Some crazy dreams do come true when you persevere!

A short story about a real Sky Ladder

A couple of years ago I saw a Netflix documentary about fireworks artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s Sky Ladder. To say that it moved me is a huge understatement. The final scene of the documentary inspired this short story. It speaks about the fact that some crazy dreams do come true when you persevere. And it also speaks about what those who stay by your side during the process go through while you try to fulfill your dreams. I never interviewed Qiang’s wife or anyone else involved in the project so, although the facts about the story are true, everything else is the result of my own imagination. It this were a movie, you’d read a note at the beginning that says “this is a work of fiction based on a true story.”

You may not know (or care) but I’m originally, a fiction writer. Poetry, short stories and novels have been my passion since I was very young. I decided to share some of my short stories in the Red Shoe Movement blog because I believe in the power of fiction to help us see the world through someone else’s eyes and experiences. It helps us discover aspects of ourselves and of humanity that we don’t normally access through non-fiction, and much less through the conversations we have at work. Our workplaces and professional lives could use a little more of the delightfulness we derive from reading short stories and novels. The kind of reading you probably allow yourself to “indulge in” only over your Summer vacation. Well, that’s about to change. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Why is it so hard to make your dreams come true

Introducing a short story in your work day!

Sky Ladder

She had put up with his dream for over twenty years. This outrageous dream of creating a ladder that would connect the Earth with the Universe as some kind of symbolic gesture. Of all the impossible projects Cai Guo-Qiang had ever concocted —most of which he had brought to life, she had to admit— this was by far the most absurd.

She had been there all along. Supporting him while discovering gunpowder as his artistic medium and while he used it to expand the Great Wall of China in a dragon-like pattern across the dunes in the Gobi Desert.  Because that’s what he did. He created art with fireworks. Big, large-scale, unbelievably humbling fireworks.

She stood by him when they left China for Japan and when they moved permanently to New York. She raised his kids and dealt with his ever-increasing fame. His career retrospective at the Guggenheim and his role as director in the visual and special effects in the opening and closing ceremonies at the Beijing Summer Olympics.

But no success was ever enough. Satisfying enough. Grandiose enough. It was the Sky Ladder that kept him awake at night when everything else was going fine. She wished he’d give up. He had already achieved so much. He had attempted this feat several times before and she had witnessed how each failure had crushed him. She didn’t think she could take one more failed attempt. Not when so much money and time was going into every one of these efforts.

Make your dreams come true through perseverance

But now Cai’s grandmother was approaching 100 and he wouldn’t let go of his obsession. As if igniting this ladder would create a path for her to walk up to Heaven.

She was tired of being okay with everything. Of being by his side come what may. She felt she had earned the right to say enough. But he was unstoppable. Nothing she could say would deter him from his dream.

He continued searching for the perfect location and paradoxically, decided that it would be his small childhood fishing town. He brought experts from all over the world to direct the project. But the village people would build this sixteen hundred feet-long ladder, which would be carried up by a massive hot air balloon.

Cai worked day and night with the energy of a teenager. Nobody could match his intensity. She knew that. She saw his exhaustion and his resistance to give into it. To even show it for fear of bringing the others down. He kept at this ridiculous idea for months and months. Telling everyone this time it would work. It had to. It was the last chance he had to fulfill his promise to his grandma, who had heard him talk about this project since Cai was a kid.

And so, the day came. Or more specifically, dawn came. He had decided to light up his ladder in the wee hours of a Summer day to avoid being penalized by the Chinese government. In the night sky, the white, hot air balloon climbed slowly carrying with it the long, thin ladder over the water. Cai lit a match and slowly, each rung caught fire creating an opening in the dark sky. The small group of family and friends who had gathered to witness this miracle was spellbound as the magnificent ladder, most of them had worked on for months, climbed into space. A ladder made of fire just as Cai had dreamed for so many years.

She held her breath. Her heart beat so fast she thought it might drop to the ground. The silence around them was only made louder by the crackling sound of the explosions above them.

Then she saw Cai climb the ladder. This immaterial ladder that was being drawn out of the darkness for a few moments until the fire consumed it. There he was, climbing into space freeing his soul. The soul he had been attempting to liberate ever since he started using gunpowder as his artistic medium.

