Empathy matters

Let me begin by confessing that I’m a bit of an idiot sometimes…

Long story short, I had an iPhone from Verizon that ran out of contract. I found a new carrier that wouldn’t lock me into a 2 year contract. If you know anything about people born after 1978, you know that we don’t really like anyone to tie us down. Oh, and it’s roughly 1/2 price from what Big Red was charging me.

verizonAs a part of the switch, I ordered a new SIM card, popped it in, and then got an error message that this card wouldn’t work because my carrier had to unlock the phone. No problem, right? The phone was paid for.

When that happened, it ported my number from Verizon as if the SIM card worked. Because it didn’t work, I now have a service with a new carrier but no phone that will allow me to use it. That’s when I called Verizon…

“We don’t do that,” the customer service agent said, “we only unlock it if you’re going overseas and want to get a carrier over there.”

Funny thing is, the other carriers will unlock an iPhone, but Verizon says they won’t. Hmmmm…

What emotions do you think I felt?

Yep, all of those. It’s been a few days now (without a cell phone – man I’m in the stone ages) and I’ve had time for my lizard brain to subside and my adult brain kick in. It got me to thinking about empathy.

You see, before this, I wouldn’t have thought much about a company basically refusing to release something that I gave them hard earned money for. Heck, Wouldn’t have crossed my mind because that would be practically stealing! Not so anymore.

Unfortunately, I had to experience first hand the experience of dealing with a company policy that makes me feel like I’m dealing with a thief, or at the very least, a company who doesn’t care even a little bit about me as a customer.

This, however, is not Empathy, it’s Sympathy. Sympathy is feeling the same thing as someone else because you’ve felt it. Empathy is understanding that feeling without ever having necessarily felt that yourself.

I do not have enough empathy. In my job working with successful corporate leaders, I find that my problem is a common one. That’s no excuse; I need more.

Ask yourself, do I empathize? Can I understand and anticipate the way people feel, even if I don’t feel the same way? If you’re a leader, you should probably ask a series of questions like this:

What are we doing that makes people angry? Sad? Frustrated? Feel less important?

I’ll bet that there are great people at Verizon. I’ll bet that some of them can sympathize with my situation. It appears that the problem is that the leaders of that particular company have an Empathy gap. They only see things in terms of dollars and cents and haven’t been able to see what their customer is experiencing. That’s a shame.

Puppy empathySo thanks, Verizon, for helping me stop a minute and think. I am trying to “Make progress every day.”

What about you? Do you have empathy? If so, we need to talk. I have to get better at this if I’m going to serve the way I need to serve. Let’s connect!

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FISO – Fit In before you Stand Out

“You have to Fit In before you can Stand Out.”

This is a lesson that one of my really smart grad school professors taught me. I certainly think it’s true. Here’s why:

Anytime we take on a new role, whether it’s a new job, new volunteer position, a new anything, there are a couple of things we need to remember:

  1. There are established group norms that you need to understand. It’s a challenge when you jump in with a new perspective and identify problems that need to be fixed. To be successful long term, you need to operate within the framework that exists. Otherwise, you’ll alienate people and make it very difficult to change anything.
  2. As a leader, you inspire people and lead them from where they are. Think about it. If I told you that the way you’d been doing things is completely wrong and you were obviously not as smart as I am since you’re doing it that way, you’d totally blow me off, right? That’s kind of what happens without people saying it out loud. You must build alliances before you go into battle.
  3. You cannot have my mind, until you have my heart. That’s something that many people just don’t understand. There is no shortage of good ideas. There is a shortage of good ideas that are effectively implemented. If you don’t win me over as a person, I don’t give two hoots about your ideas. The upside to this is that when you have won my heart, I’ll go with you and fight for you in ways you never thought possible.

As you move into anything new, look for ways to FISO. Small wins early mean much more than a big “win” that costs you long term.

