Career Readiness Essentials: Knowing What Employers Value

career fairHere’s a true story from my hometown. She was scheduled to arrive for work as a server for a small family restaurant at 5:00. However, she apparently received a better offer. At 4:55 she called the owner, informing him that she was sick and unable to work. But, merely 15 minutes later, she would be posting pictures of herself with friends at a beach party some seven miles away. When she showed up refreshed for work the next day, she was fired on the spot.

This case example is worth sharing in your homes and classrooms because, in various forms, stories like this are becoming commonplace. Whether from inexperience, lack of training, or simply misguided attitudes, many teens and young adults are struggling on the job. They’re learning the hard way that trophies, so easy to come by when they were young, are much more difficult to obtain in the workplace. But, with proper training, stories like this are preventable.

In last week’s installment in our career readiness series, we discussed the importance of self awareness as the necessary first step to a successful career. Finding a good match begins with knowing me!  Now, in the second step, I need to get to know you: my current or potential employer. But, judging from the horror stories I hear, employer perspectives are a missing ingredient in many career readiness programs. Students need to understand that their career success involves much more than smarts and skills.

To this end, here is our top ten list of qualities desired by employers:

  1. Integrity: adherence to moral and ethical principles; trustworthiness
  2. High standards: a commitment to excellence in work, relationships, and attitudes; actively seeks out feedback and professional development
  3. Reliability: dependable in fulfilling responsibilities; adopts an “on time, every time, with excellence” mentality
  4. Motivation/work ethic: self starter who is willing to go “above and beyond;” industrious and efficient and follows instructions
  5. Team player/relational skill: demonstrates positive interpersonal skills with fellow employees, clients, prospects, suppliers, and the community; encourages others and focuses on the company and team over self
  6. Positive attitude/enthusiasm: displays a constructive and uplifting attitude and passion for both work and the company
  7. Innovative: demonstrates curiosity, creativity, and a commitment to improve processes, products, and services
  8. Resilience: faces challenges head on, rebounds from adversity, and resolves conflict along the way
  9. Professional manner: displays a professional attitude, appearance, and communication
  10. Commitment: is loyal to the company’s mission and core values and represents the company well in the community

Whether we’re parents, educators, or mentors, it’s vital that we train the next generation with these guiding principles. While doing so, here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Help them understand that they are there to serve the company, not the other way around. Disabuse them of any sense of entitlement or notion that the world revolves around them.
  • The time to begin modeling these qualities is NOW. Have your students rank themselves on a 1-5 scale. For which qualities are they a 5-star role model? Where do they need to up their game?
  • Through role-playing exercises, have your students pretend they are the owner of a company recruiting for a new position. What qualities would they be emphasizing as they evaluate candidates? By switching them from their usual subservient role to that of the boss, they will quickly appreciate the employer’s perspective.

Once students appreciate the importance of these workplace qualities, they will be better equipped for their entire career management process. That means better cover letters, resumes, applications, interviews, and on-the-job performance. Understanding the qualities valued by employers should be an integral part of your career training efforts. It would have certainly helped avoid a fiasco in my hometown!

Self Awareness: Where Career Readiness Begins

“Today you are You, that is truer than true.

There is no one alive that is Youer than You.”

~Dr. Suess

 

I love visiting with high schoolers and college students about their career plans. It takes me back to when I walked in their shoes. I remember feeling excited and confused at the same time. Eventually I found my way, but it was a circuitous path!

Some of my mentees are quite certain of their career interests and have laid out detailed plans to get there. However, most of my conversations go something like this:

Me:      So, what career or major are you considering?

Them: My parents want me to take up ____. My dad (or mom) has had a great career in it. But my friends think I should go into ____.  My school counselor has even different ideas.

Me:      So, what do you think?

Them:  (Anxious pause) I just don’t know.

