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Creating Successful Leaders

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Do you feel driven by a larger mission or purpose, but you’re distracted by day-to-day responsibilities? Does it feel like you’re only inching ahead when you should be sprinting? Are you wondering how on earth to make a positive impact when you’re so darn busy?

You’re not alone.

Many people want to make a difference in the world, but have trouble finding their footing. They might feel like they’re too busy, distracted by other responsibilities, overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, or unsure of where to begin. How can you become a change agent when so much is holding you back?

Take heart, it is possible for even the busiest person to make waves. Start with these seven steps:

1. Start thinking conceptually

Conceptual thinkers are able to take a step back from their daily work and explore the bigger picture. They think about widespread, systemic change. They reflect on what kind of action is needed to make an impact at all levels. For example, if a conceptual thinker’s goal is to cut pollution, they might consider local action first—promoting carpooling or biking, participating in local advocacy groups, etc. Then, they might consider statewide action—pollution-cutting legislation, campaigns to build more bike lanes. Lastly, they might consider systemic, nationwide action such as advocating for federal laws that require stricter efficiency in cars.

To become a conceptual thinker, start researching the cause you are passionate about and find out how the local, statewide, and national pieces connect. Figure out who the major players are and what is already being done to help. Then, reflect on potential actions you could take to participate in the “good fight.”

2. Set incremental goals

Goal-setting works. If you’re determined to make a difference, try setting several concrete goals and working backwards—what steps do you need to take to get there? By breaking down your goals into bite-sized pieces, they will be more manageable and you’ll be able to celebrate small victories along the way (for more on goal-setting, see my past blog post).

3. Find like-minded dreamers

There’s no need to be alone in your advocacy. Seek others who are as interested in your cause as you are and become a part of their community. You might find these like-minded folks online, through meet-up groups (such as Meetup.com), in local clubs, through work groups, or even among your friends.

Once you find your community, lean on them for support and inspiration. They are the ones who can help you when you’re feeling stuck or unsure of your next steps.

You can also use members of your community to be accountability partners. Challenge them to hold you accountable for sticking to your advocacy goals through regular check-ins. Don’t forget to return the favor!

4. Anticipate resistance…and create a plan to overcome it

Daily life and unexpected troubles are sure to get in the way of becoming a change agent. You might get bogged down by a large project, a family illness, or unexpected financial troubles. Don’t fret! These things happen. If something suddenly gets in the way of achieving your advocacy goals, wait until the trouble has passed, revisit your goals, and rethink them. Reset your deadlines and develop a new plan for making a difference. Everyone has to deal with setbacks from time to time—just don’t let a setback become a defeat.

5. Don’t do everything yourself

The greatest change agents recognize that they do not have to go it alone. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with a project—say, you’re running a blood drive and more people signed up than you originally anticipated—reach out to others and ask for help. Don’t think of asking for help as a sign of weakness; great leaders are also great delegators.

6. Build your resilience

You’re going to feel worn down by work, life events, and all the good work you’re doing to become a champion of change. That’s normal. When you’re feeling exhausted, take a conscious break, unplug from your duties, and give your overworked brain time to cool down. You can build your resilience by stepping away for a while and then facing your challenges once you feel rejuvenated. Part of resilience also involves recognizing that things are not always going to go perfectly, but you can and you will overcome the bumps in the road. Think of each setback as an opportunity to try again, not as a failure.

Are you excited to go out there and make a positive difference? I’m excited for you! Though you are but one person, there’s so much you can do. Start small, develop your plan, build your support group, and start making an impact. The world needs your contribution.

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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Another year nearly gone means another year to create and accomplish! New Years is a great time to take a look at your own personal and professional development, and decide where next to chart your course. What’s the best way to keep these New Year’s Resolutions? Whether career-oriented or personal, setting attainable goals is important for fulfillment and vitality.

