Live the New Year with Intention

Even if you don't believe in New Year's resolutions, the start of a new year is a good opportunity to look back at the prior year. What worked? What didn't? What must you do differently to be in a better place?

I do both the New Year's resolutions and the end-of-year analysis and there are two things that I always resolve to do more of: sleep and reading.

Since I, like many others, have too many things to juggle, sleep is the first thing I skimp on. And although books and reading feed my soul, heart, and mind, there's never enough time to read enough. So every year I resolve to do better...and I do, for a short time, then unfortunately revert to form.

Picking-up Life Is Good, The Book: How to Live with Purpose & Enjoy the Ride by Bert and John Jacobs has given me some insight into how I can hopefully do better this coming year.

I need to live life with intention. I need to focus on the positive in my life, simplify the rest, and be selective where I spend my time.

Although I'm good at getting things done and being organized, since I spend so much of my time in front of my laptop, I tend to stay there after hours too...and for no good reason. I no longer keep Facebook or Twitter tabs open, which has helped a bit, but it's still too easy to just find busy work at the computer. I finally realized this last week when I should have been getting ready for bed—or reading—but instead was staring at my screen, sure there was more I needed to do before shutting down (there wasn't).

Bert and John had a similar realization about e-mail and being plugged in. They were raised to appreciate optimism and learned to appreciate simplicity, which they consider one of the superpowers that helped them succeed. After realizing that all the e-mail they received and had to respond to kept them from getting ahead, they gave up on e-mail altogether—and others adjusted. And although they do not encourage us to be that extreme, they do encourage discipline with e-mail and social media and being conscious of where time is spent.

So I need to live life intentionally and unless there is a reason to be in front of my laptop or have my phone near me, to just walk away and instead read those books and/or get that sleep I need. Being aware will hopefully make the resolution stick this time.

Is there something you've been struggling with? If you were more intentional about time spent and choices made, how would it help you overcome the struggle?

Values as a Means to Success

I've been a fan of Stan Slap since reading his take on culture in his book Under the Hood (which I wrote about here and here). Now having just finished his other book, Bury My Heart at Conference Room B: The Unbeatable Impact of Truly Committed Managers, I am more of a fan and wish all managers were required to read his work.

In this book Stan makes the case that managers need to become leaders to live and work by their values, which will lead to their lives being more fulfilled and also lead their teams to success.

As per Stan, most managers are required to live by the company's values when at work, which if opposed to their personal values, leads to disengagement and less than their best. To circumvent this, leaders need to recognize what their values are and learn to enroll others in this vision.

Unlike managers who want staff to work harder, leaders want them to live better. They do this by painting a picture of the Better Place they can take staff to (their vision), where all will be better off. 

For this to work, leaders need to be consistent and honest at all times so as not to lose their followers' trust. This trust is what allows staff to believe in the leader, his values, and his vision and they are constantly observing and judging him to determine if this trust is warranted. 

Stan takes you through exercises to help determine what your top three values are and how to apply them with your team, your organization, and in your personal life. He also shares anecdotes of companies both large and small that work this way, demonstrating how this positively impacts both morale and the bottom line.

With his book, Stan has painted his own Better Work Place, one where everyone can safely bring their best selves and values to work and be respected and rewarded for this. It's a place I'd gladly follow him to.

What's the Better Place you've been searching for? Do you know what your top values are?

Leading with Passion

Joe Plumeri, former CEO of several financial companies including Willis Group and Citibank North America, is not what you'd think a finance CEO would be like. As he explains in his book The Power of Being Yourself: A Game Plan for Success by Putting Passion into Your Life and Work, you have to start with being true to yourself and always be driven by passion.

Joe, raised in Trenton, New Jersey, gives us insight into the upbringing that lead him to have these values and to be the type of CEO that in addition to caring about the bottom line, cares about inspiring and knowing his team. He's the kind of CEO that gets on stage without a script, speaks from his heart, and isn't afraid to show emotion and even cry to share and inspire others.

Joe is also not afraid to admit his mistakes and to learn from them, and use them to grow and inspire himself and others. He shares the hardships he and his family suffered when they could not save his son Chris, who had struggled with anorexia and drugs since the age of 13. 

The book shares Joe's eight down-to-earth principles, explains them, and even gives you questions in the appendix to help you apply them. As inspiring as the whole book was, I want to briefly touch on two statements he makes:
  1. Bad culture starts with the absence of a common vision.
  2. Emotion plus purpose equals passion.
Given how much I read and write about culture, reading Joe's statement on culture was a light bulb moment. Yes, there are many other reasons why a company has a bad culture (some of which I've written about), but as he points out, people want vision and purpose and when they are not given that, that void will be filled with fear and other negative emotions.

And if you combine purpose with emotion you get passion. That is why you need to put passion—not emotion—into your life and work, since passion is driven and meaningful. We all need a reason to get up in the morning and we all need to feel part of a larger good. Joe shows us that this is possible in any industry and at any level.

What is your purpose? And are you being true to yourself?

Political Savviness as a Leadership Trait

Politics to me were the equivalent of a four letter word and all bad. But I've come to realize they are just the way things get done and only become the bad variety (e.g., games and backstabbing) when the culture is bad. 

Bonnie Marcus, author of The Politics of Promotion: How High-Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead, takes it a step further and shows how becoming politically savvy is necessary to get ahead and stay ahead.

