All Posts by Pam Baker

Our leadership blind spots

Movie night in our house is now a tradition. The movie selection process can begin as early as breakfast – and can sometimes take all of 12 hours to finalize. You might say that ‘quick decision making’ is an area of growth in our house. This weekend, we’d settled on “A Dog’s Purpose“. I considered this a win because I hadn’t seen it yet, and both of our daughters are fans of watching a movie many times. Make that many, many times. 

So when I got home and got the news that everyone had decided that it was too sad of a movie for the night and that they’d all agreed instead on Freaky Friday, I did a mental eye roll. After at least ten viewings, this was overdue to go the way of Toy Story, Finding Nemo and the High School Musical series. Instead of agreeing, I set out to find a new option we could all agree on. Throwing our normal democratic decision making process to the winds, I announced that we would watch The Blind Side

It’s now a decade old but I still love the feel good story of the kid who gets a chance due to the kindness of strangers. But what hit me last night was the story of Big Mike’s seeming inability to learn, as determined by a raft of elementary and middle school teachers, as the source of his failing grades. And yet despite the opinions of these so-called experts, some in his new environment who saw Mike with a fresh set of eyes saw something different. Not an inability to learn, but an inability to learn in the way classroom education is traditionally taught. 

When “they” can’t learn

In our own day to day, a similar challenge goes far beyond classroom learning. It’s about how many of us as leaders lead and informal teachers teach and communicate: in the manner that we were taught and that makes most sense to us. Or as this piece in Pioneering Collective plainly states: “With the ability to inform, persuade, and empower, communication is a leader’s most powerful tool. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, and the world’s greatest leaders understand that effective leadership cannot exist without effective communication.”

So what’s effective? When our message gets through as we intend it to. A picture is indeed worth 1,000 words in this classic scene when Leanne, Big Mike’s new guardian, teaches the football coach how to do his job. She’s a designer, not a football coach, an athletic champion or a teacher. So how could she know better than the coach? She listened, watched, and saw what mattered to Mike. She adapted her approach to one that would connect with him and eloquently and quickly got her message across in a way that stuck. In fact, it stuck well enough to create an entirely new life for Mike.

How many of us chalk up our inability to get our message through to someone else’s inability, or unwillingness, to learn? How often do we lose some of the richest talent with invaluable perspectives and ideas to a one-size-fits-all approach to communicating, teaching and motivating, missing the chance to make the most of who they are? What if the solution for those we see as unteachable involves not just them needing to adapt but ourselves as well?

In response to one friend’s fawning praise, “Leanne,  you’re changing that boy’s life”, a knowing smile spreads across Leanne’s face as she says, “No, he’s changing mine.” Just as each of us are when we learn to communicate, connect and motivate those around us to make the most of who they are. A blindsiding experience to be sure.

Are we weeding out our best stuff?

With the weather turning balmy I’ve been doing more walking in our neighborhood. A month or so ago our neighbors put in this beautiful new garden in front of their house, a lovely arrangement of plants, flowers, a stone path and a sculpture of this big turtle. Every time I walk by it I smile at the grin on the chill turtle’s face. Pretty soon after they’d planted it I would see my neighbor out in front taking care of it. Every time I walked by. It became the running joke that I needed a hobby and she was becoming garden obsessed.

By the third day I finally asked what it was that motivated to get out there each day. “The damn clover” she told me. Now – to be fair, I should have known that pretty much any answer she could have given would have met with my clueless stare. I have by all accounts a black thumb when it comes to plants. In fact, I’m pretty sure if they bottled me I’d be the world’s best weed – and plant – killer. When I was pregnant my neighbor at the time, who was a masterful gardener himself, asked, “Do you think you’ll be more successful keeping kids alive than you have been with your plants?” Considering my track record, it was a fair question.

So, I know nothing about clover. Except that it’s green. And to my uneducated eye, pretty. No, my neighbor informed me, it will take over if you don’t root it out. The roots take hold and … I’m not sure what else. But all I could think was, it was the perfect contrast against the rest of the garden. It looked nice and fit really well with all the other plants they’d chosen. She wasn’t sold – and each day she or someone else in the family was out in front weeding the clover out that had somehow magically made its way back in the moonlight. I couldn’t help but wonder – it’s my inclination to pull for the underdog no doubt – if there are benefits to clover, and apparently there are.

What struck me was how much of this ‘rooting out’ of the things that seem to belong – but we’d rather they didn’t – many of us do in our own lives. The things we’re good at or drawn to or feel strong doing – but don’t think they will do much for us. I remember going through one of the personality tests at work years ago – and what emerged from the color coded system was that my strength was “earth green” – caring, encouraging, sharing, patient and relaxed. But the company’s leaders were mostly ‘fiery red’ – competitive, demanding, determined, strong-willed and purposeful.

My green felt weak in comparison – so rather than tapping into how to make the most of who I am, I instead focused on being more “fiery red”. I wanted to be one of the people considered “high potential” who would be seen as a valued future leader  – and my assumption was I simply couldn’t do so by leading with encouragement, compassion and patience.

