Why Leaders Should Stop Obsessing With Happiness

What does it mean to be happy? Evolution provided an easy recipe for happiness. It is about satisfying a specific need. Are you hungry? Get something to eat and you will feel happy. Are you afraid of drowning? Get out of water and breath some air and you will feel happy that you survived. In short, you get happy when you get what you want.

Happiness and meaning

However, according to this study things are a bit more complicated. The authors claim that based on their study, “happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.” Kathleen Vohs, one of the co-authors, mentioned, “happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others.” This definitely puts a twist on things, especially considering the impact on workplace.

Will adding meaning to your life make you happy? It might, it might not. Daniel Gilbert in one of his TED talks notes that parenthood is a great example of this phenomenon. Having kids will bring a meaning to your life, but studies have shown that it won’t increase your happiness. In fact, it might be the other way around since it often means self-sacrifice. Taking care of the kids will probably make you feel less happy than having a nice meal in a good restaurant but you will be more fulfilled and feel true meaning of your life.

Additional aspect of your quest for happiness is a concept called the hedonic treadmill. A term originally coined by D. Campbell and P. Brickman describing a tendency of humans to return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events in life. For example, a person gets a promotion or gets a raise and their expectations and desires automatically raise with it so there is no long-term gain in happiness.

In the western civilization we believe that everyone has the right to be happy and we often pursue happiness as the ultimate life goal. Unfortunately, very often those who work hard on “being happy” never really achieve the happiness they seek. It is a moving target. You may say, “I will be happy when I get a promotion.” When the promotion comes you may feel a fleeting satisfaction but you won’t be really happy. The target has moved. Now you need to start working on the next promotion, or on a new car, or a bigger house. The hedonic treadmill keeps you running.

Truly happy people, or let’s rather call them people satisfied with their lives, are usually those who pursue something else and happiness is just a by-product of that effort. They have a mission. It might be something truly big that moves the civilization forward, like curing cancer or solving the world’s hunger. Or it might be more often something much more personal, like having a good family, or helping other people in general. You could say that they have high engagement in life and as a consequence they are happy.

Meaning and engagement

This brings us to the corporate world. There is a decent amount of research that says that happy employees are productive employees. It feels like a common sense, so no reason to argue with that. We see more and more companies creating roles of “Chief Happiness Officer” or similar in an effort to put bigger focus on making their employees happy. However, as with pursuing happiness in the other aspects of life, this seems to be a wrong approach. It may create a temporary good feeling in employees when you bring in a new benefit, have a party, or redecorate the office. But it will dissipate quickly and ultimately it won’t make anyone happy in long run unless you fix the other aspects of work life.

True engagement comes when employees understand their purpose in life, have their personal mission, and this mission is aligned with the mission of the company. Simon Sinek would say that “the start with WHY”. This is how cultures in many non-profit organizations that depend on work of volunteers are set up. Let’s say you are someone whose life mission is to help children. You derive your intrinsic motivation from seeing the happy faces of small kids, seeing them grow and be successful. If you see a kid who you helped, you feel proud, you feel like your life has a meaning, you satisfied your need to help them and you feel happy. If you work for an NGO organization that has the same mission, you won’t need any perks, fancy offices, or happiness officers. Your value system and your life mission will be aligned with the mission of the company and you will be fully engaged. If you go and work for a tobacco company, no amount of benefits or leadership effort will make you fully engaged and truly happy. That job clashes strongly with your values and your life mission.

Employees need to understand that they are having a meaningful impact in the lives of others. They also need to see that someone (ideally their boss) knows them and cares about them as human beings, not just as about workers.

“Happiness is not a goal, it is a byproduct of having a satisfaction of fulfilling your life’s mission and living according to your values.”

As Daniel Pink wrote in his bestselling book Drive, the intrinsic motivation comes from three sources: autonomy, mastery and purpose. I would combine it with the concept introduced by Patrick Lencioni in The Truth About Employee Engagement. He proposes that the keys to employee engagement come in the form of people understanding their relevance (how they impact lives of others), measurement (so they understand whether they do a good job), and the opposite of anonymity, let’s call it visibility (whether they feel that others know who they are).

