truth and candor

Uncomfortable Comfort

Words mean a lot to me. Perhaps more as I age. I value the meaning of the words we choose and use. People who know me well understand that certain words set me off. My bans on "busy", "when I retire...", "stability" are well documented. 

I push myself, and others who will listen, to "play out of bounds" and to not compromise our dreams. Why are we not pursuing what is most important to us? What obstacles prevent us to live the life we want? Am I where I am supposed to be? Are our networks diverse or a bunch of people who are clones --eating, voting, entertaining, agreeing, liking, the same stuff? 

My goal is to disrupt the mindlessness of our lives. Where we accept and tolerate what we have and don't want. 

I was conducting a session with graduate students about career transitions and got this question: "How long should I be uncomfortable?" It was a great question. Because it was honest. It was a vulnerable question. It was a question about the searching and certainty. After all when you are grad school procrastinating your future :), you think a lot about the land of career clarity. If we are contemplating change in our lives, if we are paying attention to the world around us, we all are trying to get to this mystical land of clarity.

When we are open to what we don't know, when we are open to opportunities that we had not considered, when we become vulnerable to questions and conversations that change us----we get uncomfortable.

Get-comfortable-being-uncomfortable-7

Comfort the Afflicted and Afflict the Comfortable. F. Peter Dunne

Perhaps my theme song! And definitely my favorite quote.

In other words, I am not where I want to be. I am not sure where I am going. I feel stuck or I crave more certainty about my path. I want more meaning, fulfillment and a greater sense of purpose. I need an answer to give me comfort.

So here's my answer:

You should never be comfortable. Never.

In terms of life and career development.

Yes, we should smell the roses, appreciate our milestones and yes let's have gratitude.

But before we get too caught up in our greatness, drunk with our achievements, and light headed with thankfulness--let's consider the infinite challenge of serving others. Let's pause and consider our ambitions for our families and ourselves. Let's truly understand that we are not satisfied with our inner or outer lives. So stability is a joke. Certainty is a unicorn.

How do you continuously pursue your own growth and that means your ability to help others?

You can join the growing NIMBY family or what I call the OIMBY tribe (Only In My Backyard)--where you take care of your immediate family and everyone else is on their own.

We have to be uncomfortable with our comfort.

We now face the danger, which in the past has been the most destructive to the humans: Success, plenty, comfort and ever-increasing leisure. No dynamic people has ever survived these dangers. 

John Steinbeck 

The status quo sucks! Am I right? The world is not quite right. We are still filling out the breadth of our potential. Our families are a work in progress. Our communities are in great need. The world is at the brink of challenge and change.

When we stop and think about what we can do, what we have to advance our lives and the lives of others, and consider the obscene abundance in which we reside----We can get uncomfortable. :)

Once you accept that our work is infinite. That our role is to advance the work and give the next gen a chance to continue the work. That can give you a modicum of comfort. But then you realize, as I do everyday, life is short. We don't know when our ticket will be punched. So what will I do today?

Don't misunderstand me. Lack of comfort is not lack of peace. Inner peace comes with understanding one's role and opportunity. Inner peace comes with serving others. True peace is the product of an altruistic life of compassion. And compassion literally means to suffer with others. So we come full circle to an uncomfortable peace. 

Our truth stands in the doorways in front of us, doorways that excite, invite, and frighten us.

Have I afflicted you?

Here's to your uncomfortable peace. Thanks for reading. John

 

A poem I wrote inspired by these thoughts:

Comfortable Conversation
Comfortable?
Very
Too comfortable?
Perhaps
Why do you ask?
Comfort is nice
When
When is the right time to talk?
To talk
About what I want
Now
Is this the right time?
Time
Time is the enemy
Got plenty of that
What
What does this mean?
Life is defined
By indecision
I know
I know what I want
But
Do I want what I know?
How
How do I get there?
Where
Where I am going?
This never ends
With a decision
Do nothing
Why
Why am I here?
Need time to talk about this
Need
That's what I am doing
Again

Peek a Boo! I See Me

Infants don't understand the concept of permanence. It is an essential stage of cognitive and sensory motor skill development. We have all done this with little kids. We hide our faces with our hands and then reveal our faces and say Peek a Boo! And the kids are astonished and amazed. Like a magic trick. They laugh uncontrollably because of the surprise.

And when toddlers cover their faces, they think they are invisible.

When we grow up we are still confused about what is real. We think we are invisible. As adults we hide our own faces and our feelings We become quite clever in masking our true selves. And the mask can become the face. Peekaboo

I meet many people at many points in their lives. Junctions, detours, shifts, inflection points, crossroads--all names for the same thing---Life! Every moment considering choices is about change. Anyway, I try to use these moments to see if I get clues about what they really want. Poker players call it the "tell". A sign given off by facial expression, body tics, and or inflection that gives away a truth.

I recently met with a younger man and he was babbling on about who he was and his impressive background ( I remember when I use to show up and throw up) He said, "I want to help people." (When I hear this it takes every ounce of my control not to say, "Yeah "people" that narrows your career choices!") Instead I said "Which people?" And after a series of these back and forths. He spoke eloquently about "helping people overcome what he had overcome." I stopped him and asked him to tell me how he felt. I told him how I felt. It was pretty emotional. His eyes, inflection and body language did all of the talking. And we built a small rhetorical campfire and sat down to explore this personal story. He thought I read his mind, but he opened his book and read from his heart. I was moved.

That honesty about what matters gives me a view of what I think is the soul. The true self who hides in the costume and mask department of our minds. It is a bit of a game of hide and seek I play with others and myself. To get the souls to come out and play and share.

It reminds me to be vulnerable and empathetic in the way I listen and think. It helps me immensely. And I know it has an impact on others and the dimensions of conversation that ensue.

I am convinced that we unconsciously let others and ourselves suppress so much of our potential and our soulfulness. The heavy blanket of expectations, political correctness, not looking stupid, not making other people uncomfortable, not being good enough etc etc.

Sheryl Turkle and her fascinating book, Reclaiming Conversation:

My research shows that we are too busy connecting to have the conversations that count, the kind of conversation in which we give each other our full attention, the kind where we allow an idea to develop, where we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Yet these are the kinds of conversations in which intimacy and empathy develop, collaboration grows, and creativity thrives. We move from conversation to mere connection. And I worry that sometimes we forget the difference. Or forget that this is a difference that matters.

In our daily conversations, it starts with so called small talk, exchanges where we move our lips and sounds tumble out of our pie holes. Classic example is "How are you?" and you reply reflexively, "Fine. You?" and a thousand unthinking variations. But our robotic chatter is not limited to these informal seemingly meaningless verbal transactions. They now consume most of our time. Like bad texting exchanges that say nothing. We partake in a lot of live face to face superficial texting through our mouths. 

We say words and others say words we neither listen to or fully comprehend what pablum spews back and forth. It is not that we are uncaring souls, but we have rehearsed our routines like inadequate amateur versions of Robin Williams' improv group of personalities. We pull something from our inner hard drive and it plays without much thought.

How do we disrupt this pattern if we want to have more interesting and meaningful conversations? How do we show our empathy and compassion for one another? Who starts the real conversation?

Do we have the time and patience? Do we?

And yet we want help. We crave and cry out for mentoring for guidance for support--on our terms, just in time, convenient, fast and simple to assemble. We want life and career advice that comes out of an IKEA box, or fits into a 3 minute YouTube. Not a revealing conversation.

Love Akuyoe Graham's advice to me about enjoying the taste of the words. Meaning that you take the time and thought to savor what you say. You sense the words you speak, their weight, their intention and you convey those thoughts with your face and your body.

Am I there, present, vulnerable, open, attentive, listening, more interested than interesting? That matters. And can make way to real conversations.

Theodore Zeldin from his book Conversation How talk can change our lives:

Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet, they just don't exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, engage in new trains of thought. Conversation doesn't reshuffle the cards, it creates new cards. It's a spark that two minds create.

How many conversations do we have like that? Wouldn't that be good?

In my analysis this real conversation is a meeting of the minds and a meeting of the souls. 

It takes both sides to make this happen.

Peek a boo (excerpt from my poem)

I see you

Then you’re gone

I see what you want to be, what you try to be

I see what you want me to see

I saw something

The glint of the sun through the clouds

I felt you

A warm breeze on a summer eve

Something real and fleeting

Like a poltergeist

The warmth and chill of presence

I feel you

Peek a boo

But just like that you disappear

From right in front to out of sight

Are you gone or just hiding?

What are you afraid of?

When will I see you again?

Maybe it’s me

Am I scaring you?

Peek a boo

I see me

Like a mirror image

That glimpse of you was a glimpse of me

I want what you want

And your words are the words I want

I hear me through you

Peek a boo

You are changing me

Am I changing you?

An open heart opens the mind

We are changed

We try to be invulnerable and see no flaw

We become vulnerable and see the light

Peek a boo

I learn from you

When I was teaching you

Peek a boo

You mentor me

When I was trying to mentor you

You helped me 

Did I help you?

Peek a boo

I saw you

And you see me

I need you

And you need me

Come out to play and let’s be                                                          John E. Kobara

 

We must help others and ourselves explore and share our truths, our souls. 

If we see it, acknowledge it, welcome it. And embrace it. 

Build a campfire and listen to each other's stories. We have so much to learn from one another. 

Thanks for reading. 


What is Your Realm?

A close colleague of mine was discussing the future of an unemployed at-risk youth we had just met, "We can not just dress up these young men and teach them how to get jobs at fast food restaurants. We must help them understand their place in the realm of their world. Their role in society. Then and only then will they help themselves and their communities."

Realm: Noun. Meaning: domain, activity, sphere, knowledge, interest

Aren't we all "at-risk" of not knowing our role, our realm? 

Each of us has a "realm".  A place which inspires us. An environment that brings out the best in us. Work that is meaningful to us. Our realm nurtures our sense of duty and commitment to what we do.

What is your realm? Your realm of possibility and responsibility?

I am often in debates and discussions about being a king or a kingmaker. But why aren't we talking about the kingdom and its needs. The kingdom is the community--your realm. 

If our realm is only about ourselves, tis a small and selfish realm indeed. 

Big hat no cattle.  Big Hat

Becoming a better person, a more educated person, a more mature person, a more successful person--always starts with the realm---How that person contributes to things beyond themselves. So a realm is unique and specific idea, cause, skillset, space that you embrace, protect, invest in and stand for.

