Three Ridiculously Easy Tips to Defeat Perfectionism

April 8th, 2014


If you are like most of us, you are doing more with less. Most businesses take pride in the ever increasing productivity of workers. Bosses often pile on too much work to too few people. Solo-entrepreneurs over-commit themselves. And, pretty much everyone is sleep-deprived, caffeine and sugar-high, or otherwise brain drained by the habits we rely on to keep us going.

So how can you manage a pile of projects, your social media commitments, and have time for Scandal? Plus get some time to see your friends and family, walk your dog, eat right, workout, sleep enough and occasionally chill!

The simple way to satisfying the taskmaster – your boss or yourself – is to drop the perfectionism.

Highly productive people who live satisfying and successful lives seem to share the same philosophy. It can be summed up as:

Focus on the outcome. Consider the time and resources available. Embrace the traits of swift and simple as tenets of your personal brand. Enjoy life.

In my research on work behavior, I’ve identified three different types of perfectionist work styles. While you might have obvious signs of perfectionism, some perfectionist behaviors are sneaky. Which of these might apply to you?

The “Everything Matters!” perfectionists

These folks give everything the same priority: top notch! They live by a much repeated and truly debilitating adage: “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” That’s simply not true. Why scrub empty milk cartons before placing them in the recycling, when a simple rinse will do the trick? Don’t take more time creating the perfect Netflix watch list than you do watching movies.

TIP #1: Make a list of everything you could do poorly, without sacrificing health, wealth and your personal brand at work. Then enjoy the extra sleep, creative time, and just doing nothing once in a while.

The “Chicken Little” perfectionists

Often called micromanagers, these people are sure the sky will come crashing down, if they don’t have everything they need in advance and everything in place in case anything goes wrong. They suffer from a lack of basic awareness that humans are inherently good problem-solvers. They also ignore that the 24-hour gas station minimart has a pretty good substitute for whatever you’re missing.

TIP #2: Make a list, check it twice and then be nice to yourself.  The Queen of England eats breakfast cereal out of a Tupperware bowl. Give yourself the joy of spontaneous inspiration, when you get to source a wealth of substitutes because something is missing or the plan needs tweaking on-the-spot.

The “Too Much, Too Tired” perfectionists

Whenever you see clutter on the desk, the office floor, the bathroom at home, or in the car, handbag or briefcase, you pretty much have the most insidious perfectionism at hand. These folks are so overwhelmed by the stacks, piles and most importantly good intentions to do the world’s greatest job at work and home, they get very little accomplished. The same is true with the overfilled calendar, because they’ve said yes to too much.

TIP #3: Get a good friend to un-pile your life. As you clean up, have a heart to heart discussion about what really matters. Then organize your time and life around those priorities. Block off a full hour each day to throw away your mess and reorganize your space, so you can keep calm and be proud of what you do accomplish.

Do you feel like you’re breaking your back, losing your mind or otherwise suffering from an unmanageable workload? Let me know the number one thing that’s really important for you to do perfectly, and five things you can choose to do more swiftly and simply. I’ll be your accountability partner. Email me at Subject line: Perfect.

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Bullying in the Workplace: Fear, Loathing and Lawsuits

March 4th, 2014



In sociology, you learn that all small groups function similarly and that includes the opportunistic behavior of bullying. This learning is one of many reasons I encourage students to get something more than a vocational education, since simply studying finance, engineering or another skill-based major leaves you without the requisite knowledge for understanding behavior at work.

Social sciences should be required for anyone who intends to earn a living.

Bullying is a fact of life, whether you work in a company, volunteer in a cause-based organization or play hopscotch on the schoolyard in third grade. At some point, it’s likely that someone will try to dominate, frighten, and otherwise rob you or someone you know of rights, income or a sense of well-being.

Bullying typically serves the bully’s self-interest, which might be financial gain or simply the antisocial urge to harm another. In school, bullies steal lunch money. In business, bullies go for greater financial gain, privilege or position.

