Monday, September 28, 2015

How Big is Your Bucket?

We have grown up in a culture that chases ‘bigger’.  We don’t just up-size, we super-size.  We use bigger houses to define our success, think restaurants with overloaded plates are ‘better’, believe the bigger the diamond the greater the love, and we think that we don’t just need to fill the shoes of those that walked before us but we need to leave a bigger footprint. 

Everything that we do tends to expand to fill the size of the bucket that we set out in front of us.  Whether we are socialized or hard-wired into believing it, we tend to fall into the belief that our life goal is to fill the bucket.  Knowing this then becomes an important component of any development plan we create, whether for others or for ourselves.  Consider the following two scenarios...
  1. People that are perpetually dissatisfied with their lives.  No matter how much they seem to have, it is just never enough.  
  2. People that are happy and satisfied with their lives, even though it may not appear that they have much to be happy about

You likely know someone from each of these scenarios and, it`s equally likely that you fall into one of these descriptions.  Now consider that the only element that is differentiating people from description one or two is... the size of their bucket!

Those that are perpetually dissatisfied with their lives are constantly trying to fill a super-sized bucket. It may be so large that they couldn't possibly fill it in a lifetime.  The bucket they set out in front of themselves has pre-determined their dissatisfaction.  No matter how much they attain and achieve, the bucket continues to have room for `more`.  Additionally, because there is constantly room in the bucket they are unable to celebrate the successes they have achieved because they are quickly swallowed up in the need for `more`.

Instead, those that have placed in front of them a smaller bucket, find it easier to fill.  They can be satisfied with what they have in their lives because their bucket is full.  A partially full bucket is not demoralizing because filling it seems achievable.  

When a bucket is filled it can simply be shifted to one side and new bucket set out in front.  Think of this visual because it is important.  You may have a new, empty bucket in front of you but, at any time, you can glance to the side and see all of the full buckets you have lined up over the course of your lifetime.  Your achievements are readily and easily viewed, continuing to instill a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.  Therefore, you can continue to strive and to grow, filling new buckets as you do, without ever experiencing the frustration of attempting to fill a `too large` bucket. That over-sized bucket will begin to feel impossible to fill, as though there is a hole in the bottom that prevents you from ever succeeding. 

`There`s a hole in my bucket Dear Liza, Dear Liza, There`s a hole in my bucket Dear Liza, a hole`
We want to be motivated by the concept of more, but we don`t want it to seem unachievable. That is demoralizing and will rob us of the energy or drive to succeed. Instead, be strategic about the size of the bucket you set before you.  Large enough that it requires a little work and effort to fill, not so large that it would take an entire lifetime.  There is no virtual bucket shortage out there.  There is not limit on the storage space available for all of the buckets you fill.

If you happen to be one of those with a too-large bucket set before you then the task before you is clear.  Get yourself a mess of smaller buckets and start emptying your big bucket into it.  Spend some time thinking about everything that is currently in that big bucket, all of your past accomplishments and achievements, every hurdle you have jumped, every barrier you have overcome.  Shift them into smaller buckets and line them up.  When your big bucket is empty, toss it and look out over all of the buckets you have filled, everything you have achieved thus far.  Embrace it, revel in it and then... place a new, smaller bucket in front of you and start filling it.

It`s not the number or size of your accomplishments that makes for a happy and contented life, but the size of your bucket you`re putting them in!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Tip Thursday - Networking

Cultivate your Curiosity! People often avoid attending networking events because they don't know what to talk about or are concerned no one will want to speak with them.  Cultivate a curiosity about those around you - who they are, what they do, what their biggest challenges have been. Focusing on yourself will only serve to heighten your discomfort, while focusing on others will help you to alleviate theirs. Getting others to tell their story, rather than using the event as a platform to tell yours, will have you connecting faster with others. The added benefit, of course, is that the more interested you are in them, the more interesting they will find you!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Changing Your Story - With Two Little Words

When it comes to story-telling, there is much that we can learn from children.  As adults, as soon as a story starts we are already anticipating the end.  Movies and books end.  The credits role, the final page gets turned.  As a result, we tend to think the same of the stories we tell ourselves. 

When we view our life we tend to look at it as a series of stories, each with its own ending.  Strung together those stories comprise the life we have lived and experienced.  However, in viewing our life as a series of stories, each with its own unique ending, we have formed each story as a complete entity unto itself.  We are therefore not in a position to ‘alter’ that story in any way.  The impact of this is that we then leave ourselves helpless in the face of the story.  We are powerless to strengthen the impact of a positive story or to lessen that of a negative one.

Children though offer us a unique perspective.  When telling stories they always want the story to continue.  They start off with a specific story and plot line and when that story has run its course for them, whether in two sentences or twenty, they shift gears with the magical phrase… And Then.  Those two little words allow them to string together two disparate thoughts, to switch gears and shift perspectives. 

With the use of ‘and then’ they are clearly communicating that this one thing happened… and then… this happened!  'And Then' serves to form a continuation, each story a continuation of the one before, forming a seemingly never-ending, interconnected chain.  The story didn’t end. Life didn’t end with the completion of that one story, it continues, it changes, it grows.

