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Creating Successful Leaders

Margaret Smith speaking with a group of women

Hello readers! I am beyond excited to introduce my online leadership course, The Ten-Minute Leadership Challenge!

It’s based off my book, but is packed with a ton of great additional information that is meant to guide leaders of all levels and backgrounds. The course includes ten, go-at-your-own-pace lessons, each one focusing on a specific leadership attribute. You can choose to go through the lessons in order or focus on the ones that need your attention most.

Expected course outcomes include learning to…

  • Focus and hone self-awareness
  • Define career goals and your “living legacy”
  • Create a business case to ignite real change
  • Gain respect and recognition
  • Improve your office community
  • Navigate tough conversations
  • Earn the confidence of your colleagues and superiors
  • And much more

I’ve pulled out all the stops with this course and I’m confident you’ll find it valuable. Check it out today and step into your leadership!

Walking up steps

Margaret Smith is a career coach, author, Insights® Discovery (and Deeper Discovery) Licensed Practitioner, and founder of UXL. She hosts WORKSHOPS for people who need career or personal guidance.
NOW LIVE: Check out Margaret’s NEW online Leadership Course.

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Pink lotus flower

One of the key leadership attributes in my book, The Ten-Minute Leadership Challenge, is TRUST. I truly believe business and leadership success is built on trust. You need it between co-workers, between supervisors and staff, between the business and its customers. If trust doesn’t exist, the organization flounders and is likely to fail.

One of the ways to build trust is through transparent behavior and communication. It goes beyond honesty and into the realm of integrity. Though honest and integrity may seem like the same thing, they are actually quite different.

Honesty is simply telling the truth. You can tell the truth and still omit information or focus on one part of the big picture. To relate honesty to a work example, think of a check-in meeting you might have with your team. In this meeting, everyone goes around and reports on their project, giving highlights on how things are going. When you have the floor, you talk about one specific part of your project—the only part that is going well. You’re being honest, but are you acting with integrity?

I would argue that, no, you’re not. You’re leaving out the parts of your project that are going poorly and casting yourself only in a positive light. That might get you by for a while, but what happens when your project implodes and you turn in subpar work? What happens when you hit a wall and need to desperately seek help?

This situation calls for more than honesty. It calls for you to be vulnerable and discuss the parts of your project that are leaving you stymied or frustrated. It calls for integrity.

If you act with integrity, you do what you know is best. It may not be easy, but it is right.

In this situation, you might call attention to the areas in which you are struggling. You might set aside your pride and ask for additional resources to help you complete the project as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Another situation in which integrity outweighs honesty has to do with office gossip. If you know a damaging bit of news about a co-worker, you could tell others about it. You’re being honest, right? But are you acting with integrity?

Again, the answer is no. Even though you’re not fabricating the damaging news, just telling it can be harmful. It can erode trust.

That’s the difference between honesty and integrity: Honesty is blunt, truth-telling and integrity involves considering the big picture and attempting to do what is right. Acting with integrity helps create trust.

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Two women meeting over notebooks

If you’re like many people, you dread your annual performance review. It’s not the prospect of getting in trouble, it’s that performance reviews can be just…tedious. They often feel like a distraction–something you have to get out of the way before you can move on with business as usual.

It’s unfortunate that performance reviews have received such a bad reputation because they can be enormously valuable!

Instead of shying away from this year’s performance review, kick yourself into high gear and focus on taking advantage of everything a performance review can and should be. Think of your review as an opportunity to do one or more of the following:

1. Ask for a Raise

According to Grant Sabatier, author of Financial Freedom, one of the best times to ask for a raise is during a performance review. Sabatier says, “Your annual performance review is a natural time to ask because your boss is already thinking about your value to your company. If you come with your market-value research, you are significantly more likely to get a higher raise.”

Just be sure to put together a solid case for asking for a raise (find a few hints in my past blog post), and practice your speech in front of the mirror or to a willing partner. The goal is to sound as confident as possible when making your ask.

2. Identify Weak Points

Performance reviews are a great time to ask critical questions about yourself, your work performance, and what you can do to improve. Think of it as a time to gather as much information as possible to have a successful year ahead.

If you don’t understand or agree with a piece of feedback, don’t argue or get defensive! Simply ask clarifying questions and attempt to understand where the feedback is coming from. If the advice seems sound, develop a plan for putting it into practice.

3. Create Change

It’s easy to complain about everything you don’t like about your workplace behind your boss’ back. Not only is that counterproductive, it can bring down the attitude of the entire office. Instead, keep a list of things you’d like to see changed, tweaked, or eliminated. Be sure to brainstorm potential solutions as well.

When it comes time for your review, present your list to your superior in a respectful, solutions-oriented way. Get excited about the potential changes, and show you’re willing to put in some time to make them happen. Instead of seeming like a complainer, you’ll be viewed as someone who is motivated and bold enough to take initiative to make positive change.

