Considering Grit

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I’ve just watched Michigan State University’s basketball team beat Louisville to reach the Final Four, as they continue to follow an unlikely path through the NCAA tournament. If you follow college basketball religiously — or simply get caught up in the excitement as I do — you’ll note that surprise outcomes occur quite regularly.

That’s really why I watch. I always root for the underdog. In this case, it was my Alma Mater.

As it turns out, they didn’t need my help.

A few key elements are usually present in these upsets. In this case, a fantastic combination of youth, talent and exquisitely seasoned coaching. However, there is another secret ingredient that psychologists have been observing, that likely played a role — grit.

Grit can take a solid competitor and transform them into a warrior. (Leaders that can stoke grit likely have the ability to do the same in the workplace.) In this classic research, Angela Duckworth of the University of  Pennsylvania, explored the attitudes and conditions that contributed to achieving valued outcomes. What became evident was that talent is not always enough — perseverance was also required. (See her TED Talk here.)

When I watched the reaction of the players as the final buzzer sounded, it was clear they knew that had done something extraordinary. They had met a Goliath and pulled through, again.

I do realize that Michigan State’s path may end here — as they face Duke in the next match-up. However, this matters little.

With a hefty dose of grit, they’ve already met their true potential on that court.

That is a win in itself.

Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Dangerous Business of Workplace Advice

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In my profession, I am in the business of offering advice.

That may not seem like a perilous role — but I assure you it is. Even when individuals seek me out as a workplace coach (and pay for the content of my advice), they are not always open to receive what I have to offer. This may be related to something researchers call “Feedback Orientation”. (Read more about that here.) However, this may have more to do with the fact that people, are quite complicated.

Although clients may thank me months later —  I often hear the “sound of crickets” as a response to my honest advice.

It is difficult to sort out responsibility when a career isn’t moving along as expected. It is even more difficult to realize that we own some of that responsibility. It is a process, for sure.

During our work lives, most of us will be in the tenuous position of offering workplace advice. Here, are a few guidelines, learned from years of joyous revelation and bruises.

  • Gauge receptivity. People are endlessly complicated — and we don’t own a crystal ball. So, when someone seeks advice from us we assume they really want that advice. Warning: this is not always the case. Sometimes we simply need to vent and aren’t really looking for advice of any kind. Keep this in mind.
  • Stay in tepid water. A good rule of thumb is this: Don’t open any door they haven’t already cracked open. When discussing loaded topics, things can get heated very quickly. You may not know the complete history of a specific issue or problem. So remain cautious.
  • Timing is everything. Don’t lay down the “tough stuff” when someone feels beaten down by the workplace. Have the foresight to take on a topic in stages. When an individual has had a less than positive experience (passed over for promotion, etc.), they need time to heal. They may need to just stay in process mode for a bit of time. So, hold back.
  • Focus on skill building. I’ve found that in most cases, building skills offers the confidence to move on effectively. Steer your contact toward longer-term mentoring or training. You are less likely to crash and burn.

Of course, if someone seeks our advice — we should try to help. At the very least offer, “What can I do?” and lend an empathetic ear. Even if your only advice is to seek out a professional, being open to the unvarnished version of their experiences, is valuable.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent and also serves as the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors.

It’s Hump Day: Offer Your Mind a Kick-Start

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I start most days with YouTube.

That may seem odd to you — but it works for me. Today, Gregg Allman, George Harrison, Green Day, and The Verve are my colleagues. My partners in crime. My morning coffee mates.

Yesterday, it was Aretha. Tomorrow it might be Chopin. I’m not sure. I’m completely open.

We often forget that we must leave ourselves the room to be our best. (Certainly our brains require this.) When pushed to the limits, working on only fumes, we’re likely to fail.

I’m not sure what works for you — as the seeds of creativity are quite different for each and every one of us. That’s the beauty of the workplace. We are individuals. So are the required roots of creativity.

So start your day with what works for you. Take the time to identify this. Then become brutal in its application. Take that morning walk — or listen to that audio book — or queue up Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga.

