Completely Biased, Unscientific Learning from Potential Job Candidates

At 12:25 p.m. on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 I just finished my first experience judging the #MNcollegiateDECA state competition in Mankato, MN. Between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. I judged six students on their ability to read a case study in the restaurant and food service management area and present their solutions to an ethical and operational dilemma facing a fictitious restaurant chain. The details of their case is not important. That students chose, at such an early hour of the morning, to let their skills be judged — that’s the important point.

When I brought Rasmussen students to the competition two years ago my focus was on the top students. I wanted to make sure my students were among the top ranked: confident, well informed, professional, able to problem solve and think on their feet. My focus is different today. I want to talk about the students who lacked confidence, need more experience, and still pepper their speech with “like” and “stuff.”

The existence of these aforementioned students at the DECA competition lead me to be hopeful for employment candidates in the future. WHAT? How can that be?

These students took a risk and opened themselves up to true feedback. By title I’m judging them, their performance, and their ability at this point in time. Asking for feedback is never easy. Asking for feedback from strangers and intending to improve from that feedback shows true commitment to growth.

As business leaders, we have something to learn. Based on the example of these inexperienced, but dedicated, potential candidates, I recommend the following actions for our personal and professional growth.

  1. Let your business and your contribution be “judged.” In DECA you are not approaching someone who will be judgmental. There is a different. Reach out to customers with whom you have the best relationships. Open yourself up to review from business peers, coaches, and mentors whom you trust to give you an accurate assessment delivered with love.
  2. Review the feedback carefully, then put it away for a day or two. Our businesses are wrapped up in our identities. It’s understandable that we’d feel defensive or emotional over the feedback we receive. Don’t reject the feedback immediately or rush to make changes. Instead, let the emotions fade for a couple of days. Then review the comments again with a trusted mentor. Really discuss the merits, opportunities, and challenges of each point.
  3. Create an action plan. What will you change, by when, and why? Make sure any changes are intentional and add value to your most important stakeholders. By the way; you are one of those stakeholders.
  4. Set your action plan side by side with your business and personal mission statements. If there are areas that don’t align one of two things may be true: 1) your mission has evolved since you’ve looked at it last and needs updating, or 2) you need to revisit your action plan.

The steps outlined here go far beyond creating a to-do list. It’s your opportunity to transform yourself and your business. How often should you go through this process? I would recommend once a year, but if your business is in a state of rapid growth you might go through the steps more often.

The bottom line: Not everyone is at the top of their game at all times. The ones that will break through to success are the ones that will put their assumptions at risk.

Lifting the Lid on Leadership

It’s poignant to remember the stages we went through as children and young adults. As infants, children, and teenagers we are expected to hit certain stages where we redefine our relationship to our world and our selves. What I’ve found is once we graduate from college or some advanced degree, we work as through we’re done developing in stages. Suddenly a plateau hits and I wonder – is it just me? Is this natural? How do I develop my leadership effectiveness?

Recently I read John Maxwell’s well known book 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (PDF) and the first law, the Law of the Lid, summarized where I am at this point in my career. I’ve hit my leadership lid. Now, I could continue on and be perfectly effective, but to truly transform my relationship with my employees, my peers, my friends, and my family, I need to lift the lid.

There are two areas where I’ve begun to define what this means at this later point in my career; there’s no question I’ve been successful, but my growth requires a redefinition of terms.

Networking redefined:

  • Used to mean meeting people in order to expand my circle. I offered my skills and expertise in hopes of making connections with others.
  • Now networking means offering my skills and expertise in order to build my influence. Who can I count on to support my vision of both my personal growth and that of the organization for which I work? My networking must focus internally as much as externally to develop this influence.
  • You’ll notice I still offer my skills and expertise first. That has not changed.

 Branding redefined:

  • Used to mean developing a personal brand. I needed to articulate my value in the context of organizational and needs. The focus was on my contribution and competitive advantage.
  • Now branding means develpoing a platform of ideas – a vision – that illustrates a future for my organization and its people in the context of internal and external competition. I’m particularly good at articulating my personal brand. Where I now need to focus it the development of my organization’s future.
  • My personal part in this vision is both forward facing (I’m literally the face) and secondary to the needs of others.

