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Business Management Leadership Development life lessons management systems New Managers Uncategorized

From the case files of the reluctant manager: My first employee

My first management position wasn’t one I asked for, or even wanted. In fact, to say I was a reluctant manager is a HUGE understatement. I was happy and busy implementing a performance management system in a company that had retained me for a year for this purpose. I’d relocated from Canada to Southern California and was dealing with the culture shock of decorated palm trees for Christmas, people asking if it ever got warm in Canada, and Thanksgiving being in November. The project was successful, and the company owner and COO were happy with how things were going. So happy, in fact, that they wanted me to do MORE…FASTER. Now for me, this was a good news/bad news scenario. The good news was that everything was going so well, and I wouldn’t be sent packing back to Calgary early. The bad news was I wasn’t sure how I’d add on more projects. That was simple, they told me. They’d give me an assistant. In fact, they already had someone picked out. We can call her Alice.

The first time I ever spoke to Alice was when I was told she was my new employee. She hadn’t asked to be my employee, and knew nothing about what I was doing. She was a musician in a band and that was her career goal. Her mom worked for the company and got her the job.

I had no idea how to be a boss. The performance management program I implemented is pretty technical and rooted in behavioral psychology. It seemed like overkill to train her in that. My thought process was that Alice could manage the data and I’d initiate the new projects. She assured me she knew Word and Excel, so I put her in charge of the data.

So about the data. My performance management programs are VERY data centric. We collect a lot of baseline performance metrics, and then daily information for every employee in the program. It’s a lot of work, but it’s based on PhD work into applied science. There’s a lot to it, but suffice it to say, the data was a big deal. My mentor was a professor from Notre Dame, and he was only doing this project so he could publish it.

So to recap: I had an assistant I didn’t think I wanted or needed, and Alice had a new boss and new job she’d never applied for. I had no idea what she was supposed to do and a ton of data I was managing on a spreadsheet that was mundane but critical to the program, and Alice said she knew excel.

What do you think the right thing to do would have been:

  1. Start training Alice in the performance management program and have her take on a project from the ground up?
  2. Have Alice keep performing her previous duties while I drafted out a job description of what I needed her to be doing, along with the training?
  3. Tell my bosses I had no work for Alice and I’d let them know when that changed?
  4. Put Alice in charge of the data management because that was the item that needed the least specialized training, and could free me up to start new projects?

Comment with your answers, and I’ll let you know what I really did (it wasn’t good).

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Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based mentoring and training company committed to equipping managers to overcome the typical tactical, strategic, and personal development challenges facing managers in growing companies. Will a full suite of mentoring, coaching, training, and on-call support available for managers and leaders, we’ve got you covered! For more information, visit our site or contact us for more information about how we help leaders and managers grow.

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career coaching life lessons Uncategorized

Freedom, individuality, and your career

Seeing as how it was just Canada Day, and tomorrow is Independence Day for the United States, freedom seems like a good topic. I’m thoroughly fed up with politics, though, so I’m staying away from political freedom, and am going to talk about it from another perspective; leadership and your career.

We live in a culture where freedom is sacrosanct, and we all pretty much believe we should have the freedom to make our own choices. This means that we have the ability to choose what we will do and what we want in our life. Of course, this in no way absolves us of the consequences of our choices, whether it be legally, career-wise, or emotionally (as much as that would be nice).

This is nowhere more true than when it comes to our career; one of the most significant areas in most people’s lives. Most of us, on some level, have desires, talents, and ambitions, and are free to pursue a career that is in alignment with those. What I’ve seen more often than not, as a coach, is a whole bunch of seriously unhappy people who feel stuck and like they have no choice. They are in jobs they hate, or working for people they hate (or at least seriously dislike), doing things that suck their soul and make them miserable. Until the pain of this becomes unbearable, these folks always say the same thing about why they’re there: they have no choice.

I remember telling this to a boss of mine one time. I’d just found out I was pregnant with my first child, and he was wondering if I’d come back to work after the baby. My response was that I had to, that there was no other choice, to which he replied “there’s always a choice”. At the time, this kind of annoyed me. Easy for him to say, I thought. Because my husband and I had agreed that he would launch a startup business, we completely depended on my job for our family income and medical benefits. How on earth did I have a choice?

