Take a Breath

September 8th, 2013

Increasingly I am working with hard driving executives and professionals who inadvertently disable their teams and colleagues with their intensity and pace. Their quick insight, ability to execute strategy and amazing results insulate them from getting helpful feedback.

Generally, these unbelievably capable and hard driving leaders blithely proceed in driving results and change, completely unaware of the unintended human consequences. Only a loss of critical talent or a heightened level of antagonism or increase in conflict brings into relief the collateral damage.

Then, we executive development consultants are called in to give “feedback” and repair the damage. Often our clients are appalled and shaken by the results of our findings. And they might struggle with reparation in an atmosphere of long established poor relationships. While executives might change their behavior immediately, sustained and consistent reactions and managing the distrust for these changes is a continuing challenge.

Here is where a little sticky note mantra is so useful; some call it magical.

Recently, I created one for a fast paced high performer which covered a lot of territory. I noticed that my client would breathlessly speak quickly, move quickly, shoot out instructions, appear demanding and controlling, and was surprised that her team lacked initiative, was afraid to ask questions, and scattered or put their heads down when she entered a room. When she felt rejected, my client redoubled her drive and exacerbated the resulting fear and avoidance.

We realized in reviewing these reactions that the sheer act of taking three breaths, speaking more slowly, and inviting dialogue reversed the doom loop. So, together we created the acronym “AIR,”
that stands for:


We then worked together on creating some behavioral changes in support of putting more AIR into the her speech, pace, and intention. Every time she finds herself speeding up and driving hard, she now looks at her AIR reminder, takes three breaths and slows down.

Yes, the results were astounding.


July 8th, 2013

I just read in the NY Times that they will be having a “workologist” column starting in August.

Having been in the career management profession for over 30 years, I found this new term fascinating.

I will never forget one of the first networking meetings I attended after grad school. It was for the Association for Training and Development (ASTD). As we went around the room introducing ourselves, many gave “slash” titles: such as  “trainer/consultant/career advisor”, or “recruiter/staffing specialist”, or “career counselor/outplacement specialist”. Even now, at professional meetings and in LinkedIn profiles we have multiple professional identifiers.

And historically, we have adapted our professional titles to the needs of the marketplace.  In the early 1900’s we called ourselves vocational counselors. By the 1970’s we became career guidance counselors. And with the inception and growth of the outplacement and talent management industries we have evolved to career/talent management consultants/executive coaches/ career advisors/ career transition guides….quite a mouthful for an “elevator speech”.

I wonder if all of these various identities for our profession confuse people.
Recently, I have experimented with shorter and more accessible ways to answer the casual question: “what do you do,” mainly because I am tired of being asked to clarify with either of these two options: “Oh, are you a head hunter?” or, “Are you a Life-Coach?”

So, maybe we should now try “workologist”…pretty catchy term and might lead to some very interesting discussions!

Mind Your Assumptions

May 25th, 2013

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It

I just returned from a very educational and interesting trip to Eastern Europe during which we had local guides explain each stop along a river cruise. We were taught about the history, culture, and current conditions of each locality.

During one presentation, our guide told us something that really struck me as it relates to my work as a leadership development consultant. He told us that often visitors think of the citizens as unfriendly and impolite because they will not be willing to give directions or will be unresponsive to a comment or question. In fact, we were told, they are embarrassed about their poor English. In another lecture, we were informed that what would appear to be conniving or manipulative behavior is the adaptation many people have made after years of Communist occupation during which survival skills and distrust took precedence over grace and openness.

How often do we, at work or in our communities interpret and make judgments about our colleagues or neighbors based on our own assumptions and interpretations about behaviors? A direct report is late to meetings? Well you surmise that he is disrespectful of others’ time or is disorganized. A colleague never takes you up on going out after work for a drink? She must be unfriendly..or not like you. That new guy down the hall never shakes hands? He must be a snob or have no manners.

Well, maybe the late person is overscheduled and a perfectionist who needs to prepare for meetings, or does not realize that lateness is not acceptable in your company culture. Maybe the unsociable employee has a sick relative or new baby at home. And maybe the unfriendly new employee has a health or religious reason not to shake hands.

International travel is a great reminder of how we need to be more sensitive and mindful at home: Not everyone thinks like we do!

Leaning Versus Doing

March 31st, 2013

LEAN is the new, popular term these days. It is topping “passion,” “happy,” “narrative,” “strategic,” “synergy,” “authentic” and even “transparency”. The current hot use of lean is not an adjective related to how slim and healthy one is. No, it is a verb that intends to direct our attitudes and behaviors in a specific direction. We are told now to “lean in” to certain political positions or aspects of life.

Lean seems an odd way to describe an active engagement. It has a tentative, non assertive connotation. We might say, if we are undecided that we are “leaning toward” a resolution or if we are negative about something that we are “leaning away”. If we want to relax, we “lean back”. None of these actions represent to me a dynamic, definitive, committed, active engagement with life. Words which would describe a real intention to act would more likely be jump, run, grab, hold, or better yet embrace.

