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Monday, February 28, 2005


The Reflective Commute Part Two: Confidence with Clarity

I knew there was a part two to this, it just took a couple of days to get it out...

I found the Fast Talk of the March 2005 issue of Fast Company to be particularly fascinating. Since this is Oscar month, they profiled folks who work in the business of moviemaking. While everyone appreciates the creativity of the actors, set designers, costume designers, etc., the folks who really work behind the scenes demonstrate their own sense of artistry. There's something very interesting to me about working within the film industry; I can relate with the individuals they profiled and their persistence to make things happen. To me, they offer reminders of how necessary it is to have a strong sense of faith and commitment to your vision, confidence in your abilities and intuition, and a very thick skin for rejection.

I liked what Meredith Finn, the Director of Acquisitions and Production for Fine Line Features/ New Line Cinema said:
In my work, it's so important to remain confident in my own ability. I didn't go to film school, I didn't know I was going to work in film, but I've always been very opinionated and passionate. It's other people's role to question my opinion; they wouldn't be doing their job if they didn't doubt me on some level.
It's easy to get frustrated and angry when others doubt our opinion and question our abilities (perhaps even more when we're in the middle of a career transition). But, that can only help us make stronger cases for ourselves. It can set us on fire to improve not only what we do, but be more clear about who we are.

The Clear Leader is the title of the article by Marcus Buckingham who has an intriguing book coming out called The One Thing You Need to Know...About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success (why do business books have such long titles?) Based on the content of the article, I gather that the argument he makes is that great leaders know a thing or two about clarity. One idea that really struck me was this:
Somehow, many leaders think their job is to analyze the world's reality and complexity and reflect it back to their people. Not true. As a leader, your job is to make people more confident about the future you're dragging them into. To that end, you need to tell them why they're going to win.
It reminded me of something I've been thinking about when it comes to interviewing. A good interview is really a conversation rather than an interrogation (though I have been in ones where the hiring manager never realized the difference). Just as the hiring manager is trying to determine whether we are a fit for their organization, it's important for us transitioners to consider what we represent to them. We are the future and we bring something new to their culture. We need to help them feel confident about the future and clearly define why together we can succeed.

Categories: c.Careers; c.Leadership; c.Management; c.Organizations

Saturday, February 26, 2005


The Reflective Commute Part One: Disruptive Questions

It's been way too long since my last entry. Reason is I've landed a short-term gig with the Smithsonian Institution in downtown Washington, DC. The work is nothing too glamorous, but I get to contribute to a good organization and use some of the expertise I've built up over the years.

Getting to work means a fairly lengthy commute (pretty common for us DC Metro residents) and I tend to take public transportation so I have a chance to read. If I'm not reading one of the books you see in the left column, I'll pull out a magazine. Right now, its the March 2005 issue of Fast Company. I know its a good issue by how many pages I have dog-eared and this one's been well marked up.

Here's the March issue link:
It's too soon for this issue to be free and open to the public, but log-in if you're a subscriber.

Here's one of the highlights for me:
Marshall Goldsmith's article called Do You Love What You Do? Besides the fact that the article talks about loving your work (not much of a surprise that I'd be interested in something like that), I was drawn to something else. He begins the article with a story about Warren Bennis when he was President at the University of Cincinnati. Goldsmith writes that Bennis was addressing a university audience when a friend asked him, in front of everyone, "Do you love what you do?" After a long, uncomfortable pause Bennis answered that he didn't know.

What Bennis's friend did was ask him a disruptive question because it prodded Bennis to deeply question his assumed career path. Goldsmith writes:
That revelation plunged Bennis into deep reflection. It dramatically altered his path through life. He had always thought that he wanted to be the president of a university. It had not dawned on him that after he got there he might not actually enjoy the life of a university president.
This is one of the most effective tools in the coach's toolbox. As a career coach, my goal is to ask one disruptive question each session. Sometimes I'm successful and sometimes I'm not. I'm also conscious of the inherent risk when asking clients a disruptive question because it's ALWAYS uncomfortable to have assumptions challenged. But, that's the type of question that a client ultimately comes to coaching to be asked. It's highly difficult to ask yourself a good disruptive question; it lingers in your blind spot - close by, but outside of your immediate awareness.

So, if your career is not what you want it to be and deep down there's something gnawing at you, it's time to find someone who can ask you some disruptive questions. Whether that coach is me or someone else, you owe it to yourself to love what you do.

Categories: c.Careers; c.Coaching

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


What's Up With The Kids These Days?

