4 Ways Distraction Threatens Your Career | Fight Back

Distracted? Never, you claim, always fully tuned in, just multitasking.

It’s a popular self-deception. We’re all guilty to a degree.

Research has long debunked the notion of multitasking, our claim of being engaged in multiple things (aided by our digital tools) at the same time.

We’ve just become compulsive about requiring our brains to toggle between one thought or awareness and another. The faster we do it, the more we self-approving we become.

Faster makes winners, right? Until, there’s a wreck.

Distraction as enemy

Keeping up with the pace of change and career demands is wearying. So many swirling expectations and so little clarity about what really matters…to our progress.

We take a stab at one thing and then another, often deciding what’s important based upon what others are or seem to be doing or that text, post, news flash, or broadcast email we receive. Our biggest challenge at work is figuring out what matters and what doesn’t.

If you let yourself become distracted by all the inputs that come your way, you’ll more than likely spin your wheels and find yourself stuck in an ever-deepening rut.

You need to separate distraction from meaningful direction. That starts with recognizing how certain distractions can hurt you.

When distractions run amok, they can become:

  1. Career saboteurs–Success at work is about staying focused on the tasks at hand, providing updates to your boss, and working collaboratively with coworkers. When distractions caused by extraneous inputs obstruct your focus and productivity, your career will take a hit.
  2. A safety hazard–Inattentiveness is one of the main causes of accidents in the workplace. You don’t want to get hurt on the job and companies are upset when you do. When distracted, we slip, trip, and fall…or worse…whether we work in an office or outside. Distractions take make us vulnerable.
  3. Relationship eroders–Most of us want to matter at work…to our coworkers, bosses, and customers/clients. People you interact with want your undivided attention as much as you want theirs. Distractions that you respond to while with a colleague screams, “You aren’t more important to me than….” [fill in the blank…this text, email, person who caught my eye]. You may not get much future support from those you make feel less important.
  4. Confidence drains–Distractions interrupt your thought processes, often introducing extraneous points of view, declarations, positions, and news that derail insights that are uniquely yours. Your ideas lose momentum and you start to question their value and relevance. When distractions steer your thinking off course, you put your hard-earned self-confidence at risk.

Be on guard

There’s a relentless onslaught of information coming at you, often causing confusion and clutter in your life. You necessarily must be able to separate the useful from the useless, engaging in a a kind of distraction due diligence.

You need to take charge of the world around you, avoiding the tendency to follow the herd. This means you should:

  • Stop second-guessing what you believe is important to your career success
  • Refuse to fear being wrong, out-shined, or outplayed by others; instead just do what you do best
  • Be willing to differentiate yourself by showcasing your talents and commitment to quality work
  • Expect to be seen and heard, not to be kept faceless and at arm’s length
  • Build meaningful relationships with colleagues that mirror what you want from them

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is a guarantee that you will. It’s impossible to be in tune with everything that’s going on around you. Most of it doesn’t matter to your career plan anyway.

What you don’t want is to miss out on the relationships, creative sharing, emerging insights, and depth of thought/experience that comes from focused engagement with the people you work with.

Resist with courage

It takes courage to resist distractions, especially when you’re surrounded by others addicted to them. Distractions become a cop out, an excuse for putting off decisions, completing work, and reaching out to others. It’s time to fight back.

Being busy being busy is the road to nowhere. Beat the traffic and take the undistracted route.

 

 

Getting Your Head Around Supervising–Episode #5 | Boundary Mistakes

“What are the boundary mistakes that supervisors make and how do you fix them?” That’s the question I left you with at the end of Episode # 4.

By: Ludo

A boundary is border or a limit. At work, boundaries are about acceptable behaviors that ensure:

  • Work gets done the right way
  • Individuals are treated with respect
  • Policies and practices are followed consistently
  • Employees conduct themselves courteously, professionally, and ethically
  • The work environment is safe

Boundary setting and implementation are the job of every supervisor. It’s how you create a work environment where each employee has the opportunity to shine.

