So You Want to be a Leader?

Act like leaderAs a 22 year old starting my first professional job as a petroleum engineer, I was surprised that while my boss was in his 50s, his manager was only 26 years old. Talking to other engineers in my department, I discovered that the young hotshot manager barely made the grades to graduate from high school, and had only so-so grades while in college. How did this rather average guy rise so quickly in the organization?

Now 35 years into my career, I look back on that college genius buddy who helped me survive many college assignments, mid-terms, and finals. He could read a chapter just once and fully understand all of the technical nuances. Where is he at his career today? He never made it into a management position. In fact, he never made it out of the lower engineering technical ranks.  What does it really take to do well in the business world?

Do smart people make great leaders?
Good grades will open the door of opportunity for a better job, so emphasizing good grades will help college-bound students. Employees also feel the pressure to be an expert as they compete for promotion opportunities and bigger paychecks. But be warned: too much of a focus on being smart comes at the expense of other rather important factors that drive career success.

Think about Leonard and Sheldon, the socially awkward physicists from CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory” comedy show.  Yes, they are both funny and endearing, but is that what you want for your own kid’s career? There’s nothing wrong with being smart, but focusing on learning to the extent that social skills are stunted is a very costly mistake. You don’t want to raise the party animal, but you do want a child who knows how to engage and motivate the people around them. Certainly that’s what the business world wants, so let’s take a look at that aspect.

What makes someone a leader?
Why do some people rise in the organization despite their technical brilliance? And why are some people organizationally at the top, but not a true leader? Advice from top leadership experts reveals several common attributes that can make a difference in your career:

Kouzes / Posner3 Stephen
Character Teamwork Find your voice (values) Be proactive Visionary
Commitment Manage conflict Model desired behaviors Begin with the end in mind Teamwork (buy-in)
Competence Shared accountability Visionary Put first things first Coach / mentor
Discernment Visionary Engage others Think win-win Communication
Focus Organizational behaviors Search for opportunities Understand others first Empathy
Initiative Communication Take intelligent risks Synergize -teamwork Integrity / Values
Passion Reward & recognize Encourage collaboration Sharpen the saw (re-energize) Empowerment
Positive Attitude
Problem Solving Trustworthiness Strengthen others Find your voice and inspire others
Responsibility Commitment Recognize contributions Build relationship trust
Self-Discipline Focus Celebrate the values, victories

1 The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow
2 The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive
3 The Leadership Challenge
4 The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, and The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything
5 The Heart of a Leader

The secret to leadership.
A thoughtful study of the above table reveals that leadership attributes are more about empathy and less about ego. Reading books about leadership will improve your understanding of what it looks like, but knowing what to do and actually doing it are two very different things.  Here’s the secret to becoming a leader: start acting like one. That’s the hard part holding most people back.

If you’re in high school or college, get involved in projects, volunteer work, and other worthy activities where you interact with other people. If you are an employee, take every opportunity to serve on a team and hone your leadership skills while improving your behavior and character. When the opportunity for informal or volunteer leadership roles appear, raise your hand high and step up. Don’t fear failure, because that’s a great way to discover what doesn’t work, and what attributes you need to work on harder.

The surprising benefit of leadership
If you follow the advice from the right people, then you will receive a huge bonus that many people overlook. Take another look at the list of leadership attributes, but think about your personal relationships (spouse, friends, and family). Imagine the positive impact you can make with those who you love.  Remember that true leadership isn’t about “being in charge of others”, but “inspiring others into taking action they otherwise wouldn’t take”.

Can Facebook Kill Your Career?

The internetOne picture is worth a thousand opinions. How do you walk that thin line between being yourself and being a professional? Sure, Facebook and Twitter ought to be reserved for personal fun, opinions, and reflections. But in today’s world, you have to manage several different versions of “self”, assuming that your career journey is in transition (or could be).

