Does Your Work Have Meaning?

Why do you work? Do you believe that what you do in your professional life has a meaning? What do you tell to your friends that you do? And more importantly what are you telling yourself on daily basis to get out of bed and to the office?

You hear it more and more. To be happy at your work you need a purpose, you need to understand what the meaning of your work is. Daniel H. Pink popularized this concept in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”. Motivation in modern economy comes from three sources: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Let’s focus on Purpose. Do you believe that for your life to have a purpose or a meaning you need to do something larger than life? I don’t think so. Whatever your job is, as long as it fulfils a need of “someone” it has a purpose. The real question is: are you able to formulate the meaning in a way that will be motivating for you and that you can be proud of?

Have a mission statement

I used to be a software developer who at some point in my career figured that I like working with people more than with code. I will show you on my example what a professional mission in the life of a manager and a software developer can look like and what type of stories I tell to myself to keep loving what I do. My current professional mission statement reads like this:

“I’m an experienced engineering and operations leader passionate about setting up offices, building teams, growing people and solving difficult business problems.”

In this one sentence I tell you (and myself) how I want to be seen and what I believe the mission of my professional life is. When you ask me what I do, this is the answer you get. It doesn’t talk about specifics, company, role, or job title. These are just monikers people hide behind. If I told you I’m “director of engineering” or “operations manager”, what exactly would you learn about me? And more importantly, how exactly is that supposed to motivate me personally? The mission statement needs to tell you and those around you who you aspire to be, what your core values are, and what value you bring to others.

Let’s say you are a software developer. Could your mission statement read for example like this? “I’m an enthusiastic hacker and geek who enjoys solving hard business and technical problems by producing state of the art software.” Or if you want to be more specific about a particular domain “I’m an experienced software engineer with a knack for building well designed, scalable and easy to use IT management software that gives other IT professionals opportunity to have unparalleled view of their environment and helps them to easily solve complex IT problems.”

If I were a developer and self-talked to myself like this, I would be certainly proud on what I’m doing and saw a real purpose in my professional life. The great thing is that this is completely under your control! No more complains or excuses that “there is no vision”! You don’t rely on your company’s CEO to show you a great vision of the future and on your HR department to paint a company mission on the wall. Regardless of what the company does, or what your role is, you can create a mission statement for yourself that will make you feel valuable.

Have a story to tell

But it doesn’t end here. To have a one-line sentence with the mission statement is nice but it is pretty much an advertisement that may not provide enough insights into details of what you do and why you should be proud of it. It is a good reminder for you to know the big picture but having a story or two that document your successes, career high-lights, or things you are particularly proud is important to show who you truly are.

In my case I could for example look at some of the offices and teams I built over the years and summarize it in a short one paragraph story. It should be short for two reasons. First, it will force me to focus on the key aspects of why this particular time of my professional life is note-worthy. Second, it can be a good overview that won’t bore the listener for too long, being it a friend or an interviewer. I believe your story needs to have four parts: what happened, how it happened/what role you played, what were the results, why it was important for you personally and for others.

“[What happened] In 2008 I joined a small US based software development company with the mission to build a strategic R&D center in the Czech Republic. [How it happened] Coming from much bigger corporate environment I had the opportunity to build a new office and engineering teams from scratch. I interfaced with colleagues in the US and Ireland to get support and the company’s know-how. We hired the best software developers and QA engineers we could find and built a motivated high-performing team. I played not just the role of an engineering manager but also an office leader, a part-time HR and recruiter, interacting with recruitment agencies, vendors, universities and government agencies. [Results] Initially the team started small but eventually took on more and more work and responsibilities. Today majority of company’s key and most revenue generating products are built in the Czech Republic by a team of several hundred engineers. [Why it is notable] This project allowed me to build something new. It gave me the opportunity to improve my interviewing and people management skills and it gave me a chance to contribute significantly to the future success of the company creating career opportunities for hundreds of people.”

