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May 2010

If you are down, you have to look UP!

After seeing a screening of Waiting for Superman, (which is a must see when it comes out in September) I started to think about looking up into the sky for help, super or not. We all have looked to the heavens for an explanation of a baffling situation or for some divine guidance. We also may look to our parents, our bosses or others above us in the food chain for answers or wisdom. Superman

The point is we have to see where we are going and seek assistance. Stop what we are doing to pause, reflect and think it through. Talking to somebody who understands and maybe has faced the same circumstances always helps.

Finding a true role model can make a difference. This person seems to have been able to balance the things that are important to you. Parent and career, community leader and accomplished professional. We meet, read about, and sometimes know these people. Call them mentors, call them role models, call them inspirations. You can admire them, but you need to study and ideally understand them. Understand the costs, the requirements, the support systems, the sense of fulfillment. You have to get beyond the gloss and the press images of success.

I have found that some people are born into success, others were inspired, and most worked hard to get there. None of the models I have followed have had it easy.

Keeping your eyes up and your mind on what lies ahead is more more important than ever. The writing on the wall, the signs of change, the risks and choices, and the opportunities. Imagine how dangerous it would be to drive by only looking at your dashboard. Looking up will tell you so much more.

I talk to people who loosely fall into three large groups these days. Group 1 is hanging on to what they have. Group 2 is making a move to the next chapter. Group 3 is hedging their bets, uncertain and or paralyzed. They are the worst off. At least Group 1 is loyal and committed. Group 2 is committed to change. Group three, like all groups who wallow in indecision, their careers have reached the ceiling and they only have a down button on their elevators.  

Looking up is not getting lost in the stars and distant dreams that seem improbable. It is not comparing your current circumstance to another greener pasture you have not visited or studied. It is keeping an eye on the horizon to see your options and next steps. It is looking up to those that can show you what you need to do. Looking up is making sure you are a couple steps ahead on the chess board of life. Role models, mentors and other confidantes can keep your thinking fresh.

In BreakingThrough, the Harvard Business Press examination of minority hard driving execs, found that a notable percentage who reached the top of their professions, did NOT want it. It was not as attractive as it looked from afar. They set a goal and spent years focused on the steps and strategies to get to that destination, without regard to what it takes to do that job--the sacrifices, the "costs", the travel, the politics, the distance from the customer. These ambitious people rarely looked up to question their goals. They became blindly committed to a path and their daily lives revolved around making progress to that end.

Again, we are all guilty of self deception. We make up stories about our paths that lead up to our goals. They sound good, but we have not mapped out these paths to the ends. 

Looking up Looking up is the recognition that our lives are moving toward a destination, intended or unintended. And it is never too late to make changes and course corrections.  Some people think this is the time to stay focused. I agree. Being focused is not tunnel vision. Staying focused means not giving up on your goals and the steps necessary to achieve them.

Things are looking up. Keeping your head down insures that inspiration, help, and your future will be out of sight. Looking up from our busy lives, looking up to people who can help you, looking up the path to where you are going and where you want to be--that is a strategy that will not require the services of a caped crusader.  

Thanks for reading. John


Alumni Networks----Familiar and Influential Resources

Part of my procrastination of life's goals was to go through a bunch of academic programs--4 universities, 3 degrees and a fellowship. One of the unintended consequences of my scholarly digressions was to get connected to different groups of former students called alumni. Btw, alumni, Latin for "pupils nourished" is a distinctly American concept. International universities rarely kept track of their former students and certainly did not solicit them for financial support until recently. For example, Oxford, founded in about 1200, formalized its alumni society in 2006. Harvard established its Alumn Club in 1840. The word alumni is plural. Singular is alumnus, (unisex or male) or alumna (female, the unpopular plural alumnae), we say slangishly alums, or some say grads. Just do not use alumni when referring to yourself--"I am an alumni of XXX college."--unless you are schizo. :)  In Texas, they are always different aren't they, they say "ex-students". The definition of an alum is wide and varied. Mere attendance gives the individual, certainly the alumni association and that institution the ability to take credit for their achievements. Like all great ideas have many parents, all famous, successful, and certainly wealthy former students are claimed as "alumni". Alumni

I have been blessed to have a number of alumni networks that engage and fulfill me. Without them, I am not sure I would be as successful today.

In one of my former careers, I ran the alumni association at UCLA and served on national and international alumni governing organizations. With more than 2500 colleges and universities in the US, there are a lot of alumni! But I am notrecommending you attend more uncomfortable reunions!

This concept of alumni is not just restricted to post-secondary education.  You have been recruited into and have shared life experiences with many groups. Nearly 300 larger corporations have formed alumni associations for their former employees to stay connected.   Search corporate alumni groups Deloitte has a particularly strong one for example. Why you ask? Branding, recruitment, business referral, all through a trusted network. Does your former employer have an alumni group? Does your future employer have one, and do you know people in it?

