Archive for June, 2010

From the Horse’s Mouth

The other night I was watching the movie Hidalgo. Yes, the movie produced by Disney that is now being claimed as an “untrue” story. However, I don’t watch it because I am writing a book report for history class, I watch it for the story itself. Having said that, if you have never seen it I highly recommend you rent it, down load it, or Netflix it because the story is one worth remembering. It’s a story about dedication, perseverance, courage and an amazing partnership.  The story is about a horse, Hidalgo and his rider Frank Hopkins who decide to cross the Ocean of Fire, an endurance horse race that crosses thousands of miles across the Arabian Desert. As with all action movies, the story is about overcoming seemingly insurmountable and in some cases unbelievable obstacles testing fate to achieve the unachievable… success.

However what the story of Hidalgo is really trying to tell its audience is that having certain advantages (training, background, strong teams) does not necessarily make you a winner.  True success comes from hard work, making difficult decisions, overcoming obstacles and in some cases sacrifice. Even those with an Ivy League education, or having a family lineage rooted in success, or just good breeding does not guarantee a winning outcome. Basically, there is no easy or guaranteed path to being successful. However what Hidalgo teaches us is that there are certain things we can do to help facilitate success.  I call them success factors. I have outlined a few here for reference:

Dedication: Anything worth achieving takes dedication, no ifs, ands or buts about it. Unfortunately many of us throw around the word “dedication” as if it is a personal descriptor of who we are and what we are about. In reality dedication is generally a life-long approach to anything we do if we are going to do it right. For example, marriage, being a parent, being a role model, being a friend, these are all things that are not ad hoc focuses in our lives. They require continuous dedication in order to do well. The same goes for doing anything we haven’t done before but want to be successful at it. Only through dedication are we able to have the right focus and attention in order to pave the road to success.

Perseverance: Perseverance is a trait that is often confused with dedication.  However perseverance is the act of undertaking any task DESPITE counterinfluences, opposition or discouragement. Different then dedication, which as noted is generally a life-long approach to anything, perseverance is typically something we engage in when the moment calls for it. Moments that are a single act of accomplishment demand the need for perseverance. As an example training for a marathon takes dedication. Perseverance is what we tap into to actually do and complete the race.  In the movie version of Hidalgo, there was a moment when Frank was about to give up and shoot Hidalgo assuming the horse was dying. However just at the crucial moment Hidalgo stands up and nudges Frank to let him know there was still a race to be won. A pure act of perseverance! The road to success generally requires both dedication AND perseverance. Dedication allows us to keep our eyes on what we want to accomplish in the end while perseverance helps us find the energy to get through the obstacles along the way.

Courage: Out of all the possible success factors, courage is my favorite. It’s my favorite because it’s where the energy of perseverance comes from. It’s mustering the mental and moral strength to venture and withstand danger, fear or difficulty in order to achieve something. Essentially it’s the nuclei of perseverance. Once we decide we are going to do something that may be difficult with both our heart and our head, then what follows is usually perseverance. If the task is something that requires learning something new, then it will also require dedication. Essentially nothing daunting can begin without courage. It’s the impetus of all things outside our comfort zone. From courage come all things amazing. With courage comes glory.

Partnership: Unfortunately partnership is severely overlooked as a way to achieve success. For some, partnership implies “sharing the success or failure”. This mentally does not feed the ego and therefore is dismissed as an option. However a partnership can greatly increase the odds for success. This is something the movie version of Frank Hopkins embraced. He knew that a large part of his power came from his partner, Hidalgo. Basically without Hidalgo there would be no race. And what you find is that the two help each other through obstacles, danger and even during times of weakness to accomplish their dream. Glorified success. Never overlook the value of a partnership because as humans we are not all encompassing to accomplish all things. Engaging in a partnership provides depth in not only what we need but ensures a better chance at achieving success.