So what would your story be if you were a developer? I will use one from my previous life when I was still a geeky software developer.

“[What happened] In 2003 I joined a small US-based start-up that was a pioneer in building games for mobile phones. I was the only C/C++ developer with the mission to port some of the existing games to Palm OS and write new ones for an emerging technology – smartphones with Symbian OS. [How it happened] Having no previous experience with embedded systems and mobile devices I had to re-learn several programming languages (Symbian OS run a particularly nasty version of C++), I acted as the designer, architect, developer and tester and even created my own graphics. [Results] I built several games that showcased what can be done with modern technology utilizing smartphones, Bluetooth connections, and wireless data transfer in times when few other people have done so. Ultimately the start-up failed not getting investment it needed to operate. [Why it is notable] During this time I became one of the most experienced software developers building applications on Symbian OS platform. This fact would eventually lead me to become one of the key contributors to Symbian OS communities run by several large mobile phone vendors like Nokia and Siemens allowing me to share my knowledge and help others be successful.”

Words, stories and even short mission statements have a powerful spell. The way we talk to ourselves determines how are brains are being wired. When you come up with a story that focuses on your strengths, using positive language, and sprinkle some successes with a bit of vision of who you want to be chances are that you will eventually get there. As you probably noted from my two stories the mission of my professional life has obviously shifted as I moved from being an engineer to being a manager. Don’t be afraid to be flexible and change your mission as you grow both professionally and as a human being, but be very careful not to mix the mission with a short-term promotion or monetary rewards. Ultimately your mission need to give you the intrinsic motivation that no external stimuli can do.

So what will you tell your friends next time they ask you what you do? And what will you tell yourself tomorrow morning when your sleepy self asks you why you should get out of the bed and to the office? And remember, your work does have a meaning, you just need to take the initiative and put it to words!

 

Do you have a mission of your professional life? What is it? Do you believe that having a meaning at your work is important?

Originally published at LinkedIn.

Not My Fault! It’s The Traffic…

You hear it over and over again. In fact, you might be using the tactic yourself without even realizing it. Blaming others or the environment for your inability to get things done, keep your promises and duties.

Let’s blame someone else

Have you ever worked with a colleague who would be constantly showing up ten minutes late for meetings with an excuse like “sorry I’m late, but there was a traffic jam”? As if this would explain everything and make it right. Well, yes, there was a traffic jam, so what? If there is one every day then it is just not relevant. If you would continue that line of reasoning you could come up with: “Sorry I’m late, but there was a traffic jam. Police should make sure there are no traffic jams. In fact, it is police fault that I’m late. Or even better others should be banned from using cars. That way I wouldn’t get stuck and came right on time.” Rather ridiculous, isn’t it? So why are we all saying it?

What are the things under your control?

One of the challenges you have to learn when managing others (and yourself) is the tendency of trying to look good and blame others for our mistakes. If you want to move things forward and want the person in question to grow and build strong sense of ownership you need to make sure this is not happening. Always bring the attention and focus of the person to things that are under his control.

Let’s say you come to your teammate with something you want him to solve and his response is “No problem. We will need IT to prepare the proposal and finance team will have to approve it.” These couple of words are full of red flags. At this point you just need to stop him and say “Yes, I see your point and I know that other people will have to be involved. What are the things that YOU will do? What is it you have under your control?” Even if there is a part that needs to be done by someone else there are always things you have under your control and that is where your focus needs to be.

The best way to increase satisfaction with your life is to learn to distinguish what are the things you can influence. Those you should focus on and constantly improve. This works also the other way around. Learn what in your life is out of your control, what you cannot influence and stop worrying about it. If you cannot change something then it is just a distraction that makes you less productive, unhappy and dissatisfied with your life.

