Why yes, you should take it personally!

 A client recently boasted about his ability not to take things personally.  I found the statement particularly surprising because the most frequent complaint about him is that he can be extreme in his reactions, which has cost himself several critical relationships.  On the upside, he is known as the person with the most heart, the most passion, the deepest commitment in the company.  He takes his success personally.  The problem is, he takes obstacles to that success equally personally; he reacts with a “fight or flight” response – and he always chooses to fight.

Taking things personally doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  Here are three ways to use it to your leadership advantage:

1. Use your passion to motivate and ignite others. Have you ever seen the guys w ho fire up a football huddle before the start of the game?  Their enthusiasm and energy is contagious.  Use your commitment to team or organizational goals to ignite passion in others.


2. Learn from resistance and constructive criticism. Abraham Lincoln engendered what Connors & Smith, in their book The Oz Principle (2010) define as accountability: “a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results…”  He was passionate about abolishing slavery, but was also passionate about reuniting all of the States.  By taking to heart the fears and objections of those who ad amantly opposed him, he was able to speak to those concerns, eventually allowing the 14th Amendment to be passed.  Take others’ fears and concerns to heart to develop a more compelling position or to change your own behavior.

3. Be emotionally intelligent. Face it:  people do not check their emotions at the door when they come to work – and that includes you.  (As an old psychology adage says, “You take yourself with you wherever you go.”)  Recognize why some people and situations “push your buttons.”  Own (but do not necessarily act upon) your internal feelings and reactions, so they don’t end up owning YOU.

So, the next time someone offers you constructive criticism, say, “Thanks.  I’m taking that personally.  And that’s a good thing.”

Endurance Leadership Step 1: Set a Powerful and Sticky Goal

Challenged Athletes Foundation Best Day in Triathlon
October 23, 2016
©2016 Rich Cruse CrusePhoto.com

As an executive coach, I often hear well-intended executives like Bob say things like, “I need to be a better listener.  I need to be more patient with people.”  When asked why, Bob says he knows it is the right thing to do, or he’s received feedback about improving his listening.  When pressed on how to do this, Bob says, “I just need to be more mindful.  I need to tell myself to listen more.”  Often several months later, nothing has changed; Bob is still described as a hothead or a know-it-all who doesn’t take time for people.

Why?  Because this goal isn’t powerful to Bob.  It doesn’t compel him to change from current state.  It also isn’t “sticky” – it doesn’t have enough upside to help him gut it out when things get dicey.  Sound familiar, like a New Year’s Resolution you have made, abandoned by mid-January?

Here’s a story of a powerful and sticky goal.  In 1967, 20-year-old Kathrine Switzer became the first female to finish the Boston Marathon officially.  She overcame significant obstacles to finish that race, including being attacked by a race official at Mile 2.  Do you believe Kathrine got to the Boston Marathon by simply “being mindful” of becoming a better runner?  Or because she felt she “should?”  Of course not.  She began running at age 12.  She trained for years, running through bad weather, sickness, and injury.  She had a coach and family who pushed and supported her.  She wanted to do this race – badly. As a result, she was prepared for adversity, digging deep inside herself when facing incredible opposition.  Her commitment to reaching her goal was so sticky that it could overcome physical harm.

If you want to embrace the framework of Endurance Leadership, start by setting a powerful goal.  A powerful goal is not easy. It’s going to take a lot hard work.  As my Ironman friends would say, “If signing up for it doesn’t make you want to throw up, it’s too easy.”  Listed below are some examples, with the leadership qualities they target:

  • By the end of the year, I want to have two people in my group ready to be promoted and to have a successor identified. (Developing Talent)
  • Within the next six months, I want to improve my give-and-take in conversations by 50% (Listening)
  • In the next year, I want to be a critical contributor in our Executive Strategic Planning discussions (Moving from Tactical to Strategic)

Second, make the goalsticky.”  What will compel you to stay true toward this goal when you are faced with the equivalent of running outside in 9-degree temperatures (e.g., you lose your best team member, your peer group has a toxic member, pressure on your deliverables jump through the roof)?  Perhaps it’s a deep sense of satisfaction you will get from knowing you were a team member’s best boss.  Perhaps it’s the pride of knowing your strategic contributions are critical to organizational success. Perhaps it is a promotion.  Whatever it is, make sure it is something that matters deeply to you.

