Tag: personal development

Honest reflection is powerful

January is a natural time to reflect on what we have accomplished, what we intend to accomplish, and how we might work to improve ourselves.
One of my favorite articles on personal development is “My Life as a Knowledge Worker” by the late management educator and author Peter F. Drucker. The article appeared in Inc. Magazine in February of 1997, and in it Drucker describes seven personal experiences that taught him how to grow, to change, and to age without becoming a prisoner of the past.
In “The Fourth Experience,” Drucker describes his experience as a young journalist. He was 22 years old and had just become one of three assistant managing editors at a newspaper headed by one of Europe’s leading newspapermen.
The editor-in-chief, then around 50, took infinite pains to train and discipline his young crew. He discussed with each of us every week the work we had done. Twice a year, right after New Year’s and then again before summer vacations began in June, we would spend a Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday discussing our work over the preceding six months. The editor would always start out with the things we had done well. Then he would proceed to the things we had tried to do well. Next he reviewed the things where we had not tried hard enough. And finally, he would subject us to a scathing critique of the things we had done badly or had failed to do. The last two hours of that session would then serve as a projection of our work for the next six months: What were the things on which we should concentrate? What were the things we should improve? What were the things each of us needed to learn? And a week later each of us was expected to submit to the editor-in-chief our new program of work and learning for the next six months. 
What this story illustrates is that reflecting on and telling the truth about the last year’s performance is powerful. Drucker claimed to enjoy these sessions, but he didn’t begin to incorporate them into his own life until about a decade later, when he’d become a professor in the United States and begun writing books. Since then, he set aside two weeks each year to review his work the previous year.
I invite you to take some time—for yourself individually or with your team members—to reflect on the past year and honestly answer the following questions:

What have we done well?
What have we tried to do well?
Where did we not try hard enough?
What did we do badly or fail to do?
On what things do we need to concentrate going forward?
What are the things we need to improve?
What are the things that each of us needs to learn?

While Drucker acknowledged that perfection continued to elude him, the exercise provided an excellent opportunity to evaluate and re-establish priorities, reshape expectations, and set new goals for improving performance in the new year.
To reflect and be empowered by the answers is part of being on a path to be remarkable.
Have a wonderful year!

