Archive for June, 2012

How to Stop Being a Victim: Throw Yourself a Pity Party

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Have you ever had days when you felt really, really sorry for yourself? Perhaps you’ve felt like the world has done you wrong, or you’re in a no-win situation. Maybe you really ARE in a very difficult situation. Yet you still need to move forward with your life; you can’t afford to remain mired in the muck of victimhood.

I have a suggestion for helping you get out of that pattern: throw a “pity party” for yourself. By that I mean you set a timer for 10 – 20 minutes, during which time you feel as sorry for yourself as you possibly can, wallowing in your feelings of inadequacy, anger, misery, or whatever negative emotions come up. Be as hard on yourself as you possibly can be. Really revel in your negative feelings. When the timer goes off, the party’s over. You pick yourself up and move on. Repeat as necessary.

The reason this process is effective is that it allows you to honor your feelings and work through them so you can move forward in a productive way. My friend Iris, a cancer survivor, told me that throwing pity parties for herself was how she coped with the uncertainty and misery and negative emotions and victimhood associated with her disease. It’s worked really well for her, and I’ve passed along her methodology to many people who reported it worked for them as well. (I’ve used it successfully myself.)

So the next time you are experiencing strong negative emotions that are keeping you from moving forward in your life, throw yourself a party! I’m sure Iris would be pleased to know that her advice is serving others well.

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

How to Ask for and Receive Help

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Asking for help is a critical success factor for leaders. It also is key to making your own life easier, both personally and professionally. When you spend less time struggling with things you can’t do or aren’t good at, for example, you increase the amount of time you have to do things that you enjoy and are really good at. As a result, your stress level drops and your self-confidence soars.

Too often, people don’t ask for assistance because they don’t know how. If that describes your situation, then you’re in luck! Here are six steps that can help you improve the quality of your life by becoming an expert in getting the help you need.

1. Admit it when you don’t know something or can’t do it on your own

Asking for help means that you first have to admit that you don’t know what the answer or solution is to a given question or situation, or that you know what to do, but you can’t do it alone. Allow yourself to be human: acknowledge the times when you don’t know something or cannot do it by yourself, and ask for help. Successful people in all walks of life have coaches and/or mentors to assist them. Why shouldn’t you get the help you need?

2. Realize that your request for help can benefit the other person

By asking for help, you are doing others a favor because you are providing opportunities for them to shine, to feel good because they have helped someone else, to validate their knowledge, and/or to show they are valued. In short, asking for help can brighten someone else’s day tremendously!

3. Recognize that by asking for help, you are giving others permission to do the same

In the workplace, employees learn the norms and culture by watching how others behave, particularly the leaders. By asking others for assistance, you model the behavior that you want them (and those who are watching) to emulate. Importantly, when there is a discrepancy between what leaders say and what they do, employees believe what they see. So if you are telling employees it’s okay to ask for help yet no one ever sees you requesting assistance, the message being received is that it’s really NOT okay.

4. Assess the risk of NOT asking for help

Forging ahead blindly instead of requesting assistance can have negative consequences, sometimes large ones. To realistically assess the downside of choosing NOT to ask for help, ask yourself two questions:

    A. What’s the worst thing that could happen if I do NOT ask for help?
    B. Can I live with that outcome?

More often than not, you will discover that avoiding the undesirable outcome is well worth the “risk” of reaching out to others. Give it a try!

5. Provide a reason for your request

To increase the odds that the other person will want to help you, give him/her a reason to do so. Why? Research by Robert Cialdini demonstrates that adults who give a reason for their request are likely to get what they ask for nearly three times more often than those who do not provide a reason.

6. Receive whatever help is offered – graciously

For some, one of the hardest aspects of asking for help is actually receiving it and expressing their gratitude. Once we’ve crossed the “hurdles” of recognizing the need for assistance and asking for it, we still need to move out of the way to allow others to do as we have requested. So take a deep breath, overcome whatever residual resistance that might come up, and permit the other person to do as you have requested – even if he/she is doing the task differently than you would have done. Say “thank you” – and really mean it. Going a step further and telling the other person what impact his/her assistance had in making your life easier or less stressful (e.g., “Your helping me with that task enabled me to get to my son’s soccer game in time to see him score his first goal”) helps him/her see the bigger picture, and thus the true value that he/she has provided.

