in front of the computer and banging out emails, scheduling things; and that’s what makes us productive, but it’s not,” Waber says. What makes you productive is “your interactions with other people—you know, you give them new ideas, you get new ideas from them; and . . . if you even make five people a little bit more productive every day, those conversations are worth it.”

Unitasking vs. Multitasking

It’s hard to think of a meeting where people aren’t looking at their phones at the expense of conversation and paying attention. We have all accepted this practice because it is a sign of multitasking, which is still widely viewed as a good thing. I suspect there will be a renaissance of unitasking in the same way that mindfulness is gaining momentum. You can’t multitask and be mindful.

Perhaps our current fascination with smartphones is due to their still being relatively new and one day we will see them simply as the tools that they are meant to be. The phone will then be put back in our pocket or purse until we see the need to access it when we are good and ready for it. And while smartwatches and other wearables are on the market to further distract us, I hope we don’t forget that in the end it is the individuals in our lives who matter most. And fully connecting with each of them is much more meaningful than virtually connecting with many others.

Achieving Work-Life Balance

April 13, 2016

One of the biggest reasons for stress is the inability to find balance in our lives. Perhaps the focus on seeking work-life balance frustrates many of us because the equation is all wrong.

Work is not simply one thing. It may be intellectually stimulating, but may not provide any physical stimulation and in fact may be counterproductive to good health. Or your job may be physically exhilarating, but not provide any emotional satisfaction. Perhaps it does satisfy your heart, but it doesn’t lift your spirit.

Even the notion of when we are at work has changed because technology enables and employers expect us to be within reach all the time. Gone are the days when doctors, IT professionals, and firemen were the only people with pagers to make themselves immediately available. Smartphones enable us all to be “on call.”

It’s clear that work and life are no longer separate the way they used to be and this undoubtedly adds to our stress. However, there are ways we can find balance and reduce the stress.

Let’s first acknowledge that work is an integral part of life, and the more you try to separate it from family life, the more frustrated you may become.

There are also four component parts in each of us: body, mind, heart and spirit. Each of them are equally important and, for balance, should be fully integrated in our lives—both in work and separate from work.

Body – This is your health and well-being nourished through physical activities that bring you energy and vitality. It includes the fuel you ingest to stay fit and healthy, and the rest you get to be at your best.

Mind – This is the mental and intellectual stimulation you need to keep you engaged. For many, this is where you are focused while at work, but perhaps not entirely. You may also have or should have hobbies and other pursuits to keep you cognitively stimulated away from work, which may ultimately result in you being more engaged while at work.

Heart – This includes the people and activities where you experience the highs of love and joy as well as the lows of sadness and despair. It is our emotional selves that are every bit as present at work as they are everywhere else in life—only some may want to deny this. Every relationship, both at work and away, requires that our emotional selves to be present.

Spirit – The spirt is perhaps the least tangible and understood of the four as it can be the people, activities, groups, communities, religious practices, time in nature, meditation or many other things that put you in touch with something greater than yourself. It is no less valuable than the other three and requires our attention.

Each of these components is important in order to find balance and reduce stress. In fact, if you feel stress in your life right now, it is likely that one of these areas is being neglected. Figuring out which it is and then filling it will help.

So, you may be saying I don’t have time for the body or spirit. My life is too busy to workout, eat right or get enough sleep. Oddly enough, perhaps you do make time to binge watch Netflix while eating fast food late into the night. And you may say the spirit part might be important, but you’d rather watch sports than go to church, volunteer at a food bank or take a walk in nature. That’s certainly your choice, but it’s not that you don’t have time. You don’t make time.

We have always had 24 hours in each day, but the advent of electricity enabled us to stay awake much later resulting in a reduction in the amount of rest we get. The invention of the TV enabled us to passively watch instead of actively read reducing our intellectual stimulation. And the availability of email and social media reduced our actual face-to-face interaction, which cut back on opportunities to connect more deeply and emotionally.

Rather than seeking more waking hours in the day, rethink how you spend them. If you find your spirit bucket is the one that is empty, making time for a quiet 30-minute walk by yourself can help. You may complain that this is not “productive” and therefore you run instead. But this is counterproductive. While it may help fill your body bucket, your spirit bucket will remain depleted.

Spirit is probably the part that is most difficult to quantify and easiest to ignore, and maybe it becomes more important the older you get. Whether you are young or old, your ability to nurture the spirit will enable you to become more calm and centered to handle stress.

The body needs exercise, the right fuel and plenty of rest in order to function properly. We can’t innovate and imagine if our brains aren’t stimulated by what interests us. The opportunity to regularly connect deeply with other people at a heartfelt level is equally important. And our ability to unplug and be alone with our thoughts is vital to the soul.

To achieve work-life balance, seek to nurture the four component parts of your being. When these are equally tended to, you will find balance both at work and in life.

The Compassionate Leader

April 2, 2016

The current tenor of the Republican presidential campaign has got me thinking about the lack of compassion expressed by our so-called leaders. It wasn’t that long ago when George W. Bush campaigned using the phrase “compassionate conservatism,” though you might argue he never really governed that way.

For some reason the term compassion has become divisive and reserved for discussion of those who have fallen through the safety net and only the “truly needy.” It’s as if compassion should be conveyed only as a last resort and for a small minority of us. The fact is we all need compassion at some time and we should all feel compassion for others when they need it.

“Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism,” said Hubert H. Humphrey. I hope we haven’t gotten to the point where there’s no room for compassion in our capitalism.

Whether in politics or business, leaders who demonstrate compassion are more likely to connect with and gain lasting followers.

Feeling compassion in the workplace means staying in touch with your own feelings as well as those of others, which can result in more accurately understanding and navigating all your workplace relationships. Compassion is a leadership trait that should be demonstrated by leaders at every level within an organization.

That’s because research has shown that those who experience compassion in the workplace feel more positive emotions and are more committed to the organization. When bad news is delivered compassionately, workers are more likely to remain supportive of the organization. And when you act with compassion at work, you can increase your satisfaction and lower your overall stress.

Compassionate leaders put people before procedures, they courageously say what they feel, and they lead with sincere and heartfelt consideration for others.

Perhaps the most important tool of compassion is empathy, which is the ability to understand what someone else experiences and reflect that understanding back to them. Empathy is also a vital component of what it means to be emotionally intelligent.

According to Brené Brown, Ph.D., author of Rising Strong, the prerequisite for real empathy is compassion. You can’t respond to someone empathetically unless you are willing to be present to their pain, which requires compassion.

“It’s important to note here that empathy is understanding what someone is feeling, not feeling it for them,” writes Brown. “If someone is feeling lonely, empathy doesn’t require us to feel lonely, too, only to reach back into our own experience with loneliness so we can understand and connect.”

But don’t confuse empathy for sympathy. As Brown further explains, when someone says, “I feel sorry for you” or “That must be terrible,” they are standing at a safe distance. Rather than conveying the powerful “me too” of empathy, sympathy communicates “not me,” and then adds, “But I do feel for you.” This does not have nearly the impact empathy provides.

For you to demonstrate empathy inside an organization, you must have the foundation of compassion.

Being compassionate doesn’t mean taking on and solving other people’s problems. Nor does it mean you have to agree with the actions that got the individual into a particular situation. And being compassionate doesn’t mean you don’t hold the individual accountable.

What compassion does mean is noticing another person’s suffering, connecting with him or her both cognitively and emotionally, and then responding in a caring and proactive fashion. You can be compassionate by agreeing to disagree, yet still hold the person accountable.

