Play for a Purpose that is Bigger than the Game Itself

Career Lessons from Professional Football

Several days ago I watched an ESPN interview of Hall Of Fame running back Curtis Martin. I was struck by something he said: “I had to play for a purpose that is bigger than the game, itself”.  He explained that he was never a fan of football. He had the talent but not the love for the game. He was even reluctant about going pro. It was not until he saw football as a means to a much greater end — in his case being able to do wonderful things for other people that he loved—that he was able to throw himself with huge success, into his professional career with the Patriots and the Jets.

I was so impressed with his message that I went on to read his entire Hall of Fame acceptance speech. Its application to everyone, young or old, football fan or not, was evident. I particularly felt its relevance in business.

Know Your Bigger Purpose

Curtis Martin did not know whether he liked football enough to try to make a career of it. Growing up he was more concerned with surviving life on the streets, than with playing sports. Fortunately he discovered and “lined up with” his bigger purpose for playing the game. As a result, he soared in his football career and became the fourth leading rusher in NFL history. Essentially he made a commitment to what he truly valued that inspired him to take the actions on and off the field to make it happen.

What do you value so highly that regardless of circumstances, you would do your best work to achieve it?  Your answer is your bigger purpose.

Connect Your Position to Your Bigger Purpose

Compare the example of Curtis Martin to the current business environment. These are tough times with high unemployment, lackluster job growth and major financial uncertainty. Many professionals feel stuck in their jobs and unable to consider a career move even if they’re unhappy. They get mired in the negativity and lose sight of their ability to thrive under any circumstances.

Just like Curtis Martin, you choose how you will play the game in any situation. Your response to what is going on around you, dictates your experience and your outcome. You can approach your position with proactive energy or bottom out with pessimism. When you connect your position to your bigger purpose, you stay on track toward achieving what you most value. You look for ways to deliver your best work and before you know it, your “inspired” actions add up to greater satisfaction and success.

You and your company both win………..

What works for you? How do you play for a purpose that is bigger than the game itself?

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Personal Power Trumps Posturing

How to deal effectively with difficult people

Recently I worked with a client who was a senior manager for a restaurant chain.  Although our focus was to be primarily on creating greater momentum within her management team, it became clear that something was adversely affecting the executive’s confidence and leadership perspective, which in turn was detracting from her focus.

When I asked her about what I was noticing, she explained that several months prior, her manager, with whom she had worked very effectively, had taken a position with another organization. She said that he had always treated her like a partner, including her in key decisions and strategic direction as well as providing her with constructive feedback.

She conveyed to me that, in contrast, her new boss seemed brash, tactless and “on a power trip.” He had talked down to her in a number of meetings and had excluded her from some key management discussions. As a result, she had been struggling to find her footing around him. She felt that he was thwarting her ability to perform successfully and that her reputation within the company was suffering.

What is the significance of this situation?

The reality is that difficult people, whether they are superiors, peers or direct reports, are going to show up in your leadership experience. Regardless of the circumstances, you still need to rise above the noise they are creating and successfully execute your leadership responsibilities. Failure to do this undermines your confidence and your influence.

It is important to remember that more often than not, the problematic person is “posturing”; that is to say hiding behind a bullying demeanor in order to create a daunting impression. However, this behavior is frequently a front for self-doubt or uncertainty in their role in the organization.

In the case of the executive’s new manager, he seemed to be using his positional power (title or rank) to dominate others rather than cultivating his personal power (internal strengths and leadership skills) to positively influence those around him. To be clear, both my client and her manager were choosing ineffective ways to lead.

What is the remedy?

So how do you rise above the noise created by a difficult person’s behavior to focus on what most matters in your position and organization? The answer lies in wielding your personal power rather than in trying to change the circumstances. The most commanding tool you have in your management arsenal will always be your internal strengths, traits and characteristics.  In practice, here is how to use personal power to trump posturing:

  • Regardless of how tough things seem in the moment; focus first on the big picture. What is the job you were hired to do? That is a non-negotiable.
  • Isolate the “noise” coming from the posturing professional. What is important about their words and actions and what is superfluous and off-point? Address only what is material.
  • Don’t ask permission. Do what is needed to successfully perform your responsibilities and speak with confidence about your actions afterwards. You are on solid ground when you are staying on track toward achieving the organization’s goals.
  • Consistently develop and apply your personal power. Hone your leadership and business skills. Become an expert in your arena. Treat everyone, including the difficult people, with respect and dignity. You will command authority as a result.

The bottom line is that there is no need to relinquish your power in any situation. When you do not succumb to someone’s pointless pressure, the trouble seems to dissipate in lieu of a higher order of behavior on everyone’s part.

What works for you? How do you use your personal power to stay on track in difficult circumstances?

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Are You an Energy Giver or an Energy Taker?

How to impact the room in a positive way that produces results

When I was in the corporate setting, I had a conversation with my boss in which he shared a reflection that has stuck with me all these years. At the time, he was an executive vice president for the bank.

He told me that as he met with people throughout the day, he noticed that they were either energy givers or energy takers. He explained himself by saying that they either left him feeling motivated, eager, and armed with possibilities or tired, zapped, and laden with more problems.