Several things always strike me about these exchanges. One is how often they focus on what others think, rather than themselves. Two is the depth of anxiety, doubt, and pressure they are feeling about their future career. And, three, they are making this critical decision without the benefit of self awareness. They’re shooting in the dark, and it’s a shame. Fortunately, there is a better way!

Just as when we build our dream house, career planning begins with a solid foundation. In this case, it is a foundation built on the understanding of self—knowing who we are, how we are gifted with unique talents, experiences, and attributes, and what we’re interested in and passionate about. The who, what, and why… of us! If we don’t fully understand ourselves first, finding a career that fits is a random exercise, at best.

Career assessment surveys are indeed helpful, but tend to focus on skills and interests rather than the complete picture of self. As such, we encourage educators and parents to take a broader view.

At LifeSmart, we take a holistic approach to self assessment that helps students discover the unique value (assets) they have to offer to this world. It considers a wide range of asset categories that builds self confidence, a sense of identity, and inspires a healthy life vision. Here is an abbreviated summary of some of the asset groups we believe are essential for career and life readiness training:

  • Foundational Assets:
    • Physical: strength, speed, agility, endurance, dexterity, vocal, visual, auditory, sport-specific, appearance
    • Mental: intelligence, aptitudes, analytical ability, reasoning, creativity, conceptual thinking, intuition, memory, concentration, subject specific
    • Behavioral: personality (pace and people/task focus), attitude, social attributes, outlook, emotional intelligence, communication, productivity, soft skills
    • Spiritual: faith, values, inspirational experiences, encouragement
  • Aspirational Assets:
    • Experiential: credentials (academic, career, skills, service), life experiences, leadership, perspective
    • Interests: knowledge pursuits, recreation, leisure, industry, activities, entertainment, travel, nature, spiritual life, creative arts, social
    • Passions and Dreams: desires, causes, purpose, personal and professional goals, bucket list items

Knowing that self awareness comes through self discovery and affirmation from others (note parents!), we’ve developed a personal leadership assignment you can access here. It not only helps identify your unique assets/strengths, but it also captures the invaluable perspectives of others who know you well and have your best interests at heart. This is a great personal leadership assignment that can be led by educators or parents. Be sure to explore other self awareness resources, too.

It’s important to remember that some of these assets will be used directly in our careers while others help in different arenas. Regardless, by taking an inventory of our unique assets, personal nature, and desires, we’re much better equipped to select a great career match.

Successful people lead from their strengths, but first they have to know what they are. Help the students and children in your life understand their uniqueness and value. It’s one of the greatest gifts we can give—for their eventual career and for all of life.

 

 

Career Readiness Essentials for School and Home

 

“You’re off to great places! Today is your day.

Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way!”

~Dr. Suess

 

“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question each of us has received (and often loathed!) countless times in our formative years. For some, like my daughter, the answer was clear from an early age. For most, it’s a trial and error process with midcourse changes—and loads of stress. And, that’s only the beginning.

In my conversations with teens and young adults, I see a generation that is starving for practical career wisdom. Some are struggling with their career (or major) choice. Some have all the credentials, but don’t have a clue how to market themselves and win. In today’s world, where personal initiative and networking are key, those who haven’t adapted are floundering. Finally, those who are underperforming on the job are getting a rude awakening about the ways of the real world.

To some extent, we attribute this to assumptions being made by parents and educators about who is responsible for training what. Parental guidance is all over the map. And, career readiness programs vary widely within high schools, colleges, and universities. Guess who loses?

At LifeSmart, we believe the solution is for all students to receive comprehensive and practical career readiness training to help position them for success. To that end, we are developing this extended blog series to share our vision for effective career preparation. Whether you’re a parent, educator, or student, we hope this advances your career readiness training and identifies any gaps to address.