Q&A with Chris Taylor of Actionable.co

Chris Taylor spends his days working to change the world of work – one conversation at a time – through his company’s flagship program, Actionable Conversations, as well as the book summaries and thought leader interviews at ActionableBooks.com.
Founded by Chris is 2008, Actionable.co started off as a passion project and has since turned into something much bigger. On his site, you will find access to over 1000 summaries of business books in bite-size format, all for free. Each summary consists of a brief overview of the book, one key message, and two ways you can easily integrate that message into your life in five minutes or less.
Below are Chris’s thoughts on the importance of building relationships in the workplace, getting the most value out of a book, and his takeaways from spending an entire year reading a book a week.
Paul: You are a big advocate of relationships, especially at work, and say they are the #1 engagement factor. What are some best practices that you’ve learned over the years?
Chris: When we consider the fact that we spend more waking time with our colleagues than we do with our spouse on most given days, it’s wild to think how little time we spend proactively cultivating relationships at work. Beyond the transactional “I need this, you need that” interactions, one of the simplest things we can do to improve relationships is to engage in what my business partner refers to as “middle talk” – something that lives between the “small talk” about weekend activities and discussing the weather and the “big talk” about life purpose, deep desires, etc. Middle talk, then, is about the work we do, the impact we’re having (both with external stakeholders and our immediate working groups). Structuring in as little as one hour of “middle talk” conversation per month can help a team feel more connected and better heard, understood, and appreciated by their peers. This, in turn, drives employee engagement.
Paul: What is the best way to get people to value conversation and make it a priority?
Chris: Like most good habits (exercise, diet, sleep, etc.) the true value is experienced, not told. We recommend that clients make the first three conversations mandatory, with a conversation from the outset that engaging in these conversations will be a personal choice… after each person clearly understands the value (or lack thereof) that comes from the regular interaction. Frame it from the outset – we’re going to have three conversations over the next three months as a group… then we can decide (individually and as a group) if there’s value in continuing to have them. From what we’re seeing right now, 92 percent of teams decide to continue the conversations after those first three. The value of conversation is a fundamentally human need… we just need to be reminded of that sometimes.
Paul: In 2008, you decided to read one personal development book a week for an entire year. What were some unexpected outcomes of this project?
Chris: There were a couple major advantages for me in that project. First and foremost, I was amazed by how many other people gravitated to the idea. Not the idea of “reading” a book a week, per se (lots of people have done that or more), but in the act of applying one concept from each book to my life and/or business. We live in a time of information overload – there’s already, freely available, way more content than any one of us could consume in a lifetime. The value is not so much in knowledge collection so much as it is in knowledge application. Others saw value in the logic of consuming less but applying more and chose to engage in the conversation, which led to the business that is now Actionable.co.
The second outcome from the project was a natural connection to a world of thought leaders and passionate content experts. As I finished each book I would write the author, thanking them for their work and sharing a link to the Actionable Summary I had created with my key takeaway from their book. No ask. Just a connection and stated appreciation. As a result, I was fortunate enough to forge some great connections, many of which have expanded into deeper relationships and friendships today. Thinkers like Seth Godin, Dan Pink, Susan Cain, Sir Ken Robinson, Simon Sinek and more were gracious enough to invite me into their homes and professional circles. Those connections have heavily influenced my life and business practices.
Paul: One big takeaway I’ve read was that “ideas are only valuable when applied.” What made you come to this conclusion? And are Actionable Books reviews a product of this belief?
Chris: When I started the “book/week” project in 2008, I was a year off the heels of a failed business venture that had sent me down a pretty dark path. Over the course of 2007 I consumed business and personal development books at a voracious pace – three or four a week… but nothing was changing. I was learning a lot, but my life was the same as it had been at the beginning of the year. I realized (around September) that while reading might be fun/interesting/distracting (pick an adjective), unto itself it didn’t create value. It was only through the act of applying what I’d learned that I could make any difference in my life. So, on the dawn of 2008, I decided to change my strategy – (a) slow down the reading pace, (b) identify the key concept from each book that I wanted to practice, (c) build a clear test activity that I could repeat daily for the week, and (d) communicate the plan with a group of individuals who could hold me accountable to the exercise. Then I was able to proactively reinvent the way I interacted with the world.
Paul: What has been your favorite book to review?
Chris: Tough call. I’m a big believer that the right book at the right time for the right person has the power to unlock untold latent potential. So I’d be hesitant to recommend or comment on one specific book for the content’s sake. That said, I remember reading Steve Farber’s Greater Than Yourself shortly after meeting Steve at his home in San Diego. Live texting with him while I was reading the book was pretty memorable. It added a whole new dimension to the book.
Paul: Can you give us some advice on the best way to get value out of a book?
Chris: Don’t get caught up in trying to suck all the value from the book. A well-researched, well-written book will have 15+ gems that you could apply. But you won’t. Not all of them, at least. Better to focus on the one thing that you want to apply from the book. Write it down. Commit to a time frame and a new habit. Try it out and reflect. One idea applied well is infinitely more impactful than a lot of “maybe someday I’ll use that.”

Four favorite ideas for being productive

Sometimes it’s the simple ideas that can most powerfully drive personal effectiveness.
Here are four of my favorite ideas for being productive:

Get started
Three accomplishments each week
One thing a day to maintain momentum

Get started
We all have places we are avoiding or where we are waiting. Leaving things undone for too long can create lots of mischief—especially in your mind. The first, best step? Get started. Even taking one small action each day will shift a burden to a project that is in progress.
From a book by Anne Lamott titled Bird by Bird, this passage captures the idea:
Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then our father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brothers shoulder, and said, ‘Bird-by-bird, buddy. Just take it bird-by-bird.’
Large projects can seem overwhelming. One piece at a time is the way to go. Want to write a book? Write for ten minutes every day and you’ll be astounded at how fast your collection of writing will grow.
Three accomplishments
This favorite idea comes from Earl Nightingale, a 20th century motivational writer and speaker. On an audio tape I heard more than 30 years ago, Nightingale counsels: At the beginning of each week, choose three things that, when completed, will give you a sense of accomplishment for the entire week. Write them down. Then, each time you get a break from everything else, look at your list and remind yourself about the three items that are your focus for the week.
 Then string fifty-two weeks together, and you’ll have an amazing year.
One thing a day
A colleague once interviewed someone who was attempting to keep a project moving despite difficult circumstances. The person’s strategy for keeping things going was obvious and yet profound: “Just do one thing a day to maintain your momentum.”
Projects that we have up and running tend slow and stall if we neglect them too long. A single, small action—or a conversation—can keep things moving.
I encourage you to explore these ideas; discover what works for you. Your observations are always of interest to me.

Listening is a critical skill—Take this audit to see how you’re doing

Cindy and I have been traveling this year, and after every trip, we remark to ourselves about how seldom people ask us a question and then really listen. So I thought I’d take a few minutes of your day and remind you about the impact of your listening on others.