We now face the danger, which in the past has been the most destructive to the humans: Success, plenty, comfort and ever-increasing leisure. No dynamic people has ever survived these dangers. John Steinbeck  1962

Our own comfort and happiness can limit our realm. Jim Collins, business guru, called it the "undisciplined pursuit of more". More for what? Most of us need little, we want a lot! Yet we know others who need what we have.

It is human nature to start with oneself but where is the humanity in this?

What should I be? vs How can I be useful?

Who I am vs What I do?

I am good vs Good I do

People tell me everday they want to be entreprenuers, or start non-profits, they rarely say what they want to do for the world and how they will change it. I never hear "I want to cure cancer", or "Mentor at risk youth" or "Increase the quality of STEM education" or "Alleviate the suffering of the homeless"

I hear selfish, often innocuous and mostly meaningless general thoughts about their futures.

  • "I want to make a difference." Huh?
  • "I want to do something I believe in." What?
  • "I want to make money." Become a counterfeiter!
  • "I am going to retire soon to rest." Another act of procrastination.
  • "I don't want to make other people rich." Yikes!
  • "I want to help people."  OMG!
  • "I want to grow." Who doesn't?!

Remember the emperor with no clothes? That's what we sound and look like when we say these things. When we care more about what others think and have no realm. If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything! Or wear anything! Or say or do anything or nothing at all.

Without a realm it is near impossible to network and be mentored. 

But John I have no realm, but want one. What do I do?

  1. Self awareness is the first step and now your eyes are open
  2. Listen to your heart and take notes. 
  3. Explore what seriously interests you and drives you. Use your network.
  4. Your realm is not just your job. You can have multiple realms. Start small and grow.
  5. Do not wait. This is the best time to start.

#1 myth in Greg McKeown's terrific 12 myths that lead to a busy and unfulfilling life:

"I'm too busy living to think about life." This is a huge blamethrower. It's not my fault everyone else expects so much of me. 

I always wanted to be somebody, but I realized I should have been more specific. Lily Tomlin

Been mentoring a young man for years. Tried to get him to focus on life instead of his ambition. His goal was a title not a mission. He talked of promotions not deeds. Tried to engage him in the work vs his own welfare. He is just emerging from that super selfish time that I have blogged about between 24-30 years old. Finally he has emerged from the fog of self absorption and saw his realm. I had to wait this one out. Not entirely his fault he was a Me Myself and I kinda guy. Recently the fog cleared and he can see past his own shoes and the path has emerged from the darkness. He thinks I made the fog disappear. He doesn't realize that when you are looking at yourself you can't see anything or anyone else. And he is now pursuing his usefulness in his realm.

Refine your sense of how you will do something about what you care about, what angers you, what vision you have for your communty what gives you joy and how you can help others. Before you refine your resume and interview skills! 

A focus on just building yourself without context is a form of naricissim that can lead to a life of disappointment and unfulfilled potential. This is the leading cause of a life of regret. 

Call it maturity. Call it fate. Call it career development. Self awareness leads to enlightenment if you let it. 

Your realm is waiting. You are the king or queen but how is your kingdom doing? We are at risk of being too busy to think about life. So find your realm.

GOT realm? For the good of your realm!

Thanks for reading. John  


Like what you got to get what you like

People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives. J. Michael Straczynski

How do we take full responsibility for where we are? Embrace what we are doing to get where we need to go. See our current opportunity as the best step to advance our lives and the lives of others.

Put the victim, excuses, entitlement and blame game behind us and power ahead by embracing the present.

Not talking about "hanging in there" or "toughing it out" or certainly not "waiting for something good to come along."

You underestimate what you have and how it can help you advance.

How do we love what we do to do what we love?

What you say to yourself and others becomes who you are. Your story is what connects you to your future and to others.

You attract whatever negative and or positive vibes you give off.

"I hate my job." "I can't wait to get out of here." "I don't believe in what I am doing any more."

It's odd but very frequent when people tell me that they are basically unhappy with their jobs and their lives. By the way, 70% of Americans say they are disengaged from their jobs--70%! (Gallup State of the American Workplace)

People say the darndest things. :) They appear to have little pride in themselves. 

As the Mad Hatter advised Alice at the tea party:

Then you should say what you mean. 

I do,' Alice hastily replied; `at least--at least I mean what I say--that's the same thing, you know.

Not the same thing a bit!' said the Hatter.

You might just as well say,' added the March Hare, `that "I like what I get" is the same thing as "I get what I like"!

So say what you mean but mean what you say! And like what you got to get what you like!

You got to embrace your circumstances, your current work, your employer and your life---because it's what you got. And you have to describe what you have by appreciating the positive and making lemonade.

I am not saying to stay at a toxic job. I am not saying to sugar coat your thoughts about your work and to lie about it. I am not talking about blind loyalty. I am speaking of a loyalty and commitment to yourself. This is your job. This is your life. And to the extent you allow your job to define you, you have to own it. 

And your narrative, your storyline, can't be just negative. What you say about your work reflects on you and impacts your buzz and your trajectory.

So many people sound like fugitives to me. They are fleeing something to find something better. They have a foot out the door and are seeking the next thing. They are not in the present but stuck in the past and scheming about the future. They are not in the now. Just finished the New New Thing by Michael Lewis. Your life can't always be about the new new thing but about the now now thing. 

Opportunities seek those that adapt and succeed and make the most out of what they have. 

First of all the pursuit of life driven by passion and meaning can only be partially satisfied by one's professional career. For some fortunate people, work life can generate the bulk of one's life satisfaction. But for many of us we have to adopt a portfolio approach to life. Like your investments you need an allocation strategy to create returns from multiple sources which can "hedge" the others. We need a constellation of interests to feed our great hunger and curiosity for stimulation and meaning. If we place all of our eggs in one basket, place all of our chips on one bet, invest all of our energy into our job, the result is predictably an insufficient life.

Life choicesPeople who are engaged in their lives. Who exude energy, confidence and positivity. These are people who by and large manage a broad and diverse portfolio of interests and activities. Their day job is but one source of their life force.

These are people who are busy, really busy. They make the most of what they have and they always seem in demand.

Get your story straight. What are you doing now that is interesting and engaging? Own where you are regardless of the challenges. Love it. Build on what you have to get to the next step in your plan.

What are you optimizing for?, asks Brian David Johnson, Intel's futurist.  How are you using the present to plan your evolving future? How are you spending your work time and non-work time to provide more stimulation and growth? What is energizing your progress and your momentum now? What skills, knowledge and abilities are you honing?

It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. Epictetus

One of the reasons why so few of us ever act, instead of react, is because we are continually stifling our deepest impulses. Henry Miller

Don't dismiss your life as "Not what I want to do" or "It's just a job" Talk about what's emerging for you. Talk about what you are optimizing for. That will help you and others see your path.

You are going somewhere, right? And this place where you are is the best place to get there--because that's where you are!

Be what you say and say what you are. Appreciate what you have and who you are. And do it with pride and energy. 

Success is going from one failure to the next with enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

Thanks for reading. John


Ambition to Walk the Talk

How do we become who we say we are? Is aspirational language how we grow into our lives? We often describe ourselves in generous terms. Are we who we say we are?. 

I call myself a social entrepreneur. I say I am one so it is so, right. Not so fast. We are not what we say we are!

We are certainly not what our bios say! :) Footprints-in-The-Sand-

I attended the spectacular Skoll World Forum a couple of weeks ago to meet with like minded people from around the world--so I thought.  

For me it was the Skull Forum, because I felt my cranium get filled up!

In my skull sized kingdom, ala David Foster Wallace, I am pretty good at what I do. A legend in my own mind! I know this is not true but I deceive myself by saying things and going to places where I look good. I joke I have always been in the top 10% of the bottom half of my class. :) Never fully convinced I belong or deserve to be there.

So at the Skoll conference I pushed myself to meet real social entrepreneurs. People who put their careers on the line for their ideas, to help others and solve a problem. It was so refreshing and humbling.

There were some sages on the stage--from Richard Branson to Malala who made me think. But the real impact of the conference was in the aisles and in the conference rooms where I sat with people from all over the planet who are dreaming and doing amazing things. (Did meet some wannabes like me too :)

Martin Burt: Changing the definition and solutions for poverty in Paraguay.

Dina Sherif: Growing the social entrepreneur community to energize the evolution of Cairo, Egypt.

Oren Yakobovich: Exposing human rights violations through innovative surveillance.

Monica Yunus: An extraordinary opera singer, daughter of Muhammad Yunus, who is changing the world through the arts.

They reminded me what social entrepreneurs look like, what they sound like, and what they do. Without role models we have nothing. Great inspiration for what I have to do--where I have to walk. Not to be like them, but to become who I am. Make sense?

Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the way is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing behind
one sees the path
that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road–
Only wakes upon the sea.

antonio machado

Walking the talk is ultimately about authenticity. Who am I and where am I going? What do I stand for? How do I learn? How do I make a difference? The truths.

Once we get real and stop believing our press releases we have a chance at becoming something. 

Ambition, if it feeds at all,does so on the ambitions of others.  Susan Sontag

If you allow it your ambition is altered by others. Your best ambition is open source and needs inputs and energy. It can not be static. And developing your ambition takes effort. When we are younger we just want more, more opportunities, more growth, more responsibility, more titles, more influence, and more money. As we mature, we realize that more is undefined and this type of amorphous ambitiousness is aimless and meaningless. That we must have purposes that energize us. Our paths will be defined by what we do versus what we want. And when we are fully engaged, wholeheartedly entwined, then we see the benefits of connecting to and learning from others. That our mission is not a solo flight but a community fight. Iterating requires the ideas and inspirations of others, not to get there first but to make progress towards the goals together. 

Walking the talk requires walking. Walking down the path of others, with others. Walking in their shoes. Walking to make progress and to push forward. Talking is never walking. Let your walking do the the talking. 

When you walk you meet people, especially if you are not following a single route, but a meandering path to your ambition. That way you can't just walk with your friends or family. You must walk with new sources of ideas and perspectives. 

When you learn new things you change your path, you alter your gait, you become less certain about your original destination and your ambition grows.

To some this sounds wish-washy and unfocused. But to me and others, it is the path to clarity.

When you go through the turnstile to enter the library of ideas-- to check out every aisle and every book--not to peruse the aisles and books you know, then you will confront new sources of truth and reality. 

