What If You Were Graduating Now?

Key Point: It’s never too late to take convocation advice. Across most North American and European campuses this past month, students regaled in caps and gowns have been listening to keynote speeches from distinguished leaders. Each speaker shared their best advice for that long post academia journey. The baby birds are all being nudged from their nests, propped up by the wise words of “eagles.”

My contention is that it’s never too late to embrace the sage insights shared with graduates. For many of us, taking each May as a renewed opportunity to have a graduation “do over,” and step into the world anew, could be a rather refreshing thought. Who says that convocation wisdom should be reserved for the newbies? And what if we intentionally considered every graduating season as a time to consider stepping out again? I’m in my 60’s, and I’d like to be able to think of myself as that fresh-faced beginner. 

Adam Grant is one of my favorite people, and although we’ve never personally met (he follows me on Twitter though), I think of him as one of my “thrive people.” I get advice from him all the time through the wonderfully connected world we live in. He is an organizational psychologist who has been repeatedly recognized as Wharton’s top-rated professor. He’s also written multiple New York Times bestsellers, including Give and Take – a must read, that makes the scientific case for why giving leads to success. This year, Grant delivered the commencement speech at Utah State University, where he shared some of the lessons from his years of research and teaching. So if you and I snuck into that ceremony, this is what we would have heard from professor Grant: 

  1. Be giving, abundant, generous AND invest in yourself first.

According to Grant’s research on teachers (as an example), the most effective ones were those that “cared deeply about their students but also did what we’re all supposed to do on airplanes – they secured their oxygen masks before assisting others. ‘They made sure to take care of their own needs first (which included identifying their limits and making sure to get the proper rest), then giving when they could. ‘They felt less altruistic,’ said Grant, ‘but they actually helped more. Their giving was energizing instead of exhausting.'”

  1. Apply grit to the right things; it’s ok to go to plan b, c… Maybe even z. 

Grant’s Advice: “Sometimes, quitting is a virtue. Grit doesn’t mean ‘keep doing the thing that’s failing.’ It means, ‘define your dreams broadly enough that you can find new ways to pursue them when your first and second plans fail.’ I needed to give up on my dream of making the NBA, but I didn’t need to give up on my dream of becoming a halfway decent athlete.”

It is important to find your purpose, apply what you’re good at, embrace what you like to do, define and stay true to your values. Those are the things NOT to quit on.

While being inspired by Grant, I thought I’d share this additional perspective to throw into the convocation message:   

  1. Don’t spend your life making up your mind by getting caught in the world of self-imposed “have to’s.”

This message was inspired by an HBR blog:

“Long ago I worked at a job I didn’t enjoy. It wasn’t a bad job; it was secure and pleasant. I was a success, but the job just wasn’t fulfilling in the ways I wanted. I spent my spare time tinkering with the simulations, research, and writing that still fascinate me. And the more I tinkered, the more I chafed at my job.

One day I complained to someone close to me, who gave me the gift of a question: ‘Then why don’t you quit your job and do what you want instead?’ I know the option of quitting seems obvious. It had occurred to me many times. But that was the first time I heard the ‘then why don’t you’ part.

Why hadn’t I quit? Because I’d wrapped myself in a thicket of ‘have to’s.’ I have to have a steady income. I have to have the respect that comes with a business card from a leading-edge company. I have to, not I want to. Assumptions, beliefs, and habits, not wrong but also not laws of nature that I have to obey.

When I noticed the self-imposed have to’s I could question their influence on my decision. I quit my job the next day. I wanted to live my dreams… I can attest that mañana is especially tempting on agonizing decisions. I was stuck for months on such a decision.

Two things got me unstuck. One was reframing the decision before me. I’d tried but just couldn’t answer, ‘What can I do to cause the outcome I want?’ I switched to ‘What are the best and worst out­comes I can expect?’ I answered that question immediately. I knew the answer was true even though I didn’t like it.

But what really unstuck me was advice from my best friend, a man I’d known for almost 40 years. He said, ‘Don’t spend your life making up your mind.’ He knew what he was talking about. It was our last conversation, three days before he died of leukemia.

Character Moves:

  1. Being generous, abundant and giving more starts with YOU first. Are you doing that or are you caught in the well-intended and sometimes disabling dishonesty of being a self-imposed victim and martyr? The test: The act of giving should be energizing NOT exhausting. 
  2. Have grit on the right stuff and have the guts to quit when your life is being sucked out of you… That only one life, I will remind you. Hanging too long on something that you’re failing at or not enjoying is just dumb. Why would you do that? Is that the right way to show grit? 
  3. Get out of the prickly thicket of self-imposed “have to’s.” What are the best and worst outcomes you can expect if you chose “not to” versus “have to?” Do you really, I mean REALLY, “have to?” Or are you worried about how you and others will judge you? How long will you wait? 

Graduating do over, in The Triangle,

Lorne

One Millennial View: There are some really valuable lessons here, and I agree that we can treat every May or June as if we’re graduating once again when these great commencement speeches surface. As Millennials, we’re probably in our least “have to” states in our lives, and I’m reminded that if I find myself needing to get out of a prickly thicket, it’s up to me to use the sheers to untangle myself. That’s something that I do “have to.”

