Authentically Influencing

Often when we’re trying to influence someone it is to do something that we want them to do or think is right for them. You try to get your kids to make healthy food choices, get your spouse to get things done around the house, or get your team to beat a deadline that will improve life for them and the customers they serve. This can be difficult at times when you feel so passionately about something and they are resisting. You need to explain what is in it for them to do the thing, lead with why it is important, and communicate both frequently in different ways and different mediums. You have to plan, support, reward, set up consequences, what and how it will work to see the result. You do all of that, sometimes without even really realizing everything you’re doing, happily because in the end we understand and agree with what you’re asking. We do think veggies are important, and want the furnace filter changed, and want the que completely cleared before the end of the day. Let’s take a personal example, your kid does something that causes you and your spouse to ground him from technology for a week. When your kid comes up to you a day later begging for his tablet you likely say something like, ‘There are consequences for your choices. Think about that next time you think you should ____.’ You’re reinforcing the why and encouraging them to make better choices in the future.

What happens though when you don’t agree with what is being asked but you need to influence toward it anyway? Maybe it’s a severe punishment your spouse gave your kid but you want to provide a united front. Maybe it’s a new process at work that you think is over burdensome but are expected from upper leadership to implement. When you don’t agree you see the change or request through completely different eyes. Rather than seeing what about the change is for the person you see what will work against them. The why’s suddenly start to be drown out by all of the why nots. If you yourself as the leader within the group are feeling scared, stuck, frustrated, angry, or just disappointed by a decision or change it and now are faced with the same amount of work to support and encourage the change within your team, will you take it on? Will you drive it forward? What you once didn’t realize was happening feels like drudgery or worse yet, you get amnesia that it is needed in the first place and don’t do any of it. Let’s take our same example but now you don’t like that Dad grounded the kid from his tablet for a week. Now you’re struggling to foster the learning and reflection that is supposed to come with losing a privilege and instead saying things like, ‘I guess this is what Dad said so this is what we’re doing.’ and ‘I don’t like it any more than you do but we can’t do anything about it now.’ or ‘Dad said it and I support your Dad.’ None of that is really helpful to the situation and likely every time you have to answer questions, because you’re answering in that way, you’re building a little more resentment toward the decision and the decision maker.

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In a corporate setting I have seen people handle trying to influence change they don’t agree with just the same way. There seem to be a few options that people choose from most often. These include:

  • Towing the line: This strategy basically says, ‘this is the position and I have to support it.’ It isn’t directly undermining the plan or idea but with your passivity it is clear that you’re not fully onboard, whether it is the company, upper leadership, or your partner.
  • Silence: You can’t say it wrong if you don’t say anything right? Wrong, being silent on an issue of change will create the story for you in the minds of others. Typically the story changes based on their view point.
  • Giving ‘off the record’ comments: This one typically comes after either towing the line or staying silent. In a group setting you might marginally support or saying nothing but one on one you might say something like, ‘This is ridiculous, but you know, it is what it is.’
  • Pretending to love the idea: The last one that happens from time to time is someone going to the extreme to support something that they don’t actually support. They are towing the company line but off the deep end. They fail to communicate any challenge or disappointing parts of the decision or change only sell the canned talking points or their why for supporting the decision.

None of these options are good. Not one. They do all have their pros and cons and you can see how people would land there (ahem… myself included) but they do not accomplish the goals of leading toward the change. Nor do they follow the same communication or strategy that we know we follow when we do genuinely agree with the end result. These tactics attempt to mask our own feelings of stress, fear, frustration, etc. They erode trust and typically disengage people from the very thing you’re trying to get them to do. Let’s go back to our grounded from technology example, by giving the ‘Dad said it and I support it,’ or ‘I don’t like it either but this is where we’re at’ type responses not only are you not teaching your kid the very lesson that was intended with the consequence but you are teaching him that Dad is a jerk or makes the wrong call, or both. Probably not the direction you wanted that to go.

Authenticity is the only way to build trust with people and modeling healthy ways to cope is critical to holistic and long term success for both the decisions or change, and the person you’re leading. Therefore, the only option I’ve seen be successful is to explain the intention or benefit of the change, validating the feelings of the other person, followed by sharing a specific concern you hold and how you’re bridging that gap. Then, even if you messed that first part up, ask what would help the person work through it and how you can support them through it.

This can look like some version of: The intended benefits are _______. I understand there can be mixed feelings, personally I feel ___________. I ___________ to help me work through things like this. What do you think will help you? How can I work with you on that?

So for our kid, The reason we took the iPad away is to help you understand the significance of you taking it without asking. I understand you’re frustrated, I’m frustrated that this messes with our routine myself. I’m focusing on the end goal, teaching you about respect, to get past the frustration. What do you think will help you? Anything I can do to help?

Or at work, The benefit to overhauling our systems is they will all talk to each other and be working on the same version. I understand that can be overwhelming, I’m worried about what it will look like to train all of it at once. When I’m worried about a change like this I like to get involved so I know as much as possible and have a say in decisions. What do you think will help you? What do you need from me?

By doing this you’ve essentially recreated the frame work that you’re already doing when you do agree just on a smaller scale to meet people where they’re at. You’re communicating the why and the benefit, sharing your plan to move ahead and empowering them to create their own, supporting them in their specific need, and the rewards come in working through it together. Don’t forget that improving their attitude toward the decision and/or readiness for the change is something to be celebrated.

