Winner, Loser, or Also-ran? How Attitude Defines You

Attitudes reveal us—what we value, how we think, and what we’re after. They’re the stuff of statements like:

  • “With an attitude like that he’ll be an obstacle on our project?”
  • “We don’t need a supervisor with an attitude like hers?”
  • “I can’t give him a good rating with that attitude.”

People observe our attitudes and then define us through their own attitude-shaded lens. Like it or not, we’re locked in an inexorable cycle of labeling.

Attitudes revealed

Attitude is defined as either a positive or hostile disposition or state of mind. Our feelings, thoughts, and points of view form our attitudes.

No matter how we come by them, attitudes become features like traits and characteristics that can work for or against career success.

We live in a fast-and-loose labeling world. There are labels for everyone in every profession and walk of life.

Politicians will label you as a conservative, liberal, moderate, progressive, or independent even if your viewpoints don’t fit their label for every issue.

At work, you’re put into attitude boxes like team player, go-getter, troublemaker, or bullier even when your attitudes are situation based.

Attitude labels stick, so we need to understand how we’re attracting them and how to turn them around when they’re a liability.

Look at yourself

Your attitude is the one thing in life that you always control. So if you’re displaying attitudes that are causing you problems you don’t want, change!

Start with some self-appraisal:

  • Make a list of the positive and negative words being used by others to define your attitude.  (Reread your last two performance appraisals for insights. Listen closely to what your boss and peers are saying to or about you.)
  • Next to each word, write 3 situations where you remember doing or saying something that triggered it. (If you can’t remember, ask a trusted coworker or your boss for help.)
  • Talk to a family member or friend about how you come across in certain circumstances. Chances are your attitudes show up in you personal life too.

Commit to an attitude management plan:

  • Identify actions you will take to retain positive attitude labels and fix the negative ones.
  • Identify triggers that bring out your negative attitudes and how you will manage your actions and words when they appear.
  • Schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss your commitment to improving attitudes that need work.
  • Share your plan for change and solicit your boss’s support. Be as specific as practical.
  • Make good on your plan by sticking with it.

The harsh reality is that attitude is more important to career success than talent. No one wants to work with a gifted leader or technician with a bad attitude. Good results are more likely to come from those with average talent who are happy working together.

The consequences of inaction

Negative attitude labels that go uncorrected can crush a career. Winners showcase can-do attitudes, collaboration, courage, and trustworthiness, even in the heat of battle.

The also-rans (ah, yes, another label) are those who go unnoticed. Their attitudes are often unrevealed, other than their willingness to just go along with what’s asked. They don’t make waves and they don’t progress much either.

Employees with negative attitudes often resist direction, find fault with all decisions, bully co-workers, and/or obstruct progress. They perceive they’re winning when their careers are actually in free-fall.

When our attitudes are on display, observers reinforce the labels they’ve assigned to us, until one day their labels have replaced our names. We become known as the:

  • Obstructionist or Problem Child
  • Hard-ass or Power Monger
  • Team Player or Advocate

Negative labels can be dangerous. Just watch a political campaign and see how labels about what a candidate believes are turned into weaponry through name-calling and pigeonholing.

You need to protect yourself from unfair attitude labeling by renewing efforts to manage your attitudes effectively. If where you work doesn’t fit your nature, do the smart thing: Employ attitudes that serve you positively each day while you take steps to make a career change. You can do this!

Photo from Ayleen Gaspar via Flickr

Workplace Friends and Foes—Your Forever Network

Ever been to a high school reunion? Some former classmates look the same. Some you only “recognize” if they have a name tag. 

It’s not how people look that flips our memory switch. It’s their names that get us to remember how each person has been preserved in our minds: 

  • How they treated us (and we them)
  • How smart and/or accomplished they seemed to be
  • How they behaved alone, in groups, and with those they dated
  • If we trusted them, could confide in them, or could rely on them

What we remember is how they branded themselves. The same is true for us. 

