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Career On the Job

StrengthsFinder

A team I’m currently working with is using Gallup’s StrengthsFinder 2.0 skills assessment and I’m lucky enough to be taking part in it. I’ve participated in a number of assessments before and used a couple with my own teams, specifically the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Enneagram personality types assessment. MBTI is probably the most well-known assessment in the circles I travel and along with that, probably the one that most people roll their eyes at as well. There is often not much time between getting the results and hearing, “Oh, that’s your ENTJ talking,” or “No kidding you’re an introvert.”

And as misunderstood as these assessments can be, I do still think there’s great value in taking the time to learn about yourself and the people you work with. If these types of assessment offer nothing else, they remind us that we all process information differently and approach the world with unique worldviews, and there is great value in those reminders. However, if you’re open to learning more, each assessment can offer more valuable insights on you and your teams.

What’s interesting to me about the StrengthsFinder is that it’s focused less on personality and more on – as the name would suggest – your skills and strengths. In our professional and personal lives, we seem to focus much more on our weaknesses and how we can improve those, and that’s often a recipe for failed New Year’s resolutions, feelings of inadequacy and plain frustration. The philosophy behind the StrengthsFinder is that if we focus on our strengths instead, we can build teams and partnerships with others who possess complementary strengths to our own, rather than looking to be all things within ourselves. It’s a fascinating concept to me, and one that makes a lot of sense. If we spent more time focusing on what we are good at rather than where we fall short, I suspect we’d open ourselves up to a lot more possibilities.

And just in case you’re curious, my top 5 themes are empathy, relator, communication, responsibility and developer, which seemed about right to me.

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Inside My Head Libby

You’re My Greatest Inspiration

So a couple weeks ago, Joey, my 6 and half year old son, climbed into bed with me in the middle of the night (we’re working on it). I was somewhat startled awake by a soft little caress on my cheek – I opened my eyes and his face was right there. Smiling at me in the dark. I smiled back (what else can you do?) and he said, “Mama, have I told you that you’re my greatest inspiration?” So I did whatever any mom would do in that lovely moment and said, “Can I inspire you to go back to sleep?”

The next morning I was in a better frame of mind to really think about the whole thing – I cried a little at the beauty and laughed at it, too. I was also impressed that he knew a word like “inspiration” (a work colleague suggested that maybe he had been listening to Peter Cetera and Chicago on the down low…). And finally, I was terrified. Me? Somebody’s “inspiration”? Come on.

People who inspire other people are GREAT people, people like Martin Luther King, Jr. (happy birthday, by the way), Ghandi and Susan B. Anthony. Inspirational people are those that change the world and have grand thoughts; guts AND glory. Not me. But then I looked up the definition; according to Merriam-Webster online it means:

something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone; a person, place, experience, etc., that makes someone want to do or create something; : a good idea

These definitions put inspiration into a totally different light for me – I started thinking about how Pink’s music can inspire to me to go to the gym more, how my friend – who is a mother of twins, works part-time out of the home, fights for reasonable gun control measures in her spare time, bakes and is still laid-back and funny – inspires me to be more engaged, how my husband’s small gestures of love and respect inspire me to reinvest in our relationship on a daily basis, and how an appreciative word from a member or colleague about a program or project inspires me to want to do even better.

I am Joey’s primary caretaker – I get him ready in the morning, walk him to school, pick him up, hang out with him afterwards, take him to music and hockey practice, etc. We spend a lot of time together – it’s not always fun – it can be stressful, exhausting and we are both cranky sometimes. But when I think about his ability to read chapter books on his own, use words like “inspiration”, try new activities like taekwondo and the School of Rock all on his own, tie his shoes and say something kind to his friends or the lady at the grocery store, I can kind of see how I’ve inspired him…and remember how he inspires me every day to be more than I think I am and maybe even inspire someone else. You can be inspirational, too…how cool is that?

 

-Libby Bingham

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Book Reports

It Is What It Is…But It Doesn’t Have To Be

I finished John Kotter’s The Heart of Change, and one of the things I ended up enjoying most about it was the way real-life stories were used to drive home the theory of what he was saying. I suppose that’s not unexpected, coming from a book that encourages storytelling as one of the most powerful tools we have. One of the stories, however, stood out to me. The story centers around the manufacturing of airplanes – a large and complex task that involves many people. For years, the plane was assembled one station at the time, and if the parts weren’t at the appropriate station at the right time, they would be added at the end. This last step in the process would require the undoing and then redoing of anything that happened after the part was originally supposed to be added, which ended up costing time and money. The rationale was that delivery of the parts was out of the plant’s control, so there was nothing the manufacturer could do.

