7 Ingredients for Career Success

When it comes to our career success, we are often not honest with ourselves about reality and what needs to be done to take our career to the next level. After all, we are responsible for our own careers — not our boss, not our co-workers, not the human resources department, and not our significant other. If we are responsible, then we are the ones who are going to have to do something about it. Examine the following seven essential ingredients to career success and honestly rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the worst and 10 being the best) to see what area you really need to focus on.

1. Know where you want to go.

If you are not sure where you are going, you may drift in a direction that wastes your time and does not bring you the joy and fulfillment you desire.

2. Know where you are.

You must know where you are in order to plan how to get where you want to be. In your assessment, be honest about what you currently think about yourself, the people around you, and your situation.

3. Let the past go.

Stop dragging your failures around every day. Learn from the lessons of the past that will be helpful and move on. Don’t get stuck in the memories of how you were wronged. Give it up and move on. Life has never been fair and will never be fair. Let go of the past and enjoy your life.

4. Focus on what you can control.

Since you can’t control other people, concentrate on what you can control — yourself and your responses. When confronted with a problem, one of the most important questions you can ask yourself is: “What am I willing and going to do about it?” Answering this question will help you focus on what you can do to resolve issues and reach your goals.

5. Be coachable.

Be willing to listen and learn from everyone. For example, when you receive negative feedback, be careful not to shoot the messenger. Resist the temptation to dismiss advice from someone you may not like. Instead, try on the feedback like you would try on a hat and see if it fits. Consider whether there is anything you can take away from the feedback that will be helpful. Often the feedback we get defensive about is the feedback we really need to be listening to.

6. Be committed.

Commitment is about taking action based on what you said you would do, despite how you feel about it at the moment. Be committed to doing whatever you must do to accomplish your goal. What if failing is not an option? If you really want to be committed, tell people you are going to do something and ask them to hold you accountable for doing it.

7. Take action.

Planning is good, but action is the key. This is where the doers separate themselves from the talkers. We’ve all spent time talking about an idea but not acting on it, only to find out later that someone had a similar idea, implemented it, and reaped the rewards. Taking action is essential to accomplishing our goals. Remember, some action is better than no action. If need be, you can change, reverse, or alter your course later. The key is to take at least some action now.

Now that you have rated yourself, pick the lowest score. Share those scores with five people and ask them for their advice. Then choose three specific actions that you will do based on this advice. Ask someone to hold you accountable and then do the things you need to do. For extra motivation (and for accountability reasons) set up a consequence for not following through.

The only person you can control is you. Take full responsibility for your career success. Make things happen and enjoy the ride to the next level of your career. It will take commitment and hard work, but if you are ready, you can climb the ladder of success — however you define it!


Jim Blasingame Radio Interview

Two weeks ago, I published this blog post highlighting four steps one can use to restore broken trust in any relationship. A week later,  Jim Blasingame of The Small Business Advocate invited me on his radio show to discuss broken trust. In the two segments embedded at the bottom of this post you can listen to the show. The first segment includes three steps that can restore trust, and the second reveals what would cause someone to break their trust with you and help you establish an environment where they feel safe to tell the truth. Enjoy! 

Rebuild Broken Trust

The fundamental building block of any relationship — business or personal — is trust. What do you do if someone has broken your trust or you have broken theirs? You can make a significant difference with some simple steps.

If someone has broken your trust, there is usually a fear that the trust will be broken again. Unfortunately, that is often the case unless these four key steps are taken.

1. Make sure they feel safe to tell you the truth.

Consider how you might have conditioned someone to break your trust. Did you punish someone for telling the truth in the past by becoming defensive or upset? Did you penalize them in some way? Many people would prefer to lie than to deal with that kind of reaction again. If you have conditioned someone to not tell you the truth, it is possible to recondition them. The best initial step is to apologize for your behavior and for creating an environment where they don’t feel safe to tell you the truth. Apologies go a long way to re-building trust. Then ask, “What can I do in the future to make you feel safe, so I can be assured that you will tell me the truth?” Based on their response, decide on an agreeable plan with specific actions you will perform to establish an environment in which they will feel safe to tell you the truth.

2. Ask the person, “What is going to be different from this point forward so that I know I will be able to trust you?”

If they answer the question by using vague language about unspecific actions, chances are good the trust is going to be broken and the undesired behavior will occur again. Lines such as, “Well, I have learned my lesson” or “I am going to try harder” or “I am going to be more disciplined” or “I won’t do that again” mean it is probably going to happen again. People often have good intentions, but after time has passed and emotions have died down, we tend to revert to our old ways. The past predicts the future, unless we take action to do something specifically different. If you are a manager, it is perfectly appropriate and actually responsible
to ask specifically what is going to be different — how they will achieve their goals. If they can’t come up with any specifics, you can bank on nothing changing.

3. Create a consequence ahead of time for what will happen if trust is broken again and things don’t change.

Let’s consider the previous example. When someone is not achieving their goals, you can say, “In the spirit of honesty, I just want you to know that I am going to start documenting any future failures. I have to hold you accountable, just like I do everyone else, to achieving the established goals.” This may sound harsh, but by taking this step, the person knows you mean business. If things don’t change, it sets in motion (without any surprises) what you are going to do next. Make sure you are ready to implement the consequence. Otherwise, you will be conditioning that person that you don’t mean what you say and that the old behavior is okay.

On the personal front, a friend of mine kept making promises that he was going to make a decision about moving in with his girlfriend. After a while, people around him lost trust that he would ever follow through and make a decision. After making another proclamation, someone suggested that if he did not follow through with his latest deadline, he should dress up like a woman and walk around a department store. When he balked, some people challenged him. They said if he really was going to follow through, he would agree to the consequence. The reason for his resistance was that he knew he probably wouldn’t follow through. After consideration, he realized they were right and things weren’t going to change. He agreed to the consequence, fulfilled the commitment, and they are now happily married.

