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Running the Leadership Marathon

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I recently spoke with a friend of mine about how he views influential leadership and I found his take on things to be noteworthy.

When I asked him what makes a great leader, he replied:

“If you lead for 5 years every day, that’s a good leader.

If you lead for 10 years, you’ve become a great leader.

If you lead for 15 years, you have become a special leader.”

Sure, it is simplistic and there some important details to be added into that context. However, he brought up a great point. Truly effective, influential, and life-changing leadership is a marathon. Every moment of leadership you experience, every blog post of mine that you read, every time you choose courage over safety is reminiscent of a marathon runner taking a step each time. 26.2 miles is a long way to walk, jog, or run… but no runner will get there without taking thousands upon thousands of steps.

How are you taking steps towards your 26.2? Are these the kinds of steps that sustain you, move you forward, and build you towards the leader you want to be? If I’m fully honest with myself, I believe I am jogging this marathon, sometimes running a little bit, but it’s a good reminder for myself and hopefully you as well to pace yourself and to continue onward over the long-haul.

 

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Millennials and Perfectionism and Depression – and the End of Trading Up

Many thoughtful and interesting articles have recently been written on the state of millennials (30-somethings and younger) and why millennials behave differently than previous generations (check out a good one here and another here). As a member of this group and a person with a psychology, business, and leadership background, I’d like to add my experience to this compelling discussion.

We millennials were brought up with the notion that we could “be anything when we grow up.” I can remember sitting cross-legged in pre-school and my teacher, Ms. Gail, reassuring me of my endless potential on a daily basis. Like many others in my generation, I began to construct dream after dream, each a bit loftier than the previous. One day I was going to be a baseball player; the next I wanted to be a paleontologist studying dinosaurs. Every dream one-upped the previous in some way.

I became obsessed with “trading up.”

This desire affected every aspect of life, not solely my career aspirations. When I’d meet a girl who was cute, I’d be excited for a short time but then begin to wonder if there might be someone better. When I finally became good at baseball after practicing and trying for years, I became more interested in conquering the world of soccer…and then hockey…and then track… and then I wanted to be a rock star.

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In college, I was a psychology major my first year. However, that wasn’t enough, and I picked up a second major…and then a third…and almost got a minor before it was said and done. The cycle continued on through my high school and college years and I found myself regularly looking for more.

I became greedy towards my self-improvement.

With this pattern in place, it is hard to be happy, because nothing is ever good enough. I found this cycle leading me towards moments of depression and disappointment. Nothing ever seemed to satisfy me. I think we can also see this becoming more and more a part of the millennial culture. Think about music: 20 years ago, a single would come out that was amazing and people would listen to that cassette/record/cd over and over again. The top single 20 years ago was Mariah Carey’s “Dreamlover,” and it stayed in the #1 spot for more than 2 months – and was all over the radio for years (I can still hear the ear-piercing scream of her voice). However, nowadays, look at how short the longevity of music is: singles come out today, get massive radio play for 2 weeks, and then disappear (how quickly did that awful Harlem Shake appear and disappear?!). Millennials are trading up even in music they listen to and there is a desire for more, newer, faster, now.

After college, I worked at a rapidly growing church in Chicago in a musical role, using all of my talents, passions, and gifts in a relatively satisfying job, but after just a year, I desired something new. Then I landed a cool business management job for over 4 years that paid me well and was enjoyable…but I chose to leave that life to attend graduate school in California. In graduate school, I made a life-altering choice to end this cycle:

I decided to become satisfied.

It sounds simple and it was simple enough… but I had to teach myself that opportunities were not always infinite and I needed to become thankful, content, and joyful in the opportunities I was harnessing. In one of my classes, a student asked a successful guest lecturer what advice he’d give younger people and he replied “Practice satisfaction where you are now because if you don’t, you won’t be satisfied when you get to where you want to be.” He also told us to continue to grow, learn, and better ourselves as well – but to be content and at peace.

I made a decision to pursue joy and happiness in what was already in my life and not in what I didn’t have. And things changed.

I began working part-time for a great retail company that advocates the same values that I believe in wholeheartedly. The job was a blast and I felt at home, satisfied, and grateful. Instead of attempting to find another direction with a direct application of my degree after graduating, I elected to continue down the path with that same retail company. My job made me happy, largely because I recalibrated my lens of satisfaction in a counter-cultural way. Then I was promoted to a managerial role, which made me even happier…but I have continued with that company through thick and thin thus far.

