Have you become high-maintenance at work? Has your rock star status gone to your head? Perhaps one of the most common traps for high performers is the creeping desire for “special” treatment. After all, haven’t you earned it? Back in the 1980’s, the band Van Halen took this high maintenance trap to an extreme by stipulating in every contract that “there will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area.” If they spotted a brown M&M, their temper tantrums were legendary.
But that kind of behavior doesn’t happen in the civilized world of “real” work does it? Unfortunately, the “high maintenance” trap is an all too common occurrence. We commonly see it with CEO’s. One story shared with me over the past week involved a CEO that took the private company jet and then the private company helicopter so he could attend a NASCAR event. This same CEO also had his own private elevator for just him. No one else allowed. O.k., but we aren’t CEO’s. This wouldn’t happen to us, right? Very simply, it can happen to anyone. Have you ever done or do the following:
Demand that you will only fly on a certain airline / stay at certain hotels – For those of you who travel, this is one is all-too-common. Heck, you probably do it. Perhaps you’ll only fly a particular airline because you’ll get the miles or perhaps you will only stay at a particular hotel chain because of the level of service you receive. I once had a colleague who refused to stay at a particular hotel chain because of the patterns on the bed spreads. But you aren’t that bad, right? You’ve got “real” reasons for your demands. Sure you do.
Refuse to work with certain co-workers – Do you have a list of “incompetent” co-workers that you refuse to work with? Do you refuse to attend meetings or work on projects with them? Have you informed your boss of your demands? Despite your standards for accepting “only the highest quality of work from yourself and others,” you may be more trouble than you are worth.
Complain frequently about… well, everything – Do you complain daily about the poor resources you have to work with, the working conditions you are in, and even the amount of time you are allotted to get something done. If “complain, complain, complain” is how your co-workers might describe you, you may be topping the list of the next round of possible lay-offs.
Create a scene – Have you ever gotten so frustrated that you lost your cool? Perhaps you yelled at your co-workers or you tossed innate objects around the room. Or maybe you got up on your desk, yelled in pitches that only dogs could hear and caused everyone on your floor to hide under their desks like an elementary school fire drill. This is not the story you want people to share about you, and believe me, it will be the first thing they tell the new guy.
My guess is that you may be more high maintenance than you think. We all probably are. The trick is to stop that slide before it gets out of control. I have counseled too many “rock stars” that found themselves without a job and only themselves to blame – despite their efforts to blame the bed spreads and their “incompetent” co-workers.
In most cases, the warning signs that you are losing your rock star status at work are the same whether you are an up-and-coming high performer or a senior leader who has been “on top of the charts” for decades.
But there are some warning signs for the senior leader that are slightly different. A good friend of mine, Randy Hain, Managing Partner of Bell Oaks Executive Search and I came up with following list:
You are no longer being included in strategy decisions – Have you noticed that you have much more time on your hands? That you are no longer “required” to be present at some of the strategy meetings that you once dreaded? Be careful. While you think this means they value your time, this may really mean that they no longer value your opinion.
Head hunters aren’t calling – The “real” rock stars are known inside and outside of their industry and they are wooed regularly. Even in this economy, there are plenty of jobs available to the rock star. So, when was the last time your phone rang?
You are not included in informal social gatherings – Do members of the senior leadership team invite you over to their homes? Do you and your spouse go out with other team members and their spouses? Do your peers make an effort to get to know you? If not, you need to ask yourself “why not?”
No one listens anymore – I recently attended a company-wide social event. The senior leader stood up to speak to kick off festivities and set the tone for the evening. The members of the organization looked up for a moment, saw who was speaking and then continued their conversations with each other. Are you getting ignored when you speak?
To sum these up, if you are a senior leader and you are beginning to notice that you are frequently left alone at work, it is not a sign of others “respecting your time.” It is more likely a sign that your opinion is no longer valued. You are at risk of becoming no longer relevant. You need to get your fans back… and fast.
In my last post I discussed some of the big warning signs that we may be losing our fans (see: Warning signs you are losing your fans). I’ve gotten quite a response! I received the following story:
“I work in retail and I see this all too often. I’ll give you a great example. I work for a chain of clothing stores. One of our high-end flagship stores had a particularly strong ‘rock star.’ She was exceptional at making high-end sales and placing custom orders for clients. Our corporate office issued a new policy requiring that we also begin to ‘sell’ our store credit card to customers. This rock star refused. Corporate asked her, cajoled her, even wrote her up and requested that she get coaching / counseling to shift her behavior / attitude. She continued to refuse stating it was ‘below (her).’ Last week she was fired.”
Sometimes the warning signs are very clear to everyone else, but not to us. Here are some additional examples of warning signs that were shared with me over the past week:
You are formally written up – I’m sorry, this is a “no brainer.” But all too often, the rock star just looks the other way as if this formal reprimand really doesn’t mean anything. “I’m a rock star and they need me around here.” Everyone’s replaceable. If you are getting formally notified that you need to change, the process of replacing you has begun.
You receive an unusually low performance review – This one is tricky. I promise to dedicate an entire month to the dysfunction known as “the performance review.” Rarely are they conducted properly, nor are they helpful in improving one’s performance. That said, if you receive an unusually low performance review despite your continued production, look closely. It is possible that the message being sent is that your approach to how you are getting things done is rubbing people the wrong way.
You get this roundabout, vague feedback from your manager – Have you ever had a conversation from your boss and left the conversation uncertain as to what he or she was trying to say? You remember that there was something in the conversation about comments from your co-workers or some concern about your attitude, but it was all quite vague. Addressing someone’s attitude is typically one of those inferred “fuzzy” conversations that bosses deliver (poorly usually) and hope that one reads between the lines. If you find yourself on the receiving end of one of these “what was he / she saying?” conversations, look again. You may have just gotten an important warning that your star is dangerously close to burning out.