Perception is powerful (read What Mask Are You Wearing). That doesn’t mean that perception is accurate, but perception is indeed very powerful.  What your boss thinks of you is their ‘reality’ and that can make a big difference in who gets a raise or promotion. During your job interview, what the suit behind the desk thinks about you can stall your career before you even get started.  “The Company” can be your boss, your peers, your suppliers, or your customers. Regardless, their perception will be formed on the available data, and Facebook is fair game. Consider how these six principles can impact your career:

1.    “The company” believes you spend too much time on Facebook.

Do you post during the workday? If so, then your friends who believe that Facebook belongs at home will make their judgment. Even if you only use Facebook before or after work, if you make several comments or posts, people will begin to think that you are on Facebook ‘all the time’.

The Solution?  Ignore Facebook during the workday, and limit your comments on co-workers posts. If you think that’s ‘not fair’, then go ahead and comment, but know that unfair judgments are brewing…and cutting off your nose to spite your face is just plain dumb.

2.    “The company” doesn’t agree with your position on fill-in-the-blank issue.

People are interesting, and that’s a good thing, but you never really know what hot button you might hit when you post your opinion about topics (e.g. abortion, ObamaCare, gay marriage, or military action).

The solution? Keep your opinion about those touchy subjects off of social media, and try to refrain from getting into a debate with someone who posts something you don’t necessarily agree with.  There is a much better time and place to have those conversations. Perhaps it’s not fair, but think about the best outcome for everyone, as that says something about your character too.

3.    “The company” sees you at your worst.

“Business causal” means wearing nice clothes designed to make you appear trim, wearing the right amount of make-up to accentuate the positives and minimize the negatives, and sporting a hair style that’s under control.  Saturday’s picture of you working in your flower bed, or heading to the beach in your comfy clothes, or making pancakes just after rolling out of bed do not reflect you at your best. While “the company” looks just as unkempt in their off time as you do, they aren’t obligated to admit to that fact. Not fair, for sure, but it’s the reality of living in a fallen world.

The solution? Assume that pictures of you will be seen by everyone, and then decide if the thrill of several “likes” is worth the risk.

4.    “The company” sees your friends at their worst.

Your BFF will probably respect your Facebook page, but your BAF (barely-a-friend) will one day post some rude politically incorrect statement and tag you in it.  When that happens, your career may well be in the hands of an idiot that you can’t control. Even if you can delete the offensive post from your profile,  “the company” will see it in the nanoseconds that it existed. Lucky you.

The solution? Everyone gets one opportunity to mess with your profile, and then you remove them as a friend, because they really aren’t one (even if it’s your mama).

 5.    “The company” judges your integrity, attitude, and competence.

If you haven’t gotten the message by now, then hear this: “The company” doesn’t mean to do you harm, but the company is made up of a lot of unique people with lots of personal issues and core values that you can easily offend.  Even if they misunderstand your post, when your boss or co-worker is involved, then it really doesn’t matter. What does matters is their perception of you.

The solution?  Check out our suggestions below.

 6.    “The company” is you.

If you’re using Facebook, then you too are likely to judge others based upon their Facebook self-branding. When your friend’s political views are at odds against your views, does that knowledge affect your relationship with them? If their lifestyle choices are different from yours, does that build a relational gap? Even worse, does that knowledge make you trust them less, consider them less capable, less moral, or drive you to avoid working with them?

The way we behave on social media is very similar to the way many people behave when they are driving their car.  People find comfort in anonymity, which makes them feel justified in taking a far stronger stance on a topic than they would ever do face to face.  Don’t be fooled.  Instead, take a few simple steps to protect your career from damage caused by social media.

Remember two basic rules about the Internet:

1.      Everything on the Internet is public

2.      The Internet has near infinite memory

Then consider the following simple changes before you post:

1.      Respect yourself and others

2.      Assume that every friend will see your post

3.      Be honest and transparent, but don’t be naïve

4.      Don’t complain about your job, your boss, or your industry

5.      Remember that Facebook really isn’t the place to voice strong opinions

Humans are limited in our ability to fully understand how others think and feel, and what drives their thoughts and actions. Hopefully we continue throughout our lifetime trying to be more self-aware, but fully understanding the complexities driving the behavior of others is a challenge. So we rely upon perceptions, and if you are wise, you learn how to be transparent in a way that more accurately reflects the true you.

