The Mystery of the Aha Moment and What Solving It Means to Your Career

First there was “aha,” a term used to express surprise, pleasure, or triumph. So sayeth mystery 13318545_f743938571_mThe American Heritage Dictionary.

Then there was the “aha moment,” a phrase meaning  “a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension,” first known to be used in 1939 according to Merriam Webster, well before the Oprah Show.

Had any aha moments lately? The kinds that give you big clues about:

  • how you’re doing at your job
  • what next steps you should take
  • what lies ahead for you
  • who cares about your growth

If “no” is your answer, not to worry. Aha moments are neither plentiful or crystal clear.

Start with, “I wonder?”

You’re more likely to experience an aha moment when you ramp up your curiosity.

When your career starts out, everything’s a mystery. You wonder:

  • Am I doing things right?
  • Do my boss and coworkers like me?
  • Is this job what I really wanted?
  • Is this a good place to build a career?

A few timely aha moments would likely come in handy to influence your answers and build your self-confidence, optimism, motivation, and self-belief,

“I wonder” questions can be a gateway to “aha moments.”

Connect the dots.

Career aha moments can be enigmatic, easily missed or dismissed, until we stop and think.  At least that’s how it was for me.

I came to a staff job at a Fortune 500 energy company after ten years teaching high school. With no business experience, it felt like a big adventure. I had zero career expectations, other than wanting to make a difference.

I started out in consumer education working with community educators to develop energy conservation curriculum materials. The company considered me their resident expert and gave me lots of freedom.

As a result, lots got done and that got noticed. However, I never directly connected my work with career advancement.

One day I was invited by the department manager to ride to a company event with him and his VP. I didn’t think much of it at the time, sat in the back seat, and was privy to their conversation. They were very open about lots of subjects that seemed,…well…executive.

On the way back, we stopped at the VP’s mother’s house. She was elderly and needed to have her storm windows lowered. She served us beverages and cookies. Then we headed home.

On the return drive, I had my “aha moment.”

“Really.” you ask? Yes, really.

Until that trip, I wondered why I, a former school teacher, was given so much freedom and access in my job. Now I knew.

The big reveal

They simply trusted me.

They trusted that I would:

  • hold confidential their conversations
  • conduct myself as a peer while respecting their positions
  • support the direction of the business
  • be open and honest, reliable and consistent in my work


But one aha does not a lasting realization make. That moment was only a beginning, a foundation. It revealed how important trust was in that organization.

So I started to watch for other signs of their trust in me and found them. Each renewed aha moment affirmed how trust, along with capability, can give your career a marathoner’s legs.

As I moved up, I came to see how trust drives results when:

  • Employees trust their boss will be fair
  • Coworkers trust their peers to be supportive
  • Bosses trust their managers to set achievable goals
  • Executives trust their teams to stand together

Trust matters.

Trust comes from doing what you say you’re going to do and non-attribution, particularly not telling stories out of school.

When you can be trusted to hold confidences, perform ethically, and uphold the right values, you may discover more career aha moments than you can fathom and create some too.

Photo by DerrickT via Photoree

Excuses–Self-Inflicted Career Wounds | A Pro Knows

You can run but you can’t hide. Mistakes, poor decisions, sub-par performance, rafa 5888490595_395af05248_munbecoming behavior, and unmet expectations stalk even the most skillful among us.

Performance missteps will happen spite of our best efforts to avoid them. In every case they belong to us. We own them and it’s in our career best interest to admit that.

Excuses cut deep.

We don’t want to goof up at work. It feels bad. When it happens our knee-jerk reaction may be to think, it’s not really my fault:

  • It just looks like my fault on the surface.
  • It’s the fault of my coworker, company policy, the customer, or the situation.
  • I’ll accept it as my fault, but I really don’t think it is.

Looking for a way out of blame is a pretty natural reaction, but routinely making excuses can become a damaging habit that’s hard to break.

