Leverage Your Core

skillsNo.  This is not the beginning of a workout or strength training article.

This is about who you are as a person.  As a professional.  About the skills you possess and the importance of leveraging your core skills.

But first, a quick story.

Earlier in my career, I had been doing very well in a particular field and was contemplating changing directions to broaden my experiences and perspective.  During a lunch with one of my mentors, I asked him how he had made the moves he did in his career across industry areas and leadership roles within different areas of responsibility.

He smiled as simply said, “Core skills translate.”

When I gave him that single raised eyebrow inquisitive look, he continued.  “Your core skills, often your soft skills, are necessary in every role that you’ll enter.  Your ability to communicate and influence effectively, to collaborate and negotiate,  to rally people, build trust, and inspire, to think critically, make decisions and to connect people and ideas – these are the things that you take with you to each role.  These are the things that make you valuable as a leader – regardless of the field or job title.”

When I asked about the knowledge needed to function in that new role, he said, “Sure, experience and knowledge in the field is important, BUT – as long as you possess the capacity and strong desire to learn – and learn quickly – your core skills are more important to me than your hard skills and knowledge bases.  I can teach the latter easily.  It’s more difficult to teach the former.”

This was one of those conversations that made me step back and really think about my future differently.

Often, when looking at a new job opportunity or potential shift in our career, we take stock of our hard skills, knowledge base, and experiences and they become the filter by which we say, “can I” or “should I” go after this new role.

But this shouldn’t be the case.

Rather, I would challenge that we should take inventory of the core (soft) skills that we possess and bring them to the forefront in determining whether or not we could or should do something.

Now, this isn’t to say that hard skills and knowledge bases aren’t important, because they are.  What I want you to walk away with today is the knowledge that your core skills are important and translate broadly. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself solely based upon your current hard skills and knowledge bases.


So, as a result of the conversation with my mentor, I put together this quick action list to help me as I began my own search for “what’s next” and wanted to share it with you:

  • Take stock of your own soft skills.  If you don’t know what they are – search “soft skills” on the web and get a list.  Then begin picking out the ones you do well and maybe not so well (good to know yourself fully).  There are also soft skill tests out on the web that can help you identify and measure your skill levels.
  • Ask trusted others. Get outside opinion about your soft skills.  Trusted individuals will hopefully tell you the truth about what they see.   They may validate or invalidate some of your own selections.  And, they may also share some with you that you didn’t see as potential strengths.  I recommend asking at least 3 people (not all from the same team or work area) so you gain the benefit of different perspectives.
  • Identify your top strengths.  Write them down.  What are your top 3-5?  These become a great place to start when it comes to developing the story of who you are and what you’ll bring to the table.  Putting them on paper begins to help you solidify your story.
  • Look for leverage.  When looking at a potential new role, identify where your core skills match up with what they are looking for and be prepared to talk about these. The job description may reveal some of these.  BUT DON’T STOP THERE – also check their website or other collateral and look for their missional or values statements.  Are there any of your core skills listed there that you could highlight?  Leverage your network to find out about how the company functions or what they value in skill sets.
  • Develop translatable stories.  Put together succinct stories about your previous experiences that help highlight your core skills in a way that they could see you in the new role doing the same for their company.  You want them to be able to visualize you in that seat.  The problem/action/result framework often works very well.

While this list isn’t the be-all and end-all, I hope that it provides you some framework in thinking through your core skill set and translatable skills as you look to venture forward.  They are important!  As my mentor said, “Core skills translate.”


Let go. Now what?

The day came. You received that early morning calendar planner to go to a nondescript meeting room.   One of your leadership and an HR representative were present. You were advised the company was reorganizing and that your role has been eliminated. They handed you a packet, gave you instructions, took your badge, and then you walked out of the office.

And now, it’s a week or two past when you were notified.   Time has moved forward, but you may feel like you’re standing still.   And, you may be asking yourself:

Now what?

I’ve talked with several that have been through this same circumstance in the last few years and have come out the other side doing well. In listening to their advice, I found many consistencies and want to share these with you.

