We’ve been in our house for 3 weeks now. You’d think that would be enough to get the house in order, but unfortunately I am sitting in a living room full of hardwood flooring boxes, miscellaneous boxes that haven’t been unpacked yet, a queen sized mattress and only two chairs. Huh. The weather has been beautiful, but I haven’t made it out onto the beach to enjoy it either. Something is terribly wrong with this picture. Well, at least I have cable TV, internet, and a sangria in my hand. Beggars can’t be choosers.
It gets worse. I’m still living out of the same duffle bag worth of clothing that I brought to our temporary living quarters. My dresser has not made it out of storage yet (not accessible) so there is no point in bringing the boxes of clothing to the house either.
Sadly, that’s not the half of it. I sold our old stove the weekend Irene hit North Carolina and my new stove is who the hell knows where. Cooking has become quite an adventure. If it can’t be made in an electric skillet, toaster oven, or microwave we ain’t eating it. It’s almost like camping, but there aren’t as many bugs. Well, except for the fruit flies that came with a bunch of bananas that I haven’t been able to get rid of. I digress. At least there is air conditioning.
Ok, so it isn’t all THAT bad. It’s a labor of love turning a house into a real home. The cheapo “rental” washer and dryer have been sold and replaced with my efficient front loader pair (that was a bitch to get up the stairs!). My new Bosch dishwasher arrived and is installed (thanks Honey!) and humming along oh so quietly. The under cabinet microwave was removed, the tile work has been completed and the new stainless steel hood has been plumbed and installed (thanks AGAIN Honey!). Most of my kitchen implements have been found and have been put into their respective places. Heck, the bar is even setup. Kitchen and bathroom floors have been cleaned and bleached. The garage is in pretty good shape. The master bedroom, bath, and office have been painted and mostly setup. We are even sleeping on our preferred mattress(YAY!) although there were a few trying nights in bunk beds(@#$#%!!!).
Now we’re focusing on the guest bedrooms. First step – hardwood flooring and fresh paint (ok, that’s two steps). The Oyster Festival is coming up in mid-October and we need to be ready for a party weekend by then. We have a bunch of friends ready to come visit. 5 week countdown. If the last 3 weeks are any indication, it’s going to be tight. So far only 1/2 of one bedroom floor has hardwood floors installed. We bought prefinished floors (Mullican – so far GORGEOUS!) and we (I use that word loosely – I have been hiding in the office so far) are installing them ourselves. It looks like it will take about 6 days per guest room and we have 4 of them. That’s 24 out of 35 days. One day to rip up the skanky old carpeting and moulding. One day to paint the ceiling and put down the felt paper. Two days (hopefully) to install the hardwoods. One day to install the moulding and paint it and last but not least, one day to paint the walls and move in the furniture. Luckily there are two of us and we can overlap on the rooms. My job, as always, is paint.
On a morbidly bright note… since my dad has been in assisted living I’ve been the protector of mom’s ashes. I’m pleased to say that she (as well as my first cat Moo) have made it out of storage. Is that sick or what?
Well, the weather has taken a turn for the better around here. It’s been warm, it’s been sunny, and the trees are dropping pollen like nobody’s business. I’ve enjoyed playing hooky in the yard for the better part of the last two weeks. After a long, unseasonably cold and dark winter there is nothing like being able to do some Spring cleaning in my garden. I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, but when it comes to Spring-time I’m all about getting things ship-shape in my house, my personal life, and at work. Things to put on the todo list:
- Blow out the cobwebs – In the garden this means cranking up the gas backpack blower and removing the remaining leaves out from the shrubs (hence the smell of two-stroke). In my personal life it means kicking up my exercise program a notch and getting outside for long walks and runs when the weather is good. At work it typically means clearing out my desk of old projects and responsibilities that are hanging around.