In this way your compassion helps the individual, the organization and yourself.

I’d like to think we’re seeing an increase in compassionate business leaders who sincerely value the welfare of their employees, customers and surrounding community. This kind of leadership will lead to more engaged employees, satisfied customers, a healthier community and ultimately greater shareholder return.

Leaders Who Ask For Help

March 18, 2016

In my work as a leadership coach I regularly encounter senior managers and directors who desire to become leaders, but many fail to understand that the leap is much more than a title, salary and corner office.

Leadership isn’t so much appointed as it is earned through your management track record and, perhaps just as importantly, the soft skills you demonstrate.

Soft skills include the ability to communicate clearly and effectively, inspire people to deliver their best, organizational savvy, courage to make hard decisions, and the ability to admit you don’t have all the answers. This last one means demonstrating humility and often runs counter to what we expect in our leaders.

“In a culture of scarcity and perfectionism, asking for help can be shaming if we’re not raised to understand how seeking help is human and foundational to connection,” writes author and researcher Brené Brown in her book Rising Strong. “But the truth is that no amount of money, influence, resources, or determination will change our physical, emotional, and spiritual dependence on others.”

None of us have all the answers and the strongest leaders are those who not only acknowledge this to themselves, but demonstrate it to others. As much as we may be seeking a single person to have all the answers and take care of everything, the reality is no one person can do this.

However, we live in a culture that presents it that way. Think about sports and how despite the need for total team effort, the media presents Payton Manning and the Denver Broncos or Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. NBA match-ups are promoted as LeBron James and the Cavaliers versus Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.

Taking nothing away from the leadership these talented athletes demonstrate, we discount and denigrate the efforts of those around them who contribute to victories. We give too much credit to the individual athletes when they succeed and lay on too much blame when they fail.

In the more serious arena of politics, this lack of humility and the leader’s inability to rely upon others can be much more troubling. When a leader claims he or she has all the answers, beware because this can mean a lack of self-awareness, extreme egotism, narcissism and will likely lead to destructive and even catastrophic decisions.

When Republican presidential front-running candidate Donald Trump was recently asked by host Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” who he would rely on for help with foreign policy, he said:

“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain. I’ve said a lot of things … I speak to a lot of people, but my primary consultant is myself, and I have a good instinct for this stuff.”

Despite no experience in domestic or foreign policy, Trump is essentially saying we should take him on faith. He says he’s smart and he can figure it out. In this bizarre political season, vetting potential leaders of the free world should demand more than this.

In the corporate setting, those leading from a cool and professional distance are unable to make sound decisions because, like all of us, they have blind spots and areas where they are simply deficient. When these leaders refuse to ask for help they risk alienating their people and make bad decisions.

The difficulty with asking for help is because it is emotionally risky and may expose our uncertainty. This is, however, the exact vulnerability necessary for us to fully connect with others. Without the courage to risk opening up and being seen, there can be no connection.

Just the other day I spoke with a leader who described the most powerful and important day in his career. It was at an off-site where they were discussing the importance of trust. When it was brought up that there was a trust problem in the organization, he invited feedback as to whether he was someone who could be trusted. The answer came back negative.

Without becoming defensive, he asked for examples of why this was the case, and in front of the entire group he listened with an open mind and open heart. He invited follow up conversations with each of the individuals who spoke up in order to learn from them and to express his perspective. Later he came to find not only did these individual relationships improve, but so did trust, his satisfaction at work and his overall growth as a leader, culminating with a promotion.

The ability to courageously expose our vulnerability and ask for help is the very thing that builds our leadership capacity. Demonstrating humility that runs counter to the image we’re trying to live up to facilitates an important connection to those we want as followers.

Expecting leaders to be anything other than emotionally vulnerable and imperfect human beings is detrimental to our institutions and our very livelihood. Instead, let leaders risk exposing their ignorance in order to raise their competence and connection with those we want them to lead.

Employee Appreciation & Gratitude

March 3, 2016

Happy Employee Appreciation Day! It’s now the third month of the new year and if you have not yet recognized the impact and value of your employees, do something about it today.

This annual holiday—celebrated the first Friday in March—is meant to remind companies to thank employees for their hard work and effort throughout the year. It is also meant to strengthen the bond between employer and employee.

Perhaps we need Employee Appreciation Day now more than ever because a recent survey found that 40 percent of employees say they had not been recognized at all in the past year. Recognizing employees is probably the most important step in raising employee engagement because it makes them feel more proud and happy with their jobs.

This is according to a new survey conducted by Globoforce last November. The survey, composed of 828 randomly-selected fully employed persons in the United States (aged 18 or older), had a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points at a 95 percent level of confidence.

They also found that two-thirds of workers who were recognized in the last month felt more than twice as engaged at work than those employees who had not been recognized.

This strong correlation between high engagement and recognition means employees who are well-recognized have more drive and determination, better working relationships, improved personal standing and stronger connections to their company.

As I wrote about previously, organizations should give thanks to their employees through a well designed, fully implemented and on-going social recognition program. It’s good for engagement, retention and the bottom-line.

And while cash or gift cards are easy and generally appreciated at least in the short term, they don’t deliver the more important long term results. You can show appreciation to employees in many ways, but be sure it is sincerely presented and meaningful to the individual.

Here are some suggestions:

Be Specific
Rather than simply “great job on that report,” you might say, for example, “I really appreciate that you included the metrics on XYZ in order to emphasize the impact our products will have on the client’s account.”  The more you can tie your praise directly to the individual’s specific contribution, the more impact your appreciation will have.

Consider Giving Time
Perhaps our most precious commodity today is time. When possible, give your employee the gift of taking off the afternoon, a day, or several days to pursue a hobby, spend time with loved ones, or simply to rest and recharge.

Encourage Employees to Appreciate Each Other
Don’t relegate showing appreciation only to the boss. With apps like YouEarnedIt, Bonusly or TINYpulse, you can enable all employees to regularly provide kudos to each other in real time. This will create a more positive and healthy workplace where everyone participates in providing and receiving appreciation.

Express Gratitude
Sometimes it is not the tangible reward that makes us feel appreciated, but the simple verbal or written expression of thanks. And if you tell someone how much you appreciate them, you will likely find that you feel better having done so. That’s because showing gratitude acts like a hug: in the same way you can’t hug someone without receiving a hug in return, expressing gratitude works similarly.

Feelings associated with gratitude impact the dopamine in your brain, which functions as a reward neurotransmitter. Like a drug, experiencing gratitude results in a dopamine hit that makes you feel better.

This gratitude creates positive feelings, good memories, higher self-esteem, and a more relaxed and optimistic mindset. When taken together, these emotions can then create a “pay it forward” and “we’re all in this together” mentality throughout the workplace.

Gratitude makes people feel appreciated, it doesn’t cost anything, and it doesn’t require any special training to implement. All it takes is sincerity and a willingness to show appreciation to others.

Showing appreciation and gratitude for employees creates a better working environment, promotes more engagement and delivers better bottom-line results.


Managing Millennials

February 17, 2016

The largest generation in the U.S. workforce today is composed of people born after 1980, and they represent Generation Y or Millennials. These 54 million workers are often called digital natives because they do not know of a world without computers and the Internet.

And while they may not fully appreciate that FAX machines and interoffice memos were once essential, it’s important to see the value of their unique perspectives and contributions.

