Previous month:
October 2010
Next month:
December 2010

November 2010

Self Awareness Networking and Mentoring

Met with a grad student who needed to conduct an interview on leadership for a class. As I preach, I make time for these interactions because I know I will always learn something new and invariably, something about myself. This interview was a bit different because the focus was on "self-awareness". He started off the interview with unexpected questions: "What is the role/importance of self awareness in effective leadership?" "How are you aware of your own development and your own issues?" "How do you become more self aware?" The student was well prepared and I became aware of how poorly prepared I was.

Self awareness is so intuitive and simple, isn't it? Just be aware of what you are doing and how it appears to others. How can you see yourself? And how does this vision/understanding reconcile with your authentic self and what you intend?

When you are a floating observer of self, you see and hear things differently. You can more easily judge yourself, praise yourself, and advance yourself. However, like most self improvement, from cutting your own hair to self diagnosis, this is very hard to do alone. Getting outside assistance is not only advisable but most often more effective.

It was a challenging interview for me. While it is a subject I think about, I rarely discuss it. I was making statements about self awareness as I was becoming hyper aware of what I was saying and how I was saying it. Listening to yourself CAREFULLY takes enormous effort. My conversation with the grad student progressed on the importance, relevance, and benefits of self awareness. I wish I had a video tape of my interview. I must have been a sight to be seen. Talking about self awareness and trying hard to be self aware! Not a pretty picture.

Cat self-awareness

I started to think about the media training we conducted for some of our executives at work. These are people with great confidence but who have not been placed under the microscope of the media. Intellectually it is never difficult--answering questions about a subject one knows well. Not even talking about the 60 Minutes antagonistic approach. Listening to your answers and watching your facial expressions on a video tape is a whole new world. The revelations for our colleagues were abundant! What we say and how we say it vs. what we think we say and think we look like can be two alien planets. Going through this training many times and watching others endure the ugly and beautiful mirror is a lesson in self awareness. Videotape is the most amazing teacher. Seeing what others see is an eye opener!

"Self awareness', I rambled on with my attentive grad student, "can be a bit masochistic. It is the reconciliation of intention and reality."

I tried to impart the following lessons of self awareness to my interviewer (now with the benefit of hindsight a bit more eloquent:)

  1. Know thyself---Who you are and what you stand for is critical. What is your vision for yourself?
  2. See thyself---Finding "mirrors" to see your true self is a life long process. The best "mirrors" are mentors and confidantes that never shade the truth. They help you become your best. They reflect your flaws and your talents. They guide your trajectory and your development.
  3. Reflect---Taking time to contemplate the events of the day. Re-running the videotapes from the previous events, conversations, moments--to appreciate what you have done, what you have left to do, and what could have been done better.
  4. Connect with others---Establishing meaningful and substantive connections with diverse people will always expand your sense of self. Finding examples and moments that teach us who we are and who we are not is the true power of networking.
  5. Seek the mirror---Pursue and ask for feedback. Seek opportunities to learn about yourself. Not just an open door but an open mind.
  6. Become a mirror----Helping others you care about see themselves in the best and worst of times. Constructive praise. Supportive advice that helps your inner network improve and advance.

Self awareness must be stalked and hunted. It does not arrive in a box with a bow on your doorstep.

I am fascinated by the Buddhist thinking of Naikan. It is a process of introspection and was an early form of a "time out". Using deprivation as a way to have people, including young criminals, reflect on the wrongs they have committed. It evolved into a series of three questions about our relationships and focusing on one person at a time:

  • What have I received from (person's name)?
  • What have I given to (this person)?
  • What troubles and difficulties have I caused (this person)?

The fourth question that naturally follows in this series. "What troubles and difficulties have I caused (this person)? Is NOT part of the reflection because we are so adept at thinking about this question! And this focus on our own misery and not the misery of others is part of our problem.

We are all works in progress. Disconnects between who we are and who we think we are are deadly. Like reading our own autobiography and being impressed! So easy to delude ourselves by settling for what we have become and expecting others to deal with it. Much harder to face the videotape of life and learn from the truth.

 In the end, I hope my interviewer got what he needed to complete his assignment. I got what I wanted. I learned many things. I became more self aware and had the great luxury of sharing some thoughts with him and with myself.

Thanks for reading. John


Please Pass the Plate of Thank Yous and be Grateful for the Plateful

This week many of our families come together to celebrate family and to over-eat. :) We pause for a brief moment to be grateful for what is and what will be. Bowl_of_Gratitude  

Regardless of where you are in your life and what is happening to you, you have much for which to be grateful. I know some are going through pain and suffering and I never want to make light of these real tragedies and challenges. But if you are reading this, you have been given so many opportunities and chances to succeed. Not all of them have gone your way. But you are alive to fight another day. People have helped you, supported you, and loved you for all of your wonders and warts.

