Learn Something Unrelated. Kick Your Career Up a Notch.

Learning something new gets our attention. It reminds us we have skills to build on,

By: Alan L

dormant interests ready for the light, and talents (latent or otherwise) screaming for an outlet.

It you want to build self-confidence and give your career trajectory a shot in the glutes, find something unrelated to your job and learn it.

Embrace the counterintuitive.

We’re told at work that we need to develop our skills and expand job knowledge. We’re scheduled for training classes, assigned reading, and sometimes told to find a mentor.

We do all that, work hard to master tasks, and wonder why we don’t feel like we’re really growing.

The sad fact is that most employee development programs aren’t geared to releasing our creative energies, raising self-awareness, or expanding the reach of our experiences.

Expansive growth comes from realizing more about ourselves by learning something new, with all the discovery and surprise it brings.

Learning opens gates of knowledge, skill, and awareness. It’s liberating. You decide and commit to what you want to learn, how, and when. Every piece of it reveals something important to you and about you:

  • Can I learn this new information or skill? Do have the aptitude?
  • Do I like doing what it takes to learn it?
  • Is it what I thought it was before I got started? Do I want to stick with it?
  • I never thought I could learn about or do this.
  • I wonder where this new knowledge might take me.
  • I’m meeting new and interesting people who share my interests.
  • I’m developing transferable skills and experiences, building self-confidence.

Each of us brings to our jobs creativity, insight, and connections that complement the performance skills our work requires. To enrich that, we need to keep learning and exposing ourselves to worlds outside of work.

Get started.

Learning is a forever part of our lives if we want it to be. If you’ve been a bit lax, there’s no time like the present to restart your learning engines.

It’s often easier to say, Just do it, than to act. We often feel awkward about committing to a direction when it’s not what our friends or family expect from us.

You can’t let the opinion of others get in your way. After all, learning is about exploring. It’s not like you’re quitting your job to join the circus. You’re just deciding to learn about or how to do something new, something you’re curious about, have always dreamed of trying, or something that takes you out of your comfort zone.

Hey, if you don’t like it, just move on to something else. The key is to pursue something that makes you feel like you’ve added a new component to all that is you.

Learning is about head and heart. It adds insight, experience, connections and even uniqueness. In terms of your career, you’re differentiating yourself, making yourself more interesting, revealing yourself as creative, adventuresome, inventive, and multidimensional.

If you’re still a bit fuzzy about the possibilities, here’s a wildly ranging list of new things to learn that might spark your imagination. Consider learning how to:

  • Play the accordion
  • Use power tools
  • Show cats/train dogs
  • Grow orchids
  • Fossil hunt
  • Write a memoir
  • Raise bees/make honey
  • Become a storyteller
  • Make sushi
  • Learn a foreign or computer language

Each one of these ideas is an opportunity to build one or more career-essential skill outside of your job like: attention to detail, dependability, communication, safety, technical know-how, process management, planning, organizing, and risk-taking. There’s nothing better than growing your skills doing something fun.

Stay committed. Keep reaching.

When I sign copies of my book, Business Fitness, this is my standard inscription: Stay committed. Keep reaching. That’s what your commitment to learning helps you do. Your career is a product of your efforts to expand  yourself and to capitalize on all that you bring to your job. Learning is a faithful friend. Partner up and enjoy the rewards.

 

 

 

 

Prickly or Pleasant? What Style Gets You. | Simple Gifts

How you look at work is one thing. How you appear is quite another.

Almost on a daily basis you can find a TV program touting the latest fashions for men and women, some programs even  providing “make overs” for audience members.

The problem is: new clothes, hair styles, or accessories can’t remake the way you  come across to others. Looking nice isn’t the same as being nice.

Your interpersonal style, the way you interact with coworkers, contributes to how they approach working with you.

