Monthly Archives: April 2012

Don’t Take Your Needs to Work


My first exposure to the idea of how my needs impacted my career came from Laura Berman Fortgang’s book, Take Yourself to the Top. Fortgang divides things into basics/needs/wants.  Most of us can tell what the basics are–enough food, housing, warmth, safety.  Most of us also can tell the “wants”–house at the beach, Thunder season tickets, designer wardrobe, fill-in-the-blanks.  It gets tricky when we are dealing with needs.  Needs are sometimes disguised wants, but more often, they are buried in our subconscious–we don’t even recognize them when they are running our lives.


The kind of needs I’m talking about are those that start in early childhood–usually because of deprivation or mistreatment–and drive our behavior for the rest of our lives.  Someone very close to me grew up incredibly poor and without things that practically everyone has–things like soap, combs, jelly, sufficient clothes, or coats.  Her need was to never feel deprived again.  She accumulated stuff to prevent the feeling of deprivation.  It drove her whole life.

Some have the need to be appreciated.  Some have the need to be respected.  Some have the need to be treated fairly.  Some need to be right.  You get the idea.  These needs are all wrapped up in our self-worth.  If you don’t respect me, then you have shaken the very foundations of my belief in myself.  When this happens at work, then you are behaving like the same five-year-old who initially developed this need.  You probably aren’t aware that you are acting like a five-year-old.  You probably feel completely righteous in your reaction.  You won’t stop talking about it.  You tell your co-workers how wronged you are, and they probably are somewhat intimidated by your level of emotion.  They may or may not agree with you, but they are reluctant to challenge you because of how you are coming across about it.

This happens all the time.  It happens to pretty much everyone.  The way you can recognize it is by how upset you are.  How driven you are to fix it.  How much you talk about it.  How much you think about it. These needs are legitimate.  You came by them legitimately.  My friend who was so deprived in her childhood was trying to protect herself from ever feeling that horrible again.  But you need to get your needs out of your work.  They will do much more damage than it is worth.  People will think you’re completely irrational about weird stuff.  They will not be able to connect the dots between your behavior that they see and your need that you are trying to address and whatever happened to you that created that need.

What Do You Do?

So, what do you do?  Think back.  Think of times when even you could tell you were being irrational.  What was driving it?  Are there patterns?  Same reaction to similar situations?  Same reaction to similar people?  Figure out which needs are driving you (literally) crazy.  Try to reason with yourself (this isn’t usually all that successful).  Point out to yourself that that was then (when you were 5) and this is now (when you are an adult who really shouldn’t care if your GenY employee isn’t respecting you as much as you think she should).  If trying to talk yourself out of it doesn’t work, don’t give up, but there is a Plan B.

irrational at workWhen you feel yourself getting irrational (ok, not irrational–incredibly irritated), try to think of another way that you can get this need met OUTSIDE OF WORK.  Where can you be respected that matters more?  Church?  Home? Professional group?  Who appreciates you who matters more than people at work?  Can’t you go tell someone else you were right without rubbing your peer’s face in it?

Why Should You Go To That Much Trouble?

Because it really does have a negative impact on your career.  When you are being driven by things that are outside your conscious awareness, then you aren’t really in control.  When you aren’t in control, then you will do something that looks stupid to people who can make decisions about your future.  So, get your needs away from your work.

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Filed under Books, Career Development, Executive Development, Personal Change, Reframe, Success, Uncategorized

Dealing with A**holes

For some reason I’ve talked to a lot of people in the last couple of weeks who were having problems with people in their lives—mostly at work.  The problem when you have to deal with people who are difficult is that you have to keep dealing with them.  It is the rare workplace that offers the perk of being able to trade out your coworkers on a whim.  So how do you deal with the jerks?

It’s a Relationship

First of all, hard as it is, you’ve got to stop blaming the other person (EVEN IF IT IS ALL HIS FAULT).  You can’t make real progress at making the situation better if you think it is all the other person’s fault.  It is a relationship.  A relationship by definition is between (at least) two people.   If you are one of those people, you can do things that will affect the interactions between the two of you.   As long as you are in the frame of mind that it is entirely the other person, you are unlikely to be open to trying some of the things that I suggest.   A good book on the subject is Barry Duncan and Joe Rock’s  Overcoming Relationship ImpassesDuncan and Rock’s premise is that if you stop reacting in the same pattern to the same situation, you will disrupt the normal interactions and allow a new interaction/reaction to happen that can make things better.  For example, when the person starts once again with  the list of all the things you do wrong, if, instead of defending, you say something like, “you’re right, it must be difficult to deal with someone who you think can’t do anything right,” the other person has no place to go next. He shuts up or says something like, “I don’t think you do EVERYTHING wrong.”

