Monday, October 29, 2012

Managing Expectations

We all have a tendency to measure our relative level of happiness and success according to our
'expectations'.  If we fall short of our expectations we are disappointed, meet them we're satisfied, exceed them and we are delighted. As a result, we use our expectations to define whether or not something good has happened, whether we are successful (or not), whether we are happy (or not).

At no point in this equation though, are we evaluating whether our expectations were a useful or helpful measure.  We don't stop to consider whether the result produced by our actions delighted us, was productive, proved valuable or if it even made us happier.  Without this final measure we may continue to work toward meeting or exceeding expectations that don't, in fact, net us the desired return.

We need to build in an extra step, to measure the gains from the actual result.  

Failed to meet Expectations?

Fail to meet your expectations on an initiative?  Before you convince yourself that you 'must' be disappointed and need to work harder on this...  assess how you really are feeling.  If you don't feel as disappointed as anticipated, you may find that it wasn't a goal that truly mattered as much to you as once believed.  In fact, this lack of connection to the end result may account for your falling short on the result and may indicate that spending more time on developing this area is time wasted for you.

Met Expectations?
Met expectations but not feeling as 'satisfied' with the result as anticipated?  If you find you are feeling disappointed despite having 'achieved' your goal, this may indicate a goal that means more to you than you led yourself to believe or that you actually have higher expectations for yourself than you had thought.  Only by being clear about a goal's relative importance to you can you accurately judge the effort you should expend in its achievement.  

Exceeded Expectations?
Exceeded expectations but also not feeling satisfied with the results?  This could be a sign of two things.  Either you worked hard at exceeding a goal that really didn't have much perceived value to you (in which case you expended unnecessary effort) or you set your expectations bar too low on this goal.  Despite having exceeded the stated goal you may find that you actually wanted 'more'.  Being safe in setting the goal, but less than honest with yourself about what you actually want, may serve to undermine your level of happiness and sense of achievement.

It is only by being absolutely clear with yourself about what your expectations are for yourself that you can truly drive your resulting level of satisfaction, happiness and success.  Put your energy into achieving those things that truly matter to you, expending less on those areas that don't.  We all have a limited amount of energy.  Creating the best possible life for yourself means expending your energy in ways that create the most value for you.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Finding Your Passion

When it comes to choosing a career direction we are often told to 'Follow our Bliss'.  The goal being,of course, to engage in work that we love and are passionate about.   For many of my clients this proves to be good in theory but much more difficult in practice.  Most lament that they don't seem to feel passionate about any job and therefore they feel they must settle for something that they are perhaps only mildly interested in.

Often the challenge in determining what 'job' might push your 'passionate button' rests in getting past the title. We have preconceived notions not only of what specific jobs and roles do, but of whether or not we are capable or suited to do them.  All too often we discount opportunities simply based on their title, and all that conveys to us.  'No, I wouldn't like that' or 'No, I don't have the skills for that' or, even worse, 'No, I could never do that'... are the phrases that limit our choices and restrict us from truly being able to explore, and determine, where our true passion lies.

The following exercise has proven useful to many of my clients in uncovering new paths and new sources of passion for them.  If you're feeling a little stuck or want to establish that 'path of purpose and passion'... give it a try.  You might be surprised what you discover about yourself, your interests and the path you could be on!

The Work...

Step One.  Get rid of your labels.  We want to start with a clean slate, no preconceived notions about what a 'job' is or does or whether you would be interested in it, good at it, or qualified to do it.  So... no focusing on titles, just ignore them completely.  For our purposes they are completely irrelevant. So too with job level...  we don't care what it is, how much money it pays or where it's located.  Also irrelevant.

Step Two.  Go to the job boards and read as many descriptions of different jobs as possible.  Read descriptions from different areas, disciplines, levels.  There is no pre-qualifying what might be a fit for you.  We are working from the broadest part of the funnel here, so you want to go as wide and broad as possible.  You don't currently know where your passion lies so don't disqualify anything before you check it out fully.

Step Three.  As you read over the descriptions, highlight for yourself any aspect of the description that strikes you as interesting or exciting.  It doesn't matter whether it is practical for your lifestyle or whether you have the skills to do it.  Keep an ongoing list of these elements, adding to the list any segment from any description you read that stirs your soul, or that moves you even a little!

Step Four.  Once you have uncovered a number of items and recorded them in your log, start to categorize them by their key skill and functional areas.

