Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Taking a New Job (HBR)

There isn’t much good that has come out of the Great Recession to date except the humbling of some big egos on Wall Street. However, there might be one small benefit that I’ve noticed after doing some coaching with executives pondering next steps in their careers.

Being out of work has forced highly capable men and women professionals to consider what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Some, due to financial pressures, need to get back to work immediately — and so are ready, willing and able to take a job, any job that comes their way. But a good many others, particularly those with more than two decades in the workforce, have an opportunity that has not occurred to them since college: The chance to ask themselves, again, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

To answer this question, you need to do some homework… on yourself. The five questions below will prompt responses that challenge your assumptions about the way you live your life now — and the way you want to lead it from now on.

Where do your talents lie? Talent is a mixture of ability and proclivity. You have a capacity to do certain things, whether it’s think creatively or keeping a disciplined schedule. At the same time, you have preferences such as working independently, collaborating in teams, or leading projects. Some talents are evident in youth, others emerge over time in the workplace. Recognizing both your abilities and proclivities is essential to your personal growth.

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First posted on 7/19/2010

VIDEO: How to Involve Yourself in Change

Major change initiatives may bubble up from the ranks, but their success depends upon the advocacy of those at the top. Winning those folks to your side is essential, but it’s not enough. You have to make your influence felt one on one, person to person.

Get involved where you can have the most positive impact.

As a change agent, your challenge is to integrate your way of thinking into the organization in ways that do not threaten individuals but rather complement the goals and strategies of the organization.

First posted on Smart Brief on 12/19/2014

Prevent Taking a Bad Day Home (HBR)

Feeling frustrated at work, especially late in the day? Most of us feel this way from time to time. The challenge is what to do about it.

Do what competitive divers do: get up on the diving board and execute a dive in which you excel. Then call it quits for the day.

That advice was given to my daughter, a drop-in diver in a collegiate program. She was a competitive diver in her teens; now that she’s taken up the sport again, she’s struggling to regain her peak form. Diving is a discipline that requires a combination of athleticism, timing, and more than a touch of grace, not to mention strong nerves with equal parts will power.

One day she had hit a wall and was about to leave when her coach pulled her aside and said, “You can leave now if you like, but instead of leaving in state of frustration, why don’t you finish practice with a dive you know you do well?” My daughter followed her advice and ended up finishing practice feeling much better about herself and her abilities.

And that’s exactly what us non-divers need to do at the end of our frustrating day. Things do go wrong, whether as the result of our own mistakes or from those of others, or from a system or process that failed. And whatever the cause, tension builds. To prevent that stress from ruining our evening, or the next day, it’s good to find ways to dissipate it. Doing so at work — before you head home — is a good first step. Here are some suggestions.

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First posted on HBR.org 8/09/2010

 

VIDEO: Communicating in a Crisis

Crises often occur unexpectedly. What can never be unexpected is a leader’s response.

The leader must assume control of the response with alacrity as well as authority. Integral to the response must be the leader’s command presence and the ability to communicate coherently and correctly.

Do these things and the crisis will remain, but people involved in the crisis will be assured that someone is in charge and is mobilizing the right resources and right people to solve the problem.

First posted on Smart Brief 1/02/2015

How to Cure Your Own Hubris (HBR)

Confidence is an attribute that every leader needs to embrace and to foster in others. But when confidence goes too far, it can become hubris.

Overdosing on confidence is easy to do. Jim Collins writes about the organizational side of hubris in his latest book, How the Mighty Fall. Stage 1 of organizational failure is “hubris born of success.” It “sets in when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they lose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place.”

Many leaders veer into hubristic behavior without realizing their shortcomings. We may be well intentioned, but we all suffer from a blind spots.So how can leaders know when their own confidence is verging on hubris? Here are some warning signs:

  • You make many decisions independently. No, dithering isn’t good. But bosses who make all of their own decisions without speaking to others are asking for trouble. How much do you ask for others’ input?
  • You can’t remember the last time you spoke to a customer. Failure to discover what people think about what you offer is not only foolhardy, it’s a recipe for failure in the future. If you think you’re “too busy” to connect with customers, that’s a warning sign.