Millennials were educated working in groups and therefore may be more accepting and effective in work teams than others. They are likely to be more technically savvy and connected. And while they may want regular feedback acknowledging their contribution, they also want to be challenged in the work they do.

Previously I wrote about Millennials as Managers with regard to how these younger workers show up as leaders and how they can best manage others. In this post, I’d like to address how those of older generations can best manage Millennials.

The generations are roughly sorted as: Traditionalists (1927-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1963), Generation X (1964-1979) and Millennials (1980-1999). The values and work ethic of each can vary immensely, and this impacts how to best manage them.

One methodology for managing will not necessarily work for an entire generation of people, of course. Workers are individuals and a method that works for one person, won’t necessarily work for another—even if they happen to be born within a similar timeframe.

Nevertheless, there are some common characteristics Millennials may share due to the timeframe in which they were raised, and it is therefore useful to consider how this shared perspective may require managing them differently than those who were born earlier.

Millennial workers may be misunderstood by those of other generations. According to research discussed in their book Managing the Millennials, authors Chip Espinoza, Mick Ukleja and Craig Rusch found the perceptions managers have working with Millennial employees can also be viewed as the Millennial’s intrinsic values. For example:

Manager’s PerceptionMillennial’s Intrinsic Value
AutonomousWork-life fusion – It’s about getting work done; not punching a clock to satisfy office processes.
EntitledReward – Being recognized and rewarded for their contribution; Millennials want more than just an opportunity. They want a guarantee their performance will count for something.
ImaginativeSelf-expression – Offering a fresh perspective that they want to be heard and their ideas taken into consideration.
Self-absorbedAttention – In search of trust, encouragement and praise for how they individually are contributing to the whole of the group.
DefensiveAchievement – They are more interested in how to focus on building their strengths than having their weaknesses pointed out.
AbrasiveInformality – Though their behavior may be interpreted as disrespectful, their casual communication style is simply how they grew up learning to express themselves.
MyopicSimplicity – They may see their own individual task as essential without fully appreciating other tasks around it.
UnfocusedMultitasking – If they have always juggled several tasks at a time, they may find it difficult to really appreciate the benefit of full focused attention on one thing at a time.
IndifferentMeaning – They can’t care about their contribution unless they know the meaning behind it.

This difference between a manager’s perception and the Millennial worker’s intrinsic values can lead to a great deal of conflict unless the manager is aware of it. This doesn’t mean managers should abdicate all responsibility from workers because they hold these intrinsic values. Instead, they could seek to find mutual understanding in the difference.

Ideally, this would take place in the normal course of working together and not held off until that dreaded and often detrimental annual performance review. By then, it is often too late.

Authors Espinoza, Ukleja and Rusch further outlined nine managerial competencies that can be essential to managing Millennials effectively. These competencies may both reduce tension and create an environment in which both the manager and the employee can thrive.

  1. Be Flexible – to enable the autonomous, work-life fusion
  2. Create the Right Rewards – to engage them; often simply through verbal recognition
  3. Put Their Imagination to Work – allow for their self-expression to be incorporated
  4. Build a Relationship – listen to what they have to say and encourage their development
  5. Be Positive When Correcting – focus on strengths to build up their confidence
  6. Don’t Take Things Personally – don’t mistake their informality as an affront to you
  7. Show the Big Picture – help them see how their contribution connects to others
  8. Include the Details – spell out expectations until you are certain they are clear
  9. Make it Matter to Them – connect their aspirations to the organization’s objectives

None of these are necessarily revolutionary nor would they be less useful when managing Gen Xers or Boomers. However, it is important to consider that the Millennial worker may be especially predisposed to function at a higher level when working in an environment where these competencies are demonstrated by those who manage them.

And managers who seek to fully appreciate their workers’ unique perspectives will find a way to engage them and bring out their best.

Millennials as Managers

February 4, 2016

Millennials now represent the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. These digital natives are often described as confident and tolerant as well as entitled and narcissistic. What does this mean in terms of their effectiveness as managers in the workplace?

Stereotypes of the 54 million working Millennials include: lack of experience, immaturity, no long-term vision, too focused on their next career step, and they struggle with people skills. These were no doubt similar to the stereotypes associated with Generation X, Baby Boomers and even Traditionalists when they first entered the workforce.

People born into each generation are roughly sorted as: Traditionalists or Silent Generation (1927-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1963), Generation X (1964-1979) and Millennials or Generation Y (1980-1999). The values and work ethic of each can vary immensely.

Every generation seems to have an opinion about those who follow or preceded them. Baby Boomers were born at a time when the economy was booming after World War II. No surprise then that those of Generation X often describe Baby Boomers as optimistic and workaholics. And Boomers describe Gen Xers as skeptical and self-reliant.

Typically, the previous generation believes the up and coming generation has it so much easier than they did, though it could be argued just the opposite.

The reality is that the members of each generation continue to evolve both as individuals and as a group. And all the generations need to learn to coexist—rather than discount each others’ differences, find ways to complement these unique perspectives.

Like the generations that preceded them, Millennials face challenges in being seen as competent managers of other people. In their book Millennials Who Manage, Chip Espinoza and Joel Schwarzbart conducted research to determine the biggest challenges Millennials face in the workplace. These challenges are listed from most to least frequently mentioned.

  • Lack of experience
  • Not being taken seriously
  • Not getting respect
  • Being perceived as “entitled”
  • Lack of patience
  • Getting helpful feedback
  • Understanding expectations
  • Miscommunication with older workers
  • Rigid processes
  • Proving value
  • Understanding corporate culture

Though this is a long list, it hasn’t prohibited Millennials from becoming competent workers and effective managers. In fact, as the Traditionalist and Baby Boomer generations move further into retirement, Millennials will be taking on more and more management opportunities.

So what can Millennials do to further overcome these challenges and become better at managing people older and more experienced than themselves?

Espinoza and Schwarzbart provide a number of recommendations. Though I can see all of these being useful in any management scenario, they may be especially suitable for Millennials managing workers who are older and more experienced. When managing workers older than themselves, Millennials should:

  • Know What They Don’t Like
    Demotivating factors are not necessarily the opposite of motivating factors. For example, a demotivating factor could be a manager who micromanages others, which may very well trump a number of motivating factors meant to encourage engagement.
  • Understand What Does Motivate Them
    Though it’s dangerous to link everyone within a certain generational category, keep in mind that what motivates one employee is not true for all others. For instance, a Gen X employee may more likely have an independent streak and be not nearly as interested in team building events as Baby Boomers or Millennials.
  • Seek Their Input, Learn from Them, and Encourage Mentoring
    The lack of experience in Millennial managers can be offset somewhat by showing reverence to the wisdom of other generations. This doesn’t mean capitulating authority as the boss, but simply encouraging a dialogue for you to learn and others to feel respected and valued in their respective roles.
  • Communicate
    An open channel for communication is essential in any successful business. Though Millennials may seek more frequent feedback than other generations, it is important to maintain a regular practice of give and take rather than await the dreaded and oftentimes detrimental annual performance review.
  • Be a Leader, but Don’t Overdo the “Boss” Thing
    Just because you have the job title, doesn’t mean you can bully others or force your employees to do their work effectively. True leadership is your ability to inspire and influence others so people you manage choose to follow your direction.

A multigenerational workplace has many challenges, and yet every generation seems to be especially challenged by both effectively listening and sharing information. Perhaps these two areas are where the focus for growth and learning can be best accomplished.

And when you think about listening and sharing information, it’s clear that trust is inherent in both. Perhaps building trust among the generations will see the widest and most effective intervention for helping them all to work together better.

