Monday, September 14, 2015

Good habits? There are se7en of them (Part 1)

A couple of months back I attended an Edge Studio webinar lead by coach +Tom Dheere (the 'h' is silent, but he's not) on Money and Business and the session's focus was on how to keep clients coming back.  Tom offered great tips on how extending courtesy, showing respect, and demonstrating the entire value you bring in your service delivery.  What's more, when you show up to gigs at a recording studio always be on time, smile, be nice, and most important, follow directions.  Seemingly, it's what "highly effective people" do. 

Highly effective...where have I heard that before?   

I've noticed lately the phrase,"highly effective people" has been brought up a few times among some of the voice over trailblazers on their blogs, vlogs, interviews, etc.  The origins and teachings behind that phrase are used as a reference for dare I say, good behavior not only in business, but life in general.   

I'd like to introduce you to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey.

I read this book back in 2007 and you'll never guess where - at my day job.  Yes, we IT folks (I am one by day) are also into the powerful lessons of personal change that Stephen Covey teaches.  Our organization went a few steps further and got the 7-habits corporate training package that included curriculum for collaboration sessions based on each habit .  We as a group participated in exercises that defined and helped us understand the significance of the book's teachings and put those habits into practice.  I'll admit back then I was younger, I and a few other participants met this with some resistance. "Oh, what bullshit are they trying to push on us now?"  "Doesn't IT leadership have anything better to do than to force us to join these dumb sessions and to read some dumb book written by someone who had a little bit of success and decided to make money off of it?"  "This crap has nothing to do with technology".  Looking back I was a bit ashamed if I had partaken in some of the bashing, but I started to realize then as I was getting older that having an open mind would lead to opportunities that may not have existed or been noticed if I hadn't evolved in my thought process.     

As I skimmed through the book before our first session, I realized that most of the things I read really resonated with me.  For me, it came down to common sense. I wouldn't say it was life-changing, but the concepts presented in the book helped illuminate the behaviors that I already thought were normal to me.  The sessions that followed (it lasted 7 weeks, one for each habit) really brought home those lessons by helping us apply and find correlations to our personal and professional lives.  I know for others it was still cream-puff hogwash, but I felt it was all worth it because in the long run corporations needed to get back down to a human, individualistic level in order to move forward in increasingly competitive times. 

Here's a summary based on the points that impacted me the most.

First, just as you start a new course in an educational institution there are prerequisites to consider before learning about the 7 habits:

  • Know who you are in terms of your principles, beliefs, and values.  How does that all apply when you react to things?  It's the life-long conditioning based on your upbringing and socialization that leads you to respond and make decisions based on what you know about yourself.  Those variables are known as your 'paradigms'.
  • Be prepared to undergo a paradigm shift when approaching the 7-habits.  This shift is better known as having an "aha moment" or when you finally see things another way.
  • Habits, as Covey defines is the intersection of knowledge, skills, and desire.
  • Interdependence is the key goal because it promotes collaboration; you accomplish more when working with others versus working on your own.
  • Effectiveness is a balance between the work put into getting the desired results (money, promotions, gigs, etc.), and the entity that is actually doing the work (you).

Habit 1 - Be proactive

The proactive model focuses on our responses to all situations.  You could have had a disagreement with your spouse or co-worker, mass transit was delayed and you were late for an important meeting, your mobile device fell and cracked its screen, while a thunderstorm is dumping buckets of water all over the place.  

These incidents can invoke feelings of anger, resentment, weakness, incompetence, low self-worth and a typical reactive response would be to blame it all on the situation.  Reactive people will find a scapegoat for their woes, but proactive people make a conscious choice in how they address all situations.  It doesn't matter if it's 72 degrees with blue skies or 99 degrees with haze and choking humidity because proactive people are driven by their values and not their immediate situation.  This is not to stay the proactive people aren't at all influenced by environmental factors; it is the choice of response made which is based on their values.  It's evident in the language spoken by proactive people such as, "I choose, I prefer, I will, I can choose a different approach", versus reactive responses such as, "I can't, I must, if only, that's just the way I am".  It's about what you can DO versus what you allow to happen to you.

Being proactive is the ability to "act and not be acted upon". The book mentions a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt which I particularly enjoyed, "no one can hurt you without your consent". You make things happen for yourself based on what's called your Circle of Influence.  Within this realm you have 100% control to create change and the more change you create within this space, the larger your circle grows.  The larger your circle grows, the more influential you become.  I continually read about and see YouTube videos on the debates about online-casting sites (pay-to-play as a more derogatory term), Fiverr bashing, how 'everyone' is a VO these days many of whom are untrained, misguided, and these factors and circumstances are more or less devaluing the profession and setting a dire future for VO.  These negative sentiments are part of what is known as the Circle of Concern, or where reactive people live.  There is very little if nothing that you can do about directly changing what's in the Circle of Concern because you don't control it - it's out of your reach, beyond the boundaries of your Circle of Influence.  Proactive people don't spend time or energy on the blame game.  For instance, proactive VO will do the research, get the proper guidance, train, invest time and money, and build their value as a VO.  Others will then recognize the actions you take are genuine, based on values, and set a positive example as your Circle of Influence grows.

It's very easy to lay blame on whatever you think is the cause of your problems, but the problem or the area that really needs changing is within you.  Realize that you have the power to choose your responses.  As an IT manager I deal with the occasional complaints from customers that are angry, frustrated, impatient because their laptop is slow or their mobile device isn't receiving emails, the conference rooms keep disconnecting for important meetings, or worst of all that one of my staff gave off an attitude when responding to support request.  As a reactive person I could blame the laptop manufacturer for putting out a sub-par product, or the wireless network provider for not managing bandwidth, or even the A/V team for not setting up the conferencing equipment correctly, or that my staff got up on the wrong side of the bed, but I don't control any of these things.  Proactive responses would be "I'll run some diagnostics on the laptop to see what's wrong", or "I'll check with the local carrier to see if there are any problems with the service", or "I'll check in with the A/V team to see if any configurations changed on the back-end", or "I'll speak to may staff person about the interaction you had - thank you for bringing it to my attention".   I remind my support staff that they do their best to get ahead of their customer's technical problem before it takes shape, anticipate what's going to happen and head it off at the pass.   This in my view is how things such as reputation, competence, and trust are developed especially in the minds of people that rely on you for your service.  

What are the fundamentals for success?  According to the 7 habits they are knowledge, skill, and desire.  Covey explains that all three intersect and that any one can be worked on to strengthen the balance of the three helping us move forward in a leveled manner as we increase our effectiveness.  The common phrase "knowledge is power" cannot be any more true.  When you embark on a VO career or any other career for that matter starting off informed will give you an advantage.  The desire should already be there since it's the very thing that pushed you to pursue your chosen profession. Once you begin and continue the learning process, your skills develop thereafter.  

Take a moment to examine who you are and then make a promise to yourself that whatever it is that needs to change, you'll commit to seeing it through.

Next time...Habit 2 - Begin with end in mind