Bring It – You Know You Can

Last night I was working late at one of our many artsy coffee shops. Turns out my timing coincided with open mike poetry night.  I thought it might be fun having this different soundtrack inspire the workshop I was planning.

Before the poets began, our emcee and owner of The Beat Book Shop approached the quiet woman at my right elbow and asked “Would you like to sing something a cappella tonight? Would you like to open?”

“Wow” I thought.  How amazing not only to have such a talent, but also be able to draw on it at a moment’s notice. In which of your abilities do you have that much confidence?

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Discretionary Effort: Performance Nuances and Leadership Response

An HR leader mentioned “discretionary effort” in a recent succession planning workshop. I really liked the phrase’s elegance.  We usually speak in terms of “above and beyond” which has a gung-ho, superhuman feel, calling to mind late-night work sessions, pre-dawn emails and extreme intellectual exertion. It’s all about in-your-face sacrifice and obviously connects to a specific goal. 

How hard are you willing to work?

“Discretionary effort” is more coy.  It’s the quiet, calibrated choice someone makes about how much work they’ll do relative to their role and broader corporate initiatives.  It may throw them onto the hero’s stage with the “above and beyonders,” or just create the confident dependability that surrounds a go-to person.  On the other end, a colleague may decide to expend “just enough” effort.  While it may not advance their career, competently doing the job one was hired to do is sometimes fine.

Then there are those who choose to drop the bar lower and still hope to get by. Sometimes this lesser discretionary effort is so subtle that it’s barely noticed or only noticed over time.  It may seem so slight that it’s hard for a busy manager to muster the energy or data for a discussion around expectations.  Then it’s the leader who’s calibrating effort.  Ultimately, this drip, drip of lost productivity becomes a bucketful of missed opportunity and discontent among harder-working colleagues.

I like “discretionary effort” for its shades of grey and acknowledgement of choice.  It encompasses the decisions an employee makes regarding the amount of energy they expend, as well as how much attention a leader directs towards managing that employee.  Noticing what an employee is doing or not doing well is one thing; choosing how much follow-up time, energy and emotional oomph it is worth is another.

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You Know Better

Really, you couldn't have eaten one more bite?

 

I am not sad that this morsel is all that remains of the french lemon yogurt cake.  I am bewildered.

That last, little chunk wasn’t left because someone was too full. It was left so they could legitimize not washing the cake plate or knife.

In Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box, by The Arbinger Institute, when we do something contrary to what we know we should do, it’s an act of self-betrayal.  Betray oneself enough and pretty soon we start seeing the world in a way that justifies our action. As you can imagine this is a slippery slope that leads to all sorts of bad feelings (like resentment) and dinged relationships.  Unknowingly, living a web of self-deception ultimately provokes those around you to also “live in the box”. While the plot of the book is a bit contrived, it does provide a structure for this thought-provoking work.

Yet another reason I adore my dog, Dougal. Given the access, he would have gobbled the whole cake with complete integrity.

Living in total alignment, baby!

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Ever Hear “You’re Too…?” (intense, emotional, hard-driving, idealistic, etc.)

Ouch! This feedback strikes at a gut level. It may be surprising that what you consider normal is perceived by others as extreme. This disconnect occurs when your unique qualities manifest with more intensity than that of the average person. The irony is that you feel criticized for something fundamental to your success! People with this “too” intensity hear things like:

  • You’re too much of a perfectionist; you can’t expect us to keep up.
  • You’re too goal-oriented; you only care about results, not people.
  • You’re too busy; you never have time for friends or family.

Ignoring these perceptions can restrict your career options, as well as personal relationships. The challenge is pausing long enough to recognize your current impact and identify your desired one.

Take Chris for example, who earned a critical role based on superb attention to detail, great intelligence and unparalleled dedication. This intensity, however, yielded an unanticipated result. Chris’ “efficient” directness was perceived as condescending, and colleagues worried about getting on Chris’ “bad side.” People said Chris was too task-oriented and too fast-paced. There was also significant personal impact. As the workday grew longer and longer, there was less attention to family, individual rejuvenation and personal health, which was suffering.

Like Chris, you may wrestle with this internal tug of war. On one side stand the “too” qualities that you have come to rely on. Staring back is your unintended, limiting impact. So how do you integrate this feedback while remaining true to yourself? You may even wonder “Why bother? Things have gone okay so far.”

Work through the following five steps to find out. After all, “okay so far” just doesn’t cut it for the intense, passionate “too-something” person.

 1. Take Inventory

Find some blank paper and uninterrupted time. Record your responses to the following:

  • List five influential people in your life right now. They would say I am “too ____________.”
  • In what other ways are you “too” something?

2. Look at Your Present Impact

It’s not often that we genuinely assess how our way of moving through life affects those around us and, ultimately, ourselves. Go beyond the quick, obvious answer and search for the most honest response.

  • How does being “too” something help you succeed?
  • How does it get in the way?

These observations offer the “You Are Here” point on the journey to creating your most desired impact.

3. Define Your Desired Impact

What does “impact” mean to you? Consider the ripple effect of everything you do, say, don’t do or don’t say. Think in terms of your effect on others, your environment and yourself. The results may be expected and hoped for, or unanticipated and undesirable. The following questions will help clarify what you want to generate from here forward.

  • How would you like to be described by your peers? Superiors? Subordinates?
  • Ideally, what would your family/friends say is special about you?
  • When will you be successful?
  • What legacy would be most satisfying?

4. Discover the Gaps

Notice the space between your current and desired impact. In this step, you will outline some possible strategies for narrowing that gap. For the moment, ignore practicalities and shake off any sense of “rules.” Let all sorts of ideas mingle on the same page. What possibilities emerge when you consider:

  • What are the easy options?
  • How could I challenge myself?
  • What strategies would the five most influential people in my life offer? (To crank it up a notch, go ask them!)
  • What could I start today?

You now have a list of possible options. Among them is the potential for sharing your talents more effectively. Don’t squelch your “too” talent; just use it with greater awareness and precision.

5. Bridge the Gap

Review your list from Step 4. Ask “Which option(s) would be most effective?” Pick a few that you are willing to commit to. To help you succeed, address the following:

  • When will you begin?
  • How will you evaluate this strategy?
  • Who can support your efforts?
  • What is your truest motivation for persevering?
  • How will you hold yourself accountable?

Through this process, you will boost your self-awareness and sense of personal leadership. Chris dramatically shifted peer perceptions, created a richer life outside of work and addressed serious health issues. By calibrating your style, you will find greater ease in your interactions and more support for your vision.

(Originally published September 2004 but still relevant!)

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Provide Platforms for Bravery, Not Mediocrity

Sustained uncertainty, hostility and fear in our environment weights us down.  It can make those with “stable” jobs more timid at a time when boldness is really what’s needed.  We have to stop pandering to a status quo that breeds mediocre.

I liked  Seth Godin post on Organized Bravery, especially:

“During times of change, the only organizations that thrive are those that are eager to interact and change as well. And that only happens when individuals take brave steps forward.

Giving your team cover for their cowardice is foolish. Give them a platform for bravery instead.”

What brave thing have you been wanting to do?

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