On Becoming a Highly Effective Leader in the New Year

Can you relate to any of the following?

  • I really don’t look forward to going to work.
  • I’m increasingly avoiding interactions with people, especially when they don’t seem to value me.
  • I think I’m doing a good job, but I know I have some areas where I could be doing better. I’m worried that they are holding me back.
  • I always seem to be overlooked when new leadership opportunities arise. I don’t understand, because I do a good job and I’m certainly qualified.
  • I feel like I’m underpaid for my contributions.
  • I keep seeing others get more opportunities offered to them, even though they aren’t nearly as good as me.

I’m going to assume that you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this Blog right now. The question is, what are you going to do about it?

The Real Question Is Why?

All of these scenarios are very real. It’s nothing to feel bad about! You’re definitely not alone. Most of us can relate to at least one of them at some point in our career. So if so many of us feel this way, don’t you wonder why? Why aren’t we satisfied? Why do so many of us feel we’re being overlooked, undervalued, and underutilized?

What’s going on?

Well, I’m going to tell you something you may not want to hear. The problem isn’t with everyone else. They aren’t idiots. Or stupid. Or, even unaware. Or out to get you. Or any of the million and one reasons we think that we’re not where we should be.

The Real Problem Might be You

Please don’t take that wrong, because I mean that in the nicest way possible. It’s not that you aren’t full of potential or doing a very good job. In fact, you’re probably awesome in many aspects of what you do. The problem may be that others aren’t experiencing you this way. Somehow, they aren’t seeing all of your capabilities.

I’m sure you go to work each day wanting to do your best. We all do. Nobody sets out to do a lousy or even mediocre job. No one goes into work specifically trying to hold someone else back or stop someone from succeeding. We’re too busy trying to get ahead ourselves. We all want to have a positive impact on our organization’s success. In fact, most of us are so confident in what we have to offer, that we want to be recognized by our peers so that we can contribute at higher and higher levels.

So why is it that if we’re all wanting to do our best, be recognized by our peers, have the best intentions to see our organizations succeed, that so many of us feel that we’re not being fully accepted or recognized?

Celebrate the Differences

As people, we all operate differently. Our past experiences, as well as our DNA shape who we are. At the core that means we all receive and process information differently. Some people can only understand and process information when they see it visually while others simply need to hear the words. Then again, some of us like to have things explained in detail while others prefer to figure it out for themselves. You might need regular positive reinforcement, while your co-worker is perfectly satisfied with just an annual review. I could go on and on. The point is, we’re all different.

These differences are actually a good thing. These differences allow us to grow both personally and professionally. It fosters innovation and creativity, critical factors to any organizations success. Think of it this way, if a company wasn’t made up of different personalities, it would end up as the corporate version of the Stepford Wives!

But, because we’re all so different, it also means that we’re always going to face challenges in the workplace.

That is, at least until we learn how to manage the process.

Why Should You Listen to Me?

You see, I totally understand where you’re at right now. The feeling of being at a career crossroads can be overwhelming to say the least. It can really do a number on your confidence and self esteem. I’ve been there. I know.

Another lifetime ago, I was a musician. If fact, I was a union musician by the time I was 14 years old. When I was a senior in high school, I was awarded a full scholarship to attend one of two prestigious music schools. However, right before graduation, I fell through a plate glass door, severing a nerve in my left hand that couldn’t be repaired, causing me to give up my scholarship.

I needed a new plan, so I took some time off and ended up starting school the following year to become a music teacher. And I loved it. I enjoyed the kids and my work. But after a few years of teaching, I was truly intellectually bored and thought I could do more. A good friend gave me some advice that has become the cornerstone to my development and accomplishments.

So I made the switch to corporate America, and quickly learned that when I applied the teaching skills and discipline I had learned as a classically trained musician, along with my ability to give and receive feedback, as well as my skills in developing relationships I had honed teaching and working with my colleagues, I could achieve great results. Of course some business education and coaching from really great bosses helped.

Over the years, as I progressively moved up the ladder, I continued to refine those skills until it turned into the process that I’m about to share with you today. It’s worked for me, it’s worked with my clients, and I know that it will work for you too.

Invest In Yourself

If you really feel that you have the DNA of a high performer with fantastic long-term potential, consider a few essential steps you need to take for your own career, with your current employer or another one. It is about asking the right questions of the right people at the right time and realizing that we were given two ears and a mouth for a reason.

And the first person you need to ask is yourself.

You need to ask the hard questions of yourself first. Examine yourself to pinpoint who you really are, what gifts you possess, the weaknesses that you have and what you need to learn. And that’s just a start. Self-reflection is a critical step in the process. However, the information you gather from this exercise is only internal. To really get a full 360 view of yourself, and become more self aware, you also need to look to others.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t reach out to our colleagues to learn how they experience us, which is a real shame. Not just to ourselves, but to the organizations that we work for. Because when we don’t feel that we’re being recognized for our commitment to the organization or accepted for our gifts, we start feeling dissatisfied. We become less supportive of others. We stop trying so hard to innovate and problem solve. We care less about how our actions affect others. In a nutshell, we start doing lesser quality work. Thus starts the almost never-ending cycle of corporate dysfunction.

By not asking, we can’t learn. Without learning we can’t plan and take actions that will allow us to have greater impact and receive appropriate recognition that advances our careers. We are essentially operating in the dark. We’re frustrated and even if we get a new job, we’ll likely to have the same experience over and over again.

Sound familiar?

When this happens, some of us may conclude that the organization is a bad fit and/or the people that we work with are incompetent, or at least not as smart as we are. Yes, there are difficult people in many companies. However, they are much fewer in number than you might think.

