Co-Authored by Trisha Aure & Travis Smith
Many of us have been confronted as of recent with a reality which isn’t the status quo from before. As we continue to evolve and adjust our business and professional lives around COVID-19 inevitably many things will change for us in the short term.
How we adapt to those changes makes or breaks our ability to grow personally while continuing to excel professionally. As social distancing continues to be a requirement in order to deal with COVID-19 companies and their employees are finding themselves in one of the biggest predicaments of arguably the last 40 years – the way we’ve done things in the past won’t work in the future. One of the biggest changes companies are having to adapt to is their employees not being able to come into the office, resulting in hundreds of thousands of people working from home – and doing so for their first time.
We’ll be the first to tell you it can be a rather jarring experience if you don’t go about ‘working from home’ in a methodical fashion. With the freedom which comes from working at home also comes great responsibility – a responsibility that can be downright tough for many of us as distractions are a plenty.
Below are 15 tips for working at home you can implement to ensure your time is efficient while succeeding with a masters grace:
Creating a new ‘work from home rhythm’ as close to our normal routine as possible will be the quickest way to staying on track with work and personal life. Schedule your day everyday and communicate that with your team and manager. You will find you’ll get more work done, often in a quicker timeframe.
This is not a time to panic, this is the time to adjust and keep moving forward. A positive mindset and an openness to change are the keys to success here. Remember, things will resume like usual at some point soon. Keep your head up, smile, wash your hands and remember to be kind to others. We got this!
We’re constantly bombarded with a litany of articles, studies and discussions highlighting the generational differences in the workplace. These discussions often confuse and mislead readers by zeroing in on ‘key characteristics’ which supposedly define a generation while subtly stereotyping it at the same time. One of the topics that comes up often in these discussions is what makes for a good employee. This topic has permeated the business world for decades long before Gen-Z and Millennials entered the workplace over the last 10+ years causing a current day telenovela in the business world.
While the generations entering the workforce, and or exiting for that matter, may have a difference of opinion on what they want out of their careers and what they need in order to be happy in their jobs, there is one common trait which is synonymous with all generations and all employees for that matter. This common trait, or behavior, defines what a good employee is regardless of the stereotypes and or characteristics which accompany the respective generation.
When we take away generational characteristics, race, religion, gender and everything else used to categorize and therefore sort and stack people we’re left looking at people’s actions. Their behaviors. What I’ve found true over the years is behavior is indicative of the true nature of a person, not their words. If we say one thing but then do (act) another, our behaviors become the defining force for who we are, not our words. This is certainly true for employees and their effectiveness as we look at whether an employee is ‘great’ versus ‘average’, or worse.
So, what’s the difference between a great employee and an average one? An employee who excels versus one who mails it in operating at a mediocre level of performance. The difference is a little behavior known as INITIATIVE.
I know what you’re thinking, “that’s not groundbreaking information. I’ve known this for years.”
While we may know this, or have seen it in person, what’s remarkable are the number of people who actually deploy ‘initiative’ in their jobs.
In my 15 years’ of business experience, of which 13 of those years have been in management, and 4 owning a business, I’ve experienced both first and secondhand the difference initiative makes in an employee and leader. When we strip away all the categories and demographics, mentioned above, this behavioral trait is the one that keeps rising to the top distinguishing the great performers from the average, mediocre and under performing employees.
Initiative is everything!
What does initiative look like in a business setting?
When I think of great initiative in the work place the first thing that comes to mind is a situation I witnessed firsthand with an employee of mine several years ago. We had a client who was flying into Orange County to visit with several suppliers, our company being one of them. My employee, Megan, took it upon herself to pick up our client at the airport, coffee in hand, and bring them to our office for the meeting. Talk about service, yet her initiative to provide a great experience for our customer didn’t end there. She also took the client out to lunch in Laguna Beach (our client was from Idaho and had never seen the amazing beaches of Laguna). The client had also forgot to pack a bathroom bag for their travels so Megan took him to Target to pick up a couple items. After all this was done Megan shuttled him back to the airport.
Yes, this was an amazing effort by Megan yet what made it truly remarkable and just as memorable was the fact that she did this all on her own. She didn’t ask for permission; she just took it upon herself to deliver top notch service. Memorable service at that.
