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.



The Gift of Encouragement—How Generous Are You?

One day you’re setting the world on fire and the next you feel like a complete loser. It seems to happen so fast.   

  • Your old boss loved your work; the new one not so much.
  • You used to navigate software effortlessly; now the new system has scuttled your productivity.
  • The work team once looked to you for leadership, now there’s a new member they’re following. 

You’re not alone. It happens to all of us. 

Perspective matters. 

We’re often our own worst critic, setting expectations for ourselves that are, perhaps, higher than is reasonable. Why? Because we want to: 

  • Excel over others or test our limits
  • Chase rewards like performance ratings, raises, or promotions
  • Measure up to what we’re told is our potential
  • Exceed our prior levels of performance 

These are pressures we create and/or accept for ourselves. This pressure leads to stress that can affect our performance, taking our self-confidence with it. 

The key to a successful career is to avoid the downward spiral of eroding self-confidence. The sorry truth is that you can kill your own self-confidence through negative self-talk, but it’s highly unlikely that you can restore it by giving yourself a pep talk. 

Encouragement as gift 

The beauty of encouragement is that you can re-gift it openly and should. You don’t need to give it back to the person who gave it to you, but you do need to be ready to give it when someone else needs it. 

Lest you think that encouragement really isn’t that important, consider what these two highly successful people have to say. 

Jim Furyk, professional golfer and 2010 PGA Tour Player of the Year, recently played in the 2011 President’s Cup, a tournament that pits a select team of U.S. golfers against an international team. Furyk won all five of his matches, a rare and totally unexpected feat. You see Furyk had just come off, quite possibly, his worst year on the tour. 

Here’s how he summed up his surprising success:

I enjoy the team atmosphere, and knowing Phil [Mickelson] for as many years as I have … I’m guessing he asked to play with me, because …I struggled so much this year and played poorly, probably the worst of anybody that’s sitting up here right now.

So knowing him for as long as I have, being good friends, I assume that he asked to play with me because he felt like he could get a lot out of me this week; that maybe he could help me and pump some confidence into me and get me playing well, and he did that.

You see, we give the gift of encouragement by what we do, not just by what we say, although they can go hand in hand.

Michelle Williams, the actress who plays Marilyn Monroe in the new film, “My Week with Marilyn,” was asked by the Today Show’s, Ann Curry where she got the courage to take on such a daunting role.

…in the beginning I just tried to ignore the risk because I thought if I really contemplated it, it would only stand in my way. 

You could say she wagered her self-confidence on her ability to succeed in that role. But Michelle revealed something else in an earlier interview with Mo Rocca on CBS’s Sunday Morning:

A lot of the time I feel like– I feel like I’m living hand to mouth on people’s compliments. I don’t ask anybody, like, ‘What did you think of that scene?’ or, ‘How did it go?’ or blah, blah, blah, because I get addicted to positive affirmation… There’s just so much uncertainty when you’re making your work, doing your job….

In all, we need credible compliments that encourage us, people to stand by us when we struggle, and the insights of others to help erase our doubt and replace it with optimism.

Give generously 

Encouragement builds on itself. The more we give, the more we attract. We need to make giving it a habit, our way to lift others up. In the process we’ll see our own situations in a brighter light. Please encourage generously.

Photo from lie_inourgraves 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

Disappointment Got You Down? Dig In. Bounce Back.

Things don’t always go our way at work. Sometimes it’s because we haven’t: 

  • Mastered all the skills we need
  • Performed well at the right time
  • Solidified our support system
  • Been realistic about our readiness

That leaves us open to disappointment when we don’t:

  • Get hired for a job we really want
  • Promoted to a position when we believe we’re the best candidate
  • Hear our name mentioned as a key project contributor
  • Get included in issues discussions around our areas of expertise

These letdowns make us feel like we’ve fallen short.  So we:

  • Berate ourselves with a pile of negatives that make us feel worse
  • Let our performance decline by slowing our pace, losing our creative energy, and allowing our drive to wane
  • Give up putting ourselves “out there” for future opportunities
  • Ignore the lessons about what we can do better and how we can bounce back

Everyone gets discouraged. 