She was desolate, left alone on this earth.  Without the man who had given her purpose, the man who had taught her that there were no impossible dreams. Just dreams that had not been made possible yet. She put her hand over her mouth and wept with a grief she had never known. Her body trembled. She felt weak at the knees.

And then Cai put an arm around her.

 

Sky ladder in process of burning- Can Guo-Quiang studio.

Some crazy dreams do come true when you persevere

Nothing more inspiring than reading some of the crazy dreams that came true for you through perseverance and the support of those who love you. I know I could use a lot of that inspiration in my daily life. So, would you please leave me your comments on the story you just read and/or examples of your own dreams-come-true? I’m excited to read them!

 

What does done look like in your life & career

When it comes to getting the desired results, author Brené Brown suggests this question: “What does done look like?” to get everyone on the same page. Once people on a team are clear about what is expected of them, they can get to work.

Brown details how to use this technique in several of her books. The question is intended to drive honest conversations about when a task or a project will be considered complete. As part of the process of answering “What does done look like,” the leader makes sure whoever is carrying out the task has ownership, all the information, tools and resources needed. I believe we could use this question and the same kind of approach across many areas of our lives, not only to complete a project.

What does done look like when it refers to your goals

We live in an era of intensified competition. When success is often measured by your next great achievement. There’s little time spent celebrating who you are and where you are right now and a lot in working for the future. Granted, I’m an avid supporter of ambition. It clearly keeps the world moving and the human race progressing. Yet, there’s something to be said about the cost of not taking stock. Smelling the roses. Feeling good about yourself. Feeling enough. So why not ask, “What does done look like in terms of my goals? When will I feel I’ve reached them? What markers can I put in place to realize I’ve “arrived” at that destination I’ve set for myself?” And once you do, enjoy it for a while.

I’m not talking about becoming complacent. I’m talking about taking a solid break when you achieved your goal to savor the new place you carved for yourself. Who you are after achieving them. How much more confident you feel. How much more you could now do for others by sharing what it took to reach this particular stage in your life and career.

Take time to celebrate your achievements

Take time to celebrate your achievements

When is enough enough when you can’t get what you want

Conversely, there comes a time in almost everyone’s life and career when you have to cut your losses. Those occasions when after working for a long time towards a specific goal you realize you’ll never reach it. Whether it is a specific title, or client you were after, or discovering the formula to cure a disease or filing a patent. Whatever it is in your case, you arrive at the realization that it won’t happen. At least, not in the way you initially planned. When is it time to recalculate? To stop investing time, energy, money, hope in an idea that you can’t turn into reality? When is the right time to call it quits and move on?

As important as it is to have objectives that get us out of bed every morning, it is to keep a realistic outlook that enables us to recalibrate when things don’t go as expected. Persistence and grit are remarkable traits to have. They are what keep you going when the going gets tough, and they should also be put to use when you have the courage to stop going. When you sit with yourself, evaluate the situation and face a negative outcome you weren’t expecting. This is the perfect moment to talk to someone you trust who knows what you were trying to accomplish and can objectively advice you on whether it’s time to change the goal or the path to get it.

Keep a realistic outlook to recalibrate goals

Keep a realistic outlook to recalibrate goals

When are you done with your job

I work with female talent in large organizations for a living so I’m the last person who would advice you to quit without trying your best to figure out a way to stay in your company. Many women face difficulties with their organization’s culture and with lack of growth opportunities. My approach is to help them identify the problem and then the potential solutions. Yet, when you’ve tried everything, and serious problems continue to interfere with your career growth, or affect your health, there comes a time to question when enough is enough. What is that limit that pushes you to make a decision to leave?

What does that moment when you are done with your job look like? How do you know when you’ve tried everything? Who could help you figure out if you are seeing the 360 of the situation? If you actually did try all possible solutions?

It’s not smart to wait until you get sick, depressed or develop a serious case of insomnia before you make this type of decision. Once you reach a point when you dread going to work, you don’t feel appreciated, or you feel a lack of purpose, you’ve gone too far. So keep an eye out for telling signs that things are not going well at work. Reach out to trusted colleagues. Have a courageous conversation with your boss about how you feel and ask questions. “Am I missing anything? Is there anything I could/should be doing differently?” Stay curious and open to the insights people share and see if they resonate with you.

