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August 2011

Expecting Less to Get More----The Ruination of Expectations

Many of you know the role my parents have played in my life. They continue to inspire and mentor me. As we all age, I try to seek their perspective and counsel. They have both seen and learned so much more than me. There is no substitute for experience, for the maturity which comes from living, and the awareness of self that only comes with time. You can't presume what it is like to live 80 years. Like a giant oak tree or a aged cabernet, time passed is the only thing that generates the uniqueness of the shape of the branches or the taste of the finish. So when they tell me things I have learned to listen regardless of my first impression.Oak tree

"Expectations are the ruination of the individual," my mom asserted last week. This triggered several conversations to explore what she meant. Here's what I learned:

Think for a second about your expectations of people and life. What you expect at the restaurant. What you expect from your kids and other people's kids. What you think others should be doing or becoming. We are all guilty of maintaining a closet full of expectations which contains the uniforms or costumes we think others should be donning. I call this "the script" of life. You know, the script of what you expect people to say and do. Like a veteran film director, we can go through life seeing things and comparing them to what they should be, according to the script. What a frustrating experience it that would be if we only monitored the script in everything we do.

As we mature, we learn that the world will always surprise you if you let it. These unexpected occurences are what makes life interesting and enjoyable. Imagine if everything was predictably pleasant. Remember Gary Ross' Pleasantville, where happiness prevailed, no basketball player missed a free throw and the weather and everyone's disposition was always sunny. Would total predictability be insanity, monotony, or idyllic?

To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly moden intellect.  Oscar Wilde

I did not realize it but I have been in expectation rehab for a long time. After so many years of the highest expectations of everything, I have begun to understand what my mom is saying. If you evaluate everything that happens and are preoccupied with a set of expectations, you lose so much of what happens when it happens.Expectations1

You also become negative. We all know people who start off every conversation with the shortcomings and weaknesses of people and experiences. People with these unmet expectations have come to expect a world that is inadequate. Their negativity and complaints become expected. They are never satisfied with restaurants, movies, or jobs. Unmet expectations becomes their expectation. And it can be a spiral down. I am booting these people out of my network.

The law of attraction tells us that we attract to our lives whatever we give time, attention, and focus to--negative or positive.

I have discussed the power of serendipity on these pages. Surrender to the experience without expectations. Daniel Pink's book the Adventures of Johnny Bunko provides insightful career/life planning lessons. Lesson #1 is "There is no plan." That your pursuit of fulfillment and meaningful work should be driven by who you are. That the process of understanding who you are will take you on a boundless journey that will only be limited by expectations and a plan with a bunch of steps.

I have learned the hard way how nature is so much more powerful than nurture. That the DNA of people makes us truly different, in addition to the demographic and psychographic attributes. That expectations need to be intertwined with the person's needs and interests to work. The most dangerous expectations are those we have of others. Helping people become the best they can be versus who we want them to be is enormously different.

My first rule/principle to adopting the mentoring and networking lifestyle: Give first without expectations.

Aren't we supposed to have SMART goals? After all the first letter is Specific, right?!! Yes Yes. You must have goals--milestones that define a path to what you believe leads to success. It's just that we can not get so caught up in such a focused pursuit of these goals that they become expectations. And when we don't get what we expect--what happens? We get disappointed and lose confidence. The best goals are flexible and adaptable not only to the changing context (which changes the second you ink the plans/goals) but more importantly, your goals need to adapt to the changing you.

Employers can tell you what they expect, but a mentor will awaken your expectations of yourself.

Often we can lock in on our expectations, even if they are obsolete or irrelevant. That is human nature to get comfortable with things that are familiar. Where do those expectations lead us?

As always my mom and dad keep me thinking about what I don't know and what I need to learn about myself. I am beginning to understand the ruination of my expectations.

As I expect less I am experiencing more.  Thanks for reading. John


Repairing and avoiding burned bridges

What goes around comes around and sometimes it is a quick trip. 

