Monthly Archives: July 2012

Keep Up Or Fall Behind

Keep Up or Fall Behind

If You Want To Stay Employed

To stay marketable in today’s workforce, and to be considered for continued promotions, you HAVE to keep up.  Maybe back in the day that wasn’t as necessary–maybe you got to be an expert within your specialty and that was good enough.  No more.  People who make decisions about whether to hire, promote, or fire people take into consideration the prospect’s current-ness, attitude toward change and learning, and awareness of things outside his specific job.  The only way to come out in good stead in this evaluation is to keep up.  You have to keep up with technology, your company’s market, your company’s industry, trends, and language.  I know, I know–how can you do more than you’re doing?  You’re keeping up as much as you need to.  That may be true.  Or you may need to do more.  Let’s explore this a little.


There are several kinds of technology that you need to keep current with–how current depends on what your job is, where you are in your career, what market you work in and what your goals are.  There is BIG technology–what are the global trends in technology associated with technology companies and services.  Unless you work in the technology industry, just being generally aware of these is enough. There is also what I call SMALL technology (others may call it something else).  This is the systems and tools that you use in your job and that others (competitors, especially) use to do similar jobs.  Things like or Oracle or Access or Visio or Telepresence or GoToWebinar.  You should take the opportunity to learn to use absolutely every tool that you can.  If you are lucky enough to work in an organization that uses a lot of technical tools—software, systems or hardware–you should take advantage of all the opportunities to at least become familiar with them.  If you can, you should become proficient at all the tools that others use to do the job that you do.  If you find yourself bounced out of your job, you want to be able to put as many of these on your resume that you can.  Learn them while you can.  Then there is what I call PERSONAL technology.  These are all the technical tools and toys that can make your life more productive and fun.  You should also keep up with these, so that you can keep your mind growing and so that you can be relevant in conversations you have with other people.  Yes, I said relevant.

If you find yourself disagreeing with me, think about why that is.  Is it that you think the technology is irrelevant?  If you think it is irrelevant, I would challenge you to research or discuss this view with others.  If you find that you’re right after you do that, I’ll get off your back. Do you disagree because you don’t really like the discomfort of learning these new things?  If you plan to stay in the workforce more than five more years, you’re going to have to learn and keep learning new technology.  It is better for you to jump in and do it willingly—it makes it look like you’re a positive early adapter—and therefore much valued by organizations. 


It is important that you understand the market you work in, no matter what your job.  If you don’t, it is like walking through a thick forest that borders a high cliff in the dark.  You need to know (or at least have opinions about) what is coming.  You want to know that you are working in a buggy whip factory sometime before the auto industry perfects the assembly line.  If you keep your head down and do your job in your company without checking out your market on a regular basis, you’re likely to get caught without a seat when the music stops. 

Set up Google alerts on key components of your market, your competitors and your company.  How does your company stand against the rest of the companies in the market?  How do their products compare?  Their revenue?  Are other companies breaking out of the market?  Why?  How?  Is the market growing?  Shrinking?  What cataclysmic events can you imagine that would affect the market negatively?  What events could cause it to take off?  Is your company doing anything to prevent/accelerate either of these?


What is happening with the industry?  Think of the extraordinary changes that have happened in the music or the publishing or the telecom industries in the last 10 years.  Who would have imagined the confluence of these three, the new products, and even the amount of money that could be made?  What is happening in your industry?  What extraordinary change might be on the horizon?  Good or bad?  Is there another industry that might be coming your way like an unexpected tsunami?  Does your company’s strategy foresee anything like this?  Should it?  Again, if you haven’t thought about it, you are not likely to be positioned to take advantage of it when it happens.


The trends you should pay attention to lie someplace between twitter trends and global shifts.  What is going on?  What does it matter to you (personally) or your company?  You should regularly read important blogs (again, which ones depends on your interests, job, company, industry, age, and goals), news (papers, online, whatever works for you), books (you can listen if you prefer).  You should know what is happening in the important aspects of your life.  You should be well read and know what the major new ideas are in the fields  of business, science, health, technology and anything else that is important to you.  How deeply you understand these ideas depends on why you need to understand them—to be well read is one level, to be a thought leader is another. 


Ironically, to be well respected, you have to speak the current language of your audience.  That means that in most organizations you need to know and speak the acronyms of the organization.  To speak to young(er) or old(er) people, you need to use their phrases that convey the message you want to get across. You need to know the technical terms, the terms of art, the phrases.  You can be extremely well educated and speak the language of your specialty, but if you’re not using your audiences’ language, they usually don’t give you the credit you deserve.  Learn the acronyms.  Learn the current expressions.  Learn the cultural terms. 

Who Has The Time?!?

