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Category Archives: Skillz

The power, and danger, of being liked

There’s a scene in Rush in which the F1 drivers are arguing whether or not they should race the Japan Grand Prix. The weather is questionable…but it’s the last race of the season and the points for the championship are very close. Niki Lauda (played brilliantly by Daniel Bruhl) calls an all-driver meeting to discuss the cancellation of the race. His justifications are reasonable and logical – it’s not worth the danger to continue in the race. James Hunt (played equally brilliantly by Chris Hemsworth) steps in and sways the crowd, arguing that Niki only wants to cancel the race because it will clinch the championship for him. He uses emotion and charisma against logic and fact. The vote is taken – the race is on.

As Hunt walks out of the room, he leans over to Lauda and says: “You know, Niki, every once and a while, it does help if people like you.”


James Hunt is right – it does help if people like you. You’re more likely to get hired if you’re likeable. You make friends more easily. Likeable sales people tend to have higher close rates. Hell, some people argue that Hillary would have won, if only she were more likeable. (And we can unpack THAT little statement another time.) In general, likeable people seem to go through life with a little extra verve and a little less friction.

Being likeable means being relatable to people. If someone feels like they can go and have a beer with their leader or coworker, it humanizes the person, highlighting commonality and empathy. It’s an important trait to cultivate if you’re trying to influence and lead. The grumpy, no nonsense boss of the past only gets so far. Same with the person who is always right and lets you know it. Look around your organization at who gets promoted – is it the charismatic leader that motivates people, or the sharply intelligent person who rubs folks the wrong way now and then in pursuit of truth?


If the above paragraph made you think, “Wait…there are a lot of charismatic douchebags who got promoted at my company and they can’t do shit…” then congratulations! You’ve found the danger of being liked. Too often, being liked is valued over being smart or thoughtful. Being liked can be addictive. People crave it and will sacrifice anything – logic, values, integrity, partnerships – as long as they keep that likeability. The need to be liked can lead to awful business decisions and really, really crappy leadership. Managers who want to be liked have a really hard time telling their employees that they aren’t doing a good job…because what if the employees don’t like that manager anymore???

I’ve seen too many teams struggle with artificial harmony because they think debate means someone doesn’t like them, and the thought of not being liked is TERRIFYING. Fear of not being liked too often keeps mouths shut or breeds defensiveness during serious conversations. It causes people to use gossip as currency and undermines relationships. Chasing likeability will hurt you in the long run – especially if it’s obvious that you’re trying too hard (see aforementioned charismatic douchebags).


So what to do? Be the jerk who is sure you’re always right? Be the charmer everyone loves even though deep down, you aren’t always making the best choice?

I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. If people “like” you, it usually means that they trust you on some level. Personally, I’d rather be trusted than liked. I’d rather people think I have character and competence over popularity. In truth, I suspect I’m more like Niki Lauda than James Hunt. But I recognize the power of likeability and want to spend its value wisely.

You get some grace when making mistakes because people trust you’ll do right by them. If you’re always going by “gut instinct” and never consider logic and facts in your decision-making, you’re apt to lose that grace fairly quickly. On the flip side, people who rely entirely on logic and facts are typically seen as cold or non-empathetic. Despite the fact they’re often right, people don’t trust it because they aren’t seeing the human side of the decision-making. Tempering logic with likeability and balancing charisma with critical thinking can go a long way.

Next time someone gives you feedback that you need to be more “likeable,” consider what that means. Do you need to be more open to feedback? Do you need to be more approachable? Do you need to build more relationships? These are all good things to work on. But if they use “likeable” to mean you need to be more outgoing and smile more, feel free to keep on keeping on.

After all, James Hunt only won one F1 championship. Niki Lauda won three.


[Author’s note: Ironically, even Lauda liked Hunt. Despite the way their rivalry was presented in the film, Hunt and Lauda were good friends. Lauda said Hunt was one of the very few he liked, a smaller number of people he respected and the only person he had envied.] 

