Do you wait for things to happen . . . or do you make them happen?
Do you find yourself stalling for the perfect time to take action…or do you make “now” the right time?
Do you always find yourself one or more steps behind and playing catch-up…or do you go about your business feeling confidently and comfortably ahead of the curve?
Whether we’re talking about your personal life or your career, one of the most overlooked keys to success is the level of “proactivity” at which you tend to operate.
Life and work are filled with daily barriers, obstacles, and challenges that stand in the way of our getting things done. For example:
- Ineffective Time Management and Prioritization: With so much on your plate and so little time, you don’t even know where to start.
- Lack of Focus: Trying to juggle so many things at once, you are all over the map.
- Procrastination: Putting aside the things we should be doing, for the things we’d rather be doing.
- Perfectionism: Not knowing when good enough is good enough.
- Fear, Doubt, and/or Lack of Confidence: Feeling paralyzed by indecision or inaction.
- Waiting for Lightning to Strike, or for the Muse to Come: A nice way of saying you’re waiting for a kick in the pants.
There are probably other factors as well. But if you look at this particular list, what all these reasons have in common is that they are all INTERNAL…and, therefore, all within our control.
HOW PROACTIVE ARE YOU?
Here is a simple-yet-powerful model that we call “The 5 Levels of Proactivity.” Let’s explore it from the bottom up to see how we can work our way up from being Inactive, to Reactive, to Active, to Proactive, and, ultimately, to Super-Proactive:
Level 1: INACTIVE. At this level, something is needed from you…and you do nothing. Absolutely nada. Zero. Zilch. For whatever reason, you decide to take no action at all. Maybe the problem or request will just go away by itself. But probably not.
Level 2: REACTIVE. At this level, something is needed, and you respond. This is actually a good thing! So congratulations – you’ve put out the fire. The only problem is if you are constantly in reactive, fire-fighting mode, you are always at least a step behind. After a while, as the speed of needs and expectations increases, you may fall so far behind that you are unable to catch up. And then people are constantly waiting for you, getting frustrated and impatient…until they decide to look elsewhere for what they need.
Level 3: ACTIVE. When you are at this level, you are keeping up with demand, giving people what they want and need, in real-time, when they need it, and meeting expectations. Things are going well, and you are keeping up with the pace. The only problem is that when you are just keeping pace, you are not getting ahead. At this level, there is no time or space for growth. You’re getting things done, but you’re either treading water or standing still. And in an ever-changing world, if you’re standing still, you’re falling behind.
Level 4: PROACTIVE. Now we’re getting somewhere! At this level you are not only keeping up with the pace, but setting the pace and staying a step ahead. You are not just putting out fires, you’re preventing them. You are not just meeting expectations, you’re exceeding them. Anticipating others’ needs and expectations, you are thinking on your feet, doing your homework, looking down the road, putting yourself in the shoes of your customers, fostering an environment of growth and development for yourself and others, and taking control of your destiny. Remember that the root word of “pro-act-ivity” is “act” – and you are ready, willing, and able (and excited) to ACT!
Level 5: SUPER-PROACTIVE. Now you are not just setting the pace…you are leading! With a vision of the future, you are thinking not just one step ahead, but many steps ahead. This is where innovation happens, this is where paradigms shift, this is how you drive change and blow people away. This is where you develop your reputation as a guru of, or the go-to person for, things. The leaders of the future are those who are able to meet the demands of today while consistently anticipating and exceeding the needs of tomorrow. You anticipate what people want and need before they even realize it. You are a visionary. And as management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
That’s the model in a nutshell. Now let’s bring it to life with a simple, practical, real-life example: Let’s say it’s January 1st and you decide you want to get in shape for the summer.
If you’re INACTIVE, you don’t do anything about it. You procrastinate, you say, “It’s only January. I can wait a few months to get started.” But didn’t you just “decide” you were going to take action? That reminds me of the old riddle: There are five frogs sitting on a log, and one decides to jump in the water. How many frogs are now sitting on the log? The answer: Still five. One “decided” to jump in, but he didn’t actually DO it. It’s not the “deciding,” but the “doing” that counts.
