It’s exhilarating, yet marginally terrifying! You’ve got butterflies in your stomach. Butterflies of excitement, or is nauseous butterflies? These feelings, normal as they may be, describe two life experiences: job interviewing and dating. The butterflies of interviewing for a job are often characterized as the same response we get when interviewing.
Ever wondered why a first date feels like a job interview? Knowing the answer to this can make or break your ability to turn your interview into a successful new career.
They feel the same, seem the same and often produce the same outcomes because a job interview and a date in fact one in the same.
While that may sound like an unpopular parallel to draw hang with me a moment while I explain why dating and job interview is one in the same. Just as important, why it’s important to understand this and how it impacts your experience and ability to land the job you're interviewing for.
Let’s start with the obvious – people make decisions largely based on feelings.
Did you know the majority of the time we making hiring decisions based off of one thing – how much or little we like a person. This has been studied time and time again producing the same outcomes. We’ll hire someone who may not check every box we need for the job from a function or experience perspective but if we like them as a person we have a tendency to overlook a lack of experience. We do this because we’re wired to think, operate and act based on our unconscious biases which control our perspectives on race, education, economic status, personality, values, etc. Simply, if we can relate to the person, we’ll have a tendency to want to hire them more often than not.
Ironically, this is the same exact process we use when searching for a mate and going through the dating process. When we’re on a date we’re sizing the other person up as quickly as possible to determine ‘is there a reason I should see this person again?’. Simply, can I relate to them? We have a positive bias towards people who are similar to us and therefore a negative bias towards people who are different than us.
We don’t often associate first dates and job interviews as one in the same however the more we look into each experience and how we act during them we come to find that both of these human interactions are eerily similar.
How does knowing this information help me with dating and interviewing? The better we understand the psychology of these interactions, our feelings on them and how we make decisions we can approach each situation with better perspective and hopefully end up on the other side with a better outcome.
Let’s look at the similarities between dating and job interviewing and how each of them impacts our decision making process.
- First Impressions: This is the holy grail of decision making when it comes to whether or not we like someone initially. Failure to have a good first impression will more often than not result in a second interaction never making the calendar. Psychologists call it "thin slicing." Within moments of meeting someone, we’re deciding and making assumptions on all sorts of things about the other person, from status, intelligence, career success and even promiscuity. This can be as quick as 7 seconds! What that means is that everyone is trying to put their best foot forward, which can make things tricky because often times both parties are wondering if the person they’re talking too is the ‘real’ John Doe or the in-character John Doe.
- Chemistry: You know it when it exists. Things just seem easy. You laugh more, you tend to lean in closer to the other person more often and you even overlook potential red flags because your gut is already invested in the other person long before your brain has had a chance to catch up. On the other hand, when chemistry is lacking you feel like you’re on a date from hell. It’s awkward and painful, causing you to wish you had an escape route pre-planned to get you out of the date or interview.
- Communication: Communication is much more than just verbal, it also includes nonverbal cues like the unspoken word and body language. Ever been in an interview and eye contact communicated more in 4 seconds what a 10 minute conversation could accomplish? I’ve been there and it’s a powerful experience. When our verbal communication is locked in sync it can feel like we’ve been friends for years. When communication struggles it feels like pulling teeth to have an average conversation. Both people may be speaking the same language but it seems as if one person is speaking Russian while the other is a Mandarin linguist. We become bewildered and confused, not exactly a great start towards building a solid relationship.
- Commonalities: “Wow, I went to USC as well. Fight On!” “You’re from Handsome Eddy, New York also? What a small world.” Finding common ground during a first date or a job interview can immediately disarm both parties allowing more casual conversation to occur. Bonding takes place over the things we find out we have in common such as our love for golf, knitting that fabulous turtle neck sweater for the holidays or volunteering for a similar cause. It doesn’t really matter what it is so long as we have a shared interest. Most of us don’t realize when we’re in these moments what we’re looking for is something we already know and like – ourselves. When we struggle to find something in common with the other party it has a direct negative impact to the chemistry we’re trying to build on.
