Is it realistic to think we can wake up every morning saying, “MAN!! I cannot wait to get to the office and start this day!”? Probably not. Would it be cool if on Friday, we got a little bummed because we were going to be away from our job for 2 whole days! Away from this “work thing” that gives us so much joy, purpose, and validation? Probably so. Imagine all the benefits for our societal culture, our economy, our personal health, and the overall human condition if we loved every minute of every day at our jobs. Musicians or artists might feel that way, although I did once hear a performer complain that “…keeping a guitar in tune in the summer is so hard!” So even my “dream job” has its drawbacks, Iguess. For the record, her tuning grievance received very little empathy from the audience. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has some work experience that companies andorganizations that have higher job satisfaction in their workforce are more profitable and moreproductive than those that rate lower in this statistic. Also, individuals who have more jobsatisfaction tend to be healthier and have an overall happier personal life… duh! In researching this article, my team (okay, just me) found that statistics for this subject aresomewhat varied. However, digging deeper into the available data we (me) found someconsistencies.. Here are some things you might find interesting: A little more than half of the U.S. work force is “satisfied” with their job. Only about 20% are “passionate” about their job. Roughly 4 in 10 workers say their job is important to their overall identity. Relationships with coworkers was a big part of overall job satisfaction. About 12% of U.S. workers are “extremely” dissatisfied or unhappy with their job. Paid time off benefits were considered the best contribution to job satisfaction, whilehealth care benefits were considered the most important. Almost half (47%) of the workforce who have paid time off benefits said they did not use alltheir allotted paid time off. One study showed that 74% of employees in the U.S. believe that company culture is one ofthe biggest contributing factors to job satisfaction. And finally… Companies with high worker satisfaction outperform low satisfaction companiesby (as much as) 202% Most of the surveys stated that the statistics were consistent with government, non-profit, privatesector, and self-employed workers. In every study, workers aged 54 – 65 were the most satisfiedwith their jobs, and having just turned 64, this gave me a little validation… a small dopamineshot. But the same studies showed workers in their 20s were by and large the least satisfied.Since I have 2 children in their twenties, both freshly out of academia and in the workforce, thiscertainly gave me some pause. I firmly believe we all owe it to ourselves to put forth our best efforts toa t least find someenjoyment in our workday. We spend almost half of our waking life,o n the job, shouldn’t we tryand squeeze as much joy out of that time as we can? That enjoyment can come from manypossibilities; the comradery of our co-workers, the responsibility of an important project, thevalidation of doing things well, the personal reward of knowing your work has meaning, or ishelping others. Sometimes that enjoyment can lead to passion, and when your occupation, yourday job, becomes your passion, you can’t really call it work anymore. It becomes somethingbigger. Several years ago, I ran into a high school friend who I hadn’t seen in years. He was a guy Ialways looked up to; great social skills, hilarious sense of humor, and just a joy to be around. Asour conversation turned to the “what have you been up to” portion, I asked him, “Where are youworking these days?” His reply was something that has stuck with me since: “I don’t work, man.” “Really? Must be nice! How do you pay the bills?” I replied, being a bit nosey. “Oh, I have a job. I’m a flight attendant. I ame mployed by a small airline based in D.C.,but it doesn’t feel like work. The hours are crazy, and the days are brutally long, and I loveevery minute of it!” This was a revelation to my 20-something-year old brain, "...a nd I love every minute of it!" Thisguy was talking about his job, not his softball team or his golf league. His JOB! A job with longdays & crazy hours. For my friend, it was the social aspect of working with the high energy people in his peer group,working with the public and meeting new people every day. Traveling, and seeing the countrywith people he enjoyed being around, was his occupation. He found joy in that culture, and thatjoy became a passion. Up until that meeting, it hadn’t occurred to me that a job, one’s vocation, could be enjoyable. Ididn’t like my job at the time. In fact, the culture where I worked was such that not liking yourjob was kind of part of the job…the expectation. While I did not know this at the time, “culture” iseveryone’s responsibility. The chance meeting with my friend created something of an epiphany for me. I was working in awarehouse for a municipality at the time, and I shared the experience with my coworkers. It tooksome convincing and some inspired persuasion, but I talked the team into creating somethinglike a swear jar. But instead of depositing a quarter in a jar for bad words, we had to pay up percomplaint. Every gripe, every whine, every non-constructive utterance was accompanied by amonetary fine. We had fun with it, we charted it when we could; the first couple of months itadded up quickly. We used the money for an end of the month lunch or happy hour, but morethan anything we used the constant reminder of our bad attitudes to change the way weapproached the day. We were lucky in that there were 5 of us who all bought into the exercise. Wechanged the culture, simply because we were sick and tired of being sick and tired, 8 to 10 hoursa day, 5 or 6 days a week. We found a way to make the best of a situation, that really wasn’t as badas we were making it out to be. It was just a small change, and we all took accountability formaking the change. It can be done… and you can do it. While that was a great learning experience, the job still wasn’t what I thought would befulfilling in the long term. So, I searched for something more. It took a few years to find avocation that would become my passion, but I did. Early in my sales career, I read everybook I could find, attended every seminar, and took every workshop made available to me.None of that stuff felt like work, or “have to” tasks. I found it fascinating. Later in mycareer, largely based on the influence of my mentor, I found real joy in being a salestrainer and a leadership coach. Today, that’s where I find fulfillment when I’m on theclock. I love my job. In my mentoring work, I try to drive this home anytime I have the opportunity: There isreal power, and amazing mental and physical health benefits in enjoying your job. Intoday’s world, it’s NOT just forty hours a week. Consider your commute, consider the timethinking about it on the weekend, especially if you are dissatisfied. If you are not happy inyour job, first, look within. Decide as to whether you can fix it, or at least make it better. I’llbet you, with a little effort, you can. Choosing to make a change is half the battle!
