Making the Right Connections? Take a Fresh Look at the Pieces.

Too often we think we’ll find success if we just meet the right people. Sometimes that’s so.

"Hot Dog" limited edition serigraph by John Gaydos

But we can waste a lot of time cozying up to influencers, just to discover that they aren’t interested in doing anything for us.

Our success comes from demonstrating that we know how to connect the dots and get results!

Put the pieces together

We make “right” connections when we come up with ideas that:

  • solve a problem or settle an issue
  • develop a profitable product or service
  • build or improve an essential relationship

They are a function of you, using your insights and initiative, to put the pieces together, in ways that showcase your:

  • Understanding of  business needs
  • Ability to collaborate and/or partner with individuals or groups
  • Problem-solving capabilities and risk-taking tolerances
  • Willingness to take the lead and own outcomes
  • Ability to communicate in ways that attract support and sponsorship

The pieces only fit correctly if you understand what’s needed to make them connect. Think of a jigsaw puzzle and how, if you force pieces together that aren’t a match, you’ll end up with a distorted picture. The same is true at our jobs.

Think of the coworkers where you work who are the go-to people whenever things are out of whack. They’re successful because they take the time to identify the:

  • underlying problem, not just the surface symptoms
  • solution that will get things up and running without causing other problems later
  • strategy for a long-term resolution that minimizes cost and disruption
  • players who need to participate as collaborators and/or partners

Our career value is determined by how willing and effective we are at solving problems by connecting needs and solutions. That recognition can vault our success.

Hot doggin’ it

Last fall, our local, non-profit arts council held its annual fundraiser–an “affordable art for everyone” auction. The executive director in collaboration with one of the board members came up with idea.

They put the pieces together, creating the right connections, collaborations, and partnerships, by:

  • Attracting artists to submit work for a 50-50 sales split, over 200 pieces
  • Securing an “historic” local hot dog eatery as a sponsor and building the event’s theme around it
  • Commissioning a well-known, local painter to create an original piece called “Hot Dog” (which sold for $1,300; needless to say, most other pieces were significantly less!)
  • Attracting a strong bidder turnout and press attention

After the auction, the owners of the hot dog business suggested making a limited edition print of the original painting. Here was a chance to initiate more “right connections.”

Again the executive director and board member put new pieces together by:

  • Securing a fine art printer to create a limited edition serigraph at an affordable price
  • Making arrangements with the artist to partner on the effort
  • Identifying an art business that would mat and frame the piece for an attractive price
  • Engaging other board members and social media followers to promote and/or purchase the print

Making the right connections bonds you with everyone you engage. That’s how you build your own brand, attract followers, and expand your leverage. Each initiative builds on itself in expansive ways.

Finding intersection

Success is not linear. It’s a function of our choices and our ability to know which way to turn when we face an intersection.

The “hot dog” auction and print experience connected a non-profit organization with individual artists trying to make a go of it. It brought about the involvement of a food business, a print maker, and a frame shop along with art fanciers and a gallery owner.

The old image of the path to career success was a ladder. The idea of climbing steps in a row doesn’t work much anymore. It’s all about connecting and arranging opportunities in creative ways to get the job done. Hot dog!

Superstar or Has Been? | Career Tips to Stay On Top

The rush is in the reaching. Ask any athlete whose career is on the rise. Every day is about putting it all out there for the team, the fans, and the games they love. Winning is the driver, the measure of their contribution and achievement.

Their personal value rises when they: 

  • win a championship
  • get selected for the All-Star Team
  • receive Most Valuable Player (MVP) honors 

There’s nothing quite like attaining superstar status, especially in our careers. It’s exciting, often representing the reward for years of struggle and hard work. 

The moment we’re tapped as “best” is when our career life changes. 

The meaning of the moment 

When we’re recognized, we’re elated. We bask in the: 

  • Public recognition of our value
  • Upcoming opportunities to showcase our talents
  • Access to company leaders
  • Deference and/or congratulations from our coworkers 

Our moment passes quickly, though, just like the All-Star Game or that “I’m going to Disney World” TV shot. What follows are new challenges. 

At work superstars are usually considered “comers“—high potential performers and/or  succession plan designees. They’re the company’s MVPs. 

Their status is generally achieved through performance results over time and the endorsement of the leadership, not necessarily in equal measure. 

The bottom line: Someone thinks you have “it” and the company wants to put “it” to the test and benefit from the outcome. 

Sustaining momentum 

Superstar status raises your bar. When a broader audience starts paying attention to you, there’s pressure to perform at a higher level.

 Superstar moments launch new expectations for more and better performance like: 

  • Delivering significant outcomes on more complex projects
  • Assuming greater levels of authority and responsibility
  • Demonstrating tolerance for stress and the ability to perform under fire
  • Engaging effectively with powerful influencers
  • Negotiating with high profile customers or political officials 

You know what happens in sports: Last year’s MVP needs to increase on-field performance or hear about how s/he has declined. This year’s baseball All Star better hit well during the second half of the season or be questioned. 