You’re asked to get coaching – This is not to be taken lightly. If you hear this request, it is another way for your manager to say “I have no idea how to help you. I’ve tried everything I can think of. Let’s see if a professional can have any better success.” This is a last resort. I have seen countless rock stars get this request to seek coaching, dismiss it as “not urgent,” and find themselves playing in those dive bars we talked about shortly thereafter.
Watch for these so you can keep a good pulse on your fans and your rock star status. In addition, I have had several comments that the warning signs for senior leaders are slightly different. Look for that post coming soon!
Remember VH1’s show “Behind the Music”? A fantastic and over-the-top show about the life of a rock star. Each show followed the same predictable formula: an aspiring rocker has a meteoric rise to fame and fortune, and then for various reasons (often self-induced), has an equally noteworthy fall to the bottom. The show would then conclude with a “where are they now” segment. Often our rocker would miraculously climb back to his or her previous fame and fortune. Other times he or she simply settled down to a comfortable life of frightening suburbanites at the neighborhood swimming pool. While we would all love to emulate these rockers’ meteoric rise in our own respective careers, I think you would agree with me that we would rather not partake in any catastrophic falls.
This brings us to a very important question: what are the signs that we are on the descent at work? How do we know when we begin to lose our fans and our fame is waning at the office? Here are a few warning signs:
No more applause – You used to get frequent kudos from your boss, but now – nothing. Nada. Just silence. Be very concerned with prolonged periods of silence. In the best cases, the boss may just be overwhelmed and can’t think of anything other than his or her own workload. However, in the worst cases it can be much worse. It could mean her or she is intentionally distancing him or herself from you in preparation for laying you off. This is a common self-protective practice with any boss prior to a lay-off in order to make the conversation less painful for him or her… but not necessarily lest painful for you.
No more gigs – You begin to notice that you are not getting asked to take on the big projects like you once were. At first, you are relieved because you were getting burnt out with the pace you were keeping at work (touring is tough, huh?). But, be wary. If being overlooked for projects becomes a trend, you could be in trouble – regardless of the reason you are given by your boss. Worse yet, if you begin to have work taken away and eventually find yourself with less work than your co-workers, you are losing relevance. Losing relevance means losing a job. Soon you’ll be playing in dive bars if you don’t watch out. Keep pace with everyone else’s workloads at a minimum.
You are no longer cool – There was a time when the organization couldn’t get enough of you and people like you. Be careful. In business, just like in music, there are trends, fashions and tastes that come in and out of favor. For example, there was a time in the mid-to-late 1990’s that if you had any knowledge of a computer and networking, you could name your price. Companies were throwing money and perks (even cars in some cases) to lure folks to their emerging I.T. departments. Today, the supply meets the demand. Graduates with degrees in information systems and computer engineering are running the show. Salaries are stable and being up to speed on the latest technology is no longer a differentiator – it is a requirement. Are you up to speed on the latest in your industry? Is your role and function still “cool?” Or are you suffering the fate of big hair bands of the ‘80’s? You may need to change your image before you are thrown out with last year’s fashions. Relevance is more important today than ever.
Any of these warning signs could mean danger so be on the lookout. On the flip side, what does it look like when you are on the rise in your organization? The opposite of all the warning signs above: you are regularly given kudos by your boss, you are given big problems to tackle in recognition of your superstar status and you have a unique skill set that is coveted by others inside and outside of your organization. If all of those positive aspects describe work for you today, your job is simple. Work your tail off to stay there. Being a rock star over time is no easy task. It involves hard work and constant vigilance for the warning signs of eventual decline, a responsibility that is solely yours. Don’t expect your manager to tell you, because they won’t (more on that in the next post).
Summing all of this up, looking for the warning signs that we may be losing our fans is critical to staying relevant and avoiding unwanted surprises (like a layoff) at work. Keep watch. If you aren’t careful, you may find yourself playing in local dive bars and hanging out by the neighborhood pool frightening the neighbors. Trust me, no one wants that.
This month’s dysfunction deals with an all too common problem: not being told where you stand at work often resulting in being blind-sided with bad news. Do you know where you stand at work today? Are you seen as a rock star? A loose cannon? A future leader? No longer relevant to the organization? Too often, our position changes and we aren’t even aware of it. For many of us, there was a time when we were rock stars. We had a loyal fan base and sold out venues. But, as it happens with most rock stars, over time people stop coming to our shows until one day, to our surprise, our fans are gone. The worst part – no one bothered to tell us along the way.
This month, we will tackle this dysfunction: not being told where you stand at work often resulting in being blind-sided with bad news. Throughout the month we’ll cover, amongst other things:
What are the warning signs that I’m losing my fans?
What are the land mines I need to avoid?
What can I do proactively to get a read on where I stand today?
How can I “sell more tickets” and keep myself relevant?
Every Monday, I’ll kick off our conversation for the week by addressing one of these big questions. Throughout the week I’ll share stories, examples and other opinions as we dig in. By the end of the month, if we haven’t cured this dysfunction, we’ll do a darn good job treating it!
So, write to me with your stories, examples or opinions on the subject. I promise to protect the innocent (and guilty!).
If you looked at the title of this post for more than .5 seconds, than you might be thinking to yourself “wait a minute. I thought you said at the beginning of this month that you hated the ‘no goal’ philosophy.” If that thought entered your head, you would be correct. I absolutely despise the ‘no goal’ philosophy. I despise it like I despise waiting in long airport security lines with my shoes in one hand and holding up my pants with the other… like I despise sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway in the middle of summer dripping and it’s only 7:45am… like I despise abusive bosses, nasty coworkers and poor behaving relatives. So what am I talking about with this post? I’m talking about setting “no” goals, not “no goals.” In other words, what are you going to stop doing this year and / or say “no” to in order to achieve what you have set out to achieve?
