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Instead of Being Interesting, Be Interested…..In Constantly Learning.

I recently read a Harvard Business Review article: The Best Leaders are Insatiable Learners. The author, Bill Taylor, discusses one of the more revered and read speeches of John Gardner  and the importance of constantly learning, growing and renewing yourself.  If you are not familiar with Gardner, you are in for a treat once you do some research.  At a high level, John Gardner was a legend, an intellect and civic reformer.  He was a well-known Standard University Professor, an architect of the Great Society under President Lydon Johnson, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, founder of the White House Fellowship and The John Gardner Fellowship programs, and he was the founder of Common Cause and Independent Sector.  Gardner died in 2002 at the age of 89.  In 2012, Standford University held a 100 year anniversary on his birth with a panel of leaders discussing the impact Gardner had on society and their personal lives.

The HBR article was great and I would encourage you to read it.  It is a challenge to each of us as leaders to constantly push ourselves to learn and grow.  However, if you are limited on time and can only read one article, read the classic speech Gardner gave on November 10, 1990, to a group of McKinsey & Co. leaders.  This powerful speech was called “Personal Renewal,” the urgent need for leaders who wish to be impactful and effective to commit themselves to continuous learning and growing.  It was based on his 1964 book Self-Renewal.  What impresses me is how relevant the concepts are today as they were 24 years ago when that speech was given or even 50 years ago when the original book was written.  Cheers to leadership and to the concept of constantly learning and growing!

Speech Delivered to McKinsey & Company, Phoenix, AZ

“Personal Renewal”

By: John Gardner

November 10, 1990

I’m going to talk about “Self-Renewal.” One of your most fundamental tasks is the renewal of the organizations you serve, and that usually includes persuading the top officers to accomplish a certain amount of self-renewal. But to help you think about others is not my primary mission this morning. I want to help you think about yourselves.

I take that mission very seriously, and I’ve written out what I have to say because I want every sentence to hit its target. I know a good deal about the kind of work you do and know how demanding it is. But I’m not going to talk about the special problems of your kind of career; I’m going to talk about some basic problems of the life cycle that will surely hit you if you’re not ready for them.

I once wrote a book called “Self-Renewal” that deals with the decay and renewal of societies, organizations and individuals. I explored the question of why civilizations die and how they sometimes renew themselves, and the puzzle of why some men and women go to seed while others remain vital all of their lives. It’s the latter question that I shall deal with at this time. I know that you as an individual are not going to seed. But the person seated on your right may be in fairly serious danger.

Not long ago, I read a splendid article on barnacles. I don’t want to give the wrong impression of the focus of my reading interests. Sometimes days go by without my reading about barnacles, much less remembering what I read. But this article had an unforgettable opening paragraph. “The barnacle” the author explained “is confronted with an existential decision about where it’s going to live. Once it decides.. . it spends the rest of its life with its head cemented to a rock..” End of quote. For a good many of us, it comes to that.

We’ve all seen men and women, even ones in fortunate circumstances with responsible positions who seem to run out of steam in mid-career.

One must be compassionate in assessing the reasons. Perhaps life just presented them with tougher problems than they could solve. It happens. Perhaps something inflicted a major wound on their confidence or their self-esteem. Perhaps they were pulled down by the hidden resentments and grievances that grow in adult life, sometimes so luxuriantly that, like tangled vines, they immobilize the victim. You’ve known such people — feeling secretly defeated, maybe somewhat sour and cynical, or perhaps just vaguely dispirited. Or maybe they just ran so hard for so long that somewhere along the line they forgot what it was they were running for.

I’m not talking about people who fail to get to the top in achievement. We can’t all get to the top, and that isn’t the point of life anyway. I’m talking about people who — no matter how busy they seem to be — have stopped learning or growing. Many of them are just going through the motions. I don’t deride that. Life is hard. Just to keep on keeping on is sometimes an act of courage. But I do worry about men and women functioning far below the level of their potential.

We have to face the fact that most men and women out there in the world of work are more stale than they know, more bored than they would care to admit. Boredom is the secret ailment of large-scale organizations. Someone said to me the other day “How can I be so bored when I’m so busy?” And I said “Let me count the ways.” Logan Pearsall Smith said that boredom can rise to the level of a mystical experience, and if that’s true I know some very busy middle level executives who are among the great mystics of all time.

We can’t write off the danger of complacency, growing rigidity, imprisonment by our own comfortable habits and opinions. Look around you. How many people whom you know well — people even younger than yourselves –are already trapped in fixed attitudes and habits. A famous French writer said “There are people whose clocks stop at a certain point in their lives.” I could without any trouble name a half of a dozen national figures resident in Washington, D.C., whom you would recognize, and could tell you roughly the year their clock stopped. I won’t do it because I still have to deal with them periodically.

I’ve watched a lot of mid-career people, and Yogi Berra says you can observe a lot just by watching. I’ve concluded that most people enjoy learning and growing. And many are dearly troubled by the self-assessments of mid-career.

Such self-assessments are no great problem at your age. You’re young and moving up. The drama of your own rise is enough. But when you reach middle age, when your energies aren’t what they used to be, then you’ll begin to wonder what it all added up to; you’ll begin to look for the figure in the carpet of your life. I have some simple advice for you when you begin that process. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Look ahead. Someone said that “Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.” And above all don’t imagine that the story is over. Life has a lot of chapters.

If we are conscious of the danger of going to seed, we can resort to countervailing measures. At almost any age. You don’t need to run down like an unwound clock. And if your clock is unwound, you can wind it up again. You can stay alive in every sense of the word until you fail physically. I know some pretty successful people who feel that that just isn’t possible for them, that life has trapped them. But they don’t really know that. Life takes unexpected turns.

