Increasingly I am working with hard driving executives and professionals who inadvertently disable their teams and colleagues with their intensity and pace. Their quick insight, ability to execute strategy and amazing results insulate them from getting ...

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"Sheryl's Blog" - 5 new articles

  1. Take a Breath
  2. Workologist?
  3. Mind Your Assumptions
  4. Leaning Versus Doing
  5. Attitude Shift
  6. More Recent Articles

Take a Breath

Increasingly I am working with hard driving executives and professionals who inadvertently disable their teams and colleagues with their intensity and pace. Their quick insight, ability to execute strategy and amazing results insulate them from getting helpful feedback.

Generally, these unbelievably capable and hard driving leaders blithely proceed in driving results and change, completely unaware of the unintended human consequences. Only a loss of critical talent or a heightened level of antagonism or increase in conflict brings into relief the collateral damage.

Then, we executive development consultants are called in to give “feedback” and repair the damage. Often our clients are appalled and shaken by the results of our findings. And they might struggle with reparation in an atmosphere of long established poor relationships. While executives might change their behavior immediately, sustained and consistent reactions and managing the distrust for these changes is a continuing challenge.

Here is where a little sticky note mantra is so useful; some call it magical.

Recently, I created one for a fast paced high performer which covered a lot of territory. I noticed that my client would breathlessly speak quickly, move quickly, shoot out instructions, appear demanding and controlling, and was surprised that her team lacked initiative, was afraid to ask questions, and scattered or put their heads down when she entered a room. When she felt rejected, my client redoubled her drive and exacerbated the resulting fear and avoidance.

We realized in reviewing these reactions that the sheer act of taking three breaths, speaking more slowly, and inviting dialogue reversed the doom loop. So, together we created the acronym “AIR,”
that stands for:

Aware
Inspirational
Relationship

We then worked together on creating some behavioral changes in support of putting more AIR into the her speech, pace, and intention. Every time she finds herself speeding up and driving hard, she now looks at her AIR reminder, takes three breaths and slows down.

Yes, the results were astounding.

     

Workologist?

I just read in the NY Times that they will be having a “workologist” column starting in August.

Having been in the career management profession for over 30 years, I found this new term fascinating.

I will never forget one of the first networking meetings I attended after grad school. It was for the Association for Training and Development (ASTD). As we went around the room introducing ourselves, many gave “slash” titles: such as  “trainer/consultant/career advisor”, or “recruiter/staffing specialist”, or “career counselor/outplacement specialist”. Even now, at professional meetings and in LinkedIn profiles we have multiple professional identifiers.

And historically, we have adapted our professional titles to the needs of the marketplace.  In the early 1900’s we called ourselves vocational counselors. By the 1970’s we became career guidance counselors. And with the inception and growth of the outplacement and talent management industries we have evolved to career/talent management consultants/executive coaches/ career advisors/ career transition guides….quite a mouthful for an “elevator speech”.

I wonder if all of these various identities for our profession confuse people.
Recently, I have experimented with shorter and more accessible ways to answer the casual question: “what do you do,” mainly because I am tired of being asked to clarify with either of these two options: “Oh, are you a head hunter?” or, “Are you a Life-Coach?”

So, maybe we should now try “workologist”…pretty catchy term and might lead to some very interesting discussions!

     

Mind Your Assumptions

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It

I just returned from a very educational and interesting trip to Eastern Europe during which we had local guides explain each stop along a river cruise. We were taught about the history, culture, and current conditions of each locality.

During one presentation, our guide told us something that really struck me as it relates to my work as a leadership development consultant. He told us that often visitors think of the citizens as unfriendly and impolite because they will not be willing to give directions or will be unresponsive to a comment or question. In fact, we were told, they are embarrassed about their poor English. In another lecture, we were informed that what would appear to be conniving or manipulative behavior is the adaptation many people have made after years of Communist occupation during which survival skills and distrust took precedence over grace and openness.

