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.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Picking your battles

Ruth Simmons, the president of Brown University, has well-honed political skills, including knowing whom to consult; choosing her battles; and carefully building support. She uses these skills to carry out her vision for the University. How can you use these skills to advance your vision and your career? We have talked about consultation. Let's look at picking your battles when you tackle change within your organization or focus on your individual career goals.

There is no simple formula for deciding when to push against the usual resistance to change or when to sit back. You have to analyze each situation on its own facts and merits. Here are a few questions to ask yourself. What is at stake? Will the contemplated change lead to significant improvement? What are the risks of failure? Who are the stakeholders and how committed are they to the status quo? What change strategies are open to you? Do you have strong allies?

There are always risks to being a change agent, and the possible downside can be scary. Nothing is won without taking a chance, however. Be smart about picking your battles, and you will greatly increase your chances of success. Good luck!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Yet she has certain well-honed political skills...

"Yet she has certain well-honed political skills: she knows whom to consult; she chooses her battles; and she carefully builds support."

This was how the author of a New Yorker profile of Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University, summed up her key skills for getting things done in a complex and high-stakes environment. Let's examine each of the three skills, starting today with consultation.

"She knows whom to consult." This is all about "soft power" - using diplomacy, shared values, and effective communication to get input from key stakeholders and to ensure that your objectives are aligned with their interests. Identifying the people to consult can be trickier than it might seem at first. Seek out people with influence, not just organization-chart power. Don't limit yourself to people within your company or department. Trusted former colleagues and third-parties may offer an invaluable objective perspective.

I work with my clients to identify the people in their world who can help them meet their career goals. We use a simple diagram of concentric circles to place key players in position, moving from immediate work environment to broader industry components. This is the first step in knowing whom to consult. Ruth Simmons is a role mode for us all!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Headwaters - a poem about taking risks

I want to share with you this amazing poem by Ellen Bryant Voigt. It speaks to me of the fear and necessity of taking risks, of moving out of our comfort zone.


I made a large mistake I left my house I went into the world it was not
the most perilous hostile part but I couldn't tell among the people there

who needed what no tracks in the snow no boot pointed
toward me or away no snow as in my dooryard I clung

to my own life-raft I had room on it for only me you're not surprised
it grew smaller and smaller or maybe I grew larger and heavier

but don't you think I'm doing better in this regard I try to do better

Thursday, June 16, 2011

You Have To Do What the Guys Do

"You have to do what the guys do." That was a comment by a top-notch woman scientist during a round table discussion with four highly regarded women scientists recently conducted by The New York Times. You can read an excerpt by clicking here. The women talked about the challenges and satisfactions they had experienced in building their careers. They had to be tough - made of titanium!

Since 2005, I have worked with dozens of women physicians and scientists at a world-renowned academic medical center. I have heard many of the same stories shared by the women featured in the article. One recurring theme is the reluctance of women to promote their achievements with the same vigor used by men. A man will say his results are the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel, and he did it all by himself. A woman will say her results were very favorable and give credit to her collaborators. Some women fear that if they come on too strong, they will be considered pushy and overbearing. Finding the sweet spot of self-promotion continues to be a challenge for many talented, accomplished women professionals.

I advise my clients to move out of their comfort zone and take some chances in telling the story of their achievements and vision for the future. With their innate sense of fair play and professionalism, there is little chance they will go too far. You go, girl!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Do You Know What You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

Some people know what they want to be from the time they are little kids. Rosalyn S. Yalow, a Nobel Laureate, knew she wanted to be a scientist from the time she was 8 years old, as reported in her obituary. Dr. Yalow overcame daunting obstacles to have a remarkable career in her chosen field and became the second woman to earn a Nobel Prize in Medicine. Her story shows the rewards of keeping your eye on the prize in the face of resistance, rejection and even hostility.

Some of us are still trying to figure out what we want to be when we grow up. Our careers evolve as we gain experience and respond to opportunities. We develop a set of skills that can be applied in different settings. We learn that transformative leadership is transferable and that the ability to think strategically will solve a whole range of problems.

Try to figure out which group you belong to. There is value in either approach but only if it fits your personality. Look for role models for your career style. Then commit your energy and your abilities to make it work for you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

When Change Backfires

You have been working diligently with your coach on identifying new behaviors to help you realize your career goals. You recognize that what you have been doing is not working for you. You are ready to try a new approach. You push out of your comfort zone and go for it!

Okay, you have taken the "new you" for a test drive. But the result was a speeding ticket rather than cheers for the way you handled the road. Colleagues pushed back; the status quo was obviously not a problem for them. You are disappointed and frustrated. What do you do now?

