#3.2.1 Preparing to be a High Performer: Grit

I heard Angela Lee Duckworth give a TED talk on the key to success. Her experience and research has led her to the conclusion that is boils down to Grit. This is something I mentioned in my blog prior to hearing this talk.

This is what I’ve thought for a long time but she said it so well I’ve posted a link to her TED talk here.

Additionally, she has an on-line grit test you can take. I scored a 4.13 (1-5 scale) which makes me grittier than at least 80% of the US population. I’m good with that as I believe you need to have some life balance. Here is a link to the test.

On-line Grit Test

I really like what she says about the importance of being able to stick to finishing long term projects, and being able to bounce back from failure. The challenge is how do you develop more grit, how do you develop grit in your employees and children?

  • I think the first step is to educate yourself and others about it. Once you have grit as a focus point and understand its importance, you can move forward working toward improving it.
  • Next step I think is to stick with long term goals, giving your grit a workout.
  • Next thought I have on it is to remind those you love, coach and work with that failure is temporary. It can be easy to quit on something after failing. Failing needs to be a launching point instead of being a quitting point.

#3.5 Preparing to be a High Performer: Office Politics

#3.5 Preparing to be a High Performer: Office Politics

Office politics are another important part of the office life that needs to be addressed. In case you haven’t thought about it, playing office politics is leveraging internal networks and relationships to promote your wishes. When office politics are improperly navigated and get in the way, it can be an uphill battle to get things done.

Here are a few tips to help negotiate them.

1. Identify the Decision Makers

Figure out who the decision makers are. Who holds the power? To do this effectively, put the organizational chart aside and think about these questions: Who has the boss’s ear? Who has the boss’s boss’s ear? Don’t be surprised when you realize the organizational chart doesn’t reflect the true flow of power in the organization.

2. Build and Invest in Relationships

Foster relationships with the decision makers; you want them on your side. Developing strong connections and gaining access to them will be essential to your long-term success. Some refer to this kind of relationship building as “brown nosing.” But call it what you like, it’s smart business to engage the people in power and have good working relationships with them.

Some recommendations: shoot the breeze with these folks whenever given the opportunity; find out their interests and hobbies so you have something to strike up a conversation about in the future; always be cordial and pleasant.

3. Office Values and Decision Drivers

Understand the values and drivers that determine the majority of office decisions. Knowing this helps you know how to frame sales pitches, what can be sold and what can’t be. There are untouchable items. You can save yourself a lot of grief by staying away from the untouchables. Knowing an organization’s history holds a lot of answers to this area. What worked in the past? What didn’t?

For example, say your boss has always trusted using a certain vendor for a task. This could be an “untouchable item”. There might be no sense challenging the vendor decision until your boss moves on.

4. Scratching Backs

Live the saying, You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. It’s important to realize this is a two-way street. The easy side of this is, of course, getting what you want. It’s returning the favor where things get interesting. It may be very positive and build your relationship OR could prove difficult and worse case, challenge your ethics causing a negative reply. But the cost of not holding up your end of the deal can be high: you will have broken the other party’s trust, which delves into the importance of credibility, a topic we’ll soon cover. Essentially, hold up your end of the deal or don’t expect future reciprocity. That said, you need others to be successful, the back scratching game is part of it but does come with some risk.

5. Power of Consensus

If you believe strongly in something that goes against office politics, see if you can find others to join you in standing against management. Consensus can be a powerful force. A large group might be able to better hold up against the flow of office politics; if you challenge management on your own, you may find yourself alone in a hurry.

6. Credibility

When you are known for delivering results and being trustworthy, you gain credibility. Having credibility goes a long way toward being able to hold up against the currents of office politics. Take Billy for example. Billy has earned a place of respect among his peers. He recommends making a process change that challenges the way the boss has always done it; with valid points of support it is more likely to be heard and adopted because he is respected. If it was his first week on the job, I doubt his suggestion would be taken seriously. Another way to think of it is that credibility buys greater idea acceptance.