Performance reviews don’t have to be a slog. Think of them as opportunities to carve out a better year for yourself and the workplace. Get excited for your next review and start planning the conversation you’d like to have with your boss. Here’s to a self-made year!

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working with a mentor

With any job, we all rely on guidance from our supervisors and peers to learn the ropes and develop new strategies for accomplishing tasks. These people serve as coaches and mentors, and can be a principle reason for creative and professional success.

A mentor’s experience is a resource as valuable as any skill in your personal toolbox, but finding the right person for the role can be challenging in a new environment. As you begin your search, you may find a few of these strategies useful:

1. Identify your process and values

As we grow, we try out and exchange work habits and strategies to make ourselves more effective. Finding a mentor who speaks to you starts with understanding yourself and how you work. What are the values that drive you? How do they translate to the type of work you do and which projects or responsibilities you’d like to take on?  What are the pain points and blind spots of your working style that others may need to accommodate for or address? These questions are important to ask and reflect upon when seeking a mentor. Knowing their answers to some degree will help when approaching others for help.

2. Look across disciplines

Everybody brings a unique mix of experience and ability to the table in an organization. A person’s job description doesn’t always tell you everything about the perspective they bring or their ability to teach. If you are worried or intimidated by reaching out to folks in your own department, making connections outside your usual circle and observing how people attack problems may shed a learning light you never considered before.

3. Establish rapport

Mentors are not always our closest friends, but a good mentor will be someone who respects your goals and spends time to observe and understand your learning process. Get to know folks who’ve joined the team before you and communicate your respect for their role and the work they’ve done. If you’re not familiar with these details, friendly chats over lunch or a drink can provide a way to accrue insight casually and over an extended period of time.

4. Develop yourself and network

Professional associations often offer conferences and seminars to learn the ropes of new skills or discuss innovation within a given industry. If you feel like your office lacks the means to provide the guidance you seek, attend trainings and make connections – either with fellow learners or the speakers. Handing out business cards and picking someone’s brain for 15 minutes may be all it takes to find a new teacher.

Finding a mentor isn’t always easy, but the returns for your efforts can be transformative. Keep an open mind, and be honest with yourself if you aren’t getting what you need on the first attempt. If you keep at it, often the right guidance is never too far away . Stay positive and get cracking.

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What is a personal mission statement and why should you make one? I’m glad you asked!

A personal mission statement goes beyond your career. It goes beyond New Year’s resolutions. It’s the backbone of who you are—the cornerstone of your legacy. A personal mission statement is the thing that drives your accomplishments and helps you to think “big picture” instead of getting bogged down by the day to day.

In practice, a personal mission statement is one or two sentences that define your overarching life goals and values.

Sound a bit daunting? It doesn’t have to be! Let’s break down how to create a personal mission statement in four easy steps:

1. Write out a list of your values and goals

Just free write. Don’t overthink this. Take ten minutes and write out words or phrases relating to things that you care deeply about or that drive you in life. For example, your list might have words like this:

  • Family
  • The environment
  • Financial freedom
  • Cooking
  • Starting a business
  • Empowering women

2. Spend some time thinking about the things you value, care about, or want to strive for.

Though the items on your list may all be important, some will be more important to you than others. Consider:

  • What do you want to be known for?
  • What excites and interests you?
  • Where do you feel your talents can be best applied?
  • Can you combine two or more items on your list? (i.e. Empowering women through creating your own business revolving around female health and wellness)

3. Write your statement

Put your thoughts and notes together and write out a personal mission statement. It can be something simple like:

I strive to put my family at the center of my life while also working in a leadership role in my current company.

Or, it can be a tad more complex:

My personal mission is to serve the natural world through volunteerism, a career at an environmental nonprofit, and by striving to lower my carbon footprint.

4. Rewrite your statement

Sit with your statement for a while. Pin it to your bulletin board. Look at it and say it out loud from time to time. Does it feel right? Does it encompass everything you’d like to accomplish? Or is it missing some key element?

Tweak your statement accordingly (and keep tweaking, if it needs it!)

Then…Act!

A personal mission statement is meaningless if you put it in a drawer and let it grow dusty. Pin it where you will see it every single day. Look at it often and use it as a motivator—some fire under your feet to accomplish big things and drive you toward your goals.

Think of your statement as an end goal and then strategize ways to reach that goal. What actions do you need to take to put your personal mission at the center of your life? What needs to change? What needs to stay the same or amplify? What resources will you need? Who can you turn to for guidance and support?

Use your personal mission statement as that little bit of gas in the tank that will propel you through your days…no matter how sluggish or uninspired you may be feeling. And remember: if you happen to stray from your personal mission, it’s okay! Use your statement to right your course, restrategize, and press on!

