Monday, April 29, 2013

Development Journal - A Thirty Day Challenge

I recently gave you one way to use a journal in your personal and professional development process but there are many more.  Journals are important because the exercise of writing things down gives you time to reflect, process, make connections, and plan future courses of action.  I know it seems like this is the last thing in the world that you have time to start, but I know it will make a huge difference if you commit to it.  My challenge to you is to journal for the next 30 days and decide for yourself whether it is indeed worth your time.  For those taking the challenge, I will post journaling prompts on my Facebook Page everyday that you can use if you don't have something to write about.  (Like the Facebook Page while you're there and select Get Notifications if you want to receive the daily journalling prompts automatically.)

The first question you face sometimes seems the hardest - where will I keep my journal?

If you go to your local book store you will find beautiful volumes that are great for keeping on your desk or bedside table but probably not the best for toting around with you every where you go.  Moleskine has some great products that are extremely portable for those who like to be able to physically write down on paper and even your daytimer can serve this purpose if you commit to using it daily.

You can use your favorite word processing software if you plan on using the same device all the time or you can use a cloud-based app like Evernote if you want to be able to journal anywhere at anytime with little fuss.

Now, about what will you write in your journal?  Here are some recommendations, leave a comment if you have other ideas!
  1. From the previously cited post - to track your daily progress towards your goals.
  2. Using the Strategic Serendipity daily journal prompts.  
  3. Using a site like "Brainy Quote" find an inspirational leadership quote each day that speaks to a challenge you're facing and reflect on what the quote means to you.
  4. Pick one challenge from the day and reflect on what steps you could take to avoid something similar in the future AND pick one success from the day and reflect on how you can replicate that type of success in other areas.
  5. If you are working on building your team, pick one thing you did to develop a team member that day and reflect on the process, relationship building component, and results of the act or conversation.
Will you take the challenge?  Will you get two people to join you?  Share your thoughts along the way via comments on this post.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What an Extraverted Intuitive Needs to be Productive

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is based on the work of Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung. Jung observed that people have inborn preferences for gathering information and making decisions and that these preferences guide an individual’s behavior. The mother/daughter team of Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers expanded on Jung’s theories and created an assessment to make the combined work accessible to all individuals. Today, the assessment is used by most Fortune 100 companies and over two million people worldwide, annually. The assessment identifies an individual’s inborn preferences on four dichotomous scales: where you focus your energy, how you prefer to take in information, how you make decisions, and how you deal with the outer world. Type is best used to understand other people, improve communication, and develop individual skills.

The first dichotomy is Extraversion (gets energy from other people) and Introversion (gets energy from reflection).  The second is Sensing (gathers information from specific sensory data) and Intuition (gathers information by focusing on connections between patterns, possibilities, and meanings).  (Introduction to Type and Leadership by Sharon Lebovitz Richmond).

Using just the first two dichotomies alone gives you four very styles.  According to Introduction to Type and Coaching by Sandra Krebs Hirsh and Jane A. G. Kise you get the following Four Learning Styles with the associated motivating activities.

In an earlier article, "It Does Pay to Know Your MBTI Type," I argued that preference never equates to skill and people can be skilled on both side of a dichotomy.  We encourage people to learn when each side is needed and be able to use all eight tools in their leadership toolbox to be a more effective leader.

I am an Extraverted Intuitive and as frequent readers know, I have been on a journey to learn more about myself and more about leadership development over the last few years.  The above definition describes my learning style perfectly.  Unfortunately, if left to my own devices, I could literally live in the learning world forever.  But there is a part of me that wants to be highly productive and contribute to the work in a significant way.  The Intuitive part of me keeps saying that I haven't learned enough yet and I need to take in more information.  

Over the past few months, I have discovered many of the Franklin Covey courses (about which you will hear much more in future posts) but they have helped me develop some habits that really have made me more productive.  While much of what I have learned is still being processed and I cannot quite credit which program each comes from, suffice it to say the ideas are the intellectual property of Franklin Covey and the (many times) colloquial descriptions and personal application are my contribution.  

