The Power of Asking For Help

Lifebuoy. Photo: ranieldiaz via flickr/CC BY 2.0

At what point in facing a challenge should we resort to asking for help?

The trick here is the word “resort”.

In spite of our better judgments, most of us wait until we’re stuck in the quicksand of a problem before we turn to someone for advice or counsel. But why wait until we’re desperate to seek out assistance? Why let ourselves get to a point of anxiety and frustration when it’s often altogether unneeded?

Why not, instead, make asking for help a built-in part of our work process?

There’s this metaphor in a book by Stephen Covey I read a while back, about the importance of sharpening a saw between cuts, so that the saw doesn’t get stuck in the wood it’s working through.  

“We must never become too busy sawing to take time to sharpen the saw.”

Dr. Stephen R. Covey

When we get busy, it’s easy to spend all of our time working and grinding away at whatever to-do item is looming overhead. But we should remember to find time to “sharpen our saws”, in the sense of finding ways to get better and more efficient at our work. Allowing us to ultimately get more done.

Asking for help is one of the many ways we can seek to “sharpen our saws” as we’re heading into new tasks. And the earlier we seek assistance, the less likely we are to get stuck.

Broaden your perspective

Leading product management for a team can be a lonely job. Often your peers — like the head of engineering or marketing — can’t relate to the specific challenges you face.

I found myself in this situation back when I was running product for Plaxo. As described in a previous post, I was facing a whole host of frustrating challenges. Fortunately, my boss at the time was super supportive and recommended I join Collaborative Gain, something he had received a lot of value from over the years.

Collaborative Gain is an organization founded by Phil Terry that’s anchored by a semi-annual retreat with “asking for help” as its cornerstone.

As a participant, you join a year-round “council” of 15-20 professionals in your line of work, from different organizations and industries. The council remains stable over time (save for an average turnover of 2 or 3 members a year).

This week marks my 14th retreat with my council.

Around the time of my first retreat I was considering applying Lean Startup methods to try various pivots we might make with the business. It was a big moment for myself and the company, and I wasn’t totally confident in my approach. Through what we call a “Request For Help” I led my council through the situation, and the approach I was considering. They not only gave me the confidence I needed to proceed, but also helped me fine-tune the approach, and advised me on how to best position it to my staff.

We often think our situations are unique. But more often than not, they fit into larger patterns that actually are quite common. Having access to a wider range of perspectives and experiences illustrates this, and allows you to apply the lessons already learned by others.

Ask your boss

External peers really help in diversifying your perspective, but perspective isn’t the only thing we should be asking for help with.  

It isn’t always comfortable for you or your boss, but if there’s something in their power that could enhance your performance, it’s necessary that you make it clear to them. It might be something you need their help fighting for. It might be a new challenge. A promotion. Or a more flexible schedule.

Whatever it is you need, be proactive and make it clear to them.

Hit the books

Pursuing higher education is often connected with career advancement, with the educational virtues regarded as almost an afterthought. A means to an end. But a big reason I went back to school for my MBA was fill-in a personal knowledge gap — to understand how product and business leaders think. One of the most valuable aspects of my time at Haas was applying the HBS Case Method where, again, we gained perspective around what previous business leaders did right or wrong by placing ourselves in their shoes. By covering dozens of cases we racked up experience that would have taken decades to learn first hand.

Of course, education comes in many forms, and you never know what new lesson might change your entire outlook on things.

Ask for feedback

Feedback is a gift, and if you don’t ask for it you won’t always get it. For an individual, it might be 360 surveys. For an organization, it might be employee NPS.

If your boss isn’t giving you regular feedback, or maybe they skipped your recent review — take initiative and ask for it. Present your self-review to them and ask for their assessment.

Whatever format suits your situation, don’t wait till it lands at your feet. Be proactive about identifying weaknesses and figuring out how to work around them.

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”

Bill Gates

Early in a career, it can feel like everyone but yourself has it figured out – and if you want to move up, you’ve got to start being the one with the answers. But the people who move up and lead prosperous careers do have something figured out — asking for help.  

Everyone has their gaps. Gaps in perspective, gaps in wisdom, and gaps in a skillset. The gaps really aren’t important though – what’s important is what you do about them.