Style points

We generally prefer to work with people who lighten our load, physically and psychically. Just for fun, run through the names of the people you work with and describe their interpersonal styles in one word like:

  • Prickly or warm
  • Standoffish or engaging
  • Negative or positive
  • Supportive or critical

How would your coworkers describe you? If you don’t know, ask them. How would you describe yourself? Is there are difference?

 I’m not going to tell you that all the nice guys and gals are zooming to the top of the corporate ladder, because there are plenty of unpleasant people who get ahead. However, there is more to gain by being pleasant in the workplace than by being a prickly cactus.

Your boss, coworkers or direct reports are powerful word-of-mouth agents for your at-work brand. They’re the ones extolling your style and your effectiveness at building and sustaining relationships essential to getting  work done. You can be pleasant and still:

  • Be a demanding boss
  • Speak up for yourself
  • Present concerns about a project
  • Register a complaint

To be pleasant is to be agreeable but not necessarily agreeing. It means adopting a style that creates an environment where others feel respected, never shut down or out.

I can remember being at company meetings when there were hot issues being discussed. While there were caustic voices in the mix, it was those steady and pleasant-sounding ones that were generally heard and heeded by the majority.

Why? Pleasantness is an indicator of approachability, openness, inclusiveness, and warmth. It generally creates an environment where it’s easier for people to share what’s on their minds, even when it’s awkward or uncomfortable.

Pleasantness begets pleasantness. As our work places become more competitive and as technology changes the way we interact, it’s easy to forget the importance of treating each other with kindness and patience. When your prevailing style is to be pleasant, it:

  • Makes working with you easier and less stressful
  • Frees up the flow of new ideas
  • Creates a sense of team, mutual support, and respect
  • Makes it easier to accept disappointments

Pleasantness is a simple gift.

The art of pleasantries

We often forget the value of warmth and kindness when we’re being sucked into the vortex of deadlines, meetings, projects, and endless emails. Work can disconnect us from the people who are the hands performing the work.

Recently Tyler Perry, famed American actor, director, an screenwriter, perhaps best known for his in-drag movie role, Madea, was asked on Live with Kelly & Michael (12/09/2013) about the kinds of Christmas presents he gives to his dear friend, the famed Oprah Winfrey.

He answered: “We don’t exchange gifts. We exchange pleasantries.” Specifically, he gives personal letters, written in his own hand, and he likes to get them in return. It’s the human touch and the fact that letters can be saved and savored for years to come that means most to him.

We can exchange pleasantries at work every day, powerful gifts of our own making for our coworkers, in the form of:

  • A warm greeting at the beginning of each day
  • Expressed interest in their work, family, and/or hobbies
  • An acknowledgement (a nod or smile) at a meeting when they make a point
  • A written thank you note or email to express gratitude for their help

Our behavior is the mark of our interpersonal style. The more effectively we interact face-to-face, voice-to-voice, and heart-to-heart, the richer our relationships at work and the more value we bring to the job and to our careers.

 

Is Amazing Performance Really Amazing? What to Do About Meaningless Words.

Have you noticed how amazing everyone is these day? If not, just listen.

Somehow we’ve become surrounded by all these amazing people who do amazing work with amazing colleagues in amazing places during these amazing times.

Someone may be saying that you’re amazing too.

By definition, to be amazing means one needs to affect others with great wonder, to astonish. That means creating great surprise or marvel (yes, marvel).

That’s a tall order like a Starbuck’s Frappuccino Grande with whipped cream. Amazing or simply as ordered?

Reality or hyperbole?

What we do and how we do it characterizes our performance. Our bosses and coworkers form opinions and express them, sometimes to each other, to you, or on your performance appraisal.

The words they use might be fact-based or baseless assumptions. Sometimes people just say anything to fill in conversational space–no words of value extended.

We’re all prone to exaggerate at times, especially when we’re enthusiastic about something.

Hyperbole is a figure of speech that uses exaggeration for emphasis or effect. You might use it when you:

  • Announce a new hire: “She’s the answer to all our fears about the new app.
  • Give performance feedback: “You carried the whole group on your shoulders this year.
  • Announce a promotion: “Jack out-maneuvers any crisis.”