I still think about the initiative Megan displayed during this time and marvel at how impressive it was. Needless to say the client sent us an overwhelming email of appreciation thanking Megan for her time and willingness to shepherd him around. He said and I quote “It was the best business trip I’ve been on, I appreciate you [Megan] taking the time to ensure I had a good visit.”
While that story sounds great it’s certainly not the norm.
Rather than focusing next on the lack luster initiative most employees display at the office perhaps its better use of your time and mine to discuss the ways an employee can change their mindset and actions to better align with an initiative based work approach. Consider the following:
Possessing good initiative at work makes or breaks the quality of employee you are and often times how you are viewed in the organization. Are you a blessing to your team and company or are you dead weight? Having good initiative is the one behavior you can 100% control which in turn can directly impact in a positive way your job and career.
Stop making excuses for why you don’t act at work. Next time you see a problem or issue come up at the office which you are directly or close too take a chance and stand up and get involved. People who say ‘YES’ I can do that rather than ‘someone else can do that’ frequently experience better career
I recently finished reading a powerful book called ‘The Dichotomy of Leadership’ which is a follow up to the number one best selling book ‘Extreme Ownership’ by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. The authors who happen to be highly decorated Navy SEALS share their inspiring and at times scary tales on the battlefield, relating how those experiences blend with real world business and board room leadership challenges.
The book ‘The Dichotomy of Leadership’ struck a cord with me as I’ve struggled over the years with the balancing act which takes place in leadership. This balancing act, or dichotomy, is an ever present daily tug of war often between two extremes which are intrinsically linked yet incredibly challenging to consistently toe the line successfully.
Dichotomy itself is an interesting word rife with conflict. Dichotomy is defined as a contrast between two things that are, or are represented as being, opposed or entirely different. (ie – in leadership there is the push and pull of how friendly you become with your employees – too friendly and you lose their respect and or ability to make tough decisions, whereas not being friendly enough alienates you as a leader and keeps you from knowing your people)
As I’m reading this book one of the dichotomies the authors spoke about which is a consistent challenge for leaders is the contrast between leading and following. There’s a strong misconception in the world of leadership which aligns with the idea that if you’re in a leadership role you must always be leading. Decisions should be made by those in leadership, strategies engineered and dreamed up by those in leadership. This of course is an ego-centric mentality and quite frankly one which is incredibly out of date in todays’ business world. Yet this same idea, leaders must always be leading, permeates every facet of business in most companies we encounter on a daily basis.
My awakening as a result of this book came about as a result of my own shortcomings, and yes ego, as a leader. I too thought, “As a leader it’s up to me to decide the direction we’re taking and therefore the decisions we’re making.” Unfortunately this thought process is incredibly short sided.
The true nature of a good leader, as the book artfully describes, is a person who understands they can be in a leadership role and simultaneously lead while following. Sounds strange at first yet it’s possible, more importantly it’s highly impactful in an organization. The act of a leader willingly following sends a powerful message to the leaders team and company that they are out to do what is best and necessary for the greater good, not just themselves as the leader.
Here’s how following as a leader plays out.
A CEO of XYZ company has a tough decision to make when it comes to the direction of her company and the potential new markets they’re looking to develop. Traditional leadership has dictated the senior most person, often times the CEO, makes the decisions for the company. They may collect information from their subordinates on options or alternatives to consider however the senior most leader is the one to make the decision based on as their position and respective authority demands they be the one to blaze the path forward.
However, a leader who possesses the ability to balance the dichotomy of leading and following can recognize that while they are in a leadership seat it doesn’t mean they always must be leading. Sometimes following can produce more impactful results. It also means these leaders are able to recognize their ego and set it aside for the betterment of the company.
Going back to our CEO of XYZ company, as she’s considering where to take the company into the future she may get advice from an employee in the company which provides a great opportunity for growth and future success. Leaders who are successful in balancing leading and following would then lean on that employee to drive said initiative recognizing what’s important isn’t where the good idea comes from just that it is implemented successfully. Our leader, rather than leading, makes a conscious decision to follow and allows the employee to step up with their idea and help lead the company through it. They empower the other person while giving them an opportunity to shine. The leader, in this case our CEO, allows their employee to receive the credit for the idea while also helping them to get it up and running. Our CEO is now following and doing so because they know this decision is what is best for the business.
