Category Archives: Derailment

Reflections on Failure

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We Hate To Fail

There are all kinds of failures. Business failures. Job failures. Life failures. Design failures. Project failures. School failures. Sports failures. Relationship failures. When you look at the books on Amazon about failure (more than 6,000 paperbacks), many of them–maybe most of them–are about finding success through failure. I’ve even written about the importance of failure.

If failure is so good for you, how come we all try so hard not to fail?  How come so many of our decisions are made out of our fear of failure? It probably comes from some deep psychological cause.  When things are irrational–like fear of failure (usually) is–then it is hard to persuade someone out of it through the use of rational argument.  

My AhHa Moments This Week

I had a couple of ‘ah ha’ moments this week about failure, and thought I’d share them.

First of all, maybe we are too quick with the ‘FAILURE’ label.  Is a relationship a failure if you have 11 great years and 2 bad ones?  Is a project a failure because it doesn’t hit the initial guesses about time and budget, but it does actually delivered 80%+ of the desired results?   Is a design really a failure if you figure out what won’t work? Of if you learn something or decide something because of it that sets your life off on a new/better direction?  On this day when both Tiger and Kobe won, is losing for a period of time really failure if you’ve won more than just about anyone else? Maybe instead of seeing the fail, we should look for the success in every experience.

I made the second realization when I was thinking about how to teach people about organization change management and how it is critical to greasing the skids for bringing big projects in on time and with the stakeholders ready to take advantage of the tools and process changes and deliver the ROI.  It occurred to me that I know how and why Organization Change Management works so well because I’ve been on projects (prior to my tenure as an OCM practitioner) without OCM that failed.  By ‘failed,’ I mean that they didn’t deliver.  They got canceled.  I was on one that lasted three years once that delivered the requirements and got canceled!  I understand the value of OCM because I’ve seen projects without it, and they usually fail or don’t deliver in some very significant way.  I know that because I’ve had the experience of failure.  So when I present key decision makers with that information and with the statistics that support it, they frequently nod and seem to agree, but then when dollars get tight, they are ready to cut OCM first.  Why would they do that?  Because they haven’t had the experience of that failure.  They don’t really believe it because they haven’t internalized the kind of learning that I have.   They have to learn the lesson through their own failure.  Just like your kids have to learn from their own mistakes (they can’t learn from yours, no matter how much you wish they could). 

I’ll Say It Again

Haven’t the biggest lessons that you have learned come from failure or at least from significant adversity?  See, failure is a good thing.

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How Do You Know When You’re In Trouble With Your Boss?

I used to get feedback on 360° assessments that I was unreadable.  I didn’t do much about it because I really didn’t see it as a problem.  I knew what was going on inside my head and I wasn’t thinking anything bad about any of the people who found me difficult to read.  I knew that if something was wrong, I was crystal clear with the person who did whatever it was.  I’m a direct person and I was direct with those who made me unhappy.  If I wasn’t unhappy, then, despite the fact that I was “unreadable,” everything was OK.

Unfortunately, no one but me had access to what was in my head.  My employees created versions of what was going on in my head.  Most of those versions not only weren’t correct, they were really way off.  I know this because they told me later.  After I learned to be more obvious about what was going on in my head.  After I learned to be direct to people who were doing things right.  People stop being scared of what is going on in your head when they know that you’ll tell them.

BadBoss

This post is about signs that your boss really DOES have a problem with you.  How do you know what is going on in your bosses head when it isn’t obvious?  You have to look for the more subtle signs.  The first thing you have to do, though, is to give your boss the benefit of the doubt.  Assume that your boss is happy with your performance if you don’t see signs otherwise. Some signs to watch out for and to take seriously are:

  • If your boss doesn’t meet your eyes.  Unless your boss does this with everyone, it isn’t a good sign.
  • If your boss avoids you.  This one isn’t as straight-forward.  Sometimes bosses have cliques or favorites.  If s/he spends more time with others than with you, then that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it’s not necessarily good boss behavior.  Pay attention to whether you are the only one on the out.  If not, give your boss the benefit of the doubt (we’ll talk another time about how to deal with bosses who have favorites).  Assume that things are ok, maybe could be better, but are ok.  If, however, your boss really obviously avoids you, then you have a problem. 
  • If your boss constantly finds fault.  Again, is it just you or is s/he this way with everyone?  If s/he is like this across the board, then I’d go get another boss, but it isn’t specifically bad for you.  If, however, the boss nit picks everything you do, you are in trouble.  This could be a style or a communication problem, but whatever it is, it is a problem.
  • If your boss gives you worse assignments than anyone else.  Sometimes you get harder assignments because your boss thinks you can tackle harder issues than others.  If, however, your boss is giving you easier assignments or impossible assignments, then try to figure out why.  Are you new at your job,or to the group?  Have you not lived up to expectations on previous assignments?  On the other hand, do you feel like the assignments that you’re getting are designed to make you fail?  The assignments you get should be at least as hard as those given to everyone else or harder if you’re more experienced or trying to get a promotion, but not impossible.
  • If your boss always takes someone else’s side.  You don’t have a problem if you boss occasionally takes someone else’s side (in fact, that is actually better than if s/he always takes your side).  If, however, you are always on the short end of the stick, then you’re got a problem.
  • If your boss doesn’t seem comfortable with you.  Try not to assume things that aren’t here, but if your boss seems uncomfortable in dealing with you, doesn’t have small social conversations with you, never  sits near you when the occasion arises, then you mayhave a problem.  (You’ll note that I’m not as clear about this one–bosses are regular people–they can be socially dysfunctional just like the rest of us.)

I hope that you’ve read this list and decided that despite appearances, your boss is just fine with you.  That is most likely the case.  If you recognize your situation here, then you need to do something about it.  Over time, I’ll write about what to do about each one of these situations.  If you have a specific situation that you’d like to have my suggestions on, let me know and I’ll give it a go.

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Filed under Career Development, Derailment, Personal Change, Recession Proof, Reframe

Avoid the Career Kiss of Death–Don’t Be A Commodity

Stand Out or Be Out

One of the worst things that can happen to you career-wise is for your employer (or potential employers) to see you as interchangable with other people with the same skill set.  If they think that they can get more where you came from, then they are not valuing you as an employee.  If your employer does not see you as unique, as someone who brings a value-add skill set to the table, then you will stall out at your organization.  Not only that, when you seek other employment after you’ve stalled out, you will not have an easy time getting a new job that pays as well as the last one or that has the potential to take you to the next level.  When people think that an accountant is an accountant is an accountant, then why would they choose you over anyone else?  What is it about you that makes your boss concerned about keeping you, nurturing you and developing you?  What is it about you that makes your resume stand out from the other 300 that the recruiter is looking through?

Of course you know that you are unique and special.  Think about how that is obvious to people who don’t know you well, though.  What is it about your resume or your experience or your skill set that makes you stand out?  If you don’t have a level of expertise or a special skill set that is obvious on paper and at the first meeting with you, then you risk being a commodity.  And that is not a place you want to be in this job market.  In this day of downsizing and outsourcing, you want it to be a no-brainer for the decision makers to keep you, regardless of the other decisions that they are making.

How Can You Tell?

Go online.  Look at the resumes of people who do what you do.    Notice the ones that stand out.  What is it that makes them stand out.  Imagine that you are looking to replace you in your job.  Who would you select from among the hundreds of similar resumes?  Why?  What makes the ones who stand out more interesting, more attractive, more valuable?  How do you stack up against those people?

Now, look at the job descriptions from employers of people in the job that you do.  What are they looking for?  Is there any subset of skills or additional abilities that they are consistently asking for?  What are the things that are listed in the “preferred” skill/education list?  Can you tell if they are looking for someone who is ‘good enough’ or someone who is extraordinary?  For those who are looking for someone who is extraordinary, how do you stack up against those job descriptions?  Would you hire you based on your current resume and skill set for those jobs?

Within your own organization, are there people who do what you do who stand out more than you do?  Why?  What do they have that you don’t have?  This is not the time to say, “He has a degree from Harvard, and I’ll never have one, so it is hopeless.”  If he has a degree from Harvard, is that really why he stands out?  Or is it how he acts, who he talks to or the work that he does?

