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.

6 Fears Of Leadership

Every new manager needs to deal with tons of situations he or she never dealt before. There are battle you never fought before, battles you even cannot imagine. It requires courage, strength, vision, and understanding your opponent. And unfortunately the opponent’s army lives in your head.

Couple of years ago I participate on a coaching training organized by Erickson Coaching International. Part of the sixteen days long course was to learn how to deal with our internal fears and how to coach others to overcome them. Dr. Marilyn Atkinson calls these fears “gremlins”. She is describing four of these gremlins or fears that may inhibit your growth, success or happiness in life. They are essentially habits that can stop you from achieving your life or business goals. To make some of the ideas behind them more prominent I added two additional fears you will need to deal with when entering the world of management. So what are the fears that prevent you from becoming a stellar leader?

  1. Fear of dreaming

If you want to change something, or reach a goal you need to have a vision. You need to be able to visualize what you want to achieve, how you want your life to look like, how you want to be seen by your team and why is this important for you. The inability to dream, or rather to visualize yourself actually achieving the goals is one of the root causes why you don’t even begin. It might be you don’t believe you have the skills, or you see other people around who are in your eyes better, smarter, more beautiful. As a consequence you are unable to create a realistic visual experience on how your life could look like if you pursued some challenging goal. You are so afraid to dream that you procrastinate and you don’t even want to consider what might be possible and what you can be capable of.

How to fight this fear? Get a mentor or a professional coach to help you realize what your strengths, and your potential are. Remember that when you were five years old many things you do today (driving a car, buying a house, reading a book) looked pretty unachievable and still, here you are.

  1. Fear of failure

Even when you are able to set vision for yourself you can still get derailed by another fear that will pop up regularly as you are faced with new and new challenges. Fear of failure is there to shield you from doing something stupid that can hurt you. Unfortunately, it is rather conservative fellow and often prevents you from experiencing anything new. For people who get their first management job this is often very real fear. Suddenly, you are faced with whole new world of requirements and you feel like not having the necessary skills. As you get more and more experienced and as you get more comfortable with failure this fear slowly goes away.

How to fight this fear? Remember your first attempts to ride a bike? Or first swimming lessons? I’m pretty sure you had your share of failures and they were very important learning opportunities. It is ok to fail. And to help you get this mindset try to break down any insurmountable task into a bunch of simple steps that don’t look so threatening. Failing at the next small step is not that scary as failing at the huge vision.

  1. Fear of conflict

We are not alone. There are people all around us and especially in a leadership roles you need to expect frequent interactions with others. People who find themselves in a leadership role need to be able to fight. Ability to distinguish what are the battles worth fighting and how it should be done is one of the markers of really great managers, communicators, and leaders. Most of them have one thing in common. They have a very strong internal compass based on a clear set of values and rules. If you understand why something is important to you, if you are able to judge the impact on your actions and have communication skills to limit any collateral damage you get also more comfortable with having difficult discussions, having strong opinions and you get the ability to show your team a vision they can follow.

How to fight this fear? Focus on improving your communication skills and how to have difficult conversations to build your confidence. Look inside you to find the values that guide your life and make sure that your actions align with those values.

  1. Fear of system failure

We live and work in a complex system. Things somehow work, they are all connected and any time we do something we influence the system, the environment, and the people around us. Getting into a leadership position means that you are required to constantly influence the system in pretty significant ways. You have bigger impact on lives of others than when you were individual contributor, you have formal (or informal) power and you need to be ready to use it. The common fear here is that your decision will negatively impact someone’s life, you may lose friends, or you may get your boss angry. It then leads to indecisiveness, procrastination or apathy. You are getting to the wait and see mode instead of proactively directing your life and steering the system in a new direction.

How to fight this fear? Again, use your values as a compass for knowing what is right. Understand what role you are just playing in that given moment (boss, father, friend) and behave in a way that is aligned with that role. Stop worrying about things you cannot change. You cannot change how others feel, and you cannot change the whole world at once.

