My 3 words and the goals that go with them

This year I was introduced to the concept of identifying 3 words to be the focus and guide for personal goals and development, rather than going through the exercise of creating resolutions that might fall to the wayside before the end of January. I wrote about how I came to my 3 words here.

For 2011, my words are: Prudence, Mercy, Humility

Prudence = the characteristic of exercising sound judgment in practical affairs; act justly.

Mercy = a disposition to be kind and forgiving; compassionate treatment of others; a blessing

Humility = the quality of being modest, reverential, never rude or self-abasing; temperance (restraint against inordinate desires or appetites).

As January nears its end I’m pleasantly surprised to realize these 3 words continue to resonate for me. But the real trick is to define SMART goals that support these words. SMART goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. I’m sharing my goals here as an example and as a way to hold myself accountable.

  1. Exercise 4 hours per week
  2. Write a minimum of 4 blog posts per week (one each: Here, Here, Here &  Here)
  3. Read one leadership book per month, write a one-page summary for reference and share the content/learnings with my staff
  4. Save $5/week from my lunch allowance to give away in unexpected places in December
  5. Read/review one novel per month
I’m not off to a great start but I’m making progress and I’m not giving up.
Have you set goals or made resolutions for 2011? If so, how are you doing so far?
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Are you a Coach, a Mentor, a Leader or a Manager?

In the world today, everyone is someone – at a minimum, you are your own boss. I don’t mean in the sense of owning your business; I mean in the sense of how you manage yourself. Whether you like it or not, you are responsible for your own actions. You’re accountable for the decisions you make. How well are you managing yourself? Seth Godin recently wrote a post that suggested the odds are that you’re doing it poorly.

Here’s a summary of the fundamental differences between the roles of coach, mentor, leader and manager:

Coach A person who trains (athletes), tutors (students) or instructs (performers).
Mentor A wise and trusted counselor or teacher. An influential senior sponsor or supporter.
Leader A guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement or political group.
Manager A person who has control or direction of an institution, business, organization. A person who controls and manipulates resources & expenses.

The differences in practice can be subtle:

Managers are individuals assigned to a specific role with defined scope, typically paid to fill that role, and responsible for the day-to-day operations and expenditures of that organization. Not all managers are effective leaders. Ideally, managers are accountable for the decisions they make.

A leader in an organization can be identified as the person that everyone tends to follow. This may not be an organizational (assigned) leader. A friend of mine worked for a local school district. She told me about a teacher that all of the other teachers’ turned to during difficult discussions. The teacher always provided sound input and her guidance was typically followed. Then the school district “put her in charge” (i.e. made her a manager) and she turned into a hated dictator. The school district quickly returned the teacher to her previous role. Had they taken the time to invest in her leadership skills they might have enjoyed a different outcome.

Leaders are not necessarily accountable (if they are not also the “manager” for the organization); a series of bad decisions or a change in conditions might cause a leader to fall out of favor or get left behind by an evolving organization.

A mentor is also a go-to person. This is an individual whose experiences and reputation make them a great source of advice. They’ve learned from their own mistakes & successes, as well as from others and they’re able to distill those learnings into practice and useful advice. Wisdom, a key attribute of a good mentor, can best be judged in hindsight. Does an individual’s decisions (and advice) generally turn out well? That track record builds a person’s reputation as a wise and trusted counselor and grows his or her sphere of influence.

The advice and opinions offered by a mentor are generally of the take-it-or-leave-it variety. A mentor is not likely to be held accountable for the failure of others, although they might credit themselves with another’s success.

A coach has an area of expertise or interest and a particular talent in helping others within that area. Not everyone with expertise has the ability or inclination to coach. You don’t have to be an expert in an area to coach.

A year ago I began a workout routine. Over time I became increasingly more proficient with my Wii-Fit exercise. A friend suggested I begin to run, but I laughed, argued, made excuses and generally avoided running. Soon my friend became my coach. Before I knew it I’d run in my first 5K. She’s not a professional runner, but she has useful experience running in 5K’s and she wanted to see me succeed. She encouraged me. She gave me tips and suggestions. And she cajoled me into finally signing up and participating in a 5K. She effectively coached me, mentored me and led me through the process of defining and meeting a specific goal.

It’s great to have someone in your life that can help you succeed but sometimes that “someone” must be you yourself. I’ve recently come to appreciate the need for me to be that person for myself. As the head of US-based operations for a Taiwanese company I rarely see or hear from my boss and when I do, his input does not typically take the form of constructive feedback, mentoring or coaching. I can choose to be a victim, remaining stuck in old behaviors or I can identify opportunities for my own improvement, set personal goals and develop action plans for bringing about the desired changed. I also have to find ways to measure progress and hold myself accountable.

