The Awkward Phase

At some point as a little girl, probably around the age of seven or eight, I decided it was perfectly normal to tell people I was going through my “awkward phase.” It is that inevitable phase in our youth perhaps many of you experienced, where you’re in between sizes, your teeth haven’t decided which way they want to go, and there is no guarantee that your foot will actually make contact with the ball during a routine game of soccer. I’m sure I picked up the funny saying from my dear mother and father, thinking it was simply a matter of fact to be shared with others. While I laugh about this now, it does remind me of another life stage that we go through, worthy of a similar name: our 20’s.

What an awkward phase this can be! After nearly two decades of school, all structure is lost. We graduate from college and our world suddenly opens up. The paradigms we have accepted and mastered are no longer relevant. We begin to question what’s next, and realize both the power and the trepidation behind this overwhelming notion. It is yet another “in between” stage where we must make the leap from being handed a path to carving our own. We must face the often harsh reality that is the real world without ever having been taught how to do so, and become the “leaders of tomorrow” with zero direction for perhaps the first time in our lives.

Yet we must not lose hope! Professionally, our 20’s can be a roller coaster of soul-searching, excitement, growth, insecurity, setbacks, confusion – you name it. But whether we are ready or not, we are the next generation of leaders. While I am by no means an expert in this area (and, truthfully, am still living it!) this unique journey has taught me to remember three things in particular:

1. Seek work with meaning and purpose: Find something you believe in, something you can be proud of. Tap into the intrinsic motivators in your life. Go beyond the extrinsic; paychecks and perks will only provide so much satisfaction. We will spend at least a third of our lives in the workplace, so search for something that brings meaning to you – a place where you feel you are making a positive difference in the world.

2. Never stop learning: Be inquisitive. Meet new people – people different from yourself. Seek mentors. Ask questions, even dumb ones! Don’t feign competence where it doesn’t exist – be coachable and soak up as much as you can from those who have gone before you. A lack of knowledge is not a weakness – it is an opportunity to grow.

3. Be patient and give yourself grace: None of us will rise to the top and “have it all figured out” by 30. In fact, we will never reach that point. Our careers are not a destination, but a journey – an adventure. Like the rest of life, our 20’s help to create our story. Patience and grace through our high highs and low lows generate an authenticity that will make us more effective down the road.

These are just a few of the lessons I have learned along the way… What are yours? 

Thanks for sharing! 

Comments

The Surprise Reaction – How We Tend To Behave

Have you ever looked at someone and thought you knew how they might react to a given task or a bit of news?  Maybe you thought they would procrastinate.  Perhaps they would “forget” about it, with you knowing you would have to remind them of it later.  Maybe you knew they would outright dismiss it….

Instead, they wound up doing the exact opposite of how you thought they would react. 

My wife can guess with certain accuracy how I might react to bad news or the latest gossip around the family friends.  However, she cannot say with 100% accuracy how I will ALWAYS react (unless something in our house just broke – I turn into a raging gorilla).  She only knows how I tend to react. 

The same can be said about my behavior.  I usually follow the same patterns for unwinding after I get home from the office.  Does that mean I will always come home, get changed into fleece pants with a t-shirt, and sit down on the couch for a rerun of Hell’s Kitchen?  Certainly not!  Sometimes I have the need to do something different.  It’s not about what I will do, but rather what I tend to do.

Behavior is not set in stone.  We look at those around us (friends, family, coworkers, etc…) and say we know them and their behavior as if we can predict the future. 

Is it probable that someone might behave the same way we’ve seen in the past to a similar situation? – Yes. 

Is it guaranteed that they will behave that way? – Certainly not.  It’s an important distinction that we shouldn’t forget. 

The bottom line is that we need to stop judging/labeling people because of their past behavior.  Everyone has the ability to change their behavior, even on the fly, and as a result, can change how we perceive them.

Speaking of behavior, be sure to register for The Ken Blanchard Companies’ “Quit and Stayed” live broadcast coming up on January 25th if you haven’t already done so.  There will be lots of well known speakers and thought leaders sharing their perspectives on employee motivation in the workplace. 

You can find more information and register for the FREE livecast HERE.

Be sure to leave your comments!

