7 Books That Make Great Gifts For A New Job

My personal graduation party count is in the teens now and I am not done.  Strangely I find myself energized with each new party because it gives me a chance to connect with a graduate, hear some of their plans, and revisit their first 18 years by looking at all the pictures they (or their parents) have posted.  It if fun and scary at the same time.  I always appreciate the graduates that look me in the eye and admit some of those fears.  I get it.

Transitions are like that – fun and scary.  Fun because of all the new things that are presented to us – new people, new challenges, new learning, and new perspectives.  Scary because they often bring us into unfamiliar territory that will challenge our basic beliefs and put us into situations where we will experience failure.

Failure.  It is a word that nobody likes to hear, and yet it is so necessary to learn.  One of the reasons I like hanging around a start-up minded community is they see failure as a way to grow.  You cannot have growth without it.  While graduation is a great thing to celebrate, those graduates that will be going off to their first job in the next several months will need more help.  The help they need is the support from the people around them for a great start in that new role.  In the corporate world it is called, and when it is done well it provides a foundation for success.  The key to onboarding is really after the program(or first 2 weeks), when the work begins.  Being able to step into that work with the right perspective and attitude is critical.

Lets focus on the college graduate that will be starting their first job. As part of any new beginning, it is good to mark that day with a gift.  Here are several books that have the potential to equip people and start some great conversations that will lead to a successful transition into their new role.

If you have read my blog long enough you know that I believe in learning pairs.  My philosophy of giving a book as a gift is simple – keep the books thin(<200 pages) and as part of the gift offer to read it/discuss it with them.  (here are some other helpful gift giving tips)



How do I know you are a high potential? My 5 Qualifiers

As I watched them present, I realized that in the 16 hours since I last saw them – they got better.  It made me smile.

Sunday I had the opportunity to join a group of coaches to help 21 students looking for jobs in Michigan prepare to address 500+ business leaders and tell their story in 3 minutes.  The workshop included them presenting their story 4-6 times and having their peers and their coach give them feedback on what they did well and what is one thing they could do to improve next time.  Not surprisingly, they got better.  But what really made me smile is that after we sent them off (paired up with another student to do one on one coaching with each other), they returned and they demonstrated a huge leap in performance from the previous day.  In my 10 plus years being around high potentials through leadership development programs, it reminded me that is what high potentials do.

Are you a high potential?  Here are five things that tell me you qualify:

  1. You learn when I am not looking: If you read some of the research by Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger they call this Learning Agility.  It is measurable and backed by research.  When I am helping leaders teams think about potential and what it looks like I use the book The Leadership Machine.  If you are charged with developing leaders in your organization, this should be in your library because it is backed with research and it will help you focus on the right things in your efforts to find and develop leaders.
  2. I experience your infectious energy: High potentials might not be the smartest person in the room, but they are never accused of being disengaged or along for the ride.  They see problems as opportunities, and that rubs off on the people around them.
  3. You listen: In any relationship a key part of listening is receiving feedback.  I know people hear something because instantly it is reflected in their performance and they say thank you in such a sincere manner that you know they appreciated it and are going to strongly consider it.  Listening is also apparent from the questions that people ask.  When you ask questions that help clarify or lead the speaker to an area they need to address next or completely missed, it means you are listening.
  4. I see you teaching: I watched strangers give each other great feedback, both on the positive and the negative (ie. improvement) aspects of their performance.  It was great, and it was extremely accurate.  I also found myself learning.  They showed me how about effective networking and gave me some tips about how colleges are preparing students today.
  5. I see results: In the end, high potentials figure out the learning curve and get to a result.  Most of the time it is quicker than what is expected, and often time the answer redefines what would be considered a great outcome.  The improvement and final deliverable of the performance is the special sauce.

One thing I did not include is “Everyone likes you.”  I left that out because high potentials have to learn to manage relationships effectively with peers and subordinates, but often times that lesson is part of the learning / development program.  It is critical that leaders like and respect you, so the ability to manage up and do the work is critical from the beginning.  Ultimately, high potentials should not move up without learning the craft of building respect at all levels and demonstrating the ability to build healthy relationships and teams – but that is for another blog.