Here are some questions to ask yourself: Did you lay the groundwork for your new behavior or did you just spring it on your colleagues? People don't like surprises. Did you consider the impact of your different approach from your colleagues point of view? This is where high Emotional Intelligence comes into play. Manage your emotions and step back to analyze the situation as objectively as possible and to come up with a modified approach. The road to change is marked by bumps and potholes. Stay the course, but learn to navigate around the obstacles. You will get to your destination.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Baseball Hall of Fame Coach for the Mind

I often attribute my ability to persevere in the face of setbacks and outright defeat to my life-long loyalty to the Philadelphia Phillies. Yes, we have had our moments of glory; the 1980 pennant and World Series title come to mind. But the Phillies also hold the record for the most games lost in baseball history - 10,232 games lost from 1883 to 2010. Baseball can be hard on fans, but it is hard on players, too.

Enter Harvey Dorfman, the mental performance coach hired by the Okland Athletics in the mid-1980s. This appreciative article marking Dorfman's recent death describes his mental coaching techniques for helping professional baseball players improve their game. They worked, too. The game is mostly mental, after all.

We can all hit a slump in our careers, creating a defeatist attitude that keeps us from moving forward. A good coach can help you work your way through the problems and come out a winner. By the way, the Phillies are leading their division this season, and I am extremely optimistic.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Coaching's Multiplier Effect

In economics, the multiplier effect roughly means that one dollar of increased spending (usually by the government) produces more than one dollar of added consumer spending and an even greater increase in overall national income. As a leader and coach for your staff, you can also get a multiplier effect for your efforts.

That lesson was brought home today when I told a new client in an organization about an exercise to help get in touch with her record of accomplishment. She told me that she had already done the exercise at the suggestion of one of her colleagues, who happened to be a former client. Confidentiality rules kept me from revealing the connection, but I was delighted to learn that my coaching techniques had been embraced and passed along within the organization.

Keep the multiplier effect in mind as you help your staff increase their potential for success. Your investment will pay off more than you think!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Wisdom of Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee, martial arts super-star, is my brother's hero. I have learned a great deal from him, too. One bit of wisdom I often share with my coaching clients goes something like this: we cannot attain mastery over others until we attain mastery over ourselves.

Dealing with a difficult boss, a hostile work environment, or a setback in achieving our goals may cause us to lose touch with our strengths and accomplishments. We may let the negative feedback we are receiving define who we are and how we feel about ourselves. The first step in turning this situation around is restoring our faith in ourselves - attaining mastery over our self-doubt and frustration.

Start by writing down 10 - 12 things you have done that make you feel proud of yourself. Don't limit yourself to your professional life; include achievements from your personal life, volunteer work and so on. Go back to kindergarten or earlier if a memory from that time makes you smile at how amazing you are. When you have reminded yourself of your many talents and positive qualities, you will be ready to tackle your career challenges. Bruce Lee would be proud of you!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What we can learn from C.E.O's

I highly recommend this insightful article by Adam Bryant on the wisdom of C.E.O.'s. In interviews with more than 70 leaders, Bryant identified these five distinctive qualities shared by successful top executives: Passionate curiosity. Battle-hardened confidence. Team smarts. A simple mind-set. Fearlessness. These are great qualities to nurture at any point in your career.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Too Busy To Blog!

I am writing this post because I am too busy to write this post. I have been scattering my energy and attention all day on a variety of tasks, including, but not limited to, client work, business trip planning, political activism, pro bono nonprofit projects, and personal financial planning. As I started to feel overwhelmed, I did exactly what I advise clients to do: stop and take a deep breath. I am feeling more centered already.

So what is the trick to keeping all those balls in the air and actually accomplishing our objectives? What usually works for me is to: (1) Get serious about priorities. I have found that everything that has to get done, gets done. Some tasks do fall off the bottom of the list, but the sun rises in the East every morning any way. (2) Set aside sufficient blocks of time for specific activities and maintain focus. Multi-tasking is just another word for inefficient. (3) Break longer term projects into manageable chunks and tackle them one at a time. The longest journey begins with a single step. Be persistent; you will get to your destination.

I plan to follow my advice tomorrow. I am hoping for a more productive and satisfying day. I hope you have a great day, too.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Limitless - Not the Movie!

Was I turning into a wimp? In Chicago, I had braved wind chills of minus 87 degrees. In New York, I had stood on subway platforms that rivaled the blast furnaces of the Pittsburgh of yore. Now I was cancelling meetings and hunkering down as tornado warnings and severe storms raced across Central Florida. Ignoring pleas from TV meteorologists to stay in, I finally got in the car and drove about 10 minutes to the grocery store. Not exactly a profile in courage, but I did get out of the house.

Seth Godin, marketing guru, wrote about the false limits we often place on ourselves in a recent blog post. His insights and advice apply to marketing a product or service or marketing yourself in your career. Are you waiting to be asked to apply for that promotion? Are you in a comfortable but dead end job? Seth asks why aren't you putting in the time, putting in the effort, and overcoming the fear? Are the limits real or artificial barriers you have placed around your comfort zone?