[Author’s note, Part 2: I really like that movie.]

 

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Too much crazy

Today, another person I respect and adore decided to take a hiatus from social media. This is something like the third or fourth person (that I know of) in the last 6 months.

There are a lot of reasons people take time off from social media. Some want to spend more time with family. Others realize it’s keeping them from doing what they love (reading books, painting, overthrowing governments, etc.). And one very special person claims quitting Facebook it has helped him learn to move 10 lbs objects with his mind. (He’s totally lying – he’s only managed 4 lbs, and that’s being generous.)

The most common reason I’ve heard lately, however, is that there is just too much crazy.

People can’t seem to be civil anymore. The 24/7 news cycle has turned every little thing into an “event.” And many wake up in dread over what may or may not have been tweeted overnight.

They might have a point. There are numerous studies suggesting that quitting Facebook – even for just one week – has benefits. Middle school students may be particularly susceptible to issues with social media, with online bullying becoming a real danger for kids as young as 10. They’ve even come up with a new term – bullycide – for when a child takes his/her own life because of bullying. It’s heartbreaking.

I’ve contemplated taking a break. I haven’t because most of the people I know I communicate with online (#introvert). But I have cut back. And I find myself avoiding crazy as much as possible – it’s too exhausting. Not everything needs to be an argument, and not every post needs a dissenting opinion.

I think the way people are interacting online right now is a mix of opportunity and motive. Online comments lend anonymity and distance and accountability is almost nonexistent. And as for motive? There are a lot of people out there who have either felt they never had a voice and then found it, or have always had a voice and think everyone needs to hear it.

It’s unfortunate – we’re like kids who broke the expensive toy because we couldn’t respect it. Or because we played with it too much and it fell apart. I worry because I see how we interact online bleeding over into our real world interactions, and it’s getting ugly. I also worry because all the noise can block out all the good that the internet can enable.

I hope the crazy calms down. I hope those who are struggling with memories and feelings that the relentless news cycle brings are able to find peace. I hope we find a way to talk instead of yell.

I hope we keep finding funny cat videos to share online. (Thug Cat is THE BEST.)

I hope we find ways to remind each other that the world is a beautiful place and that people are worth saving.

If you need a break, take it. But please come back.

We need you.

 

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2017 in Context, Personal Development, Self-Awareness

 

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All I want for Christmas…is $10

In February 2018, I will be participating in the Hustle Up the Hancock in Chicago, IL.

This event, which raises money for an excellent cause, sees almost 7,000 participants climb 94 floors of the Hancock Building in Chicago. That’s a lot of stairs. I may not have thought this all the way through. [insert mild panic attack here]

But I’m committed to getting breathless by choice to help those who are breathless because of lung disease.

I accept your thoughts and prayers, gentle guffaws, and outright mocking for attempting something like this while being woefully out of shape. What I really need, though, is your help.


The primary goal of this event is fundraising for people who suffer from respiratory disorders – from those who struggle with quitting smoking to people whose lungs are on the brink of no longer working. I have committed to raising $1,000 for the Hustle. All donations will support the mission of Respiratory Health Association to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better through education, research, and policy change.

I know $1,000 seems like a lot. But if I can find 10 people who are willing to go to my donation page and offer a $10 donation, it would help! If 1,000 people donate $1, that would be awesome, too. (And I would not turn down 1 person offering $1,000, but let’s not get greedy).

If you can donate, I’d appreciate it. If you can’t donate, that’s cool. I’ll take those thoughts and prayers.

The important thing is raising awareness for an organization that has done some truly amazing stuff.

Thank you!

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2017 in Personal Development, Teamwork

 

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Not a joiner? Join the club*

*Author’s Note: See what I did there? 

There’s been a lot written about the challenges of being an introvert in a workplace that tends to value the behaviors of extroverts (see: Susan Cain). From open floor plan workspaces to “collaborative” work styles (e.g., we all sit in a room and stare at the same document until magic somehow occurs), to a belief that you must speak up in meetings or you’re not adding value – the preferred work style of introverts seems contrary to how corporate America seems to want to operate.

