never too late

Do you remember when it mattered? When your dreams burned within and it was painful to not accomplish them right then.

Do you remember when your entire life was potential? When you thought you could go anywhere and do anything and you wanted to go everywhere and do everything.

Do you remember when you had ideas? Ideas for businesses you wanted to start or ideas to save the world or ideas of the kind of life you were going to live.

Do you remember when creativity was at the center of your dreams? The books you were going to write, the songs you were going to play, the art you were going to make.

Do you remember when the world was fascinating? So many things to do, people to meet, and places to explore.

Do you remember when you couldn’t wait to get started on your life? When the wonder of who you were going to be and what you were going to do had you anxious and impatient to get going.

Do you remember when you were going to be bold? When the thought of living a life of resignation and quiet desperation was what scared you the most?

Do you remember when you were going to be great? When your career was going to shine and you would be revered for your incredible talent.

Do you remember when work was fun? When you couldn’t wait to get up because every day was exciting and different and you were learning at a ferocious pace.

Do you remember the day all that went away? Do you remember waking up one day and wondering where it had gone? Or had you forgotten all about it?

Do you remember when thriving became surviving? When standing out became hanging on? When hopes and dreams became reality TV? When the life you were going to live became the life that never quite happened?

Bigger question: what are you going to do about it? Your life looks different now, of course. Security, stability, and comfort pushed aside passion, desire, and excitement. You have constraints and responsibilities and obligations you never had back then.

You also have resources you never had. A sense of who you really are, not just who you thought you wanted to be. Wisdom, judgment, and patience to know what needs to be done and see it through. People you can count on as much as they count on you. The foundation and options a steady income provides. A sense of mortality pushing you to get things done today rather than waiting for “someday when.” The toughness that comes from getting through the downturns of life. The awareness you won’t be the next superstar or change the entire world and that’s ok – you just need to be the best you and make a difference where you are.

I don’t know what your dreams were or where they went, but I know it doesn’t matter. Yesterday’s dreams are for yesterday. Today’s dreams are what matters.

note to self: play bigger

It’s difficult to get to middle age without learning a few things. Of course, I often forget the lessons and sometimes have to learn them over (and over) again. Now is one of those times and I find myself (re)learning several things at once. Maybe you can relate.

First is a growing sense of mortality. Though I’ve yet to die, evidence suggests that I will at some point and time is precious. Anything I’m wanting to contribute to the world before shuffling off the ol’ mortal coil better get done sooner than later.

Second, is that comfort zones are complete and insidious [FILL IN YOUR OWN FAVORITE NSFW DESCRIPTOR HERE]. Our brains are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain and there’re a whole lot of ancient mental circuitry dedicated to preventing physical or psychological discomfort. That’s good when it prevents us from doing something potentially fatal. The problem is, the deep down scared-of-lightening-and-loud-noises part of the brain can’t distinguish between true threats to our well-being and the risk, discomfort, and pain required to learn and improve.

My most important lesson has been simply this:…

Read the whole post over at Performance I Create.

presenting like a rock star

Rock and roll2Does anyone else go to concerts and try to figure out how to do your job better? No? A side effect of being a presenter and facilitator is that I cannot attend any training, speech, or event without noticing what is done well, what could be better, and what I can learn from it.

Eighteen months ago I wrote a post called “Rock and Roll Presentation Skills” after seeing one of my favorite European bands perform. As a presenter, this band inspires me more than any other with their stage presence, energy, and connection to the crowd. By sheer coincidence the same band was performing in Dallas the same weekend I was there to attend HRevolution and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see them again.

Reflecting on what I took from this performance, the presentation lessons hold true with what I learned from their last performance.

1. There is a huge, gaping chasm between “pretty good” and “great”. Three local bands opened up and they were pretty good. But there was a big contrast between the opening and main performances and, oddly, it had little to do with musical skills. Some of the local bands had outstanding musicians, but it wasn’t enough to close the gap. They did a “good” job, but not one that made me want to hear more from them.

That has me wondering what I need to do to leap to the next level. Obviously, a presentation has to be well written and delivered with reasonable skill. But, content and technical skills only get you to good. What are the components that move it to great?