The Not-So-Simple Art of Making Introductions

Patrick has been a high performing member of his organization for nearly 10 years. Recently, a member of his company’s Human Resources department, Elizabeth, was giving a tour to a couple of new hires and was introducing them to existing employees.

When they stopped at Patrick’s department, Elizabeth introduced the new hires to Bruce, whose office was next door to Patrick’s. With a smile on his face and eager to welcome the new hires, Patrick rose from his desk and went to his doorway to wait his turn.

As Elizabeth finished introducing Bruce to the new hires, she turned towards Patrick and said, “And this is, uh, wow, I don’t know who you are!”

Patrick was slightly stunned since he had had a few conversations with Elizabeth over the year or two that she had been with the organization…and of course, because his name was prominently displayed on his name plaque on the wall outside of his office.

Elizabeth then proceeded to explain, in front of the new hires and Bruce, that while she didn’t know Patrick’s name, she routinely observed him from her window indulging his nasty smoking habit on his breaks. This included her sarcastically mimicking the act, thoroughly explaining how her office window’s vantage point was positioned perfectly for spying on employees, how she regularly publicly chastised other employees who also share the habit, and even pointed how Patrick was going to die. What should have been a simple introduction had become incredibly uncomfortable for everyone except the blatantly oblivious Elizabeth from Human Resources. With each word she spoke, the eyes of the new hires grew wider, while Bruce could only look away in disbelief.

Despite all of this, Patrick kept his outward smile and simply nodded and faked a laugh while hoping that Elizabeth would simply stop talking. He wasn’t proud of his bad habit but felt strongly that it shouldn’t be the focus of his introduction to his new co-workers. As soon as he was given an opening, Patrick quickly chimed in and addressed the new employees with, “Hi, I’m Patrick.”

As he shook their hands, Elizabeth spoke up once again and said, “um, geez, I have no idea what you do!”

It wasn’t audible but you could sense a collective groan as Elizabeth successfully sucked the energy out of the room once again. Patrick continued to smile, nodded, faked a laugh and briefly explained his role and how it had evolved over his lengthy tenure with the organization.

As Elizabeth and the new hires walked away, Patrick turned to Bruce and asked, “what was THAT?”
Bruce replied, “THAT was completely uncalled for and incredibly unprofessional.”

To make successful, positive introductions, here are some things Elizabeth should consider doing in the future:

  • Ask employees to introduce themselves. If you don’t know someone’s name, don’t embarrass yourself, the person you’re introducing, or the person you’re introducing them to. After introducing the new hires, Elizabeth could have given the ‘your turn’ glance to Patrick and allowed him to chime in on his own. Or, she could have turned to Patrick and said something like, “why don’t you introduce yourself and tell them a little bit about who you are?”
    (Or, of course, she also could have glanced at the name plaque on the wall outside his office for assistance.)
  • Ask employees to describe their role in their own words. If you don’t know what someone does, simply have them describe it in their own words. By saying, “I have no idea what you do,” it implies that Patrick’s contributions aren’t noticeable, and by extension, not appreciated. Or, as a Human Resources representative, it implies that you’re not in tune with the actual work being done by the employees in the trenches.
  • If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. All these years later, Mom’s advice still rings true. Never introduce someone by pointing out their flaws, faults, or negative traits. By focusing on Patrick’s bad habit, Elizabeth effectively eroded any trust she had with Patrick and demonstrated to the new employees that perhaps they should be cautious around Elizabeth.

What other advice would you have for Elizabeth? Do you have any stories of introductions gone wrong?

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A Thousand Days—Celebrating Life!

Surely God would not have created such a being as man, with an ability to grasp the infinite, to exist only for a day!

—Abraham Lincoln

Today, I celebrate the 15,000th day since my birth. Yes, I will indeed celebrate it! To live just one day is an amazing adventure; to live a thousand of them many times over is a wonderful mystery that should be held with the highest adoration and gratitude.

Grains of Time

Grains of Time

It has become a tradition in our household, to not only celebrate the anniversary of the day of our day of birth, each year, with candles and cakes, but also celebrate a thousand day period of our life we are celebrating—another Hallmark moment!