Moreover, I would sprinkle in the concept by Cal Newport from his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Newport suggests that we generally enjoy doing things we are good at, again mastery. Many self-help books suggest that if you want to be happy you should do that what you are passionate about. That often doesn’t lead to success, since being passionate about something doesn’t automatically mean that you are good at it and someone is willing to pay for it so you can make a living. I fully agree with Newport that the concept is wrong and I would argue that whatever you do, if you are really great at it, and it is aligned with your values, you will gradually learn to enjoy it and even be passionate about it. And that means you will enjoy happiness.

Focus on engagement not happiness

So what can you, as a leader, do to increase engagement and ultimately happiness of your employees? This is an incredibly broad topic and there are many answers. But if I would to distill it into couple of key points. I would suggest that as a leader, a manager or an HR practitioner your role is quite simple:

  1. You need to set a clear mission for the company or the team and be able to paint a picture of what the organization is all about and where it is heading.
  2. You need to hire people whose life mission aligns with company’s mission and thus who will be excited by what the organization is doing.
  3. If you already were handed a team, you need to help them understand what their values are, and what their life mission is. Coaching is a good way to do it. And you may need to accept that some of them will select themselves out.
  4. If it is too abstract to link meaning of the work to the mission of the company then show them how their work affects the lives of other people. The most satisfying moments come from being able to point to a specific person you helped.
  5. You need to show that you care about them as a person. Don’t limit your conversation to work related topics but show a genuine interest about what’s going on in their lives in general.
  6. You need to provide them the right tools, training and opportunities so they can learn and be really good at what they do. The better they are at something the more they will enjoy doing it.
  7. You need to give them enough freedom to get the work done the way they want to do it, thus providing enough autonomy,
  8. You need to treat them with respect like adult human beings. Way too often companies hire smart individuals only to treat them like five years old kids.

All this sounds simple but it is definitely not easy. Even something like coming up with a good mission for the company or a team is a non-trivial exercise since you need to take into account all the various stakeholders and there must be something that your employees, customers, partners, and stakeholders identify with. Very often organizations have missions that focus solely on the needs of one or two stakeholders (often customers and/or shareholders), and that makes it ultimately difficult for the employees to identify with the company goals and thus engagement suffers. If you manage all these aspects, you will have an engaged and consequently happy employees who will move the organization forward.

And if you still don’t agree with my argument why it is better to focus on engagement rather than on happiness I would ask you to consider this. Imagine that you are dead and how people would remember you. Do you want to be remembered as “a person who lived an easy life and was happy,” or as “a person who was a great friend and mentor, and who always helped others live fulfilling lives”?

 

Are you happy? How did it happen? Do you believe the ultimate goal in life is being happy or is it something else?

Don’t Take That Job If You Are Not Nervous

I recently had an interesting conversation with one person I was coaching on a career decision. We worked together for some time and he had a clear plan on where he wants to go with his career. Then rather unexpectedly, an opportunity came by that was exactly on his career path. However, it came up a year or two earlier than he thought he will be ready. This created an obvious ambivalent feelings. At one side it was huge push for his career, at the other it came with anxiety and feeling of not being ready. He summarized it nicely in “Tomas, I’m excited by the opportunity but also a bit nervous.” And my response was “Great!”

What is your career aspiration?

There are many articles written on the topic of not planning your career since in today’s fast moving world you can’t predict what will be in five years and you shouldn’t limit your options. You should just grab opportunities as they come. I can’t subscribe to that notion. Yes, planning your career in terms of “in ten years I want to be a CEO of our company,” is not a smart move since things are changing fast and in ten years you may not even be with the company and may work in completely different field.

What you should do when it comes to your career is to understand your career aspirations and have a clear direction you are heading in terms of “what am I good at”, “where can I contribute”, and “what makes me satisfied”. It should never be about getting a fancy title or loads of money since these are moving targets. If your career goal is to be a Manager, the moment you get there it will move and you will start thinking on how to be a Director. You will be always chasing something and ultimately be unhappy most of the time.

Having a career aspiration that focuses on things related to growing as a person and contributing to society is much more fulfilling and has a bigger chance to lead to constant happiness. To illustrate on my example, my career aspiration is to “build something and to learn something”. You can imagine how frustrating it is for my boss to have a career conversation with me, but that is the answer he gets. This career aspiration is aligned with my core values that are all around “being useful” and “helping others” and it satisfies my hunger for knowledge as I’m an incredibly curious person.

