This week we have the pleasure of visiting with Diana Wu David. She is a TEDx speaker and author of the book Future Proof. Her company, Sarana Labs, invests in young people and companies to prepare them for a bright future. Diana shares her thoughts with us on our newest podcast and as a guest on our blog. Enjoy! -ZH
There’s been a lot of discussions lately about what work will look like in an age of globalization and automation. I think we’ll see people coming together, collaborating on joint experiments, and solving important problems.
So what does a future-proof life look like?
A future-proof life is one that has considered how to mitigate the risk of accelerating change and disruption by being prepared mentally, professionally, and financially. It is a life with a broad enough definition of success to honor the experiences, relationships, and opportunities you’ve achieved, not just milestones of achievement externally defined.
It is always adapting and proactively seeking the next learning opportunity aligned with values and focus. Honoring yourself in more varied and creative ways contributes far more to your ultimate success.
When I think about redefining success, I reflect on a corporate lawyer friend of mine, Jennifer: she didn’t love every aspect of her job but thought a lot about her values and desire to help people. By doing so, she expanded into a role in thought leadership. This helped her win the top employment lawyer award in Asia, which she might not have been able to do without taking a close look at her passions. She followed her curiosity to a natural place where she leveraged her experience into something new, challenging, and exciting.
Likewise, Lale Kesebi launched her strategy lab, human-at.work, to broaden what she did for one organization to other companies trying to build great businesses for humans.
Both redefined success, beyond just clocking in and out every day, to reach further and be more ambitious about living their own visions of success.
An Action Plan for Success
It’s not easy to break from enduring habits, belief systems, and past prestige to explore and find new ways to grow personally and professionally. The greatest resistance we sometimes meet is ourselves. Yet we owe it to ourselves to create alternate opportunities and plunge in bravely past our own resistance to set a new course to new ideas of success and significance.
Success can be broadly defined. A rigid definition exposes you to the risk of not realizing that the winds are shifting, and you might not be ready. The company you work for may no longer be around in the coming years, or the industry might be dramatically disrupted. With self-awareness and courage to act, you can prepare for those kinds of events and capitalize on the lack of structure to create one that best serves you.
Don’t wait for success to come to you and don’t think that once you have it, it’s there forever. Think about where you are today, where your work is heading, and take calculated risks to get where you want to be. Many people reading this article are already in that frame of mind or they’re nervous and not exactly sure how to move forward.
Yet they have a lot of career capital and can become leaders in the new economy. To maximize your potential, it’s vital to think, reflect, and shift your perspective. Many of us are already leaders of some sort, which makes us even more responsible to think and reimagine the future of work for ourselves and others. Get out there and challenge your ideas. Craft your own life and role model the possibilities of the future. It’s time to act.
One of the common issues I see leaders face is that they identify too strongly with one aspect of their lives and ignore the other parts. It can be easy to fall into this trap because it typically starts out innocently enough as you pursue something that you enjoy or that is important to you. In the pursuit of more, we let other parts of our lives go neglected. We then begin to put all of our identity and worth into only a single aspect of our lives and we begin to lose that sense of fulfillment.
Think of your life holistically
Think of your life as a bookshelf. On that shelf are different books that represent who you are. It may include things like parent, job, spouse, friend, runner (or other hobbies), 2nd hobby, student, church, professional group etc. People begin to feel the pressure as the single book (let’s say work) begins to push more and more against the other books of your life. You put all your worth and identity into work and you begin feeling depressed because you know it is impacting your home life, but at the same time, you feel like your job is who you are.
Your life is more than just the one “book” and each book needs its own time and attention in order for you to have a healthy balance and a true sense of identity.
Where do I find more space?
Your shelf is time and we all have the same amount. Some people think of their shelves in terms of a day week or month. There are two ways to gain space for your “books”.
Great time management: If you have really strong time management skills, you can usually find some space on your shelf. The good news for those struggling and don’t practice time management is that you likely have a large amount of space that can be freed up if you begin to utilize this skill.
Reduce the page counts in other books: So you have no other space. You’ll need to reduce the page counts in one or more other books. This is exactly what I did with my running this year. I went from doing 26 races a year down to just a handful. The space it provided gave me a chance to work on a project that had been on my to-do list for two years, spend more time with family and do more film work. I’m still a runner, it just doesn’t dominate my life as it did before.
Do your best to only have one “book” out at a time, meaning don’t bring your work issues home and let it dominate your home life. Don’t let your running consume you so much that it keeps you from doing other things that you want to do. Get one book out at a time, enjoy and do your best, then put it up and get another book out.
People ask how I remain sane with a job, running, family, podcasting, writing, film work, friends, family and church and this is my secret to the balance. I enjoy one, put it up and enjoy the other. I do talk about work some at home and I do film work with friends. I just don’t let one aspect dominate the other.
You may know someone that only talks about their hobby or job or the same thing every time you see them. This is a person that holds their full worth and identity in only one part of their lives. They typically aren’t that fun to hang out with for long periods. Use that awareness to avoid the trap in your own life.
Give all of your books the love and attention they deserve and don’t let one encroach too much on the others. You’ll have a happier life and feel more content in your true identity.
Entering the corporate environment can be intimidating. It’s like starting college mid-semester. The cliques have already been formed, they are in the middle of working on a project and the dynamics of the class are already set. You’ve got to take a seat and figure it out. Welcome to your new job!
How well you navigate the corporate environment can either give you a career boost or become an anchor that you will have a difficult time getting rid of. It’s important that we are successful as we acclimate ourselves to the environment.
Learn the environment and survey the landscape
One of the first things that you’ll need to do is learn the environment and survey the landscape. This goes beyond just settling into your new workspace and finding the breakroom, bathroom and conference area. You’ll need to spend some time learning the different teams, the culture, and subcultures that are happening in the organization. If you are working for a national or international organization, learn your local office first and then seek to gain knowledge about other locations.
