Archive for the 'Leadership Strategy' Category

“New Normal” Executive Themes

Monday, June 28th, 2010

My career management consulting colleagues and I have been comparing notes recently on workplace trends, issues and challenges.  A trenchant summary came from one client quote:

“The pressure is to drive productivity and assure quality.   At the same time, we need to stay attentive to the “soft stuff” with fewer resources, more job loss anxiety, steeper deliverables, while operating around the clock and around the world in virtual teams.  Something’s got to give.”

The obvious solution is more attention to leadership and engagement.  Yet, one of the biggest complaints we hear is that there is no time even to schedule regular one on one update, review, planning and development meetings with highly valued talent. Why?

  • Multitasking on multiple platforms is the Standard Operating Procedure that limits time to plan, dream, or interact
  • Many leaders, managers and employees are going on automatic through their day, defaulting into a task, check the box, transactional mode
  • People display frustration and insecurity when they don’t have enough time to properly prepare, think, get or give information or feedback, leading to communication, confidence and trust gaps

And the irony here is that at a time we need leadership commitment to drive results, engage employees and increase morale and motivation, we risk draining our talent because:

  • Teamwork, mentoring and feedback and leadership development suffer
  • Overload and inadequate “touch” time bread misunderstandings, misaligned action, procrastination, risk aversion and inhibit collaboration and collegiality
  • Talented and highly valued executives and managers too swamped to take advantage of development programs, organize off sites or meetings with career management consultants

If your to-do list is overloaded with transaction, and you and your people are suffering, whenever possible, put people and relationship as a priority in your schedule.

Here are five creative ways to schedule interaction by re-framing the time you think it will take:

  1. Plan shorter and more frequent conversations
  2. For anything that requires tone or nuance, wait, breathe, compose and then communicate by voice or in person
  3. Use emails only for quick, factual, short transactions
  4. Demonstrate concern and interest in others by really listening
  5. Provide on the spot feedback and appreciation—it will go a long way

Don’t Wait: Create

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Are you seeking meaningful work, and having difficulty finding a job where you can do it?

Daniel Pink, in his new book, Drive, helps us see a brighter workplace future, which he calls “Motivation 3.0”. In this world, we can bring innovation, enthusiasm and meaning to our companies and clients. While traditional, job centric (Motivation 2.0) workplaces drive employees with extrinsic motivators (security, financial rewards, structure), Pink envisions the workplace of the future that supports our intrinsic motivators, such as innovation, autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Work in Motivation 3.0 may reside in a job, but one with variable hours, flexibility, time to reflect and create. Motivation 3.0 is ripe for interim, independent workers and project-based engagements.

Why wait for the future? You can instill energy and excitement in your work, whether employed or seeking a new position by re-designing the “daily grind”. As a matter of fact, this mind shift will make you more valuable to organizations, before job specs are defined and additions to head count are made. You can craft, propose, and deliver projects that meet immediate, and unmet needs. You can remove yourself from the “waiting game” that is so frustrating and demeaning. And, you can leverage your strengths and growth potential paving the way for the future.

Some of my happiest clients have decided to stop waiting for things to get better. If they are in transition, they have found or proposed meaningful projects that keep them visible, active and fresh. If they are stalled out at work, they propose a role expansion that might include a global initiative or contribute to productivity or profit. Some are taking vocation vacations to explore new fields of interest. Yet others are doing volunteer work connected to their expertise, to enhance their relationships, or to experiment with something of interest. They express renewed energy and engagement which makes them more attractive in their present role, or as opportunities emerge. And their renewed enthusiasm and energy are attractive and noticed.

Create your next step by answering these questions:

  • What matters to me?
  • What is going on in my field/company/community that calls out for my talents and ideas?
  • What do I uniquely do well that I enjoy?
  • Who needs this expertise?
  • Why do they need me?
  • How can I connect to the stakeholders who can help me make it happen?

Now, create your work opportunities!

Five Ways to Make it Happen in 2010

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Now that year end is completed and bonuses distributed and unemployment reports are looking more optimistic, you are most likely thinking about what you want to achieve in 2010.

These have been tough times to be thinking about getting ahead. Many of you may be thankful you have a job….but are building up a mountain of resentment because you are working harder, with fewer resources, for less money, in flatter organizations, with no “promises” or promotions to keep you motivated, other than an ongoing paycheck and health benefits to sustain you.