Managing the noise
One of the most common themes I’ve heard over the last several years is the increase in all of the “noise” that surrounds us every day. From new initiatives and evolving strategies to increased workloads, the noise for all of us is intense. Simply put, if you are going to achieve the new goals you added to your plate, you have no choice but to remove something else (unless, of course, you have plenty of free time, but my guess is that your plate overfloweth).
What to say “No” to
As you are thinking about what you should say “no” to, consider the following thought-starter categories. They have helped me (and many of my clients) a time or two.
Not Part of Your Role / Responsibilities– There is nothing easier than to say “yes” when asked to do something. However, if you took an inventory of what’s on your plate, do you have things you are doing that are not part of your role or responsibilities? If so, consider removing some or all from your plate. For example, maybe you are doing one of your direct report’s jobs for him or her. Or perhaps you’ve gotten sucked into to doing your boss’ job for him / her. Either way, it’s all about knowing what is your stuff and what isn’t.
Less Than Your Hourly Rate – A slight offshoot of the “role / responsibilities” category, this category is about asking yourself the following question every time something is tossed your way “Given I make X per hour, should I be the one doing this?” My favorite example comes from a CEO and business owner several years ago. As he described to me all he did in a given week, my ears perked up when he described his Friday routine. Turns out he was driving to Costco, buying candy bars and stocking the vending machine. That is one expensive vending machine attendant that company has employed, let me tell ya.
Inconsistent with Your Brand – Perhaps you could argue that the thing(s) you are doing are within your job and you are adequately paid to be doing them, but are they consistent with the brand you are trying to promote? In other words, are you doing things that may point you down the wrong direction of your career because you are being labeled as the person that does that? PowerPoint is my version of this evil trap. I am pretty good at PowerPoint (I was once called a “PowerPoint princess” but that is another story). And while it might be necessary, I have found that when I have worked on teams, I would quickly become the PowerPoint “guy.” Accurate, but not how I wanted to be known. I had to reposition myself and so I would either not take on the role of driving PowerPoint or I would offer to do it as the lead presenter. How ‘bout you? Are you doing something that is branding you inaccurately?
Things Slowly Killing You – Are you doing things that are killing you? Dramatic I know, but are you? Are you trying to squeeze in extra work in a day by sacrificing your exercise or your sleep (less than 7 hours consistently is dangerous)? Are you eating poorly in an effort to save more time? Are you smoking or drinking daily in an effort to manage stress or simply to relax? You’re not gonna get anywhere dead… unless of course, you become a workplace zombie.
Setting Your “No” Goal(s)
Hopefully you are feeling sufficiently uncomfortable (I’m all about uncomfortable) and ready to set your “no” goal(s). Remember, you don’t need to say “no” to everything I laid out above. Just pick one. Once you’ve got it, the challenge then is getting enough courage to do it. One final thought, great leaders set “no” goals. They are clear on what isn’t a good use of their time and they either delegate the activity, outsource the activity (as a geeky consultant friend of mine once told me… he “outsources” his lawn), or they flat out say “no” (for help saying “no”, here you go).
Get your “no” goals in hand and get started clearing your plate. You’re gonna need the space.
As Willy Wonka so eloquently put it, there is “so much time and so little to see. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.” What a poet…
Every year I pick out one relationship that I want to improve. Sometimes it’s a work relationship. Other times it’s a relationship with a family member. Regardless, I set a specific relationship goal for the year. Some years I look back at the end of the year and say to myself, “Sweet. Things with X have definitely gotten better. Well done ‘B’ (that’s what I call myself. Feel free to call me that… or anything you like. I won’t be offended). ‘B,’ you are a rock star (I’m all about positive affirmation).” Other years, the conversation isn’t quite so positive “What was holding you back? All you had to do was ask out X to lunch / dinner a little more often, call them a little more frequently, etc… Suck it up. Get going you slacker…” The point isn’t my crazy self talk (although it is probably entertaining to hear… After all, I’m a big fan of “healthy delusional thinking”). The point is that I have a relationship goal every year. Without, there is no way to gauge progress with the relationships in my life I want to nurture and grow.
Do you have a relationship goal?
You are not escaping this post without defining the one relationship you want to improve this year. That simple. Take a deep breath, steel yourself and get thinking. To help you, consider the following categories:
The Grumpy Boss – Maybe you wish your relationship with your boss was a bit better… or perhaps a lot better. What I can tell you is sitting back and waiting for it to change “ain’t gonna happen.” I can also tell you that the strategy of hiding out waiting for it to get better also won’t do the trick, particularly if they have a bad misperception of your. Remember, in absence of communication, people will always assume the worst. It’s only going to get better if you do something about it.
The Nasty Coworker – If you’ve got a coworker that’s picking on you and making you the target of office politics, issues, and complaints, the burden is on you to turn that dynamic around. Think back to middle school. Trying to ignore it (as much this is professed as the right solution) rarely works. It only heightens their efforts. Ignoring people trying to get a reaction does NOT get them to go away. It simply invites them to turn up the volume. If you’ve got this dilemma, you’re gonna need to do something about it.
The Difficult Customer – Similar the nasty coworker, this person can throw wrenches and blame your way at a moment’s notice. Different from the difficult coworker, this person can make or break your success and reputation virtually overnight. There are few people leaders listen to more than key customers. If you’ve got a difficult one you want to nurture, make it a priority for this year.
The Wayward Relative / Friend– Here’s a little twist on the relationship goal. Perhaps as work and life have gone into hyperdrive, you’ve lost touch with a relative or friend from years gone by.You haven’t seen the cousin you used to build forts with for years. Do they still like to build forts? You haven’t talked to your college roommate in so long, you still remember him / her in Birkenstocks. Can you still buy Birkenstocks? Should someone from this category be on your list?