As Bonnie explains and experienced herself, women can be "blindsided" by being passed over and/or not hired if they're unaware of the unwritten rules (aka politics) of the place. 

Although Bonnie has a whole toolkit of how to become more politically savvy, it really boils down to two parts:
  1. being aware of your unique value proposition and able to promote it;
  2. being aware of how decisions are made, by whom, and what they care about so you can frame your value in mutually beneficial terms.
Part of the second step is strategically networking and getting a sponsor, but the start is paying attention to the flow of influence around you. Observe who gets his way and how he does so. Whom does everyone turn to for input? What are the people who are getting ahead doing differently? 

And if you know what you have to offer and who influences what, you can figure out how you can help them so that they can help you.

As Bonnie points out, being politically savvy is a necessary leadership trait: how else can you advocate for your team and ensure they get the resources to succeed if you don't have the political influence and relationships in place?

Bonnie wrote this book specifically for women since as I can attest to, most of us just cringe at the mention of politics, but the advise is equally applicable to men.

Are you politically savvy? If not, can you think of someone who is, so you can start observing and learning from them?

Productivity Simplified

The Daily Edge: Simple Strategies to Increase Efficiency and Make an Impact Every Day by David Horsager is not your typical productivity book. First off, he's better known for his other book, The Trust Edge, and for speaking about the impact trust has on a company's bottom line. But after incorporating some simple productivity tips he observed from others, and mentioning them in some of his speeches, he was asked to elaborate. This book is the result.

It's a short quick read with many tips ranging from managing your energy to more effective meetings. Every tip ends with one or two relevant quotes, or a quote and a statistic to drive the point home.

Some of the tips I really liked are—
  1. excellence is efficient, perfection is not, so do it right the first time and move on;
  2. manage your energy and schedule your day according to your natural rhythms so you can get more done;
  3. plan tomorrow today so your best time can be spent doing;
  4. ditch the multitasking which neither people nor computers are meant for;
  5. don't touch anything more than once so decide now if you can do it, use it, throw it away, or complete it now;
  6. SEEDS first (sleep, exercise, eat right, drink water, and find your source) which powers everything else;
  7. have a "power hour" where no interruptions are accepted at all and you can do your most important work;
  8. figure out your DMA (difference-making actions) on a daily basis so you know what to focus on;
  9. keep your in-box down to 10 or less e-mails by deleting/archiving, dealing, filing, or flagging for follow-up anything you cannot tackle within two minutes.
Many of David's tips are not new but are expressed well and with pointers on how to implement them, so I'd recommend the book for anyone looking to be more efficient and effective.

What's your favorite simple productivity tip? 

Never Stop Asking Why

Penguins Can't Fly: +39 Other Rules That Don't Exist by Jason Kotecki is probably not something I would have picked up if it had not been discussed at our monthly Actionable Book Club call, but I'm very glad I did.

Jason and his wife Kim are founders of Escape Adulthood. The premise of the book and the movement is that many of us suffer "adultitis" and follow rules that don't really exist.

The book, which is a fun and quick read, has great quotes, and is illustrated by Jason, takes us through 40 of these rules and encourages us to break them.

Some of my favorites:
  • thou shalt act thine age;
  • thou shalt not wear white after Labor Day;
  • thou shalt not eat dessert first;
  • thou shalt not eat breakfast for dinner;
  • thou shalt brag about how busy thou art;
  • thou shalt wait thirty minutes to swim after eating;
  • thou shalt clean thy plate;
  • thou shalt hide thy weirdness;
  • thou shalt not play hooky.
Although some of the "rules" have more obvious limitations (you can't play hooky all the time and only eat dessert), others have absolutely no sense to them (why not wear white after Labor Day and cleaning your plate when you're full is bad for you). 

At the heart of this is that as we become adults, we stop asking why and enjoying life; instead, we do what we're supposed to and/or has always been done, even if there's no rule behind it. 

So to cure ourselves of adultitis (and you can even take a test to see if you're afflicted at, we have to think about what we're doing and why, and start living life our own way. As Jason says at the end of the book, "Your life is a story, and a short one at that. Make it a good one."

What rules are you following that don't exist? 

Apply Your Genius

I've been a fan of Marcus Buckingham and the Strengths Movement since reading First Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently. I have since read all his books and taken each of his assessments.

If you're not familiar with his work, the premise is that to be at your best, you need to play to your strengths both in work and life. Your strengths are talents you're born with and unlike skills and knowledge that can be taught, strengths cannot. So for you to be truly happy, productive, and successful at work, you need to find a job that plays to those strengths. 

Marcus and his team have developed several online assessments to help people determine their strengths, and the latest was just released with his newest book, Standout 2.0.

In addition to explaining all the 9 role types and how this test is better than its original version, Marcus starts the first chapter with three lessons:
  1. Your Genius is precise
  2. Remember who you are
  3. Always sharpen your edge
Genius is what he calls how our top two roles define our strengths, and they are precise and unique to each of us. Marcus and his team consciously kept the results to the top two roles so that we can easily remember who we are.

But knowing yourself is not enough. By using our genius daily, not only will we be happier but we'll also be sharpening our "edge." Instead of trying to expand our boundaries, we should be digging deeper within them and within our genius, where we can be at our best and most productive and happy.

