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Silver Fox Advisors – Lunch & Learn Jan 23

sts-121 crew in flight

Attention Houston area business leaders, the Silver Fox Advisors is hosting its monthly Lunch & Learn program. This month features NASA Astronaut Col. Michael E. Fossum, USAFR.

Michael E. Fossum is the Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of the Galveston campus of Texas A&M University. He joined Texas A&M following his retirement from NASA in 2017. 

Fossum was selected as an astronaut in 1998. He is a veteran of three space flights; STS-121 in 2006, STS-124 in 2008 and Expedition 28/29 in 2011. Fossum has logged more than 194 days in space, including more than 48 hours in seven spacewalks.

He was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Texas A&M University and Master of Science degrees in Systems Engineering and Physical Science from the Air Force Institute of Technology and the University of Houston – Clear Lake, respectively.

After completing graduate work, he was detailed to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where he supported space shuttle flight operations, beginning with STS-3. Fossum left active duty in 1992 and retired as a Colonel from the U.S. Air Force Reserves in 2010. Michael Fossum retired from NASA in January 2017. 

Born December 19, 1957, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and grew up in McAllen, Texas. Married to the former Melanie J. London. They have four children and four grandchildren. He enjoys family activities, motorcycle riding, and backpacking. Mike’s main hobby is serving as Scoutmaster of a Boy Scout troop.

Awards and Honors

NASA Exceptional Service Medal and three NASA Spaceflight Medals. Scouting awards include Distinguished Eagle Scout, Silver Beaver and Vigil Member of the Order of the Arrow. Distinguished Military Graduate from Texas A&M University and Squadron Commander in the Corps of Cadets. Awarded the U.S. Air Force Meritorious Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters and various other service awards. Distinguished Graduate from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, Class 85A.

“The time will come when man will know even what is going on in the other planets and perhaps be able to visit them.”

Henry Ford, Theosophist magazine, February 1930

Silver Fox Advisors’ President Bill Herman stated, “Come join us and learn about the teamwork and preparation needed to achieve a successful mission by reliving space travel with Colonel Fossum.”

The Silver Fox Advisors’ Lunch and Learn events are held at the Houston Racquet Club, 10709 Memorial Dr., Houston, TX 77024. To learn more about the Silver Fox Advisors’ Lunch and Learn Sessions and to register for this event, visit our Website at www.silverfox.org.

Seating is limited, and due to the special nature of this very informative session will fill up fast, so make your reservation today.

Tables of eight are available for $315. Lunch is served at 11:20 a.m., and the Program will begin at 11:50 a.m.

Silver Fox Advisors are proven business leaders who advise, consult, and mentor other business leaders, CEO Roundtables, and entrepreneurship programs.

For more information visit: www.silverfox.org

Leaders: Are You Wearing the Emperor’s New Clothes?

The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a short story written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. It is about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, untrained, or incompetent.

In reality, the tailors make no new clothes at all. Instead, they make everyone believe the clothes are invisible to them. When the emperor parades naked before his subjects in his new “clothes”, no one dares to say that they do not see any suit of clothes on him.

They fear that they will be seen as incompetent. Finally, a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

Leaders need to be cautious about getting too caught up in the excitement of something new. Moving ahead on excitement alone can leave you exposed, just like the Emperor in the fable.

Pride, maybe even arrogance, can contribute to a mindset of denial. So too can fear. Fear of what is ahead can cause a manager to block out vital information.

Another Story, Second Verse

I once worked with an executive who lived in this “New Clothes” mode. This person wasn’t just occasionally vulnerable but lived a daily routine of walking about fully exposed and refusing to hear any news to the contrary. 

Going to a staff meeting with this leader was a painful process for anyone who felt obligated to share “bad news”. The reaction was brutal and downright embarrassing at times. “How can that be?” “What are you doing? Clearly, you must be wrong.”

These were the responses when an issue was raised. Eventually, the other executives stopped talking about the truth during the meeting, instead choosing to just go about the day dealing with and fixing the things that came up.

We had our own meetings on the side to actually get things done. Obviously a very sad situation.

Going Forward

New projects or new initiatives bring their own set of leadership challenges. Things never go perfectly as planned. There are shifts, changes, and surprises along the way.

A good leader knows these things will happen before even starting down a new path. Effective leaders take input from the team to address these issues. Decisions get made about ways to resolve problems, mitigate risks, and maximize performance.

