Monday, February 14, 2011

Go On, Rock the Boat!!

A few days ago I received a call from a manager I coached in the past. He wanted my advice on a work situation. He found himself with an opportunity to apply for a higher position in his current company, but was afraid of the negative reaction of his current boss (who is a bit unpredictable). Though he wanted the job and believed he had the credentials and experience to handle it, he was concerned about his unpredictable boss and didn't want to "rock the boat."

How many of us have been in similar situations where we were concerned about what others might think or do in reaction to our choice to move ahead or grow? When I ask audiences how many of them are conflict avoiders the majority usually raise their hands. Yet a more subtle challenge is that many of us are change avoiders. We love the regularity of our lives and willingly put up with some fairly untenable situations because we are unwilling to change. Sometimes we are uncertain about the future, but many times we know our growth will challenge our peers at work, or our relationship at home. So the old adage "s#*t is warm" applies since many of us willingly put up with bad situations because we are unwilling to face the uncertainty or the people who might be upset with the change. We are not willing to rock the boat.

Okay, let's face it, the only time a boat is not rocking is when it is in dry dock and not going anywhere. If you want to move forward, or move at all, the boat will rock. So given that, how do we create the best change we can?

First, identify where you want to go. This has to be a positive destination. I've consulted with people who want to escape a bad situation, but running away is not a direction. It helps when people can identify where they want to go.

Second, identify all the things that could get in your way as you move toward the new goal. These obstacles include your own internal challenges (fear, lack of confidence, etc) as well as people and situations that might challenge you. Don't try to fix any of these challenges, just identify them.

Third, envision your ultimate goal. What does it look like ideally? What will it feel like when you get there? Be as specific as possible.

Fourth, start moving toward your goal and KNOW that the boat will rock. But you will be moving and once you are moving toward a goal it is easier to deal with the obstacles along the way.

The manager who called me realized that his fear of rocking the boat was keeping him from moving toward what he knew he could do. He acknowledged that applying for the job might mean leaving the company if his supervisor got in the way, but ultimately realized he would be resigned to years of misery if he didn't make the move.

For many of us rocking the boat is not a pleasant idea. But if we examine our lives, most of us have rocked the boat in different ways every time we grew, succeeded and moved on. We did it, and we survived. So, go on. Rock the boat. You'll get somewhere.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Dream Big and Lower Your Expectations

"What do you do when you have no dreams?" That question arose in the middle of a dialogue about greatness during a recent leadership session in New York City. Probing deeper I discovered that this manager and others believed they hadn't quite found their personal greatness because they thought that once they did find it, they would be happy and their life complete. Since all of them struggled in some way they figured it was because they had not found their true greatness.

Myriad books, TV shows, magazines and speakers regale us with stories of individuals who have given up everything to follow their passion and now are completely happy. They foist the idea that if we choose correctly in our life, work, relationships, food, etc. we too can be completely happy. That is not true; we are human and this is earth, not heaven.

The pursuit of personal greatness, while fulfilling, is work. Long days and nights are required and there are intense times of struggle. Though the pursuit is for something you love, it is still work. The challenge is that we have developed expectations (because of media hype) that we can choose correctly and be happy.

So last week I contacted Dr. Barry Schwartz author of "The Paradox of Choice." He reminded me of two key findings in his research. The first is that in America today we have tremendous choice of who we can be, what we can do and what we can buy. However contrary to making us happier, we are paralyzed by too many choices. Second he found that because we have so much choice, we have the expectation that the "right" choice will make us happy and be perfect. Our expectations far outweigh the reality. His suggestion is that we have to narrow our number of choices and lower our expectations.

In our study, individuals who achieve personal greatness still dream big, but they focus their attention on one or two areas; they don't try to achieve greatness in everything. Also, they hold a realistic outlook knowing that personal greatness is hard work and something that has to be worked at everyday. People often ask me if I'm disappointed when I don't achieve a goal I'm shooting for, but I find that I love shooting for the stars because at least that way I get off the ground.

So, dream big, but lower your expectations. You will find that pursuing your personal greatness is still a struggle, but you will enjoy it more.