The Secret To a Great Leap

It’s been almost 5 years since that fireside chat. My friend “Joe” and I were one of the last few remaining at our campsite fireside on our annual church camping trip. The embers were glowing and yes, there was a bit of whisky involved. I distinctly remember Val emerging from her nearby tent in her pajamas and explaining that although our conversation was “indeed fascinating,” she was tired, and to please keep it down. Clearly the conversation stuck with me, as I wrote about it a year later.

Over a year ago I had a debate with a friend that just keeps staying with me. His premise, “By the time we are in our 40s our path is set. Your potential is channeled. You are just not going to accomplish anything significant you haven’t already started…”

His words angered me more than they should, perhaps because I was preparing for my own leap into the leadership development space. Looking back, my frustration with him was most likely driven by my own fear. What if he was right? Maybe it was too late to follow this dream. I woke up the next morning worried I had given him a bit too much “encouragement.” We never spoke of that evening again.

Fast forward to this week, leap year 2016.

His wife approached me. “Joe’s got a great opportunity for a huge new job in a new city. It’s just perfect for him and for us. It’s all so new and exciting.”

Surprised and delighted, I leaned in to hear more. What she said next floored me.

“Joe shared something the other night, I thought you should know. He said that conversation you had by the fire really stuck with him and made him think. He believes it helped him to be open and confident when the recruiters called out of the blue with an offer to change course.”

Great leaps don’t start the moment our feet leave the cliff. They begin in the moment we open our hearts and minds to the possibility for more.

Your path is not set.

Stay open.

Simple Gifts: The Best You Can Do is Enough

My favorite Christmas stories are the ones where a humble hero offers the best gifts he can muster.  It never looks like much on the outside.

In Why The Chimes Rang, a small child accomplishes what all the rich and famous could not with their extravagant gifts.  He did what he could, with what he had.

The Little Drummer Boy, “had no gift to bring” but we keep singing about him.  I could go on, but the point is not about Christmas stories it’s about you and me.

Why Our Gifts Remain Ungiven

Where do we stop because we think our gifts are too simple.

We sooth our conscience with stopping thoughts:
“I’m really not the best qualified.”

“There’s not much I can do”

“This problem is too big”

“I don’t know what to say”

“I’m not really that good around sick people”

“They probably are being bombarded with support.”

We think ourselves out of doing.
We think ourselves out of helping.
We think ourselves out of leading.
And our gifts remain ungiven.

Encouraging Reluctant Gifts

As leaders, do we look for the humble gifts available in others?

It’s easy to pre-judge potential contributions. We look for the most talented.

We go to our “go-to” guy again. We want this project to be perfect, so we don’t give it to the woman who would grow most from the experience.

A few months ago, Ben, my high-school senior son came home and told me he was going to conduct a middle school brass quintet.

I was surprised and skeptical. Ben loves music and is a competent musician.

But he will not major in music. He does not aspire to be drum major. He has never had a private lesson.

On paper, there are more kids in his school qualified for this gig. If he had asked me, I might have offered my hesitation.  But he didn’t ask me.  And, they asked HIM.  And he said yes. 

He selected the music, he conducted the rehearsals, he found venues and scheduled performances. He put on a ridiculous Christmas sweater.  His gift was a gift.

Each middle school musician also trumpeted their gifts.   A Blast of Brass makes beautiful music and a joyful noise.

Begin the offering, more gifts will emerge

Don’t let yourself or others talk you out of giving what is enough.

 

Full Potential Leadership: Convincing Them to Bet on You

Are you truly building your full potential? The choices you make now, will impact what jobs are available down the road. Moving up too quickly in one functional area may limit the diversity of skills you learn, and turn you into a specialist with limited future potential.

As Joanne Cleaver, says “over is the new up.”

When a strong, smart employee comes to me looking for help being promoted, I almost always encourage them to also consider “jumping out of an airplane” and trying a lateral job they appear to know nothing about. I ask them to think more broadly about their full potential.

I ask these sorts of questions:

  • Are you building yourself into a specialist, or building a reputation as a leader with broader capacity?
  • Have you tried moving into a new discipline
  • What are your unrealized gifts?
  • Which of your skills are the most transferable?
  • Should you consider moving sideways to expand your perspective and skills?

And, I am truly grateful for the times in my career bosses and mentors challenged me in that same way and inspired me to work toward my full potential.

I’ve told my story of moves across HR, customer service, marketing, sales.. more than a few times. The truth is, I was able to take leaps across functions because other leaders have taken risks on me. My favorite line from a Sales Senior Vice President years ago, “Karin, don’t tell me you don’t know sales you’ve convinced us all to buy-in to these HR and leadership programs trust me, you can sell.”

So, I tell, my story, and people listen and then the natural question but, “how do I convince someone I am qualified?”

The truth is, I can’t break that down. I don’t exactly remember that part and I don’t have a great answer to this question and time and time again. I get stuck.

Time to Ask a Full Potential Expert

So, suppose you believe it’s important, and are prepared to take a risky move.

How do you convince someone to take a risk on you?