- Perception vs. Reality As the date and or job interview continues we inevitably begin to ask question to get to know the person in hopes of better understanding them and what they bring to the table. Many times what happens during these exchanges is we get a glimpse into a person that isn’t very real at all. I don’t believe people do this on purpose, at least most people, however the fact of the matter is in a first date and job interview we are doing our darndest to put our best foot forward. As a result, people can often times misrepresent themselves for who they are and what they’re all about. This is similar to the honeymoon stage where only after a period of time we’ll be able to know if the person today is the same tomorrow.
- Emotion Love at first sight! Let’s face it, emotion is a part of every first date and job interview, but it can also help us or hurt us in our decisions. Help us in that if we become emotionally invested in the other person it allows us to overlook small red flags that otherwise might get in the way of us making a decision that could be good for both parties. Emotions can also hurt us because if we experience something which causes our ego or pride to be damaged we then make decisions that aren’t in the best interest of the interview or date because we’re focused on protecting ourselves.
- The Angle “What’s he really all about?” ‘The angle’ is described as the feeling when a person has ulterior motives. This happens both in interviewing and dating. Candidates are angling to get a job, sometimes presenting themselves in a light which makes them appear more qualified than they really are. Employers also do the same by upselling the career opportunity to entice candidates to consider the role even though the actual work might not be nearly as glamorous as how it was made out to be, or the company may not be the best place to work.
Key Take Away: People by their very nature go about experiences, such as first dates and interviewing for jobs, in a fairly predictable way. While the outcome might be out of our control, the way we go into the experience and how we handle ourselves during the experience greatly influences the outcome. Knowing this information, first dates and job interviews are similar, can help you go through each experience with a broader perspective allowing you to make better decisions for yourself and potential career or company.
Action Item: Next time you find yourself on a first date or job interview remember that these human experiences are designed to see if it is worth it or not to have a second go around. The best approach is to just be yourself, as a result you’ll find that your interactions with others are far more valuable to you and the person on the other side of the table.
Leadership is one of the hardest things a person can do professionally. There’s no manual, no playbook, no cliff notes that give leaders the ‘secret sauce’ to successfully lead the charge. Sure there are thousands of avenues one could go to learn more about leadership however at the end of the day it’s still a job that mainly rests on intangible actions like care, empathy, intuition and respect for the very people leaders serve. Leading is often described as a lonely experience. Elisabeth Elliott, a famous author, speaker and missionary once said “Loneliness is a required course for leadership.” The feeling of loneliness at the top is much more common than most of us realize as more than 50% of leaders indicate they have experienced loneliness at one point or another in their career. The stats are even higher for first time leaders at a whopping 70%.
When leaders experience solitary the impacts can be devastating. Isolation and loneliness have a direct negative affect on a leaders’ performance which then directly impacts their employees, departments, business units and companies.
How is it then leaders find themselves down in the dumps on lonely island? Some of the most common causes are:
1. Forced Isolation- Leaders seclude themselves from the rest of the group by working in an office which can create imaginary barriers between them and their staff. Closing the door actually creates a real barrier that communicates “I’m not available and don’t have time for you”. Regardless if this isolation was intentional or unintentional it produces the same results where the leaders’ staff hesitate to communicate with their boss, or not at all.
2. Decision Making- In most businesses decision making is typically left to the people carrying the torch. When decisions go well all is good in the world yet when decisions produce less then spectacular results the leader is left out in the cold to take the brunt of the responsibility. It’s part of the job but it can also produce isolation at a whole new level which isn’t typically understood or felt by the company’s employees.
3. Don’t Ask For Help- Many times isolation is self-inflicted as leaders don’t ask for help from their teams or peers. There’s an unspoken feeling for many leaders which goes something like, “they expect me to know everything because that’s what I get paid for and why I’m in the job”. Thoughts like this can be incredibly damaging and certainly have no justifiable basis for being correct or healthy.