Locke and Latham (2002) showed that If you’re not challenging yourself, you are not getting better.  Endurance athletes perpetually have a powerful and sticky race on their calendar.  What is yours?

Up next…Endurance Leadership, Step 2:  Build a Game Plan

Endurance Leadership: Introduction

Me in Piedmont Park, Atlanta, August 2011

In 2011, I had big goals:  I was going to complete an Ironman triathlon in November.  I was going to best my annual billable targets by at least 20%.  I was going to lead my high-performing team to new success.  Then, on Aug. 6, a terrible bike wreck left me with a broken pelvis, a crushed Ironman dream, and a question mark regarding when (or if) I could return to work.  I was devastated.  The blow was as soul-crushing as bone-crushing.

What I’ve realized since that fateful time is how much my endurance athlete mentality helped me recover.  Further, by embracing leadership as an endurance sport, I could more effectively deal with the opportunities, surprises, and setbacks that inevitably crop up as a leader.  I’ve used this mentality with coaching clients as they’ve faced an array of leadership challenges:  a high-performing employee suddenly quits; a boss unexpectedly foists more aggressive revenue targets on the team; functional responsibilities are added onto an already crippling workload; an opportunity arises to take a big international job while raising a young family.  As a result, these leaders didn’t  just survive, but excelled in the face of exciting events or rogue reversals of fortune.  I, too, used these strategies to thrive personally (see photo below) and professionally.  More to that story at the end of the series.

Over the next few months, I’ll share my Ten Tips (+1) to Endurance Leadership that will propel you to a podium finish.   I look forward to your input.

Me finishing Ironman Chattanooga,  Sept. 2015.

You Screwed Up; Now What?

imagesThis morning, I received this email from a doctor’s billing office:  “Dear ANN, We’ve screwed up.  And, for any inconvenience we’ve caused, we’re VERY sorry.  We’re doing everything in our power to inform you of the issue and whether it applies to you…” 

 My first thought was, “Now THAT’S refreshing!”  When was the last time you experienced that kind of up-front honesty from a provider or vendor (or political candidate)?  When were you last totally transparent with your client, colleague, or spouse about a screw up?  When did you last hear, “I’m sorry?” and not, “I apologize if that bothered you,” or “We recognize we made an error.”  We know that failure is human, yet we struggle with taking active ownership of our mistakes.  Why?  Because, as research shows, there may be some real benefits to it:

  • On an individual level, there also may be benefit to not apologizing: some several studies showed that those who refuse to apologize experience greater power and higher levels of self-esteem.[i] Saying “I’m sorry” may rob us of power or denigrate our status.
  • Further, as the authors of the Oz Principle[ii] point out, taking accountability in our culture is quickly associated with guilt and shame, and can make some people feel vulnerable. As one corporate leader quipped on a social media feed, “I never apologise in the business world – if you let them see a weakness like that, you’re done for.”
  • In a litigious society, such ownership might have disastrous legal consequences. As a result, we have come to expect corporate Boards and leaders to deny or downplay their involvement in problems, e.g., “Mistakes were made.”

Yet substantial research highlights the benefits of a sincere, well-placed apology:

  • In a 2014 study,[iii] researchers found followers who believed leader apologies were sincere reported “greater trust in leadership, satisfaction with supervision, leader–member exchange quality, affective organizational commitment, and forgiveness than those reporting insincere or no apologies.”  In other words, followers felt more positively about leaders who apologized – but only when they thought the apology was genuine.
  • Similarly, another study[iv] found that apologies in personal relationships were more accepted, and forgiveness more willing to be given, when the transgressed person felt highly satisfied with the relationship in general.
  • Bevens et al. (2015) found, “There is evidence that apology from an offender influences the victim at the affective, cognitive, and behavioral levels.”[v] In other words, people receiving an apology tend to think, feel, and interact with apology-givers more favorably than non-apologizers.
  • Legal research argues that apologizing can be of benefit in private negotiations and their outcomes – but once again, the apologies must not be insincere.[vi]
  • Going back to my own experience, I felt quite positively about the note from the doctor’s office, probably because I already have a good relationship with the people there. Even the front desk staff take a genuine interest in me, following up on previous conversations, getting to know me personally, etc.  I already feel this whole office cares about me.  If I felt they treated me like a number, I wonder how I would have experienced this apology?

