I recently presented a workshop on intergenerational communication in the workplace; where I talked about various communication styles and how the generations could work better together by understanding their similarities and differences.
In retrospect, one thing I could have included was a discussion of the role of crystallized versus fluid intelligence (as originally proposed by psychologist Raymond Cattell). I didn’t, however, and so here’s as good a place as any to mention it…
If the terms crystallized and fluid intelligence aren’t familiar to you, here’s the idea: the former refers to accumulated knowledge gained from previous learning and experiences. The latter involves abstract reasoning and the ability to problem-solve novel situations. As we age, our crystallized intelligence increases as we experience and learn more things; but our fluid intelligence decreases.
In an environment where different generations are working together we can use this knowledge to our advantage. For example, the older members of the team could provide information about the historical context of a problem (i.e., how it came to be; what has and hasn’t worked in the past) etc.; while the younger members could use this knowledge to brainstorm new and creative solutions (while not having to reinvent the wheel.) In other words, both groups can bring the best of their brain-power to the table; working together to develop creative and progressive solutions based on sound principles and time-honored wisdom.
There is lots of information to be found about generational differences; but not as much about how these differences can be acknowledged, celebrated, and used in a productive way. It’s definitely an area worth paying attention to as people continue to work longer while the younger generations are entering the workforce.
If you’re thinking about how to make good decisions in your life, you might want to explore some strategic planning models.
Truth be told, I don’t know a lot about strategic planning – but the one thing that’s always stuck with me is this: “The cardinal rule is to take the path that allows you to change course if your initial decision proves wrong”.
This is a very powerful statement I think, as it speaks to being proactive and thoughtful about our choices. Many of us (including myself for many years) are too passive about the decisions we make that determine where we end up. Granted, there’s something to be said for “going with the flow”, or trusting the idea that things will work out the way they should. But the problem is that when we take the time to reflect on our lives, we see that things don’t always turn out the way we had hoped they would.
They say that hindsight is 20-20, and unfortunately the choices we could have made are much clearer than the decisions we’re faced with at present. But if you believe that every little choice can alter the events of our lives in some way, you’ll agree that as hard as it is sometimes it would probably pay to be more deliberate with our decisions.
Whenever we’re faced with a set of circumstances that demands a decision between two or more courses of action, the first thing we need to do is get out of our own way. In other words, we need to truthfully examine our own anxieties, assumptions, and self-imposed limitations, and toss them aside. Decisions are easy to make if they’re based on fear: we simply choose the easy way out to avoid any discomfort. But this most often isn’t the best decision in the long run.
The second thing we need to do is examine the realities of the situation: “What’s really possible?” “What’s really the potential impact of this decision over the other?”
Then when we see a situation as clearly as we can, reasonably free from the clouds of subjectivity, we can return to the cardinal rule of strategic planning: “If I make this decision and it doesn’t go so well, how difficult would it be to course-correct and choose a different path?” Of course following this logic doesn’t automatically guarantee success – but if we do need to shift gears, we end up saving a lot of precious time and effort by having thought it through the first time around.
For those of us who work for a living, for ourselves or for someone else, career satisfaction is something we’d most definitely like to achieve. And career satisfaction is certainly an achievable goal – but it’s important that the term “satisfaction” be defined correctly for each one of us.
In other words, if you want career satisfaction, you first need to identify what this really means to you. There is no empirical right or wrong: however you define career satisfaction is up to you. As long as it’s done honestly, is what’s right for you.
For example, do you equate career satisfaction with complete happiness in every way, shape, and form? Or would you be happy to make X amount of dollars despite the actual work you do – i.e., would it be worth the grind in order to be able to live the lifestyle you want to live?
Does career satisfaction mean that you would actually enjoy going to your job every day? Does it mean that you have good relationships at work? Does it mean that you receive a sense of fulfillment and contribution through your work?
Chances are, being happy in your career means a combination of the things listed above; in addition to other factors that only you can identify.
If you expect complete utopia in your career, for example, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. But on the other hand, maybe not: there are people who love every aspect of their career because that’s how they’ve decided to approach their lives and work. They try to always take the good with the bad, and they try to see opportunity in adversity. They always look for the silver lining in discouraging situations; and they’re able to identify and be grateful for the lessons learned.
Others love their career because they’ve taken the time to be clear on what they value and what they need from their work; as well as what they will and will not tolerate. They’ve carved out their work environments in response to this awareness.
So, yes, career satisfaction is an achievable goal. But only you know what you’re capable of creating for yourself in response to your own self-worth, clarity, ability, and desire; and to the reality of the opportunities and obstacles in your environment. It’s up to you to define your happiness, and it’s up to you to go after it!
