What it Means to be Authentic

Authentic

You’re nervous, scared.  You’re breathing is shallow and you’re beginning to sweat.  Your mind is racing but you can’t seem to find an answer to your problem that makes you feel good.  In fact all you see in front of you are choices that are not so good and plain bad.  You start weighing the outcomes of each choice in terms of personal perception.  How will I be viewed if I make this decision or that decision?  How popular or unpopular will I be for making such a decision?  Will my boss support me?  How about my wife/husband, my friends, my parents, my kids?  Your emotions reach a crescendo and you feel you’re about to collapse.  What now?

Try this interesting test.  It’s a simple and fast test that requires answering just one question no matter how difficult the decision is you are facing.  It can serve as your decision starter.

What would I do if I didn’t have to worry about any one persons reaction or perception of me based upon the decision I make?  Sure this sounds unfair but if you begin every decision thinking first about what others will think of you then you’re likely to arrive at the wrong place.  Like politicians that look at polls before deciding on their personal stance on an issue, people who worry more about what others think rather than doing the right thing will ultimately experience a short life cycle as a leader.

Authentic leaders don’t worry about what others think.  Not that they set out to offend, hurt, or alienate themselves from others but they instead focus on being true to themselves first.  After all, that’s what makes an authentic leader so appealing to follow.  You always know where they stand on an issue today and tomorrow.  They don’t waiver or pander.  They simply establish their position, communicate it effectively and stick to it.  If they do change their position it is backed up by facts and tangible learnings that justify their change.  Not at all based upon opinion polls, or pressure from stakeholders or markets.

They have a sense of intelligent fearlessness.  They are smart enough to understand where the pitfalls are but effective enough to lead through, around, or over them.  They are mindful of cause and effect and focus on communicating both the why and the implications of their decisions.  They are often times seen as bold, courageous, and confidence.  They use their intelligence to assess the situation and select the best approach.  Their intelligence coupled with their confidence in conviction allow them to lead others fearlessly toward the goal.  This does not mean carelessly.  The difference here is that an authentic leader through their personal intellect and confidence are able to make tough decisions without fear, while leaders whose only strength is to pander to public opinion live in constant fear of being judged.  As such the leader who lives in fear is always looking to make the decision that allows them to place or shift blame elsewhere.  To have cover when the sky begins to fall.  Authentic leaders understand the risks and have no problems being held accountable to their decisions.

Recently Kathleen Sebelius was replaced as the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).  In the interviews that have followed since her removal from office she stated that they had got it (the website http://www.healthcare.gov) readiness wrong.  It should have never been promised to roll out in October 2013.  Yet video clip after clip shows Sebelius saying with conviction it will be ready.  It is ready.  It’s working.  It’s right.  So where was her authenticity as a leader?  Where was her courage?  Unfortunately like so many others in leadership positions she sacrificed her authenticity for popularity.  If only people would realize that popularity is fickle.  Eventually inauthentic decisions and the leaders who made them always show themselves but by that time both have been cast as failures.  If only we could stay true, stay firm, stay authentic from the start.

A Few Thoughts On Change

Change

I recently had an interaction with a group of folks embarking on a new change.  Like most recipients of change there was hesitation and apprehension. Normal emotions that typically accompany change. When we are faced with change it’s human nature to question, doubt, fear, and distrust the impending change. First reactions are often negative with a sense of “OMG what now!”.

Years ago I had a boss teach me a method for adapting to change. I have used this technique several times and have found it to be calming, enlightening, and in many cases beneficial in helping me adapt to the change I was facing. It all starts with changing your paradigm on change.

Life’s biggest change-fests include getting a new job, a new boss, having a new child, getting married for the first time (and hopefully the only time), starting a new school, making new friends, or working with a new agency partner. All these changes bring a level of stress that includes many of the emotions I listed above. One way to eliminate those butterflies in your stomach when facing change is by asking yourself one question. Resist the urge to predict the future this change will create and ask yourself one simple question: What good will this change bring me?

