Tag Archives: Success

Get Your Business Started. What Are You Waiting On?

It’s Time to Put Up or Shut Up

So you want to start a business.  Someday.  Someday will come and go and where will your business  be?  What are you waiting on?  You want to get everything set up first? You want to do the business plan first?  You want to analyze the potential market first?  You want to find money first? You want to come up with the killer idea first?

Let’s Start At The Beginning

Why do you want to start your own business?  That’s the first question to answer.  The answer to this question can actually help you figure out what kind of business.

  • Do you want to work for yourself?  Get rid of bosses?  Feel an accomplishment that you built something? Control your destiny?
  • Do you want a work/life balance?  Be careful about this one.  Most small business owners work an awful lot—many more than their corporate employee colleagues.
  • Do you want to get rich?
  • Do you like the risk/reward of starting and running a business?
  • Do you want to work people of your choice—and not A$$ho@$?
  • Are you stalled out at your current organization?
  • Do you want to create a business out of something you are passionate about?
  • Do you think you can do it better?

Next Step—What Business do You Want To Start?

Do you have a plan or idea that you’ve been storing in the back of your mind for a long time?  Does it make it to your New Year’s Resolution list or you Life Goal list on a regular basis?  If you have such a plan/idea, look back at your answer to “Why Do You Want to Start Your Own Business?” above.  Does your plan/idea serve that reason?  For example, if you want to start a restaurant but your reason for starting your own business is work/life balance, then the back of your brain probably knows that those two don’t go together.  If you want/need security, than, again, you probably know that deep down inside and aren’t really willing to put that at risk by really starting your own business.

If your idea for a business  is perfectly suited to your reason for wanting to do this, then there is some other reason that it hasn’t happened yet.   Some possibilities:

  • Analysis paralysis.  This was mine.  I wanted to think out every possible ramification and pre-plan for each eventuality.  I bought and read every book I could get my hands on.  I went to seminars, talked to experts and still didn’t move forward.  The key issue here is that you can never be ready enough before you start because some of the most important things that make you ready to run and succeed at your business are the experiences you have in running your business.  Even if you’ve run several businesses before, you will not be able to pre-plan all the things that can happen.
  • Fear of failure. I guess it would be nice to be able to out plan failure.  It just isn’t realistic, though.  Depending on how you define failure:  not meeting expectations, not making enough money, not finding your market, not having enough cash flow, not growing as fast as expected, growing faster than expected (OK, maybe that one isn’t failure), going bankrupt–most start-ups fail.  You make adjustments, you try again, you try something else.  Fearing failure is a lot like a four year old fearing growing taller.  It is a necessary part of the process.
  • Lack of time. This may be the reality, but if you don’t make the time, then it won’t happen.  You CAN make time to do what is important.  Steven Covey taught us to do what was important.  To begin with the end in mind.  What does you business look like in your future?  What does it provide you? Money?  Joy? Autonomy? Isn’t it as important as the other things that you are doing?  Carve out one task a day or one task a week to work on.  After a couple of months, you will have made progress and you will be on your way.  Once your business starts to become REAL in your eyes, then it will be easier to put it at the head of the line, or at least in the line, of what you’re working on.
  • Not enough money.  Build a sufficient business plan to persuade someone to help with the money.  Ask friends, family, skilled colleagues who could help.  Figure it out.

Just Start

There is a great gook about this, Just Start by Leonard A. Schlesinger and Charles F. Kiefer.  Take the risk.  Learn from it.  Move closer to your dream.

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Filed under Books, Career Development, Goal Setting, Recession Proof, Start a Business, Success

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

Your Company Doesn’t Care

Sorry.  Despite what the Supreme Court thinks, your company is not a person.  It doesn’t care.  It doesn’t think.  It doesn’t want.  You can’t impress it.  Your company is made up of people–lots of them.  All kinds of people.  They DO care.  They are complicated and hard to figure out and hard to work with.  People can be influenced and impressed.  Focus on the people.  Build relationships.  Build relationships with people who think and speak “for” the company.  Make sure they know who you are.  Make sure they know what you do.  Make sure they think you add value to the company.  Make sure they care about you

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Filed under Career Development, Networking

Get Better At Your Job. Now.

How Good Do You Want To Be?