And we hope you take it as an opportunity to spread the spirit! Mentors are not only the people you collaborate with in a formal mentoring program; mentors are everywhere! Each of us has met people along the way who have given us advice, assisted us with a work project, or even introduced us to influencers who made a difference in our careers. And chances are? You’ve been a mentor to a colleague… maybe without even realizing it. The positivity that goes hand-in-hand with mentoring has the power to impact not only individuals but an entire organizational culture. When information is shared between colleagues at different departmental levels, junior employees often feel better rooted in their purpose and develop a vision for where they’d like to go. Those with more seniority who are serving as mentors frequently tell us the act of giving back and absorbing new perspectives energizes their sense of direction while giving them a chance to pause and reflect on how far they’ve come. Here are some things you could do to celebrate your own mentoring experiences: Write a thank you note to someone who has been a mentor to you. Share examples of how their wisdom still resonates with you and your work today. Tell them how you try to pay it forward. Sign up to participate in a mentoring program. See if any informational sessions are coming up or ask your supervisor if they know of any programs that could be a good fit. If you’ve already been a mentee, consider being a mentor this time. You can do it! Get out there and mentor in your community. There are all kinds of groups that need coaches, Big Brothers/Sisters, tutors…. Consider sharing your passions with people outside of the office.
It’s October! And October just might be the most glorious month of the year. Work is good, the outside air is becoming cooler, the leaves are displaying those beautiful autumn colors, and we’re “knee deep” in football season (even if you don’t like football, the snacks are great!!). But there is an ugh in the air, in the hallways, and around the virtual water cooler, because it’s also annual performance review time. Thus, the ugh. For some reason, even in the best of circumstances, nobody seems to like the task of performance reviews. Why? For the reviewer/manager/supervisor: It often creates uncomfortable conversations. In many cases they are not prepared. They scramble to find equal amounts of “positives” and “needs improvement” points. For the reviewee: Again… it often creates uncomfortable conversations. Sometimes… they wonder why they didn’t know about these things sooner. It can be difficult to respond to your manager on points where you disagree. We need to rewrite the script on Annual Performance Reviews! Why can’t we make this a positive experience? The first thing we need to do is remove the word “annual” from the title, or at least the process. When the “annual” is done, there should be no surprises, that alone could remove a lot of the anxiety and apprehension that comes with this process. As I did the research for this newsletter, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that many of the managers I interviewed agreed that this shouldn’t be a once-a-year discussion. When the labor market is as tight as it is today (The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the national unemployment rate is 3.8%), good employees are difficult to find, and even harder to keep. Good, and frequent, job performance dialog and coaching are critical to maintaining a happy and productive work environment. I can tell you as a manager, employee retention has been the biggest challenge in the post pandemic world, and it effects all segments of the global workforce. There are all kinds of reasons people seek new employment. While many of those reasons can be out of our control, communication and feedback are 100% in everyone’s control. This applies to your staff, your manager, and your peers! The content or information in an Annual Performance Review should never be a surprise to the reviewee. Let’s look at some ways to take the ugh out!! Timing is Everything If there is an issue that needs to be addressed, the closer to the incident you can address it is (almost) always better. We don’t want feedback to be a surprise, so if there is an issue, the person getting feedback or coaching should be expecting it. In some situations, though, if there is an incident that is highly emotional, it is sometimes better to let everyone take a beat, or a breath. You will most likely deliver a more thoughtful message after emotions settle, and your recipient is more likely to hear what you have to say after they have calmed down. Make it Part of the Culture Feedback is a process that requires deliberate and constant attention. If it needs to be said, then say it. Then, your team will know where they stand, they will know what needs to be done to improve. In this culture, problems don’t get out of hand, or become bigger than they should. Consistency is the key. Be Specific Tell the person exactly what needs to be done to improve their performance. Mention only the facts, and try to avoid vague, or blanket type statements: Instead of: “You always forget to log the mileage charts and this creates extra work for everyone.” It's better stated like this: “Beauregard, you didn’t log the mileage charts yesterday. Now Rebecca will have to go to the motor pool, find the truck and record the mileage. We need to make sure that’s done moving forward. Okay? Try not to exaggerate to make a point. Avoid words like “never”, “always”, “all” and the like. They water down the point, or make it look bigger than it really is. Positives Count Too If feedback is part of the culture, swing that pendulum both ways! (I love the pendulum metaphor! It works in so many examples.) If we only notice, and comment on, the “needs improvement” aspects of the job, and the people we are managing, we’re going to create a lousy culture. If we are only coaching on the negatives, when review time comes, and the reviewee gets a bunch of positive feedback that comes as a surprise, they are likely to think, “Well that would have been nice to know!” High performance by your staff and your co-workers should be an expectation. When those lofty expectations are met, it should be noted… loudly. The ripple effects of this are amazing to the culture of a workplace. If Beauregard sees Rebecca getting constant praise for the outstanding work she’s doing, it might make him want to step up his game to get some of that kind of attention too. Always Remember While public praise is always appreciated, public criticism is not. I’ve written this in so many articles, I should probably make it my tag line: Praise loudly and publicly, criticize quietly, thoughtfully, and privately. Finally… The feedback highway runs both ways. You need to know how to give it effectively, and you need to know how to receive it constructively. If you’re not sure where you stand, or how you are doing, ask. Avoiding job performance dialog does not change facts, it only creates uncertainty. It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep those lines of communication open, active and consistent. When we avoid constructive critique or sweep issues that need some coaching under the rug, performance and productivity suffer. The issues don’t go away, the facts remain, and now we also have a lumpy rug. Equally, when we get too busy to deliver positive feedback, we run the risk of creating a joyless atmosphere… and a joyless atmosphere creates employee turnover. (Remember that 3.8% unemployment rate!!)
