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.

 

 

 

 

Getting Nowhere In a Hurry? Take a New Route. | Manage Your Day-to-Day

It’s wonderful when a book moves me to recalibrate my routine and reclaim my creative goals. That’s what happened when I was invited to read and blog about Manage Your Day-to-Day edited by Jocelyn K. Glei at 99U. This book delivers the goods as  the structure, content, and style harmonize. I keep it within reach.

We work hard to find the right job and even harder to progress in it. manage_book

So, it’s discouraging when our days feel:

  • Harried or unsatisfying
  • Repetitive or fragmented
  • Controlled by the needs of others
  • Menial and incomplete

The hours can be long and the unrelenting demand for information exhausting.

There’s an edge to our days when we’re concerned that we’ll miss something and inadvertently disappoint the expectations of others.

Working your way

You’re the one who controls the way you use your work day. It may not always feel that way, but it’s true. It comes down to setting boundaries, adopting right habits, and managing the expectations of those around you.

Manage Your Day-to-Day, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei at 99U, targets the drags on your time and psyche through short, tightly focused articles by 21 accomplished business people, writers, and academics who get at the heart of big issues and provide realistic ways for change.

Scott Belsky, founder of Behance, writes in the foreward:

No matter where you work or what horrible top-down systems plague your work, your mind and energy are yours and yours alone. You can surrender your day-to-day and the potential of your work to the burdens that surround you. Or you can audit the way you work and own the responsibility of fixing it.

The book unfolds in four sections that become the routes for a career going somewhere.

Route #1: Build a Rock-Solid Routine

All routines aren’t necessarily productive. We can spend a lot of time checking devices, meeting with people, and walking the floor, believing that somehow we’re capturing essential information we need for..well…something.

Mark McGuinness, author and creative professionals coach, advises:

The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second.

Reactive work is all that checking.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project,  reminds us to protect the time needed for creative work if we want to produce something of worth.

We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period, provided we work slowly and consistently…frequent work makes it possible to accomplish more, with greater originality….    

Route #2: Find Focus in a Distracted World

Differentiating ourselves is essential to our career growth. It’s how we stand out from the crowd to demonstrate our uniqueness and creativity.

Consider this point by Jocelyn K. Glei:

In a world filled with distraction, attention is our competitive advantage. Look at each day as a challenge–and an opportunity–to keep your eye on the prize.

Our ability to manage distraction to enable our creativity to flourish means we’ve conquered the paradox noted by Cal Newport, professor at Georgetown University:

Increasingly, creative minds are torn in two opposing directions. We’re asked to apply our intellectual capital to solve hard problems….At the same time, we’re asked to be constantly available by email and messenger and in meetings…..

Route #3:Tame Your Tools

In every career there are tools of the trade; pros know how to use them effectively. Technology, both a social and practical tool, challenges our decision-making and self-control.

Jocelyn K. Glei reminds us that:

Technology should be a tool, but if we do not keep our wits about us, it can easily become our taskmaster…It’s easy to blame the tools, but the real problem is us.

So each time you reach for a device, ask yourself: “Why and why now?”

Route #4: Sharpen Your Creative Mind

What we want from our work most often is the freedom to make a difference, to produce something useful, and to be creative.

Design professional, Stefan Sagmeister says it best:

If you want to do projects that you really love, you have to be aware of how difficult they are to do. For a long time I wasn’t doing certain projects, but I thought I would love to do them if I had the time. Then when I had the time, I avoided doing them because of all the other stuff that I still needed to do, like e-mail. And it’s just so much easier to do e-mail than to actually sit down and think….we don’t have time because it’s convenient not to have the time, because we don’t want to challenge ourselves.

Re-claim your time

Time is precious and limited. What we do with ours is our choice. It’s time to break our bad habits and dig into the work that will ultimately fulfill us. Taking control of our time day-to-day is immensely empowering.

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

 

 

 

Confronting the Employee Attitude Problem | Help for Supervisors

I wrote this post in March 2010 and it has enjoyed the highest number of page views. I realized that during my blog site switchover that searchers were having difficulty locating it. So it seemed like a good time to re-post it with a revised title.

employee attitude472_-3A supervisor’s nightmare—the employee with a “problem” attitude. Makes you feel like you just drew the Old Maid card.

What to do? You have an employee with a personality, work style, or temperament that is driving you crazy or aggravating others, making it harder to get the work done. And you don’t want to fire.

Performance appraisal is how supervisors save us from ourselves. 

