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Leadership and the Human Stain

Leadership and the Human Stain
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    Wired Magazine recently posted an interesting profile of Getting Things Done author David Allen. A similar profile ran in Business 2.0 over the summer. The pieces detail a history of drug abuse and addiction, mental breakdown, drifting, and divorce, before Allen eventually encountered the spiritual leader John-Roger, the Mystical Traveler, and began assembling the philosophy that would come to stand as the core of GTD.

    While there’s little in GTD that’s explicitly cultish (despite the Wired article’s title, which calls GTD Allen’s “cult of hyperefficiency” — a representation the article itself goes to pains to dispel), the connection between Allen and John-Roger causes some people a great deal of concern. For them, Allen’s sullied past and spiritual leanings are marks against him.

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    Not to me. In fact, reading about Allen’s difficulties coming to terms with his life and, ultimately, himself makes him seem more worth listening to, not less. I say this as a man without a spiritual bone in my body, someone with no great respect for those who offer salvation or Truth to the misguided and confused. In short, I say this as someone who is not impressed with Allen as a believer, but is still impressed with his work and the role he’s taken as a leader offering tools to empower others to deal with their lives.

    In my first post here at lifehack.org, I wrote that “Leaders empower those around them” and this is the quality I admire in Allen. Knowing that he is, was, and will continue to be “only human” doesn’t diminish his leadership qualities; rather, I believe it enhances them. Too many would-be leaders assume a mantle of superiority, distancing themselves from their “mere” humanity with all the faults and weaknesses that implies. They hide their weaknesses, pretending to be above the trivialities of day-to-day life, and presenting a front of super-human strength and competence. These are the people who wear hairpieces and cap their teeth to avoid the impression of bodily imperfection and scoff at those of us who wear our hearts on our sleeves and worry over-much about the right thing to do.

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    There’s nothing empowering about this model of leadership, though — it’s leadership through fear and intimidation, through appeal to low self-esteem and insecurity, and it falls apart at the first sign of the so-called leader’s everyday humanity. Allen’s leadership is premised on something different; in interviews he comes across as humble and approachable, and in these profiles as eminently human. He has achieved the success he has attained not only in spite of his earlier failures but because of them — the failures are part and parcel of his success.

    Knowing his story makes his advice and his work more real to me somehow — it’s the work of a man and not a god. It creates a leadership that is not bestowed from Heaven but the outcome of worldly living. It comes, that is, from a life much like mine — maybe not in the particulars (as far as I know, I’ve never been addicted to drugs or spent time in a psychiatric institution) but in the overall quality.

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    This kind of leadership is far more compelling to me than the model of leadership by brute strength. It is the kind of leadership practiced by someone like Mahatma Gandhi, who led the Indian people to independence from the British not by hiding his faults but by emphasizing them, by displaying them for the world to see. Gandhi understood well the importance of human frailty and built his strategy of nonviolent resistance around it. Knowing that his peaceful protests would be met by violence, Gandhi embraced the fragility of the human body — knowing that the brutality that colonial forces would inflict against unresisting protesters would hang heavy on the consciences of both the present attackers and the rest of the world witnessing it via the media. Throughout his career, Gandhi demonstrated the frailness of his own body and the tenuousness of life itself by embarking on hunger strikes, inspiring millions with his own humanity.

    Or, to take an example from the opposite end of the moral spectrum, consider Bill Clinton who, regardless of what you thought of his politics or his morality, could make believers in a few moments of personal contact. Hunter S. Thompson, the drug-addled iconoclast and inventor-advocate of Gonzo reporting, a man who despised the politics of appeasement the Democrats arrived at over the span of the Reagan years almost as much as he despised the institution of organized politics altogether, still found himself admiring Clinton when he covered his campaign in 1992. Though he never learned to like Clinton’s centrist politics, he was compelled by Clinton’s very presence — not because of his strength but because of his weaknesses: the gusto with which he wolfed down his food, the womanizing and philandering that Clinton barely concealed, the squareness of his amateur sax-playing, the raw “humanness” of the man. America agreed, apparently; Clinton’s victory in New York clinching the Democratic nomination came hard on the heels of the revelation of Clinton’s affair with Gennifer Flowers. In contrast, George H.W. Bush (and later Bob Dole) was all too stiff and formal to be real.

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    The mark of human weakness is at the center of Phillip Roth’s novel The Human Stain, a meditation on human physical and, more importantly, moral frailty set against the backdrop of the Lewinsky Affair. For Roth, it is the “stain” of moral confusion, physical degradation, sexual and emotional need, and ultimately failure in every and any arena of life that marks us as purely and utterly human. And it is the reality of temptation, of moral misstep, of wrong turns and tortuous recovery that makes for true leadership, for leaders that lead by example and by sharing their unreserved humanity. That is the kind of leadership I see in Allen’s story, and it is the kind of leadership that a mere human like myself can embrace.

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    Last Updated on February 20, 2019

    How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

    How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

    Are you stuck in the same position for too long and don’t really know how to get promoted and advance your career?

    Feeling stuck could be caused by a variety of things:

    • Taking a job for the money
    • Staying with an employer that no longer aligns with your values
    • Realizing that you landed yourself in the wrong career
    • Not feeling valued or feeling underutilized
    • Staying in a role too long out of fear
    • Taking a position without a full understanding of the role

    There are many, many other reasons why you may be feeling this way but let’s focus instead on getting unstuck.

    As in – getting promoted.

    So how to get promoted?

    I’m of the opinion that the best way to get promoted is by showing how you add value to your organization.