– Garrett 

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Language That Speaks Our Mind

Key Point: Phrases and words are often taken for granted. They become almost “throw away” statements. I’m not sure people give much thought to what the words they string together can really say about the way we think. Lately, I’m paying more attention to a couple of phrases or sentences that “irk” or “engage” me.

Here are some “irk” examples: 

“I don’t know what’s going on.” Now, I’ve found myself saying this too. And every time I default to it, I try and give myself a kick in my pants. The phrase is actually pathetic in some ways. Whah whah. How about asking: “How might I find out out what I need to know?” And/or “What can I do make sure I’m in the loop?” Instead of a victimized, powerless, poor “little fella left in the dark,” I better take control to get the info I need when I need it.

“I don’t have any feedback for you.” Really? This is usually a load of B.S. What it often means is: “I don’t want to think that hard;” “I don’t care enough to invest that much energy;” “you don’t or won’t do anything even if I do give you feedback;” “you’ll just get defensive and mad;” etc. Yes, you and I have feedback and we owe it to ourselves and teammates to give it in a respectful, direct, authentic and raw way. Be specific. It’s the caring intent behind feedback that counts more than anything.

“I sent you an email, didn’t you read it?” BFD… You sent me an email. That doesn’t mean anything other than you did. This can be a big CYA and may have little meaning relative to the importance of the message. If it’s vital for someone to know something, I owe it to them and me to be sure they do.

Now, for some “engaging” ones:

“Wouldn’t it be cool if?” Now this phrase is about opening up possibilities. It helps people think big. The CEO of Marvel is big on this, and used it to help his company completely reinvent itself. Wouldn’t it be cool if we all asked ourselves this all the time?

“How might we?” It is so great to see people rally around this phrase. It puts life into what could be. It can be powerfully little or BIG. There is almost no end to the results possible with this phrase. Watch people rally when you ask about things in this way.

“Have you considered?” This phrase frees people up to be abundant versus judgmental. Rather than too soft or too hard, this phrase allows us to expand thinking. It is a way of giving feedback with less pain. It simply asks the question.

Character Moves:

  1. Give thought to the phrases above. Which might you use more of and/or less of? What other phrases or sentences might limit or propel us? Our language really can tell us how we think and behave.

“Wouldn’t it be cool” in The Triangle?

Lorne

One Millennial View: I think I’ve discussed my personal dislike for the phrase, “it is what it is.” And trust me, I’ve heard a LOT of people I respect very much use it. I’m aware it’s pretty common vernacular. But, it is dishonest. What that really seems to mean is, “I surrender.” Now, that said, I still subscribe to the idea that context means a lot more than the language itself, but if we can all just work on getting over the fear and discomfort attached to being genuine, brave, or burdensome, then that would likely benefit us all. Then again, whatever,  it is what it… See?

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Scary Leaders and Misguided Loyalty

Key Point: The “leaders” that literally scare me are the ones that have an ego-based definition of loyalty. These so called “leaders” evaluate loyalty by the way people agree with them and bow to their personal viewpoints. “Loyal” people, by this definition, always agree with the boss and dare not challenge the “leader’s” ideas, versus doing the right thing. 

Having ALL people in tune with an organization’s purpose, vision and values is vitally important. Leaders should expect loyalty to these elements. Employees that do not align with them should be invited to leave. Why hang around if you do not resonate with the culture? On the other hand, all aspects related to diminishing the culture should be up for fierce conversation. That is honorable loyalty.  

The very best leaders invite disagreement and an unvarnished viewpoint on matters impacting purpose, vision and values. These enlightened leaders know that the most loyal team members are first and foremost committed to the organization. All employees learn that they must be guided by this framework first, and hence are fearless when confronting leadership that (for whatever reason) may be “out of bounds.” The greater good of the institution comes first. If the “boss” is misguided or underwhelming, loyalty means being accountable and rewarded for confronting that behavior.

Here is what to watch for regarding sousing out dangerous “loyalty” leaders: They like to have always affirming, even adorning “yes” people surround them. On the surface, these folks are charming and often appear to be open to different viewpoints, asking to be challenged. Yet, when you examine what really happens, it becomes very clear to everyone that what the boss wants, the boss gets. Furthermore, ego-based leaders are superb at harnessing fear. They know how to subtly (or not-so-subtly) leverage the fact that most people at all levels do not want to lose their jobs. An example: I listened to a VP of HR brag how his CEO banished a procurement manager to stay in an inconvenient location at what this leader deemed a “second rate hotel” for a week. When this procurement manager finally asked for permission to come home, the CEO laughed and said he “forgot” about him being in the “penalty box.” Needless to say, when this CEO blew his horn, the entire company metaphorically hid under their desks. 

