20 Years Later: Happy But Not Content

Earlier this month I attended my 20 year reunion at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. There were a few friends who could not make it so — truth be told — my excitement was slightly deflated. But as I look back at it now, without question, I’m glad I went and connected with classmates I have not seen in years.

Before driving down to campus, I had a thought-provoking chat with my Mom that Saturday morning. We were discussing whether or not I was happy and content about where I am now post college graduation. It got me thinking about all the good things that I have been able to accomplish since 1998. So my immediate answer was “yes!”

But that would not be my complete answer….

Indeed, if I knew where I was now 20 years ago I probably would be happy but would I be content? In other words, would I feel like I have arrived? Or like I have used all my God given talents and skills? My answer to that would be an emphatic, “no, I’m not content at this stage.”

Don’t get me wrong, having lived overseas, married to a beautiful and loving bride, having 2 healthy little ones, having a strong family, and having started my own business are just a few of the things I can say without any hesitation that I’m very blessed and proud about. But these are not reasons for being content. A resounding sense of appreciation and gratitude, yes, but certainly I am not in a state of bliss or utter satisfaction. And I’m OK with that because this is what I believe makes the journey of life so enjoyable.

In my heart’s of hearts, I know that my greater purpose in life is just getting started. And for me to reach contentment, I have to continue this path with humility, discipline, integrity, and hunger. And by being hungry, I mean feasting on knowledge that will keep me fired up to take thoughtful action. It is this action that I hope to achieve my utmost greatness in this gift we call life.

And to find out what that greater purpose is, well then I guess you’ll have to keep following the “FullEffect Life” to find out.

In conclusion, if you have a reunion coming up definitely go but have that internal conversation with yourself before you step foot on campus. This will ensure that you benchmark your life against YOU and nobody else.

Lessons From My Son (Part 2)

A year earlier I wrote about how my new born son has taught me simple learnings that could be applied in my adult life. As I look back, Mr. CEO — as we call him — continues to be wise beyond his years. Naturally a lot has happened in the past 12 months: from learning how to brush his teeth to opening doors on his own, his development never ceases to amaze me. While he still speaks in his own language, there are many occasions when he surprises his parents with intelligible words. Just recently, he has been able to say yes or no with ease. And while he still has yet to be potty trained, he commands a presence when he walks into any room. It is easy to attribute this to his boyish charm that many toddlers have but I would also like to say the below characteristics also play a role.

Lesson #5: Stay Inquisitive

This is one thing that I love to see about Mr. CEO. It’s natural for kids to grab and touch anything and everything that comes to them but I’ve noticed recently that my son has become more careful about what he latches on to. The curiosity is still there but has been balanced with a certain calculated tendency that gives me a little calm as a parent. And when he sees something that looks interesting, he always points and asks in his own way what it is or why it is. I look forward to nurturing his curiosity and responding to his inquisitiveness with answers as he gets order. This is just another reminder to me to always stay inquisitive in my professional day-to-day because the moment I stop is the moment I stop learning.

Lesson # 6: Learn Something New and Be Patient

When Mr. CEO started music class, he was unenthusiastic about singing in a group with other kids he did not know. Fast forward 3 months, he has become the life of the group lesson. He sings songs all day long long after class and is equally excited about playing instruments, especially drums. If we had given up early, he (nor his parents) would have been unable to discover his passion in music. This was definitely a key learning as a parent: to be persistent. Mr. CEO once again reminded me to never stop learning something new and to be patient during the process as you might discover a new passion.

Lesson #7: Keep Smiling and Smile Some More

Mr. CEO has taught me that it is more than acceptable to smile or laugh for no apparent reason. When he’s running, Mr. CEO is smiling. When he wakes up in the morning, he smiles. When he says “bye bye,” he smilies. When he drops something, more often than not, he is smiling. No matter what he’s doing, he always has a grin that is contagious to the people around him. It makes me marvel a world if everyone chose to do things with a smile in their day-to-day more often. I hope he keeps his charming smile as he gets older even as life takes form.

It is amazing how sometimes the most simple things can be so hard as we get older but he has reminded me that these 3 tendencies should never be compromised. He has re-taught me to never relinquish that desire to be curious and ask inquisitive questions. By doing so shows an undying willingness to be interesting or to be interested. His passion for music has encouraged me to pick up the guitar again as a hobby and be disciplined about it. And his never ending smiles have underscored that it is more than acceptable to laugh at myself even when I make mistakes. Smiling more will certainly help to lower my own stress and hopefully contribute to a healthier working environment. These three tendencies — or lessons from Mr CEO — are ways we can all keep ourselves interesting, balanced, and engaging regardless of the environment we are in. Thank you son.

