The Mystery of the Aha Moment and What Solving It Means to Your Career

First there was “aha,” a term used to express surprise, pleasure, or triumph. So sayeth mystery 13318545_f743938571_mThe American Heritage Dictionary.

Then there was the “aha moment,” a phrase meaning  “a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension,” first known to be used in 1939 according to Merriam Webster, well before the Oprah Show.

Had any aha moments lately? The kinds that give you big clues about:

  • how you’re doing at your job
  • what next steps you should take
  • what lies ahead for you
  • who cares about your growth

If “no” is your answer, not to worry. Aha moments are neither plentiful or crystal clear.

Start with, “I wonder?”

You’re more likely to experience an aha moment when you ramp up your curiosity.

When your career starts out, everything’s a mystery. You wonder:

  • Am I doing things right?
  • Do my boss and coworkers like me?
  • Is this job what I really wanted?
  • Is this a good place to build a career?

A few timely aha moments would likely come in handy to influence your answers and build your self-confidence, optimism, motivation, and self-belief,

“I wonder” questions can be a gateway to “aha moments.”

Connect the dots.

Career aha moments can be enigmatic, easily missed or dismissed, until we stop and think.  At least that’s how it was for me.

I came to a staff job at a Fortune 500 energy company after ten years teaching high school. With no business experience, it felt like a big adventure. I had zero career expectations, other than wanting to make a difference.

I started out in consumer education working with community educators to develop energy conservation curriculum materials. The company considered me their resident expert and gave me lots of freedom.

As a result, lots got done and that got noticed. However, I never directly connected my work with career advancement.

One day I was invited by the department manager to ride to a company event with him and his VP. I didn’t think much of it at the time, sat in the back seat, and was privy to their conversation. They were very open about lots of subjects that seemed,…well…executive.

On the way back, we stopped at the VP’s mother’s house. She was elderly and needed to have her storm windows lowered. She served us beverages and cookies. Then we headed home.

On the return drive, I had my “aha moment.”

“Really.” you ask? Yes, really.

Until that trip, I wondered why I, a former school teacher, was given so much freedom and access in my job. Now I knew.

The big reveal

They simply trusted me.

They trusted that I would:

  • hold confidential their conversations
  • conduct myself as a peer while respecting their positions
  • support the direction of the business
  • be open and honest, reliable and consistent in my work

Aha!

But one aha does not a lasting realization make. That moment was only a beginning, a foundation. It revealed how important trust was in that organization.

So I started to watch for other signs of their trust in me and found them. Each renewed aha moment affirmed how trust, along with capability, can give your career a marathoner’s legs.

As I moved up, I came to see how trust drives results when:

  • Employees trust their boss will be fair
  • Coworkers trust their peers to be supportive
  • Bosses trust their managers to set achievable goals
  • Executives trust their teams to stand together

Trust matters.

Trust comes from doing what you say you’re going to do and non-attribution, particularly not telling stories out of school.

When you can be trusted to hold confidences, perform ethically, and uphold the right values, you may discover more career aha moments than you can fathom and create some too.

Photo by DerrickT via Photoree

The Advantage of Having a Bad Boss | Turn Frustration into Career Growth

bad boss 4147951182_e8d45138a1_mA bad boss is a career opportunity.

No one promised you a great boss as a condition of employment. You get paid whether your boss is good or bad. Your job, then, is to figure out how to deal with your boss’s behavior so that you can do good work anyway.

Your career rides on the way you overcome adversity. Whether you’re aware of it or not, everyone is watching the way you problem solve and overcome obstacles to do what you’re there to do: Get the work done.

Chances are the higher ups are aware, to some degree, of the ineffective behaviors of your boss. And they’re also aware of how the boss’s employees are reacting, including you. So just keep doing your best.

Turn frustration into advantage.

If you really care about your career, you won’t let a bad boss get in your way. Instead you’ll seize the opportunity to develop the skills and abilities you need to deal with her effectively.

So instead of spending your time complaining or wallowing or bemoaning, start observing, planning, and acting to minimize the negative effects of the “bad” behavior your boss exhibits.

Strive to stay focused on what really matters and what doesn’t.

