Take Ownership of Your Actions by Taking Responsibility

September 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Are you stalled in a project at work, waiting on someone else to take initiative to get things moving? Are you in a broken professional relationship — with a manager, coworker, or employee — hoping the other person assumes blame and fixes the issue? Are you looking for an easy way to get focused or improve your productivity — a silver bullet from an unexpected source?

One of the most common momentum killers I’ve seen in my professional life is our propensity to wait for someone else to act, take initiative, assume blame, or take charge. But very often, no help comes.

One year ago, I heard Tal Ben-Shahar speak about this concept; he learned it from Nathaniel Branden, the father of the self-esteem movement. According to Ben-Shaher, Branden believed that taking responsibility was the first step to developing a healthy sense of self and that we internalize the idea of taking responsibility when we realize, “no one is coming.”

It’s a liberating concept. Help is not coming. The responsibility is yours, and it starts with developing a belief or habit of mind that you, as an individual, are accountable for the quality and timeliness of an outcome, even when you’re working with others. It doesn’t always mean you have authority over a project. Nor does it mean that you shouldn’t involve others. But it does mean you own the obligation to take action and deliver results.

« Read the rest of this entry »

For Those Who Want to Lead, Read

September 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

When David Petraeus visited the Harvard Kennedy School in 2009, one of the meetings he requested was with author Doris Kearns Goodwin. Petraeus, who holds a PhD in International Relations from Princeton, is a fan of Team of Rivals and wanted time to speak to the famed historian about her work. Apparently, the great general (and current CIA Director) is something of a bibliophile.

He’s increasingly an outlier. Even as global literacy rates are high (84%), people are reading less and less deeply. The National Endowment for the Arts (PDF) has found that “[r]eading has declined among every group of adult Americans,” and for the first time in American history, “less than half of the U.S. adult American population is reading literature.” Literacy has been improving in countries like India and China, but that literacy may not translate into more or deeper reading.

This is terrible for leadership, where my experience suggests those trends are even more pronounced. Business people seem to be reading less — particularly material unrelated to business. But deep, broad reading habits are often a defining characteristic of our greatest leaders and can catalyze insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness.

« Read the rest of this entry »

The Bad Habits You Learn in School

September 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

It can be tough to help new college graduates adjust to the real world. Joey, a 22-year-old, Ivy League graduate who joined one of my consulting teams, was a great example. He was bright, hardworking, and motivated. But he had bad habits that were hard to break. Joey would become so focused on the perfect answer to a problem, he wouldn’t consider implementation. He feared failure so much that he would hide his mistakes until they grew worse. He was only interested in getting his own work right — rarely helping the rest of the team proactively. And he saw the world in terms of hierarchy: I was his “boss,” and no one else’s opinion really mattered.

Joey isn’t real — more of a composite of many young people I’ve worked with. But his flaws are undeniable. The traits above are ones I’ve seen time and again out of many recent graduates ill-prepared to handle true leadership in an organization.

There is an ongoing debate about whether leadership can be taught, and whether business schools,in particular, are teaching it. There are fair arguments on both sides, but I would broaden the discussion. Our entire education system, from elementary school to graduate school, is poorly constructed to teach young people leadership. Schools do many things well, but they often cultivate habits that can be detrimental to future leaders. Given that most of us spend 13-20 years in educational institutions, those habits can be hard to break.

« Read the rest of this entry »

How Two Career Couples Stay Happy

September 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Coauthored with Jackie Coleman

It’s more important than ever to know how to balance a marriage and a career. Between 1996 and 2006, the percentage of two-income married couples rose 31% in the US. Now, 47.5% of all American married couples are dual-career couples. In Canada, the percentage of husband-wife families that were dual earners is roughly 70%, and approximately two thirds of two-adult families have two incomes in the UK.

Many marriages fail for work-related reasons. And prominent articles like Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent contribution in The Atlantic“Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” and rejoinders like Froma Harrop’s “News Flash: No One Can Have It All” have spurred critical conversations about what it means to practice work/life balance and how married people (or those in other long-term, committed relationships) can make their personal and professional lives work.

We’re part of that dual-career cohort, and we’ve had many discussions about what it means to manage a marriage and a career. As a former marriage counselor, Jackie has seen the problems couples face, and we’ve had challenges of our own, from living in different cities to managing trying travel schedules. But we think that with intentionality, it is possible to manage marriage and a career. While we’re still trying to figure things out, we wanted to offer a few thoughts based on research and our own experience.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Five Tips for Your First Job

September 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Now that final exams and spring commencement celebrations have passed, thousands of college students and fresh graduates will head off for their first internships or full-time jobs. If you’re one of them, you’re lucky. Recent statistics indicate that one in two new college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. And while many of you will have had part-time jobs, this new position can be an incredible learning experience and a stepping stone for your long-term career.

But it’s also a struggle. For some of you, it may be your first experience in a business environment. I remember feeling lost in my first few experiences after college (we all do). Surrounded by so much new information, I constantly felt like I was falling behind my more experienced colleagues. I didn’t know who to look to for advice, and I never felt like I was doing my job well enough.

So as you prepare for your new role — and the challenges you’ll face in that position — I’d offer five pointers I’ve seen work for people along the way.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Democracy’s Debt Dilemma

September 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Is every democracy destined for the problems of Greece?

In writing Passion & Purpose, my coauthors and I heard a lot about the traits and aspirations of the next generation of leaders. But we also heard a great deal about their concerns. A key anxiety is debt. Not just student loan debt or credit card debt, but public debt, which can threaten social stability and lead to higher taxes and cuts to government programs.

This concern is not new. Young people have feared for quite some time that their predecessors were living beyond their means. One U.S. poll in the early 1990s indicated that more young people had faith in UFOs than the continued existence of Social Security. And at that time, the United States had a public debt/GDP ratio of around 65% — a number that has since passed 100%.

Nearly every major democracy is now struggling with public debt. According to The Economist, the world’s governments currently hold debts of approximately $45 trillion (relative to a world GDP of$65 trillion). And many of the world’s top debt holders are its largest and most powerful democracies. The following table, based on IMF projections, is a list of the top 20 global economic powers (by GDP):

« Read the rest of this entry »

Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for September, 2012 at John Coleman.