I said in my book, “Self-Renewal,” that we build our own prisons and serve as our own jail-keepers. I no longer completely agree with that. I still think we’re our own jail-keepers, but I’ve concluded that our parents and the society at large have a hand in building our prisons. They create roles for us — and self images — that hold us captive for a long time. The individual intent on self-renewal will have to deal with ghosts of the past — the memory of earlier failures, the remnants of childhood dramas and rebellions, accumulated grievances and resentments that have long outlived their cause. Sometimes people cling to the ghosts with something almost approaching pleasure — but the hampering effect on growth is inescapable. As Jim Whitaker, who climbed Mount Everest, said “You never conquer the mountain, You only conquer yourself.”

The more I see of human lives, the more I believe the business of growing up is much longer drawn out than we pretend. If we achieve it in our 30’s, even our 40s, we’re doing well. To those of you who are parents of teenagers, I can only say “Sorry about that.”

There’s a myth that learning is for young people. But as the proverb says, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” The middle years are great, great learning years. Even the years past the middle years. I took on a new job after my 77th birthday — and I’m still learning.

Learn all your life. Learn from your failures. Learn from your successes, When you hit a spell of trouble, ask “What is it trying to teach me?” The lessons aren’t always happy ones, but they keep coming. It isn’t a bad idea to pause occasionally for an inward look. By midlife, most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves.

We learn from our jobs, from our friends and families. We learn by accepting the commitments of life, by playing the roles that life hands us (not necessarily the roles we would have chosen). We learn by growing older, by suffering, by loving, by bearing with the things we can’t change, by taking risks.

The things you learn in maturity aren’t simple things such as acquiring information and skills. You learn not to engage in self-destructive behavior. You leant not to burn up energy in anxiety. You discover how to manage your tensions, if you have any, which you do. You learn that self-pity and resentment are among the most toxic of drugs. You find that the world loves talent, but pays off on character.

You come to understand that most people are neither for you nor against you, they are thinking about themselves. You learn that no matter how hard you try to please, some people in this world are not going to love you, a lesson that is at first troubling and then really quite relaxing.

Those are things that are hard to learn early in life, As a rule you have to have picked up some mileage and some dents in your fenders before you understand. As Norman Douglas said “There are some things you can’t learn from others. You have to pass through the fire.’

You come to terms with yourself. You finally grasp what S. N. Behrman meant when he said “At the end of every road you meet yourself.” You may not get rid of all of your hang-ups, but you learn to control them to the point that you can function productively and not hurt others.

You learn the arts of mutual dependence, meeting the needs of loved ones and letting yourself need them. You can even be unaffected — a quality that often takes years to acquire. You can achieve the simplicity that lies beyond sophistication.

You come to understand your impact on others. It’s interesting that even in the first year of life you learn the impact that a variety of others have on you, but as late as middle age many people have a very imperfect understanding of the impact they themselves have on others. The hostile person keeps asking ‘Why are people so hard to get along with?” In some measure we create our own environment. You may not yet grasp the power of that truth to change your life.

Of course failures are a part of the story too. Everyone fails, Joe Louis said “Everyone has to figure to get beat some time.” The question isn’t did you fail but did you pick yourself up and move ahead? And there is one other little question: ‘Did you collaborate in your own defeat?” A lot of people do. Learn not to.

One of the enemies of sound, lifelong motivation is a rather childish conception we have of the kind of concrete, describable goal toward which all of our efforts drive us. We want to believe that there is a point at which we can feel that we have arrived. We want a scoring system that tells us when we’ve piled up enough points to count ourselves successful.

So you scramble and sweat and climb to reach what you thought was the goal. When you get to the top you stand up and look around and chances are you feel a little empty. Maybe more than a little empty.

You wonder whether you climbed the wrong mountain.

But life isn’t a mountain that has a summit, Nor is it — as some suppose — a riddle that has an answer. Nor a game that has a final score.

Life is an endless unfolding, and if we wish it to be, an endless process of self-discovery, an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our own potentialities and the life situations in which we find ourselves. By potentialities I mean not just intellectual gifts but the full range of one’s capacities for learning, sensing, wondering, understanding, loving and aspiring.

Perhaps you imagine that by age 35 or 45 or even 33 you have explored those potentialities pretty fully. Don’t kid yourself!

The thing you have to understand is that the capacities you actually develop to the full come out as the result of an interplay between you and life’s challenges –and the challenges keep changing. Life pulls things out of you.

There’s something I know about you that you may or may not know about yourself. You have within you more resources of energy than have ever been tapped, more talent than has ever been exploited, more strength than has ever been tested, more to give than you have ever given.

You know about some of the gifts that you have left undeveloped. Would you believe that you have gifts and possibilities you don’t even know about? It’s true. We are just beginning to recognize how even those who have had every advantage and opportunity unconsciously put a ceiling on their own growth, underestimate their potentialities or hide from the risk that growth involves.

Now I’ve discussed renewal at some length, but it isn’t possible to talk about renewal without touching on the subject of motivation. Someone defined horse sense as the good judgment horses have that prevents them from betting on people. But we have to bet on people — and I place my bets more often on high motivation than on any other quality except judgment. There is no perfection of techniques that will substitute for the lift of spirit and heightened performance that comes from strong motivation, The world is moved by highly motivated people, by enthusiasts, by men and women who want something very much or believe very much.

I’m not talking about anything as narrow as ambition. After all, ambition eventually wears out and probably should. But you can keep your zest until the day you die. If I may offer you a simple maxim, “Be interesting,” Everyone wants to be interesting — but the vitalizing thing is to be interested. Keep a sense of curiosity. Discover new things. Care. Risk failure. Reach out.

The nature of one’s personal commitments is a powerful element in renewal, so let me say a word on that subject.

I once lived in a house where I could look out a window as I worked at my desk and observe a small herd of cattle browsing in a neighboring field. And I was struck with a thought that must have occurred to the earliest herdsmen tens of thousands of years ago. You never get the impression that a cow is about to have a nervous breakdown. Or is puzzling about the meaning of life.