Asking for help should be an early stage of our routine. Something we do automatically – like muscle memory. Without prideful or timid hesitation.

By viewing assistance, and advice as tools in our wheelhouse, and not just last-resort, life-saving devices, we can save ourselves a lot of time and frustration.

Everyone needs help.

Get it early, and get it often.

Preston Smalley produced in collaboration with Mark Mizera.

Why do we often wait until we’re desperate to seek outside help in our work? Asking for help should be just another step in our process — one that happens early on.

Designing A Work-life Balance in The Bay Area

Commute traffic in the SF Bay Area. Photo: thomashawk via flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

A few years ago my Bay Area commute was really getting to me.

One and a half to two hours behind the wheel. Home around seven thirty in the evenings. Never in time for dinner with my family. My little ones already in bed, having also missed them in the morning as I headed off to work early. It was depressing.

Not what I wanted for my life.

Eventually, I worked it out that I’d stay late at the office two nights a week (bringing leftovers for dinner). Then I’d leave early two days a week, so I could be home by five thirty. It made a huge difference.

More time at home with my family, fewer hours in traffic.

And since then, I went on to make it so I could WFH one to two days a week, for the same reasons. Now, when I’m not traveling to my company’s headquarters in Philadelphia, I’m seeing my family a lot more and actually getting to spend quality time with them.

I noticed these changes in my schedule not only improved my time out of the office, but they improved my time on the job as well. Getting to spend more time with my family has made me more present when I’m on the job – better enabling me to listen and mentor, which is a large part of my role. And getting myself more time out of the “trees” more often – away from the drawing board – also helps me to better see the “forest” of product strategy. A win-win, all around.

Now everyone may not be in a position to dictate their schedule to this degree, but everyone has the ability to be proactive in finding their own personal work-life balance.

So what’s the right ratio of work:life these days?

Writer Jessica Wildfire illustrated in a recent article that widely held definitions of “work” and “fun” aren’t held by everyone – and some people enjoy their work more than they enjoy their peers’ various ideas of fun.

I can certainly relate, deriving great satisfaction from my own work. But there are other aspects of my life, which I also enjoy, that can get pushed aside if I’m not strategic about how I spend my time. And careful not to let work automatically “win” over everything else.  

The challenge is staying competitive amongst those who choose not to fight this temptation. Those who do allow work to always “win”. Perhaps telling themselves that they’ll dial it back after this next release, this next quarter, once they retire. Or those who have no intention of dialing it back at all.

Columnist and Senior Editor at The Economist, Ryan Avent discussed in a recent article the growing trend of seeking passion and fulfillment in a person’s work today, whereas previous generations may have seen it as more of a means to an end. The piece went on to discuss that the more people enjoy their labor, the more time they’re able to spend laboring – in turn driving up the competition amongst individuals pursuing the same trade.

So if you’re someone who seems to benefit from a decent amount time away from the drawing board, and you’re competing against those who may not need as much of a break, how do you stay competitive and make time for other areas?

For me, the remedy is being proactive and strategic in finding ways to ensure my time is being spent where I want it to be, and being intentional about the way I spend my time in each of the areas – work, family, fun, etc.

These are a few things I like to keep an eye on and some basic “hacks” for maintaining my optimal work-life balance.

A Glimpse into My Personal System of Checks and (Work-life) Balances

Keep an eye on the big picture

Even with a self-tailored work schedule that “guarantees” a balance in my schedule, I still find that if I’m not careful about scheduling meetings and events and how I organize everything – my work-life balance can quickly get out of whack.

My answer to this is Calendar Bird’s-Eye View in Google Spreadsheet.

Calendars – whether in Outlook, gCal, or your phone – can quickly “bring you into the trees” of all your scheduled appointments. Making it hard to “see the forest” of how you’re spending your time and coordinating major events coming up (both work and personal).

To keep an eye on the bigger picture of how and where I’m spending my time, I maintain a birds-eye view calendar which shows where I’ll be in the morning/afternoon/evening of each day. I then color code whether I’ll be at my local office in Sunnyvale, headquarters in Philly, working from home, OOO on vacation, or in transit traveling. This way I won’t overbook a work trip on top of an important personal event that week. If the proportion of the colors doesn’t seem right, I’ll immediately know and be able to make adjustments.