If you are a commondity–a one-size-fits-all-employee–then you may continue to be employed (if you can figure out how to stand out among the hundreds of other equivalent one-size-fits-all-employees enough to get hired in the first place), but you will not have much of an upwardly bound career.

So What Do You Do?

Based on your observations of the resumes and job descriptions that you looked at, what is it you need to stand out?  Do you need more education or certifications?  Do you need more/different skills?  Is there something that you can do, like get Six Sigma or PMI certified for instance, that makes you a two-fer?  You are qualified at human resources or accounting or engineering, but you can also help with projects or re-engineering?  Can you take it to the next level through some kind of specialized experience?  Don’t underestimate the power of volunteering for things that get you different/more experience.

Understand your brand.  Learn to sell your brand.  Figure out how to get things done without the authorityKeep up with what’s new in your field and your industry.

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Filed under Brand Yourself, Career Development, Derailment, Recession Proof, Success

Are You Making Mistakes On Purpose?

We all make mistakes.  Mistakes have consequences.  We learn from our mistakes and don’t make them again.  Or do we?  Sometimes, especially when you find yourself doing something over and over again—being late, forgetting to send something, leaving certain people off invitations, forgetting status reports, losing important information, doing things that make the boss mad—it isn’t just a mistake.  Sometimes it is self-sabotage.  Shooting yourself in the foot.  Failing on purpose (albeit sometimes unconsciously).  Proving that you aren’t ‘good enough,’ ‘ready for the position,’ ‘at the right level.’

Identity

Each of us has a self-image that pretty much dictates our identity.  I’m a mother, a daughter, an introvert, smart, good at math, an Executive, a business woman, etc., etc.  When something happens that challenges that identity, we have something called cognitive dissonance.  Cognitive dissonance is the experience of having two conflicting “cognitions”—ideas, thoughts, ‘mental models’—simultaneously.  This is so stressful to us that we take action to bring them into alignment.

For example, when I wrote “good at math” above (which I am not), I went back three different times to amend it.  I first put “(just kidding),” erased it and then put “not really,” erased that and then wrote “(wanna be)” in front of it.  I was so uncomfortable with writing something that is so much not a part of my identity that I had a really hard time leaving it unadorned while I wrote the rest of the paragraph.  If I have such a strong reaction to something so minuscule, imagine the difficulty I would have if something happened to challenge my “mother” or “business woman” or “Executive” identities.

This is why people who are laid off have such a hard time.  Most of us these days identify with what we do.  If we can’t do it anymore, then it is extremely painful.

Why Do We Self-Sabotage?

This is equally true of good things about our identity and bad things about it.  If we think badly about certain aspects of ourselves—that we aren’t good at math, or that we aren’t smart or that we shouldn’t be at an Executive-level, or that we aren’t likeable—then we will struggle to reconcile those two cognitions.  We will do things that prove, despite the fact that we just got promoted, or that we are being praised for a job well done, or that our boss likes us—that we don’t deserve the promotion, or being praised, or liked.  We will self-sabotage until we are back where we are most comfortable.  We will do things like miss important appointments, become unresponsive to assignments, or tell off our boss until we prove (to ourselves and others) that our self-image is right.

So How Do You Know If You’re Self-Sabotaging

Pay attention to what is going on.  Are there consistent patterns that keep you from getting to where (you think) you want?  Do you have the same experience in position after position, or in company after company, or in relationship after relationship?  Do you get uncomfortable when people praise you or when you are considered for/get a promotion?  Do you keep getting stuck at a certain level in organizations and not seem to be able to climb to the next rung, no matter what?  These can all be signs of self-sabotage.

Recognizing it is most of the battle.  If you see that you’re doing it, then you will have to do some really hard work to adjust your self-image.  If you never see it, however, you never have the opportunity to start changing.  Self-sabotage is related to your self-image.  Once you change your self-image, then stopping the self-sabotage is pretty easy.   You have already changed your self-image.  You don’t think the same of yourself as you did at 12 or 18 or 24 or . . .  You can change again, and again.  You just need to be more conscious, mindful and determined to create the self-image that you want.

