A man named Mohamad Hafez created miniature, three-dimensional models protruding from suitcases as a way to help tell stories of refugees and the struggles so many of them have had to grapple with in recent years.
Republished with permission from Greg McKeown, New York Times Bestselling Author.
I recently reviewed a resume for a colleague who was trying to define a clearer career strategy. She has terrific experience. And yet, as I looked through it I could see the problem she was concerned about: she had done so many good things in so many different fields it was hard to know what was distinctive about her.
As we talked it became clear the resume was only the symptom of a deeper issue. In an attempt to be useful and adaptable she has said yes to too many good projects and opportunities. She has ended up feeling overworked and underutilized. It is easy to see how people end up in her situation:
Step 1: Capable people are driven to achieve.
Step 2: Other people see they are capable and give them assignments.
Step 3: Capable people gain a reputation as “go to” people. They become “good old [insert name] who is always there when you need him.” There is lots right with this, unless or until…
Step 4: Capable people end up doing lots of projects well but are distracted from what would otherwise be their highest point of contribution which I define as the intersection of talent, passion and market (see more on this in the Harvard Business Review article The Disciplined Pursuit of Less). Then, both the company and the employee lose out.
When this happens, some of the responsibility lies with out-of-touch managers who are too busy or distracted to notice the very best use of their people. But some of the responsibility lies with us. Perhaps we need to be more deliberate and discerning in navigating our own careers.
In the conversation above, we spent some time to identify my colleague’s Highest Point of Contribution and develop a plan of action for a more focused career strategy.
We followed a simple process similar to one I write about here: If You Don’t Design Your Career, Someone Else Will. My friend is not alone. Indeed, in coaching and teaching managers and executives around the world it strikes me that failure to be conscientious about this represents the #1 mistake, in frequency, I see capable people make in their careers.
Using a camping metaphor, capable people often add additional poles of the same height to their career tent. We end up with 10, 20 or 30 poles of the same height, somehow hoping the tent will go higher. I don’t just mean higher on the career ladder either. I mean higher in terms of our ability to contribute.
The slightly painful truth is, at any one time there is only one piece of real estate we can “own” in another person’s mind. People can’t think of us as a project manager, professor, attorney, insurance agent, editor and entrepreneur all at exactly the same time. They may all be true about us but people can only think of us as one thing first. At any one time there is only one phrase that can follow our name. Might we be better served by asking, at least occasionally, whether the various projects we have add up to a longer pole?
I saw this illustrated some time ago in one of the more distinctive resumes I have seen. It belonged to a Stanford Law School Professor [there it is: the single phrase that follows his name, the longest pole in his career tent]. His resume was clean and concise. For each entry there was one impressive title/role/school and a succinct description of what he had achieved. Each sentence seemed to say more than ten typical bullet points in many resumes I have seen. When he was at university he had been the student body president, under “teaching” he was teacher of the year and so on.
Being able to do many things is important in many jobs today. Broad understanding also is a must. But developing greater discernment about what is distinctive about us can be a great advantage. Instead of simply doing more things we need to find, at every phase in our careers, our highest point of contribution.
I look forward to your thoughts below and @gregorymckeown.
Greg McKeown is the author of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” He is among the most popular bloggers for the Harvard Business Review.
He is an accomplished public speaker. He regularly speaks to business communities, giving dozens of speeches per year. He has spoken at companies including Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Pixar, Salesforce.com, and Twitter and organizations including SXSW, Stanford University and the World Economic Forum. He speaks about innovation, focus, leadership, discipline, simplicity, execution and of course the power living and leading as an Essentialist.
Greg has recently taken the best insights from his book “Essentialism” and combined the best exercises from his popular course, “Designing Life, Essentially” at Stanford University into a life-changing, one-day workshop.
In my line of work, I hear from hundreds of people a month, and connect with professionals in a more public, open way than ever before. Through this experience, I’ve seen scores of toxic behaviors that push people away (including me). And I’ve witnessed the damage these behaviors cause — to relationships, professional success, and to the well-being of both the individual behaving negatively, and to everyone around him or her.
Let’s be real – we’ve all acted in toxic, damaging ways at one time or another (none of us are immune to it), but many people are more evolved, balanced, and aware, and it happens only rarely in their lives.
Whether your toxic behavior is a common occurrence, or once in a blue moon, it’s critical for your happiness and success that you are able to recognize when you’re behaving badly, and shift it when it emerges.
The 6 most toxic behaviors I see every day are:
Taking everything personally
In the powerful little book The Four Agreements, don Miguel Ruiz talks about the importance of taking nothing personally. I teach this in my coaching programs and my book Breakdown, Breakthrough as well, and there is so much pushback. “Really, Kathy — don’t take anything personally?”
People are toxic to be around when they believe that everything that happens in life is a direct assault on them or is in some way all about them. The reality is that what people say and do to you is much more about them, than you. People’s reactions to you are about their filters, and their perspectives, wounds and experiences. Whether people think you’re amazing, or believe you’re the worst, again, it’s more about them. I’m not saying we should be narcissists and ignore all feedback. I am saying that so much hurt, disappointment and sadness in our lives comes from our taking things personally when it’s far more productive and healthy to let go of others’ good or bad opinion of you, and to operate with your own heart, intuition and wisdom as your guide. So yes — don’t take anything personally.