Key Take Away:
One of the most challenging things to balance as a leader is knowing when to lead versus when to following. Leaders who lead all the time lose sight of what is best for their company while also struggling with humility to give others the opportunity to shine. When we step aside and follow as a leader we encourage others to deploy their ideas while creating a vacuum for our employees and peers to step up, offer suggestions while increasing their likelihood to take additional ownership in their work. Leaders must recognize their ego drives many of their decisions and actions, one of the best decisions we can make is acknowledge our ego and set it aside to make room for others to take the wheel while we encourage them to do so.
If you struggle with the balancing act which comes with leadership, in particular the area of ‘leading versus following’ I highly suggest picking up the book ‘The Dichotomy of Leadership’ by Willink and Babin. The nuggets of knowledge, insight and real world practical examples these two authors share more than once will open your eyes to new and alternative approaches to successful leadership.
Monday Quickie - Your Desire for 'Work life Balance' is Hurting Both Your Career & Personal Life
Article was written by guest writer Trisha Aure
Many of us live two lives. These two lives run on parallel tracks to one another yet few of us understand the dichotomy which exists by having a work life and a home life which operate separate from one another. We’ve been told growing up these lives need to be mutual exclusive of one another where we don’t bring our personal life and issues to work and vice versa.
This inevitably creates a variety of issues for us at both the home and office. The biggest issue it creates is our ability to grow as people which leads to our ability to grow as professionals.
Have you ever heard that personal growth is necessary for professional growth? It is, I just didn’t realize how critical this was till about 6 years ago. Some people believe separation needs to exist between work and home, or ‘work life balance’ as we commonly like to phrase it.
I’m not convinced ‘work life balance’ is possible, especially not if you are looking to create a long term successful career which your personal life benefits from.
This ladies and gentlemen is where my career ah-ha moment began – the idea of a ‘work life balance’ is garbage. We look at this phrase typically from the work side of things meaning we should work less in order to enjoy our personal lives more. Yet how often are we looking at this phrase from the personal side to understand how we impact our professional experience based on who we are outside of work. It goes both ways and to think a steady ‘balance’ between the two is possible is a dream in fantasy land.
I was in a new company and aggressively working on advancing my career. I had a lot of personal baggage I thought I was leaving at the door before I walked into the office. I had some deep heartache within my family dynamic that I never figured out how to live with, so I decided to act as though my life was perfect and I ignored my past. This act forced me to live two different lives and I will tell you, this was not only one of the hardest parts of my life but it was definitely the loneliest.
This is where I learned I wear my heart, and therefore emotions, on my sleeve. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because that is where my passion comes from, the heart. What I learned is when you are essentially living two different lives, it starts to take a toll on both your career and personal life. I had received some hard feedback and it was based on my attitude because I was aggressively trying to hold my personal struggles back. If anyone has ever been here before you know that holding feelings back only creates a blow up later down the road and mine happened at work.
Luckily, I had great people around me that cared about me professionally AND personally. I obtained a mentor and started receiving coaching on how to deal with my struggles that I quite frankly kept pushing down for over a decade. It was not an easy nor short process. Then again, anything worth having or doing right isn’t easy in the first place. I started working on building a healthy mind, body and soul, and 6 years later I’ve continued this quest not stopping once.
Growth is an everyday event and I have built some great routines that have helped me merge my two lives between home and work.
After 6 years of focus, dedication and some really hard work to improve myself I have lost 40 pounds (and kept it off), I’m in a leadership role with a company I’m part-owner in, I’m actively involved in the community and constantly improving my life on both sides. I honestly do not believe I would be where I’m at today if I continued to try and live two different lives.
To tie this all together, I believe that growth within your career begins at home. Have you ever heard, you can’t love someone until you love yourself? I believe that this internal love for yourself will only push you to cross any and all boundaries that you put up yourself. Stop putting up boundaries, and add some goals to your life. Once you start pushing forward, it’s crazy how that turns into unstoppable.
Key Take Away
You must take care of yourself in order for you to strive in other parts of your life. In regards to work and life, this is an AND, not an OR. We need to be confident in both in order to grow in both. I’m continuously reading leadership books and I can relate what I read in both my professional and personal life. We need to do away with catchy slogans like ‘work life balance’ because all they do is drive us to live a lifestyle which isn’t attainable.
If you are stagnant in your career, or struggling with something personally and you see it hindering other aspects in your life, find someone to talk to, find a mentor, find a coach to help you figure out how to get over that hump. I currently have a mentor which I found on micromentor.org. This is a free site and it matches you with people that are looking to grow their career in various areas. Growth is definitely uncomfortable and no one likes change, but building a strong support system will help guide us in achieving our goals and creating a well balanced successful life.