Recently I forgot something important. REALLY important. It was an event one of my children was supposed to attend. Something we gasped with excitement over when he was first invited. We immediately rsvp’d, completed a pile of paperwork so he could participate, even proudly told his grandparents about it (“Listen to this cool thing Charlie gets to do!”). A couple of busy autumn months went by, brimming with other events, assignments, and ballgames and… when the day came around, it wasn’t until I was climbing into bed that night when I said, “Wait. Were we supposed to do something today?” I didn’t used to be prone to forgetting. I’m diligent about putting things in my smartphone calendar and this commitment was no exception. “How could this have happened?” is something I’ve asked myself relentlessly since. So, here’s what I think: My mind has grown lazy. If the receptionist at the dentist says, “see you in 6 months” you might see me physically standing there at the desk putting it in my calendar, but frankly they are going to send me 30 reminder texts and emails a couple of weeks before the actual appointment so there’s no reason for me to truly internalize the date. Of course, the phone is always buzzing but it’s sometimes with a weekly meeting I’ve forgotten to delete from the calendar or a notification about a school bus running late for my child who plans to walk home anyway. What I’m trying to say is there was a time when I HAD good scheduling habits, but then it got muddy because someone was always remembering for me. And at one time I was responsible enough to register for constant text notifications about things like late buses, when messages became too voluminous, I learned to ignore them. With my son’s special event, there was no reminder from them and so there was no remembering from me. How absurd! I don’t need to recreate new habits; I need to spruce up my old ones. Habit Stacking If you’ve strayed from a good habit, one strategy for getting back on track is to attach something new to the way you’ve always done it. For me, from this day forward, the second I take my first sip of coffee, I open the calendar to read it. The good habit was always there: using the phone calendar to organize commitments. Now it’s time to build a small addition: instead of waiting for notifications, actively checking the calendar at the same time every day. This also works if you simply want to pick up a new ritual. For example, starting a mediation routine. If you’re good at exercising regularly consider adding 5 minutes of meditation to the beginning of your routine. If you want to maintain your network more intentionally, send a note to a colleague to say hello each time you open your healthy homemade lunch. Choose the Habits of Leader Pick good places for growth. Make a list of the attributes of a good leader. For example, a productive manager might set their intentions each day, prioritize people over tasks, or listen before they speak. How can you autopilot these interpersonal skills so that they become habits? Pick simple behaviors that you can put on repeat. Some ideas: To be a better listener- Listen to the other person speak and then paraphrase what they said. “So, what you mean is.” “Okay, so to make sure I have this right…” Knowing that you will end each conversation this way will force you to listen to what the speaker is saying instead of letting your brain fill with what you plan to say next. Prioritize people so they can succeed- Don’t simply download the specifics of a project. Think of how to help the people involved succeed. If you are delegating work, make sure the person in receipt of your project knows how the outcome will be measured and evaluated. Begin every meeting by sharing the goals. Be ready with ideas- Don’t present a problem without sharing possible solutions. If you’re good about updating your supervisor with the status on a project and you are honest about problems that might be happening, also take the time to suggest solutions. Keep Your Rhythm Re-energize your plan to keep your rhythm with a good habit. Repetition is the key so perhaps incentivize never missing more than two days in a row. If you decide to revisit your calendar every morning, maybe on Friday’s reward yourself with a specialty coffee or going for a walk during your lunch hour. Take a “small steps” approach to Improvement Be mindful that if you add too much into your already packed routine you might find yourself overwhelmed. Continuous and gradual steps might be a better approach. Try reading about “Kaizen”, the Japanese philosophy of setting small, manageable steps to improve your habits over time. The idea is that if you get a teeny bit better constantly, as little as 1% a day, you can be in a constant state of improvement- even when it comes to things that are going well already. Practitioners of this method find it to be especially useful in business but with some imagination, you can make it work for the individual. Here are some ideas for staying consistent with a new habit without disrupting your current routine: Make a timestamp. Five to ten minutes a day and that’s it. Look at literature. See if there is a book or podcast that centers on your new habit and read or listen to just a snippet each week. This will help you remain rooted in what you are trying to achieve. Don’t let this new thing be the reason you stayed up too late or fell behind in another priority.
