Goals vs. Dreams

Kung Hei Fat Choi!  It’s Chinese New Year and the general forecasts from Feng Shui masters can make an interesting read.  For most of us, this is probably more a fun thing to do and we don’t really believe these forecasts.  Or, maybe we choose to believe if the forecasts are positive and about developments that we like, and we choose not to believe when the forecasts aren’t all that palatable.  In any case, we can have fun reading and talking about these.  Is one’s fortune in the stars, one’s zodiac sign and or one’s horoscope? 

In one TV series episode that I recently saw, the protagonist facing an impossible challenge was told that he was lucky that things worked out his way.  He retorted that he didn’t believe in good luck and said that he made his own luck. This mindset of us helping create our own opportunities is definitely better than a fatalistic one where you may believe that you are just at the receiving end of good or bad fortune.  Focus on our sphere of influence, on the things that matter and where we have impact on.

Another line from the same protagonist caught my attention as well, “I don’t have dreams, I have goals. And I’m ready to move on to the next one.”  There’s nothing wrong with having dreams as dreams tend to be bigger and more distant in the future.  But unless you break down your dreams into milestones that drive you forward one major step at a time, then maybe your dreams will remain dreams. 

The morale of the story?  As you review and write down your goals for your development, your career, your life, make it a point to write SMART goals or break them down into specific milestones. That way, you’ve made your own yardstick to know when you’ve reached them and ready to move on to the next one.

On Setting Goals for Yourself and Your Team

Whether in leading oneself or a team, identifying SMART goals can help you focus your efforts and that of your team.  When you feel lost or adrift, having lost your steam, take pause and think about your goals. What do you really need and want for yourself? What do you really need and want for your team?

SMART has become a popular and well known acronym for setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.  Yet, it is easy enough to forget this and sometimes, when you are not accomplishing anything or when your team is not working together synergistically, the root of the problem may be that you and the team have lost sight of the goals, or the old goals need to be revisited and changed.

If you find yourself getting too busy on busywork, avoid the potential activity trap by taking time out to identify what are truly most important for you.  Who do you want to become?  What do you want to achieve?

What do you want?  This can be a very powerful question that many don’t ask themselves. If you know what you want and why, the rest follows.

So, what do you want this 2016?  How does this fit into your career plans, your overall life plan?  Write down your goals now. Don’t worry about wordsmithing them at this time. It’s more important to capture what’s in your heart. You can always refine them later.

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“If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.”

Still on Essentialism by Greg Mckeown…  I like the idea of “if it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.”  It does help simplify and clarify making decisions.  True enough, many tempting good opportunities do come our way and it can sometimes be difficult to discern and say no.

Having clear criteria to make selection decisions can help us pick and focus on what’s most important instead of making too many choices that result in spreading ourselves too thin and then missing the more desirable and important opportunities that may come later.

The key, according to Mckeown and TED speaker Derek Sivers in his piece “No more yes. It’s either HELL YEAH! or no.” as Mckeown mentions in his book Essentialism, is to use a simple technique for becoming more selective in the choices we make…that is, put the decision to an extreme test:  if we feel total and utter conviction to do something, then we say yes.  If not, then we say no.  If the answer is not a definite yes, as Mckeown quotes another leader, then it should be a no. This does actually help.  The bottom line is what’s most important to us.

When a tempting good opportunity comes, like an attractive project, if you don’t feel like it’s the right one for you, then it probably really isn’t. Sure, giving it more thought and reflection helps. And soon as you know in your mind and in your heart that it is not what your are looking for and not what you really want, then just let it go. This keeps you open and free for the right one when it comes along.

When the nagging thought that you might be wrong grips you, that you might be missing out on something great, why not sleep over it and revisit it the next morning?  Well, just remember to let go sooner than later so that you don’t end up uselessly obsessing and wasting precious time over it.

Decide what criteria you are going to use to consider and accept the opportunity. Such criteria varies and depends on each person.  Mckeown recommends you identify three minimum and three extreme criteria to evaluate the opportunity.  When it passes these, then it’s a yes go ahead.  He suggested that you write down at least three minimum criteria and three extreme criteria that the opportunity must pass. He also suggested, for instance, three possible questions to consider:  What am I passionate about? What taps my talent? What meets a significant need in the world?

