Posts Tagged ‘Professionalism’

Brain<rant>

Buzzwords always abound in businesses. Each year sees new ones come and (if we are lucky) a few worn ones disappear. After all, Buzzword Bingo exists for a reason! Some of the most annoying to me are using verbs as nouns such as in “That’s a good ask.” Why not use the word “question” or “request” as the correct noun in that situation instead of misusing the word “ask”? Who knows how many years I’ve endured hearing people tell someone to “reach out” to someone at work when a simple “contact” will do the trick. You start “reaching out” to me at work and I’m calling HR on you!

So pardon me for a few paragraphs while I go on a somewhat controlled rant about a currently popular phrase that is so grossly overused and abused I feel I must take a stand. The term is “thought leader” or “thought leadership.”

The phrase isn’t new, of course, but it has become so commonly misused that the phrase is, to me, largely meaningless any more. Here are my issues with it and with how it is used:

1. Too many companies and individuals set a goal of becoming a thought leader in some field. They want to start blogging or publishing or public speaking or some combination of public activities with the explicit hope of being considered a thought leader. This seems completely backward to me. Their mistaken focus seems to be on the accolades and reputation they hope to earn because of their actions rather than the quality of the actions and benefit to others that comes as a result of their work. I’ve even heard the ridiculous discussion of whether or not the content for such “thought leadership” articles should be original or contracted out to an agency! What!? If you don’t have the ability to think your own thoughts enough to get them in writing, then you aren’t a thought leader even in your own company (maybe even in your own head), much less in any industry.

2. Any entity that refers to itself as a thought leader isn’t one. If I see “thought leader” in your Twitter or LinkedIn profile, I will not follow or connect with you. I do not care what you have to say because my first impression is that you are simply pompous and full of yourself. On the other hand, if it is others who are calling you a thought leader, then perhaps I’ll be impressed with their assessments and pay attention to what you say, but not if you are the one using it to describe yourself. Humility is a good thing. Learn it.

3. Companies cannot produce thought leaders en masse. For example, a colleague and I have been exploring employee advocacy software options over recent weeks. I can’t count how many times sales reps from the companies have tried to sell their products on the notion that we are helping employee advocates of our company become thought leaders through the use of it. Well, sorry again, but when the advocacy program largely depends on retweeting and reposting content we suggest with perhaps minor personal edits, that doesn’t make anyone a thought leader. Since when does retweeting others make anyone a thought leader? And since when did a single company have thousands of thought leaders as employees? Come on, people. Get real.

Here is my point: “Thought leader” is a title earned and bestowed by others as a result of unique, innovative, exemplary work over time. It is not a goal that anyone concerned with actually doing good work will waste time pursuing. It is never a term you should use for yourself.

Should you be so fortunate as to have others consider you a thought leader and refer to you that way, then accept their compliment with humility, be grateful that you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on others, and go on about the business of doing your very best work. History and others are far more likely to accurately describe you, your work, and its impact than you will yourself.

So go out there and do your best every single day. Only be concerned with that. Let others decide who they consider thought leaders to be. Don’t waste your time (or mine) associating the term with yourself. That’s for others to decide after you’ve earned it.

</rant>

image from bookboon.com

image from bookboon.com

I’m tired of so much of daily life and experience revolving around conflict.  It dominates a disproportionate share of the news and far too much of our personal and professional lives and experiences.

I’m tired of watching national newscasts only to see the latest iteration of countries fighting with one another, rogue administrations fighting against their own people, terrorists terrorizing, and political parties blindly towing the party line while casting blame for all the nation’s ills on another party.  I’m tired of so-called leaders who instigate more conflict and division rather than diplomatically lead a nation through troubled times.

I’m tired of local newscasts filled with the murder of the week, groups fighting for or against their pet causes and projects, and people unable to live in the same community and get along with one another.

I’m tired of people unable to have civil conversations about hugely important social matters impacting society.  I’m tired of seeing and hearing people yell their verbal missives at those with whom they disagree instead of attempting to understand the perspectives of others and have reasonable conversations with them.  I’m tired of the marches and protests regardless of whose side is putting on the show.

I’m tired of a worthless news media that selectively “reports” the news and slants the amount and details of coverage to reflect a bias instead of serving the public by thoroughly reporting the news in an unbiased manner.  I’m tired of their behavior contributing to the division that exists among the public.  I’m tired of so many news talk shows with everyone barking at the same time, trying to shout each other down instead of having a worthwhile conversation.

