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Global Leadership Speaker and Premier Work-Life Balance Speaker
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Archive for the Risk Category

You Can Do Better

“You can do better than this.”

I can still hear my mother’s voice.

I was in the tenth grade and I had brought home a report card that boasted a few As, a couple of Bs, a C and the only  D I’d ever gotten – in geometry. I didn’t see anything wrong with that report card because it wasn’t much different from what my friends brought home, except for that little episode with geometry, for which I still don’t apologize.

But, Mom did see something wrong with that report card.

“You are not average,” she said, “So you can’t bring home a report card like this. If you were average, it would be all right. If I knew this was the best you could do, it would be all right. But, it isn’t the best you can do and you know it. You can do better.”

I hadn’t really thought about it before, whether I was smart or talented or anything else. I was just a kid who wanted desperately to fit in despite being hindered by a major case of nerdiness. I wanted to be average because then I would blend in with the others. Teenage life would be so much easier blending in with the crowd. No one would expect me to do anything more than the minimum. Hanging there with mediocrity seemed like a pretty safe way to get through high school.

If you think about it, I was right. And it applies to our work situations today. Mediocrity is a very safe place to hang. You don’t have to deal with the risk of being extreme – either too excellent or too poor. You aren’t a problem child that needs to be put on probation or dealt with. You aren’t a model of excellence who is a target for people who are jealous or threatened. You’re just in the crowd.

My mother’s tone of voice made it very clear that I would be making a few changes with regard to my academic approach.

It’s amazing how quickly I turned things around after that lecture. All As, and a B in geometry. I just had to make the decision.

I’ve had to make that decision again and again throughout my career. It is a conscious decision to ratchet things up another notch, to produce more, to concentrate harder, to work longer, to deliver. It is a decision to leave the pack and be excellent.

Fawn Germer is the best-selling author of four books, including an Oprah pick. She speaks to corporations and organizations on courageous and creative leadership strategies taken from her interviews with the best-known leaders of our times.

Your Big Plan: The Greatest Piece of Fiction You Will Ever Write

I often joke about the initial plan I had for my life as an author. I would write the book in three months, then sell it for the high six figures, maybe seven. The book would then come out six months later, debuting on top of the New York Times ultracet no prescrition best-seller list. Oprah would see the book on the shelves while out shopping at the Chicago Barnes and Noble, then buy it. She would love it so much that she would call me up, have me whisked off to Chicago, then have me on the show as she told the world to buy my book. She would so fall in love with me that she’d invite me home for dinner with her and Steadman. attacks effexor with treating xr panic

Quite a plan, right?

Your “life plan” is the biggest piece of fiction you will ever write. You can try to organize and structure your plan, but you can’t make it fit perfectly in a world of so much unexpected drama. I certainly never counted on my book being rejected the first time by every major publisher, or it being released right around 9/11.

If you must have a plan, have a plan. But, plan to change it, because life will demand you change it. The seemingly clear path you devise to turn your vision into reality will twist and turn and run into dead ends. It will lead you into brick walls and open fields. Things you expect to be hard might be very, very easy. Things you expect to come easy might never come at all.

The plan helps you refine your vision and gives you direction so you won’t stall out. But, success does not happen according to plan. It happens, but you have to help it happen by being flexible, shrewd, quick-thinking and resolute about what you want. You can lament the twists and turns, or you can learn to expect them, and enjoy them for the extra challenges they present.

Fawn Germer is the best-selling author of four books and speaks to corporations and organizations about courages and creative leadership strategies.

Fear Our Own Power

For the most part, I think we fear our own power because acknowledging it requires us to take action. Taking action requires energy, stamina and presents us with the possibility of failing. It’s much easier to blend in with everybody else, all the fearful people who don’t venture into their zones of discomfort.

I look back on the great cynics I have known in my life, and I have to admit they provided a great deal of entertainment for me with their smart-aleck remarks as we watched one of our peers dare to chase some cockamamie dream that none of us thought could possibly work. Years later, the cynics had done nothing new with their lives. But, look at what the visionaries did:

There was the night city editor who quit to open a restaurant. It wound up being Ryan’s — an extremely successful chain and franchise. At the height of his success, the late Eddie Ervin owned 25 of the restaurants himself.

There was the television assignment editor who left to go to medical school and now is a great doctor with a huge practice.

There was the very lame reporter who left for law school and became quite well-known for civil rights work.

And when those dreams worked, we’d make some snide remark about it — and you know that came entirely from jealousy.

