STOP! Don’t do a career!

In the newspaper of last weekend was an interesting cartoon – the hierarchy of needs by Maslow reframed for a classical consulting career. It named this order from bottom upwards:

  1. Finalize high class MBA
  2. Buy a Porsche
  3. Become shareholder of the consulting company
  4. Become naming partner of your company
  5. Hike Camino de Santiago (and find yourself)

If you know some consultants you might find a person for each stage. Because there is some truth in it: Some are doing the career for money and status. They are good in what they do, get rewarded and walk on. Only when the reward is so high that it is hardly possible to increase it any further – but the emptiness inwardly stays the same – people start changing their paths to look for fulfillment in a different area of life.

But what happened to people who have searched for fulfillment in that different style? People who have eaten, prayed and loved. People who were gone for a while to hike the Camino de Santiago. People who sold their ferraris. All of them found new aspects in life, increased inner peace and got deeper insights. But basically they had the same 24 hours on a daily basis as everyone else. They needed to make a living, too. Although they had a special time dedicated for special actions, they all came back to a regular life – some with different jobs but at least with some sort of work that paid the bills. So in consequence, it seems that it is less about the lifestyle but rather about the mindset of a person.

So why do people hit No. 5 in the named hierarchy of needs?

People need to have an answer to their “WHY”. Why are you doing what you are doing? As long as you are running an imaginary path that you didn’t even choose nor created you will hit a point in which you wonder: why?

Why the stress? Why the hustle? Why the long hours?

In the beginning of your career you are certain that the answer will come along the way. Thoughts like “when I reach x amount of salary …” or “if I become partner …” postpone the essential question of “Why are you getting up in the morning?”. You just assume that the answer will be behind the next promotion.

Spoiler: You will not find the answer to your “WHY” along your career path.

Therefore it does make sense to invest some severe thinking and time of reflection right now – and create that new mindset. Who are you? What do you like? Why do you get up in the morning? What motivates you?

When you found your answers, you can still be successful in your career – but you probably have stopped to do a career only to chase for an answer you assume coming with the next promotion. You are having fun in doing what you are doing – and if that happens to be a highly paid job it’s totally cool.

What is the benefit when you do what you love?

You become more resilient towards setbacks. Because you are not working for a future result, the dependency of the targeted reward decreases. If you get that promotion: Awesome! Celebrate! If you don’t get that promotion: you still liked every day of your work because you know why you got up in the morning.

Your colleagues and friends will like to be with you, because everyone will sense that you like what you do. You will be more at ease with yourself and therefore more likeable for all around you.

All of this starts with a bold answer to the little question: Why are you doing what you are doing?

Do you have a leadership mindset?

Do the test and find out what kind of leadership mindset you have. Is your behavior attractive for other people to follow you? Check on your attitude to discover areas to grow next.

Take some time to answer the following questions for yourself. Think about them and maybe take a note. This reflection is part of the test and will already help you to find new ideas and areas to grow. After answering read on and evaluate yourself.

  1. How do you like to be led?
  2. Whom did you help in your career? (Name at least 3 people)
  3. How do you like to lead?
  4. What is leadership to you? (Find at least 3 descriptions)

As you can imagine it does make sense to look at the answers of questions 1 and 3 together. It really is important to know what you need when you are led: freedom to decide for yourself? guidance for the next step? vision to move on? feedback in order to grow? Take the effort to think about it and reflect on the leadership styles of your superiors. Maybe it is worthwhile to tell some of them what you need in order to reach your full potential.

Look at question 3: how do you LIKE to lead? It is not so much about your actual behavior – which you should also check. But it is about your inner feeling regarding leadership. What attracts you to leadership? Why do you acquire a leadership position? Usually leadership positions are rewarded with a higher salary. But leadership means working with people – not working for more money. Or lets say: a lot of poor leadership roots in weak motivations for leadership positions.

This leads to question 4 – what is leadership to you? There is probably no right or wrong answer to this question. But when you look at your answers, check this question: would you like to work for a person that describes leadership that way?

Let’s talk about the core question: Whom did you help in your career? Who is on your list? People who were your bosses back in the days or people who were in a position where they could not promote nor repay you (e.g. mentees, interns, students)? Where is your focus? Do you take care only of your own career or are you concerned of the career of others, too? This question is a good indicator for a leadership mindset. Leadership in a sense of bringing other people to a new place in their life.

This test is not about name and shame bad behavior but rather a heartcheck for yourself whether you are growing into the person people like to follow.

Be a LEADER – without holding a management position

If you love to lead, get inspired how you can influence people without being an officially assigned leader yet.