Ambition is connecting and ambitiousness is isolating. 

Everyone says they want to change the world. But we all know that saying things and doing things are two entirely different universes. Walking your talk does matter. That's your ambition. Change your talk by walking. 

Think about what you say to yourself and to others. -How you define yourself and your future. Then start walking. 

Thanks for reading. John


Are you Entrepreneurial? I Doubt It.

Our brains are not always connected to our mouths. We say stuff that sounds good that gets embedded in our hard drives and flows out our pieholes without any awareness of the meaning of these words. I meet lots of people who tell me their dreams, goals and ideas. I listen to the words they use. Robotically spoken words that have become de rigueur to sound smart and modern. Apparently if you are human with a pulse you now have certain traits because everyone now utters these attributes as their own. Here are the top 2 that have become commodities and to me suspicious:

  • Entrepreneurial
  • Creative/Innovative
These words once meant something important and special. No longer. 

What people really like is being in environments described by these words. Everyone loves to work in "entrepreneurial", "innovative" or "creative" organizations. But that does NOT make you these things. This is the confusion.

Breathing the air in Africa never makes you African. Being around talent does not make you talented. Being the son of an artist has never made me artistic. :)

First of all you have to prove with evidence that you are any words you use. Like Robin Williams, you would have at least 5 stories queued up ready to "ad lib" your proof that you are what you say you are. I know this sounds basic, but most people don't have any proof ready so there is nothing behind the curtain. In my experience these people are not evil purveyors of deceit, but they usually have not filtered what is directly flowing out of their craniums. So they do deceive themselves. These words and many others are part of their memorized routines, reflexive habits that occur well outside of their consciousness. IAmEntrepreneur1240-copy

When you use these words and all of you do, please be prepared to defend them with other words and examples you have thought about.

Let me just focus on Entrepreneurial. This one bugs me more than the rest. This is a sacred word to me. I know and have worked with true entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are friends of mine. And you are no entrepreneur! (you know who you are)

Success is going from one failure to the next with enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

Are You Entrepreneurial? This means you like taking chances; you take risks; you embrace failure and love to iterate. You are driven by passion and the problem you desire to solve. Most entreprenuers have been fired multiple times. They quit cozy jobs with dental benefits to pursue a passion or an audacious concept with no benefits.  Entreprenuers have glorious stories of failure. They have some stories of success. They always have side projects they are building in their proverbial garages. You are not entrepreneurial sometimes. You can't just turn on your entrepreneurial talent. It is in your DNA and it manifests itself everywhere you are. 

So if this is not you and you have no proof, stop saying you are entrepreneurial!

Big difference between claiming to be entrepreneurial and wanting to become an entrepreneur! It's great to aspire to be an entrepreneur. Seek them out as mentors, engage in entrepreneurial ventures, and explore your entreprenerial side. Try it on for size. The bug will bite you or not. You will know when it happens. Then this term will be true for you. Only then will you understand why true entrepreneurs recoil at hearing imposters cheapen this way of living and working by recklessly and irresponsibly adding "entrepreneurial" to their list of words in their resumes.

Let's also help others stop using these words when they are not true. Evaluate the words you use and be prepared to back them up with deeds.

Thanks for reading. John


Do I look like my next job?

Was watching the Golf Hall of Fame Induction ceremony the other night. Fred Couples was inducted and introduced by sportscaster Jim Nantz. Jim re-told the great story about the dreams they had as classmates and team mates on the University of Houston golf team. In 1978 Fred Couples and Jim Nantz, a broadcast journalism student at the time, rehearsed many times the scenario where Fred won the Masters and Jim interviewed him holding a fake microphone. On April 12, 1992 this very dream ACTUALLY happened, just like they had planned. Freddie won the Masters and Jim interviewed him in Butler Cabin fourteen years later! 

Fred and jim
Fred Couples and Jim Nantz 1992

Part of looking like your next job means you prepare for it, you envision it, and you have rehearsed it. 

But the salient point here is they had a dream. They knew what they wanted. Their vision proceeded their ambitiousness.

It's never foolish to begin preparing for a transition no matter how many years away it is or where you are in your career. Muriel Wilkins

Amy Gallo advocates these principles in her blog:

Do:

  • Look for every opportunity to demonstrate your leadership potential, at work and outside t
  • Support your boss in reaching her goals
  • Find people in positions you aspire to and study what makes them successful

 Don't:

  • Let your ambitions distract you from doing your current job well
  • Exert authority where you don't have any — use influence to prove your leadership chops
  • Find the right time to openly discuss your ambitions

I was sitting at a career event dinner and a young woman across the table from me blurts out, "Hey, is there any truth that I should look like I want my boss's job?" I paused and asked whether she was talking about dressing for success or was it more than that. She said, "Yes, what I wear, but also what I do." Now before all of you roll your eyes and groan--how naive this young lady is--let me tell you few people, young and more mature, get this. One of the funny parts of this story is I learned later that her boss was sitting next to me!

She clearly had thought about this question and showed some guts to ask it. Here's a brief synopsis of our exchange:

First make sure you know what you want and want what you know. Yes, how you look, act, talk, perform, shapes your brand within the organization. Your brand is what people think about what you bring to work. Your brand is where people think you are going. Your brand is the potential others, including you boss, see for you. (Not what you see for yourself) So, how you look matters. But what you say and what you do matters more. 

I mentioned the PIE research to her. Where your Performance is a given and is the least influential in your promotability. It is your Image (your brand) and your Exposure (your visibility) that dwarf your performance  in terms of your promotability. This surprised her.

We discussed her "managing up" skills. Does she help her boss beyond her job by making observations, preparing thought pieces, giving feedback, and anticipating her boss's needs?

A successful middle manager gets promoted when she takes the right amount of initiative, defers the right amount of credit and orchestrates success. That success might happen despite (not because) of who her bosses are, and that's just fine, because she's leading up.   Seth Godin

And then I said, "You gotta look like your next job." Meaning--if you dress down to your level then people may not see you as a manager or an executive. We all know the clothes don't make the person, but your brand is your brand. If the culture at your place of employment is managers wear suits, then you need to adjust your look. If your culture is the executives get in early or stay late. Or if the culture is reading certain publications or attending certain events. Then you need to adapt to these cultural norms and values.

My favorite story on this topic is when a gang member named Leonard came to Father Greg Boyle to seek his advice on getting a job. Leonard told him that he gets interviews but never an offer. Leonard had tattooed on his forehead in 3 inch letters F#@K THE WORLD. I met Leonard after he had that tattoo removed from his head and now he has more opportunities. 

I know this is extreme but I have seen, worked with, and managed people who discuss their lofty career plans out of one side of their mouth and then they come to work looking like they don't care. Their dress communicates the same phrase as Leonard's old forehead!

Management, the executive team, see potential in the performance and then the brand of the person. 

When the student is ready the teacher appears.  Buddha

Use your network and your mentors to  check your forehead. :) To check your vision. To check what you want. To check your brand. That will help you see yourself and find out if you look like your next job. 

Thanks for reading.  John


Resume Reboot

Nobody should be the victim of their own resume. 

Odds are you have neglected your resume. It is a poor reflection of who you are, what you have done and where you are going. I see so many horrific resumes! This is your key marketing and networking document whether you like it or not. Once you come to grips with the fact that this document will probably determine how your career path goes, hopefully you will spend more time updating it than the few seconds it takes to read it. Yes, the average resume is read for just 8-10 seconds. However updating your resume will take hours. But it has been my experience that few people update their resumes regularly and then slap one together when they need it.

I have joked that I send my resume to my mother for mother's day because it makes her beam with pride.

We all know that a resume is not whole truth, but it can't contain lies. Big difference! Resume

Every resume should be re-booted and renovated. For if you have not learned anything, accomplished anything, or done anything over the last x years since you updated your resume, you should go straight to the unemployment office and not collect $200. Every resume needs to be updated.

How do you differentiate yourself? How do you tell YOUR story? How are you interesting?

Here are 10 easy basic steps to evaluate and tune up your resume:

  1. No Career Objective--Save your customized language for the cover letter. Listing a generic job goal hurts you.
  2. Chronological Only!--No functional resumes! These look like you are trying to hide something! No one can read these and figure out what you did and when. Use months to show employment periods. 
  3. Lead with Education If You are Young--New grads have to tout their degrees. But people out for 5 years or so put education at the end.
  4. One Page for New Grads Only--If you have no substantive work/professional experience, then use a single sheet. But if you have accumulated real and relevant experience then you can go to two or more. After three, you better have cured cancer!
  5. Describe Your Employer--If the reader does know the company/organization they assume the worst. Add a couple of sentences that describe the unique qualities and mission of your employer. You can take it off their website. Some employers are well known, but most are mysteries.
  6. What Did you Do with your Job  Responsibilities?-- List the duties of what anyone would do in your job, but add bullets that relect the accomplishments you achieved. What did you do with the job that was beyond the average occupant of this position? Did you bring in money, save money, create innovations, solve problems.....? How did you add value?
  7. Nothing Fancy--No special fonts, no colored paper, no images/logos or photos of you! Remember most resumes are input into systems and fancy formatting gets re-arranged and makes your resume look really bad. 
  8. Add Internships, Volunteer Work, and Other Activities can be Integrated--When relevant to a particular job, you should include the substantive roles in and amongst your work history. If you chaired a major board or a committee of the company, then list it as a "job". 
  9. Remove References Upon Request--Never list your references at the end. You will want to give the hiring organization a customized list of names that reflect their interests and requests. Taking off the obvious statement "References Upon Request" will give your more space. 
  10. Great Cover Letter--Very important that this never is a generic note that feels like a mass mailing form letter. This is a great canvas where you will paint a picture of yourself that you want the reader to get. What is your story? Tell it so the reader does not have to guess. Plus you can mention who referred you to this job/organization. Being referred is the most powerful thing you can do. That referring name differentiates your resume/application from the others. Plus, they have to remember what they did with you in case there is follow-up!

Time Gaps--You were laid off 8 months ago. You been on maternity/mommy leave for a couple years. Unless you were just on the couch, you were doing something besides applying for jobs online, right? Any consulting, volunteer work, internships become more relevant especially at the top of your resume. Recent studies show you will get way fewer call backs when there is an extended gap at the top of your resume. Duh!

Proof Readers--Have your confidantes read your stuff for readability, typos, grammar, formatand to help you present the best case. They know you and they will also push you to brag appropriately. 

