BY LUCILLE MADDALENA
As an engaged member of a group, or as a parent or colleague, you value your network and seek connections to build bridges and to give and share information. Dynamic workforce leaders also recognize the importance of connectivity to effective planning and decision making.
In any environment, there are some who self-impose restrictions on their behavior with others, possibly through fear of exposure or perceived hierar-chal boundaries. In his article, “What to Ask the Person in the Mirror,” Harvard University Professor Robert Kaplan writes about a senior com-pany executive who is having trouble achieving consensus among his lead-ership team. The exec was asked if he had considered getting feedback from his direct reports. He responded: “Of course not; they’re the subordinates—it would be awkward for me to ask them for coaching. I’m the coach!”
One of the most difficult soft skills for many leaders to embrace is al-lowing themselves to be vulnerable. Edgar Papke wrote in True Align-ment: Linking Company Culture With Customer Needs for Extraordinary Results that feedback itself is the rea-son some people avoid coaching, because the idea of being reviewed by others—especially those in lower levels—causes consternation as much as the aspect of being singled out as someone who needs coaching. In fact, anyone who has been through coach-ing knows the reverse often is true: A thorough 360 review will highlight the individual’s strengths and identify her successes.
Of course, in any environment, we will make a mistake or react without thought, speaking inappropriately. Owning up to our actions has a grati-fying and often unexpected result: We gain self-respect and, in many cases, the respect of others. It takes strength to face ridicule. Acknowledging a lapse in judgment is a humbling, honest experience. Revealing vulnerability also reveals humility. There is no place for arrogance, judgment, or blame because those emotions are an empty means of self-protection and mere time-wasting distractions to the task of moving forward.
One of my clients offers an example of how to create an environment that encourages feedback and collabora-tion. Max received a promotion to his first management role, into a depart-ment formerly led by a self-described micromanager. The department had a reputation for poor performance, of-ten missing deadlines and failing to attend company-wide events. Max was confident he could elicit team-work and turn the department around.
Max spent his first few days at-tempting to talk individually with staff members, sharing his friendly, outgo-ing personality as he did so. His efforts were cordially accepted with limited response. When entering an employee’s workspace, he often noted signs of anx-iousness and discomfort. Silos persisted. Although cubicles were in close proxim-ity and work relied on the others’ task completion, each seemed isolated and unaware of what others were doing.
While failing to engage anyone in useful dialogue, Max nevertheless re-mained optimistic. He sought advice from his new peers. His initial impres-sion was confirmed: The staff did not consider themselves a team. The style of the former manager was described as “intense and to the point.” Data were shared formally through reports and in meetings.
Max realized that there was little per-sonal communication among the department. He resolved that he would inspire change by increasing social in-teraction. His goal was to foster a sense of teamwork necessary to build the working relationships to improve over-all department performance. To do so, he asked members of his team for help.
Because the staff were accustomed to exchanging information through documents, Max chose to create a feedback questionnaire to learn how his new staff evaluated his perfor-mance. The questionnaire included 10 questions that invited staff to rate his performance on a 1-5 scale, with a blank line for comments.
At the next department meeting, Max informed his staff that for him to succeed in his new role, he had to know what he was doing right and what he could do differently. He then explained that he created a two-page list of questions he would like them to answer, and all responses would be held in confidence and could be sub-mitted anonymously.
The first response to the question-naire from his staff of 27 resulted in five completed forms. All the questions posed were ranked, no comments were offered, and all were submitted anonymously.
One month later, Max shared the results of the questionnaire, describing his commitment to helping the team succeed. He informed the group that in a few months he would once again ask for each person’s help to improve his performance in any way possible.
Six months after the first ques-tionnaire distribution, Max repeated the process. This time he received 14 completed forms, three of which were signed. At the next monthly meeting, Max again shared the feedback and described how he was going to apply the insight to improve his manage-ment style by adopting new behaviors.
Establish a connection
After another six months passed—a full year since he started—Max distributed the form again. This time the results were surprising. Of the 27 on the team, he received 24 completed forms. Even more telling was that six individuals requested to meet with Max privately.
Several brought uncompleted and unsigned forms with them, sat confi-dently in Max’s office, established eye contact, and told him directly what they were observing. Max was thrilled and felt he had succeeded at his goal.
At the next meeting, Max discussed the comments he received without mentioning names. Another surprise occurred when a few contributors took ownership of their feedback by engaging in the conversation. The en-suing discussion encouraged others to share their ideas and feedback. With the enthusiastic support of staff, Max created quarterly staff roundtables, inviting all members to share a story of a recent event that best expressed their work experience.
With his staff taking the lead from Max, the work environment had changed: Everyone was more positive and open. There was greater sharing of current projects and, grad-ually, innovative ideas to streamline work emerged.
Today, Max is in a C-level position, continuing to encourage feedback pro-cesses throughout the organization.
True success is in the process, in making the effort. Accept the risk by seeking to connect honestly to others. Develop trust by being consistent in process—we don’t know everyone and everything. Maintain trust by being flexible in implementation—life moves too fast and people change.
