Monthly Archives: November 2011

My Continuous Improvement – Manage Your Career

As I look for ways to improve, I am inspired by other lean thinkers and bloggers.  I see what they are trying and look to how that might work for me.  I try and experiment with things in order to make my job easier and to feel more in control and organized.

I decided to start a series that will be based on what I have tried in order to make my work better.  It may be small or large things and most likely it was an inspiration I got from someone else.  I hope that by passing along what I have learned that it may inspire others the way others have inspired me.

Awhile back I wrote about the career map I had developed to help me understand my career opportunities with my current company.  That has been a great exercise and it has gone through a few revisions since then. Here is a link to my latest revision of my career map.  Career Map – Revision 3

Over the last several months I have been meeting with some leaders at my company to show them my career map.  This is has not been easy for me.  I am not a person who seeks others to talk about myself.  In fact, I hate it. But if I am going to have a successful career I have to build good relationships with leaders.

This may be a big uncomfortable zone for me but I have found it to be very beneficial.   Every leader I have met with respects me for reaching out and talking with them.  They like that I am trying to manage my career and not let my career manage me.  Because of this positive feedback, I keep on setting meetings and get to know more about our leaders.

I have learned some things to help me with these meetings.  One of the biggest is a bio sheet.  This was recommended by a Vice President who is also introverted and it helped him break the ice with people he met for career discussions or when a new boss came in.  The bio sheet tells a little bit about your family, interests outside of work, interests at work, and a short description of something you are currently working on.  Send the sheet ahead of time to the person you are meeting with.  This helps break the ice and start a conversation much more casually.

Also, when you meet make it about the business.  This is my career and my interests and this is how I see it intersecting with the business and the direction it is going.  It shows you are thinking about the company and not just career climbing.  I always explain that while job titles are listed on the career map, it isn’t about the title.  The titles are ones that seem to line up with my interests and skills as a reference point.

While this is way outside my comfort zone, I have found it to be very beneficial to have these discussions.  I have learned a lot about myself and have grown as a leader because of it.

What has worked for you in managing your career?

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Hired for One. Promoted for Another.

Why were you hired?  Chances are it was for a set of technical skills you had at a time the company needed them.  You interviewed and were hired based on those set of skills you brought to the table, whether it be lean, six sigma, engineering, accounting, etc..

Now, think about the exceptional leaders you have had in the past.  What made them exceptional in your opinion?  Some of the responses I have gotten from groups in the past are:

  • Cared for people
  • Understood the business needs and could relate it to my work
  • Kept us focused on the top priorities
  • Worked with integrity
  • Knew what each individual needed to get the job done
  • Helped me grow and understand the business better
  • Genuine
  • Removed roadblocks for my work

This is just a few, but I think it drives home the point.  The leaders that stand out in people’s minds as exceptional knew how to connect with people and worked to develop them or support the individual.  It centered around relationships.

While we are hired in for a set of technical skills, the leaders that do well and are looked at for promotion do well with relationships.  Not sucking up and creating a good old boy/girl network.  Not that type of relationship.  People can see through that.  But the type of relationships that helped people get their jobs done.

As leaders, the relationship skills are even more important than the technical skills.  Yet, people spend more time developing technical skills and not the relationship skills.  Why is that?  Is it because the technical skills are more tangible?

Relationship skills are hard.  In order to become better with relationships a person has to learn more about themselves and how they act in certain situations.  What can cause them to overreact or become uninterested?  Self reflection is hard for a lot of people to do.  The people that can self reflect and work on relationships have a very good chance of improving their relationships.  This is a big step in becoming a person considered by others as an exceptional leader.

What do you work on improving most?  Technical skills?  Or relationship skills?

Which do you think is more important?

Avoid Getting Hijacked

Have you ever been hijacked?  Not carjacked.  Hijacked.  Gotten so upset you say things you don’t mean or get into a heated argument where you can’t keep your cool.  At home?  At work?

A common phrase that is used is, “Cooler heads will prevail.”

Why do people use this phrase?  Why does it seem to be true?

The truth is there is some biology behind this.  The amygdala is a gland in the brain that controls the fight or flight emotion in us.  It can trigger the fight sense that causes us to get very defensive and not listen to people.  Several things can cause the amygdala to react in a social setting.  Some triggers include being:

  • Wrong
  • Intimidated
  • Embarrassed
  • Disrespected
  • Discounted
  • Interrupted
  • Humiliated

It is important to understand these triggers in yourself so you can see them coming and head off the amygdala hijacking before it starts.  Once it starts studies have shown it takes about 18 minutes for the average person to cool back down ain order to have a reasonable discussion.

Why is this important?  Because keeping a cool head and not getting hijacked allows us as leaders to have better open and honest discussions with others in the organization or at home.

Lets face it. The hard conversations on performance and behaviors are the ones that are easy to get hijacked on.  Nobody wants to talk or hear about something they aren’t doing well.  These are times we have to prepare ourselves to not get hijacked.  Some ways to prevent a hijacking is to:

  • Know what your triggers are
  • Watch you motives, assume positive intent
  • Breathe – There are biological reason this actually works to calm a person down
  • Appreciate
  • Ask for a break if necessary and explain why

None of this is easy, but becoming good at preventing hijacks can make us better leaders and open our ears to more ways to improve.