Imagine what the impact would be to the stories you tell yourself about you, if you began introducing ‘and then’ to the story line.  Your old negative stories would no longer define you because no longer would your story end with that moment.  Instead, you would acknowledge and own the story but follow it up with ‘and then’. 

·         And then… she decided that she deserved better and ended that relationship in search of better

·         And then… he discovered he was more talented than he had initially thought, opening up the business he had always dreamed of

·         And then… she determined to show them all just how strong a woman could be

·         And then… he put the bottle aside, stood up and stepped into the new life waiting for him

The past will always have an impact upon us.  Our experiences are there to shape us though, not define us.  They need not hold us back and prevent us from living the life we want and deserve.  

From pain can come an appreciation of joy.  From being beaten down by life can come the strength to overcome adversity.  You aren’t defined by the event, you are defined by the story you are telling.  If your past stories no longer serve you don’t allow them to continue to direct your future.  Define what’s next.

Tell your story, pause and think…  And Then?  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Tip Thursday - Influence

The Foot-in-the-Door influence technique has been proven to be highly effective in getting people to agree to a large(ish) request you have of them.  Instead of asking them straight out, risking a 'no', you start by asking them for a small favour first.  Having already done you a favour they will be more likely to say yes to helping you with the larger item.  New research has found that the Two-Feet-in-the-Door technique actually works better in gaining acceptance for a large request.  Make your request in three phases (a small, then medium, then the large request) rather than jumping to the large request straight from the small. Although you may have to stretch the influence attempt out over a longer period (week or two) you increase the likely payoff.  Now... could you bring me a chai?

Monday, September 14, 2015

Leadership Lessons from Ants

A single ant is not particularly smart.  However, an ant colony is.  A colony can solve problems together that would have its individual members stymied.

  • finding the shortest path to the best food source
  • allocating workers to different tasks
  • defending their territory from others
As a group (colony) they respond quickly and effectively to their environment.  No leadership is required.  Even complex behaviour can be coordinated by relatively simple interactions, using Swarm Intelligence.  Swam Theory (or swarm intelligence) is described as the collective behaviour of decentralized, self-organized systems.  In nature we see this swarm behaviour in...
  • ants quickly determining the shortest route to their nearest food source
  • bees deciding on a new hive location
  • bird flocks diving and swirling through the air, instantaneously and seemingly effortlessly changing directions
  • schools of fish avoiding the rush of a predator, even though most don't even see the attack
The study of swarms and their associated behaviours have helped shape the mathematical procedures for solving relatively complex problems like routing trucks, scheduling airlines or even guiding military drones.  Many systems we are familiar with take advantage of the collective intelligence of swarms in helping us to form our judgments and make decisions.  Checking in with Yelp results or following the racing odds to place a horse bet all rely on the input of a 'swarm'.  

Certainly decentralized problem solving works better on some problems than it does others; in particular problems that require discovery, testing, and comparing results seem to work best.  But computerized systems are helping businesses to control costs by leveraging the volume of input and data, allowing organizations to act upon complex and rapidly changing sets of data.  Southwest Airlines has used swarming principles to help them streamline their cargo operations, Telecom companies have used it to help them manage their phone call routing systems instantly and shipping companies are containing their costs by programming computers to determine trucking routes that factor in current energy and manufacturing costs, developing new routes daily.

It seems that we still have much that we can learn from Mother Nature. 

Despite the fact that swarm intelligence is all about the non-existence of formal leadership, there are still some lessons that we, as leaders, can take and apply that may enhance the strength and productivity of our teams.
  • Maintain a flexible structure.  In assigning specific roles to individuals, organizations often inadvertently create silos within which teams and individuals operate.  However, swarm behaviour clearly shows us that we must allow our talent to cross the functional lines more readily.  We must allow our talent to flow in and throughout the organization if we are to continue to take advantage of the most current and best information that we have available to us.
  • Pay attention to the allocation of labour.  We may have people that perform very specialized tasks for us, but all need to understand that the allocation of work is flexible.  In times of crisis or in the face of a unique problem, all must come together to solve it, requiring each to let go of the 'its not my job' mentality.  A 'nurse' bee will shift to a 'forager' when food is scarce.  It doesn't make sense to refuse to bail when the ship is sinking, simply because that wasn't the job you were hired to do.  All must understand that the survival of the 'whole' is a function of all.
  • Seek Diversity.  When developing your problem solving teams work to ensure that you have a breadth of knowledge at the table.  Your best solutions may come from unexpected sources.
  • Listen to everything, not just what you want to hear.  The beauty of the swarm systems is that there is a constant flow of 'new' information. As they hear a 'new' piece of information from a variety of sources they immediately shift to take advantage of it.  If you are hearing something from more than once source it is something you need to deal with, now, whether it was in your 'plan' for the year or not.  Maintain your responsiveness to stay current and competitive.
Just like an ant, you don't have to be the smartest out there to be highly effective.  Follow the lessons of the ants and take advantage of the collective of your colony to help make solid decisions.  You might not have the best solution on your own, but odds are that together, the colony will determine the best direction to take.  