This week we discuss the reasons behind why so many of us wait to lead, how we can recognize our abilities to lead by addressing our fears and how to transition successfully into a leader without the need for a management job title
It’s common to think “I don’t have the job title which warrants me to be a leader”.
Early in my career I struggled with this exact mindset challenge. I thought “if I don’t have a title which gives me the power to lead, how and why would anyone listen to me in the first place”. This mindset is especially true and often found with people who are in individual contributor roles. We use the excuse “I don’t have the title to lead” as our justification for not stepping up to taking action, even in times when we know it’s what is needed.
I was well into the third year of my career when a senior partner in our office pulled me aside and gave me some much needed advice. Let’s put it this way, it was a thump on the head in a caring way. What he said was simple, yet incredibly eye opening:
“Your job title doesn’t give you permission to lead or make you a good leader people will respect, it’s more about your ability to help others achieve their goals while having their backs. We can lead from any role in the company, there’s no need to wait to be told you can lead or given a title which means people have to listen to you. So, why are you waiting?”
Urghhh, he had a point, even though in the moment my ego still wasn’t allowing me to hear it. After a couple days of digesting this feedback I had to admit I felt pretty dumb about the way I was thinking about leadership and my role within the company. I had to get over my ego and the thought that I needed a title to justify my ability to lead when the reality was, and still is, good leaders are those who take action and help others. They listen, guide and influence because they’re passionate about helping others, first. This in turns builds trust, respect and comradery – these are the building blocks and keys to being a good leader. Titles aside, those who can build trust with their colleagues gain respect which leads to healthier interactions. These things are possible and certainly most achievable even if your job title doesn’t reflect management.
Whether you have the leadership job title or not what’s important are your actions and the intent behind why you do them. Follow these steps to help guide you down the path of leading successfully:
1.Let Go of Fear – the basis for our lack of leadership is fear; fear we won’t do it right, fear people will reject us, fear we’ll look stupid in the process, etc.; once we acknowledge fear is what holds us back from doing what we know is right or what we want we then can go about changing our perspective to improve the situation
2.Build the Foundation - for what successful leadership is by reading “The Go-Giver” by Bob Burg and John David Mann
3.Reflect - on who you are as a person, professional, peer and employee of your company
a.What skill sets or areas of influence do you possess which you could use to positive impact, support or mentor others within the organization
4.Channel Your Vulnerability – good leaders understand this truth, to be trusted as a leader we must be vulnerable. This doesn’t mean crying because the creamer when bad and ruined your coffee, it means being honest and open with your intent, your struggles and perspectives to help people see who you really are. No leader is perfect.
5.Be a Coach – listen and guide as this is the pathway to good leadership; like the old proverb says “give a man a fish and they will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”
6.Act - start small and pick one person or department you believe you can positively impact; talk with that person or department to share with them your ideas and why you believe this would be of value to them, get their buy in before moving forward
7.Inform Management - Share with your manager the idea you have to help support and mentor others within the company, .Be prepared to provide specifics on how this could positively impact the company
8.Consistency - implement a schedule you and your new mentee can follow which keeps you on track helping them achieve their goals, key thing here is to keep it natural don’t overdue it with processes and procedures
Twice in my career I've been in a slump.
Statistically I'm not sure where that puts me in comparison to others having to do with 'career slumps' however I can openly and honestly admit those two experiences were incredibly challenging and equally as eye opening in my personal and professional development.
What is a career slump?
It can be a lot of things. A career slump can be a period marked with stagnation, little to no growth, periods of failure, challenges with our mindset and passion to succeed. Career slumps are all of these things and perhaps none of them at the same time, it just depends on your situation. A career slump could include mediocrity, boredom for extended periods. Lack luster attitudes and or a general malaise where we 'mail it in' on the daily. These are characteristics of a career slump.
What I've learned from my two career slump experiences was it was near impossible to get out of it until I understood what got me there in the first place.
I'm nervous talking about this. Being vulnerable on a stage like social media isn't necessarily an enjoyable walk in the park yet I've learned that many others share my same struggles so I choose to offer my experiences in the hope that it helps others. Sharing also helps me understand myself better and become more confident with who I am, what I'm capable of and what my 'why' is for doing what I do.