Choosing optimism is choosing vul-nerability and humility, anticipating a future that will bring pleasant and unpleasant unanticipated events. It is the systematic approach to a goal that offers you the opportunity for your personal development, and to inspire the development of others.
Lucille Maddalena is an executive coach and leadership development consultant;
Originally published in TD magazine, the monthly publication of the Association for Talent Development
FIND YOUR TRAIL MARKERS –
By Dr. Lucille Maddalena
How do you decide what next step is the right one for you? You may have invested years in one company, building a reputation as a hard worker capable of managing teams and making things happen. Or perhaps you’re right out of graduate school starting a first job, ready to gain new skills and the credentials to form your career.
Whether you are a senior leader or just starting your career, you have a myriad of decisions to make that can make or break your future. As a Senior Leader you may be challenged to work with a new group of high potential employees from a different generation and with different motivations. As a new employee you will benefit from choosing a mentor or taking on a high-risk project.
Let’s think about this a bit to try to uncover what makes the difference between a good or bad decision. To do this we will examine the source of our wisdom to discover how we can put our own experiences to best use to enhance our career.
WHAT WON’T GET YOU THERE?
Marshall Goldsmith’s book WHAT GOT YOU HERE WON’T GET YOU THERE is a mainstay in the list of referral publications I recommend to those I coach. He offers a humorous view of typical habits built during past successes that influences our future, falling into the trap of assuming that all we need do is what we did before. Goldsmith helps us identify the habits we formed, why we tend to keep our habits, and how those habits may be derailers of our future careers.
As we progress in our career, particularly when climbing a corporate ladder, we develop our own path toward our goal. Immersed in the daily routine, making decisions, building alliances and staying focused on the goal, we may not clearly see what is before us and easily miss a rung. Once useful habits no longer bring us through a rough situation. It’s time to take a step back and revisit a time before you got here – to an earlier you, perhaps less aware of the mountains before you, when your responses were new, unburdened by past success.
WHAT GOT YOU HERE?
Have you shared a memory or attempted to describe an event that you consider important to your success – only to find the ‘listener’ impatiently stopped listening to your story as they waited to tell their story? Your tale so inspired them to think of their own experience they jumped into their memory, completely missing the unique insight you were willing to share.
Recalling their adventure was no doubt pleasant for them, and if relevant, perhaps for you. If no one is listening to the story, the telling is merely relating an interesting event. The speakers did not absorb the message and missed the opportunity to consider how similar situations would evoke different responses today.
We all have our stories, they are cached in our memories. Stories become both sanctuaries we go to in times of stress and brilliant learning points called to mind when we think about the situation that inspired a personal revelation. To use this goldmine of learned experiences, stop repeating what happened and instead use the event to think about what we would do in a similar situation today.
“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”― Dr. Seuss
In my journey toward a career as an Executive Coach I was fortunate to have the opportunity to explore and experience a wide range of learning situations. The following tale occurred during a key event in my life when I raced sled dogs in competition. The experience was an immersion into a different world of nature, excitement, risk and love. It has impacted my life and is a significant part of who I am.
When on the trail humans look for trail markers to indicate turns; dogs sniff the air for the scents.
When with my team on a ridge overlooking a trail I recall seeing one driver off his sled at a crossroads, his team impatiently waiting to continue, tails wagging, pulling on the lines. The driver walked several steps along the left trail, pointed to the route then returned to the juncture to bend over his lead dog. Speaking to the dog he gestured to the left trail, the direction he obviously wanted to go. I could not hear what the driver said. I did see the how the lead dog continued to sit quietly during this tirade. When the driver stopped speaking to the dog, he walked along the trail to the right. Gesturing in a spurning movement of his arms, he returned to the lead dog and once again spoke while waving his arms to the left trail. The dog continued sitting alert, calmly watching every movement. This seemed to further frustrate the driver who once again walked to the left, pointed adamantly and even seemed to bounce a bit, grabbing his hat and pulling it more tightly down. He then stopped, turned toward the team and purposefully walked to his position at the back of the sled. I clearly heard him call “gee” – the signal to take a right turn and watched as the team smoothly executed the turn, eventually disappearing from my sight down the long tree-lined trail.
What is most interesting about the tale of the dog driver and lead dog at a critical juncture along their trail is that the dog driver taught the lead dog the ‘rules of the trail’. The driver identified a dog that exhibited natural leadership traits and invested the time to provide the training required to lead a team. He also knew that while lead dogs are trained to follow human commands, they are bred from a lineage that has survived in this environment. The driver chose to rely on experience and instinct.
You may not have a lead dog to help you step back, reconsider your decisions and decide which path to take. You can look at who stands with you, who that you can turn to for advice: a direct report, colleague or manager who can fill the role.
TRUST YOUR DECISIONS
During the process the driver and dog discovered one key element in all relationships: trust. As you consider how you make decisions, you are also considering the value of the decision. How do you know you can you trust your decisions — or the decisions of others? There is rarely a ‘right or wrong’ decision. Working at the pace of change typical in business today, decisions usually come down to ‘better or best’ alternative as factors. When it comes to your career, it is worth the investment of time to develop your own decision tree, with options available as the environment, culture and influencing factors evolve.
