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.”

Thursday Aug 21, 2008

30 Ways to Foil Development Plan Dread

Yes, it's that time of year.  Again.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it (not that you have a choice) is to create your annual development plan.  Surprisingly (said with a lot of sarcasm), most people create their annual development plan about two or three days before their annual review.  Somehow, that seems a bit wrong!

Unfortunately, I think this happens because most people look at a development plan as just another thing to do and just some more boxes to check off at the end of the year.  How many times have you thought "I don't have a clue what class I want to go to this year.  Heck, I don't even want to go to a class this year.  Who needs a development plan anyway?"  

Here's a thought:  It doesn't have to be this way!!

If you read my previous post, you read about the two questions - what do you want to do with your life, and what can you offer the world that nobody else can?  If you read the manifesto in its entirety, you may have even looked at your 1-year, 5-year and lifetime goals.  If that's the case, use your need to create a development plan to re-evaluate those goals and make sure you're on track with what you want to achieve.

Employee development doesn't have to be just attending a class and checking a box at the end of the year.  Check out this list of 30 ideas for development activities.  You might just find something that is interesting to you!  

  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 sharing to occur.
  2. Present at a local, regional or national conference.
  3. If your company has an internal conference (user groups, engineering conference, etc), apply to present at that.  Actually present if accepted.
  4. Complete a course at your local university or at an online university.
  5. Finish your undergraduate or masters degree.
  6. Write an article for a professional publication or organization.  Be sure to check the submission requirements for the publication!
  7. Join a professional organization and attend a local chapter meeting or seminar.
  8. Attend a seminar or workshop offered outside of your company.
  9. Teach a TOI (transfer of information), Lunch & Learn or something similar for your team or another team in your organization.
  10. Create a video on a topic of your expertise and post it to your internal platform (Sun employees can use the Sun Learning Exchange)
  11. Review 2-3 journals or magazines every month to monitor industry trends.  You can access many journals through EBSCO Host - commonly available in public libraries with your library card.
  12. Read Harvard Business Review or California Management Review to understand business trends.  Both of these can be accessed through EBSCO Host as well.
  13. 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.
  14. Select a technical book to review.  Discuss it with your team, your manager, or your mentor.
  15. Mentor another person.
  16. Ask someone to be your mentor.
  17. Volunteer on the board or a committee of a professional organization
  18. 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.
  19. Start a blog to share your thoughts with others.
  20. Participate in an online community - respond to a blog, start a group on LinkedIn or Facebook, etc.
  21. Attend an instructor led class offered through your company.
  22. Attend a web-based class offered through your company.
  23. Engage with local colleges to be a guest speaker or host a workshop on campus.
  24. Participate in Sun Technology Fairs at local campuses.  (Okay, this is really targeted toward Sun employees, but, hey, that's what I am!  You could adapt this to "participate in career fairs (or something similar) at your local colleges).
  25. Look for volunteer opportunities with state and local government agencies to provide IT help.
  26. Plan a technology fair, science fair or something similar for your company.  Recruit people to present and share ideas.
  27. Join an open source project and get involved in the product development, forums, or aliases.
  28. 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).
  29. Volunteer to teach computer skills (or your area of expertise) at a Senior Citizens Center.
  30. Ask your local school districts if they offer any kind of special event around kids and technology.  Volunteer at that event.
  31. BONUS 1: 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.
  32. BONUS 2: Volunteer to teach a class at a local Recreation Center or Community Center.
  33. BONUS 3: Apply to teach classes for a continuing education program (typically offered through local universities or community colleges).

Okay, so I gave you a list of 33 when the title promised 30.  Sorry about that, but once I go started, I just couldn't stop.  Consider it a gift!  :)

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 #20 to your plan!

Happy planning! 

Tuesday Aug 19, 2008

Just Do It!

Apologies to Nike, but they were not the first to use the phrase “Just do it!” It's a phrase I heard often growing up as I had an older brother who wasn't afraid to double and triple-dog dare me.

It's a phrase one of my Russian gymnastics coaches used to get me to do the tumbling pass that scared me. Although, Boris made it sound more like “DOOOOT!”

It's a phrase I heard when I was standing at the end of a diving board after my swimming instructor said the diving board was just like the vault in gymnastics. Just for the record, you run a lot faster and harder for the vault than you need to for the diving board. Yea, you get the picture – the dive was pretty; the ending wasn't!

And it's now a phrase I'm hearing as I contemplate jumping into that bigger pool of blogging. So why bother? I think that I might have something meaningful to contribute to the conversation around the importance of learning to improve yourself, those around around you and your organization or company. The scary part is that you'll be the judge of that – not me. So, let's get started, shall we?


This time around, I'm hitting the topic of personal improvement.

Last week I found a manifesto with a catchy title: A Brief Guide to World Domination (and other important goals) – How to Live a Remarkable Life in a Conventional World. Who wouldn't want to read that? Chris Guillebeau, the author, believes that you can achieve remarkable personal goals, help others at the same time, and do so in a way that challenges conventional belief that mediocrity is good enough.

In doing so, Chris puts forth two challenging questions:
1) What do you really want to get out of life?
2) What else can you offer the world that no one else can?

I found myself nodding in agreement as Chris talked about setting 1-year, 5-year and lifetime goals and how they can help define the answer to question one. I found myself agreeing as Chris introduced examples of people who were really living a remarkable life and helping others at the same time – Randy Pausch, professor extraordinaire ; Sam Thompson, ultra marathon runner, and Matt and Jessica Flanery, founders of

The overriding message in the manifesto is that you don't have to live your life the way other people expect you to. Other people will tell you that “it” (whatever your “it” is) can't be done, or that you need more experience, or that you need (fill in the blank). These are the gatekeepers – the people who want you to remain conventional and unremarkable. You can listen to these people, or you can listen to yourself.

Chris does provide 11 tips on remaining unremarkably average. Four of my favorites are:

  • Accept what people tell you at face value
  • Don't question authority
  • Don't stand out or draw attention to yourself
  • Jump through hoops; Check off boxes 
If you're still with me, you're probably intrigued by this manifesto as well. I guess that means you have an inner desire to be remarkable and a bit unconventional. Read the manifesto, answer the questions, complete the Ideal World exercise. Determine what it is you need to do to live a remarkable life.

What you choose isn't the most important thing – what's important is that you pick something and then just do it.


Sandy's ideas about learning, organizational & personal improvement and other stuff.

I work on Oracle's Leadership Development team, but all thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely my own!


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