As the year draws to a close, it is a time of joy, reflection, and memory-making—setting the perfect scene to squeeze in some mentoring magic. The holiday season brings with it a unique focus on both gratitude and promise, providing a great opportunity for mentoring partners to look back on the work they have done together so far while also considering how they might deepen their work, strengthen their connection, and make even more progress together. Set the stage for a successful partnership by embracing some of the many gifts of mentoring. Time. We know—it’s a busy time of year! But it’s also a meaningful time of year when many of us are in a state of mind conducive to reflecting on the past year and thinking positively about the next. If you can find even one hour to connect, give the gift of your time! Take a break from the hustle and bustle to spend some quality time with your mentoring partner. Whether it's a virtual meeting or a coffee date, partnerships can use this time to reflect on the progress made throughout the year and set goals for the upcoming one. Support for Navigating Challenges. For some people, this time of year is not all holiday cheer. In the same way that the season can amplify feelings of joy and hope, they can similarly magnify feelings of loneliness, grief, or fear. Mentees may be facing difficult circumstances or navigating emotional challenges in their professional or personal lives. Mentors can make things a little brighter simply by showing up and being attentive, supportive, and understanding. They can provide a safe space for their mentee to share their challenges or concerns while being actively listened to and cared about. Often, the relief that comes from this type of support is less about having your problems solved than being able to share them with someone you trust to help you navigate them. Reflection and Resolution. The end of the year really is the perfect time for mentors and mentees to share reflections on what they’ve accomplished and what they’ve learned together during the past year. Honest introspection and evaluation can help partnerships consider what tweaks they could make in the new year to foster even more success. And what better time to finetune goals than on the eve of a new year full of fresh possibility and opportunity. A conversation like this can provide a renewed sense of direction and purpose and reenergize the partnership. Professional Development Opportunities. While you’re already thinking and looking ahead, dive into ideas for professional development opportunities. As mentoring pairs revisit mentoring goals and refine their plans for their partnership and beyond, it’s a great opportunity to think about ways mentees can enhance their skills and acquire new ones to prepare for future roles. They can identify targeted training, valuable resources, or collaborative projects that will help the mentee take actionable steps toward their professional objectives. Networking Opportunities. Seasonal engagements like holiday gatherings or festive events can be a great opportunity to facilitate introductions with professional contact who can help mentees reach their goals, present or future. And even if mentors don’t necessarily have an event to invite their mentee to, they can still offer to help their mentee prepare for networking opportunities of their own, such as an office party. Reach out to share effective networking strategies and help them calm any nerves. Gratitude. There is never a wrong time of year to give the gift of gratitude. That said, mentors and mentees alike can tap into the thankful spirit of the season and express their heartfelt thanks for their partner’s time and efforts and the growth and progress they have achieved together. This mutual appreciation does more than warm the heart—it strengthens the partnership and reinforces the dual commitment to ensuring it is impactful for both partners.
One of the books on my nightstand right now is Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferriss. In this collection of “mini-interviews,” Ferriss poses a series of 11 thought-provoking questions to more than 100 successful performers, athletes, writers, and entrepreneurs and compiles some of their answers in a quick-read fashion that lands with impact. While I’m enjoying the respondents’ answers, what I’ve found most powerful are the questions themselves. A few that resonated for me were: How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours? What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.) In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life? As the parent of a teenager, I found the first question particularly compelling. It’s sometimes easy to forget how much struggle and heartache many of us must experience before we arrive at a place in life where we can have a “favorite failure.” It can take years to learn how to stop fearing failure and being consumed by regret at the thought of it and instead recognize how setbacks have led to an outcome even better than we’d originally hoped for. If I could give my son a gift, it would be the ability to skip the “failure-resistant” phase of life and move straight to Ferriss’s outlook, which is that, while you can’t avoid failure, you can avoid failure without reward. When we find out the hard way what doesn’t work, it only helps us get closer to the things that do, in part by uncovering our strengths and weaknesses. As Ferriss puts it, “You don’t ‘succeed’ because you have no weaknesses; you succeed because you find your unique strengths and focus on developing habits around them.” Reflecting on my own experience returning to the workforce after many years of staying at home with my family, I struggled with multiple disappointments as I navigated applications and interviews and several kind but disheartening rejections! “We appreciate your interest, but we’ve decided to go in another direction” and “We’re unable to move forward at this time” and a number of other polite messages seemed to scream failure and no hope of ever overcoming the gap on my resume. While perhaps not gracefully, I did learn something from each rejection. I took note of questions and comments during interviews and spent hours tweaking my resume to highlight things interviewers seemed interested in. I found people with experience and insight and sought their advice to help prepare for interviews, learning how to emphasize the heavy volunteer work I’d done over the years to keep my skills sharp and relevant. Within a couple of months, I finally landed a job, and a good one at that! Not the “dream jobs” I’d set my sights on originally, but one that ended up being even better because it brought me to an organization where I found unique opportunities that I wouldn’t have had elsewhere. Three personal strengths that helped me get through the painful process of reestablishing my career have also played a direct role in the exciting opportunities I’ve experienced since. They aren’t particularly unusual or impressive—strong writing skills, work ethic, and drive to build relationships—but it wasn’t until I tapped into them and started building on them that I finally began finding success. Those characteristics may sound like fluff on a resume but applying them consistently over time in the right setting with the right people allowed me to set myself apart, show my potential, and establish key connections that ultimately helped open doors for me. What personal strengths have you built upon to find success? What setbacks helped reveal them to you or, as Ferriss would ask, what’s your favorite failure?