Put into effect an employee development program of your own making.

 We need to be fair. Most bosses are not evil doers; they no more want to be bad in their jobs than we do.

Your “bad” boss may very well be struggling to survive herself, contending with her limitations, trying to untangle mixed signals from above and  needs from her employees.

Many bosses know they aren’t effective, don’t know why, and can’t figure out how to become “good.”  So let’s not be too hard on them. One day you may walk in their shoes.

Zero in.

It’s important to take time to get a sense of what drives your bad boss, so you can find a way to work with him effectively.

Most bad bosses suffer from a predominant supervisory flaw. That’s the one you want to focus on to start.

Pinpoint the specific behaviors and develop actions you need in order to work with, through, or around them.

Here are three types of bad bosses, their typical behaviors, potential underlying reasons for them, and actions you might take to contend with them.

1. The Micromanager

  • Behaviors: Constantly checking on your work, nit picking, inflexibility, second-guessing
  • Potential Reasons: Fear of failure/criticism, low confidence in employees, job insecurity
  • What you can do: Pay full and consistent attention to details, submit work before     deadlines, proactively give progress reports, comply with required processes

3. The Intimidator

  • Behaviors: No or terse communication, distant, difficult to approach, critical
  • Potential Reasons: Sense of superiority, self-absorbed, distrust of other’s ideas, desire for control,
  • What you can do: Initiate opportunities to meet even if it’s unnerving; be uber prepared and clear in your agenda, presentation, or proposal; ask for feedback and a next step meeting/conversation; don’t quail; repeat until the ice is thawed

4. The Wheel Spinner

  • Behaviors: No clearly communicated direction, disorganized, routinely shifts gears and changes assignments midstream
  • Potential Reasons: Lack of confidence/clarity, fear of failure, poor business acumen, lack  of awareness about what it takes to get work done
  • What you can do:  Increase your own organization, engage your boss in conversation about work and suggest ideas, build confidence in your contributions, anticipate needs

Step up.

The workplace is a tangled web. Everyone is caught up in it with your boss at the center. You can choose to become a victim or to figure out how to navigate the strands.

If you want to stand out…to be noticed for the right things…then use your time with that bad boss to strengthen your communication, relationship building, collaborative, and work management skills.

No one’s going to send you to “Dealing with a Bad Boss” training, so it makes sense to develop your skills on your own. Your career will reward you for it. Onward!

Photo by noii’s via Photoree

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.

5 Ways to Fight Off Self-Doubt | Dealing with Performance Dips

We can be our own worst enemy if we’re not careful. We’ll tell ourselves that we:self-doubtb 12593039_d4f6_t

  • don’t measure up
  • never seem to get things right
  • keep falling short of expectations
  • are out of favor with the boss

The more we doubt ourselves…the more we doubt ourselves. It’s a downward spiral we need to stop, and fast!

Heads up.

I’m a big sports fan. I watch golf, tennis, basketball, baseball, football, and  the Olympics, both summer and winter.

I’m engrossed by the theater of sports–the physical skills, the competitive drive, and the players themselves.

Individual athletes reveal so much about what it takes to be successful, especially how to handle mental pressures, particularly the  moments of self-doubt and shaken self-confidence they must overcome.

Self-doubt  threatens to derail an athlete when, during a game or match, s/he experiences a dip in performance. Suddenly the player will:

  • miss a gimme shot like a layup, a short putt, or an overhead
  • lose their rhythm, become a step slow, or misread a defense
  • make a series of poor decisions–wrong golf club selections, an excess of 3-point shots, too many returns to the forehand

As employees, we too experience dips in our performance when we:

  • miss errors we normally find; incorrectly enter routine data
  • neglect to jump on a situation before it becomes a big issue
  • make ineffective decisions about problems we need to fix

Just like athletes, anytime you feel off your game, self-doubt has a field day.

 Listen up. Take 5.

Live action sports commentators have a knack for spotting an athlete’s self-doubt during the heat of play. Since many sportscasters like champion golfer Sir Nick Faldo or NBA star Reggie Miller were former pro athletes, they know how to shut those negative voices down.