As always, there are many things that you could or should be doing and this is not an exhaustive list. However, if you’ve stalled out and are in a lull – here’s where others have found success in getting going:

Take time to reflect. Set aside some uninterrupted quiet time. If you pray, pray. If you meditate, meditate. If you run, run. Wherever your comfort zone is, get there. And think through and process what has happened and where you want to go.   This is likely not a one time event either….you may have to spend a lot of quiet time while you go through this journey.

Set true priorities. Cut through any fluff in your life.   Force yourself to really analyze each of your priorities and ensure they align to the direction you want to go and that they are going to help you get there. Make sure you’re being honest with yourself.

Write it down. There’s something about putting pencil or pen to paper that seems to help the brain process and to construct your plan. Keep versions of your thinking – there may be something from a past version you want to revisit. If you get stuck, put it down and come back to it later. Your plan will begin to take shape and give you focus.

Ask questions. Ask. Ask. Ask! Everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to asking others questions. However, at this point, if you don’t know – ask someone. If you don’t feel comfortable – find people in your network you trust that you can ask. Knowledge is power. Knowledge will help you feel more comfortable. Knowledge will help you flesh out your plan.

Ask for help. Ask. Ask. Ask! This is the same principle as above. But there is something funny about asking others for assistance. Many struggle with it. They don’t want to burden others. They don’t want to expose their situation. You need to put that all away and quit being stubborn. Your network is there for a reason – use it. Obviously, be professional about it, but if you need a sponsor – ask. If you need assistance – ask.   A large number of people want to help – but they don’t know how….until you tell them. Include others on your journey.

Use every resource available to you. Depending upon where you were let go from, there are likely some resources available to you. Use whatever is given to the fullest to help you achieve your plan – or help you discover it. Many have responded very positively about outsourcing resources available to them whether documentation, webinars, or coaches and how it made a difference in their next steps. Use them!

Don’t settle. This is always a tough one, because everyone is in a different circumstance. If you have to take something in the short term to get you to your longer-term plan, do what you need to. However, don’t abandon your longer-term goals. There is a lot of wisdom in pursuing several options at once.   In fact, a placement professional told me a story recently about a client that started with one offer that they didn’t want, but they leveraged that to help a couple other companies speed up their offers – which worked to their favor. Keep pushing towards your goal.

Help others. You are going to learn a lot along your journey. Others you know may be in similar circumstance. Information and experience you gain may help someone get on their feet or help them shortcut their plan to achieve a faster result. If you really liked an outsourcing webinar – tell your connections and encourage them to take it. If you found a job that didn’t fit you, but may someone you know – tell them! There is a wonderful benefit to your own journey when you help others on theirs.

Be thankful. Your journey will likely require the help of many others. Thank them – often. There is no better feeling when you help someone to know that they are appreciative. It makes the time and effort well spent.   Emails and texts are great to express it, but if you really want them to feel it – say it sincerely in person, or write a handwritten letter/note expressing your gratitude.

This great advice came from those that have been there – and at least for them – it helped them move forward. I hope that you find it valuable.

What would you add to help others move forward?

Servant Leaders Stand Up!

Over the last week, I’ve taken tons of calls and/or exchanged emails, texts and messages with many in the wake of the latest organizational restructure at Walmart.

As you might imagine, a large portion of those were from people that had been displaced and were working through the process of figuring out what’s next.

But what you may not expect is that about 1/3 of those were from people that were “left behind”. Those that remained in their roles and are now having to figure out a new normal.

And honestly – the conversations sounded very similar. People were nervous, uncertain, and anxious about what comes next.

So, let me cut to the chase.

Servant Leaders! It is time to stand up!

Regardless of where you fit in the organization, regardless of whether you are still with the organization or not, regardless of whether you have a team of direct reports or not – it’s time to stand up and be present!

And not just for those that were displaced, but for those that still remain as well.

Here’s 4 actions you can take right now!