I am in the process of managing myself: I have the assigned responsibility and accountability for being the best me I can be. That means I have to move from the role of “Engineering Manager” to “Director of Operations”, which carries more than just an increase in responsibilities. I need to define goals for the team and strive to meet those goals in an ever-changing climate. Failure could mean the demise of the organization (i.e. closing shop and handing out pink slips). While that may be an extreme view, it keeps me motivated to outswim the sharks.

I am in the process of leading myself: I am an avid follower of Michael Hyatt, Chairman & CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. His blog is sub-titled “Intentional Leadership”. He regularly posts tips that are useful for leading, mentoring and coaching oneself and others. I am choosing my path.

I am in the process of mentoring myself: I’m paying attention to the leaders I consider effective, and those I don’t (i.e. “what not to do”). I have a stack of management & leadership books (some I’ve read before, some not) that I’m reading with a fresh eye. As I read I’m thinking about how I interact with others, but also how I interact with myself. I’m identifying a few key areas for improvement and focusing on opportunities for immediate change.

I am in the process of coaching myself: I’m setting goals, defining expectations and deliverables, and most importantly I’m devoting the time needed for these efforts. I’m encouraging myself, cajoling and pushing and striving for continuous improvement.

I am a proponent of intentionally leading myself, how about you? Are you ready to take the initiative and be accountable? Think about these questions:

  • How do you set goals/expectations?
  • How do you measure progress?
  • How do you give yourself feedback?

These are key elements in effectively learning to manage yourself to success.

Confessions of a Workaholic

When I googled “Workaholics Anonymous” I was only half-joking. Last week was my first serious effort to break free from the pit that mires me. Like any addiction, she calls to me, tempting me with her siren song. I want to understand her better.

There have been times when I’ve succumbed to the addiction because work gives me a strong sense of job satisfaction. It feels good to work. It feels good to know I’m doing well at something. Elsewhere in my life I’m a puddle of incompetence and insecurity.

These days the compulsion seems to be driven by my need to conquer – “I. WILL. NOT. LET. THIS. GET. THE. BETTER. OF. ME.” And yet, in the battle I’m giving the best of me. As a result I’m depleted. Exhausted. Practically defeated.

I began to dream of retiring and writing full-time…but that’s impractical. Maybe a more realistic goal is to find a job that allows me to have balance in my life.

Although I’ve been diligent in my commitment to P90X (1-1.5 hrs per day) and the arrival of a new used piano in my living room has brought extreme pleasure and a commitment of 30 minutes practicing each day, my dream of writing finds me staring wordless at the screen. All of the brilliant posts I craft during my commute, run, shower, or boring meetings … all of those words evaporate when I sit down at my desk and position my hands on the keyboard.

So in the rare moments I claim for non-work-computer-time I surf, reading the blogs of the truly brilliant, the witty, the articulate, the creative, the popular. And I shrink further inside myself. The snarky voice in my head that tells me I’m a fool feeds on my discontent and my fear. And I slink away.

The funny thing about feedback

It is better to be criticized by a wise man than praised by a fool (Ecclesiastes 7:5). Do you believe this to be true? There are people who operate as if only a fool would criticize them. Conversely, they believe that all praise is wise.

This week I was blessed by the departure of such an individual. During his end-of-year performance evaluation session he began objecting before I provided any feedback. His poor attitude has been poison in our small organization. He has been argumentative in team meetings, raising a litany of excuses and bemoaning the difficulties of job challenges without offering constructive input to make things better. He befriended another individual and the two of them spent a lot of time complaining and bolstering each other’s arguments about the unfairness of their current situation.

As individuals and as an organization, we are under construction. If we remain stagnant it is to our detriment. We will not withstand the storms of tomorrow unless we study our current strengths and weaknesses, understand the challenges and adapt accordingly.

In my leadership role, if I see a member of the team that is undermining the strength of the organization it is my responsibility to address the situation. After carefully considering the options I must approach the individual(s) and provide feedback and suggestions for changes that will help the individual and the organization.

No matter how carefully I frame the feedback, it is up the individual to receive and digest the information provided and to choose how to respond. In the case of my recent experience, the person in question, after being pressed through the “it’s not fair” portion of his reasoning, chose to leave the organization.

By nature we are prone to reactions of fight or flight. It takes a higher level of maturity to adapt and evolve rather than just try to survive intact. In our walk of faith, in our careers and in our personal relationships it is up to us to choose the path we will walk. I pray we are all seeking words of wisdom and choosing to grow and evolve rather than to cling to a stagnant version of ourselves.

Are you able to embrace feedback? What have been the most effective ways that feedback has been provided to you?

Making a list and checking it twice


I wonder whether I’m avoiding work by making a list or avoiding a list by doing things. I have a lot left to do before I leave for China tomorrow. One of the things I need to do is to make a list for my husband…so he doesn’t forget the things he needs to do while I’m gone. Like mulch the flower beds. And feed the fish. The flower beds will survive but it won’t be good for the fish if he neglects them for 2 weeks. The man will clearly benefit from a list, don’t you think?