These five bits of advice that work for athletes can also work for you when self-doubt starts creeping into your thinking:

1. Don’t dwell on a bad call.

Your boss is like a referee. Sometimes s/he will draw a wrong or unfair conclusion about the quality of your work, your role in a decision, your attitude about an assignment, or your willingness to do more. Once you’ve calmly offered your side of the story, commit to avoiding a repeat and move on.

2. Keep playing.

Like an athlete, sometimes you’ll miss a shot or make a bad play. You may forget an assignment, write code that doesn’t work, or make a poor presentation. Everything is fixable but only if you stay in the game and keep working. So do what’s necessary to correct what went wrong and keep improving your skills.

3. Correct missteps asap.

The sooner you jump on the cause of glitches in your performance the better. Waiting only allows self-doubt to settle in and put a death grip on your self-confidence. If you can, take steps to improve in real time, by asking for help from your boss or coworkers right away, just as players do in a sideline huddle, with a caddy , or coach  while the game is live.

4. Plan for what’s next.

In most cases, there’s always another game or contest. To fight against self-doubt, you need to keep looking ahead for other opportunities to demonstrate your skills, your commitment, and your mental toughness. Your workplace is a competitive environment where you’re always challenged to put forth your best effort. There are a lots of days in the week to work on getting better and building your self-confidence.

5. Reach out.

Your boss and coworkers have a stake in your performance. The better you perform, the more successful they will be. Not everyone will have your back, but some will. When you have doubts about your performance, get some help. Often others have a more objective perspective than you do and will likely also  remind you of your strengths. It’s difficult to overcome self-doubt alone, so it’s worth the risk to  reach out.

 Build self-confidence.

Achieving and sustaining success requires self-confidence. Self-doubt kills it.

Overcoming internal negative voices tests your mental toughness. If you take some time to listen to pro athletes after wins and losses, you’ll get some priceless perspectives on how to fight the good fight.

Photo by hotblack via Photoree

 

5 Ways to Avoid Sabotaging Your Career

feet 166161247_9e1be2f4ff_mA job is a building block. A career is what we build. When starting out, we’re never quite sure what we’re actually building, if anything. We could end up with a useless pile of sticks or a really cool house on a mountaintop.

Careers are not built by ourselves alone. So we need to understand the roles we play (including how we play them) and the potential impact of the supporting cast.

All eyes are on you.

It’s often said: “My career should grow because I do really good work.”

But good work is only one part of it. Well-chosen and savvy professional relationships are another. Without a cadre of colleagues at all levels who attest to your competence, value, and ability to “get along,” your career will likely advance slowly, if at all.

The quality and effectiveness of your workplace relationships are noticed and become part of your personal brand. You can shoot your career in the foot easily by saying or doing things at work that  paint the wrong picture of who you are.

5 cautionary steps

These five steps can help you avoid sabotaging your career along the way:

  1. Don’t get ahead of yourself

The way employees move up is different in every company. Start by figuring out what the leadership sees in those who have been given more responsibility. Be alert to what is said about those who have been promoted. You need to know but don’t have to agree.

Advancement is not about when you think you’re ready. It’s about what the decision-makers think. Until you know, for sure, that you have regularly met the company’s performance standards, defer asking to be promoted or given plumb assignments.

  1. Keep your wants close to your chest

Managers are generally the ones who create opportunities or obstacles to your growth. You may want to assume that your boss is on your side, but that isn’t always the case. So it’s important to build a strong, credible performance portfolio.

Once you tell your boss what you want from your career, s/he has the leverage to help or hinder. So be prudent about how much you let on and when. Timing can be very important.

I once had a client who, at each job change, told his boss that he was “title sensitive” which was also code for wanting to be a big player. In each case, his career stalled.

  1. Don’t screen yourself out of opportunities

Too often, I’ve heard job seekers and careerists express an interest in positions and job challenges that are a notch up. They say, “I read the duties but I don’t meet  all of them, so I don’t think I should apply.”

It’s not your decision to (de)select yourself. That’s what management’s paid to do. It’s rare to find anyone fitting all the requirements of a job or assignment. What companies are looking for is the one who brings the best blend of knowledge and experience to the role. That may very well be you.

