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What’s Your Self-Development Plan?

If you’re thinking I’m asking about your personal self-development plan, you’d be only half right. So often we segregate our lives into personal and professional. But I’m in disagreement with this view.

We aren’t made up of compartments – we live whole lives. That means, when we think about goals and aspirations regarding our career, family, health and finances we need to look at our own big life picture.

Think of your life as a spider’s web. All parts are held in balance with each other, albeit sometimes tenuous. Whatever happens in one aspect of our life has impact on others.

As an executive leadership coach, I work with clients wanting to develop their professional competencies. In order to do that, it’s critical that we also look at how other aspects of their lives intersect with their learning.

Having a self-development plan is critical to your success. Being complacent and letting life happen is fine but won’t ensure you’re learning, reflecting and moving forward with intention.

At times your plan’s emphasis will be on health and other times career. But keeping the big picture in mind will help you achieve your goals. For example, if you’re planning to start a family, how will you realistically continue to meet your career objectives? Or if work is taking over your life, how is that supporting your health?

Consider approaching your self-development plan with these questions:

  1. What are the priorities in your life right now? This can change from time to time and that’s okay. Base your plan on what’s important to you now.
  2. What is your Why? How might you focus on what your purpose is to help build your self-development plan?
  3. What aspect of your life has room to give in order to put more emphasis into other parts of your life?
  4. What is the learning you want to put in your plan and how does that relate to the various aspects of your life? (Hint: it should support more than one goal)
  5. What do you want to have achieved in 2, 5 and 10 years? (Knowing of course that life changes along the way)
  6. What if you were to make this plan about you and what you want? As opposed to what you think others want of you? How will that affect your plan?
  7. What will you need to ensure you’re accountable in following your plan?

There are multitudes of templates, tools and approaches you can use to support your plan. MindTools offers some great tools for free. The important thing is that you set it up to work for you.

The key to a successful plan and the ability to see it through rests with its simplicity and detail.

That’s right. The challenge is to not make it more than you can possibly achieve. But it does require putting in both where you want to get to and how you are going to do it. The “how” requires specific activities that will help to move you forward.

As you create these activities look for the links and impacts to each part of your life. If furthering your education will take up the majority of your time, how will that impact your family life? How might you reorganize your time to meet your family commitments? Are there opportunities to combine your goals or use the space in between work or education to do healthy activities?

Finally, keep it simple by chunking your goals into time frames. Life shifts and being able to keep to your goals and activities is easier if you put them in 1-3 month periods.

Creating your self-development plan is your responsibility. Make it work for you. The results will follow!

When your why shifts

Lately I’ve had a spate of clients who struggle with understanding why their current position isn’t satisfying them anymore. They know something isn’t right but are caught in the “can’t see the forest for the trees”. They may even know something needs to change but through fear, stress or loyalty, they are stuck.

I know the feeling – I’ve been there. I never aspired to work in the public sector, but there I found myself. We had two young children and my husband starting his own business. Pension, benefits and a regular paycheck were my WHY.

It worked brilliantly for a long time – until it didn’t. This didn’t happen overnight. As my children got older I started to question my values and aspirations. My values weren’t lining up with the company’s culture.

In retrospect I can see that my original WHY was no longer working for me. But at the time I was caught up with the stress, the loyalty and no idea for my future.

My story isn’t unique. What I’ve learned is that as we move through life, our context changes and for many of us, we don’t recognize the need to change with it. Simply put, as we change, so too might our WHY.

Let’s take a closer look at what your WHY really means.

Basically your WHY is your motivation. It’s your purpose. For many of us it can be strongly influenced by our external context at a point in time.

I researched articles and studies on how motivation (your WHY) impacts your work and job choices. I’m intrigued by the work of Lisa A. Mainiero and Sherry E. Sullivan, whose research focused on a five-year study examining women and men’s career patterns. Their term Kaleidoscope Career describes:

“…a career created on your own terms, defined not by a corporation but by your own values, life choices, and parameters. Like a kaleidoscope, your career is dynamic and in motion; as your life changes, you can alter your career to adjust to these changes.”

