Mistakes Are Career Assets. Capitalizing on Yours?

Mistakes are vital to success. They’re the fuel, the awakenings, and the pathways to achievement.

Each mistake is an aha moment, some more painful or illuminating than others.

You need your mistakes to keep moving ahead, to get better, to reach your goals. Embrace them to extract the most benefit.

Asset building

Most of us hate making mistakes. The worst are the ones we get called out on, the ones everyone knows about, and those that make us look inept. Me too.

Our mistakes have an uncanny ability to put us in a strangle hold that’s difficult to shake off. Mistakes sap our:

  • Self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Desire to try again
  • Feelings of self-worth and self-belief
  • Optimism about the future

In reality, our mistakes aren’t the culprit. We are.

We’re the ones who give negative power to our mistakes when we:

  • Inflate their significance (This will haunt me my whole career.)
  • Attribute dire consequences (I could get fired because of this.)
  • Beat ourselves up (I am such a loser.)
  • Feel beaten (I just don’t have the talent for this work.)

Most of us over blow our gaffs at work. Making mistakes, though, is something we have in common with each of our coworkers, and even our bosses. No one is immune.

The old adage is true: If you aren’t making mistakes at work, then you aren’t doing anything.

Mistakes are a sign that you’ve taken action toward the results you’re being paid for. No one thinks you’re trying to make mistakes. So when you do, let it be known that you’ve learned something.

Few of us make mistakes that are catastrophic. Most of them are more like atmospheric disturbances than category 4 hurricanes.

A mistake pinpoints a situation-based skill or awareness level missing in your arsenal.

When you make a mistake, you need to figure out:

  • What it was
  • What caused it
  • How to correct it
  • How to avoid it in the future

Each mistake gives you the chance to expand your capabilities, savvy, and confidence– career assets with a real future pay off.


Instead of fearing mistakes, learn to accept and embrace them. The mistakes most detrimental to your career are the ones you keep making under the same circumstances. So you need to avoid being a recidivist.

Believe it or not, most bosses are encouraged when they see you turn a mistake into a learning moment, followed by efforts to improve.

Here are some typical mistakes and how to capitalize on them:

  1. Performance errors–You make an error setting up a spreadsheet, making key metrics unreliable. A coworker catches it. You see where you goofed and quickly come up with a better control that you share with your boss. Your credibility is restored.
  2. Relationship misreads–You put your confidence in a hard-driving coworker to complete an important part of the project you’re leading. When you ask for the status, you’re told all is well. You accept that, but when the deadline arrives, her part is incomplete. You admit to your boss that you never asked her for specifics and that you learned how not to be caught this way again.
  3. Naiveté–You volunteer to serve as acting supervisor for your work group while your boss is on leave. You’ve attended supervisory training, know the work, and believe you have leadership skills. Soon you realize your coworkers aren’t accepting you as their supervisor. Interpersonal issues arise and the work erodes. When your boss returns, you debrief him, explaining what you’ve learned and your plan to improve.

Don’t hide

It’s tempting to want to hide from your mistakes, but that only devalues them and erodes your integrity. Admitting and owning your mistakes is the first step to capitalizing on their value.

When your coworkers and boss understand that you see mistakes as the way that you improve, they’ll be inclined to help you.

Owing your mistakes sets a powerful example that doubles their asset value, turning them into real career capital.

Is Amazing Performance Really Amazing? What to Do About Meaningless Words.

Have you noticed how amazing everyone is these day? If not, just listen.

Somehow we’ve become surrounded by all these amazing people who do amazing work with amazing colleagues in amazing places during these amazing times.

Someone may be saying that you’re amazing too.

By definition, to be amazing means one needs to affect others with great wonder, to astonish. That means creating great surprise or marvel (yes, marvel).

That’s a tall order like a Starbuck’s Frappuccino Grande with whipped cream. Amazing or simply as ordered?

Reality or hyperbole?

What we do and how we do it characterizes our performance. Our bosses and coworkers form opinions and express them, sometimes to each other, to you, or on your performance appraisal.

