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?
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.
Can you remember a time when you believed you could choose any career you wanted? Most of us have had ‘reality’ get in the way of that belief. But at ten, it’s a lot less complicated.
My daughter asked me to edit her class assignment this morning. She was tasked with a creative assignment and had to write her own “legend.” When I read it, it reminded me how simple it could be to create our own paths, to choose the things we believe fit us. And perhaps we’re our own worst enemies in letting those beliefs come true. Continue reading
Something strange happened this Halloween at our house. Trick or treaters were more interested in gummies, Nerds and mini Gobstoppers than chocolate candy. I know this because unlike last year when our daughters passed on trick or treating so they could hand out candy, this year they decided to get back out there. Having created some group costumes with friends, this year was more about the social part of the holiday than the sugar part.
At the end of the night, our house was where they and their friends returned to to count their candy and engage in the inevitable trading.
I was going through some of our old family pictures the other night and came across one that made me laugh out loud at the memory. My then-three year old was standing in front of this lovely rock wall with water cascading down. With all the restraint that a three-year old could muster, she waited a whopping three seconds or so to plunge her hand into the water to see what would happen. I’d taken the picture before the result of her decision so didn’t have the version that showed her shocked, and drenched, by the water explosion that ensued. But that visual was etched clearly in my mind.
As we settled into the house we’d rented for the 4th of July weekend, we decided to check out the ‘games closet’. I noticed the familiar blue square box with neat cursive writing and knew it to be Trivial Pursuit without even being close enough to read it. Just seeing it reminded me of all of the useless trivia I had sitting in my head. Case in point – I can still tell you the name of each of the Brady Bunch actors (yes, even Alice B. Smith). How I’d love to purge the clutter in my head so I can remember my daughters’ friends’ names more easily. Surely, that will serve me in better stead over time.
Visualizing my mental clutter reminded me of a leadership – focused session I attended some time ago. It was a 1 ½ day event that included something that seems anathema when you’re asking people to pay to attend: 2 hours of unstructured quiet time to yourself. This wasn’t an exceedingly long bio break or lunch break, this was actually part of the class. The point of this was to ‘hold space’ in an effort to let the clutter of everyday commitments and deadlines settle so that we could spend time focusing on the present and give the mental dots a chance to connect. To be able to focus on the thoughts, questions, ideas that often flash by us in our busy day to day lives. Even this weekend’s Wall Street Journal got into the mix addressing the value of meditation with a similar purpose.
A Lesson from Baseball
It was this experience, remembering the value of time spent quietly instead of powering through emails or industry reports, that intrigued me when learning about Chris Sale. Baseball fans will recognize the name as a great Red Sox pitcher. He started the season as the 6th best pitcher in the MLB. Halfway through, he’s now the 3rd best. If you’re a fan of the game (or went to see Moneyball just to watch Brad Pitt) you’ll know all too well how much data is integral to the game. So you’d assume that Chris consumes these mounds of data to prepare for the hitters he’s facing. You’d be wrong.
This great read speaks to his unusual approach. “He doesn’t look at scouting reports on the hitters he will face and virtually never uses video, a staple for players across the sport. .. In this age of information, where pitchers have access to mountains of data on every hitter at their fingertips, Sale goes out of his way to avoid it all.” And he pairs that with a fair bit of (clearly well placed) confidence in his own abilities. According to his coach, “His basic thought is, ‘Whatever I throw, you’re not going to hit it.’”
Chris’ results speaks to the power of keeping a clear mind. As leaders, it also speaks to valuing the input of those closest to a topic when making decisions. Like anything, an approach like this could be taken too far. The key is to find the right balance between informing oneself and information overload. But I for one am giving this mind de-cluttering a try. I’m looking forward to the day I can no longer recall Marcia McCormick and Eve Plumb as the Brady’s Marcia & Jan.
The very first person I hired in my professional career ended up stealing thousands of dollars from the company. I quickly realized that this whole interviewing thing was something I needed to hurry up and learn to do. Good news was there was vast room for improvement after this inauspicious start. What I learned is that good interviewing skills, and even more importantly good leadership skills, require that we seek to understand. In other words, not starting with an agenda and using the discussion to further it.
I was reminded of this the other day when I opened an envelope that caught my attention in the mail. In very officious looking language akin to the warnings on those silly mattress tags (San Quentin here I come), this was a survey request. In big bold letters it said it was an ‘official document’ that ‘must be accounted for during processing’. As I read on, I just shook my head when reading the first question. I kid you not – here is the exact language: “Are you in favor of suspending acceptance of new refugees from Syria, Somalia, Libya and other ISIS-controlled countries until there is a top-to-bottom review of the vetting process to ensure that no terrorists are allowed into our country?” Yes / No
Whatever one’s political views – it’s clear that this question was not asked in a way to try to understand. It was designed to convince respondents of the rightness of a particular response and bolster an agenda. While we might place this neatly in the category of a biased pollster, as leaders it’s easy to fall into the same trap. We often ask questions to elicit the response we’re looking for. My agenda years ago was to get someone at least moderately qualified to run the Christmas Shop at the department store where I worked. (And yes, that needed to happen shortly after Labor Day which is a whole other story). And I did – he was a great salesman. He was also a thief.
In contrast, I had the chance to recently reconnect with a former colleague who’s a fellow twin-mom. We talked about her high school aged twins and the same thing that typically emerges from twin-mom discussions: how they’re similar, how they’re different and whether they are the best of friends. In the ‘how they’re similar’ category we talked about both of them playing, loving and being quite accomplished at multiple instruments. So naturally both went out for band. One loves it. The other one hates it.
