Thursday Jan 15, 2015

Want to Be a Better Leader? Answer One Question.

They’ve actually done studies that indicate January 16 (or January 23, depending upon the research) is the most depressing day of the year. Why? Because that’s the day most people realize they’ve failed to maintain their New Year’s resolutions. Seriously – 16 days in to the new year and it’s over?? What on Earth should you do for the next 349 days? How about set some new goals!

Everyone talks about the fact that the beginning of the new year is a great time to set personal goals, but what about goals for you as a leader? I think the best question that I’ve heard for leaders is “What are you going to do today/this week/this month/this quarter to make yourself a better leader a year from now?

What I like about this question is that it gives you an opportunity to re-examine and refresh your goals whenever you need to. Maybe you want to become conversant in a particular subject. That could be your “do this week” goal. Maybe you want to work on having 1-on-1 conversations with your employees each week – that’s more of a monthly/quarterly goal. What matters is that you’re spending time thinking about you as a leader and what you want people to see when they look at you, the leader.

How do you know if your goals are right? Don’t be concerned with “right” – be concerned with “right for now.” I firmly believe that goals should be a bit fluid as you never know what will happen. You could face a health crisis, there may be a collapse of your marketspace, you could get re-org’ed or acquired. As long as you have a direction, however, you always have the opportunity to change that direction.

Whatever goals you create, grab your learning journal and write them down!! Why? Because research indicates that you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goals simply by writing them down. Michael Hyatt suggests five reasons that writing down goals will help you achieve them:

  • It forces you to clarify what you want.
  • It motivates you to take action.
  • It provides a filter when additional opportunities come up.
  • It helps you overcome resistance by focusing on the goal.
  • It enables you to see – and celebrate – your progress.

I’d go one step further – write down your goals and then tape them to your wall, by your computer – anywhere where you can see them on a daily basis. That way, they’ll stay in front of you and help drive your behavior and decisions. Additionally, make a habit of reviewing your goals, reflecting on what you’ve learned, and recording your successes. If you do this, at the end of 2015, you’ll be able to say “This is what I’ve accomplished to make myself a better leader.”

Monday Dec 15, 2014

5 Easy Ways to Make Your Employees Leave You

A boss asked his employee to do some research on salaries for like positions around the country, and when the employee came back with the information, the boss said “If you want to make that much money, you should be looking for a different job.”

And then there was the boss who shared confidential information and, when found out, said “I’ve worked too hard to get to where I am, and I’ll be damned if I’m going down for this.”

And finally, there was the boss who asked for an estimate of what could be accomplished for a given cost…and at an All-Hands meeting announced that one employee was going to achieve the full plan…at zero cost.

We’ve all had bad bosses, but the one great thing about a bad boss is that he or she helps you realize what you would never do as a leader. From my own experiences (the three above as examples) and from watching leaders in other companies where I’ve consulted, I can tell you some common themes that can cause your employees to start looking for a new position.

  1. You make everything an emergency. Yes, we know that there really are emergencies, but someone a level up from you asking a question does not mean that we need to pull an all-nighter to write a white paper on the subject. Use Covey’s time management matrix to determine if a request is both urgent and important before calling “all hands on deck.”

  2. You don’t give any recognition. Everyone likes to know that they’re contributing to the team and that their work has an impact. A simple “You did a great job on X” can be all the encouragement someone needs to continue doing that great job and feel a part of the team. You can find additional ways to motivate and recognize employees here and here.

  3. You don’t provide feedback. How often does a coach tell a soccer team “We’re going to practice every day, play about 20 games or so, and I’ll tell you how you did at the end of the season?” Common sense tells us this is ridiculous, and yet, some managers will not provide any feedback to their employees and then whack ‘em with a surprise at year-end reviews. You should be having enough conversations throughout the year that nothing is a surprise at performance reviews. MindTools has a great article on Giving Feedback.

  4. You take all the credit. As an employee, my job is to make my manager and my team look good. However, when you refuse to acknowledge the contributions of your team members, it makes us cranky. Let people know when your team does great work, and you’ll be admired as well for being such a great leader.

  5. You fail to articulate goals. If you let us know where we’re going, chances are good we all have some great ideas on how to get there. However, if you can’t tell us what our goals are, you are not allowed to get upset with us for not achieving them. Read this short article for tips on articulating a vision.

Research tells us that people leave managers – not positions. If you can avoid these five ways of making your employees crazy, chances are pretty good that they’ll stick around.

Tuesday Nov 11, 2014

God, Demi-God, Monster, or Mere Mortal - What's Your Leadership Style?

My kids are enamored with fantasy fiction, so we spend a lot of time in the car and at bedtime reading such books. Our current book is “Percy Jackson, Lightning Thief.” In the story, 12-year-old Percy has to complete a quest to basically save the world. He’s challenged along the way by both monsters and the Greek gods, befriended by satyrs and demi-gods – and we’re anxiously waiting to find out if he succeeds in his quest.

As I was reading the book to my kids the other night, I realized that the sets of characters in the book are all leaders in some way, but they all have extremely different leadership styles. The four main groups of characters are:

Gods. The Greek gods are an interesting lot. They rule the world (and the underworld), are temperamental, and they have fits if things don’t go their way. I liken this to the unenlightened leader who believes that being a leader is akin to holding power over others. These characters (in the book and in life) might have great experiences that we could learn from, but they have to lose the ego if they want us to pay attention.

