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Institutional habits

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Beside your desk is probably a thick book of rules, procedures and best practices. There may be a section in there about company values and another about how to conduct a successful meeting.

But then, on the Slack channels, there’s something else happening.

Like it or not, realize it or not, culture is always taking place. It’s adapting, changing, and pivoting. You can’t aways control it, but you can influence it—through habits and routines.

The best companies in the world are run by employees who have developed healthy habits. They aren’t micro-managed, they aren’t machines, but they are trained on how to react to certain cues. Angry customer? They don’t panic, they rely on their training on how to deal with this kind of situation; and the habit of kindness kicks in. Leads aren’t coming in? That’s the trigger that refers them back to whatever acronym they were taught on how to increase traffic; and the habit of productivity takes over.

Dysfunctional organizations have habits, too. Habits that are the catalysts for toxic behavior and catastrophic events. Then some big wig steps in thinking he can change everything by promising more revenue and lower costs. And the race to the bottom continues.

Take a look at the organizations, teams, and institutions that have changed things around. They didn’t see a drastic transformation at first. It happened over time. They started with something simple, celebrated the moral victories and the small wins along the way, and, little by little, started to see bigger and bigger results.

Turns out, we too can see similar transformations when we focus on the simple habits.

Start small. Take it one habit at a time, then give it some time. You will hardly notice a difference. But then, one day, you’ll see that you are different.

Prove you right

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Do you believe you have what it takes? Why or why not?

Is that something you were born with? Is it something you were told?

Which begs the question, is it something you can teach?

Howard Schultz seems to think so, and it’s a big reason why Starbucks has grown from a 6-shop franchise to a 17,000-store giant.

I really, genuinley belive that if you tell people that they have what it takes to succeed, they’ll prove you right.

So, let them prove you right!

How often are we tempted to criticize and nitpick weaknesses when there is so much to complement and be proud of? This isn’t to say to shy away from coaching, it’s merely looking at personal and professional development from a higher view.

Take a step back and reflect on all of the variables at play. Chances are, it’s impressive. If there is room for improvement, first let them know you believe in them. Let them sense your confidence. Allow them to see it in your eyes that you know they have what it takes to succeed.

Let them prove you right.

Your brand

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How do you answer the following question: “What’s your brand?”

Do you immediately talk about what you do? What’s on your website? Your background? If so, you’re only providing context around what you want other’s to think and say about you.

Or, do you dig deeper and reflect on your values and principles? Do you ask yourself the tough questions to dive into whether or not you are representing your brand?

Because here’s the thing, you might think your brand is one thing, but if others think it’s something else, then you’re missing the mark on establishing your brand. At which point, too many go back to the aesthetics (the website, logo, service, backstory) instead of focusing on what matters.

Here’s how to tell what your brand is: can other people tell what your values are without you having to tell them? That’s your brand. Don’t like what they have to say? Change the narrative and act accordingly.

For a brand isn’t what you say it it, it’s what they say it is.

Habits of execution

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There are some projects that require months of planning along with multiple prototypes and iterations of blueprints. Building a house, adjusting the infrastructure, launching a project—by all means, plan, and plan some more. The cost of finding out crucial information is layers deep.

But for most of us, most of the time, the cost of finding out is very cheap. It’s as simple as a call, text, or email. Yet, we overthink it. We have come to believe that we need to do more research, act more strategically, or gather more data before we can move forward. In reality, we just need to do the very thing that all of the planning usually leads up to in the beginning, rather than at the end.

Here’s the thing, the thickest playbook doesn’t win championships, execution does. And, champions don’t do extraordinary things, they do ordinary things faster than everyone else—i.e.—they have developed strong habits of execution which helps them react faster than everyone else.

That’s because, most of the time, it’s not physical, it’s mental. It’s about an adjustment here and there, then repeating that adjustment time and time again that make all the difference.

Professionals, too, realize this. They know that there is no such thing as an overnight success. It’s about the small habits we develop over the years that accumulate into great results. It’s about persistence and consistency.

So again, think to yourself: is it information you’re lacking? Or is it execution? Is it motivation you’re lacking? Or is it execution? Is it talent you’re lacking? Or is it execution?