Yet, you see others getting ahead, despite the economy. You watch co-workers being tapped for advancement, called by recruiters, or offered big assignments and interesting projects.

What are they doing that you could as well?   They are not waiting for someone to notice.

Working hard and waiting to be recognized and promoted leads to a lot of output with little forward momentum, and eventually bitterness and poor morale. Believing that their contributions go unappreciated is one of the three main reasons people lose their drive or seek other positions. While it would be great if all managers were focusing on their employee engagement and advancement, in reality, getting promoted is the ambitious employee’s responsibility, particularly when resources are low and demands are high.

Achieving great results is only part of the advancement equation. Being unable or unwilling to consciously connect and self-promote is a major career limitation.

If no one knows you are contributing, then your efforts will go either unacknowledged or others will take the “credit”. If you get frustrated and then demand advancement and are perceived as pushy or competitive, you will be moved aside. Self-promotion is a delicate and critical career management skill which requires observation of how others get recognition, patience, persistence and a strong belief in your self.

The key is to build awareness with stakeholders, connectors and decision makers. This effort extends beyond doing your job. Strategic self-promotion requires a focus on articulating your value with decision makers in ways that they find compelling; understanding and addressing the linchpin issues; and cultivating positive buzz about what you do through your manager’s peers, your colleagues and reports. And in today’s volatile economy, you will benefit from being known beyond your own organization, as well.

So, if you want to get ahead and believe you are being limited, do some of the following:

1. Look for a way to be a unique contributor based on an unmet business need.
2. On a regular basis, initiate a career discussion with your manager, mentor or sponsor in which you review what you have achieved, what you would like to do and how you can contribute going forward .
3. Don’t ask what the company will do for you, propose what you can contribute to the company/department.
4. Think in terms of what skills and relationships you want to develop and volunteer/request to be on some interesting project or part of a team that will expand others’ knowledge of what you can do.
5. Eliminate the complain, compare, criticize routine. Instead, plan, propose and position yourself in a collaborative and positive way.

These five steps would be terrific 2010 resolutions!

For more inspiration, read Staying Power: Executive Fit and Flex

Go for It!

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

William James said it succinctly over a hundred years ago:  motivation follows action.

How can you marshal your energies when you are overwhelmed with negative news, overworked, in transition or underemployed?  According to Shawn Achor, the answer may be in the pursuit of positive psychology research and tools.

I was fortunate to take an all day One Day U course with Dr. Achor last weekend and will share just a few of his ideas with you.  Try them and you may find it takes less energy for you to accomplish the career-related challenges and tasks you find yourself avoiding or procrastinating.

First, get thinking.  Shawn shared the concept of “emotional hijacking”, which is when you find yourself caught up in emotionality, negativity, fear or avoidance, based on the fear/flight response. He suggests that you move your brain waves from your emotional center to your intellectual center by creating a counterfactual internal dialogue.  The key is to put voice to your emotional reaction and to then use language to process your experience differently.

Try this:  today as you fight the traffic, avoid the crowds, go into a busy store or restaurant, note what is making you stressed, negative and unhappy.  Write down the words you say inside your head about the negative experiences on the left side of a piece of paper.  Note what you say made this experience unpleasant.  Then, on the right side, write down an opposite way of interpreting the events.  This exercise will neutralize your irritation.  In effect, you are moving your reaction from the emotional part of your brain to the cognitive part.

Now, apply this exercise to one work-related experience.  Feeling helpless and rejected because no one is returning your calls?  What are you saying inside your head?  What might you say that is positive, uplifting and motivating?

Second, get acting.  It is not just what you are feeling and thinking, it is how you are behaving that counts.  Studies of people that overcome adversity, manage difficult transitions and are resilient and productive show that they have three basic characteristics:

  1. A belief that their behavior matters
  2. Strong social support systems
  3. Positive stress management habits

The irony is that when in a personal or career crisis, these three qualities suffer. And, it takes more energy to avoid a constructive and productive action than it does to just do it.

The good news is: it is within your control to re-instill positive experiences in your life.  Of course, you cannot control external forces like the economy, difficult co-workers, truncated career advancement options.  But, within the constraints of reality, you can manage your thoughts and actions to create a more positive situation around you.

Here is where the third element comes in:  the phenomena of “mirroring.”  You will notice that when you are positive, others reflect your mood and actions.  The resulting feedback loop spreads—or at least neutralizes negativity.