For example, maybe last week I said or did something that rubbed you the wrong way. Did you give me the feedback, ask me what was behind the works or action, explain why it upset you, and ask me how else we might have dealt with the issue? Probably not. To be honest, years ago, I wouldn’t come to you and talked about it either. But I definitely would do it now.

Why? Because I wasn’t at a place where I could. It takes confidence, and yes, skills to hold conversations like that. Skills that allow you to hear the feedback while giving others space to share their opinion. At the end of the day, while there are some people that are just plain difficult, most are really just different than you. But remember, that differences can be a good thing!

What you need to recognize and accept, is that if you don’t find out the answers to why you don’t think you’re being accepted, recognized, or just truly fulfilled, you’re just going to keep having the same experiences over and over again. Not fun!

Learning to Ask

Asking for others opinions about you is often a toughie for most people. And believe me I understand that in the beginning, gathering such personal feedback can seem daunting. Here are some of the feelings or thoughts that may be holding you back:

  • You think you know what you might hear and simply don’t want to hear it.
  • You fear the unknown and choose to wait for something good (or bad) to happen.
  • You don’t deal with negative (let’s call it constructive) feedback very well.
  • You’ve sought feedback in the past and received little of value.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a host of other reasons. Frankly, all of which are excuses for putting this off. In other words, it’s BS.

If you really want to do your best, have a big impact and be recognized, you need to take initiative and risk. It is all about you getting out of your chair and engaging your colleagues. If you need help getting started, contact a trusted internal or external advisor or consultant.

Oh, if were we only taught in school how to assess ourselves and how to solicit feedback from others as the basis to build and maintain relationships life would have been so much easier. Fortunately, it is not too late unless you simply no longer care about your contributions or whatever it is that anyone might say to you or about you. While there is no magic in the process I have outlined for you, I do promise that if you apply them with diligence and a genuine motivation to learn, you will experience a difference in the impact you have and the recognition you receive. And yes, you will also be a happier person.

The Process

  1. Get to know yourself: Although, like relationship building, we were not taught self assessment, most of us can take a pretty good guess at what makes us tick. Here are some questions you could apply immediately to help you fill in some of the gaps you may have:
    • What are the life events that have most shaped who I am today?
    • What do you do love to do—the stuff that makes your heart swell?
    • What do you do exceptionally well—the stuff people will take about at your memorial service?
    • What do you want to learn and why is this important to you?
    • What kind of work-life environment is ideal?
    • What sacrifices are you willing and able to make to obtain?

Additionally, there are some great free on-line tools that you can try that will help you to understand your personality and thinking preferences, as well as other attributes. Here are a couple of links:

Thinking Styles:  http://www.mindtech3.com/services/hbdi_profile.html

Personality Preference: http://digitalcitizen.ca/2011/02/20/free-myers-briggs-test/

Unless you are a hermit, there are people in your life outside who would be very willing to give you some insight, if you ask and listen with both ears. Then ask questions to understand, not defend.

  • Learn about how you show up to colleagues: For a host of reasons, people with whom we work may experience us differently that our intent. This can be because of culture, position power (or lack thereof inherent in our position), and/or stories about us that will live on forever that do not reflect who we are today and a host of other possibilities. The best and most genuine way to learn is to ask. Simple, yes. Requires courage and vulnerability? Yes. If you have never done it, it may confuse folks or even worse. So, here are my recommendations.
  • Start with one person that you most respect and trust. Ask them how they experience your leadership. Again, listen with both ears and ask for examples that will help connect the generalized comments with specific situation and behavior. Do not defend or even offer explanation. Thank that person and ask them who else on the team they believe would be willing and able to provide insight—observations that might be different than the ones you just heard. Do not restrict your discussions to only those who report directly to you. Include those who are able and willing to share their thoughts.
  • Talk with the next person and repeat the process until you start to get redundant information.
  • After you have completed your discussions, summarize what you heard that you agree with, and do not understand. Most importantly make some commitments to yourself that you are prepared to share with your colleagues.
  • At this juncture, you have a choice. You can put all those who provided you with a perspective around the table and share what you learned and open the conversation up to more dialogue. You can also do this in one-on-one meetings with those with whom you had discussions.
  • In any case, you should share a summary of learning and commitments with your direct reports and all those you interviewed.

Make a plan: Without a plan, you are likely to do nothing. By now you have gained new insight into your distinct gifts, weaknesses that could derail you and a few things that would be helpful for you to learn to be more effective in current and future roles that may or may not be with your current employer. Format does not matter. Just be sure you address the following for strengths, weaknesses and development areas.

What are you going to do to leverage strengths, manage weaknesses before they become fatal flaws and acquire new skills and knowledge?

  • What resources, internal or external can help you?
  • What are incremental measures of progress/success?
  • How will you collect information to judge your own progress?

Work the plan: Seriously, apply as much rigor and discipline to your own journey to high performance as you would to your business, project or even training for a marathon. Just do it! You have put yourself out there, taken risks, become a model for your colleagues and made commitments. If you do not deliver, your credible will go to hell in a hand basket. So, get going.

As I have helped many current and next generation executives through this process, I have experienced the gift of seeing many people apply what they learned to become a much more professionally and personally fulfilled and happy person.

Many years ago someone gave me the gift of a similar process that I have evolved over the years. My commitment was to “pay it forward”. This is sincerely why I offer this to you. All I ask in return is that you to do the same.

The answer ultimately lies within you. It’s for you to solve and figure out. So let’s dig in.

Give me a call or text me at 708.369.1718. It’s time to get started!