Sometimes a challenge allows us to see the real issues more clearly. One quick and easy way to gauge how committed someone is to change is to use the $100 test. The $100 test is where you ask the person, “If you do not do what you said, will you be willing to give me $100?” The answer often reveals whether they are serious about changing. You may even want to ask for $1000 and watch their response.

Another way to implement a consequence is to ask the person what they think should be done if they don’t fulfill their promise. I like this strategy, because it gets the other person involved in making sure things change. It also reveals how serious a person really is about changing. You could say, “In the spirit of honesty, I need to know that I can trust that this is really going to change. If you are committed to changing, what will you be willing to do as a consequence if things don’t change?” Then allow the person some time to think and respond. If the person gives an easy consequence, you can push and challenge them about it, but you should understand that they are probably not committed to change. If someone really is going to change, they will have no problem making a major commitment with a severe consequence. Why? Because they know the consequence is not going to happen, because they know they are going to keep their promise.

4. Acknowledge the person if and when things do change.

Appreciation lets the other person know that you are aware of their efforts. It also goes a long way to encouraging someone to build their momentum and continue to change.

HAVE YOU BROKEN TRUST?

If you have broken someone’s trust, flip the advice around. First, sincerely and immediately apologize. Then tell them specifically what you are going to do differently. To give them confidence that you are really going to change, establish a severe consequence that you will self-impose if things do not change.

One piece of advice — if you do change and the person keeps bringing up the past, it is fair to ask of them, “What needs to happen so that you stop bringing up the past?” Often people are unaware of how frequently they bring up the past, and until you point it out, they do not recognize that things really have changed. Make sure you have really changed before you do this. 

Trust is the foundation of any great relationship, at work and at home. Without trust, a relationship is like a car on blocks. It isn’t going anywhere… and after a while, it will rust and deteriorate. You can make a difference by taking a few simple steps to put your relationship back on track. You hold the keys.


Getting to the Honest Truth

LEARN HOW TO GET THE UNSAID SAID, The Most Important Communication Strategy To Boost Teamwork, Increase Trust, Build Remarkable Relationships, And Get Things Done!

September 26, 2013-Washington DC Metropolitan Area

This highly engaging and interactive seminar is delivered by Steven Gaffney, and based on his popular selling books, Just Be Honest and Honesty Works. Honesty is still not only the best policy, but it is the easiest and most effective way to communicate when it comes to resolving conflicts and producing results. A key problem within organizations and between individuals is not what people ARE saying, but it’s what they are NOT saying to each other. How much of your organization’s productivity, efficiency, and collaboration is affected due to unspoken communication? How much time and money is costing your organization due to not having honest and open dialogues?

In this session with Steven Gaffney, participants will be challenged to open up and engage in open discussions and exercises as well as applying the Gaffney Guiding Principles for honest communication to help improve relationships, build trust, and make work and life easier.

Possible outcomes and key deliverables for participants are:

  • How to get others to tell the truth
  • How to have an honest breakthrough conversation with anyone
  • How to eliminate fear so that people are honest and open with you
  • How to open lines of communication and convey crystal clear messages
  • How to create an environment where honest communication is a non-negotiable
  • How to prevent misunderstandings by using Notice vs. Imagine technique
  • How to share ideas, information, opportunities, and solutions without hesitation
  • How to receive and give feedback
  • How to reduce defensiveness
  • How to correctly evaluate familiar and unfamiliar situations
  • How to handle others whose negativity undermines initiatives
  • How to manage expectations
  • How to increase accountability and get things done efficiently
  • How to prevent repetitive and unproductive conversations that waste time and money
  • How to build trust with anyone
  • How to recognize and resolve small issues before they become gigantic problems
  • How to avoid being blindsided by eliciting open communication
  • How to prevent close-minded thinking

GETTING TO THE HONEST TRUTH Communication Seminar

Thursday, September 26, 2013
8:30 AM – 4:30 PM
Best Western
8401 Westpark Drive
McLean VA 22102
$995 per person

 

Click here to sign up!


“In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.” – What if Martin Luther King, Jr. had compared himself to others?

Imagine a world in which Martin Luther King, Jr., had been nothing more than a preacher with a sizable congregation, Bill Gates was nothing more than an effective manager at an IT firm, and Oprah Winfrey just a newscaster at a Baltimore television station. Suppose Warren Buffet was nothing more than a man who managed his money well in order to provide a nice life for his family. We probably wouldn’t know their names, yet by most standards they would still be deemed successful.

Yet I believe that true success is the degree to which we reach our full potential. By that standard, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Warren Buffet could not be called successful if they did not achieve what we all now know they were capable of. If they had been satisfied with comparing themselves favorably with others, they may have not been inspired to achieve what they achieved. Where would our society be without the contributions they have made? What would the landscape of twenty-first-century America look like without them?

Fortunately, they did not suffer what many people suffer from–Comparison Success Obstruction ™ (CSO). People with this affliction compare themselves with others to gauge their own success. Those comparisons can sadly set us up for mediocrity. If Warren Buffet suffered from CSO, he could have taken a look at his neighbor and been satisfied with the idea of building a bigger house, purchasing a nicer car, and sending his children to better schools. Oprah Winfrey could have landed her job as a Baltimore newscaster, compared herself to friends and colleagues, and decided she was doing quite well just where she was.

Many organizations suffer from CSO. They even go so far as to benchmark their achievements against other organizations. Perhaps yours does this too. While benchmarking can produce some good results, it can also chain your organization to the common results of others—restraining you from catapulting beyond the competition and producing breakthrough results.

Comparing ourselves to the competition begs the question — so what? So what if you can move widgets faster than Widget Movers Express? So what if you are the leader in a certain technology? So what if you are the highest in retention? Are those reasons to be content? So what?

Maybe your organization has untold “Martin Luther King, Jr.,” potential. Maybe there is a life-changing discovery or invention lurking within your organization — within the minds of your employees. Maybe it is within you! But this is unlikely to happen as long as you or others around you suffer from CSO.

