Sunday, March 20, 2016


When I was twelve years old my doctor told me something that would impact my life for years to come. I was an average kid living an average life by 12-year-old standards. I liked to play and run around outside with my friends just as much as any other kid. But lately, I had begun to experience pain and swelling in my knees. Occasionally, I would lose all use of my legs as they would completely give out causing me to drop right where I was which at times was not a particularly good place (think middle of busy street as traffic approaches). After several hair raising tumbling events, my parents who first chalked my plethora of occasional calamities up to growing pains, decided a trip to the family doctor was in order.

So off I went for x-rays, poking and prodding until the final diagnosis was revealed. Due to a congenital defect, both my kneecaps were unstable. I didn’t understand the medical technical explanation of it all and frankly, I still don’t. Suffice it to say, I could move my kneecaps all over the place without any pain. Since the knee caps didn’t stay where they were supposed to, my knees could not do that all important task of keeping me upright, at least not on a consistent and reliable basis. I sadly came to realize my childhood would consist of fewer romps and runs outside with my friends, and more lonely days spent watching television with one or both of my swollen knees elevated and iced. In addition, there were many painful surgeries in my future. It was probably after the third of fourth of these surgeries that my doctor gave me the news. He told me even after all of the surgeries were complete, I would never have normal knees and that meant I would always have certain limitations. I would never be able to run.

Not earth shattering news for a then 15-year-old who had already spent a few years on the sidelines anyway and kind of liked getting the free pass from mandatory gym class. However, as I got older I began to want to run. I wished and yearned for it as I watched the fit and slender bodies of the track team at my high school. I wanted to be one of them, to feel the wind on my face as I challenged my body to go faster and farther. But the words of my doctor always rang in my ears. I can’t run.  So, I stayed on the sidelines. I didn’t think of challenging what was said to me so many years ago. Those words were so strong. The words of one person, had so much power they stifled my will and strangled my ambition. So much so that whenever any dream of running began to arise within me it was quickly stamped out by those strangling words, “I CAN’T”. This was the course of my life until the day I decided I wanted to go to the Police Academy.

Many things are required of a police recruit. The police academy is very challenging both mentally and physically and yes, running is part of it. I suppose I could have tried to get a pass on the running requirement due to my physical disability and in these politically correct times perhaps such a request would have been granted. But I didn’t want that. My ebbing desire to run had returned full force and I wanted to be with my fellow recruits during those long, grueling 6 a.m. runs. When I went for the pre-academy physical, I wasn’t surprised that after taking one look at the scars on my knees the doctor refused to clear me to enter the academy until my knee specialist signed off. I went to see the specialist, the one who had performed my last two surgeries. He immediately said he would not support me going to the academy. “It’s too hard, you can’t do it.” There were those words again, “I CAN’T”. I could have taken those words to heart the way I had all my life. I could have walk out of that doctor’s office and turned my back on my dream of becoming a police officer. But something inside of me wouldn’t let me do that.

Right then I decided that the course of my life was not going to be determined by people on the outside looking in. People who knew nothing about me or what I was capable of. People who would judge me without knowing my strength and my determination. That was when I realized that I was stronger than the word that tried to destroy my will. That word, “Can’t” was not going to stop me. I explained to the doctor while I was aware I had physical limitations, I was not equally limited in spirit. I knew it was possible that my body could indeed fail me, but I had every right to follow my spirit which was screaming at me to try, just try. I believed if I could follow that call deep inside me, that years old desire that had never died, if I could just go where my spirit was leading, my body would surely fall in line. Almost begrudgingly my doctor signed the paper work clearing me to attend the police academy, warning me that when (not if) I had the inevitable breakdown of my knees, it would be best for me to find another doctor to fix it.

I graduated from the police academy with academic commendation which was an accomplishment that I was proud of, but what made me proudest was the fact that I ran. I ran every day. I ran upstairs, I ran in the rain, I ran in the cold weather, I ran in formation, I ran up and down hills. I ran with my fellow recruits and that made me so proud. I was not the fastest runner, I was never at the head of the pack, but I was not at the end of it either. I continued to run even after graduating from the academy. I felt the wind at my face and challenged my body to go faster and farther. That feeling was as exhilarating as I had imagined it would be.