It’s important to figure out what may not be working before you jump to a different job to ensure you don’t end up in a similar situation.

Leveraging your personal traits in your job
When will you be done being busy

When will you be done being busy

What does done look like when it comes to being busy

Brené Brown talks a lot about the pernicious effects in our society of equating being productive and being busy with being successful.  It’s so much a part of our daily conversations:

“How are you?”

“Oh, busy, busy. And you?”

“Yes, super busy too.”

Sometimes it can feel like if you are not busy you are a loser.  But aren’t most of us trying to succeed so we have more time to enjoy life? So, when are you hoping to do that? When do we stop being busy to put our feet up? To take a vacation? To watch a movie with our loved ones? When are we finally done with all that busyness? When will you feel you’ve done enough, worked enough, checked enough boxes before you go home? Go to bed? Turn the phone off?

Integrating your work and personal lives

I know this post offers more questions than answers. And that is exactly my purpose. To get us all to slow down and think a little about issues that affect the quality of our lives. Taking the time to answer these questions can truly help you craft a much more fulfilling career and life.

Not being busy inspirational quote

Don’t let our culture’s push for busyness distract you from your real purpose.

Unleash your creativity: Saying Yes to Change

You know how for the last few years there’s been a whole conversation about how women should learn to say no? Well, today I’d like to invite you to unleash your creativity by learning when NOT to say no! Come with me!

Between February 4 and 6 2014 there was a transportation strike in London during which some Tube (subway) stations were closed. If you are a commuter, you can empathize with the pain our friends across the pond must have felt. For two days, the Underground stopped and people had to figure out a different route to get to work.

As we all know commuters are masters of efficiency. For years they’ve studied to the millisecond the best routes, shortcuts and timesaving schemes until they arrived to the “perfect” one. So, having their routine suddenly interfered with created more than a bit of anger.

When the dispute was over, most people went back to their old routine. But a substantial minority did not. In what turned out to be an unplanned, yet, a great social experiment, about 5 % of commuters discovered a new, more effective (or maybe more pleasurable) way to get to and from work every day. Why do I tell you this story? Because it reveals that sometimes, to unleash your creativity, you need a major, unexpected disruption.

Necessity is the mother of invention inspirational quote

You don’t need to wait for a disruption to practice your creativity. You can set your own disruptions deliberately.

Rejecting change may get in the way of unleashing your creativity

The reality is that most of us resist disruptions even when they pretty small. They entail changes in our plans, routines or expectations. The train is late; your client cancels and appointment; it rains the day of your annual picnic; your favorite coffee house is closed when you’re craving a shot of espresso, and a million other circumstances that face us daily.  Suddenly, we become children ready to throw a tantrum and it’s all you can do to hold the fumes building inside and not give into the tantrum completely.

But what would happen if at the moment the disruption takes place, right when you hear that the flight is cancelled for instance, you said, “Wow, the news sucks but let me think for a second about how to do something unusual with this circumstances.”

It’s not easy to change direction when things don’t go as you expect. Sometimes, the emotional toll is hard to deal with. But the saying “necessity is the mother of invention” is true. Many great innovations were born of mistakes, of disruptions and /or extreme situations where people were forced outside of their comfort zone. That’s what pumps your brain to come up with new solutions. That’s why disruptions can seriously help unleash your creativity and we’d all be better off embracing them.

Being more creative is about embracing change. Pictures taken at a recent Red Shoe Movement Signature Event.

A few weeks ago, I had a trip planned to Europe. The night before my trip the friend I was visiting had an emergency and asked me to cancel the trip. I immediately agreed that this was the right decision and called the airline to cancel the flight. It took me a bit longer to align my emotions with the new circumstances. We had put a lot of energy and expectations into planning this trip and the fact that I knew cancelling was the right thing to do, it was still not enough to get me out of the funk.

So I gave myself 24 hours to process the change of plans and then I bought a ticket to Seattle. Look, my bags were packed, my calendar cleared, my mind prepared for a week off. A friend of mine had just landed a new job there and I had never been to town so I said, why not. 48 hours later I was on top of the Space Needle, having a fabulous time.