Humans have never mastered that kind of complacency. We are worriers and puzzlers, and we want meaning in our lives. I’m not speaking idealistically; I’m stating a plainly observable fact about men and women. It’s a rare person who can go through life-like a homeless alley cat, living from day-to-day, taking its pleasures where it can and dying unnoticed.

That isn’t to say that we haven’t all known a few alley cats. But it isn’t the norm. It just isn’t the way we’re built.

As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Old or young, we’re on our last cruise.” We want it to mean something.

For many this life is a vale of tears; for no one is it free of pain. But we are so designed that we can cope with it if we can live in some context of meaning. Given that powerful help, we can draw on the deep springs of the human spirit, to see our suffering in the framework of all human suffering, to accept the gifts of life with thanks and endure life’s indignities with dignity.

In the stable periods of history, meaning was supplied in the context of a coherent communities and traditionally prescribed patterns of culture. Today you can’t count on any such heritage. You have to build meaning into your life, and you build it through your commitments — whether to your religion, to an ethical order as you conceive it, to your life’s work, to loved ones, to your fellow humans. Young people run around searching for identity, but it isn’t handed out free any more — not in this transient, rootless, pluralistic society. Your identity is what you’ve committed yourself to.

It may just mean doing a better job at whatever you’re doing. There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are –and that too is a kind of commitment. They have the gift of kindness or courage or loyalty or integrity. It matters very little whether they’re behind the wheel of a truck or running a country store or bringing up a family.

I must pause to say a word about my statement “There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are.” I first wrote the sentence some years ago and it has been widely quoted. One day I was looking through a mail order gift catalogue and it included some small ornamental bronze plaques with brief sayings on them, and one of the sayings was the one I just read to you, with my name as author. Well I was so overcome by the idea of a sentence of mine being cast in bronze that I ordered it, but then couldn’t figure out what in the world to do with it. I finally sent it to a friend.

We tend to think of youth and the active middle years as the years of commitment. As you get a little older, you’re told you’ve earned the right to think about yourself. But that’s a deadly prescription! People of every age need commitments beyond the self, need the meaning that commitments provide. Self-preoccupation is a prison, as every self-absorbed person finally knows. Commitments to larger purposes can get you out of prison.

Another significant ingredient in motivation is one’s attitude toward the future. Optimism is unfashionable today, particularly among intellectuals. Everyone makes fun of it. Someone said “Pessimists got that way by financing optimists.” But I am not pessimistic and I advise you not to be. As the fellow said, “I’d be a pessimist but it would never work.”

I can tell you that for renewal, a tough-minded optimism is best. The future is not shaped by people who don’t really believe in the future. Men and women of vitality have always been prepared to bet their futures, even their lives, on ventures of unknown outcome. If they had all looked before they leaped, we would still be crouched in caves sketching animal pictures on the wall,

But I did say tough-minded optimism. High hopes that are dashed by the first failure are precisely what we don’t need. We have to believe in ourselves, but we mustn’t suppose that the path will be easy, it’s tough. Life is painful, and rain falls on the just, and Mr. Churchill was not being a pessimist when he said “I have nothing to offer, but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” He had a great deal more to offer, but as a good leader he was saying it wasn’t going to be easy, and he was also saying something that all great leaders say constantly — that failure is simply a reason to strengthen resolve.

We cannot dream of a Utopia in which all arrangements are ideal and everyone is flawless. Life is tumultuous — an endless losing and regaining of balance, a continuous struggle, never an assured victory.

Nothing is ever finally safe. Every important battle is fought and re-fought. We need to develop a resilient, indomitable morale that enables us to face those realities and still strive with every ounce of energy to prevail. You may wonder if such a struggle — endless and of uncertain outcome — isn’t more than humans can bear. But all of history suggests that the human spirit is well fitted to cope with just that kind of world.

Remember I mentioned earlier the myth that learning is for young people. I want to give you some examples, In a piece I wrote for Reader’s Digest not long ago, I gave what seemed to me a particularly interesting true example of renewal. The man in question was 53 years old. Most of his adult life had been a losing struggle against debt and misfortune. In military service he received a battlefield injury that denied him the use of his left arm. And he was seized and held in captivity for five years. Later he held two government jobs, succeeding at neither. At 53 he was in prison — and not for the first time. There in prison, he decided to write a book, driven by Heaven knows what motive — boredom, the hope of gain, emotional release, creative impulse, who can say? And the book turned out to be one of the greatest ever written, a book that has enthralled the world for ever 350 years. The prisoner was Cervantes; the book: Don Quixote.

Another example was Pope John XXIII, a serious man who found a lot to laugh about. The son of peasant farmers, he once said “In Italy there are three roads to poverty — drinking, gambling and fanning. My family chose the slowest of the three.” When someone asked him how many people worked in the Vatican he said “Oh, about half.” He was 76 years old when he was elected Pope. Through a lifetime in the bureaucracy, the spark of spirit and imagination had remained undimmed, and when he reached the top he launched the most vigorous renewal that the Church has known in this century.

Still another example is Winston Churchill. At age 25, as a correspondent in the Boer War he became a prisoner of war and his dramatic escape made him a national hero. Elected to Parliament at 26, he performed brilliantly, held high cabinet posts with distinction and at 37 became First Lord of the Admiralty. Then he was discredited, unjustly, I believe, by the Dardanelles expedition — the defeat at Gallipoli– and lost his admiralty post. There followed 24 years of ups and downs. All too often the verdict on him was “Brilliant but erratic…not steady, not dependable.” He had only himself to blame. A friend described him as a man who jaywalked through life. He was 66 before his moment of flowering came. Someone said “It’s all right to be a late bloomer if you don’t miss the flower show.” Churchill didn’t miss it.

