Lead UP!

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…

If by Rudyard Kipling

Work is hard! If it’s not, you’re probably not working hard enough. Every good employee who pushes to higher levels of success goes through major challenges in the pursuit of worthwhile work. There are dreams and shattered dreams, hopes and hopes deferred, projects launched and projects crashed. The one easy certainty in today’s workplace is that nothing is certainly easy.

Lead Up

Lead Up

Compound that challenge if you’re an individual contributor with little to no decision making authority—no corner office, no big budget to use at your discretion, no direct reports to delegate to. Yet deep inside every good organization are good individuals who rise up to meet these challenges, greeting the impostors of triumph and disaster with equal tenacity.

In fact it is here, in the process of leading oneself through the pitfalls, set backs, and politics of the workplace that great leaders are born. Tomorrow’s great leaders are born out of today’s challenges, victories and defeats, on the front lines of organizations all around the world. They are the individuals that Lead Up when the going gets tough, rising above to meet the vision and values of an organization, by influencing others, without decision making authority, through effective habits and skill sets.

Four Basic Skill Sets to Lead Up

Every effective individual within an organization shares some common habits or traits that make them successful. There are four basic skill sets for individuals to engage in regularly, in order to effectively Lead Up within an organization.

Be Responsible

Excellence begins with understanding what is within your realm of capabilities, experiences, knowledge, and skill. Continually defining, refining, and reviewing Key Responsibility Areas (KRAs) is the first step to meeting daily and weekly challenges at work. Getting agreement on your job description with your manager and members of your team will ensure clear understanding and expectations of your role, as well as help you define your day-to-day priorities.

Be Aware

Everyone goes through learning curves at work. Each new project, goal, or task produces a whole new set of variables. Knowing who you are and where you’re at on the learning curve of any given goal or task will help you understand where you are going. Managers and other colleagues aren’t mind readers—they usually don’t know what you need to get the job done successfully. That’s why being aware of your own needs by assessing where you’re at in the learning process is a vital skill in Leading Up successfully.

Be Proactive

Once you know where you’re at, you have a better idea where to go to get the direction or support you need to successfully negotiate the gauntlet of daily challenges. Ironically, being proactive in seeking the right type of leadership you need, makes it easier to work with you. Proactively seeking out the leadership style you need, rather than reactively waiting for someone to give it to you, creates stronger relationships with your manager and other colleagues.

Be Accountable

Even the most successful individuals need to continually be held accountable to something higher than themselves. Accountability works best when you as an individual take the initiative to Lead Up by having consistent and effective One on One Meetings with your manager. Consistently scheduling and conducting short, half hour, meetings not only keeps you and your manager on the same page, it creates an intimate opportunity to communicate your development levels on critical goals, tasks, and skills—ensuring that you receive the right type leadership to help you achieve excellence at work.

People don’t wake up Excellent—it takes hard work and consistent routine. The Four Basic Skill sets to Lead Up at work should be a part of your daily and weekly routine! The effort is minimal, but the reward is exponential. When you’re ready to Be Responsible, Be Aware, Be Proactive, and Be Accountable—you’re ready to excel to higher levels of meaningful work and satisfaction in a job well done.

The world needs effective leadership, and you need to Lead Up, by beginning with the most obvious source of leadership—Yourself.

Jason Diamond Arnold
Consulting Associate, The Ken Blanchard Companies
Co-Author of Situational Self Leadership in Action

All Grunt Work and No Glory

Have you ever asked yourself what it is your people actually work on throughout the day (or night)?  I’m sure a lot of you know in general terms the type of work being done, but do you know the finer details?  More importantly, do you know how much of that work translates into something meaningful in the eyes of your people?   If you don’t, you might be contributing to a higher turnover rate at your company.

When I look at a job, I like to break it down into two parts:

1. The grunt work
2. The glory 

Think of the grunt work as repetitive, tedious tasks, that while necessary, are not the first things your people look forward to when they come in for work.  On the other side, you have the glory which is the new work that allows us to grow our knowledge/skill along with the recognition that comes from a job-well-done.  Almost all jobs contain some percentage of both.  The question is how much balance is there between the two of them.

Personally, a part of my own job deals with grunt work.  Every month a complete a time sheet to primarily track a lot of the billable work I do throughout that month.  I understand the reason for them and I know they are necessary, but that doesn’t mean I don’t cringe each time I have to work on them.

However, I also have a healthy portion of glory, as well.  A lot of the work I do impacts multiple people for the better, and there are always opportunities for me to take on new challenges.   I am also consistently recognized for doing well.  These are reasons why I haven’t been looking for employment, elsewhere.