To identify your trail markers – to make the best decisions possible, employ a bit of self-coaching.
Consider how you make decisions. Self-coaching suggests that you Practice Self-Coaching employing private contemplation. In every decision-making situation, explore the answers to these three questions:
. On By: Taking the Risk available for download on www.mtmcoach.com
Three critical self-coaching questions to consider past experiences in similar situations:
- What did I do well? Acknowledge the elements of each decision that worked for you. Be aware of when you may have formed habits that you may continue to employ in a different, changing environment.
- What could I do differently? Consider all the options available to you; explore new approaches with others evaluating the impact of alternative methods and results
- Where can I go to learn more? Who can you talk to, what reference material is available to you? Seek the experience of others.
To track your development and decision making success, maintain a private Coaching Journal. Track your decisions by recording events to provide the opportunity for self-reflection as well as recognition of your successes. Depending on your needs, you may choose to make daily entries of your progress and/or record specific events (date/time/location) such as a team meeting or interaction with a colleague.
Monitor your personal development to help you:
- Plan the process you believe will be most effective at an upcoming specific interaction with an individual or group
- Implement the process you have selected to engage and inform others of your intent/purpose/perspective during the meeting
- Record the results of your approach after the meeting by objectively noting how you achieved your goal and how others responded to your ideas/contributions
Evaluate your effectiveness following an interaction by:
- Consider the pro’s and con’s of the processes you chose to employ in your interaction.
- Pro’s are positive and effective approaches or processes you will repeat
- Con’s are the concerns you have regarding:
- the usefulness or effectiveness of the approach to gain the response you seek
- your skill at employing the selected process
- Review the perceived effectiveness of the interaction toward your goals before developing next steps to alter or continue the interaction with the individual or team involved.
REVIEW YOUR DECISIONS
It’s your turn to challenge yourself. Take the time now to consider what events, life situations, or learning opportunities were a personal awakening, that ah-ha moment, your personal tipping-point.
I’ll share a few to help you get started:
RESPONSIBILITY. Personal life events such as getting married, having children, losing a friend or family member, bring new responsibilities. Career life events such as promotion, demotion, relocation all add further responsibilities and complexities to our lives.
What did you gain from taking on new responsibilities? For many it is the ability to be flexible, to accept that we don’t have all the answers, that sometimes by just being there and trying is enough. For example, most parents will agree that until you have children, you do not know what it is to be humble.
ADVENTURE. Our journey need not be a lavish vacation, participating in extreme sports or even regular golf games with our friends. Life adventure occurs when you accept a new challenge, are willing to take a risk, expose your vulnerable side by exploring a very different situation.
How did the act of accepting a new challenge influence your personal development? After the adrenaline rush, once you are back in a familiar routine, the memories you bring from the event that inspired new insight or understanding will prepare you for future startling events.
CONNECTIONS. Every relationship you build connects you to everyone else. We all need mentors, coaches, advisors to best review our options and sort through the information necessary to make decisions. You have a network to keep you connected: as they succeed, you succeed. When the road you’re on becomes lonely, crowded or unsatisfying, try a new path and let yourself get lost.
What new person or group of people have you brought into your life recently? Joining new organizations, scheduling lunches with friends you haven’t seen in a while, exploring your own network on Linked-in will inspire you to see some things you never saw before -and discover the passion from doing what you know is right for you.
Each step in our journey adds to our personal evolution, merging with every observation, intention and awakening we hold. I have learned to tell my story in short because as a result of my sharing, a trust is formed and I learn from others
Seek your trail markers, allow the wind, rain and others to move the snow enough to catch a glimpse of the sign or look for the indicators around you in nature, animals, and events. The signs are there, each a portent for new learning and greater joy.
. On By: Taking the Risk available for download on www.mtmcoach.com
Running Out of Time?
By Dr. Lucille Maddalena
Why is it that some people seem to get so much more done than others? There are only so many hours in the day, and everyone seems to be running like crazy to keep up with an endless list of tasks. Do you want to manage your time better – or do you feel that no matter what you do, you’ll never be able to do all you want to do?
Let’s take a look at how we look at time. First, let’s agree to accept one fact: there is no such thing as time management. We can decide which tasks to complete and when, what priority to give to meetings and people, but we cannot control the clock. Rather than focus on a relative concept, let’s look at what you actually do every minute of every day.
• Busy is as busy does. The coffee-carrying character in the Dilbert cartoons personifies the office colleague who has conquered the art of looking busy without doing any real work. Unfortunately, many of us will have the same result by actually being busy. We can become so absorbed in less important tasks and distracted by activities that keep us engaged, we may miss the big picture. Keeping busy is not the answer: our goal has to be to focus on achieving the results that we seek. Our success provides the self-motivation to continue on to the next step.