The research on gratitude and thankfulness is so intuitive and compelling. People who express their gratitude to themselves and others are so much better off.

One of the most powerful and gratifying networking processes is to reach out and thank people from your past and your present. Connect with people you see everyday and others you have lost touch with to express your gratitude for their assistance in shaping your life. The key to do this is not mixing a thank you message with any requests or personal needs. Never thank to get. Nothing more fulfilling and personally beneficial of imparting a pure and sincere expression of thanks.

Think about your blessings this year, even amongst your hardships. Things that you feel fortunate to have and to have experienced. Write down three of them.

Here's the advice I gave a couple of years ago that can drive your gratitude networking:

  1. Think of people who continue to be there for you and have provided you with support, moral and financial. People whose friendship, love and care make a difference in your life. Write down their names. Tell these people what they mean to you. 
  2. Think of people in your life whose lessons and teachings continue to make a difference in your life today. People who mentored you. These may be folks you have not contacted for years, but every so often you think about them . Write down three of their names.  Reach out to them, make a call, e-mail them and express your gratitude.
  3. Think about the things you have accomplished so far this year. Things you know made a difference in your life and in the life of others. Things that may not have been recognized or earned you distinction, but in your heart these things mattered. Write down three.  Remember what you do is important and valuable. Read them and appreciate your gifts. Gratitude for who you are and what you have done keeps you balanced with the other side of you ledger.

Connect and re-connect with people you care about and pass a plate of thank yous down the line. Gratitude is one of those gifts that nourishes us all. 

Regardless of your circumstances, you have much for which to be thankful. We take so much for granted and often we let our appetite for more numb our taste buds for the present.

So enjoy your time with family, indulge in the holidays, and strengthen your network past and present with a heaping serving of thank yous.

Thanks for reading. John


Waiting for Weekends---TGIF, Hump Day, Monday Morning Blues and other forms of Resistance

These strange cultural anachronistic phrases can prevent us from seeing the opportunities in every week. We make cute little monikers for every other day in the week to make time go by fast and give us wimpy little breathers. It's like we are still in 5th grade staring at the second hand of the clock as it ticks off seconds in slow motion and we crave a snack or a nap to get us through the day. Really?! Breaking time into these little digestible chunks takes our eyes off the prize. We focus on the short sprints instead of the marathon and the finish line.

 I get it, if you are stuck in a hard labor, assembly line, toxic job where you have no intellectual or emotional connection to the meaning or purpose of the work. Somehow, you took a job in some sort of prison camp. :) YOU have to plot your escape plan. I'm talking to the rest of you who put in your exhausting 40 hours a week (national average is closer to 35) as a runway for the weekend or evening pursuits. :) And then of course, Mondays and Fridays are the most frequent "sick" days. They still recommend that you avoid purchasing cars made on those days!Weekend So a three day work week for a four day weekend.

I see tremendous waste in talent and potential everyday. People who say they want to excel in their lives but who have erected so many barriers to their own success. Yes, they sabotage themselves! One of the greatest psychological syndromes that we impose on ourselves is our perception of the work week and weekends--How we view time. We inherited or invented rules and mythology about these artificial time lines. Times when we "work" and times when we "rest" and times when we "play". The irony is we know these distinctions do not make sense. We know that life and work get intertwined and interlaced whether we like it or not. We can't turn off our brains or put parental locks on certain of life's channels. You can't compartmentalize your life--"weekends are for me" or "once I leave the office I stop thinking about my career." These are ridiculous ideas if we care about your work and you have ideas about our contribution to the world. Because life happens. Or as the the Southwest flight attendant said, "Be careful when opening the overhead bins, because shift happens." It takes relentless pursuit to catch our dreams. And the clock ticks on..... Photo-clock14

Some of you have heard me rant about the fallacies of a well-balanced life and that we need to pursue a well-lopsided one!

Your minimal 40 hours of work is out of a possible 168 hours a week. If I give you 8 hours of sleep and 4.5 hours of free time everyday. That still leaves you with another full work week!

Yogi Berra said, You give 100 percent in the first half of the game, and if that isn't enough in the second half you give what's left. 

I know some of you moonlight, go to school, pursue your "art", work at non-profits. Fewer of you have set goals and milestones that will define your life--places to see, experiences to attempt etc. But most of you get arrested by the powerful gravitational pull of the couch! Author Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance. Resistance or friction in your life that impedes the development of your uniqueness and greatness. Some of you smirk or roll your eyes. But your life is different and whether you want to admit it or not you have very tangible and special ideas about you future. Your legacy is still being written.

