Finding Yourself in Your Work or Losing Yourself in It? | Pursuing Growth

Work has a habit of revealing a lot about you.

Coworkers watch what you do and then draw conclusions like you:

  • Really know how to get stuff done the right way (or not)
  • Are someone who should be promoted (or never allowed to supervise)
  • Want to keep getting better (or only do enough to get by)

You assess yourself too each time you cross a work hurdle, discovering that you:

  • Take to new assignments with relative ease (or struggle with new expectations)
  • Collaborate easily with others (or create conflict)
  • See a future for yourself there (or can’t wait for a way out)

Our career stops can be either greenhouses or dark holes.

It’s your call.

Our careers are what we make them. They’re a product of the work we do.

Career problems arise when we forget that we’re doing the driving.

For lots of compelling reasons, we convince ourselves that the most important things are to:

  • Keep our jobs
  • Get promoted to anything
  • Work endless hours as though that’s a sign of our value
  • Acquire the trappings of success (titles, perks, access, and raises)

To avoid getting lost on a road to somewhere you don’t want to be, you need to keep asking yourself  no-nonsense questions like:

  • Why did I take this job?
  • What am I working toward and is that what I really want?
  • What are my options?
  • What’s my plan?

It’s tempting to set these questions aside when you think you’ve landed your dream job. But one day, you’ll wake up and realize there are other dreams you’re ready to chase.

Career growth is intrinsic compensation. It’s not the training programs your company offers. It’s what you seize when you’ve mastered your job, developed your skills, and engaged in new experiences.

I started my career teaching high school in an upscale school district. I was excited to be learning so much about how to do the job well, handling challenging students, and discovering how schools really worked.

In the mid-1970s I had relocated and was teaching in a suburban school at a time when teachers weren’t held in very high regard. There were strikes and I was becoming disillusioned. After 10 years in education, growth stalled for me. So I moved on.

Instead of growing in that career, I was starting to lose myself.

It happened again when I was a manager at a big corporation. The first 10 years were full of growth, discovery, and ever-increasing challenges, followed by five years honing that growth, and five more on a mammoth change project. When what lay ahead was more of the same, off I went.

Listen to your inner voice.

If you’ve read this far, you know whether or not you’re growing in your career or losing yourself in it.

You also likely have a sense of what the next couple of years will look like for you and what your job will give or take from you. Now’s the time to plan your next steps.

Mike Greenberg, ESPN radio and TV host, offered this advice on the Mike & Mike program (9/25/13):

You can’t wish for things as they used to be. Just go with the way things are.

Perhaps your job used to be what you always wanted, but it’s now changed and the company culture with it. The reality is that you won’t get the past back; you only have the way things are to build from. The sooner you have a plan, the happier you’ll be.

Commitment to your growth never needs to stop.

Former Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, now 87, was interviewed on the CBS Sunday Morning program (10/20/13) upon the release of his new book. When asked about retirement, he answered:

 I don’t know what it [retirement] means. Stop thinking?

When it comes to our careers, there is no reason to stop thinking…and growing.


Want an Incredible Career? Discover What You’ve Got. | Maximize Your Potential

maximizeyourpotential_small_2__V355563455_Amazon Publishing was kind enough to send me a copy of Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks, & Build an Incredible Career, so I could read it for a blog post. Because I got so much out of Jocelyn Glei’s first book, Manage Your Day-to-Day, I was eager to read this one. It’s a winner.

Ever been told, “You have potential”? What was being predicted about you? What did those words actually mean?

In business, “potential” generally means having the capacity for growth or development. It’s that latent capability that portends something bigger and better for our careers and the organization’s success.

Potential is a nice sounding word that can puff us up, giving us reason for optimism about our future. Too often that’s where it ends.

We get no details to build on, only those indecipherable clues imbedded in the occasional feedback from our bosses.

Generally, the best we can do is try to surmise how others think our potential will play out. It might mean we have:

  • what it takes to achieve leadership greatness or simply to take one step up the company ladder
  • the intelligence to earn multiple degrees/certifications or the ability to master html to support the company website
  • the assertiveness needed to sell the company’s high end products or the emotional intelligence to handle customer care services

Typically, there’s a trap here–believing what others say about your potential and charting your career course based on it.

Own your potential.

Your potential resides within you. When others tell you what they “see” as your potential, it’s through their lens, often one biased by what they and the organization need.

Jocelyn Glei’s new book, Maximize Your Potential, focuses us on the “you” of “your potential.” Since it’s an asset, you need to own it fiercely, developing it to take you where you want to go.