Value redefined:

  • I’m struggling most with this one right now. Personally I’ve tended to define my value by how others see me. As an instructor and manager I’ve fought this impluse in order to be effective. If I want to be transformative, I must let go of this definition all together.
  • My value, with this redefinition, would be constructed not by other’s opinions of me (do they like me?) but by how valued my employees, friends, and family feel. I am not the primary source of delivering this value to them, but encouraging others to see the value they offer in the best light.
  • In a nutshell it doesn’t matter if people like me…do people express thanks to my employees for the value they’ve offered up?

In print these definitions are neat and tidy. In practice I feel like I’m in a game of dodgeball. As many of us know from our childhoods; dodgeball is both frightening and fun at the same time.

Please, join the discussion.

Soma

The Absent Leader

Soma Jurgensen "talking"

 

 

With all honesty, that’s what I’ve been the last six months or so, absent. I choose to let the circle around me that included my home, family, work, passions, all contract a bit to allow me to focus on the foundation of my life and work.

I believe leaders need to do this from time to time, however, when we do we are not leading consistently in all areas of our lives.

 

Where I’ve shown leadership:

  • With my kids: This is where my focus has been the last year due to personal priorities. I desire that my kids see that re-prioritizing and focus are good things. They saw me deal with considerable challenges and come away feeling that I’m not lost but renewed in my efforts to climb the right ladder to the right window. (If you’re unfamiliar with this image I highly recommend the book “First Things First” by Stephen Covey.)
  • With myself: I have some work to do personally so I can lead others well. A well-known principle of emotional intelligence is being able to delay gratification. For someone who has worked hard to shine at all times, it’s hard to admit that there is more work to do before I’m able to effectively lead others.

Don’t get me wrong, my business is healthy, my kids are thriving, I love my work, and my relationships are growing. It’s time now to take the next step. I’m fortunate to have mentors around me that will support me in that next step.

Here’s what I’ll commit to over the course of the next year. I’ll share with you what I learn as I journey toward the next stage of leadership.

I hope you’ll engage in dialog with me about leadership through comments as our journeys are not separate but interdependent with one another.

Please, engage.

My Personal Brand

Logo from Soma recordings.

Last night I had my students research and draft a personal branding statement. They, of course, flexed their curiosity and asked me, “Where is your personal brand.” They could all describe it, and what happens when I’m “off-brand.” I’d never written it down, however. I’d been living it for at least 4 years now, so here it is.

“I inspire  passion for business through rigorous, globally-focused education.”

Now, to keep living the dream.

Transforming and Reinventing Me – for business

There are two ideas that crossed my path this last week that gave me a kick in the pants and caused me to transform and reinvent the purpose of this blog.

The first was an essay by Amy Chua called Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior written for the Wall Street Journal. I burned out a vehement post in response, without context, and certainly without the eloquence that subsequent writers have shown in the Journal. Although I should know better as a writer myself to compose something when my ire is up, the experience had an unusual side effect — I began to use my true voice in this blog. Angry, but authentic.

The second moment of inspiration came from an invitation by Cameron Tuck, a member of a leadership LinkedIn group. He writes a blog called the the Imperfect CEO. Imperfect – CEO. I’d never seen the two words together written by a CEO before. Mind you, I’d thought it many times. I looked at his posts, and they are truly imperfect…not bad, just not the perfection you get when the PR department writes it and you sign your name. His blog has his voice, for better or worse.

I looked over my posts again. When I first started my voice was there, however tentative. As I decided to reach out to the business community with my “wisdom” more actively the posts became more cerebral, more ordered, more perfect…and well…considerably more boring. Hell, I don’t even like to read them twice.  It’s troubling that the great information – well composed and properly cited – is lost among the sheer lack of voice. Hmmm.

So, it’s time to welcome the Authentic Me on this Bizlog. I will connect what I do in the classroom and in my family life to how I have, and will, lead. I will sometimes write while I’m angry. I will make mistakes and take accountability for them. I promise my readers, however, that I’ll not be boring.

I tell my students that if I’m bored while I’m teaching, they must be in a coma. Whoo, does that ever go for this blog. If I lapse into Not Me, call me on it. If I anger you; tell me. If I inspire you, tell me and others.

Welcome to the Authentic Me and my way of looking at business. Please, engage.

From a “Bad Indian Girl” who has become a “Bad Asian Parent”

A colleague recently sent me an article article from the Wall Street Journal about being a Chinese mother. He recommends parents give it a read. Essentially, the author states that shaming a child (for their own good mind you) is cultural, successful, and much preferred to the Western style of parenting. This no hold barred article makes the point that learning should not be fun but hard work, and given hours of practice, memorization, and parental tutoring, all kids can be the best in the class. The author also includes other Asian and some African cultures in her diatribe.

