Plant Seeds of Renewal in Your Brain this Spring!

plant-164500_640This year, it seems like there is no spring season in sight… for so many reasons.   

It could be the best opportunity to plant seeds of renewal in our brains. Here are 7 SEEDS of ideas to get you growing and sowing. After all, Mother Nature herself needed seven days to get the earth in BLOOM, and even SHE rested!

  1. To PLANT your SEEDS of accomplishment for this year, first decide what you want to reap. Do you want to learn valuable new skills, gear up for a brand new, exciting and fulfilling career? Develop new connections, friendships and relationships? Maybe you have an even loftier goal, such as starting a business. Decide what you want your full-blown PLANTS to look like, and get to making it happen. 
  2. Once you determine how you want your flourishing GARDEN to look, you need a plan to make it happen. If you want to learn a new skill, why not sign up now for a finance class, a computer class, a graphic design or writing class, or music lessons? Why not learn a new language?
  3. If your goal is finding a new career, it’s never a bad time to set up informational interviews or networking sessions where you talk with people about their jobs and figure out whether their career might be a perfect career for you. People you want to know are ready to come out of retreat for a quick lunch or espresso – online or IRL. 
  4. If you have to literally crack open your copy of What Color is Your Parachute, then don’t wait for evidence of moth larvae infestation between the pages before you buy yourself the new edition. No one writes about career reinvention, midlife crises or having a “Plan B” the way that Richard Nelson Bolles does.
  5. If you haven’t taken a career assessment test since you wore miniskirts the first decade they were in style (which would also be the decade that Cher could scowl and smirk with the lips, eyes and forehead that Mother Nature gave her), then sign up to take a Myers-Briggs personality test (www.mbticomplete.com). Even though Myers-Briggs experts say that your personality traits stay the same as you move through your life, taking the test again will reaffirm for you who you are today, and what type of job would be a good fit for your personality now. At the very least, it’s a way to PLANT new SEEDS in your own head, and then in others’ heads.
  6. Speaking of heads, two (or more) heads are sometimes better than one. If you want to develop new networks of friends or relationships, make sure you have a profile on a business social network like LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com), or update your professional profile, and make plans with people whom you haven’t seen in years. Or, how about hosting a dinner party for six friends that you think would have fun together brainstorming the next move in their lives – even if you have to order in? Or, go to a panel sponsored by your alma mater or the local YMCA, so you can be exposed to new ideas while meeting new people.
  7. Finally, this might not sound like an activity for a “day of rest” but if your daydreaming time tends to veer toward visions of having your own business, maybe this is the perfect time to PLANT the SEEDS for that. Decide what type of business you want to start that fits in with the rest of your goals in life. In entrepreneurial finance, the term “lifestyle business” is used to define a business that will also allow you to have a normal life. And, we’re all for that! Start researching the industry you’re thinking about entering, and the companies that might be your competition. Then think about what you would need to do to put together a kick-butt business plan. 

    SEED that need and get yourself in full BLOOM!

 

Start Something New with Expert Help!

Over the past ten years, I have had the privilege of working with so many talented individuals who care about providing a quality education for a diverse student body. Many of the students I’ve worked with are learning for the love of learning, as well as learning to maximize their best and highest talents in their lives and careers. Part of my teaching work entailed teaching MBA candidates, and I was always energized by the Saturday cohorts, who braved the prospect of an 8-hour “sit” – as we call it – for four solid weekends. Their goal was to become better business leaders while juggling their busy lives. (Vermont has thriving businesses, which have demands as tough and rigorous as other areas of the country that are undergoing economic upheaval.)

Starting something new is scary for some, invigorating for others. One of my students was a young athlete who started out in sports management, but realized that he wanted overall business leadership development. Another was a psychology major who realized he wants to contribute his empathetic skills to helping managers work more effectively with colleagues, peers and direct reports. And still another was a more mature student, who held back tears of pride as she indicated she was starting her MBA because she wanted to be a role model to her adult children.

All of these mature learners, who comprise one of the fastest growing segments in higher education, are braving the courage to start something new – regardless of how scary, how uncertain, how much time it might take.

