You’re Wrong if You Think Your Career Won’t Change

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We all underestimate our own potential to evolve. I know that I’ve made this mistake. As a graduate student in psychology, I was quite certain that I knew my path. At that early juncture, my interests centered solely on the development and validation of selection tests. (Focusing on topics such as motivation or aligning work with strengths, never occurred to me.) As most of us do, I surmised that with the passage of time, I would remain relatively constant as an individual — and that satisfaction with that direction would remain strong. However, time has a way of changing us. In fact, that original career trajectory is far from how I define myself as a contributor today.

Truth be told — we all evolve. In many cases, it is difficult to detect the changes as they are occurring. (They overtake us somehow.)

Does this impact work and career? Of course.

A series of studies conducted by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert and his team (See the recent TED Talk below), have explored the process of how we view personal change over time and the potential impact upon our lives. Their research revealed that we tend to underestimate changes in both our core personality traits (represented by the “Big 5″: conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability, openness to experience and extroversion) and our core values (measured by the Schwartz Value Inventory) over the decades of our lives. The magnitude of the illusion seems to decrease as we age, but it remains present.

We make decisions concerning what will bring us fulfillment in the future, based upon our current state. However, we underestimate how we might change over time. Essentially, we are forced to draw inferences from the past — something Gilbert aptly names, “The End of History Illusion”. We make decisions and view our lives, as if that history has ended. So, as that carefully designed future takes shape — there is a real possibility that it may no longer align with who we have actually become.

Ultimately, our own “history” continues to shake and shift.

The challenge to apply this dynamic to work and career are clear. If we don’t consider or anticipate change — we may not be prepared deal with that dynamic when it occurs.

Can we predict exactly how we will change with the twists and turns of life? No, that’s not likely. However, we can look for the subtle changes that might affect us:

  • Listen intently. Not to others around you — to your inner voice. If you have the distinct feeling that your work is not bringing the fulfillment it once did, pause and reflect on that realization. Explore how you arrived at this impasse.
  • Embrace it. People change — it is a fact of life. You are allowed to evolve, as well. A role that brought you happiness at 25, may not suit you at 35. One that was perfectly aligned with your goals before having a child, may no longer suffice. Life and experiences will change the essence of how we might derive energy from our work. This is completely normal.
  • Respond. Ignoring a seismic shift in career aspirations, will not stop the dynamic from progressing. You do possess free will. Take a moment to determine what may need to change to accommodate your evolution. Start with a list of work life elements that currently bring you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction — then compare with what you would have chosen 5 or 10 years ago. What changes do you see?

As the researchers observed: “History, it seems is always ending today”. So instead, strive to embrace your ever-changing work life. A long and healthy career may center on our respect for how we might change over time.

How has your history evolved? How did you respond?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

The Good, Bad & the Ugly: What I’ve Learned From My Bosses

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One of former my bosses had a penchant for passive-aggressive behavior. I’m certain his role was a stressful one — that likely contributed to his demeanor. However, the cumulative effect of his behavior on the team, was far worse than any root cause. I was never sure if he despised me personally, or was plagued with extremely poor people skills. I’ll never know. I suppose it really doesn’t matter.

He had no business supervising my work — or anyone else for that matter. He was toxic.

I’ve also worked with the best of what bosses can be. I freely admit that I didn’t realize how great they really were, until reflecting upon my experiences. They made the role seem effortless. That’s how professionals are — they make a difficult task look incredibly easy.

Many of us have experienced a wide range of bosses. Some are well suited to supervising others. Some — well — the fit just wasn’t there. (At least, not at that moment in time.) Of course, we learn a thing or two from all of them, the good and the bad. Even the ugly.

