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The More Things Change - The More They DON'T Stay The Same

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I love change, always have. Which is why I think Fall is my favorite time of year. Changing colors. Changing temperatures. Changing wardrobes. But too much change in a career is a bad thing, right? We all know that staying in a job for a least two years is GOOD and that being branded a 'job jumper' is BAD. But for me, career changes have been a blessing (even though I expect I looked more like this picture during that time than I care to admit). But in life and in business, the real truth is that the more things change the more things DON'T stay the same. And thank God for that - or life would be very, very dull.  

I have the privilege of connecting with many highly talented business professionals who are in the midst of changing jobs. Some by choice - some not - but all in the same state of uncertainty about what will come next that can truly be debilitating. In my previous blog about How To "Go With Grace" During Life's Transitions, I shared what I have learned during my four job transitions:

  • What you DO is not who you ARE as a person.
  • Build your network before you need it.
  • Finding a job IS a job.
  • Take full advantage of experts and resources available to you.
  • Take time for YOU.

So with all of this change happening around me I have been pondering - what makes some people more successful in managing change than others? Why do some people thrive when facing a job transition and land on their feet so successfully while others become stymied with no plan for moving forward?  One of our team members did a little digging for me about how people who successfully handle change are wired, and he found an interesting post on forbes.com that identified the top things that make someone adaptable which include:

  1. Adaptable people see opportunity where others see failure.
  2. Adaptable people experiment.
  3. Adaptable people stay current.
  4. Adaptable people don't whine.
  5. Adaptable people don't blame.
  6. Adaptable people are curious. 
  7. Adaptable people know what they stand for.
     

The good news for me is that I see myself in all of these traits (well - except maybe the 'don't whine' part on occassion), which I know has helped me successfully navigate the job changes I've faced. How much do they describe you?

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Core (Value) Work

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About a month ago, I started running - for exercise, not necessarily for fun. Unfortunately, I didn’t take the time to stretch before or after my runs. Last week, when I woke up the day after a particularly grueling run around Lake of the Isles, I was hobbling around with sharp muscle pain in my legs. My partner gave me a look that was one-part ‘pity’, two-parts ‘I-told-you-so.’ She’s a contemporary ballet dancer, so she understands that stretching and core work aren’t extra things to do post-workout if you feel like it -- they are part of the workout itself - essential to it. These exercises improve your stability, balance, and help you avoid injury and soreness.

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve always hated stretching and core exercises.

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Why "Just Do As I Say" Doesn't Seem To Work Anymore (and Probably Never Did)

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I never had the chance to have kids. So I never went through the stage where my two-year old son questioned everything by asking 'why' over and over (and over) - or the teenage years when my daughter did EXACTLY the opposite of what I asked her to do. I never got a chance to use the "Just do it because I say so" or "I'm the mom, that's why" lines - a skill which quite honestly may have come in handy during my business career. But employees aren't children of course, and using the "just do as I say" directive is not very effective leadership. Even if at times one gets awfully frustrated when things aren't getting done.


Whether baby boomer or millennial or gen z, it strikes me that no one likes to be told what to do. Or at least the highly productive business professionals I've worked with don't. We all want to feel empowered. We all want to control our own destiny. We all want to have expectations of us clearly stated so we can do great work. I doubt that any of us show up to work with a goal of NOT meeting our boss' expectations of what is needed from us that day.

So why is it, then, that people don't always do what they say they are going to do? 

Good question.

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I was talking recently with my friend and colleague, Kurt Theriault, who is the President of Allied Executives, about how to effectively run our business and he shared this model with me. As an aside - Allied Executives is a great resource for business leaders and sponsors the CEO Peer group that I participate in monthly. Check 'em out at www.alliedexecutives.com.

We were discussing why seemingly talented and engaged business people sometimes just aren't cutting it. Even with crystal clear direction on what is expected of them, they can not or will not do what is needed. He shared the following reasons why this might be happening:

  1. Don't Know Was Supposed To - This is the scenario where an employee has the right attitude and skills, but is working from unclear direction. He/she probably has not had great engagement from a boss who has clearly stated what is expected of them. The fix here is easy - review his/her seat, seek understanding of what they believe the deliverables of that seat are, and then clarify expectations and help prioritize actions. 
  2. Doesn't Know How - Similar to the scenario above, this situation has a fairly easy solve. Most of us aren't keen to admit we don't know how to do something, and often times this can get in our way of doing a job well. The solve here is to fully engage with your employee and be honest. Let him/her know that something isn't getting done and ask them why this is happening - ask them what is getting in their way of doing that particular task or achieving an expected outcome. If you've created a caring and trusting work environment where it is OK to admit a gap in skills or knowledge - this will come out and together you can focus on the right training or coaching needed to fill this gap.
  3. Don't Have Capacity- Gaps in capacity comes in many forms and some are solvable (and some not). Again the solve is open and honest communication with employees about where they are getting stuck or what is getting in their way. If they say they don't have 'time' - them help them re-prioritize their focus. If it is a work/life balance issue, that will require a little more conversation. Bottom line - as the leader you need to probe for understanding of what the real issue is - and coach 'em up or move 'em out depending on what you hear.
  4. Don't Want To or Don't Like To - The solve here is easy, this person has to go away. There is very little we can do as leaders to MAKE someone do something they fundamental don't wish to do. Don't waste your energy and cut your losses.

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Are You a Human Being or a Human Doing?

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OK - I'll admit it. I don't know how to 'not work'. When introducing myself at meetings during the 'go around the room and say who you are' part, it takes all of my will power not to shout out, "Hi, my name is Kathy and I'm a workaholic". I tried it at a networking gathering once, but not ONE person in the room shouted back "Hi, Kathy" - so I never did THAT again. (Those of you familiar with 12-step program meetings may appreciate that little attempt at humor). And my recovery has been going so well. On a vacation to Florida earlier this year my team said "now don't you work - just enjoy yourself". And I tried to not work. I really did. But there was a really fast internet connection. And I guess I could just NOT 'not work'.

And you know what?!  That's OK. 

So I may be the poster child for 'always doing something' and the queen of multi-tasking, but it works for me. I've spent most of my career feeling guilty about 'working to much', about not spending enough time with my family or making others who work with/for me feel guilty because they didn't work as much as I did. But I'm not feeling badly about it anymore, because I've realized that we all define balance in our own way. We all define success in our own way. We all decide how to integrate and align the many complexities and demands in our lives in ways that work for us.  

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