You do.  You have to.  This is the difference between what is important and what is urgent.  For your continued marketability, you have to put the time and effort into keeping up.  Learning how to use Access when you’re out of a job and the job descriptions all require it is much harder than if you’re sitting in an organization that will support your learning it by providing you the software AND the training.  Take advantage.  For you and your organization it is a win/win.  And maybe you’ll never have to learn it when you’re out of a job—because you’re never out of a job.


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Life, Death and Legacies

Death-Bed Regrets

I bet you have all heard the story about the guy on his death-bed who regretted how much he worked and how little time he spent with his family, or doing what he loved, or making a difference in the world.  This is a lot like the story of the ant and the grasshopper–a reminder not to waste our life away on what is not important. It is really hard, though, when you’re up to your eyeballs in everyday life–work, taking the kids to school, putting food on the table, mowing the grass– to know what will be important enough to you when you die to regret not doing.

Today’s The Day

The thing is, today may be the day you will face what you wish you had done less or more.  Today CAN be the day you face what you wish you were doing more of.  Any day, week, year can be your last.  I don’t say that to freak you out–I really think at some level you know this–but rather to get your attention to spend the time now to figure out what you want you life to be about.

My husband died 21 days after being diagnosed with cancer.  He didn’t have time to think about wishes from his death-bed–in fact, he was 100% focused on figuring out how to fight the disease and he wasn’t being reflective at all.  A little more than a month before he died (before he knew he was sick), however, he wrote the following in our Christmas letter:

As you can see, he knew what was important to him.  He was focused on what was important to him.  Even though he died when he was merely forty-two, he brought this kind of thinking to the life he lived.  The people in his life felt enriched and loved by him.    I learned this lesson from him, that today could be our last and we need to focus on what is important, what will be our legacy, NOW.  We need to live a life we’re proud of today, tomorrow and every day.

Write Your Obituary

One of the best ways to think about this is to write your obituary.  Decide an appropriate death date. Make it 50 or 100 years or so from now. Then, decide what you’ve accomplished. This involves two main steps:

  • First off, decide who you want to be (or  have been, if we’re talking  obituary time).
  • Second, decide what you have accomplished.  When you take an   “accomplishment” view of your life, listing the things you really want to   accomplish, it clarifies where you want to go. Try to make your   “accomplishments” as concrete and possible as you can. Try to  define yourself in terms of what you are  likely to be able to accomplish,  with a little or a lot of stretching.

Now, look at your obituary.  What was important enough to you to be mentioned in your obituary?  When you think about your life now, are you on a path to accomplish what you want to?  Are you on a path to concentrate on what you think is important?  Do you need to make changes to your life, to your priorities, to your behaviors to make the life you want to happen?

Think about it.

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Getting Things Done Without The Title

How Do You Get Things Done When You’re Not the Boss?

I deal all the time with people in organizations who are trying to get things done without the direct authority to ‘order’ people to do it.  These are people who sit in one organization who need the cooperation of people in another organization.  These are Senior Executives who need their peers’ cooperation to accomplish their own division’s goals.  These are Project Managers who need business leaders or other project leaders to do things before they can deliver their own project goals.  These are entry level people who need the collaboration of more senior people.  Back in the day when we all worked in purely hierarchical organizations, this is the way it worked:

Getting Things Done Through the Hierarchy

The person who needs something from another person in an organization asks his boss, who asks her boss, to asks his peer, who tells her subordinate, who tells his subordinate and it gets done, unless there is a dispute.  If there is a dispute, it reverses and goes back up and back down, then back up and down.  Usually many days, or even weeks have transpired before the original need gets fulfilled.  This is a pretty inefficient way of getting things done, unless everyone is completely committed to moving things fast.

Organizations today are less hierarchical, flatter and more networked.  In an ideal world, this is the way things would work:

Being able to get things done this way depends on RELATIONSHIPS, trust, communication, urgency, political savvy, persuasiveness, and understanding organizational economics.  Being able to do this can make the difference between being stellar standout and being stuck in your position.


It is who you know, who knows you and how much they care about you.  You need to have relationships–friendly, bi-directional relationships that are mutually win-win.  It is not about rank and power so much as about knowledge and cooperation.  If you look at the picture above, if the people at the bottom of the organization know how to help you AND ARE WILLING, then you get as much done as if you boss’ boss talks to their boss’ boss.  People will generally do something for you if there is no skin off their nose AND if they see it as beneficial. They generally see it as beneficial if you have at some time in the past done something for them, or if they think that that is likely to happen in the future.  Do things for people throughout the organization without requiring return,and eventually, you will get significant return from it.


If people trust you, then they are likely to help you whether or not you have the authority to “make” them do something.  People don’t have to trust you with their life, but they have to trust you not to sabotage them in some way, to stand up for them if necessary (after all they may be technically breaking a rule by doing something without appropriate hierarchical authority), and to reciprocate if they need something. For more on creating trust, read Trust Me, Damn It!  Ironically, sometimes asking for something helps improve a relationship and builds trust.  Ask for what you need–don’t be afraid.