This, being the holiday season, is a good time to experiment.  You can overcome your inertia using one of these emotional hijacking techniques:

Action Steps:

  • Start each day by writing down three things about which you are grateful.
  • Do one random act of kindness
  • Call a friend or relative and get together
  • Have that “difficult” conversation that you have been delaying
  • Clean up your desk
  • Do one thing on your task list you have been avoiding.

For more ideas, go to Aspirant

Enjoy the holidays!

Liking Linking

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Liking Linking!

All of today, I have been occupied with LinkedIn, FaceBook, texting and emailing to be in touch. I did not have one voice to voice or face to face conversation outside of my interactions with my husband. This is very unusual for me as my work, friends, family and avocations generally bring me in active contact with others. I think about my clients who are finding themselves inter-personally isolated because they work virtually or are in career transition.

Virtual communication gives the satisfaction of immediacy in getting and giving information. You could spend many hours on-line believing that you are nurturing your connections and creating opportunities.

Social and business networks are useful transactions for informing and expanding your “presence”. However, I think that relationships still require commitment, chemistry and context to develop. Online communication…email, twitter, social networks, blogs, while great for sharing information can fool active participants into thinking they are connecting/networking/branding/getting “out there”/getting noticed. Virtual communication, however, is not a substitute for the value of in-person or live voice-to-voice intimacy.

On-line has the advantage of immediacy and the disadvantage of lacking nuance and context. Because it is written, sent and read quickly, it can result in abrupt judgments and replies.

Misunderstandings and misinterpretations cause a great deal of time spent resolving conflict. Just think of the tension that can be avoided by a conversation that requires listening, give and take and clarification. So, I recommend emails, texting, and social networking be used for factual, not emotional or nuanced, messages. When you really need to “talk”, make a date to meet in person, Skype, stop by someone’s office, or pick up the phone.

A really great way to capitalize on any virtual communication is to use it as a supplement rather than a substitute for live human contact. It is great to stay in touch and it is not a replacement for high touch.

Virtual Success

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

This blog entry is going to be different:  It is co-authored by my colleague and co-writer, Karen Otazo with whom I have just had the great pleasure of launching No Time 4 Theories/Executive Series . We wanted to share with you some lessons learned and insights gained from our collaboration, as we realized that what we have just experienced is the way many of you  all are now, or will be very soon, working.

Karen and I have been collaborating and communicating around professional issues, insights and initiatives for around 5 years.  During one of our many phone discussions, we realized that we shared a lot of views that were not currently written about.  And so, it began as a casual comment, “you know, this could be a great book!”

We began in July to collect our ideas, convert ramblings to outlines and maneuver our way through communication, technology, schedule and “day job” commitments. We found that we actually were living the changes we were writing about.

Our intensity about this collaboration heated up as the economy melted and then froze.  Our clients urgently needed our perspective and expertise to help them navigate the seismic disruption and change they are struggling to understand and manage. And so, we began in earnest in October to put our ideas into a format that would be attractive for our readers.

From that awareness grew an agreement that we wanted to write and publish together in the most modern way:  virtually, technologically and stylistically.  Virtual teams, virtual networking, virtual newspapers, virtual everything led us to create a more-than-virtual writing team.

Here are a few things we learned we wanted to share with you:

Move beyond the traditional and tested ways to match the rhythm and format of your work with the market needs:

We learned from a set of sample reader discussions that we needed to work quickly, efficiently, cost effectively and eliminate all the layers and processes that would hold up the end product. In addition, we focused on a series of guides which would appeal to our busy and diverse executive readers. Finally, we decided to self publish (which would bring the materials to market quickly) and offer our writing on-demand and in e-book format as well.

Gather a team of enthusiastic experts who will work with as much energy and commitment as you do:

We were fortunate in being able to gather together a virtual team that were excited about this new way of working, new media and the topics we were addressing.  When we ended up working through the holidays, which we had tried to avoid, everyone just pitched in and did what needed to be done without complaint.

Identify and work off strengths:

We constantly checked in with each other to make sure that each team member had information or resources and the skills/experience to carry out unexpected assignments.  Some of us were better at content, some at technology, some at process and project management.  We laid out what the next step was and team members volunteered and teamed. Flow ruled!

