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Global Leadership Speaker and Premier Work-Life Balance Speaker
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Archive for November 2008

Staying ahead in a world that changes every second

You can either take advantage of the opportunities that change brings, or stand there, helpless, as others tell you what you have to do. Either look ahead and adapt, or keep waiting for things to go back to the way they were. Your choice. One way, you win. The other way, you lose. It is that simple.

It is always best to be prepared for change so you can master it, rather than find yourself standing there waiting for an announcement that will leave you surprised and guessing. You will do yourself an enormous favor by pro-actively checking in with different resources that will help you to know what is coming in the days ahead. Be sure to monitor every source of news that will give you the advantage of being fully prepared when change occurs.

Monitor:

Technology. It changes by the day, so don’t let it surprise you. Make a deliberate effort to learn how technology will change in your industry – long before it happens. You should always know what is going to happen that will change the way you do business. That way you can be the first to successfully use the technology.

 

Trends.  Know your industry. If competing organizations are shaking things up and getting positive results, you can bet the trend is going to move in your direction. Watch your trade magazines and the websites for your industry’s professional groups. Know what is happening and who is driving the change.

 

Committees and task forces. This is the place to know what senior leaders are considering – and give you a chance to have input. If you have a chance to volunteer for an assignment to a special committee, take it!

 

Gossip. Listen to what people are saying. Devise an informal system for rating the credibility of your sources. Just because somebody is wrong 80 percent of the time it doesn’t mean you ignore them. They may well have the most important piece of news right. Just listen, don’t repeat. It does not help your image to be known as a big gossip.

 

Stockholder news. If your company’s stock is publicly traded, buy at least one share! Then, go to the annual shareholder meeting and read the reports you get. It is amazing what you’ll learn through presentations and the networking opportunities.  

 

So many variables affect your work.  Everything from office politics to the price of gas can force you to change the way you do business. We can stubbornly bury your feet your old comfort zones, or you can make a mind shift. Change is so ever-present in this world. Accept it. Grow up about it. Stop whining. You may have enjoyed your comfort zone back when things moved slower , but things don’t move slow any longer.

What are you after?

There are legions of “leaders” out there desperately trying to keep their ships from sinking by plugging up this hole, then running over to the other side and plugging up that one before going over there to plug up the next one. Their ships are taking on so much water so fast that they don’t think they have time to stand back and figure out the master plan.. When the ship is going down, they don’t have time to enjoy the luxury of analysis, goal-setting and benchmarks. They’ve got to plug up all those holes!

If that is how you’ve been handling your challenges, remember that you can’t save a rapidly-sinking ship by plugging up one leak at a time. You may not have time for all the test studies, arguments, focus groups, deliberation and reasoning that you used to experience when you were charting the course, but you must have time to always go back to the core questions that made you successful in the beginning, whether you are analyzing what to do for your company or your career.

What are you after? Seriously, what are your goals? When you are pulled in many directions at one time, it is easy to forget the main challenges you face. At a time like this, it is vital that you know and all of your people know what is expected. State the vision. Let your people know what they need to do, when they need to do it and how. Communicate! With the right goals, people, communication and inspiration, you can do a lot to keep your ship from going down.

It is too easy to get overwhelmed. I know what kind of stress people are dealing with, and the challenges are daunting. But, they don’t have to be crushing. Step outside of the chaos for a minute and look at your situation as an opportunity to see what you are made of. This is your chance to do big things. Some of the things you try will work, and some won’t. But you will emerge from these moments as a stronger leader, tested and proven.

Look at all the challenges you face. Get input from others to get perspective on which problems are most critical, then brainstorm solutions can create the greatest results. At this point, you may well advance your career if you demonstrate brilliance and leadership in a moment of crisis, but you will do that best if you just do what needs to be done in the best way you can. You don’t need to be ambitious in a time like this. Your leadership and performance will automatically propel your ambitions if you deliver. The magic right now comes with a bit of humility and altruism.

Do a values check

If you buy into the notion that these tough times present the greatest opportunity for you to stand up and lead, take a deep breath and center yourself. Before you devise your vision of what you are going to do and how you are going to do it, check in with yourself.

Your core values will define your path. Many a great leader has veered off course at some point by doing what he or she thought was is expected and selling out a little bit of idealism or a smidge of integrity – only to find that the final reward was anxiety, frustration and self-loathing. Some people make that error and do an immediate course correction to honor their values. Others keep racing off in the wrong direction. That approach does not work if you hope to emerge from your career with your soul fully intact. It might help your career, but eventually, you will pay a psychic price. Integrity is worth too much to compromise.

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So, always ground yourself with your values so you know what you expect of yourself before you expect anything of others. Those gut checks keep you honest and project trustworthiness. They also make it a lot easier to make decisions and take action. You know your boundaries and beliefs. Honor them.