You will need to understand the nuances before going through the next steps of picking a sponsor and mentor. You don’t want to saddle up with the person that turns out to be the office jokester or the person that no one respects. Knowing the environment has higher stakes than it did when you were in school. Making the wrong connections and associations could severely impact your trajectory.
Find a sponsor
Find someone in the organization that can be your sponsor. This will be a person that will vouch for you as you gain credibility and introduce you to other people in the organization. They don’t have to a senior level employee, although that never hurts. The right peer with a good reputation can be a great sponsor as you get your footing in a new company. Be sure to thank them and show your appreciation for every opportunity!
Find a mentor
It’s also helpful if you can find a mentor in your organization. They are different from your sponsor in that they focus more on your personal and career success. This person can actually be your boss if you two have a good connection and trust each other. If you feel more comfortable with a third party mentor, ask around and make that connection. The mentorship doesn’t have to be forever. Having someone for the first 6 months is a great timetable for both parties to get a feel of the relationship and determine if it’s necessary, or wanted going forward.
Starting a new job in a corporate setting can be overwhelming if you let it. Remember to have fun. You earned the spot you are sitting in now and your new co-workers want you to be successful in your duties. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt and let all of your co-workers start with a clean slate no matter what you hear about them.
The value of your word is much like the stock market. Its value fluctuates on a continual basis. Any company out there would love the ability to be fully in control of their rating on the market. There are many outside factors that go into the evaluation of a company with many of the factors being outside of the organization’s control. The good news is that while you have outside influences on the value of your word, you have full control over its value.
Underpromise and overdeliver.
One way to quickly lose value in your word is to consistently make promises that you can’t deliver on. Avoid trying to impress people with short turnarounds and unrealistic quality standards. Instead be up front and realistic and impress them by delivering something quicker or higher quality than you promised. If you know that you can’t deliver on a solution, don’t offer it.
Phrases like “always” and “never” work well when talking about the principles that we lead on. “We always treat each other with respect.” They also work well when talking about moral and ethical issues. There are not many other things that are absolutes. When you communicate with someone in an absolute and then it doesn’t play out that way, you’ve severely hurt your value. Find ways to be both clear and not as absolute in your communication.
Be clear and avoid adding confusion/rumors.
People will try to fill in the blanks when you aren’t clear in communication. Some leaders enjoy playing a cat and mouse game in their communication. They don’t want to tell you what fully going on, but they want you to figure it out. This only frustrates the ones that are sharp enough to catch on and others will miss the point entirely. Also avoid adding in subjectives, rumors or what-ifs when you have to deliver tough news. It’s weak leadership to try to hide behind a rumor to make yourself feel better about delivering a message. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Trust me. I said trust me!
If you find yourself saying the phrase “Trust me.” all the time, then you don’t have that person’s trust and you can’t command them to give you that trust. In cases where the trust has severely deteriorated, telling someone to trust you actually increases the damage. People can find it offensive for you to ask them to trust you when you’re the one that has destroyed the trust. Use the trust me phrase as a good check on your self-awareness.
Why it matters
The value of your word is closely associated with trust, integrity, leadership ability and relationship management. Your worth in your career increases as the value of your word increases. Your relationships grow deeper and are more meaningful as well. The value of your word is truly like currency.
If the value of your word were on the stock market how would it look? Would it be ever increasing? Would it have peaks and valleys? Would it be in a full sell-off, having lost all its value? Work to strengthen the value of your word so that people know they can take what you say to the bank.
Life is all about curveballs and unexpected changes. I’m not aware of anyone that has lived life exactly like they imagined and planned for. Sometimes these changes come out of nowhere and alter your life forever. A sudden job loss. The unexpected passing of a loved one. Other times you get some warning, but it doesn’t make the change much easier. We are creatures of habit and dislike things that challenge and change our comfort zones and routines.
Fully process the change.
When navigating a large change or sudden curve in your life, it’s important to address your needs in four ways.
Physically. People will most often jump to their physical needs first. It’s the survival instinct in us as humans. Think about what you need to do take care of your immediate and approaching needs. Do you need to start saving money if you know your job is going to end? Can you put food on the table? Having a sense of security will help you navigate the next steps.
Mentally. You need to allow yourself a chance to mentally process the change. If you are the one that is delivering hard news to someone, you need to allow the other person that same space to process. Leaders sometimes make the mistake of not allowing the person to process the news effectively because they have had a chance to process it before delivering the message.
Emotionally. As we discovered in emotional intelligence at the beginning of the year, emotions are not good or bad. They are simply an emotion. It’s important that you allow yourself to work through the emotions that you have during changes that impact your life. Suppressing them only lengthens the time it takes to work through the change.
Spiritually. Meditating and having a prayer life will help you stay focused on the larger picture and will provide you with a sense of comfort in the tough time.
Look for the resulting opportunities.
There is an opportunity in every curve that life throws at us. Losing the job might be the push to get you in the career that you always dreamed of. Getting unexpected news at the doctor’s office can be the wake-up call you needed to a healthier lifestyle. Take full advantage of what your current curve offers you. If the opportunity is not obvious, search for it. It’s there somewhere.
Begin to change to the new reality
As you process the change, you have to adapt to your new environment. I’ve seen many times where people failed to let go of the past and it kept them from a great future. It’s ok to acknowledge and think back fondly on the time before the change, but you also have to continue to live life and the enjoy the moments that you are currently in. Make the necessary changes and move forward.
The curves that life throw us are not always fun. I personally don’t look forward to them either, but my excitement about what life holds around the corner keeps me going.
Being around people that you admire from afar, have authority or are well known can spark a number of reactions in a person. Some get overly excited, some dread the interaction, some fear it, and others embrace it. Which are you?