Good supervisors use appraisal to teach and guide. Most employees with attitude issues aren’t aware of any problem: it’s just their way.

You know you’ve got an “attitude” problem employee when these things start to happen:

  • Peers would rather do a job alone than work with him/her
  • Discussion at a meeting goes dead when he/she speaks
  • S/he insists that work be done his/her way or hoards work
  • Direction is always questioned
  • S/he consistently criticizes, competes with, or dismisses the work of others

Each of these situations points to an attitude that needs defining. Where to start?

Connect “attitude” to observable behaviors that impact productivity.  

The first step in dealing with “attitude” issues is to demonstrate how the employee’s behavior is affecting the work. Here’s how you prepare:

  • Observe and take notes of specific instances (about 6) where the attitude was obvious.
  • Make a list of the impacts you saw, like defensiveness from others, resistance, stalled decisions, or delay.
  • Determine specifically how these impacts will affect the output of your work group.

Next meet with the employee to talk about their performance to date and your intention to coach them to improve:

  • Raise the attitude issue by sharing your recent observations, naming the dates and situations.
  • Explain what you observed and ask them to offer their perspective.
  • Be specific about the current and future impacts of their “attitude” on the productivity of the group.
  • Ask what they are willing to do to improve and how you can help them.

Raise the stakes and engage the employee in orchestrating his/her own change. 

Most of us don’t change unless there are negative consequences that we can avoid by doing things differently. The more we want to make a positive change and reap the rewards, the more invested we are in the work we need to do.

At this point, explain the next steps to the employee:

  • Together agree on a performance goal(s) for the balance of the year focused on the “attitude” change that needs to be made
  • Require the employee to write and submit a plan of action to achieve it
  • Establish how this change will be evaluated

Gather direct feedback from peers and internal customers. 

Nothing gets our attention more than knowing what others are saying about us, especially in the workplace. So here’s what you can do:

  • Develop 5-8 questions with the employee to be asked of their internal customers, focused on their approach to getting work done.
  • Identify 8-10 peers and internal customers that the employee will ask to answer those questions.
  • Develop a process and timing for collecting the feedback and submitting it confidentially to you.
  • Explain that, as the supervisor, you will also ask 8-10 people to respond.
  • Compile the feedback. Discuss summarized findings with the employee.
  • Reset his/her goals and strategies to improve.

If you are cringing about the effort this takes, I understand. But if you’ve ever fired anyone for poor performance, you know that the documentation, meetings, and general agony of that process make this look like a vacation.

The first pass at this requires the most work. The next time is much easier. How you handle your first “attitude” problem will gain you enormous credibility with your employees. It’s an approach that demonstrates your commitment to helping employees succeed. Being business fit means taking the lead when the chips are down. This is one of those times.

What kinds of “bad attitudes” have you witnessed in the workplace? How were they handled? Any ideas to add? Thanks.

Photo from Freedigitalphotos.net

Do Job Interviews Get You Frazzled? Exhale!

It pains me when I see job seekers get stressed out at interview time. One way to ease the anxiety is to understand the pressures on the interviewer. This post that I wrote in 2010 does just that.  

Amazing, how a job interview can make our blood run cold.

Our ego, sense of self, and value get all tied up in being picked. Our brains gear up wildly to compete, to be the winner!

I spent a lot of years as a functional hiring manager for a Fortune 500 energy company. The people I hired either worked for me or for departmental colleagues. As a consultant, I still help clients screen resumes and interview.

Over the years, I’ve hired over 100 candidates myself or as part of selection teams. I thought you should know that, so you’ll believe this:

More often than not, the person interviewing you is in a major squeeze and feelin’ it! 

Yes, the interviewer, not just you, is feeling the pressure. S/he has a position to fill and chances are it’s been open for longer than anyone would like. That means work isn’t getting done, other staff are picking up the slack, and the manager is feeling the pinch. Someone is undoubtedly squawking. This reality works in your favor, so relax.

4 Things to Remember When You Sit Down for the Interview 

Curb your nerves by focusing on the needs of the interviewer and not yourself. Here’s why and how:

1. The interviewer is desperately hoping that you are the right person for the job.

That means the interviewer is rooting for you. They want you to do well. They are hoping beyond hope that you will mean the end of their search. They really want you to be the candidate they’ve been looking for, so you will make them a winner.

2. Your interviewer wants you to relax, so s/he can relax. 

Interviewing isn’t easy. It means asking the right questions, gathering the right information, assessing you correctly, and representing the company positively so you’ll want to work there if chosen. If you’re a visible wreck, you will be a distraction and will take the fun out of the process for the interviewer and yourself.

