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Creating Successful Leaders

have a productive debate at work

Team dynamics can’t always be 100% collaborative. When an office encounters external challenges, like a change in size or shift in industry focus, argument and individual vision can become important points of engagement to keep a team productive and cooperating as a whole unit.     

Productive debate is a form of healthy communication, and making sure everyone understands the same ground rules for conducting those debates is important. When there is a problem that can’t be solved with a short conversation, co-workers need to be prepared to present their viewpoints in a way that remains approachable and non-combative. Shane Snow talks about some of these strategies in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review.

So what are the ways to have a productive debate at work?

Having a facilitator who remains fair and impartial can provide a strong foundation for such events. Usually, a manager or supervisor can take on this role, but team members may find it appropriate to select a different candidate. There should be a consensus on who is directing the conversation.

No personal attacks. All debate stops the moment your team members begin to react defensively. It is impossible to weigh decisions with logic and reason when folks are emotionally threatened or wild. Keep talking points centered around the problem that is being discussed.

Reinforce to team members that you are sharing solutions. There may be information that is shared throughout the course of the debate that changes someone’s position or opinion, and that is okay. There are no sides that need to be taken. You are striving for an honest and meaningful solution to a problem. If somebody with an opposing viewpoint shares an idea that you agree with, be sure you acknowledge the position. Compromise or consensus is more likely when people feel heard.

Remain curious throughout the process. You’re likely to learn something new about your team members through uncomfortable or contentious subjects. Try to frame these lessons as positive incentives, and encourage your team to participate and act in good faith. A team’s real strength lies in the ability to navigate conflict.

The desire to avoid debate is easy to understand, but arguing productively is essential to any team’s growth and learning process. Keep a level head and you’ll go from 12 Angry Men to 12 Contented Team Members.

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foster team's creativity

Creativity is a key resource in any successful team’s problem-solving toolbox. New projects bring together many different kinds of people, with a diverse array of perspectives and strengths. Creating an environment that fosters not only your own creativity but that of your team as a unit can be tricky and unintuitive at times. Small groups thrive when everyone is comfortable and participates. Here are some tips to facilitate that dynamic and get your team’s creative juices flowing.:

Brainstorming Sessions

Brainstorming sessions are a tried and true way of teasing out new ideas. Have your team gather in a comfortable, neutral space. If the office conference room doesn’t inspire, a change of venue like a neighborhood coffee shop can put people in a new headspace. Break problems down to their smallest components and encourage your team to share ideas as they come – even if it’s just popped into their head. An off-hand thought may transform into a fresh innovation.

Autonomy

Responsibility and control kindle confidence, and allow team members to put themselves more fully into a task or project. Break projects into portions that can be overseen by individual team members. If you have a gauge of your team’s individual strengths and talents, try pairing them with a role that will feed off the team members’ personal strengths. A developing designer should be given the opportunity to apply their knowledge to spatial or engagement issues. An engineer who loves puzzles can be asked to incorporate that strategic thinking with the task at hand.

Connection

A team that gets along can address problems more effectively. Find an activity or outing outside the confines of your assignment that will engage folks and keep them at ease while building up your relationship. This will change depending on the group and their interests. Maybe rec sports are the answer, or trivia night at a local pub. Whatever the outing, make sure it is something everybody would like to do. Take suggestions!

Get Inspired

Are there similar cases and problems that groups in your industry have faced? Creativity is often inspired by work that’s come before. Send your team digging for solutions and situations others have faced that are similar. Discerning others’ methods can provide a helpful opportunity to compare and contrast real-world solutions to your own project’s context and particular needs. Like Brainstorming, a gathered set of tangible ideas allows focus and connections to be drawn instead of working from scratch.

Creativity is an extension of ourselves. By giving your team the space and footing they need to put themselves into a project, and you’ll grow together and see colorful returns. Go forth and expand your palette.

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It’s easy to say yes. We naturally aim to please our co-workers and supervisors; we want to look good in the eyes of the company and get that raise or earn that promotion. But saying yes can be dangerous. If you say yes to everything—every assignment, every request, every invitation—you’ll end up stretching yourself too thin and you’ll possibly end up taking on work that isn’t in your sweet spot or doing things that go against your code of ethics.

Though I’m a proponent of trying new things and being agreeable, there are times when it is in your best interest to give a firm N-O. Here are three scenarios where saying “No” is the best course of action (accompanied by three strategies to pull it off):

1. You have too much on your plate.

If you feel your workload growing out of control and can tell the quality of your work is sharply declining, it’s time to say no. How to do it? The next time your project leader tries to assign you something new, do not immediately say yes. Arrange to meet one-on-one (it is much easier to reason with someone one-on-one than in a group) and lay out your reasons for not wanting to take on the project.

Be prepared. Make a spreadsheet that clearly displays the projects you are currently tackling and how much time you spend each day on each project. Also, come into the meeting with a counter-proposal in mind. If you know of someone else who might have the capacity (and desire) to take on the project, suggest that person to your project leader (be sure to get that individual’s approval ahead of time).