So, is it better to apologize for screwing up, or not?  It depends on your goals and your relationships.  Do you want feel great about yourself, regardless of how others might perceive you?  Do you need a strong power position in this situation?  Then maybe you don’t apologize.   On the other hand, is your goal to bolster good relationships with those who have been offended?  In these situations, a sincere apology is probably the best course of action.  To make the best of your screw-up:

  • Start with an existing positive relationship. The willingness of others to forgive your error starts way before it happens.  Build relationship traction by spending time with individuals, getting to know them personally, and sharing your human side.  The more relationship deposits you put in the bank, the less likely you are to be overdrawn when you have to make a withdrawal, which a screw-up can definitely do.
  • Acknowledge it ASAP. Waiting only weakens resolve and may build resentment from others.
  • Make amends. Apologies are meaningless if there’s not a commitment to doing something differently.  Let your brain problem-solve as it intends.
  • Be genuine. Your apology is not sincere if it includes ifs (e.g., if you were offended, I’m sorry), reflects sarcasm, shares blame, or minimizes the error.  If you can’t muster it without those components, wait until you can.
  • Make it personal. Where possible, apologize to each person that might have been affected by your mess-up.  It gives them a chance to hear your sincerity and to offer you their forgiveness.  This may be just a powerful as the apology itself.

To err may be human, but to apologize is to reflect true personal and relationship leadership.  Think carefully about when, how, and why you offer it – or don’t bother.

[i] Okimoto, T., Wenzel, M., & Hedric, K. (2013).  Refusing to apologize can have psychological benefits (and we issue no mea culpa for this research finding).  European Journal of Social Psychology, 43, (1), 22–31.

[ii] Connors, R., Smith, T., & Hickman, C. (1994).  The Oz Principle.  London:  Penguin Books.

[iii] Basford, T.E., Offermann, L.R., & Behrend, T.S. (2014).  Please Accept My Sincere Apologies: Examining Follower Reactions to Leader Apology.  Journal of Business Ethics, 119 (1), 99-117.

[iv] Schumann, K (2012).  Does love mean never having to say you’re sorry?  Associations between relationship satisfaction, perceived apology sincerity, and forgiveness.  Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 29 (7), 997-1010.

[v] Beyens, U., Yu, H, Han, T., Zhang, L., & Zhou, X. (2015)   The strength of a remorseful heart: psychological and neural basis of how apology emolliates reactive aggression and promotes forgiveness.  Frontiers in Psychology, (6), 1611.

[vi] Lavens, P. (2011).  Negotiation and Apologies: The Role of an Apology, the Role of the Law, and the Role of the Lawyer.  Bond University Faculty of Law.

Your backside – on Jumbotron


Last night, after facilitating a lively conflict workshop, I chatted with a few attendees about the importance of regular self-reflection to true self-awareness.  Our discussion ranged from therapy to honest conversations with family members to use of 360s.  “What is a 360?” one person asked.  I was surprised, but not shocked, that he did not know about 360-degree surveys.  Widely appreciated as a critical assessment tool in coaching and consulting, it is rare these days that I come across a leader who has not participated in a 360 feedback survey – willingly or not.  Simply, a 360 asks an individual to answer questions about her behaviors, and for boss, peers, and direct reports (as well as customers, vendors, or family members, where appropriate) to do the same.  When leveraged well, the result is a full and honest picture of how the  individual perceives herself, and is perceived by those who know her best.  Used in the context of a coaching or development program, the effects can be quite positive for facilitating greater self-awareness and behavioral change.

You would think that we would all jump at the chance to participate in one of these, right? After all, we’ve become a society obsessed with feedback, from Facebook “Likes” to Fitbits to RescueTime.  An avid triathlete and workout junkie, I can’t seem to do even a brief, ten-minute workout without strapping on my heart rate monitor and my Garmin 910xt that tracks every mile and every heartbeat. We LOVE feedback, right?

Well…hang on. Most of these are private tools, ways we can evaluate our activities and performance in our own private Idaho. It’s like checking out your backside in a two-way, full-length mirror. But a 360? That mirror just became a giant, Jumbotron-sized movie screen, simultaneously broadcasting the view of our derrière from the perspective of 20 other people, right into the comfort of our living room. Hold the popcorn, thanks – I think I’m going for a walk. Seriously, who thought THIS would be a good idea??