Credibility gives you room to push the edges too, which can be a great advantage. By this I mean your audience will listen to you and give you more time/space to speak to and provide input on a larger range to topics/issues.

7. Follow the Structure(s)

As a general rule of thumb, follow the organizational structure, but keep in mind the power structure. Be sure to keep both of them informed. You don’t want your boss or the decision makers to be surprised or left in the dark. For example, when you hold bad news, get it on the table early within both networks, not just the organizational one. This goes the other direction, too: if you have good news (e.g., a breakthrough in a major project, winning a small battle with a difficult client), make sure to share that with both parties as well. (If nothing else, this will help build credibility and respect.)

True Story: While I was pursuing my master’s degree, there were many small groups that formed to complete group assignments. After sizing up the groups, keeping in mind potential networking opportunities, I joined the one that had two high ranked employees of contract management. It took some quality contributions early on, but I earned my spot on the team. My consistent high performance unlocked the networks of these high ranked employees, and it turned out that in one of those professional networks was the manager of NASA’s spacewalking group. The spacewalking group was one of the most difficult groups to join at NASA, largely because there was always considerable (talented) competition for any open positions, and I wanted in.

Eventually I was granted an opportunity to work in the spacewalking group, and that was because I was given access to the manager by my teammate, and my teammate gave me a glowing recommendation. My time in that role lead to some of my most cherished professional memories. This was all made possible by creating relationships with a few of the decision makers within the organization.

What are your thoughts on this topic?

Do you agree with the list above? Did I leave off any important items?

#3.4 Preparing to be a High Performer – Capitalize on Your Gifts and Talents

Do you know what your natural gifts and talents are? Do you know your strengths? Do you know your personality type?

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Knowing the answers to these questions unlocks a world of increased productivity. It is in roles that require heavy doses of your natural gifts and talents that you will find yourself the most productive and able to out-produce others (and probably the happiest, to boot).

Let me give high-level examples: If you are a people person, then you will excel in a role that requires interaction with others (e.g., sales and marketing, human resources specialist). If you are an introvert, you may be better off in a role that doesn’t require a lot of social interaction to be productive (e.g., data analyst, financial analyst).

Here are a few common methods to help identify your natural gifts and talents. Get a pen and paper (or Evernote, Notes, or Word) and write down your answers to the following questions:

1) What activities and types of projects are you drawn to?

2) What do you find others complimenting you on? What do they compliment you on most often?

3) What comes easily to you that others often struggle with?

Then:

4) Take online personality and talent assessments.
5 minute test – http://www.sagestrategies.biz/documents/FiveMinutePersonalityTestforclass.pdf
12 minute test – http://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test

5) Ask others what they view to be your strengths and gifts. Don’t be shy—ask your family, your friends, co-workers, your boss. If you’re close to any former teachers or professors, ask them. You might be surprised to hear the answers. Do you see any commonalities in their responses? Do they line up with the results of questions 1 through 4?

Now, take all of your results and see if you can match them up with. The 16 personalities site mentioned above makes career suggestions based on your results.

 

Each person has been given a unique set of gifts. It is a journey—sometimes fun, sometimes challenging—to discover those gifts and talents. It can take a lifetime to work out not only what you’re good at but what you enjoy, but the sooner you figure it out, the sooner you will find yourself more fulfilled and productive.

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A high performer knows their gifts and talents and works in roles that capitalize on them.

True Story: A personal story that comes to mind on this subject takes me back to my sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. I had reached that point in my schooling where I had to declare a major.

I knew engineering was going to be a good fit for me, but I wasn’t sure which discipline would be best. I started off as a Civil engineer because I liked to be outside and thought bridge and road construction would be fun. Then I thought Chemical would be better because I enjoyed my early chemistry courses.