We often forget that everyone gets smacked with disappointment. Some hide it well and others make a drama out of it.

The big lesson is that disappointment is the cause of performance decline. Successful people don’t let that decline hang around very long.

Professional sports let you see, literally, how disappointment hurts performance:

I’ve heard Patrick McEnroe, ESPN commentator and former U.S. Davis Cup Team captain, report that losing the first set in tennis often causes a temporary lowering of player performance.

Some professional golfers who have blown leads in major championships fail to make the cut at their next tournament.

Basketball players who miss key shots at the end of tight games will often pass the ball rather than shoot in subsequent games.

It’s about attitude and confidence.

Winners know how to manage disappointment and preserve their confidence. They quickly come to terms with disappointing situations by putting them in perspective. They:

  • Analyze the contributing factors—their knowledge, skill, experience, the environment, situational politics, and/or relationships
  • Examine their choices—what they did and said, their timing, strategy, and plan
  • Consider their expectations—how realistic were they, how appropriate,  how egoistic, and how balanced
  • Weigh the results—how important are they in the short and long-term, what are the implications on their careers, what will it take to get another opportunity

We tend to give our disappointments bigger significance than they deserve. We feed ourselves negative lines like:

  • I’ll never get another shot at that job.
  • I blew that promotion interview, so that hiring manager will never consider me again.
  • I must not have what it takes to succeed in this company.

For some reason, we think we have the inside track on why things aren’t going our way. If that’s you, then here’s your next step:

Ask your boss or HR or your mentor or a trusted coworker what the real issue is. 

Believe it or not, sometimes our expectations aren’t met because of business situations that we simply don’t know about. Things don’t always have to do with us.

In our careers, we can only control what we can control, and that’s our performance. 

You can’t allow your disappointment to cause your productivity to decline, your creativity to slump, or your attitude to darken.

The people in your organization who disappoint you know it. They don’t like it any better than you do. That’s just how things happen in business and in life.

But they do watch how you bounce back from it. Showcasing your can-do, will-do, want-to-do attitude in the face of disappointment is a sign of what you’re made of.

Athletes complete the game no matter how far behind they are. That’s what the crowd pays to see—not quitters who walk off the field of play.

Our employers hire us to work in good times and bad. They expect us to stay in the game with them.

There’s no pride in giving up or beating yourself up when things aren’t working out your way. Instead, show your bounce.

Photo from CJ Isherwood via Flickr

When You’re Guessing, Say So! | Leadership Honesty

Finally! It’s your break-through assignment—the chance to lead a project that breaks new ground.

Leadership alert!  Find out whether that ground is hard or soft, rocky or sandy, dangerous or solid before you go too far. Figuratively speaking, you’re now the company’s excavator. Time to get fitted for your hard hat!

Everyone’s counting on you! 

New initiatives come with high expectations. There’s often a lot of hype and eagerness around a new effort but shaky consensus about:

  • Scope—how big or small it will be
  • Resources—the money, personnel, and time to be invested
  • Impacts—the effects it will have, both positive and negative, over time
  • Deliverables—the reports, analyses, communication, and products
  • Roll out—when the effort will be completed and implemented 

Once you’re designated project leader, all eyes are on you. You will likely start out assembling an in-house team. You may get to hire independent contractors or collaborate with experts within your industry or in higher ed. Every one you assemble is counting on you to lead the way.

The hard realities 

Getting selected to lead a new project team is a major opportunity to demonstrate your capabilities. It broadens your visibility and expands your brand. So you don’t want to blow this!

There’s pressure because it’s a “new” initiative. No one has led a project like this before. There have been other new projects, but not with the parameters you’re expected to meet.

That means you’re on foreign ground. No one knows exactly how this project needs to be done. You can ask advice from others, but ultimately you have to figure out what to do.

This can be a lonely and unnerving spot to be in. 

What’s a Project Leader to do? 