Without further ado, this is what (this) Extraverted Intuitive needs to be productive.
  1. Quiet reflective time to journal and brainstorm ideas.  My favorite platform right now is Evernote because I can use my commuting time on the subway and lunch time to jot notes about things that I want to write about (and sometimes even start writing it).  Once I go to publish a post on my home laptop I just open up Evernote on my computer and cut and paste.  They sync automatically between any of the devices on which I've loaded the app.
  2. A quiet place to write.  Here I opt for a small office I created in my home after my son has gone to sleep (why you often notice posts between 9:00 PM and Midnight my time).  
  3. Benchmark goals.  I am working on starting a few things that I hope to take off.  If I start planning for a big project, I will never get anywhere because I will never stop looking for more information.  By breaking my big goals down into smaller (but still stretch) goals as benchmarks, I can decide on a daily basis if I have enough to accomplish one of the smaller tasks.  The small wins by reaching goals or establishing new strategies when I don't feed me as well.
  4. In the specific case of writing this blog, a must have for me to be productive is a list of possible topics.  An amazing mentor recommended an editorial calendar, and because of another MBTI preference that just didn't work for me.  But I did end up looking through the calendar to find something I wanted to write about.  Now, it has morphed into a revolving list of topics that I can choose from when I need to.  (Yes, the Intuitive side of me LOVES making the list of possibilities and that is an added bonus.)
Yes, an Extraverted Intuitive would like to continue discussing options, but to be productive, I have learned to utilize skills that come naturally for people with a preference for Introversion to make me a more rounded person.  I still have a preference for Extraverted Intuition and need to go there frequently to rebuild my energy, but that doesn't mean that I can't learn to use the skills natural to the other preferences to maximize my contribution.  

What other tips to Extraverted Intuitives have for maximizing their own productivity?

Want to read more about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator?  Check out these posts:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How Do You Recharge?

"Cause everybody needs to break free, from reality."  Kenny Chesney

My toddler son is getting his four back teeth.  Monday night he was grumpy and up every hour crying. Tuesday I took off to take him to the doctor, because such intense pain had to be something life threatening, right?  Nope, they told me he was teething.  They had some great ideas for keeping him relatively comfortable so he went to daycare on Wednesday and evidently had a great day.  And I had a horrible day at work.  I mean the kind where you end up taking lunch at 10:30 just so you don't cry at work.  When I picked my son up at daycare, he proceeded to cry for three hours straight.  (You have to stay ahead of pain and I can't do that if he is at daycare for the full day.)  I literally crashed fifteen minutes after he did.

Today was a better day at work but my days are necessarily filled with people asking me questions.  So when I left work a little early, instead of picking him up from daycare right away, I spent an hour at the Starbuck's next door just relaxing in the quiet.  I have never felt like a worse mother.  Who would do that?  I texted my dear friend who has a toddler the same age and asked her how bad I was.  She called me laughing because she was driving her toddler around in the car because she wouldn't stop crying any other way.  She assured me I was not horrible.  When I did pick up Jackson I felt a little guilty still, but much better equipped to handle the evening.  Confessing my weakness to my mom on my way home she reminded me why she is the most brilliant mother ever.  "You weren't neglecting him, he was safe and nurtured at daycare.  You recognized that you needed some quiet time to yourself and you took it.  That is a good thing!"  He still cried tonight, but it didn't wear me out as bad as last night and I even got creative, offering him a frozen Eggo to soothe his gums.

The world keeps moving all around us and there is never a good time to stop and recharge.  Many of us will never see the most beautiful beaches and mountains on earth because there just isn't enough time or money.  Planning a great vacation is a wonderful way to look forward to recharging, but we should really be recharging far more often.  Even if in just small ways like a quiet hour at Starbuck's, Barnes & Noble, or the Public Library.

