Encouragement: 100% Sustainable

Over the last several days, I have been running across the theme of encouragement. John Maxwell’s slim volume on mentoring and a message from the pulpit by Rev. Kregg Gabor are two examples that come to mind. A quick Google search for quotes about encouragement delivers hundreds of good ones in a second. Here is one that I want to share, and I promise to keep my comments it brief.

Correction does much, but encouragement does more.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If you have ever hit a tough time in your life, whether in your career, your personal life or in some other pursuit, you know that adversity can sometimes shut you down. We all know that high achievers learn from these challenges, adapt and move on to greatness. Some of us could use some help in getting past the challenge, and that is where encouragement comes in.

If you work with others in any capacity – and this includes most everyone – you are in constant relationship with others. How do you choose to engage in that relationship? Are you a negative force, providing a constant stream of criticism and doubt? Or are you one who affirms and encourages, giving others the fuel that they need to drive through challenges? To leverage Goethe’s quote, are you a corrector or an encourager?

The great thing about encouragement is that it is free to give, gives energy to both the giver and the receiver, and creates a virtuous cycle in which everyone helps others achieve amazing things. If you are in a formal leadership position, your free giving of encouragement is even more valuable and powerful. I have seen people nearly vibrate with excitement from a few positive words from a senior leader. Can you do this? Yes!

Here is my question for you: When have you received encouragement that got you through the tough times? What did the other person say? How big a difference did it make to you? We would all enjoy hearing your story.

 

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A Few LinkedIn Pointers – An Interactive Blog Post

Consider this another weekend how-to session that can help you make better use of LinkedIn. Many people use it well, making, building and maintaining their professional relationships and online reputations with prudent and careful use of the site. There are others who seem to view it as just another social media tool, and they make mistakes I would like to help you avoid. Here they a few suggestions:

By the way, if you have suggestions to share, please comment to this blog post and share. Everyone would love to hear what’s working for you. Thanks!

Spelling & Grammar: If you are going to write more than a couple of sentences, use a word processor with spelling and grammar check. If you can’t be bothered, at least use a web browser that will highlight your spelling mistakes – Google Chrome and Firefox both use the red squiggle to point out your errors. Why? Recruiters and others judge you by the quality of the material you post, especially in your own profile.

Watch Your Links: One person recently sent me an invite to connect. I accepted and checked out the websites linked to through the profile. Eek! This person’s personal website is full of errors! It could easily torpedo any aspirations to be contacted by recruiters. It is really bad. Avoid sending professionals to an unprofessional site.

Watch What You Say: As LinkedIn is a professional social media site, consider posting things that you would only say in front of your boss or if you were in a meeting with everyone in your network. Is your message professional, concise and on topic? If not, avoid the urge to post. Silence is golden if your message isn’t.

Personalize Your Invitations: If you are going to take the time to send someone an invitation, why not personalize it. That simple step can increase the likelihood that the invitation will be accepted, and can accelerate the development of your professional relationships. Here is an example. “I appreciated the comment that you made in the ____ group about Lean Manufacturing concepts. I would like to invite you to join my professional network so we can share ideas.” This invitation pays a complement and tells the person why you want to connect. Wouldn’t you accept the invitation?

Reach Out After the Connection: If you have accepted or issued an invitation to someone you have never met, get the conversation going with a follow up message or a phone call. I can tell you from personal experience that it is appreciated and NOBODY else is doing it. You can really enhance the value of these relationships through proactive dialogue.

There it is. Review your network and your LinkedIn activities. Are you maximizing the benefit of the time spent on the service?

Here’s the interactive part: Comment to this blog post – or better yet, subscribe – and share your best tips.

You’re Batman? So What.

Pretend you are Batman for a minute. Maybe an unemployed Batman. I know, Batman is very entrepreneurial and makes his own success, but hang with me for a minute. You’re lounging around the Batcave one day, thinking about how you are going to pay the fat mortgage on this hole in the ground, and think about getting a paycheck. Being a savvy masked superhero, you hit the job boards and search to see what is available in Gotham City.