I’m tired of fighting the same old battles at work.  I’m tired of cumbersome processes that take years and an act of God to change because some silo cares more about protecting its little fiefdom than it does about what makes sense for efficiency, effectiveness and the good of the enterprise and its customers.  I’m tired of butting my head into the brick wall of roadblocks thrown up constantly by those who fancy themselves as more important than anyone but themselves believes them to be.  I’m tired of the conflict generated by people with no training or experience in some matters telling others who are trained and experienced how to do their jobs.  I’m tired of the interpersonal conflict that comes with people not following through on commitments, not taking initiative, and not doing their best when there are so many others working their back sides off to do things well.  I’m tired of grown adults acting like children in the workplace, all too eager to spawn conflict among their colleagues about matters completely unrelated to work.

I’m tired of the ongoing schedule conflicts due to far too many commitments, personal and professional.  I’m tired of the competing priorities and the constant need to choose between what is important and what is urgent.  I’m tired of the guilt that comes for what doesn’t get done regardless of what I choose to do.

I’m tired of how constant conflict makes me tired.  Were it not for the sanctuaries of my faith and family, I cannot imagine how pointless it would all seem.

Surely we can do better if we really want to, and if we try.

Tooting HornI remember a former pastor from 30 years ago smiling while giving the following advice: “He who tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted.”  This friend was anything but self-promoting.  He was a humble, gentle leader I greatly admired and from whom I learned much.  I’m not even sure of the context of the comment this many years later, but the phrase has stuck with me.

In our current media-heavy world, individuals are now faced with the opportunity and challenges of promoting their personal brand – a phrase unheard of in the not-too-distant past (although the concept surely isn’t new).  As one who spends most of my work hours and many of my personal hours immersed in social media, I often battle inwardly with where to draw the line between tweets and posts that are in some way self-promoting versus shying away from doing so because I don’t want to seem too cocky, arrogant or self-absorbed.  I tilt my head in wonder at those who post pictures of themselves on a near daily basis.

Occasionally, I am amused by people constantly re-posting/retweeting compliments they receive from others, especially if the one complimented adds something like “humbled” to the tweet they send out about it.  I can’t help but think that if they were that humble they would’ve kept the compliment to themselves in the first place.  I am equally amused and annoyed by anyone who describes himself in a social media profile as a “thought leader.”  If other people want to call you a thought leader, that’s fine, but never call yourself that.  I refuse to follow people who describe themselves that way.  Don’t do that.

If one’s professional life requires ongoing efforts to increase awareness of and confidence in what one has to offer, then it is right and good to put that information out there.  It is part of being a good salesperson.  Still, we all have been irritated by that occasional party goer who can’t seem to do anything but talk about himself all the time.  If you’re that person, chill out and let others talk about themselves for a while.  Ask their opinions.  Listen.  You will be considered a far better conversationalist as a result of listening than you will by talking.

Do I promote my personal brand?  Absolutely.  I post about all of my blog posts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and usually on my company’s enterprise social network, Buzz.  On those occasions when I get some positive press in a news article or as a result of speaking at a conference, I pass that along as well – not every one of them, but a few scattered here and there.  Just this week I updated the About page of this blog with a host of specifics from the past 2.5 years chronicling the Buzz success story because it’s a significant part of who I am professionally and I want others to know that detail if they are curious.  Heck, even linking to all of those things in this paragraph and on the About page is self-promotion!  I’ll let you decide if it’s appropriate or not.

Some self-promotion is OK, especially when it is done in the context of establishing yourself and your expertise in your chosen field of influence.  There is a line, however, that you shouldn’t cross, and you need to have enough sensitivity to grasp where that line is, especially if others don’t clearly warn you about it.  In my completely unscientific way, I know in my gut when my motives are pure and when they aren’t.  The line appears in my mind and I usually follow the sage advice of “When in doubt, don’t.”

I can’t tell you where that line between appropriate personal branding and annoying self-promotion exists for you, but I suspect you have a sense of when you’re getting close.  Wherever it is, try not to cross it.

As promised in yesterday’s post about “The Worst Mistakes I’ve Made As An Employee,” I’d like to share with you a few of the key things I think I’ve done well through the years where I’ve worked.  These are the decisions or patterns of behavior that I hope have characterized my time as an employee, from the time I got my first job as a 16-year-old small town grocery store clerk making $1.60 an hour to my current role as an online community manager for a Fortune 100 company.  I can’t help but think that people who exhibit these behaviors will have good success and satisfaction in their careers as well.

Here goes…

Take on more responsibility than is required.  I take no pleasure in doing only what is expected of me in a role.  I want to do my best at my work, and that includes acting on the thoughts that come to mind about how to improve processes, get more accomplished, better organize work, and voluntarily tackle things that nobody else seems to have on their radar.  Willingly taking on more responsibility than expected helps the business, creates new opportunities, solves problems, expands one’s capabilities, and usually paves a path to officially expanded roles and career advancement.