We’ll talk about higher management today, but the thought really applies to a number of interactions in our lives. Meeting your idol, “celebrities”, certain political figures and more grounded examples like your pastor or significant other’s parents are some examples of this outside of work.
Take them off their pedestal
Part of the difficulty in being around higher management is that we like to put people on pedestals. Make yourself more comfortable by remembering that they are just normal people like you. I have had some odd to entertaining interactions with people because of what I’ve done with Passing the Baton, the Disney Runner and with my work responsibilities. We’ll cover some of the funnier ones on the podcast this week. I can guarantee you that the person you are going to interact with struggles with many of the same things that you do.
Understand their perspective and time
Now that you’ve gotten over the fact that they are not a superhero or a robot, you need to understand their perspective so that you can communicate in the right way. Most high-level leaders are very visionary and see things at a higher level. They also have many time constraints and are usually on tight schedules.
Be prepared so that you don’t waste time. Think about your presentation, questions, and thoughts from a higher level so that you can connect well with them. A CEO is likely not interested in why a marketing communication got to you a day late. Stay out of the weeds, be yourself and don’t lie/over exaggerate your points. They can see right through those efforts.
When the interaction doesn’t live up to your thoughts, don’t take it personally.
Many leaders that lead at a very high level can be a bit…impatient. If you nail your presentation, proposal or conversation and don’t get a bunch of affirmation or accolades, don’t take it personally. They are very busy and are likely trying to move on to their next appointment.
The victory comes from being able to go forward with your ideas and projects. The personal victory comes when you get asked back or they want to continue the conversation later.
A note for those that are higher level leaders and personalities.
Perhaps you are the person that is in higher management or a personality that many people gravitate to. Know that some people are going to be odd around you because they are uncomfortable. Don’t take it personally, instead help the situation by being very approachable and down to earth. The awkwardness will quickly fade away and you can have a productive conversation.
Times around higher management and personality don’t have to be stressful. You can do it!
Now that you’ve decided that you need to make a career change (or you are at least interested in looking) What do you do next?
What’s holding you back from your dream?
I’ve talked with many leaders over the years that fail to make a career change because of fear, an unrealistic expectation on the job market, myths, and misconceptions. Here are some of the common ones that I hear.
I’m safe or my job is safe. If all the news of centuries-old companies failing has taught us anything, it’s that no job is safe. I don’t believe that there is a single industry safe from some kind of disruption in the future. That includes the funeral industry! Also if you are unhappy in your current job you aren’t doing yourself or your company any favors by sticking around.
I’m too old. You are only too old if you think that you are. Look at senior leadership across organizations and you’ll often see men and women in their 50s+. Your age should give you more experience which should translate into a healthy salary if you have been intentional in continued development.
I’ll have to start over. Unless you are really early in your career, there is little likelihood that you will have to start from scratch. Your new employer is looking at what experience you can add to the team and how you can impact the organization. They aren’t as focused on making you pay your dues all over again.
My education is outdated. This one may partially be true depending on the industry or if you want to change to a different industry. The good news is that this can be easily remedied before you make a career change. Do research to see what skills, certifications, and schooling is needed and work to fill in your gaps.
You may need to walk a journey of mourning.
Mourning is another phase of a career change that many don’t realize. It may sound silly to mourn the job you have but think of it as a relationship. If you broke up with a significant other after years of being together, you’d mourn that relationship in some way, no matter how it ended. Your career is not all that different. Take the time to mourn, make peace and heal so that you can make the change from a mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy place.
Make smart financial decisions before and during the change.
It’s funny how much time and effort we put into other things in our lives and leave our career planning lacking any direction. Imagine what would happen if you put the same effort into planning for your next job as you do your next vacation or trip. Here are a few tips to help you prepare financially for the next step.
Build a cushion. A large amount of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, so the thought of missing a paycheck can drive us to make irrational decisions and settle. Build a cushion to help you think through your next steps in a very strategic way. The amount of cushion depends on your level of experience. The higher the experience, the higher the cushion needs to be.
Negotiate a higher salary. Be sure to negotiate your new salary and remember that it is not all about money. Try to get more vacation days, education allowance etc based on what your priorities are.
Invest. Don’t miss out on opportunities for free money. Contribute to your 401K at least up to what your company will match.
Follow the steps from last week and this week to successfully navigate a career change. If you need help don’t be afraid or too proud to ask for it. There are many people that help in career coaching, resume writing and interview prep.
A career change (or your first real career-type job) can be intimidating. The journey is a road of unknowns with little guarantee. It can also be an extremely stressful time as well. This week we will look at some areas of your life and your current job to determine if you really need to make a career change or something else.
Should I stay or should I go?
Sometimes we live in denial that it is time to move on from relationships, but personal and professional. Here are some clues that you’ve may have been giving yourself that it is time to move on.
You dread going to work daily.
You are bored.
You feel trapped.
You didn’t get the promotion that you wanted.
You don’t click with your boss.
Your salary increases have fallen behind the cost of living increases.
Your company is downsizing.
It’s important to understand the whys behind wanting to make a change. The knowledge will help you avoid bad scenarios and land a more rewarding position at your next stop.
Take a job satisfaction survey
Take a job satisfaction survey to get further confirmation that it’s time for a change. You can find many online and they will often help you identify what it is that you need to remedy in the next step in your career.
Skills gap: Do you have skill gaps that need to be closed before making the change? It’s better to take care of these beforehand if possible.
Culture fit: Do you not feel like you fit into the company culture anymore? Perhaps there has been a big leadership change and the direction of the company is no longer what it was.
Boss fit: Have you been paired up with a boss that is just not a good fit for you? Stick it out for a while. If they are really that bad, their behavior will eventually catch up to them. If you see the scenario being a long-term, permanent placement. It may be time to move on.
