Become the Person You Want to Be

A previous boss once taught me that "it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission." Having just finished Herminia Ibarra's Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader made me realize how truly valuable this lesson was.

It is up to us to become the person—and leader—we want to be. To do so, we need to act as if we already were in that role so that others can envision us in that role. It seems contrarian, but is unfortunately true. And by acting that way, we also expand our own image of who we are and who we can become.

This is equally true for other aspects of our life. Fake it until you make it. Just start doing the thing you wanted to make time for and it will become easier to prioritize it. Just act the way you wish you could and over time you will internalize it.

As Nike says, just do it.

The worst that can happen is that what you wanted is not what you thought it to be or that you have evolved past that goal; you can then further iterate and move on. But at least you will know and be acting upon your dreams.

What have you wanted to become? What can you do right now to make it real?

Identity as a Leadership Trap

As per Herminia Ibarra in her book Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, to become the leader we'd like to be, we should act first and think second. This is because acting offers "outsight" (insight from the outside) that thinking won't provide. 

Outsight has three parts:
  1. Redefine your job
  2. Redefine your network
  3. Redefine yourself
I've touched on the first two in my previous posts about this book (here and here) and would like to discuss the third here.

We all have a strong sense of self and along with that, actions that make us feel "authentic" and actions that make us feel like a phony. As per Herminia, there are two types of people:
  1. "chameleons" who are comfortable with being different things at different times, as the situation calls for;
  2. and "true-selfers" who stick to the one version they believe is who they truly are.
Chameleons are more likely to be promoted while true-selfers, even when given the opportunity to step-up, tend to get in their own way. 

Herminia encourages us to consider working on our identity as play, rather than work, so that we are okay with trying on different roles, borrowing aspects from those we idolize, and even reframing our stories. 

All the above really speaks to me. At an earlier point in my life (yes, in my angsty teenage years), I spent a lot of time trying to define myself and figuring out the three words that best described me. I would occasionally adjust those three words, but I used them as my personal lodestone. And although I have not done this for years, I now realize that there were other mindsets that got in my way.

To me, "politics" was a four-letter word and a game I refused to play. As Herminia and others have since taught me, there are good and bad politics. The good kind is just the way the game is played and a necessary part of business. I also refused to see the good in starting your own business and being anything but a corporate climber. I have obviously rethought both those concepts and embraced a different and evolving aspect of my personality.

What all this has taught me, as Herminia and her quoted experts confirm, is that our stories and identities change. We have to be open to this and to exploring different aspects of ourselves, and experimenting with those that make us feel uncomfortable, to truly step-up to leadership roles. It won't be easy but by reframing it as play rather than work, it will be more tolerable to the true-selfers among us.

So view identity not as who you were or are, but also as who you want to become. 

From this perspective, can you identify a thought or practice that has been holding you back? How can you break through this trap and "play"?

The True Work of Management

What do you think differentiates successful managers from unsuccessful ones? Meaning, what is the one most important thing a manager can do and therefore should spend his time doing?

If you knew of John Kotter's experiment following several general managers, which Herminia Ibarra mentions in her book Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, you'd be surprised.

Apparently successful managers leave time in their schedules to walk around, have conversations, and just meander. These brief and apparently random meetings allow them to—
  • deepen relationships, 
  • widen their networks, 
  • ask questions to understand trends and issues,
  • reinforce priorities,
  • make deals,
  • get different perspectives.
The unsuccessful managers, on the other hand, had schedules fully booked with meetings, presentations, and reports. 

This definition of manager is more akin to what I consider a leader: not the specialist focused on the day-to-day operations but the generalist looking to broaden his and his team's resources and opportunities. And this of course presupposes that the manager/leader has a good team to do the day-to-day work.

Regardless of the definition and label, the point Herminia makes is that if you want to be successful and considered for further promotion, you cannot just spend your time doing the work that got you to this point: you must expand your horizons and networks. She calls this "outsight" (as opposed to insight).

Have you seen this at work? Who is the hub of information in your group and how do people treat him/her?

Leaders as Change Agents

Herminia Ibarra, in her book Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, explains that to become the leader you want to be, you have to first do it and then reflect on what worked and what didn't. Most people do the opposite: they think about becoming the leader they want to be (or try to find the time for this), rather than just becoming that leader.

One of the topics Herminia delves into is how leaders need to be change agents. She explains that to do this, they need to spend time with those outside of their team and network, seeing trends and potential problems, formulating plans and strategies to deal with these, and then bringing these back to their teams.

In trying to get buy-in for their ideas, many leaders believe that it's well-formulated plans or presentations that make the difference. Herminia shows that it's actually something very different.