Obsessing about negative thoughts
It’s very hard to be around people who can’t or won’t let go of negativity — when they dwell on and speak incessantly about the terrible things that could happen and have happened, the slights they’ve suffered, and the unfairness of life. These people stubbornly refuse to see the positive side of life and the positive lessons from what’s transpiring. Pessimism is one thing — but remaining perpetually locked in negative thoughts is another. Only seeing the negative, and operating from a view that everything is negative and against you, is a skewed way of thinking and living, and you can change that.
Treating yourself like a victim
Another toxic behavior is non-stop complaining that fuels your sense of victimization. Believing you’re a victim, that you have no power to exert and no influence on the direction of your life, is a toxic stance that keeps you stuck and small. Working as a therapist with people who’ve suffered terrible trauma in their lives but found the courage to turn it all around, I know that we have access to far more power, authority, and influence over our lives than we initially believe. When you stop whining, and refuse to see yourself as a hapless victim of fate, chance or discrimination, then you’ll find that you are more powerful than you realized, but only if you choose to accept that reality.
Cruelty – lacking in empathy or putting yourself in others shoes
One of the most toxic and damaging behaviors — cruelty — stems from a total lack of empathy, concern or compassion for others. We see it every day online and in the media — people being devastatingly cruel and destructive to others just because they can. They tear people down online but in a cowardly way, using their anonymity as a weapon. Cruelty, backstabbing, and ripping someone to shreds is toxic, and it hurts you as well as your target. I had a powerful learning experience about this a few years ago. I came into the house one day in a nasty mood, and shared a mean, sniping comment to my husband about the way a neighbor was parenting her child through one of his problem phases. In less than 24 hours, that very same issue the parent was dealing with came home to roost in my house, with my child. It was as if the Universe sent me the message that, “Ah, if you want to be cruel and demeaning about someone, we’ll give you the same experience you’ve judged so negatively, so you can learn some compassion.” And I did.
If you find yourself backstabbing and tearing someone else down, stop in your tracks. Dig deep and find compassion in your heart, and realize that we’re all the same.
An inability to manage your emotions is toxic to everyone around you. We all know these people — men and women who explode over the smallest hiccup or problem. Yelling at the bank teller for the long line, screaming at your assistant for the power point error he made, or losing it with your child for spilling milk on the floor. If you find that you’re overly reactive, losing it at every turn, you need some outside assistance to help you gain control over your emotions and understand what’s at the root of your emotionality. There’s more to it that appears on the surface. An outside perspective — and a new kind of support — is critical.
Needing constant validation
Finally, people who constantly strive for validation and self-esteem by obsessing about achieving outward measures of success, are exhausting to be around. Those men and women who get caught up in the need to prove their worth over and over, and constantly want to “win” over their colleagues or peers, are toxic and draining.
Overly-attaching to how things have to look and be, and to achieving certain milestones and accomplishments rather than going with life in a more flexible, easy manner, can wear you out and bring everyone else around you down . There is a bigger picture to your life, and it’s not about what you achieve or fail at today. It’s about the journey, the process, the path – what you’re learning and applying, how you’re helping others, and the growing process you allow yourself to engage in.
Stop stressing over the particular outcomes like, “I need that promotion now!” or “My house has to be bigger and more beautiful than my neighbor’s.” Your desperate need to prove your success and build your self-esteem through outer measures of success is (sadly) apparent to everyone but you, and it’s pushing away the very happiness outcomes you’re longing for.
Republished with permission from Kathy Caprino,
Kathy Caprino, M.A. is a women’s career and personal growth coach, writer, speaker and leadership developer dedicated to the advancement of women worldwide. A former corporate VP and trained family therapist, Kathy offers career and leadership consulting and personal development training programs, keynotes, her Amazing Career Project online course, the Amazing Career Coach Certification program, and workshops that help women “brave up” to dig deep, discover their true self, and illuminate the world with it.
Founder/President of Ellia Communications — a premier women’s coaching firm — and the co-Founder of the Best Work/Best Life weekly podcast, Kathy is a seasoned coach and sought-after speaker as well as Forbes Leadership, Huffington Post and LinkedIn contributor and a top media source on career and leadership issues. She’s appeared in hundreds of leading publications (including Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Business Week, Forbes, More Magazine, SELF, etc.) and on national TV and radio.
Ellia Communications offers a wide range of programs, workshops, classes and resources designed to help women break through to the highest level of success, happiness, and reward. Visit http://kathycaprino.com and http://www.amazingcareerproject.com for more.
Kathy’s book Breakdown Breakthrough, based on her national research study, explores the top 12 crises working women face today, and offers inspiring stories of women’s career transformation, and a 3-step holistic model for overcoming these challenges.
Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter.
Some folks say that managers focus on doing things right, while leaders are focused on doing the right things.