Their work found that a complex interplay among issues of authenticity, balance, and challenge are behind why we shift careers through our life course. It’s about taking stock of career decisions and making changes to meet:

1. An individual’s needs for challenge, career advancement, and self-worth juxtaposed against
2. A family’s need for balance, relationships, and caregiving, intersected by
the person’s need to say,
3. “What about me?” “How can I be authentic, true to myself and make genuine decisions for myself in my life?”

While Mainiero and Sullivan found subtle differences between how men and women approached their career shifts, ultimately it’s the shifting context of their lives that impacts their need to change course.

So what does this mean for your career? And even more important – what does it mean for YOU?

If you’re like many of my clients who come to me disenchanted with their current work, it’s time to assess what’s beneath this feeling. It takes a bit of inner work and reflection, coupled with honestly assessing your current life context.

Here are steps to help you discover what exactly is going on and how to move forward:

1. Get clear on how you’re feeling and behaving – are you irritable, bored, stuck or blaming your discomfort on your workplace? These are key signs something’s up.
2. Make a list of your top 10 values. Ask yourself if these align with your work and your workplace. A strong misalignment is a sure sign it’s time to move on.
3. Reflect back on why you started on this career or took your current position. What were your reasons?
4. Consider what’s different in your current life stage and context?

With this data, you can look at your situation from the outside in. Has your original motivation for career or job choice become stale? Is your passion to excel and deliver still ignited?

Next is the critical question – what exactly is your WHY now?

If it’s the same reason it’s always been, then great. This may mean it’s time to shift companies or reach forward to a new level.

But if your WHY has shifted, it’s time to make a plan toward aligning your WHY with a career change. I can’t tell you what that would be. It’s yours to discover. What I can do is suggest next steps.

Google has pages of blogs, how-to’s and articles on mid career changes. I’d highly recommend working with a career coach. They have tools and roadmaps to help you uncover potential opportunities and plan next steps. Talk with family to understand how this will impact your status quo (i.e. financial, location, time etc.) will help solidify your plan.

We’ve all heard the saying, “you only live once”. But that one life shifts and changes over time. What worked well in our twenties and thirties won’t necessarily fulfill us in our late forties and fifties. Being aware of your WHY and assessing that against your current reality means taking responsibility for you, your career and your future. If this article describes you, it’s time to discover your next chapter!

This I do know for sure.

Are you the “I” in influencer?

Influencer is one of those words that we often hear bandied about these days. “She’s a Huff Post influencer.” Or “In fashion circles, he’s THE influencer.” These are the people who capture attention and move ideas across broader audiences.

But there’s another type of influencer: one that requires critical skills for anyone aiming to provide executive level value or get ahead in the workplace.  This influencer has a keen sense of business acumen, excellent communication skills and is known as “the go-to person” for pushing innovation.

When I was a senior leader in a large organization, the HR Director told me I had a lot of power in the organization. I didn’t understand what she meant at first. I watched myself over the next few weeks and realized I have the gift of influence.

In my coaching practice, the idea of being able to sway or inspire others is a recurring theme. With flatter organizations and dotted-line authority for other employees, having the ability to engage and lead others with influence may be the only way to get the project or work done effectively.

I have an idea of what being an influencer means, but I wanted to find out what the “experts” say makes an effective influencer. For me it’s intuitive; so how can I coach others in developing this skill?

Naturally I started with Dale Carnegie’s seminal How to Win Friends and Influence People, arguably the most popular self-help book ever published! Along with common communication behaviors such as listening and engaging with honey rather than sour lemons, here’s a couple of Carnegie’s gems:

  • Let the other person do a great deal of the talking
  • Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers
  • Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view
  • Talk in terms of the other person’s interest
  • Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely

Suzanne Bates, author of numerous books on leadership, believes that to influence, a leader must have “executive presence” or gravitas. She defines executive presence as having three distinct dimensions – Style, Substance, and Character. She further explains that influence is who you are and how others perceive you.

Let’s take that one step further. The art of influence is about the interplay between two concepts:

1. There’s an “I” in influencer. And, of course the degree to which you step up to your “I” depends on how self aware you are and your ability to see how others see you.

2. An idea or solution is just that. Nothing more. Unless you embed and describe it within a context. It’s conveying the “WHY” behind the idea. That ‘s when people pay attention.

Let’s break these two concepts down even more.