Ethics: We recently talked about the importance of your personal values. We’ll also cover the topic from a different perspective soon. The most solid signal you have that it’s time to go is if you have an issue here.
Lack of growth opportunities. Satisfaction surveys will bring out the opportunity or lack thereof for continued advancement. You should be in a place that you can continue to grow in some way.
Which to pick, industry or career?
Now that you’ve done the self-reflection and the satisfaction survey, you’ve decided that maybe you do need to look for something else.
It’s a great time to dream and really figure out which direction to take. Do you just want to change jobs in the industry that you are currently in, or do you want to change industries as well? Learn about other industries that you may be interested in. Lean on your network to do information interviews. These are conversations where you learn about the person’s experience in that industry. What do they love and what do they not care for? Connect with organizations on Linkedin and other social platforms to see what they are up to.
After you have spent some time gathering the information, you can make the decision clearly. Do you love your current industry and just not the job, or do you need a totally clean break to start a totally new adventure?
Use these three steps to determine if you need to make a change and where you should start looking. Next week we will discover the things that are holding you back and how to prepare financially for the leap of a lifetime.
There are few things in life that are permanent. You can even have your old tattoo of Hello Kitty that you now hate removed. People sometimes believe that you can’t shake a bad reputation. Instead of trying to climb out of the situation, they instead embrace it because they really don’t see another option. If you’d like to turn your reputation around or know someone that could use the help, be encouraged that there is a way out with hard work and dedication.
Own up to poor behavior and communicate it with others.
One of the best places to start in recovering from a bad reputation is to own up and acknowledge your reputation. Acknowledging the obvious is a great way to break the ice and communicate to others that you have the self-awareness and willingness to change.
Next, (authentically) ask for forgiveness with the people you may have wronged, commit to better behavior and ask for a chance to prove yourself. Once you walk through that step you can go forward.
Seek help, prove yourself and build trust
Know that turning around a bad reputation is a worthwhile endeavor, but it can also be a longer road than you realize. Seek help with a trusted advisor, coworker or friend that can give you insight or perhaps share their experience in walking a similar path. Be open, listen and take the steps for improvement.
People have a tendency to hold onto memories, especially those that are exceptionally good or bad. They are reinforced through repetition and become difficult to change. You are going to have to prove yourself for an extended period before people buy in that you have truly changed. Here on some tips to encourage you along the way:
Set realistic expectations for yourself and others. Remember that it takes 66 times of repetition before our brain starts to make a new neural connection.
Celebrate the small steps in progress.
Keep encouraging notes to yourself around the house, school or workplace.
Track your positive change on paper or a calendar so you can visually see the impact.
Accept that some won’t let go.
No matter how hard you try to turn around your reputation, some people simply won’t let go of their perception of you. You are going to have to be ok with that. Be confident in your new leadership and life walk and continue to lead yourself well. Don’t let an unbeliever discourage you from the new path that you have chosen.
You can turn around a bad reputation without having to start your life, career or job over. Focus on the right behaviors, seek honest communication and prove your claims. Show them that you are better than some poor choices and habits….because you are!
Have you ever had a boss that just wasn’t there? (Maybe that’s your wish!) Perhaps they are physically present but are not engaged in your relationship or the job that they are holding. A Gallup poll shows that nearly 20% of people in the workforce are actively disengaged. That number includes leaders and managers as well.
Bring it to their attention in a positive way.
If you get along with your boss and feel like they should be more engaged in your weekly activities, let them know. Approach the situation in a way that is encouraging and uplifting to them. Something like, “Would it be ok for us to have a weekly check-in so that I can make sure I’m executing well on your priorities?” works much better than, “I don’t see you enough. Can we get some time together?”
Make your leader feel like you value their leadership and their time as opposed to guilting them to do it. The tactic doesn’t work in relationships at home much less at the workplace.
The leader is both absent and the wrong fit.
Your leader may be absent and the wrong fit. You’re happy that they are aren’t around because that means you have to deal with them less. In this circumstance, the leader is not often a micromanager. Use that to your advantage.
First, understand the priorities, rules of engagement and boundaries then set off and lead yourself or your team well. In this scenario, you are going to have to pick up the reins and run it like you are your boss. (Which really should be how you should lead yourself anyway.) Sometimes people will step back, allow things to stay mediocre or fail and just point the finger at the leader at the end of the day.
I know the value and power of modeling the behavior that you want to get from others. Don’t let your boss’s disengagement drive you in the same direction. Step up and lead yourself well. Lead yourself and your team how you would like for someone to lead you.
Fill your cup in different ways.
An absent leader can lead to frustration because you aren’t supported. You and your team can lose confidence and feel less valued in what you do. Find guidance from other areas. This could be from other teams that are working on the same project, a mentor in the company or a trusted advisor in HR. There are many people involved in your life and career journey. If you don’t get enough from your boss, supplement the rest in other avenues.
Having an absent leader can be a challenge, especially if your personality type is one that needs recognition and affirmation on your job. Do your best to connect with them. Continue to lead yourself with excellence and do your best. Just because your boss is absent doesn’t mean that you have to be as well.
It can feel great when someone asks you to be their mentor. It means that they highly value your input and want to model at least part of their life after you. Mentoring can often be a bit intimidating at first. What can I truly offer someone else? I’m not some wise sage that gives out advice? What if I lead them astray?
Let me encourage you that you can be a great mentor without being Yoda.
If you tell yourself that you aren’t worthy to mentor someone, you will become a self-fulling prophecy. Have confidence that the person wants to hear and learn from you. Having confidence doesn’t mean you have to act like a know-it-all or make up answers if you don’t have one. Confidence is avoiding the imposter syndrome to lead in a meaningful and relaxed way.
Listen more than you talk
Just as you should do in your regular leadership, you should listen more than you coach in mentoring sessions. Although the person is there to hear from you, you need to understand where they are and all the details of the situation before you dispense your knowledge.
