Leading References

Jason Alba, the soon-to-be famous JibberJobber guy wrote an excellent post on Reference Letters. He gives some great advice on collecting them ahead of time and how to store them. Don’t wait until you’re in a massive job hunt or running a major referral program to gather them.

A lot of career advisers now suggest that all employees need to document their accomplishments whenever possible. And, ask for written acknowledgement of successes (big and small). Don’t just wait for a performance review and hope that someone remembers or might have taken note of your extreme employee feat four months prior. Document, document, document. 

Keep your own accomplishment or kudos folder. Get your peers and subordinates to contribute, too.  Their feedback gives valuable insight. It’s not all about your boss’s viewpoint or your last client’s recommendation anymore. Potential employers or new clients are interested in a history of past outcomes. They also want to know how you arrived at them. Having the specific highlights of any successful project written down, testimonies captured and pictures of the finished product ( if applicable) are important in supporting the proof of your success.  References need to be non-linear, timeless and multi-dimensional to be effective.

On the flip-side, it is more acceptable now and perhaps even expected that you, as a potential employee or contractor will have checked out the boss/client’s references. Yes, you the worker, the new kid-on-the-block, the eager networker – you deserve to know if you’re signing up with an above-board, stand-up kind of leader.  Gone or at least slowly fading (thankfully) are the days when signing up for a new gig meant that you were the only one who had to prove yourself. It’s okay, even smart to check out their references, too.

A Rear View Mirror

is a must for every leader!

We all know how mothers trick us when we’re kids into thinking they have eyes in the back of their head. Who hasn’t been caught reaching across the back seat in the car on a long ride to bother a sibling in one way or another when your mother, from up front tells you stop whatever it was you were about to do? You hadn’t even done it yet, and you know your mother never turned her head. How did she even know? The secret, of course was the rear view mirror. 

While moving forward, focusing on the road ahead, that handy gadget enables us to keep track of what’s going on behind us. That’s vital for leaders. Often leaders tend to be visionaries, seeing the shape of things to come long before many of the rest of us. That’s fine. That’s how progress is made. If a leader gets too far ahead, though, they take the risk of losing sight of what’s happening in the metaphoric back seat.

Sometimes economic forecasters, even with sophisticated means of analysis forget to look in their rear view mirror. The U.S. economy’s growth grew more slowly than expected this last quarter (4th). Surprise! surprise! The housing market has been slipping. “The fresh look at the housing market was sobering. New-home sales plummeted by 16.6 percent in January from the previous month. That was the largest decline since January 1994, when sales slid by 23.8 percent.”
Well, ask the homeowners and realtors, and they could have told you that was happening. But, the economists were looking too far down the road.

If you’re interested, this AP article by Jeanine Aversa ofers a good view into the economic rear view mirror. Forecasters – weather or economic can only do so much. Leaders are smart to listen to the advice, as long as they remember to take a glance in the rear view mirror now and then. And, then adjust their journey to the stiuation accordingly – as in the case of the economy.

Can You Spare An Employee?

For the past couple of years I’ve read various reports forecasting there will be a shortage of workers in the American marketplace as the Baby Boomers start retiring en masse. Yet, in the workplace in general, I see and hear very little acknowledgement, at least so far of this possibility.

Roberta Chinsky Matuson cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics in her report  titled It’s the year 2010…do you know where your workers are?
Here’s the reality. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of available jobs is projected to increase by more than 22 million by 2010. The civilian labor force, however, is only projected to increase by 17 million. This suggests we will be approximately 5 million workers short of keeping up with job growth over the next 10 years.”

Those are jarring statistics. Matuson uses the analogy of a Perfect Storm in her article and gives some good suggestions for keeping the workplace of the future afloat. Employee appreciation and lessened workloads are stressed.

There are others who say that this forecast is somewhat exaggerated. This is based mostly on the premise (and some valid surveys from groups like AARP) that a lot of workers will choose to retire later, rather than sooner. And, that others will look to return to work, at least on a part-time basis after their initial retirement.  

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I think it emphasizes the value of employees – no matter what their age. Companies need to be willing to make adjustments to make the workplace safe and hospitable for the senior set. The  senior set, in turn needs to recognize that younger workers can move up and assume leadership at a faster pace; that responsibilities can be shared with their underlings along with knowledge. It may be the only way to spare all employees from future workplace chaos.

