Becoming . . .

We are all a work in progress, don’t you think? One way or another we are in the process of becoming the person we will be tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. Too many times the process of becoming that person is left to random chance as we react to what is happening to us and around us.

Are you becoming the person you really want to be? If not, what does the person you really want to become actually look like? Self-knowledge builds self-awareness. Self-awareness helps us to understand our individual strengths, weaknesses, talents, and preferences. And that understanding can help us take a long view of our life. What we do today – the decisions we make, the choices we take, the forks in the road that will appear this week without us realizing that they are forks and choices – all of it will influence the “me” who we become tomorrow, next week, next year.

We all have choices every day. Choose wisely.

What will your choices be today? Who are you in the process of becoming? Food for thought.

Paul

What Did You Learn?

What did you learn from each of your previous bosses? Maybe you worked for one of those rare “natural” supervisors or managers. I’ve met a few, but they are few and far between. Most of us who have worked inside organizations have worked for a series of bosses. And we probably had no difficulty finding things about their style that bugged us, frustrated us, even made us angry from time to time.

But at the same time, looking at it from the rear view mirror, I bet you also learned some valuable lessons from each of them. I know I did. Some of those lessons were positives – things to emulate, copy, and modify to fit me. And some were negatives – things to not do when faced with a similar situation.

One of my first bosses was The Chief. He was a Master Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy and was the lead admin for the Supply Officer on my ship. He’d been in the Navy about 25 years and had risen steadily to become one of the senior people in his logistics specialty. Since our ship had one of the first on-board computers in the Navy (a Univac 1500 that took up a lot of room and was one of the few air-conditioned spaces on the ship), we were dealing with state-of-the art in some ways, and very old technology in others. Remember 10-part carbon paperwork?

From The Chief I learned precision and the importance of doing the job to the best of my ability. He also served as a role model of how to handle a difficult boss who had spent his entire career on shore duty. When we were at sea, the Supply Officer spent the whole time holed up in his cabin, alternately hollering at somebody over the ship’s phone and bouts of throwing up .

Some years later I worked for a boss I’ll call Sam. I was running an organization-wide system with multiple locations and nearly round-the-clock operations. From Sam I learned the value of building effective cross-departmental relationships and the wisdom of seeking multiple opinions and perspectives before making major decisions. My mid-20’s shoot-from-the-hip, get-it-done-now style sometimes backfired on me, particularly when I failed to identify key stakeholders and give them a “heads-up” regarding plans. Sam showed us all how to lead a diverse (and often highly competative) group of department heads in a positive direction by “communicating lavishly,” to use a favorite Max DePree quote. Sam knew where we were heading, kept us all in the loop, and ran interference with other senior leaders when necessary. Quiet leadership, practiced daily.

Those are just two of the people I learned from. What did you learn?

Think about what you’ve learned from some of the people you’ve worked for over the years. If you’d like to share a thought or two, that would be great. If not, at least think about it.

Adopting The Book

My recent post (Out of the Blue!) mentioned the adoption of “The 8 Essential Skills” by a large international law firm. As the sequence of orders (50, then 350, then 70 more) occured, we were initially focused on getting the books produced and making sure they were delivered on a timely basis. Fortunately, we had selected CreateSpace to produce our book “on demand” and that is what they do, and do well. Based on previous orders, my level of confidence about their capabilities was fairly high. Their track record was quite good with the few gliches we’d experienced in the past having been well-handled. The turnaround time from placing the order until the cartons showing up on the client’s loading dock was typcially about 10 days; pretty incredible.

As we got the production and shipping process moving along, two questions were of major interest to me:

  • How were they planning to use the book?

  • How did the firm “find” the book?

The firm is in the process of rolling out a 14 month developmental program for all of their supervisors and managers, and “The 8 Essential Skills” had been selected as the central text for that long-term program, along with their own internal resources. With all the long-term management development programs I’ve worked with over the years, hearing that was really gratifiying. It confirms and validates the central themes of “The 8 Essential Skills.”

My second question – how did they come to select this book? After all, there are hundreds, even thousands of other books on supervising and managing available. The answer was an indicator of how carefully this firm went about designing their program. First, they convened a task force and charged them with examining a wide variety of resources – materials that could be used in central and supplemental roles in their year-plus development program. Then the group compared what they found. One of the members downloaded the Kindle version of “8 Essential Skills”, liked it and showed it to several colleagues. Then, they ordered the printed version for task force members, who evaluated it individually. After aligning the Skills with their core competencies, they ordered copies for their 450+ supervisors and managers. That’s the kind of vetting process we think makes great sense, and I’m delighted to see the “8 Essential Skills” get such a thorough validation.