What kind of employee do you want to be?  What kind of a manager?  What kind of a leader?  What kind of a boss? What kind of a sales person?  What kind of a General Manager?  What kind of an Executive?  This is a serious question (or I guess several serious questions).  Do you want to be “OK” at your job?  Do you want to be good at it?  Or do you want to be extraordinary?  What is your ideal performance?  Are you hitting it?

If you’re not hitting it, I’m not going to ask you why not.  That conversation is for another time.  I’m going to ask you what, precisely, would you be doing if you were performing at your ideal level?  Would you be spending more time at something?  Would you be finishing things (in a more timely manner)?  Would you be talking to people you aren’t talking to?  Would you be hustling harder?  Would you be less complacent? Would you be getting better results?  Would your boss be happier with you?

What Would It Take?

Write down the things that you would be delivering if you were hitting your ideal job performance.  Be precise.  Look at the list.  What do you have to do differently than you are doing now to get those results?  Would you be on the Internet as much as you are?  Would you be taking hour lunches?  Would you be wasting your time in hour long meetings that could get the same results in 15 minutes?  Would you be going along to get along?  Would you be delegating better?  Leading more? Would you be more focused on what you are doing–all the time?

Do you work like you want to be the best?  Or do you work like you want to be “OK?”  The difference is a change in attitude.  Get serious about what you’re doing.  Don’t treat it like a job–9 to 5–it’ll be here tomorrow if I don’t get it done.  Treat it like a dead-serious goal.  You’ve GOT to get it done.  You’ve GOT to increase your performance.  You’ve GOT to keep it moving.

Try changing your attitude–even for a day and notice the difference.  It is much more fun, interesting and fulfilling when you are ALL IN.

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Executive Development, Personal Change, Reframe

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

Why Doesn’t Your Team Work?

All of us get to spend time on teams.  Some of us spend all of our time on teams. There are terrible teams, good teams and great teams.  Most of us rarely get to spend much time on great teams.  For one thing, it takes time to build a great team–more than a few months, usually.  Few of us know how to build a good team, though, even with enough time.

Let’s talk about what makes a great team.

Unlike the common assumptions, great teams are not made up of friends, or people who are the same.  The best teams have lots of different kinds of people, with different temperments and skills.   Meredith Belbin, a British researcher who focuses on teams, started his research with the assumption that if he created a team of the smartest people–”A” players–then it would be a high performance team.  What he found was that intelligence itself was not enough.  A high performing team needs team members with a variety of skills and perspectives.  He identified the following roles necessary for a high performance team:

  • Plant:  Someone who is creative and who brings ideas to the table. (For my non-British readers:  think of this as someone who is embedded in the team who is a source of ideas.)  Someone who looks at things differently and is the team problem solver.
  • Resource Investigator: Someone who is the networker of the group.  Someone who is ‘connected’ in a way that helps the team find the resources and/or sources for whatever they need to be able to deliver team results.
  • Chairman (called the  Coordinator after 1988): Someone who ensures a balance among the members of the team–making sure that they all contribute to discussions and decisions. Someone who makes the goals clear, and ensures that the roles and responsibilities are clear.
  • Shaper:   Someone who challenges team members and who pushes them to overcome barriers.  Someone who pushes for agreement and decisions.
  •  Monitor-Evaluator:  Someone who is able to point out the challenges to other people’s solutions.  Someone who sees all the options, asks questions, points out the issues.
  • Team Worker: Someone who focuses on the interpersonal relationships within the team.  Someone who is sensitive to the nuances among the interactions of the team members.  Someone who helps ensure the long-term cohesion among team members.  Someone who helps deal with conflict, the group mediator.
  • Company Worker ( Implementor after 1988):  Someone who can figure out how to create the systems and processes that get the team the results they want.  Someone who is practical and pragmatic.
  • Completer Finisher:   Someone who is detail-oriented.  Someone who sees the defects before anyone else.  Someone who is clear on where the team is in relationship to its deadlines.  Someone who focuses on completing tasks, finding errors, making deadlines and staying on schedule.
  • Specialist: Someone who brings specialized knowledge to the team, like someone who is the Finance expert, or the Supply Chain expert or the Contract specialist.