Sometimes I think of all the years I wasted believing what other people thought about what I was capable of doing. What else could I have accomplished if I had not let the word “Can’t” stop me. We all have dreams; we all have a “Desire to run” so to speak. Who has a right to tell you what your limitations are?  I am not writing this to advise anyone to ignore the advice of their doctor. I use this story as a metaphor to say if you have a desire to run, to sore, to fly do not let anyone take that desire away from you. Never accept the word “Can’t”. When you pursue what you never thought you could do, you will be surprised at what your mind and your body can accomplish. The only barrier to you accomplishing your wildest most ambitious dreams is you. So, do not let anyone tell you that you can’t, because as long as you are willing to do the hard work, you absolutely can. In fact, you must grow, learn, and go far beyond anywhere you ever thought you could go. Stretch beyond the limits and the barriers others have placed before you, for there are no real barriers, just shortfalls in faith, energy and creativity. As long as you have those three things, you can and must grow beyond your current place in life. You must develop your desire to run and once you have that desire, don’t ever stop running.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Placeholder, The Pro and The Producer: Progressions in Worker Performance

The Placeholder, The Pro and The Producer:
Progressions in Worker Performance

Nothing sets the pace of organizational success like the productivity and performance of its employees. There are several interventions which can be employed to enhance the quality and quantity of work produced by a company’s workforce, but before rolling out such interventions, it is important to first identify which tactics would work most optimally on which individuals. It has been said that a happy employee is a productive employee, but I submit different employs who are at different levels of professional development require different interventions to bring them to that happy, fulfilled and therefore productive state. Some may require structure, guidance and direction, while others would perform much better with less oversite. Tailoring your management style specifically to the performance level of the employee will go far in supporting and improving their overall performance. This will bring about the best result for the employee and the organization as a whole. Here are three levels of worker performance and how they can advance or hinder organizational goals.

The Placeholder
Most new employees will identify with the “Placeholder”. The Placeholder’s mantra is, “Hot damn, I have a job!!” The Placeholder values employment as a means to get what they want in the world. The job pays the bills and allows them to acquire material things and take care of their family. The Placeholder will follow the rules and fulfill their work requirements because of the external reward of a paycheck. They come to work, do their job, and go home. The advantages of having placeholders in the workplace are few. Sure every organization needs faces to fill positions and Placeholders do that, but they are basically interchangeable with any other face, and they will be. As soon as a Placeholder finds another employer offering more of that external reward, money, they will be gone and the company will have to find another face to fill the position. What’s worse is the Placeholder has no desire to progress in the company or contribute anything new, so their value to the company is relatively small, and the relationship is merely transactional. You do work for me, I give you money. The employee’s development and the company’s ROI are both fairly flat. Hopefully most employees who may begin as Placeholders, will progress to the next level of employee performance, the Pro.

The Pro
It will take a variable amount of time for an employee to evolve from a Placeholder to a Pro, but it is in the best interest of both the employee and the organization to get every employee to this level. A Pro still appreciates the fact that they have a job, but now what they do isn’t merely a job to them, it has become a career. To the Pro, there are internal as well as external rewards derived from what they do for their employer. The Pro sees their workplace as an environment in which they are valued for the talents and skills they possess. They desire to use and continually develop these skills and talents to promote and grow within the organization. The Pro receives intellectual stimulation, a feeling of belonging, and a creative outlet from their employer. They turn these internal rewards into enhanced productivity and performance which benefits the employer. The employer recognizes the increased performance and rewards the employee with more intellectual and creative stimulation which keeps the employee thriving and growing. This continues so that the investments made by both the employer and the employee return benefits to each resulting in a stronger more relevant company and a more productive and engaged workforce. Any organization would do well to nurture and develop most of their employees to the level of the Pro where performance is in high gear, but there is one more level of performance to discuss. Many Pro’s will grow into Producers, and Producers become the moving force of the organization. It is important to identify and groom the Producers to succeed high ranking officers in the company as those officers leave the company due to retirement.