Begin by getting perspective of what you are fighting for. I remember my first job on a daily newspaper – the then tiny Bradenton (Fla.) Herald. The politics were fierce, and as nasty as they come. I am not kidding. I accidently found out that one editor was wire-tapping another one – in an effort to become king of the tiny Bradenton Herald!

It is amazing what people will do to win in situations that are so small and meaningless.

Before I explain the steps you can take to let your full leader emerge from within, remember who you are and what really matters. I keep thinking about those nasty people at The Herald. What did they win? Nothing.

Know that you are moving forward with integrity and fighting battles that count.

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Creating change without creating havoc

There is a right way to make change. There is a wrong way to make change. Any beginning leadership book will tell you that. It will tell you about getting input from others so that you create the buy-in that will make you successful. It will tell you how to stage change so things are not too painfully drastic. It will tell you how to communicate your vision, and all of the basics.

Just remember one thing. You are dealing with human beings.

Your people are not FTEs on an organizational chart. They are human beings with feelings, who want to feel secure, needed and valued. They have families. They have stresses at home. They have health concerns, financial worries and a full menu of personal insecurities. They may work with you because they love their work, or because they need the paycheck, or both. But, they are counting on you.

Whatever vision you have, remember their feelings. We can try to teach everyone to love change because change is the one certainty in corporate life these days, but guess what? There are legions of people who will never love change. It’s not in them. They feel safe when things are predictable and they know the territory. They don’t want to have to prove themselves over and over again. They may have seen dozens of change agents or countless change plans come down from above. They have worked for good managers and bad managers, and may take pride in the fact that they’ve outlasted the worst of them.

They may not be easy to manage or lead, but remember, they are human beings. The universe begins and ends with them. They see everything through their own prism, which is not your prism. They don’t automatically appreciate your ideas or plans. They may be negative or cynical because they are afraid.

As a leader, you sometimes have to assume the role of parent – whether you think that is your job or not. “Because I said so” is the worst explanation for change, so take care to articulate the reasoning for your decisions. Sometimes, all you need to do is say, “Here is where we are, here is where we need to be, this is how we can get here and this is how you are critical to our success.”

If you are expecting more from people, show them what’s in it for them. It’s not enough to say, “Do this and you get to keep your job.” Instill a little pride in them for their company and show how they are key to making it succeed.

Change is unsettling. There is a little bit of hand-holding that has to go on just because of the insecure nature of people, and even if you think it is unnecessary, it really is your job to go to your people and lead them – not order them. That means finding ways to get them to follow you. You may be able to order your people to do certain tasks or job, but followership means they pitch in and propel the success of your vision.

Leading through change

Change is more visible and rapid-fire as leaders jostle to protect their companies during tough times. They cut budgets, transfer resources, try new procedures, move people around, take things away, start using new terms, voice new visions and continually shake things up in hopes of doing what they have to do in order to weather the storm. Sometimes, their decisions make sense immediately. Sometimes, they don’t, Sometimes, things work out. Sometimes they don’t.

If you aren’t the rule-maker, your “buy-in” will be appreciated by those who are making all the change. Sometimes it is hard to offer that buy-in, especially if the change is radical or if you know in your gut that it won’t work. You may be able to help influence change by giving useful feedback that might steer things another way, but there will be times when you have to conform in order to be viewed as a valuable team player.

When it comes to change:

  • Your first job is to survive to fight another day. You might have the greatest ideas in the world, but it won’t matter if you wind up labeled a naysayer, trouble-maker or whiner. Choose the battles you can win, and fight them so you remain effective to fight again.
  • Don’t be too quick to dismiss other people and their wild ideas. There will be times when your own biases will stand in the way of your growth. Approach change with an open and receptive attitude so you can always be part of the solution – not the problem.
  • People wrongly assume that status quo implies a certain degree of security. There is no security in this world – just look at the number of people who banked on it and were laid off. Security comes from within, knowing you can face any obstacle and adapt to any change.
  • Even if you don’t like what is going on, find a way to build your own success within the new constructs. What can you contribute? How can you make yourself more valuable?

Always, always, always behave in a way that makes you viewed as part of the solution – not part of the problem.

  • When news of change first comes down, stifle your initial reaction. You may be reacting to the fact that you don’t like change in general, not to the actual change you are facing.
  • Do not complain about what is going on to your colleagues. This will tag you as an impediment to your leader’s success, and even if the change concept is misdirected, you won’t want to be seen as a trouble-maker.
  • If you are asked for input, give it – constructively. Don’t overdo it. Figure out what you can say that will actually make a difference, and voice your ideas in a way that creates an opportunity for you to take on more responsibility and help move things along.
  • If you disagree so completely with the change occurring around you, it may be time to pack up your talent and move on.

Generations change, and they change US

There still are a few work environments where the old boss is still in charge doing the same old things the old way. But, those situations are definitely the exception. Today’s workplace has changed. And changed.

