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Creating Successful Leaders

Business woman at meeting
Image by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay

If you’re looking to land a promotion, it’s a good idea to start with YOU. At the end of the day, the decision makers will dole out promotions to people and personalities they like, in addition to recognizing accomplishments. You’ll want to stand out (in a good way!) and be consistent in your behavior. You’ll want to build and master your personal brand.

How do you develop a personal brand that will help you stand out?

Start with thinking about your end goals. Where do you want to be? What skills and personal attributes do you need to get you there? These are the building blocks of your personal brand.

Once you have your big-picture goals identified, consider how you’ll need to act and what you’ll need to accomplish in a realistic sense. What will your day-to-day look like? Your actions matter, and they are the most important part of your personal brand.

Your appearance and your words pale in comparison to what you DO. You might be the sharpest dresser in the office, but if you fail to turn in your work on time, you’ll be perceived in a negative light.

So what does make a quality brand? What are some of the factors you can put into place to elevate your personal brand in the eyes of others?

Consider these four…

1. Be authentic

As you begin developing your personal brand, being authentic should be your number one priority. Others can see right through a faux personality. Let your best self shine!

2. Check your ego

As much as you’d like to take credit for the success of an entire project, be sure to give credit where credit is due. Acknowledge the achievements of your team members and be sure to tell them you appreciate their contributions.

Additionally, keep in mind that your ideas are not the only ideas. Build a positive personal brand by being inclusive of others and open to their thoughts and opinions.

3. Genuinely care about others

Whether co-workers or clients, make sure you consistently pause and consider others. What are their needs? How can you best help them? Listen carefully to others’ concerns and frustrations, as well as positive experiences. Constantly ask questions and begin to develop an understanding of those with whom you work (be they your customers, team members, or boss).

4. Be bold with your ideas

Individuals are more likely to be successful if they are innovators. If you have a bold new idea, talk about it! Create action. Present your idea to your boss and ask permission to pursue it. This kind of bold, self-starter behavior is what many bosses look for when considering who to promote. Just make sure to present your ideas in a respectful way that opens the door to a discourse…not a “my way or the highway” speech.

5. Focus on the day-to-day

How you act, what you say, and what you do every day can either build or detract from your personal brand. Don’t underestimate the importance of your daily interactions. Your consistent, positive presence is important for building and maintaining your brand.

Make sure your daily actions are, in general, supporting your big-picture goals. If you’d like to, for example, rise to a leadership position, think about how your typical to-do list offers opportunities to achieve that goal. What can you do to put your big-picture goals in the center of your day?

As you work on building your personal brand, remember: success doesn’t usually come over night. Focus on small actions and interactions. Everything matters.

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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Hand writing in notebook near laptop and phone

Years ago, I sat with a group of co-workers, listening to our CEO as he described his goals and visions for our company’s future. It was clear he was excited about what was ahead, and he succeeded in drumming up excitement in all of us, too. As I listened, I began to picture myself in a leadership role, helping the company get to where we wanted to go. I could see myself spearheading projects and guiding a team. The thought got me so excited, that I left the meeting with fire under my feet, ready to take action!

The only problem was…the CEO hadn’t discussed any practical implementation for his plan. He did not go into many details, and it was unclear who was going to lead his initiatives and, more importantly, how.

So, I decided to write my own job description. I laid out my responsibilities—precisely the work that was needed to bring the CEO’s goals to fruition. The job fit me to a tee, and I was excited about the possibilities, but then…that negative gremlin on my shoulder began to speak.

It told me I couldn’t do it.

It told me my plan was silly, and no one would listen to me.

It said I would be foolish to show my dream job description to anyone.

So, I put the piece of paper in my drawer and I didn’t show a soul.

Not long after that, one of my co-workers was given a job that would directly fulfill the CEO’s requests. MY job. His responsibilities almost directly mirrored the ones I had laid out in my job description.