Essential Elements

In order to holistically prepare our students for career success, we believe that training needs to be much broader than is commonly the case. In our view, the following are necessary ingredients to comprehensive career training:

  1. Self awareness building: understanding one’s self, in terms of assets/skills/strengths, personality profile, interests, and passions. This involves answering the fundamental questions of who am I?, what do I have to offer?, and what are my dreams? Self awareness is a necessary precursor to effective career selection.
  2. Leadership development: understanding the attitudes, behaviors, and practices of honorable and successful people. These qualities not only serve us in our careers, but in all of life. Leadership training is necessary for sustained career excellence.
  3. Career exploration: identifying and evaluating well-suited and accessible careers that play to our strengths, satisfy our preferences, and offer fulfillment and a livelihood. This needs to be one of the most well-researched decisions in our life.
  4. Career qualification: knowing the credentialing and planning required to access one’s chosen career. Through education, training, and experience, we must build a competitive edge that is attractive to future employers.
  5. Career acquisition: understanding the job search process and how to successfully market ourselves in this highly competitive, ever-changing world.
  6. Career mastery: developing a reputation as an “MVP employee” by virtue of one’s character, performance, and contribution to employer success. Together, these improve the odds of achieving our career potential and financial goals.

 Does your career training include all of these elements?

We will be addressing each of these topics over the next two months, deriving from our What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources as well as perspectives from employers. Stay tuned for next week’s discussion on self awareness, and please share this series with those in your sphere of influence. We’d love to hear your thoughts and would enjoy supporting your career readiness efforts.

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Parenting Tips to Promote College Readiness (Part Two)

Last week, we shared the first five of our ten best parenting tips to build college readiness and circumvent the “derailers” plaguing college students today. The sooner we can build these skills in our future collegians, the better prepared they will be to succeed! Without further adieu, here are the final five tips:

 

  1. Respect their need for balance and margin. In an effort to build a foolproof resume for their college applications, many students overcommit and are completely stressed out. Most of this is originating from performance-driven parents who mean well, but who are undervaluing their children’s need for balance, margin, downtime, and sleep. Not surprisingly, rebellion and/or high anxiety are common in college as a result of this pressure.

    This is a reminder to parents to help teens maintain a healthy work/life balance. Be realistic about the time requirements of their activities and avoid overscheduling. Also, encourage them to be highly selective in committing to college activities, especially in the first year when there are so many exciting opportunities. Variety is great, but balance is key.

  2. Develop career savvy. Many high schoolers are needlessly anxious because of pressure to know exactly which career to pursue. However, the reality is they’re still discovering themselves! Also, they’ve yet to take advanced courses in their major, and many haven’t even spoken with actual practitioners to gauge whether a certain career path is a good fit.

    You can play a constructive role with your high schoolers by building career awareness. This means: 1) having them complete career assessments (e.g., careerbridge.wa.gov and www.careercruising.com), 2) introducing them to people with interesting careers, and 3) training them on the process of selecting a career. Also, be sure to develop their marketing skills for interviewing, resume/cover letter writing, and networking. Offer real world career insights, including the qualities that employers value most (e.g., integrity, high standards, dependability, relational skills, positivity, work ethic, and resilience). What I Wish I Knew at 18 has several excellent success pointers to build your teen’s career savvy.

  3. Instill healthy living habits. The Freshman 15 (pounds, that is). The party scene. All nighters. Yes, they’re real. And, too much of a good thing is spoiling many college careers. With newfound freedom and a world of choices—some healthy, some not, and some even illegal—many students are underachieving, anxious, in poor health, and eventually, dropping out. Freedom can be a two-edged sword.

    It’s beyond the scope of this blog to do delve deeply into healthy living habits, but these are a must to nurture before the fact: 1) nutritious and balanced eating (a huge challenge when they enter Carb Heaven!), 2) physical activity and exercise (working out at the gym/joining intramural teams), 3) adequate sleep, and 4) positive stress relievers.

  4. Build their financial literacy. Far too many college careers are abbreviated for financial reasons. Whether it’s due to lack of affordability, poor spending habits, or credit card debt, student financial stress is impacting performance and college completion. Of all the topics where parents mistakenly assume their children are trained in school, this is number one. For too many schools, personal finance is not a requirement or even offered. Parents should assume the leadership role here.

