Are You The Real Deal?

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(pic compliments of http://www.dreamstime.com)

Here’s a question:  When asked at a job interview what your weaknesses are, how do you answer?  I’m a workaholic and I cannot seem to switch off?  I’m too trusting and people tend to take advantage of the fact?  ‘I’m a perfectionist and therefore unpopular amongst colleagues.’  It’s almost expected to hear a positive trait sneakily turned inside out to make you look good.  Would you dare say I was not really a team player but I am working on it as I acknowledge my shortfall and understand the benefits of working in a team?  Oh, the horror!  How about “I’m not a morning person but I have started a morning routine recently that has got me to enthusiastically jump out of bed with glee!”

We love dropping clichés when the situation calls for it:  ‘Be yourself’, ‘Keep it real’, ‘Love yourself or nobody else will,’ ‘Be the real deal’ but are you taking heed or mindlessly throwing up drivel?

It is certainly not a novel idea or some ‘secret’ to success.  Authenticity was studied from the time of the ancient Greeks.  It was Socrates who claimed that the way to happiness is to discover your ‘true self’.   Abraham Maslow, in his Hierarchy of Needs, puts forth the notion that one of the ways to reach self-actualisation (the highest point that a human being strives for) is self-acceptance.

Yet people still struggle with exposing their true essence.  Why?

Baggage.  And we all have it.  Everyone has an element of their personality or past experiences, even present situations that they are not particularly proud.  Your attitudes and perceptions today are the product of your past.  And thanks to that, our insecurities surge, resulting in the attempt to be someone else – someone that (you think) will be more accepted.  We humans are social beings.  The instinct to be socially accepted or conform is stronger than that of displaying our uniqueness to the world.  In fact, people are so afraid to display any human weakness that they would rather take on a different persona or even lie to avoid others discovering their true selves.

Yet one of the traits that stand out in highly successful leaders is the courage to be true to themselves.  Within the entertainment industry, a rags to riches story is respected and even attracts a larger following.  Leaders like President Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey and President Barack Obama transformed their humble beginnings into the highest hierarchy of leadership with a worldwide following because they remained real throughout their remarkable growth.  The magic of self-acceptance is that people are more engaged with those who are real and vulnerable, because it is relatable.  Did you perhaps suffer with a learning disability as a child?  This attracts more admiration because people appreciate that you would have had to work harder than those who did not have those life experiences….and besides nobody likes a fake.

The first step to being true to yourself is knowing yourself.  As a child, you were the truest form of yourself.  If you didn’t like the taste of something, you spat it out.  You didn’t pretend to like it because another child enjoyed it.  The saddest part of growing up is losing that self-trust and as we transition from adolescence to adulthood, we learn how to dismiss our beliefs and values and become what parents, society, or the boss expects of us.  We fire ourselves from the job of living and hire a stranger.  If you will not hire yourself, how can you expect others to?  Here are 3 ways to help you regain your authenticity easily and naturally:

  1. Observe yourself in conversations or in meetings. Do you take on the personality of the group? Speak as they do?  Use slang and profanity if they are?  It is said in the study of body language that a degree of mimicking a person or group you are with actually makes you more likeable so it’s quite okay to adapt to your surroundings.  If it is a fun event and you are required to let your hair down a bit, you need not be a stick in the mud but if you find yourself becoming someone that is not instinctively you, it’s a fail!  Do not discount your innermost values because you are in a team or an environment that does not share your beliefs.
  2. Make a list of negative events in your past that you are not comfortable sharing with others.  Next to it, write down how those events have shaped you positively or what lessons were learned from it.  Were you bullied as a child and thus easily able to spot people who intimidate others?  Now you are changing the negative event into a positive one.  Read it again but this time from a different perspective.  You may feel a little differently about sharing your life lessons after this exercise.
  3. Think like a child again. Remember the elation and satisfaction you got from completing your first 100 piece puzzle? Well, we never out-grow this feeling of self-accomplishment.  This holiday, start a project that is yours alone – completing it will give you a sense of triumph.  Choose a personal stimulus:  a DIY project, build something from scratch, or start a vegetable garden.  In the process of a personal mission, you will re-discover yourself, be rid of an adult limiting view and gain insight into your strong and weak points.  Project managers will agree that if you want to really know the true nature of a person, work with them on a project.  The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard offers the theory that when a person despises themselves and attempts to be someone different, one abandons their true self and the result is despair.  He further suggests that if you do not know who your ‘self’ is, the result is an artificial happiness – or ‘ignorance is bliss’.  Therefore, when you start the journey to discovering yourself, a level of despair is expected but remain persistent on your project and on your journey.  As you become more self-aware, the despair decreases until true bliss is reached.