You get the point. No matter your circumstance, ability, knowledge, resources, there’s always something you can tweak and improve upon. Streak enough of those good habits together, you just might make things interesting.

Against? Or for?

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How easy is it to say: this food is bland, that movie has awful acting, this book has no plot? We, as a society, love being ‘against’ things. It is, after all, how revolutions are started, unfairness is brought to attention, and conversations start.

But if it’s change you’re going for, lasting change, the kind that transforms opinions, brings people together, and produces important results…be for things.

What are you against? Okay, that was easy. Now, what are you for?

It’s easy to criticize, isn’t it? It’s much harder to have an opinion, formulate an argument (if you will), and back something with conviction.

So be for things, not just against stuff.

The next big thing

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You will hardly notice when it’s here.

It’s like learning a new language. Little by little, you learn a word here, a phrase there, and, before you know it, you can talk to people.

It’s like artificial intelligence. The improvements are so incremental that it won’t blow you away when it finally arrives in full-force.

What’s your next big thing? What steady enhancements are you making to get there?

An offer you can't refuse

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You’re probably being offered these kind of opportunities more often than you think.

The offers, however, aren’t always obvious. They come in the shape of small ideas and in the form of meeting new people. And we refuse them all the time.

There are times in our lives when we are offered exactly what we were hoping for. In those moments, don’t delay! Say yes! But then there are other moments, smaller moments, when things come our way and we disregard them. More often than not, those are the offers we can’t refuse!

Have the courage to say yes, to choose yourself. It’s an exciting time in history where you literally have all of the resources at your disposal to be responsible for what you do and how you do it. It’s still hard work, but it’ simple work. Simple in that you already know what needs to be done, hard in that now you have to decide to do it.

The good and the bad

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To do great things, we need to love both. We need to be able to endure tragedy and setbacks…and endure them well.

Come what may, and love it.

If we say that we love what we do, that means that we need to love all that it entails. Not just the perks of the job, but also the occupational hazards.

Let go of your expectations and accept what happens to you. Soon, you will realize that there are just some things outside your control. But, there are plenty of other things that are very much within your control: namely, how you choose to react. It also helps if you think about ‘next steps’ in terms of what you get to do instead of what you must do.

It’s life. It happens. Might as well have a good attitude about it.

Beyond urgent

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What’s more important: The issue? Or how we deal with the issue?

What’s happening right now has repercussions. Sure, the moment can be stressful. It usually takes quick thinking and sharp acumen. But it’s tempting to get lost in the minutiae when there are bigger things at play. And, whatever’s happening right now, the issue at hand—while important—isn’t as vital as our capacity to lay a foundation and create a system to deal with the next hundred issues.

By all means, don’t put the urgent on the back-burner—what i’m suggesting here is to take some extra time so that you’re not only getting it right, but also creating a process so that it doesn’t happen again.

If you find yourself consistently being a victim to circumstance, or getting blindsided by unforeseen issues, it’s probably an operational issue. Whatever system you have in place currently, isn’t detecting the obstacles soon enough and it’s not efficient enough to recalibrate once problems arise. Which is exactly when you need focus more on the process than on whatever ‘urgent’ thing is happening at the moment—getting the process right will always be more important that the problem we’ve got right now.

Worse case, it’s got us collaborating again, whereas before we spent most of our time arguing about the issue. Best case, well…

A chance to find yourself

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Your work might not be what you think it is.

Because there’s more to work than what’s in the typical job description.

The furniture company might think that it’s job is to create furniture—go figure—but it’s more than that. It has a responsibility to influence and an obligation to connect. Same goes for Graphic Designers, Writers, Chefs, Teachers, Salesmen, the aim is the get the job done, the purpose is to do so with integrity, grit, and passion. Otherwise, there won’t be much meaning in your designs, people might not read what you write, your food will turn out bland, students may lose interest, and sales will go down.

The objective of work is given. It’s your job to provide results, complete a series of tasks in order to move the needle. This is important, but work involves more than that. And the results, too, should be more than that. There is value in the work itself. In how you do it, and it how it shapes you, changes you (if you let it).

To quote Joseph Conrad:
”I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself.”