Another challenge to soliciting feedback is that negative feedback is inconsistent with our self-image.  If you’ve ever asked, or been asked, “Does this ______ (fill in the blank:  dress, shirt, mumu) make me look fat?” you know there is only one answer to this question, because saying “yes” would create cognitive dissonance between what the asker wants to be true and what is true.  The already daunting proposition of feedback may worsen if the information could impact our performance reviews, raises, or promotions. So, needless to say, the notion of a 360 can seem pretty daunting to even the stoutest of hearts –  or the firmest of butts, if you will.

Here’s how to make that butt-gazing 360 a powerful and positive tool:

  1. Set the right tone. Ensure the 360 is part of a positive, developmental framework. It might be part of a leadership development program, a team-building activity, or an executive coaching engagement. All should be future-focused, with clear goals to help you achieve success. If not, put off the 360 until you are motivated to receive the information (if possible). Similarly, communicate clearly and optimistically with your 360 raters about the purpose of the feedback activity.  A positive approach will set the right tone and increase the likelihood that others will participate honestly.
  2. Pick the right raters. You don’t want to only raters who will tell you your backside looks “tighter than Barbara Bush’s smile” (thank you, Mary Meyers, for that beaut of a simile), nor only ones who will  tell you to retire those skinny jeans, stat. I counsel clients that their raters should span a mix, from their greatest fans to their biggest detractors, and many folks in between. Pick people who will be insightful, balanced, articulate, and forthcoming. Your boss and a strong HR partner will be helpful in putting together your list; as a coach, I require their input into rater selection, as they may have insight into useful perspectives that might otherwise be missed.
  3. Prepare yourself. Before receiving feedback, take time to think and reflect. What do you think will be the positive points of feedback? The negative? Which group do you anticipate will rate you highest/lowest on different areas? Why? The more prediction you can do, the less the feedback will come as a surprise. This will hasten your trip through the SARA curve and get to focusing on behavior change. While you cannot anticipate where the blind spots are, prepare to have a few. It will leave you less challenged when they occur.
  4. Take time to digest it. Receiving this type of feedback is much different than checking your watch mid-run to ensure you are in the proper heart rate zone. Set aside a serious chunk  of time for careful review.  Use an expert who can help you understand and process the information.  I counsel my clients to set aside four hours for us to review together, face to face wherever possible.  Friday afternoons often provide the most distraction-free timing, and a chance to move seamlessly into continued processing over the weekend.
  5. From SARA to strength. SARA stands for surprise, anger, resistance, and acceptance. It’s Kubler-Ross’s stages of death and dying, retrofitted for the business environment. The more anticipatory work you’ve done, the quicker you can move to through the stages to Acceptance, and begin to implement behavior change.
  6. Treat feedback as a gift.  Like any physical gift, there is only one thing to do with it; say “thank you.” Even if it is a gift you did not want, need, or expect, your only act is to say “thank you.”  Reach out to your raters individually, and thank them for their willingness to give of their time and insights to help you improve.
  7. Articulate your commitment to change.  Create a plan for your top areas of focus, and share those with those you interact with most.  Increasing awareness will help you remain accountable to behavior change, it can provide others an opportunity to support you through additional feedback, advice, or coaching.

Even if you don’t have access, resources, or support to a formal 360 tool, take advantage of informal feed-forward opportunities.  Ask those around you, How Can I be better? This single question could make a huge difference in your leadership, work interactions, and overall interpersonal success.  Over time, that butt-highlighting Jumbotron may become a little less scary.

Celebrate #SmallBusinessSaturday with a free coaching session!


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work with a dynamic, experienced executive coach? Now is your chance to find out.  In celebration of SmallBusinessSaturday (Nov. 28), I’m offering The Gift of Coaching.  I’ll provide a free coaching call to any developmentally-minded or curious individual who is interested in learning how to ignite their leadership – for life!

To receive your session, email your contact details by Wednesday, Dec. 2nd to ann@llumos.com.  Sessions will take place in December or January, as schedules allow.