It’s your lucky day, because the city is advertising for a superhero just like you to take a bite out of crime. You know you have the talent and you are the perfect person for the job, so you send out your resume and your standard cover letter and wait for a call. Or an email. Or maybe even that bat-shaped spotlight. But none of it happens. Why not?

Could it be that you haven’t sold yourself in your cover letter? Did you fail to connect the dots for the HR person in city hall who sent your resume to the “thanks but no thanks” folder?

The job posting said that the successful candidate would have the ability to significantly reduce violent crime in the city, especially crime perpetrated by criminals with colorful costumes and weird MO’s. Did you remember to tell the hiring people that you have created an ingenious strategy to capture and successfully prosecute these bad guys, and that you look forward to sharing your skill with the good people of Gotham? Did you mention that you can get it done without the Gotham police officers being in harm’s way? Did you sell yourself?

Enough of the Batman story for now. When you are presenting yourself for opportunities in your current company, for a new job, or when discussing your performance with your boss, are you discussing the benefits that you bring – or will bring – to the organization? If not, you are failing to sell yourself by showing the buyer – your boss or potential employer – a compelling reason to put you on the team. You can remove the pain. The benefit you bring will be much greater than the paycheck you receive.

Nobody will care about what you do unless you can show how you will do it for the organization and how you are worth the investment. Gotham won’t hire Batman unless Batman can persuasively sell the idea that he will be locking up the Joker. Quickly.

Branding, Business & Bragging

Everyone knows that businesses love teamwork. Higher education loves teamwork, as anyone who has ever interviewed a college student knows. “Tell me about a time when you had to give someone critical feedback” usually leads to, “I was working on a team project, and John wasn’t doing his share.” We are taught to work and play in teams from the beginning. It’s codified into corporate mission statements, culture statements and recruiting messages.

We also are taught that bragging is to be avoided, and we seem to take pleasure in others failing. We enjoy seeing the infallible fail. There are the occasional celebrity flameouts (Charlie Sheen), the athlete who fades in dramatic fashion (Tiger?) and the business manager who gets what’s coming to him (anyone remember Chainsaw Al?).

So how do you balance the need to build your personal brand while balancing the needs of your team – regardless of your position on it – while also avoiding the fate of the arrogant? Carefully. Also, consider how you can – and should – make “team player” part of your brand. Here are a few tactics to start using and practicing now:

Ask how you can help. This could go in any direction. If you aren’t at the very top or bottom of your organization, your offers will go up, down and laterally. You get the opportunity to build great professional relationship – and maybe personal ones – while advancing your organization and your network. Oh, yeah. Don’t forget to deliver on what you’ve offered.

Give meaningful recognition. Subordinates will value it. Peers will appreciate you noticing. Just don’t patronize. Be real.

Practice talking about yourself. Many are uncomfortable with this, and for good reason. Done poorly, talking about your accomplishments can sound self-centered or worse. Done well, you can put your fingerprint on work you have done while also giving credit to those who have earned it. Your boss will ask you, “What are you working on?” Be ready.

The goal is simple: Be a real human who does good work in a team environment, who valuable and would be missed by the organization. Be able to discuss what you bring to the group while being gracious and willing to share the credit. Do some of these basics and you will be someone others want to work with and know, and you will bolster your brand.

Note: for a valuable article on the benefits and pitfalls of personal branding, see this article from Fortune.

3x5x30

If you have ever been in sales, you have heard the term “elevator speech.” Some call it the elevator pitch. The idea is that you should have a speech ready at all times that you can use to introduce yourself to others. I was a member of a networking group that talked about this a lot. We didn’t just talk about it, though. We talked, we wrote, we critiqued, we role-played and we laughed at each other’s speeches. Some were great, while others…had opportunities for improvement.

I was reminded of this twice over the last week when I talked with new and prospective clients. I asked them about themselves, and it was obvious that one of them had never been coached on this concept. Here’s why it is important.

