Loretta Staples, a Strategy Consultant, now Therapist, once stated, “If you are clear about what you want, the world responds with clarity.” Whether you’re taking a vacation, building a dream home, or managing a large project, periodically identifying where you are now to where you want to be, helps you focus firmly on the results you want to achieve.  Call them milestones or checkpoints; they serve an essential purpose—time to reflect on how far you have come, what you still need to do, and if you’re currently on track.

History can teach us many lessons, not the least of which is with determination, commitment, and oversight you CAN do the impossible. Let’s look at Stonehenge, England, for example.  Built approximately 5,000 years ago, its Neolithic builders somehow floated, hauled, and dragged 30 16-foot high stones, the largest weighing 50 tons, from Wales to Stonehenge – a staggering 250 miles!

There are no written records to show how it was built (scientists are still trying to figure that out) or why.  One thing is for sure; the builders had to carefully plan how to transport these gigantic stones and erect them. To make sure they were on target, they also had to check and re-check their progress against their envisioned results along the way; or as my grandma would say, “take stock.”  To do otherwise was to ensure failure.

In today’s world, to achieve results, successful people must take stock along the way.

Taking stock is a 3-step process!

Those creative builders had a clear picture of what they wanted to create. To turn it into reality, as we need to do today, they took stock periodically as they moved their plan forward—a 3-step process— (1) where am I now, (2) what do I need now to continue moving forward and (3) am I still on target?

Sometimes this process is painful, especially when discovering you took a wrong turn or two.  Isn’t it much more economical, money and time-wise, to have periodic checkpoints and make small corrections along the way rather than wait until the end and find you need a massive redo?

Taking stock can mean the difference between success and failure.

Step One:  Where am I now?

Taking a periodic checkpoint to see what you’ve accomplished and how far you’ve come gives you a sense of what needs to happen next to close the gap between now and where you want to be.  Just like those ancient builders, ask yourself, thought-provoking questions:

  • What did I do well?
  • What changes do I need to make?
  • How far have I come?
  • Am I where I expected to be, am I ahead of schedule, or am I behind schedule?

Step Two:  What do I need now to continue? 

Ancient builders had to be resourceful and creative.  They didn’t have Home Depot to find the right tools.  They determined what jobs they needed to do, looked at what was available, and often repurposed their tools to fit the situations at hand.  And if they didn’t have what they needed, they invented it!   Neolithic laborers used pieces of antlers to dig through the chalky ground and create massive earthworks at Stonehenge.  Can you imagine?  Amazing stuff!

What do you need to continue toward your goals, such as determining the resources required and where to find them? Perhaps, as the ancients did, you can use your skills and tools in ways you did not think of before.  Be creative.  You can always get a coach or mentor to help you think outside the box or ask colleagues to brainstorm with you.

Step Three:  Am I still on target?

 Keep your eyes on the prize.  With what you have done so far, are you still aimed in the right direction?  To be successful and thrive, you need to stretch and reach outside of your comfort zone to achieve the desired results.  People sabotage themselves by becoming distracted or focused on doing merely quick and easy things.

If you’re behind where you first wanted to be at this checkpoint, could you be sabotaging yourself?  If so, determine what it will take to get back on course.  Again, having a coach or mentor may help or asking colleagues to be your supporters will make it less daunting. Either of these could also be an accountability partner to help keep you on track.

Yet, as we discover more about what we can do and what we like, the target may change, or, at least, bend a bit to the left or right.  If this is the case, what do you need to do to set a new course?

Stop whining and get moving!

Being a recovering procrastinator, from time to time, I need to remind myself to stop whining and get moving!  Life is hectic, fast-moving, and loaded with things to do—all excuses for not doing what will make me and you succeed.  Successful people focus on those things that will make them thrive rather than those things that make them busy.  Which do you choose?

Be a thriver, not a survivor!  OK, I made up a new word, but it works for me.  Let it work for you!

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End of Year Debrief

Each year I update my End of Year Debrief as a reminder to savor your accomplishments during this year and prepare for next year.

This year has been a blur! Because we can get mired down in all the details of emails, deadlines, and projects, going into the New Year is a great time to think about what you have accomplished in 2019 and what you want to focus on in 2020. Answering the ten questions below, you can begin 2020 with a BANG!

Perhaps you think there is no time to reflect on what you had done; only think about what you have to finish now.  The strength of reflection is to learn what you did well and be proud of that and identify what you could have done better and how you might do things differently.

So, I am asking you to take some time and answer the questions below.

