Author Archive for Alvin

Self-Awareness Made Simpler!

 

Self-awareness is vital for today’s Leader. In fact, self-awareness is a component of emotional intelligence and it has been shown as an important dimension of successful business leaders. In a recent study, Green Peak Partners and Cornell University examined 72 executives at public and private companies with revenues from $50 million to $5 billion, and found that “a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success”.

There are many benefits to receiving feedback about how others perceive us. It may:
[  ]  Teach us more about how others see us across various relationships
[  ]  Illuminate several blind spots we’ve yet to see, or confirm what we already know about ourselves
[  ]  Highlight a talent we tend to display, but have yet to “own”
[  ]  Restore our confidence in the value we bring to others

Leadership is about influence, so knowing thyself & how we are perceived by others can mean the difference between influencing others or not! In my opinion, one of the best ways to become more knowledgeable of how you’re seen by others is by seeking feedback. The best way to seek feedback is to simply ask!

I decided to learn more about how others currently perceive me, here’s how I did it. I texted people I trust and have known for many years because there were more opportunities to experience me over time. At the same time, there are fewer instances of those in this group only noticing ’thin slices’ of my behavior. I kept my request simple because these are people I know and trust.

Here’s the request I sent to each of them:
“Hello ______! Quick question for you: What 5 words spring to mind when you think about working or interacting with me and the type of person I am?”

As I received feedback, I went to a free online Wordcloud generator and added the words, because I wanted a visual reminder of this feedback. I also followed up with each respondent and provided them with a copy of my Wordcloud as a ‘Thank You’ for taking the time to help me.

Note: Some of the nouns and/or adjectives others choose to describe me were not be what I would have chosen, but I went with the exact words I was provided. Remember – it’s important to honor those who’ve taken time to provide you with feedback, so be aware that changing the actual words received as feedback to suit a word you might instead use, will change the respondent’s original intent!

The results I received appear as a Wordcloud below. The larger the word, the more times it was repeated. As you can see – the word “Passionate” was repeated most often followed by Intelligent, Energetic, etc.

So, which specific words are others using to describe working or interacting with YOU?

Which specific words are others using to describe the type of person they perceive YOU to be?

Keep this in mind: others are already asking & have already asked about your mode of interaction! Do you know the answers being provided on your behalf?

Your mission, should you choose to accept it – is to become more self-aware and learn how others perceive you!

I trust this process will serve you!

Please leave your questions and comments below.

Business Lessons From My Grandson

Business RemindersI’m not sure it “gets any better than this” when I think of the joy I felt watching my daughters grow up. All three of them are in their 20’s now, and are focused on being great contributors to society. My middle daughter has blessed us with my first Grandchild, a little fellow named Charles III (aka Little Charlie). We enjoyed this past Easter weekend with him and his mother, my wife and our youngest daughter. As I reflected on the time he and I spent together, I’m reminded about three fundamental business principles.

1 – Keep it simple. 2 – Smile more often. 3 – Offer help when someone needs you.

First, Keep it simple.

For Little Charlie, one word can be enough to express what he desires. When he wants to crawl or walk on his own, but I have him in my arms – he looks me in the eyes and simply says “downnnnn.” Almost like he’s singing that word! When I sit him down, he takes off! Message sent, message received.

I relate his simple, yet effective communication to times when I did the opposite and provided a string of directions to those on my team. At the beginning of my leadership career, I noticed I didn’t always communicate in the most effective and efficient way for each individual I interacted with, although it seemed best at the time. As I progressed, I learned there was no need to repeat directions when I kept my communications simple, along with simplifying how we communicated as a team. Unlike the example of Little Charlie, communicating with the use of only one word may not always work in a business environment. I’ve also learned that issuing a series of directions in one interaction may not always work either. Getting to a happy medium tends to get the job done. I now recognize that to increase the likelihood a given message will be received, understood and acted upon, there’s no need for a complex message. Keep it simple.

Second, Smile more often.

Little Charlie is 15 months old now, and it’s hard to remember a time when he isn’t smiling. He isn’t much of a complainer and even when he bumps himself, he’s smiling a few moments later. As I reflected on my career, I recall many times where smiling made a difference. I began my corporate life as a Repair Clerk, where I answered repair requests directly from subscribers whose phones were not working. Some of them were angry callers! I noticed that when I smiled during our conversation, they could somehow ‘hear my smile’ and sometimes the call went better. Sometimes!

