Listening, Hearing and Understanding – What is the key element?

storm clouds forming
Is a storm coming or is this after the storm? Without all the observation, one does not know.

When asked to list essential leadership skills, there may be a variety of items listed.  However, listening is definitely one that most leaders would say is a skill that is not only essential, but is one that needs to be tended and cultivated.  If we are honest with ourselves, most of us would have to say that listening is a skill that needs improvement.

There are lots of factors that go into how we listen and there are different levels of listening.  For example; there is the aspect of just hearing (what are the words that are being said?).  Our brains are interesting things.  Have you ever noticed that there are times when someone says something to you and you only hear bits of the sentence?  Then you realize what was likely to have been said?  Our brains are very good at filling in patterns.  Our brains fill in the blank spots.  And, sometimes we fill in with the wrong word or even the wrong sentence.  When we are really working on listening; it is important that we don’t fill in the gaps for the speaker. One has to stop and make sure that we have heard what was said, not what we thought was said.

There is the aspect of tone, how the words are being conveyed.  As listeners, we have all experienced a misunderstanding of what was trying to be conveyed because of the tone of the words.  For example, someone makes a comment that was intended to be a joke but the listener assumed the comment was serious.  Or, a speaker sounds angry and conveys that as anger to the person within hearing, yet it really wasn’t anger, it was frustration.

While we are “listening;” we really tend to be multitasking.  We are assessing the information being conveyed.  We are evaluating and making judgments.  We are preparing our response, questions, or what we are going to say.  We are processing and planning.  We aren’t necessarily really attempting to understand the information that is being presented.

The definition of listening is from a leadership perspective is to pay attention, pay heed. Listening is,  therefore, is not just an auditory skill.  Truly listening means that you have to gather information to understand what is being conveyed. This means that we have to understand the tone and other cues that are being provided with the words.  It is the lack of cues in emails, texting, tweets, and other forms of social media that is getting all of into trouble.  Just how do you convey cues in 140 characters or in a 10-second sound bite?

As leaders, we are supposed to be communicators. Which means that we not only have to convey the information, but we have to make sure that our listener is truly hearing what it is we are trying to convey.  We need to recognize when we aren’t listening and when our listeners aren’t listening.  We need to make sure that we aren’t just processing words and we understand the information and ideas that are trying to be conveyed.  We have to slow down and think about what is being conveyed, before we process, assess and respond.

A quick internet search will find a number of methods to improve listening.  There is the active listener method. There are the 5, 10 or 12 steps to becoming a better listener.  And, there are ways to practice, such as listening to audio books or summaries, working with a partner, and taking notes.  But, all of these require something more fundamental, the knowledge that most of us really don’t listen and that we have to be engaged in the process to listen.  Without this fundamental acknowledgment, you might as well be in a sound proof room.

What happens now?

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If you look at the calendar and the milestones in people’s lives, May and June are months of major significance.  In the United States, graduations from high school and college are common events as well as the beginnings of marriages and new careers.  These events are culminations of long-term planning.  (Even if you didn’t realize it at the time.)  And, once the excitement of the celebration is over, you may be waking up feeling lost and adrift.

What happens now?  Some may be lucky enough to already, have another long-term goal or may be working on one.  For example, you just graduated and are planning on pursuing a higher degree; or are working, and now are turning to focus on that next big project or promotion.  But, for others, all of a sudden you achieved what you were after and then…….  Well, it is time to figure out what’s next.

How does one go about it?  Many of us know the usual goal setting steps (or do we?) and how to state a goal.  Zig Ziglar gave us seven; Bradley Foster gave us ten; and Wikihow gives us ten.  We are told our goals need to be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and have a timeframe.  But, the steps?  Let’s look at Zig Ziglar’s seven, because most of the versions are similar:

  • State the goal
  • Set a deadline
  • Identify the obstacles
  • Identify the people, groups and organizations that can assist
  • List the benefits of achieving the goal
  • List the skills needed to attain the goal
  • Develop a plan

Okay, but what is the goal?  What is the next step? How do I tell what my next goal should be?  What am I being called or driven to do?  It is this unknown that sets a person adrift.  Because once we are able to articulate what it is we are after or where we are headed; the usual goal setting wisdom and attributes help us.  And, it is the easy part: developing the long-term plan on how to achieve it.  The conventional wisdom does nothing for helping us assess what it is we want to achieve.