Give yourself a gift this season – an opportunity to explore your potential and ignite your leadership!
Happy holidays,

Ann B-E

Mentoring Post #2: Leverage mentoring to achieve goals – and gratitude

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to read my post on mentoring from earlier this week.  It was brought to my attention by one of my best and frequent mentors (husband Dave) that the Mentoring graph might not exactly be intuitive, and suggested I provide a bit more explanation for those less familiar with the concept of mentoring.  I’ve now revised the post and included a link here, to help elucidate the model.  See?  Mentoring works!

Despite (or perhaps because of) its popularity in our business nomenclature, we may have become desensitized to the importance of mentors and the scores of ways we regularly receive mentorship.  Think about when were you most recently mentored.  What were the circumstances and outcome?  How did it help you achieve your goal(s)?  What type of mentoring relationship is it?  Does the person know you view them as a mentor?

Great leaders are cognizant and deliberate in how they use others to reach their goals – and quick to recognize that their success is built by standing on the shoulders of others.  Tune in to the ways you utilize your mentors, and you will be more likely to approach those relationships with intentionality – and gratitude.


Mentors, mentors…everywhere!

I’m a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn’t have the heart to let him down.  – Abraham Lincoln

Sometimes I have to marvel at my good fortune.  Between Thursday and Friday of last week, I’d been given hours of counsel on how to propose work to a potential client from two very different perspectives.  The counsel was not from a paid consultant; on the contrary, both conversations were with peer mentors.  From two different coasts, backgrounds, and consulting perspectives, they provided varied and valuable insight regarding how to approach this vexing opportunity.  Just a few hours prior to the first call, I’d felt adrift and anxious about how to respond; after the second call, I felt energized and equipped with a clear, well-informed game plan.

Over the past few years, I’ve recognized my own personal need for greater mentorship.  Perhaps it is being a sole proprietor of a business, a raging extrovert in search of camaraderie in what could otherwise be a lonely existence.  Perhaps it is a corollary of Mark Twain’s famous quote: as I age, I’m astounded at how much smarter those around me seem to have become.  Or maybe it is more reflexive, the youngest of seven who had some excellent mentor siblings.  Whatever the reason, I notice that I have very little interest in ‘going it alone’ these days; instead, I regularly turn to peers and senior members of my profession to build a superior consultancy, and to personal relationships to ensure I’m living my life aligned with my ultimate mission. .

We all know the benefits of mentoring: for both parties, it enhances our thinking, creates clarity and perspective, expands our network, and provides us with more visibility – all of which could lead to better career opportunities or more fulfilling life goals.   What a deal!  So…why does finding a mentor seem so difficult?  Nod if any of the following may be true for you:

  • Your work environment does not provide exposure or time to leverage potential mentors;
  • Mentoring has become such a formal process within your work environment (matching systems, formal meeting requirements, and report-outs) that it doesn’t seem worth it
  • There seems to be a multiple on the number of people seeking mentorship to those willing to give it, it’s hard to find someone who will give you the time
  • You’d love to have a mentor, but are just too busy (or you think your potential mentor is too busy)
  • You don’t know where to start, who to ask or what to do

If you feel stuck in this mentoring riptide, take heart!  There are likely excellent mentors all around you – with no formal process, fees, or programs required.  To help you find your way, determine a few things:

  • What do you want out of mentorship?  Are you looking for a guide for life, or perhaps just for the next year?  Do you need someone for a particular point in time, to help you through a challenging situation like a job transition, a new leadership role, or a challenging conflict? Do you want a mentor that will meet regularly, or one with whom you can have impromptu/point in time discussions?
  • Who qualifies as a mentor?    Do you need to have the CEO to feel like it is a valuable use of your time?  Could it be your office mate?  Your brother-in-law?  Your old college friend?  I often use the rule of, “Can I learn some essential things from this person?”  If so, I’ve probably just made them a mentor on some level.
  • What do you offer?  Is there a case for this person spending their most precious commodity (their free time) with you?  What will they get out of the deal?  The less the person knows you, the more you may have to make that an explicit part of the ‘ask.’.  If you can’t find anything of value you are giving to the mentor, it may be the wrong person to approach.  Or you may simply need to build your confidence and recognize what you bring to the table.