Of course, there is a difference between a schoolyard bully and a workplace bully. Largely the difference is who knows and is complicit in the bullying, who has gain associated with it, and what the harm equates to in real terms. There are special issues of the legality surrounding bullying when they take place within the confines of a corporation. The legalities may involve the responsibilities of corporate officers who knowingly engage in such acts or neglect to take corrective action when they are made known. Intentionally causing emotional harm, self-dealing, conspiracy, slander, and misrepresentation or misappropriation of assets may have significant legal consequences.

When you are bullied, the best course of action is to get sunlight on the bully’s behavior.

The first person to engage in this manner is the bully him or herself. Let them know what you are seeing. Be clear, objective and stick to the facts. Make your best attempt to stop them, by making it clear that it’s in THEIR best interest to stop. It will help to have a record that you can refer to.

Should that not be enough, report the behavior to get more daylight on it. Once again, be objective. At this point, it’s critical to have documentation, not just about the bully’s actions but also the effects on you.

Even when there are supervisors, it’s possible that no one wants to intercede. After all, fear and intimidation are part of the bully’s arsenal, and most people are loathe to stand up to a bully. In schools we see vicious bullying going on with the knowledge of teachers and administrators, much less other students. People choose to ignore the behavior because they feel imperiled or worse, they join with the bully, because it feel empowering to side with someone boldly causing harm to another.

Unfortunately, that leaves you with the final option, which is legal action. Get a knowledgeable attorney who can intercede on your behalf. The goal should be to stop the bullying behavior, and restore your workplace to a safe environment so you can be productive.

Bullying happens. It’s happened to me. And, likely it has or will happen to you.

Keep in mind that your ability to manage yourself, will allow you to lead others to a solution that is not just best for you but for your company as well.

You may be a world-class employee. You may have helped or otherwise supported the person who is now bullying you. Don’t let bullying change your values, your personal brand or your belief in yourself. Be smart. Be objective. Don’t become a smaller, angrier or vengeful version of yourself.

Key Learnings:

  1. Never expect anyone to come to your aid, even when in the past you have come to his or her aid. Never confuse how you act with how anyone else will act.
  2. Don’t mind read.  Simply document actions and observable behaviors.
  3. Advocate objectively for yourself and your organization. Use the appropriate chain of command, as long as you are getting responsive action.
  4. Don’t stand on principle; be practical. Don’t expect anyone to have a sense of right and wrong. Rules, codes of conduct and corporate values are often suspended when fear and money are involved.
  5. Remember this is not about you. Your perspective should be that it is in the best interests of everyone – including shareholders – to stop a bully from diminishing the productivity and value of a business or organization.

Are you being bullied? Or have you left a job because of a bully? Has it negatively affected your work history? Let me know your story, and I will give you some guidance. Email Subject line: Bully.

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Hoarders At Work: Clean Or Consequences

February 20th, 2014


When you have to separate a very talented person from your company, it hurts. As my partner often repeated, “Nice beats genius every time.” Make sure you fit into the culture and connect with people at work in a polite and congenial way. Showing respect for your co-workers is paramount, no matter what else you produce.

Having empathy, sensitivity, and good personal habits are all part of the emotional intelligence that can come with good parenting, life experience or coaching. For many of us, relational skills are not innate or intuitive, but simply learned. The sooner, the better.

There are certain chronic personal problems that cut down even a towering intellect, great talent, or an otherwise hardworking individual.

Hoarding is one of those personal problems that can ruin your career. Unfortunately, this affliction seems to come with a “thick skin,” which may be a euphemism for an antisocial personality disorder. That’s why the hoarder acts like a victim when people are finally fed up, no matter how many times they’ve been told to clean up their act.