As a Millennial manager, you have the opportunity to effectively lead your team by making a concerted effort to foster trusting relationships where listening and sharing information is both modeled and rewarded. Appeal to all the generations and be the change agent to lead us in the 21st Century.

Narcissism in Leadership

January 22, 2016

Can a narcissist be a good leader? This is the question that comes up for me when I contemplate the possibility of a President Trump.

The Mayo Clinic defines narcissistic personality disorder as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others.” Characteristics include arrogance, dominance and hostility.

According to psychologist and Harvard professor Howard Gardener, Donald Trump is a “textbook” narcissist. And while healthy narcissism can be valuable in leaders, unhealthy narcissism can be extremely destructive.

Though many famous productive and healthy narcissists come to mind in the corporate world (e.g., Bill Gates, Jack Welch, Larry Ellison), it’s a bit more difficult to think of narcissistic world leaders that aren’t viewed as dictators (e.g., Muammar Qaddafi, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot.)

However, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton all displayed many healthy narcissistic qualities while in power. These healthy narcissistic qualities include: self confidence that is in line with reality, a genuine concern for others and their ideas, and the ability to follow through on plans based on their values.

Conversely, unhealthy narcissistic qualities include: self-confidence that is grandiose, devaluing and exploiting others without remorse, and an inability to follow a consistent path because it is not grounded in values.

Healthy and productive narcissists can be visionaries with creative strategies, who are able to find meaning in the challenges of a changing world. Narcissists are not only risk takers, but also charmers who can convert the masses with their rhetoric.

Sigmund Freud named narcissism after the mythical figure Narcissus, who died because of his pathological preoccupation with himself. Freud said that narcissists are emotionally isolated and highly distrustful. They are typically overly sensitive to criticism, poor listeners and—though emotionally clever—they tend towards exploitation rather than empathy.

“Companies need leaders who do not try to anticipate the future so much as create it,” wrote Michael Maccoby in a 2004 Harvard Business Review article titled Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons. “But narcissistic leaders—even the most productive of them—can self-destruct and lead their organizations terribly astray. For companies whose narcissistic leaders recognize their limitations, these will be the best of times. For other companies, these could turn out to be the worst.”

Narcissists can turn unproductive when, due to their lack of self-awareness and restraint, they become unrealistic dreamers, says Maccoby. They nurture grand schemes and harbor the illusion where only circumstances or enemies are blocking their success.

They listen only for the kind of information they are seeking. They don’t learn from others, nor do they like to teach. Instead, they indoctrinate others and make speeches. Rather than search for the best solutions among others, they dominate meetings with their own agenda.

Paradoxically, they are extraordinarily sensitive yet they avoid emotions. And in this age of teamwork and collaboration, the narcissistic leader is emotionally isolated.

Many narcissistic leaders become more confident as they increase the number of followers, and very often this leads to flagrant risk-taking, which inevitably results in their downfall. See Bill Clinton with Monica Lewinsky.

For the narcissistic CEO, Maccoby recommends three ways to avoid the traps of their own personality. Let’s look at these and how they might apply to Trump in a governing setting.

  1. Find a trusted sidekick. This is someone who can keep the narcissist grounded. Don Quixote had Sancho Panza just as Bill Gates had Steve Ballmer. Would Donald Trump choose a Vice President or Chief of Staff who could provide adequate counsel to avoid disaster? I have not yet heard or read that he has such a person at his side now.
  2. Indoctrinate the organization. The narcissistic leader wants all subordinates to think the way he or she thinks. Jack Welch had a personal ideology he indoctrinated into GE managers through speeches, memos and confrontations. Rather than create a dialogue, he made pronouncements. Donald Trump may have great difficulty doing this given the divisiveness of a divided congress, not to mention the need for diplomacy on the world stage.
  3. Get into analysis. Though a narcissistic leader is more interested in controlling others than in knowing and disciplining him or herself, this could prove especially useful to uncover and correct vital character flaws. The best narcissistic corporate leaders will do this to become more self-aware and learn humility. Donald Trump, like any politician, would likely hide this even if he were courageous enough to take it on.

Perhaps what at least partially explains Donald Trump’s current lead in the polls is that he has convinced many Republican voters that they should be very afraid because these are chaotic times. Fearful chaotic times are when narcissists most often thrive.

Whether in a corporate or government setting, healthy productive narcissistic leaders can go a long way towards rallying support needed in order to bring about sustainable change and progress. It typically requires gaining some self-awareness and becoming more grounded.

However, unhealthy unproductive narcissistic leaders in either setting can bring about greater divisiveness, reckless planning and execution, and a total lack of concern for others. This type of narcissistic leader would prove detrimental to any company or country.

Reward Evidence-based Decision-Making

December 10, 2015

“Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment.”
                                                        –Mulla Nasruddin, 13th Century Sufi sage/fool

Success in business today requires many things. Perhaps most importantly, organizations need to embrace learning. And both the employer and the employee have responsibilities in this learning.

Employers should do what they can to engage employees and keep them intrinsically motivated to learn. And this learning must include the ability to be implemented otherwise it undermines the employee’s motivation as well as limits organizational improvement.

At the same time, employees should adopt a growth mindset so they continually achieve and learn as they navigate their careers. This means taking on new challenges, expanding their skills, and broadening their area of expertise. It also means challenging the status quo.

Here are two scenarios:

Bob discovers the new product his company is launching has a fatal flaw that may undermine its success in the marketplace. He double-checks his research and concludes it is correct. His company however discourages naysayers and, despite his certainty, Bob is concerned that speaking up will be detrimental to his career. He stays silent, the product flops, yet Bob’s career growth is preserved.

Nancy discovers the new project her company is rolling out will miss its target completion date. She double-checks her research and concludes it is correct. Because she works for a learning organization that encourages direct feedback, Nancy presents her findings, the project is given additional resources to complete on time, and it is a resounding success. Nancy is rewarded with a promotion and celebrated throughout the company.

Which company do you work for? Are you Bob or are you Nancy?

Organizations should encourage employees to challenge assumptions, speak directly about the “elephant in the room,” and take calculated risks when it’s right for the business. This theory must go beyond mere words in an employee handbook and extend into actual practice for how things get done inside the organization.

On his way to inventing the light bulb, Thomas Edison reportedly said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” That is a healthy perspective on reaching success and how learning is paramount.

The best companies perform a post-mortem on projects and products with the purpose of pointing out and learning from what went well and not so well. Too often, however, the lessons of what went wrong are not adequately documented and communicated, so the missteps are likely repeated.

Economists too often see people as highly rational in their decision-making and don’t take into account the irrationality of human beings, says Richard Thaler, professor of behavioral science and economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in his book Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics.

“It is time for everyone—from bureaucrats to teachers to corporate leaders—to recognize that they live in world of Humans and to adopt the same data-driven approach to their jobs and lives that good scientists use.”

Here are some basic lessons in behavioral science Thaler suggests can make this possible in the corporate world. Observe, collect data and speak up.

Observe – This means seeing the world not as you wish it be, but as it really is. The first step to overturning conventional wisdom, when conventional wisdom is wrong, is to look at the world around you as it is.

Collect Data – People become overconfident because they never bother to document their past track record of wrong predictions, and then make things worse by falling victim to confirmation bias—they look only for evidence that confirms their preconceived hypotheses. The only protection against overconfidence is to systematically collect data, especially data that can prove you wrong. This is what proves especially difficult because we are so devoted to our hypothesis.