What appeals to me most about this movement is that it encourages us to be more of who we already are naturally, instead of trying to become someone we're not. It's the difference between having work be an extension of yourself and energizing, or struggling and being exhausted and miserable at the end of each day. 

I've been in both situations so can speak to the difference it makes and its impact on every part of your life. I can also attest that using your strengths is the only way to be truly happy and successful.

Do you know what your genius is? Are you applying it daily?

Quick Update

Just a quick note that I've happily landed at a great publishing startup, It's streamlining and simplifying a part of the publishing process that hasn't really had the benefit of digital tools—the manuscript submission and query process—helping both publishers/agents and authors. If you're in that space, please check it out and let me know if you have any questions.

Since I want to keep posting great content and won't be reading or writing as much, going forward I'll post once a week on Sunday evening and will retweet it throughout the week. I'm hoping this is sustainable so I can keep it going long term.

Thanks again for reading.

IQ, EQ, and now CQ?

You've all heard of IQ and probably even heard of EQ (emotional quotient or emotional intelligence), but have you heard of CQ? 

CQ is Cultural Quotient (or Cultural Intelligence), which as David Livermore explains in his book Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success, is becoming more important.

As companies either go global or hire a more diverse workforce, all leaders, managers and even employees need to become more aware of how different cultures view things. Although I knew this was something to be aware of and have come across it to small degrees in my career, this book has made me realize how harmful a low CQ can be.

Without going into too much detail about all the stages and ways one can develop CQ, reviewing cultural values is a quick and interesting way to highlight how different we are. A culture can emphasize—
  • individual goals and rights vs. group goals and personal relationships;
  • equality and shared decision making vs. differences in status and decisions made by "superiors";
  • flexibility and adaptability vs. planning and predictability;
  • collaboration and nurturing behavior to get results vs. competition, assertiveness, and achievement to get results;
  • immediate outcomes vs. long-term outcomes;
  • explicit communication (words) vs. indirect communication (tone and context);
  • quality of life vs. being busy and meeting goals;
  • rules and standards that apply to everyone vs. specific and unique standards based on relationships;
  • non-emotional communication (hide feelings) and expressive communication (share feelings openly);
  • linear approach to time and keeping work and personal lives separate vs. multitasking and combining work and personal lives.
Do you see how the above can be challenging? Imagine an American manager trying to motivate someone from a culture where time isn't linear? Or imagine him or her giving direct instructions to someone from a culture where either indirect communication or flexibility are valued? How about rewarding someone for individual tasks when they were raised to emphasize group goals and relationships?

As David explains, it's impossible for anyone to know all the cultural differences and nuances, but being aware is the first step. He shares many more details and examples, which I recommend everyone read.

Have you had a cross-cultural encounter? How did you handle it? How did the other party react?

Respecting Employees On the Way Up and on the Way Out

A friend commented yesterday that I seem to be on an employee engagement kick. Given that I've seen how damaging disengagement can be, both to the individual and to the company, reading about it done right gives me hope. Do the KIND Thing by Daniel Lubetzky is a good example of this.

Daniel is always looking to be a not-just-for-profit company, and to find a way to make a positive difference in the world. The way he treats his partners and staff, and the culture he's imbued the KIND company with, are all testaments to how this is not only the right thing to do but also good for all involved (and the bottom line). This is very aligned with Conscious Capitalism and what The Container Store and others that are part of this movement believe.

A striking example of this is how they treat staff firing and promotion. 

If someone is not a good fit, there is advance notice and effort to help the person perform or to find a better fit elsewhere in the company. If this does not work out, they are given ample time to transition out, when they can actively look for another job as long as they help with the transition. The one time a senior manager did not follow this protocol, Daniel apologized to the employee who was disrespectfully escorted out, had a company-wide meeting to address the morale issues and reiterated how this was wrong, and tried to get the senior manager to understand his misstep.

For promotions, there is opportunity with transitions built in. Daniel has an "assistant ladder" where each assistant, when she outgrows the position, hires and trains her replacement. Many of his assistants have moved on to senior positions either within or outside of the company, but always ensured that there was a seamless transition.

At the core of all of this is an open dialogue about employee ambitions, development, and options. If someone decides to look elsewhere, KIND asks that the employee first have a conversation with either Daniel or their direct manager. If after this conversation the person still decides their best way forward is to move on, they can look openly as long as they keep doing their job and help recruit and train their replacement.

Is this not a breath of fresh air? We've all made mistakes and/or outgrown jobs; we've all had to figure out how to juggle current demands with looking for the next opportunity. There were times you probably wished you could ask your boss about other options in the company, but feared doing so. Imagine if you had been able to do so and then either been helped to find something else internally, or been treated as a respected professional and encouraged to look externally so that you could be professionally fulfilled? 

I recently reposted a blog post titled "You Matter" about how we all need to know that we matter to someone and make a difference. That's what being treated with respect is all about. Whether you end up staying at a job for years or just months, if you have given your time and effort, you deserve that respect. And an employer saying "Hey, sorry this didn't work out. What can I do to make it better? And if that doesn't work, let's talk about how we can move on and stay friends," is the epitome of respect.

Have you been respected? Is there something you can do differently to show someone more respect?