Behavior traits stick. 

It’s tempting to blow off our high school image as not the real us. After all we were young, developing, and learning how to be grown-ups. 

It’s usually not what we did but the perceptions about “why” that stick for a long time. People remember. 

Every person who’s crossed our path is in our network. Right now, we either are or aren’t tapping those relationships. 

Your network grows every day through your interactions at work, in the community, among family, and on-line. Every impression you make sticks. 

When your name is mentioned and someone recognizes it, s/he has an impression or perception to share. That’s often how conversations start. Each mention, just like the @ on Twitter, reinforces perceptions. 

Everyone is a link to someone else. The degrees of separation keep shrinking. Just spend an hour exploring Linkedin and you’ll see the power of that. 

The multiplier effect of impressions is staggering. So if we want to succeed, we need to be mindful of how our behavior is perceived. 

Choosing to be friend or foe 

We work in competitive environments. Our companies compete to be profitable. We compete to be recognized, rewarded, and/or advanced in our careers. 

Everyone we work with is competing too. Often we’re competing for the same things: 

  • The boss’s attention or approval
  • A promotion
  • A big raise
  • Recognition or an award 

We might compete in a way that: 

  • Overshadows others, diminishes their efforts, and/or undercuts them
  • Engages others, showcases their efforts, or recognizes them
  • Presents an optimistic, can-do attitude or a self-important, hard-nosed one
  • Bullies our coworkers or motivates their enthusiasm to get work done
  • Panders to the boss or showcases our principles 

The way we compete brands us: Everyone watches. 

You at work is like you back in high school only older and wiser, hopefully. Everybody you work with remembers what you’ve done in their world and passes their perceptions along. Were you someone whom they trusted or someone they doubted? 

Networking is about your network. 

Like it or not we are brands. Everyone is labeling us, including ourselves. 

People who tell me they hate networking often presume it means connecting with new people and then developing some kind of tit-for-tat benefit. 

New people are valuable, but there are hundreds of people who already know you that you should be (re)connecting with to enrich your career. The question is: Why have you let those relationships wane and what’s keeping you from rekindling them? 

Is it because you’re unsure about how they see you and have let so much time go by? Remember: that answer goes both ways. 

Take stock. 

Periodic self-assessment is smart personal and professional planning. We learn by seeing ourselves through the eyes of our colleagues. If you have a chance to take a 360 degree assessment, that would be a great start. 

Otherwise, ask your coworkers their perceptions of you. Okay, that can feel uncomfortable for you and them, but you need to know. If you were a box of cereal, you’d want to know if your customers thought you tasted good enough to keep buying. 

Remember: Everyone you work with is in your network in some way forever. It’s good form to treat them well.  Be nice. 

Photo from CapitalK buy design via Flickr

10 Wake-up Call Questions for Employees in Denial

Employees just tune it out. They stop hearing the company’s messages about sagging profits, increased competition, and high operating costs.   

Even as supervisors, we start to believe it’s probably just a scare tactic to get employees to work harder.  So we tune out the implications when our employees need us to lead. 

Look reality in the eye 

No one wants to be caught at work with their proverbial pants down. That means, as supervisors, we need to pay attention to what management is saying. 

As the supervisor, you’re the one expected to communicate what’s going on to your employees. You’re the messenger and sometimes the message isn’t very palatable, even to you. 

Even if your employees act skeptical, push back, or become dismissive, communicating what you can (some things may be proprietary) is a must.  

As a supervisor, your job is to get and keep the attention of your employees. You need to make sure they understand the realities of the marketplace and how they might be affected. 

You are their teacher and guide to their future success. So when they are at risk, you need to focus them on ways they can influence their future. 

Some work groups become particularly vulnerable when a business is feeling the financial squeeze—human resources, marketing, IT, customer service, finance—because some of their services can be subcontracted. 