Step Five.  Analyze any of the trends and insights that you gain concerning the areas of interest that are now uncovered.  Spend some time thinking about how it fits to your current career path.  Are you on the right path already?  Are there some minor shifts and tweaks you need to make to strengthen your interest and passion?  Is it a major change that is needed to set you on the right course?

Step Six.  Determine what you need to create this new direction for yourself.  More education?  A coach or mentor to help bolster your skills?  A new role entirely?  Consider what you need to set you on the right path and list them.

Step Seven.  Should be intuitive...  go out and take action.  Even one step in the right direction will feel empowering and help stir the embers of your passion, filling you with purpose.

Oh, and one final caveat.  This is your list, your choices, your passion.  Other people get to choose their own path, don`t let them choose yours.  Sometimes what others want for us will not align with what we want for ourselves.  Uncover your passion and pursue it.  You only get this one go `round...  it`s a much more interesting ride to fill it with work that you love and that fulfills your purpose than spend it working to fill someone else`s.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Branding Lessons from Wine

How do we judge the value of a bottle of wine? What exactly is it that makes one wine 'better' than another?

The easy answer is that the value judgements of wine are a reflection of the palate of the taster. But, really, is it that simple?  Am I simply guided in my determination of a 'good' wine by my taste and palate OR is my experience of the wine influenced by; the story my friend shares about the wine as he pours it into my glass, or the review it received by an 'expert', or perhaps as simply as the price on the bottle?

Our judgements are never, seemingly, simply our own.  Every subjective experience that we have can (and is) influenced by the shared experiences of others.  This is an important sentence, it bears repeating...
Every subjective experience that we have can, and is, influenced by the shared experiences of others.
People's experience of your brand will be influenced by the expressed interpretation that others have of your brand.  Think of it this way.  You're at a party and you have a close friend talking to you about a co-worker you have never met.  They share not only some workplace anecdotes but also their feelings about that person.  When you finally meet that co-worker you are likely to view them through the lens of perspective  your friend has already provided you, regardless of whether their impression had been largely positive or negative in nature.  You have already been primed by your friend to interpret the co-worker's behaviours a certain way.

This is why the consistency of your personal brand is so important.  Your brand must be the same regardless of the audience or the situation.  The more consistently you craft the experience that others have of you and your brand, the stronger your brand.  When people speak about you, and you know they do, you need to ensure that the message they are sharing is one of your choosing and design.

All too often we go out of our way trying to please others, to be and do what we believe they want and need.  In so doing, we tend to dilute our brand.  Our efforts to be all things to all people in all situations tends to weaken our presence rather than build it.  A strong brand is built on consistency, but it starts by having clarity over just what your brand is.  Your behaviours and interactions are then measured against this image, ensuring that everything works in alignment with and support of the brand.

Many companies work extremely hard at not only crafting their desired brand but also ensuring that everything they do, every decision they make supports that brand.  Consider Harley motorcycles.  You know exactly what type of bike a Harley is, you know exactly what your experience of a Harley will be, you know exactly what others will think of you on a Harley.  This is a strong brand.  It is clear, it is consistent, it is memorable.  This is the brand that others share and spread.  Whether you have ever ridden a Harley or not, you are already primed to 'experience' a Harley in a specific way.

Now consider what the advertised experience of 'you' is.  What messages are being communicated about you to others, priming their future experience of you?  If it's not likely one that you want... start crafting a new one and use it to guide all of your future behaviours and actions.  The more consistent these behaviours,  the more others can trust in them to be true, the more they will share them with others, 'selling' and spreading your message of you, for you.

If you don't like to brag about yourself, then this is the strategy for you.  Instead of having to toot your own horn... get someone to do it for you!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Building the Thankfulness Muscle

We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what we don't have in our lives, with what's missing, with what ticked us off, with what's going wrong.  Why does it often prove so difficult to consider what we do have, what is right in our world, to think about what we are thankful and grateful for?  Like any skill in life, it turns out that being thankful takes... practice! As it happens, our thankfulness muscles may simply be a little underused and need a bit of a tune-up!

Let's face it, we probably would have little difficulty in creating a complaint list!  In fact, many of us might ask for a second piece of paper in doing so!  Would we find the creation of a gratitude list as easy? Likely not. We know from research that there are many benefits to becoming more proficient at being grateful:
  • writing in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes each evening helps you to worry less at bedtime and sleep longer and better afterward
  • increases overall sense of life satisfaction and happiness
  • increases your sense of achievement and success
  • tends to increase loving and kind gestures
  • improves mental alertness
  • staves off certain psychological disorders
  • improves overall physical health and well-being
It seems that thankfulness has a lot to commend it.  Rather than spending time dissecting why we don't seem predisposed to 'do' it more (or beating ourselves up about it!)... let's just jump to the recognition that displaying a little more thankfulness and gratitude in our lives would be a good thing!  Like any muscle that has been left too long unused though, our Thankfulness muscles have likely atrophied over time.  We many need to strengthen them a little before truly seeing and experiencing the full benefit.