All of us have things we love to do outside of work that keep our attention rapt. How great does it feel to get so involved in what you’re doing that time flies and you can think of nothing else! In this month’s newsletter, we’re going to talk about finding that same intensity of focus in our work. Making space to be creative Before we dive into the concept of a “flow state“ let’s make space in our schedules for being creative. Here’s why: the most optimal time for reaching deep concentration and originality is when the challenge at hand is compatible with your competencies. Cleaning the junk out of your email inbox, for example, is unlikely to inspire the greatest contributions to your work. That’s because deleting blinking ads and coupons is annoying but not very hard to do. Try to automate mundane tasks that keep things orderly but don’t require a lot of heavy lifting. In the case of email housekeeping, you could tidy your inbox at the same time every day. Set a 10-minute timer to avoid overthinking the process. Make folders for things you aren’t ready to delete but shouldn’t be distracted by right now. Perhaps email isn’t your easiest task but take the effort to decide what is. To isolate the items in your workload that can be compressed into automation, make a list of your departmental responsibilities. Put them into categories such as “simple”, “moderately challenging”, and “complex.” Tasks that don’t take up too much brain power shouldn’t overstay their calendar time either- even the ones that are tedious. Plan your approach for these tasks, be prescriptive in how often you’ll tackle them and how long they should take, and then slide them in your schedule at regularly occurring intervals. “The Secret to Happiness” Now that your daily routine is a little airier, it’s time to talk “flow state.” First, some background on the topic. Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi gave a Ted Talk on what he claimed to be “The Secret to Happiness.” Growing up in post-war Europe, he was surrounded by hopelessness. He noticed that some of the adults around him remained devastated by WWII and couldn’t find their way around the sadness. He began considering what makes people truly happy and quickly realized it wasn’t money. He zeroed in on creatives such as artists and musicians because of the devotion they have for their craft even without the promise of “making it big.” What would make someone work that hard for such little reward? His years of study revealed that all kinds of people take on hobbies and sports they find so satisfying that they lose all sense of space and time when doing them. Their contentment is their reward. Csikszentmihalyi says we can all access our creativity and retreat into this intuitive mental state or “flow.” We’re not talking about things that are a cinch (please see section on automating tasks that come easy to you!). The idea is to find yourself so deeply focused on whatever you are doing, that nothing- not your phone, fiddling with the music, or wondering how long until lunch- is going to distract you. It’s being completely present. Not only is regularly dipping into a “flow state” satisfying, if we can access this process at work, flow can help us to be productive, motivated, and even foster an appreciation and sense of loyalty for our organizations. Finding your flow state It’s true that you can’t totally manufacture the flow state. Often, getting in the zone is most powerful when it happens spontaneously. But you can certainly optimize the chance of finding your flow by following these steps: Choose the right task. We already decided what’s too easy. A recent article in BBC Worklife warned, alternatively, against choosing something unfamiliar because the process of learning something new can be too frustrating. You can’t get the flow going if you’re irritated. - Pick something you’ve done before, and you find a little bit challenging but isn’t so unfamiliar that you get stressed either. Just like you did with the simple tasks in your workload, try making a list of the exciting components of your job. When do you feel most invested? What captivates your attention? What do you find meaningful about your work? Ready your work environment. A quiet, orderly workspace, with minimal distractions is best. Put your phone away and close your calendar. Put on a sweater if it’s chilly. Some people like working with quiet instrumental background music, others prefer stone silence. You might also try a “brown noise” playlist on Spotify. Brown noise is a low-frequency sound that is meant to provide a feeling of calm and focus. Set a clear goal. This step is very personal, of course. Start broad- what is the overall purpose of this exercise? To improve upon a certain system? From there, continue fine tuning your thoughts to establish your desired outcome, how to measure your success and report your results.
