Caught in a Vortex of Expectations? Listen to Find Your Way Out.

I’ve always had a strong dependency on words. They help me get a grip on the world around me and the nature of people who could hurt or help me. They’ve often saved me from myself.

There’s so much going on around us, all day, every day. Most of us live in an expectation-heavy, activity vortex, struggling to avoid being consumed by it.

When the vortex wins, we lose.

Listen closely.

Most of us doesn’t listen well. We hear but don’t listen. We forget that people (and we’re people too) say things in order to get us to:

  • Do what they want
  • Change our minds
  • Think the way they do
  • Affect the way we see ourselves
  • Makes purchases
  • Desire things we do or don’t need
  • Follow the crowd

The list can get long.

The noise of expectations, requirements, and cautions is everywhere. TV programs, texts, email blasts, radio announcements, and talking heads galore distract the focus of our minds relentlessly.

Our challenge is to listen closely to what is actually being said and implied. Then we need to figure out what, if any of it, is something we want to incorporate into our way of living and working.

When we sort through the words that come at us and understand the messages they contain, we become the drivers of who we are and the paths we choose to follow.

Consider personal brand management messages like these:

The image expert says: “These are the fashions, personal grooming products, cool cars, and technology devices/apps that are the rage this year among the up-and-comers. Adopt them and you will build a personal brand that signals you’re ‘with it’ and current.”

The message heard is: Getting ahead today, socially and in business, means adopting whatever is trendy.

You’re tempted to think: “I need to look younger or more chic, get the latest smart phone, dye my hair, get a new car. If I don’t, I’ll come across as un-cool or old school. If I invest in these trends, I’ll increase my chances of getting ahead.”

Your truth: What positions you to get head is your personality, your energy, your vibe. It’s in your ability to get things done, engage others, be reliable. You’re genuine, kind, and positive. You don’t need to buy a new look. Just be your best self.

Now, consider words you might hear at work:

Your boss says: “You have excellent people skills, especially when dealing with unhappy customers and working with stressed out coworkers. You have a great future here and I see you supervising others in time.”

The message heard is: You could be promoted one of these days.

You’re tempted to think: “I need to keep demonstrating my people skills, so my boss won’t change his mind about me. Getting promoted to supervisor would be an unanticipated challenge. I need to be ready for it.”

Your truth: You like working with customers and peers, and increasing the scope of your existing job would be great. But you never wanted to supervise, because the requirements of the role don’t fit your personality. It’s not the career path that feels good to you. Let your boss know that, so s/he can develop you in different directions.

Make decisions on your terms

I lived that last example. I loved being a manager but I never wanted to become an executive. I knew I was being considered and wanted to be sure my reasons were delivered in my words. So I invited the CEO to lunch to explain and my career then proceeded along the best lines for me.

You ‘re not like everyone else, so there’s no reason to believe that you should want what everyone else has. As an individual, you are wired to be unique.

The words that swirl around you are both hooks and anchors that are yours to accept or reject. Own the words that are good for you and discard the rest. That puts your next steps on your terms.

Unearthing Your Creative Side: It’s All in How You Dig.

I love a good book. A gripping play. A haunting song. An elegant sculpture. A graceful dance. All that artistry, that creativity, fully on display astounds and moves me.

I also love a well-designed plan. A complex project that comes to life. A student excited by a great teacher. A social issue given traction.

Some of us create art, others create systems, but we all create change.

Every time we see things in a new way, have an idea that needs an outlet, or take a fresh approach to doing things, we are in touch with our creative side.

To ignore or neglect it is to take some of the joy out of living.

Look and you’ll see.

It’s easy to miss your creative side amid the demands of your daily life. It’s not just artists and performers who are creative; it’s in all of us. We just have to look at what we’re doing day by day to see that creativity manifesting itself.

For years I have been hand-mowing a steep bank behind my house, and it was becoming increasingly more difficult. I often joked that my goal for each mow was not to cut off my foot.

This fall I contacted Todd Longenbach, long-time friend and owner of Western Lehigh Landscape, to see what he could do to help.

There’s nothing I like better than to see a project unfold, following a plan, a process, and well-orchestrated use of people and material resources.

It started with a visit to my “dreaded bank.”

With Brian, the designer, I needed to explain the kind of look I was after. That led to the design–an artful sketch of the reconfiguration of the bank and its plantings.

After that, creativity and skill became married as man, machine, and materials turned into their own kind of dance.

Below is a picture of the blank canvas–the bank before its transformation.

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Next comes the assembling of equipment and materials–just like the paints and brushes required for a painting.

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Excavation follows in the way a sculptor would rough out form on a piece of granite.

