Why Good Parents Make Great Leaders

I need to come clean with you.  Open kimono.  Full transparency.  The naked truth.  Here it is:

I’m tired. 

I’m cranky.

I have less patience with others. 

And I’m a better leader and person today than I used to be. 

parents-leaders-425“What are you talking about Brandon?  What could have happened to you?  After all, you used to be so ‘nice’.”  My answer is three words: I HAD CHILDREN, three of them – a girl (Abbigail, 13) and two boys (Noah, 10 and Aaron 8).  Through my own journey as a parent, I have become convinced that parenting can be one of the best training grounds for leadership.  It is a trial like no other.  It forces you to determine what you stand for, defend those beliefs, set boundaries, make sacrifices, consistently and clearly communicate your expectations and hold others accountable on a daily basis.  Sounds a lot like leadership, huh?  And like leadership, most people are not very good at it.  The unholy truth is that there are many more ineffective parents than there are effective ones.  Go to any public place and you’ll find more lazy or failing parents than you’ll find parenting rock stars.  How can you tell?  Easy.  Just look at their kids.  If you see children exhibiting any of the following behaviors, you’ve got clear signs of ineffective parents: rudeness, anxiety, disrespect, whining, paralyzing fear, abuse, self-centered attitudes and demanding “prince and princesses.”  These are all signs of parents that do not lead.

Want to avoid all that stuff and be an effective leader at home?  Consider the following traits of parenting rock stars:

Effective parents:

  • Set a culture of what is acceptable and not acceptable clearly, consistently and regularly
  • Are not afraid of initiating conflict and must always be prepared to lecture, punish or deliver time-outs at the drop of a hat.
  • Must be prepared to hold the line. A parent’s authority will be challenged on a daily basis.
  • Are committed to their leadership team first and foremost. The most effective parents are committed first to their spouses and second to their children.  Parenting is not a democracy where everyone has an equal vote.
  • Focus on developing their children and recognize that they will likely have to adjust their development approach for each child in order to be effective.
  • Are master cheerleaders.  They love their children unconditionally and let them hear and feel that love on a daily basis.
  • Communicate what is going on in the world and what it means to the family in a way that reinforces values and lowers anxiety.
  • Raise their children so that the role of parent is no longer necessary. Effective parents strive to raise healthy fully-formed adults that contribute to society (and others) positively.

Is leadership in any business or organization materially different?   And yet, we rarely give parenting its proper due.   In an effort to be politically correct, we tend to downplay the role of parenting as if it is equivalent to some sort of hobby to be taken up on the weekends like adopting a puppy or joining a skeeball league.

Parenting is hard.  Leadership is hard.  Over the next few posts, my hope is to make you more efficient and effective on both fronts.

In the meantime, get off my lawn.  I’m taking a nap.

 

“I’m meant for more”

meant-for-more-400I have to confess, I’m an itchy dude. As my kids will attest, dad is always looking for a good back scratch.  But my itchiness doesn’t stop with back scratches.  It seems like I’ve always got an itch that I am trying to scratch. Sometimes that itch is a feeling that I’m running out of time. Chalk it up to attending way too many funerals before I turned 10. Other times the itch is just a desire to do more of something that I seemed to only get just a taste.  And then sometimes the itch is more difficult to isolate. I can feel it but I can’t quite tell where it is and how to get at it.

Years ago I had knee surgery to repair a torn ligament I suffered playing basketball (an example of what happens when a non-athlete thinks he’s a champ). After the surgery, I had a bulky brace that I was instructed to wear for several weeks without removal (showers were a blast, let me tell you). As anyone who’s ever had a cast or a semi-permanent brace can attest, when you’ve got an itch underneath the thing, there is nothing worse (other than perhaps the smell when you finally do take it off. Whew.). All you want to do is scratch the itch but you are neither sure quite where it is nor how to reach it. Your anxiety spikes. You become fidgety. You shake. You wiggle. You yell out in frustration. You’ll do anything to get that feeling of discomfort to simply go away.

Sometimes we have those kinds of itches in life. The kind of itch that sits just under the surface that slowly and persistently needles us until we do something about it.

The itch prods, nudges and irritates. The problem is that we usually don’t know quite where it is or how to scratch it. All we know is that where we are in life is not where we want to be. The itch tells us that something is out of place, that this is not how it is supposed to be.  This is not how we are supposed to be. Maybe it’s the relationships we are in or the career we’ve chose? Maybe it is where we live? And sometimes it is what we are not doing that we should be that is the cause of the itch. Regardless of the reason, we know deep down that the itch is trying to tell us that we are meant for more. “But what?” is the question.

I got the itch last year.