These employees often feel the need to justify their cost-benefit to the company. Their tendency is to become defensive rather than to take the offense. 

Smart supervisors refocus their employees what their collective value to the company can/will be going forward. They help them self-assess and then reinvent themselves with their eyes wide open. 

Promote inquiry and vigilance. 

Here are ten questions every supervisor should work through routinely with his/her employees to wake up awareness and excite new ideas as part of planning and goal setting, no matter what conditions the company faces. 

In a working session or as part of routinely scheduled meetings, resolve each question through open discussion: 

1. What business are we in? For example, is it… 

  • Delivering training programs or promoting more effective performance?
  • Trouble-shooting software or building a tech savvy workforce?
  • Answering customer questions or building a loyal customer following? 

2. If our work group no longer existed, who would notice or care?  

       Employees in other work groups, customers, regulators, suppliers, no one

3. How are we perceived within and outside the company? What’s our brand? Are we… 

  • Sought-after specialists or just an after-thought
  • Customer-oriented or internally focused
  • Innovative leaders or status quo protectors 

4. Whose support do we need?

       Executive leadership, other department managers, internal clients, key customers,   regulators, media, each other 

5. How do we expand our influence?  

     Increased visibility, relationship building, collaborative activities, high quality work 

6. What do we need to do better?  

     Improve skills, output, processes, communication, trustworthiness, service  

7.  What’s at stake if we don’t retool/reposition ourselves?  

     Dissolution, downsizing, absorption into another department, loss of funding and/or   influence 

8. How much time do we have to get it together?  

     A year, six months, a quarter, asap! 

9. What do we need to do now?  

     Answer our unanswered questions, gather more data, generate more ideas, build a plan, distribute assignments, engage others, implement actions, debrief results, continue to improve

10. Who’s accountable for what? Make assignments.

     You as supervisor, individual employee team members—everyone has a part to play 

Work together—as a team! 

It’s been documented frequently, through workplace studies, that most employees trust what their immediate supervisors say over anyone else in the company. So what and how you tell them make a big difference. 

The more successful you are showing your employees how conditions in the company are likely to impact them, the more engaged and willing they’ll be to follow your lead. Do this and you’ll see resistance decline and teamwork increase.   

Try asking your employees these ten questions. You’ll be amazed at what you hear.

Photo from Minarae via Flickr

What’s the Word on You? | Reputation as Career Stalker

We’ve all heard lead off questions like these, “Did you know that: 

  • The candidate you’re interviewing is a big partier? Just look at his Facebook page.
  • The customer service supervisor stood up for her employees being criticized by the marketing department?
  • No one working at SAS ever wants to leave? The working conditions there are fabulous.
  • You can always count on Alicia and Mark to help you, even when they’re swamped?” 

What’s being said about you? 

We’ve been building our reputations for years. We’re all legendary for something that we’ve done or failed to do. 

In business parlance, it’s about personal brand-building. People describe us, label us, and categorize us so they know what to do about us when we cross their paths. 

We’re all positioned to take charge of our reputations and manage them.

 If we don’t know what’s being said about us, we don’t know what to enhance and what to fix. When it comes to our careers, there are plenty of signs when our reputations aren’t the best: 

  • Reference letters we request are weak or not provided
  • Our performance reviews are lackluster, especially on the behavioral side
  • No one asks us for input or seeks our association
  • Opportunity is slow in coming or ends in disappointment 

Everyone weighs-in all the time about what they believe we stand for—our peers, supervisors, customers, and even suppliers. We’re all someone’s paparazzo and they ours. Their truth is often just what they see. 

Own it! 

Building a reputation to be proud of requires our attention, commitment, and discipline. It’s a reflection of things we value most and live by: 

  • Our principles—like not looking the other way in the face of wrong
  • Code of conduct—like not being rude or abusive when we’re poked
  • Integrity—like not cheating, lying, or ignoring the rules
  • Productivity—always giving your best effort and then some
  • Appearance—presenting yourself as a professional, no matter what your job 

Like it or not, each of these leaves impressions that stick and accumulate. 