Once you’ve determined your internal parameters for mentorship:

  • Determine the optimal structure of the relationship.  The Mentoring graph provides a guide for thinking about the different types of mentorship, measuring the level of formality of the relationship against the level of expertise differential between mentee and mentor.  Some examples are provided.  You may feel you need to focus on just one domain, or you may feel you want a mentor in each one.  The right composition will depend on the time and energy investment you, and the mentor, are willing to give.
  • Look around you.  Examine who in your life is already providing you mentorship.  Chances are, there is someone (or many someones) you are already leveraging for their knowledge, expertise, candor, listening skills and willingness to challenge you.  Determine how you want to leverage their ninja-like capabilities and make this an explicit part of the relationship – and what you will offer them in exchange.
  • Know the limits.  There may be times when the counsel and support you can get from a mentoring relationship just isn’t enough; you might need some more robust training or consultation (e.g., advanced education, certifications, therapy, or formal supervision).  Have a candid conversation with your mentor if you find your needs aren’t getting met; chances are good that they are feeling similarly.  They may even have resources to help you meet your next goal.
  • Be a mentor.  One of the best ways to expand your own expertise is to mentor others.  Being challenged, questioned and invoked regularly for your expertise will bolster your knowledge and confidence.  Iron sharpens iron.  It’s also a great way to pay if forward for all the great mentoring you will receive over your lifetime.
  • Get going!  What are you waiting for?  You’ve got everything you need to find the right mentoring relationship; muster up the courage to ask, and reap the benefits of the vast expertise all around you.

Lastly, Be Grateful.  I am grateful for the scores of mentors I have active in my life. Every one is helping me build toward my life’s ultimate mission, professionally, personally or both. I engage each person or group at least once per quarter (most once a month), and the payoff is worth every bit of the time.  To each of you, THANK YOU!

  • Formal Mentoring: Drs. Bill Berman, Mary Kralj, and Ellen Lent
  • Career Peer and Point of Impact Mentors:  Drs. Rick Brandt, Bill Haas, Frank Merritt, Dan Feldman, Tony Saccone, and Susan Thornton
  • Career Peer Mentoring Posse:  “The Divas of Division 13”: Drs. Sandra (Sam) Foster, Carolyn Humphrey, Laurie Moret, Karen Steadman, and Becky Turner
  • Interest Groups:  Lean-In Circle members Cynthia Powell and Deborah Willig and the scores of smart women of LIWP (Leadership Institute of Women in Psychology)
  • Life Mentors: my husband, Col. David Bowers-Evangelista; my sisters, Dr. Nancy Evangelista and Patty Miller; my longtime college friend, Laura Larson; Roger Oxendale; Veronica Sheehan; and Team Z triathlon Coaches Ed Zerkle and Alexis Lopez-Buitrago.


What will you see when you look back?

Several weeks ago, our women’s peer mentoring group sat in stunned silence.  One of our members told us that her cancer, in remission for the past few years, was back.  In a big way.  While she did not reveal the specifics of her prognosis, we intuited they were grim.  An indefatigable and positive spirit, she spoke in upbeat tones about her attitude toward her time left.  One specific comment she made, somewhat offhandedly, reverberated long after our meeting ended: “When you don’t have much time left, you don’t spend very much time looking forward; instead, you spend a lot of time looking back.”

This somewhat innocuously-made comment forced me to start thinking about my own life and legacy.  When the day comes for me to reflect on a life now spent, whether I have moments or years, what will I see?  Will I see a workaholic who put client needs perpetually ahead of quality family time?  Will I see countless hours spent in front of my electronic devices, consciously ignoring the beautiful world around me to “just finish this one email?”  Will I see a woman who preached service and community, while hoarding wealth and self-indulgence?  Or will I see the woman I aspire to be:  leading in work, home, health and community?

How many of us find ourselves so overwhelmed by our arduous pursuit of our idealized lives only to realize we are consumed by them?  Have you wondered where you found the time to meet with your employees regularly as a younger manager, eager to help your employees succeed?  Do you marvel at days gone by when you were able to exercise regularly, wondering now, “How did I fit that into my jam-packed schedule?”  Do you look forward only to see deadlines, obligations, and another year gone by without much of a vacation?  Is community involvement a hastily-clicked Paypal deduction from your checking account a few times a year, because you just can’t find the time to  serve?  Is your “humble-bragging” about busyness and overwhelm truly a wish that others will admire how hard you are killing yourself to do it all?