Like Glei’s earlier book, Maximize Your Potential is an integrated collection of short pieces from important thought leaders who help us find clarity and focus in our careers.

Cal Newport, Georgetown University professor and author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, confronts the oft cited advice to “follow your passion” in the context of maximizing potential.

He writes:

…few people have pre-existing passions that they can match to a job. Telling them to ‘follow their passion,’ therefore is a recipe for anxiety and failure….

If you’re like me,  you’ve struggled to align how you see your potential with the elusive specter of something you might construe as passion.

Whenever someone I respected at work expressed optimism about my potential, it seemed like another bread crumb trail that would lead me to my passion. It wasn’t.

If I had known  these two lessons from Newport’s research, I may have fared better:

 Lesson 1: What you do for a living matters less than you think.

To build a career, the right question is not “What job am I passionate about doing?” but instead “What way of working and living will nurture my passion.”

Lesson 2: Skill precedes passion.

..if you want something rare and valuable, you need to offer something rare and valuable in return–and in the working world, what you have to offer are your skills.

Now I see. Because developing skills comes before passion:

It doesn’t matter if we fully understand our potential at any given moment.

          I just matters that we develop as many skills and as much job knowledge as we can.

The byproduct is discovery or rediscovery of our passion.

Heidi Grant Halvorson, author and researcher, currently at Columbia Business School, reminds us to focus on getting better, rather than being good.

When we look at our passion and potential as co-contributors to our success, take a steadied and positive approach to tapping into both, we position ourselves for an incredible career.

Tend to your garden.

Understanding your potential starts with you. But you can’t uncover it unless you turn over the ground where your career is planted.

Maximize Your Potential gives you tools you need and explains how to use them well: diaries, daily rituals, skills practice, and relationship building.

Your potential may always be a bit of a mystery. All of us need help cutting through the weeds to find the fruit. Luckily for us, this book is a sharp scythe.

When Hiring an Outside Consultant Can Make a Manager’s Problem Worse

You just can’t take it anymore.

You’re a manager with a supervisor whose work group is in shambles.

You’ve had multiple performance discussions with the supervisor and recorded deficiencies in his/her performance review. Every time there’s another incident, you call attention to it.

You know the situation is out of control. Deep down, you know you let it happen.

Now you’re feeling the heat. The embers are ever closer to your door.

So you’re ready to call in the fire brigade.


When work group problems get gnarly, it’s because someone in leadership didn’t lead. The supervisor was increasingly ineffective. And the department manager didn’t intervene. Now everyone is paying the price.

Panic drives the manager to look for a quick fix because s/he wants the problem to go away, the noise to stop, the complaints to cease, and the fallout to disappear…fast.

Making matters worse.

Many  managers believe that by hiring an outside consultant to address the problem, they will come across as take-charge, decisive leaders.

They often overlook (even deny) the fact that, as leaders, they:

  • Made a poor supervisory hire or promotion
  • Weren’t engaged enough with employees to recognize discontent
  • Didn’t intervene soon enough when there were signs of a problem
  • Failed to communicate clearly their concerns and expectations for improvement
  • Obtained no formal commitment from the supervisor for change
  • Didn’t provide essential training in skill areas needing improvement
  • Failed to establish consequences for not turning the situation around

If the manager had addressed the supervisor’s deficiencies early on, the situation wouldn’t have escalated.

We can’t forget  that supervisors want to do a good job. They don’t intentionally make a mess of things. Situations get gummed up one misstep at a time.

You don’t completely fix situations like these with outside consultants. But you can surely  make them worse.

The consultant trap

I feel free to say these things because I am both a performance management consultant and coach.

Consultants are geared to take an aerial view of workplace/business conditions. Coaches most often provide individual support.

There is a place for both, but managers need to fully understand what service they’re buying and how it will be perceived and received.

When you bring in a consultant to “fix” a supervisor, you’re announcing, directly or indirectly, to the workforce that:

  • Your supervisor’s performance problems are excessive
  • You are incapable of addressing them
  • Employees were right to believe that they’ve been subject to ineptitude
  • The consultant will try to fix your supervisor and you will all get to watch, albeit by peeping behind the curtain
  • If the consultant can’t fix him/her, then something serious will happen

What are the chances are that the supervisor will survive this gauntlet? Or even the manager?

Provide a fair chance.

I believe strongly that struggling supervisors (managers, executives, team leaders) deserve legitimate help and support. It’s good business and fair.

When managers don’t know how to help a supervisor overcome performance issues, hiring a coach/consultant can be a  great idea, just keep them out of sight.