  1. Fear of insignificance

This is a fear that many managers experience. All human beings have the need to be respected. You want your boss to treat you like a human being and at the same time you want to feel people reporting to you are taking you seriously. For a new manager this fear may significantly impact his or her performance. It can also manifest itself when you are being promoted to more senior leadership roles and asked to work as a peer with people who are vastly more experience or if you are coming as a new manager to already built team. This fear can lead to being afraid to make tough decisions (or any decisions at all), being afraid to speak up on topics you are not so strong about (you could be ridiculed), being afraid to appear weak (so you start shouting on people and play a big boss). In short, this fear is rooted in you not being confident enough to do a job you are asked to do.

How to fight this fear? You’ve got to the position you are in for a reason. Others probably believe you will do fine. Getting a good understanding from the people who you interact with what they expect from the role, setting up clear communication and feedback channels, and making it very clear what values you stand for is a good start. It helps to have a trusted mentor who can guide you until you get the necessary amount of confidence.

  1. Fear of uncertainty

The world is changing. Any growth requires a change. And with any change there is uncertainty. For many managers and leaders the fear of uncertainty can keep them stuck in their ways even when those ways no longer work. You see that the team is not performing as well as it could, but you don’t know whether the improvement idea you have would work. So you don’t even try. There is a new big initiative coming, but because you are uncertain whether it will succeed, you resist. And then you are either left out or you help the initiative to fail. You need to make a decision, but you are so afraid of the uncertain future that you are trying to collect endless amount of data thus not making the decision too late, or not at all. There are so many similar situations that this fear can drastically impact your ability to grow your career but also to grow as a person and have a happy life.

How to fight this fear? Keep in mind that no one can predict the future. Also remember that the world around you is changing whether you want it or not and it is always better to lead the change as you can at least impact the direction. If you don’t make decisions, the life will make them for you. The need for clarity and understanding the future is very strong but can be broken by having a positive mindset that allows you to enjoy small wins, and keep the optimistic attitude and solid amount of curiosity. Once again, things that don’t change can’t grow.

And now what? If you have no clue how to find your internal fears then you should consider working with a life coach who can guide you on the journey through your inner self. The ability to understand your values, getting your vision, and recognize these fears so you can align them with your goals or even remove them altogether is a good first step for happy life and successful leadership career.

 

What are your fears as a leader? What were the internal fears and worries you had to overcome to become good at what you do?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Career Coaching 101

In my life as a manager, a leader, and a coach I’ve been frequently asked for help or advice about the next career steps. In my life as an employee I have frequently faced the same questions from myself and not always had a good answers. So what do you do when a team member or a coaching client comes to you and wants a piece of advice? Whatever you do, don’t give it! Each of us has different values and different goals in life. Each of us is at different stage of our careers and due to different skillset have also many different options of what to do.

So instead of providing answers start asking questions. Especially in a coaching relationship it is always a good idea to start with the big picture and talk about the value system, and the non-professional part of life to ensure that the work piece fits nicely with the rest. To guide you through the career coaching session let me share couple of questions that may get you started.

Who are you in your professional life?

It is good to define who the person is in his professional life and who he wants to be. It should provide high-level framework for the rest of the discussion.

  • What are the things you like in your work? And why? (You have to ask this but don’t expect any deep thoughts, it is essentially an ice breaker.)
  • What are your strengths? (Forget about weaknesses.)
  • Why do you work? What is your motivation? (And don’t say money, dig a bit deeper here so you find the real drivers.)
  • What are the skills you are learning and you want to learn? (Most people have some things they would really like to learn and usually there is a deeper reason behind.)
  • What are the skills you need to learn? (Most likely set of skills you are missing to outperform at your current level in your current job.)
  • What is your dream job and why? (This may lead back to values and should help to identify whether the person is actually in the right field and shouldn’t make a bigger change to be happy.)
  • When was the last time you were “in the flow” and what were you doing? (You dig deeper here to understand what are the things that make this person go above and beyond.)

I personally just love asking these two questions. In fact I love them so much that I tend to ask them even in interviews when search for leadership potential. I believe that because they require a very succinct answer they push the person to think a lot about who he really is and possibly who he wants to or how he wants to be seen in his professional life

  • What is the mission of your professional life?
  • How would you describe yourself on twitter (140 characters or less)?

