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Teresa Thomas leading a 50 Fun Things workshop. Photo credit: Lisa Venticinque

How often do you stretch outside your comfort zone? How often do you pause and appreciate the simple things that bring you joy? How often do you prioritize yourself and your desires without feeling guilty about it?

If you’re thinking “not too often!” it may be time to infuse your life with a little more spontaneity, courage, and happiness. It may be time for 50 Fun Things.

The 50 Fun Things concept was created by speaker and networking expert, Teresa Thomas, right before her 50th birthday. She had been going through some “tough stuff” and knew she needed a drastic change. She began brainstorming ways to turn around her life, experience more joy, and appreciate all the good things she already had.

Before she knew it, Teresa had a list of 50 things she wanted to accomplish over the next year. The list brimmed with simple pleasures (a fancy cup of coffee), comfort-stretching activities (singing karaoke for the first time!), and opportunities to learn something new (taking a painting class).

50 Fun Things workshops. Photo by Lisa Venticinque

Suddenly, Teresa was finding herself living life more fully, achieving long-held dreams, and learning and laughing along the way. Many of her adventures included others, so 50 Fun Things was also a great way to connect or reconnect with friends.

50 Fun Things was so effective that Teresa decided it was a gift too good to keep to herself. She developed an entire program (check it out on her website) revolving around 50 Fun Things, including an interactive workshop. Today, she has helped people from all walks of life think big, stretch themselves, and get out there and achieve their dreams!

So, what about YOU?

What are 50 things YOU want to do in the upcoming year?

It is time to stop feeling guilty about taking intentional time for yourself. You are human! You deserve growth, new challenges, and the chance to pause and appreciate life. You deserve a little fun.

A 50 Fun Things workshop

 

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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This blog post was first published in October, 2012.

Cell phones, e-mail and the internet were intended to help ease the stress of life, yet it would appear they actually make the work week longer, the pool of contacts larger, and the deadlines closer together.  We instinctively fight to stay afloat, throwing ourselves through all sorts of hoops without a moment’s rest. After all, how can we expect to take even a moment for ourselves when our to-do pile grows bigger by the minute?

 

take time to pause

We can, and we should, insists Nance Guilmartin in her book, The Power of Pause. Herein she argues that pausing before undergoing a task gives you a better shot at success, in that it provides you with the opportunity to reflect, weigh options and make judgment calls uninfluenced by charged emotions:

“We’re quick to say yes to someone’s request because we don’t think we have a choice. We just hit the Reply All or Send button on an e-mail instead of considering our options, picking up the phone, or walking down the hall. We jump to conclusions based on assumptions, expectations, or wished-for outcomes that are frequently far from reality.”

Taking a step back while under stress is counter intuitive and takes practice to master. Yet, whether you wait a minute, an hour, or a day, “your ability to make better choices is sharpened, and that can lead to significantly better results for you and for your clients,” says Guilmartin.

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A moment of pause enables us to see the big picture of our circumstances. An angry e-mail from a client, for example, seems to demand immediate reply. But is action without true pause the best route to take in this situation? No, Guilmartin says, because during a stressful, disagreeable exchange, the chance is high that our emotions will get in the way of maintaining good relationships with those around us.

In a situation such as this, a pause allots us time to ask key questions aimed at the heart of our stress. To do this, Guilmartin suggests that “you use a simple phrase to help you shift from jumping to a conclusion, even if you think you are right and have the facts. Ask yourself this seven-word question: What don’t I know I don’t know?

In other words, are you missing something important you haven’t considered? In the angry client e-mail example, it could be you didn’t communicate sufficiently with the client at the outset or some important detail was lost in the shuffle.  Pausing to reevaluate both what went wrong and how to respond will optimize the chances of moving forward with the client in a fair, productive manner.

To put it another way, pausing actually increases brain performance. The next time you’re faced with overwhelming circumstances, remember that you have the choice to take a time-out. I encourage you take it. In so doing, you’ll give yourself the gift of perspective, time to weigh your options, and a moment to clarify your goals. Not only do you have this choice, even though it may not seem like it at the time, research shows that choosing to slow down helps you in the long run.