Often the culture suffers from the ability of direct reports being able to “speak truth to power.”

I live by creed in the workplace. “I can handle any news. Just don’t let me get surprised by bad news.”

Said another way, feel free to tell me the truth about what is happening out there. There have been numerous colleagues who have told me how much they appreciate knowing that mindset is real.

Poor leaders make a plan and hope for the best, never wanting to accept bad news about things not working out as hoped.

Why will Leaders Get Blinded?

There are many reasons a leader gets stuck in the “New Clothes” mode. Here are the top three I’ve seen happen.

PRIDE

Yes, pride gets in the way. When you are absolutely sold out to an idea or approach, you just don’t want to hear bad news. It’s closely akin to someone telling you your baby is ugly.

Pride has to get checked at the door. Good leaders never come close to operating in a spirit of pride. Yes, you can have a strong opinion about how good an idea or a team may be, but letting pride overcome objective reasoning is a recipe for disaster.

When things happen that don’t meet expectations, it’s your job to adjust. Review the details and make an informed decision about where, when or how to make a change.

FEAR

Fear is a powerful emotion in any phase of life. As a leader, you have to overcome whatever fear you might have about the mission or the role.  Fear causes us to live in the fight or flight mode. How very unproductive that can be.

Thoughtful guy sitting at a laptop

If the leader is fearful, imagine what the team feels. Fear is an emotion that erodes credibility and confidence. Without either of those, your strength as a leader is undermined. Your foundation crumbles.

HEAD IN THE SAND

The last principle is somewhat a catch-all. Sometimes a person just chooses to ignore the bad news.  It becomes more comfortable to stick your head in the sand like an ostrich. (OK this is an old saying, not a scientific fact.)

The point is, you choose to ignore the details. Blinded by your own sense of reality, you let important details go by, never attempting to resolve the issues.

Don’t Fall for the Ruse

The emperor’s new clothes was a ruse perpetrated by some bad people. Yet the ruler fell for it.

Don’t let any of these three choices impact your ability to be an effective leader. Be open to all the information; good or bad. Make informed choices about the changes around you.

Remember, becoming an effective leader is less about writing the perfect plan, but more about solving imperfect problems.

PS – Have a Happy New Tear! I hope 2020 brings you only the best! But you have to get out there and make it happen.

How to Find Perspective in Your Own Leadership Ability

gaining perspective

Having the right perspective in life is vitally important, but it has special meaning for people in leadership positions.

Maintaining the right perspective is sometimes hard to do.

During a recent trip to Las Vegas to speak during the AWS re:Invent conference, I had the chance to take a side trip out to the Grand Canyon. More specifically, I flew in a helicopter hovering just above the rim of the canyon.

gaining perspective in the Grand Canyon

We were flying at 5,000 feet but it looked like (and felt like) we were almost touching the rocks beneath us. Yet even from the rim, the drop to the canyon floor was huge. The perspective was hard to judge at first.

We had been cruising around the rim for a few minutes when we approached the Skywalk observation deck on the west end. The whole compound looked like a dot on the landscape. Yet that visitor center cycles thousands of visitors around the Skywalk every day.

It proved just how magnificent the Grand Canyon truly is. The Skywalk was a mere speck on the horizon and our helicopter was even smaller compared to the canyon itself.

When you as a leader look around your situation at work, at home, or in your community, you have to find the correct perspective to gain the most from the self-reflection process.

Using Assessment Tools

I often work with companies that use the Hogan Personality Assessment tools. Hogan has been around for decades. Their process uses predictive analysis to look at a leader’s personality, giving you a look forward at who and what you might be to those around you.

Hogan provides a multi-dimensional personality profile analysis. Among many positive indicators it tracks, it also includes one very critical analysis called “derailers”. These are personality attributes that can undermine your effectiveness as a leader if used to an extreme.

Like my view of the Grand Canyon from a seat in the helicopter, you have to get the right perspective when looking at the derailers in your personality.

If you take the feedback too lightly, you may miss the significance of the meaning. Absorb them too harshly (i.e. judging yourself too strictly) and you over-correct.

Finding a healthy way to receive any feedback you get and then apply it to your leadership style is the best way to grow as a leader.

Easier Said Than Done

However, that is much easier said than done. So how can you find the right perspective from derailers and apply good corrective measures to achieve more?