A coach can help you break down those false limits. But the coach can't want change more than you do. Don't let false limits hold you back.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

There's Only One Way She Got That Job

When word got out that I was being appointed to head a major state agency, the phones began to ring. The question being asked: who was I having an affair with? Certainly, there must be a man pulling the levers of power to get me the job. I laughed it all off. The important fact for me was that I did get the job, which was a great opportunity for me. When I left about 5 years later, the consensus was that I had performed well.

That was more than 20 years ago. Women have made tremendous progress since then, right? Let me know what you think after reading this article on the efforts at M.I.T. to provide a level playing field for the recruitment and promotion of women in the School of Science. While the discussion may not involve sexual favors, there are allegations of preferential treatment for women faculty and students.

I see it another way. Removing bias and barriers allows women to rise to their full potential. When symphony orchestras began holding blind auditions (musicians playing behind a screen), the number of women selected rose significantly. So don't pay too much attention to people who cast doubt on your qualifications. Believe in yourself. Take the job, the promotion, or the award and do your absolute best. Your accomplishments will answer the only questions that count.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Do You Know What's Going On?

You are responsible for advancing your career - not your boss, not your mentor, not the HR department. An important ingredient in your career plan is information - lots of it. When is the last time you read the business section of a national newspaper, magazine or blog? You have so many options today for accessing information and insights. Print may still work for you. The Internet on your PC takes you to so many sources. Then there are all the apps on your smartphone and tablet.

Make sure you venture out of the circle of your immediate business and professional interests. You may find a useful bit of information in a profile on the CEO from a different industry. Leadership skills are almost always transferable. Stories about business meltdowns offer lessons in how smart people can make bad decisions. Opening your mind and broadening your information base will help you connect ideas and promote creativity. To think out of the box, read out of the box.

What may be missing in your information-gathering approach is old-fashioned discipline. Yes, you are busy meeting deadlines and dealing with office politics. Think of the time you spend reading about market trends, new technology, and financial developments as an investment in your career. The ROI will exceed your expectations.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Google's People Skills - Not an Oxymoron

Google usually brings to mind cutting-edge technology and complex algorithms - not old-fashioned people skills. Several years ago, Google recognized that good managers were critical to its success and began an evidence-based, statistical project to find out what differentiates really good managers from the rest of the pack. The answer turned out to be people skills, as described in a recent article in the New York Times.

This finding has been validated for me time and again as I help coaching clients move into leadership roles in their organizations. Their professional skills and technical expertise get them the opportunity to lead. Their success in their new roles depends, however, on their ability to think strategically; to work collaboratively with superiors and, peers; and to inspire and support the people they manage.

Effective leaders at every organization level are people who score high on emotional intelligence indicators, aka "people skills." Now Google has given us a full database of evidence to support this conclusion.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Down with Annual Performance Reviews!

This intriguing article argues that performance reviews have a negative impact on employee performance and offers another approach - based on shared goal-setting and collaboration - to get things done in the work place. While the immediate context is turmoil in the public employee union sector, the author's reasoning applies to all work environments.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Social Network Wins Oscar!

Yes, I know. "The King's Speech" won the Oscar for best picture. On the other hand, the Motion Picture Academy showed its love for social media through live streams on its web site, real-time blogs, and Twitter feeds during the Oscar ceremony. In a play to win a younger demographic, as noted by the youngest ever Oscar hosts, the Academy layered social network tools on the tried-and-true format.

Did it work? Many media critics and commentators on my Facebook page didn't think so. The consensus was that the effort came across as awkward and distracting rather than spontaneous and engaging.

What does this mean for how we use social media in our work? One lesson may be that adding new technology to old ideas will not create the desired excitement and freshness. Creative ideas for solving a problem or meeting a need come first. Technology must be an integral part of the solution, not a designer accessory flaunted on the Red Carpet.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Making Time for Networking

I just sent messages to five of the 383 people I am connected to on LinkedIn. The gist of the nearly identical messages was "how are you doing?" I have made a commitment to myself to reach out to most of my connections over the next several weeks. Why? Just to stay in touch.

Nurturing our professional networks usually does not get the effort it deserves. We all lead busy lives. We often don't think about networking unless we have a specific need - a job, a consulting assignment, and introduction. That's too late. The payoff in specific benefits won't be there unless we have made the investment in the relationship over time. It really makes a difference if we have been helpful to the other party in the past. We are more willing to be generous with our time and professional capital for someone who has been generous to us.