There, right there. That's the answer! Getting out of a career slump isn't some magical experience or event that gets you back on track, its sharing and talking about what you're experiencing, how you're feeling emotionally and being aware of how that's impacting you and your career. Whether we want to admit it or not all of us at one point or another will experience a career slump. No one is perfect and times of strife in this life, more accurately our careers, are inevitable.
The key is to dealing with a career slump is acknowledging it, accepting that it’s real then acting to change it. Similar to the psychiatric process called the ‘five stages of grief’ how we handle dealing with a career slump is a process of admittance, understanding and then action. It's a lot of soul seeking and working through your feelings to try and understand your mindset and what brought you to your present place.
Here's what has worked for me:
1. ADMIT: Recognize and admit things aren't great. Say it out loud.
2. PRESENT STATE: Ask yourself how you feel in this moment. Write it down.
3. EVENTS: Trace back the last 6 months to a year and unwind your experiences, successes, struggles to understand the chain of events which brought you to your career slump
4. DIGEST: Sit on this information for a couple days. How does it make you feel? Do you now know why you're in a slump?
5. SHARE: Go find two people to talk with. Share with them your situation and present feelings on the matter. (I know...this is a lot of talk about feelings and emotions. Sounds awful, right. The quicker you can get beyond that the quicker you'll find yourself on the road to confident successful empowered you)
6. KEEP GOING: Keep sharing your experience with people. The more the better. You'll begin to notice the more you talk about it the better you feel and more accepting you are of the situation.
7. TRANSITION: Now that you know what's going on start out every day with 20 minutes of mindset activities to get you on the road to a positive you (workout, yoga, meditate, do your favorite activity, listen to music, sit in silence, etc.) It’s all about cultivating a positive mindset which drives who you are and your actions for the day in front of you.
8. ACT: commit to yourself that the experiences you had leading up to your career slump don’t define who you are. In fact, they make you better! Now is when we need to make some changes to our career. Implement a new office schedule, get rid of work if you’re overloaded, take on a new project to get yourself out of your comfort zone. Maybe you need to find a new job! Whatever it is, the new you, the new focus must be different than what you were doing the past month.
If we change nothing about our actions and mindset we’ll continue to be who we were during the slump.
This eight step process doesn’t happen immediately but you'll begin to notice a change in your overall outlook and mindset after a couple weeks of this. Keep it up, don’t falter. As positivity and empowerment come back into your life so too will your energy to kick ass and take names in your career.
Last week I had an opportunity to attend an event where the topic of discuss was focused around conflict resolution and crisis management in the workplace. The conversation was insightful while also delivering a simple message which is applicable to all walks of life – you’re always better off doing everything you can to avoid a conflict from happening rather than worrying about how to deal with it once it occurs.
Meaning, the time you invest in the beginning to avoid a major conflict from occurring is always far better than time you invest after the conflict has happened and now you’re trying to right the ship.
Every day brings about new challenges when it comes to working side by side with people and teams, especially if you’re in a leadership role. Regardless of a persons’ ability in the leadership arena, it takes guts to be a leader as it’s far easier to be part of the staff than step out and stand on your own. Leadership and its challenges come in a variety of forms and the method of leadership you choose when confronted with a challenge makes or breaks the outcome. That’s a lot of pressure for a leader, especially when you are faced with a difficult situation. Leadership is an evolving art form, incredibly difficult to master as it has a tendency to remind us often how hard leadership is based on the mistakes we make. One thing is for certain, leadership is synonymous with conflict.
If conflict (or conflict resolution for that matter) is a natural part of being a leader, why is it so many leaders have a difficult time dealing with it? For starters, few people enjoy conflict. Life isn’t enjoyable when you’re neck deep in conflict on the daily. It’s only natural that we have an innate tendency to steer clear of conflict, especially if it isn’t a life or death situation. Unfortunately, when we avoid conflict, especially in the workplace, it makes things worse as those conflicts have a tendency to fester, growing in size and impact. Rather than running from conflict, we should face it head on!
Another reason conflict is difficult to deal with is because we’re often dealing with people’s emotions, ideologies and perceptions. We might not agree with them, or understand it for that matter, but the mark of being a good leader is setting aside your personnel beliefs and listening to the other person, truly hearing them out. If we can’t listen and try to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person(s), coming to a resolution is nearly impossible as one party will often feel as if they weren’t heard or that they agreed to something they didn’t believe in in the first place.