Last night, I had dinner with a Wal-Mart executive who explained the whole rap on Gen X and Y workers who care more about free time and self satisfaction than playing by the old rules that all of us Boomers conformed to.

“I had one come to me and talk to me about flex time,” she said. “I said, you want to come in at 8:30 and leave at 6:30? And he said, I want to find a way to take off every other Friday.” I started to “Tsk” out loud, but she stopped me. “I’ll give it to these Gen X & Yers every time. The boomers are there at their desks working all day and all night every day and the young ones text this and do that with the computer and they come in and at 4:30 it is all done and it’s perfect. So, WE have to find a way to work with THEM.”

That’s change. It’s generational, it’s cultural and it really takes an advanced soul to open up to it so easily because it is so absolutely radical. I never would have envisioned telling my boss I expected to get every other Friday off – and getting it. As a leader, my natural reaction would be to say to myself, “What a snot-nosed brat.” But, we are operating in an ever-changing world where our ability to change and adapt will shape our ability to be effective and succeed. I thought that executive was describing presumptuous work ethics of these young people. But her thinking had evolved far beyond mine. She saw their approach as different, and found a way to leave her realm and go into that younger realm to be effective. That is the mark of a good leader.

So many variables affect our work. Everything from office politics to the price of gas can force us to change the way we do business. We can stubbornly hold onto our old comfort zones, or we can make a mind shift. Change is so ever-present in this world. Accept it. Grow up about it. Stop whining. We may have enjoyed a very nice comfort zone back when things moved slower , but that zone is gone. Things do not move slowly any longer.

Staying ahead of change

We were just discussing adapting to change in a business environment. The best example is that notion of “offshore support.”

You have consumers and politicians screeching that it is wrong to send those jobs overseas, but did it stop that moving tide? NO. Instead, some companies have made billions finding ways to expand offshore support to every layer of American business. Others have made fortunes training offshore workers in language and cultural skills so they can effectively serve customers like me. Others companies have created revenue-generating websites showing how to maneuver automated telephone systems and get to the right place with the least amount of brain drain.

Change was happening. People may have stood at the sidelines complaining, but the brilliant ones got in front of the change and made money off of it. Lots and lots of money off of it.

It’s as if the earth used to revolve and now it just spins. It moves faster and faster. Those who “get” that, see trends and stand out front and take advantage of them. Those who don’t just wait for things to go back the way they were, which they never will.

download legend of bagger vance the dvd Look at your industry and ask yourself a few questions:

1. How has this company changed in the last decade. The last five years. The last year.

2. Have you been in front of the change, riding along with the change, slowly and begrudgingly adapting the change, or actively pushing against the change, arguing for things to go back to the way they were?

3. How do you anticipate your company or industry changing in the next year, five years and decade?

4. Have you actively studied and brainstormed the possibilities?

5. Have you positioned yourself as a key player in the change strategy? How can you do that?

6. Are you internally networked enough so you can make suggestions and volunteer for assignments?

7. Are you active in your industry so you can benefit from hearing what other companies are doing?

8. Are you a leader in your industry so you can help create the change scenarios that will define what’s ahead?

Take a minute to look at your office. Your computer. Your work product. Your schedule. Chances are great that, ten years from now, you will see yourself sitting in a very different environment doing things very differently. There are so few operations that will stay just as they are so employees can comfortably go to work, knowing what to expect. The world is going to keep spinning at this pace with or without your permission.

You can either take advantage of the opportunities that change brings, or stand there, helpless, as others tell you what you have to do. Either look ahead and adapt, or keep waiting for things to go back to the way they were. Your choice. One way, you win. The other way, you loose. It is that simple.

Change is.

Let it challenge you, excite you and make you rich.

Change IS.

When I started my career, there were only three ways to transmit a document from one place to another: 1) Deliver it yourself 2) mail it 3) use a “Quip” machine, where you’d attach the document to a cylinder that would spin around as a telephone line transmitted information to a similar machine that would receive the page and imprint the image on photo-sensitive paper.

We were elated when FedEx came along and offered next day delivery. Then came the fax, which could actually send it in less than a minute! Then came e-mail, which could send a document in an instant.

You bet that changed how we did our work. It reduced pressure because it was easier to communicate, react, move things along and evaluate what others were doing. But, it increased our stress because the immediacy resulted in even greater demands for output and pressured us with much tighter deadlines.

The world has changed so much. Twenty-five years ago, we were just starting to get answering machines and VCRs. Nobody had home computers or cell phones. Fifteen years ago, we barely knew what the Internet was.

Do you remember when you started calling companies and getting automated telephone systems that kept you holding for an hour before you got a human being, only to be disconnected or realize you were holding for the wrong department the whole time? Do you remember when you first started calling for support and got someone in India who said his name was John and had a language barrier that kept him from even understanding the question, much less answering it?

It doesn’t matter whether you love or hate the massive change that comes with new technology. Time doesn’t wait, change happens. And happens. And happens.