Monday, November 18, 2013

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Growing Our Future

As adults, we ask children the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And often we are met with stereotypical answers of doctors, lawyers, firefighters, or the occasional whimsical child response of robot or princess. We smile and tell them that they would make great “_________” and move on. This is where I believe that we have made our biggest mistake as we look to grow our future leaders and next generation Americans.

Children need guidance from adults and access to resources to make informed decisions. Yet they don’t know where to look and whom to ask to ensure that they are on the right path. Many adults have their own agendas when dispensing advice to their children without considering the multitude of possibilities that await an informed child that is equipped to make strategic leaps in their future adolescent and adult life.

Faryar Shirzad, the Co-Head of Government Affairs at Goldman Sachs, said it perfectly, “There are a lot of cool jobs out there, but you don’t know what they are when you’re 22. Over the course of your career they will reveal themselves to you. Put the building blocks in place so when you see the dream job, you’re prepared to step into it.”

As adults, we need to teach children that the future is not certain and it will change as they change. What they believe is their dream one day could become their nightmare the next. Preparing kids for one specific life path that they decide on as a young adult is almost certain to set the up for failure in difficult economic times where job outlook changes and technology creates obsolete positions. It is not enough to simply say, “Anything is possible! Just put your mind to it.” We leave out the critical steps of planning, contingency planning, and looking for connections between perceived job descriptions and their future applications.

We need to teach our children to look for opportunities and work within those to find application towards their future dreams. A job at McDonald’s may be a step towards an executive level position when a child sees potential in business management. A love of dance may lead a child to a degree in exercise science so that they may work with the ballet and help injured dancers get back on their feet.

There are many ways that people turn their passions into careers and it is not always the path that they imagined. However, without that winding road, they may never have the chance to learn applicable skills and increase their worldview to become future success at yet unknown occupations.

By Kristen Keyes

Friday, October 4, 2013

America is Divided...Who Will Lead a Conversation of Alignment?

America is divided: America's leaders are divided and Americans are divided.

Yesterday I read a poll that stated that 48% of Americans want less government involvement and 48% want more government involvement. These sentiments generally follow party affiliations with Democrats tending to want more responsible government support for social programs and Republicans tending to want less government that would require higher taxes. 

Different opinions are a part of democracy and a strong debate encourages thinking, new ideas, and allows citizens to voice their opinions before they support what is best for the community as decided on by the group. But the division in America seems different over the past years, therefore the leadership challenge to bring Americans together again will require a different kind of leadership that is being displayed today.

Here are a few suggestions for future Political Leaders:

1. Balance the budget. The size of the national government will have to be reduced and taxes will have to remain high until there is a balanced budget and a surplus created each year. A debate about raising the debt ceiling each year is unacceptable.

2. Move towards the middle. Both parties have extreme interest groups that are preventing civil debate. These people create great passion with fiery rhetoric and sweeping proclamations but they rarely create environments for progress with their narrow focus and desire for battle. Congress and the President take an oath of office to all Americans. If elected, serve all Americans equally.

3. Be examples of what you want others to cause. Politicians today seem like lobbyists for their districts. Don't exempt yourselves from any laws or conditions. Be the first people to feel the impact of new laws or choices not the last. Vote yourself equal sacrifices and lead by example.

4. Keep the debate alive for the good of the nation. Politics is maneuvering into a position of power to get something; leadership is solving problems. Too many people in power have become great politicians and poor leaders. When leaders stop talking, there can be no progress. Never stop the debate until the problem is solved.

5. Be great leaders. People admire foresight, honesty, inspiration, and competency above all other leadership characteristics. The current situation suggests many current leaders lack enough of these characteristics to serve the United States well. In the future, prepare yourself before you are called to lead. Be more than a person who can win an election.

6. If you can't handle the job then resign. Your job as a political leader is to lead. Leaders need to produce results. Leaders need to serve their teams well. If they are hindering the progress of their teams they should step aside and let someone else serve the people.