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Just a Paycheck

Just a Paycheck

Just a Paycheck”

If the reason that you’re working at the job that you have is for “just a paycheck,” you’re wasting your time and maybe your life.  I’m not talking about people who are working at a job to fund the things that they like to do, or their family, or the things that are important to them.  I’m talking about the people who really see that they are just working for the money.  I’ve been told this by lots of people.  It’s all I can do not to  get on my high horse when someone says it to me.  If you’re only working ‘for the paycheck’ that radiates from you.  You have no energy.  You have no enthusiasm for the tasks of the job, or even for your co-workers. You aren’t looking for a better way to do things; you’re just doing the bare minimum of what it takes.  It is highly likely that you’ll be among the first to go in a layoff, just because it is easy to put someone on a list who clearly isn’t having fun and who isn’t doing anything extra.

NO, you say.  It doesn’t show.  You’re doing the job; you’re just not enjoying it.  Ask yourself if that is true.  Look around.  Are you seeking to do better?  Are you taking on more without it being foisted on you?  Probably not.  And you probably aren’t taking on more because you don’t have the energy for it.  When you frame your experience in such a negative way, you don’t have energy.  You resent being there.  It’s all you can do to get to the end of the day, and it’s really hard to get there in the morning. 

Reframe!

I’m not saying that your job is fun.  It probably isn’t.  Your boss may be terrible.  Your co-workers may not be worthy of your time.  So what?  Find something that is worth being there for.  It could be as simple as reframing your experience to being about what your paycheck lets you do outside of the job.  It could be what you’re learning from this experience.  Or how it fits into your career path goals.  Or that you are LUCKY to have a job in these tough times.  REFRAME the way you think about it.

If you are able to reframe, it is likely that you will suddenly find that you have more energy.  You may have enough energy to look around the organization for a better job, or a better boss.  You may have the energy to figure out what you really want to do long term.  You may have enough energy to figure out how to get another stream of revenue that will enable you to find another job/career/hobby that will make you happy(ier).

Get A New Job!

If you can’t reframe,  GO FIND ANOTHER JOB—before someone forces you to.  I work with so many people who would be glad to have their old job back—somehow they can see a lot of value/interest/fun in it now that someone has decided they are out.  Find a job that you can do for other reasons than a paycheck.  Find a job that you can/will be good at and that will help you feel better about yourself.

LIFE IS TOO SHORT to work for ‘just a paycheck!’

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Filed under Career Goals, Derailment, Executive Development, Job Hunt, Recession Proof, Reframe

Face What’s Holding You Back

Career Roadblock

What Do You Think is Holding You Back?

What do you tell yourself about what is holding you back?  You need another degree? Your boss doesn’t like you?  You have to relocate for the next step? You’re too old?  Too young? You’ve been out of work too long? Your technical skills aren’t current? You’re overweight/a minority/gay/a woman? You don’t fit into the culture?  They don’t think you’re a ‘hi-po’?

Two Questions:

Whatever it is, I have two questions for you:

1)  How do you know you’re right?

Are you sure that you aren’t looking at it through ‘victim’ eyes?  What is your evidence that you are right?  Are you the only one with this problem? Are you fully engaged, working as hard as you can, delivering results and this is still happening?  Or have you checked out?  Have you talked to anyone about what is going on?  Have you asked for feedback? Has this been a pattern at other organizations/with other bosses/in other jobs? Are you on an emotional roller coaster or on an even keel?

If you are right in your assessment of what is holding you back, I have another question:

2)  What are you going to do about it?

If you need another degree, why don’t you get one?  No, really, why not?  No money? No time? Look at it through business case eyes–will it get you a better job, with more money, with a higher quality of life?  If so, tell me again why not?

If you are ‘too’ old, find someplace that appreciates your wisdom.  Why not?  There are places that do.  Just because your present organization doesn’t DOES not mean they all don’t.  Go FIND a better place.

