Human Energy for High Performance

Athlete
Extraordinary performance is achievable when you understand your personal mission.
This article is adapted from an article originally written for Horizons Magazine, a publication of the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, Spring 2020.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of working with a group of leaders on the subject of human energy for high performance. During this session, we explored what it takes to perform consistently with the highest levels of energy when it matters most, based on decades of research conducted with elite athletes and military special ops teams. Sports psychologist Jack Groppel and his colleague, exercise physiologist Jim Loehr, were seeking to understand how these high performing professional athletes, who were at the top of their game, could rise to even higher levels of achievement. What these researchers discovered was that regardless how much time, energy, effort and training these athletes put into their preparation, their performance was limited until they were able to tap into what mattered most to them: their ultimate mission.

When you compare these professional athletes to professional leaders, it is easy to see the similarities. Leaders are like “corporate athletes,” in that they are required to perform consistently under intense pressure, measured by their numbers and held to sometimes brutal accountability. Last year’s record becomes the new standard or baseline for this year’s performance. Taking care of one’s body is taking care of the business. Laser-focus in the moment is required for success.

Lastly, the right energy is required for high performance in both of these types of professionals. Professional athletes work four to six hours per day, 90 percent of that time is spent training and preparing for game time. They endure a career span of seven to 10 years. By contrast, professional leaders typically spend eight to 12 hours per day, 10 percent training for a 30+ year career span. In agriculture, these numbers are likely even more extreme. The key difference here is that elite performers invest in training, whereas our professional leaders are up against more demands over a longer period of time with limited resources and training. So how can we train for life? The reality is we only have 24 hours in a day. However, we can change the energy we bring to those moments that matter most to ourselves, stakeholders or loved ones. Energy is a personal resource that can be expanded and managed. Proper motivation changes our mindset and changes our energy. The more engaged we are, the greater our ability to perform at higher levels. Managing our energy, not time, is key to unlocking extraordinary results.

Energy is four-dimensional: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. These dimensions are connected to, and create impact on each other. For example, when someone is physically exhausted or hungry, it is normal to observe a heightened emotional sensitivity. In fact, we might say they are “hangry.” Similarly, when emotions are heightened, such as worry, fear, anger, we know this may impact rational thinking and decision making in the mental dimension. Furthermore, when we allow these other dimensions to rule us indiscriminately, it is unlikely we are fulfilling our greatest purpose, functioning as our best self, or operating with emotional intelligence. The spiritual dimension refers to having a clear sense of one’s personal ultimate mission, rather than any specific religious or faith-based traditions, although these might inform one’s sense of purpose. Lastly, it bears noting that although energy inspires extraordinary performance from the top of the pyramid down, we increase energy capacity from the bottom up. For example, when we can prepare in advance for creative problem solving in the mental dimension by caring for our physical well-being with adequate sleep, nutrition and hydration, and then addressing the emotional dimension through journaling, deep-breathing or talking to a loved one.

Practical Application: National Travel Seminar

During a recent national travel seminar, participants were afforded daily opportunities to practice energy management on all dimensions. As our alumni will report, these travel seminars are an intense, often emotionally charged marathon of meetings and experiences, designed to expand critical thinking skills while reinforcing leadership behaviors and principles from previous seminars. Not only is the schedule fast-paced and physically demanding at times, but also the topics and issues discussed may challenge the mental and emotional dimensions as well.

Program participants demonstrated exemplary energy management by balancing the high intensity and demands of some days with adequate rest and self-care as needed, as well as understanding and compassion for each other during some of the more sensitive moments of the trip. Navigating the day-to-day adjustments, the class acknowledged the looming uncertainty that followed in anticipation of the coronavirus outbreak. It seemed we were one day ahead of each stop in our agenda.

We had planned to tour the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn about leadership in emergency situations (i.e., outbreaks). So, when the EOC was activated and we were relocated to a different part of the facility, we were uncertain what we might encounter during our discussion of emergency preparedness, food safety and tour of the David J. Sencer CDC Museum. Then we learned that President Trump would be onsite the next day, so there was a level of increased security and flurry of activity in preparation for his arrival. Special thanks to our contact at the CDC, without whom we likely would not have had access, were it not for connecting with her as a participant in one of our 2019 programs. When visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park and National Center for Civil and Human Rights (also in Atlanta), the class experienced a simulation of the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s, learned about the Freedom Riders and the courageous struggles endured in the not so distant past.

In Washington, D.C., the class called on all three branches of government, learning how each one interacts with others and enjoyed a special tour of the Capitol with Rep. Jim Costa. As we departed to Gettysburg, Pa., on Thursday to learn about leadership lessons on the battlefield, it was announced that all of the government offices had been closed to public visits. Then Friday, we departed in time to arrive home, reconnect with loved ones and prepare for self-quarantine.

We are grateful to have completed this travel seminar when we did. What a difference a day makes! I commend the class for setting the pace, managing their own needs, showing up with their full and best energy and engaging completely in this learning experience. They will make a significant difference both individually and collectively in the months and years to come.