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Herbert Benson, “Are You Working Too Hard?” Harvard Business Review, November 2005, 54-56.

Nance Guilmartin, The Power of Pause: How to Be More Effective in a Demanding, 24/7 World (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 36, 153.

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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Halloween and leadership

Happy Halloween, everyone! For today’s post, I thought I’d do a fun one. Let me know if you have other ideas, or if you think there are ways Halloween actually DOES resemble good leadership.


In the past, I’ve talked about how the MN State Fair and Independence Day teach us lessons about life and leadership, but today we’re dealing with a much different event: Halloween. When I think about all the qualities a good leader should possess, I see very few of them in Halloween–that holiday of monsters and ghouls.

How is Halloween the antithesis of good leadership? Here are four ways…

1. It revolves around fear.

Capable leaders do not need to lean on fear-based tactics to get what they want. They don’t need everyone beneath them quaking in fear, wondering when the next outburst or disciplinary action will occur.

Instead, capable leaders put their hearts first. They care about the wellbeing of their team; they take the time to get to know and understand others; they make sure they assign tasks that are well-suited to individuals.

Leading with your heart does NOT make you a softie. Rather, it demonstrates thoughtful leadership and respect for others. Of course, there will be times when you, as a leader, will need to deliver tough news or discipline a team member, but those occasions should be few and far between. Your team should be incentivized by common goals, not fear.

2. It disguises who you really are.

Good leaders don’t wear masks. They are brave enough to let themselves be vulnerable and let their true selves shine through. That means communicating clearly and authentically, behaving according to core values, and being transparent.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be more formal in certain situations and more relaxed in others. Being authentic has to do with the crux of who you are. There are some values, behaviors, and beliefs that make you you. Stand by them. Don’t wildly alter your personality or your opinions to please the crowd–this kind of behavior will only make others question your authenticity and lessen their trust in you.

3. It is greedy.

Good leadership isn’t about collecting as much “candy” as possible and hoarding it for yourself. Instead, it’s about understanding that your accomplishments were not achieved alone–others deserve credit (candy) too.

When someone goes above and beyond their work duties, recognize that individual. When your team delivers, reward them. That doesn’t mean you should dole out “candy” willy-nilly; it means you should pay attention and give others credit when credit is due.

And remember: you rarely accomplish big things on your own. Recognize the help you’ve received along the way.

4. It doesn’t provide vital nutrients.

Candy can’t subsist you forever, and neither can gimmicky reward programs or activities. Don’t get me wrong–I think it’s a great idea to have team parties, cookouts, and competitions. HOWEVER, if those fun activities are not supported by key core elements, they are meaningless.

In short: Who cares if you have a weekly office party if there is in-fighting or poor communication between staff?

Make sure the bones of your operation are solid (there’s a skeleton reference for you!) before you start adding extras. Are your employees comfortable with their assignments? Is there an open line of communication between leadership and staff? Is there a safe, effective way to voice complaints? Are employees being treated civilly and with dignity? Is office gossip clouding relationships?

Yes, it’s wonderful to have friendly competitions and parties (just like it’s wonderful to enjoy the occasional chocolate bar!). Just make sure you prioritize core office values first.

 

What do you think? Is Halloween a metaphor for poor leadership? Let me know your thoughts!

Have a fun, safe Halloween.

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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Valuable Interview Tip

One of my top interview tips is simply this: Ask for the job.

Though it’s easier said than done, it is one of the most effective ways to make yourself memorable and appear confident and competent to your interviewer.

Now, you might be thinking: “What?! What do you mean? How could I possibly be so bold?”

You can. And you should.

Keep in mind that you are one person amid a sea of candidates. Think of yourself as part of a gigantic choir. How will you make your voice stand out? How will you deliver a solo that can be heard above the rest?