If you want to see some of these students speak, here is a link.

Do you have anything to add to my list based on your experience?

4 Keys To Successful Transitions

4 Keys To Successful Transitions

Not Cool Robert Frost

If you have not seen the Kid President video on YouTube you should.  It has been played in our house through Apple TV no less than 12 times, with the funniest being watching my 86 year old father viewing it with his grandchildren saying “Isn’t this great Grandpa!”  It might not connect with all generations, but he was gracious. 🙂

There is a part in the video where Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken, is referenced and the kid president talks about how hard that road is with all the rocks, thorns, etc. . .   He then delivers the line – “Not cool Robert Frost”.  That line resonated and has been often repeated by my teenage daughter.  In the last two weeks, almost daily I have found situations where I repeat it.

Not cool Robert Frost

I love transitions.  People.  Teams.  Companies.  There is much to be gained in a great transition, and there is lots at stake because it is not an easy road.  Even in a successful transition there will be moments of failure.  My experience tells me that there are four key things that have to be there for a successful transition (whether it is corporate or individual):

  1. Desire to make the change
  2. Community of support for individuals doing the change (including at least 2 people willing to provide one on one support)
  3. Willingness and ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn (thanks for those words Greg Hartle) as part of the process.
  4. Resilience to do the work, regardless of the conditions (this is leadership)

As I look at this list, I see number 2 and 3 as the things anyone can be working on today regardless of their situation.  In fact, if you are not doing the work of making those a part of your work life, you are guaranteeing yourself / team / organization a difficult journey.

A story.  I was talking to someone who had successfully transitioned to a new role, only to have it go away months later.  The one thing they stopped doing when they landed?  Building/maintaining their community (#2).   Networking and maintaining your community is easy to stop when we are ‘busy’.   But it is the road that will become overgrown if not used at least a little.  It is also the piece that takes time to rebuild.  We create more rocks and thorns for ourselves when we stop doing all of the work of preparing ourselves, our teams, or our organizations for the transitions that will occur.

It is okay to rest, but don’t stop doing the work of preparation.  And when you hit a rock or a thorn, just blame Robert Frost and keep moving. 🙂

Leadership Journey – Strengths to overused Strengths

They were a year into their first leadership role and the feedback was You do not careHow could that be – because I do! was the defense.  The proof to the contrary was two valuable people leaving the organization and the final expert doing everything they could to help the leader fail.

A universal truth of most people that write about competencies or personality profiles is the simple fact that if we have a strength (example:  getting work done) and if that strength is overused, it becomes a weakness (example:  so task focused that people do not care).  This is and should be one of the number one focuses of developing leaders, and if you look at a leadership program that is laced with classroom time and lite on self awareness/feedback – run.

If you need a second opinion and are not afraid of a 200+ page business book, read Flip Side by Flip Flippen. The Flip Side: Break Free of the Behaviors That Hold You Back

If you are a coach, and you want this conversation in the voice of a coach – read What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful

If I had you at hello with this conversation and you want to jump in and try to avoid the mistake again, here is a simple way to start that conversation and get to an action plan:

  1. What are the reasons you got this leadership role? (list as many as you would like, pick the top 3)  *as their leader, feel free to correct their list after they have created it.
  2. How are these reasons (actually they are strengths) going to help you in this leadership role?
  3. How are these same reasons going to get in the way of your success?  What actions do you need to take to be successful and how can I best support you in this transition? (fyi . . if they don’t ask for help, so at a minimum meet with them weekly for the first 3 months)

The other solution is to speed past this conversation, let the situation play itself out, and try and fix it later.

fyi – Michael Watkins found that 40% of outside leaders hired into an organization fail in the first 18 months.  Brad Smart contends that a bad leadership hire takes 18 months to fire and the cost is 14.6x their base compensation.

Hmmm . . . .

My Top 4 Learning Tools

A thought was shared from Greg Hartle (@greghartle) last week about his impressions of people he meets that are in career transitions.

Many people are perfectly prepared for a world that no longer exists.