Don Blohowiak at Leadership Now has a post today called Coddlers. He writes about how twentysomethings just entering the workplace are not truly ready for its demands. He calls it the generation influenced by the evil twins called Needy and Fragility:
The managers lament goes something like this: These kids don’t want to take responsibility. They don’t want to do anything that’s hard. They want positive stroking for the littlest accomplishment, and literally cry at the slightest hint of criticism.
While I take sharp offense by the tone of the post (guess I'm having lunch with Fragility), I can't help but think that there is some truth to his message. I've had this article form MSNBC bookmarked for a couple of weeks and it seems to support at least part of Don's argument: Prep your child to become an adult. It has an extended excerpt from the book Ready or Not, Here Life Comes by Dr. Mel Levine. He argues:
We are in the midst of an epidemic of work-life unreadiness because an alarming number of emerging adults are unable to find a good fit between their minds and their career directions. Like seabirds mired in an oil spill, these fledgling men and women are stuck, unable to take flight toward a suitable career. Some are crippled before they have a chance to beat their wings; others have tumbled downward in the early stages of their trajectories. Because they are not finding their way, they may feel as if they are going nowhere and have nowhere to go.
So Don's probably right, there is something going on. But rather than instantly assuming the parental (or perhaps more appropriate paternal) role that traditional managers seem to hold fast to, today's managers must first understand and attempt to empathize with what's going on with their younger employees. Consider this from perspective from Mel Levine:
There are dramatic differences between the unwritten rules for growing up and those governing careers. For one thing, a child is encouraged to be well-rounded, while adults are permitted (even required) to commit to specialties. So long as grown-ups are effective within their chosen niches, the world will overlook or even fail to notice their gaping flaws elsewhere...

A sizable hunk of a child's success is measured by her ability to comply, to learn what she is expected to learn, and to do what she's told to do. An adult must be able to chart her own road maps. The odyssey leading into adulthood can be a lonely and harsh voyage, especially if a startup adult is naive and uninformed, if he's never learned to be a mapmaker.
Mel Levine's book is intended more for parents and those who care for our children than it is for managers. As a parent and a coach who works with emerging professionals and leaders, I understand the deeper issues of what's taking place right now. I also see where we need to refocus our work as parents. If our children are not ready for adulthood, that's our failing and no one else's. One of the chief responsibilities we have as parents is preparing our children for what comes after being a kid. We need to look for opportunities in which they can experience the fact that being an adult can be challenging, arduous, lonely as well as fulfilling, exciting, and fun. That way, when they encounter managers who complain about "kids these days," they might be able to smile and say, "Yeah, tell me about it..."

Categories: c.Career; c.Leadership; c.Management; c.Parenting

Monday, February 21, 2005


Our Own Personal Biography

Perhaps its the frustrated historian in me, but the title for this article in the Christian Science Monitor caught my eye. It's titled Presidents' Day Thoughts on Monuments to Decent Lives and written by

It takes a special kind of following to warrant being memorialized on a postage stamp, let alone on coin or currency...Still, each of us, in our own way, carves out a bit of history that should be set down - for our own edification, and for each of our families and a few friends.

He pens some thoughts for his son at the end and I immediately thought of my two daughters. There will be times in their growing lives that they will wonder who their father was: what he saw that amazed him, what he experienced that influenced him, and he did that made a difference. And there's room to include the less than perfect moments that taught hard lessons.

This isn't an exercise that needs to be put off for when we reach a certain age. Consider it an organic document, one that lives to be added on to. Consider how he ends the article:

Appraisals of one's worth or contributions do not require book-length memoirs. Monuments to a decent life do not require marble or granite. And nothing you set down has to be written in stone.

Categories: c.Living; c.Parenting

Sunday, February 20, 2005


New Features Added

I'm kind of a geeky tinkerer when it comes to websites and blogs. I've been wanting to implement a couple of new features for a while and this weekend, I finally got them in place.

The first is a categories and search feature. It's not as spiffy as the one that comes along with TypePad, but it's not bad. Takes a little more effort on my part, but it does what I want for it to do. So if you're looking for anything in particular here, you have two choices.
  1. Select a category from the pull-down menu. I've been as thorough as possible in tagging all archived posts.
  2. Click the Advanced Search button. This will take you to my customized PicoSearch page where you can search by any word or phrase you want.
The second feature is the one I'm most excited about. I've found a service that allows me to implement ratings on each of my posts. Why would I want this? I don't know for sure. My feeling is that there are regular readers out there who don't post comments (and that's okay, I do the same at some other blogs; we're called lurkers). But at the very least, I'd love to get feedback on my writings. While I write from my heart, it's gratifying and educational to know if what I write has impact on my readers.