If you visit a company’s website, their unique values are usually proudly published in bold.  I have found many of these to be just sugary words which many do not even remember in their daily operations or cannot recall within 30 seconds.  Many companies are disappointingly losing their ability to be authentic.  But wait, companies are made up of people so shouldn’t the buck stop with us?  We need to restore ourselves so that we can become better employers, better leaders and stronger workforces.

I love diversity.  Nothing is as stimulating as learning from the unique experiences of others.  Your individual story is your gift to everyone who knows you.  This year I coached an employee who was gang raped and left for dead at the age of 10 and has never felt worthy of anything since.  After relating her story and tirelessly working on self-acceptance, she has gone from feeling completely worthless to delivering talks to abused women at her church.  I am so pleased to say that she is now the happiest she has ever been, about to become a mum and has become so sought after in business that a competitor has recently headhunted her.  A big loss indeed but I was delighted for her.  She has taught me more than I could have ever reciprocated and I am richer for it.

The lesson is simple:  Get real and the results will show!

Happy Holidays!

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Stakeonomics: The Power of Stakeholders on your business

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Who has the most power over your business?  In a quick exercise, place the following people/groups in order of revenue influence: Board of directors, largest client, production team, media, sales team, competitors.

Not an easy task, I suspect.   These groups are referred to as stakeholders:  people and organisations who directly or indirectly affect a company’s performance and who are in turn affected by a company’s activities.  As the business world moves from a shareholder-centric towards a stakeholder-centric style, we see the definition broaden.  The natural environment has, in recent years, been classified as a stakeholder as more and more organisations adopt environmentally friendly choices and increase social responsibility.

Are all stakeholders equally important or do they act as links in the economic chain?  It is a natural inclination to spend most of your resources on your largest client.  Imagine for a moment losing that client to a competitor, leaving behind a considerable loss and a string of likely unsatisfied smaller clients (who rapidly become more significant than they used to be).  Conversely, can you really afford to draw your attention away from such a large client?  Consider the power that human resources have during a labour strike, the impact of the media after a bad report on your company, or the sway of a supplier who has reached a monopolising status in the market.

As these examples reveal, stakeholders can be volatile, their power is ever-changing, and managing them is more challenging in practice.  We can also deduce that the behaviour of stakeholders at a given time is paramount to your success.

I introduce to you the concept of Stakeonomics: ‘The factors and effects of stakeholders’ behaviour on the performance of a business’.  Adopt these proactive practices to forecast stakeholder behavior so you don’t get caught off-guard:

Identify your Stakeholders

Create a list.  Include their needs (past & present) as well as previous incidents that resulted in a behaviour change.  Make a concerted effort to research their needs.  Are you in a position to meet those needs? Take into account that needs do not remain constant.  Review what events or movements triggered certain reactions in the past to mitigate future risks.  At what times are they most influential?  Are your interests sincerely aligned with theirs?

In the age of perfect knowledge, external stakeholders know what they want and from whom they want it.  Corny advertisements, crafty salesmen and the likes will no longer cut it.  The bottom line is this:  if a need is met, everyone wins.

Be Ahead of your Game.

  • Embrace technology.
  • Foster virtual relationships. Social media is a powerful tool today, people are quick to take to social sites to voice their opinions.  It can work in your favour or against you.  Positive comments about your business are always welcome but do not ignore comments and posts that are negative.  Responding to complaints shows transparency and consideration.
  • Invest in research and development.
  • Keep a close eye on competitors. What are their recent developments? Do you have a defense plan to win the market share?   It should be noted that while a defense plan is good, innovation is the best brand publicity.