All kinds of problems arise when supervisors falter on boundary setting. Here are some typical mistakes to avoid.

Mistake 1: Boundary Abdication

The worst mistake is to abdicate your responsibility to establish and communicate clear boundaries.

When you don’t set boundaries, your employees will create their own and become self-supervising.

Consider this example:

A client of mine inherited a work group that had worked without behavioral boundaries for years. Several of her direct reports had previously repackaged their job duties to meet their own interests. They followed their own timetables for completing assignments, worked with whom they pleased and shunned others, and built allies in the company who believed they were following their supervisor’s lead. When my client implemented her boundaries, the workplace culture got on the right track in time.

A workplace without clear boundaries soon becomes dysfunctional.

Mistake 2: Moving Target Boundaries

 Boundaries need to be consistent to be effective.

Consider this:

Anita is about five minutes late for work every day because she has to drop her child off at day care. Her supervisor lets this go, believing that it represents his support of women with children.

Charlie works with Anita. He’s five minutes late a couple times a week because, when he goes out with his buddies, he has a hard time getting up the next morning. The supervisor says nothing to Charlie but eventually writes that Charlie’s “often late for work” on his performance review. Charlie complains to HR, knowing Anita had been given a pass.

At work, late is late. So the boundary needs to be punctuality for all, because punctuality is about dependability and having all employees available for work.

Anita needs to set her alarm earlier and so does Charlie. Their live style choices outside of work aren’t the issue. Their commitment to getting to work on time is.

Mistake 3: Access Boundaries

 A supervisor’s boundaries may turn to mush when certain employees feel like friends and it’s hard to say, “No,” to them.

If, as the supervisor, you’ve asked your employees to make an appointment with you when they have an idea to present or an issue to discuss, that means everyone. If your “friends” are allowed to pop into your office anytime, even just to joke around, while others are required to make an appointment, then it’s clear that your boundaries are for some but not all.

It doesn’t take much to create division, even clicks, in a work group. No-favorites boundaries help avoid that.

Mistake 4: Death-Grip Boundaries

 Some supervisors are so unnerved by the potential unpredictability of employees that they set boundaries so tight around every conceivable situation that they squeeze the motivation out of their employees. Fear of loss of control can create a death-grip.

Instead of boundaries, these supervisors create endless hard-and-fast rules that become barriers to initiative and innovation. These insecure supervisors put employees in a vise and, in time, negative fallout and poor results will show.

Aids not obstacles

Effective supervising means adapting to conditions. That’s what makes setting boundaries so difficult in a rapidly changing workplace.

Supervision is as much art as it is method. Good supervisors understand their employees as individuals and as a team, creating boundaries that are aids and not obstacles. Often that starts with getting a good read on who your employees are and what they need.

So how do good supervisors get a correct read on their employees? We’ll tackle that question in Episode #6.

 

Feeling Left Out and Don’t Know Why? Turn Things Around. | Reaching Out

It can’t be avoided but we don’t want it to last.

It’s that feeling of being disconnected, conspicuous, and self-conscious whenever we’re plunked in workplace situations with people who don’t know us. It can happen when we:

  • join a new work group
  • participate in a cross-functional meeting
  • attend an industry conference
  • go to our first company party
  • become part of a new project team

The sooner we feel accepted the better. For some it’s easy but not for others. Feeling excluded  can drag us down and stall our careers.

The “why” of it

We can usually sense that we’re being left out by theses clues:

  • Blatant exclusion — being uninvited to meetings, ignored, ostracized, bypassed
  • Disregard– repeated rejection of input, unacknowledged communication, impolite treatment
  • Avoidance–unwillingness of colleagues to interact, collaborate, or talk with us

The reasons for being left out are many, so it helps to figure out enough so we can try to turn things around.