Try to put aside some time each day or week to build and maintain relationships with colleagues - past, present and future. An hour's investment may produce amazing dividends.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Good Job!" The Power of Positive Feedback

If you spend much time with the pre-school set, you often hear "Good Job!" said enthusiastically in response to signs of evolving self-management skills - drink all your milk, share your toys, stop hitting your little brother. The power of positive feedback doesn't end when we move from Dora, the Explorer to Seth Godin, marketing guru. It is still a force in our work lives.

As leaders and managers, we often stumble when we have to tell people they are not meeting expectations. We are advised to be direct and clear when giving feedback about shortfalls in performance. That is good advice. It is only one side of the story, however. People also need to be told what they are doing right.

Remember to say "Good Job!" to your colleagues and staff whenever they contribute to meeting your organization's goals. Don't wait for the big win or milestone. Each step forward is important in the process. With the power of positive feedback, people will push even harder to get the job done.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Being a Change Agent May Be Dangerous

You have been brought in by top management to shake things up in your area. Everyone seems to agree there is a need for real change to respond to a dynamic competitive environment. You have been a successful executive at your previous company. You are ready to take on this new challenge.

Less than 6 months later, you are forced out, with top management putting all the blame on you. This is the story of the chief executive of Time Inc., as reported in a recent article. Until we have the case study from Harvard Business School, we can only guess at what really happened. There are a few general lessons we can take away even now, though.

Expectations need to be clear on all sides. How much disruption (top staff defections, for example) is top management willing to tolerate during the difficult early transformative period? Culture counts. What worked in your former company may cause strong resistance and even hostility in a company with a much different culture. Your words will have great impact, for better or worse. Everyone will be listening closely; their futures are at stake, after all. A few impolitic words - perhaps said in jest - will come back to hurt you. All this does not mean you should not be bold as a transformative leader. Be smart, too. Keep in mind that there are many landmines in the new territory you are entering. Being a change agent may be dangerous to the health of your career.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What Google Knows About You

I just spent a fascinating few minutes reading about myself on Google. Not that I am so interesting, but the almost random selection of hits raised fascinating questions. Who is the "Eileen S. Winterble" portrayed on the world's most widely used search engine? (By the way, if I omit my middle initial, the hits are a bit different.) The entries ranged from my website and blog posts (good) to my times in 10K races I ran in Central Park years ago (not so good). There was also a newspaper article from 1988! Who digitized that piece of history?

While I can't control Google's mysterious algorithms, I do what I can to shape my presence on the Web. I expect people to Google me or to visit my website. I am on LinkedIn and Facebook. I keep my profiles up to date and try to separate business from personal matters although that is becoming increasingly difficult in our wired world.

Have you Googled yourself lately? Are you using social media to advance your career or build your business? Take the initiative in telling the world who you are and what you can do. Don't default to a set of algorithms.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Your Other Job as Caregiver

Many of us have taken multi-tasking to a whole new level. Our day job is to build our careers with all the hard work and stress that can bring. Our other job may be serving as caregiver to ageing parents or other loved ones. It is not surprising if you find this second position daunting. Even my colleague John Mills, a health care expert, struggled when he was a caregiver for his father, who suffered from Parkinson's Disease. John learned from the experience and decided to share that knowledge with others

With his life and business partner, Susan Baida, John founded eCare Diary, an interactive website designed to help individuals and families seeking and providing long-term care. The site offers comprehensive information, tools and resources to help navigate the complex long-term care system. A stand-out feature is Care Diary, a set of online tools to facilitate coordination of care and sharing of information among family members and other caregivers. The site is free.

Please take advantage of all the help that's out there as you strive to balance your many responsibilities. eCare Diary is a great resource.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Everybody Has a Boss

Everybody has a boss. CEO's are accountable to their boards. Boards of public companies are accountable to their shareholders. Nonprofit boards are accountable to their communities and contributors. Your boss has a boss. Do you know who it is and what results she is looking for? Understanding what drives your boss's boss is a key part of being successful in your career. It helps you put yourself in the big picture.

If your boss is an effective leader and communicator, you probably have a pretty good idea of where you fit in the big picture. The goals she sets for you are tied to the overall goals of your company or organization. What do you do, though, if the directions you get seem arbitrary or unclear?

You can begin by asking positive questions of your boss, mentors and other colleagues that show your desire to help get the job done. Make sure you stay informed about the competitive and financial forces affecting your organization. For example, pending cutbacks in government funding for health care programs are putting pressure on the health care delivery system. Armed with a clearer understanding of where the decision-makers in your organization want to go, you will be ready to adapt to changing priorities and to stand out as someone who exceeds expectations.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rocky & Adrian - Great Partners

Rocky & Adrian. Captain Kirk & Spock. Arianna Huffington & Kenneth Lerer. What do these duos have in common? They join people with dramatically different personalities to form a highly successful team. You know all about the first two pairs. The third matches the very public face of The Huffington Post with the man behind the scenes. Read this article to see how Huffington and Lerer melded their contrasting skills and expertise to take the blog from a small start to a $315 million payday.