The words they use might be fact-based or baseless assumptions. Sometimes people just say anything to fill in conversational space–no words of value extended.

We’re all prone to exaggerate at times, especially when we’re enthusiastic about something.

Hyperbole is a figure of speech that uses exaggeration for emphasis or effect. You might use it when you:

  • Announce a new hire: “She’s the answer to all our fears about the new app.
  • Give performance feedback: “You carried the whole group on your shoulders this year.
  • Announce a promotion: “Jack out-maneuvers any crisis.”

Hyperbole only has effect when it has context. Saying, “We hired Mary who is amazing and promoted Jack who is also amazing and have you to thank for your amazing performance,” leaves us with no real information about them.

Word power

We need the right words to communicate what we mean because without them we end up adrift. At work we need clear words so we:

  • know what to do and how to do it
  • understand if we’re doing things correctly or not
  • remain motivated to keep growing

Words comes from outside and within, defining us and our world. Words have real, undeniable power.

Sometimes, though, we get ourselves in situations where we:

  • don’t know what to say
  • are caught off guard
  • forgot what we planned to say
  • don’t care about the issue or person

Of late, when people are caught short, they just say: “He or she or it was amazing.” (If you don’t believe me just listen to a talk show, the news, ads, an interview, your friends, or yourself. Consider counting the “amazings” in your day.)

Answers like “amazing” (or “This is crazy or nuts or awesome.”) are equally part of the workplace.

An amazing recovery

Empty words create malnourished communication. In a marketplace where you need to standout to be discovered, you need to speak and write using words that mean something.

When everything is said to be amazing, suddenly nothing is or can be. When everyone is amazing, nothing differentiates one from the other.

To believe that we are continually amazing becomes delusional. Praise words and laudatory phrases are wonderful. They become an issue when the words don’t come with context.

If I’m amazing at work, then in what ways do I astonish:

  • Do I get more accomplished in a day than my coworkers?
  • Do I produce fewer errors?
  • Have I achieved a standard of customer satisfaction performance that exceeds goals?
  • Do I work more calmly under stress than most?

No one performs at the top of their game all the time. So when you’re not creating wonder, you have skills and behaviors to work on. That’s how you grow and continue to raise the bar.

Amazing is rarefied air, breathed briefly under special conditions, so you must keep reaching.

Let’s fix this.

Words are power tools. Communication is enriched by those who use words to convey what they mean, not to fill space with empty sounds.

If you want to distinguish yourself, commit to using language that delivers insights, ideas, perspectives, viewpoints, and feedback clearly. I’ve stricken “amazing” from my vocabulary for now. I don’t want to sound like the echo of our times. Like you, I want to sound like myself.

Here One Day…Then? Accepting Self-confidence As a Work in Progress

We know it when we feel it. When it’s in our grip, we soar. When it leaves us in the lurch, we land hard.

Self-confidence, by definition, is:

  • Being sure of your own abilities
  • Trusting those abilities
  • Having faith in them
  • Feeling assured you really have them

Self-confidence is in our heads. It’s the way we assess ourselves and decide if we’ve met expectations–our own and others.

Every day, readers find their way to my posts on self-confidence using search phrases like:

  • I’ve lost my self-confidence and I don’t know why (or I do).
  • I need help getting my self-confidence back.
  • No matter what I do, I can’t find self-confidence.

I get it: I’ve uttered those words myself.

It’s universal.

Everyone struggles to build and maintain self-confidence.

The way we see ourselves changes. The way we process feedback changes the way we see ourselves. New experiences test our abilities either adding to or detracting from our self-confidence.

It’s a moving target which makes maintaining self-confidence a work in progress.

Most of us don’t like that. We want our self-confidence to be a constant, something we can draw on anytime like a fat bank account. But that would take the growth factor out of living and working.

We can’t grow and get better if we’re all comfy about our self-confidence. We need to be kept off balance a bit, so we will push ourselves.

Consider this:

No matter how accomplished someone is–how famous, how rich, and how long they’ve been on top–loss of self-confidence will occur time and again.

