Vision: Three Success Patterns for Students

Source: Ben Heine

Students are back in school and the American Dream Factory is in full force.  Study hard, keep your nose clean and you too can have the life you want.  Scholarships, college of choice, great career, etc. However, what the best students know is there is more to getting what you want in the future than just getting good grades and being a good person.  Following are three patterns that are non-negotiables for students who are putting themselves in the best position for success.  These are not "do more and you will get more" principles. These are "do more of what works and less of what doesn't" principles.

1. Create and expand your network. Its not what you know. Its not who you know. Its who knows you. Students (secondary and post-secondary) need to pick a target career goal for many reasons. One of the most important is it gives you an industry to get involved in.  Seek out internships, attend industry conferences, network with professionals who are successful doing the job you want to do and ask them questions. Companies don't hire people; people hire people. Schools don't give scholarships; people give scholarships.  Get to know people.

2. Build up a robust trust account. Future "gatekeepers" are going to check all the basics of your past: grades, extracurricular activities, etc. However, they will place just as much stock (if not more) in what your references say about you as a person. Character, work ethic, integrity, creativity, people skills, willingness to learn, flexibility, emotional maturity, etc. You need to invest a ton of time and energy in building trust with people in your life today; especially your teachers, school administrators, bosses, etc. You will need their help in the future. Be trustworthy - worthy of other's trust.

3. Go above and beyond expectations. Build a reputation as someone who will do more than expected. And not because you are always asked or because there is a "prize" for it, but because it is who you are. Figure out how to maximize your school opportunities (inside and outside of the classroom) and then act. This list includes: internships, student organizations, helping your teacher with projects, etc.

The competition for scholarships, college admission and jobs is higher than ever. Put yourself in the best position for success by incorporating these three patterns in your school routine. Good luck!

Book recommendation - How to Be a High School Superstar, Cal Newport

"Disguised as a peppy college-admission guide, Newport's book is actually a profound, life-affirming manifesto for ambitious high school students. Forgo the sleepless and cynical path to college acceptance. Instead, blaze your trail to the Ivy League by living a full life and immersing yourself in things that matter. Relax. Find meaning. Be you." David Shenk, author of The Genius in All of Us


Fostering Relationships: The Value of Team Bonding

Pop Quiz: Which method of communication most effectively conveys every aspect of a message?

A. Face-to-Face
B. Phone Call
C. Email
D. Text Message

The answer, of course, is A. Face-to-face communication is the most effective method for delivering and responding to every element of a message: words, context, body language, emotional content, etc. As you move down the line from face-to-face to phone call to email to text message, the complexity of the message is filtered because the amount of information given and received diminishes. 

This dynamic is pretty well-known; even though many people do not have the willingness or understanding to apply the proper medium to the right message.  However, this communication lesson actually serves as the best explanation for the value of team bonding. Here is a quick overview:

Text Message = Working on a project with someone you've never met.
Text messages are great at conveying quick information, but are ineffective at conveying tone and meaning. Similarly, it is difficult to work efficiently with someone you've never met because all you know about them is right-now information. Therefore, you have to take everything at face value and tasks can take longer because everything has to spelled out and clearly explained.  Assumptions are not always a bad thing, but they are almost always a bad tactic when you have no prior knowledge of the other person's intentions, actions or behaviors.

Email = Working with a new team member.
Email is the preferred "quick" and "traceable" method of communication in the workplace. It is efficient to a point. Everyone has had that moment five-minutes into drafting an email when you hit delete and then just call the person because you realize it is faster. Email is clear to a point also because tone is not always easy (or front of mind) to explain. When a new team member arrives (especially if the team is already robust) many people will simply not take the time to explain tone or context to the "newbies" and just skip past that step.  Therefore, the complexity of the messages are left to assumption by the new team member. This creates miscommunication, confusion and, in many cases, no clear person to blame.

Phone Call = Working on a team with someone you know professionally, but have never learned anything about personally.
Phone calls are many times just as useful as face-to-face in terms of fully conveying the message at hand. However, they are not quite as good. One of the major differences is what choosing the medium conveys.  If you have the option of meeting face-to-face or over-the-phone with me and you choose phone, it does place a lower value on the interaction; except in all the cases where the context is just a quick chat. This same dynamic works with office relationships. If you don't take the time to get to know me or learn more about me, I don't feel a sense of investment in the relationship from you (and vice-versa). This can create a working relationship that is not as powerful and robust as possible.

Face-to-Face = Working on a team with someone you know both professionally and personally.
The most effective medium for delivering and receiving the complexity of a message is face-to-face. I can read your body language. I can see your tone.  I can see, not just hear, how you are responding to me.  It is efficient, effective and clear (as long as the words are clear). This is the perfect metaphor and support for the value of team bonding.  When two people take time to learn more than just surface level knowledge about each other, they are better equipped to read intention, context, purpose, understanding, etc. Only a small percentage of the messages we send every day are conveyed in our words. The vast majority of the message exists in our body language, tone, assumed intent, etc. When teams invest time in bonding and understanding how each other ticks, these larger messages are more clearly delivered and more appropriately received.

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Skill Assessment: Solar System Leadership Lessons

A simple, fresh metaphor is a powerful tool in gaining clarity on what's important and meaningful. Leadership is a complex and diverse subject. Following is a look at how basic, effective leadership and team motivation works.

The players in this metaphor are the sun, moon and earth (it's difficult to find a more basic and simple metaphor). The earth represents each team player. It is an intricate entity comprising of a million moving parts - much like each person on your team. It does work, provides value, is difficult to keep in good working shape and exists in its present form because of one primary energy source - the sun.

The sun, obviously, is the earth's energy source and represents a team player's energy source - motive. Each person is motivated wholly by a complicated mix of inputs, but the lesson here is that leadership is not the primary motivator. The source driving action is personal motive.

So, what does the moon represent? This is where the team leader enters the picture. He or she uniquely plays the same role as the moon in the ecosystem. Visually, the moon reflects the sun's light. It is similar, yet all together different from the earth. And it influences certain movements on earth - i.e. the tides. An effective team leader does the same. He or she works hard to reflect back to the team their core motives. He or she is self-aware of the similarities they have with the team, but also recognizes core differences. And, of course, the leader's work (and primary utility) revolves around positively influencing the team's actions.

I think one of the biggest ah-ha moments this metaphor serves up is the recognition that neither the leader nor the team players are at the center of the ecosystem. That position is held squarely by motive. When leaders try to play this role they become overbearing, self-centered and out-of-whack with how true leadership and motivation work. When team players try to fill this position, they aren't in tune with their role within the organization.

Remember this solar system metaphor next time you are attempting to either build a high-performing team, fix one that's off kilter, or working hard to take a team from average to excellent. Continue to sharpen your understanding of each team member's authentic motives, be a reflective model of positive motives and keep those motives as the center of your team's ecosystem.

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