Demi-Gods. The demi-gods are half god/half mortals who struggle throughout the book – they’re basically trying to find their way, but they’re not getting a lot of help. In the business world, this is similar to the person who gets tossed into a leadership role and provided the advice “sink or swim.” While it’s nice to know that people believe in you, it would be better if you actually had a plan of some sort to help you be more effective.

Monsters. The monsters like to cause problems – a three headed beast that attacks from all sides, hellhounds that dish out punishment, minotaurs who kill, Medusa who turns people into stone. In the business world, these are the leaders who drop in, drop a bomb and then exit quickly, leaving the rest of us to pick up the mess. Although we’re glad when they’re gone, it would be nice if these leaders would think through the mess they’re about to create (and maybe restrain themselves from creating such mess).

Mere Mortal. The mere mortal doesn’t have a lot of power other than the ability to not see a lot of the ugly things happening around them. The mortal concentrates on their own life and has little to do with the gods and their world. This is similar to the leader who chooses to move forward without regard to events around him. Many of us may feel that we fall into this category as other people/gods “do things” to us, and we have no power to change anything. The mere mortal can benefit, however, from exploring the context of his or her world and understanding how he or she can work in that environment.

You might never have a quest where the fate of the world depends on your actions. However, it might be worth a few minutes to think about where you fall on the god/mortal styles of leadership as the fate of your people and your teams definitely do depend on you.

Monday Oct 20, 2014

No Raise? No Development? No Way!

The other day, I was asked why we should be concerned about development if we're not getting raises or bonuses.  I asked the person if they were getting a ‘performance review’ or a ‘salary review.’ After chuckling, the person responded "Yea, but really, what's the point?"

What’s the point? Let me start with a story.

When I was in grade school, I told my mom that I thought I should get an allowance. After all, my friends did. Mom and I negotiated, and I walked away with $3 per week. At the end of the first week, I asked my mom for my allowance, and she gave me $3 with an extra piece of paper. When I opened the paper, it was a bill…for $5.

Mom explained that this was my charge for room and board – after all, I was earning money, so it was only fair that I contributed to household expenses. When I complained that the bill was more than I earned, she simply said “You’ve got a problem, then.” She explained that when you are part of anything – family, team, or organization – you do certain things because they are expected of you as part of your role.

So let’s go back to development – why should you care? There’s no immediate financial reward (unless you count your paycheck). You’re not getting a diploma. You’re not having a party thrown in your honor for completing a class. So why should you care?

Because development is something expected of you as part of your role – your role on your team, in your organization, in your community and in society. defines “development” as the act or process of developing; growth; progress. If we chose not to grow, adults would still act like 2-year olds (okay, some still do, but that’s another post); technology would be irrelevant; and we’d still be rubbing sticks together to make fire.

Since I like the idea of growth and progress rather than stagnation and uselessness, here are some reasons why I bother with my own development (and why you might want to bother, too):

  • Preparation for the Future: Learning new things, studying emerging trends and exploring possibilities prepare me for changes that will happen in the future. I can’t predict what will happen, but if I have knowledge of the possibilities, I can predict what I might do in different circumstances. (Shell Oil refers to this as ‘scenario planning’ and uses it extensively in developing Shell Scenarios to aid their business strategies).
  • Career Advancement: I’m not aiming for a C-level position (I’m sure Mark and Safra are relieved), but I know that if I am continually improving my skill set and my capabilities, I’ll be ready if/when an opportunity comes up. And I also know, based upon what I’m learning about myself and my skills, what kind of opportunity I’m actually willing to take on.
  • It Keeps My Brain Happy. I have to admit, I’m one of those people who does not do well stamping loan papers “Paid in Full” and calling it a day (that was actually one of my summer jobs in college). With every new thing learned, I end up asking more questions…and learning more new things…and coming up with more new ideas.  All of these new ideas form new connections for me and keep my brain engaged in my work.
  • My Manager Cares About It. Listen up, leaders! If you care about development (including your own), your people will care about it too. My manager pushes information to me, she asks about my interest in different conferences, she asks about new things I’m learning. And she shares new things that she’s learned, information from conferences, etc. She takes an interest in what I know and how my knowledge applies to what we’re trying to do, and having a manager who cares can be a great motivator!
  • The World Is Changing. Knowledge doubles about every 12 months. What you know now is probably not what you will have to know in three years. If you keep abreast of new developments, you will be able to incorporate these things into your work and show that you are future-minded. Need an example? Twelve years ago, you didn’t know about wikis, LinkedIn (both 10 years old) or Twitter (8 years old)
  • My Network Needs It. Every time I learn something new, I have the potential to interact with other people learning the same thing. I might interact with people who have the potential to mentor me. I might interact with people to whom I can teach this new thing. All of these provide the opportunity to expand my professional network and build relationships that might not have existed if I wasn’t willing to learn something new.
  • Collaboration Rules. As our business environment moves more toward collaboration, it will be increasingly important that we’re able to work together and share knowledge (check out the HBR Insight Center Making Collaboration Work). However, if you are unwilling to learn anything new, you won’t have much to contribute in a social and collaborative world.

Development doesn't have to be taking a class (see my post on 45 Ways to Check the Development Plan Box). Rather, pick something that you’re passionate about and determine how that passion ties into your business role.

Maybe you’re excited about developing a new application that customers are going to love – do a 30-minute presentation to a Sales team to show off those new features. You’re fine-tuning presentation skills; learning more about customer needs (because Sales folks will tell you what will/will not work); expanding your network (because now you and the people in your presentation know of each other); teaching others (and improving your own knowledge); and preparing for the day when you get asked to present at OpenWorld (but you don’t know that’s coming yet).