Marshall creativity and enthusiasm by clarifying roles based on strengths based on project needs, not ego:

One of the biggest challenges of a virtual team is sorting out priorities, resolving senses of urgency, accommodating to different styles (content, timing, process) and being careful to always know who is on first to avoid things being duplicated or falling through the cracks. Emails work for facts, voice and face to face is better for feelings.  Whenever we sensed a sensitivity, we made a call and worked things out.

Communicate BEFORE there is conflict and clarify roles early and often:

There were times we all jumped in and we had to step back to find out who was on first, who had the expertise, who had the time, who had the desire to take the lead.  We took turns being in charge depending on the circumstances and content. At times, we got confused with emails flying and schedules slipping. So, we just helped each other move the project along by identifying the stuck moments with great sensitivity and compassion. It was great to apply our counseling skills with each other!

Give feedback quickly, clearly and often:

Sheryl and I both have spent our entire professional careers encouraging people, giving feedback with care and clarity. So, we were sensitive to and committed about constantly checking in, comparing notes, clearing any misunderstandings, pitching in when the others were busy, being honest about deadlines and accountabilities.  We became adept at trading off and pitching in when our “day jobs” or personal lives required.  We kept our eye on the motto:  don’t explain, don’t complain…just do it or delegate it.  And we had a lot of “Yeah Team” moments!

Use technology wisely and where appropriate for your needs/styles:

Since we’re both great talkers, initially, we tried using Dragon Naturally Speaking (voice recognition software) to record as we discussed our ideas.  Frustrated with the pace of the technology, we moved into having one of us take the lead on a topic, develop a first pass and then used email and phone dialogue, Skype, three way meetings and even face to face time to organize, edit, polish, cut and finalize.

We never could have completed our first two guides without the dynamic and engaged team.  Thanks to:

Nick Kolakowski, our Editor

Mike Bain, our Graphic Designer

Lucio Furlani, our Web Master and more!

Lori Quaranta, our Cheerleader and On Line PR Consultant

Ian Spanier,  our Photographer

Yeah Team!

Turn of a Phrase….

Monday, October 13th, 2008

The way we use words reflects our internal world, affects our external environment and shifts world-view as well. Snap comments, judgments and reactions can reverberate in unintended ways.

For example, take the word “devastation” related to our economic crisis. Would the impact be the same if we used “disquieting,” “disruptive” or “dissatisfying?” When we complain about our political, financial or personal futures, what messages are we absorbing and expanding? Are we attending to the impact of our words on the listener as we spill out our reactions and conclusions?

In his New Years sermon, Rabbi Peter Rubinstein of Central Synagogue in New York City reminded us of past truly devastating events: the destruction of the Temple, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Holocaust. He entreated his congregation to remember its roots: decency, kindness, optimism, friendship, family and faith. He invited each of us to think of one thing we each could do to re-establish our sense of self-worth in the face of our shaken financial wealth.

We each, in our own worlds, can create a sense of control, commitment and competence by consciously choosing how we speak in our own heads and out loud. We have a choice of stemming or spreading the fear and foreboding. We create our moment by moment life by how we think and how we speak.

So, I pass on to you the Rabbi’s suggestion: think of one thing you can do, plan or talk about with your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors that is meaningful/purposeful for you right now. Choose something small, and within your control, an activity or relationship you may have put aside in the interest of forwarding your career.

Every day, practice considering what you say, how you frame your current view of our changing world. Think about ways you can revise your perspective in light of what you have and can build rather than what you have lost.

A conscious, positive shift will influence the responses you get and create a cycle of hope to replace what is becoming a national cyclone of fear.

More for Less

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

Metaphor is an excellent teacher.

My very learned yoga instructor, Joe Williams, recently discovered a wonderful way demonstrate how less effort focused on the appropriate area will enable more range with less injury. Joe led his students to consider our joints as levers, similar to a door hinge. The hinge moves very little to open and close a door. So, too, when we move our arm up, our leg out, our body into poses, we need to concentrate our energy, stay centered at our root, rather than flail and fall over in an effort to “achieve” the position.

Imagine if we applied such a concept to our work life. We would identify our core strengths, concentrate on the present, seek balance, stretch without strain or judgment, and stay centered despite external distractions, fleeting thoughts, or extraneous effort. We probably would dispel the myth that trying harder is necessary to get results. We might even stop demanding, expecting, straining, pressuring. In short, we would evaluate, reach, readjust, accept, seek equilibrium and surrender when appropriate.