The Relationship is Half You

Ask yourself what you are doing to contribute to what is wrong with the relationship.  What are you doing to improve the relationship?  Before you get all exasperated with me (because it is all the other person’s fault), remember that you only have one tool to make this better—your behavior.  You can’t directly control the other person’s thoughts or behaviors, so you can only use your own behavior to make a change.  You are the instrument of change here.   

Why Does This Person Drive You Crazy?

So, let’s start with trying to figure out with why this person drives you so batty.  Ok, yeah, I know he’s an a**hole, but I know that you’ve dealt with other a**holes in your life.  What is it about this one that is so bad?

  1. Who does this person remind you of?  Your brother?  Your father?  Your ex?
  2. Which of this person’s behaviors is so bad?  His micro-managing?  His criticism?  His inability to make a decision?
  3. Is there a time or a place that is worse?  In meetings?  In one-on-ones? When so-and-so is present?
  4. Are there things that happen first, before you get the urge to run screaming from the room?

If you look at the answers to these questions, can you see anything that you can change to reduce the angst that you encounter in dealing with this person?  Can you not have one-on-one meetings? Can you not have meetings that include the person who makes it worse?  Can you talk yourself out of the insight that this person is just like your big brother who made your life a living hell for eleven years?  What change(s) can you make, either to the circumstances of spending time with this person or to your thinking that makes this person easier to deal with?

Why Do You Drive Him Nuts?

Let’s look at it the other way.  What is it about you that drives him nuts?  Can you spot a specific situation that seems to make it worse for him?  Do you remind him of someone?  Can you spot a particular behavior of yours that seems to set things off?  Can you do something to change any of this?

What is he trying to accomplish?  There is a great book, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, by Brinkman and Kirschner,  that describes common difficult people as

  1. The Tank (pushy, ruthless, loud and forceful)
  2. The Sniper (identifies your weaknesses and uses them against you)
  3. The Know-It-All (knows 98% of anything)
  4. The Grenade (when they blow their top, shrapnel hits everyone in range)
  5. The Yes Person (quick to agree, slow to deliver)
  6. The Maybe Person (keep putting off crucial decisions until it’s too late)
  7. The Nothing Person (no verbal feedback)
  8. The No Person (doleful and discouraging)
  9. The Whiner (there’s a plan for their lives and they’re not in it)

Recognize your a**hole in any of these? Each of these types of people is trying to accomplish something with their behavior.  In other words, there is a REASON they are the way they are.  The authors say that this is what these types are trying to accomplish:

  1. GET IT DONE:  The Tank, The Sniper, and The Know-It-All
  2. GET APPRECIATED:  The Grenade, Sniper, The Know-It-All
  3. GET ALONG: The Yes Person, The Maybe Person, The Nothing Person
  4. DO IT RIGHT: The No Person, The Whiner, The Nothing Person

(for quick description of this, see )

If you help them with what they’re trying to accomplish, then they don’t have to use so much of their “difficult behaviors” to accomplish it.  I know that this is hard to do.  If it were easy, then none of us would experience the “a**hole people in our lives.  Just because they are there, though, doesn’t mean that YOU can’t deal with them.


Finally, use my most reliable tactic—reframe the situation.  Figure out a way to “see” the a**hole in a different way that allows you to interact differently with him.  He’s a customer, or she’s someone’s grandmother, or he’s an alien. The effort that it takes to deal with these folks can help distract you from the difficulty.   Whatever it takes.


Filed under Books, Career Development, Communication, Executive Development, Personal Change, Reframe

Can You Really Earn a Living Doing What You Love?

Do What You Love The Money Will FollowDo What You Love, The Money Will Follow

You hear it all the time.  “Do what you love and the money will follow?” But is it true?  I’d have to say, “Kind of.”  When you are working doing things you love, then it really isn’t work.  It all flows.  You forget what time it is.  You have all the energy you need.  The problems are interesting instead of overwhelming.  At the same time, there are lots of things that people love to do that aren’t easy to earn a living doing.  Golf.  Reading.  Collecting.  Gardening.  Eating.