Meanwhile my to do list for today is only a few entries long. “Pack for China” was one of the big items. Below that was “refill shampoo, conditioner and face wash bottles”. I’m reminded of a great tip I learned from a friend, but forgot to follow today: Break down the projects into each task to avoid getting lost in the details.
“Pack for China” is too big of a task. I’m still working on that task. I should have made a complete list of everything that needs to go in the suitcase. Then I would know what was lacking as of this moment. Instead, I can tell you that my bedroom looks like the suitcase exploded – clothes and toiletries are strewn across the bed and floor.
I never finished making the list because I started tackling the project. I know better, yet I fell into this common trap. As I began to build the list I began to get anxious about how much I needed to do. Jumping into action helped relieve the anxiety – but that relief was superficial.
Sitting down and writing this post has reminded me that it’s better to take the time to plan. If I have time to write a post, I surely have time to finish writing the list of things to pack!
So, I’m going to revise my list to reflect everything that needs to go into the suitcase. Below that I’ll highlight things I need to do in order to pack (like restock the travel kit). Below that I’ll list the loose ends that need to be tied up before I leave my day-to-day world for 2 weeks (like some e-mails that need to be sent). Finally, I’ll start a list of things I need to purchase before I go (Pringles – a must, Pepto, …) And then I’ll get busy packing.
Are you a list-maker? No? What works for you?

Where did the words go?

I posted “Where did the time go?” on my other blog this morning. I was surprised to realize a month has elapsed since my last post there.

The sister question to “Where did the time go?” is “Where did the words go?”
It shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me that I am a woman of many words. I can blah, blah, blah with the best of ’em. As a means of expressing those many words I’ve dabbled in blogging, writing about 450 posts between the 2 blogs. Most of those posts have been written since September ’08. In April of this year I joined the Twitter-masses, posting musings and news of my life in 140-characters or less. Apparently I’ve found 1388 things to say there – Twitter counts my tweets, keeping track for me.
For the last 2+ weeks the words that I’ve been tracking, guarding closely, watching and nurturing are all going into the novel I’m writing as part of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writers Month.

It’s been a completely different writing experience – nothing like Twitter, nothing like blogs, nothing like monthly articles for newsletters. In October I’d imagined that I’d write a mystery. At the last minute, for many reasons, I decided to write about three couples at various stages of relationship. I wanted to develop characters (6!) and write believable dialogue and effectively express a story (or stories) of interest in thoughts that expanded beyond 140 characters and in plot-lines that carried beyond a day or two of introspection. I also wanted to develop the habit of writing every day.
I wake up every morning and thank God for blessing me with the desire and the ability to act on that desire. I’ve written over 37,000 words and I hope to cross 50,000 (the goal-line) by the time I go to bed this Friday. By the end of the month I’ll be on a plane back to China for another 2-week business trip. I’m looking forward to the new adventures and writing opportunities I might find along the way. I have a non-fiction work on the back-burner already and I have ideas brewing for future fiction and non-fiction efforts.
They say it takes 30 days to change a habit and I’m definitely well on my way through the transition. I look forward to every opportunity to meet with my characters and follow them through their adventures and misadventures. When I cross the finish line, posting my first novel on the NaNoWriMo validator, I’m not finished! Nope. I’m just turning the page on the adventures and misadventures of my own life. In the absence of deadline pressure I’ll have to rely on self-discipline to continue the new habit of daily writing.
Three years ago I made the declaration that I wanted to be a writer. I’ve been writing – my blogs, Twitter, the Trumpet and Guideposts are evidence of that. By the end of the month, 50,000 words will allow me to declare myself a novelist. A novelist in search of a publisher, maybe, but still a novelist. The desire, discipline and the daily habit of writing will enable me to do more. This experience has already changed me and I’m not done yet.
Stay tuned, the best is yet to come.

Because I have nothing better to do…I’m ready to go!

I have been pining for a while. Pining and whining. I’m ready for a change. I’ve been ready for a change. On two separate occasions (once in 2005, once in 2008) I’ve started novels. Like miscarriages, conceived but never fully developed.

Now, I’m 3 days away from the wildest writing ride of my life. Wilder than last year’s NaBloPoMo. Wilder than the last few weeks spent warming up on my non-fiction work. I’m pregnant, expectant, ready to deliver. I think my water’s broken. I’m at the cusp of full-blown labor pains. NaNoWriMo.
I’m in awe. Afraid yet alive with excitement. Nervous energy wells as I edge closer to the precipice. When I wake up Sunday morning I will be at the start of something that will change me. It is inevitable. I will not leave this experience the same as when I started – no matter how the birthing process goes. I’m ready to shout it to the world. And, God willing, by the end of November I will.
“I’m a novelist!”
Alleluia!