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5 Ways to Derail Your Career & 2 Questions to Keep it on Track (review)

right stuffThis review was first published in the Jan. 29 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Right and Wrong Stuff: How Brilliant Careers are Made and Unmade

By Carter Cast

Public Affairs

$36.50

A lousy annual performance review is a gift that few of us will ever get in our careers.

Most of us work for bosses who shy away from tough conversations, believe only in accentuating the positive or dismiss reviews as a time-wasting unnecessary evil.

They do us no favours. What’s left unsaid in performance reviews will eventually trip us up. Our blind spots will get us fired, demoted or passed over for promotion.

“Sooner or later, unaddressed developmental needs will limit the career progress of good people,” says Carter Cast, author of The Right and Wrong Stuff, a professor at Northwestern University and a former executive with Walmart, Blue Nile, Electronic Arts and PepsiCo.

Career derailment is in the cards for up to 80 per cent of us, warns Cast. Based on his research, a lack of self-awareness and difficulty in working with others are the leading causes of career derailment. He says that careers stall more from having the wrong stuff than from lacking the right stuff.

“It is often hubris – not lack of talent – that causes people on the rise to fall. Prior to failing, people who derail where successful and considered talented up-and-comers. Derailment often afflicts talented managers who are either unaware of a debilitating weakness or interpersonal blind spot or arrogant enough to believe that development feedback doesn’t apply to them.”

We’re headed for the fall if any of Cast’s five archetypes sound all too familiar:

Captain Fantastics lose friends and make enemies thanks to unbridled egos, an inability to listen and an “I-me-mine” mantra.

The solo flier is a strong individual contributor who fails to realize that you can’t build or lead a team by micromanaging or doing all the work yourself.

Version 1.0 is comfortable with routine and resistant to change. “Their attitude of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ will not serve them well over time and eventually their dinosaur-like tendencies may lead to extinction,” says

One-trick ponies consistently do one thing really well. But this overspecialization makes them one-dimensional and unpromotable. And what they’ve been good at in the past may not be what the organization needs them to start doing now or in the future.

Unfocused whirling dervishes overcommit and underdeliver, with weak planning and organizational skills to implement any of the creative ideas “spewing out of their brains like a hyperactive geyser.”

Avoiding career derailment is a DIY project, says Cast. “Most bosses are too worried about their own hide to take the time to worry about yours. There’s one person out there who really wants to help you get ahead – there’s one person who’s truly interested in your success and well-being – you.”

Start shoring up your weaknesses by asking two questions. Do I have the right strengths in my current position relative to people doing similar work? And do I have the right strengths around which to build my career in the future?

Now take the initiative for your professional and personal development. Be aware of your weaknesses. Seek out challenging assignments that will build your strengths. Routinely solicit honest feedback and act on what you hear. Build and maintain positive relationships with others. Recruit mentors and create a learning circle to share ideas, perspectives and lessons learned with industry peers outside your organization.

If you’re a boss, make developing others a genuine priority and adopt Cast’s three-strike rule. Hold three meetings with an underperforming employee.

Have the tough but necessary conversation in your first meeting and come up with a game plan to improve performance. Measure improvement or the lack of it in your second meeting. In your third meeting, either congratulate the employee for getting their career back on the track or wish them well in their future endeavours.

“All too often companies ignore the topic of derailment until it’s too late, but their employees cannot afford to do so,” says Cast. “Of course it’s important to focus on developing your strengths, but towering strengths cannot overcome debilitating weaknesses. We all need to understand and mitigate our career-limiting vulnerabilities.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: Impromptu – Leading in the Moment by Judith Humphrey

impromptuThis review ran in the Jan. 15 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Impromptu: Leading in the Moment

By Judith Humphrey

Wiley

$36

Something remarkable happened at work.

We went to a town hall meeting and a conversation broke out.

Here’s how it happened.

Senior leaders stepped out from behind the lectern, left the stage and went into the audience.

They didn’t have prepared remarks or PowerPoint slides. They hadn’t gone to a dress rehearsal and some had no idea they were about to be called on.

Senior leaders started off by giving spontaneous answers to real questions that staff had written on cue cards at the start of the town hall.

This in turn prompted other staff to put up their hands and ask even more questions.

The conversation continued for more than 90 minutes. The town hall ended with a round of applause. Senior leaders were grateful for the questions. Staff appreciated the authentic, candid, off the cuff answers.

The town hall was unlike any I had attended over my 25-year career with four organizations.

Judith Humphrey, author of Impromptu, says that leadership communications is undergoing a transformation. We’re moving from one-off formal speeches on the big stage to continuous impromptu speaking on smaller stages.

“More than ever, those who lead must find their authentic voice. Impromptu speaking provides a way to connect, inspire and lead in the 21st century world,” says Humphrey. “Scripted speeches, PowerPoint presentations, dog and pony shows, and marketing hype are being replaced by the conversations that leaders have every day with their followers. These conversations will change minds, hearts and organizations.”