• Never enough time. Consider a big project that you need to start – have you ever put off beginning until you can find the “right time”? How often have you found that big block of free time that you know you need to “do it right”? This easy-to-spot red flag can herald a downfall when we actually create our own barriers to getting the job done. Just as you cannot manage time, it is important to remember that time is not free. You are paid for the amount of time you work; you reap the rewards of family interaction by the time you invest in your family.
How can you invest your time wisely?
To-do lists don’t work for everyone as they quickly get too long, becoming a distraction to getting the job done. As an alternative, experiment with the many useful tools available, from hand-written note cards to digital file cabinets, until you find the one that is flexible and easy to access.
What can you do to achieve maximum results from the time you are investing in every activity you experience during the day? Here are a few pointers to get you started focusing on results.
1. VALUE ACTION.
Start the day by identifying what you want to achieve: the results that will make you feel satisfied at the end of the day. Prioritize any actions you know you must take in one-word sub-headings that will keep the movement forward. Organize routine activities such as securing reading in audio form to listen to as you commute0. Appreciate the small successes as you move toward your goal by checking off each accomplishment. Find ways to delegate effectively, whenever possible serving as a role model and mentor. Avoid multi-tasking by committing yourself to perform each task in a way that will bring you maximum results.
2. BENEFIT FROM INTERACTIONS.
Join forces with others to stay on a mutually beneficial time-frame and set clear goals for the conversation, checking your progress along the way. Engaging with others in meetings, conference calls, and impromptu discussions builds working relationships and leads to effective decision making.. Listen for cues that you or others are going off-track, refocusing on the data and seeking practical solutions or decisions that will be most useful to all.
Schedule private time on your calendar just to think: disconnect by turning off the computer screen, phone and tablet. Keep a pencil in your hand with a pad of paper and allow yourself to doodle, or write whatever key words/themes come to mind. Remember the 80/20 rule: 20 percent of your thoughts produce 80 percent of your actions. Consider the actions you plan for the day: assess how each minute invested will most benefit you. Appreciate yourself, your skills and your talents.
4. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED.
Change is our constant, so plan for change and interruptions. Build up your to-do list by allotting as much time in each day as you typically spend responding to fires, attending unscheduled meetings, or addressing a new issue. As topics are presented evaluate the results you expect to receive from the event, investing only the amount of time appropriate to the value of the investment. When delays occur, use waiting time to review your goals, to acknowledge what you have already conquered today, and what you want to complete before closing your work day.
It seems I regularly send out one-word messages to those I coach, simply reminding them to breathe. With your back straight, inhale deeply, fill the lungs, the diaphragm, hold the breath a moment, and exhale slowly. Air to the brain physiologically calms you. If you are in the middle of a stressful conversation, ask a question on the out breath to gain more information, give you time to think, and maintain your status quo. With a calm mind you can accomplish more.
You can’t do it all. Planning, delegating and really evaluating how you spend the time available to you is the key. Stay focused on the big picture. You can avoid sweating the small stuff by sorting the details you anticipate and staying flexible to address unexpected issues. Imagine a spinning wheel moving toward your goal by focusing on results and being open to change. You can accomplish what you need to achieve.
Have you ever been nervous about beginning a new job? Most of us are as excited about a new work opportunity as we are uncertain about the proper way to take on the new assignment—and we know it takes more than luck to succeed.
Avoid going into the position ‘blind”: take the time to prepare yourself and gain the support and guidance that will make the difference between success, just getting by, or not making the grade. Consider the oft-quoted phrase “the job is yours to lose”: while the statement is true, it offers little concern for the natural anxiety of an important life event, often leaving the recipient confused and uncertain. Prepare to join a new team, learn a new job, or relocate to a new location by learning how others develop the confidence to succeed during a job transition.
Recently I was asked to work with a young man who had received a wonderful job offer in a field he had tried unsuccessfully to enter for many years. When we met, he was nervous: his fears were evident in his body language as well as the short, stilted responses he offered when we spoke. He revealed that the last conversation he had about the new job was with his recruiter who offered the advice “the job is yours to lose”. While the statement is true, it revealed a lack of empathy and support on the part of the recruiter and left the candidate feeling confused and uncertain.
The young man realized that he was nervous, which only compounded his discomfort. He expressed concern that he would make a poor impression when he reported to work the next day. He needed to calm down, to channel the energy and excitement while preparing to meet his new team.
My first task was to help him regain his composure, to center himself and provide tools he could use to maintain control over his emotions. To accomplish this, we sat quietly as I instructed him in basic breathing techniques. It may seem ‘Zen-like’, but the reality is that your body needs the air that we block when we become tense. A few deep breathes helped him to physically relax and he began to focus.
Once his nerves had quieted, we began to talk about the new job. As he described all he had undertaken to prepare for the new work, the training and certifications he acquired, and his experiences that will contribute to his success, his confidence began to return.
Here are a few things we discussed that others have found effective to not only secure their role in a new job, but position themselves for a long-term successful career.