The best way to get help from people who aren’t in your organization is to explain WHY you need what you need.  If they can understand the context of your request, if you can make it real for them, then they are much more likely to go along–especially if there is little to no risk to them.  If there is risk to them–to their own deliverables, to the schedule they’re supposed to hit, to their relationship with their peers or their boss–then your communication needs to be much more compelling.  You need to be clear about what is in it for them to help you that overcomes those risks? 

Unless you have a well established relationship–and even then, think twice–do not make these requests via email.  Email is too easy to ignore, to hard to be clear and too hard to be persuasive.  Talk in person (preferable) or by phone.  It is better to have worked on these relationships before you need them, but even so, be friendly and interested BEFORE you make your request.


If people believe that what is needed is needed quickly or else important things will be slowed down or blocked, they are more likely to do it than if they feel no urgency.  Creating a sense of urgency must be done carefully, lest you get a reputation of “crying wolf,” and lose your credibility.  Why do you need what you need quickly?  Be honest, but also believe what you’re saying.  Speak with urgency and you’ll likely convey urgency.

Political savvy

In order to successfully get things done in your organization, you need to understand the politics in the organization.  Who has the power?  What relationships exist across your organization.  What are the rivalries?  Who is the ‘core’ group in each organization that you work in and around?  In other words, who are the three or four people who make the decisions?  Who do they listen to? Who can help you get the decision/resources/help you need go your way?  Are there hidden agendas?  What are they?  How does what you need to do fit into those agendas?  Whose agenda is supported by what you’re trying to do?  Whose agenda isn’t?  Trying to get things done in an organization without understanding these things is like driving on a road you know nothing about–where it goes, whether it dead ends, how fast you can go, whether there are any gas stations along the way.


Being persuasive is a critical skill for getting things done in organizations.  There is no tool that is more valuable.  Being persuasive begins with understanding the other person’s issues with regard to your argument, and then finding a way to reduce or overcome them by helping the person see very clearly WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) about what your trying to get done.  Provide a context that helps the person be persuaded.  A great book to help you learn to be more persuasive is Robert Cialdini’s, Influence. the Art of Persuasion.


One of the biggest secrets in organizations is that people at all levels of the organization can get things done across the organization.  The most important step is to Do It. Figure out who can help you.  Figure out what is important to them.  Figure out how to approach and persuade them. Then ask.  Don’t give up.  If one way doesn’t work, try another.  Keep taking routes till you find one that works.  Make positive relationships along the way and PAY PEOPLE BACK.  Go for it!

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The Transition From Manager to Leader

manager to leaderLeaders v. Managers

I’m sure you’ve probably heard about the differences between managers and leaders.  Managers do things right and leaders do the right thing–right? I think that this is an interesting discussion, but it isn’t that easy.  Managers do leader things and leaders do manager things. Each of us is naturally oriented toward one or the other–we either are inclined toward structure, processes, policies and systems or toward strategy, inspiration, vision and people.  But we can all learn to be either a manager or a leader or both a manager and a leader.

The Leadership Continuum

Many have described this as a dyad–either/or, a choice between two options.  I see it more as a continuum.

Manager to Leader

A continuum that ranges from supervisor to manager to leader to Executive Leader to Global Leader. This is not to say that supervisors can’t be leaders or that Global Leaders (positionally) aren’t managers.  There are cumulative skills, though, across those roles that are needed to deal with increasing complexity as a person accumulates more responsibility.

Moving Along the Continuum

Michael Watkins, whose books I’ve recommended in this blog before (The First 90 Days and Your Next Move) has a recent article in Harvard Business Review that is well worth the read.  He writes How Managers Become Leaders in the June issue of HBR.   Watkins identifies seven “shifts” that are required to grow managers into leaders.  These shifts are:

  • From specialist to generalist
  • From analyst to integrator
  • From tactician to strategist
  • From bricklayer to architect
  • From problem solver to agenda setter
  • From warrior to diplomat
  • From supporting cast member to leading role

These shifts require developmental experiences that change your perspective and force you to step out of your comfort zone.  You also need to be exposed to regular 360º feedback that allows you to understand whether or not your behavior is working for you in the situation.  And finally, you need to be dedicated to continuing to grow your self by challenging your assumptions, habits and behaviors to move along the continuum.

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Break the Rules? Only After Careful Consideration.