  1. What are the ten things I am most proud of accomplishing this year?
  2. What motivates me?
  3. What learnings can I apply to make work simpler?
  4. What would I do differently?
  5. What problems or issues am I tired of having?
  6. What actions do I need to do to fix them?
  7. How can I do more of the things I enjoy doing and less of what I dislike?

Charting a course for 2020, please take some time to think about:

  1. When I look back on 2020 next December, what would I want to have accomplished and experienced?
  2. What do I want to focus on in the first quarter of 2020?
  • How will I remain on course for 2020?
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We receive more information on our cell phones in a week than previous generations did in their lifetime. What do we do with all that information from the Internet, meetings, social media, email? It feeds chaos and creates overwhelm.

What can you do to take back control of your day? Implementing just one of the following ten tips can help you change an unproductive day into a productive one.

Ten Tips to Tame Unruly Chaos

  1. Understand the distinction between being efficient and being effective. Efficient means completing many tasks mostly right (multi-tasking can cause more rework than you might think.  A blog for another day.) Effective requires doing the right things right. What are the right tasks to accomplish your objectives?
  2. List everything on your plate, personal and work-related. Ask yourself, “what evidence do I have that this task is necessary?” Not everything is essential or necessary. Eliminate the busywork.
  3. Take control of your calendar. Over-booking doesn’t serve anyone. Schedule time for planned work activities, allowing time for unexpected tasks or activities.
  4. List three things you want to accomplish today and schedule time to complete them.
  5. Honor the appointments you schedule with yourself as you honor meetings with others.
  6. Turn off any technology that distracts you from completing work requiring your full attention. Protect this critical “think” time.
  7. Over-committing can lead to mediocre results. Your value is determined by how well you achieve your commitments, not by how many things you say yes to.
  8. Look at how you do your work. What isn’t working for you? Determine what routines need to change to become more effective in completing your right tasks. Small changes can lead to significant results.
  9. Always document agreed-upon actions whether in a group meeting, one on one via telephone, or face to face. It is natural for people to forget or reinterpret agreements if they are not written down.
  10. Under-promise and over-deliver. If you meet your commitments, you are successful. If you produce faster than expected, you are a hero!

Take charge of your success. The more tips you utilize, the more control you will have.

Good luck with taming the Chaos Beast!

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As humans, we make a lot of assumptions. However, when assigned a new project, the clearer we are on “what” we need to do, the “how” to do it is much easier to plan and execute.  We need to reduce assumptions and replace them with facts and clear direction.

Understanding Your Assignment

Beginning with these eight fundamental questions, you will obtain a clearer understanding of the parameters of your project:

  1. What objectives does this project support? Context is important. The more you know about how this project fits into the bigger picture, the better.
  2. What are the objectives or results I need to achieve? In other words, how will I know I have completed the project.
  3. What are the measurements I need to use to know I am on track? How will I know if I am at 50%, 60%, etc.? What is the evidence?
  4. What resources are available to me—training, people, etc.?
  5. What is my level of authority? I have the responsibility to complete this project, but I also need the ability to make and enforce decisions to get the job done.
  6. Is there an escalation process in place I need to use if there are problems?
  7. Who else needs to know I am working on this project, such as stakeholders or other organizations?
  8. How will I communicate my progress—emails, texts, face to face, etc. and how often?

When Delegating Work

If you are a leader, answering these questions when delegating work to a team member helps you define the framework for how this work will get done.  Based on answering the questions above, you can then determine who the best person is to handle this work.

Thinking through these basic questions provide the basis for a strong support structure for clear, concise communication, consistency, and increased certainty for success.

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There are three steps to creating a brand that resonates with your audience:

  • What’s My Story – what you want others to know about you.
  • Packaging My Story – your consistent message that conveys your brand
  • Telling My Story – courteous, clear, and concise communication.

Last month, I posted “What’s Your Brand,” about the steps to take to clarify, polish, or build your brand. In this step, self-reflection is critical. With life being so busy, we can lose track of who we are and what we bring to the table.

Today. I am writing about the next two steps—packaging and telling your story.

Packaging My Story

The first thing to remember is to think like an entrepreneur and create a portfolio of your offerings and identify who you want to know about what you offer. Since not everyone will be interested, identify your specific audience, and craft your message for them.

When you developed your story, you should have discovered your strengths. Show how you use them to solve problems and strategize how to work around any weaknesses you have identified.

Document, document, document! It is easy to forget accomplishments, compliments from clients, etc. A record of your value will provide the information you need when you ask for a raise or a promotion.

