Don’t Follow Your Passion, Follow The Market

Follow your passion. Follow your heart. Monetize your hobby.

Trust me, I’ve heard it all.

In an ideal world, you’d find your ideal clients and sell to them like crazy, but that’s not realistic.

I’ve learned over time that is has less to do with passion, but more about identifying what’s thriving in the market.

Now thriving isn’t a code word for trendy. It means industries that have staying power.

Just like there are very few new ideas, don’t be overly concerned with competition. The same reason why gas stations and fast food establishments purposely open locations near each other proves this point.

Each industry tends to have a giant or market leader which signifies a strong want (perceived need) in society. With so many options to choose from, positioning your idea boils down to uniqueness.

In most instances it’s your brand story, featured benefit or “patented” process.

Whatever your unique selling proposition (USP) is, it’s much wiser to bring to a visible market than an invisible one.

Take for instance coaching. I’ve been doing it for 10+ years, but it’s still not part of a thriving market. Coaching is more of a “how” than a “what” therefore I’m more focused on ideas that utilize coaching in the process, but it’s not the main offering.

Coaching is an example of being in an invisible market because every time you approach a prospective customer you’re faced with a “double sell” proposal. That means the initial sell is educating what you are selling, then you have to follow up with a secondary sell to get paid. It’s not an ideal situation to put yourself through.

Market research becomes invaluable since you want to enter an area that’s already hot. No matter how great your idea is, the uphill battle of trying to educate people about what your product/service does isn’t worth your time or investment.

We’re fortunate to live in a time where information is readily accessible at our fingertips, so take advantage of it! Don’t be discouraged about developing your idea, but before moving forward make sure there’s a clear market for it’s entrance.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, it’s already been created.

The 1 Question Managers Need To Ask

Managing people isn’t for everyone, but if taken seriously one question will give you all the answers you need to maximize productivity:

How can I best support you?

Here’s why: support isn’t defined by the giver, but the recipient.

I asked this question in my previous management role and it did wonders for morale, engagement and performance.

The best workers are self-motivated. As a professional if you need to be externally motivated to do your job, even the greatest perks/benefits won’t make a huge difference.

Once hired in a role (assuming you’re qualified), you need to be trained with the skills to do the job, but when that on-boarding process is complete it’s your turn to soar.

As a manager you don’t need to be smarter than the team you lead. In fact, if you facilitate and support well technical skills are just a bonus.

Support is something you feel. When you are being supported you know it. If you have to think about it, it’s absent.

Your job as a manager is to help your teammates shine. At a deeper level it’s making them look better than you. If there’s too much ego involved as a manager, you’re destined to be in competition with your team rather than holding hands across the finish line.

There’s a simple way to gauge if the workers under your care feel supported: ask them.

Be specific. Ask this: on a scale of 1 – 10, 1 being not at all vs. 10 feeling like a champion rate the amount of support you feel?

In a performance-based world, this approach may sound soft, but that’s exactly why it works.

A manager’s job isn’t to tell their team how to do something, it’s to clarify objectives and remove all the obstacles in their way.

Going back to my “best workers” example, when giving support you also offer respect, care and autonomy. Think about the best boss you’ve had. I highly doubt they rode you like a horse. Instead I guarantee you’ll describe your relationship with them (soft skills).

Management isn’t easy, but it’s also not rocket science. Take the servant leadership approach to managing others and you’ll be amazed at how people’s strengths will rise to the top.

Why Most Managers Fail

Are managers born or made?

The politically correct answer is made, but there are certain traits that can’t be taught.

To better understand what a manager’s role entails we’ll use the image above to guide us. Disregard the industry (information systems), but focus on the three levels: operational (technical), tactical (management) and strategic (executives).

Managers fall in the middle category which places them as supervisors of the technical workers (catalysts of the employee-customer transaction).

Why most managers fail is because they don’t realize promotion equates to learning a different skill set.

Let’s say your company makes widgets. Technical workers get better at their job when they figure out how to be more efficient (increasing productivity). But when a technical role shifts to a leadership role, it doesn’t matter how well you were able to produce widgets anymore.

Your job as a manager is to lead people who make widgets. A subtle, but powerful change that most companies overlook.

The same skills that made you a great widget maker do not translate to being a manager. If you’re trying to out-do your subordinates you’re not actually fulfilling your new job duties.

A manager’s responsibility is to oversee, support and make his/her workers under them better. This takes skills such as: motivation, empathy, time management, conflict resolution, etc.

Managerial duties are vastly different than technical skills.

Can they be taught? Yes, but the real issue is most managers weren’t hired for their leadership abilities, rather their technical prowess.

