Don’t Bother to Self-Reflect

“Observe all men; thyself most.”   ~Benjamin Franklin
“Observe all men; thyself most.”
~Benjamin Franklin

Self-Reflection is Not Self-Loathing

Charles Dickens, author of A Christmas Carol, said:

Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.

Self-reflection yields self-awareness and understanding, which yields growth. But if all you do when self-reflecting is focus on the negative, then don’t bother.

Dwell not on the negative.  Instead, appreciate the positive.  Cut yourself some slack.

Read my latest post at LeadChangeGroup.com for some advice on how to take some time out over this holiday season for renewing self-reflection:

Where Did You Lead in 2013?

Here’s an excerpt:

Find your favorite quiet spot in the office, your house, your backyard, your neighborhood coffee shop and ask yourself these three questions about 2013:

  1. What went according to plan?
  2. What were the disappointments?
  3. What were the nice surprises?

Once you have your perspectives about this year, turn your thoughts to this one question:

  • Where will I go in 2014?

Happy Holidays!

12 Sites On Leadership: A Starter List

technology

This is the Information Age.

We connect and do business through the internet at an ever increasing speed.

In addition to using the internet and other electronic channels to buy, sell, and trade, we are, more and more, sharing knowledge and best practices on a variety of important business topics.

For example, the internet is abundant with research, blogs, news stories, videos, cartoons, and yes, even haikus on the subject of  leadership.

Google the phrase, “what is leadership” and get 1.42 billion results.  Try “how to lead” and it bumps up to 2.28 billion.

So where would someone new to the study of leadership look for the best stuff?

Well, I don’t know about “the best stuff.”  But to help anyone navigate the digital leadership lane, I have compiled a list of 12 sites for leadership content that I visit frequently, along with their associated Twitter handles.

A Starter List on Leadership

  1. fastcompany.com: @FastCompany
  2. forbes.com: @Forbes
  3. inc.com: @Inc
  4. johnmaxwell.com/blog/: @JohnMaxwellCo
  5. kenblanchard.com: @LeaderChat
  6. leadchangegroup.com:  @LeadChangeGroup
  7. leadershiptraction.com: @LeadershipHaiku
  8. mylinkage.com/blog/: @LinkageInc
  9. smartblogs.com/leadership: @SBLeaders
  10. talentculture.com/leadership/: @TalentCulture
  11. ted.com: @TED_TALKS
  12. tip.hbr.org: @ManagementTip

info age comic

Got Leadership Info?

I know there are more sites out there.  Leave a comment below to add your favorite sites and Twitter handles.

[images: unmultimedia.com, condenaststore.com]

Overdue Leadership Lessons

fork-in-the-road-3A LinkedIn Request To Remember

This week I received a LinkedIn request I didn’t expect.  A business owner I knew from fifteen years ago reached out to me, explaining that he was connecting with former interns from his business.  That’s the power of social media today.  Connecting with the new and reconnecting with the old.

Except, there was something slightly off about this particular connection request.  He said he was connecting with “former interns.”  Was this a joke?  You see, I remember, in fact, quite clearly, the experience of interviewing for an internship with this man.  I can still see myself in his office, sitting in a small chair facing his desk. Him seated on the other side, asking questions like “if you had to grade yourself, using A, B, or C, on your knowledge and skills, what grade would it be?”  Me, saying “most definitely an A+”, thinking I was wisely setting myself apart from other internship candidates by adding that plus.

I also remember, once again, quite clearly, not being selected for the internship program.  Maybe I should have used two plusses…

So, why, now, was he reaching out to me as a “former intern?”

I wrote back.

Me: Good morning, I will certainly accept your invitation to connect, but I should mention that I was not an intern.  I did, however, apply for an internship back in 1998, but was not offered the position.

Him: There may have been a slip-up on our end because I know that we wanted you to join our team.

This was startling news.  Back then, I wanted that internship more than anything.  This was to be the big internship that would put me on the path to success in the marketing world.  At the time I was double majoring in both Marketing and HR.  Marketing was the main focus, and HR was the “extra major.”  After college, sans the “big internship,” I slogged away, trying my hand at a marketing-ish job, working for a commercial printing company.  Without a great internship experience under my belt, that was the best I could do.  After a year of trying that, unsuccessfully, I shifted my focus to an entry-level HR job.  Many years later, I’m a career HR guy, and loving it.

But, what if?!  What if, there hadn’t been a “slip-up?”  What if I’d had that big marketing internship?  Where would I be today?

My wife, in all her morbid wisdom, suggests that maybe that’s the job where I would have met my future killer and I wouldn’t be here today to write this blog.  She has a way of putting things into perspective.  One of my best friends pointed out that had I not gone into HR he and I would likely have never met. He’s one of the coolest guys I know, and I’m lucky to have him in my life.

And let’s not forget that I love my job, and I think I’m good at it.

The Leadership Lesson

So, there you have it. Everything happens for a reason, as they say. I think the lesson reinforced by this Ghost of Internships Past is that our experiences make us who we are today. And that, instead of harping on our missed opportunities, we should be celebrating those we were given, and learning lessons from both.