For example, in the early 1990s I was the associate dean of a small business college, having been promoted to that role from instructor.  One of the perennial issues at that college was the operation of the bookstore.  It was inefficiently operated, disorganized, and a frustrating experience for students as well as a financial drain for the college.  After considering the work I thought it would take to turn it around, I made an offer to the college dean that if he would give me responsibility for operating the bookstore in addition to my current duties, remove the current manager from her position and add half her salary to mine, I would turn it around.  He did just that, and I kept my end of the bargain, making it an organized and smoothly operated bookstore that next semester and thereafter.

Similarly, I can’t tell you the number of times that I have inherited (willingly or otherwise) the responsibilities of others when people on my teams have left the company or moved to other departments, leaving fewer of us to do more with less.  By accepting and even seeking out greater responsibility with a positive attitude, people learn that I am serious about getting things done.  Supervisors learn that they can give me a job to do, leave me alone, and it will get done.  If I need their help, I will ask for it.  Otherwise, they can assume all is well.  I will squeal if and when I reach my reasonable limit, but until then, they can rightly know that I’m on top of my duties.

Put in more time than is required.  While the previous suggestion centers around taking on more responsibility, this one is about putting in extra time.  I don’t remember how many years it has been since I’ve averaged only 40 hours per week.  I tend to average in the low 50s instead of the 40s.  Occasionally, I go well beyond that, but I don’t recommend doing so except for rare occasions when there simply is no other alternative, and only then for a very short period of time.  It isn’t nice when employers expect extra hours every week from salaried employees, but it is good to be in a situation where you love what you do and willingly give it more time in order to do the best job possible in a reasonable, sustainable amount of time.  Not everyone is in a life situation that allows them to give extra hours with no corresponding increase in compensation, but for someone like me whose sons are long gone from home, I have that luxury and am glad to do so.

Ask for what you want.  You may not get all you want, but you certainly won’t get what you wish for if you don’t ask for it.  There have been two times in the past four years alone when roles were created for me on other teams that would not have been created without me initiating the conversations.  In 2009 I called the manager of a different team out of the blue and pitched an idea about the possibility of a new role being created on his team with me filling it.  It took a few months to go through all the internal hoops for it to happen, but since the manager liked the idea, he worked with others as needed over several months to make it come to pass.  Something similar happened in 2011 when I thought it was necessary for our internal social network to be owned by a different business area, and for me to go along with it to that area to manage it.  Again, after a few months and several discussions with key stakeholders working together, it came to fruition.  Dream Big.  Show the potential benefits of your ideas, and go for them.

Be kind to others.  This seems rather basic, but you’d be surprised how often people don’t follow this simple principle.  Being rude, self-centered, sharp-tongued, avoiding others, being unresponsive to requests, not returning calls or emails, and generally being a pain in the behind to others just makes you the kind of person coworkers have no desire to be around.  Why would anyone want to be that person?  Most of us spend more waking hours with our work colleagues than with those who live under own own roof at home.  Why wouldn’t you want to have the best relationships possible since you’re going to be spending a huge amount of time together weekly?  I want to be thought of as someone who generously gives to others, is OK with occasional interruptions in order to help people out, speaks kindly, encourages others, and who does a reasonably good job of living the Golden Rule, treating others the way I want them to treat me.  We teach it to our kids.  Why should we be any different as adults?

Trust others.  I tend to trust others until they give me a reason not to trust.  This approach seems to be better for relationships, easier on the mind and emotions, and benefits everyone involved since trust is usually rewarded with trust returned in your direction.  I understand that there are certain roles in businesses which lend themselves to being very cautious, skeptical and perhaps lacking in trust.  People in such roles need to do what their positions require without coming off as always distrustful of others.  I know I am a person of integrity, so when someone questions that integrity in any way, it is highly offensive.  Likewise, I don’t want to appear to question someone else’s integrity unjustifiably.  Of course, if you ever give me a reason not to trust you, I will continue to cooperate and work with you as needed, but I will be extremely cautious and you will have to earn that trust back over a long period of time which is outside of your control.

Help others reach their goals.  This involves being an encourager to people, taking time to genuinely listen to them, and then taking action to the extent that it is within your ability to assist.  Even though I am not currently in a management role, it is very possible for me to help others achieve their goals by providing assistance within the scope of my responsibilities and authority.  You do not have to have positional authority to have an effective impact on the organization and individuals within it.  Individuals can have significant influence without having a single person formally reporting to them.  For those who are in supervisory positions, I consider this one of their primary responsibilities–one characterized by developing others, being a cheerleader, inspiring, encouraging, empowering, guiding, leading, and genuinely celebrating others’ success as they accomplish challenging business objectives and personal career goals.

Looking at the above patterns of behavior that I believe characterize the bulk of my work history, I would summarize them in two simple thoughts: (1) strive to do your very best, and (2) focus on others as much (or more) than you focus on yourself.

