Wheeeee! September felt like getting sucked into a vortex. Then somehow October feels like everyone got started without me. Nowadays we have to roll with the punches of change and keeping moving, even when we feel behind the eight-ball. Many of my clients are in acquisition or re-org mode, where this is especially true. How do you keep your cool, stay effective or even thrive, when change has reached chaos levels?
Be kind to yourself and others: Certainty is a basic human need. Uncertainty can bring out the worst in us. Give your colleagues the benefit of the doubt, acknowledge good intention and forgive yourself for occasionally not being your best.
Revisit your strengths: It’s normal to want to lay low during an acquisition. A better strategy is to remember what you do best and the impact it has. Then, seek out opportunities to use your strengths to help the cause. You will automatically build relationships that can help you down the road.
Have a plan: Like getting life insurance, it’s good to plan for the worst so you can get it off your mind. But remember, even if you don’t stay at your organization, they hired you and you performed because of who you are and what you bring. That stays with you either way.
Listen selectively: The rumor mill can strike fear in the best of us and, importantly, distract us from being productive. Get real information from one or more outside mentors and read the news on what your company and industry are facing.
Take extra time for self-care: It’s counterintuitive, but when we feel like things are not moving forward or fast enough, we are often the most depleted. Make sure you are doing your exercise, meditating if that’s what you do, eating well and seeing friends.
It is possible to build something even in chaos. Take it one step at a time.
As CEO of a (very small) business, I now understand the incredible challenges associated with having to allocate limited resources and communicate effectively to my colleagues and clients. It’s a lot. Sometimes I blush when I think of how hard I was on some of my managers. I assumed they should know everything and became impetuous when they weren’t “there for me.”
From this new perspective I offer you my best advice to managing your boss: It’s hard up there! He or she doesn’t always know what to do. Choosing between options can be like trying to figure out which of two little kids is responsible for a fight. And making sure you tell everyone the right things, at the right time, all the time. It’s a lot. Here are some tips:
- Consider the boss’s circumstances — New to the job, long-distance, many direct reports — and consider how that may make their job harder
- Know how your boss behaves, especially under stress. When he or she exhibits that behavior, keep an even keel. Consider it may be more about them than you, and see what you can do to reduce their tension.
- Anticipate their needs. What are some possible decision paths and consequences of what you are asking for? What other limitations might your boss need to consider?
- Know what influences your boss. This is probably at least in part influencing their own boss. In addition, does your boss like public acknowledgement? Knowledge about cutting edge trends?
- Trust. Expense accounts, loyalty to your boss in situations with other stake-holders, and responsiveness are just a few. And if you ever disappoint your boss, make sure you clear the air.
- Work hard and make sure to occasionally remind your boss of your contribution. Everyone is moving fast and if you want to move ahead, let your boss know it too.
When it comes to the boss, our first response is not always empathy. Sometimes because we don’t have the easiest boss, but often because it’s hard to imagine that accomplishment doesn’t mean omniscience. With greater responsibility comes greater challenges. Keeping that in mind will shift the way you manage up.
All my best,
This summer my family went on a 45+ hour road trip. (Here we are at Niagara Falls). I know, I know, a great opportunity for quality family time. But one or two books on tape while the kids watched a video. C’mon, it’s OK, right?
Somewhere between mile 1700 and mile 1850, on the road to Montreal, I listened to David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Being my own CEO has brought time management demands to a whole new level since the time I worked a corporate job. I thought I knew about most of the really good time management tools, but this model blew that wide open. Three key elements in particular really excited me:
- The world has changed. We have more opportunities than ever but are also doing more, and more scattered, things. Just acknowledging that makes the overwhelm a little bit less “my fault,” which is good for the hard on ourselves out there.
- Getting it down and out of your head leaves you so much more mental space for thinking. I’ve always written things down, but getting it all down has let me tackle the first of several long-term projects that have been floundering on my desk for months.
- Have a downstream process. Bam! I get it. Parts of my To Do list are like a kid’s food on the plate. It gets moved around, but never eaten. With a system, you can know when and how things will get done and focus better on what’s in front of you.
Big happy sigh.
If you do get the book, don’t let doing it perfectly weigh you down. I do tend to be “born again” in my excitement when I discover something. Then I let it settle and just use the elements that work for me.
Enjoy the back to school!
My cousin in France is really good at windsurfing. So much so that he spent his military service teaching windsurfing to soldiers on R&R. Pretty nice deal, for him and for the soldiers. Soldiers get R&R. Farmers let fields lay fallow. And yet the grinding rhythm of work and life makes us keep pushing even when we need rest. From colleagues and clients alike I’ve been hearing stories of overwhelm, lack of focus and laziness. One client said, “I don’t feel like working, but I feel guilty about it.”