What was interesting was what she shared next. That she spent time with her kids to understand WHY her daughter hated it and her son loved it. They’re in high school – so clear-eyed communication with a parent is not exactly a strength of the species. And of course she had an agenda – band accoutrements are hardly inexpensive. But rather than ‘listening’ so that she could convince her daughter how great band really is, she patiently observed, listened and pieced together what was driving their different reactions to band. And found a better and more fitting vehicle for her daughter’s musical talents to shine: the high school symphony. Which she loves. Clearly a few well-placed questions – and at this age there is typically a limit to the number you’re able to ask – were key.
It was a reminder to me of the role all of us play as leaders in asking questions that tell us not what we want to hear but really to understand the other person. That’s often as time consuming as it is effective in leading to shared understanding and more meaningful support. Asking in a way that seeks to understand in political discourse may be more than we can realistically hope for (though hope I do). But as leaders it’s critical that we do so. Because I can tell you firsthand – it’s awfully expensive when we don’t.
We’re coming upon midyear feedback time, and a colleague shared with me an interesting read on the subject, Thanks for the Feedback: The Science And Art of Receiving Feedback Well. It’s an interesting premise that addresses the impact of neuroscience on how and what we hear when we receive feedback. And that there’s an art to receiving it – part of which is the ability to reject it. Apparently this can be helpful with overbearing in-laws. As I read, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have taken the chance to reject the message from a years-ago feedback experience that sticks with me today.
I was in marketing at the time and presenting to our sales team during a days-long sales meeting. For anyone in sales or who knows someone in sales, you know asking this group to sit still in a conference room for hours at a stretch is pretty torturous. It’s like asking the cast of Hamilton to speak slowly. So, in the interest of keeping things light to have any semblance of holding their attention, I started off my presentation with a cartoon that loosely linked to our sales messaging. It got them laughing – mission accomplished. After the presentation, I gave myself a tiny mental high five.
Later that day, my boss’s boss pulled me aside to tell me that he thought I should use humor less, as it was taking away from my credibility and made me seem like a less credible, effective leader. I was incensed. This was someone who didn’t know me or the team well. And he was new to the company – so he couldn’t possibly know the culture. I came up with loads of reasons to reject his feedback and stew on it. And that’s where I remained for a while.
Finally, something, though that part escapes me, got me to think about what he said. In the end, I realized, he was right. And I heard related comments from my peers about others – distinguishing between ‘funny / entertaining’ and ‘great leader’. In some cases this was based on a first impression that changed over time. But of course, sometimes you get just that one.
I realized I didn’t have to be the funny person – where humor overshadowed what I really knew – to be heard. At first I thought his feedback meant I had to change who I was but I came to realize that what he was suggesting was not to change who I am but rather to take a more situational approach to using my sense of humor. It was a tough but really important learning. And while I didn’t appreciate the feedback at the time, I am incredibly appreciative of it now.
So while there are useful lessons in the book, it strikes me that like all useful tools (and here’s another), the danger comes with overuse. Early in my career I never really considered the option of rejecting feedback. With the benefit of more of it I’ve learned to pay closer attention to the source and motivation. It’s easy to react to feedback by focusing first and foremost on finding the flaw in the argument. But with the benefit of lots of hindsight – doing so is often a missed opportunity. In other words, use the gift receipt only after trying the gift on for size first.
The familiar radio voice riffed through a range of news stories on my short ride home from the gym one morning a couple of weeks ago (in retrospect, it was blissfully free of anything related to the FBI). I half listened as I usually do, still a bit out of breath and planning for my to do’s once I got home in order to get out the door on time. But as I pulled to a stop, I stared at the radio and shook my head. The story was about the outcome of the Turkish referendum on whether to increase Presidential powers – a vote which had narrowly won. However, election observers, whose role it is to opine on the fairness of such elections were questioning the fairness of the vote (for what certainly appears to be for good reason). And to these detractors, President Erdogan, a primary force behind the referendum, advised them, ‘Know your place.’
I thought about these 3 words. They struck me initially because of what they say about the state of Turkey’s democracy. But equally because in my day to day, it’s unusual for me to hear people say this to others but it’s all too common for many of us, as we climb the career ladder and shoot for bigger, broader and more interesting opportunities, to say this to ourselves.
“I haven’t done that part of the job before.” “I did that years ago and on a much smaller scale.” “I haven’t worked on that platform.” “My experience is in the non-profit / government / for profit sector and doesn’t really apply.” These are the explanations we often share with each other for why it isn’t ‘our place’ to put ourselves in the mix for the next opportunity. Our internal voices – the things we say to ourselves to justify staying put – are often many degrees more critical. And even more convincing.
I was reminded of a conversation with a friend who had been mentoring a woman with decades of branding experience with a well known Fortune 500 company. It was about the only company she’d worked for and she had gradually worked her way up into middle management but was feeling a bit stuck, so a mutual colleague introduced her to my friend for advice. After having her experience repositioned for her and hearing about the types of companies and roles that my friend suggested would benefit from the depth of her experience, this woman demurred. ‘Oh no, there’s no way I could go for THAT level role.’ I saw this woman’s profile. She was every bit qualified to take on THAT level role and more. My friend persisted – and gradually this woman saw a different take on her talents. This is yet one of countless examples of women I know – including the one in the mirror at times – who have pulled ourselves out of contention for roles that may – and should – stretch us but we feel ‘not quite qualified’ for.
So what to do when these ‘inner gremlins’ strike? Get another perspective – from a mentor / colleague / trusted friend – to differentiate reality from your inner doubting voice. CSweetener, supporting women aspiring to the C-suite, is a fantastic resource. (Disclosure – I’m a proud CSweetener mentor). Recognize when you ‘know your place’ all too well. When that happens, you’re likely ready to take on the next challenge ahead of you.