Provide structure, first. Then provide process. That’s the surest way to keep your team going in the right direction and your eye on what is and isn’t getting done.

This is what you need:

  • A “charter” for the project that is approved by whomever is senior to you, stating the scope, owner (you’re the leader), expected outcomes, your decision-making authority, budget, and deadlines
  • A detailed action plan with specific accountabilities for each team member and deadlines
  • A budget and system for tracking expenditures
  • A reporting mechanism for the team and you to use that keeps the project owner and/or company at large informed 

Everything on a project, however, won’t go according to plan. Things get messy and uncertain.

Draw on your team and your honesty

If you pretend you know what to do (when you don’t), then give a directive and are wrong, you will lose the confidence of your team and boss.

This is what has worked for me at a crossroads:

  • Meet with your team and/or the owner of the project.
  • Summarize the options/choices on the table.
  • Describe the “what if” scenarios you’ve considered
  • Ask for their input
  • State the course of action that you have decided is best.
  • Ask once more for input and then act. 

I have always told both my teams and my boss, when it comes to complex new initiatives, that ”I’m making this up as I go along.” I say this because it’s honest, helps manage the expectations of the team, and motivates everyone to do their best to make things work.

Embrace calculated risk-taking

Breaking new ground means developing something that never existed before. No one knows how it will turn out. It’s the tried and true business best practices that help us find our way.

That’s why our business fitness is so important. The seven smart moves give us the insights and the relationships we need face uncertainties and keep moving ahead with confidence, even when we’re unsure! Now fire up that backhoe!

What missteps have you seen that have affected a new project/program? What should have been done? I always love your comments!

Wanted: High Flying Career. Will Work Without a Net! | Risking Failure for Success

High wire acts. Acrobats. Human cannonballs. Circus careers come with big performance expectations and high stakes. The consequences of failure can be dire.

Successful circus performers are masters of precision, flexibility, teamwork, and consistency. They own every move they make for their own good and the safety of others.

Flying through the air on a trapeze with no net below is the measure of a career that you own. When you don’t expect to fail, you’ve arrived.

What’s your act? 

Everyone wants an exciting career:

  • Marketing lead on a big account
  • Editor at a hot shot publication
  • Start up business owner
  • Global account exec
  • Ecotourism director 

What does all this take? Do we just grab a chair and dash into a cage with the Bengal tigers, listening for the roar of the crowd? 

A career is a progression of our work life. It doesn’t just appear. The jobs we take are how we get things started. There are no guarantees that those jobs will add up to a career, particularly one that makes us feel successful. We just give it our best shot.

Risk is the route to reward!

Fear is the death knell for our careers: fear of failure, the boss, new assignments, change, or rocking the boat.

Playing the game to get a raise, promotion, or plum assignment isn’t risk taking. It’s maneuvering within the safe zone.

Career risks are about owning your choices and the consequences of your decisions, good or bad. That’s when you feel the exhilaration of flying through the air without a tether or that proverbial net. That’s when you know you are fully in charge of your career and, perhaps, your life.

Unfortunately, most of us aren’t as brave as those circus aerialists. We make decisions expecting that:

  • If it doesn’t work out, we can rely our parents or spouse to bail us out
  • We can go back to the job we left behind or a prior employer
  • Going back to school will ultimately land us a better job 

We tend not to take risks that will leave us in a helpless heap if we come up short.

What are you willing to wager?

This is the quandary: Because self-preservation is a strong motivator, how do we balance our risk tolerance and our success aspirations?

Start out by being honest about what you want to achieve and why. What will make you really proud of yourself? What choices are you willing to stand up for in spite of the potentially negative reactions of people you care about? What sacrifices are you ready to make?

Look at professional athletes. Many come from backgrounds fraught with struggle and want. So they bet everything on the outside chance they will become big time athletes. If they fail, nothing much changes.

Look at children of privilege who were expected to go into the family business but want to do their own thing instead. That’s what happened with Warren Buffet’s, son, Peter, who became an Emmy Award winning musician his way. If he’d failed, he’d have paid the price on many levels.