The Significant Other (or someone else living in your house)– This category doesn’t need much description. It’s self explanatory. If you’ve got someone who currently lives under the same roof as you (or you would like them to be) and things aren’t “rock solid,” I promise you that the only cure to that dilemma is investing time, energy and love. Hiding and hoping won’t cut it. Make this the top of your list (This category even trumps “The Boss.” After all, I don’t think you want your boss crashing on your couch).
What are you going to do and when are you gonna do it?
To take this on, write down 3 things you could be doing more of to improve the relationship. This could be things like:
More frequent proactive compliments of the other person
More frequent phone calls, voicemails and overall communication
Taking them to lunch and other forms of appreciation to recognize / thank them
Date nights (probably not a good idea if this is your boss…)
Surprising gifts and other efforts to show thoughtfulness and their importance to you
Finally, ask yourself “so when am I gonna do this?” Put it on your calendar (yes, even schedule an Outlook reminder if you have to). Goals without a plan are dreams. I think I read that somewhere. Anywho, it’s true so wrap a plan around it to make it work.
Got your relationship? Got your plan? If the answers are “yes,” you are free to go. Get working and I look forward to you telling yourself that you are a “rock star” at the end of the year. Though I highly recommend that you wear your blue tooth when you say it so others think you are on the phone. Just sayin’…
Setting the right work-related goals is critical for keeping you moving forward and avoiding getting “stuck” in the wrong role, company or occupation. The challenge is that one size does not fit all. There are a myriad of combinations that may work for you. To that end, I’m gonna tell you what works (and has worked) for me and for others. Consider this your menu to sample from as you move into the next year. You’ll see, I’ve definitely got my “specials of the day.”
As it relates to work and career goals, most of us fall short when it comes to possessing a long-term vision of where we see ourselves professionally. We get caught up in the trees and lose sight of the forest. As a result, we end up wandering in the workplace woods for a very long-time.If we aren’t careful, we become pricing specialists for the tire industry. Consider the following exercise to overcome the forest dilemma:
Step 1: Gaze into my crystal ball and look out 5 years into the future (or 10 years if you are ambitious)
Step 2: My crystal ball only shows perfect. Describe what perfect looks like for you. What would your perfect life look like? Consider things like: where you would live, what your job would be, what your family situation would look like, etc…
Step 3:Forgive yourself. Inevitably, there will be questions you don’t have answers to. Don’t beat yourself up. Work with what you know. If you know you want to live next to the ocean but you don’t’ know what your job would be, no sweat. That little piece of information is still extremely valuable… particularly if you currently live in Omaha.
Step 4: Given where you see yourself down the road (5 or 10 years), track back to this year and ask yourself: what do I need to get done this year to set myself up well to move toward my long-term vision?
You’ve stuck your head above the tree line and you’ve gazed at the big picture. Now consider the trees standing in your way. In other words, once you’ve got your longer-term goal and a related goal for this year, you can more adequately take on a more specific work-related goal.
For a helpful framing of your work-related goal(s)for this upcoming year, consider the following 3 big categories. In Harvey Coleman’s book Empowering Yourself, The Organizational Game Revealed, he offers a simple yet extremely helpful acronym: P. (performance), I. (image), E. (exposure). Consider these as helpful “tree” categories to get you moving down the path you’ve set.
Performance – Goals that have to do with how you do your job. This can include doing your job better, learning new skills or even removing tasks you are doing from your job that either you don’t do well or shouldn’t be doing at all (delegation). Naturally, while important, Coleman argues this category only makes up about 10% of one’s long-term success.
Image– How others perceive you. Your brand. If you’ve had the fortune of getting 360 feedback this year, you might have noticed components in your feedback which are more about other’s perception of you than your performance (Ex: You always arrive late to meetings, people can always tell when you don’t like what they are saying by your eye-rolling, you cut others off, you don’t dress professionally, etc…). A critical category to be sure. Coleman weighs this category as contributing a meaty 30% to your long-term success.
Exposure – How much visibility you are getting with and from others. Do others talk about you in meetings when you aren’t there? Are you networking with the right people? Do the right people “know” you? Upon first glance, this category seems like non-essential. Oh contraire. Coleman argues exposure makes up a whopping 60% of your long-term success. Expose away… appropriately of course.
All that stands between you and that sandy white beach is you. Get moving. As a mentor of mine always says, “keep it simple.” Narrow your work-related goals down to one or two. No more. If you can do that and stay true to your compass, you’ll be working under an umbrella in no time.
‘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:
Give you a menu of differing types of goals for your consideration(a rich menu of personal and professional)
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.
Conversational déjà vu. This has been my life over the last few months. I seem to keep having the same conversation over and over again. It goes something like this:
Person: “You know, X is really great at what he or she does (dramatic pause)… but, there is something about the way they go about things that is not good. It is causing problems and upsetting people.”
Me: “Really? In what way (my therapist coming out)?”
Person: “I don’t know. It’s like they are going too fast, or don’t consider other’s thoughts or opinions. I don’t think it is an issue of them not caring. It’s like they don’t see the social impact they are having.”
Me: “It sounds like this could be an EQ issue and not a competency issue.”
Person: “Exactly! You’ve hit it on the head. It is definitely an EQ thing. (dramatic pause #2)… So, how can we fix that?”
How does someone raise his or her EQ?
I’ve been giving this question a lot of thought. We all know the benefits of high EQ in our careers and have seen the research that EQ is a better predictor of long-term career success than IQ. But heightened EQ can also minimize many toes from getting stepped on in life. Simply put, heightened EQ makes us better – better coworkers, better bosses, better associates, better partners, better spouses, better parents, better humans. Over the last few months, I’ve been looking for simple things each of us can do to raise our respective EQ. Consider the following:
1. Everyone had a 7th birthday.
Next time you are frustrated or angry with someone, look past the person you are currently “seeing” and try to imagine the other person as 7 years old. Picture the excitement on his or her face as they look at their birthday cake full of icing and bright burning candles. Imagine their happiness as they glance past the cake and see a mound of presents waiting to be opened. They are surrounded by all of their family and friends. They are happy, joyful and innocent.
