Archive for the ‘ Direction ’ Category

The boomerang generation: When 18 years isn’t good enough anymore

Get good grades they say. Get a college degree they say. Your life will be much easier they say.
I’m not sure who this “they” is but if someone can find them, I have a few friends and millions of young Americans who I’m sure would like to have a conversation with them.
The “they” that most parents may have been referring to was the previous economy, because Uncle Sam’s pockets have been quite drained for some time. He’s no longer the rich uncle that lives outside of town—now he’s more the one that lives in the baseboomerangkidsment.
Nearly eight-in-ten (78%) of 25- to 34-year-olds say they don’t currently have enough money to lead the kind of life they want, and thirty-six percent of this nation’s young adults ages 18 to 31 were living in their parents’ homes in 2012, according to a Pew Research Center.
Also, large majorities (78%) say they’re satisfied with their living arrangements (living at home with mom and dad). So the stigma associated with living with parents is nowhere to be seen with this generation.
And according to the Journal of Marriage and Family, 79% of adults between 18-33 receive financial help, though there are varying reports about this data. I must admit that I fall in this age range and I used to receive some financial help from my parents while I was out of college. Since my cell phone and auto insurance were tied to the same bill, they never passed it along to me—thanks Mom and Dad!
If I had to guess, I would say the majority of the boomerang generation would like to spend the rest of their 20’s and 30’s chasing the American Dream as much as the previous generations. Stagnate wages, higher unemployment, and large student debt have been major obstacles to financial independence for the boomers. Although it has not been easy, much of the boomerang generation is optimistic about their future and financial progress. Many would suggest that they live life “entitled” but I believe many are hungry to begin their careers and add value to the organizations they serve.

Gus is a Learning and Performance Professional at the Ken Blanchard Companies and is currently finishing his PhD in I/O Psychology. He can be reached at gus.jaramillo@kenblanchard.com

Flow to Success!

Have you ever become so engrossed in a fun task that you lost track of time? Then you’ve experienced the concept of flow. Developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, it describes the state of mind when you reach the perfect combination of task challenge and personal skill:

Flow_Senia_Maymin

Click the image below for a simple demonstration of flow (use the mouse to move and remember to return when you’re finished):

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The creator of this simple game used Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow to develop the game elements. Since you can decide when to move further, you are always in control of both the level of challenge and skill, meaning you can always keep yourself in a state of flow.

Now think about your direct reports and their tasks. Are they in a state of flow? If not, is it due to the task being too difficult, or the direct reports not having high enough skills? Or perhaps the challenge isn’t increasing proportionately with their skills? And think about your own tasks. Are you in a state of flow? Why or why not? What can you do to improve your workplace and encourage more flow?

It’s clear that employees can become more engaged and productive, while constantly developing and growing, by applying this simple model to the workplace. So the next time you’re at work, try adjusting the level of challenge to match the level of skill. You might be surprised to find how much fun you can have while in flow!

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The “L” Word—Is It On Your Mind?

In his closing remarks at yesterday’s company meeting, Ken Blanchard shared Covey’s four basic needs which underlie human fulfillment: to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy.

 “The need to live is our physical need for such things as food, clothing, shelter, economical well-being, health. The need to love is our social need to relate to other people, to belong, to love and to be loved. The need to learn is our mental need to develop and to grow. And the need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution.”
Stephen R. Covey

The “L” word—the BIG one—is legacy, the story of you and your imprint upon the world. It’s been a repeated topic of conversation in my spheres lately, as it should be in yours. Visioning is central to the success of organizations, teams, leaders, and individual contributors because it creates a dialogue around the meaning and value behind the work that we do. Your legacy extends far beyond your career into your personal and professional relationships; your family or community involvement and recreational activities; and in your moment-to-moment everyday experiences. What kind of legacy are you building, and where do you even begin? Covey reminds us that life is short, so ask yourself:

  • What makes life worth living? What’s missing?
  • What do I need to learn? To unlearn?
  • How will I be remembered?
  • What do I dream of?

