Exercise: Observing the party

I invite you to try the following exercise:

You are standing on a balcony looking down on your life, as if you were at a party watching the revellers, and you see yourself in the crowd. You are fascinated. You watch yourself engaging with some people, avoiding others, watching others, moving from place to place sometimes following, sometimes seeking, sometimes lost and waiting.

With that image in your mind, and a sense of objective fascination and curiosity about yourself, what do you observe about yourself in your life right now?

Who uses coaches and why?

Some Initial Findings From 2008 ICF Global Coaching Client Study conducted by PricewaterhouseCooper and the Association Resource Centre, Inc:

  • 65 percent of coaching clients are female.
  • The majority of coaching clients are between the ages of 36 and 45 (35.9 percent).
  • The majority of coaching clients have acquired an advanced level of education (a post graduate degree such as a master ’s degree or Ph.D.).
  • The duration for the average coaching relationship for survey participants was 12.8 months.
  • The top three motivations for obtaining coaching are:
  1. Self-esteem/Self-confidence (40.9 percent); 
  2. Work/Life Balance (35.6 percent); 
  3. Career Opportunities (26.8 percent)
  • 96.2 percent of coaching clients report they would repeat their coaching experience
  • 82.7 percent of coaching clients report they are “very satisfied” with their coaching experience

Who uses coaches and why?

Some Initial Findings From 2008 ICF Global Coaching Client Study conducted by PricewaterhouseCooper and the Association Resource Centre, Inc:

65 percent of coaching clients are female.
The majority of coaching clients are between the ages of
36 and 45 (35.9 percent).
The majority of coaching clients have acquired an ad-
vanced level of education (a post graduate degree such as
a master ’s degree or Ph.D.).
The duration for the average coaching relationship for sur-
vey participants was 12.8 months.
The top three motivations for obtaining coaching are: 1)
Self-esteem/Self-confidence (40.9 percent); 2) Work/Life Balance (35.6 percent); and 3) Career Opportunities (26.8 percent)
96.2 percent of coaching clients report they would repeat their coaching experience
82.7 percent of coaching clients report they are “very satisfied” with their coaching experience

20-30 Years Old and Suddenly Sitting at the Boss’s Desk

I was recently interviewed for an article in the Wall Street Journal for the column You at the Boss’s Desk. Here’s the article

I wanted to expand on the topic a bit. For people in their 20’s and 30’s a sudden promotion to a management position can have its joys and challenges. Of course there’s usually a higher salary, perhaps some company perks, and even a corner office. Your friends and family will be expecting you to be feeling thrilled and fulfilled.

What most people won’t understand is the anxiety and even depression that can come with a promotion. You are no longer with your peers, you must get to know your new management peer group, you may be asked to do things you’ve never done before like budgeting, hiring and firing, and you may be feeling like you have to be seen as strong and successful without help, or they will give the job to someone else.

Here are some tips:

When dealing with your old peer group, especially if you have to manage them, say the truth that everyone is thinking anyway. Tell them you know this is a strange situation and you’re hoping they will stay open to talking. Tell them the good news is you know what their job is. Ask them to understand that being the boss requires some objectivity, and that will mean you won’t be as involved in the day to day work as you were. Tell them you’ll miss their company, and that you’ll be demanding their best because you know how good that can be.

With your new management peer group, start getting to know each one over lunch or coffee. They will be important support to you as you build skills in your new position. They can help you with who to talk to, how to navigate company hierarchy, and how to make successful presentations. They can also give you objective feedback and will welcome your openness to learning. And over time, they will become friends, too.

When you have to build new skills, go to the source for the best advice. If you have to put together a budget, find someone in Finance or ask your boss to walk you through the steps. For hiring and firing, connect with the HR department for company policies and even ask someone to tag team with you as you go. The company may have an internal training and development department. Seek them out and take advantage of their services. No one will expect you to know how to do these things, and your boss will welcome your effort to get what you need.

There are two final tips that are really at the bottom of all success.

The first is to ask for help. It seems simple, but is often the hardest thing to do when you think your reputation depends on being seen as smart, capable or in control. When I say “ask for help” I don’t mean get someone else to do your job.  Laziness is different from strategic delegation. What I mean is asking for help with your own performance through feedback, ideas, opinions, information, advice on how to get something done more quickly, asking for mentoring, coaching, or clarification. People who ask for help with good intent are often seen as open and worthy of respect. They create webs of support and trust and encourage others through their own modeling of openness. The act of asking for help may be briefly uncomfortable, but almost always results in more and better connections, skills and ideas, than if you don’t ask. And most people like being able to help.

The second thing is not to let the the sometimes negative emotions of transitions dissuade you from doing what needs to be done. Transitions are times when people leave behind an old way, live through some uncertainty as a new way is being developed, and then begin to behave in the new way. Your transition from your old job to your new job is a transition not just for you but for all the people around you. You bring new ideas and ways of behaving, and those are absolutely critical to the health and success of the company. At the same time, people within the company may behave as if they don’t want the transition to occur.

Sometimes in business we call this reaction to transitions “resistance to change”. My belief is that people aren’t resistant to change unless the new way is obviously detrimental to them or people they care about. Instead, in most cases the “negativity” we see is grieving for the loss of a way of life in which they have invested energy, spirit and passion. They may be losing special relationships – a friend and mentor if you are replacing someone who is retiring or moving on, you as a peer, or the retiring manager as a colleague. They may be losing a successful way of communicating and a shared language of understanding they worked hard to build up. They may just be losing the ideas they committed to and that have served them in the past as you bring and represent new ones. They will grieve those losses, and there is nothing you can do to control or change that process except respect it. They will feel what they need to feel. What you can do is be honest, consistent, and show integrity in all your interactions. Help them believe that there is hope for the future. And ask them to co-create that future with you.

