The problem with work is that so often it really, really feeeeels like work.

September 18, 2008
The Spark by Ryan at

The Spark by Ryan at

Work, if we’re doing it right, is actually supposed to feel like success. Isn’t that the point, really? I mean, of course we all have to work just to pay the bills. But have you ever done work that made you feel good? Work that made you feel proud? Work that made you feel successful? Whether it was your flair at folding fleece or your ability to calculate interest rates in your head, there was something that gave you a little spark of your personal power, wasn’t there?

Those sparks are what we should be looking for in ourselves, our co-workers and our teams. Where do people shine? What are they good at? What makes them smile? What makes them feel like they did something worthwhile when they get to the end of their day? Of course none of this is new; Marcus Buckingham has been talking about strengths for years. All I’m saying is… let’s actually DO it. Let’s manage our careers and our teams this way.

I am not suggesting we shove the “boring” stuff aside. Maybe in the business world there are certain mundane but necessary tasks we’ll never escape. But couldn’t we figure out a way everyone could benefit from the work people do best, more often?

First, think about you: You know how on an airplane they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before you help anyone else? Concept applies here. Recognize where you get your sparks in your workday. Some hints: Is there a timeslot on your calendar you fiercely protect? Why? What work makes you feel energized? Now, how can you approach your work, and your calendar, with more purpose? How can you get more of that into your day? What can you shift, how can you steer your career in that direction?

Next, watch your co-workers: You spend most of your day with them and you get to know them pretty well. So when one of your co-workers is excited about something, you’ll see that spark. Ask about it. What would happen if he just got to talk for a few minutes about the thing that makes him feel energized?

Finally, ignite your team: If you’re a manager, think about the implications of your entire team working together as a unit because they are each spending more time on what they are individually good at, and what makes them feel energized. Happy employees. Targets met. All because you paid attention to where there were sparks.

When work really feeeeels like work, there are no sparks — it’s just drudgery, pure and simple. But the work that comes out of the sparks is the good stuff. That’s where I want to be.

Where is your career sparking up?


Conversation = civilization

August 26, 2008
Shel Silverstein reads Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein reads Shel Silverstein

My niece learned to read this year and she is gobbling up everything she can find. In my ongoing quest to be the coolest, hippest — and therefore her favorite — aunt, I scoured through my boxes of books to find her some old treasures I used to love. I stopped when I found A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein. She’s going to flip when she reads this stuff! Anyway, I ran across a poem I had forgotten:


If we meet and I say, “Hi,”
That’s a salutation.
If you ask me how I feel,
That’s consideration.
If we stop and talk awhile,
That’s a conversation.
If we argue, scream and fight,
That’s an altercation.
If we later apologize,
That’s reconciliation.
If we help each other home,
That’s cooperation.
And all these ations added up
Make civilization.

(And if I say this is a wonderful poem,
Is that exaggeration?)

—Shel Silverstein

Sure, the target audience here may have been children, but I work for an organization that could sometimes use a little reminder about how this stuff works. Do you, too? Conversation, consideration, communication, celebration… what other “ations” should we apply to help the civilization (and plain old civility!) in our workplaces?

Communication is so much more than words

August 18, 2008

I’ll admit it. I’m sort of addicted to the Olympics — but not for the reasons you’d expect. Sure, it’s always impressive to see what the human body can do. It can be fun to get into the spirit of the competition. But the thing that fascinates me is watching the faces of the athletes.

Sitting on my couch at home, all I can HEAR is the commentators. But when I pay attention to the faces of the athletes, they communicate so much more! For example, think about the parade of nations during that opening ceremony. Some of the athletes were clearly thrilled to participate in such a huge spectacle — big gleaming smiles. Some of them were nervous or perhaps a little overwhelmed — wide, searching eyes. Some of them felt the honor and the pageantry of the ceremony — serious expressions, just a hint of pride.

Forget the language barrier. They don’t have to speak. It’s all there, in their expressions and mannerisms.

And it got me thinking that this might be a useful practice for managers and leaders. Next time you’re sitting in a meeting, take a look around. Watch people. I mean, don’t stare, of course. But watch. If you tune in to the subtle (and not-so-subtle) hints that humans drop with their facial expressions, you might learn valuable secrets that will help you become a better leader.

Simple conversation-starters for managers and leaders

August 12, 2008

One of the best tools a blogger has is a statistics page that provides the search terms people use to arrive at your blog. Today one of my search terms caught my eye: “simple conversations with tag questions.”

It struck me, I’ve talked about why simple conversations are worth your time, but I didn’t say how to start! Here are a few starters that will get your people talking about the things your business needs them to talk about:

  • What questions do you have for me? (I covered this one before as well, but it’s worth repeating.)
  • What do you know about ______? (whatever it is: latest corporate initiative, big new account, sales targets, etc.)
  • What’s going well for you at work these days?
  • What was frustrating for you at work this week? (Followed by the much-appreciated: Is there anything I can do to help?)
  • How do you think we could improve the way we’re doing this?
  • How would you approach this problem?
  • In a perfect world, what would you like us to do?
  • What do you think?
  • What feedback do you have for me?