One area people struggle with is learning.  We wait for events, programs, our leader to direct us, a performance review, time away from our job to learn, or ___________(fill in the blank).  In a corporate class, experience shows me that 70% of people come to class without a clear objective.  In a personal study I have done, 100% of people who went to Google and typed in a “How do you . . . . ” search question had a clear learning objective.  Email me if you would like the full results of my study. 🙂

My favorite places to learn:

  • LinkedIn – I believe Greg’s perspective can be substantiated based on how someone leverages LinkedIn.  This tool is as much about setting up learning communities as it is about building a professional network.  Joining groups and asking/answering questions on a weekly basis.  This should be a cornerstone of your learning strategy.
  • Inc – I still get a paper copy.  It makes me old school, but the information I get from people trying things out is so valuable for me as an entrepreneur and an advisor to growing companies.  For a close friend it is Wired magazine.  I added that for 2013.  More to come . . .
  • TED – At the end of the day every TEDx video is still an event.  Given that, I am still shocked by how many people I work with that have never heard of this.
  • YouTube – 48 hours of new video is uploaded to YouTube every minute.  (see graphic) I once had a friend with a health issue that needed to start giving himself monthly shots.  He is a bit impatient, so after trying to find someone to help he went on YouTube, found instructions, and did it.  I do not recommend this course of action for everyone – but he is clearly not the person Greg was talking about.

As I watch my teenagers interact with the Internet I realize the line between living and learning is non-existent for them.   The mantra that separates boomers from a millennial is a simple shift from I will outwork you to I will out-learn you.  The hardest worker is not the automatic winner anymore.

What are your favorite places to learn?

1 on 1’s – Do you ask this question?

Shortly after publishing my last trU Tips on doing effective One-on-Ones (read it here), I received a note from a leader I respect.  I have never worked with him, but every time we talk he asks me questions that make me think.  He is also very willing to try new things.  He is a very valuable part of my network.

Let me call this trU Tips 22.1. In addition to the two questions I recommend once you mastered the basic One-on-one conversation, a third question to ask is – What should I keep doing the same?

Remember the goal of a One-on-One is to build trust and focus by creating space for your people to talk about what they are getting done, where they need help, and get a sense for how they are performing vs the standards you have set for them.  The advanced questions are about getting feedback for you that will help you continuously refine your own effectiveness as a leader.  Think of these three questions:

  • What do I need to do more of?
  • What should I keep doing the same? (the new question)
  • What do I need to do less of?

If you ask these questions and log in the answers over a 3-6 month period, I guarantee it will give you the same results as a professionally administered 360 feedback tool.  In financial terms, the choice is listen for free or spend five figures having someone else listen for you.

I love my network – they make me better.  I am listening.

4 Performance Words – What Seth said, and What I think

Seth Godin recently blogged about performance, and outlined four kinds:  Bad, Good, Remarkable, and Personal.  Here is the whole post.

In a world where we too often treat performance with labels like Right person/Right seat or A player / B player / C player – it is good to just use words that we all know.

Leading performance is about not walking by the work without letting people know what you see.  It is about getting their view of the work and what they see in others.  It about celebrating things being done, asking a few questions to plant seeds that might lead to a different view of the work, and challenging people to a different level of involvement and ownership.  Try these:

  • Where did you see passion in someone else’s work this week?  How can we celebrate that?
  • How did you personalize your work this week and who benefited from it?
  • What work do you have in front of you that has a chance to be remark-able in how you do it?  What will make it worthy of that label?

Of course you ask these questions, listen, and always revisit them.

Personally, I would drop Bad and Good in favor of Absent and Solid.

I like reading Seth – his thoughts are generally remark-able.


Rule 2 – Individual (not leader) owns the agenda

(This is the second blog in a series outlining the key rules for making one on ones work.  Here is a link to the first:  Rule 1 – Be in the same room together)

I stood in front of a group of human resource professionals and asked them Whats the #1 reason leaders would resist a regular one on one schedule? Their answer – Time.  It is a reality that another commitment, especially one that takes preparation, is going to be an issue.  This is one of the key reasons that Rule #2 exists.  While this time together requires presence from the leader, it requires only minimal preparation because the agenda is 100% driven by the individual.  Here are two reasons why.

