For the longest time, I never wanted to say, “If you are unhappy at work, what is your part in it?” I didn’t want to say that because I didn’t want to blame the victim. After all, corporate America is so imperfect. Companies are big and unwieldy, and small failings, especially of senior managers, become magnified to make life really difficult.
But I am at a crossroads that I’ve been coming to for some time. It turns out that a ton of what happens is in our control. Neuroscience, which is exploding, is telling us that our thoughts, especially when we verbalize them, become our intention. And that intention drives action, which drives outcome. What that means is that work, and life, goes in the direction of what you say, to yourself and to others.
Here is my challenge to you. For just two days, every time you have a constricting thought, switch it out for a more productive one. So if someone cuts you off running down the crowded subway stairs, instead of accepting the thought, “Jerk! It’s all about him, isn’t it?” try, “Huh, he looks like he’s in a hurry. I am too.” Or if you are in a meeting and the person who irritates you most does that thing they do, ask, “What could their positive intention be?”
It’s a strange thing, but freedom can be right inside, and can begin with one small shift at a time.
Cassandra was brilliant. She had had a significant impact on her company’s success. In fact, her contribution had helped turn around at least one failing business. The problem was that Cassandra kept burning out. She was beloved by management because she gave herself fully. Within a year in any new job, she was practically running the show. And around that same time, the situation would become unsustainable. On a scale of 1-10, fun & recreation, and friends & family dropped to a 1 or 2. Working too hard impacted her health. In the end, she would quit the job and take long breaks before the next one.
Cassandra is not one person. I have seen it happen a lot. The problem was her success story. For Cassandra, success meant being the absolute best, with no exception. Normal human need for balance got lost, and that put real, long-term success out of reach. Most of us have a vision of what we would like success to look like. What we don’t realize is that we often have a filter that dictates the terms of success, or says we are not capable of or don’t deserve success. It can sound like complaints about a co-worker who has “sold out,” or a boss who is impossible. These stories are wily, and they can get in the way of doing the work that moves us ahead and creates real success.
The reality is that most of us, with hard work and consistency, have what it takes to get where we want to go. Here’s the success story exercise. What is success to you? When you imagine it, what emotions come up? In your family growing up, what stories were you told about success, influence, money? How do those play into your vision or what’s in the way of that vision? And finally, what would it be like if success could flow to you easily? What would you do next?
And please join me for a special event! On March 28th in New York City, my brilliant friend and colleague, Rick Tamlyn, will share his Bigger Game model. Rick’s model and tools have helped thousands of professionals and teams follow their dreams and reach a new level of performance. To learn more, take a look here: https://biggergamelive.com/jumpstart/
In my work with hundreds of professionals, I have come to a conclusion: People want a sense of control at work. It’s the Autonomy piece that Daniel Pink refers to in his famous TED talk. Stephen Covey called it Interdependence. A professional who takes charge of his or her own leadership and is in a mutually beneficial relationship with their employer – that is an ideal worth pushing for.
From the organization side, there’s a glitch. Bosses may try giving employees a chance at autonomy, then instead of using failure as a learning moment, they take the autonomy away. Employees won’t stay motivated for long if they have good intention and then are made to be “wrong” because their action is not perfect. And for a team to be greater than the sum of its parts, the parts must be working to potential.
Because I believe that strong teams start with strong individual performance, I say that we need to put the I’s back in team. When team members know their positive Impact on the team, they gain confidence. When they have tools of Influence, they can navigate their boundaries and feel a sense of control. And when they can feel safe taking Initiative, they gain the resilience that comes from experience. Organizations can then harness individual talent for a whole new level of collaboration…innovation…competitiveness in the market…and results. Everybody wins.
Spring is in the air, with renewed focus and energy. It’s a great time to shake out the winter and re-align the team.
This week a trending article in the New York Times talked about the balance he regained by reading the paper in hard copy. The author referenced the food writer, Michael Pollen, whose advice, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” has become somewhat famous. He created his own version for reading the news: “Get news. Not too quickly. Avoid social.”
It got me thinking of a version for career advice. Like the food business with so many mixed messages, and what technology is doing to how we spend our time and mental energy, building a career today is full of mixed messages. It is confusing at best, and a big energy suck without the desired outcome at worst.
Here we go: “Do work you like. Not too much. Avoid the B.S.”
Do work you like. If you’ve read my newsletters before, this shouldn’t be new. Take time to find out what you like and do well. I find that this shakes out for most of us somewhere in our 30’s. Before that, we are just learning to become professionals. The trick is to start to think about what you really like in your 30’s, and continue to build and take measured risk to pursue it from there.
Not too much. Career is long and as a working mom, I am convinced that career ambition is elastic; it ebbs and flows to fit around life. Learn to pace yourself and take what you need for personal life, even for things other than children. In my 30’s I was a part-time ski instructor and left promptly at 5:00 on Fridays, even though I’m pretty sure my boss didn’t like it.
Avoid the B.S. The cop-out answer here is “avoid politics and others’ bad behavior.” The more relevant answer is twofold: First, understand interpersonal dynamics so that you can be compassionate towards others and feel more influence and control at work. And second, know your own internal gremlins that get in the way of success (more on that next week).