If you’re REACTIVE, you’ll work out if someone else drags you along to the gym, or you’ll eat better if someone else shops for healthier food and places it in front of you. But you are not in control, and you are not taking responsibility, driving the changes, or owning the behavior necessary to achieve your desired outcome.
If you’re ACTIVE, you’ll get off the couch and work out if the mood hits you, and you’ll have an occasional low-calorie fruit juice or water rather than a soda. And you’ll replace that Big Mac with a salad. Your intentions are good, you’re taking baby steps, and you’re trying, but it’s sporadic and undisciplined, and you don’t really have a plan.
When you’re PROACTIVE, you make a plan – a structured, formalized, written plan, and you stick to it. You put a process in place and set a quantifiable goal of working out x days a week – no excuses. Your diet plan includes the sacrifices you’re willing to make...and you keep those commitments without fail. You follow through and you follow up. You make real behavior changes and track the results, with no excuses and no exceptions.
And what would being SUPER-PROACTIVE look like? It’s about having a longer-term time horizon and thinking many steps ahead. It’s about imagining the possibilities and anticipating potential obstacles that may arise down the road. Perhaps thinking and planning beyond the summer, into the fall, winter, spring, and maybe even into following year. Always thinking and acting with the big picture and a long-term vision of the future in mind.
So that’s just one example. How might YOU use this model to be more proactive in your personal life? To be less stressed? More productive? Happier? To take charge of your career? To get more things done? To impress your boss, to better serve your (internal and external) customers, or to be a more effective manager and leader?
How important is proactivity? In Stephen Covey’s classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Be Proactive” is Habit #1. That’s how important it is.
It’s not easy being proactive; it takes time, attention, energy, discipline, and vision. But the good news is that the decision to be more proactive is entirely up to you and completely within your control. And it’s never too late to get started. As Confucius said, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago; the next best time is today.”
And while being more proactive – and super-proactive – may involve making some radical changes and taking some substantial risks, as the saying goes: sometimes we just have to go out on a limb…because that’s where the fruit is.
One of the main reasons we hesitate, procrastinate, or fail to take action is often due to the fact that we feel like we lack the power to act.
When we’re out of work or stuck in a dead-end job, or struggling to get others to buy in to our ideas, or even to just return our phone calls or emails, it sometimes seems as if we have no leverage at all.
But guess what: You have a lot more power than you think!
Getting anything done in the business world — whether convincing someone to hire you, to fund your project, or to buy in to your proposal — requires the ability to influence others.
As Gregory Berns, the author of Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How To Think Differently, says: “A person can have the greatest idea in the world...but if that person can’t convince enough other people, it doesn’t matter.’’
And to convince other people of something –- to influence them –- requires confidence and power.
But what is “power” anyway? One definition I really like is “the ability or potential to allocate resources; make and enforce decisions; and/or to impact and influence others.”
If you think about electricity, for example, the wall socket represents only “potential” power. It is only after plugging something in that we see that potential come to life and produce results.
So the big question is: How can we turn our potential power into performance to maximize our productivity?
To see how, let’s take a deep dive into The BigBlueGumball PowerDial model:
As you can see, our power comes from three different sources: PERSONAL power (the orange zone); RELATIONAL power (the blue zone); and POSITIONAL power (the green zone).
So right off the bat, the point to be made is that we’re not really dealing with an “either-or” situation. It’s not a question of having power or not, but a matter of how we might reap the power potential from each of these three distinct sources:
 Your PERSONAL power refers to WHO YOU ARE, WHAT YOU KNOW, and WHAT YOU CAN DO.
 Your RELATIONAL power relates not to what you know, but WHO YOU KNOW and, in some ways the even more important question of WHO KNOWS YOU.
 And the third area, POSITIONAL power, is about just that — your role or status or position. It relates to what you DO and what you HAVE — or what you have control over.