Hyperbole only has effect when it has context. Saying, “We hired Mary who is amazing and promoted Jack who is also amazing and have you to thank for your amazing performance,” leaves us with no real information about them.

Word power

We need the right words to communicate what we mean because without them we end up adrift. At work we need clear words so we:

  • know what to do and how to do it
  • understand if we’re doing things correctly or not
  • remain motivated to keep growing

Words comes from outside and within, defining us and our world. Words have real, undeniable power.

Sometimes, though, we get ourselves in situations where we:

  • don’t know what to say
  • are caught off guard
  • forgot what we planned to say
  • don’t care about the issue or person

Of late, when people are caught short, they just say: “He or she or it was amazing.” (If you don’t believe me just listen to a talk show, the news, ads, an interview, your friends, or yourself. Consider counting the “amazings” in your day.)

Answers like “amazing” (or “This is crazy or nuts or awesome.”) are equally part of the workplace.

An amazing recovery

Empty words create malnourished communication. In a marketplace where you need to standout to be discovered, you need to speak and write using words that mean something.

When everything is said to be amazing, suddenly nothing is or can be. When everyone is amazing, nothing differentiates one from the other.

To believe that we are continually amazing becomes delusional. Praise words and laudatory phrases are wonderful. They become an issue when the words don’t come with context.

If I’m amazing at work, then in what ways do I astonish:

  • Do I get more accomplished in a day than my coworkers?
  • Do I produce fewer errors?
  • Have I achieved a standard of customer satisfaction performance that exceeds goals?
  • Do I work more calmly under stress than most?

No one performs at the top of their game all the time. So when you’re not creating wonder, you have skills and behaviors to work on. That’s how you grow and continue to raise the bar.

Amazing is rarefied air, breathed briefly under special conditions, so you must keep reaching.

Let’s fix this.

Words are power tools. Communication is enriched by those who use words to convey what they mean, not to fill space with empty sounds.

If you want to distinguish yourself, commit to using language that delivers insights, ideas, perspectives, viewpoints, and feedback clearly. I’ve stricken “amazing” from my vocabulary for now. I don’t want to sound like the echo of our times. Like you, I want to sound like myself.

Refocusing Your Know-how | From the Pick and Roll to the Prostate

 We get known for what we do and have always done. That’s how personal brands evolve.

It’s easy to ride out a positive brand. Just keep doin’ what you’ve been doin’ so you can keep earnin’ what you’ve been earnin’…and maybe a little more, if you’re lucky.

Tested know-how is a kind of career currency. You know when and how to use it successfully– a comfort to the people you work with.

When we add value and make a difference, our work satisfies us.

Then sometimes the ground shifts and we have to shift with it. Or we may see a unique opportunity and decide to push ourselves into new space.

In both cases, your know-how comes with you, providing the foundation for your next move.

Be ready…and steady.

Think of your knowledge and skills like an investment account. The more equity you build, the more prepared you are for surprises.

Things have a habit of changing when you least expect them to:

  • The company reorganizes, merges, or gets bought.
  • You get reassigned (up or down), furloughed, or dismissed.
  • You become ill, disabled, or injured.
  • The product or service line changes and the processes you’ve mastered with it.

Suddenly, the once clear path to sustainable success becomes confusing, uncertain, and even frightening.

Take heart: Your rock is still there. It’s your know-how.

The transferable skills, knowledge, and experience that you’ve always relied on remain, ready to be tapped into anew.

The task at hand now is about focusing yourself on immediate problems and needs. Then putting your know-how to work to resolve them.

Digging in

Recognizing how your know-how can start to restore your sense of control is a crucial first step.

Jack McCallum, acclaimed writer for Sports Illustrated and author of nine books, most of them about great basketball teams and players, is a case in point.