    Some financial musts for your future collegian: 1) understanding needs versus wants, 2) knowing how to develop and adhere to a budget and spending plan, 3) understanding the basics of credit and debit cards (latter preferred for collegians), and 4) choosing a major that will yield a positive return on college investment.

  5. Impose guidelines for technology/social media use. While technology serves many useful purposes, the side effects rarely receive the airtime they deserve. Issues with shorter attention spans, addiction to devices, distraction, lack of motivation, irritability, communication deterioration, wasted time, constant stimulation, and, yes, destructive content, are interfering with student health and success.

    To counteract these influences, institute and enforce healthy boundaries in your household (e.g., time limits) when it comes to technology and social media use. You may lose some “popularity points” with your children, but the stakes are simply too high for a laissez faire

 

We hope these tips are helpful to you, and we encourage you to share them with others in your sphere. Here is a link to the complete article. Let’s set all of our future collegians up for success!

 

 

Top Ten Parenting Tips to Promote College Readiness (Part One)

teen-at-college

“Don’t prepare the path for the child, prepare the child for the path.” 

~ Author Unknown

Or, as we say at LifeSmart, “Give them wings, not strings.”

Preparing our children for a successful launch into adulthood is one of our greatest parenting responsibilities. And a huge milestone! Unfortunately, as we shared in last week’s blog, many college students are struggling at this pivotal time of life. Our nation’s college completion rankings are plummeting, and we are witnessing a surge in mental health issues on campus.

Parents, we need to take the lead in turning this around. So, for the next two weeks, we’ll be sharing our best tips to help set your teens up for a successful college experience.

  1. Stop the helicoptering! Many collegian issues stem from parents’ efforts to manage their children’s happiness and success. A student’s inability to make decisions, cope with stress and adversity, and understand the world doesn’t revolve around them are predictable outcomes of helicoptering. When we step in to prevent failure, do their homework and applications, defend misbehavior in front of authorities, text them incessantly, and hover and control their lives and decisions, they will struggle on their own.

    As authors of Parenting for the Launch, we encourage parents to adopt an empowering approach that increasingly treats their teens as future adults. That means training them with strong internal guiding principles and giving them freedom, responsibility, and accountability to apply them. Yes, it may result in some short-term pain (e.g., a tough life lesson, failure/disappointment, unhappiness, anger), but it’s for the sake of long-term gain (e.g., resilience, grit, problem solving, coping, independence).     

  2. Foster healthy coping habits. Everyone has their stressors, but, during adolescence, they’re often exacerbated. By nurturing self awareness in our children, they’ll be able to: 1) identify the signs of their anxiety (irritability, restlessness, sleeplessness), 2) isolate the source (tight deadlines, relationship strains, exams), and 3) release their stress in a healthy manner. Together, these can help teens and young adults prevent and/or cope with the pressures of the day.

    Which stress relievers work best? It depends. For some, it’s an intensive cardio workout or blasting music. For others, it’s a bath, a good book, a walk along the beach, or prayer/meditation. Respect whatever works best for them, so long as it’s healthy.

  3. Build positive social adaptability. When it comes to social life, the transitions into and out of college are arguably the most demanding. Our support system of family and friends may seem light years away. In What I Wish I Knew at 18, we devote considerable space to social adaptation. We encourage students to explore affinity groups of others who share common interests and values. To make a list of BFF qualities and quietly evaluate new acquaintances accordingly. To stay patient and selective, knowing it’s all about quality and positivity. Parents, you can instill these valuable habits while they’re under your roof by helping them find opportunities to meet new people in new social settings.

  4. Cultivate strong time management and planning disciplines. With demanding courses, endless activities, newfound freedom, and higher stakes, many students struggle with disorganization, distractions, and last minute cramming—all anxiety boosters. During the high school years, parents need to stress that time is a precious asset to be used wisely. Encourage them to use planners, block their time, build in margin, and create daily to do lists organized by importance and urgency. This is particularly important for the procrastinator, who won’t find it as easy in college. Remember, fun is fine, but the work comes first!   