You’re smart. You’ve got great ideas. You’ve got what it takes…if you’re patient. As a Gen Y, that’s not the way we’re wired. Ironically enough, that is the way we’re led.

You want to contribute. You want to make a difference. You want to be valued and appreciated. So does the new team you’re on.

What do you think? Does FISO sound credible to you?

Learning to Lead

We are the most educated generation ever. No, I don’t mean we have learned from our experience, necessarily, but that we have the most education…formally…of any other before us. Our parents made it clear that college wasn’t an option for most of us – it was a requirement.

Now, we enter the workforce after a minimum of 16 years in the educational system (many of us close to doubling that with Pre-K and grad school) and if we don’t know how to do anything else, we know how to learn.

That’s a double edged sword.

On one hand, we’ve been in school and learning so long that we are very accustomed to learning regularly both formally and informally thanks to the modern information era. On the other, for the first time in our lives we don’t have a professor who holds our grades in his hand and dangles the threat of a ‘FAIL’ over us to get us moving so we can finally breathe…

Frankly, after seeing Gen Y hit the workforce over the last few years, I’m convinced it’s about a 50/50 split. Of course, if you’re reading this, you’re in the 1st group. Congrats!

For those of us who want to keep learning, now what?

Related: Hey Millennials! Learn to lead!!!

I was reading an article written by Kayla Cruz over on YouTern and she eloquently articulates how companies need to offer more leadership development courses to it’s non-supervisory workforce. I agree.

That said, let’s assume you work for a company which DOES offer leadership development opportunities. 

Time to milk the system!!!

Most people get promoted and then learn how to be managers. When someone in management vacates the position, the organization has to get someone in there quickly so there is a very short training period (if any) to get them up to speed. The problem is that managing a function requires a much different skill set than working in that system. That’s when most people flock to training sessions to figure out what to do.

Not us – we are the high achievers (just ask our mom).

We want to learn. We want to grow. We want to run things better, work harder work smarter and contribute right away (we need a trophy!!!).

Take your initiative and put it to work. 

Many entry level positions have down time and offer the perfect opportunity to take classes. Maybe the company isn’t willing to fly you to Vegas for the conference you’ve always wanted (if so, can I work for you?), but there are opportunities all around if you look. 

So, where do I find learning opportunities?

  1. Professional Associations. I’m in training and Development and we have a local association that provides monthly sessions on various T&D topics for $15/month. I figured out that the VP of Programs determined what those topics would be so I volunteered to become the VP of Programs…(what, it’s not all about me?)
  2. Young Professional Groups. Every city has YP groups that offer great social events and learning opportunities. They’re also great places to meet people if you’re new to a city. You can find out where the best places are to eat, drink, and work.
  3. Webinars/Blogs. Don’t quit reading. I know most are crap, but some really are good ways to learn management skills – especially if you can’t leave the office during your down time. Oh, and there are a TON of free ones so it doesn’t cost a thing.
  4. Your company’s training department. True, they made you sit through a video that’s older than I am about how you can’t discriminate (or some other topic circa 1981), but often they offer a lot more than you might realize when it comes to leadership development. Generally, for the non you-screwed-up-now-let’s-send-you-to-training-to-fix-you classes, you have to be proactive and search them out. Ask your manager. Ask the Training Manager. Just ask!

What about you? How do you learn? How are you developing the skills you need for when you’re the one hired into that management role? 

Don’t be like the crappy bosses who really “don’t have a clue what they’re doing.” Be prepared! 

Motivation in the workplace

Today, I was teaching a class on Motivation in the workplace. I asked the class to raise their hand if they knew what their organizations mission & vision was…

Crickets…

That’s really, really sad! How can people make effective contributions if they don’t know which way the organization is headed?

Regardless of the generation, people need to understand the ‘WHY’ before they can figure out the what.

Oh, they’ll put in the hours and they’ll do their jobs well enough to not get fired, and they might even work hard enough to do their job well.

But they won’t really buy-in.