I’ve seen mentoring relationships fizzle out because the mentor spent the entire time talking. Afterward, the mentor is at a loss as to why it didn’t work out or will point to a personality difference. No matter how much your mentee looks up to you, they don’t want to just listen to a lecture and stories the whole time that you are together. Have a goal to learn something new about your person after each session.
Keep a neutral approach
A mentor should want their person to be successful. That doesn’t mean that you always have to take their side in an issue that they are going through in life or at work. In fact, the more neutral you are, the more it requires the person to step back, reflect and have a bigger view of what the situation is.
Know your limits.
I caution leaders and mentors not to lose their effectiveness by bringing on too many people to coach. It can be tempting to pick up more than you can handle once you get the hang of mentoring and start to see the fruits of your efforts.
Be aware of your load, the commitment level to each person and set parameters for the length of the mentorship. Perhaps its while the person is in college, or until they find a job. Mentorships don’t have to be lifelong commitments to each other. I typically do year-long commitments and then evaluate based on their progress, who else wants to be mentored and my current life load.
Remember that you don’t have to be perfect to be a good mentor. Recognize your workload, listen and be the guide that the person wants you to be. Invest in your person so that they can develop others.
I owe a lot of my success in life to my mentors and advisors who have helped me along my life journey. Their guidance kept me on the right path when things got confusing, helped me make the right decisions during difficult times and supported and encouraged me in my growth.
Where do you look to find a mentor and how do you go about starting that kind of relationship? It can be less intimidating if you know where to look and how to go about it.
Look inside your company
This can be very challenging if you work in a company that is either really small or really large. If it’s small, you just don’t have a large pool to choose from. If it’s exceptionally large, it becomes so big that it can be overwhelming to know where to begin.
If you utilize your professional network to help you find a mentor be sure to follow these steps:
The mutual connection should reach out on your behalf to the potential mentor first to see if they would be interested.
Reach out to the potential person after your connection says that it’s ok to contact.
Introduce yourself and set up an introduction time that’s informal and works around their schedule.
Skipping these steps and trying to establish a mentor relationship cold will not likely end as you want it to. They may not know who you are, your request can catch them off guard and the person may not be in a place to be able to take you on.
Look outside your company
Don’t neglect your network outside your company when searching for a mentor. Your church, family friends and other community connections all have significant value. It’s also ok to have a couple of mentors that have different strengths and perspectives to help you along the way.
Respect and give back.
There shouldn’t be a one way street between you and your mentor where you are taking all the value and adding nothing in return. Look for ways to add value back to your mentor. This could be by lightening their load in some way, offering your own expertise on a topic or using your network to help grow theirs. No matter your life stage, you have something that you can offer back.
Be sure to show up on time and prepared when you have time with your mentor. It shows them that you have respect for their time and that you value the time that you have together.
Ensure that it’s the right fit.
The person that you want as a mentor may be a highly successful business executive and lives in a home that looks just like your dream house. No matter how much you want the relationship, it will never work out if the two of you do not fit personality wise. Just as in all relationships, without chemistry, there can not be a long lasting meaningful relationship.
Getting to know the potential mentor a little on a personal level before you enter into that relationship is helpful. If that’s not possible, use the first meeting to get to know each other and see if you are a match for each other. It’s best to know early and not pursue than you both lose engagement early on. That time could be used on a mentor that you hit it off with instead.
Finding the right mentor can truly accelerate your personal and professional growth.
Being an athlete is a state of mind which is not bound by age, performance or place in the running pack. -Jeff Galloway
Jeff Galloway is a world-famous runner and coach who popularized interval training, or the Run, Walk, Run method as he calls it. We have become great friends over the years and I’ve had the honor to run several races with him and his wife Barbara. No matter if we are at mile one, or mile 12 he leads himself well and encourages everyone that he comes in contact with.
I love Jeff’s quote because it captures the right thought process and mindset for runners and athletes. You could also easily replace a few words and see how it applies to our leadership walk.
Being a leader is a state of mind which is not bound by age, what others do or your place in the organization.
There are several leadership lessons that we can learn from running.
Patience leads to strength
It seems like all things worth doing are at least a little bit challenging to start, otherwise, everyone would do it. It might feel discouraging after your first couple of runs. Keep at it and your strength will increase. It may also feel discouraging when you are in a new role and things aren’t happening as fast as you wanted them to. Keep at it and remain confident that your work is going to pay off.
Consistency is key
I ran over 100 races between 2016-2018. It got to the point where I was running so many races that I didn’t need to run very often between events and I still could perform well. It culminated with my second ultra marathon. (Passing the Baton podcast #128: What 37.5 miles taught me) I did two things after that race. #1 I stopped running. #2 I ate everything in sight. That pattern went on for five months. I gained about 20lbs and needed to get back in the swing of things to get my health back where I wanted it.
My first run was a beautiful 56 degrees in Atlanta. I should have had a great run but instead, I got ripped to pieces. My legs were killing me, my foot injury flared up and I clocked my slowest time in over 4 years. I knew I was going to be off my A game, but I didn’t realize it would be that much.
Your leadership is the same way. You are going to pay some type of consequence if you let off of your standard, stop pushing yourself for growth, or fail to hold your team accountable. The consequence could be as small as some missed sales with customers or as large as being passed over for the promotion that you always wanted. Stay consistent to avoid the pains of ramping back up to your standard. It’s definitely easier to keep it going that it is to start all over.
It is what you make it
Your enjoyment of running is exactly what you make of it. If you find some running friends or make it about the journey, you get a much more fulfilling experience. If you only focus on the negatives, (pain, tiredness, time investment, etc) then you’ll never like it and you won’t perform well. Likewise in your leadership and life walk, if you only focus on the excuses and circumstances that hold you back, you will never have fun or reach your greatest potential.