Now imagine a different 7th birthday story. It is their 7th birthday but they are sitting at a table in a darkened room. They are alone. There are no friends. There is no cake. No presents to unwrap. The tears are streaming down their face. They sit there crying in silence – feeling unloved and forgotten. They are small, vulnerable, hurting and innocent.
Everyone had a 7th birthday. Imagine theirs to change how you view them today. Everyone has experienced intense joy as well as deep sorrow. It is hard to categorize and label others when we attempt to extend compassion and understanding towards them.
2. Look both ways.
I’ve made the argument that EQ is about peripheral vision (thanks to my dog, Ellie). Want to see how low EQ actually is in the world? Drive through a grocery store or shopping center parking lot sometime. You’ll see person after person march across the parking lot ignoring the moving cars that they are stepping in front of. Cars, people. Real moving automobiles. Maybe these pedestrians are saying to themselves, “I’m walking here and have the right of way so everyone better get out of my way.” Or perhaps they are simply oblivious to the other cars (and people) that are intersecting their world at that moment. Regardless, both are excellent examples of low EQ. This illustrates an important point about EQ. EQ is not about what is “technically correct.” I hear this inaccurate argument too often. Technically, pedestrians have the right of way and don’t need to acknowledge or pause for any vehicle or corresponding driver. However, without EQ as a complement, “technically correct” can run the risk of being perceived by others as disrespectful, ignorant, self-righteous and arrogant. Not that I’ve ever felt that way about a pedestrian in a parking lot… today at least.
Next time you are walking in a parking lot, stop. Look both ways and make eye contact with the drivers. Acknowledge him or her and mouth the words “thank you” when they motion for you to go. EQ allows us to build basic connections with others and keep us from getting run-over in life (figuratively and literally).
3. Practice the 24hour rule.
You know the one. You’ve just crafted the perfect response to something (an e-mail, blog post, comment, etc…) that stirred up your emotional pot. I had one of these moments a few weeks ago. I was about to hit “send” on my masterpiece and then thought to myself, “I should ask my wife about this.” Feeling pretty proud of myself, I expected her to say, “Oh, you nailed him. What a perfect answer. This is just one more example of why I married you.” To my surprise, that is not how the exchange went. My very wise wife said to me, “you know, maybe you should give it a day or so before you send that. You might think differently.” She was right. I did think differently and I never sent it. Just one more example of why I married her.
Strengthening and stretching your EQ is also about self-restraint. It is about listening to your emotions but not being driven by them. Next time you have something emotional that is prodding you, give yourself 24 hours to reflect on your next move.
There you have it. Three ways every one of us can begin to strengthen our EQ and make efforts to move through life with more emotional and relational intention and grace. It definitely beats getting run over.
Admittedly, this year has ended with a sputter rather than a bang. My tale of woe all began a few days before Halloween. I had tweaked my back and for three days I could barely move, hobbling around like I was a 95 year old man – the kind of old man that has a cane and waves it angrily at cars that drive too fast. As a result, I had to cancel and reschedule a bunch of work at the end of October, shifting it into the only three good weeks in November. Unbeknownst to me, that was the beginning of a chain reaction that sets up the purpose of this post. After three marathon weeks in November, I got sick. But not just any sick. No. I don’t do things half-way, folks. No, not me. I started off the week of Thanksgiving by getting the flu. After beginning to recover by mid-week, I started to feel my throat barking by Friday night. I figured, “here we go again. That damn flu still hasn’t fully left.” I was wrong. By Saturday morning I was so congested and my throat was so swollen, I had to sit upright to breathe. On Sunday, my seven year old was diagnosed with strep throat. Sure enough, that’s what dear old dad had contracted – a raging angry case of strep throat. So bad was my particular case that my ear drum had ruptured in that 48 hour period from all of the pressure. Today, nearly two and half weeks later, I’m still on the mend (with the help of some extra strong antibiotics).
And, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
Lying in bed for countless days straight forced me to rethink some things. I came to the realization that over this entire year I had been pushing very hard to create the next big thing. Even though I didn’t realize it (or want to admit it), I was putting an enormous amount of pressure on myself. All the signs were there. Blood pressure, back issues, etc… But did I listen? Of course not.
Do any of us listen when we are driving towards something and we believe the only way is forward?
Being forced off the treadmill made me listen. Today, I’m in a different and better place than I was a month ago. Here’s what I came to realize:
I need to take care of myself – this starts with prioritizing my health and healthy routines above everything else. If Hall of Famer’s do it, shouldn’t I. But it also means not overworking myself by filling my schedule completely full day after day. Just because I have capacity does not mean that I have to use it.
I need to take the long view – I’m the king of trying to work magic in one calendar year (perhaps my greatest strength and weakness). For example, this past year I was going to grow my coaching practice, write a book, pilot a TV show and still keep all the rest of the balls in the air (existing coaching clients, consulting work, speaking engagements, teaching 500+ MBA’s, radio stuff, blogging, etc…). Umm, no. Patience, grasshopper. I need to focus on less and do it better. Incremental movements are key.
I need to savor the moment – Over the past 6 months, My wife and I had been talking about moving from our current house to something a bit bigger. Our house is great, but after 14 years, we are getting close to outgrowing it. I would be kidding myself if this hasn’t been one more stressor in the back of my mind (racing to build up cash in order to make a move). Looking around at my home the last few weeks has me thinking to myself, “yeah, we probably will outgrow this soon. And, at that point, we’ll move. But today is not that day.” And that philosophy doesn’t apply just to my house. I’m going to sit back and savor where I’m at today in all aspects of my life. The day will come when I’ll be moving on to something else soon enough (home, family, opportunities, etc…). Doors will open. Doors will close. I don’t need to bang on the doors impatiently in the meantime.