That leaves us with the question that’s always asked: what are the best ways to keep your resolutions? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Everything Starts with Realistic Goals

Taking stock of where you’re at in your life and where you can go in the year ahead requires a good timeline! Look back at your development throughout the previous year and reflect upon how much you’d like to get done in the year ahead. Incremental challenges to increase productivity are often attainable and great motivational tools. Did you learn the basics of a new skill for professional development? Set out to become an intermediate or advanced learner!

2. Make It Visual

Often mental resolutions can wither or be pushed aside by more urgent projects. Keep written reminders for yourself in calendars and planners of the long-term goal you’re working toward. If you’re known to respond to structure like this, take it a step further and set intermittent and smaller and deadlines to meet them to keep your steppingstones clear.

3. Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Achieving any part of a year-long resolution should be celebrated! Brains respond well to positive reinforcement. Like self-care, self-celebration is an important part of seeing resolutions through to their end. Reward good behavior and accomplishing tasks with fun rewards, like a favorite dessert or a small weekend getaway. 

4. Collaborate

Friends and coworkers may just be the added umph you need. A group mentality is a great external motivating factor in getting work done that needs to be done. Collaborators help keep deadlines firm and goals clear. At the same time, sharing resolutions can foster closer and improved working relationships between you and your colleagues. If your resolution requires seeking out a new skill or group of people, enlisting help outside your existing circles to meet resolutions can provide excellent opportunities to network as well.

Do you feel inspired to tackle your resolutions head on? Sometimes all it takes is a little push. I wish you good fortune in the new year! If you’d like a little more guidance, I’m here to help.

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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be merry and bright

As this year draws to a close and a new year is beginning to poke over the horizon, my sincerest wish for you is to step into your true self this year and become what you’ve always wanted to be.

Whether that means a transitioning to a new career or company, shifting your mentality/outlook, or finally deciding to pursue one of your dreams, I hope you will be bold and courageous this year. 

Remember, you don’t have to do it on your own. Rely on trusted friends, close family members, or outside coaching to help guide and fortify you as you take your first steps into a brave new year.

If you’d like, I would be happy to help you get started. Attend one of my 2019 Insights Deeper Discovery workshops, read my book on leadership, or work with me one-on-one as a coach.

I’m here for you in any capacity that you need me.

Wishing you and yours a happy holiday season.

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slow down amid holiday craziness

Tis the season…of a thousand little tasks! Between holiday get-togethers, cooking, decorating, and shopping for presents, it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed by the holiday busyness. It’s too bad that the season of joy, family, and camaraderie can also be the season of stress, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

In between the hustle and bustle, you can find small ways to slow down and relax if you know how. These tiny breaks are necessary for your emotional and physical wellbeing, your relationships (personal and professional), and your mental clarity. Slowing down can help defuse stressful situations or allow you to step back and have a greater presence of mind when you’re faced with a problem.

Here are 8 ways to slow down amid holiday craziness:

1. Pause, breathe, re-center

You’ve probably heard this before, but allowing yourself time and space to just breathe can reduce stress and help you see the bigger picture. Try different “quick relaxation” techniques like counting to ten, focusing on your breath, or taking a short walk.

2. Stay active

When you’re busy running errands and rushing to get work done before your holiday commitments, you may feel too exhausted to hit the treadmill or attend that yoga class. The truth is, physical activity won’t deplete you, but will help energize you and keep you healthier and happier in the long-term. Don’t neglect your fitness, even if it means buying a pre-packaged dessert for the potluck instead of making one from scratch. Your health comes first!

3. Read for pleasure

Instead of zoning out in front of the TV after a long day, try stimulating your brain in a different way by reading or listening to a book. It’s a great way to relax and spend a little time away from the ever-present screen.

4. Take a walk

When was the last time you simply went for a walk without any destination or distraction? I challenge you to leave your cell phone at home, bundle up, and start walking. Let your mind wander wherever it wants to go, breathe easy, and let yourself relax. You maybe surprised by how energized you feel afterward.

5. Enjoy time with friends

Pick a no-stress activity and enjoy it with friends! Your friends deserve a break from holiday headaches just as much as you do, so why not unwind together? Hit up a coffee shop or a happy hour, wander around a conservatory, or park yourselves at a local library and read books side-by-side. No need to do anything too elaborate—in fact, the simpler the better.