Well, I won’t give you any more examples. From those I’ve given I hope it’s clear to you that the door of opportunity doesn’t really close as long as you’re reasonably healthy. And I don’t just mean opportunity for high status, but opportunity to grow and enrich your life in every dimension. You just don’t know what’s ahead for you. And remember the words on the bronze plaque “Some men and women make the world better just by being the kind of people they are.” To be that kind of person would be worth all the years of living and learning.

Many years ago I concluded a speech with a paragraph on the meaning in life. The speech was reprinted over the years, and 15 years later that final paragraph came back to me in a rather dramatic way, really a heartbreaking way.

A man wrote to me from Colorado saying that his 20 year-old daughter had been killed in an auto accident some weeks before and that she was carrying in her billfold a paragraph from a speech of mine. He said he was grateful because the paragraph — and the fact that she kept it close to her — told him something he might not otherwise have known about her values and concerns. I can’t imagine where or how she came across the paragraph, but here it is:

“Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.”

Social Media Liberates and Amplifies. Do you Feel Like Liberating?

Infographic on how Social Media are being used...

Image via Wikipedia

Social media is authenticity with a liberating microphone ready to amplify if we use its power for good.

I would encourage leaders to look at the implications of social media more broadly than just marketing and fads.  It really is a liberating tool to express the feelings and thoughts we have about people, companies and corporate culture, communities and leaders in broad and sweeping ways. Soon we will freely see people talking about their company culture, the treatment of its people and how closely the company brand aligns with their corporate reality.  We can use this contagion as a tool to promote not only what we are but what we aspire to be.  I would encourage leaders to be real on who they are, be bold and state what they aspire to be, work every day to create a magnetic culture, own up when mistakes happen and be visionary and create a world of possibilities.  Now that is authenticity and authenticity is the source code and content for what appears in social media.

So to the world out there on this microphone I would say…I am a leader in the making…every day growing, learning from lessons and wishing I would hurry up and live up to the image I have of great leadership.

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Be Successful in 2020? Expect to be a Writer, a Mentor and always a Futurist

Want to succeed in business?  By 2020, I predict we are all going to be measured, in some degree, by how much we share our knowledge with others in personal and written form, how many people we help in their business life and how we educate and empower.  I predict:

1)  Professor’s transition from lecturers to facilitators of the geniuses of their students.  Professors knowledge and ability to research will be more critical than ever, however research life cycles will shorten dramatically.  Research will come from the students so having the right population will be key.  Selection of a course will move from a class topic to an end result both for the student and the professor.

2)  Class cost will vary on who is taking the course with you.  The more experienced the students the more they have to bring to the table.  Therefore for younger less experienced students that want the inside information, they will have to pay a premium.  Conversely, those with advanced experience will pay less and be given special benefits such access to mentor and supporter opportunities of less experienced individuals.  Classes that are 100% lecture oriented will be migrated to a free service.  One-way communication of topics will be helpful to learn the history or fundamentals in order to participate in conversational learning.

3)  Business leadership will include not only the ability to influence, to lead and create value and vision but it will also include the ability to create a legacy for themselves which will include who they have mentored, supported, advocated and promoted.  A new question will be “how many people have you developed and promoted?”

4)  Corporate education, training and corporate universities will be part of the portfolio of “must haves” to compete for top talent.  Curriculum will be more advanced than general topics and the frequency similar to strategy meetings.  New candidates will ask to see the Company’s curriculum and understand the education strategy and tactics before they make a decision.

5)  Leaders in business will be expected to write articles, be thought leaders in their space, and help others through creative content.  Leaders will be judged on how freely they share their knowledge and how they empower others.

6)  Online education will be social and collaborative affecting almost all of our human senses.  Online tools will include movie elements such as music, suspense, mystery, love, action and sadness.  The duration will be in the form of short film and the style will be interactive.

7)  Lines will be completed blurred between education and entertainment.  People’s awards such as Emmy, People’s Choice, and new awards will be given to companies, universities and people who produce award winning “edutainment” content that is impactful.

So what do you do today if this is the future?  Start moving your thinking, your leadership and your company in this direction. Be a Writer, a Mentor and a Futurist if you want to be successful.  People like pioneers who see it first, go there first and bring others with them.

Your thoughts matter, what do you think?

People Take Care of People…Period.

Thanks to Social Media, we are seeing just how communal and supportive people are to one another.  Our most basic needs to be socially and emotionally connected are being met in a broad and sweeping way.  It is an amazing new frontier we are experiencing and the business world is catching on in droves.  You have heard the saying “our employees are our most important resource”, yet not as many employees felt that way.  Thankfully, the tides are starting to change…ahh….how good it is and what a glorious change it will be when fully realized.

People ARE the most important resource, people ARE the most important asset, and people ARE the most important gift you will ever get in life.  They are the like water, and air to us…we cannot live without their connection.  Why…because people take care of people….period.

As a leader of an organization, rethink the paradigm.  Your employees should be first in the care chain.  When you take care of your employees first, they will see your customer as their customer and take care of them accordingly.  People will do more when they are in love and they will be naturally inspired to make a difference with others.  When your employees take care of the customers, they will show their love, care and support in return and take care of your business and your shareholders/owners.

Rethink the Paradigm:  Employees then Customers then Shareholders.  Your organizations may be successful but you won’t know just how much you are leaving on the table until you realize this paradigm.

As the leader of You, take care of yourself first.  Fully love yourself first and then you may love and help others.  When you love yourself fully you expect more, learn and grow more, and give and care more.  Caring and giving more are the best things you can do for yourself, others and your company.  Finding out what gifts you are meant to leave, what messages you are meant to share, and what lessons you are meant to teach are the greatest things you can do for others and your company.  When you take care of yourself and then others, it becomes a natural extension to take care of the world including its resources and peace.  Only the most self-actualized and enriched people live this way and aspire for a world of peace and possibilities.

Rethink the Paradigm.  You then Others then the World.  Are you awesome already…taking good care of your health, heart, mind, soul, family and friends, employer, leader, co-workers, community, and earth?  If you are not yet, just imagine how awesome you could be?