Time for Reflection

At the time of writing this, California is under a mandatory shelter-in-place directive, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In addition to what has already been said about the importance of self-care, personal hygiene and social distancing, now more than ever, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to recalibrate, reassess and redefine our personal missions. May we all take this moment in time to reflect on the following questions:

  • What matters most?
  • What difference do I really want to make in the world?
  • Why is this so important to me?
  • What is at risk if I do nothing?
  • What are the stories I tell myself about why (or why not)?
  • What small daily rituals can I begin creating today that move toward that ultimate mission?

The research shows when we take moments to reflect on questions like these, we are capable of unlocking extraordinary results. Imagine if we all became clearer on our personal mission, and took one small step forward toward it. And then another, and another. Think of what could be possible!

For more information on this or other leadership topics, please see the following references or contact me directly at info@bluehorizonsolutions.org.

Resources:

Communicating in Times of Change

This article was first published in the Fall 2019 issue of Horizons Magazine, a publication of California Agricultural Leadership Foundation.

We live and lead in a time of incredible change, especially in agriculture. Whether a result of shifting demands due to foreign trade or international competitors or increasing regulatory requirements or evolving consumer preferences, strategic vision requires leaders to interpret the market conditions, make adjustments to business strategy and effectively communicate those adjustments across our organizations. It is often said that the only constant in life is change.

Change is messy, uncomfortable and typically avoided by many people. In my experience working in the technology industry, I have found seasons with high volume of change to be filled with innovation, opportunity and possibility. For leaders to effectively guide their organizations through such seasons of change, I’ve found the following model to be useful as a means of 1) recognizing behavioral responses they are seeing inside the organizations they lead in response to change, 2) understanding what people need in response to that stage of transition and 3) providing the appropriate leadership support to facilitate organizational change in the most empathetic and understanding ways possible.

In her book, “On Death and Dying,” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1969) describes five stages of grief, as a way to understand the normal range of emotions people experience when dealing with change in their lives—or in their workplaces. Her research observes and details these five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. In more recent years, organizational development professionals, including myself, have adapted and applied this model to understand how people experience organizational change.

Normally in organizations, a decision is made by senior leadership, which may include but is not limited to the executive team and/or board of directors. A period of due diligence and viability testing may follow, and then a plan is developed to communicate and execute the decision. Press releases are crafted, announcements are made and town halls may be held to convey the message. And then the organization reacts. At this point, leaders may forget that they have had the time and opportunity to process, think and reflect about the impending change before making such announcements, whereas their teams are just now learning about the change for the first time. Change doesn’t happen at the flip of a switch or the drop of a press release. Change efforts often fail when leaders underestimate the very real emotional response that takes place for the human beings inside their organizations. The simplified four-stage model that follows is an adaptation of Kubler-Ross’ model, and has been utilized in multiple organizations across industries to help leaders recognize, understand and respond to the needs of their people in times of transition. This four-stage model includes: denial, resistance (which combines anger and bargaining), exploration and commitment.

At the time of announcing any size or complexity organizational change, leaders can anticipate that people will first respond with what is called denial. This stage includes such emotions as fear, shock and denial itself. Associated behaviors may be comments or why questions like, “Why is this happening? Why would they do this to me?” When observing such behaviors, leaders can suppose the person is experiencing denial. This is a normal and natural first reaction to change of any magnitude or complexity. Typically, people in the denial stage are searching for information. They are looking to understand what the change is about, why it is necessary, what is driving the change, who made the decisions, based on what information, and most importantly—how will I be impacted? In response to this type of reaction, leaders can effectively support their people and address the need for information through communication. It is recommended that leaders provide as much information as is appropriate and possible to truthfully, transparently and legally provide, depending on the nature of the change. Transparency is key here, as it reinforces trust in the leadership team and belief that good and right decisions are being made on behalf of the people, the organization and the community. In the absence of information, human beings have a tendency to fill in the gaps through our imaginations, often creating worst-case scenarios. By providing real-time access to accurate information, leaders who effectively communicate can better equip their teams and stakeholders to deal with the changes being introduced.

There may be times when a leader does not know the most current information, or may not be able to provide updates as frequently as people would prefer. In these instances, the leaders may direct people to the most reliable information sources, such as a dedicated website, created as a communication channel specifically for the organizational change. This action serves a secondary purpose of empowering people to obtain the most current and reliable resources as needed, since each person will work through the change process in their own time and sequence. Further, setting expectations about frequency of informational updates can help alleviate concerns that people may have about missing updates or not receiving timely information. Simply knowing when the next update will take place may relieve this pressure. Then, leaders may continue to reinforce this by establishing a regular cadence of information. For example, a leader may set a recurring time of Tuesday at 9 a.m. to provide a weekly update of all related announcements. This cadence reinforces trust and reliability of information, and of leadership, during the time of uncertainty. It is further recommended to offer a channel for two-way communication: ask the team, either formally or in conversation, “What questions do you have?” “What information do you need to be on board with this change?” And use this to inform the next set of updates. Be sure to set up a system that cascades the updated information, leveraging each level of leadership through the organization. Every level of leader needs to be singing from the same song sheet and providing consistent messages for the change to be well-supported by employees.

