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February 2010

January 2010

Career ESP---Extra Specific Please

I start out one of my presentations with an attempt at ESP. I try and predict the audience's mindset and what they are thinking about their career futures. I start out with what they DON'T want, because people tend to define where they are going by avoiding the least desirable paths. Anyway, here's what I say: "So you want to do something you believe in, feel good about what you do and how it benefits humankind. You do not want to be confined to a "conveyor belt" of meaningless and repetitive tasks,  and you want to work with people, because you are a people person. And you don't want to be in sales! You want an organizational culture that values your unique talents and will help you grow." Usually, this is followed by, "How did you know?!!!" This always applies to new graduates, young alums, but today this is the view of many career changers who are looking for the next thing. Lily Tomlin said, "I always wanted to be somebody but I realized I should have been more specific." What I try and coach people to do is to zoom in on what they want-- to be more specific!Crystal ball

Besides the crucial error of driving your career defensively versus asserting and pursuing what you want. Let's break this mindset down:

I want to do something I believe in -- In the lexicon of the 90's Duh! Yes make missions or causes an essential part of your life! But what do you specifically believe in? What are your values and principles that you will use as search filters for your next career? It would be lovely if you could satisfy all of them in a job. You need to find a job, an employer, an industry that fits your needs, including what its products and services do for the world. It does not mean that your day job will fulfill all of your passions. Never stop pursuing your passions outside of your employment, that will help keep your rocket ship in orbit. Your constellation of passions is complex and finding a sole source provider is illogical. In the end you have to believe in the opportunity for you to grow your talents and your prospects in this new career. So your employment has to be focused on real skill developmetn and experience acquisition. In this case you are obsessive about developing yourself and your prospective employer supports your quest. Now that is doing something to believe in.

I want to avoid a job with repetitive and meaningless tasks -- Unless it pays $100 an hour! :) I get to visit and talk to people in every sector. The new world order has redefined everything, no job is confined to a series of predictable tasks any more. Everybody is doing more with less. Sure every job has administrivia, grunty work, the chores of the job, but the work of a receptionist, financial analyst, assistant, project manager etc have been expanded and are changing. So expectations and opportunities increase in worlds that need more done. And all jobs matter more. What you really want to avoid is an environment that regards your work as meaningless. But if you agree with #1 above, then you find a place where you can grow. Nothing wrong with a bit of repetition, it will give you a great chance to hone your skills and develop confidence.

I want to work with people -- This one always kills me. What is the alternative here: zoo-keeper! Yeah you are going to work with people while we are on earth. Do you mean you want to work with people "outside of the office"? Customers? Vendors?  What type of people? How? And by the way, are you good at working with people, building relationships, engaging teams?? The real question is how good are you with people? Can you lead, inspire, counsel, serve people? We know what you want but can you deliver value to your employer and ultimately to the customer?

I want an organizational culture that values my unique talents and will help me grow -- See #1 again! By the way, what are your specific unique talents and strengths? Hard to appreciate them if you do not know what they are. And if you know those talents, then find an environment that will use them. Do you know where you are generally or specifically going with your career? Do you know what skills you want sharpened or developed? If you do, then growth can be measured. If you don't then this notion of "growth" will frustrate you and your employer because it is a mysterious and illusive set of feelings and ideas that no one knows. The very popular and ugly dance of under-utilized employer provided growth opportunities and employee dissatisfaction with their growth is commonplace. Successful people do not rail against or depend on the system, they figure out how to make the most of the opportunities that are there and make new ones. One of the most popular but mis-placed expectations is that the employer has an obligation to develop my career and mentor me. Employers can coach, lead, support, but mentoring and career planning are always the employee's job.

Maybe this raises more questions and some answers for you. The hope is to get you more focused on what you really want, in Tomlinesque specificity. Then you can start talking about it to get feedback. You can network with it. You can seek mentoring and guidance. Your plans will gel and your focus on what you want will get sharper. However if you continue to use generic phrases to describe what you want, then your search for the next great thing will be lost in a sea of non-specific candidates.The idea that you do not want to eliminate possibilities by being too specific is a certain sentence to the penitentiary of the average. Or your search for meaning and meaningfulness can be driven by the unique interests and talents that make you specifically who you are and separate you from the predictable masses.  

Thanks for reading. John  


Reality check from Haiti and the power of networks

Do you remember the 1985 story about the $5000 of relief aid that was sent between Mexico and Ethiopia, which was enduring great suffering. Drought and war had ravaged the Ethiopian way of life. I remember thinking that the $5000 was such a pittance given the urgent and widespread needs. However, I realized I had mis-read the article. the financial aid went from Ethiopia TO Mexico to help with the huge earthquake in Mexico City. Then I learned that in 1935, a half a century before, Mexico had sent aid when Italy invaded Ethiopia and they never forgot. Ethiopians who remembered reciprocated, they fulfilled their sense of mutual obligation to their brothers and sisters in Mexico.