Teamwork

When a leader does a good job, the team works – works in a way that gets the job done and in a way that moves everyone forward. What happens when a good team doesn’t have a good or well-prepared leader?

This article by Maureen Moriarity from Seattlepi.com, Apprentice 101: Teamwork can offset ineffective leadership illustrates two such cases. Both Project Managers of the two competing teams proved to pretty ineffective as leaders on this week’s mission. Despite this, one team rallied and directed themselves to victory in the SueBee Honey challenge.

They did it through teamwork, and perhaps because a few of them were leaders in their own right. So, they were able to be informal leaders who compensated for the project manager’s weakness and indecision. Unfortunately this happens too often in business settings. One would like to believe that the ineffectual leader would be found out soon enough. That may be the case in The Apprentice as soon as the next challenge. Is that a reflection of how it works in real life? Or can it take longer, all the while dragging the team down?

In the end, Teamwork always wins out. A smart leader pays attention and participates; if not it could mean their time is up! 

Freeze Tag

No, this doesn’t refer to a new version of one of those silly (sorry, no offense to all you prolific linkers out there) tag memes that pop up across the blogosphere. The subject comes to mind more because I live in the Northeast, which is suffering along with other parts of the country in a deep freeze. This is not all that unexpected this time of year, but compared to one of my recent posts Weather… or Not, it is a major change.

Most of us don’t welcome change, especially change that we didn’t initiate. But, when change comes, sooner or later, we need to do something to either accept or counter it. To deal with winds ranging up to 50 mph and temperatures ranging below zero, we can crank up the thermostat, put on another layer (or two) or increase our intake of hot cocoa, tea or coffee exponentially. Those would be choices of acceptance to the change. Staying inside or leaving town for a warmer climate at the first indication of freezing temps would be choices to counter the change.

Accept or Counter – both are good tools to employ with change. Many are eager for change, thinking it’s a good thing. Sometimes it is, sometimes not. We need to do an assessment before we decide which action to take when dealing with change in the elements. Likewise with personal, political or business changes.

There is a third action, or I should say inaction to take when confronted with change  – freeze, do nothing.Freeeze  Sometimes that is a good thing, more often not. Think of the childhood game of freeze tag.  When were you most likely to get tagged and then frozen in some uncomfortable or awkward position? While you were caught up in a frenzy, running in circles trying to keep from getting tagged, that’s when! That is not a good thing, and usually happens in its adult manifestation when we neglect to assess the change or strategize to accept or counter. While we’re whirring around in blissful ignorance or indecision, that’s when the deep freeze can strike.

There’s help for anyone who has either been tagged into inertia by the howling winds and dipping thermometer or metaphorically frozen on the playground of life’s choices and changes. Fresh thoughts, creative suggestions and  reconstructed advice are abundant if you want out of the freeze.
Here’s some fuel to keep your inner fires fueled up:

Phil Gerbyshak of Make it Great fame shares some positive actions in his 5 Ways to Change the World. Hugging came in at #6 – not sure if it was an after-thought or meant to be climactic, but it’s a guaranteed deicer.

Kent Blumberg reminds us of these 15 Essential Leadership Tools that are prerequisites for any strategic maneuvers  – be it freeze tag or a major organizational change.

Steven Aitchison at Change Your Thoughts challenges us to Change your life with a computer and a headset. He even offers to check in with you every day by email. This could be the one that will spur you to turn on the defroster.

Kammie at Passion Meets Purpose lends emotional support and prompts us with the question, “What sets your soul on fire?” 

Finally, Brendan O’Keefe has developed The Intention Engine which he shares with all who want to focus their dreams into actual reality. This will activate your mind, and calls for forward motion. No room for freeze tag there.

If you know of other sites to help us keep from freezing up, please add them. 
Stay warm!!

Outstanding

Original SOB Button   Snowy PloverSuccessful and Outstanding – two great leadership qualities!  Liz Strauss at Successful-Blog definitely displays them. She is a leader in the blogosphere, who exudes boundless electronic energy and thought processes in keeping not one, but three Blogs constantly fresh and updated.