It didn’t go all that well. Could I do it? Sure. Was it harder? You bet. Did I enjoy it? Not particularly. And what I lost in the process was the person people had come to know – the leader who created a great team by knowing people well enough to help them find their fit. Who created an environment where people smiled, laughed and went the extra mile for each other while exceeding the results they thought were possible. Who shared wins and struggles so everyone had the chance to learn from both.   

Quick point here – what I’m not saying is to be oblivious to the team and organization you’re a part of – the norms, behaviors and “what good looks like” of your colleagues. Fitting in matters. And what each of us brings also matters. A garden full of clover isn’t what my neighbor is going for – and I don’t blame her. But I can’t help but wonder what would happen if she let some of the clover remain sprinkled in there – since clearly it wants to be there. Maybe there’s more good that it can offer than is readily apparent.      

Stuck in a situation that’s no longer a fit? Your beliefs might be the culprit.

Near the end of the previous school year, I got in touch with one of my daughter’s teachers about how she was doing in class. Despite some amazing teachers and creative strategies to support her, she was having increasing difficulty with math and it was clearly taking a toll on her confidence. My daughter was getting to the point where she’d avoid doing her homework, already convinced she wouldn’t be able to do it without even trying.

After a few back and forths, her teacher suggested taking her to the doctor to get her evaluated. “For what?” I asked. I knew exactly what – my background in healthcare, being a daughter of a mom who worked with kids with learning difficulties and the experiences of my friends precluded me from feigning ignorance. I knew that my daughter likely was dealing with Attention Deficit Disorder. So my question to the teacher was entirely meant to challenge, to push back, and to make what she was suggesting not so. Continue reading

LinkedIn For Career Launchers with Angela Dunz

These stats should come as no surprise: more than 20,000 US organizations use LinkedIn to recruit, 94% of recruiters use LinkedIn to vet candidates, and there are 15 million active jobs listed on the social networking site. LinkedIn is a must when you’re actively looking for a job, when you might be looking for a job, and even when you’re not looking for a job but open to hearing what’s out there.

Career launchers have asked us a myriad of questions about LinkedIn, such as:

  • How can I get seen – or better yet stand out – compared to people with way more experience?
  • How do I write my profile if I don’t know what job I’m looking for?
  • There’s a lot of content to fill in – what parts matter most?
  • What if I don’t have any paid work experience?
  • Isn’t LinkedIn just an online version of my resume?
  • I’m still in school – what do I say my title is?

We talked to Angela Dunz, director of training at Vengreso, The Digital Sales Transformation Company, who’s been helping people make the most of their LinkedIn profile for more than six years, and she gave us the scoop on what career launchers need to know to make the most out of their LinkedIn profile.

Setting Your Career Up for Financial Health – Interview with Dan Koblin

So you’ve got the job — now what are the first steps you should take to get your finances on the right track?

When you’re just getting started in your career – maybe you’re finishing up college, or you’re beginning your first “grown up” job – navigating a path can be challenging. Making decisions about your career is one thing, but when you’re first starting out there’s health and car insurance to think about, apartment rentals, student loans, and so many other pieces to figure out that you may not have learned about in college or high school. Finances are a huge part of this, so we sat down with Dan Koblin, founder and partner of Continuum Consulting Group, for advice on financial first steps for young adults.

Q: When you’re planning for life after school, there are tons of decisions to make. Adding on the need to figure out a financial plan seems overwhelming – where do we start? Continue reading

Entrepreneur or Entrepreneurial?

A few weeks ago, we were talking about the holiday work schedule and my daughter asked me if I was as lucky as dad to get the week off between Christmas and New Year’s. I smiled at the nuance of her question that she was oblivious to: As an entrepreneur, I now get to make that call rather than having someone else dictate it.

I’m surrounded by budding entrepreneurs – at least partly because I live on the outer edges of Silicon Valley. “Follow your passion,” we hear. “There’s no feeling like being your own boss.” Couple that with the cool factor of Shark Tank and never ending pitch competitions, why would you want to go work for the big corporate chieftain when you could be the decision maker, dress the way you want, and do something you truly care about? Continue reading

Identifying Your Motivators

Our daughters’ soccer season ended a few weeks ago. As we drove home from their final game I asked them what they’d thought of the season. They were on the same team, went to all of the same games, and were coached by the same coaches. In other words, the experiences they had were the same. Having won only one game all season, one of my daughters grumbled that it was a lousy season but my other daughter smiled and said, “I loved it.”

It made me realize – again – that just being a twin doesn’t mean they experience the same thing in the same way. And that’s true for the rest of us – we don’t all experience the same situations, people or environments the same way. Figuring out the things that do or don’t motivate you to be at your best will helps separate the jobs that are likely to light you up and keep your brain buzzing from the jobs that will feel like the more typical Monday-to-Friday slog. Continue reading

Your Resume Is Not the Foundation of Your Career

Earlier this school year my daughters were tasked with an assignment to write about a famous person they admire. Before sending kids off to do the writing, the teacher spent weeks talking about the fundamentals of a good story – the plot, the story arc and the all-important character development. One of my daughters idolizes the soccer player Alex Morgan, so during her research phase she shared all sorts of fun facts at dinner, including Alex’s getting cut from an early soccer team she sought to join. We talked about the lessons she learned in the process: resilience, grit, and goal setting and how that changed the course of her soccer career.

