One Common Interviewing Mistake That Will Cost You the Job

My phone rang. Colin was exasperated. “Karin, I thought I NAILED the interview. The owner seemed pleased with all my answers, and I had great stories for all his behavior-based interview questions. But I just got an email from him saying that although I was qualified,  he was worried about my passion for training!!! You KNOW how passionate I am about training– it’s my life! I was energetic throughout the whole process. Where could this have gone wrong?”

I had an inkling, but probed further. Sure enough, Colin had made one of the most frequent and well-intention mistakes that so often tank a solid interview.

He appeared desperate.

When asked if the training job was not available, if he would be willing take a call center manager job for a few years. Wanting to appear flexible and interested in learning the business he said, “sure.”

A similar problem plagued Joe, a Director level succession planning candidate who came to me for coaching.

He had applied for several VP jobs: VP of Care, VP of Sales, VP of Marketing and always made the last round, but never got the job.

When I conducted interviews with key stakeholders to get underneath what was going on, everyone had a similar taste in their mouth about Joe.”He doesn’t seem to know what he really wants to do–besides have the title VP behind his name. When he interviewed for the care job, he gushed about how passionate he is about customer service, and how this is his dream job. He almost had me convinced, until I heard he was equally zealous about the sales role. We need a leader with a passion for the role, not just a passion for power.”

Yikes.

4 Ways to Let Your Passion For the Position Shine Through

Of course you want to appear flexible in an interview. But too much flexibility makes you look desperate–like the guy working his way down the bar trying to land a date. “I’ll settle for this one” doesn’t make you an attractive match.

  1. Know What You Really Want
    This might sound really obvious, but trust me, I’ve asked “Why do you want this job?” in so many interviews–and it’s a surprising stumper. If “to make more money” or to “be promoted” is the answer, even if you say something different, any interviewer worth their salt will see right through. Know why this job matters to you and be able to articulate your reasoning well.
  2. Have a Plan
    Of course it’s perfectly possible that you’re equally qualified for several positions. Before starting LGL, I made a career of dramatic cross-functional moves within Verizon, but I didn’t apply for them all at the same time. If you are highly interested in several roles, be able to explain the strategic value holding each of these positions now (or later) will help you contribute now, and in the future to the company. If you’re interviewing externally and your answer to “Where else are you applying?” looks as random as the fruit on a slot machine, you had better find a way to connect the dots.
  3. Do Your Homework
    The key is to really do your homework and be able explain why your skill sets add the most value for THIS job at THIS company. You can’t do that without really knowing what THIS job and THIS company is all about.
  4. Be Authentic, But Have a Filter
    I had another millennial call me to tell me he was in jeopardy of not getting a role because of how he answered the question “Where do you want to be in 15 years?” Well, the fact that he wanted to own his own business in 15 years was TMI (too much information) at this point for his interviewer who got all worried about “loyalty.” The sad part was, this guy WAS TOTALLY PREPARED to work there for 10 years. “Well, I’m not sure about 15 years, that’s a long time. But I would love to talk more about what the next decade could look like for our partnership.” Authentic AND intriguing.

There’s nothing more frustrating that watching the good guys lose the opportunity because of a communication breakdown. Avoid this common mistake and let your passion for the position shine through.

Winning Well Karin Hurt and David DyeIf you have not yet checked our David Dye’s and my latest book, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide To Getting Results–without Losing Your Soul, you can download the first few chapters for FREE here, as well as take our online assessment. We also have a recently released our new Winning Well online course. Please contact me at karin.hurt@letsgrowleaders.com to learn more about how we can help your team through keynotes, workshops, or online programs.

A Deeper Dive into Developing Your People

When I ask managers where they regret not spending enough time, unequivocally, the number one answer is “Not spending enough time developing my people.” There never seems to be enough time, or resources, or support from above, or fill in your favorite blank here _______. And yet when I ask managers to identify one thing they KNOW would improve their results, you guessed it… the same answer, “If only I had more time to develop my people.”

Perhaps you’ve felt that way. Trust your instinct.

I will never forget the year that I shifted my approach to spending 30% of my time developing people–within three months results had taken a hockey stick turn for the better and engagement was way up.

Sure, it’s scary.

Yes, it takes serious effort.

But no matter how competent you are, you are one person.

No matter how hard you work, developing a team of A players will blow anything you can do on your own.

Spending 10% of your time developing your people is standard. For three months, try investing 30% and see what happens…

A Metaphor From the Deep

As I was doing a lot of underwater photography while scuba diving in Bonaire over the Christmas holidays, my mind kept moving to what a wonderful metaphor underwater photography is for employee development. So here’s a bit of deep-dive reflection for you as you begin your 2016 developmental planning process.