In the end, success factors can only get us so far in achieving our ultimate goal. To be successful we must be willing to have dedication, act with perseverance, engage with courage, and be open to valuable partnerships. While these factors are what pave the road to success, our willingness to draw upon them is what outlines the road to be paved.

In the movie, the unthinkable happens. A cowboy from another country and his painted pony win the race much to the awe and dismay of many. Through dedication, perseverance, courage and the heroism of an amazing partnership history was made. Ok well maybe not factual history but still a story that movies are made of…

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Surviving Today’s Workforce

Recently I was working with a client who had decided to re-enter the workforce after years of being a stay at home mom. She had trepidations about making this move and so my focuses with her was on what the job market looked like today and then provide her tips to be successful with re-entry. After going over my seemingly brilliant information, my client looked up at me and said, “That’s great Melissa but I am not particularly concerned at the moment on how to be successful in today’s job market. I am however very interested in knowing how to survive it.”

To say I was speechless by this comment is an understatement.  I was completely mute by her request for tips on how to survive. Giving it some thought I began to conduct an all out research effort on survival and how it would apply to today’s workforce. Here are the top five tips I have come up with:

  1. Always Be Aware of Your Environment: Although this seems obvious enough you would be surprised how many people are oblivious to what’s going on around them. Every work environment has a culture, which is defined by key people in the organization. Be aware of whether the cultural environment you work in feels positive or negative. Learn who are the key people that are defining the culture and their work philosophies. And most importantly determine how your presence in the environment will impact the overall social architecture. Your work environment is a place you will be “living” in several hours a day and you need to determine if its an environment you can exist in long term.  Many people take a job without making this important assessment and end up hating their work life because it’s contradictory to how they think or act. Be aware of your environment and know your place in it.
  2. Know Your Subjective Value and Its Importance: Each person’s subjective value  (SV) is determined by how each of us is perceived by those around us. This is not only important to understand but its also important to know as it does not always align with how we see ourselves. This is not to say that we don’t contribute to how we are perceived by others. Our actions and words play an important role in defining our subjective value. However the reality is we don’t have complete control over how our subjective value is assessed, hence why it’s considered “subjective”. Understanding our SV is key as it determines our place not only in our environment but it essentially lets us know how others see us in their environment. For example, does our subjective value define us as a leader, a friend, a mentor, an expert, or a valuable asset? Or are we seen as difficult, unproductive, lost, lacking or unnecessary? Idealistically the desired subjective value for anyone looking to survive in business is to be considered indispensible. Knowing where we are on the SV scale allows us to work on gaps and increase our value quotient. Understanding the importance of SV is what will give us the power and influence we need in order to help us leverage those for continued survival.
  3. Emotional Intelligence is the Key to Long Term Survival: It is human nature to have emotions and to ignore the power of emotions and the role it plays in our lives can be a tragic error. Emotions guide us in facing predicaments and tasks too important to leave to intellect alone. It is a vital part in shaping our decisions and our actions as much as reason and thought. Succinctly put, emotions can lead to impulses, which then can lead to action. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand what we are feeling and why but not necessarily allowing it to dominate our actions. People with skilled emotional intelligence or EI incorporate what they are feeling with other data or variables in there decision making process. EI is taking the power of the “gut feeling” and supporting it through knowledge, information, and other important factors to drive appropriate action. This is important because with all things, gaining support and maintaining a sense of control is through finding a balance. Deciding to act purely on emotions oftentimes compromises a sense of reality. It inhibits our ability to see the forest from the trees. Conversely to act purely on data removes a sense of self-awareness obtained through past experiences or those things that have helped define who we are and why we feel the way we do. Essentially reason without feeling is a form of blindness. The key to increasing your emotional intelligent IQ is to continually work on your emotional literacy, which in today’s market is important to survival.
  4. Always Have a Teachable Point of View on the Important Things: Noel Tichey, who wrote The Leadership Engine, describes a “teachable point of view” (TPOV) as having clear ideas and values based on knowledge and experience and the ability to articulate those lessons to others. Today’s workforce is a community of people that come from different backgrounds and have different experiences. Through our experiences we are exposed to lessons that through time help develop our perspective, our point of view, and if channeled correctly develop our strengths and can even open the door to opportunities. Having a teachable point of view is a way of relating to others because its sharing things you have learned through the experiences you have had.  Your experiences are specific to you and therefore become part of your perceived edge. Successful people figure out early that having a TPOV on key experiences or lessons provide them with an edge that no one else has and they use that edge strategically. So if you want to survive as well as thrive in today’s market then you need to have a perceived edge. I recommend sharing a teachable point of view on something you feel has been a valuable lesson to you. In the end honing your ability to have a TPOV will help you become an important member of your workforce community.
  5. Know Your Strengths but Also Your Weaknesses: Concentrating on your strengths is the act of applying those that are specific to you toward a strategy or tactic in an area you want to be successful. It’s not about knowing how much strength you have but essentially where you should concentrate your power. By following this process, you also address weaknesses simply by applying energy to the right efforts. This is the key to not only surviving in today’s market but also being successful long-term. The ability to apply strength in areas of weakness is an important strategy toward achieving a level of superiority or expertise.  The other key component is to know WHEN to us your strengths because generally the opportune time is during a key decisive point. Essentially the ability to know your strengths and when best to use them comes from self- awareness. The best way to survive in today’s competitive ever changing market is knowing what assets you have that you can leverage and when to leverage those assets. It’s the ability to standout in a crowd by exemplifying certain things while minimizing others.