How do you find time to recharge?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Warning - Processing Times May Vary

My 18-month old son is learning tons of words a day and we are constantly talking when we are waiting for a bus, shopping in a store, etc.  I name things and sometimes he'll repeat what I say.  With the things he knows (like train, bus, and puppy) I will often ask him what is that?  What I have noticed is that if someone else is around and my son doesn't answer right away, the adult will answer for him.  Now sometimes he is playing shy and sometimes I am pretty sure he is thinking "I am not a performing monkey mom!" but either way, jumping in and giving him the answer before he has even had a chance to process is not the way to teach him.  And just because he doesn't answer right away, does not mean he is stupid or incompetent.  He knows how, in his own little way, to ask for help if he needs it and I have learned to wait for that indication before jumping in and taking over.  Sounds relatively simple and like the rambling of a mother who hasn't gotten any sleep, right?

So how many of you tell your employees how to do something rather than what needs to be done?  How many have rewritten something on your own because your employee didn't get it write?  How many of you reassigned something because you didn't think your employee was moving fast enough even though they hadn't missed a deadline?  And how many assumed that because an employee didn't speak up in a meeting, they had nothing to add?  Not so simple anymore is it?

There are multiple reasons that someone might not do something at the speed that you want them to, but it all boils down to the fact that it takes people different amounts of time to process information and requests and they do so in different ways.

Want to test my hypothesis?  At your next meeting of people you recognize as intelligent, thoughtful, and thorough, without advance notice, ask each person to write down a list of things they want to get done today.  Start a timer.  Mark when the first person finishes and when the last person finishes.  I am willing to bet the time difference between the person who finished first and the person who finished last is greater than the time it took the first person to finish.  In addition, I bet the first person to finish got frustrated waiting on the others and the last person to finish felt rushed.

So when you rush your employees (mandatory deadlines aside) because you think they should have finished the task by now, you are doing the same thing to them as random strangers do to my son.  You are taking away their processing time and being disrespectful of their processing style.  Taken to an extreme if this is done consistently and often enough, the employee (or child) will learn that they don't have to do anything because if they wait long enough someone else will do it.

What steps do you as a leader to be respectful of other's needs and methods?  How do you balance production and execution with developing others?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Maintaining Employee Engagement in Difficult Times

I am struck by the number of amazing leaders I hear lately saying "there is nothing I can do to make things better for my team given the climate in which we work today."  Times are difficult, particularly in the federal sector where employees are facing furloughs, an increased workload, or both.  But how can you expect to maintain or increase employee engagement when you yourself are slowly disengaging either through burn-out or personal advancement disappointments?

Albert Einstein said, "Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means."

If you expect your team to weather the storm, you better be the first one in line with an umbrella and a raincoat.  Seriously.

When leaders say there is nothing that can be done, they convey that they have given up.  Why would an employee keep pushing forward when their leader has given up?

Does this mean that you should start pumping the soundtrack from the broadway musical Annie through the office?  Not at all.  But don't be playing Les Miserables either!

So take a moment each day to sit down and write down one thing you CAN do.  It doesn't have to be complex and it doesn't have to cost anything.  I'll even give you your first one - "I CAN ask my employees if they have any ideas on how we can operate more efficiently and avoid burn out going forward."  And then REALLY listen.  Don't start thinking before they even finish about why that idea will never work.  Ask questions like:

  • How would that work?
  • How would that affect other operations?
  • What else could we do?
Encourage the rest of the team to ask non-leading questions as well but enforce the one rule of not allowing anyone to say why something won't work.  Fight the urge to reply immediately, just take notes and promise to follow up with everyone by a certain point in time.  Find at least one thing in the list you can do and in the follow up announce what you are going to do as a result of the team recommendations and make sure everyone knows that you are open to receiving future suggestions as well.