Balance and Timing

So much of life and success come down to whether you do just the right amount of something and whether you do it just at the right time. I always knew this but reading about Daniel Lubetzky's journey and decisions in Do the KIND Thing made it even more apparent.

Daniel spent most of a chapter explaining the challenge faced when you actually succeed and get funding. Objectively you think that's when a company has it made, but as Daniel explains, if you want to stay lean and true to your purpose and culture, you have to walk a fine line. What is worth the investment and what is just a waste of hard-earned money? They decided to put the investment money into a separate account and withdrawals had to be approved by Daniel himself. The question he always asked himself and his team was whether any expenditure would help the business grow.

There were times, though, when his board argued that he wasn't spending enough and was therefore limiting growth. A great example of this is sampling. During the lean years, giving away entire KIND bars for free was more than the company could afford, so they'd cut them up and give away small pieces for potential customers to taste. After getting funding, Daniel was eventually convinced to invest in a true sampling program where complete bars (and sometimes boxes) were given away to attract customers. The ROI was larger than Daniel expected and proved that the extra money was well spent.

Similar to the balance of when to spend and on what is the question of when to do things. The easiest example of this is when to look for funding. Daniel held off until his company was fairly successful and the lack of capital was actually holding it back. Since their valuation was higher then, he was able to maintain more of an equity stake and control, but even then he waited until he found the right partner. Also, there were several large partners they did not approach until their product had traction and they had the resources to keep up with these partners' demand.

The funny thing about balance and timing is that what's right for one instance won't be right for the next and you have to constantly revisit all factors. One of the KIND methods to do this is to thing AND instead of BUT: they're always looking for innovative ways to disprove assumptions and add value. 

Have you had to figure out the right balance and time for a major decision? Did it go well? Why do you think it did or did not?

Managing Your Career

Jack Welch spends an entire section of his book Winning on the important topic of managing your career.

One chapter is on how to recognize the right job and how to avoid the wrong one. The five "signals" to look for are—
  1. people: whether you fit in and/or like those you'd work with;
  2. opportunity: whether you will have the chance to grow;
  3. options: whether the company or industry will open doors for you;
  4. ownership: whether you are taking the job for yourself or for others;
  5. work content: whether you love what you'll be doing or not.
Although you may have to choose three or four out of the five, only you can decide what matters most to you.

Jack recommends finding something you love to do with people you love, and doing the job well: this will make work something you look forward to and you a performer who will attract other great jobs.

Jack then spends a chapter on how to get promoted. It starts with delivering sensational performance and not making your boss use political capital to champion you. 

Some other do's mentioned:
  • manage your subordinates well
  • be an early champion of company projects
  • learn from everyone, including your mentors, peers, and the news
  • have and spread around a positive attitude
His last don't: don't let setbacks break your stride.

Great overall advice in a great book and a lot of food for thought. 

Which of the five "signals" could you never give up on? And if you've promoted someone, which of Jack's do's and don'ts resonate most with you?

Leadership Compacts: The Key to Managing Up

Managing up is something that many worry about and many others write about. Larry Bossidy, in his article "What Your Leader Expects of You" in the Harvard Business Review, suggests that leaders create a compact with their direct reports.

This compact spells out what the leader expects and what he will provide, so that he and his direct reports know exactly how to work well together.

Of his direct reports, he expects:
  • get involved
  • generate ideas
  • be willing to collaborate
  • be willing to lead initiatives
  • develop leaders as you develop
  • stay current
  • anticipate 
  • drive your own growth
  • be a player for all seasons
And his direct reports can expect:
  • provide clarity of direction
  • set goals and objectives
  • give frequent, specific, and immediate feedback
  • be decisive and timely
  • be accessible
  • demonstrate honesty and candor
  • offer an equitable compensation plan
Keep in mind that Larry is a CEO and these expectations are for senior executives, but they can be modified to fit any manager and direct report. 

I love the idea since it takes the guesswork and tension out of a critical new business relationship. Everyone goes into a new job wanting to impress and succeed, and worrying how to work best with their new boss. Wouldn't it be great to start that relationship off with a compact? You as the report would know exactly what your boss wants and will offer in return. 

And if you as the boss do the same for your reports, imagine how productive everyone can be not worrying and instead just working? Talk about a simple way to improve both morale and bottom line.

Do you want a compact with your boss? And if you have reports, will you offer them one?

Lateral Leadership

One of my previous employers sent me to a class titled "Influencing Without Authority." Apparently the official term for this is lateral leadership.

When you have to manage across functions or teams and have no direct authority over the people you are trying to influence, this is lateral leadership. And with more companies having flatter structures and distributed workforces, this skill will become more vital. It's already used by all project and product managers.

As per Lauren Keller Johnson, in her article "Exerting Influence Without Authority" for the Harvard Management Update, there are four practices that will help:
  1. networking
  2. constructive persuasion and negotiations
  3. consultation
  4. coalition building
So if you build relationship with others, meet with them to get feedback and buy-in, and then have their support behind you, you will have an easier time managing laterally.

And Jay A. Conger, in his article "The Necessary Art of Persuasion" for the Harvard Business Review suggests four ways to more effectively persuade:
  1. establish credibility
  2. frame for common ground
  3. provide evidence
  4. connect emotionally
If you establish your consistent and reliable expertise and integrity, show how it's a win-win, use vivid examples or stories, and match your message to your audience's emotion and tone, you will be able to win them over.