Remember, these are ROLES, not people.  One person can potentially fill more than one role, but ideally not more than two.  We are more naturally comfortable in some of these roles than others.  The Plant (the idea person) is usually not good at being a Monitor–figuring out all the problems with the ideas.  Many of these role-fillers drive others crazy.  They balance each other out and reduce the risks of rushing to decisions or dragging to decisions or running people off or being too focused on deadlines or too focused on people or too focused on details.  Belbin has written several books on his research on teams.

When team members are presented with Belbin’s Team Role Assessments® it is amazing how they stop being irritated with each other and start appreciating the traits that had previously driven them all nuts.

Let’s Talk About the Work of Being a High Performance Team

The “who” of a team is only half the battle, though.  The other part of a high performance team is the work that teams have to go through to become great.  There are two models that help describe that work.  The first is the Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing stages of Bruce Tuckman’s model of group development.  Most of us have heard of this one.  It is useful to acknowledge that group behavior goes through stages and movement through these stages is necessary to develop the trust and authentic interactions necessary to be a good team.

The other model is less well-known, but is the one that I’ve taught to my graduate management classes.  It is the Drexler-Sibbett Team Performance ™ Model.  The Drexler-Sibbett Model acknowledges that team development is dynamic.  Teams have set backs, add people, change goals, get new managers, have failures, traumas, successes and constantly need to back up and ‘re-do’  some stage in the team’s development.  It is this focus on dynamic/interactive progress and re-setting that seems to me to be extremely realistic.  The Drexler-Sibbett stages are:

  • Orientation:  Why am I here? (Note–it isn’t why are we here–if you don’t answer for each and every person why s/he is there, they won’t even begin to engage.)
  • Trust Building: Who are you? and you? and you?  (Most ‘team building’ activities are focused on this stage.
  • Goal Clarification: What are we doing here? Few teams get very clear on goals.  They rarely get past the goals of all the individuals to the team goal.  The person from finance is there to protect finance’s interests, the person from IT is there to protect IT’s interest.  It is only when the individual goals are replaced by the team goal that the team begins to move to high performance.
  • Commitment:  How are we going to do it?  This gets into the messy part of resources, who, when, how.  This is when the theory and planning turn into reality and the trouble really starts.
  • Implementation:   Who does what, when, where and how.  The real stuff.  Things start to be hard.  Things start to get delivered.  Things don’t work and have to get fixed.  Misunderstandings and mistakes are uncovered and dealt with.  The struggle and the payoff happen in this stage.
  • High Performance: This is where things really hum.  People cooperate and trust and do and finish things.
  • Renewal:  This is where it all starts again.

The important concept of this model is that teams move forward and backward as the situation warrants.  New people come in, the Orientation and Trust Building stages may need to be done again (sometimes in an abbreviated way).  If Implementation isn’t working, then Commitment may need a refresh.

A Powerful Career Tool

Getting teams to high performance is hard work.   It can’t be done through a team building exercise, or through the boss announcing what the goals are.  Learning to build great teams, however, can be enormously helpful in getting you to the next level of your career.  People who know the mechanics of building great teams can do it over and over and over.  They can do it in different organizations and they can  deliver different kinds of goals.  They can do it at all levels of the organization and in all sizes of organizations.  Well worth learning!

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Filed under Books, Career Development, Career Goals, Diversity, Executive Development, Teams, Trust

Can’t Trust Your Boss?

What is Trust?

First, let’s talk about what trust is.  Trust is the ability to rely on a particular response from another person.  If I trust you, then I’m pretty sure that you’ll do what I expect you to do and if you don’t, I’m pretty sure that there was a good reason why you didn’t do it.  If I trust you, I give you the benefit of the doubt.  If I don’t trust you, then I don’t think you’ll do what I need you to do, and if you say you’ll do it, I don’t really give you the benefit of the doubt.

In our world, we trust a lot of people, and they deserve it.  We trust that someone at the electric company will do his/her job and that our electricity will stay on.  We trust that someone will deliver the food to the grocery store and that it will be there when we go to buy it.  The grocery store trusts that we will pay for the groceries with legal money and that we won’t steal the food instead of paying for it. We trust that people will drive on the correct side of the street and that teachers will actually teach our children.  We trust pilots to follow the rules in flying their planes.  We trust (rely) in standard behaviors.