A new job can bring new and exciting experiences. A new boss can provide new insights, coaching, development, and opportunities. Changing to a new school opens the doors to new friends, programs, activities. Getting married provides stability, support, love, and a safe place to land when you need one. All changes bring opportunities. Unfortunately, and most likely due to past experiences, we tend to immediately go to the negative when it comes to how we perceive change.

Remember this. Nothing improves without changing something. Tide, Crest, Cadillac, Apple, Wegmans, Nordstrom are all companies that continue to innovate and change, and it’s in these changes that these companies prosper and flourish. The same is true with people. Phil Mickelson changes his approach and improves his golf game. Peyton Manning changes his training routine and improves his passing efficiency. No matter what the case, change has to occur before things can get better. So next time you’re faced with a change don’t panic. Just ask yourself, “how will this change benefit me”. Not will it benefit but how. Assume it’s for the good and it will be.

Supercharge Your Results With 3 Easy Steps

supercharge

A new year is around the corner and there’s no better time than now to start thinking about how to juice your performance in 2014. Whether this past year has been an incredible success, terrible failure, or plain old mediocre, in a matter of days you’ll receive a wonderful gift…the chance to do it all over again! And herein lies a choice you must make. Do things the same and most likely get the same results or mix things up and push for a different outcome. Hey, even if this past year was outstanding, and what you accomplished impressed even you, why let up? You can do more, accomplish greater results, and push yourself to new limits. Here’s how you can supercharge your results in 2014:

1. Pick 1 area or topic and go deep. If you’re in the B2B space brush up on healthcare reform, the unemployment numbers, or interest rates. If you’re in B2C think about what trends the Consumer Confidence Index suggests. The skies the limit.  Your competition is fierce and getting tougher by the day. They’re looking for ways to differentiate themselves from you, and your company, by adding value. If you simply focus on being the best salesperson, marketer, service manager, etc for your company, and not open your eyes to the world around you, soon you will be chasing the pack. Those that excel and reach the top will look different by acting differently.
2. Make 1 more call a day. Tap into your network and use it. Call one person from your network everyday. It doesn’t need to be an hour phone call. A short 15 minute check-in can provide insights, perspectives, and ideas. You should build your network to include a wide range of people within your industry, outside of your industry, blue-collar, white-collar, etc.  Just like your investment portfolio requires diversity, so does your network.  Make it one of your top priorities to meet people and develop relationships.
3. Spend 15 minutes of alone time each day. We all need time to think. Time to recharge, time to reflect, time to create. Taking a few minutes every day is critical to your success. The human brain is the fastest processor of information on the planet, however, unlike a computer that can run for an unlimited amount of time, human beings need to shut down to rest their brain. Just like an athlete requires “recovery” time for their muscles, we all need recovery time for our brains. Take the time, block it out, put it on your calendar and think…just think. Think about your goals, where you are relative to each of them, and the actions you’ve taken to get you this far. Think about where you want to go to next and some of the steps you may need to take to get there.

Try doing each of these activities and see how quickly your results improve. And when they do let me know!

What’s At Risk When The Government Shuts Down?

Caution

Let me first say that growing up I learned an important lesson from my father…“don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution”.  I’ve carried that philosophy with me throughout life and it has served me well.  That said, my blog today provides context on the problem as I see it with our Country’s current state of affairs.  Later this week I will post a blog that provides a solution, or at least a strong direction, that may be viewed as a starting point to making things better.

The U.S. government has now officially been shut-down for a week.  On Tuesday, October 1, 2013, after being unable to reach any agreement between the President, Republicans, and Democrats, the government was forced to shut down…at least partially.  From services required to fund small business loans, to passport processing services, and the suspension of Amber-Alerts,  many of the “Congress deemed non-essential services” have been stopped.  Unfortunately the one service that should have also been stopped wasn’t…paying Congress!  Instead, it is estimated that nearly 800,000 of the 3.3 million federal employees will be furloughed – the remaining employees being viewed as “essential”.