    Did you make money, save money, improve a process, or some other amazing thing? How else might you demonstrated added value?

    Let’s dive right in how to get promoted when you feel stuck in your current position:

    1. Be a Mentor

    When I supervised students, I used to warm them – tongue in cheek, of course – about getting really good at their job.

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    “Be careful not to get too good at this, or you’ll never get to do anything else?”

    This was my way of pestering them to take on additional challenges or think outside the box, but there is definitely some reality in doing something so well that your manager doesn’t trust anyone else to do it.

    This can get you stuck.

    Jo Miller of Be Leaderly shares this insight on when your boss thinks you’re too valuable in your current job:[1]

    “Think back to a time when you really enjoyed your current role. I bet there was a time when this job was a stretch for you, and you stepped up to the challenge and performed like a rock star. You became known for doing your job so well that you built up some strong “personal brand” equity, and people know you as the go-to-person for this particular job. That’s what we call “a good problem to have”: you did a really good job of building a positive perception about your suitability for the role, but you may have done “too” good of a job!”

    With this in mind, how do you prove to your employer that you can add value by being promoted?

    In Miller’s insight, she talks about building your personal brand and becoming known for doing a particular job well. So how can you link that work with a position or project that will earn you a promotion?

    Consider leveraging your strengths and skills.

    Let’s say that project you do so well is hiring and training new entry level employees. You have to post the job listing, read and review resumes, schedule interviews, making hiring decisions, and create the training schedules. These tasks require skills such as employee relations, onboarding, human resources software, performance management, teamwork, collaboration, customer service, and project management. That’s a serious amount of skills!

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    Is there anyone else on your team who can perform these skills? Try delegating and training some of your staff or colleagues to learn your job. There are a number of reasons why this is a good idea:

    1. Cross-training helps in any situation in the event that there’s an extended illness and the main performer of a certain task is out for a while.
    2. In becoming a mentor to a supervisee or colleague, you empower then to increase their job skills.
    3. You are already beginning to demonstrate that added value to your employer by encouraging your team or peers to learn your job.

    Now that you’ve trained others to do that work for which you have been so valued, you can see about re-requesting that promotion. Be ready to explain how you have saved the company money, encouraged employees to increase their skills, or reinvented that project of yours.

    2. Work on Your Mindset

    Another reason you may feel stuck in a position is well explained by Ashley Stahl in her Forbes article. Shahl talks about mindset, and says:[2]

    “If you feel stuck at a job you used to love, it’s normally you–not the job–who needs to change. The position you got hired for is probably the exact same one you have now. But if you start to dread the work routine, you’re going to focus on the negatives.”

    In this situation, you should pursue a conversation with your supervisor and share your thoughts and feelings. You can probably get some advice on how to rediscover the aspects of that job you enjoyed, and negotiate either some additional duties or a chance to move up.

    Don’t express frustration. Express a desire for more.

    Share with your supervisor that you want to be challenged and you want to move up. You are seeking more responsibility in order to continue moving the company forward. Focus on how you can do that with the skills you have and will develop with some additional projects and coaching.

    3. Improve Your Soft Skills

    When was the last time you put focus and effort into upping your game with those soft skills? I’m talking about those seemingly intangible things that make you the experienced professional in your specific job skills:

    An article on Levo.com suggests that more than 60 percent of employers look at soft skills when making a hiring decision.[3]

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    You can bone up on these skills and increase your chances of promotion by taking courses or seminars.

    And you don’t necessarily need to request funding from your supervisor, either. There are dozens of online courses being presented by entrepreneurs and authors about these very subjects. Udemy and Creative Live both feature online courses at very reasonable prices. And some come with completion certificates for your portfolio!

    Another way to improve your soft skills is by connecting with an employee at your organization who has the position you are seeking.

    Express your desire to move up in the organization, and ask to shadow that person or see if you can sit in on some of her meetings. Offer to take that individual out for coffee and ask what her secret is! Take copious notes and then immerse yourself in the learning.

    The key here is not to copy your new mentor (think Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Single White Female.” Just kidding). Rather, you want to observe, learn and then adapt according to your strengths. And don’t forget to thank that person for their time.

    4. Develop Your Strategy

    Do you even know specifically WHY you want to be promoted anyway? Do you see a future at this company? Do you have a one year, five year, or ten year plan? How often do you consider your “why” and insure that it aligns with your “what?”

    Sit down and do an old-fashioned Pro and Con list. Two columns:

    Pro’s on one side, Con’s on the other.

    Write down every positive aspect of your current job and then every negative one. Which list is longer? Are there any themes present?

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    Look at your lists and choose the most exciting Pro’s and the most frustrating Con’s. Do those two Pro’s make the Con’s worth it? If you can’t answer that question with a “yes” then getting promoted at your current organization may not be what you really want.

    The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. –Mark Twain

    Mel Carson writes about this on Goalcast that many other authors and speakers have written about finding your professional purpose.[4]

    Here are some questions to ask yourself:

    • Why is it that you do what you do?
    • What thrills you about your current job role or career?
    • What does a great day look like?
    • What does success look like beyond the paycheck?
    • What does real success feel like for you?
    • How do you want to feel about your impact on the world when you retire?

    These questions would be great to reflect on in a journal or with your supervisor in your next one-on-one meeting. Or, bring it up with one of your Vital Work Friends over coffee.

    See, what you might find is that being stuck is your choice. And you can set yourself on the path of moving up where you are, or moving on to something different.

    Because sometimes the real promotion is finding your life’s purpose. And like Mastercard says, that’s Priceless.

    More Resources About Career Advancement

    Featured photo credit: Razvan Chisu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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