It sometimes seems easier to compromise your ideas to, you think, help someone else feel more comfortable with generational or style differences. I’ve seen many young managers shaking their heads but staying silent in meetings where the same old bad policy was promoted. They were afraid to deal with the reaction to promoting their new ideas. Instead they became passive resistors, doing, but hating, the things they knew could be done better.

Have courage!  The workplace needs the ideas of new people, new managers and employees. Workplace transitions will play out in time, and in the meantime, you need to believe in the ideas that will generate a real, sustainable future for you and your employees. Your ideas are just as valid as those of older, more “experienced” workers. They will come to trust you if you are open, approachable, and trustworthy, or they will leave. In either case, the future demands your commitment and leadership, and your modeling of progressive behaviour. With help and with time you can make a new future.

What if…

Perspective flip: think of people you avoid; now imagine they are fundamental to you in some way. What would you do differently with them?

What if the boss you gossip about at lunch and make fun of had some secret knowledge that could help you get the thing you desire the most?

What if the young, shy intern with his feet up on the desk eating Doritos has an idea that will leave the competition in the dust?

What if that woman in the cubicle down the hall with the loud, annoying telephone voice has 10 years experience in exactly what you’re under pressure to get done right now?

What if you are staying away from the very people who you need?

How will you find out?

Ageism – The Last Acceptable form of Discrimination

Because I’ve been focusing on coaching for Millennial managers, I have been wading into the seamy side of intergenerational issues.

There was an iconic saying of the 60’s, “never trust anyone over 30”. Today, the very generation that coined that phrase is long past the age they once distrusted. They are in the position of managing, evaluating, promoting, hiring and firing those under 30, sometimes called the Millennial generation. So, should Millennials trust anyone over 30?

Though there are significant cultural differences between generations in the workforce today, a topic many writers have tackled already, the question is really not about age. Imagine for a minute that you were at work and someone said, “he speaks a different language, so his opinions aren’t important to listen to.” Or, “Her skin is a different colour than ours, so she’s not going to the training session.” Perhaps this does happen in your workplace – but if it does, I bet there is an HR policy or at the very least a workplace law that gives you recourse to fight it.

But what about when you hear someone say, “he’s only 26 years old. He’s not ready for that position.” “He hasn’t had enough experience yet, he’s so young.” Or more likely, “young people today don’t have what it takes to…” or “that generation is etc.” It goes the other way, too: “he’s too old to understand.” “she’ll never go for this new technology – she’s too stuck in the old ways of doing things.” We are even reinforcing Ageism through media – newspapers doing op-ed pieces on the failures of the Millennial Generation, and Blogs railing about the Boomer Generation.

I call this Ageism, the last acceptable form of discrimination in our culture. It flows through our thoughts like water, acceptable, reasonable, justified. We pass it on, ironically, from generation to generation like learning how to tie your shoes.

So, here’s an experiment to try to see how deeply Ageism goes in you:

Imagine that all other forms of discrimination we now abhor once felt just as acceptable and reasonable to the people who held them. Armed with this disturbing perspective, the next time you are working with someone of a different age, either older or younger, ask yourself what assumptions you hold about this person – listen to the statements that go through your head about them and that will tell you what your assumptions are. Listen especially closely for age-related or generation-related assumptions.

Then play the game of assuming the complete opposite.

Now, behave as if that opposite perspective is just as true as the assumptions you started out with true just to see what happens.

If you assume the person is too young to understand how to manage a team, or too old to have ideas about personal branding on the internet, assume the opposite and see what happens.

More importantly, start from an assumption that any person, regardless of his or her age, is smart and capable. Once you’re in that perspective everything else will probably be related to lack of confidence, technical knowledge or opportunity. Those can all be fixed if your intent is right. And more importantly, you now have access to the ideas and energy and help of a significantly higher number of smart, capable people than you allowed yourself to have before.

Is this an easy or difficult experiment for you? Can you give up Ageism? It’s important that you try, because changing all our minds starts with you.

Quitting to succeed

Seth Godin, author of Tribes and Small is the New Big, has another book out – The Dip.

An important and audacious premise of The Dip is that quitting is sometimes the very best action to take to get what we want. Godin says, “we fail when we get distracted by tasks we don’t have the guts to quit”.

I see this in business often – the distraction of failing work. The project that started off as a good idea and has become a death march but no one will pull the plug because $2M has already been spent.  The job you stay in because you can’t imagine starting again despite knowing in your heart that it will only get worse and suck every last ounce of energy out of you for the rest of your career.

It happens at home too: The marriage that is being held together “for the kids”, thought the kids are miserable watching their parents slowly give up living. The children’s sports that parents keep the kids in even when the kids no longer love it, just because “we’ve invested so much already”.

Godin says in some situations no amount of work will lead to success, or there may be a light at the end of the tunnel but you’ll be almost out of oxygen by the time you get there.  The trick is to know when you’re at the decision point, when it’s time to throw one more log on the fire or move on to a better place.

His premise clicks nicely with reading I’ve been doing on Strengths, particularly the work of Marcus Buckingham in Now Discover Your Strengths. The premise there is to replace the painful and limiting improvement of weaknesses to a subjective level of “normal”, with the recognition of and improvement of natural Strengths. In the Improving Weaknesses model, you start at D or C- and get to B.  In the Strengths model you start at B+ and get to A++ with significantly more fun and less wasted energy.

Both approaches nicely work for clients in Adaptive Coaching – notice where you are in your journey and connect with others about the potential for success and how your strengths will help you get there.  Then take action to either quit and start something new based on your strengths and current resources, or keep going.  Based on the result, learn, adapt and start again.