Monday, July 28, 2003

Cirque du Soleil

I went to a Cirque du Soleil show last week. How fantastic! The music, the stage design, the costumes, the creativity, the skill of the athletes, clowns, dancers, singers, stage hands - all incredible. It reminded me a bit of the Blue Man Group. But Cirque took it, as Emeril Lagasse would say, "Up another notch!" Make than another three or four notches.

As my eyes and ears feasted on the amazing - act after act after act - it struck me how Cirque seemingly started with the impossible and expanded its possibilites from there. According to Guy Laliberté, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Cirque du Soleil, "Bonjour, Cirque du Soleil began with a very simple dream. A group of young entertainers got together to amuse audiences, see the world, and have fun doing it. We hope you'll be inspired to dream your own dreams, and to believe they too can come true."

What dreams do YOU dream? And what dreams did you USED TO dream - before you convinced yourself that they couldn't come true? I suspect if you really wanted to, you COULD make your dreams come true. Maybe not exactly as you've dreamt them, but certainly a notch or two (or three or four) above where they are now. Wouldn't that be delightful?

Take a quiet moment and dream the dream. Enjoy the particular pleasures it has to offer you. Breathe it in; let it linger. Let it become part of you as it once was.

Then put a smile of your face and go face your day!

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Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Resetting Conversations

I recently had a WONDEFUL experience with an organization I'm doing a little business with. Today, though, I got an email from a professional acquaintance who shared an absolutely HORRIBLE experience with the very same organization. How curious. Yet it happens.

From the thread of emails my acquaintance sent me, it was pretty clear that things were going from bad to worse - poste haste. Which they did. It reminded me of that old saying, "When you find yourself digging yourself a hole, put down the shovel." Neither party wanted to give in, neither party wanted to be wrong, neither party was willing to reset the conversation to get it back on track.

Resetting is a very powerful tool for saving conversations-gone-awry. You either clarify something you said, or ask about something said to you to bring the conversation back to, well, conversational terms. So often messy convesations occur because they morph into two separate conversations happending at the same time - the one that you're having with the person you're with, and the one the person your with is having with you. You get aggravated because they're not acknowledging your point - they're too busy saying something irrelevant. But here's the thing - the same thing could be said of you by them.

It's hard to notice it happening in our own interactions. We can certainly FEEL the aggravation - during AND afterwards -but it's not so easy to notice it as it's STARTING to happen. But that's when we need to notice it most if we want to do something constructive about it.

Here's an exercise: Start noticing when it happens in conversations that DON'T include you. Watch what starts it? Who said what? Listen to what happens next? Watch the non-verbals. Feel the tension. Quietly observe. Then, ask yourself what each of the parties might say if they truly wanted to put down their shovels. Consider what they each might ask if they truly wanted to reset the conversation.

Noticing behaviors in others is a great way to sensitize yourself to how you might handle similar circumstances. Knowing what others COULD say and ask often provides us with the wherewithal to say and ask them ourselves.

Try it.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Management as Jazz Music

My son attended a week-long jazz camp offered by the Midwest Young Artists. Each night, starting around 9pm, the students would gather for 90-minutes or so of improv. They'd come on stage as a combo 7 or 8 person combo - trumpet, a sax or two, trombone, guitar, piano, bass, drummer - pick a song ... and play it. What was particularly interesting to me was that many of these combo players never actually played together before, yet ... they each knew exactly what to play, when to play it, and how long to play it for.

Combo Jazz songs, like Tenor Madness (Sonny Rollins), A Night in Tunisia (Dizzy Gillespie), and Watermelon Man (Herbie Hancock) to name just a few, are a fascinating in that they allow for such total improvization. But they do it within a pre-determined, formalized structure. I don't know how to explain it really.

Unlike professional jazz musicians, the students at the jazz camp made all sorts of mistakes - missed notes, wrong keys, off-tempo. But no matter how messy things got, the combo would always bring the song home in the end. No one ever got too far adrift that the song couldn't be rescued. No one ever got left out on a limb.

It's an interesting metaphor to play with. Think about your job, as example, and the people you work with. They're YOUR Combo. They're the ones who you need to be able to rely on when your solo goes sour. They're the ones who will be there to celebrate your great solo with. They're the ones who will be there to back you up and for you to back them up. The unexpected is an essential ingredient of jazz, yet one thing you can count on is that every player will know where the song is at any given moment.

Who do you know on your work team that doesn't know where the song is and how can you help bring them home?

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Wednesday, July 16, 2003

"This Time it Counts"

Woo-hoo! A great All Star game, wasn't it? (At least that's what I heard. I boycotted watching the game because of that winner-gets-home-field-advantage-in-the-World-Series-thing. Don't care for that one single bit. Neither did Norman Chad in his Anchorage Daily News article, "All-Star Game is a cross-dressing bearded lady." It's a good read!) But it got me to thinking about the notion that "this time it counts".

Do you think the players would have played any "less hard" if it didn't count? Do you think the managers would have managed any "less strong" if it didn't count? They say no. They say baseball professionals don't game the game that way. Maybe. But business professionals sometimes do.

