As a Product of Your Choices, How Are You Doing? |The Behavior Gap

Our lives and our careers are products of our choices, the ones we make from reason ExpectationsRealityand those made emotionally. Sometimes we even make choices unconsciously.

No matter our method, the results become our property.

We generally make better choices when we’re well informed and free of fear. Bridging those two helps us master our behavior gap.

Who’s in your ear?

There’s a lot of noise out there. Much of it raises expectations. We want a good job that pays well so we can buy stuff, grow wealth, advance, run with the “right” crowd, and feel successful.

That noise influences our wants and pushes us in the direction of the crowd. Sometimes it drowns out our vision of  the career and life style we want. It can negate our dreams, convince us to replace them, and send us someplace that promises more than it delivers.

So choosing isn’t always easy, especially when we’re tempted to link the reasons for our choices to what experts, social media, and talking heads say is the way to go.

beharior gap 41vTID0CztL__SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Carl Richards makes this point when he introduces the concept of the behavior gap in his book, The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money. Richards is a certified financial planner, but his book, although focused on issues around financial decision-making, is about how we make choices.

As I see it, for every gaff we make with our money, we fall into similar traps with career, relationship, and self-management decisions. So as you read his book, it’s no stretch to take the insights well beyond the financial.

Today every “expert”  has a viewpoint and an outlet to express it. Advice about the best career strategy, the best way to manage your money, or how to live your best life is given and shared– and shared again and again–until it sounds like an absolute.

Richards writes:

“…the sheer quantity of information makes it virtually impossible to sift through all the noise…and find the stuff that actually matters. Worse, we’re losing our ability to distinguish between the two. What matters? What’s just noise?

Take control.

The struggle is fighting the fear of missing out (FOMO) and of being wrong. Listening to the noise doesn’t remedy either.

We are products of our choices. We can listen to all those voices and become paralyzed or reckless. Or we can listen to ourselves.

Richards cuts through the clutter with concepts about financial choice-making that zeros in on what we need to do:

“…make decisions that are in tune with reality, with your goals, and with your values.

He reminds us that we can only control what we can control. That does not include what’s going on in China or on Wall  Street or in the government. He reminds us that we all control two fundamental things: working hard to earn a living, saving as much as we can, and making wise decision about how we invest our money.

Richards writes:

Our deepest instincts (if we listen to them) will tell us that money doesn’t mean anything: it’s simply a tool to reach our goals…By goals I mean stuff that matters to you.

From my perspective, achieving your goals means developing your skills, adding value to your job, building positive workplace relationships, and taking advantage of the right opportunities for growth when they present themselves.

A good start is to get in touch with what you value as part of a good life and assess every career choice against it. Listen to your inner voice when faced with a choice and don’t ignore what you hear. Every time I did, I ended up burning myself with a wrong-footed choice.

The behavior gap

Your behavior is within your control, so you need to own it throughout your life and particularly as you steer your career. Reason and emotion are often at odds with each other, challenging your choice-making.

Whether the choices you face are about finances or career options, there is awareness, relief, and even comfort to be found in Richards’ book.

 

 

Hungry for a Hearty Career? Stir Up Your Tolerance for Starting Over.

Most of us dread starting over. It means more cursed change.

Some profess to love change, believing it’s about new beginnings. Those wary of change understand it’s about ends.

Nothing changes unless something stops. Whether we’re optimistic about the change or not, we’re still left with the impacts of “end-ness:”

  • Familiar routines become undone
  • Our role is defined differently
  • Relationship dynamics are affected
  • Adapting to new processes and tools is required
  • Performance expectations shift
  • Opportunities for advancement blur

You’re hard pressed to develop a rich career without embracing change, even as it turns your world upside down.

A career of many colors

The days of cradle-to-grave careers (and even professions) are over, cry as some might. Ours is a business world of movement, innovation, mergers, technological advancement, and speed.

As business changes, the outlines of our careers change with it. We need to see ourselves in the business of building a career path that has sustainability and heft.

You may have a degree in education, computer science, marketing, finance, or business administration. Today that just means you’ve demonstrated the ability to learn, to perform proficiently against standards, and to conduct yourself appropriately in a learning environment.

How any of that a contributes to developing a career is about what you do next.

A hearty career is the amalgamation of many steps and decisions, assembled in linear progression or wildly divergent.

You take the success potential out of building a career when you’re afraid to start over…and over…and over.

Your career is a business trip–you get in gear, follow one route for a while, arrive at one destination, see the sights, discover a new path, change or shift gears, and set yourself in motion again.