How did we end up in this situation again?  It seems we have reached this same impasse a handful of times over the past 5 years.  Gridlock and deadlock have plagued this 113th Congress and it shows in their “disapproval” rating which is currently hovering at 80+%.  Think about that…8 in 10 American’s do not approve of how Congress is acting…or not acting depending on your viewpoint.  Relative to the President, his approval rating is just a bit better at 50%…half approving and half disapproving.  No matter how you slice it, or which polling company’s data you prefer, it’s clear we have our work cut out for us as a country.

There are two issues looming on the horizon that will most certainly present additional challenges for the U.S.  The first being our debt ceiling, and the second being the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, more specifically the health exchanges.

Our debt ceiling is set to expire on October 17, 2013.  If no action is taken, what we risk, is the general default by the U.S Government to its bondholders.  And while the U.S. Treasury Department has some wiggle room as to prioritizing what and who to pay first, the reality is that because the numbers are so huge something or someone is likely to come out on the short end of the stick.  If forced to make a trade-off, the Treasury is likely to pay the bondholders before paying Social Security recipients.  Unfortunately there is no easy solution.  Some say just raise the debt ceiling…print more money, while others suggest slashing budgets and eliminating many of the current public or entitlement programs. It’s hard to believe that 536 (535 + 1) people can’t find some common ground that offers up a solution to benefit the country and its citizens.  This current win-lose philosophy if allowed to continue will only hurt us in the short and long-term.

Next up, the exchanges.  We saw this past week websites crashing, call centers overloaded, and millions of questions left unanswered.  To be fair, all new things have their bugs whether it’s Windows 8 or the new iOS7 platform.  We have grown accustomed to anticipating problems.  However, as forgiving as we typically are, there are some things that drive us to shop elsewhere.  As an example, many people I know are considering switching to a DROID-based phone after Apple’s recent iOS7 release that seemed riddled with problems.  Likewise, many folks still haven’t upgraded to Windows 8 as they are not pleased with Microsoft’s new platform.  But where will people go when not happy with the exchanges?  Perhaps a different exchange?  Maybe through their broker?  The fact is, it’s yet to be seen what choice we will really have if completely dissatisfied with the new way we need to secure our health coverage.

The next few weeks will test our patience, as well as, our prior held beliefs.  Those in favor of healthcare reform may have a change of heart and to be fair those opposed to its passing may find they actually like it.  Regardless, our government has some significant challenges it is facing over the coming weeks and given its recent history of being unable to work together toward a common outcome, the likelihood that we will actually get a solution to these big problems is slim to none.  Instead we’ll kick the can further down the road, place a temporary band-aid on our debt problem and more likely be forced to delay another aspect of the ACA implementation.

Perhaps the biggest risk of a government shut-down is psychological.  A loss of confidence, stature, and respect.  A shut down pushes us further away from our once-held position as the leader in the world, a country with great ideas, the best talent, and an unquenchable thirst for perfection and progress.  Shutting things down signifies giving up, and that’s simply Un-American.

Great Mentors. The Difference Maker.

partner

In my previous blog, 5 Important Differences Between a Coach and a Mentor, I provided clear differentiation between these two advisers. Both play a valuable role in your development but go about it in entirely different ways. Understanding your current circumstances and having semi-clear objectives – goals – is critical in knowing which, a coach or mentor, would provide the greatest value.

While most coaches tend to have very specific areas of expertise, mentors are completely opposite. Mentors bring a broad set of skills, perspectives, insights and opinions to your developmental party. If you are fortunate enough to have a real mentor in your life consider yourself blessed…and lucky…for they’re not all that common. Remember, you select a coach, a mentor selects you. Great mentors can come from a variety of areas in your life. A relative, a friend, co-worker, boss, or business associate can all be potential mentors. What are the ingredients that make a great mentor?

