Are you limiting your options?


Recently I was giving advice to a college student, that many will remember receiving themselves.  Essentially, I explained that the key to picking an undergraduate degree is to pick one that:

 a) will keep you interested enough that you will graduate 

 b) gives you a good number of options when you are done.

I realized that the same advice holds just as true for making  a career move.   When you think about places to go in your career, it is useful to think about how that experience will help build your resume.  

Are you doing tasks that you are likely to complete successfully?    Is the role you are taking, one that you are well suited for?  Is it likely that you are going to be able to do a good job ?

In addition, you need to think about what kinds of roles you might progress to, after the current one. 

Are you picking opportunities that give you more choices later or are you typecasting yourself always doing the same things?  It’s not to say that you should not build depth in a specific area, but it is saying that you cannot define your career as a single step.  You need to be thinking not only about your current move, but the next one as well. 

Taking steps now, to have more options later, can give you that edge over time.

Huh? Asking questions does not mean you are dumb

144582345_12f03250cdMaybe it is having some experience looking dumb, or possibly I’m incredibly authentic, but I find that it is very easy to me to sport a puzzled look and say, huh?  Be honest, you can visualize me doing that can’t you?   I am also very willing to ask for directions (but that is an entirely different topic).

I find myself completely baffled, when people do not want to admit they are confused.  The fear of looking dumb seems to be so strong in many of us, that we will keep quiet and never ask vs. risking the idea that we are the only one with a question. 

Too many times, I have seen people choosing to go in an entirely wrong direction, hoping vs. knowing.    That’s right, in an attempt to not look stupid, they increase their risk of just that.

People, not understanding something is normal and expected.  Pretending you do understand, when you don’t, is dumb.

Gathering up the personal courage to admit what you don’t know, will set you apart and make your peers appreciate that you asked the question they could not bring themselves to ask. 

That’s right, asking questions doesn’t make you look dumb, it makes you look brave.  Quit trying to fake it people, it never works out in the long run.

Missing the point, so you don’t have to

2493822366_14867181e3Having had a career of [ahem] some length, I have learned a few hard lessons along the way.  Today’s topic is the performance review.

Now, I’ve mentioned before about the need to think about what a performance review means for you.  What I left off was a good story about what can happen when you get it wrong

There was a point in my life, when I worked in consulting.  As can happen in that profession, the person responsible for writing my performance review was not the person who observed my work.

Being young, idealistic and very new to the concept of formal performance reviews, I managed to make a series of rookie mistakes that taught me some life lessons about managing my career.  Thank goodness this firm had bi-annual reviews, so the results of my lameness, only set me back for six months.  For, while I was clueless, I am a fast learner and am inclined to put a lot of energy into fixing things that aren’t working.

To be fair, I did not receive a bad performance review, it would better be described as a lackluster.  The problem was that, being a typical over-achiever, I was not at all happy with getting mediocre recognition for hard work.

So what did I do wrong?

  1. I assumed doing a good job was sufficient.  I knew I needed to be billing at a certain rate, complete my projects on time and keep my customers happy.  I did that.  What I did not do, was get any proof points that showed I was doing that better than average.   I did not think it was my job to prove my worth, I thought that was SEP.
  2. I assumed the person writing my review would have an interest in adding information to my self-review, vs. just using the material I supplied.  This was particularly clueless on my part since I also didn’t ever attempt to provide my boss with status or progress.  He never asked and I never offered.  I decided that no news was good news and left it at that.
  3. I left off the other things I had been doing that were unwritten and critical, to my success with the firm.  This included networking events, community work, etc.  I decided that those other things were small and unimportant (of course my peers did not take this narrow view).
  4. I failed to calibrate with my boss, using his thoughts as input to my self-review to make sure I was exceeding expectations.

In summary, I thought it was all about doing the work, and not about the process.  And as a result I got what I deserved in my review.   I made no attempt to distinguish myself.

Since then, I have a whole different attitude about performance reviews.  I take them very seriously and I consider them my job.  I now see the performance process as an ongoing focus not a once-a-year drudgery.  

Things I do today as a direct result of this experience.

  1. I keep a performance journal.  I regularly jot down things I have done that might be worth noting when I write my self-review.  I don’t always use them, but I am never lacking in material as a result.  I do not consider any accomplishment too small to note in my journal, since often it’s the sum of several small accomplishments that become meaningful.
  2. I regularly ask for feedback of others, in writing.  I use this to support my case when appropriate.
  3. I set quarterly goals for myself, trying to make sure I have a variety of things I’m attempting to do, across different perspectives and sizes (short term, personal, professional,etc).

I firmly believe that the bonus I lost with my lackluster review, has been made up from over the years as I learned a much more valuable career lesson as a result.   What about you?  What hard lessons have you learned about the performance process (and yourself) that others could benefit from?