I once heard an interview with John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach who won seven straight NCAA titles and nine titles in eleven years. The interviewer asked Wooden for his keys to success, and Wooden said that after each game – regardless of the score — he asked his players, did you play your best? Think about this. In professional sports, team dynasties result from an effective coach and a few outstanding players who are with the team year after year. But the make-up of teams in college basketball is constantly changing as new students join the team and others move on to graduate. But the changing roster didn’t hinder Coach Wooden. He built a dynasty in part by asking the ever-changing faces on his team, did you play your best?

Imagine if we were asked that on a daily basis. What would your answer be? Is it time to step it up, push ourselves, regardless of what others say? I think so. Not because we have to, not because there is something wrong, but because we can. After all, isn’t that what true success is all about?

That is why I believe we need to drop the judgments and comparisons with others. We need to stop looking behind us to see who is chasing us. Instead we need to run fast regardless of the others in the race and push ourselves to see what is possible. This is what striving for true success is all about.

Are you playing your best, or are you settling for what you think you can get rather than going for what you truly want? What are you willing to do about it? After all, the only person you can control is yourself. You cannot necessarily control what others do, but you are fully responsible for the way you respond and the actions you take to achieve the results you really want. Attaining perfection may be hard, but making progress is easy.

WARNING: If you choose to stop suffering from CSO and strive for what you can become, brace yourself and make sure you enjoy the ride, because there is an ironic twist that will come your way. The twist is that successful people often don’t think of themselves as particularly successful. If fact, the more successful they are, the more they recognize the gap between where they are and what they can become.

A while back, I saw a documentary about the incredible life and achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr. One of the many things that shocked me was that he was plagued by the thought that he had not yet done enough. Imagine that. As successful and accomplished as he was, he was not satisfied—not even close.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was chasing down a dream. He knew that there was always more to do. There was always more that he could expect of himself. He had a vision for the future, and that vision was not limited by comparisons or others’ expectations. True success is not about how we compare with others, but how we compare with what we truly can become.

Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Warren Buffet aren’t playing small either. They each have their own vision for the future, a vision that I would argue continues to expand as they achieve more and more. Who can they become? How about you? What dreams can you accomplish?

While others are fixated on comparing themselves with others or preoccupied with looking over their shoulders to make sure no one will overtake them, keep challenging yourself and those around you with what you can become.

Maybe there is “Martin Luther King, Jr.,-Bill Gates-Warren Buffet-Oprah Winfrey” potential in you and the people around you just waiting to be awakened and inspired. Think of the difference that that could make. It can begin now. It’s up to you.

MLK

Here is a 6-Step Formula to Start You on Your Journey:

1. Recognize you may be suffering from CSO, and do something about it. Throw away the comparisons. They limit your potential.

2. Create a vision for the future that is not a reaction to the past or a comparison with others in the present. Spend some time reflecting on what you believe you can become. Dream. Brainstorm. Use what if? What if we had nothing stopping us? What if we could really accomplish our ideal product or service? What if we had the perfect economy?

3. Avoid dream crushers, vision smashers, and naysayers. Don’t be hampered by low expectations – your own or anyone else’s. Instead, search for people who dream big and believe in themselves and in you.

4. Execute the next step. No matter how big the vision, no matter how daunting the task, ask yourself, “What is the next step?” Then do it.

5. At the end of each day, reflect and ask yourself, “Did I play my best? What can I do better tomorrow?” This attitude is the key to long-term success.

6. Build your support network. Share this article with others. Pass it to others who have remarkable potential. The fewer people who suffer from CSO, the easier it is for you and others to accomplish breakthrough results.

 


“Achieving Full Capacity” – Assests Required to Create an Honest Communication Success Culture

Organizations these days face limited resources and numerous external challenges, yet the demand to achieve full capacity remains constant. More than twenty years in business with employees tells me the key to achieving full capacity is to build and continuously nurture an Honest Communication Success Culture (HCSC) because such a culture makes all the difference to innovation, efficiency, and teamwork as well as the bottom line.

An Honest Communication Success Culture (HCSC) is the key differentiator between organizations that are successful and dominant in the market and those that are not. It is also the primary differentiator between organizations with employees who are fully engaged and those who are not. Considering that a recent Gallup poll revealed that 70 percent of employees are not engaged or inspired in the workplace, I would assert that it is time to consider the role of culture in facilitating engagement in order to win in the marketplace.

WHAT IS AN HONEST COMMUNICATION SUCCESS CULTURE?
An Honest Communication Success Culture has two primary characteristics—proactive sharing and taking responsibility—as illustrated in the grid below. These concepts seem simple, but their application may be a bit more complex than meets the eye. Let’s take a quick look at what proactive sharing and taking responsibility really are.

Proactive Sharing

In an organization with a strong HCSC, people openly and honestly share their thoughts and opinions because they understand the biggest problem in an organization isn’t what people do say, it’s what they don’t say. Proactive sharing is sharing without being asked, and it involves three levels of communication that we call the three I’s:

Level 1: Information. This is the first and most basic level of sharing. Information is critical for people to make informed decisions, and one
of the biggest problems in the workplace is uninformed decisions. Although any sharing is helpful, simply sharing information—or doing a data dump—isn’t enough. Some employees do share information but never draw conclusions or alert others to problems that are brewing.

Level 2: Issues. You can also refer to issues as problems or challenges that must be shared to insure the health of the organization. Problems that are ignored or hidden grow and become more complicated and expensive to fix as time passes.

Level 3: Ideas. Ideas directly impact innovation. You can’t move forward on an idea you don’t know about, and you can’t develop a rough idea into a solution that will positively impact your bottom line if you’ve never heard about it.

In organizations with the strongest HCSC, people proactively share at all three levels: Information, Issues, and Ideas. All are necessary. It’s easy to see why organizations that promote proactive sharing—up, down, and across the organization—are more effective and efficient and able to dramatically increase revenue and profits.

Taking Responsibility

Sharing is destructive rather than constructive if people don’t take responsibility. When people share but play the blame game, others will get defensive, hunker down, and blame back. This behavior can actually stall organizational growth. If left unattended, destructive sharing becomes entrenched in the culture and can lead to a downward spiral for the organization. By encouraging everyone to take responsibility rather than to shift it, organizations find solutions rather than fault and create an environment that encourages people to take initiative, think out of the box, and excel with velocity.