Once we’re designated as a high potential player at work, if we don’t live up to expectations, we can fall out of favor and see our careers go downhill.

Avoiding “has been-ship” 

It’s difficult to get recognized as a top performer and even harder to sustain it.

In our jobs, success measures combine the objective and the subjective, the concrete and the abstract. But they count just as much as batting averages or yards per carry. 

To keep your superstar status up, these actions are essential: 

Remain relevant—Keep your knowledge, skills, and experiences ahead of the curve by staying up on innovation, politics, economic issues, and industry challenges; Be the voice of “what’s coming”

Maintain strong connections—Leverage is essential; Build, tighten, and expand your relationships in every direction, both inside and outside your company; Create allies and be one

Over-deliver—Make sure the results you and/or your department produce exceed expectations without exceeding costs, always improving the process

Engage employees—The ability to build and sustain a positive, can-do group of employees, engaged in their work, performing professionally, with little drama, and without giving away the store cements your value

Stay in the mix—Be there. Make sure you have a seat at the table. It helps to be likeable, a source of proper levity, and a voice of reason. When decisions don’t feel right to others unless you’ve been consulted, that’s a plus.

 Keep a clear head

 The rarefied air of superstardom at work can muddle our thinking unless we’re careful. Being recognized is important and when we get it, we should enjoy and value it. Our next moves, though, need to be informed and steady. Getting to the top is only the first step. Staying there is often the bigger one. Go for it! 

Photo of Phillies 2011 All-Star pitcher, Cliff Lee, from Matthew Straubmuller via Flickr

The Plague of Office Bullies | Lessons in Leverage

“Where are they now?” Those school yard bullies who’d torment you at recess and those “mean girls” who’d text snarky comments about you.

Chances are they’re someone’s boss or coworker, maybe even yours.

Bullying has become epidemic. 

We’ve all heard about the often terrible consequences of bullying among tweens and teens. Now there’s the suicide of a grown man, already suffering from chronic depression, allegedly bullied to his limit by his boss.

There are endless motivators for bullies and their bullying tactics. The psychology of bullies is for the professionals, but their overarching motivation is to make themselves feel they’re “more” and you feel “less.”

Their weaponry is generally words, particularly criticism of our:

  • Appearance or way of speaking
  • Friends and associates—people we hang around with
  • The way we go about our work and the outcome

They attack who we are and undermine our self-esteem, self-confidence, and credibility.

A bully boss or just a demanding one? 

Some bosses expect a lot from us. They are hard drivers with strict standards of conduct and productivity. They expect us to deliver quality work every time and a lot of it. Does that make them bullies?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my boss clear and consistent about what I’m expected to do?
  • When I make a mistake, does s/he explain how to correct it?
  • Does feedback focus on the work and not on me personally?
  • Do I get both positive and corrective feedback?

“Yes” answers speak to a demanding boss, not a bully. Phew!

But if you answered “no” and have a boss who persists on “hurting” you with his/her words and/or treatment, you likely have a bully on your hands.

Neutralizing the bully at work 

Workplace bullies will try to make you wrong, inferior, powerless, isolated, ostracized, and impotent. They make a habit of undermining your influence, your voice, your associations, and your value.

Neutralizing a bully takes a lot of work on your part. Too often we let the bullying go on too long before we start to pull together an offsetting strategy.

Moving on is always an option. For some people, the emotional effort it takes to counteract a bully just isn’t worth it.

In her Harvard Business Review article, How to Confront an Office Bully,  Cheryl Dolan writes, “Bullying can’t survive in workplaces that won’t support it. Intervention by management is a powerful weapon to reducing bullying in the workplace. Most targets can’t win alone — most bullies will never stop. It’s a complex issue, and intervention often carries consequences. But there are situations where it’s worth the risk, personally and professionally.”

A proactive, intervening management is the ideal but not always the case. As employees, we need leverage. Bullies are less likely to push people around who have more powerful friends.

That’s why it’s important to build a strong “power base” at work. This isn’t about where you are on the organization chart. It’s about how you engage others who will have your back. 

Affiliating with people at every level of the company is a good start. When a critical mass of well-regarded people know you, bullies are less likely to target you. Why? Because they have no idea whether or not you can turn the tables on them.

How this works! 

Let’s say you are an entry level employee with less than a year of service. Here’s how you can start to build leverage:

  • Acknowledge publicly the work of administrative and facilities staff
  • Get to know lots of people in other departments
  • Acknowledge by a short e-mail the accomplishments or promotions of managers and/or executives
  • Build a solid relationship with your boss (hopefully not the bully)

These people become your “following,” able to counter bullies through their own channels when you need them to. Business fitness requires a strong following and the leverage that comes with it. Be strategic. Be careful!

Have you ever been or seen people bullied at work? Will you share your insights about how to contend with it? I’d be grateful!