It is important to note that career aspirations are much broader than getting to the next level on the career ladder and they have overlap to your non-work part of the life. Your career aspiration might be even things like “freedom”, “financial security”, or “living and working according to my values”.

Once you are clear on what your career aspirations are you understand the general direction in which you are heading and can chose jobs accordingly. Sometimes it helps the conversation to have a specific type of job in mind, but don’t fall into a trap to make the title also the goal. In my case, I sometimes mention that my long-term goal is to get to COO or CTO type of role. These roles embody the type of work that would allow me “to build and to learn” and they give me a focus. They help me to understand what skills I need to work on. However, I do not have a specific plan how to become a CTO and if it doesn’t happen I won’t be disappointed. Once again, it is not about the title but about the type of work you do and what is at one company called COO can be at another called Head of Operations.

The importance of being uncomfortable

The only way you learn is by being uncomfortable. I’m so convinced about this that I already wrote on the topics couple of articles such as this one. Is it bad to be comfortable at your job? Not at all, but consider what is important to you. During our lives we go through various phases and our priorities change. Sometimes we live for our work, we want to prove ourselves, we want to have a great career progress, learn and grow. Sometimes we want a bit more stability, want to focus on our kids and families, and want to do a good job at work without the need to climb the career ladder.

It is important for you to realize in which phase you are and why. If you say that your focus at this stage of your life are your small kids then it is completely fine to find your sweet spot at work and be comfortable there knowing that you are good at what you do, you are doing a good job, but you don’t need to push your limits to get outside your comfort zone to get the next promotion. It is just not important to you at this stage in your life. At the other hand, if you feel that now is the time to move your career forward, you absolutely must get out of your comfort zone, keep challenging yourself to learn and go above and beyond the requirements of your job. That is the way you will grow and that is the way to get ahead.

So should you take the job offer if you feel a bit nervous about your ability to get the job done? It depends. But if you are in your “moving your career forward” phase then the answer is “Definitely!” In fact, I would urge you to not taking a job that makes you feel very comfortable. Chances are you will learn nothing, get bored fast, be unhappy and leave soon.

 

What is your experience? Have you ever taken on a role that you felt you are not qualified for? How did it feel? Have you even not taken a bigger role because you felt not being ready and later regretted that decision?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Don’t Treat Others As You Want To Be Treated

Since I was a kid I was told to treat others the way I wanted to be treated by them. It always felt like a great advice and a common wisdom worth following. And so I lived by this motto for a long time. Until I didn’t.

Common wisdom

The fallacy of this statement is in the assumption that we are all the same, have the same wants and needs. But we don’t. Each of us is different and only because I like something it doesn’t mean you will like it too. By treating you the way I want to be treated I’m forcing you to accept my world view and I don’t respect you as an individual.

For example, I’m a internally motivated introvert. I don’t need external praise. In fact, I feel very uncomfortable when I’m getting one and often don’t know what to say in response. I definitely don’t like being put on a pedestal to the spotlight and having songs sang in my name. Because of that mindset, I always struggled to praise other people in my team. I appreciate what they are doing, but I had to be reminded to express this so they know that I know. It just doesn’t come naturally to me because I don’t have the same need. However, some people really enjoy when you express your gratitude in words and in public. I know this and that means I shouldn’t treat them the way I want to be treated.

Let’s look at this scenario. Each of us has a different expectations from life. We have different needs and various stages of our lives. Because of my educational background, and my life journey I put huge emphasis of continuous education and believe that one should never stop learning to be better and better at his profession. I believe each of us should have it as one of the priorities in life. But guess what. I don’t have kids and if you do, chances are that your priority might be to give the best education possible not to yourself but to your kids. If I’m your manager and treat you the way I want to be treated I’m putting you to a position to choose between yourself and your kids. Ouch.

While the “treat others the way you want to be treated” maxim works reasonably well on the general level, for example, we all want to be treated fairly and with respect, it may not work that well when you get down to smaller more specific details.