Believe in yourself
Have you ever visited the NJ site where Marconi proved the feasibility of radio and invented landmark applications for the new technology? You might be surprised to learn that prior to his discoveries, his friends took the young inventor to a psychiatric ward for observation. Marconi’s friends were unable to believe in the principle of sending messages through the air without wires. Learning this fact we must be impressed not only with the results of Marconi’s work, but also with his ability to maintain his inspiration and follow his life dream.
A recent report by Dr. W. Hauser in the journal Deutsches Arzteblatt Intl, (see www.cancer.org) suggests that physicians not tell patients the extent of adverse effects of an illness, as “patients may develop symptoms and side effectives purely because they’ve been told about them”. For example, those patients in a study group who were warned about pain, reported actually having more pain and didn’t perform as well on the test as those who did not receive the warning. In another study, people who thought a specific drug produced a certain side effect experienced that effect even when they were not given the drug.
So how can you use the power of a belief in yourself to succeed? I suggest you read PLAY TO WIN by Larry Wilson and try the STOP/CHALLENGE/CHOOSE approach.
Play to Win
Wilson refers to Marshall McLuhan’s concept that “we drive into the future looking in the rearview mirror”. McLuhan’s thought is that it is not what is behind us that will make us fail; it is working hard to protect ourselves from previous or assumed risk that prevents us from recognizing the opportunity before us. Wilson states “When we play not to lose, we tend to make choices and decisions based on what has happened to us in the past, without stopping and challenging whether our choice is rational or relevant.”
Especially during periods of transition, we are immersed in the emotions evoked by change. Our tendency is to remove the stress by making a quick decision, often reacting as we reacted in the past. We may be quick to ‘put out the fire’, while not completely remembering or assessing the results of our actions in the past.
An example of this reactive process occurred recently to Amy, an Account Executive for a major financial firm. When she reviewed her new assignment of accounts, she noted that she had been given one client who office gossip described as notorious for ignoring advice and blaming failure to achieve goals on the quality of data provided by the firm. Amy later explained that her first thought was that she was being ‘set up for failure’. As a result of that perspective on the new assignment, she immediately raised the issue to her manager stating that as the newest member of the team, she was beginning her job with a disadvantage. Her manager took the time to listen to Amy’s concerns then queried her further about how she received an impression of the client without meeting the client first. He patiently reminded her that all AE’s have a few clients that are deemed “difficult” and this client would give her an opportunity to show her skill and experience.
Embarrassed by her hasty reaction, Amy accepted the client and set about to find a way to work with this account. Before her first meeting with the client, she was careful to change the way she was thinking of the client. She stopped and listened to how she was describing the client to herself, observed her word choice and realized that she was repeating gossip. She then challenged herself to find positive, productive way to view the client’s needs. She choose to approach this client with a positive, professional attitude. Amy reported that although it took some time to learn exactly what the client needed, the client is now one of her best accounts.
Preparation Builds Confidence
As an Executive Coach, many of my clients express concern about dealing with a difficult person or presenting a plan to a hostile group. A key part of the process to address these issues is in the preparation for a meeting or event: understand the needs/perspective of those you will speak with and find a way to show them how working with you will be mutually beneficial.
Noted story teller Bill Taylor has a wonderful example to share. He describes a farmer who needed a hired hand. Of those he interviewed in the nearby village, only one stood out to him. Although the young man had no references, the farmer was surprised by his confidence when he described himself as “I’m a man who can sleep through a storm at night.”
Shortly after the new ranch hand was at work, a raging storm occurred rousing the farmer from his sleep. He immediately dressed and ran to the barn to awaken the new hire, finding him sound asleep in the loft. Frustrated, the farmer set off to protect the site by himself. He found that the animals had been bedded comfortably, the equipment securely tied, the doors and windows all locked: everything in proper order, ready for the worst. Now the farmer understood what the young man meant about sleeping through a storm at night.
Live your Dream
The story of the farmer and the ranch hand is relevant in any setting — and resonates with all, from rural to urban lifestyles. Success does not come easy: it takes an application of your talent, understanding of how to assess risk, and dedication to perform well. If you goal is to achieve at something more than mediocre, try the Stop/Challenge/Choose approach. Move away from negative thinking. Dream your dreams and believe in them. Invest in yourself and believe in yourself.
©L. Maddalena, All Rights Reserved. To receive a copy of this article, send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have a story to share about how you overcame fear and risk to succeed at a job, I would enjoy hearing it as would others who are in similar experiences. Please take a moment to reply to this blog – I will post all responses. Here is to your success!
A good friend, a woman I’ve known since grammar school, was recently downsized from her job. As difficult as it is for her to say, she was fired after investing 30 years in the company.
The mandate directed her boss to reduce his staff from five to two; shortly a second directive required elimination of the two remaining positions. This lady holds a Bachelor degree and continually received positive reviews for the diverse positions she held at the company over her long tenure.
The Pain of Freedom
To me, the best thing about this severing of the ways is that she is now free to choose where she will live for the next phase of her life and what type of work she would most enjoy doing. For her, the best thing is her new-found realization that life goes on. What we can all learn from the experience is how she reacted. Once past the sadness of loss, she holds no resentment toward her former employer. She does not feel she was misled to invest a considerable part of her life in one company, nor does she harbor any lasting anger over the decision that lead to the cutback and resulting loss of her livelihood.
