Experiencing Success as a Team

When do you set up for success? I recently conducted a board retreat, and after a good but very tough discussion, thought I should do an exercise to pull everyone together. As it turns out I inadvertently set the group up for success instead of a bigger challenge. Is that bad?

When you were a kid, did your parent or uncle or aunt ever do that with monopoly, cards, etcetera? You sort of knew they did but felt good about winning anyway.

Why shouldn’t a team be given the same chance to feel what success feels like and looks like? In doing so and giving them an early win, they can feel positive the rest of the time and know that success is at hand.

In Whistling Vivaldi , Claude Steele writes about different groups taking tests, with some bring told they are examples of a certain group (women, minorities, etc.) and others just being told this is a test. The latter always yielded higher, and most importantly, lasting results. I’m wondering if this is a technique we should be using with employees and teams, not just college students taking psychology experiments?  (Note: This is the featured book this 2014-15 school year for One Book, One Northwestern.)

In working with teams or new employees why not find ways for them to succeed? Let the imprinting of success stay with them as they continue to learn and grow in their job and on their teams.

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Change – just jump in!

What’s changed about how we change? Have you thought about how you’ve changed, what’s changed in your life and job, the way you work, live, and connect?

I just read an interested article in ATD’s Leader Executive Briefing. It was an article on a new book on change, and it made sense in every way but one for setting up something you want to change. Do we have the TIME to truly set up a change plan or project? I don’t know about you, but I’m thrown into situations. For example, I’m working now for Caveo Learning as a Senior Learning Architect. I work virtually, which means I manage my time, my goals, my projects, my resources. Did I have time to set this up? No, I started right away and just started doing it. Now part of that may be where I am in my career and what I’m able to do on my own. But how many of us find ourselves in situations at work, at home, with hobbies where there’s no time? We just jump right in with two feet and hope we land on them!

Some examples. When you get a new phone or technology project, do you read the manual or jump in and use it? I think we are getting to be a society of jumpers. I know my daughter rarely looks at manuals but figures things out herself. She’s really good doing that. As much as we’d sometimes like our hands held or an easy step by step guide, too often its’ here you go, get going! No matter how much time you do preparing to have a family, do you really use all that information or do you figure some of those things out yourself? Or the last two years I really learned to cook. Sure, I followed some recipes, but then did my own thing too, creating as I went. And not once did I have to order a pizza instead!

When not to jump in? Certainly some things need and require a careful training plan before doing it – I think about health and safety, where big dollars are at stake, something that’s totally new to you, or something that takes a lot of practice or apprenticeship. Or where you can’t afford to make a mistake along the way (I think about the manned space program and NASA, for example, even though they have had some tragic accidents.)

Jump in. Talk, ask, learn, seek answers, and try again. Society and change is moving faster today than ever before. It’s not about where you get on, its’ how you hold on while everything is in motion. Life’s a great adventure – jump in and embrace the change, the newness, the excitement, and the opportunity.

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We Are All Leaders

Years ago at the company I worked for managers tried to sign up individual contributors into supervisory and management development programs called Supervising Employees Effectively and Managing People and Performance.  Why?  Because there was nothing else appropriate for them.  Although questioned and told that “you have to be managing others in order to attend this class,” that didn’t stop them from doing this.

Today, they would be welcomed with open arms.   As organizations become leaner and flatter, the need for individual contributors at all levels to step up is more prevalent than ever.  We all work on teams of various kinds and have opportunities to lead projects, provide input and make a difference in achieving our organizational goals, even those not designated as “manager.”  Because we are all leaders.

 Some of the skills needed by everyone include communication, influence, negotiation, time management, innovation, problem solving, and business acumen.  Sound like a leadership curriculum?  RD& partners did a study and identified the top 4 key skills for individual contributors: 1) Able to plan and effectively organize their work 2) Strong interpersonal communication, 3) Effective at collaboration and 4) Able to deliver consistent results.  The study can be found here:


 And the places we go to learn these skills are as diverse as the audience taking them.  Formal classes, informal learning, customized programs, online programs, MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses), extension courses, university programs, executive education, audiobooks, hand held books, etc.