In the end, despite the fact I started this article to provide a few key survival tips to my client, I realized that they could also apply to anyone wanting a few tips on how to thrive in business. Essentially they are basic rules of engagement that are just good business practices to follow. So whether you are looking to survive in today’s work place or looking to thrive, following the above tips will help you achieve your desired goal. Because in the end surviving can lead to success and determining which is more important in today’s market is essentially just a matter of perspective.

Running: A Success Story

For those of you who have known me awhile, you know that I enjoy running. Its something I have always done even as a child. Unfortunately, it’s not something that I have ever been spectacular at, as in setting or breaking records, but it is something I do well and continue to enjoy.

Today as I was rounding the corner of mile five of the eight I decided to run, I suddenly realized that running has provided me with knowledge and tools that can lead to personal success. I smiled to myself wondering how I could have been running most of my life and not recognized this important information before. Getting in the groove I began to think through the tactics I have used to help me build endurance, speed, and efficiency as a runner and how those same tactics can apply to build success.

Tip One: Having the proper tools is important so just plan to pay for them. Anyone who has ran in cheap running shoes knows the aches and pains of getting what you paid for. The same goes for personal success. Today’s job market is filled with talented people but today’s business leaders are looking for more then just talent. They want proven performers. In some cases, depending on the job, this may mean having a great education. In other cases this may mean gaining work experience outside what you already know which may include taking a more challenging position. On the other hand, it could mean just having a killer resume that truly helps you stand out of the crowd. No matter what the tool is, in most cases there is a cost associated with having that tool in order to achieve success. The bottom line is you must know the tool your missing and never skimp on acquiring it. Otherwise plan on always carrying band-aides because skimping on what you need to be successful is like running in cheap tennis shoes.

Tip Two: No true success is ever gained without the right training.
Even the natural born athlete, think Lance Armstrong, knows that in order to have continued success they must focus on continued training. Each race is different and has different challenges. Sometimes it’s a difference of terrain. Sometimes the difference is altitude. In other cases its competition. Despite the challenges, the only true way to overcome it is through training. Facing the challenges of success are the same. Training provides knowledge and understanding that comes from going through a particular process be it educational or experiential. When a business leader faces a new challenge, they may draw on old experiences to determine a best course of action. However in the end when they come across an obstacle not faced before most will rely on training to get them through. It’s a proven practice so expect for much of life to always be in training. Remember, even Lance Armstrong trains every day and he IS a proven performer.