These are big questions—Give yourself time to develop honest and deeply rooted answers.  It can be tempting to dismiss dreams as unattainable or impractical, but dreams stem from a place within each of us that British philosopher, Alan Watts, calls “the deep, down, basic, whatever there is.” In this inspirational video, Watts talks about the human need to feel significant and connected to something greater than ourselves:


There is nothing trivial about finding and giving voice to your purpose in life and however you frame the concept of legacy, the story is yours to write. In another moving video, The Real You, Watts talks about the idea of waking up and finding out who you are. An individual’s sense of self is a complex, idiosyncratic, and exquisite answer to the venerable question: Who AM I?

Before you can build a meaningful legacy, you first need to have a clear picture of who you are and what gives value and purpose to your life. Because your identity defines how you see yourself belonging in the world and relating to others, it is fundamental to creating your vision, living your dreams, and leading others to do the same. In Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the peak is self-actualization—the human need for self-fulfillment and striving to achieve one’s highest potential. This is a process of continual learning so you can always seek new ways of infusing energy and creativity into your everyday events.

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Self-development is profound work but it doesn’t need to be intense. A variation of Covey’s four basic needs overlays learning with laughter because we can’t be serious all the time. That’s also why one of the founding principles of The Ken Blanchard Companies is to have fun! On your journey of life, never forget the gift of child-like wonder—not in the sense of immaturity or naivety, but rather of being curious and light-hearted along the way. As you think about who you are and most importantly the unique story you are leading, remember that life is short. Keep the “L” word always in mind.

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About the Author:

Sarah is a Professional Services Intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is also pursuing a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology and her research is based on mindfulness. You can reach her at sarah.maxwell@kenblanchard.com.

The Balancing Act of a Leader

Being promoted into your first management role can be both an exciting and scary experience.  It shows that your employer trusts you to make decisions and lead others.  However, it can also be a major shift in responsibility.  People are going to look to you for direction, and it’s up to you to have the best possible answers for them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile most people are told that they will have new responsibilities, there’s one crucial piece that tends to be left out of that promotion-prepared conversation: get ready to start the workload balancing act.

What I mean by that is most people assume that their focus on work shifts to people they lead when coming into a management position.  While that’s true, that only paints half of the picture.  You had your own individual tasks and projects you completed before this promotion, but now that you’re promoted, you’re individual task work doesn’t simply stop (though the focus of that individual work may shift).  In fact, not only are you now responsible for your own workload, but you’re also responsible for the workload of those you lead.

It can be a major challenge when you have your direct reports coming to you needing direction, yet you’re in the middle of trying to complete a project with an impending deadline.  How can you balance the needs of the two?

  1. Start with the open door policy: Hopefully, you’ve heard of this term. If not, the basic idea is that your door is always “open”. If someone you lead has an issue they need to discuss, they can come by your office, email you, call you, etc… at just about any time of the working day. Having this policy can remove a major hurdle and allow the people you lead to get past problems faster than having to waiting until you’re available.
  2. Draw a boundary with your open door policy: While it’s great for your people to be able to discuss issues or get direction at anyJuggle Balls time, it may not always be feasible for you to maintain this policy at all hours of the day. If you have approaching deadlines or your own workload is starting to pile up, block out some time on your schedule. Set a ground rule with the people you lead that you can’t be disturbed during this time unless it’s absolutely critical. Be sure to follow up with step 3 below after establishing your boundary.
  3. Find your second-in-command: You’ve established your boundary, but now what? Your people need a backup plan for time-sensitive issues. After all, customers will only wait for so long before an issue gets out of hand. If you work in an organization with a large workforce, perhaps there’s another manager in the same department as you who can be your backup (also allowing you to reciprocate the favor).
    If you work in a smaller organization and there’s not an immediate manager who can cover for you, perhaps there’s someone you lead who is an expert in their role who can be groomed to take on this responsibility. Not only will it allow you to keep your boundary, but it allows you to tackle another management responsibility of developing your people.