If you’re like me, as you read the above list, you can think of ways to make a living doing those things.  If you extend these things beyond to related things, there are even  more ways to make a living from them. Lots of ways.  The thing is that we want to make LOTS of money doing things we love.  We want to just do what we love and have a business magically sprout around us.  It doesn’t work that way.  So, if you’re thinking about it that way, then, no, you can’t.

You Have to Work to Do What You Love

It still takes work to do what you love and earn a living from it.  Take me, for instance.  I do what I love.  I coach people to achieve their dreams.  I consult with companies to improve their performance.  I LOVE doing these things.  BUT . . .  I also have to do marketing, proposals, hustle for business.  I don’t particularly enjoy those things.  They are necessary in order for me to be able to do the things that I love.  And because they enable the things that I love, they aren’t as bad as they would be otherwise.

I had to do a lot of work to be able to know how to do the things that I love.  I had to learn, practice and deliver while working for companies–a.k.a. jobs.  I worked at jobs like all the other people who supposedly are earning a living not doing what they love.  A major difference was that I was learning in order to do what I wanted.  I thought of it that way.  That made it easier.  I was working toward doing what I loved.  And because it was going to enable the things that I loved, it wasn’t as bad as it would be otherwise.  Knowing that I was working toward doing what I loved gave me a lot of energy to keep doing it.

Figure Out What You Love

Maybe the hardest thing is to figure out what you love, and then to figure out how to make a living doing it.  If you love quilting, for instance, you can quilt (to earn a living doing this, you either have to make very good quilts that people will pay a lot for, or you need to make lots of quilts (get a quilting machine)).  Or you could have a online quilting auction service.  Or you could have a business that sells quilting tools or supplies.  Or you could design fabric.  Or you could write about quilts.  Or you could take quilt pictures.  Or you could develop  and deliver quilt training.   Or . . . you get the point.

You can love working for a company.  Lots of people do.  You don’t necessarily love working for all companies, but working for some can prepare you to work for the one you love.  It may be a certain kind of company that you love–a restaurant or a trading company– or it may be a particular role in a company that you love.  Whatever works for you.

The way I figured out what I loved was to evaluate all the parts of the jobs that I had really enjoyed–in my case, teaching, figuring out how to fix parts of organizations, presenting, advising–and to figure out what “job” that was.  I had never thought of being a consultant until I went through this process. Once I figured it out, though, the rest was easy.  What skills did I need to be able to do it?  How could I learn them? What was my timeframe?

Not Magic, But Worth It

There was nothing magic about it.  Money didn’t instantly appear.  I had so much fun, though, that it didn’t really matter.  The problems were interesting, not insurmountable.  Doing what I loved helped me pick myself up after setbacks and keep going.  The more I learned, the more fun I was having.

So, yes, you can earn a living doing what you love.  You just have to work at it.

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Executive Development, Goal Setting, Personal Change, Success

Keeping Up

Why Should I Care?

I talk to people who want to get promoted.  I talk to people who just lost their job.  I talk to people who want to go work for a cool company they know about.  I talk to people who want to start their own company.  If you are one of these people, or if you might become one of these people, then you need to keep up.

WinningKeep Up With What?

You need to focus on staying on top of the latest:

  • technology
  • social media
  • trends in your (and other adjacent) industry(ies)
  • issues in the market place
  • political undercurrent in your own organization
  • gurus in your field
  • books in your industry/field

It absolutely isn’t enough to show up and do your job.  The way things work now, that makes you vulnerable to the next layoff, the next new boss, your company going out of business.  The fact that you did your job just fine for 5, 10, 15, 20 years does not put you in good stead for the next step.  And it is highly unlikely that your next step isn’t the one you expect.  Without the most current skills, you are likely to have to take a demotion for the next position.

For example, if you think you are proficient at Microsoft Office, you aren’t if you don’t know your way around Sharepoint (and not just as an occasional end-user).  If you are a Project Manager, if you’re not conversant with Organization Change Management, Lean Methodologies and Scrum, then you aren’t competitive.  If you are a second level manager and you don’t know how to use social media (at your company) to lead your people, or how to develop and implement a strategy, how to measure and analyze your processes and implement changes, then you’re not keeping up.  If you are a Director, you need to know how to think like a V.P., how to dismantle and start up an organization, and how to manage your peers.  If you are a V.P., you need to understand the dynamics of managing a Board, how to analyze business opportunities, including whether to purchase a company or compete with it.  You need to think and learn beyond your job, your role and your company.