Tip Three: Know the rules of engagement and follow them.
Many runners at some point in time have come across a road hog. Other people who feel they are entitled to more of the road then you thereby taking it over forcing you to move out of their way.  These people not only do not follow the rules of engagement but also don’t care about them either. They are going to do what they want to do despite whom it impacts along the way. This way of thinking not only ticks people off but in some cases facilitates a similar reaction. Not a good way to achieve success long term. I understand that sometimes you have to break the rules to be successful, however when part of your success is dependent on interacting with other people, following rules of engagement is not only necessary, it’s imperative. Most leaders understand that they are not successful without the hard work and effort of their staff and give credit accordingly. This is a good practice to follow because it builds relationships, which is the key to everyone’s success.  The important thing to remember is NO ONE likes a road hog and eventually someone else bigger and faster will come along and knock a road hog out of the way.

Tip Four: Understand your limits and plan accordingly.
When I was younger I use to run under any circumstances. It could be raining, no socks, shoelaces torn and not able to tie, no sunscreen and definitely never ran with a heart rate monitor. Today I not only check the weather conditions before I run, but I spend about fifteen to twenty minutes before each run to go through my gear and ensure I not only have everything I need but am fully prepared. And I go through this process for every run whether it’s a three-mile run or a thirteen-mile run. Over the years I have become acutely aware of my limits when it comes to running. One misstep in the process and the perceived success of my run will be greatly compromised. It’s the same with personal success. There is only so much we can do before we become acutely aware of our limitations. Knowing what we are good at is part of our success but so is knowing what we are not so good at and planning for those limitations. Whenever I run five miles or less, I can do so with minimal gear. However once I decide to run over five miles, my gear increases exponentially. I need a strap to keep my knees from aching; I need electrolytes to keep my energy; I need sun block that has a longer wear time; I need to wear a heart rate monitor to track my beats. Without these things, not only would it be difficult for me to run longer distances, I would likely over time incur some physical damage. Truly successful people never assume they can do all things. They know their limitations and they find the right “gear” to help them through the long haul.  The reality is that success is never something gained individually. There is always assistance along the way. Learn to embrace your limitations and plan accordingly.

As I sprint toward the finish of an eight mile run, I am suddenly grateful that my accomplishment today was in part due to the fact that I had the right tools, I have properly trained, I followed the rules of engagement and my knee strap addressed my limitation of distance. Essentially, I had a successful run. And as I let out a long wind of air and a smile I am reminded that the rush that comes from doing something well vaguely feels a little like success.

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Great Leaders Must Be Great Conversationalists

Early in my career, someone once told me that to be a great leader, you must be a great conversationalist. I thought to myself, that’s easy enough, I love to talk therefore I must be a great leader. To my dismay, nothing could be further from the truth. I should have known that greatness in anything is not that easily attained.

Yes there are those who have always been natural leaders, but for most of us, to be a great leader is a long journey often speckled with the occasional failure. It’s a learning process where experience coupled with intuition can develop into great insight. Interestingly enough these are also the exact traits required to be a great conversationalist.

Allow me to elaborate, Merriam-Webster defines a conversationalist as “one who converses a great deal; someone skilled in conversation”. So essentially if you consider yourself a conversationalist then you would by virtue of definition be someone who excels in the art of conversation. Many of us can say we not only excel in the art of conversation but through experience some of us would be considered savants, myself included. So having mastered the art of talking through a lifetime of experience, the next step is to evaluate our level of intuition.

Intuition by definition means “immediate apprehension or cognition; the power or faculty of attaining direct knowledge without evident rational thought and inference”. Unfortunately this trait is much harder to obtain because it requires continuous study in order to achieve a sense of knowing that is outside usual intellectual thinking. For example an intuitive leader by definition will attain knowledge not readily evident under normal cognitive processes. This ability to gain knowledge through a sense of understanding is called awareness. Awareness IS the key to intuition and in today’s general mindset of “to each his own” or “look out for number one” awareness has become compromised therefore hindering our intuition.