Finding the right balance between being available and completing your own work will always be a juggling act, and you may find yourself needing to adjust and readjust your boundaries depending on the needs of your work and the needs of your people.

Leave your comments!

John Muir Had It Right

Spring has sprung! Has the urge to go outside and bask in the sunlight or stroll through the park become so strong that you can no longer ignore it? You know the feeling…you’re sitting at your desk or around the conference room table, and through the window you see clear blue skies and can think of nothing else except escaping the office and going outside to play—run, surf, cycle, whatever—as long as it involves breathing fresh air, you’ll be happy. Maybe the drive is deeper and what you crave is not just ditching the daily grind, but truly immersing yourself in the wonders of wilderness and spending some time in a pure and natural environment. Admit it, we’ve all been there, but what is it exactly about the call of the wild that is so irresistible? Why do some people feel so compelled to connect with nature?

JM_walk with nature

The answer lies in evidence that it’s not only good for your body; it’s also good for your brain. In a series of behavioral science studies, researchers demonstrated that spending time outside on good weather days, particularly in the springtime when it’s warm and sunny, can positively affect memory, mood, and openness to new ideas that leads to creative and flexible thinking styles. Another key finding is that people who spent more time indoors experienced the opposite effects of their outdoor counterparts. So if you’re struck with spring fever, then it would behoove you to get outside and scratch that itch!

Decades before environmental and cognitive psychologists began studying the mental health benefits of spending time in nature, John Muir (1838 – 1914) himself advocated the now substantiated claims of increased mental clarity and reduced fatigue through stimulation of the senses in the great outdoors. This legendary Scottish-American naturalist and conservationist is affectionately called the Father of National Parks and is the beloved founder of the Sierra Club, one of the foremost organizations dedicated to wilderness preservation. An eloquent writer and speaker, John Muir’s inspirational message is crisp and clear: In order to be whole with yourself, you must first be one with nature. If that statement rings true with you, then find out how much you emulate this iconic environmentalist and renowned nature-lover by taking the Sierra Club’s quiz: How Muir Are You?

JM_beauty and bread

An explorer at heart, I have long admired the work of John Muir and I often dream of traveling in his footsteps. When I entered my doctoral program four years ago, I quickly learned the lifestyle fate of all graduate students: goodbye sunshine and social life; hello Friday night dates at home with my laptop. Determined to succeed and hopeful that extrinsic motivation would help carry me through, I dug in my heels and set a goal that when I finally finish the program someday, I will reward myself with an epic backpacking adventure! Living in Southern California, I set my sights on thru-hiking the majestic John Muir Trail, a 211-mile long journey in the High Sierra back country which passes through Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks, and ends at the top of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States (elevation 14,497 feet). Although I have not yet earned the grand prize, the mountains have been calling me and every once in a while, I must go!

JM_break away

During my second year of graduate school I joined a group of 8 hikers who climbed Mt. Whitney, and I remember one of my companions asking what in the world I had in my pack that made it heavier than everyone else’s when we weighed in at the portal. I’m sure I’m not the only hiker in history to foolishly load her pack with journal articles and books to read at camp after a day of grueling high-elevation trekking, but I certainly would not recommend it. Not only was I too exhausted to concentrate on reading, but more importantly I found that my mind was more drawn to simply sitting and being than engaging in any sort of academic exercise. Although my body was weary at the summit, my mind had never felt so awake and open and free! I wanted nothing more than to just sit and be, to listen and smell and feel, to observe and appreciate the raw and captivating beauty and energy of the environment all around me. If you’ve spent any time in the wilderness, then like John Muir, you know exactly what I mean. And if you haven’t…what are you waiting for???