Create a simple marketing plan on how you will let others know your capabilities, such as a resume, status report, blog, social media, etc.

Without communicating your brand effectively, you can miss opportunities.

Here is an example:

A Director position became available that my client was working towards for several years. She had worked diligently with excellent results handling multiple departments, large teams, and challenging customers, and felt she had filled all the qualifications for that role. She thought she had it in the bag because her neighbor, who she knew personally for a long time, had recently become her leader.  She felt he knew her well enough to know what she could do. However, he promoted someone else. She was stunned and extremely disappointed.

At her next meeting with him, she asked him why she did not get the job?  She told him about her experience and results.  Because she had never shared this information with him or anyone, her name did not come up for consideration for the position. When I asked my client why she had not kept people updated on her work and successes, she replied they should know what she is doing.  I said bluntly, only if they are psychic.  Her hard work provided results, but her efforts were mostly invisible.

Other clients told me their leaders should know what they are doing. They won’t know unless you tell them!

The last step is Telling Your Story!

You now have a clear brand and packaged it into a consistent story. In other words, to tell your story, Thoughts, Words, and Actions must be in alignment.

To tell your story effectively, you need to believe in your brand! Fake it until you make it can work in some instances, but believing in yourself is crucial, not only in your work life but in your personal life as well. Become that story!

Practice shameless promotion—this is NOT bragging! People are too busy to notice everything you do. Let them know the facts about what you are doing, either through action or communication.

Be brief and precise when communicating your value. Ask yourself, what would I want to have my “audience” take away? Remind yourself that professionalism and courtesy are the foundation of credibility.

Things to Remember on Personal Branding

  • Branding “I, Inc.” is your story, so tell it well.
  • Not everyone needs to get your message; focus on the right audience.
  • Your brand must be clear and consistent; otherwise, it can confuse your audience.
  • Lose your cool; lose your cred, especially during conflicts. Civility raises your reputation.
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What’s Your Brand?

Nike has the “Swoosh”, which represents speed, movement, power, and motivation, and Evernote, an app that stores your written notes on a laptop, uses the figure of an elephant’s head, because “an elephant never forgets, and you won’t either utilizing this app. (Economics Times, July 24, 2017)

Products aren’t the only entities that have brands. Everyone has a brand, whether you know it or not. The troubling aspect of your brand is that it is not just who you think you are, but also who others think you are due to your words, actions, and body language. Frequently, what you think and what others perceive is different, because, like nature, the brain hates a vacuum. If a person’s perception is unclear, they will fill in the blanks and define your brand for you. In other words, if you don’t control your brand; others will manage it for you.

The critical thing to remember is that people’s perception is your reality, and how well you tell your story will determine how successful you are. The clearer, consistent, and transparent your brand is, the better your colleagues, friends, and the community at large will know and understand who you are and your capabilities.

The first step in perfecting your brand is succinctly communicating what you want others to know about you and the value you bring.

Below are six actions you can take:

  1. Determine what problems you solve. For example, you are the “go-to” person to lead large projects because you can determine and manage all the project’s aspects and align them in the most productive configuration.
  2. Create a list of words you believe describe you, such as patient, good listener, collaborator, analytical.
  3. Ask friends and colleagues for a list of three words that come up for them when they think of your name, even if unfavorable. Do NOT berate them for words you feel do not represent you.  Their honesty is a gift that you can use to work on areas that need to be polished.
  4. I recommend taking the StrengthFinder’s 2.0 Assessment, to determine your top five strengths that are always evident no matter what you do. The online assessment at https://bit.ly/2IpbKcw is available for a nominal fee. If you believe you are a good leader, this assessment will break down what strengths you have that support that belief.
  5. Ask yourself what you like doing. I think that “finding your passion” can be over-rated. Finding what you prefer doing is much more realistic and doable. In every job, there are tasks we enjoy doing, and those we would prefer not performing. In one column, write a list of what you like doing in your job and don’t like doing in another column. Look for opportunities to do more of what you want (so that you become known in those areas), and less of what you don’t like.
  6. Google your digital presence. Are there any instances where you may show up negatively? Check all your social media. Employers and recruiters google candidates as part of their vetting process. You would be surprised what can show up from years before!

Business is so fast-paced that it is easy to forget who you are and how you show up.  By following these six steps, you will be able to shape your story where what you want people to know about you and what they perceive is the same!

Next month, I will write about “Packaging” your story (brand) clearly and consistently, and, lastly,  “Telling” your story so that it is memorable.

