The Hero’s Journey—Applying the Epic to Your Career

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
after he plundered the stronghold
on the proud height of Troy.  —The Odyessy, by Homer

Your career is an epic journey! Or, at least, it should be—something that Homer or Isaacson would muse about over pages of poetry and prose. Unfortunately, too many careers seem to be cut adrift, floating across an open sea without direction or purpose. Too many are a flat line rather than a brilliant arc that follows the blueprint of classic heroes leaving the comforts of home and launching into an adventure of challenge and triumph, where they discover their true identity and leave an indelible legacy for future generations to glean from.

The Epic Career

The Epic Career

How do we get to a point of letting go of the helm and allowing time and tide of circumstance roll across the bows of our careers, pushing us into the inglorious unknown? We don’t graduate from high school or college and expect to drift aimlessly through the next 40 to 60 years of our work life. We push off the shores of our young adulthood, eager to make an impact on the world and sufficiently pay our bills in the process.

But very few decide how they are going to effectively manage that journey through the various phases and chapters of their career. Very few have a plan—a GPS- activated map on how they will navigate their glorious journey.

In the early stages of our career, we are largely in exploration mode. We ask, “Who am I?” (A question you should never stop asking throughout your career.) We explore who we might want to be and begin to discover how our passions can align with the work we do. At this early stage of a career, individuals need fundamental coping skills gained through learning tools, techniques, and experiences—skills that cannot be taught in the halls of academe, but only in the process of executing our day-to-day tasks.

Then, as we reach our late twenties and early thirties, what becomes really important is practice management—management of self and others. Leadership! This is the stage where we should begin to make those early dreams come to life. It also becomes the time where we begin to face the conflict and challenges of a dangerous and exciting workplace.

However, just like practical basic skill sets can’t be taught in a classroom, the skill set of practice management can’t be learned at the University, only taught in theory. The skills need to be applied to our day-to-day experiences at work to be truly learned. In fact, how we become better contributors to our work is not often even taught within the organizations we work for. We are typically left on our own to figure out how to navigate through the stormy waters that threaten to make our careers irrelevant. We are vulnerable to the prevailing winds of the economy, internal power struggles, politics, and even worse—we are vulnerable to becoming so disillusioned that we slip into a state of indifference. Instead of thriving, as we once dreamed we could, we become content with just surviving on the open sea.

Why do we stop learning during the most critical stages of our career? I don’t mean simply going back to school (a noble endeavor), but rather the practical application of new skills to the work we are doing today? So often we give up on learning the critical skills that can help us master the work we are currently engaged in—skills and tools that could help us navigate the perils and storms of our career—moving us from simply surviving into Herculean thriving.

The journey is taking place now! What are you doing to help write your epic masterpiece?

Jason Diamond Arnold
Co-Author of Situational Self Leadership in Action

2-for-1: Decrease your tasks and maintain IQs!

A long time ago, I thought that my IQ level meant how intelligent I was.  If I took an IQ test and scored high, it meant I was a genius and that some secret society bent of world domination was going to reach out to me regarding a membership, right? 

Both of those ideas are myths.  A measurement of one’s IQ level is not to determine how “smart” they are, but rather look at how well they can problem solve and comprehend solutions. 

The Wall Street Journal has an article on a few different studies completed recently regarding IQ levels and how they can invariably change over time, along with methods to increase and/or maintain IQ levels in the long term.  The most interesting part in one of the studies I found was the correlation between the work you do and how it affects your IQ levels over time. 

For example, the National Institute of Mental Health completed a 30-year study of individuals to measure changes in IQ levels.  They found that those whose jobs required “…complex relationships, setting up elaborate systems or dealing with people or difficult problems…”  typically maintained their IQ levels or scored higher than previous when compared to those whose work required less critical thinking and simpler tasks.

When I read this, I thought of a book Ken wrote called The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey. The basic premise of the book is how in a lot of organizations, workers spend a lot of time managing their bosses, instead of managing their own work.  In other words, an individual contributor goes to their boss with a problem, and instead of the boss providing some steps to help that individual solve the problem, the boss winds up taking on the problem themselves.  Some bosses may even be so scared of possible errors that they refuse to allow their direct reports to do their own critical thinking.  The end results are that leaders spend more of their time doing the work of those they’re supposed to be managing.

After looking at these studies about IQ levels and comparing that to the work people do, we could be compounding the issue of time management for ourselves AND affecting people’s abilities to solve complex issues in the future.

