Monday, July 30, 2012

Make Learning a Priority

I am often astounded by the number of people I meet each week whose biggest reason for not being 'where' they want to in their careers, or not having achieved 'what' they want in their lives is a lack of education.  

'My boss won't pay for me to take any courses' they lament.
'Our company doesn't offer tuition reimbursement'
'I can't afford to pay for these programs myself' 

Yes, I agree...  formal education can be expensive.  However, not continuously learning what you need to stay current, if not ahead of the pack, is perhaps the biggest disservice that you can pay to yourself and your career.  It's an easy and ready excuse to blame others for your not continuously learning and exposing yourself to new ideas and concepts, especially when all the 'reason' brings you is the end result of NOT having what you need to succeed.

Continuous Learning is a Key Success Trigger

In today's electronic age, it is easier than ever to access - for FREE - the information, training, programs and tools that you need to learn what you need.  Not accessing it, not reading it, not learning it  - well, the fault rests solely on your shoulders, since the cost issue is truly no longer a barrier.  Of course, the second most common reason I'm given for not learning is that it takes 'time', and time is one of those commodities that everyone seems to have in short supply.

Certainly we all have a myriad number of things vying for our time and attention over the course of each day.  However, you are ultimately the one making the choices about how you choose to allot your time.  If you find that you have little trouble in finding the time to keep up with a number of your favourite shows on television, then you have time available for learning.  You are simply not choosing to do so.

The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.B.B. King
Try out any of the following ideas for increasing your access to new thoughts, messages, skills and learnings.

  1. College Programs.  There are a growing number of Colleges and Universities that are beginning to post free programs on the internet, for all to access.  Even colleges like Harvard and MIT have joined into the mix.  Check out iTumesU for a listing of many you can access or search for Open Curriculums in Google to find a subject and program that interests you.
  2. Blogs.  Given the multitude of blogs on the net it should not be a problem in finding someone who is an expert in an area you are not and follow them.  Let them research the topic for you, condensing it and sharing their insights.  Consider checking into well-known and admired publications for blogs that they offer from respected guest-bloggers (such as Harvard Business Review's blog)
  3. Online Videos.  Video blogging and posting is growing at an exponential rate and is a great way to gain exposure to new concepts and thoughts.  Many are quite short and give you exposure to ways of thinking and insights you might not have otherwise.  Although many might not be in your direct field, it is always interesting to discover how an insight made in one field can create a new awareness in another.  My favourite of course is Ted for interesting talks on topics I might never have learned about otherwise.  You can even search for a talk based on time.  Only have 5 minutes?  Ted can offer you talks that fit that timeframe.  Even Youtube has many educational resources you can tap into.
  4. Podcasts.  Another great resource, also accessible through the itunes library, are podcasts.  Many experts in their field offer a regular podcast on short topical issues and discussions.  Search through the various offerings and check out a couple to follow to keep yourself informed.  Download them to your favourite electronic device and listen on your way to or from work.
  5. Books.  Often overlooked but definitely my favourite resource.  Reading not only expands your mind,  but it also helps to develop your vocabulary and communication skills, helps to train and develop your brain's ability to think and conceptualize ideas. Although you can certainly purchase your books directly, whether in hardprint or in a downloadable format, don't overlook the value of your local library.  My card is well-used.  I will often borrow business books on tape to make use of my commuting time to help keep me well-informed and up-to-date.
“Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” ― Walter Cronkite

With so much information available to us with no cost beyond our investment of time, there are no barriers to continually growing and advancing our knowledge-base.  I guess the only real question to ask then is one we often ask our children over dinner...

What did YOU learn today? 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Building Trust

We have often heard it said that trust is difficult to develop, yet easy to lose.  In business, we know that solid relationships are built upon a foundation of trust.  And yet, research shows us that only 49% of employees 'trust' Senior Management.  The implication seems to be that despite our 'knowing' we need to cultivate an environment of trust, we aren't 'doing' what it takes to build it, let alone support it.

Stephen Covey says that 'Trust is confidence born of two dimensions:  character and competence". Character being comprised of elements such as integrity, intentions and motives, and competence elements like capabilities, skills, results and track record.  It is not enough to simply demonstrate that you have the skills to fulfil the responsibilities of your role if you do not also enter into your business dealings in an ethical manner.  Conversely, the reverse is also true.  You may demonstrate integrity in your approaches, but if you lack the requisite skills to get the job done, then others won't trust your in your ability to make it happen.