He is an expert at the nuances of  basketball moves like the pick and roll. His sports and journalistic know-how are clear in his writing. In his early sixties, he was gradually throttling down his career.

Then he got prostate cancer.

So what did he do? He wrote about it. First in a  op ed piece in The Morning Call newspaper where he shared his personal logic for following the “watchful waiting”  protocol. He got lots and lots of emails from lots and lots of people–prostate cancer survivors, widows, and physicians.

This response spawned his decision to turn his journalistic skills for research, interviewing, and rational thinking to the challenge of prostate cancer decision-making. What he discovered informed his own treatment decision (which was ultimately to have his prostate removed) and to demystify, as much as that’s possible, the complex arena of prostate cancer treatment.

His first result was ending up cancer free with minimal side-effects.

prostate 819CxxluCaL__SL1500_-220x360The second was his book, The Prostate Monologues: What Every Man Can Learn from My Humbling, Confusing, and Sometimes Comical Battle with Prostate Cancer.

(Suggestion: If you are someone or know someone with prostate cancer, this book is an important read, actually more like a conversation with a good friend over coffee…lots of important factual information, anecdotes, cases, and a few laughs when needed.)

Build portable know-how.

Almost everything you know how to do at your job is a transferable skill.

Whether you need to rebound from a calamity or you want to explore a new direction, there are many ways to give your seasoned skills a new platform and focus.

Consider utilizing your:

  • Web design skills to format e-books for self-published writers
  • Financial skills to support a non-profit needing a comptroller
  • Public speaking skills for a cause that needs a strong voice
  • Fine arts skills to help traumatized children express themselves
  • Project management skills to aid a community group in chaos

Your know-how is exclusively yours. You developed it in ways that express who you are, and it has become integral to your brand. It’s there when you need it, so take good care of it. Then when you’re called upon, you’re ready to step up.

Get Ahead by Getting Over Yourself | Perceptions Count

sad businesswomanSelf-awareness is your friend.  Self-absorption your enemy.

Being fully cognizant of your skills and behaviors as they play out in the workplace is empowering. Being excessively involved in your own self-interests isn’t.

Self-awareness starts with humility. At work, it’s not all about you or me. It’s about the value you bring, with the needs of the work being more important than your needs.

If this sounds harsh rather than obvious, then you may want to rethink the way you see yourself in your job. It may mean the difference between getting ahead, going nowhere, or heading out the door.

Replace ego with we-go.

Jobs can be hard to come by these days, even though it’s been shown that we change jobs every 4-5 years. Reasons for changing are many, but usually it’s because advancement opportunities seem unlikely or we don’t “fit” what our jobs require.

Too often no one is leveling with you about why you’re unlikely to advance or giving you the feedback you need to “fit” the work successfully.

Sometimes you don’t get that feedback because your boss or coworkers sense that your ego–your self-absorption–is impenetrable. They suspect you’ll get defensive, resistant, or so emotional that their message won’t get through. So they take the avenue of least resistance and say nothing, assuming you’ll just self-destruct.

Workplace success is about “we,” as we-go, you go.

Self-awareness begins the cure for self-absorption. Looking at your behavior as it appears to others can be difficult, but if you want to build a sustainable career path, it’s essential.

Ask yourself and then others whose opinions you respect (not just those who will tell you what you want to hear) if you may come across as:

  • Needy–always wanting others to assist you
  • Insecure–continually asking for approval, praise, reinforcement
  • Superficial–caught up in what everyone will think about you
  • One-upping–stealing the show, taking credit, puffery
  • Shallow–being thin-skinned, over-reacting, defensive
  • Self-centered–making everything about you, selfish

None of these behaviors are terminal for your career. You just need to know how to wean yourself from them, since they aren’t doing your career any good.

Bring it.

We’ve gotten accustomed to living in a so-me world. Social media was lured us into creating our own personal celebrity on line. We are constantly out there telling the world to:

Look at me. Listen to me. Read me. Follow me.

The fact is that at work:

It’s not all about you. But a part of it is.