  5. Apply empowering, but realistic, academic expectations. It’s wise to expect some grade deflation in college as compared to high school. The transition is significant, the competition is greater, and students suffer tremendously when parents expect perfection. Today’s students (both high school and college) often face intense and unrealistic pressure from parents to achieve the highest GPAs. Granted, we should expect our students to do their best, but that doesn’t automatically translate to a 4.0. Oh, and one more thing: encourage your collegian to take a slightly lesser academic load in his/her first semester. It’ll make for a smoother transition.

 

Next week, our last five tips! We’d love to hear yours.

Growing Signs of College Unreadiness

university-graduatesHave you experienced something like the following? You’re invited to a high school graduation party brimming with pride and promise. In a few short months, he/she will be heading off to college to fulfill his/her dreams, so it’s a festive occasion. Then, after a semester, a year, or maybe two, we hear the disheartening news: in an unexpected turn of events, our friend/relative/son/daughter just dropped out. That upbeat graduation party seemed like only yesterday, didn’t it? Now what?

By all accounts, stories like this are becoming more common. Here are a few telltale signs:

  • The US college completion ranking among 28 nations has fallen from first in 1995 to 19th in 2012, according to OECD. That’s a substantial shift in a mere 17 years.
  • Many colleges are reporting significant increases in student demand for mental health counseling services. Nearly 10 percent of students are receiving such treatment. (Note: some of this increase may be due to efforts to destigmatize mental health issues and seeing a counselor. This is a positive)

Clearly, though, these are worrisome trends. Why are so many students struggling? Are they unready?

Peeling the Onion

According to the 2013 Association of College Counseling Center Directors Survey1 of 380 colleges, here are the top 10 reasons cited for student visits with counselors over the 2012-2013 period: Anxiety (46%), Depression (39%), Relationship Issues (35%), Psychotropic Medication (25%), Suicidal Thoughts/Behaviors (18%), Extensive Treatment History (14%), Alcohol Abuse (11%), Self Injury (10%), ADHD (8%), and Drug Abuse (8%). All of these are concerning, but number five is downright alarming.

That anxiety ranks number one shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the college years are inherently stressful, with students facing new environments, responsibilities, competition, and career decisions. That’s a lot to absorb, as many of us may remember all too well!  Among the most commonly cited student stressors are: relationships and loneliness, competitive academic and social pressure, time management/workload/balance, career/major choice, finances, poor eating/sleeping habits, roommate incompatibility, and handling newfound freedom responsibly. Whew!

Contributors

Obviously, each individual situation is unique, and preparing students for success in this major transition is no easy feat. That said, we believe the following are some of the main causes of college unreadiness and student struggles:

  1. Helicoptering and performance parenting: many of today’s parenting methods, often well intended, are producing students who are ill equipped for adulthood and the performance pressures imposed by their parents.
  2. “College for all” mentality: in recent decades, college has been loudly messaged as the ticket to success. Many students would have been better served choosing a different path.
  3. Inadequate commitment to independent living preparation and soft skill development in high schools: schools vary widely in course offerings involving independent living, college/career preparation, leadership, and soft skills (e.g., resilience). In most cases, these valuable courses, if offered at all, are considered electives. Further, there isn’t formal accountability for success after
  4. Insufficient college onboarding programs: arriving on a college campus can be a “deer in the headlights” experience! First year students could benefit from stronger student transition management programs, including how to handle the most common challenges and “derailers.”
  5. Extended period of adolescence: research is showing that the adolescent stage is lasting longer than before. This suggests that today’s college entrant, on average, may be less mature than in year’s past.
  6. Susceptible age: the years from 18-22 often reveal genetic predispositions to mental health issues. Further, at this time of major decisions and transitioning, the adolescent brain is still undergoing significant development. This is a massive amount of change to endure in a short period.