People take care of People.  When we understand this fully and emotionally, our new reality will be far greater than anything we could imagine.

Today’s Project:  Show kindness to yourself, to someone who has made it challenging for you in the business community (your boss, your employee, your customer) and do something earth friendly today.  It takes time to see the change so do it again tomorrow and the following day.  Know this: You are changing the direction of your life, the lives of others and the world.  Now that is Awesome!

I would like to hear from you…you matter to me.  What do you think of this interpretation of People taking care of People?  Share your comments below and share with others if you feel so inspired.

A Hiring Manager’s Wish: The Ultimate Job Seeker

Like anything beautiful, great and unique, I have learned anything worth having comes with a hefty price.  In this case having a great team means the selection process is comprehensive and thorough.

For the positions I am filling, I receive many resumes and frankly I think I spend more time reviewing than most others.  The average hiring manager spends 20 seconds or less “scanning” a resume instead of “reading” a resume.  While I spend more time reviewing resumes, my thoughts are I am not just filling the open position but also creating a pool of folks for consideration for other upcoming positions.  In my most recent rounds, I have found some really good candidates so keeping up with the top contenders is critical to shortening the hiring process prospectively.  Remember when interviewing, you are interviewing to make the callback list whether for this position or another.

With a stack of 80 plus resumes, creativity, precision and individualism are key factors to a successful introduction.  That means knowing yourself and your message.  Preparing a SWOT Analysis is a great tool to help you stand out from the crowd.

Complete a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.)  Successful resume writers complete a personal SWOT Analysis before they start their resume.  If you have not done one and you are out there job searching, complete a SWOT Analysis and consider providing a marketable version of your SWOT as part of your resume portfolio.  Recently, a candidate I interviewed provided a personal SWOT Analysis.  What I liked about it was that it was an original and fresh view of the whole discussion of strengths and weaknesses.  Here is a site that has some good feedback on a personal SWOT.  To help with the SWOT, a great tool I use to help identify strengths and possible blind spots is The Keirsey Temperament Sorter®-II (KTS®-II).  It is a widely used personality instrument with 70-questions to help the candidates discover their personality type.  While you are at it, include your personality type in your resume.  For example, I am an ENFP.

Develop a Resume Cloud.  Once you have done your SWOT Analysis, compile a list of your core competencies, accomplishments and areas of expertise.  These key phrases will help you develop a Resume Cloud.  This is a skinnied down version of your resume and it helps keep the conversation pointed to critical areas.  The Cloud is visually stimulating and if done well provides key descriptors of who you are and what you have accomplished.  Simply put a resume cloud is a series of words randomly patterned to give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently.  Wordle has a free site you can us to create your resume cloud.  A Resume Cloud can display the character and actions that best describe the candidate.

As a reader of a resume cloud, I am looking for a holistic view.  Tell me all sides of you.  It makes your story more interesting and memorable.  Include personal characteristics that are not commonly used in the work place.  Most resumes are not personal or holistic so it leaves the reader wondering if it is a complete proxy for the candidate seeking the position.  In order to break the mold, you have to go personal and make a connection.  Think of your cloud as your private letter to the reader with the modern day touch.  Here is my resume cloud as an example:

<a href=”http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/3835803/RC_Ybarra_Resume_Cloud_072011&#8243;

title=”Wordle: RC_Ybarra Resume Cloud 072011″><img

src=”http://www.wordle.net/thumb/wrdl/3835803/RC_Ybarra_Resume_Cloud_072011&#8243;

alt=”Wordle: RC_Ybarra Resume Cloud 072011″

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Create a Masterpiece Resume.  Now that you have a resume cloud, let’s make sure you have a killer resume with a personal story.  Make sure your resume includes the requisites of: Areas of Expertise, Career Accomplishments and Core Competencies.  Also, make sure you include a personal aspect to breathe life into your words.  I recently read an article where a Venture Capitalist said he reads a candidate’s resumes backwards.  Acknowledging that a candidate’s volunteer efforts, interests and then accomplishments made for an interesting person and only then would he be interested in talking to them.  Ah…be interesting so that others will be interested.  Novel concept but it is so true.

When discussing your accomplishments, make them things you truly were the catalyst for, made major AND impactful contributions to or things you started and finished.  When interviewing candidates, I try to get past the “actions” and get to the “accomplishments”.  Running reports, preparing analysis, developing a policy are more tactical actions and do not describe the end results.  In other words, what positive results happened because of your actions?  Tell us your career accomplishments and you will have told us who you are and what you are about.  When talking about accomplishments, make sure they are your own….we are all creators.  Tell the hiring manager what you have created and what difference you have made on the business, the world and/or others.  That is definitely more interesting and speaks to who you are as a complete person.

Start a Blog.  Blogging about your technical, business acumen, professional career and content will set you apart from the competition.  A blog will demonstrate your ability to write and tell a compelling story.  These are qualities of a good leader, a good negotiator and a good communicator. A few free sites for creating a blog are WordPress.com and Blogger to name a few.

Provide Original Works.  I would recommend providing examples of your work that are original even if it means you have to create new work such as financial models, technical tools, process documentation, websites, etc.  Folks will understand that your work is proprietary to your employers so you are creating new work to emulate what you have done for your previous assignments.  Think of your work as a display similar to what artists provide when they are selling their paintings.  To get your work commissioned, you have to display your ability and your personality.  To be a hit, include on your blog site your original work.  This will make your site unique and a testament to who you are as a whole person.

Create a 30 second Video.  Tell the hiring manager who you are and why they should hire you in 30 seconds.  Advertising agencies have 15 to 30 second spots on TV or Radio to sell their products.  You will have the same opportunity in your 30-second video.  If the hiring manager takes the time to go to your site, they are going to be pleasantly surprised and eager to see your 30-second “wow” pitch.  This saves the hiring manager time and energy and it will definitely impress them.