There is no try

As the Grand Jedi Master Yoda, the oldest and most powerful known Jedi Master in the Star Wars universe said “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Once you realize what you do have under control, and decide to do something about it, you need to make yourself believe that you will succeed. And since we shape our reality by the words we use you need to learn to set yourself for success. “I will try better next time,” is your archenemy. “This will never happen again,” gives you much more power to actually change your behavior as it means you have no doubt and are fully committed to succeed.

It’s not the traffic, it’s you…

And to get back to our example from the beginning and look at alternative scenario where you don’t try to blame the universe for being late but you take ownership of your life. Understand the natural consequences of this repeated behavior of tardiness (in the form of others having to wait for you or you not being informed about or part of important decisions). And ultimately ask yourself the obvious question: “What is under my control that I will do so this doesn’t happen again?”

 

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

What Is Preventing Your Future Success?

Life is complicated. Everything is connected with everything. Cause and effect. There are so many variables in life that any attempts to come up with a simple mathematical formula so far failed. Heck, we are not even able to accurately predict weather or how much satisfaction we will have from an event in the future. So what leads us believe that we have things under control and that we can predictably repeat successes we had in the past? Many of us who reached some level of success often feel that we are entitled to it and that we are somehow better than everyone else and thus anything we do will always end up being successful. And then we are surprised and feel hurt when something doesn’t go as we planned. But why? Mostly because we misunderstand what made us successful in the past. In fact, as I wrote in Human Brain, The Biggest Liar Of All Times our brain has a unique capacity to deceive us.

Misunderstanding of past successes

Depending on your current frame of mind you tend to either overestimate or underestimate your role in the past successes. Let’s say you love running and just won a race. Why did you win? I already hear you saying things like “I trained really hard, 5 hours a day, and gave it everything I had.” And now imagine you lost. What would you say? “It just wasn’t my day. I didn’t feel on top of my game and even during the preparation I trained just 5 hours a day.” You have done exactly the same before the race you won and the race you lost. Maybe it wasn’t just you. Maybe the environment was different, and the competitors were different. Maybe it wasn’t really you that made the difference but the people around you.

As Phil Rosenzweig writes in Left Brain, Right Stuff people have an imperfect understanding of how much control they can exert. When control is low they tend to overestimate their impact, but when it’s high they tend to underestimate.

Correlation, causality and single explanations

In another of his books The Halo Effect Phil Rosenzweig talks about nine business delusions that cloud our judgement. Relevant to our discussion are those of correlation, causality and single explanation.

Why were you successful in the first place? Over the years in business world I have heard many times that “we are successful because of the way we work.” But often I have wondered is it really “because” or “in spite”? In the complex environment it is often very difficult to distinguish what is the cause and what the effect, it is very difficult to understand whether a something was helping or hurting our chances. Especially, if you fall into a trap of single explanation. We tend to blame one guy when things go wrong or one hero when there is a success. We tend to forget all the other things that had influenced the outcome. Keeping in mind that “everything is connected to everything” should help you to keep an eye on these biases.

Overconfidence

One of the most dangerous reasons why you may easily fail in the future is overconfidence. Rosenzweig splits it into three categories. Overprecision as a tendency to be too certain that our judgment is the right one. “I’m the expert. I know what I’m doing. This and only this is the right way to do things to end up in success.”

The other category is Overestimation as a tendency to believe that we can perform at much higher level than we are capable of. “Of course I can do it even though I’ve never done anything comparable. With my track record of success anything I touch changes into gold and can end only well.”

And the last type of overconfidence is called overplacement as a belief that we can perform much better than others. “I’m much better manager than majority of others. I’m, if not the best, then definitely above average software engineer and should be treated as such. Or I’m much better driver than the others.” This one is nicely demonstrated for example in a study performed by Ola Svenson asking students to compare their driving skills to other people. 93% of the U.S. sample and 69% of the Swedish sample put themselves in the top 50%. This is a mathematical impossibility and shows how unrealistic views we have of ourselves.

Sense of entitlement

Because of the reasons mentioned above most of us believe we are better than others and thus we deserve more. We deserve better treatment, more money, better life, bigger house, more promotions and we are unhappy when we are not getting it.