Food-for-thought: Think about the last time someone who reported to you came to you with an issue.  Did you simply say “I’ll handle it,” or did you act more as an assistant to help that person solve their own problem?

Leave your comments!

The Work-School Balance

Today’s posting goes out to all those working professionals who may have underestimated their boundaries to the point of no return – and who may be questioning their sanity on a regular basis. I am talking about the working student. Do I have any sympathizers out there?

You know how it goes: Work a very busy day, challenged by curveballs left and right, tired at the end of it, but wait – you’ve got that second wind, just enough to buy groceries or squeeze in a quick workout – only to race home, hoping that your third wind kicks in with enough energy to start a research paper? But wait! There’s more. You get to do it all over again tomorrow.

Over the last eleven months, I have been working toward a degree through an all-online program. I’m sure I speak for thousands of others when I say this is no easy feat. Hundreds of pages of weekly reading, library and online research, a paper due every other week, virtual group projects, online exams, and mandatory discussion forum posts all in addition to, well, life, including the responsibility of being a working professional.

Week nights often consist of motivational self-pep talks: “You’re not too tired – you can totally do this!” Or, the bribe: “If you just finish these 70 pages, you get to watch Survivor!” The weekends are even better: “I’m so excited – I get a whole Saturday to catch up!” My husband is even into the incentives now: “You can do it, hun, just one more discussion question then it’s time for The Amazing Race!” We don’t have kids yet, but I can imagine the work/school balance is exponentially more challenging for those who do!

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

All of that said, I have to be honest… Despite the organized chaos that the last eleven months have been, I’m going to be a little bit sad when it all comes to an end next summer. Once my initial panic subsided about a month into the program, my days became filled with constant learning, a deeper thirst for knowledge, a broader worldview, the continued reminder to be inquisitive and to think critically, and a greater appreciation for others’ views, particularly those that are different from mine.

For these reasons I hope my learning never ends, because I truly believe it is a defining quality that sets leaders apart. The greatest leaders in my life have been those with an insatiable thirst for knowledge. They embrace change, always look to discover something new, and aren’t afraid to adapt when needed. They willingly accept feedback. Leaders are always looking for ways to challenge themselves – to take risks – even if it brings the possibility of failure. They seek wisdom from those who have gone before them; they aren’t afraid to ask questions. A lack of knowledge is not viewed as a weakness, but rather as an opportunity to grow.

I hope we all never stop learning.


JoePa’s Leadership Faux Pas

***Special Why Lead Now Blog Article

As a Central Pennsylvania native, raised among the peaceful valleys that are nestled within the beautiful rolling Appalachian Mountains, there was always the notion of a glorious kingdom that lay just beyond the northern range of the Cumberland Valley. A place where all the boys in my neighborhood recognized as Camelot—let by King Author himself and his band of Knights in shining armor.

Weeping Nittany Lion

Of course we called it Penn State football and its glorious leader was a man named JoePa—who led his mighty warriors on to the field of battle every autumn Saturday in simple Blue and White throw back football uniforms. He was a mythological figure throughout the entire region.

For over four decades, since my birth, one man has remained a constant symbol of timeless honor, connecting me back to what seemed to be an eternal youth. Today that age of innocence has come to an end. Camelot has fallen and King Arthur has gone down with it as the University’s image smolders in the court of public opinion.

As a father and a coach of youth sports, as well a devoted thinker on the practices of leadership, I am suddenly forced to confront my own romantic notions of that ideal world I once believed in as a boy. The dark clouds of reality that have stormed across The Happy Valley now revel an epic institutional failure, and the mythological figure at the center of it, who reigned over it for nearly half a century, is now faced with a bitter end.

Penn State football, the great University it represents, and the entire nation, is now left with the task of making some sense of the terrible abuses of power and innocence that took place on it’s campus within the shadows of one of the most storied programs in American sports.

It would be premature to make any assumptions about the necessary outcomes of such a horrible situation. But all legality aside, we would be stuck in nostalgia if we were to overlook the leadership lessons that are arising from the smoldering rubble of a fallen dynasty.

Deal with Conflict Directly

The one thing we have learned since childhood is, the longer we wait to deal with a crisis, the worse it always gets. This is an even a greater truth for leaders. Joe Paterno and Penn State brass had nearly a decade to deal with this issue, and not only rid the source of the issue from the institution, but take the source to higher levels of authority, beyond the means of the University’s by laws and policies. This was not only a failure of leadership on the part of Joe Paterno; it was a failure at nearly every leadership level of the institution.