On the surface, you would never have been able to tell. Things were rockin’ and rollin’. I was as busy as I had ever been and work was just coming. But something just didn’t feel right. Something was missing. While I enjoyed the work I was doing, it didn’t feel like I was making the progress I wanted to make on my mission and purpose to cure workplace dysfunction. I had an itch that I needed and wanted to scratch, but I didn’t know exactly where the itch was or how to scratch it. So what did I do?

Over the next month, I’m going to share with you my journey of scratching the “meant for more” itch. To get the itch to go away, I am doing some crazy things. Namely, the following:

  • Taking some big chances and walking away from guaranteed work
  • Depleting my savings to build something better for my mission
  • Learning how to ask for help
  • Working on myself and who I want and need to be

Will it be inspiring? I don’t know.

Entertaining? Probably. Watching others do potentially embarrassing things usually is.

A cautionary tale? Only time will tell.

 

 

“My direct report is dysfunctional”

direct-reportIt was my fourth call with Theresa in a week and I was beginning to feel like I was in the movie “Groundhog Day.”  Theresa’s direct report, Steven, had been causing her headache after massive headache.  “Steven just doesn’t get it,” she blurted.  “What’s the latest this time?” I asked.  Like each of our recent calls, Theresa would open by rattling off a laundry list of “doesn’t get it” items that would make any manager cry.  From failing to participate during leadership team meetings (Steven preferred to slouch in his chair with his arms crossed) to passive aggressively sabotaging change initiatives, Steven had become Theresa’s nemesis.  And at this stage in the game, “fed up” didn’t do Theresa’s level of frustration justice.  As we neared the end our call, Theresa abruptly stopped talking leaving a prolonged silence in her wake.  Wondering if we had been disconnected, I began to ask if Theresa was still on the line when she broke the silence with one simple and profound statement.  “It’s either him or me,” she said.

Theresa’s story

Over the last three months, Theresa had been growing increasingly frustrated with Steven.  Tasked with changing a struggling business unit’s performance, Theresa had been sent by corporate to lead the turnaround effort.  And as corporate’s reigning change master, this wasn’t Theresa’s first rodeo.   After leading a half dozen turnarounds, Theresa had developed her own playbook for successful change.  Once she arrived and assessed the situation, she consulted her trusty change playbook and began executing step one – getting her team on board.  Over the next several months, she spent time taking members of her leadership team out to lunch, getting to know each of them personally and ultimately moving them to a place of trust and buy-in.  One by one, she was successful in winning over her team, all except for Steven.

Steven’s grudge

Prior to Theresa’s arrival, the business unit had undergone several consecutive years of declining earnings.  The former leader of the unit had been going through a nasty divorce and, as a result, had been consumed with personal problems.  In that vacuum, Steven had emerged as the informal leader of the unit.  As the VP of sales and with a tenure of nearly 30 years in the group, it made perfect sense.  With Theresa’s arrival, however, there was a new sheriff in town.  From the moment the decision was announced that Theresa would be leading the group, Steven began voicing his displeasure.  He thought that should have been his job.  Now, not only was there someone sitting in the seat he wanted, she was making decisions that went counter to what he would do and had been doing.  He wanted Theresa gone.  As a result, he made it his goal to make her as miserable as possible.  To make things more complicated, Steven had been the only shining star in the business.  He and his team brought in tens of millions of dollars in reoccurring revenue annually through his long-term relationships with key clients.  Simply put, if it wasn’t for those long-term relationships that Steven had cultivated, the business would have been shuttered years ago.  Letting him go could pose a risk that Theresa (or corporate) might not be willing to take. 

If this was a Harvard Business School case, Theresa would look out her office window and sip her coffee as she wondered what to do next.  We as the readers would contemplate, discuss and debate.  But this isn’t an HBS case.  This is real-life and Theresa has a major problem facing her each and every day she walks into work.  This problem is rife with emotion, tension, anxiety and anger.  There is no escape and no time to waste.

My direct report is dysfunctional

This month is all about dealing with this very problem: the dysfunctional direct report.  My goal is not to discuss or to debate, but to give you some tangible actions you can take to fix the problem ASAP.  Among other topics, we are going to address:

  • Signs you’ve got a direct report problem.  A real direct report issue can not only cause you sleepless nights, but it can cost you performance and talent on your team.  Is your problem nearing nuclear meltdown or is it a minor blip that you need to manage?
  • Are you the problem?  Sometimes the direct report issue is not a problem with the direct report.  It is a problem with the manager.  I’ll give you the “self-diagnosis” check-up you need to ensure the problem isn’t actually the person staring  in the mirror staring back at you.
  • The nastiest direct report patterns and the corresponding treatment for each.  From the saboteur to the incompetent direct report, there are a handful of common direct report ailments that each require a custom treatment plan.   Using the right approach for the situation is the difference between success and failure.