We think of hoarding in its extreme as a problem people have in their homes, where they can hide from onlookers. Hoarders often make less of a mess at work, because at the office a cleaning crew comes in and tries to toss away the worst of it. But sometimes, even the cleaning people can’t approach the task of untangling what should be saved and what’s trash. And, they certainly can’t file away piles or make order out of chaos.

You may have seen this at your office: a staff member who has an obvious insensitivity to the rules of shared space, despite repeated attempts to make them aware of how they are affecting those around them. Here’s what we dreaded facing at work, every day.

A small aisle through half open boxes and old lunch sacks led the way toward my co-worker’s desk, where she sat amid a half dozen empty Coke cans and a stained, two day old Starbucks vente cup.  To her left and right, sat small mountains of discarded documents, several pairs of reading glasses, pens, soiled paper towels and crushed flyers. On her credenza, a load of whatnot crammed the small space in front of books leaning at different angles. Color charts splayed open, a clutch of paper cuttings sat precariously atop the cutter, and an exacto knife stuck into a board perched above it all. The floor under her desk was crowded with more used bags, old paper and rotting food, giving her just a few inches of space to move her small chair.

No amount of asking, explaining, or doing got the office tidied, much less clean. A couple of times each week I stayed late, putting things in order. But it didn’t take a half-day before she was sunk in her mess, and we all were surrounded by it.

The best we could do was shut her door, but sometimes clients came in and we were mortified.

Her office mate got sick and stayed sick for months, perhaps from the dust and the dirt. Plus, he was just plain miserable from his increasingly smaller oasis of clean amid her uncontainable mess.

So, after years of trying to manage this, we had to be fair to everyone else in the office. We had to lose a hardworking teammate and a really talented person. No more hints, no more talks, no more cleaning up after her, no more good friend. We simply could not operate around the problems she was causing. In the end, it’s everyone’s loss.

Are you struggling with hoarding or another personal problem that’s cutting away at the goodwill of your co-workers? There are many support groups that offer guidance, often with a sponsor who has made their way through the problem you have. Do something about it, and let your co-workers know what your plan is.

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Why Your Boss is a Jerk

February 13th, 2014

Yurlour boss is a jerk, right? It’s pretty likely you’ve told someone this or you’ve at least thought it. In an informal survey of people I’ve met in my seminars, on planes and at dinner parties over the last 20 years: out of four workers I’ve met has repeated the same refrain: “My boss is a jerk.”

Could it be true that 25% of the population is working for a jerk?

The last two times I heard someone say it, I was in my office during job interviews. Typically, after the candidate gets comfortable talking about their aspirations, their achievements and their experience, I ask a pretty predictable question.

Why are you leaving your current job?

Leaning forward in a kind of it’s-just-us-here posture, these two candidates told me about this jerk they each work for. Different interviews, people from two different companies, but apparently they work for twin jerks.

Are you working for a jerk?

The same topic came up with one of my executive coaching clients. He’s working with me on how to improve his communication skills.

He said, “I may be a jerk.” After all, he explained, I am the boss. That means my life is at the mercy of people who work for me. At some level,  I absorb every single mistake that every single person in my entire organization makes. I absorb the financial losses when orders are returned or orders aren’t taken, the stress of losing clients who are underserved, the distress of employees who are angry with one another, the fury of managers who see their subordinates waste a good part of the day gossiping or trolling the web, and the loss of talent because so much of our training and development walks out the door when a slightly better offer turns the head of someone we’ve invested in.

No wonder the guy is a jerk, albeit a good-hearted, well-meaning, hardworking fellow who provides jobs for over a hundred people. His rent alone would make you a jerk, if that’s what you woke up to every morning.

Maybe you don’t work for the CEO. Maybe you work for a junior executive, a department head or someone with “supervisor” in their title. Maybe you’re micromanaged, your best ideas are turned down, and your request for a raise has been denied.

I understand your impulse to name call, but when something happens that seems unfair to you, or even when you are put off, are you really qualified to feel jerked around?