We help Haiti now and in the future because we are connected to them. Because we have an obligation  as humankind to help one another. I just hope that our focus on Haiti and the needs there will not fade too soon. 2 weeks into the devastation and our attention spans are already strained.

I was formally introduced to the International Medical Corps(IMC) last week. It was sort of embarrassing because IMC is based here in LA and I really did not know them. They provided a small corporate briefing to raise money and awareness. IMC is a very impressive organization that provides medical aid as their name implies. They were on the ground in Haiti 22 hours after the earthquake was reported. In fact they are most often first in where medical assistance is required.  By the way they are the ones who helped save Monley the 5 year old who was pulled from the rubble and is now doing fine. In brief here's what separates IMC from others:

  1. IMC engages the local population to train and sustain their efforts. 96% of their team members are from the local country.
  2. IMC stays with the hard work of getting through the crisis and then moves into the necessary transition to public health and rebuilding. IMC is among the few humanitarian agencies still in Darfur and Iraq for example.
  3. IMC spends 92% of its gifts on their programs! Amazingly efficient.

But IMC leverages their donations by serving as a hub of a powerful and experienced network of resources. They use the power of multiplication to amplify their impact. They match every dollar with a minimum of 20x in aid and support. In fact I was told that it is now closer to 59 to 1! But it is their philosophy to not be a foreign aid team that parachutes in and leaves that impresses me most. They train locals to grow their reach from thousands to millions and leave a legacy of a self-reliant infrastructure.

The power of networks are known to all of us. And if they endure because they are self sustaining then the ripple effect really happens. Networks that are not dependent on one member or one resource are powerful and replicable. IMC responds by engaging its growing worldwide network that now spans 50 countries.

Nancy Aossey has headed IMC for the last 25 years. Like all great leaders she is brimming with energy and passion for her work. She is charismatic but not flashy. She is very much like IMC -- substantial. More about effectiveness than ego. Probably why their brand is not a household name. Nevertheless they continue to do their magic where they are needed.

After learning about them my family decided to give them most of our 2010 charitable contributions. Please consider helping them too. 

Our lives are truly changed by the people we meet. If we spend a little time understanding who they are, why they do what they do, our own trajectories and paths are altered. We glean little bits of sanity and rationality, and comfort from these encounters. And sometimes these conversations open our brains to new ideas and thoughts.  It shows us the power of the human spirit. It redefines us. We get mentored in these moments of enlightenment and reconsider who we are and where we are going. Learning about IMC had that impact on me.

Yeah I am a bit of a pushover, my heart and maybe my own guilt lead me too often. But I think these moments are after shock reality checks. They are the speed bumps that get us to decelerate a bit and consider what we are doing to make a difference. We could all quit our jobs and join IMC. Not suggesting that. But we need to learn from IMC's wonderful model.Reality checks

We all volunteer, donate, and empathize--that is the baseline of humanity. We do that because we are upright and we have hearts. But how do we leverage the good we do? How do we use our talents and networks to multiply that good? As I am fond of saying, even the lone ranger did not ride alone.  Never be discouraged by "I am just one person". The power of networks, of working with others is empowering and powerful. Re-committing ourselves to our own passions and engaging our networks in that work has to be a priority. And one person can make more of a difference.

So give money and or time to Haiti. It will make a difference and make you feel good. But use this time to consider the IMC model of leveraging goodwill through your network. Think about how we make a bigger impact or change. And like Mexico and Ethiopia, we will also build stronger bonds to help one another now and in the future.

Thanks for reading. John


MLK's Dream about Mentoring and Networking

“America is essentially a dream, a dream as yet unfulfilled. … Through our scientific and technological genius we have made of this world a neighborhood; now, through our moral and spiritual development, we must make of it a brotherhood. In a real sense, we must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools.”  Martin Luther King Jr. 1967250px-Martin_Luther_King_Jr_NYWTS

My week was filled with inspiration and sobered by empathy and responsibility. As we celebrate Dr King's 81st birthday, I was reminded of these inspirational words that are still so relevant and timeless. The images and news from Haiti humbles us and triggers our human desire to help. We all think about our common bond with each other, whether from Haiti or next door. The acts of kindness and generosity that are now occurring restore our faith in humankind. People from around the world are giving of themselves in selfless ways. Why does it take a tragedy to bring out the best in us?