First, look at the input. Using highly developed tools like a Hogan assessment is one way to get reliable data. I’m highlighting Hogan here, but there are many others.

One free tool you can self-administer is from 16 Personalities. I have found their results to be compelling and similar to the results you get from many of the higher-priced tools.

Getting good data is better than simply spending a weekend meditating about things you think you need to look at. Using comprehensive analysis tools will uncover blind spots.

Next, take the results from your profiling and share it with a trusted advisor/friend. Ask them to verify what the report tells you. They too can add color to the findings. More importantly, they can help you gauge just how extreme a trait might be.

trusted advisor

Lastly, find a mentor/coach to help you map a plan for implementing the right dose of corrective measures to grow as a leader. A coach can be your guide on the journey to improving and growing as a leader.

Footnote and Disclaimer: Mention of Hogan Assessments and 16Personalities does not represent a personal gain from either of those companies. I share information about tools and tips I have used myself and find helpful.

Here’s a shot just before takeoff.

Leaders: If you Confuse, You Lose

There’s an old saying in the sales world. “The confused mind says NO.” Clearly that has big implications when trying to sell a product or service.

A prospect who gets confused by your sales pitch will revert to a NO answer all the time. On the other hand, a clear, concise explanation of the thing you are trying to sell will help close the deal.

The same is true of leadership responsibility. A confused mind says NO. If you confuse the people around you, the overall performance will be greatly reduced or even eliminated.

An employee’s willingness to perform is centered on their ability to clearly understand expectations and directions.

Clarity may be your best secret weapon to achieve better team performance.

It’s a Complicated World

There’s no denying the increased complexity in business these days. Whether you blame the exponential growth of technology or just the deeper understanding of things around us, it’s much harder to operate a business today than it once was.

Confused minds say NO

However, operating a highly specialized or technical business should not distract you from trying to make things simple for your team to comprehend.

Military people learned the KISS principle; Keep It Simple Stupid. When giving orders, it is the leader’s duty to make the instructions as simple to comprehend as possible. In combat, confused minds get people killed.

In business, the smartest guy in the room shouldn’t be rubbing that in, especially if they are the boss. Rather, if you think you truly are the smartest guy at the table, then you should be able to figure out ways to make directions and instructions easier to understand.

What To Do

Sometimes in figuring out what to do to make things more clear for your team, it is valuable to talk about what NOT to do. Here are a few big ideas to follow.

First, don’t be vague about directives. Masking your meaning immediately leads to confusion. The odds of your people going off in the wrong direction are far greater when you are unclear about your own expectations.

Think of 360 degrees on a compass (in a circle). The direction you need people to take is likely on one of a few degrees on that compass. If you are vague, your team has a minimum of 350+ other directions to go.

If you’re not exactly sure about the direction you want to take, invest the time and energy in getting your own clarity first.

Next, watch your communication style. In times of high stress and urgent deadlines, lookout for accelerating your own reactions to things going on around you. Create more measured responses.

Don’t react, respond instead. There is a big difference.

Lastly, remember the acronym FAST to increase your leadership effectiveness.

International leadership guru Gordon Tredgold coined the term FAST for his book by the same name and his teaching on effective leadership.

FAST is an acronym that encompasses all the best attributes for finding success. Whether your dreams are personal or professional, FAST can help.

FOCUS. You must be able to focus your vision and view of the goal you are trying to achieve. Too many business leaders are fuzzy on the exact expectation they have.

If you’re not clear on where you’re going most any road will get you there.

ACCOUNTABILITY. You must be accountable to the team, the cause and the process to get you to your goal.

Look at the organizational setup. Does everyone know what they are supposed to be doing, do they know what is expected of them, and do they have the right skills, tools, and training to be successful.

SIMPLICITY. You must find the simplest ways to make things happen.

It has been said complexity is the enemy of execution. Trying to reach the desired destination with too many complex and conflicting pieces of information or procedure can only interrupt the desired results.

TRANSPARENCY. Transparency allows the leader to be genuine and clear for the benefit of everyone around them.

Look at the progress tracking. How easy is it to check that progress is being made and was outcome-based rather than just recording effort spent? Is the information accurate and fact-based, or just based on gut feel? How often is it shared with the teams? Do they know how they are doing, or are they just running blind?

Eliminate Confusion

Eliminating confusion can bring greater results. Remember, the confused mind says “NO” every time.