Resume Resources--Many online free resources. I like Rileyguide.

Please reboot your resume. Get it into to shape to represent you well! Impossible to network without one.

Thanks for reading. John 

 


Curate Your Network

I like cooking. It is like therapy for me. It is a chance to be creative and then you get to literally enjoy your work! :) I follow two basic approaches. I either start with a recipe that I have cut out of a publication that intrigued me. Or I look in the frig and see what is there. The first method requires me to plan, buy stuff, and take time to read and learn. The second is a challenge but is the lazier alternative. I enjoy both forms of cooking.

Life is like my cooking analogy. (stay with me). You can always rely on what you have, what you know, and who you know. Or you can add new learnings, new connections, and new ideas to your process. I know this is not an either or proposition. We all have our tendencies, our habits, and our default modes of living and cooking. Frig

I have seen that people network this way too. They have a few people they rely on for their career nourishment, their advice, and their direction. Not talking about your mentors now. I am referring to your network that is beyond your friends and family. These are people that may occupy your extended reference list, including former bosses, colleagues--people who you from time to time rely upon for advice and connections. How fresh or stale is this network?

This is the network that is in your frig. 

Now think about where you are going with your life and career. Your ambitions, goals, and career aspirations--(your recipes, if I have not overstretched this analogy already). How does your network relate to these thoughts? In other words, does your current go-to network have the experiences, background, passion, connections to help you get to where you are going?

If you have read any of my posts you know that you can never under-estimate your existing relationships--that you often don't know who you know. 

But I also want you to take an inventory of your current network. To see whether you need to add to your network or uncover your needs in your existing network.

The point is to design your network. Curate a network that has the dimensions and facets that reflect your interests, career objectives, and passions. 

I meet so many people who want to work in a non-profit. That is what they say. "I want to work for a non-profit." They might as well have said they want to live in Asia. The lack of specificity will engage no one in your quest. After I pummel them with questions about the specifics, I always ask them, "Who do you know that works in a non-profit (especially one they want to work for)?" Most tell me they do but HAVE NOT HAD THE TIME TO CONNECT WITH THEM? Hmmmmmm. 

Our networks have to reflect where we are going and certainly match up with what we tell others are important to us. 

Look in your frig. See what you need to acquire, learn about, read about---specifically who you want to meet. Is everyone in your network more or less like you? Then you need to add some variety to your cooking! Talking to yourself will only get you so far! You need new ideas, inspirations, and energy. Once you have a good idea about your goals then seek people with names you want to meet. People with certain titles. People in specific orgs. Which orgs are the leaders in this field/industry? Who are the thought leaders?

Are you following the people, organizations and publications that reflect your goals? 

Curate your own network. Not just by adding friends on FB or linking on Linked-in. Do it with intention and purpose. Not just to get jobs, but to deepen your understanding and your commitment to your goals--the ones you say to yourself and to others. Once you connect with others those words and thoughts will change but your path will become more clear.

Thanks for reading. John 


Meaning of Mentoring

In honor of National Mentoring Month, we need to celebrate, advocate, and encourage mentoring. Each of us has the power to mentor. Regardless of age and stage--you have what it takes to help others. Mentoring is not the province of the "experts", the "elderly", the "successful" or the "important". We have established this on these pages many times. The keys to effective mentoring is showing up and doling out the truth.  Everyone-needs-a-mentor

More than anything, mentoring is about the meaning. The meaning of their lives. It is about the meaning of their work. It is about the meaning of their relationships. It is about the why not the what. It is focused on getting people to be true to their purpose. 

It is always Meaning over Money.  Robin Johnson  

Don't worry about your stuff. Worry about making meaning.  Seth Godin

Some people confuse mentoring with giving advice, outlining steps, or god forbid, helping people develop a plan.

Mentoring is like the best conversations that leads to the best relationships. Mentoring is about honest exchanges that help the mentee hear themselves. Help them hear their own heart. 

Great mentoring is the process of allowing the mentee to be heard and surrendering to their soul. Mentoring is giving other permission to do this. 

This requires holding one another accountable for what we say and do---or don't do. 

You can't hold back and just be polite when you are mentoring. Not telling you to hurt people's feelings but letting people lie to themselves, live a deception, and/or say and do things that they think sound/look good, is a crime.

Not enough time to be wasted on a life without meaning. 

Holding back is close to stealing.   Neil Young

Mentoring is not being supportive--it is about mining for meaning.

Mentoring is not encouragement--it is about the pursuit of purpose.

Mentoring is not comfortable--it is about the uncomfortable

Mentoring is not about responsiveness--it is about overcoming resistance

Mentoring is not necessarily a program but a way of life

Mentoring is the greatest reality show ever--starring the mentee.

Everyone is a role mdel and indirectly mentors others through their actions. Other people are watching you and they learn by what you do more than what you say. 

And in the end, every mentor gets more than any mentee. Great mentoring forces both mentor and mentee to walk the talk. To align themselves to their meaning. You can not help others without helping yourself.

Adopt the lifestyle of mentoring by helping others to SWiVEL---Strengthen What I Value Enjoy and Love!

Who will you mentor next? This month? And next?

Thanks for reading. John


Headline: Your World Begins!

We are so obsessed with negativity, with the horrific, with the tragic, and especially with the potential for horrible and threatening endings. The end of the world? The fiscal cliff? Remember Y2K? Or Nostradamus? Yes, it is sensational and fun to discuss. But we tend to see the bad that could happen and that prevents us from the good that could occur. If you are truly realistic about the risks you take, then you would not be afraid. 

I love talking to newish grads who are unemployed or even better, dissatisfied employed people searching for more "meaning in their lives". Both of these groups need to fully assess the risks of their indecision and the risks of their choices. If you do not assert your needs, engage others, and take baby steps or giant strides toward things that you want in your life, please stop complaining.

The risks of inaction are always greater than the risks of action. 

I recently looked at a resume of a person who underestimates his qualities and therefore his dreams. I listened to his story and it was a dry regurgitation of "facts". Clearly uncomfortable telling his less than compelling story that was muddled by his mouth full of humble pie. So I said to him, "Oh so you are a creative person, a person with great interest in aesthetics, and you have adapted to many very different circumstances. You need to use these themes to punctuate your story, your resume and your networking." 

He looked at me and said, "How did you get that?" I just listened and tried to listen for the good not try and pick apart what he delivered. It can be difficult to see the threads of your life to weave your story. You need a confidante or mentor to give you the unfiltered feedback and help you identify the threads.  

Your storyline past, present and future needs to incorporate who you are not what you have done!

Disaster, failure, and the risk of looking stupid are on your mind. It would be really stupid if you do not move your carcass toward your goals and articulate your story this year! Headline

Waiting for New Years? Really? You need an official start date and time when everybody else is doing the same thing? Sorry, I thought I was talking to an individual with ideas, and courage. Mistook you for someone who was going to live with fewer regrets. I hoped you were the person who was going to change things this year.

There is no other time but NOW. 

Tired from all your shopping and eating..........You just need a little down time........ C'mon!

Get Ready: Your World Begins Today! Won't make the headlines but it is certainly a storyline that  should capture your attention. 

No YouTube. No Powerpoint. No Visual Threats. Just the amazing things in your heart and mind that need to be done. 

Focus on the positive and the opportunity and the risks will fade.

Here's what Bassam Tarazi says:

To understand the worst means to write out our real-world worst-case scenario. Not the death, fire, and brimstone stuff we like to make up but that actual worst-case scenario: money lost, opportunities passed up, family we may disappoint. Write it down. Bathe yourself in it. Understand it. Acknowledge it.

Now, write down how you would bounce back from that worst-case scenario. Who would you contact? What skills could you put on display? Where would you have to live? How long could you live off savings? How could you earn money?

Got it? Good. You’ve understood the worst-case scenario, and now you can use the rest of your energies (and there should be a lot of it left) to fight for the best.

Start a conversation with yourself. A real conversation about what is important. Write it down. Document what you are thinking. Look at your resume and at your network and examine the gaps. Start talking about this path of passion or curiosity. Use this new storyline to engage others and seek advice and counsel.

It is your choice: you can see the cliff and the potential fall or take advantage of the glorious view. You can see the clock as winding down or starting up. You can avoid the risks or avoid the regrets.

Yes, the End of the Year nears, but the beginning of your next chapter starts any time you want.

Thanks for reading. John


Find Mentoring not a Mentor

May be the number one question I am asked: "How do I find a mentor?"  Usually this question is shrouded in mythology, poor assumptions, and a desire for a quick fix. Of all things, mentoring is not a fast solution to your challenges. There is this idea that "the right person" will have the answers to your career and life questions. That this guru will provide a lighted path to your salvation and success.  

Great mentoring can give you insight into who you are and what you want. Great mentoring can clarify your choices and your strategies to build a more fulfilling and rewarding career and life. 

Learning, acquiring knowledge and gaining insight have changed.

Old School

New School

I learn most from those with more experience

 

I learn from everyone around me

 

Excellence is defined by what I know

 

Excellence is defined by my strengths and what I do

 

I learn from books and in classrooms

I learn continuously and experientially in small real time bites

Just as a single book, class, website will not answer all of your questions, neither can a single person. Most people who ask me this question have created this super person in their minds--a guru available 24/7 who knows it all and can answer your questions. Like the "perfect" boyfriend/girlfriend, the perfect job and unicorns -- they don't exist. I know you get this, but each of us holds out a little hope that such a person is out there. And in the end it prevents us from being mentored. GURU1

Mentoring is never just getting answers. We need multiple mentoring sources. They are not all going to be "older and wiser". They are not all going to be in your industry or field. They share your perspective, your interests and they tell you the truth. The people who you know or who you meet who are authentic and with whom YOU are authentic. It is where vulnerability and openness govern the exchange. Networking is a robust give and take. It is a dance of authenticity and vulnerability. 

Perfection is always the enemy of the good.

One of the most amusing things is when I spend high quality time with someone who seeks my advice. I may have even purchased them a meal, taken time from my family..... I answer their questions, I provide real feedback and try to mentor them. I do this not because I am generous, I do it because I benefit from these interactions. I have acquired knowledge I want to and like to share. I always learn something new and it reinforces and reveals things that I need to practice. At the end of these sessions, more than half of the people ask me one of two questions. 

  • When can we meet again?
  • Will you be my mentor?