Next, leaders will begin to recognize the stage known as resistance, which is an even more emotional stage, often combining reluctance, resignation, anger and frustration. In fact, this is where leaders may begin to see a decline in performance, resulting both from the temporary stall related to reluctance or resignation, but also related to any associated learning curve for new process. Even if it’s a very minor change, people will need to unlearn old ways of working, learn new ways and then return to efficiency over time. Learning curves take time. When leaders recognize these behaviors, it is important to understand that people simply need empathy. They will need to express what they are experiencing and name the emotions in order to move forward. This is a normal, natural and necessary part of the transition, which cannot be ignored or shortened. People need the time, space and opportunity to articulate what they are experiencing. Leaders can help their teams by listening and allowing the space to express what needs to be said. This type of empathetic listening is similar to what Ag Leadership fellows experience during synthesis. Once they have been heard, people will be more prepared to move forward into the next stage.

When people begin to consider possibilities, they have entered the stage known as exploration. Behaviors leaders might recognize may include questions about how: “How will I, the team, the division be structured in the new organization?” “How will we deliver our products to market?” It’s about considering, “How could this change possibly be good for me (my team, my customers)?” “How could there be positive implications for me or others?” The emotions and the behaviors associated with this stage are hopefulness, thoughtfulness and frequently, impatience or eagerness to get to the next phase of the process. People who find themselves in this stage of transition are looking for ideas. Leaders can support this stage by facilitating exploration, discovery and innovation conversations, whether in small group or one-on-one settings. By including people in the process of shaping a new future, this inclusive dialogue creates an opportunity for people to let go of resistance, and begin embracing future possibilities. Once people begin to see a new vision of the future, the organization begins to see a motivational accelerator. It begins to be exciting, productive and fulfilling to work there again.

Finally, the organization enters the fourth stage of transition, called commitment. In this stage, behavior often appears as acceptance, trust and team cohesion. There may be a sense of relief that the organization has returned to a sense of normalcy. In this stage, people are accepting the new way. They are seeking recognition of new right behaviors and actions, as reinforcement and reassurance of the new way of operating. Leaders can provide those positive consequences through reward of the desired behaviors. Some leaders may overlook the importance of this critical step in the change leadership cycle. However, organizations that execute this stage well become more resilient and adaptable, preparing their people for future cycles of transition.

It’s important to remember that even though the process appears to be very organized, linear and sequential, the reality is we’re dealing with human behavior, so it can be non-linear, messy and emotional. By recognizing behavioral responses to change, understanding what people need and providing the appropriate leadership support, leaders can set their teams up for successful organizational change.

To learn more about this or other topics, please contact me at: info@bluehorizonsolutions.org.

References:

  • Bridges, W. (1986). Managing organizational transitions. Organizational Dynamics, 15(1), 24-33. http://dx.doi. org/10.1016/0090-2616(86)90023-9
  • Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On death and dying. New York: Macmillan.

Leaving a Legacy

Adapted from an article originally written for Horizons Magazine, a publication of the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, Spring 2019.

Growing Leaders

Effective leadership development begins with understanding who we are as human beings, how we behave in relationship to others and how we operate in the world. This insight informs the choices we make in creating compelling vision, influencing decisions of others and recruiting followers to join us in the journey. Sometimes leaders make new discoveries in this process, revealing unrealized potential or overexerted strengths. While our strengths can be a vast wealth of resource from which we draw, they can also be taken to extreme, which may show up as risk factors, resulting in negative consequences in our relationships.

One example that comes to mind is the visionary executive, who was usually the first one to recognize shifts in the market, identify business challenges faced by clients and anticipate necessary innovations that would advance his company. He was known for being visionary, creative and innovative. However, the risk factor appeared when he would make what his team described as “cognitive leaps of faith” in introducing his recommended solutions without connecting the proverbial dots for others in the room. He simply expected others to see the solution as plainly as he did and criticize the competence and capability of others when they did not draw the same conclusions. This leadership approach cost him the opportunity to continue progressing in his career. Ultimately, he had achieved his plateau much sooner than he expected.

By contrast, a mid-level marketing director had a reputation for being results-oriented with a “get the job done” mentality. She described herself as a “pleaser,” which to her meant she would always take on additional responsibility and find a way to get it across the finish line, so as to please her superiors. Her executive team saw and rewarded her potential for being able to execute efficiently and effectively. The downside of this strength was realized when her team of direct reports may not have shared her ambitious drive and need for recognition. In fact, she drove her team excessively, by overcommitting them and accepting more responsibility than her team’s workload could reasonably support. In effect, she burned them out. As a result, a complaint was filed with human resources and she was put on a mandatory leave. Fortunately for her, this was a reality check.

She began working with a coach to understand her leadership style and to make intentional corrective choices to rebuild relationships, have the crucial conversations when necessary and asked her team for their input on reasonable timelines and deliverables to ensure their health, wellbeing and success. In the end, she returned to work, re-established her credibility and built a new leadership brand for herself as a highly collaborative and execution-oriented leader who cared not only about the work product, but also her people.

Both of these examples illustrate the importance of understanding our strengths and recognizing the consequences when those same strengths are taken too far or over-applied. In both cases, it was how the leader responded to feedback from key stakeholders that determined the outcome. The first leader ignored the feedback, deflected the responsibility and chose not to adjust his behavior. This resulted in the end of his tenure with that company. The second leader accepted the feedback as a wake-up call, reflected and evaluated how she wanted to proceed and then took corrective action. Ultimately, she has been recognized and promoted for her newly discovered leadership capability.