I can give you just one advice. Get a dose of reality and switch your mindset to one that tells you that everyone is good at something, everyone has the right to be happy, well paid, and treated with respect. You might have some strengths that others miss, but you have also weaknesses, and all in all you are not much different from the other 7 billion human beings on this planet.

Abusing relationships with the powerful

And since we are talking about the business world there is one additional danger that can hinder your future success. I would call it “abusing relationship with the powerful” or in other words using the relationship with a powerful figure in the company to advance your agenda. It may take a form of you directly requesting the big guy to intervene on your behalf or a bit more subtle you frequently invoking his name to achieve your goals.

Either of these two will have great initial effect but rather negative long-term consequences. The moment you start relying on this technique you will stop trying hard enough on your own, you won’t develop the necessary skills, and you will most likely damage your relationship with others around you. They will reluctantly comply just to make sure they won’t make powerful enemy but ultimately they will look for ways to get back at you. You are the target since they cannot touch the big guy, can they?

And then the day comes when your powerful benefactor leaves, or you move to a different group or company. And suddenly you find out that you cannot get things done as in the past, you fail at your job, and you are confronted with the hard reality of not being as good as you thought.

So what does it all mean?

Humility is your friend. Never assume that you are better than others only because you had some sort of success. Chances are that success wasn’t your alone. You should also reset your expectations of the future. Always strive for the best but expect the worst and thus have a healthy well-balanced level of confidence. A level that inspires you to do your best but not too much to take success for granted or too little to never even try.

 

How do you ensure that your current success doesn’t lead to future failures? What advice do you have for others to make sure they don’t sabotage their own careers and happiness?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Are You Friends Or Just Colleagues?

Have you ever wondered how many of the people in your workplace are friends and how many just colleagues and work buddies? Let me borrow a definition of “friend” from Merriam-Webster “a person who has a strong liking for and trust in another <really close friends who like to do everything together and are always sharing secrets>” That is a tall order and I guess you won’t find many of these in the workplace, but you still have many people around you that you enjoy working with. So what is it that makes most of your colleagues pretty close to being friends (at least in a healthy organization)?

Proximity

Obvious one. You spend eight to ten hours a day with these people in a confined space. You talk and whether you want or not you share a lot from your life and you learn about theirs. It is natural and if you are in environment where this doesn’t happen chances are you are not particularly happy and won’t stay for long.

Common professional purpose

You and the team around you hopefully share the same professional purpose and goals. There is a project to be delivered, product developed, number to hit. You share the success and failure. Chances are you talk about work related stuff even when you are not required to, at lunch, or when taking a ride on the same bus.

Similar educational background

Especially if you work in the same department or in similar roles you most likely have similar educational background. This helps to have the same understanding of the things around you, the same understanding of meaning of things and to certain extent even similar interests.

Similar life values

Even when it comes to life values chances there will have at least some similarities with your colleagues. At the end the values are based on your cultural background, upbringing, education, and influenced by the environment and people around you. And yes, there will be a value or two that you won’t share with your work buddies as at the end each of us is unique.

You didn’t pick your colleagues

So far so good and we are really close on the road to friendship however there is one thing that stands in the way. You pick your friends but you usually don’t pick your colleagues. And even when you have the power to pick your colleagues (being part of the hiring team) you consider other criteria than you would use when picking friends.

Being friends is about chemistry and ability to count on each other in difficult life situations. These are the things that may not be present with most of your colleagues. It is neither good, nor bad, it is just a reality. It is also a reason why some of our best friends are usually the ones from our childhood when we haven’t spent too much time over analyzing whether someone is “the right” friend for us and when we decided more instinctively.

In today’s fast moving society you may work at different team or company every couple of years, you may even live in a different city, you are surrounded by hundreds of people who may want things from you and you from them. All this can be rather overwhelming and may limit you from forming a really strong and ever-lasting friendship.