Be Consistent in your Efforts:

Stakeholder mapping is a popular analysis conducted during startups or a project launch.  However, this is not adequate.  You can disengage stakeholders through your daily operations and not just during a significant event.  It should be a regular activity.

Ethics at All Costs:

Consumers are more loyal to ethics than to price or convenience.  Recent research from Mintel has shown that 56% of American consumers will not support a business that they believe to be unethical.  Furthermore, 35% of them will not buy these products or services even if no substitute exists! (www.mintel.com).  Trust is one of the main motivations for employee retention, content clients, strong supplier relationships and credibility with industry related professional bodies.  Plus ethical companies are environmentally and socially responsible and this attracts all stakeholders.

From small businesses to large enterprises, Stakeonomics is relevant.  Determining future needs and behaviour of your stakeholders is critical to shaping a sustainable operation or advancing to the next level.

 

Break Through That Glass Ceiling Like a Boss

 

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(Pic courtesy of http://www.madamenoire.com)

Today is National Women’s Day in beautiful South Africa.  A day in which we commemorate more than 20 000 brave women who, in 1956, staged a march to protest against the apartheid government’s ‘pass laws’ which legislated that citizens defined as ‘black’ carry a type of a passport in order to control and further segregate the population.  This was especially phenomenal because women from all race groups united for a common cause in a country where people of different races were not even allowed to live side by side.

It is not remarkable that women have contributed to Science, Business, The Performing Arts and every other ambit of the world as we know it.  Men and women have the same brain.  What is remarkable is that women have made these contributions despite the history of not enjoying the same opportunities as their counterparts, excluded wholly or partly from political participation and being restricted or denied educational and social rights, amongst others.  To this day women are still demeaned in certain tribes, cultures and yes, even in the modern corporate world.

Off course, in the corporate world it is more subtle.  The skepticism that women are met with whenever they propose a new strategy or about to deliver a speech/presentation, nibbles away at one’s dignity until one day, somewhere between pouring coffee for your peers in the boardroom and being kindly asked to type a document because the secretary is off sick, a woman becomes bitter.  I have met a great deal of people who unapologetically believe that reporting to a female boss is a nightmare.  I happen to know some of these women and I am also aware that behind many a woman occupying a senior position, lies a fighter that made a conscious decision to push past the challenges: disregard for their abilities, being overlooked for promotions, bullied, not being taken seriously, phones and iPads appearing on laps as you are about to take the podium etc.  Does this explain the relentless attitudes of certain women in power?  Has their past experiences shaped the commanding manner in which some women conduct business?  Perhaps it does, the jury is still out on that…(I welcome your thoughts on the subject matter)

So how do you attempt to shatter that glass ceiling (the invisible barrier that prevents women from career advancement) without having to bring out the worst in you?  Here are 6 hints that I hope you will find useful.

A Firm Handshake: Yes, it is unisex.  A limp hand denotes self-doubt which means every word you say after the handshake does not sound as credible as you would have liked it to be.

Do not play the Gender Card Unreasonably:  While it is a fantastic achievement to have succeeded in construction or a traditionally male-dominated industry, it is not professional to throw it around.  You should be proud, but the achievement will sell itself.  Don’t be on the fence between a gender battle and a show-off as it might limit you from further growth.

Live the Values of Your Organisation:  Above all else, this is the core of the organisation and living it fully and sincerely will begin to see cracks in the ceiling.  Great leaders, male or female, embrace and stand for the values of their organisation.

Get A Mentor:  Mentors give you the extra nudge when you feel like you want to quit.  My mentors are beacons in my life.  I would not have accomplished nearly half of what I have without them.