BUT, we don’t trust bankers not to set up deals that are unfair.  We don’t trust politicians.  We don’t trust lawyers.  We don’t trust . . .  complete your list.  Well, actually, the truth is that we do trust these folks according to my definition of trust.  We trust (rely on a particular response) that these folks are going to act in their own interest.  (Yeah, yeah, I know there are bankers, politicians and lawyers who don’t act in their own interest –but you’d never know it by talking to most people/listening to the news, etc.)  So . . . if we use my definition of trust, what can you trust your boss to do?

What Can You Trust Your Boss To Do?

This is a serious question—what can you rely on your boss to do consistently?  Good or bad? 

  • Does he show up?
  • Does she help you understand what the organization is trying to accomplish?  The vision?
  • Is he clear about what you should be doing?  Your deadlines?
  • Does she take your side with your peers?  With her peers? With her boss?
  • Does he always disagree with you?
  • Does she act in your interest?  In her interest?  When conflicted, which way does she come down?

When you use my definition of trust–able to rely on a particular response–chances are good that you actually CAN trust your boss more than you think you can.  There are probably consistent responses that you see from your boss.  When you say you can’t trust your boss, you aren’t likely using my definition of trust.  You more likely mean that you think your boss will act in his/her own interest instead of  yours when faced with the choice.

We All Act In Our Own Self-Interest

There are even those who argue that altruists are acting in their own interest.  I don’t know if I’d take it that far, but we all have lines that we draw.  Most of us would put our children, our families, our communities over others.  It’s hard not to choose to for yourself, even when you feel conflicted between your own good and the greater good. It’s pretty human. If you feel that your boss chooses his/her own self interest every time over your self interest, you are probably right.  S/he may not even see it that way.  S/he may be in denial about it.  Regardless, it is likely you don’t like it.  BUT if it happens on a regular basis, then you can rely on that particular response.  You can trust your boss to act in a way that you don’t like–to act in his/her own interest instead of yours.

Shift the Way You Look at This

If you can rely (trust) on your boss to act in a certain way, you can begin to figure out how to use your boss’ reactions, by learning to get consistent reactions, to be successful.  If you can stop feeling hurt/distrustful/unhappy about the fact that your boss doesn’t act in your interest, but rather in his own, then you can learn how to get consistent reactions from your boss.  If you want your boss to do something in particular, how can you frame her decision so that she sees it as a decision in her self interest?  If your boss consistently decides things to support ‘favorites’ then figure out how to frame the decision as supporting those folks.

As long as you are struggling to get things done in a way that protects your self-interest, or is for the ‘greater good,’ and are frustrated and angry because your boss doesn’t do that, you aren’t succeeding.  If you reframe it for your boss–you can think of it in any way you like–so that your boss feels like he is making the decision for whatever his purposes are, then the decision can go the way you want it to.  You win.  Why the hell do you care that the boss isn’t making the decision for the ‘right’ reason?  You win. 

See–you CAN trust your boss–even if you can’t.

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Filed under Career Development, Executive Development, Trust

Sorry. You Are Not Indispensible.

We all see ourselves as the hub of our own universe.  This is not a bad thing–and it is natural.  It does create blind spots, however. When we evaluate our importance to the organization it is through our own eyes.  We know what we do, did and frequently compare our performance against our peers (and even our managers).  The thing is, everyone is doing the same.  Let me try to be clearer.

My Perspective

When I work late to finish the report that is due tomorrow, I feel virtuous.  I gave up dinner with my friends to make sure the report got done.  I went to the extra effort to talk to all the affected departments and get their input (and that is what took so long and why I had to stay late to finish it before tomorrow).  I am aware that I went over and above, doing special research to make sure all my recommendations were right and would work.  I worked extra hard on the graphs and had to teach myself some new techniques in Excel and PowerPoint (again, that probably contributed to why I had to stay late to get it done).  My intent and goal is for this report to be perfect.  I don’t know exactly what it is to be used for, but whatever that is, I want whoever uses it to be blown away by how good it is.  This organization is very lucky to have someone who cares so much and works so hard.  What would they do without me?