Are you longing to Start something new, but feeling blocked, fearful, unsure? Starting something new is can be anxiety-inducing, especially in these uncertain times. Believe me, I know!

Before I decided to spend more than the GNP of a third-world nation to pursue an MBA in my fifties (and suffer the terror of sitting in finance classes feeling as if I’d crashed a secret coven where everyone was interrogating me in Satanic dialects), I too DARED to Start something else.

The sight of the World Trade Center falling in front of my eyes led me to conclude that twenty years spent promoting soap and cereal for global marketing services firms was enough, and that it was time to do Something Important! I used to think that every one of those moves was a false start, but those experiences, though excruciating, were so beneficial. Here are just a few of the books that have helped me and other women over 40 Start something new. Not a definitive list, but it’s a Start.

  • The Breaking Point: How Female Midlife Crisis is Transforming Today’s Women, by Sue Shellenbarger. The Wall Street Journal career columnist illuminates through anecdotes and excellent reporting, the many types of work, avocations and fun that women have Started after they hit 40.
  • A Whole New Mind, by Daniel H. Pink. Full of ideas to think differently, explore all types of intelligence (artistic, physical, etc.) to innovate, pursue meaningful work, and stay relevant.
  • I Could Do Anything, If I Only Knew What It Was, by Barbara Sher. One of the best, most honest books on helping you visualize your “perfect life” – delivered in an empathetic, amusing style.
  • Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Exercises to plumb your deepest needs and how to tap into your unconscious for ideas your editing mind won’t allow.
  • Jump Start Your Brain, by Doug Hall. Promises to make you 500% more creative – from a marketing guru who creates products and campaigns that convince us to try, buy and stay loyal to stuff we never even knew we needed let alone wanted.
  • AHA! 10 Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit and Find Your Great Ideas, by Jordan Ayan. Not just 10 ways, but thousands! Has unstuck even the most tenacious, stubborn, blank, fearful minds.
  • Write It Down, Make It Happen, by Henriette Ann Klauser. A free-association guide, with prompts, questions and lists to encourage you to think differently, identify goals and aspirations, and, yes, make them happen.
  • Second Acts, by Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine, attorney and author/collaborator. Guides you through what they call “sources of dissatisfaction” so you arrive at your personal hopes and dreams.
  • Six-Week Start Up, by Rhonda Abrams. An easy-to-complete workbook for launching a new venture, whether a business, nonprofit or other creative endeavor, especially if you don’t have the time or inclination to pour thousands of dollars into B-school, psychotherapy, or other forms of long-term torture.

 

 

Taking Care of Business – 21st Century Style

file221263244327Following are some keen gleanings, amusing musings, and plain common sense for mature professionals who get a lot done – with and for other people, taking care of themselves, their teams and their businesses. These are culled from workshops I’ve run recently for mature professionals, classroom exchanges I’ve had with business students in various universities, and “heard on the street” revelations that surprise even someone more over 40 than I want to admit!

1) In today’s workplace, karma is as karma does. If your default leadership mode now that you’re a seasoned professional is to be all dictatorial diva and command-and-control queen, then you’re practicing the outmoded, discredited management principles of the 19th century.  What worked in the factory-driven Industrial Revolution (or in The Devil Wears Prada) is negatively Neanderthal in this environment of self-actualization and self-driven career professionals. Team disenchantment that’s allowed to fester leads to massive defections, operations challenges, and external backlash. If you’re “that guy,” keep in mind this commonsense advice from a variety of leadership experts:

  1. a) Learn to analyze complex team situations – because no one management theory works for all employees in all industries or companies.
  2. b) Develop a broad repertoire of behaviors and knowledge about when to use them – focusing on optimizing your team’s strengths, rather than focusing on their weaknesses.
  3. c) Develop the self-control and self-discipline to go beyond your natural leadership style and adapt to a rapidly changing environment – not everything is a “turnaround” situation. 

harvard bus review2) Learn how to manage yourself, and manage how you learn, before you can hope to manage others – including the leaders to whom you report. A classic Peter Drucker article about how we learn is even more relevant today than when it was published 20 years ago in the Harvard Business Review. I assign it to students as well as mature professionals, because Drucker demonstrates:

a) your preferred ways of learning drive whether you consume and process information efficiently and effectively;
b) you take subsequent actions based on how you learn, and therefore, what you think you know;
c) those actions govern the responses you’re likely to receive (pro and con) from your direct reports as well as your own management;
d) if you’re not learning anymore, it means you’re bored, and if you’re bored, your job is on the line.