One can tell that Liz cares about her fellow bloggers and readers. She readily shares knowledge, introduces the the latest blogging technology and/or buzz, steps up to promote causes and adds a touch of humor when appropriate. That explains the naming of the SOB award. (Oh, did I mention she’s a bit of a marketing genius, too?) On Tuesday nights she hosts an Open Mic Night. When I first participated, I found it great for networking, informative, and even  entertaining. Little did I know what an outstanding resource I had found.

So, with apology to my staid upbringing, I proudly display my SOB award. I have been inducted into the Successful and Outstanding Bloggers Hall of Fame Liz’s words best explain,” They take the conversation to their readers, contribute great ideas, challenge us, make us better, and make our businesses stronger. I thank every one of our SOBs for thinking what we say is worth passing on. Good conversation shared can only improve the blogging community. “

I thank Liz for the recognition. I am honored to be included. I didn’t start this Blog looking for awards, but it’s an incentive to continue on the path I am taking. My plans were to share my thoughts and insights as another means of establishing my credibilty for potential clients or interested acquaintances. (and of course friends and family, if so inclined) I never realized how many smart, like-minded (and sometimes different-minded) people from all over the world I would encounter in such a short time. I am grateful that Liz Strauss, the Chief  Successful and Outstanding Blogger makes herself so accessible, and that she is such an outstanding leader in the electronic universe. I am proud to be a part of the SOB community!

She’s In It To Win

Yes, folks I’m talking about Hillary! No matter what your political leanings are, I imagine that Hillary Clinton’s entrance into the presidential campaign for election to the 2008 term may have caught your attention.

It’s exciting to see a woman run for president. But, people on the street (well, the streets I frequent, anyway) and in the press are already disparaging Hillary – and not because she’s a woman. That’s a good thing. Not the disparaging necessarily, but the fact that people are looking past the gender issue and directly at the individual.

Hillary’s close association with a certain often revered, yet sometimes reviled former president is said to be one of her biggest liabilities. Add to that her carpetbagging entry into the Senate, her failure to take responsibility for past decisions… Well, can you see where it’s leading? On first glance Hillary doesn’t have a great portfolio going  for herself as far as many people can see.

But, let’s see if we can be unbiased here for a moment. (I know political discussions are rarely unbiased, and I’m taking a risk by even discussing it. But, that’s all right. It’s a good topic.)

1. Bill – I don’t think it’s fair to cast guilt by association on Hillary. And, he’s done a lot to clean up his image recently, especially by teaming up with George Bush Sr. and offering bi-partisan counsel to the world.

2. Carpetbagger – Hillary used good strategy in moving to New York, and whatever the motivating factor, she is doing a decent job in serving her constituents. They re-elected her.

3. Iraq Vote – Hillary pleads lack of information. She wouldn’t have voted for the war if she had known better. Hmm – not sure that one works for her. At least Pres. Bush is firm in his conviction, and stands by his decision, but there are many who wish he would back down and plead ignorance, too. So, I guess that one’s a wash.

Personally, I don’t know that I will vote for Hillary. But, I admire her courage. I’ll be watching her campaign with interest. Hillary Clinton is very smart and not afraid to take risks. Those are both admirable leadership qualities. She also seems to embrace the leadership philosophy of service.

I do have concerns, though about some other leadership traits I haven’t seen strongly displayed, as yet. The biggest one being that of authenticity. Is Hillary Clinton for real? Or is she somehow corrupt by her personal and political agendas? I am not sure. What do you think?

Yesterday, at a news conference, Hillary was given the perfect opportunity to lend some authenticity and substance to her campaign. To paraphrase, she was asked what in her background would give her experience in dealing with evil and bad men. (A valid and good question for any candidate for president) Hillary repeated the question, and then laughed. She never followed her attempt at humor with any definitive answer. That doesn’t work for me. Yes, I like a good show. I also believe leaders should have a sense of humor, but I expect some substance to support it. 

Veni Vidi Vici

Julius Caesar Translation for those of you who didn’t have to suffer through four years of high school Latin – I came. I saw. I conquered.  These words were originally uttered by Roman leader,  Julius Caesar in a message sent to the Roman Senate on declaring victory in a battle in Asia. Brief and to the point – yet packed with power! 