I often talk with my coaching clients about “the tyranny of the urgent.”  We are so mired in what should be done that we forget to keep a true focus on what’s really important.  Sure, we don’t forget about it altogether, but we often only attend to it guiltily, often as an afterthought after another breathless day.  Somehow, in our push to get it all done, we’ve forgotten what “it” is really all about.

What is “it” that you want to look back and admire of your life?  What would it be like to intentionally choose for a life that you will have led, rather than one that was led for you? If you want to explore, consider these steps:

  1. Articulate your life’s ultimate mission.  What are you uniquely on this planet to do?  Can you verbalize it in 15-30 seconds?  If not, devote some  focused time to figuring it out.  If you knew you were to die tomorrow, would you be proud of how close you came? Take heed: this is a spiritually and emotionally-consuming activity.
  2. Review your activities.  Carefully evaluate the time you spend in four key Domains of Importance (DOIs):  work, health/wellness, family, and social life.   Use a pie chart and fill in each pie piece as full as appropriate for the level of  time/energy each DOI gets.  How even/bumpy is your wheel?
  3. Compare and face reality.  Now, compare your graph with your life mission.  What do you see? How close will you come to living your life purpose if you continue on your current path? What needs to change?
  4. Chart a new course.  Write out the old story you’ve been telling yourself – all the reasons you can’t live your mission. Then write a new story where you are living the mission.  Then, commit to your new story through behaviors and accountability.  Enlist the help of close others to help you stay the course.

Living intentionally toward your ultimate goals will not likely sacrifice your work product;   In fact, it’s likely to increase your focus, energy, and ultimately your effectiveness.  But, if it did get begin to denigrate your work, you have the choice to make:  will you continue to sacrifice your life mission for your work?  For how long?  To what end?

My friend with cancer began living her legacy long ago.  She looks now with pride on a life lived fully.  If you were in her place, would you say the same?

The Brain Drain – A Looming Reality

A few months ago, I toured a client’s auto parts plant.  While on the production floor, the Senior Vice President of Operations and the Plant Manger proudly introduced me to Bob, who runs one of the press machines.  “Bob,” the SVP yells over the machinery, “is one of our star employees.  He has worked here for…how many years is it now, Bob? 38?”  Bob looks up from his machine work and assents with a polite nod, then returns to his task. The Plant Manager chimes in, “We don’t know what we’d do without Bob – he knows more that machine than the machine does!”  He offers an appreciative clap on Bob’s back as we walk away.  When we take our hardhats and goggles off in the office, I ask about Bob.  The Plant manager crows about Bob’s expertise, efficiency, and knowledge.  I query, “Bob has been here a long time; how many more years will it be until he retires?”  The Plant Manager admits he has no idea, and he would never ask him.  I inquire, “Who else knows that much about that machine as Bob?”  No one, the Plant manager admits.  “So…Bob could retire tomorrow, and no one else knows how to run that machinery even close to as well as he does.  What would you do?”  The SVP and Plant Manager quickly dispel any concern, stating that there are plenty of talented employees who surely could do the job. Still, I can tell I’ve hit a nerve…what will they do if Bob retires suddenly? Who is trained to do his job?  What impact would it have on the effectiveness of the company if there was suddenly no one to run this machine the way Bob has?

While the tale is fictional, it could be told in countless factories, offices, and agencies all over the country.  While Congress is embroiled in resolving our national “fiscal cliff,” businesses, nonprofits, and public sector organizations are facing a “cliff” of another sort: the impending retirement of a huge segment of our working population in the next ten years (Baby Boomers), combined with a lack of ready talent in existing and emerging talent pools.

Demographics elucidate the issue: currently, there are 79 million Baby Boomers in the US (aged 48-67).  Many have built their careers at one company over many years and they hold significant “brain power” in their organizations.  This is particularly true in a few industries (utilities, manufacturing, real estate, healthcare). The pint-sized Generation X (aged 32-47), of which there are only 49 million, is already fully deployed in the workplace. So, who will fill the shoes of the Boomers when they retire? Will the 75 million Millennials (aged 20-31) be ready in the next ten years?