When it comes to dysfunctional direct reports, time is not in your favor.  The longer you wait, the bigger the cancer grows.  You must move swiftly, precisely and with complete commitment to your plan if you have any hope of turning things around.  And in the end, you may end up facing the same choice as Theresa, “It’s either him or me.”  We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

 

“Death by meetings”

meetings_graphic317Manuel stared blankly at his calendar.  It was a Wednesday, the middle day of the week in the middle of a typical month.  9:00am – meeting, 10:00am – meeting, 11:00am – meeting, 12:00pm –working lunch meeting, 1:00pm meeting, etc…  It was 8:37am and shortly Manuel was going to start another day that comprised of nothing but meetings.  According to his calendar, from 9:00am until 6:00pm he was in meetings without one break.  At this realization of another day lost and out of his control, Manuel should feel some level of anger or resentment but he numbed himself to that anger long ago.  As one of a handful of Directors of Information Technology at a University, Manuel had seen his role become more and more critical over the last 5 years.  Budget cuts combined with massive change in higher education made the need for increasingly better technology platforms a must.  On top of it all, it was a University.  Administration needed to be bought in – unanimously.  Faculty needed to be bought in – unanimously.  Staff and students didn’t seem to have much say, but they needed to be involved in the conversation anyway.  As a result, there were meetings.  Lots and lots of meetings.  One week Manuel estimated he spent over 42 hours in meetings This didn’t include all of his time spent preparing for the meetings and following up after meetings.  Manuel’s real work day was beginning to look more and more like one of his early IT jobs, 6:00pm to 12:00am.  If that wasn’t bad enough Manuel had a team of four managers and 30 support staff under them.  The only time he could coach and develop them was after 6:00pm.  That meant that they were staying late at work, away from their families, longer than should be necessary.  Family.  Manuel tried not to think of family this early in the week.  He needed to at least hold out until Thursday afternoon to let himself go there in his mind.  He bit his lip in an effort to distract himself.  His calendar came back into focus and Manuel suited up for another wasted day filled with meetings.

Meetings own a special place in my workplace dysfunction Hall of Fame.  They are the flagship exhibit at the end of the hallway set aside for “most common workplace dysfunctions that shouldn’t exist.”  Think of it as the workplace equivalent of the measles.  There are simple antidotes and inoculations, and yet, almost every organization is guilty of this pervasive dysfunction.  There is no damn good reason for it.  Unlike a dysfunctional boss or an unhealthy culture, meetings can be easily reworked, restructured and managed to prevent dysfunction.  This month, I’m loading you up with all of the booster shots, vitamins and antibiotics you can handle.  We’ll make sure we hit the following:

  • What’s the purpose or objective?  If you can’t articulate one, you shouldn’t call one.
  • Who should attend?  Meetings are NOT a party.  More is not merrier.
  • How long should the meeting be?  Meetings shouldn’t be marathons.
  • What are the ground rules for the meeting?  Gotta keep those emotional vampires in check.
  • What’s that post-meeting hygiene?  How are you gonna ensure that stuff actually gets done?

Simple enough, but I have yet to have attended a meeting run so well that I could check off all of those boxes.  Ridiculous.  We’re gonna change that starting today.  Just imagine living a world where meetings were all done right.  No wasted time.  No soap-boxing.  No pointless blather.  No fuzziness on why you’re there and what you need to do.  No politics.  No dysfunction.  I know, I know.  It sounds too good to be true.  But what option do we have?  Death by meetings?  No thank you.  

Here’s a teaser on what we’ll be covering this month.  Have a taste:

 

“My coworker is scary” 2013 edition

scary_graphic256My coworker is scary. If you’ve been a loyal follower of this blog (of course you have. Pat yourself on the back for being AWESOME!), you may recognize this topic. This marks the first time I’ve decided to resurrect a monthly theme (get it… resurrect… I kill me…). Last October, in the spirit of Halloween, we took on some nasty workplace beasties. From emotional vampires to workplace zombies, we fought the good fight against some of workplace’s most vicious inhabitants. When the dust settled and November rolled around, I realized that October is not the only month out of the year when our workplace looks like a scene from a horror flick. In fact, having “scary” coworkers is such a messy and pervasive problem, that I’ve come to realize that I’ve only scratched the surface on this topic. But I can’t do it alone.

I Need Your Help

Here’s what I’m asking. I’m going to kick start our month in this post by summarizing the workplace creepies I tackled this time last year. Then it’s up to you. What workplace monsters am I missing? Ghosts? Goblins? Ghouls? You get the point. No one knows workplace monsters and scary coworkers better than you. After all, they are probably in the cube, workspace or office right next door.