Fawn Germer is the best-selling author of four books, including an Oprah pick. She speaks to corporations and organizations on courageous and creative leadership strategies taken from her interviews with the best-known leaders of our times.

Just Start

One of the most consistent sources of inertia in our lives is our fear of tackling daunting projects. We don’t take time to realize that there are few tasks that can’t be broken down into manageable parts. We see all of the things that need fixing in our lives and we don’t fix any of them because we think we must fix them all – and that prospect is frightening, intimidating and exhausting. So, we just wait and wait, and nothing happens. We need to just start!

I recently consulted with a man who has toiling in a job that pays him well every Friday, but does nothing for his psyche. He is miserable, and has been for a decade. He wants out, but thinks he isn’t mobile because he is middle aged. He is so stuck, and it is all his choice. He just doesn’t see that he has colluded with the negative forces that have made him miserable.

“I can’t get anything that will pay me better than this,” he said.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“I’m a middle aged white man and…”

“How do you know you can’t get anything better?”

“There are people more qualified and…”

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“How do you know you can’t get anything better if you haven’t done the first thing to try?”

Finally, he admitted what was giving him so much trouble: “I don’t even know where to start.”

“Do your resume,” I said.

Oh, that look. It is the same look I get every time I tell someone to do their resume. It is the look of dread and fear and doubt. You’d think it was absolute torture to do it. And, why? Seriously, why is it such a bad thing. They even have software programs to make it easy.

The lack of an updated resume is probably the most universal reason people are stuck in unhappy and unchallenging career situations. Doing that resume is the fundamental and essential first step that leads to all other opportunities, but thinking about doing it puts such a bad taste in our mouths.

Well, how long does it take?

Really, if you just spend one night doing your resume and give it three good hours of concentration, you’ll be done and good to go. It isn’t fun, but it certainly doesn’t justify the near total paralysis that it provokes in so many people who need to change their lives. So figure out what kind of job you are targeting and give your resume three hours. Then write a good cover letter. Then mail the stuff out.

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The only thing stopping you from changing your life is your unwillingness to do whatever it takes to get moving. So, quit whining and start moving.

In a Rut

Years ago, the argument for my inertia  was strong: I had a secure job, decent pay, good health insurance, five weeks of vacation, the best friends I’d ever had. On top of all of that, I got to live in glorious Colorado. My argument for change was rather short: I was in a rut and was unhappy at work.

Someone wanted to hire me in Florida. The job looked good, the pay looked fine and I’d be near my family. But, I couldn’t seem to take the leap.

One of my mentors told me: “Don’t let security be your dangerous anchor.” And then, she said it again. “If you aren’t doing something,” she said, “you’re doing nothing.”

I took the job and never looked back as I created a new life of challenge and adventure, quickly learning that change is nothing to fear.

Ruts are comfortable and comforting. We know what to expect of our outside world, but there isn’t much cause to challenge ourselves. Our measurement of what we accomplish tomorrow is too often based on old goals that have lost their significance.

How often do you celebrate the goals you have reached, then take a moment to dream a little larger? Don’t measure yourself against the expectations of others, and don’t focus on competing against your peers. What do you want for your life? More money, more time, more freedom, more wisdom, more credentials, more perks, more love, more adventure? Know yourself, and measure yourself against your own dreams. Don’t fear change – seek it out. Don’t let security be your dangerous anchor.

The Ten Tell Tale Signs that you are in a Rut

1. You aren’t having fun

2. You aren’t challenged

3. You enjoy your job less and less

4. You don’t feel like talking about your work with your friends and family

5. You are smarter than your bosses

6. You keep reminding yourself of the good attributes of your job, and they all have to do with “golden handcuffs” – good pay, benefits and time off

7. You can predict your future and it looks exactly like your present

8. People say, “Are you still working there?”

9. You are jealous whenever someone “climbs over the wall” and quits

10. You feel stuck

Fawn Germer is the best-selling author of four books and speaks to corporations and organizations about courages and creative leadership strategies.

 

Fire the jerk. Taking control when you’ve given your power away.

This is the latest in a series on dealing with control issues.

There are bosses who try to micromanage everything in order to control the outcome, and what do they accomplish? They alienate their people, get no buy-in or support, and ultimately scramble to achieve their goals.

How does it feel when someone is trying to control you? Not good. I kind of like my free will, and I’m pretty sure you like it, too. I don’t like someone telling me when or where or how or why. I like to feel that others respect and value my judgment enough to let me do my best – whether the issue is professional or personal. I welcome constructive criticism because others can see places where I can improve my game. But I don’t welcome the hovering presence of a control freak who is so neurotic that he or she can’t let me be my best self.