I just tried to mentor this person! They seem more interested in checking off a box on their to-do list.  GOT MENTOR. They are more interested in a mentor than the mentoring! Some even ask for a regular monthly session! 

Look, I totally understand why people search for and want a mentor. But take the advice that  resonates with you and do something! Fail with it. Succeed with it. Discover new stuff along the way. Then, talk to the source of the "mentoring" and ask for help to answer new questions. That's how a potential mentoring relationship is formed. 

Mentoring relationships are serious relationships. They don't develop in an instant. Very few can say "She was my mentor at first sight." ;) Mentoring like all relationships that matter evolve over time, where trust is built upon genuine efforts and the truth.

A couple of years ago, I met a parent volunteer at a school I was touring. She impressed me and inspired me with her energy and passion for her daughter's education. I asked her what she did and she told me she looking for work. I suggestsed we meet and I tried to plug her into my network. I told her to read my blog to answer any questions. The other night, I saw her at an event and I asked how she was doing. She is gainfully employed after a tough 6 month search. She was clearly happier and more confident. She cited my posts on resumes and interviewing as very helpful. She told me she would stay in touch. And I know we will. We have a mentoring relationship, but we will never call it that.

Mentoring is all around you. It is ubiquitous. Some of it you need to just breathe it in and reflect upon it. Some you need to seek. And out of that process a "mentor" may emerge. My point is when you get mentored in a moment or in a meeting--Take action. Use the mentoring, then get more mentoring. At the very least, refine your questions through experience. 

Mentoring is an iterative process that requires the application of a theory. It is your theory of change. Your plan for progress. Your pursuit of happiness. If you don't have a theory, then finding mentoring or a mentor will be a frustrating experience. 

It is always about the content. We seek answers not a single source. 

Don't get stuck looking for the perfect mentor or even an official mentor. Find great mentoring, but don't be surprised if you do not use the M word. 

Thanks for reading. John

 


Mentor First: Pay it Forward

The most popular radio station in the world is WII-FM. WII-FM is shrill and repetitive. WII-FM is What's In It For Me. We have to  turn down the volume and listen to the real music of our lives--Your heart, your mind, and the people around you. Yes you have needs, but you still have much more to offer. We all want and need things but the best way to receive is to give. That's correct, your mom was right again! Same goes for mentoring.  Pay_it_forward_
Almost everyone I talk to wants to find a mentor, the "right" mentor, a "better" mentor. They crave advice and counsel to help them advance their lives. Most people expect this new improved and very special mentor to point them in the right direction and provide them with the answers. Those of us who mentor others know that's not what usually happens . Mentoring is a two-way conversation that helps one another discover the truth--the truth that lies within. So that's why everyone should be mentoring others as much as they seek mentoring. Once you put others before yourself. Once you practice what you preach. Once you teach, you understand the role of the student.  The world comes into focus as you are not waiting for a mentor but helping someone else. You take control again. You drive instead of waiting to be picked up. That's why I advocate a lifestyle of mentoring. It is not passive or dependent. It is pro-active and direct.
Choosing to mentor is to choose to help others, to engage others, thereby helping oneself.
 
So think first to mentor, then to be mentored.
 
Always give without an expectation. That is the cardinal rule of this lifestyle of mentoring and networking. And the returns to you will be plentiful.
  • A cousin seeks your advice
  • A friend's daughter wants to discuss college options
  • A long time colleague at work needs your help, but has never asked for it
  • One of your best friends is stuck in life
  • A former employee has a friend that wants to discuss careers

All of these are warm sources of need. Make the time to help, mentor and share your wisdom. 

No matter what stage you are in your life, there is another you can mentor. Someone you care about who could use your perspective. Someone you are going to help be accountable to themselves. Accountable to their own goals and dreams. A mentor is not the source of all knowledge, they have experience, perspective and the will to be candid.  Not just kind and encouraging. Not just helpful and sensitive. Not the type that winces and cringes on the  inside and smiles on the outside when we hear others say crazy things. Not phony nice. We need to be a bit more intolerant of the BS and the loose language that comes from people we care about. We need to help others rein in their weak plans and weaker efforts. Most of all we need to be truthmeisters.

My best mentors reflect me, my words, my goals like an HD mirror. They show me the good, the bad and the ugly that I emit. I get to see and hear myself like never before with much better clarity.
 
The mentor always gets the most. Because to mentor is to tell the truth and to tell the truth is to learn the truth. Mentoring is the hard work of listening and reflecting. It is not about answers. It is about understanding. And that's why it is the most rewarding.
 
Articulating advice and doling out the truth is not credible or relevant if you don't live by it. That's why the mentor always gains, because the act of advising another reinforces your values, your behaviors and your goodness. Mentoring is about vulnerability. Mentoring is not the coach who says "do what I say and not what I do." Mentoring gives the mentor  the courage to tell the truth and to open up and discuss how they are overcoming their weaknesses and foibles. And the mentee musters the courage to hear the truth, confront their own weaknesses and discover themselves.

Still doubt the mentor is rewarded more?
Recent research now shows that those that mentor achieves far greater benefits. Mentors make substantially more money, are more successful and the mentees are more likely to help others--mentoring creates more mentoring.
Mentors pay it forward.
 
A quick review of the benefits of mentoring: 
  1. You always get more--including pay and promotion!
  2. The mentee benefits
  3. The mentee helps others
  4. The world benefits from people more connected that help one another

Any questions? :)

Mentoring is not a service YOU provide--it is the human act of helping one another that advances YOUR life. 

Mentor first, then seek mentoring. Pay it forward and it will always come back to you.

Thanks for reading. John


The Commodity of Crowds

We are a product of our environment, right? No doubt that everything we do and everyone we encounter changes us a little or a lot. But how do we take advantage of the crowds arounds us? How do we avoid being dragged down by the crowd? And regressing to the mean? Everyday we can be pushed to realize our potential or pulled to be like everybody else. 

The nail that sticks out gets hammered.  Japanese proverb

It is human nature to to fall in line. the Asch conformity experiments demonstrate that we will lie about what we see to conform. 

I meet thousands of people who are in the federal witness relocation program. No not real former witnesses hiding out. But people under assumed identities--identities that they assumed from the advice of others. People told them what they should be, what they should study, what jobs made financial sense. They ignored their own interests to make the crowds around them happy.

Don't accept hand-me-down dreams. 

If we were a product how would we market ourselves? How would we promote our brand? What would differentiate us from the other products? Your resume? Your job? You?

Fear, the change around us, doubt about our chances, make us conservative and practical. We pull back our dreams, our aspirations, and our talents. We accept less of ourselves. Less of who we are and what we want. Not talking about our personal budgets. Financial prudence should always govern. I am talking about carving out a life and career that truly reflects you.  Fish

If you always do what you have always done then you always get what you always got.  Stuart Crab

Finding what makes you different requires hard work, experimentation, fast failures, iteration, and certainly not settling. To live an authentic life you have to pursue who you truly are. So the journey is a self discovery of what you love doing, what defines you, what your talents and strengths are. Your network and your mentors can help guide you through this journey if you open your mind and heart.
A true life starts with talking straight about who you are and who want to become. Taking chances to become your best authentic self. Stop using false statements---the use of other people's words that mean nothing to you but satisfactorily answer the question of "Where are you going?" Or "What are you doing with your life?" Glib but disingenuous answers that are meant to stop the conversation. A great mentor would never let you get away with such answers. 
It would be much easier to live a life that "happens". You take what comes to you. Settle for what others want for you. The authentic life is the opposite, you chase it. You hunt it down. You stalk your passion and purpose. 

Why be a commodity of a crowd?  Are you different? Are you average? 76% of Americans say they are above average. So I guess above average is the commodity. :) We can't accept that. 

I leave you with a wonderful Carlos Casteneda quote: 
All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. ... Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.

There is wisdom in crowds but don't get lost in them.

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


Do you really want to know what I think?

Maybe it is the aging process or a deluded sense of maturity but being diplomatic seems less and less relevant. Certainly, there is a great value in packaging messages in digestible and palatable chunks. So how can we embrace an air of sensitivity for other people's feelings and on the other hand not let them get away with stuff? How do we answer questions with the greatest candor and frankness without hurting people?

"I want the truth. You can't handle the truth." Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in a few Good Men

If you have read my posts, you know I define mentoring as "a reality check". The obligation that we hold the mirror of truth so our friends can see themselves. And lastly, that mentoring can never be just encouragement and support. That effective mentoring is an exchange of truths based upon mutual benefit.

The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.  -Attributed to James A. Garfield

The classic question from a wife to a husband, that tests his manhood and his ability to stay married, "Do I look fat in this dress?" How can such a simple question conjure up fear, a furious internal debate about right and wrong and the origins of the universe? :)

But outside of these moments of marital imbalance, we need to be able to give and take the truth. How long should we go on with our little lives with a totally inaccurate picture of ourselves? You can't cut your own hair and you can't see yourself by yourself. The layers of denial, rationalization, self-defense, and sheer ego are thicker than the walls at Fort Knox.

The greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths.  ~William James

Let's be honest :), we each have skills, expertise, and personal attributes that are under-appreciated and should be honed and sharpened on a regular basis. But the only way we will grow is to confront our deficiencies, our bad habits, and our unfulfilled aspirations. You have to be surrounded by and gravitate towards truth tellers and shun and avoid the sycophants, the butt kissers, and any mirrors that reinforce self-deception.Reality-check

Working at a foundation you have to be extra vigilant. It is amazing how much younger, smarter and funnier I have become since I started working at CCF! In fact, a mentor of mine, advised me when I took this job, "You will feel like the buxom tall blonde when you go to parties." How about that for the truth! Drink that kool-aid and you will go on a hollow binge of self-importance.

Over an over again in my life adventure I have sought and received advice that pushed and pulled me. My mentors have shown me the inconsistencies of my words and actions. Helped me avoid career choices, preserve relationships, and build confidence in ways I can never could have done by myself.

People who avoid going to the doctors, financial planners, academic advisors, or career counselors to get an annual check-up on their lives are the people who like living in the ignorant space outside of the truth. "What I don't know will not hurt me." Yikes!

Take an inventory of the truthful mentors and mirrors you have in your life. Who can you depend upon to give you a reality check? Who makes you uncomfortable or even intimidates you? Who is a bit more like you want to be? (Not who you admire, but someone that you want to be like--there is a difference) Become a mentoring seeking missile. Stalk mentoring opportunities. Finding the right mentor(s) is a process of wanting to be mentored, being mentorable and knowing yourself.