Alternatively, you could suggest a future date that would work for you to start the project (i.e. “I’m busy from now until the end of the May, but I could start working on this project in June.”)

2. You are being given work that is not in your “sweet spot.”

This is a tough one, but ultimately, if you are constantly handed work that does not align with your areas of expertise, you are doing both your company and yourself a disservice. Your company won’t receive the best possible work and you’ll be straying from your career goals.

So, how to say no? Again, a one-on-one meeting with your supervisor is helpful in this situation. Explain to her what your ultimate goals are and what kind of projects you prefer. One of the best things you can do in this situation is approach it with confidence and decisiveness. Know where you’d like to be heading and explain, confidently, how you’d like to get there.

Ultimately, if your company is not supportive of your career goals (or if you find that the type of work you do consistently does not align with your sweet spot), it is time to start searching for something new, either inside or outside your current company.

3. Saying yes compromises your values.

There are times when it just does not feel good to say yes. Perhaps you agree to attend a late-night strategy session, knowing that your daughter has a piano recital that night. Or perhaps a co-worker dumps several assignments on your lap that are really her responsibility, not yours. Or maybe you’ve had to sacrifice your health or nightly down-time because of all the projects you’ve agreed to do. Whatever the case, sometimes saying yes is simply not the right decision.

How to say no? First of all, know your priorities. Does your family come first? Your health? Your mental wellbeing? When one of the things that’s important in your life becomes compromised, it’s time to say no. Keep an open line of communication with your boss and let him know when you feel like work is tipping the scales of your work-life balance.

And another thing: think before you say yes. Always take a moment to pause, assess the situation, and make a deliberate decision. If that means waiting a day or two to mull over the pros and cons, so be it. Ultimately, you need to feel good about agreeing to do something before you say “yes.”

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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It’s that time of year—the time when illness is rampant and, at any given time, two or three of your team members are home sick. If you’re like most people, you’re exposed to dozens of different opportunities every day to pick up germs—in the conference room, at the grocery store, at your kids’ daycare or in the bleachers of their sports games, at your hair salon, in the gym…the list goes on and on!

How can you possibly avoid germs and stay healthy without having to stop and slather on the hand sanitizer? Try these 7 quick tips:

Be aware

This is probably the most basic and important tip of all. Pay attention to your surroundings. Notice where you sit and what you touch during the day. Have other people touched that door handle before you? Have other people handled the grapefruit at the grocery store? Your awareness can lead to better health hygiene.

Keep active

Though it may seem like the gym is swarming with germs (and it probably is!), staying active is a great way to give your immune system a boost and help everything from your circulation to your mood. Just don’t forget to wipe down your machine before and after you use it.

Pack your lunch

Packing your lunch for work is a great practice in general (it saves you money and helps you make conscious, healthy choices), but it’s an especially good idea during cold and flu season. You won’t expose yourself to potential germs when dining out or eating in the company cafeteria, and you can throw in some vitamin C-rich foods, like clementines or leafy greens.

Slow down

If you’re like me, this is the hardest piece of advice on the list. However, it is vital to your health to slow down every once in a while, breathe, and clear your mind. If you don’t have the patience for meditation, try practicing yoga or nightly journaling.

Drink plenty of water

I know you’ve heard this one, but it is SO important. Most people don’t drink as much water as they should, and that can affect your entire system. As the Mayo Clinic says, “Every cell, tissue and organ in your body needs water to work properly.”

Avoid caffeine and soda

On the flip side of drinking more water is avoiding certain beverages. Though you may love your coffee or sugary drinks, they can cause unhealthy highs and lows that can potentially stress your system. Try switching to herbal or green tea for a while—it’s rich in catechins, antioxidants and a range of other beneficial nutrients (according to PushDoctor.com)

Recognize when you ARE getting sick

Health expert Pilar Gerasimo recommends that we look at illness symptoms as “signals for change.” If you don’t want that sore throat to become a full-blown cold, start getting more rest, cutting back on activities, pumping yourself full of vitamins, and catching up on sleep. Your preventive measures could nip illness in the bud before it fully blooms.

A final note: Your health is vital to your happiness, productivity, and mental wellbeing. If you find yourself over-worked or stressed, take a step back, take a break, and start saying NO to certain projects (click here for strategies to effectively say no). It will be worth it in the long run.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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One of the easiest ways to make a room full of professionals uneasy is to bring up the term “Love Leadership.” In most people’s minds, love is not a term that should be associated with work. Appreciation, sure. Respect, definitely. But, LOVE?

In reality, Love Leadership is not as scary or intense as it sounds. It’s a term that was made popular by John Hope Bryant, CEO of Operation HOPE. In Bryant’s book, Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World, he illustrates how leaders who genuinely care about others will rise head and shoulders above those who lead with fear.

Though fear-based leadership may work in the short-term (i.e. giving someone an ultimatum if they missed an important deadline), it is not a good long-term strategy. Those who consistently lead with fear will ultimately create a hostile work environment where staff will be afraid to express their views, be motivated by consequences, and shy away from open and honest communication. In short, fear-based leadership stifles and harms the workplace.