The idea + the process + you = success in leading change

In all Herminia's studies, classes, and observations, the above formula was the difference between successful and failed change efforts. Surprisingly though, it was the "you" part of the equation that made the most difference every time.

If you think about the "leaders" that you respect and/or follow, they're the ones that you trust. They have somehow made a personal connection with you—earned your trust and respect—so you are more open to what they have to say. Without that connection, you are less likely to care about their ideas or process. One way of making this connection is by telling stories about your life, showing how your experiences align with what you stand for, as Margaret Thatcher did.

I have written before about how important it is for leaders to be great at leading and great at sharing their vision with others. Herminia's experience and writing shows us how it's the the person behind the vision and how that vision is relayed that makes all the difference.

Can you think of a leader who inspired you? What about him/her made the difference?

True Education Requires No Degree

I recently read The Education of Millionaires: Everything You Won't Learn in College About How to Be Successful by Michael Ellsberg, which we discussed at my book club.

Michael's premise, as his title suggests, is that a traditional education will not teach you anything useful and will not help you succeed. He brings examples of many millionaires who did not get a college degree (or for those who did, that did not go on for an advanced degree). He also lists the practical skills that he believes are necessary for success, which include sales and marketing.

As he explains, most people believe that it's enough to be good at their craft and if you go for an advanced degree/more schooling, you'll be even better at your craft and on your way to success. What they do not realize, nor are taught, is that everyone needs to know how to sell and market their business/skills/themselves to get anywhere. 

Although I personally have both a Bachelor's and a Master's, I have to agree with most of what Michael says. I have learned a lot more practical skills from on the job trial and error, experience, and observation, coupled with all my business book reading, than I did in my formal education. I'm not saying they were useless, but with the exception of a handful of classes, they were all too theoretical and not at all practical.

I've actually wondered whether I would have been at a different (a.k.a. more advanced and better) place in my career had I gone for an MBA instead of an MS in Publishing. I even applied for an online EMBA program recently and then deferred it. Although it's relatively cheap compared to most MBA programs, and is all online, it's still time and money. Everything has that opportunity cost and I'm not sure the ROI is there. 

For those of you with advanced degrees, do you think it's worth it? If you had the opportunity to do it over, would you?

Will the Next Door Please Open Up?

Image result for when one door closes

You've probably heard the above cliche before...and you've probably had to remind yourself of it a few times. Did you know there's a second part to it? The full saying goes like this: 
When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.
I've unfortunately had a few instances in my life, as have many of us, where one painful door was slamming shut. Sometimes these doors were long overdue and it was actually a mixed blessing forcing me to revisit previous decisions. 

It's never easy and even if you know that it's for the best, and are thankful deep's still hard. But then again, we're human and often afraid of the unknown.

Have you had to deal with a similar situation? What has helped you focus on the open door rather than on the closed one?

High Turnover=Bad Management

A young friend of mine was just let go from a job after four months. Things had started going badly fairly quickly and her boss was acting irrationally. Turns out her boss has not had an assistant last longer than four months.

Why are senior management and HR not doing something about this?

If this woman were so valuable to the company that despite her atrocious management and people skills she was necessary, then take away her staff and let her partner with someone who can manage. But chances are she's not that valuable or irreplaceable. 

Everything has an opportunity cost, and the one associated with turnover is huge. I speak from personal experience. It takes time to hire someone, and then you have to train them and if done right, that takes time too. 

If you have someone in your team that needs to constantly be hiring, you should start asking questions. Provide them training. If that doesn't work, either move them to a position where they can't do damage or replace them.

Doing so is actually in the best interest of the company—and your bottom line. Having a bad manager not only effects the morale (and perhaps health) of this person's direct reports, but also everyone else they associate with. And every time they've got someone quitting and or being trained, they'll become a bottleneck for the rest of your team. 

Part of a manager's job is being able to manage. If they can't—and a good indication is high turnover, unhappy employees, and/or low productivity—then they have failed at their job.

Have you fallen victim to this? How has your company reacted?

Offboarding Matters as Much as Onboarding

Starting an employee off right, with proper onboarding, is good business sense. It allows them to ramp up quickly and starts the relationship off well.

Offboarding matters just as much. When an employee is leaving you want to treat them with just as much respect. Not only will they remain an advocate of you and your brand, but it will make those who are staying happy to do so.

I read The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh a while ago. 

According to the book, instead of spending so much time hiring and onboarding staff that will at some point move on, create an alliance with them instead. Be up front about what projects and tasks are required of them, how long you think the project will last, and what you will give them in return. Once the project is nearing completion, you can check-in and see if they want to stay on for another project or role. If they choose not to stay, you add them to your network of talent and can reach out to them next time you have a need for their particular skill.

With the Alliance model, there is no hypocrisy between the onboarding message ("We hope you'll be happy and be with us for a long time") and the reality ("Your employment is at will and as such can be terminated at any time, with our without cause"). Instead someone is hired to complete x by y and has the option to move on to z if things are going well. There is still ongoing communication, feedback, and "employer" investment in the contractor's education since this is a long-term professional relationship. The only difference is that everyone knows going into the relationship how long both parties commit to and what both will give and get. 

The above scenario also highlights how properly done offboarding can help the employer. If you no longer have work for a talented employee and offboard them well, there's no reason they won't consider helping you out in the future should the opportunity arise. Offboard them badly and this will not be possible.

Bottom line, always treat people right because you never know when your paths will cross again and/or if you'll need their help again. 

Have you been offboarded well? What was the difference between this and a bad offboarding experience?

Personality Tests as the Modern Guide?

Have you noticed the plethora of personality tests that abound?

There's the traditional ones (e.g., Myers Briggs), the strength-based ones put forth by Marcus Buckingham, and the ones by various authors (e.g., Gretchen Rubin's Four Tendencies in Better than Before or Sally Hogshead's test and system in How the World Sees You). I just discovered another interesting one today, The Genius Test...and then of course there are the fun ones on Facebook (e.g., Which Disney Princess/Universe/City etc. are you?). You'd think all we care about is categorizing ourselves.

Whenever I mention a personality test result to my husband, he automatically scoffs since he doesn't believe in them. I, on the other hand, enjoy taking them: they either help confirm or highlight an aspect of my character. 

Do I do anything differently because of its results? Will I change my career/life/hobby etc. because I am x rather than y? No. But perhaps it will give me further insight. 

I'm not sure what people used prior to the original personality test, but I'm sure the satisfaction of knowing oneself is not something unique to modern times. As children and teenagers we experiment with so much to figure out who we are...and then we grow up. We often make decisions, as grown ups, based on external expectations and demands rather then by following our internal guide, instinct, or passion. 

Perhaps personality tests are a way for us to reaffirm what we know deep down, and an excuse to reclaim ourselves.

Do you enjoy personality tests? Why or why not?

You Matter

I mentioned to a friend the other day that I had read this great book about finding one's calling (Art of Work by Jeff Goins). We talked for a few minutes and then he said something profound: everyone wants meaning to their lives. 

That sentence has replayed in my head on and off since then, and I'll take it a step further: everyone wants to matter.

Not only do they need meaning in what they do—to know their jobs matter—but they need to know that they matter too.

Years ago, when I first discovered the joys of business books, one of the first ones I read was Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow by Chip Conley. Chip was running a small boutique hotel in Silicon Valley during the post-dot com crash and while all his competitors were nearing bankruptcy, he was thriving.

His secret was his version of Maslow's hierarchy. 

As you can see from Maslow's standard hierarchy of needs (above), although we all need our basic and safety needs to survive (e.g., food and shelter), we have higher needs that must be met for us to be truly happy and fulfilled. The highest such need is self-actualization. 

As per Wikipedia:
As Abraham Maslow noted, the basic needs of humans must be met (e.g. food, shelter, warmth, security, sense of belongingness) before a person can achieve self-actualizationthe need to be good, to be fully alive and to find meaning in life. Research shows that when people live lives that are different from their true nature and capabilities, they are less likely to be happy than those whose goals and lives match. For example, someone who has inherent potential to be a great artist or teacher may never realize his/her talents if their energy is focused on attaining the basic needs of humans.
Chip Conley was able to have a successful business despite the horrible economy since he figured out how to give his employees, his customers, and his stakeholders what they needed to be self actualized. And as he explains, this all starts with happy employees who know they matter and how they matter.

I've written about the importance of culture before and some great theories about it. I really believe that at the heart of a great culture is that every person knows they matter. 

We need to know we matter, both professionally and personally, and that if we disappear, someone will mourn us. And since we spend so many hours at work, for us to be happy and productive employees—for us to be self-actualized—we need to know we matter there too.

This does not mean that as their manager you spoil them and/or let them do whatever they want. It doesn't even mean that you have to make them happy all the time. It means that you listen. It means that when they have a suggestion, you hear them out. It means that when you can tell they're not feeling well, you send them home. It means you see them as a person, and not just your cog.

So look around. Whom can you walk over to and show that they matter?