Of my prerequisite courses, one stood out because the course material came easier for me than for my peers. My exam scores were near or at the top in classes of hundreds of students. The course was called Statics, and it was part of the core curriculum for Mechanical engineering. I did well in the other classes, but in that one I exceled. That showed me that I had a natural ability in the discipline of Mechanical engineering, so I decided to capitalize on that and applied to the Mechanical Engineering school.

Have you figured out your gifts and talents yet? What were the results of your personality tests – learn something new? Please comment with it below.

On the 16 Personality test I was an ENTJ.  I look forward to hearing your input and engaging with you in a discussion about it.

#3.3 Preparing to be a High Performer: Leave your Entitlement Mentality at the Door – Exchange it for Humility

Do you feel entitled to receive various benefits at work such as promotions, bigger raises, and larger bonuses? This mentality needs to be handled carefully, and I caution you that it can cause more harm than good in certain circumstances. To clarify: there are instances when an employee is entitled to a reward but does not receive it; this is an entirely different situation than the one I’m looking to discuss here.

Ideserveit

The entitlement mentality I’m concerned about is when someone feels they have earned a reward and in reality:

  • They have not met the expectations required to receive the reward
  • They have become impatient with the natural process and quit, or they have become unpleasant to work with and ultimately upset management

The entitlement mentality doesn’t go over well with the older generations (i.e., Baby Boomers, Gen X)— the ones who are most likely in the management roles and in control of the benefits.

This blog about Workplace Warfare goes into detail about each workplace age group (X, Y, Z, and Boomers) and discusses each group’s strengths and weaknesses. Entitlement is a core area where there is a clash between age groups.

So where are the older generations coming from on this?

I think the root of it is understanding expectations. For example, are you familiar with the requirements needed for the promotion you want, and have you met them? Have you taken the classes, logged the project hours, accumulated the hands-on experience? If you haven’t, you can make a list of what you need to earn yourself that reward.

Once you have that list and understand expectations, it takes humility and patience to travel the sometimes trying, difficult, and often long road to eventually receiving those rewards. Humility will help you do all that is required—not all of the work will be glamorous; some may be tedious, some may seem like nothing more than grunt work. All jobs tend to have their not-so-fun parts, and it takes a certain humbleness to power through the boring parts with as much enthusiasm as the exciting parts.

 

HUMILITY + PATIENCE

 

Patience will be necessary as you work your way through all those items on your checklist. It can help get you safely to the other side of a looming “I want it now!” breakdown. You may think no one else has ever had to work so hard for that promotion / raise / bonus / recognition, but I can guarantee you aren’t the first—and you won’t be the last. Aside from needing patience while you propel yourself through earning your reward (which could take you years, depending on what reward you’re aiming for), you might also require it when you discover that in the real world, obtaining approvals for promotions and raises can take a whole lot longer than expected. Does that make it acceptable? Not necessarily, but I’ve seen it firsthand many times. Keep in mind that as long as you work as hard as you can and do the best job possible, your reward will come to you in time.

In closing, it’s important to fully grasp all of the expectations and know the typical timeline for obtaining that next desired benefit. It’s not a “Right Now” kind of thing . Unfortunately, the truth is it takes:

  • Doing the entire job well, even the tedious or hard parts
  • Spending time being patient in the role itself—it can take several years of service
  • Waiting for the promotion, raise, desired benefit to obtain upper-level approval

 

Once you have humility and patience as your launching points, you are another step closer to being a High Performer.

True Story: Do you have one on the subject of entitlement?

Do you think having an entitlement mentality hurts folks or not?

#3.2 Preparing to be a High Performer: Great Work Ethic

A great work ethic is one of the must-haves for qualifying as a high-performing employee. Without it, success is miles away.

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What stands in the way of having a stronger work ethic? That’s a good question to ask yourself. The answer will be different for each one of us, and by identifying the obstacles to you, you stand a chance at overcoming them. And once you’ve mastered your personal hurdles, you will have made a step toward being a high performer.