You might notice that none of the reasons on my list are associated with salary or bonuses. Instead, they’re all about preparing yourself for future opportunities. The future might hold opportunities you would love that don’t exist and haven’t even been imagined yet; but you have to be ready for those opportunities...and that is why you should care about your development.

Thursday Sep 25, 2014

Leadership, Reflection, and 34GB a Day

Information is flying at us throughout the day. A few years back, a report from University of California, San Diego estimated that an individual consumes 34 gigabytes of information each day. Further, human knowledge tends to double about every 13 months, with IBM estimating that the build out of the ‘internet of things’ will cause human knowledge to double every 12 hours. It’s no wonder that we feel stressed!

Last week I read an article titled “Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write.” The article stated that writing allows a person to focus on moving forward rather than “obsessing unhealthily” over something that has happened.

Writing allows a person to pull together disparate pieces of information and make sense of them. With writing, you have the time to connect information, see patterns, and notice those things that get lost in the daily bustle. As you do this, you’re creating more complex mental models that allow you to make more connections, and, ultimately, potentially better decisions – about yourself, your work, your team, your leadership.

So what does this have to do with leadership?

Research tells us that a leader’s health and a leader’s ability to reflect are crucial to his or her success. Too often, however, leaders don’t take time for either. We don’t have time to get to the gym. We need to make just one more critical decision. It will hold until tomorrow. But, it won’t hold until tomorrow. As a leader, you owe it to yourself and your team to invest in your health and in the practice of reflection.

One line in the article I read stood out for me – “even blogging or journaling is enough to see results.” Think about it. If you spend 5-10 minutes a day simply writing about your leadership practice, you are exploring higher levels of cognitive thinking; you are opening yourself up to more innovative ideas; you are giving yourself the opportunity to learn new things about yourself and how you learn; and you are potentially lowering your level of stress and your blood pressure.

Right now, you might be thinking “Yea, I buy into it. But I don’t know where to start.” Guess what? I have five simple steps that will help you start a practice of reflection:

  1. Pick your tool. Use a blog (published or not), a journaling app on your tablet (there are some good ones for free), or even a cool notebook that you picked up when shopping back-to-school supplies with your kids. It doesn’t matter what you use as long as it works for you.
  2. Select your time. Maybe first thing in the morning at your desk, or in the evening before you go home. Perhaps it’s on the weekend when you’re the only person awake at your house. Aim for twice a week (or more if you want), but figure out your best times and stick to it.
  3. Add it to your calendar. Yes, you are busy, but adding it to your calendar makes it a commitment that you’re more likely to honor.
  4. Write. You might be telling yourself that you don’t know what to write about. Try some of these ideas:
    • What went incredibly well last week? Which of your leadership skills contributed to this success?
    • What was the worst thing that happened last week? What leadership skills could you cultivate to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
    • Thinking about a particular approach to a problem? Write about the opposing view to your approach. It might open up new ideas.
    • As a leader, what risks have you taken lately? How did they turn out? What did you learn about yourself by taking the risk?
    • What are the specific gifts and talents that you bring to a leadership role? How do you show or share those gifts and talents with your team and/or colleagues?
    • If you were the hero in your own action movie, what would happen in your movie? Do you the skills and/or knowledge to make that happen? Where might you improve?
    • What have you learned in the past 48 hours that you can apply to your leadership role? Why would it be important to do so?
    • What will your leadership role look like in 10 years? Why do you think this?
    • What leadership advice would your future self give to your current self? What leadership advice would your current self give your past self?
    • Try drawing out your problem. Create a visual representation to see if there are pieces of the problem that you’re not really seeing.
  5. Read what you wrote. You don’t have to share what you wrote with anyone, but you should periodically review what you wrote. Look for any new ideas, overarching themes or consistent issues. This will give you additional ideas to explore in future reflections.

Remember that this is purely for you and your development. Try to commit to a three-month trial, and I guarantee that you’ll be smarter at the end of those three months. How can I be sure? Because at the end of three months, you’ll have three months of accumulated intelligence in the form of your insights, connections and ideas – things that you wouldn’t have without reflecting and writing.

Socrates boldly said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Take the time for examination…reflect on your leadership…make those mental models that provide clearer thinking…gain perspective. Doing so might lower your stress level and blood pressure; it will likely let you better handle those 34 gigabytes of information that you intake each day; and it will definitely make you a better leader.

Tuesday Sep 09, 2014

Boredom, Stupidity and Planning Your Journey

One summer when I was grade school age, I told my mom I was bored. “Oh, really?” she said with an incredulity that I was too young to recognize as dripping sarcasm. “Then you must be stupid.”

“What?” For a kid who was used to straight A’s in school, my mom had just hurled the ultimate insult at me.

“You have games to play, books to read, [school] workbooks to work on and a brain that God planted in your head. If you can’t find something to do, then you must just be stupid.”

Needless to say, I never again told my mom I was bored. Her lesson stuck with me, and I became a planner. I started planning what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, and what I was going to do differently if my first plan didn’t work.

When I started working in corporate education and leadership development, I found that not everyone had learned my mom’s lesson. Some leaders were ‘bored’ and just plodding along each day. Too often, they hadn’t even given a thought to what they wanted to achieve or what they wanted to learn.

Enter the concept of a leadership learning journey.

An exercise commonly used in leadership development is to figure out what your legacy will be – that is, when you’re promoted into your next job, how will people talk about your accomplishments and the way that you worked with others? Or when you retire, what will people say about the kind of leader you were? Jot down a few ideas about how you want to be known or remembered as a leader. Got it?