Excerpt from my Calendar Bird’s-Eye View Google Spreadsheet

Your desired ratio may be different than mine but having a bird’s-eye view – and one that is easy to visualize, like color-coded blocks, can help you maintain your preferred ratios between work and home/family/etc.

Safeguard your “me-time”

Each and every day will throw a peppering of obligations and distractions at you, so take proactive measures to ensure that certain parts of the day aren’t jeopardized. It’s important in our hectic world that we get some time to think and work on our own projects and ideas – and these are the ones that tend to be most jeopardized because no one else will be advocating for them but you. Software developers, call this “flow” or getting “into the zone” but it’s not just useful for those roles.

Find a means of accountability for the other, also important, areas

This could mean investing money in a new exercise program to supply with an extra bit of motivation (shoutout to my fellow Pelaton’ers!), or it could mean scheduling recurring activities with a friend that you’ll find ways to make time for because you don’t want to bail on them.

For me, a great one I’ve found is signing up to coach my kids’ teams. I found this is the best way to periodically be extra present for their sports. I can’t do it all the time but each year I’ve picked one to do which gives me one more reason to get my work done and get to their practices and games.

Coaching baseball for one of my son’s on a day where I proudly awarded him the “game ball” 

Outsource as much as possible

I once read if you could delegate something and the other person could do it 70% as well as you could… do it.

Why not apply this to areas of life… to the time spent doing things you’d rather allocate toward something else?

I’m fortunate enough to afford the outsourcing of things like yard work and cleaning my pool (with a robot) – activities I’m not wild about.

See if there’s anything taking up your time that could be delegated to someone else, and allow you to focus more on something else.

As important as being smart with your time may be, it’s also good to remind yourself why you’re working in the first place.

A post by my friend and career coach, Larry Cornett really spoke to me last year. When he was experiencing some doubt about where his time was being allocated a while back, he made the calculation that 3 ½ total months of his life had been spent in traffic over the last 4 years at his previous job.

In his post, he writes that this was the day something inside of him “snapped,” and ultimately moved him to rethink how his time was being spent. For Larry, this meant ultimately leaving his corporate career to foster an independent one. It really made me think about why we work, though. All of us, in general.

Whatever your situation – as far as commute, homelife, etc. – we all make a thousand choices every day about the way we spend our time, and where it’s allocated.

There’s no reason not to be proactive with our time and choose how we spend it wisely.

Preston Smalley produced in collaboration with Mark Mizera.

Despite a heavy travel schedule, a long commute, and being in a competitive field – I’ve found a few tricks to keep a balance that works well for me and my work-life.

Why Should Leadership Replace Our Personality?

What is a leader suppose to look like?

How do they act? How do they dress? What shows are they watching? Do they watch TV? What’s their workout routine? Beard or no?

Am I meditating hard enough???

Having the opportunity to lead within an organization is a privilege, but that privilege can be accompanied by uncomfortable pressures and expectations – real or imagined. Some of these pressures and expectations are concrete, while some are obscure. Some expectations should certainly be met, while some would be better challenged, and others even ignored altogether. The key is learning to sort through the pressures and discern which ones are coming from external agents, and which ones we’re placing on ourselves, unnecessarily.

While there may be some universal, “best-practices” in leadership, there’s no one-single best way to lead people. We each have different characters and styles, and should take advantage of these aspectsrather than try and hide them in some misguided attempt to be “what a leader should be”.

Be the kind of leader you should be.

Be proud of your personal quirks and oddities, even (and especially) in the face of the surmounting pressures and expectations that come with leadership. Staying true to who you are, and what you believe in, will make you a better leader. One that inspires and elevates their team members and colleagues.

Collected here are a few tips and reflections from my time so far as a leader in business and tech. 

Tip 1: Don’t hide your personal life at work.

Early in my career, I was hesitant to open up much about my life outside the office. When I’d go on vacation I’d leave a cryptic OOO message in my email. Part of me felt guilty for taking off time. Divulging any details of what could possibly pull me away from the office felt like a confession of disloyalty.

“OOO” leaves room for interpretation… Out of office could mean I’m attending a conference. Out to an important meeting. Sent by the company on a secret mission to establish partnerships in China.