PastLives Most of us stay in touch with a select crew from a former world of work or other experiences. These are informal and very effective alumni networks. You belong but may not be connected to, many alumni groups. Again, because of my career changes, I have 7 former employee such groups. The advantage of career changes! Like always, the questions is: Why aren't you connected to them? I know you are busy, I know you have less time and more choices and obligations. But these are people you know and share a common experience. Be careful.Trying to reconnect with these alumni groups only when you are desperate is tantamount to reconnecting with former dates from a previous era when you are lonely. Bad form, always smells of self-serving motives, and in the end not a long term solution.

If you have been following along, the strongest network opportunities are always among people you know or knew. Common experiences are powerful platforms for connecting and sharing.

Make a list of your alumni groups:

  1. Colleges and universities
  2. Employers
  3. Fraternities, sororities, honor societies
  4. Kids' play groups, PTAs, club athletic teams
  5. Internships, fellowships
  6. Volunteer and community service groups
  7. Faith based affiliations

Join as a member or reach out and reconnect. Do these groups have Facebook pages, Linked-in groups? Who do you know or remember? E-mail them, call them and connect.

Try not to be so focused on your current need and let the serendipity of connecting with a trusted group take you new places and opportunities.

The great thing is you have a base from which you can start a conversation. You immediately have questions or experiences that you can share to drive the connection.

Alumni networks can be powerful and meaningful sources of identity and community. Yes, and also provide some new leads on jobs or sales prospects, but that is always secondary.

Want to broaden and deepen your network and your opportunities? Think alumni.

It is amazing who you know, who you have lost touch with.

Reconnect with your past and advance your future.

Thanks for reading. John


Truth and Candor: Key Ingredients in the Recipe of Mentoring and Networking

Remember in Liar Liar when Jim Carrey's character was only allowed to to tell the truth. "Do you like my new dress?"-- he was asked. "Whatever takes the focus off your head," he replies.

No need to put our truth tasers on the kill setting! Taser

The truth is, we are less than candid everyday. How we answer the question, "How are you?", for example.

Sometimes being vague, evasive and telling a little fib is the only thing to do to avoid a fight or an unnecessary confrontation. We all have friends where we have to avoid certain political, religious, and parenting conversations, because we just have to agree to disagree.

There is always a time and a place to be the diplomat, the nice person. You know, the person who couches things in lovely and euphemistic ways. Where between the lines is a vast and cavernous space where the truth lives comfortably and invisibly.

George Bernard Shaw once said, "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place."

I am talking about candor, frankness, and directness in conversations.

Candor: Unreserved, honest, or sincere expression 

I am more focused on the sincere side of this ledger. Less on the brutal portion.

We have all experienced the broad gamut of styles from the flame thrower who uses the truth to burn everyone and everything. Then there are the “happy” people who smile and even giggle during a challenging moment and will do anything to not ruffle feathers or make anyone uncomfortable. Like all things we need to use the middle lanes of these communication freeways.

But if the truth was a more common currency in our everyday exchanges and transaction, we would be better off. Candor of the sincere type, would speed up so many things in our lives. Getting people to contribute their ideas and real thoughts frequently would facilitate change, improvement, and greater outcomes in our personal and professional worlds. Having people get to what's bothering them and complimenting the good would be so efficient not to mention pleasant.

Truth begets truth.

As a friendly reminder to myself and you good readers, the truth also includes the good and the praiseworthy. Sometimes, we hear "tell the truth" and we think give the bad news or make a confession.

Scales So many candid truthful good things go unsaid. How much we love, care about, appreciate the people and things around us too often remain unexpressed thoughts.

For those of you following along, mentoring and networking require a few extra scoops of candor if the recipe is to work. Both mentee and mentor need to get to a place of truth telling as fast as they can. Otherwise great time and effort can be wasted and misunderstood if it remains a polite game of mutual admiration.

Party manners are in order at the beginning of any relationship. We all know that this period is not real, later we will share ourselves with greater transparency.

Office politics is the most brutal and most challenging of all worlds. More than 2 people in an office and controversy, petty thoughts and behaviors can ensue. Getting beyond the rumor mill, the conspiracy theories, and the repetitive whining is a challenge in every office I have occupied. Part human nature, part management, and part culture.

Not speaking up. Not saying what you think. Not being an active contributor to your organizations’ development and evolution is a cardinal sin if you want to grow into a more effective manager/leader. The higher up the food chain you go, the more truth based on evidence and judgment is demanded. Less time for nuance, interpretation, and just plain waiting.