Look at job postings in your field.  Do you exceed what they are looking for?  On paper?  If you don’t, you will not even get an interview.  You won’t have the opportunity to tell them how great you are, because they will put you in the ‘delete’ file.   Be honest with yourself.  Don’t fudge.  If you don’t EXCEED the qualifications they are looking for, you will have a long job search and you will probably have to take a demotion in your next position.

Of the people I talk to, the biggest failure to keep up is technology-related.  People tend to stick with what they’ve learned to use and not push themselves beyond to the new technologies.  For instance, lots of companies are now using iPads for providing their sales people with training, marketing materials and sales tools.  Could you do that?  I’m not talking about the programming, but about creating the materials that work on the iPad (they’re not the same that work on paper). The way that sales training and interactions are done are frequently the harbinger for the rest of the organization.  Are you listening HR? IT? Manufacturing?  Are you comfortable with (and continuing to be current with) all the tools that facilitate virtual team management.  If you had to do it on your own tomorrow, could you?


If you have ‘bleeding edge’ skills in your field, then you are an asset to your company.  If you use your company’s problems and tools to develop your ‘bleeding edge’ skills, then you benefit.  It is a symbiotic relationship.  It is win/win. Don’t be vulnerable.  Start “keeping up” before you need it.  It’s hard to do at that point.


Filed under Career Development, Executive Development, Personal Change, Recession Proof, Success, Uncategorized

My Boss Doesn’t Listen to Me!

What Language Are You Speaking?

My first question to you is– Are you speaking your boss’ language?  And, I’m sure your answer is, “Of Course!”  But are you really?  One of the most important tools that I use to help people understand this problem is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator.  The Myers Briggs is a tool that enables great conversations about your personality and the personalities of others.  It is one of many tools that can facilitate these conversations and investigations..  I like it best because of the research behind it, but it doesn’t matter if you use this tool.  Just look at your own personality/behaviors/interactions through the lens of a tool that helps you evaluate yourself in the context of interactions with others.

Anyway, Myers Briggs divides people into 16 different types using four dichotomies:

  • Extroversion(E)————————————Introversion(I)
  • Sensing(S)——————————————–Intuition (N)
  • Thinking(T)——————————————Feeling(F)
  • Judging(J)——————————————–Perceiving(P)

Myers Briggs assigns personality types based on these dichotomies. I am not going to go into Myers Briggs in detail here. Check it out on the Internet. Or pick a different tool, such as DISC, to apply what I’m saying here. The point is, a ESTJ (Extrovert/Sensing/Thinking/Judger) looks at the world very differently, processes information and needs to be communicated with differently than a INFP (Introvert/Intuitive/Feeling/Perceiver). The practical impact of this is that if your boss has a different type (or DISC profile) than you, then it is highly likely that the problem is not that you aren’t listening to each other. The problem is most likely that you are both sending messages out into the universe and they are falling into space without being “heard.”

What Type Are You?

For example, someone who is an MBTI “Extrovert” gets his ENERGY from interacting with people. He goes to a party and gets energized.  An MBTI “Introvert” gets her ENERGY from being alone, from reading, from spending a quiet evening at home.  An Extrovert might take a break at work and walk around and talk to people to get a second wind.  An Introvert boss might see this as an employee who is wasting her time.  A MBTI “Senser” boss needs hard cold facts to make a decision.  An “Intuitive” employee will struggle to tell the boss how she knows what she knows.  She just “knows” it.

I frequently do the exercise in class sessions where I divide the “Judgers” and “Perceivers” into separate groups and have them plan a vacation. The “Judgers” plan everything right down to when and where they are going to go buy new underwear for their vacation. The “Perceivers” are lucky if they actually come up with a destination and a mode of transportation.  Both of these are adequate plans (for the ones doing the planning) and completely deficient and faulty plans for the other group. So, if you are a “P” and you have a “J” boss, your plan is unlikely to be considered a “real” plan.  If you a “P,” the “J’s” plan is likely to be serious overkill.

These communication gaps cause more problems at work than probably anything else.  I highly recommend the book, Type Talk at Work, How the 16 Personality Types Determine Your Success on the Job, by Otto Kroeger and Janet Thuesen, to provide you with examples and strategies to deal with these gaps.

So, Fix It

So . . . since this is a problem on both sides–boss and subordinate–why should you step up and do something about it instead of your boss?  Of course your boss should do something about it.  I tell all the leaders that I coach that they should (and of course, they have the same problems with their bosses, too).  If your boss isn’t doing it, though, you have limited options.  You can go on failing to successfully communicate with your boss (framed as “my boss won’t listen to me), or you can work on these skills, develop the ability to successfully communicate with any boss (framed as “my boss always listens to me) and you can succeed at what you’re trying to do.