What Does Success Look Like?

What is the definition of success? What would it look like for you to be successful right now? How about in 10 years? Are both(or either) of those different from how you would have defined success 10 years ago? Hopefully you’re able to answer each of those questions. Meaning, you know what you want, you have always known, and likely you’re OK with admitting that it has (and will continue to) change over the course of time as you ebb and flow. How I define success has absolutely changed over the years, and I expect it will continue to. I started out defining it by money. Over time success was measured in responsibilities assigned followed by hours worked. Then I measured it in autonomy and skills of my team. Now it looks like modeling healthy work and life balance with my family and team. It looks like having work that lights me up and inspires me for more. The list continues but you get the idea. Like I said before, its more about knowing what it means for you, acknowledging the shift, and then knowing what steps to take to get there.

Success is: not having to choose between work and loving on a sick little dude

Let’s take an example for this. Chasing Success Chad worked an office job for years. He knew his job well and had even been promoted once or twice for working with increasing complex matters within the same basic job function. When asked about his career and planning he was content in his success and wanted to continue to progress. After a few years he hadn’t gotten a promotion and didn’t see anything coming down the line. Chad was getting frustrated so he looked and found a job with another company where he could do something similar but different from what he had been doing. He was excited for what the new skills could teach him but honestly didn’t have any idea how it would go. Chad’s supervisor at the time started to talk about the importance of having leadership background and while it hadn’t occurred to him to be a supervisor after some time he started to believe that this was required to be successful in this new company. Because he wasn’t particularly drawn to supervision he hadn’t really worked on developing that skill but when an opportunity within the department came up to supervise, he did not want to miss out. Chad ended up getting the promotion to supervisor and while he poured his heart and soul into the work, he just couldn’t shake that this was not what success was meant to look like for him. It took years of stress and turbulence for Chad personally and for his team, for him to realize this wasn’t the right fit for him. After realizing that he went back to the drawing board, what was it all those years ago that made him feel successful in his first few positions? Once he understood that he could find the right job to apply for and while it was technically considered a ‘demotion’ it helped him to get closer to his version of success and he continues to to this day.

I really love Chad’s story. It is a mix of a cautionary tale but with a twist for the positive in the end. Chad made some mistakes, he didn’t understand his version of success so he couldn’t pursue that with any purpose. He knew he wanted to ‘be successful’ so with no plan of his own he jumped at the first one someone else laid out for him. To no surprise, this was not the right fit for him. Because it wasn’t the right fit for him (he wasn’t interested and that wasn’t the skill set he had) he was making himself and his team miserable. But then, as it typically does, change comes from pain. Chad was able to reflect, be objective with himself, and take action that made sense to move him toward success, as defined by Chad.

Success is: knowing what you’re working toward

It pains me to think of all the time and frustration that could have been avoided if Chad would have understood that he should define success before chasing it down. It is comforting to know that you can still right the ship even after years of going in a direction that doesn’t work for you but still, it doesn’t have to be that way. Imagine if Chad had an idea of what he wanted and created his plan around that? Imagine if his manager or mentor had asked him what he wanted to do to determine if leading people was the right next step? Imagine if they would have coached him into the supervisor role rather than just tossing him in and hoping for the best?

Success is: knowing where your finish line is and running toward it

If you’re feeling stuck in what you thought was the ‘next right step’ or in someone else’s definition of success, it’s not too late for you either. You need only determine what that means for you and create a plan to get you there. Then go for it. Keep in mind that success can be measured in money, time, stuff, vacations, ability to focus your efforts on _______, being known as the one who can fix anything, being left on your own because you’re self sufficient, or any host of other standards that you pick. Then, talk to your mentor, do your research, and build your plan on how you’ll get there. It might be a series of promotions. It might be setting boundaries around where you’re already at. It might be a change so scary that you’ve known the answer and have been avoiding it for years. Once you know the next steps just take the next right step for you, then the next one. I promise it will be better in the end than following someone else’s dream.

Finding Your Focus

Have you ever given a kid a direction and by the time you finish the sentence you can tell by the look on their face, they have no idea what you just said? Or you send them to get something for you from the other room and they come back 20 minutes later doing something completely different and don’t even remember that you asked for anything in the first place? It has gotten to the point with my oldest that I think I say, ‘Dude, focus.’ About 15 times a day. There are other times though that I’ll give him and his brothers the green light to do something, build a dirt bike track in the woods for example, and they are at it for hours without deviation or complaint. There is something different enough between Please go down and grab my an extra box of tissues and Sure if you want to clear this out you can build a track that makes him lose focus on the one that would 8 seconds and keep focus on the other 4 hours straight.

Now, I could give you the typical top 10 focus items list:

  • Clear distractions
  • Set a timer
  • Make a prioritized list
  • Get into deep work
  • Limit screen time
  • Make the most of bonus minutes
  • Create a weekly time to get tasks done
  • Do the most difficult thing first
  • Reward yourself for focus
  • Just get it done

And all of that is true, but stopping at that just really isn’t my style. I mean think about it, did my big work for hours on a dirt bike track because he limited his screen time or because it fell into his weekly designated time, of course not. I see the same thing in myself too. I can look at the same email 15 times and not do anything with it but if you ask me to create a communication or training plan and I will clear my schedule and work a full day if that is what it takes to get it done. We all know the tips to a certain degree. They might have had different names or the how might be a little different but the message is the same. So why are we able to apply it to some things so easily and others it is like pulling teeth?