I suspect you’ve worked with people who have an excuse for everything they do that doesn’t measure up like:

  • That work isn’t in my job description.
  • I was never trained for that.
  • No one ever explained that policy to me.
  • John said he was taking care of that job.

Those excuses get old fast and start to chip away at your regard for those coworkers.

Your integrity and credibility at work are a function of your trustworthiness. The more your colleagues know they can count on you to be honest, even when you were wrong or ineffective, the better their esteem for you.

It takes courage to tell the truth, own up to your faults, and face up to your shortcomings. Most coworkers and bosses find courage admirable.

Listen to the pros.

Professional athletes, as a rule, don’t make excuses when they’ve lost crucial games. What they say about themselves and their opponents demonstrate how not making excuses raises our regard for them.

In his 2013 Wimbledon first round match, fifth ranked Raphael Nadal, lost to Steve Darcis, ranked 135, in a stunning upset. When asked by a reporter whether his once injured knee contributed to his loss, Nadal answered, in an article, it’s “‘not the day to talk about these kind of things’ and that it would sound like ‘an excuse.'”

In the same article, Nadal owned his defeat when asked what he did well in that match: “Not a lot of things.”

The same no excuses standard was demonstrated by Tim Duncan, champion pro basketball player for the San Antonio Spurs after their 2013 Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat  in NBA Finals.

Washington Post writer Michael Lee quotes Duncan after the game:

We didn’t play well. We didn’t shoot well. And I played awfully…Whatever it may be. They responded better than us….They outplayed us.”

As Spurs team captain, Duncan gave voice to the team’s ownership of their loss as well as his own contribution to it.

Both Nadal and Duncan, historically, have shown and articulated respect for their opponents in victory and in defeat.

Gregg (Pop) Popovich, future Hall of Fame coach of the Spurs, sets his own example– one that we would hope our workplace bosses would emulate.

In an article at, Marc Stein quotes Hall of Famer Chris Mullin on Pop:

Pop is incredibly humble. He gives out all the credit for the wins and he takes all the blame for the losses. He’s a prototypical leader.

There’s an old adage that says if you aren’t making mistakes at work, you aren’t doing anything.

In pro athletics, it only takes a few mistakes to lose a game, so when we see them, their impact becomes bigger than life. Fortunately, that’s not so in our jobs.

Stop the festering.

Excuses are obstacles to your growth, your reputation, and your confidence. If you don’t avoid making them, there will be a career price to pay.

Pro athletes know that recovery from poor performance means committing to getting better, not making excuses. That strategy works for us too. When you under-perform, acknowledge it, ask what you need to do to get better, and then work at it.

It’s time to go like a pro.

Photo by Caronine06 via Photoree





Hungry for Leadership Success? Whip Up a Batch of Principles

Serve them to your employees. They’re as hungry for success as you are.

Employees know the drill: They’re expected to deliver specific results for which they’re compensated. The better they perform, the more likely their careers will advance. 

When they understand what matters to their bosses, they can perform with minimal uncertainty. Bosses who aren’t clear about what drives their leadership and who act inconsistently give their employees a stomachache. 

Use organic principles. 

There’s so much written about leadership (a lot of it really good) that it’s hard to get our practical heads around it all. 

Clearly, the higher up we go in the organization and the broader our accountabilities, the more complex and strategic our leadership requirements. The closer we are to work output, the more linear and tactical it is. 

No matter our level, leadership includes: 

  • Principles—our core beliefs about what good leaders do; the standards that drive us
  • Traits—the distinguishing features marking the way we lead, like courage or optimism
  • Behaviors—our conduct, specifically the actions we take to get results like building partnerships or making timely decisions 

Role models (family members, coaches, bosses) are often how we first learn about leadership. But those people aren’t us. We’re unique. What drives our way of leading is a reflection of what we value—our principles. 

The recipe 

Step 1: Get clear about the principles that underpin the way you lead. You can’t lead consistently when you’re confused about what you value. Your principles are your daily guide and are tested when you face tough decisions. 

