Monday, December 5, 2011

Role Model for Leadership To Retire

For many years, I have cited Ruth J. Simmons, the president of Brown University, as a role model for my executive coaching clients. This interview provides insights into how she developed her leadership skills and how she puts them to use.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Art of the Interview

Many young people are looking for a promising career opportunity, and it is a tough market. The first interview - on the phone or in person - for an interesting position can be scary. Certainly, the young woman I met yesterday was nervous about the interview scheduled for today. She had done her homework and knew the background of the individual who would be on the other end of the line. She hadn't thought much about how to tell her story, though.

In one of the best interviews I have given, I asked almost all the questions. I knew the company was having financial difficulties. Drawing on my experience, I came up with a list of possible symptoms and root causes and asked the top executives whether these factors were contributing to their challenges. The answers were "yes, yes, and yes again." This approach showed that I had a head start on solving their problems. I got the position.

As you prepare for an interview, do your best to understand the organization's goals and challenges. Check out information on the web; talk to people who can give you insights. Then think about how you capabilities and experience can help get the job done. After all, your prospective boss really wants to know what you can do for her. Be confident and straightforward in telling her exactly that. Good luck!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It's your career - come up with a plan!

This morning I talked to a client who has been asked to take on additional responsibilities in a fairly complex work environment. She is accountable at some level to three different executives within the organization. She asked for advice on setting expectations and negotiating resource and compensation agreements with the various parties.

We focused on her responsibility for taking charge of her career. Since the three executives had different interests, it didn't make sense to start by asking them what they wanted. She had to outline her goals and vision for the new initiative she had been asked to lead. What did she want to accomplish? What resources were needed? We also agreed that trying to come up with a perfect plan was not productive. A "B+" plan followed up with "A+" execution is always better than the other way around. Once she had her thoughts worked out, she would present the proposed plan to the three executives.

To help the executives get to yes in endorsing her proposal, she would build on the status quo to the extent possible and provide for reviewing results and making any necessary adjustments at set intervals. This approach would lower the risks of going forward with the new program. This is the approach I have used in many situations, with good results. The benefits of asking for what you need to be successful are spelled out in this recent article.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

High School Reunion

I am going to a major high school reunion this September, and I have been re-connecting with classmates in preparation for this significant milestone. As we have shared stories and experiences, we haven't talked about professional success. That has not seemed at all important. Instead, we have focused on the core values that have guided our lives and their roots in our common background growing up.

As you pursue your career goals, don't lose sight of the really important things - ethical standards, concern for others, the common good, among other values. Stay true to yourself, and you will have wonderful stories to share with your classmates years in the future.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Technology waits for no one!

I naively assumed that technology would stand still for me when I bought a new smart phone last week. I thought that the transition from my old phone would be simple because both phones ran on operating systems from the same tech company. Wrong! I had to start all over again after spending hours on tech web sites trying to figure out how to make the new phone sync with basic and essential applications.

There is a broader lesson here for all of us. The speed of change seems to be accelerating. The status quo lasts for what seems a nanosecond. Built-in obsolescence in our technology, our careers and even our view of the world is a fact of life.

To be competitive and effective, we need to stay open to innovation, push out of our comfort zones and avoid assuming we know the answer when the question may well have changed. And, of course, do the research before you buy the new phone!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Try a pilot test

You are trying to change the way your organization works. You may want to improve a process or a communications tool. Not everyone sees the status quo as a problem or agrees with your solution, however. One way to advance your idea against this resistance is to lower the stakes at the beginning. Propose that you do a pilot project.

A pilot project is a way to test your idea with a limited scope. It is usually easier to get buy-in for a test-run or prototype when people don't have to make an all-or-nothing commitment. You still need to plan carefully and execute well on the pilot test to show the merits of your proposal. The important thing is getting the chance to put your proposal into action and to show the benefits it brings.

The fear of change is a fact of life. Don't fight it head-on. Make people more comfortable and move you proposal forward by saying "Let's try it out."

Friday, June 24, 2011

Building Support Carefully

We have been looking at ways to apply the well-honed political skills of Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University, to our career challenges, especially if we work in large organizations resistant to change. The first two skills were knowing whom to consult and choosing your battles. The third key component is building support carefully when you want to make a real difference.

The first step is identifying the stakeholders - the people who have a vested interest in the status quo and the people who will benefit from the proposed change. Take the time to discuss with each player her concerns and goals. Identify common ground, as well as issues that may divide you. Don't assume you know where each person is coming from; we often project our preconceptions on others and misread the true situation.

Building support doesn't start when you have a specific proposal to move forward. Focus on building strong business relationships on an ongoing basis, as I outline in this article. Remember, patience is an important ingredient in the change process. Be clear about your vision. Communicate frequently. Be open to feedback. Give people some time to make the idea their own. By building support carefully, you will greatly increase your chances of success.