Generally, exclusion (temporary or permanent) may be the result of some discomfort  our colleagues feel because of our:

  • physical appearance (size, shape, gait, dress, race)
  • sound (accent, tone of voice, pace of speaking)
  • background (ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic group)
  • career specialty (techie, scientist, writer, hands-on worker)
  • reputation (climber, flirt, trouble-maker, boaster, truth-bender)

When  colleagues make us feel left out, their reasons are as much a commentary about them as us. The difference is that we’re the ones who feel the pain.

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, especially at work, since company culture, work demands, and personalities create unique pressures.

Whether what others think about us is fair or correct isn’t the focus. It’s what we’re going to do to correct misconceptions and build positive perceptions that make us an accepted and valued part of the team.

What to do.

Once we have an inkling about the barriers to our being included, we need to shrink them.

It’s easy to be resentful and have a chip on your shoulder. When you do, it makes matters worse.

The reality is that we’re all capable of being excluders, even when while we’re being excluded.  It happens when:

  • We don’t know how to include someone we don’t know well; our tongues get tied and our feet stuck.
  • No one else in the work group has yet made a move, so the ice is not yet broken for us.
  • We’re uncertain about how connecting will affect us one-on-one and as part of the team.
  • There is a fear that our overture will be rejected, misread, or misused.

Inclusion at work is an investment in a relationship. When it’s positive, everyone wins; if not, then the price can be dear. That’s why coworkers are often careful or unwilling to step forward.

Take the pledge.

Healthy, productive organizations need everyone to feel valued. Anyone who feels left out is likely to perform below par, lack motivation to grow, and experience career disappointment.

Supervisors who fail to create inclusive work groups risk escalation of unwanted behaviors that slowly poison the operation.

Each of us is responsible for contributing to a fully inclusive work environment, even when we’re feeling excluded. That’s the big challenge.

We all need to pledge that we’ll extend a hand to a coworker who may feel left out. It’s about doing simple things:

  • Greet him warmly when your paths cross
  • Invite her to join in a discussion, meeting, or event
  • Talk with him about his work
  • Share news that she might have missed
  • Volunteer to work with him on an assignment
  • Commit to kindness

If you are feeling excluded now or if you have been excluded in the past, please pledge to take these small steps. They are a path to inclusion over time that will also benefit you.

Our career success is a product of what we do and how we do it. Remember those who reached out to you along the way and please pay it forward where you work.

5 Supervisor Mistakes That Can Breed Employee Backlash

Supervision is a game of chance. Winning or losing often depends on how you treat your employees. Are you:Back to the Drawing Board

  • Fair or double-dealing
  • Honest or hypocritical
  • Aware or clueless
  • Self-serving or an advocate

Attract too many negative labels and you may breed employee backlash–often the death knell of a supervisor’s career.

Emerging signs  

Managing the range of employee expectations is a daunting challenge. Supervisors who tune out employees will soon find themselves dealing with unwanted and unexpected behavior.

Suddenly, some or all employees:

  • Stop giving input at meetings
  • Grumble consistently about assignments
  • Become de-energized and less productive
  • Challenge policies
  • Complain to others about you
  • Resist your direction, overtly or covertly

You know the situation is serious when you observe these signs in your best employees.

Supervisors often unknowingly generate backlash when they see their management style through their lens only. A supervisor’s job is a juggling act. Upper management, customers, and suppliers often create an engulfing noise can make a supervisor deaf to the voices and needs of their employees.

Sadly, there are also many supervisors who, for some reason, are uneasy with their own employees. When that’s the case, they tend to go into hiding, in a sense.  They may stay in their offices, quote policy instead of owning their decisions, and/or take inflexible positions on the way work is done.

Communicate without fear.

Supervisors make their own trouble with employees when they don’t communicate what they do and why.

Many feel that if they say the wrong thing, they’ll get themselves cornered with employees down the road. But saying nothing only plants the seed for future conflict and backlash.

