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