When organizations ignore conflict, and don’t seek to resolve it through proper resources and reasoned accountability at every level, with fair justice, they under mind the very purpose for existing. Having the means to deal with conflict, on a personal or professional level, is an essential part of growing and maturing into excellence as an individual and an organization.

The days of brushing issues under the rug, particularly for leadership figures as popular and public as Joe Paterno, is a thing of the past. It’s old school thinking and a naïve approach to solving tough issues in a technology driven culture that has the instantaneous ability to publish thoughts and opinions to a world wide audience, as well as access information at anytime—driven relentlessly by a 24-7 multi-level news cycle.

Hail to the Chief

Another glaring lesson from the Penn State crisis is the absolute power Joe Paterno had at the University and throughout the region. A grand illusion, all be it a romantic one, of American culture is the notion of the Commander in Chief—the central figure that is the face of an organization or institution, a charismatic leader at the head of a mighty organization leading the masses to glory.

But even this notion is a bit mythological, because the very foundation of American culture was based on a rejection of this type of idea—that one man has all the power. The founding brothers of the United States of America rejected the tyranny of a king, so much so, the drafted timeless documents that protected against this taking place in a new world—the balance of power in the branches of government—not too mention term limits for the Commander in Chief.

Joe Paterno has been the face of Penn State for over four decades. Paterno was the chief architect of a multi-million dollar revenue resource for the institution and rose to preeminent power at Pennsylvania State University because of it. But this type of great charismatic, larger than life leader can be dangerous for any organization or culture.

A balance of power through a plurality of leadership can help stabilize the longevity and production of an organization and stimulate more empowerment down through the ranks, ultimately generating more productivity and ownership of the organization from the bottom up.

This is even truer in today’s flatter world, leveled out by knowledge and instant access to information through technology. People at all levels of an organization need to be empowered; not only do their jobs in the most effective way possible, but to also have no fear to make the right decisions and resolve disruptive behaviors head on within the organization.

There are so many lessons to ponder in this heartbreaking saga that has exploded in Central Pennsylvania and shaken the American sports scene the past week. But this moment is too important in American history to allow our selves to ignore and grow from—especially as parents, coaches, and leaders. Today, I’m left trying to answer my 10 year-old son’s question, “What happened?” My only answer, “A tragedy.” And it is a tragedy that could have, and should have been avoided through effective leadership throughout the entire institution. Instead, lives have been shattered and a noble brand tarnished—a legend has fallen and innocence has been lost in a once happy kingdom.

Jason Diamond Arnold
Co-author of Situational Self Leadership in Action

Tim Tebow, Natural Born Leader?

Photo by Jeffrey BeallWe’re roughly halfway through the NFL season. And while there have been many intriguing storylines, perhaps the most compelling subject has been the current starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos, Tim Tebow. The cultural phenomenon known as Tebowmania can be traced back to Tebow’s days as quarterback of the Florida Gators where he became the first college softmore in history to win the Heisman Trophy and led the team to two national championships in three years. Yet, intense discussion and debate surrounding Tebow has continued at a fever pitch since his controversial selection in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.  His detractors say that he doesn’t possess the necessary technique and skill-set to be an effective quarterback in the NFL. His proponents say that he possesses an ideal set of intangibles, that he’s a winner, and routinely refer to him as a natural born leader.

That last description really intrigues me. Can someone truly be a natural born leader? What does it mean to be a natural born leader? Generally speaking, people are not natural born leaders. However, people can be born into a situation that supports their growth and development of leadership qualities. I would venture to say that Tebow’s background and upbringing provided a healthy environment that fostered the development of his leadership qualities. He wasn’t born to be a leader but he was raised in an environment that allowed for him to become one.

To his credit, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone question Tebow’s character or leadership abilities. ESPN analyst Matthew Berry recently shared his experience of meeting Tebow for the first time. After a minute with Tim Tebow, Berry went from someone who didn’t care to understand Tebowmania to becoming a huge fan. In the latest issue of ESPN The Magazine, columnist Tim Keown describes how Tebow deftly managed a public appearance that impressed and delighted all in attendance. And teammates such as Andre Goodman are saying things like, “Tim has a presence about him that I’ve never been around before. I’ve played with some Hall of Fame players before that weren’t close to the aura that this guy has.”