Question: When was the last time you experienced being confused by what the boss said? Were YOU the boss creating confusion?

The Great Leadership Debate: Nature vs Nurture

Visit the best business schools on the planet and you are likely to hear a robust debate about the virtues of leadership. The central question is whether great leaders are born or bred; nature versus nurture.

One theory argues that true leadership is an inborn trait that few possess. The other popular and prevailing thought is that leaders can be developed. 

While certain natural talents afford some leaders with an innate sense of leadership, you certainly can train people to become better leaders.

The military does it on a regular and reliable basis. Whether you look at the non-commissioned officers (NCOs) or commissioned officer corps, the development of leadership talent is a business for the military.

People who exhibit good leadership talent are promoted to progressively more significant leadership roles until their capabilities are maximized.

As an example, few officers make it to the rank of general. Typically, officers are promoted several times in their career before their maximum efficiency as a leader is determined and the promotion train stops. The same holds true in corporate circles.

Some call this phenomenon the law of maximum incompetence. John Maxwell calls it simply “The Law of the Lid”.

Everyone who aspires to become a leader has a lid on their ability to lead. You can start a career with some natural talent (i.e. born with it) and you can work toward increasing your leadership capacity by training and coaching.

Yet according to Maxwell, you still hit a personal lid that limits the level of influence you achieve as a leader.

It is not hard to see this concept in real life. Not everyone who tries their hand at business leadership becomes the CEO of a Fortune 100 company. In fact very few do it.

What to Do

So what is the mainstream business executive or company owner supposed to do with his or her current leadership capacity? Have you ever thought of yourself as a Leader?

Looking at blind spots

Seek valid and reliable feedback about your blind spots. This immediate and valuable insight that can vault your effort above what it is today. Knowing what you don’t know or can see is vital information with which you can make changes and grow.

Here’s a diagram that outlines the ways we see (or don’t see) our blind spots.

Hire a coach. Coaching for executives is growing in acceptance and popularity. People have used coaches at the gym and for special hobbies and interests for quite some time.

Why not use the same approach when seeking to increase your leadership influence?

An effective executive coach will help you design a growth plan; personal growth. There should be measurable and tangible outcomes expected.

Improve your circle of peers. Be open to networking with mastermind groups and coaching groups where you can work with peers to gain insight for best practices and have a personal board of directors to whom you report.

Read – it seems so simple, but the power of reading has been proven time and time again. Take recommendations from leaders you admire. Read their selections of books. Consume what they consume and you will begin to grow.

Every leader I have ever admired has his/her own list. As soon as I asked about their favorites, they would gladly share. Of course, some titles get repeated, but that just serves as proof of the impact of that book.

Leadership growth is possible.

The best and greatest leaders claim a rigorous routine of seeking knowledge and information about ways to grow as leaders.

Stephen R. Covey called it “sharpening the saw”. As you move through the phases of your career and life, things change. You can get worn down. There must be an ever-present desire to stay sharp and grow.

Building Team Trust When Some Don’t Trust Anyone

Dan was recognized as a strong and effective leader. He had earned the respect from the CEO and other senior leaders at his company.

In his newest assignment, he had been working hard to establish the framework of trust that he knew would be vital to the team’s success.

From the very first day as the new division head, he was speaking with his direct reports one-on-one and in small groups, using his best practices to tear down walls and create the right harmony he knew he needed.

Yet he could sense total pushback from two of his longest-tenured technical people. Sandy and Ted were not buying it.

Dan decided to take his concerns directly to both Ted and Sandy. One by one he called them in for a private chat.

He opened with acknowledging how important he thought their roles were to the team’s success. They each agreed with that. Then he asked a fairly pointed question.

co-workers not trusting

Ted Went First

Dan started “I’ve been watching the development of this leadership team. We’ve been working to understand the clarity of our purpose and align our resources for the best outcomes toward our goals. Yet I sense a reluctance from you. I’d really like to understand what it is that is blocking things for you.”

Ted was pretty quick to respond. He said “Dan, I haven’t been honest with you. I’ve been at this company for a long time. This latest change is too much for me. I’m eligible to retire and I think now is the right time to do that.”

Dan was not surprised, that made perfect sense. He responded “Ted, I’d sure hate to lose you, but I respect everything you’ve done here. Is there anything that might help you change your mind?”