Employees have questions. They have concerns. They have ideas. They want to share them, but they want to feel welcome to do so. And that’s why it’s so important for managers and leaders to create a safe, welcoming environment that encourages these exchanges.

No doubt there are many, many more questions you could ask employees to get them talking. What are some of your favorite conversation-starters?

What is your unhappy employee telling you?

August 7, 2008

Recently I had coffee with a friend I’ve worked with for more than five years — long enough to know when something’s up. So we found ourselves some comfy chairs in a quiet corner and I said, simply: “Spill it.”

That’s all she needed and she was off, telling me one sad, disheartening story after another about trying to work with her new manager. I could fill a lot of space trying to explain all the frustrating details that are keeping my friend awake nights. But funny enough, this unhappy employee’s rants organized themselves neatly into three tips that could benefit any manager:

Do you know what kind of work your team does? I am constantly surprised at how often managers aren’t very familiar with their team’s daily work. That may fly for your first 30 days. After that, it’s negligence, pure and simple. You must have a working knowledge of what your team does, if for no other reason than to understand the challenges your team faces every day.

Are you accessible to your team? If you’re a manager, your greatest responsibility is enabling your team to do its work. If you are never around, how can you answer questions, approve decisions, remove obstacles, redirect, etc.? You’re in charge of your calendar, right? Schedule yourself some “butt-in-seat” time and make sure your team knows when it is. They’ll thank you for it.

What are you doing when you DO make an appearance? Maybe this has happened to you: Your boss is unavailable all week, and then when she shows up on the floor, she’s barking orders or making unrealistic promises to her own supervisors. All you can think is: you’re not helping!! When you can spare time with your employees face-to-face, experiment with shifting your priorities. It’s not really about what they can do for you. If you’ve cleared time, if you’ve committed to being accessible, it’s actually about what you can do for them. How can you help? How can you simplify (not complicate)?

My friend’s problems would be solved if her manager gave a little more thought to these three points. My guess is we could all find a happier place at work if more managers took these to heart. What do you think?

How to reveal your personality?

August 4, 2008
Revealing your personality is the key.

Revealing your personality is the key.

For the past three posts I’ve been talking about why you should reveal your personality when you talk with your constituents. Check out the reasons here, here and here. So now we’ve got the reasons down… we know why it makes good business sense. Let’s come up with ideas for exactly HOW to inject a little personality into your communications. To get us started:

  • Do your friends have a “typical you” story about you? Something that demonstrates how or why you are the way you are? For instance, my parents like to tell people that my first grade teacher called me a “little Hitler.” No, this is not really about facial hair… it’s more about the fact that I was a know-it-all bossy-pants who tried to run everything during playtime. (Well, and all the time really.) Sometimes I tell this story when my bossiness tries to rear its ugly head. It’s like a warning and a cry for help all in one: I’m about to get all dictatorial, but knowing I’m like that, help me reign it in, will ya? My point (I do have one): Learn how to tell that story about you well enough that you could rattle it right off, because it makes you human and shows you have enough of a sense of humor that you can poke a little fun at yourself.
  • What does your spouse (or maybe your assistant?) tease you about? Are you always losing your keys? Do you practice your backswing when you think no one’s watching? Did they catch you humming a Barry Manilow tune? Whatever it is, sharing it with people is similar to the story-sharing above. It helps people relate to you as a person and not just as “my manager” or “the CEO.”

What other ideas do you have? Managers and leaders, what are you doing to reveal your personality at work?

Allow your personality to shine through! Part 3

July 29, 2008
Telling Stories by Enoch Mukiibi

Telling Stories by Enoch Mukiibi

My last two posts gave you two reasons to reveal your personality when you talk to your stakeholders (here and here). If you’re still not convinced, another reason to reveal your personality is to hold attention:

“When you stand up and speak to any audience, as their leader you have their attention. But keeping their attention is another challenge. If you are official, dispassionate, concerned about articulating your messages clearly, you will tend to have a flat, focused-on-the-facts presentation. No matter how significant your facts — how relevant, how dramatic — facts after awhile are exhausting, not compelling.

“When you strive to reveal your personality you will have a more conversational tone. You will have more rhythms and more gestures. You will include your stories. You will create the peaks and valleys you need to keep your audience engaged and, at moments, personally inspired.”

Again, Anett D. Grant‘s insight is valuable. First, if you allow yourself to relax and just BE, you’ll be more comfortable. And everyone works better when they’re comfortable, right? And second, notice where the inspiration comes into play. It’s not back there with the facts and figures. Instead, the inspiring happens with the conversational tone, the gestures, the stories. Your stories! The stories are where the connections happen, and that might be the best reason yet to reveal your personality as a leader.