Treating others the way they need to be treated

If you are in a leadership position, the next step in evolution is to realize that your job as a manager is to help your team grow. You need to treat your team the way they need to be treated. What I mean by that?

Let’s look at this example. You have a team member who is not doing a particularly good job. Since you like it when people are nice to you, and you want your team treat the same way, you will be nice to this person. You will try to give him feedback about his performance in a “nice” manner, avoid conflict, make sure he doesn’t feel bad. Chances are that you will be sugar coating your feedback so much that the person will never get the message. Did you help him? Not really. What that person needs is for you to be “brutally clear” with him about what he needs to work on to get better.

Treating others the way they want to be treated

And the final step? What about treating others not the way “you” want to be treated but the way “they” want to be treated? To be a good manager and a leader you should do you best to understand your people. You should understand what is important for them, and why it is important. You should know what they need, and why. You should also know what their life ambitions are and help them to reach these. Only when you know them, you know how they want to be treated and you can make your best effort to treat them that way. Why? If you do that, your team will know that you care and they will care back.

Now you can see that treating others the way you want to be treated is flawed. But is it really so useless? Not necessarily. It is a great thing to do when you meet someone for the first time. If you don’t know anything about other people then treating them the way you want to be treated is the best and least risky approach. Just keep in mind that your goal is to learn more about them and ultimately treat them the way they want to be treated.

 

What’s your take on the topic? Do you treat others as you want to be treated or as they want to be treated?

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

Excuses That Turn Us Into Jerks

Most of us worked with people or reported to managers who acted as jerks. Most of us hated these interactions and couldn’t understand why would anyone act in such antisocial, immoral, or abusive ways. In Why Good Employees Become Bad Managers I talked about how great employees can turn into bad managers. I talked about the most common causes and some tricks how to prevent such situations. But when we are moralizing about others have we looked into mirror lately? Are we sure that we ourselves don’t act as jerks?

Recently, I found myself in couple of situations that made me consider some of my own actions that could be seen by others in rather bad light and it made me realize that each of us can turn bad rather easily. So what are the things to watch for in your daily interaction to make sure you don’t act as a jerk?

1. Bias

Sometimes we act unjustly without wanting to or without even realizing. Very often the culprit is called confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is a great tool our brain shields us from too much confusion and from coping with being wrong by allowing us to see only the evidence which proves that we are right. That is what makes it so different form other biases. It is always here and totally invisible to the outside world and to big extent even to us. There are several aspects of this particular bias:

  • Search – the brain accepts only data that supports our view and ignores the ones that could contradict it
  • Interpretation – the brain interprets any given data through the lenses of us being right in the first place
  • Memory – the brain will let us remember things that support our argument and forgets those that don’t

This all in the name of our need of being right. It is a useful tool for helping us cope with cognitive dissonance and reconcile any disharmony between our thoughts, words, actions, and environment. However, it is a killer when we are in the business of managing and leading people. Why? Because it prevents us from seeing all points of views, all sides of arguments, all options without taking pre-set sides. It prevents us from really listening and generally makes jerks of us. The way to fight this bias is to force ourselves to listen. Truly listen.

2. Busyness

I today’s world we are busy all the time. In the heat of our daily busyness, we may forget some of the basics that makes us decent human beings. Have you ever thought or even said aloud some of these sentences?

  • I don’t have time to notice – we are being too busy not notice how we impact other people around us
  • I don’t have time to be nice – many people are often proud of their “brutal honesty”, direct and even accusatory approach. In fact, we are acting as jerks who don’t take the time to understand others
  • I don’t have time to take care of you – this is a particularly prevalent in management when you try to be as efficient as possible. Unfortunately, being efficient in human interactions doesn’t work. You can be effective but you should never try to be efficient when managing people or in communication of any kind. Check out Communication Shouldn’t Be Efficient for some thoughts on the topic.