2. ALL presentations matter.Although largely unknown in the States, the main band headlines festivals in Europe, playing to tens of thousands of people. In stark contrast, the show in Dallas was in a bar that held maybe a couple hundred people. They could have viewed Dallas an unimportant show and just gone through the motions.

Instead, they played as though it were the most important show on the tour. Full out, completely committed, pouring sweat, not an ounce of energy held back. Even with their relentless schedule of touring around the world they showed no signs of boredom, exhaustion, or the sense that it was just one more gig. Instead, they radiated joy and enthusiasm.

For me the big question is: How do I structure my life and mindset so I have the energy and focus to be at 100% for every presentation? How do I ensure I’m always treating every presentation as though it will define my career?

3. Engage the crowd. Rather than being the untouchable rockstars up on a pedestal, they interacted with the audience at every opportunity. The headlining singer continually and sincerely referred to the crowd as “friends”, showed off signs held by audience members, offered choices of what songs they’d play next, celebrated the energy of the crowd, and thanked the audience for coming out to see them. Sounds obvious, but the local bands did little of this.

What are the obvious things to connect with my audiences and classes that I’m not doing enough or at all? How can I better create a feeling where I’m speaking with the audience rather than at them? How can I connect with as many people as possible on as individual of level as possible.

4. Make it about the audience, not the presenter.The local bands kept mentioning the CDs they had for sale in the back, reasons they weren’t at their best, where they were playing next, blah, blah, blah. Any words between songs were few and focused on the band. In contrast, it would have been easy – almost expected – for the headliners to show up with rock and roll egos completely unchecked and gripe about the venue or small crowd. They could have bragged about the shows they normally do or made it clear a bar gig was beneath them. Yet, everything the headliners said – every single word– was focused on audience and how fun and great they were. It was clear the band was thrilled and grateful that everyone had showed up to see them.

Our words reveal our focus – as a speaker, is the concern for the audience and participants or for ourselves? This is a subtle, but really powerful difference. The audience knows and responds accordingly.

5. Keep it simple. One would think that less experience performers would keep it simple and focus on walking before they run, but it was the opposite. The local bands had five and six string basses and seven and eight (!) string guitars, using sophisticated techniques to play complex lines. The headlining musicians used a traditional instruments, straightforward techniques, and played comparatively simple songs.

As a presenter it’s tempting to show off with technology, complicated materials, fancy language, credentials, etc. But that’s all about the presenter. Complex is the lazy route. Simple is difficult, it takes more time to do, and it often feels unprofessional to the novice. What beginning presenters often miss is simple requires expert level judgment, effort, and refinement. Simple keeps it about the message connecting with the audience.

6. Have fun. It’s hard to travel day after day, connect with the audience, be grateful for any opportunity to get your message out there, and have a blast while doing it. Despite near continual touring schedule and the small venue the headliners were smiling, playing, joking around, and giving full effort like there’s nothing else they’d rather be doing. The headliners seemed to be doing their dream job, the local bands seemed to be showing up for work.

The differences between good and great are small, but significant.

It’s funny how the things that set us apart are often not all that big on the surface. Notice how none of this is about their musical ability. The gap between the opening bands and the headliner was much more about approach, attitude, and connection. Could the local bands have done all this? Yes. Did they? Not really. They were more than skilled enough, but in the end were no more memorable than the background music the club played over the PA between the sets.

It’s a nice reminder to continually step up my intention, focus, and connection. I need to make sure I’m creating a great user experience and not getting between my message and my audience.

For you, what’s the difference between a great presentation and one that’s merely good?

HR, it’s time to get bold

boldhrBold HR matters.

Bold is a lot of things to a lot of people. At a session I recently led on boldHR atHRevolution, the participants defined bold as: risk taking, unexpected, courage, gutsy, decisive with preparation, forward thinking, positive, out of context, change, flashy, powerful, large, and loud.

One participant quoted Robert Greene, pointing out “Everyone admires the bold and no one honors the timid.” That line resonated deeply for me because there are so many people who want to have an impact, who want to do meaningful work (doesanyone want to do work that doesn’t matter, work no one cares about?). Yet, too often we try to make a difference while playing safe and that rarely happens. No statue has ever been erected, no biography written, no career celebrated about the person who was just another anonymous face blending into the crowd.