In The Ken Blanchard Companies latest Employee Work Passion Survey, over 800 respondents were asked to rank 5 job factors in order of importance such as Autonomy,  Meaningful Work, Feedback, Workload Balance, and Task Variety.   In looking at the data, Meaningful Work had the greatest percentage of responses in terms of being ranked the most important.  More surprisingly, the majority of respondents ranked their immediate leader as being more responsible even over senior leadership when it came to influencing/improving these job factors. 

If you haven’t seen the results of the Employee Work Passion Survey, it is definitely worth a read.  You can see it here.

This meaningful work is one of the biggest factors when it comes to your workforce.  If your people feel this is lacking from the work that they do, they are likely going to look (or are already looking) for a different job.  Even if they aren’t looking right now, they likely aren’t using their full potential when it comes to their performance. 

Think about what you can do for your people when it comes to recognition, introducing growth through new skills, and showing them how their works impacts others.  In doing so, you may also find glory for yourself.

Leave your comments!

Leaders, Are You Listening for Explanations or Excuses?

Stop for a moment and consider the last time either you or one of your direct reports missed a deadline. What happened? It’s likely you were asked, or asked for, an explanation. When the explanation was given, how was it received? If it was not well received, do you feel that ANY explanation would have realistically been acceptable? When this point is reached, unfortunately, the only thing being heard is an excuse.

Most people inherently know the difference between an explanation and excuse. Subconsciously, however, we frequently confuse the two. When explaining an action or behavior, you’re making clear the cause or reason for that action or behavior. When making an excuse for an action or behavior, you’re maliciously trying to hide something and/or avoid any consequences. The subconscious confusion comes into play when our expectations become so high that no explanation is good enough so, by default, it is interpreted as an excuse. Or, when an explanation is either overused or seemingly unbelievable, it is also easily interpreted as an excuse.

One of the most well known excuses that we all grew up with was, “the dog ate my homework.” But imagine the child who spent hours finishing his homework assignment and then woke up in the morning only to find that Fido used it as a chew toy during the night. When he tells his teacher that his dog ate his homework, is that an explanation or an excuse? When he’s laughed at, called a liar, or punished, how will that make him feel both in the moment and in the future?

The very first post I ever did for this blog was entitled, Assume the Best Intentions. The gist of this piece was that in your daily interactions, you “give people the benefit of the doubt and assume the best intentions.” People generally want and try to do well even when it may appear to you that their actions or behavior might not seem to support this. My challenge then is to apply this mentality whenever you are being offered an explanation for a behavior or action that you find displeasing. Listen with an open mind and with the intent to be influenced.

You’ll find that in most cases, an explanation is legitimate and valid. This then becomes an opportunity to flex your leadership skills. Hear the explanation and discover how you can support your direct report in accomplishing the task at hand. And when giving an explanation, do so with confidence and be prepared to share how you can be supported in accomplishing your task.

Follow me on Twitter: @adammorris21 | Add me on Google+: gplus.to/AdamMorris21

Putting the “D’oh” in “Don’t think that you have control.”

Here were are; roughly 5 months away from the US Presidential elections.  It’s almost like having a season of the year, except that instead of seeing tree leaves changing colors or feeling the temperature changes, we’re instead exposed to political ads, campaign commercials, and auto-dialers calling at 8:00 AM in the morning asking for campaign contributions.  Some of my friends look forward to the election like it’s the fight of the decade (will we ever get to see Manny Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather, Jr.?), but I personally tend to get annoyed.

Why?  It’s because politics remind me of bad leadership practices.  Every day we’re exposed to the presidential nominees making promises about their plans following the elections in November.  It’s not the necessarily the plans that are bad (depending on your perspective), but rather the language that these nominees use.  It’s as if they are providing a 100% guarantee that they can deliver on their promises. 

Even the President of the United States reports to someone in order to get anything accomplished.  Lots of new laws or presidential decrees require funding which is under the control of Congress. If the President upsets the wrong people in Congress, it becomes much harder for him to follow through on his promised agenda.  If he cannot pass his agenda, his campaign promises are null and void.

That’s the problem with leadership, and I’m not just referring to politics.  I’m specifically referring to the old thinking that being in a leadership role means that you’re in control no matter if your background is in politics, business, etc…  Whether you’re in a position of power or not, the only person you can truly control is yourself.  You cannot say with certainty that just because you want or demand something to happen, it does not mean you can make it happen.

Let me give you another example: Let’s say I manage an individual working on a large project.  I just found out from my own manager that the deadline on that project needs to be moved to tomorrow.  I need this individual to stay late to finish up the project to meet the new deadline.  That individual tells me that they cannot stay late because they’re attending their daughter’s school play and they cannot miss it.

What are my options at that point?  That individual has made it clear that their daughter’s school play is their priority.  If I’m somewhat unreasonable, I could reprimand them or possibly even fire them, but what then?  The deadline still gets missed, and I’m now the one in hot water with my own manager.  The other option could be for me to compromise.  Let the individual see their daughter’s play, but ask for them to come in early the next day.  If they refuse, we may still have a problem, but at least I’ve done something that a lot of leaders don’t do, which is compromise.