Some people arrive at their first career destination and stay there. Very few find their dream jobs, at least right away. But you can tell those who have stopped dreaming or even looking. They complain about pretty much everything.

That’s generally what happens when you’re afraid to start over.

Big careers start small.

It’s the rare person who knows what they want to do with their life while a teenager. But that’s where career paths too often get started.

You see where you get your best grades, assume that’s where your talents are, and set your sights on schools that will credential you. Then you go into the job market, promote your abilities, and get your first real job.

That initial job is your first, small step on the road to a potentially big career ahead. Chances are, though, you’ll have to find the courage to choose from many forks in the road to get there.

Do you want to:

  • Stay in sales or move into marketing?
  • Continue as a company programmer or join an app development start up?
  • Remain a classroom teacher or launch an on-line course design company?
  • Commit to a family-owned business or work in a Fortune 100 company?
  • Play forever as a country band singer/guitarist or go solo in Nashville?

Building a big career means making smart choices. It’s not about following your passion but rather about building a strong base of tested skills and experiences that are your marketable assets. (No one makes this case more strongly than Cal Newport in his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You.)

Every career decision you make builds on the previous ones, both the good and the bad.

Careers are the ultimate platform for self-discovery, and if you’re lucky, some company is paying you while you figure out your best path.

Fight the fear.

Starting over is scarier than staying put. A lot of worry often comes with your choices.

But when there’s a great opportunity that’s right in front of you, that’s the moment when you must face your fear of change and go for it. So stir up your tolerance for starting over and satisfy your  hunger for a fulfilling career.

 

Craving the Secret to Success? Words from the Wise Break the Code | Howard’s Gift

I’m on a constant quest for answers to big questions about the direction of my life and my work. When I was asked to blog about Eric C. Sinoway’s new book, Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work, I hesitated. I didn’t know anything about Howard Stevenson, the focus of the book. But I said “yes” anyway. I wish it had been written decades ago, when its insights would have spared me so many doubt-plagued hours as I struggled to figure things out for my career path. Fortunately, it’s now here for you.

The secret to success hinges on making the right choices at the right time. Our challenge is to understand the effect our choices will have on us should we pursue them.

If only we had someone to ask, someone with the experience and wisdom to help us see the big picture, someone who can clear away the fog so we can chart the right course.

Enter Howard Stevenson, whose wisdom is the focus of Eric C. Sinoway’s book, Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work.

Howard spent 40 years as a highly respected professor at Harvard Business School, where his MBA  students included world leaders, corporate CEO’s, and entrepreneurs. He is also an innovator and entrepreneur in his own right, contributing to his distinction, according to Sinoway, as “the father of entrepreneurship at HBS….”

Howard’s books and teachings have created a following of “students” like Sinoway who committed to write this book after Howard’s heart attack, ensuring that Howard’s priceless wisdom would never be lost.

Antennas up

Our career and life choices involve our “inflection points.” We need to be keenly aware of them when they occur and committed to taking the right course of action.

So what is an inflection point? Sinoway writes:

It is a moment when–by choice or not–we pivot from the path down which we were traveling and head in an entirely different direction.

It’s easy to miss or ignore an inflection point, especially when it may not line up with the way we’d planned our course.

Sinoway shares Howard’s explanation:

Inflection points come in all forms: positive, negative, easy, hard, obvious, and subtle. The way you respond–whether you grab hold of a inflection point and leverage it for all it’s worth or just let it carry you along–is as important as the event itself.

In hot pursuit of success, we are frequently faced with inflection points that cause us inner conflict. Howard impresses on his students that “…success doesn’t always equal happiness….” I’ve certainly witnessed examples of that and suspect you have too.

Howard suggests approaching your career by thinking about it from a legacy perspective:

Starting at the end means investing time up front to develop an aspirational picture of your future–a guide for the decisions you make throughout your life.

Knowing what we value in a satisfying career and acting on it are often very different things. What we need to get a firm grip on is the way our notions of success and failure help us or get in our way.

Befriending success and failure

We tend to look at success as reward and failure as punishment for, well, just not being good enough. Our self-confidence, courage, optimism, and sense of self-worth are often held hostage by them both.

Howard removes the weight of success and failure when he says in the book:

You know, people throw around words like success and failure assuming they mean exactly the same thing to everyone–and they don’t….

Have you fallen into that trap?

He adds:

There is no standard metric for evaluating success or failure, in large part because our assessments are heavily affected by the expectations we bring into a situation…our definitions of success and failure change based on personal circumstance; they’re colored by what’s happening around us….

The next time someone tries to detract from your achievements based upon their own measure of success, think of Howard’s words:

 For me, the bottom line is: don’t put yourself in a definitional straitjacket, and don’t allow others to do it to you, either.