So although people tend to lump “power” into one category as if it’s something we either have or we don’t, you can see that power comes from a variety of sources, each of which we can leverage, develop, and grow.
The next important thing to notice is that PERSONAL power is internal — it comes solely from within you. The other two, RELATIONAL and POSITIONAL power, are external. They are related to, or dependent upon, other people or other factors outside of ourselves.
So let’s take this model to the next level and see how we can actually use it as a powerful career tool:
By looking in more detail at where these three kinds of power come from, we can better determine the specific skills and characteristics that we can (a) leverage, and (b) develop.
 PERSONAL power comes from three areas: the Intellectual/Physical (your knowledge, skills, talents, and strengths), the Emotional (self-awareness, emotional intelligence, confidence), and the Interpersonal (your personality and people skills).
 RELATIONAL power comes from your Networks, Affiliations, and Coalitions (i.e., who you are connected to, have access to, can partner with, etc.).
 POSITIONAL power comes from your Role (title, rank, seniority), Authority (empowerment), and Control (of resources, etc.).
To gauge where you currently have the most power (and the least), and to measure your progress as you set out to develop your strengths, you might want to make a list of those traits and/or score yourself in each category on a scale of 1-10 and track your progress to see if you can crank it up to “11”!
So right now, thinking about your PERSONAL, RELATIONAL, and POSITIONAL power zones – and reflecting on your core strengths and key areas of development -– ask yourself what is ONE action you can take this week to increase your power?
To give you a few ideas that will kickstart your confidence, take a look at the sample PowerDial Action Plan below.
As the novelist Alice Walker once wrote, “The most common way that people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
And the good news is that with the BigBlueGumball PowerDial, the power to change that is all up to you.
*For a video overview of the PowerDial -- including examples of how you can enhance YOUR power...and kick-start your confidence, please click here!
With this being “Back to School” and “Back to Work” season, our thoughts around this time of year often turn to fresh starts and new beginnings.
A lot of people – especially recent graduates and post-summer job changers — embark on new jobs, new roles, new teams, new projects, and new challenges. As such, here are just a few suggested success tips that may help to get you started on the right foot:
 Attitude is Everything
We’re all really impressed with your MBA and your 4.0 average, but if they need someone to make copies or go get the coffee, be the first one to jump up and say, “I’ll be happy to!” Your enthusiastic and proactive efforts will (hopefully) be recognized and appreciated. And, if not, well … it’s just a good thing, and the right thing, to do.
I was once delivering a leadership workshop when the CEO got up and left the room to get himself a snack. But instead of coming back with just a bag of potato chips for himself (or, as many executives would do, ask one of his underlings to go get it for him), he returned with a basket full of chips, cookies, and nuts, and – like a flight attendant making their way up the aisle – proceded to work his way around the room, from table-to-table and person-to-person, asking if anyone wanted anything.
If the CEO of a company is willing to act so selflessly, generously, and thoughtfully – with no consideration of title, status, or perception – couldn’t we, and shouldn’t we, all?
 Nothing is Beneath You
On a similar note: Don’t consider any task as beneath you. Things need to get done, and someone’s got to do it. And, in many cases, that someone is you. So it helps to view everything as a learning experience and a developmental opportunity. It won’t kill you to get your hands dirty. Doing so (again, with a positive attitude) demonstrates teamwork and, often, even leadership.
Years ago I was on a job interview and the interviewer asked me the following question: “So let me ask you something: Do you do windows?” No, not Microsoft Windows. And, no, he wasn’t being metaphorical or mysterious relative to the concept of “transparency.” He was, literally, asking me if I was willing to do whatever it took to support the team and get the job done…even if it involved grabbing the Windex and paper towels, and rolling up my sleeves.
If there is one phrase you should completely and permanently eliminate from your vocabulary, by the way, regardless of what role you have, it is the words, “That’s not my job.” Just take my word for it.