The field of HR is at a crossroads. There is much discussion about dislocating, redefining, and overhauling what HR is and does. I think these are crucial conversations and I jump into every one I can, but they often fail to account for a crucial paradox: to the individual just trying to get a job done, revolutionizing an entire field seems impossibly overwhelming, but the field will never move forward and improve until individuals more forward and improve. No one individual can do it, but nothing will happen until individuals make things happen.

That’s where boldHR matters. No matter who we are, no matter where we are, no matter job title or career stage, we can all be even more bold. Whether you’re a senior VP of HR who wants to completely reinvent the HR function at your organization or you’re just starting out in your career and trying to learn the fundamentals you can be bold. You can be the person who makes things happen and gets things done, you can be the person who “steps into the conversation” (as one participant put it – I love that!), who doesn’t wait for permission, who is open and sharing, who attaches your work to the business needs, and who simply chooses to “get uncomfortable” in order to get things done. This is not simply my opinion, these are the words and ideas of participants.

The beauty of boldHR is it recognizes there is no one-size-fits-all. What might be an insane leap past the outer comfort zones for one person might be a slow day at the office for another. Rather than prescribing what everyone should do to be bold,boldHR looks to the individual to determine how boldness will show up in their life.

So what’s it mean for you? Here are a few questions to help you determine where you would benefit from being bolder and playing bigger in your job (and these apply to ANY job, not just in HR):

  1. What do you really want to do in your job but keep putting off because you’re too busy?
  2. What are you hesitating about asking for permission to do because you don’t want to be told “no”?
  3. What do you want to be remembered for at your company or in your career? What additional decisions or actions are necessary to make that happen?
  4. What do you need to say “no” to that would make a huge difference in your job?

Pick any one of your answers and decide on doing the smallest action that will make it possible. Even if it’s just a phone call, email, or quick conversation, do that one action. Then do it again. Then add another action. Keep going.

You don’t have to reinvent the field and you don’t have to change who you are. Keep doing what you do, just do it a little bigger, a little better, a little bolder.

What are your thoughts? Where can the field of HR be bolder? Where do you want to be bolder in your own job or career?

* * * * *

[Photo Credit: Kellee Webb (@PurposefulHR)]

Management Innovation: It’s the new HR Technology…

Some massive ideas strung together in this great post by Gareth. No use skimming this – take a few minutes to really give it some thought.

Inside My Head...

WarningSo I’m starting my first blog from the #HRTechEurope conference by shooting straight to the end – or should I say the last session – Management 2.0: Business Strategy for the C21st Organisation by Gary Hammel.

I must admit, I’m a bit of a fanboy and I think he is right on the money when it comes to the state of Management and Leadership today. He’s an entertaining speaker too, although at times, with a good PA system, you need to hang on to your seat as he can literally kind of blow you way with his enthusiasm.

Having Gary, a management science guru, as the closing keynote may seem odd at an HR Tech conference but his message is very relevant:

“The kind of innovation that makes the biggest difference to business isn’t in technology or process. It’s in management.”

Hallelujah! This is the key message that all…

View original post 692 more words

permission to be great

asking for permissionOver the past couple of years I’ve attended several conferences aimed at innovating, evolving, or just plain reinventing the field of Human Resources. There is one theme speakers and participants have highlighted over and over again: Quit waiting for permission. Figure out what needs to be done and just go do it.

At first I nodded along, thinking, “Yeah! HR needs to get its act together. Stand up and make some noise. C’mon people!” Then I was surprised when the message really hit home. They were talking about me! I resisted it, of course, but it was true. Like everyone else on the planet, I like to believe I do a good job. No, that’s not quite right. I like to believe I do an outstanding job. How could it be? Maybe you can relate.

Read the rest over at Performance I Create.

#boldHR at #HRevolution

boldHRevolution is this weekend. Saturday, November 8th, near Dallas. If you’re in human resources, you’re going, right? It’s not too late.

I attended two years ago in Chicago and it changed my life. That’s a strong statement, but not hype. In so many ways, I can trace where I am now back to that event, the people I met, and the opportunities that began opening up because of it. It was pivotal for me.