In retrospect, here is what I saw:

  • Great bosses are transparent. Great bosses don’t hesitate to share what you have done right — and the situations that you might need to improve. This isn’t reserved for an end of the year review, it is ongoing and timely. They know when to hit you with the tough stuff — and when to back off. There is never a hidden agenda to contend with. They simply want to help you develop and succeed.
  • They don’t hover. A stretch assignment is a great opportunity to grow. The best of the best bosses know this. While on maternity leave, one of my supervisors allowed me to present a yearly customer research study to the Board of Directors. She never micro-managed, but guided my work, so that I was well prepared. This was very early in my career, and I never forgot how it felt to stand in front of that group. It was empowering. I thank her everyday for that.
  • They never leave anyone high and dry. The boss that I mentioned above, would leave us in the lurch to deal with well-known, extremely difficult clients, or unfinished work that ultimately required his approval. It was extremely stressful. Looking back, these situations could have been a relevant teaching moment for all of us. Instead they were a nightmare. He never sat down with us to discuss strategy, prepare us and offer advice. Shame on him.
  • They see you — beyond today. The most extraordinary thing about a great boss, is that they see what you have to offer — even if you may not. Their honed perspective allows them to see your bright future, even while you might be mired in today’s challenges. They continue to help drive you forward, even when you fail. That is a priceless gift.

Describe your best boss below. What did you learn from them?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto and speaks to groups about making work what it should be.

Utilizing Mindfulness to Tackle the Job Interview

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When we lose ourselves in a stressful moment — a workplace situation can quickly go from challenging to disaster status.

Of course, job interviews are a common scenario which can trigger a host of responses; anticipation, fear, excitement. If you’ve ever sat in the interview chair, you are acutely aware of the struggle to remain calm and focused. As much as we attempt to stay in control — our minds can race out of control — not unlike a runaway train. Managing yourself through this stressful dynamic is key.

Can the concept of mindfulness help us through an interview? Recent research tells us that it can.

Tough workplace scenarios can cause our “fight of flight” response to kick in — and job interviews certainly qualify. Labeled “Amygdala Hijacks”, by psychologist Daniel Goleman, these moments are characterized by a neurological process where our “rational brain” (Neo-cortex) becomes overpowered by our emotional brain. This renders us in a weakened position to deal with these situations effectively.

Mindfulness — defined as “The psychological state where you focus on the events of the present moment” — allows us to observe the events of our lives from a safer distance, without necessarily reacting in that moment. One key element, is the notion of equanimity, or “non-reactivity” to the events happening around us. Mindfulness tells us to pay attention and acknowledge both one’s inner experience and the outer world, without necessarily reacting immediately.

Discussed at length concerning its impact on both our psychological and physical well-being (See here and here), mindfulness can help us remain balanced in many situations that might normally derail us. One recent study links mindfulness to effective workplace behavior. The research revealed that mindfulness may help with roles that require a series of decisions in quick succession — not unlike the multiple decisions/responses we face during a job interview. Managing our automatic responses, (such as becoming nervous or flustered) and re-focusing that energy toward staying composed is key.

How might mindfulness help us in a job interview? Above all, you want to represent yourself completely. Regrets concerning what you may have forgotten to mention, (or did mention) can prove critical. During interviews we can become overwhelmed and “lose our heads” — as we quickly lose focus on the goals of the current conversation. (You can find yourself either rushing ahead or reviewing your last answer.) If you are unable to remain fully present, you may miss important conversational cues that will help you present yourself well.

We needn’t wait for your next interview, to develop techniques to become more mindful. Weaving techniques into our every day lives can prove to be a worthy investment. Here are a few things to consider:

Try these techniques to stay fully present and aware:

  • Practice the art of “micro-meditation . These are 1-3 minute periods of time to stop (perhaps when you feel most distracted) and breathe. While you are waiting for an interview to begin (seems these are always delayed), utilize the following acronym taught at Google: S.B.N.R.R. — Stop. Breathe. Notice. Reflect. Respond.
  • Tame the “inner voice”. Don’t let an inner monologue take over. (For many of us it is a panicked conversation.) Be aware of a “less than supportive” inner dialogue, that might rear it ugly head. Consciously interrupt it and replace it with a more positive message.
  • Refocus on your ultimate goal. Remind yourself of the purpose of the interview: to accurately portray yourself as a contributor. We all have triggers that cause us to lose focus and react with fear or anger. Monitor these (certain topics, etc.) and remind yourself to stay ahead of an emotional response pattern.
  • Breathe. While, we can’t halt the interview — we can silently “tap ourselves on the shoulder” to stay focused. When you feel your mind racing, mentally pause and “tap”. Collect yourself and return to the moment.
  • Bring along a mental list. Enter the interview with 3 or 4 critical points that you want to leave with the interviewer. Circle back and inject these key points into the conversation.

