Entries in Leadership (15)


How do you learn best?

My husband actually likes to read manuals.  When we bought a video camera to document our daughter’s life, I was ready to play with it and start making videos as soon as we opened the box.  I rarely look at manuals; even if I have problems with something, I will keep playing with it until I figure it out rather than read the instructions. My husband, on the other hand, instinctively reached for the manual, and wouldn’t have even considered turning the camera on until he had absorbed much of the manual’s contents.  He’d rather learn how to do something by reading about it than by trying it.

Different people learn, or learn best, in different ways.  There are various possible ways to describe these differences; one approach is to divide people into kinesthetic learners (those who learn best by doing), auditory learners (those who learn best through lectures and discussions), and visual learners (those who learn best through reading and watching).  With my preference for hands-on learning, I’m a kinesthetic learner, while my manual-reading husband is a visual learner.  Teachers and other educators have long been aware of these differences, which present real challenges when trying to create a single lesson that will engage students with various learning styles; business people face these same challenges when presenting information to co-workers, clients, or other groups.

But while awareness of varying learning styles is important when trying to inform others, it is equally important to consider your personal learning style when you seek out or receive information.  If you know what kind of learner you are, you can make sure your acquire most of your information using that method, and also work to compensate in those areas where you are weak.

Know what type of learner you are, and use that knowledge to improve your communications.

I had one client who was definitely a visual learner – she learned best by reading, and found it easiest to communicate her ideas through writing.  She worked in marketing, and was good at it, to the extent that she had job offers from two major consumer-goods companies.  Knowing her strong tilt towards a visual learning style, I suggested that she investigate the corporate cultures in the two companies, and she discovered that one company used more formal procedures, with most decisions being made on the basis of memos and reports, while the other company was more free-wheeling, with many decisions being made in informal meetings.  Based largely on these differences, she ended up accepting the offer from the first, more formal company, and has had quite a successful career there.  Had she been unaware of her learning style and taken the offer from the second company without realizing how she clashed with their preferred style, she would probably have been much less successful as her relative inability to learn and communicate in meetings masked her brilliance.

Sometimes, though, you can’t choose how you receive or deliver information.  Another client was also visually focused, and he worked in research.  Initially he was successful, since much of his job involved absorbing information by reading reports.  Because of his success, he was given larger responsibilities, and in his new job he had to collect more and more of his information by interviewing people.  Because he was such a poor auditory learner, he was soon struggling; he simply couldn’t absorb or remember the spoken information as well as he had the written reports.  And in this case there was no real alternative – the reason he was doing interviews was because there were no written reports to read.

Since he couldn’t change how he was receiving the information, we looked for a way for him to improve his auditory learning, and found it in books-on-tape.  Even though he preferred reading to listening, he began to listen to books every day during his commute.  He started with novels that were easy to follow, and gradually increased the difficulty level until he was listening to more complex technical books.  With this practice, he found it much easier to absorb information through interviews.  Reading remains his preferred learning method, but by consciously working at it he is at least a competent auditory learner as well.


Got Google?

Have you ever been Googled?  This neologism, which is now recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary (“Google, v. […] 2. trans. To search for information about (a person or thing) using the Google search engine.”), has an interesting history.  Google, of course, is the wildly successful company whose search engine has become the de facto standard on the internet, and thus a new word.  The company’s name, in turn, is derived from “googol,” the term in mathematics for the number ten raised to the hundredth power, which could be written as the numeral one followed by a hundred zeroes.  “Googol” was coined by the nine-year-old nephew of a mathematician in 1920.

There is some disagreement as to why the company name is spelled differently from the number.  The company’s own website simply says that its “play on the term reflects the company's mission to organize the immense amount of information available on the web.”  But other sources suggest that the change in spelling is due to a mistake by the company’s first investor, who wrote a $100,000 check to “Google, Inc.” before the company’s founders had incorporated under any name.  The founders then quickly incorporated under the misspelt name so they could cash the check.