5 Things I Would Tell a Younger Me

This summer I imagine that many young people will be entering the workforce and beginning their career for the first time.   It can be exciting and daunting all at the same time for many college grads.  As I look back at my time after college, I can say that I was no exception.  After completing my BA, I innocently thought that the world would be at my fingertips and that I would have many options.  The reality could not be further from the truth.
It took months for me to secure a position after college; consequently, I went back to work at at the same grocery chain — Rainbow Foods — that employed me during high school.  There were many times I thought, did I really go to one of the best Liberal Arts colleges in the nation to ring up a bag of groceries?  But after several interviews, I finally was able to secure a position for a small software company doing marketing and business development. But in my deepest of hearts, I knew that there was something more for me out there.
After working for the aforementioned small firm, I decided to go back to school to continue my education in business.  In between my first and second years of business school,  I did an internship with the world’s largest chip maker, Intel Corporation.  It was at this that point in time I knew that my career was taking shape and going in the direction that I wanted it to go.  After joining Intel full-time, I stayed there for 13 years doing roles in business development, product marketing, and supply chain management.
As I look back now in hindsight, I am very grateful for the experiences that I went through right out of college — good, bad, and indifferent.  But as my career progressed, I know deep down that I would have made other choices if I knew what I know now.  So it begs the question, if I were to meet a younger version of myself, what would I say? Or, what advice would I give to a newly minted college graduate who recently joined the workforce?

“Never allow a person to tell you no who doesn’t have the power to say yes.”  Eleanor Roosevelt

  • Own Your Career Like it’s Your Best Possession: We live in a world filled with possessions that come and go but our career stays with us.  This is something that we have to manage with thoughtful care and planning.   Nobody can do this but you.  So take great pride in your resume, your reputation, your brand, your acumen, and your track-record because these are all yours and yours only.  By doing so, you will “never allow a person to tell you no who doesn’t have the power to say yes.”
  • Remember that you are not irreplaceable: The reality is somebody can do your job just as well if not better than you so never got too overly confident.  On the flip side, if you want to leave an organization but have concerns about what impact your departure will have on the organization, think again.  Trust me, they will move on just fine so do not be afraid to spread your wings and try new things.
  • Stay True and Genuine: Sometimes we get caught up in always having answers to questions that come our way and many times, we find ourselves “winging it.”  But never lose your genuine self no matter how busy or how much pressure you may experience to get a job done.  If you are asked a question in a one-one-one or in a boardroom with a lot of people, it’s ok to say that “we are looking into that right now” or “I do not know right now but I will follow-up.”  People who speak with hot air are easy to spot so never fall into that trap.
  • Greatness is a Journey, Not a Sprint: You have greatness within you…just give yourself time to get there.  This is not a race, but rather a journey with hills and valleys along the way.  You will experience triumph and failures but you will become stronger and resolute as a result.  So embrace the journey and let your greatness come through in the process.
  • Write Your Career Plan with a Pencil: President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said that “Plans are worthless but planning is everything.”  Always have a plan and goal as you navigate your career but  be ready to call an audible and be flexible.  Life will come at you with curve balls; the people who are ready for these life changes are the ones who are most likely to excel and achieve.  So, while it is very important to have an individual career plan, be empowered to tweak and even re-write your plan as things change.

 

If you are a recent college graduate and have just entered the workforce, I encourage you to remember and practice these 5 principles.  By doing so, I am confident that your career will take your places, stretch you, and make you grow professionally and even personally. You will go through trying and difficult times — perhaps like I did after college even — but those experiences will make you stronger and even more driven.   And finally, never forget to pay it forward by passing your own experience and wisdom to a younger person along the way.  Trust me, they will never forget it.

Thoughts on Leadership: My 5 Keys

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to have been in leadership roles that have not only stretched and challenged me but has given me insight about how to lead with intention.

I can remember my first job in high school at a local supermarket where I worked part-time. I began pushing shopping carts but was then immediately promoted to the Produce Department.  Fortunately I had a natural ability to relate and serve customers with unwavering professionalism and service. As a result, I was ultimately asked to serve as the Customer Service Manager at the impressionable age of 17. As I look back and reflect, I realize that those years were an invaluable experience as I learned that leading with intention was something one can refine, improve, and nurture through increasing experience throughout his/her career.

Without question, leadership can come in many ways and forms no matter if you are talking about the workplace, the classroom, the orchestra / band, or a sports team. In my professional career, I have been able to experience leadership working as a project team lead, as a product manager, and most recently in a Director and General Managerial role. Regardless if I was an individual contributor or a manager with direct reports,  I have found that the heart-and-soul of great leadership thrives on leading with intention based on the below 5 key values.

Ongoing Stewardship 

I define this as an ongoing willingness to authentically serve others with integrity. From getting your hands dirty by doing some nitty-gritty work to help the team; asking questions about how things are going in routine 1:1s with team members; and acknowledging team-members specifically for good work done are examples of how servicing others can go a long way in demonstrating leadership with intention. This value is so critically important that if one does not practice this value consistently it can singlehandedly compromise one’s leadership effectiveness even if the other 4 values are practiced flawlessly.