As a kid, I was considered a “bad Indian girl.” I didn’t go to Indian school the two weekend days other kids had free. I didn’t take dance lessons and didn’t stay on the “women’s side” of the house during the endless Indian parties weekend after weekend. Instead, I wanted to discuss literature and politics and business with the men. The Indian men didn’t know what to do with me, but my father always welcomed me with open arms. He let my natural curiosity lead my desire to learn.

Was I pushed to succeed in school, yes. Nothing was as difficult to handle than the pressure I put on myself, however. I started things and stopped things (not easily as my parents wouldn’t let me give up too easily) as I discovered myself and my calling. Why am I telling you this? Apparently I’ve evolved from a “bad Indian girl” into a “bad Indian mom.”

I believe that my kids should be, and can be the best. I work with them on their homework, their music lessons, and yes, on the plays in which they choose to take part. Even wrestling (be still my heart) is an acceptable pursuit. I also think that every child has a unique gift and through persistence and self-awareness he or she can make a difference in the world.

I reject the authors claim that “Chinese” parenting must be so severe that the world must revolve around the wishes of the parent, that learning must be a battle, and only then is success achieved. Instead, this “bad Indian mom” believes in unconditional love, delayed gratification, and working hard for what you earn. I will love my children without limit, but I won’t stand for laziness.

I’m an instructor of business for juniors and seniors in college. I get the value of education. I’m also compulsively driven in my work and education. I don’t like getting less than an A+. So why, with these traits, would I encourage my kids’ teachers to give them harder work so they no longer get perfect scores on their tests? Why do I prod them to take on the challenge words and leadership roles in their classrooms? Learning should be fun at times, yes, but it should also be a quest. It should be hard and messy and frustrating at times.

We don’t learn purely for satisfaction or recognition. I believe we strive to settle an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. If my kids make a mistake, my first question is, “Is it because you didn’t understand or because you made a careless mistake?” If the mistake was preventable we work on strategies to make sure it never happens again; we also practice and practice until the skill is second nature. If they forget their work at school there are consequences until organization and responsibility are reinforced.

Now, if they didn’t understand, that’s exciting! We work on learning the concepts, strategies, practice–rinse and repeat. If they get perfect scores they are the top of the class, but that’s not enough. Their main competition should always include themselves. Where is that in the Chinese model? When do the children of the author take on a difficult task when mom is not there? Why would they?

My kids don’t like to get things wrong on tests. They try to hide it because they know what’s coming…work and more work. However, when they get stuck on something they never hesitate to come to me. Why? Because we embark on the quest together. When the questions get harder the fire is lit.

This “bad Indian mom” will stand by her claim that pull will trump push in motivating kids, employees, team members…etc…every time. Pull them into wanting to succeed by lighting their curiosity. Support their efforts with love and work. Their quest to improve should never end, regardless if it’s “perfect” or not…that’s not really the point. The journey is the point.

You’re a great friend, even though…

I was at a seminar where the speaker said something interesting.

He had a best friend in college who is black. He said to the friend that he didn’t even think of him as black, like that made their friendship better. The friend turned around and asked him how he would feel if he said the reverse. That he was a good friend, even though he was white? They discussed it; yes, they are still friends to this day.

That reminded me of the time I told a good friend (male) once that I didn’t even think of him as a guy, that he was like one of the girls. What do you think that did to his conception of his male identity?

When people say that “race shouldn’t matter” in hiring, what are you saying about what is acceptable in terms of identity? What affect do comments such as this do to an individual’s development of racial identity?

If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend the book, “Why do all the Black Kids Sit Together in the Cafeteria?” It’s great book that deals with, among other things, the development of racial identity.

My kids, both boys, are 1/2 East Indian, 1/4 German, and 1/4 Scandinavian. We get into interesting discussions about what it means to be “them” and how others perceive them. There are times when people ask me who’s kids they are. (They are lighter like their father, olive skinned I guess.) If you know my husband and I, you can tell they are our kids. Naturally my kids want to know why they are asking. I let them ask that person the question. They never do get a straight answer.

Once another child told them they couldn’t vote for our current president (in elections at school) because they are white. We talk about these instances. Why people say these things, how they feel about it, what they’ll do going forward. It’s a tightrope we walk, and although it’s kind of scary, it’s also exhilarating!

I invite your comments.