7. Practice long-term common sense. Democracy allows and encourages people to vote for their personal interest. Frame the conversations to show the logic behind the emotion and make sure that all people understand the long and short-term impact of their actions

Leaders will emerge to align Americans. There will be some nasty debates and bumps in the road over the next few months as politicians try to save face from their current positions. Luckily, America has enough smart, selfless, energetic people that love their community and possess the necessary common sense to help rebuild the foundations of American Leadership that will serve the country well in the next decades. I hope they don't wait too long to step forward because Americans need to start coming together now.

by Mike Nally

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Only You Can Make the Change

All too often we spend our time dwelling on the way that we wish things might have been or how a particular situation should have unfolded for our lives to be better. We may or may not choose to talk about it with others, but regardless it plays over and over in our heads like an early morning infomercial for exercise equipment you’ll want to buy and never actually use.

Sometimes we decide to take a stand and approach the people we believe have wronged us in theses situations or worse, we opt to be proactive and take a stand before anything has actually happened. Unfortunately, the stands we take are often met with attitudes and reactions that make us feel vulnerable and defensive towards the change that we imagined would occur in our lives had we spoken up the first time these situations bothered us. We might even be met with confusion if the stand that is taken is not even applicable to the person with whom you have decided to take on.

While we can’t go back in time and right our wrongs or the wrongs of others, we certainly do not need to make others pay for the consequences of other people’s actions. If you want to make a change because you didn’t like the way something worked out, then it’s time to take ownership of yourself in a major way. Ownership is taking self-responsibility for who you are being at any given time (including your emotions, your actions, your attitudes, your body language, etc.). It allows you to be the person that you would like to be and that you can be proud of being.

Self-Awareness is the first step in ownership. Without having a keen understanding of who you are and why you react to and do the things that you do, it is not possible to change your circumstances. Pay attention to patterns, repetitious events, and the automatic responses you have towards others. Keep a journal to document what makes you tick, what makes you want to jump overboard, and anything else that seems worthy of noting. Be sure to look back at your entries to see if you would have the same reactions today that you did at the time that even occurred.

Remember: Self-Awareness is a process and true ownership takes time and practice. And practice makes perfect.

By Kristen Keyes

Monday, September 30, 2013

Own Your Fears

Fears may keep you safe, but they can keep you small.  In our work, we have found most people rest in comfort zones that we call growth plateaus.  These comfort zones define their current level of confidence, potential, and capabilities, which produce positive results.  At the end of each comfort zone is an unimagined fear keeping future possibilities in check.  Consequently, leaders must see, own, and live with their personal fears in order to grow.

But how do you "see" what you can't see?  Looking for your fears and admitting to them is big step.  It requires a person to challenge who they are and change how they see themselves.  Everyone has fears. The fears we can't see or won't see are placed in a special place in our personality that we learn to live with.  We create personal workarounds to compensate for our fears and we learn to cope with ourselves.  For example, if someone is afraid of heights they avoid tall buildings.  

The same things happens in leadership development, however, most fears are subtle and more easily hidden.  For example, leaders who don't like confrontation may become enablers of average performance or act indecisive.  The fear they hold is confrontation with other people, so they create a friendly environment to avoid friction, which has a consequence.  In every situation the choices that you make have consequences. To see your fears, one should look to their pattern of results. What situations occur that are unsatisfactory in your life?  Owning the results in those situations allows you to see the patterns which empowers you to pinpoint and own your fears.

To truly see your fears, you must own your results and your choices. If a project didn't meet expectations, a person has to find where they caused the problem and look to why they didn't think or act differently.   

  • Did you think it wasn't your place?  (I didn't want to ask; I didn't want to rock the boat or be a bother.)
  • Did you think it was someone else's job?  (I wasn't sure what to do but I didn't know whom to ask.)
  • Did you know what to do?  (I didn't what to look dumb.)

These are real life examples of little fears that can cause big problems.  You have to see and own your little fears so you can make small adjustments that will alter your choices and results.

Courage is not the lack of fear; courage is living with your fears on a daily basis.  Don't pretend you're not worried- spend your precious time acknowledging your humanity and find people who will help you leverage your strengths and can compensate for your fears.  This is how leaders grow.  Leaders confidently understand their strengths and fears. They see, be, do and cause extraordinary results given that they own who they are in any situation.  