Is there a lesson in this story for the rest of us? For me, it means moving out of the comfort zone of being with people like ourselves to find colleagues who bring different ideas and skills to the table. You may be put off at first by someone who comes on strong when you like to take your time getting to know people. It may take awhile to discover how to work effectively with someone who seems to be your opposite. I know from experience, though, that great results can come from these "odd couple" pairings. Together, you can be smarter, more creative, and more effective than either of you can be alone.

Keep in mind what Rocky said to Adrian: "I got gaps; you got gaps; we fill each other's gaps."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Never Say "It's Not Fair"

I often advise my women coaching clients to avoid statements such as "it's not fair" when making their case to a male superior or colleague. This is not a value judgment about the merits of the grievance in question. I am simply reflecting my assessment of the realities of the workplace. Talking about "fairness" and similar concepts often plays into the stereotypes of women as more emotional than rational, more subjective than objective. It just isn't helpful in advancing your career.

Now there is independent support for this advice. Shaunti Feldhan wrote an article in last Sunday's New York Times about her research into the way men think in the workplace. She described how men view personal feelings at work. Basically, they don't think personal feelings have any place. They tend to view people who seem to take criticism personally or have personality conflicts as being less business like or less experienced. Feldhan also found that men hold these negative percpetions more often about women than about men.

These perceptions may be totally inaccurate. The bottom line is that they can still get in your way as you build your career. Understanding how your words and actions may be interpreted by your male colleagues is one more skill to be mastered. Remember, you are responsible for your career.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Am So Frustrated!

"I am so frustrated!" I have lost count of the number of times I have heard this sentence from coaching clients. The accompanying emotional content varies from anger to resignation to despair. As we dig into the deeper meaning of this cry for help, the translation is usually some form of "I am not in control." That is true. We can't control the unrealistic expectations of our bosses. We can't control the counterproductive behavior of the colleagues we rely on to get the job done.

Get over it. There is only one part of the vast universe where we have the slightest possibility of exercising control. That is the part we occupy ourselves. We can do a better job managing the way we respond to difficult people and situations. The basic model of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) offers a guide: self-awareness; self-management; social awareness; and social management.

This is a message of hope, not helplessness. You can develop the resiliency and emotional tools for dealing more effectively with your career challenges. The key is to remake yourself as a force for positive change. You can do it!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Becoming Seth Godin

I have a role model for my blogging efforts: Seth Godin. I have more hair than Seth does - possibly a plus - but he is much more prolific. Every day - 7 days a week, including national holidays - Seth sends out a wise and thought-provoking message to his many followers. His core themes repeat over time, but he gives a fresh twist to each topic. I am in awe of his blogger output - both quality and quantity.

Role models are good to have. They inspire us to stretch professionally and personally. They guide us along a career path. They show us how to handle challenge and change. But they are not us, and we are not them. To find lasting fulfillment, we must be in touch with what makes us special. We must find what works for us.

I will not shave my head, and I will not commit to posting blogs on Memorial Day or even Groundhog Day. I will try to find my own voice and my own rhythm. I hope to reach a few readers with helpful ideas. I will work on becoming a better me. I believe Seth would approve.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What's Worse Than Rejection?

What's worse than rejection? I can think of so many things: Being stuck in a dead-end job. Always feeling you missed a great opportunity. Seeing someone else get credit for an idea you had. Please feel free to add your favorite regrets and "second-guessing" situations to the list. I know you have them. We all do.

How do we get beyond our fear of rejection to take chances that could make all the difference in our careers? One strategy is to build a network of supportive people you trust and value. Call them your "validation" group. Test options and ideas with them; they will give you honest feedback. Then make your move in the larger world.

Not everyone you reach out to will return your call or email. Not everyone will embrace your creative initiative. When that happens, tell yourself that the people who really appreciate your talents are behind you. Keep trying. The next time you pick up the phone, you may find an eager collaborator at the other end of the line. You will never know unless you try. There are worse things than the momentary sting of rejection.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Don't Swing at Every Pitch

I work with many women in the "helping" professions - physicians, clinical psychologists, and social activists, among others. Driven by their passion to make the world a better place, these talented women often find themselves overwhelmed by the many tasks they take on. Saying "no" does not come easily for them. They may be disappointed by the results they achieve because their attention and energy are spread so thin. Work/life balance suffers, as well.

If this description fits you. you may want to take a tip from Hall of Fame baseball players with great batting averages. These outstanding athletes combined discipline and patience at the plate with their superior physical abilities. They waited for the right pitches - the ones they felt confident they could hit to make a difference in the game.