  1. Deep life experiences. These experiences do not need to be in the area of your specific profession. The mentor has been in and around many different situations that have provided them with incredible insight and perspective.
  2. Demonstrates a personal interest in you. The mentor takes a proactive role in wanting to help you by providing valuable feedback, and guidance. Often times they proactively reach out to check in with you rather than waiting for your call.
  3. Excited and passionate about your development. The mentor never makes you feel like you’re on the clock. Instead they make you feel like they exist specifically to help you. Their energy and authenticity is tangible and easily recognized.
  4. Honest in a positive and constructive way. The mentor provides hard-hitting, honest feedback and observations, but does so in a way that doesn’t put you on the defense, or belittles you.
  5. Teacher, Coach, Counselor, Motivator all rolled into one. The mentor has a natural ability to weave in and out of these roles effortlessly with a near “cloak of invisibility” as they do so. Their deep understanding of you allows them to take the role most effective for the situation at hand, with the genuine intent to aid in your development, while never lecturing or criticizing.
  6. Trust. The single most important ingredient for any great mentoring relationship is trust. A strong, trusting relationship with a mentor creates the bond that is necessary for free-flowing, honest, personal, and sometimes difficult feedback without the fear of embarrassment or intimidation.

Great mentors do all these things and more. Having the benefit of a mentor gives you the ability to make better decisions, broadens your perspectives, and often times provides the clarity you need to move forward. These unique and wonderful people grace us with their active presence in our lives, teach us in ways others can’t, and provide us with the strength we need during life’s most crucial moments. Great mentors are in fact the difference makers in a life full of success and personal fulfillment.

5 Important Differences Between a Coach and a Mentor

Helping-Mentor

Throughout your career, you will encounter moments that will present great challenges and/or opportunities.  Knowing what to do at those specific times depends on several things including experience, attitude, skills and capabilities, and the strength of your personal support network.    As you grow personally and professionally, the complexity of these circumstances increases and may create anxiety as you determine your next steps.  And while this is perfectly normal from a developmental standpoint, having a coach or a mentor by your side can make a huge difference in the quality of outcomes.  Understanding the difference between the two is the first step to making the right selection.

Many people believe mentors and coaches are the same…interchangeable terms.  But they’re not.  Mentors are quite different from coaches.  The key differences between the two are listed below:

  1. You select a coach, a mentor selects you.  As such, mentor relationships tend to last for years, if not a lifetime.  By the mentor selecting you, he or she is demonstrating their personal commitment and genuine desire to help with your personal development.
  2. Coaches focus on improving specific performance, usually on the job, while a mentor focuses on your overall development with a much greater focus on you, the person.
  3. Coaches interact through a formal structure, usually the same day and time each week – office hours.  The session follows a certain flow or formula for the review and update on the items discussed in your last meeting.  A mentor interacts as needed.  They’re “on-call” and happy to be so.  Less formal in nature, free-flowing, and very personal.
  4. Coaches tend to be “career-point-in-time” resources.  Meaning, few coaches can provide value in all stages of someones career.  A great high school football coach does not automatically equate to a great NFL coach simply because he understands the game of football.  As the stakes grow higher in your career, you will need to find a coach whose skills are equally equipped for the circumstances you are encountering.  The coach you had when you were 35, and in your first senior manager role, most likely will not be as effective for you when you are 45 in an executive role.  In contrast, a mentor is always focused on the “broad YOU”, gathering deep and intimate knowledge of the real you, thereby allowing them to provide valuable insights and guidance in nearly any circumstance.
  5. Finally, and perhaps the biggest difference between a coach and mentor is how they are paid.  Coaches, at least professional coaches, charge a fee for their service.  These fees range anywhere from a few hundred dollars per session into the thousands depending upon the circumstances, and length and frequency of the engagement.  A mentor has no fee.  They’ve taken you under their wing.  They have a personal connection with you and are committed to your development and success.