Luckily if you step into conflict resolution with a strategy you’re far more likely to come out on the back end with a successful resolution. The five keys to successful conflict resolution are as follows:
Key #1 – Address Conflict Head On
Great leaders go into conflict willingly, not with the idea they’re going to change the world, but with the idea that they are going to listen and engage the people involved in an empathetic and caring manner. When we choose to face adversity we have a better chance of coming out on the other end with a successful resolution, happier colleagues and a better work environment.
Key #2 - Seek to Understand Before Being Understood
If you go into a difficult situation with your mind made up on ‘who did what’ it’s likely you’ll miss the bigger picture and leave your employees feeling like they weren’t heard, as if their side of the story doesn’t matter. Withholding your personnel feelings in these moments is tough, but a necessity. When we hear out everyone involved before coming to a conclusion we greatly increase our chance for making the right decision. I humbly thank my former boss and mentor who taught me this valuable lesson.
Key #3 – Group Discussion
I made a vital mistake early on in my leadership career by listening to each party involved in the conflict I was attempting to mediate then making a decision thereafter without bringing everyone into the same room to squash the ‘he said, she said’ back and forth that often comes up during conflict in the workplace. If you’re attempting to resolve a conflict between two parties and their stories are completely different from one another, or their account for their part in the situation differs from what’s being said on the other side, bring them both in for an open discussion. When people have to speak up in front of the other person the conflict exists with you may find that their tune changes as they can’t make accusations that don’t add up or may be exaggerated. As the old saying goes, “there are three sides to every story - her side, his side and the truth”. (this step may need to be excluded from your process if the conflict is of a serious nature having to do with sexual or discriminatory actions; if that is the case I strongly suggest you get a qualified HR representative or attorney involved immediately rather than trying to deal with the problem yourself)
Key #4 - Seek Advice
Let’s face it, no matter how good of a leader you are there will be times where obtaining advice from outsiders is beneficial. A leader who asks for help, advice, or perspective from others shows the courage and willingness to want to make good decisions. The key piece here is if you are going to seek advice on a sensitive situation it must be done from someone uninvolved, preferably outside the organization, this way you limit the blow back from internal gossip or side talk. Outside feedback is valuable as people who are uninvolved often provide clarity or perspective to tough situations that is difficult to see when you’re in the middle of the conflict.
Key #5 – Explain Your Decision & Ask for Feedback
When dealing with conflict resolution, once you come to the point where a decision is made it is vital to explain the WHY behind your decision to the people or parties involved. Once you have explained to everyone involved what your decision is you should then seek their feedback to better understand how your decision has landed with those involved. Be prepared! It’s possible not everyone will be thrilled with your decision but if you explain the process you took to come to that conclusion and stick to your guns thereafter you show that your ability to resolve conflict is one of process and care for each party involved.
Conflict resolution is a necessary part of being a leader. The more we willingly involve ourselves in conflict and the process it takes to navigate to a resolution the better you’ll be as a leader in dealing with conflict the next time around.
Key Take Away
The two best things you can do to help yourself be more comfortable in dealing with conflict resolution is to practice your listening skills and get yourself a mentor or advisor. The skill of listening is an incredibly important component to have when addressing conflict resolution. Listening helps us understand different perspectives while tempering our eagerness to jump to conclusions. Listening also allows us to pause and think, rather than react.
Mentors, I’ve said it a dozen times and I’ll say it again, this may be one of the top things you can do to help grow your career. Mentors, advisors and coaches help provide perspective, often times an unbiased perspective to help us see the bigger picture. This time of insight is invaluable, especially when dealing with high pressure situations.
Simply put – find yourself a mentor if you don’t already have one. Successfully addressing conflict resolution is an art best learned by people who have been there and done it before. No need to reinvent the wheel when you can learn from others who have been there and done it before. Their successes and failures are life learning lessons that are pure goal to people who seek knowledge and wisdom to improve their own careers. If you don’t have a mentor find one NOW! Ask someone you respect or go to micromentor.org.