My Boss’s Perspective

The report was on time.  It looked pretty thorough, but it was pretty detailed and there wasn’t a concise Executive summary.  It was a little off point of what I was looking for, but I can use it.

So What Causes This Kind of Disconnect?

What I Should Have Done:

  • Before even starting, I should have been VERY clear on what the purpose of the report was, who the audience was, what the report would be used for, and what its relative importance was.
  • It is completely fine to develop new skills (Excel, Powerpoint) in the process of creating work product, but that is on you–not on your organization, especially if the product of those new skills is not specifically necessary for the product you are creating.  The fact that it caused me to have to work late to create the report is not a reason for the organization to be happy with me.
  • Perfectionism can get you into more trouble than it is worth sometimes.  I should have made the report good enough to satisfy the goal, but I should not have spent a lot of extra time making it perfect–unless there was some reason (outside of my standards) for it to be perfect.
  • I need to appreciate the fact that my standards–working hard, working long hours, learning new skills, making sure I’ve talked to everyone and was inclusive, and that the report was perfect–do not (usually) translate into the organization’s view of my performance (or my indispensability).
  • I need to be understand that my boss is not aware of my intent, my hard work, my learning, or my extra effort unless someone tells him/her.  It is not inherently obvious from my work product.
  • Meeting the goal of the assignment precisely and specifically for the intended audience is WHAT COUNTS.

What My Boss Should Have Done

  • My boss should have been very clear about the goal, purpose and audience for the assignment.
  • My boss should have been clear about any expectations of over and above/extra effort.
  • My boss should have made efforts to understand how hard I worked to meet the goal.
  • My boss should have found ways to give me constructive feedback and to appreciate my effort in order to motivate me to continue to work toward getting better.

Next Time

The next time you notice that you are congratulating yourself on how hard you’re working, on how great your work is and on how indispensable you are, ASK YOURSELF if your boss sees it the same way.  Ask yourself if you DELIVERED what was needed, when it was needed, for the intended goal.  Because when you consistently deliver exactly what is needed, when it is needed, maybe you can become indispensable.

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

What We Can Learn From the Olympics

People who make it to the Olympics are REALLY good at what they do.  Even people who finish LAST at the Olympics are way better than most of us.  How do they get there?  Well, the easy answer is that they work very hard.  It is way beyond that, though.  They start out good.  They are good enough that someone, someplace, gives them positive feedback that motivates to keep going, to keep getting better. They keep getting better.  They make steady (or better) progress.  At some point along the way, they get a coach.  The coach is not better at what they do (usually) than they eventually become, but the coach knows how to motivate them, how to guide them to better performance and how to critique them,  push them, and persuade them. They practice, practice, practice.  According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, the people who are the elite at what they do–sports, music, art, academics–have put in 10,000 hours of practice to get there.  They also have a lot of support–parents, teachers, coaches, other family who set up the environment and resources to help them get there. People in the Olympics understand the importance of visualization and they do it over and over.  Did you see the gymnasts, the divers, the runners, imagining their way through their performance?  You could tell that is what they were doing by the little jerky movements they did as they imagined themselves through the routine.  They didn’t just do it once.  They did it over and over till it was time to perform. They used powerful, positive (and effective) self-talk.  It is not a coincidence that the fastest man in the world says he is. The competitions were full of examples of athletes motivating themselves through positive self talk. The athletes in the Olympics won and lost, learned from it and did it again.  They put ALL of themselves into what they were doing.  They weren’t just sitting there thinking about what they were going to do this weekend or what was for dinner.  (Well, maybe they did think about what was for dinner–they were definitely burning a ton of calories.)  They were focused, though, while they were doing what they were doing.  And you could tell when they weren’t focused.

So, What Can We Learn?

  • Be motivated to be the best
  • Practice, practice, practice what you want to be good at
  • Get a coach
  • Get, use, create, and appreciate a support group
  • Use positive self-talk
  • Visualize
  • Focus

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What Does It Take To Be An Executive In Your Org?

What Does It Take To Be An Executive At Your Org?

Executives come in all flavors.  Organizations also come in all flavors.  People who want to be Executives come in all flavors.  How do you know what your organization needs from an Executive?  How do you know what you need to work on to be an Executive (in your organization or in another organization?)