Be Still and Observe

48c5bb99-4289-44d8-b7c0-b5306141ab63

Sometimes the biggest developmental needs are the least obvious. Invest the time to observe behaviors across a variety of contexts and situations. Where do they feel most confident? What scares them? How are others responding to their style? Where do they need to be challenged? In which areas do they need some additional training?

Anticipate the Future

It’s impossible to get a decent picture of a swimming fish by pointing the camera where the fish is, you’ve got to anticipate where they’re heading. It’s the same with employee development. Great employee developers envision what their employees are capable of becoming and help people see themselves as more than they ever thought possible. Then they build the development plan with that lens in mind.sting ray

Be Patient

lion fishThe hardest part of underwater photography for me is patience. My inclination is to chase the fish, which of course scares them. Sometimes it’s important to move a little slower, to build confidence and incremental improvement.

There’s no greater gift you can give your team then challenging them to become more than they ever thought possible. Go deep.

 

8 Ways to Refresh Your Career in the New Year

If you’re like me, at this point, the holiday hoopla already feels like a distant memory; you’re invigorated by the possibilities for the year ahead; and perhaps just a bit overwhelmed by the the stretch-goals in front of you. You’re neck-deep in planning and goal setting. If you’re a people manager, you’re likely meeting with your team to establish performance agreements and developmental plans. Excellent. Don’t forget about you.

8 Ways to Refresh Your Career in the New Year

The new year is the perfect time to step back and take some tangible actions to invest in your career. Here are 8 ways to get you started.

  1. Identify one fear to overcome.
    We’ve all got them–the one area of our life that would improve if only we weren’t too scared. How would your career (and life) improve if this were the year you got past it? Start by writing it down. This year I’ll have the courage to _______. Then tell someone about your plan. The best way to build real confidence is to succeed at something that scares you.
  2. Take an honest inventory of what’s working and where you’re stuck.
    What were the three behaviors that most helped your career and your professional brand in 2015? Which three behaviors got in the way? What, specifically, can you do to continue more of the beneficial behaviors and reduce (or eliminate) the non-productive or career damaging ones?
  3. Update your LinkedIn profile.
    Yes, you should. I’m working with a company now that recently announced an 8000 person reduction. Many of those folks now scrambling to build the next phase of their career have admitted that they hadn’t really worried about their LinkedIn profile before. Here are some hints to get you started.
  4. Identify your big win.
    You have lots of goals and objectives to achieve this year, I get that. But it’s worth identifying the one area where you’re going to absolutely turn heads. What will you achieve this year that will be worth a champagne toast and others swarming to you to learn your secrets?  What can you and your team achieve that will really change the game? If you manage people, this is a great conversation to have in one of your first meetings of the year.
  5. Clear out the clutter.
    A Gartner survey found that an average employee can spend up to $4800 just looking for stuff. Now before any of my awesome administrative assistants who’ve supported me over the years start leaving pithy comments, let me admit I’m terrible at this. So, instead of telling you how…. here’s a nice resource on the topic.
  6. Build a networking plan.
    Make a list of people you would like to know better, and identify one way you can help them or make their job easier. I’m also a big believer in “just because” networking. Imagine the possibilities if you took a deliberate approach to getting to know a bit more about the folks you encounter as you go through your day (on the plane, at the gym, in that class you’re taking). There’s awesome power in the strength of weak ties.
  7. Make your reading list.
    A study from the University of Sussex found that reading as little as six minutes a day can reduce your stress levels by 68%.  Most CEOs I know read (including me) read at least four books a month.  Of course I recommend Winning Well for April (learn why here). Inc also has an interesting list of books recommended by high-profile CEOs.
  8. Get feedback
    Whether you use a simple DIY approach to 360 development or invest a little more in a formal process like the one included in my online course, Results that Last, the best way to improve is to truly understand the perceptions of others. 360s can help you identify small behavior changes that can go a long way in building trust and improving communications.

You have the power to make 2016 remarkable.

How to Become the Best ___________

One of my millennial friends, Vince, recently posted this on Facebook.

“I may not be the best organist, and yes, I play it like a piano. But I am determined to learn the Tocatta part of Tocatta and Fugue in D minor down for Saturday for a tour group I am playing for.”

The rush of comments seemed to entirely miss the point. “You worry too much.” “You are a great pianist.” For a little extra inspiration while you read on click here: Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor.

No one becomes the “best organist” without hours and hours…and hours…spent obsessing over and replaying the difficult runs. His comment showed that he was well on his way to becoming the best he could be. If you’re looking to become the best _______ (insert your audacious goal here,) follow Vince’s example.