But, somehow, I think people just usually assumed I was taking my PTO like a normal person.

Eventually I realized that small, furtive behaviors like this one were really just missed opportunities to share who I was with my team.

Pardon the cliche, but the truth really does set you free. It’s a relieving weight off your back to not feel like you have to switch into different modes in every environment. It can feel incredibly liberating to be open about who you are as a person, and show how that has contributed to your professional path.

I now use my out of office message to give a glimpse into what I’m up to: “Gone Backpacking”, “Skiing Monday”, etc. I feel more authentic by this simple adjustment, and I also think that, as a leader, it’s good let my team members know that I support them finding ways to relax and enjoy these other areas of life, too.

[Auto-Reply] I’ll be out Monday skiing with my wife

Much of what can be accomplished within a company is based on trust. Can you do what you say you’re gonna do? Are you being candid with me? And if there’s a rapport, both parties are more likely to help each other succeed.

By sharing your whole self at work, I’ve found that I’ve been able to more quickly establish trust. And as I’ve done more of it myself, I’ve also found the opposite true. Those that are heavily guarded and private raise questions to me about whether they are also hiding work-related info.

Me as “Madison Bumble-garner” for Halloween at Work (Oct 2014)

Tip 2: Don’t always assume management is right.

Aside from those fields where instant decision-making is the difference between life and death, most organizations provide a means for their leaders to push back and challenge the decisions of management.

Other times you may need to take it into your own hands. Either way, being able to effectively say no to your boss is an important part of leadership.

As you lead others and move up the ranks, it’s easy to lose sight of who you are and become the instrument of an organization. There may be times when you need to dig deep, and keep what’s important to you in sight.

In the end, it’s important to own your actions, and stand firmly behind your team’s approaches.

Tip 3: Listen to your gut.

Some situations feel out of your control. Set in stone. Like when you’re ordered to deliver the message from a higher up authority that someone needs to be let go.  

Even in these situations, be mindful of the process. If the words don’t feel right, find truer ones to employ. If you can’t, perhaps there’s something wrong about the whole situation that needs to be challenged.

On a few occasions over my career, I’ve had to lay people off. More often than not it’s for one of two reasons: (A) a larger restructuring of the company, or (B) a team member simply isn’t a fit for the role they’re in.

In both of these situations, I’ve found that I’ve had to look inward to maintain who I am, and not just act as the management function I’m serving at the time. It’s easy to get lost and resort to corporate non-speak.

Fight this.

I try to own the wording of the messages I carry. And if I don’t like the words coming out, I push up the management chain to come up with a better solution.

When delivering the message of a layoff for reason (B) above, it’s critical that you separate the person from the role. If you think the person could ultimately succeed, help them. Give honest feedback. Provide course correction. Reflect feedback you hear from others (360 reviews are extremely valuable here).

Be a manager.

However, if that’s not working after a reasonable effort, perhaps this person is just in the wrong role at the moment. I’ve found there really are no “poor performers”, just people in the wrong roles. Or the person may have once been fine in this role, but the company requires a different style at this point in time, for whatever reason. In this case, the person would benefit from finding a new role, perhaps even within the same company.

It’s good to think about how you’d want to be treated if you were in the other chair in these situations, and be genuine about it.

“The reality is that no one can be authentic by trying to be like someone else. There is no doubt you can learn from their experiences, but there is no way you can be successful trying to be like them. People trust you when you are genuine and authentic, not an imitation.”

— Bill George, True North

Tip 4: Stay Balanced

While working at eBay for a leadership class that was part of my MBA curriculum,  I had the chance to interview our company’s president John Donahoe. John told me about a story back when he was consulting at Bain and Co. His wife had taken a role clerking for a federal judge, and he had to find a way to bring his kids to school a few days a week. John and his managing director were able to agree with their client that John would arrive on-site at ten o’clock, every morning. To his amazement, the clients actually appreciated his family-oriented choices, and he did some of his best work during that time.

This story really stuck with me. At a time when I was balancing my own work while earning an MBA, and carving out as much time with my family as I could, my wife and I having just had our first child. I continue to take a proactive approach with my schedule today, and make adjustments when necessary. I now work from home one to two days a week, and leave early on one other day so I can help coach baseball teams or simply be present after school and home for family dinner.

