Posts in Communication
Four Signs That You're Full of Yourself
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There's no better example of a person who is full of himself than Francis Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, in House of Cards.  The Netflix series, now in its fifth season, details a man (Underwood) obsessed with himself and his desire for power.  

It's bad enough that Underwood is consumed by a thirst for political office.  What's worse is that he has no compass for anything else in his life- no friendships, no hobbies, no religion, etc.  This makes for a very unhappy man.

I've been thinking of Underwood (yes, in part because I've been binge-watching the newest season of House of Cards) and the times when I might be full of myself.

No, not to the extent that he is but still, let's be honest: each of us has a bit of selfishness inside of us.  

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How can you spot a person who is really full of it?  I suggest four signs:

  1. They refer to themselves in the third person.  This is typically reserved for pro-athletes who almost always are full of themselves.  
  2. They are easily offended.  This is a character flaw and to be avoided at all costs.  Readers would do well to pick up a copy of Grit by Angela Duckworth. 
  3. They over-promise and under-deliver.  This leads to broken commitments and failed projects. 
  4. They publish every thought.  The filter just isn't there for people who are full of themselves.  They love to pontificate.

Take note this week of your vocabulary.  That will often give you clues of your pride-to-humility ratio.

A Boston priest, Fr. Thomas Judge (early 20th century) famously said, "Humility is truth".  I think what he was getting at is that life is full of imperfections and blessings.  It's good to appreciate both and not take yourself too seriously.  

How to Love Your Work

Deep down, each of us wants a job that plays to our strengths.  We want to make a difference and feel valued by the organization.  We seek connections with our coworkers.  We desire to feel good about our work and about contributions to the "greater good".

Still... most of us find it hard to check off all of the boxes just mentioned.  

I've been thinking a lot lately about the phrase "love your work".  That's not easy to do, depending on the work you have in front of you but I think we are called to do just that.

Some how, some way, we are called to love our work.

Dan Pink puts it this way, “Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.” (Source)

When we love our work, we embrace both challenges and opportunities.  In addition:

  • We find the inherent dignity of employment.  
  • We make deep connections with our colleagues.  
  • We practice grit when it would be easier to just quit.  
  • We choose to be positive when others get cynical.  
  • We are surprised by small things that make us smile.

Don't misunderstand me- there are times when it's impossible to love our work.  That's when you know you're ready for a change.  

But if you can stay, here are six things that can be helpful, easing you into greater appreciation of your work:

  1. You have a job.  Many do not.  This most basic truth is powerful to be reminded of.
  2. Your work allows other things to happen.  Health care, new contact lenses and braces for your kids are all possible because of your job.
  3. You are getting clearer as to your strengths and weaknesses.  Work polishes the stone of each of our gifts.
  4. You are being prepared for your next job.  Strange as it sounds, work gets you ready to work- next week, next year, next month.
  5. You have a reason to get out of bed in the morning.  This pushes back on depression, health issues and anxiety.
  6. You have others around you that you can invest in and cherish.

There's one other thing that contributes to us loving what we do and that is often called "mastery".  Again, to quote Pink, “Why reach for something you can never fully attain? But it’s also a source of allure. Why not reach for it? The joy is in the pursuit more than the realization. In the end, mastery attracts precisely because mastery eludes.” 

Mastery is the idea of getting better and better at something.  This rarely comes through hobby.  It can come through employment and practice.  Work, when seen this way, becomes the vehicle for personal improvement.  

You can actually become an expert by virtue of your job- that's awesome.

Work isn't always fun.  It's not meant to be 100% birthday cakes and balloons.  With that said, it can be thoroughly stimulating and can make you a better human being.  

What delight can you find in your work today?

Is it Ok to Be Insecure About Your Work?

I spent most of my career in a school.  When I was a teacher, I was trained to focus in on my students and connect with them to the point that they would learn.  As the saying goes, "it's not so much what you know but how much you care."

When it comes to students, that's so true.

When it comes to adults, it's also the case.  Your colleagues want to know that you're "for them".  Coupled with a deep sense of care for others is the ability to zero in on what's truly important for the organization.  

That's a balance that a good leader can manage.  On one hand is what's best for the company and on the other hand is what's best for each individual.  

Determining what's best for the organization is both an internal process (deciding together what we're about) and keeping an eye on "the market".  It's just smart.

Imagine how much Lyft and Uber study one another's moves.  Or Samsung and Apple.  Or Harvard and Yale.  You get the point.  You've got to be yourself and yet constantly be aware of what the other guy is doing.

This applies to each person in your organization too.  I want my team to play to their strengths, working in a way that gets the very best out of them.  I also want them to be aligned with the values of the team so that we can deliver exceptional results. 

But... what about those times when you lean more towards what the other guy is doing and not enough on being true to yourself?

It can be easy for a member of the team to occasionally experience FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out. Even with a clearly defined set of values and a healthy self awareness (e.g. I have our team take the Enneagram evaluation), you can wonder if you're "not doing it right".

This can rear its head when any of the following questions come to mind:

  • Am I working hard enough?
  • Am I fast enough?
  • Am I valuable enough to the team?
  • Am I bringing my very best to work each day?
  • Is my email inbox cleaned out?
  • Am I communicating well?
  • Is the other guy better than me?
  • Am I using the rights apps?
  • Am I managing my time well?

I've certainly asked myself these questions many times over.  Once, I had a boss give me some advice that I still carry with me today when I'm ever insecure about my work.  He said, "Mike, the only three persons that matter are God, your wife and your boss.  Other than that, the rest can think what they want about you.  You've got to just do your work and that's that."

Don't worry about FOMO or what the next guy is doing.  Focus instead on bringing your best energy, attention and diligence to work each day.  If you don't have a performance review in place, ask if your supervisor can give you one.  This is another anchor that affirms the quality of your work.