That's what I was told by a wiser person early in my career. In other words, you meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way down. Burning bridges is plain stupid. The world is a small place and your reputation and network are precious. There is this fallacy that you can just plow ahead and push forward because you never go back that way again. And it doesn't matter because the people you've encountered in these developmental, experimental, or early stages of life will not be relevant to your world later. Kinda like your 2nd grade teacher, right?------wrong again. Burning bridges

There's just a very simple practical matter when you burn a bridge you don't have a reference, you have destroyed part of your history, and you have lost a part of your life.

Of course if you are in a toxic environment, work for a felonious employer or witness crimes against humanity, then you leave and you are not sensitive to the state and well-being of the relationship. You may leave in a manner that was not of your choosing or certainly in a way that does not reflect your best side. You have a solid rationale, righteousness, and an explainable reason for your unceremonious and possibly uncivil departure. Some bridges have to be burned.

Most burnt bridges don't involve dramatic fires and lawyers. Usually bridges get burned very slowly--slow enough to see and smell. Embers that smolder and eventually flame up and destroy whatever positive structures were there.

But when you have decided to leave of your own volition, get a better job, or just want out, you have to be professional. Some people don't get this. They think if they give their 2 weeks notice, never consult with their employer, and go on their merry way that the world remains intact and bridges are preserved. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bridges are not edifices on a one-way street that you take for granted and see in your rear view mirror. Bridges are often returned to for references and referrals. They are places and people that you visit to remind you of your progress and solidify your past. They are parts of the mosaic of your reputation and experience.

I was asked recently what you do when you have burned a bridge. The only thing you can do is to repair it, to go back to the scene of the fire and confront the same issues you faced originally.  Its best to repair the potholes in your road before they cause accidents. But what do you do? What can you do? You have to make the call. You have to make the connection you have to go face to face, listen and learn. You have to eat a big hunk of humble pie and apologize for the way YOU handled it. Hopefully there will be some reciprocity here if it is warranted. But if you can repair the burnt bridge so that it is at least neutral, then you have taken the higher road and restored a part of your history, part of you.BridgeConstruction

I have learned that professionalism and dignity are always the right choices. Not well known that I have been hired and fired. I have been laid off and paid off.  In every case it was evident that things were not working. I had a couple of choices. Get ahead of it or wait for the inevitable. I have found that anticipation is more virtuous than being right. Unless you are the boss/owner, then your perspective is secondary by definition. A lack of anticipation, attention and common sense can fossilize a bad relationship/job. Why not get off the burning bridge first. I once told my employer that I thought the relationship was not working and that we should plan my exit. He was stunned and grateful for the honesty. We made amicable plans and he is still a great reference for me! (Even tried to hire me back!)

I mentored this woman who works for a friend of mine. I generously gave her candid advice over years to focus her pursuit of higher responsibility and confidence. She ended up getting her Masters degree paid for by my friend's company. She progressed and she advanced and I took a tiny bit of pride in her growth. I never expected gratitude or anything. When she quit her job and did not give sufficient notice or even talk to my friend or me before she resigned, I was disappointed. I told her she burnt a bridge. She was shocked and also incredibly defensive. She said she had every right to move on and to advance her career. That was not the point. This was not about blind loyalty, this is about the process of engaging your supporters in your advancement. Your supporters are like micro investors who expect you to move up and out, but like to be informed. They don't want to be surprised. My friend was not only surprised but hurt. That bridge is a pile of ashes now. She still thinks its there, but later she may discover its gone when she needs it.

Bottom-line is if you have burnt bridges and regretted relationships you should reach out and fix them. They will never fade away and in fact they can haunt you. They hurt your brand. They might sabotage your future, but most important they diminish you. They reduce your sense of who you are.

The road you have travelled is a reflection of you and your relationships. Bridges and roads need to be maintained and repaired to remain strong and viable. It is never too late to go back to repair, but it it is simpler to avoid damaging any part of your path because you may tread there again.

Thanks for reading. John


Your slice of life depends on your PIE

The PIE system to advance your career is something I have taken for granted. I have seen the truth of the PIE reveal itself to me through all of my experiences and through many other people. And in the last few weeks I have found myself talking about this PIE concept with colleagues, friends, and mentees. For most people, it can unlock the doors of opportunity and change assumptions and habits to get you on a better trajectory. Harvey Coleman first discussed the PIE in his 1996 book Empowering Yourself.