So when our self-confidence sinks, we need to stop all the woe-is-me talk and get cracking.

The only real way to build or restore your self-confidence  is to act, to keep doing whatever will re-energize your belief in yourself.

You may have to turn to family, friends, and/or advisers to get you thinking more positively, but in the end, it’s about you getting busy.

Famed country singer and actress, Dolly Parton, after a meteoric early career, had to face an unsuccessful movie, tensions with big players in the industry, and the loss of her personal support system (long time friends who were moving on with their own lives.) She felt alone and became unglued.

She wrote in her autobiography, Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business:

I collapsed. It seemed that all my support systems had disappeared. The very foundation of all my beliefs had been shaken. The dreamy little kid from the mountains had become a fat, disillusioned, hopeless woman.

She stopped singing, playing guitar, and writing. She felt that people had given up on her because they thought she’d lost her drive. After some lengthy, painful soul-searching, she snapped out of it, writing:

It’s okay to think that about Dolly Parton, but better not stand in the road in front of her. I was about to come roaring back.

Self-confidence is a commitment to yourself, no matter if the cards seem stacked against you or how you were raised.

Oscar-nominated actor Bruce Dern, a veteran of over 80 films, revealed on ABC’s Live with Kelly & Michael, that as a child he was considered, by his parents, so uninteresting that he had to raise his hand at the dinner table in order to speak.

Dern clearly found a way to build his self-confidence anyway.

What to do?

When your self-confidence flags, you might follow these steps to reinvigorate it:

  • Figure out what caused its decline (Answer: who, what, when, where, how)
  • List prior achievements that initially built your self-confidence; internalize them.
  • Commit to being optimistic.
  • Recommit to patterns of behavior and actions that brought prior success
  • Learn and adopt new approaches that make sense.
  • Keep working, participating, and putting yourself out there.
  • Build momentum, assess your progress, make mid-course corrections, and keep going.

Self-confidence comes from building your capabilities and doing things successfully

As people, we are all a work in progress, and our self-confidence is our engine. Get ready to rev it up!


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.

How Careers Build from a “Small Bang” | Vital Pivotal Moments

Business is focused on ends—results, outcomes, the bottom line, and competitive advantage. We are too. 

For us, salary, raises, perks, and promotions are standard measures of how our careers are going. 

Ends always follow beginnings somewhere back in time. Today’s results can be the product of multiple starting-point events that affected us and others. 

The “small bang”   

Pivotal moments create the small bang. Without our knowing it, we will come face-to-face with choices that represent turning points. The right choices mean smooth sailing. The wrong ones make for a rough ride or dead ends. 

Pivotal moments are often sudden and somewhat mysterious. They may come from: 

  • Something you hear that sticks with you
  • Someone you meet who opens a path
  • An act you complete with surprising results, approval, or insight
  • An event that unfolds around you, giving you a sense of cause 

Each moment feels like a small bang in your awareness, a sudden awakening that gets your attention. They are starting points that ultimately lead you to the ends, hopefully, that you want. 

Periscopes up! 

Pivotal moments are missed unless you’re watching for them. The more distracted you are by the noise and activity around you, the more likely you are to let those small bangs to fade into the ether. 

Pivotal moments pop up in all situations: 

Libya: The first rebel action (pivotal moment) in Libya ultimately led to liberation (result) from 42 years of tyranny under Col. Qaddafi. His recent death (pivotal moment) committed the Libyans to now “work hard on democracy so their kids can take it for granted?” (result).  (This quote is from CBS Sunday Morning, October 23, 2011.) 

Tim Tebow: A standout college quarterback, the much-hyped Tebow, now a rookie, pro quarterback for the Denver Broncos, is considered by many as having questionable capabilities. On October 23, after a come-from-behind fourth quarter and then overtime (pivotal moments), Tebow got a win (result.) If his career takes off, this game will likely be considered a major turning point.