Despite this clash of styles, introverts are doing (mostly) okay. Exhausted and fussy at times, but mostly okay. We’ve been figuring out how to adapt to, and influence, our work environments to find a way to not only exist but thrive. We have also made headway in busting the myth that introverts are anti-social heathens who hate people. (That’s only a few of us.) Most introverts actually like people…but individually, and for short periods of time. Or through social media, because this means we can meter the intensity of our interaction to match our energy. Which is nice. Slowly but surely, we’ve started to change the perception that you have to be “outgoing” to be a good leader.

Then out of the blue…someone asks you to join their “group.”

Maybe it’s a bowling league. Maybe it’s a work committee. Or maybe someone tries to throw you into a generalized reference to a “them” when telling a story.

If you just read that and felt your heartbeat climb and your anxiety increase, chances are you are NOT a joiner.

It’s okay…I’m one of you. (Which really is kind of funny when you think about it, because now we’re a group but we don’t really WANT to be a group, and now we hate ourselves for being part of a group. Ugh.)

I know I started this post talking about introverts, but I want to point out that extroverts can be “anti-join,” too. I think anyone who hates being labeled or put into a box (particularly by others) aren’t really a “joiner.” Because introverts recharge individually, though, maybe they’re more prone to not wanting to join the club. (I have no research to support this, but it seems like research doesn’t change people’s minds anyway, so let’s pretend I told a really emotional story and got you on my side on this one.) (And yes, I’m aware of the irony that I just used research to prove that research won’t change your mind.)

Anyway, back to not wanting to be a joiner.

The problem with not being a joiner at work is that it somehow puts a mark on you. People who don’t want to join the club are often labelled as difficult, or maybe they “aren’t a culture fit,” which is often code for “not like us.”  Unfortunately, that mark can be tough to shake. Most people want so desperately to belong, so it’s hard to understand why someone wouldn’t want to belong in a very public, assimilated way.

And that’s where the challenge lies – never try to tell a non-joiner they HAVE to join. They will become stubborn, angry, and most likely will act directly opposite from what you’re trying to get the group to buy into. (At least that’s what my mom says I do. I think she’s lying out of spite.) They will feel put upon, and more importantly, they will feel even more like an outsider because you have put their otherness on display. And now they will never join you.

This is a damn shame, too, because here’s the thing – non-joiners actually do join things. They just tend to be much more selective and only join things that really speak to them – causes, activities, awesome snacks at club meetings. Don’t think of them as non-joiners. Think of them as the Discerning Joiner.

Discerning Joiners recognize they only have so much time and tolerance for meetings, get togethers, busy work, etc. They focus instead on things that they care about. And when they decide to join that “club,” the Discerning Joiner is a juggernaut. They will devote time, energy, attention, resources – anything they need to do in order to make sure their decision makes a difference for someone.

You WANT Discerning Joiners – you just don’t realize it yet. They tend to be the people who can make a real difference in society. They see something they don’t like and refuse to “join the club.” Instead, they make a conscious decision to evaluate the situation and do something to turn people’s heads and make them uncomfortable. It could be something as simple as sitting in someone else’s “spot” in a meeting to break up the monotony. Or it could be something as public as kneeling. Whatever action they take, though, they take intentionally. Don’t discount the power of that. Harness it. Encourage it. See what you can do to create an environment that allows that to happen positively.

And if you ARE a Discerning Joiner, stay strong. Stay principled. Don’t feel pressured to join the crowd. Join when it makes sense. Feel comfortable in being an individual, too.

USE YOUR POWERS FOR GOOD.

Even if you do it alone.

 

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.
– Charlotte Bronte

 

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2017 in Authenticity, Personal Development

 

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The power of connection

After Day Two of the WorkHuman conference, I’m struck by how many people have walked up to me and said, “I wanted to meet you! We tweet at each other all the time!”