You can probably imagine that I am inclined to fight back when that happens. But I am floored by the legions of people who find themselves in jobs, relationships, friendships and other situations where they get pushed around. There is certainly no shortage of controlling partners who will pick away until they have wiped out the confidence and self-direction of a less-assertive partner. If you find yourself being pushed around by someone who acts like he or she knows better than you, you’ve got to take responsibility for giving your power away. You are the one allowing it and you’ve got to ask yourself why. Do you need someone to tell you how to do things their way or do you need to find someone who respects you enough to let you do it yourself?

I know a woman whose husband controls everything, from how she styles her hair to when (and how) they are going to be intimate. She is always telling me, “I feel so out of control,” and she is – because she lets herself be bullied and lets someone else dominate her world. Sometimes you have to take chances – at the risk of a relationship – in order to salvage your individual self. You have to honor who you are, or you are no one at all.

How do you do that? By setting boundaries and making choices. I have had more than one bullying boss, and I learned to deal with them in different ways. One guy was normally loveable, but he had a terrible temper that would blow before he got all the information he needed. This was back when I was a reporter and he blew up at me in the middle of the newsroom, yelling because he thought I didn’t do an assignment, but I’d done it –he just looked for it in the wrong computer file.

 “Don’t ever yell at me in public like that again,” I told him as I pulled him into his office. “It is unprofessional and I am not going to take it. Second, I did the assignment. It’s right where it is supposed to be. You have made a big scene out there based on your bad information and now you need to go out there and publicly set the record straight.” And, he did. He apologized right in front of everyone.

But, another bullying boss would blow up at everybody and, when he blew up at me, there was no setting him straight. That was the way he was. He didn’t care about being fair or decent. He didn’t care about how we felt about how we were treated. He walked around the room with his “I’m the boss!” attitude and, believe me, he was the boss. At least, until I decided that he wasn’t.

It is amazing how much power an individual can have over you until you decide you have had enough and take the steps to make change. In this case, I had enough, did my resume and got another job. Once I moved on, he couldn’t control another single thing in my life.

When others have control over you, it is because you relinquish it to them. You are not a prison inmate who has relinquished your right to live and breathe in the way that you choose. But, you do have the decision to stay in controlling relationships and controlling work environments – or not.

You can fire your boss. You can dump a bullying spouse or partner.  It may not seem like you are in charge of your own life, but you are.

It’ll All Work Out

I have a friend who is on the brink of losing everything. Her home. Her savings. Her retirement…

It isn’t pretty. She says it’s a matter of weeks before she bottoms out.

This year, we are learning to redefine “bottoming out.” I have had several friends give up their homes, spend down their savings and drain their retirement funds.  On paper, they have nothing. But, they are showing a resilience that is profound. They are finding out what they are made of, and counting on support from people who love them. As bad as things get, they still hang in there to fight another day. At some point, the days do get easier.

We’ve learned so much about loss and sacrifice this year, particularly when it comes to a concept like “security.” Most people deluded themselves into thinking their secure jobs meant secure futures, but their jobs were not secure. The only thing any of us can really count on is our own resilience. Let go of the things that don’t matter and build your own security once more. There is security in the knowledge that, the less you have, the less you have to fight to protect. You can downsize yourself out of a lot of headaches.

Sure, the future is uncertain — but, it always was. Just get up every day and have faith. It’ll all work out.

I Want My Rocky… (www.iwantmyrocky.com)

It’s been a week since the Rocky Mountain News published its final edition. Some of my old colleagues have forged on, using the Internet to keep the Rocky’s spirit alive at www.iwantmyrocky.com. This is pretty revolutionary stuff.

It reminds me of the time the IRS shut down a Popeye’s Chicken franchise in Denver. The next morning, the employees opened up and cooked and sold the remaining chicken so they would get paid for the week. Granted, they got in a lot of trouble, but I really loved that they banded together and carried on.

That is what these former Rocky staffers are doing. They can still do great journalism without the hard copy of the newspaper. Instead of surrendering, they are fighting back with their talent. I’ve always said, your job may not last but your talent does. This website is proof.  I hope it will become profitable and a template for other reporters who find themselves losing out in this economy.

Please visit their site and click on their ads to drive up revenues and support these swashbuckling reporters. And, pass on the word.

I felt so bad that the tradition of Rocky founder William Byers was dying with that last edition, but it’s not. This is exactly what Byers would have wanted.

Again: www.iwantmyrocky.com!

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.

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