Is it ok to be insecure about your work?  

Yes and no.  It's honest to admit that we all have insecurities.  The key is, when one shows up, to channel it into the right direction and retain confidence in your best work.

7 Signs That Your Workplace is Broken

Just recently, another article was published touting the negative consequences of the famed "open door" policy at work. One feels sort of nostalgic reading this piece as the author defends the return of the traditional door at the entrance to traditional offices.  

Imagine that!

Cal Newport surely believes in the concept of a closed door office as it is more likely a contributor to focused work.  In his book Deep Work, Newport states, 

Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.
— Cal Newport

All of this is to defend the commodity of clear thinking and focused labor.  Safe to say, most of us have forgotten how luxurious those states can be since much of the modern workplace is broken. 

There, I said it- broken as in busted and messed up.

I should know and I'm partly guilty of promoting a broken workplace.  Until recently, I spent much of my career in schedules that were chopped up into bits of time that no human could actually enjoy.  The meetings alone were enough to make you insane.  The open spaces?  Mostly a distraction.

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Open spaces don't promote more collaboration.  They promote a lack of focus and more small talk than you can shake a stick at.  

How do you know if your workplace is broken and in need of fixing?  Here are seven telltale signs: 

  1. The open door policy is king.  Getting work done should be king, not access to talk your ear off.  Yes, we should be cordial but most things don't require that you interrupt someone else.
  2. Meetings abound.  Meetings are necessary but probably fewer than most workplaces allow.  Most meetings can be substituted with an email, memo or brief Skype chat.
  3. People come in on the weekend because that's the only time when you can actually get things done.  You know what I'm talking about with this one and it's got to stop.
  4. The most common phrase is, "You got a minute?"  This implies that whatever you were doing is not as important as the conversation that's about to happen. Not a good sign.
  5. No one around reads your verbal cues that you need to get work done.  A closed door, a head bowed in concentration, a focused look on your face- each should tell someone else that you are trying to work.  Sadly, too many people do not read these important physical cues.
  6. Others walk in on you when you're on a call and expect that you talk to them, right then and there.  This may be the most egregious violation of them all.  
  7. People are tired all of the time.  This is where the real danger shows up as your physical health starts to deteriorate as a result of what may be a broken workplace.  This can't be an acceptable outcome of a distraction-rich environment.

This post is not meant to provide seven simple solutions to the signs listed above.  Rather, it's meant to help you take an inventory of what's around you.

Is your workplace totally broken?

Is it partially broken?

Do you have some colleagues who need to be reminded that you actually have work that needs to get done?

The good news is that you can change each of these signs.  In my experience, I was unable to change my entire workplace culture on my own.  I needed allies around me who bought into the idea of focused work.  Only when people got fed up with interruptions and senseless meetings did they realize that deep work was the holy grail of their productivity.

5 Reasons Why People Don't Get Back to You

When was the last time someone didn't get back to you?  

This may have been a text that didn't get returned or an email that was left unread. The result is the same on your end: frustration.

I can relate.  I lead a monthly group discussion about faith with some of my best friends.  I text.  I email.  Even still- the response is not always good. Sometimes all I hear is crickets.

How do you feel when someone doesn't get back to you?  

Frustrated?

Angry?

Disappointed?

Or, maybe you take it personally.  That's totally understandable.  

There are probably five reasons why people don't get back to you:

1. They are totally overwhelmed with information overload.  Things come in and they don't know what to do with it.

2. Their email habits are inconsistent and as a result, they only check their inbox every so often.

3. You have the wrong email or phone number.  In other words, your messages just aren't going through!

4. You're coming across in a way that's "put-offish".  (that's officially a new word!)

5. They're ignoring you.  The message is fine but they're not interested.

I suppose the real question is this: which of the five reasons mentioned can you act upon the next time you try to contact someone?

Five Non-Cheesy Ways to Thank Your Boss

It's the season of thanks. American culture ushers us into this period of time just after Halloween in late October.  I can remember as a kid in school, loving Thanksgiving as the final hurrah before exams and the mid-year blitz of gifts and parties.  It felt so good to enjoy the big meal and then watch football, even if the Lions were on TV.

I still love Thanksgiving even though I've left the exams behind.

Gratitude, as it turns out, never goes out of style.  Even better, a grateful person is often wonderful to work with and fun to be around.  

Many of us will rush through the season, hoping to survive and simply "make it" to December 25.  I think that most of us can get it, that gratitude is an appropriate posture as the calendar year ends.

What is often left out of the November-December time is expressing gratitude to our bosses.  At first, you might think, "Why would I do that?  They should be thanking me!"

You may be right but being a gracious employee is smart.  It reminds you that you have gainful employment.  It conveys gratitude to your boss and guess what?  Bosses love grateful employees!

I can count on one hand the number of former employees who actually said, "thanks".  All of the others were thankful but very few express that gratitude.  

So how do you show your boss you're grateful without being cheesy?  Here are five ridiculously simple suggestions:

1. Write a note.  It just needs to say "thank you for supporting me and for the work you allow me to do".  That's it.
2. Send an email.  Similar to #1 if you don't have the postage or the time to send a handwritten note.
3. Make a call.  You get the point.
4. Make a donation in the name of your boss.  Nothing says "thanks" like supporting a charitable cause.  Your boss will consider you to be a better person because you're giving not only to work but to other organizations.
5. Tell someone else about your boss.  (And actually say something nice about them.)  This is the old Steven Covey concept of being "loyal to the absent".

Be grateful for your work and then express that to the person who supervises you.  It's harder being a boss than you might think and although imperfect, he/she is probably doing the best they can.