Shocked (and more than a little annoyed with myself!), I decided to show my mock job description to my boss. I explained what it was, and handed it over. After he read it, he looked at me and said, “I had no idea, Margaret. I didn’t know your ambitions so closely aligned to this job.”

But it was too late to change things. The job had been created and awarded to someone else, and I was left with only a valuable lesson:

Visualize the career you want and take control of it.

Write out your dream job description, and then let your boss in on your plans. Don’t keep your ambitions a secret. Share your goals, and create a road map for how to get there.

Asking for what you want is never easy, but it is absolutely critical if you want to get to where you’d like to go. Be true to yourself and candid about your goals. This openness and honesty will be worth it in the long run.

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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Mossy trees on hill

In my last post, I discussed the fact that many people’s career paths are not straight and linear. We don’t necessarily “climb the ladder” anymore. Instead, many modern careers resemble a lattice or a tree—branched out and spreading in many different directions. While some may think such a career lacks focus, I would argue that it makes people more well-rounded and gives them a wealth of experiences.

But, how can you possibly map out your goals if your path isn’t straight and linear?

Start by assessing where you are today and where you’d like to be within a few years. Think big-picture. What, ideally, would you like to be doing? What kind of role or roles? What responsibilities? How much money would you like to be making?

Once you have your big picture goal in mind, start thinking about different skills and experiences you will need to get there. Think of these like the branches of a tree, shooting out from the main trunk. To get to where you’d ultimately like to go, you might need to improve your grasp of PowerPoint or become a better public speaker or learn a new type of accounting software. List all the different things you need to learn or experience that will help guide you to your big-picture goal.

Then, break down those items into smaller branches. For instance, if you’d like to become a better public speaker, what do you have to do? Do you need to take classes? Practice in front of a group? Take improv classes? Join Toastmasters? List each of these smaller steps, then add them to your career goal tree.

Remember: Build some flexibility into your plan. It’s possible you’re missing a crucial “branch,” and will need to add it to your tree later. Leave some blank areas in your plan, and fill them in if you happen to get additional insight from others or realize you’re neglecting a certain area.

When you’ve filled out your career goal tree, share it with your boss. [NOTE: This might go with out saying, BUT only share your plan with your boss if your ultimate goal involves your current company.] Explain the different steps you’d like to take to reach your destination, and demonstrate that you’re committed to getting there.

On a personal note, I would be blown away if one of my team members presented such a comprehensive and thoughtful plan to me. This type of visual helps create a fuller, richer picture of what someone needs to do to navigate from Point A to Point B. It’s much more than “I’d like to become a team leader next year.” It’s a well-thought-out plan on how to get there.

If you have any questions about creating your own tree-like career map, please do not hesitate to ask. Let’s get you to where you’d like to be, one branch at a time!

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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Text over a red lattice
Background image via Alicja from Pixabay

At one time, it was fairly common for a person to spend their entire career at the same company, working their way up the rungs of the organizational ladder. Today, things aren’t nearly so neat and tidy, and career paths are not nearly so straight (or even vertical). Instead of a ladder, many modern workers’ careers resemble a lattice.

How can a career trajectory resemble a lattice?

A lattice fans out in many different directions. It climbs, but not necessarily in a straight line. Similarly, a person might take on a variety of different roles in a number of different industries. They might learn various skills along the way, each one building up their expertise and knowledge base.

This type of “climbing” creates a more well-rounded person—someone who has dipped their toes into many different waters and has developed skills in numerous areas. The latticed career path also inevitably makes people more adaptable—they’ve had to learn the ins and outs of a variety of different workplaces and roles.

If so many modern employees move in a lattice style, how is it possible to map out one’s career? Is it even plausible?

Absolutely. You just have to adjust your thinking. Instead of visualizing your career as “climbing the ladder,” think instead about the different skills you’d like to learn, experiences you’d like to have, and goals you’d like to attain. How will you get there? What training do you need? What roles and responsibilities do you need to fill? These different skillsets and experiences are offshoots of your lattice.

