Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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Lessons Learned

4 years ago I left the corporate world and started PeopleFirst. As I reflect back I’ve learned much about a lot of things and I wanted to share some of that reflection here with you. I share these today for your benefit, for these lessons, when applied, will help you lead better, learn better and live better.

Human beings are learning beings

We are built to learn, and at some level we all learn every day. What we don’t do enough is learn intentionally. From hundreds of conversations I have learned that people are at their best when they are learning. When we are learning we feel alive, we feel meaning, we feel purposeful. Learning quenches the human drive of curiosity and when we do this intentionally we feel better, and perform better too. One of the most powerful ways to learn is to do what I am doing in this document – reflecting. Everyone can do it and it costs nothing but some focus and a bit of time. Our lives are complicated and the challenges we face are significant – so to succeed and make a difference in this world we must be learning.

Understanding change changes everything

One of the most popular requests I get as a consultant is to help companies change. Why? Because it is all around us, it is complex and our lack of understanding of it causes consternation, frustration and much more. We experience change personally and organizationally. Change is a pervasive part of our world and life, and when we begin to understand how it happens, why it happens, and how we choose it, it makes us more proactive, more understanding, and better able to help others too. Time spent understanding how change happens and how we choose it will fundamentally change your understanding of and ability to succeed in the world.

The contradiction of personal accountability

Here is the contradiction – We control very little, but can influence all most everything. This is a fundamental truth in life that most of us at one time or another try to change, ignore or deny. When we take personal responsibility for what we can control – our choices, our reactions, our emotions, our actions – we are more effective people. When we deny our ability to influence our world and other people by the choices we make, we become victims. And when we live in the land of the victimized, we can’t grow, improve or get better results. The bottom line – while we can’t control anything but ourselves, that is plenty to work with, and when we live from that reality we will be happier, healthier, and more successful.

Development is development

Personal development or professional development, what is the difference? Not much in my mind. When we go to work, we bring our whole selves – and most things we learn at work transfer to application in the rest of our lives anyway. Sure, you may never need to use a specific procedure outside of work, but almost all of our work is about interaction with others, influence, communication and so much more. When we begin to think about every developmental opportunity as both professional and personal, we will become more successful in all areas of our lives faster.

Everything is about choices – and they all matter

We have choices on everything – and how we exercise that choice makes all the difference in our results. Some choices we have relegated to habit and our sub conscious, but all of those are still choices and could still be changed. We often think about the big choices, as well we should. But it is the smaller ones – the mindless TV instead of the book, the carrot cake instead of the carrot, and rolling out of bed after the snooze versus ten minutes of purposeful morning planning – that change our lives. Og Mandino, author of
“The Greatest Salesman in the World” wrote in one of his books, “use wisely your power of choice.” It is a power and the choices are ours to make – and they all make a difference.

These five lessons aren’t the only five I could have chosen – in fact I kept trying to add more as I was writing, but these five have made a huge impact for me. In reading them, I hope they provide you with a challenge to explore how these lessons can make a difference in your life and work.


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Life’s Influence

I’d like to say that when I was younger I knew exactly what I was going to do with my life and where I was going – but the truth is like many young people I really didn’t have a clue.  And I do believe that some of the paths I almost took would likely have led to a destination I wouldn’t be happy with today.

But how do you know what you don’t know?

A business colleague asked me the other day what influenced me to start my own business rather than continue to grow with an organization.   My reply was pretty quick. The practice of managing people is often the weakest link in an organization and yet we depend on our employees to run our organizations.    I wanted to take all of the experiences I have gained over the years and offer that expertise to organizations that can’t afford fulltime HR staff, but need guidance in creating work environments that attract and retain top performers.

I started thinking though.  I believe I was always meant to help others in some form or fashion.  So many people influenced my life in many different ways. Not always good, but always good learning.  I would love to take the credit for all the positive choices in my life, but the truth is, even in the worst of times someone is influencing your next decision.

But in my reply to my colleague I reflected on two separate conversations I had in my mid 20’s: one with a more experienced coworker, and one with my boss at the time. I won’t go into the details, but I will say that a couple of 20-minute discussions truly did change my life.

These two people apparently recognized my strengths and understood my struggles. Their suggestions for my professional development came unsolicited; and as I look back I know I probably would never have asked.

If I hadn’t taken advantage of their wisdom when it came to me, I wouldn’t be in the place I am today. It’s impossible to predict just where I would have ended up, but I do know that I am very happy with how it’s all played out so far…

So, to me, those two short conversations were powerful mentoring moments that shifted the course of the rest of my life. I’ve learned that mentorship can come in the form of a structured, formal program; or that it can show up as an impromptu 20-minute conversation while eating lunch.

Who’s helped you out through their words of wisdom? How did that change your life? Were their moments in your life in which you wish someone had offered up their knowledge? When have you been a mentor, and how could this have potentially changed a life?

The point is to not hold back. Share your wisdom. You never know the impact you may have with your words. And the bonus is that the more we give, the more we get back – and the happier we are!


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Navigating through a new company

Getting ahead in your career isn’t just about understanding your business and mastering your daily tasks. You also need to learn your office’s informal networks, the personality clashes and synergies among your co-workers. How do you learn these things if they’re not in the orientation and new hire paperwork you received your first day? Through mentors, of course. To make the mentoring as painless as possible for office new hires, Tough Guide to Work recently offered three common mentoring pitfalls and how to avoid them. 

  • Searching for ‘the one’ Obi Wan. Gandalf. Dumbledore. Watching movies and reading fiction gives us the deep impression that we should be seeking some prodigious figure in our professional lives. Instead we end up having coffee with an exhausted executive who as it turns out has a couple of good ideas and a bunch of neuroses. We expect one person to embody everything we want to become, advise on all areas of our work and life and then it turns out instead we’ve been paired with a human being instead. How unfair. Instead of seeking one perfect mentor, I strongly advocate getting a “Board of Advisors”. Seek out a selection of mentors who can offer guidance on a specific topic. Want great advice on work-life balance, career goals, navigating politics, professional growth, building a network, influencing senior management? It’s unlikely that you will find one genius that gives you everything.
  • Needing to make it official: Senior executives I have spoken to say that they fear the junior employee who asks them to be their mentor. They worry that they don’t have the time, that it will involve having to go for long dinners in trendy places with loud music. They’d prefer to be playing tennis, or spending time with their friends and family. Some of the best mentoring I have had has been in the backs of taxis, during small talk at the end of work meetings and at friend’s weddings at drinks before the long dinner. The other person probably doesn’t see it as mentoring, just a friendly conversation with a younger person. The key here is to remember to ask for informal advice. Try this: “In your experience, what mistakes do you see people like me make?” or how about “What career advice would you have for someone like me?”.
  • Confusing mentors and sponsors. Mentors offer “psychosocial” support for personal and professional development, plus career help that includes advice and coaching. On the other hand, sponsors actively advocate for your advancement. They give protégés exposure to other executives, they make sure their people are considered for promising opportunities and challenging assignments.