So, the recent active and somewhat controversial dialogue about the importance of women “leaning in” does not in my mind support a strong, assertive and dynamic engagement with one’s career. Leaning is really just a little non threatening movement, a small almost imperceptible shift that moves us just a little bit closer to the position we aspire to. It is intended not to threaten, not to invade another’s space. It is easy to lean back if there is push back. It is not really taking charge, taking responsibility, or taking risks to make something happen.

“Leaning in” entreats women particularly to demonstrate that they are serious about their careers and to demonstrate more commitment and focus on advancing and succeeding…not quitting before they try. I agree, but I think leaning is too modest. Women and men who take active charge of their careers, who know what they can contribute and pitch their agenda assertively are not leaning; they are embracing and perhaps running…maybe even the company!

Attitude Shift

February 27th, 2013

The first quarter is very often quite busy for us career counselors. New Year’s resolutions are not restricted to cleaning out a closet or losing those five pounds. Performance reviews, bonus distributions, or six months after college graduation often trigger a desire to explore options.

If you are among the people who are reading this blog because you want to address a career change, challenge or crisis, here are some questions that can help you focus your thoughts and actions:

How did you choose your present occupation?
What expectations do you have about your career?
What would success look like?

Are you, like many, seeking a calling—work about which you feel passionate, for which you are appreciated, and in which you believe you can grow, learn and contribute your talents?

If so, please add one very important question to your list:

How do you believe work happens?

Doing what you love does not necessarily cover the rent. Your passion needs a pay check!

Yes, careering has a commercial side. And it often requires hustle, which many people eschew. Yet, as Daniel Pink reminds us in his new book, To Sell is Human, like it or not, we are all in sales.

To meet your career goals and dreams, you need to make the right people know about what you have to offer. And reaching out to contacts, conducting informational and exploratory meetings, creating a marketing plan and sticking to it is often where the career dream becomes a nightmare of procrastination and inaction. This is because most of us don’t want to ask for the “order”. We want someone else to want us and to invite us in.

If you are stuck, a simple mind reversal may help: Think about what you have to give rather than what you want. How can what you do or want to do help another person or organization?

What do you do well, that you enjoy? (what you have to offer)
Who needs it ?(that’s your market)
Why do they need you? (what distinguishes you in your field)

Look around you…Read everything you can about your desired field. Talk to everyone with interest, curiosity and a giving attitude. Share ideas, help others, be in the game you want to play. You will find you shift out of stuck and enter a whole new momentum.

In Touch

January 24th, 2013

I have been enjoying my email and social media connections lately. Over the years I have developed the habit of reaching out to my colleagues and clients at this time of year just to check in and see how they are doing.

Responses support my continued commitment to this initiative. Many tell me how they have learned, grown, changed, and risked in the past year. They all appreciate my having touched base. They often ask to get together or even thank me (again) for the work we have done together.

Some apologize for not having let me know that they are fine….that they have put a lot of our ideas into place, or that they have achieved a goal we set. Of course, they promise to follow up better this year, not just with me but with other contacts as well.

And I wonder if I had not reached out, would I be having this pleasurable dialogue?

Got me thinking as well how tough it sometimes is to remember to follow up beyond the initial project or meeting thank you note/email. It is easy to lose track, lose touch and then not know how to recover. Then, when we might need advice or a referral, it becomes a real challenge to reach out after a long period of silence.

I will say that since this is such a common gap, most people are more than happy to hear from a long lost colleague. And, sometimes, we find out they remember us in fond and surprisingly complimentary ways.

It’s really worth the effort!

Your Crisis Style

December 13th, 2012

November’s destruction and disruption of an unexpectedly devastating storm in the Northeast gave us all a chance to test out our resilience, survival methods and coping skill. Reflecting on your own reactions and observations of others can be instructive.

In conversations with clients who shared their experiences and concerns with me, I was struck by the very broad spectrum of reactions….some unique to the severity of disruption and loss and some more representative of stylistic differences and habits build on previous life experiences. Many, who survived other devastating crises, compared Sandy with a job loss, 9/11, loss of loved ones, a broken relationship, loss of personal belongings. They found it helpful to look for commonalities in these past reactions and actions to other events to flex emotional muscles needed to deal with the present and future.Remembering strength, choices and support systems from formerly survived crises adds perspective and action to the present.

There appeared to be several “learning moments” around crisis management: focusing on what you can be grateful for, demonstrating compassion and reaching out to help others, setting realistic priorities and expectations, focusing on small things that can make a difference rather than what we cannot change or fix.

Hopefully, Sandy is behind you or you are at least in the process of repair and recovery. Regardless, you can learn from your responses and inform your future choices.

Here are some questions you might ask yourself:

1. If you were in the potential storm path, what constituted your decision to stay/evacuate?
2. If you were a proximate observer, but unaffected personally, what actions did you take, if any?
3. In a similar future crisis, what would you do the same? Differently?
4. What enabled you to recover your sense of “normal” in the face of loss?
5. What did you learn about yourself? About others?