To give you example I just returned from my Philippine mission back to Europe and found many new faces in the office. Instead of giving these new team members the whole story of my life I decided to make it twitter like “I’m the guy who builds offices and grows people” (in fact only 47 characters including spaces). This essentially sums up the last six years of my professional life and that is how I see myself and would hope that others would see me today. Is it how I want to be seen for the rest of my life? Most likely no and when I get tired of this particular picture of myself I will come up with a new “mission” and then will try to find a job that will fit this new image of myself.

How are you seen by others?

You need a sanity check so answering this question would really help and to make sure you get an honest picture you probably want to ask around for some feedback

  • What feedback do you have from others?
  • How are you seen by your bosses, peers, subordinates, and partners?
  • What are the things they are saying that are not in-line with what you believe about yourself?

What do you keep and what do you lose?

Now, let us talk about what aspects of your job you want to keep and what you want to get rid of. For example, I hate dealing with bureaucracy so I would try to set my job in such a way that I don’t need to deal with it too much. Or I just love working with people so whatever my next gig is it has to have a strong aspect of working with others.

  • What are the key aspects of your work you want to keep?
  • What are the key aspects of your work you want to change?
  • What is standing in your way to get your dream job? Any skill gap? And if yes, how do you plan to tackle it?

What is out there?

The philosophical part is behind us and now to a real field work. These questions are just to guide a person but most likely cannot be answered in the first coaching session. It can be a good idea to ask the person to do his homework and research a bit what is happening around him. Starting with how his colleagues work. Why are some of them happy, what drives them, what are the opportunities inside the company and what is the situation on the job market? Depending on the results of this search you can continue with some of these

  • What realistic opportunities are out there for me? (The key word is “realistic”. If you are a fresh manager with two months under your belt you can hardly expect to get a fancy job of a director responsible for bunch of teams around the world. At the same time don’t let the titles fool you. Each company has a unique way how it is structured and depending on company culture, size, and maturity the titles may vary quite a bit. So instead on headlines focus on job descriptions.
  • What can you do to increase the number of these opportunities? (Would training help? Contacts? International experience? Etc.)
  • How can you learn about them? (Do you need to do something proactively?)
  • How can you let others know that you are a suitable candidate for these roles? (Be creative and think long-term. Do you join some professional association? Do you start answering questions on some industry related public forum? Do you seek opportunities to help out your colleagues or people from other departments? Do you start building a network of contacts within your industry?)

How do you select the right opportunity?

At this stage you should have a pretty clear picture about what is out there, what your values and skills are and what positions you believe are a mutual match. The worst thing at this stage that can happen is to have more than one option to choose from.

  • What are the key criteria to help you decide what is the right opportunity?
  • What are the things you are willing to sacrifice in case of really interesting opportunity? (And believe me you need to be able to make sacrifices. There is nothing on this world as a perfect job. At least not at the beginning. To have a perfect job you need to step into one that is relatively close and then mold it and let it mold you in such a way that one day you find you and your job be the best friends)
  • Who will I ask for an opinion? Who are the people I trust to give me a good advice? (This one might be important question. Who are the people impacted by your decision so you want to give them a chance to voice their thoughts? Who are the people you value for their wisdom and life experience? Just remember at the end of the day it is your decision and you will have to live with consequences.)
  • How will I know I made the right decision? (You won’t until you make the choice and live it out. It might be a good idea however to have some sort of success criteria defined that you can consult in couple of months to see whether the change you made had the effect you desired.)

How do I start?

If your coaching session wasn’t just a theoretical exercise but you want a real change then it is important to define some plan and the first steps to get things moving

  • How well are you prepared for job interviews? What can you do to improve?
  • What are the first steps you need to take?
  • What are the results so far and how can you improve them?

Twitter type summary: “To help others find their place in the world you need to be unbiased and ask the right questions that will struck deep into who they are.”

What are your favorite questions you use to stimulate others to plan their career? Are there questions you would never ask? Original article posted at LinkedIn.

Coaching 101: What To Ask?

Once upon a time I wrote an article on Coaching Approach To Leading People. Since then I shared many additional thoughts on how to lead but not that many on how to coach. So let me rectify this today with a basics of a successful coaching dialog. For you to be a successful coach you need to spend majority of the time listening and only minimum talking. At the heart of coaching is the idea that people have the resources to help themselves and you as a coach just need to trigger this hidden power. The best coaching session is the one where at the end your client gets up with a clear mind and objectives that he owns because they came from his or her heart. To get you started let me share couple of coaching questions that are always a great first move. Keep in mind that you want to stimulate discussion and you don’t want one word answers so make sure you ask open ended questions.