In my last role this is where my boss failed. She believed telling me what to do and keeping me on a short leash was her job. Instead what she lacked was listening skills, innovation and vision to name a few.

My message to managers is this: clarify what is expected of you.

Using a sports analogy, most managers want to be all-stars (individual high performers), but what your organization really needs from you is to be MVP (making your teammates better around you).

Managers need to be self-aware about what they can and cannot do. The quicker you realize that, the more effective your company will be moving forward.

3 Ways To Slay Your Next Interview

Resumes don’t get you hired, interviews do.

A solid resume is like having a driver’s license. It doesn’t mean you’re a good driver, but it qualifies you to be on the road.

As the traditional resume fades out, the need for strong interview skills becomes even more important.

Here are 3 ways to prepare for your next interview:

1. Do Your Research – This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not. Viewing the company website, about us page and mission statement is a good place to start, but not enough. Search LinkedIn for current employees from the company, connect and ask them about their experience. While you’re there locate the recruiter posting the position and request a connection to increase your chances of your application being seen. Do informational interviews with workers in similar roles. Look on Glassdoor for company reviews, both pros and cons. Browse their social media presence to observe the culture and what current issues are being discussed. There’s too much public information out there to go into an interview blindly. Finding a role that fits today is as much about the cultural fit as it is about being your “dream job.”

2. Improve Self-Awareness – One question you’re guaranteed to be asked is “Tell me about your strengths” or “What is your greatest weakness?” (sometimes both) This comes down to how well you really know yourself. If you have a hard time answering either of these questions you clearly didn’t do your homework. No matter what role you’re applying for your strengths and weaknesses shouldn’t change. In fact, if you truly want to be remembered illustrate your strengths in a past example then spin your weakness into a strength. If you’re having trouble articulating what you do well take the StrengthsFinder assessment. It will give you 5 things you excel at and their belief is there is no such thing as weaknesses, just overdone strengths. The most successful leaders in any industry are self-aware. Let that marinate in your mind for a second.

3. Lengthen the ConversationWant to know when your chances of landing the role decrease the most? When your interview ends quickly. The dynamic of a strong interview can be dictated by you the interviewee IF facilitated right. Most applicants focus on answering the questions right, but once you realize it’s a conversation it becomes more about engagement than sheer information. There’s usually a point where the interviewer asks if you have any questions. This is your time to shine. Questions such as, “How did you find this company? What does a successful candidate look like in this role? What’s a great cultural fit here?” takes the focus off you and reveals what they’re truly looking for in a fit. The last position I got hired for included 4 interviews, the first 3 being fairly short (thought I was out of the running), but the final one lasted 90 minutes in which I was offered a contract on the spot. Treat your interviews like grabbing coffee with a friend. The more you have to talk about the less it is about what you say, but how you say it that people remember. Let’s be honest, if the interviewer(s) don’t like you, even if you’re a strong candidate, there’s no way you’re getting hired. Being likable won’t land you a job, but it also can give you a leg up on the competition.

Interviews can be tough, but your mental preparation can make the greatest difference. Like most things in life, practice may not result in perfect, but it sure makes for better. Remember confidence is built over time. Follow the steps above before your next interview and expect the best outcome to happen!

Decoding The Corporate Perks Facade: What It Really Means

Google is the pioneer of offering perks to attract top talent and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

A friend of mine works at Google HQ and describes his situation as “too good to walk away from” even when he gets bored. Free food, snacks, shuttle, laundry, etc will do that.

The startup scene has escalated to the point where if you don’t offer perks, you’re not relevant. But what if I told you it’s all a facade?

I love to eat. What makes food taste even better is when it’s free. But unlimited snacks and catered lunches are a nice bonus, but far from the mission of the company.

Now I’m not knocking perks as an enhancement to the employee experience, but what I am saying is how much does it affect your decision to stay?

Look at it from a financial standpoint: free food for the entire company is cheaper than giving a raise to one (of course you have to factor in size of staff though, but you get the drift).

My point is if perks are one of the highest ranking factors in retaining your services it’s putting your faith in fool’s gold. Perks are like purchasing the newest toy. After a while it gets old, you get bored and want more.

For example when I first started working for my current company the idea of catered lunches twice a week blew my mind. Now I still appreciate it, but I found myself getting pickier with selection of choices. If it happens to be a meal I love, free lunch is great! If not, I wish I didn’t have to sit through the company meeting during lunch.

Culture is a huge factor in retention, but perks shouldn’t be too high on your list of reasons to apply/stay. Times have changed where “what you get” is as important as “what you give,” yet ultimately what your company strives for and what role you play will always outshine any perk offered.

Work wisely.