Speak Up – Many organizational errors could be prevented if someone is willing to tell the boss something is wrong. Thaler cites the tragic 1977 runway crash of a KLM flight because the second officer was too timid to speak up to the pilot, his boss. Culture, professional courtesy, and most of all fear keep people from challenging the boss, even when they know the boss is wrong.

“But we cannot expect people to take risks, by speaking up or in other ways, if by so doing they will get fired,” says Thaler. “Good leaders must create environments in which employees feel that making evidence-based decisions will always be rewarded, no matter what outcome occurs.”

In Thaler’s ideal organizational environment, everyone is encouraged to observe, collect data, and speak up. And the bosses who create such environments risk only a few bruises to their egos, which is a small price to pay for increasing the flow of new ideas and decreasing the risk of disasters.

It comes down to more humility in leaders and more courage in employees. When both are present, organizations can learn from their experiences and become more successful. And organizations should encourage more Nancys and fewer Bobs.

Leadership, Grit & Russell Wilson

January 22, 2015

In my work as a leadership coach I regularly reference popular figures who demonstrate great leadership. These leaders are often found in business or politics, but lately I’ve been referring to those in my local sports team: the Seattle Seahawks.

Witness the recent NFC Championship game where by the middle of the fourth quarter mere mortals would have admitted defeat and accepted that a repeat trip to the Super Bowl was no longer possible. But quarterback Russell Wilson and his teammates demonstrate incredible grit that enables them to withstand any setback and persevere.

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals,” says psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth. It is about living life like it’s a marathon and not a sprint. You can view her discussion on the importance of grit in a TED talk. Grit is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective, according to Wikipedia.

Though some may claim the result of that football game was due more to a collapse by the Green Bay Packers, it’s hard to argue that the Seahawks could have won without remaining positive and focused to the very end. Sure they needed luck on their side, which the Packers had plenty of in the first half, but they also needed to execute plays and persevere.

Despite winning last year’s Super Bowl, many outside of the Pacific Northwest may not fully appreciate this football team due to the national media’s tendency to marginalize many of its players and their tendency to focus on a stereotypical tall, white, pocket-passing quarterback who fits their promotion profile. Wilson doesn’t look, sound or move like Payton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. But he’s beaten them all. In fact, he’s 10-0 against Super Bowl winning quarterbacks.

Russell Wilson wasn’t selected until the third round (75th overall) of the 2012 draft because most teams considered him too small to be an effective NFL quarterback. However, general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll saw something special in the 5’11” Wilson beyond his stature and resume. It’s the kind of “special” they specialize in finding as 40% of their current roster were undrafted. And that special quality is best summed up as grit.

In this age of offensive-minded, pass-heavy and high scoring football, few appreciate Wilson’s skill-set. He’s been repeatedly knocked as simply a “game manager” rather than one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. Some argue it is because of Seattle’s dominating defense and strong rushing game that requires so little from him.

From my standpoint, a great leader is someone who is measured by his overall effectiveness and outcomes rather than how well he fits a narrowly defined role. Defining a great quarterback should not be with regard to pass completions, overall passing yards, touchdowns or even QB rating, but in team wins and championships.

Recognizing grit in people is difficult and it is often inversely related to talent. Many of the grittiest players that make up the current Seahawks were obviously not viewed as talented because so many teams passed on them. See All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who was drafted in the fifth round, and undrafted clutch wide receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse.

Strong leadership is not a quality one can attain single-handedly either. It can only be judged based on how well the team, company or organization ultimately performs—whether that is measured in wins, championships or long-term profitability.

Russell Wilson and many players on the Seahawks demonstrate strong leadership due to their athletic ability, work ethic, and mostly in the grit they possess. It is what separated the Seahawks from other teams over the past couple of years and like all advantages, it is one other teams will try to emulate.

Grit is a quality that translates outside the sports world and into every aspect of life, including business. When you are looking for talent to add to your human capital, keep an eye out for grit. Though it may be more difficult to immediately identify, you will be rewarded greatly when you see it in action.

Go Hawks!

The Value of Working in a Restaurant

December 19, 2014

Back when I was a kid, my spending money didn’t come from my parents. I needed to earn it on my own. And these jobs provided me valuable lessons that served me well throughout my career.

Beginning as a 10-year-old, I had two paper routes and delivered newspapers after school. I also had to collect for them and send checks to my employer. I didn’t earn much money, but I learned about the value of work and I enjoyed having this cash.

My father was a carpenter and on Saturday mornings he would take my brothers and me to his construction jobs, where we would pick up scrap lumber, sweep floors, do small carpentry work and even nail asphalt shingles on house roofs. The real treat was a hamburger and Coke for lunch. For this work we were paid a total of $4 . . . for the day! This was the early 1970s and it was actually a lot of money to us at the time.

When I turned 15 I lied to a restaurant manager and told him I was actually 16. This enabled me to work as a busboy and make the big money. Before long, I took part in many aspects of the business, including washing dishes, waiting tables, cooking, managing a small team of others to clean and stock the bar, and, when I reached the age of 17, bartending. This was not typical for kids my age, but that’s what happened with me.

Looking back on that time now, I see I learned some important lessons in each of these environments, but it was in the restaurant—where I worked throughout my high school years—that I learned the most valuable lessons of all. These lessons include a sense of urgency, maximum efficiency, relationship management, teamwork, motivation, perseverance, and doing things right the first time.

  • Sense of Urgency – In a restaurant, this means dealing effectively with the uncertainty of a busy night. No matter what business you are in today, the ability to speed up when necessary is especially important. This means you are able to separate the critical from the trivial and get stuff done. It means you are able to rise to the occasion and respond to your customer’s immediate needs.
  • Maximum Efficiency – Restaurant work requires that you don’t waste steps. This means whenever you bring out dishes or beverages, you also pick up empty plates or glasses when returning to the kitchen—either from the same table or another one nearby. Every organization has similar operational efficiencies that need to be observed and adhered to. They can ultimately influence your overall profitability.
  • Relationship Management – Restaurants are all about repeat business and the best way to ensure this is to serve great food at reasonable prices, and provide exceptional service. Great service is vital for every business and perhaps one the most important advantages given the competition on price and availability. Relationships with fellow employees are just as important as those with customers. Invest in all your relationships and your business will thrive both internally and externally.
  • Teamwork – If a waiter and cook are not on the same page, there is no way the customer is going to receive the food they ordered in a reasonable length of time. The same is true for any organization. More can be accomplished when all employees are working together towards the same goal. This means ensuring that goals are clear and everyone understands their roles and responsibilities in the process.
  • Motivation – In a restaurant, especially on the front line where you interact most with customers, your attitude can greatly impact your income. This behavior impacts how you are perceived as well as treated by others. As a waiter this can influence how much you receive in tips. In every workplace your motivation can determine to what level others rely on you, trust you and want to work with or follow your direction.
  • Perseverance – The ability to continue in spite of an unruly customer or unfair scheduling means you will succeed when the going gets tough. This is an important lesson in every workplace because you will face adversity no matter what business you are in. And how you deal with it determines how long you will last and how well you will succeed.
  • Doing Things Right the First Time – Making a good impression on a restaurant customer is essential if you want to see them again. This means providing a warm and welcoming environment, providing impeccable service with a smile and delivering a great meal. No matter what business you are in today, it is essential that you seek to do things correctly from the beginning. This ensures you meet your customer’s expectations and maintain your costs.

