Archive | November 2014

Who Are You?

A good question. And a question everyone needs to be able to answer. And also not a question a lot of people can actually answer in reasonably, comprehensive fashion.

Who you are is not only a question of name, address, age and gender. It is a question of how you want to position yourself and how do you brand yourself. There are three stages that are very important to understand.

  1. How people perceive you based on past experience with you
  2. How people perceive you based on recent experiences with you
  3. How you actually want to be perceived

Everyone ever trying to get promoted, elected, or hired has been negatively impacted by an outside perception. We see this all the time when nice people are trying to run for office, it is amazing how much negative impressions and topics surface. During election this dirty laundering is a public event. During promotion times the laundering happens behind closed doors and is not always made transparent to the person it actually effects. This is good and bad. If you are oblivious to how people perceive you it is easier not to react and stay your own personal self without getting nervous around managers. However, if you do have desires to be promoted or getting any other type of advancements it is important to understand perceptions of you and manage those actively.

How do you manage perceptions?

First of all, be your best. Treat others nicely. Have a service oriented mind set. Be open, friendly, but show that you are able to carry your own opinion. Be social.

In a professional setting you need to be aware of how you move, act, and in particular react. This is particular important if you fall into certain stereotypable categories that can make you subject to biased opinion. If you are of a certain age, be extra aware of how you are perceived with regards to flexibility, technology, and interests. If you are female in a primarily male oriented group, the same applies. Or for me as a German in the US, I need to understand that my cultural background, my overly overt honesty, and the way I talk is often perceived as arrogant or aggressive. While I also wish stereotyping was a thing of the past, it is not very realistic to think we are not working in a biased environment.

I once on a social side read the comment. Do not J A D E, when someone disagrees with you. JADE stands for

J = Justify
A = Argue
D = Defend
E = Explain

The biggest negative impression is created in a professional setting when people are overly defensive and argumentative. When people go into wordy explanation on why they did what they did. “Jading” is at its best annoying and at its worst a career killer.
You might be more intelligent or more right then the person disagreeing with you, but it does not make you the better person. Working together is not a competition on who wins the argument or who is smarter, it is about how do we actually move the company forward. Always follow the little thinking model when in a group setting:

  • What is good for the business and organization?
  • What is good for the team?
  • What is good for me?

So, who do you want to be?

The person who is more interested in making himself look good, the one who does not seem to able to receive criticism, feedback, or input and is also defensive. Or a person who can really navigate a group and solve problems?

It is up to you.


The Fear of Becoming Pretentious

This year I will start a new family tradition. I will call it “Un-Black Friday”. Instead of spending money on myself or family by participating in the insanity that is shopping, I will instead do something charitable.

Since I generally like animals. My daughter and I have collected money for an Animal Rescue and bought pet food. We are planning on driving to the shelter on Friday to drop all our donations off and hope to also see some of the animals.

I will not set foot into a store. And I will not spend money on goods I do not necessarily need.

I hate shopping in malls. I hate shopping in grocery stores. And I even more do not like shopping for clothes or electronics.

I like sleeping in. There is no way I will get up early to get a good deal on something. Not my thing. Sleep is too valuable.

For me resisting Black Friday is as easy as it can get. I am not American, so the consumerism is beyond me anyways. And generally, when I need or want something I buy it, independent from what day of the year it actually is.

However, since this year Thanksgiving will be celebrated in our house. The entire set of 12 people that my husband calls family will be staying at our house over the weekend. Naturally, I thought the “Un-Black Friday” idea would be very welcome and something new to do as a family. A new tradition. Each year someone can pick a charity and we do something for their cause.

My husband feels differently. He does not like to prescribe people what to do. He feels my suggestion is a little bit pretentious. Which might be true. Because I honestly want to set a precedence, purposefully avoiding what I think is insane “spending crazy amounts on money on stuff you do not really need”, And yes, I think if you really have disposable income, you should spend it where it really makes more sense. Since I really like spending money on myself. And I often spend it on stuff I neither need nor truly have a purpose for, my “Un-Black Friday” idea might sound hypocritical. So, I am somewhat pretentious here. And I am ok with that. One day of the year to refuse to participate in a spending frenzy.

Other people do their charity for Christmas. Since I am not religious and I am not really drawn towards most charitable efforts that are targeted towards other regions of the world, I feel I can do something different that is meaningful to me. I love community development, I love spreading and ensuring education and knowledge are available to all people, providing a home and food for people that are less fortunate in your region or city, and I think it is important to “waste less” — All targeted towards making your own home town more friendly, safe, educated, and beautiful. My emphasize might be that I am right now living in one of the less favorable areas of the US. Detroit is just not that popular. And right now it is insanely cold with the 15 degrees Fahrenheit mid November. There is a lot to do to make this region more desirable.

So, I will stick with my Un-Black Friday plans. If my family wants to do something different, they can. I am not prescriptive.

For as long as I can do what is important to me on this day off of mine. This is what I call success outside of work. It took me a long time that to understand that happiness is driven in both areas of life: work and personal life. This recognition must come with age.

Happy Thanks Giving!