Ted smiled a wry grin. “Thanks, but no. It’s time. This has nothing to do with you or the company. I just need to get serious with my own situation and quit holding you guys back. It’s been a good run. I want to leave a good legacy.”

Dan said “Thank you for that honesty. If there’s anything I can do while you get situated, let me know.”

On the Other Hand

Sandy’s talk didn’t go so well. Dan opened the same way but got a totally different reaction.

Sandy shook her head and replied “I just don’t trust these people. I’ve worked with a few of them before and know what they do behind people’s backs.”

Dan thought about how contrary this sounded based on his own history with the team from prior assignments. He knew about their performance elsewhere and the accolades they had gotten from others, both above and below them in the organization.

He simply said to Sandy, “Tell me more.”

“Well…..” and her list began. Interesting to Dan was the level of petty complaints he heard. He was shocked at just how petty many of these grievances sounded when compared to the duties Sandy had on her plate.

He had not known Sandy that well from before, but had always relied on her technical delivery of work product and was pleased. Yet hearing her voiced concerns about others made him realize one big thing about Sandy.

She really didn’t trust anyone.

The Leader’s Boundaries

In the effort to be an effective leader, there are many things you must do but there are some you cannot do.

Becoming a therapist for an employee who exhibits behaviors that are not conducive to good teamwork is just not something you should delve into.

We’ve all been there before, realizing you have an employee who has some psycho-emotional baggage that will not allow open and reliable cooperation on the team.

So what do you do?

First, don’t let it get personal. Stick to team outcomes when describing expectations. Make those expectations very clear.

Shifting the Spotlight

Watch for tell-tale signs of behavioral problems. An untrusting soul may often try to shift the spotlight away from themselves onto others.

anger at work

Examples include placing blame for minor matters and accusing others of “failing” to deliver properly. They somehow think that constantly churning the team around them will keep the focus away from their own issues.

Someone who is more trusting will accept responsibility and become vulnerable to things needing more attention.

I’ve seen situations where the highest performer on the team was actually the least trusting individual. Despite adding significant value to the team, they cause so much confusion and disruption, their actual worth starts to be questionable.

This latter situation may be the leader’s biggest challenge. If you’ve ever been frustrated by someone’s behavior yet asked yourself something like this “Can I afford to lose them?”, you should start the process to do just that.

Keeping a team member who will never trust the rest of the team will derail everything you may try to accomplish. It happens every time.

Question: When was a time that you had someone on your team who couldn’t trust others? Leave a comment.

Leaders Don’t Kick the Can and Check the Box

Busy-ness is all around us. You hear complaints about how tired and frustrated people can be because of all the work they have going on.

Once upon a time, having work was a blessing, not a curse. Yet many workers in all walks and in all roles complain of just how busy they are.

Kicking the can and checking the boxes

If you lead a work team, there is a great pressure to kick the can down the road and tick a box. Box checking is our way of feeling a sense of accomplishment.

Ah Ha, the task is done!

Not so fast!

There’s no doubt we need to see progress toward a goal; projects need completing, deadlines must be met, and so on.

However, if the way you measure success has anything to do with the number of boxes checked, you might need to stop.

The more important question is whether the activity that is being checked off has a meaningful contribution towards desired performance.

ticking boxes off a list

As a leader, you need a system for tracking progress toward your desired goals.

The vision you see before you must be broken down into chunks that can be clearly communicated to the team.

Each person on the team must have clarity for the work they are supposed to be doing.

So what can a Leader do?

Keeping your focus about tracking meaningful contribution toward goal achievement can be realized by implementing a very simple method. The method/system is called “Big 5 Performance Management.”

With the Big 5 system, managers ask their direct reports to prepare a simple monthly report.

The report has only two parts. The first part is the top five individual accomplishments for the month. The other part is the top five priorities for the next month.

Accomplishments and priorities are tied to the individual responsibilities assigned.

Logically, what you entered as priorities last month should be accomplishments this month. If not, then address the matters that got in the way of achieving your stated objectives for the month.

This report is prepared within the first five days of the new month (keeping the Big 5 theme). Managers can review the reports with all the directs.

Going over the Big 5 report gives the manager and the employee the opportunity for a coaching moment.

coaching moment

Proper recognition for achievement can be shared as well as alignment on priorities. Any variances can be explored, evaluated, aligned and set in motion.