  1. Don’t follow someone else’s plan

The most important person to please with your career is you.

Lots of careerists pursue paths that well-meaning others have suggested or chosen for them. Then they wonder why the work doesn’t make them happy.

The first sign of self-leadership is our willingness to identify a life plan and then to start putting the  building blocks together, including those that construct our careers. When you don’t follow your own plan, it’s easy to go adrift.

  1. Don’t get seduced by the glitz

The trappings of better pay, high-sounding titles, greater authority, and any number of perks have a price. I’ve seen many people chase those things without seeing the personal and professional tolls that go with them.

There are advantages to career growth, but you need to make sure you understand how important they are to you…not to someone else…to you. Sometimes we need to see what’s behind the big door before we choose it.

Avoid self-sabotage

None of us ever sets out to make a mess of our careers. Sometimes we just do because we weren’t paying attention or had lost confidence in our ability to turn things around. By taking hold of your career, you can avoid self-sabotaging it.

Photo from davemendelsohn via Flickr

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!

When the Job Fits, Wear It. | Discovering What Matters

Ask people what they hate about their jobs and they don’t hesitate to say things like: 

  • “The work is boring.”
  • “It’s a dead end.”
  • “My boss is useless.” 

Ask them what they like and they pause a bit, then say: 

  • “Well, I’m glad I have one.”
  • “I work with some nice people.”
  • “There are some good days.” 

We can do better than this. Actually, we need to do better. 

Why? Because our jobs are about us—who we are, what we bring, how we connect, and where we’re headed. 

A job is not a static thing. It’s a living manifestation of our actions. 

Discover what matters. 

On the surface a job looks like a compilation of duties, task, and requirements. When we only work on the surface, we fail to see what’s below. 

It’s a bit like swimming in the ocean without any awareness that beneath us there are colonies of species struggling to survive, wreckages waiting to be discovered, and mysteries of the earth’s formation. 

Every job we experience is an opportunity to discover what matters to us. That’s how we figure out what we need from each subsequent job to make our careers worthwhile. 

Not long ago, I met Donna, a personal care aid for the elderly. She worked at a church-run home that sadly was closing. She was losing her job and I was there to provide career next-step ideas and tools. 

Even though Donna was disappointed, she was upbeat. She’d worked all her life in service-related jobs—a waitress at various restaurants and a clearing person for individuals and businesses. She loved working, being busy, engaged with others, feeling energized. 

There were several good transition options for Donna, particularly setting up an actual cleaning services business where she could hire others as independent cleaning people to handle anticipated volume. Our meeting was going beautifully. 

Then I asked Donna how she felt about closing the door on her work with the elderly. Suddenly, her mood changed.

She told me that the previous day, she and the two other women who worked with her as a care team went to visit several of the residents relocated to a nearby facility. Then she started to cry. 

“What’s wrong, Donna?” I asked. 

She answered, “It was so hard going there and seeing that someone else was taking care of the people I took care of. It was hard for me to give them up.” 

Donna came to realize that her job wasn’t about administering medication, helping people dress and stay clean, or ensuring their safety. It was about that important the sense of personal fulfillment and connection that comes from doing for others. 

That core realization is something we each need to discover. When we do, our career path decisions are made easier. 

Find the right fit. 

We tend to understand what a job has meant to us when we don’t have it anymore. So if you want to jump-start your understanding of what matters to you, think about bygone jobs. 

Ask yourself: 

  • What work did I miss when I moved on?
  • Who did I miss and why?
  • What part of myself did I feel like I’d left behind?

Now consider your current job, and ask yourself: 

  • What’s the real reason I do this work?
  • What do I really need/want to get out of my job? 

Your answers to these questions can help you discover the jobs that truly fit you. If you don’t like your answers, that may be a signal that you need to make a change. 

These lyrics sung by folk singer, Joni Mitchell, in “The Big Yellow Taxi” remind us how important it is to discover what matters to us before we run out of time to fully incorporate it into our careers:  

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Please don’t let anyone, especially yourself, pave over your paradise.

Photo from Bonsailara1 via Flickr