The Art of W(h)ining

Yes, we all do it. We whine when things do not go our way. We rant when we feel that fate has thrown us a curve ball.

And guess what. That is ok.

I love whining at times. Sharing frustration with dear colleagues and friends. Sitting over a glass of wine to share the most annoying stories of the week. And sometimes to even just vent about the difficulties of my daily job.

Whining and wining often go hand in hand for me. If I truly want to talk about my worklife and get some feedback I am asking some of my favorite colleagues or mentors out. We then sit in a restaurant or bar, away from the daily stress that is work, and enjoy an entertaining conversation about the little obnoxious things that make our worklife any less than pleasant.

The truth is I generally like my job. I generally like working with people. And I generally am enthusiastic about what I do. But just not always. And then the little get together with a friend or a mentor can really make a difference. They can point me in the right direction to make improvements or they can just tell me “you are nuts” without hurting my feelings. It is a brain adjustment that I need on occasion. A little bit of a new perspective, new inspiration, a new story, or just knowing that everyone else has these down times.

What w(h)ining is not for me is a “free out of jail card” to drink as much as I want or to engage in self pity. Years ago this might have been different. I approached my life a lot more passive. I considered other people to blame for my misery. I assumed I was helpless and could not change directions.

But we are not helpless. We are more powerful than we think we are. We actually do not only have the power to change what is bothering us, we do have the obligation to change when things do not go right.

What if I am bothered by my husband’s shoes lying around the house and not being put away properly? I could nag him to put them away. Since he does not mind having them lie on the floor in the bedroom or in the entrance way, I will be only somewhat successful to change his behavior. More often than not, I will get him annoyed by my nagging. Permanent and successful change requires me to change. I could change my attitude. But how likely is that? I am bothered by the shoes. This annoyance is not going away easily. So what did I do? I am now paying my daughter weekly for keeping our shoe room in order. My 9 year old found a source of income, I have someone that is responsible for cleaning up.

At work I follow a similar principle. Change needs to be sustainable and not just transferring annoyance and frustration from one person to the other. Some solutions are simple to find. Others require more thought, a plan, and some effort.

When things suck at work or your life it is important to recognize the pain points and do something about them. Pain points need to be addressed proactively. If you find yourself stressed out over the same things over and over, you need to change your routine. No change can be obtained by maintaining the same conflicts and points of friction. No change can be accomplished if you rely on others to do the changing and corresponding work. Change is a hands-on self reflecting effort.

If you are bothered, but nobody else is… guess what, it is up to you to change.

Sure, instead of engaging in whining with colleagues or friends to brainstorm solutions you can drown your frustration in wine. But what does that change in the long run?

As I said before: W(h)ining can be fun, but not if it is applied to the same problem over and over without addressing the root cause!

Age, Wisdom and Experience

About once every week I am getting surprised by how important the way you look has become. And I am sometimes even more surprised how much I am concerning myself with how I look. Whether it is make up or clothes or body shape. I want to look young and healthy and energetic. And sometimes beautiful.

However, the way I look is only one aspect that is important to me and does not even make the top 3 of my list. For me it has always been very clear that intelligence is key. If you look at the people I like to surround myself with the always have a few things in common:

  • They tend to be of above average intelligence
  • They have a lot of varying experiences
  • They are typically well educated
  • They tend to be successful in what they do
  • They are very proactive and do not whine unnecessarily

And most of these people have something else in common: They are generally older than me. Since I was very young I have always been drawn to older generations to find friends. I still find experience very sexy and like to benefit from what other people have learned. I like it if my friends are well traveled and have many years of work experience.

Also at work it is very relevant to have experience. Experience can be flat spread when you have more a generalist orientation. Or experience can go deep if you a specialist. I in general am a combination. I like to learn deep, but on multiple topics. This is just my nature. I learn fast and I absolutely enjoy applying my knowledge from one situation the other.

I am very much attracted to people who are proactive. Who do not whine about a situation, but do something to change an unfavorable position. Men and women creating their own opportunities and not leaving anything to chance. I always hear that some people are just lucky. Hardly ever in a work or friendship situation is this actually the case. People may be unlucky. Accidents do happen and sometimes illness or accidents strike. But generally opportunities open up to those who are willing to use experience and wisdom to set themselves up for those.

If you smile and are friendly, people want to be your friend.

if you take risks, have knowledge, apply yourself, work hard, and work well with others, and also present yourself well, you will get opportunities. Maybe not immediately, but slowly.

Experience and knowledge are important to make yourself interesting. I always find it amazing how little these two nouns show up as desirable characteristics when describing candidates for a job or even a life partner. How are you planning on driving your organization or even your partnership forward if you have nothing to talk about?

And this is what I am planning to do; drive to continue to learn, so my experience and knowledge can grow. In both personal and work life. I will continue reading books and expose myself to new and sometimes uncomfortable things. So that eventually I will become the person a younger generation picks out as interesting and relevant.

What will you do to stay current and relevant?

The Secret Life of Motivated People

I am an optimist.

However, it would be a lie to assume that I am never frustrated or demotivated. I am.