But back to the original question.  If you have ever had a job interview or a first meeting with a potential client, there is a good chance you have been Googled.  Learning about people by doing web searches on their names is now a common practice in business, so when you meet with someone, you should at least consider the possibility that they Googled you.

Google yourself periodically, and be prepared to deal with what you find.

Even if you have done little on the internet yourself, you may be amazed how much can be learned about you through a simple Google search.  And if you have been active on the net – keeping a blog, posting in discussion groups, sharing your photos, etc. – then you have provided a wealth of information for any potential employers.  Of course, how much can be learned about you depends in part on how common your name is – if your name is “John Smith,” then you will be lost in a sea of other John Smiths (though clever searchers can still learn about you by combining your name with other information, such as your address), while if your name is something like “Melissa Fristrom” then anything found is probably about you.

So what might you need to deal with?  Obviously, if someone has been posting libels about you, you may need to respond (and should probably talk to a lawyer).  More usual problems are things such as unflattering personal information (that blog you wrote in college about getting drunk and waking up in a stranger’s bed), intemperate remarks (the time you got into a flame-war and used rather strong language), or political activities (your arrest at an anti-war demonstration – which, depending upon your potential employer, may be an asset or a liability).  Or a search may reveal misstatements in your resume – but then, this is just one of many reasons you should never lie in your resume.

Since there are so many potential problems, they need to be handled on a case-by-case basis – there is no one way to deal with them.  In some rare cases you may want to bring up the subject yourself, so you explain your side of the story.  Other times you may want to deal with the problem indirectly – if there is information about unprofessional behavior in your past, don’t mention it but make sure you emphasize your current professionalism in your interview, and have references to support you.


Measure Twice, Cut Once

The old adage for carpentry, “measure twice, cut once,” admonishes us to double-check our work before doing something irrevocable.  Most of us don’t work with anything as substantial as wood, and our products are more likely to be memos, e-mails, or PowerPoint presentations rather than chairs or cabinets.  Thanks to computers, when you are writing a memo there is no real equivalent of a mistaken cut.  Back when typewriters were used to create business correspondence, a mistake would at best require the careful application of white-out, and at worst would require an entire page or more of a letter to be thrown out and typed again.  But with software, you can easily go back and correct any mistakes, and many programs will even fix spelling errors automatically.  (Of course, computers make possible a whole new category of mistakes – typewriters couldn’t accidentally delete an entire letter by mistake – but that’s another topic.)

But the advice “measure twice, cut once” still applies even when you are just working with words in a computer.  Despite the computer’s ability to quickly and easily make changes, there is still a point when you do something irrevocable with your memo, resume, or proposal: the point when you send it to your boss, potential employer, or client.  Once your audience has received your work, it is too late to correct any bad impression your mistakes create.  You can always follow-up with a corrected version, and if it is a contract or other legal document there is usually a chance to fix it before signing, but you’ve still made yourself look unprofessional.

 Double-check your work before sending it out

Part of double-checking your work is careful proof-reading for errors.  Careful proof-reading is especially important if you have created a document by using a boiler-plate or by cutting-and-pasting, since your mind might wander because you’ve read the same words many times before, and miss the fact that it uses the wrong pronoun or has the wrong name or something else inappropriate left-over from a previous version.  If possible, especially for the most important documents, have someone else bring a fresh eye to the proofreading.

Another aspect of double-checking is to consider how your audience is going to view the document.  Unless you are sending them physical pages you’ve proof-read yourself, they may very well be viewing the document with different software than you used to create it, and it may look very different.  If possible, try to recreate their experience as closely as possible, to make sure that these differences don’t introduce errors.