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The positioning of each stone forms the bold lines a painter would need before adding the detail.

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Filling in with plantings brings color, texture, and warmth to add to the artistry.

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The finish is the moment of realization that the transformation is complete–something new and beautiful has come from an initial vision through the power of heavy equipment and the attentive labor of men bent to the task.

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In spring the grass will emerge, the flowers will bloom, and the project will reveal its full artistry.

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Artistry is about touch.

It rarely occurs to us to consider:

  • The heavy equipment operator as artist, carving a picture from the earth
  • The extractor of large stones as artist, selecting the right shapes and sizes
  • The men who rake and plant as artists, exercising their eye for line and detail

That’s because we aren’t really watching.

If we were in an operating room watching a surgeon deftly handle a scalpel or a laser, we’d marvel at his or her touch, that ability to feel exactly the right pressure to exert or angle for the cut.

I watched Todd gently lift and place those enormous boulders with the track hoe, using its thumb to secure each piece or the end of the fork to turn the stone so it fit just so. I watched him position the machine to create the lines he wanted, to solve slope problems, and to make sure that everyone around him stayed safe.

Through the course the project, the landscaping crew (Steve, Kyle, Dave, Zack, and Dylan) worked together effectively to create the final picture.

Like every accomplished artist, Todd stayed focused on his vision for the project as it unfolded, providing clear direction to his crew with great calm and efficiency.

Creativity and skill are bedfellows. The more skill we develop the greater our ability to release our creative side and find joy in what it brings to the world. So please keep digging.

Getting Your Head Around Supervising–Episode #7 | Showing Respect

Do you have a question about supervising that you would like me to answer here? If so, please put it in a comment after this post or any that preceded it. This series will continue based on those questions, so please don’t hesitate to ask. Thanks.

How does showing respect help a supervisor minimize the damage created by prior mistakes made with their employees?” That’s the gist of the question I left you with at the end of Episode # 6.

 

Employees want from you what you want from them.

They want to feel respected, all the time–when they do things well and when they make a mess of things.

In the workplace, employees correctly believe they have a right to be respected, particularly by those people so lovingly known as “the higher ups.”

They expect policies to respect their dignity and sense of fairness. They expect the words and actions directed toward them by their supervisors, coworkers, and senior officials to be respectful.

Aretha Franklin’s song taught a lot of people how to spell RESPECT, but not necessarily how to demonstrate it.

Earn it.

Respect is an effect of behaviors, actions, and words. We all size up intent by how and what others say to and about us and others like us. We come to interactions with our bosses or coworkers with either thick or thin skin, trust or suspicion, good or unpleasant prior experiences. It’s a human thing.

The bottom line is:

Supervisors earn the respect of their employees by showing respect in every interaction, no matter the situation.

That sounds easy enough until you factor in personalities–yours and your employees.

Here’s the struggle: Your interpersonal style at work is generally honed while you are an individual contributor, working with peers. As soon as you become the supervisor–boss man or boss woman–your status in the workplace changes. You now have authority over others.

Supervisors dole out assignments, create the working atmosphere, assess the good or poor performance of employees, recommend raises and promotions or not. Suddenly, you’re the one who can make or break the success of the people who report to you.

As the supervisor, you won’t necessarily like every one of your employees, for good reasons or indefensible ones. No one comes to work and leaves their human nature at home. But as the supervisor, you’re supposed to be aware of your impulses and control them.

Your job, then, is pretty straight-forward:

To create and sustain an atmosphere of fairness and safety where each employee can successfully complete his or her work as required.

It’s often easier said than done.

Commit to courtesy.

Earning employee respect starts with a commitment to treating every person with courtesy.

That may seem obvious but you need to look at your behavior, listen to what you’re saying or not saying to your employees, and check out your body language. One person’s tongue-in-check comment delivered with no harm intended may be heard by an employee as an inexcusable offense.

Not everyone knows what it means to be courteous or how to practice it consistently.

Good supervisors practice acknowledging their employees in positive ways–not some people but everyone. That doesn’t mean stopping at a every cubicle or job site every day, but when your path crosses with one of your employees, make it clear that you notice them with a positive word or gesture.

You often just need to smile, greet, wave, stop and chat, or lend a hand if needed. Easy enough, right? But to earn respect across the board, you need to do this with everyone–the employee you had an open disagreement with, one who always scowls at you, the employee who never looks up from his or her desk, and one who simply irritates you.

Everyone is watching how you treat people. You earn respect when you demonstrate that you value each employee in the work group a person, not just a worker.

People first.