A few days ago, we talked about the importance of getting their heart before you get their head. The great thing about getting the heart is that the soul follows. Everyone wants to pour their soul into something but few people make that something their work.

I’m not talking about life-work balance (and yes, I said that in the correct order), but rather connecting with the mission in a way that it becomes part of your life. When that happens, your organization can tackle anything.

I’m a GenY. For us, it’s more important than ever to tie the mission to our job. Without a purpose, we do things like quit, check out, surf FB, text our friends and tell them how miserable we are, and so on. If we have purpose, we’ll still surf FB and text our friends, but it’ll be to tell them how AWESOME our job is and how much we love it.

When’s the last time you heard that? Does your organization tie its mission and values to everyday work? Are people so excited to make a difference that they’ll think about it long after 5:00pm?

Do you even know your mission? Can you tell me what it is? Not verbatim, but really tell me what it means?

People can’t get there if they don’t know the destination.

Gen Y can learn from Saint Peter too!

Leadership lessons from the Bible

I wanted to share a leadership lesson with you that comes from 1 Peter chapter 1 in the bible. Saint Peter is considered by Catholics as the 1st Pope so I think it’s relevant to consider him in the leadership conversation.

Backstory:

Peter is writing to early Christians about 30 yrs after the crucifixion. They were a very discouraged group who were apparently on the verge of giving up. They were faced with the challenge of not only keeping the faith, but also doing so under the very real threat of persecution up to the point of being killed. Talk about a tough life! I thought it was tough not getting promoted the 1st year…

Anyway, Saint Peter decides to write to them to clarify a few things but ultimately wants to change some of their behavior. He wants them to do certain things and act a certain way and feels this is his best chance to get the message across.

In the 1st 12 verses, he reminds them of why they’re special – how they’re chosen by God – how they’re going to be rewarded. He spends a good part of the chapter explaining how much they have going for them before launching into the changes in behavior he’s suggesting. Instead of cracking on their inadequacies, he begins with appreciation for what they are.

The leadership lesson:

You cannot have my mind until you have my heart.

Gen Y, what’s the lesson for us? I think it’s just as true today as it was 2000 years ago.

We have great ideas. We see behaviors that should be changed, processes that should be reworked/eliminated, and attitudes that need adjusting. There is little doubt that we bring a sense of optimism to the world. We hope to change the world for the better and often don’t understand why older generations want us to just ‘wait our turn’.

IT’S OUR FAULT THEY DON’T EMBRACE OUR MESSAGE.

Why? Because we come in and start barking about how things need to change but we fail to win them over before trying to make it happen.

We have to appeal to their hearts before we appeal to their heads.

Turns out Saint Pete was a pretty smart dude, right?

How can we appeal to their hearts? Remember, the heart isn’t logical; it’s emotional…

How to turn creativity into productivity

Act like you know what’s going on and people assume you do.

It’s really not much more complicated than that.

I see this almost everyday of my life. For those of you who don’t really know me, I’m going to reveal a secret that I learned long ago (from a Boomer) that can really help you as you assimilate into the workplace.

This video of Brett Cohen has over 3 million hits on YouTube. Go watch it. I’ll wait…

I love the premise. This is the kind of creativity that Gen Y is capable of, yet the frustration for many of our older generations is that we use this creativity on such “useless” things. Why would you spend all that time working on something that wasn’t going to advance your career?

I think it’s a brilliant example of something I learned from a Boomer (my dad) on April 8, 1994. I remember the date well. I was SOOOOO embarrassed!!!

Michael Jordan was really a superstar when I was little. Some say the world has never seen a better basketball player. On that night, he was making his minor league baseball debut here in Birmingham, AL. Somehow, we got tickets.

There we were – my mom, dad, little sister, and I, walking up to a stadium that was buzzing with CRAZY media coverage. As we walked into the stadium, my dad did the usual – embarrassed me to no end – when he said, “hey, let’s go over here and see if we can get in the press gate.”

