Write to Deepen Your Learning

I was honored to be admitted into the Actionable Book Club earlier this year. Every member of the club has to submit an Actionable Summary each month since as Chris Taylor discovered, and is the idea behind both the club and his company, writing these summaries helps deepen what you learn from your business book reading.

I've now submitted a few summaries of my own, and between the writing I'm doing for the the Actionable Book Club and for my blog, I have seen a definite difference in not only what I learn from the books, but in my thinking.

Since part of me is always looking for my next blog post idea, I've started noticing patterns and lessons not only in books, but in other things I read, actions I take, reactions of others, etc. All of life is food for learning and although I knew this before, I'm more mindful and aware of it now.

And once I come up with an idea, I'm never quite sure what the end result will be. The act of writing it down, then editing and tweaking it, furthers my understanding and learning by forcing me to organize my thoughts and articulate them coherently.

This is also why written "assignments" will be part of every YourMBR offering.

Have you had a similar experience? If not, the next time you need to figure something out, write it down. First just get it all on paper, then go back and edit, organize, and tweak. Let me know if this helps crystallize what your next steps should be.

Your Life as Your Calling

I probably don't have to tell you the wonders that books have to offer, but sometimes you're lucky enough to pick up just the right book at the right time. The last time this happened to me, I had picked-up Body of Work by Pamela Slim. 

This time it's The Art of Work by Jeff Goins (and yes, I've noticed the similarity in titles and theme).

Jeff's book is basically about finding your calling and the stages you have to go through to get there, along with inspiring examples from his life and others. His subtitle says it all: a proven path to discovering what you were meant to do.

Since I've been at a crossroads for a while—transitioning from corporate career climber to side hustler/entrepreneur—I have been reading a lot about how to make a living doing what you enjoy and/or are good at. 

Jeff reframed things in a way that made an impact. Below are some highlights.

  1. A calling is not something you necessarily know from birth nor is it defined. It may start quietly and will probably evolve as you do.
  2. A calling requires work, help from others, and commitment. It is not meant to be easy but something you challenge yourself to accomplish.
  3. What you do affects who you become, so spending time at a job you hate means you are not the person you can—or were meant—to be.
  4. Failure and hardship teach you to pivot to the path that will lead to your calling. There is often a season of hardship preceding finding your calling.
  5. Not only is work and a calling meant to improve the world and ideally leave it better off, but it is meant to do the same for you and leave you better off.
  6. Your calling is a journey and if you live your life well, all of your life becomes your calling.
He also discusses how living a life with a calling requires a "portfolio life," where you have different roles and types of work that combined make up your calling. Given my day job, two side hustles, various book clubs and nonprofit work, I've been living a portfolio life for a while...I just now have a label for it.

So do I know what my calling is? I'm not certain but it definitely involves both teaching/mentoring and books, probably business ones, which is why YourMBR will be given a full chance and several pivots if need be. It also plays into my role at 24/7 Teach, my other side hustle.

My calling probably won't end there and I'm fine that it's a journey. I now see how all my experiences led me to this place—to both thinking of YourMBR and to being able to launch it. And I am curious and excited to see how both I and my calling with further evolve.

Are you ready to find your calling?

Try the Thing You're Avoiding

Is there something you've avoided doing or trying? Something all your family and friends assure you you'll enjoy? Or something the world has embraced but yet you're sure is not for you? 

If you've answered yes to any of the above, do yourself a favor and try the thing you've been stubbornly avoiding. 

That was me about giving up a QWERTY keyboard for the longest time. In my defense, I did try a virtual keyboard once before and hated it, so I stuck with one version of QWERTY or other since. I'd have phones that were barely functional, but hey, I could type long and quick e-mails thanks to my physical keyboard.

Then one Saturday evening, not too many weeks ago, I got a call. I could not answer that call since my phone had bricked on me. I couldn't even restart the phone...or do anything but hear it ring. My husband and son had a good laugh at my expense but I had enough. 

That Monday, I walked into my neighborhood Verizon store and upgraded to the S5. And I did miss my keyboard—until my husband introduced me to the joys of the swipe. I now wish I would have been smarter sooner. 