We have potential mentors and mantras in every area of our lives if we look for them. And, often a profound message can be delivered with a very simple exercise. Joe often has us do a warm up exercise in which we fold our hands and reach out to “Power”, then raise our arms to “Joy” and end with our head resting back on our hands, arms bent in “Contentment”.

More for less and a balanced day…. a yoga practice for living fully.

Send It?

Monday, April 30th, 2007

To respond or not respond…that is the modern conundrum.

I hear a lot, as I gather 360 information about emails that appear to be a call to action. Response emails sent when pressured for time ends up taking more time in the aftermath of impersonal immediacy because the reader cannot “read” the nuance of expression that voice to voice or face to face communication enables. In their book, Send, The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home, David Shipley and Will Schwalbe quote Bob Geldof, the humanitarian rock musician, as saying: “email is dangerous because it gives us ‘a feeling of action’–even when nothing is happening.”

They say: “In a face-to-face (or voice-to voice) conversation, our emotional brains are constantly monitoring the reactions of the person to whom we’re speaking. We discern what they like and what they don’t like. Email, by contrast, doesn’t provide a speedy real-time channel for feedback. Yet the technology somehow lulls us into thinking that such a channel exists. As Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence, told us, emailing puts people, in neurological terms, in a state of disinhibition.(In our nonscientific terms, it’s cluelessness.) When we’re on email, the inhibiting circuits in our brain–which help us monitor and adapt to our audience’s responses–have checked out. The big problem, of course, is that we aren’t always aware of this. And by the time we are? Well, we’ve probably already hit that Send key.”

It seems that an email which takes less than 5 minutes to compose and send often results in hours or even days of repercussions. Jules Halpern, who heads up Halpern Law Advisors has recently put together a very helpful list in his newsletter. His “Ten Ways to Avoid the Hazards of Email” lists recommendations that cover a legal as well as an interpersonal perspective. He reminds us that email is a formal communication which becomes part of the legal record and that deleting does not make it truly disappear. In addition to its permanence, email can cause the recipient to react with unintended consequences. Brief and curt communications or sarcastic “jokes” may create a different impression than anticipated, leading to unnecessary misunderstandings or even contentious outcomes. Thus, counting to 10 before sending, speaking in person rather than writing and restricting emails to announcing and explaining, not communicating emotionally laden topics are advisable. Halperin reminds us that: “Talking is still the best form of communication, especially when emotions are involved. The old saying, ‘write it, regret it’ certainly applies to electronic communications.”

In addition, Halperin cautions us to avoid anything that is sexually suggestive, racist or otherwise harassing and to assure that our important emails have been received by calling to verify receipt. A final recommendation is to keep our emails organized so that they are easily found if a record of communication is needed in the future.

One last thought, my clients tell me that they actually have benefited from the Blackberry blackout, and technology shut downs. They like the opportunity to think before speaking, reaching out personally, and not feeling compelled to respond before consideration and composition. Think about it!

Learning to Lead

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

This, being performance and bonus time, you may have been given feedback about your “leadership”, “teamwork” and “people” skills. And of course, you are committed to make big changes in 2007. Many executives believe that 360 and management feedback given to smart, capable and ambitious individuals results in desired change. Would that it were so simple.

Have you ever watched a baby learning a new skill? At first s/he demonstrates random movements. Getting a pleasurable result (making a parent smile, hearing a noise, setting something in motion, grabbing a toy, tasting something sweet, getting praised) results in repetition and eventually a new habit. It takes time, trial and error, and reinforcement, to create a new behavior. Yet, so many adults think they will learn to lead, change perceptions of themselves, develop new people skills just as a result of getting feedback. It does not happen.

An article in Fortune entitled Five Levels of Greatness last October outlines the stages required for developing new behaviors.

To take that model a little further, I recently created a Leadership Development Process tool (download here) for my clients mainly in response to unrealistic expectations for leadership development coaching. Many of my clients, having been successful in turning around businesses, executing strategy, and displaying complex professional expertise believe that learning to lead well is simply executed based on data. But, the truth is that, even when we are all grown up, every new skill starts with awareness and then moves through a set of developmental steps to eventually become habit.

So, congratulate yourself on having achieved the first stage. Then, provide yourself with the input, reinforcement mechanisms and patience you will need to convert the data to a deliverable!