Asking for help often is a challenge. Following these six steps enables you to make your life easier by showing you how to be more effective in reaching out to others. Why not give them a try?

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

City Governments are NOT in the Job Preservation Business

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Last month the Los Angeles Times reported that in an effort to avert layoffs of city workers, local labor leaders accused the mayor of waging a “war against women” because the proposed layoffs, part of a plan to close an estimated $238 million city budget deficit, would affect female workers disproportionately. One leader was reported to have said that the city “,,,is remiss in not factoring in how cuts might affect its gender balance.” Several days later, an editorial in the Long Beach Press-Telegram opined that these labor leaders were greatly overstating the seriousness of the situation. In a twist that defies logic, the editors then re-framed the situation as a fight between “reproductive freedom” and “religious freedom.”

Both pieces completely missed the point, which is that city governments are NOT in the business of preserving the jobs of their employees. Broadly speaking, their mission is to provide a reasonable level of public safety and create an infrastructure that will enable people to live, work, and visit there. Although creating jobs may be a by-product of carrying out their missions, city governments do not exist either for the purpose of creating jobs, or of preserving jobs they no longer need or can afford.

Having said that, city governments ARE obligated to honor the processes in place for firing employees. Often those processes are spelled out in union contracts and must be negotiated because they affect workers’ terms and conditions of employment.

When the economy is good and city revenues are robust, politicians tend to expand the number and types of services provided to include those that are “nice to have.” The public wants these additional services, and politicians who depend on their constituents’ votes to keep their jobs are glad to oblige. As the number of services increases, more city workers are hired. Salaries and benefits, including pensions, become a larger percentage of city budgets. People get used to the additional services, and as long as taxpayers continue to foot the bill, politicians are happy to supply them.

However, this symbiotic relationship is disrupted when the economy takes a drop. City revenues fall, often dramatically, so that at the same time that there are greater demands on public services, there is less money to pay for them. Something has to give. In a service-based economy, there are few alternatives to reducing or cutting services, which means the people who provide them are no longer needed.

The question comes down to this: should taxpayers continue to pay the salaries of city employees who, through no fault of their own, are no longer providing the services they were hired to perform? Though the workers are willing and able to continue to carry on, cities no longer can afford to pay them, and politicians cannot justify asking taxpayers to fund their continued employment – especially when many of those taxpayers are themselves out of work.

There are no easy answers here. City workers who lose their jobs must find other ways to support themselves and their families. Like their counterparts in the private sector, they face a very tough job market. There is no denying the toll this situation takes on individuals and families. The reality is that city governments are not in the business of preserving the jobs of their employees. In fact, politicians have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that taxpayer money is NOT spent on services that no longer are provided. City leaders do, however, have an obligation to negotiate the terms and conditions under which workers will be terminated. They may move the now-displaced employees into other jobs for which they are qualified, help them find other jobs outside the city, or let them go. City governments simply are not in the business of preserving jobs for their workers.

Going back to the situation in Los Angeles, it makes no sense to use the gender of city workers – or any other demographic characteristic – as a criterion for deciding which services to cut and which ones to retain. In fact, making employment-related decisions based on those criteria is illegal under federal and state laws. From a human perspective, it is gut-wrenching to tell people that economic conditions have resulted in cutbacks that will cost them their jobs. Yet to assert that the city has an obligation to keep people on the payroll when their jobs have disappeared simply is not true. Preserving jobs for city employees who can provide services no longer being offered simply is not part of any city’s mission.

Instead of trying to divert attention from the real issue – even when the diversions represent legitimate concerns – labor leaders would better serve city employees and taxpayers if they spent their time seeking viable alternatives to the layoffs and, failing that, negotiating fair separation agreements for their members.