The Producer
Not all workers will rise to the level of Producer. For the Producer, work is not a job, not a career, but a calling. Their mantra is, “I was meant to do this work and I have something unique to offer.” Producers are operating on all cylinders and as the title suggests, they produce for the company. Not merely followers of policy and procedure, Producers are capable of developing new policies and new ways of accomplishing tasks to more efficiently reach company goals. They will innovate and create new strategies and projects to make the organization more relevant and effective. The company remains strong by having a large number of Pros in their ranks, but the company needs Producers to move forward into uncharted territory. The Producers of today are the CEO’s and the Administrators of tomorrow and if a company’s Producers are not actively being groomed for succession, this is definitely something the company should be doing.

Strong organizations have Placeholders, Pros, and Producers. It is important to nurture and support workers to continually elevate their level of productivity and performance. To do this, a manager needs to know when to provide close guidance and direction, and when to release some control and allow the employee to have some autonomy. Properly managing the workforce to set and achieve high performance standards is the key to running a flourishing and successful business.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Boss Whispering: How to Get What You Want When You’re an Outsider at Work

     Have you ever felt like you don’t quite fit into the culture of your workplace? Do your co-workers fail to invite you to social gatherings outside of the workplace? Have you been passed over for training and advancement opportunities? Making advances in the workplace can be a challenge, especially when you work in a homogeneous environment. Homogeneous work environments exist in organizations that lack diversity in some respect. It may be a place where the workers are mostly male, female, white, black, or some other identifiable sameness element. Homogeneous work environments come about in a very natural way. People are generally inclined to hire, develop and promote people who are like them, or people with whom they have most in common. In many cases, the decision maker will pull success criteria from their own frame of reference which encompasses their personal views on gender, race, religion and other markers. By making inferences based on their personal opinion and by looking at the current organizational landscape, the decision maker often chooses to maintain the status quo by hiring, developing, or promoting the person who fits their pre-ordained mold.  
     Fortunately, strides have been made over the past several decades to appreciate and create diversity in most workplace environments. A diverse organization is one that employs people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures and is thus able to draw upon a wide range of perspectives in accomplishing its goals. When an organization values diversity, it creates a tolerant atmosphere that fosters innovation and creativity harnessing and nurturing the best and brightest talent. While many companies have hired a more diverse workforce, the lack of developing, mentoring and promoting diverse workers is still a shortfall for many organizations. Has an organization truly made effective and sincere strides toward true diversity if all of their managerial and executive personnel are of the same ethnic group or gender?  
     If you are working for an organization that is homogenous, and you don’t identify with the main characteristics of the group, you might be facing some real challenges. For example, a woman who works in a mostly male environment may find that she is not developed or mentored as her male co-workers are. She may find she has to work harder to prove herself, or to even be recognized by her superiors. Her work may be more closely scrutinized and she may not be invited to be part of group projects. Indeed, she may feel like an outsider in her workplace. This is not due, in most circumstance, to her co-workers and superiors intentionally excluding her. It’s just human nature that members of a homogenous group tend to congregate and interact more readily with other members of that group. Since an outsider has little hope in changing the cultural makeup of their workplace, they will have to work to navigate the barriers that are keeping them from getting what they want. If you are feeling like an outsider in your workplace you know that doors don’t just open for you, you have to push them open. If a seat isn’t readily offered to you, you may have to take it. When you are an outsider in a homogenous workplace, self-promotion may be your best advancement strategy. If you feel like an outsider at work, and you believe you have significant contributions to make to the organization, step up and promote yourself by following these 5 rules.
Get Face Time