Here’s the current list of “captured” workplace monsters and scary coworkers. If for some reason, you haven’t gotten a chance to read these posts, check ‘em out. They are poignant, thought-provoking, entertaining and moving. You’ll laugh and cry, never to be the same again:

  • The Office Zombies – Surviving their brain numbing existence is not for the faint of heart. This post made an appearance on The Today Show. #Famous.
  • The Workplace Werewolf – One minute, a mild-mannered colleague. The next, he/she is leaping over the cubicle and attempting to rip your face off.
  • The Emotional Vampire – Charming, they lure you into their presence and suck the life out of you until all that is left is an empty exhausted shell.

What’s missing?

Join the Fight

silverbulletThink you see something out of the ordinary or eerie at work? Got a workplace monster wreaking havoc at the office? Post a comment below. Comment on Twitter or LinkedIn. Shoot me a note directly (my e-mail is: Brandon[at]theworkplacetherapist.com). Write a note, stick a stamp on it and put it in the mail. Send smoke signals. One way or the other, get me your scary coworker example and I’ll take it on.

In the meantime, look sharp, eat lots of garlic, cover any exposed flesh, watch for full moons and don’t eat any apples lying about. Scary coworkers are not to be taken lightly.

 

“I’ve lost my confidence”

lostconfidence_graphic317Theresa was a workplace rock star. For over a decade, it seemed like everything Theresa touched turned to gold. Her golden touch became legendary within her organization. Her company would routinely parachute her into a turnaround situation and despite the odds, she would somehow find a way out. That summed up the first 15 years of Theresa’s career.

Then one day, it all changed. During a particularly challenging turnaround situation, things blew up on Theresa. She, for the first time in her career, had failed. Now, to any objective outsider it was obvious that the failure was not the result of Theresa’s actions. The failure was simply a product of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But to Theresa, the defeat was devastating. That failure lingered with Theresa to the point that for the last 5 years, she hasn’t been the same. She questions her own decisions. She is reluctant to speak up in leadership meetings and fears that she has fallen out of favor with corporate. Theresa has lost her confidence in a big and bad way.

This month, we are going to address this debilitating dysfunction: “I’ve lost my confidence.” The side effects can be catastrophic. When the voice inside our head that tells us we can “do anything” hits the road for a long vacation, self-doubt creeps in and camps out. Others sense there is a new resident in town and over time our brand changes. We may end up with any or all of these unfortunate labels:

  • He / she lacks confidence
  • He / she doesn’t have executive presence
  • He / she over thinks things
  • He / she is not decisive
  • He / she works hard but not smart
  • He / she is not strategic
  • He / she is not leadership potential
  • Who is he / she? I’ve never heard of them…

There are numerous events can send our confidence packing. Consider any of the following “confidence busters”:

Laid off – We are let go for perhaps the first time in our careers. The message is clearly sent that we are no longer wanted.

A new role – We are put into a new role that is so foreign to us that we over think things in an effort to not screw up.

A new boss – We get a boss that fails to appreciate us like prior bosses. For the first time we have a boss who seems to see all the things wrong with us versus all the things that are right.

A new company or industry – We join a new company or industry that is completely outside of our comfort zone. Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Battle scars – Like the story of Theresa, we are too close to an explosion and the PTSD has caused us to second guess ourselves in every way.

This month, we are going to take on this debilitating dysfunction. I have one simple objective, to get your mojo, your groove, your swagger, your (insert confidence word here) back.

Time to give self-doubt the boot and bring confidence back from its long hiatus.

 

“It’s not fair”

notfair_graphic256It was dinnertime at my house and like every night, it had begun. As the meals landed in front of their intended recipients, the cries of injustice began. My 8 year old, Noah was complaining that it wasn’t fair that his 11 year old sister, Abby, went back and got the final spoonful of rice from the stove. Abby was complaining that it wasn’t fair that Noah got his favorite meal twice in the same week. And Aaron, their 6 year old brother, complained that it wasn’t fair that he had to eat all of his dinner before he could be excused from the table. Eventually dinner came to an end and the cries died down. Unfortunately, it just so happened that on that particular night we had ice cream in the freezer. Upon its discovery, the finger pointed resumed its frantic pace. “Why does she get 2 scoops of ice cream?” “How come he gets the chocolate syrup first?” Etc…

It’s Not Fair

Hearing “it’s not fair,” is unfortunately a normal occurrence when you are surrounded by human beings under the age of 18. While I wish I could say that the only time I ever hear “it’s not fair” is at home with my kids, I cannot. We can all attest to hearing grown adults utter those painful words. From complaining about not getting a promotion at work to lamenting about how life has turned out, “It’s not fair” is a debilitating disease that if allowed to creep into one’s mind, it weakens resolve, sours the spirit and poisons one’s attitude.