Have a story about how social media caused you grief, or how you recovered from it? Share with us so that others can learn!

What Mask Are You Wearing?

lose your maskA lot of famous characters wear masks: Batman, Catwoman, Superman, Supergirl, Zorro, and Darth Vadar, to name a few. Halloween is the popular time of year that many people put on a mask and pretend to be somebody else, but the reality is that most people wear several masks every other day of the year too. Those are the masks that intrigue me the most because they can dramatically impact your future success at home, in school, or at work. Let’s talk more about these everyday masks, more appropriately known as a Façade.

Have you ever heard of Joseph Luft or Harry Ingham? There’s a slightly better chance that you’ve heard about their main contribution to society, especially if you are a psychologist or organizational consultant. Using parts of their first names, Joe and Harry developed the Johari Window, an easy-to-understand yet powerful model that can help you in many ways, by improving your self-awareness and identifying those façades that do more harm than good.

How the Johari Window helps

Perhaps the single most important thing you can do for yourself is this: value your potential, improve your self-awareness, and make changes to improve.  The second most important thing you can do is for those you love, by valuing their potential, improving your perception of them, and supporting them when they are ready to change. Simply  understanding how the Johari Window works can lead you to taking daily action that makes your world a better place!

How the Johari Window works

The first step is to picture the Johari Window as a map of your mind, which contains a lot of information about your behavior, attitude, thoughts, feelings, knowledge, skills, perceptions, presuppositions, etc. Those “mind attributes” (see footnote) will fall into one of four quadrants in the Johari Window.  You really are only aware of two quadrants: the “Arena” and the “Façade”.  Your friends and family are only aware of two quadrants: the “Arena” and the “Blind Spot”. There’s also a tricky quadrant in your mind that is unknown to everyone, called the “Unknown”.

Johari Window

The “Arena”: This is the stuff that both you and your friends will agree is ‘the real you’. The bigger this arena, the more you can enjoy being the real you, leveraging everything God gave you to embrace life and loved ones.  Here’s a major point to remember: the goal of healthy individuals seeking healthy relationships is to make this window pane as big as possible.

The “Façade”: This is your “mask”, the stuff that you know well, but for whatever reason, don’t want others know about. Sometimes a façade is a good thing, for example, when what you’re hiding is a bad behavior or attitude that you’re actively working to improve or eliminate. Sometimes a façade is not a good thing, for example, when you intentionally pretend to be something that isn’t true. And sometimes a façade is an unintentional way to avoid dealing with behavior or attitudes that you should be addressing.

The “Blind Spot”: This is the stuff you really don’t know about yourself, but that others can see.  When you receive constructive criticism, often times what you’re hearing is the observation of others about your blind spot.  If you want to be a stronger, healthier person, then you’ll be thankful for input that helps you to shrink this blind spot.

The “Unknown”: Here’s the stuff that no one really knows. Sometimes this area contains emotions, behaviors, and attitudes that have never had to come to the surface.  The younger you are, the bigger this blind spot. As you mature, build relationships, and experience life, this blind spot should begin to shrink down to a manageable size.

The Reinforcing Power…

By being more transparent about yourself, you have the ability to reduce your façade, and therefore become a healthier person with healthier relationships (e.g. spouses, family, friends, and coworkers).  When you are not constantly wearing those pesky masks, the results can be quite wonderful:  the perception other people have of you will improve, their interaction with you will improve, their feedback will be more accurate, you will trust them more, and your self-awareness will grow.  Save your masks for Halloween.  After all, that’s what masks are intended for!