First, the number one need for people at work is knowing what is expected of them. Gallup created a twelve question survey they could use to assess employee engagement at work.  They called it the Q12, and the very first and most important question was I know what is expected of me at work. Each day, new problems or opportunities arise in a business, and with each comes an event that could change the nature of the work that someone has to do. The key to a one on one is doing the five R’s around work duties:  refine, revise, reorder, reinforce, or remove.  Since it is a fundamental need for every person to have some level of focus in their work, they will have the strongest desire to own any activity that helps them achieve that.  The one on one is that activity.

Secondly, it addresses one of the top issues with any leader, the ability to effectively delegate work. The #2 best-selling Harvard Business Review article of all time is Management Time:  Who’s Got the Monkey? Leaders have long struggled with taking on too much work from their people.  The inherent question from the leader in the one on one conversation is –What do you need from me? There are four basic needs a leader has to be ready to address.  The need for . . .

  • A listening year
  • Encouragement to overcome a frustration
  • Coaching to see/define other options for getting through a barrier
  • Help prioritizing/re-framing an overbooked to do list

Notice your work is not on the list.  There will likely be some commitments for a leader after a one on one, but most should revolve around working with other leaders to deal with competing organizational priorities.  There is a natural need for leaders to take on the work of their people (for that perspective read the article).  The one on one all about helping the individual achieve a state of 3 Mores/1 less:  MORE focused, MORE autonomous, MORE  successful, and LESS stressed.  In that state, everybody wins, especially the leader.

More to come on one on ones.  If you are interested, here is a sample template for getting started.

Everyone needs a Target. Everyone!

Great leaders paint their own destiny

Great leaders live/lead through ambiguity

All of these statement are true, and yet in the details of all of these statements is work.  Inherent in this work is the simple question of What is the work?

One of the core beliefs I have is that everyone needs a target. The details will vary based on the individual, their drive, experiences, self-confidence, etc.   That data that supports this is Gallup’s Q12 and the most critical question to measure employee engagement – I know what’s expected of me at work. There is no exception in the research saying This does not apply to executives.

Yesterday I saw some great training that a start-up organization had put together to help their new leaders understand the culture and expectations they were stepping into – and see the target.  I know it will make a difference as they grow, especially if their leaders provide the conversations to support the learning and build the bridge to performance.  This is the hidden ingredient to clear expectations – an ongoing conversation about wins, losses, and just being lost. This is called leadership.

When I sit down with leaders to create the one on one sheet, I am amazed at the conversation that often ensues.  Sometimes it is laced with frustration, but more often it is about relief because expectations are clear.

Everyone needs a target.  Everyone.


Can the CEO Coach? 2 Myths that get in the way

I learned by diving in – Why can’t they?

This statement was not meant to be mean or pass the buck, it was born from the frustration of seeing senior level leaders not rising to the occassion after being given significantly more responsibility.  I see it happen too often.  It is a painful scenario, and it is one that can be avoided.

When the focus is put on answering the question – How did we get here?, the root cause ends up being some attitudes/assumptions that started the motion down the wrong path.  Here are the top two:

Myth #1 – I did it all on my own, why can’t they. Really?  As a parent, many times a day the thought creeps into my head “When I was little I had the same challenge, and I just figured it out .”  Nobody ascends on their own.  Whether its a spouse, mentor, friend, or some other significant person – someone stepped in hand helped you through rough spots.  Solution: Commit 30 minutes a week to review goals, review progress, and answer questions (called a one on one)  Here is a link to a template if you need one.

Myth #2 – It is okay to lose some of  my money while they learn.  Why do they not feel safe? Have you ever had the angst of telling your parents that you had an accident with their car?  It was one of those conversations that teens through the ages have crafted countless schemes to avoid.  We grow up, get a job, and all of the sudden we make a mistake that costs our organization thousands of dollars, and it is like we were a teenager again.  Solution: Make it okay to make a mistake, provided you own it and have a plan to fix it.

When people become leaders of leaders, they realize how difficult it is to work through others to get results, and sometimes the default is to either leave them alone to figure it out, or step into their lives and help manage the details.  Ken Blanchard called this Seagull Management.  Fly in, dump, then leave.

Find an answer somewhere in the middle.  Don’t be a Seagull.