So I reached out to Joanne Cleaver, the author of The Career Lattice: how Lateral Move Strategies Can Grow Careers and Companies asked for some help.

They want to “lattice up”, but no one will give them a chance? What should they do?

Here’s her response:

The best way to make your case to a potential new boss is to show how you have already achieved results with a skill or responsibility analogous to the new challenge. For example, if you are trying to switch from a technology role in which you often interacted with marketing, to a marketing role that is a liaison to technology, show how you have managed a project from the point of view of marketing.

Build a concise case study that shows what you can do. (Simply saying, ‘I can do that!” isn’t enough.” )

Here’s how to build a case study:

•       Problem

•       Process

•       Solution

•       Results

•       One sentence each

Voila! You have shown yourself in action.

Use this case study formula to document your accomplishments as you go. You can use case studies in cover letters and interviews as you get to know potential new bosses.

Career lattices the emerging model for career paths because they are both flexible and sustainable. The skill of managing your career laterally is essential for working Americans of all ages and at all career stages, as I illustrate in The Career Lattice. By continually evolving your skills, abilities and peer network, you’ll qualify for tomorrow’s jobs today.

Great advice.

Have you convinced someone to take a risk on you?

Maximize Your Potential:It's Never Too Late to Grow Great

Over a year ago I had a debate with a friend that just keeps staying with me. His premise, “by the time we are in our 40s our path is set your potential is channeled, you are just not going to accomplish anything significant you haven’t already started” For some reason that comment from a friendly conversation infuriated me, and I keep trying to decide why.

“I wish I could show you a picture of yourself with your potential intact.”
~John Maxwell, Beyond Talent

He and I both have great spouses, awesome kids, interesting lives, important work. Both paths, even if they were truly “set” are good. And for some reason, I have to know there is more. There are still many areas where “great” is an option, and I can’t imagine not opening my heart to new possibilities.

We all know people with incredible talent at all stages of life, who for one reason or another are not maximizing their potential. Many of these folks are in our families, neighborhoods, churches, and workplaces. Sometimes they remain good (rather than great) because they are not investing the time and energy in the arena in which they could become great. There is also the crowd that seem to be in the right field, but for lots of “reasons,” don’t take it to the level they could. The athlete who doesn’t properly train, the musician who doesn’t practice, the leader that does not hone her skills. There are usually lots of “reasons” for the settling, often beginning with the words, “not enough” money, time, energy, network, support.

I worry what they really lack is belief in their ability to pull it off.

In his book, Beyond Talent: Become Someone Who Achieves Extraordinary Results, John Maxwell identifies 13 choices we make that can amplify our talent. A good read, and all focus areas to consider. He begins with a chapter called “Belief Lifts Your Talent.”

“Its one thing to believe that you possess remarkable potential. It’s another thing to have enough faith in yourself that you think you can fulfill it. When it comes to believing in themselves, some people are agnostic.”

Maxwell offers several “Talent and Belief” application exercises, designed to get people thinking about their opportunities for greatness.

As many writers do, he starts with a strength inventory (identifying top skills and talents) and moves on to thinking about what activities arouse your passion. What I like about his approach is that he then asks the reader to consider what opportunities might be presenting themselves, and to create picture to bring it all together.

“Take some time to consider what kind of picture emerges based on these talents, interests and opportunities. How might they come together for someone other than you, someone with fewer obstacles or limitations– someone who is in the right place at the right time? Dream big– no idea is outrageous. Brainstorm what someone in that situation might be able to do, and what he or she could become.”

Ever since that conversation with my friend, I believe I am dreaming a bit bigger, and looking for opportunities in more arenas.

What is your picture of greatness?

Maximize Your Potential:It’s Never Too Late to Grow Great

Over a year ago I had a debate with a friend that just keeps staying with me. His premise, “by the time we are in our 40s our path is set your potential is channeled, you are just not going to accomplish anything significant you haven’t already started” For some reason that comment from a friendly conversation infuriated me, and I keep trying to decide why.

“I wish I could show you a picture of yourself with your potential intact.”
~John Maxwell, Beyond Talent

He and I both have great spouses, awesome kids, interesting lives, important work. Both paths, even if they were truly “set” are good. And for some reason, I have to know there is more. There are still many areas where “great” is an option, and I can’t imagine not opening my heart to new possibilities.

We all know people with incredible talent at all stages of life, who for one reason or another are not maximizing their potential. Many of these folks are in our families, neighborhoods, churches, and workplaces. Sometimes they remain good (rather than great) because they are not investing the time and energy in the arena in which they could become great. There is also the crowd that seem to be in the right field, but for lots of “reasons,” don’t take it to the level they could. The athlete who doesn’t properly train, the musician who doesn’t practice, the leader that does not hone her skills. There are usually lots of “reasons” for the settling, often beginning with the words, “not enough” money, time, energy, network, support.

I worry what they really lack is belief in their ability to pull it off.

In his book, Beyond Talent: Become Someone Who Achieves Extraordinary Results, John Maxwell identifies 13 choices we make that can amplify our talent. A good read, and all focus areas to consider. He begins with a chapter called “Belief Lifts Your Talent.”