While there is an intuitive focus on improving, we must also appreciate the good in ourselves and others. Being generous with the truth includes telling people in our lives how much they mean to us, that we love them, and expressing our gratitude for the gifts we receive from them.

"You know, that other dress shows off your sexy figure better", might be a better answer for the confounded husband. But we are confronted with these choices everyday as a parent, manager, colleague, and friend. Seeking more "mirrors" that won't lie to us has to be our goal. Being more and more truthful with yourself and with others has to be our goals.

Let's mentor each other with greater and greater dosages of the truth so that we reach our goals with a clearer picture of who we are.

Thanks for reading. John


Mentor, teacher, coach--What do I need?

This is an important question. There are times when you need teachers and coaches, but, In my opinion, you ALWAYS need a mentor or three. Mentors provide guidance and reality checks as you and your career/life develop. A mentor provides ongoing or momentary feedback that helps you focus on what is important to you and to your future success. The big difference is you don't go shopping for a mentor like you might for a coach or a teacher.

I teach, I coach and I also mentor. I am recruited to serve in the first two roles.  When I teach I bring a curriculum, an agenda, a set of questions and goals. When I coach I bring questions and I listen, but I drive the content and the subject matter. When I mentor, I listen, but for the most part I let the mentee drive. Mentoring can easily start in the teaching and/or coach environments. But lectures and transmitting knowledge and experience is a small part of the true mentoring relationship. Mentoring depends heavily on the growing set of questions and self awareness of both mentor and mentee. Awareness of the needs and possibilities of both. Some people never get this--that mentoring is a two-way street and consequently they rarely experience mentoring. They may be inspired or their view of themselves may be shifted by a conversation or an insight shared. But mentoring is a persistent process that is defined by the conversation built on trust and truth.Dialogue

Steve Blank, the well known entrepreneur, recently opined about this phenomenon--people's confusion about these roles and specifically how one acquires a mentor. He mentions how he has received requests to be a mentor while he is on the stage lecturing. Awkward! In this consumer society we think we can just pick a mentor, even ask a total stranger to be a mentor. Mentoring relationships usually emerge from relationships of trust. A chemistry is developed between the two parties over some period of time, it can be rather quick or lengthy, then a deeper sharing of thoughts, ideas, philosophies and advice generates the mentoring. Mentoring is not a commodity. You don't seek it, shop it, and then buy it.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.  Buddha

As Steve says, "mentoring is a dialogue", it is a higher order exchange, a frank conversation to help each other. Teaching tends to be a one-way flow of ideas. I know that all of these methods are not silos and that they blur into one another, that the lines that define them are at best fuzzy. But mentoring is different.

In fact, the Steve Blank posting was tweeted and shared by a former mentee of mine, who has in turn become my mentor. And the roles have continued to shift and change depending on the subject and the circumstance. This has been a process that has been repeated many times for me--Where the roles over time always reverse and vary. In a mentoring relationship we serve as reality checks, sources of ideas, and instant mentoring partners. When we need each other we are available for one another. Mentoring is a great dialogue, a give and take, a relationship of mutual benefit and trust.

The real question is are you mentorable? Are you ready to be mentored? Really? Are you prepared to be mentored ? A person who has not given any thought to their goals, has not done any soul searching, does not know their strengths, is not passionately curious about their future, is not a good candidate for mentoring. Some people I encounter, young and more mature, hope that the mentor they find will unlock the secret recipe of success and shine a bright and glorious light on their new path to fulfillment and success. I kid you not! They are starving for great wisdom, connections, and insights to be served up on a silver platter from the Iron Chef kitchen of the mentor. They expect to sit back and be served and consume the contents of the dishes and magically life will be delicious. Yikes! Waiter

Finding your mentor(s) is a process of meeting people, people you respect, admire, work with, volunteer with, and encounter in your pursuit of your life's work. People that are part of your journey of curiosity and discovery. If you are focused on becoming the best you can be, you will find a mentor and be mentored. Your quest for answers will push you towards people you know and new people you will meet. And some of those relationships will become mentoring dialogues that last months, years, and even a lifetime.

There has been great evidence that mentoring relationships with at-youth risk that last less than 1 year and even 2 years can damage the youth. Why? Because the process of developing trust and mutual understanding takes time, regardless of the great willingness of the participants, time, persistence, the process of showing up and caring, to strengthen a relationship to be able to have the meaningful dialogue. Until that relationship becomes a trusting one, little mentoring benefit occurs. Every mentoring relationship I have had has made me a better person, manager, parent, and leader. And every survey of mentors that I have read, every attempt to understand the benefits of mentoring show that the MENTOR gains more than the mentee. The target of the at-risk youth mentoring or corporate mentoring, always gets less than the mentor. This may sound counter-intuitive, but you would know if you mentored others. That's why I have been advocating adopting a lifestyle of mentoring, because the benefits are so overwhelmingly positive to the mentor and do a lot of good for the mentee. This is proof that the dialogue and the reciprocity are essential to mentoring.

Understand your greatness, pursue your passions, and become the best you can be and you will find mentoring. Seek great teachers, great coaches to hone your skills, your craft, and your questions, mentoring will find you.

Thanks for reading. John


3 Perspectives on Our Opportunities

1. Tsunami of emotions and the power of WE

As we watch the ongoing tragedy in Japan, we are conflicted. Our hearts are pained by the images and stories that we are engulf us through the news. We feel helpless. We do not know what we can do. We can send money, but is that enough? Doing nothing seems wrong. Our desire to help expands and our ability to help is constrained. As in all traumatic events, we think of ourselves. How lucky WE are. I was in a conversation this week where we were urged to launch a campaign here in LA to get people to prepare for the BIG ONE in Los Angeles. We want to help, but it did not harm us. The horrible thing about this conflict is that it freezes us, it prevents us from doing what is human--to help each other. It is what I have called the Brentwood Triangle. So proud of my kids because they made donations to help the Japanese recover. We have to give. There are many wonderful organizations you can support with the confidence that the money will get to where it is needed now. Here's what my foundation recommends.

I must tell you these articles, columns and blogs that are telling people NOT to give to Japan, because they are "wealthy" or "they don't want our help" or "they have not asked for our help" are painful to read. Inhumane. The more we think about "us" vs "them" the more we divide ourselves. The world is not only flat it is inextricably interconnected. We are them. Our destinies are tied to one another. We give to help ourselves. There are no victims or perpetrators or enemies--there is only us.

If we have no peace, it is because we forget we belong to one another.  Mother Teresa

2. Be a Seller then a Buyer

Looking for a job, applying to grad school, promoting a cause...

Too often we resign ourselves to just the role of the seller. Hat in hand we humbly or not so humbly push our ideas, our "wares", and our personal agendas. We feel lucky if people are interested and are recoiled by declination and rejection. Often the seller is in a position of weakness. I used to joke about this when I was dating. Guys have to sell by asking for a date and the Gals are the ultimate decision makers as the buyers. The buyers have great power (unless there is a monopoly)if they exert it. They can always walk and go somewhere else. The seller has to sell and promote.Buyer seller

My point is that once you have options, you have to become a buyer. My daughter Jenna got into a bunch of grad schools and they offered her financial packages. We talked and determined which of the schools were her favorites. Mind you she has choices for which she is almost indifferent about. But the differences are not insignificant. A school back east a school close to home. Travel and living expenses and of course, the weather! We strategized and I told her to call her two top schools and see what else they could offer her to persuade her to go there. At first she hesitated and then she agreed. Her first instinct was this was wrong or not appropriate. I assured her this was perfectly up front and normal. I told her, "You are a great student that is in demand. You are now the buyer. You have what the schools want. Now it s time to turn the tables and use your power." The schools both increased their packages, one by 80%!

The lesson here is when you know what you want and have just a little leverage, you have to sell less and become a discriminating buyer.

Unless you are destitute or in grave financial straits, your buyer mindset should be dominant. Feeling empowered and confident in what you are offering. Being in control of your destiny and your journey. Seeing down the road and the consequences of your decision. Avoiding the expedient and embracing the excellent. Doing everything you can do avoid settling. Looking to see if an employer, a boss, a donor, a partner is the right fit is vital. Selling AND conducting due diligence on what will be best for you and your needs have to be intertwined. Just selling will never get you what you want and what you need. Just as in dating, after the party manners and things start clicking, the buying begins.

3. What is your story?

I literally start every interview and many new encounters with this question. An open ended, soft ball question that begs the respondent to talk. After a brief moment of humility, many people launch into their story. In interviews, it is an attempt to allow the candidate to fill in the blanks and between the lines of the carefully constructed truths of their well written resume. Those that flunk the one question IQ test, merely recite everything on their resume and just what's on their resume. Crazy. Kinda of a name rank and serial number response. These same people also define themselves by their job title, when  asked "Tell me about yourself." The fact that they are a father of twins, a trombone player, little league coach and on a prominent non-profit board are left standing on the alter of betrayed opportunities.

I interviewed this young man last week. I started with THE QUESTION. And he preceded to tell me about his education, job experiences, and accomplishments in chron order. He was poised and well spoken. Only thing is he did not know his story. And in his lack of preparation he made up things. He was not lying, but winging it. His new story begged questions and raised doubts. It was unclear where he had lived and where he worked, what he did and where he was going. Unfortunately his story ended with our interview.Stories

Your story, a brief but reflective articulation of:

  1. Who you are. What makes you different. (stuff you care about)
  2. Where you have been
  3. Why you went there and why you left
  4. What you are doing now. (And if a candidate, why this position fits into your game plan)

If well prepared, not memorized, then the story makes sense out of a resume (hopefully does not conflict with it :) and gives dimensions to a person that you are trying to get to know or help others get to know you. The story has to be authentic, it need not be clever.

As Peter Guber, big shot Hollywood producer and author of Tell to Win, differentiates story telling from telling a story with your heart and with purpose. Anyone can tell a joke or a story, but how do we engage people in conversation, captivate their imagination for a moment, and move them to action? To think, to vote, to buy, to care, to hire....Guber evangelizes about being in the "emotional transportation business." He's right we are, if we are successful.

Here's several of the key takeaways from his book:

  • Capture your audience's attention first, fast and foremost
  • Motivate your listeners by demonstrating authenticity
  • Build your tell around "what's in it for them"
  • Change passive listeners into active participants
  • Use "state-of-the-heart" technology online and offline to make sure audience commitment remains strong

Love the state of the heart technology! Bottomline, prepare and speak from the heart and your stories will transport you and your audience to new levels.