Nikki McClure, designed a baby journal, The First Thousand Days. In it, she structures the journal entries to record key moments of a child’s first thousand days, from the birth story, to the first yawn, first steps, first words—documenting significant moments that happen during the course of the first thousand day period of a baby’s life.

If the passing of a year is significant (and it is), then so should be the living of a thousand days in a person’s life. Think of all the things you have discovered, learned, experienced in the past one thousand days of your life. You’ve most likely made more significant advances in a thousand days than you are able to achieve in one year of your life, and that is a major cause to reflect and celebrate.

To mark your life by days, not just by years, is a unique approach to framing the meaning of those days—filling each one of them with purpose, gratitude and a worthy effort. Marking a thousand of those days is an important reminder of how precious every day is. The fact is, we’ve been blessed to experience some good days, some great days, and others we perhaps like to forget; but let none of them be indifferent days.

As you reflect on the past year, these last few days of 2011, take a moment to look back on the past thousand days as well. While charting out your resolutions and goals for 2012, consider what the next one thousand days of your life might have in store for you too. You may even find an extra one, here and there, waiting to be filled up with something extraordinary.

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

***To find out how many days you’ve lived, visit the Time and Date website and use the Date to Date Calculator.

Redefining the Face-to-Face Meeting

Have you ever found yourself in a situation similar to this?

Dilbert by Scott Adams

If so, which side of the meeting request were you on? Are you more prone to insist on an in person face-to-face meeting or are you the one questioning why the face-to-face meeting can’t be held more efficiently using a virtual meeting/video conferencing service?

Truth is, you should be somewhere in the middle. Nothing beats being in the same room with your fellow meeting attendee(s)…as long as it makes sense. When it doesn’t make sense, conducting a virtual meeting (complete with webcams) is the next best thing. There are numerous virtual meeting hosting services that include video conferencing such as the aforementioned Skype (great for one-on-one meetings) or, WebEx and Nefsis (great for meetings with multiple attendees).

The key is being able to determine when it makes sense to meet face-to-face virtually as opposed to in person. If you’re in the same building, or perhaps in the same town, it’s quite likely that it makes the most sense to meet face-to-face in person. Even when distance is an issue, you may still feel those urges to push for the traditional in person face-to-face meeting despite the excessive costs (e.g., time and money). When you feel those urges, challenge yourself to consider the reasons why you absolutely CANNOT conduct the meeting virtually utilizing a video conferencing service. Chances are the most legitimate reason you’d have to oppose a video conference would be that you don’t yet have a webcam. If that’s the case, please click here now. (Disclaimer: I currently use the Logitech Webcam Pro 9000).

Furthermore, challenge yourself to determine which phone-only meetings you could dynamically transform into video conference meetings. For example, my manager and I are in different states but we now conduct all of of our one-on-one meetings face-to-face using Skype. Our team members are scattered across the country so we now conduct all of our team meetings face-to-face using Nefsis. Transforming these meetings from phone-only to video conference has been an incredibly positive experience.

Whether you’re on the fence about taking that in person meeting into cyberspace or, you’re considering turning a phone-only meeting into a video conference, consider the following benefits of video conferencing:

  • It significantly reduces costs. Gas is expensive. A plane ticket is, in most cases, even more expensive. And, don’t forget about travel expenses (especially if you have 5 star tastes). This, of course, doesn’t include the high cost of day rates you’d either be on the receiving end of as a client or, on the billing end as a service provider.
  • It significantly saves time. Time is money so, by extension, travel time is very expensive. Does it really make sense to meet in person when that four hour meeting ultimately costs you three full days after you factor in the travel time?
  • It allows you to build and develop relationships. Generally speaking, healthy, positive, productive relationships require a certain amount of face time. When you can’t physically be in the same room, this is how you can get it (with frequency and regularity).
  • It forces you to be present. When you’re on the phone only, it’s easy to tune out or multi-task. When you’re on video, you’re engaged…you’re conscious of your body language and emotions because you’re observing the same from others.
  • It forces you to improve your personal hygiene. If you’re working from home and know you have a video conference, you’re forced to get out of bed, get dressed, do your hair, and, well, look professional.
  • What used to only be possible in sci-fi cartoons is now a reality for YOU. And you gotta admit, that’s pretty cool.

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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?

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