A coach/consultant is a tutor, someone who helps the supervisor and the manager figure out what went wrong and how to remedy it…together.

Once a manager knows  the breadth of the issues, they’ll know what kind of coach/consultant they need. If it’s just about supervisory skills, a coach might do. If it’s about how to deal with and navigate internal politics, a consultant may be the choice. If it’s both, then a coach/consultant.

You don’t use outside resources in ways that demean or humiliate your supervisor…or anyone. It’s hard enough for anyone to turn a personal performance issue around, so you don’t make someone’s efforts into a side-show.

Being a manager or a supervisor is a hard job. It takes a long time to get really good at them. Everyone stumbles along the way. Over time we learn that early intervention is the gift that helps us get better. Outside help is a plus when it’s carefully and effectively done.

8 Ways to Boost Likeability at Work. Who’s Clicking on Your Button?

Like it or not, we’re living in a world of “like, ” or sometimes the dreaded “unlike.”like 4301042126_5c1c4ac6c4_m

“Liking” on social media, company websites, and blogs has become an obsession by many to:

  • Feel affirmed by people known or unknown
  • Become part of a community of other “likers”
  • Support “like” requestors, whether we really do or not

Most people want to be liked. I know I do. The reality, though, is that not all the people like us all the time, particularly at work. There’s no “like” button to click there, only our behavior, to create and sustain our likeability.

Likeability counts.

It’s a behavior that affects your ability to do your job well. When coworkers like you, they want to:

  • Serve on a team with you
  • Help you out on an assignment
  • Tip you off when there’s trouble ahead
  • Cover your workload when you’re out

When your boss likes you, s/he may:

  • Communicate with you easily (and there are a host of benefits in that)
  • Cut you slack when you’re struggling
  • See your work through a positive lens
  • Consider you for advancement or plum assignments

The challenge is to earn our likeability stripes in the right way. It’s a big mistake to confuse likeability with popularity.

So avoid:

  • Trying to be the office fashion plate or iron man
  • Spreading gossip or engaging in too much social conversation
  • Being the office comedian, socialite, or center of attention
  • Schmoozing the boss with your cleverness and charm

To be likeable at work means bringing a positive spirit to the job you and your coworkers are doing together.

What it takes

We aren’t all liked for the same attributes. Just look around and you’ll see coworkers with very different approaches and personalities,most of whom you like in varying degrees. I suspect they look at you in the same way.

Our likeability is not about cloning; it’s about connecting.  Our careers are built and grown through behaviors that attract a following of colleagues at every level. That’s one of the smart moves of business fitness.

These eight likeability behavior groups matter at work. They become part of your brand. Start by assessing how many you already demonstrate daily. Then consider embracing them all:

  1. A positive, optimistic, upside-seeing attitude every day, especially during tough times
  2. Emotional balance and steadiness; a total avoidance of drama
  3. Courtesy, respectfulness, and kindness, even when you’re angry or upset
  4. Trustworthiness, honesty, and accountability, particularly when you’ve erred
  5. A communicative, pleasant tone of voice and body language during disagreements, explanations, and feedback
  6. Expressed gratitude for support , recognition, and kindness
  7. Good humor, acknowledgement of others, and appreciation
  8. Value-added contributions that help coworkers and the team perform effectively

Not everyone at work will like you, but you can make it difficult for them to dislike you if you demonstrate these eight behaviors.

It’s important for you to see yourself in the grand scheme of things. You have multiple audiences who are watching you:

  • Your boss and his/her bosses
  • Your cube mates, crew members, or shift team
  • The support staff
  • Contacts in other departments
  • Customers and suppliers

These audiences have different backgrounds and expectations. Trying to fit in is often untenable and/or exhausting. Spare yourself the agony.

Be the likeable you.

It’s important to bring your best self to work every day, consistently and predictably. Being liked is about how you connect with others around you. There’s no reason to make it complicated. Instead zero in on the eight behavior groups and nurture the most likeable you.

Photo by Babbletrish via Photoree




Ingredients for Becoming the Complete Executive–Fold Together and Serve

It’s hard to resist the opportunity to sample secret sauce ingredients for executive success. So, when invited, I was happy to taste the morsels in Karen Wright’s new book, The Complete Executive: The 10-Step System for Great Leadership Performance, and share some of them here.

Everyone wants them–recipes for fixing things like:

  • Problem employees
  • Broken work methods
  • Complaining customers
  • Stalled careers

Recipes work when we’re cooking: The same combination of ingredients produces the same outcome each time. It’s different,though, when we’re trying to put together the right behaviors to produce career success.