Usually, I like to illustrate my tips by giving success stories where my advice helped me or my clients.  But for this tip, when things go right it isn’t very memorable – no one remembers mistakes that didn’t happen.  It’s the times I and my clients didn’t double-check that continue to haunt us.  Like the client who cut and pasted a cover letter from a word processor document into an e-mail, not realizing that the copy included all the revisions he had made in the letter, which in his potential employer’s e-mail software showed up along with the final version.  Or the time I created an issue of this newsletter by cutting and pasting the new text into an old issue, but didn’t notice I hadn’t  updated the title.  Or another client who reused an old cover letter but failed to change the company’s name.  Or yet another client who created a resume with non-standard margins which when printed using the potential employer’s software messed up the page breaks.


Stay the Course or Try Something New

I’m writing this newsletter on the eve of Election Day.  Like most national elections, the current one is being presented by many as a referendum on the party in power and what they have been doing in recent years – if you are happy with the way things are going, you are urged to stay the course, while if you are unhappy, you are told you should throw the bums out.

That may or may not be good political advice, but deciding whether you are happy with the way things have been going can be a good idea if you are looking for a new job or new clients.  If you look back on how you have found jobs or clients in the past, you may find that there is a common theme or pattern.  For example, one client of mine found all of his jobs through classified ads in the Boston Globe, and another had only taken jobs that fell into her lap without effort on her part.  And a colleague found almost all his clients through personal referrals. 

Find the pattern in your past job or client searches, and decide whether to stick to the pattern or break it.

Once you’ve found your pattern, you can decide whether it is working for you or if you need to change course.  If your method has always been effective for you, or you just can’t see yourself changing, then you should put your energy into making your usual approach to finding a job even more effective. 

Waiting for a job to just fall into your lap is not a terribly effective search strategy, but I could tell that my client who used that approach simply wasn’t going to change – her personality was simply too resistant to more conventional search strategies.  So rather than attempting to change her, I helped her find ways to increase the chance that her usual pattern would be successful.  By improving her networking skills, joining professional organizations, and making sure that all her friends and acquaintances knew precisely the kind of job she was looking for, she made it more likely that information about a job would come to her.  And sure enough, she soon had two strong leads on jobs, one through a professional organization, and the other through a friend of a friend.

On the other hand, my colleague who found his clients through personal referrals was unhappy with his pattern.  Although they brought in a steady trickle of new clients for his business, referrals weren’t generating the volume he needed to meet his goals.  So he realized that he needed to break his pattern and try something new.  After considering various approaches to marketing his business, he decided to start giving speeches and workshops, and the increased exposure markedly increased the rate at which he found new clients.


Negotiation: it’s not just about the money

It has finally happened.  After sending out countless resumes, enduring endless interviews, and waiting by the phone for weeks, you’ve at last had a job offer from your dream company.  Your first impulse is to immediately accept the offer – after all, it’s what you’ve been working so hard to get – but you need to pause for a moment and decide if you are completely happy with the offer, or if you want to try to negotiate something better.  Money – your salary, bonuses, stock options, and such – are usually what comes to mind in job negotiations, and sometimes it is indeed possible to negotiate for increases in these areas.  But just as important for your ultimate satisfaction with the job can be intangible, non-monetary forms of compensation.  And given your new company’s budget constraints, negotiations for increased non-monetary compensation are much more likely to be successful than holding out for an increased salary. 

Job negotiations are about more than just money.

Non-monetary compensation can include the number of vacation days you receive, how often you can work at home, whether you get a window office (or an office at all), who you report to, and your job description.  And sometimes you can find indirect ways to increase your compensation without increasing your salary, such as tuition or parking reimbursement – because they are accounted for differently with different tax implications, companies sometimes have more flexibility in these areas even when they are unwilling to increase direct compensation.

I had one client, a software designer, who suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder, which meant that he was more likely to feel low or depressed when deprived of direct sunlight for long periods.  Thus, when he moved to a new job, it was in both his and his new employer’s interests to make sure he had an office with a sunny window.  The company wasn’t able to provide him one when he was starting, but they promised that he would have one within six weeks, and in the meantime agreed to let him work two or three days a week from home.  The company was happy to do this since it didn’t cost them anything and ensured a productive employee, and my client was happier than he would have been with a higher salary but an inside office.