I need to set the right habits – Getting sick for that many days in a row had an unexpected outcome. It knocked me off of all of my routines. Of course it killed the good ones, but it also killed the bad routines. As an executive coach, I’m all about setting the right routines. And I also recognize that in the middle of craziness, it is hard to intentionally stop and change behaviors. It feels like there is too much at stake. I’ve been given the gift of a reset. From my eating to my exercise routines, from family time to my mental outlook, I’ve reset a bunch of stuff.
So, there you have it. For any hard charging, ambitious type, I highly recommend getting sick. It forced me to reevaluate, reflect and redesign my life for the better.
So, lick some door knobs. Go to a day care and ignore the hand sanitizer. Throw out the 5 second rule and eat anything you find laying around between the couch cushions.
A little over a week ago, I shot my second TV sizzle reel (the topic is top secret, but I’m sure with a little prodding you could persuade me to spill the beans). If you are like I was before all this TV stuff, you probably have no idea what a “sizzle reel” is. In short, a sizzle reel is a long commercial for a potential TV show. Typically between 3-5 minutes in length, sizzle reels are used to pitch TV show concepts to networks. If the networks like it, they commission a pilot and you’re off to the races. You’re invited to the dance. You’ve punched your ticket. You’re playing in the big game. You get the picture…
After 8+ exhausting hours of cameras following me around, I realized some stuff about me and this TV thing. While my realizations are useful for anyone who may one day find him or herself front of a camera, I think they translate well to leadership and life. Or maybe I’m just kidding myself. You be the judge.
Ignore the cameras, but don’t forget that they are there
To be good on camera, you have to pretend that there isn’t a dude with a camera about 4 feet from your face as you go about your business (or in my case, workplace therapy). And ignore the fact that in the other room are four people with headsets on listening to your every word to make sure it “sounds good.” And yet, you can’t forget that you are being watched and listened to, particularly if you want to keep everyone’s attention and focus. It sounds like leadership to me. Like leadership, you can’t spend all of your time worrying about what others think, but at the same time you need to make sure you have their attention and are keeping their interests and concerns in mind if you want them to follow you. And let me tell you, it’s exhausting.
Don’t try to put on your dad’s suit
Be you and only you. I noticed that as soon as the following thought would cross my mind, “the proper way I should do this or say this would be X,” I would be sunk. This is what happened when I shot sizzle reel numero uno. That production company attempted to have me memorize lines. Epic. Fail.
I realized then that I can only say it my way, not the way my dad would say it or want me to say it (or my mom, or my mentor, or some expert, etc…).
I had to be me and not hold back. When you truly let go and be fully you, the camera will fall in love with you. They call that being “telegenic” in the biz. I don’t know if I’ve got it, but I sure tried hard enough… or didn’t try… err, you get the idea.
Focus on the garter belt
If you’ve ever seen the movie “Bull Durham,” you’ll know what I’m talking about (if you haven’t, you have your Netflix prescription for the weekend). In the movie, there is a young fireball-throwing pitcher named “Nuke” LaLoosh who, as they say in the movie, has “a million-dollar arm and a five-cent head.” Annie, his pseudo coach and love interest convinces him to wear her garter belt while he pitches to keep his mind off of what he is doing. Reluctantly, Nuke complies. As a result, he stops worrying about his mechanics and allows his natural instincts to take over. Movie happiness ensues.
On the day of my sizzle reel shoot, I started out of the gate slow. I was spending too much time thinking about what I was doing and focusing too much on mechanics. I would think to myself stuff like “O.k. First I need to say this. Then she’ll say that. Then I’ll come back with this. Etc…” It felt awkward, forced and choppy. At some point I stopped thinking about what I was doing and I just was. I just did. Then it felt right.
You can’t think about mechanics when its performance time. Be fully present in the moment and trust your instincts.
If you just read the list and find yourself nodding in agreement, congratulate yourself. You are ready to film your own sizzle reel. Now all you need is a good topic. Maybe “Cake Whisperer” or “Dog Makeover.” Catchy. I can see ‘em now. Dudes talking to cakes and dogs getting their nails done. People will watch anything.
I just hope it happens to be a show starring yours truly.
I have an interesting job. Some might call it a little crazy (I wouldn’t disagree). After all, who’s ever heard of a workplace therapist? When I’m doing my workplace therapist thing, one of the more important roles I play is that of an executive coach. And let me tell ya, this “coaching thing” can take many forms. Sometimes I’m hired to support a newly promoted leader (“happy coaching”). Other times, I’m hired to help a leader round out his or her rough edges (“development coaching”). And then sometimes I’m hired to save a client from being fired (“fixer coaching”). And sometimes, I fail.
Recently I’ve been reflecting on all of the clients I’ve worked with over the years who I failed. And when I say “failed,” I mean it. They lost their jobs. Exited. Fired. Canned. Booted. Downsized. Invited to leave. On the surface, the reasons were not obvious. It’s not like these individuals were unethical, unprofessional or walking H.R. nightmares. No. The reasons were much more subtle. Over many hours at the gym, shower-time-pondering and long Atlanta commutes, here’s what I’ve come to (it’s actually a pretty short list):
They function like consultants and not like owners
All consultants, former or current, need to take note. In fact, share this with your consultant friends. These clients held onto their consultant hat way too long. Maybe they were once consultants and now they were hired into a senior role by a company. Or maybe they held internal “consulting” kinda roles (regional director, etc…). Regardless, they were reluctant to take ownership inside their organizations and push results. They preferred to spend their time thinking big thoughts and painting bold strategies. They are rarely around (think workplace ghost) and when they are, they are masters at delegating so well that nothing is left on their own plate. No one really knows what they do.