Making a Difference

Leadership is a choice—a series of choices, really. Every day we are faced with choices, trade-offs and decisions, all of which have consequences—good and bad. Further, the work of leadership is often considered to be dual-focused. Leaders must be ever mindful of two realities: the current state of daily affairs and the future vision for the organization. Whether we lead small teams or large corporations or nonprofit organizations, we must keep both realities in balance.

Keeping one eye on the current state, we rely on our teams to keep us apprised of the day-to-day details of what is happening inside our organizations, our markets and our communities. We may have analysts and advisors and we may become embroiled in the operational heavy lifting necessary to keep the organization moving forward. However, it is not unusual for leaders to become overly involved in the daily details. Leaders who spend too much energy on the day-to-day details may lose sight of the long view: where the organization is going. They may miss opportunities to partner or innovate or collaborate for a broader benefit. In short, they may lose focus on the mission.

On the other hand, it is essential for leaders to step back from the details and take another perspective. This allows the necessary time for reflecting on progress, anticipating course corrections, planning deliberately and proactively leading with purpose and intention in the desired direction. Although spending excessive time and energy in this space is necessary, when overextended, it may delay leaders from making critical real-time decisions to keep the organization productive and in some cases, solvent. This dual-focused work of leaders must remain in balance, so that the time and energy expended never strays too far in either direction, as dire consequences may result. The sum total of these everyday choices, in the end, determine the difference we make.

Leaving a Legacy

At a recent networking event, I had the opportunity to share my personal mantra, which is: Learn. Lead. Leave a Legacy. This means we learn new skills, ideas and ways of working and being so that we may become more effective leaders who make a positive impact. Our everyday choices, expressed in our words and actions, including how we spend our time, talents and treasures, leave an indelible imprint on the people and the environment around us. These choices and actions leave an impact, whether positive or not. This impact is our legacy. In “A Leader’s Legacy,” authors Kouzes and Posner (2006) write:
“To realize that we make a difference is both a joyous opportunity and a potential burden. Because we most influence those who are the closest to us, we’re given a great gift. We’re presented with the chance to change a life. We’re granted the option of investing in the growth of others. We’re offered the opportunity to make the world a better place.”

Leadership truly is about recognizing the current state of our world, and making intentional choices to leave it a better place than we found it. These events are an opportunity to reconnect with the community, as well as to shape the future. Together, let’s leave a legacy, make a positive difference and be a catalyst for a vibrant community and world.

Harvesting the Fruits of Our Labor

Growing up in the small, Central Valley town of Lodi, Harvest represents to me a season of reaping what has been sown, seeing fruits manifest, enjoying outcomes, and of course, evaluating performance. You’ve done the planning, laid the groundwork, tilled the soil, planted seeds of opportunity, and waited… sometimes patiently. Now is the season when all of those efforts begin to pay off!  The fruits of your labor are bursting forth with possibility.   How well does your organization measure its performance against strategic goals and objectives? 

Many organizations struggle to define clearly measurable performance objectives. When this happens, success metrics may not accurately reflect actual outcomes, impact or progress toward the organizations ultimate mission. Consequently, this complicates reporting, funding endeavors, and strategic planning initiatives for the following year.  What story does your performance measurement tell? 

Our strategic planning process begins with the end in mind. First, we evaluate existing key performance indicators, comparing against stated goals and objectives from the organization’s mission, 3-5 year and annual plans for alignment, measurability and validity, just like any good research project. To break that down a bit, here’s what we mean:

  • Alignment: Are we measuring what matters?  Sometimes we measure factors other than what was stated in the mission, strategy and annual plan. While this is perfectly normal and acceptable, let’s be certain we are doing so with intention. It is critical to determine to what degree are we achieving our mission. Performance indicators need to illustrate movement in the appropriate direction on the most important dimensions for your organization. These indicators tell us how close we are to achieving the goals, doing what we told our customers (and shareholders) we would do, and what needs to be improved as a result. 
  • Measurability: Can our performance indicators be measured?  Often, stated organizational goals are not only aspirational, but also esoteric, so they may not be captured in a quantifiable way. Even with the most subjective aspirations and strategies, quantifiable, measurable goals can be assigned to present a clearer picture of performance.  So this is an opportunity to revisit the organizational mission and objectives.
  • Validity: Do performance indicators measure what we intend to measure? For example, when measuring employee engagement, factors such as attendance or attrition may be interesting independent factors, but we can only measure the relationship between these factors, but we typically cannot argue causality from these alone.  What other data would better inform your planning for the future?
  • Recalibration: What story do the performance indicators tell? Every year, organizations large and small have the opportunity to recalibrate, realign and course correct for the following year. How would you like to envision the story at the end of next year?

Find Direction and Unlock Extraordinary Performance

Have you ever felt that there’s just not enough time in the day? Most often, when we run out of time for projects or pursuits, the reason is that we’ve spent a lot of time lost in ambiguity.  If you had 5% more energy, how would you prefer to spend it?