Not only did I visit with my friend and enjoyed some quality time with her, I also did some serious sight seeing. But most importantly, the change of scenery enabled me to pivot from a big disappointment quickly, and make new plans rather than wallow on what should’ve or could’ve been. My conversations during the trip informed new projects I had been thinking about and the trip in general lifted the cloud that came over me as a result of the unexpected change of plans. It allowed my creative juices to flow again.

Asking questions like this one can also help unleash your creativity

Unleash your creativity on demand

There’s a story about Keith Jarrett the famous, talented jazz musician, who is always extremely meticulous about his instrument when he performs. One time in 1975, he accepted to play a concert in Cologne, Germany, despite the fact that the Opera House got him the wrong piano, one only intended for rehearsals. That concert was recorded and surprisingly, it has become the best-selling solo album in jazz history, and the all-time best-selling piano album. What Keith Jarrett did when faced with such a disastrous situation was magic. He turned lemons into lemonade. How ready and open are you to do the same? How creatively do you react to adverse situations?

No doubt that the more you practice, the better you become at turning the unexpected disruptions into sources of creative solutions. The problem is that you never know when or what will go wrong so it’s hard to practice with random life occurrences. But what if instead you set your own disruptions? If you’re looking for a great way to unleash your creativity on demand, here are 5 ideas to consider.

Few things accelerate your creativity as saying yes to change. Try it! Photo insert credit: Pnina Yuhjtman.

Here are 5 disruptions to unleash your creativity:

1Assign the role of contrarian to someone in your group. It’s natural for a group of people who work together to try to arrive to agreements, and that’s fine. In the end, we need to push towards one common goal or project. But that one common project could be much more creative if you consider as many different points of view as possible before settling for the best idea. If you make sure one person has the role to come up with what’s wrong with what everyone agrees on, it will force the group to continue improving on the idea.

2Interrupt yourself strategically. Rather than working on a project from beginning to end without taking a break, stop. Set up an alarm at a random number of minutes and no matter where you are at stop, get up, take a walk, make yourself a cup of coffee or make a phone call. (Or rather than ignoring it, follow your smart watch instructions to get up and walk 250 steps every hour!) Interrupting your thinking flow makes you come back to the project with new eyes.  Now you may think you get interrupted a million times by beeping sounds from your electronic devices anyway. Not the same thing. Those interruptions are counter productive as they don’t allow enough time to dive into a project. The idea is to dive in deep and then stop. So silence your devices and just set up your alarm. You can do this with anything: while writing a blog, creating a presentation, developing a product, etc.

3Change roles. Try to rotate roles even for a day. Ask your boss for the opportunity to spend a day, a week or a month in someone else’s shoes. It could be in a different function, or location. Talk about a real change of perspective.

4 Shake up your flex-policy. A great way to unleash your creativity could come from reversing the days you work from home and from the office. Or, if you have never taken advantage of this policy, it may be time to try it. This simple change will likely throw your routine off and it will force you to come up with creative solutions for everyday problems.

5Pick a different route or way to get to work. Create your own transportation disruption and either chose a different route to get to work or a new mode of transport. Do you usually take the train? Use your bike. Do you normally drive? Ask a colleague for a lift.

Lateral thinking is a great strategy to foster your creativity!
Inspirational quote

Test your comfort zone often…

Even small disruptions like going to the bathroom on a different floor can elicit new conversations with people you don’t usually see. And who knows where those conversations may lead?

If you really want to unleash your creativity, it’s important to embrace change and say yes to those things that make you uncomfortable. They may prove to be the spark you need to take things to the next level.

Consider joining our Step Up Plus program to learn more about some key skills!

 

 

An example of how to leverage your personal traits in your job

Katie Beirne Fallon went from working for President Obama to heading Corporate Affairs at Hilton Hotels. How did she do it? What traits did she bring with her? Here’s an example of how to leverage your personal traits in your job. Read on!

Katie Beirne Fallon is the Executive Vice President and Global Head of Corporate Affairs for Hilton. She has a peculiar background: She was Senior Advisor and Director of Legislative Affairs for President Obama. She was the President’s Chief Liaison with Congress. Before serving the Obama White House, Katie was the Staff Director of the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Center in the U.S. Congress. She also worked for Senator Chuck Schumer. How, I wondered, did she transitioned to her current role at Hilton? What were her personal traits that she carried from job to job?