4. Lack Humility- When leaders act in a way which broadcasts ‘I’m more important than you because I’m in a leadership role’ employees quickly disengage, refraining from putting effort in to build relationships with their leaders or working hard on their behalf. When leaders act this way many times it can be attributed to ego or overcompensating for a lack of confidence.
5. Poor Treatment of Others- One of the quickest ways a leader can find themselves on lonely island is by treating their employees or staff in a poor manner. They lack emotional intelligence. (EQ) When employees feel like they aren’t valued or respected they withdraw which commonly leads to limited interaction and feedback with leadership. The result is a drift occurs in the organization between what leadership wants and what employees are doing.
Let’s be clear here, we aren’t about to throw a pity party for our leaders. They’re grown ups right, big boys and big girls who have made the choice to enter leadership on their own accord. So if they’re feeling isolated or lonely than it’s by their own doing, right?
While we’d all love to think the statement above is accurate the reality is that employees do in fact have some ownership in the leadership isolation situation. Employees have a unique ability to see things their leaders don’t, hear things their leaders don’t and help in situations where their leaders would otherwise be clueless about.
These five options when implemented help to foster an environment of support and mutual respect, one in which both leader and employee benefits from:
Employees need to commit to giving feedback to leadership in real time (anonymously at the very least)
Leaders need to develop peer groups and or an advisory group outside the walls of their company
Leaders should focus on getting a coach or mentor outside the walls of their company
Leaders need to humble themselves and ask their employees for help and feedback
When leaders and employees work together and support one another it significantly reduces the likelihood people of any kind will experience isolation.
“There is no respect for others without humility in one's self.” - Henri Frederic Amiel
Key Take Away: If you’re feeling lonely as a leader chances are it’s a result of your own doing. Sorry to hit you with the brutal honesty. Loneliness in leadership impacts more people than just yourself. One of the best ways to overcome it is to join a peer group or get a leadership mentor/ coach.
Action Item: Feeling like you’re on lonely island right about now? Select two people from your company, one of which needs to be a direct report, and ask them for their candid feedback. Start by telling them how you’re feeling and your desire to do something about it. Get vulnerable and ask for their help while creating an environment where people feel comfortable telling you how they perceive you and your presence as a leader. After you receive the feedback – SHUT UP! Don’t argue about it, don’t disagree. Just listen, observe and take it all in. Thank the person for their feedback and take the rest of the day to smolder on it. With time and patience, you will begin to open yourself up to hearing other people’s perspectives while learning how to take their words and incorporate it into a new you. Now, go get em, champ!
What’s the difference between a great leader and an average one?
I’ve had the opportunity to observe dozens of leaders in my career. Some were exceptional, most barely passed for average. I’ve spent many hours tossing and turning on the idea of what makes for an exceptional leader, what makes them great. I’ve read books, had discussions with colleagues, watched videos and talked with people who are far smarter and experienced than myself.
After all of this wonderful introspection and discovery one characteristic continues to pop up which defines great leadership over average leadership. It’s a mindset, a willingness to do what others often won’t.
What makes great leaders is their ability and willingness to use ‘managerial courage’. Managerial courage is the linchpin, the cornerstone, the apex for all things related to leading successfully. The word courage is of itself is an incredibly powerful word. The late John McCain had described courage as “that rare moment of unity between conscience, fear, and action, when something deep within us strikes the flint of love, of honor, of duty, to make the spark that fires our resolve.”
Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic and best selling author is quoted as saying “Courage is the quality that distinguishes great leaders from excellent managers.”
George also said, “courageous leaders take risks that go against the grain of their organizations. They make decisions with the potential for revolutionary change in their markets. Their boldness inspires their teams, energizes customers, and positions their companies as leaders in societal change.” If we apply George’s and McCain’s definitions of courage we can surmise that ‘managerial courage’ is the willingness to make decisions which we believe to be in the best interest or our employees or company, regardless of the popularity or risks involved.