You can easily spot leaders in the soccer arena. They are the ones that announce the strategy, coordinate their teammates and lead the team to success. They don’t even have to wear a batch – just by their behavior leadership is visible. Leadership guides people to a certain behavior that lets them accomplish a goal. For some that would mean to get a short call on what to do next, others need a hand of encouragement on their shoulder to regain faith in the potential victory. A leader knows how to interact with each teammate in a given situation.

Same is true in the business world. Even if you don’t hold a management position yet, you already can lead your colleagues. “Leading” means to bring people from one place to another – often into new places people would not have attend without leadership support. For example, you encourage a colleague to take an unknown task that develops his/her skillset. Or you talk to an intern who benefits from talking to you to develop a vision for his/her career.

Especially when you are heading for a management role in your career, start to think about leadership. Why do you want to hold a management position with leadership attached? What is your leadership style? What attributes should others see in you?

Here is a sentence to think about: A leader is someone people follow.

With this picture the perspective changes. It isn’t so much about I want to be a leader, but rather I am a leader when people choose to follow me. There is an aspect in leadership that is expressed by the behavior of others towards me – as a free-willed resonance of my own behavior.

Therefore, here is some inspiration on how you can grow your leadership based on your own behavior – and independently from your management position at work:

Listen

Most people engage in a conversation in order to respond – not to listen. In a classical situation each one in a group would have the next story at hand as soon as one person has stopped talking. There is not so much of a conversation but rather a story-after-story talk. How does it make you feel?

If you want to let people feel important, listen to them. Engage in their story. Ask questions based on what you have heard. Comment on their feelings and be present with true empathy. When people feel truly heard, they will open up and will remember you as a person who cared. Based on that care, trust evolves – and that is the fundament you need in your leadership.

Train this skill as often as possible – it will help you in all your future staff conversations.

Ask

Asking questions gives your counterpart space to think and to express her/himself. People love to speak about themselves. And if you are the one building that stage for their thoughts, they will like you. Again, this positive vibe is a good basis for leadership.

Serve

Serve in order to get your ego in check and remind yourself what leadership is about: to lead others so that they are more successful. Your leadership serves them – not yourself.

A lot of people want to get into a management position, to show everyone how great, clever and successful they are. They might even mix this understanding with their version of leadership – wanting to be served by their employees. How do you feel around those people?

Serve on a regular basis, e.g. take away all left over cups in your office – especially if they are from your colleagues. Go that extra mile for your client, help the team assistant, hold the door. And every time remind yourself that your leadership serves them – not your ego.

Encourage

Speak words of encouragement, affirmation and opportunity as often as possible. Recall that the last moment you got a positive word regarding your own career from a colleague. It has been a while, right?

Somehow our society isn’t using words of encouragement that frequently. And yet, they are so important for people to be built up inwardly and to reach their goals. Think of pros in sports – they work a lot with affirmation in their mindset in order to perform well. Same is necessary in business – and you can invest in your colleagues by speaking uplifting words.

Love to read your thoughts. Feel free to comment.

Use feedback to speak potential

If you ever had a leader who spoke about your potential you will never forget how much power that released in you. Therefore learn how to address the hidden potential in your mentees to grow your team.

“Now we speak of your weaknesses … hm … I should have said ‘potential areas to grow'”, my project leader winks at me with a conspirative smile. Someone must have told him that speaking of ‘weaknesses’ isn’t cool anymore – and therefore he needs to use a cover word. But the intention of his next sentences was clear: to show me areas where I fall short in his opinion. I hated working for him.

I guess, if you are around in business for a few years you know those feedback situations. You might even have learned in trainings to use cover words yourself and somehow work through feedback sessions – unsure what to say and how to say it. Or even convinced that this is the final day of judgement where you can tell your co-workers all the stuff you hate about them.

And then, there are those great people in businesses – real mentors who speak to you and afterwards you feel positive and stronger. Not because the content is only polished-positive but because they somehow speak in a way that you can actually use to grow.

In the past years, this monitored discrepancy made me wonder and search what feedback actually is meant for and how it can be delivered in order to see people benefit from it.

What is feedback?

By definition feedback consists of two attributes: Firstly, there needs to be an observation of something that happened – e.g. by a team member in the workplace. Secondly, this observation must be useful to leverage a change on it and therefore lead to improvement.

feedback/ˈfiːdbak/

information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.