What things are on your CAN DO list this week?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Juggling Multiple Projects

Are you the type of person who likes to start one thing, finish it, and move on to the next? If so, I truly admire you! If not, I feel your drive (and sometimes pain) to be in the middle of many multiple projects all at once. People with this quality have to watch out for two major detailers - not finishing anything and losing track of things.

Before I got pregnant, I rarely kept a solid calendar and made lists only when I was feeling overwhelmed. Call it mommy-brain or call it exceeding my capacity to remember things (or call it way too much Diet Coke) but now if something exceeds three things I have to make a list. Considering that I am usually juggling multiple types of projects at work, multiple volunteer commitments, multiple home-based businesses, a pile of bills that always seem to add up to more than my income, and raising a 17-month old son this new "rule of three" means everything goes on a list.

1. Consolidated Source for Lists
My favorite way to do this is through Evernote (no consideration was paid for this), but I know there are other apps out there that accomplish the same thing. The idea is that I can make lists on my phone or home computer and they are loaded into the cloud and accessible as updated items anywhere. I keep shopping lists, blog ideas, work notes, goals, recipes, and brainstorming ideas in different notebooks for each facet/project in my life. I have it loaded on my iPhone and MacBook Pro (again, no consideration paid) and I use it more times a day than I can count.

2. One Calendar
I also keep everything on one calendar and use the Franklin Covey practice of scheduling planning time each week and each day. This helps me prioritize my "to do" lists on a regular basis and pick the 2-3 things that I must accomplish each day off the big rolling list in my To Do Notebook. I know some specialists will recommend that you create a separate calendar for part-time home based business. The rationale behind this is that your "other" calendar will fill up first and you won't have any time left for the business. The best advice I ever received about home-based businesses is that "you can do them full-time or part-time but you can't do them in your free time." So go ahead and keep everything on one calendar (to avoid double booking) but use your planning time to carve out specific time for every project - including home based businesses, blogs, and friends/family time.

3. Don't Let One Thing Rule Your Life
I have also learned not to take my day job home. This one was really hard for me because I actually really enjoy my job. But it was taking over every waking minute of my life. When it failed to pay the bills on a regular basis and I had to pick up extra jobs I had to say when I left the work it was time to work on family and friends until my son went to sleep and then volunteer and extra jobs. With the knowledge that I have to take 7 furlough days (leave without pay) this summer, those days will get the same treatment as my weekends - no primary job. It was a tough decision and is a constant battle, but it has freed up time for me to pursue my true passions. It is not a decision I regret.

4. Celebrate Completion
Frequent starters but seldom finishers need to set goals and celebrate achieving them. For fun things like that cross-stitch or quilt, a hard deadline is not as important as goals for "time on task." In other words, don't worry about finishing it by Christmas, decide that you will spend two hours working on it each week. (This works for work projects, too as long as you backtrack from and respect the hard deadline.)

What are your tips for juggling multiple projects? What do you like best about that mode of work? What do you like least?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

One Simple Act

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."  Theodore Roosevelt

How often do we say, "if only I had the authority/power/time/money to change things?"  I am as guilty of this as anyone, I know what I "would" do if given a chance.

But every day is a chance to shine.  We aren't all Ryan Seacrest, Bill Gates, or Peyton Manning.  And not to discount the contributions of those people.  But each one of us creates a ripple around us every day by our actions and behavior to others.  If you can't form a foundation, that doesn't mean you can't help those who have less than you.

Think of the people who have had the most impact on your life?  Would I know their names or are they that special teacher that didn't give up on you, your parents, or a dear friend?  If those who impact your life in the biggest ways have unknown names, why can't you make an impact with what you have where you are?

We typically place more limitations on ourselves than others do.  What would happen if one day, you stepped outside of your comfort zone and learned something new, helped someone you didn't know, or championed a project that made a small change for your community?

This week we saw the bad side of what two people can do to a country?  Imagine if all of their time and effort over the past ten years had been spent making the world a better place for everyone?  They might have cured cancer, invented the next "it" technology, or built a park that would be a safe place for children to play for years.