Start your day with the proper foundation.

Then push “start”.

What powers you though your Wednesday? Share your strategies here.

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

The Vital Importance of Being Honest in the Workplace

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We’ve all suffered momentary lapses of memory at work. Fuzzy recollections of what occurred on a specific project or initiative — time has a funny way of chipping away at facts and figures. We might lose ourselves in conversation and misspeak or dance around the truth to put another person at ease. However, knowingly misrepresenting who we are or what we have accomplished during our work lives, usually proves detrimental to both work and career. Ultimately, misrepresenting our own history has the potential to derail both promising careers and healthy organizations, alike.

As a role increases in both scope and exposure — being mindful of how we present ourselves and remaining true to our word — becomes an even greater responsibility.

Honesty about credentials and work experiences can affect nearly every aspect of our work lives going forward — and has proven to do so in many realms including government, sports and news/entertainment. Moreover, this dynamic can impact how we fill our most vital roles in organizations today — limiting our ability to match skills with organizational needs.

Of late, this issue has very publicly affected those that we most need to trust. (Network anchor Brian Williams has been suspended for an inaccuracy describing his work experiences. This week it was revealed that VA Secretary Robert McDonald miscommunicated that he served in Special Forces, when he served in the 82nd Airborne Division. He has issued a formal apology. Personally, I thank him for his service to our country. )

From inaccurate resumes to name dropping, the selection process is wrought with misrepresentations and dishonesty. During our actual tenure within an organization, other looming issues with transparency can develop. These situations can lead to problems — both undetected and catastrophic.

For organizations to remain effective, it is imperative that we not only identify needed competencies and utilize state of the art selection strategies. We must also attempt to remain transparent as contributors — so that roles are matched effectively with the appropriate candidate. This includes respecting the exchange agreement that exists between employers and employees. However, whether workplace cultures encourage honesty during selection and tenure, is another topic to carefully consider.

Breaches during these processes can create a myriad of cascading problems, for all of us.

What are your thoughts? Have you been tempted to stretch the truth, where your work history is concerned? Have you hired an employee and their resume was later deemed inaccurate? Is lying a necessary evil to move forward today?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto/NewYork. Her blog The Office Blend, has been recognized by Forbes as a “Top 100 Website for Your Career” in both 2012 and 2013.

Lower Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images
This post previously appeared at LinkedIn.

Why Brian Williams’ Suspension Surprised Me

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I’ve been hashing and re-hashing the news that NBC has suspended anchor Brian Williams, after it was revealed he embellished stories concerning his experiences. Whether his memories became hazy when recalling events, or he purposely enhanced his story of a helicopter ride in 2003, is really of no consequence. His role as managing editor at NBC required the utmost caution and care when disseminating information — an essential competency for continued success in that role.

I truly feel for his predicament, as we all make mistakes — and his respect his tenure. However, I remain disappointed that NBC didn’t respect the most critical competency required for that role: complete honesty.

Organizations become loyal to their most valued employees — a common and usually positive occurrence. (It is the essence of building a two-way relationship.) However, that loyalty can negatively impact that same organization in cases such as this. Our own judgements can become cloudy, where a much loved or respected colleague are concerned. But, in extreme cases, a parting of the ways is the only solution that really makes sense.

A 6 month suspension does offer Williams and NBC time to sort out his situation, and consider potential paths. However, he should have stepped down from his role immediately. When he didn’t do so — he likely should have been fired, rather than suspended.

Leaders must make tough calls where the essence of their organizational mission is threatened. I do understand that in this case, there are many powerful elements to consider.

But sadly, in some cases — we must part ways with even our most engaging employees.

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

In Work Life — Kindness Matters

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Kindness applies so clearly to our work lives, However, we rarely exercise the option to use it.

We’ve all suffered career disappointments and detours. However, many of these low points, could have been tempered with a small dose of kindness. The opportunities for kindness are really endless. We just have to be mindful that they exist.