Each of these examples support the belief that Tebow possesses a high quality leadership skill set. Though as mentioned earlier, he does have doubters. And while they don’t question his ability to lead people, they do question his individual performance. They say his athletic skill set was a perfect match to the system used in college against inferior competition but in the NFL, the systems used are typically more complex and the athletes are all world-class. To date, his individual performances have been, to put it kindly, a mixed bag. And after his latest sub-par performance, his coach would only commit to keeping Tebow as his starting quarterback “for this week.”

This serves as a reminder that it’s not enough to have great character and leadership skills. Those serve as a great foundation and significantly contribute to one’s ability to do great things. However, leadership is about more than getting great results from those you lead. You must also be able to deliver results on the specific responsibilities that you are required to perform. The ability to inspire others and achieve results cannot be understated. If one or both are lacking, things can go downhill in a hurry…just ask the Indianapolis Colts.

For at least another week it’s still Tebow Time. What leadership lessons or observations have become apparent to you while looking through the lens of Tebow’s young career?

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Leadership Lessons from the 2011 World Series

The drama unfolding in the 2011 World Series of Major League Baseball is nothing short of epic. The Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals have been engaged in a week long back and forth battle that I’m sure even the Greek gods would envy. Now last nights, dramatic, Game 6, instantly known as one of the most dramatic games in Series history, will ensure that the championship will be won on a final and decisive game. This Fall Classic will become an instant historical gem in the minds of baseball fans and sports enthusiastic alike.

2011 Fall Classic

And if you are willing to looking just beneath the surface of all the towel waving, paw clawing, praying hands, squirrel wearing, fanatical behavior of the massive crowds attending these games, you will find some interesting leadership lessons unfolding during this duel for the ages.

Embracing the Past

All championships are won long before they are played. The two teams gridlocked in this epic battle have been assembled by some of the brightest minds in baseball through the general management of John Mozeliak (Cardinals) and Jon Daniels (Rangers). But perhaps the brightest front office star in all of baseball is the principal owner, president and CEO of the Texas Rangers, Nolan Ryan.

Ryan is considered by many to be the greatest pitcher in baseball history, pitching a record seven no-hitters and is MLB’s All Time strikeouts leader. Having a Hall of Fame player, who was an important part of the Rangers team history, now serve in an executive capacity has produced great success on the field. Ryan’s old school, competitive attitude, has been contagious in the locker room and on the field.

Good organizations would do well by honoring past associates that served them with excellence. Founding associates of an organization not only bring an important historical perspective to the current employees of an organization, they have a lifetime of experience that may be extremely valuable in motivating the current workforce of an organization to embrace the original principles that made them great at it’s inception.

Embracing the Future (Through Technology)

One of the storylines in this World Series was the Phonegate saga of Game 5, when Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa tried calling out to the bullpen to warm up some of his key relief pitchers that were needed in the close game. La Russa asked for pitcher Jason Motte, and instead, the bullpen coach claimed that he heard, pitcher Marc Rzepczynski’s name called in by La Russa. “Can you hear me now,” became the battle cry of Game 5.

But the bigger question for baseball, and manager Tony La Russa, is the fact that there are phones from the Mid-70s in the dugouts and bullpens—even in newer ballparks like the ones in Arlington and St. Louis. Management may want to buy La Russa and the coaching staff a new Smartphone for Game 7, so that they can be on the same page. He could even use iPhone 4s Siri application to help him manage the game.

“Who should I bring into pitch next,” La Russa could ask Siri. “Based on the next three hitters in the Rangers line up,” she would respond in her robotic tone, “I suggest you go with the Lefty, Arthur Rhodes.” And then she would ask, “Would you like me to place a call or text your Bullpen Coach, Derek Lilliquist?”

Organizations need to embrace technology. Not just recognizing that there are certain trends you need to be aware of, but a systematic strategy to integrate new technologies into the way you do business. Your clients and Raving Fans need to trust you’re delivering service and products in the best and most effective means to meet the current needs of the people using those products and services.

Living in the Moment

After the rainout of Game 6 on Wednesday evening in St. Louis, many members of the press were asking Manager Ron Washington whom he would start in Game 7 of the World Series if the Rangers were forced to play a final game. The question itself was very odd, considering the fact that Game 6 had not even been played yet, and many people were thinking ahead to Game 7. But what’s even stranger is that Washington engaged the question by saying, “It’s Harry’s game. I’m going to stay consistent. That’s Harry’s game. Matt Harrison earned it.”