Go on and admit it. There have been times when YOU haven't played full-out, right? Maybe you were tired, or stressed, or unengaged. Or maybe you figured it didn't really matter because it was some small thing. But maybe it wasn't such a small thing to the person(s) who were counting on you. Maybe to them, it was a really BIG thing. That's THE thing when you work with people - it ALWAYS matters to someone. And it's something worth remembering.

So the next time you're thinking you could care less, tell yourself, "This Time it Counts," and give it your best.

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Friday, July 11, 2003

Trying and Failing - or - Not Really Trying

When things don't go right for you, what's the more likely reason ... that you tried your best and it just wasn't good enough ... or you didn't really try in the first place? A lot of times we quit before ever getting started. And as Wayne Gretzky once said, "You'll always miss 100% of the shots you never take." Now I'm not really much of a hockey fan, but I thought I'd do some checking on Gretzky's career stats to what I'd see. And I found something quite interseting:

It took Getzky 5,064 shots to score his record-setting 893 goals.

In other words, the guy who said "You'll always miss 100% of the shots you never take," made less than 18% of the shots he DID take. He missed 4,172 of his shots. FOUR THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY TWO!

In this context, the "Great One" wasn't really very good, was he? Yet he set the record for most goals scored in the NHL. And he was arguably the best ever in the history of hockey.

So the next time you're thinking about not even trying, do what Gretzky would have done - take a shot at it anyway!

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Thursday, July 10, 2003

Why We Work

William Butler Yeats once wrote: "The intellect of man is forced to choose perfection of the life, or of the work". Yeats, like many of us, could not imagine a proper balance between work and life. (Note that he died in 1939 - the year that the Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind were first released - the year that new cars cost only $750.) Who knew the work/life balance conversation had being going on for so long?!

Apparently the Harvard Business Review did because in a side-bar article titled, "Why We Work - That Is the Question," (June 2003, page 99) Yeat's quote is referenced. "Although Yeats's extreme view does not hold true in Europe," it reads, "it does in the Unted States where a fierce work ethic has imposed a certain rigidity on assumptions about what motivates people on the job." It then goes on to deliniate four misconceptions American leaders then to have about employees:

(1) Everybody is the same;
(2) Everybody wants the same thing out of work;
(3) Everybody wants to be promoted;
(4) Everybody wants to be a manager.

What do YOU think about this? Because chances are good that the views you hold are dramatically affecting the way you interact with people up, down, and across your organization. Why? Because the assumptions you bring to the workplace are "deeply tied to ways that we reward, motivate, hire, and fire" employees. That would explain why your people-plans never seem to work as well as you expected, wouldn't it?!

Dorothy said, Oh, Auntie Em ----- there's no place like home!"." And for many, work is like a home-away-from-home. But it's essential that you realize that not everyone is coming from the same place ... and act accordinly.

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Thursday, July 03, 2003

More Ask the Experts postings

More Ask the Experts posting at Pensioned off and still need to work? and Challenges with goal setting?.

To ask YOUR career, business or self improvement question, just follow the links.


Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Turnaround Coaching

So they've hired you a coach. Thing is, though, you're not sure that's such a GOOD thing. Seems like maybe they're trying to tell you something you don't want to hear.

That's the question that was posed to Chris Posti in her Q&A column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Reivew. "What we are talking about here," she answers, "is 'turnaround' help the person 'turn around' their performance...Alternatives to turnaround coaching are rather unappealing: career stagnation, demotion, even termination." She then goes on to explain how to make full use of the benefits that coaching can offer.

I like her advice. All too often employees underestimate their boss' dissatisfaction with their performance. Or they discount the feedback they DO receive as inaccurate. Then one day - BAM! - they find themselves on some sort of performance improvement plan. Not that long ago, terminations or transfers were the only real options. Now there's another one called coaching. (Not all coaching, by the way, is turnaround coaching. HiPo coaching, that is the coaching of 'high potential' leaders-of-tomorrow, is also gaining popularity.)

So if your boss offers you the opportunity to improve your skills with the help of an external, objective advocate, do yourself a favor and TAKE IT! Ms. Posti agrees, "you will be happier, more productive, and less stressed." And that's good for you AND your boss!


Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Wall Street Journal article

In today's WSJ (page B1) Joann S. Lublin's Managing Your Career column is titled, "Even Top Executives Could Use Mentors to Benefit Careers." (The article is not yet available for free on-line, but I think it's just GREAT that she writes articles like these.) In it, she tells the tale of Melissa Dyrdahl, senior vice president of corporate marketing and communications at Adobe Systems. Ms. Dyrdahl, it seems, credits much of her success to mentoring she's received from Adobe president and CEO Bruce R. Chizen.

"[Mentors] provide a mirror for me to reflect back on," she says, "[presenting perspectives] that I am unable or willing to see." As her mentor, Mr. Chizen says he is "...brutally honest with her," but adds, "If she wasn't intereseted in feedback, [mentoring] would be impossible."

According to the article, Mr. Chizen has his own mentors, too, co-chairman John F. Warnock and Charles M. Geschke. The article continues ... "Mr. Chizen solicits their views before tackling notty problems, such as whether to set operating-margin targets that plese investors more than staffers."

But both "Ms. Dyrdahl and Mr. Chizen aslo have forged relationships with mentors with no Adobe ties," which I think is essential. Too often executives fall into the trap of listening only to people who share their same myopic view.

Good for them. And how about you?