- Get my hands dirty – In the garden I’ll be pulling the netting off the pond and clearing out the dead plants and other winter debris. In my personal life I’ll be looking at all the little things I’ve been procrastinating about over the winter. At work it means that it is time to pick up a new skill or hone an existing one.
- Use my imagination – In the garden it’s time for planting the early vegetables and for rearranging the landscape. In my personal life it’s time to plan my next vacation. At work, it’s time to brainstorm new project ideas.
What does Spring make you want to do?
I’m still thinking about that last book I reviewed. One of the other questions is something like – are you willing to pay the cost of your dream? Most people don’t even think about the cost of their dreams. Even small dreams have a cost. Big dreams have a huge cost. You need to know what it is, and if you’re willing to pay it.
One of my dreams is to own my own business. I vacillate between a high tech business and one that is not. There are benefits and detriments to both. I’ll touch on the non-high tech options a bit. There are a lot of costs. Here are but a few.
- Loss of salary – ok – I’m already there, starting a business now doesn’t mean I will lose anything. However I might delay how long it takes to get back to a good salary.
- Loss of identity – I’ve lived and breathed high tech my entire career. It is part of who I am. That would be gone. This one really hurts. I have a strong resume and I would be turning my back on it.
- Loss of stability – I’ve always had a “job” working for someone else. This is all up to me!
- Loss of expertise – Time to learn something new – and not be an expert anymore.
- Closing a door – Once you leave high tech, it is almost impossible to get back into it because the technology changes so quickly. Is it worth it?
What’s the cost of your dream? Do you think it is worth it? I’m still trying to figure that out.
Unlike a lot of folks, I’ve never really been one for New Year’s Resolutions. I typically address issues as I go throughout the year – it’s easier that way – at least it is for me. I’d rather quietly make small changes in my life on an ongoing basis than try to do a big bang, make a lot of noise and fail. Besides, I already eat pretty well, I work out 5-6 times a week, and I floss my teeth regularly. After about 10 years of effort to make many small changes in these areas I’ve got most of the typical resolutions covered.
However, that strategy isn’t a lot of fun to blog about this time of year. BORING. There is one new thing that I have been working on lately – I started it the week after Christmas and I found that it is helping me get more focused on the things that I want to do with my life going forward. I’ve decided to make a list of my 100 dreams. You might call it a bucket list, but I’d rather be more positive than that. As I cross items off the list I plan to add new items to it. These are things big and small that I want to accomplish in my life. The big ones were easy. I want to be financially secure, I want to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, I want to climb Machu Picchu, and I want to run a successful company. These are things that will take time and a bit of planning. Just putting them on the list gives me permission to start the investigative phase. How? When? Where? What skills and resources (time, people, money, equipment) do I need to collect first?
I’ve come up with 31 out of 100 so far, and I am turning over rocks for some of the smaller ones. Some of the smaller ones are subgoals of the large ones. Some are just things that I want to be able to do. I’d like to be able to deadlift 200lbs. I’m probably not that far off on that one, just been lazy. I need to learn how to roll my kayak at some point. I would like to have a successful vegetable garden – so far I’ve had dismal failures. This time my plan includes getting my soil tested by the agricultural division at NC State.
From a blogging perspective I have a lot of ideas. The biggest thing that I plan to do is to get more involved with other bloggers. I’ve signed up on blogher (women bloggers), I’ve guest blogged for The Mad Peacock Perfection is the Enemy of Good Enough. Very exciting – my first guest blog!
I’m also putting out a request for guest bloggers on my site. Do you have something that you want to say about leadership?
Continuing on my book review binge – today I’ll talk about “The Inspiring Leader” by Zenger & Folkman. This is a followup book to their Extraordinary Leader tome that I recently read. I have to say that I was a little bit disappointed by this book. On the whole, it wasn’t bad, but it was very predictable. There was really nothing in it that made me go “AH HA! That’s the key!” I found it to all be common sense and many of the studies and literature that they referenced were things that I have already read. I do think that this book has value, especially for someone who hasn’t been in the management trenches for a long time or for someone who really isn’t big on reading management theory or self-help books in this area. It’s a good concise read that gathers a lot of loose ends together.