What will your legacy be?  That you were waiting for the right time and circumstances to contribute or that you looked for an opportunity to make your home, work, community, or the world a better place each day?

What you CAN do today, with what you already HAVE and where you already ARE.  Will you do it?  Will you ask two friends to do the same and ask them to share the challenge with two friends as well?  Share one simple act in the comments below and see how much we can accomplish together.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Your Personal Plan - Part II

A few months ago I wrote a post about making the most out of professional development programs.  With many training budgets being cut or eliminated, the days of formal development programs where employees had nothing to do but focus on learning may be a thing of the past.  That may not be an entirely bad thing, if organizations move to more effective blended programs, however, it does mean that participation in formal programs will be harder to be selected for.  With the changes we know are coming in the make up of the workforce and the speed at which emerging leaders will need to become leaders, the decline in formal program participation will result in little "bench" strength in organizations.  Those individuals who choose to commit to a program on their own, outside of work, will be far ahead of their counterparts who expect the organization to teach them what they need to know.

If you haven't already worked through Your Personal Plan - Part I, do so now.

So you should have a journal entry about what your values and your lofty dreams mean to you, work together in your life, and connect (or don't).  You should also have 2-3 three goals you have prioritized as the most important on which you want to work.  Don't worry, when you've reached these three, you can go back and pick up the next most important three.

Look at the goals you have picked.  For each one consider, what steps do you need to take to achieve it, what "partners" can you ask to help you, by when would you like to have the individual steps and main goal complete.  WRITE ALL OF THIS DOWN in your journal in detail.  I also recommend making a copy and placing it somewhere you can see it all the time (at your desk, on your refrigerator, etc.) and giving a copy to any partners from which you solicit help.

For the next month, using a page of your journal each day, make two or three columns on the page (depending on how many goals you are working on) and write each day your thoughts about the goal and any progress you made towards achieving it.

Share your experiences along the way with us on this post!

One way you can utilize partners in this process indirectly is to work through the process with a friend. You each pick your own goals and then meet via phone or in person for 30 minutes each week and spend 15 minutes each talking about your progress towards your goals.  Even if the other person never says a word, the accountability to report to another person will help motivate some.  It is far more likely that this person will become your cheerleader along the way (give them the same in return!).  This is not mentoring or peer coaching but it is a very effective way to approach personal and professional development outside of a formal plan.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Being Responsive in a World That Demands Instant Gratification (While Still Producing!)

When someone engages with you in a virtual "conversation" via text, message, or e-mail how do you balance being responsive while staying on task. I have heard people who have a rule that if three or more messages go back and forth it is time to pick up the phone. This is a good rule for high priority discussions (which includes family members, friends, etc.) if you are in a situation where you can pick up a phone and speak with the person. There are those times when that just isn't an option. Here are four easy steps for handling those "conversations" when you can't pick up the phone or when you have to stay focused on your current task. 

1.  Prioritize

Is this something that requires your attention right now?  If yes, either pick up the phone or stop and shift your focus to responding. Many times that back and forth virtual exchange is caused because one party (sometimes more) is multi-tasking and not fully reading the exchange. If you stop and focus and send back a complete response and then get back a response too quickly, chances are you are dealing with someone who is giving the conversation less than his or her full attention. You can either pick up the phone or hold off on responding hoping they will re-read your message. (You will know because these are the same people who will respond again saying something like "Never mind, I just read your full response.")  

TIP: to avoid being that person, do not view your emails in preview mode unless you are searching for a particular email. Preview mode, when used exclusively, generally is a crutch and most people who use it exclusively only respond to what they read in the preview (and likely miss a lot of important information).  

2.  Acknowledge

If you cannot respond immediately, acknowledge that you cannot but that you have received their message.  An automated response system like Outlook's Out of Office Assistant is good if you will be gone or out of pocket for an extended period of time.  

TIP: Try closing your e-mail for an hour or two to focus on a project and use your auto-response tool.  You can always say if it is an emergency you can be reached via phone.