Determining the direction or the next personal goal requires self-awareness, introspection, and self-assessment.  One has to take some quiet time and think about what makes them happy; what they like to do; and if they could wave that magic wand what would be their perfect world.  One method may be to PREP: pause, re-assess, evaluate and prepare.  The pause step is the most critical, one needs to stop and think about those serious questions.  One needs to fuel the imagination, and one needs to picture what that future state may be.  This is a very difficult thing to do as we don’t necessarily like to look into ourselves, and finding the time to do this with all of our day-to-day pressures adds to the complexity.

Yet, it is essential because if we don’t, we will remain adrift or someone else will be making these crucial decisions for us.  This leaves us unfulfilled, and miserable.  It is critical that one steps aside and think about what is it that drives us, what is it that we want to achieve, and how do view my personal success?

How to get to this point?  We know that we need to be able to state the goal, picture it, and articulate it.  But, what methods or techniques do we use?  There are some tried and true ones:

  1. Where do you want to be in a year?
  2. Where do you want to be in three years?
  3. Where do you want to be in five years?

These are a bit stale because they are used as interview and annual review techniques; so we tend to give “pat” answers or the ones that the person asking the questions want to hear.  And, this still requires a person to have a longer term view.

Other questions may seem strange, yet can provide deeper insight;

  • What do you want your high school reunion summary to say?
  • Why should you be invited to speak at a graduation ceremony?
  • What words would you like to have on your headstone?
  • How do you want ___________ (your mother, your spouse, your colleagues, your friends) to describe you?
  • What things don’t you want to be said about you? (Sometimes it is easier to look at the negative than the positive.)
  • If you could choose one accomplishment, what would it be?

These questions will help you to paint a picture of that elusive long term goal.  Once, you have that the rest is just a paperwork exercise to outline the path.

Understanding Leadership – When to fish or cut bait?

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Fish or cut bait.  As leaders, we have probably used this phrase at some point.  And, we seem to have an inherent understanding about the concept that it is describing, even if we aren’t active in a fishing culture.  The four words succinctly describe a decision point where one has to assess the effectiveness of the current methodology or strategy versus the ultimate goal.  Or simply, put is this strategy or activity the most effective use of time and/or resources.

As leaders, we need to focus on what is the most productive use of our skills, knowledge and resources.  We have to make sure that the timing is appropriate, and that the right priorities are being met.  Unfortunately, the leader may be too close to the situation or may be in a situation where the day-to-day demands are such that they can’t see that they have reached a point where they are ineffective.  So, what is a leader to do when they find themselves in this situation?

Leaders need to PREP:

  • Pause – Stop for a bit to gather and observe.  What is the status quo?
  • Re-asses – After having gathered the information, one needs to look at the resources and priorities.
  • Evaluate – Here you have to look at the fit or “correctness” of the priorities, do the resources and priorities match?  Are the skill sets correct?
  • Prepare – Prepare a path to realign or to gain the appropriate resources that are needed.

As leaders, we forget how important it is to continually go through this cycle.  We tend to get bogged down in the day-to-day activities and firefighting.  We don’t take the time to work on the strategies or “tool sharpening” that we need to focus on, so that we can be more productive and efficient in the long run.  We don’t take the time now; so it will ultimately take less time.  We get stuck in the “have to do it this way now” to make it work mindset to meet the immediate need.

This ultimately puts us further behind and makes us more ineffective. It means that we continually hinder ourselves.  So, for the past three months, I have been practicing what I want to preach – building the skills and the resources, such that the day-to-day tasks require less time.  I have been searching for those new applications, resources, and ideas to make my daily work life more effective and productivity.  I have been PREPping for this new journey.

Now it is time to take the first step, down this new branch of the road.  Hopefully, you are willing to join me on this journey.

Just How to Keep a New Year’s Resolution

All of the research says that less than 50% of individuals will keep their New Year’s Resolutions.  Why?  There are lots of reasons and they include:

* The resolution is unrealistic.