Showing respect when trouble is afoot is a defining moment for supervisors. When you hold yourself together and honor the dignity of employees who have missed the mark, violated rules, conducted themselves unacceptably, or stepped over the line, you reach a new plateau.

We’re people first at work and then employees. Even if you have to discipline employees, withhold a raise, give a low rating, or assign an unwanted task, they will respect you if you show them respect in the process.

 

Getting Your Head Around Supervising–Episode #6 | Misreading Employees

“How do good supervisors get a correct read on their employees?” That’s the questions I left you with at the end of Episode #5.

Supervisors tend to draw all kinds of conclusions about their employees based upon behaviors they see and words they hear from afar.

As a result, they run the risk of forming mistaken, often negative, perceptions that certain employees are:

  • A problem
  • Negative or difficult
  • Resistant or lazy
  • Weak links

In fact, those same employees may simply:

  • Misunderstand or misconstrue expectations
  • Lack self-confidence
  • Fear making mistakes, looking stupid, or having weak skills exposed
  • Feel unaccepted by or inferior to coworkers

Faulty perceptions, if allowed to continue, are a disservice to the employee, the team, and ultimately the supervisor.

Warning: Seeming is not reality.

The perceptions supervisors form about their employees are rarely a fully accurate picture.

Uncertainty about what affects employee attitudes and behaviors unnerves even the most experienced supervisor. Why? Because every employee is different.

The best way to get a correct first read on each of your employees is through face-to-face conversations on a whole range of subjects starting with whether or not he likes the job, how she thinks she’s performing, how accepted he feels by his peers, and what kind of support is needed from you.

Situational observations are a next approach. Now that you have a baseline read on your employees from those conversations, what you see in the course of work getting done will have a more accurate foundation.

When business direction, policy, or work group changes are announced or implemented, watch how your employees handle it. Do they act differently toward you or coworkers? Is their work output better or worse? Is their demeanor more positive, negative, or unchanged?

When you see unwanted changes in an employee, it’s time to follow up directly with him or her to understand the cause and redirect behavior.

By creating a comfort level for employees around sharing concerns and issues with you, you’ll get better information and make fewer perception mistakes.

Remain clear-eyed.

You don’t get a clear-eyed read on your employees by using yourself as the barometer. Everyone is not like you.

Just because you may not care that your manager rolls his eyes when he doesn’t like your new idea, don’t assume that’s how your employee, Glenda, will react when she sees your baby blues spin around in their sockets.

When your employees come to you with input, take them seriously and respond professionally. Avoid being glib, impatient, or dismissive at all costs.

Don’t misread busyness for productivity. Too many supervisors confuse employee activity as signs that the right work is getting done when it might not be.

No supervisor wants to get snowed by their employees. It’s a mistake to take what employees say about the status of their work or the intent of their behavior at face value.

When your employees are uncertain about performance expectations, boundaries, and professional conduct, they will fill in the blanks on their own.

Consequently, you need to have professional conversations with your employees about their productivity, work quality, and on-the-job behavior to form correct perceptions about them and to help them become successful.

Stay engaged.

Supervisors will avoid misreading employees by staying engaged through Skype video calls with employees in distant locations and through local in-person meetings. There’s no substitute for talking eyeball-to-eyeball.

This doesn’t mean you won’t fall into a misread or two, but that will be the exception and not the rule.

The impact and consequences of a misread can be significant. So every supervisor needs to be able to repair a wrong. Building a history of demonstrated respect can be essential to making things right.

So, how does a history of showing respect toward employees help a supervisor minimize the damage of employee perception mistakes? We’ll tackle that in Episode #7.

 

4 Ways Distraction Threatens Your Career | Fight Back

Distracted? Never, you claim, always fully tuned in, just multitasking.

It’s a popular self-deception. We’re all guilty to a degree.

Research has long debunked the notion of multitasking, our claim of being engaged in multiple things (aided by our digital tools) at the same time.

We’ve just become compulsive about requiring our brains to toggle between one thought or awareness and another. The faster we do it, the more we self-approving we become.

Faster makes winners, right? Until, there’s a wreck.

Distraction as enemy

Keeping up with the pace of change and career demands is wearying. So many swirling expectations and so little clarity about what really matters…to our progress.

We take a stab at one thing and then another, often deciding what’s important based upon what others are or seem to be doing or that text, post, news flash, or broadcast email we receive. Our biggest challenge at work is figuring out what matters and what doesn’t.

If you let yourself become distracted by all the inputs that come your way, you’ll more than likely spin your wheels and find yourself stuck in an ever-deepening rut.

You need to separate distraction from meaningful direction. That starts with recognizing how certain distractions can hurt you.