Research by Human Performance Institute shows that when human beings connect with our deepest sense of purpose  – or mission – we become significantly more focused, more intentional and more effective.  Decisions about how time should be spent are overridden by the impact a choice will have on our ability to show up with our full and best energy when it matters most.  When we are supremely clear about where we’re going and what we want to do, there’s no sense of time lost. Our actions are clear & precise, and we can make an AMAZING amount of progress in just a short period of time.  In reality, extraordinary performance is less about time management, but rather about energy management.  To energize your mission, follow these steps:

  1. Lay a Firm Foundation: Your physical well-being is the foundation for what you can deliver. When your body is tired, dehydrated, malnourished or burned out, how can you expect show up and deliver a world-class performance in a clutch situation? Continuously pushing your body beyond its capacity will force it to shut down.  The good news is that capacity can be increased through alternation of strength training and recovery intervals.  Meanwhile, be proactive and listen to what your physical body is telling you: Strengthen me, Feed me, Water me, Walk me, Rest me. Take care of it before it forces you into recovery by shutting down.
  2. Balance it out: Highly stressful work and life situations are emotionally demanding and physically exhausting.  Be mindful of your emotions, as well as how they are showing up in your conversations and your relationships.  Sometimes, stepping outside of the line of fire can restore a focus on that mission once again by recognizing what really matters most.  The simple act of reflecting on what you are grateful for has the power to reconnect you with what energizes you, motivating and driving you forward in a way that is meaningful, satisfying and powerful.
  3. Change perspective:  Sometimes we humans have a tendency to overthink things.  By stepping away from a problem or challenge to view it from a different angle, we open ourselves to think differently about what could be possible solutions.  Get outside your head a bit. Go for a walk. Go to the gym. Bounce an idea off a thought partner. Visualize the outcome. Then return to the question you’re trying to solve.  And be intentional.  It’s amazing how a different point of view can radically improve the quality of the solution!
  4. Connect to your Ultimate Mission:  Being clear on what matters most – that deepest sense of purpose for you – is what differentiates average from the exceptional. Seek your purpose. Find your direction. Get clear and be intentional.  Unlock the extraordinary!

What keeps you from achieving your highest purpose?

For more information on how we can help you identify your deepest purpose, contact us today. Learn. Lead. Leave a Legacy.

Let Your Light Shine!

by Shelli Hendricks

The world needs more light. Not more electricity or fluorescence or technology, but the warm, brightly burning ray that shines from within when you are your best self. Who are you when you are most proud of yourself?

Over time, fear, exhaustion and shame can dim the brightest of lights, especially during this season. For this reason, we must keep that flame inside burning bright, choose the path of light and love, and allow your brilliance to be seen.

Fortunately, there are plenty of tools that you can use to rekindle your spark every day. Here are four steps you can take everyday to reignite your light:

1. Be grateful. Tell the people around you that you appreciate them. Give thanks for the food you eat and the roof that you sleep under. Smile. Say thank you. Gratitude magnifies your feelings of goodwill, helping you stay focused on the good stuff. Whether you say out loud or write it down in a journal, this exercise can help you reconnect with what matters most to you.

2. Exercise. Sweating and moving for just 20 minutes a day has been clinically shown to improve your mood & boost your health. Try a yoga class, ride your bike around town, or go for a swim or a walk. Not only will the increased blood flow to your brain re-energize you, but your creativity, innovation and natural problem-solving become activated.

3. Meditate. Regardless of your faith, research shows that spending time in reflective silence reconnects you with your source of self-awareness, self-assuredness & happiness. Peace and restoration flow from being centered and mindful. As a wonderful secondary benefit, it’s also been shown to greatly reduce stress & improve communication.

4. Get to water. There is surprising scientific research that shows the neurological (& other) benefits of being near, in, on, or under water, including reduced stress, increased happiness, and improved performance. Whether it’s the ocean, lakes, streams, puddles, or a shower… get to the water. Get your Blue Mind on. #BlueMindLife

  • What can YOU do to let your light shine a little brighter TODAY?
  • What other practices do you use to refocus your light?

If we can be of service to you in reconnecting with your sense of purpose, vision for the future or what matters to you most, please visit our website, contact us today or click here to schedule time for a coaching conversation.

Our mission is to help you become the best version of yourself.

Be the Light.

6 Steps to Jumpstart Your Career Transition

In the past month, I have seen an increased demand for career transition coaching.

This tells me one of three things: either I’ve been farther off the grid than I realized (entirely possible!), or unemployment is actually higher than the reported 4% (US Bureau Labor Statistics), or significantly more people are disengaged and dissatisfied enough with their current jobs that they are considering alternatives. I believe it’s the latter. In my experience as an organizational development practitioner and executive coach, employees who are fully satisfied and fully engaged in what they see as meaningful work do not seek career transitions until circumstances change.

The good news is we can identify those areas of satisfaction and engagement that most closely align to our personal values and mission. If you or someone you know recognizes this situation to be true, there is hope for a fulfilling career ahead, whether in the current role or in a completely different space. The challenge, however, often comes in knowing what steps to take in pursuit of this path. These 6 Steps will assist you in jumpstarting the next phase of your career.