So next time you are on Facebook counting how many friends you have consider how many of them are just work buddies or associates you barely know and how many of them are the real friends who would be there for you even in twenty years and in the time of the biggest need. And maybe, you want to consider how much time you spend with people who fit into this category and who really care about you.

 

How many true friends do you have at work? And how is your relationship with your colleagues different from that you have with friends you never worked with?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Holiday Special – The Best Posts Of 2014

Another year of writing this blog. I’m now at 100+ articles and I’m sitting here and thinking about what to write about as the year is coming to an end. And the same as last year the answer is right here. How to celebrate better than by looking back and remembering some of the key articles that appeared on this blog. So allow me to present what I consider the best posts dealing with various aspects of leadership and life itself.

Communication

7 Reasons To Pick Up The Phone – Always think twice before sending yet another email whether it wouldn’t be better to be brave and just pick up a phone and call.

Communication Shouldn’t Be Efficient – Forget efficiency when communicating important information. Go for effectiveness.

No Surprises Please! – A good manager should never get surprised by anything as it points to a failure of understanding risks, miscommunication or broken trust.

Recruitment

Hire For Strengths, Not Lack Of Weaknesses – Next time you talk to a candidate don’t forget to identify his key strengths and values he would bring to the organization. If you cannot find any and find yourself talking to a mediocre robot you may want to continue your search.

Effort And Attitude Beats Talent And Knowledge – The focused effort and can-do attitude of determined underdog beats a raw talent and theoretical knowledge of complacent rival hands down most of the time.

Leadership

Good And Bad Software Engineering Manager – What does it take to be a successful manager in a progressive software development company? What are the traits you need to have to build solid software development teams and ship great products?

5L Principle Of Leadership: Live, Love, Laugh, Learn, and Lead – A talk about what you can do, and what mindset you need to learn to be able to cope with stress and downsides in life.

You Manage Things, You Lead People – Management is a science. Leadership is an art.

Real Leaders Are Vulnerable – No one will eagerly follow a robot. If you lead others you need to show your human face and heartfelt convictions.

Real Leaders Own Their Mistakes – Did you make a mistake? Admit it, apologize for it, fix it and prevent similar mistakes from happening in the future.

Find The Best Leader For A Given Situation – You don’t need to be constantly in charge. Just find the right situation to put other passionate people in the lead.

Productivity

What Is Possible Is Not Always Right – How often do you decide to do something only because “you can”? When you really think about it you may realize that it is way too often.

Getting Stuff Done: The Right Attitude – No pain, no gain. Working smart is a good start but you cannot take shortcuts. You have to put in the hours of hard work if you want to succeed.

Life

7 Ways How Leaders Lie To Themselves – We lie to ourselves. And as strange as it may seems that is the worst thing we can do as it is constantly holding us back and prevents us from reaching a true success and happiness. Just read through some of the most common lies and if you recognize yourself find a way how to break the loop and stop this lie.

The Pitfalls Of Living As Expat – Living abroad is one of the most intense experiences you can have. And if you move to a country that is at the other side of the world you must expect that things will be really different.

Life Is About Communication And Attitude – Life is about the way you influence others and are being influenced. It is about the way you see the world around you and the people living in it. Each and every one of us creates our own version of reality formed by our beliefs and our approach to life.

Your Heart Is Not In It Anymore – You have a great job, excellent team around you, you do what you love, but still something feels wrong…

Introverts: How To Be Happy – To live a happy life make sure that what you do aligns with your core values, dreams and mission of your life.

Surprising Thoughts On What Makes Us Unhappy – Constant learning and exploration gets you into a vicious cycle of unfulfilled dreams… unless you find solace in the journey itself.

 

What are your favorite thought leaders and articles of this year?

The Pitfalls Of Living As Expat

Living abroad is one of the most intense experiences you can have. And if you move to a country that is at the other side of the world you must expect that things will be really different. And let’s face it, you will have to adapt if you want to get most of that opportunity.