I’m sure you remember kids from high school whom you thought were untrustworthy, bullying, caring, high achieving, or enthusiastic. 

When you go back to a reunion, don’t those memories come back before you replace them? 

Sometimes it’s not a reunion but a business encounter that resurfaces our earlier reputations. 

I’d been a high school teacher for 10 years before switching to a business career. I was amazed when these events happened: 

  • I discovered that a supervisor in a call center I was managing had been a former student.
  • As a consultant, I was proposing services to a non-profit leadership staff when one of the managers gasped. She suddenly realized I’d been her teacher.
  • I got an e-mail from a woman who figured out after several “close encounters” and conversations about me with others that she was a student of mine while in another state. 

We were people who reconnected after more than 20 years. Because our shared reputations had been positive, we easily became champions for each other in our careers. 

Imagine how this might have turned out had we carried negative reputations. 

Protect your “self”! 

Who we are matters to others, so our reputations should matter to us.  If you don’t know how you’re regarded, ask people whose opinions you trust, not just people who’ll tell you what you want to hear. Talk to friends, coworkers, your boss, family members, and neighbors. 

When we know how what our reputations are, we can make the right changes and build on our strengths. 

That might mean reconsidering whom you affiliate with at work, how you act, what you say, the way you treat people, and how you respond to change. 

Please take time routinely for introspection. Decide how you want to be thought of. Make self-discovery a high priority. It’s the best gift you’ll ever give yourself. A great reputation has long-lasting, asset value, exactly what your career needs to grow.

Ready to Work for Yourself? | A Self-Assessment for Solopreneurs

It’s tempting and doable. All we need is an idea and, virtually overnight, we can launch our own business. But should we? 

An entrepreneur is someone who, by definition, “organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for a business venture.” Interestingly, The American Heritage Dictionary 4th edition doesn’t have an entry for “solopreneur.” That surprised me since the term is widely used for individuals, like me, who are their businesses.

 Ready to go solo? 

I did—four times—and sometimes with two at the same time: (Egad!) 

  • Lennon Management Associates—specializing in veterinary practice management consulting (5 years)
  • Holly Run Farm, Inc.—race and show horse breeding, racing/showing, and sales (20 years)
  • Special Collections for Horsemen—equine art, antiques, and collectibles sales (10 years)
  • Big Picture Consulting—career and business coaching for individuals and small businesses (the remaining one, 2002-present) 

I knew nothing about owning a business before I started. Each venture was an education on how small business works. Those were the easy lessons. 

The real challenge was learning how to be in business by myself.   

Most of us who start solo businesses are focused on the “fun stuff.” We figure we’ll just announce our offerings and customers/clients will start calling. When they do, we’ll eagerly deliver our advice, services, or products. How complicated can it be? It’s just us doing what we do best. 

Well, as the line goes, if owning your own business were so easy, everyone would be doing it. 

Whether you plan to walk away from a steady job or keep it for a while (I was glad I waited) to start your solo business, take time for this self-assessment. It’s not all the questions you should ask but a good start. 

A Self-Assessment for Solopreneurs 

After each question, write your answers in clear detail. (Wishful thinking doesn’t cut it!) 

Business Planning 

  • What services and/or products will I offer at launch?
  • Who is my target market? What will they pay?
  • How will I contend with my competitors?
  • Am I business fit? Do I have the business skills and knowledge I need for:
    • Goal-setting, tracking, and performance analysis
    • Sales and marketing
    • Customer service, problem solving, troubleshooting
    • Recording keeping—financials, files, client/customer accounts, vendor agreements
    • Communications, planning, organizing, priority setting
    • Social media tools, outlets, and channels
  • How much revenue must the business generate to cover my business expenses and support me? By when?
  • Is it more prudent to start this business as a sidelight or just go for it?
  • Do I have enough money to invest to get off to a good start?
  • What’s my fallback position if the business isn’t successful?  