  1. Identify the Target: Sometimes the biggest obstacle is identifying what will bring increased satisfaction, engagement, fulfillment and joy in a career. There are many ways to accomplish this, including assessments, self-reflection, sabbaticals, conversations with trusted advisors, and exploring options with a coach. For some people, the change may be as simple as changing responsibilities or roles, while others may need to explore other organizations, even other professional fields. By knowing the target – what would actually bring joy, your aim will be true, as well as the efficiency and effectiveness of your effort.
  2. Create (or Enhance) Your Personal Brand: If you don’t know what this means, run a web search on your name and see what comes up. Imagine yourself as a recruiter or hiring manager looking to hire you, what do the results say about you as a candidate? What do you want the recruiter or hiring manager to see, think, know about you, based on your online presence? In my workshop, participants are often surprised at perceptions about their virtual profiles, especially those who are just entering the workforce or early in career. On the other end of the spectrum, some clients are shocked at the potential effects of having no online presence. Be objective, and then be intentional.
  3. Update Your Profile: In addition to beefing up your online presence, it is imperative to have a current resume and cover letter template, which may be customized to highlight qualifications that address the target job description. In addition, the LinkedIn profile should be refreshed and consistent with the resume. It’s a small thing, but it matters. Think of the cover letter as your first impression. It’s your first opportunity to state clearly what attracts you to the position for which you are applying, what qualifies you for consideration, and then request further discussion in the interview.
  4. Practice Interviewing: There is no substitute for practicing interview skills. Once you know the target, launched an arrow in the form of your application package (including cover letter, resume and profile), and scheduled the interview, your focus will shift to how you will represent yourself, your qualifications and your differentiators. How will you stand out from other candidates? What narratives will you share to convey your expertise, your experience, and your values? By practicing potential interview questions, not only do you reduce (not eliminate!) the element of surprise, but the responses and stories become more fluid, more natural, more authentic, which may help you relax a bit during the actual interview.
  5. Create a Successful Transition Plan: Even when change is an improvement in one’s circumstances, it can still be challenging, messy and even painful. By creating a transition plan, you will think through, plan for and mitigate the inherent obstacles, as well as prepare for those unexpected surprises that inevitably pop up during times of change. My clients develop a 90-day Successful Transition Plan, in which they envision what a successful transition means to them, ensure those satisfaction criteria are met and reduce any anxiety associated with making the change. This includes bringing the current role to a mutually agreeable and beneficial conclusion, and setting oneself up for success in the future position.
  6. Live the Dream: Now that you have embarked into the next phase of your career journey, it is good and right to celebrate! Then reflect on what went well, what to improve and how to ensure those satisfaction criteria continue to be achieved. Make course corrections early. Maintain relationships that have been built and fostered over time, and of course, build new ones. You never know how important your network is until you need it.

During the month of October, I am offering my 6-Week Career Compass Program at a special reduced rate, in response to the high volume demand for Career Coaching services. This program includes six weekly coaching sessions, which guide clients toward achieving their successful career transition objectives. This program is designed for recent college graduates starting a new career, entrepreneurs launching a business, mid-career professionals seeking greater satisfaction or making a complete career shift. This process will help participants to be intentional about their search, to polish up a resume and cover letter, to enhance social media presence, to practice interviewing skills and to create a successful transition plan, all in service to achieving that personal mission.

Click here or contact us today to learn more!

Standing at the Precipice

This Green Sea Turtle comes in for a closer look at divers in Grand Bahama.

Here I stand at the precipice of a new adventure – one I never would have predicted. My journey has included many twists, turns, peaks, valleys, heartaches and thrill rides. However, this next challenge will require courage of leaving what is secure and familiar, in favor of travel and research for the benefit of sea turtles and STEM interns everywhere!

Growing up on the San Joaquin River Delta, I have always been a water baby. Whether camping at the beach, deep sea fishing with my parents, waterskiing with friends and siblings, or simply relaxing on the boat, being on or near the water has always been my favorite place of peace, comfort and solace. However, my love, respect, and healthy fear of the ocean, and specifically large creatures with big teeth, prevented me from learning to scuba dive and pursuing a career in Marine Biology.  Instead, I discovered I had a keen interest  in observing human behavior, and specifically understanding how adult human beings learn. Consequently, I went on to study education and instructional design. For the past 20 years, my professional career has been relatively secure, focused on designing corporate learning solutions to address the various challenges and competencies required for successful business leadership development. 

Eight years ago, I made the decision to face my greatest fear: I was going to learn to scuba dive or literally die trying! Knowledge Reviews were fairly straightforward. Learning the skills in the pool came quite naturally. After gearing up, walking directly into the ocean, and being slapped in the face with that first icy wave, I realized I had a conscious choice to make. Fortunately, I chose to press on, trust my instructor, and rely on my training to get through this certification. Anyone who dives the Breakwater in Monterey in April knows that there are days when visibility can be spectacular. This was not one of those days. After a 200 yard surface swim out to the buoy, students were instructed to descend in buddy pairs with the instructional staff, kneel on the bottom, grasping the marker line and wait for our turn to demonstrate the skills. Visibility might have been 2 feet that day, due to sand churned up from surf and surge. Remarkably, I was quite relaxed, holding the line and waiting for my instructor’s hand to emerge and signal the skill for me to perform.  While this was not my first (nor my last) learning edge, it certainly has been a pivotal one. And I am ever grateful for the whole new world that was opened up to me that day. In fact, I love it so much that I now have the privilege of introducing others to the wonder of our marine environments by teaching scuba. 