Footnote – The Johari Window uses the following 56 adjectives to manage feedback and tool validity:
  • able
  • accepting
  • adaptable
  • bold
  • brave
  • calm
  • caring
  • cheerful
  • clever
  • complex
  • confident
  • dependable
  • dignified
  • energetic
  • friendly
  • giving
  • happy
  • helpful
  • idealistic
  • independent
  • ingenious
  • intelligent
  • introverted
  • kind
  • knowledgeable
  • logical
  • loving
  • modest
  • nervous
  • observant
  • organized
  • patient
  • powerful
  • proud
  • quiet
  • reflective
  • relaxed
  • religious
  • responsive
  • searching
  • self-conscious
  • sensible
  • sentimental
  • shy
  • silly
  • smart
  • spontaneous
  • sympathetic
  • tense
  • trustworthy
  • warm
  • wise
  • witty

Time To Reinvent Yourself?


Have you ever thought:

“I don’t like the person I have become”?

Does your reputation pressure you to respond in ways you now want to change? Are you losing control of some aspect of your life? Do you simply want to be a better person?  If you see the need to reinvent yourself, then that’s good news as awareness is the first step in making a change! Here’s our advice to give you help (and hope) with the journey to a better you!

When to reinvent

The best time to reinvent is when you are truly motivated to change. You’ll be even more successful if you can take advantage of a change in your surroundings, as this will minimize the pressure you feel to maintain the ‘status quo’. New surroundings will allow you to rebuild your reputation as you gain support from the higher expectations of new friends.  Good opportunities for reinvention include: moving to a new neighborhood, attending a new school or college, beginning a new job, changing your college major, or starting out with a new circle of friends.

How to Reinvent

The basic steps are to: 1) identify the need for change, 2) create a plan, and 3) put your plan into action. While we can’t address all possible changes that people make, we can offer advice on how to build a healthier emotional attitude and a framework for reinvention.

#1 Be intentional.  Stephen Covey, a business leadership guru, said “Begin with the end in mind”.  If you are going to reinvent yourself, create a personal positive vision of your future, figure out what changes you need to make, then take action. Don’t put off to tomorrow what needs to be done today and don’t wait for fate or someone else to make things happen.  Actions speak louder than words, and this is about improving your life.

#2 Be positive. Optimists see a half filled cup as half full, while pessimists see it as half empty. The difference is what they choose to focus on. Make a conscious choice to focus on what is positive, and use positive self-talk (the voice in your head that encourages or critiques you all the time). Professional athletes train their brain to think positively. For example, if they make a great shot, they think “That’s just like me” and if they make a poor shot, they think “Hey, that’s not like me”. Start listening to whether your self-talk is positive or negative, and if it is negative, retrain your brain by saying “hey, that’s not like me”.

#3 Be Persistent – There’s an amazing amount of power in making a steady flow of good little choices. Most likely the journey that got you to a place where you now want to leave was a series of little choices that weren’t in your best interests. Likewise, the journey back to a much better you will take some time as you persistently give attention to those new (and better) little choices. Whether you’re reinventing towards a healthier lifestyle, better study habits, more affectionate relationships, or better lifestyle choices, those little trivial choices are a powerful weapon against stress, depression, apathy, anger, illness and other struggles in our life.

#4 Be Supported – If you think peer pressure goes away after high school, you couldn’t be more wrong. “Keeping up with the Jones’” has pressured people into buying bigger cars, boats, and houses.  Perhaps the best way to reinvent yourself and stay that way is to surround yourself with high quality friends who constantly support you, and breaking away from those who don’t help you to be your best.

#5 Be Protective  Managing your reputation is critical if you really want to reinvent yourself. You don’t need to hire a PR agency, just use common sense. For example, Facebook allows your reputation to be built by your friends in a rather public environment. Show some self-discipline about what you post, what you say, and what you imply. Your reputation builds over a long period of time, so be patient while you make progress.

If “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”…

…then “Hope is the Father of Re-Invention”. Hope that life can be better. Hope that you can be stronger. Hope that the effort is worth the reward. And whether you make great progress or struggle with a few false starts or wrong turns, do your very best to enjoy the journey!