When distractions run amok, they can become:

  1. Career saboteurs–Success at work is about staying focused on the tasks at hand, providing updates to your boss, and working collaboratively with coworkers. When distractions caused by extraneous inputs obstruct your focus and productivity, your career will take a hit.
  2. A safety hazard–Inattentiveness is one of the main causes of accidents in the workplace. You don’t want to get hurt on the job and companies are upset when you do. When distracted, we slip, trip, and fall…or worse…whether we work in an office or outside. Distractions take make us vulnerable.
  3. Relationship eroders–Most of us want to matter at work…to our coworkers, bosses, and customers/clients. People you interact with want your undivided attention as much as you want theirs. Distractions that you respond to while with a colleague screams, “You aren’t more important to me than….” [fill in the blank…this text, email, person who caught my eye]. You may not get much future support from those you make feel less important.
  4. Confidence drains–Distractions interrupt your thought processes, often introducing extraneous points of view, declarations, positions, and news that derail insights that are uniquely yours. Your ideas lose momentum and you start to question their value and relevance. When distractions steer your thinking off course, you put your hard-earned self-confidence at risk.

Be on guard

There’s a relentless onslaught of information coming at you, often causing confusion and clutter in your life. You necessarily must be able to separate the useful from the useless, engaging in a a kind of distraction due diligence.

You need to take charge of the world around you, avoiding the tendency to follow the herd. This means you should:

  • Stop second-guessing what you believe is important to your career success
  • Refuse to fear being wrong, out-shined, or outplayed by others; instead just do what you do best
  • Be willing to differentiate yourself by showcasing your talents and commitment to quality work
  • Expect to be seen and heard, not to be kept faceless and at arm’s length
  • Build meaningful relationships with colleagues that mirror what you want from them

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is a guarantee that you will. It’s impossible to be in tune with everything that’s going on around you. Most of it doesn’t matter to your career plan anyway.

What you don’t want is to miss out on the relationships, creative sharing, emerging insights, and depth of thought/experience that comes from focused engagement with the people you work with.

Resist with courage

It takes courage to resist distractions, especially when you’re surrounded by others addicted to them. Distractions become a cop out, an excuse for putting off decisions, completing work, and reaching out to others. It’s time to fight back.

Being busy being busy is the road to nowhere. Beat the traffic and take the undistracted route.

 

 

Getting Your Head Around Supervising–Episode #5 | Boundary Mistakes

“What are the boundary mistakes that supervisors make and how do you fix them?” That’s the question I left you with at the end of Episode # 4.

By: Ludo

A boundary is border or a limit. At work, boundaries are about acceptable behaviors that ensure:

  • Work gets done the right way
  • Individuals are treated with respect
  • Policies and practices are followed consistently
  • Employees conduct themselves courteously, professionally, and ethically
  • The work environment is safe

Boundary setting and implementation are the job of every supervisor. It’s how you create a work environment where each employee has the opportunity to shine.

All kinds of problems arise when supervisors falter on boundary setting. Here are some typical mistakes to avoid.

Mistake 1: Boundary Abdication

The worst mistake is to abdicate your responsibility to establish and communicate clear boundaries.

When you don’t set boundaries, your employees will create their own and become self-supervising.

Consider this example:

A client of mine inherited a work group that had worked without behavioral boundaries for years. Several of her direct reports had previously repackaged their job duties to meet their own interests. They followed their own timetables for completing assignments, worked with whom they pleased and shunned others, and built allies in the company who believed they were following their supervisor’s lead. When my client implemented her boundaries, the workplace culture got on the right track in time.

A workplace without clear boundaries soon becomes dysfunctional.

Mistake 2: Moving Target Boundaries

 Boundaries need to be consistent to be effective.

Consider this:

Anita is about five minutes late for work every day because she has to drop her child off at day care. Her supervisor lets this go, believing that it represents his support of women with children.

Charlie works with Anita. He’s five minutes late a couple times a week because, when he goes out with his buddies, he has a hard time getting up the next morning. The supervisor says nothing to Charlie but eventually writes that Charlie’s “often late for work” on his performance review. Charlie complains to HR, knowing Anita had been given a pass.

At work, late is late. So the boundary needs to be punctuality for all, because punctuality is about dependability and having all employees available for work.

Anita needs to set her alarm earlier and so does Charlie. Their live style choices outside of work aren’t the issue. Their commitment to getting to work on time is.

Mistake 3: Access Boundaries

 A supervisor’s boundaries may turn to mush when certain employees feel like friends and it’s hard to say, “No,” to them.