The next time someone pitches you another project or you see another part of the world that needs fixing, take a minute before you commit. Think about how this initiative fits into your overall strategy and your schedule. Remember, you don't have to swing at every pitch to be a superstar!

Monday, January 17, 2011

What we can learn from Einstein

Even Albert Einstein, whose theories helped shape the modern world, could get stuck in his ways. Read how Einstein's strongly held belief in a fixed and unchanging universe led him to modify the theory of general relativity to cancel out the expansion and contraction of the universe predicted by the math. It has turned out that his original insights into the forces that pull and push the universe were more on the mark than he imagined.

At our more mundane level, we also get trapped by our mental models: the way we see the world. We tailor the facts to fit our beliefs. We resist moving out of our comfort zones even though what we are doing is not working for us. We fail to question the basis for our actions and blame others or circumstances beyond our control when our plans don't bring the hoped-for results.

You can change the dynamics of your career and professional life. It takes motivation, focus and courage. The universe is expanding at a rapid rate. Don't be afraid to expand your own horizons.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Leave a Legacy: Be a Mentor

This weekend, we honor Martin Luther King, Jr., a truly transformative figure in our country's history. His legacy touches all of us in our personal, professional, and political lives.

What kind of legacy are you creating? One way to have a long-lasting impact in your professional life is to be a mentor to your younger colleagues. Some companies have formal mentoring programs, where more seasoned staff are assigned to new members of the organization. You can mentor on an informal basis by signalling your willingness to provide guidance and constructive feedback to less experienced colleagues. Whichever way you approach this worthwhile endeavor, keep in mind that what you do is more important than what you say. Always aim to be a positive role model in deed and word.

Many years ago, I attended the wedding of the daughter of a former boss. At the reception dinner, I was seated with others who had worked with this extraordinary leader and mentor. We went around the table, with each of us offering a personal testimonial to how our mutual boss had done so much to further our careers. What a legacy!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Friends for Life!

When I was making yet another career change a number of years ago, a colleague said he was afraid we would lose touch. I promised him we would be "friends for life." Almost 15 years later, that pledge is still being kept.

Your career is more than the accomplishments on your resume. It is more than the number of connections on LinkedIn. Most of us devote so much time and energy to our careers. We may spend more time with our colleagues than with our families. Those work relationships can be so rewarding, though, if we nurture them for their own sake, not just for how they can advance our agenda. Your life will be immeasurably enriched when the people you work with become friends for life. Mine certainly has.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Empathy: Engine of Change

During recent confirmation hearings for an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, "empathy" was put in a negative light. After the recent shootings in Tucson, some of its lustre has been restored. Is there a place for empathy in your workplace? The answer is "yes," especially when you are trying to change the culture and the ways things are done.

Empathy means identifying with the feelings of another person and being able to put yourself emotionally in that person's place. What does it mean to have empathy as a change agent? First, it means understanding that most people are resistant to change and the uncertainty it creates. Change is scary to them, and they will fight it.

As a change agent, you get excited by the challenge and opportunities presented by turning an organization around. If you want to bring people with you, you have to recognize and respect their concerns, feel their anxiety. You must then find ways to address these concerns constructively. A comprehensive communications program can be very powerful in this way. The CEO of a company undergoing major changes in a financial crisis sent an email to the entire staff every Friday afternoon. He reported on developments - positive and negative - during the past week and plans for the coming week. His empathy, signalled through his exceptional communications skills, was a crucial factor in the successful turnaround.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dr. Peter Rhee - right man at right time

Command and control is out. Transformative leadership is in. You just can't tell people what to do. You have to get them to buy into your vision through shared values and powerful communications skills.

Sound familiar? These are my usual themes when talking about what makes a strong, effective leader in today's world. But what if you are Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of trauma at University Medical Center in Tucson? A former Navy surgeon who worked under combat conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dr. Rhee was on the front lines this past weekend. In an article in today's New York Times, Dr. Rhee is quoted as saying, "I don't think I am naturally a nice person. When you are in battle you don't have time for a discussion." His "just do it" leadership style sometimes causes friction with medical center colleagues used to a different approach. It seems clear, though, that he gets the job done, and that job is saving lives under the most difficult conditions.

I am not pulling back from my firm commitment to transformative leadership, with this one caveat. If I ever have the misfortune to be wheeled into a trauma center in grave condition, I want Dr. Rhee or someone with his take-charge style waiting for me there.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How To Pass the Baton

There are a number of reasons people include joining the board of a nonprofit organization in their career plans. A passionate commitment to the mission is one motivation. Networking opportunities may also play a part. Whatever the reasons, once you have made the commitment, you will have to carry out your considerable responsibilities to the best of your ability.

Many nonprofit board members are dealing with the critical job of recruiting an executive director or CEO to run the organization. As the baby boomers retire, turnover at the top of the nonprofit world is accelerating. In many cases, the current leader is also the founder of the organization. This makes for a high-risk transition.