You never know when you are going to meet new people. You could be introduced by a colleague or friend. You could get stuck next to a Chatty Cathy on a plane. You never know when you will have to tell someone about yourself. Oddly, you’ll probably never do this on an elevator though, so I don’t really understand how it got called an elevator speech. Do you talk to strangers on the elevator? Don’t you just stand there and stare at the numbers? But I digress…

So, here is an idea. Take some time to write your speech. Now here’s the meaning of this post’s title: try writing it on a 3”x5” card, and be able to say it in less than 30 seconds. Make it concise, clear and interesting enough to get the listener to want to know more. Practice it on your cat. Bore your children. Do what you have to, but be able to tell someone about yourself well. If you can’t, who can?

Coke, Pepsi or Generic Cola?

Just what are you all about? Are you fizzy brown water in a red can, or fizzy brown water in a blue can? I spend a lot of time talking with my clients (while drinking Coke Zero, of course) about their career goals  and strategies to help them get there. Before we can figure out how to get to the goal, though, we need to know from where we are starting, and you need to know it about yourself. An important part of that is understanding what you are all about. What skills do you have? What are you great at? What do you love to do? What do you stand for? Are you Coke, Pepsi or a generic cola in a plain bottle? Unfortunately, many have trouble with this conversation.

Think about people who are accomplished in their fields. Steve Jobs is a driven genius who leads his company to create amazing technology that people don’t just want to buy and own. They lust after it. They have to have it. They stand in line for it. The Jobs brand is something that people expect to see and are disappointed if they don’t get it at the big Apple events. There is nothing fuzzy or uncertain about the Jobs brand.

John C. Maxwell is another person with a strong brand. If you are in any kind of a leadership position and haven’t read his books, I recommend that you get one, read it and use it. Today. Maxwell is a leadership guru who provides his readers with useful and inspiring tools that leaders can use immediately. Again, he has a strong brand that is compelling and offers value.

What is your brand? What does it say about you? What can you say about it? Are you seen as a tenacious, results-driven executive who builds effective teams that have delivered year-over-year growth for each of the last seven years, or are you a business manager with seven years of experience? Do you see the difference? Are you the former or the latter? Are you a real brand representing value, or a no name with no brand equity: buyer beware? Take some time and clarify that for yourself now. Your future depends on it.

Humble to a Fault

The highlight of my morning today was having phone conversations with two former colleagues with whom I had not spoken with in several years. Barb Kelly is doing amazing things in her own business (Technology Business Group), bringing her values, experiences and entrepreneurship to her work and her employees. The other is someone we will call Paul who is recovering from some serious medical issues and is preparing to reenter the workforce. Our conversation left me wanting to share this point: You have to sell yourself.

Paul is a talented leader who has the ability to create and build teams that are very effective. One of his teams that I had the opportunity to support delivered top results in his sales region through great team member development that led to superior engagement and a competitive (though not too competitive) culture and a strong will to win. Paul should be proud of his accomplishments, though a very strong sense of humility is getting in his way.

Our conversation was about job hunting strategies, including his resume, and how he needs to do a better job of selling his accomplishments. Step one is to get the interview. That will happen with a great resume that is full of accomplishments and results, solid networking and consistent hard work in the job search. Step two – the interview – will be the time to display that humility and stories about team development.

For all of us, the lesson is simple. Many of us have a hard time bragging about our accomplishments. Humility and the desire to not appear arrogant or over-confident act against us. As you search for the next great step in your career, though, this can be a fatal flaw. You have to sell yourself and the value you bring. Let your humility and servant leadership qualities shine in the interview and on the job. Don’t let those same qualities cripple your search.

Are You Part of the Big Brain?

On what topic are you an expert? Maybe you spend hours each week working in a discipline that has allowed you to develop expert level knowledge in some area. Maybe you have a passion outside of work that others would find valuable. If you haven’t explored Quora, you are missing an opportunity to learn, share and bolster your personal brand.

Inc. Magazine offered a useful tips article for Quora users. Visit Quora, read the article and understand what the site is all about. Then consider this.

