Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Who Are You?

Problem:

Some people know who your are, they might remember your name, but they don’t connect a story or an idea or concept with your name. They don’t know what you are about, your special skill, or unique contribution to the world.

Solution:

Create your story.

It should be so clear that a one sentence description easily comes to mind when someone mentions your name.

Many people call this ‘branding’ but that just sounds like a painful agriculture ritual.  Yes, your story is your brand, but I don’t want to overuse that word (oops, too late.)  It should be something that you are passionate about, that comes easy to you, that you enjoy learning all the facets and angles about, and that you could talk about all night long.  It’s a special skill that you own above others.  So when that subject comes up, people will say, “I know who’s really good at that.”

You might say, “But I’m multifaceted.  I can do a lot of different things.”  Yes, that is true, which is why your defining identity needs to be at a high level.  Instead of being known as someone who’s a good pencil sharpener, it would be better to be known as someone who creates beautiful art.  There are a lot of details and skills that go into creating great art.  Pencil sharpening is just one small part of it.

Once you’ve determined your story, identity, or brand, here are some keys to imprinting it in the minds of others.

Be Prolific

In order to have a concept or idea come to other people’s mind when someone mentions your name, you have to do something over and over again, and be pretty good at it. (Unless you’re known as a habitual failure.  I suppose then you’d still be good at failing.)

Another word for doing something repeatedly and in lots of different places is ‘prolific’.  You have to be prolific with what you do.  People need to see you everywhere, doing your thing.  Repetition makes things stick, and sink in.

Stay on Message

You also need to be consistent in your overall message.  This doesn’t mean sending your words through some internal communications board check before sending them out to the world.  It means being consistent in what you provide and making sure the same point gets across each time.  You can do a variety of things that communicate the same message.  It doesn’t always mean repeating a mantra, although that does help.

Be Helpful

Another reason people will remember you is if you are helpful.  If you are all about yourself and only concerned with number one, people may remember your story, but they won’t want to be a part of it.  And what good is that?  You want people to be sharing your story in a positive way, to join you in your cause.

Of course, if you put yourself out there, and have a message, there will be people who disagree or don’t like it.  Don’t worry about them.  If you have dissenters that means that you have a message worth dissenting, which also means that you have a powerful message worth promoting.   If you still offer to be helpful to everyone,  the dissenters will know that it is their choice.

I don’t have it all figured out yet myself, but I continue to learn and experiment, and sharing these thoughts with you helps me to crystallize what I need to do too.

So what is your story?  Who are you?  Tell me in the comments.

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The Number One Way to Get Unstuck

Problem:

You want to create something meaningful.  Something that will make a difference.  Something that people will find valuable.  But you just can’t seem to produce.  You can’t seem to find the time, you can’t come up with the right concept, you don’t have the right skills, or a myriad of other reasons.  You’re stuck in a rut.

Solution:

Do the work.

‘The work’ in this case is overcoming the ‘Resistance’, a real internal force that keeps you from doing things that matter.

It’s easy to do all kinds of stuff that aren’t of much significance – watch TV, browse twitter or YouTube, play video games, or surf the web.  But as soon as you want to do something worthwhile or that has meaning, the Resistance emerges to make it difficult.  It’s a natural force of opposition that occurs in proportion to the amount of impact your creation can have if it exists.  And sometimes the Resistance is so subtle that you hardly notice it.

That is when it is the most powerful.

You will be able to come up with very valid excuses for why you shouldn’t create that meaningful thing right now.  Oh, you’re going to do it someday, it’s just not the right time right now.  The Resistance doesn’t have to convince you that your idea is ridiculous, it only has to keep you from doing it for one more day.  You see how powerful that is?

Once you are able to name it, and recognize its powerful tactics, you now have a chance to fight it.

So that is what Steven Pressfield has done for us.  As a successful author experiencing all the usual ups and downs of an artist, he discovered this tangible force that would fight against his efforts.  Then, he exposed all of the characteristics and qualities of this beast in his book The War of Art.

This book has motivated many artists to create, including Seth Godin, who said that it had the most significant impact on him than any other book.  And it shows in the way Seth builds on the concept in his latest books, Linchpin and Poke the Box.

You too can get better acquainted with the Resistance, so you can fight it convincingly, by getting a free copy (until May 18th, 2011) of Steven’s latest book called Do The Work.   It’s for the Kindle edition, which anyone can purchase and read on their smart phone or computer – you don’t need a Kindle.