With a rigorous and faithful implementation of this Big 5 discipline, the bigger goals can be cumulatively achieved by the Leader’s group.

Simple elegance

The listing of each of the top five things is a simple bulleted list, not a long narrative. Save the lengthy discussion for the one on one coaching time.

In fact, this Big 5 Report can be accomplished in a single email from each party. (However, there is a cloud-based app for this if you are interested).

If this sounds too simple to make a difference, think again. I’ve had personal experience using Big 5 in several leadership roles from my past.

Each time it was used, my teams achieved more with less, hit higher performance marks, and achieved greater results. Why?

We did these things because the whole team literally ‘stayed on the same page.’ Forces from outside that may have otherwise robbed us of time and attention were identified early and dealt with properly.

We even found ourselves with extra time to look at creative opportunities that came up along the way, thus improving margin and total revenue.

When you feel overwhelmed by the Busy-ness of your work, think Big 5. Don’t just kick the can and check the box.

PS –

For a team to operate at its best, each member of the team must answer six key questions about the team before they feel a sense of trust and have a willingness to commit their “discretionary effort” toward goal completion.

(For more on these critical six questions, visit my Team Trust Model here.)

Leaders Must Impact the Networks Around Them

Spend any time at a particular company and you will find yourself part of an informal network. This network is above and beyond the boxes on the org chart.

Your ability to build and effectively manage the networks around you might just be the single biggest advantage you might have as a leader.

making the best of networking

Build the right networks and you will have a much easier time executing on your activity.

These networks form for many reasons

These networks spring up for many reasons; some intentional, others not so much.

You might build relationships with certain people based on the responsibilities you have. Because a particular project or work team has a unique set of objectives, you meet and deal with new people across the organization; people who can help you achieve those objectives.

Once your assignment is over, you retain those contacts in one degree or another. Sadly, many very successful relationships wither over time because the common goal has been accomplished and is no longer relevant. Rather than maintaining the working relationship, we merely “move on” to other things.

In popular terminology, we think of this relationship building as “networking”.

Networking is not so new

For many years, whole industries have relied upon networking to grow and expand businesses. Trade associations number in the thousands. Annual conventions are held to allow industry participants to gather and exchange ideas or meet new people. Networking on steroids.

networking huddle group

Professionals rely upon networking outside the company to find new job opportunities.

But knowing when and how to grow a network inside your company can be a challenge.

Neural Networks

The inner workings of a high-value network can be explained by some mind science.

Let’s take a minute to talk about neural networks. Neural networks were first proposed in 1944 by Warren McCullough and Walter Pitts, two University of Chicago researchers who moved to MIT in 1952 as founding members of what’s sometimes called the first cognitive science department.

The principles of neural networking have formed the basis of artificial intelligence and machine learning. See the video link below to hear a basic explanation of neural networking.

The key takeaways here involve two important values. First, there is the value of the “node” or in the case of people, the person with whom you connect.

And there is the value of the connection itself. Think of the significance someone might add to your network if you are connected with them.

In simpler terms, a person might have great knowledge and experience to share, which is helpful. But it will be significantly more important to have them as a connection if their role is also of great value.

Applying the meaning of neural networks.

As you work to build and maintain your networks, think in terms of these two values.

Is the person of value to the effort? Ask yourself can I learn from them?

Is the role of important value? Can I gain from the influence this person might have at work?

Having said this, it all sounds a bit self-serving. But you too must provide value, both with you know and the role you play, in order to be a contributing member of a network.

Leaders learn how to deliver value for others first before asking for something in return. It’s similar to the old schoolyard adage about “If you want a friend, be a friend.”

If you want a powerful network at work, become a powerful contributor to others.

A cautionary tale

There is one big caveat here. In addition to building strong, effective networks, you may need to rely on mentoring from those above you in the chain.

Senior leader mentoring younger employee

I’m not sure you specifically “network” with those who have seniority in the organization. You build connections for sure. But you may need some guidance and development from those above you.

While you may have plenty to offer others above you in terms of technical experience and knowledge, there may be more to learn than what you have to offer.

In that case, you need to find the right opportunity to explore the willingness of those more senior to mentor you. No need to fall on a sword about lack of something. Instead, present the idea as something of respect and admiration for their expertise.

Ask if they might be willing to become a mentor. A vast majority of senior grade employees I know love the idea of giving back by mentoring those elsewhere in the organization.