Here are a few perspectives to help us all take full advantage of summer’s offerings:
- Stick to basics. Normally I am a big fan of identifying the “Important, not urgent” projects to keep them moving. But sometimes you just have to back burner them. So gather up all of your “should” projects and put a reminder on your calendar for end of August. And enjoy the freedom of not having them in your head.
- Find a guilty pleasure. Pick something good and just enjoy it. After writing this post, I am heading to the knitting store to start a project. No it’s not water skiing or parachuting, but it’s me.
- Rest. Down time, gentle exercise, easy social time. Reading the paper, I’m so happy not to be at the political conventions. Much too high context for this time of year.
- Accept the fog. When we are less focused we are open to experiences, observations and insights that we might step over during fast-moving times.
Hang up the guilt and enjoy the summer!
As a small business owner, no one is leaning over you generating your To Do list. It seems like a dream, but being in charge of your own time takes more discipline. In my first years of business, I would say to friends, “I can’t talk. My boss is breathing down my neck.” They would say, “Who’s your boss?” and I’d say, “Me!” Here are some fundamentals I use every day:
Have realistic expectations
A while back I read one of these “10 Things Highly Successful People Do” lists. Reading 1-9, I felt OK. Then on #10 the needle scraped off the record. #10 said that successful people have realistic expectations. Unrealistic goals gloss over the good work we do, which in turns zaps us of confidence. As an unrealistic goal-setter in rehab, I now try to take the long view and set goals that correspond to the time and resources I have.
Put yourself first
We all know it. This year with my kids more independent and my business more stable, I’ve been able to exercise more, spend time with friends more and read more. All things I love. The creative energy and efficiency that are available now is fantastic. Spending time on yourself ups your game in immeasurable ways.
Celebrate the wins
Each week, take a few minutes to review your calendar and call out what went well. Why did it go well? If the accomplishment is part of an on-going effort, connect it to an interim or long-term goal and then think about what you want to do next.
Make a whole life “To Do” list
A personal life detail can be a huge distraction at work, and vice versa. Taking the five minutes to get it done is a huge stress reducer. A Whole Life To Do List has your different roles in the left hand column, personal and work, and the goals and actions on the right.
Advance long term goals
If we don’t crack the code on the big impact, long-term projects we spend too much time putting out fires. The “Important, Not Urgent” model from Stephen Covey lets you prioritize the immediate and identify longer term projects to make sure they keep moving.
Break things down
“Step by Step, One Walks Far” (Peruvian proverb). Goals like “get clients” or “write resume” are too big and broad. Breaking these down into small, manageable parts reduces gremlins and procrastination. What about “Spend one hour thinking about the steps I need to take on project X.” With less pressure and a more realistic goal, it’s easier to take action.
It’s the summer Friday season. I hope you use these favorites to spend more time having fun!
A client recently asked for help with a 5-year career plan and I realized it might be a good thing to share. My approach goes from the inside out. We have to get clear on who we are and what we want, then turn to the job/career market and see what is possible. Here goes:
- What unique skills and abilities do you bring? I usually use several tools and then “read the tea leaves.” My go-to tools are Strengths-Finder 2.0, the Seven Stories Exercise from the 5-O’Clock Club, and Myers-Briggs. Also consider your level of ambition. How far do you want to go? Combine all of those and hopefully some job titles will emerge.
- How does career fit your life? Try using the wheel of life. Your career is only one piece of who you are, and you will eventually give up if you are not finding what you need in other areas.
- Who do you want to be along the way? Work is not just about “doing”; It is about “being.” And who we are is often found in our values. An exercise I love for this is the Dinner Party exercise, first shared with me by my coach, Cat Williford. Here it is: Think of 8-12 people you’d like to invite to dinner. For each write three adjectives that describe them, then look at the list. What words do you see repeated? What themes emerge? Distill the top 3-5 and those are very close to who you are at your best.
- Now hopefully the big picture is in place. Breaking it into more manageable pieces, what are the milestones? What is the timing of those milestones? What do you need to demonstrate to get there? Who might be a good advocate for you along the way?
- Ideally you have developed a plan that is organic and that aligns with your natural strengths. That makes work easier and creates new opportunities. If you do see any obvious gaps in experience or management abilities, consider how you might address those.