It now appears that Haiti death toll may approach 30 Katrinas! It's hard to fathom. (If you are still looking for charities to help Haiti CLICK HERE)

I was with a number of UCLA students this week, trying to help them examine their options for life after college. Trying to assist them think through the relevance of college majors and career paths. Ahhhh to be a student again, safe from the realities of the cruel world. I never discount the anxiety of youth struggling with uncertainty and debt. But we concluded that ultimately listening to your heart and not your parents will help define one's life path. :)

"But listening to their heart may be too abstract. How can I help the students calm down and be less stressed out about their futures?", asked a student peer counselor. There needs to be pragmatism and focus to our education. All of us worry about whether what we are doing is the right thing. Whether what we are "majoring in" will give us the best outcomes. However, students and just about all of us need to ingest the same advice on a daily basis. Watch the tv, read the papers, pay attention. No matter what our circumstances, we see how fortunate we are to have choices and chances. We are so blessed to have the freedom to think and act. And to have the  great response-ability to help others. As students of life, we need to appreciate what we have not what we don't. Young people often think that choice is the enemy of commitment. And do not find joy and enjoyment in choice, and get caught up in the drama of it all. Choice is the goal of a democracy. Choice and freedom come with an obligation to cherish them and make the most of them. What we "major" in is of lesser consequence than what we decide to to do with our lives. Neither our majors or our jobs define us. How do we express our love and care for others? How do we help one another? In the end, that is how we will evaluate our lives and our level of success.

Social-network Lets take this frame of mind to be generous and supportive of the people of Haiti and also apply it to our networks, our offices, our churches, our circle of friends, and our families--everyday. Lets continue to reach out and mentor each other. Help each other find meaningful work and fulfillment. Assist one another to get through these trying times. Turning these neighborhoods into brother and sister hoods will take a lot of work and effort. As our hearts and minds go out to our brothers and sisters in Haiti, it should embolden our resolve to also help our brothers and sisters at home. As we listen to our hearts, we must get well beyond our feelings of empathy and goodwill, we must act upon them. Lets translate the emotional connection we feel to "strangers" in a foreign land, to people we know and love. It is this ongoing process of strengthening our relationships and connecting to new ones that will make Dr. King's dream a reality.

Oh deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome some day.

Thanks for reading. John


Your Career Kitchen Cabinet

We all know that any great organization, company, even celebrity, certainly political leaders need a small circle of trusted advisers. And as we see in the news headlines everyday, if that counsel is not real and provides only encouragement for the wishes of the leaders(s), then trouble is imminent. --Like the old drunk who relies on the lamp post more for support than any illumination. True advisers provide accountability and a reality check on actions and plans. Who advises us? The regular folk who are not famous, rich or elected? We all have goals and dreams, but many of us need help to keep us on track. Otherwise, we can get away with saying and thinking things we never do. By the way, thathabit will give you a monorail ticket to a very undesirable place called Regret City!

Less than a couple of weeks into the new year you are probably still committed to your resolutions -- please say you have not bailed yet. :) One way to insure longer term success is to form a "kitchen cabinet",a group of your trusted advisers to monitor your progress and hold you to your goals. Similar to a board of directors, your cabinet knows your goals and asks for status reports. Like a a good board they are not interested in effort and activity, they want results. They are interested in a better you. BoardBoard room

However, unless you are such a popular person where you can attract people to serve your needs and you alone, then you should build a different structure based upon reciprocity. A group, no more than 6, that agrees to help one another. This kitchen cabinet gets together on a regular basis for the expressed purpose of advising and assisting ALL members succeed. This is a group of serious colleagues that care about each other and are committed to helping one another. Career guru Barbara Sher calls these success teams. It is a mentoring seance, where you are joined by the futures you see for one another.

Here are some basic tips on how you get started buiding your career kitchen cabinet:

  1. Forming the cabinet--Clearly, picking the members of your cabinet is the toughest part. Start with a couple of the people you know well. People you trust and getting together with them more frequently would be fun. If they know each other that is even better. Meet with them and broach the idea. I advise against couples only because invariably it introduces elements that can distract from the group goals. Things like chemistry, candor, and buy-in can be factors. If you are daring, each of your closest associates could invite one person that would add new dimensions and breadth to the group. And there is always something about having new people there to make you more attentive to the process. The key is getting people that have rapport, agree on the group goals, and are committed to mutual success. Try to avoid a group that all have the same backgrounds, political beliefs, or industry connections. This is where diverse thinking is powerful.
  2. Convening the cabinet--Without consistency this will not work. Sher recommends weekly meetings. I think monthly will work. But like a good book club, you got to prepare and show otherwise all is lost. Each member rotates to convene the group by choosing the location and date and time (if you have not settled on a regular date and time which is recommended.) You can set standards about the quality of the establishment, cuisine, newness etc to add a little incentive for the group. One group I was in required the host to cook "extraordinary" food so at least the food might generate thought. The group should make a one year commitment--12 meetings.
  3. Common ground for the cabinet--This is critical. Getting everyone familiar with the bios and backgrounds of each member is essential. So spending time on the introductions, in-depth and revealing understandings of one another will generate a new network of opportunities. Next, everyone needs to write down their goals. Use my SWiVEL or devise one based upon the needs and interests of the group. Having a common form that gives everyone a starting point for the conversations that will ensue.
  4. Cabinet sessions--After the intros and written docs, the sessions just have to make time for every member to report on their progress and allow for feedback. Not so formulaic that it feels too structured but focused on your purpose as a group. The assumption is every member is there to offer advice, expertise, and their network.