I’ve worked under leaders in the past that ruled with iron fists.  If you didn’t do things exactly the way the wanted, even if there were better ways of doing things, you would be reprimanded.  I’m sure almost all of us have worked for at least one individual like that in the past.  All it winds up doing is causing the rest of us to start looking for new jobs.

Leadership is really about influencing those underneath and around you.  It’s about making compromises with the people you lead in order to get the job done.  You can “push” people in one direction or the other through influence, but you cannot move them from point A to point B on your own.

Leave your comments!

A Much-Needed Time of Rest

It has been a while since I’ve taken time off for a vacation (or “staycation” in my case, since I’m really a homebody).  However, I’ll be taking some time off starting next week.  I am quite giddy as I’m watching the clock counting down to the end of business today.  I can’t wait to leave my responsibilities behind!

After reading that, you might be thinking that I hate my job or my work environment or my coworkers (or all of the above).  It’s actually quite the opposite.  I have a great job where I’m challenged on a regular basis.  My company has the greatest culture out of any company where I’ve previously worked.  My coworkers are all more like family than simple associates, and I know that if I’m in trouble or need support, I can always rely on them.

However, even though I appreciate all of these aspects, I’m burnt out.  I feel mentally exhausted.    I’ve lost some of that passion I’ve carried with me in the past.

Being challenged at work is a great thing.  It leads to both personal and professional growth.  However, it’s also a cause of stress.  When you’re challenged over and over again without any breaks, it’s like someone has access to your personal stress button and they’re trying to break it by stomping on it repeatedly.  

For others out there, maybe challenges aren’t the problem.  Maybe it’s a lack of challenges, or perhaps doing the same routine day-in and day-out.  Whatever the source, all of us eventually get exhausted and need to get away from work in order to recharge our batteries. 

Various studies have shown that vacations allow workers to come back to the office feeling refreshed and more productive.  Confused.com compiled statistics from some of these studies and listed additional benefits of vacation, such as having a better feeling about life, or longer life expectancy in certain individuals.  

Unfortunately, not everyone has vacation time through their employers since it is not mandated by the federal government here in the United States.  Some businesses simply deny their employees this benefit. 

I have not personally seen a business do this, but I did have a friend who was denied paid time off for the first two years of their employment.  To think about working for 2 years without a break seems crazy.  They even admitted to me that they were not feeling engaged by the end of that 2-year span until they were able to take some time away from they office.

What amazes me the most is that for those of us who are fortunate enough to receive paid time off in the US, the average American worker does not use all of their vacation time each year.  According to a study by Expedia, the average number of vacation days provided each year is 14, yet only 12 of those days are typically taken.   It’s a shame because those vacation days are meant to be used and not stockpiled.

It doesn’t matter if you’re someone who is head-over-heels in love with their job, or someone just in it for the paycheck.  If you’re one of those individuals who does not use all of their vacation time, use it up!  You need that time away for your own mental health.  You’ll feel better about yourself and about your work.

Leave your comments!

Look To The Past To Improve The Present And Future

My younger brother, Chris Morris, is an insanely talented musician/singer/songwriter. (Sure, I might be a tad biased but if you don’t believe me just see for yourself). This week Chris released a new music video for a song called, “Why Don’t You Come Home?” The song is a resurrection and recreation of an incredibly rare and unreleased Stevie Wonder song from the 1960’s that inexplicably never made it on to any of Stevie’s albums. (Listen to Stevie’s original version here). When Chris stumbled across it he “decided to get in the studio and pay tribute to this unknown masterpiece.”

What amazed me is that more than 40 years after the song was originally written and recorded, it still sounds current and relevant. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say the song was ‘ahead of its time.’ And now, decades later, it has been given new life.

In thinking about Chris’ process, I’m reminded that often the best ideas, practices, methods, systems, and behaviors, are those that have been there all along, sitting around collecting dust. So why not look for new growth and development opportunities by reflecting on old ones that either used to work or were never put into practice in the first place?

Considering the following questions:

  • What worked well for you in the past that you’ve gotten away from? Did you have a system or process that worked well for an old task or job that could be applied to your current job or a current task? Do you no longer flex your leadership style as well as you used to?
  • What have you learned in the past that you never put into practice? Have you ever read a book or article and thought, “I need to do that,” but never did? Have you ever taken a class, loved the subject, but forgot about it the minute you put the textbook up on the shelf?
  • What were you once very passionate about that you’ve since abandoned? What activities or hobbies significantly contributed to your overall happiness and well-being that you no longer participate in?

I challenge you to sit down and do some brainstorming around this subject. What ideas, practices, methods, systems, and behaviors from the past can you breathe new life into? Once you’ve identified them, bring them home where they belong.