 

We all have a stake in improving this situation. Next week, I’ll share some parenting strategies to help prepare your teens for a successful college experience.

1”Top Reasons Students Seek College Counseling Centers,” Matters of the Mind, http://www.themillennialminds.com

Three Tips to Help Teens Date Smart

teen-datingAhhhh… the time is finally here. The holiday we all look forward to throughout the entire year that’s filled with candy, glitter, expensive dinners, cherubs, school parties, and cupids. Valentine’s Day!

Okay, I know most of us don’t actually look forward to Valentine’s Day all year. In fact, Valentine’s Day can be a hard time for people who may feel lonely as a single person or unhappy in their current relationship. After all, shouldn’t we all have romantic relationships that resemble the ending of a Hallmark movie?

Even though Valentine’s Day is a rather silly holiday (some debate if it’s even “real”), it can be a good time to slow down and think about how to date smart. If you’re a teacher or a parent of teens, now is a good time to talk to the young people in your life about dating relationships and making wise choices.

Right now more than ever, teens are constantly inundated with messages about dating, relationships, and sex. Thanks to the advancement of technology and social media, “finding your match” can be (or is advertised to be) only a finger swipe away. That’s why it’s important for teens have a strong foundation that will allow them to make wise, empowering, and healthy decisions when it comes to romantic relationships.

Here are 3 “D’s” for Dating that will hopefully lead to healthy, uplifting, and authentic relationships.

 Do: Discriminate

Be highly selective with your choices of dates. The problem is, so many people define their self worth by whether they’re dating someone that they “date for dating’s sake” and often settle for less, compromising their values along the way.

Tip: Know the qualities you admire and that attract you to another person; these are the characteristics that are right for you. Consider making a list of the “must-haves” (values, personality traits, interests, goals, etc.) you’d like in your future partner. And don’t settle for less!

Do: Discern

Be wise when you date. Too many people approach dating so impulsively and emotionally that they simply don’t think clearly. Understand what you want in a relationship, your goals, and expectations and have the courage to move on if it’s not a great fit.

Also, avoid unsafe situations before they happen and never force another person or allow yourself to be coerced into acts that compromise your values, risk getting out of control, or that you’ll later regret.

Do: Be Deliberate

Be patient when you date. This is often the hardest thing to do when the infatuation stage is intense. However, if the relationship is truly meant to be, it needn’t be rushed. If the other person wants things to move much faster than you, it’s time to move on. (Honestly, when I look back, most of my breakups were either from bad timing or when one party was rushing it.) Commit to really getting to know the other person and spending lots of time talking. And, don’t allow yourself to be so consumed with your new relationship that you curtail time with friends.

By applying these 3 D’s to your own life, you’ll set yourself up for long-term success rather than possibly settling for short-term, superficial gratification. You’re much more likely to find the Right One, with fewer peaks and valleys (and mistakes) along the way!

 

Is It Time to Revisit High School Course Requirements?

When we speak to educators and administrators at various conferences around the country, one of the questions we invariably ask is:

“How many of your schools have defined a well prepared graduate for life?”

Sadly, we’ve yet to see more than 10% of audience members respond affirmatively. Of those, comparatively few admit that their school has a specific pathway to build these required skills.

At the same time, out in the “real world,” we find that:

  1. Employers are lamenting the lack of soft skills among younger workers (and applicants), thereby necessitating additional training.
  2. The US ranked 19th out of 28 countries in college completion in 2012, according to an OECD study1. (It ranked first as recently as 1995.)
  3. Colleges are reporting significant increases in student visits to their counseling centers, citing factors such as depression and anxiety.

It is apparent from multiple perspectives that we are falling short in preparing our children for independent life. While this is a complex challenge with many contributors, I’d like to share what I consider to be a primary source of the problems: the course requirements for high school graduation.