If you’re having trouble with this visual, you can also think about your career path like a tree. While the whole entity goes up, some of the branches are more horizontal than vertical. These branches are the different career detours you might take. You might, for instance, take the time to earn your MBA, learn how to code, or take a class in public speaking. While these little detours may deviate from your main career, they make you more well-rounded and valuable in the end.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how to lay out your non-linear career goals (moving like a lattice or a tree!) in more detail. In the meantime, simply recognize that your trajectory may not be straight, but that doesn’t mean you’re not moving forward and picking up valuable skills and lessons along the way.

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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Original article published March 11, 2015

Are you stir crazy? Ready for spring? Ready to walk around in sandals and shorts again? You’re not alone! This time of year tends to make people antsy and irritable, and that kind of attitude can cross over into the workplace.

How can you fight the late-winter agitation? How can you possibly be productive when you’re feeling so tense?

One solution is to spend a few minutes each day in your “inner garden.”

By now, most people accept that meditation is a great way to calm the mind, release stress, and get focused for the rest of the day, but many of us think we’re too busy for such “fluff” like meditation. We’re Americans! We’re trained to soldier through the work day without pausing to think about ourselves or our mental well-being.

I encourage you to pause.

When you’re feeling wound-up or things aren’t quite going your way, dedicate a few minutes to yourself. Find a quiet space in your workplace, close the door, and picture yourself sitting in a beautiful garden. A warm breeze is playing on your cheeks; you’re surrounded by fragrant blooms of red and purple and yellow. Just let yourself sit and be restful—do NOT allow your mind to drift to work or the troubles you’ve had that day, and if your mind does wander, gently bring it back to the garden.

If you’re having trouble picturing your “inner garden,” hop online for a few minutes and search for images of “beautiful gardens” or “peaceful gardens.” Then, use one of those images as your focal point as you allow your mind to drift to your garden.

Try building up to ten minutes of meditation time. If that seems like too much at first, start with five minutes. Even though this may not seem like a significant chunk of time, you’ll be amazed at how relaxed and refreshed you’ll feel at the end of it.

I challenge you to visit your inner garden every day this week and see how it helps your attitude and productivity. Until the flowers ACTUALLY bloom again, I hope this technique will help you relax and rejuvenate so you can take on any challenge the day might offer.

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Image by RÜŞTÜ BOZKUŞ from Pixabay

There are times in life when we feel lower than low. These are the times when your car fails, your plumbing breaks, you get sick, and your boss hands you a bunch of extra work…all in the same week. Or, you might be trying to cope with a traumatic event or a soured relationship. Regardless, life has a way of turning belly-up when you least expect it.

During such troubled times, how on earth can you find inner peace?

1. Remove yourself from the situation

Literally stepping away from the situation gone-wrong (whether it be a tense meeting, a failed dinner recipe, or a laptop with a mind of its own) can help give you space and perspective. Granted, you can’t step away from every situation immediately, but when you can, relocate to somewhere peaceful so you can clear your head. There’s nothing like a little space to give you perspective and time to think things through.

2. Let go

For the things you can’t control (and that includes many things in life), practice letting go. Your frustration over crummy weather, a traffic jam, or a client’s decision to take their business elsewhere won’t get you anywhere. Instead, learn from the situation and move on.

3. Practice gratitude

When things are going awry, it’s often useful to focus on the good things in your life. No matter how bad things get, there will always be one or two things (at the very least!) that are going well. Focus on the positive—your talents and abilities, the healthy relationships in your life, the roof over your head—and let those things carry you through the day.

4. Free write

Journaling or free writing can help you work through your problems and, perhaps, find a solution. At the very least, these activities will help you vent. Find a quiet space, grab a notebook, and go to town. The act of writing is a healthy release, and can help you work through your troubles in a constructive way.