This month, we are going to take on this self-limiting dysfunction. Taking an “it’s not fair” attitude holds us back from the life we could have. Whether it’s you that needs to change or it’s someone else, getting past “it’s not fair” unlocks two treasures everyone wants in life: opportunity and empowerment. It allows one to write his or her own personal scorecard for what’s important versus complaining about the one he or she is dealt. Before we go too far down this path, it’s only fair (no pun intended… o.k. maybe a small one) that I share my own personal philosophy on this particular dysfunction:

  • Life is NOT fair – I’m sorry you aren’t Donald Trump, Beyonce, or a member of the Royal Couple (if you are, welcome to my blog! Send me a note. We’ll do lunch.). Get real.
  • “It’s not fair” is about complaining and critiquing what life has sent you from the kitchen. Life rewards authors, not editors. Get cooking and creating, not complaining and editing.
  • “It’s not fair” is about waiting, sitting and receiving. It’s not about moving, exploring and doing. Get moving.
  • “It’s not fair” assumes someone else has all of the cards and I must sit and accept what I am dealt. Get empowered.
  • Life can be wonderful. Regardless of the circumstances someone faces in life, with a healthy daily dose of personal responsibility, empowerment and appreciation, life can be a daily gift. Get appreciating.

So you have a job you don’t like? Leave it. You are unhappy with the path you chose? Change it. I have a mantra in my house that my kids know all too well. “Decision-makers pay.” If one of them begins to complain about dinner, I announce to the table that that particular offspring of mine has decided to pay for dinner. It is a not-so-subtle reminder to them that complaining cannot be served up without a side of action and ownership. They have to choose: stop complaining or change the meal any way they like by forking over the cash.

The choice for us this month is simple:

Accept and appreciate what we have or take action to change it. Either path is healthy and empowering. Complaining about life’s unfairness is not an option.

Trust me, there is plenty of ice cream for everyone.

 

“Senior management is dysfunctional”

mgmtdysfunction_graphic317Sometimes dysfunction at work isn’t obvious. Sometimes we just feel the dysfunction. We know in our gut that things are not right but we can’t exactly put our finger on it. It’s not our boss, at least not most of the time. Our coworkers definitely aren’t perfect, but that doesn’t make them dysfunctional. It’s not them. And our job is fine. In fact, if this other “thing” could be removed, we might actually really love what we do. Sometimes dysfunction is the result of the actions and behaviors that are performed at the top. Sometimes senior management is dysfunctional.

This month, I’m going to take on this challenge – dysfunction within the ranks of senior management. I wish I could say that this dysfunction is less common than ever. Unfortunately, my experience is that the opposite is true. Today, senior management dysfunction is more common than ever.

Are you curious if you are suffering from this all-too-common affliction? Here are some good back-of-the-envelope signs that senior management at your organization is dysfunctional (check off as many that apply to you and if you are senior management, take note if believe any of these apply to you):

  • You feel a general level of anxiety at work and you can’t quite place your finger on “why?”
  • Long periods of time lapse before you see or hear anything from senior management.
  • When senior management does communicate, it is either in business jargon or it seems out of touch with what’s really going on with the business .
  • You don’t know what the strategy for the organization is and neither does anyone else that you ask.
  • Senior management doesn’t seem interested in listening to other’s opinions.
  • Senior management micromanages their direct reports and doesn’t seem to trust anyone in the organization to deliver.
  • What senior management says are the values of the organization are very different from how they behave, operate and reward.
  • Mood swings from senior management are legendary. Senior management may need medication.

How’d you do? Half the battle is acknowledging there is a problem and identifying what it is. If you are a senior leader and some of the above are all-too-familiar, hold tight. Prescriptions are on the way for curing what ails you. If you find yourself working under a dysfunctional senior manager(s), there’s hope for you too. Regardless, we are going to do our very best to cure this dysfunction in 3 weeks or less. Ambitious? Why not…

Got a unique senior management dysfunction that you want me to tackle this month?

Simply shoot it to me via e-mail, comment below, text me, tweet me, leave me a voice mail, send up smoke signals, yell loudly, etc… One way or the other, get it to me and I’ll throw it in the mix!

 

“I don’t love my job”

nolove_graphicAre you in love with your job? Perhaps you are simply in “like” with your job. Then again, you might just be hanging around until something better comes along secretly hating every soul-killing moment your at the office.  This month we are tackling the topic of finding the right job that you can “fall in love with” and stay with for years to come. I know what you are thinking. This sounds overly romantic for something as staid as work. Not to mention, this idea stands in stark contrast to the cultural trends of “no loyalty” and “job-hopping” we’ve seen increase over the last several decades. I hear you, but my question to you is simple: “why not?” Why not fall in love with your job?