When you’re in a leadership role, this feeling of being choice-less can be even more compounded. You feel the burden of other people’s livelihoods, as well as the responsibility for the outcomes of everyone’s efforts. Concern about the potential impact of any given action can be paralyzing.

I’ve come to see that being in fear and uncertainty about the future makes us feel like we have no choice. It’s very easy to make assumptions about the value we bring, the economic climate, and the marketplace, and come to the conclusion that we can’t do any better than we’re currently doing, only worse. We eventually embrace the idea (and bad bosses will reinforce this) that we’re actually lucky to have what we do, and we’d better not rock the boat.

As a coach, I am completely sold out to the idea that if we’re operating in our area of proficiency, passion, and purpose (to paraphrase Michael Hyatt) that we will be fulfilled and eventually successful once we find the correct platform or point of entry. The problem is that if you don’t believe this, you won’t try, and you’ll experience the crushing weight of being stuck.

Anyone can exercise their freedom to choose when it comes to their career at the end of the day, by simply choosing to not be there. Most of us would prefer to improve our circumstances rather than just escape them, so that takes a little more strategy. The first step is recognizing the assumptions and beliefs you’re currently harboring about your situation, and challenging their veracity. For example:

  • What are you truly passionate about?
  • What are you good at?
  • Is it possible to conduct research into opportunities to contribute your passion and proficiency?
  • Do you really have the ‘freedom’ you think you do in your current role?
  • Is it really true you’d never make this much money somewhere else? Does it matter?

Depending on the answer to these questions (and a few other ones), it may make sense to begin a career transition. On the other hand, sometimes you have a passion that doesn’t necessarily translate well into a career transition, and that’s okay. A lot of times that stuck feeling is not so much about your particular job, but the amount of mental and physical resources you’re devoting to it. Sometimes a recalibration of your investment can create the freedom you need to refresh and recharge.

And yes, I’m sensitive to the fact that there are some people with far less options, opportunities and advantages than others so I’m not cavalierly suggesting for anyone that the way out of a tough situation is simply to choose differently and things will magically get better. Change can require enormous sacrifice, perseverance, and effort, and sometimes other priorities or circumstance can make it unfeasible to accomplish what it could take.

Focus has always been a problem for me. I’ve often joked that it’s so unfair to only get one life, when there’s SO MUCH I want to do. Unfortunately, we do only get one shot. What a tragedy at the end of it to have spent the majority of your career feeling stuck. From my own experience I can tell you that taking even the most incremental steps to move towards your passion can breathe new life into your experience of your career.

I’d love to hear your stories about how you’ve moved from a place of stuck to a place of fulfillment!

Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people.  With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work.  Carrie can be reached for consultation at carrie@todaysleadershipsolutions.com

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life lessons Uncategorized

Fitting it all in and taking back your life

Busy much? When I moved to Southern California from Canada almost twenty years ago, the first thing that struck me (after Christmas lights on palm trees) was the TIME people spent at work. Now admittedly, my previous role was OBM Project Director which was not a 9-5 and afforded me a degree of flexibility that likely ruined me as an employee. But it was so strange to me how so many people would wear their hours like a badge of honor. I felt like a guilty slacker leaving after ‘only’ eight hours, even if I didn’t have anything else to do. Fast forward a transition from consultant to director and I no longer had to pretend to have a full plate. In only ten years, I had drunk enough work-flavored Kool-aid to actually believe that I preferred working in small doses on vacation (and maternity leave, for that matter) because it gave me peace of mind that I wasn’t too far out of the loop.

And hopefully if you’re reading this, you’re calling BS on me, as I should have on myself, because this mentality is rooted in fear, fear, fear. Part of it is fear of being discovered to be replaceable, and part is that fear that is marking the emerging generation (Generation Z, because Millennials are SO last year,). It’s so prevalent it has a name FOMO (fear of missing out) and is a critical component of our social media addiction.