What would change if you could relate to your boss as a person? If you felt empathy for your superior? It occurs to me that in all the trainings I have conducted, I have never been asked to train employees to act or think with empathy for their bosses.

We have to do a better job of educating employees on this, because it would improve so much of what’s wrong in the workplace. We must explain that sometimes you simply need to do what you are asked. That you must remember to follow instructions, if for no other reason than your boss will be a jerk when you don’t. We have to help you understand your boss has pressure that you might not see. That your boss typically has a larger picture of the work, than just what you’re assigned to do. And, we have to help you see, no disrespect intended, that you have perhaps less than all the knowledge, experience, goals, and responsibilities of those above you.

When you lack empathy, your boss will surely seem like a jerk.

Is your boss a jerk? Tell me why and I’ll give you some guidance on how to cope. Email: Subject line: Jerk.

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

February 5th, 2014

Change?SMIf you have a job, you have asked yourself, “Should I stay or should I go?” You may have the same question about your location. And, if you’re in a relationship, you undoubtedly have asked yourself the same thing.

Should I stay or should I go?

It’s just human nature to wonder about finding something better.

Last night my fiancé brought home Sunset magazine, with its headline screaming: Best Places to Live! I noticed our town (if you can call Los Angeles a “town”) wasn’t listed.

Does that mean LA is NOT the best place to live? The default answer is right now, it is and we are staying. Not always and forever, but right now we have great work, no house payment, and two great big furniture-eating, hole-digging dogs under two years old. But I have to say, once they lifted the quarantine laws off dogs coming from the US, the south of France started to look really good.

I can complain about why everything here is difficult. The traffic alone makes the case to go (if the traffic would only let up so you could).

Do you feel the same way about work? You feel stuck. You are not sure you have a long-term future in your company. Maybe your issue is you can’t keep working these hours, or reporting to your boss, or sitting in a cubicle, or being isolated at home.

As this economy has crept upward, increasingly people write me, asking whether they should leave their jobs or flee their industries entirely. It is the single most common question I get.

The correct answer is no. Don’t leave. That’s the default answer, anyway. The reason is simple.

No matter where you go, there you are.

Consider that it might not be the job, the industry, the town, or anyone else around you that makes you want to leave. Consider it just might be YOU that you secretly want to leave. You may simply be tired of repeating the same patterns, making the same mistakes, and doing the same old things.

Before you make a move, make a list of what you would like to change about your life – not just work. You haven’t finished until you have written at least 15 things that are making you miserable. In the next column, write down what’s at the root of each misery. Then, in the final and third column, write down the solutions that you can put into play. Consider what you can change NOW about yourself and the way you do things, while you stay in place.

Until you have a strategy for making each those changes, and you have accomplished ten out of the fifteen: you can’t jump jobs, move out of town or leave your lover.

Big decisions are best made when you can see things clearly. Leaving might be the best thing you ever do, but only if you are leaving having learned how to be the best you can be.

Do you wonder about leaving? Send me a quick brief about why, and I’ll send you some guidance. Email: Subject line: Leaving

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Listening Tests Your Self-Discipline and Leadership Potential

January 29th, 2014

Ear_Small_2Listening is a strategic communication tactic. When you are not prepared to listen strategically, you can fail yourself and the other people in the room.

Strategic listening requires one skill first and foremost. You need self-discipline. You must give your complete attention to the speaker. Avoid doing anything that gives the impression that you are simply waiting to reply. And, when you do respond, make every syllable count. Bad news or good news, your response reveals how much self-management, and thus how much leadership potential you possess.

Here are the last three of the 6 listening strategies, which I started in my prior post.

De-escalation Listening
Strategic listening is key when you’re stuck with a temperamental person who is light on impulse control. Maybe you actually did something that irritated them, and then again, maybe someone in their household ate the last bowl of Cheerios. It doesn’t matter. The temperamental person is not about solving anything. In short, they just want an audience for their temper tantrum. Against all the advice you will get from listening gurus: do NOT use words to reflect back what you heard. I recommend you maintain solid eye contact, and only use sounds in response. Start with vowel sounds: ahhh, ohhh, and ooo. And when they run out of gas, switch to consonants: hmmm. Finish them off with a firm nod of your head. You will find when you withhold words; these dirigibles deflate and waft away.