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Tip Thursday - Body Language

For all of you coffee and tea lovers, this one's for you!  A study completed at Yale determined that those individuals holding a warm beverage were more likely to act generously and judge their audience as trustworthy than were those holding cold drinks.  It seems that if you want to heighten your likability factor there is a good foundation for offering your guests tea or coffee!  Holding a warm beverage will dispose them to think more positively of you.  However, if you are looking to hold firm in your negotiations, you might just want to opt to be drinking ice water yourself!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Signs You're Ready for 'More'

When it comes to managing our careers we need to become proficient in gauging our 'readiness for
more', in recognising when we are ready to assume greater responsibility. It is in these moments that we are best served in pushing forward, in seeking out new opportunities. Pushing too soon leaves us ill-prepared for the responsibilities we are to face, while sitting back and merely waiting for opportunities to arise can leave us frustrated and disheartened, slowing down our career growth.

Relying on our bosses to recognise and address our readiness will typically fall more in line with organizational needs than our own.  When directed by our boss, 'more' will typically be representative of what the organization needs to be done, rather than what we need or should be doing.  As a result, the 'more' we get assigned may come too early in our development, resulting in undue stress and pressure to keep up, or come late in our development, resulting in careers that grow much slower and not as far as they might if directed in more timely a fashion.

Additionally, if you aren't constantly assessing your readiness for 'more', you might find yourself passed by for promotion.  Getting a promotion is not about simply doing your current job well, not even about doing it exceptionally well.  Organizations like having folks who do their job well and keep on doing it!  Instead, getting a promotion is about pushing the limits of your current role and in demonstrating that you have outgrown your current responsibilities and are actively seeking out 'more'.

This means that we cannot simply sit and wait for others to recognise our latent talents and abilities. Instead, it is important that we learn to recognise the signs of our readiness and address them ourselves.  In doing so we are likely to not only avoid the possibility of stagnation or boredom, but we will grow our skills faster, by fitting our growth to our readiness, making us more valuable to the organization by assuming more responsibilities.
You must take personal responsibility.  You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.       - Jim Rohn
Just how can we tell that we are ready to take on 'more'?  Watch for some of these signs...

  • Everything is running smoothly.  When you are typically in full control of the day-to-day aspects of your role, when there are few challenges or surprises, you are ready to begin adding a few new ones into the mix.  You may be comfortable in continuing to do what you always have, but this is not likely to get you further ahead.  If you are looking to continue to build your career profile then don't become complacent in a job you know fully.  Smooth and calm waters offer you opportunities to play with something new.
  • You aren't learning anything new.  When everything about your role is known to you, when you have all of the answers, you are ready to learn more.  You have a solid base of understanding to use as a foundation to build upon.  Seek out new responsibilities and opportunities that expand upon what you already know, strengthening your experience and knowledge base and, ultimately, your value.
  • When you don't have to work hard or push to be successful.  When everything feels 'easy' you are definitely ready for more.  We learn and we grow through challenges, not by staying with what is easy and comfortable.  
  • When you are spending a lot of your time fixing other people's problems.  This is a sure sign that you are looking for new challenges.  Your current role isn't challenging you enough, so you go looking for more.  As much as fixing other people's problems will help you get a 'nice guy' award, it doesn't do as much for building your career as strategically looking for issues and challenges you can take on that directly enhance your skillset and career path.
  • When you feel negative...often.  If you find that you are caught up in negative emotions, are bored, resentful or feeling disengaged, you are ready for more.  Your current role is not likely offering you enough variety or challenges to keep you motivated and energized.  We are wired to want to grow and learn, which are energizing emotions.  If you are feeling the opposite then it is time for you to find some new areas to expand.  

Tracking your state of readiness is a key skill in developing a career purposely and strategically. Many get caught up in grabbing the bigger titles, jumping into roles that are too big for them, too soon, leading to failures that could have been avoided.  However, others hold back far too long, getting caught up in the belief that doing a great job is enough to get a promotion.  Focusing on what is expected of you is a great strategy for keeping the role you have.  Going beyond expectations is the strategy that will lead you to a new role. Gauge what your current state of readiness is at every stage of your career, managing and building new opportunities to fit with your readiness for 'more'. This tip alone, if practiced consistently, is enough to build a solid and successful career.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Tip Thursday - Networking

As much as we know that it is helpful to our career to build and extend our network of contacts, few of us are comfortable in initiating small talk with others. Introverts and shy people take note... use 'Hooks' to drive other people to you.  We are all quite curious by nature. Use people's curiosity to make them want to approach and initiate conversation with you. Curiosity Hooks are visual items that intrigue people and get them asking questions, making them want to approach you for answers.These could be a unique piece of jewelry, a special tie or shirt, a button with a saying, a hat... something visual that draws people's attention and gets them asking 'why'.  If your personal challenge is in approaching others at networking situations, then using a curiosity hook may work for you.  Just stand there and let 'em come to you!