If there is a position you want, training you need, or a promotion you know you are qualified for, you have to step up and make your desires known to the decision makers in your organization. When I say decision maker, I mean you have to meet with whoever in your organization has the ability to make your request happen. Don’t waste your time with people who can do nothing for you. Remember, you are not part of that in-group whose members will automatically be considered for the best positions in the organization. You are not going to receive the phone call that they will surely get when there is an opening in a workgroup or when a new position becomes available. You have to be assertive in making your desires known, and there is no better way to present yourself than through a face to face meeting. Do not send an email or a letter. You need to be able to intuitively discern the decision maker’s reactions to your statements and tailor your presentation as needed. Letters, emails, and memos won’t get the attention that a meeting will get. When you meet with your boss, make sure they have the time to give you their undivided attention. Watch for non-verbal body language that indicates your boss is engaged with the conversation and ready to listen to what you have to say. If you get the feeling your boss is distracted, can then on it, and offer to schedule your meeting at another time if necessary.
Be Androgynous
As a society, we have raised our daughters to cultivate communal personality traits such as being caring, kind, nurturing, empathetic and communicative. We have taught our sons to possess more agentic traits including being aggressive, decisive, independent and confident. As a result, males are hesitant to display communal traits due to being judged as not being “manly” and women stick with their assigned communal behaviors to avoid being labeled as not feminine or worse, being called a bitch. Exhibiting only gender prescribed behaviors causes an immediate barrier for women since all the traits that would generally be attributable to leadership belong to the male agentic traits category. Successful leaders have found a way to blend all of the male and female traits into one presentation style thus being aggressive and decisive when the situation calls for it, and being able to employ more communal behaviors when necessary. When advocating for themselves, females who want to be perceived as leaders must be able to display agentic personality traits whenever appropriate, while still making use of their communal traits. This means being assertive when you ask for that meeting with your boss, and being decisive about what you want.
Speak to Their Needs Before Listing Your Own
Begin with a conversation about what the organization needs and how you can fulfill that need through the training or the promotion you are asking for. Make your boss feel secure and validated. This may seem strange, but people are much more likely to cooperate with a suggestion when they feel their sense of importance has been validated and their needs are being met. This approach will show your boss you respect them, you’ve done your homework and your request is not entirely self-serving.
Be Clear in Stating What You Want
No one wants their time wasted. Before you go in for the meeting with your boss, you’d better know what it is you want and why you want it. Be sure to explain how your request will meet the aforementioned needs of the organization. Don’t be afraid to put your request in writing with a few words on how granting your request serves the organization. I always advocate for a face to face meeting rather than just sending an email or memo to make your request, but once the face to face meeting is over, it doesn’t hurt to leave the decision maker with a written summary of what was presented.
Help Them Find a Reason to Say Yes
This is where you pull out all the stops in making your pitch. Appeal to the decision maker’s empathy and sense of logic. Find a way to get them to empathize with your situation and understand that granting your request is the most logical decision. Make them feel they have won something for the organization by granting your request.
Outsiders can be successful in homogenous working environments as long as they are willing to persevere. Following these rules will go a long way in getting you what you want. I believe that success is based not so much innate talent, but more on desire, intention and effort. When you are an outsider, you will have to work harder for what you want, but as long as you have the desire and ability, there is no reason for you to fail when you step up and ask.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Don’t Speak: The Essential Skill of Intuitive Listening

If you want to be heard, first you must listen. While this piece of advice might seem counterintuitive, it may be the most valuable skill to perfect. When fully developed, intuitive listening skills, will allow you to communicate in a way to bring about a win/win result. By intuitively listening to what the speaker really means, you are better capable of meeting their needs of being recognized and understood. In turn, it is much more likely you will be able to get the speaker to comport their behavior in a way that satisfies your needs whatever they may be. You’ve heard it said that some people are so good at the art of persuasion they can sell a mirror to a blind man. Well that level of persuasion comes not so much from speaking as it comes from employing superbly honed intuitive listening skills. A highly persuasive person instinctively knows how to identify needs, and illicit the perception that those needs are being met.