Also, as leaders we should be in touch with these low moments, as much as the high ones, and reflective of how each shaped us into the leaders we are today.  If you haven’t considered it lately, take a moment to look back on your life and your career, and ask yourself “Where did I struggle? Where did I trip or fall?  And what did I learn from those experiences?”

My lost-internship experience falls into the category of when I tripped and fell.  From that internship I learned lessons in rejection and humility.

Looking Back

Looking back, I may have oversold myself a bit.  When asked how to grade myself, perhaps the smart choice would have been a B.  This would have signaled that I was confident, but that I knew I still had room for improvement.  This experience should have been my first warning sign that I had some valuable lessons to learn about being a successful member of an organization.  Unfortunately, I did not recognize the signs at the time.  So, it seems, the lessons in humility had only just begun.

In my very first job after college I had a difficult time gaining acceptance with the more senior members in my peer group.  In fact, they outwardly disliked me.  This was foreign to me because I had not previously had difficulties making friends.  But from this, I started learning the hard lessons that credibility and respect are not automatic – they are earned.  I left that job after only one year for two reasons: I did not like the work and my peers were unforgiving.

Unfortunately, many of the challenges that plagued me in my first job carried into the second.  I continued to have challenges with my peers, and this time, also with my bosses.  Despite the ongoing hardships, I stayed with this job for three years because I knew that I needed to build my resume and gain some hard skills.  Over those three years I kept learning about credibility.  For the first time I really understood the words integrity and ownership.  And by this point was developing the hard HR skills I would begin applying the rest of my career.  Even better, I was being introduced to fields that would slowly evolve into my professional passions.

Finally Getting It

When I joined the third company after college (where I still am today), everything changed.  Before I started, I self-assessed and took to heart all the hard lessons I had learned in my previous jobs.  I knew that I had the rare gift of a fresh start, and so I made some tough choices about how I was going to perform from then on.  My first goal was to build credibility and trusting relationships with my peers and bosses.  I did this by working smart, striving to be the best, and by being respectful.  My smart choices began to pay off and this allowed me to grow.  That led to new projects and assignments, and from those I furthered my skills and gained new strengths in the fields that excited me the most.

Today, I hold a senior leadership role in my company, and feel I am contributing to its success through work I enjoy.  I proudly use myself as an example of a person who can fail early, learn from their hard lessons, recover, and succeed.

I’ve come a long way, and I can now trace things back to that one internship that got away.  So, thank you Ghost of Internships Past for accidentally rejecting me from the internship I wanted more than anything.  As it turns out, what I needed more than anything was a good hard lesson.

Join the conversation:

Where did you struggle, trip or fall?  And what did you learn from it?

Scrap Learning

Sometimes we fail to learn. Sure, we go to training. But that is where we misstep.

We expect to return from training smarter and more skilled than ever before. But without any kind of regular and frequent reinforcement of what we learned we are likely to forget up to 90% of it, and fast. This goes for any kind of event where knowledge transfer takes place, be it classroom training, a seminar, a coaching session, e-learning, or reading a book.

I’ve heard this loss of new knowledge and skill referred to as “scrap learning.” Just like in production where pieces of raw material get scrapped if not used (i.e. scrap parts), in learning pieces of unused knowledge and skill get scrapped. What a waste of time and money. A poor investment if you ask me.

So what can we do to protect – better yet, gain – a higher return on our investment?

Before the learning event occurs, take this simple step. Engage with yourself, and your leader if he or she is sponsoring your attendance, to set expectations about why you are attending and what you want to learn. If there is no goal, you may end up focusing on nothing at all.

Use these simple questions to guide that discussion with your leader or with yourself:

  • Why am I taking part in this activity?
  • What will I do during it? How?
  • What will I do after?

Following the activity have another conversation with yourself, or your leader, to see how you did relative to your goals. Better yet, write it down or share it with a third person. We remember more when we take these extra steps.

Also, quickly look for opportunities to use what you gained from this activity. The more you use, the more you retain.

Third, monitor your progress and seek feedback from others as it relates to the application of new knowledge and skills. This feedback should be timely and, when possible, in-the-moment.

Use these simple questions to guide your post-activity reflection:

  • Why did I take part in this activity?
  • What do I do during?
  • What did I gain?
  • What will I do now?

Learning in the real world is not like learning in the movie The Matrix where the protagonist, Neo, instantly learns how to fight the bad guys by plugging a machine into the back of his head.

In reality, we learn by doing.

Remember how you learned to ride a bike? It wasn’t by sitting in a classroom, reading a book or listening to a lecture. It was by riding the bike. Your dad may have explained the basic mechanics to you first, but it didn’t become real until you started pedaling.

We should not expect that learning is a one-time event.

By engaging in self-reflection before and after a learning event we can reduce the chance of scrap learning and maximize the investment in ourselves.

What have you tried to make the most of learning?