3) Should leaders focus on frenetic output and efficiency no matter the company or situation? Or, should they build in time for thoughtful consideration, reflection and resetting of strategies, desired outcomes and potential impacts? Recent media stories skew bipolar for both sides:

social media logosa) The camp that says we’re battling insomnia because we’re multi-tasking, pinging, Tweeting, Linking, Gramming, Facing, and Pinteresting well beyond reasonable latte hours – BUT we ALL should be getting a “minimum” of seven hours of sleep. Here, please note that mattress manufacturers, sleep app marketers and pharmaceutical companies create a lot of this “reportage” because they’re only too happy to push worry and “remedies” to those of us who sleep six or fewer hours a night, and we do just fine without new mattresses, rain simulators or sleep drugs.

sleepb) The camp that loves the cliché that “Sleep is vastly overrated.” That cliché should be relegated to the Industrial Revolution and its outmoded factory management techniques, in any case. Its proselytizers are supposed gurus of how to get more done, all of it!, most of it!, work!, play! – in four or fewer hours a week, supposedly with games, virtual assistants, and gargantuan gulps of 20-ounce cups of Coke. Phew – who has time to dump all that Coke, let alone sleep!

c) Try this instead – the antidote to all this frenzy! Purposely building in time in your day to be offline, rather than off and running, unless you’re using that run as time to think and reflect. That kind of deep, insightful, refreshing, brain-cleansing reflection focuses you on several important priorities: 1) what you truly need and want to accomplish, 2) when such activity really needs to be done, and – 3) here’s the wake-up call for many of you who think you’re indispensable – does it absolutely, positively, need to be done by YOU?

If you’re a mature, professional leader and you’ve been “taking care of business – and working overtime,” remember that song was recorded back in the 1970s – even if it did briefly surface again in the 1990s.  Wake up, it’s been a “new” century for two decades! Time to give some deep thought to your default management style, its impact on your team and your management, and whether you need to be offline thinking more than you’re overtime working.

 

Over 40 and Between a Rock and a Hard Place? Maybe Your Transition Ambition Needs More Marketing Ignition!

Many executives in transition between jobs, or those who are employed but job-hunting, feel overwhelmed, discouraged and listless, to the point where procrastination becomes the rule and not the exception.

If this sounds too familiar to you, here are 12 thought-starters to ignite your might – based on sound marketing principles and my own experience as a hiring manager and job hunter over the years. Some of these are common sense, but they bear revisiting:

  1. situpsYou’ve got to move it, move it! The cliché of the job-hunter sitting around watching daytime TV in a bathrobe is so insulting but it persists and usually the photo shows a middle-aged person with fuzzy slippers and a bowl of chips in their arms. Let’s mash that myth and bash the biases that persist. At least five days a week, get up at the same time you used to when you were working full-time – or even earlier – and do some exercise that will get your brain as well as your heart pumping. Every day a new study comes out indicating the brainpower-boosting benefits of exercise. Doesn’t matter what you do, just move it, for at least five hours a week.
  2. Can we see a form of I.D.? I’m astounded at the number of job hunters who, because they’ve left a company’s employ, don’t carry their own business cards! It doesn’t matter who you were at your former company and what you did, and of course we’re all connected on iPhones and other tech.  But, if you don’t have a card that tells prospects who you are now, your expertise and what you’re seeking in your next position, you’re communicating that you are in a “holding pattern” with no business contact information for the people you meet who actually want to keep your info handy. Always have business cards with you, even if you’re 22 and your card reads: “(Name) Hopeful Social Media Guru.”
  3. Would you like some company – any company? Isn’t it better to know the company you want to keep? To that end, have a top ten list of firms you want to work for, and do diligent research on them – their financials, their “About Us” information, their products’ challenges, etc. Make sure you also understand the “soft” side of the job hunt: what does their website convey in terms of style, culture and values? Can you connect with employees at various companies, through your LinkedIn network? If not, your search reeks of wanting to just land anywhere, and hiring managers can see right through that kind of desperation.
  4. Cover your assets – again and again. Who are you, what do you want, and how can the specific organization you’re contacting utilize your experience and expertise? A resume is not enough: many job hunters over 40 fail to realize that cover letters regarding the specific company’s market position, financial profile or other personalized insights can land them in an “A” pile that makes the resume a secondary priority. State your career objectives in cover letters, comment on specifics, detail clearly why you’re interested in the organization, and then customize your resume accordingly.
  5. Coffee, tea or what? Does your resume sell your strengths, fit and motivation to the organization you’re pitching? Not customizing your resume to serve the type of opportunity you’re seeking is like writing the same ad copy to sell food, wine or electronics. Customize your resume to the company you’re pitching.
  6. linked in buttonMissing Links? Get on it! LinkedIn, that is. With too many millions of members to count, in over 200 countries, most of them professionals, LinkedIn is where every recruiter, hiring manager, prospective client, customer, and employees will look to see your profile after they first learn about you – whether it’s via an email, cover letter, resume or phone message. I’m all for Facebook, but if you’re serious about your job search, then you should know that hiring managers from all over the world pay a special premium to LinkedIn so they get access to the best candidates. If the cover letter is “Hello” and the resume is “Here’s my background” then LinkedIn is your employment ad. If you’re not on LinkedIn, you’re missing the most important link of all.
  7. Who cares? Make sure you know the answer to that question by listing all the people you already know that could help you in your job hunt. Are they connectors, mentors or sponsors? Connectors can help you access information or introductions. Mentors guide and advise. Sponsors – the most valuable resources – are like your personal agents. Sponsors can be advocates and ambassadors for your candidacy.
  8. And Now A Word From Your Sponsor. Identify, research and cultivate at least five sponsors. Work that list, contact them for informational interviews by phone or Skype, and persuade them to introduce you to potential hiring managers or clients.
  9. Nada da Prada! As important and perhaps more so than individuals who genuinely care about you and will vouch for you, are those who might speak badly of you in reference checks. With social networks like LinkedIn, especially, employers can contact almost anyone who’s ever worked with or for you. If your default management style is like that of the Meryl Streep character in The Devil Wears Prada but you’re not applying for a low-level job in the fashion industry, then you’ll have a lot of explaining to do.
  10. Forget about beating ‘em, you’ve got to join ‘em! Lack of replies or interest in your cover letter and resume got you down? Get over it! The best way to access and approach hiring managers at the companies you want to work for is by attending low-cost meetings of professional groups and associations that represent their industries. Once you’ve attended a few networking events, you can choose the ones you want to join, and you should join, because association memberships are like passports to foreign countries. You declare your affinity, you become active on pertinent committees, and you enhance your positive visibility with people who can mentor, connect and sponsor you. Follow their social media posts, especially on Twitter.  LinkedIn groups are also perfect for this. Join selectively and comment strategically; not only will you increase your visibility, you’ll increase your connections. If you have the time and energy, start a blog, but it’s not essential.
  11. Friends and Family help you stay in it to win it. Not only do friends and family provide moral support, they can be great drill sergeants to help you maintain your sense of urgency, stick to deadlines and assume responsibility and accountability for your search.
  12. Do it full time, lose the fool time. Yeah, I know, tough love for job hunters, especially during crises,  but if you’re really serious about the hunt, you should be working on it at least 9-to-5 every day, and not by surfing job sites, emailing people who don’t know you and, worse, who don’t care. Instead, use your evening and weekend hours to do research on your priority companies and hiring managers, customize your resume, or draft intro letters to those you want to meet. Your weekdays should be spent in meetings (online or in person) with connectors, influencers and hiring managers, or attending the strategic networking events these important resources also attend.