“Its one thing to believe that you possess remarkable potential. It’s another thing to have enough faith in yourself that you think you can fulfill it. When it comes to believing in themselves, some people are agnostic.”

Maxwell offers several “Talent and Belief” application exercises, designed to get people thinking about their opportunities for greatness.

As many writers do, he starts with a strength inventory (identifying top skills and talents) and moves on to thinking about what activities arouse your passion. What I like about his approach is that he then asks the reader to consider what opportunities might be presenting themselves, and to create picture to bring it all together.

“Take some time to consider what kind of picture emerges based on these talents, interests and opportunities. How might they come together for someone other than you, someone with fewer obstacles or limitations– someone who is in the right place at the right time? Dream big– no idea is outrageous. Brainstorm what someone in that situation might be able to do, and what he or she could become.”

Ever since that conversation with my friend, I believe I am dreaming a bit bigger, and looking for opportunities in more arenas.

What is your picture of greatness?

"Where There is Chaos, Seize Control"

One of my early bosses and mentors, Gail Parsons, said this to me almost daily.

I was young and newly promoted in an HR role in the midst of a big merger. There was much organizational realignment. Everyone had a new boss and a new team. Most leaders were in the midst of relocating their families.

We were merging systems, polices, programs, you name it.

Every time I walked into her office with an idea, she would say the same thing: “where there is chaos”

When I questioned the political ramifications of not getting the right buy-in she would say:

“Do we need this? Uh, yes.

“Is it a sound business decision?” Yes

“Do you have a strong implementation plan?” Of course

“Is your team behind it?” Yes

“Has anyone told you not to do it?” No, but

“Karin, look by the time everyone figures out that we need to do this, your team will already be doing it nd have great results to prove it in. Just do it well and tell me if you are going to break any big rules. I’ve got your back.”

Continue reading

“Where There is Chaos, Seize Control”

One of my early bosses and mentors, Gail Parsons, said this to me almost daily.

I was young and newly promoted in an HR role in the midst of a big merger. There was much organizational realignment. Everyone had a new boss and a new team. Most leaders were in the midst of relocating their families.

We were merging systems, polices, programs, you name it.

Every time I walked into her office with an idea, she would say the same thing: “where there is chaos”

When I questioned the political ramifications of not getting the right buy-in she would say:

“Do we need this? Uh, yes.

“Is it a sound business decision?” Yes

“Do you have a strong implementation plan?” Of course

“Is your team behind it?” Yes

“Has anyone told you not to do it?” No, but

“Karin, look by the time everyone figures out that we need to do this, your team will already be doing it nd have great results to prove it in. Just do it well and tell me if you are going to break any big rules. I’ve got your back.”

Continue reading

Glass Elevators: Why Having an Elevator Speech Matters

Yesterday I attended an important meeting with important people. I was not scheduled to speak. And then, sure enough, I was given the opportunity to give my elevator speech.

A good friend of mine in Finance (p.s. always have a good friend in Finance) batted the conversation my way game on.

  • What’s our channel’s mission?
  • How are our results?
  • What’s our team best at?
  • How have we improved?

The buttons on the figurative elevator were pressed time to roll.

You see, I am familiar with elevators, and what can happen in them.

Early Elevators

Very early in my career, a VP several levels above me asked me to attend a very controversial meeting on his behalf. To this day, I don’t know if it was deliberate (because he thought I could add value), or if he really didn’t understand the controversial nature of the meeting, or if he was just scared.

The minute I walked in, I was questioned as to why I was there ( instead of the VP). I stayed (not knowing if I should), and it was down hill from there.

I listened to all the ideas for the major undertaking that were being presented. Being completely naive about how to approach such things, I said everything that was on my mind no filters to everyone in the room. This involved questioning the entire methodology of some very well-thought out plans of some amazing leaders. I was discounted, and should have been. I did not approach it well.

So, later that day when I ran into that VP in the elevator (huge building, crazy coincedence), I looked at the floor. The next thing I heard Karin, I have been thinking. You may be on to something. Please tell me what you wanted to say.

I told her and got involved. That project transformed my career, and she became a fantastic mentor.

A bit later

So years later, as I grew in leadership responsibility, I wanted the best folks on my team to always be prepared to tell their story and share their ideas in a meaningful and concise way. From time to time, I lead “mentoring circles” on the subject of elevator speeches.

I always begin these sessions with my latest “elevator speech” as an example

  • what our team is about
  • how we are making a difference
  • real statistics of how we are improving
  • and my leadership vision to lead that team

One time, after doing the session with a great group of front line leaders, I got into the elevator. We had just been through a reorganization that week and I had a new senior leader that I had not yet met (but he must have seen my picture).

He looks at me and says, “Hey, Aren’t you on my new team?  What’s your story?”

So I shared my newly minted elevator speech.

That worked too.

Since then, I always keep one fresh.

Tomorrow morning

I am attending another important meeting in a very big hotel lots of elevators lots of people.

Keeping it fresh.