1. What do you want?

Before you start working on something you need to understand what it is you want to get at the end. And if you are getting coached for it then it means spending significant resources so you better be sure about what and especially why.

  • What is it you want and why do you want it? (Usually people have a good idea of what they want but very often the “why” gets the confused. You may come to me and ask you want to figure out how to get more money. If I ask you why you will probably say “so I can buy stuff”. So why do you need to buy stuff? It feels good to have a new car. Why does it feel good? Why a new car and not something else? etc. Digging into the “why” can totally change the direction and end up in another “what”. Maybe instead of wanting more money the person wants to be valued by others. And maybe there are other ways how to achieve it, ways that will be closer to the person’s abilities and desires.)
  • Is it positive? (This one may not be so obvious but it is important. If you want to motivate person and especially if you want to see positive change, new behavior and positive outcome then also the goal needs to be formulated in a positive way. For example “I don’t want to feel miserable.” Nice sentiment, but it doesn’t really answer the question what do you want. It just states what you don’t want. “I want to be happy” is much more positive though you may still need to dig deeper to figure out what “being happy” actually means for that person.)
  • Is it under your control? (Make sure your goals are achievable and under your control. There is very little sense of coming up with a goal that sounds great but assumes other people to do it for you. You would feel helpless, things could go in any way and you have no way to influence the direction or quality of the execution. Whatever your goal is it needs to be under your direct control. For example “I don’t want others to yell at me,” is a nice goal but is your boss yelling at you under your control? Not really. So try instead “I want to make it easy for others to treat me with respect.” You still cannot influence how others will behave but you can exhibit a behavior that will make it easy for others to treat you with respect and don’t yell at you.)
  • Is it aligned with your other goals? (“I want to live alone on a tropical island” is a great goal but how does it fit with your other life goals of having a family, thousands of friends, party every night and go skiing every weekend? You should always do a sanity check to ensure that the goal you want to achieve won’t have disruptive effect on your other goals and on the goals of those around you that you hold dear.)

2. How will you get it?

Now, since we know what you want we can start talking about how you get it. The goal of these questions is to identify what resources you need and how to get you started.

  • Who do you need to ask for help? (Is it really completely under your control or are there some areas where help would be welcomed? Would a chat with your spouse or your boss help you achieving those goals?)
  • Do you need any resources you don’t have today? (Do you need to buy something as a prerequisite to achieving your goal? Do you need a specific time and place to be in?)
  • What is your first step? (How you get started? What is the first step you need to take and when will you take it? And be SMART about it, or better read this article on how to define a good goal SMART Goals Are Not Good Enough.)

3. How will you commit?

Now comes the hard part. Especially for long-term goals the challenge you will face is not how to get started but how to keep going.

  • Is there anything that may prevent you from getting it? (There might be competing priorities, you might get bored, you may need support of others)
  • If yes, how will you mitigate this risk? (Have a plan for these eventualities so when they occur they don’t stop you dead in your tracks but you are ready to deal with them and push forward)
  • What other ways of getting it could work? (Have you thought about other ways how to achieve your goal that may not be so straightforward at the beginning. “You want to learn a foreign language” so you decided to “study every weekend for two hours and enroll for a lesson at local language school”. What about living abroad for a half a year? What about finding a girlfriend or boyfriend who speaks the language? There are always many options so make sure you consider what is out there before you commit to sub-optimal solution.)
  • How do you rely on others and what are the consequences for them? (We talked about who you need to help you and you have a plan to deal with drawbacks in case they are not able or willing to help. Now comes the other side. You achieving your goal and “live on a remote tropical island” will without doubt affect other people around you. Are you comfortable with that impact on your family and friends? How can you ensure you limit that impact? How will you feel about your decision in couple of months? This one is really tricky as we cannot really predict how we will feel in the future. For the reasons why, check this post Human Brain, The Biggest Liar Of All Times.)

4. How do you recognize you succeeded?

And the best at the end. If you set a goal you also need to be able to measure somehow that you reached the goal. Aside of the fact that you might be curious you also want to feel good about finishing your goals and how can you feel good about finishing when you don’t know you finished?