Know who you are
Too many people think that because they aren’t “fast” that it means that they are not runners. If you are getting out there and hitting the road, trail or treadmill, you are a runner. It’s a state of mind, just as Jeff said. You don’t have to lead 100 people to be called a leader. Do you lead yourself well? Do you try to help by being a great example for others? Then you are a leader. You don’t need a title before you can become a leader any more than a runner needs a medal before they call themselves a runner.
Running can teach us patience, the ability to find joy in the journey and how we can build strength through our consistency. Enjoy your run and your role as a leader.
Make a better tomorrow. -ZH
*You can catch some of the race recaps of my runs with Jeff and Barbara over at Thedisneyrunner.com
We don’t get to choose how we start in this life. Real greatness is what you do with the hand that you’ve been dealt. -Victor Sullivan (Character from Uncharted video game series)
It’s safe to say that video games have firmly established themselves in most people’s lives in some form. The latest PlayStation console has sold nearly 100 million units. Games dominate the sales in Apple’s app store and people make a living by recording themselves playing games. Gaming has become a serious business.
Leadership and gaming don’t naturally go hand in hand. In fact, while doing research on the topic, I found many open debates among the gaming community about the value that a game has on your leadership abilities. While there is not currently a “leadership game” there are several benefits that gaming can give us as we grow our leadership.
It pays to be organized and notice the small things.
Games have become so much more complex than the Donkey Kong days. Red Dead Redemption 2 has been one of the most popular games of the last year. In the game, you play as a cowboy as you struggle with life living in a posse. That’s a deceptively simple concept. To get everything, you have to keep up an extensive list of animals that you kill, parts that you collect and then you have to find items and other secrets. I had to write out a list while playing it just to keep track of it all.
Games can teach us the value of organization and to look and enjoy the small things in life. My favorite moments in Red Dead Redemption 2 are the small details that you only see if you slow down long enough and look. It’s a great lesson for us as we all try to hurry through the day and week.
Solid teamwork saves the day.
By far the most popular online team battle game out there is Fortnite. With over 200 million downloads, you can play with three other people in a team to defeat the other players and win the game. You have to have great teamwork and coordination in order to have any chance at a win. It’s easy to spot the teams that work together in the game. They stick together and support each other. Most teams split up, do their own individual thing and get picked off.
Just as in real life, playing on a great team is fun and rewarding. It takes work, effort, sacrifice, and communication. You learn those lessons as you get better in team-based games.
Decision-making skills. Many games change as you make decisions along the way. Your game could end dramatically different than mine because of the choices that we made as we played. Many games will show you the benefits and consequences of the choices that you make.
Being a great winner/loser. A gamer needs the self-awareness here to grow, but games can help us be better winners and losers in life. No one likes a sore winner or loser. Don’t gloat in the win and don’t throw a fit if you lose.
The longer you play, the higher the difficulty.
Every game out there increases in difficulty the longer that you play it. It’s the continuing challenge and the story that makes a game great. What you do early on prepares you for the next chapter or level. Isn’t life the same way? You start off carefree, with little responsibility and you become stronger and wiser as life goes on. Your circumstances certainly become more complicated, and you use the lessons and relationship that you built earlier to help you make it through your current challenge.
You may not walk away from a game and become an instant high performing leader. You can, however, learn little life lessons along the way that you can transfer to how you lead yourself and your team. Just be sure to avoid putting “I won Victory Royale 5 times in Fortnite” on your resume or college application.
My family really enjoys doing puzzles. It gives us an activity that we can all work on together and separately that doesn’t involve technology. Sometimes it’s a very passive activity. We’ll work on it for a few minutes and walk away. Other times it’s the three of us going at it for a 30-minute session. I realized that puzzles can teach us a bit about leadership during my most recent puzzle session with my wife.
Sometimes in leadership, you walk into a mess
When you first open the box to a new puzzle, it’s a chaotic mess. The fun of puzzles is putting it all back together and establishing order where there was chaos. Life in your leadership walk will be exactly the same. Sometimes you’ll walk into a 250 piece puzzle size mess that you can easily put back together and other times it will be a 3,000 piece monster that takes a team effort to accomplish.
Knowing that problems are going to happen and embracing them instead of focusing on how they impact you, will help you get the puzzle together quicker.
Be clear on your starting points
You’ve got all the pieces spilled out on to the table. Now what? You’ve got to pick a clear starting point and go from there. My wife loves to knock out the edge first and doesn’t like to even look at anything else until that is done. Only after the edge is put together does she then plan what her next focus point will be.
It can be overwhelming when you walk into a very complex challenge or problem. Assess the situation, and chose what you feel is the most logical and impactful starting point. Communicate the plan to the team so that they can be effective in their work towards the common goal.
As much as you may want to, you can’t do everything at once. Sharon often reminds me of this point as we work on our puzzles together. (And that’s how this topic came to be!)
Embrace other people’s styles
We all have our own unique styles and ways that we go about accomplishing a goal. Make sure to embrace other people’s styles as you work toward the goal. Sharon and I are very different in our approach to how we work on our puzzle. She pulls out the pieces, organizes and works on sections. I have the odd ability to look at the pile and pull out individual pieces and know where they fit. Together we make a pretty good combination in reaching our goal.
If we bickered about our different approaches, we would become very ineffective to the point that it could impact our relationship. Instead of fighting someone’s unique style, look for ways that the person can contribute in a positive way to your team’s effort.
There are no easy walks for a good leader. Be prepared for those times when you walk into a mess. Formulate your plan, embrace your team’s unique makeup and have fun along the way.
You probably have, had or know someone who has Legos. They are the little building blocks that have inspired generations and grown from small playthings to multimedia pop culture icons. These little playthings can teach us a few things about leadership and life.