The amount of shoveling, dumping, and raking that this took are astounding.

If it isn’t the lack of knowledge around the basics of getting things done, what is causing our lack of focus? I would say its at least one of three things. You either don’t want it enough, don’t understand what it takes, or don’t have a clear plan on how to get it. I would say that the vast majority of the time that you don’t get something done or don’t make progress on something is because we don’t want it enough. I know that sounds harsh and maybe like judgement but I am telling you it is not. I want my kids to have a dirt bike track, but not enough to spend hours building it. I want there to always be clean laundry but not enough to do wash, dry, fold, put away every day. I even want that email to be dealt with so that I can reward myself by deleting it, but not enough to actually spend the 10 minutes to actually get it done.

When you’re procrastinating on something, particularly something big, ask yourself;

  • Do I know how to do this?
  • Do I have a plan on how to get it done?
  • Do I want it enough to do it?
After 2 1/2 days, a lot of help, and even more test runs, the track is just about finished.

OK but then what right? You’re thinking, I know how to answer the email, I have a plan, and no I don’t really want to do it. Now what Genius because I still need to get it done. I would recommend thinking of it as a piece of a bigger plan that you do want enough. Maybe you want a promotion. Maybe you want to be seen as the expert on X topic. Maybe you want Mom to say yes when you ask for a cookie before dinner (ahem… get the dang tissues). Every single task isn’t going to be earth shattering work that accomplishes a deep aspiration, but things still need to get done. Try that if you’re habitually procrastinating on a specific task or type of task. Figure out how it fits into the bigger picture of a goal that does light you up. Then start. Just take that first step. There is no magic bullet step or tip or key that will get the things done for you so you will need to just get it done.

We’re Meant to have Seasons; A Lesson from Trees

While we were living in our rental home we got to have a huge oak tree right in the front yard. It was beautiful. It has been there so long that the rope or the homemade swing is fully embedded into its branch. It created amazing shade in the summer and a slight cover for rain or snow on the walkway in the fall and winter. When the acorns and leaves fell it was so thick on the grass you couldn’t see the ground. You would have to sift through with your feet to find grass. Also, in a house with three little dudes the acorns made for fantastic weapons to throw at each other.

I’ve been around millions of trees, I grew up in the woods, lived in a little woods for our first home, and bought a 30 acre wood for our forever home. So I’m big on trees in general but the one at the rental really stuck out to me. For the first time in years it had kids swinging from it’s swing, climbing its limbs, hatching acorn business plans, and playing in the leaves. There was so much life around it now, a contrast from the years before, and yet the tree continued to do what it had always done in exactly the right way at exactly the right time. It grew and produced exactly when and how it should. It released and rested exactly when and how it should.

In our lives we spend so much time trying to figure out what and when and how and why we’re supposed to be doing things that we can’t see the natural rhythm. We are tempted to be pulled to extremes under the guise of ‘making the most of our time’ but to what end? We want to take care of our health so we meticulously count calories and work our bodies. We want to be successful in our career so we start early, work late, and skip breaks and vacations. We want to make the most of the time with our family so we plan elaborate, expensive vacations where we run as fast as we can and take all the pictures to prove we did it right. We want to be mindful and rest so we either try to force that in with the same ferocity that we take on our other goals or crash and burn to the point that we binge a screen for 12 hours straight to ‘recharge’. (Just writing that all down exhausted me.) It’s as if we’re trying to put the seasons on steroids and in fast forward. Then to top it all off we look for validation on how we’re doing it! We are creating anxiety by attempting to improve on something that comes so naturally in nature. We seek out all the opinions on how to do it that we just create noise to the point that we can’t hear what our bodies and minds need.

Soaking up as much of this season as we can.

Could you imagine a tree attempting to be bigger and better in every season, trying to fit more seasons in in the year, and then rushing around to obtain the input of other trees on how it could grow bigger acorns? It’s down right comical because plants and animals are smarter than that. They rest how they should, to produce when and to the level they can, and they don’t compare the size of their fruits to anyone else.

It is truly incredible how much you can learn, and the level of required perspective you can gain by over simplifying things. This is why I look to my kids or my own younger days for inspiration and clarity on a given subject. Even those examples can sometimes have a layer of complexity to them or outside inputs. When I really need to strip something down I look to nature. The natural world is created so exquisitely to exist exactly as it needs to. A tree doesn’t need to consider if it wants to bud, if other trees are judging the timing with which it buds or asking why it creates leaves rather than blossoms. It pulls exactly what it needs from the ground and from the air and grows and sprouts in perfect timing. As time moves on it works at full capacity growing to new heights and reaching limbs out further than it ever has before. It then slows its growth, drops the leaves and the fruits it no longer needs, and rests. That tree will rest fully for as long as it needs until that right moment comes again to produce those buds and grow once more.