Debunk Perceptions:  A feminist would proudly sing the praises of Mary Anderson, a woman from Alabama, who invented the vehicle’s windshield wiper blade in 1903 – in a predominantly man’s world.  A male chauvinist might claim that it still falls within the parameters of ‘washing/cleaning.’  Same fact, different perceptions.  In business, take the time to explain your view on a matter instead of immediately dismissing someone as prejudiced and walking away.  Perceptions are often built on ignorance.  Helping someone understand your reasoning debunks perceptions and mends the gender gap.  The take home point here is that if you do not confront each situation as it happens, you might be left with an ingrained bitterness that will be much harder to shake off at a later stage.

Dress for Success:  Bernie Mac in the movie ‘Heads of State’ puts it perfectly:  ‘You got to dress for the job you want, not the job you got.’ The story line is fittingly about an African American man trying to shatter a glass ceiling of his own as he runs for President of the US.  In a work environment, dress in a way that commands respect and makes you feel confident.  If you feel it on the inside, you will be it on the outside.  Invest in a power suit and wear it when you need uplifting.  In a separate article, I will go into more detail on corporate dressing.

I salute the female camaraderie and strength displayed in the march of 1956.  Their protest song was clear and powerful, “Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo” (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock).  I share this day with women all over the world.  You are rocks designed to withstand anything that life throws at you….and glass ceilings got nothing on rocks!

When & How to Say ‘No’ in The Workplace

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(Pic Courtesy of http://www.pinterest.com)

Over pleasing is as much an unfruitful attribute as idleness. Wherever you lie on the scale between these two extremes, you would have found yourself in the dreaded situation where you would need to cough up the word ‘no’.  In an office situation, the dilemma becomes a lot more complicated.

Are you committing a corporate crime by turning down a supervisor?  And what is the most non-offensive way to do it?  Why would someone rather work themselves to the bone than declining more work?  Some are afraid of disappointing colleagues or becoming unpopular.  Many say ‘yes’ to avoid potential conflict.  The key is not to perceive it as conflict.  It’s not necessary to send yourself on a guilt-trip either.  It is perfectly fine to turn someone down as long as it is gracious.  Take time, consider the request and how it would affect your current workload, and if you cannot commit to anything additional, inform the requestor that the proposed project would negatively impact the quality of your current work.

An accommodating way to say ‘no’ is to follow it with an alternative.  In the end, you have been asked because there is a problem that requires solving.  It does not revolve around your ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  All that matters is a solution.  If you provide that, the ‘no’ will be long forgotten.

‘I am overloaded currently, however I can assist you with a system that will cut your resolution time by half’

‘I do not have time to assist but I can help you find someone who does.’

To a client:  ‘Unfortunately, I have prior commitments today however I can clear my diary tomorrow to suit you.’

So when is it wise to say yes? 

When you do have the time and the means to assist a colleague.  We do not exist in a vacuum – we need each other’s help and the favour will be returned when you need it someday….and that someday is always sooner than you expected.

When your manager asks you to complete an assignment that would inevitably be a huge notch in your belt.  Work additional hours to complete it if it will assist you to be recognised in your field or create growth opportunities.

When the job entails you learning something new or becoming proficient in another area/department.  Knowledge is always a good idea!

Never turn down a junior employee who asks you to be their mentor.  It is a huge compliment and the time you invest in developing an individual is invaluable.

Eradicate these reactions that people replace ‘no’ with:

The Over-justification: Don’t say no, then follow with a long account of why you cannot do it.  Unconsciously, you are inviting the person to find a loophole in your argument and if successful, you would have no option but to accept anyway.  Give a brief explanation that the time is not right or your present duties do not allow for it and spend more time finding a solution rather than relating excuses.

Beater-about-the-bush:  Say ‘no’ firmly and assertively.  ‘Naaah, I doubt it, I don’t think it’s possible, maybe, that is going to be difficult’ are phrases that give hope.  This type will eventually lead to the push-over status.

The Push-Over:  Recognise those who use flattery, over persistency, excessive smiley faces etc. to attempt to convert you. If you are currently saying ‘yes’ to everything, prepare to be over-worked, abused and irreplaceable.  Sadly, irreplaceable means never progressing in your career.  The ‘yes’ employee is easily spotted from a mile away and these people, as obliging as they are, will be mistreated.