Fresh Starts

There is a magic to fresh starts. I remember loving to start a new notebook when in school and I still get that rush when starting anything new as an adult. For years, when trying to motivate myself to do something, I'd find that magical moment of newness plus added significance to make it stick.

Turns out I'm not so unique in this. Gretchen Rubin, in her book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives spends a chapter on how taking advantage of fresh starts—otherwise known as a "clean slate"—can help make a new habit stick.

She explains how pairing a new habit with a new circumstance in your life, whether good or bad, is more likely to help make it a new routine. For example, although she had trouble getting up early for the gym while going to law school, she managed to make this part of her routine when starting her clerkship and was therefore able to keep it going. 

Sometimes when there isn't something big and new, one can fabricate this "magic." Gretchen cleaned out her daughter's room to give herself a simulated fresh start when working on this book.

Starting something is the hardest part, often harder than maintaining it. And although people vary whether starting small or large is more motivating, starting along with something new or different invariably helps.

I'm constantly amazed how powerful our mind and reframing can be. We really can use these mental tricks for our own good, so is there something you've wanted to start and just can't get yourself to do so? What "fresh start" can you use to inspire yourself?

Schedule Your Habits

I started reading Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives this weekend. The premise of this book is that habits, because they don't require choice, free up your willpower and mental resources to be spent elsewhere. Gretchen then digs into the different types of people and ways to help establish new habits.

The way Gretchen categorizes people is whether they're motivated by internal or external expectations. Upholders are motivated by both, Questioners by internal expectations and they question external ones, Obligers are motivated by external expectations and often ignore internals ones, and Rebels are motivated by neither. Understanding this helps explain why certain things work for some people and not others. For example, for an Obliger to actually stick to a new habit like exercise, they need a partner they don't want to disappoint, otherwise they're likely to do something else for someone else.

The book then moves on to various methods that help establish new habits, including monitoring what's important, working on your foundation (e.g., sleep, healthy diet, etc.), and scheduling. 

I live by my calendar but tend to use either that or various to-do list apps to keep on top of things. After reading Gretchen's description of her daughter's calendar, which includes "DEAR" ("drop everything and read") and choice time, and how Gretchen then added "quitting time" to her own calendar, it got me thinking.

Having to toggle between my calendar and to-do lists is annoying, so I've moved all my to-dos to my calendar. Yes, it makes my calendar look even more overwhelming, but I'll know which tasks can only be moved rather than deleted. Not sure if this will work, but since I now include time to read and quitting time, which will hopefully help me get more reading and sleeping time, I'm definitely willing to give it a fair chance.

Is there something you've been meaning to do and can't seem to get around to? Go ahead and schedule it, and let me know if that helps.

Do, Delegate, or Defer

I just read Ari Meisel's Less Doing, More Living: Make Everything in Life Easier in one day. Even though I read a lot about productivity and am pretty organized, it still gave me food for thought...and apps to try.

The premise of the book is that 20% of effort begets 80% of the results, so you should only be spending your time on the effective 20%. You do this first by optimizing all your tasks, then automating or outsourcing most of what's left and only doing what no one else can do for you. This is similar to what's been discussed in other books I've read and written about, but he adds a twist.

Ari hates to-do lists. He explains that they are dumping grounds for everything and anything you have to do and therefore are overwhelming and demoralizing by their very nature. Instead he uses his e-mail inbox as a very targeted to-do list.

If you're like most people and drowning in e-mail, you may find that hard to believe, but he takes the following steps to make it possible:
  1. all e-mail is first filed as either essential or optional;
  2. essentials are then either tackled right then and there, sent to a virtual assistant, or snoozed until a later date;
  3. optionals are read when there's downtime.
In other words—
  1. DO what you can immediately;
  2. DELEGATE as much as possible of the rest and even automate the outsourcing itself with useful tools such as If This, Then That; and
  3. DEFER whatever is left over until an optimal time.
Ari never has more than a few e-mails in his inbox (he keeps it to ten max) and uses those few e-mails as his priority to-do list. As someone who works hard to get to inbox zero or close to that, I can totally relate. I've used Boomerang and now Inbox's built-in snooze to hide e-mails until I can deal with them, similar to what Ari does.

If This, Then That is only one of many useful resources Ari shares. There are various ones to snooze and schedule follow-ups, organize your finances, batch tasks, customize, outsource, and many more. I've already created a few social media "recipes" via If This, Then That and will be on the lookout for other simple tasks I can now automate. 

Can you think of an activity that you do repeatedly and does not really add value? Any way to optimize or automate it? Can you then eliminate, delegate, or defer it?