For some, the many distractions of life are simply too overwhelming to ignore. In an age in which there are more things vying for our time than ever before, it takes strong discipline to tune out anything that pulls our focus from getting done the job that’s expected of us. It’s easy enough to say, “I’ll just check Facebook quickly”—it can be much more difficult to actually limit yourself to those five minutes. Or, “I’ll quickly text my buddy about tonight”—turns into an exchange that distracts you and lasts much longer than it should have. You must learn what can wait and what can’t wait; you have a job to perform.

To be a true professional one must be able to fight distractions. Here are a few suggested strategies to consider adding to your toolbox in hopes of combating unwanted disruptions:
• Making a daily to-do list and sticking to accomplishing each one of them.
• Keeping an orderly desk. I heard it said that once you touch something, you should only set it down once you know its proper place. I admit, I’m not so good with this one.
• Keeping an orderly inbox.
• Being able to close an off-topic discussion with that talkative individual, “I need to get back to it, lots to do today”.
• While at work, avoiding reading personnel email, texts, or visiting external webpages.

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Another obstacle is poor time management outside the office. While this can have many effects—anything from being stressed at work because you can’t remember if you mailed your bills to having to make time during the workday for personal calls you didn’t get done at home—one of the biggest problems with poor time management at home is not leaving yourself enough time to get the expert-recommended eight hours of sleep a night. A recent study by Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital showed that work production decreases the more sleep-deprived someone is. A rested employee is a higher performing employee, making sleep an unexpected secret weapons of many high performers. Why not get control of your schedule and allow yourself to capitalize on a full night’s rest?

What are the attributes that make up an excellent work ethic? Here are a few of biggies.

  1. Diligence: Staying on top of tasks and goals. Maintaining focus on making consistent progress forward. Doing what it takes to get the job done. Never losing sight of the endgame and priorities.
  2. Initiative: Doing what needs to be done without prompting. Being proactive, figuring it out, and getting it done. Not waiting to be told what needs to be done if it’s something you can figure out on your own.
  3. Drive: Being motivated, passionate, and bringing energy to the tasks at hand. The antithesis is having an “I don’t care” attitude.
  4. Alertness: Being 100% in every moment. Not daydreaming and being lackadaisical.
  5. Determination: Having a can-do attitude. Digging in when the going gets tough. Overcoming adversity. Stepping into challenges. Facing and resolving conflict. Not backing down and/or avoiding a challenge or conflict.
  6. Commitment: Regardless of the circumstances and costs, staying in it to win it. Not quitting or giving up.
  7. Sacrifice: Being willing to trade off what you really would like to do in that moment for what needs to be done. It’s not always doing what you want to do.
  8. Toughness and Grit: Delivering results at times takes long hours of focus and investment. Sacrifice isn’t fun. You must have a toughness and grit to dig in deeper and propel yourself forward when that little voice calls out to quit. It’s not being thin-skinned and quick to throw in the towel. See more on this in the Grit blog.
  9. Humility: Taking it on the chin when needing to move forward. Completing the unrewarding and unfulfilling work with a grateful attitude. It’s having a “yes, ma’am” or “yes, sir” approach. It’s not making a big deal out of everything, avoiding coming off as ungrateful and a whiner/complainer.

If you own these attributes in your work, you will find yourself being noticed for having a strong work ethic, and you’ll be that much closer to being a high-performing employee.

True Story: I’ve seen these attributes work during my career. While I was at NASA, I walked and breathed everything from diligence to determination to sacrifice when I added night school to my already busy schedule. I managed to graduate with a 4.0 GPA and an MS in Technical Management, and I ascribe my success to my work ethic. And the result wasn’t just a degree: the biggest benefit of my success in the master’s program was a networking opportunity that led to the chance to join one of the most elite groups at NASA, the spacewalking group.

#3.1 Preparing to be a High Performer: Deliver Results; Warm Body Types Need Not Apply

We’ve already covered some ground about the criticality of delivering results. Success both starts and ends with how capable you are of giving your organization (or boss, peer, or client) what it needs. It is listed here as the number one item because delivering results is at the core of the entire concept of high performance, and rightly so. If you figure out how to deliver results in your organization (and you limit your mistakes), you will be a high performer—end of story.