How do you stay calm and focused during an interview? Share your strategies.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

When Settling Cross-Functional Concerns — Lay the Cards on the Table

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When different functions within our own organizations aren’t seeing “eye to eye”, we tend to shy away from bringing them together. We don’t intend to prolong the conflict — but, in reality, that is what occurs. Our instincts are often to act as an intermediary and settle the issue calmly and quickly. But, that is likely not in the best interest of the organization.

Digging into the concerns is often the best route, especially if the conflict directly affects your clients or customers. Often it’s time for things to change — yet we’ve ignored the signs or haven’t had the opportunity to address the issues.

It’s best to lay the cards on the table and expose the root of the problems, even when this is an extreme challenge, as quickly as possible. Hopefully, exploring the developing issues wards off delivery problems related to products and services.

When I’m called in to sort out these types of situations (often at an off-site), my first instinct is to get everyone in the same room and lay the cards on the table. I often couple this with a process exercise that models work flow, that illustrates how their work crosses paths with other functions to deliver great products and services. Of course, I have the benefit of a lowered emotional investment. That’s often what is needed the vet the issues and move forward.

Here is an exercise to try on your own. (I suppose it is a modified “War Game” exercise.)

  • Start with your functional groups intact. Initially, place contributors in groups sorted by their source function (No more than 6-8 per group. Utilize round tables). Place index cards on the table. Each group will identify key cross-functional issues that are obstacles to delivering the best products or services to customers. (Include two colors of index cards, one for urgent and non-urgent issues. Have each team record 5 issues. One index card for each. Teams can identify 2 issues as urgent.)
  • Record the issues. Instruct the functional teams to discuss and record the toughest issues they face in relation to interfacing or coordinating, with the other functions. Instruct them to keep customer or product and service delivery in mind. Keep the description as brief as possible and include one example that occurs in practice.
  • Collect the recorded issues. After issue identification, offer a coffee break. Have leadership sort the issues by content area for distribution. Select a set of cards, with key topic areas represented, for consideration by the re-convened teams.
  • Mix-up the teams by functional area. Re-convene teams as multi-functional groups for the solution phase. Allow the “solution” teams to choose, then attack 2-3 of the problems, time allowing. They should develop solutions for each that will be presented to the larger group. Each team will work on the issues selected. (30-45 minutes or so.) Then break once again, there will be serendipitous conversation.
  • Present proposed solutions.  Re-convene. The teams should select two presenters. One presenter should be a member of a functional team that hasn’t sourced the issue being addressed.

I’ve never seen a group that didn’t learn something critical from the challenge. There will be more than a couple of heated exchanges, but it is all in the name of progress. Data can be added to the equation after issues are identified. If there is time, the group can identify metrics that can track progress, as time goes on.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

Losing Talent: Go Ahead, Tell Yourself It’s Mutual

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I’ve recently published a post at Linkedin entitled, How Not to Manage a High Performer. (The comments are worth a look.) In the article, I discuss all of the ways we, as managers and organizations as a whole, shoot ourselves in the foot where top talent is concerned. We rely too heavily on their collected experience when things become hectic, and essentially drain them dry. We fail to offer them real challenge. Then we somehow forget to say thanks — for a job truly well done.

The employee-employer relationship may have started out on the right foot — and good intentions were plentiful. However, as time marches on another troubling story emerges. We drop the proverbial “ball”, so to speak and the tenor of the relationship devolves. Then — without fail, the inevitable moment finally arrives when your high performer makes the decision to move on. We’ve forced their hand in many cases, and in truth we’ve actually limited (not energized) their careers.

We’d like to tell ourselves that the feeling is “mutual” — that as an organization we’ve done all that we could. They’ve “outgrown us” or were somewhat “hard to please”. However, that’s likely a little whit lie, we tell ourselves. Organizations can find themselves on the wrong side of that argument each and every day.

The decision to leave is often not mutual or well-timed (we’ve forced their hand), and organizations lose for a numbers of identifiable reasons — most of which are well-known and preventable. (Take a look at the concepts of the Psychological Contract and “Tours of Duty” in The Alliance).

So, I say hooray for talent. Move on. Jump off. Find an organization that is willing to take a moment to learn who you are and what you need to excel. I’ve seen talented, good-hearted, motivated employees suffer at the hand of a completely clueless organization, yet thrive at another. That difference is the responsibility of organizations to affect.