ACHIEVING FULL CAPACITY

Because organizations consist of people, and people make up culture, understanding whether your employees are enhancing your organization’s HCSC or undermining it is crucial. The grid below identifies the four key modalities that employees operate with (usually without even knowing it) and demonstrates each modality’s level of proactive sharing and taking responsibility. All employees fall into one of the four categories — Pointers, Apologists, Hiders, and Assets — and, as the grid reveals, each impacts your HCSC. These categories are not personality types; they are modes or perspectives that anyone can fall into.

The reason to identify these roles is not to place blame, but rather to create awareness and develop a plan to move people into the Asset category. Helping employees become fully engaged benefits your organization and everyone in it. As you look at these perspectives, remember
to assume your employees have good intentions. Many people want to do their best for you, but their past experiences can lead to wrong conclusions and actions in the present. Understanding these modalities will enable you to improve your culture, engage your employees, and get your organization to operate as close to full capacity as possible. Let’s take a look at each one.

Honesty Grid- final 8.26.13

To get the rest of this article on how to identify the four categories – Pointers, Apologists, Hiders, and Assets – and learn how to convert all of your employees into Assets, send an email request to breyana@stevengaffney.com or call 703-241-7796. Feel free to circulate as well!


Beware of the 5 Communication Myths!

When it comes to dealing with problems or issues with others, we are likely to believe one or more myths of communication–ideas that are touted as solutions, but can actually result in more problems.

Myth #1: Time heals all wounds.

The truth is, that time usually deepens wounds. If time really healed all wounds, people would not blame their behavior on their childhood and past events as they often do. In fact, time can deceive us into thinking that problems with others have been resolved, but all it takes is to see them again or something to remind us of those previous unresolved issues and we will become upset all over again. In essence, our unresolved past is lying around waiting to strike us in the present.

What to do? Do not rationalize by thinking, “Well, they are not saying or bringing it up, so I will just let it go.” Just because they are not bringing it up does not mean that they have let it go. They may feel awkward or embarrassed or they may not know how to bring it up so they have decided to bury it. The key is to proactively bring up issues and resolve them.

Myth #2: Don’t rock the boat.

The truth is, if you don’t rock the boat, the boat will probably sink. Faced with an issue or problem that is bothering us, many people rationalize, “I am not going to say anything. It is not that big of a deal. I don’t want to rock the boat.” The problem with this way of thinking is if we don’t say anything, the issue is unlikely to be resolved. Then what was once a small issue may fester and grow into a big problem.

What to do? As stated above, proactively bring up issues as they happen.

Myth #3: Be diplomatic.

The truth is, if we are too diplomatic, the point we are trying to make will not get across and nothing will get resolved. Have you ever had someone claim that they told you something, but you really don’t remember or didn’t understand the message they were trying to send? This happened because the message being conveyed to you was so subtle that you missed the point.

What to do? When we have to communicate an issue, bringing it up in a respectful way is important, but make sure the issue and what you want done is clear and direct.

Myth #4: Sandwich what you really want to say between two compliments.

The truth is, the “sandwich method” is so obvious that people immediately identify the strategy and feel manipulated. The sandwich method is when you place what you really want to say between two positive compliments. “I appreciate how hard you work, but blah, blah, blah… and thank you for working with me on this.” This communication trick can permanently damage relationships.

What to do? Tell people the truth. People are smart, but we are lousy actors, so be honest and clear. If you have issues, talk about them and get right to the point. When you have something nice to say, bring it up in a conversation unrelated to the problem so you can get the most benefit out of the conversation.

Myth #5: More communication leads to resolution.

The truth is, simply having more communication can lead to wasting time and possibly more misunderstandings. Sometimes it is believed that the more people talk about something, that easier the message will emerge from the sheer volume of information. But how often have you been in a meeting where people “talked about things” and nothing got resolved.

Consider this: if the solution were simply to increase communication, wouldn’t you expect that the increase in e-mail, cell phone use, and video conferencing would have significantly reduced communication problems? In spite of all of these extra tools now accessible to us, it seems that there are more misunderstandings, mistakes, and conflicts than ever before. And people still complain that they don’t receive the feedback they need to do their jobs properly.

In fact, communication technologies can also help people spread misinformation with blazing speed, sometimes leading to devastating results. Communication technology is not inherently bad. However, the way people use it is often ineffective. Increasing the amount of communication through multiple channels is not the answer.

What to do? Instead of just increasing the amount of communication, make sure that people know how to effectively use the different methods to communicate. These methods can make the critical difference in successfully resolving issues as they arise.

Take Action


Pass this tip on to people you care about; your co-workers, your boss, your employees, your family and friends. Use it as a basis to talk to the people around your office, in your organization, and your personal life. Have an upfront conversation about the “myths of communication” and assess what everyone is willing to do differently. This way everyone will benefit from the knowledge and wisdom we all have to contribute.


“Leading and Operating in Ambiguity” – The New Skill Set for an Ever-Changing Work World