Sure it would be nicer and better if your boss, the work culture, your friends, your family all modeled this behavior more. And if they did it you would do it. What?!! There you go again, sounds like a whiny person who is not in control of their life and actions. Why not be first to model the behavior you want to see. Request more candid feedback and answers in your conversations. Seek and tell the truth.

Remember in Alice in Wonderland when the March Hare says to Alice, "Then you should say what you mean." And mean what you say.  200px-MarchHare

Thanks for reading. John


The Power of Following

As humans we follow. The concept of leadership is only valuable if there are followers. It is just another version of followership. CEOs, US Presidents, Ministers, Generals, all follow somebody, all take their orders from someone, all succeed another leader. We follow--We all move in accord with a model. Another way of saying mentoring, isn't it? We are all mentored and we follow that example. So great leadership is great followership? Great leaders are great mentees too. You follow? :)

I think we can easily get caught up in our own press releases and start to think that we, alone, invented our leadership abilities. That we were born with innate skills to lead. We know that batch of kool-aid is spiked with self-deceit and blind egotism.

And even if that was true, you need followers to make any form of leadership relevant and effective. Again, without followership you got no leadership.Fish followers

Most of us do not want to be at the bleeding edge of trends or ideas--too much risk and controversy. By the same token there is nothing worse than being at the end of a trend or a cause, that makes you out of step, out of touch and un-hip. So we follow our instincts and check our risk dashboards before following.

You know the questions we ask ourselves---Will I raise my hand and ask the "stupid question"? Will I speak out when something offensive has been said? When will I evangelize about my ideas and beliefs? At what time do I express a contrarian view? These are the day to day forms of followership/leadership that emerge. Sometimes we act and sometimes we regret acting or not acting.

It is rare and I would assert non-existent, to start something entirely new, that was not inspired or motivated by something/someone else.

I love this video


Let me reiterate the lessons here:

  1. Leadership is defined by the followers
  2. The leader needs to nurture the initial followers
  3. The first follower transforms a lone "nut" into a leader

Don't get caught up in just becoming a leader. Start leading by following. Look for ideas, mentors, role models, profiles, case studies, stories, that resonate with you and where you are going and who you are becoming. Talk to your network about these ideas, follow their leads. Invariably, what you want and seek is being done or being pursued. Who is doing it well? Who is considered the best? Who do you know that has these answers?

It all starts with what you want and what you value. Following is not a sign of weakness. It is a necessity. Follow something and/or someone to bring the best out of you.

By the way, maybe more than any other person you have been following, is your mom. :) Hope you acknowledged how much you appreciate being her follower this weekend and everyday.

Thanks for following along and reading. John


Wait and See---The Worst Strategy

What will it take for you to make a move? Take the chance? Do what you have wanted to do? Have the network and mentor you always wanted?

The worst thing is to just wait for the"right" time. The time when all of the conditions are ideal.

It is the most common thing I hear. "I think I am going to wait and see." Wait until.....things calm down, I am not as busy, until the kids are out of/get back to school, until-----WHAT???!! Stop the madness. Stop the irrational indefensible excuses.

It's May 2010. Let's reflect on the promises you made to yourself just 4 months ago. Remember? Waiting clock

We are always in a marathon. It is a long race that requires great effort that is sustained. But like all races you have hills and you have slopes. You have weather and you have wind. You have competition and you have your body's responses. Stuff happens. My point is, what is the best time to start making your move? Nowis the only time you have. It is always now. As Eckhart Tolle says, yesterday is a former now and tomorrow is a future now.

 "The challenge is in every moment and the time is always now." James Baldwin

Yes, the economy is showing signs of recovery. And the stock market is returning to its previous form. Yet, the jobs and the opportunities have not mirrored theses economic measures---they never do. There is always a lag effect. Jobs will follow. So you wait. For what? Certainty?

There are many flaws with the waiting strategy. When times are good, whatever that means, most people (present company excluded :)) tend to get comfortable with their lives and feel less motivated to make a change. Second, waiting til its warm and safe to dive into the pool of opportunities is when everyone wants to go swimming and the waters are crowded and unwelcoming. Lastly, how long you willing to wait? Years? Because it will be years.

What do you think the sheep-like masses are doing? Your competition? Yes, they are waiting too.

Waiting is just a euphemism for procrastination. Procrastination is another word for laziness. Laziness is the most dangerous mode because it robs the individual and everyone around her from the benefits of talent and passion fulfilled.

So stop waiting. What are you waiting for? A sign? This is your sign. :)Waiting

If you know what you want, go for it! If you aren't sure then start exploring!

If you don't want to do it for yourself, do it for us. We need everyone to push themselves to contribute more to our society and to our world. Hard to imagine a world with more needs and challenges than we have today. The only thing worse will be if people decide to be bystanders, unwilling to give their all.

Waiting is a waste of time and talent. Push forward and make it happen.

Thanks for reading. John