Living and Leaving a Legacy

At some point in everyone’s life, three questions haunt your thinking.

Who am I? Why am I here? And where am I going?

Perhaps you’ve visited these questions more than once, stopping at various stages; the ones we think of as defining moments. Events like getting married, having children, changing jobs, buying a new house, and moving into that house create opportunities to examine ourselves.

As the years go by, our thinking shifts slightly. I submit that the three questions change too. The trio becomes:

  • How did I do?
  • What difference did it make?
  • How will I be remembered?

All three get rolled together to become the Legacy we leave behind.

Many of my executive coaching clients are concerned about that legacy. They know the company isn’t going to name a building after them, but they wonder whether their leadership influence matters.

Just about the time you think you have answers to all the questions, life throws you a curveball.

Life’s Surprises

Recently I received an email from someone introducing themselves as my first cousin from my paternal grandmother’s side of the family.

I’ve been following my family genealogy for quite some time. I knew I had reached a dead end on the branch that was my grandmother.

legacy tree

Because of the power of the Ancestry.com database, the first cousin found me. She had begun building her family tree only a few weeks ago, yet there I was in the database.

We have already spoken by phone, exchanged many family photos, and made plans for future connections.

I had resigned myself to the notion that this portion of my history was going to go unknown. In fact, I’ve been thinking that all of my adult life.

Yet now, I have a whole new light to shine in my story. It has brought new energy and excitement to things.

It turns out this family line is a Lewis family; notably of the Lewis and Clark Expedition as well as some Hawkins namesakes who trace relationship to Davy Crockett (of the Alamo). I now have a complete line of heritage that includes military service in the American Revolution, War of 1812, the Civil War and both World Wars.

I realize many Americans can claim similar family history, but it made me proud all over again for the roots and legacy others left me.

It has created a renewed commitment to live my remaining years to the full.

So What?

The big so-what is that we all should take time periodically to recalibrate. We need reflection on the things that have happened. We need to reaffirm our purpose.

For the things that have already happened, you can make amends for shortcomings. For those yet to happen, make stronger plans driven by better choices.

I use a tool to define a personal purpose vision statement. Once this has been done the first time, it’s helpful to review it periodically to account for life events that may have changed your perspective. If you’d like a free copy of the Power of the Personal Purpose tool click here.

If you need someone to work through the next chapter with you, I am always available to come alongside as your coach or mentor.

Leaders – Where Are Your People?

Maslow helps us understand.

This question is not a literal one. You see your people daily. Rather it is a figurative idea.

If you manage and lead any part of a business, you likely have a team surrounding you. Regardless of them being co-workers, direct reports, peers, or superiors, they are fellow human beings.

They come to work, do their jobs, and go home to whatever personal life they have chosen.

During the “time on the clock” though, there is a state of mind that drives all of the potential within your team.

I challenge my coaching clients to become sensitive to this state of mind within their employees and peers.

Maslow’s Way of Saying It

Likely you’ve heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The premise is loosely stated as there is a pyramid of human needs that progress from a very basic survival state all the way to enlightenment and self-actualization.

The stages are survival, security, belonging, importance, and self-actualization.

According to Maslow, we cannot operate at a higher level unless the lower levels are satisfied. Starting out with basic needs for food and shelter, you can not self-actualize if you are hungry and afraid.

We progress up the needs chain in the normal order of human existence.

Stephen R. Covey describes the hierarchy in more simple terms; live, love, learn, leave a legacy. Powerful.

Same Thing Happens at Work

I argue that this same principle applies to work. Each person comes to work operating somewhere within the same hierarchy of needs.

The shifts may not be too severe from day to day, but they do happen.

The person who has a big blow-up with their spouse right before leaving for work will approach the day in a different mindset than someone who left home with a warm hug and kisses.

Recently I shared this graphic across all of my social media platforms. I didn’t share any commentary, just the infographic.

Maslow applied to employee engagement

The reaction was widespread, near viral. So I thought we should explore it in more detail.

A person’s position on the hierarchy dictates their ability to engage at work. Plain and simple. As you move up or down the grid, you are either more or less likely to have the willingness to contribute any discretionary effort.

The lower you sit on the scale, the less likely is your voluntary contribution and connection at work. Conversely, the higher up the scale, the more likely you will be to engage and contribute “above and beyond.”

Question: Think about your own path at work. Are there days when you feel less engaged than others?