Step 2: Write your principles down and share them with your employees. That includes talking to them about why each principle is important to you. Let employees ask questions and generate clarifying discussion, so that you understand each other. 

Hold yourself accountable. 

If we are true to our principles, we’re willing to go to the mat to protect them. Here are some examples and what they require of leaders who own them

Principle: I believe that all employees should be treated with respect, patience, and consideration. 

That means: 

  • I will intervene immediately where there may be bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
  • I will listen and consider all feedback from employees, including differences around performance appraisal, hiring/promotion decisions, and personal requests.
  • I will make time to meet with employees face-to-face, when requested, to hear ideas and provide information, providing actionable direction. 

Principle: I will assign accountability for results, delegate responsibility and authority, and support progress by removing obstacles as appropriate. 

That means: 

  • I will allow employees to succeed or fail in the assignments they own, not “rescuing” a faltering assignment, but offering support and direction.
  • I will not micro-manage delegated assignments.
  • I will treat employees as professionals by empowering them to manage their assignments, using my position to help them overcome obstacles as needed. 

Principles abound. You just need to focus on the ones you know will help you lead more effectively in the situation you and your employees share. 

You can write principles about: 

  • Vision and strategic direction
  • Employee engagement and group problem-solving
  • Achieving business and individual goals
  • Employee growth and development
  • Mistakes, code of conduct, ethics and integrity
  • Teamwork and trust
  • Can-do attitudes, collaboration, and sense of humor 

There is no leading without followers. You need to develop principles that motivate your employees to follow because they share your core beliefs and see the reward in them. 

Your principles let your employees know what they can expect of you, particularly when the chips are down. 

When you compromise your principles, you sully your relationship with your employees. Each time to stand by them, you strengthen it. 

Please take some time to whip up a batch of your principles. Then serve them up with a cold glass of milk! Enjoy. 

Photo from Matt McGee via Flickr

Shooting Your Career in the Foot | The Consequences of Squandered Trust

Competition sets its own bar. To succeed we need to know: 

  • Who’s controlling the bar
  • Is it permanent or changing
  • Am I the only one expected to jump
  • What do I need to do to get over it
  • Can I count on a fair assessment of my effort 

It’s a problem when we can’t trust consistency, support, and fairness. 

The trust factor 

To trust and be trusted: An essential precept in business and our careers. 

It starts and ends with us. Trust is actually quite simple: It’s doing what you say you’re going to do. 

That puts a serious burden on being careful about what you say. Today, however, communication has become, among many, fast and loose! 

We communicate by: 

  • Cell phone text using cryptic codes, BTW with LOL
  • Tweets, using 144 characters, compressing words 4 ur ease, TY
  • Facebook posts, a bit longer, aided by photos and links (the words of others)
  • E-mail, a spacious platform to say what’s on our minds 

No longer are we prone to speak face-to-face or even ear-to-ear. We write, just like in the old days. Sans quill, ballpoint, or felt tip. 

But today, what we say has long legs. Nearly everything we say electronically can be and, likely will be, shared. 

Sometimes we forget to think about what might happen when we write something that is: 

  • Incorrect or distorted
  • Inappropriate or critical
  • Angry or rude
  • Thoughtless or stupid
  • Knee-jerk or mean 

The fallout can be quick. In a blink, it can cost the trust you have painstakingly built, perhaps permanently. 

An apology only stops the bleeding! 

It rarely heals the wound. People trust us to: 

  • Do the right thing
  • Keep ourselves under control
  • Be patient, kind, and responsible
  • Get the facts and be above rumor
  • Think before we speak or act
  • Conduct ourselves professionally and with integrity 

A personal brand without trustworthiness undercuts our potential for success. 

Imagine being on the receiving end of these words from a boss, colleague, or coworker. What would be your level of trust going forward? 