The content of this month’s newsletter is harvested from a diverse crop of inspiration; a keynote speaker, two recent college grads, and one great tag line. I attended an industry event last month, and “Go before you’re ready” … was on a slide in the keynote presentation by USAF, Lt. Colonel Dan Rooney. Dan Rooney, call sign, “Noonan”, is a USAF fighter pilot, a golf pro, a man of devout faith, a dedicated patriot & philanthropist, and the founder of Folds of Honor. Folds of Honor is a foundation that gives scholarships to the children of fallen and disabled veterans and first responders. While I picked up lots useful and thought-provoking content, being the parent of two recent college graduates, and a mentor to a handful of young work associates, “Go before you’re ready”, struck a chord that still resonates a month later. The soul of the Lt. Colonel’s presentation was about chasing dreams, how we can help people chase their dreams, and the importance of not waiting. He spoke about living a full life, finding purpose for yourself and for others, and chasing that purpose, those dreams, and that fulfillment. The message is one that I truly believe applies to anyone who is starting their career, thinking about changing careers, or even for someone looking to make any kind of positive change in their life. The message I hope to convey to my children, my mentees, and all of you who took the time to read this newsletter, is that I truly believe our vocational and personal possibilities are practically endless. As fluffy and perhaps naïve as it may sound, you need to believe that in today’s world, you can be anything you want to be. The key word in that last sentence is want. It’s not easy to be anything you want to be. It’s actually pretty difficult. Because we live in a world where anything is possible, sometimes the most difficult part is figuring out the what. What is your potential? What are you good at? What do you want to be good at? What do you love to do? What is your dream? What is stopping you? When you figure out what your dream is, what your want is, you start to get clarity on how you’re going to chase it and achieve it. When that want becomes stronger than your discomfort, you figure out the how. It’s important to understand that there will be some discomfort along the way. In most cases, if the personal journey were easy, the destination is probably not going to be that great. It takes courage, it takes patience, it takes belief, and it takes a little bit of caution… but just a little!! Another great line from Dan Rooney’s presentation is, “Courage and comfort can almost never co-exist”. Allow yourself the freedom to change your mind, but don’t change your mind, or give up because it’s too hard. When Gina Davis’ character (A League of Their Own) wanted to leave the team, because things were becoming “too hard”, Tom Hanks’ character says, “Yeah, it is hard. But it’s the hard that makes it good.” Chasing dreams, fulfilling passions, reaching your best potential, would not be nearly as fulfilling if it was easy. The only awesome thing in life that’s easy is a hot fudge sundae… even then, you have to heat the fudge. Figure out your dream. Discover what you’re passionate about and turn that dream into your reality. Okay, now let’s say you found that dream, that want … that passion. Is it realistic? Not to the rest of the world, is it realistic to you? The check list is short: Is it your dream? Is it someone else’s dream for you? If it’s someone else’s, does it come from a place of love, support and caring? If so, does that dream fit? Do you believe it makes you better, happier, fulfilled? If the dream fits, chart your course!! Better put, chart your own course! Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do, but it never hurts to listen to the advice and counsel from people who you trust have your best interests at heart. This is where great mentors come in. It’s important to realize that there will be doubters and naysayers along the way, even from family and friends. It’s sometimes just human nature to ridicule or try to downplay someone trying to improve their situation. Maybe they’re jealous, maybe they’re afraid of being passed up, or left behind… maybe they just don’t understand. When you are chasing YOUR dream, you must find a way to block that out. It’s important to consider any advice that comes from a positive place, and to weed out the junk. You owe it to yourself to chase the dream, you owe it to the people who believe in you to chase it as well. You owe the naysayers nothing. There is a great quote by James Baldwin: “Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by those who are doing it.” When I started writing my blog page, ‘The Large Man Chronicles’, a lot of people asked why I thought I could do something like that. It was as if I didn’t have the right to write! (See what I did there?) My only answer was that it was just something I wanted to do. I travel a lot, I see funny, beautiful, and interesting things along the way, and I thought people would enjoy reading about it. I believed I had stories to tell. I believed I had something to say about the human condition, and I believed that I would find an audience of readers who could relate… and so I did. My want to tell a story, and to explore my creative side, was greater than the discomfort that came with the criticism I received. Maybe I wasn’t ready to be a good writer, but I wanted to tell stories, so I wrote them anyway. If you are chasing a dream, reaching for the stars, trying to reach your full potential, and you wait until everything is just right; the right time, the right place, the perfect financial situation, you’re likely to spend the whole journey just waiting. Please, don’t do that! Very rarely do the stars perfectly align. “Go before you’re ready” doesn’t apply to skydiving, but it fits your personal and professional goals and dreams like a tailor-made suit. Of course, you need to be responsible, you need to own your stumbles and mistakes, but go before you are ready! Ask a mentor: There are stories told every single day about amazing people who chased a dream and accomplish remarkable and awesome things against incredible odds. Make one of those stories about you. Share your story with your mentor: What are your goals, dreams and aspirations? Talk about your strengths and how your vision might be a potential benefit to the organization. Share any fears or obstacles that are holding you back. Ask your mentor about their experiences: What are/were your dreams? Did you see them through? Can you tell me about the journey? What roadblocks did you encounter?