The Cold Shoulder:  It will not go away if you ignore it.  A persistent person will just keep returning and others will be offended that you did not afford them the respect of giving them an answer.  Send an email if you are uncomfortable with the art of declining however do learn how to face a conflicting situation head on for future.  Depending on the request, it is advisable to decline in person.

The Offensive Colleague:  Always be polite about it.  ‘Unfortunately I cannot assist at this time,’ is a lot less offensive than ‘Forget it! NO!  Absolutely Not!’ Don’t transform aggression into sarcasm either.  Sarcasm only sounds witty to the sender, never the receiver.  Non-verbal communication is as significant as your words.  Be careful of eye-rolling, shaking your head and other gestures that suggest arrogance.

How to handle Money Loaners:

In and out of the office, this is arguably the worst request of all.  The lending and borrowing of money amongst colleagues should be avoided at all costs.  Your work (and other) relationships should be treated like fine china.  It can easily be permanently damaged due to a conflict over money.  This is an easy ‘no’.  ‘I value our relationship too much to lend you money.’ Or ‘As a rule, I do not lend or borrow money’.  If someone is in dire straits, assist them to loan money from a financial credit provider or an advance on salary.  As a manager or supervisor, recommend extra overtime to enable your employee to earn more or offer advice if the person has a history of poor money management.  If a salary advance is granted, it should be stated that this will not be commonplace in future to discourage comebacks.

Setting boundaries is a reflection of strength and self-respect and the first step is saying ‘no’ and prioritising.  Ensuring you do not have too much on your plate starts with assessing the size of your plate. After that, ‘no’ will sound a lot sweeter!

“It’s only by saying ‘no’ that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” Steve Jobs

 

Change Management: A Proactive Approach

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Everyone wants to progress but no one wants to change.  People inherently choose comfort over risk and this makes for an uphill battle for any organisation in a transitional phase.  The reality is that growth depends on continual change.  Thought leaders know this but how do you get the others on board?

Change models are a useful technique when followed accurately.  Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model is a comprehensive step by step process to effect a successful change.    You can plan all you want though, change agents are hitting brick walls, grappling at every turn and having to return to step 1.  Perhaps we should take a step back and review our strategies.  Here is what we know:  Change is continual, change is inevitable.  For this reason, it makes perfect sense to prepare your human resources well before the time comes.

Organisational Development (OD) is a theory with its foundations in behavioural science.  It aims to increase organisational effectiveness through long term training programs that develops people.    Borrowing from the fundamentals of OD, here are ways to sustain evolutionary change within your organisation with what I call Change Culture Cultivation:

  1. Get employees accustomed to an ever evolving environment. Begin with subtle changes that will be accepted with ease.  Employees should come to expect that operational procedures are not cemented.
  2. Become renowned for innovation by habitually launching new products or if costly, adding services to customers.
  3. Introduce new systems and challenge employees by offering diverse tasks and letting their talents emerge.
  4. Encourage workers to propose changes as well. Brilliant ideas emerge from people when the environment is conducive.  It empowers people and creates a synergy for change.  More importantly, they will feel a larger sense of purpose.
  5. Attributes such as Versatility and Flexibility should be dominant criteria in your recruitment selection processes. A workforce that is easily adaptable are Change Champions.
  6. Adopt a flexible approach to management. People hate to be coerced into anything.  Think ‘Wet Paint. Don’t touch!’ theory on a larger scale.  Rigidity will only succeed in driving the opposite effect.
  7. Transparency.  If stakeholders are left in the dark regarding company activities, a change will be unforeseen, and they are more likely to resist.
  8. Communication is the key. It is the master key!  It builds trust and employees who trust will engage with employers.  When a major revolutionary change is upon you, amidst the fear of the unknown, people will still embrace it because they believe in you.  Seize every opportunity to communicate the values and vision of the company.  Strategic communication is the basis of lasting relationships and this cannot be emphasized enough.
  9. Change Your Mind before changing others’ – it makes all the difference!