  1. Identify.  Be mindful of your surroundings. Use your EQ to help you identify those that may be in need. Keep your radar up. Maybe now is the time to check in on that one person that you don’t know so well, but seems to be extra quiet today.
  1. Listen. Take the time to invest in others by just hearing them out. What are they worried or anxious about? What are they excited about? What questions do they have? You don’t have to have the answers for them. Often times, merely lending an ear is enough.
  1. Help.  Provide what assistance you can. And not just on the work stuff. Use your advice, network, knowledge, and maybe even a little research to provide what people may need, professionally and personally. Put in some effort. You don’t need to coddle them. Rather be honest and thoughtful.
  1. Encourage.  Lift them up.   Whether words, actions, or setting them up for small wins. Whatever it is – find ways to help them get moving in the right direction. The goal is to get them going and then keep them going. It will likely take more than a single action on your part. So, check back and follow up.

Servant leadership is not a new concept by any means, and I would hazard to guess you’re familiar with that to do. Now, just apply it and take action. Lift those around you.

We need servant leaders now more than ever. 

Will you accept the challenge to stand up?

Moving Past the Breakup

thIt’s not you. It’s me.”

One of the most cliché and arguably one of the worst breakup lines ever.

But why is it that bad? Because the “dumpER” really doesn’t tell the “dumpEE” what they need to know so that they can move on.

And in the world of relationships, we find that it isn’t just contained to romantic or social engagements.

Many have found themselves in a place recently where their company has decided to part ways and the best answer they are getting right now is, “It’s not you. It’s me.” – paraphrased of course.

It’s a reorganization. It’s the competitive environment. It’s expense control. It’s them. Not you.

But that isn’t an answer. Why did they select me? They could have chosen anyone. I’m a top performer!I heard this from the table behind me at a restaurant this week.

Someone was struggling with the ‘why’ and not able to get past where they are until they understand it – to their desired level of understanding. Unfortunately, it may never come.

Regardless of how many steps you subscribe to in processing grief or loss (which includes the loss of a job), there are sometimes barriers that get in the way from allowing you to move from one stage to another and finally on to acceptance…..if you let them.

And I get it. I’ve been here. I am here.  I’ve gone through the same “why did this happen to me”?

But, life experience has taught me a few things. And I want to share them with you with the full knowledge that maybe this only applies to me, but in a hope that it will somehow help you process your own situation or that of one that is near to you.

If you find yourself stuck after a breakup, here’s 3 things to consider:

  1. The ‘why’ doesn’t really matter. In the big scheme of things, understanding doesn’t change the outcome. The breakup still happened. You are where you are. While understanding may better help you mentally and emotionally process your situation to a degree – in reality, you don’t need this information to move forward with your new season. Besides, if you keep stonewalled by the same reply it may be time to stop rattling a tree that won’t drop you any fruit.
  1. Don’t over pursue. I have some friends and colleagues that fall in to this category already are over pursuing the ‘why’ – like the person in the restaurant. They “have to know” and they are doing it at a cost. They are running a myriad of negative emotions – and sometimes letting these emotions guide them. Anger, depression, confusion, etc. And it’s driving their actions and tone. Yes, tone. How you say and do things.

While you are free to do what you want, there is a wise old adage about not burning bridges. You never know when you’ll need a recommendation, job, or advice from a former colleague. Everything you do at this point speaks to your character and becomes your reputation. Remember – you can’t control what happens to you, but you can control your reaction to it.

  1. Focus Forward. You only have so much energy. If you find yourself stuck, spinning, and wasting your energy – find a way to get past it. It may be as simple as a conscious choice to move past it or it may require counsel and talking it through with friends or even professionals. Sometimes, you don’t see that you’re spinning, which is why outside perspective is good from those you trust. Whatever it is, move forward. Make a plan. Take advantage of the resources and time you have to make a decisions and GO. Sometimes easier said that done, but you will never get to where you’re supposed to go next if you don’t take a step forward.

These are my own lessons from my personal journey. While not the be all end all, they are definitely things that I have had to remind myself of often.

If you are in the midst of a breakup, you may find yourself somewhere along the path of the grief process, which is totally okay! Those stages need to play out. Just know that there is hope for your future! AND don’t get hung up on the things that are going to slow you down and keep you from moving forward.  You’ve got this!

What has helped you get past a breakup?

As 2013 Ends – What Did You Learn?

bye2013-580x362What a year! Certainly not one I expected! Filled with remarkable ups and downs.  This will not be a year soon to forget!