We’ve written a lot about the components of professional networking: actively pursuing new connections, working your network to leverage your career goals, developing an “elevator pitch” … This month we’re going to drill into the process of meeting new people and explain some basic rules of etiquette. What is, for example, the politest way to make an introduction? Do we shake hands anymore? Is it okay to follow up with them later? Emily Post, in her quintessential handbook Etiquette, wrote of introductions: “An automatic and easy familiarity… leaves us free to turn our minds to the more complicated arts of conversation and listening.” We want to set you up for a comfortable first meeting to alleviate nerves or the awkwardness you might experience when trying to build new professional relationships. “Use your best manners” sounds a little school marm-ish, but truthfully, if you are cognizant of protocol and expectations, the people you meet will see you as confident and capable. The Introduction. Back in the day, you would probably be making the most of your networking connections at a conference or happy hour. But today, many of us are as likely to meet a new contact through a zoom call in our living room as we are at a social event. Let’s go through the different ways you might introduce yourself depending on the space you’re in: In person- 1. Stay away from walls and corners. Work your way to the center of the room because that’s where you’ll meet the most people. And, if you end up in a conversation that you don’t want to be in, being in the middle makes it easier to find an escape route. When someone is droning on and on at you while you’re standing against a wall, you are quite literally stuck. You need to be free to work the room. If you’re holding a beverage or a plate of food, try to keep it in your left hand. Keep your right hand free to shake someone else’s or, if shaking feels too unsettling, fist bump or wave. Remember, not everyone has returned to handshaking and there’s a chance some of us never will. If you are a handshaker, watch the body language of the person you’re meeting for the first time. If you don’t notice a flex in their shoulder or if their hand remains tightly at their side, a wave will be sufficient. If you don’t like touching hands, but they put out theirs? You could quickly wave and smile with your eyes. Or maybe nod and keep your arm down at your side. If all else fails, we’ve been through a lot together as a society and you should never feel badly saying, “Sorry, I’m just not comfortable shaking hands.” Properly introduce yourself. Have something prepared. A lot of us can’t even remember our favorite movie if asked on the spot. Tell them your title, your main function (in one sentence), and maybe what brought you to this event if the reason isn’t obvious. This is not the time for your elevator pitch, you can go into deeper detail about your work once you’re a bit further into the conversation. Facilitate easy introductions for others. If you are speaking to someone of a higher rank and one of your contemporaries comes over to say hello, introduce the lower-ranked person to the higher-ranked person instead of vice versa. And then, say a couple of things about your colleague to get the conversation going for them. Here’s an example dialogue: “Hello, General Smith, this is my cubemate, Jane Jones Jane came to the agency from an internship at EPA in the city.” On a screen- Take a minute before the meeting to set yourself up for success. Check your background to make sure it’s neat and there’s nothing inflammatory in view. Do not sit in front of a bare window, being backlit will give you a shadowy, garish appearance. I like to pull the reading light off our piano and position it in front of my laptop so that it shines slightly above my head. I want others on the call to be able to see when I smile and notice my engagement in what they’re saying. It’s okay to be a little more casual. Since your full name likely already appears on the screen, and you were presumably listed on the meeting invite, you can be briefer with your greeting: “Hi! I’m Nicole. I don’t think we’ve met before! It’s really nice to see you.” You can tell them a little about your job and might ask them, “So how long have you been working here?” or “Tell me more about what you do at Patent and Trademark.” Do advanced research. Before you hop on the call look at the names on the meeting invite and try to read a little about what each does. Not only is this polite, but also brevity is key with zoom networking because often the only time you have is the few minutes before the meeting begins. It’s helpful if you can start your introduction a few layers in because you already know their division and their title. Listening is your main function. Whether making a new connection online or in person, you should be listening more than talking. It sounds counterintuitive because of course you want them to know about what you do and your value at the organization. But this is your opportunity to create the want for connecting with you again in the future. Stay present and ask questions about what they’ve told you, instead of planning what you’re going to say next. Mind your posture and keep eye contact. Give an occasional nod so they know you’re listening. The truth is, if you make a new acquaintance feel good because you’re engaged in their message, they’ll be more likely to remember you. You might even paraphrase or repeat something said, such as “I can’t believe you lived in Chicago!” or “So you have been working here since you graduated college? That’s amazing!” Conversation manners. Here are some other things to keep in mind while in conversation: Listen to them carefully and see if you can find any commonalities (“You run marathons? or “You like to grill?”) Keep your hands out of your pockets. Instead, you can bend your elbows and clasp them in front it you, rest one on the back of a chair, hold something like a notebook or a coffee, or use them to emphasize your words. If you think there’s a chance, you might need to pick up your phone, tell them ahead of time- and it better be a good reason. (“Sorry I’m holding my phone, but my son got a flat tire and I’m just waiting for him to let me know AAA got there.”) If they’re a good conversationalist, maybe they’ll even leverage your honesty to point out something they have in common with you (“How old is your son? My just got his license last week!”). Follow up. It’s hard to meet people! Don’t let your efforts go to waste. Follow up quickly before the person has time to forget how much they enjoyed talking to you and be conversational to avoid sounding relentless or enterprising. In these modern times, email or text is sufficient. Mention something from your conversation, suggest meeting again, and offer your help too. Be specific about what you might be able to do for them in the future. Here is an example: “It was nice meeting you this evening. After hearing about your trip to Toronto, I’m dying to go! Let’s keep in touch and maybe meet for coffee next month? Would love to hear more about your divisional work. And if you ever have a question about the legal end of your project, call me.” Ask a mentor: We’ve shared broad etiquette strokes, but the culture of your organization will determine other rules you should keep in mind. Ask your mentor to help make a list: How specific should I be about my job when meeting new people? Is it okay to follow up with very senior leaders if we happened to meet? When I meet someone new, outside of my division, how should I keep the relationship going?