It’s inevitable that, from the time we’re very young, we are “shown the way” to success as defined by people around us and the media. No wonder finding our own way can feel confusing, particularly when things don’t go as expected.

Howard offers this perspective:

I prefer to expend my energy only on things that I can affect. What’s past is only useful to me insofar as it offers information to using going forward. ..What other people might call failures I simply see as situations laden with meaning–full of new data and new opportunities for assessing and recalibrating a strategy.

Breaking the code

If you need wise counsel on building your skills, finding mentors, facing your personal truths, attracting the right professional relationships, or achieving life-work balance, you’ll find invaluable perspectives from Howard.

This book reads like a conversation, where we get to listen in. We read about the trials and missteps of others, including Sinoway’s, and how Howard untangles complex career situations, just like the ones you’re facing, bringing important next steps into focus.

The secret to success lies within us. Words from the wise help us break the code.

Struggling with a Difficult Choice? The Answer Can Be Fit to a “T”

Making the right work decision can be stressful, even paralyzing. We just don’t want to get it wrong.

“What if I:”

  • End up looking like an idiot or incompetent
  • Lose all the career ground I’ve gained
  • Cost myself or the company money
  • Cause terrible embarrassment or brand damage

Too often we over-focus on the downside of our choices. However,  being overly optimistic about the upside can be a problem too.

“Finally I’ll:”

  • Be the next in line for promotion
  • Get a great bonus or raise
  • Put the company/my work group on the map
  • Have the team I need to lead like a champ

Too much pessimism and too much optimism are the enemy of sound decision-making.

Use your head not your knees!

Knee-jerk decisions can cripple your career. We decide that way when we’re:

  • Overly emotionally about expected outcomes
  • Impatient with the time factors and/or complexity of the choice
  • Confused by things we don’t understand about the options
  • Stressed by the pressures to decide

There’s no getting away from these realities, but you can replace those jerky knees with a calm and disciplined head.

There are lots of different kinds of decisions we have to make around our careers like:

  • Which job offer to accept
  • Who to hire or promote
  • Which policy recommendation to accept
  • What the most important priorities are

Usually, you’ll have a specific window of time when you have to make a decision, so you need a reliable tool to put into practice each time.

The “T” chart to the rescue!

“T” charts (or tables) are simple analytical tools. They rely on you to identify and weigh the right factors in advance of your decision, so you will balance the positives and the negatives.

Let’s say you have two reasonably comparable job offers and decide to use a “T” chart for each job that you’ll review side-by-side to help you make your choice. Here’s how.

  1. On a blank sheet make two large “T” shapes–one for each job you’re looking at.
  2. Across the top of each “T” write Pros and Cons.
  3. To the left of both “T’s” write the criteria that you are looking at for both jobs.

Consider criteria like:

      • Total compensation
      • Characteristics of the work group
      • Leadership and corporate culture
      • Stability of the business
      • Opportunities for growth
      • Authority and autonomy
      • Nature of the work

4. Write the pros and cons for each criteria for each job as you see them on each “T”.

5. Compare both jobs and base your decision rationally the facts you’ve assembled.

You can repeat this process for other kinds of decisions using different criteria in situations like:

Hiring/promotion decisions by considering the candidate’s

      • Skills and knowledge
      • Interpersonal style
      • Leadership qualities
      • Growth potential
      • Experience

Management policy changes:

      • Impact on the bottom line
      • Employee readiness
      • Timing and potential fall out
      • Regulatory/legal implications

The more specific and relevant your criteria, the more likely you will assess your options effectively. The key is not to stack the deck and select criteria that support what you may want to do at an emotional level. You need to keep it real.

Weigh your options.

The cons (the negatives) are often seen as the deal breakers in any analysis. Many of them should be. However, all cons are not created equal.

Once you have looked at your decision-making data, revisit the cons column and see if any negatives can be mitigated. Are there legitimate ways you can make them less of a problem? If, for example, the total compensation for the job you want is less that your other choice, consider whether their job training and opportunities for promotion offer a better chance to advance and make more in the future.

Using a “T” chart to help you make important decisions doesn’t guarantee that you’ll always be right, but it will keep you honest with yourself. It’s just the rationale approach you need for a sound move forward. Choose away!

Photo from paul spud taylor via Flickr

Think You Know How to Manage Right? Check in with David C. Baker

Several weeks ago, David C. Baker, accomplished management consultant, speaker, and author, asked if I would consider reading and commenting on his already successful book, Managing Right for the First Time. I didn’t know David but his title intrigued me, so I eagerly said “yes.” The book arrived in the mail and I was hooked. 