I'm not sure why we sometimes feel the need to dig in our heels and stubbornly ignore everything and everyone around us. It could be that change is scary or that we want to be different. But just like change for the sake of change is bad, so too is stubbornness and resistance when you're actually hurting yourself.

I really do wish I had been smarter sooner since I will never get back those hours lost battling with my old phones. And I hope the next time I find myself swimming against the tide without a really good reason, I will wise up much sooner.

Is there something you're stubbornly avoiding? 

Happy Employees Improve ROI

I finished reading Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo by Nicholas Carlson this weekend. As fascinating as it was reading about all the various CEOs that came and went prior to Marissa, one thing stood out.

Each time a CEO was brought in, it was for certain skills and never for their leadership ability. Yes, bottom line and ROI is important and yes, a CEO needs to know enough to be able to give input on the company's strategy and know what to look for in senior-level hires, but a CEO also needs to be the heart and sole of the company and brand. 

My Women's Leadership and Business Book Club read Simon Sinek's Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action a few years' back. Although I no longer remember all the details, I do remember him explaining that the CEO has to be the "why" and the COO or others on his executive team are the "how." In other words, the CEO decides on the company's purpose and mission and has to inspire others with this vision; then the rest of his executive team can figure out how to execute.

But a CEO who has no leadership ability and is just a technical expert will not be able to do this. Worst, a CEO who does not have good relationship building skills and/or does not truly care about their staff will do more damage than good. I've had both the misfortune to work under CEOs who should not be leaders and to work under those that are inspiring ones. I also have seen morale destroyed by knowing senior leadership does not value you as a person: there is no way that anyone can stay engaged long-term when they have no voice and are treated as an easily replaceable asset.

Marissa did spend her first year trying to improve the employee culture at Yahoo and did make a difference, which was refreshing to read about, but apparently she was not a good manager. This eventually lead to a revolving-door executive team and Marissa doing two jobs when she couldn't replace her COO.

There are an ever increasing amount of books and studies on how employee morale and engagement lead to improved productivity and higher profit margins. The next step is to have C-level hires vetted for their leadership skills.

Do you agree? Should a CEO be a generalist who is a great leader or a specialist?

Avoid Thinly-Spread Growth

Reading about what Yahoo started out as, could have been, and ended up at is fascinating. 

As I continue to read Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo by Nicholas Carlson, I am reminded of the mixed blessing of being "first." 

Yahoo was one of the first to take advantage of the World Wide Web and the Internet, started by two college kids who built a directory for themselves. They succeeded despite themselves: they had no interest in running a business but had found something new and much needed, got funding and "adult" supervision, and the rest is history.

The negative side to being "first" is that there will be competition. That itself is not bad; it's how you react to it that makes the difference. If you remain focused and true to your core value or offering, only growing organically, you're probably safe. But if you try to be a solution to every problem out there, then you won't be the solution to much.

I've just read about the period in Yahoo's history where Brad Garlinghouse's internal memo to the founders about Yahoo's problems ends up in the Wall Street Journal. They called it the "Peanut Butter Manifesto" since he compares Yahoo's lack of focus and trying to get into all Internet businesses as too thinly spread peanut butter. 

Equally interesting was the explanation of what Garlinghouse had been thinking when working on this memo. He recalled a game he played with his staff. He'd say a brand name and they'd have to write down the first word that came to mind. With all other brands he mentioned—PayPal, Google, eBay—everyone had the same answer. When he said Yahoo, no two answers were alike, even though these were all Yahoo employees playing the game. 

Yahoo lost focus. Just like no one person can be good at everything, no one company can do everything. Even Amazon, who seems to be trying to do everything, is staying true to their core focus: it aims to be the the world's largest superstore that can sell you everything and anything you want. 

Focus is crucial, not only when you're building or growing, but when you're making decisions on where to spend time and resources. A good question to ask of yourself, and your supervisors and staff, is whether x project or x task is aligned with your company's or department's focus. Knowing this, and how it is aligned, will not only ensure that it's worth doing but will help keep everyone engaged and vested.