* There is no action plan as to how to achieve the goal.

* There are too many resolutions.

* There is no support system in place.

The list can go on, but you should be able to see a trend.  People set resolutions or goals without thinking about how they might achieve them.  In order for a resolution to hold, you must have a plan.  And, you have to work the plan.  So here are a three tips as to how you can be part of the group that not only sticks to your resolution – but actually achieves the underlying intent.

1) Write it down.  Yes, you have heard this one before.  Writing down your goals sets you toward achieving them.  Why?  By writing the goal down, you have had to formally articulate what the goal is.  This helps you to think about the nuisances of your goal. When you write the goal be specific, and draw a picture as to what it means.  Thus, it is no longer a vague “lose weight” but you make it concrete, “I will lose 10 pounds.”

2) Make it a daily habit.  According to Covey, it takes three weeks to make a habit.  So, think about what you can do on a daily or regular basis to help you stick to your resolution.  If your resolution is to lose weight, your daily habit might be to journal the foods you eat.  If your resolution is to read more, set 5 minutes a day to read that book on your bed side table.  The key is to make it a habit.

3) Figure out your support system.  This can be finding an accountability partner or even setting email reminders or posting notes on the refrigerator.  You may even have to develop a reward or a point system.  And, yes there may be even an App for that.  The key is to find to provide yourself with both accountability and a means to get you back on track if you falter.

With these three tips, you are likely to develop a positive habit and set yourself on a path to stick to that resolution.  My New Year’s Resolution?  Sticking to the plan that I developed for the goals that I set last year.

Leadership Lessons from the Headlines

The past couple of weeks, there have been some significant leadership lessons that have emerged from the headlines.

Meme - Note to Self

Assume that every email written will become public.

Just imagine – as you drive into the office, your emails are being read during the top of the hour news.  I am sure there are a few executives that wished they had never pushed the send on that email.  (There of course are a couple of corollaries to this one – Assume the Mic is hot and that everything you say is being recorded and will end up on Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter!)  – Yes, every email you have ever written is likely to come back to haunt in some form or fashion.  And contrary to with the IRS has claimed – someone is sure to find them somewhere when you least expect it.

You need to be aware of not only what is communicated, but how and context.  What may seem like an innocent comment may become a fire-able offense in the future.

Every interaction has the potential to have unimaginable repercussions. 

The “Butterfly Effect”, you never know how a brief encounter may change the world.  Thus, why not strive for positive and kind interactions?  Small acts of kindness may make the biggest differences.  Unfortunately,  we only tend to hear about how these little acts have changed lives during this time of year.  As leaders we need to strive to make these part of everyday life.

It is OK to admit that you are wrong.  

– The key is to make the change to make amends and improve. –

As leaders, it is our job to model behaviors that will improve the overall situation.  Leaders need to model the culture that we want, whether that be at home, school, the workplace or society.  As leaders, we need to take responsibility.   But, we also need to strive to improve.

Leaders should not incite negative behaviors.  Leaders should highlight positive actions.  Our actions are lenses to our values.  You do not correct a wrong by committing more wrongs – under the guise of “demonstrations” or “public discourse.”  It is important to address the wrongs – but focus on the root causes.  Maybe – just maybe – if we all follow the second bullet point, the means of making amends and improvement will happen naturally.

We all are Leaders and it is Past Time for Leadership

Each and everyone of us is a leader in some form or fashion.  How you lead is your choice.  This past week has seen some examples of leadership or lack thereof across the board.  Here are some of the events of the past week:

1) Ferguson, Mo.

2) Twitterverse #shirt firestorm

3) Hagel – Yes Man or obviously not a Yes Man

4) What Constitution?

Four very different events, and four varied examples of leadership.  For those of us old enough to have witnessed various aspects of the Civil Rights Movement – I lived in the deep south in the early seventies and can tell you from experience that there was a double standard – there still is – but it is more hidden.  The events this past summer were tragic – from both sides.  What is sad now is that people have become so entrenched in their view – they can’t see the other side’s point.  So, what happens?  We have leaders exploiting a situation to make a point, but is it really the point that needs to be made?