Manager—It’s a title with a certain lure, an aura of importance, a marker that we’ve “gotten somewhere.” Careers often feel more solid when we’ve become manager of something. 

Then we look around at the managers in our world and say, “Is that the role I really want? Would I operate like that? Is that what I think the job should be?” 

What’s the deal? 

Every job is a business deal with your employer. That means you need to understand what’s expected from a title like manager before you commit. 

Unfortunately, managers who get off on the wrong foot from the get-go will likely compound their missteps throughout their managerial careers, until they come to an end. 

David C. Baker in his book, Managing Right for the First Time, does something wonderful: He exposes the realities about how the manager role is played out in business settings. He answers my favorite question: “What’s really going on here?” 

During his career Baker worked closely with over 600 companies and interviewed more than 10,000 employees to identify the core principles and behaviors that contribute to managing right from the start. 

He starts with a clean definition: Being a manager means “…taking responsibility for the performance and output of another employee in a business setting.” 

Sounds simple enough until you face his next insight: 

…management is not natural, and there are no “natural born” managers. Good management comes primarily from who you are as a person….  

Looking within is a serious first step. For some reason, you want to think that you’ll be ready for the job when it comes your way. Baker points out that you’ll likely be a good manager “if you’ve made the right choices as you’ve responded to the circumstances you’ve encountered…” throughout your life. 

There’s an echo here of a theme I’ve written on before: Your life is your business. There’s truth in the notion that the more good life and career choices we make, the better prepared we’ll be to manage situations that affect others. 

So, you’ve got the job! 

Baker gives fascinating insights into what your selection as a manager can mean. 

His first scenario is this: “…if you’ve been selected for management by a good manager, you can take solace in the fact that he or she sees something in you that you may not even see in yourself.” 

The bad news scenarios are these: a.) you’re promoted because there was no one else or b.) a bad manager selected you. Both of these start you off on shaky ground. It doesn’t mean you won’t succeed, but it does mean that you have to prove that you were the best choice. You’ll need to keep your political wits about you. 

Beware of bait and switch 

Baker makes a strong point that: “There’s no official management without power.” 

Oftentimes we’ll see managers in name only—all title but no authority. 

Baker writes: 

The essence of management certainly isn’t about…wielded power. It’s more about influence, which in itself is power, but it’s more the ability to instill in people a legitimate desire to follow your leadership.

 That said, he adds that you really aren’t a manager in the truest sense of the word unless: 

  • You’re hiring the people you manage
  • Making decisions about their compensation
  • Giving their performance reviews
  • Have the authority to dismiss someone—even if you have to get another’s approval 

He makes it plain: “If these things aren’t true of your new role, you ain’t managing, baby.” 

Dig in 

“Managing right” means taking on the full scope of the manager’s role. In his book, Baker covers it all from managing your boss to orienting employees (some really good ideas there); from creating a positive culture to work/life balance.

He wrote his book as a field guide and it’s all that and more. Nothing beats a book of straight-talk, that puts managing in plain terms. This one’s a winner.

Career Turning Points—Dumb Luck, Daily Grind, or Positioning?

Careers evolve in countless ways. When we look back, we can usually identify the turning points, pivotal moments, and even epiphanies that have jolted our careers, hopefully, forward. 

My last post about “small bangs” (pivotal moments) that create career momentum prompted a terrific comment from professional journalist and blogger, Vickie Elmer. She wrote:

When I write a business leader’s profile, I sometimes ask about their “crucial turning points,” another term for pivotal moments. They always have great stories to share. I wonder how often we recognize them as they are happening and how often they just seem like another task or another game? How do we recognize them and make the most of them, especially when they are surprises? I’d love to hear more from you on this topic.

I believe the answers reveal a great deal about the way we look at things.

Tune in. 

Pivotal moments become turning points. If we can’t recognize a pivotal moment, we won’t turn.

We each get lots of them, so if we fail to recognize them all, we’ll likely get another chance or bump into a friend who clues us in.

We increase our chances of recognizing pivotal moments when we’re reasonably clear about what we want from our careers.

It’s easy for us to glibly say: “I want a job that I love with good pay and an opportunity to get promoted.” Vagaries don’t cut it.

You need to get laser-focused on what you’re looking for. Then you can let some pivotal moments come to you and others you can shop for.

Zero in: Write down what you want from your career. Read it every day to imbed in your mind what it is that you’re after. Then watch for pivotal moment opportunities.

Here’s what I wanted from my corporate career and what drove my choices: The opportunity to influence decision-making no matter what my title or what department I worked in. I was not interested in climbing the corporate ladder. I just wanted to do meaningful work with outcomes that mattered.