“Dad,” I sighed, “you can’t do that. Let’s just go get our seats.” (insert multiple eye rolls here)

As if he had some spidey-sense of how to embarrass me, he took off with my little sister in tow. My mom and I went and sat down.

The entire time I sat there fuming about my dad’s attempt to make me the laughing stock of the world and imagining how we’d have to leave after he got thrown in jail, or at the very least thrown out of the stadium.

A few minutes later, to my horror, I see my dad and little sister emerging onto the field from the dugout.

OMG! Can I shrink down into this chair anymore!!!  Continue reading

Gen Y believes they ARE working hard and proving themselves…

Managing multiple generationsBoomers believe way to get ahead is to outwork everyone else. They’re the first into the office and the last to leave. As a matter of fact, they are there way before we get there…(that’s how they know we’re 5 minutes late).

Heck, a lot of us think they actually live at the office…guess that explains the smell!

As most experts will tell you, one key piece of motivating Gen Y is to make sure they understand how what they’re doing ties in with the overall organizational goals.

I think the problem is that most organizations either don’t think they don’t need to share the organizational goals with young workers, or they think they have.

Both are usually wrong.

So how are Gen Yers supposed to navigate the organizational landscape? How are we supposed to know what it takes to succeed? The Boomers think we’re too young and the Xers think we’re too dumb to ‘get it’. Unfortunately, the way we act often solidifies the stereotype in their minds.

I know what you’re thinking…”That’s BS!!!” “This is the way I am! My parents told me I could do anything I set my mind to and these yoyos are in the way! Seniority is dumb! Promotions should be based on performance!”

It think all 4 of the generations in the workplace today can agree on one basic thing: Performance should determine your success.

The problem: all 4 define perf./success differently.

Traditionalists: Success = fitting in (almost all are military vets)

Boomers: Success = Job security (achieved by working harder than anyone else)

Gen X: Success = Having the most skills so that you’re marketable to many employers

Gen Y: Success = Making the most impact to the organization – RIGHT NOW!

Who knows how this will shake out over the next few years? I certainly don’t. I do know that these definitions vary wildly and cause a ton of headache in the workplace.

Do you agree? Do you fit into the stereotypical definitions for your generation?

Now let’s talk about how we need to act so that all 4 play nice…someone has to be the leader…why can’t it be us?

GenX: Millennials won’t work for it…

Gen Y navigating their careers(Cont’d from earlier post)

Okay, I’m back. Latte in hand.

You saw it didn’t you? I knew you would.

Problems always occur when we try to superimpose our beliefs onto others.  In this case, I suspected Susan was an Xer from the language. She is explaining to people what she has observed in Gen Y. I don’t disagree with her, except that you have to recognize that everything you view is based on your own perspective.

The statement went like this: “There is an expectation within Gen Y that they should get opportunities rather than prove themselves and work hard.”

That’s the disconnect! Gen Y believes they ARE working hard and proving themselves…

As an Xer, most likely Susan holds a view of achievement being supreme. Promotion is the goal because as you move through your career, that’s how you know you’re winning. Gen X typically feels that they’ve put in their time and will be moving into the most important roles very soon.

As a matter of fact, they’re usually very skeptical because they were already supposed to move into those roles but the Boomers haven’t vacated them. They are especially skeptical of Gen Y because Y enters the workforce and expects to bust all the doors down and take the promotions that X has waited so long to get.

To an Xer (and Boomer for that matter), you can’t have expertise without experience. I think you see that evidenced in the grumbling in the workplace as well as the labeling of Millennials as lazy, ME generation, Entitled, etc. Sound familiar?

In certain roles, more experience means more expertise, but I’d argue that those walls are being quickly torn down.

Information is power, right?

Experience vs ExpertiseShould I use leeches to get the ‘bad blood’ out as a new doctor just because a bunch of experienced doctors thought it was a good idea? Of course not! I can read and know it’s a bad idea.