The free-ness is due to Seth’s Domino Project and the sponsorship of GE (General Electric).

Okay, now’s your chance.  Don’t let the Resistance win one more battle.

Soon is not as good as now.

Be a Design Thinker

Problem:

There are too many problems, issues, or things that need fixing in your organization, and not enough people are trying to solve them.

Solution:

Anything can be improved if you learn how to become a design thinker.  Being a design thinker means that you notice the ‘design’ of the bigger picture.  If you observe what forces are causing behaviors, and notice the design of the entire system, you can find solutions that are powerful and innovative.  You can ‘design’ a new system that is better for everyone.

I don’t usually do book reviews here (and this isn’t one, really) but I want to reference where this idea of a ‘design thinker’ came from.  It is from Tim Brown’s book, Change By Design, and I recommend you check it out.

Of course, being an engineer, I might be somewhat biased toward the concept of design, but Tim Brown’s book isn’t about the engineering part of design, nor is it about the artsy aspect of design. It is about the general concept that everything – organizations, businesses, processes, interactions, or things – has a design.  So, becoming a ‘design thinker’ means that you begin to become aware of the bigger picture and understand why things happen the way they do.  With this mindset, you have the capacity to design more comprehensive solutions.

Tim Brown describes a few practices that I think can be helpful to everyone if carefully applied.

1) Gain insight through close observation.

Like a keen anthropologist observing human behavior, what people do, and what they don’t do, design thinkers can uncover details hidden in the ordinary.  One way to make critical observations is to personally experience the path or journey of the customer or the product.

2) Develop a culture of experimentation and prototyping.

Learning is best achieved by doing.  And the way to ‘do’ things quickly and easily is to call it an experiment or a prototype.  Constantly applying this practice fosters an environment where it is okay to fail.  Curiosity drives learning when there is no fear of failure. Prototypes can be built for processes or concepts and are the fastest way to clearly communicate ideas.

3) Build on the ideas of others.

All of us are smarter than any of us.  Collaboration and brainstorming must be an integral part of the culture of any organization that wants innovative solutions to their problems.  If even a simple, single event contains multiple angles, then gaining understanding of a complex system will require input from many individuals.

These ideas aren’t new.  They just seem to lack effective implementation in most organizations.  But any change must have a start, some ignition that creates movement.  And it might as well be you.

Where will you start to implement these concepts?

Get a (new) Job.

Problem:

You’ve mastered your current position and are pretty much the expert in that particular job function, but you’d like more challenge.  You want to get to the next level but there doesn’t seem to be any sign of promotion or juicy project ahead.

Solution:

Go find another position within the company and start over.

It’s hard for anyone to leave a place of knowledge, expertise, respect, connections, or safety, and start over, but within a large corporation it’s about the safest thing to do.

When you become an expert, and you change positions within the same corporation, you never completely leave your expertise.  People will still call you for advice or information, you are still somewhat available.  And because of your experience in that area, you will always be welcomed back into the group if other positions don’t work out.

Sure, starting over in a new position, with a new manager and a whole new group of people can be completely unnerving because it is full of unknowns – you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know who to talk to, you’re the new kid on the block and therefore don’t have the respect that you’re used to.  That’s okay.  It puts you in a perfect position to learn, get away with making mistakes, and inject some new thoughts and ideas into the group because you’re not tainted with all the history and baggage of that department.

Starting over is immensely valuable because in the long run, you are building a broader range of experience and a larger, more diverse network of contacts.  All the things you don’t know now, you’ll learn soon enough, and when you do, you’ll be twice as valuable for the company.  Knowing more parts of the bigger system will definitely help you solve the tough problems and give you more people to call on when you need help.

And usually, you’re not starting completely at zero.  You work for the same company, so you know what’s been happening at a macro level, and you’re probably somewhat aware of what your new group does.  You may have even coordinated with them in the past so you understand the other side of the issues, and that will get you more respect in your new group.

Keep your eye on what’s happening in other areas so you know when they might need some help and how your particular expertise and experience can help them.  Never burn bridges, and stay in touch with past co-workers, you never know what kind of opportunities may arise.

Don’t worry if this new group may not be your ‘dream job’.  Learn to make a difference and put your mark on what ever department you work in.  Over time, as you learn new skills and broaden your experience, you’ll be recognized as someone who can get the job done.  Then, you’ll begin to be wanted, and offered many positions, from which you can choose the best one for you.