Ambiguity. We have all confronted it at some
point in our careers. Matrix organizations,
multiple bosses, dotted- and solid-line
reporting, internal and external customers,
budget cuts, and economic issues are all factors that
contribute to an ambiguous work environment. In fact,
many of my executive clients cite ambiguity as a top
source of frustration, challenges, and wasted time and
money. Surprisingly enough, it does not have to be.
Ambiguity can also bring great opportunity – for those
who see the possibilities. Our ability to manage, operate,
and lead in an ambiguous environment separates the
best from the rest on an individual and organizational
level.
I am not saying clarity is a bad thing or that we should
not strive for it. I am simply acknowledging that it is not
always possible to achieve. Get clarity when you can, but
when you cannot, choose to embrace the opportunities
ambiguity creates for you to shine.
One key to coming out on top is to see the major
benefit of ambiguity. Namely, it can serve as a forcing
function that engages the mind. If everything is always
clear-cut and provided for us, we can become lazy – on
both an individual and organizational level. But when
things are not clear, there are opportunities to forge new
territories, stake one’s claim, make suggestions, and seize
the moment. While some organizations are constantly in a
reactive mode, waiting to see how the world is changing,
The New Skill Set for an Ever-Changing Work World
by Steven Gaffney
Leading and
what the economic trends specifically dictate, and what
customers say they want, others are creating and shaping
opportunities.
Look at Apple®. They did not wait until people said
they wanted something like an iPad. Apple created it and
now others are scrambling to get in on that market – a
market Apple defined. In an ever-changing marketplace
of technology, Apple continues to create products
that generate demand. They are not tossed about by
commonly perceived limitations or paralyzed in reactive
mode awaiting clear instructions.
After all, even customers (internal customers included)
want us to suggest innovative ideas and take initiative. We
do that by uncovering hidden needs rather than simply
reacting to what customers say they need. If a customer
says they want X, we will usually give them X. Yet the value
of ambiguity is that it forces us to probe, allowing us to
find hidden needs and deliver what our customers truly
desire.
This ability to chart your own course and not be
dissuaded by common limitations can be the key to even
individual success. If I had told you ten years ago that I
was going to write a 500-page children’s book, you might
have suggested I have my head examined. After all,
children do not normally read that much, right? Yet look
at the success J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series had with
children. She looked beyond the preconceived limitations
of children’s literature and saw an opportunity. In doing
so, she pioneered the way for juvenile fantasy fiction.
Whether we are leading, managing, idea-generating,
servicing customers, or creating new business, we should
expect to do it in an often ambiguous and rapidly changing
environment. That requires proactive rather than reactive
behavior to seize the moment and take action.
One common syndrome we see in the workplace is
the “Deer in the Headlights Syndrome,” and it is one of
the most frequent complaints I hear from leaders. They
say that employees are frozen – like a deer caught in the
headlights – waiting for clear direction, rather than being
proactive with ideas, suggestions, actions, and solutions.
Books like Seth Godin’s Linchpin are now suggesting that
people who are just waiting to be told what to do are
often the most replaceable. In some industries they are
even the ones whose jobs are being outsourced overseas.
It has never been more critical to meet ambiguity head-on
and create new opportunities. The individuals who can do
so in a quick, effective manner will increasingly become
the go-to people, while the organizations that do so will
come out on top time and again.
7 Tactics and Skills to Implement in
an Ambiguous Environment
Nearly twenty years of surveying the work environment of
top governmental agencies and Fortune 500 organizations
have shown me that with the right mentality and some
key strategies, we can overcome the challenges of
ambiguity and capitalize on the opportunities it presents.
The following seven strategies can help you and your
organization embrace those opportunities.
1. Eliminate Half-Baked Ideas. An ambiguous environment
presents incredible opportunities. The way to seize
those opportunities is by suggesting quality ideas that are
well thought out. Some people mistakenly believe that
others do not want to hear their ideas. They complain
that they have tried making suggestions and their ideas
were rejected. That may be, but ideas are often rejected
because they are half-baked and the person hearing them
lacks the time to shape and invest in those ideas. So
whether or not the idea is inherently good, it is denied.
Interestingly, I have found we are often closer to
getting a “yes” than we realize. Test it out. Next time you
get a “no” to one of your ideas, ask, “What would you
need to see to change your mind?” You may find that with
a few adjustments you can get the “yes” you are looking
for. Remember, those who create ideas are often the most
valuable players, and they can thrive in ambiguous times.
2. Take the Reins. Move from seeking explicit direction
from superiors to practicing self-management. As the
great management consultant (and friend) Zemira Jones
shared with me, the more people can self-manage –
evaluate and make corrections — the more motivated and
inspired they will be. Being free from the need to wait for
constant approval allows quick and timely adjustments to
be made, resulting in a tremendous time savings.
To effectively self-manage, it is critical to verify your
roles, responsibilities, and goals. If they have not been
communicated to you, be proactive in creating them
yourself. Look around for information and data; then
create your roles, responsibilities, and goals. Confirm
all of it with those to whom you report and then move
forward on them. Do not wait for goals and direction while
opportunities pass you by. Instead, create, verify, and take
action.
We cannot necessarily control our environment, but
we can control how we respond to that environment.
Choose to see the opportunities ambiguity creates
rather than getting tied up in the challenges. Often by
responding in an effective way, we can shape and affect
the environment.
Ambiguity can also
bring great opportunity
– for those who see the
possibilities.
3. Use Influence, Not Authority. As we discussed, we
often end up operating in a matrix environment, which
means we need to do things more by persuasion than by
directing and ordering. Even if we do have the authority,
we want to stay away from exercising that authority in a
heavy-handed way. Doing so may cause others to give us
lip service and then slow roll the initiative, or resist us in
other passive-aggressive ways.
The ability to influence others in an honest, nonmanipulative,
and effective manner is a crucial skill set
in today’s complex world. One skill for improving your
influence is building and maintaining rapport with others.
Another important skill is addressing and resolving
objections and hidden issues. If you can work on improving
those two skills, then your ability to influence will continue
to grow.
4. Get Clarity on the Non-Negotiables. Even in the
most ambiguous, unclear environment, there are
certain things that are non-negotiable – off the table.
Our ability to gain clarity on those things can save
tremendous time and resources. Nothing destroys
motivation like spending time working on something
that was actually non-negotiable from the start. Leaders
who bring clarity about negotiable vs. non-negotiable
can get extremely high returns from a workforce that
focuses their ideas and actions on the negotiables.
5. Beware of Idea Killers. Watch out for statements like
these: “We already know what they want”; “We know
better”; “We tried that before”; and “That will never
work.” Attitudes like these are idea killers, and they can
leave your organization stagnant, allowing others to pass
you by. The antidote to idea killers is to ask questions
and dig for information. Do not assume your customers
want what they have wanted in the past. Choose to probe
and uncover hidden needs. This is a key to capitalizing
on the opportunities in an ambiguous environment.
For more information on avoiding idea killers,
please read my article on the “Power of Wrong.” If
you do not have the article, please call our office.
6. Reset Expectations. I am struck by how many people
are waiting for change to stop and responsibilities
to become clear. If this is happening, hit the reboot
button and reset people’s expectations. Remind them
that things will always be changing and that much
will be unclear. For that reason, it makes sense to
always be improving (and therefore tinkering with
things). If we are not progressing, we are regressing.
The pace of change in today’s business environment
demands constant improvement on an individual and
organizational level. That means it is crucial to have the
mindset that there is no such thing as the perfect solution.
Often it is taking action that allows us to see how to make
things better. Consider this: when was the last time you
saw a plan that was executed the way it was designed?
The truth is that no matter how well thought out our
plans are, we will most likely need to make adjustments.
Encourage everyone to expect change and embrace it.
7. Keep the Floodgates Open. One leader told me
he actually likes ambiguity because it forces people
to think and communicate. In the absence of being
certain, people have to seek out others and talk
with them. For that reason, an environment that
encourages open, honest communication is a must
in order for the other strategies to work. It is the
foundation for capitalizing on ambiguity’s opportunities.
If staff is not willing to share issues and challenges
or is not empowered to freely share ideas, then
ambiguity’s opportunities cannot be seized. Open those
floodgates by rewarding honest communication and
encouraging staff to share problems and solutions.
This will enhance creativity, make room for outsidethe-
box thinking, and improve teamwork – exactly
what is needed in an ambiguous environment.
The end result will be a boost to the bottom line.
For more information on how to achieve open,
honest communication, please read my article “The
11 Most Costly Hidden Problems in the Workplace.”
If you do not have the article, please call us for a copy.
The factors that contribute to ambiguity are here to
stay, so do not allow ambiguity’s potential challenges
to blind you to its prospects. Ambiguity offers great
opportunity to flourish – to lead the way in the everchanging
marketplace. Take the initiative and use the
seven tactics to operate, excel, and lead in an ambiguous
workplace