4 Vital Factors to Becoming the Best __________

1. Take an Honest Assessment of Where You Are

Notice that Vince’s words had nothing to do with talent (which would imply finite potential). I’ve heard Vince play. In fact I’ve sung with him on more than one occasion. He’s solid. And, clearly someone he respects has told him he plays the organ like the piano… for now. And he’s listening. The best way to become the best is to have a clear view of where you stand and what you need to improve.

2. Accept Challenges that Feel Slightly Out of Reach

The only way to become better each day, is to take on the hard challenges that make your brain hurt and require you to stretch yourself to achieve them. The people at the top of their fields don’t say, “Oh, I’m not ready for that.” Instead they take a deep breath and say, “Game on.”

3. Work Your Butt Off

More than talent, truly successful people schlog many long hours perfecting their craft. They’re up early and work late.  They don’t watch much TV. If it takes 37 times to get one measure right, they play it 38 times just in case. The fastest runners have logged the miles. The best writers write every day. Whenever I start wishing that I could write like Seth Godin, I remind myself that he’s written 10x more blog posts than I have, and keep writing.

4. Don’t Wait Until You’re Perfect to Perform

One of my best friends is a brilliant writer, but as Seth would say, she seldom “ships her art.” She talks herself out of the blog posts or book chapters mid-way through. No one expects perfection, they want to hear your voice.

If you want to be the best ______ get out there and do it, surround yourself with supportive hearts, pay attention to what works, and enjoy the ride.

How to Stop Drama Queens and Chronic Complainers From Destroying Your Team

I often start my speeches on employee engagement sharing prototypes of various kinds of disengagement. The favorite is always Barbara Boatrocker– “her life feels like a sad country song, every little thing is wrong”– for the appropriate audience I’ll even sing that line ;-). “She’s always stirring the pot. Nothing’s ever quite right when Barbara’s around. She sucks the life-force out of your team.”

Last week, when I asked what we should do about Barbara, the entire audience screamed out in unison, “Fire her.”

I paused.

“How many of you have a Barbara on your team?” Again, almost 100% raised their hands, with lots of knowing laughter.

Clearly, it’s not that easy to fire the “Barbaras” of the world, or this exchange wouldn’t continue to work across all kinds of industries and cultures– even the top-notch law firm I spoke to recently hasn’t cracked the code in their own organization.

5 Ways to Deal With Drama Queens and Chronic Complainers

First let me emphasize the CHRONIC part of the syndrome I’m talking about here. Open dialogue and employees expressing concern is not complaining. Seeking to understand is not resistance. I’m talking about the handful of looney tunes you’ll encounter in your career who consistently make matters worse.

1. Take it Off-Line

What Barbara wants more than anything is an audience. Don’t let her hijack your meeting. Acknowledge her concern and schedule some limited time to understand her concern privately (always good to have someone headed to your office right after). Trust me, your team will thank you.

2. Listen with an Open Mind

Honestly, the reason these Barbaras are so annoying is that they have a point. Some of what they say is true, and you know it. But, you understand the bigger picture and the constraints. I must admit, I’ve gotten some great insights from the Barbaras of the world. Pay attention enough so you don’t miss the good stuff.

3. Give Them a Project

I swear this works. Get them involved in solving the problem, not just talking about it. It’s always easier to tear something down than to build something up. Pull her into the solution-building equation.

4. Watch Your Body Language and Facial Expressions

Looking annoyed and ticked off will only reinforce her opinion that you’re an idiot who doesn’t care. It’s easy to slip into passive aggressive mode here, to roll your eyes, or sigh deeply. Remember that Barbara is annoying, not stupid.

5. Fire Them

Not for complaining, but for the other complicating factors. All that miss-spent energy normally comes at a productivity price. If Steps 1-4 still don’t work (be sure you’ve given them a chance), pay close attention to the side effects and document them.

Why Job Descriptions are a Dying Art

A client called. “Karin, I’m going to send you the job description for the new role we designed, but ignore all the HR mumbo jumbo. Just concentrate on the competencies and see if they seem right to you based on the strategy we’ve been working on.”

Game on. We were going to have the conversation that was most worth having: How do we find the right person with the aptitude for this vital job? The 25% this, 37% that of traditional job descriptions was a crap shoot at best. We needed a thinker who would work with us to be as creative as possible and build this role into more than we ever imagined.

Planning out roles and functions is vital. Pricing jobs for fair market value makes sense. But when job descriptions serve to confine, or “swim lanes” become too narrow, you’re headed into dangerous waters.

I remembered the time the union fought so hard to prevent “service reps” from doing higher paid “customer rep” work, and kept a careful watch–telling both groups to be careful not to do too much outside their “role.” Once the lawyers got involved, the higher job was eliminated, and the career path disappeared, and really great people were disappointed, and stopped trying. I was devastated to see good people with hopes of moving up crushed by the instruction to do less, because some artificial boundaries said that would help. It didn’t. It never does.