  • I can’t believe that you got into a shouting match with that customer. I should fire you for that.
  • I went ahead and told my work group about the program you’ll announce next week since I’m going on vacation tomorrow. 
  • I know I said that I was going to support your idea at today’s meeting, but it looked like it wasn’t going to fly, so I backed off. 
  • As it turned out, I just couldn’t get that assignment done as promised. I had other priorities. 
  • I know I told you I thought you were ready for that senior level job. But I decided to give it to Kim instead. 
  • I never said I was definitely going to give you that special assignment, just that I was thinking about it.  

Trust is a delicate thing. There are words that will crush it immediately. And there are others that just erode it. 

Lost trust is a downward spiral. 

Distrusted bosses end up with employees who: 

  • Keep book on them in case they need to take legal action
  • Have low morale and poor productivity
  • Are wary and anxious
  • Resist change consistently
  • Create an undercurrent of negative chatter 

Distrusted employees will experience: 

  • Intense scrutiny and/or oversight
  • Few opportunities for development
  • Efforts to transfer them or eliminate their jobs
  • Suspicion and avoidance
  • An undercurrent of negative chatter by coworkers 

Be mindful! 

Don’t be cavalier. Think first. Consider unseen audiences. Weigh the implications. Be strategic. 

What you say matters. Few people will take the time to think about what you mean if your words aren’t exactly right. The responsibility is yours to protect your trustworthiness. Being your truest self is the underpinning of business fitness. Please don’t let yourself down! 

Do you have a “loss of trust” story to tell from your career? Was it ever repaired? If so, how? Thanks!

Coworkers Hard to Know? Scratch Their Surface | Relationship Building Discoveries

Sometimes we just can’t get a line on the people we work with. They seem so composed or unpredictable, uptight or laid back, pessimistic or optimistic. What is it with them, anyway?

When we can’t quite figure out our coworkers (or even our bosses), we feel uncertain about how to go about building a relationship with them. So, we put our detective face on:

  • Watching and listening for clues about what makes them tick
  • Asking our colleagues to share their perceptions
  • Speculating and scenario building based on our observations
  • Analyzing and revising our views along the way 

This is all so typical and often the road to nowhere.

What you see is rarely what you get!  

Work is different things to different people. For some it’s a:

  • Refuge from domestic strife
  • Playing field for one’s competitive drive
  • Source of revenue to fund a way of life
  • Place to feel important and valued
  • Community where there’s a sense of belonging 

Most people don’t showcase their whole selves at work. We come to work with the personal brand that we are willing to let others see, hoping to add a strong professional brand to it.

When we start to wonder why relationship building is so difficult, we should check our own cover to see what we’re showing or hiding. What do people know, suspect, or find curious about us?

The coworkers we watch are also watching us.

Be a teammate, not a detective. 

Great relationships evolve from common bonds and trust. Give a little—get a little and then give a little more. The secret sauce here is in the bonds. What is it that connects you to the people you work with?

  • Shared commitment to the work
  • Pride in your work ethic and standards
  • Willingness to acknowledge your weaknesses and to help each other
  • A sense of humor and compatible aspirations 

Relationships are built on give and take. Sometimes you have to give longer than you’d hoped. Relationships take time. We have to want them. Why? Because they are good for us and our organizations.

But relationships also challenge us, particularly our patience, sensibilities, and our own self-centeredness. They’re often humbling, teaching us a great deal about the burdens that our coworkers bring to work or return to afterward.

Here are two interesting people I’d like you to meet:

Mark supervised 20 customer service reps in a large call center. He was well liked by his employees although considered a bit distracted and even indifferent. Mark was also an avid collector of war memorabilia, everything from Civil War uniforms to canons. He shared the joy of his “treasure hunting” with a wife whom he adored—a wife whose degenerative eye disease led her each day to a fate of total blindness.