Ambiguity. We have all confronted it at some point in our careers. Matrix organizations, multiple bosses, dotted- and solid-line reporting, internal and external customers, budget cuts, and economic issues are all factors that contribute to an ambiguous work environment. In fact, many of my executive clients cite ambiguity as a top source of frustration, challenges, and wasted time and money. Surprisingly enough, it does not have to be.

Ambiguity can also bring great opportunity – for those who see the possibilities. Our ability to manage, operate, and lead in an ambiguous environment separates the best from the rest on an individual and organizational level.

I am not saying clarity is a bad thing or that we should not strive for it. I am simply acknowledging that it is not always possible to achieve. Get clarity when you can, but when you cannot, choose to embrace the opportunities ambiguity creates for you to shine.

One key to coming out on top is to see the major benefit of ambiguity. Namely, it can serve as a forcing function that engages the mind. If everything is always clear-cut and provided for us, we can become lazy – on both an individual and organizational level. But when things are not clear, there are opportunities to forge new territories, stake one’s claim, make suggestions, and seize the moment. While some organizations are constantly in a reactive mode, waiting to see how the world is changing, what the economic trends specifically dictate, and what customers say they want, others are creating and shaping opportunities.

Look at Apple. They did not wait until people said they wanted something like an iPad. Apple created it and now others are scrambling to get in on that market – a market Apple defined. In an ever-changing marketplace of technology, Apple continues to create products that generate demand. They are not tossed about by commonly perceived limitations or paralyzed in reactive mode awaiting clear instructions.

After all, even customers (internal customers included) want us to suggest innovative ideas and take initiative. We do that by uncovering hidden needs rather than simply reacting to what customers say they need. If a customer says they want X, we will usually give them X. Yet the value of ambiguity is that it forces us to probe, allowing us to find hidden needs and deliver what our customers truly desire.

This ability to chart your own course and not be dissuaded by common limitations can be the key to even individual success. If I had told you ten years ago that I was going to write a 500-page children’s book, you might have suggested I have my head examined. After all, children do not normally read that much, right? Yet look at the success J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series had with children. She looked beyond the preconceived limitations of children’s literature and saw an opportunity. In doing so, she pioneered the way for juvenile fantasy fiction.

Whether we are leading, managing, idea-generating, servicing customers, or creating new business, we should expect to do it in an often ambiguous and rapidly changing environment. That requires proactive rather than reactive behavior to seize the moment and take action. One common syndrome we see in the workplace is  the “Deer in the Headlights Syndrome,” and it is one of the most frequent complaints I hear from leaders. They say that employees are frozen – like a deer caught in the headlights – waiting for clear direction, rather than being proactive with ideas, suggestions, actions, and solutions. Books like Seth Godin’s Linchpin are now suggesting that people who are just waiting to be told what to do are often the most replaceable. In some industries they are even the ones whose jobs are being outsourced overseas. It has never been more critical to meet ambiguity head-on and create new opportunities. The individuals who can do so in a quick, effective manner will increasingly become the go-to people, while the organizations that do so will come out on top time and again.

7 Tactics and Skills to Implement in an Ambiguous Environment

Nearly twenty years of surveying the work environment of top governmental agencies and Fortune 500 organizations have shown me that with the right mentality and some key strategies, we can overcome the challenges of ambiguity and capitalize on the opportunities it presents. The following seven strategies can help you and your organization embrace those opportunities.

1. Eliminate Half-Baked Ideas. An ambiguous environment presents incredible opportunities. The way to seize those opportunities is by suggesting quality ideas that are well thought out. Some people mistakenly believe that others do not want to hear their ideas. They complain that they have tried making suggestions and their ideas were rejected. That may be, but ideas are often rejected because they are half-baked and the person hearing them lacks the time to shape and invest in those ideas. So whether or not the idea is inherently good, it is denied.

Interestingly, I have found we are often closer to getting a “yes” than we realize. Test it out. Next time you get a “no” to one of your ideas, ask, “What would you need to see to change your mind?” You may find that with a few adjustments you can get the “yes” you are looking for. Remember, those who create ideas are often the most valuable players, and they can thrive in ambiguous times.