This lady is not a hero or a uniquely clever individual. She is just like you and me: she is a wife and mother. She has also spent 30 years in the corporate world. How could she not understand the complexities of a global corporation?
What is most intriguing is that during the weeks since her departure, another level of understanding has been growing in her. She is now beginning to appreciate the necessity of living through the pain of change. She is a woman: pain is not new to her. She succeed at living through pain when her she bore her son, when her husband passed before his time and when she encountered the innumerable stresses of being a working mother, maintaining a demanding full-time career.
Like childbirth, the pain stops and life moves on– usually in an entirely new direction. Following childbirth, both parents seem to go through their own rebirth as they delve into diapers and the demands of a newborn. This is the phase when a young married couple are themselves reborn, transforming into new parents.
Peter Drucker once said that we create our own jobs – it is up to us to build the job that best uses our skills and achieves practical goals of value to our employer.
To help her move through this difficult period, she had to work through the phases of change until she was able to talk about the experience as part of her life story.
There are four critical junctures that have the intensity to plunge us unprepared into the phases of change:
- Getting fired or rejected
- Changing companies, environments and business cultures
- Moving from a technical position to a management role
- Joining a new team or taking on a new task
In the early phases of the change cycle, while many refuse to acknowledge how the change will affect them, some choose to become secretive about their situation.
Although my friend knew about the possibility of the downsizing affecting her job for several months, she dismissed the issue preferring to think that it did not affect her. During this crucial period she could have been preparing herself and gathering support to move forward. Instead, she continued to perform her daily routine.
Our first task therefore, was to go public. Once issues, fears, concerns are out there as general information the issue loses its power. Rather than investing your time covering or pretending, you can move forward to rebuild your confidence and renew your focus.
Networking is an effective way to release the necessary information. When my friend asked for my advice to locate a new job, I suggested she look through her contact list and create a support network. Her first reaction was hesitancy to publically share what she perceived as a humiliating experience. She admitted that being unemployed was an embarrassment; she had no desire to be obligated to ask others for help. She had been the one dispensing support and guidance for so long, she could not accept the role for herself.
Connections and Ripples
After phasing through the phases of minimizing and denying the change, she began to feel the inevitable depression not only of the loss of her job, but of the overwhelming effort it will require for her to locate a new source of income.
She needed to take action and the time had come to build the support group we had discussed. She needed to take her situation public; her task was to find the people that she could reach out to. To help her select colleagues, friends and associates to compose her network I suggested that she consider those with whom she shares a common history. The amount of time since the last contact is not important: whether it is constantly nurtured or has lain dormant for years does not matter. We all have special friends whom we haven‘t seen for years – people who, when you do get together with them, the elapsed time is of no consequence—you take up the relationships where you last left off.
Timing is everything. Too often something has occurred in my life that is simply amazing – unpredicted and overwhelming. What is most revealing is that several of those events came about because I acted spontaneously in an unplanned manner to some event or situation.
When I ask for examples of unexpected connections, the most common event cited is how they met their spouse. This is an example I can immediately relate to as well. In my case I met my husband because I was unexpectedly offered a job at which I excelled, and traveled to a major conference to receive an award. It turned out that that my then future-husband attended the same event through a completely separate set of unexpected circumstances.
Ripples in the water. There is anticipation in watching where two ripples will meet, the extra bounce at the juncture and the ongoing widening of each circle.
What is the Message?
Stymied by how to approach her network of contacts, we discussed her message. How could she ask for help without making the recipient feel obliged to act? She certainly did not want her request to make anyone feel obligated to take action – her goal was simply to inform them of her predicament and let them know she was welcome to new approaches, willing to see where their ideas would lead her.
To achieve this goal, my advice was that she should convey in her correspondence her personal commitment to her career in as truthful and open a manner as possible. A wise man recently quoted Mark Twain to me, reminding me of his statement that ―we are what we write‖. If we write sarcastically, we will be sarcastic. If we write about depression, we will be depressed. If we write about optimism and hope, we will be optimistic and hopeful.
In her messages to others we included statements that were personal and authentic, such as:
- Now that the world is open to me again, I am seeking that perfect fit – a job that will best utilize my skills, experience and dedication.
- New opportunities seem to abound and I want to get back in step with this exciting growth.
- With this type of change also comes new transformations and direction.
In one letter, we chose to conclude the statement with an offer of mutual support:
- Please feel free to contact me or provide my name should you identify a possibly appropriate position. In the same way, I hope you know that should my services prove helpful to assist you to achieve your goals, I am always willing to help in a temporary or volunteer capacity, as I further define my future.
As we worked through this process it occurred to me that there was one common factor to every job I have ever had –as an employee or as a consultant: pride in my work.
During every successful interview I was able to clearly state to the prospective client that I would be proud to work with them and would do everything in my power to help their project succeed. Of course then I began to think of the unsuccessful interviews, the fact that I had not been able to make a similar statement in all cases surely played a role in the final decision.