Now that’s job security.

It takes some risk to increase your value.

Show Up

Problem:

You don’t know enough people, you’re not connected, you feel like you don’t know what’s going on, and you’re not contributing significantly.

Solution:

Show up. 

By that I mean a couple of things.  First, it means to actually show up at meetings or events where you can connect with other people and learn what’s happening.  Meetings always get a bad rap, everyone hates them and thinks  they’re a complete waste of time.  But I’ll let you in on a little secret: I love meetings.

The reason is because meetings are where you have the opportunity to connect with other people, to exchange ideas, to learn things, and to get involved.  The general disdain for meetings has come from poorly run meetings where you’re not engaged and the purpose is unclear.

So as you show up for meetings, participate and get involved, you’ll be able to have more people connections, and be recognized as someone who’s active and engaged in a lot of things.  Also, the more people you know (and what departments they work in) the more helpful you’ll be to other coworkers in the future who want to know about a particular area.  You can say you know so-and-so and point them in the right direction.

The second meaning of ‘show up’ is about being actively present in all that you do.  It’s about taking initiative and making something happen.  Don’t just be an observer.  Speak your mind, participate.  Your contributions are valuable, don’t hold back.

That’s how you begin to make a name for yourself and become recognized as someone who’s well connected.

Just show up.

What does ‘showing up’ mean to you?

Build Influence

Problem:

You don’t have much influence at work.  You’ve worked at the same company for a long time, have experience with all the in’s and out’s, know how to get around the usual hurdles, and you do good work, but no one is really coming to you for advice.  Your boss has no idea how valuable you are.

Solution:

Build your influence.  How?

Let’s take a look at what influence is in terms of an equation.

Influence = (number of people changed by your message) x (the number of messages)(raised to the power of your message)

Let’s look at each component:

(the number of people changed by your message) – You could have said, (the number of people who hear your message) but that’s not real influence, that’s just noise.  You could get a lot of people to hear your message by using a loudspeaker or putting up flyers, but it’s only when they are impacted by it in some way that it makes a difference.  Of course, having your message reach more people may give you a higher probability of increasing this value, but I don’t recommend focusing on that angle.

(the number of messages) – Your influence will increase when you have more messages.  A ‘message’ could also be interpreted as an interaction.  So whether it’s a one on one connection, or a one to many message, those are all messages you are providing to others.  If you don’t talk to anyone or write anything and live in a cave, you won’t have much influence. (Although that may have not been true with Nelson Mandela, but he’s a unique case.)

(the power of your message) – This is the real kicker.  They don’t call it a ‘power’ for nothing.  If you just had one message (okay, at least two, because the math doesn’t work with the number one)  but it was a really powerful message, you could have a lot more influence than if you had a lot of messages that were weak or meaningless.  Think about a lot of blogs or tweets that are just drivel, they aren’t building influence.  Seth Godin, on the other hand, writes a short powerful blog post every day.  Over time, he has built tremendous influence.

I may not have the equation exactly right, but it’s close to something like that.  Maybe you have some better ideas, and can help me get it right.  What do you think the equation is for ‘Influence‘?

Schedule an Event

Problem:

There’s nothing happening in your organization.  No excitement.  No momentum.  No forward progress.  No innovation or remarkable things to talk about.

Solution:

Schedule an event.  Sure, everyone’s busy doing their work.  Stuff is getting done and you’re delivering product to customers.

But if you don’t have events, it just doesn’t feel like anything is happening.  In a large corporation, sometimes you feel like you’re in your own little corner and disconnected with the big picture.  And maybe you are.

So having an event, a unique, out of the ordinary, one time event that gathers people together and gives them something to talk about, will create momentum.  Even if the event doesn’t turn out that well, or not very many people show up, the fact that you had an event means that something is happening in your area.  You are connecting people.

All your advertising to all those people who saw your announcement (even if they decided not to attend for whatever reason) created a perception in a lot of minds that something is happening and that they are missing out.  This perception or awareness has value in and of itself.  It signifies action.  It means a gathering is taking place.  And it reaches a larger audience than those who just show up.

And when people gather, things can happen.  Connections are made.  Relationships strengthened. Plans are developed.

It hardly even matters what the event is about.  Schedule an event.  You’ll make progress in more ways than you can tell.