6. Cherish mealtime

How many times have you scarfed down lunch at your desk? Or eaten dinner in your car? How many times have you cleaned your plate without truly thinking about what was on it?

In our modern world, we have gotten away from making meals the center of our lives. Cheryl Johnson, founder of Box Lunch Lifestyle, challenges us to spend just fifteen minutes each day doing nothing but eating our lunch, appreciating it, and sitting quietly (followed by 15 minutes of “you time”). This time allows us to decompress and be mindful of the food that is nourishing our bodies.

7. Don’t worry about perfection

Though it’s easier said than done, one way to slow down the constant thrumming in our heads is to realize that you don’t have to always achieve perfection. You don’t need the perfect tree; you don’t need to make the perfect holiday meal; you don’t need to buy the perfect gift. Cut yourself some slack and don’t stress if you fall short of perfection. Your honest effort is enough.

8. Ask for help (and accept it)

The entire holiday season does not rest on your shoulders. If you need help, ask for it! Host a potluck, for instance, instead of cooking an entire meal on your own. Hire a cleaning crew instead of stressing about tidying up your house. ASK what others want as gifts (or ask for their Amazon wish list!) instead of trying to guess. Delegation and assistance do not make you any less of a holiday warrior—just an efficient one.

 

My sincere wish for you is that you will enjoy this holiday season instead of stressing about it. Take some time for yourself amid all the hustle and bustle. Pencil it into your schedule if you need to. You shouldn’t have to survive the holidays…you should enjoy and savor them like a cup of gourmet hot cocoa.

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Sarah Cooper cartoons

We have to laugh, otherwise we’d cry. The workplace is often still a difficult place for women to navigate. We struggle to be heard, position ourselves as authority figures, and give constructive feedback to others without being seen as “too aggressive” or “threatening.”

Author and former tech executive, Sarah Cooper, finally had enough of tiptoeing around her male co-workers, just to make them feel validated. Her response: A series of satirical cartoons depicting how women can appear “non-threatening” to men.

The cartoons show female leaders in various situations—sharing their ideas, setting deadlines, finding mistakes—and how they can react to them in “threatening” vs. “non-threatening” ways.

Though the cartoons are hilarious on the surface, they portray a sad truth: women leaders are still fighting an uphill battle to gain recognition, authority, and respect.

How will you change your language so that you’re more assertive and less apologetic?

How will you stand up for yourself?

How will you make sure your voice is heard?

Your actions will set a precedent for how you’d like to be treated, and you will also help pave the way for future female leaders.

To read Sarah Cooper’s article and see her cartoons, please click HERE.

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ask for and get a raise

We’re closing in on the holiday season. You’re busy; your boss is busy. Everyone around you is trying to dot their i’s and cross their t’s before the end of the month festivities strike. It may also be the time of year when people receive their annual bonuses.

With so much going on and the company doling out bonuses, how could NOW possibly be a good time to ask for a raise?

To be frank, now is as good a time as any. The time of year has less bearing on your chances of getting a raise than a host of other factors:

1. Have you been consistently meeting and exceeding standards for a year or more?

2. Do others in your industry with a similar job title make more than you do?

3. Have you gone above and beyond on certain projects or initiatives?

4. Are you consistently reliable, deliver good work, and show leadership potential?

5. Could you make a solid case for your raise?

If you answered yes to several of those questions, it’s time to ask for a raise despite the busy time of year. In fact, asking in December is great because it’s a logical bookend to the year. You can cover all the many accomplishments you’ve made over the past 12 months.

Another reason it’s not a bad idea to ask for a raise now? The joy factor.

Despite the busyness of the season, there’s a backbone of joy behind the whole thing. It’s a time for good food, family, joyful little decorations, and get-togethers. Even in the most subdued of office atmospheres, a little holiday joy is bound to leak in. Take advantage!

Yet another reason to ask for a raise at the end of the year is that it helps the company budget for the year ahead. Depending on how your company’s financial calendar works, expenses may be estimated at the beginning of the year. If that’s the case, your raise can easily factor into the list of added expenses.