This came to mind when I discovered Robert Hruzak’s Blog, Middle Zone Musings. He ran a contest (something bloggers often do to increase traffic, build their network, spark creativity, etc.) to see who could write the best six-word story. The link will take you to his post with all the collected entries. He wound up with 400-plus possibilities from 70 different bloggers.

But, I think that Caesar’s  three-word story, “Veni. Vidi. Vici.” beats out all of them for brevity, impact and action. The English translation even meets the six-word limit.

The message is pertinent to a key leadership trait, follow-through. So many times business or community leaders will show up (I came) and tour a site. They’ll meet ‘n greet informally, and maybe even participate (I saw) in some of the daily routines. But, once they leave the scene the status quo remains. Of course, this isn’t always a negative. But, when subordinates expect some help and hope for change, they need leaders who will take action (I conquered) with  courage and conviction.

Without the follow-through, there is no story. There’s little or no impact. Showing up (I came) and observing (I saw) are only two thirds of the formula.  Action (I conquered) is required to complete the equation.

Feeling a Little Cranky?

Personally, I rarely feel cranky or would ever admit to it. That’s pretty much an old folks descriptor isn’t it? Well, it’s no secret that more and more of us are living longer and better, and will one day be a part of those old folks.

If you’re a baby boomer (born from 1946 – 1964) chances are you’re taking a part in redifining both of the terms “old folks” and “cranky”. Senior Citizens doesn’t seem to cut it for even the first line of baby boomers, who turned sixty last year. They are healthier, better educated, and harder to peg than any senior generation – ever.  

These soon to be sixty-one year olds are the ripple of a huge tide (almost 80 million) that will continue washing over the economy for some time.  Market leaders like Jeff Taylor, founder of Monster.com are paying close attention to these potential cranksters. He has developed Eons.com , a kind of combination My Space/iWon type social networking site for those age 50-plus. 

Last week, Taylor added a search engine feature titled, cRANKY.com , calling it. “the world’s first age-relevant search engine.” It ranks  Eons’ member searches and the rankings should be reflective of baby boomer trends, in general, making this a valuable marketing tool.

This quote from a CNNMoney.com article explains Taylor’s rationale for cRANKY:
Why the name Cranky? Because I get ‘cranky’ when I get lost in the search quagmire, too,” said Taylor, who is 46, in the statement. “I know it’s tongue-in-cheek, but you’ll never forget the name. And, when I discovered the word ‘rank’ nestled in the middle of ‘cranky’, I knew it was the right name.”

But, I wonder how valuable it will be to the broad-based demographic of baby boomers, who may be more inclined to look for more more inclusive results found at already popular search engines like Yahoo and Google. Do they want to be separated out from the rest of the population? Or is Jeff Taylor taking the lead in defining the path of Internet exploration for this still enigmatic generation?

Weather… or Not

There’s a saying in New England about the weather, “Don’t like the weather? Wait a minute, it’ll change!” That has been the case for sure this season ranging from a few extremely warm days, some rain, very little snow and finally a typical January freeze of 15 – 20 degrees forecast for midweek. Other areas of the country have seen unpredictable weather this winter also, as described in this MSNBC article.

In New England, hardware stores have yet to deplete their supply of snow shovels and ice melt. Ski areas and their local symbiotic merchants are suffering. Some business groups are even talking about asking for federal relief due to the economic hardship caused by the winter’s poor performance. On the flip side, consumers dealing with lower heating and snow removal expenses than usual  have more money to spend on other things or in paying down debt – either of which will help strengthen the overall economy. There’s a  lesson here for some business and government leaders – past performance does not necessarily guarantee future performance.

All types of industries from agricultural to tourism depend on a certain range of anticipated weather conditions in order to prosper. They plan everything from their marketing strategies to capital budgets based on past climatic performance.  Only problem is, even with all the meteorological advances, there’s no accounting for Mother Nature!

Well, they can’t fire winter for its disappointing performance. Can’t demote it or offer it a buy-out. Like it or not, the weather (winter season especially) is a major partner in most endeavors. It’s the wild card that promises plenty, but can cost even more. Smart leaders learn to have some flexibility and contingency plans in place, since they know there’s no guarantee when it comes to the weather. In the meantime, winter is less than halfway over. Whether or not the economy in general will weather it remains to be seen 🙂