 Today organizations need to offer as wide a variety of leadership learning, when people need it, in the format that they most prefer, and with ways to apply, transfer and reinforce the learning to the individual’s skillset.  No question it’s difficult to find the time to do so – that’s why flexible learning and learning bytes is also important, so that people can get the skills they need when they need it in small bits of learning. Doing so will allow you to have associates and an organization better trained and ready to meet the challenges ahead. 

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In-between thoughts

I have so much more I want to say in this blog.  Yet as I read more blogs out there, I discover many with great points that I’d like to share.

So each week you will either be seeing a new blog from me or some recommended blogs to follow – all around the theme of this blog, Advancing Learning.

Today’s “guest” blog is by Andreas von der Heydt, Director Kindle Content Acquisition at Amazon in Germany.  His blog is about the VUCA leader – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – a good description of the times we live in today. Enjoy this feature, and I’ll be back next week!


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Connect the Dots

Remember as a kid playing connect the dots (or dot to dots)?  I loved those, always looking for the next number to connect to, and when completed, I was rewarded with a picture.  Sometimes the next dot wasn’t the one closest to the dot I was on and had to search for it. The picture would curve or go in a direction I hadn’t expected.  But it always turned out in the end.

That’s a lot like life – connecting the dots, going in directions we don’t expect.  We don’t know where the next dot is going to be, but it’s out there, we just need to find it.   We have a lot of choices to what our final picture will look like, a lot of directions we can go in.   The key is finding the next one.

And we don’t need to know what the whole picture will look like now!   We want to.  We want life to not be a mystery, a challenge, a journey.  We want to have a picture in front of us to follow – we think that’s so much easier.  But that’s not life.  Our dots are not numbered.  It’s so much safer to leave one dot and move to the next if we know where that dot is.  Again, that’s not life.  We have to take that leap of faith, based on the work we have done and knowledge we have gained.

Sure when we are young we may have chosen a path to go on, a route to follow.   But so much happens along the way we rarely stay with what we think we will do and will become when we were young.  And even some who do, the young athletes and performers, they all change direction along the way.  Their bodies can’t take that continued pounding impact and intensity, and find themselves in other careers at some point in life.

Ancient people saw the stars in the sky and envisioned all types of animals and creatures, objects and mythological figures.  They connected the dots to make sense of what they saw, to organize them and create pictures and images that became both familiar and useful for tracking their direction.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_constellations

Today we also have a vast array of stars in our way that we try and make sense out of, from incessant electronics to other distractions that keep us from following our paths to people telling us what we should do, where we should go.  It’s up to us to turn down the noise and focus on the next dot.   I had the pleasure to hear Arianna Huffington speak last week.  It took her to reach absolute exhaustion to realize that her dots were not taking her the right way.   In her newest book, Thrive, she talks about what is truly important.  “While the world provides plenty of insistent, flashing, high volume signals directing us to make more money and climb higher up the ladder, there are almost no worldly signals reminding us to stay connected, to take care of ourselves along the way, to reach out to others, to pause to wonder, and to connect to that place from which everything is possible.” http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-living/ci_25716674/arianna-huffington-slow-down-unplug-sometimes-and-sleep

Your dots are out there.  You need to find them and continue to follow them and connect them.   Let me know if I can help you take that Next Step.   There are many assessments, coaches and people that can help you figure out what is the right next dot for you, how you can create your big picture.  The key is to know that there is always another dot.   Good luck finding the ones for you to connect – the sky’s the limit!


Imagejoin the dots from 1 to 100 and more

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Trending in Leadership – YOU!

More companies are seeking leadership training today but it’s going in two directions. On one hand, it’s for leaders with a formal leadership title (supervisor, team lead, manager, director, VP, executive, etc.)  On the other hand, it’s being offered more often for independent contributors (ICs) who don’t “lead” anyone specifically, but in fact do lead from their actions. Organizations are looking for everyone to step up and to act as a leader in their area of expertise.   The American Management Association (AMA) identified 10 key trends shaping the current landscape of organizational training and development, according to research by AMA Enterprise.   These were recently reported in the April edition of ASTD Learning Executive Briefing, and 6 out of the 10 trends had to do with leadership, including who is considered a leader, what is high potential, and the meaning of leadership in the age of globalization.