Don’t confuse impromptu speaking with winging it. You won’t inspire others if you can’t stop talking and don’t make any sense.

You can mitigate this risk by using a four-part script template used by Humphrey’s leadership communications firm.

“Creating your script is an important aspect of impromptu speaking,” says Humphrey. “It will keep you from blathering on as so many people do. In every situation it’s important to collect your thoughts rather than spew out whatever comes in your head. With a clear and persuasive structure, you will influence and inspire your listeners. There is no more critical a skill for impromptu speaking than this ability to structure your thoughts.”

Humphrey’s template has you leading off with a grabber that connects you with your audience and builds rapport. “If you speak without reaching out to them and engaging them, it’s likely nobody will listen to you. Think of your grabber as a verbal handshake.”

You then deliver your key message. A good message is limited to one idea that’s communicated in a single, short sentence. Your message should engage the hearts and minds of your audience, carry your convictions and be positive.

You then make a compelling case for your key message with a handful of reinforcing proof points. “Stating your message is rarely sufficient. You need evidence that encourages listeners to buy into that point of view. So after presenting what you believe, share why you believe it.”

The script ends with you making a call to action to your audience. Be explicit. What do you want them to start, stop or continue doing?  Like the grabber at the start of the script, your call to action needs to engage your audience. “It gives legs to your message by transforming an idea into actionable steps. In doing so, it makes your script an act of motivational leadership.”

Humphrey shows how we can use her script templates to effectively communicate in a host of situations, from meetings, job interviews, toasts and tributes to elevator pitches, question and answer sessions and speeches.

“Few skills are more important today for leaders and aspiring leaders than the ability to speak well in impromptu situations,” says Humphrey. “The day when executives could deliver the big speech and then retreat to their offices is long gone. Constant, spontaneous interactions with colleagues, senior executives, clients and stakeholders has become the norm. The new world of leadership is full of conversation, collaboration and charisma. Make the most of these opportunities.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Five great ideas to carry over into your business or organization in 2018

Drawing from some of the best business books I read and reviewed last year for the Hamilton Spectator, here are five great ideas  to carry over into 2018.

no egoAdd an accountability filter to your 2018 employee engagement survey. Add questions that will let you separate out answers from two very different kinds of employees. Pay close attention to what high-accountable employees are telling you. They’re the high performers who’ll suggest ways to make your organization better for customers, clients, patients or students. Don’t waste time, money or effort in trying to shore up satisfaction scores of low-accountable employees who will only give you a list of demands on how to make their lives easier. “If we really want our engagement surveys to drive workplace results, then we need to be honest,” says Cy Wakeman, author of No Ego – How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement and Drive Big Results. “Not all employees contribute equally, and the feedback they offer isn’t equal either. Treating all feedback equally is crazy.” So too is holding managers accountable for driving up satisfaction scores among employees who contribute little or nothing to the organization.

egiHelp yourself by helping others first. Adopt what Ryan Holiday calls the canvas strategy. “Find canvasses for others to paint on,” says Holiday in Ego is the Enemy. “Whereas everyone else wants to get credit and be respected, you can forget credit. You can forget it so hard that you’re glad when others get it instead of you – that was your aim after all. Let the others take the credit on credit, while you defer and earn interest on the principle.” This is one way to keep your ego in check in 2018 and not allow a false sense of superiority to exceed the bounds of confidence and talent.

radicalStart practicing radical candor. Care personally and challenge directly in 2018. Find the courage to deliver difficult yet necessary feedback, make tough calls and set a high bar for results. At the same time, let people know that you care them. “When people trust you and believe you care about them, they are much more likely to accept and act on your praise and criticism,” says Kim Scott in Radical Candor – Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. You do yourself and the people around you no favours when you put being liked ahead of saying and doing what needs to be said and done.

MomentsPick an event that your organization runs every year and shake up the status quo. Don’t settle for what Chip and Dan Heath call the soul-sucking force of reasonableness. Invest the time and extra money to create a stand-out experience in 2018 that everyone in the room will remember and everyone else will wish they had attended. “Moments matter,” say the Heaths in The Power of Moments“And what an opportunity we miss when we leave them to chance. Teachers can inspire, caregivers can comfort, service workers can delight, politicians can unite and managers can motivate. All it takes is a bit of insight and forethought. We can be the designers of moments that deliver elevation and insight and pride and connection.”

powerMake sure everyone in your organization has the same answers to two fundamental questions. What do we stand for? And what do we want to be known for? The answers will define your organization’s culture in 2018. Average organizations have mission statements. Great organizations have people who are on a mission. The difference comes down to culture. “Your most important job as a leader is to drive the culture,” says Jon Gordon in The Power of Positive Leadership. “You must create a positive culture that energizes and encourages people, fosters connected relationships and great teamwork, empowers and enables people to do their best work.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.