It’s important to understand that while different, there is a need to have both a coach and mentor in your life.  Both play very different, yet important roles in your personal and professional development.  Having a general understanding of your circumstance, time frame, and objectives will help guide your decision on selecting the right coach or mentor.  I will visit specific benefits of coaches and mentors in upcoming blogs.

Your Leadership Style + Your Company Culture – Is There a Disconnect?

perception

Carrot and stick.  And so goes the age-old debate of how to achieve great business results.  Do you shower your employees with accolades and pats on the back?  Or do you focus on the consequences for under performance?  Is your tone one of optimism and assumed-success?  Or is your temperament such that you lead with a, “if we fail” mentality?

There are as many different leadership styles as there are leaders.  Our styles are born from our life experiences from childhood, up to and including, the role we currently occupy.  How you were raised is as important as how you were managed in the first several years of your career.  Most experts agree that the “formative years” for a child occur in their first 12 years of life.  Likewise, the formative years of someones career is their first 5 years in the workforce.

Human beings are natural-born observers.  We watch.  We absorb.  We learn.  We take what we learn and begin to construct potential outcomes for the scenarios we encounter later in life.  Like, cause-and-effect, we begin to build a mental inventory of outcomes based upon actions and reactions.  We learn how to alter outcomes by changing our actions or behaviors.  Yet we all learn in different ways.  Two people can experience the exact same event and have completely different views or perceptions of that event.  And herein lies the formula for how our leadership styles evolve.

Are you a positive motivator or negative?  How do you know?  Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you work in your office all day with the door closed?
  2. When was the last time you sent a communication to recognize a team member?
  3. How often do you walk around the office making eye contact, saying hello, and simply engaging people?
  4. How many people on your team do you rate as a top performer, and if so, when was the last time you told them how much you appreciated them?
  5. Are you losing more than 20% of your employees each year?
  6. Do you hold regular team meetings or even informal get-togethers?
  7. Do you consistently meet, or miss, your numbers?

How you answered these questions may be an indication of your style of leadership.  On the other hand it may also be a reflection of the culture within your workplace.  Either way it’s worth your time to evaluate.  Why?  Because there are several reasons to have a true understanding of your personal style and that of the culture in which you work.  If you genuinely want to build lasting value – for your company or your client – the first step has to be the development of relationships.  In the absence of trusting relationships a company will not be able to experience sustained growth, and nor will you.

According to an article published earlier this year by Forbes, the number one reason people left their job was for stability reasons.  People leave when they don’t feel secure.  Insecurity is often the result of a bad manager.  In fact a subsequent article in the Huffington Post Small Business, it cites the number one reason employees quit is “Their boss sucks”.  Micromanagers and poor communicators topped the list of horrible bosses.  The negativity that flowed from these bosses infected the workplace so much so that people run for the doors.

According to the American Institute of Stress, the top 2 causes of stress in the workplace are work overload and people.  The AIS estimates that stress causes American businesses more than $300 billion each year in lost productivity with a major contributor being a negative workplace.  So how can you change it?  First change your behaviors.  Try doing these three things each day:

  1. Walk around the office at least twice a day and say hello to folks.
  2. Work with your door open (if you have an office) when you can.
  3. Look for the good things that are happening and recognize them.

These are all within your control.  If you’re working for a company that has a negative-tone culture you may need to reevaluate what’s most important to you.  Remember, jobs come and go, but your reputation stays with you no matter where you are employed.  Don’t let the dynamics of an organization define who you are and how you act.  If your belief system is in direct conflict with the office culture, you may need to make a change.  Great teams are built by great leaders, and to be a great leader you’ve got to recognize and acknowledge that your people are in fact your biggest asset.   Only by growing your workplace relationships, developing trust, and displaying respect will you be able to develop a high performing team.