I feel spring in the air! And with it a focus and energy coming back. I hope you feel it too.
There are two requests I get all the time: 1) Clarity on the big picture, and 2) A roadmap to get there. There is one more element that is key. It’s to have the confidence to activate the first two. My clients (you!) are mostly high-achievers. In reality, you don’t want someone to tell you what you want or provide the roadmap. You want the understanding and confidence to do it yourself. What has emerged from our work together is a philosophy I call Career Clarity and it consists of three parts:
- Impact: Beyond having a list of strengths, have the calm confidence of knowing the impact you have on your team, organization, friends and family
- Initiative: Have the courage to act, and the resilience that comes with experience
- Influence: Know the rules of communication and interaction so you can anticipate others’ behavior and negotiate your way
Career Clarity grew from working with ambitious professionals who initially wanted to find a new job. When they truly embraced what they excel at and how it fits in the big picture, starting acting from their point of view, and learned to manage communication, the influence they enjoyed allowed them to be less frustrated and happier. They were free to make their own choices. The difference was dramatic. Nearly half my clients stayed in their jobs and earned several promotions. Those who did change jobs found that the work they did with me allowed them to lead better wherever they go. Part leadership development, part career and life strategy, Career Clarity provides the freedom to be in charge of your destiny. It’s subtle, but critical. When you know what you want and are negotiating it, you are not just blindly doing that looks good on paper. That critical difference brings focus, balance and success.
“Leadership belongs to those who take it.” Sheryl Sandberg
What if this spring could be about stepping up and taking charge of a bigger game for yourself. As a starting point, will you ask yourself:
- Do I know my top three strengths? How do they help my colleagues, friends and family?
- When I feel nervous about what I think, do I speak up or hang back?
- On a scale of 1-10, how comfortable am I about predicting people’s behavior?
I feel my ambitions growing as spring is on the horizon. How about you?
When I meet with HR partners and talk about advocating for the employee, I can see them start to squirm or giggle nervously. It makes sense. Companies are uncomfortable paying for training that will give employees the tools to make demands or even leave the organization. The thing is that while this belief feels right on paper, it’s inside out.
Think of the team member who is disengaged or resistant, maybe has a chip on their shoulder. Most often it’s a lack of confidence in disguise. Most often this employee doesn’t really know their value and doesn’t know how to influence their environment. That leads to feeling put upon or defensive, and can lead to negative talk with others.
On the other hand, when a team member knows what they are good at and how that contributes, their confidence soars. And when that person has tools for diplomatically managing their environment, they feel heard and self-manage better. They are more wiling to take the “good” risk and speak up, which leads to better collaboration and innovation. They are also more willing to hear and incorporate constructive feedback that will grow them as leaders. It’s Stephen Covey’s interdependence in action. With more employees taking this approach retention goes up, which reduces cost. Engagement and collaboration go up, which leads to cost reducing efficiency and revenue generating innovation. That’s good for the organization.
I offer two sessions that are enormously popular with teams: Creating Your Own Engagement and Influence Using Social Style.
My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance–and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on,
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.
I’m a little frustrated. Last week I had three different people share that after responding to on-line job postings, they finally realize that doesn’t work. I feel like a broken record when I say that the vast majority of jobs get filled in-house or by someone already familiar to the organization. But instead of dwelling, that thought brought me to this: if the vast majority of jobs get filled in-house, what are you doing to strategize a promotion for yourself?
- What opportunity are you interested in? Are you actively thinking about what you could do for your organization, or are you waiting for what’s offered?
- Do you regularly remind people what you are good at and what you have been working on/accomplished?
- Do you know what management wants to see you demonstrate to get to the next level? Have they committed to moving you ahead if you demonstrate that? By when?
- If the organization has given you feedback about what they would like to see change in your performance to promote you, what is your plan to achieve that?
- Have you had this conversation with your boss? Recently? And regularly? (Too often I hear, “We had that conversation a year ago and nothing’s happened”)
Last week a client shared that she is really good at dealing with “challenging” leaders, the Steve Jobs sort who are change agents but are often abrasive or polarizing. A strong people person who is also forward thinking, this client is good at shaping a vision around the change, and excellent at selling the abrasive leader to the rest of the team. She helps the organization leverage the team’s talents. Without that, a disruptive leader’s vision struggles to move forward and essential innovation doesn’t happen.
It’s common for organizations promote disruptive leaders. It makes sense — change leaders love results and they tend to be good at managing up. But too often organizations don’t consider the layer around these leaders and critical team members either leave or are so disengaged as to be ineffective. In the first four of Kotter’s 8-Steps for creating change, you can feel how essential the #2 supportive leader is.
How do you identify these change supporters who have the unique ability to enroll others? They often self-identify by saying that they themselves are not leaders. They recognize that they thrive when they are partnered with someone more objective and unbending. They are often “people people” — more likely to get up from their desk and visit with others than to sit behind the computer. They are practical and good at breaking down change so that the team can take it on step by step.
When thinking about roles and responsibilities, it’s normal to put knowledge and expertise first. To find this first follower role, look instead for approach and unique abilities.