 Go “ABCD”
So many people do the bare minimum; so look to stand out from the crowd by doing “the bare maximum”! Always ask yourself if you did all that you could do…and then look for ways to do more. We call this “Going ABCD” which stands for “Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.” Whatever you’re asked to do, always seek to not just meet, but to exceed, expectations. When everyone else is dialing it up to “10,” find a way to crank it up to “11,” which, as we all know, is “one louder.”
When you do this, by the way, the intent should be to add as much value as you can; NOT to show everyone how smart you are. You may have been the smartest person in your class, but it’s important to realize that you don’t have all the answers…yet. I once had a former student complaining about how his company and his boss did pretty much everything wrong, and he wanted my advice on how to bring that to their attention. When I asked him how long he’s been working there, he replied, “Two weeks.”
Recognize that even with all your booksmarts, what you lack is the years of wisdom that those who came before you possess from first-hand, real-world experience…sometimes referred to as the School of Hard Knocks. So it might be useful to keep in mind my saying (picture a Venn diagram) that “Wisdom is where Knowledge and Experience meet.”
 It’s Not All About You
This is one of the best tips anyone ever gave me: It was explained in the context of sales, but it applies just as well to job interviewing (which is a form of sales, as you’re selling yourself). You may have heard this classic metaphor before: “No one needs a drill. If you go out and buy a drill, it’s because you need a hole.” Perhaps, for example, to hang a picture on a wall. In other words, people don’t by a product, they buy a solution to a problem. They don’t buy the features, they buy the benefits of those features. I’m in the leadership training and coaching business. But as my former boss taught me – and this was a game-changer in terms of how I approach selling my services: No one buys “training”; they buy what training does for them.
Similarly, as great a person as you may be, and as fun as you are to have around, when they hire you, it is because you fill a need and are seen as a solution to a business problem. If they could meet their goals with one less headcount, they probably would. So, once you get hired, regardless of the industry, organization, or function, your #1 job is this: To help your manager more successfully do his or her job! If you reframe your role in this way, and do everything you can to deliver results that will contribute to making your boss successful, that will, ultimately, increase the odds of YOUR success.
Hopefully, in time, what goes around will come around and you will be recognized and appreciated for your contributions. We know you’re on the fast track and want it all now. And it’s nice to be referred to as “the superstar.” But remember that patience is a virtue…and your time will come.
 Look, Listen and Learn
Keep in mind the three L’s: “Look, Listen, and Learn.” Keep your eyes and your ears open at all times. Remember the classic saying that we have two ears and one mouth, so you should be listening twice as much as you speak. Be a sponge. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Take risks. Make mistakes. As the saying goes, “That’s why pencils have erasers.” Make it a point to try to learn at least two or three new things every single day. No matter how boring or monotonous a job might be at times, there’s always something to learn…if you are open to it. In fact, to keep yourself from becoming completely disengaged, that’s even MORE important to do if or when your job is not intellectually stimulating you. Read as much as you can. Keep a learning journal. Connect the dots. See every experience as a learning opportunity, and every interaction as a teachable moment.
As Yogi Berra famously said, “You can observe a lot from watching.”
 Always be Curious
Remember your “ABC”s: “Always Be Curious!” Ask questions: Who?, What?, When?, Where?, How?, and, especially, Why? Keep in mind Stephen Covey’s Habit #5: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Try to gain a big picture perspective and seek to develop a visual, mental model of how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together…including (especially) where YOUR piece fits in. Doing so, and expressing your curiosity, will not only demonstrate to others that you care enough to ask, but will, ultimately, give you a greater sense of both understanding and purpose.
Speaking of “purpose,” you may have heard the classic tale of the two bricklayers: When you ask the first one what he’s doing, he replies with something like: “I’m laying bricks; what does it look like I’m doing.” But when you ask the second one the same question, she replies with enthusiasm: “I’m building a cathedral!” Or a hospital. Or a school. Or a museum. Or an office building. It doesn’t really matter WHAT it is that you’re building within your role. The only thing that matters is that you go about your business with passion, enthusiasm, and genuinely caring about whatever it is you’re doing.