So tell yourself it’s mutual — and that the next employee is simply one click (through ATS) away. Go right ahead.

But, it’s not.

You lose.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

Organizations: What You Put Out There Matters — So Keep it Real

 

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We all have a vision in our mind’s eye of how we are perceived by the world. But, as humans we can serve as notoriously poor judges. I find that organizations can suffer from the same biases — leadership may envision the organization as “caring” or “innovative” — yet their behavior throws a fly in the ointment.  As an entity, we have to own up and consider that what we’d like to be, and what we really put out there — may not jibe.

Where organizational culture is concerned, this reality gap can become quite critical — affecting many elements that contribute to success. (Think of attracting talent, etc.) Ultimately, the same criteria that we apply to exceptional leaders, works for the larger, collective organization as well. (Consider the attributes of trust, integrity and character.)

Displaying what we are truly “made of”, is established through small, yet meaningful exchanges with our employees and customers. These actions are critical in cementing (and communicating) a healthy organization culture. Often organizations profess to being one thing — but when you peel away the layers of PR and slogans — they are in fact, another. Grandstanding rarely works, as actual behaviors often tell the story with far greater power.

Where employees are concerned, discrepancies of “talk vs. actions”, can create a wide rift as they move through their tenure within the organization. This is exactly how we lose our most valued employees, as  we make implicit promises that we just cannot keep.

A few ideas for that:

  • Recruit with integrity. The old adage of “don’t make a promise you cannot keep” holds here. Respect the talent, that may walk through your doors. If you cannot deliver what they are seeking, don’t spin the story in your favor. Utilize realistic job previews (RJPs) whenever possible — you’ll avoid numerous issues later on.
  • Treat others as you would a customer. I can’t think of anything I hate more, than an organization that puts on one face to make a sale, yet treats those that have contributed to that opportunity as “less than”. Enough said — it’s reprehensible. Eventually top talent will cycle out of your organization for this very reason.
  • Get the real story. Ensure that you really know how your organization is perceived from all vantage points — minus the “spin”. Get real in a hurry, and pay attention to the signs of a misaligned culture, before a myopic view hurts your long-term goals.

Have you ever experiences an organization that seemed to have a “split” personality? Share your story.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

When You Arrive at Your New Job — You Are Still There

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My first full-time role after earning my master’s degree, literally imploded one afternoon in a matter of minutes. Not that my relationship with the organization had any indication of going sour — it was a great entrance into the world of work — and began gloriously. Over my tenure, I was offered increased responsibility, earned a promotion and worked with a lot of great people. I felt it was my dream role.

However, there was one colleague in particular, determined to make my ride a very bumpy one. (I was entirely unaware of the brewing competitive dynamic.) When all was said and done, I was left standing in front of my car, at 4:00 PM on a Friday with a box of my personal belongings. It was awful. I cried quite a few tears over that weekend. It took time (and work) to move through that experience.

I listen to stories of work and career nearly every day — and if you listen closely, trends do begin to appear. One that I often see, is “leftover” emotions or associations from previous job experiences. Like other negative experiences outside of our work lives, you have to work through completely them before you can offer the next experience a fair chance. If something is left unresolved (whether related to a person or experience), it may rear its ugly head once again.

Consider the following:

  • Note the trends. If you find yourself getting tripped up in the same general area where you have experienced issues previously, acknowledge the pattern. For example, you find you lack trust in your co-workers/supervisor or you patently avoid presentations.
  • Reflect. Be mindful and take a moment to see where the pattern may have originated. What negative experiences are re-surfacing? Were you criticized when making presentations and this now deters you from speaking in front of others? Were you treated unfairly in another role?
  • Keep things in their place. As human beings we tend to draw similarities between situations and individuals that we meet. However, that dynamic can backfire. Your boss from your role 5 years ago may seem much like your current supervisor — however, they are not the same person. You can create new problems, by treating them as such.
  • Share your concerns. Talk to your supervisor, mentor or trusted individual about your concerns. The only way to process the “leftovers” is to acknowledge the situation and speak of them openly. Make every effort to move through your obstacles — it is worth the time and trouble.

Of course, we are all individuals. So, be patient with yourself. Hopefully as time goes on, you’ll find your career is back on track.

Have you had this experience? How did you address it?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

Is Loneliness a Growing Factor When We Work Remotely?