Had I learned to think and decide this way much much earlier in my life, I may have been able to make better decisions faster. It’s not too late to start now because, as the saying goes, today is the first day of the rest of my life.

On Becoming an Essentialist vs. a Nonessentialist

My sister gave me a copy of the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown for Christmas and I had put on the night table beside my bed.  I had a number of books to finish and so postponed starting it until two weeks ago.

It was a good thing that I began to read it sooner than later. It has helped open my eyes. I like several key messages which are so true. These are some of the ones that resonate.

Yes, I want to be an essentialist! Am I investing myself in the right activities? Which problem or opportunity do I want? That depends on what my immediate, short-term and long-term goals are. I suppose that I was, sometimes still am, guilty of wanting to have it all. With limited resources, time being the most important, I must admit that it makes sense to make hard choices about what to focus on. This starts with discerning my most important goals, and activities follow. Less but better. There’s no point in trying to do to many things and not doing well in the most critical ones. Better to focus on a few that make a difference and where I can make a difference.

Cut out the trivial many. This will be quite a challenge. After taking the HarvardX Course on Unlocking the Immunity to Change: A new Approach to Personal Improvement, one of the the things I realized was that I just had too many activities lined up and it wasn’t easy to decide which were real priotities. Now, also realizing that, let’s face it, the reality is such that there are always trade-offs and that we can’t choose to do everything, I’m able to help myself eliminate more of the activities that matter less.

Now, this one is a gem among gems. Apparently, Peter Drucker had told Jim Collins, author of the business classic Good to Great, that he could either build a great company or build great ideas but not both, and that Collins chose ideas. McKeown continues with the observation that Collins still has only three full-time employees in his company, yet his ideas have reached millions of people through his writing. I started to think, well couldn’t he do both? Hold on, that’s precisely how a nonessentialist thinks: I can do both. Again, there are, and will be, trade offs. So, better to make a choice, avoid spreading oneself too thin, and instead to maximize one’s success and contribution. Less is better. Less is more.

Create space to escape and explore life. Space to read. Space to concentrate. Space to think. This I think I am a little better at, but there is always room for improvement. It’s encouraging to know that some very well known and famous entrepreneurs deliberately carve out such space regulary to help them refresh themselves, discover new ideas, and learn new things. A good tip is to plan and schedule creating space in your calendar and stick to it.

I have a long way to go to being a true essentialist, one who thinks that almost everything is nonessential and being able to distinguish between the vital few from the trivial many. I am nevertheless happy that I’ve become more self aware of my nonessentialist beliefs, assumptions, and actions.  Telling myself that my “big” nonessentialist assumptions are not true (e.g., “Everything is important. I can do everything.”),  I can gain distance from them, test and modify them.  I can be less captive of my big assumptions, overcome my immunity to change in this area, and move a few steps closer to an essentialist “self-authoring mind.”

Free HarvardX Course: Unlocking the Immunity to Change: A New Approach to Personal Improvement

Hello 2015!  Time does fly too fast!  Every year, many of us make New Year’s resolutions on self improvement, yet how many of these do we actually realize? If we pause to reflect and honestly admit to ourselves that we often fall short rather than succeed, then learning about and applying the Immunity to Change process to yourself can make a huge difference to help you be more successful with your goals.

I’ve finally had the opportunity to read the book Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.  I decided to check the authors’ website http://mindsatwork.com/ at that time and discovered that they were just about to conduct an experimental research based online class on the Immunity to Change (ITC) process and how effective it might be if taught in an online course. It was a free course by HarvardX on https://www.edx.org/. What a great experiential way to learn about the Immunity to Change approach and process, in addition to reading about it!