How often do we, at work or in our communities interpret and make judgments about our colleagues or neighbors based on our own assumptions and interpretations about behaviors? A direct report is late to meetings? Well you surmise that he is disrespectful of others’ time or is disorganized. A colleague never takes you up on going out after work for a drink? She must be unfriendly..or not like you. That new guy down the hall never shakes hands? He must be a snob or have no manners.

Well, maybe the late person is overscheduled and a perfectionist who needs to prepare for meetings, or does not realize that lateness is not acceptable in your company culture. Maybe the unsociable employee has a sick relative or new baby at home. And maybe the unfriendly new employee has a health or religious reason not to shake hands.

International travel is a great reminder of how we need to be more sensitive and mindful at home: Not everyone thinks like we do!

     

Leaning Versus Doing

LEAN is the new, popular term these days. It is topping “passion,” “happy,” “narrative,” “strategic,” “synergy,” “authentic” and even “transparency”. The current hot use of lean is not an adjective related to how slim and healthy one is. No, it is a verb that intends to direct our attitudes and behaviors in a specific direction. We are told now to “lean in” to certain political positions or aspects of life.

Lean seems an odd way to describe an active engagement. It has a tentative, non assertive connotation. We might say, if we are undecided that we are “leaning toward” a resolution or if we are negative about something that we are “leaning away”. If we want to relax, we “lean back”. None of these actions represent to me a dynamic, definitive, committed, active engagement with life. Words which would describe a real intention to act would more likely be jump, run, grab, hold, or better yet embrace.

So, the recent active and somewhat controversial dialogue about the importance of women “leaning in” does not in my mind support a strong, assertive and dynamic engagement with one’s career. Leaning is really just a little non threatening movement, a small almost imperceptible shift that moves us just a little bit closer to the position we aspire to. It is intended not to threaten, not to invade another’s space. It is easy to lean back if there is push back. It is not really taking charge, taking responsibility, or taking risks to make something happen.

“Leaning in” entreats women particularly to demonstrate that they are serious about their careers and to demonstrate more commitment and focus on advancing and succeeding…not quitting before they try. I agree, but I think leaning is too modest. Women and men who take active charge of their careers, who know what they can contribute and pitch their agenda assertively are not leaning; they are embracing and perhaps running…maybe even the company!

     

Attitude Shift

The first quarter is very often quite busy for us career counselors. New Year’s resolutions are not restricted to cleaning out a closet or losing those five pounds. Performance reviews, bonus distributions, or six months after college graduation often trigger a desire to explore options.

If you are among the people who are reading this blog because you want to address a career change, challenge or crisis, here are some questions that can help you focus your thoughts and actions:

How did you choose your present occupation?
What expectations do you have about your career?
What would success look like?

Are you, like many, seeking a calling—work about which you feel passionate, for which you are appreciated, and in which you believe you can grow, learn and contribute your talents?

If so, please add one very important question to your list:

How do you believe work happens?

Doing what you love does not necessarily cover the rent. Your passion needs a pay check!

Yes, careering has a commercial side. And it often requires hustle, which many people eschew. Yet, as Daniel Pink reminds us in his new book, To Sell is Human, like it or not, we are all in sales.

To meet your career goals and dreams, you need to make the right people know about what you have to offer. And reaching out to contacts, conducting informational and exploratory meetings, creating a marketing plan and sticking to it is often where the career dream becomes a nightmare of procrastination and inaction. This is because most of us don’t want to ask for the “order”. We want someone else to want us and to invite us in.

If you are stuck, a simple mind reversal may help: Think about what you have to give rather than what you want. How can what you do or want to do help another person or organization?

What do you do well, that you enjoy? (what you have to offer)
Who needs it ?(that’s your market)
Why do they need you? (what distinguishes you in your field)

Look around you…Read everything you can about your desired field. Talk to everyone with interest, curiosity and a giving attitude. Share ideas, help others, be in the game you want to play. You will find you shift out of stuck and enter a whole new momentum.

     

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