A note about the rating service, IRate: the guy who is developing it is just getting to really putting some muscle into it for us bloggers. If you're interested in setting up a rating system on your blog, visit: Just please be patient as we work out some of the kinks.

**Mad Scientist Update**
(02/21/05) I've decided to take the ratings off the main page; it was severely impacting the load time for the blog. But each entry still offers the ability to rate it. At the bottom of each entry on the main page is a link that takes you directly to the rating area of the permalink.


Saturday, February 19, 2005


Something New...Even In Repetition

I absolutely adore Kathy Sierra and her thinking. I have to admit sometimes I'm afraid to visit her blog Creating Passionate Users because I know I'm going to have to think deeply and maybe, just maybe have to rethink some assumptions.

So, on this beautiful, but cold Virginia Saturday morning, I visit and find another thought-provoking post. I couldn't but leave this comment:

Once upon a time I was a non-profit manager in charge of membership services. One of the reasons I left was because of the monotonous repetition of the work. Not like doing the same thing day after day after day, but there's a sort of schedule that you maintain. Each month you know what needs to be done. What I craved was more variety.

Now as I reflect back on that work and reading your post, something interesting has entered my thoughts. I think love and passion are essential, but so is curiosity. I wonder if the Finns get curious each time they perform "Don't Dream It's Over" and ask whether they can add something new to it. Not like use a new lyric or sing a different note, but something deeper. Can I explore a new place in my soul when I sing this beautiful song?

And so it has me thinking about how I would moan about the fact that I had to keep doing the same work over and over again (I'll always seek variety, though). But if I ever find myself in similar situations or jobs, perhaps I can ask that question. Can I explore a new place in my soul, discover a new form of creativity, develop a new method for connecting with my customer/member when I do this task?

Thanks for bringing me back to a deeper place, Kathy.

Categories: c.Careers; c.Creativity

Thursday, February 17, 2005


Cool People In Your Own Backyard

It's really cool to run into exciting, interesting people in your own neighborhood. The other day, I noticed a new shop opened in the same shopping center as my Starbucks-home. The name of the store is the Curiosity Zone and with a name like that, who wouldn't get curious and want to look around inside.

Turns out that this shop is devoted to curious kids and us adults who still have the curious kid inside. It's described as "a state-of-the-art science and tech enrichment center for kids ages 1-12. It is a place where kids can go to think, invent, create, explore and learn, learn, learn." Neat, huh? The shop sells neat science-fair kind of stuff, but even better, it has a kid-sized classroom/laboratory where they host hands-on group lessons and birthday parties.

As a dad of two daughters (as well as a bit of an amateur science geek), I was hooked so I found the owner and talked with her for a bit. Mary Porter's story shows just how powerful a dream can be when it comes to living a life worth living (check out her bio - what's cute is the "then" and "now" pictures). She's a former lawyer who had talent and brilliance in that profession, but yearned for something else. From her bio:
But what does growing up to be a corporate lawyer have to do with being a kid scientist/ engineer/inventor? Well, not a whole lot. And that’s kind of my point. It wasn’t until life unexpectedly took me to Seattle and to a startup Internet company that went crazy and went public in a blast of innovation that I finally started to get it. It was like a million of those fireflies glowing at full wattage. I was supposed to be creating and inventing stuff.
And so here I am. It took me a while, but I finally got here. I devoted the last couple of years to studying, playing, brainstorming and creating with some pretty amazing kids, parents and teachers. The result is the Curiosity Zone -- a place I wish I’d had as a kid, and a place all of the wonderful kids in my life today are proud to have helped invent. It's a place where kids can go to let their curiosity fly; where they can think, invent, create, explore and learn, learn, learn!
I have to admit her personality is engaging, her vision is exciting, and her passion is contagious. Listening to her speak with such enthusiasm for growing her business and inspiring children's curiosity, I'm already thinking about how I can help her. And she wouldn't have to pay me a dime. I would do it because I believe in what she's trying to build.

Folks, if you live in the Washington, DC area, come out to Ashburn, VA and visit Mary's store. Bring your kids and your curiosity. And even if you can't visit, you can still build a version of the Curiosity Zone in your life and make a place where you can "think, invent, create, explore and learn, learn, learn!"