Now pay attention to what’s going on around you.

The signs 

Once you know what you’re after, you’ll be better able to detect opportunities that could become your turning points like:

Dumb luck: Some pivotal moments are surprises like being tapped at the last minute to lead a meeting of movers and shakers (increased visibility), bumping into an important client at a community meeting (relationship building), or reading an article in the paper that tips you off about a job opportunity (advantage).

Daily grind: The work you do day after day can become an eventual career turning point like management’s recognition of your technical or leadership expertise, your ability to bring assignments to closure, or your talent for seeing the big picture, all of which gives you a leg up for a next move.

Positioning: You can attract turning points by seizing opportunities to increase your level of engagement like volunteering for assignments out of your comfort zone, letting your aspirations be known to your boss or mentor, and demonstrating a willingness to take on challenges, particularly those others avoid.

Fear not. 

Many turning point opportunities are missed because we’re loath to act out of fear of failure, lack of self-confidence, low commit to our goals, and naiveté.

  • If you’re vague about your career desires, you’ll miss the pivotal moments.
  • If you don’t believe that those moments are in your future, you’ll miss them again.
  • If you discount the fact that careers are part luck and part talent, pivotal moments will likely be lost.

Yes, turning points are easier to identify after they’ve materialized and elusive before. That’s the “hindsight is 20/20” thing.

However, the clearer you are about where you want your career to go, the more likely that you’ll spot and then seize on those pivotal moments, using them smartly.

Photo from h.koppdelaney via Flickr

First Impressions—What’s Behind Them? | The Making of Brand Identity

We all know the adage: “You only have one chance to make a first impression.”

The first things we say or do in the company of a recruiter, hiring manager, new boss, coworkers, and customers trigger what they initially think about us. And it sticks.

First impressions are about expectations.

The problem with first impressions is that we don’t always know what’s expected at first meeting. Consequently, what we give off is likely a reflection of what we’re really about.

People reveal a great deal about themselves without even knowing it.

A first impression shows us either an authentic or an artificial self. Our challenge is to figure out what we’re actually seeing.

When we do that effectively, we’re more likely to enter into business relationships that will turn out well. When we don’t, we may get burned along the way.

What do you see? 

I’ve had some memorable first impression moments that were particularly revealing. I’ve categorize each by the personal brand label that I attached at the time. I never had reason to change any of them. What do you see? (I’ve changed the names.)

Ego-centered bully—I met Charlie, the guidance counselor, after I backed into his motorcycle. I’d just finished my job interview at a local high school where I was parked, with two other cars, in a small front lot. It was August.

After the interview I was preoccupied with my thoughts while walking to my car. When I started to back out of the space, I felt something against my rear bumper. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw handle bars falling to the side.

It turns out that I had unknowingly parked in Charlie’s space. To “show me,” he parked his bike with its front tire against my bumper. When I reported the incident to the principal who interviewed me, I was introduced to Charlie, who proceeded to, now verbally, “make his point,” as absurd as it was to me under the circumstances. Right then, I had his brand identity pegged. That was important since I got the job.

Caring professional—Carla wanted to grow her professional practice and  hired me to help her develop a marketing strategy and also focus her employees around her values.

We met at her kitchen table and talked about possible approaches like presentations to professional groups, advertising, public events, networking, and activities for existing clients. We also covered incentives for employees, roundtable discussions, and training.

Everything Carla accepted or rejected was about her clients first. Would the initiative make them feel more or less a part of her practice’s community? Would it make Carla more or less available to serve them? Would it mean the staff would be more connected with clients or not? Carla has never wavered from her values, truly her brand identity. 

Phony manipulator—Brent was a manager in charge of the customer service department’s interface with the IT department. His role was to define system needs and project-manage implementation. I was his new manager. He’d been passed over for the job.

Our first meeting was an opportunity for him to provide an overview of existing and pending projects and for me to “get educated” about his function. He spoke to me in acronyms, vagaries, and system jargon. When I asked about the status of deliverables, priorities, and resources in business terms, Brent’s answers were evasive.

It was clear to me from the get-go that Brent had no handle on the work but knew how to cover that up. His intention was to keep me befuddled, avoid accountability, and manipulate all the players. His first impression with me was consistent with what others told me later. Others had his brand number too.

What’s your experience?

What do you think your first impression is? Is it or isn’t it working for you?

Who has made a lasting first impression on you? What was behind it?

First impressions aren’t trivial things. They are a window into our natures. We can improve them or ignore them. That’s an important choice and our long-term brand identity is built on it.

Photo from Stephan Modry via Flickr