My limited writing skills can’t really do the process justice. It would be really hard to follow all of that with an influencer-esque 5 point plan as I just said we look too much to others for validation of our seasons. If I had anything to offer through this thought it would be to take all of the opportunities as they come. To listen to the still small voice within you that says now is the time to draw in or now is the time to flourish. Quiet the noise to listen to the ques for the natural rhythms of your life.

Making the Right Decision

When it comes to my kids, I tell them just like I see it. I don’t sugar coat or lie about things they want to do. I don’t bubble wrap them or take a bunch of precautions to keep them from getting hurt. I just don’t, and never have. When they were crawling down steps, I’d let them try the last couple independently, you have to fall or wobble to learn how to come down. When they wanted to tube behind the boat, I explained you will get water in your face and you will eventually fall out. Just recently my middle son had built a jump for his dirt bike. He was proud and confident in his work, until he was on the bike preparing to take the jump for the first time. He asked if he was going to fall. I told him flat out, ‘If you take your bike off that jump you’ll probably fall the first time, it will hurt, and you’ll go again. You might even break a bone but very unlikely and you have the same chance of that tomorrow. There is no way to get better if you don’t try so if you want to be able to jump it, you’ll have to take the risk.’ Now, he did have his helmet, boots, pads, gloves, etc (so no bubble wrap but we do take appropriate precautions) I knew that if he fell, which he did on maybe the 5th try that was actually the first true jump attempt, we had prepared him for what he was about to do both in the moment and leading up to it (he’s been riding for the better part of a year).

Ready to hit the jump!

I take a very similar approach in working with my team. There is no sugar coating or pretending, there is graceful realism. When we’re working on a project and they start looking to me for answers they could come up with I respond with things like, ‘It sounds like you could go left or right here. If you go right you’ll capture most of the information accurately, some will be missed, and what is missed might cause us to get a fine. If you go left you’ll spend a lot more time and money but capture everything. This might cause a customer service delay and more work for the group but it will be 100% accurate. What is the overarching goal on this one accuracy, service, speed, …?’ I realize I didn’t answer their question and that was intentional.

In that moment, either next to the dirt bike jump or in the conference room, my intention wasn’t to tell anyone what to do or even to teach on any specific topic. It was to model how to make a good decision. I want them (my kids and my team members and everyone else really) to learn how to make a good decision regardless of what situation they are in. There are different ways to make a decision and while some people feel like they do it intuitively or others are extremely calculated, I take a more middle of the road approach.

When I want to make a decision I need to:
1. Understand the risks and benefits and likelihood of each
2. Consider the worst case scenario specifically and the likelihood of that
3. Consider the overall goal or intention that this decision is involved in
4. With all of that in mind I can decide what path supports the goal and if/what I need more (information or resources) to account for any risks

It is number 3 that is really important. Consider what the end goal is and how this decision will support it. That is the number one thing that is needed but also gets missed in decision making. People get bogged down with understanding the risks and the up-side, tallying up the lists on both sides of a pro-con list. Sometimes they get stuck on the best and worst case scenarios. Those are good things to understand but its the overlay of that with the goal that brings the clarity. If your goal was ‘self preservation’ (my mom reminisces over this primary goal of mine as a child) hitting a dirt bike jump, with all of its fun upside and low chance of true injury, would have been a hard pass. If the goal is first and foremost customer service, then you’ll just have to account for accuracy or accept the risk that it will be less than perfect.

Now it’s your turn.
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What is your decision making framework? If you think you don’t have one, I’ll just say flat out you’re wrong, you have one you’re just not aware you’re doing it. I encourage you to start thinking through how you’re making decisions big and small. It could be anything from should I make a little more coffee to should I buy a new home to what is the best path for my children. Once you understand your process I would encourage you to add in the overlay with the primary goal. Determine what that is for you and for the company, organization, or community around you, and set up your decisions in support of that goal.

Transitioning to a New Stage in Life

How often have you heard people tell you, you’re going to miss this, when referring to how you’re currently experience a stage in life? How do you typically react? Does it help you reset your perspective and focus on the positives walking away from that conversation more thankful for the current moment than before? Or do you feel unheard and frustrated because when you expressed something hard the person you were talking to told you not to feel that way? Truly, I’ve never met a single person who reacts as the first and I personally fall firmly in the camp of the latter. I can honestly say that I have never reacted well to that statement. At best I squint (making a face that my friends call Hate Eye) and say nothing. At my worst and most frustrated I say something like, ‘I didn’t say I hate where I’m at I said this part is hard, Karen.’ or ‘Really, I’ve been living as me for a few years now, a lot more than you have, and I think I know how I’ll feel about this looking back.’ Both eloquent and loving responses, obviously, and while I standby my position I likely could express it a bit better. This post is intended to be warm hug to the person feeling angst in a transition or specific season of life, I see you and it is hard. It is also meant to be a softer more descriptive version of my sharp responses for those who insist on telling people, you’re going to miss this.

When I think of transitioning to a new stage in life, whether it was from being a ‘kid’ to getting a summer job, moving to out on my own, getting married, moving between ‘big girl jobs’, having a baby, adding the babies, and then all of their stages, I think of what it actually means to make that transition. There is a death of something, and often times that something is part of your identity. I know that that sounds dramatic but think about it. When you go off to college or get that first apartment there is a death of the days where someone else took care of your basic needs. When you get married there is a death to single life you once knew. When your babies aren’t such babies anymore there is a death to being needed as much as before. It is painful and scary just like any loss but it is also a new beginning. There is a new beginning that is exciting, hopeful, and scary in it’s own right. You’re learning what it means to have more responsibility or give a piece of yourself to something you never had before and it’s great but also so very hard.