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To be honest, I’ve really never been a “joiner”. You may identify with this sentiment.

In college, I didn’t feel the need to belong to clubs or pledge a sorority to feel connected. (Landing with a few grad students in Psychology senior year seemed enough.) In an office, I continued to enjoy conversing with other like-minded individuals on a regular basis. Meetings never seemed a chore — as discussions of challenges and up-coming projects somehow ticked a box for me. (The debate was very satisfying.)

However, even knowing past habits — I never dreamed I’d miss face-to-face discussions, as much as I do.

I’ve been working remotely for years now — and I’ll freely admit it has its lonely moments. Certain aspects of working from home are fantastic. But, somehow all of the journal articles, posts and projects aren’t the same without a work group nearby.

I often wondered if my coaching clients who work remotely, felt the same. Turns out, many of them do.

This week I had the chance to read an eye-opening piece at Slate, concerning the stigma associated with an admission that we feel lonely (even if only from time to time). In it, the author describes the immediate inclination we have to connect loneliness with being “less than” (or dare I say “loser”). That has to stop. Because, it’s simply not true. Research completed by MIT Sloan, has explored this concern as applied to our work lives, discussing the isolation and lack of visibility that may come along when working remotely. The negative by-products of working remotely won’t affect all of us, as we are individuals — however, potential issues should be on the radar.

Discussions are incomplete if we fail to address the common by-product of occasional loneliness. Even with all the available social networks, we need to feel real connection — not simply increase the amount of ambient chatter.

I have a couple of ideas for this. I’m sure we’ll uncover a number of other strategies. Here are a few for starters:

  • Check in frequently. Make a concerted effort to speak with someone in your office daily. Whether this is your manager, mentor or colleague — this will help retain a sense of belonging.
  • Visit your home office. Even if you are fully enjoying your remote work life, make plans to visit your home office as time and travel allow. If you are already feeling disconnected and you are within a reasonable distance, get there once a week. If possible, attend meetings that reinforce how you, and your work, fit into the larger picture.
  • Facilitate “on-site” sabbaticals. If you are affiliated full-time, you might consider spending a couple of weeks a year at the home office. Beyond the challenge of organizing proper a work space, this could allow far-flung colleagues to interact in-person for an extended period of time. This could do wonders for both team-building and strategy concerns.
  • Join a co-working space. Co-working is the perfect solution if you miss the “goings on” of office life. Most cities have at least a couple to choose from, so visit them and get a sense of the vibe. A friend of mine owns The Watercooler in Tarrytown, New York. I can attest that it is a bastion of “connectedness”.
  • Schedule “meet-ups”. With differences in location and time zones, in can be difficult to get on the same schedule. This limits communication and a feeling of being connected. Identify a time of day, when you know you can intersect “time-wise” and speak — and hopefully a ritual will develop. You could also investigate an “always on” virtual workroom, with a tool such as Sqwiggle, that facilitates spontaneous communication.

Do you work remotely? Share your strategies to limit remote loneliness here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

The Epic Fail: It Happens to the Best of Us

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I’ll have to admit, after seeing the above photo plastered across social media — I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the unfortunate employee (intern perhaps), who left the less-than-period-proper water bottle on the set of Downton Abbey. I also thought this might be a great time to have a brief refresher on the topic of workplace mistakes.

A few thoughts:

  • It happens to the best of us. As the above photo attests, even consummate professionals have their moments. In many cases we are too tired, stressed or rushed to do our best work. (A classic work life scenario.) If we can learn anything from this, it is to pace ourselves and recognize when we are fading.
  • Have the courage to own it. Have you ever had a discussion with an individual who just would not admit they had anything to do with a snafu? Do you recall just how frustrating that was? Many of us feel that we must be perfect at all times — and this is entirely unreasonable. (We cannot prevent re-occurrences if we do not understand what really has happened. Remember this the next time around.) It’s human to make a mistake. However, the first person you must forgive is yourself.
  • If possible, turn things around. After the shock of the moment has passed, if you can possibly see the humor (or an opportunity) in the error — change the vibe completely. In response to their error, the folks at Downton published this photo, recognizing that indeed they are not perfect — while making the most of the moment to draw attention to a worthy cause.

How have you handled work life mistakes? Share your strategies.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

Photo: @DowntonAbbey