Misery-Interrupt Listening
A surprising number of people are not emotionally centered at various parts of the day, or in response to a variety of situations. We all have old “tapes” in our head that frequently play the kind of angry self-talk gangstas use in a war of words against their enemies. Assess whether you are listening to a fair, objective assessment of a situation, or if it’s the speaker’s own descant relaying depression, low self-esteem, or fear. If someone is mired in personal misery rather than reality, there’s only one response: compassion. If there’s a desk between you, come around the other side. Politely acknowledge their pain. For example, say, “Sounds like a lot is going on.” Then, normalize, so they keep their dignity. For example, say, “Almost everyone has this kind of thing happen from time to time.” Follow that with some hope, so they keep their sanity. For example, say, “I know you can figure this out.”

Joyful Noise Listening
Every so often someone scores a win, and wants to retell the story. I hope you are in this situation really often, both as a speaker and a listener. As the receiver of a triumphant tale, do not relate back your own successes – even if you’ve done the same thing and your experience is totally relevant, identical or even bigger and better (for goodness sake, don’t talk about that). Instead, be a great audience. Listen to the joyful noise coming at you, and smile. Listen carefully, and echo back the key points framed as questions. For example, “You didn’t get a call back until one minute before the end of the day, on the last day the deal could be done?” or “And then you slam dunked the deal, in that last minute?” Clap your hands, and if the flu isn’t going around: give a fist pump. If the flu is going around, holler: “Air five!” and pretend you’re slapping palms.

Would you like to have all six listening strategies to use for your business or career goals? Email me at Subject line: Listening

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Effective Listening Strategies for Career Success

January 22nd, 2014

Ear_SmallYou need a listening strategy, because listening is dangerous. No one tells you that.  When you get into an interaction, and fail to have a listening strategy, being receptive turns you into a receptacle. You’re just the recipient of other people’s concerns, personality quirks, beliefs, and goals. That means in the meeting, you get demoted to “just listening,” which is a role anyone and their dog can play.

Many successful job candidates, business people and managers have adapted an intentional listening approach, using six specific listening strategies. I profile three of those listening strategies below.

I always warn my coaching clients about “over-listening.” That’s when you listen endlessly in interviews, meetings, presentations, conversations, and pitches. Other people command all the attention and you lose any importance or significance.

The one immutable rule in business communication is to have an outcome in mind BEFORE you engage in any interaction. That is the start of employing a listening strategy.

By outcome, I mean: get a firm idea of what you want to happen by the end of the interaction. Know exactly what you want the other people to say to you or each other, before the interaction comes to a close. I coach clients to write down the exact words they want other people to speak, or an action they want to see by the end of the interaction.

These first three listening strategies help you guide an interaction toward your desired outcome. Whether you’re in a job interview, a pitch meeting to investors, conflict resolution with another employee, your annual performance review or a presentation you are giving – or attending: have an outcome in mind and a listening strategy.

Here are three strategies.

Opportunity-Response Listening
You ears are antenna for something specific you can turn to your advantage. You might ask a “magic wand” question, to prompt them to tell you what they really want. Then you listen for an opportunity that could match your goals and outcome.  For example, you listen to a hiring manager go on for a while about the department and the job. Then, you say: “If you had a magic wand and you could have the ideal person come to work for you: what would that person be like?” If they say, “hard working and loyal,” then you know what facts and stories you are going to bring into the conversation.