The truth of the matter typically rests not in the 'good' times.  When things are running smoothly it is easier to be more trustworthy.  It is easier to hit deadlines, easier to show interest and compassion in others, easier to be more upfront in your business dealings and relationships.  Trust then is typically really made or broken during the tough times.  It is during those difficult moments, when making those tough decisions, that your strength of character determines the path you follow and, ultimately, how trustworthy you are.

Often, the cost to us of straying from the path of our convictions, of compromising just the slightest, is much larger than we may realize in that moment.  We become much more aware of the price that was levied when we attempt to rebuild what was lost, discovering that in many instances we have inadvertently created a gulf far too large to be bridged.

Use the following to help you find ways to build, and maintain, your trust-level with others and perhaps also as a gauge of where you may be making compromises that are damaging the trust levels in your relationships and your reputation.

You build trust by...
  • Making the 'right' decision, even when it might not be popular, or cheaper options exist
  • Showing up when it's not convenient for you
  • Saying what you feel even when risky
  • Keeping your promises to others, even when you might have gotten away with not doing so
  • Being transparent in your motives and intentions
  • Telling the truth, even when it would be easier to lie
  • Doing what you say you will, when you say you will, even when something 'better' came along
  • Righting wrongs, even when you could have walked on by them without anyone knowing you were there
  • Being open about what your expectations are of others, situations, and yourself
  • Holding yourself accountable to your agreements, handshakes, promises, potential
  • Trusting others will earn your trust in them, rather than withholding your trust until they have 'earned' it
Remember that there are typically two options to any choice we face - the high road and the low road. Trust is always built on the high road.  If you find yourself journeying along a lower road option, know that it is rarely the short-cut that it might seem at the time.  Short cuts generally create distances and gaps in other pathways that may more than offset any perceived advantage that the low-road seemed to provide.

Trust me on this one!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dream Less but Expect More!

We have all been told, on numerous occasions I'm sure, to dream big, that if we can't dream it we can't achieve it. The cold hard truth is though... Dreaming doesn't make it so. It turns out that thinking about what we want in life doesn't get us closer to achieving more. However, becoming clear about what we 'expect' will.

The Placebo Effect in medicating and treating individuals is well documented. A patient administered a sugar pill, if they expect it to reduce their pain, will typically experience pain relief. The patient expected the 'drug' they were receiving to be effective, to a certain degree, in reducing their pain and therefore they experienced that degree of pain relief.

In a well-known study students were divided into two groups; high and low IQ. Only teachers were informed which group each student was in. The students knew nothing of the division. After eight months, the High IQ group was performing significantly better than the Low IQ group. However, unbeknownst to the teachers, the students had been randomly assigned to the two groups. The groups actually had no bearing on the actual IQ of the students. Remember also, the students knew nothing about the assigned groups and yet their performance suffered due to the arbitrary classification. The determining factor? The expectations of the teachers themselves. The teachers 'knew' which group each student belonged to and therefore had different expectations for each that unconsciously influenced the results and achievements of each.

This is big. Think about it for a minute. What you expect of/from others influences what you will likely receive from them. Pretty powerful stuff!

Take this concept and apply it back to the concept of your dreams. We all know that our dreams aren't true. We don't really expect them to occur, we don't hold them as a certainty. Is it little wonder that we don't achieve them? Instead, we have to reframe our dreams as certainties. We have to 'expect' them to occur if we want to truly experience and achieve them. It is through these unshakeable expectations that we continue to persevere, that we continue to move forward. It is this certainty of expectation that helps us to cope with frustration and disappointment along the way. We may experience setbacks but we are better poised to keep going and pushing through when we expect that things will turn around.

I see this phenomena play out often with coaching clients. It is not unusual for people to express a desire for more, better or different in their lives. However, when questioned about their expectations I find that, although they would like or hope for better, they don't truly 'expect' things to change. As a result, they don't tend to engage in the behaviours necessary to drive the change they want. If you don't expect that your efforts will make a difference, you'll be hard pressed to expense the time and energy into those efforts.

Our expectations are critical to our experienced outcomes. Note that expectancy is a non-conscious process. It is an unconscious prediction that manifests in the conscious mind as a certainty. Hoping for something does not convey that same sense of certainty that expectancy does, therefore you do not feel the same compulsion to invest in making it happen. Expectations drive attitudes and behaviours which, in turn, lead you to engage in actions that drive your desired (expected) results. Hoping or wishing for something does not generate a call to action and therefore you tend to remain safely ensconced in your armchair, surrounding by those unfulfilled hopes.