The challenge, therefore, lies in defining what your work is, what it entails. Your job might be to answer some emails and jump on a few phones calls, but your work paints a larger picture. What masterpiece are you creating with your work? Why does it matter? How is it changing you?

The first bird? Or the second mouse?

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Why do birds fly together? How do they know who leads and who follows? Does it matter?

Who has the harder job, the person who uses a compass to forge a new path? Or the person who uses a map to follow one?

It’s not that one is more challenging that the other. Sure, leading can be more demanding, but it doesn’t mean that it’s more important. Following requires a different skillset and is very much in demand.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, seconds don’t always have to be sloppy. There are times to lead and times to follow. And the world needs people who can follow—and follow well. Without followers, trends don’t catch on, movements remain stagnant, and innovation comes to a halt.

The point is, are you a leader? Or are you a follower? You can be both! How can you be a better leader? And how can you follow more effectively?

Remember, just like the first bird gets the worm, the second mouse gets the cheese :)

It's not you, it's the opportunity

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Sometimes.

Because sometimes, it is you. In fact, most of the time, it’s in your best interest to stick it out, see it through, and turn your obstacle into an opportunity.

But then there are those times when it’s not you, it’s the opportunity. There may come a time when you have to call it what it is and find a different way because the obstacle isn’t worth your effort.

Again, this is usually the exception.

So how do you tell whether it’s you or the opportunity? Look for patterns. Are you constantly unsatisfied? Have you felt undervalued at other places? Were you not a culture fit before? It’s probably you. Do they have turnover issues? Are they constantly overpromising and under-delivering? Are they ‘hiring for culture fit’ as a means to discriminate? It’s likely the opportunity.

On sharpening the saw

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You don’t just sit back and wish your way to a sharper saw.

Sharpening the saw still requires effort, training, and concentration.

It’s about taking calculated (and timely) breaks. Not merely taking time off, but effectively using your time off.

Try:
- Reading
- Blogging
- Meditating
- Serving
- Engaging in a conversation
- Working on your passion project
- Learning a new skill

If it sharpens your mind, develops your emotions, refines your process, increases your knowledge, makes you stronger, improves your health, your blades are probably getting sharper.

And, if they’re not getting sharper, they’re getting duller.

Sitzfleisch

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In english it means Staying Power.

Another word for it is perseverance.

It’s persisting at something over and over again for a long period of time. It takes courage, creativity, and determination. It’s the long game.

The Haitians would say: Deye mon, gen mon – Beyond mountains, there are mountains. For life isn’t about overcoming one obstacle to achieve one goal. It’s about many.

Whatever you want to call it, if you practice it, then keep practicing it, you will be all the better for it.

The middle ground

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You hear world-class athletes say this all the time: not too high, not too low. It’s about keeping a level head. Not getting too excited when things go your way and not getting too down when things don’t.

The thing is, uncontrolled ambition is easy. Anyone can keep their foot on the gas pedal. Complacency is easy, too. The trick is to find the right balance between the two. It’s about applying the right amount of pressure at the right time during the right circumstances.

The “Golden Mean” as Aristotle put it. It’s what makes excellence so difficult. He wrote: “In each case, it is hard work to find the intermediate; for instance, not everyone, but only one who knows, finds the midpoint in a circle.”

Find your middle ground. Check yourself when you feel like you’re getting reckless, realize when you are shying away from responsibility. What lies in the middle is courage.

Find your middle ground. Know when to speak up, sense when to keep your mouth shut. What lies in the middle is respect.

Find your middle ground. Look for opportunities in obstacles, beware of pitfalls in possibilities. What lies in the middle is mastery.

How to find a needle in a haystack

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We all have them. Needles we need to find. Haystacks to sort through.

For some of us, those needles are relationships, innovations, breakthroughs.

For others, those needles are goals, quotas, or projects. Whatever your needle is, there will come a time when you will need to find it in the most unfortunate circumstances, improbable scenarios, and unlikely obstacles.

Some will find their needles, others will not. The difference between finding what you are looking for, accomplishing what you set out to do and not, comes down to one word—persistence.

There is no such thing as an overnight success. The men, women, and organizations that have gone on to accomplish great things didn’t get there because they just happened upon ‘their needles’ in the thick of a ‘haystack,’ they got there because they were more persistent than everyone else.