Business Owner’s Widow: After years of back-office work in her husband’s water drilling business, Patricia became a widow and heir to the company. Instead of selling, as most expected, she took the reins (pivotal moment), dealt tough personnel issues, weathered the recession, made hard business decisions, and kept the business profitable (result).

Struggling Manager: Paul took over a dysfunctional department. Lacking the necessary management skills, he found himself in a quagmire. His boss threatened to fire him if things didn’t turn around. He decided to get some coaching help (pivotal moment) from me that enabled him to resolve the issue, putting him back in management’s good graces (result). 

I’ve had my share of pivotal moments too, many of which have led to unexpected career opportunities: 

A phone call: After weeks of vet visits for my ailing dog, I got a call from my veterinarian frantically asking me if I could help him with a staff problem since he knew I was a corporate manager. I said I would (pivotal moment) and it led to the start of my consulting practice (result).

A chance outing:  While at an expo for horse enthusiast’s, a friend and I met a vendor selling equine art. We asked each other about doing the same and the answer was “yes” (pivotal moment). It led to a business venture that lasted for a decade (result).

A presentation: As a fledging project leader, I was required to deliver a ground-breaking proposal to executive management (pivotal moment). The success of the presentation and the project boosted my professional credibility, becoming the foundation for my career growth (result). 

Take stock. 

Your pivotal moments are the stepping-stones on your Yellow Brick Road. They are the markers, the clues, and the turning-point moments that propel you forward or, unfortunately, sometimes backward. 

We all need to pay attention to the “small bangs” that come our way that signal opportunity, change, and/or insights. It’s often the little things that create the momentum that propels our careers. Keep your antennae up, okay? 

Photo from Katri Niemi via Flickr

Take the Plunge With a Little Help From New Friends! | Building Comfort Outside the Zone

Surprise: A new look—because it was time! Here’s why. 

Twelve months ago I faced up to the fact that I was missing the boat. Every day it seemed I was somehow falling behind. I wasn’t exactly sure why: I just felt out of it! 

Commentary about social media was everywhere and, even though I’d been on LinkedIn, I’d never moved forward. 

So I took the plunge. Feeling brave, I set up Facebook and Twitter accounts back to back. It was pathetic: I had no idea what I was doing.

What continues to amaze me is the generosity and welcoming nature of people I meet this way. I’m especially grateful to these patient supporters and mentors who reached out early on. 

Talent to lean on 

It’s one thing to have expertise and another to be willing to share it:  Enter Cindy Ratzlaff (@BrandYou), author of Queen of Your Own Life, social media expert and new friend. Cindy taught me social media do’s and don’ts and how things actually worked. 

After meeting with Cindy, I lured my then social media neophyte friend, Cherry Woodburn (@CherryWoodburn), at Borderless Thinking to come along for the ride. We burned up our phone lines trying to figure out how to set up pages and settings, gleefully sharing “aha” moments. 

When people started to follow me, I was both nervous and amazed. I wasn’t sure where any of this was heading and didn’t want to offend anyone. (Gosh, a gaff on Twitter could go viral, I worried, until I realized I needed to be really famous for that!) 

One day I got a lovely, welcoming tweet from Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter (@ValueIntoWords) at Career Trends that began a relationship of mutual support and genuine caring. Jacqui invited me into her circle and the wonderful folks in it. 

Then there was Joe Lavelle (@ActAsIfSite) consultant and author of Act As If It Were Impossible to Fail, who faithfully tweeted my blog posts for weeks because he liked them. Soon we became owners and proponents of each other’s books.

In time,  my Facebook and Twitter followers gave me the courage to take my next plunge: My quest to find comfort in a new zone! 

Blogging, here I come! 

Getting started as a blogger was really scary for me. Even though I’d written a published book, the fact that a blog opened me up to immediate feedback was pretty unnerving. I’m actually very private by nature, so “being out there” was (and still is) a struggle for me. 

That said, writing this blog has been an amazing experience, thanks to you. I wrote my first post in December 2009: This is my 90th. In that first month, there were 189 readers; this month there will be over 1,400—more than 8,000 hits in 11 months. It both humbles and motivates me. 

