The Blog

To Tell Your Own Work Life Story — Discover Your Mentors

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Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

Most of us would like to inject the wisdom of a mentor into our work lives. As we read the stories of successful individuals describing the impact of these “guiding forces”,  we might find yourself feeling a bit left behind. Real mentors — those that can can shape our work lives — are few and far between. To coin an old adage, they “don’t grow on trees”.

On a related note, I happened upon this incredible post by Nancy Duarte, who instructs us how to the tell the stories that matter. She shares techniques, that have helped her clients build life stories that engage and motivate others. (The process involves active reflection.) Most of us are challenged to recall the events and conversations that are no longer in the forefront of our minds. Through her process, we might recall pivotal moments and possibly identify those in our lives that have served as mentors (yet we haven’t identified them as such).

She calls these bits and pieces, “latent stories”. I love this idea.

One of Duarte’s techniques involves placing your name in the center of a piece of paper and then mapping connection between people, places and things — ensuring the we also describe the dynamic of each relationship. As I began the process, names ended up on the paper that I hadn’t thought of in years. In fact, their positive impact had been buried under a number of negative experiences that hovered (and clouded) over more positive experiences. For example, my schematic revealed a middle school teacher who instilled a real sense of pride concerning my strengths in math and science. She encouraged me to make a lasting contribution to the world, although at 13 my wish was simply to be accepted and blend in.

Bingo. Pay dirt.

I hadn’t really labeled her as a mentor — but there she was. What were the lasting lessons she taught? To take pride in who I was, even if I seemed different. There were many others as well. Those that shared the candid “one-liners” along the way, that did shift my self-view, my behavior or my path ever so slightly.

You may not think that you have a strong mentoring backstory.

However, exploring the past may reveal the individuals who saw potential within you. (Isn’t that what a mentor does?)

They showed us— by taking the time to share.

That is certainly a story worth retelling.

Who are the unsung heroes of your work life?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

 

 

 

When Delivering Feedback — Should We Dwell on Our Strengths?

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Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

For some odd reason — performance feedback often becomes an exercise in dwelling upon our shortcomings. (Read a recent HBR post on feedback here.) As a psychologist, this concerns me deeply. I’m sure many of us agree that we learn more from shared feedback concerning our strengths. This likely occurs for a number of reasons, including not only how the information is delivered, but how we process the negative bits. We remain acutely aware that information about weaknesses shouldn’t be ignored. Yet when negative information enters the picture, things seem to go off the rails.

On the delivery side, we know we should be addressing both sides of the coin. As recipients, most of us really do want to hear the whole story (even as we brace for it, gritting our teeth.)

Still — we haven’t mastered the art. I fear that on many occasions we simply avoid it.

On a related note, this predisposition sets our managers up for the unsavory task of ripping us down. I’ve never heard a manager say, “I can’t wait to deliver performance appraisals”. I wonder in this moment, if negative information is the reason why. We know it is “loaded” and can drive a perfectly constructive conversation into the proverbial ditch.

Being honest about weaknesses while leaving our core fully intact, is not an easy stretch of the road to maneuver. Yet, we still need to complete the journey. As detailed here, confirmation bias can hide the deal-breaking flaws that affect our work (and organizations). But as human beings we have “tender” hearts when it comes to negative information. Resilience, that nifty quality that allows us to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off, is about self-efficacy — not self-doubt. So, I suppose “radical transparency” can have its pitfalls.

I’m wondering is there is a way for the two goals to marry? How do we deliver negative information, yet leave our inner work life core intact? There are options that may help us.

One theory, is hitting a comfortable ratio of positive to negative feedback that is offered. (Hint: We should dwell on the positive much more than the negative and a little negative information goes a long, long way). Another strategy is to use less judgemental language and present alternative behaviors, so that change doesn’t appear unreachable. This also demands that we note where someone is on the learning curve.

This is all a very delicate process.

You may have your own theory as well. There is probably a wealth of information living out there. Strategies that we have learned along the way.

I do know that solving this is imperative. Let’s share both our experiences and ideas.

Thoughts?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Have an Idea? Get Lost in Your Thoughts. Then Apply a Dose of Design Thinking.

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Photo by Kris Chin on Unsplash

“We’re counting on you to trust yourself enough to speak your own version of our future.” – Seth Godin

I’d like to think we all have ideas worth sharing.