For more than fifteen years I conducted a seminar in MANAGEMENT TRANSITIONS that over 6,000 corporate executives have attended. At one point in each seminar I asked the question: why do you work? Not surprising, the group‘s consensus of the top five reasons beyond earning an income was that: (1) they were proud to contribute to the work / company as it supported the welfare of others, (2) they were able to grow and learn on-the-job, and (3) they enjoyed working with their team / the type of person the firm hired.
I often recommend that before beginning the process of seeking your first job or any future employment; try to visualize yourself performing the required tasks. Consider the work, the environment, the end product – will this be a satisfying investment of your time and talent? If you are able to see rewards to your participation, share that information with the recruiters, during interviews and in every piece of correspondence describing your potential role in the company.
To gain a better understanding of her skills, talent and knowledge, I directed her to the assessment tool contained in Tom Rath‘s STRENGTHSFINDER 2.0. Applying the Gallop studies, I find this assessment supplies the terminology that is vital to enable an individual to clearly express their personal history and abilities. . Using the result of the STRENGTH-FINDERS assessment, we had the key phrases and concepts as a starting point to accurately describe the interest and experience she will bring to her next job.
Describing Your Skills
Because the lady in this example had been at the same company for 30 years, her resume included company-specific jargon, references and statements that others would not understand. She did not appreciate how her skills could apply to a variety of work situations and was unable to convey the value and talent she could present to a new employer.
We then utilized her network once again. We were looking for someone practiced in the art of creating a resume: a recruiter or hiring professional with the expertise to create a dynamic, engaging document. We discussed who she would turn to for advice on what to include in her resume and how each item should be presented, finally selecting a few people who regularly review many resumes and could offer critique based on experience and someone with editing and proofreading skills. The final document must be as perfect as you can get it – typographical mistakes are for amateurs.
Using the terms and descriptors revealed during the assessment, we began to compose letters and emails to send to her support network – those people she knew well and had formed on-going working relationships. The goal was to enlist additional support and counsel that would help her continued process uncover opportunities for her future.
Two sentences we particularly liked for her message to request help rewriting her resume are as follows:
- Because of our long relationship I am asking for your help. I need to know that my resume reads truthfully and expresses my desire and commitment to continue my career.
- When you have a moment, kindly look over my attached resume and let me know what you think of the way I have presented my experiences. Does it convey how much I enjoyed my work and does it detail the diverse roles I have held?
In any type of writing, brevity counts. Again, we can turn to Mark Twain for a bit of sage advice. To paraphrase his approach: once you have completed composing your statement, remove every other word to keep it to the point
Maintaining your Composure
Re-entering the job market following a downsizing, forced layoff, temporary leave or medical incident, can be overwhelming. You may have enjoyed or hated your previous job – but it was known to you. You knew what to expect, how to prepare and what was required of you.
Our first job is often a time of innocence. The excitement of having a paycheck, of being independent, and of knowing that this is just a starting point keeps us buoyed, with the euphoric feeling of a honeymoon as we explore new roles and relationships.
Time passes and life happens. Stress to perform, to succeed, to achieve creates turmoil and pressure that may interfere with personal satisfaction. Some work relationships may turn into competitions or petty annoyances while others provide the support needed to meet daily demands.
Now you have lost your innocence. You have, however, developed confidence in your ability to not just survive at your career, but to succeed.
When the unexpected happens and you are forced to leave a job after investing your time, talent and commitment, you will feel a loss. A part of your life that was secure and routine no longer exists.
If you are lucky enough to be like the friend I have described here, you will choose to look ahead and plan for your future. Reach out to others, share and embrace the transition, evaluate your risks and recognize your successes.
The most important lesson I learned watching this friend move through the phases of transition is to maintain respect in yourself and relish the future possibilities.
To anyone in a similar position, recovering from a downsizing or layoff, I wish you a steady wind at your back and a clear trail to your future. Good luck.
4 Critical Junctures
- Getting fired (downsized or rejected) could be the best thing that can happen. Being rejected by a friend, losing a job or any forced change is painful: the decision is not yours. Use this opportunity to expand by seeking a wide range of options. Drop old bad habits and weak communication skills by using this opportunity to improve your morale, learn from the past and plan for a successful future. Take advantage of the freedom available during the transition to prepare your leadership skills and succeed at new career.
- Changing jobs (friends, locale) is not always the answer. Running away doesn’t work: your problems go with you. Instead, try a fresh look at what you have. Considering your accomplishments, can do wonders for sagging morale. Step back and objectively critique yourself. How do you contribute to the current project or relationship situations? Which ‘hot buttons’ do others hit to throw you off your stride? When you want to maintain your leadership role, perhaps the transition you need is in your own skills, perspective and outlook.
- Moving from a technical position (the do-er) to a management role (helping others succeed) is a growth opportunity. When you worked by yourself, as a talented technical expert, you had no trouble succeeding. Now, making the jump to management brings new responsibilities. You may find it hard to give up some control. Remember, your success depends on the success of others: you will now be judged on the performance of those that report to you. Look to mentors and role models to help you challenge your leadership skills and build career momentum.