- And finally, a loose plan is a good plan. As we learn, we sometimes change what we thought we wanted. Let yourself re-evaluate from time to time and know that changing your mind is not a sign of failure; it’s a sign of growth.
Looking forward to seeing what happens next!
The Ethics Column for BBC Capital recently approached me about a dilemma many small business owners face: what do you do when the hours you have spent on a project run over the estimated time you promised the client? Do you pad hours? No. Swallow the loss? Hopefully not. Ideally, you have cultivated a relationship with the client that allows you to carve out a good solution together.
The question got me thinking about the work I do with Employees. Too often, employment relationships start with unclear expectations on Day One. This may work for a while, but eventually, it leads Employees and HR Departments to feel disappointed with each other. Lack of clarity leads too many employees to feel unmotivated and disengaged at work. They end up resenting that they did not receive the promotion, bonus, or raise they were looking for. HR Managers, on the other hand, may avoid communication, all in the hope that the employee is “all set.”
I encourage my clients to have a strategy about their careers and to discuss it with their boss and H.R. manger. They should know what to demonstrate to get the next promotion and the one after that. And, they should know that their management is clear about what they are wanting.
Just keeping your head down and doing your work can end up feeling like running over and having to absorb the loss. One of my favorite resources on this topic is “Expect to Win” by Carla Harris.
I understand innovation in a cutting-edge industry like Computing, but it took me a while to figure it out in a mature, saturated industry like Cosmetics. During my 18 years in Cosmetics, I heard people talking about innovation all the time. Eventually, I understood: half of innovation is finding ingredients, delivery systems and product forms that meet new customer needs. But Cosmetics is a seasonal business, like Fashion. So the other half of innovation is making sure you efficiently ride the wave of trends. Every wave missed is revenue missed. Every wave you ride is money in the bank.
Yes, innovation often comes from visionaries with big ideas who somehow see around the corner. Steve Jobs. Estee Lauder. Yet it also comes from regular people doing their jobs. The thing is, when we are stressed, uncomfortable, scared or don’t trust our colleagues or bosses, we don’t take the little risks and put forth ideas. When we have a lot of trust and confidence, when we work interdependently with our team mates, we do stick our necks out more. We do and say the little things that can lead to big ideas.
Innovation is one of the reasons it’s so important to build trust in an organization. But trust, unlike innovation, is not seasonal. It is incremental. It starts from within: feeling confident, knowing your strengths, knowing your priorities. That self-awareness leads others to feel comfortable in your presence. And before you know it, you are working in tandem to innovate.
Nature is in the midst of its annual innovation. I hope you are enjoying it.
The Nike slogan “Just Do It” is a very powerful call to action. It’s simple: “just” tells us to forget about all the excuses, and “do it” is meant to get us off the couch and moving. Yet how many times have I heard this, looked outside to see that it’s cold and raining, and lost my desire to go for a swim? New studies are showing that confidence is what turns thoughts into action – whether for a workout, personal life, or at work. Confidence is a catalyst. It uses memories of past successes or failures in order to decide whether we are capable of doing a similar project in the future. If confidence is high, we tend to act; if not, we won’t. The curious thing is that the more we act, the more confident we become. Bad memories of failed projects tend to get buried, and successes tend to come to the fore, adding to our confidence. It is a virtuous cycle of confidence and action. Pick one small thing you’ve been avoiding, and just do it.
“Don’t worry so much what people think” is something I’ve heard for much of my life. I am one of those people who cares a lot what others think, and I would love it if everyone liked me, all the time. With age comes wisdom and I have learned that my “weakness” is coupled with a great strength. My desire to be liked means I adapt to people and am pretty good at winning them over. That is important when I am in front of a corporate audience delivering workshops on touchy-feely topics. If I can’t win them over, they won’t see the benefit in what I am teaching.
I am not alone. When I asked about confidence, several of you wrote back that you feel confident when you look good. There’s a lot to be said for it. The more we can adapt to the audience, the greater the chance that they will be receptive. It doesn’t remove the need for good communication and substance in our message, but let’s not discount the appearance details. In the Social Style model, which measures agility in leadership, “Image” is the first measure, about 10% of the whole. What if we ignored it? Imagine showing up at a Wall Street power lunch in Birkenstocks. Or going to Google in a tailored suit and expensive leather shoes. You would lose credibility. More subtle differences in appearance can still make people feel good about you, or not.
It is what it is. Yes we want to be loved when we are at our most relaxed and natural, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider others. Take the time to look your best and to consider the appearance of the person or people you are dealing with. Your efforts will be appreciated and you will feel that appreciation reflected back to you as confidence.
All my best,