5 Questions to Match Your Style to Your Job

Man Working on Personal ComputerAre you a jack of all trades or are you a subject matter expert? Review the two definitions below. Think about the type of work you do now…which term best describes you in your current role?

generalist: one who has broad general knowledge and skills in several areas.
specialist: a person devoted to one particular branch of a subject or pursuit.

Some people are very passionate about having extreme task variety. They love to do a little bit of everything and get bored when focused on one thing. Others are very passionate about having a specific area of focus and being able to dedicate the majority of their time to learning and mastering that pursuit.

Now review the two definitions again. Think about the type of work you like to do…which term best describes you when you’re happiest and at your best?

If you answered the same way both times, then you’re likely on the right path. If the type of work you perform in your current role is not in alignment with how you work when you’re at your best, then it’s time to consider some changes. Analyze your current role to see if there are adjustments that can be made to position the role to better suit your style. Or, perhaps you need to consider if the solution is to find a more suitable position within the organization or elsewhere.

Begin by asking yourself some questions…

What does my ideal job role look like?
Where are the gaps between my current role and my ideal role?
How can I begin to close those gaps?
What obstacles to change am I likely to encounter?
Who can help me facilitate the changes that need to be made?

If you’ve discovered that you’re a specialist in a generalist’s role, or vice versa, preserve your sanity and increase your happiness by making the necessary changes. Navigating this type of journey can be a difficult, overwhelming adventure and you’ll need help.

Sounds like you could use a good coach.

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Why Is Your Tummy So Big? (4 Factors for a Powerful Question)

(Editor's Note: This is not the author's tummy.)

(Editor’s Note: This is not the author’s tummy.)

I’ve always battled with my weight. This last year has been especially tough as I’ve had to take a break from my other career (as a prolific goal scorer in adult recreational soccer leagues) due to nagging injuries that have turned into chronic injuries. I started playing almost 30 years ago and haven’t had any significant periods away from the game until now. The wear and tear has caught up with my knees and ankles.

When you’ve got chronic pain in your knees and ankles, getting regular aerobic exercise is a challenge. It hurts to walk, let alone to go for a jog or a run. Exercise for me has always been specific to the sport I’m playing. Take away the sport and I don’t get enough exercise. Take away the exercise and my clothes fit tighter than they should be.

I’ve been telling myself that I need to do something. Yeah, tomorrow I’ll do something. Of course, tomorrow soon turns into yesterday, then last week, then last month, and here I am still sitting in my recliner. So one night while I’m sitting there with my 5-year-old son, he turns to me and asks, “Dada, why is your tummy so big?”

As soon as the words left his lips, my wife chuckled and then got embarrassed for me. I initially had a similar reaction. Kids say the darndest things…often when you least expected or are prepared for them. During my pause to think about how to respond, I realized he’d asked an incredibly powerful question. For his purposes, I used it as a teaching moment and answered it with a simple statement about the importance of a healthy diet and exercise, and that I needed to get better at both.

The answer I gave him was good enough for him, but it wasn’t good enough for me. Like most Dads, I want to be a superhero in my son’s eyes. And, I don’t want my alter-ego to be “Flabby Man.” So his question got me off the recliner and moved me into action. I did some research on local gyms and will be signing up for one this week…let the journey begin.

Upon further reflection, here are four factors that made his question so powerful:

  1. The Person Delivering the Question. There’s built in credibility. He looks up to me and I don’t want to disappoint. Most importantly, there’s an established positive relationship.
  2. It Lacked Judgement. Consider the alternative that most of us are used to hearing…“have you lost weight?” Which is roughly the equivalent of saying, “you were fat and I can’t tell if you’re any less fat than you used to be.” The best questions are those that aren’t judgmental, accusatory, or have hidden agendas. I honestly don’t know if my son loves my big tummy or is disgusted by it, he just wanted to know why it is the way it is. But…
  3. It Caused Me To Think. I was pushed to examine the factors behind the issue in question. And…
  4. It Motivated Me Into Action. After voicing the factors that led to the issue, I was motivated to consider the solutions and to act on them.

