Dec 8

Leadership: Motivation and Focus

Posted at 8:45 AM on December 8th, 2009 by Alex

It’s stinkin’ TOUGH to be a good leader.

From setting a good example to making the difficult decisions - good leaders are worth their weight in gold.  But even beyond those things, one of the toughest responsibilities a leader will ever have to bear is his**(footnote below) constant self-assessment.  A leader always has to not only make sure he’s the right person for the position, but also make sure he remains the right person.

In order to be best leader possible, one of the most important things a person can do is to accurately assess both their motivations and their focus.  Both motivation and focus can be looked at from an “external vs internal” scale.

We can be externally motivated: flying on the whims of others, only caring what our bosses think of us, trying to keep everyone happy so we keep safely in our current position.

Or internally motivated: striving for personal growth, steady in our personal confidence, setting our own goals.

Likewise, we can be internally focused: Making every move in an effort to get ourselves in the spotlight, and hopefully in line for a new promotion.

Or externally focused: Striving for what’s best for the team, the biz, the family, the whole.

So where should our ideal leader fit?  Internally Motivated and Externally Focused, of course!  That’s the perfect leader: never shaken by outside commotion, goal-driven, and focused on what’s best for everyone.

Afterall - if it’s really good for the team, it should be good for the individuals too, right?
So take a few minutes and walk through your day for some common tasks at work - both the ones you love doing and the ones you hate doing.  Where are you on the scales of motivation and focus?

I usually find myself just barely into the “Internal Motivation, External Focus” (IE) category.

Once in a while, though, I admit it - I get a fever for the spotlight a little too much and start focusing more on me than the whole.  Sometimes this is OK because I’m working solo.  Sure, I should be concentrating on the goals of the project at hand, but a little inward competition never hurt anyone, right?  But it’s tough (and important) to leave that internal competition and glory behind when it crosses from motivation to focus.

One place where this happens for me is in the creative or performing arts.  I love feeling the spotlight hit me for a minute.  And when it does, why not concentrate on shining and snagging some attention!   I deserve it for a good show, right?

I may or may not, but that’s beyond the point.  By that time, my focus has switched to me, and I’m performing with a whole different focus in mind - personal glory rather than what’s best for everyone.  The difference is often subtle, but in the case of a team, it can be devastating.

I’m not an advocate of ditching internal focus altogether.  For instance, you shouldn’t be focusing on anyone but you for your diet, exercise, personal relaxation time, and anything that is  you time.  But when you put yourself in the context of a team or other bigger idea, you have to give up your own glory for the good of the team.

The best way I’ve found to attack a habit like this one is to continually look at the big picture.  When you step back out of your shoes and look at things from a distance, you quickly realize that some of the actions you’re taking at this point and time for short-hand gain could have detrimental effects to the overall scheme of things.  As an example, take my current business start-up.

I’m in the process of working towards a pitch for start-up funding for a company I’m part of.  We’re very  fortunate to be part of a program by the name of Bizdom U.  At the onset, I and my partners realized we would have to modify our idea heavily to stay part of the program because of funding restrictions and other guidelines.  But we were all in from the onset.  We realized our egos would take a little hit, and we wouldn’t be looking at the same get-rich-quick amount of funding we probably had in mind, but we also realized that the resources, training, and overall mindset we would gain from Bizdom were well worth it.  And that we possibly had our heads in the cloud when we began :)

Taking this tip of stepping outside into someone else’s viewpoint can be extremely powerful.  Another place where this affects me in some big ways is presentations.  I love to be eccentric and energetic.  I might look good by myself sometimes when doing it (and might not at others), but if I step into another person’s point of view, I usually realize pretty quickly that the contrast I provide to me teammates is too big and distracting at best.  If I step things back a notch I don’t stand out, but my team ends up winning.

And the best part?  In these situations the best thing for the team is usually also the best thing for YOU down-the-line.

Along the same lines, I periodically drop down from my internal motivation to an external one.  If the heat is on too tight, I might compromise my goals just to make sure I get everyone smiling again.  Who wants more confrontation than is necessary?