There are good and bad people.  There are good and bad situations.  Having not been there – I can’t say what exact the case was.  But, what I do know – is that destroying a city is not the correct response.  Congratulations for the community members that are helping to cleanup (which the news hasn’t shown).  Congratulations to the leaders who have spoken out against how various individuals have reacted.  But really, demonstrations across the US for this incident?  What about the tragedy that happens every day in poor neighborhoods? What about the daily violence by neighbor on neighbor?  It isn’t about race, it is about lack of opportunity.  It is about lack of understanding.  It is about how we as individuals treat each other.  We as individuals have to stand up and say – no matter what, the behavior exhibited was intolerable.  Several of the historic Civil Rights Icons would be appalled at this behavior.

This leads to the #shirt firestorm.  For those of you not familiar, the Mission Leader for the Comet landing made a poor choice in attire for an on camera interview.  It was a retro shirt, that was deemed offensive to women in the workplace.  An example of creating a hostile work environment for women in Science, and Technology.  From my perspective, over 25 years in a male dominated science environment – and in the oil patch, come-on get real.  If this is what you are holding up as evidence of a hostile environment, you really haven’t seen one.  Yes, there is a double standard.  Guess what, there is always going to be a in-crowd and an out-crowd.  It may be gender, it may be philosophical, it may be educational, it may be attitude, etc.  The gains that have been made in science are huge for some disciplines – for others not so much.  Critical mass has been reached in chemistry, chemical engineering, and other areas.  Physics, electrical engineering, and others the numbers are pretty stagnant.  As female or male leaders, it is our responsibility to ask questions.  To look for diversity, of all kinds thought, gender, backgrounds, race, etc.; as one of my students recently put it – “it wasn’t until we were placed on teams that I really learned that working as a team we were able to do something beyond what I thought could be done.”

Our responsibility as leaders is to ask why the general physics class  is 75% women and the engineering physics class is 90% men.  At least this year, it is because that is the perceived career path of medicine versus engineering.  I can remember a day when both classes would have been 90% plus male.  Next springs engineering class looks more 50-50.  It is our responsibility to have diversity in the teams, in the funding groups, etc.  OK, it was a poor choice of shirt (for a variety of reasons) – but is it really a hostile work environment?  I have seen worse on the internet media related to who do science by organizations who are pro-actively promoting women in science.

Then there are two events from the administration within the past week.  The resignation of Chuck Hagel – who was presumed to be a yes man.  Congratulations to him – as it turned out he was not.  No matter what your job is, or your politics.  Each and every one of us has to make some personal decisions. What are my beliefs, and when do I draw the line?  I don’t have any inside information, nor have I followed this series of actions with in the administration to determine which way it really went, but as an outsider looking in – it appears that line was drawn and he had the integrity to stand his ground.

The other issue was the Executive Order.  First, I need to go on record saying that yes something needed to be done.  Yes, our immigration policy needs fixing.  Yes, there are situations that no matter how you address are not ideal solutions, and we need to exercise compassion.  But, the how is important as well.  There is a question as to why – if other Presidents used the Executive Order – why is this different?  Here is the reason – the other Presidents used the Executive Order to implement the will of Congress – not defy it.  Additionally, this Executive Order was contrary to what our Leader had previously stated he could not do – you can find numerous sound bites, clips, interviews, etc. that indicate that at least up until a few weeks ago, our President did not feel that he had authority under the Constitution to do what was done.  I am not debating the underlying issue – what I am concerned with is the lesson in Leadership that was presented.

It is my belief that this was an example of poor leadership. Yes, there are times when a leader needs to take action, but was there such a crisis on this issue that as a leader, he could not take time to work through the issue given the confines of our governmental structure?  I don’t believe that there was such a crisis, at least on this particular issue.  In fact, I believe that this action, may have created a critical crisis for those individual impacted two years down the road.  I believe that this action has made a bad situation for them even worse.  Yes, there is temporary relief – but what happens in two years with the Executive Order expires?