You can also go to https://executivepotentialplus.com/publications/ for a copy of “What Are They Thinking, Branding I. Inc.”, rather than waiting for the next installment.

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What amazing things would you do if you thought you could? 

I was going to write about branding this month, but I believe this is an essential first step.

I recently came across a book in my library, I read some time ago, “Unstoppable” by Cynthia Kersey, which contains 45 stories of people like you and me who, after being told their dream was impossible; they did it anyway.

Stories like these reinforce my belief that obstacles are opportunities in disguise.

A few fantastic stories from “Unstoppable:”

Ray Charles’s teachers said, “You can’t play the piano, and God knows you can’t sing. You’d better learn how to weave chairs so you can support yourself.” What would the world have missed if Ray had believed them?

It didn’t stop Oprah Winfrey knowing that Phil Donahue was number one in the daytime talk show market, and look what she has accomplished!

How many people become discouraged and drop ideas or miss opportunities because someone said they couldn’t possibly succeed?

If you didn’t ‘know’ it was impossible, what could you do?

Two more stunning stories from “Unstoppable.”

George Dantzig, a mathematics graduate student, was late for class.  He quickly copied two math problems from the blackboard he thought were homework assignments.  For several days he worked on the math problems continuously thinking they were harder than usual.  He finally solved them and turned them in.  Six weeks later, his professor was pounding on his door.  What George thought was a homework assignment was two well-known math problems that leading mathematicians up to that time had not been able to solve.  George did!  Why?  Because he didn’t know he couldn’t!

Pam Lontos was desperate for a job.  She applied at a small radio station and got a commission-only sales job.  She didn’t know large companies only bought advertising airtime from established stations with large audiences, so she called on them anyway.  She didn’t know that January was a slow sales month, but she earned the biggest January commission check ever written for radio sales in Dallas.  When she became the sales manager, she didn’t know it was unthinkable to leapfrog from that position to vice president of sales; but she did it in two years instead of the usual ten.  Why?  Because she didn’t know she couldn’t!

As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.”

Suggested Actions to Take

Listen to your self-talk.  Is it whispering sweet nothings, such as “I could never do that!”? Redefine your version of impossible by redefining what could be possible starting with “I can,” and see what changes in what you think is possible.

Read “Unstoppable” by Cynthia Kersey or other books about people determined to follow their dreams regardless of what others said, which can inspire your can-do belief in yourself.

Reflect on those challenging goals you thought were not possible or difficult to attain, and decide to make them possible.  What resources do you need to make them happen? Do you need a coach, a mentor, certifications?  What do you need others to know about your quest?

 

Again, I ask you, “What amazing things would you accomplish in your life if you thought you could?”

 

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Successful people act as owners of their own company, whether they work for a company, as a contractor, or self-employed. It is crucial to have a strong sense of the value you bring which you can clearly articulate along with creating a plan on how to differentiate yourself from others in a similar role.  Essentially, acting as entrepreneurs. It is all about selling yourself through communicating your brand.

I believe everyone should act as entrepreneurs, developing that brand—a concise and consistent message of what you want others to know about you, how you contribute value, and why they should care.

By taking ownership of your area of responsibility, you become the official CEO of “I, Inc.!”

Whether you stay in your current role or find another job, being flexible and adaptable is critical.  A CEO is a strategic thinker.  In today’s environment, there is so much information to filter, extracting what you need quickly, to make quick, insightful decisions.  When you put on your entrepreneurial hat, you are planning and developing your company to take advantage of opportunities where others see problems.

By thinking of yourself as the Owner and the Product you are offering, you empower yourself. Successful people thrive in challenging times by taking ownership of their objectives, making decisions, setting priorities, and achieving their goals by acting as the CEO of their own company in the context of their role.

Next month I will write a more in-depth post on how to create that brand.

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The trouble with “no” is we keep saying “yes” to everything. We reply yes to phone calls, text messages, emails as they arrive. We say yes to volunteering for new projects, tasks, whatever comes up!  We are hesitant, if not afraid of what would happen, by saying no to a request.

Dictionaries define “no” as a negative answer or decision, and most people act as if it is a four-letter-word! Every day that belief is reinforced from early childhood into adulthood because saying no to a parent or teacher is seen as rebellion. “No” in the workplace is perceived as not being a team player or not carrying your allotted workload.