Invest in good ingredients.

Careers grow when we combine the right ingredients in the right way at the right time, folding them together until they blend to meet expectations.

Our career goals may be either modest or bold. Achieving them means understanding the knowledge, skills, and experiences (the ingredients) required and then systematically assembling them.

In her new book, The Complete Executive: The 10-Step System for Great Leadership Performance, Karen Wright, career coach and founder of Parachute Executive Coaching, identifies 100 practices for successful executives.

These practices will help you succeed where you are right now and/or position you to move up, while maintaining a balanced, satisfying life.

Wright describes the foundation for achieving leadership completeness this way:

The individuals who consistently thrive in the face of the extraordinary expectations of high-level leadership are the ones who have found the optimal combination of habits, practices, and personal discipline that sustains and strengthens them across all dimensions of their lives.

Her 10-step system covers everything from health and fitness to business basics and fun. She makes this especially striking point about leaders:

Someone who fully engages in building positive relationships at work probably places similar value on them outside the office. Similarly, if an individual is difficult to get along with or get to know at work, she is likely the same in her personal relationships.

Who we are goes with us wherever we go. Everyone sees how we conduct ourselves and makes a judgment. When folded together, those judgments start to form our personal brand,  our career currency.

Relationships matter.

The complete executive, as Wright notes, needs to place high value on building and maintaining healthy and mutually satisfying relationships.

She explains that it starts with our primary relationships (i.e., life partner or single-hood), children, extended family, neighbors, friends, and community. Then it expands to our business competitors, peers, and direct reports. For leaders to be complete, Wright reminds us that they need to invest in relationships that represent all aspects of their lives.

We often think that networking is the best way to expand our relationships. Wright debunks that notion with this compelling perspective:

 ‘No executive at a high level does anything called networking.’ What they do is focus on building a valuable network. ‘It will grow through connections with the people you know through your kids, your parents, your siblings, and your other family members. You just never know when a connection in your network will lead you to another, helpful one, creating potential future business value.’

It’s all a matter of building on relationships that form naturally from your life and your work. To this Wright adds:

Contributing to your network is what makes it strong. If you only take from your network, it will be too weak to support you when you need it.

The book lists these relationship building sources that you can tap: alumni associations, lunches/casual meetings, club memberships, professional associations, and social media sites like LinkedIn.

Wright acknowledges that relationships ebb and flow. We learn along the way which ones are sincere and fruitful and which are not.

Intuition as ingredient

There’s a leader in all of us whether we’re atop the business organization chart or not. Reaching our full leadership capabilities is an ongoing process.

Wright’s practice #100 is intuition: An effective leader will state:

I recognize when my intuition is engaged, and I value and reflect upon the messages it sends me.

She finishes by  quoting Albert Einstein:

The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it intuition or what you will, and the solution comes to you and you don’t know how or why.

We all need to give our intuition a chance to work its magic for us. Hey, if it worked for Einstein, who can argue!

Career in a Rut? Partner Up and Push. | A “Business Fitness” BOGO

Careers are personal. They’re about what we want from our work life and what we’ll risk to get it.                

Navigating our career path can be lonely. What it takes to be successful isn’t always clear. The messages we get may be vague or conflicting. Our coworkers may have agendas that don’t include us. 

Going it alone is how many manage their careers. That makes about as much sense as trying to lose weight, quit smoking, or master tennis without a support system. We all need someone in our corner to keep us going; they need us too. 

A rescue offer 

I wrote Business Fitness: The Power to Succeed—Your Way to make managing your career easier and to get beyond the fluff. 

If you’re ready to get serious about your career planning, I’d like to make it easy for you get (re)started: 

For all of January 2012, I’m offering buy one get one (BOGO) free, signed copies of my book.  

Just go to my website “book” tab and add one (1) copy to your cart for $19.95. (I’ll know to send two by your date of purchase.) Shipping is free in the continental U.S. 

A great career development strategy is a powerful thing. Here’s how you can us the book to build yours.

The power of partnering 

When building your career, there’s real value in partnering with someone you trust and respect, someone to hold you accountable for setting goals and staying the course for success. 

There reasons galore why we benefit from the support of a partner: 

  • It’s difficult for us to see ourselves objectively. We need a filter. 
  • It’s difficult to stay motivated when things go awry, when we’ve been disappointed, and when we lose our optimism. 
  • It’s difficult to stay up when our self-confidence wanes, self-doubt haunts us, and opportunities have been missed. 