When a new CEO came on board, one of the first changes he made was to put an end to this process. He told the employees that the plane would not move down the assembly line until it was properly finished at each station. For so long, it had been deemed impossible for such a thing to happen and the inefficiency of the process had become accepted as the only way things could actually get done. However, the visual of the plane just sitting at one of the stations was a powerful motivator to change the way things were done. As people pushed suppliers and found different ways to work, a newer and more efficient way of assembling planes emerged.

I like this story because I think far too often we accept things the way they are and come to believe change isn’t possible. In this case, it was someone who questioned the process and used a powerful visual to make an impact. In my experience, I’ve found that sometimes simply asking the right question is enough to spark change. But most of all, we need to stop accepting frustration and inefficiency as the way things happen. Most people would prefer things were easier and less complicated to get done, so it’s not as hard a sell as we think it is. What’s getting in your way and keeping you from working more efficiently? What’s slowing you down and making life harder?

p.s. In addition to finishing The Heart of Change, I’ve also continued my Gillian Flynn kick and finished Dark Places. It’s a quick read if you’re looking for a dark story that keeps you guessing. Her Sharp Objects is up next for me, along with Uncontainable by Kip Tindell, Chairman & CEO of The Container Store. Will keep you posted!

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Career

What’s Your Story?

Being authentic can be harder than it sounds. Herminia Ibarra recently published The Authenticity Paradox in the Harvard Business Review, which outlined how being authentic can backfire, despite being one of today’s most sought-after leadership qualities. Authenticity shouldn’t be viewed as permission to stay cozy in your comfort zone. Ibarra argues that when we are adjusting to new situations we should give ourselves permission to try on different variations of our own style to find one that works best given the new reality. We can still be authentic in these variations because we are not trying to become something we are not; we’re just tapping into a different set of strengths that may have been dormant or less developed. Ibarra details three steps to help find your “adaptively authentic way of leading,” but the one I find the most interesting is not sticking to your story.

The premise is that our personal narratives may be keeping us from growing and moving forward since they’re rooted in our past rather than telling the story about where we could go – what we’re capable of doing, given the chance. I think about my own career history and the story it tells. For some, my resume may look a little scattered since I’m not clearly one thing in one profession – I’m not an engineer, a teacher or a network specialist. However, I look at my time in banking, associations, retail and consulting and it’s very clear to me that one of the things I am is a customer service specialist. Whether it’s service to external or internal clients, I have always prided myself on being among the best. And that’s part of the narrative I need to make sure I’m telling, but it’s rooted more in what I’ve done than where I want to go. Adjusting my narrative to talk about the ways I can bring out the best in people is what I want to emphasize at this point in my career and that’s something I’ll be thinking about moving forward. What are the stories you’re telling about yourself?

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Career

Different Lenses

Wall Street Journal’s Saturday Essay from December 12th caught my attention. Women at Work: A Guide for Men may seem like it’s a few decades too late, but I found it interesting on the heels of few different conversations that have found their way into my life at the moment. For a current client project, we’re focusing on engaging half of the staff, plus one. While obviously we’d like to engage more than that, the thinking is that if we’ve got a majority (even the minimal majority of 50% plus 1) of the staff on board, change will be inevitable. Not wholly unrelated is the UN Women’s campaign HeforShe, a solidarity movement for gender equality, based on the idea that gender equality shouldn’t be a women’s issue led only by women. We’ll need the majority of the world to make real change, and that includes men.

When looking at change, be it behavior in an organization or discrimination of any kind, it makes sense that the change will be more successful with more people involved. We spend a lot of time focusing on women mentoring women, and let me be clear – I think there is tremendous value in that. That doesn’t mean, however, that men can’t also play a role in helping women up the career ladder. Managers and those at the top of the ladder are responsible for helping to cultivate the next generation of leaders, regardless of gender. I think to pretend we all approach things the same, however, is naïve and anything we can do to understand the lens of others is time well-spent – gender, generational, socio-economic, cultural, and so on. Whose shoes can you walk in for a bit to adjust your own lens?

Categories
Inside My Head

Brave Space

A friend and I were recently talking about safe space – you know, that space someone creates for you where judgment is suspended and you can talk freely. I love safe space and try to create it as often as I can. However, my friend was explaining she had just heard the phrase “brave space” as an alternative to safe space. Safe perhaps indicated more passive behavior and more care-taking than brave, which carries with it an expectation of participation. Safe space is created for you and doesn’t necessarily require a lot of you. Brave space requires you to be a part of the conversation, as well as to speak honestly and with a goal. The more I think about our conversation, the more it resonates with me. It’s easy to use safe space as a place to vent and share your frustrations, but nothing has to happen from that. Nothing is required in the safe space. With the expectation of brave space, you can also share your frustrations, while exploring solutions. Being brave implies being bold and being creative to give voice to things you’ve only thought. To me, being brave means having the conversations that worry you. But engaging in those conversations is the first step to freeing yourself from the worry and madness that they cause. Where is your brave space?