How does this look?
  • You hope to win a lottery some day but you expect to spend the rest of your life earning $50,000.00 per year. Your current salary? $50,000.00. Typically, research shows us that we each tend to earn the salary that we truly expect that we are worth, that we expect is possible for us.

  • You want that new promotion, but you expect the boss to say no. You're not surprised when that is what they say.

  • You want to lose weight and keep it off but you expect that you will always have to struggle with your weight and yo-yo dieting. Sure enough, you somehow manage to regain those 10 pounds you just lost
Sound familiar?

The difference between wanting or hoping for something and what our true expectations are is the key differential in what we truly experience and receive in our lives. If you truly want something different then you need to build the expectations that will support that desire. Challenge your limiting beliefs and existing expectations, replacing them with those that support those desires and dreams. Otherwise... they will continue to remain simply hopes and dreams, as ethereal and unreachable as the clouds drifting by outside of my window.

In a nutshell...we GET what we EXPECT. 

Was this blog post insightful, interesting and helpful for you?  I expect so!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Are you working Big or Small?

Let's face it... there is no shortage of work to be done.  Our schedules are jammed. We race from one meeting to the next, one task to the next, one conversation to the next. We get stuff done.

But... and this is the definitive but... we mostly play it small. Every day we are caught up in pushing through the clerical and bureaucratic work. Yes, I do realize that it's your 'job', but when you are in the mode of 'getting stuff done', of just 'pushing things through' to get them checked off the list, you are doing the Small work.  The day to day grind of those things that need to get done but that don't distinguish you. We can get so caught up in the 'busyness' of work that we overlook the fact that we are simply being busy, but not getting busy on the things that matter.

If you want to stand out from the crowd, then you have to be prepared to do the Big work.  These are your key differentiators. This is what your competition is likely not doing.  Like you, they too get caught up in the bustle of the everyday.  To stand out you have to be prepared to take on the Big work.  These are those elements that might be risky, that might prove scary, but that help you to stand out and move up.

The Big work can take place in small moments of decision.  Moments in which there is no time for major planning or design, just the need to step up to the plate.  These are the moments that you could quite easily pass on.  No one would fault you for not doing them because they likely are not fully within your job description.  They are risky because, if you fail, you will be faulted.  However, if you succeed, it is a certainty that you will be remembered, appreciated and noticed.  Ultimately, this is the formula for getting promoted.

You can play it safe and build your career safely straddling the 'Meets Expectations' line but know that your greatest achievements and successes in life occurred when you stepped away from that line and took a chance. The moments that likely still infect you with a feeling of pride and accomplishment were those when you thought and acted Big, when you stepped away from the safety and comfort of small thoughts and small deeds.

Look at how you fill your days, the activities you engage in, the thoughts you have, the risks you take and ask yourself... Am I working Big or Small?   Your actions drive your rewards.  Are your actions in line with what you want for and from your life?

If you work Small, even in huge volumes, expect small rewards.  Working Big is what it takes for those big rewards.  You don't need a lot of them, but you do need them if Success is your goal.

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Monday, July 2, 2012

What are your 'Reasons'?

I still have kids at home...
We have a mortgage...
I don't have a degree...
I'm paying off my degree...
I'm too old now...
I'm too young...
I don't know enough to...
It's too risky...
The time isn't right...
The market isn't right...
Once I'm in shape...
I tried it before and it didn't work for me...
My boss would never go for it...
I have bad knees...
Others have said it's a bad idea...
I'm really busy right now...
I've invested too much to get where I am...
I have kids to support...
I have my parents to support...
I don't have the money...
I don't have the time...
I've never tried this before...
People might laugh...
People might think I'm crazy...
People might talk...

There are no shortage of reasons to NOT do something.  If you find yourself consulting your list of 'why not to do' something you want, you will never do it, never start something new, never try something new, never grow.  There is no reason on this list (or on a list you carry with you) that is big enough to stop you from going after something you want, IF you want it badly enough.  The question is... how badly do you want it?

In life you can have 'reasons', or you can have results.  Your choice of course, but the answer seems pretty clear to me.

The 'best' use of your reasons list?  Get a box of matches, a stick and a bag of marshmallows.  Truly, the best possible use of the reason list is to give yourself a treat!