3 Ways Managing Remotely Made Me A Better Leader

Managing people is hard enough, but try doing it remotely.

On a weekly basis I spend the bulk of my hours at work meeting 30 individuals via Zoom for 30 minute check-ins. During that time we cover a myriad of different metrics that rate their performance, but I choose to focus on 3 things solely:

1. Connecting – technology has widened the talent pool, but also breeds disconnection. Instead of being concerned about physical location as a barrier, I try to immerse myself in a session as if we were in the same room. Human connection is a powerful thing no matter where you are. Relationships are formed over time through trust regardless of distance. Working remotely can present challenges yet with empathy, active listening and genuine care the virtual gap can be closed. Think of having a conversation with a friend over coffee. The same principles of building a friendship apply here. Connection is the foundation for any working relationship to thrive.

2. Community – working from home sounds glorious until you look around and realize you’re alone. If employees can feel isolated in an office full of co-workers imagine how remote employees feel. The concept of a “virtual water cooler” has been talked about, but how do you make it happen? As a suggestion, Slack is a great place to start. The platform you choose isn’t as important as it’s function. In this case it’s to organically build relationships during personal time. Instead of gathering at the lunch table or local bar, it’s responding to someone’s question, comment, photo or video. It’s not something that can be forced, nor in some cases facilitated. It takes several people in the group to take initiative and put in the effort to communicate. In fact the best interactions are when the manager isn’t involved. The voluntary part of it makes it real.

3. Cultivate – the uniqueness of each member of the team makes the whole together special. Most managers try to control employees working remotely because they have trust issues. The problem is the more policies and procedures you enforce, the more anarchy is created. Trust is built via connecting so everything grows out of that. Don’t try to mold everyone to be the same, celebrate their differences. When each person brings their unique talents and strengths to the table, why would a manager quell them? A manager’s role is to bring out the best in each person by leveraging personal strengths. If you’re not developing people as a manager you’re crushing their spirit. It’s not enough to have the right people on the bus. Each person has to be on the right seat in order to reach the promise land. My job is to allow my team to shine by getting out of their way.

As a leader managing people remotely is challenging, but a true test of your abilities. Similar to organizing volunteers, when you are stripped of power, money and resources all you have is your relationships. My belief is if you can lead others remotely, you can lead any team anywhere. If you want to test your leadership capabilities manage people from a distance. You’ll be forced to give up control, ego and certainty…and that’s not a bad thing at all.

A Manager’s Secret Weapon (Yet Rarely Used)

Most bosses don’t get it.

Middle management’s main job is to manage people, not tasks.

Tasks need to be completed, but it’s how you manage your people that makes all the difference.

If your workers aren’t getting things done, the first finger pointed should be at you (the manager).

Have you clearly communicated your expectations? 

Are your people properly trained?

Are you putting them in a place to succeed?

Most managers don’t understand when the role changes, your responsibilities do too. If you don’t want to spend the majority of your time and energy dealing with interpersonal issues, don’t take the job!

I truly believe leadership skills can be taught to anyone, but that doesn’t make an effective leader. There are many traits that make a great leader, but the simplest one with the greatest ROI is:

Positive feedback.

Did you know it takes 5 positive comments to cancel out 1 negative one?

I wouldn’t worry too much about the ratio, except by saying your workers evaluate you. Performance reviews are held for employees all the time, but what about managers? Is your boss held to the same standards as the people they lead?  

If not, that’s a culture problem. Hypocrisy is the most visible sin in a business. It’s the one fault that causes morale to plummet and turnover to skyrocket.

If you work for someone else, you’re supporting another person’s dream. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that since not everyone can run a successful business. But when people don’t feel heard or treated unfairly it can signal the beginning of the end.

Managers who rarely dish out positive feedback are both insecure and focused on the wrong things. They haven’t bought into the fact their impact is determined by the team’s output, not theirs.

Being positive is similar to active listening. It can be taught, but usually if you don’t have it, you don’t have it.

The best leaders know metrics and data can only measure so much. Just like companies create a brand experience, managers create employee experiences. With power comes great responsibility; a willingness to model service to your team so it’s passed down to customers.

A positive comment can go a long way, but only if you actually say it.

The 1 Word That Changes Entrepreneurship

The difference between failure and success as a business owner can be minuscule.

Being an entrepreneur for 10 years I’ve had to learn a lot of hard lessons, but one concept has been clear-cut lately.

Systems beat sweat.

That doesn’t contradict hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, instead it signals that “smarter” refers to systems when it comes to efficiency.

The simple shift from “my” business to “the” business can be the difference between being profitable and a hobby.

A lot of entrepreneurs describe their business as their baby (as did I) which can be a huge mistake.