I do think that one thing really bears repeating. Extensive studies show that positive communication is critical to high performing teams. As in marriages, the ratio of positive comments (approval, praise, support, compliments etc) to negative ones was one of the highest predictors of success or failure for a team effort. The best performing teams received positive-negative feedback in a 5-1 ratio. The worst performing teams received 1 positive for every 3 negative comments. As a leader you have a lot of control over that. You set the stage. You are the role model that the team follows.
Have you ever worked for a leader who was critical of everything that you did? I have. That sure didn’t make me want to work harder because it really didn’t matter what I did, it was wrong, bad, not good enough. Maybe I am a little sensitive, but it made me want to curl up into a ball and go into protective/defensive mode. On the other hand, when I had a leader who recognized the difficult things that I did, or pointed out specific – very concrete – behaviors and accomplishments that they appreciated I would double my effort to help them be successful.
Another thing that I thought was valuable and too infrequently used is leader visibility. If you want to drive certain behaviors in your company you need to walk the talk and you need people to see that you do that. There should be no double standards for you versus them. Hold all hands meetings and be transparent to your employees. Allow them to interact with you and answer the tough questions honestly, don’t dance around issues. Practice management by walking around. Talk to your employees, show and interest in what they are doing, ask how they are. If your organization is divided across multiple locations – visit – FREQUENTLY. Out of sight = out of mind. A visit from a leader can have a strong positive motivational impact. Of course this depends highly on the leader’s behavior while in the remote office. Even though you are the leader, you are still a guest in that office. Show up on time based on the local conventions – do not force the entire office to bend to your whims and time frames when you are there. Be a true role model.
My book commentary continues this week. You may be wondering what is going on with this… Well, after years of not living close to a public library I discovered one right next to my veterinarian. It’s not that convenient, but its not that far either. I picked up 5 books that I thought I could finish before their due date. It seems that I bit off a little more than I can chew, but never being one to give up – and refusing to succumb to “online renewal” I am plowing through. I am finally reading some classic business books (and some new ones too) that I just haven’t had the time for. This installment features “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.
This book gets my dander up for a lot of different reasons. Some are logical and some are a little irrational. My first issue with the book is that the world has changed so much since it was published. (2001) I like the concepts and all, but when I am reading about Fannie Mae, Nucor, and Wells Fargo as great companies there’s this little voice in the back of my mind saying “these guys all *screwed* up – does this research make ANY sense anymore???” Funny thing is that in the Epilogue the author addresses questions about his research. This was one of the questions – what about the companies that aren’t so great anymore? He acknowledges that it never is easy for companies to stay great and sometimes leaders let their egos get involved to cause this. I wish he would have put this in an introduction instead. That would have made reading this book a lot more pleasurable for me.
This book is also going to make me revisit my “Are you a hedgehog or a fox” post at some time. Clearly I need to do more research in this area because when it comes to leading a great company, being a hedgehog (albeit in a slightly different context than my previous post) is a GOOD thing. Companies who are singlemindedly driven toward a goal they are passionate about and that they can be the best at in the world are successful. None of that namby pamby running from idea to idea trying to jump start success happens in great companies. This hit home for me and it made me really angry. I’ve worked for those companies (more than one!) that tried to buy success in this way. What they ended up doing was frittering away millions of dollars of money that could have been used to build what they were really strong at and had people that were passionate about(and actually could be very successful selling). Instead, their leadership went on a huge ego trip and there was a flavor of the week idea that had to be implemented “now”! Talk about crazy.
The final thing that I appreciated is the concept of a Level 5 leader. We surely could use more of them running our companies in this country. Humble, modest, “we” focused, not “I” focused, has a goal of being the best, driven to succeed. This leader is not your charismatic leader. They don’t have to be. Their job isn’t to motivate their staff, but to make sure that they have the right people in the company who are willing to confront the circumstances – “the brutal facts” – and work to be successful despite of them.