I had a boss for whom I used to prepare long, detailed (and if I do say so myself) brilliant reports that answered all his questions.  He would take them, set them aside and repeatedly ask me questions that were answered in the reports.  I finally figured out that not only was he not reading them, he also didn’t value the time that I put into preparing them AT ALL.  I started paying attention to the kinds of questions he was asking, and put together a VERY SHORT bullet  list that answered the questions.   (OK, this was a long time ago, and I’m a lot smarter now.)  He stopped being so frustrated with me and I stopped being so insulted that he was ignoring my work and we became much better boss/subordinates for each other.

Stop being so frustrated with your boss and solve the puzzle of HOW to communicate with him. (By the way, if you have an employee who won’t listen to you, re-read this post substituting the word boss with employee and save me from having to write another post:-))

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Filed under Books, Career Development, Communication, Executive Development, Inclusion, Leadership, Reframe, Success

New Job? Here’s What You Do:

First Thing

The first thing you do is remember that you don’t know what you don’t know.  Be very careful about your assumptions.  If you had the same job in a different organization, remember it might not be the same job in this one–just the same title.  If Directors act/do/are a certain way in your old organization, they might act/do/be different in this one.  If you get promoted in your (same) organization, it is a NEW job, not just more of the same.  Treat it as a new job.  If you manage a new group, move to a different location, get a new boss (yeah, I said if you get a new boss), it is a new job.  Just like all jobs, this job will have good things and bad things.  If you get off to a good start, it will have more good than bad.  Move on to the second thing:

Second Thing

Become hyper-sensitive to your surroundings.  Pay attention.  Listen.  Watch.  Notice.  Who are the power players?  What is the informal network?  Who are the formal and informal leaders?  What is the culture?  Put your antenna up and start to feel out the unwritten rules.  Ask questions.  At the beginning, you have a window of opportunity where people expect you to ask questions and you feel comfortable doing it.  Learn the language (every organization has its own set of acronyms).

Put on a consultant’s hat–do an organization assessment.  What works, what doesn’t work?  What are the opportunities for quick hits?  Talk to lots of people!  Ask them what they do.  Ask them about themselves.  Learn their names.  Learn as much as fast as you can.  Work on putting together your own picture of how it all works together. If you do this right, you will very quickly know more about the organization, or at least have a different view, than many who work there because you will be actively investigating it.  Not very many people do this about their own organizations.

Third Thing

Make a good impression.  Get there early and stay late.  Come across friendly, confident and interested. Dress not only to look good, but to feel good.  It will come across.  Take the initiative–even when it is uncomfortable.  Commit and deliver on your commitments.  Don’t over commit–it’s really easy to do in the early days, when you want to impress.  It’s better to surprise by delivering beyond your commitment than by failing to land your promised deliverables–remember you’re still in the impression-making days.  Work on making a good impression on all levels of the organization.  You never know who listens to whom.

The Fourth Thing

Work on your networks and alliances.  The Center for Creative Leadership has done research that the most successful leaders have what is called “Manager Trade Routes,” informal networks of reciprocal exchanges.(Trade Routes: The Manager’s Network of Relationships (Technical Report) by Robert E. Kaplan and  Mignon Mazique)  It’s best to get started on this early.  Figure out your peers–who are they, what motivates them, what are they trying to accomplish.  Begin to work on developing powerful relationships with them.  My experience is that more Executives fail because of their failed interactions with their peers than with their bosses.

And Finally, The Fifth Thing

Figure out and stay on top of what your boss wants from you.  Learn how your boss asks for things.   Learn how s/he wants things communicated back.  Ask for reports or presentations that will clue you in about what your boss values.  Don’t assume s/he knows what you’re doing in your first weeks.  Ask how s/he wants to be updated.  Over-communicate at first.  Be enthusiastic, energetic and positive in your interactions with your boss.  Make him/her glad s/he hired you.

Check out the book,    The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders by Michael Watkins, for some good tips.

Good Luck!