If you want to be a strong leader in any capacity, it would be wise to start crafting your leadership development plan.
Where do you want to be a better leader? Perhaps it’s at home with your kids. Or maybe you’re looking for a promotion at work. Or maybe you just want to be a stronger role model in your community… Wherever you want to be a leader, you can – as long as you’ve got the passion as well as the ability to reflect, learn, and grow.
Your leadership development plan begins with an assessment of who you are and who you want to be. When targeting areas for this step, try to just pick two or three to start with. Some actions we take will have a more broader-reaching impact, and will accelerate our growth more quickly than others. Choose a couple of areas that you really feel are priorities. You can always add on to the list and increase the complexity of your plan later.
As possible goal areas, consider any and all ideas that come to you through your ongoing self-reflection. And think about where you can begin to practice your leadership skills: what non-threatening situations can you identify to practice on a small scale? – It’s really about flexing the muscles and developing smaller habits that lead to new ways of being.
Also be creative when thinking about the supports you need to help with your leadership growth. Perhaps a manager or mentor can help create leadership opportunities for you. Maybe there’s a training course you can sign up for at work or in your community…
Remember that it’s important to be flexible in your thinking when creating and acting on your leadership development plan. In order to grow, we need to do some things differently than we have in the past!
Here are a few quotes I like to serve as food for thought in this regard:
“He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail.” – Abraham Maslow
“The most damaging phrase in the language is: ‘It’s always been done that way.’” – Rear Admiral Grace Hopper
“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
“I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso
“It takes a habit to replace a habit.” – Napoleon Hill
Here are some questions to get started. Answer them in as much detail as you can, and take as much time as necessary to make them clear and actionable:
What do you see as your major strengths?
What do you see as your areas for growth?
Which skills related to your leadership is it most important for you to develop?
In what ways can you apply your strengths to more areas of your work and life?
How can you strengthen the weaknesses you identified?
What resources do you need to strengthen these skills?
How will you know when you are successful?
All of these questions are equally important, and they’re not easy to answer. They take a great deal of time and reflection, and they require complete honesty and candor. You will also need to revisit them regularly, and ask as many people as you can to answer them for you as well – and be prepared and willing to hear their answers.
Also take the time to revisit the last question until you have a crystal-clear answer: we can’t get to where we’re going until we know exactly where it is we’re headed!
Leadership skills and relationship development are two of the biggest themes I see in my coaching practice. This article is about two of the most common mistakes (and remedies) I see in these areas:
A common mistake I see with new leaders is that they too often try to jump in too quickly without establishing a solid framework for who they want to be as leaders and what they want to accomplish (and why they want to accomplish it). Too often the new leader will try to assert his or her authority too quickly; changing systems and delegating tasks without really thinking it through. This often sets up power-struggles and/or sets the leader’s reputation on shaky grounds.
On the contrary, I’ve noticed that exceptionally good leaders have a high degree of self-awareness. They also take the time to observe – to really understand the past and present workings of their environment, and to understand the explicit and implicit lines of influence and sub-cultures that have evolved over time.
So the first step to being a good leader is exploration. Take the time to engage in some solid self-reflection; and then slow down and observe – asking more questions and giving fewer answers.
A common mistake I see in relationships is when people hold all of their hopes on the other person changing. But blaming the other person (no matter how justly so), and holding out for them to change, just doesn’t help.
So the important first step is to really be clear on what relationships you want to build or improve upon, and why: develop compelling reasons for why you want this to work – and keep these in mind so that you can persevere with things get tough.
The next step is to really empathize and understand where the other person is coming from. You don’t have to agree with their logic, but you do need to understand their unique perspective if you want to move forward with them. Understand non-judgmentally how they came to they see things as they do, and then you can work together to start bridging the gaps. (Also develop the perspective together that people themselves are not the problem: it’s the relationship itself that needs your focus).
So in any type of relationship, as a leader or otherwise, always keep in mind that the most successful people are the ones who first do their own self-work. They question their own motives, understandings, skills, and abilities – and they take the time to discover what is and what could be before charging ahead!
I’ve wasted a lot of time and energy in my businesses, and I want to encourage you to not repeat my mistakes (and I believe that the same principles I’ll discuss in the context of business are equally relevant to your personal life and relationships):
I’ve recently come to the sobering realization that a lot of what I thought was productive work for many years was actually a lot of ‘busy work’ (not all of it, of course – or even most of it – but certainly more than I’d really like to admit). I’ve also come to believe that the old adage, “build it and they will come” should really be changed to “build it and bring ‘em to it – because they’re not gonna come on their own”.