Here are six typical mistakes that supervisors make and how to avoid them:

  1. Making a knee-jerk decision. Just because an employee wants an immediate decision doesn’t mean that you must give one, especially when you have several implications to consider. Instead, say that you want to give the request more thought with a decision forthcoming at a specific time. Then make sure you deliver it.
  2. Taking a defensive position when challenged. Employees who question your decisions give you an opportunity to educate them about the needs and direction of the business. Your logic and insights help to expand theirs. If their questions cause you to rethink your position, then they’ve done you a favor and have created a special professional bond.
  3. Being dismissive about employee input–Your employees are your team; they make or break your ability to succeed as a supervisor. Treating their input as insignificant builds a wall that can create animosity. Employee input is gold. It helps you understand expectations that you need to manage and can provide ideas that can lead to important improvements that everyone benefits from.
  4. Avoiding face-to-face conversation–There is nothing more alienating to employees than a supervisor who is invisible, distant, and unapproachable. When employees feel disconnected from their bosses, their loyalty bond is likely to be weak. Supervisors need to be real by being present, eyeball-to-eyeball–not text-to-text.
  5. Continuously quoting policies and procedures–Supervisors need to own their decisions to engender respect. Too many supervisors don’t want to make decisions that they may need to defend, so they quote a policy instead Policies and procedures set foundations and parameters but they aren’t recipes. Supervisors need to apply policies in ways that meet their intent. Employees expect you to take actions that deliver the right results in ways that support them..

Be there.

Being upfront puts supervisors in a position to create respect and confidence in employees. No employee believes that their boss will be right all the time. They just need to feel connected.

Supervisors who communicate with their employees, who are honest about what they do and don’t know, and who can be trusted to do what they say, will create the kind of relationship employees need–one that will hold up in good times and rough ones.

Photo from gever tulley via Flickr

Ingredients for Becoming the Complete Executive–Fold Together and Serve

It’s hard to resist the opportunity to sample secret sauce ingredients for executive success. So, when invited, I was happy to taste the morsels in Karen Wright’s new book, The Complete Executive: The 10-Step System for Great Leadership Performance, and share some of them here.

Everyone wants them–recipes for fixing things like:

  • Problem employees
  • Broken work methods
  • Complaining customers
  • Stalled careers

Recipes work when we’re cooking: The same combination of ingredients produces the same outcome each time. It’s different,though, when we’re trying to put together the right behaviors to produce career success.

Invest in good ingredients.

Careers grow when we combine the right ingredients in the right way at the right time, folding them together until they blend to meet expectations.

Our career goals may be either modest or bold. Achieving them means understanding the knowledge, skills, and experiences (the ingredients) required and then systematically assembling them.

In her new book, The Complete Executive: The 10-Step System for Great Leadership Performance, Karen Wright, career coach and founder of Parachute Executive Coaching, identifies 100 practices for successful executives.

These practices will help you succeed where you are right now and/or position you to move up, while maintaining a balanced, satisfying life.

Wright describes the foundation for achieving leadership completeness this way:

The individuals who consistently thrive in the face of the extraordinary expectations of high-level leadership are the ones who have found the optimal combination of habits, practices, and personal discipline that sustains and strengthens them across all dimensions of their lives.

Her 10-step system covers everything from health and fitness to business basics and fun. She makes this especially striking point about leaders:

Someone who fully engages in building positive relationships at work probably places similar value on them outside the office. Similarly, if an individual is difficult to get along with or get to know at work, she is likely the same in her personal relationships.

Who we are goes with us wherever we go. Everyone sees how we conduct ourselves and makes a judgment. When folded together, those judgments start to form our personal brand,  our career currency.

Relationships matter.

The complete executive, as Wright notes, needs to place high value on building and maintaining healthy and mutually satisfying relationships.