Your Work Soul Mate

You can “poo poo” me all you want, but deep down I know the truth: you really want a job that feels like your soul mate. And just like romantic love, wouldn’t you love to be able to say your job had all of the following characteristics:

  • Appreciates your uniqueness – your talents and skills
  • Feels “easy”
  • Challenges you to be better
  • Feels like you are headed somewhere each and every day – on a mission
  • Feels productive
  • Meets your needs
  • A perfect reflection of who you are and what you stand for

You’re sold aren’t you? I do teach persuasion and influence classes after all.

Your Excuses

Assuming my masterful persuasion skillz (with a “z”) have gotten you to see the light, the next big question standing in the way is clear:  What’s holding you back from finding the ONE (the right job)? It turns out that we use all of the same excuses whether we are looking for the perfect job or the perfect partner:

  • I don’t know what the ONE looks like
  • I have a history / pattern of unhealthy jobs (I’m attracted to dysfunction. Sorry.)
  • I can change this one to be the ONE
  • I’ve come to the realization that the ONE is just not out there
  • I missed my chance
  • I need to settle (after all, real “love” is overrated, an immature concept, etc…)
  • I’m meant to be “single”
  • I’m not smart enough, qualified enough, (insert your version of) enough, etc…
  • I’m too old
  • I prefer to live with lots and lots of cats (cats can be pretty time consuming)

Consider this month as a funky combination of relationship therapy, career builder, match.com and the angry trainer at the gym. I don’t know how it’s gonna turn out but who can resist that mix? Even train wrecks have a certain appeal. And who knows, I might just throw in a dozen cats for good measure.

Speaking of cats, here is someone who really, really loves cats.  While I would not recommend this approach to either dating or interviewing, I’m going to let you be the judge…

 

 

“I don’t have any goals”

nogoals_graphic‘Tis the season of resolutions and goal-setting. First, let me come clean and tell you that I am a big fan of setting goals, both personally and professionally. And I’m not just your average fan. I’m one of those face-painting, rabid kinda fans. Goals keep us on track and focused. And to be frank, had I not set some ridiculously crazy goals in my life (some might argue delusional), I wouldn’t have accomplished half of what I’ve accomplished. While I may be a bit on the extreme side as comes to goal-setting, I would want for you the same satisfaction of setting a vision and realizing it. This month is about filling the “no goal” void with some aggressive and focused goals in order to get you closer to your picture of perfect.

The School of No Goals

Before we go too far down the path of goal-setting, I need to attend to the recent trend of anti-goals. Many of you might have encountered this school of thought. This doctrine posits that both individuals and organizations shouldn’t set goals because in this new fast-paced world, too much is out of one’s control and thus failure and frustration are inevitable. They argue that the real way to approach growth and progress is to focus on one’s behaviors and hope for the best. My opinion on this particular school of thought? Simply put it is wrong-headed “excuse-making” clap-trap. Garbage. Junk. Not much better than some cheap “feel good” fix you might buy off the street. Of course, I can clearly see the appeal of the “no goals” philosophy. It frees one from guilt and failure. Why? Because one never sets a bar(a goal) so naturally there’s no “falling short.” On the flip side, “accomplishment” never happens because “success” is never defined. Without goals, we are simply buying lottery tickets hoping “something good” happens. What that “something good” is we aren’t sure but we hope we’ll like it. I don’t need to remind us of the odds of winning the lottery.

The Tip of the Spear

As I alluded to earlier, goals serve a very important role. They give us a direction. They provide the tip of our spear as we move forward personally and professionally. They paint a picture of the world we are trying to create. Without goals we are just taking action without a clear expectation or vision of where we want to be and the life we want.

This month we are going to talk about goal setting. My job in this is twofold:

  1. Give you a menu of differing types of goals for your consideration (a rich menu of personal and professional)
  2. Get you to pick one (the fewer the goals, the easier it is to focus and to guarantee progress)

Packing for Next Year

One final perspective on goal-setting: it is not about achieving the goal you set in the timeframe you define (Ex: goals for 2013, etc…). The objective is to make as much progress as you can toward the goal in the time in which you allot. For example, if you set out that your goal is to make $1M next year and unfortunately, you fall short and only make $800K or perhaps you decide to lose 50lbs. and you only lose 40lbs., those are not failures simply because you didn’t hit your goal. Those are clear successes because you moved far down the path toward your desired end state. Contrary to popular belief, in reality most goals are realistic. It is the timeframe we define in which to achieve them that is arbitrary. Our “goal” for next year is to use goals to focus our actions and see how much we can get accomplished. So, as we get ready to pack our goals for the coming year, guilt and fear of failure are not allowed in your suitcase (nor are they permitted in your carry-on bag). They won’t get past any TSA check-points. Leave ‘em both at home… with the lottery tickets. We’ve got too much to do.