Me with my crew one afternoon dying Easter eggs being silly

Albeit I still find ways to make up the work in other ways. Staying late at the office a couple times a week along with a fair amount of travel. But in almost every case I can think of, these “tradeoffs” have enhanced the overall experience of my daily life at work, and at home. And I think it’s led to me being able to find more authenticity in my leadership.

Tip 5: Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

At the end of the day, regardless of your role at work, you’re still your mother’s child. You may be a sibling. A parent. A spouse. Friend. Goofball. We all share something in common with billions of other people on the planet. I go on dates with my wife. We make plans with friends. And even just playing with my kids seems to go a long way in grounding me.

There’s nothing quite as humbling than your own kids pointing out your various shortcomings (for me it’s usually my cooking).

These lessons have helped me in my career, and perhaps they can help an aspect of your own. I’m always on the look for tips and secrets that others have found true, and encourage anyone to share them with myself and with others.

Preston Smalley produced in collaboration with Mark Mizera.

Further Reading:

People come in all shapes and sizes. How does your individual personality enhance your leadership?

The making of an Olympian

As a boy, growing up, one of my first memories of the Olympic movement was traveling with my family to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. Seeing the athletic feats first hand in alpine skiing and luge particularly struck a cord with me. Learning of the personal struggles athletes make in order to rise to the top of their game as competitors, let alone medal winning Olympians, is truly inspiring. And so when my role at Comcast allowed me, starting in 2014, to help shape the at-home experience of the Olympics I jumped at the chance.

This week in sharing our latest experience we’ve crafted for PyeongChang with the public I had the chance to spend time with two very special Olympians.

    • Sasha Cohen: In Atlanta this week she shared with a crowd, filled with young girls from the Georgia Figure Skating Association just starting their own journeys, what she most cherishes about becoming an Olympian. She recounted the sense of accomplishment in medaling, however its not what she most cherishes about her skating career. Her advice to those starting out is to appreciate the journey… the preparation thru training, scripting the programs, designing her costumes, etc. For those of us who build products for a living I think this also can hold true. Not that driving your KPIs isn’t gratifying (it is) but it really is the craft, the team effort and the process that I believe provides lasting joy. Sage advice from a 33-year-old Olympian.
  • Scott Hamilton: scott-hamilton-preston-smalley One of the all time greats in figure skating, he not only made his mark as a gold medalist himself but in helping many of us at home experience the routines of countless others over the years as a broadcast announcer. In gaining a peak into who he is as a man I can say this… the journey of becoming an Olympian really forged his medal and shaped who he is to the core. Nothing came easy to him in life — from battling major health issues as young boy to facing the world without the support of his mom when she died battling cancer while he was just 19. Thru it all he had to actively choose the path he took and no one would have blamed him for succumbing to the obstacles he faced. He said a big reason for his success was “making the easy decisions” like choosing to not to party the night before a big early morning workout — decisions he saw others, who were more physically gifted than he was, not make. I can’t wait to read his new book coming out next week.

As I reflect on what our product development team has put together for Comcast customers I can proudly say its the best way to experience the Olympics short of (or maybe including) going to PyeongChang yourself.


Demoing the X1 Olympic experience at event in Atlanta (1/30/18)

My personal favorites from the experience we’ve built:

    1. Voice Remote: We’ve leaned into what we know from the Rio Olympics were the most popular phrases people say (mining the now 500 million commands processed each month). For example focusing in on the names of sports and the top athletes over the ability to search by nation. We’ll have live results and always connect you with something interesting to watch.
    1. Olympic Channels: While previous Olympics had areas by sport, there wasn’t an easy way to enjoy a lot of video without picking and playing each one. For PyeongChang we’ll offer 50 virtual Olympic Channels powered as dynamic playlists… allowing you to both lean back and enjoy or lean forward to skip to a segment that looks interesting. We’ll apply to all the sports as well as curated topics like biggest upsets and funniest moments. In a waywe’ve tried to combine the simplicity of live with the control of OnDemand.