I’m reminded of the spokes on the traditional coaching Wheel of Life – family/friends, romance, physical health, spiritual life, career, personal growth, money (or some combination thereof). My experience in most workplaces today is that to be considered ‘worthy’ of promotion and further opportunities, one has to deny all the other spokes, or at least ensure your employer that they won’t become a ‘distraction’.  We’ve bought into a culture where complete subservience to the work-spoke feels like the only way to ‘succeed’ – except the definition of success is to have enough money to be able to buy all the other spokes and you don’t find out it doesn’t work that way until it’s far too late.

For most of us, change happens when enough pain is reached and when I eventually found myself on the outside of the crooked wheel looking in, the journey from complete financial terror, to overwhelming relief was surprisingly short. The freedom to build a wheel that fits my life has been sweet indeed.  Of course, it’s not without drawbacks, as I am now faced with what I can only think of as Buffet Plate Syndrome in which so many things look delicious that I’ve taken a bit of everything and now have an even fuller plate than before, only with things I’ve chosen.

This all came to a head because of a project I’ve been wanting to start for a while. One of my consulting colleagues is an absolute genius when it comes to Organizational Development – particularly as it relates to culture. When we were talking about our specialties one day it became quite clear to both of us that we need to write a book, as our strengths directly complement one another. He has all the research and theory, and writing comes easily to me (especially if I don’t have to research). This book will be so beneficial to leaders in helping them build the company that they want to build that I’m driven to write this book. And:

  • Grace Group (my novel) is getting released June 17th
  • I’m in the middle of finalizing my leadership and my OBM webinars for scalable training
  • I’ve got an OBM project just ramping up
  • I’m busy with some other great clients and projects
  • It’s summer and in the summer I like to play and have adventures with my kids (See how I put that last, like I think it detracts from my credibility, even though it’s kind of most important, and what I build my schedule around for the most part).

Here’s the part where I’m supposed to insert a ‘CALL TO ACTION’. I guess I could ask you to pre-order Grace Group, or talk to me about webinar training or OBM consulting where I can help you create efficiencies and all that, but today I just feel compelled to challenge you (and myself) to look at your wheel, and your plate, and all your other metaphors and do a check in. Are you ‘appropriately’ balanced (as my coach always says), are you content with your prioritization, and have you bought into any beliefs that don’t serve you? The last can be the scariest but also the one that sets you free.

So to close, if you feel like you can’t fit it all in, join the billion-member club. But if the things that are taking your time and energy don’t feed your soul and are sucking life from other areas that are important, this might be the day to start looking at that and asking…can it be different?

Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people.  With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work.  Carrie can be reached for consultation at carrie@todaysleadershipsolutions.com

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life lessons Uncategorized

What getting fired from my first job taught me about management, leadership, and being a good follower

A long, long (LONG) time ago, I held my newly obtained psychology degree in hand, determined to change the world. Or at least ‘help people’. I had no idea WHAT I wanted to do, honestly, only that I didn’t want to work a corporate 9-5, that I wanted to make the world a better place, and that whatever I did, it would only be filling time until my REAL job (a paid and published author) came to fruition.  To age myself, and to inspire comments about how fabulous I look for someone clearly nearing retirement age, when I graduated university, the internet was just becoming a ‘thing’, and I produced all of my term papers on a state-of-the-art, IBM word processor that was a glorified typewriter.  All this to say, I had no working knowledge of spreadsheets, word processing software, or much else. But I had a psychology degree, so off I went, type-written resume in hand, to find an awesome, well-paying job.

I’ll fast forward the humiliation, horrible interviews, and slowly dawning realization that I would not, in fact, be choosing between several interesting, lucrative and philanthropic positions, but would actually be lucky to land a day shift in a fast food restaurant. So, degree in hand, I limped back to my ‘school job’, a shipping and receiving depot for a generic pharmaceutical warehouse. Clearly, I was meant for more than shipping off generic drugs to pharmacies across Canada (so I thought), and my attitude about this no doubt was apparent.