Good coaching sometimes comes when you least expect it and from those you least expect it to come from. Out of the mouths of babes.

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Seriously, How Are You Doing?

“How are you doing?”

What a loaded and complicated question. Even though I hear it on a daily basis, and know it’s coming, it always catches me off guard.

It can be incredibly difficult to tell if the person posing the question really wants an honest answer. More often than not, they’re using it as a simple greeting. Like when you pass someone in the hall and, without skipping a stride, have this simple exchange:

“Hey, how are you doing?”

“Good, you?”

“Good, thanks.”

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9 Questions to Prepare You for Coaching

You’ve made the decision to hire a coach…now what?

If you want to hit the ground running, you need to help your coach understand who you are and what you hope to accomplish. The following questions can assist you in being better prepared to begin your coaching journey. Share your answers with your coach so that your coach is able to adjust her approach to one that is best suited to your style and needs. Your answers to these questions will allow your coach to better help you in gaining further clarity on your goals and to help you achieve them faster.

  • What do you want from your coaching experience?
  • If you could achieve something spectacular out of the coaching what would it be?
  • What causes you to perform at your best?
  • What would you like to tell your coach about you and how you make changes?
  • How have people successfully given you feedback about potential blind spots?
  • What could get in the way of a successful coaching experience?
  • What advice do you have for your coach about how to interact with you to make the relationship powerful and productive?
  • How will you know that the coaching process is working for you?
  • What is the first step you could take that would make the greatest difference in your current situation?

Coaches, what questions would you add to this list?

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To Beat Defeat is Really Neat

The last couple of days I’ve been doing some redesign work on our department intranet site. Things were moving along pretty well until I encountered a problem. I knew what I wanted to do and felt confident I knew how to make it happen but, for whatever reason, it just wasn’t working.

I was puzzled and slightly frustrated since everything appeared to be done correctly. I had reviewed and analyzed all the little details of my work to see if I missed something. I couldn’t find anything. So I started experimenting with different settings that might have contributed to my problem. That didn’t work either. At this point, slight frustration turned into genuine frustration.

I picked the brain of my colleague in the office next door as he’s worked on a similar project. He couldn’t find anything out of place either and suggested I call our expert up in the I.T. department. But by this point, I was committed to figuring this one out. I refused to admit defeat!

After attempting every possible minor adjustment without success, I discarded ALL my work and decided to start over again from scratch. As far as I know, I did everything the same the second time around only this time, it worked! I threw my hands up in victory and danced around my office while laughing uncontrollably. (OK, so I may have exaggerated that a bit but I was obviously pretty pleased with myself.) Even though I can’t tell you exactly why it worked the second time but not the first, I did learn some new techniques and approaches throughout the problem-solving process.

The takeaway here is that there is a huge learning opportunity and an enormous level of satisfaction to be gained from solving a problem. And in order to solve a problem, you need to allow for the extra time involved. In this instance, I spent an extra two or three hours that I hadn’t originally planned for but the emotional return far outweighed the time investment. Had I escalated the issue to our I.T. department, the problem may have been solved a little quicker, though no guarantees, but I wouldn’t have the same emotional attachment to the outcome that I am currently experiencing. I’m still smiling!

What emotions do you experience when you solve a difficult problem? Do you learn best by doing? If not, what type of learner are you? And finally, leaders, are you allowing room for your people to problem solve?

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The Corporate Ladder: To Climb or Not To Climb

Last week I read a great post by Ted Coine over at the Switch And Shift blog that really resonated with me. The title of the post was, “You and Your People: Very Different Motivations.” In his post, Ted challenges the common leadership assumption that all employees want and need to continue their ascent up the corporate ladder.

“One of the worst problems we have is that we put ourselves in the shoes of others, rather than trying to understand what the world looks like to them from their shoes.”