And if someone in your department decides to play the one-word association game, hopefully you'll all have the same answer.

Is your team focused? Are you? If not, how can you fix this?

Performance Reviews Should Be Ongoing

I started reading Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo by Nicholas Carlson. I haven't gotten very far but since much of the introduction dealt with the "stacked" performance review system she brought from Google to Yahoo, it got me thinking about reviews in general.

What is the purpose of a review? Traditionally they're meant to discuss how the person is performing, whether there are any areas that need improvement, where they personally want to grow, and any raises/promotions on the table. Although the "annual" review may still be necessary to formalize raises and promotions, if the goal is to have high performing and engaged employees, performance reviews should be ongoing. The annual part can be a paper signed by all parties.

I'm a big believer in weekly one-on-ones with each of my direct reports. I've given them the option to cancel them if they had nothing to discuss, but it's on our calendars. What better time to discuss what's working and what's not?

One of my favorite business books is The One-Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. It's short, quick and a must read for anyone who manages staff. One of the principles of the book is that feedback, whether good or bad, should be timely since the longer you wait to give it, the less effective it is.

So if you're meeting with your staff weekly and providing feedback as soon as you can, there is no need for a formal annual review process. Goals can be documented and reviewed on a quarterly basis during the one-on-ones and even improvement plans can be tracked during this time. 

And having the performance review be part of your regular interaction with your staff means that not only is it more timely and effective, but that it's about that individual and not a bell curve or any other "stacked" system.

What was the best review you ever got and what made it so effective?

Living a Life Without Regrets

I finished reading The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan over the weekend and was touched by their chapter on living a life without regrets. They explain how all those interviewed near death usually regret the things they did not do or try. Using their method to determine your one thing can help avoid this.

It reminded me of something I used to do when in my twenties: avoid "what if's." I would force myself to ask difficult questions, either of myself or friends, and/or try challenging things since I did not want to ever wonder "what if." It was my personal motto for quite a few years but I honestly had forgotten this until reading this chapter.

Somewhere along the road to "growing up," I went from avoiding "what if's" to avoiding risks. I had responsibility and bills to pay, so I worked hard and aimed for stability. It's only recently, with both my industry and career taking unexpected turns, that I've discovered the entrepreneur within me and rediscovered the desire to avoid regrets and what if's.

One of my favorite classics is The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, and when this was turned into a musical, I not only saw it several times but also bought the soundtrack. There's a song that has always made me feel sad, and now I understand why. 
Where's the girl? Where's the girl with the blaze in her eyes? Where's the girl with that gaze of surprise? Now and then I still dream she's beside me/Where's the girl who could turn on the edge of a knife? Where's the girl who was burning for life? I can still feel her breathing beside me/And I know she remembers how fearless it feels/ To take off with the wind at her heels/ She and I took this world like a storm/Come again! Let the girl in your heart tumble free...
We all have different levels of "risk tolerance" and regret different things, and being an adult does mean making tough decisions for the good of your family. But how sad that somewhere along the way I lost a part of me that pushed her own boundaries so as to avoid regrets. Thankfully I've found it again and it's not too late to make a change.

Are you living a life meant to avoid regrets? If not, what can do you differently?

Focus with a Side Hustle?

I've been reading The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan (as mentioned in my previous post) and had read Procrastinate on Purpose by Rory Vaden a while back. We discussed my Actionable Book Summary of the latter during the Actionable Book Club session and it got me thinking.

All these great suggestions—to figure out the one next thing most important for your success and focus on only that until you're done—assumes you have one thing you're working on in your life. What if, like me, you have a side hustle or two going on. How do you then decide your one most important thing?

If you have a day job, those hours are obviously devoted to that, but once you're off the clock, you have to decide between the side hustles, family, chores, etc. It gets pretty overwhelming just doing the mental inventory.

Honestly, I don't have the perfect answer yet and am working my way through it. What I find has been helping is keeping the two side hustles top of mind and quickly deciding which has the more urgent task and doing that, then moving on to the next. The trick is to keep out all the other distractions while doing this...and finding enough time to sleep and recharge.