I also believe that our ideas deserve more than a random scribble or a passing thought. Somehow, when we fail to pause with an idea — there is often a lost opportunity.

However, developing our ideas is easier said than done. Anyone that has tried to bring an idea to fruition, realizes there are fundamental obstacles that cause us to leave an idea behind. First, both emotion and data are typically required to prove an idea’s worth. Yet early in the development process accurate data is often unavailable. Secondly, we must plan for the most common reaction to something new: fear of change. When these enduring obstacles are not at least considered, it can be a challenge to develop any modicum of “idea momentum”.

Borrowing the notion of a “user story” from design thinking, may help bridge the expanse of the “unknown”, left by fear and a lack of targeted data.

It may just save your idea from being scrapped.

Here is a collected set of elements to consider when reflecting on your idea (user stories are included):

  • Respect tenacity. Does the idea return to you over & over again? If you find that an idea simply won’t “leave you alone” pay attention. Elizabeth Gilbert describes this experience in her glorious Ted Talk (and it’s utterly amazing).
  • Clarification. There is a reason this idea found you. What are you solving? Does the idea build awareness, address a problem or correct a pain point?
  • Document the core. What comprises the core of your idea? Is it a collection of elements that haven’t yet been considered together? Is it a way to group people or things to build awareness? Is it something others have simply overlooked? Map its contents.
  • Build the emotional case. Explore if your idea resonates with others as a key litmus test. These discussions will help you refine the problem statement. You may shift your focus slightly — yet this might make all the difference going forward.
  • Develop the all-important user story. How might the idea positively affect you, your employees or a potential customer if brought to the world? What do you envision happening if the idea matures and is operationalized? Can you develop a prototype? What are the snafus or costs that might accompany implementation? The development of a user story can help build your case.
  • Offer structure. Attempt to design a framework that would organize your thoughts. (See how I organized an idea about how we differ when facing change, here.)
  • Master “the talk”. What is your idea elevator pitch? Think of a few, illustrative sentences that not only describe what you are trying to accomplish — but might stir a potential call to action.

An idea evolves over time.

Respect it.

Don’t dismiss an idea just because the world as we know it — fails to offer data to support the future state.

Now go.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Creativity Has Its Drama: Just Ask Amazon

Everyone in my house talked over the Super Bowl ads this year — which made it quite difficult to choose my favorite. (Did you notice there wasn’t a single ad from an American automaker?). I always hold out hope there will be a quirky workplace focused ad. This year, Amazon delivered with this gem, about the unavoidable perils that come along with creativity.

Named “Not Everything Makes the Cut”, it hilariously depicts a few would-be epic Alexa fails. As always, my hat is off to the failures that bring us to the ideas that soar!

If you have any interest you can see my list of “5 of the Funniest Workplace Commercials of All Time” here.

_________________

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, where she currently serves as an Organizational Development Advisor at Gapingvoid. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program and her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, US News & World Report, Quartz and The World Economic Forum.

It’s Not Just About You. That’s Ok. Here’s Why.

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I’m going to go out on that proverbial limb to say this: It’s not about you.

No matter your industry, your line of work or your role, there is a broader picture that you need to bring into focus. It’s not about you — and that may come as a complete surprise.

We receive many messages throughout our work lives. Find your passion. Build a viable skill set. Learn from our mentors. Yes, we need to stay abreast of the developments in our field. Yes, we need to treat our careers carefully. That is all real.

However, there are other messages that we are not taught, that take years and years to figure out.

Let’s fast forward to one of those messages, as it relates to the topic of meaning in our work lives. (With a little help from Seth Godin.) Hopefully the message will take you beyond work role fit and help you explore another facet of work life.

There is a single question that must be explored:

Who are you helping?

What problems can you solve for that group? Career direction is just as much about acknowledging/impacting the needs of this group, than anything else you may have learned along the way. It is just as much about having real, bona fide opportunities to do so. This can serve as the fuel that feeds our work life soul. It can provide direction and meaning.

A few steps to start this exploration:

Step 1: Know them. Read (and view) anything available about them. Read. Ask your colleagues, your manager. Read more. Ask again.
Step 2: Know their problems and challenges. What are their obstacles of this group? In my case, I am often trying to identify the issues that impede organizational growth or excellence. Your audience may have a different type of concern.
Step 3: Be the solution. Reflect if an element of your career is contributing to at least one potential solution, for the identified group.