  • How will you track your progress? (You probably need some way how to see you are still on track to achieving your goals. Do you need a weekly follow up? Do you need a measurable small steps? Do you need a feedback from others?)
  • How will you ensure to keep your momentum? (There will be bumps on the road so how do you ensure you don’t lose the momentum? When you check your progress and you discover you are slowing down how will you reenergize yourself to push forward?)
  • How will you recognize you succeeded and achieved your goal? (How will you know you are there? “I want to learn Spanish” is a great goal but what exactly does it mean? Unless you set a clear success criteria you may never get there as it is unlikely you will ever speak like a native speaker. “I will know that I speak Spanish when I take a week vacations in Barcelona and will be able to get around, order dinner, go to the movies and speak with locals without a need to have a translator.” This is still a tall order but at least it is something you can do to verify you succeeded. For me personally the moment I considered as me being able to speak English was the moment when I stopped translating everything in my head and started to think in that language.
  • How will you celebrate your success? (Have a plan for celebration. Why? It can act as an additional motivating factor if the way you celebrate is directly related to the goal. “When I learn Spanish I will go for two weeks vacations in South America which is my lifelong dream.”

That’s it. Pretty straightforward. Most of the difficulties will be at the very beginning trying to define what the person really wants. If your client has troubles with identifying his needs and wants then you may help him out by guiding him through the Life Balance Wheel exercise to get them started.

Twitter type summary: “As a coach you don’t talk. You just listen and when required you ask questions to stimulate your clients thinking process.”

What are your favorite coaching questions? Is there something you would never ask and is there the one question that always makes the difference?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Introverts: How To Be Happy

I have already talked about the difference between extroverts and introverts Introverts: Who Are They?”, about how introverts can act more extroverted and why it might be worth a try Introverts: It Is All A Game and how to be a good introverted leader Introverts: How To Be A Leader. Today I want to focus on the most important aspect. How do you live a happy and satisfying life when you are introvert in a world that awards extroversion? I mean aside of the obvious answer: “Just ignore what others think,” since you are probably doing it anyway.

It’s all about your core values

Most of the people who are happy with their lives are those who have been able to align their purpose on this world with their core values and adjusted their expectations accordingly. You may do it naturally (without thinking about it) or you may try to give it a thought (or to approach a life coach) and dig deep into your conscious and subconscious mind to find out what your core values are and what is really important to you. If you come up with answer like “money” then you didn’t dig deep enough. It is very unlikely that your core value is to make money. Most likely you feel that you need money to satisfy some other need and core value. For example, you may discover that money are important to you because you want to be able to provide for your family and family is important to you because you want to belong somewhere and you want to belong somewhere because you want to be loved. By digging deeper you got from money to love. So again, don’t get satisfied with obvious answers and spend the time to find your real core values.

What is a mission of your life?

When having your core values you can then easily figure out what your life mission might be. Let’s say that one of your core values is to “be useful” (which is by the way one of mine). You can then figure out various means to satisfy this value. You may decide to spend as much time as possible with your family and provide all the help and care you can muster. Or you can join a non-profit organization and keep helping in third world countries. Or you can decide to work with people and help them grow and be successful in professional life (which is the path I follow). Often, it will be combination of more than one path. Since there are usually many ways how to live your life in harmony with your core values you may consider taking into account your dreams to pick the right path.

What are your dreams?

What are your dreams and what is behind them? One of my dreams since I was a child (very curious one) was to see the world. I would dream of visiting far-away places, see the natural wonders and humanity’s biggest achievements. Being introverted I was able to satisfy my hunger for visiting these places just by reading about them and seeing pictures but at some level I really wanted to experience it in real. To achieve that I could again select several paths. If I would look at where is the intersection between my dreams and my life mission I would have concluded that working for a global non-profit organization to travel and help in various places might be a good path. However, that would mean meeting constantly too many new people. The path in management I follow allows me the same while working with relatively limited number of people that I can get to know pretty well and seeing them grow and succeed brings me great satisfaction.

How can you achieve your goals and be yourself?