Yesterday for example I was sitting in my living room and watching the 10th episode of “The Killing” and thought to myself: “I really do not want to go to work tomorrow. I should just quit. It is the same story over and over. The same questions. The same concerns. The same people yelling at me. The same difficulties and issues. And I will not get another raise this year, I will not get promoted, I might not even make top performer this year. Why bother”

This is me when I am the most frustrated. When I really do not see the light at the end of the tunnel. When I absolutely do not know how to get out. When everything just feels … depressing. This is when I feel sorry for myself.

Today, I woke up and I feel so much better. I am motivated. I am ready to conquer the world. I am ready to give it another try. What changed?

1. Sleep

I actually got a good night sleep. I did not try to wake up extra early to cramp in some stretching before work and do a run. I slept until I needed to get up to make my 7:00am meeting.  Which to me means waking up at 5:45am. And leaving the house at 6:20am.  Sleeping always helps. I typically prepare well: I lay out my clothes the night before, I do not wash my hair every day as I do not need to, I have a very strict make-up routine and I generally do not eat breakfast at home. All this to maximize my sleep.

2. Coffee

I made my favorite coffee in the morning. No sugar. But with heavy cream. This always makes me happy.

3. Attack Plan

I always attack things in priority order and also in order of most pain. I attack the topics that I do not like first, so they are out of the way. I do not postpone. I do not push them out. I confront my issues and work through them. Once I get the painful stuff out of the way the rest does not feel this hard anymore.

4. Be Very Selfish

I am typically not very selfish. Generally, I like to make sure everyone receives what they need in order to complete their work. Today will be different. I will leave early. I made an appointment with my hair stylist for today and I also made an appointment with my massage therapist (for back and should pain). If I am not happy at work at least I will look good.

5. Finding the Value

Whenever I am demotivated I spend an excessive amount of time thinking about “why am I doing what I am doing”. I do this typically when I run, but sometimes also in the car on my way to work. I just need to be alone with my thought. In order to overcome the demotivational wave that hit me yesterday, I needed to determine the root cause of my frustration. And the root cause in this instance is clear: lack of future vision and people. People sometimes frustrate me, in particular if they are new to the job (my company rotates people every two years) and I have to retrain, reexplain, or relearn a relationship. I am in my job now for 5 years (yes, there are exceptions to the 2 year rule) and I have seen people come and go. Every rotation is an immediate repeat of something for me. This frustrates me. So, I remembered this morning on my drive to work what I am really good at: building relationships. And I made it my own personal commitment of the day to ensure that I am building at least one new relationship today.  And that I would spend at least 30min today thinking and defining the future of me and my group, so I can determine the best path on how to get there. This means: dedicated 45min to improving my situation today should help reduce the frustration. Finding one more ally, utilizing a solid existing skill, and being creative. Things I love doing.

What I always have to remember myself of is: Everyone is occasionally unhappy at work. Being demotivated is not bad. Utilize the cues to find things to improve where you are today by doing the above five things: something to feel good (sleep, coffee), something to look good (hair cut), something to get the most painful thing out of the way (attack plan), be selfish and leave early, and ensure you understand a few key things to improve your current situations by utilizing existing skills and circumstances.

And that is it.

Today, already looks so much better.

Failure Is Success

I have not been writing in a very long time and the reason is very simple. In April I received indication of a new job opportunity and I was very excited. I simply had my mind focused on pursuing this opportunity and could not focus on anything else.

Since then, this opportunity did not come home. My management decided they could not live without me and kept me in place. At first I was hurt, then angry, then frustrated, and now I am slowly coming back to live trying to look for and create new opportunities.

I am a firm believer that opportunities are actively created. That nothing is left to chance and that you essentially are indeed the architect of your own life.

I also believe that in order to become a good and expert architect of your life you need to venture out and take risks. And this includes that occasionally you will fail. And while failure always hurts and generally feels bad, you need failure to grow.

In all my years of being in operational excellence assignments trying to continuously improve how we all work together at my company, I have experienced a significant amount of failures. And only through these failures have I been able to understand the importance of trying.

The job opportunity was self created. Over the past few years I have established myself as a brand. I wanted to be recognized for my ability to think, brainstorm, plan, organize, and work together with various crossfunctional groups. And I did. I worked together with others more proactively. I put emphasis on “good for company” over “good for myself” or even “good for my group”. I sacrificed vacations, worked late night, was overly responsive, and tried to support activities as necessary in order to serve my brand. I exposed myself. Took risks by initiating 1:1s with Directors. Shared my ideas, my vision, and also delivered to my objectives. I suggested and created an entire new team to serve a newly identified business need and staffed it entirely by myself. This was all hard work. And it was done to show myself as someone who can play in the big league.

It paid off. I was approached in April to see if I wanted to pursue a new job overseas.

And it makes me very happy to think that I can indeed create my own luck and be a master of my fate. As I mentioned above. My boss did not want me to go. He felt I was needed here where I am more. And this was a painful thing to hear. So next time, I will work on a better exit plan and make myself more replaceable. And at least I received a salary increase to compensate for the foregone opportunity.

So, while the outcome was not exactly what I expected, there was at least no negative consequence of taking a risk and exposing yourself. Next time, I might take even more risks.

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