As I progressed to a Network Manager of installation and repair technicians at the same company, I would remind my team to find reasons to smile as much as possible throughout the day. This was primarily to strengthen their attitude, but their smile also had a positive effect on both internal customers and external customer interactions. Conversely, there were many times in my career when I should have smiled more. No doubt, I could have smiled more, but for whatever reason I didn’t. When I later reflected on why things didn’t go smoothly that day or during that interaction, I had to admit my lack of a smile might have set an adverse tone. Since then, I’ve made it a point to smile more.

Sometimes my daughter will surprise me and bring Little Charlie into my home office. More often than not, I’m intently pecking away at the computer and don’t realize they’ve entered the room. When my daughter taps me on the shoulder or calls my name and I turn around, my Grandson is smiling at me. Seeing him smile instantly puts me in a better mood. He’s happy, my daughter is happy that we’re happy, and the energy in the room increases. You have the same transformative effect when you walk into your workplace or home with a genuine smile. I recall reading someplace that it takes fewer facial muscles to smile than to frown, and I believe that. I also believe I’d rather have a face full of smile lines than frown lines. Little Charlie reminds me to smile more often.

Third, Offer help when someone needs you.

We became empty nesters as the last of our three daughters recently began her adult life away from home. No more PTA potluck dinners to volunteer for. No more proms dresses to buy. No more kids playing high school or college sports.

When Little Charlie comes to visit, suddenly the void fills and he becomes the singular focus of the household. Yes, even our family dog becomes more energetic! Little Charlie needs us to change him, feed him, and try to keep pace with him until he tires and is ready for a nap. We pay close attention to his progress and process, so we typically know to feed him when he’s hungry versus feeding him when he needs to be changed.

In our business settings, there are those who need us too. While they don’t need us to change them literally, we help ‘change’ them figuratively by adjusting their perspective to focus on the positive aspects of their daily experiences. I’m reminded of an example where I was moved to go a bit deeper and offer a direct solution to what turned out to be an immediate need.

One of our technicians seemed to be uncharacteristically quiet during one of our morning meetings. This was a guy who normally had a good word for everyone and was typically smiling. We finished our morning huddle and everyone left the office to begin his or her installation and repair routes. I visited this technician later that morning at one of his repair calls to determine if there was an issue I could help resolve, or if he just needed to talk. He reluctantly told me the electricity to his home would be disconnected unless he came up with the money by 5pm that very day. He had exhausted all his financial options, and didn’t want to bring it up to his co-workers. He was one of our best people, and a great teammate. I offered to help, and he promptly refused. He didn’t want a handout. After our long conversation, he realized that I considered my offer to be a loan, not a gift. He accepted my help, and we are still friends to this day. I’m not sure what prompted me to make such an offer, other than I realized someone I cared for really needed help, and I was in a position to provide it. In my opinion, this was a human need in a business setting. Little Charlie doesn’t always know how to ask for help, and the same holds true for those in business settings. Let’s keep our eyes open for opportunities to offer help and mentor those we care for, when they perhaps need us most.

I always enjoy my Grandson’s visits. I’m continually amazed at what he’s learned since our last visit, and I look forward to the next lessons Little Charlie will teach me. Who knows – perhaps he’ll grow up to be an educator like his Grandpa.

Which business fundamentals have your kids and grandkids reminded you of lately?

Overcoming Underwhelm

 

shutterstock_297916058During my recent teleseminar focused on how to get out of our own way and reduce the amount of overwhelm in our lives, one of the participants brought up the subject of being underwhelmed. She described her particular situation as one where she expected much more from the role she accepted. She realized that she:

  • wasn’t given an opportunity to display her array of capabilities,
  • had limited or no opportunity to make the positive impact she anticipated,
  • felt unfulfilled and eventually characterized this as a dead-end role, although she was a long-term employee with this company.

She went on to describe how frustrating underwhelm is for her.

Have you been there? Are you there now?

I admitted not having heard the term before, and determined to learn more about it. I’ve since learned that being underwhelmed at work is a form of worker discontent, which is related to a lack of employee satisfaction. In human resources circles, employee satisfaction appears to be of ongoing concern to employers, as (among other things) it can affect the productivity of those employees who decide to remain with their employer, and the lack of satisfaction can be a catalyst for employees to make a job or career change. I learned that one of many possible resolutions is for companies to help by training employees to recognize and reconcile their own career contentment. This solution is focused on empowering the employee and giving them control over their careers, rather than relying on employers to satisfy workers.

We all recognize the sense of control a person feels when they are empowered to own their career and job fulfillment. If you find yourself in this position, here is a plan of action you can immediately employ to help decrease the underwhelm in your career and, at the same time, perhaps increase your career contentment.