It’s not just in union jobs. Recently, I failed to convince one of my MBA students in the power of thinking beyond her current low level ” job description.” She sings opera on the side and was asked if she would like to sing at her company gala (with external players). She said only if she were paid for the gig since this is “not in her job description.”

She had a big opportunity to get noticed and to differentiate herself. She didn’t sing as a matter of principle.

As a musician myself, I get it at some level. But, I’ll also never forget the time we were  in the middle of a touching measure of a huge rehearsal and the conductor put down the baton between beats, because it was time for a union break.

Most examples are not this dramatic, and often not articulated. But in almost every company I work in I see signs of the “it’s not my job virus” gaining momentum… and the “A Players” are shooting themselves in the foot while the mediocre get by just fine.

Why Job Descriptions are Old School

I can’t claim to fully understand every circumstance, and I know there are grave situations where good people are being exploited. I’m not talking about that. What I do know is the hundreds, at this point likely thousands, of people I’ve met over the years in reasonable paying jobs, whose fear of working outside their job description absolutely damaged their careers and sabotaged their long-term earnings.

And it’s even more critical now.

We’re in a knowledge and technology economy when even lower level jobs change faster than HR can keep up.

Your job description is the skeleton–the unimaginative view of minimal requirements. Many will stop there and stay put. And that’s a tragedy.

The game changers will understand this limited view, and know that the real work is to think past the basics and add value that changes the game. In most cases the money will follow. If not, know there are plenty of companies hungry to hire people willing to change the game.

The Call to HR

Of course you need job descriptions. It’s just time to get more creative. Imagine the possibilities if every job description had the 75% skeleton as it exists today, and then 25% encouraging innovation and additional contribution?

  • Continuously seeks new ways to enhance the customer experience and shares them with peers
  • Collaborates across departments for innovative solutions to improve quality and reduce costs
  • Builds a deep bench of talent through recruiting, mentoring and organic employee development

Let’s Discuss

The old Field of Dreams idea of “build it and they will come” sometimes fails as a short-term solution. But I’ve never seen a genuine effort of a competent person giving a little more than expected over time fail.

I’m wide-open to real dialogue here. Let’s talk about this important issue.

Does Marissa Mayer's Choice Limit Yours?

I wasn’t going to weigh in on Marissa Mayer’s choice to take a 2 week maternity leave, because quite frankly, I’m conflicted. I know the choices I’ve made (and continue to make) as a working mom leave some of my friends scratching their heads. “Why would she want to travel like that?” “All this time working on that book can’t be good for her kids.”  Sometimes they say it, sometimes I just see it in their eyes, or hear it as subtext to their question, “oh where are you off to this week?”

So I’m a bit in the camp of “who are we to judge?” But then again moms and dads at Yahoo and elsewhere will watch her actions more than her policies and take notes about what it takes to get ahead. Just as my team (then) and you (now) watch mine.

But when I got this note from an LGL tribe member I realized the topic was worth bringing to our community for insights. And that avoiding the subject because of my own discomfort was weak. #notconfidentorhumble

Hope you’re doing well. I was very sorry to hear of the passing of your mother. I lost my father earlier this year.

My purpose for getting in touch is because there seems to be a pretty good buzz going on regarding women and executive roles lately with Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer’s announcement to take only 14 days off after the birth of her twins. I could not think of a better person to ask about this. Not that I’m planning for children but there very well could be a number of young women who are on the fast track to executive leadership, yet also desire to have a family. Ultimately, it’s not anyone’s place to judge this woman, but there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that her decisions will influence potentially thousands of young women’s future career pathing.

What I found interesting about the article I have referenced below is that there is no mention of the role her husband plays / will play in their family unit.

How Marissa Mayer’s Maternity Choice Effects Young Women

What say you?

So I offer you my initial response, and then a bit more. I’d love for you to weigh in.

My Initial Quick Response

I’m sorry to hear about your father. It’s hard.

Wow. That’s a great article. I agree with what’s said there. It’s also really audacious to assume everything is going to go perfectly well and that nothing will change.

I did come back a bit early from my maternity leave due to some crazy circumstances at work (I had planned to take 3 months and took 2), but quite frankly, I’m not the hangout with a baby all day type 😉 I’ve made choices that I know make other mothers cringe, like the kind of travel I’ve done at various points in my career. So I think it really has a lot to do with personal choice. In my case, I have a very supportive husband who really does his share of the parenting. I know many female execs for whom the dad is the stay at home parent.