Breaking the Rules

Rules Have Reasons

Rules in organizations are there for a reason.  Someone at some time figured out that there needed to be guidelines in place to govern the situation.  These rules can be formal–procedures written in manuals that have multiple levels of approvals–or they can be informal–all employees start at 7:30, even though work hours are published as starting at 8:00.  Rules are completely fine until they interfere with getting things done.  In some organizations, that rarely happens.  In other organizations, it happens often.  How do you know when you should ignore the rules to get something done, and when do you sacrifice getting things done to follow the rules?

There are 3 factors that can help you make the decision:

  • Risk Management
  • Ethics
  • ROI

Risk Management

What are the consequences of not following the rules?  Remember, the rule is there for a reason.  It is not there to annoy you or to keep you from doing what you’re trying to do.  That may be a consequence of the rule, but there is a bigger reason.  What is that?  What is the rule trying to ensure?  Quality? Safety?  Adherence to law or regulation?  Don’t short circuit this analysis.  Really understand why the rule is in place.  Does not following the rule put the organization at some risk?  What if doing it faster, or short-cutting some steps, risks creating a product with flaws or alienating customers?

What benefit is there to not following the rule?  Does something need to get done in time in order to meet YOUR personal performance goal?  Your group’s goal? Does the organization save money?  Does something get to market in time to generate significant revenue? Making dates is rarely a sufficient reason to break important rules–especially if they are your personal performance dates.  Revenue might be a sufficient reason if there are ways to mitigate the risk.

Who is for and who is against breaking the rule?  Just your organization?  The top of the organization?  This tells you a lot about the significance of the risk and whether you’re in it alone or not.  Try to identify ways to mitigate the risk.  Can you put more resources on following the rule?  Can you fix the issues later?  Will you?


It goes without saying that you shouldn’t break the rules when it is unethical.  Unfortunately, knowing when this line has been crossed can be hard to see when you are in the heat of the moment.  We all like to think that we are really clear on what is ethical and what is not.  The problem with that assessment is that we have different ways of determining what is ethical–

  • What is the balance between bad and good?  What is ethical provides the greatest benefit to the most.
  • What is just?  Is it ‘fair’ to break the rules for the identified purpose?
  • What is best for the common good?

Most of us have problems putting decisions about dates or procedures in these categories.  But what about cost overruns?  Who is the loser?  The shareholder?  The employees?  The customers?  What about short cuts with potential safety issues?  What about doing these things just to ‘make your numbers?’


What is the cost of following the rule v. the cost of breaking the rule?  We tend to make this analysis too shallow.  What if everything that the rule is in place to protect against happens?  What about that cost?  Think about the recent JP Morgan losses?  JP Morgan itself had rules in place that were broken.  The consequences far outweighed the reason for breaking the rules.  Remember the Firestone tire crisis?  Replacement workers manufactured most of the tires that later were identified as defective.  One ROI analysis (labor cost) was done without a thorough view of another ROI (losing customers/potentially causing accidents).

Bottom line

Don’t break the rules lightly.  If they are stupid rules, give them the benefit of the doubt and try to figure out why they were created.  Do a thorough analysis of all consequences before breaking the rules.  Try to figure out how to mitigate the risks.  Try to get buy in all the way up the organization.  The higher up the agreement to break the rules comes from, the more likely that it is truly best for the organization.  This isn’t a guarantee, of course.  It was the top of the organization that made the decisions at Enron.  Don’t make short cuts for short term reasons.

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Get a Mentor. Use a Mentor.

Get a Mentor

I know you’ve heard it.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve heard it from me.  You need a mentor to help your career.  Easier said than done, right?

How Do I Get a Mentor?

Typical questions about mentors and mentoring are:

  • What is mentoring?
  • How do I find a good mentor for me?
  • How do I ask someone to be my mentor?
  • How does having a mentor work to help my career?
  • What if my mentor and I don’t get along?
  • What if my mentor won’t meet with me?
  • How do I end the mentor relationship?

What Is Mentoring?

Mentoring, first and foremost, is a LEARNING relationship.  The old-school model of mentoring was that the senior, experienced successful mentor took the junior, inexperienced mentee under his wing (yes, it was always a ‘he’).  Today’s mentoring is much more complex, but much more productive.  It is different depending on the people involved.  It could be a senior person helping a junior person succeed in an organization.  It could be an expert helping a novice speed up the process of learning.  It could be a junior person helping an executive understand social media.  The key parts to a mentor/mentee effort are LEARNING and RELATIONSHIP.  It is a collaboration, not a one-way relationship.  Both parties, but most importantly the mentee, take responsibility for the success of the relationship.  The mentee must have a plan, goals and the willingness to step up and reach out for the mentoring to be maximally successful.

How Do You Find A Mentor?