  1. Get clear on what you want in your job and overall career!
  • Begin with your vision and consider your ideal work environment in addition to your specific role within that environment. This planning step helps to ensure you are proactive, and have considered how you might fit with your next assignment or job.
  • Condense these thoughts into a plan that explains the action steps you believe are necessary to leverage your gift(s), talents, transferrable skills and tangible experience when the opportunity arises.
  • Remove the emotionality from this pursuit. Begin with the mindset that this is an experiment to be learned from, and your chances of success will increase greatly.
  1. Communicate your plan with intention and humility!
  • Refresh your resume and use updated keywords & description of your skills.
  • Connect with your network inside and mentors outside the company, and use humility to explain your plan and proposed action steps. This may help to broaden your perspective.
  • Enhance your initial plan due to the conversations with your network.
  • Schedule time and talk with your current leadership. Be transparent about your feelings of underwhelm.
  • Describe how your proposed plan will help make leadership’s job easier by allowing you to take more responsibility. Also explain how your proposal makes greater use of your transferrable skills, education, and overall tangible capabilities. Although no boss is under any obligation to amend your current role to better leverage your skills, I’ve seen this happen so expect the best outcome.
  1. Follow through & evaluation.
  • The feedback from your leadership can have several outcomes. Either they’re:
    • open to giving you more responsibilities,
    • not convinced of your capabilities and want to learn more,
    • sure of what you’re capable of, and aren’t open to giving you more,
    • going to propose an alternative you haven’t considered or are interested in further conversation about your future.

Remember that feedback is a gift, and either of these responses should lead you to evaluate your progress to this point. This evaluation should move you toward the corresponding next action step in your overall plan, to a request to dialogue further, or to something else you didn’t anticipate. In either case, you aren’t waiting for anyone to approach you about your future. You are fully empowered and your career is your responsibility!

Use this action plan to avoid underwhelm & gain an UNfair AdvantageTM in your career.

Please leave your comments and questions below!

Mentoring: 6 Actions That Add Value!

32e023aThere are no shortage of requests for my time from my former students. Some of them want to “bounce ideas,” others want to work toward solutions in their entrepreneurial pursuits, still others are looking for career advice or personal development tips. While I’m happy to oblige in each of these areas, a small subset of them want to broaden the relationship, continue to receive advice to the point of scheduling a year’s worth of meetings, and enter into a mentoring relationship.

My opinion is that a mentee should provide value to the relationship as the process of mentoring should not be a one-way street. As a case in point of how NOT to do this, consider this story. In the spring of last year, I met with a former student who began a “side” business offering entertainment events. He asked me to look over his business plan and marketing e-mails because his initial launch didn’t go as planned, and he lost money in the process. During an hour-long conversation over lunch in early summer, I asked several coaching questions meant to check his understanding & recognition of his customer’s point of view, his competition, etc, and we had a great discussion leading him to draw several new distinctions and deeper understandings. As a result of our meeting, he revised his offering, adjusted his website and enjoyed a successful second attempt this past fall. A few weeks after his successful second attempt, he reached out and asked to schedule a series of meetings to continue our conversations, and brought up the “M” word.

Internally, I appreciated that he would reach back out to me to continue a relationship. At the same time, it occurred to me that I was not invited to his entertainment event, nor was there a note to say what worked and how our conversation helped as a summary. When I considered his request more deeply, I realized it wasn’t about a lack of monetary remuneration (we meet over lunch), but at the core, there may be ways he could add value to our relationship. Given that, here are six relational and technical actions I’ve used over the years when interacting with my Mentors and Mentees.

1) Send an agenda 24 – 48 hrs in advance of the meeting. This action helps you to organize and articulate your thoughts. This tip also gives your Mentor an idea of your oral and written communication skills, and whether or not they should bring anything additional to help make the conversation more robust and valuable. Further, it helps to set time parameters to the conversation by indicating a definite beginning and ending. (NOTE: If you’ll contribute to the conversation by commenting to this post and request an agenda template via email at acmiles@bellsouth.net, I’ll forward my favorite template.)

2) Invite your Mentor to share in your successes and “near successes.” In the aforementioned scenario, my potential Mentee could have invited me to his entertainment event, and our future conversations could be richer because of my firsthand experience with his endeavor. Conversely, I’ve had many conversations with one of my academic Mentors during my recently completed doctoral journey. I recall many days when I asked for (and received) the gift of his time and wisdom which helped me earn my terminal degree. I wanted to do something special for him and three other similar Mentors, and I thought a card, a photo from the event or even lunch would not be worthy of their contribution to my success. My solution was to invite him to a private pre and post graduation event to honor him and my family as being an important part of my journey, and he had a seat of honor at the graduation ceremony. He is also mentioned in the acknowledgments section of my dissertation as a permanent memorial of sharing in my success.