But it’s that attitude that lets the other party run important negotiations, and keeps us squandering chances to grow.  I don’t think I’ve let it win out in any huge situations lately, but I used to do it constantly in web-design: letting clients walk all over me requesting additional modifications for free that cost me hours, and were never in the original contract.  The result?  Well, let’s just say I’m not a millionaire yet :P

This is another place where it doesn’t hurt to jump outside of the box for a moment, but do so with some specific goals in place.  I’ve found that one of the most valuable things I can do is to make a list of needed steps or resources to reach my goals and continually update it until I meet those goals.  Then I more quickly realize when I’m giving in too soon and neglecting those needs, and I can see that my instantaneous gain by letting outside motivations run my life is getting in the way of my big picture goals and values.  These nearly compulsive lists are going save my life one day!

Keep the self-reflection going!  Do you have any other suggestions for a leader to keep his motivation steadily internal and his focus external?  Share them in the comments below!

**As usual, I’ll be using “he” to refer to the leader in question throughout this blog-post ONLY because it is a post of self-reflection, and when I check in the morning I usually find evidence that I’m male.  If only it were easy enough to defeat the disease of sexism with a simple “s/he” in every reference, I would gladly comply - but alas I’ve found that only fuels the problem by drawing extra attention to it.
Oct 30

Is something missing?

Posted at 12:23 AM on October 30th, 2009 by Alex

It might seem subtle, but there is a major difference between strengths and skills.

A few decades ago, developmental psychologists figured out that our personalities are formed at a VERY young age.  That age is still debated on, but there’s a general consensus in the psychology community that our personalities are decided by the time we make it to high-school.  After that, we’re virtually resistant to change.  The only “changes” that occur are further emphasis or de-emphasis of existing personality traits that have already been decided.

In other words - you’re stuck with YOU.

Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 9

MORE is NOT always better.

Posted at 9:00 AM on October 9th, 2009 by Alex

We live in a world of technical advancement - and it ROCKS.

I’m about as proud as a person can get to live in this generation. I’m pumped that my cellphone is more powerful than my computer was 10 years ago, and ecstatic that I’m connected to billions of other people over the internet wherever I go.

BUT - I’ve noticed a trend lately.  Among the hundreds of thousands of new internet startups this year who just keep giving us more features and technical possibilities, most are forgetting something very important: simplicity.  Developers and designers are dreaming up wonderfully technical fixes to complex problems, but as a wise mentor put it to me, they are forgetting to “Gump it up.”

For some, it isn’t affecting their acceptance very much yet because right now they are only aimed at a very technically savvy (and ambitious) crowd.  A lot of us won’t rest until we’ve been through every settings menu to look for a way to do what we want to do.  But just because we’re that energetic about our searches for features doesn’t mean we should have to be.  No matter who the company - new, old, big, or small - everyone out there with any sort of user-interfacing needs to be on a constant search to make things easier, more efficient, and - well - gumpier.

This is the beginning of a series of posts exploring some high-profile internet startups with some huge promise, but a serious need to put themselves in a new user’s shoes.  Have any suggestions for future posts? Leave a comment below!

Start-Up #1: Foursquare

Read the rest of this entry »

Sep 24

Entrepreneurship: A Few Benefits.

Posted at 1:25 AM on September 24th, 2009 by Alex

Why be an entrepreneur?

If you caught my earlier post, you read that I’m currently in the middle of a pretty big career shift from full-time free-lancer, to full-fledged entrepreneur.  But why?  What are the benefits?  What’s in it for us entrepreneurs?

Before anything, let’s get one thing straight: if you’re doing it for the money, go elsewhere. Sure: every once in a while someone gets lucky with an idea and strikes it rich.  But this is a possibility very different from the norm.  The vast majority of entrepreneurs spend years of their life barely scraping by before even getting to a level of income that stops the debt from accumulating.  Most entrepreneurs make substantially less than they would have made as an employee, and even those who eventually do strike it rich take decades to get to that point.

So if it isn’t the money, what is it?

Read the rest of this entry »

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