The other thing these scary leaders do is limit the number of advisors they listen to. Why put up with the viewpoints of strong characters that may challenge theirs?  Furthermore, these so called “leaders” will lie and/or distort the truth to align with their version. The most glaring current example is sadly, the U.S. President. This recent article and President Donald Trump’s dinner conversation with former F.B.I. director Comey gives you an insight on Trump’s view on loyalty. It appears that this leader puts himself and his ego before everything else.

Character Moves:

  1. Do not under any circumstance allow yourself to work for an ego-driven, narcissist leader. They will bury your soul in the shadow of their ego. They come first, regardless of the situation. 
  2. Enjoy the ride when you are working in an organization where respectful challenge to do the right is genuinely encouraged.

Right loyalty in The Triangle,

Lorne 

One Millennial View: In my line of work, celebrities surround themselves with “yes” people on a regular basis, and you observe from outside and go “wait, how did this person get so out of touch?” That said, stories surrounding these “yes” people often seem speculative, abhorrently complicated, case-by-case, shrouded by misunderstood walls of secrecy, making the truth hard to find. What we can do for sure is start with ourselves… As Millennials, and we achieve more responsibility, we can ask: Are we being honest? Is our ego in check? Can we converse with people that disagree with us? It begins there, or else I guess we can see frustrating examples of how we may act in our future.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Celebrate ‘Whoops’

Key Point: Sometimes I talk too much instead of listening more, and I need to work on being a better judge of where to jump in as a leader versus “helping.” The other day I was on a call/”hang out” with a large number of people. A colleague answered a question in a manner I thought was incomplete. So, I attempted to diplomatically clarify for the “betterment” of the audience. The result was that I likely “improved” the answer by 10 percent, and in the process, unintentionally undermined my teammate. The feedback from another colleague who cared enough to give me straight, tough, caring feedback: “You might have been a more encouraging leader if you would have let the first explanation stand?”

The hard thing about feedback for me is to NOT take it personally. Rather, I need get better at genuinely letting the advice soak into my head and then consciously choose to do or not do something about it. I know all about the theory that feedback is a “gift.” Heck, I’ve written about it in my blogs multiple times over the years. The dirty little secret for me though, is that I have a little bit of a “perfection” complex, and rather than accepting the critical viewpoint of others, my mental processing starts with defensively rationalizing my behavior and judging the merit of the opinion. And of course, personal feedback is just that – one viewpoint, and it needs to be considered accordingly. However, if we listen hard enough, trends will inform and guide us where to act. I have never ending work to do when it comes to embracing feedback more effectively. 

In their excellent book, “Option B.”, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant have a wonderful chapter called “Falling and Learning” at work. One story Sandberg writes about refers to the notion of building resilience through learning from failure, and the story includes a character named “Whoops.” A colleague Sandberg worked with at Google used to ask her team to share a failure or mistake they made each week, and then the team would vote on the biggest screw up. The “winner” got to keep a stuffed monkey nicknamed “Whoops” at their desk for the week. The idea is that mistakes and learning need to be openly shared and discussed. It reminds the team of the importance of trying hard things and embracing authentic, vulnerable transparency to promote team and individual learning. My honest experience is that most organizations talk a good game on this idea, yet acute listening followed by fast action based on learning is not what really happens. Too often, customer feedback and complaints result in apology at best and blind avoidance at worst. Great leadership includes a serious capability to get results, to slurp up complaints and problems with a zealous, fierce, self-accountability. 

Character Moves:

  1. Start with going after your own personal critical feedback with a vengeance, not taking it personally. Then, make it personal to ACT on what you learn about yourself.
  2. Translate this fierce personal feedback attitude at every level in the organization. Be relentless about searching for every way to be better. Find a way to get “Whoops” sitting in every one’s area. Love “Whoops” at the personal and organizational level, and great things will happen. 

Loving Whoops in The Triangle,

Lorne

One Millennial View: It seems like fearing personal feedback can only become a handicap when attempting to grow, learn and move forward. I feel like there’s this myth perpetuated by media (movies, TV, etc.) that if you screw up a procedure at work, that’s it, you’re done, “you’ll never work in this town again!” Ummmm, I have yet to see that ever happen (Oh, I’m talking about legal, ethical and accidental mistakes). I try to bat 1,000 at work at all times, but I have messed up plenty. The point is, if you don’t swing and miss sometimes then you’re not playing the game, and that’s a way quicker way to not be needed on the roster anymore.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Lorne Rubis

Lorne Rubis

The constant in Lorne’s diverse career is his ability to successfully lead organizations through significant change. At US West, where he served as a Vice President / Company Officer, Lorne was one of only seven direct reports ...
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Confidence, Patti Smith and Dylan: Failing authentically

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Character Triangle

Our character is exclusively ours. We define it by how we think and what we do. I believe that acting with Character is driven by what I call the Character Triangle.

What, exactly, is the Character Triangle (CT)?

The CT describes and emphasizes three distinct but interdependent values:

Be Accountable: first person action to make things better, avoiding blame.
Be Respectful: being present, listening, looking again, focusing on the process.
Be Abundant: generous in spirit, moving forward, minimizing the lack of.

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Be Accountable

Be Respectful

Be Abundant

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