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Creating Successful Leaders

Couple driving convertible car in countryside, waving arms,  rear view

Photo Credit: ryanindaswamp.blogspot.com

I am very fortunate to have a family beach house in Delaware and try to spend some time there each summer.  This year I was able to navigate three weeks at the beach, which has never happened before.  That was my stretch…both managing before I left to have everything in order and then slowing down while I was there to really appreciate the ocean, the smells, the sounds, the food, and sand in my shoes.
This year my husband found it necessary to fly back to Minnesota early and I was facing the long drive back alone. While in a conversation with a college friend, we both expressed disappointment that we were not going to see each other this summer. I mentioned the long drive back and then, it struck me! Her company on this trip would be awesome and a great way to catch up.  I posed the question, “Want to go on a road trip?”  Her response, “I’ve never been on a road trip but it sounds like a great adventure. I’m in!”
The trip went faster than it ever had, 1,100 miles of talking, laughing, sharing, questioning and comparing.  It was great.  She had never been to Minnesota, (good thing this trip was in August!) so it was fun to show her the place I call home. She stayed one additional day and then flew home.  I received a text from her when she landed in Baltimore: “That was fun, where are we going next?!”

The moral of the story: It’s healthy and beneficial to stretch outside your comfort zone, whether that means talking to a stranger on the sidewalk, applying for your dream job, or writing a book. Look for opportunities to learn, grow, and reach for those stars. You’ll be happy you did.

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ditch the elevator pitch

For years, we’ve been taught to hone our elevator pitches—those thirty-second sound bites about ourselves that are theoretically meant to engage a complete stranger. The problem? The typical elevator pitch usually comes across as canned and overly-salesy. The eyes glaze over, the listener makes any excuse they can to get away. You might manage to shove a business card into your listener’s hand before they dash away…

It’s not surprising that this kind of approach doesn’t work. But, what does?

According to international sales speaker Kim Duke, you should ditch the traditional elevator pitch in favor of storytelling. Tell a little something about yourself in story form. Make it interesting and unique.

What should your story involve? According to Kim Duke:

  • PEOPLE. You’re not talking about gadgets and services – you’re talking about people. It is conversational, interesting to listen to.
  • CURIOSITY. You lead with something that captures their attention – something that they are struggling with.
  • DON’T SOUND CANNED. There’s a difference between being passionate or being an actress. If you’re too dramatic, or too flat – people TUNE YOU OUT both ways! Practice your introduction but don’t sound like a robot.
  • GET TO THE POINT. What is your claim to fame? This is where you can include a little Zip (e.g. My clients on average increase their sales by 50% or more.)
  • CALL TO ACTION. People should feel inspired to want more, learn more, go to your website, ask for your card…make them think!

And don’t forget to LISTEN to what others have to say. A good listening ear can go a long way.

Remember to always be your authentic self when telling your story. Don’t stretch the truth or just “tell ’em what they want to hear.” Lay out your story and practice it in the mirror or with a friend. That way, you’ll feel more natural when the time comes to actually talk to a potential client. Above all, be yourself!

 

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having clarity

In my mind, having clarity comes in two parts. You have to give clarity and ask for clarity. If you are in charge of a project or leading a team, don’t assume that everyone already knows your expectations. Make those expectations clear and leave room for others to ask questions. Put yourself in others’ shoes and anticipate questions that might come your way.

On the flip side, if you’re on the receiving end of a project or initiative, don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions. It is much better to make sure your idea of the project’s end state aligns with the actual anticipated end state then to muddle your way through it and hope you’re doing what’s expected of you. One good way to make sure you completely understand your assignment is to repeat back what you think you heard. Something like: “Okay, Bill. It sounds like you’re saying we need to come up with a better social media marketing strategy for product X, and we have two weeks to get you a proposal. Is that correct?”

Having Clarity is one of the chapters in my book, The Ten Minute Leadership Challenge, and I go into much more detail in those pages about how to give and ask for clarity.

I’ve also made a short video about Having Clarity based off the principles outlined in my book. Enjoy!

