Professionalism and Learning

Professionalism isn’t about getting paid. It’s about who the work is for, changing things for the better and keeping a promise to show up.

An amateur is building experience, honing the craft…a practicing student. It’s mainly for themselves. Professionalism begins when the choice is made to perform the work for someone else's benefit. And then making a promise to show up with their best work.

Choosing to lead, to manage, to teach someone else as a professional comes with great responsibility. It requires your best performance…every time. It requires vigor but also patience. It requires experience but also empathy. And most of all it requires a dedication to leveling up as a leader…a commitment to keep learning the craft of leadership. And understanding that it’s a lifelong journey.

Choosing to learn might be the professional’s most important decision. Because without it, nothing would change. And that would be a shame.

What is Authority For?

  • To enable improvement

  • To give people a chance

  • To stand behind them

  • To take responsibility

  • To allow people to learn

  • To allow people to try

  • To allow people to fail

  • To allow people to build

  • To allow people to take risks

Authority should be used to ensure a positive, change seeking, respectful culture is developed.

Too often though, authority is misused…mainly because it’s misunderstood.

  • To standardize (for efficiency)

  • To limit change (for efficiency)

  • To create fear (of people losing their job, or lowering their status)

  • To veto decisions

  • To enforce rules

  • To make things cheaper

  • To be correct

  • To be the one that gets to choose

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Choose wisely.

Accidental Change

In the early days of driving we didn’t take drinks with us in cars. We had drinks…and we had cars. But they didn’t work well together. The business of driving a car required virtually all of our faculties. And the ride was such that taking any unsealed liquid was a pants stain waiting to happen. Interestingly we didn’t seek to develop automatic transmissions, power windows and smoother suspensions to make it easier to drink in cars. But those unrelated advancements did change that outcome. Cupholders exist because of changes in comfort, and having a free hand…which were the result of longer trips and so on.

Change isn’t just direct..if we do this, we get that. There’s a lot of bumping into other things along the way. Study almost any innovation and it’s likely a series of unrelated causes led to the outcome. Not just one planned path. 

Curiosity, desire and action lead to change…maybe even the outcome we were seeking. But maybe something even better…something we could have never imagined. The good stuff doesn’t always come from a plan. Accidents happen…and sometimes they are good. Please go create some.

Skill and Expertise

One of the requirements of being indispensable is acquiring skills. Skills don’t come naturally…they’re achieved. They are the product of curiosity, the desire to make change and an abundance of practice…try, fail, adjust, retry. 

Hard skills like making espresso, piloting an airplane and woodworking will get you noticed. But increasingly (mainly because hard skills are easier to come by) it’s the soft skills, the art, the emotional part of the work that’s seen. Songwriting is a skill. But without the emotional labor of putting it into the world it’s not likely to make much of an impact. The daring work of performing for someone is scarce…yet the stage is available for all of us, everyday.

Everyone should be an expert in something…is more true now than ever before. The opportunity to level up and be remarkable has never been better. It’s a matter of choice…first to lean in…then to pick where to go. Choose wisely…but please just choose to go somewhere.

The Importance of A vs. The

I want to be A (insert job here) is way different than saying I want to be The (insert same job here).

The rules, standards, compensation and the story of A job are made by someone else. The value of The job or The work one will do is established by the person building it…because it’s specific, it’s unique. And it defines the standard.

Of course, being specific about your work and making a promise about how you do it, comes with a downside. You are on the hook for it…completely accountable. There’s no one else to blame when it doesn’t work. But it’s a risk worth taking if you’re building a legacy of meaningful change.

Why be just another one, when you can be the only one.

We deserve more The and less A. Please choose wisely.

The Profession of Leveling Up

Almost everyone wants to level up. They want to move forward, raise their status, perhaps earn more money and feel successful. But almost everyone treats leveling up as a hobby…something to squeeze in when time permits. And who can blame them. School taught us to dislike learning (which is required to level up)…mainly because it was mandatory and boring.  And in life after school there’s too much that just gets in the way…jobs, significant others, kids, bosses, mortgages, fun, rest and on and on. As a result, forward progress is significantly slowed, unless it’s something compulsory tied to survival.

The first step then to improve forward motion (if that’s what one seeks) is to recategorize and reprioritize leveling up and the requisite learning that goes with it. It must be changed from a hobby into a profession. This requires discipline and probably some entertainment cutting. But it must be done if any real progress is going to be made. Take running a marathon as an example. A non-runner can’t become a marathon runner (one who completes a marathon) without a disciplined and structured approach to the required training. It just won’t happen if it’s haphazard. So a serious quest results in hiring a coach who demands a schedule so that training is turned into a job. And the job gets done. Or no marathon.

Learning, practicing and training…the things needed to level up need a plan, just like a business needs a plan. Goals need to be set, purpose established (who’s it for?, what’s it for?) strategy and tactics developed. And then we need to clock in, every day, just like we do for our job. We need to develop the habit of learning just like the habit of working…because learning is work.  And we need to treat it like our life depends on it…because it probably does…at least for the life we seek.

I'm Lucky Enough...

to be able to do this work…is much different than saying I’m lucky to be able to do this work here, in this place with these people.

Being unsatisfied with the work is an individual problem. A problem that is solvable mainly by the person doing it. Leveling up is a product of a person’s desire to learn and then consistently showing up as their best self…both things they control. But creating excitement about showing up (to do the work) is a group problem…one solved by leaders who care enough about a positive culture to focus and invest in it. A positive culture which celebrates and rewards each person’s contribution to group purpose is a very powerful motivator, even for those doing the so called menial work.