Now, how will you get there?

In his book The Pathfinder, Nicholas Lore provides a great exercise called Lifeline. In it, you draw a concentric circle and mark The Beginning (your birth), NOW and The End (your death). Then you tick off 10 year increments and document the highlights of each decade up to NOW and then document what you want to accomplish in each decade before The End. (Notice my optimism with my lifeline ending at 100!)

If you buy into the fact that ‘Leadership’ is not an event but, instead, a journey, you can apply this same concept to your leadership journey. Instead of focusing on your life events as in the Lifeline exercise, focus on your leadership events. That is – what do you want to be recognized for as you go through your leadership life? What do you want to accomplish as a leader? For those things in the future, identify what you need to do to achieve that goal - identify the knowledge gaps that need to be filled; identify sub-goals; identify topics areas in which you need more expertise; identify people that you need to know.

As you document this, you are creating the skeleton of your leadership learning journey. You can flesh out each of these to come up with a complete leadership learning journey that will help you achieve your end goals. A word of caution – don’t do this and file it away. Look at it every week or every month to see if you’re doing the things you need to be doing. At a bare minimum, re-evaluate your documented journey each year to ensure that your goals are still valid and modify accordingly.

As Seneca said “If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.”

If you take the time to map out your learning journey, you’ll identify the ports into which you want to sail, and you’ll become the leader that you want to be.

Tuesday Aug 26, 2014

What Have You Done For Your Company Today?

Some time ago, my office was located in the same section of the building as an entire management team. Whenever I asked one of them – I’ll call him Paul – how he was doing, his answer was always the same: “Glad to be here, proud to serve.” I chalked it up to his military service until I got to know Paul and found out that he was just that type of person.

As we got to know each other, I realized that Paul was kind of the ‘dad’ of the office. And one day, at the end of a really long day, he asked one of those dad types of questions: What have you done for your company today?

What? That simple question made me stop and think. What DID I do for my company that day? Did I contribute anything to the bottom line? Increase customer satisfaction? Improve process efficiency? Help someone improve? Since this was the first time in my career that I wasn’t billable to a client, answering what I did for my company that day required some thought on my part.

This simple question also made me realize that every one of us should be able to answer this question on a daily basis. Too often, we gripe and moan about how our company doesn’t do _____ (fill in the blank) for us. I’m betting very few of us consider the reverse. If we all approached work with the attitude of “what am I going to do for my company today,” my guess is that we might remain a bit more positive throughout the day – even on those grueling days when nothing seems to be going right.

Paul passed away a few years ago in an accident, so I can’t tell him what this question meant to me. But, I can share his question with you and ask that, at the end of each day, you answer for yourself “What have you done for your company today?”

Monday Aug 25, 2014

Coachable Employees Require a Good Coach

Quite a few years ago, I experienced one of those stand-out moments of my life – I sat next to Nadia Comaneci for almost three hours as we flew from Cincinnati to Los Angeles. I competed in, coached, and judged gymnastics, and Nadia’s picture was in my locker all through high school to serve as inspiration for my endless hours in the gym. To say that I was thrilled is a complete understatement.

On a USA gymnastics tour, Nadia had visited the gym I worked at, so I re-introduced myself, and we started talking. She had just talked to Bela (Karolyi) that morning about the upcoming Olympic Trials, so we talked about who we thought would make the team, how gymnastics had changed since we both competed, and all those things that older gymnasts talk about. When I asked about what it took to earn perfect 10s, Nadia simply explained that she did what Bela told her to do. Quite simply, Nadia was coachable.

Interestingly, both Webster and provide a definition for ‘Coach’ but no definition for ‘Coachable.’ I’m going to change that. I would define coachable as having the capacity to receive constructive feedback, trust in what a coach is telling you, and modify performance based upon that feedback. It is mandatory in the sports world, and I believe it is mandatory in the business world as well.

So, how do you build coachable employees? I’m not sure you can. If you look at my definition, ‘coachable’ is a mindset that is actually the responsibility of the individual, not of the coach. However, I think there are four pillars of a coaching relationship that can impact your ability as a coach and your employee’s ability to be coachable. These four pillars are outlined in the table below:

You’ll notice that the first pillar I identified is Infer Positive Intent. I think this is quite possibly the most important pillar. As a coach, I need to trust that my employee really wants to improve, and I need to provide advice that will make him or her a stronger member of the team. If I want to be coachable, I need to believe that my coach has my best interests at heart and will ask me to do things that will have a positive impact on me and my career. Positive Intent forms the basis for trust in the coaching relationship and helps all the other pillars fall into place.

If you’re still reading, it’s obvious that you want to help employees be coachable. But why should they be interested? You might want to fill them in on the benefits of being coachable, including:

  • Increased responsibility. If you prove that you can willingly take advice, learn from others and apply what you are learning, you will build the trust of your manager and likely receive larger assignments with more responsibility. This, in turn, builds your capabilities even further.
  • Accelerated development. Nobody likes to be stagnant. If you willingly accept feedback, you are more likely to receive feedback. The only thing this can do is give you more, broader ideas and increase your potential for professional development.
  • Internal well-being. If you’re coachable, constructive criticism becomes information for change rather than a personal attack. This viewpoint allows you to have a more positive view of yourself and your work.
  • Better relationships. If you are willing to accept and thoughtfully consider feedback, you will be able to build a trusting relationships with your coach and stronger relationships with your team members as they see your willingness to improve.