So there you have it–my worst mistakes discussed in a previous post, and several positive and helpful patterns of behavior that have contributed significantly to success and satisfaction in my work.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about work experiences and patterns that have shaped your career.

I believe in the value of sharing mistakes I’ve made in the hope that others may benefit from my experience and avoid making those same mistakes.  To that end, I thought it might be good to reflect on poor choices I’ve made in various roles across multiple companies and post about them here.  The list below isn’t an exhaustive list of everything I can imagine others might do that is detrimental to their career or work relationships.  It is merely a description of some things I wish I had not done along the way.

Failing to speak up.  I despise conflict, so I too often avoid the hard conversations that may be confrontational.  I want to get along with people.  I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  I want to keep the peace and just do my best work in a calm environment without any drama.  As one who has always tested on the introvert side of personality inventories and who is never going to be the life of the party, being quiet comes more naturally than speaking up, but that isn’t always helpful.

The down side of this otherwise admirable quality is that issues which need to be addressed may not be dealt with in a timely manner.  Problems persist and the potential negative consequences include less than optimal team performance and dynamics, poorer business decisions due to lack of input, not to mention the inner turmoil that comes from remaining silent when something is bugging me.  It took me a while to realize that the actual negative consequences of failing to speak up are worse than the imagined consequences of speaking up.  That is, the difficulty of hard conversations is rarely (if ever) as bad as you imagine it might be, especially if you approach such conversations with genuineness and kindness.

Seeing some coworkers as enemies.  It’s no secret that in an organization of any size there will be some strained relationships.  Different personalities, values and agendas practically guarantee that people will occasionally be at odds with one another.  What must not happen, though, is reaching a point where you always think negatively of certain coworkers and, consequently, treat them in a manner that perpetuates the negative relationship.  I may not like the way some people act.  I may believe rightly that they would throw me under the bus in a heartbeat if they had the chance and if they thought it would somehow make them look good or help them climb the ladder or advance their personal agenda.  But I am first and foremost an employee of my company who is hired to help the business accomplish its objectives, and that sometimes means working cooperatively with others in order to advance the cause of the business, even when every fiber of my being would just like to tell the other person where to go.  Be the bigger person and focus on the business goals and objectives, not the interpersonal difficulties.

Leaving too soon.  I’m coming up on my tenth anniversary this year at my company, so this isn’t a current issue with me, but if I take a close look at my resume going back 30+ years of full-time work, I can see some times where I took the easy way out to go to a different company or organization rather than stay and overcome a difficult situation.  Maybe those were the right decisions, maybe not.  I’m sure I had no problem justifying them at the time, and once I had mentally checked out of the roles, it was just a matter of time before I officially left.  However, when I look over someone’s resume today when looking to fill a role and I see a lot of short-term gigs of two years or less, it raises a huge red flag and makes me wonder what kind of staying power the person has.  I want to be someone who loves what he does (as I do) and who cares enough to change a “flight” instinct to one of confronting issues and overcoming them.  I suppose this mistake is related to the first one above in that it can be a way to avoid conflict.

Responding in anger.  It is never a good idea to fire off an email when you’re angry.  It is rarely the wise choice to spout off with what you want to come back with in a heated meeting, phone call, or face-to-face encounter.  In situations where you have the opportunity to hit the pause button before responding, do so.  I recently had this happen when I received some unwelcome news via email at work that made me a very unhappy camper.  My every instinct was to fire off a sharp reply to some people much higher in the org chart than I am or ever expect to be.  Fortunately, I just vented my frustration with my understanding teammates sitting nearby and announced that I was taking a walk.  On that walk I stopped by the desks of some people I hadn’t seen in a while to catch up with them and to have some friendly conversation which put me in a very different mood.  By the time I was back at my desk, I was able to respond to the email in a rational, professional manner.

Another practice I have used countless times to avoid responding in anger and to avoid rash decisions of many types is to sleep on a matter overnight.  It is amazing how different some things appear in the light of day compared to how they looked at the end of a long day or evening when you were tired and not at your best.  It may seem silly, but a general rule of thumb I have lived by for decades is that I don’t make major, life-changing decisions when it’s dark outside (whether anger is involved or not).  The world won’t end and most substantive opportunities won’t pass you by if you sleep on some decisions overnight.

So there you have four big mistakes I know I’ve made more than once in my career and with which I still occasionally struggle.  Surely people I have worked with could easily think of additional mistakes I’ve made.

If you’re willing, I’d love to hear in your comments about some of the lessons you’ve learned the hard way in your career.

Coming soon in a post will be the flip side of this topic – some of the things I’ve done in various roles that proved to be good choices and very helpful for my employers and for me.  I wouldn’t want to leave you with the impression that I’m rotten to the core.

Til then…