As a leader, do you really want to create a feud with the other branches of government?  History is filled with examples of this, and none of them turn out well.  One of the beauties of our system is that we can have debate, we can reach consensus.  Yet, this action is the result of what appears to be childish behavior.  Why was this necessary?  Because of refusals to put various items up for vote – be it in Committee, the House or the Senate.  All are cases where our leaders appear to be acting as spoiled children, and not Statesman. (Please forgive the wording as there currently not a politically correct version of this word, yet.)  The words of the writers and debaters of the Constitution are coming true.

Leaders need to step forward and address these issues.  We need individuals to step-up and take stands.  For many this may mean, taking the time out to debate the issues.  But, we need to start at home, by teaching respect.  Respect for each other, respect for others property, respect for others views, and respect for the history that is shared.  We all have differing view points – we all see similar problems, just not the same solutions.  We need to respect each other to give individuals a chance to listen – you may find out you have more in common with them and their ideas than you thought.  A group with diverse viewpoints might just happen to create a better and more elegant solution than anyone ever thought possible.

How do you stay current? Or, preparing for the next breakthrough.

One of my all time favorite leadership quotes comes from Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts:

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place.  And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”

In our constant contact, fast paced, instant information world;  you know that it is a requirement to stay current.  But, the question is how?

Many professionals stay current by subscribing to some sort of digest service (my personal inbox gets over a dozen digests each day).  Your professional societies are also a great source of critical new information in your chosen field.  Then, there are a host of personal digesting services or apps out there.  But, this still does not solve the problem of how.  Because, it isn’t the technical side of getting the information that holds us back; it is the time to review, assess, and comprehend the information that is the trick.

As leaders, you know that it is important to stay current in your chosen field.  This is equivalent to the Queen’s running just to stay in place.  It is information from other areas or solutions applied in one industry that can be modified to apply in another.  So, not only do you have to deal with the information, you don’t have time for it now; but, you know to get to that next breakthrough, you have to “drink from the fire hose.”

So, what do you do?  Of course, there is the shut down response – do nothing and hide in the dark.  This won’t help, but may make you feel better temporarily.  Here are some more constructive approaches:

1) Keep an active read pile – both an electronic one and a physical one.  Instapaper is a great clipping service that can help you manage those internet or electronic articles you want to read.  It is accessible through any device which makes it very helpful.  You can use the same process, pulling out only those articles you want to read from your magazines and placing them in a folder which you can take with you to read over lunch.  (If nothing else this reduces the physical pile of magazines to a more manageable stack.)

2) Make some time to read – Give your self permission to stop and take time to read.  You might do it over your coffee break.  Or use an application like NaturalReader to convert the information into an audio file so you can listen to that article while running the treadmill.  This is one time where multitasking may be actually beneficial.

3) Relocate to a different place or office when it is time to read.  Don’t sit at your desk, if you do – you know what happens – you won’t dedicate the time that you need.  It gets swallowed up by other things.

Finally, make sure that you have something to write with or take notes on.  Those ideas that come to you while you are reading may just be the thing you need to make that next breakthrough!

 

Been thinking about the workplace…..

It is summer, a time when most of us take at least a couple of days to enjoy with family, friends and do something different than the usual day-to-day business of working.  It has gotten me to thinking about why we tend to hate work.  Additionally, there have been a large number of blogs, articles, and other surveys as to why we hate work.

The reasons that you tend to find are not what one might expect.  No we aren’t lazy.  No its not that we don’t care.  No it is not usually about salary or specific benefits.  It is something more basic – it is about respect, recognition, and growth.

All of us need to earn a wage in order to exist in our society, so salary and pay are part of the equation.  But, it isn’t always about the money.  Look at Lebron James – he is moving back to Cleveland at a lower salary and the reason he left in the first place wasn’t about salary – it was about the ring.  Recognition.

We get frustrated at our places of employment, when:

  •  A person is praised for something that they really didn’t do.
  • There are double standards that don’t appear justified – for example Joe comes in late and leaves early everyday, and doesn’t meet goals, while some one else is “punished” for occasionally doing the same thing but exceeds their goals.
  • The wrong types of performance is recognized – some one is praised for bring in one contract at a high dollar value, while the person sitting at the next desk brings in 30 contracts at incrementally small values – (but may actually exceed the big one).
  • Mediocrity is tolerated.
  • Stated goals don’t match what is rewarded – for example: meeting customers expectations is touted but ensuring that client pays is more important.
  • Rewards are the same or based on arbitrary criteria.
  • Not understanding the people nature of work – relationships are important.