Sleeping at Desk

Here I am going to add this information: organizations do not want just warm bodies. They don’t want people who will just sit around, taking up room and valuable resources (e.g., physical space, managerial attention, the cost of salary and benefits) while at the same time not producing results. They want employees who are going to be worthy of those resources—employees who will pull their own weight (and then some). Warm body types are often viewed as the opposite of the ideal.

Let’s take a minute to look a little more at what this means. Allow me to start by defining what I mean by a “warm body” type person: They come to work looking only for a paycheck, and they want to do as little as possible to obtain it. They are great at procrastination, which can take many forms. Sometimes it’s surfing the internet; other times it’s shooting the breeze with teammates or taking extended coffee breaks or writing page-long emails to old college friends. In all its forms, these folks are often like a cancer within an organization: they bring others down with them and consequently lower overall performance.

procrastinate

Another thing about these folks: they tend to give up too easily. They have a no-can-do mentality. They run into an obstacle, they shut down. Organizations need results, and to get those results, it takes the opposite of that—a willful can-do attitude.

rosie

At all costs, you want to avoid being labeled as a “warm body type”— it’s tough to recover from a negative public opinion—and even more importantly, you don’t want to actually be that kind of employee. High performers won’t find themselves in the “warm body” group or associating with them any more than incidentally.

Maintain a focus on delivering results. Don’t be a warm body. Keep a safe distance from warm body types lest they drag you down with them.

#3.0 Preparing to be a High Performer – 10 Must-Haves

This is an introduction to my next series of blogs. This section is going to provide a foundational structure for becoming a higher performing employee by discussing the most important factors for success. It will help you prioritize what’s truly needed to get ahead in the real world.

Prepare

Good grades are important but are only one item on a long list of essentials. Academia will make you think good grades are all that matter, but please don’t believe this misconception. Many recent undergrads are surprised when they start interviewing and quickly find that businesses seem more interested in the real-world work experiences they’ve had than in anything else (e.g., university GPA). And not just what work experiences they’ve had, but how they performed in those opportunities. Think it doesn’t matter you spent an entire summer co-op working on your fantasy baseball team rather than learning the business? Think again.

Some of the brightest, most successful individuals I have known had poor high school or university GPAs. How is that possible, you ask? It’s simple: there is a lot more to success than a good GPA. Don’t misunderstand me—a strong GPA will help open more doors, but it doesn’t necessarily correlate in the long-term with a successful, high-performing career.

This section will provide a few of the keys to unlocking the elusive but very attainable high-performing career. As mentioned in previous entries , it starts with delivering results. Does a great GPA in itself do that? No, it doesn’t. More often than not, it doesn’t even tell you how to do that. In the following posts, I am going to provide a Top 10 List of the Must-Haves for setting a successful trajectory to being a high-performing employee.

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#2.5 Benefits of Being a High Performer: Wrapping It Up

StartingBlocks

Being a high performer has a long list of great benefits. Some are tangible (such as bigger bonuses), while others are not as tangible (respect). High performers are more likely to receive these benefits than employees who go unnoticed or are known for their poor work. That’s why it’s important to figure out the keys to being a high performer and strive to become one.

 
It’s no different than running a race. Those who have the greatest chance of winning are those who have positioned themselves for success which not only ensures they will perform their best but will also take advantage of any weakness the competition might have. They have given themselves a leg up on their competition.

Natural talent and ability is part of it, but unless that talent is directed and focused correctly, it can be a train wreck. If a runner is the fastest of all those competing but runs in the opposite direction, what good is it? Or what would happen if they stood lazily in the blocks instead of being coiled up, ready to explode into motion when the gun fires?