I’m originally from the heart of Europe (Czech Republic). I travel quite a bit and visited pretty much all the continents (not counting Antarctica) so I would say that I’m pretty adaptable and not easily surprised. I also spent six months in Australia couple of years ago and recently twelve months in the Philippines. So if you are considering to try a life of an expat let me point out couple of things to keep in mind.

Fresh start

Why do you want to live in a foreign country? In my case it was easy as I was sent by the company to build a new office in Manila. But when this opportunity came up I also planned to use it and do some changes in my life. You are already changing location, social circle, potentially job, so why not to change also some of your habits. Well, as it turns out we are who we are regardless of location. In fact, changing everything around you most likely puts pressure on keeping at least some things familiar.

So if you are thinking about fresh start, getting rid of bad habits, or dream of a better life I would strongly encourage you to first change the way you think and your attitudes and only then move. You should make sure you have the right answers to questions like “Why do I want to move?” “Am I trying to run from problems or do I march towards opportunities?”

I love the quote by Lance Miller (champion of public speaking in 2005) from his winning speech The Ultimate Question “I had changed everything in my life, but nothing had changed.”

Culture

Different environment and cultural background breed different habits, ways of thinking and value systems. Moving to a new country means you need to be willing to listen, watch, adapt, and enjoy it. You don’t need to completely throw away your heritage (in fact you probably shouldn’t) but the flexibility and willingness to embrace new way of thinking will be a key to whether you will enjoy the experience or suffer.

So if you plan on keep doing things the way you have always done them and complain that the others around you don’t know how things are supposed to be done you probably shouldn’t even attempt to move.

Work

If you are moving to a new country without a promise of a job you need to expect that you will struggle at the beginning. You should always consider “What is my competitive advantage / disadvantage” on the local job market? Chances are that there will be tons of disadvantages coming from the fact that you don’t know the culture, you don’t know the language, you don’t know anyone. If you are in a position I was, being sent by your company, then your life is thousands times easier. The drawback in that case is that you need to work from day one and that leaves a little room for adapting and you essentially learn by making mistakes as you go.

Health

You are moving to new environment and it can have rather radical impact on your health. If you live your whole life in cold or moderate weather and suddenly move to tropical climate it will take toll on your body. Make sure you account for that when planning the move. If you have any medical conditions you should carefully consider the health system in the target country and whether it will provide you with what you need.

Routine

Routine helps to deal with stress. Moving to a new environment is pretty stressful. You don’t really know how things work, you don’t really know anyone to ask for help, and in case you don’t speak the language you are really lost.

Setting up some solid routine can help you to get through the days and limit some of the decisions you need to be making. Adding regular exercise and good eating habits will give you energy to deal with all the unknowns.

Network

We all need help. You cannot really survive in today’s world alone. When I showed up at the Manila airport I was alone and needed to quickly build a circle of people who I could ask for help, who would share pieces of wisdom and who would help me to keep sane.

The good news is that most people understand that you are in a difficult position and they really try to help you so building a network of people you can turn to is actually not that difficult. Specifically, if you are a professional you can turn to LinkedIn or similar service to quickly find couple of names that might be relevant and reach out to them. What always works is to plug into the local expat community as these guys know exactly how you feel, they still remember how difficult the start can be and will help you out. Just make sure you don’t rely on expats too much. If you want to blend in and understand the culture, you need to spend most of your time with the locals to see their way of life, feel their values, and build a really strong relationships. You don’t want to live a gilded cage, do you?

Social circle

And that leads me to the most important part. When you are moving to a new country you are leaving behind your social circle, your security net. If things go wrong you don’t have anyone to offer a shoulder to cry on. And yes, in the world of internet it is easy to talk to someone back home but since they don’t really understand what you are getting through and have no knowledge of your new environment they won’t be of much help.