Just keep in mind: some people (your boss included) travel over the holiday season. If that’s the case, make sure you schedule your one-on-one meeting well before your boss is scheduled to leave. That way, she won’t be thinking too much about her upcoming holiday instead of the meeting at hand.

When going into your meeting, prepare accordingly. Keep in mind the following tips:

  • Make sure you set aside intentional one-on-one time with your boss, or whoever has the power to grant you a raise.
  • Prepare a thorough case: Make a list of your accomplishments (be as concrete as possible), and reasons you think you deserve a raise. Go over what you’ve done over the past 12 months.
  • Ask for a specific amount. Aim high, but be realistic. Remember: You may be asked to justify the figure you give. Be prepared to do that by either listing your achievements or showing comparable pay rates in your industry and position.
  • If you are immediately granted or denied the raise, have a response prepared.  A hearty thank you (and a request for more details regarding when to expect the raise) may be in order if your request is accepted. If it is not, have a few questions prepared to figure out why the raise was denied. Don’t get defensive. Simply prepare a statement like, “I respect your decision. Could you help me understand why my request wasn’t granted and what I could do differently next time?” You may also want to ask when you might be able to ask for a raise down the road.

If you’ve had a solid, productive year, why not ask for a raise? There’s no time like the present and, in fact, there are a few reasons why the holidays are actually a good time of year to request a pay raise. What’s holding you back? If you have a few reservations, or would like to hone your approach, please contact me and we’ll strategize. It’s time to be paid what you’re worth!

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Use storytelling at work

Did you hear any captivating stories as you sat around the Thanksgiving table this past week? If so, you might have noticed that the speaker used certain techniques to draw you in–vivid descriptions, facial expressions, a narrative arc. A good storyteller makes these things seem natural.

If you think about it, storytelling has A LOT of cross-application when it comes to work. In the past, I’ve discussed how it can be a powerful sales tool, but it can be useful to anyone in almost any industry. Use storytelling techniques to:

  • Be a more engaging, charismatic leader
  • Keep others’ attention when you’re presenting during a meeting
  • Snag a new client
  • Make a convincing argument or illustrate an idea
  • Present a point to your team

Ok. You’re probably convinced that storytelling is useful, but it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to everyone. How do you work on developing your storytelling techniques?

1. Practice

You probably won’t be a natural storyteller at first, but the key is to PRACTICE. Think about scenarios in which storytelling might come in handy, and then make an effort to do it. Be sure to practice the story you’d like to tell beforehand–do it aloud and in front of a mirror to work out any rough patches.

2. Consider the main point

Your story can’t just be a story. It has to have some kind of relevance to the topic at hand. If, for instance, you’re trying to prove the effectiveness of a product, tell a story about how the product helped a specific person. If you’d like to demonstrate to a potential new client that your company is trustworthy, tell about a time that your team came through in a pinch.

3. Remember the classic story arc

Every good story has a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning should hook your audience, while the end should clearly give the main message and potentially be a call to action. If your story is jumbled, others will have trouble deciphering the main message or become disengaged.

4. Use a “lead-in”

It’s odd to jump straight into a story with no lead-in. You’ll want to tie the story to the topic that’s being discussed before plunging in. Frame up your story with a lead-in like one of the following:

  • “I am confident product XYZ is a good value to our customers. One example that comes to mind is…”
  • “I think it would be beneficial if we changed to system X. One reason is that…”
  • “This reminds me of something I witnessed last year…”
  • “We have to consider statistics, of course, but anecdotally, I once noticed…”
  • “I’d like to give you an example of why I think X would be a good idea…”

5. Practice some more

You may not hit the nail on the head the first time you try storytelling. Keep at it and modify your techniques as need-be. Does your delivery need work? Do you need to use better vocal inflection? Are you having trouble articulating your main point?

Assess, try again, repeat. Skilled storytellers don’t develop overnight.

 

Need more storytelling techniques? Feel free to contact me for guidance.

 

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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