A deeper look into managerial courage and we find that it can be further described as a set of actions and beliefs a leader possesses which define who they are and how they go about leading and inspiring others. These actions and beliefs include:
Courage to lead by your ‘True North’, your authentic self (compliments again of Bill George)
Courage to face the truth and to openly express it
Courage to act as a servant to your employees
Courage to rely on others, while stepping aside to allow those around you a chance to lead
Courage to listen and not always be heard
Courage to make the right decisions in risky or uncertain situations
Courage to give praise for a job well done while taking blame when the house of cards collapses
Courage to work outside our comfort zone
Courage to impose rigorous standards and hold people accountable
There’s no other word I can think of other than ‘courage’ to appropriately define good leadership. Primarily because it is so easy to not do the things listed above, especially when times are tough, yet to do them consistently it takes great discipline and resolve. It also means we will inevitably make decisions which don’t favor ourselves yet position our employees or company for better opportunities.
Here’s what managerial courage looks like in real life.
Scenario: A CEO of ABC company is pressing his VP of Sales to reach revenue targets by year end in order for the company to hit its financial goals. The VP of Sales has one sales rep in particular who singlehandedly drives 30% of the company’s revenue, consistently coming in as the #1 producer in the company, year after year. The company relies on this sales rep heavily to produce and as such the company has benefited handsomely. Unfortunately this same sales rep also causes a lot of problems within the company. He’s had several complaints against him by other employees, has a bad attitude, disregards company policy, has even been caught using his company expense account for personal purchases. If that wasn’t enough our lovely sales rep has also caused two other employees within the company to quit. Even though this sales rep is a cancer to his company, the company overlooks his problems because he’s a top performer. They’ve swept the issues under the rug hoping things will miraculously improve by themselves. Let’s face it, he makes the company a lot of money, how can they walk away from that.
Does this scenario sound similar to you?
Managerial courage in the above scenario would look like this. The VP of Sales provides a variety of opportunities for the sales rep to improve while demonstrating the employee is acting in accordance with company standards and the VP’s expectations. In the event these opportunities to improve and or employment warnings are not adhered to the VP of Sales must make a tough and unpopular decision to fire the sales rep. It’s a tough decision indeed because the VP of Sales knows she very well may lose her own job because she just went against the CEO and fired an employee that represents 30% of the company’s annual revenue intake.
In this scenario, our VP of Sales chose an unpopular decision because it’s what was truly best for the company and its employees, despite what her boss the CEO had advised. The VP of Sales fired an employee who is a cancer to those around him. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how good the sales rep is at their job, if they are causing issues and aren’t able to adjust accordingly after receiving feedback they don’t belong there in the first place.
This is managerial courage. The willingness to make a decision to do what’s right even when the outcome may be unpopular or damaging.
It takes great tenacity, strength, fortitude, mental determination and care to be a leader and do so successfully. Sure, anyone can be a leader, but those who do it successfully stand head and shoulders above their counterparts when they utilize managerial courage. The characteristic of courage is the very essence of what leadership is all about. Key Take Away: Standing up for what’s right and having the willingness to make tough decisions is key to being a great leader, even if the outcome may be viewed as unpopular. Action Item: Read the book ‘True North’ by Bill George. It’s an incredibly well written book that teaches people who to be themselves while acting and making decisions which are in accordance with your beliefs.
Like many things in life there is often more than one way to accomplish a task. This is especially true for those of us who fall in the creative space. One persons’ approach in the creative development process (drawing, painting, product design, coding, graphical design, underwater basket weaving, etc.) could be quite different from the person sitting next to them yet it’s possible for both people to arrive at the same destination.
Or so we think.
I recently sat down with a good friend of mine, Tim Humphrey, who I’ve had the pleasure working with for several years teaming up to facilitate a variety of product design and drafting projects in the medical device arena. During our discussion I shared with Tim a frustration I had, and still have, having to do with inconsistencies in people’s design approach. I see this often in product development where the approach one person takes to design a product may on the surface get them to the desired finish line but as a result of their approach it leads to a plethora of unnecessary challenges down the road.