It was the first HR conference I’d attended since the 1998 SHRM National conference while I was in grad school. That conference left me painfully disillusioned about the field of HR. I’d gone, figured school would lag the industry and anything I had learned was already common place status quo. Instead, the things being discussed in whispered tones as bleeding edge at the conference were all things I’d already read about in textbooks. I discovered there was a huge gap between what excited me about HR and what I thought the field could be versus where it actually was.

I first started reading blogs in 2009 and discovered people who also thought bigger about HR, people who approached it from different angles, people who had the same vision of the field as mine. I heard about HRevolution after the fact and kicked myself for somehow missing the first couple.

In 2012, three of my biggest heroes were leading sessions and there were many other people whose names I recognized presenting and attending. All at small conference intended to give the field a shove beyond its comfort zones. How could I miss?

I bought a plane ticket with my own money and went, staying in some wretched hotel far beyond the expensive hotels near the conference center. The next morning, the sleepy cab driver almost hit several other cars as he struggled to stay between the white lines and then missed the exit.

Happy and thankful to arrive, I wandered through the massive conference center to find the three or four rooms being used for HRevolution. And was welcomed by people I’d never met as though I were a friend. The whole day was a blur of amazing people, great ideas, and better discussions.

It feels silly to acknowledge it, but I have a strong emotional connection to that event. I met my heroes, made friends, greatly expanded the depth of my network, and launched my career forward. I left inspired, encouraged, and challenged to play bigger professionally.

Two years ago I awkwardly volunteered to participate in a session called “HR Improv”. This year I’m leading a session called “Bold HR”. There are also sessions by Franny Oxford, Bill Boorman, Lois Melbourne, Jason Seiden, Frank Zupan and Tammy Colson, Ravi Mikkelsen, and William Tincup and Matthew Stollak. Plus, many of the attendees are folks you’d normally see keynoting conferences attending as participants just because it’s a fantastic event.

Rather than the “sage on the stage” approach at so many conferences, everyone at HRevolution is down to earth, friendly, and completely accessible. So many great people to meet, share ideas with, and help raise the game.

This year, I’m very excited to meet new friends, see old ones, and learn from everyone. You’re running out of time, but if you’re at all on the fence about attending, there are still a few tickets left and I hope to see you there. Please find me and say hi.

wrong way to leadership

ʎɐʍ ƃuoɹʍLeadership is hard. It’s at the center of the crossroads of business and people, making it difficult for so many reasons and on so many levels. I have huge respect and admiration for those who lead well and I have spent large portions of my career helping people get even better at it.

I hope it’s not a surprise, I hope I’m not revealing a deep industry secret, but many (most?) of the leaders in your company simply aren’t very good at it. Worse, many of them either don’t realize how bad they are or don’t know how to get better.

How does this happen? Promotions are supposed to be based on merit where the people with skill and drive rise to the top.

If only…

Choosing Leaders

One of the biggest barriers to good leadership is simply how organizations choose their leaders. See if this sounds familiar:

  1. Those who are selected for promotion are the hardest workers with the best technical skills. Obviously, those are the ones we want to promote. Unfortunately, becoming a supervisor is the only path of promotion, so those who want to further their career must go into leadership.
  2. Promotion into leadership comes with a pay raise, additional responsibility, and is the obvious next career step. Few turn this down, even if they have little desire or ability to lead.
  3. It is (incorrectly) assumed that the “soft” leadership skills aren’t as important as technical skills so the new leaders are given very little training. Considering the multiplied impact a leader has on the organization through all of the people they lead, one would think continually developing and refining people skills would be considered company priority #1 for any leader. Oddly, it isn’t.

Alright, so some of the people who get promoted into leadership don’t really want it, aren’t good at it, and don’t receive support from the company to get better. “So what if a few get promoted who aren’t good at it?” you ask. “That’s just natural selection at work, right? Some are already good at it and some are driven to learn and improve on their own. The good ones get promoted and the poor ones will fall by the wayside.” A nice thought but experience suggests otherwise.