And the other person is right! We totally tweet at each other all the time. And we laugh together. And we end up having a lot in common, or many not that many things in common, but at least we get each other’s movie references…which totally counts.

I’ve gotten to meet so many fantastic people I’ve only known online – like Tamara Rasberry (my sister-cousin) – or reconnect with people I see only sporadically at conferences – like the Canadian contingent of Bonni Titgemeyer, Pam Ross, Kristen Harcourt, and Rob Caswell. And of course, I get to see the incomparable Victorio Milian (but I didn’t bring the good camera!). This is just a short list of the amazing people I connected with at this conference.

All around me, I saw people meet, engage in meaningful conversation, realize they “know” each other from social media, and share a good laugh. To me, this reaffirms that connection – no matter how it’s made – is a powerful thing.

I firmly believe I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have now without my online community of friends. I have built friendships over Twitter and Facebook without having to meet the person face to face. And I don’t feel like these connections are any less powerful or meaningful than ones that would have been made at a networking event in my hometown. I even had a chance to meet Adam Grant face to face because of online interactions we’ve shared. (I try not to fangirl too much, but this was DEFINITELY a highlight of the conference.)

So my point is this – don’t discount a connection you make, no matter how virtual it may be. Cultivate your relationships if they are meaningful to you…even if it’s long distance or online or both. You ARE building relationships, even if you don’t have a chance to see that other person for another 12 months. The power of those connections don’t fade. In fact, they may grow stronger because you appreciate just how special they can be.

If I had a chance to connect with you in real life – THANK YOU! If I didn’t have a chance to meet you, but we connected online – THANK YOU! Let’s make these connections count.

Because THAT’S what it means to “work human.”

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2017 in Personal Development

 

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Small talk and the decline of practically everything

There is a lot of chatter out there.

On any given day, millions of ideas are shared via the internet, via Twitter, LinkedIn, articles, this blog, etc. Lots of one liners, jokes, snarky comments; but also inspirational quotes, videos of baby goat yoga, lists of “life hacks” (whatever the hell those really are), etc. In fact, every minute on the internet sees, among other things, a minimum of 2.4 MILLION Google searches, 347,222 tweets on Twitter, and 972,222 Tinder swipes (may you all find love).

This is the age of Big Data [insert dramatic music here].

And yet, most of what is out there is little more than a tasting menu of ideas. It’s a one-way sharing of thoughts, feelings, observations, and/or ego. We dip our toe into the pool of discourse, but we don’t stay too long lest we get dragged into a debate, get attacked by trolls, or – lord forbid – have to participate in an honest-to-god CONVERSATION.

What happened to our ability to sit down and actually talk to people?

In high school and college, people were all about having deep, philosophical conversations about life, death, and everything in between. Yeah, they got pretty annoying sometimes, but it was good practice in identifying where you stood in the world. You were able to frame your argument, consider counterpoints, and share your own counterarguments. It was a great way to apply debate skills and decide what you may or may not believe in.

Granted…I did not have Twitter or Facebook when I was in college. We barely had the internet. #Iamnotold #dammit

Today, communication is built to be quick, witty, and shallow. I actually resisted Twitter for a LONG time because I do not believe 140 characters is enough room to communicate meaningfully. I now accept it for what it is, but still throw it the side-eye now and then because I think it’s part of the problem.

People don’t really talk anymore.

I am as guilty of this as anyone. As an affirmed introvert, I LOVE the fact that I can do so much “communicating” online, in writing, without actually have to see someone face to face. I hate talking on the phone voluntarily. I avoid networking events like the plague. Give me a chance to interact virtually and I will take it every single time. And it probably makes me less effective as a coworker/boss/friend/human being.

It’s easy to just stop typing when you’re not happy with the way a conversation is going. You can just block someone if they get a little too obnoxious. Or you just throw a hashtag out there (#micdrop) and act like you won.

Real world conversations take vulnerability. They take concentration. They take commitment.