They are reactive and not proactive
These individuals can never seem to get in front of any problem or issue. Their days are spent putting out fires – usually ones they’ve themselves created. They appear unprepared and reactive in meetings and seem to lack the ability to follow things fully through. This is the kind of feedback I’ve heard over the years about these folks:
“He can’t tell his boss ‘no.’ Ever. This just means we’re left to do the work, and we’re already overloaded as it is.”
“She is constantly changing her priorities. Daily. Her priorities seem completely driven by random conversations she has in the hallway.”
“He is not strategic. He just reacts to stuff. Honestly, I don’t think he can think beyond this week, even if he was forced to.”
“She never takes initiative. She just sits in meetings and waits for her boss (the CEO) to tell her what to go do.”
They have no fans
Several years ago, I had just completed a round of 360 interviews for one particular client and it was time to meet with him to review the feedback. I sat down with him to go over the rather hefty report and as I began, point by point, he attempted to discredit every potentially negative piece of feedback I presented to him. When I finished, I closed the report and looked up at him. He looked back at me with a smug expression as if he had won. I pushed the report to one side, slowly leaned forward and matter-of-factly said to him, “You have a fan problem. The problem is that you have none.” Leaders with rough edges tend to have at least some fans. But if someone doesn’t have any fans (not administrative assistants, direct reports, peers, bosses, customers, the janitor, etc…), the writing is on the wall. He was “invited to leave” about two months later.
That’s my list so far. As I think back to all of my “downsized” clients through the years, they really didn’t have too much in common (other than rock star resumes which should tell us something). There were men and women equally in that group. They represented different ethnicities as well as a variety of industries. They were Directors, Vice Presidents and C-Level Execs. But what they all did have in common is that they had at least some combination of the items above before they were shown the door.
That’s what I’ve seen. So the big question to you is:
What am I missing?
Other than naked pics of course. Those never go over well.
It was 1998. I was nearing the finish line for my graduate degree in counseling and I found myself in one of my last classes: “Clinical Diagnosis” (or something like that). Each week class followed the same script. The professor would start the class by popping in a tape (yes folks, a VHS tape) and on the screen would appear a patient who was suffering from some set mental illnesses or issues. Like grad school Jeopardy, our job would be to see who could diagnose the patient on the screen the quickest and most accurately. From paranoid schizophrenia to bipolar disorder, I was a diagnosing rock star – the equivalent of the returning Jeopardy champ week after week (it didn’t hurt that I was working at an inpatient facility at the time). Once the diagnosis was revealed to the class, we would dive deeper into that particular mental illness. And every week, about the time the conversation would start to die down, Frank would slowly raise his hand.
“I’ve got that”
Frank was one of the older students in class. In his mid-40’s, Frank always looked a bit unkempt. His hair hadn’t seen a brush or barber in months and his clothes had the “I just got up from a 3 hour sweaty nap” look. His fingernails were stained yellow from cigarettes and his legs were perpetually in motion as he sat. He was a curious and nervous dude. Eventually the professor’s gaze would fall on Frank’s raised hand. Once Frank had secured the professor’s attention, he would matter-of-factly announce to the class, “I have that.” It didn’t matter the week or illness, like clockwork, Frank would end every class period by adding one more illness to his growing collection.
Fear is like that. We rarely have just one. At points in my life, I’ve been like Frank. I could raise my hand and say “I’ve got that.” Here is just a sampling of the fears I’ve had in my life that I’ve worked through.
Fear of humiliation. When I was 11 years old, I developed an uncontrollable stutter. I could not speak in public without getting stuck and going into the stutter spiral. Like a skipping CD (or broken record for you old-schoolers), it would go on for what seemed like an eternity, causing pain for the stutterer and everyone who was present. Imagine if you knew you had this thing lurking, the last thing you would want is to have everyone’s attention on you. Ordering a pepperoni pizza was no picnic. For nearly a year, I would go to school early a few times a week to work with a speech therapist. I was terrified of speaking in public. After working through it, I became more comfortable. But admittedly, it is still not my favorite thing to do. It’s ironic that today I teach classes on communication to 700+ MBA students every year.
Some fears we can shrink so small that they fit in our pocket, but we still carry them with us wherever we go.
Fear of failing. Admittedly, my high school and college days were less than impressive. In high school, I typically slept through classes in the morning, ate two lunches and then took an afternoon nap to close out the day. College wasn’t that much better. I put forth the minimum effort required to pass. In retrospect, I know what was going on. I was afraid of failing. I’m an “all in” kinda guy. Deep down, I was afraid of putting forth 110% effort and having it not be good enough. So, what’s the best way to stay on the sidelines? Sleep a lot. It wasn’t until I had the world’s worst boss that I discovered my purpose. I had something compelling enough for me to face my fear and look it dead in the eye. Today, I’m all-in in everything I do working to eliminate workplace dysfunction.
Fear of not knowing enough. Fast forward. I start my business and I’m coaching and consulting with companies that I know nothing about.I started to wonder and worry. What would my clients do if they knew how inexperienced I was? What would they do if they knew how little I knew about their business? Etc… And then a mentor of mine looked me in the eye and said,
It is not about having the answer. Everyone has a piece of the truth. Understand that the value you bring is your perspectives, insights and ability to see things the client doesn’t see. It isn’t about having the answer.
In that moment, my fear seemed to vanish.
Fear of being vulnerable.Being vulnerable is never much fun. I don’t know too many people that enjoy it but I do admire those who are comfortable with it. My two big “vulnerability no-no’s” have been talking about personal tragedies in my life(my big bro killed himself when I was 10) and asking others for help. I really don’t know what my hang-up was about these two other than I don’t want others to feel sorry for me. I’ve been working on these two the last few years and ironically, they go hand in hand. When others truly know you for who you are and what you’ve overcome, they feel compelled to help you.
Fear of hearing “no.” Admittedly, I haven’t conquered this bad boy. It is why I do not love doing business development and am an awful negotiator. I’m working on it but it has been baby steps. I’ll have to keep you posted on this one but I’m open to suggestions.
