I have been enjoying the NBC show “This is Us.” In a recent episode, a character visited his childhood home and was surprised to find a few precious items tucked behind a fireplace brick left decades ago. As he takes inventory of what he found (see how I am trying so hard not to spoil it for you?), the character reflects on how the items were still hidden there after all these years and comments “isn’t it strange how the world sticks and moves like that?”
Our careers also stick and move as well. Here are three ways our work and our workplaces can be sticky and yet demonstrate mobility.
1. Habits die hard, so it’s good you have nine lives
Each of us learned powerful lessons in our families growing up or under the tutelage of coaches, teachers, and early bosses that affect our work habits. We learned to work hard, work smart, and communicate in these early experiences. Early habits and work styles can stick. But they can move as well. Especially if we are mindful and purposeful. In this book, The Leadership Pipeline, Ram Charan, outlines steps people take in their career to abandon the things that made them successful in the past to adopt new habits and approaches befitting their increasing responsibility or more impactful role. The first passage, as he names it, is the transition from managing yourself to managing others. Then, managing managers. Then managing functions. Then to managing businesses, then groups, and finally enterprises. And at each stage there are things that have to be learned and things that need to be unlearned. That is hard work to execute, but just like child’s toys hidden behind a fireplace aren’t appropriate for a grown-up, taste and needs change and you will need to as well.
What habits are no longer serving you that need to adapt?
Years ago, I was the one that took notes in meetings. I can type fast. I understood the issues. I was organized. But over time, I learned that being the scribe didn’t serve me. It kept me from fully participating in the discussion and it turned me into an administrator instead of the leader I needed to be. So, I delegate this now to others and only capture my own actions or commitments. This is a small thing, but illustrates how change occurs. One habit at a time.
2. “Culture eats strategy for lunch,” so I hope you are hungry
The quip about the importance of corporate culture is attributed to management guru, Peter Drucker and is now the title of a book by Curt Coffman and Kathie Sorensen. And just like changing your diet, changing your culture is a difficult, but worthwhile effort. I have worked in organizations whose leaders were very purposeful and thoughtful about the culture they were building. One of my past CEOs and mentors, Balaji Krishnamurthy, went onto to found a consulting company focused on culture and its impact on strategy. Changing the corporate culture requires first awareness that it is there. It is like a fish recognizing that it is swimming in water. Only if it differs from your experience or changes in some way, do you notice it is even there. And when you do notice, it is already having a negative (or positive) impact on your results, team dynamics, and job satisfaction. The fish is gasping for air when it leaves the water. High performing companies think about what culture they wish to build, reinforce the preferred behaviors in many ways, and demonstrate patience and persistence. Culture is very sticky, but there are many examples of leaders who decide that what they are isn’t what they need to be and they lead change initiatives that last. But it is a process and not everyone comes along for the journey.
What elements of your corporate culture are no longer helping you achieve your goals?
I worked for an established company. An established company that was acquired by an entrepreneurial Chinese firm last year and formed an incredible international business that is now being served by the combined company and our brands (Planar andLeyard). And our business is growing rapidly (we doubled last year). Facing this caliber of change - which hold so much promise and is very exciting, yet challenging - has caused me to reflect on the kind of leader I need to be and the kind of “norms” we should be cultivating in our business. This is an effort in progress and requires constant reflection. The old ways of working, communicating, executing our plans, or even making our plans must change to keep pace, and I must change with it.
3. Excuses never made anything better
Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” But that doesn’t make it less tempting to cook up a fresh batch of excuses when things go wrong or when the results of poor choices catch up with us. We blame our boss, our genes, our 4th grade math teacher, or the train being late. Our dog ate our homework or our phone battery is dead. I am not saying that these things don’t occur and that everything is within our control. Clearly that is not true. But if we focus on the excuses we can get stuck. In old ways of thinking. In old patterns of acting. In using the same excuses again and again. In not holding ourselves accountable for being better versions of ourselves.
Watch yourself make excuses. What are you trying to avoid? Who are you trying to impress? What are you afraid will happen? What excuses do you use regularly?
I have been trying to post articles on LinkedIn once a month. A discipline that I started nearly two years ago and I have been quite predictable about it. Then I wrote an article in December about the benefits of procrastination and I guess I took it too much to heart: January got away from me without a post. I blamed my busy schedule. I blamed the fact that I was writing for some other publications. Those are all true, but they were true before as well. I promised myself that I would turn one of these ideas I had squirreled away in Evernote into an article and would post it tomorrow. Then tomorrow became the day after that and now a month later, I am confessing that those excuses didn’t write the article. Only writing it did. All my efforts to procrastinate could have been directed to writing and my track record would have been preserved. In this case, this is a practice I do primarily for myself, but I see the same pattern in other more important matters. It is time to retire some of my well-used and worn out excuses and perhaps you need to do the same.
This article was originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse