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Four Sources of Personal Organizational Power
Power within the organization primarily stems from two factors: personal attributes and a person’s formal position – who are you against where are you. (Note: this is not about organizations with strong chains of authority and communication like the military or rank-based police. Although other non-military organizations have a hierarchy of authority, it is not as rigidly enforced as in the military.)
There are four specific characteristics we need to talk about as part of who you are:
1. Your expertise – specialized working knowledge is a great advantage because it erases the boundaries of background, formal education or acquaintances. In other words, if you are an expert in performing the tasks of the organization, you have some personal power based on your professional knowledge and everyone recognizes that.
The problem associated with this characteristic is when higher-ranking people are brought in from outside, they may have to rely on lower-ranking people who have more working knowledge. This can give subordinates influence (probably temporary) within the organization that would seem disproportionate to their position, which is usually low-profile and almost “invisible”.
The danger for staff is that the new boss will soon settle into the new position and have a better perspective on what is going on around him/her. At that point, he/she will be able to review the subordinate’s actions and assess whether or not they were acting in the best interest of the new boss.
2. Your personal attractiveness – desirable characteristics that people around you see in you. These include charisma, pleasant demeanor and physical characteristics
Charisma – defined as ” A rare personal quality attributed to leaders who inspire fervent popular loyalty and enthusiasm. Personal magnetism or charm: A television news program known for the charisma of its anchors.”*
Although this definition may make this trait appear to be more of a gift from God than something an individual can influence, research shows that there are some intentional behaviors that can lead to a “charismatic perception” by others:
- Articulate an organizational vision that is inspiring to others
- Exposing personal sacrifice and even risk while pursuing that vision
- Recommend or support the use of non-traditional methods to achieve goals
- Have a seemingly uncanny sense of what is possible and be very aware of the timing of the important issues within that vision
- Most important of all – show sensitivity to the needs and concerns of members.
Pleasant behavior – characteristics necessary for the development and maintenance of friendship, which would include as a minimum:
- Support an open, honest and loyal relationship
- Being perceived as emotionally accessible – a good listener
- Provide unconditional and positive respect and acceptance. (“I may not approve of what you did, but I’m still your friend.”)
- Submit some waivers if the relationship requires them
- Be genuinely compassionate or empathetic, depending on the situation
Physical characteristics – It is obvious that one cannot do much about one’s innate physical characteristics, but one can do something about one’s clothing and grooming. Tabloids at grocery store checkouts often feature pictures of Hollywood stars with and without makeup. Often the contrast is very striking.
Remember the saying that “you only get one chance to make a good first impression” and the fact that, justified or not, many people are quick to judge others based on their appearance. Make sure you give yourself every advantage you can from a physical appearance standpoint.
What can you do to improve your personal appeal in these three areas?
- Charisma – how can you become more charismatic?
- Pleasant Behavior – How can you demonstrate a more pleasant behavior?
- What can you do to change your personal characteristics to make them more culturally appropriate without losing your individuality?
3. The amount of effort you put into your work. The more you are seen as reliable, willing to “go the extra mile” or stay late to help with unexpected work, it tells people that you are an above-average person; i.e. the “team player” that every group needs to succeed.
A high degree of personal effort is valued in organizations because it gives the perception that the individual is reliable, persistent and can be counted on to “go the extra mile” – (however one defines that nebulous phrase.) This trait is increasingly important in the business climate. where flexibility of schedule in a rapidly changing environment is essential.
Unfortunately, this trait can also be a double-edged sword for the practitioner if this willingness to do “whatever it takes” is seen by some as a ward doormat: a person who does all the work that no one else wants or will do and does not have the strength to stand up for himself and say no.
In this case, we recommend that you show your willingness to make an extra effort, but also to be strong enough to ask for some compromises. “If I work late tonight to help you, can I leave early tomorrow to watch my kid’s Little League baseball game?”
4. “Compliance” acts in accordance with the norms and values of the organization. The more you behave “the way we expect” here at our company, the more we will accept you into our culture. The deeper you immerse yourself in our culture, the more influence (power) you will have with us.
The more you try to adapt or “fit in” with the organization means you are able to gather more influence. This is much more than just following the dress code and rules you were given during the orientation process, it means taking the time to understand the culture.
Are there organizational stories of legendary efforts (“Ray stayed on the job 72 hours during that hurricane 3 years ago”) or decisions made that emphasize the company’s values (“Although we could double our market share, we would have to compromise on quality”) that help define culture?
If the company calls itself, “a company to own, a place to work, a neighbor to have”, what does this mean to you as a new employee? What does that tell you about the company’s values? How can understanding that phrase increase your ability to adapt and gain influence as a strong advocate for the company’s vision of itself?
Let’s say your employer is an insurance company and the founders decided that in order for anyone to be promoted above a certain level anywhere within the company, they had to meet some industry requirements for professional certification.
“But I’m in HR and I don’t deal with customers! Why should I have that certification?” you may be wondering. The answer would be that the founders wanted to ensure that every employee above a certain salary level shared the same understanding of the industry and the need for customer service. This means that they would be more focused on the company as a whole instead of their functional department within it. In the minds of the founders, it is a way to ensure the permanence of the corporate culture.
If you were to loudly protest that it doesn’t make sense in today’s world regardless of what the founders thought fifty years ago, you could seriously jeopardize your credibility and consequent influence within the organization. This is not to say that public speaking should be discouraged, but rather that an individual may be expected to “pay his dues” before he can speak with any legitimacy within the culture.
Focus on those four sources of organizational power for 12 months consistently and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at your career potential in a year!
*American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
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