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In the real world, you need to be ready to compete—there are many talented individuals out there. You need to know what’s important (to both yourself and your organization). You need to know the unspoken rules so you don’t find yourself on the bottom without even realizing the gravity of your mistakes. This blog will help teach you both those unwritten rules and even how to coil up and explode out of the figurative blocks—how to run a race that will give you the best chance of winning it. That way, you can capitalize on all the benefits of winning.

#2.4 Benefits of Being a High Performer: Greater Respect from your Peers and Network

Respect

For some, gaining the respect of others is a top priority. One of the best ways to get respect in the work place is to be a high performer. This happens when others acknowledge and recognize your positive contributions and efforts. This will be true of not only those inside your organization, but also those outside your organization, assuming you’ve put in effort to build your network .

How much respect do you have for low performers? Not much, I’m sure. Why is that? Take for example Bob. Bob leaves important facts out of his weekly status reports to his boss. He falls asleep in any meeting longer than fifteen minutes, and he hasn’t been on time to work since Christmas. You don’t work directly with Bob, but you know these things about him because his reputation is built on these markers of low performance. This is not the kind of attention you want. Bob is not respected by his peers or management. Bob will not be entrusted with important tasks or projects, and it is unlikely he will ever be promoted, horizontally or vertically.

It is those individuals within your organization who give stellar presentations, communicate effectively with peers and management, and produce quality deliverables by a given deadline (to name just a few examples) who continually receive positive attention for their work. As a result, they have others vying for their advice and opinions. Other people want to work with and for them. That is the kind of employee who catches attention and gains respect.

Internally, as respect for you increases, so will an important factor in effective leadership: the trust of others. As both peers and management trust you more, you will most likely be given the chance to lead and/or manage others.

In addition, the respect that high performers build outside of their organization can lead to a vast list of other opportunities. Some examples are external job offers that result in salary increases or promotion, speaking engagements, networking events, and workshops.

Increased respect is yet another great benefit for the high performer.

#2.3 Benefits of Being a High Performer: Greater Job Satisfaction

I Love My Job

As a high performer in any organization, one of the perks is greater job satisfaction. This greater satisfaction comes in both tangible and intangible forms.

Tangible Forms of Greater Job Satisfaction

When doors swing wide open for better tangible benefits, an employee will most likely experience greater job satisfaction.

The tangible forms that we discussed previously are as follows:

• More responsibility through both vertical and horizontal promotions
• Earlier promotions
• Earlier raises
• Larger bonuses

Each person has a need to be acknowledged for their efforts. The tangible items listed above are one of the most solid ways to experience that positive acknowledgement.

Intangible Forms of Greater Job Satisfaction

There are many intangible forms of greater job satisfaction that come from being a high performer. Here is a list of the ones I’ve experienced:

• Having your ideas implemented
• Increased self-confidence
• Having the chance to get work done through others
• Having other follow you and succeeding because of it

I have felt the greatest job satisfaction when one of my ideas succeeds. Such opportunities happen more often for high performers because they are trusted with more responsibility and allowed to take more risks. Management must first believe in you before being willing to trust your ideas.

Sometimes it’s the mental benefit that is the most rewarding from doing a great job. The mental reward, in this case, is the self-confidence that comes from knowing you are performing at the top. That confidence can permeate all aspects of your life: your life outside of work, your family life, and your hobbies for example. When all is well at work, I’ve found that I’m able to bring a swagger and confidence to all areas of my life. My success in one area tends to overflow into other areas of my life.

I’ve found it rewarding to get work done through others. Opportunities to get work through others come about from being a high performer and well trusted – they are the first ones management will trust with management responsibilities. I enjoy being able to get more work accomplished than what I would be able to do on my own. I find that gratifying.

I’ve also experienced high levels of gratification from having others follow my lead and end up succeeding because of it. When I’ve trained astronauts or engineers and then seen them flourish because of it, it gives me a great feeling of satisfaction.

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High performers enjoy greater job satisfaction because of the tangible and intangible benefits received as fruit of their efforts.