Career Like An Artist

October 23rd, 2012

Interesting blog posted on Twitter today by Alexandra Levit on a career management technique I have been encouraging my clients to use for several years now: identifying their next professional move rather than only chasing opportunities or waiting for a promotion.

Artists, entrepreneurs and leaders abound in this habit. They observe, absorb and adapt what they see around them, what they learn from others, what they imagine and integrate to create something new. It is the way they think. Come to think of it, this is the way kids think until we suck initiative out of them with rules and regimens that teach them to wait, follow, memorize and obey.

With many traditional jobs going the way of the dinosaur, more and more people are inventing opportunities for themselves and putting together their own career track. You can learn more about this idea in The Portable Executive.

Whether out of desire or necessity, many executives and professionals are, like artists, putting together a portfolio of projects they do. This approach is a natural for those of you in career transition. However, if you want to explore or gain experience in areas that are not within your current job function, you can raise your hand for or even propose a steering committee, assignment or help a colleague or leader succeed. Alternately, you can add to your expertise and gain greater exposure through professional or charitable volunteer assignments.

Done well, a Career Portfolio is not just about randomly putting together a set of freelance gigs. It is a strategic investment of your time and talents in creating a marketable work portfolio that is aligned with trends in your field and marketplace needs. The portfolio career focuses on the future, on the challenges and not on a guaranteed, secure job in which a company or entity ensures your career progression and stability.
Like artists, Career Portfolio professionals will be in a constant state of anticipating and meeting the future. They are prepared to focus, pitch, audition, test out, and build so that they are always visible, professionally fresh and able to recognize opportunity (not wait for it).

Your Career Board of Directors

September 29th, 2012

As you begin to take a more focused, strategic and planned and life-long contact development and management approach, you will want to build a Board of Directors in the same way you would if you were a business entity. The idea of a Board of Directors is intended to expand your thinking beyond contacting people only for the purpose of learning about openings and to move beyond resume roulette (described in “Leave Happy”). Your Board is an ongoing and vital entity involving “giving and getting” support and ideas so that you build mutual interest and loyalty, and maintain visibility and connection during your work life.

There are several ways to organize your contacts so that you can have direct and meaningful conversations. Here is a starter for your planning and thinking.

Mentors: People who are interested in your career and may have an investment in your success. These may be former bosses or professors or even family members who can guide, advise or direct you as you think through your options. They can often give you feedback on your style or goals.

Connectors: People who know others in your field that you would want to tap into either to be known in general or who can help you get to people whom you want to know. This group often is comprised of consultants, service providers such as accountants, attorneys, educators, financial advisors, real estate salespeople, doctors who may not know of or have a position, but may know others who may. Or they may be able to lead you to helpful informants (below)

Informants: People who can help you research, will lead you to interesting people or ideas, who are savvy about your field. Informants like to get information as well as share it. Social media can expand your database of informants. Industry leaders are often among the best informants…articles, blogs, Linkedin groups and Twitter.

Colleagues: People with whom you you currently work or have worked can be wonderful sources for career advice and leads internally or externally, as they know your value and sometimes have been tapped for positions or have heard of an opening.

Job sources: employer staffing professionals, search professionals, social media groups, company/organization web sites have names of people you may want to note and cultivate through your networking.

Potential business partners/future clients: You may want to consider project work or becoming a free lancer/consultant during your career, or even start your own organization. So including entrepreneurs, funding sources, business leaders, service buyers.

Note: Strategy, persistence and record keeping and follow up are critical to a strong contact management process. These categories will help you think about how you want to approach and nurture your relationships.

Please write to me through my website if you would like to receive a contact management spread sheet.

Flip Desperation to Desire

August 27th, 2012

Just picked up a recent blog that described the various ways that job seekers can inadvertently appear desperate, thereby undermining their image and impression with potential employers. Check it out to make sure you are not doing any of these things: http://bit.ly/PNbjql

Now that you have identified ways you may be feeling and appearing desperate, whether you are employed or seeking employment, how can you create and maintain a positive attitude and presentation when in the throes of a challenging and discouraging transition or advancement effort?

My observation of what separates an effective campaign from one that just seems to whither and wilt is that when my clients become excited about the possibilities, take sincere interest in their chosen or aspirational field, demonstrate generosity and curiosity in their conversations and meetings they turn the corner in their efforts.

Five Small steps may just do it:

1. First thing in the morning, focus on what you want to and can do rather than on what you don’t want or cannot do.
2. During the day, read, talk, research, strategize about what is needed out there.
3. Whenever you can, use every experience—even the most mundane like food shopping, taking public transportation, taking a child to the park to strike up a conversation in which you learn about someone else.
4. In the evening: build desire about alternatives you are learning about. Write down three new ideas
5. Before bed, list three insights or ideas you gained that make you more excited about where you want to be and do.

Talk about what you desire not what you are desperate about….the feedback loop will energize you and others.