5. Calm your mind

Let your mind release and let go of all that tension you’re carrying on your shoulders! Practice meditation (several different apps, such as Headspace or Calm can help you get started), focus on taking deep breaths, or do something a little more active, like going on a walk or practicing yoga.

6. Treat yourself

If things are really tough, make a point of treating yourself. Schedule a spa day or massage, get a new haircut, or plan a weekend getaway. Even taking yourself out for a nice meal will help. If you have the time, and a little cash to spare, you might even plan a bigger trip for yourself. Studies have found that simply planning a vacation can elevate your mood.

7. See yourself on the other side

Even though things are tough right now, things can and will get better. Picture yourself on the other side of your troubles. Imagine that future you—the one who made it past all your current hardships, and emerged wiser, stronger, and ready to step forward into a brighter world.

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Image by Анастасия Гепп from Pixabay

Many of us have opportunities to meet new people regularly. Whether at a conference, seminar, or simply a gym class, we may be brushing shoulders with others who could prove to be value networking connections. But oftentimes we’re either A) too timid to strike up a meaningful conversation or B) bad about following up or keeping in touch once we do make a new acquaintance.

Let’s change that pattern! It’s time to turn potential alliances into solid connections. Start by following these five steps:

1. Speak Up

So many of us miss opportunities to connect with others because we’re nervous to strike up a conversation with someone new. At a conference or workshop, it’s so much easier to stick with the group of people you already know and not venture outside your comfort zone. It’s also easier to stick your nose in your phone or laptop during breaks, and not bother to seek out new acquaintances.

I challenge you to dip a toe out of your comfort zone and start talking to strangers! It may be intimidating at first, but honestly, what’s the worst that could happen? The other person may not be receptive to your efforts…so, you move on.

2. Ask Good Questions

If you’re attending a business event, you might consider coming up with a few questions ahead of time to ask would-be connections. Go over the day’s agenda, and think of relevant questions you could ask.

Another way to engage new acquaintances is to be genuinely curious about them. Go beyond “What do you do?” Dig deeper and ask questions about their client base or how they became interested in their work in the first place. Or, connect on a more personal level and ask about their background and interests (without being too nosy, of course!). If you’re going to go this route, you probably want to offer something of yourself first. For example, “I’m thrilled about all the book recommendations we’ve been getting at the conference. Do you like to read too?”

Asking questions creates bridges between people. Just make sure you’re mostly asking open-ended questions (not ones that can be answered with yes or no), and you truly listen to the reply. You don’t want to completely miss what someone says because you’re thinking up a response.

Asking questions creates bridges between people.

3. Demonstrate Your Value

When you’re connecting with a professional acquaintance, it’s a good idea to think about how you can help them, instead of focusing on what you can gain. Make it clear that this relationship is a two-way street, and you have valuable skills and services to offer.

4. Connect Within Three Days

Be sure to follow up with new acquaintances within three days, while your interaction is still fresh in everyone’s minds. Send a short email and/or connection request on LinkedIn. You might also give a brief reminder about how you met, saying something like, “It was great talking about data collection methods at the ABC Conference on Thursday. I’d love to continue the conversation sometime…”

5. Create a Follow-Up Schedule

Designate time to follow up with new acquaintances. Set your dates and plug in a calendar reminder to make sure you follow through. Don’t be too pushy, especially if you don’t get a response from your acquaintance, but do make an effort to reach out. Consider framing your message like this:

Hi Rachel,

You crossed my mind the other day because [FILL IN A REASON]. I wanted to reach out and see how you’re doing with your XYZ business. Have you had any more issues with [FILL IN DETAILS]? If you’d like to grab a cup of coffee sometime soon, please let me know. I have some free time at the end of next week.

Take care,
Margaret

You worked hard to make your new acquaintances; don’t let them fall between the cracks! Your connections could prove to be fruitful, both for you and the people you meet.

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