Whatever the thing is that is holding you back, it is possible to overcome it.  It is possible to find a solution.  Set an audacious goal to fix/solve/overcome it and then do it.  Maybe it is the way you’re looking at it that is really what is holding you back?

Who can fix THAT?

(Did you notice that I asked more than two questions?:-))

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Get Off Your Butt! DIY Executive Development

I’m going to rant a little

l talk to people all the time who are sitting around waiting for their company to “do something” about their development.  They know that they are talented (and for the most part, the company agrees), they know that they are “hi po” (high potential–recognized by the company as having potential to move up), and they know that they do a good job.  So, why doesn’t the company send them to Executive Development programs, or provide them with developmental opportunities, or generally take an interest and develop them?

There are all kinds of reasons

Maybe the company doesn’t have a well-developed Executive Development system.  Maybe the company doesn’t classify these people as “hi po” enough.  (Lots of companies, maybe most companies, take the view that only the most “hi po” gets developed).  When I ran an Executive Development Program for a company, I found that the “hi po”s who were selected by the ‘deciders’ were all over the place.  Potential is in the eye of the beholder.  You may not fit the profile for hi potential for the person in YOUR management chain who makes the decision.  The company may be trying to develop a certain skill (like innovation) at this time and are picking people who they think have the most potential in that area.  Someone up there may not like you.  There are all kinds of reasons why it is not you, not this year, not at this company.

So What?

So why am I going to rant?  Because I think it’s totally nuts for ANYONE to sit around and wait for your company to develop YOU.  Who cares more about your career and your abilities more than you?  Who wants you to succeed  than you?  How long will you stay at THIS company?  They will develop you for their organizational profile and needs.  Will that make you a fully rounded Executive candidate? Maybe, but probably not.  What one organization believes are the key attributes of leadership is another organization’s rejection list.

Get Off Your Butt and Develop You

Most well run organizations have well thought out Executive Development plans and programs (just because it doesn’t focus on you doesn’t mean that there isn’t a plan).  These programs look at what the organization needs, what it has, and puts in place a plan to hire or develop the necessary skills to take the organization to the next level.  You can do the same thing, with you, and only you, as the hi po being developed.  (this applies to you hi pos who are already “being developed” by your organization—make if faster, or develop skills that are outside the organization’s focus that you know you need).  If you do this right, it could have more impact than an MBA (although it is possible that an MBA is a necessary part of your personal development plan).

After years of helping organizations develop Executive Development programs and of coaching all kinds of individuals, I’ve come up with an outline of what needs to be addressed in Do-It-Yourself Executive Development.

DIY Executive Development

Do-It-Yourself Executive Development

I know the print on the diagram is too small to read, but I wanted you to see how it all fit together.  There are four areas of developmental concentration:  1) Know Yourself, 2) Understand Your Environment, 3) Personal Change Tools and 4) Skill Building.   You can start anywhere—they all support each other.

4 Essentials for Do-It-Yourself Executive Development

The Recipe for DIY Executive Development:

Know Yourself–Understand Your:

  • Motivation
  • Habits
  • Personality
  • Beliefs About How Things Work
  • Strengths/Weaknesses
  • Temperament
  • Flaws (aka Derailers)

Understand Your Environment:

  • What is the Culture?
  • What is Your Fit in that Culture?
  • What is the Power Structure?
  • What Gets Rewarded?
  • What is the Organization Life Cycle Stage?

Personal Change Tools–Understand:

  • Reframing
  • Habits
  • Feedback

Skill Building–Develop:

  • Execution Skills
  • Leadership
  • Financial Acumen
  • Organization Assessment
  • Organizational Political Saavy
  • Personal Brand Management
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Organizational Change Management

The well-rounded, and highly successful Executive has all of these.  No one is born with all of them; they need to be developed.  If you want to be a successful Executive, stop waiting for your organization to do it.  Get off your butt and start working on developing yourself.  You’ll do a much better job than any organization if you focus on it.

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Filed under Brand Yourself, Career Development, Career Goals, Derailment, Executive Development, Hi Po, Leadership, Personal Change, Recession Proof, Reframe, Success