You start with what you need.  When you think about your career, what is it that you need?  Do you need to learn how to navigate the organization’s politics?  Do you need to learn how to be an effective executive?  Do you need Executive presence? Do you need to learn how to manage technical people?  Do you need to learn to manage your peers?  Think strategically?  Present your ideas better?  Whatever it is (and don’t focus on everything at once–pick the biggest/most important thing), think about who you know, or know of, who can do it well.  If there is more than one person who fits that description, who do you think has the best ‘chemistry’ with you.  Who do you most want to learn from?  Who might have more time? Who do you think might be the better teacher?  Based on these questions, pick someone who could mentor you in what you need.

How Do You Ask Someone To Be A Mentor?

Once you’ve identified someone, make a plan.  What do you want to learn from the person?  Over what time period?  What format would work best for you?  Informal–like over coffee?  Formally scheduled meetings?  Asking questions?  Your mentor talking and telling stories?  Once you’ve thought through these, what kind of proposal can you make to your mentor?  Something like:

I’ve admired how well you navigate this organization to get things done for your organization for a while now.  I was wondering if you’d be willing to mentor me on how to do that?  I was thinking maybe we could have coffee some morning and you could share with me some of the things you wish someone had told you?

Imagine if someone approached you this way.  It’s likely that you would be flattered.  If you had the time, it is likely that you would be willing to do this.  You’re not asking for a long term commitment in this situation.  You’re testing the waters.  If you have the first meeting (which, if it is more comfortable for you, you could formally schedule a meeting), and the chemistry seems good and the mentor seemed to enjoy it as much as you did, then you can ask for another meeting.  In the second meeting, you can ask the person about him/herself.

  • How did you get to where you are in the organization?
  • What have been your biggest career learnings?
  • What do you wish you had known that you know now?
  • Are there things you would have done differently?
  • Which jobs have taught you the most?  Which bosses?

If this conversation goes well, then it is time to suggest that the person be a mentor.  Ask if he is willing to be your mentor.  Tell him what kinds of things you’d like to learn from him.  Over what period of time?  How often would you like to meet with him?  (Be very reasonable here).  Show him that you will take responsibility for learning with him as your guide.  If he agrees, ask him how he wants you to be prepared before your conversations?  What kind of follow-up and follow-through does he want?  Get clear on your goals.

If you approach it in these stages, you get to feel out the relationship element of the mentoring–do you think it will work?  Push yourself to ask if the relationship works for you, because it will be worth it.  If s/he says no, don’t take it personally.  It is probably about time commitment or, just as likely, about the mentor feeling inadequate to the task.

How Does Having A Mentor Work?

The mentoring relationship is about learning–usually both the mentor and the mentee learn.  Sometimes the mentor is able to open doors for opportunities, but almost always the mentor opens minds.  The mentor helps the mentee see the world through different eyes (usually higher ranking eyes).  The mentor helps the mentee have a new perspective–thinking strategically instead of tactically, thinking like a sales person instead of an HR person, understanding how decisions get made at the top of the organization.  These new perspectives are JUST AS IMPORTANT as if the mentor helps the mentee land a new job.  It is these new perspectives that enable the mentee to succeed at the new job.

What If We Don’t Get Along?

Sometimes mentors and mentees don’t get along.  Having a couple of exchanges before you ask for a more formal mentoring relationship can sometimes help avoid this, but not always.  If you don’t get along with your mentor, ask yourself why.  Is it because she is speaking truth to you and you don’t like it?  If that is the reason, it is probably very worth hanging in there.  It is really hard to get people to tell you the truth–it is easier to learn to deal with it than to find someone else who will tell it.  Is it because the mentor reminds you of someone who you haven’t gotten along with in the past?  Your father?  Your older sister?  Your first boss?  Again, it’s really better to work through these issues than to find someone else–this is the kind of issue that will continue to bit you until you learn to deal with it.  Is it because the person is a bully or abusive?  If so, then it is best to end the relationship.  Don’t end it by stomping out.  Just thank the person for all the help s/he has provided (this is VERY important) and tell him/her to be sure to let you know if you can return the favor.  Then don’t schedule any more appointments.

What If My Mentor Won’t Meet With Me?

It is highly that anyone you want to mentor you is a very busy person.  When you have the conversation requesting that she become your mentor, you need to agree how often you will meet.  The more you can talk it out–what to do if one of you has to cancel, what to do if scheduling becomes a problem, what are the expectations, what to do if this becomes too burdensome–the less likely this is to be a problem.  After a number of cancels–this number should be different if it is a CEO v. a manager–then it is appropriate to ask whether it would be better to take a break till a time that is better.  Then go find someone else.  The biggest risk here, though, is that you will interpret normal scheduling problems as the mentor not wanting to do this.  It is likely that the mentor just has a busy schedule.  Don’t read too much into it.

How Do I End The Mentor Relationship?

It is best that you make some kind of arrangement for the end of the mentoring relationship (not the end of the relationship) in the initial agreement that establishes the relationship.    You can make it time specific or task specific–get through your next performance review, or do an Executive level presentation, but you do need to identify what the goal and timing of the mentoring relationship should be.