Follow me on Twitter: @adammorris21 | Add me on Google+: gplus.to/AdamMorris21

Make YOUR Living

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” –Henry David Thoreau

As the plane sat at the gate, making final preparations for take off, I gazed out the window, watching two ground crew members, tramping around in the muddy slush, loading up the last pieces of luggage. They looked busy. They looked focused. They looked determined.

Mud Time

As my thoughts turned toward home, the fascination with the two workers below was interrupted with a sudden, “You from Boston?”

I turned to the man next to me and chuckled, reveling to him my New York Yankees jacket, “No, just visiting.”

As fate would have it, he wasn’t content to leave it at that. “Ahhh! Business or pleasure?”

Perhaps he was a little concerned as to the cause of my red eyes and rather weary appearance—little knowing that I had just spent the past several days in a New Hampshire cabin with no running water. Or maybe it was just one of those rare occasions when I looked a little more vulnerable than my usual, leave me alone, I’ve been on a long journey, traveler look—still a glow from all of my recent discoveries within the ancient American region of New England.

I carefully guarded my growing suspicion over his line of questions with as few words as possible, “A little bit of both.”

He seemed to ponder the response, then fell silent for a moment. I could sense he was on the edge of leaving me alone—finally! Thankfully… he gave it one last shot.

“How do you make your living?” The hook slipped into my conscious with the precession of a Wicked Tuna fisherman out of Gloucester Harbor that had finally snagged the big one.

We’ve heard the question a thousand times, on a thousand trips around the world, when getting to know a stranger, in some strange place. But this time, it wasn’t a strange question. This time the question penetrated my very being and challenged me to give the curious lad a meaningful and well thought out answer.

Perhaps it was symptomatic of my natural buzz from the lack of sleep? Nay, I knew it was more than that; it was something lurking in the salty philosophic Atlantic air that whispers through the timeless picturesque scenery North of Boston—the same whispers that spoke to some of America’s most profound writers, like Frost, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Alcott, and Eliot, while they tried to answer questions about life and death and time, and all things concerning the affairs of our daily busyness…and business.

How do you make your living?

It was the very question that had been haunting me the entire trip, with each log I split, in every step taken on a hike to some small peek overlooking the New England landscape, every snowflake that sung to me on it’s decent to the frozen forest floor. In fact, it has been haunting me the past couple of years of my career—the so-called Prime Earning Years between the ages of 30 and 50 years of age. That age when family responsibilities and economic recessions catch up with the hopes and dreams of what you thought you could become through your career. That age when we struggle to make our living, rather than allow our living to make us, through a rhythm and routine that wears us down like the mountain steam does to the rock when no one is looking.

What is a living, anyway? And how does one go about “making it?”

Making a living isn’t about a paycheck—it is not your job! If we try to answer that question by simply explaining what we do to make money, than somehow we’ve reduced the meaning of how we spend the majority of our days. Our work needs to be much more than just a how we make money; it must be about the purpose or cause we serve through our efforts at work—making other people’s lives more productive and enriching because of what we do—while also serving as a means to providing quality choices for the things that we cherish the most.

Where are you in relation to where you want to be in your career—in your life?

Circles of Work and Play

Maybe you don’t currently do what you love to do. Maybe your current job or project is not what you dreamed of doing when you were off earning degrees at the University or working for that revolutionary start up company when you first entered the workplace. But if you don’t believe that there is a higher purpose or meaning in the work you do, then you’re in danger of slipping into what Thoreau warned as, “quiet desperation.” If the gap between work and play is so wide that you can’t wait to get to the weekend so you can do what you really love to do, then it’s time to look in the mirror and ask the question, “How do YOU make YOUR living?”

To make a living requires a continual renewal of spirit and perspective that pulls all of our hopes and dreams, experiences, responsibilities—our living, into a larger, more integrated and meaningful context. It takes effort to align the things we love, and are passionate about, with what we call work. And yet, it is as simple as splitting wood this side of winter, on a spring day, in late April or early May—just for the pleasure of it.

As the plane began it’s decent, nearly four hours later, into San Diego, California, my new best friend and I had thoroughly investigated how we make our living. Just after the plane touched down in a land far from those ancient poets gravesites, I shared with him a few words I had just found, inside the wood I was splitting, just North of Boston. Words…that are there with you too, right now, on your computer’s keyboard, in the pen on your desk, in the code you punch in to enter your office, or the clock you punch your card into, or on the palm of the handshake you’ll receive at next Tuesday’s Business meeting. And those words are whispering to you:

My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

Robert Frost, Two Tramps in Mud Time

About the Author: Jason Diamond Arnold is a Consulting Associate with The Ken Blanchard Companies, and Co-Author of Situational Self Leaderhip in Action


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