Some of the above is intuitive and the rest structures what we may already do but need to improve. And since everyone needs to persuade someone and probably laterally manage someone else, this is useful information to have.

Which of the above have you had to use most? Which do you need to work on most?

Hiring and Servant Leadership

Hiring well is difficult to do. Jack Welch admits this in his book Winning, and spends a chapter giving us tips on how to do it better.

For all staff, he recommends first screening for integrity, intelligence, and maturity. They need those to even make it to round one. Then you look for the 4 E's and 1 P:
  1. Do they have positive energy?
  2. Can they energize others?
  3. Do they have the edge to make tough calls when needed?
  4. Can they execute well?
  5. And do they have passion for the work?
For leaders, you need to screen further:
  1. Are they authentic?
  2. Do they have foresight in business?
  3. Do they surround themselves with smart people?
  4. And do they have resilience?
Jack has more to say on each of the above but I want to focus on the third of the leadership screens.

Leaders need to surround themselves with smart people. Jack shared examples of when he felt like the stupidest person in the room but by having these smart people push him and each other, the best answers came out. This is why it's so important for leaders to not fear looking stupid.

Have you ever worried that you're hiring your replacement or even your upgrade? I admit there was a time or two when I did but was glad to have overcome it and made the hire. It's natural to have the fear but leaders need to do what's best for the team, even if it makes them feel stupid.

And this is the true meaning of servant leadership. The true leader's purpose is to serve, so it should not matter how he looks to others as long as he is serving the greater purpose. The secret is that if done authentically, it actually raises the leader in the eyes of those he serves, not diminishes.

Have you seen this in practice? How did it make you feel?

New Posting Schedule

Can you believe that I've been posting three times a week for eight months now? It's hard to believe and for those who read my posts regularly, thank you.

Due to several outside factors, blogging at that frequency has become more challenging so I'm going to post twice a week for now. I'm hoping this slower pace will make blogging easier...and then we'll see what the future brings. 

And comments and feedback are always appreciated.

For the Non-Entrepreneurial

Linda Rottenberg wrote the last chapter of Crazy Is a Compliment: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Zags to her two twin daughters. She wanted to give the two budding entrepreneurs some advise on what they will face.

As a mother, worried about the world of work my son will enter in a few years, I can understand why she did this. As someone traversing the transitioning world of work herself, it made me very sad.

There are so many books out there encouraging you to either find your passion or your entrepreneurial spirit. To be remarkable or to turn an industry upside down. As Linda tells her daughters, the world rewards those who can see the gaps between the writing and can figure out how to fill it.

But where does this leave those that are not good at that? The ones who can't see how to disrupt an industry or reinvent a product? The ones not good at generating buzz and hustling? 

Instead of encouraging all our children to become corporate drones, have we just switched to encouraging them all to be daring entrepreneurs? Is there no third alternative?

Fortunately superstars need to hire people good at getting things done and fortunately many of the successful ones are creating great work cultures for the non-entrepreneurial among us. So hopefully the next generation will have more balance and true options, whether they work for themselves or not.

What do you think? Should we train all to be more "entrepreneurial"?

The Changing Demands of Today's Workforce

Linda Rottenberg, in her book Crazy Is a Compliment: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Zags, has a chapter called "The Purpose-Driven Workforce." Not only does she touch on two of my favorite topics—employee engagement and culture—but she also discusses what this means for today's workforce.

Millennials, as per Linda, are 36% of today's workforce and growing. Unlike the Boomers, they want meaning and flexibility at work and are not afraid to walk if you won't give it to them. 

Linda shares how the FAA had to highlight how they helped people to get millennials to even apply for their jobs. Endeavor, Linda's company, instituted job rotations since millennials get bored and also want to be involved in everything. Thomson Reuters did something similar.

This is the generation always on and always connected. They also want authenticity and transparency in their leaders, which Linda mentions in her chapter titled "Leadership 3.0." 

But I'm a Gen X'er, have become a lot less tolerant to widget-like treatment, and want meaning in my work too. I may be used to less flexibility and startup-like perks (and not sure what I'd do with some of them even if I had them), but otherwise I want what the millennials want. 

And I know I'm not the only non-millennial who feels this way.

So with a growing workforce demanding meaning, voice, and flexibility—regardless of their generation—companies have to adapt or be left with the disengaged and unproductive. 

The first step isn't so hard: talk to your employees. Find out what motivates them. Show them you care. They may surprise you and not ask for much but you have to ask and mean it.

Go ahead; I'll wait. Let me know what they say.

Setting Your Own Expectations

You've probably read or been told how important it is to set clear expectations up front. Whether it's with a new employee, new vendor, or new partner, if you clearly spell-out who does what and by when, there should be less problems going forward.

Well, it's equally important to set your own expectations. Whether you're starting a new job, business, relationship...or educational program.

I recently started the Jack Welch EMBA program. It's all online and very affordable and flexible, which is great, but it still requires lots of reading and writing, as it should given that it's an accredited graduate degree program. Their grading system includes unsatisfactory, low pass, pass, high pass, and honors. The standard is high pass but obviously honors is better.

And here's where the setting expectations for myself is so important. 