She explains that it starts with our primary relationships (i.e., life partner or single-hood), children, extended family, neighbors, friends, and community. Then it expands to our business competitors, peers, and direct reports. For leaders to be complete, Wright reminds us that they need to invest in relationships that represent all aspects of their lives.

We often think that networking is the best way to expand our relationships. Wright debunks that notion with this compelling perspective:

 ‘No executive at a high level does anything called networking.’ What they do is focus on building a valuable network. ‘It will grow through connections with the people you know through your kids, your parents, your siblings, and your other family members. You just never know when a connection in your network will lead you to another, helpful one, creating potential future business value.’

It’s all a matter of building on relationships that form naturally from your life and your work. To this Wright adds:

Contributing to your network is what makes it strong. If you only take from your network, it will be too weak to support you when you need it.

The book lists these relationship building sources that you can tap: alumni associations, lunches/casual meetings, club memberships, professional associations, and social media sites like LinkedIn.

Wright acknowledges that relationships ebb and flow. We learn along the way which ones are sincere and fruitful and which are not.

Intuition as ingredient

There’s a leader in all of us whether we’re atop the business organization chart or not. Reaching our full leadership capabilities is an ongoing process.

Wright’s practice #100 is intuition: An effective leader will state:

I recognize when my intuition is engaged, and I value and reflect upon the messages it sends me.

She finishes by  quoting Albert Einstein:

The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it intuition or what you will, and the solution comes to you and you don’t know how or why.

We all need to give our intuition a chance to work its magic for us. Hey, if it worked for Einstein, who can argue!

Jobs with Baggage and What to Do About Them

Like it or not, we’re labeled by our jobs and the organizations that employ us. When we say what we do, people form an opinion based on job stereotypes. 

That can work in our favor when we have job titles like engineer, nurse, technology expert, or entrepreneur. More often than not, the marketplace buzz around those jobs casts them in a good light. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. 

Your baggage claim 

Some job titles and the industries that assign them come with a not-so-stellar history. The titles themselves can make a job seekers blood run cold like: 

  • Car salesman
  • Insurance agent
  • Call center rep
  • Retail clerk 

Today there’s also baggage around jobs in banking, investment services, government, law, and the media to name a few. How we regard certain jobs depends on our individual experiences, values, perspectives, and knowledge. 

It’s easy to generalize and presume that anyone or everyone who works in a certain field fits a negative stereotype. As a result we’re likely to steel ourselves for a bad experience, often adopting an attitude that will provoke it. 

Negative brands around jobs and industries are difficult to break, especially when they have taken deep hold of the marketplace psyche for many years. 

Break the mold 

At some point in our careers, we’ll likely have a job that isn’t held in high regard because of its title. Our challenge is to turn negative perceptions into positives through our actions.

Recently, after driving my car for 14 years, I decided to buy a new one. I don’t do this often because I dread the whole dealing-with-the-car-salesman thing. Here’s what I was expecting: 

  • Pressure to buy more car than I needed
  • Back and forth negotiating, made complicated by the trade and/or financing
  • Not really getting the best deal
  • Fast-talking plus bait and switch promises
  • Being left hanging when I had questions after the sale 

I brought this baggage to the experience, something, Jeff, my salesman, had to overcome. So here’s what he provided: 

  • Patient listening and attention to what I wanted
  • Information about the best-fit model for me and its features
  • A clear statement about the sticker price and discussion about what I wanted to pay
  • An upfront trade price so I could decided if wanted to sell my old car privately
  • A meeting on the features while sitting in the model, resulting in a chance to get to know each other
  • A sense of humor, respectfulness, and advocacy (I didn’t want to be “sold” any warranty and undercoating extras, so Jeff kept that from happening.)
  • Availability to answer questions anytime after I’d taken the car home 

My experience with Jeff was so good that I talked to him a bit about the negative label that comes with being a car salesman. I learned that prior to this job, he and his brother had owned a couple of fitness businesses where he had developed his customer service skills, practicing his philosophy about dealing fairly and ethically with people. 