3.  Commit

When you acknowledge that you have received their e-mail, commit to responding within a reasonable amount of time.  If you are taking two hours to work on a project, commit to responding in four and make sure you spend the two hours responding as needed.  If something requires some research, respond and let the person know that fact and give them an estimate of when they will hear back from you.  "Later" does not count.

TIP: Be logical on this and look at your schedule when committing.  Give yourself a little extra time for those things you know will pop up.

4.  Follow Through

This is the hard one.  You commit to things at the beginning of the day or week that seem reasonable and then "emergencies" pop up that require your attention.  Try to be reasonable and give yourself some room when committing, but if you absolutely cannot make a commitment, let the person know you haven't forgotten them and when you will respond (and move that to the top of your priority list).  

TIP: Use the reminder function in your e-mail to pop the e-mail up before you have committed to respond when you will still have enough time to research.

Of course, anywhere along the way you can delegate the task will help.  If you are delegating to someone else, make sure they know when a response is required by and encourage the requestor to reach out to you if they don't hear back.

How do you balance staying plugged-in and focused during the week?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Not So Simple Steps for Handling Mistakes

We've all been there, that moment when you know you've made a mistake.  What do you do?  If you look around you in the world you will see that there are different ways people handle a mistake.

1.  Blame someone else.  I think we've all probably been on the receiving end of this one before.
2.  Ignore it and hope it goes unnoticed.  And how often does this really work?
3.  Own up to it.  Much harder than it sounds.

As leaders the way you handle mistakes will be noticed and followed by those who work for you.  In addition, the way you respond to other's mistakes will be similarly noticed.  Here are some good tips for handling mistakes.

If you made the mistake.

1.  Own up to it.
2.  Propose a fix.
3.  Accept the consequences.
4.  Learn from the mistake.
5.  Move on.

Don't beat yourself up for a mistake.  Some are huge and sometimes step three may mean the loss of a job, a friendship, or money.  Moving on means forgiving yourself after you have accepted the consequences and learned the lesson.

If your employee made the mistake.

1.  Notify those who need to know about the mistake, the proposed fix, and the timeline for the fix.
2.  Discuss the consequences and the lesson with the employee.
3.  Look at the process that allowed the mistake to go forward uncaught.  
4.  Own up to any mistakes you made in the review process.
5.  Propose a fix for the process.
6.  Accept the consequences.
7.  Learn from the mistake.
8.  Move on.

Failing forward is a recognized technique for employee development.  However, too often, the way leaders handle the failure is to punish (either overtly or subconsciously) those who failed.  In this case move on means not only letting go of the guilt for any part of the process you own, but letting the employee move forward as well.  Yes, you may need to increase supervision or review of products, but don't do it in a penalty-like way.  Do it in a way that shows you have owned your part of the process breakdown.

These things aren't easy and it is always tempting to blame another or bury your head in the sand.  A true leader will stand up and own mistakes in the same way they would own a success.  

What other tips do you have for handling mistakes?

Monday, April 15, 2013

What Advice Would You Give a New College Grad if You Could?

Here's your chance to sound off - what advice would you give a new college grad entering the workforce if you could?  Related post to follow...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Please Don't Give Up

I heard a story today from a person who has been through something we have all been through...something she cared very deeply about and had worked very hard to build was shoved aside by co-workers and a boss who did not realize what it really meant to her and why.  It even started out not having the same meaning to her and I am not really sure if she understood why it was so important to her until today.  So people made a decision about something and when she tried to provide another perspective they blew her off.  Royally.  She was at that place, again, we have ALL been there at one time or another, where she thought she should just back off and shut up.  Now I admit, there are times when that is appropriate.  But when we picked apart the hurt feelings of being ignored, the rational reasons the decision was wrong in her mind, and her perception of the hypocrisy we found out why she cared so much.  She valued the program on some personal as well as business sense levels and she didn't want to see it fail.  In fact, she wanted to see it replicated!  So then, when asked what she needed to do to achieve a different result next time she was full of ideas and she knew that she did not want to let the program go because of one relatively little bump.