I met a guy on the golf course who told me he would play 3000 rounds of golf before he died. At first this doesn't sound like much. Do the math. He is 62 and he already racked up 500 rounds. So if he plays until he is 75, he has 13 years of golf left. If he plays 4.5 times a week almost every week he barely makes it! Once you start quantifying your goals into years, months and weeks, I know you will view time and Mondays and Fridays differently.

Once I came to these conclusions about time, I re-arranged my whole life about 20 years ago. The difference between Mondays and Fridays melted into days, just days. I started waking up earlier on weekends, earlier than I did for work at that time. I realized how precious time was. I put in more time into every phase of my life. But especially into my career. I realized how I could be more exasperated with myself and others if I did not make more progress towards my goals. Goals that got re-defined by what I valued, enjoyed and loved. That's how I came up with my Download SWIVEL_new_2009 document to help people prioritize these goals.

I must tell you that once I came to this epiphany about time. That I was the master of my time. I am more satisfied and fulfilled with what I am doing and the progress I am making. I am more engaged and focused on who I am and where I am going. And I am told, I am more pleasant to be around. :)

My mother used to say every morning, "Let's get going. Your life is wasting away!" Like so many pieces of advice I was given as a child, I now understand these words.

As Coach Wooden said so well, "Make everyday your masterpiece." And he was definitely talking about weekends too!

Thanks for reading and for your time. John


When will my luck change?

Had the great opportunity to hear Tony Hsieh of Zappos fame speak about his new book Delivering Happiness. He is a very inspirational and passionate speaker about how to achieve increased meaning and fulfillment in life. Topics that I constantly try to advance in my work and words.

Tony talked about the role of luck in his life and the lives of others. It is something people have said to me too. "Wish I was as lucky as you!" I am offended by this on one level and deeply understand it at another. How much does luck play into our chances and choices? Where does this luck come from?  

 Fortune cookieTony cited the well known research about how "lucky" people perceive things so differently than "unlucky" people. One of the questions they ask all Zappos candidates is, "Are you lucky or unlucky?" And then they listen. People start to describe their good or bad luck. Some say, "Not sure why so many bad things happen to me." "Or I just seem to be at the right place at the right time." Zappos never hires the former. He said, "We just don't want that bad luck to come to Zappos." :) He went on to say that "lucky" people see opportunities in challenges and change. And the "unlucky" see the problems and the negative. And we all know that what you focus on, give attention to, attracts more of the same. Complainers attract more complainers and hang out together. While the "lucky" people just seem to get luckier.

My mom taught me this point of view by the way she lives and the way she sees the world. Her glass is not only full, but the glass is crystal and the water sparkles. It is not enough to be positive. No one will admit to being negative! You have to see the upside and the path to extend your sense of challenge and meaning. The "unlucky" get caught up in the whirlpool of obstacles and see a conspiracy of bad fortune. But the lucky just move beyond the stuff that holds them back, they regard it as inconveniences rather than the focus of life. 

Professor Richard Wiseman executed a ten-year study of the dimensions of luck, and published his findings in a book called The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind.

In his famous test, 400 participants of all ages were asked to count the number of photographs in a newspaper, and subjects who described themselves as "lucky" were much more likely to notice a message on page two, disguised as a half-page advertisement with large block letters: STOP COUNTING–THERE ARE 43 PHOTOGRAPHS IN THIS NEWSPAPER.

This experiment and many others have led Wiseman to conclude that a significant portion of one's good fortune is not random, but rather due to one's perspective.

He concludes that luck is not because of cosmic accidents, but because one achieves a particular mindset which amplifies "lucky" events. Here are my interpretations of his conclusions:

Lucky People

Unlucky People

Encounter opportunities, people who help them

Rarely have these experiences, attract negative people

Listen to their intuition and their hearts

Make decisions without these influences

Expect luck and have self-fulfilling prophecies

Do the opposite

Turn ill fortune into good, do not get overwhelmed

Get overwhelmed and things get worse

I have said over and over again, that depending on "luck" is the most foolish of career strategies. Luck visits those with their eyes open for opportunity, those who are not focused on their next step but the next horizon and those who take chances and push themselves outside of their comfort zones. If luck happens at all it will occur when you fully explore, experiment, and engage the world around you. 

The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity and the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.  Winston Churchill

Want some more luck? Look up instead of down. Collaborate instead of comiserate. Push yourself out of your current world and meet and reconnect with people and you will be surprised how lucky you are. 
 
Thanks for reading. John