Fortunately for women we tend to be better at intuition. Granted this is an overly broad statement and there are certainly exceptions, but statistically and organically it rings true. Maybe it’s because women in general are more nurturing and nurturing is a form of gaining and developing knowledge through awareness.

This is not to say that men don’t possess intuition because many men have a sense of knowing that is not readily evident through usual cognitive processes. Each of us possesses some level of intuition. The clincher is in order to be a great leader you must achieve a sense of knowing through awareness of those around you. For business leaders this would be your employees, and the more employees you have the more clouded your intuition can become.

The good news gentlemen, is that you are better conversationalists. Yes, ladies its true, men generally excel in the act of conversing much better then we do. Again, allow me to elaborate, Merriam-Webster defines a conversation as “communication that allows people with different points of views to learn from each other; oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions or ideas”. When men converse, its more results-oriented even in social conversations. It’s about sharing information and gaining information. The process is linear. Women on the other hand rarely talk in a linear fashion. Women tend to think spherically and therefore express themselves in the same way. And as much as we hate to admit it, women are never truly married to a particular topic and often change topics mid-sentence and carry-on as if not missing a beat. Some women also tend to engage in conversations from a “wanting to be liked” perspective which can become the driving motivation behind the conversation thereby directing the correspondence into a specific direction. This act of spherical speaking and hidden motivators does create an important problem, the lack of listening. Great conversationalists must also be excellent listeners, a common void for many of us.

Which brings me back to the most important trait found in great leaders – insight. To be truly insightful requires listening. Only through careful listening can we comprehend the inner nature of things. To put it succinctly, listening leads to better awareness, therefore better intuition, developing our insight and ultimately our leadership. This is why the pregnant pause is a popular practice. It allows for that exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions and ideas through engaged listening. Listening my friends is where all the power lies. If you are not practiced at listening then you will miss key information, thoughts, ideas that could help you in being a better leader and frankly a better person.

So knowing what we know, how do we become better conversationalist in order to sharpen our leadership traits? Here are a few tips I recommend:

1. Focus on Listening to Gain Insight. Practice conversing, not just talking, with anyone and everyone. Practice conversing with no distractions and be in the moment. Engage the pregnant pause. Respond with more then a word or two to incite others to share information or thoughts.
2. Hone your Awareness to Develop Intuition. When engaging in a conversation write down or pay attention to two or three things you learned in the conversation you didn’t know before. Ask questions to glean more information about the person your speaking with. Jot down noises/sounds or if face to face expressions or gestures you hear or see during the conversation (you may want to let your conversation partner know you’re taking notes or jot them down later.)
3. Focus on a Topic to Stay in the Moment. Focus on one topic to its completion. If talking with a friend or relative and the subject goes off track, bring it back around and close the topic before starting a new one. Speaking linearly will aid in better listening.
4. Have an Objective in Mind and State it. Being a good conversationalist means getting to the point. Say more with less. This is especially important in business. Have an objective in mind and state it up front even in social conversations (exp: “I wanted to ask your opinion about …”)

In the end some will argue that being a good conversationalist doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with being a good leader. In some cases this is true. However, if you want to be a GREAT leader, being a great conversationalist will create more inroads to accomplish stronger leadership skills. People react more positively to leaders that are approachable, open, friendly, and attuned. Being a great conversationalist allows for the “people side” of every leader to shine through and gives others something to relate to and connect with. This kind of power is known as charisma and having charisma, my friends, is never a bad thing!

Created by: Melissa Grandchamp

[Melissa Grandchamp is the President of P3 offering expertise in the area of HR, Organizational Development and Leadership Coaching]