You need to quickly find some new friends. If you are extroverted globetrotter it won’t be much of a problem. If you are more introverted like myself, you will need to use some tricks. I mentioned plugging into the expat community is a good start. Assuming you have a job then bonding with your colleagues is another source of contacts you could turn to (though you probably want to be careful which topics to discuss). You may also find some local community around one of your hobbies (if you do some sports or play music it should be relatively easy). In my case the first thing I did was to join a local Toastmasters club. Since this is a global non-profit organization that is open to anyone and since it is all about communication, it helped me quickly make some friends with similar interests yet with different backgrounds.

People you left behind

And last but not least you should think about people you left back home. Especially in case of family you need to understand that your departure will have impact on their lives. So before you leave, make sure that not just you, but also they are ready.

The life of an expat is a great experience and wonderful opportunity to expand your view of the universe. It will help you to understand other cultures, it will make you more resilient to stress, more adaptable to change, more open to new ideas, and most likely more curious and humble.

What are your experiences or worries when it comes to live of an expat?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Go Out And Try Something New

Every leader needs to be able to grow, learn, and adapt on ever changing world. If you are in leadership position you need to expect the unexpected, and you need to understand how to work with various types of people. If you work in multinational environment you need to understand different cultures and customs and if you want to grow your business, be innovative and creative you need many different perspectives. There are many ways how to achieve the state of complete openness, the state of eternal learning and enjoy it. The technique that works like a charm for me personally is something you would call “going out and trying something new”.

The same old stuff

Office, home, office, home, weekend in the countryside and back to office. It might be a nice life but it gives you very little to think about, it gives you very few opportunities to see life in other perspectives and it gives you a little chance to prepare for a change. If your office and your home are your whole world you are robbing yourself of the opportunity to see and meet the rest of the universe. It keeps you within your comfort zone and makes you less able to cope with change. And ultimately it robs your team of opportunity to grow as you are not in a position to open their eyes if yours are closed.

Travelling the world

The easiest way how to expand your horizons is travel. And I mean real travel, not going to the city in the neighborhood or to a beach in the same country. In my mind real travel means going somewhere really different, see something you have never seen before, talk to people who are just very different from you and see how they live and hear what they believe in. I’m from central Europe so when I decide to travel to learn I go to places like South/Central America, Africa or Asia. I try to go to countries that have a very different culture from my own. I travel and I watch and I listen. I don’t judge, I don’t dismiss other peoples points of view or customs. I take it as I see it and try to understand. There were couple of trips to South East Asia and East Africa that really changed my perspective on life and I believe made me a better leader.

Meeting new people

Get out of office and meet new people. And I don’t mean at a bar (though even that may work sometimes). There are many activities that allows you to meet people with different backgrounds and perspectives both from and outside of your industry. You can join a sport club, professional association, or some other free-time club.

Trying new things

Make a habit of regularly trying new things. These might be small one time activities or more long-term learning opportunities. Since we were talking about travelling that is a great way how to try new stuff, not just see it. For example, when I went to Indonesia I really wanted to try to clean up a bit of jungle with a machete in my own hands to understand what it takes. When I went Tanzania I really wanted to climb that volcano at night just to test what I can endure. When I went to Australia I really wanted to learn scuba diving to see what is hidden below the surface of the ocean. I did all these things to get new experiences and to live.

Aside of these short one time activities I come up every year with a new hobby that requires some focused effort and that should ultimately help me to become better at my job. When I look at the last couple of years I always had one major learning hobby. I joined Toastmasters International in 2013 and actively participated in building one club, a year before that I decided to start writing a blog and eventually a book, a year before that I took couple of training courses in coaching and since then occasionally coach clients on business and career topics, a year before that I enrolled for law courses at university with the idea to study for a year and cherry pick the topics I find useful.

So next time you feel like being in the rut, go out and try something new…

What is your recipe for keeping open mind and understanding others? What was the out of office experience that helped your leadership skills the most?