 

“I’m negative”

negative_graphic256Are you suffering from a severe case of negativity? Are you a “glass half empty” kinda person? Do people generally tell you that you are a total “buzz-kill” to be around? If the answer to those questions is “yes,” then this month is for you. And unlike many past dysfunctions we’ve taken on, negativity is a different type of dysfunction for many reasons. First, with most traditional workplace dysfunctions, the problem is often someone else (my boss, my coworker, my company, etc…). With negativity, the problem lies squarely in the mirror. Second, no one is immune from this particular dysfunction. Whether it’s getting passed over for a promotion or the general feeling that nothing we do is ever “good enough,” we all go through bouts of negativity. The distinction between healthy levels of negativity and dysfunctional levels of negativity is directly tied to the length in which you stay stuck in that nasty place. Do you pull yourself out quickly or do you make yourself comfortable and hang out in the land of discontent for months on end? Visiting for a night is fine. Staying for an extended period is catastrophic.

Negativity kills

You may be saying to yourself, “Brandon, you make this out to be such a big deal. Is this really all that bad? After all, some people view my negativity as a good thing. They see me as a realist.” If that’s you, here’s my answer for you: you’re kidding yourself. Negativity kills. It kills relationships with direct reports, it kills relationships with coworkers, it kills relationships with the boss and most importantly, it kills relationships at home (spouse and children). But we kid ourselves and don’t see negativity for what it is. Individuals that bring persistently high levels of negativity to their job and life often veil it under the guise of being a “critical thinker.” While focused doses of “critical” can be necessary and productive, unbridled criticism and negativity breeds disaster. Don’t believe me? Stay tuned. I’m bringin’ the research. From Bob Sutton at Stanford and his research on effective / ineffective managers, to the folks at the Gottman Institute studying marriage, negativity comes with heavy costs.

On tap for this month

This month we will be tackling negativity. Amongst others, some of our topics will include:

  • Some of the greatest triggers of negativity in our lives (common negativity-producing occupations, scenarios, and events)
  • Signs your negativity has tipped from normal levels to highly destructive / nuclear
  • Ways to counter negativity at work
  • Ways to counter negativity at home

 

At the end of the month, I’ve got two goals for each of us (myself included):

  1. For each of us to find ways to manage our negativity more effectively.
  2. For each of us to come out feeling more thankful of what we have than when we started the month. Not a bad tie into November 22 (Thanksgiving) if I do say so myself.

Before we get started, you’ll need the following materials: a glass half filled with water, a mirror, and a picture of the one’s you love. Once you’ve got ‘em, you’re ready to begin. Further instructions on their way…

 

“My coworker is scary”

“My coworker is scary.” I must confess, I’ve been planning this dysfunction for quite some time, and since this is October, the month of creepy ghouls and ghastly ghosts, I thought, “how appropriate.” But these aren’t just entertaining campfire tales. There is a personal story behind each and every scary coworker I’m going to expose. Throughout my workplace adventures, I’ve barely escaped the clutches of office zombies, emotional vampires, workplace werewolves and corporate conjurers. My story begins with my first real corporate job. I distinctly remember my first day of work as I was walking down the spooky, dimly lit back office hallway looking for the bathroom. And there walking towards me lurched an older female co-worker. Her hair was disheveled, her clothes tattered and outdated and she had a distinct decaying odor. As she slowly crept towards me, her dead eyes staring off blankly, I went from curious to worried in a heartbeat. We reached each other and I timidly said “hello.” She didn’t respond, brushed passed me oblivious to the physical contact with my sleeve and continued down the hallway. It was my first real encounter with an office zombie. And the thing about office zombies, when there’s one, there are always more. I barely made it out with my brains intact from that job…

This month, we’ll tackle the following scary coworkers, creepy colleagues, banshee bosses and eerie employees:

  • The Office Zombies – Surviving their brain numbing existence is not for the faint of heart
  • The Workplace Werewolf – One minute, a mild-mannered colleague. The next, he/she is leaping over the cubicle and attempting to rip your face off
  • The Emotional Vampire – Charming, they lure you into their presence and suck the life out of you until all that is left is an empty exhausted shell
  • The Corporate Conjurer – The office witch or wizard, this sinister coworker can cast spells on the most innocent of colleagues to do their bidding

This month will not have any prescription on how you handle these beasties. No. We’ll be pulling out the silver bullets for this task. Stay tuned, look sharp, cover any exposed flesh, and don’t eat any apples lying about. Scary coworkers are not to be taken lightly.

 


The Workplace Therapist Featured on The Today Show

For more, read the entire My Coworker is Scary series.