For me it’s about seasons.   If I can pull it off time wise.  I might try to get this out on the blog for our LGL community to weigh in. See Seasons, Messy, and Doing the Best You Can

After deeper consideration

It was a debate my mom and I had for years often resorting to tears on both sides. She had some regrets of time she took off to raise kids, and yet gave me a good bit of grief early on about my choices. We agreed on one aspect of this topic–raising kids is a vitally important job which moms and dads need to take seriously. We had different approaches.  In her final months as she reflected on her life for a video at her church she shared, “I look back at my life and I’m so grateful that my children are all significant human beings raising other significant human beings.”

It’s true. Her sacrifice made a huge difference in who we became and are becoming. On the surface I did it radically differently. My sister took a middle road. I feel confident that both of us carried forward the investment legacy the best we could muster and are supporting one another in the process.

I’m probably channelling mom, here (I hope so). Part of me worries for Marissa, that she may later regret what she’s missed. One thing I do know is that the life YOU build you live with. Corporations, are well… not people. You might just sacrifice a lot to find out something out of your control screws up your plan.

What I do know from both my mother and my experiences is that you reap what you sow. Not just for women but for any human investing in other human beings. Whether you are working to invest as a parent, friend, volunteer, or leader your focus and effort matters. If you’re going to go the high-intensity-career route, you DO need a pit crew. Not mentioning who’s helping to me seems like a miss.

P.S. My Dad (a HUGE player in our pit crew)  and Sebastian hung out while Marcus and I travelled to Oregon on a well-needed reconnect and for this shoot. Investing in your relationship is such an important part of being a healthy parenting team.

P.S.S. I know my posting has been spotty this week. I apologize. I had the final edits due to the AMACOM editor book converge with the timing of my trip to Oregon to film my multi-media course (can’t wait to show you the previews!) AND a last minute keynote on the 7 roles of a highly engaging manager (which was a blast) thrown in.. and yes the husband reconnecting.  It’s been quite a wonderful and busy week. Namaste.

karin hurt training
Here’s a little postcard. If you’re a parent-leader and have not downloaded my free Parent’s Guide to Leadershipkarinandmarcus, I offer more perspective.

Namaste.

How to Get Promoted At Work: The ASK Strategy

A guest post by Bruce Harpham

Getting promoted at works increases your responsibility, power and ability to grow as a leader. When you are seeking your first management role, getting promoted is a mysterious process. If you are seeking an executive role, the process is even more challenging. This three-part strategy is built on timeless principles that will deliver results in all industries. With this foundation in place, you can ASK for a promotion!

Allies: Promotion Requires a Team

Promotion decisions are generally made with the input from many people. That’s why you need to build up a team of allies to help you gain promotion. Here are three specific allies you need to develop:

  • Your Manager. A recommendation from your manager is often the single most important factor in winning a promotion. To get started, first observe your manager so that you can build a better relationship with her.
  • Your Peers. Having a few of your coworkers testify to your trustworthiness and competence goes a long way to strengthening the case for a promotion.
  • Other Departments. As a manager or executive, you will need professional and productive relationships with people in a variety of departments. Look for opportunities to do favors and treat these people well.
  • Friends in High Places. If you follow Karin’s advice to go through an effective mentorship process, you are likely to develop a good relationship with a VIP at your company. Remember – “Mentoring, at it’s best, is a magical elixir which shaves years off your learning curve through mistakes unmade.” A VIP such as an executive or other high-ranking person can recommend you or give you advice to get ready for promotion.

Relationship development is a vital skill, especially as you move up through the management ranks. It is best to start small in developing relationships – sending one thank you card per week is a great way to start.

Skills: The Rule of Three For Promotion

Skills make the difference in delivering results in an efficient manner. In many professions, technical skills and subject matter expertise are the way into the door. At higher levels, leadership and communication skills take center stage. To land a promotion, you need to determine what skills are required. Use these skills to get control over your skills.

  • Review three job descriptions.

Job descriptions are a valuable source of data in your pursuit of promotion. Choose a target job title (e.g. “IT Director” or “VP of Sales”) and then read three job descriptions. The goal is to find common ground of the different descriptions.

  • Complete gap analysis for the three top skills.

Gap analysis is a way to draw a map from where to you are to where you want to be. In this case, where you are is your current job. Where you want to be is your target job title. Look into both hard requirements (e.g. must have a PMP certification) and other requirements for skills and experience.

  • Validate your findings with three people.

Sitting in a room by yourself is necessary but not sufficient for promotion. You have to reach out to your network and ask for input. With the job descriptions and gap analysis in hand, reach out to three people to ask for their advice. Specifically, look for people who already have the job you want (Linkedin Advanced Search comes in handy here). You may receive validation for your idea or a brand new perspective.