What was also apparent was that the manager of the warehouse was not up to the job. While I and another couple employees were transferred from the west coast head office, ‘Marvin’, as we shall call him, was hired because he was a friend of one of the sales reps. Marvin hired his friends and on one occasion, relative, to work in the warehouse. Marvin did not seem to appreciate our frequent ‘helpful’ input about how the head office did things. In fact, he seemed to become irritated by this. He also didn’t appear to have a strong regard for things like people actually working for the company in order to be paid. The final straw in my mind was when we received a pallet of drugs that were frozen that were clearly marked ‘do not freeze’, and Marvin’s response was ‘Eff it, what corporate doesn’t know won’t hurt them.’

So of course I did what I did at that time in my life – I launched a crusade. Filled with righteous indignation, I composed a letter to HR about all the violations Marvin was engaged in, near embezzlement, nepotism and practically attempted murder (due to the frozen drugs). Those of us who weren’t Marvin’s friends signed it and we waited confidently for Marvin’s dismissal.

Which didn’t happen.

Instead, HR called Marvin and told him what the letter said and who signed it, and that they would be coming in two weeks to interview everyone. The next day, I was called into the office and told my attitude was unacceptable and I was no longer needed. When HR came, they asked everyone about the allegations and concluded the issue with a warning to Marvin. Everyone else was fired within the next couple months for reasons allegedly unrelated to the actual complaint.

This actually ended up being an awesome thing for me because, facing unemployment again, I took a class to learn basic office skills, which led to an introduction which led to me doing PhD-level applied behavioral research assignments for a pioneer in Organizational Behavior Management. This would never have happened if I wouldn’t have launched a failed coup. But I learned some other things too:

  • I learned that when you are NOT the one with the ‘power’ in a work relationship, just being right (or feeling that you’re right) is not enough when raising a complaint. How you conduct yourself, how you communicate, and your perceived motives will greatly influence how your complaint is received.
  • I learned that sometimes owners and senior leaders would rather deal with an inadequate manager than no manager at all, which makes them very vulnerable long term, but gives them at least the illusion of things getting handled.
  • I learned that sometimes you have to ask yourself if a battle is really worth fighting. If you just put your head down and do your job, can you overlook the petty things (managers hiring friends and being somewhat less than inspiring)? Are the things that seem like big deals really big deals and if not, can you ignore them for the sake of keeping your job?
  • I also, sadly, learned that sometimes HR isn’t there to make sure the right thing gets done, just that the problem goes away. If you’re seen to be the problem, then guess what?
  • I didn’t learn this immediately, but eventually I learned that if I don’t respect my manager, or if my company’s values differ significantly from my own, I need to start looking elsewhere because I can’t be successful AND happy there. 
  • When I did eventually take on an HR role, the lesson I took with me from this is to very objective when I heard complaints and certainly not create an opportunity for retaliation by disclosing to people the nature of the complaints, and identity of the complainants well before the investigation started! And I probably would have looked a little more closely at all the terminations of the complainers, but hey…that’s just me.
  • I guess most of all I learned that even if it ends badly, sometimes it’s still worth it to do what you think is right.

This wasn’t the first time I spoke a truth that the powers that be didn’t want to hear (far, FAR from it). As I often joke, my life theme could probably be “I fought the law and the law won”, but I personally wouldn’t have it any other way.  Are there some battles I shouldn’t have fought, or that I had a flat-out wrong perspective on? Unfortunately, yes.  Are there any companies or leaders I left voluntarily or otherwise as a result of my telling unpopular truths that I wish I was still part of? Nope to the nope.

So I guess to summarize what I learned, it was don’t obsess over petty stuff, do your job, choose your battles wisely, and when you do encounter a battle truly worth fighting, fight for all you’re worth and if it ends badly, trust that there’s something better out there!

Are you in the midst of some battles of your own? I’d love to hear about it. My company exists to help you navigate them so you don’t have to go through what either Marvin or I went through!

Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm focused on helping organizations, leaders and job seekers to identify workplace solutions that work.  As a certified executive coach, organizational development expert and resume writer, Carrie consults with small to medium sized businesses on OD, human resources and recruiting solutions in addition to providing career coaching to managers and executives in transition. Carrie can be reached for consultation at carrie@todaysleadershipsolutions.com