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napping in the workplace

The evidence is building. Taking a nap in the middle of the day can help you rejuvenate, concentrate, be more productive, and boost your creativity. Furthermore, we need it! According to Salary.com, “Americans have the longest working hours in the industrial world. Twenty percent of adults say they are so sleepy that it interferes with their daily activities. Eighty five percent of 30-something women report feeling tired on a regular basis.”

On the economic side, tired employees are a drain on the economy. One study found that sleepy employees constitute a $150 billion-a-year drain on American businesses in the form of lost productivity, health care costs, and employee absences.

But will naps really solve our chronic exhaustion? According to several scientific studies, yes!

NASA recently determined that “a 26-minute nap can boost workplace performance by 34 percent.” Also, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies found that “with a nap, brain activity stays high throughout the day; but without a nap, brain activity declines over the course of a day.”

Of course there are alternatives to taking naps. You could load up on sugar or caffeine, but you’ll need to sustain the high level of stimulants in your body in order to keep alert. And they might not even work all that well in the first place. According to WIRED magazine, “sometimes caffeine actually makes you perform worse.”

Although several progressive companies have embraced a “nap culture,” napping is still frowned upon in many traditional workplaces. If that’s the case for you, try bringing to light the benefits of power naps to your co-workers or boss. Ask your superior if s/he would mind if you took a twenty minute nap in the afternoon to power up.

Of course, if you have a private office, you could simply shut the door and catch a few Z’s. Just make sure you’re doing it responsibly and that you don’t oversleep. The typical recommendation is 10-30 minutes, otherwise you’ll wake up groggy (and anything beyond half an hour is frankly overkill).

What if you can’t seem to find a good way to catch a power nap in the workplace? Focus instead on getting a good night’s sleep. Cut the caffeine after noon, invest in light-blocking window shades, and try to get eight hours of undisturbed rest.

Happy napping!

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inclusivityLast week, I addressed diversity and how it goes beyond physical characteristics and also involves diversity of thought, behavior, and perspective. This week, I’d like to discuss how your diverse workplace can be an inclusive one. First, let’s define what an inclusive workplace looks like.

People in an inclusive workplace…

…feel a sense of belonging, are treated fairly, and have equal opportunities

…feel like they can be themselves and allow others to be themselves

…are fully engaged and part of a team

…remain authentic

The result of inclusivity? Innovation, creative ideas, and fresh ways of looking at things. These are all things any organization wants, but how to achieve them? How can people with widely differing outlooks on life work together harmoniously and accomplish great things?

According to the principles I’ve learned from Insights® Discovery (a tool for understanding and developing unique personalities), inclusion really starts from the top. Company leadership needs to be fully invested in the idea of inclusivity before the rest of the team can truly adopt it. The organization should consider these questions:

  • Does the leadership recognize the diversity of its team?
  • Do they know how to adapt and connect with all the people on their team?
  • Do they know what motivates certain people on their team? Do they know what derails them?
  • Are there open lines of communication in the office?
  • Are questions and concerns addressed or ignored?
  • Does the leadership make an effort to hear from everyone at the table?

Company leadership can facilitate an open, inclusive environment, but it takes the rest of the organization to keep it up on a day-to-day basis. That takes awareness and reflection. We should be asking ourselves questions from time to time like: “How does the work environment feel?” “How comfortable is it for me? For my co-workers?” “Does the minority have a voice in the office?” “Are we encouraged to raise questions or concerns?”

It takes time to build an inclusive environment, but the results are worth it. Each person has the ability to add unique value to the organization, so it’s important to create an environment where that value can come through.

If you’d like to delve into workplace inclusivity in more depth, I encourage you to contact me so we can discuss your organization’s needs. Thanks for reading!

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Millennials and altruism

The next generation of leaders can’t be bought. In traditional business thinking, if you give an employee a raise every once in a while, that’s enough to keep him or her around. Not so for Millennials. According to Forbes Magazine, “They [Millennials] long to be part of something bigger than themselves… Millennials want to lead a balanced life. They want to be happy at home and happy on the job – money is somewhat secondary.”

Additionally, a recent study showed that a whopping 92% of those born between 1980 and 2000 (commonly known as the Millennial or “Y” generation) believe that business success should be measured by more than profit. They want to know that their company is doing good and they want to be a part of it.

I’ve written a past blog post about what motivates Millennials, but this time I’m going to narrow my focus and concentrate on one big motivator: altruism.

Simply put, Millennials care. They’ve been raised volunteering at church and community events, they go on Habitat for Humanity trips, they discuss issues like poverty and social injustice in their classrooms. When all that takes a back burner in the workplace, it can be a bit of a shock for them. They might ask themselves, “Where are all the people who care?” Or “Why doesn’t my company have a heart?” Or “Am I really doing the kind of work I should be doing?”

On the flip side, Millennials are attracted to companies that actively care. 88% of Gen Y women and 82% of Y men believe it’s important to be able to give back to community through work.

What are some things your company can do to engage Millennials (and other caring employees!) in altruistic activities? Here are some ideas:

  • Create a program in your company that rewards good behavior (good attendance, outstanding leadership, team collaboration) with money that goes to a charity of choice.
  • Sponsor fundraisers (such as a 5k run for charity)
  • Create drop-off areas at work to donate used clothing or food items
  • Allow your employees paid time off for charitable work (and keep a board that tracks and celebrates all the different organizations your employees are volunteering for)
  • Promote green living:
    • Provide incentives for biking, ride share, and public transportation
    • Create an eco-friendly cafeteria with reusable or compostable plates, cups, and eating utensils; a compost bin; and locally/sustainably sourced food
    • Provide water bottle refill stations next to drinking fountains
    • Get an energy audit and make the recommended changes. Keep track of your energy savings on a chart that everyone can see
  • Start team fundraising/volunteer work competitions
  • Work on having an open line of communication with your employees so they can bring their altruistic ideas to you!

Margaret Smith is a career coach, licensed Insights Discovery practitioner, founder of UXL, and co-founder of the TAG Team. You can visit her website at www.youexcelnow.com

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pecking order at work

I recently watched a highly inspirational TED Talk by Margaret Heffernan, former five-time CEO and “management thinker.” She begins her talk with a study about chickens, performed by Purdue University biologist William Muir. In short, he found that flocks comprised of “superchickens,” or the ones that were the highest producers, tended to fail. They would turn on each other and peck each other to death. The control flocks (groups of average chickens–some high-producing, others not), ended up doing much better and producing the most eggs by far. This is a lesson, Heffernan says, that we can apply to any typical organization.

Many companies make the mistake of pouring resources into the few “super employees” and attempting to groom an elite group to carry the company. This, Heffernan says, often leads to “aggression, dysfunction, and waste. If the only way the most productive can be successful is by suppressing the productivity of the rest, then we badly need to find a better way to work and a richer way to live.”

So, what does make teams successful? According to an experiment conducted by MIT, successful teams were found to have the three following characteristics:

1. High degrees of social sensitivity to each other

2. No one voice dominated the successful groups–the members all contributed roughly the same amount

3. The most successful groups had more women in them (the scientists who conducted this study are not certain why this was the case, but one reason could be that women typically score higher on empathy tests)

In short, groups that are highly attuned and sensitive to each other work better together. Ideas can flow and grow. People don’t get stuck. They don’t waste energy down dead ends.

Heffernan goes on to examine specific ways that companies have encouraged teams to work together and bond. Some companies discourage drinking coffee at your desk–instead, you’re encouraged to go to a common room, take a break, and talk to fellow employees while enjoying that cup of coffee. Other companies have office vegetable plots where people can go and pick weeds or water plants when they need a break. All these little connections lead to a big concept: social capital. Social capital is “the reliance and interdependency that builds trust” and it takes time to really grow and build that trust.

The main lesson from all of this is that we are all valuable components of the team, no matter our I.Q. or level of creativity. Diverse teams that are encouraged to grow, share their thoughts and opinions, and lean on each other are the most successful. It’s time to forget the pecking order and embrace collaboration.

For the full TED Talk, please click below:

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