My boss was a proactive individual. He took his role as a positive force in the company very seriously. I knew that there was a lesson to be savored and applied from his comments. As I thought about his words, I determined their relevance through my lens as a leader.

He was not saying show up and entertain me. Rather he was saying, make a choice before you arrive as to what your standard will hold and prepare accordingly. I could participate in any meeting or interaction anywhere as part of the problem, by adding more weight and momentum to the issue or as part of the solution by offering answers, possibilities, and hope.

My special skill has always been to cut through the noise and find the most direct and effective path to accomplishing the big picture. I therefore adopted and successfully used the following process for showing up to any interaction or meeting as an energy giver and therefore a positive contributor:

  • Determine beforehand the overarching purpose for the meeting or discussion and how it fits into the “big picture”.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the individual sponsoring the gathering and define success from their perspective.
  • Identify the role you will play and the actions you will take to facilitate that success.

You know what happened from there? Meetings, interactions, and discussions were generally fun, compelling, and often path altering.

What works for you? How do you impact the energy in the room in a positive way that produces results?

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I will talk with you again in one week.


Numbers Talk

Speak the language of numbers and you will gain approval for your initiatives.

I was a communications major in college. I learned a lot about speaking eloquently and less about finance. As I moved through my corporate career, it became very clear to me that if I wanted to be seen as a top level leader, I would need to be fluent in finance.

One of the most convincing examples of the power of numbers came early on in my banking career. I was hired by a financial institution to manage and grow their credit card processing business. The problem was, that there existed only a small sales team for the bank’s entire multi-state presence. These few people, out of necessity, were doing more servicing of existing clients than selling.

It was evident that we were missing out on a tremendous amount of business. However, in order to fully take advantage of this opportunity, we would need to hire multiple sales professionals throughout the bank’s footprint.

Asking to hire a bunch of people can seem pretty presumptuous when you are new with a company. To prepare for the request, I worked with the division’s financial controller. He helped me get a better handle on the opportunity and build a strong case for making this huge investment of personnel. He also coached me in knowing the numbers inside out.

Ultimately I made a pitch for hiring salespeople to the decision makers of our bank, by presenting the Net Present Value of the investment. What I witnessed in their response left an indelible impression on me. Not only did they say “yes” to the proposal; they recommended that I hire more people than planned.

Don’t get me wrong; the discussion was no walk in the park for me. Their questions were tough and insistent. Because I understood the numbers, I was able to answer everything with confidence and candor. I believed the investment was a sound risk and they did too.

Whether you are in Information Technology, Human Resources, Customer Service, or Sales, you need to have a healthy respect for the part you play in impacting the company’s bottom line. When you ask for money to be spent on your behalf, you better have a solid business case.

Here is how to build a compelling business case for your initiatives:

  • Gain a thorough understanding of the pros and cons of your proposed initiative from all perspectives: your company’s, your division’s, your client’s, your employees’, and yourself.
  • Work with Finance to determine a scenario that proves the financial soundness of the initiative. Know the numbers inside out.
  • Prepare a presentation that tells the story of the opportunity and demonstrates without a shadow of a doubt, that the investment is worthwhile.
  • Ready yourself for questions of all shapes and sizes. You will speak more fluently about the opportunity when you have prepared and practiced.

From that point on in my corporate career, I committed myself to being numbers savvy. I found that the structure of the numbers gave me the freedom to take risks.

What works for you? How well do you speak the language of numbers?

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Speak Up

Develop a speaking style that commands attention and produces results

When I was an entry-level manager, my career shifted the day I had to stand up at the monthly management meeting and say a few words about my department. I was told in advance that I would be presenting. I took the opportunity very seriously, prepared for my brief comments (less than 5 minutes), and wowed the people in the room.

That day, I set myself apart from other supervisors because of my ability to talk clearly and with finesse. From that point on, my boss looked at me in a different way and so did many other senior leaders in the company.

I have long understood the power of speaking well. Not only are you appreciated for your communication skills; you are also perceived as a leader. It takes guts, focus, drive, charisma, knowledge and certainty to get up in front of others and express yourself. These are all qualities of a leader.

Too often during my corporate career, I watched managers make second-rate presentations. It was as if they had not taken the time to prepare themselves; perhaps out of fear, lack of understanding, or even arrogance.

And yet, the single most effective way that I ever witnessed to differentiate yourself among your peers and move “up the ladder” regardless of your position, was to be a capable presenter.

Here are some tips for developing your speaking style:

  • Commit to being a great speaker and get some training. Take pride in the fact that you are honing your skills.
  • Become an expert at presenting the nuances of your trade (your business within the company) as well as an expert at speaking.
  • Be willing to take risks. Volunteer to speak at various venues within your organization such as staff meetings, sales or officers meetings, updates for other divisions, board meetings, road shows, etc.
  • Speaking well does not begin and end at the podium. Sometimes you have to speak extemporaneously. Prepare yourself for the chance encounter with the CEO in the hallway or the unexpected request to say a few words at a meeting by always being ready with 2-3 “sound bites” of pertinent progress in your area. They will love you for it.

How do you command attention with your speaking style? What results have you seen from being an effective communicator?

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