      Olympic Home on X1 (Comcast)

    1. XFINITY Stream App: In the past if you wanted to stream live the Olympics on your mobile phone or laptop you had to go install or signin to the NBC Sports App. For PyeongChang while you can still do that, we’re making it easy for those already used to the Stream App to make that video just a tap away whether you’re home or not. No muss, no fuss.
  1. X1 Sports App: For over half the X1 households that use this feature every month, it needs no introduction. For the Winter Olympics it’s sporting its own tab right alongside the other major sports in season right now. You’ll find it complete with everything you’d expect: all the events live at that time, background info, current results, related videos, and of course the ability to tune right in. Just press the “C” key on your remote to pull it up.

Creating this multi-platform experience that brings you the events in the way that you want was only possible given the previous technology investments we’ve made over the years. It does feel like this Olympics experience is a glimpse into the future of TV where the viewer has the choice of when, where, and how they want to watch. I can’t wait for you to try it and hope you take a moment to root for TeamUSA. It all starts on Feb 8th.

What we can all learn from Olympians about life and career while Preston shared upcoming X1 experience for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself before Applying to Business School

This time of year I often get asked by people for advice on whether they should apply to business school for an MBA. Over the years and many coffees with folks, I’ve settled on the following key questions…

MBA - Haas School of Business Diploma

  1. Why do I want an MBA? 
    I’ve heard of a number of reasons but they mostly seem to boil down to these three that draw people to consider one:
    Business Concepts — In your core curriculum you’ll learn the fundamentals of what makes companies succeed and fail mostly by studying case studies on past leaders and companies. You then may then focus during the second half of the program on on entrepreneurship, finance, strategy, or marketing concepts.
    Network – Connect with others in your program and the (potentially vast) alumni that preceded you. Thru the case-study method you’re going to learn as much from your classmates as you will from the lecturer. And after you graduate they people will be tremendous assets in business. 
    Brand – If you join a “top-tier” program it can give your resume additional strength that can help give you an edge and at least get you in the door for an interview. If it’s currently missing a top brand (a company or your undergrad) this can be one way to add one.
  2. Do people in your “dream job” have an MBA?
    A great technique is to have coffee with 4-5 people in the type of role you’d love to have in 5-10 years. Learn about their career path and what got them to where they are today. For me at the time, a number of the people shaping product at successfully scaled Silicon Valley companies had MBAs and in talking with them they recommended that I do the same—those that didn’t, as you might expect thought it wasn’t necessary. I also saw the design, product management, and business functions converging and thought an MBA would enable me to span those disciplines. 
  3. Full-time or Part-time?
    If you’re in your 20s, looking for a career change, or looking to launch a company in business school then a “normal” 2 year full-time program is probably best for you. It gives you the chance to close out what you were doing prior and really focus. However if you have a good job that’s teaching/paying you a lot or are looking to accellerate a career path you’re already on, you should also consider a “part-time” program (evening, weekend, executive programs). I found the advantage of “part-time” programs is that during class discussions instead of just “students” in the room, you’ll have engineers, doctors, marketers, and entrepreneurs all with a bit more “experience”. 
  4. What’s the Opportunity Cost?
    Earning an MBA will cost you a large amount of time and money. To effectively evaluate the benefits of an MBA think about what else you could do with that same investment. Start a company? Invest in stocks or real estate? Continue in a great role? For me, the MBA cost me 20 hours a week and about $80K (then)— which meant no TV, fewer social events, and I would stay with my Honda Civic for years to come. Because I was able to continue full-time in my role at eBay I was able to continue to drive my career and benefit from stock options, all while learning how to round out my capabilities on Saturdays in school.
  5. Okay, now how do I get in?
    Put yourself in the role of the MBA admissions office. They want to select people that will be able to complete the degree and then go onto become wildly successful in business—bringing prestige and alumni donations back to the school. As you write your essays, think about why the school should “invest” in you—what will make you successful and how will you be an interesting addition to a cohort. 

As a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business (2008), I’m a huge fan of their program and in particular think their evening-weekend program is exceptionally well designed for people like me working in Silicon Valley on Product. 

Finally, if you’re looking for more advice, I also recently found venture capitalist Mark Suster’s 5 C’s on whether MBAs are Necessary for Startups to be helpful on what you gain and what you lose in seeking an MBA. 