If these steps have been missing, you may be feeling lost. You may not be connecting with a broader purpose.

Work life should have meaning.

I want you to find yours.

Now go.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, where she currently serves as an Organizational Development Advisor at Gapingvoid. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program and her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, US News & World Report, Quartz and The World Economic Forum.

Why We Shy Away From Ambition

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A dream without ambition is like a car without gas… you’re not going anywhere. – Sean Hampton

What do you think of when you hear of an individual described as ambitious? Do you think of someone who is motivated or competent? Someone who has worked through obstacles and barriers to achieve success? Possibly. Yet, it is just as likely that you entertained negative thoughts or even recoiled. Ambition — for better or worse — is a trait that is often associated with the need for power, rather than that of achievement. (You can see McClelland’s work here).

Why ambition is viewed in this manner begins with philosophical discourse. Over the centuries ambition has often been maligned in favor of more lofty, inspirational endeavors. The very process of envisioning and striving for goals and success, is often viewed a hollow and empty path. This is often evident in the stories that we share.

Consider the plight of Andrea, the young journalist in The Devil Wears Prada, as she embraces the opportunity to work as the assistant to the extremely powerful Miranda. While she may have progressed in her work life, the accompanying disappointment of her inner circle knew no bounds. (The situations she faced portrayed ambition in the most negative light possible.) Ultimately, she was forced to choose between those in her innermost circle or her future. In the end, she earned her place as a journalist. However, she did so at great cost. Her ambition was portrayed as ending in powerful loss.

I can’t help but wonder — is there a kinder, gentler version of ambition that we can all live with?

Ambition seems misunderstood.

In the world of work, the notion of personal ambition is either maligned, stifled or glorified. There is no in-between. No shades of gray, where we can meld our current work lives with the need to manifest that ambition. With the exception of the few that have openly discussed ambition (Hogan, for example), there isn’t a landslide of research to shed light on the topic. Ambition has largely been ignored. But why?

Occasionally, one encounters a concept that is pervasive yet, poorly understood. – Judge & Kammmeyer-Mueller, 2012

In fact, personal ambition is offered a very narrow lane. Only accepted for the likes of tech founders or CEOs. For the rest of us, the connotation is murky, often negative and rarely supported. Why? I would venture to say that a couple of reasons lead the pack.

#1: Stereotypes. For some reason we view ambitious people as unscrupulous or uncaring. However, if your think of the people you admire most, you’d likely characterize them as ambitious. Why? because you admire what they were actually doing, the end result.

#2: Fear. We might envision that manifesting ambition would catapult us into hand-wringing situations that we can’t handle. Situations where we must make choices that are overwhelming and wrought with risk. Yet, work life usually unfolds in stages. One step grows into the other, as we learn and progress.

Judge & Kammeyer-Mueller (2012) discuss in their article entitled On the Value of Aiming High: The Causes and Consequences of Ambition, that indeed ambition was related to positive career outcomes (best predicted by neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness). They also muse that ambition is largely viewed negatively by authors and philosophers alike.

“Ambition is discussed by numerous philosophers, with those seeing it as virtuous (Santayana, Kaufmann) apparently outnumbered by those who perceive it as vicious (Aquinas, Locke, Rousseau). “

So, it seems we have a love-hate relationship with ambition, with no in-between. No version exists where we can blend our deeply valued goals with some fantastic version of the future. In fact, personal ambition is offered quite a narrow lane. (It seems only to be accepted for the likes of tech founders or CEOs.) For the rest of us however, the connotation is murky and often negative.

Yet, the act of ignoring ambition can also cause problems. We’ve all suffered through periods of time that we could label as a “crisis of contribution”. In many cases, what we envision to accomplish through the application of our strengths — doesn’t align or manifest within our work. This leaves us in a state of frustration or dissatisfaction.

I’m convinced it could be ambition grumbling to do more.

Waiting for its chance in the sun.

Ambition should be embraced, as it could provide the spark of so many great things.

It’s definition should be broadened to include not only power, but progress.

Moreover — I’m convinced it is not always blind.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, where she currently serves as an Organizational Development Advisor at Gapingvoid. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program and her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, US News & World Report, Quartz and The World Economic Forum.

The Ask: What Would Help Your Work Life?

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