If, as the supervisor, you’ve asked your employees to make an appointment with you when they have an idea to present or an issue to discuss, that means everyone. If your “friends” are allowed to pop into your office anytime, even just to joke around, while others are required to make an appointment, then it’s clear that your boundaries are for some but not all.

It doesn’t take much to create division, even clicks, in a work group. No-favorites boundaries help avoid that.

Mistake 4: Death-Grip Boundaries

 Some supervisors are so unnerved by the potential unpredictability of employees that they set boundaries so tight around every conceivable situation that they squeeze the motivation out of their employees. Fear of loss of control can create a death-grip.

Instead of boundaries, these supervisors create endless hard-and-fast rules that become barriers to initiative and innovation. These insecure supervisors put employees in a vise and, in time, negative fallout and poor results will show.

Aids not obstacles

Effective supervising means adapting to conditions. That’s what makes setting boundaries so difficult in a rapidly changing workplace.

Supervision is as much art as it is method. Good supervisors understand their employees as individuals and as a team, creating boundaries that are aids and not obstacles. Often that starts with getting a good read on who your employees are and what they need.

So how do good supervisors get a correct read on their employees? We’ll tackle that question in Episode #6.

 

When Talent Foreshadows Your Genius, Would You Know? | Becoming Extraordinary

Talent is hardwired in you. You’ve got it whether or not you:

  • Recognize it or have figured it out
  • Know what to do about it
  • Believe you can develop it into something
  • Have the courage to accept or reject it

Your talents give you a hint into what you can get really good at if you:

  • make the effort,
  • face the challenges,
  • accept the necessary sacrifices

Your talents are your foundation. On them you can build a shack, a skyscraper, or anything in between. The choice is yours.

The quandary

In our search for success, a chance to make our mark, we search for ways to put our talents (skills, knowledge, abilities) to use, often in the context of our careers.

Some of us take our talents and bend them to fit the requirements of our jobs, the expectations of our bosses, and the company culture. That may push us to overdevelop some of our talents at the expense of others. We tend to accept that.

But sometimes we don’t, won’t or can’t compromise or dilute our talents, because we’re driven to be extraordinary, pulled by talents that won’t let us go.

There are signs, like when you know you’re driven to:

  • Design new products or apps
  • Start new businesses or restore failing ones
  • Write, record, perform, and produce music
  • Develop and champion certain charities/non-profits
  • Advocate for causes to make the world better

This is when your talents have become your driving force.

Not everyone takes this path. It’s not because they don’t want to or can’t. It just not part of their consciousness or their life view at the moment. But it may in fact be unlocked at another time.

But for those who sense the call, who have the courage, and who are willing to take the risk, there is ultimately the discovery of genius.

Genius calls

The term “genius” sounds a bit snooty or overblown to some. It’s not a word we associate with “regular” people like us. It’s only for larger than life figures like Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs, right? Not so. And it’s not just a term about IQ.

By definition, a genius is “a person of extraordinary intellectual and natural talent…aptitude, or inclination.” (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language–4th edition)

Everything in life is relative. Your idea of extraordinary is different from mine. But generally speaking, we can tell when we or someone we know has taken their talents to an extraordinary place.

Take the guy you knew from high school who struggled to get passing grades but had a talent for music. For years, he gives music lessons and plays gigs to earn a modest living, immersing himself many music genres, learning how to play multiple instruments and to sing.

He turns to songwriting and records a couple of CDs of original music, professionally records and produces with other accomplished musicians. Some of his songs are discovered and become themes in TV shows and movies. After three decades into his craft, he’s still working to “make it” his way. There’s no selling out, no capitulating, and no desire to do anything but to make and honor good music.

 Genius emerges from the unrelenting effort dedicated to one’s talents.

Now consider that gal in junior high school who made the best brownies for the bake sale who is now the owner of a high-end cupcake company in a big city and who ships her renowned treat worldwide.

Or the geeky adolescent computer gamer who now designs programs that enable unmanned submarines to scan the ocean floor for wreckage or new marine species.

Following the pull of your talents can lead you to extraordinary places.

Check out this piece about Ra Paulette, (CBS Sunday Morning May 19, 2014), who for the past 25 years has been creating sandstone caves of art in New Mexico. He has no degree in sculpting and is neither a structural engineer nor architect. He simply turned passion and talent into genius.

Genius is in you, ready to see the light, if you have the will and courage to embrace it, to be different, and to risk what’s unknown

Own it.

Famed French writer and existential philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1946) writes:

One is not born a genius, one becomes a genius.

Your forever challenge is to own your evolving genius and protect it from those who may want to derail you. Please don’t be afraid to become extraordinary.