Unfortunately, by saying yes, we can compromise our ability to honor our commitments, which reflects on our work performance and our business relationships. Continually saying yes also causes more stress, more deadlines, and higher expectations. While “no,” strategically used, will have far-reaching benefits for you and your organization.  It is all in the way you use the power of “no.”

Ways of Using the Power of “No”

Don’t volunteer for additional projects if your bandwidth is already tight.  Your credibility is crucial to your reputation. If you do volunteer, choose wisely.  Does it help you grow additional skills you need to further your career, as well as add value to your organization? How does it support your career plan?  Of course, there are times you must volunteer for additional work because it increases the overall effectiveness of your team.

Organize and prioritize your work and be aware of your time commitments. When your boss asks you to do an additional task, and it will impact your deadline, negotiate either to have it delegated to another or to reprioritize its target date.  Be sure to have substantial evidence for your request, and not that you don’t like the work entailed.

If you are the “go-to” person for answers in your group; and, you are researching the solutions, instead tell them where they can find the answers. Not only does that give you more time to work on your designated tasks, but it helps them become more skilled in their role. One of my clients found he was adding an extra two hours to his day by discovering and relaying back the solutions. Each disruption causes at least a 20-minute delay in getting back to where you left off.

Say no to checking your emails as they come in.  They can be so distracting and take you away from your work. Instead, check them twice a day. Let people know through an automatic response when you will be reviewing and responding to emails.  The same goes for texts and telephone calls.

“No” Supports Your Boundaries

The advantage of using “no” strategically creates boundaries based on your commitments.  It gives you more control over getting your work done.  It also decreases the feeling of being overwhelmed to just feeling whelmed.

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I was speechless when I read Bernard Marr’s article, dated May 21, 2018, “How Much Data Do We Create Every Day? The Mind-Blowing Stats Everyone Should Read,” that an astounding 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every, single day.  In other words, 90 percent of all the information ever created in the world was created in the last two years! I can’t even imagine. And, it keeps growing faster and faster.

With new processes, ideas, fads, and each of us adding our two cents in social media, things are constantly being created and made just as quickly obsolete as new ones take their place. Blink, and your computer is obsolete.  Blink again and so is your iPod, your cell phone, your job. Even language is affected.  New words must be created for us to even talk about these new concepts and technologies.

The faster the change, the faster people race to keep up.  The dilemma is most of us can’t.  Everything is changing so quickly, it’s humanly impossible to keep up.

Don’t Race like a Hare, Walk like a Turtle

Yet some very successful people seem to thrive in this environment – adjusting to change seemingly effortlessly.  How do they manage when many of us feel we are always struggling to stay current?  Their secret:  rather than racing ahead, they actually slow down!

Do you feel overworked and burdened by tight deadlines?  Whenever I am tempted to fire first, then take aim, to get “stuff” done, I remember watching a turtle. Notice how it keeps its eye on where it is going, walking deliberately and steadily at a consistent pace; but a hare will race in a zigzag manner, seemingly in a major hurry, without a clear destination; only that it has to get somewhere fast.

Does that remind you of today’s business environment?  People are racing like the hare to get things done as fast as possible.  The irony is, running faster doesn’t mean being more productive.  Instead, when you are running, you can miss important information that may be critical to achieving your desired results. You can make mistakes or wrong assumptions.

Successful people realize that rather than react like the Hare, they respond like the Turtle. They s-l-o-w down and focus entirely on the task at hand, in order to be productive. When in doubt, they are deliberate and do three things:  1) ask questions, so they 2) understand, and then 3) they get going!

Ask Questions, Understand, Get Going.

People who thrive take the time to understand the context of what is expected (even fire drills) and how this expectation or request fits into the bigger picture.  That means asking questions to clarify what they need to do.

Ask questions like:

What is the end result I am expected to achieve?

How does this relate to my overall objectives and a bigger picture? (Fire drills can be an exception!)

Who do I communicate with, how often, and by what means (telephone, face to face, email)

How will I address or escalate issues and/or questions?

Do I have all the information I need to complete this task?

What resources and/or support will I need?

How do I know?  (What evidence do I have that I have made a good decision?)

Understanding:

Fast Company Magazine conducted a survey a few years back and results indicated that 50% of employees did not understand what they were asked to do at any given time.  In which group do you want to be: the 50% who understand or the 50% that miss the mark?

To understand, ask questions, questions, and ask more questions, especially if tasks are complicated, to clarify the parameters around successful completion.

Get Going:

Now that the up-front work is done, get going!  Remember to walk like a turtle, so you can take notice of new information or changes and make course directions when necessary.

Not sure?  Ask!

 

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