His view was that, since he enjoyed people and selling cars, he would be the kind of car salesman that broke the negative mold. Clearly there are many Jeff’s out there, and each one will gradually lift the negative baggage off the car salesman title. 

Lesson learned: The positive behaviors that we demonstrate in our jobs re-brand them. 

The power of one 

Shunning a job because the title comes with baggage makes no sense, particularly if it provides opportunity and growth potential that helps you build a satisfying career. When it’s your job, you own it. That means you put your stamp on it, making it represent the values, standards, and ethics that brand it positively. 

Jobs are about productivity and relationships. By adding value and delivering high quality service, you’ll showcase what a job well done really means. Each one of us makes a difference and there’s true power in that. 

Photo from Carcomparing.eu via Flickr

Sizing Up Your Job—5 Signs It’s the Right Fit

A job is like any other relationship—it has its ups and downs. Some days we have nice things to say about it and on others we don’t.                       

Too often we’re likely to find ourselves among coworkers caught up in job frustration discussions. Most “I-hate-my-job” peer groups are eager to engage you as a new member. Every new complaint validates the old ones. 

Head for the hills! 

Negative associations drag us down. They’re like trying to swim against a rip current with your business suit on. 

We’re all better off looking at our jobs through a wide-angle lens. Our careers are built by each succeeding job, so we need to adopt a big picture view of where our current jobs can lead us. 

Not every job is worth keeping and not every company the right place. So it’s important to assess your job objectively to understand its true career heft. 

Start by inventorying what’s good about your job and then weigh those factors against what’s frustrating you. When you put the positives and the negative on a scale, you can see which side carries the most weight. You might be surprised at the gram weight of the good stuff. 

5 Good Signs 

We need to pay attention to the positive signs that our jobs are a good fit for us. Here are five indicators that your job is giving you what you need:  

  1. Change energizes: When you’re in the right job, you see change as an opportunity. To you it means an exciting new problem to solve, obstacles to vault, creative solutions to discover, and growth opportunities to explore. (Think of Steve Jobs and his many Apple employees.)
  2. Coworkers inspire: The people you work with encourage, motivate, and inspire you. They bring a spirit, humor, and can-do eagerness that bring out your best. A company that attracts people that you enjoy working with may be just the place to build a career. (Think of the sentiments expressed by the casts, past and present, from Saturday Night Live.)
  3. Your ideas count: It’s enormously motivating to have your ideas heard, considered, and acted upon. Your boss may be a pain in some ways, but if s/he listens to you and is influenced by what you say, that means something. Jobs that allow for innovation can make a difference. So when you have one, there’s value in building on it. (Think of anyone you know who has a patent, a copyright, or program to boast.)
  4. Reward is meaningful: Your value needs to be recognized both in tangible and intangible ways. A good job includes positive feedback (given privately or publicly), growth opportunities, a motivating performance appraisal, and fair compensation, including raises. Incremental reward is a positive sign that you’re in a good place and positioned to increase it. (Think of your job and salary history.)
  5. There are places to go: Dead-end jobs are in many ways like broken promises. When you see that your job can become a springboard to different work you’d like to do, you have a sense of future. A satisfying career doesn’t just mean climbing the ladder; it also means successfully navigating the coastline. Meaningful work in good jobs with the support of good bosses can signal the right fit. (Think of Katie Couric, a one-time beat reporter, Today Show co-host, then a news anchor, and upcoming talk-show host.) 

Let the work guide you. 

Jobs are about work. If your work and the company don’t float your boat, your career will sink, go adrift, or take you so far out to sea you’ll feel lost. 

Chris Martin, lead singer for the British alternative, rock band, Cold Play, said about his job as a songwriter:”You have to work hard, but it’s not hard work.” When that’s our truth, we know we’re in a job that’s the right fit for us. 

Photo from omnos via Flickr