We really aren’t all that different from Frank. We all have fears that we carry around with us. Those fears can weigh us down and immobilize us or we can neatly tuck them in our pocket and continue on our journey. The first step is to acknowledge what’s holding you back.
Fear. We all have it. It’s what keeps us from walking up to a fluffy black bear while on a hike and attempting to rub its adorable tummy. But there is such a thing as too much fear. Debilitating fear.
I believe we are in the middle of a fear epidemic.
It seems more and more of my friends, family, clients and colleagues have contracted this disease. Good people, competent people, accomplished people that are paralyzed from taking the necessary first step towards the future that they want and they are meant for. They sit as years pass. Stuck. Regardless of the role I’m playing with them: executive coach, professor, therapist, consultant, blogger, radio dude, parent, husband, friend, etc… my focus is always the same: help them get unstuck and take the first step. And yet, despite how easy and painless as I try to make the process, something always seems to be in their way. Fear. It causes paralysis inside its victim, but more importantly it spreads. Only, fear is not like cancer. It is exponentially worse. Like cancer, it sits inside of us and eats until nothing is left. Unlike cancer, fear is highly communicable. It gets passed to friends in fear-riddled statements like “you can’t do that.” It gets passed down to children in the form of overly anxious and controlling parents. It gets passed down from insecure bosses that tell you that you aren’t good enough because, deep down, they believe that they aren’t.
If you want the life you’ve always dreamed of, the life you feel like you are meant for, you will have to look fear in the eye.
You can’t go around fear. You can’t bury fear. You can’t ignore fear. If you try, it will simply feast on your soul.
What Are You Afraid Of?
Have you inadvertently contracted a debilitating case of fear? Is fear holding you back? Here are some of the most debilitating strains of fear that I’m seeing more and more. Are any of these you or those closest to you?
The fear of acknowledging what you really want or need
This form of fear whispers into the victim’s soul that they can’t have what they truly want. When someone is suffering from this fear, it exposes itself quickly. When I present my magic crystal ball and ask the person to imagine their perfect life in 5 years, sufferers of this fear will respond to that seemingly innocent question with one of two statements:
Them: “I don’t know what I want or need in life. I just don’t know. That’s my problem. Can you tell me the answer?”
Me: “I don’t believe you. You are lying to me but more importantly you are lying to yourself. The answer is inside of you. Have the courage to listen, but more importantly the courage to claim it.”
Them: “I’m good. I don’t want or need anything. Everything with me is perfectly perfect.”
Me: “Really? Your career is exactly where you want it to be? Your relationships are golden? You are living where you’ve always dreamed? Liar. Go sell that somewhere else.”
In an effort to protect themselves from that possible pain of disappointment, this fear convinces it sufferers to lie to themselves and to others in order to maintain a bubble of happiness. The problem is that sufferers of this fear aren’t living happy lives. They are often scared, anxious, judgmental, controlling, tired and dangerous. This fear wants its sufferer to spread the mantra to others so they aren’t alone huddling in the corner. Be careful. This fear will try to get you to turn your back on your dreams.
The fear you’ll be found out
The impostor fear. “If others find out who I really am, they’ll surely kick me out of here.” This is one of the most common fears that emerges with accomplished working professionals. It’s this idea that deep-down, we are still that young kid that doesn’t know what he or she is doing, only now we have 5 direct reports and a $3M budget. “I sure hope no one finds out who I really am.”
This fear is easy to spot. We often label these people as “too corporate” or “politicians.” They seem plastic and phony in their interactions. They fear authenticity because that would mean others would see who they really are, and they can’t have that. Their fear won’t let them. Instead, they dress, speak and interact in overly scripted ways. This fear generates extreme self-judgment. An important note about judgment: judgment is never one directional. These individuals take out their fears on others by judging others, micromanaging direct reports, avoiding any type of “risky” assignments and sometimes decline promotions. This fear will tell you not to be who you really are and to just stick to the script.
The fear you won’t be liked, loved or accepted
This fear is all about giving oneself away in an effort to win friendship, love and acceptance. While problematic in our professional lives, this fear is particularly troublesome in our personal lives. Parents with this fear can’t tell their children “No” and ultimately raise selfish, rude and insecure human beings (Ex: Veruca Salt). These sufferers have no boundaries. They give themselves away freely to anyone who will ask. They work extra-long hours at work. They stay in unhealthy relationships too long. They try to desperately rescue as many other people (and animals) as they possibly can because, by doing so, they feel needed and important. I know when I’m dealing with someone suffering from this fear when I try to get them to set boundaries (Ex: “No, you can’t have spaghetti tonight for dinner. We are having chicken… No, I will not rescue another cat / dog… No, I will not do your job for you. That is your responsibility… No, I will no longer tolerate your abuse. Get counseling or we are done.”). This fear hates boundaries. When I propose setting boundaries to a sufferer of this fear, the person becomes angry, hostile and for a split second, I can see in their eyes the desire to leap across the table and kill me. This fear will convince you that good people sacrifice themselves and never say “no.” Guilt is its weapon. Be on guard.
What’s Fear Costing You?
Is fear standing in the way of what you truly want and need? Do you know that deep down, you are meant for more, but you just can’t seem to take the first step? Your first step is to ask yourself “what is fear costing you?” Are you willing to pay that price? I’m no stranger to fear. At times I’ve been paralyzed in my life, afraid to take that first step wondering if I had what it takes, wondering if I could stick to it, wondering and doubting until I took that first step.
Make no mistake, the road to realizing one’s dreams is littered with fear-consumed souls. At its best fear is sneaky and paralyzing, but at its worst, fear takes lives. In my family, we have had the misfortune of losing three relatives to suicide. My oldest brother Chris was one of those, a casualty of fear. Fear was too much for him and he succumbed. Fear kills.
Don’t let fear win. Get courageous. Look fear in the eye and take one step forward.