Many, many mentor relationships end and friendship remains.  That is ok, but be careful to make the shift in your mental model.  Be sure to thank your mentor in a meaningful way.    It’s great to keep notes as the mentoring proceeds and to write a summary of what you learned over time for your mentor.  It will help cement the learning in both your minds.  This could be one of the most important relationships of your working life.

A Good Book That Will Help

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Stephen Covey and his Gifts to Business People

All business people owe a lot to Stephen Covey, who died this week at the age of 79.  Covey wrote his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, in 1989.  There were no earth shatteringly new concepts in it—to be highly effective, people should:

  • Be Proactive
  • Start with the End in Mind
  • Put First Things First
  • Think Win-Win
  • Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
  • Synergize
  • Sharpen the Saw (balance and renew yourself)

At some level, most of us know that these are things to do.  In a way, though, Covey took it a step further.  He seemed to say, these are a good way to BE.  Practice these behaviors until these are a part of who you are.

Covey infused his work, and his speaking and teaching, with what is known as Spiritual Intelligence (SQ).  In his 2004 book, The 8th Habit, Covey defined Spiritual Intelligence :

“Spiritual Intelligence is the central and most fundamental of all the Intelligences because it becomes the source of guidance for the other three . . .  Spiritual Quotient [is] “conscience, ” having the following characteristics:

  • enthusiastic
  • intuitive
  • takes responsibility
  • moral
  • wise
  • integrity
  • servant
  • humble
  • fair
  • ethical
  • abundant
  • compassionate
  • respectful
  • cause-oriented”

Covey was one of the first, and certainly the first popularly available, to bring this kind of thinking into the workplace.  It was Stephen Covey who helped leaders understand that there was something greater than the bottom line, something somewhat intangible—you know it when you see it– to bring to the table when leading organizations.  Covey helped people understand their own personal responsibility for ‘leading’ themselves through self-management and positive interaction with others.  He encouraged people to “find your voice” and inspire others to find theirs.

His writing and teaching encouraged people to be whole, to focus on all the parts of their lives and to do that which was most important, not what was more urgent.  When I read Jim Collin’s later book, Good to Great, I was struck by the description of Level 5 Leadership and how closely these leaders seemed to follow Covey’s 8 Habits:

Level 5 Leaders

  • They are humble and modest.
  • They have “unwavering resolve.”
  • They display a “workmanlike diligence – more plow horse than show horse.”
  • They give credit to others for their success and take full responsibility for poor results. They “attribute much of their success to ‘good luck’ rather than personal greatness.”

One of the most important things that I ever heard Stephen Covey say was his description of how he came to these ideas.  He said that he went through all the theories of leadership, all the writing on leadership and pulled these behaviors on leadership from that research.  At the time, I was envious of the research that he had done, and I took with a grain of salt his conclusions.  I have since done my own research, traveling through many of the same thought leaders and historians that he did, and I now know that his conclusions are pretty right on, and much more coherent and inspiring than anything I could have come up with on my own.

R.I.P.  Stephen R. Covey, October 24, 1932 – July 16, 2012

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Onboard Yourself


Onboarding is the process that organizations use to get their employees up to speed enough to do their jobs.  Another term for it is “organizational socialization.”  Organizations have informal and formal methods for the knowledge transfer or processes, tools, methods, culture and introductions that is sufficient for the employee to be effective in his/her new job.  I’ve seen really good onboarding and really horrible onboarding.

The best onboarding I ever experienced personally was as a consultant when I was going to work for a group of consultants.   The onboarding was a combination of providing me with detailed “playbooks” of how the organization did its work and of having me spend intense time with each team of consultants to see/understand how they put the playbook into action.  I traveled weekly for my onboarding and in three weeks’ time, I felt that I understood the whole and was fully able to go do it myself.  It was the combination of the intensity, the excellent documentation, and the seeing it all in action—including being given tasks I didn’t know how to do, but being surrounded by people who could/would help me.

I’ve had so many “worst” onboardings that it is hard to pick just one.  They range from putting me in a room with a year’s worth of reading and leaving me to read for two weeks to putting me at a desk and spending less than 10 minutes telling me what to do and walking away, never to return.  I think that I eventually did OK, even at the jobs with these onboardings, but the time it took to get me up to speed and to be productive was vastly different.

I finally decided that I needed to take responsibility for my own onboarding.  As a consultant, it is critical that I hit the ground running and know enough in a week to make a difference.  If I wait for people (who all have other jobs and many of whom are not sure they want me here, anyway) to tell me what/how/when/why in the organization, then I will fail.  These processes can apply for anyone, in any job, including people who have been in the job for a long time.