Throughout, my daughter learned perhaps the most important aspect of any good story: without understanding what makes the protagonist tick – what they’re drawn to, what they care about, their flaws and what creates meaning for them – the story doesn’t hang together and usually isn’t all that interesting. Continue reading

Reflect, Not Resolve for 2019

Finally, a new year’s resolution I can get excited about.

As I sat down to figure out our plan to say goodbye to 2018, I first stole a glance of a few pages in my newest read TED Talks, The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, required reading for our upcoming proposal for a TEDx talk. I landed on chapter 4 which focused on the through line. They describe it as the connecting theme that ties together each narrative element. From the Collins Dictionary: “a theme or idea that runs from the beginning to the end of a book, film, etc.”

In my holiday reflective mood, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What is MY through line?” What are those of my family, my friends? At Journeous we talk often about career prototyping and the key step most of us miss, which is to reflect on our experiences. What if, instead of starting by looking through the windshield, we began by checking the rear view mirror? What might we learn about 2019 by reflecting on the themes of 2018?

Ditch New Year’s Resolutions – Try This Instead

Putting the past behind us doesn’t mean that we have to forget about it, never to make the same choices again, or worse, make ourselves feel like we aren’t good enough and therefore need to resolve to be something more.

Rather than building the feeling that you need to somehow be better in 2019 than you were in 2018, what if you embrace the experiences the last year has given you and build on them? Reflect, rather than resolve. What did you learn? Where did you go? Who did you meet? How can you take the experiences you had along the way and use them to build yourself up? Capture what you’ve seen and enjoyed, what you struggled with, what you want to memorialize.

No matter where you are in your journey and what your through line of 2018 may be, pause and remind yourself: “I am enough.” And – what will my through line of 2019 be?

Here’s to a new year’s resolution that we can all hang onto.

Mentors Support You, but Sponsors Propel You

Last week as I was wrapping up a college workshop I’d facilitated, I shared what’s always a fun discussion – the mistakes I’ve made and lessons they’ve taught me over a couple of decades of work. One that always makes me smile is one of my first boss’s words of wisdom. He told me, “Success is based on three things: Luck, sponsorship and timing.”

At the time I brushed it off. I’d grown up hearing that success was about working hard, not something as uncontrollable as luck or timing. And sponsorship I chalked up as being synonymous with colleagues thinking highly of you. In retrospect I realize how naive I’d been.

Looking back, I can see how luck and timing worked both for me and against me at different times. But sponsorship was something I didn’t fully appreciate. The impact of a true sponsor is invaluable, and is different than those of mentors, which tend to get a lot more press.

There’s lots written about the power of mentors – and mentors are indeed great to have. I’ve mentored more than a hundred people in my career and while I care about their success, I’m not invested in it.

“A Mentor Will Talk With You, But A Sponsor Will Talk About You”

A sponsor, though, is different. As pointed out by Heather Foust-Cummings at Catalyst Research Center for Equity in Business Leadership, “A mentor will talk with you, but a sponsor will talk about you.” In other words, they’re the people who will be advocating for you even when you’re not in the room.

Because of this, sponsoring also means a sponsor is putting her or his reputation on the line – so sponsorship has to be earned. As Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of “Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor” puts it: “A senior person is not going to go out of their way unless you have proven your worth.” While sponsors are key in moving up the corporate ladder, Hewlett adds that “There is no way up in any career where you don’t need sponsorship,” says Hewlett. “At the end of the day, you need a powerful person to open doors for you.” So sponsors are at least as important to entrepreneurs as they are to those working their way up through big companies.

Twenty years after my boss shared his wisdom, I experienced one of the most visible examples of sponsorship I’ve benefited from in my career. My most recent sponsor, Orlando Harris, director of Career Services and Leadership Development at San Francisco State University, was one of our very early Journeous clients and exemplified what great sponsors do. He saw the connection between our solution and its ability to move the needle on key initiatives he and his team were focused on. But he recognized that his customers – SFSU students – wouldn’t get the full benefit if he implemented it in the traditional manner.

Instead of walking away, he engaged faculty partners in coming up with a shared solution. He championed getting our proposal funded and approved internally. He kept in close contact with the faculty and students who were part of Journeous to get their perspective. He proactively shared the early outcomes we were seeing with school leadership, reinforcing early support and generating interest from other faculty members.

Five Ways To Find A Sponsor

As all sponsors do, Orlando took a calculated risk. In the process, we’ve built a mutual respect and appreciation for the other’s work and a true partnership that I think he would agree has benefited us both. Not every sponsor has the vision or the commitment to create meaningful change that Orlando has. But if you want to increase your odds of finding and developing a great sponsor, here are five ways you can do so. While luck has its place, you might not want to rely on it when it comes to developing great sponsors.

1 2 3 6