As a recovering perfectionist (and it's like alcoholism, you're always recovering), I of course want to get all honors. So getting a high pass on my first paper was obviously somewhat disappointing.

But I have another 2 and 3/4 years left of this program and I have to truly come to terms with the fact that I will not get all honors, nor is it really worth the time and effort it would take. Given that I'm not a full-time student and this is graduate school (and my second Master's), how important is the grade really? 

Even the people behind the EMBA program recognize this, as shown with the below inspirational quote included on one of the course planning guides:
"When it comes to determining my success, the only
letters that matter are ‘EMBA’...not the individual grade I
earn in each course."
So I really should be more realistic about my own expectations...and kinder to myself.

Have you had to set expectations for yourself? If so, in what context and how did you make them stick?

Entrepreneurism Can Be Found Anywhere

I just started reading Linda Rottenberg's book Crazy Is a Compliment: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Zags at a recommendation from a friend. I haven't gotten too far yet but am enjoying it.

Linda begins by explaining how the book is different than others on entrepreneurship and then defines the four types of entrepreneurs. One of them, the "skunks," actually are not what most people would consider true entrepreneurs.

Skunks work for large corporations, yet because they have entrepreneurial mindsets and see the world differently, they end up innovating within the confines of corporate America.

Linda shares some interesting stories of how several really successful ideas were started covertly (aka, "skunk" projects) and only presented to senior management once proven successful. A great example is Clorox's ecologically friendly line which went on to be a huge success. 

Being a skunk not only takes creativity and courage, but the drive to see an idea through, despite difficulty and lack of support. This is what all entrepreneurs need and why skunks are entrepreneurs despite also being corporate workers. 

Reading this made me realize the power of individual drive. Yes, culture is important, as is having a supportive boss, but people that are skunks figure out how to work around whatever constraints stand in their way. Very impressive and not very typical.

Have you known a "skunk"? What other characteristics allowed them to innovate and succeed?

Be Remarkable or Don't Bother

In Seth Godin's classic Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable he explains how in today's world, if you're not remarkable, chances are you won't succeed.

Gone are the days when the traditional P's of marketing and a huge advertising budget guaranteed success. Today, with all the constant media noise, it takes something different to get a consumer's attention.

This something different is a purple cow. As Seth explains, a cow gets boring after you see a few but a purple cow, because it's so remarkable, is memorable—at least for a while. So whatever your product or service, you need to be remarkable. Don't try to aim for the masses since that's probably been done; instead, aim to be different—to be remarkable.

Better yet, figure out who the "sneezers" are in your niche: the early adopters who love finding and trying something new and then spread it to their friends. Market to the sneezers and you're golden. 

And what helps make a purple cow is building the remarkableness into the product or packaging itself, instead of trying to do it with advertising after the product is developed. Involve your marketing team from the start and you'll have a better chance at a true purple cow.

Seth also explains that even purple cows stop being remarkable after a while, so milk them for what they're worth and then find another purple cow.

For someone who's fairly new to the world of social media and digital marketing, this was a very interesting and informative read...and in some ways equally discouraging. Being remarkable isn't easy and I'm not sure it's for everyone. It takes seeing things differently and understanding how you can revolutionize an industry, product, or service. 

I guess it's how you define remarkable. If you find something you're really good at and hone that skill, you can be remarkable at that. Even if you don't become famous or filthy rich, those that need that skill will find you based on word of mouth. And that may be all many of us aspire to.

How remarkable do you aspire to be?

Do You See Yourself Clearly?

The second key to energizing your life, as per Tom Rath in Are You Fully Charged? The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life is your interactions with others. (I wrote about meaning, the first key, in a previous post.)

The more time we spend with friends, with being optimistic and happy, and by being around other positive people, the happier we'll be. And doing for others and spending on others actually energizes you more than doing them for yourself.

There's also a cumulative advantage to the positive charge you give someone by instilling confidence in them, so encourage your children early. Part of this is helping someone see the potential in themselves that they may not be aware of.

Tom shares the touching story of writing his grandfather, Don Clifton, a letter before his death so that he knew how much he and his influence meant to Tom. After reading this letter not only did Don realize that Tom had a way with words, but he then asked him to help share his story. How Full Is Your Bucket? was the result of this, as was Tom discovering a strength he would not have known otherwise. 

The flip side of this is ignoring a strength since it's not "profitable."

Do you have something that comes naturally to you and/or that you enjoy doing? Is it something you do for work or for fun? If the latter, do you recognize it as the strength it probably is? Or do you ignore it because it can't help you make a living?

I've written to some extent most of my life. I got a BFA in Creative Writing, spent enough of my career and MS in Publishing writing papers, have started and stopped other blogs in the past, and write countless e-mails and business communications daily. But I did not consider myself a writer, or writing a strength, despite my current blog and other publications since I don't get paid for them.

Given how much I've learned by writing and how much I gain, albeit in non-monetary ways, I'm embarrassed that I did not connect the dots for myself earlier. 

So learn from my mistake. What strength(s) of yours are you blind to?

What's Your Conflict-Resolution Style?

As per the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument (, which we had to take for the Jack Welch EMBA Leadership class, there are 5 conflict-resolution styles.

As you can see from the chart above, these five are plotted on two axes: assertiveness and cooperation. 