Sure, there are other jobs, other companies, other roles, and other teams that would be fun to be a part of. Sure, I feel tempted like many other millennials to “change it up” every few years. However, instead of longing for something different and continuing to go from job to job, I’ve chosen to be satisfied, grateful, and content with the opportunity I’ve earned and it’s changed my whole life.

I have observed a significant trend with other millennials towards buying into the trading-up idea. I’ve witnessed 20 and 30-somethings working hard to attain a job and once they’re in, they fall into the dissatisfaction/depression of “now what should I do?” Depression, job turnover, divorce, and a sense of entitlement are at all-time highs in the Western world. Careers that our parents’ generation would fight to keep for 30 years and now voluntarily given up after a few years – and that length is continuing to shorten. Our generation is truly the never-satisfied generation.

If you are a fellow millennial, I have a challenge for you: break the temptation to always trade up. This idea is often a greedy and overly idealistic lie – and it harms us on many levels, from broken marriages, unstable social lives, and depression to careers and monetary greed. Don’t mistake this for being a call to stick with a company or job that you absolutely hate – and don’t reject a desire to better yourself in your current job or situation. The real truth is there will always be something bigger, better, sexier, faster, richer, or whatever else… but maybe where you’re at today is also pretty special.

Change doesn’t always equal improvement.

Focus on the wonderful bright spots around you in your life. If you don’t see them, look harder and they will appear.

More often than not, our satisfaction we seek is not going to be found around us but instead from inside of us.

Practice satisfaction where you are now because if don’t, you won’t be satisfied when you get to where you want to be.

To summarize all of this, give this classic Louis CK video a view if you haven’t before. He pretty much nails it.

 

 

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How to Kill the Interview

I read a cool article on LinkedIn today about how to kill it in an interview for a job. So, without further adieu…

How to Win Your Next Job Interview by Erica Ariel Fox

Kristina walked into my office and took a seat.

“So, tell me,” I said, “what excites you about this role?”

“I feel I’m very qualified for this job,” she said. “I majored in communications in college with a focus on conflict resolution. I did an internship at Search for Common Ground and spent two years with Teach for America. I can bring a lot to this organization.”

Yes, I thought to myself. I read your resume. So I already knew all of that.

Kristina continued for ten minutes to regale me with her experience, still not telling me what I actually wanted to know: what excited her about this role.

“Do you have any questions?” I asked her.

“Not really,” she said. “I just want to say again how excited I am, and that I think I’m a very good fit here.”

It was the first time I’d heard about excitement. Though as you know, not the first mention of what a good fit she was for the job.

I thanked her politely and called in the next person.

Use Your Big Four as a Roadmap

All of us have a range of perspectives: different ways we see the world, and voices we use to express ourselves. I write and teach about the most fundamental sides of us, a set I call The Big Four. These are central in leading wisely and living well. They’re also terrific as a guide for winning a job.

Here’s a tip on how to use each of The Big Four to your advantage.

  • Use your inner Dreamer to share a professional vision about yourself in the future.

    If you’re called in for an interview, there’s a good chance your interviewer has read your resume. It’s your past experience that earned you a seat across from them in this interview. Now it’s time to shift your focus from your past to your future. That’s your inner Dreamer’s specialty. Paint a picture for them of how you hope to make a difference: in your work, in your life, at their company or organization. Inspire them with your aspirations for the years to come and how working with them helps you achieve them.

  • Use your inner Lover to make a personal connection.

    An interview isn’t a transaction. It’s a mini-relationship. It lasts a short time, but the key to success is making real human contact with your interviewer. This is where the inner Lover excels – at building relationships.

    The number one reason people hire other people is because they like the idea of having them around. So reach out, and ask some questions about the person interviewing you: what do they love about the company? What excites them about their work, or gives their job meaning? Ask them to share some stories about great moments with their team. Shift from showing your interest in landing the job to letting them feel your interest in getting to know them.

  • Use your inner Thinker to move beyond superficial answers.

    Your interviewer is likely talking to lots of people. Many of them will say the same things, and they’re very general things: statements like “I’m so excited to work here,” or “I think my experience and my interests make me a good fit.” Answers like this don’t demonstrate your thoughtfulness, your ability to think deeply about issues, or the quality of your judgment. Your interviewer cares a lot about how you think, and your interview is a chance to show them.