Filed under Books, Career Development, Communication, Executive Development, Leadership, Success, Uncategorized

What You Believe About How the Organization Works is WRONG

If you are the CEO-Founder of the organization, nothing I’m going to say applies to you.  If you are anyone else, it probably does.  We all have beliefs about how organizations work.  For the most part, at least some of these beliefs are myths.

organization mythsSome Typical Myths:

  • If you work hard, you will be rewarded.
  • Organizations are meritocracies.
  • Leaders Are Heroes.
  • The more hours you put in, the more you will be rewarded.
  • Organizations are families.
  • This organization is better (than all others).
  • I have unlimited potential.
  • The organization will recognize what I do.
  • I am irreplaceable.
  • If I just do a good job, I can ignore organizational politics.
  • Younger employees have more potential than older employees.
  • Older employees are more wise than younger employees.
  • If I work hard enough and do a good job, my career will take care of itself.

But, you say, (some of) “these are true!”  Or, “I don’t believe any of those.”  That’s the thing about myths–they exist as myths or truths in the eye of the beholder.  And they are powerful enough to control your behavior, if not your life.  A myth is only a myth if it isn’t reality.  (Yeah, I know–what the heck did that mean?)

Whose Reality Is It?

I started this post with the statement that if you are the CEO-Founder this doesn’t apply to you.  If you are the CEO-Founder of your organization, then your beliefs are the reality of the organization.  Everyone else’s beliefs are the myths.  Of course everyone has some beliefs that are true (and therefore reality), such as if  ‘I get to work on time, I won’t get in trouble for being late’.  Hmm, even this is not “true” in some organizations.  I used to work in an organization where the official start time was 8am, but the expected start time was more like 7am.  Why?  Because that is what leadership thought was indicative of a motivated, productive, successful workforce.  It is critically important to understand what the top of your organization believes about how organizations work, and how that is different from what you believe.

We come to our beliefs about how things work through a circuitous route.  Our parents drill things into our head.  Work hard, you will be rewarded with grades. (Lesson–effort leads to reward)  Our teachers reinforce beliefs.  You can do anything you want to do. (Lesson–unlimited potential)  Our coaches add to it.  Always get the ball to Russell; whatever you do, get the ball to Kevin!  (Lesson–irreplaceability)  These lessons stick in our minds and we begin to apply them to other venues.

By the time we get to our first jobs, they are pretty much set.  As a coach, I work with people helping them understand the unwritten rules in their organizations.  The reason people struggle so much with this, is that these “rules”–the accumulated “realities” of leadership over the years–don’t match their own “rules.”  And it makes no sense.  When you put in long hours and you aren’t rewarded and appreciated for it, you get disillusioned and angry.  What you don’t understand is that the person(s) in charge believes that it is results that count and effort in and of itself is irrelevant.

Interestingly, as I have started working with more men who work in woman-run organizations, they are finding themselves with the same problem–the “rules” make no sense to them.  Why should we “talk” about it?  Let’s just DO it.  Who cares if we have a consensus?  (Not that I’m saying these “rules” apply to all female run organizations–these are examples I’ve encountered).

It Is Hard

It is REALLY hard to let go of your beliefs.  They are tightly wound with how you derive your sense of personal value.  If you find yourself angry at work a lot–angry at not being appreciated, at not being valued, at not being rewarded, you need to look deeply at how you believe things should work.  Then you need to look–really look–at evidence that it is true in your organization.  Look hard for what the organization’s leadership believes about how things work.  How is it different?  Don’t dismiss these differences.  (Remember, however, that leadership is likely to be in the same boat to some extent about their own beliefs, unless they founded the company.)


Experiment with reframing your communications to match the beliefs of those who evaluate you.  If you think results are most important, but your boss talks about effort–communicate your results AND the effort it took to get them.  If your boss thinks she is irreplaceable, decide whether you want to frame communications in terms of that belief.  If you understand these beliefs and their impact on your work life, then it gives you more options and tools to improve your work experience and enhance your career.

. . . just sayin’


Filed under Career Development, Communication, Executive Development, Leadership, Reframe

Great Leaders and Their Paradoxes

I have always loved the concept of paradoxes.  A paradox is a self-contradictory proposition.  Paradoxes  are the embodiment of complexity.  Great leaders are full of them.

Extreme Self Confidence v. Humility:

I don’t think you can be a leader without having self-confidence.  Self-confidence and self-worth combined make up self-esteem.  I’ve seen leaders (although not great leaders)  without a good sense of self-worth, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a leader who didn’t have a realistic belief in his own ability to deal with the situation.  It is this self-confidence that inspires others to follow.