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About the Author:

Sarah is a Professional Services Intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is also pursuing a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology and her research is based on mindfulness. You can contact her at sarahmaxwell@kenblanchard.com.

 

Can You Get the Delicious Cake?

Several years ago, someone posed the following challenge on a popular internet image board:

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The goal was “get the delicious cake” and you had to draw your solution. No other rules were given.

One response showed the figure crawling through the spikes, while others used elements from pop culture to get the cake. For instance, Harry Potter magic spells, Star Wars lightsabers, and Super Mario warp pipes were all presented as solutions to this challenge. The following are a few of the more original and creative ways people attained the cake:

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Use the door!

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When you want to get rid of something in an image, the eraser tool is handy

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Thinking outside of the box

The lesson I took from this was that people can get very creative when presented with a problem and given the freedom to devise a solution.

As a leader, you may have goals you need to accomplish, but it is left up to you to determine how to accomplish those goals. With a little time and ingenuity, you can come up with many different and often surprising ways to achieve those goals, particularly when you have the help of others.

So how would you get to the delicious cake? Type your solution in the comments, or you can use your favorite image editor or an online one and post a visual of your solution.

Overcoming the odds

My dad and I after the surgery

About 5 years ago my father was diagnosed with liver cancer. He was a heavy drinker in his younger days and his cirrhosis compounded his medical issues. Over these 5 years he has gone through chemotherapy, radiation, and a litany of drugs to stabilize his liver. 9 months ago he was finally cancer-free and was then able to be on the transplant list for a new liver. A few weeks ago we received a call that a new liver came in and he needed to be at the hospital as soon as he could. My dad said he felt strange about it and had mixed emotions about the process. “How can I live because someone else has died?” I can’t imagine the competing values he had to deal with. The surgery went better than expected and the transplant was successful.  When the doctor pulled the liver out he said he didn’t know how my dad was still alive. He barely had a few inches left of a functioning liver.

What’s different about dad now than before his surgery is his zeal for life. He has always been a very happy and positive person, but something has changed for him. He told me the other day on the phone that he has “a second chance at life.” It got me thinking. What if I lived like I had a second chance at life? How much happier and productive could I be if I lived like this? So go out and make the best of everything. You never know how much you can accomplish with the right mindset

“The Happiest people don’t have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything.”

How to Manage your Competing Values

In the spring of 2010, I received a phone call from my commanding officer. “Jaramillo, you have been selected to a deployment in Afghanistan for 400 days. I don’t know what you will be doing or what unit you will be with, but I trust that you will have a successful mission and that you will make us all proud.”

Ok, whoa! Can I get a little more detail here?

I wanted to serve my country and go to war, but, I mValuesean, do I have to go now… like, right now? I had just gotten married 3 months earlier and was working on my graduate degree. I had no plans at the time to pack up and go. “Hey boss, look, I’m a little busy right now, can we move this war thing later on in my calendar.” Of course, it doesn’t work like that, but I still had these two strong competing values. In this instance, I wanted to go to serve my country, but my family and school were also very important to me. We all have competing values, and we must understand them and embrace their complexity. What I needed to do was figure out how I would internalize these feelings and contain my emotions through this experience.

What are your competing values? Take a minute to really ponder this question to understand your own thoughts and feelings. Really evaluating your competing values will help you to look at them objectively. Gather the facts in all scenarios to be open to exploring and doing a little soul searching. These competing values can come in all aspects of life, from relationships with friends and co-workers to grand theoretical and philosophical questions. It’s important to realize that they exist in our lives, so make sure you take some extra thought when you are confronted with one to be fully content with your decisions.

Gus is a Learning and Performance Professional at the Ken Blanchard Companies and is currently finishing his PhD in I/O Psychology. He can be reached at gus.jaramillo@kenblanchard.com

During Chaotic Times, FOCUS is King

I am sure many of the people reading have experienced streaks of pure chaos in the workplace. Often times people let their emotions get the best of them, and the result is usually very stressful and unproductive.