If you’re like most, you take this time during the holidays to reflect on the previous 364 days. Memories of the good times make you smirk. Thoughts of some of those tough times may make you furl your brow. I know I’ve done a lot of this in these last days of 2013.

But the big question is, what did you learn? What were those lessons that stood out to you more than any others in 2013?

Here are three of the top things I learned this year:

  • Priorities Change.  As I said in the opening – it was a remarkable year.  Tons of great things happening for me personally and professionally, but then one unexpected storm popped up on the horizon that I didn’t see coming.  In the last quarter of this year, my wife was diagnosed with stage 4 liver CANcer.  My world stopped.  My world changed.  And so did my priorities.  My wife and family were always a top priority, but the amount of time that I am spending with them has increased significantly and everything else has been deprioritized (including this blog).  The learning?  There will always be forces in your environment that cause you to constantly sort your priorities – you have to be aware enough to see and understand those forces and then flexible enough to adapt to them appropriately.
  • Mentors Matter.  Everyone should have mentors.  People you look up to.   People that will make you better, either by modeling behavior for you or outright helping you.  I’ve had several mentors this year that have poured in to me and helped me grow significantly this year.  Sometimes you have to seek them out.  Sometimes they find you.  Either way – get some good mentors!   And not just professionally, but personally too!  Who was my MVP this year?   One of my friends and colleagues that beat CANcer in 2013, became my mentor when my wife was diagnosed.  Not only did he model unbelievably awesome behavior of how to handle a tough situation like this, he outright helped my wife and I in our journey.  Get good mentors!
  • Attitude is Everything.  There is no doubt in my mind that attitude absolutely makes a difference.  A bad one can drag you down and a good one can help you soar to new heights.  I have a favorite saying, “You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can always control how you react to it.”  I’ve seen it multiple times this year – A good attitude makes any situation better.  And as a leader, it is even more critical to have a great attitude regardless of the situation.  Why?  People are watching you.  They are modeling you.  How you handle a situation has repercussions well beyond the situation.  A generation of future leaders will take your example and emulated in their own futures – good or bad.  My favorite this year?  Back to my CANcer mentor (and his wife).  Unbelievable attitude during his bout with CANcer!  Simply amazing!

Obviously, you can see where my focus is.  But some of my greatest leadership lessons came from something very personal.

What did you learn this year?

As the clock strikes midnight, I wish you and yours a fantastic  and blessed 2014!


3 Awesome Attributes for Leaders

Happy Tuesday!  Today’s is an awesome day!  Isn’t it!?

Recently, I was talking with some colleagues about leader behaviors.  When I asked what attributes they valued the most, I found their responses intriguing.  Not surprising, but interesting.

While there are certainly many important attributes that are critical to a leader’s success, the three we pared it down to were well worthy of a mention.  A leader that does these three well will find themselves in a good place with their teams and colleagues.

What were they?

#1:  ACCESSIBILITY – People want access to their leaders.  This takes different forms depending upon the roles.  Good leaders are characterized by utilizing the “open door” mentality. This doesn’t mean that people can demand any specific time and or amount of time from their leaders, but it does mean that their leaders are available to them within reason.  It also means that team members feel comfortable knowing that their leader will be there for them when it really counts and that they will spend an appropriate amount of time addressing their needs and/or issues. 

Leader Actions:  For you leaders (again) your actions may vary by your role and circumstances, however, the key is ensuring that you set the expectations and ground rules for what accessibility looks like.  It could be, “I hold open office hours MWF from 8-10am”.  Or weekly recurring meetings with direct reports.  Or allow unscheduled in-person drive-bys.  Or quick response via email, text, IM, or whatever medium.  The key?  Make sure your people know how they can access you.

#2:  APPROACHABILITY – People want their leaders to be friendly, cordial, easy to talk to, and open to what they have to say.  This isn’t the same as accessible.  Just because you’re door’s open doesn’t mean that people will walk through.  They need to feel like it’s okay to walk through.  Unfortunately, I’ve actually heard someone say, “I’m not their friend, I’m their boss.”  Clearly this person misses the point.  It’s not so much about being BFFs as much as it is about people feeling like you’re open and engaged.  Approachability leads to greater communication, greater engagement, and greater morale.