At the same time, great leaders demonstrate real humility.  Self-confidence does not preclude humility.  Since self-confidence is a realistic view of your abilities, humility is a realistic view of your limitations.    Humility is a demonstrated sense of modesty.  Humble leaders can take feedback, can admit their mistakes, and are much more respected by their followers.

Decisive v. Consensus Building:

A great leader is comfortable making decisions based on the information that is available.  Decisions are the lubrication that make organizations go.  Without decisions, things slowly grind to a halt.  Sometimes there just isn’t enough information to make a comfortable decision.  Great leaders step up and make the decisions anyway.

At the same time, great leaders have the skill and know the value of consensus building.  There are times when it is best to take the time for the group to make the decision, rather than for the leader to make the decision alone.  Great leaders know not only that is, but they also know how to do it.  They allow followers to participate in the organization decision making and get follower buy-in in the process.

Leader v. Follower:

Leaders challenge and change.  They inspire and energize.  Leaders lead.  It goes without saying that great leaders are leaders.  Leaders do not lead 100% of the time, however.  Leaders follow sometimes, too.  They follow thought leaders.  They follow their bosses and their heroes.  Sometimes, they even follow their followers.  Great leaders are as comfortable being followers as being leaders because they aren’t so into themselves that they need to lead all the time.

Detail Focused v. Big Picture:

There are tons of examples of Executives who failed because they weren’t paying attention to the details.  This does not mean that you need to be in the details all the time;  in fact, that is probably as bad as not being able to deal with details at all.  You do need to be able to dive into the details and spot the aberrations when the situation arises that demands it.  Steve Jobs was famous for his ability to crawl into the details of his products.

At least as important is the ability to see the big picture.  The big picture includes what is going on outside your organization, outside your community, and outside your industry.  You need to be able to see how things fit together and “what is wrong with this picture.”   Fred Smith saw the big picture when he came up with the idea of Federal Express.  Steve Jobs saw the big picture when he saw the need to combine extreme marketing concepts with bleeding edge technology ideas.  The ability to see the big picture can keep you going long after others would have given up.

Hands Off v Hands On:

Delegation is a very important skill for leaders.  The higher up you go the more you need to be able to delegate.  Except when you need to be hands-on.  Situational Leadership Theory by Hershey and Blanchard suggests that different leadership styles are required in different situations.  In other words, it isn’t always appropriate to delegate, even if you are at the top of the organization and have Executives reporting to you.  It isn’t appropriate to be hands-on all the time–your more experienced/senior employees will feel micro-managed.  You need to understand what your personal style is, when you should be using it and when you should be flexing your style.

The Dark Side–The Success Paradox:

Success changes us.  Those changes are mostly good.  We become more confident, more comfortable in our skins.  But we also develop blind spots.  Success robs us of the uncertainty that helps us be more sensitive to our environment.  We develop blind spots about our personal flaws.  We discount negative feedback about our interpersonal skills.  We aren’t as open to seeing organizational issues.  Most importantly, we miss the big, external-to-the-organization contextual issues–the world is changing around the organization and the organization is so busy doing what it does, that it misses it.  Think Borders with Amazon.

Great leadership requires complex responses.

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Filed under Career Development, Executive Development, Leadership, Reframe, Success

Lead from where you are

Tops, Middles, Bottoms

Are you the same kind of leader at work that you are at home? at church? with your friends?  If you’re like most people, probably not.  Why is that?  Most people have a picture of the “power structure” at work that influences the way they behave.  This picture is remarkably the same for almost everyone.

Our picture:  The people at the “top” tell everyone what to do, the people in the “middle” try to get the people at the “bottom” to do what the “top”wants, while struggling to get the “top” be clear about what it is that they want.

Sound familiar?  There is a interactive exercise developed by Barry Oshry and documented in his book, Seeing Systems, Understanding the Mysteries of Organizational Life, in which people at all levels of the organization, when assigned to be a “top,” “middle” or “bottom,” play out this power structure role–even though they have a different role (and behave differently) in their own organization.  It’s as if you put a group of people in a room and told them all that they were 5th graders–and they started acting like it!

This  “picture” of the way things (should) work  exists in most organizations, across organization boundaries, global cultures, and all organization sizes.  The behaviors that go with these unconscious roles hold us all back.  It makes the organization slow.  If we accept these roles, it’s hard to get be excellent–organizationally or PERSONALLY.