This time of year I often get asked by people for advice on whether they should apply to business school for an MBA. Over the years and many coffees with folks, I’ve settled on the following key questions… Why do I want an MBA? I’ve heard of a number of reasons but they mostly seem to […]

A new lens on Myers-Briggs

FIRO-BAs part of my leadership course at UC Berkeley I recently took a hybrid self-assessment, facilitated by CPP, which combines the power of Myers-Briggs’ MBTI with a less well known assessment called FIRO-B.

First introduced by William Schutz in 1958, the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation (FIRO), analyzes the dimensions of Inclusion, Control and Affection. It also probes on behaviors you tend to express as well as those that you wish others to demonstrate. Recently repositioned by CPP this tool is now rising in popularity.

The assessment and analysis uses the three FIRO dimensions to further color the factors used in the MBTI. The tool really helped me better understand my leadership style. It outlines areas of strengths as well as potential challenges I may face. Finally it provided a detailed action plan that I could utilize in developing my career plan.

Whether you are trying to better understand yourself or are looking for a tool to use in developing a career plan for someone you manage, this assessment is worth a look.

Take Assessment [Cost = $120 for 3 reports Leadership, MBTI, and FIRO-B]

As part of my leadership course at UC Berkeley I recently took a hybrid self-assessment, facilitated by CPP, which combines the power of Myers-Briggs’ MBTI with a less well known assessment called FIRO-B. First introduced by William Schutz in 1958, the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation (FIRO), analyzes the dimensions of Inclusion, Control and Affection. It […]

Vital Friends

I have to admit I’m a junkie for the Gallup Press line of business books and Tom Rath’s latest Vital Friends is no exception. Rath asserts that we all are motivated and deeply affected by the friends that we keep. They play a key role in how happy we are, whether we stay at our current job, and even the success of our careers.

Vital Friend: noun 1. someone who measurably improves your life. 2. a person at work or in your personal life whom you can’t afford to live without.

Buy Vital Friends on eBayRath goes on to define eight types of vital friends:

  • Builder – Motivator and Coach
  • Champion – Stand up for you and show loyalty
  • Collaborator – Shares a passion with you
  • Companion – Always there for you
  • Connector – Helps introduce you to others
  • Energizer – Help motivate you and make you smile
  • Mind Opener – Expand your horizons and introduce new ideas
  • Navigator – Advice you on future direction

I’ve found it incredibly useful to reflect on the friends in my life and understand the role they are playing. For example, my wife is my companion, collaborator, and champion. It is important that I appreciate this fact as it has a tremendous influence on my outlook at work.

People with a least three close friends at work were 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their life.

Also for people managers out there, understanding the importance of your team members forming vital friends at work is critical. Having them contributes to job satisfaction while the absence can often lead to attrition.

Employees who have a close friendship with their manager are more than 2.5 times as likely to be satisfied with their job.

So stop what you’re doing right now and go make a friend. 🙂

I have to admit I’m a junkie for the Gallup Press line of business books and Tom Rath’s latest Vital Friends is no exception. Rath asserts that we all are motivated and deeply affected by the friends that we keep. They play a key role in how happy we are, whether we stay at our […]

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

In reading What Makes a Leader? (Goleman) I learned that while technical skills and IQ are important for senior managers to succeed it is emotional intelligence that is actually the most critical. As a long-time believer in soft skills I did not have any difficulty believing this assertion.

Emotional Intelligence’s Five Components:

  1. Self-Awareness: The ability to identify and name one’s emotional states and to understand the link between emotions, thought and action.
  2. Self-Regulation: The capacity to manage one’s emotional states — to control emotionsor to shift undesirable emotional states to more adequate ones.
  3. Motivation: The ability to enter into emotional states (at will) associated with a drive to achieve and be successful.
  4. Empathy: The capacity to read, be sensitive to, and influence other people’s emotions.
  5. Social Skill: The ability to enter and sustain satisfactory interpersonal relationships.
    Above as defined by Daniel Goleman & Peter Salovey.

Personal Reflection

In thinking of some of the most effective leaders that I’ve worked with over the years, I definitely see that they have shown strengths in emotional intelligence. And conversely as I think of hot-head or sell-absorbed leaders who were less effective–they obviously would score low on this assessment. Fortunately for all aspiring leaders most of the leading thinkers on this topic believe that while some EI is innate, much can be improved or learned with time.