Dictionary

For example: A colleague sends out an important email to a wrong address. A useful feedback could be: The email was sent to the wrong address (description of what happened). You seemed to be under timely pressure and therefore you didn’t ask a colleague for review (sharing the observation). When you need to send an important email the next time, please ask someone for review (explanation of a potential improvement).

Feedback brings awareness to an area of unconsciousness. And by getting to know the information, one can get better.

Use feedback to light a fire

For sure, sometimes feedback needs to focus on behaviour that limits the career of a colleague. And by giving examples of their doing they are set free to change.

But what do you think of this perspective: Use feedback not only to state situations where a person failed but rather in which he/she has been really really excelled. There are a lot of people who outgrow themselves when you emphasize their strengths. Ask yourself: What does your mentee unconsciously do positively and needs to be pointed out?

Lately, one of my teammates needed to present a difficult topic to the client. We rehearsed the essential parts. Then the big day was there. She performed brilliantly on stage. Which I told her afterwards. But I did not stop there. I described all aspects of her strong performance precisely so that she could see why it was very successful. I even emphasized on her strength as a speaker and told her that I want to see her on larger stages and that she has a voice to be heard. She beamed for joy.

Another colleague of mine always did a great job but stayed somewhat silent in the overall group – you could almost miss that he was there. In feedbacks I emphasized on the very trustworthy results. Those results should be shown to others. They were proof of a brilliant mind. And we as a team would love to see more of the smart person behind the reliable work. Step by step the colleague became more visible and spoke about his contribution to the project.

Adress the potential!

In addition to giving feedback you can grow your mentees on purpose by getting to know their strengths. Here are some ideas: ask your people what they are dreaming about. What is his/her goal? Where lies the passion? Take some time to think: Is there any possibility for you to give your mentee a stage to live his/her passion? Here are some examples:

  • (1) Did you just hear that he/she likes to speak in front of many people? – Find a client or internal meeting and give him/her the role of the moderator.
  • (2) Did you hear a certain topic (that you are not familiar with)? – Find a colleague and connect them so that your team member can pursue his/her passion.
  • (3) Did you hear he/she loves to work alone on a difficult problem and find the solution? – Find a project in which that strength plays out.

Seeing people walk in their strength with joy and passion, lifts my mood. Therefore I always try to speak about the potential I see in people. Sometimes they are not aware of it themselves or they are unsure whether they are allowed to follow their dream. To give these people a special kick by a wholeheartedly feedback regarding their potential, is pure joy.

Try it, too.

Are you successful?

In a corporate career you will answer this question within the career framework provided by your company. But does that external measurement align with your core values? How do you define success?

“Yes! I’ve made it!” Do you know that feeling that comes along? This deep satisfaction and happiness that a goal is reached. Usually accompanied with some sort of stress relief or even tiredness – because all the training paid off, the invested hours in learning resulted in a graduation or you are finally standing on a mountain after a long hike. Satisfying success feels good.

Usually we are connecting success with mastering a task, reaching a goal or getting a promotion. At least when you are working on a classical career in the corporate world.

Here is a different view: Just recently I watched the son of a friend doing his first steps. How successful, I thought! Amazing how quick children develop and learn – mastering their way into life without knowing the adult-way of success.

That somehow leads to the questions: What actually is success? Or better. How do you define success for yourself?

Why is this question important? Having a diverse circle of friends I can see how different each “segment” of friends is answering the question. While all business friends tend to take the general business definition of success that is mainly offered by their company or society, my friends in social service, schools and medical jobs (e.g. nurses, midwives) already answer that question differently. And the answer to that question influences the perspective in life and resilience in tough life situations.

Therefore, if you are working in business take a few moments in answering the following questions for yourself before reading on.

  1. What is success to you?
  2. When do you feel most successful?
  3. How do you measure success?
  4. Who defines that you are successful?

For each question I will comment why it is useful to think about it and what benefits you might have if you know what drives you. In the end all of us want to have lived a fulfilled life – therefore, better know your inner drivers early on. Otherwise these drivers might lead you to a destination you did not intend to reach.

What is success? When do you feel most successful?

Both questions address a similar point. But while the first one is targeting your rational, the second question relates to your emotions. It is worth checking whether your logical answer is in line with your feelings.

Sometimes human beings tend to tell themselves a rational lie because it is what they have learned, e.g. “Success is reaching your next promotion.”. But when you are checking on your emotions that you had during your last promotions, you did not feel the success. You might have felt pressure to bring higher performance. Or resentment because you gain that promotion with a too high invest in terms of working hours or working against your inner values.

If you find a mismatch between the two answers, acknowledge it. Don’t judge yourself. It might be helpful to write down your discovery. It is a great start for finding out who you are and what you want in life. Be happy that there is a mismatch; that way a really cool journey can start.