So for those who prefer to—
  • avoid conflict, they are both unassertive and uncooperative;
  • accommodate, they are highly cooperative but unassertive;
  • collaborate, they are both cooperative and assertive;
  • compete, they are highly assertive but uncooperative;
  • compromise, they are somewhat assertive and cooperative.
My default method seems to be to compromise, with collaboration in second place and avoidance in last and with a very low score. 

But as the assessment report points out, every type has its use and instances where it's actually the preferred method. For example, avoidance is good when there's a more important issue that needs to be resolved first or when emotions need to cool down before a conversation can be productive. Compromise is good when you're under deadline but collaboration is better for long-term solutions. Even competition and accommodation have their places: competition for emergency situations and accommodation when keeping good-will is most important. There are more examples for each and it made interesting reading.

It's also been interesting taking all these assessments for class, and both discussing and considering how the results influence my leadership style. In both cases the profile reports have gone to great lengths to explain that there is no right or wrong style, nor a preferred one, but that knowing oneself better will allow us to be more strategic in how we interact—and resolve conflicts—with others.

What was the last personality assessment you took and was it helpful? And what's your preferred conflict-resolution style?

Automation Only Goes So Far

I recently tried to explain to someone who is all about automation that even the best processes occasionally require human intervention. Today it was my chance to experience this.

So even with a month's backlog of drafts and having gotten the hang of Buffer, life happened and I forgot to hit publish, so today's post and shares did not happen. 

I guess it's not a bad thing that us humans are still needed and that not everything can be automated.

So sorry for the missed content but back again on Friday.

True Teamwork

Everyone talks about teams and teamwork but Partick Lencioni, in his classic and bestselling book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, shows us what this means.

We're introduced to a fictitious CEO and her new and very dysfunctional team. We get to see how she helps them build trust and start working together, and since it's told as a story, it makes for fast reading. Then in the second part of his book, Lencioni explains the model behind the fable and gives recommendations on how to apply each step.

To summarize, dysfunctional teams are lacking in—
  1. trust
  2. conflict
  3. commitment
  4. accountability
  5. results.
And each one builds on the next:
  1. Without trust, a team will not argue with each other.
  2. Without healthy debate and having their opinions heard, people will not commit.
  3. Without commitment, few will hold themselves and others accountable.
  4. And without accountability, there is no way to ensure team results occur and are of high quality.
It all starts with trust. Trust that you can be yourself and speak your mind without repercussions and trust that your leader and team have your back. 

And even though team members need to hold each other mutually accountable, the leader still must lead and cannot do so by consensus. Attempting to do so will cause the team to lose trust in his or her leadership...and bring you back to the first of the dysfunctions.

Have you worked in an exceptionally functional or dysfunctional team? Which of the listed characteristics made them so?

Virtual Teams as True Teams

I had to read the Harvard Business Review article "The Discipline of Teams" by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith for my Jack Welch EMBA Leadership class.

The premise of the article is that most "teams" are really "working groups" and for them to be a true "team," they have to have the following characteristics:
  1. a meaningful and shared purpose they helped form;
  2. specific performance goals based on the shared purpose;
  3. a mix of complementary skills;
  4. agreement on how the work gets done and contribution by all; and 
  5. mutual accountability.
Since I now work part-time for a fully remote company, and manage and interact remotely, the above made me realize that if virtual "teams" were true teams, their being virtual would be less of an issue.

Unlike in an office where you can easily stop by to check-in, communicate, and track progress, it takes effort when everyone is distributed. So if you establish the virtual team with the five "team" principles from the get-go, that effort will be minimal.

Here's how:
  1. Get buy-in from each hired member on the team's purpose. Make sure they're aligned and let them personalize it a bit so they feel it's truly theirs.
  2. Use this shared purpose to come up with the team's performance goals, then add individual goals based on each member's personal purpose.
  3. Hire for a mixed range of skills, not those that are just like you; know team members' strengths and weaknesses and try to fill the gaps.
  4. Get buy-in on who does what, how this will be shared, and at what frequency.
  5. And everyone should hold everyone accountable to the above. 
As you can see, by hiring correctly for a virtual team, setting proper expectations up front, and then holding everyone accountable to these, it will be as easy working remotely as in person.

Have you lead virtual teams? Any other tips to offer?

Negative Feedback Loop

Stress is a scary thing and can cause people to act and react out of proportion.

We've all had times in our life when we're dealing with a stressful situation. If you're lucky, you have friends and family helping you get through this time, but if you're not careful, and snap at them due to the stress, the people you need most may be driven away.

If you find yourself going from zero to a hundred too quickly and/or just yelling more often than is normal, really stop and take a deep breath. Spend some time alone figuring out what is the trigger. Yes, the stress...but beyond that, what? Did the person say something that touched a nerve? Did they react in a way that you're oversensitive to given your circumstances?

Knowing what set you off may not make it go away, but will hopefully give you enough insight to not drive all your support away. 

Have you seen this happen or been a victim yourself? What helped you?

Invest in Your Career Savings Account

Jon Acuff, in his latest book Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck, suggests that the trick to having the career you want is a Career Savings Account (CSA).

(Relationships + Skills + Character) x Hustle = Career Savings Account

As per Jon, if you invest in the people you know, what you do well, doing the right thing, and having grit, these will be enough to carry you through the four possible types of career changes.