Self-Management

  •  Why am I doing this?
  • Do I have the personal discipline to manage every workday effectively, including the ability to:
    • Stay focused on priority work, not procrastinating?
    • Develop/improve/deliver services and products?
    • Make calls and meet with prospects?
    • Handle administrative details?
  • How will I handle disappointments? Success?
  • How much alone time can I tolerate and still be productive/happy?
  • What do I want from the business—money, personal growth, satisfaction, independence?
  • Who is my professional team (i.e, accountant, IT support, VA, attorney)?
  • Who is my support system—other entrepreneurs, mastermind group, confidants? 

Don’t let your missteps get you down.

Each of my businesses brought in plenty of revenue but only the current one is truly profitable. When you ask a solopreneur how s/he’s doing, most will say “great,” although that may not mean profitable or even happy. So please don’t measure yourself against success illusions others put out there. 

It’s important to start your business with boundless optimism: That’s what helps you slog through the bad times. Reality can quickly take the shine off a dream, but hard work and perseverance can restore it. Being a solopreneur can be a great ride.  So hold on and feel the energy.  

How about taking some time this week to complete that self-assessment? Or share it with an entrepreneurial friend.  It may be just what you need.

Employee from Hell or the Gold Standard? What Supervisors See In Us | Self-Awareness As Asset

Sometimes we forget that our jobs aren’t just about us. Sure we’re doing the work, but we’re doing it to meet the expectations of:

  • Our supervisor
  • Our supervisor’s supervisor
  • The company that’s paying us 

We’re hired to get things done, keep things moving, bring new ideas, engage with others, collaborate, make the most of our talents, and get better.

Now look around. Is that what you see people doing where you work? Is that what you’re doing?

Imagine supervising yourself! 

We don’t always see ourselves the way others see us. We may think that we’re doing everything our supervisor wants and then one day we find out we were wrong. That’s usually not a very good day!

Whether it shows or not, your supervisor really wants you to be successful. Why? Because when you are, s/he is too.

Your supervisor also wants you to be low maintenance. S/he doesn’t want to deal with drama, trivial complaints, misbehavior, and careless work.

Supervisors simply want to be able to count on us. They want to know that when they talk to us, we’ll be reasonable, even when we disagree. They want us to be approachable and flexible, accommodating and communicative.

Is this you? Are you sure?

Time to take stock. 

Let’s try a little self-assessment. Respond to each item below with “always,” “sometimes,” or “never.”

  • I am on time for work, meetings, and with deadlines.
  • I don’t make excuses or blame others for my mistakes.
  • I accept assignments without complaint or signs of distaste.
  • When I don’t understand, I ask for clarification before acting.
  • I am truthful, honest, and ethical.
  • I can be counted on to pitch in when needed.
  • I work collaboratively and cooperatively with others.
  • I don’t undermine my supervisor or stir the pot with my coworkers.
  • I follow company rules, standards, and processes.
  • I am pleasant, good-humored, and level-headed. 
  • I suggest realistic, innovative, and helpful ideas and solutions.

The more “always” answers, the greater your chances of being considered a “gold standard” employee.

Now here’s a next step if you really want to know how you stack up: Ask your supervisor to respond to each item. Then compare results together and talk about the ones you answered differently.

This is one good way to create a positive connection. You’ll show your supervisor that meeting expectations matters to you and your supervisor will recognize you as an ally.

See yourself through a supervisor’s lens. 

Most supervisors would give up a highly skilled worker with a rotten attitude for someone with lesser skills and a great attitude.

This should come as no surprise: Supervisors can teach us how to improve our skills, but they can’t fix our attitude, only we can do that!

A supervisor’s job is about problem-solving day in and day out.  As employees, the last thing we want to do is be a problem or create one.