What is a leader? Buffy Van Brocklin was a customer service representative at a manufacturing firm. Buffy answered phones, entered customer orders, helped with technical product questions, and was a “go to” guy, both within the organization, and outside the walls with customers and vendors. I don’t know how he got the nickname, Buffy, but he was affectionately referred to as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I never saw a problem that Buffy couldn’t solve. His tools were patience, some technical prowess, an unquestioned work ethic, and a passion for helping people. While I’m sure it was not anyone’s plan, Buffy’s daily habits created a “can do” culture within his company, and that culture remains in place today… several years after his retirement. Buffy wasn’t anybody’s boss, in fact, being a manager was never something he aspired to. Buff (for short) was content to do a great job, and help his co-workers and customers do the same. And while he was not technically a manager, Buffy’s presence was critical to the mission of the company. Almost all his human interaction was over the phone, and yet, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was “the face” of his company. That’s a leader. Definitions for leaders and leadership vary from resource to resource. I’ll offer up my simple description: A leader is someone who gets things done. At work, at school, at home, and in our communities, a leader sees a need, and fills the need. It's that simple. Not everyone aspires to have a title, not everyone has the need to be a boss. But I believe most of us want to contribute in a positive way, make a difference, and be appreciated for our efforts. So here are a few things Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and others, have taught me about leadership on my professional journey. A lot of it comes down to good intentions, self-awareness, and some good old common sense. It also helps to have a good leader or mentor to model those leadership traits. 1) Be Reliable Show up every day, on time, and ready to work. This “common sense” habit is not just noticed by your managers, it’s noticed by your co-workers as well. Being a reliable teammate is one of the first steps in leadership recognition. The best ability is availability. Be there. 2) Be Flexible There should never be a job, that’s “not my job”. If you can do it, do it. I worked for a gentleman who owned an industrial supply company that did $50 million in annual sales. Simply put, he was rich! I came back to the office late one night, and he was emptying the office wastebaskets. When I jokingly asked if he had been demoted by his business partner (his wife), he laughed and told me that when they started the business, they knew the key to being successful was to “never be too important to take out the trash.” The cleaning staff had an emergency and couldn’t make it in that evening, and he did what had to be done. This was such a great lesson for me as a young professional – both in flexibility and humility. 3) Become an Expert Know the job. Know the mission. Know what the end result is supposed to look like. You may have responsibility for a small part of a bigger project, but whenever it’s possible, know the whole project. Becoming an expert shows interest and initiative. Being an expert makes you someone that others can turn to for help. Showing interest in the bigger picture creates value. Expertise is always valued. 4) Share the credit… own the blame This is sometimes a tough pill to swallow, but it’s what great leaders do. In the professional world, we rarely win completely on our own. Whatever the end result is supposed to look like; a workspace realignment, a new product design, a World Series championship…the program analyst, the engineer, or the closing pitcher did not win it on their own. Good leaders will always acknowledge the team before themselves. This is always true. But sometimes you don’t win, you don’t get the deal, or the project fails to meet its expectations and it may have had nothing to do with your efforts. Good leaders own that blame, and never “point fingers.” This is always true. (And it’s always tough!) 5) A good leader praises publicly and loudly, but critiques and corrects quietly and privately. On this point, we could substitute the word, “leader” with “person.” Find a way to make somebody feel good about who they are, and what they are doing, and bring it to other people’s attention. A good organization has no unsung heroes! However, if something (or someone) needs improvement, or an all-out change of direction, remember to do it privately and with as much compassion as possible. This point applies anywhere in an organization’s hierarchy. If you take nothing else from this article, take point #5 and the understanding that everybody is entitled to their dignity. 6) Show Passion Being reliable, and showing up are important, but showing up is just a part of the leadership recipe. Being an expert at your craft, and at the team’s mission is also important. But being passionate about being there is vital to your success as a leader. Passion is infectious (but in a good way!!), it’s how you affect and improve a culture. And while I don’t know everything about anything, I do know this: If you can’t be passionate about what you’re doing during the 8 or more hours of your workday (1/2 of your waking life!), then for your own sake, do something else. Be your own leader. Make passion your personal brand. Leaders come in lots of different and diverse packages, and many of those packages are not accompanied by a title. You don’t have to be “Division Manager” or “VP of Marketing” to be a leader, you just need to care about what’s going on and show that attitude and passion to others. You could be a supply clerk, you could be a regional sales rep, you could be a dude named Buffy the Vampire Slayer…You DON’T have to be a “boss” to be a leader! Ask a mentor: At your next mentoring meeting, share with your mentor your definition of leadership and ask them what skills, qualities and attitudes make a difference. Some questions you might ask: What is your definition of leadership? Do you have an example of someone who was a natural leader? What most struck you about them? Are there areas where you see a need for leadership at all levels in your environment? What does it take to become recognized as a leader in your field?