The firm kicked off their management development program this week. As you would expect, I’m looking forward to learning how that process went. Stay tuned!

A Great Simple App

I’ve been a fan of David Allen’s philosphy for more nearly 30 years. I think so much of his research, teaching, and writing on personal effectiveness that I’ve used it as a fundamental part of Managing Yourself (Skill 1) in The 8 Essential Skills. Beginning when I brought David to Kalamazoo and WMU’s Fetzer Center back in 1985, I’ve used and taught his ideas with our clients. In the 1980’s and afterward the state-of-the-art tool for effectively keeping track of all those commitments, tasks, projects, and information was the vaunted Time/Design “system.” Then came the Palm series of PDAs, which were sure an improvement in portability. Until the iPhone (and its offspring and clones) the Palm was the way to go.

Ever since the iPhone showed up, I’ve been looking for an App that will let me do what the Palm almost did; make simple lists to track the task and project part of my system. Then I found a brief story onTapTask, and decided to give it a try.

As I said in my review on the App Store, “I’ve bought, used, and discarded all the complex list-making Apps. Waiting in vain for a simple yet flexible ways to replicate my lists from the Time/Design-based loose-leaf “system.” Finally, along comes TapTask. The new iPad version works great without trying to be super-slick. No colors, only two font options, no complex multi-tap menus just to get something written down. This App just flat out “works.” . . . this fills a big hole in the App Store. Hat’s off to Sonny Fazio and the folks at Sonster Media. A Great App!” And with the iPad version it’s easy to have my lists sync via iCloud so both the iPhone and iPad are always up to date. I like it!

For those using other tools, please pardon the digression. For iPhone etc. users, Yea!

Exciting Times

Organizations in all parts of the economy, at least those that made it through the Great Recession, are running pretty lean at this point. During the Recession organizations tightened their belts, reduced or eliminated  discretionary spending, and concentrated on survival. Positions were eliminated, projects scaled back or postponed, and in many cases headcount reduced. The organizations that survived are now leaner, more thoughtfully focused on core products and services, and have a changed workload distributed across a smaller number of heads, hands, and hearts. Whether you think the result is positive or not, it represents reality. The question now is, “How can we be successful over time in a rapidly changing world? ”

We see changing roles, expectations and challenges for supervisors, managers, and professionals all around us. Responsibilities and assignments change frequently, priorites are moving targets, and everyone is required to grow and adapt all the time. The increased pace and changing demands requires an adaptive and flexible approach at all organizational levels, and that means life-long, continuous learning.

Knowing what is needed for the future is only possible through knowing where you are right now. That’s where 360-degree assessments like the Management-Leadership Practices Inventory come in. They provide a baseline of valid, reliable feedback to serve as the foundation for an individual, team, or organization development plan. Click here for more information on the assessment tools we use; we know they work.

In addition to the ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy, we are currently completing a 360-degree management and leadership assessment process for two large teams. In both cases the organizations recognized that the need to invest in professional development was long overdue. Helping our clients to adapt and change – and being part of the individual and team growth that results – is exciting, rewarding and just plain cool!

What is your organization doing to develop the skills, attitudes, and behaviors needed today and tomorrow?

Colleagues

What is a “colleague”? In the broadest sense it’s a term we use for someone we work with and value. Still, it has come to mean much more than that to me. When I think of my own colleagues, I see people with whom I work, sure. But more importantly, I see friends. Individuals with their own interests, yet we share interests in some areas. Over the years we become more than people who “work together” – we become friends. We look for ways to collaborate (another lovely word) with each other, to support and encourage each other, to be there when things don’t go quite the way we had hoped or intended. And occasionally to provide that poke, prod, nudge in the direction of our true purpose when we get a little off-track.

I am blessed with superb colleagues and friends within the virtual organization we call Midwest Consulting Group, Inc. And over the years I’ve also developed a wonderful network of colleagues across the country. The times we spend together are among the best of times.

To all my colleagues and friends, I wish the very best for all of us in 2012. And Thank You for being part of my life.

How about your colleagues? When was the last time you thanked them for being among that special group we call . . . colleagues.