Let’s start with the first question.  How do you know what kind of Executive your organization needs?  (You’ll note I didn’t say what kind of Executive your organization is looking for—organizations don’t always look for the right kind of Executive.  It’s a lot like the Church Board that replaces the retiring minister with one who is the total opposite.  The Board is tired of dealing with the current minister’s weaknesses, but forgets that the congregation is there because they LIKE the current minister’s strengths.)

What Does It Take To Be An Executive At Your Org?

Factors to consider when figuring out what kind of Executives your organization needs:

Organizational History

  • Past Success–What successes have the organization had in the past?  What drove those successes?  How long ago was that?  What kind of leadership was in place for those successes?  What kind of management infrastructure was in place?  What lessons did the organization learn from the successes?  What lessons did the Executives learn from the successes?
  • Past Failures–What failures has the organization had in the past?  What caused those failures?  Did the organization learn anything from the failures?  Did leadership learn anything from the failures?  Were there consequences that left scars on the organization–did the organization develop a risk aversion or become overly cautious?
  • Years in Existence— How long has the organization been in existence?  What kinds of trends has it been through?  Did it start centuries/decades/years/months ago?  There are pluses and minuses to an organization that has been around a long time, just as there is for a new organization.  Either way, though, they need different things from Executives.
  • Organizational Maturity— How mature is the organization in its processes and systems?  How sophisticated is it in its relationship with its customers?  Its community?  Its employees?
  • Founder Legacy— Is the founder still in the picture?  What kind of interactions does the founder have with the organization?  Was the founder a charismatic leader who was a tough act to follow?  How many generations of professional management have there been since the organization was founded?
  • Reputation–What is the organization’s reputation?  What is it based on?  How integrated is that reputation with the reputation of the Executive(s)?  How integrated is the reputation with that of the industry, or with the organization’s successes and failures? What things have been done to affect the organization’s reputation?  What has worked/not worked?

Industry

  • Industry Health—Is the industry growing or shrinking?  Are there serious resource or pricing issues?  Are there regulation issues or changes?  Is the industry merging with another one (for instance, phones/computers/music). How is the organization positioned to deal with these issues?
  • Industry Size—Is it a big industry?  Is it a small industry?  Is it a start-up industry?  Does it stretch across/into countries with huge markets?  Or is it a single geographic location industry?
  • Players—Who are the players in the industry?  Big? Small?  How does your company fit?  Is it a player?  Is it a wannabe, a newbie, or is it peripheral?
  • Competition—What is your company’s competition?  Who is your company’s biggest competitor?  Who is its riskiest?  Are there emergent competitors?

Organizational Goals

  • Growth—Is the goal to grow the company?  Is that realistic?  Is there room to grow? Is there opportunity in your existing market or in markets not yet tapped?
  • Innovation—Is the goal based on innovation?  Does the company have a history of being innovative?  Does the company have innovative employees?  Processes that drive innovation?
  • Products—Is the goal based on new product development?  Again, is there a history of new product development?  Are there processes, systems and the discipline to drive new product development?
  • Efficiency— Is the goal based on becoming more efficient?  Has the company done this/been doing this?  Is the purpose to serve customers better, or to cut costs, or both?

What Does Any of This Have To Do With What It Takes to be An Executive?

It has to do with what SKILLS the organization needs.  If the organization needs to deal with a riotous market or industry, then the organization needs someone how handles change well, so is more of a leader than a manager, who is comfortable with ambiguity.  If an organization’s strategy is based on product development, and is young, and has just lost its founder, it needs an executive who can be hands-on enough, who can understand the genealogy of the culture, who can inspire while driving results.  If the organization is targeting a growth strategy, then it needs someone who can execute, who is strategic, ideally who has experience with delivering growth, and who has boundless energy.

One size does not fit all.  A leader/manager for one kind of organization/industry is not likely to be a perfect fit for another.  This is not to say it can’t work, because it depends on what, exactly the organization needs.  If an organization’s industry has suddenly become turbulent after decades of stability, then someone from an industry that has been in white water for a while is likely to be a good fit—although they will be fighting an uphill battle against the existing culture.  So, someone who understands organizational change management would be helpful in that situation.

What Do You Think Your Organization Needs From Its Executives?

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Filed under Career Development, Executive Development, Leadership, Success