What does choosing love-based leadership look like?

Leaders who choose to lead with love take the time to get to know their team. They care about each and every person and routinely sit down and hold one-on-one conversations with them. They also care enough to get to know a little about their team member’s personal lives–their family, hobbies, pets, etc. This level of attention helps people feel comfortable enough with their leader to present any issues or challenges they might be facing, discuss new ideas, or candidly talk about progress or pitfalls.

Love-based leaders also let themselves be vulnerable. They are brave enough to acknowledge when they’ve made a mistake; they reach out when they need help. This vulnerability does not make leaders weak–it makes them human.

It should be noted, however, that there’s a difference between leading with love and being “a softie.” One of the chapters in my book, The Ten-Minute Leadership Challenge, is dedicated to “balancing the head and the heart.” Though it is important to lead with love, it is just as important to make “head-based” decisions, like letting a team member go when they are repeatedly under-performing. Just because you lead with love, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t set up clear boundaries and let your team members know when they cross those boundaries (I go into much more detail in my book–talk to me if you’d like to get a hold of a signed copy).

How will you, as a leader, dedicate yourself to leading with love? Step back, take an honest look at your leadership, and recognize how you can infuse more honestly, open communication, genuine caring, and vulnerability into your daily actions and interactions.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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What are some of the reasons you procrastinate? Are you worried about the task ahead? Do you think you don’t have the right skills? Or, maybe, you’ve put so much pressure on yourself that you’re certain you can never live up to expectations?

Or maybe, just maybe, you have a thousand other things you’d rather be doing instead?

Whatever the case, we’re all guilty of procrastination sometimes. And that’s a bad thing, right? According to some experts, yes. Psychologist and success coach, Elizabeth Lombardo, tells us that research shows procrastination to be “associated with increased long-term physical stress, weaker performance, greater likelihood of illness and insomnia, less happiness, and diminished wealth.” None of those things sound great, but is that really the full story? Are there ever instances when procrastination can actually be a good thing?

“Yes,” says Adam Grant, author of Originals. “Procrastination is a normal part of the creative process.”

According to Grant, many of “the greats” were also great procrastinators. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Ernest Hemingway, Leonardo da Vinci, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Martin Luther King Jr. were all master procrastinators. Evidently, Martin Luther King Jr. “didn’t start writing his ‘I have a dream’ speech until the night before–and he was still jotting notes and crossing out lines right before he walked onstage.”

But, just because some of the great artists, inventors, and activists were procrastinators doesn’t mean procrastination is itself a good thing, right?

Well, not necessarily. Procrastination can actually allow your mind to explore avenues it might not have explored if you had doggedly stuck to your deadline and stayed on task. It’s been shown that moderate procrastinators are more creative than those who complete tasks ahead of time OR those who put things off until the 11th hour.

So, the lesson here is that some procrastination can actually be a good thing, but too much can lead to poor results (or NO results!).

Though it’s not usually a good idea to “play chicken” with a deadline, don’t be too hard on yourself if you do. As Adam Grant says, “Sure, procrastination can be the enemy of progress. But beating yourself up about it only makes it worse. If you’re stressed that you’re stressed, you suffer more.”

Next time you’re bumping up against a deadline, take a deep breath, focus, and let your creative side run wild! Though you shouldn’t necessarily make it a habit, procrastination isn’t the end of the world.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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questions to build trust in leadership

It may seem surprising, but asking questions can actually make you a more trustworthy leader. Questions do not diminish your authority or make you appear weak. Rather, by asking the right questions, you can gain valuable insight, open the floor for more meaningful conversations, and demonstrate that you respect your team.

Which questions are the “right questions?” The simple answer is: open-ended questions that stimulate conversation and don’t presuppose an answer. A question such as “Don’t you think Client X would benefit from our new product?” is not open-ended and not productive. It is only searching for agreement, not a true dialogue.

Instead, try asking questions that begin with words like How, What, or Why. These question words typically allow for a wide range of answers, not just a yes or no response.

The other half of asking good questions is practicing active listening. Leaders build trust by seeking their team’s thoughts, opinions, and ideas, and listening closely to the answers they give. This show of respect is integral to building trust

Next time you’re in a meeting (either with your entire team or a single individual) try asking some trust-building questions. Here are 10 to get you started—choose ones that are applicable to your team and situation.

  1. What resources do you need to complete your task?
  2. What is holding you/us back from success?
  3. How can I help?
  4. What are some possible solutions you envision?
  5. Who/what are we lacking to achieve success?
  6. What can I do to help foster more creativity?
  7. Why do you think                            is happening?
  8. What are your current frustrations?
  9. What is our biggest risk in this endeavor? What is the Plan B?
  10. Is this assignment a good fit for your talents? (Why or why not?)
  11. How does this add value to our mission?
  12. What effects will this decision have?
  13. How can we improve                     ?
  14. What opportunities can bolster our business?
  15. What else would you like me to know?

This is just a sampling of the questions you can ask your team. Get curious. Involve them in decision-making. Ask good questions and build trust.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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