The US economy has changed dramatically in the past few decades, requiring different skills than before. Also, post-secondary education has become much more popular, which argues for greater advance preparation.  And, jobs for students during high school are more difficult to come by, limiting opportunities for valuable workplace skill development. In light of these factors, the question is whether our education requirements have appropriately adapted. Many believe they have not—and we agree.

At LifeSmart, we believe students need greater applied learning and skill development and practical preparation for independent living. This would significantly enhance both career- and life-readiness for our nation’s high school graduates.

While people may disagree on which courses deserve the status of a requirement (versus an elective), we believe the following would help address the skill gap:

  • College and Career Readiness: this would prepare students for their next education steps, as well as the four career mastery stages: exploring, qualifying, marketing, and excelling. Valuable perspectives from employers would be included.
  • Independent Living: this would offer students a clear glimpse into “life on their own,” including leadership, soft skills, relationship building, budgeting, and everyday living skills.
  • 21st Century Skills: this would help students build the analytical, problem solving, collaborative, and communication skills needed to succeed.
  • Personal Finance: this would include the basics of budgeting, banking, investing, credit, identity protection, insurance, car buying, and loan applications. (It would also improve our nation’s financial literacy!)
  • Entrepreneurship: this course would expose students to all aspects of creating and managing a business (and learning about capitalism in the process!). Knowing that most students will work in a business or organization, this would offer valuable insights into how the “real world” operates.
  • Communications: this course would include both verbal and written personal and professional communications. In today’s highly collaborative workforce, communication skills are a must. The casualness of contemporary communication has become a major impediment to many young people adapting to college and professional environments.

For some schools, this would involve converting existing electives into requirements, and others would involve new course offerings. Of course, it would be helpful to incorporate these practical skills in other classes where possible.

These are our ideas. We’d love to hear yours!

Let’s Make 2017 the Year of Listening

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

~ Epictetus

Question: what one action fosters unity, common understanding, mutual respect, healing, better decisions, more effective management, stronger marriages, families, and friendships, and greater empathy, civility, harmony, knowledge, and perspective? (I think we can all agree these are worthy causes!) Answer: Listening. If we dedicated ourselves to becoming better listeners. I believe it would change the world.

So, what about making 2017 a year when we do more listening and “sharing with” and less “talking to?” A year when we fully engage with each other to forge stronger relationships and greater understanding? And, maybe a year when we celebrate what unites us instead of focusing so much on our differences?

From my perch, this would go a long way in healing our nation, our communities, our families, and ourselves. Here’s what I’m observing:

  • Almost everything today has become politicized, with people holding entrenched views and often vilifying others simply for having different opinions or solutions (as if this will persuade). We’re talking/shouting at each other, rather than sharing our perspectives and seeking common ground. We’re spending most of our time with people who share our views rather than respectfully engaging and listening to others with different points of view (hello college administrators!). This polarizes and divides, rather than unites, and it’s impairing our relationships, mutual understanding, and civility.
  • Technology is significantly interfering with interpersonal engagement and is eroding our relationships. (Question: was this ever listed as a potential side effect when we bought our smartphones?!?) We’re allowing ourselves to be distracted when we’re together, without realizing how this devalues others.
  • Our careers are so consuming and our schedules so full that we aren’t preserving the needed time to nurture, guide, and listen to our children as we should.
  • Businesses are often so consumed with their bottom lines that they’re not fully engaging all that their employees have to offer. Some are even expecting 24-7 responses to emails, which is interfering with family time.

So, where do we go from here? Perhaps if we try these out, we can reverse course:

  1. When we’re enjoying the company of others, we adopt a no-device rule (unless we are using them together). We fully engage with our eyes, ears, and body language.
  2. We adopt the 40/60 rule in how much we talk versus listen in our conversations. (Note: with parents, it should be more like 30/70!)
  3. We spend more time trying to understand each other rather than persuade each other. We keep our conversations constructive and strive to find common ground where it exists (we might discover that our goals are the same but our methods are different!).
  4. We reserve time to invest in our relationships and fully engage
  5. We exhibit self control, respect, and civility when we differ
  6. We listen to positive influences and tune out others
  7. We seek out varying perspectives in forming our views, making decisions, and teaching students (college administrators, take note)
  8. We put our employees first when we manage our businesses
  9. We take time to listen to our spirit, to pray if we are so inclined, and to bask in the beauty and tranquility of nature. Someone once said that “silent” and “listen” are spelled with the same letters. How cool!

