Don’t Be Ordinary

As one friend of mine goes back to work after a year or two of being officially unemployed, I offered some words of wisdom, “Don’t Be Ordinary”.    You can take this to mean many things, because it is a general statement about our condition in life.   You can just do things “the company” way and churn out what is expected of you, or… you can show that you have ideas, that you can communicate and this means you have more to offer and are wanted by the organization.  We need to show our value more and more, and communicating that value is critical.  And there are people who like to be ordinary.  That’s fine. I don’t.  But that’s me.  But my reference to Don’t Be Ordinary refers to how others view us. My specific advise to an employee going back to work means don’t be the person you were (if it was an issue) when you last worked.  Be a different person, one who is not looked upon as average.

How to be different?

First off there are a tons of ways to be different and less ordinary in our work.  There are many ways to start changing.  One is to learn to be a better presenter.  The info is out there to learn.  I personally love Diane Duarte and have read her book Slide:ology and a new one Resonate.  And there is You Got To Believed To Be Heard by Decker.  My answer is, if you were laid off from a job  and told you were not very important or added much to the organization, then change that.  Learn to be a great presenter, and each time you are given a chance to communicate, be extraordinary.   You can improve your slides, your speaking habits, your dress, your weight, your hygiene, your whatever.  We can improve and yes, the little details matter when it comes to being different.

College Rules

I always felt that the whole underlying purpose  of college and high school education was to teach us to succeed at following the rules. I quite frankly struggled at this concept.  I was constantly looking for ways to be different, and was not interested in competing to be best, but rather competing to be different.  Instead of following the rules exactly, I would always try to find ways around the rules.  In fact, I took as many classes where you got your education in the field.  In both high school and college I was an intern or worked in the field in politics.  I worked on a bunch of political campaigns in high school and eventually worked for Bill Bradley as an intern for college credits.  I wrote papers for 6 credits, to not be in class, in both my undergrad and graduate school.  I even took a 9 credit summer class where we watched movies all day long and wrote criticisms.   To me that was a lot better than studying.

When Different Is Not A Good Thing

My friend Scott, who is no longer with us, was a case of person who was different, but not always in a good way.  He could not focus at work, he had trouble completing tasks.  He was generally a problem.  I know, he worked for me.  If you can get up and give an amazing presentations and solve problems and be viewed as a person who thinks differently terrific.  But there is a fine line.  There are people who are non-conformists, and can not follow any rules.  These people should know who they are and where the boundaries exist for them.  It is almost like they consistently make bad decisions and don’t know when to stop at a red line and don’t know when to start moving when the green light changes.  That person, yes they are different, but not extraordinary.  But that person can easily transform from odd and different to extraordinary, by doing the things in life they are good at.  Not everybody is good at a day job…  We need to understand our limitations.

Conclusion On How To Be Extraordinary

While working 9 to 5 in an office makes us money (if we have to do it), we are not living in a totalitarian society where we have to do things by the book.   And yes, I’ve been at over 20 years of jobs where we had to do what we are told and do it by the book, so I know that some things you can’t change in life…  But there is no reason why we can’t improve ourselves, read up on giving better presentations, speak better, communicate better.  You are often pigeon-holed by organizations as you work your way up the ladder.  This can be good or bad.  My early career I was known as the Garbage Man, because you could throw any task at me and I would get it done.  I had to.  That was my mantra back then.  But as time went on I learned more about communicating, I realized that you need to differentiate yourself to succeed.  And quite often this is not easy to do, since my technical jobs required little or no need to be different, in fact, I just had to meet the rules all the time.  But as I have been breaking out of my technology back-ground and into marketing, branding, speaking, selling, managing, create product, raising capital, I have concluded that I need to be a better communicator.  Presentations skills is the first place to start.

On Leadership

Interestingly enough, the one theme I can find that connects almost every aspect of our lives, childhood, school, work, personal, family is leadership.  It may come in many forms with many titles, but it always comes down to responsibility, decision-making and accountability. And trust me, I am not going to give you a diatribe on how great a leader I am, because often I am not.  Though I aspire to be one.

Success and leadership are often intermingled, but they are not the same thing.  One can be the product of the other, but too often success may come at a cost, sometimes that cost can leadership-less.  That is when success comes at the cost of somebody out there.  Greed and avarice is not leadership.  In fact financial success is not always leadership and neither is winning always leadership.  Though financial success and winning require leadership, but its an ingredient not the final product.  I would classify leadership in its own category.  Other words come to mind like ethics and morality.  I would not go that far, but these are the underpinnings of leadership.

So I have thrown a lot of words into that conversation.  One place I can point to is our childhood.  If you are influenced by somebody who embodies leadership it can impact your entire existence.  If you were influenced by the opposite of leadership, you may have tendencies to run from taking a position, taking a role in leading or taking control of anything, including your own life.

Quite frankly my tendency is to run from leadership.  I know deep inside how much a commitment takes.  I finally got married at 42, late in life, because I did not want the commitments involved. But sometimes we are unlikely leaders.  Being a parent puts you in a position where you have no choice.  You can be a leader of  your child and show them the way or you can run.  A few people run, I did not.  I guess this is a big test in life for all of us.

I have been in charge and will be in charge of all kinds of stuff in my life, including business, personal and sometimes community.  And while I don’t want the responsibility, I aspire to be the person in charge.  In several cases in high school and college I was either the president of an organization or ran my own youth group.  I even was in charge of a chunk of a national organization in BBYO.  I have owned my consulting company and software business over the years and have had to take responsibility for these companies, meaning paying the bills and making sure the work gets done.

Accountability

There is one place we can all make an improvement in our day to day lives and that is being accountable.  It is not always fun.  It is not always something we want to do.  It means answering a call and talking to a person we don’t want to.  It may mean for me talking to a client and getting back and having a conversation with someone I quite frankly don’t want to talk with.  It can mean living up to some level of responsibility in life.

I find the insidious lack of accountability has slowly reared its ugly head in almost every aspect of our lives mainly because of technology.  We used to be able to receive a written or printed letter and write a letter back to respond.  Back then we had the time to think and write carefully that letter.  Today I get almost a hundred emails a day, and sometimes I have to log on in the middle of the night to respond to some one, some place who needs an answer to a question.  It may be something minor.  It may be a big issue, but I definitely aspire (once again) to get an answer to that person.  Like everybody in some form of technology overload, we end up missing the responses here and there.  It comes at no surprise to me, because there is no way a rational person can respond to everything going on.  The tweeting and posting on Facebook walls has only increased this to a new level.

The best thing I can do, and you can as well, is to make an effort, figure out what needs to be responded to and what not to respond to.

Real Leaders

I have been around real leaders, and trust me I see things in them I will never have the capability of doing.  That’s ok.  I am more of an observer and supporter than a traditional leader.   My leadership skill is based on how I live and not on exactly what I have accomplished.  I influence others by how I take actions.  We all simply need to look in the mirror and measure ourselves, our capabilities and what we want to get out of life.  If you want to succeed and win, especially in business, then learn from existing leadership (the past) and put yourself in situations where the leaders exist now and can influence you.  This is so critical if you are young and just starting out.  The ones who are able to learn from great leaders will go on to be great leaders themselves.