Sure, Y needs your expertise, but we don’t want your experience unless we see how that experience gives knowledge we can’t attain otherwise. If you want us to see things your way, you have to connect the dots. Right now, Seems like there were tons of experienced people who told a certain guy he couldn’t run a 4 minute mile…after all, no one had done it…he didn’t have the experience…

To Gen Y, promotions and advancement should be based on performance…right now, not over the last 13 years…and if I’m killing it more than you, I should get it (Don’t worry, I’ll be bored in 6 months and you can have it then!).

My goal here is not to bash her or Gen X. As a matter of fact, I applaud her for trying to understand what makes Gen Y tick and the more people are willing to put their perspectives out there, the easier it’s going to be to get things done. That’s where we’re headed with these posts.

There are 4 distinct generations in the workplace today.

That’s never happened before. No wonder there’s such grief over Gen Y. Xers thought they would only have to deal with Boomers and then eventually hand over the reigns to Gen Y in their golden years. Uh oh! Missed it on that one.

My goal: Help Gen Y navigate their careers and step on a few less landmines.

Let’s talk about where to go from here, shall we? Xer hang on, I promise I’ll try to redeem myself…

Gen Y: Unwilling to prove themselves and work hard

Gen Y motivationGen Y wants everything right now and isn’t willing to work for it.

That’s the statement I read when reading an article that was interviewing a woman who was responsible for recruiting for an Accounting firm. I don’t know who she is (I purposefully didn’t Google her) but I do know she’s an Xer. How?

  1. The article said she’d been recruiting for 18 yrs.
  2. Most importantly, this is a quote I pulled from her interview:

Gen Y wants more and believe they deserve it,” she says. “There is an expectation within Gen Y that they should get opportunities rather than prove themselves and work hard. It’s great to have structured expectations and ambitions, but they have to be qualified and deserved.

Eureka! (that means STFU in Boomer talk) That’s the problem! That’s the disconnect! That’s the reason there is such conflict in the workplace when it comes to generations!

Do you see it? It’s right there!

Let me stop here and say that she’s being cited because of her expertise on recruiting Millennials. There are some really good points but I want you to focus on the great point I don’t think she realizes that she’s making.

Go read the article Gen Y: Who? Where? Y? and then we’ll talk. No, really, read it…I’ll wait. Matter of fact, I’m going to get a caffeine fix so take your time…We’ll talk on the next post.

Millennials, leadership is influence

Millennials in the workplaceSo we’ve started talking about Gen Y (Millennials) leading in the workplace and what that really means. I guess we have to start with the definition of leadership in order to find out how to do it, right?

Leadership = Influence.

I’d love to take credit for that, but really that comes from a guy way smarter than me and even though he’s a boomer, he’s spent his life understanding and studying leadership. I can relate to what he’s selling because unlike many from his generation, he recognizes that we can all learn from each other.

All of our lives, we’ve been directed. We’re told what sports to play, what church to attend, what friends to hang out with, and even what college to go to. Now, we’ve hit the real world and there isn’t someone telling us what steps to take to lead…we have to figure that out on our own.

To me, that’s the fun part. I know that I don’t know everything and want to learn as much as I possibly can so what do I do?

I find mentors. I read constantly. I maintain a social network of experts in various fields I can access to help me. I read constantly. I ask older people what they think. I ask younger people what they think. I think. I read constantly…you get the picture.

The good news is that we are in a generation that is more open to sharing information than ever before and we have the tools to do that faster than ever before. The trick, however,  is sharing the right information and cultivating the right kinds of relationships necessary to be an effective leader.

Whether online or in person, knowing who to go to is very important to getting the job done. That’s a lesson in influence. You can’t get things done unless you know and partner with the key people in any organization.

Sometimes that means…wait for it…EVEN BOOMERS!!! aaaaah!

What can we do to partner with boomers (and Xers)?

Continue reading