Part of the challenge is that we're all so connected and even though I've learned to turn off notifications and not respond to every e-mail as it comes in (thanks to Rory's book), my after hours are shared by so many obligations, that it is an exercise in discipline.

I have learned to be kinder to myself (most of the time) and just take a few minutes to figure out what I have to do next. I still get overwhelmed and I still stay up too late, but at least I don't feel this is a failure per se and is just part of my present reality and my learning and growth.

Have you learned how to juggle many "one things"? What's your trick?

Willpower as a Limited Resource

I remember reading that President Obama has a daily "uniform" so that he has one less decision to make on a daily basis. Apparently it's not only our ability to decide that's limited but also our willpower.

I bought The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan based on a recommendation. At first I thought that the book was revisiting similar concepts I had read (and written) about earlier, but it actually covers new ground as well.

Not only is it important to keep cutting your to-do lists down to the one most important thing, but you need to get to this one thing early on in the day when your willpower is strongest.

Willpower is finite. We start off with a full "battery" (hopefully) and as we go through the day, it slowly depletes. Every time we don't give in to temptation, whether it's a food or telling someone off; every time we are forced to do something we don't like; and every time we are implementing something new or filtering out distractions, we are using up this finite resource. Given how many times we cannot say what we think and are dealing with distractions, is it any wonder we have little willpower left by afternoon? 

So if you do the one most important thing when fresh, you'll have enough willpower to truly focus on it and tune out the rest of the world. 

What this also made me realize is that a bad job is not only bad for your emotional health, but also for your mental health and bandwidth. If every moment is spent unhappy, forced to do things that are not a good fit or forced to keep in all the unhappiness caused by a bad culture or boss, what willpower is left for anything else?

The book mentions a study where two groups were given math problems to solve and had both healthy and unhealthy snacks nearby. The group with the harder problems chose the unhealthy snacks since they had used up more willpower focusing on the problems.

The implications of this are astounding. What can you reschedule to take advantage of greater willpower?

When Promotion Is a Bad Thing

You may have heard of the Peter Principle, which Wikipedia defines as:
...a concept in management theory in which the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate's performance in their current role rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and managers rise to the level of their incompetence. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Principle)
What this means in practical terms is that some people should not be promoted to management.

In the corporate world, if you want to keep making more money, you often have to advance to a higher level and/or pay grade. This often comes with more responsibility, including management responsibility, but if you've ever had a bad manager, you know the damage this can inflict.

So what is the solution?

Instead of maxing out pay grades and forcing people to advance just to get a higher salary, continue rewarding their continued contribution with appropriate raises. A company and team are better off keeping that person in a position where they can shine—and that plays to their strengths—than promoting them to a position that they are not suited to and where they will 
  1. contribute less,
  2. have a negative impact on the rest of the team,
  3. and therefore cause the team to contribute less.
I believe this is one of the reasons why there are so many bad managers. These people do not necessarily want to manage or know how to, but jumped at the opportunity to make more money. And who can blame them?

What companies should be doing instead, in addition to allowing people to stay where best suited, is to train and test potential managers. Not doing so is akin to having a therapist without the proper training or correct disposition trying to treat clients. And yes, bad managers can cause as much psychological and emotional distress as can a bad therapist.

The flip side is that people need to take responsibility for their own actions too and speak up if they are not interested, trained, or suited for management. This action should not be held against them and is not a failing since as I've said before, no one can be good at everything.

Do you know anyone who was promoted to their level of incompetence? Would you be able to recognize this in yourself?

Do You Love Your Product?

I was reading Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt this past weekend and it made me realize two key things entrepreneurs need in today's world.

The first, as his title suggests, is a platform. It's not enough to plan, build, iterate, and test, you must also get the word out. An entrepreneur can't just rely on a social media person to be the voice of the company and brand; he or she must be their own primary salesperson and fan. Michael doesn't use a ghost writer for his blogging and social media since he believes it's obvious when you do so and not authentic.