Authenticity is the new black

2683142961_651dfd7926_mI tweeted this the other day, as one of those random things you think to yourself, and somehow end up writing down.  It’s possible this is just my own personal way of responding to the voices in my head.   Don’t judge.

At the time, I was thinking specifically about leadership.  How, as a leader, the more you try to hide from your team, the dumber you look, since they already know what’s wrong with you (probably better than you do). 

Your team doesn’t need you to be without flaws, but they do need you to be a good leader.  I believe that you cannot be a great leader without authenticity

This does not mean that you need to be without privacy.   Sharing  personal information is not authenticity, it’s a personality trait.  In fact, being authentic requires you to establish boundaries that are in line with your personality.

Without authenticity there is no trust and without trust you do not have a high functioning teamAuthentic leaders build trust because they can acknowledge when they have gotten off course.  That helps the team correct and sets the example for collaboration.

When you find yourself wanting to hide behind a facade, remember authenticity is the new black and those who lead with authenticity will ultimately be the most successful.

Are you tough enough? Am I?


I attended an excellent conference last week from the Professional BusinessWomen of California.  As with all good conferences, I found myself both challenged and inspired across personal and professional dimensions. 

My moment of introspection, was around the concept that it is often the simple things that hold us back

I found myself wondering if I am really as tough as I think I am.   Tough enough to succeed? 

Not just tough enough to hold up under a lot of stress, or tough enough to meet the demands of the role, against the odds.  Sure, against that yardstick, sometimes I win and sometimes I lose but, in general, I pick myself up and try again when that becomes necessary.   

At this conference, I was presented with two questions that I had to stop and think before I answered (never a good sign frankly).

  1. Am I tough enough to ask for what I want?  Am I brave enough to put what I need out there clearly and directly?  Of course, in asking, I have to be willing to be told no.  But without ever asking isn’t the answer also no?  Seems that we are often bad at math when it comes to this idea doesn’t it?
  2. Am I tough enough to receive a compliment?  Oh my, this one is even more complex.  Why is it we think it more polite to brush off a compliment than to acknowledge it?  “It was nothing” seems to come out before we even hear the compliment, or worse we attempt to change the subject.   Why do we miss the opportunity to say “Thank you, we worked very hard on that” when someone recognizes a job well done. 

I honestly am not sure I am tough enough for this.  Getting the courage to ask for what I want for myself and my team is tough.  Especially if it is something that challenges the way things are currently done.  But I do think, that the act of not asking and the act of not acknowledging compliments, get in the way of progress (both personally and professionally) so I realize I must learn.

Which leads me to my next big topic, and that is authenticity.  I’m still working out my thoughts on that one but I do believe that there is a correlation between authenticity and effectiveness that should not be underestimated. 

I am very interested in your thoughts on these topics.  Hit me in the comments and share your tricks to being more authentic and effective.  How have you learned to ask for what you want and what has been the result?

Social applications – business trend or left-coast time waster?

socialimage In the last few months I’ve been doing a lot of listening* to conversations about social media.

Perspectives seem to fall along a spectrum from a time wasting California trend to going to change the way we do business.

People tend to have strong opinions about social tools as they relate to demographics and privacy

There also seems to be a fair amount of generalizing and series of tubes type comments, as people attempt to educate themselves about the latest trends.  

 Having spent the last two years thinking about the intersection of social technologies and business, I find myself wanting to challenge some of the statements I’m hearing and what better venue than a blog? 

So here goes:

I see no reason for wikis and blogs to be in the same sentence, when talking about social tools.  And yet, rarely do I hear a conversation that doesn’t put them together?  Why is that?  My guess  is that this is more about the adoption rate of the tools and less about them having anything to do with each other.  Or maybe, it is just that the names themselves are so odd, they must belong together?

When talking about social networking, people describe LinkedIn as business and Facebook as social.  I always feel compelled to clarify that LinkedIn is a very specific type of business networking application.  In fact, I think they do a great job on their main page when they describe themselves as professional networking.   Of course, I agree Facebook is just social.

Then there is the claim, that social networking wastes time.  Here is where I find myself compelled to say this is completely missing the point

In my mind, networking tools are no different than telephones.  In the hands of a teenager, a telephone can also be described as a waste of time.  In the hands of a salesperson, you might consider it a critical business tool.  It’s not the telephone that is wasting time (or adding value) it’s the people who use it, how they use it and why they use it that matters. 

Which leads me to an important point that only a few people seem to be saying, for specific kinds of business purposes having a collaboration and networking strategy is going to become a competitive advantage for some, and a missed opportunity for others. 

There are two very clear business trends that are improved with social tools.  The first is around connecting with your customers, we all know that Zappos understands this and are seeing results.   The next is around improving productivity and innovation of your workforce something I’ve talked about before.

 So how about you?  What are you hearing that you think is missing the point?  What do you think of my views?  Hit the comments and lets discuss the googles, twitters, facebooks and wikis/blogs. 


*feel free to fire your favorite snark about how novel this is for me.  I know I’m asking for it.