In his post, Ted shares the story of a friend who is currently in an uncomfortable place of contentment in her current role. As she or anyone who has found themselves in this situation can attest, it is uncomfortable because you don’t want your being content to be misinterpreted as being unmotivated or disengaged. To avoid these dreaded labels, here are some tips to consider when explaining to your supervisor that, “All I really want is to do my job even better than I do now…”

  • Know Your Role, Grow Your Role. Understand and be able to explain how your role adds value to the organization. Additionally, continually look for ways to enhance and improve your role and be prepared to share those ideas.
  • Share How Your Vision and Values Align With Those of the Organization. Even if you’re not 100% totally aligned, sharing the commonalities can go a long ways toward helping your supervisor understand that you’re still on board with the program.
  • Request More Frequent Reviews/Check-Ins. Never say never…6 months or 6 years from now, you’re liable to change your mind and want to start climbing the ladder again. Whether that’s the case or not, requesting more frequent feedback helps demonstrate that you’re serious about continuing to excel in your current role, while also providing a forum to discuss future opportunities should they arise.
  • Help Them Get To Know You Better. Odds are your feelings of contentment are influenced heavily by what’s going on in your personal life. Allowing your supervisor to have some insight into that should help them understand why you feel the way you do.

Do you have any other tips? Have you ever had this conversation, either as employee or as manager? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Who Is My Audience?

I recently saw a well-known company’s new ad campaign for the first time. And while I thought it was creative and well-executed, I couldn’t help but think that it likely wouldn’t resonate with 75% of their target audience. And while that in itself is a big problem, a bigger problem came to mind…not only would the campaign likely not resonate with that large and substantial majority of their audience, but it might actually offend or push some of them away altogether.

Obviously, I doubt pushing existing or potential clients away is that company’s intent. However, it reminds us of a very important question we all need to ask at times…
“who is my audience?”

Whether you’re an organization unleashing a new ad campaign or a leader trying to influence a call to action, it’s important to know and understand your audience. You might have the greatest idea in the world but if you aren’t able to pitch it in a way that appeals to your audience, then it becomes a wasted effort.

Leadership is about influence. And in order to influence, you must be able to connect with your audience. Once you’ve identified your audience, consider their demographic profile to make sure you’re connecting on a relatable level. Try to identify potential problems with your approach up front so that you can correct ahead of time. If you think your message could possibly alienate or offend a portion of your audience, stop and adjust.

The next time you find your leadership influence isn’t influencing, stop and ask yourself, “who is my audience?”

Can you think of a time where your message wasn’t effective, or you got into trouble, because you weren’t in tune with your audience?

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Be Your Own Coach By Becoming A Journalist

In their book, Coaching in Organizations: Best Coaching Practices from The Ken Blanchard Companies, Madeleine Homan and Linda Miller define coaching as follows:

“Coaching is a deliberate process using focused conversations to create an environment for individual growth, purposeful action, and sustained improvement.”

To help initiate and guide these conversations, coaches use a series of targeted, thought-provoking questions. These questions are intended to assist the coaching client down a path of self-discovery and self-improvement. Therefore, one can conclude that great coaches ask great questions.

Even if you are already working with a coach, there will inevitably be moments in time (be it work or personal) where you will want or need to coach yourself. You may face an issue that requires immediate action and can’t wait for your next appointment with your coach. Or, perhaps you’re dealing with some smaller issues that you feel aren’t a good use of your time with your coach. Of course, those smaller issues that cause feelings of overwhelment have a way of quickly becoming larger issues if you let them fester over time.

If you are not a trained coach, just the thought of coaching yourself might cause you feelings of overwhelment. So, if you’re not a great coach who is trained to ask great questions, you need a simple framework to get you started. The one that I use was introduced to me while in journalism classes back in my grade school days.