Here is a resource that can help you and your fellow board members ensure that the baton is passed smoothly to the new leader. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has sponsored research in this executive transition process. The results have been published in a series of monographs available on their web site.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Today's Career Tip: Make the World a Better Place

As I follow the repercussions of the tragic shootings that took place in Tuscon last Saturday, I am coming up empty in my daily search for a golden nugget of career advice to post. For today, let's come up with ideas on how we can make the world a better place. Volunteer at a local nonprofit. Get involved in your community. Say a kind word to a stranger. Say a kind word to someone you don't like that much. Donate on line to fight world hunger. Do something nice for a child. Offer your professional services pro bono to an organization that helps families. When you have come up with your idea - one that has special appeal to you - take action. Just do it!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Don't Get Burned by Flaming Emails

When was the last time you picked up the phone to call a colleague about a problem or just to check in? The last time you walked over to her office or cubicle to discuss an issue? For many of today's professionals, face-to-face contact has become rare. We work remotely or in separate locations. Cost pressures keep business travel to a minimum. We fall back on email as our primary way of communicating.

Relying on emails can cause real problems when discussions heat up and people feel their turf or reputations are at stake. We have all been caught up in strings of emails that begin to read like a shouting match. Each new message seems to confuse the issue, rather than move it to resolution. Tempers flare; misunderstanding grows; and third parties are drawn in.

This is not a good way to build solid relationships and get things done. If you are dealing with a sensitive topic, start with a visit or a call. You can then send an email to confirm the solution agreed to. If you receive an email that is smoldering or already in flames, don't respond by hitting the Send button. Reach out to your colleague in a more personal way; in many cases, you will be able to lower the temperature, improve the relationship, and resolve the issue at hand.

Check out this site for a primer on email etiquette.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Leaders Stay Calm in Crisis

We live in turbulent times, marked by crisis, conflict and change. People are looking for strong leaders who project calm and confidence. This leadership quality is as important as specific policies and actions. Think of FDR and his steadying fireside charts during the Great Depression. Or Winston Churchill and his magnificent addresses to the people of the British Empire during WWII. These powerful leaders gave people hope in the face of existential threats.

You, too, have the opportunity to grow as a leader even if you are in the early stages of your career. You don't need a title or explicit organizational authority to provide leadership as you and your colleagues are challenged by economic stress. You can show leadership by being positive (but realistic about the problems), focusing on the welfare of the group (not just the effect on you), and offering creative solutions to deal with the problems. And, always, stay calm.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

When you come to a fork in the road...

When you come to a fork in the road, take it. This sage advice is attributed to Yogi Berra. It makes more sense than you might think on first reading. We are continually coming to forks in the road in our career. Do we stay in our current position with a large corporation or take a chance on a start-up with big upside potential.? Which sales territory do we choose among the several open? Which of two competitive job offers do we take? Is this the time to follow our passion with our own business?

We must make these decisions based on incomplete information. There is no way to know for sure how things will turn out if we travel the path on the right or the one on the left. There are too many variables. Make the best decision you can and then focus on using your talents and expertise to get results. Don't get stuck at the crossroads.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Boosting Your EQ with Personality Insight

"I thought it was so interesting that I had my mother and father take it." My client was talking about the Myers-Briggs personality assessment. The family connection was so appropriate. The assessment tool was developed by the mother-daughter team of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator ("MBTI") gained recognition in WWII and now is taken by more 2 million people each year.

Gaining insight into personality type - yours and those of the people in your personal and professional life - can help boost your Emotional Intelligence ("EQ"). EQ is based on understanding yourself and others and then using that knowledge to form positive and mutually rewarding relationships.

Click here to take a free personality assessment based on MBTI. Share the link with friends, family and colleagues. It will be a fun - and smart way - to start the new year.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Resiliency Is My Favorite Word

Resiliency is the ability to recover quickly from change or misfortune. To me, it also means the ability to adapt and grow in the face of set-backs and disappointments. Resiliency can be more than "bouncing back;" it can mean "bouncing higher" as we move out of our comfort zone and integrate new ways of thinking and acting into our everyday behavior. We all run up against obstacles. The way we respond - with resilience or resignation - can make all the difference.

A great story about the power of resiliency can be found on the blog of Elisa Balabram, author of Ask Others, Trust Yourself and a successful business coach specializing in entrepreneurship.

Disclosure: Every coach needs a coach, and Elisa is mine. I go to her for advice on developing my own business and for guidance on my work with clients. She is a wonderful resource and, more importantly, a good friend.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Give Yourself Some Breathing Room

Buddha said to clear a space around you so new things can come into your life, or something to that effect. William Bridges, the author of best-selling books on life's transitions, advises you to spend time in the "neutral zone" between letting go of the old and embracing the new.