Thanks for reading. John

 


My Top 10 posts

Here is my holiday weekend special, my top ten posts. These are the "best" of the 160+ posts I have made based upon an arbitrary, random and indefensible combination of my preferences, other people's comments and what continues to be the set of questions I receive. They are listed in chronological order. Enjoy!

  1. You Don't Know Who You are Sitting Next to. Contains a couple of my favorite stories about meeting people by getting to know the people around you.
  2. Weathering the Storm and Defining the Moment. How to convert serious challenges into opportunities to define your life and your next chapter.
  3. Networking with Top Management and Other Intimidating Species.Connecting and conversing with your boss' boss and other senior executives can be tough, but it's much easier than you think.
  4. Finding the Right Mentor. You need a mentor but want to find someone who can help you adapt and improve. How do I find that person?
  5. Telling My Story. All of our lives take twists and turns, but if we can not make sense out of our past and what it means to our future, no one else will. What is your story?
  6. Resumes that Get Interviews. A lot of conflicting and confusing info on this topic. How does your resume have the best chance to stand out from the pile?
  7. Starting the Conversation. You want to meet people, but just initiating the conversation can be hard. How can I make that process more natural, comfortable, and effective?
  8. The Art of Shaking Hands. In addition to what you say, the way you greet people says the most about you. No second chance to make a first impression.
  9. Ambitious without Ambition. We all want more in our lives and in our careers, but what do we want? Focusing your ambitiousness has to a goal.
  10. Amazing Who You Know But Don't Know. All of think "new "people will be key to our next opportunity. We all know so many people, but we don't KNOW them. Starting with your existing network is easier and more productive.

I continue to try and address what's on your mind and what's preventing you from moving ahead in your career and life. Let me know what other topics you want me to address.

All of these posts and much of what I discuss involves the following principles. The more you connect with others, learn about them and their needs, the more you learn about yourself. If you mentor others then you will be mentored. Making your network diverse in its points of view will give you new perspectives. Push yourself to reconnect with people you care about, people you work with and people that you see everyday but never talk to. The world becomes smaller and much more manageable!

 Thannks for reading. John 


5 Lessons on Connecting, Conversations and Courage

I try to push myself, stumble into, and/or be introduced to new ideas and people everyday. I have great weeks and less successful weeks. This was an especially good one. Things came together and I had many moments of inspiration and education. Over the years I have learned to say YES to invitations, to suggestions, and to introductions, especially if it will expand my thinking. It takes up time and energy, but I always get more than I invest. Let me share five lessons from the last 5 work days.

1. On Monday I watched this video by Brene Brown about connecting, vulnerability, and courage. The word courage comes from the Latin word for heart and is roughly translated into "the ability to tell your story with your whole heart." That is hard to do. To take a risk by revealing yourself and accepting who you are with all of your imperfections. "Being willing to let go of who you think you should be in order to be who you are." And she asserts that these traits are essential to connection and to be able to connect. By being "vulnerable" you will be more capable of meaningful relationships and a meaningful life. Powerful research, revelations and messages.  

2. I attended a webcast and panel discussion for the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, where 400 diverse people compelled by the injustices of the Jim Crow laws uprooted themselves and went south to join the fight to end segregation in public transportation. Whites, Asians, Jews, and others left their studies and their lives up north to help "strangers". These freedom riders felt deeply connected to these southern blacks and they took action to help them. Hard to believe this happened during my lifetime and I was so grateful to be reminded of this history and these acts of courage and sacrifice to connect and help others change history. Rosa_parks-1

3. Wednesday, I got the chance to hear Daniel Pink speak about his relatively new book about motivation--DRIVE. The main takeaway from his very engaging presentation was that financial incentives are not effective unless the work does not require a brain. In other words, incentives (including financial) rarely work for things where you have to think. That the most effective incentives come from within, There are three main motivators: 1) Autonomy--freedom to make decisions and the latitude to act independently. 2) Mastery--the ability to pursue personal and professional growth through improving one's skills and abilities, 3) Purpose--Work that is connected to something meaningful, something bigger and more important than yourself, engaged and sustained the employees more.

4. Thursday, I interviewed a candidate who surprised me. He dug down deep to tell us about himself. We asked what his former bosses would agree was the one thing that he had to improve. He had always been told that he was not living up to his potential (a curse indeed!). I asked him to tell us one part of his potential that HE wanted to improve. He paused and thought for a brief moment and said, "I need to believe in myself. I need to push myself beyond what I think my limits are. I need to assert myself to see what my capacity is."

5. Friday, I had dinner with my dear friend Nat Irvin. He is a business professor at the University of Louisville who studies and teaches about the future. He thinks about THE future all of the time. When you are with Nat you are immediately transported into his world of ideas and trends that boggle your mind. We discussed the origins of lightning, the state of technology, and geography of ideas. There is nothing calm or casual about our conversations. I love it when I feel my grey matter stretching in new ways. I reach out to him every few weeks to get an Irvin dosage of the future. During the last couple of days, I introduced him to several of my colleagues and friends to give him a flavor of LA people who think about and create the future. These interviews seemed to help Nat get new perspectives on the city of angels and what lies ahead. Nat knows that people like to talk about their futures and THE future and they open up to him. I received a bunch of follow-up e-mail and voicemail, thanking ME for the opportunity to meet Nat. Here is an excerpt from just one:

John, our conversation evoked so many emotions and insights about myself that I was completely blown away. I felt so comfortable being interviewed by him, the words that came out of my mouth literally flowed like a raging river.....ahh its hard to explain..I've never spoken to a close family member or friend, let alone a complete stranger about things so interpersonally deep. I am an open book with people around me, but usually I am the person trying to open other persons pages. LiveWholeHeartedly-wholeHearted

When you truly connect with people and you open your mind and your heart, you become vulnerable and courageous--you speak with your "whole heart". You learn about yourself and appreciate yourself. And yet you feel more connected to others. As Dr. Brene Brown says, we must let go of what we should be and become who we are. We all have the human need to connect, but we have to make the connection and then share and learn from each other. We see our imperfect potential and embrace it. When we do, our view of ourselves becomes clearer, the world becomes smaller, and the needs of others grows in importance. This is the most fertile soil to cultivate the seeds of meaning, purpose, passion and how we will impact the future. We realize that we have more control over our futures than we thought and our obligation to tap into our potential becomes more urgent.

I wonder what next week will bring and whether I will be open to the possibilities and opportunities.

Thanks for reading. John


Are you hungry? Is your belly full of fire?

If you are like me, when I am awake I am hungry! Food is very important to me. I love to eat and cook. But I am not talking about those pangs of hunger. I am talking about your hunger to succeed. Your internal desire to grow and to make a difference. Your ambition to become the best you can be. I have blogged about being ambitious without ambition. I see that way too often. Great plans and no action. What do they say in Texas, "Big hat no cattle." People who talk about what they are going to do and don't.

Hunger drives action. How hungry are you?

I remember when I was graduating from UCLA and Arnold Schwarznegger's movie Stay Hungry came out. One of my advisors referred to the film and said to me always "stay hungry." Like many wise words, I did not understand this until much later. The value of constantly and consciously avoiding complacency and reminding yourself of what motivates you. The process of never becoming satisfied with the status quo, because every achievement is a step towards goals that are always larger than self. Goals that will never be accomplished by you alone. Hunger is that raw and burning feeling that keeps you real, focused, and actively engaged.Heart fire

Some call it Fire in the belly.

William Safire wrote: "an unquenchable thirst for power or glory; the burning drive to win a race or achieve a goal. As a political phrase, the expression is usually used to indicate a Presidential candidates' desire to win, particularly the willingness to endure the long contest. It first appeared in print in 1882, in an essay by Robert Louis Stevenson, in which he compared historians Thomas Carlyle and Thomas Babington Macaulay.The source of the expression is not known. Perhaps this metaphor for ambition comes from stoking a potbellied stove or from the fiery sensation of heartfelt heartburn."

The hunger to which I refer, the fire in the belly, goes well beyond hard work and commitment. Those are valuable and valued traits. But hunger is a sustained drive that pushes you to do your best in every situation. As Safire wrote it is an "unquenchable thirst." Passion can fuel your hunger, your fire, as long as one of your passions is tending to the fire. Passion can have cycles. It can rush in and subside. We need passion. But I am talking about the internal awareness and energy that moves and motivates. This hunger never gets sated. You may be reading this and not know what I am talking about. Sorry about that. You probably don't have it. It can be acquired by a combination of life experiences, connections with others, epiphanies of self destiny and of course great effort. What stokes the fire? What kindling and embers turn into a wildfire that propels you to make a meaningful difference to you and for others?

Some may confuse people who are super competitive, super ambitious, workaholics, Type As, or even the competent with the truly hungry. Many times this hunger and desire can be taken to extremes. The hunger and fire are most effective when they are continuous and constant sources of energy. Like the sun burning hot everyday, giving us more light than heat.

If this is something you want, then surround yourself with people who have it. Our teams, our networks, our mentors, our organizations, and our families need people that have this inner drive. Help others build their fires.Eye fire

When you meet people who have it, it is obvious. The fire is in their eyes and in their energy for their words. Sometimes harder to tell the people that don't. Because they say things that give you the impression that they do. And they believe they do because they have said it so many times it has become their truth. But actions will always trump words. Later you find that they have unwittingly deceived themselves and others. They say they are hungry but the fire has never been lit.

Some may be born and/or raised to be hungry. Their life circumstances. Their DNA. But most learn to acquire the fire. They accumulate an understanding of what they want, how they want to define their lives, and that wasting these opportunities are foolish.

Your understanding of your strengths and what is meaningful to you can ignite and sustain your belly fire.

Strengths: The more you learn and nurture what you are good at, what you love doing, the more you see your potential. Your potential, based on your strengths, can be the biggest log in our fires. Always need to work on our weaknesses, but advancing what we do well will give us pleasure, great satisfaction, and the desire to continue.

Meaning: Your daily time and effort have to be connected to meaning in your life. Making money to get your kids through college because you did not. Leading a non-profit Board to make a difference in the community. Mentoring your staff to make them better employees, citizens, and human beings. What you do has to be meaningful to you. And that meaning has to be tied to a cause, a goal, and/or a reason that is more than you.