Following the rule of three for skills development is an excellent way to focus your efforts. When in doubt, look for your skills you can develop over the next six to twelve months. In many cases, demonstrating a familiarity for the job’s subject matter and a commitment to continue learning makes a big difference.

Kill Your Bad Habits: What Got Here Wouldn’t Get You There

Have you ever noticed that you don’t need to think about your daily commute very much? That’s the power of habits. Habits also make a big difference in your work performance. If you seek promotion, then you need to avoid these mistakes.

  • Lack of Punctuality. Showing up on time – especially at meetings – is a simple way to demonstrate your professionalism. Bonus tip: arrive early.
  • Senior managers and executives have to act and make decisions – they cannot wait for perfect information to arrive.
  • Personal Disorganization. Losing track of appointments and meetings is an amateur mistake. Learn how to lead yourself with Getting Things Done.
  • Hiding Behind Email. As Karin explained, never assume they got the memo. In management roles, you need the judgement to use a variety of communication approaches including meetings, phone calls and conversations.

Take Action To Get Promoted

It is time for you to act to get promoted. Getting promoted at work means new challenges and excitement. Take a moment today to grow your allies – send a thank you note, buy a coffee for someone or simply listen to them. Relationships, skills and habits give you a great foundation for getting promoted.

Bruce Harpham, PMP, is the founder of ProjectManagementHacks.com, a career development resource. To reach your career goals faster, get your complimentary copy of the Career Advancement Toolkit by joining the Project Management Hacks email newsletter.

Go Slow to Go Fast

Have you every had a really crazy date? Or worked with a leader who was totally delusional?

Well that was me, about 15 years ago, single (again), feeling old (ironic now) and unsure on the Acela train.

It was just after the diversity council debacle.  I was sitting in the café car on my way to NYC for another meeting trying to rebuild trust.

I hadn’t looked up when the crowd pushed on at the Wilmington stop. It always gets crowded at that stop, and frankly I was really hoping no one would sit next to me. I wasn’t exactly feeling like company.

The conductor came on the overly loud loudspeaker to remind us they had just put on a fresh pot of coffee and the café car was open, when I heard a voice across the aisle, say, “You look really beautiful in that dress.”

To give you a sense of my mental state, it didn’t even occur to me that comment could possibly have been directed at me.

After all, I was beginning to believe my mother’s fear that at 35 it was too late to find someone new and I’d end up alone. In fact I was pretty much accepting the fact.

Five minutes later the voice came closer and I realized that the voice and the man it belonged to were standing in the aisle beside me.

“You know, it’s customary here on the East Coast to say “Thank you” when someone pays you a compliment. Where are you from?

I looked up and locked in on his beautiful brown eyes.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. Yes, thank you so much, err, very much. Do you want to sit down?”

We exchanged stories in a non-stop flurry of excitement. As it turns out Kurt was a West Point grad, also divorced with a small child, and spent half his time in Maryland, with his daughter and the other time in New York running his business. He had a similar juggling lifestyle, except I was in a row home and the Sheraton and he a Waterfront property in Annapolis and a penthouse.

“What are you doing for dinner tonight?”

I told him my plans were to head back that night on the train.

“Is your son with his Dad?”

I said yes, totally relieved to find someone who got the picture before I had to explain it.

“You can grab the 11:14 train home after having dinner with me at this awesome place in Central Station. I do it all the time. I’ll make reservations for 6 that will give us plenty of time to talk.”

By the time I got on the train home that night I began wondering how I’d stumbled on someone so interesting, smart, and let’s face it, rich.

I resisted the urge to call my mother and tell her so. As it turned out, that was a good choice. She never heard this story.

After a week of flirtatious emails and some flowers delivered to work, he invited me to dinner in Annapolis with his daughter, Molly.

“Don’t you think that’s premature?” I asked.

“Nah, It’s casual. I like to have her meet successful women. She needs a good role model. We hang out with friends a lot.”

The evening was going great until I found myself alone with little Molly at the table. “My daddy has already figured out how he’s going to ask you to marry him,” she said matter of factly.

I choked on my water.

“He has? Really. How?”

“Well he’s going to be at the finish line of your next marathon with a bottle of champagne, roses, and a ring.”

Kurt came back to the table and I locked in with those brown eyes again, but this time searching for signs of mental illness.

“What’s wrong?” He asked.

“I told her your secret,” Molly sang out.

“We need to talk.” I said coldly.

“Later. Let me get Molly to bed and I’ll put on some coffee. I can explain.”

We got home and he encouraged me to wait downstairs in the rec room.

I smelled the coffee brewing, and could hear sweet daddy daughter chatter. Hopeful that this was Molly’s delusion, I made myself at home and poked around (as any self-respecting-freaked-out second-dater would do).