Owing your fears creates opportunities personal growth and new results.  A sign of growth is when you can think in terms of the "and" rather than the "or".  For example, a leader who is uncomfortable with conflict might think - I could talk to John and create a debate "or " I could see what happens so I won't cause a problem with John.”  If this leader could live with the conflict, a different conversation would be, “I am going to talk to John even though there will be a debate so we can sort out the issue.”  This is a different leadership conversation caused by the leaders ability to live with the potential for conflict.

To grow out of your current comfort zone, leaders must seek their unspoken fears, own their fears, and find ways to be with these fears on a daily basis. Overtime, the worry of your fears will dissipate and will be replaced with the confidence earned by personal awareness.

By Mike Nally

Friday, September 27, 2013

What Do You Need to Produce?

Companies exist to produce goods or services to support a mission and increase shareholder values. This is a common concept acknowledged by most business professionals. Often, we see universal breakdowns in communication regarding expectations that need to be met in order to produce the results that allow for happy shareholders. Leaders don't always define what they need and team members don't always understand what they need to produce to succeed. Consequently, many organizations focus on hours worked versus critical production. This is a false read of effectiveness.

Leaders and team members alike will fill their time just to look busy if their production goals are not articulated, supported, managed, and recognized. It's your job to understand the following at work:

  • Do you know what you need to produce today to justify your salary?
  • Do you know what makes you a good investment for your employer?
  • Do you know your breakeven point for the day or week?
  • Do you know what you need to produce to help grow the company?
  • Do you know what it would take to beat your competition?
  • Do you know what it would take to justify a raise?
  • Can you identify your personal production schedule to lead your own actions?

Remember: The best way to stay in business and stay in your job is to create value everyday.

by Mike Nally

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dealing with Sh!t

I spent last week at a 3-day company-training event in Annapolis, MD. I was energized by the connections that were made there, the enthusiasm for the corporate mission, and the excitement to work together towards a similar cause. On the opening day, employees expressed their desire to build relationships and get to know each other on a deeper level. But as leadership consultants, we knew there were more pressing concerns that needed to be addressed because even in the midst of happy times there is always shit to deal with when you're at work.

When I worked at Whole Foods Market, employees would come together for trainings or store openings pretty frequently. During these times, you’d have the opportunity to meet new people or see old friends and rediscover that passion you have for your job and the culture that you work in. After one particular event, I found myself back at work feeling renewed and ready to bring fresh eyes to the department. On that same day, a customer had different plans in store for me.

While I was crouched down merchandising a display, a middle-aged man came and stood next to me. He was wearing cargo shorts in January- this should have been a red flag. He didn’t speak a word to me as I offered him a friendly greeting and readied myself to assist him. As I turned to get up, I heard a plop/thud noise unlike anything I had ever heard before. I glanced down to see where the sound had come from and there it was- an actual pile of shit.

I froze. I looked at the man and he just stared directly at me with an odd grin on his face. I didn’t know how to react- I mean they certainly had never trained me on how to deal with a situation like this. I tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come out. So I did what any normal person would do in a situation like that and I ran away.

It’s times like these when you know where you stand on the work totem pole. While there are a few who clean up the proverbial shit at the top of the organization, there are always those who have to clean up the actual shit at the bottom. I had the luxury to run away knowing that I was somewhere on the middle of that totem pole and the guy at the bottom of the pole had just clocked in. While our 18-year-old janitor used a role of paper towels and some sanitizer to clean up what would most likely be the worst task he would ever be assigned, the leadership in the store replayed store security footage of the event as if it were a video entry worthy of being on America’s Funniest Home Videos. What a disconnect leadership had from the actual experiences of our janitor and me. I was highly disturbed, the janitor’s job description had just reached beyond belief territory, and leadership was having the laugh event of their lives.

 I tell this story because I think it’s important for leaders to understand the impact that they cause in their organization. All of the effort in the world spent training and renewing the hopes of burnt-out employees won't mean a thing if leadership watches on the sideline as their team faces the impact of business by themselves. Being a leader is more than just a position, a higher salary, or a better office- it’s about supporting your team the best way that you possibly can every chance you get.

Remember: you may have come a long way since you had to clean up the actual shit, but don’t forget that without the work of those at the bottom you would have one dirty workplace.

by Kristen Keyes