3. The interviewer will be grateful for anything you do to make the process go smoothly.

If you approach the interview generously and focus on meeting the needs of the interviewer for crisp and clear answers, you’ll showcase your skills as a communicator and team player. This means being prepared and asking the interviewer if s/he has gotten the needed information.

4. The interviewer wants the conversation with you to be enjoyable. 

Interviewing is tedious unless the candidate takes the monotony out of it. A candidate with an appropriate sense of humor, a relaxed but alert demeanor, and the ability to use the questions as a way to engage in dialogue about the job is a godsend. That will be you!

You can’t be more than you are. 

You can’t hire yourself for the job. But you can showcase your business fitness by explaining what you know, the skills you have, and the experiences you’ve banked. Trying to oversell yourself or to compete with candidates you don’t even know is the death knell.

When you get hired for a job, you’re committing to a relationship with the hiring manager and the company. It’s the job of the interviewer to decide whether or not you and the company are a good fit.

So be patient and be yourself.

Candidate selection isn’t just about the interview. 

A lot goes into final hiring decisions and it’s not always about you and your interview. That’s another reason to leave your nerves at home.

Photo from Michelle Ranson via Flickr

Discovered the Trick to Career Success? | The Magic’s Up Your Sleeve

Career success seems so elusive as we face constant changes in the work environment and economy. Here’s a post I wrote in 2010 to help sort things out and form the basis of a plan.

Success is out there—somewhere. We watch others achieve it, but why not us? They don’t seem any smarter than we are. So what’s the trick?

We assume the answer’s in all those how-to books, so we read them. We go to presentations by celebrated experts, follow bloggers, and invest in webinars. These are all good things to do, but….

No one can tell you how to get the success you want. Why? Because they aren’t you!

We’re all in the same boat. Getting to success is a struggle. So what’s the winning formula? 

I can’t tell you that. No one can. We have to figure it out ourselves. No whining or complaining. No funny business or short cuts. And, hardest of all to swallow, no guarantees!

There are some concrete steps you can take to get started or to keep going if you feel stalled. Here goes:

1. Answer this: What do I want my life to look like when I cross the finish line? 

Describe what you see in your mind’s eye: your surroundings and location, who’s there and who’s not, and what you do on a typical day. Write it all down and save it. What you describe tells you what you want to achieve, what you’ll be working toward, and how you want it to come together.

2. Then answer: What career work fits me? 

The right career feels like lycra: a close (actually intimate) fit that supports you as you move freely in any direction. Lots of people wear burlap instead. They may find success but it comes with a rash. Real success includes work satisfaction, growth, and fair rewards.

3.  Can work in that career get me the success I want? If no, now what?

Sometimes the work you love doesn’t pay well or offer advancement. That means you’ll have to add another work component to your success plan.

There is no rule that says all of our income must come from one source, our job. Additional revenue can come from freelance work, side businesses, and on-line services/sales. The internet offers many new paths for adding revenue. It’s time to explore.

4. Visualize the success you want. Pick up on the vibes.

If visualizing didn’t help golfers make tournament winning putts, they wouldn’t pay their sports psychologists to teach them how to do it.  Every athlete who wins a championship says the same thing: “I’ve imagined this moment since I was 9.”

Once you focus on the success you want and the career work you love, you’ll find yourself noticing articles in the paper, segments on TV, comments at work, and on-line posts that will move you forward.

5. Write the words that describe the success you want and the paths you’ll explore to get it.

Writing things down makes them real and prevents you from side-stepping the work you need to do. When you explore options, you will stay open to alternatives until you’ve settled on the winning direction.

Anyone can do this. It’s not magic. 

I struggle and question just like you. The success I wanted was a life in the country, working for myself, helping others achieve their own career and business goals.

To get this far meant passing through many seemingly unrelated gates. I was a high school English teacher, a social worker, a corporate manager. While I was employed, I made extra income as a practice management consultant for veterinarians, then as a horse breeder and art dealer.

Each path led me to the life that I visualized. My definition and measure of success isn’t yours and yours isn’t mine. We each own the success we seek—that’s the beauty of it.

Don’t let anyone else define success for you. That’s important to becoming business fit. Own your success goals and desires. It’s what’s up your sleeve that matters. Keep looking—there’s a rabbit in there somewhere!

Photo from garethjmsaunders via Flickr

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.