I opened the door next to the stairs and found his office–which was decorated as the spitting image of the oval office.

I was still standing in the doorway in shock when he tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a cup of steaming coffee.

“What is going on?” I was shaking now.

“Sit down”, he said calmly, as if he had done this a hundred times before.

“Look, Karin, it’s like this,” he touched my hand sincerely.

“I’m very successful and very busy. I’ve got my life mapped out. I’m going to be President some day and I like my office this way as a constant reminder and inspiration. Every time I sit in that chair, I’m reminded of my goals. Anyone who visits knows my intentions.

I don’t have a lot of time to date, and quite frankly neither do you. We both have a hard time finding someone who meets our standards.

You meet ALMOST all of mine.”

Almost all ??? (I was insecure but still feisty).

“Yeah, you’re divorced and that’s not good for a first lady.”

I started, “May I point out…” and then stopped myself. Why in the world was I defending myself?

“But I’ve been doing a lot of digging. You’re attractive ENOUGH you make a good ENOUGH salary, you’re articulate,  and you go to church.”

And he continued, “I think we can make it work.”

My only thought now was how fast I could sprint to my car, whether I could outrun this West Point grad, and how many other first lady candidates he’d scared off on the second date.

I know you’ll find this shocking, but I’ve yet to see him emerge as a candidate.

Although this year, he might actually have a chance.

Accelerators have great vision, but they also know when to go slow to go fast.

Don’t scare off your team with audacious expectations too soon. Sure paint a vision, but make each step feel doable and realistic. Go slow to go fast. Burn the script and watch the magic unfold.

Two weeks later I met a grad student living in a rented room studying to be a teacher.

Two years later I married him.

But first, I checked the basement.

Does Your Boss Have Your Back?

When I was fairly young in my HR career, I was walking by my boss’ boss’ office (let’s call him Eric) while visiting our corporate headquarters in Manhattan. Without leaving his desk, he called out:

Karin, can you please do me a favor? You see there’s this meeting that I’m unable to attend, and it would be great if you could attend it for me. Sally, the Senior VP of our call center division has an absence problem. She asked me to attend, but I’m busy. I think it would be great if you could go talk employee engagement. It’s starting in a few minutes so you should head down now.

Honored to be asked, and delighted for the exposure, I eagerly said “Yes!” and ran off to the meeting. As I entered the room (apparently late), all conversation stopped.

“Who are you?” Sally barked.

“Oh, I’m Karin, Eric couldn’t make it, but asked me to come instead.”

“This is an important issue, and needs to be handled at the senior level! Doesn’t Eric care enough here to show up? Why didn’t he let me know he was sending you? What’s your role? Don’t answer that. I’ll be right back.”

She slammed the door and called Eric.

“You can stay, she grumbled.”

Oh, wait for it. It gets worse.

The VPs around the room had all kinds of ideas for how to “fix those people;” none of which involved actually talking to them to understand root cause.

I piped in and told them so.

I was completely ignored and they went on with their planning.

Later that day…

I was on the elevator when the doors opened and Sally walked in. When was this day going to end?! I tried to get absorbed in the crowd, hoping she wouldn’t notice. When we stopped at her floor, she asked me to step off with her for a moment.

You’ve got great ideas, but you’re incredibly clumsy.  As a manager, you don’t tell a room full of VPs all of them are wrong in a meeting with their peers. You quietly take notes, and then talk with a few of them offline to stakeholder your ideas. You really ticked me off, so I couldn’t even process what you were saying. But I’ve been thinking about it and you’re right. I’d like you to lead the HR leg of this project. You help me fix my absence problem and I’ll help you learn how to navigate politically so you don’t sabotage what could be a promising career. Sound like a deal?

She smiled for the first time that day.

It was the start to a beautiful mentoring relationship. She always had my back.

Two VPs with position power: one with his back firmly against the wall, protecting himself. The other taking a risk on a naive but passionate kid. What a difference it makes when someone has your back.

How Do I Get My Peers to Trust Me?

Honestly, I wish I learned this sooner. Having a tight network of trusted peers is as vital (and often trumps) your relationship with your boss and your direct reports. Trust matters even more with your peers because it’s TECHNICALLY optional and therefore more meaningful and sticky. There’s no “official” accountability levers. It’s easy to put them last on your trust-building priority list.

Your peers aren’t evaluating you on an employee engagement survey, or writing your performance appraisal. Often they have competing agendas, and of course you know it’s you against them in the stack rank.

So many of us buckle down, approach our peers with cautious pleasantries, and watch our backs.

Real trust develops when no one is watching…when you’ve got something to lose, and choose to be vulnerable anyway.

