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Monday, December 17, 2012

Wishing you Merry and Bright this Holiday Season!

As is our custom, we will take a few weeks off from our blog postings over the Christmas and New Years holiday.  We wish you and yours a season filled with Merry and Bright!

Monday, December 10, 2012

How Children (and Adults) Succeed

At the prompting of Joe Adams with The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA),  I just read the book How Children Succeed: Grit Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough.  Joe captured my attention about this book when he was giving a presentation to the Decatur City Schools Foundation on their standardized test scores.  Joe was asked the question, "Well how do we help kids succeed in school" (or at least that was the basic just of the question).  

Joe caught my attention when he pointed to this book and said,  "I didn't earn my PhD because I'm smart, I earned it because I would put up with more crap than anyone else."  While you might find this statement odd, what the book and Joe intend to mean is that we are missing the mark if we think teaching purely academic skills are what make children and people in general successful.

I think the same is true of the work environment.  If we think that only teaching people the technical skills necessary for the job is going to make them successful, then we are wrong. 

Here are some key points to consider from the book in helping people succeed: 

1.  Provide secure environments for people to live, work, play and learn.  In the working world, provide a work environment that provides support, especially support during stressful situations.  This is especially important for young children, and in my opinion, especially important for new hires in an organization.  An organized new hire orientation period where training and support are provided and expectations are established can lead to much success down the road for that employee.  For tools on this, click here.
2. Being a "helicopter" parent or boss, doesn't work.   In fact, it can be as detrimental to success as being an absent parent or boss.  Micromanaging and swooping in to "rescue" all the time does not lead to successful people. 
3. Allow people to fail.  That's where the most learning takes place. 
4. Challenge people.  No one succeeds, or leads a fulfilling life when the status quo is never challenged. 
5.  Speaking of a fulfilling life, help people develop grit in their work to lead to productivity and fulfillment.  Angela Duckworth who is chronicled in the book defines grit as "a passionate commitment to a single mission and an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission."  This involves getting people on the right seat on the bus or allowing them to get off your bus and join another one if the grit just isn't there. 
6.  Hard work matters and it leads to success and fulfillment.  In fact, determination and hard work matter more than a person's intellect.  

What type of characteristics does your work environment or leadership style have that help people succeed? 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Overcoming Barriers, Just Listen

After completing a career coaching project with 50 high school seniors,  I put together a report for the client that explained many things about the coaching project, including barriers that students had in their way of achieving college and career success.  Here is the list of barriers:

  •  Lack of self awareness about strengths and interests, which limits confidence
  • Lack of knowledge about careers
  • Teenage pregnancy
  •  Not having passed all parts of the graduation exam
  • Students living in poverty (measured by students qualifying for free and reduced lunch)
  • Single parents households (one coach who coached 25 students only talked to 4 students that had both a mother and father figure present in the home).
  •  Lack of understanding about what it takes to get into college, for example, not taking the ACT, assuming the school of their choice has a major they want to pursue, knowing or thinking they could qualify for a Pell Grant, but having no idea how to obtain one, etc.
  • Lack of computer skills or limited access to computers at home needed to register for ACT and complete college applications.
  • Drug use.  At least one student appeared to be under the influence of some type of substance and one student told a coach that she believed 75% of her classmates were involved in drugs in some way.  While this may be an exaggeration by this student, it cannot be overlooked. 
With this list of barriers, you can see how it might be near impossible to even get to the point of the career coaching session which was actually talking about what they wanted to be when they "grow up".  Much of the time was spent focused on how to overcome the mountains in their path.

This got me to thinking about barriers people have in doing a quality job day in and day out at work.  While many of those who work for you may not have the same exhausting list of issues, everyone has a set of issues that they deal with that are difficult when they show up to work for you. 

Is it important to help them overcome these issues?  Yes.  Not that you need to become a full-time therapist as a leader (but you could pay to have an Employee Assistance Program- EAP to provide this service if needed), but you do need to realize what would prohibit your staff from doing a great job and help them to at least make the mountains they have in front of them hills.   When you help eliminate some of the barriers, you get a more focused employee who is able to produce results for your company.  

Here are some things I've seen companies do to help employees deal with personal barriers:

Provide classes like Financial Peace University to help employees with the stress of money related issues.
Provide an Employee Assistance Program that allows employees access to counselors specialized in areas such as marital counseling, substance abuse counseling, etc.  or, for smaller companies, provide time off to meet with such a counselor and help with making sure these services can be billed through health insurance plans
Provide wellness programs or healthy living incentives to reduce health-related issues.
Provide paid time off (or a personal leave or vacation plan that is flexible enough) so that employees can take time off for family related issues, whether it be time to attend the school play or time to care for a terminally ill relative.

What's most important? 

What's most important though, as a leader, is just simply listening.  I think we were able to uncover many of the barriers these teenagers faced simply because they had a devoted 45 minute to an hour time frame with an individual whose job for that time frame was just them, and most importantly, just listening to them.  So whether or not you can provide any of the above listed things to overcome personal barriers,  you can take time to listen.  And sometimes listening means hearing the things that aren't said.  Listening to your employees and establishing a level of trust through listening may lead you to understand obstacles that keep them from performing A+ work or you, then be able to start to help them fix it. 

How have you helped your employees eliminate personal obstacles that limit success?