It’s hard to imagine that a manager could get sucked into answering questions about a game that would not happen if they went out and won Game 6. The right answer should have been, “I’m not thinking at all about a Game 7. Our focus is going out there and winning Game 6 and bringing a championship back to Texas.”

Good leaders honor the past, plan for the future, but are focused on seizing the moment. The moment an organization takes their eye off of the ball it affords opportunity to make little mistakes. A fundamental characteristic of great leaders are their ability to get their people focused on the moment, completing the task at hand with excellence—not fretting about what tomorrow may bring.

Baseball needed a great Fall Classic and they finally got one this year. Tonight’s Game 7, no matter what the outcome, will be the final chapter of a classic duel between two classy organizations. And if you read between some of the storylines, you may just find something that can drive you and your people toward organizational and personal success.

Jason Diamond Arnold
Co-author of Situational Self Leadership in Action

10 Tips for Leading the Office Zombie!

It’s that time of the year, again.  Halloween decorations don the neighborhood yards.  Children are picking out their costumes.  The dead are preparing to breach the ground covers…

In celebration of Halloween (not to mention the season premier of the television show “The Walking Dead”), I’ve put together a list of 10 tips for leading those undead coworkers.  After all, we see so many “Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guides”.  Why not have a helpful guide for leading that newfound workforce?

Follow these tips to turn those flesh eaters into self-reliant achievers:   

Tip #1:   Zombies have a tendency to not tell their managers what they need in order to get the job done.  They mostly speak in grunts and howls, which can be hard to understand.  When discussing a goal or task that this zombie will be responsible for, you need to provide lots of support and direction in the beginning.  Make sure to have clear agreements regarding how the work will be accomplished moving forward.

Tip #2:  Zombies require additional attention compared to their human counterparts.  You need to schedule more time than usual for one-on-one’s when meeting with your zombie team members to ensure you both can cover your agenda items.  It also helps to have enough time to clean up the bits of dirt and earthworms left behind in your office.

Tip #3: Sometimes, zombies can get a little too emotional over work-related issues.  They may get frustrated and begin biting at those around them.  In those situations, make sure to keep a shovel on hand.  A quick thrust to the head will put an end to that toxic worker.

Tip #4: You need to cage them at the end of the day (the zombies, not the live people).  The last thing you want is to come into the office the next morning with various holes punched in walls/doors.  Try explaining that one to your boss.

Tip #5: Telephones and zombies don’t mix. 

Tip #6: Zombies need lots of praise and encouragement for a job well-done, but if you can provide some sort of treat for an additional reward, you’ll create an employee loyal to your company.  Tofu works as an excellent brain-like substitute.  Always keep a healthy supply of tofu on hand.  (Should you run out of tofu, return to Tip #3)

Tip #7: Just like their living human counterparts, zombies need autonomy.  While they will still need a lot of attention when starting to learn a new skill, they don’t want to be micromanaged.  Eventually, you will need to let them take the reins.  By giving too much direction, you might find yourself on the lunch menu.

Tip #8: Create an environment where zombies can freely share their ideas.  Granted, “ggGGGrrraAAAHHH” and “HHuuhhhhhhhh” may not be the major breakthroughs you’re looking for when working through a business process, but zombies still need to feel that their ideas are heard and considered.

Tip #9: Incorporate the zombie culture.  Zombies don’t want to feel left out.  Try the “who-can-help-the-team-member-buried-6-feet-under” or the “zombie-limp relay race” activities for extra-special team building events.

Tip #10: While your living human employees need an environment that embodies trust…don’t be too trusting with the zombies.  You need to have watchful eyes.  The last thing you want to hear about is one of your human employees going to HR because a certain zombie was gnawing on them when you weren’t looking*.  (Return to Tip #3.)

*The bright side is that you get a free zombie replacement from that bitten employee without having to worry about budgets.

Above all, remember that zombies are (ex)people, too.  They need leaders that are flexible in their leadership styles and behaviors just like anyone else.   Doing so will not only help to improve both productivity and morale, but you’ll help them achieve their own goals much faster.

Be sure to have a safe and happy Halloween, but should you get bit…  I’ll be sure to stock up on tofu.

Leave your comments!


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