He then breaks these career changes into a grid of positive/negative and voluntary/involuntary and explains which of the investments can help you most for each type of change:
  1. negative and voluntary: Career Ceiling needs skills investment;
  2. voluntary and positive: Career Jump needs character investment;
  3. positive and involuntary: Career Opportunity needs hustle investment;
  4. involuntary and negative: Career Bump needs relationship investment.
There is a section on each of the four career changes and the investment needed, with lots of good tips on how to maximize both.

Jon explains that either fear or complacency keep us in a bad situation too long and unable to try something new. When we finally overcome one (fear or complacency), we tend to succumb to the other once we realize how hard change is. But as he points out, the alternative is years of being dead inside.

What Jon doesn't discuss and other books have, is that there is a third option: the side hustle. If you are not in a position to leave your job or start that business you've always dreamed of, you can keep working while spending after-hours on your dream. The steady paycheck will provide backup if you can't find another position or get your business off the ground.

I agree that staying at a dead-end job or one that's a bad fit too long is a recipe for disaster, but if you're lucky enough to have the choice, then plan ahead financially for that change. Take your time, try it out on the side, and be sure. Dreams require funding too.

Which of the four career changes scares you the most and why? How's the balance in your CSA doing?

Inspire Sharing of Bad News

We've discussed how a dysfunctional culture erodes productivity earlier. If employees are busy keeping themselves safe, they won't be focusing that energy on getting work done.

Another aspect of this is fear of sharing bad news.

I just watched a video where a CEO explained how important it is to get bad news quickly so that you can react. He is trying to inspire a culture where there are no negative repercussions for sharing bad news, nor is it followed by examining the mistake to death. Instead everyone deals with how to fix it and moves on.

I unfortunately remember too many times where instead of just sharing something, I had to first figure out how to frame and time it so that the response would be a productive one. 

In hindsight I consider that a failure in leadership and culture. 

It is an employee's job to do their work well and to communicate with you, their leader, both the good news and bad. If they have to fear repercussions, or even think twice about telling you something, you've failed to instill a culture of trust and communication. 

If you as their leader are candid and transparent, and if you have reacted appropriately to bad news in the past, they will trust you not to punish the messenger in the future. But all it takes is one wrong word or move to break that trust.

So next time someone shares something unfavorable with you, be very careful of what you say and what your expression and body language say. Part of being a leader is understanding that everyone looks to you for guidance. They watch your every move and reaction, so be sure you are relaying the message you want and that is aligned with the culture you want. 

Have you had to worry about sharing bad news? If not, how was your trust earned?

What Stage Entrepreneur Are You?

There are some things in life that have distinct stages with very distinct challenges.

For instance, parenting. Someone may love an infant and be perfectly equipped to handle the sleepless nights along with the cuteness but cannot handle the complications of a hormone-ridden teenager. Or someone may be the exact opposite and prefer the teenager, hormones and all, since there's two-way communication, unlike with the infant who can't talk.

Entrepreneurship is the same. Some may love idea generation and the joy of coming up with something new, building a team, and launching it. Others may prefer to research the idea, test it, and then hand off the launch. And a third prefers more structure and is all about scaling.

Each distinct stage of a startup's life requires very different skills and mindset. That's why many startup books caution that a founder is not always best suited to take his or her idea past a certain point. There are exceptions, of course, and a founder all about learning may be able to see their idea through, but most are not and need to know what they're suited for.

What types of challenges inspire you? Do you like an environment where everyone is wearing all hats and chipping in to get things launched? Or do you prefer more structure, with defined roles? Do you prefer to be doing it all yourself and/or in charge of it all or do you prefer to lead through others? 

If you do not know what stage entrepreneur you are, you are dooming your startup, so take the time to think it through. And if you're not sure, pay attention to which parts of your day-to-day excite you and which enervate you.

So what stage entrepreneur are you?

Holiday Weekend Recharging

Happy Labor Day weekend to all.

Image result for Happy Labor Day

Hope you have a well-deserved, restful long weekend and get to recharge.

Back on Wednesday with more business common sense.

Leaders Are Aware and Care

It's amazing how many different theories, books, and systems there are to describe what it takes to be a good leader. I've read (and written about) quite a few but one that has withstood the test of time is emotional intelligence (EI), invented and written about by Daniel Goleman.

As Daniel and his fellow researchers proved, high IQ may be a prerequisite for leaders but a better test of whether they will succeed or fail is high EI.

EI has five components:
  1. self awareness
  2. self regulation
  3. motivation
  4. empathy
  5. social skills
The first three are all internal: being aware of how your emotions and actions effect others; being able to control your inappropriate reactions; and a drive to achieve that is beyond monetary and can withstand challenging times. 

The latter two are external: being able to read others' emotions and being able to build relationships.

I would go farther and say that leaders have to be aware and care. 

They have to be aware of—
  • how their actions, words, and emotions influence those around them;
  • what reactions are appropriate and what are not;
  • how others are reacting and feeling.
And if they care, they will then act accordingly and appropriately.

Without the awareness, even if they care, they will not be acting or reacting appropriately. With the awareness and without the caring...well, that could potentially lead to manipulation and evil.

Luckily, awareness can be honed but I'm not sure whether caring can.

What do you think? Can a leader be trained or is it something one's born with?