For example, I am not always a great listener which hurts my ability to emphasize. Thru conscious effort I hope to improve in this area. If you know me personally, let me know how I’m doing. 🙂

Want to know more?

In reading What Makes a Leader? (Goleman) I learned that while technical skills and IQ are important for senior managers to succeed it is emotional intelligence that is actually the most critical. As a long-time believer in soft skills I did not have any difficulty believing this assertion. Emotional Intelligence’s Five Components: Self-Awareness: The ability […]

How to Play to Your Strengths

In the article How to Play to Your Strengths I learned about a career planning technique that focuses on 100% positive feedback—that’s right no “constructive feedback”.

The article outlines that it’s human nature to focus on the negatives (when asked people remember four negative memories for every single positive one). And yet far too often, we as managers focus on developing weaknesses in ourselves and our teams. I’m a firm believer in the philosophy put forward by Gallup Researchers Buckingham and Clifton in Now, Discover Your Strengths which, as the title suggests, focuses on the positive qualities in yourself and your teams.

Reflected Best Self (RBS) Exercise

Unlike most performance exercises, this one focuses entirely on positive feedback—no negative or “constructive” comments. Here are the four steps to this process:

  1. Identify Respondents and Ask for Feedback
    Gather feedback from a broad set of sources, including people you don’t currently work with (e.g. family members, friends, teachers). Avoid conducting it alongside traditional evaluation methods which include a negative focus
  2. Recognize Patterns
    While the sources of input will be varied, try to identify common themes.
  3. Compose your Self-Portrait
    Take the patterns that emerged and your own self-observations and write a prose narrative that describes “When I am at my best, I…”.
  4. Redesign Your Job
    Based on what you learn about yourself you may change how you work and what tasks you delegate to your team.

The self-portrait developed out of this exercise seems like a useful tool to motivate and align one’s efforts at work.

Want to know more?

In the article How to Play to Your Strengths I learned about a career planning technique that focuses on 100% positive feedback—that’s right no “constructive feedback”. The article outlines that it’s human nature to focus on the negatives (when asked people remember four negative memories for every single positive one). And yet far too often, […]

Managing Oneself

Peter Drucker is a firm believer in “feedback analysis”, the process of comparing your past expectations with the actual results. In his article Managing Oneself I learned that this approach was actually popularized by John Calvin and Ignatius Loyola in the 16th Century and helped contributed to the success of the Calvinist and Jesuit movements. The concept of feedback analysis has four elements:

  1. Concentrate on your strengths
  2. Improve your strengths
  3. Overcome intellectual arrogance
  4. Avoid areas of weakness

Understanding how I perform and learn
Drucker first asks whether you are a reader or a listener? I’ve known for years that I’m a reader and visual learner. He also asks whether you perform best as a decision maker or an advisor. For me I excel in the advising role and love all the analysis and preparation that goes into a recommendation for a decision maker. Drucker would recommend that I focus on honing that ability rather than assume that I would also be good at decision making saying also that it is very difficult to change oneself. Many people over the years in the Number 2 role fail when promoted to the Number 1 position.

Understanding your values
If you are working somewhere whose organizational values are in direct conflict with your own values, then you will constantly be frustrated in your role there. Some examples:

  • Short vs. long-run company goals
  • Hiring philosophy (promote within vs. hire outside)
  • Quantity vs. Quality

Hense the importance of knowing your strengths.

On Being Ready
What Jack Welch calls “luck” and Guiliani calls “being ready”, Drucker points out how to be successful we must be prepared for opportunities:

“Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunties because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values. Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person—hard-working and competent but otherwise mediocre-into an outstanding performer.” – Peter Drucker

Which leads us to Drucker’s important question which resonated with me: “What should my contribution be?” In today’s society this is not dicated to you as it once was perhaps 100 years ago. We must choose our path and ideally that path is a natural fit with our strengths and values.

Want to know more?

Peter Drucker is a firm believer in “feedback analysis”, the process of comparing your past expectations with the actual results. In his article Managing Oneself I learned that this approach was actually popularized by John Calvin and Ignatius Loyola in the 16th Century and helped contributed to the success of the Calvinist and Jesuit movements. […]