Categories: c.Careers; c.Creativity; c.Play

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


The Career Change Blues (and Other Colors): Embracing Our Imperfections

I'm not sure how I happened to discover Charlie Badenhop and, but it's one of those wonderful surprises that life presents you. I subscribe to his e-newsletter, Pure Heart, Simple Mind, and eagerly look forward to each issue. If you want to be treated to some truly soulful writing that gets to the heart of life, do yourself a big favor and subscribe. Trust me, you won't regret it. Okay, I'm almost finished gushing.

The most recent issue's main article is titled Perfect Imperfections and it hits so soundly on a hangup that afflicts so many of us: the desire for perfection. Yet, rather than doing something perfectly (delivering the perfect presentation, acing the interview, hitting a Curt Schilling curveball), Charlie writes about the desire to be perfect. There's a huge difference and this latter desire is so insidious to our own wellbeing and sense of self-worth. It reminds me of a previous post I wrote in January called Just To Be Enough.

Charlie tells a story about a recent visit to a pottery shop outside of Tokyo, Japan. Admiring the workmanship, he talks to the shops owner and asks her to tell him about some of the pieces. She starts by describing the process of creating her pottery and that she is never sure how the piece will look when she pulls it out of the kiln.
It is the serendipity she said, that makes the work so magical. "It helps you to stay humble, and you learn to surrender to and accept the unknown," she said.
Then she relates to Charlie the "hoped for imperfections" of her work...glazing with inconsistent thickness and a not quite round bowl. Of all her pieces, it's the ones that are perfect that she values least. They don't adequately describe her uniqueness.

Charlie ends the article with some powerful questions and insights.
Do you try to make it appear like you have no flaws? Or do you relish how such flaws add to your uniqueness? I find in my own life, it is so important to go beyond the oppositional thinking of right or wrong, good or bad, and in the process, accept, and fall in love with, who I really am.
Why am I including this in my series on career change? Because I think perfection can be very seductive when it comes to the job hunting process. Think about your resume and your interview strategy. If you're like me, you worry that everything has to be perfect because you're likely up against so much competition. Everyone tells you that imperfections will get you weeded out. Mind you, not just technical imperfections like a misspelling (though please make sure you're diligent and use spell-check; I've been a hiring manager before and have discarded resumes and cover letters from college graduates that were littered with misspellings), but personal imperfections, as well. Most of the interview guides give advice for glossing over these imperfections when asked to talk about weaknesses. Since when did our uniqueness become a weakness? For instance, I'm incredibly impatient. One option is to tell the interviewer that it's a weakness that I'm working hard to rid myself of. Or I can fully own this quality of mine and love myself for it. My hope is that a potential employer will decide to accept the wholeness of me, appreciate all that I bring, and welcome my perfect imperfections with open arms.

Categories: c.Careers; c.Creativity; c.Living

Monday, February 14, 2005


The Career Change Blues (and Other Colors): Find A Support Network

As I email and chat with some folks who've responded to my first post in the Career Change Blues series, I realize just how important it is to have a support network. Family and friends are a vital part of this group, but I think its equally important to find others who are going through the same job hunting issues. Sometimes its good to have an empathetic rather than sympathetic ear to gripe, cry, cheer, whatever you need. Someone who is experiencing similar emotions and issues or has experienced them recently can understand your excitement, disappointment, sadness in very specific ways. And you can do the same for them.

If you have a support network, great. Check in with your network regularly. Share what you're going through. Feel it and then let it go. This is important because it can be easy and dangerous to wallow around in the more negative emotions that can come with the job change process. As others in your network to keep you accountable. Finally, grow your network. Look for others who need you and your group.

If you don't have a support network, make an effort to find one. The beauty of the internet and new technology means that the rules for cultivating a network have changed. You no longer are tied to your locality for support.

If you're currently searching for a support group, here's what I'm proposing: join me and my growing online network. I'm not sure what this is going to evolve into, but just communicating with other souls has been extremely helpful for me. And I believe its been just as helpful for those with which I've been communicating.

I've become a big fan of Skype as it's free and combines the best of chat and voice-over-the-internet. It also has the capability of conferencing multiple users together (did this last night and it was great). If you want to talk with Skype, you'll need speakers and a microphone set-up; I bought a fairly inexpensive headset at Best Buy. If you're interested, go to Skype, download the software, then come back here and click the "Skype Me" button on the left column. If you have any questions, just email me.

Whatever you do, don't go through the career change blues alone.

Categories: c.Careers; c.Community

Friday, February 11, 2005


The Career Change Blues (and Other Colors): Trust Your Intuition

I posted my resume on two days ago on the advice from my sister. I wasn't going to go this route, but she's had tremendous success with it. So, I created an account. As my wife constantly tells me, "What do you have to lose?"