Step Up, Step Out

LeadFfrom Where You Are

If you don’t step up and step out, if you go along with the “way they do it,” then you aren’t standing out.  People frequently err on the side of getting along and not challenging the status quo.  How does that help the organization?  How does it help your career?  (It’s easier for managers to lay off the ones who’ve never been exceptional–solid and steady doesn’t get you very far for very long any more.)

I realize that I’m saying that you should take risks.  Yep.  And it’s really hard to take risks.  Yep. So start with little risks.  Instead of waiting till someone tells you what to do, figure out what you think should happen?  If you were “king” of the company, what would you have happen?  Just figure it out.   What’s the worst thing that can happen if you did it?  What would you do if that happened.  What’s the best that could happen? Start with thinking it out.  Turn off your “going-along” thinking and be proactive about solutions.

Just Do It

There is a reason that “It’s better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission,” is so popular in organizations.  It’s mostly true.  My first, and for me, probably the most important, Executive, used to say over and over, “Make a decision.  It is easier to fix a bad decision than to fix the damage from not doing anything.  There are almost always several “right” decisions for every business problem–pick one and DECIDE.”  I had already heard this mantra several times in the first three months that I worked for this guy before my first one-on-one with him.  I had spent these first three months researching the details of a very serious problem and I was presenting the results of my research to him in this meeting.  Looking back, I can’t believe how naive and unaware of organizational politics I was.  My boss sent me to this meeting, fully knowing how bad it was, alone.  I was about 15 minutes into the details when he stood up, looked at me and said, “You’ve made me sick at my stomach,” and he walked out.   I was shocked.  I sat there.  I thought he was coming back.  He didn’t.  I waited probably 20 minutes and got up and left.  I didn’t know what to do.

I waited about a week.  I tried to figure out what to do.  My boss was on vacation.  I thought about the Exec’s  mantra, “Make a decision.”  This one wasn’t mine to make–it was his (or above).  But I needed to figure out how to get him to make it.  I walked into his office and asked when he wanted to finish our meeting.  He looked at me, and said, “I don’t want to, but I guess we better.”  We rescheduled and he listened to me all the way through.  At the end of the meeting, he told me to figure out how much money it would take to fix it.  When I did, he had me present to the entire Executive team and he persuaded them to fund it (it was several million dollars).  I had a leadership role in implementing the fixes–way beyond my original job.  I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have had a role in it if I hadn’t walked into his office and pushed him for another meeting.  I am sure the project would have happened eventually,  later and without me.

It was a powerful lesson.  I think if I had been in the organization longer, I would have adopted the “power structure picture,” and wouldn’t have done it.  I would have waited for my boss to do it.  Or whoever.  I wouldn’t have learned the lesson that helped shape my career.


Filed under Books, Career Development, Executive Development, Leadership, Personal Change, Reframe

Fail. Fail. Fail.

Failing Isn’t Fun.

I really, really to hate to fail.  In fact, I hate it so much that I rarely admit that I failed when I do–it’s not that I lie about it–I just don’t even admit to myself.  So why does every guru on leadership say that failing is good?  I had the opportunity to watch lots of kids this weekend–kids of all ages.  They “fail” all the time.  They try something, it doesn’t work, they try again, or they walk away and try something else.  Sometimes they get upset, sometimes they get hurt, but they pretty much pick themselves up and keep trying.  They don’t usually see it as “failure.”  They just see it as a part of living.

Imagine if they were so afraid of failure that they didn’t try.  What if they didn’t learn to walk because they would fall down.  What if they didn’t learn to read because they wouldn’t be able to figure out all the words.  The way they keep going in the face of what we adults would see as “failure” is an important lesson for us.  Some time around late elementary school or middle school, kids start to stress about failing and start to be afraid of trying.  By the time we’re adults, we’ve got that lesson well-learned.

Failure Is A Step

The flip side of failure, though, is that without it, you don’t get better.  Even if we succeed we don’t do it as well as if we fail first and try again.  If I spend my time obsessing about how I failed at something, rather than treating it like a baby treats a fall–that way didn’t work, maybe the next way will–then my forward movement becomes a loop at best.  One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

There are LOTS of books on the benefits of failure:  Fail Forward; Celebrating Failure, The Power of Failure, Great Failures of the Extremely Successful Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure, to name just the ones I’ve read in the last two years.  So, I  get why failure is critical.  The problem is the way we look at it.  Failure isn’t an event.  To quote Edison again,  “I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”  Failure is a step.

Try, Try, Try

So, remember the way a kid thinks: Try. Try. Try.


Filed under Books, Executive Development, Leadership, Personal Change, Reframe, Success