A willingness to be coached is a critical skill for the success of any individual, and coachable employees contribute to the success of a company. If you want coachable employees, start by modeling coachable behavior yourself, and share with employees why you think being coachable is important. If you’re struggling with where to start, simply ask “Can you tell me more?” the next time you receive feedback and then really listen so that you can better understand that feedback and how you might apply it.

You might not end up on the inside of my locker like Nadia did, but your ability to be coachable or to be a good coach will definitely be admired by others and make it easier for you to succeed at being your best.

Tuesday Jul 29, 2014

Yes, You Can Use My Light Bulb Moments

I’ve talked with quite a few managers in the last couple of weeks, and one of the questions that has come up in every conversations is “How do I go about sharing some of the interesting things I’m learning?”

Sharing can be difficult sometimes because you’re excited about the new stuff you’re learning, but the rest of your staff…well..they’re not that excited about it.

Enter the light bulb moment.

In a previous job, I was in a director role for a very diverse team (everything from learning to black ops), and most of the team was not that engaged because they had been through a number of directors and managers due to acquisitions, team member changes and so on. Being in a team meeting with me was not high on their list of things to do.

At one of our first meetings, I shared something I had read about that week that made stop and think about the work we were doing. I told my team that it was “an a-ha moment” for me – the light bulb went on in my head. I saw heads nodding, and I asked if they had ever come across information that made the light bulb turn on for them. Every person nodded their head yes.

So I challenged them. At our next meeting, I want each of you to come to the meeting with a light bulb moment. That is, something you came across during the week that made you say “a-ha” and made you want to share it with the team.

I had 12 direct reports, and every one of them came into the next meeting talking about their light bulb moment. A few weeks after I took over the director role, I had one person tell me that he was leaving. He explained that he had applied for a new job before I became his director, and he was really sad to be leaving because none of his prior managers really cared about anything he was learning. And then he asked me if he could borrow my light bulb moments to share with his new team. Of course, I said yes.

When managers ask me how they can share something they’re learning, I share the light bulb story. In turn, I’m always asked “Would it be okay if I use that?”

And my answer is always “Yes, you can use my light bulb moments.”

Hope it works for you, also!

Wednesday Jul 16, 2014

45 Ways to Check the Development Plan Box

It's that time of year again...when employees cringe at the thought of creating a development plan, and managers can't wait to check it off the list until next year.  But think about this - I read a blog this week that stated employers have no obligation to be concerned about your development.  You're hired to do a job, and as long as your employer provides the tools and resources to perform that job, they've met their obligation.

Rather than think of the development plan as a box to check off a list, perhaps we should look at the opportunity to create a development plan as a...well, a gift.  If your company is asking you to create a development plan, it's giving you time to think about your career and encouraging your ongoing learning and growth so that you can move your career forward.

I've written two past blogs on ideas for development plans that are not "attend a class" - the last being in 2011 - and I've taken the liberty of updating the list again for 2014 based upon additional inputs, ideas and changes in learning technologies.  Check out the list below and see if there's something in which you might be interested:

  1. Attend a local, regional or national conference. Be sure to bring your findings back to your team. MANAGERS: Make sure you provide the opportunity for your employee to share with the team.
  2. Present at a local, regional or national conference. Ask your manager, peers or mentor about opportunities that exist. Don’t forget about the possibility of presenting at virtual conferences.
  3. Submit ideas to be a guest blogger on a blog that you read and like.
  4. Interview key stakeholders or customers to find out what they like or don't like about your product or service.  Understand their business goals and brainstorm with your team how you can help and how you can build the relationships.
  5. If your company has an internal conference (user groups, engineering conference, etc), apply to present at that.  Actually present if accepted.
  6. Complete a course at your local university or at an online university. Make sure the university is accredited if you’re planning to use your company’s tuition reimbursement program.
  7. If you want to “dip your toes” into virtual learning, Google free online course <insert topic> to see if anything is offered.
  8. Explore Khan Academy to see if there’s an online course that will work for your goals.
  9. Check out iTunes U for a course or podcast that you can listen to while you’re communiting, working out, etc.  You can see a preview of Business topics here.
  10. Finish your undergraduate or Master’s degree.
  11. Write an article for a professional publication or organization.  Be sure to check the submission requirements for the publication!
  12. Join a professional organization and attend a local chapter meeting or seminar. If possible, serve in a leadership position at the local level.
  13. Attend a seminar or workshop offered outside of your company. These are often advertised through professional organizations. Oracle sponsors the Professional Business Womens Conference, and their webinars are free to Oracle employees as advertised in “In the Know.”
  14. Teach a TOI (transfer of information), Lunch & Learn or something similar for your team or another team in your organization.
  15. Create a video on a topic of your expertise and post it to your internal platform (Oracle employees can use OTube upon release).
  16. Review 2-3 journals or magazines every month to monitor industry trends.  You can access many journals through EBSCOHost - commonly available in public libraries with your library card. Oracle employees can access EBSCOHost here).
  17. Read Harvard Business Review or California Management Review to understand business trends.  Both of these can be accessed through EBSCO Host as well.
  18. Pick out a top business book - read it and discuss it with your manager.  This would be a great opportunity to take your manager out for a cup of coffee to get his or her undivided attention.
  19. MANAGERS: Provide a copy of your favorite business book to each member of your team. Use 15 minutes of your staff meeting to discuss a chapter, idea or something else about the book.
  20. Select a technical book to review.  Discuss it with your team, your manager, or your mentor.
  21. Mentor another person.
  22. Ask someone to be your mentor.  Know what you want to get out a mentoring relationship before asking someone.  You may also want to talk with your manager about possible mentors.
  23. Pair up with an Accountability Partner. Different from a mentor, this is a person that you meet with to provide each other with suggestions, feedback and encouragement about your goals and objectives.
  24. Conduct Informational Interviews (about 30 minutes in length) to learn more about different people and lines of business in the company
  25. Volunteer on the board or on a committee of a professional organization.
  26. Google free webinar <insert topic> and see if there's a free webinar that interests you.  Attend and share what you learned with your team.
  27. Start a blog to share your thoughts with others.
  28. Participate in an online community - respond to a blog, start a group on LinkedIn or Facebook, etc.
  29. Join a TwitterChat for a topic area of interest…and participate. You can view the Twitter Chat schedule to see what’s out there. Some topics of interest include Blogging, Business, Career, Communications, Customer Service, Human Resources, Information Technology, Marketing, Social Media, and Technology
  30. For Oracle employees, participate in the Mission Red Innovation Engine.  This is a new tool out of EMEA, designed to turn good ideas into great innovations.
  31. Attend a web-based class offered through your company.
  32. Engage with local colleges to be a guest speaker or host a workshop on campus.
  33. Look for volunteer opportunities with state and local government agencies to provide IT help (if you’re an IT type of person). Many agencies need help in all sorts of areas outside of IT, so if you’re interested, ask if they need help in your area.
  34. Plan a technology fair, science fair or something similar for your company.  Recruit people to present and share ideas.
  35. Join an open source project and get involved in the product development, forums, or aliases.
  36. Lead a group of volunteers for community or charity work to build your leadership skills.
  37. Join the board of a non-profit.  This will give you the ability to assess an entire organization and work on cross-business initiatives, all while doing something good.
  38. If you have a Masters degree, check with a local university or college about becoming an adjunct professor (sometimes called a contract or network instructor).
  39. Volunteer to teach computer skills (or your area of expertise) at a Senior Citizens Center.
  40. Ask your local school districts if they offer any kind of special event around kids and technology.  Volunteer at that event.
  41. Coordinate an internal conference where best practices can be shared for a team within your company - a sales conference for sales people; an IT conference for your technical team, etc.
  42. Volunteer to teach a class at a local Recreation Center or Community Center.
  43. Apply to teach classes for a continuing education program (typically offered through local universities or community colleges). These programs sometimes don’t have the same instructor requirements as becoming an adjunct professor.
  44. Start keeping a reflective journal. Simply record your thoughts about what is happening in your development process and use those reflective thoughts in career conversations with your manager.
  45. Attend a MOOC (massive, open, online courseware).  MOOCs provide access to world-class content on a variety of topics for free.  You just need to have the desire to attend.  Current providers include edX, Coursera and Udacity.

A word of warning about this list: this is just a list. It requires human input to determine how to effectively incorporate one of these ideas into a personal development plan. If one of these options looks intriguing, a manager and employee should work together to determine what, exactly, is expected from the activity and how, exactly, an employee will grow as a result of an activity. Any of the ideas on this list should be used simply as a seed to start a manager/employee discussion.

As you can see, there are many more options for "development" than just attending a class.  If you have other ideas that should be added to this list, please leave a comment in order to share with everyone else.  Hey, then you can add #25 to your plan!

Happy planning!

Friday Jul 11, 2014

What Does Your Personal Learning Environment Look Like?

As we were finishing a conversation this week about blogging and communicating, my colleague asked, “What’s your motivation for writing?”

After thinking for a minute, I realized that I write because it allows me to synthesize all the information that I’m receiving about a particular topic. As I write, I can recognize common threads, define questions for myself, come up with possible answers and make sense of all the content that comes my way. Blogging is, quite simply, one tool that I use to learn about and organize information.

This realization made me think about the concept of personal learning environments (PLEs). I first heard of PLEs last summer when we were at my neighbor’s house for a backyard fire. My neighbors are teachers, as were a large number of other guests, and they were all talking about their PLEs. As a learning person, my ears perked up.

I found out that a PLE is basically a flexible structure – identifying digital and non-digital resources that help people organize the influx of information that is a part of their learning. All of the applications, tools and resources in a PLE are selected by the user, thereby the ‘personal’ part of the equation. The “E” is a visual representation of everything.

Because it seemed like a fun thing to do, I mapped out my own PLE, and it looks like this:

My PLE shows my ‘gathering’ activities on the left and my ‘action’ stuff on the right. I’m a big gatherer of information – I love to read, search and explore, and I do this with a wide variety of tools and resources. Once I have this information, I move to the right side of the page – I need to act on it. For me, ‘action’ might mean aggregating like ideas, writing a blog or tweet to share some kind of insight, sharing the information with my colleagues, or putting something out on Beehive for later use.

Yesterday, I felt like my brain is just always busy. Today, my PLE gives structure to how I gather and process information. Educators argue that mapping this PLE and understanding how we deal with the huge influx of information gives us the opportunity to reflect and build our capabilities around any given topic. This is a key feature in what educators call Information Fluencya triad of domain knowledge, critical thinking and presentation & participation – a state of competency in any subject.