Maria was a go-getter at a large company, so eager to get work done to please her boss that she ran over everyone in her path. As an immigrant from Central America, she felt she had to out-perform everyone else to have a chance at advancement. Maria came from a very poor family and had father who was tough on her. She came to the U.S. as a teenager determined to “make it.” Every day was a challenge for her, and even after she’d attained unquestioned success, she could not stop pushing, always fearing possible failure.

Scratch the surface. Find a gem. 

We all have a story. It’s what makes us who we are. Our stories are the color commentary of our lives. The life experiences we bring to our jobs enrich our work and our relationships. Not every story belongs in the workplace, but certain ones help us to connect with others while bringing the most out in us.

Our business fitness grows from the relationships we build, the connections we nurture, and the following that we attract. We’re all more than our skill sets!

How do you go about building relationships at work with people you aren’t comfortable with? Any pitfalls we should know about? Thanks.


Besieged by Problems? Out of Ideas? | Circle Your Masterminds

In the dumps? Disgusted? Feel like no one’s struggling with career frustrations and business uncertainties the way you are? Makes you ask yourself, “What’s my problem?” Well, that’s how I felt. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an employee, a business owner, a budding entrepreneur, college student, or unemployed. We just don’t have all the answers.

Finding answers is about accumulating knowledge. 

And it isn’t just about information. Knowledge includes insights, perspectives, conclusions, and us

Yes, the most important knowledge we bring to our work is self-knowledge. Are you aware of what motivates, frightens, energizes, and limits you? Do you understand and deal with your strengths and weaknesses? Are you an effective problem solver? 

This is heady stuff that we often overlook. But it’s the real stuff of career and business success. 

The best route to that understanding is through people who want it too. 

Find like-minded people who trust each other. They’re gold!

 This is what mastermind groups are. You can get a group together around any issue you face: 

  • Career decision-making and job hunting
  • Building your small business
  • Creating better marketing strategies
  • Personal or professional development
  • Expanding your network
  • Increasing your self-confidence
  • Developing new products or services  

(If this is new to you, read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. It’ll amaze you.) 

I needed a mastermind group when I started my solo practice. 

Here’s the scenario: I’d left a big corporation and the handsome, every-two-week paycheck to start my consulting business. The risk was hefty. 

I worked all day, six days a week alone—no employees, no meetings, no one. 

I knew three former colleagues who were also starting new businesses, two with a real sense of urgency like mine. We were all struggling with the same issues: 

  • no colleagues for idea sharing, support, or accountability
  • difficulty staying motivated in isolation
  • trouble staying focused and resisting procrastination
  • dealing with uncertainty, negative thoughts, and discouragement 

So we formed a mastermind group that we called Gold Minds and met monthly for three years. 

Being held accountable by others makes us more accountable to ourselves. 

The Gold Minds met at my dining room table from nine to noon. Our meetings included agendas, assignments, roundtables, grillings (always constructive), status reports and laugher. We: 

  • confronted each other about our foibles and fears
  • shared leads and made referrals
  • reviewed and approved our annual goals
  • challenged each other on our quarterly performance results
  • conducted information exchanges; discussed  books read in common 

We were a kind of board of directors, committed to each other’s success.

It’s not much fun going it alone. So don’t!  

Career and business challenges never stop. The right mastermind group can be a huge relief. For these groups to be successful, you need to manage expectations up front. 

In our case each member agreed to:

  • Be trustworthy and hold our conversations in confidence       
  • Accept all members as equals
  • Adhere to the goals and agendas set by the group
  • Be kind, patient, supportive, and sensitive
  • Demonstrate a positive, can-do attitude
  • Learn from others and communicate openly
  • Have a good sense of humor

You get back what you put in. 

Mastermind groups can cultivate a generosity of spirit that attracts positive results. Like-minded people committed to helping each other are an empowering force. Through them we become more business fit, finding success our way as they find it their way.  

Have you had a mastermind group experience? What went well and what didn’t? Any suggestions you can add? Thanks, as always!

I’m pleased to post this code, Z8X2YE74Z8VT, in order to have my blog registered with Technorati.