If you have a skill that you could share to benefit others, consider engaging in this forum. Pick a topic and search for some of the people who are also involved in the conversations. You will find thought leaders on every topic freely sharing their knowledge, asking questions and engaging in dialogue. If you want to know what the leaders in your field or industry are discussing, this is a great place to visit.

Think about how you can burnish your own personal brand on the site. I have been visiting and posting to help people with questions concerning resumes, cover letters and other career marketing issues. What do you know a lot about that you can share?

File this pointer under “New Things I Have Learned This Week.” Take a few minutes, see if the site and the conversations resonate with you, and decide if this can help you develop your professional brand and online reputation. If so, jump into the conversation, have some fun and show us how smart you are.

Ready or Not…

The February 28th issue of Business Week has two stories up front that paint a stark picture for those who think that everything is wonderful in the economy and the job market. The first, “The Union, Jacked,” describes the situation in Wisconsin and other states that are facing huge budget deficits and their struggles with public employee unions. The second, “A U.S. Recovery Built On Low-Paying Jobs,” points out that many people are settling for what they can get and taking jobs making much less than they were before. Neither of these stories will leave anyone feeling great about the fiscal and employment situations in the United States. So what can we do? 

There are no easy answers, but there are some obvious conclusions. First, even the jobs that everyone thought would be secure forever are not. What could be safer than a government job and union representation? Ask people in Wisconsin, Providence and other areas of the country where union jobs are being vaporized.

Second, employers’ viewpoints have changed. While the internal literature and recruiting materials may say, “Our people are our strongest asset,” their actions say, “Our people are our biggest expense.” As economies become more intertwined and globalism spreads, we must take action to keep ourselves competitive and solvent. Here are a few thoughts.

Challenge yourself to do your best work every day. If we accept the premise that employees are an expense to the company, we must also accept that we must provide more benefit than what we are paid. Just like any other factor of production, if an employee is worth more than the cost, that person is a justifiable expense. It’s a harsh reality, but does recent history make you think otherwise?

Learn something new that can make you more valuable to your current or a future employer. Is there a class you can take? A book you can read? A new social media tool you can master and teach to your team? Get creative and learn something new. Share what you learn.

Diversify. If you have ever read anything about investing, you know that diversification is a core strategy. When one asset is declining, another is likely to be rising. Think about your income the same way. What can you and others in your home do to diversify your income stream? Is everything hinging on one person? What if that person is you and you get laid off? Do you have a skill or interest you can leverage to generate income? We may not be talking about a river of cash today, but most income generating activities take time to develop.

Network and volunteer. By helping others – either in a faith-based organization or a secular setting – you may find a skill that you didn’t know that you have. You will also likely meet people that you don’t know today. How can you give today with no expectation of reward? It’s impossible to predict where this can lead, so why not take a chance and see what happens?

The only thing that is certain is that change will accelerate and you will be affected. Take charge of your career and buckle in for the ride. Yes, it may be scary. Yes, you will likely face some tough times. But if you do something today when it isn’t an emergency, you will have the foundation, reputation and network you need to weather that coming uncertain storm.

Crouching Tiger, Pacing Bear

My wife and I often take our kids to the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, CT for a couple of hours. It’s close by, we enjoy a pleasant walk and the zoo is managed well, with a lot of committed people making improvements and educating its visitors. One thought that strikes me often, though, is about the big animals. As we head into a well deserved weekend, I will keep it brief, but challenge you to consider this as well.

Every time we visit, one of the big animals – usually the bear or the tiger – is pacing back and forth, repeating the same actions over and over. Walk forward ten feet, bob to the left, return to the starting point, repeat. It will do this for hours. Does your job ever make you feel like that? You are going through the motions until feeding time (payday), pacing your cubical, and waiting for the day to end so you can get some freedom.

What would that freedom look like? What mountain would your inner bear traverse and what jungle would your inner tiger hunt if you would only let it out of the cage? Why not take some time this weekend to explore how you could make those dreams more real? Instead of just thinking about it, do something. People who succeed aren’t paralyzed by fear or failure. They take risks, learn from mistakes and move on. Go ahead, open the cage! Have a great weekend.