Join LinkedIn.  If you are not on LinkedIn, I would recommend you join this 100M+ person community.  A recent presentation of their demographics shows only 42M US citizens are part of LinkedIn, with ~40% being female and with only 21% under 25 years old.  This community is the largest professional social network site in the world and it is used for those offering and seeking jobs, connecting with professionals and sharing ideas, and keeping your portfolio of professional contacts.  If your demographic is not well represented, then join the community.  You will stand out from the crowd.

Join Twitter and Get Followers.  Along with your Blog and LinkedIn account, I would recommend including a Twitter account that is used for professional purposes only.  Twitter is helpful for promoting your ideas, your work and for routing folks to visit your website.  Have a unique point of view, write about it, live it and share it with others.  Having a unique voice and viewpoint will make you very attractive to others and you will be surprised by the following.  I just started my own Twitter account in May 2011 and I have a little over 170 followers so far.  You have to write good content and you have to be consistent to get a good following.  I am still working on the two approaches.  It is definitely a learning process and it takes time.

As we discussed recently in the posts: Be a Connector and The Day You Get Promoted by Election, relationships are so critical and now with Twitter followers and LinkedIn connections, we now have a means to measure the breadth of the connections.  Before too long, your portfolio of connections and relationships will be a determining factor in your selection for a position.  One early pioneer in this area is Best Buy.  I recently read a 2009 article describing how Best Buy had a pre-requisite for its Senior Manager – Emerging Media Marketing to have 250 Twitter followers.  Needless to say it got a lot of noise.  Today, future non-profit leaders and company advocates are screened to determine their circle of influence.  How many people do they influence?  How influential are the candidate’s connections? Twitter and LinkedIn are not the sole answers to these questions, but these sites definitely help you to start thinking in these terms.

If you have a professional Twitter and a LinkedIn account, be sure to reference them on your website and resume.

Sounds like a lot of work to get a job.  Yes, it is a lot of work but it is not for a job, it is for you and your brand.  You are the CEO of You.  To say yes to you means you have to be willing to put in the time and effort to define yourself in ways that are meaningful and impactful.  You are taking this herculean effort not for the position you are vying for, but for yourself and your identity in this newly connected world.

As the CEO of You, you are on a sales tour to promote, tell your story and sell why you should be part of the team.  So, for any position you apply for, think of it as a campaign.

Do Your Research; Determine Your Audience.  Who will be reading your resume?  Investigate the position and the leader.  You want to make sure it is a fit for you too, so if their values and leadership style don’t match up, know that is ok for you to be selective as well.  Recently, I was interviewing candidates for a position we posted internally.  I was fascinated by how many folks researched us on our internal social media site before coming into the interview.  As a candidate researching the hiring manager, look to see if they have a LinkedIn account; look them up and see what they have written about themselves.  And of course search them on the Internet and see what that yields you.  You could find some good information for your cover letter to personalize it when addressing the hiring manager.

Do More Research.  Research the company’s website if you are external and the department’s portal/site if you are internal to the organization.  I recently interviewed someone who researched our internal site, took one of our system courses and read through one of our corporate policies.  She was able to quote from it, speak in the language we use and ask more relevant questions on our subject because she did her homework on the department.  If you want to leave an impression, do your homework before submitting in your resume.

Enlist your Circle of Influentials.  If you know of folks that are influential, well respected and revered, ask them to put in a good word for you via a phone call.  I did that four years ago when I got the internal position I am in today.  The hiring manager said she wanted to at least meet me since she had received three separate calls from key leaders on my behalf.  Obviously you can only ask for this type of support when it really matters.  Asking a vice president of a company to support you with five to ten calls is a stretch.  Use your connections wisely.  If you are new to the job market and have some good connections, through your volunteer efforts, ask for their assistance and support as you secure a new position.  References do not have to be from “paid only” positions.  Leadership in a volunteer role is just as telling of who you are and what you stand for.

Provide a 360-Degree Reference List.  Make sure to include a 360-degree reference list of folks for the hiring manager to call when asked.  Have it ready now for when you get the request.  You want the hiring manager to make those calls quickly and close the loop with you.  The hiring manager will call the references to see how you interact with people above you, at your level and below you.  Do you treat people differently depending on the status?  Have your list and be ready.

Write a Compelling and Personalized Cover Letter.  And finally after completing the above, write a compelling cover letter addressed specifically to the hiring manager.  I typically read cover letters since many folks no longer provide them.  I feel if someone took the extra time to create a cover letter it is worth my time to read what he or she had to say.  Writing a truly personalized cover letter that is addressed to the person reading it and mentions that you researched them, who they are, what is important to them, will turn your letter from a vanilla cover letter to a personalized note.  Also, include in your note why you are interested in the position and why you believe you are the best fit.  Talk about your resume cloud, website, circle of connections and followers.  Let them know that you would like to complete a 100-day plan if you are one of the finalists for the position and you recognize ramping up is one of the hardest parts of transitioning.  By preparing and implementing a 100-day plan, it not only helps you but the hiring manager as well.  This can certainly be a game changer when coming onboard.

Create a 100-Day plan.  It is the kicker, the one that will set you miles apart from everyone else.  I recently started requiring this for all our final candidates in managerial and supervisory positions.  Some folks drop out, maybe because they thought it was too much work.  Frankly, I think it is a great tool for candidates and it is a good proxy for the caliber of team members the hiring managers are looking for.  If folks see this as a great tool that will help them and are not bothered by the request, they are one step closer to finding the right team.  A 100-day plan will help you understand the position, what opportunities exist for improvements and you will hit the ground running on day one.

For leaders of organizations transitioning into a new role, this is especially important as the goals, expectations and risks are greater.  Here is an excerpt I recently read from The New Leader’s 100 Day Action Plan.  George Bradt’s website also has a great leadership journal he just started on a new leader transitioning the first 100 days.