 Build Relationships
Asking (appropriate) questions is not only a great way to learn the business, but also enables you to learn about, connect with, and develop stronger interpersonal relationships with others. As the saying goes, “It’s not just WHAT you know, but WHO you know.” And about who knows YOU. When you ask questions of others, it demonstrates your respect for their knowledge and experience, and helps them to get to know you better. Additionally, when interacting with others, be generous with your time, your knowledge, and your willingness to offer assistance to others…with no expectation of return. People notice these things.
Speaking of “noticing”…Earlier in my career, when I worked as an administrative assistant in the drama program development department of one of the three major tv networks out in L.A., I thought that by putting my head down, keeping to myself, and consistently putting out excellent work, that would be sufficient to eventually earn me a promotion to a manager-level position. But I couldn’t have been more wrong! While I was busy working behind closed doors, my peers were busy networking and gaining visibility by raising their hands, asking to attend meetings and events, and interacting with as many people as possible. As an extreme introvert and bookwork, that was the last thing I wanted to (or felt comfortable and able to) do. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that that’s not how you get ahead in the business world.
One other thing: When it comes to building real relationships, it’s about quality, not quantity. As you move forward in your career, remember that developing a circle of genuine, sincere, mutually-beneficial, long-term relationships is more important and more valuable than setting the world record for having the most Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and/or LinkedIn connections. And when you seek to give more than you get, while it doesn’t always seem like it, it will pay off in the long run.
 Introspection, Reflection and Connection
One of my all-time favorite New Yorker cartoons is the one with a picture of two guys looking up at a giant billboard that reads, in gigantic letters, “STOP AND THINK.” The caption: “It sorta makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?”
As we race around each day from home to work and back – often with our heads buried in our phones – too many of us don’t make the time and take the time to stop and think. Mindfulness is one of those hot topic buzzwords these days but, at its most basic, it’s really about being present, focused, and aware of both our external and internal environments.
One of the ways of being more mindful is to keep in mind the words “Introspection, Reflection, & Connection.” This is simply about making the time and taking the time for looking inward, looking backward, and looking forward: consciously thinking about what you are thinking and feeling inside; reflecting on what it means; and linking it to what’s going on in your career and your life – past, present, and future.
Whether you are starting a new job, or wish to perhaps recharge and refresh your enthusiasm for your present job, it helps to frame (or reframe) your situation as “perfectly all right as it is” by looking to make the best and the most out of it. Whatever you are doing right now is just the next stepping-stone along what will most likely be a long and winding career path.
And if you think of your career this way – as a journey – and try to make the most of the trip, you’re more likely to enjoy the experience as you proceed towards your ultimate destination…whatever, or wherever, that may be.
De Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats”: A Powerful Visual Thinking Method That Will Forever Change the Way You Think
Of all the different management, leadership, communication, innovation, and thinking tools, tips and techniques that I’ve learned over the years, nothing has impacted me more, or has had more practical applications and benefits, than Edward de Bono’s classic “Six Thinking Hats” model.
De Bono, the guru of “thinking about thinking,” originated this framework that I now use -- either consciously or unconsciously -- literally every single day. It’s one of the best examples of how we can use visual and metaphorical thinking and communicating to solve real-world challenges.
The model in brief: There are six metaphorical “hats” — each a different color...and each hat represents a different type of thinking. By metaphorically "taking off" or "putting on" a different hat, you can intentionally and strategically switch to a different type of thinking.
Here are the six hat colors, and a brief overview of what type of thinking each represents:
1. White Hat: Neutral; objective; facts; data; information; objectivity
2. Red Hat: Emotion; gut feeling; intuition; passion; subjectivity
3. Black Hat: Cons; critical; caution; risks; costs; weaknesses; disadvantages
4. Yellow Hat: Pros; optimism; benefits; strengths; advantages
5. Green Hat: Creativity; innovation; brainstorming; new ideas; possibilities
6. Blue Hat: Process; structure; thinking about thinking; next steps
The Six Thinking Hats method can be applied in many different types of situations, for example:
- In a meeting: as a formalized, structured process (e.g., a group brainstorming or strategy process);
- In a one-on-one discussion: as a common language that will encourage dialogue and minimize conflict;
- In your own mind: as a way to frame your own thinking, separate fact from emotion, and make better decisions.