Reflective-Mindreading Listening
You swap words around, so you re-tell your audience what they just told you, plus take a small guess at what they really need. Listen intently, so you have the exact words they use. For example, your manager says: “The last time the client was here, he complained that customer service doesn’t get bids back to him in time.” You reply, “Customer service isn’t good about timely communication on bids, so this customer came in to vent. It would be good to know the current status of the bids he’s asked for now.” Because you listened, understood and took the issue one baby step forward: you are a genius!

Collaborative-Permission Listening
You ask permission to participate and at the same time showcase your value. For example, you listen carefully to a client going on about an opportunity in a new industry. You ignore any prattle, but listen intently to estimate the size of the opportunity, how frequently it occurs, and the consequences of missing out on it. Then, you reply, “Is this very large, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the new industry something that you would like to brainstorm about? Would it be appropriate for me to share my insight, because that might help you prepare to win it?

Listening can be the biggest compliment and relationship-building tool you have. On the other hand, listening can feel like drowning in an onslaught of words. Your strategy makes all the difference.

Would you like to have all six listening strategies to use for your business or career goals? Email me at Subject line: Listening

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We Must Like You to Hire You

January 15th, 2014

ShadowPortraitIn all the time I’ve been working, coaching, teaching and speaking: I have never met anyone who is too stupid or uneducated to get the job they really wanted. I’ve never met a business owner or someone who wanted to be an entrepreneur who lacks the intelligence or ability to build the enterprise they really wanted to captain.

It’s been about 15 years, and I’ve directly met over 50,000 people, plus many more from speaking to audiences around the world. So, I have a lot of proof that you can do pretty much what you want to do.

Your life is pretty much what you make it.

If you feel you’ve got a skills or information deficit, at your fingertips on a moment’s notice, you can learn almost anything. Just Google “how to roast a prime rib to medium rare” or “how to do a laparoscopic spay.” True, that last one presupposes you run a veterinary clinic, but most often the skills or knowledge you need are all over the web, with plenty of videos to give you second opinions, workarounds, alternative approaches and some good arguments.

In addition to various search engines directing you to real time resources, you have an abundance of remarkable educational institutions offering free courses on science, technology, management, design, and nearly every other topic you can yearn for.

Of course as an educator with UCLA Extension, I must mention you have access to an abundance of high quality on-ground and online courses for a fee. These 2-day to 12-week courses often turbo charge your learning, because you apply new skills as you study with teachers who are working in the field you want to enter.

There’s so much knowledge, it’s impossible to say you can’t become exactly what you feel driven to achieve. And, if you can just watch videos: you pretty much have the intellectual capacity required for that dream, along with the resources.

So it’s not for lack of intellectual capacity or opportunities for skill-building that most people find themselves stuck in a bad job or failing in a poorly run business, or failing to fulfill their desire to be an entrepreneur, consultant or anything else.

And, it’s not for lack of employers or customers who want to pay reliable, motivated and personable individuals to help them achieve their goals. Truly.

That’s the secret. If we don’t like you, we won’t hire you or retain you.

Very few people are really personable and likeable. The researcher Anderson along with many others who have expanded or contracted his seminal work on personality, determined there are 555 traits that define anyone’s personality. More than half of those traits are undesirable ones.

Your worst personality traits ALWAYS overshadow your good ones. You may be hostile, irritable, selfish, ungenerous, boring, discontented, trouble-making, a gossip, negative, annoying, attention-getting, confused… the list is long.

Unfortunately, the people who are stuck, can’t land an interview, can’t get funded, can’t stay in business or otherwise fail are leading with their worst traits, or letting them run amok when they need to be corralled and defused – before we meet you.

It all but kills me when I meet someone who could be so happy, satisfied, proud, and financially stable except for the fact that their negative personality traits are like a bad odor that won’t go away (so everyone else does).

Stop thinking you are being victimized by some outer force – although you may be. Most of us who succeed, overcome the odds, including a bad economy, less than ideal bosses and all the other things that are just a part of business and life.

Would you like an inventory of the 555 traits, and an assessment of your personality? Email me at Subject line: 555

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