The other thing every entrepreneur needs? A great product they love and use. Michael illustrates this with Apple and the cult they built. Part of what made Apple such a success was that Steve Jobs, who was their best spokesperson, built something he was proud to use and promote, which was obvious every time he took the stage.

Michael spends the first part of the book explaining how important it is to have a product that wows your customers. If you don't at least meet their expectations, no amount of marketing or brand building will do you any good.

So do you love your own product? Is it something you use and built for yourself and/or that you can't wait to use since you need it? If you can't say yes to the above, you're going to have a hard time selling this to others, whether internally to staff or externally to customers.

YourMBR is my second attempt at entrepreneurship. The first was offering a service to the publishing industry that I felt was needed but that I had a hard time convincing others to try...and that I didn't really enjoy working on. YourMBR represents not only the way I've learned and prefer to learn, but also a natural synergy between two of my passions: learning via business books and teaching/mentoring others. There is no comparison between the two startups or how I present them to others.

Just another reason to only build a business you love.

Can you think of a time something practically sold itself due to your passion for it?

To Meet or Not to Meet

I hadn't intended to blog about meetings, but since I've seen so many articles this past week about whether to meet or not to meet, I decided to chime in.

Given that time is money and a meeting is money and time multiplied by how many people are sitting around a conference table (or on a conference line), a meeting is only a good thing if it helps you come to a decision quicker.

To help decide whether a meeting will actually be beneficial, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the purpose of this meeting? What is the outcome I'm hoping for?
  2. How many people are necessary for this outcome? And is there anything gained by all of them being in the same room (or on the same conference line)? Can this be done just as easily via a well-written e-mail, poll, or company chat?
  3. If you actually need a conversation, who are the key people that absolutely need to be there? Who else only needs to be informed afterwards?
  4. What can you plan and provide prior to the meeting to make every minute as productive as possible? What can you do after the meeting to ensure follow-through happens and another meeting won't be necessary?
And once you decide to meet—
  1. send out an invite with all relevant information (time zone, location, instructions);
  2. if you don't have an agenda ready when the invite goes out, be sure to send one at least a day prior to the meeting and include all roles, if they are not obvious (e.g., who is running the meeting; who is required to have what information);
  3. be sure to keep track of time during the meeting and leave time for questions and next-step recap; 
  4. and send out meeting minutes within a day after the meeting.
The two types of meetings that I think are critical are one-on-ones with your direct reports and staff meetings for your entire team. The former can be cancelled by your direct report if they don't need it, but ensures they know they have access to you at least once a week. The latter means that you get to take your team's "temperature" and see how morale is, what they're worried about, what's working and what's not. Some things are more prone to come out in groups, while others in a one-on-one setting, so both are necessary.

Status and check-in meetings can be useful, but I think nine out of ten times can be handled more efficiently with good dashboards and systems. 

Are there other meetings you think are necessary? 

Lead Yourself First

Many aspire to leadership and that is a good thing, but what is leadership? 

  1. Leadership is not management: managers enforce; leaders inspire. 
  2. Leadership is not a title: regardless of your title or position, you can demonstrate leadership.
  3. Leadership is not self-serving: true leaders serve and support, not the other way around, and they try to bring out the best in their teams.
  4. Leadership is not short-sighted: leaders are visionaries who keep the bigger picture in mind, and sometimes make hard decisions to get there.
  5. Leadership is not easy: be ready to work hard, fight for what you believe in and for your people, and willing to do it alone.
  6. Leadership is not for everyone: know yourself and if this would play to your strengths or not.
As I was finishing Alison Levine's book On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership, and seeing more examples of how true leaders act in life-and-death situations, what leadership is and is not became more clear. 

So what is leadership? The ability for someone to get you from point a to z, make you feel that you were a part of the process the entire way and are better for having taken that journey with them. Leaders inspire. They stand for something so strongly that they make their vision your own.

But as Alison points out, we all have to first be leaders of our own expedition. How can we inspire others if we do not have our own credo that we are willing to live by? How can we earn trust and loyalty if we do not follow-through on what we promised and stand for? 

What is the credo of a true leader you know? What is your credo?