Trying to solve an employee's dissatisfaction with their chosen profession is often futile. It’s far more impactful to spend time on the environment they plug into…and the legacy they can build from it.

Where Are You Going?

The single most important thing to understand in the hiring interview. Understanding a person’s dreams, goals, passions and the actions they are taking to get there gives us great insight about their character and core values. And learning how the goals have changed over time gives us a clue about their persistence in the face of adversity. If we can learn the truth about their quest and their path of forward motion, what’s been left behind is far less important.

Leader Goals

Almost everyone sets goals at the beginning of the year…it’s what we’re conditioned to do. And it’s not a bad thing. Goals are good...they give us measurable targets which support our purpose.

Management goals are the most popular with key targets including profitability, employee turnover, sales volume and the like. Personal goals revolving around health, weight loss, spending more time with kids and life balance often make the list. 

But what about leaders? Leaders have a different responsibility…they’re accountable for leading others to make change. Specifically, leaders…

Seek change...because they are unsatisfied with the status quo. They envision a better future and are bold enough to take responsibility and leap.

Teach...because creating a culture and a future other people want and then leading them there is more effective and long-lasting than commanding an outcome. Teach vs. Tell.

Learn...because it’s the prerequisite to teaching and making change. Learning indicates forward motion and a desire to make positive change happen. But when combined with empathy and openness to new ideas, it’s the most important choice we can make. Nothing would change if no one learned.

The appropriate leadership goals then begin with these questions…answer wisely, be specific and be accountable.

  1. What will you learn?

  1. What will you teach?

  1. What change will you make?

Consideration Pause

One of the most underused options in decision making. How will this action affect others? How will the change, the idea, what is being said and how it’s being said change the culture? Does it align with the core values and support the purpose?

Unless there’s physical danger, it’s worth pausing for a moment…to be considerate on purpose. Great leaders know when to take time to reflect.

Experience and Leadership

Experience is required to create meaningful change.  It’s what gives us insight and relatively predictable outcomes. And it’s really helpful with the experimentation necessary to build anything new.  It’s also essential in the development of new leaders…the next generation of change makers. Without the valuable insight of an experienced leader, people are left solely to trial and error. And it really slows things down both for the work they produce and in their own development.

Experience then is best used to serve others…to lead, teach, guide, inspire and to help them get things done. It’s a shame it’s so often misused as a self-serving status tool…simply to tell someone what to do. 

It’s best to use experience to teach…and to be a hero for others. That’s the legacy we deserve.

When Should You Do Your Best Work?

Today (and every day) we can choose to give our best performance…or not. It doesn’t matter what falls in the way, what someone says or does unexpectedly or anything else that happens that’s out of our control. These roadblocks don’t change anything about our posture…unless we allow them. Every time we face a roadblock, what happens if we ratchet up our best selves even more? What happens if we lean in with more positive action and leadership? What happens if we become even more generous? 

The beauty is we know the unexpected is coming. So we can choose what to do with it…in advance. When running a marathon the first time, every mile is new. And when the “wall” comes we’re not sure what to do. But the next time, we know when the real pain is going to appear…when our best self self needs to show up even more.

It’s not nearly as hard to do your best when everything goes as planned. But it’s extremely important to continue to choose to do so when they don’t.

Choose wisely.

Blah Blah

Screenshot 2019-01-29 15.04.57.png

Before you post your next blog, facebook, instagram, article or user review…ask, what’s it for?

And if it’s not positive, informative or with the purpose to change someone or something for the better, it might be harmful. And in that case…best keep it to yourself or at least move it to a private channel.

Just because there’s a tool, doesn’t mean it should be used.

Drawing credit to Hugh Macleod, Gapingvoid

Teaching vs. Telling

Teaching moments occur when both the teacher and the student want to go somewhere…together. Students learn more, understand more, contribute more when they want to know…when they seek a higher level of understanding. Teaching moments don’t happen by chance. And they certainly don’t happen for a test. They occur because some teachers understand that leadership and enrollment in an idea are the essential seeds to learning. They know that no true learning can occur without first earning the student’s trust and enthusiasm for the idea. Want to teach someone to build a rocket ship? First step, get them excited about going into outer space. 

Teaching requires leading. And leading requires more than a high level of subject knowledge. It requires the ability to persuade someone to willingly go along with you. Otherwise it’s just telling. And anyone can do that.

So if you choose to teach, please know the hard work on offer. It’s not on the test. But I hope you choose to do it anyway.

From The Neck Down

I recently had to go to a UPS central pick-up facility to collect a package. After three trips and a fair amount of chaos, the counter representative, sensing the building tension and unable to solve the issue, remarked…When they hired me, they told me they were hiring me from the neck down. 

What a shame…and what a poor choice to settle for this sort of culture. 

Everyone is smart…if they choose to be. Choose wisely. 

The Weatherman is Never Right

Of course he is…almost always. Especially in the short-term, under 3 days. There’s almost a 100% chance the temperature outside right now is within 2 degrees F which was predicted 24 hours ago. Think about this. Outside of celestial movement and tides and such, almost nothing is as certain as the near-term weather. Yet, we hang on to the story and resulting culture from the early Farmer’s Almanac days when the weather was largely unpredictable and changed radically every five minutes (if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes). And every once in a while the weather doesn’t turn out today as it was predicted yesterday (everyday somewhere, but almost never in your town). So we add that to the lore…and the ratchet continues. Plus, it’s more fun and perhaps interesting to dramatize one time failures than provable statistical outcomes…how boring.

What other stories are we telling ourselves which are based on outdated and unsupportable theories? The purpose of standardized education, the value of meetings, the role of placebos, the effectiveness of advertising…a few to consider.

Choose your stories wisely.