The University of Alaska, Fairbanks has mapped out some common activities that occur as part of the Information Fluency triad:

Although this concept is used in the education world, I think it has a great deal of significance in the business world as well. Think about it like this: You have a person supporting a new product (I’m going to use ‘his’ just for ease of writing). That person needs to increase his knowledge about the product and does so by talking with others, reading user guides, observing other support people (domain knowledge). As knowledge increases, he can start analyzing issues, explaining problems, etc. (critical thinking). As he becomes an expert, he might blog about the product, speak at OpenWorld, or serve as a mentor to new people (presentation & participation).

The Information Fluency triad provides the model for defining competency; the Personal Learning Environment identifies the tools and resources used to achieve that competency. Understanding these two components might make us better at helping our people learn the things they need to be successful in their roles.

Overall, I think mapping your Personal Learning Environment is an interesting exercise as it gives you the opportunity to:

  • See how you access information and what you do with that information
  • Identify areas of strengths
  • Identify areas for improving knowledge and/or productivity
  • Use it as a discussion point with your manager
  • Use it to define opportunities for your development plan
  • Reflect on how you learn and how you are motivated

So, my challenge to you is this: map out your personal learning environment.

If you’re concerned about what it should look like, don’t be. Google ‘personal learning environment’ and click “Images.” You will see that a PLE is as unique as any one individual. Start small and take your time – PLEs are meant to be dynamic and will change and adapt to your learning needs and goals.

Those teachers talked about a lot of other things around the fire that night, but I’ll save those for another post!

Wednesday May 07, 2014

If You Were Your Boss

I heard an interesting question this week – it was “If you were your boss, would you like coming to work?” Wow - that’s an interesting question to ponder!

Industry research tells us that people leave managers – not positions. Basically, the relationship you build with your employees will largely determine whether or not those employees will be engaged with their company and job and whether or not they will willingly give their best effort (that’s the essence of employee engagement).

I’ve had bosses who left a body count in their wake; and I’ve had bosses that I loved working for even though the work was demanding, markets weren’t great, and bonuses and raises were non-existent. The reasons I loved working for them are the same reasons that I think most people like their boss:

  • They are fair in how they dealt with everyone – everyone on the team was a “favorite” because we all brought different strengths to the table.
  • They recognize efforts – even a simple “great job” in a team meeting can be effective if done earnestly.
  • They have your back – work problems were “opportunities to succeed,” but the boss fully supported us and wouldn’t “throw us to the wolves” to make himself look good.
  • They care about their team members – simply by involving your team members in things like team decisions and long-term planning (for the team) and being open and honest in your communications tells team members that you are interested in their well-being and sense of fulfillment at work. (This also goes a long way toward building respect and trust).

So there you have it! Respect, Fairness, Recognition and Support: what I would consider four hallmarks of a great boss.

There are countless articles on how to engage your employees and how to be a great boss (over 1B when I googled it), but these four characteristics immediately come to mind when I think about my best bosses.  What would you add?

Consider the characteristics of your best bosses, and then ask yourself “If I were my boss, would I like coming to work?” If you hesitate on the answer, consider what change you might make so you would want to be on your team!

Wednesday Apr 16, 2014

Start-Stop-Continue in Transitions

What do Sigma, a Leadership class and a webcast have in common? They’ve all created ideas that are swirling around in my head! Let me start from the beginning. I was sitting in on a leadership class for midlevel leaders, listening to a conversation about competing priorities and how to address them. Last week I listened to a web-cast that suggested leaders should create a “Do Not Do” list. I’m also exploring some ideas around transitioning to a leadership role and what an individual needs to do differently.

I struggled a bit with a “Do Not Do” list because it just seems a bit negative, and then my Sigma training kicked in and I thought of a great exercise we used to do…and I think it might work for new leaders, or really anyone who’s taking on a new role. It’s a simple Start-Stop-Continue exercise to identify behaviors and actions that you need to address.

Here’s how you do it. Take a piece of paper and draw three columns on it. At the top of one column, write Start; in the next column write Stop and in the last column write Continue. Then, close your eyes and really think about your new role - imagine what it will look like if done very successfully. If you’re a first time leader, you’ll want to think about how your leadership role is going to be different from your individual contributor role. If you’re a midlevel leader, you’ll want to consider the difference between managing people and managing managers. And if you’re an individual contributor, you might want to review your development plan and think about what your goals are for the future.

Now, open your eyes and write down those behaviors or actions that you need to Start doing in your new role. Continue to write down behaviors and actions that you need to Stop doing and then Continue doing. Now, take a good look at your list. Will your role or development be negatively impacted if you stop anything on the Stop list? Will your role or development be positively impacted by those things on the Start or Continue list?

If you have so many things on each list that you feel overwhelmed, try prioritizing the list. This may require a conversation with your manager!! You might ask questions like:

  • When choosing to continue a behavior/activity, what can I do to be more effective in that behavior/activity?

  • What behaviors or activities do the best leaders I know exhibit? Are those on my list?

  • What have I said I would never do as a leader? Are those on my Stop list?

This list could end up being your friend – it can feed into your development plans; it can help you prioritize your work; it can help clarify your role. If you choose to do this, I would make two suggestions. First, share your list with your manager to get his or her input. He or she might have some ideas that could provide a clearer focus for you. Second, keep your list and pull it out every quarter to review. This is a great way to determine if you’re modifying your actions and behaviors the way you want or intended.

Hopefully something like this can help keep you on track when changing roles!