I’ve seen this at Notre Dame, where we have seen more requests for leadership training this year than we did in the past.  Make sure you are demonstrating your strengths as a leader in all your actions such as volunteering for special projects, taking greater ownership of your job, serving as a coach or mentor (or finding one to help you!), and offering insight and advice when you have expertise or see the need.  My daughter identified a person trying to use a false check at Target – it wasn’t her job, and the scam worked at 4 other stores – but she took it upon herself to contact security.  That’s leadership.  Take advantage of opportunities to participate in leadership and other training, or consider taking a certificate or online course at a reputable institution (Notre Dame offers many and I just took a MOOC on gamification from Wharton).  Wherever you go, know that people are looking at the leadership you provide. Trending in leadership today – YOU!


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The Greatest Gift of All

Sometimes we learn things where we least expect them.  This week a colleague of mine gave the greatest gift of all – the gift of life – and not to a family member or friend, but to a stranger in need – by donating her kidney.   An email went out to our staff that someone knew someone who was in need of a new kidney.  Her kidneys were down to 14% functioning, and it needed to happen soon.  This person, “Rebecca,” decided to take her life in her own hands and started a blog, put up billboards, and told everyone she knew about her search.   As an adoptive parent who had to do the same thing 26 years ago, I know how hard that is to do.

My colleague Karen was thinking about it, then passed a billboard and said I have to be tested, I want to do this.  She spoke with her husband and family, got their agreement, and found out she was one of three that was a match.  She was the best candidate to do this. She  talked to our boss who worked with her to arrange the leave.  Yesterday morning one kidney was removed, in perfect condition, and implanted in the recipient.  They never met, although saw each other in the waiting room at the hospital.  And now my colleague will take a few weeks to recover and come back to work.

So many lessons here about what’s truly important in life, taking matters into ones’ own hands, and selflessness.  How many of us would give up a healthy organ for someone we love, let alone a complete stranger?  What would you do if your life was on the line?  Would you do the campaign that “Rebecca” did?   And what about my colleague – what would you do for a stranger?  At the very least if you haven’t donated blood lately, go out and do so.    It’s in strong demand right now, especially with the rough winter we have all had.

In these days when you read so much about people either struggling or thinking only of themselves, it is refreshing to not only read about but to know someone who live their values in this way.  May you be blessed Karen, and may there be more Karen’s in this world.



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Ten New Ways to Learn

Learning is all around us, but so often it’s not noticed.  When you’re learning and NOT REALIZING you’re learning, that’s really good.  Which of these are you doing? And what can you add to ensure that 2014 is the year to take a stand on continuing your learning.

1) Attend webinars, but participate in the chat.  I wrote last time how the chat is where it’s at – that’s the informal learning where people are sharing ideas, thoughts, articles, videos, all relevant to the subject.

2) Network with the idea of helping others learn.  My friend Shalom Klein recently blogged about 24 new ideas for networking.  His top one was network with the idea of helping others.  I’d like to take it one step further – network with the idea of helping others learn.   By doing so, you create a much stronger bond and connection between you, where you both learn.  

3) Learn from a new source.   It’s everywhere – online, in person, at the public library, chamber events, in MOOCs, even at the gas station as you fill up the pump. Find and try a new source for learning and see what new perspective it provides.

4) Teach something.  One of the best ways to learn is to teach it, because of both the preparation you have to do and the learning in teaching.  Again, go to one of those new sources above and see if there’s a skill or talent you can share.  English as a Second Language is in constant need, so if nothing else, do that.  I currently am mentoring a Chinese student at Notre Dame, and his goal is to improve his English, so we meet once a week to cook for one another and share conversation.  It can be that simple.

5) Mentor or Reverse Mentor someone. Mentoring is not coaching – it’s being there to show the ropes, help people learn from your experience.  Reverse mentoring?   That’s showing the old folks what’s new and how to communicate and use all the latest tools and techniques available online and in the palm of your hand. And remind me how the new remote works again?!  

6) Immerse Yourself.  Don’t just dip your toe in the water, jump in with gusto.  The best way to acquire new skills is to use them whether it’s a new language, new skill or technique. I jumped into teaching a tuba-euphonium ensemble last semester and learned as much from preparing for the students as they did from the rehearsals.