Constructive Feedback

I truly believe that as a leader, it is important to provide feedback to our peers in a constructive and professional manner. Often times, it is easy for one to resort to more direct and even harsh ways to communicate but this is not always effective. Of course, especially if you are in a position with business accountability, one would be remiss to be soft or indirect to his/her team.  This is why providing direct and honest feedback in a professional manner can go a long way in not only cultivating growth but also establishing respect and unconditional loyalty from others. “Good teams” can be managed-well with consistent constructive feedback and “high-performing” — who may get their motivation from within and typically do not need to be managed — will thrive on this level of feedback and perform at an even greater potential.

Deliberate Transparency

When I changed companies and started a new leadership role, I wanted to be fully open and transparent with my team on what I was doing and what I expected of myself in the first 90 days. Therefore, after a couple of weeks of understanding the role and expectations, I prepared a scorecard of things that I wanted to accomplish in the first 3-months. In many ways, this was for my own ramp but also it was to show my commitment to the team and what I wanted to achieve in my effort to attain some small-wins. After clearly documenting these individual KPIs, I shared it with my direct staff. The content itself was aggressive but more importantly, my openness had a positive impact in fostering trust in a short period of time within my staff and, equally importantly, it created a positive reverberating effect of transparency within the organization.

Collaborative Teamwork

Many times the word “teamwork” is overly and/or incorrectly used in the office. As you may agree, just because people may be on the same team, it does not mean they are actually working together as a cohesive unit.  This is often referenced in sports. For example, if a basketball player has the ball and does not pass it around to playmates, he / she is not operating as a team player. The business world is no exception from this. Being a team requires members to collaborate, listen, respect, trust, and work together in order for it to work in its optimal form. This starts with the leader whose job is to not only to preach collaboration but to also demand it and acknowledge those who role-model this behavior.

Listening with Discipline

As I am sure we can all relate, distractions coming at us in every which way, it is easy to lose focus and to not let our ears do their God given talent: listening. I have found in my 17 years of experience that leaders who thoroughly listen to their team members, staffs, and/or superiors are the ones who speak when they have something of substance to say and seek to understand first before being understood themselves. But we can also become victims of chaos and noise in our day to day activities and, consequently, try to multitask when listening to others. This is ineffective and only compounds the communication gaps and misunderstandings that often happen between people. By making eye contact and listening with 100% attention to someone, we can minimize the communication gaps that can happen and, as a result, demonstrate leadership with intention in the process.

Final Thoughts

It is my belief that these above 5 keys are critical in order to effectively lead with intention. Of course, all of these must be practiced with integrity in order for one to be deemed an authentic, true leader. As I look at myself, I can honestly say that I am still refining these skills in an attempt to enhance my effectiveness no matter what role I am in during my career. Like any skill, leading with intention is a continuous journey of improvement but recognizing and appreciating the above 5 keys is a big first step to leadership greatness. What are your keys to leading with intention?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

The Most Overlooked Quality in Leadership

In many cases one of the keys to moving forward as a team or as an individual in an organization is the willingness to have empathy in everything we do. In other words, being able to embrace the perspective of others: customers, colleagues, vendors, partners, etc. Having this cognitive empathy is perhaps one of the most overlooked qualities that one should prioritize when interviewing new talent, assessing leaders or managers, and evaluating organizations as a whole.

As someone who has worked and dealt with products for most of my career, being empathetic is critical to building the right products and solutions that will motivate customers to open up their wallets. Conversely, not being empathetic can be quite damaging to an organization’s top-line and, consequently, its overall reputation. This can be illustrated by delivering user experiences that are not designed with the customer in mind; developing applications that do not address end-user pain points; providing poor customer-service that can derail loyalty; or delivering services that do not improve how business gets done by organizations are all manifestations of a company not building products or services with the end-user in mind. This is why I believe that empathy is one of the fundamental building blocks to being an innovative organization.

The ramifications of empathy are quite extraordinary in product development and innovation but obviously it does not stop there. Having empathy starts with each and every one of us regardless of role, position, or title. If you are in marketing, being empathetic is all about advertising a product based on how your target segment buys. If you are in HR, being empathetic means treating a prospective employee as a person rather than just a piece of paper (i.e., a resume). If you are in customer service, it is all about listening to the end-user and thinking about what they are experiencing from their perspective as you try to troubleshoot their issue. Of course, just being empathetic does not mean that you will have all the answers but it is a prerequisite to being thoughtful and compassionate in our actions.

Practicing empathy certainly can tie into our roles but it also starts with just how we behave in our day to day lives. Here are just a few examples of ways we can all be more empathetic as leaders and individual contributors.

  • Being attentive, through and through. For example, putting electronic devices away when you are in a meeting with someone regardless of level or title.
  • When having a heated debate with a colleague, asking questions to seek understanding — and potentially common ground — before thinking about how you will react.
  • If a team did not perform well on a project, despite performing at a high-level historically, letting them know what they did well first and then providing constructive feedback.

I believe we often get too caught up in company policies, government regulations, or what our competition is doing. I am not suggesting that we ignore these areas but if we use good judgement and common sense then our actions will lead us to be being authentically empathetic internally and externally no matter what role we have. If we do this consistently up and down and across an organization, then the obligations companies have to their shareholders may naturally bear fruit. It all ties to the Golden Rule that many of us know since our younger years: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”