When used in a group, it enables what de Bono calls “parallel thinking,” which occurs when all members metaphorically “wear” the same color hat at the same time. This dramatically improves communication, minimizes conflict, and fosters innovation.
How do the Six Thinking Hats do this? The best way to understand it is through a real-life illustration:
Say you’re in a meeting, trying to reach a decision. Instead of the normal chaos and conflict caused by endless debate, cross-talk, shooting down ideas, etc., what if we were able to say:
“Let’s temporarily put aside our Red Hats (our emotional reactions), our Black (negative/critical) and Yellow (positive/supportive) opinions, and all put on our White Hats to first objectively identify the objective facts and relevant data, before we start jumping to possible solutions (Green Hat) and proposing next steps (Blue Hat).”
Once agreed, from there the group can efficiently, and with minimal conflict and debate, run the situation through this simple and logically sequenced series of questions:
1. White Hat: What are the facts about the situation at hand?
2. Red Hat: How do people feel, emotionally, about the situation?
3. Black Hat: What’s not working — and why?
4. Yellow Hat: What is working – and why?
5. Green Hat: What’s new (ideas, possibilities)?
6. Blue Hat: What’s next (where do we go from here)?
(Note: You don’t necessarily always have to use the hats in this exact sequence; but this is an example of a very common and effective approach.)
By enabling parallel thinking – by having everyone "wear" the same color hat at the same time (and headed together in the same direction) — you will see how much more orderly your meetings will be, and how much more quickly you can reach decisions and get things done!
And if you assign one person in the meeting to be the Blue Hat leader, that person (regardless of organizational role or rank) will serve to make sure that things run smoothly, stay on track, and that everyone plays by the rules.
Using this methodology, my company has successfully conducted numerous executive-level strategy meetings, facilitated cross-functional team-building and brainstorming sessions, and helped hundreds of individuals maximize the effectiveness of their own decision-making skills, along with their ability to more effectively conceive and communicate ideas.
Here’s another real-life example, this one using the Six Thinking Hats method relative to a job search:
Let’s say that you were presented with a potential job opportunity. What kind of question might each Thinking Hat pose to help you make the best possible decision?
1. White Hat: What are the objective facts about the position and the company (title, salary, benefits, location, industry, work environment, department, new manager, etc.)?
2. Red Hat: How do I feel about this opportunity; what is my gut telling me (am I excited, nervous, hesitant, concerned, etc)?
3. Black Hat: What don‘t I like about it, what’s bad about it — and why (i.e., what are the negatives or concerns associated with the White Hat facts and my Red Hat feelings)?
4. Yellow Hat: What do I like about it, what’s good about it – and why (what are the positives associated with the White Hat facts and my Red Hat feelings)?
5. Green Hat: What are the various options, alternatives, choices available to me (i.e., what’s going through my mind in terms of what-ifs, and out-of-the-box possibilities; what does it look like if I visualize actually taking this job)?
6. Blue Hat: What are the next steps; where do I go from here (when do I have to make a decision by, what do I have to do next, what actions should I take)?
Although this is just one simple and common example, you can easily see how using the Six Thinking Hats to frame your thinking can go a long way toward maximizing your effectiveness – and enhancing your confidence – when it comes to making any decision.
It is important to note, however, that while it takes just a few minutes to learn this seemingly simple model, it takes time, training, and much practice to truly master it.
For more on de Bono and his Six Thinking Hats method, there are tons of online resources, including a number of good (as well as some really bad) YouTube videos available, including this three-minute clip of de Bono himself talking about it. I also highly recommend the Six Thinking Hats book itself...which just might be the best $12 you spend this week!