2. Take the Reins. Move from seeking explicit direction from superiors to practicing self-management. As the great management consultant (and friend) Zemira Jones shared with me, the more people can self-manage – evaluate and make corrections — the more motivated and inspired they will be. Being free from the need to wait for constant approval allows quick and timely adjustments to be made, resulting in a tremendous time savings.

To effectively self-manage, it is critical to verify your roles, responsibilities, and goals. If they have not been communicated to you, be proactive in creating them yourself. Look around for information and data; then create your roles, responsibilities, and goals. Confirm all of it with those to whom you report and then move forward on them. Do not wait for goals and direction while opportunities pass you by. Instead, create, verify, and take action.

We cannot necessarily control our environment, but we can control how we respond to that environment. Choose to see the opportunities ambiguity creates rather than getting tied up in the challenges. Often by responding in an effective way, we can shape and affect the environment.

3. Use Influence, Not Authority. As we discussed, we often end up operating in a matrix environment, which means we need to do things more by persuasion than by directing and ordering. Even if we do have the authority, we want to stay away from exercising that authority in a heavy-handed way. Doing so may cause others to give us lip service and then slow roll the initiative, or resist us in other passive-aggressive ways. The ability to influence others in an honest, non-manipulative, and effective manner is a crucial skill set in today’s complex world. One skill for improving your influence is building and maintaining rapport with others. Another important skill is addressing and resolving objections and hidden issues. If you can work on improving those two skills, then your ability to influence will continue to grow.

4. Get Clarity on the Non-Negotiables. Even in the most ambiguous, unclear environment, there are certain things that are non-negotiable – off the table. Our ability to gain clarity on those things can save tremendous time and resources. Nothing destroys motivation like spending time working on something that was actually non-negotiable from the start. Leaders who bring clarity about negotiable vs. non-negotiable can get extremely high returns from a workforce that focuses their ideas and actions on the negotiables.

5. Beware of Idea Killers. Watch out for statements like these: “We already know what they want”; “We know better”; “We tried that before”; and “That will never work.” Attitudes like these are idea killers, and they can leave your organization stagnant, allowing others to pass you by. The antidote to idea killers is to ask questions and dig for information. Do not assume your customers want what they have wanted in the past. Choose to probe and uncover hidden needs. This is a key to capitalizing on the opportunities in an ambiguous environment.

For more information on avoiding idea killers, please read my article on the “Power of Wrong.” If you do not have the article, please call our office.

6. Reset Expectations. I am struck by how many people are waiting for change to stop and responsibilities to become clear. If this is happening, hit the reboot button and reset people’s expectations. Remind them that things will always be changing and that much will be unclear. For that reason, it makes sense to always be improving (and therefore tinkering with things). If we are not progressing, we are regressing.

The pace of change in today’s business environment demands constant improvement on an individual and organizational level. That means it is crucial to have the mindset that there is no such thing as the perfect solution. Often it is taking action that allows us to see how to make things better. Consider this: when was the last time you saw a plan that was executed the way it was designed? The truth is that no matter how well thought out our plans are, we will most likely need to make adjustments. Encourage everyone to expect change and embrace it.

7. Keep the Floodgates Open. One leader told me he actually likes ambiguity because it forces people to think and communicate. In the absence of being certain, people have to seek out others and talk with them. For that reason, an environment that encourages open, honest communication is a must in order for the other strategies to work. It is the foundation for capitalizing on ambiguity’s opportunities.

If staff is not willing to share issues and challenges or is not empowered to freely share ideas, then ambiguity’s opportunities cannot be seized. Open those floodgates by rewarding honest communication and encouraging staff to share problems and solutions. This will enhance creativity, make room for outside-the-box thinking, and improve teamwork – exactly what is needed in an ambiguous environment. The end result will be a boost to the bottom line.

For more information on how to achieve open, honest communication, please read my article “The 11 Most Costly Hidden Problems in the Workplace.”

If you do not have the article, please call us for a copy. The factors that contribute to ambiguity are here to stay, so do not allow ambiguity’s potential challenges to blind you to its prospects. Ambiguity offers great opportunity to flourish – to lead the way in the everchanging marketplace. Take the initiative and use the seven tactics to operate, excel, and lead in an ambiguous workplace.


“The Perspective of a Lifetime” – Three Life Principles to Beware and One to Live By

ADVICE. It’s everywhere. Magazine covers. Morning news broadcasts. E-mail forwards. It seems everyone has some advice to give, and most of us must be looking for it, because self-help books continue to sell and those morning shows keep booking guests who offer life direction in perfect sound bites.

Recently I started thinking about some of the guiding life principles that I hear repeatedly – those easy-to-remember ideas that supposedly can help guide us through our daily lives and help us make decisions. I quickly realized that if we were to fully implement many of these life principles, we wouldn’t be too pleased with the results.

The trouble is that these ideas get repeated so often that we fail to think critically about them, and we miss opportunities to find a life principle that can help us safely navigate our daily lives. I want to alert you to three common life principles that could cause you harm and give you one life principle that I have found to provide sound guidance. First let’s look at three life principles you should watch out for.

PRINCIPLE 1: LIVE IN THE PRESENT

It is good to enjoy the moment, and I do live by this principle – to an extent. For instance, if I’m spending the day with family or friends, I try to focus on them rather than obsessing over business while I pretend to listen to them. In that way, living in the present is great advice. But the trouble is that this principle of living in the moment doesn’t always offer the right perspective. How can it possibly help you make effective business decisions, career decisions, financial decisions, or family decisions? Those decisions require long- term thinking. I love McDonald’s – in the moment. But afterwards McDonald’s doesn’t make me feel so good. Living in the moment is important, but it can make us shortsighted and cause us to choose the wrong things.