As someone who tends to be outgoing and opinionated, this may be among the most convicting blogs I’ve ever written. But, I’m committing myself to do better in 2017 and beyond. I hope these ideas work for you, and the people you’re influencing, too.

From Dreamer to Achiever: Making Your 2017 Vision a Reality

So, what grade would you give yourself regarding your 2016 resolutions? If you’re like most of us, you succeeded with a few, but fell short on more. Sometimes our goals get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes we fail because we didn’t turn our goals into specific plans and actions (i.e., we stayed in dream land). And, sometimes we weren’t that serious about them in the first place.

In last week’s blog, we encouraged you to develop an aspirational vision for 2017, and we hope you’re off to a great start. Your next and greatest challenge is turning your vision into a reality. Depending on how you’re wired, this may come naturally or not. Regardless, one surefire method is to adopt the Plan, Do, and Review approach that is common in the business world. Yes, it works just as well for us as individuals and families and hopefully for you, too!

Planning

Your first step is to prioritize your vision and aspirations. If your list of desires is a mile long, you’ll become disillusioned and lose interest within months. A better approach is to limit your focus areas to no more than three to five (depending on how involved they are). With such busy lives, there’s only so much we can realistically accomplish. If you achieve yours ahead of schedule, by all means go back to your list and add some more!

How should you narrow your list to a manageable number? First, prioritize them in order of potential value and impact. Some will be a bigger deal than others. Also consider the time required for each goal to the best of your ability, and build in the necessary margin. Finally, pay attention to urgency. Some goals may need to be addressed immediately while others can wait. Be especially mindful of goals with set deadlines (e.g., college applications) and plan with a buffer, in case you fall behind.

Once you’ve settled on your top vision areas, develop specific plans and goals to achieve them. Your goals should include target completion dates and specific, measurable outcomes to help assess your progress. And, be sure they’re realistic and achievable. If they’re not, you will lose interest. Been there, done that!

Doing

Now, it’s do time. You’ve set your course, and it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Each of your diverse goals will require different action steps and time frames for completion. Daily and weekly to do lists will help keep you on track and build momentum as you progress. These are especially important for larger goals that require lots of steps. If you’re like me, you love crossing off to do list items! Oh, and remember that whatever you do, do it with excellence and, ideally, on time.

Reviewing

Your final step is reviewing your performance. Ideally, you will have shared your goals with the appropriate party (e.g., your supervisor, parents, spouse/partner, friend, or mentor) and set dates to review your progress. Trust me, accountability works just as effectively in our personal lives as it does in a job review! It adds incentive and motivation and helps keep us on track. If you’re falling behind on any of your goals, these conversations can help you make any mid-course corrections. If you’ve achieved them, be sure to celebrate! You deserve it.

Application for Families and Educators

Goal setting and implementation are essential leadership skills to build in our children, and it’s never too soon to begin. Spend time early in the year as a family to set both individual and family goals (e.g., more harmony, less technology distractions, a community service project). Have each family member select a character quality he/she would like to improve, with other members providing encouragement and accountability. Then, perhaps quarterly, enjoy a family night to review your progress and celebrate with your favorite game or activity.

Educators can also have students develop and record their goals at the beginning of the semester, draft a mid-term progress report, and write a concluding paper at the end of the semester summarizing their performance. It’s a great exercise to build vision and intentionality in our young leaders. Based on my many conversations with young adults, there’s a lot of dreaming out there, but nowhere near enough planning and doing. Together, we can turn this around.