Today I received an email from an executive recruiting agency that got filtered straight to my MS Outlook junk mail folder. It had a credible sounding name and the subject line looked legitimate. It referenced my resume on Monster and seemed to be interested in helping me. But as I read the message, I quickly realized it was canned and there was something wrong. A little voice said to hold on and research this agency. Lo and behold, it appeared to be a scam. Once again, my intuition guided me in a safe direction and out of harm's way.

I learned to trust my intuition at a very early stage of my after-college life. I had just graduated with a degree in history and very little idea of what I really wanted to do professionally. So with a bachelors degree in hand, I did what I was hoping I wouldn't have to do - work retail. But I did that as well as work at a coffee shop and bartend at an Elks Lodge (probably the WORST job I've ever had). After a while I simply got tired of making very little money and decided to look through the classifieds of the local paper. Among all the ads, I found a sales job that looked promising. It was for a new environmentally-friendly products company that promised (early red flag) a good salary and training.

I show up for the initial interview and find that the office is filled with about 30 other candidates. The president and his executives gave us a brief presentation and then each had an interview. Honestly, that's about all I can remember, but I do know that the whole thing lasted around 3 hours. Now that we had more information, we were encouraged to return the next day for orientation. I did my best to make sure the executives of the company remembered who I was.

However, something just didn't seem right. As I drove home, a voice nagged at me to check into this company. It was contrasted by another voice which reminded me that I might start finally making some good money for a change. The nagging voice got louder as the day wore on until I decided to boot up the computer and do an internet search. Now I wouldn't say I was a rube, but I clearly didn't recognize a pyramid scheme when I saw one. My heart sank as I read account after account of the shady practices of this company. All I could think was how close I came to getting caught up in it.

That was the day that I started to understand what intuition is and how important it was to listen to it.

Its something to consider if you are looking for a career or if you are already employed. If something doesn't seem right in your gut, listen and listen hard. It might not only save you money, but save your integrity as well.

Categories: c.Careers; c.Spirit

Tapping Your Hard-Wired Creativity

One of the creative habits I'm reinstituting is waking up early each morning as the sun rises and reading in the yellow, cheerful sunroom of my home. I used to do this each workday morning, but somehow I allowed myself to get away from it. Too bad, because now I remember how the act of reading great books on leadership, creativity, or purpose would energize me for the day ahead. Right now, that's more important than ever.

I'm reading Twyla Tharp's book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life, for the second time (my first read was through a copy from the library, but I recently bought it and now get to scribble notes throughout). It's billed as a practical guide, which it truly is. She offers plenty of wonderful exercises to help stir the creative juices. One such exercise that I spent some time reflecting on today is a questionnaire she calls Your Creative Autobiography. Here are some of the questions she asks (there are 33 in all):
Challenging stuff. For a long time, I didn't think I was terribly creative. Growing up, I was complimented on my creativity; I liked to sketch, build, create little scenes as only a child can. It was all driven by an innate curiosity of how the world worked. Then I hit adolescence and I tried to cram all of this creativity stuff in a plain box and deny my own creative spirit. Yet, it was always there smoldering, ready to reignite. Thankfully, I've rediscovered those traits that make me unique. I like this quote from Twyla:
Each of us is hard-wired a certain way. And that hard-wiring insinuates itself into our work. That's not a bad thing. Actually, it's what the world expects from you. We want our artists to take the mundane materials of our lives, run it through their imaginations, and surprise us. (italics added)
Each of us who are passionate about what we do are artists. So what are you hard-wired to do? What kind of creative surprises can you create today?

Categories: c.Books; c.Creativity

Thursday, February 10, 2005


The Career Change Blues (and Other Colors): The Beginning

My intent with this series of posts is to offer another story, a different perspective to job hunting and career transition. I wasn't sure if I should or could do this, but a fellow blogger and friend reminded me that I'm not alone. He's right. I am definitely not the only one out there right now who is working hard and struggling at the job search. And definitely not alone in trying to create a life and career that's focused on passionately living true to my purpose and talents. If you're in the middle of a career change or thinking about one, my hope is that my experiences and insights resonate with you. Please feel free to comment or email me privately.

(Before reading further, I would recommend breezing through my earlier post: Let's Change The Way We Hire Talent, Okay?)