If you follow this approach it may help you to achieve your goals and be happy even when the path leads you to more extroverted type of life. Just make sure you keep a way how to put a break on things and resupply your energy in situations when your passion for the life mission takes you too far from who you are. This may happen when one of your core values takes control over your life and over the other values. It is very likely that there are more than one thing that are important to you and you need to make sure these are well integrated and whatever you do needs to be “mentally ecological”. Meaning, it shouldn’t be at odds with any of the core values.

And what if your core values and mission of your life go well with your introversion? Even better. Just focus on what you love being it science, programming, writing or painting and ignore the surroundings that may want you to become someone you don’t want to be. I still remember one of the best software developers I ever met who worked for a small start-up for quarter the salary he could make elsewhere without much chance for any upside. When we talked about why he doesn’t follow money and go to sell his services for the real market value he answered that he could do that but he just loves working on this particular project as it will be used in railways and he just loves trains.

Twitter type summary: “To live a happy life make sure that what you do aligns with your core values, dreams and mission of your life.”

What are your recipes for happy introverted life? What is the mission of your life?

Introverts: It Is All A Game

Last week I started a series of articles about introverts. Being one myself, this topic is very close to my heart. When you look at popular media you always see famous movies stars, musicians, politicians, athletes who by the definition of their role are very visible, performing in front of crowds, always talking, always being in the middle of everything, beautiful and smiling all the time. In other words they appear to be, most part, very extroverted personalities. However, the chances are that many of them are in fact very introverted. They dread the public performance and try to get out of the open as soon as they can. They simply play a role as required by their job or mission.

Should I try to act differently?

I strongly believe that one can and should try to change his personality traits or habits to be aligned with his or her life mission. Let me illustrate it on a story of my life.

When I was a child I was a prototype introvert. I preferred to play alone, I liked reading and I dreaded interaction with others. I enjoyed being part of the collective, but not in the center of attention. I was completely comfortable just sitting at the table with others and listen. It gave me all the joy I needed. As I grew older I was forced to interact more with my surroundings, I went to university, studied technical subjects and had a side job as a software developer. Then I spent half a year living abroad in very alien environment (well it was in Australia) and found myself meeting lots of people from many different countries. I studied English, essentially communicating all day long and to my surprise I enjoyed being in the center of many activities and often volunteering for various role plays. I was one of few Europeans in mostly Asian collective and I felt very comfortable there.

After I returned to Europe and started to work for Siemens I quickly moved from individual contributor role to leadership and management roles and again to my surprise I discovered I like it and I’m pretty good at it. Something has changed. I was always the first one to step up and speak, I was always having an opinion and didn’t hesitate to present it, I would always be the first one to volunteer for new initiatives and I would enjoy leading others and helping them grow.

So here I was, introverted person acting all the time in a very extroverted manner. And not just that, I was very happy doing it. What has changed? I found something that I’m really passionate about. I found that I like helping others to grow and become better. I found that I love building things and that I can have bigger impact on lives of others in leadership roles. My mission in life spurred from my core values and my mind decided that the best way to live my values and do what I’m passionate about is to act as an extrovert. This act is a way to reach my life goals. And after a while it wasn’t really an act at all but it became part of myself. Deep down I’m still introverted person who loves to relax in some secluded space reading books, writing articles and when being in a group of friends I would still sit in the corner and just listen. However, when it comes to achieving my professional and life goals I seamlessly transform into a more extroverted actor.

How will others seem me when I act out of character?

Many people who know me just professionally would never guess that I’m in fact a rather introverted person. Even when they realize that in the office I’m essentially an actor playing his role of a leader they will accept when they will believe that I’m open and transparent in the way I lead.

I strongly believe that as a leader you need to have several traits that will make you believable to others so they would follow you. You need to be open and honest (thus I have never tried to hide my introversion when it came to discussion). You need to be transparent about your weaknesses (when there is something you don’t know just admit it and learn from others). The most importantly you need to be authentic. This one seems to be at odds with “the acting as extrovert” idea. In fact it is not.

What does authentic means? It means that your words and actions are aligned with your internal values. You have your set of values that you follow and you walk your talk. That makes you authentic. It has nothing to do whether you are introverted or extroverted. Also remember that even when acting a bit more extroverted you shouldn’t take it to the extreme. The moment an introvert starts jumping up and down and yelling at everyone it will look phony and people will immediately see that it is not him. People will always see when you do something that is extremely uncomfortable for you and that is the moment the authenticity comes into question. Unless you remedy it by openly acknowledging that this is not you.