Intuitive listening involves being able to discern what is being communicated through a perception of meaning derived from words, context, countenance and actions rather than through words alone. Attempting to communicate without first understanding the true meaning being conveyed by the speaker can often result in a volley of statements and responses which serve no purpose in bringing about any form of mutually beneficial results. In fact, failing to listen intuitively caries the risk of escalating the conversation to the point of spiraling out of control, setting back the accomplishment of meeting mutual needs and causing irreversible damage to the relationship. It is true, you won’t get what you want, until you listen to what they need.

In order to listen intuitively, you must develop an instinct to see more and hear more than what is being overtly said. To do this, you must remove the distraction of your own speaking. Most likely you have heard that a good listener will do several things including maintaining eye contact, limiting environmental distractions, and conveying interest with the occasional nod or similar gesture. While these are necessary elements of active listening and valuable skills to have, the art of thoughtful silence is the most important attribute for an intuitive listener to develop. When you speak, you are less capable of truly listening. It takes energy and concentration to formulate your own thoughts and this deprives you of the ability to dedicate all of your senses to the speaker. While silently watching and listening to the speaker, you are able to take in and analyze a plethora of information. Of course, a productive conversation requires a dialogue, so at some point of course you must speak. Do so however only after you have taken in and analyzed the following clues to meaning.

Presentation Style of the Speaker
Everyone has a particular way of communicating which is an outward representation of various factors including personality, culture, and education level. Understanding one’s presentation style helps to reduce tension that could arise when the speaker’s choice of words or mannerisms might be different than those to which you are accustomed.

Emotional Context
We are all emotional creatures and regardless of the topic of conversation, emotions are involved. Whether these emotions are positive or negative, it is important to perceive what they are. If a particularly negative emotion is being exhibited, try to discern why. Never make the mistake of internalizing the emotions of another person. The anger or hostility the speaker may seem to be directing toward you may actually have its roots in situations or problems that exists outside of the current conversation, and probably have nothing to do with you personally. Recognizing emotions and giving them the proper context is the first step in managing them so the goals of the conversation are not lost.

Look at the speaker and take in all that you are sensing about their appearance. Facial expressions, posture and non-verbal gestures speak very loudly. Sometimes they completely contradict the words that are being said. Do not overlook this incongruity.

Body Positioning
Where is the speaker sitting or standing? Are they uncomfortably close? Do they demand that you sit while they remain standing? There is psychological power involved in proximity. Have you ever wondered why a Judge’s bench is at a higher level than any seat in the courtroom? When the speaker positions themselves above you they are saying, “I have more power than you.” When they invade your personal space, they are letting you know they have control over you. When they fail to face you fully or maintain eye contact, they convey that you are not very important to them. Understanding these cues and responding accordingly will help you maintain your control and power.

Tone and Intonation
Sometimes it’s not what they say, but how they say it. Usually a person’s tone is a dead giveaway to what they really mean. Sometimes the tone of a remark is very pronounced and an obvious way of using sarcasm or humor. In this case, the meaning is clear, however there are subtle tonal cues that aren’t so obvious. In these instances, a good sensitive ear is critical in order to find the true meaning in the words.

The same words have different meaning to different people depending on culture, environment, age, education and other factors. If you are initially offended or otherwise taken off guard by a speaker’s vernacular, first consider the entirety of the conversation and put the term in context. Your understanding of the meaning of the term might be different than the understanding of the speaker.

We’ve all heard that actions speak louder than words. If the speaker is saying one thing, but repeatedly doing something else, listen to the actions because they are a more realistic representation of meaning.

Once intuitive listing skills are mastered, the process will actually occur very quickly throughout the conversation. The main focus is to remain calm and observant until a mutually acceptable conclusion results. Don’t be afraid to use your silence as a means to consistently gather non-verbal information. While you are silently and thoughtfully gathering information about the speaker, the speaker is filling up that uncomfortable silence with more information. This will assist you in your further discernment of meaning and give you the opportunity to prepare the appropriate response. When the conversation is over, you will have exchanged meaningful information and obtained mutual understanding, preserving the relationship for the next conversation. Remember, they won’t hear you until you intuitively listen to them.