Today, it is not by accident that I stand at the precipice of a whole new adventure. I have resigned the security of my full time job in corporate learning and leadership development, in pursuit of what appears to be the intersection of my passions:  leadership, learning, ocean and environmental stewardship. This week I will embark on a new adventure, no doubt filled with daily lessons, challenges, struggles, discoveries, friendships and opportunities. This new adventure marks a merging of my passions for the benefit of doctoral research, as I have the privilege to participate in an international internship to explore the efficacy of developing leaders in STEM fields through hands-on practical field research. While the work with sea turtles is not the primary research, it will be the work of my internship. However, my real research contributions will be to measure the efficacy of the program, understanding aspects like: How are participants impacted by the experience? How does it shape future choices to become marine ecologists, conservationists, socially and ecologically responsible citizens of this blue marble? Will they continue to pursue careers in STEM fields? To what degree will they be transformed by the experience? What will make the program even more effective? How are leaders in STEM fields developed?

It is my hope and intention that this internship experience will inform my doctoral research, focusing at the intersection of Leadership, Social Responsibility and Ecological Sustainability. Simultaneously, this internship coincides with #100DaysofBlue, during which I will be documenting the effects of being near, on, in, or under water. I invite you to accompany me on this journey virtually, by following my blog here, or sponsor this project on GoFundMe.

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Develop or Become Obsolete: Part III – Your Leadership Development

In my last post in this series, I wrote about Professional Development as an intentional focus on learning skills to be successful in business. Leadership Development, on the other hand, focuses on learning how to enlist, inspire, influence, guide and direct teams or individuals toward some predetermined result or outcome. This is not to be confused with Management, which is more focused on process and policy.  

Whether we are leading our teams, families, communities or ourselves, we can practice, practice, practice the skills of leadership. We can enlist people in our ideas. We can influence decisions and outcomes. We can inspire and motivate others to become their best selves. We in fact have an impact on performance, merely thru what we choose, say and do. One CEO refers to the “leader in everyone”, and in fact the leader expectations in his company are built around this idea.   

The good news is Leadership skills can be developed. Using the 70-20-10 model of development, only about 10% (or less) of leadership is learned through traditional modes: classroom, books, even videos or CBT’s. These traditional modes of learning serve as the seed of learning, whereas the 20% represents learning through others, such as networking, mentoring, coaching, offering good and bad examples of behavior. Ultimately, 70% of learning takes place on the job, in the role with real people on real teams with real consequences. This requires constant experimentation and feedback, followed by adjustment. It truly is the trial and error method of learning. The downside of this is that potential consequences of mistakes are also very real, especially to those on the receiving end of the impact. Leaders who are learning on the fly must also be incredibly humble, receptive to feedback, and sensitive to how their behaviors are experienced by others. At the bottom line is the leadership style building and creating trust or eroding and damaging it?

The reality is high performing individual contributors are often promoted to supervisory and management positions, long before they have developed a sense of their own leadership style, philosophy or approach. By contrast, professional athletes learn and perfect their skills and techniques on the practice field, years, even decades, before making it to “the big show”. It takes practice, practice, practice, with professional coaches, feedback from teammates, constant self-evaluation, experimentation and adjustment to perfect their skills. Can you imagine if professional athletes had to learn and hone their skills in the job in a real, high stakes competition when the scores count? 

For this reason, we all must develop leadership capability long before we have a supervisory position. Our choices, attitudes and behaviors reflect who we really are and how we will lead others in the future. Some of the most influential leaders in my life were not the people in positional power, but rather the people around me who cared enough to provide honest and candid feedback about my performance, my attitude, perceptions of others about me and challenged my thinking when I needed it.  

Whether we are leading our teams, families, communities or ourselves, we can practice, practice, practice the skills of leadership. We can enlist people in our ideas. We can influence decisions and outcomes. We can inspire and motivate others to become their best selves. We in fact have an impact on performance, merely thru what we choose, say and do. Further, we can invite and receive feedback graciously, by receiving it as an opportunity for becoming even more effective.

Regardless whether you are a new graduate just beginning your career, a mid-career professional transitioning to management or a seasoned executive, there is always improvement to be made in terms of how teams and organizations perceive and follow you. You can always be more effective, more impactful, more compassionate, more dynamic, more ….. (you fill in the blank). Feedback is the gift that helps you to identify what additional practice is necessary.

  • For those just entering the workforce, practice patience. Practice listening. Practice adapting your style to the needs of others. Practice inquiry. Practice giving clear, objective and caring feedback that helps others. All of these will serve you well. 
  • For all leaders at every level, be mindful of what your people need to remain motivated, inspired, engaged. Learn how to adapt your style to the needs of your team members in each situation. Be intentional about connecting your team’s contributions to the broader strategy. Reward good performance. Recognize and celebrate accomplishments. Say thank you. Keep learning. 
  • For executives, stay humble and remember what got you here will not get you to the next level. Whether by design or by default, you will have an impact. You will leave a legacy with those who follow. How do you want to be remembered? Take the opportunity to be intentional about how others experience you.