For far too long I’d mistakenly thought that I could simply work hard and then rest on my laurels. I thought that I could learn everything there was to learn in my field(s), and that business would just come naturally as a result. But I was wrong: I’ve since learned in business that ‘building it’ is a critical piece of the equation – but that the equally-important second piece is ‘going after it and making it happen’.
What got me to the point I’m at now, is that in a couple of areas I do feel like I’ve examined pretty much all there is to be examined. This is not to say that I “know it all”, of course – but there is a concept known as ‘circular learning’ that has come into play in a couple areas of my life…
(Circular learning speaks to the idea that there’s ‘nothing new under the sun’: that if you follow a thread of knowledge completely enough, you’ll begin to see the same underlying principles repeating themselves. They’ll be assembled in different forms and colored with different language, of course – but it’s really all the same stuff after awhile).
Through this circular learning process I’ve come to realize that many of the principles that became clear after years of examination are pretty much the same principles I had learned soon after I had begun my journey. Granted, my skills are more refined now than in earlier years (and I don’t begrudge the expertise I’ve accumulated) – but I understand now that I could have been more successful, a lot more quickly, had I acted earlier and more aggressively on the principles I assumed were too incomplete and immature to be acted upon.
So my biggest mistake –and the lesson I want to share – is basically that I wasted too much time building, when I could have been getting better results by taking more action. The lesson is simply this: know what you know when you know it; take quick action based on what you know at any given time; and continue to learn and correct your course as you go!
Last week I wrote about the 80/20 Rule; specifically in regard to outsourcing things in order to focus more on the 20 percent that gives you the best results and greatest satisfaction in work and life. For this post I just wanted to elaborate on a couple of points about outsourcing: outsourcing the right things, and spending money on the right things to outsource.
In regard to outsourcing the right things, I think it’s helpful to honestly look at what you could let go of in all areas of your life – even if you feel that these are things you should be doing yourself (either because society tells you that you should, or because your own internal critic is giving you a different message).
Some people hire personal chefs and personal shoppers, for example, simply because they can. Others do things like this, however, because of the payoff it affords: less stress, more time with family, more time to focus on the things with larger emotional and financial potential. And again, outsourcing doesn’t have to cost a lot of money: going back to the example of unloading the task of loading the dishwasher…
So try to get out of the trap of doing certain things because “that’s how it’s always been done”. We have so many resources available to us to free up our time – we should take advantage of them and make the very most of what little time we have.
My own outsourcing takes place primarily in the area of business: I outsource things in my physical businesses like driving and payment collection, which obviously need to be sourced locally. I also outsource some things for my internet business that can be sourced locally or distantly, depending on the need.
For my web-based businesses I don’t outsource things like article-writing and customer service; because I feel that I’m the only one who should really be representing my brands. Other things I do outsource distantly, though, because they just make sense to do so. These include the day-to-day things that are essential to grow a business, but don’t need my personal involvement.
And then there are other things that require a higher level of skill, which I outsource locally. I rely on Cyndi from Inspired by Change, for example, to handle my website design and updates because of her 10-plus years experience and knowledge of the internet. I also draw quite frequently on her strong marketing intuition and technical experience.
My point is that it really helps to do a cost-benefit analysis of where your time and money is being spent – and to spend more where it’s needed, and less where you can do so without “cutting corners”.
Where can you use the 80/20 rule in your work and life?
In one part of my life I work as a consultant in the public sector. In another I work as a coach; with both life coaching and corporate clients. I also have other businesses in completely unrelated fields including pet supplies, parenting products, and nutritional supplements. The other parts of my life are spent in leisure activities with my family.
I don’t consider myself a jack of all trades/master of none, though: these endeavors were all chosen deliberately and executed carefully. Having lots of things on the go satisfies my need to stay diversified and busy (yes, I have been diagnosed with ADHD) – and I love (almost) everything I do.
Importantly, I also have time for everything I do with some to spare. This is because of the 80/20 rule.
Simply speaking, I try to focus on the 20 percent of my life and work that gives me the greatest results and enjoyment. And I try to say no to – or outsource – the other 80 percent whenever and wherever I can. Basically, I only work and spend time with the people I want to be with, and I only work on the things I want to work on.
I know that saying these things is controversial: you might be thinking that that this doesn’t apply to your life and your particular situation. That you don’t have the luxury to simply “outsource” the things you don’t want to do. That you have commitments and responsibilities…
I have commitments and responsibilities too, of course; and naturally there are things I can’t outsource or say no to either. But it’s all about where I choose direct my energy and focus: I know I can’t always live my life in the 20 percent – but I also know that if I try, I’ll consistently be a lot closer than if I don’t.