Stress in the workplace

Stress in the workplace

Leaders in organizations need to dig deep during these pressure packed periods to find a sense of calm and clarity from which to lead their direct reports. They still need to work with a sense of urgency in order to meet deadlines and complete timely requests, but sometimes in order to work fast the best practice is to slow down.

That is where the acronym FOCUS comes into play. When the leader finds the ability to take a moment to breath and FOCUS then they keep their mind clear and simplify every challenge. Some people are not naturally calm under pressure but this is a skill that can be learned if leaders are mindful enough to be aware of how their thoughts affect their actions.

Leading Others

Leading Others

FOCUS:

Find your center – When stress builds and tensions rise take a moment to breathe deeply and return to your internal comfort zone. You really need to be in tune with yourself to diagnose when your mind is about to be overloaded. Start practicing mindfulness now to know how you feel when you are at your most productive and collaborative state.

Own your emotions – Once you let your emotions control you then you have lost your ability to lead. Stay calm, cool, and collected and remember that when you are starting to feel overwhelmed take a moment to find your center.

Control your reactions – Reactions define your relationships with your coworkers. Every time you interact with another you create a memory on the others mental blue print of whom they believe you are. Be sure that all the impressions you are leaving are consistent with your character and personal values. Owning your emotions will definitely help you control your reactions.

Understand the situation – Leaders who take the time to listen to their direct reports during chaotic times succeed in identifying the correct next steps. Listening occurs with both your ears and your eyes. If you are entering a situation without having been previously involved then you do not know the dynamics. Taking a moment before reacting will help you understand the solution to the situation.

Serve others needs – The greatest leaders know that it is not possible for one person to make every decision and complete every action. Therefore you must provide your team members with the direction and support they need at every point in time. If you approach every day with the mentality that you lead to serve rather than be served then you and your organization will succeed.

That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.

Steve Jobs

Brian Alexander is the Marketing Project Specialist with The Ken Blanchard Companies

Flipping the Leadership Mentality

A learning revolution is taking place in the world today. The idea of the Flipped Classroom has widely swept the educational community. This idea places more emphasis on activity in the classroom instead of lecture and places more value on real-time collaboration among students to complete tasks. Traditionally classes would only provide information during class and expect the students to absorb it as a one size fits all offering then complete the course work on their own time alone. This one size fits all model has proved to be ineffective for every learner and does not promote mastery of the curriculum.

Flipped classroom

Traditional learning turned upside down.

Traditional management has taken the same approach with their direct reports. Today with the wide array of technology available, leaders need to flip their mentality from “telling and expecting” to “sharing and doing”. This requires more preparation from the leader and places more responsibility on them to work side by side with direct reports to get things done the way they intended them to be.

Leaders should hold regular one on ones with their direct reports to let them share what is on their mind. The direct report should lead the agenda and the manager should listen and determine the amount of support or direction needed. This meeting format greatly increases the amount of collaboration between the manager and direct report and helps to build the working relationship.

collaboration, effective planning

Collaboration is everything

Before scheduling a meeting, leaders should send a report or detailed description of your idea to their team or direct report an hour or two before they meet with them. Now when they meet the entire time is not spent describing what the meeting is about and the direct report is not caught off guard. The time is used to discuss concerns the team or direct report may have and brain storm ways to improve on the idea or results of the report. People will feel empowered and respected which encourages them to take ownership over the project.

Flipping the traditional authoritative leadership mentality to encourage more collaboration produces the results that organizations need. Managers will need to set their ego aside and be willing to relinquish the positional power that comes with their title. Remember that if you are in a leadership position you are there to serve the needs of your people as well as the needs of your customers.

A leader is someone who steps back from the entire system and tries to build a more collaborative, more innovative system that will work over the long term.

- Robert Reich

Brian Alexander is the Marketing Project Specialist with The Ken Blanchard Companies

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