    Your inner Thinker is designed to gather information, analyze a situation from a few angles, and generate ideas to solve problems. Shift your answers from upbeat generalities to responses that invite your interviewer to think about what you’ve said. You want the interviewer to get engaged, to join you in an interesting exchange. When the interview is over, you want them still considering some of the points you made, and wishing they had a few more minutes to explore that last topic with you.

  • Use your inner Warrior to show commitment, resolve, and the discipline to get things done.

    At the end of the day, your interviewer is hiring someone because they have a job that needs to get done. They need to know that you’re reliable, trustworthy, and capable of achieving results. Your inner Warrior orients toward taking action and crossing the finish line.

    In your interview, instead of listing job titles you’ve held, shift to giving examples of projects you’ve worked on and completed. Tell stories of how you’ve contributed to completing important tasks, or accomplishing impressive goals. Even if you’re just out of school, you can describe how you hung in there and finished your thesis, despite the temptation to give up. This gives your interviewer confidence that you have the stamina and determination to deliver when it matters. After the interview, take a small action step that goes beyond just emailing them to thank them for the meeting. Attach an article related to the discussion you had, or a link to a website that extends the conversation. This reinforces that you’re not just talk — you’re also about practical follow-up and focused completion.

To win in your next interview, use your Big Four as your guide. Remember them by their unique strengths:

The Dreamer: Possibilities

The Lover: People

The Thinker: Perspectives

The Warrior: Performance

To learn more about The Big Four, get a copy of Winning From Within: A Breakthrough Method for Leading, Living, and Lasting Change. In the book I give lots of advice for how to use all of them, at work and at home. To read more of my posts, you can “follow” me on LinkedIn or visit www.winningfromwithin.com.

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Stop Complaining and Go Make Something Of Yourself

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A month ago, a friend of mine (we’ll call her “Fran”) mentioned how she “has not been given an opportunity to grow” in her current role. Fran has been working in a small company role in sales for awhile and has seen other people chosen over her for the next role up. Fran confessed to me that she has “waited and waited and waited” for a superior to pluck her from obscurity and to commend her on being a “steady contributor” to her company. Fran is still in her role and isn’t going to leave that company just yet – but she feels frustrated.

Fran made me feel frustrated.

The world does not promote people who are “good.” How many baseball teams win world championships with players that are “good?” Likewise, how many AAA (minor league) ball players complain they’ve never been given a chance? Trust me…if someone is hits 50 homeruns for a minor league team in one year, it will be awfully hard for a team in the big leagues to not love the idea of having them on their team.

Don’t wait for your “opportunity” or for someone to “give you a chance.” It just doesn’t happen that often.

Instead, you determine your destiny. You are in charge of where you go in life, be it with a job, sports, social situations, whatever. If you are a leader, LEAD! Take control of your situation and earn your reward. Make yourself an unstoppable and amazing force that a higher-up in a company cannot help but lavish further responsility upon. Don’t aspire to be “good enough” – aspire to be the most amazing whatever in the world.

Our biggest blockade in growing or being successful is apprehension towards harnessing our potential.

If you want something, go get it. Don’t you dare give up until you’ve made it…. and when you get whatever you’re working towards, remember what happened and how amazing you proved yourself to be during that process…and how much more amazing you will continue to be as you grow.

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It’s All About Moments

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I’m a big football fan.

Recently, my favorite team, the Chicago Bears, hired a new coach named Marc Trestman. As with any new coach of a football team, Trestman has the huge responsibility of molding his team to his vision. Anyways… recently the Chicago Tribune published a newspaper headline that caught my attention in ways beyond football:

“Trestman whiffs on chance to make point”

I began to apply this to non-football life. I wonder… how often can that headline pertain to us in situations around leadership? How easily could our name be substituted for Trestman’s? “Matt whiffs on chance to make point.” The opposite could also work: “Matt succeeds on chance to make point.”

Every moment is a chance for us to mold the world around us to our vision, passion, and dreams. We can whiff or we can hit. How often do you consider each and every moment an opportunity to influence?

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? ? ?

So we’ve been at this BtP thing for a few months and it’s been a fun ride so far.

My question for any readers out there: What types of things would you like me to cover here? Are there any topics or areas of interest to you that would be of benefit? I have a couple more ideas but would love some input, specifically towards what you – my readers – would like to glean here.

As always, thank you for reading BtP!

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taking a couple days off…

Hey guys, I had a small hiking accident and I’m going to take a couple days to recoup. Please excuse me for a couple of days. If you want to read up on what happened, please check out my hiking website. Thanks for your understanding.

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