Consider taking two minutes at the end of each day to write down three things you are grateful for that day.  That's it... just three!  

This may prove a little more daunting at first than it sounds.  It is not unusual to struggle to come up with some things we are grateful for that rise above... I'm thankful for air conditioning or... I'm thankful that the drive-through got my order right!  That's okay... baby steps!  You wouldn't want to hop up off of a lifetime on the couch and run a marathon without some preparation either!  We're just developing your thankfulness muscles here.  Over time you will gradually see a shift in the quality, nature and, perhaps, even the volume of things you are grateful for each day.

As with anything, you tend to get what you focus on.  Setting a mindset to begin to recognise and identify things to be grateful for helps you to recognise them when they come along.  You'll likely find that there were plenty of things to be grateful for all along... you just weren't disposed to notice them. Like anything, seeing the good (instead of the bad) is largely a conditioned habit.  It just takes focus. With a little two minute mental exercise each day, you can strengthen your thankfulness muscle and start reaping the positive benefits, an insight that I am truly thankful for!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Perceived Leader

If you put a group of people together and give them a task, a leader will emerge. It's inevitable.

I was thinking about this concept the other night while watching an episode of Survivor.  There was a returning player telling the camera that his strategy this time around was to lay back and not take charge of the group.  He was going to avoid the 'leader' role. However, as soon as the group arrived at their home beach, he started tossing out ideas and suggestions about what should be done, how it should be done and the order of each.  He couldn't help himself.  The other players immediately labelled him as 'leader'.

In a recent study, published in Personality and Social Psychology, it was suggested that leaders emerge in problem solving situations due to two primary factors:
  • their outspoken behaviour
  • how others perceive this behaviour
It typically has very little to do with competence.  In fact, there is often a big gap between the actual Competence and the Perception of a leader's capabilities; the perception of leadership capability having been driven by the individual's outspoken behaviour and not their competence.  

In the study it was found that the leader's dominant behaviour during group problem solving led them to offer more suggestions than others did, thereby increasing their perceived value by others in the group.  It is interesting to note though that their solutions were no better or worse than anyone else's. There were just more of them.  When reviewing the content of the suggestions it was found that the 'leaders' did not add the best value, they were just heard from first and most often.

The results of this study help to understand a critical issue that Introverts face when looking to heighten their leadership profile.  They must learn to share more during group situations.  The difficulty that most Introverts face though is that they prefer to fully process something before sharing a finished conclusion.  They aren't comfortable in sharing a partially developed idea, since that does not have as much perceived value to them as an idea that is fully processed.  Therefore, Introverts don't tend to speak up as often as their more outspoken peers although they tend to share more solid content when they do.  As we've seen though, there is a gap between Competence and Perception.  Introverts may share more content and value-filled ideas than their outspoken peers but they are not likely to be perceived as a 'leader' by the group since they don't share as often. 

Despite their discomfort in doing so then, it is evident that Introverts need to learn to 'share' more often in group situations if they want to heighten their leadership profile.  The following are two solid strategies you can use to be seen as more of a leader within your team activities:

Speak up early, if not first.

Introverts will find it easier to speak up if they are not caught up in processing too much information.
Therefore, make a point of speaking early in a meeting, before there have been too many topics raised bogging down your thought processing centers.  First is best, but early and often counts too!

Go for Volume.

Pull from the studies above to recognise that it is the act of tossing out ideas and suggestions that has perceived value by the group, not necessarily  'good' ideas.  Introverts like to share solid content. Therefore, they tend to hold onto their thoughts until they have reached a finished conclusion.  This costs them visibility.  Instead, learn to let go of the need to share something that is fully formed and share the issues that you are mulling over.  The group will perceive that as having as much value as your finished conclusion would have netted you, getting you into the game earlier and more often.
That Survivor contestant engaged in all the right activities to be quickly perceived as and labelled a leader.  However, unlike in our careers, when you are playing Survivor it is important to know how 'not' to be seen as the leader, which meant keeping his ideas and suggestions to himself.  Although he believed he was merely being 'helpful', speaking up first and often will be perceived as a bid for power by the group.  In the board room this could be a good thing.  On the 'island' decidedly not.