How do you measure success?

What is your measurement? Actually take some time to think about this question. Because the answer will tell you a lot about your inner drivers. And those drivers can easily be used by others to manipulate you. So it is very valuable to know them. By the way: that does not mean that you have to change them.

I give you some examples.

  • Youth -I am successful because I have reached xy at this young age.
  • Money – I am successful because I earn xy amount.
  • Grade – I am successful because I have grade xy in my company.
  • Status – I am successful because I have this house/watch/car/hobby.
  • Working hours – I am successful because I work a 70-hour-week.
  • Beauty – I am successful because I weigh xy kg.
  • Family – I am successful because I have xy kids.

You can continue the list as you like.

Let me give you one thought on the list: What do you do when you lose your success factor?

All of the named examples have one thing in common: They are all external factors and timely limited. Basically you have little to no influence in maintaining these measurements. Think again of the question: How do you measure success?

Who defines that you are successful?

Be honest to yourself: who has the power in your life to take away your feeling of success although you might have reached a certain goal. Who tells you that you are not enough? Or that you will never accomplish anything?

We all have these voices within us every once in a while. They come from our parents, friends or current environment. Although it is totally normal to handle an inner fear from time to time, it is important to be aware of this inner self talk. If you just progress in life without checking on that question, your inner driver will kick in every moment you touch a similar situation.

Here is one example:

If you have learned that only a 6-figure-salary makes you a successful person in life – and you might even get comments from relatives or colleagues while progressing in your career – you will never feel successful with your first promotions. The frustration raises when the promotion that leads to 6-figures is delayed. And even worse: when you finally get to that mark: you are not happy. You just reached the bare minimum of what is acceptable to the people who define your success. (and by the way: You will not get a “well done” when you reached it. Those people will raise the bar the moment you are there.) But remember your unhappy talks during those years: all the coffee breaks and evenings complaining about your ‘miserable’ life not earning 6-figures – what could you have done with the time instead?

Therefore, it is worthwhile to think about the question: Who defines your success?

And consequently: Do you align with that definition?

[If you feel that these questions made you think, take some time to write down your thoughts. Follow your intuition and be bold to question your current believes. It is a healthy start in getting to know yourself and setting up your way of life.]

Teambonding

A team that sticks together because they like each other is much stronger than a team just focussing on the same cause. Get some inspiration how you can intensify the bonding in your team.

“I remember best the meeting in Brussels,” a colleague shares her memories. “We had to improvise in the very last hour before the event – and with some creativity we made it happen.” The whole team is gathered together and celebrates the past months by sharing funny stories and deep learnings. Some team members will leave soon as their contract is ending, and we are taking a moment of thankfulness and appreciation. Everyone listens, everyone shares some insights, all laugh together.

Teambonding.

When you already have a team, it is essential to create events and moments of memory on a regular basis. Those shared memories create a bonding that survives all the stress the daily hustle throws at your people. It is the strong invisible game changer that lets your team thrive in hard project phases where others fail.

But how can you create meaningful moments? Here are some inspirational thoughts.

Moments of Thankfulness

Pick one or two days in a year in which you dedicate some time to share what you are thankful for. Let people know beforehand that they will need to share their stories, too. That way you give them time to think and prepare themselves. Make it a bit fun by asking them to find a matching headline, movie title or hashtag. It helps them to focus on the real essence.

Moments of Appreciation

When you plan a meeting prepare some gifts and warm words in advance. Encourage your team to tell each other which strengths they like about each other. Act as a good example by handing out some meaningful gifts and add a personal note by highlighting specific attitudes and behaviors that you value within your team mates. Give them some time and space to also share their opinions and feelings.

Make the moment last

Have you ever had a great day at work – and the very next day it seemed to be forgotten and you are in your hustle again? Human beings tend to forget the cool stuff quite quickly and go back into complain-mode or pity-party. If you want to help your team to remember their value and worth, create a written proof with everyone on the day when you meet.

Here are some ideas:

  • Write all your cool hashtags and movie titles on a board. Maybe do it in a fun creative colourful way. And then take your team picture in front of it.
  • Share pictures of the event afterwards
  • The letter of appreciation that is written by all to everyone. Here is how: Give each team member pen and paper. Each one writes his/her name on top and passes the paper to the next person. That person writes compliments, strengths and positive adjectives on the paper that is dedicated to the colleagues name on the top. After a few minutes you pass the paper on until everyone has given a compliment to everyone. That way everyone takes a visible proof back home.