“Now, you might be wondering, “How do you motivate people with brutal facts? Doesn’t motivation flow chiefly from a compelling vision?” The answer, surprisingly, is, “No.” Not because vision is unimportant, but because expending energy trying to motivate people is largely a waste of time. One of the dominant themes that runs throughout this book is that if you successfully implement its findings, you will not need to spend time and energy “motivating” people. If you have the right people on the bus, they will be self-motivated. The real question then becomes: How do you manage in such a way as not to de-motivate people? And one of the single most de-motivating actions you can take is to hold out false hopes, soon to be swept away by events.” Amen brother.
Recently I had the opportunity to reflect back upon all of the training I’ve received in order to become the leader that I am today. In my career I was extremely fortunate that I received a significant amount of management training before I was even considered for promotion into the role. I find the coaching of potential, junior, and mid-level managers to be critical to longer term success. Even as a senior manager I believe that it is important to continue learning, and to not always fall back on previous experiences.
Early in my career I worked for a company that had a mandatory training and assessment course for all potential managers. It identified if someone was ready to manage people, and the areas in which they were weak and strong. This was a course that could be failed and a person wouldn’t be promoted to a management position if it was. I remember this class as being very stressful. There were timed prioritization of work assignments, interviews, and video taped role playing exercises in which instructors acted as difficult subordinates and customers. This course started my foray into management.
I’ve also had some training that wouldn’t be classified as management training, but it helped me become a much better manager. One form of this type of training that I received is often dismissed by staff as being irrelevant – and that is diversity training. I found it helped me understand how to be sensitive to race, religion, and gender as well as realizing that different people have different motivations for what they do. Engineers may seem to all be very similar but in fact they are not. You can’t expect someone to want to do the same things that you want to do for all the same reasons. Some people care about money, some about life balance, and some about challenging work or career development. I find this to be key to being a good manager because by understanding what a person’s motivations are, you can assign them work that they can be successful at. This training course also was very clear about what is and what is not appropriate in a work environment. In a similar vein, I also took a class that included the Meyers-Briggs Inventory. This was an eye opener for me because it showed how much diversity there is in the various personality types and how the different types are perceived. It also provided suggestions for how to deal with the different types. In engineering there are a few common ones, but there are always some people that are different and harder to read and work with. I happen to be an INTJ in case you are familiar with this method of personality evaluation.
As my career progressed, I signed up for more intensive training courses that spanned longer periods of time. Another company that I worked for footed the bill for a year long class that required me to travel to San Francisco monthly. This program was designed for high potential women managers with a minimum of 7 years of supervisory experience who were being groomed for senior management positions. The program and others like it are run by an organization called Women Unlimited. If you are a woman manager or if you have one reporting to you, I’d suggest investigating this. I found it to be one of the most useful training programs that I ever attended.
Once I got to Director and VP level positions my training focus changed. Now I find it to be a lot more self-directed and individualized. I continue to read books and articles voraciously to learn about new trends and ideas. For the last few years at my last company I met weekly with a psychologist who works with leadership teams at small companies as a career coach. He taught me to depend not only on my analytical capabilities but also on my intuitive abilities. He also taught the leadership team as a whole to be more focused and to use empathy in dealing with one another as a way to speed resolution of issues. This was invaluable. A lot of times in business we focus solely on the analytic and reasoning aspects of our work and little on the people and relationship issues.
These days I also enjoy sharing the knowledge that I have accumulated. As those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know, last year I presented at the IGDA Leadership Forum. I enjoyed preparing my presentation and sharing my management experiences so much that it compelled me to start this blog and become more active in the Web2.0 world. There are a number of pages on this website that give management instruction through examples. I also frequently post and comment upon interesting articles and topics that are personal growth, business, and management related. I am experimenting with the use of twitter to share additional articles that I find interesting that I don’t necessarily feel the need to comment about. I have a regular following on both of these mediums, and it is growing. This is really cool.