“My boss doesn’t listen to me”

This month’s dysfunction is a subtle variation of one of the most challenging situations we experience in our careers: The Boss. Boss-related dysfunctions are not new and definitely aren’t new to our conversation. In past months we’ve discussed dysfunctions related to not trusting our boss as well as situations when we don’t think our boss likes us (click here for the all-time most read post). This month, we are going to take the theme of “boss” in different direction. Maybe you like your boss just fine and you trust him or her. However, no matter what you try, you can’t seem to get your boss to listen to you. Whether it’s getting your boss to hear your brilliant ideas or to listen to your needs, a boss that listens is a wonderful thing. A boss that doesn’t listen is, well… not.

This month we are talking about ways to get heard by your boss. Amongst other topics, we’ll be covering:

  • Signs your boss isn’t listening to you
  • How to get a busy boss to listen to you
  • How to get a new boss to listen to you
  • Your prescription for maximizing being heard

At the end of the month, if we haven’t got you fully heard, you should be on your way. And if you done everything you can and nothing seems to be working, then you may need to look at this past dysfunction of the month for the next step. But let’s don’t get too hasty. With a little work and a good plan, getting others to listen to us isn’t impossible.  Fun, no.  But possible?  Yes.

 

“How do I get others to change?”

Are you facing one of the most challenging tasks in the history of mankind – to get other people to change? Whether you need to get your employees, your colleagues, your client or your family members to change, getting others to change is just plain hard. Unfortunately, this challenging task is becoming more and more common place as the world around us is evolving at such an exponential rate. Industries that have traditionally attracted people who are “change averse” are facing huge mandates – change or die. Think of healthcare, education, government, retail, traditional publishing, television / radio, etc… Heck, you name it and the industry is likely facing some kind of huge paradigm shift… all right now.

How can you smile?

A few weeks ago I was having this very discussion as part of a class I was teaching for a group of Executive MBA students from Austria who were visiting the States. During the breaks, one of the participants came up to me with a very serious and distressed look on his face. He set his gaze on me and sternly asked, “With all of this change in the world, how can you be smiling?” Other than generally being a “smiley” guy, I did have a good reason for smiling at that moment. My response was simple. I said to him, “You are correct. The world is changing at a speed and pace that no one can predict or know, nor have we ever seen such a pace of change throughout history. So, as I see it, we have two options. We can let the change happen to us and react to it or resist it. Or we can be the authors of that change. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be the author of the world I want to live in rather than have someone else decide that for me.” His reaction? He smiled and walked off.

Authoring change

This month is about helping you to author that change and to persuade others to follow you. Amongst other things, we’ll be talking about some of the fundamental elements of getting anyone to change, from our most senior employee who is set in his / her ways to our eldest child who still lives at home well after they should. To that end, this month we’ll tackle:

  • How do you create a compelling vision for change?
  • What are the best ways to light a fire under others and create urgency?
  • What’s the best way and time to deliver an action plan for others to follow?
  • How and when do we support others while they take on change?

Change is hard. Change is even harder when we have no real control over the people we are trying to change. We have to cajole, persuade, convince and inspire to get others to face some of their greatest fears and make that leap of faith. In the end, we have to make such a compelling case that they see our path as the only one. Hold on for a crash course on people change 101.

My goal this month is simple: By the end of the month, I want you to come out prepared to author the future of the world in which we live. Ambitious enough for you?

 

“I don’t have work/life balance”

Ah, work/life balance… We all want it and very few of us actually have it. To make matters worse, the strain of the economy has forced most of us to “do more with less.”  Many of us are underpaid and overworked. In the end, our work/life balance ultimately pays the price. And depending on what is out of balance, we may end up seriously and permanently hurting aspects of our lives that mean everything to us. From our most valued relationships to our physical health, work/life unbalance has definite costs.

 

This month, we’re talking about work/life balance. We’ll be covering the following as I help you think about how to get and keep your life in balance:

  • What are the signs I’m out of balance?
  • Where do I start if I want to get balance back?
  • How do I set boundaries and say NO?
  • Your prescription for getting and keeping work/life balance

 

Before you strap yourselves in, know that it could be a bumpy and uncomfortable ride. A few caveats about work/life balance:

1. There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer. Work/life balance differs from individual to individual

2. It’s always changing. You may find balance, and then something in your life changes and “bam!,” you are out of balance. From getting married to having children and then seeing them leave you with an empty nest, seasons change and so does balance.

3. Some professions are more difficult to get balanced than others. If you are an investment banker, traveling consultant, high-paid attorney, a young resident physician, (insert your profession here), etc… balance does not exist in the traditional sense. It’s really a question of what is unbalance costing you and for how long are you willing to pay the price?

So before you strap in, ask yourself: “what’s out of balance and how am I going to start to get balance back?”  It’s gonna be bumpy but with some effort and intentionality, we may just land smoothly and a little more balanced in the end.