This week I’ll have the opportunity to participate in an impactful event here in Irvine, CA covering women in medical device leadership. With this being the 3rd annual event the team putting it together was concerned primarily with how we would pull off the event and do so while keeping the content fresh and appealing. Needless to say when you’ve done something twice its really easy to have the 3rd end up on autopilot. Just ask Al Pacino, he’ll know exactly what you’re talking about as a result of Godfather III. (my first of many digressions in this article)
While we had a great topic to address, ‘Successfully Addressing Conflict Resolution & Crisis Management in the Workplace’, the team agreed we were missing something from the event. Missing something to make this 3rd event really special. It was during this time one of our strategic partners, Society of Women in Engineering, or SWE, suggested we offer a scholarship for female STEM students as a part of the event.
We loved the idea and since our organization, DeviceAlliance, had yet to do a scholarship program it was a great way to give back to the local community we serve while also providing a unique experience for the event attendees.
As we dove into the creation of this scholarship program, which would later be called ‘OC Exceptional Female STEM Student Scholarship Award’, we learned a lot of interesting stats having to do with our country’s STEM education programs. Some of those STEM stats were good yet many of them were disheartening to say the least.
While I knew what STEM education was I must admit I wasn’t familiar with the actual programs, how it operated and what the results were. As I began to dig for details to educate myself on this part of academia, I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with the information I was finding.
STEM education in the US is struggling.
I found this really hard to believe. How can such an amazing program have such mediocre to poor results. I learned things like:
These stats are frightening and only the beginning of the landslide of poor outcomes and frustrating data plaguing STEM education. One could easily deduce from this information our country’s efforts to produce a successful STEM education program for the up and coming generations is failing. Perhaps, failing miserably.
I wasn’t willing to accept that. Just because the stats may not be in our favor doesn’t mean STEM isn’t a good opportunity. In fact, I look at it the opposite way. Sure, STEM education reform would almost certainly help our country however in the wake of misfortune opportunity can always be found.
Fortunately, the future for STEM isn’t so doom and gloom, it’s all a matter of how we address the opportunity at hand. Let’s look at some other stats related to STEM:
Yes, the academic side of STEM may be struggling in the US. Yes, we’re pumping a lot of money into STEM and we’re still behind many 1st and even 2nd world countries in terms of our scoring and performance in STEM.
Yet there’s one thing for certain you just can’t argue – technology is only going to increase as time goes on. This means the demand for STEM educated students will continue to be both important and a key driver of our economy. Rather than focusing on the bad, I see it as a chance to focus on the good and the potential growth in STEM education in front of us here in the States.
So how do we address the issue of a struggling domestic STEM education program so that we can get more students through it and into the workforce?
The answer in my opinion is two-fold:
While those two answers may be wildly simple and perhaps naïve on a big scale it’s hard to argue one key fact: technology is here to stay; the jobs of the future will largely be focused and depend on emerging technology.
As technology continues to advance it brings us opportunity, how we and the generations to come choose to take advantage of that opportunity, well that’s still yet to be seen. It’s vital we act NOW to uplift our country’s STEM education programs while encouraging our youth to reach for those opportunities.
I’m proud to be a part of a non-profit team which recognizes the importance of STEM education and just as important is doing something in our local community to encourage and support those students who are chasing their dreams in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.
Key Take Away:
The US STEM education system is getting the pants beat off it by other countries which have placed a high priority in technology and science based education. While this seems bad on the surface it also reveals a lot of opportunity ahead of us, with plenty of employment opportunities with nice salaries and upward mobility. Industry and older generations (in particular parents) need to get involved earlier and more frequent to ensure the up and coming generations are able to take advantage of the opportunities at hand.
Think about how you land within these two areas: industry and adulting. If you don’t have kids how can you educate people younger than you about the opportunities STEM produces? If you do have kids introducing them at a young age to these possibilities is crucial, not just for their development but for our country as a whole. From an industry perspective, challenge yourself and your company to get further involved with the local colleges and universities in your area. Seek out STEM education programs to ingratiate them into your company, help to drive awareness, sponsor projects and competitions. The more we get involved the better of we and those to come after us will be.
For many Americans career progression is as important to them as the air they breathe. When we’re at a point in our careers where we’re looking for the next best thing or a new challenge often times it means taking into consideration a management role.
To be successful in management, or leadership for that matter, it requires a completely different set of skills which are typically very different than the skills which were needed to be successful in a staff level role. When we are a staff employee, meaning we don’t have any direct reports, our focus is to ensure we do the best individual job possible. Regardless if we’re a part of a team or not, when we’re a staff employee we really have one main concern – make sure our butts are protected by doing a great job.