Restaurant jobs may not pay especially well, but they do offer opportunities to learn valuable lessons and hone skills for whatever you do in your career. Much of this may be understood only in retrospect, but don’t underestimate how you can benefit from your current position no matter where you are in your career.

Leadership Out of Balance

December 11, 2014

Leadership is often described as the act of leading a group of people or an organization. Leading well requires knowledge, skill, and an ability to balance the immediate gratification of the near term with the security of the long term.

According to author and organizational consultant Warren Bennis, leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. He also said the difference between a manager and a leader is that a manager does things right, while a leader does the right things.

Today, great leadership is rare and all too often personified in the media as famous wealthy men running big companies that return strong shareholder value. But are huge financial returns the ultimate sign of great leadership?

The corporate world generously compensates CEOs focused on quarterly earnings and meeting Wall Street expectations often at the expense of doing what’s right for the customer, the employees and ensuring the company is around in the long term. Though these CEOs may spout “customer focus” and “concern for our employees” in speeches, annual reports and corporate websites, these words seem incongruent with their actions.

In politics, our elected officials should be concerned with governing, but they currently spend about half their workday raising money in order to ensure they are re-elected. The U.S. congress currently has a 14% approval rating, which means we now trust used car salesmen more than our so-called representatives.

Today’s imbalance in leadership seems to stem from too much focus on what’s in it for me rather than what’s in it for us. Leaders who focus primarily on their own self-interest cannot possibly instill the confidence and loyalty necessary to lead others most effectively.

In Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, author Simon Sinek suggests that the best organizations foster trust and cooperation because their leaders build what he calls a Circle of Safety. This separates the security inside the team from the challenges outside.

This Circle of Safety enables teams to be stable, adaptive and confident where every member feels they belong and are focused on the right things.

Part of the challenge in creating such a circle requires leaders at every level to maintain balance of four chemicals found in our bodies. These chemicals control our feelings, which are the primary drivers for all our decision-making whether we are aware of it or not.

Chemicals such as endorphins and dopamine function to get us where we need to go as individuals. Endorphins provide the “runner’s high,” which are able to mask pain and enable us to complete a marathon or complete a work project well into the night. Dopamine provides a feeling of satisfaction once we complete an important task on our to-do list. It provides incentive for progress toward reaching our goals.

These two are what Sinek refers to as the selfish chemicals and they provide us with short-term rewards, which can motivate us to accomplish great things and, under the right conditions, can also become addictive.

On the other hand, serotonin and oxytocin work to help strengthen our social bonds so we are more likely to work together and cooperate well. Serotonin and oxytocin are what Sinek describes as the selfless chemicals and they are sorely missing in leadership today.

Serotonin is responsible for the pride we feel when those we care for achieve great things. As the boss, serotonin works to encourage us to serve the employees we are responsible for. And as the employee, serotonin encourages us to work hard to make the boss proud.

Serotonin more than any of the others is seen as the leadership chemical.

Oxytocin is the chemical that helps us direct how vulnerable we can afford to make ourselves. This social compass helps determine when it’s safe to open up and trust or when we should hold back. This might be the drug most closely aligned with emotional intelligence.

Oxytocin makes us better problem solvers and enables us to accomplish more in groups than we can alone. It has also been found to contribute to us living longer.

The goal of any leader should be to find balance. If you remain addicted primarily to endorphins and dopamine, no matter how rich and powerful you become, you will likely feel lonely and unfulfilled. On the other hand, if you are focused too much on serotonin and oxytocin, you may lack the measurable goals or ambition necessary to reach important feelings of accomplishment.

Leadership in balance requires focusing on the present and the future. It means serving customers and employees as well as shareholders. And it is a balance of short-term growth and long-term viability.

Higher Engagement by Meeting Employee Needs

July 23, 2014

Employee engagement is a vital component of successful organizations. Nothing helps spur innovation and raise productivity like a highly engaged group of people who are passionately involved in what they are doing.

“Because they [employees] care more, they are more productive, give better service, and even stay in their jobs longer,” writes Kevin Kruse, author of Employee Engagement 2.0. “All of that leads to happier customers, who buy more and refer more often, which drives sales and profits higher, finally resulting in an increase in stock price.”

Kruse sites 28 research studies showing a correlation between employee engagement and sales, service, quality, safety, retention and total shareholder return.

Employee engagement is about a person’s emotional commitment to the organization and its goals. Raising this emotional commitment cannot be done through some generic training course or corporate mandate.

Instead, the organization must appeal to the employees’ needs and meet these needs with specific leadership skill development.

Every employee has basic human needs that must be met in order for them to feel passionate about the work they do. When this need is met with specific leadership skills, the organization will benefit from more engaged employees.

The Passion Pyramid identifies five human needs that help ignite passion and the accompanying leadership skills required to create conditions to satisfy each need. It also describes the outcome or payoff to the organization for satisfying each need.

These human needs are:

  1. Be respected
  2. Learn and grow
  3. Be an “insider”
  4. Do meaningful work
  5. Be on a winning team

As I described in an earlier post, what employees say they want can vary a great deal from what managers think employees want. Many of these same human needs for increasing employee engagement were among the top ten things employees say they want. Specifically: 

  1. Full appreciation for work done (Be respected)
  2. Feeling “part” of things (Be an “insider”)
  3. Interesting work (Do meaningful work)
  4. Promotion/growth opportunities (Learn and grow)

Tying these human needs with specific leadership skill development can then help ignite the passion necessary to raise engagement. With intentional and orderly intervention, these leadership skills can meet the employees’ needs.

The leadership skills are also in a specific order as no team can be effective without building upon a foundation of trust. Coaching, counseling and mentoring can help with each individual’s specific growth opportunities and blind spots. And no organization can expect employees to be engaged without inclusiveness.

Aligning teams with the organization’s purpose, values and vision ties intrinsic motivation with extrinsic rewards. Finally, building a high performance team requires the foundation of all the preceding skills as well as a shared purpose and bond to succeed together.

These leadership skills help meet employees’ needs, which can help ignite the passion necessary to raise employee engagement in your organization. Isn’t it worth the investment to bring out the best in your employees so they can bring out the best in your organization?

Prepare to Demonstrate Expertise in Job Interviews

January 11, 2014

Securing a job in today’s economy requires more than a solid resume and stellar references. You also need the ability to show your expertise during job interviews.

As reported in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Amazon is especially picky about the employees they choose to hire. And yet they hired some 80,000 since 2010! Most of those, however, are working in lower paying warehouse jobs where starting wages are around $11 per hour.

Those candidates seeking higher paying technical and management positions at Amazon must first pass many intense interviews where they are asked to demonstrate their skills and aptitude in real time. This may include writing code on a white board or solving complex business problems in the moment.

I interviewed with Amazon back in their book selling days of the late 1990s and remember being asked whether I thought they should expand into selling music and movies or go international. While I stated I thought it made most sense to choose the former at least initially, they took the path of expanding in both directions at the same time. Obviously, that turned out to be a pretty good plan.

According to Amazon spokespeople, challenging interview questions are not necessarily meant to arrive at the correct answer, but rather to demonstrate the path a person uses to solve a problem. Showing how one thinks helps Amazon discover whether the candidate has the potential to succeed at their company.

And this tactic isn’t new as high tech companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Google have been testing the prowess of their job applicants for a long time.

Applications, resumes, college transcripts and other data can all serve to help identify a good candidate, but it is the phone or in-person interview where a person can be screened most effectively as to be really viable or not.