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Career

Tools for Change

I was working with a team a while back and we were focusing on how to strengthen their organization and make it an extraordinary place to work. Dozens of ideas were thrown around – ideas about the physical space, ways the staff could work together and program improvements the organization could make. They outlined how they might be able to get to this extraordinary level and what they’d need to get there. And while the rest of the brainstorming focused on technologies, training and structure, one person took a different approach. He suggested that they already had what they needed, but would have to nurture these things: nimbleness, humility, camaraderie, sense of humor, time and patience.

His observation stopped me in my tracks. He is, of course, right, but how many times do we blow right past these tools? Change and growth are not only much harder if you overlook human nature and our behaviors, but it’s also a whole lot less fun. People who are adaptable, humble, funny and patient are far more enjoyable to be around than their counterparts who lack those traits. And to make any real change, you need a group of people to be out there with you or supporting you. How are you using your humility, patience and sense of humor to strengthen your life?

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Book Reports

Yes Please!

Since I was just on vacation, I gave myself permission to stretch the rules on my school and non-school book rules (I know, I know…I just got started and I’m already bending the rules). For my non-school book, I just finished reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (I think it’s possible I may have been the last person in the country to read it). Because I don’t have aspirations of being a murderer or framing anyone else for murder, I don’t know that I had a lot of personal takeaways from this story. I will say I liked that I wasn’t sure who to believe and the story kept me reading because I very much wanted to know what happened next. That, and I firmly believe in reading the book before seeing the movie (confession: I don’t actually see a lot of movies, so I guess I may just firmly believe in reading the book). But in case I find myself on a plane where they’re showing the movie or I decide to download it to take with me, I want to be prepared and have read the book so I know what’s going on in the movie.

My school book was Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. And before you chastise me and say this is a non-school book, hear me out. I love Amy Poehler and believe she has a lot to teach me. She is smart, funny, thoughtful and willing to share her true self with the world, and I admire all that. And obviously I can say these things because I know her – we totally hang out (confession: this is a lie, but maybe if I say it enough, it will become true). She has three parts to her book: Say Whatever You Want, Do Whatever You Like and Be Whoever You Are. And while some might argue that sounds selfish, it’s just not. Saying what you want, doing what you want and being who you are the only ways we can be our authentic selves. And our authentic selves are the only thing worth being and sharing with the world – anything else is just not worth the time and is too exhausting to keep up. I’ll probably have more to say about this book as we go on, but for now, I want to hear what you say and do that allows you to be whoever you are.

Categories
Inside My Head

Unplugged

There’s something magical about flying at night. Not the battle with TSA, screaming-kids-and-lost-luggage type of flying, but rather, the actual act of being up in a plane at night. It’s quiet since lots of folks are sleeping, the cabin is dark and all you can see are hundreds of thousands of lights below you when you pass over a city. This is my favorite time. Without necessarily making a conscious decision, I usually find myself with my headphones plugged in and letting my mind wander. Sure, I have my book, my laptop or a movie ready to go, but I almost always find myself putting all that down and just being. This is my time to just be in my own world. It saddens me that planes now come equipped with wifi. Flying time is (was?) the last space it’s okay for you to be disconnected. With so many things to do and to distract me from just being, I’m not very good at unplugging and taking time to let my mind wander. This is one of the places where it seems to come naturally, and the soothing darkness and white noise seem to be a perfect combination for me to reconnect with myself. Where are you when you can just be?

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Career

Loving What You Do

Several months ago, I was getting a massage with a new person and she was terrific. I told her so, and her response blew me away. She simply said “Thank you. I really enjoy what I do, and it’s nice to know that comes across.” That simple interaction has changed the way I view what I do. Not all of us are lucky enough to love what we do, so that in and of itself was notable. Though as a fortunate soul who has had a number of jobs I’ve really liked, I’ve always struggled with compliments on my work. I’m quick to give all the credit to others, dismiss my accomplishments as no big deal or quickly turn focus back to my conversation partner. However, since this reaction earlier on this year, I have totally stolen my massage therapist’s response and have been using it ever since. I thought hers was such a beautiful way to accept the compliment while at the same time, acknowledging that the customer allows us the opportunity to do something we love. Since that conversation, I am now more conscious of being grateful for the people who allow me to do the work I love – my clients. Being invited into someone’s life – however long the interaction may be – is a true gift. Who allows you to do what you love? And does your joy for what you do show? At least most of the time (let’s be honest – we all have those days)?