I signed up to the course HarvardX: GSE1.1x Unlocking the Immunity to Change: A New Approach to Personal Improvement and completed the 13 weeks, starting September 16 and ending December 15, 2014. I enjoyed the learning experience with Kegan and Lahey giving many short video lectures throughout the course to explain the key concepts,  and with volunteer students who are sharing their Immunity to Change X-rays as they create them one step, one column, one week, at a time…in class.  The discussion forum was a great way to learn from and with other course participants. The online Change Diary was a truly a useful tool in helping us learn and apply the ITC process to ourselves.EdX_Login_Immunity.to.Change

I learned a lot from the course.  These include, but are not limited to the following:

  • How to create your own Immunity to Change Map or “X-ray” and how to apply the ITC process to yourself.
  • One reason we fail at our self improvement goals is that we often apply a “technical approach” to change when what is needed is an “adaptive approach.  That is, we try to change our behaviors without first learning and observing our assumptions that impact our efforts. We need to realize when each approach may be appropriate for us.
  • The assumptions that we may not be aware of may actually be acting as our ITC immune system because they support other goal(s) that are competing with our expressed self improvement goal.
  • It is only when we become conscious of such assumptions, when they may or may not be true, and how they affect us, that we can begin to free ourselves from their hold on us.
  • It is more effective to focus on “the one big thing” that really makes a difference for us and work on that, rather than trying to unsuccessfully tackle several self improvement goals simultaneously.
  • That personal change takes time, we can backslide, and it helps when we are kind to ourselves as well.  How much time? It depends on your self improvement goal…and be ready to give yourself 3 months to 6 months or even a year to work on it and make the change second nature to you.
  • You need reinforcement and support from your significant others and those who you interact with in the context of your self improvement goal.

The first few weeks focused on helping us identify and choose a self improvement goal to work on during the 13-weeks and completing our ITC Map or “X-ray.”  After completing our ITC Map, we then focused on creating simple experiments to help us observe our behaviors and test our assumptions, how true or false they were, and how they affected us in relation to expressed self improvement goal, and how explore how we might free ourselves from such assumptions that have a hold on us.

Briefly shown below is the focus of each week  of the online course.

  • Week 1: Welcome and Orientation
  • Week 2: Choosing an Improvement Goal
  • Week 3: Completing the First Half of Your Immunity to Change Map
  • Week 4: Completing the Second Half of Your Immunity to Change Map
  • Week 5: Self Observations
  • Week 6: Continuum of Progress
  • Week 7: Biography
  • Week 8: Designing your first test
  • Week 9: Running and interpreting your first test
  • Week 10: Designing your second test
  • Week 11: Running and interpreting your second test
  • Week 12: Hooks and releases
  • Week 13: Ending well
  • Plus a 2-week grace period to complete course activities for those who may have fallen behind.

If you’re interested to learn more about this free online HarvardX course and join the next free run, if there is one, visit these links:

If you just want to watch all the videos and sample the course materials, that’s ok. However, if you want to make the most of it,  make sure you block off at least 2-3 hours a week in your calendar and complete the activities and write them up in your Change Diary.  It’s difficult to catch up if you fall behind because you do need each week to watch the lectures and participant sharing, do the exercises, reflect, observe, write, and participate in the online forum.

In the meantime, you may want to dive into the book Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.

“How Can I Improve My Emotional Intelligence?”

A high potential manager may define this developmental goal as the primary focus of her coaching program. What is emotional intelligence and how can she begin her journey?

What is Emotional Intelligence?

The concept of Emotional Intelligence (EI) was popularized by Daniel Goleman over 10 years ago when he published books about EI. Today, it is probably common knowledge that EI, also referred to as Emotional Quotient (EQ), is more critical that Intelligence Quotient (IQ) in enabling people to succeed. In the 50’s and 60’s there was a lot of hype about IQ. Then in the 90’s, understanding about EI and how it helped make people more successful grew.

I remember someone I knew who was very smart but because he was a loner and didn’t work with well with others, his career growth was negatively affected. With his intelligence, he could have been promoted to the manager and executive level. However, because of a low EQ “handicap,” he remained at the supervisory level for many years and didn’t get the opportunity to move up and achieve more of his full potential as a person and leader.

In a nutshell, Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize your emotions and understand how they affect you and the people around you. EI also involves how you perceive others, understand their feelings, and manage yourself and your relationship with them more effectively. EI has also been described as the ability to create positive outcomes in your relationships with others and yourself. Such positive outcomes can include joy, optimism, and success in your life and work.

People with high EI tend to be more well liked and successful in most things they do. They have greater self awareness and self management and can work more constructively with other people despite challenges that might exist in their personal and working relationships.

The five dimensions that define EI are self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, empathy, and social skills or coaching other’s emotions. These may be labeled a bit differently in various sources. There are excellent sources to learn more about EI and some are the following:

How Can She Begin Her Journey?