This is where potential employees can demonstrate their ability to think on their feet, reveal technical knowledge and problem solving abilities, and show off their personality and soft skills. All of these can continue or halt the interviewing process.

Amazon goes so far as to include what they call “bar raisers” during the interviewing process. These individuals, who come from throughout the company, can veto a candidate even though they may possess no specific technical expertise or business acumen to properly evaluate the person being considered.

Bar raisers may simply provide a gut-check on whether a candidate is a good cultural fit or perhaps offer an out-of-the-box perspective. I have no idea how many candidates have been dropped from consideration due to vetoes by bar raisers, but I’m certain Amazon keeps track of this and perhaps even follows the careers of these individuals to see how they’ve faired after being dropped from consideration.

I can see how a potential candidate might feel this is an unfair way to gauge a person’s suitability for a position. However, I also recognize the importance of Amazon and every employer in obtaining the right person for the right job.

The more a company understands the traits necessary to succeed in a position as well as the organization itself, the more they should invest in thoroughly evaluating their applicants to ensure they hold those traits.

More and more companies are likely to adopt this strategy of scrutinizing their applicants more thoroughly because it is so expensive to hire the wrong person.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average cost of a bad hiring decision can equal 30% of the individual’s first-year potential earnings. This means a single bad hire with an annual income of $80,000 can equal a $24,000 loss for the employer.

If you’re looking to get hired you need to be prepared to think on your feet and demonstrate your expertise during the interview. This means selling yourself successfully not based on what your resume says about you, but on what you can convincingly show in the moment.

You can prepare yourself for general interview questions, but it’s really not possible to anticipate these other questions. Instead, you need to rely on your instincts and innate critical thinking abilities. You need to remain calm even though this will likely be a stressful environment to do your best.

Keep in mind that it is in the best interest for you and the hiring company’s to find the right fit. As scarce as good paying jobs may be, securing one that fits both you and the company you’re seeking to work for is the best solution. Be prepared to be authentic and to show all that you have to offer. Anything less and you’ll sell yourself short. And that’s a bad idea for everyone.

Listening Into Others to Gain Influence

January 30, 2013

No matter what line of work you are in, you are likely seeking ways to be more productive and successful. And, regardless of the profession, how effective you interact with and influence other people can greatly determine your fate.

That’s because it is all about relationship, and relationships should always be about the long term.

We now live in a world that no longer tolerates disconnected forms of influence. Spam filters help block emails that are unrelated to our wants and needs. The stereotypical used car salesman is seen as merely comical and not taken seriously by anyone. Shotgun approaches to marketing are considered a waste of money.

Social networking, among other things, seeks ways to connect people and then influence them based on their connectedness. This connectedness means having your virtual friends’ influence what you do, where and when you do it, and especially how you spend your money.

Whether this is good or bad is not my concern. What I am interested in is how important this connectedness is with regard to our ability to influence others.

In a new book titled, “Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In,” authors Mark Goulston and John Ullmen discuss how, in this post-pushing and post-selling world, influence should no longer be seen as something you do to someone else to get what you want.

Real influence isn’t even about what you want. Instead it’s about forging strong connections by focusing on other people’s viewpoints and giving something away before asking for anything in return. And always seeking win-win outcomes.

This seems to be a new paradigm that’s sustainable and good for everyone.

Goulston and Ullmen offer many tactics to learn how to do this, but the one I think most important—regardless of whether you’re trying to influence someone or not—is by improving your ability to listen to others. Easier said than done.

According to the authors, there are four levels of listening:

  1. Avoidance Listening – Listening Over
    This type of listening is when you may be nodding or even saying “Uh huh,” but you’re not really paying attention. Your mind is elsewhere and the other person is feeling ignored despite your best efforts at appearing to be listening.
  2. Defensive Listening – Listening At
    When you listen defensively you are taking things personally and are too quick to react. You listen at others by taking issue with everything they say without taking the time to consider what is being said.
  3. Problem Solving Listening – Listening To
    Listening in this way is about getting something accomplished, which is a perfectly valid way to listen when the situation demands it. However, when the subject is especially complex or emotionally charged, this can leave far too much room for misunderstanding. You are separating the subject from the speaker and losing that perspective, which is so important to consider.
  4. Connective Listening – Listening Into
    This is the type of listening all speakers crave. It is about listening with the intention to fully understand the speaker and also strengthen the connection. Connective listening is listening from their there instead of your here. It means listening without an agenda focused entirely on responding or helping.

I can think of many examples when I engage in the first three levels of listening. The first two I am not proud of and still struggle to avoid. Problem solving listening I do perhaps most often because I am so anxious to be productive and get something done.

But I know that when I listen in a connective manner is when I truly understand what is being said. I am giving my full attention and listening not only with my ears, but with my eyes, my heart and my body. I am also strengthening the relationship because I can feel the connection being forged.

To gain influence requires a continual focus on the long term, on the relationship, and on giving away something first. More often than not, this begins with your ability to engage in connective listening so you can truly understand their perspective and needs.

Influence should no longer begin with a self-centered perspective focusing only on the immediate opportunity. Instead, look at gaining influence in a positive and authentic manner that strengthens your connections with others for the long term.

What will you do for an Encore?

December 22, 2012

“I won’t retire, but I might retread.” – Neil Young

Just as the baby boom generation is entering retirement age, Americans are living much longer lives. For many, the idea of no longer working and retiring from a career simply does not make sense—philosophically or monetarily.

Back when a typical life span reached only into the early 70s, it made sense to stop working at 65 and take time to relax, travel, play golf or Bridge, spend time with the grandkids, and retire from the stress of a long career.

But with lifespans for many expected to reach into the early 90s, many are reconsidering how they will spend these golden years. Part of this decision is necessitated by the need to earn more money in order to pay for these additional years, but another part is the opportunity to perhaps change careers and pursue something beyond what you did for the bulk of your life.

It’s been reported that we often discover our true passion between the ages of 8 and 12, and then many of us try to rediscover what these passions are in career counseling when we find dissatisfaction in our careers. That’s because we chose a career that made economic sense rather than fed our soul.

So what if during these senior years, when the economic need for raising a family, sending the kids to college and building a retirement nest egg no longer outweigh what we are passionate about? What if we decided to pursue doing what we love, giving back, or working for social good rather than individual goods?

In Marc Freedman’s The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife, he says we need to accept the decades opening up between midlife and old age for what they really are: a new stage of life, an encore phase. His organization wants to help make it easier for millions of people to pursue second acts for the greater good, and provide information so people can transition to jobs in the nonprofit world and the public sector.

“Millions are already in the midst of inventing a new stage of life and work—the encore years—between the end of midlife and anything resembling old-fashioned retirement,” writes Freedman. “We’re envisioning this chapter as a time when we make some of our most important contributions, for ourselves, for our world, for the well-being of future generations.”

A philanthropic organization called Social Venture Partners is built around the venture capital model to provide non-profit organizations with both funding and expertise. In addition to strengthening non-profits, SVP connects and engages individuals to provide greater philanthropic impact and collaborative solutions. Their partners are in various stages of their careers and life, but all are seeking to make a difference in their lives.

Founded in Seattle 15 years ago, SVP has more than 2,000 professionals in 29 cities around the world working to make the world a better place.