Avoid being someone with big logs, no fire. Seek out and connect with people who are hungry. Pursue your inner gifts and talents. Hook your great locomotive to a train full of meaning and your fire will keep you on a track that goes higher and higher.

I am still hungry. I need to eat! :)

Thanks for reading. John


Stop Lying! To Get a Job and To Yourself

We tell lies when we are afraid... afraid of what we don't know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us.  But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger.  ~Tad Williams

Lying is so complicated. You have to remember who you told and who knows. It is an endless process to avoid the truth.Telling the truth is much different than not telling a lie. It starts with little lies we tell ourselves and others. And it can lead to self deception. In the end, we have to ask ourselves, are we who we say we are? Are who we think we are?

Don't make up stuff about yourself, especially about your education. If you did not complete a degree or don't plan to, don't say otherwise. Pretty shocking how many people I have met who lie about their academic records. They just brazenly make false statements about their education. Everyone knows that academic records are checked, so what is the point. It is a deal breaker in job offers and brutalizes your brand. Offered a job to an extraordinary candidate. He was a VERY qualified candidate. His routine background check showed that he had not earned a BA. When we informed him he said he would clear it up and we never heard back from him again. Not sure if it was embarrassment or fear. If he would have told us that he was working on his degree, we would have figured out something. He lied and ran. Don't say you are going to get a graduate degree unless you are planning to. In an informational interview I met this bright young lady who was highly recommended to me. She told me she was "going to get her MBA." I quickly asked her when she was applying and how did she do on the GMAT. She was surprised by the questions and became quite flustered. She looked at me and sheepishly said, "Do you have to take the GMAT?" YIKES!

Don't misrepresent why you left a job.Was it a layoff? A restructuring? A poor fit? Was it amicable? Tell the story. Leave out all of the gory details, but explain what happened in a credible way. This is my favorite--"I just left because I outgrew the position." Yeah, you just quit in the middle of the recession without another job because you were not challenged. Huh? Jon Lovitz, as the pathological liar on SNL used to say, "Yeah, that's the ticket!"

Don't name drop. Don't exaggerate who you know and how well you know them. The world is small and getting smaller and lies will be unceremoniously unmasked. In my strange and wonderful career I have shaken the hands and "met" many important people. I would never say I "know" them or drop their names in conversations. People tell me they were referred to me by people I know. Then I find out they don't know the person who referred them. Not good form. I was just introduced to someone and before we shake hands, she says "You know so and so don't you." The name shocked me because I did know this person but they were fired for excessive drinking at work! Needless to say this meeting did not go well and my impression of her, and her judgment, were damaged.  

Don't lie about your compensation requirements hoping you will work it out in the negotiations. I always ask what is "your minimum salary requirement." I require an answer. If someone says, "Its does not matter" or "I am totally negotiable." Then we expect they really want the job and money is secondary. Just had a candidate tell us this and then when the offer was made, he told us his minimum salary, which was 20% higher than we  were offering. Don't ever hire liars, they will never stop lying.Stop-lying-to-yourself

Here's the biggest one. Stop lying to yourself. Stop telling yourself and others things that are not true. Things about your plans and your future. Start talking about what you REALLY want. And start taking steps to understand these things better. Know thyself! And then make it happen.

It is not enough to tell the truth. You have to reveal yourself. You have to express what is unique about you. Why knowing you, hiring you, helping you is worth it. What makes you tick. What makes you happy. What you want and where you are going. I see thousands of resumes, then I meet the person. I do not want to hear the recitation of their resume. I know literacy is an issue but provide me with the amazing stuff that is NOT on your resume. So I say "tell me your story." Or I ask about the "other side of the resume", "what you do when you aren't working". Repeatedly, I get these very bland answers like, "I read a lot." or the ubiquitous "I like to travel." I know they are interesting and have compelling stories and personalities, but I rarely hear them. But when I do, it separates them from the pack. It makes them memorable and real. The world is filled with competent people like you, just not enough interesting ones.

The hardest tumble a man can make is to fall over his own bluff.  ~Ambrose Bierce

Networking and mentoring like all relatiuonships require truth and transparency to work well. They require trust that is only built upon the strong bond of understanding each other. You are so much more than a resume and a series of jobs. You are a light that is shining on a future---your future. There is no one else like you. So why lie. The truth about you is pretty compelling stuff, more than you think. ean it. You just have to express it and articulate it. You have so many talents and unfulfilled dreams. People love other people's dreams and destinies. You have to talk about the real you and stop lying about a you, you may be pretending to be.

White lies, little lies, and lying to not offend people are things we all do. Dumb lies, that enhance our standing with others need to be curbed. But deceiving ourselves, now that is a crime that has to stop.

Like all of my posts, we have to help those we mentor to adopt these principles. So, if you are a fountain of truth and transparency, teach others how to know and transmit their truths.

Thanks for reading. John

 


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


A network of friction: The human particle accelerator

Traction is gained when points of friction – even small ones – push off against one another and enable movement. Until there are two opposable surfaces, there will be no traction. Our goal in developing an action plan is to place strategic points of friction in our life so that we are gaining traction on a regular basis.  Todd Henry (Accidental Creative)

Traction comes from friction. And friction comes from differences. People talk about oil/water or black/white or positives/negatives. We all know you need to mix these ingredients in reality to produce necessary and important nuances, shades, and indeed solutions in our lives. This is the crucible of art and science. Of invention and true creativity. The collision of opposites in the super collider/particle accelerator of life generates new paradigms and ideas that advance our thinking and our perspectives. Without these collisions and encounters ideas become isolated and insulated. Cooking would be utterly boring. Art would be bland. We would all be clones. Life would be predictable and dull.Particle accelerator

Over the last 40 years, scientists have been accelerating atoms and atomic components at super high speeds to reveal new components, understand space and time dynamics, develop new sources of light and energy.

A particle accelerator[1] is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams.

We all want to accelerate our goals into more well-defined beams, don't we?

I know some of you want predictability, at least you think you do. Others say they also want stability. You really don't, but you say you do. Besides being distracting and self deceptive, it delays reality--the reality of what you REALLY want. What you really want is an inner feeling of engagement of your talent and your potential. Challenges, chances and opportunities. A sense of purpose and meaning. These require changes and dare I say, instability and unpredictability.

Traction requires friction-- not controversy, anger, and animus, but tactile and intellectual differences to push up against one another. That creative tension between perspectives that yields a different thought or point of view to  advance. To move forward whatever that means to you. A feeling of uneasiness that makes you uncomfortable because it rings true. The truth about your deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. 

But what are the sources of productive and creative friction, besides our inner gnawing desire to reach our potential?

Isolation is your problem, not your lousy attitude.  Barbara Sher

It's time to question your network, your sources of support and inspiration. Often your current kitchen cabinet, also accepts you as you are. Apparently, many of them think the status quo is fine. Or maybe you are fortunate and you have a friction network that pushes and pulls you to be your best. Not dissatisfaction with who you are but who you could be--and want to be.

For me and my experiences, you have to seek differences, new ideas, and different points of view through the people you meet, confide in, and learn from. You build your own human particle accelerator/collider of friction that literally forces you to confront yourself in a collision of expectations and perceptions. Re-investing in your network, by assessing your current network, by going to people you know (but don't know), and by seeking new vantage points, will ultimately pay off in opportunity dividends. It will be people you know and meet who will help transform you and give you traction. You can not do it alone. If the status quo is satisfying, then enjoy it. If it isn't, then make a concerted effort to diversify and expand your portfolio of advisers.

Just learned from my cousin that this speech I gave was posted online. It describes part of my particle accelerator/collider network that created friction in my life that continues to propel me forward. The human source of the traction, chances and opportunities I have been fortunate to encounter and take.

 

John Kobara Honored by Coro from Edward Headington on Vimeo.

Thanks for reading. John


Don't refer unqualified candidates. Don't pass the trash!

The power and influence of networking trades on your reputation--your brand. If you do not manage your brand by making sure that nothing undermines it, then you are a very poor personal brand manager.

If you have any semblance of a network, then you are being asked to help friends and relatives with their job searches or even more likely, for their friends or relatives. Always respond to assist and be helpful as I  have advised repeatedly here. The benefits you derive often exceed any you dispense.

However the decision to refer or hand-off your friend, relative or others is one that you have to examine carefully and thoroughly. Just as you stand to benefit from the experience you also can also damage your brand.

Referring job candidates that you know are not qualified, prepared, or even good is simply stupid for all concerned.

In Waiting for Superman, the award winning documentary on the state of education in America, it characterizes the process of exporting or exchanging horrible teachers between districts as either "passing the trash" or conducting "the dance of the lemons". Principals and Superintendents who can not fire really bad teachers because of tenure, opt to shipping these teachers to other districts in exchange for their bad teachers. It is an obscene process that reflects how little the kids/students matter. Pasing the trash

When anyone refers, forwards via e-mail, a candidate they do not know, or worse, a candidate they know is weak--they are passing the trash. Imagine what this does to a brand, especially if they are a repeat offender at referring bad candidates.

I get dozens of referrals a month for specific jobs. And there is a dramatic increase in this transactional, thoughtless, process of referring candidates bereft of quality. Sometimes it is plain embarrassing. But always a waste of time. I have to decline the candidate AND explain to the referrer that the person is not even close to the specs.

People just want to get the task of helping people off their plate and on to someone elses. This is a cardinal sin of networking and mentoring.

Why mentoring you ask? Because the referrer needs to take the time and effort to help the candidate reflect on their goals, on their resume, on their process. This is where mentoring can be the most valuable. Stopping someone from a poorly defined job search and adding value to their journey is the purpose of mentoring. These moments of mentoring can be super powerful. No one is served if you just robotically agree to "forward" their resume. And you become known as a trash passer!

Passing the trash is a new form of spam. Puts me in the position to be the bad guy. because not only do I swiftly decline these candidates, I tell them and/or their referrers why. In a number of cases I de-brief the candidate on their missing qualifications, typos on their resume, career goals and the lack of fit. But somebody has to push back and stop the stream of trash. I feel sorry for the candidates because they are pretty much riding the process out. However, they get damaged in this process too. They are seen as not having their act together and when ruled unqualified, that hurts them psychicly and in the marketplace.

Stop before you refer someone. And don't refer anyone you think has dodgy or sketchy qualifications. No one wins and almost everyone loses, especially you.

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