Leader Actions:  The number one action you can take to be more approachable is to LISTEN.  Active listening tells people that you’re interested in what they have to   say.  Ask good follow up questions.  Mind your body posture and non-verbal cues – make sure they are sending the signal that you are invested in the person that is talking.  Don’t clock watch.  Be in the moment with that team member. Don’t be immediately dismissive of their ideas. Listen.  Don’t always be so serious.  Praise in public.  One of my favorite leaders always saidDon’t give some of the credit away, give it ALL away.   Smile and laugh WITH your team.

#3:  AUTHENTICTY – The most important attribute that people wanted from their leaders is for them to just be the ‘real deal’.  People have an uncanny way of seeing through facades – they may not always see it directly, but they can feel it.  They can tell when you’re not being yourself.  Even when well intentioned, not being yourself comes across as fake, disingenuous, and untrustworthy.   People want their leaders to be genuine and natural.  Trust is an earned relationship and one that works both ways.  Authenticity is a key to building a trusting relationship.

Leaders Actions:  Simply put – Be yourself.  Be real.  Be genuine.  Don’t put on fronts and facades.  Don’t make yourself out to be something you’re not.  Be a straight shooter and honest with others but always in a respectful manner.  Serve others.  Be humble.

Again, while there are many more attributes that are useful and necessary – these three felt right on spot.  And not just for formal leaders – but for the informal leaders as well.

Especially now, when the business environment is swirling with change, people need to anchor on their leaders.  And they need their leaders to be accessible, approachable, and authentic.

What leadership attributes to you see as critical?

Don’t assume they know. Tell them!

SuppotDon’t you just love it when you can see the lightbulb come on in others?

Recently, I had a conversation with one of our senior leaders and they were talking extensively about servant leadership and the importance of it in our business.  As I then sat through several meetings after that, I was very keen in my observations of those leading and participating.   

What did I see?  That we need more servant leadership.  We need to lose the egos and practice some humility.  We need to stop working in silos.  We need to be inclusive of other perspectives.  We need to be respectful of people’s time and opinions.  We need to champion and challenge each other.  We need to get away from what’s most important to ME and put others and the good of the organization first.  We need people to realize that ‘how’ we get there is just as important as getting there (if not more so).

In listening to Walmart CEO, Mike Duke, over the last few years he has been very clear that servant leadership is an attribute and behavior expected from our leaders at all levels.  So why is it that this message isn’t always filtering down or demonstrated? 

Then I remembered one of Tim Yatsko’s (EVP @Walmart) favorite Don Soderquist (former COO @Walmart) quotes, “Don’t assume they know.  Tell them.”  While this is a paraphrase and Don was referring to Integrity – I think the theme of the message is equally relevant here.  Maybe their leaders, mentors, and peers aren’t telling them.  Or holding them accountable to it.

So, I am telling you.   Be a good servant leader. 🙂

If you become known for this throughout your organization, I guarantee you that your career will blossom and flourish.

Servant Leadership is one of those topics that should be a regular course of conversation, because it’s important!  And not just at work, but in life in general.  It’s not something that we turn on and off.  It’s something that permeates who you are and is reflected in your thoughts, words, and actions.   

I realize that we all have different aspirations, styles and ambitions in life, but my personal experiences have led me to the truth that I am most fulfilled and accomplish the most when I am able to help or serve others.

If servant leadership is a new concept to you or is something you don’t understand, feel free to reach out to me, your mentors, or your leaders and inquire.  This is one of those “journey” things.  We all have to start somewhere.  Once we start, we find that there is always more to learn.  And the people that care about your growth and development should be happy to help you on your journey.  🙂

Special note for leaders:  Teach.  Teach servant leadership.  In your words.  In your actions. Talk to your teams about it. Don’t assume they know.  Expect it from the leaders on your team, whether up-and-coming or seasoned.  Hold them accountable to it.  Teach them to teach it.  If you want to leave a mighty legacy – invest this in others.