- Joining a new team or accepting a new task opens the door to experience and opportunity. This is your chance to shine. Whether you are rejoining the workforce, or taking on a volunteer assignment, learn to position yourself to succeed. Work to develop new, effective habits that support your success. Create a plan to engage others as you achieve your goals and transition into your new role. Take the time to position yourself with a new group by doing your research first: uncover their successes and discover how you can enhance their performance while succeeding at your personal goals.
Best wishes for continued success, LM
Are you preparing to start a new job, perhaps as a result of a promotion, internal change, relocation or beginning with a new company? The manner in which you position yourself on those first few days will carry with you for a long time, so be smart and plan ahead.
You cannot start too early to get your boats in order and prepare yourself to get a strong start.
Everyone knows that we make snap judgments of people at the initial encounter. Studies continue to confirm that the impression made during the first few minutes tend to remain as the dominant view until something drastic changes that image. Here are a few steps you can take to begin your new role in a way that clearly presents your strengths, commitment and drive.
1. Learn the “Lay of the Land”
The process to assimilate with your new team and department begins before you have actually set foot in your new work area. It begins with the rapport you develop during the job interviews, when you have the opportunity to meet people you may not be working with closely once you are on-staff. This is not to say that you must strive to befriend everyone who interviews you.
For example, if you seem to strike up a mutually comfortable relationship during the process, consider asking that individual for a tour of their department or the company’s building and grounds should you be hired. Once you have received confirmation of your start date, send an email asking if they would be willing to take you on that tour during your first week on the job. Not only will you be able to see the facility, others will observe you speaking in a relaxed manner with an established member of the firm and you gain that person’s perspective of the site.
Whether you are working with a recruiter or a member of the department during the interview process, once you have secured the job offer you can request some information to prepare for the first day. The following three items are the most common information new hires reported receiving as a result of their request the week before they started their new job:
- A list of department staff. Often a simple telephone list, this information will help you identify names with job titles, making the initial introductions much easier for you. If possible, try to review the list with someone in the department to learn to pronounce everyone’s name correctly.
- Current projects. Outlines of goals, steps in progress and benchmarks will not only provide some idea of the work undertaken, it will help you learn the abbreviations and internal language that are the short-cuts in team conversations.
- Quarterly schedules. Studying team assignments and long-term projects will give you an overview of the work in progress. Prepare a list of questions to ask once you are onboard, as you learn more about the planning and assignment process.
2. Prepare for Introductions
We all learned early in our careers to write our “Elevator Speech”, that short statement we have ready to describe who we are should we meet an influential executive in the elevator. When you begin a new job, you must be prepared to share more than a short speech, as these are people you will be working with closely, hopefully for a number of years.
It is critical that a new team member prepare to meet your associates, learn what is important to them, and position yourself as a valuable new team member. When coaching a new hire, I describe the process of creating a ‘Thesis Statement’: a 60-100 word description of your commitment, drive and history. Your statement must be tailored to the individuals you will meet and presented with genuine interest in the needs of the other person, sharing information and asking questions to gain insight and build rapport.
To build your Thesis Statement, first learn the language of your new peers by reviewing your job description, any department documents available such as team descriptions, and by speaking with your new boss. Select words your audience will recognize, using terms that indicate how your involvement will add value. Clearly draw a correlation between your experience and aspirations and the team’s goals and objectives. Reveal your enthusiasm as you state how you seek to become part of the new team, and look forward to learn how you can best contribute to the team’s success.
If you have not participated in a Personality Assessment or any type of behavior evaluation, it might be useful for you to gain this type of personal insight before beginning a new job. Learn your strengths and weaknesses, what you do well naturally and where you need to improve. The Meyers-Brigg Instrument or Hogan Values Assessment are two popular tools for this purpose. In addition to these evaluations, I often recommend STRENGTHFINDERS, an inexpensive assessment that you can easily complete on-line working from the book of the same name, as it will help you determine key words to describe yourself.
3. Plan Your First Day
The biggest mistake new managers make is to have a team meeting the first day to announce new goals and objectives. Whether you are assuming a new role on the team or as manager of the department, take the time to meet your new team before making any decisions, decrees or judgments.
Here are two key steps others have found most effective:
- Get introduced. Be certain your boss or someone in authority is present to introduce you to your team the first morning. Bring muffins or bagels and invite everyone to an informal chat.
- Meet with each person privately. Invest an hour in each person, asking them for their personal goals, where they see the team evolving and what they want to accomplish. Depending on the size of your team, this may take one day or one week.
For new managers you are now ready to begin to draft the team/department goals. As you work, invite comments from every member of your team on sections of the plan, checking terminology, history and current plans. Remember, you are only as successful as the members of your team.
For new team members, you have laid the foundation for a strong working relationship. Be open, honest and genuine – gain the respect of others by showing your respect for the contribution of others.
Best wishes for continued success, LM