I am sure that you can add to the list.  The bottom line is that while there are business drivers for decisions, you have to address the human side of business as well.  Everyone is going to make a mistake or maybe not make the best decision, how the situation is handled will impact your human capital side of the business to a great degree.

Your key players – the stars and the everyday loyal steady players – need care and attention.  These are ones that will shut down on the job and will be shopping their resume’s.  If they are unhappy, your profits, your innovations, and ultimately the overall success of the business goes out the window.

As a leader, you have to think about two things when you are dealing with people:

1) How is my action going to be taken by the person directly involved?

2) How is my action going to be perceived by other individuals in the organization?

Here is an example:  you have an employee that is not performing up to standard and you give them chance after chance after chance, even a raise here and there.  (We all know of situations like this – you may be keeping that person because of a historic relationship or due to a specific skill or because one client likes them.) You have other employees that are meeting expectations, putting in the extra effort, and are contributing on a regular basis.  How does it look to the organization, if you recognize the mediocre employee in front of a group trying to improve their performance, while in the same meeting ask one of your regular contributors why a project is not meeting expectations?

We see leaders do this all the time.  Part of the reason is that your regular contributors may understand what is going on – but junior staff may not.  If this a rare occurrence, there may be no harm done – but if it is frequent – watch out.

The nature of the workplace and the nature of work has changed.  There is no longer a loyalty of the employee to stay with a particular organization.  Think about it – how long have most of the individuals been with your organization?  You may begin to see a trend.  Understanding that trend, and understanding that individuals are the intellectual capital of the organization may be the difference in your next innovation and your ability to compete.

 

Random Leadership Orts

It is a Friday afternoon in July, which is a perfect time to jot down those strange little thoughts, mind orts.  These are just a few brief scraps of leadership knowledge/experience that have been floating around my desk for a while.  Not a single one of them is lengthy, but they have merit.

Recognize someone. It only takes seconds, but it can mean a great deal. Even a small thank you to the mail person, or to the parking attendant makes a huge difference for both of you.

Act.  Most of us have an idea that has been lingering, a job we don’t want to do, a task we have been putting off, or even a conversation that we have been dreading.  It gnaws on you.  It takes away from the present.  It erodes your energy.  It makes you grumpy.  It is time to act – do something about it.  It is counterproductive to let it continue to fester in its current state.

Pay it forward.  We have all seen the benefits.  We have had mentors.  We even know how it makes us feel.  Have you ever had a bad day, and when you go buy your cup of coffee – you don’t have the right change – but the person behind you says – here take this nickel?  How does it make you feel?  It changes your entire perspective.  We get into the habit of thinking that to make an impact, it has to be big.  It doesn’t.  Most of the times, it is the little things, like helping a mom pick up something she has dropped when the kids are pulling at her for attention.  Recognizing that your office mate’s coffee is empty and bringing back and extra cup.  Speaking to a young family with children at a restaurant when their children are well behaved.  Sitting with an elderly gentleman and letting them tell you about that time when….  Our society, workplaces, and homes have gotten so wrapped up in electronics, our daily tasks, and other stuff – we have forgotten simple acts of kindness.

Learning is necessary for survival and it isn’t easy.  If you don’t learn, you don’t progress.  Learning is hard work.  You have to be observant.  You have to be open.  You have to accept that you may not be perfect.

– Everyone has their own style, and it may not mesh with yours.  This is something to remember when dealing with others.  This little tidbit is responsible for more miscommunications, disagreements, misunderstandings, and conflicts.  People have always said that you need to see the others perspective or be able to put yourself in their shoes.  You need to understand that we don’t always see the same thing the same way.

– Take some time to reflect, refresh and rejuvenate. This leads to more productivity, fewer errors, and innovation.

A few scraps to get you to thinking before you start preparing for the next week.

What your boss will never tell you….