Here are just a couple of examples from my own career, where kindness might have changed the eventual outcome.

  • Applying for a job. Most of us have been either ignored, put off or minimized during the hiring process. For example: Don’t post a role that has really already filled — or if a decision will not be made for months, don’t promise an update in a week. (Someone might turn down an opportunity with you in mind.) The truth is often the kindest option. Go with it.
  • A sharp change in direction. I was to gather data for my dissertation at a large auto company. One week before the process was to begin, a newly hired VP of HR stated: “We have ivy-league schools clambering to study us, why would I allow you to do so?”. (BTW, I attended Wayne State University, located in the heart of Detroit. It took 6 months to re-group with another sample). Explaining why they couldn’t comply, without insult, would have been a kinder route.
  • Organizational downsizing. I was caught in one of these melees, early in my career. After offering my heart and soul to the organization for nearly 2 years, they offered me a cardboard box (and out placement, if I signed a document to not sue.) at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. If I had known my role was in danger, I could have looked for another role. Instead they chose to be cold and perfunctory, to avoid a real conversation and potential legal issues. Shame on them. Real leaders know better.

I’m sure you have your own work life stories to reflect upon. How would an act of kindness have changed the situation?

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

Is 2015 a Career Transition Year for You?

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People change — that’s a given. Organizations change. That is also a given. What we desire (or require) from our work lives, evolves right alongside these elements. Although pay and benefits certainly play a role — remaining in our current role has much to do with the enjoyment derived from the work we complete. So why is it that so many of us hesitate to make a change, when the fit just isn’t there?

I often enter people’s lives when they are moving from one career chapter to another. In many cases, this transition can become quite a stressful experience. (But, not for the reasons that you might initially think of.) I’ve found that the “nuts and bolts” of this transition, are often not as challenging as the emotional struggle that occurs beforehand. We clearly fight change, for a multitude of reasons.

Transitions are not easy, but we can tackle a change. When you are at the fringe of a new beginning — things can appear very, very fuzzy. This creates much trepidation and worry, so a strategy will help.

Here is my best advice to help you move through this:

  • Accept the need to move on. We spend a lot of time forcing situations to work, that are ultimately doomed to fail long-term. This will not stop the inevitable. Change is difficult — but often worth the trouble. Entertain the notion that you can discover a better option.
  • Set your vision. Determine exactly what you are striving for — and offer that vision the respect it deserves, by defining the “edges”. (“I’m unhappy” is not a call to action.) Do the required research that will offer direction. What is working? What is missing from your work life? What role are you aiming for? What must you do, to move in the right direction?
  • Do something — anything. We often dismiss change, because change looks insurmountable. Tackle the process in much smaller steps — but start somewhere. For example, begin by completing one action a day to drive you forward. (One call, one conversation, one e-mail, one new network connection.) Not unlike earned interest, your actions will compound daily.
  • Give things time. It is often a shock to realize that your current work life, will become a part of your past. You must offer yourself time to grieve for what has transpired, and develop a positive outlook for the future. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’ll tackle the individual elements (where, when, how) as they come. Have hope that the right solution will emerge.

Have you successfully changed your career for the better? Share your story (and strategies) here.

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

The Office Blend: 2014 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. Here’s the story.

Here’s a little infromation:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 120,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 5 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Art of Being Mindful at Work

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A wonderful friend of mine is a successful real estate agent. She spends most of her days, evenings and weekends helping others find, or sell a home. Of course, she meets clients at an emotionally charged impasse in their lives — contemplating a change in residence. This can be a stressful experience.

There are so many elements that enter the conversation; jobs, money, family, security, space, hopes and dreams. (We buy or sell a home, for more reasons than I can count.) Any of these elements can become a challenge during the process.

Having observed my friend over the years, I’ve noticed one critical strategy that she employs: patience. She allows her clients the emotional space to be the human beings that they are. They are allowed to express emotion, to vent, to change direction, and their own minds. She doesn’t judge or react in the moment. She doesn’t shame them for being upset or frustrated.  She lets the whole process unfold in a way that allows the safety to find what they need, at that very moment in their lives.