Look at William Gates Gill, author of How Starbuck’s Saved My Life, who lost his high-powered marketing job at J. Walter Thompson Advertising. At 63 he took a service job at a Starbuck’s store in New York City because he was down and out. If he failed at that, he was done.

Fold the net…Find the glory!

Career success feels sweetest when you’ve made it your way. Safety nets are often an illusion and can become a prison. Tune out the naysayers who chant: “Girls/guys don’t do that,” “What if this all goes wrong,” “You don’t know what you’re doing.” Think for yourself and about yourself. Don’t fear risk. Embrace it smartly.

When you’re business fit, you’ve thought through the options. You’ve done your due diligence. You know where you’re headed. You’ve inventoried your capabilities. You’re packed and ready to run away to the circus! See you there!

What was the biggest career risk you’ve taken? How did it work out? Can’t wait to hear!

The Job Market’s A Moving Target. How’s Your Aim? | Positioning As Career Strategy

Specialties—they’re everywhere! The more we hear about them, the more excited we get about the prospects. Surely, there’s a way to align our education and training to get a job doing something exciting.

The old days of generalist jobs are waning. Today you can become a forensic accountant, reading specialist, triage nurse, “green” builder, news media blogger, or packaging engineer. The options are intoxicating.

Jobs brand the marketplace.

Jobs tell us about what businesses are trying to make, service, or sell. They need us to do that.

Here’s the rub: Society and its economy are always in flux. When the flux is upward, there’s lots of a business activity and jobs. When it’s down, opportunity shrinks. 

We select careers with an optimistic view of the future. Sometimes our decisions are based on what “has always been” or “is now.” Other times they’re about “what’s on the horizon” or “what could be.” In any event, we select our academic majors, our internships, our craft apprenticeships, and our starting jobs based on our interests and our “best guess” about what the marketplace will need.

Options are not opportunities. 

Here’s the challenge: Whether you are just entering the job market or making a transition, even though there are lots of ways to apply what you know, the marketplace is short on openings. That leaves many talented employee prospects in limbo.

A career strategy that doesn’t weigh career options with employment opportunities is short-sighted. Those who are business fit are business savvy. That means looking at the job market through the eyes of a business professional, a marketplace analyst, and a futurist, not as a job seeker.

Align your expectations with marketplace realities. 

Most people talk about wanting a job. I suggest we should want a position instead. A job is about tasks. A position is about vantage point. The vast majority of employees don’t land the job of their dreams at first. We’re not supposed to. To start we need to position ourselves in a business or industry with growth potential, in a job we can perform well, and then attract increased opportunity so we can expand ourselves.

Positioning is about making strategic moves to advance our careers. It protects us from being on the outside looking in as the business landscape changes.

At minimum I see four categories of careers:

1. “Old reliables”—Established careers like sales, education, police, politician, plumber, and electrician 

2. “Newbies”—Emerging careers like green technologies, health information technology, home stager, simulation developer, and emergency management.

3. “Off and running”—Evolving careers producing families of jobs in areas like electronics, health care, program analysis, and engineering

4. “New horizons”—Uncharted waters that may be a source of future careers in areas like medical, space, and oceanic research, climate change, and food production

Depending on where these career sources are in their own cycles, they are either sustaining, eliminating, increasing, replacing, or innovating jobs that need us.

We need to watch where we aim. 

It’s important to keep shooting for the career that bring the best out in us. But it makes no sense to shoot wildly. We need to understand that the target is moving, so we need to move with it. That’s why it’s important to position yourself to use the shifting and changing marketplace to your advantage.

You may start in an “old reliable” job and see an opportunity to align with one of the “newbies.” Or you may land in an “off and running” career that is so innovative that you find yourself contributing to a “new horizon.” Just remember to keep your eye on the target, the career you want, and position yourself to make the right connections. A little patience will serve you well too!

How have you been able to position yourself to make a good career move? Did you have obstacles to overcome? How did you handle that?