3) Ask your Mentor how you can add value to him or her. Besides being impressed that you’ve asked, this question signals a deeper level of maturity and understanding, and a true relationship. Whether it’s a short article you’ve summarized and attached in an email, the link to a short video from an expert in an area of interest, or the “heads up” on a Groupon at their favorite merchant, these actions serve to differentiate you. They also let your (potential) Mentor know that although you may need to stretch to provide value to him or her, you are willing to do just that. You may need to “think outside the box” for more value-adding ideas, but isn’t that something you currently do?

4) Provide a summary of what you’ve learned in each conversation. Verbalizing your learnings are good. Documenting them in writing, then sharing this with your Mentor is better in my opinion. This drives your learning deeper and removes all doubt about whether or not your sessions have been time well spent.

5) Send a hand-written thank you note. To say “Thank you for sharing your time with me, I am continuing to get better under your tutelage. Please let me know if you think there’s anything I should be aware of before we meet again, and I’ll do the same for you.”

6) Recognize your Mentor’s birthday or new job role. Call, email or visit to say “Happy Birthday” or “Congratulations”. Take him or her to lunch and celebrate their special day. This shows you genuinely care about them as a person & not just as a silo of “free” advice.

While you aren’t limited to the number of Mentors you can potentially have, I believe the depth of your learning is in direct proportion to the amount of value you add to these relationships! Finally, remember the positive effects of these actions accrue as you practice them. Go forth and add value!

How to Eliminate Fear, Doubt and Anxiety

Eliminate doubtDuring a recent conversation with one of my former students; Jen, the subject of anxiety came up. Jen relayed a scenario where one of her co-workers failed to greet her the way they normally greeted each other; no eye contact or calling her by name when she passed her in the hall the morning before. I could tell she was worried, so I asked a few questions to better understand why.

I learned that although Jen had only been with the company for 8 months, her co-worker was Director of Human Resources (HR) at this small firm. Since Jen’s desk and the HR Director’s office shared a hallway, and they saw each other frequently. Jen described that this was the first time in her short tenure that this had ever happened and she was concerned that it meant something unfortunate might happen.

Had she somehow disappointed someone in the organization who mentioned it to the HR Director? Has the company decided to downsize positions meaning the last-hired would be first-fired? Is she in danger of losing her job? I offered Jen my 3F Process to help her determine if this situation was worth being concerned about. This may help you as well.

The 3 F’s are Facts, Feel & Follow Through.

I asked Jen to have a conversation with the HR Director to recall the facts of their interaction, how that interaction made her feel, then follow through by asking the Director whether there needs to be a quick discussion now, or a larger conversation later?

Let’s touch upon each step:

Step 1: Recalling the facts from Jen’s point of view opens the discussion and allows the leader to see the effect of this interaction on the employee. There tends to be more than one side to each story, so this is where the leader is mentally taken back to the incident. Really bring them back to the moment by recalling specific and objective nuances such as the day of the week, time of day, the specific conversation, or whatever brought them together for this interaction to take place. This is where Jen explained that there was no eye contact, nor was she called by name when they passed each other in the hall the morning before. This includes verbalizing the exact scenario and set of circumstances bringing them together for this interaction.

Step 2: Explaining how that interaction made Jen feel allows her an opportunity to open up and express the reason for her doubts, concern or anxiety. In this step, In this step, Jen told the HR Director they cross paths in their mutual hall, an average of 3 times each week, and that this was the first time in her 8-month tenure she recalls this ever happening, and that it left her wondering if it meant something deeper or not. She went on to relay the questions swirling in her head (Had she somehow disappointed someone in the organization who mentioned it to HR? Has the company decided to downsize positions meaning the last-hired would be first-fired? Is she in danger of losing her job?).

The HR Director immediately and apologetically responded by saying there was no issue, and that the reason for the seemingly distant greeting was that she was having a difficult morning and she hadn’t had her morning coffee!

Step 3: Although she understood the response, she continued and followed through by asking the HR Director – “The reason I decided to drop into your office is to ask if we should have a quick discussion about this now, or to know if it makes more sense to have a larger conversation later?” The HR Director responded with a smile and said that there was no issue, and apologized for the perception of her being distant. She thanked Jen for quickly verifying if there were any issues.