I respect that. I like to call it “Mindful Real Estate”.

I believe the reason she has experienced such great success, is not that she has an impressive resume — or has deep connections. It is because she respects her clients and the daunting process in which they find themselves. She allows the process to unfold organically. There can be bumps in that road, and that is entirely OK.

Whether we are at work, home or play, we can all learn from her strategy. Don’t fight the condition of being human — and offer patience whenever you can muster the fortitude to do so.

I’m making it my business to remember that lesson going forward.

Maybe this can help you in some small way, as well.

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

Reflections on Honesty, Success and Ebay

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Our family is getting set to move from our home of 14 years. To be quite honest, I briefly tear up just thinking about the amount of packing ahead of me — and the work needed in our new home (built in 1948). I’ve become brutal about throwing things out, or finding items a worthy new home. I’ve hauled various things around (the paper surveys from my dissertation, for example) from house to house. No more. Time to let go.

With that in mind, I’ve been listing extra pieces of furniture and treasures found in the dark recesses of cabinets, on Ebay and Craig’s List. One such find, was a set of 10 colorful Pez dispensers. I hastily threw together an Ebay listing, which included a great Miss Piggy and a jolly looking Santa.

As it turned out, I really didn’t know what I had. Miss Piggy wasn’t the star of the show after all — and what unfolded was far more notable.

My first clue should have been the 3 “watchers” in the first 30 seconds after publishing the listing. What I finally learned, was that one of the Pez Dispensers was of quite a rare variety — and I hadn’t even bothered to call it out separately. Named “No Feet Indian Maiden” (so sorry, not my choice), it was manufactured in Austria back in the 50’s.

I had no idea. I can’t even recall how it landed in my possession. To a collector, this was a rare opportunity to enhance a collection.

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Within 10 minutes a very kind woman wrote to inquire about a “buy it now” price. She also quickly let me know what “No Feet Indian Maiden” was worth, on its own and suggested I pull down the listing and reconsider. (Its value is around $100.00, not a huge amount, but much more than I imagined. My opening price: $5.95)

I’ll have to say, I did learn that a real collector is a different type of person. (I’ve never stayed focused long enough to become one.) They respect their chosen genre, and the others who collect alongside of them.  She would have loved to own my “Maiden” — but not enough to cheat me out of a fair price in the process. I’ll venture to say that would have lessened her experience nearly as much as mine, if I had eventually discovered my error.

I believe this same principle of honesty applies to the workplace. We all have those moments when we struggle to be completely open and honest for various reasons. However, success just isn’t the same, if you don’t treat others honestly — in the manner you would like to be treated. A level playing field offers a feeling of confidence, that you have “made it” on your own merit. Holding back is just plain wrong. Period.

Here are a couple of examples, of what I’m getting at:

  • Be honest about what you really want. Be forthcoming about what you need from another individual. Don’t act as if you are offering something of value to them — if it is really only about benefiting you. People will see through the thin veil — and they will likely think poorly of you. Remember, it’s alright to call a favor, a favor.
  • Be honest even if you might lose something in the process. If possible, offer the honest feedback that can help another individual succeed. Don’t hold back simply because you may temporarily weaken your own position in the equation. Life and work  is not a “zero sum” game. Play the “long game” and lend that helping hand.
  • Be honest even when it creates a bit of stress. If you are asked an opinion concerning the quality of someone’s work, don’t completely sugar coat your feedback. If there are weaknesses that can be improved, be forthcoming. If things go wrong later on, they’ll wonder why you didn’t raise the red flag. That could be viewed as a betrayal.

So, thank you Maggie from Idaho — I appreciate your honesty. It is the small gestures like this that make the holidays rock for me.

In terms of work life success, just keep in mind that catching that prize, the big promotion or that raise — just isn’t the same if you sacrifice even just a bit of your integrity.

Somehow that kind of success, just isn’t as sweet.

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