By baby #3 I finally felt like I understood that stage. It was still crazy hard. I just understood that.

Keep in mind you are the same person who came through all of the transitions in life that proceeded this one. You have moved through countless stages and phases, blessings and trials, and each one has equipped you. You have all the same abilities that carried you through what you’ve been through and now even more skills because of going through them. That failed science project in the 3rd grade was preparing you to take on bigger challenges as you moved forward. Those challenges in turn prepared you for what you’re going through now. These are only preparation for what you’ll need in the future.

As you’re coming out of the actual transition, you’ve crossed that bridge of change and your feet are planted firmly on the other side, it is almost as if you don’t know the life you once lived. Sure bits and pieces will come back to mind when reminiscing. (hint, I think these are the you’re going to miss this moments they speak of) but its only a highlight reel really. You’ll think back to the times you could make plans at 10 at night. You’ll wonder idly how life might have been different if you’d chosen a different path. You’ll think back to the sleep deprived days filled with diapers and milk schedules and wonder how you even survived. You were likely a different person then and living in a stage of life that seemed to last forever while you were in it and now seems so far away.

Whether in transition or firmly in a specific stage, it truly is fleeting. Some of them we thrive in and other’s we barely survive. Don’t add the extra pressure trying to be positive and optimistic in the most difficult parts. When things are hard let them be hard. When things are great, let them be great. Soak it all in, the good the bad and the ugly. Don’t dismiss your feelings on either side even in those smaller transitions or the ones you chose. If you took a a new job and you are thrilled for what it will do for your career but heart broken for what you’re leaving behind, go ahead and feel it. If you did rounds of IVF and still get frustrated when the baby wakes up at night, mourn your loss of sleep and celebrate the life you created.

This is what holding both can look like. Celebrating transition in our 30s and mourning the loss of a baby who didn’t quite make it to this world. So much transition and so much love.

There is a Brad Paisley song that gave me permission a long time ago to enjoy, mourn for a minute, and then focus on the possibility of what comes next. In it Paisley is talking to a younger version of himself offering some reflection and perspective on life in the teen years. Toward the end of the song he has so much excitement as he tells about what is to come and sings, ‘have no fear these are no where near the best days of your life.’ I, being the lyric junky that I am, took this very literally and I still hold firmly to it. Childhood and high school were fantastic experiences for me, add on to that now the first decade of marriage and raising our own family have been amazing. I can look back at all I’ve accomplished, all I’ve loved and lost and learned, and think of it fondly knowing that it brought me, brought us, to where we are but I have never once longed to go back. I know, as good as they are, the best years are yet to come.

Leading Without Expertise

Have you ever tried to be the expert at something? Have you put in the hours to learn the craft, the effort to truly understand and improve, and risk your ego by either competing or reaching out for help to bring you beyond where you can go on your own? It takes a lot to become an expert, months, years, sometimes a lifetime to truly hone a skill to the point of expert status. What are you an expert at?

If I’m being honest, I am an expert at nothing really. I work very hard to improve in many areas of my life but I’m typically not willing to expend the time and effort needed to get to the level of mastery. This is true in things from my garden, running, biking, presentations, or in understanding big data. It is not a complaint or a ‘race to the bottom’ type statement. I truly value balance in life and if I’m chasing expert status in different areas that pulls me far away from the other areas that I also want to focus in. There is one area in which I do strive for expertise, and that is development. I want to be an expert in self-development, in developing my children, and in developing those I work with. Every single moment can be a teaching moment, and something can be gleaned from every interaction. I want myself, and everyone around me to be growing at all times. It is this ebb and flow of stepping back from expert status in all areas of life but development that brings me to a question I get frequently, how can I lead people in ____ when they know more about it than I do?

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

Well friend, I can tell you that it is possible to lead in the absence of expertise or even complete information and do it exceedingly well. The focus needs to shift however, let’s do a little bit of a tale of two managers. We’ll use managers Expert Ellen and Big Picture Brenda as examples for this one. Both Ellen and Brenda started managing teams at the same time. Ellen had been doing the same work of those she was leading for many years and transitioning into the leadership role was somewhat seamless because her staff had the respect and understanding that she too knew the work and knew what they were going through. Brenda on the other hand came into her role with no prior knowledge of the work and what the team actually did daily. She understood the overall purpose of what her new team was doing and how it fit into the company structure but none of the logistics. For that reason, her transition was a bit more difficult in the beginning. The team didn’t trust that she could relate to their workload or help them through any issues. They would test her knowledge and abilities whenever they had the chance. After a few months of working in their new roles Brenda and Ellen were faced with a major change in the organization and they would need to lead their teams through it. They would see turn over, hiring freezes, the need to do more work with less people, and improve metrics at the same time. As things started Ellen made some changes within the team, shuffling tasks, keeping the team shielded from the changes that were happening. Ellen was sure she could weather this storm herself while allowing her team to simply focus on the work. Brenda on the other hand didn’t know enough about the work to simply make changes, she set up a series of meetings with the team to discuss changes and encouraged them to create solutions. Brenda involved the team from the beginning because she knew she needed them. She provided the structure and a support and they provided the ideas and tested them.