Katie Fallon in red, is a perfect example of how to leverage your personal traits in your job. Here with Hilton's top executives at a 100th birthday celebration media event.

Katie Fallon in red, is a perfect example of how to leverage your personal traits in your job. Here with Hilton’s top executives at a 100th birthday celebration media event.

Mariela Dabbah— Which of your personal traits have helped you the most to navigate the major crises you confronted in your career in corporate affairs?

Katie Fallon— My old boss likes to say I’m very balanced.

MD— You mean, President Obama?

KF— Yes. (Laughter.) From growing up in a large family (I’m one of eight kids) and from having a growing family myself, I have the ability to ask what’s really important and to allow that perspective to keep me calm and build my patience. I allow it to give me clarity of vision on how to approach a problem without the anxiety of worrying about what would happen if I fail.

MD— Even when you are in the middle of the crisis you are able to tap into that peaceful place?

KF— Yes, and again, I credit the household I grew up in. (Laughter) Because I needed to be the mediator of the family, the person who injected a joke when things got tense… I took that with me. I think that’s one of the main reasons I entered politics. Because I liked negotiating among strong wills and different personalities.

MD— What number child are you?

KF— Second oldest. And my sister and I were born the same year, so we are only 11 months apart.

MD— Given that you are 6’1”, do you think your height has something to do with your ability to see things from above the fray? To always keep a perspective?

KF— I never thought about it that way. When I was a teenager I had a tough time being so tall. I was 5’8” at 13. I slouched and wore flats… But now I own it. In reflecting back, I recall many moments when being the tallest one in the group or on a team, people naturally turned to me to come up with a plan of action or to respond to their questions. So I think it helped me develop my leadership skills.

Katie Fallon learned to negotiate various points of view at home. She's one of 8 kids.

Katie Fallon learned to negotiate various points of view at home. She’s one of 8 kids.

MD— Your last job was working at the White House for President Obama. What skills did you develop there that have prepared you to lead corporate affairs at Hilton?

KF— When Hilton’s CEO, Chris Nassetta, offered me to leave public service to come to work for Hilton, he used an analogy that the hospitality industry —and Hilton in particular —replicates the structure of a political campaign. You have all these properties all over the world that function as local campaigns and the general managers of the properties are like campaign managers.  “Imagine the potential you could have if you could get all our Hilton hotels to advocate for the same thing. To implement the same changes. To drive social impact. To run global campaigns around corporate responsibility. It could be even more impactful than what you’re doing in politics,” he said. That’s what won me over.  I have to say the changes we have done in two and a half years have been larger than what I’ve made in a dozen years in politics.

I don’t think I’d be able to have this impact, however, if I hadn’t had the prior experience. Particularly because there was so much friction and tension in the legislative and advocacy world in the last decade that I had to learn how to navigate very different, polarizing perspectives to get things done. And in a different context, at Hilton we have a variety of stakeholders all aligned to different goals: Owners, suppliers, franchisees, different countries with different regulations… So to navigate all these various perspectives in service of our vision I use a lot of what I learned.

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MD— So what specific traits did you bring from politics?

KF— Putting myself in other people’s shoes so I understand their position, which is a skill I built in my time in politics. Going back to my family, I grew up in a very mixed household, with several very conservative members. I’m one of the few who had more progressive views. Having deep respect for my parents and my siblings’ different perspectives allowed for a civil discourse that ended in us understanding each other.

In the hospitality business we only succeed as a company if we treat each guest as the individual human being they are. That’s going to be our secret sauce in the future too. When you think about that as a massive scale, at Hilton we can catalyze not only our workforce, but also the 166 millions guests from last year alone. Each one of them can make those human connections when they travel.

Respecting each individual as a human being has always been at the core of Katie Fallon's attitude in her personal and professional life.

Respecting each individual as a human being has always been at the core of Katie Fallon’s attitude in her personal and professional life.

Discover your blind spots with this exercise, an alternative to the Johari Window!

MD— Do you think you developed a very thick skin by working in politics and that you apply that in your current job?