I keep finding new and wonderful bloggers to follow. (I have a hard time keeping my blogroll current!) Each one helps me get better.

It was a special moment to be invited to guest post for Jennifer Gresham (@JenGresham) at Everyday Bright. Her coaching helped me deliver a post that attracted over 100 readers. How kind was that! 

This month I was invited to set up a blog at Toolbox for HR (@ToolboxHR) where human resource professionals share ideas, experiences, and best practices. More great people to meet! 

Staying outside the comfort zone 

I’ve made a career of reinventing myself, so hopefully this blog will evolve too. “Business fitness,” a metaphor I use to build awareness of the importance of coupling business savvy with what we’re passionate about, drives my thinking. It’s time for me to write some blogs on what “business fitness” is and how you can become more business fit yourself. I hope they will be helpful. 

I love writing for you and hearing your voice through your comments. So please participate. There’s nothing better for me than a little help from new (and old) friends! 

What it is that you like best about other blogs that you read? What suggestions can you give me to make mine better? Many thanks!

Who’s Got Your Back? You Need to Know!| The Essential Internal Network

You’ve got a decent job, a reasonable boss, and nice co-workers. You do good work, get good performance evaluations, and don’t make waves. All’s well, right? Well, maybe not.

Businesses are volatile places. The good times and the bad times don’t last forever, but a lot can happen during those transitions. No job is guaranteed to last, so getting comfy in your daily work routine isn’t a good strategy.

It’s not about “who you know” but “who knows you.” 

Relationships are the underpinning of successful careers.

Businesses are transactional. When there’s a nod in your favor, it means that your work benefits both the nodder (your manager) and the business. More often than not, the first thing noticed about you is your work style, attitude, and ability to collaborate. The work you produce comes next. When both are good, you attract the attention you want.

If, however, your visibility is minimal, your chance for growth is stymied. (Unfortunately, there are some supervisors who like to keep talented employees under the radar for their own selfish purposes.) So it’s important to become known outside of your work group.

Relationships are your lifeline. 

Productive relationships move your forward and draining ones slow you down. So it’s important to find people who share your work values and commitments. Then form a proper business relationship and become mutually supportive.

Nothing beats having well-regarded people in other departments talking about their positive experiences with you. Nothing beats advanced notice or insights into upcoming changes courtesy of your connections. Nothing beats someone tipping you off that there’s a problem afoot that involves you.

Why would your connections want to do that for you? Because they value what you bring to the company and to them.

People have your back because they recognize that you are committed, caring, smart, helpful, dependable, ethical, and reliable. They want and need you in their midst because people like you keep the business going.  

A strong internal network is your success ticket.

Internal networking is not about making a list of people to meet and then checking their names off when you’ve met them. It’s about connecting with other people who can expand your understanding of the business. Ultimately, what you offer each other is broader insight into “what’s really going on” around you.

You need to be strategic about the way you build your internal network:

  • Start by looking at the work you’re accountable for and ask yourself, “What insights am I lacking? Who can help me fill in the blanks?”
  • Then write down the questions or discussion items that you’d like to talk about with specific people outside your work group.
  • Arrange for a time to talk to each person.
  • Commit to how you will follow up and keep the dialogue going. 

Here’s what can result from those conversations over time:

  • Deeper insights into how the business operates and its challenges
  • Understanding of the pressures and problems stirring in other departments
  • The inside track about changes, new initiatives, and competitive opportunities
  • A wholistic perspective on issues facing the company
  • The possibility of attracting a mentor for yourself 

Where does this get you? 

Internal networking demonstrates that you care about the company as a whole, not just the interests of your work group. Your efforts to get a handle on the big picture, your appreciation for work done in other areas, and your desire to use your talents to make the right things happen will make you a standout.

Business fitness means staying connected (a private move) and attracting a following (a public move). Internal networking gets you both and a great group of people who will now know you in the best way. It’s a thing of beauty!

Have you tried internal networking? How has it worked for you? Any tips to share?