Performance: Your achievements and competencies at workApple pie

Image: Your "brand", how you are perceived--rising star? reliable but invisible? good performer with no ambition?

Exposure: Your visibility through collaboration, your network, your relationships with higher ups, your mentor/sponsorships, and your engagement outside your job and department.

I meet so many people that are frustrated with their careers, their jobs, and to a real and substantial degree, with their lives. Every story is complex and there is no one-size fits all approach. But as I have discussed in these pages ad nauseum, the pursuit of passion and the integration of passion into your lives is THE key ingredient for a fulfilling existence. That your compass is always pointing where your heart is beating fastest. So, I will assume you get this as the entree before your PIE.

Here are several types of employed people I meet who struggle with their careers and where the PIE can help:

  • Younger, ambitious types who want to know the quickest path to the top
  • People "stuck" in a role or a job and want to break out and make a change
  • Mid managers in big orgs who want to traverse to a different division
  • People of color and women who experience glass ceilings and walls.

Been in many sessions with young people (first job types), executives, managers and women of color to discuss these slices of the PIE. They are asked to estimate the percentage--the weight each component carries to propel people up the food chain. No one gets it right. In fact the estimates are almost always exactly the opposite of the reality.PIE To the right is what Mr Coleman and I have found to be true.

P      Performance     ? %

I      Image                ? %

E    Exposure            ? %

Performance: This is fundamental assumption. If you aren't performing at the highest level by exceeding expectations and goals, then you can't think about mobility. Mr. Coleman called this "your ticket into the stadium" of competition. People who are stuck in their careers always get this one wrong.

Image: Personal brand management is critical. How people perceive your work, your presence and your contributions makes a difference. Most people scoff at this. This is the trap door that many people fall through which derails their ambitions. The way you dress, what you are paying attention to, your, written and verbal abilities, what you read, your leadership skills--do you look and act like a future leader/executive? People say they want to be VP, then act, dress and comport themselves is ways that are anti-VP. These people wonder why they are passed over for promotions, really?!! Not talking about the "game" of appearance. I am talking about your persona, intellect, actions--whether the person looks and smells like someone who is interested in the greater good of the organization, who gains influence through their ideas and thoughts and challenges the system with innovation and efficiency.

Exposure: After the first two steps are secured then exposure, your visibility, as a leader, as a person of action, as a connector is the difference maker. This is where adopting the lifestyle of mentoring and networking pays off! In your cubicle, your team and even in your department--there is a limited amount of impact you can have to advance goals, strategies, and RESULTS! Future managers, leaders, and executives have to bring together resources, ideas, and solutions outside of their domains. Exposure shows off your ability to succeed with others. It is easy to meet your personal goals by yourself. But engaging others shows you can manage and perhaps lead. Do you have a network of advisors, mentors, and sponsors within the organization and outside of work to guide you and provide truthful feedback? Exposure is not publicity or public relations--that is superficial stuff. It is not brown nosing or sucking up. It is the hard word of earning and gaining the confidence of others through relationships and results. It is not the ability to meet and greet a lot of people. It is not someone who becomes friends with the boss. It is the day in and day out proof that you are growing your influence and competence outside of the limits and confines of your job.

A few suggestions to advance your PIE:

  1. Self assessment--Rank yourself on these attributes. Be honest and write down strengths, gaps and opportunities.
  2. External assessment--Seek mentors or other confidantes (could be your boss) on your promotability. What does she/he see as your SWOT.
  3. Find a role model(not necessarily a mentor)--Someone who you see as doing it right. Someone who is achieving success or has reached your goal and to whom you can relate. Research this person(s), reach out to them and meet with them. Think outside of your environment and employer.
  4. Make changes--Based on the above, start a persistent process to do a make-over. Strengthen each slice of your PIE.

We all want a bigger slice of the pie of life to give us purpose and meaning. Many of us want more responsibility, growth opportunities, promotions, pay increases, and higher level jobs. Some of this is blind ambition, hopefully it is driven something more personal than "more is better." That is a recipe for unending dissatisfaction if there is no passion. So PIE is a good tool to confront your strategy to advance your career and your life and to get a much more fulfilling slice of it.

Thanks for reading.  John