Whether careers are exotic or mundane, they often progress in mysterious and unpredictable ways. The only aspects we control are the choices we make, the capabilities we develop, the chances we take, and the relationships we form. 

Along the way, we need to  build momentum around our efforts until the pieces take shape and a picture of our career emerges. A “business fitness” partner can keep us on track.

 Keep pushing 

Finding career success isn’t easy. It means always pressing forward. Funny, how we continually need to push and be pushed. So give this approach a try: 

  • Select a single partner or small group (no more than 5)
  • Agree to meet at a set day and time (at least twice monthly)
  • Use your first meeting to establish ground rules, particularly confidentiality around information shared. Then share what kind of success each of you wants right now.
  • Assign one chapter from Business Fitness to be read and discussed at each meeting. Agree to share answers to the inventories at each chapter end.
  • After all the chapters have been discussed, go back and (re)write your career goals and share. Hold each other accountable for specific statements.
  • Use each subsequent meeting to review progress on goals, provide insights and support, and identify ways to help each other move forward. 
  • Make the meetings and the process fun!

This process is part book club, mastermind group, and individual mentoring/coaching. As you progress, you’ll come up with endless next steps that will build your capabilities, strengthen your self-confidence, and deepen relationships. 

Career building takes discipline. There are no shortcuts that are sustainable. When we’re at our best, we feel business fit. To get there, we need each other.

Afraid to Innovate or Don’t Know How? | Problem-solving Skills Pay

“Innovativeness” is one of those performance appraisal categories that often befuddle supervisors and employees. 

We often don’t know how the term actually applies to us. After all, we’re just doing our jobs. Innovation seems to have more to do with creative work (maybe in marketing) or in science (like in a lab somewhere). Too often we just don’t think of ourselves as being innovative as we go about our daily work.

To innovate, though, isn’t as overblown an action as it may sound. It just means “to begin or introduce something new.”

All it takes to be innovative is:

  • Our idea for doing something in a new way
  • Introducing it to others whose involvement or approval we need
  • Setting it in motion once we have the okay

That’s not so hard, right?

Now, what is it again?

Innovative ideas, large or small, take many forms like a:

  • Fix for things not functioning well
  • New plan to refocus a faltering job
  • Redesigned process that increases efficiency and effectiveness
  • Workaround to keep work flowing until a lasting solution is achieved
  • Message that reduces turmoil or raises optimism

In order to innovate, we need to:

  • Look at our work with fresh eyes and see if there’s a better way
  • Be willing to make an effort to influence our boss to accept our idea
  • Overcome the fear that our idea may get rejected
  • Accept accountability for our idea if it doesn’t work

Your innovativeness is a sign that solving the problem is personally important to you.

Inherent in innovation is your commitment to doing things right. Each of us has the power to innovate if and when we want to.

A draining idea 

I live in a 200-year-old, log farmhouse situated in a hollow where the water table is close to the surface. Most of my basement floor is dirt. During extended periods of drenching rain, the water table rises up and visits my basement.

This happens infrequently, but when it does, it’s a big issue. For years I managed the “big” water with three sump pumps and a French drain. But if the power went out I was literally sunk. (I’ve had as much as 3 ½ feet of water there.)

I explained the problem one dry summer’s day to my contractor, Pete. He asked to look over the situation and think about it. The next day he said, “I think I can fix your problem by creating a gravity-feed drain that runs from the lowest point in the basement, out to the street.

He set up his transit in the basement, shot the angle, hired two young guys to dig the inside trench, hired another guy with a backhoe to dig a trench to the street, laid the perforated pipe, and then we waited for two years.

You can see in the photo here that it worked amazingly. To me, Pete’s a hero.

What Pete did was innovation. He had an idea, introduced it to me (his customer), convinced me to go ahead, and took responsibility for the outcome. Not only did his problem-solving skills work, they saved me money and anxiety.

Why bother 

Each time you find a better way, you increase your value on the job. Your innovativeness becomes a major part of your personal brand identity, and it will likely create evolving:

  • Buzz about you
  • Exposure to movers and shakers
  • Opportunities for unique assignments
  • Recognition and reward
  • More business

Of all the strengths that you can develop to enhance your career, innovativeness is likely to do the most for you. To be innovative is to effectively demonstrate such traits as problem- solving, analysis, influencing, initiative, and calculated risk-taking.

Whenever you can deliver an idea that makes the workplace and the business operate more effectively, you are contributing in ways that make you stand out. The more business fit you are, the more tools you have in place to bring out your inner innovator. Now go for it.