For those new to the job market fresh out of college, a 100-Day Plan is a great tool to help demonstrate your commitment to learning the culture, the department, the business, your role, your team and what improvements can be made to the position.

The Interview…Hope for Multiples.  Once you are in for an interview, you will need to knock it out of the park with your interview.  Make it personal, answer the questions, expect behavioral questions where they are asking for real examples from your life.  Make sure to give real examples and not theories of what you would do.  If all goes well, expect peer interviews, interviews with the prospective clients, leaders above the hiring manager and possibly entry-level folks to ensure you are a good fit.  I ask my team to do this so that when we make a selection based on the multitude of data points, we feel we are making the best decision for the team.  Keep in mind when you are talking to the peers, the clients and even the hiring manager, be yourself and bring your best to the conversations.

So, it is a lot.  I hear you and it is for the hiring manager as well.  But with a ~10% reported unemployment rate and the common knowledge of a higher rate, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.  As a hiring manager having to make the tough choices, with many good candidates to choose from, I will say that those that deploy a portfolio of options from their war chest will give themselves an advantage.  This will prove why it is good to be the CEO of You and why others should want to snag you first and fast.

Can you see a time when these tools will be common place? I would love to hear your thoughts, stories of interviews, selection, tips and traps to avoid.

 

Keep your Business Relationship Healthy and Sustainable

You have seen those men and women that have been married for years and have let themselves go whether extra weight, outdated look, or the loss of pep that made the other like them so much.  Folks get settled into what is comfortable, easy and things just start to lose importance.  Before you know it, you realize your best self was some time ago and you wonder if you can get it back and certainly your partner is thinking the same thing.

In a business relationship, between an organization and its employees, the same holds true.  Organizations court, some time intensely and fiercely, to win you over to their team.  They offer you a good package, opportunities for advancement and the idea or fantasy of having your own empire.

Employees, too, play the game of coming to the dance with their best outfit, their promises to be their best, give their all, win like no other, be relentless to learn, grow and demonstrate loyalty that they will not look at another company.

At some point, the honeymoon is over and reality sets in.  The air comes out of the bubble and depending on how far off you are from what you represented, respectively, will determine how disappointed you will each be and who will be disappointed the most.

Anyone who has been in a successful relationship knows that you have to be sincere, honest, respectful, ethical, healthy, kind, constantly learning/growing and give more than you expect if you want your relationship to live and flourish.  The same holds true for your Business Relationships.

What is a Healthy Business Relationship?

In 2011, a healthy business relationship is an absolute necessity if you want to win in the global economy.  We need each other like never before.  Our talents as individuals when well placed in a diversified group coupled with the power of brand and financial strength can make for a powerful partnership.  A successful partnership is one of trust, giving our best and not expecting an equal reciprocity.  It is a partnership that strives and drives for excellence in all things we do together.  You have seen those partnerships.  They are strong and formidable, loving, kind, intensely emotional, intellectual with deep sense of connection.  In the business world if you do not have that sense of connection between an individual, a team and a company, you will not win in the global marketplace.  If you want to win, you have to have a Healthy Business Relationship.

To talk about this subject, we need a series of posting involving employees, teams and organizations.  Today’s post is about the employee role and the importance and necessity of self-development.  If we believe the notion that we are responsible for our own destiny, then we should have high expectations of ourselves and recognize individuals, as employees, hold the key to success.  This includes employees being accountable to what they promised and what we expect of them when it comes to personal and professional growth.  Employees play a critical role on the team so they must constantly be challenging themselves and ultimately their team to greatness in their mind, spirit and heart.

“…The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.”
 - Hindu Proverb

Employees on a team and in an organization must commit to themselves to constantly work on improving themselves.  That is how to stay fit and stay in a healthy relationship.

I have been working for global and successful companies for 18 years and I have found self-development to be an underpinning of a successful relationship.  Employees who practice self-development are multi-faceted through enlightenment and practice.  To be successful in your business relationship you need to be the following:

1)   Be a Technical Superhero.

2)   Be a Life Long Student and Sage Seeker.

3)   Be a Principles and Morals Partner.

4)   Be a Humanist.

5)   Be a Connector.

6)   Be an Athlete.

7)   Be a Kind Contrarian.

8)   Be a Calculated Risk Taker.

9)   Be a Leader of One and Many.

10) Be Yourself.

Be a Technical Superhero

Become fierce and ferocious about your technical skills.  As employees, organizations are expecting you come to the relationship with an already healthy set of technical and analytical skills.  Whether you are in the business of law, accounting, relationships and advocacy, IT technical skills, marketing, operations or organizational development to name a few, you have to know your profession and its technical and analytical skills like no one’s business.  You are not going to be expected to know the business or certainly be an expert out of the gate, but you are expected to come to the table with the technical skills to handle the job.  Whether in an existing job or a new assignment, you have to study and practice the skills to keep yourself current and relevant.  I tell my team compatriots “think of yourself as if you are joining favorite pro football team and you are the quarterback.  You are expected to know to throw touchdowns, make completions and get the ball down the field. You are not expected to know the playbook of the team, but you are expected to bring your strength and skills and not only learn the playbook but bring a fresh perspective based on your expertise that would otherwise be missing without you.”  The same is true in when you join a company or a team in business.  They are hiring your strengths so be fierce and ferocious and bring your A game to the table.  If you are coming into a new position, make sure you already have down at least half of the job they are asking you to do and be ready to put in a tremendous amount of hours, outside the office, to learn the new skills, laws, theories and practices to help you escalate up the learning curve.

When studying your subject matter, please know all the basic answers are out there.  You have to be willing to put in whatever the effort to seek the answers and obtain understanding.  Your teammates, your team leader and your company will invest in you to the same degree you are willing to invest in yourself.  The law of attractions is alive and well when it comes to self-development.  Be willing to be the Technical Superhero even if you have to moonlight to get there.  Success doesn’t happen by accident.  It happens because of tremendous investment by those willing to invest in themselves.