KF— Yes. Absolutely. In politics you wake up every morning expecting a crisis. And you had to steel yourself to be able to respond and be confident that your instincts will be sharp. And you are bound to get it wrong. If everyday you deal with a different issue you are bound to make mistakes. I came into politics as a perfectionists and it was hard to adjust to that reality. But you have to bounce right back. Because you have to put your game face back on the next day.

I had the benefit of having bosses who reinforced that in me because nobody understands better the challenges of being publicly scrutinized than elected politicians, so I had bosses who helped me develop that perspective. And over time I became easier on myself.

In my Hilton job, we have different things happening every day and sometimes I get it right and sometimes I get it wrong. Thankfully, I have a team of people around me who are not afraid to question me and I’m not afraid to take their feedback.

An example of how to leverage your personal traits in your job, Katie Fallon went from the White House to Hilton Hotels.

An example of how to leverage your personal traits in your job, Katie Fallon went from the White House to Hilton.

MD— Do you feel that in the last couple of years since you’ve been in this company you’ve seen a clear trajectory for women to the C-Suite and strategies in place for that to happen?

KF— Yes. I’m part of the executive committee that sets our goals every year in terms of women recruiting and women in leadership roles. We co-create the goals with our board which is 44% women. The executive committee is responsible for making sure their functions are tracking those goals. We have a deliberate focus to hold each other accountable to the goals we agreed to. To use myself as an example I may be one of the few women who gave birth while being on an executive committee.  I serve in several boards and in one of them they told me they think I’m the only board member who gave birth while serving on a public company board. The fact that they instituted a parental leave policy on the board because of me speaks volumes. When I told Chris (Hilton’s CEO) that I was pregnant he cried. I was worried about the conversation as we were heading into our 100thbirthday celebration, but he was emotionally happy for me. And you can tell from the way the team looks after me when we travel, and pass my baby around on the plane…

MD— So you could truly say, they walk the walk.

KF— They do. They walk the walk. But it’s more than that. I couldn’t do it without them. They are my family.

An Alternative and Informal Way to Johari’s Window: Discover your Blind Spots

Being aware of your blind spots is always useful. But to grow in your career and particularly when you work with others it’s invaluable. Check out this alternative and easy-to-implement method to Johari’s window.

For decades, many people relied on the Johari’s Window technique. Created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955, it’s an exercise where subjects pick a number of adjectives from a list that they feel describe them. Then, the subject’s peers are asked to choose an equal number of adjectives describing the subject. These adjectives are introduced into four quadrants (see image.)

  1. Open Area: Includes adjectives that were selected by the subject and his/her peers.
  2. Blind Spot: Includes adjectives only selected by the peers.
  3. Hidden or Façade: Includes adjectives selected only by the subject.
  4. Unknown: Includes the adjectives nobody selected.
Johari's window quadrants. Check out this alternative and easy to implement method to Johari's window.

Johari’s window quadrants

An Alternative and Informal Way to Johari’s Window

This exercise is aimed at increasing your self-awareness, learning how others perceive you and discovering any blind spots.

It came to mind as I was recently listening to Shonda Rhimes talk about developing memorable characters.  I found it fascinating that one of the questions she tries to answer about them is “what don’t they know about themselves.” In other words, one of the most successful creators of contemporary TV dramas focuses on her characters’ blind spots in order to advance the plot.

I couldn’t help thinking that this would be a very useful alternative to the Johari Window when asked in the context of one’s career. An informal way to discover blind spots that may be interfering with your growth or with achieving certain goals.

So I put my little theory to the test with a few friends and colleagues. What follows is what I learned in the process. Warning: Read on before you try this at home.

Blind Spots: Discovering them helps you grow

Blind Spots: Discovering them helps you grow

To Discover Your Blind Spots, Provide people with a very specific question

It’s a mistake to think that you can throw out a question such as, “What do you think I don’t know about myself?” and get useful answers. (Not for nothing, the Johari technique offers 56 specific adjectives to choose from.)

Although it may seem like a specific enough question, it’s really not. It opens the floodgates for people to discharge any old grunt they have with you and tell you things they don’t like about you. (Which you probably knew anyway.) So, it’s important to say something specific such as, “When it comes to my professional life, what do you think I don’t know about myself? Things I may do in an automatic way that may be a blind spot of mine?”