The function is far more important than the color.
At the end of the day, the color of a lego really doesn’t make any difference. The function of the piece is far more important. You’ll likely see more multicolored custom builds than the pristine sets that you paid good money for. Below you’ll find a 7500 piece Millennium Falcon that you can buy for a mere $800. To the right is the same ship that a guy built using pieces that he had at home. It may look crazy, but they both function exactly the same.
In the same way, the value you bring to those around you matters so much more than what you look like on the outside. You, the scuffed up bright neon 2×3 brick, works exactly the same and has the same value as the new gold brick of the same size in the build. Remember that as you invest in others. Someone’s outward appearance isn’t always the best indicator of the value that they can bring you.
The more there are, the more valuable they become.
A lego by itself is not inherently useful, but combine it with others and its value begins to shine. That Millenium Falcon is an amazing piece because 7500 pieces came together in a unique way.
You are a talented individual that has a very special and unique skill set. You can do so much more when you combine those skills with others. Sometimes you may be the shiny cockpit piece that everyone sees, and sometimes you may have to be the very small piece in the middle that no one will notice but holds the foundation. Embrace the part you play, be willing to let others shine and come together for the common good.
Life can imitate Legos.
Your day, week, month and year can look like a scoop out of a child’s Lego bin. It’s chaotic, looks random, and doesn’t appear to really be anything. You have the choice and the power to create something great with what you are given. Some let their pieces sit, others put them back. You, on the other hand, can use your imagination to create something truly fantastic out of “nothing.”
Just like the flying ice cream truck with laser cannons, no build lasts forever. The same goes for what we hold on to in life. Every material thing eventually breaks or goes away. Legos teach us a good lesson to enjoy the things we have when we have them, without holding too close to them. This has been a lesson I’ve learned over the years and it has made me appreciate the moments as they happen and not get too tied up in material possessions. Love it when it’s there and move on when it’s gone.
Be the Lego. Spark creativity, imagination and create things never thought of before.
The choices you made in the past do not define you. What you choose to do today and going forward does.
What value do you put on your morals, values, and ethics? Are your morals something that you highly value and would never give away, or something that perhaps you’d trade for? Would a new car do it? A new house? Everyone has a point where an ethical choice will cause them to pause.
Your morals will require courage
Regardless of if you are on the playground or the boardroom, you are going to face choices where you’ll have to decide on compromising your morals or not. Sometimes there is little consequence and sometimes you’ll risk everything in order to stand for what is right. It’s important to have the courage to take a stand in those moments. Build a good sense of what your values are and then have the managerial courage to step up and stand for what you believe in. Who is more at fault, the leader who makes poor decisions or the follower who knows better but stands aside and lets it happen?
Check in with yourself from time to time
I doubt that many people out in the world wake up one day and just decide to throw away their moral and ethical compass. It usually happens in baby steps and you find yourself in a situation that you never imagined yourself in.
I learned this lesson in a leadership course in the military. We were dropped off in the swamp with nothing but a compass and a heading. The course was so long and winding that even walking off by one degree would mean that you had a good chance of missing your final destination. Three degrees? Guaranteed that you weren’t going to end up where you wanted to be. To stay on course, you needed to stop, check your surroundings and verify that you were still on the right course. The same applies in life with your moral compass. You need to check in with yourself from time to time to make sure that you are on the correct heading. Failing to do those self-assessments may lead you to drift off of your desired path.
It’s rarely too late to turn the ship around
It’s rarely too late to walk back from compromising, unethical and immoral decisions. You may be called accountable for the decisions that you make, but you have the power to choose to step back on the correct path. The choices you made in the past do not define you. What you choose to do today and going forward does. Accept responsibility, ask for forgiveness and reset yourself and your decision-making process.
No one’s perfect and it’s unreasonable to expect yourself and others to lead themselves flawlessly every day. As a strong leader in your home, school or business you are called to lead yourself and your team in an honorable way. Hold onto your values and moral compass like a prized possession.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your job had a personal, unique development plan that gave you a step by step guide on how to grow and develop yourself and your career? I’m sure that it’s out there, but it extremely rare to find this in the workplace. Kornferry recently conducted a survey with managers that ranked over 60 leadership skills. Development came dead last.
Hope is not lost though. You can greatly influence your own personal and professional development.
A great mentor can be a game changer in your personal development. They can give you a neutral view of the personal and professional challenges that you face and can provide you with a perspective that you haven’t thought of yet. A good mentor will also have your best interest in heart, so they will likely challenge your thought process, encourage you to try new things and help you grow in areas that you didn’t realize needed growth.
Advocate for your development
It can benefit you to ask your boss, HR or senior leader about personal development opportunities. While they may not have a personalized development program, they may have funds available so that individuals can attend a conference, go to school or purchase books. Conferences and certification organizations will often have a section on their website where you can print off material to show your leader the value that the company would receive from the conference/certification.
I would suggest starting small and advocating for any larger items as you begin to budget for the next year. If you are in the interviewing phase, you can ask about this option, just wait until you get deeper into the process first.
Become an expert in an area of increasing importance in the company.
As you see your department or organization shift in priority, get ahead of the change and learn what you can about the initiative. Do research on what others are doing in the same space and learn from them. Educate yourself so that you can begin to speak with authority as the changes are discussed. This will help your professional worth grow as your leaders seek your input.
Following this strategy helped me immensely in my career growth. becoming the expert in the new area caused me to have new business relationships, more influence and I grew my own knowledge along the way. Enjoy the attention that you will get in this process and be willing to let it go and grow in a new area when the time comes.
Another free way to start your own development is to ask for feedback from your peers, mentor and upline leadership. You will need to prove to the other person that you can freely take the feedback without defensiveness so that you can get an honest answer. Use other’s assessments to improve in your own knowledge and skill set.