When Jen and I discussed the details, she was relieved. She also mentioned that she now had a framework to use instead of automatically defaulting to a state of nervousness and concern leading to distraction and lost productivity. The Director could perhaps be impressed that Jen is courageous, responds, and follows a process instead of defaulting to an emotional reaction which is all too common in my experience.

We have a choice. We can either choose to worry about what others intended when we interact with them, or we can utilize a healthy, easy-to-remember process designed to make our interactions simple.

How will you use the 3F Process to overcome fear, doubt and anxiety in your personal or professional life?

The Miracles of Margin

miracles of marginAfter my company relocated our family from Louisiana to Georgia in 1993, we began making frequent return trips home for holidays and special occasions. Over the first few trips, we always overpacked! The trunk of our vehicle was nearly full, our 3 daughters occupied the backseat, and the floor in front of them was full of snacks, water and other things we thought we needed. Each time we made this nearly 1000-mile round-trip trek, I questioned how we could feel more comfortable in our vehicle to allow for an enjoyable ride. There was always lively discussion regarding the amount of trunk space, because of the possibility that we didn’t pack everything we might need for the journey.

Is this the case in your life? Are you overpacking for your “journey,” afraid you won’t have what you need for any and every possibility? Since possibilities are not eventualities, perhaps it’s worth considering the value of keeping your spaces clear. Space equates to margin. What space(s) you ask?

Well, consider that a few of these can be your financial space, physical spaces, relationship space, spiritual space, emotional space and even your mental space! Keeping these areas free of clutter goes a long way to helping you reduce the amount of overwhelm in your life, because you aren’t attempting to focus on the myriad of things appearing before you, and those things aren’t weighing on your mind. Clutter utilizes your energy much like your smartphone uses battery power when it attempts to refresh open applications – even when you aren’t using them! Could we miraculously reduce our levels of overwhelm by ensuring we have margin in just two areas of our lives? Where do we start? The two areas I recommend you begin to look at are your finances and physical space. I’m sure you can think of more, but these two categories provide the greatest opportunity to grow our margin.

Financial margin (ex: savings) allows you the space to pursue a career that will help to engage and fulfill us, not merely provide a paycheck. It also gives you the ability to donate time, talent and treasure to the charity of your choice in a meaningful and intentional way. Margin in your finances is so important that lenders factor this into their equations to determine our credit worthiness. One of these equations is called the debt to income ratio. Essentially, this is a measure of the amount of margin in your finances, and borrowers with a lower percentage (more margin) are seen as a better credit risk than those with a higher percentage. Financial margin is miraculous because it allows us the freedom to engage in a meaningful career, and be a true miracle to those in our local and world community.

As an example of physical margin, consider something as simple as a book and perhaps as complex as any living space. Readers know that words don’t dominate each space on the page of a book. Margin appears on the top, bottom and sides of each page as a frame for the reader. Shouldn’t your life enjoy the same frame, buffer or margin? When you walk into a cluttered home, workspace, or car interior from one that is uncluttered, you can feel your energy shift as the space feels more constricted. Physical margin is miraculous because it can play a part in raising our energy levels, and the miracle of focus seems to occur more easily when our spaces are less chaotic.

Have you stopped to consider the costs of a life with little to no margin? I believe it becomes a life of overwhelm, a life absent of giving to others, fewer mentors and coaches for our children, less time spent with our significant others, and less engagement in our jobs. I submit the reason for these issues may be that there’s little to no margin to allow for generosity. There is no room to give. Given this, how do we develop this margin when everything seems so complicated, so overwhelming, and takes up so much of our time?

Regardless of where you are in life, here are a few basic beliefs you can adopt along with bulleted action items you can begin today to help increase your financial & physical margin.

1. Part of all you earn is yours to keep.

  • Begin by saving 5% each time you’re paid, with the goal of saving 10%.
  • Tithe your money to areas where you’ve received your blessings.
  • Live within YOUR means – not those of your parents, or the “Kardashians”

2. Each day is yours, even if you work for someone else!

  • Declutter your space(s).
  • Begin each day by waking 15 minutes earlier, and gradually get to an hour earlier.
  • Get involved with a cause whose dreams match the size of yours.

3. You were put here for a reason and it’s up to you to find out why.

  • Turn the television off an hour earlier each night.
  • Begin a journal to write what you’re grateful for each day.
  • Take the time to mentor others.

Use the share buttons to tell us which beliefs and actions best serve you. How many of the above beliefs and actions will you adopt to make your days more miraculous?