Hands together
But this is not a business as usual approach that helps one another achieve mediocrity. The secret to this concept is others will invariably see your potential more than you do. Your ideas become more polished or get abandoned because of the feedback. And when the group gets some momentum built on respect and trust, then the cabinet can become an incubation lab to explore new ideas and aspirations.

The reality is WE is always better than ME. We have to work together to refine our ideas about where we are going. A kitchen cabinet can be a powerful advantage that strengthens your network and your path to achieving your goals.

Thanks for reading. John


We begin again to renew our network of commitments

 

Every new year I share this thought. Back in 1999 I found a website called Interviewwithgod.net. The host claimed that God visited him and answered all of his questions. This posting left an indelible impression on me.

What suprises you most about humankind?  God allegedly replied:

  • That they get bored with childhood and rush to grow up, then long to be children again.
  • That they lose their health to make money, and then lose their money to restore their health.
  • That they think anxiously about the future such that they forget the present and live neither in the present or the future.
  • That they live as if they will never die and die as if they have never lived.

Lanikai steps

I can scarcely wait till tomorrow when a new life begins for me, as it does each day, as it does it each day.--Stanley Kunitz

When we sense a beginning, we tend to get more focused. A chance to start over and do better. We push the magical reset button to get a do-over. As long as you do not get caught in the vicious cycle of the same old resolutions that are so familiar that they become meaningless. You know the ones--"I need to exercise more." "I need to eat more healthful food." "I need to spend more time with my family." Lily Tomlin said, "I gained and lost the same 10 pounds so many times, my cellulite has dejavu!" According to the University of Scranton, making new year's resolutions increases your chances of accomplishing a positive change by a factor of 10! However, without specific goals, dates, times, and metrics, only 1 out of 5 keep their resolutions. So prevent your annual vows from becoming the broken record sounds of insincerity. But you knew that!

I will avoid all of the overused metaphors and analogies that depict the year past. You've heard them all, WEATHERING THE STORM, BEEN A ROLLER COASTER, OR NAVIGATING THE ROUGH SEAS. This year will not be a CAKE WALK by any stretch. Still a lot of challenges remain in the economy. Even though it feels more comfortable. Comfortable, the most dangerous place to be in the world. Don't let your guard down. Don't even let a sliver of complacency enter your mind. This has to be a time when you increase your resolve to continue your journey to strengthen your position in your life. Or to make new huge strides towards a new destination. You can start with baby steps if you increase your momentum with each step. This somewhat quieter time is when you make your move. Small and fleeting competitive advantage to move right now. Don't put off what you have to and need to do.

Here's a few thoughts to shape your new year's strategy:J0443793

  1. Make this a defining year and time. How will you remember this year? When you look back upon it, what made it unique and meaningful?
  2. Don't define your goals by what you do NOT want. Follow your heart and your head. Envision  the way you want your life to be. Not a default position based on what you want to avoid.
  3. Don't be the smartest member of your network. Assess your network. If you are the biggest fish in your pond, then move into a great lake, your network is not helping you. You are helping everyone else. Upgrade your network to challenge you and push you. Break out of the groups that hold you back. Your network has to inspire you and breed success.
  4. Schedule your mentoring physical.Get an appointment with your mentor(s). Renew your openness to confront a truthful and trusted evaluation. Test out your new goals to get constructive criticism. If you need one, get on your horse and find a great mentor.
  5. Reward yourself.What can you weave into your calendar that you will look forward to? Is there a special trip? A favorite activity or hobby that can interrupt your hard work with delight?
  6. Meet up. Beyond your transactional postings on FB, reach out and engage those you care about in serious exchanges about their goals and your aspirations. Arrange, dare I say, face to face conversations. Figure out how you can assist them achieve their new year's resolutions. It will make you and your network stronger.
  7. Conjure up the child within. Let down your guard a little. Beckon the creativity and genius that resides inside. Let it out. Take some risks and most of all have fun!

To accomplish these goals or any goals for 2010, the experts say dumb things like lower your expectations and be realistic. If you want to settle for what happens or accept the status quo, then be my guest. I say, get inspired. Renew your passion for the things that matter to you. Then you will see something that might surprise you -- a glimpse of who you really are and were meant to be.

2010 could be just another year that comes and goes and we will ask where it went. You and your cellulite will have been there before. Or it can be an extraordinary chapter in your life that is filled with chances and changes. You choose.

I wish you a prosperous and fulfilling year. Thanks for reading. John