DIY Onboarding

Steps to Your Own Onboarding:

  • Make a Plan:  Identify what you want to accomplish and how fast.  You have a fairly short period of time before people get over you being new and expect you to “do” something.  They are very open to questions in the early days; they think you’re dumb if you’re still asking questions later (even then, you need to ask questions to learn—deal with what they think).  Who do you need to know?  What do you need to know?  What do you need to be able to do?  Ask people what they think you need to do to be successful.  Then put in place a plan that gets you there.  Fast.
  •  Meet People:  Meet people at every level.  Set up meetings.  Invite people to lunch or breakfast.  Accept all invitations.  Learn the power structures.  Learn the informal networks.  Learn the ‘go to’ people.  Learn the whiners.  Learn who to listen to and who to avoid.  The only way to do that is to throw yourself into meeting people.  (Even introverts need to do this)  Ask people to help you.  Ask people who you should meet.  Ask people who helped them when they started.  Target someone to be a mentor in this process and ask for his/her help.
  •  Figure Out the Tools:  Luckily, today most organizations use the same fundamental tools—the Microsoft Office suite plus SharePoint.  If the organization uses different/other tools, however, learn these as soon as possible.  Learn Oracle,, EPDM, or whatever other tool your organization uses.  You need to understand it and be conversant in its strengths and weaknesses.  (Every tool you learn makes you more marketable—use the opportunity of being new to dive in and learn new tools).
  •  Understand the Culture:  Every organization has its own culture.  This is like the water the fish swim in—the people inside the organization are not very aware of it consciously, but it shapes all behavior unconsciously.  When you’re new is the only time you can actually “see” the culture.  Don’t make the mistake of assuming it is like the culture you just came from.  Just because engineers are the dominant players in the new culture as they were in the old, there will be huge differences.  Learn these differences with “new eyes.”  Learn what the organization thinks about what makes success, who are the people who seem to “get it.”  What are they like?  How much does the leader shape the organization?  Is the founder still there?  How long since the founder was there?  What are the left over influences from that?  (These are frequently the things that don’t seem to make sense because they started a long time ago but are still there).  Write down your observations of the culture.  Make a mind map.  How does the culture influence the way that you will get your work done?  How can you use the culture to be more effective?
  •  Learn the Product/Customers/Processes:  Become an expert.  Take all the classes you can.  (Organizations frequently have classes for new sales people that are available to others).  Ask people about the processes.  Become best friends with the Intranet.  What’s there and what can you learn from what’s there?  What do others outside the organization say?  What do people in the organization say in reaction?  Everyone in every part of the organization needs to thoroughly understand the Product and the Customers.  You need to at least understand the processes in your own organization and those that take product to market and get money to the bank.  Like I said, BECOME AN EXPERT.
  •  Take Actions:  You have a very short window before people start to see action.  Look for opportunities to take early action.  It is better to be right about these actions, so be careful—but not too careful.  Action is better than no action, even if you make mistakes.  Ask your boss and peers what kinds of actions they are expecting from you and deliver them as soon as possible.

 Good Books That Help With This:

The First 90 Days, Critical Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels  byMichael Watkins

The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan by George Bradt, Jamye Check, and Jorge Pedrassa


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Trust me, damn it!

Demanding Trust Doesn’t Work

I once had a boss demand that I trust her again.  We can talk later about how I made the mistake of letting her know that I didn’t trust her (not a good career move, and no I didn’t TELL her that), but DEMANDING that someone trust you NEVER works.  If you have the kind of relationship where you’re demanding anything, it is a trust-less relationship.

Trust is hard to define.  I knew what she meant.  She wanted me to go back to being willing to do whatever she needed/wanted without doubting her intent or integrity.  She wanted our relationship to be based on mutual “confident expectation.”  I would have liked that too, but she had done something (that I felt was dishonest) that so violated my confidence in her integrity, that I no longer gave her the benefit of the doubt.  When I told her that I might be able to trust her again, but that it would take time, that was unsatisfactory to her.  At least it was all out in the open.  The consequences, however, were not pretty for either of us.

Since then, I’ve had the experience of people not trusting me.  Some didn’t trust me because I outranked them.  Some didn’t trust me because I was a different race, or age, or had a different nationality.  Trust is not an automatic gift, it has to be earned.  Not being trusted, however, is definitely not fun.

Trust MeYou CANNOT Be a Good Leader If They Don’t Trust You

Think about the people who you have trusted.  Have you trusted a boss?  A friend?  A stranger?  Someone from a different generation?  A pastor? A car dealer?  A banker? A lawyer?  See . . . all of these invoke different levels of trust reactions in you—and they are just labels.  What made you trust the people who you trust?  For most of us, it is consistent, persistent behaviors that we can predict and (for the most part) agree with.  It is rare that we trust someone instantly, although it happens.