What do you think of the leaders in the story? Which type of leader are you?

After reading that, which manager provided better leadership to their team? I would say, at this point in the ‘story’ both are doing well. They each have a strategy based on their skills and talents that will support their team at this juncture. However, one is limiting and one is expanding. One allows the manager to stay in control for a time but will likely expand beyond her control in the future. The other allows the manager build and develop their team in problem solving while developing their own knowledge base in the day-to-day tasks of the group. Ellen will feel secure and like she has cared for her team well while building confidence in her own problem solving and again, will be successful if this is all the further the changes need to go. However Brenda is set up for success if future changes continue because she has built buy in from the team, created a collective sense of ‘we can figure this out’, and will have a better sense of her team’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the soft-skills or human skills that her team possesses.

I think you can tell which type of leader I would strive to be. If I can focus on developing skills for myself and my team, I am one happy camper. Both styles have merit and value but only one will allow for continued individual growth and collective support. Even when you have the technical expertise of Ellen, challenge yourself to utilize the structure of support to empower the team like Brenda.

Impacting My Reputation

There is a lot of talk around biases in recent years, which is a good thing. Biases impact our view of a person before we know them based on a stereotype or a story we’ve told ourselves about ‘people like them.’ Biases hurt not only the person who is being stereotyped but also the greater team, organization, community, or group of any kind. When we use a bias to make a decision we are limiting our ability to learn something new and include all of the voices. They aren’t something the recipient has any control over though.

You might have little control over the bias that someone has when they see you but you can control your reputation. Your reputation is built through your actions distilled down to its most basic form. For example, if you’re the person who leans back in meetings arms folded looking at the speaker but rarely adding your thoughts or asking questions, you’re likely seen as the disinterested, more important things to do, type of person. If you consistently mingle through the group checking in with everyone, making lots of connections, and asking lots of questions to get to know people better you’re likely the social butterfly. Those are really basic examples of course, typically our personal reputation is a bit more complex because our interactions with others involves more than just one type of action. For example, one person might have the reputation of being lazy and doing the bare minimum based on a few interactions where he didn’t add much to the problem solving phase. On the other hand, someone could be seen as incredibly dependable and hard working based on adding value to the team throughout a personal challenge.

While it does often turn into wrestling these two have aptly earned the reputation of world’s greatest snugglers.

It can take very little time to develop a reputation, starting from the very first interaction and carrying forth even before you even meet others. Thus the phrase, your reputation proceeds you. People will actively tell others about your style or do’s and don’ts of working with you. They will also indirectly tell people by setting up groups or inviting people that fit a certain criteria of which you may not be included. For example, if you’re seen as extremely healthy and regimented by your friends or coworkers, they may not include you in the impromptu lunch date to the greasy diner. If someone is creating a team of immerging leaders and you have the reputation of being the wallflower, you may not get selected.

If you’re sitting here thinking, ‘oh great, what’s my reputation and what is it keeping me from?’ I’m here to tell you that that is a waste of energy. I mean, if you have reason to be concerned about a specific opportunity or you have reason to think your friends are leaving you off certain invites I have a recommendation but for the most part, it is a waste of time. I mean, you won’t hear me say often that reflection is a waste but in this instance your reputation could be caused by unintentional acts so let’s focus our reflection on what we want rather than what we don’t want. More to come on that but first, I said I had a recommendation for how to handle missed opportunities and invites, and I do. First, ask yourself if you really want the invite. If you have strong relationships but aren’t getting invited on the once a month outing that conflicts with your goals, is that really something to fight against? Likewise, if you were left off a professional opportunity that truly doesn’t align with your personality or strengths, was it really your opportunity in the first place? If you do feel at a loss (hey I like greasy cheese burgers and I want to break out of my shell, or, the reputation is just false) then ask someone you can trust to be clear with you and who knows the situation to weigh in. Ask them, what am I doing that is giving the impression of ______? Or, if you don’t even know what your reputation is yet ask, why do you think people assume I’m not a good fit for (don’t want to) _______?

I run a lot, which for sure made people think I didn’t want the diner. They were wrong, and I corrected that.

The more interesting question than, what is my current reputation is, what do I want my reputation to be? What do you want people to take away from meeting/knowing/engaging with you? What do you want them to say about you when you’re not in the room? I think for most of us what we want people to say about us a reflection of us living out our values. When our reputation and values don’t feel congruent that is when you don’t like your reputation. I would use them interchangeably if you’re trying to answer the question. If you don’t know what you want your reputation to be, think of what your values are. For me, I want people to say,

  • I can trust her to see me as a whole person.
  • She is a stickler for strategy and priorities.
  • She gets things done and I feel good before we start, while we’re working, and when we finish.
  • She is self-aware and encourages honest feedback.

