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?


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.


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!)


Done? Learning from Biscuits and Resumes

Not much beats a warm, from-scratch biscuit.  My favorite 12-year old can get mighty impatient, doing the “Are They Done Yet” dance in front of the oven.   It’s a delicate, delicious balance.  Pull them too soon and you lose flaky layers to dense dough.  Wait a hair too long and the outside is sawdust dry and crumbly.  With biscuits, perfect does make a difference and the standard for “perfect” is fairly discernable.

That’s not necessarily the case with other creations.  Take resumes for example.  Ask 10 people for input on your resume and you’ll get 12 different ideas.   How do you decide who knows best?  What’s the standard?

A brilliant client once set a goal of getting her resume “80% there.”  She figured 80% was good enough to get her in the door.  Striving for more than that would tether her to wordsmithing for weeks instead of actually meeting people.  Besides, she observed, with a resume you can always modify it for the next person,  so there’s no need to add a bunch of  “perfect” pressure to an already stressful situation.

I’m grappling with the 80% rule now regarding our Daily Debrief App.  Is introducing an app like baking biscuits or writing a resume?  Sure feels like the former when you’re in it, although it’s really the later.  I’d say Eric, Spike and I are at about 70%.  Not ready to submit to the app store, but awfully darn close!

An almost there icon


Getting What You Want – Requires More Than Wishing and Hoping

This bowl once held peach ice cream.  It was really tasty.

"come, come to me, yes, come closer"

With earnest, doggie hopefulness, Dougal thought that if he stared long enough and wanted it badly enough, the bowl would move close enough for his tongue to get in there.  It didn’t work, so eventually he walked away.   And then came back to try his Intense Focus strategy again, which didn’t work that time either.

If you’re a regular, you will notice that he’s no longer trying the On The Table strategy.  He learned that one doesn’t fly around here.

"What's the big deal?"

It’s easy to miss obvious themes in the complexity and importance of our over-scheduled lives.  Luckily, the Golden Mirror reflects some universal realities:

*Powerful yearning isn’t enough to secure what you want.  It takes action.

*Achieving something new often requires trying something new, and learning from the experience.

*Serendipity may pop up and present different strategies or skills, but a conscious plan gives you something to work with in the meantime.

I like how a written plan adds texture to the desired goal, providing traction so one actually knows what to do in a given day or week.  Following through on the concrete details helps you feel successful, inspires new ideas and provides useful accountability.  Research by Gail Matthews, Ph.D., of Dominican University confirms:

 “Those who wrote their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not write their goals.” 

 I guess that’s why I created EssentialEdge™ the guided, self-coaching journal and am now working on the Daily Debrief iPhone app.

Thanks to a defined goal and plan for gaining obviously-needed skills, the Exuberant Dougal now enjoys some pretty significant off leash fun.

Life is So Good.

Life is So Good.

(Two Bears Training – couldn’t do it without you!)