Friday, June 29, 2012

Career Secret #10: Get Ready To Change...Again

As I write this final segment of Career Secrets, I am in mid-transition with my own professional journey.  In March, I accepted a position that placed me in the top tier of a large healthcare organization.  Of course, this was my goal and I prepared myself in every way imaginable.  

Up until now, each step of my advancement was due to my ability to make key contacts and, in so doing, dictate the pace and creativity of my environment. Through repeated success, I felt confident taking this skill into my new role. 

Except - surprise - that's not the skill that is required now.  

Now, instead of overseeing a staff, or making unilateral decisions, my role is one of support and encouragement to our 23 hospitals.  Now, I represent the organization's culture with group discussions, frequent presentations and regular visits to hospital leadership throughout the system.  Now, instead of dictating change, I watch as decisions are made only after they've been passed through numerous committees for approval. 

Even though my income has increased and I have almost endless freedom and flexibility, slowing myself down and learning new ways to make an impact in this environment is the hardest work I've ever done.

Yes, I know, I know.

'OMG, what are you whining about?' (Inner Critic never misses an opportunity)
'What am I supposed to do with my creative energy?'
'Was all of the hard work worth it?'
'Who am I now?'

When you achieve the success you are working toward now, you will ask yourself these questions because the skills required to get to the top are different than the skills needed to succeed once you're there.

Think about the movie, Titanic

Remember the guys down under, shoveling coal, making the ship run?  And the musicians who set the mood and capture the environment?  That's you working your way to the top.  Now, think of the captain of the ship, strolling around leisurely, drinking tea and calmly telling others what to do (someone else was supposed to be watching for icebergs...).  That's you at the top.  It takes some getting used to.

Tips for reinventing yourself as you advance to higher levels:

1)  You may have moved your career forward because of what you did, but you will reach top levels because of who you are.  Remember this, and rely on it as you're settling into this new role.  Become your most authentic self.

2)  Ask a lot of questions and make them smart ones.  You know more than you think.  A huge career leap is both exciting and intimidating.  But you didn't reach this level because you know nothing.

3)  Become more personal with your colleagues.  Loosen your boundaries just a bit and share some aspects of your personal life.  It's safer now because the competition has diminished.  And in a role that carries power, revealing more of your true self will put people at ease quickly.

4)  Ask for what you need.  Just because you're new in the role, the organization doesn't necessarily see you that way.  In fact, you are expected to have requests.  Whether it's additional staff, better equipment or inclusion in a decision making council, ask for what you want - you'll most likely get it.

5)  Relax. Take an hour out of your day to go shopping, enjoy a long lunch with your sister or walk through the park midafternoon.  Work from home now and then.  No one's tracking your every move and you've earned some freedom.  So take it with no guilt.

Unforeseen Challenge:  You have just advanced into a high level role, but inside, you feel like a newbie.  To everyone else in the organization, you're a rock star.  Even those who see you as one of the 'suits' can't help sucking up when you're in their presence. They will say things like, 'we're so honored to have you here,' and 'we'll take whatever direction you think we should.'  You will always be invited to address the group, and whatever you say is profound to them.  This will mess with your mind because you are just beginning to understand your new role, and you're treated like royalty simply because you occupy the role.  This disconnect is unsettling, so if you haven't yet sought therapeutic support during your rapid career advancement, I strongly encourage you to do so now.

Most of all, congratulations.  Through your own hard work and smart strategy, you have advanced to the top of your field.  Few people achieve this, so pat yourself on the back and feel good about your accomplishment.  Then begin the work of changing yourself into someone who understands and creates the big picture, a person who is comfortable having both influence and freedom, intimacy and power. 

Now, you are ready and able to ignite the future of your dreams.

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Career Secret #9: Practice The Art Of Diplomacy

Successful people always say what they mean, but in a way that it can be heard. The higher your career advances, the more important this becomes, whether you are coaching a subordinate, having a difficult conversation with your boss or firing someone. 

Diplomacy is simply a neutral and polite way of reframing your unedited thoughts.  And while the concepts themselves are simple, real diplomacy takes restraint, focus and practice.  No amount of hard work can substitute for this skill. 

Yes, I know, I know.

'Sometimes people need me to be blunt'
'I'm known for being outspoken'
'Aren't leaders supposed to be honest?'

Of course, honesty is important, and I'm not suggesting for a minute that you forfeit the truth when dealing with your colleagues.  However, outspoken and blunt responses will win you the label of 'loose cannon,' limiting your opportunities. Brutal honesty is a rookie mistake that is guaranteed to slow your career progression. 

With a little practice, anything - and I mean anything - can be said tactfully.  Especially when you feel annoyed. Here are a few examples of how to respond diplomatically when the dialogue in your head is reflecting your irritation, but you need to keep an open mind:

'How interesting' = I cannot believe you just said that

'Can you be more specific?' = What the hell are you talking about?

'What exactly does that look like?' = You're still not making any sense

'I've never noticed that' = That's got to be the dumbest thing I've ever heard

'Huh' = God, you're boring

'You could be right' = I don't care enough about this issue to argue with you

'Oh, my gosh' = You're shitting me, right?

'Let me give that some thought' = There's no way that's going to happen

'Put your mind at ease' = Stop being a drama queen

'What will you do next?' = This is your problem to solve, not mine

'Wow' = Dude, really?

With these responses, you're not lying and no one is insulted. You are, however, being present in the moment and effectively managing your own judgments.  Later, you can decide whether or not the conversation merits any more of your attention.  If it does, you have the time to craft a thoughtful, objective response.

Unforeseen Challenge:  After having a conversation that requires diplomatic restraint, especially if you are just learning this skill, you may be tempted to vent to a colleague to blow off some steam.  This can damage your career in a couple of key ways.  First, it will communicate that you cannot be trusted because you are talking behind someone's back.  Second, it creates tension in the environment and makes it harder for you to let go of the small stuff, which will only hold you back.  As stated in earlier Career Secrets, if you must vent afterward, talk to your partner, an objective friend outside of work or your therapist.

And by all means, let go of the small stuff.

Mastering the art of diplomacy will show everyone that you can be trusted to perform well when the stakes are high and the results really matter.  So figure out how to respond to anything at all in a way that respects your audience, presents your thoughts in their best light and continues to ignite your career.

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