Understanding what you want your reputation to be and how you want to be perceived will automatically help you recognize when you’re being inconsistent with those statements. For example, if I know that I want people to say that I encourage honest feedback and I am at a cross roads of getting feedback I can see that how I respond can either support or erode that statement. Recognizing opportunities to act in support of how you want to be seen is only 1/3 of the equation though. You also need to choose to follow what aligns with how you want to be seen. It’s not enough to know I’m at the cross roads; I need to make that person feel comfortable providing feedback. I need to use words that show I’m going to consider and potentially act on the feedback they’re giving. In many cases I need to actually ask for feedback directly. OK so that is 2 of the 3 pieces to influencing your reputation. The final piece of the pie, talking about it. I know that part is often the most uncomfortable but it’s necessary. People can sometimes misinterpret the motives behind your actions so you need to link them with your words. Let’s use another example of mine, seeing people as the whole person. If someone comes to me and asks, ‘Is it ok if I quit an hour early today to take my dog to the park? It’s been a long week and we both need some park time.’ I could just approve and my action would be congruent with the reputation I’m cultivating but they may feel the need to justify or think I’m being passive aggressive about it. So instead I say, ‘Of course! It has been a long week and I’m glad you and Duke can take a minute to unwind from it.’

I am a whole person. Sometimes my days look like this. Why would I not want people to live a life just as full?

To bring it back to the beginning, bias plays into the reputation. I am not blind to the fact that for some of us one interaction that fits the stereotype or the story the person has already told themselves in their head will serve to confirm the bias. It then can be so hard to change it. Others will have greater influences over their reputation. Whether you have great influence in this area or limited, you have influence and being intentional about the reputation you want and how you’re building, influencing, or cultivating it for yourself will set you apart and ahead of those who don’t.

How to Utilize an Assessment?

There are personality assessments, leadership assessments, organizational assessments, engagement assessments, the list goes on and on. How many have you taken over the years? Did you utilize the results? Did your company teach you how to utilize those results? Did you do it right? That last one sounds odd right. I mean, these are assessments, typically telling you more about yourself and most of them stress to the point of annoyance that there is no right and wrong answer. There is a right way and a wrong way to respond to those answers though. I’d like to start with a bit of a story and then walk through what went well and what didn’t in the utilization.

Years ago I worked for a company with let’s say 100ish employees in a variety of departments and roles. The company was transitioning from traditional methods of management to more contemporary leadership methods and trying to focus on supporting the whole person at work rather than just what you saw in an 8 hour day. They decided to utilize an assessment to gain a better understanding of what made their employees tick both inside and outside the office. They asked the employees to take the same assessment twice as a matter of fact, once considering how they respond and act at work and again thinking of themselves outside of work. Once these assessments were completed senior leadership took the results and segmented them by department and role keeping both sets of results together for each employee. They looked for two things, alignment of work results to the needs of the job and consistency of results between home and work. For those respondents who’s results didn’t match their roll the leadership group strategized where they might fit better in the organization. For those respondents who’s results between home and work were incongruent, leadership strategized how to get them to a spot that would allow them to be more ‘aligned with their true self.’ The thought being that acting in different ways at home and at work would cause undo stress and result in less productivity or poorer output. When they began discussing organizational changes with middle management and individual contributors they were met with opposition. As it turned out, the vast majority of employees reported being happy in their work and didn’t want to change regardless of the assessment. The verdict, the assessment was off and didn’t reflect well what truly made employee’s tick.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

Whew. Did you pick out some interesting pieces in there? Let’s break that down a bit.

  • Intent and plan: The intent that the company had was to better support the whole person with the group that they were working with. This is a great reason to look to an assessment. It can start the process to better understand people within the group and develop common language and understanding of the strengths and opportunities each style has.
  • Structure: Their structure could have used a little work. They didn’t use the results of the assessment as a jumping off point they used it as the full story of each of their employees. They also compared the home and work assessments. It isn’t the utilization of two assessments I have a problem with (more on this next) but the way they utilized them to aid in a proposed restructure of the company.
  • Inclusion: Including people in the discussion and utilization of their results is non-negotiable. There are some universal truths that come from where each person lands but there are countless more distinctions and cross overs that you aren’t privy to by simply reading each person’s print out. Allowing each respondent to analyze and speak to their results is critical. This would also be a great opportunity for them to understand their own congruencies and inconsistencies from work to home life and support them in drawing their own conclusions. Leadership, seemingly intentionally, entirely skipped this piece.
  • Implementation: The company clearly overreached on this. They had good intent and started out in the right direction but took it too far. To consider reorganizing your company based on the results of a personality assessment is not the way to implement.

If I had had the opportunity to consult with those senior leaders I would have advised them a bit differently.

  • Intent and plan: Better support the whole person at work to maximize engagement and productivity.
  • Structure: Provide two versions of the assessment, personal and professional. When completed, set up small group discussions by department starting with the top down facilitated by a disinterested third party to better understands what results mean. Set up follow up meetings 30-60 days after the first to review follow up questions and support any changes that may be beneficial.
  • Inclusion: If the company is open to making changes depending on people’s comfortability in their current role (which this one obviously was) make sure that that is understood in a controlled way. You can’t promise to move people anywhere they want to work because you need to keep the company functioning and profitable. However in this instance it was clearly an option they were willing to entertain so in those follow up meetings that could be discussed for employees who were experiencing stress and realizing it was due to incongruency with their personal and professional selves.
  • Implementation: Create a continuous culture of understanding personalities and how they impact us at work. Bring awareness to any strengths and opportunity

So cool right, years later I have an answer to how they could have handled that better. Not so useful or profound at this juncture. The next question becomes, how do we learn from that information to improve the next situation. Well, if you formally lead people and you look to an assessment, be collaborative in the discussion. Likely you can’t just make structural changes if people’s personalities don’t align with their roles but you can support any identified opportunity areas and find side projects that allow them to play to their strengths. If you’re the respondent in the assessment, look for the collaboration and implementation. If you don’t see it working the way you want it to, make suggestions to improve. If you notice an incongruence with your role and your personality, ask for the specific support you need, and if necessary, use the new knowledge about yourself serve as the first step in discovering the next right role for you.