So, when you get to the point that you want to give up, on anything, write down WHY it is important to you.  And then ask yourself (or call someone you can ask to push you) WHY ELSE?   And keep going until the answers do not roll off easily.  And you are really thinking.  That is when that part of you that cares so deeply will let go of the real reason.  And look at that, write it down and really think about it.  THEN you can make your decision.  If you decide to keep going, put that piece of paper where you will see it quickly the next time you get down and use it to help you fight off the urge to give up.

How do you bounce back when you hit a roadblock?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Motivation and Engagement without Monetary Rewards

In honor of the Louisville Cardinals NCAA Men's Basketball Title here's a quote on motivation...

"The only way to get people to like working hard is to motivate them. Today, people must understand why they're working hard. Every individual in an organization is motivated by something different."  Rick Pitino

I've told you what Thomas the Train taught me about Employee Engagement.  Now I'm bringing in Rick Pitino?  But seriously, think about it, this guy is working with young kids who could probably chuck it all and make more money in one year than I'll ever see and he keeps them in college, working together, for a title.  So I guess some things are more important than money.  It is just about know what is important to the people you are working with.  

With the economy and the budget crisis teetering everyone back and forth, raises and bonuses are becoming things of myth.  As managers and employers, we need to look outside of the box for ways to motivate our employees.  As employees, we need to look at what motivates us and how our core values and personal vision and purpose can be fulfilled without monetary rewards.  

What motivates you?  What is one thing your organization could do to recognize your contribution that doesn't involve money?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Building Your Leadership Resume Before You Become a Leader

No, I have not lost my mind.  It is the classic catch-22 - you can't get the job you want until you have experience and you can't get the experience because they won't hire you.  It is the same for new college graduates, mid-career transitions, and moving up the corporate ladder.  So how do you get that coveted "experience" to land you your dream job?

I have always believed that volunteering offers you a chance to give back to your community and try out new things without making a major career change.  If you have an opportunity to serve on a committee that is in the area you think you want to go in, I say jump on it.  Not only do you get an insider's view of the position and some coveted "experience" but you will likely find some top notch mentors along the way.

I also think that taking on volunteer or collateral duties at work is a great way to challenge yourself, network with others, and try something out on a temporary basis.  If you learn by doing, you may find this the best way to "try something on."

My last recommendation is a bit controversial in some cultures, so check it out before you commit what may be the corporate kiss of death - lateral jumps.  I personally believe wholeheartedly that individuals who take lateral jumps are interested in constantly learning and often have a broader view of the organization than some of the leaders who went up one expected ladder can ever have.  I think it allows for cross-pollenization, sharing of new ideas and efficiencies, identification of duplicative processes, and increased partnering across silos.  However, in a culture that values subject-matter expertise, it may not be a legitimate path to leadership.  Not that you shouldn't do it, just make your decisions consciously knowing the pros and cons in your culture.

What are other unique ways in which you have gathered experience?  What did you learn in the process?

Care and Feeding

Did you know that toddlers eat? A lot? All o the seasoned parents out there are laughing at my discovery and remembering the time that you learned that particular lesson. You could have all told me a week ago to be prepared for this and I would have laughed and said I've got it covered, after all, I handled infant growth spurts! But I didn't really get it until I spent sixty hours straight with him eating, sleeping in three hour chunks, and playing at full capacity in a continuous circle. So this morning I ran it by the expert at his daycare and she laughed and assured me that toddlers are bottomless pits. So absent proper sleep, I was able I go into work assured that I was doing the right things.

Leadership lessons are a lot like that. You can read about different situations but until you actually experience them, you don't really get it. Sometimes it takes immersing yourself in the situation to really understand what is happening. And then nothing beats discussing it with a trusted mentor.

What lessons have you learned this way?