Keep on learning. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you have enough time or that it is worth the effort involved. Do it, you never know when what you’ve learned might come in handy.
I recently came across this article on the Harvard Business Journal site. Boy did this resonate with me.
This topic is one of my pet peeves. Over the years I have heard so many people complain that they aren’t getting to important tasks in their home or work lives. Quite frankly they aren’t setting their priorities correctly. Usually it goes something like this: “Right now I don’t have time to eat right and exercise – but once things settle down at work I’ll get to it.” or “I should get some training or learn more about that, but I barely can get through all of the tasks in my day job right now.” or “In order for me to be more effective I need to start doing ‘x’ but I am too busy trying to get ‘y’ done.” That last one is my personal favorite. It has bitten me more than a few times now and I vow that it isn’t going to happen to me again. Typically the thing that I should be doing is something that I’m not comfortable with. It is a new skill or it is hard for me based on my personality type. Sometimes it is a lack of confidence that holds me back. I think that the best advice I ever got in those instances is to “fake it”. Yes, seriously, pretend that you are competent and capable in that area and do what you think someone who is would do.
Something else that I thought was valuable in this article is that you need to make a conscious decision about which items to pursue and which to just let go. There’s no point in beating yourself up about not getting to something that you know is highly unlikely. It is a fantasy if you think you’ll get to it. Who needs to drag along that baggage for years? The amount of stress that adds over time is just not worth it. I worked with a career coach who had a favorite saying – the best way to let something go is to visualize it. Put the thought in a bubble and visually pop that bubble. How do you feel once it is gone? Relieved? Happy? Sad? That first feeling you have is key to the issue.
So – two things.
1. GET TO IT! This is for those items you really just need to incorporate in your life. Stop procrastinating.
2. LET IT GO! Stop carrying around unwanted items in your head that you know you’ll never prioritize to the top of the queue.
Do both and you’ll feel much better.
Times are tough. Companies are looking at their resources and figuring out which ones will provide the most payback. This isn’t just products and equipment, it is people too. Now is not the time to rest on your laurels. It doesn’t matter what you did last year, two years ago or 10 years ago. There are a lot of people who live in the past. They remember the highlights of their career. They believe that because of what they have accomplished before that people should respect them now. That is not how the world works today. Every day you need to earn the respect of your coworkers and your superiors.
Your previous experience just doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is how you perform today and if the skills that you have are directly relevant to the company that you work for. Close enough isn’t good enough. Sometimes there just won’t be a role for you going forward even if your performance is good. Just because you were successful at something before doesn’t mean that the organization hasn’t changed around you.
Right now I am struggling to absorb this. In the 23 years my career has lasted, I have never found myself involuntarily out of a job until now. Looking back at that – considering I have changed companies a number of times – preferring small and underfunded ones – I have weathered the dotcom bust while working in a startup – it is quite an amazing statistic. It’s an interesting place to be and it surely will change the perspective of this blog somewhat. I’m a little angry, a little sad, but a lot hopeful. I’ve been looking for the proverbial kick-in-the-pants to motivate me to do something different – and here it is. In a few short days I will no longer have a desk to go to and an identity that can be defined by my position.
I am so fortunate compared to many others who are in my predicament. I am not living paycheck to paycheck. I will still have good health insurance through my husband’s employer. I received the news during my favorite time of year – May/June – before it gets too hot and after the days have gotten longer and the cold is gone. Hope springs eternal when my garden is blooming.
I have the time to decide what I want to do and when I want to do it. Right now I think that the opportunities are only bounded by my imagination. I have a list of projects a mile long that I want to accomplish. I want to dive into some of my hobbies full speed as well. I am actually worried that I won’t get to everything that I want to do. Imagine that! I think I will be too busy!