Sometimes staying in your chosen career a little longer can also be satisfying, but this may require a different role. Perhaps moving into more of a mentoring or consulting position will enable you to extend your working years. Maybe there could be more flexibility with regard to when and where you do the work. Or maybe it means moving to part-time, so you can pursue other interests and yet still keep involved in the work.’s Freedman has proposed some pretty radical ideas such as enabling those in midlife to quit their jobs and take a year of social security payments in order to go back to school or begin a new and possibly lower paying, but more satisfying, career. You would then delay the time when you begin taking social security payments, and thereby reduce the government’s overall cost.

The idea is to begin thinking about what you’ll want to do in these later years long before you reach them. Retirement planning should take into account that not working at all may no longer be an option or even desirable to you.

Rather than a firm end point to the work life, you may want to consider a transition time when you are free to follow what feeds your soul and eases you into non-working retirement. Your encore years could very well be the crowning achievement to your life.

Do the Work to be Lucky in Your Career

June 25, 2012

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”  — Seneca

I often encounter people I admire who seem extremely lucky in getting a great job, regular promotions, and seemingly unlimited professional success.

For the most part, I believe these people earned this fate through taking responsibility for their luck. What I mean by taking responsibility is that they are doing the work necessary to be lucky in their careers.

In psychologist Richard Wiseman’s book “The Luck Factor,” he studied thousands of exceptionally “lucky” and “unlucky” people. What he found was that those who considered themselves lucky tended to exhibit similar attitudes and behaviors. And those identifying themselves as unlucky tended to exhibit the opposite traits.

His 10-year study revealed that good fortune is not primarily due to talent, hard work or intelligence. It is the attitudes and behaviors you have that can help determine how lucky you are in your career.

Wiseman identified four principles that characterize lucky people. They:

  1. Maximize chance opportunities and are especially adept at creating, noticing and acting upon these opportunities when they arise.
  2. Are very effective at listening to their intuition and do work—like meditation—that is designed to boost their intuitive abilities.
  3. Expect to be lucky by creating a series of self-fulfilling prophesies because they go into the world anticipating a positive outcome.
  4. Have an attitude that allows them to turn bad luck into good. They don’t allow ill fortune to overwhelm them, and they move quickly to take control of the situation when it isn’t going well for them.

Wiseman recommends listening to your gut, being open to new experiences, remembering the positive in situations and simply visualizing yourself as being lucky. By actively practicing these principles, he says you too can find more luck in your professional growth and development.

According to a survey from the professional networking site LinkedIn, 84% of professionals believe in career luck. And 48% consider themselves to have better career luck when compared to other professionals.

These LinkedIn professionals attribute their luck to having strong communication skills, being flexible, acting on opportunities, compiling a strong network, and having a strong work ethic.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says 70% of all jobs are now found through networking. It seems obvious that the more you pursue the sort of people who can help you in your career, the higher the probability that you’ll meet them.

So what exactly is the work necessary to bring more luck into your career? I believe you can position yourself to be lucky in advancing your career by the following:

  • Become more aware of what’s going on around you. The first step in any change begins with awareness. Not only of where you are, but who you are, and what you want to be. Practice mindfulness to be more conscious of the abundance all around you.
  • Follow your passion and pursue those who fascinate you. Just because you’re doing one type of job, doesn’t mean you can’t talk to people outside of this niche. Don’t limit yourself just because you don’t have any experience or education in a certain field. If you’re passionate about something and have some talent in it, then find those who can help you nurture this.
  • Open yourself to serendipity. A chance encounter is how so many great innovations and breakthroughs occur. Serendipity is the ability to take a chance occurrence—a surprising idea, person or event—and make creative use of it. Connecting the dots and seeing patterns can lead to novel ways of doing things and enterprising opportunities.
  • Always be on the lookout and be ready to pounce. This is all about the preparation necessary to seize opportunities. It means having your elevator pitch always at the ready. And it means being able to pursue your interest when the right connections appear before you.
  • Don’t count anyone out: see every encounter as potentially fruitful. You never know who you may meet who can help you take your career to the next level. Keep an open mind with everyone you meet to let them know what you’re looking for. Most people will want to help you if only given the opportunity.
  • Seek out and listen to advice. Keep an open mind to others’ ideas and suggestions so you can expand your thinking. Learning should be a lifelong pursuit no matter where you are in your career. Ask questions and really listen in order to learn.
  • Be nice even when others don’t seem receptive. Maintaining a positive attitude and showing appreciation is vital to attracting people and opportunities. People want to hire and work with people who are nice to be around. Make sure to demonstrate you are nice be around even when it may be difficult to do so.
  • Reframe the situation. Your perspective can influence events. Crisis can mean opportunity. Getting fired from a job that is not aligned with who you are can lead to your finding the job that is. I’ve always believed that if you raise any glass high enough, it will look half full rather than half empty.

While acquiring knowledge, skills and experience are important to any career, luck also plays a significant role. And though many people think of luck as something passive that either happens or not, the lucky ones know it is much more active and requires work.

So do what’s necessary to adequately prepare and remain open to see the opportunities in front of you. Then you’ll have luck on the side of your own career development.

Would You Hire a Remarkable Employee?

March 2, 2012

At a time when employers can be especially choosy about hiring, should they now pass on great employees and hold out for those who are truly remarkable?

While great employees may be reliable, dependable, proactive, diligent, and demonstrate the ability to both lead and follow, remarkable employees are all these and can also make a major impact on performance.

In Jeff Haden’s recent Inc. Magazine article “Eight Qualities of Remarkable Employees,” he defines these as follows:

1.      They ignore job descriptions – Think on your feet, adapt quickly to shifting priorities, do whatever it takes, regardless of role, to get things done.

2.      They are eccentric . . . – Think out of the box, question the status quo, unafraid to stretch existing boundaries. 

3.      But they know when to dial it back – They know when to play and when to be serious; when to be irreverent and when to conform; when to challenge and when to back off.

4.      They publicly praise . . . – A compliment from a peer in group settings can be especially powerful when this is someone others look up to.

5.      And they privately complain – They bring up sensitive issues or concerns in a private setting to avoid disrupting the larger group. 

6.      They speak when others won’t – Remarkable employees have an ability to understand what concerns fellow employees and speak up for those who may be intimidated to speak up publicly or privately.

7.      They like to prove others wrong – This is the intrinsic drive to exceed other’s expectations because it’s deeper and personal.

8.      They’re always fiddling – These people are rarely satisfied (in a good way) and are constantly tinkering with information and processes.

Haden writes that while great employees follow processes, remarkable employees find ways to make those processes even better because they can’t help it.

I suspect many of these same qualities may actually inhibit employees from getting hired in the first place. When you think of the traits beyond skills and experience necessary for a job in your organization, how do these eight stack up?

Finding a job candidate who appears eccentric, challenges existing processes, and complains about anything may raise red flags during an interview. If the person gives examples of how he or she constantly fiddled with information, wouldn’t this raise the question as to what more important things might not have been getting done?

While all these traits of remarkable employees might fit in some organizations in some positions and at a particular point in time, I suspect they might be ill-suited for many. Perhaps only the start-up company is where they are best suited.

Not only that, but it may ultimately take a remarkable boss and a remarkable company to enable these remarkable employees to get hired and to thrive in the work environment.

Instead, for most organizations, I believe settling for these great employees who demonstrate reliability, dependability, pro-activity, diligence and the ability to both lead and follow is the best course of action. Finding and hiring more great employees would benefit every organization.

If remarkable traits surface from among the great employees you’ve hired, perhaps they could then be encouraged and nurtured. Your organization will be better served in the near term and, over time, it may benefit from greater performance simply due to having so many great employees.