Archive for October, 2011
Over the past few weeks I’ve facilitated vision and strategy sessions for a TV network, a company that helps non-profits optimize their systems and processes, and a mid-sized health care system.
It completely reaffirmed my belief that all organizations are, at heart, the same: they have ideas, services, and/or products they want to sell, and they have to figure out how to work together to create/define them, offer them in a compelling way, and sell them to people — and how to do it all in a way that satisfies their financial aspirations.
It has also given me lots of great opportunities to do what I think of as “organizational cross-pollination.” Often, when a group is stuck conceptually – they’re having a hard time framing up a new idea, or they can’t see their way out of a hole – if I bring in an example or a related solution from a different company or even an entirely different industry (without, of course, breaching any confidentiality) it frees them to think in new ways. It’s fun to watch. I think it’s the organizational version of what happens to an individual when he or she goes to another country: you see that things can be very different than they are in your own country, and you start questioning your assumptions about what is and isn’t possible/right/necessary.
All three groups spent quite a bit of time talking about how to succeed in the “new world” – this time when so many of our systems and institutions are in a state of flux. I think getting good at this kind of cross-pollination – actively seeking to find out about others’ different ways of thinking and acting – is key.
Last night I was regaling my husband with the story of how I tried to create my own stuffed animal when I was 5 years old. The story did not have a happy ending (ruined pillowcase, the fur hacked off a very nice stuffed cat I had just gotten for my birthday, lots of spilled Elmer’s glue and a badly cut finger), but I had to laugh as Patrick was laughing: it was so me.
Because here I am, all these years later, still trying to figure out how things work, how they’re put together, what would make them work even better. Still building things from scratch, still wanting to bring to fruition things I see so clearly in my head. My husband calls it ‘the patented EA envision-plan-execute approach.’
And even though I’m a passionate believer in the ability of each human being to change and grow in a wide of variety of ways, I also believe that each of us has a few innate ‘superpowers.’ These superpowers are ways of behaving we’re drawn toward and are unusually good at. Things we’ve been doing in one form or another since we were little kids.
I also believe that playing to these superpowers can help you create a more productive and fun work life. Most folks don’t do this; they have jobs about which they feel fairly neutral and which they’re OK to pretty good at doing. That’s not terrible, but it’s not great…and it’s not a good formula for either happiness or success.
Imagine having a job that incorporates your superpowers: a job that gives you the chance to do stuff most days that you really enjoy doing and are uniquely good at doing. People who have that kind of job tend to say (and feel) “I love my job,” and they tend to excel.
If you haven’t ever reflected on this, here’s a way to get into it: think about yourself as a kid. What would those around you have said you most loved to do? What would they have said was most characteristic of you?
And I don’t mean “eating candy” or “fishing.” Look for a pattern of thought or activity that you enacted in many different areas of your life. For instance, when I thought of my making-a-stuffed-animal story, I realized I could tell a dozen of those: the time I tried to figure out how the back steps were connected to the house so I could make steps up to my bed that wouldn’t fall over; the pulley and hairnet contraption I made from my bed to my little brother’s, so we could pass notes back and forth; my theory about why my fifth grade teacher was so awful and what I could do to make her see that (it SO did not work).
What about you? What are your superpowers? If you know what your superpowers are already, or if this inspires you to figure it out, I’d love to hear about it…
Since I’ve been writing this new book on leadership, I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences and similarities between managing people and being a leader. In some ways, I think they’re very distinct: I’ve know people who are excellent leaders and poor managers, and vice versa. I think of people management as a craft. That’s how I wrote about it in Growing Great Employees, and that’s one reason it was so easy to use a gardening metaphor throughout the book; gardening is a craft, too.
Leading is more about who you are; your personal characteristics and how those show up day-to-day. I’ve said that people look to see certain attributes in someone before they will fully commit to that person as a leader, and I believe that’s true. You can definitely build the skills and awareness needed to become a better leader, one that people will follow – but it’s more an internal growth process than the development of a craft. Becoming a leader requires consistent self-reflection, and a willingness to think and then behave differently.
There are at least three points of overlap, though. Both managing people and becoming a good leader require 1) listening well, 2) being curious, and 3) managing your self-talk.
I’ve spoken about and taught all three of these things for many years (therefore the links to other blog posts), but it’s getting even clearer to me as I move through life and deal with more and more people: these capabilities are foundational for anyone who wants to get results with and through other people.
Do you agree? If so, what are you doing about it?
Earlier this week I attended the WICT Touchstones Luncheon here in NY. Three women were being honored: the WICT Woman of the Year is Nomi Bergman, and the two WICT “Women to Watch” are Jennifer Dorian and Kathleen Finch. I have the great honor of coaching both Nomi and Jennifer, and so I went to support them and clap madly when they received their awards.
There were hundreds of women from the cable industry in attendance, from enthusiastic 20-somethings just starting their careers to cable veterans in the 50s and 60s. I noticed a sprinkling of male senior executives; some were there as longtime supporters of WICT, and the rest were there specifically to support the honorees. Most of the guys were baby boomers, more or less my age.
I reflected yet again on the fact that vast majority of large companies are still run by white males. But as I looked around at all the women in their 20s, 30s and 40s (including the honorees), many of them African-American, Asian, or Hispanic, I thought to myself, This might be the generation that shifts the balance of power.
My generation brought women into the workforce in huge numbers. I’m thrilled that women now hold over half of entry-level management positions: that would have been unthinkable 50 years ago (just watch Mad Men). I think we hoped to take professional parity all the way: equal pay, equal opportunity to occupy the big seats at the table.
It hasn’t worked out that way – women are still paid only about 80% of what men are paid, on average, for the same work, and only 33 of the Fortune 1000 CEOs are women.
But there may be a light ahead: a recent study showed that women under 25 earn almost 94% of their makes counterparts’ salary. In my work, I notice far more young women moving into the senior ranks of management in our client companies than even ten or fifteen years ago…and they are extremely impressive: not only bright, emotionally intelligent and ambitious – but much more likely to see their value in the marketplace, stand up for themselves well, and negotiate for more balanced lives.
What do you think – will this next generation of women crack the ceiling, or not?