I’m going to try to do better at this. I’m going to try and have better conversations with the people I actually see in real life.

This doesn’t mean I won’t be quick, witty, and shallow on the internet. Are you kidding?! That’s way too much fun. I’m just going to…try harder. I hope you do, too.

What’s the worst that could happen?

 
 

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Can you change your industry if you don’t consult?

It happened again. One of those The 25 Most Influential Whatevers Changing the Industry lists. The ones that inevitably have the same core group of names you see on every other list in the same industry. And the ones that seem to consist solely of consultants.

I’m not saying those people don’t deserve to be on those lists. The folks who make those lists have clearly gotten their message to a wider audience and are typically looked to as an expert in their field. And they work hard to earn that recognition.

What I am saying is that you almost never see an in-house person on those lists, what might be referred to as a “practitioner.” Oh, you see folks who own their own businesses and do it well, so it’s not like they aren’t working their butts off in “corporate America,” but they still tend to be on the outside looking in.

There are a lot of reasons why this might be the case, none of them nefarious; it’s just the nature of the work you do as a practitioner. First, let’s look at why consultants tend to make lists more often:

  • Consultants depend on getting their name, brand and messaging out there on a regular basis to build their business. You have a day job, the basic need of getting your name out there for a paycheck isn’t as strong.
  • Consultants are a third-party voice, and as such they get the “fresh eyes” credibility boost. Remember when you were new at your company and everyone thought you were brilliant? It’s the same effect sometimes for consultants.
  • Consultants know that they need to stay current to stay credible, so they do their homework on the latest and greatest stuff that’s going on. Also, a lot of them tend to be invited to speak at conferences, which means they see the most recent products and research…and it raises their visibility in the field.

So that begs the question – can you be recognized as an industry trailblazer when you’re working a 9-5?

Pigeons. In holes. Get it?

 

The short answer is yes…it just takes a lot more work.

First, figure out WHY you want to change your industry. Is it for personal glory? Or do you really think there’s got to be a better way to do it? If it’s personal glory….well, feel free to promote yourself out there and see how long you last. But if you really think there is a better way to do work within your industry, there are a few things you might consider doing on your way to trailblazer status:

  • Be a Mad Scientist: Your current organization is a great testing ground for new ways to do things within your industry. Think of it as your own little laboratory. When you get some interesting results, start sharing it with people in your industry.
  • GET ON SOCIAL MEDIA: I know, I know…EVERYONE is on social media. You know why? Because it’s a great place to network with other people who do your job, too! You can talk to people, ask them how they’re handling certain issues, share your expertise. And you don’t have to go to awkward after-work happy hours to meet them, either. It’s like an introvert’s dream.
  • Put yourself out there: This is sort of related to the social media one, but has a broader focus. If you want to impact your industry, you need to see more of your industry. Go to conferences (if you can). Volunteer locally if there is an industry membership group nearby. Reach out to similar organizations and see if you could visit to learn a little more about what they do. Don’t bury yourself in your bubble and assume you’re a rock star because you have figured out your company’s system. You need to find out about other systems before you can help change the industry.
  • Publish your findings – successes and failures: Publishing might seem kind of formal, but depending on your industry, it could be the way to go. Or, you know, you could start a blog. Or maybe apply to speak at some of those industry conferences you’ve heard so much about. Sharing what you’re doing with people outside of your organization is the best way to get feedback on what you’re doing AND to help influence what is going on in the industry.

Does that sound like a lot of work? It can be. You’ve got a day job, and a lot of this may need to happen at lunch breaks, evenings and weekends. No one said change was easy, but if you really want to impact your industry, you may need to burn the midnight oil every once in awhile.

Oh, and one last thing you might think about as you embark on this quest….

  • Be okay with making YOUR company better: Sometimes it’s enough to make a difference at your own place of business. Not every change will be industry-changing – often, it’s enough to know you’ve made work better for the people around you. And really…isn’t that the best kind of change?
 
 

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