(You might also say that the ability to do only what one wants depends on circumstance and luck. This is true to a large degree – but I also believe that luck is to be found in the intersection of preparation and opportunity…)
So the purpose of this article is to encourage to you to prioritize the things you really want in your life, and what you really want to be doing – and then looking honestly at where you can unload some of the 80 percent that doesn’t fit with your vision.
To start, look for those “big-lever” changes that you can make in your life. They don’t need to be complicated or overwhelming: they include any adjustments, large or small, that have a big impact.
A big-lever change could certainly be a change of careers, for example, or it could be something much smaller that has a domino-effect in your life. A simple “big-lever” change could be something as easy as outsourcing the task of unloading the dishwasher: if it reduces stress at the end of a busy day, and gives you time for something more enjoyable, then it’s certainly worth the extra 5 dollars in allowance!
But that’s just one small example – and there are many. Where else can you use the 80/20 rule in your life? Where else can you focus on the 20 percent of your life and work that gives you the biggest results and greatest satisfaction? And where can you begin to unload the rest?
Some time ago I had written an article on claiming your leadership. I suppose this article could be a follow-up to that after some recent, disheartening, personal observations.
We talk about things like distributed leadership, a person-centered, authoritative approach, leading from the ground up, building solid teams and trusting your people – and many other best practice leadership buzzwords and concepts. In short, we know what works. We know which types of leadership strategies and habits are effective and which should have died a long time ago.
And the leadership paradigm certainly has changed on the whole – but examples of archaic leadership unfortunately persist: little to no communication from the top down, a heavy-handed approach with little recognition, expecting more out of people to compensate for low morale… you get the point. And although I continue to see this quite regularly in certain pockets, I’m always still a little surprised by it.
Being a “solo player” myself, I’m not in a formal leadership position: and I know it’s easy to cast stones until you walk in someone’s shoes (excuse the clichés). I’m not assuming by any stretch that I would do a better job in a formal leadership position; but as an objective observer I still find it very perplexing and frustrating.
As a coach I see that these types of leadership behaviours make things very difficult for the players behind the scenes.
But leadership takes many forms, and it has to come from all levels. If it’s important that you do so, express your own leadership wherever you can and wherever you are. Don’t let the obstacles in your environment – wherever they’re coming from – stop you from doing what you know needs to be done. You probably have more impact than you know; despite the fact that it often goes unrecognized.
Change happens because certain people see what needs to be done, and they persevere. If your environment is working against you, do your thing anyway if you know its right. It’s often the leaders behind the scene, interspersed throughout the system – formal title or not – who change paradigms and improve lives.
There are many different styles of leadership with varying degrees of effectiveness. A people-centered approach is probably best in general; but only if partnered with sound knowledge and skill, and delivered in an authoritative style (a strong focus on relationship with the ability to appropriately set limits and apply corrective action).
I’m currently coaching someone I consider to be one of the best leaders with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work. I don’t know if she actually knows that she’s as good as she is: she’s relatively new to her position and has lots of questions and doubts about her style. But this type of questioning is common and expected for a new leader, and I fully expect her confidence to rise steadily with experience. I also sincerely hope, though, that she never loses the habit of self-reflection.
I’ve always had the impression that this woman is a strong leader, despite some of her doubts in specific areas. It was when I reviewed the 360 degree feedback from her team, though, that I realized how much of a star she really is. She has mastered that difficult balance between people skills and technical skill; between relationship development and task orientation. She is truly an authoritative leader who knows what she’s doing.
On the contrary, I’m also aware of leaders who appear oblivious to the fact that they’re not particularly great at the people side of things. They may be good at the technical aspects of their jobs, but they tend to rub others the wrong way. They are often closed to others’ ideas and they have difficulty sharing credit.
I think this happens for different reasons: they might be aware of their shortcomings but don’t particularly care; they may be aware of their shortcomings but don’t have the skills to change; or they might actually believe this style is effective. My guess, also, is that these types of leaders are often (but not always) masking a deeper sense of insecurity with an authoritarian style of interaction. Regardless of the reasons for the authoritarian style of leadership, it’s clear that these leaders don’t – at least actively and openly – question their leadership.
We might not all possess the leadership finesse of my client, but we can always continue to grow when we’re willing to engage in honest self-reflection. I believe that my client is a natural leader to a great degree – but I also believe that she’s as strong as she is because she questions herself.
It becomes increasingly difficult to question ourselves as our confidence and competence grows: self-reflection is often done in response to self-doubt and fear of failure. But to be effective leaders we need to reclaim and hold the assumption that we can always be better.