Excellent leaders are trusted.  It is that trust that enables high performance teams.  All leadership gurus talk about the necessity of trust for great leadership.

So . . . How Do You Get Them To Trust You?

Want people to trust you?  Here are some important prerequisites:

  • Be trustworthy—Well, duh.  You’d be surprised, however, at how many managers bemoan the fact that no one trusts them while they are working secret agendas, regularly mislead co-workers, subordinates, and/or the community.
  • Trust others—It’s amazing how well this works!  The very experience of being trusted generates the willingness to trust in most of us.  When you trust people to do something they haven’t done before, or to speak in front of a group, or to represent you in a meeting with your boss, that makes them more willing to trust you to be telling the truth, to takes risks, or to move forward without all the details.
  • Be real.  Let people know who you are.  Let them understand your motivations.  If you are trying to do something and the motivation isn’t clear—people make it up.  If they trust you, they give you the benefit of the doubt.  Until they trust you, you are better off making your motives clear.  Even if they don’t like what you are doing, they learn to believe that there is nothing hidden.  It’s more important that people understand than that they agree.
  • Listen.  When people believe that you are listening, that you are trying to understand, they begin to trust you.  When you don’t listen, they stop trying to tell you.  When that happens, there is no trust.
  • Treat people with respect.  When people feel respected, they feel whole.  They feel more open to understanding and trusting.
  • Be loyal.  If people know that you are loyal to them, they are much more likely to be loyal to you.  Loyalty is closely related to trust.

These are simple things.  They are not easy to do.  When we are caught up in the day to day tasks of work life, it is hard to remember to do them all.  They are behaviors, though, with huge payoffs.  People who trust you can deliver miracles sometimes, because they are willing to go above and beyond and take the chance that it will be worthwhile.

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Promoted to Manage Your Peers? Awkward.

Promoted to Manage Your PeersThey’ll Hate Me!

If you spend enough time climbing the corporate ladder, or if you work in a small organization, eventually you’ll be promoted to manage your peers.  This is one of the toughest developmental experiences there is.  It’s hard for you.  It’s hard for your peers.  It changes things forever.  It doesn’t have to change things in a bad way, though.  If you handle it right, you and they can grow from the experience.

I’ve known people who’ve turned down such a promotion because they don’t want to lose their friends.  This, of course, is an option.  It’s a short sighted one, in my opinion, though.   We’ll get to that.  First, let’s talk about how to handle it if you decide to take the promotion.

Get Your Head Straight


  • Think of the best manager you ever had and act like him/her.  Don’t go into super boss mode.  Your peers will be super sensitive to any ‘power play’ and if you start making decisions without input, ordering people around, showing who’s in charge, then you will send off alarms that will be hard to turn off.
  • DO NOT go easy on everyone to keep friends.  First of all, it won’t work.  Second of all, you will fail as a manager.  Third of all, you will lose your subordinates’ respect.  Go back to the advice above:  think of the best manager you ever had and act like him/her.
  • Don’t assume that your friends among your peers will support you.  Don’t assume that your non-friends among your peers will sabotage  you.  You can’t count on anyone’s reaction to be as you expect.  Approach the situation as if you just got hired from the outside.  Look at each subordinate through fresh eyes.  What does s/he bring to the table?  What are his/her strengths?  How can you help him/her grow?  How can you form a real team from these folks?
  • Be trustworthy, and just as important, be trusting. Delegate things that you used to do.  Deal (in private) with the fact that others can’t do things as well as you did them–you didn’t do them as well when you started, either.   Never, ever use anything you know from you friendship to get someone to do something.  Give people the benefit of the doubt. DO  NOT play favorites.
  • Your job is to get results for the organization.  Your job is to understand your boss’ priorities and deliver them.  Your job is not to be ‘one of the gang.’  Do your job.
  • Your boss, your new peers and your subordinates will all be watching how you handle this new situation.

Now Learn From My Experience

  • There are people who will not like your promotion, although which ones might surprise you.  They will get over it (likely) or they will leave.  Either way, the problem won’t last long.  There are people who will not only accept your promotion (again, who these folks are may surprise you), but who will also help you succeed at delivering the results you need to deliver. Appreciate these folks.
  • Doing this right is hard.  You won’t be perfect at it.  All you can do is keep trying.  Treat people with respect and for the most part, they’ll appreciate it.  Everybody has to get used to the new normal of this.  It takes time.  Keep trying.  Act like (you should know where I’m going with this) the best manager you ever had.
  • I am friends, close friends, with people who have been my boss, people who have worked for me and with  people who have been both.  Friendship grows, changes, stalls, ends, and re-emerges (Facebook with anyone from high school lately?).  Work relationships affect friendship, but in and of itself, does not make or break friendship.  Take the promotion.

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