I think the one thing that has surprised me the most is not just the vast range of emotions I've experienced, but the speed in which they change. It's not unlike a rollercoaster with the highs and lows and nausea-inducing loops coming in rapid succession. There are times just this week I have felt energized about going in an exciting new direction, depressed when even temp agencies don't contact me, confused when amazing job leads suddenly dry up, and scared witless whenever the idea of paying the mortgage comes up. Then, there's the feeling of sheepish embarassment that comes with not having a job and anger for anxiously waiting for a call or email to set up an interview that never comes. I'm sure there's plenty more out there.

One thing that I've tried to remember through the job search process is that each of these feelings is valid. They are a part of the entire process as painful as that may be at times. Sometimes they seem managable, sometimes they seem overwhelming. Find someone you trust and love and share what you are going through with them. You're not alone.

With these wildly conflicting emotions comes a question requiring action: How do you manage to keep moving, keep working toward the career that's sparking the whole process in the first place? Here are three things that I am doing right now.

Taking Care of the Basics Tough as this is at times, I'm trying to take care of me. I'm running for the first time in years, trying to eat better, (trying to) meditate. I'm also looking for part-time/temp work, which has a couple of purposes: one, it would get me out of the house and occupy my mind with other things; two, it would bring in some income.

Informational Interviews I'm finding folks who are doing the kind of work that I want to do or work in organizations that are attractive to me. So far, I've met some amazing and interesting people. I don't consider it networking, I do think of it as relationship-building. I'm joining professional organizations and volunteering on committees. It's effective, but requires patience (something that my wife would agree is not one of my stronger attributes).

Envisioning that 'Perfect' Job At some point, someone's going to ask what kind of job you're looking for. You can give them a vanilla answer or you can give them you idea of the 'perfect' job. This is a time to dream and to inspire yourself. When times seem bleak, its gratifying to have this mental picture available. This is how I defined my 'perfect' job for a friend recently:
It would be a manager of leadership development programs for a mid- to large-sized organization.

Ideally, I would be able to do one-on-one coaching with managers and executives, helping them to develop working environments that reward creativity and their employee's innate talents. I would also be able to conduct faciliations and trainings to small to medium sized groups.

I also have to be surrounded by highly creative, energetic, soulful people; individuals who love to learn and help others learn. The organizational environment should be one that encourages risk as well as reflection.

And while we're talking 'perfect,' I want to be fired-up each Monday morning when I go to work. I want to be proud to tell people of the work that I do and the organization in which I work. I want to know that what I do has meaning and purpose and that I am contributing to the wellbeing of those professionals around me.

I think that covers the main stuff. And you know, I do believe its out there and someone is searching for me, too. Its just having the faith that it will come. And soon. :)
I guarantee there will be more to come. If you're out there and experiencing the career change rollercoaster, my hope is that you'll arrive back at the finish both soon and safe. But most of all, I hope that place you arrive is where you are most fulfilled, most passionate, most able to use all that makes you unique.

Categories: c.Careers

Monday, February 07, 2005


Leadership Is Truly Personal

Dan at Oestreich Associates has a brilliant post today - On Finding A Mirror (actually, most of his posts are pretty brilliant). He writes:
I am sometimes faced with audiences that seem to me like they want such a hard, definitive, literal answers: here is what leadership is; here are the five (or six or seven) qualities that define it; here is the way you evaluate yourself to make sure you are effective in each of these pre-defined areas -- as if reality could be pinned down so neatly and easily.
Hence, all the books out there on leadership. But, Dan reminds us that we really do know how to be the leader we most want to be. Midway, he offers an exercise that gets to the heart of our own personal conception of leadership, our gifts and our shadows. Why do this exercise? Dan explains:
Well, after working with it with hundreds of people I would say the main benefit is to get completely away from intellectualizing the answer to the question, "What does it mean to be a good leader?" It gets us away from believing someone actually knows the full story, knows our full story. That kind of believing can lead to such abstraction -- as if there were some final answer and if we talk enough it will materialize. I'm more interested in the part of us that already seems to have some answers to that question and from a distinctly personal vantage point.
I'm a book junkie and a large part of my library is devoted to leadership (considering it's part of what I do with my coaching practice, that only makes sense). I love getting the thoughts and experiences of other leaders; sometimes get seduced into looking for that little nugget of gold that's going to transform my own understanding of and abilities in leadership. I think Dan just reminds us that we have most of what we need inside already. We just need to trust ourselves more.

Categories: c.Leadership

Saturday, February 05, 2005


Love and Work are Like Peanut Butter and Jelly

Or its kind of like the old Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercials - chocolate and peanut butter are the two great tastes that taste great together.