For more information on leadership development and coaching programs, visit Blue Horizon Solutions or schedule your complimentary coaching consultation today. 

Join our Leadership Mastermind Group: This special coaching group is designed especially for experienced business leaders to discuss complex business challenges with other like-minded executives for perspective, alternatives, insight and collaboration on a monthly basis. Sign up before April 15th and save 15%!

Develop or Become Obsolete: Part II – Your Professional Development

“Develop or Become Obsolete!” was the rally cry of a former HR executive during a season of intense organizational change. It was his way of encouraging us to become greater than we ever imagined.  As stated in my last post,  this quote has become a foundation of what I believe it takes for business professionals (or athletes, for that matter) to remain competitive and successful contenders at the top of their game over time.  We must continually learn, develop, grow and expand our skill sets, so that we may not only keep up with our customer demands, but also outpace our competition.

My coaching clients are typically focused on development in one (or a combination) of four domains: Personal, Professional, Leadership or Business. Today we will continue this four-part series with a focus on Professional Development.

Professional Development

No matter what role we play in society or position we take in business, our jobs require us know and do certain things, even beyond the technical skills. To be successful in any kind of business, we must learn how to have intelligent business conversations, make decisions, negotiate contracts, deliverables and timelines, manage projects, run meetings, develop and deliver presentations, and sell our products. We must learn the business of conducting business.

For example, when we teach interns to become professional employees, the key differentiators are communication, teamwork and influencing skills. There are fundamental skills that professionals must learn without exception, and then there are the professional skills that truly differentiate one person from the rest. We expect our employees not only to show up, deliver results and submit reports. We also expect them to build rapport with stakeholders and customers, communicate with management and team members, and influence colleagues without authority. At first, some of these professional skills might seem awkward or unnatural. But the reality is those who develop mastery in these “soft skills” receive more recognition and promote faster. Moreover, these are the professionals who get invited by leaders to participate in mentoring, interesting projects, both developing their capability and accelerating their success.

The same is true in any profession. 

There are technical skills, and there are the key differentiators. What are the skills that truly set people apart from the competition in your field of expertise?

One of the most frequently asked questions I hear sounds something like this, “I need to add a professional development goal to my plan. What classes or workshops are coming up?”  Now, I like promoting my workshops as much as anyone. But classroom or traditional learning is only the seed. What matters most comes after the workshop: How is the seed fostered, watered, and nourished to grow? How is the new learning reported back to the team, applied on the job or given feedback?  What follow up support do you need to ensure growth of your newly developed skills?

The most often cited learning goal I hear is the need to develop presentation (or public speaking) skills. Of course, the research shows fear of public speaking is among the top 5 greatest fears people report (usually up there with death, spiders and snakes).  However, the good news is skills can be learned.  When clients ask me, “How do I develop public speaking skills?” Guess what I tell them. The best way to learn presentation skills is to give presentations.  They hate it. But they know it’s true.  So I recommend Toastmasters or Rotary clubs or other opportunities to stand up, express a thought and receive feedback.  In our Powerful Presentations workshops, participants will profile their audience, develop the message content, practice delivering the presentation, and receive feedback, including a video recording. Practice is vital.

Suggestions for Professional Development:

  • Read a book or subscribe to audio books. Not only do you learn interesting information, hear fascinating stories, but also you are developing a stronger vocabulary as a secondary benefit!
  • Take a class (or webinar). One tremendous benefit of being a knowledge worker society is we have access to more wonderful learning opportunities and experiences than we might have ever imagined.  Peruse our workshops on Powerful Presentations, Creating Your Brand, Leading in Times of Change, and the Ultimate Career Makeover to name a few. Follow me on social media for a plethora of suggested programs.
  • Check out your local Small Business Administration,  Chamber of Commerce or professional associations for additional offerings.
  • Tell your colleagues what you learned and ask them to give you feedback. For participants in my Powerful Presentations workshop, they must ask someone to observe them in meetings and give feedback when they present. This can be done with many different professional skills. This is particularly effective when experimenting or practicing new techniques.
  • Consider how you will apply new skills in your current job.  Post reminders around your workspace to prompt new thinking, new behaviors, and new habits.
  • Identify motivators. Be very clear about how this new skill will raise your game.  Tell people.
  • Find a mentor.  Identify someone who exemplifies the skill. Watch them. Ask them questions, observe their behavior and apply what works for you to your own situation.
  • Practice. Practice. Practice.  I played softball through college, and my dad would say, “What you do in practice is what you will do in the game. Make it count.”
  • Hire a coach. Elite athletes do it. Executive leaders do it. Sometimes only the coach is able to provide feedback that other stakeholders may not be willing or able to give. When performance is important enough to succeed, it’s worth the investment.
  • Don’t miss our special self-paced online Courage, Risks and Rewards Program, which we are offering at a special low price through the month of February.

Next time, I will continue the discussion with a focus on Leadership Development. Meanwhile, stay connected with us on social media, enroll in a workshop, contact us with your suggestions and feedback, or schedule a Complimentary Coaching Consultation to determine which solution best fits your needs.

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