Giving yourself time to refresh your thinking and explore new options may seem an out-of-reach luxury in today's difficult economy. I know several people who are doing just that - leaving a long-term position to make room for other interests or working to turn a passion into a business.

You may start with clearing space in your head - tossing out stale mental models and attitudes and putting yourself and the possibilities in a new light. Whether you are ready for a big change or a more modest transition, give yourself some breathing room. Buddha knows best.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

You Want To Get Things Done

You are a leader and a change agent. You want to get things done. It isn't easy; there are so many constraints. "Command and control" leadership is out; you can't just tell people what to do, especially Gen X and Millennials. Today you have to be a "transformative leader," getting people to buy into your vision and goals.

You may not even have direct authority over the change process. You have to rely on "soft power," using collaboration, shared interests and negotiation to move your organization forward.

You can still be successful in this demanding environment by increasing your political and organizational savvy and raising your Emotional and Social Intelligence. One skill to work on is getting the right balance between perseverance and patience - knowing when to push hard and when to step back to give people time to process or deal with other priorities.

A great description of this type of leadership comes from a profile of Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University, in The New Yorker about 5 years ago:

"Yet she has certain well-honed political skills: she knows whom to consult; she chooses her battles; and she carefully builds support."

A role model for us all!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Resolved: To strengthen my brain

It's time for New Year's Resolutions. Oliver Sacks, the renowned neurologist, suggests that we include strengthening our brains on our list of improvement efforts for 2011. Click here to read the full article.

Sacks describes the plasticity of the adult brain - its ability to create new neurons and form new connections. While his examples describe major impairments, the general concepts apply to making changes in your everyday life as well. In fact, effective coaching builds on the links between brain physiology and the process for changing the way we think and behave. There are three steps in the process: Insight, to discover the course you want to take; Focus, to concentrate your attention on the new perceptions and actions you want to adopt; and Practice, to repeat that concentrated attention to lay down and reinforce new neural pathways.

Change is hard, but you can make it happen. So resolve to strengthen your brain and take full advantage at its capacity to change at any age.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

You're Not That Good an Actor

So you think you can keep your feelings of frustration, anger, or inadequacy at work to yourself. Your colleagues don't have a clue; they see you as calm, confident and always professional. Well, think again. You're not that good an actor.

No matter how much self-control you exercise, your "mirror neurons" are probably giving you away. I first read about mirror neurons in "Social Intelligence," by Daniel Goleman. According to Goleman, mirror neurons are brain cells that act like neural WiFi. They pick up on the emotions, movements and even intentions of the person we are with; the mirror neurons in our brain light up in sync with the neurons in the brain of the person we are interacting with. This is a powerful way to understand what is truly going on in our social environment. We can guess at the evolutionary advantage this ability conferred. We are social beings, down to the mirror neurons firing in our brain.

If you want to improve relationships at work, don't sign up for a course at the Actors Studio. Instead, try to get to the root causes of your dissatisfaction, which are probably partly in you and partly in the environment. Spend time trying to understand the pressures on the colleague who is putting pressure on you. Is there a way you can collaborate to meet your mutual goals? Review your expectations. Are they realistic? Are you too demanding of yourself and others? By increasing your understanding of yourself and others, you will be on your way to firing mirror neurons that will help create productive, respectful relationships with your colleagues. Then listen for the applause!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Follow Your Passion -- Or Not

This is the first post of Year 2 of my life as a blogger. When I started in early 2010, the idea was to share my wisdom and insights as a change agent for organizations and people aspiring to more successful and gratifying careers. I began writing about what happens in the brain during the change process and meandered through various topics suggested by my work with coaching clients and articles online and in print.

So how is this blogging thing working out for me? Let's do the numbers: 23 posts; one follower; and a smattering of comments on my blog and Facebook page. Well, it's a start. I have sought the advice of those more savvy in the ways of social media. "How do I get people to read my blog?" I implored. The most frequent answer was "follow your passion!" There is the problem right there. "Passion" is not a word or emotion I throw around lightly, certainly not in daily posts (or whatever haphazard schedule I am on). I am more cerebral than emotional. In fact, I believe the power of passion - word and emotion - has been degraded by overuse in sometimes trivial ways. Where are the grand passions that drive real change? Joan of Arc was passionate about taking Charles VII to be crowned and freeing France from the grip of the English. Do today's passions always measure up? You be the judge.

Since I believe that success in life and work starts with a sound understanding and acceptance of our individual strengths and qualities, I am not about to force more "passion" into my blog. I will stay true to myself. So dear reader, I ask you to join me in my 2011 blogging quest to follow my curiosity and caring about people - how they grow and change and fulfill their dreams, even their passions. Happy New Year!