Jodee Bock, a kindred spirit who writes a blog called You Already Know This Stuff, asks some great questions. Her most recent entry is called: LOVE and WORK in the same sentence? She asks, "So, is it possible to utter the words "LOVE" and "WORK" in the same sentence? Can those two concepts co-exist?" She offers Southwest Airlines and Wegmans grocery chain as prime examples; that bringing together the two concepts can be both good for business and the people who work the business. Seems pretty obvious yet these organizations tend to be the exception rather than the rule.

I like her sports analogy: too many companies play not to lose rather than play to win. What's the difference?

Organizations employing the former strategy regard mistakes as cardinal sins and a source of punishment instead of learning; be tight with their information to employees, customers, and stockholders; consider their employees at best cogs in the machine and at worst untrustworthy and in need of arbitrary rules; and otherwise view the world as a nasty, brutish place where everyone's out to get you. You can sense this attitude in the culture and see it at work in its ability to be innovative. Quick, spot the playfulness and creativity in the office. None there? Probably playing not to lose.

On the other side of the fence is the organization that's playing to win. It sets its own tempo (or vision) and doesn't worry about the competition's game; it knows its own strengths as well as its weaknesses; it sees its people and customers as absolutely integral to its success; it cultivates the abilities and talents of its people and lets them loose to do their thing while trusting that they will contribute to the overarching business goals.

Let's be honest, which one would you rather work for?

Categories: c.Careers; c.Organizations

Can't Sing or Bake? Do It Anyway and Love It

One of the really cool fringe benefits of being a dad is getting to read great stories to my girls. One book that Leah (my oldest) and I share as a favorite is The Chicken Sisters by Laura Numeroff. It's about three sisters - one who loves to bake, one who loves to knit, and one who loves to sing. They're not very good at what they love to do, but they keep doing it anyway. However, their neighbors (who are rabbits and squirrels) don't care for the constant smoke billowing from the kitchen or the off-key singing and are determined to put a stop to it. That is until an old wolf moves in next door and scares everyone to death - except the chicken sisters. They love visitors and invite him in for cookies and a singing performance that give the poor wolf a horrible tummy and headache. The neighbors come to finally say that they've had enough of the sisters when they see the wolf, semi-conscious and trying to escape the sisters's house. The wolf (who turns out to be quite harmless) finally agrees to leave the neighborhood and move in with his mother in Atlantic City.

Each time we read this book, we talk about enjoying the things we love to do, even if we're not very good at them. For instance, I'm not a very good softball player (though there was a time I was a decent athlete). I usually hit the ball consistently to the shortstop and frequently overrun the ball when playing the outfield. But I really enjoy playing and try not to let my more competitive nature kick in.

We also talked about how there were always going to be "neighbors" who get angry or annoyed with us for not being good at something. These could be any number of people in our lives who think we should either give up or desperately try to improve. But they will always miss the point: it's not whether you're good at something, it's about enjoying it.

The end of the book shows the neighbors and chicken sisters having a party together. The sisters serve burnt cookies, offer itchy wool party hats, and sing. And their neighbors appreciate it all.

Categories: c.Books; c.Creativity; c.Parenting; c.Play

Thursday, February 03, 2005


Let's Change The Way We Hire Talent, Okay?

There must be something in the air today because I'm truly juiced, revived from a few weeks of fear-induced mental/emotional paralysis. Why? What's been going on, you might ask...

[full disclosure]In August 2004, I left my stable, but increasingly unfulfilling job with a non-profit in order to check out the solopreneur world. I was passionate about coaching, particularly when it came to helping others find their voice as a leader and their path as a professional. I wanted to know if I could support myself and my family while going for this "dream work." While so much good came from taking this leap of faith, I've also come to understand that this was not the time to go out on my own. Well, at least completely on my own - my solo work can exist as part-time and continue to grow. So, I've thrust myself back into the world of job hunting, the very world I had been coaching others to navigate. Oh, the irony. Perhaps now that I have made this disclosure (which in itself is kind of a risk), I'll blog a bit more on the process. I do have to admit my hunting successes and failures over the past couple of months have made me a better coach.[/full disclosure]

So, I'm working through my morning ritual of reading other's blogs and I come across Seth Godin's collection of entries on the job hunting process: Are you looking for a great job?
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Talk about someone speaking directly to me. As someone trying to make a leap rather than take a sidestep (I want to move from non-profit management to organizational development work), the resume is a sad way to move. Even though I have tried to highlight my transferrable skills, emphasize my unique background, yada yada yada, it usually doesn't fit right into the small box that the hiring powers want. Reminds me... I currently coach a couple of early career professionals who want to do something different and the common lament is the old chicken/egg argument of the workworld: how do you get the experience that is required if no one will bother to let you get that experience in the first place?