70% of Our Time

70% of the time we are awake we’re engaged in some form of communication. According to a study by Air University (the U.S. Air Force’s Leadership Center) our communication time breaks down like this:

  • 10% writing
  • 15% reading
  • 30% talking
  • 45% listening

Your exact mix may be somewhat different than mine, but the simple fact is we spend a huge portion of our day communicating. Perhaps you are a great communicator; one of those people who has an innate talent for communicating with your coworkers and customers. I’ve actually met a few, but very few if I’m honest about it. As a very clear Extravert, I’ve had to work diligently at my Listening skills. Others need help to improve their Writing skills. Still others break out in a cold sweat at the thought of gettiing up and speaking to a group, which is something I am good at and enjoy. Every one of us communicates a lot and yet very few of us are great at all aspects of communciation.

What do you need to work on? What portion of your communication is less effective than it could be or should be?

For ideas, tips, and suggestions on how to improve your communication skills, order your copy of “The 8 Essential Skills” today at Amazon.com. You’ll be glad you did (and so will those you communicate with!)

A Labor Day Thought

Since most of us spend a large portion of our waking hours working at whatever it is we do, it makes sense to do something that makes you happy, whole, complete, and satisfied. Labor Day, along with the start of the post-summer, let’s-get-busy fall season, is a good time to take a look at what you’re doing when you “work.” Might even be a good time to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Am I doing what I truly want to be doing?
  • Am I proud of what I do – the results I produce?
  • Am I proud of the organization in which I work?
  • What am I committed to achieve by the end of the next quarter?
  • What longer-range goals, projects, and challenges are important to me now?

Those are a few questions that come to my mind. How about you? What questions would you like to answer for yourself?

And for every leader who is committed to a true partnership  between labor and management . . . Thank you!

Communication Stories from the Trenches – 1

Sally could be best described as someone who “overcommunicates” – like many very clear Extraverts, she figures that more words are much better than fewer words. As a result she tends to overwhelm people on her team and they often tune her out. Even simple questions often result in ong-winded, convoluted answers, often with far more information than the other person wanted. Talk, talk, talk. The result . . . often Sally doesn’t seem to wait for the other person to finish their question before she jumps in or interrupts. Obviously, listening is not one of Sally’s strong points!

She seems to be overusing her almost certain preference for Extraversion. And like many E’s she has a bias for action so doing something is preferable to waiting, delaying, or (God forbid!) doing nothing. We do not predict great success for Sally as a manager unless she makes some changes in the way she operates, such as: 

  • Becoming aware of her own communication style and the affect it has on other people
  • Learning how to suspend her need for quick answers and action until the other person has finished making their point
  • Close her mouth and open her ears so she actually understands what the other person is saying
  • Paraphrase or check for understanding so she is clear about what the other person is talking about

Perhaps you can come up with other suggestions to help Sally. What do you think?

To order “The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers” visit Amazon.com. For orders of 10 or more copies, contact us directly toll free: 877-643-MIDW (9476)

 

The Final Piece of Hardwiring – Talents & Strengths

 I have long been fascinated by the concept of “talents” – those innate “gifts” that people have. I used to think that talent was mostly a creative, artistic ability as in playing an instrument well and seemingly effortlessly. Van Cliburn, Yo Yo Ma, Oscar Petersen, or Ella Fitzgerald for example. Or, think of world-class athletes such as Michael Jordon, Venus and Serena Williams , Phil Mickelson, or Derek Jeter. Although we know such skill is the product of lots of hard work, there also is the element of natural talent at work in each of these examples.

It turns out that we all have talents; things that we do that produce consistent near-perfect performance in a few key areas of our life. Decades of research by the Gallup Organization revealed that each of us have these innate gifts and that turning our talents into “strengths” is possible as we acquire knowledge and experience.

The Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment has become the gold standard for determining individual talents and we have made extensive use of it in working with our clients. Recent projects with teams as diverse as a group of physicans in a family medicine residency program, a team of dedicated individuals in a state government human services agency, and a staff of electronics engineers in a large truck component manufacturer have shown the value of looking at individual and team “strengths.”

The best current “take” on talents and strengths seems to be in Tom Rath’s book StrengthsFinder 2.0. Each copy of Rath’s book contains a one-time computer code for taking the assessment on the Gallup Organization’s web site. If you haven’t explored your own talents, pick up a copy from your local bookstore or order from our friends at Amazon.com. Might be a great opportunity to order a copy of my new book too!

To order “The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers” visit Amazon.com.

What are your particular Talents?

Next Time: Skill 2 – Communicating for Results

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