You own your development. Take control of your growth and grow your career and personal relationships.
Persistence: The fact of continuing in an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition. -Oxford Dictionary
The act of continuing on in spite of difficulty or opposition. Some people would call that foolishness. Why keep at something that is not working out? Others see it not as a reason to stop, but as a reason to keep at it. Many of our most cherished accomplishments come from our persistence to keep going. Here are a few keys things to remember as you look to increase or strengthen your own persistence.
Find your fire (motivation)
What is your motivation? What is the why behind your goals or what you want to accomplish? You may have to ask yourself that question a couple of times to get to the true root of your motivation. An example would be that I want to get a new job. Why? Because I don’t have an opportunity to grow my career. Why do I want to grow my career? Because I don’t like to simply maintain the status quo. Why? Because I find value in the challenge and love building new things.
We had to go three deep to determine the motivation, but we found that it wasn’t as simple as a motivation to get a new job. That person is driven by the need to build and be challenged. Knowing your true motivator will help you on your journey to reach their goal. Make sure your fire is hot, bright and you are highly motivated and focused to meet the goal.
Stay in a positive mindset
It’s important to keep a positive mindset in the face of adversity and setbacks. It’s a guarantee that it is going to rain on your fire. Someone will try to snuff out your fire either inadvertently or on purpose. l. We’ve talked before about overcoming your mental obstacles. (Passing the Baton Episode 109) Those tips will help you during this time.
Find ways to keep yourself motivated and in a positive frame of mind. Some people write themselves encouraging notes and leave them up around the house and car. Others journal about the positive things that happened to them that day. My family is doing a project where we write out something that we enjoyed about the week and we put it in a large jar. At the end of the year, we plan to take everything out and reflect on the great things that happened this year.
Set up your accountability
Set your goals and share them others. It’s a way that I have found to hold myself accountable to reaching my own goals. I was on the fence about pursuing a certification in talent development. It was expensive, nearly all self-guided at that point, and a majority of people don’t pass it the first round. I was in a leadership meeting where we were asked to share a goal for ourselves for the year. I stood up claimed the certification as my goal and then that was it. I was fully in then! Letting my peers know kept me accountable to reach my goal. After many hours of studying and practice, I received my certification on the first pass 6 months later.
Accept the criticism and failures along the way
Take criticism and learn from it instead of dismissing it or letting it drag you down. I try to look at everything that doesn’t go like I had planned for or hope and try to find the lesson to be learned. Sometimes it was a lesson on how I could improve myself and other times it was a lesson to not repeat the mistakes of others. You are going to have haters and naysayers and that’s actually an ok thing. When you are surrounded only by those that agree with you and love you, you won’t be challenged to keep improving.
Find your motivation. Stay positive in the face of adversity and learn along the way. Your persistence can help you achieve goals that you thought weren’t possible.
We usually have the best intentions with people. We want them to change their behavior for the betterment of themselves and others. We give advice, offer solutions and blatantly point out shortcomings in our effort to get people to change. We then get frustrated when the change doesn’t occur! In our quest to help someone, we actually damage the relationship.
What not to do.
Here are some tactics that people typically utilize when they try to change behavior that just don’t work.
1. Shaming. You drag someone over to the problem/issue and let them have it. It’s similar to what many people do when their dog goes to the bathroom in their house. It certainly makes the person feel bad about themselves but does nothing to inspire them to permanently change.
2. Pleading. A common tactic in parenting. “Will you please just do your homework? I would be so happy if you would clean up your mess in the living room.”
3. Threatening. Used at home and at work by poor leaders. “If you don’t get your project in on time I’m going to fire you. Keep showing up late and watch what happens.”
4. Incentivizing. Used in both home and work environments. “If you do that, I will give you this.” The problem is that the behavior change is temporary and will likely slip back into old habits once the thing you give them goes away.
5. Helpful. This one will actually work from time to time but is not a guaranteed solution. This most often comes across as our advice to a person. “When I struggled to make it to school on time, I started setting an alarm and setting my clothes out the night before. I started getting my projects in on time when I started to use a calendar system to help me stay on track of my tasks.”
Sometimes the person makes the connection and will change, but don’t be frustrated when they continue in their old habits.
Do these things instead.
Changing behavior is possible and not as hard as people imagine as long as they keep on the proper framework.
1. Build their confidence. Start off acknowledging and praising their behavior and contributions.
Home: “Thank you for cleaning up your toys in the living room. You did a great job and your mom is going to be so happy when she comes home. I’m going to brag about you to her!”
Work: “I can tell you really put some thought and time into this project. It’s obvious that you care about it and your team.”
2. Make it a team effort. Present the change in a way that you will partner together to accomplish and not one that you are handing out for them to tackle alone.
Home: “Did you see how much your mom loved that you cleaned the living room? We are going clean up so that she comes home to a clean room every day. We’ll do it together.”
Work: “We’ll work together on the next project to make sure that it is really polished and ready to present in the meeting. Janet is great at editing and can help us as well.”
3. Track the progress. Give the person something tangible to work on so that they know if they are making progress or not.
Home: “Our goal is going to be to clean up every weekday before mom comes home.”
Work: “Our goal is to have no errors slip through to the final presentation and that you feel confident on the day of the presentation.”
4. Give them the tools needed to be successful. They will be successful when you give them the tools and the process to reach the change.
Home: “I’m going to get us a bigger toy box so that we can get everything off the floor nice and neat. Do you want to go with me to the store to help pick one out?”
Work: “Send your project over to Janet to proofread for you. She will help smooth out grammatical and layout items, and then you and I can run the presentation together to help build your confidence before the meeting.”
Evaluate how you are doing in your communication. No one’s perfect. How often are you trying to change behavior in a way that is not impactful? Follow the right path to see people grow out of their bad habits.