3. Fear

All of us have various fears that are with us every waking moment. The more we worry especially about us being wrong or failing, the more we try to prevent that, and the more we act as jerks. Just consider these statements many of us are making in our heads:

  • I will not fail – some of us worry excessively about failing. We just have the need of constant success. We are worried about how our failure will be seen by others and how it will feel. Because of that worry, we act in ways that more relaxed person can’t understand and may label negatively.
  • I want to know what you are doing – when we work in a team or managing others we may turn the “I will not fail,” fear into “My team will not fail.” This may lead to us questioning what everyone is doing, second guess every step and decision done by others, micromanaging and generally acting in ways that destroys the team’s morale and ultimately leads to failure or to us acting as jerks.
  • I want to see more data – very frequent fear of making a wrong decision leads us to not being able to make a decision at all. It may be a simple thing of deciding what cellphone to buy or it can be more insidious in workplace when we are constantly trying to get more data, more opinions, and ultimately get to a position that the decision is done by others (so we can fault them) or it is so bulletproof that we are safe. Ultimately, this leads to company culture that is prone to decision paralysis and us being seen as incompetent jerks who shouldn’t be in the management roles at all.
  • I will try – this is a beautiful statement we use all the time. It has a build-in safety valve. It allows us to fail without much fuss, since we admitted at the beginning that we will do our best but the outcome is not ensured. Most of us use it without realizing and without thinking about it. At the end, it shows low self-confidence and may act as a self-fulfilling prophecy. When it leads to jerkiness is the moment we employ it as a way to make halfhearted effort to help others.
  • You broke it, you fix it – have you ever had a boss, a coworker, or a partner who used these words? Have you ever used that sentence yourself? Behind all the bravado of making statements like this are in fact the opposite feelings. People often use it when they simply don’t know what to do, are scared, and don’t want others to see it. Again, they act as jerks.
  • I’m not at fault here, it was the other guy – this is a very obvious form of jerkiness. Let’s blame someone else for our mistakes, or even shared mistakes. In fact, you can make it even stronger by blaming the other person while showing yourself as a saint “I told him it won’t work and he didn’t listen”.

4. Pride

Pride is very often cause of many bad behaviors, though you need to have at least some predisposition to fall prey to it. However, not much is needed and even someone with healthy dose of humility can find himself thinking along these lines:

  • I know what I’m doing – very often it is a pride that causes us to be overconfident and ultimately leads us to treating others as lesser beings who don’t have a clue. Pride can then easily turn into fear when things don’t go as we planned and we finally realize we are failing.
  • I’m successful therefore I’m right – it is a variation of previous point. This one suggests that past successes elevate us above others and are making us infallible. This can be even true about whole teams or companies who are super successful and thus blind to changing world and new harsh realities where past successes means nothing.
  • I’m the boss here – this one is usually invoke by those with insecurities that just don’t know about any other way how to push through their goals. It is also often employed in situations where we feel that we are wrong, but pride doesn’t allow us to admit it so we resort to brute force – with my position comes entitlement to be right.

5. Ambition

Ambition can be a very useful tool in your road to success but there is a danger of overdoing it. Excessive ambition can lead to rather jerky behavior that will manifest in some of these ways:

  • I will get what I want at any cost – you can easily turn from good to bad when you lose your humility and start acting like your goals and desires are more important than the goals of others. Your own ambition can hurt people around you and turn you into a jerk.
  • I will help you – as long as it helps me. In ideal world, this is a win-win situation. You are helping others and getting something in return. The problem comes when you are willing to help only when it benefits you. If you are not willing to help others without considering “what is in it for me” you are most likely acting as a selfish jerk.
  • I want to make sure we look good – another one that sounds great but has a hidden side. If you want everyone to look good in front of the boss regardless whether we deserve it chances are that those who deserve it more than you do will see it as a sign of your jerkiness. It is always better to give credit where credit is due and don’t try to pry on success of others.
  • I want it now – in the fast-paced world we live in this one is more and more frequent. We are so set for success and want to so badly and so fast that we are willing to build it on shaky legs and even by immoral means to get it. If you have no patience to do do things properly and reach success in its due time you may be cutting corners in the way you act towards others and ultimately be seen as a selfish jerk.

So what is the main lesson you learned today? Don’t judge others without first understanding their circumstances and more importantly review the topics mentioned in this article regularly to make sure you don’t turn into a jerk yourself.

 

What is your experience with jerks? Have you ever caught yourself acting in ways that you find unacceptable in others? Have you ever considered that others might think you are a jerk? What can you do to make sure these things don’t happen to you?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

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.