The first concept is about you’re internal self and how it manifests in your style and behavior. Your strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. For example, if you’re someone who needs to be right, chances are your ability to influence is low. If your motivation is to support others in their success, your influence quotient will be higher. It’s about engaging in active listening, sharing information openly and being curious. Not to mention understanding your potential impacts on others from their point of view. Think of this concept as the “HOW” you persuade or influence.

Understanding the core of the issue and why it’s important to the business is the second concept. This is conveying why a + b will = c. It’s having business acumen to understand the bigger picture, its inherent complexities and, in turn, helping others get on board. Say your company decides to make a shift in policy affecting staff. There’s a better chance change will happen if you openly discuss WHY it’s in the best interest of the company and what’s behind the decision.

If these two concepts blend together, they become a powerful way to influence others. With innovation and the lightening speed of change, being an influencer can be the growing edge in your career or business.

Want to be a great influencer? Start with developing your self-awareness and communicate exactly the reason why you or (your business) do what you do.

Are you ready to put the “I” in INFLUENCER?

Why we need to Shine light on the Shadow

My general rule when writing my posts is to not dip into political waters. And this post is no exception. But every time I read the news or open social media I’m bombarded with political updates that test my belief in political culture – or at least the culture behind it in many countries.

The current election season in America is a case in point. Although I don’t live in the US, my proximity means I’m not immune to the influence it assumes on North America. We share many, but not all values and viewpoints.

My nature is to look beyond rhetoric and mudslinging to what lies underneath as a way of understanding the values and behaviors of society, where we’re lacking and where there’s possibility. When there’s an earthquake of fear and distrust pushing then it is time to pay serious attention.

If there’s one potentially good thing that could come out of the American election, it is this: to shine a light on the shadow women continue to experience despite great gains towards equality.
out of the shadow

It’s a shadow of haziness where subtle sexual aggression that is often passed of as “it’s just him”, “he doesn’t mean it” or “it’s nothing” slam up against “it’s because you’re pretty”, “you encourage it” or “keep quiet”. And so we learn early on in our lives to keep such behaviors in the shadows out of fear, confusion and safety.

I’m talking about unwanted advances and unsolicited judgments by men toward women who still believe such behavior is perfectly okay. These are the behaviors that don’t leave a physical mark or make it into the courtroom. These are the everyday actions that women endure, put up with and perhaps pretend didn’t happen. And it still goes on.

I could write a page of examples I’ve experienced in school or workplace during my lifetime, not to mention times I’ve been heckled, groped or harassed socially. I could tell you how dis-empowering it feels being chased around a desk by a boss or be cornered at a family event by a male in-law relative with an unexpected and unwanted tongue kiss.

What I’d rather do is have an open conversation about how this kind of behavior still exists and what we can do about it going forward. The events and behaviors around the US election have given us a huge opportunity to take this can of worms and really examine it for what it truly is.

The truth is the oppression and objectification of women is alive and well and not relegated to a few men in a locker room. It exists in the boardroom, the lunchroom and down the hall by the water cooler.

So what if we all started by suspending judgment on whether or not it exists and start asking each other and ourselves simple questions to help create awareness and understanding of this critical issue:

1. What exists within the shadow of subtle sexual aggression, unwanted advances and unsolicited judgments by men toward women? What does it look like?

2. What do women feel when they experience the shadow?

3. Why do women not call out the perpetrator as an aggression occurs?

4. How have experiences of the shadow gone on to influence women’s lives?

5. What do men feel when they engage in subtle sexual aggression, unwanted advances and unsolicited judgments?

6. What do men feel and do when they witness another man engaging in this behavior?

7. How does the current culture of your workplace support, deny, ignore or disallow shadow behavior?

8. In what ways are we culturally enabling this behavior to perpetuate?

9. In what ways can we let go of blame and collaborate to educate each other of the danger and damage of shadow behavior?

10. What will it take for you to become part of the solution of shedding light on the shadow?

You may be thinking this is a simplistic way of addressing a complex issue of long-held beliefs and behaviors. And that is exactly the point.

Yes it’s shameful treatment of girls and women. Yes it’s unacceptable. And yes it has to end. But until we talk about it and try to understand all the perspectives involved, it will continue unchecked.

Whether it’s at the dinner table or at work, let’s use the opportunity of shedding light on the shadow of sometimes subtle and often upfront sexually intimidating or unwanted behavior that has too long been pervasive in our society.

Are you ready to start the conversation?