“We inhabit a culture that knows how to speak but not how to listen: so we mistake warring monologues for genuine dialogue.”  —Manfred Riedel, Between Tradition and Revolution

Why work on listening?
There are some people who are just wonderful to be around. You feel good when you are with them. If you step back and observe these people, you will begin to admire the way in which they listen.
Listening might be the most important interpersonal skill. When you give your full attention to someone, special things happen. Upsets disappear. Ideas come out. New thinking occurs. People open up. Self-esteem soars.
Yet we don’t listen very often, at least in a way that is magical. We listen mostly just enough to follow what is being said. We listen for what’s important to us. We interrupt. We finish other people’s sentences. We pretend to listen. Sometimes we don’t even pretend—instead we check our smart phones or we multitask. Certainly, we don’t often intend to make a difference with someone by how we listen to them.
“Nothing hurts more than the sense that people close to us aren’t really listening to what we have to say. We never outgrow the need to communicate what it feels like to live in our separate, private worlds of experience. An attentive ear is such a powerful force in human relationships. That is why the failure to be heard is so painful.”   —Michael Nichols The Lost Art of Listening
We all have a natural ability to listen
With a little attention and practice, you can discover how to make a difference with how you listen. It’s pretty simple. Slow down and pay complete attention to each person who speaks to you. Your attention indicates that you are interested and that you care. When you devote yourself to someone else when they speak, you make a difference to both the person and the conversation.
Awareness and practice will have an impact on your listening
Awareness is the key to making any change or progress. By noticing your behavior, and especially noticing what does not work for you, you begin on the path toward improvement. A practice is a deliberate, ongoing action that you add to your routine or way of working and living. Over time, a practice becomes a habit.
The following set of practices impact other people’s experience of being in a conversation with you. They are presented here as an audit you can use to assess yourself or you can ask a few colleagues to give you a candid assessment of what they experience when speaking with you.
Critical Listening Skills Audit
To what extent do I: (1—not at all, 5—all the time; higher scores are desirable.)

Show interest in other people and what they want to discuss?
Put my full attention into a conversation?
Treat each conversation and each person as though they matter?
Respect the other person’s speaking and their right to say it?
Allow others time to complete their comments without interrupting?
Avoid automatic reactions; pause and respond in a way that works?
Keep confidences; ask for permission to share something from the conversation?
Ask questions for clarity when needed?
Maintain appropriate eye contact when speaking or listening to someone?
Place myself in the other person’s position; seek to understand their reality?
Invite others into the conversation; encourage others to express their views?
Exhibit patience during conversations and meetings?
Practice supportive nonverbal behavior: eye contact, posture, nodding, facial expression?
Take a minute to think about what has been said before responding?
Listen with sincerity and full attention, not with a pretense of interest?
Take notes when appropriate?
Keep outside distractions to a minimum including technology?
Check to see if a conversation is finished before bringing up something new?

0–36:  It’s time to focus on personal development—especially conversational skills. (See Tell Me More by Brenda Ueland and Learning to Listen)
37–54:  Your conversational style is probably costing you influence. (See Regarding Influence and Influence Practices)
55–72:  Your conversational style is strong, leading to trust and respect. (See Trust and Respect Assessment)
73–90:  You are remarkable and great to be around.
“There can only be true listening if there is complete attention, and there can only be complete attention if there are no expectations whatsoever in the mind. And that is by no means a simple matter: As a matter of fact, it is about the hardest thing to do.”   —Toni Packer, The Silent Question: Meditating in the Stillness of Not-Knowing
Summer events will give you many opportunities to invite people into a conversation and then give them a really good listening to!
Take care,

Ask Paul: How do I advance my career? Can your book help? Thanks, Rusty

Love the question, Rusty. Here’s my take: You are either moving forward or you are losing ground. You are either making a positive impression or you are not. Even a neutral impression doesn’t serve you well. Your career is not something to take for granted. I also believe that working hard to be remarkable in your current job is the most important factor. So, first of all be very good at what you do.
Your next area of focus should be on process skills. Typically, people talk about how presentations can make or break careers. Presentations are important, so when you get a chance, prepare enough so that you can be spontaneous.
Still, presentations are occasional events. Far more important are the meetings you call or attend every week.
Consider the following statement made by a senior executive to a group of MBA hires interning at an organization:
“Each of you wants to advance in your career. Know that everyone working here is very bright and talented and knowledgeable. Those are not the qualities that will help you advance in your career because we assume you possess them. What will advance your career is the ability to convene people, to ensure productive communication, and to provide leadership for effective meetings.”
After mastering your core competency—whether it is engineering, IT, marketing, accounting—you must master the conversational skills needed to work effectively with others, particularly in meetings. This will immediately make you distinctive because, while the ability to run effective meetings should be a core competency for anyone in management, it’s often a missing piece. You must also be reliable, responsive, and respected for how you work and interact with others.
I think you’ll find that the Meetings Matter book goes beyond meetings and will be helpful in ways that you don’t expect.
Thanks for the question!