You were hired because you’re especially good at something important to the job.

It may be:

  • A skill–modifying software, writing snappy marketing copy, organizing documents
  • Subject matter knowledge–operating procedures, compliance regulations, PR
  • Abilities–writing, public speaking, defusing conflict, sales

Zero in on your strengths and knock yourself out developing them to their fullest. Bring those strengths to your work, volunteer to contribute them to other projects, and tell your boss that you’re more than willing to help out whenever those capabilities are needed.

Now it’s not about you; it’s about what you’re contributing to the company, your colleagues, and your boss. That’s the personal brand you want.

Be ready.

You get noticed for what you do well and consistently without complication or drama. You get ahead when others come to depend on you for your expertise, ask for your help, and recognize the value you bring.

As you build your core skills, you’ll also be developing new ones which will add to your arsenal. When what you’re about is not about yourself but about work, you’re career will soar. Be ready.

Photo from inspiredgiftofgiving.com

The Pain of Being Singled Out at Work. | Ending Ridicule As Entertainment

Being singled out for our flaws can become our worst nightmare.single out 73348258_07c1515a72_m

Self-criticism is bad enough. Consider how often you  tell yourself that you’re:

  • not smart or likeable enough
  • too quiet and socially awkward
  • too young or old to fit in
  • too self-conscious to lead

It gets worse when others single you out for the differences they see:

  • You don’t look, talk, or act like them.
  • You have work habits that are different (solitary, serious, or scattered).
  • You’re too chummy, chatty, or distant with others.
  • Your eating habits, work station appearance, or break time routines are atypical.

What you see as uniqueness can be dubbed a “flaw,” depending on who’s watching and judging.

Everyone’s watching

We live in a world where everyone’s watching us, often recording our actions for any number of reasons. And we’re watching back.

Some people like the attention and others don’t. With all this watching comes judgment.

Over the years, it’s somehow become okay to form and express opinions about people at work and elsewhere based on snapshot observations intended to “portray” them. Social media has provided broad and instantaneous platforms for this.

It’s become easy to express disrespect, demean, and label our coworkers by “sharing”  and re-sharing snippets of conversations (“Here’s snarky Grace at it again.”), forwarding emails (“Bert’s stupidity about how to make quota is so obvious.”), or posting images (“Can you believe that Myra wore this horrid outfit to the meeting?”).

Opportunities for ridicule abound and it’s time to stop it.

Be aware of yourself.

As our deficiencies are being noticed and judged, we’re unwittingly judging others.

At work, we want to secure, protect, and/or advance our position in the organization.  We can see our coworkers as either supportive teammates or threats to our status, even when they may not be.

Fear, insecurity, and desire to feel powerful often lead coworkers to undermine their colleagues. It often starts as teasing before it accelerates into direct or indirect ridicule, bullying, or harassment.

When we observe someone else being ridiculed, we can feel a few things:

  • Relief that it’s not us
  • Humor or justification depending on the situation
  • Horror at the unfairness
  • Compulsion to stop it

What we do in the moment or even afterward, tells us a lot about ourselves.

Ridicule reveals our dark side: Its unfairness is made evident when knowing the other side.

Case in point:

Recently, a  muscular man attending a major league baseball game was captured on camera  trying desperately to open a plastic water bottle.

He  struggled mightily with the bottle, even using his shirt for a better grip, to no avail. He eventually returned the unopened bottle to the vendor.

Sportscasters on ESPN and many other news outlets played and replayed this tape incessantly, laughing at, and yes, ridiculing this fellow’s:

  • Workout regime and gym
  • Actual strength/muscles
  • Attempt to use his shirt for a grip
  • Struggling attempts and then giving up

This was a very nice guy who you can see in this video from his Today Show appearance. He was simply trying to:

  •  enjoy a baseball game
  •  help the water vendor who couldn’t open the bottle

For his trouble, he got a heap of mockery and ridicule plus numerous Google listings, all at his expense. He became entertainment because others, who were not as muscular, had an opportunity to demean his physique. It made the ridiculers feel stronger, I guess.