Monday Mar 10, 2014

Why Leadership Development Programs Fail...and What a Leader Can Do About It

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been seeing headlines about leadership development programs – unfortunately, the headlines are not that great:

  • The #1 Reason Leadership Development Fails
  • 10 Reasons Leadership Development Programs Fail
  • Why Leadership Development Programs Fail
  • 5 Reasons Leadership Development Programs Fail
  • Why So Many Leadership Programs Fail
  • Why Leadership Development Efforts Fail

I’m sure you get the picture (fail). Leadership development is hard (fail). It’s tough being a leader (fail). My favorite was an article that gave me the #1 reason why leadership development fails and then gave me 20 things to focus on to ensure success. I kind of thought if I focused on the #1 reason I might be okay.

I have to admit, these articles made me frustrated. I felt like there was a lot of blame being placed on the fact that development was just plain hard, but also a lot of blame placed at the feet of people like myself who create different kinds of development programs. As I looked through the list of reasons for failure, however, I realized something. If a leadership development program fails, it might have something to do with the participants as well! WHAT??

Let me explain. We could build the best leadership development program in the world – the exact skills needed as discovered through a needs analysis; skills tied to business objectives; a perfect implementation plan; metrics that truly measure the bottom line impact of the program – you get the picture. BUT, there is still something missing in this perfect program.

You…and maybe your manager.

I believe that you have to take ownership of any development opportunity in which you partake. What does it mean to take ownership? Glad you asked! To me, ownership looks like this:

  • You take responsibility for your development. Remember making a Christmas list when you were a kid. Santa didn’t know what you wanted unless you wrote it down and mailed it to the North Pole. Your manager is Santa – you have to write down what you want and let your manager know. They can help provide the toys tools, but it’s up to you to determine which tools you need and what you will do with them.
  • You ‘personalize’ your development. Your development plan is uniquely yours, and any program you attend should align with that plan. When attending a development program, you should spend some time prior to the program thinking about your expectations and what you want to learn. During the program, compare what you’re learning to your expectations to make sure they align. Work with your manage before and after a program to reinforce what you learned. By focusing on your plan, you can make sure that your needs are met.
  • You have to be humble. You sign up for a development program because you want to learn something. That means there is something you don’t already know. Everyone in the room is in the same position, so there’s no need to prove that you’re the smartest person there.
  • You have to have a “right” mindset. A development program is not a five-day, expense-paid vacation away from the office – it is your company’s investment in you and the skills you bring to the company and your team. Your job is to be present at the program by turning off your devices and concentrating on your investment. Use your breaks to check email or take calls.
  • You should expect the support you ask for. Have a conversation with your manager to discuss the support that you might need before, during and after a program. Maybe you want to discuss expectations about a development opportunity. Maybe you need your manager to not call you or email you ten times in an hour while you’re in class. Maybe you want an opinion of how you’re changing your behavior three weeks after the program. All of these are valid needs, and, if you’re willing to have that conversation with your manager, you should be able to expect that support. After all, improving your leadership skills also helps your manager.

So there you have it – five things you can do to make a leadership development program (or any development program) more successful.

As a leadership development consultant, my job is to create the best possible program that gives you the core knowledge and skills you need to do your job; as a program participant, your job is to spend the time and energy needed to plan your development and apply the knowledge and skills of any program to your individual plan.

As Humphrey Bogart said in Casablanca, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Tuesday Jan 21, 2014

No More Micromanaging!

Micromanaging drives me nuts!! You know what I mean – you are hired for your expertise, and then your new manager watches over you like you’re the newborn babe, and they are first-time parents. Further, they actually want to “work with” you on your projects. It actually makes me a bit twitchy just thinking about it. (As a disclaimer, I do have to say that I haven’t had a micro-manager in many, many years).

As a parent, I can totally understand the need desire to watch over a new person – you want to be sure they’re on the right track, that nothing messes them up, that you’ve helped them be a success. As a manager, you want to do those same things, but most people in the workplace don’t want or need another parent. So, manager, what do you do?

You.  Let.  Go.


I’ve had two experiences this winter that have taught me that letting go is one of the best ways to help someone succeed. The first experience was watching my 9-year old daughter spar at a karate tournament. She had sparred three opponents back-to-back and was in her fourth match. In the middle of the round, she took a kick to her gut, and I saw her fold in half. I wanted to run across the mat and make sure that she was okay, but her sensei picked her up like a rag doll, focused her attention away from being hurt, and she finished the match…with me on the sidelines.

My second experience was taking my 6-year old son skiing for his first time. I put him in ski school, wondering if he was going to like skiing, if it would be too cold or windy, if he would spend most of the day laying on the ground after a fall, if he would miss me, and so on. When I checked on him at the end of the day, he was grinning, having fun and showing off his successful runs down the bunny slope. His instructor (the feedback loop in his world) even said that he had great coordination, lots of strength and needs to move up a level the next time he skis. But I wasn’t even there!

In both of these situations, my instinct was to micromanage – to get right in the middle of things and make sure that everything was going to be okay. But guess what? I didn’t, and everything was still okay. As a matter of fact, not micromanaging allowed my kids to learn to rely on themselves, work through the pain, gain confidence and achieve things they’ve never done. All by themselves. And my guess is that they are going to take those lessons forward into everything they do.

So the next time you want to get right in the thick of things with your employees, force yourself to step back. Make sure they have the right resources to get the job done, but then let them do their job. Maybe the only thing they need from you is your faith in them that they will achieve the goal. And then your employees will be the one who grow and gain confidence in their abilities. And isn’t helping your employee to do just that what being a manager is all about?


My blog is a look inside my head on ideas about learning, organizational & personal improvement and other stuff. I manage Oracle's Managing at Oracle team, but all thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely my own!


« July 2016