Simply put, many poor leaders get promoted. It shouldn’t be that way, but the same silly system that promoted them into leadership the first time also lifts them up higher. It happens. They get promoted again and again because their team succeeds despite their poor leadership, because there is an opening and they are the only ones barely qualified to fill it, or because they simply stick around long enough and get promoted because of their tenure.

Human Phenomena?

At this point, a few human phenomena start to kick in. You’ve seen them in action, even if you didn’t know or remember their names.

  1. The Peter Principle. This says that when people are selected for a position based on performance in the current role vs skills and abilities needed for the new role it results in people getting promoted to their level of incompetence. In other words, people get promoted until they are in a role they are unsuited for and do not have the skills or abilities to succeed in. Notice, this generally starts with the first promotion into a leadership role.
  1. Dunning-Krueger Effect. In short, this is when the unskilled and incompetent grossly overestimate their own skill and believe they have above average ability (you’ve worked for this person, haven’t you?). The flip side of this is that the truly skilled tend to underestimate their own abilities. Or as, Bertrand Russell put it: “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

Couple those together and you have a leader with a lack of ability who doesn’t know they have a lack of ability. They think they do a pretty good job (after all, they keep getting promoted). AND, because they overestimate their abilities, they likely come off as confident and secure in their leadership skills, making them appear more far competent than they are and possibly leading to more promotions. Is there a possible problem here? [hint: yes]

Solutions?

So what can we do? The biggest and first solution is to simply recognize that leadership is an important and a distinctly separate skillset. Organizations expect people to spend years learning their technical skills through college, trade schools, or on-the-job experience and then expect people to be good at the unfamiliar skill set of leadership on day one. It just doesn’t happen that way.

Viewing leadership as a separate skill set, we’d do things a bit differently. We’d probably:

  1. Create technical career paths and opportunities that don’t rely on leadership roles.
  2. Identify and promote people into leadership based on their aptitude and interest in leadership. Promote for the requirements of the next job, not mastery of the current one. Many won’t be the same people who would have been promoted in the past.
  3. Provide ongoing leadership development that includes feedback from their own manager, peers, subordinates, customers, and other leaders in the organization familiar with their style. Help them understand what they’re good at and what they’re not good at. Shine the lights brightly on their blindspots. And then help them improve.
  4. Link leadership performance to job performance. One would assume a leader’s job is to be a good leader. Seems obvious, but the actual ability to deal with, develop, and get the best out of people are often evaluated as an afterthought or add on to “job” performance.

Are there difficulties and problems with this? Yes. But not as many difficulties or problems created by leaders who can’t lead (and think they can).

What are your thoughts?

[Photo Credit: colink via Compfight cc]

why we don’t get the results we want

i have my reasonsResults matter. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a business leader, executive, entrepreneur, or employee; whether you’re in sales, HR, finance, marketing, or IT; whether at work or in your personal life. Results are important. Yet, we don’t always create the results we want. Then the reasons and excuses come out.

Excuses or Reasons?

What’s the difference between an excuse and a reason? Simple, other people have excuses for failing, but I have legitimate reasons I didn’t accomplish the results I needed. They failed, while I tried hard. They’re whining and playing the victim about their failures, but I’m rationally explaining why it didn’t work out as planned. Right?

Actually, I am just having a bit of fun with the human tendency to justify outcomes, even if only to ourselves. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what we call it or how we describe it.

Reasons or excuses, circumstance or a lack of effort, whatever. Either way we didn’t get the results.

Reasons or Results?

The truth is, there are only two things in life, reasons and results, and reasons simply don’t count.” ~ Robert Anthony

We either have reasons or we have results. These words pulse through my mind whenever I come up short on my goals. We either accomplish what we needed to or we have a list of explanations as to why we didn’t. Yes, sometimes things happen that are completely beyond our control. More often we simply didn’t plan well, stay focused, make good use of time, truly give full effort, track and evaluate actions and progress, have the right people involved, have a suitable contingency plan, or persist, persist, persist. The #1 reason we don’t get our results? We accept our reasons in place of our results.

Put it another way: Getting results means giving up your reasons. And those reasons are often so compelling, comfortable, and familiar. I know what I want to accomplish. I know what I need to accomplish. Am I willing to give up my reasons to get those results?

Are you?