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First posted on HBR.com 9/08/2010

Stop Your Power Trip Before It Starts (HBR)

Everything in moderation. My late father, a physician, always emphasized that to his patients. While Dad was focusing more on what people ate or drank, he could easily have been talking about how people behave.

I was reminded of Dad’s advice when I read Jonah Lehrer’s fine essay in the Wall Street Journal discussing the “paradox of power,” a syndrome that turns people in authority into dictators. Lehrer quotes Dr. Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, who says, “When you give people power, they basically start acting like fools.”

Executives who engage in abusive or coercive behavior of their subordinates may be showing that Lord Acton‘s statement — “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” — is not just a maxim, but reality. Leaders can get into trouble by subconsciously thinking it they have no limits on their power, even though they’d never say such a thing out loud. Such thinking is all too often reinforced by direct reports who subordinate themselves in order to curry favor with their bosses.

So what is a well-intentioned leader to do? My advice is to regularly reflect on these three questions.

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First posted on HBR on 10/18/2010

VIDEO: Resilience — Your Tool for Success

None of us succeed without some kind of setback.

Too often, we don’t acknowledge our ability to deal with the negatives. As a result, we may stay negative, or too self-critical, and, as a result, not recognize the inner resolve that fuels us.

Defeat may always lurk around the corner, but it’s how we deal with it that defines us as the individuals we are, and can become.

First posted on Smart Brief 1/30/2015

Avoid Burnout by Focusing on Your Team (HBR)

Not being able to enjoy what you have accomplished is a symptom of burnout and it can be fatal to your career. But you are good at what you do, it can be hard to delegate.

For truly success-driven executives, there may never be a cure for the relentless pursuit of perfection. But for those who are willing to take a moment to reflect on what they might do differently, there is a cure: Shift your focus from your own success to your team’s success. Here’s how.

Lead, don’t manage. Management is a discipline that must buttress every successful organization; things must be accomplished with people, resources, schedules and budgets. At the same time, the top person must not be involved in all these details. He or she must lead, but empower others to manage.

Enable others. Successful people are good at what they do; that is why they have a tough time handing off to others. Type A managers never let up; they revel in micro-management. Sadly, they drive good people away — and as a result, they must do more and more. But savvy leaders learn break this cycle. Step back and let others manage not just the details, but also the decisions.

Take joy in others’ success. Achieving personal success lies at the heart of ambition. But for a leader, personal success isn’t really possible unless the whole team wins. When your team achieves an important goal, celebrate! Take personal satisfaction from seeing the people you have recruited and groomed succeed. Such personal satisfaction is important to keep your team feeling appreciated, but also to enrich your own life.

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First posted on HBR.org 11/10/2010

How Sell an Idea to Your Boss (HBR)

What do you do if you’re a middle manager who sees the big picture but you work for a boss who only focuses on the here and now?

That was the heart of question I received at recent workshop I conducted on leading from the middle for a national conference of training and development professionals. It was clear that the questioner had had first-hand experience with a boss who wanted his direct reports to know their place and not be thinking or acting big. And therein lies the challenge for eager, upwardly mobile self-starting managers: you want to put your ideas into play and see their results, but your boss only wants you to do what you’re told.

Once upon a time, organizations functioned just fine when orders flowed down from on high. But as the global business environment has evolved, the need for decentralized rapid decision-making has become critical. We need creative men and women to step up and lead from the middle. So what do you do if your boss wants you to keep your place?

First and foremost, do your job: make certain that you do everything you are asked to do. (It is your job, after all.) Once you have established yourself as a credible performer, there are three things you can to do give your big idea a better chance of success:

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First posted on HBR.org 12/03/2010

VIDEO: A-C-T Your Way to Receiving Feedback

Feedback, as Marshall Goldsmith taught me, is a gift. And as such we need to thank people when they deliver it to us.

It is not enough to say thank you. You also need to learn to accept it — and act up on it.

When the feedback is coming from a trusted source — even if we don’t like that individual — it should be considered, and changes made.

First posted on Smart Brief on 2/27/2015