Should I Change Jobs?

Almost all of us have wondered from time to time if we’re in the right position for us. We’ve considered looking for more of a challenge, more earning potential, or looked at switching industries all together. There can be some anxiety around those thoughts or decisions but for the most part it is an exciting time of growth, asking yourself ‘where can I go from here?‘ In those situations we might start looking at what opportunities are out there and we often go about it in a really healthy way. We take our job search in a way that is similar to buying jeans when you know you have a really great pair at home. (As with all of my slightly out there analogies, bear with me.) Think of your favorite pair of jeans. The ones that make you look great all day and all night. You can dress them up or keep it casual. They are the standard that is in your closet and you wear them every chance you get. If you were going to go jean shopping you’d probably only do it when the opportunity struck, not because you’re specifically looking for a different pair. If you found a pair to try on its because they check all the boxes and are worthy of taking to the dressing room. They are the right color, the right size, the cut and if they weren’t, you just wouldn’t bother. If you do decide to buy something new yes they’ll probably have some similarities to the ones you have but also they’ll be different. The new ones will have improvements from the ones you had before because you know you have something good at home and if you’re going to spend your money it better be on something even better.

What happens the question you’re asking yourself about your career change from where can I go from here to how do I get out of here? What about the times that we start asking ourselves things like, how do I know if I’m doing well if I never hear anything? How can I stay here with this hostile work environment? Why do they profess to have our backs and never follow through? Or statements like, I don’t feel valued. I’m not being heard. There is no way I can succeed here. I’m not even challenged and they think I’m over my head. To all of that, and to anyone who might be experiencing something similar, I want to say a couple things first. I hear you and I see you. This place you’re in is so freaking hard. It is painful and frustrating and if not handled swiftly it will eat away all of the other areas of your life. Let’s think of this one in terms of jeans again. Think about the times you’ve gone shopping because you need new jeans. You have nothing that fits or flatters or is comfortable. You make special trips to the store just to look at jeans. You fill your arms with anything in your size (and probably a couple sizes in either direction) just to try them on until you can find something that will suffice. Typically when you get home you have a pair of jeans. You have a pair that you can add to the pile that don’t quite fit or flatter and you’re certainly not comfortable in them but they will allow you to get by and you’ll try to change yourself (if I just skip my coffee creamer for a couple weeks they’ll fit better) to make you fit the pants.

Photo by Mica Asato on Pexels.com

The beautiful thing about this analogy is that shopping is just a behavior, and we have control of that. So whether you’re shopping out of need or or out of opportunity you can choose which behavior you use and use the same format of reflecting objectively and taking action regardless of what you’re shopping for and why.

So what do I do next?

  1. Get really clear on what you want. For jeans it really is as simple as color and cut. In your career you might ask yourself, what does good look like, what about great? What would make me successful? What would make me feel valued? Don’t just think about all the things you’re frustrated about and make a list of complaints thinly veiled as desires (I want a supportive upline, more money, more staff, etc. If someone asked you why you want it and you could answer with, because I don’t have it now and it would really be nice, dig a little deeper) This is a situation where asking yourself why a few times would really benefit you.
  2. Know where you can get it. On the jean front you know yourself well enough to know if you’re jean shopping at a big box store, a boutique, or thrift store. Once you know what you want in your job you need to start asking where those things are. Don’t just apply to anywhere and everywhere that has an opening and advertises the benefits you’re looking for. Understand if you want the structure of a big corporation of the flexibility and family feeling of a more local company.
  3. If a job checks the boxes don’t be afraid to apply, aka, if the pants are worthy of trying on, do it. This one is two fold. First, be selective and make sure that anything you’re taking the time to apply for (and would take the time to interview for) meets your criteria. Second, nothing bad ever came from applying, particularly if it is outside your current company. If you have a good job but came across three great looking ones, go ahead and apply for them all! Take alllll those great jeans to the dressing room and find what works.
  4. It is OK to take the leap, or not. For some reason people think that if you applied for the job you are now locked in to the interview and then locked in to the job should it be offered. Certainly you don’t want to waste anyone’s time, including your own, but you did not sign a contract saying that you were changing jobs just because you opened a job search board or went to an interview. Remember that when you get to the interview you’re trying them on just as much as they’re trying you. Ask questions, push on the offer, and find out if it meets your needs.

It may sound silly to compare the progression of your career to buying jeans but sometimes the simplest processes broken down can reveal how much we’re over complicating the bigger ones. Making the decision to change jobs can feel scary but it doesn’t have to. If you objectively understand what you have, clarify what you want and where to get it, apply for what makes sense, and remember the interview goes both ways, you’ll be in a great position to make the right decision for you.