Clarify the reason why you are asking the question

Many people may think you’re fishing for compliments. One of the people I asked recorded five long messages describing my personality. And although it’s always uplifting to hear people you admire say nice things about you, that’s not what you are going for. To grow, you not only need a steady diet of cheerleaders and people who’ve got your back, but you also need to know what you don’t know.  And who’s in a better position to share that with you than those same people who will give you the shirt off their back? So, you have to be clear about the reason you are seeking these insights in order for everyone to feel comfortable providing them.

Discover your Blind Spots with this Alternative and Informal Method to Johari's Window.

Discover your Blind Spots with this Alternative and Informal Method to Johari’s Window.

Before you ask, prepare yourself to truly listen

Even before I offer a simple framework to help people give you the feedback you seek, a warning. You shouldn’t embark on this journey unless you have a thick skin and have learned to take criticism in stride. Asking for this kind of information is a risk both for the person asking and for the person providing the answer. You may hear things you didn’t expect to. Some stuff will be great and other stuff will probably be uncomfortable, surprising, or painful. But if you ask for it, you have to be ready to take it. You can’t get upset or start giving the person counter feedback, which they haven’t asked for. Think about it this way: This person is taking a risk by offering insights they think you are not aware of. They do it because they care about you and your growth. Don’t penalize them for being honest.

Carefully choose those you ask

For several reasons, this is not a question you can just ask just about anyone in your network. So choose wisely who to include in your experiment. These are the parameters you should consider when selecting someone:

  • They should know you well
  • They know you in a professional context
  • You should trust that they have your best interest at heart
  • They don’t hold a grudge against you
  • They are not your siblings 😉
To grow in your career, you not only need cheerleaders but people who tell you what you don't see about yourself.

To grow in your career, you not only need cheerleaders but people who tell you what you don’t see about yourself.

Provide a framework for people to use for their answer

Through the years, I’ve developed a thick skin. It was the only way to survive in business. But I wasn’t born like this. It used to be very hard for me to hear what others had to say about my performance. But as you mature and realize you won’t die every time someone says something negative about you and that on the contrary, those comments help you grow, you become stronger.

So when I thought of going through with this experiment, I just asked the question without giving it a second thought. I didn’t feel that I needed to give my friends and colleagues a framework for providing feedback because I instinctively knew I could take whatever they had to say about me. Until someone brought to my attention that that was one of my blind spots. 1) Not realizing that not everyone is ready to ask a question like this and deal with the answers. And 2) not realizing that not everyone has the necessary emotional intelligence to modulate the kind of feedback they give to different individuals depending on that individual’s temperament. Touché.

So here’s the framework

Send an email explaining why you’re asking the question. “I’m interested in discovering any blind spots that I may be able to leverage for my career growth and I need your help. Would you mind telling me, ‘When it comes to my professional life, what do you think I don’t know about myself? I’m not referring to what some of my weaknesses are, but about any particular behavior, belief, attitude, gesture, etc. that I may be unaware of. The idea is to discover some areas that I may be able to put to better use for my career, and others that I may need to tweak to move forward. In order to make the most of your feedback, please try to frame your comments within one or more of the following constructions:

  • You should consider doing more of…
  • You should consider doing less of…
  • Sometimes you do x… which has y… as a consequence. Perhaps you could consider doing more of z…
  • Under x circumstances you tend to do y. I’d suggest you do more of z/ or less of b”
Learn how to ask others for feedback with this alternative method to Johari's window.

Learn how to ask others for feedback with this alternative method to Johari’s window.

What to do with the feedback

Once you review the feedback, sit on it for a bit. Don’t make any rash changes or decisions. It takes a minute to digest this kind of insights and to understand what you can use and what you can’t. Or what you don’t want to.  Keep in mind that you’re asking people to guess what you don’t know about yourself.

I received a bunch of answers that were not blind spots of mine at all. Things people thought I didn’t know about and which in fact I make overt use of in my professional and personal lives. (Like I was very histrionic, for example.) Clearly, if you had as many years of psychotherapy as I had (part of my Argentine upbringing) or if you have been exposed to coaching or any other practice that develops your self-awareness, it will be harder for others to discover any true blind spots. That doesn’t mean that they are not there.

If done with your eyes wide open, this is an informal way of getting to some valuable information about yourself that can help you unveil where the opportunities for growth lie.

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