I think Seth meanders along only as Seth can, but he does make a couple of interesting points.

Point 1.
The way organizations look for talent is broken. A potential candidate sends in a boring resume that is supposed to attract attention while including drab, lifeless language (read: keywords) that hopefully will make its way to being read by a human being. Once past this stage, you go in for an interview and try to be "coglike in your malleability and desire to fit in." Of course, the only way to get around this process is to actually know someone within the company who can add the necessary humanity to the potential candidate. What it often boils down to is a lot of hard work and even more luck.

Point 2.
We need a way to radically circumvent this old way of hiring. Companies love their job descriptions to the point where they are cast in stone. This happens far more with small- to mid-sized organizations; large corporations can usually find ways to include talented, creative people if they desire. But Seth poses an obvious, yet smart question: "If the single-most-important thing a business can do is hire amazing people, why shouldn't that process be more flexible and be built around the people, not the slots?"

So here's a shameless request: If you or someone you know is looking for a talented, creative individual to add to your talented, creative organization, let me know. I might not exactly fit inside a standard job description, but it's the cool stuff that's lying outside that makes me (and any of us passionate professionals) worth getting to know.

Categories: c.Careers; c.Organizations

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Some Ideas Reconsidered

On a few occasions I've written a few things that I've been prodded to reconsider lately. Call it a part of my ego-reduction therapy.

Previous idea: Organizations need us more than we need organizations.
New idea: The healthy relationship between individual and organization is interconnected.

Somewhere in the past I've written and openly advocated that organizations need us far more than we need them. As a "free agent," "solo-preneur," or whatever I might be, this was perhaps a way for me to distance myself from the organization. It was my declaration that I control my destiny and that I am free of the bindings of the corporate world. I alone was the broker of my own unique talent.

Yet, today I've been forced to confront this idea and consider something different: the relationship between individual and organization is far more interconnected. We actually might be good for each other. The organization can provide certain things to an individual that they would struggle to get on their own. For instance, the opportunity to work with exciting, creative people; accelerated learning through innovative projects; cool fringe benefits like paid sabbaticals, access to corporate resources, etc. And this all works if the organization remembers one thing: it can pay its employees, but it cannot buy them.

Previous idea: The idea of balance in life is an illusion and therefore unrealistic as a metaphor.
New idea: The idea of balance in life is an illusion and it IS realistic as a metaphor.

I'm a big fan of a guy named Charlie Badenhop who has a coaching practice called Seishindo. He has a newsletter and today's issue is called Are You Feeling In Control? (absolutely perfect question for me today) He starts with a bittersweet story about a biker whose motorcycle topples over oddly when he stops at a traffic light. Charlie writes:
I smile at the guy, and playfully ask him if he has had a tough night, and a bit too much to drink. "No, no, nothing at all to drink." he says. "My girlfriend just broke up with me, and I am broken hearted. We divided everything up as equally as we could. I kept the bike and all the rest of what I am carrying. She kept her belongings and the sidecar for the bike, which she always rode around in with me. I guess it's going to take a while to get used to no longer needing to balance her weight.
He later goes on to write:
Life is a balancing act, and as long as we are alive, the need to maintain, lose, and once again regain our balance, goes on constantly. We don't so much maintain our balance as a constant. Much more so we need to lose and regain our balance over and over again.
There is something about that notion of returning to balance. It's unrealistic to believe we can find balance as a constant, but something deeply uplifting to the idea that we can always right ourselves when life and career knock us off kilter.

Previous idea: Work is intensely personal.
New idea: Work is personal AND it's not personal.

Bren at Slacker Manager recently wrote about how work wasn't personal for him. He went on to write:
It's business and it's removed from who I am. I work and I have standards and ethics toward which I strive. Also, because of values congruency, I define my own work. But my work doesn't define me.
For a long time, I held fast to my conviction that work had to be personal. I had seen too many folks languish in dead-end jobs who did not make their work personally fulfilling. And I argued this point with Bren.

Now, I get what he was talking about. I think he puts a nice, healthy "and" into how he approaches his work. If you allow your work to get too personal, it does tend to define who you are. What happens if you lose your job or your boss takes you to task for speaking out against an idea that's bad for your customers?

You can put your passion into your work and you can maintain your core identity and values. Bren, it took a while, but now I see your point.

Categories: c.Careers; c.Living; c.Organizations


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