In the mentioned team meeting we actually wrote the letter of appreciation to one another. When everyone had the chance to read the dedicated lines, you could see the smiles on everyone’s face. It was an awesome moment in silence. Appreciation settled in. And while the sun was clothing the sky above us in golden light we were all filled with joy and stronger bond to one another.  

How to have a great team meeting

Having sat in way too many boring meetings, I set up an agenda that involves all participants and makes our weekly meeting fun. Get some inspiration in this article.

“With you, guys, I can be honest. You feel like friends.” is one of the best sentences I have heard in my latest team meeting. Though we are basically a virtual team – seeing each other 4 times a year – we managed within a year through weekly calls to build a strong team that connects on a deeper level. Now everyone looks forward to our team call and leaves the 30 minute-talk laughing and refreshed.

While a lot of people might think that this was just pure luck, I know that there are certain principles that pathed the way for this team to evolve. Let me share a few of them with you.

Regularity builds trust

Setting the scene is essential for a great play. Therefore team building starts with some administrative stuff that frames your playfield. You need to decide, when does the team meet where for how long.

Find a day and time that is usually not booked in your company and when all team members are available without having stress to make it. In order for people to remember the last meeting and to get a feeling of regularity, I suggest to use a weekly rhythm. In that way people don’t miss too much if they are on vacation or on sick-leave. In addition, choose a length that is manageable: 20 – 30 minutes are totally enough to build a strong team.

Especially in the beginning of creating a team it is crucial to not miss one team meeting/call. Choose the timing so well and stable that it doesn’t have to be changed in the first months. As a leader you have to make that meeting your very priority. The people attending will easily feel whether you are committed or if you already skip meetings in the beginning. The regularity of that meeting/call already builds trust – trust in you as a leader that you are doing what you told your team. Trust me – if you skip a meeting in the first few month, no one will give you a bad feedback, but it will have a negative effect on your team building.

Congratulation, now you are set up and the game can start. Let’s have a look at the agenda.

Use the agenda for the right dynamic

What is the one thing everyone loves talking about?

Themselves.

It’s true. If people tell stories they usually talk about themselves. This is how we are made. We feel important and part of a group when people take time to listen to us. And therefore that component should be essential in your team meeting/call. Everyone gets the chance to speak and be heard because it raises the engagement in the meeting/call of every attendee. In addition, it helps your team to get present and be in the here and now.

Here is an easy way to start a meeting in which everyone is heard: Every team member gets 2 minutes to share their thoughts in the beginning about 2 categories.

  1. Work
  2. Personal insight

For the category Work you can ask: How was your week? On which project are you working? What is the latest update and status? (pick one question)

Questions in this category help your team members to reflect upon the week. They have a break in their hustle and ask themselves where they are at. Which such a question you give your people a platform to get present. In addition, that type of a question triggers the logical side of the brain and it is an easy start to share some thoughts because it is the main mental area your people work with on a daily basis.

The category Personal insight is much more creative and builds a balance to the logical question No. 1. You can ask: What was your highlight this week? What are you grateful for? What made you laugh?

These questions are also reflection questions but they connect to positive emotions. And those emotions are the glue that you need in your meeting/call so that people connect. Your team needs to laugh together. They need to celebrate successes together. These positive moments will create a team spirit no task can ever do.

You – the moderator of the meeting/call – are responsible for setting the scene. Explain the 2-minute-rule and ask the questions. Comment gently on each contribution – especially when you are in a call and cannot see each other. A nice “thank you” or “well done” creates interaction. Make sure you share your 2 minutes, too. It is very important that there is an equality between all attendees although you are the moderator.

With this start you have used 1/2 – 2/3 of the meeting/call. And that is totally fine. It is the most important part. In the beginning of your team meetings people will share high level information. Trust needs to evolve over time. But soon you will see that they are opening up. And seeing the team grow is pure beauty.

the Positive ending

After the contribution of everyone you can bring in all the admin-stuff and knowhow that needs to be shared. Whatever you or a team member wants to share stay in a 3-minute slot for each topic. You want a meeting/call as easy and light as possible. In the beginning the 3-minute restriction feels like a burden, but soon you will realize how much can be shared in that time without creating information overload.

When you head for the end of the call invest a little bit in positive vibes. Raise your voice, bring in emotion. Invest in the good mood of everyone. This has nothing to do with being fake – but as a leader of the call you are responsible to bring in a good laugh and joyful atmosphere. Trust me, everyone is more likely to come to the next call when they know they will leave the meeting/call with more energy than they attended.