So, you are early in your career and you are trying to meet all of the expectations of your employer, trying to develop that “balance between work and life”, and are trying to figure out what next.  This is a big juggling act.  You finally feel confident enough in your current position to make contributions and are starting to gain that much needed credibility.  Yet, you have that nagging question – am I doing the right things?

How you answer that question depends on a number of different criteria:

  1. Your personal definition of success
  2. Your vision of your future
  3. The organization’s culture
  4. The organization’s values

If you are like most young professionals, you may not have a clear picture of your definition of success or a vision of your future.  But, by now you may have a clear picture of the jobs or positions you don’t want.  For example:  you may be in product development but you hate to do the marketing studies – may be your skill set is analyzing the data from the marketing studies and putting together a strategy to meet the needs identified.  Or, you may be in the finance department and find that you thoroughly enjoy the budgeting process complete with sales projections and supply sensitivities, but absolutely don’t like trying to figure out cost centers and internal book keeping.

Generally, when people think about their careers and where they want to go – it is easier for them to say what they don’t want to do.  Maybe CEO is not where you want to be with all of the issues surrounding liability, time at work, meetings, stock holder presentations, etc.  Or, maybe you know that you want to have a more conventional day position that allows you time off for the other things that you enjoy.  By knowing what you don’t like, you begin to form a picture of what you do want.    So, the first two criteria are really in your own court and you need to take some time to analyze these aspects.

The other two criteria are dependent upon your work environment – how does your employer measure success and what does your employer look for in its employees?  As human beings, we are designed to pick up on cultural clues.  Think about it – why did they used to call IBM Big Blue?  Or, have you ever looked at the professional “uniform”?  Take a look around your place of work and you can probably tell what department a person works in just by the clothes that they are wearing.  It is part of the culture.

Culture is also communicated through the review process.  Here you are supposed to have a discussion with your superior about how your performance has been during the past review period and what improvements you might be able to make in the future.  This is key to the skills that you are going to have to develop as your employer has value for these.  But, these are not the only skills that you have to have.  You know this because even if you meet all the expectations put down during the review process – there is something that is rewarded and valued that is the difference between you and your peers.  These are the things that your Boss never tells you or your Boss may even discourage you from doing.  Here are some key items:

Networking – both inside and outside your company.  Some individuals think that this is a waste of your time or an example of inefficiency.  Yet, networking provides you with the contacts that help you get things done.  Networking supports innovation, helps to promote communication, and may ultimately be your parachute if something goes wrong such as a buy out, or lay off.  Your network is important to building your skills and reputation.  Use your professional societies and community organizations to build your professional network.  Ironically, what is initially seen as a waste of time may become a rewarded asset.

Participating in professional or community organizations.  Some organizations this is highly encouraged, but in others you may get the question – “Why are you spending time on that, how is it going to benefit the organization?”  Here are the benefits even if the organization has nothing to do with your company’s business.  One – you can learn a number of different leadership skills in a safe environment.  If the project doesn’t quite work out within the community organization, say that fund raiser only raised half of what you expected, what are the consequences?  You get out and try something different.  Two – you get to interact with people, thus learning a number of different communication styles.  Individuals in companies tend to start having “like me syndrome”, they talk the same, they think the same, and they approach problems in the same manner.  You need to have a bit of spice, a different view point, a different way of thinking, and different perspectives to reach good solutions. And finally, working with in your professional or community organizations you improve your network and credibility.

Helping and mentoring others.  Everyone has something that they can do well.  You might be a whiz at creating spreadsheets or presentations.  You may know the short cuts on the phone system.  Or, you may have just the right reference at your finger tips to save a colleague hours and hours of searching.  Sharing these skills are essential to building team.  By sharing where you can, you are developing intangible skills that are also resulting in tangible results for the organization.  You help to promote efficiency and you are building credibility along the way.  Again your Boss may view it as inefficiency in the short run or a slight delay in getting your work accomplished.  But, down the road you will find that you have built a solid foundation for your future projects without being aware of it at the time.

These three activities aren’t measured.  They aren’t documented on a review or goal sheet.  But, without them you will not achieve your vision of where you want to be nor will you have a safety net in the event that something bad occurs.