5 Ways to Get Your Peers to Trust You

Building trusting peer relationships starts with you. Here’s how.

1. Get Naked

Well not all the way, but at least take off your parka and mittens. Let them know what scares you (yes, yes, I know getting naked scares you. Do it anyway.) People trust those they can see. Share a vulnerability or two, and then wait for it. It might not happen right away, but stay open and investing as trust grows.

2. Give More Than You Receive

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a company and seen two teams with the same objectives, doing the same work, both with best practices that they’re completely keeping to themselves. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” is old school. Show your great idea first without worrying about what comes next.

3. Take a Field Trip

I learned this from one of my direct reports in my sales exec role. His peers in the finance department were not approving contracts for a subset of our customers. My deeply southern district manager got in the car and drove three hours for an old-fashioned visit. They had some sweet tea, cleared up misconceptions, developed a streamlined communication protocol, and our acceptance rate for that market skyrocketed. These were qualified customers that “didn’t look good on paper.” But the paper didn’t do them justice.

4. Lose a Battle

You don’t care equally about every issue. Know what’s worth going to the mat for, and what isn’t. A few concessions can gain you the reputation of being “easy to work with.” When you really need something, they’ll be more likely to trust your motives.

5. Lift Them Up

As a customer service director, my friend Dan and I stumbled on this one by accident. We were peers (who were always stack ranked against one another), but we also realized we had different gifts. I’m embarrassed to admit, he went first. He rolled up his sleeves and helped me tremendously on the operations side. He even silently sat in on a few tough customer calls and privately messaged me with what to do while I was getting my sea legs.

I then came to his region and helped him attack his employee engagement issues.

In every operations review we genuinely credited one another with our success. A high-tide rises all boats.

Don’t overlook the importance of trust amongst peers. It’s harder, it makes a difference, the big guys notice, and the relationships last a lifetime.

Are you looking to take your team to the next level? Please give me a call at 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.

Pay It Forward Mentoring

This is a guest post from LGL Tribe Member and Winning Well Advocate, David Oddis.

Years ago, on a beautiful summer day in Salt Lake City, Utah, I learned one of the most important things a leader can do: express the importance of “giving back.” As my mentor and I met for a casual lunch, he asked me if I had “ever received a bill” from him. Like a confused puppy dog, my ears perked up and my head tilted left. Perplexed, I asked him what he meant.

He repeated the question, “Have you ever received a bill from me…have I ever charged you for the knowledge I share with you?” “Of course not,” I replied. “That’s right,” he said… “And that’s why you are 100% obligated to pass your wisdom on to someone else.”

“Have You Ever Received a Bill from Me?”

He went on to explain that at some point in my career I was going to have opportunities to give back what was given to me. It was important that I understand this concept as an obligation and not a choice, pointing out that this is how the cycle of mentorship works. It was probably one of the single greatest lessons I learned about mentorship and one of many key elements of what makes a great leader. To this day, I share that story with various colleagues, mentees, and just about anyone with whom I have leadership conversations. It was a powerful lesson learned long ago that still carries true today. And by adopting this advice and accepting this obligation, my life has changed in so many ways and it can also change yours.

The Mentorship Pedigree

“We have to continue mining the discipline to look for those key frameworks, those techniques, those tools, those mindset gems that allow us to learn and grow and create environments where problem-solving and effective execution strategies contain values needed by our customers.”  – David E. Oddis

By adopting this concept and creating the cycle of giving back, investing in others what someone has invested in you, we actually create a mentorship pedigree. You hear this when champions are discussed…from racehorses to the NFL where they often refer to the bloodline or pedigree of NFL coaches.

For example: Mike Tomlin, current head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, worked under Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay in the 90s; Tony worked for the Pittsburgh Steelers under Chuck Noll during the 80s; Chuck worked under Don Shula and the Baltimore Colts in the 60s. As you follow their bloodline, they are all ultimately tied to the Sid Gillman coaching pedigree. By the way, all of these coaches were championship level coaches, winning AFL and NFL division titles and Super Bowls. Think there is something to that? It is their pedigree…all sharing what they were taught with the next mentee and inspiring them to do likewise as they become mentors. Thus the cycle of mentorship goes.

This for me is the magic of mentorship and one of the key elements of leadership.

Do you know your mentorship pedigree?

Are you familiar with who your mentor was mentored by and so on? Do you know your mentorship history?  In some cases I have met people that can track their pedigree back multiple decades which is a really awesome story.

What values have been carried forward over the years or decades?

Have you asked your mentor who influenced his or her values? If you haven’t yet, give it a shot.

Do your mentees understand the obligation of giving back?

  • Have you had the pay it forward conversation?

Maybe this practice starts with you. Let the cycle begin!