How will I feel when trying to be someone I’m not?

It is impossible to predict how others will feel about something. In fact when you think about it we are all responsible for our own feelings. So how will you feel about “acting” as an extrovert (or vice versa for that matter) really depends on you and how you want to feel about it. From my own experience, as long as there is an underlying principle, a bigger mission and a set of values that guide your actions you will feel pretty good about yourself.

Twitter type summary: “To feel good about yourself when acting out of character make sure the act is aligned with your values and passions.”

Are you introverted person who sometimes fakes it and acts extroverted? Or the other way around are you extrovert who sometimes try to be more introverted? Why do you do it?

Grow Up! And Live Your Own Life

Heroes. Most of us have in our live some heroes or people we look up to. Most of us get inspired by our idols. We try to do a lot of things to be like that person. But why do we do that? Why not to be ourselves and aspire to be the best “us” we can? Over the years in various management roles I have often adopted behavior of more experienced managers because I admired the way they dealt with certain situation only to discover that their approach simply didn’t work for me. Over the years I have seen people who focused so much on competing with others that they forgot to focus on themselves.

Focus on yourself, not others

Your boss has decided to quit. There is you and several of your peers who used to report to this person and it is obvious that one of you gets promoted to that job. So what would you do? Sadly, many people would focus more on others than on themselves. They would start seeing that Richard is friend with the former boss so he is probably closest to the promotion, they would see that Maria just got this new responsibility a month ago and without a good reason Peter is being often approach by senior managers when they need help. If you follow this train of thought you find yourself blaming others for your own shortcomings an feeling that life is unfair since others are getting all the breaks. Is this healthy? How exactly will thoughts like these help you to get to the next level? That is how five years old kid would behave and let’s face it, who would promote that kid to a leadership role?

The best thing you can do is to forget about the others and rather focus on what you can do and how you can improve. You should still strive to do your job to the best of your abilities and volunteer to take on some of the responsibilities of your boss. The trick here is where to focus. Do you rather focus on things that are highly visible to the management or on things that are more important for the daily survival of the organization? This decision really depends on company culture, on the way how the organization is set up, and on your priorities and goals in this life.

Focus on what you can influence

We all have so many things to do, so where do we spend our energy? There are two quotes that always guided my professional life and that I tried to impart on my team. “Pick your battles carefully,” and “focus on things you can influence.”

Yes, there are many things in this world and your job that would deserve your attention and that you could improve. There are many things that you can fight for. But is it worth it? If you decide to push for an idea or project that doesn’t have a wide support within the organization always consider whether it is worth the effort, what are the chances of success and what you will be giving up when you put your attention there.

If you are someone who is always complaining, always unhappy and always trying to fight everything, chances are you will stop being taken seriously. Don’t complain, if there is something that needs to be fixed, just jump in and fix it. And if it is something that is not under your control and there is no way you can fix it then just learn to live with it and focus your attention on things you can fix. If your standard mode of operation is being very cooperative, positive, and able to compromise then when there is something that really matters to you others will see your passion and your resolve and will get out of your way or even better will help you to achieve it.

Combine the best of both worlds

It is good to have in your life someone who guides you and acts as an inspirational idol. Just make sure you don’t mimic this person too much. Remember who you are and if you want to adopt something from his or her behavior make sure it is aligned with your own personality so you will still be you. Some of the key leadership traits are authenticity and consistency. If others believe that you are trying to be someone you are not, they will not follow. So when you decide to integrate a new skill or new way how to deal with situations you need to do it in a way that is natural to your own personality. For example, I may consider people like Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Marc Benioff (Salesforce) great leaders and admire their public performance and ability to rally forces to get things done. However, if I would decide to mimic their heavily extroverted behavior I would fail as my team would most likely say “What’s wrong with Tomas, this is not him. What is he trying to pull here?” So instead of trying to be like these two guys I will try hard to be myself and over the time, step by step, incorporate some of the traits I admire on them. That way I will give myself enough time to develop the new skill and be still myself.

Twitter type summary: “Stop trying to be someone else. Be who you are, pick your fights, focus on what you can influence and you will have a fulfilling life.”

What about you? Do you have someone in your life you admire and learn from?