PRINCIPLE 2: TREAT OTHERS THE WAY YOU WANT TO BE TREATED

The Golden Rule. Hard to argue with, isn’t it? The trouble is that we are profoundly different from one another. Treating people the way you want to be treated often only works with people who are like you. Suppose you’re a meat lover and you’re having a family of vegetarians over for dinner. Should you serve them meat? Of course not ! Life demands that we develop greater flexibility than this principle suggests. The best leaders and man agers I know have expanded their capabilities and developed the muscles to adjust to other people’s styles and personalities.

PRINCIPLE 3: TREAT OTHERS THE WAY THEY WANT TO BE TREATED

This sounds kind and loving, but sometimes what people say they want is not what’s best for them. If your friend is an alcoholic and he says he wants a drink, should you give it to him? Or, to be less extreme, think about people who say they want honest feedback but in the next breath tell you that they only want feedback in a particular area or in a certain way. As I discuss in my seminars and coaching sessions, when people set conditions for honesty, it limits honesty because others will use those conditions as a reason not to be truthful. The result is missed opportunities for growth. This may be the way these people want to be treated, but that doesn’t make it the best. This assessment got me thinking about what makes a good guiding life principle. It didn’t take me long to realize that for years I’d been observing a valuable life principle in action, but simply hadn’t realized the power it could have for me.

Three of my four grandparents lived long lives, and my relationships with them taught me that people who are approaching the end of their lives often reflect on their accomplishments, their disappointments, their regrets, and all they have to be thankful for. They examine how they’ve made use of their time on this earth. So why not live as if the ninetyyear- old me is present with me to give me advice and wisdom right now? At ninety we will understand what is important in the long run, but we’ll also know the value of enjoying the present. At ninety we’ll know how to treat others, but we’ ll also understand the importance of saying what needs to be said and of making the decisions that may be unpopular but are the right thing to do. At ninety we’ll understand the grave importance of being clear on our top priorities, knowing our negotiables and non-negotiables, and choosing to spend our time with people who enhance our lives and treat us the way we deserve to be treated.

Implementing the ninety year-old principle has made a significant difference in my life. I lived for years sacrificing time with those I love as well as sacrificing my emotional presence when I was physically present. When I began asking myself what the ninety year-old me would tell me to do, I was shocked by some of my decisions and ac actions in my professional and personal life. I realized I had wasted time doing many things that had brought little, if any, lasting value. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I have.

Try it. Think of a business or personal decision you need to make, and visualize yourself at ninety. You’re sitting in a comfortable chair with your feet up. You’re smiling and content with the decisions you have made throughout your life. Now ask yourself what the ninety-year-old you would tell you to do now.

Suppose you need to be honest with someone about their attitude, performance, or treatment of others. What guidance might the three damaging life principles offer?

Live in the moment: Unless you love confrontation, this principle may leave you thinking, “Not right now!”
Treat others the way you want to be treated: This could be helpful as long as you don’t mind conflict and aren’t upset by hearing difficult messages. Treat others the way they want to be treated: If the person isn’t open to coaching or often doesn’t want to hear what others have to say, then you’ll have to hold your tongue.

But here’s what the ninety year-old you would likely think about approaching a difficult subject with someone: Things may be uncomfortable and there may be some trouble in the short term, but in the long run, this is the right thing to do. Time deepens wounds and deepens problems, and ignoring situations often makes them worse. I know that pain in the short term can bring gain in the long term. When I look back on this, I’ll be glad I said what needed to be said.

Don’t wait until you’re ninety to gain this valuable perspective. What is the ninety year-old you advising you to do now?


“How to Listen for the Real Message”- Lesson Learned from My Mother

The most terrific woman I know is my mother. Her advice over the years has helped me avoid many problems. As embarrassing as this is to admit, I missed out on many years of my mom’s wonderful advice. Why? Because I was missing the real message behind her words.

My mother, by her own admission, can be somewhat negative. If I say things are going great, she might ask, “But are you prepared for the future?” Even though I run my own business, she reminds me almost every year that April 15 is tax day. There are many things I am likely to forget, but tax day is not one of them. If there is a possible negative outcome to any situation, my mother can usually predict it and advise me accordingly.

Unfortunately, for years I took her words as a form of disrespect. I thought her negativity and her tendency to play devil’s advocate were signs that she thought I was incapable of doing things right and that she had little faith in my business acumen or my instincts for survival. I reasoned that if she really respected me, she would not be the voice of doom.

Things changed one day when I was attending a seminar. The speaker reminded us not to get caught up in the words people say but to listen for the true message they are trying to convey. At that moment, the light bulb went on. My mother was talking to me in this way because she cared about me, not because she had no faith in me or my skills! Voicing her worries was her way of expressing her love and protectiveness for me; it was not a form of disrespect. Suddenly, I got it.

I vowed from that moment forward to hear the real message my mom was trying to communicate and to be patient with her. She may use words that sound negative, but now I view her worries and warnings as an expression of love. She is simply trying to contribute and point out things that she perceives as helpful.

Of course, as soon as I really started to listen to my mom, I realized how smart and wise she is. She has subsequently saved me on many occasions by pointing out things I would otherwise have overlooked because of my ceaseless optimism.

Are you missing anyone’s real message? A client’s? A co-worker’s? A friend’s?

Let’s take a work example. When someone complains to you, do you hear just the complaints, or do you take time to recognize the impetus behind the complaints? Perhaps the complainer is not actually trying to be difficult. Perhaps the complainer just wants to be noticed and appreciated for the work they are doing. Or perhaps the complainer is dedicated to the job and wants to excel. Maybe the complainer feels frustrated by a lack of resources and may think it is helpful to point out insufficiencies. Some complainers lack the skill or self-confidence to ask for what they really need. They complain, hoping that others will get the hint and provide it.

Complaining clients who are hard to work with can become our best, most-loyal clients if we take the time to hear their real message and address their concerns. If our clients truly do not want to make things work, or if they really have given up, they would probably remain silent and quietly end the relationship as soon as possible.

If we are not careful to hear the real messages people are trying to communicate, we will miss them… and possibly miss out on great opportunities as well. Remember, you cannot change what people say, but you can change the way you choose to hear them. So now, when my mom is predicting gloom and doom in my life, I simply smile and say, “Mom, I got it. You love me.”