Back to the high potential manager who has set a goal of improving her emotional intelligence.

One way to start the process and journey is to have a conversation about what is emotional intelligence, its dimensions, and what would be different between her present and future self as “being” more emotionally intelligent. Having a good understanding of what EI means and how she can be a different and better person with a higher EI is essential to success.

Another place to start is to explore how a self assessment can help her get a snapshot and baseline of her EI skills. Before she can improve her emotional skills, she must first understand what her strengths and areas for improvement are. There are different tools for this and, while they may be built around the five EI dimensions or competencies, they may differ in how they are constructed and in the amount of research done on them to ensure their validity and reliability.

The point is that she must know where she is beginning her journey and where her destination is, so that she can monitor how well she is moving towards achieving her goal of increasing her EI.  In addition to a self assessment,  feedback from others who work with her is helpful.  Then, helping her define how she would be different in terms of each EI dimension, how she would behave differently in ways that reflect higher levels of EI skills, will help her concretize the changes she wants to see in herself and her relationship with others.

Are You Ready for Coaching?

Your company has initiated a coaching program for high potentials. So you have been enrolled in a three month coaching program by your boss, your sponsor. What now? What can you do to get ready and make the most of this great opportunity to work with a professional coach?

Here are eight questions to think about.

  1. Are you prepared to take responsibility for your own growth and development?
  2. What specific goals do you need and/or want to focus on during the three month coaching program?
  3. Are you willing to talk to your boss and discuss what goals she had in mind for you?
  4. Are you willing to work on these goals as well?
  5. Are you willing to listen and receive feedback?
  6. Are you willing to be open to another person?
  7. Are you committed to taking action on your learning?
  8. Are you willing to commit to the weekly coaching sessions?

To get you started, consider these points.

1. Are you prepared to take responsibility for your own growth and development?

You are always responsible for your own personal and professional growth and development. Other people may be there to help you, and unless they know what you need and want, they may not be able to help you as much.

2. What specific goals do you want to focus on during the three month coaching program?

Based on your experience and feedback from others, what do you want to be different? What do you want to change and be better?  If you have information from a 360 assessment that you took, go over it carefully and ascertain what areas/competencies you need to work on.

3. Are you willing to talk to your boss and discuss what goals she had in mind for you?

What are your boss’s reasons for enrolling you in the program? What did she want you to take away from it? What benefits did she hope you would get so that you can be a better you and more ready to take on new challenges?  Take the initiative to meet with your boss on a periodic basis to find out how you are doing, to discuss your career goals, and to give feedback about your progress relative to your agreed upon goals.

4. Are you willing to work on these goals as well?

How similar or different are the goals that your boss had in mind and your own goals?  If they are quite different, how do you reconcile these differences and prioritize what to focus on during the three months?  Get agreement on the priority goals.

5. Are you willing to listen and receive feedback?

How open are you about feedback that may not sit well with you or that you may disagree with? Think of all feedback, good and bad, as gifts of different points of view to explore. Ask yourself what might be the truth in each of these and how you can use these different perspectives to help you grow.

6. Are you willing to be open to another person?

Take heart, confidentiality is part of coaching. Typically, what you discuss with your coach is confidential. Often, the responsibility for updating your boss is with you. Nevertheless, it would be helpful for you to have a discussion about the limits of confidentiality with your coach and your boss. What is the coach required to report on?

7. Are you committed to taking action on your learning?

While the coaching process may give you a lot of opportunity to reflect on the present situation, you must take steps to act on what you have learned to move closer to your goals. If you have an “assignment” between one session and the next, work on it and learn in the process.  If you want to make progress, you must be willing to change self limiting beliefs and behaviors.

8. Are you willing to commit to the weekly coaching sessions?

Last, but not least, is that you will show up and on time during your coaching sessions.  Plan your week and block off your calendar to make sure that you don’t schedule anything else during your coaching session.  Coaching is an investment in your future and deserves your time and energy.

Want more?  Read “Get the Most Out of Executive Coaching” from the HBR Blog Network.

Check out this “coachability” quiz at http://breakthrucoaching.com/BT-TEST-COACHABILITY.pdf