Early statistics say no.  Predilections hold that we will have a major talent shortage as we loom toward this cliff, for several reasons, among them:

  • Mismatch of capabilities with needed skills. In general, companies report that young professionals lack the type of training and experience required to be successful in many of the jobs that will be vacant by Boomers. This is particularly true in industries like utilities, where it is expected that 50% of employees will retire by 2020, and manufacturing, where 600,000 jobs are expected to be vacant in that same timeframe.
  • Lack of interest. Many young people have a desire to work in industries that are “sexy,” such as marketing, real estate development, social media, consulting, etc. When facing the opportunity to either to work as a Shift Manager at a manufacturing plant with lots of career longevity or work for a plucky new internet startup that turns people over every two years, 20- somethings are more likely to pick the latter. After all, nothing is guaranteed so why not do something fun that will make a splash on a resume?
  • Growing adoption of “personal CEO” mentality. Many young people are approaching the workforce with an expectation that they will not stay in a job long-term.  In fact, 70% of college graduates stay in their first job less than two years.  As such, they are more likely to see work as a “job” rather than a “career” than their predecessors, and work to build and diversify their skill sets as quickly as possible before looking for something else.
  • Knowledge hoarding.  In many companies, veteran employees tend to keep their knowledge to themselves, for fear that if they transmit it to younger workers they will become dispensable. The belief is this knowledge is power as job security and leverage.
  • Lack of corporate urgency. During the economic downturn, many companies slashed budgets for training and development in service of keeping costs low.  That means for the past four years, many employees have not had the luxury of formal learning to grow their capabilities. In addition, about 33% of companies say they know the talent gap exists but   are doing a poor job of addressing it.

The good news here: many Boomers are staying in the workplace well past the age of retirement, so there’s still some time to prevent the “brain drain cliff.” But don’t delay – they will be leaving before you know it.  Some critical steps to retain knowledge in the company:

  1. Conduct critical workforce planning and analysis. Engage in rigorous workforce planning, identifying critical roles for now as well as the future. Dusting off ten-year-old job descriptions won’t cut it – define and quantify roles and responsibilities. This should not be reserved just for executive positions; identify the “linchpin” positions – those roles that have direct and significant impact on achieving financial or operational success – and ensure those roles are well-defined.
  1. Evaluate/build robust succession planning. The next step is to engage in careful evaluation of your talent pool, to understand readiness for next-level roles.  Succession planning and talent review should be a regular part of your organizations’ plan for retaining knowledge and talent.  Use the “three-legged stool” of talent identification: Potential x Performance x Preparation.
  1. Review recruiting strategies.  Engage in critical review and revision to your strategies for attracting and selecting great talent. What strategies are you leveraging to meet a changing demographic?  What is your company/industry brand image in the marketplace? Are you seeking seasoned talent that may have been displaced during the economic downturn?  Robust and regular evaluation is key.
  1. Maintain continuous focus on knowledge management/knowledge transfer. Steve Trautman, an expert on knowledge transfer, talks about the “secret sauce” of knowledge transfer: going well beyond on-the-job training, it requires accelerating the acquisition of wisdom. OTJ training is one tool, but also consider apprenticeships, internships, “returnships” (internships for experienced individuals have been out of the workplace for some period of time), mentorships, Dynamic Computer-Based Training (DCBT), critical skill review (manager and seasoned employee), instant messaging, wikis, podcasts, and old-fashioned storytelling.
  1. Keep older workers engaged. By keeping your oldest workers safe, job secure, and in control of their destinies, they are more likely to willingly develop their successors.  Deploy flexible approaches to work/family and retirement options.  Transfer workers to less physically demanding tasks where necessary.  Provide ongoing learning – and teaching –opportunities; they want to continue to learn! Involve your seasoned employees in the selection of a successor. And, create development and “twilight” career plans so they can transition gracefully into their next life chapter.
  1. Keep younger workers engaged.  If you want to buck the “70% turnover in two years” statistic, you must work to grow and develop younger workers from day one. Continually develop their skill sets (deep and broad).  Create flexible learning strategies, where they can have input into what and how they learn. Let them select a mentor early on.  Leverage a variety of communication styles that will meet their needs, not just yours. Provide regular review and feedback, and ensure seasoned employees treat them with respect.

The brain drain “cliff” is looming. You can equip your organization with a bridge to success by taking action now.  Start with a few action steps, keep it simple, involve affected employees, evaluate, and make adjustments along the way.  When you find you are successful…Congress may come calling.