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Succession Planning: It’s Not Just for Organizations

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Developing and implementing succession processes is one of the services that I provide for clients. Recently, I was challenged to come up with a succession process for individuals who decide to leave their profession, either to retire or to pursue other interests. What must they do to prepare for the upcoming transition? What process would both serve them well and honor the promises and responsibilities they have to their current organizations?

In a personal succession process, there are five sets of actions that an individual must work through: decision-making, preparation, creation, implementation, and exit. Below is a brief explanation of each step, as well as questions that should be addressed.

Step 1: Decide

By “decide,” I mean that you actively choose to move on from what you are doing now. For example, you may decide to leave your current job for another with a different organization, or start your own business, or change careers, or retire. Over the last few years, many people have been laid off, so the decision to change has been foisted upon them rather than made freely. In that case, they may not have as many options; nonetheless, they still would benefit from a succession process. Here are some questions for this initial step:

    – How do you picture your exit from your current situation?
    – Ideally, how far in advance must you begin preparing for this transition?
    – Do you have a clear “picture” of where you are going and what you will do next?
    – What must you do to bring closure in your current situation?
    – When will you notify the appropriate people?

Step 2: Prepare

What I mean by “prepare” is making sure that you are ready for the proposed transition. Specifically, what is your mindset or attitude toward the upcoming change? How you feel about it has a lot to do with whether the change is voluntary or involuntary. Even people whose transitions are voluntary may be surprised to find some degree of reluctance, such as someone who retires from a job he/she loves. Many people discover that there is an element of fear, as they will be going into new territory. The apprehension may be caused in part from the knowledge that the environment will be totally different, such as happens often when one transitions from a structured environment (e.g., the workplace) to an unstructured one (e.g., retirement). Here are some questions that you might ask yourself as you prepare for the next chapter in your life:

    – Are you ready and willing to move on?
    – Are you at peace with the picture you have created about what you will do next?
    – Are you ready right now to take on this next chapter, or do you need some preparation such as training?
    – Would you benefit from some help to ensure that the transition is a smooth one?
    – How will you bring closure to your current situation?
    – Are you taking care of yourself – i.e., making yourself your first priority?

Step 3: Create

Once you have completed the first two steps, you are ready to develop the actual succession plan. Ideally the plan will have two aspects: what you will do (a) for yourself and (b) for the organization or situation that you are leaving – e.g., completing or making provisions for any unfinished business. Here are some questions that should be addressed in both aspects of your plan:

    – What accountability mechanisms are there?
    – Does the plan include measures of progress and completion?
    – Are the timelines realistic?
    – Does the plan address your current personal and professional responsibilities – e.g., for projects, to customers?
    – Did you identify others whose help or approval you need?
    – Does the plan include communication and evaluation processes?
    – Are the two aspects of your plan (personal and organizational) aligned with each other?

Keep in mind that because succession is a process rather than an event, you’re not finished when you have created the plan. You now must implement it.

Step 4: Implement

Implementation includes both the personal and the business aspects of your succession plan. Here are some questions that you might want to ask yourself as you implement your personal succession plan:

    – Are your timelines realistic in practice?
    – If they are not, what are you doing to adjust them?
    – Are you evaluating your progress periodically to ensure the implementation remains on track?
    – Are you managing the glitches that are likely to arise during the implementation?
    – Are you taking care of yourself during the implementation?

Step 5: Exit

Now it’s time to say goodbye to life as you have known it and embark upon the new chapter in your life. If you have had the opportunity to prepare for this transition, you are likely to feel excited and exhilarated at whatever lies ahead! If you don’t feel totally prepared, or if the change is involuntary, you still can control how you experience this transition. Here is a final set of questions for this last step:

    – Whether this transition is voluntary or not, how will you bring closure to this part of your life?
    – How do you choose to view this experience – i.e., the past, the process by which you prepared for the future, and what is to come?
    – What will you do to ensure that you enjoy every day of this new chapter in your life?

Transitions at any stage in one’s life can feel challenging, scary, threatening, exciting, or any combination of those and other emotions. Having a personal succession plan will enable you to embrace the change, bring closure to the chapter just ended, and look forward to what lies ahead. Isn’t that kind of peace of mind worth some advance planning?

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.