The sad reality is: At any time and on any day, that man could be you at work or elsewhere.

Ridicule as pastime

It is painful to be ridiculed. The price paid is a cut to your self-esteem. There is no place for it at work or anywhere else.

It’s become so easy to turn each of us into a picture or a video, exposing us to ridicule and violating our desire to work and play unimpeded. Let’s all commit to doing better.

Photo by emdot via Photoree

Ahead of the Curve or Behind the Eight Ball? | Averting Criticism

8-ball 3779658241_bc1e517a8c_mCriticism lies in wait for us at work. Sometimes we can anticipate it and sometimes not.

Most of us learn to live with a few doses of negative feedback, especially when we have the opportunity to rebound.

Averting criticism that has the potential to be truly damaging, though, takes savvy.

 Protect what matters.

We each have a personal, career brand to protect so we can keep moving forward. Our bosses have one too plus the reputation of their work groups. Leaders need to protect the brand integrity of their organizations to remain competitive and viable.

Unfair, relentless, and ruthless criticism can turn your good efforts into ashes.

Consider the potential criticism leveled at a supervisor who:

  • hires or promotes an employee who steals, bullies, or lies
  • decides to absorb another work group and then releases excess employees
  • makes downsizing decisions that  cause employees to lose their jobs
  • replace fully functional equipment or technology with new ones

Everyone affected by those changes, whether directly or indirectly, is a critic in waiting. If the move is successful, they will likely be quiet. If not, watch for incoming!

There’s no reason to be a sitting duck when the potential for criticism is in your path. Going on the offensive, most often, is your best strategy.

You don’t make decisions in a vacuum. There are good reasons to act and risks too. You are ahead of the curve when you anticipate criticism and behind the eight ball if you don’t.

Keep your head out of the sand.

I recently facilitated the annual board retreat of a small non-profit facing the stepping down of four board members, including the president and vice president, both of whom were founders.

These officers were beloved, dedicated, and capable, having led the organization with warmth and strength for eight years. They were to remain as committee volunteers but it was time for new leadership.

The original board of ten would now be down to six, with two becoming new leaders. This was an unsettling time, focused mostly on internal matters. But what about the critics.

The board needed to consider what their constituencies would think and say about this major shift. How would it impact membership, sponsors, donors, partnerships with other organizations, and confidence in their sustainability? These are the questions that once answered and acted on would avert, though not eliminate, significant criticism.

The board decided on some key actions:

  • put together the messaging around these changes
  • prepare the slate of nominees for election at the upcoming annual meeting; arrange for mentoring by the exiting officers
  • develop a Power Point presentation for the annual meeting outlining past achievements, ongoing and new projects
  • write a press release for the announcements
  • arrange to meet with key allies to answer questions and strengthen relationships

Not only will this work strengthen their brand in the marketplace, it will raise the confidence of the board members and provide the messaging needed to expand its membership.

 Averting criticism

You avert criticism by defusing the arguments of your critics:

  • Provide the details of your story (transparency) before misconceptions are devised
  • Talk about your good work and successes as a foundation for your decisions
  • Anticipate and address potentially damaging issues when you see them
  • Address legitimate concerns; reinforce your intentions, purpose, mission, objectives, and positive actions
  • Be upfront and out-front, affirming the standards and values that support your position
  • Build a coalition of supporters who have your back and are willing to say so

By getting ahead of an issue, you empower yourself.

These steps also help if you’ve:

  • experienced a decline in your performance
  • violated a company rule or policy
  • mishandled a customer or vendor problem
  • damaged company equipment or software

Whether you’re an employee, supervisor, manager, or executive, managing your career progress means anticipating criticism, whether deserved or not, and then averting it.

So do you best to get ahead of the curve and watch your value rise.

Photo by lel4nd via Photoree