 If you take anything away  – let it be this –>   Be a good servant leader. 

 How do you demonstrate good servant leadership?

The Illusion of Effectiveness

magician-dove-hat-101206-02In our careers, there are common roads we all must travel.  Some of those roads are rougher than others.  Some are littered with pot holes and speed bumps.  One of those rougher roads is making the transition from doingbeing a high potential individual contributorto leadingmotivating others to perform at their best. 

Whether we like it or not, our role changes as we progress in seniority from being “one of the team” that performs tasks, to being the leader that get things done through others and then finally to a senior leader that gets things done through multiple layers of others. 

The challenge we often face is that throughout our early professional roles, we’re rewarded for our effectiveness as doers, and when we achieve a more senior position we often assume that our effectiveness as leaders will rely upon the same behaviors that have fueled our success up to that point. 

This can lead to the illusion of effectiveness

I think I am more effective and successful because I am ‘getting stuff done’.  Thus the illusion.  The reality is that we live in a world where we are required to churn out more with less.  If we continue to try to leverage the same skills that got us here, we’ll find ourselves being a high paid individual contributor that works around the clock to churn out “more”. 

The further reality is that this not only limits our capacity and potential, but it limits the capacity and potential of the talent that is entrusted to us.  If we always “do it ourselves”, our people never learn, experience, and grow – which is not good for us, for them, or the organization.  Success hinges on being able to effectively delegate and entrust our teams and the teams around us to deliver.

In our journey to become great leaders, we should all take a minute to evaluate ourselves and identify where we are personally doing, when we should be doing (well) through others.  

Below are 6 tips to help keep you out of the business of ‘doing’:

ONE:  Evaluate where you have to compensate for others on your team.  Then address it.  Get to the core of the issue, develop them, and get past it.  Continuing to compensate means that you are working at a level or two from where the company expects you to be.

TWO:  Evaluate your to-do list each day.   Ask yourself if the tasks are things you should be doing or things you should be teaching your team to do.  If it’s the latter – teach them.

THREE:  Entrust others with important opportunities.  There is a difference between delegating and entrusting.  Entrust is a key word in delegating:  It means that you care about the results of what you delegate, and you’re willing to provide the support needed to help the team member achieve those results.  Our job as leaders is to build future leaders, which means that sometimes you have to take a risk so that they can learn. 

FOUR:  Empower your team.  To empower your associates is to do three actions:

  • Give associates the freedom to get a job done (no breathing down their necks).
  • Provide associates with the right level of support to get the job done well, including information, training, resources, and so on.
  • Hold associates accountable to produce the outcomes needed.

All three actions work together as part of the process. Thus, when you delegate effectively, you empower your team.

FIVE:   Identify mentors and trusted leaders that lead well and ask them for input as you develop your leadership style. Ask them how they avoid the pitfall of being an individual contributor when they should be leading. Tip:  Most leaders love to teach / give advice, so just ask. 

SIX:  Copter down, but don’t forget to copter back up.  There will always be times when you need to roll up your sleeves and jump in to help get things done.  You may find yourself in a position where there is no choice but to be an individual contributor.  It’s the nature of our culture. The danger is that if taken to an extreme, the person becomes so involved in doing things the old way that they neglect the leadership aspects of their role.  Make sure that if you dive down, you pull yourself back up and don’t stay mired in individual contributor mode.

The benefits of getting it right –

Think about the leaders you know who lead well and trust, teach and train the team to do their jobs.  One of the common things I’ve noticed about these stronger leaders is that they are generally more available.  Because they are not personally driving each initiative, they typically don’t have to fill their calendars with endless meetings week after week.  They trust their team to attend the regular project meetings and insert themselves when there are broader decisions to be made.  This is a good “gut check” for any of us.  Are we available on regular basis throughout the week to spend time with our teams teaching and guiding?

On your leadership journey, continue to evaluate and push yourself to lead at the correct level.  Empower your team to drive initiatives and be available to teach / train as necessary.

The illusion of effectiveness distorts reality but if we are intentional in our leadership approach, we can unlock our potential, our team’s potential, and lead well.

 Question:  What tasks or projects are you doing now that should be driven by your team? 

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