As Tim laughed at me lightheartedly, we found ourselves diving deep into a discussion where in one conversation I found myself both highly intrigued while equally confused and somewhat baffled at the same time.
Here’s the issue as I see it specific to designing in a product development scenario.
Issue: someone is tasked with designing either a product, sub-assembly or component of a new or existing product. As such, their design approach gets the company to a conclusion where the design is technically complete allowing the person facilitating the work to check their proverbial work box and move on to the next assignment. While the work may have technically been completed, it often is done in a fashion which causes all sort of problems down the road for the company, including other employees working on the same project within the same organization as well as their external suppliers.
How is it someone can complete a design project satisfactory on the surface yet problems arise down the road with that very same design which had been previously approved?
Answer: the devil is in the details, or lack thereof, to be more specific.
Tim and I both agreed on the following. The reason why companies and or their respective employees experience this is because they aren’t following a formal and documented ‘gold standard’ for their design practices. Simply put, they lack discipline with design fundamentals. They don’t have GOLD! There is also something to be said about training. If your company lacks proper training to ensure the standards are being followed that too can produce similar unwanted results. As a result of a lack of design standards and training employees are left to decide for themselves how to complete a task which may get them to the finish line but the approach, process and details along the way can have wild variances and interpretations.
While this may be common place and old news to many of you reading this article, the reality is the actual practice of designing a product with repeatable ‘gold standards’ is anything but common sense or consistent in the workplace. When our approach to design is fast and loose we experience the following:
Design intent isn’t captured
Formatting and documentation inconsistencies or it’s wrong all together
Future efforts to utilize the design for other applications can’t be leverage causing rework
Models can’t be adjusted or revised easily because the initial designer didn’t put enough thought into their work to think ahead about future changes which may need to take place; the design is static rather than being parametrically driven
Confidence in the model and the overall design is tarnish
The company losses time and market opportunity which translates into lost revenue and market share attainment
When these issues show up it causes companies to reinvest dollars and resources into their work in order to move the project forward to get it to a point of where it can be properly advanced along the product development life cycle. This reinvestment is unnecessary and a huge time suck. For these reasons its vital companies implement a gold standard which their employees and suppliers follow to ensure the work each party is facilitating makes it to the finish line in the same format, intent and approach. This unification of process increases the likelihood design work is done correctly while also ensuring future usage of said designs doesn’t require additional unnecessary iterations or complete redesigns.
Does your company need to implement a ‘gold standard’ for your design and product development practices?
Implementing a gold standard includes:
Documented processes with consistent templates and forms
A systematic way to capture tribal/ legacy knowledge
Development and maintenance of a centralized database for product data storage (tools like UpChain, Arena and Windchill)
Developing consistent design techniques via training (sketches constrained, DFM, simplified features which are in systematic order, building relations to create predictability, organizing feature tree, design intent)
Driving dimension (model dimensions) used in drawing (ease in updating documentation)
Implementing a system of checks and balances to ensure work is done properly and in accordance with company processes and policies
Consistent discussion, training and guidance focused on designing with the future in mind
Key Takeaway: If you and or your company lacks a gold standard for your product design efforts you are inevitably wasting time and resources. This also has a direct correlation to a suppliers’ ability to help with outsourced work causing the overall project to be more challenging and lengthy than necessary (prototyping, manufacturing, etc.)
Action Item: Got GOLD? Start right away implementing your gold standards starting with develop a best practice plan. From there setup a review plan to provide feedback on all work performed. Once infrastructure of your new gold standard system is established you’ll want to asses the skills of your team and develop a training program which can be offered to both new and existing employees.
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.
Travis also serves as Chairman, Board of Directors for DeviceAlliance, the only Southern California based medical device non-profit professionals organization and member of the University of California Irvine's Division of Continuing Education Advisory Board for Medical Product Development. He holds a business management degree from California State University Long Beach and is a graduate of the Southern California Entrepreneur Academy.