The primary responsibility of a journalist is to capture and report the complete story. To make sure they achieve this, they rely on a basic concept most commonly referred to as The Five Ws (and one H). By adopting and implementing this simple concept you can set the context to begin coaching yourself through practically any situation.

  • Who? - Who are the stakeholders? Who’s involvement is required? Who can I go to for help?
  • What?What problem am I attempting to solve? What else do I need to consider? What help do I need?
  • Where?Where is the issue unfolding? Where do I, and/or other stakeholders, need to be? Where can I go for help?
  • When?When does action need to take place? When do stakeholders need to be notified? When should I ask for help?
  • Why?Why is this an issue? Why are certain individuals involved? Why do I need help?
  • How?How did this issue arise? How will the issue be resolved? How will I reach out for help?

It is important to note that these are questions that cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no” response. This leads to deeper reflection and furthering the conversation. With this framework in place, you should be well positioned to coach yourself through your issue and/or better prepared to discuss the issue in further detail with your coach.

What other tips or tricks do you use to coach yourself when the need arises?

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Managing in an Age of Superstars and Superegos

The new issue of ESPN the Magazine is entitled, The Interview Issue. As you might have guessed, it is filled with one-on-one conversations between different sports personalities and ESPN staffers. One interview in particular, captured my attention.

The interviewer was John Sawatsky. He is described in The Mag as “a former investigative journalist,” who, “coaches many of the network’s reporters in the science of asking the right questions at the right time.”

Photo courtesy of SD Dirk via Creative Commons

The interviewee is the recently retired manager of the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa. Over the course of his successful 30+ year managerial career, La Russa has won three World Series titles and four Manager of the Year awards. His next award will likely be induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

So, what we have here basically boils down to one “coach” interviewing another “coach.” (And as an added bonus, Sawatsky critiques his own line of questions in the footnotes.) While I recommend reading the interview in its entirety, Sawatsky tosses one question that La Russa knocks out of the park…

Sawatsky: So how do you manage in an age of superstars and superegos?

La Russa: Personalize, personalize, personalize. You need to show you care; you need to earn their trust and respect. This is the entire staff, not just me. And trust means telling the truth. Sometimes that’s not what they want to hear, but you can’t bulls–t them, because there goes your credibility.
But you also understand that these guys have a life. So you make it clear that if at any point there is a personal need I can help with, I’m there.

In his brief response, La Russa effectively demonstrates that the key to his success as a manager was to be a leader.

  • Treat your people as individuals. Don’t lead with a one size fits all approach.
  • Build relationships on a foundation of trust and mutual respect.
  • Surround yourself with a team who lead by a set of shared values.
  • Give honest feedback. Don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations.
  • Be empathetic, and offer support, when personal issues inevitably arise.

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Who Do You Aim To Please?

Throughout the course of our lives, we’re constantly trying to impress someone.

As kids, we want our parents to be proud of us. We want our friends to think we’re cool. We want our teachers to think we’re smart.

As we get older, we still want our parents to be proud of us. We still want our friends to think we’re cool. And now, instead of teachers, we want our colleagues and clients to think we’re smart.

Then, one day we wake up and realize we’re spending most of our waking hours trying to live up to someone else’s expectations. We’re spending more time trying to make everyone else happy than we are on meeting our own needs. We’re not necessarily unhappy, but we’re unfulfilled.

Depending on how we choose to look at it, that unfulfilled feeling can be a blessing or a curse. We can either let it spiral out of control into a deep depression or, hopefully, we can choose to use it as a wake up call.

To determine if your life needs a slight course correction, ask yourself the following questions:

“Whose life am I living?”

You only have one life to live, you might as well make it your own.

“Am I being selfish enough?”

You can’t take care of others if you’re not taking care of yourself.

To have any chance at spreading sustained happiness to others, it’s vital to make sure that YOU are happy. From time to time, do a check-in to make sure that YOUR needs are getting met so that YOU are able to continue to meet the many needs of all the important people in YOUR life.