Being in a management role is very different. While it’s important the manager does a good job, she is also responsible for a number of direct reports and therefore is responsible for their contributions as well. It can be a lot to shoulder if you aren’t prepared for it. Next week we’ll be talking about this in great detail at an Orange County, CA based medtech event where women will share their stories of leadership and how they got to where they are today. These stories are invaluable to understanding our own situation and potential career changes.
The transition to management can either be a dream come true or a living nightmare. Regardless of which camp you may be in it’s important to consider two things before you make the decision to throw your hat in the ring for the next management opportunity:
What the statistic above from HBR and Gallup tells us is that it’s incredibly tough to make a good decision on who will be successful in a leadership role. While the decision to hire or promote someone into a management role ultimate rests with the company, what happens thereafter is largely attributed to the individual in the role. Let’s make no mistake about it, a move from staff level to management can be an incredibly rewarding opportunity but to be successful in the new venture you need to know beforehand if you’ve got the foundation for what it takes to be successful leading others.
Before you consider a career in management think about how you deal with these five foundational leadership questions:
1.Do You Genuinely Care About Other People?
I’m going to take a hard stance here and simply say if you don’t care about others and aren’t willing to put others before yourself you’ll never be truly successful in leadership. I choose the word ‘never’ because you may see some success early on however in the long run a lack of genuine care for the people will always bring about challenges which are near impossible to overcome. The best leaders out there, regardless of their titles or the size of the company they work for, view leadership as an act of service and truly care about the wellbeing of their employees. “Leaders eat last.” – Simon Sinek
2.How will you handle ‘The Technician Syndrome’?
This is particularly important for people in a technical capacity to consider. The word ‘technician’ refers to a person who is in an individual contributor role focusing on hands-on work. When you make a transition into management you are stepping away from some or most of your daily technical hands on duties. There are some exceptions to this, for example if you work for a start-up or small company and are a ‘working executive’, however most of the time management roles focus their time and energy on their people and a strategy for getting work done. People who have technical backgrounds tend to struggle with this change as often times their original passion which has guided them to this point in their career was focused on being hands-on in their role, creating, building or testing things. (a Mechanical Engineer that designs new products)
3.Are You An Influencer or a Dictator?
What is your natural working style when you are in situations where you are working with others? Do you have a tendency to listen, support and coach or are you the type that would rather just tell people what to do? Successful leaders do more listening than they do talking. They understand the importance of giving their people an opportunity to contribute ideas, take risks, do things their own way, etc. Managers that don’t do this have a hard time motivating their employees as they view their employees as workers who are to be told what to do, when to do and how to do their work.
4.Can You Delegate?
Can you give someone else an opportunity to take on a project or work? Are you able to allow someone else the chance to take the spot light and recognition? Do you trust others to get the job done? These are all important questions which tie into delegation. Successful leaders delegate frequently because they know firsthand that it isn’t wise or feasible for them to do everything. Delegation also has a unique outcome which communicates trust and ownership to your employees whereas not delegating sends the exact opposite signal.
5.Are You Willing to be a Shrink?
It’s not the prettiest part of the job but a consideration nonetheless. A very real part of management is dealing with people problems, like a shrink would, and working constantly in conflict resolution. This aspect of the job often sends people screaming for the hills as dealing with people problems can be challenging and often viewed as a waste of time in the corporate world. Successful leaders view the people interaction part of the job as an opportunity for improving themselves and their employees while further developing a deeper relationship. They look forward to the moments to learn from, listen, coach and guide their employees. They do this because they genuinely care about the welfare of their employees both at work and home.
Key Take Away:
Successful leaders all have one thing in common – they genuinely care about others, especially the people who work for them. As a result, they utilize a servant leader mindset, operating side by side their teams leading through both words AND actions.
Perhaps you’re struggling to get in touch with how you feel about leadership and your own capabilities. If so, find 2-3 people and interview them. Ask them for their opinion and thoughts on how they think you would be as a leader. Would you be successful in their eyes? What blind spots or areas of improvement would you need to make in order to be successful leading others? Once you have an idea for how others perceive you and the areas you potentially are good at and or struggle at you’ll have a better appreciation for how you would show up in the role. From there it’s always good to read a couple leadership books to further understand if this career move is best for you. Try out ‘Go-Giver’ by Bob Burg and John Mann or ‘True North’ by Bill George and Peter Sims.
About the Author
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.