Genius is often just persistence in disguise

Nikola Tesla spent a year in Thomas Edison’s lab during the invention of the lightbulb. He once grumbled that “if Edison needed to find a needle in a haystack, he would proceed at once to simply examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.”

Sometimes, that’s exactly what it takes. That job you are looking for, that book you are writing, that deal you are closing, that mission are you embarking on, that person you are influencing, that thing you are learning—persist.

Work works—it’s simple, but not easy.

The thing that will set you apart from everyone else will be your ability to tolerate the difficulty and mundaneness that will certainly arise as you continue toward solving the problem in front of you.

Here’s something that helps me. I keep telling myself that ‘it’s supposed to be hard.’ So, settle in, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and double down your efforts on finding your needle in a haystack.

Inalienable responsibility

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If you have the power to make rules, the rules are your responsibility.

And all of us have the power to make rules. We make them for ourselves and others every day.

If we don’t, deciding not to is still a choice. Doing nothing is also a choice. By saying nothing, creating nothing, helping no one, you are making rules that lay the foundation for how you act and how you are perceived.

What do you need? Vs. This is what I do.

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If you’re a freelancer and you are always taking on projects where people tell you what they need and you adapt, you’re always going to be spinning your wheels wondering why you can’t ever get any good clients.

If you’re applying for a job with the attitude that you qualify for every role out there, you’re going to be on the market for a while. But, if you can clearly outline that you have 5 years of SaaS closing experience selling into state and local government agencies on the east coast, then the world is your oyster. You’ll find your next dream job in no time.

Riches in the niches.

People aren’t afraid to charge too much, they’re scared that once they do find their niche that people won’t like it. But here’s the thing, in today’s gig-economy, that will never happen.

‘What do you need?’ might work in the short-term, but your true value will never be noticed unless people know exactly what you do—and that you’re the best at it…

People can afford it. In fact, not only will they buy it, they’ll thank you for being so generous with it.

But it starts when you decide what you do.

The CEO of you

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What would your approval rating be?

Chances are, not very good. How do you talk to yourself? How well are you managing your health? How much time are you wasting doing things that don’t matter? How much blame are you placing on others? How much ownership you are taking over yourself and what happens to you?

Are you constantly learning and developing your skills? Staying positive and encouraging yourself? Planning out your career path? Focusing on the daily objectives while keeping in mind your long-term vision?

—Like most employees expect from their CEOs?

You are the CEO of you. If you can’t manage yourself the way you expect to be managed, then what are you complaining about?

It starts with you. Managing is hard, and managing yourself is even harder. But it’s a worthy pursuit—for there are few things that are more important to learn.

Week 44 ’18 reflection

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As a recruiter, I come across some really interesting questions candidates are asked during interviews. I try to ask myself these questions from time to time. They help me reflect on my own motivations and clarify my ‘why.’ One question, in particular, recently caught my attention: “if you were in a room with your friends and family members and they were all shouting out adjectives to describe you, what is one word you would hear that you wouldn’t agree with?”

This question is a tough one, and it requires thinking beyond just ‘what is your greatest weakness.’ It makes you think about what others would say about you, then pushes you reflect on how you might be perceived—even if it’s painful.

At first, I thought of some obvious ones like ‘impatient’ (but I probably wouldn’t disagree if anyone called me that), or ‘over-analytical’ (but, again, I’d take that more as a compliment). Then I thought about the word ‘introverted.’ I’ve heard people call me that before and I, personally, disagree. Sure, I’m probably not the loudest person in the room, and I don’t show my excitement or my frustrations on my sleeve, but I love getting to know people, and I usually do that on a 1:1 basis rather than commanding the room. 

Now that I think of it, I’m probably more like an introverted extrovert. I like my alone time. I like figuring stuff out on my own. But I’m energized when I spend time with people. I highly value my relationships. I don’t know what I’d do without them. 

That’s a big reason I decided to become a recruiter. It’s the part of ‘the sale’ that I love. I also love the career development side of things. “The candidates’ journey” if you will. So stay tuned. Because I’m working on some projects that will hopefully help people find jobs that align with their purpose and get jobs they love.