With the world changing so fast, there are expectations you take the time and energy to self develop and improve quickly and constantly.  It is what being “informative” is all about and one of the five pillars of i5.  Also, it is what you bring to a healthy relationship.  When you are healthy and in shape you will want to be with others who are like-minded and others with the same qualities will seek you out and want to be with you.  Be a Technical Superhero and Be Informative.  It is what makes a business relationship healthy and long lasting.

Be a Life Long Student and Sage Seeker.

Be tenacious to learn new frameworks in your profession, new management and leadership concepts and learn unrelated subjects.  Learning new items regardless of the subject is a huge multiplier for you as an employee.  Expanding your knowledge makes your conversations more interesting, enlightening and empathetic.  Knowledge makes your contributions to the business relationship more creative.  People like to take their newfound knowledge and apply it.  Applying your newfound knowledge, regardless of the topic, in a new and creative way is what being innovative is all about.  Being Innovative is one of the five pillars of i5 and one of the most interesting.

Take a look at something that you just love whether a painting, a great book, a new technical gadget, an application, a website or service, a movie, a designed room and see if you notice the multiple layers of textures, ideas, or needs being met.  Creativity is about layering and mixing multiple items.  It could be bringing together unrelated topics.  For example, Picasso’s artwork took cubism and introduced new shapes and form and incorporating African Art to create some of the most revered and widely recognized artwork around the world.  Spend some time looking at his artwork, see if you can see the singular items and how they were layered, integrated and ultimately created a new masterpiece and a new form of art language.  As another example, last week in Santa Fe, New Mexico I met and spent time with an artist named Jennifer JL Jones.  She was discussing one of her painting that was on exhibit.  Jennifer is an accomplished artist with representation/exhibits in Atlanta, Florida, Santa Fe, Chicago, and San Francisco.     When I viewed her work, I loved it and was inspired to include her in this section as her work is a creation of nine different mediums (oil, acrylic, textured paper, asphalt, wood stain, glue, charcoal, wax and metal) all on a wood board.  For me the work is beautiful and a great example of learning and using different items in a layering way to create something completely different, unique an extraordinarily beautiful.

You can apply these concepts to business in many ways: 1) be enlightened that creativity comes from learning new things and 2) layering and mixing unique and unrelated items together is what creates something new.  Other examples, more applicable to the business and technology world include Steve Jobs and the invention of the Mac computer.  In his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech, Steve Jobs talked about having an insatiable appetite to learn and he took a calligraphy class after dropping out of college.  Ten years after taking the class, when he was designing the first Macintosh computer, all his studies of typography came back to him.  “The Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts” had he not mixed and layered.  Some most recent inventions featured in Time Magazine’s 50 Best Inventions of 2010 display the art of layering and mixing to create anew:  1) Flipboard the fabulous iPad application that organizes getting updates from your friends via facebook, twitter and links from others of interest in an browsable and magazine like format.  The images are oversized, the typography is clean and the product has an overall glossy magazine feel that is just superb.  Here is an example of mixing the reality of information overload of social media with the old world charm of magazines where we could sit and read flipping the pages on a Sunday afternoon (something I am doing today).  Great concepts are born when we bring items together and ask “why not”?

If you research innovative creations you will see the Life Truth that mixing ideas and theories together is how new ideas, creations and inventions are born.  Here is one last example of just how new and crazy things get life.  eLegs Exoskeleton is a robotic prosthetic leg that uses artificial intelligence to “read” the wearer’s arm gestures via crutches and capturing and simulating their walk without a tether.

Today military soldiers use exoskeletons to lift heavy packs and this idea was the inspiration for eLeg.  I wonder if an ex-military solider was the connector in helping to bring the need to regain or obtain movement of others and exoskeletons together?  Rehabilitation centers are using this technology today and it is expected this will hit the home market in 2013.

Innovation is not just creating new things by mixing, layers and bringing together disparate ideas, but it is also about having the tenacity and courage to work on dormant ideas started by others and making them your own.  Some say Apple’s iPad is one such example where Apple reinvented Microsoft’s unpopular TabletPC by creating and layering in new finger friendly hardware and software to its already intuitive operating system with access to prolific applications.

Recognize that while these items are big and life changing, they were started by people willing to learn, keep their eyes and mind open to creation and were willing to speak their voice.  If you work for a company, you have the backing of a company with financial power, brand strength and the amazing power of a team of individuals.  You don’t have to work at Google, Facebook or Apple to be Innovative.  I submit you have to be willing to learn, create and then most importantly of all…speak your voice and then speak it again, until one of your ideas makes it from ideation to creation.

Become a Life Long Learner and you will become Innovative.  Being innovative is a VERY attractive feature to bring to the Business Relationship.

Life Truth:  A business relationship is no different than any other close relationship.  You have to be willing to give your best, grow and constantly reinvent yourself.  Greatness will follow in the proportion you are willing to contribute to the relationship.  Be willing and through actions put your best self forward.  Your business relationships will be what sustains you economically.

Hey where are 3 – 9?  You are probably wondering where the rest of the self-development topics are at….well we should let these two marinate for a bit to go from your conscious to your subconscious.  Feel free to read again and more importantly spend some time seeking examples of where this maybe true in your own world and your own experiences.  Know of any Technical Superheroes and any Life Learners?  I do, they are my friends, my colleagues, my mentor, my leadership, my beloved man, my mother, my family and my team.  They were the inspiration for this post.    When you see that we are informative and innovative creatures if we are willing to open our eyes, minds and hearts to learning new things and mixing and layering and creating ideas, we will see that they sky is the limit for us.  Share with me what you observed; I would love to hear what you see with these lenses.

The rest of the articles will post over the coming weeks.  I too need time to take my superhero strengths to create and develop something worthy of your valuable time.

Be a Technical Superhero.  Be a Life Learner,

RC Ybarra

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