We do ourselves and our supervisors a big favor every time we anticipate a potential problem and suggest a solution, solve a problem before it gets out of hand, or turn a problem into an opportunity.

Attitude is everything!

It doesn’t take much for a bad actor to turn our workplace into hell on earth. Employee attitude issues are the bane of every supervisor and consume ridiculous amounts of their time and energy. We never want that employee to be us!

Business fitness is what we, as employees, bring to our jobs so we can be a help not a hindrance to our supervisors and the companies that hire us. To be seen as an asset, a partner, and a trusted colleague is the look that flatters us all!

Do you have an experience with a truly “awful” employee or coworker? What was his/her impact? Your insights will be fascinating!

Think You’re Not Good Enough? Look Around! | Evolving Self-Confidence

I often hear this: “I don’t have enough:

  • experience for that job
  • knowledge to lead a team
  • years with the company to advance
  • know-how to start my own business.” 

Exactly, who says we aren’t good enough? Most of the time, we’re the guilty party.

Doubt is our enemy.

Negative self-talk is often riddled with self-doubt. We look at what others are achieving, compare ourselves, and question whether we have what it takes. We self-assess against standards that we invent before we know what the real expectations are.

Self-confidence is as much about being willing to explore an opportunity as it is about being able to execute an assignment. All too often, we worry about our ability to do a job before we understand what it is.

Doubt cannot be allowed to rule.  

The antidote to doubt is reality. Not some “reality” you imagine but the reality that exists.

Start by looking around. Who is doing the work that you think you’re “not good enough” to do as well or better?

Look hard and long at those people. Watch exactly what they do and say. Pay attention to the actual results they produce. Examine their work closely. Find out what others are saying about it.

Then ask yourself, “Can I produce work like that or better?”  My guess is that, in most cases, your answer will be, “Sure.”

If you’ve been reading my posts for a bit, you know that I spent many years as a commercial horse breeder. I knew nothing about it when I started.

Before I bought my farm, I had doubts about whether or not I could care for horses on my own since I’d had no knowledge or experience. The owner of the barn where I’d been boarding warned me, “You could kill those horses if you don’t feel ‘em right.” That rocked me.

Then I stopped to think about her and the other people I’d met who were in the horse business. I asked myself, “Is there any reason to believe that the people in this business are smarter than I am? Do I have good people to advise me when I have questions?” The answers were obvious.

Self-confidence is not arrogance. 

Arrogance is when you act like you know everything. Self-confidence is about believing in yourself. It builds courage, keeps you moving forward in spite of setbacks, and enables you to seize opportunities to grow.

You find self-confidence by looking positively at yourself, acknowledging what you can do. You build self-confidence by testing your capabilities.

The biggest mistake we make is telling ourselves that we have to be the best at something before we are “entitled” to be self-confident. In fact, we just have to be as good as the situation requires.

Role models are everywhere. 

If your self-confidence is a bit shaky, it’s time to look around and see who’s out there doing what you want to do with capabilities similar to yours. In the past four months, I watched these two confidence-building situations unfold:

1.) A Gen Y college grad, who hated her job, started a blog, made professional on-line contacts, was recognized for her writing talents, started freelancing, and just got a full-time job.

2.) An experienced marketing professional was downsized, couldn’t find another job, talked to independent contractors about how they worked, informally looked for clients, blogged about her “start up” experiences, got great advice, opened an office, and saw her business start to grow.

Self-confidence evolves. Every step you take helps you build your truly capable self. You can mentor, volunteer to lead a team, give speeches, deliver training, start a hobby business, or cover a temporary vacancy at work.

Every step you take to become business fit builds your self-confidence. If you haven’t had a chance to learn the seven smart moves, perhaps now’s the time. Your self-confidence is your success engine. Without it, we don’t move very far or very fast. Vroooom!

How has your self-confidence been tested? What were you able to do to overcome your doubts and move ahead? Thanks for helping out!