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clean corner desk


Spring is in the air! This is the time of fresh starts, newly budding flowers and trees, and…spring cleaning. Maybe you’ve been on a Netflix Tidying Up kick in which you’ve parted with clothing and objects that “no longer bring you joy.” Maybe you’re preparing to give your entire house a good, thorough scrub. That’s great, but have you given any thought to your professional life?

Just as we sort, scrub, cleanse, and revamp our personal lives, so too is it healthy and productive to rejuvenate our professional lives.

I recommend setting aside at least half a day (or an hour a day for several days in a row) to sort and reorganize your professional life. Take the time to deal with overflowing inboxes, ancient file folders, outdated information, and that stack of free stuff and business cards you’ve accumulated from work events.

Here are five places to start:

1. Your Email Inbox

There are times when I’ve simply selected all my emails in my inbox and deleted them en masse! Though I don’t necessarily recommend that, I do recommend purging the build-up in your inbox. Do you really need all those old newsletters and appointment reminders?

If deleting things seems scary, create a file folder called “Archive,” select all your emails, and move them into that folder. That way you can always access them if you need them. Then, create a system of file folders to deal with any new incoming mail (i.e. you could create a folder for each of your clients, each co-worker, or folders for specific subjects, depending on the nature of your work). When new email starts flooding in, delete the junk, sort important notices into files, and keep your “to-dos” in your inbox until you address them.

2. Update Your Resume

When was the last time you took a look at your resume? Does it need a revamp? Even if you’re not actively looking for a job, it’s a good idea to keep your resume up to date. Make sure your current job description is accurate, all the dates are correct, and any irrelevant or outdated information is deleted. You may also want to update your reference list.  A career coach, such as myself, can help you give it a refresh.

3. Update Your LinkedIn Profile

Just like your resume, your LinkedIn profile might be stale or outdated. Give it a once-over and update your information.

4. Clean out your file folders

Yes, it is time to recycle those old tax documents from 1992. Take the time to leaf through your filing cabinet and get rid of information that is simply not necessary. You may also find that some documents can be scanned into your computer and saved in a digital file, rather than a physical one. Though this may seem like a daunting task, it is easy to break it up over the course of several days by, for instance, going through 10 folders every day.

5. Dump old business cards

If you’re like me, you’ve accumulated hundreds of business cards over the years. I’m willing to bet that most of them have been shoved in a drawer somewhere, never again to see the light of day! Sift through your desk drawers and get rid of those cards. If someone’s information is important, save it in a digital contact book or connect with that person via email or LinkedIn. While you’re at it, get rid of all the magnets, stress balls, and other doodads you’ve squirreled away in your desk drawers. If you haven’t used it in the last year, chances are you won’t ever use it.

Your professional life deserves a scrub-down! Commit to making a few positive changes to set yourself up for success. I guarantee your neatly-sorted professional life will help you feel better, save time, and may even motivate you to (gasp!) actually want to spend time in your office.

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“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

It seems like everywhere I turn, people are trying to promote happiness.

“Buy this, and it will change your life!”

“Lose weight and feel good about yourself!”

“Enjoy a movie/shopping spree/vacation!”

While I’m certainly not against promoting happiness, I believe we have to think a little more long-term. “Happiness products” and mindsets only give us a temporary jolt of joy. We feel good after we’ve taken a nice, rejuvenating vacation. We may feel happy when we purchase a new piece of jewelry or pair of shoes. And that authentic Italian dinner? Oh yeah, you’d better believe that gives a shot of happiness!

Again, these things are not bad, but it’s a good idea to put them in context of the “bigger picture.” What life purpose do you want to serve? What do you want your everyday legacy to be? (For the difference between “Capital L Legacy” and “lowercase l legacy,” please see my blog post on the subject).

To start thinking big picture, start shifting your focus from happiness to usefulness.

When you’re useful, you create things. You help. You generate ideas. You work toward a larger goal.

When you’re useful, you not only feel productive, you are productive.

Instead of asking yourself, “How can I be happier?” start asking, “How can I be useful?” In my experience, happiness follows. When you’re productive, assisting others, helping your company grow, or creating things, you’ll inevitably feel the satisfaction that goes with accomplishment.

Your legacy is built on usefulness, not your personal happiness. Of course I want you to be happy, but sustainably happy. Instead of scratching every happiness itch, practice making a few intentional sacrifices for the sake of being useful. This is how you will leave a lasting impression on those around you.

So, get motivated! Make yourself useful! It’s fine to start small:

  • Volunteer for a project
  • Help a co-worker who is floundering
  • Grab coffee or lunch for someone who is short on time
  • Clean your workspace
  • Send a thank you card
  • Set intentional goals and work toward them
  • Be bold—speak up at meetings and share your ideas

Being useful feels good. Productivity begets productivity. Before you know it, usefulness will become a core part of who you are—part of your legacy.

What else can you do to make yourself useful this week? I’d love to hear from you!

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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