7) Take on a new role or assignment. We all know the value of volunteering,  And it’s comfortable to do the same thing with the same people. But by looking outside your comfort zone, you’ll end up meeting new people, learning from them, and gaining valuable experience. This happened to me as I joined a new board for my alma mater. 

8) Fresh eyes.  If you wear glasses or contacts, you need to update your prescription from time to time to be able to see clearly.  What are you doing to make sure you are using this better vision to learn more?   Ask yourself how a new perspective can allow you to see things differently.  This can turn a mundane task or activity around and bring in fresh insight to all you do. 

9) Word for the year.  My word is understanding.  Understanding myself better, my job, my family, my life.   What word can you choose, and where and how can you apply that to how you learn?   If i truly understand, what will be different?  Thanks Melissa for sharing this with me!  

10)  Get out of your box.  Each week I scan the Notre Dame events to see what’s going on in terms of lectures, discussions, activities and concerts.   I try to find something new to attend each week to ensure that I keep growing and learn from others.   Even if you’re not on a college campus, you can find these types of things in your community. Just to be sure to take time to attend them, or if you can’t, find events online that you can attend.  

See how each of these ten ways can shed a new light on learning for you! 


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Where is learning going?

Time to restart this blog in a new way – looking at learning trends.   Here are several observations about online learning I’ve noticed lately.

Webinars – have you noticed webinars improving with better information, presented crisply, and with excellent supporting documents?   Plus they are under an hour with Q&A.   A shout out to Lesley Hoare from Oracle who did an excellent presentation for ASTD on Inspiring Millenials.  http://webcasts.astd.org/webinar/909

Chats – I couldn’t believe the speed and dialogue that webinars (and especially the previously mentioned one) has on truly vibrant, interesting chats.   Seems like ideas and comments spurred on very immediate reactions from participants.  One millenial noted that her company still has them sit in a classroom for 4-8 hours – how tedious!   If that’s what at least one person is thinking, what does that say about classroom learning?  How can we bring more excitement to the classroom, and more of the classroom out of the classroom onto the web?  

Fleeting – One of the issues I have with the chats is that they are fleeting. It’s easy to make a comment or two and then anonymously disappear into the ether.  When we can start making meaningful connections in chat rooms, online learning will have taken a big leap forward at having more of the interconnectivity of live training.

Corporate global programs – I’ve had 3 requests for global, high potential programs for F500 firms that want them either blended or entirely online to reach their global audience.  This “trend” seems to be growing, and it’s up to us as education providers to find a way to transfer the best of classroom,  including the chats at break and before and after class, to online programs. 

 PWC CEO Study, 2013 – This statistic is frightening.  60% of CEOs deploy an executive development program to develop the leadership pipeline.  But only 24% believe they are successful! What is the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over that doesn’t work!   Yet how can learning providers step up to the plate? Stop entertaining executives with our stellar faculty, and start focusing on teaching and transferring skills that these new leaders need and can use and produce real results.  Notre Dame works with a major health system that has implemented a 30-minute ER guarantee.  Locally, the hospitals tout ONLY 60-90 minute waits, so this is not only huge, it can be truly life-saving.  That’s the type of result we need to see more of. 

Better and more online learning, short, targeted, connecting and engaging learners, with a results focus.  That’s where learning is not only going, that’s where it needs to be. 


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What do you see?

How many of you like fireworks? The sparkles, the sound, the colors lighting up the sky – I think they are spectacular. How many of you wear glasses?  Ever take them off and look at fireworks? I did and saw something completely different.  Instead of hundreds of dots in the sky, i saw hundreds of molecules!   What a different sensation.   In fact, when I saw them again just a few weeks ago, I watched the whole show without glasses.  A very different experience.

I didn’t want to just write a blog about taking glasses off and fireworks, but am using this as a metaphor.  I was talking to a colleague in the UK recently who said this IS the new economy. What we see right now.  We are not in a recession, we are in a new way of thinking and working. 

My former boss used to always like to look at things with “fresh eyes.”  Maybe we all need some fresh eyes to look around us and figure out how things work now.  IF this is the new economy, what are the new rules?  How should I be thinking and working?  How does my perspective change if instead of being a temporary blip, it’s a permanent one? Much like seeing fireworks in a new way, I now am looking at the economy in a new way as well. Take your glasses (or contacts) out and tell me what you see.    

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