If you watch a lot of business shows on TV like The Profit, Shark Tank & Restaurant Startup the common theme you’ll see is a clear system in place. The term scale is thrown out like common lingo meaning to strategically plan for exponential growth.

For myself I didn’t embrace this theory early on because my reasons for owning a business had more to do with flexibility than money. If you fall more into the lifestyle entrepreneur category like me, scaling is still very important.

Most people who leave Corporate America do it because they want to be their own boss. What you don’t realize is you’re leaving a systemized company that has already figured out how to scale. Besides now figuring out how to make money, the challenge of creating a repeatable, predictable system falls on you.

Once you start looking at your idea (pre-business) as a business, not your business, it becomes less personal and more objective. Ever wonder why it’s easier to give advice to other business owners than to your own? It’s because it’s not yours!

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be invested and passionate about your business, but less attached and more determined to make it run without you.

Successful business owners almost seem a bit detached from their business and that’s actually healthy. They are more focused on strategy and automation than having their hands all over it. In fact, similar to most authors, once you start a business there’s a good chance it won’t be your last (regardless of the success of failure of one).

Serial entrepreneurship is a lifestyle. It’s being obsessed with ideas and figuring out how to monetize them. I can’t say I’ve figured it out, but it’s a ride I hope I never get tired of going on.

One word makes all the difference.

What I’m Learning, But Don’t Enjoy It

I like to move fast. I hate waiting.

In an instant gratification world I’ll take the hare over the turtle any day.

If patience is a virtue, I don’t have it…yet.

Since no job or business is perfect, when things go wrong jumping ship is a regular thought, but rarely more than an emotional reaction.

Whatever obstacle you’re facing at work could be worse. #truth

A wise leader once said, “Don’t come to me with your problems, only come to me with solutions.”

That’s it: love the process.

When there’s a problem at work it’s easy to complain and blame others. You may be 100% justified too, but even if you’re right it won’t change much.

Instead, focus on what you are learning.

If you are being micromanaged, think about how you will lead differently given the opportunity.

If you are treated unfairly, do your best to take the higher road and respond with integrity.

If you’re given a task outside of your job description, develop a skill you can use in the future.

Loving the process doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. In fact you may NEVER love the process, but you can still learn from it.

If life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it, then there’s plenty of opportunities to learn from the process.

I get so focused on what’s next I forget to enjoy the present. What’s going on may not be fun, but there’s always something you can learn from in any situation.

In the past 6 months I’ve fired someone, put someone on probation and called out my boss.

Were they uncomfortable experiences? Yes.

But am I thankful I have them under my belt now? Yes.

What you go through prepares you for what’s next. It’s like collecting little nuggets along the way that will help you pave the road in the future.

Growth doesn’t feel good. It’s not supposed to be comfortable, but the opposite is being stagnant and slowly dying over time.

You may never love the process and that’s ok.

But at the very least learn from it and you’ll be better off for it.

How To Spot A Secure Leader

The title leader can be given to anyone.

But the term leader and manager are worlds apart.

Most managers were promoted because of seniority or selected because of their technical prowess. Two of the many wrong reasons to become a manager.

Micromanagers are so rampant because the wrong skill sets are glorified. Individual performance isn’t a clear indicator of potential leadership. Using a sports analogy, the best player on a team isn’t automatically the MVP.

The difference between a secure leader and an insecure manager is encapsulated in the following statement:

How willing are they to implement other’s ideas?

Working with youth was my first introduction to leadership development. I remember planning a 6-week summer camp. I came prepared to share the weekly topics I felt were best, but then it hit me, “in order for the youth to feel empowered I should choose their agenda (ideas) over mine.”

At the time I thought it was a subtle gesture, but it turned out to be the difference between recruiting teenagers and developing young leaders. Because I let them choose the topics, they put way more effort, creativity and were much more motivated to run a great program.

Back to the sports analogy. Imagine you’re the coach of an individually talented team. You’d think your job is to throw your team out there and just let them figure it out. Although that’s not a bad strategy, the better one is to identify the strengths of each player, then put them in a system that allows them to shine in a customized role. The coach’s job is less about managing talent and more about governing egos. Leaders allow their people to thrive because they’re focused on eliminating distractions so they can maximize performance.

A manager’s role isn’t to puff his/her chest out trying to be the best. It’s about serving the people under them by trusting their ability to make the best decisions. In the age of infinite information what gets lost is people are your greatest asset, not data.

The simple act of hearing your team out and choosing their ideas over yours will increase morale and retention tremendously.

Why is this act so powerful?

Because it takes a secure leader to know he/she doesn’t need to be the smartest person in the room, only smart enough to empower the ones who make you look good.