I have several strategies for developing your “solo” (if you’d like to learn more, let’s talk), but one of my key strategies is to have the confidence to ask for the position you’re seeking. Note that this is different than begging. You’re not on your knees, desperately pleading with the interviewer. Instead, you’re self-assured, enthusiastic, and authentic. You demonstrate that this job means a lot to you and you know it’s aligned with your skill set.

So, HOW do you ask for the job?

Start by affirming that, yes, this is the right fit for you. Research the company and the position. Read reviews on Glass Door. And listen to your gut–if you walk into an interview and notice that everyone in the office seems to be anxious and stressed, this might not be the company for you. Or, if your interviewer is curt and unfriendly, that might be a warning sign of what’s ahead. Trust both your instincts and your research. If you’re impressed with the company and you get a good feeling when you walk through the doors, that’s a good sign you should make the bold move of asking for the job.

When you’re asking for the job, timing is everything. Your ask should come toward the end of the interview. Usually, the interviewer will ask if you have any questions or anything you’d like to add. This is your chance to make your move.

Start by complimenting the company (but be sure you sound sincere). Say something like: “When I researched ABC Company, I was really impressed by your annual growth and the way you give back to the community. Now that I’m here in person, I’m even more impressed by the atmosphere and the way everyone has treated me with such warmth since the moment I walked through the door…”

Then, deliver your ask. Be confident. Practice asking for the job in front of the mirror so you become accustomed to how it might sound. Here are a few ways to do your ask:

“Your company seems like a great fit and I can picture myself thriving here. What can I do to convince you that I’m the right person for this position?”

“I can tell this position aligns with my skill set and I would very much like to work here.”

“This job sounds like a perfect match for my skills and experience. What can I do to demonstrate that I’m ready to work with you and your team?”

“I’m even more enthusiastic about this position than when I came in this morning and I’m confident I would be a good fit. What is the next step in the hiring process?”

REMEMBER: Go into your ask with grace, confidence, and the realization that the interviewer may respectfully decline OR hire you on the spot. Are you ready to get out there and put your new skill to work?

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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Your Input determines your Output

After recently reconnecting with an old friend, I was reminded of what a huge difference it can make in a relationship to simply keep up with someone. It’s easy to say that life gets in the way, but sending a text or an email to check in on someone else’s life has such a positive effect on a relationship that it is absolutely worth the effort.

In work, as in life, what you put in determines what you get out. A friendship can’t flourish if you don’t put in time; likewise, your career can’t grow if you don’t nurture it. There is, of course, a certain degree of luck and chance to any career, but to leave the whole thing to the hands of fate would be to give up on yourself.

Input #1: Networking

Output: A stronger coalition of career advocates

One of the most important parts of career-building is networking, which certainly requires positivity and a willingness to put yourself out there. In some ways, it truly is a case of faking it ‘til you make it. You’ll never know how attending a networking event will benefit you until you try, but you can pretty much guess what staying in and watching TV will get you!

Input #2: Develop a system

Output: Efficiency and accuracy

Take time to learn your own natural rhythm. You’ll find different information all over the place regarding working in spurts versus staying steadily productive, but if you can find the system that works for you, you’ll see a marked improvement. Maybe you flourish by setting a timer for yourself and focusing on one task at a time for a set period, including your breaks. Experiment with different amounts of time and see how your attention span is affected.

The one thing to keep in mind is all the data showing that multitasking is not only ineffective but harmful to productivity. You may feel like you’re getting more done, but having to change your focus more frequently is keeping you at a superficial level of attention, rather than allowing you to dive deeper.

Input #3: Take care of yourself

Output: Better health and attitude

When it comes to your personal health, fewer things are more important. If you’re not getting enough sleep, eating well, or exercising regularly, your mental and emotional wellbeing will suffer. Take breaks when you need to; walk away from your desk, stretch your legs, and go mingle with co-workers from time to time.

Remember: Physical health isn’t the only health. You have to take care of your mental and emotional sides as well. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, underappreciated, or just plain worn out, your work will inevitably suffer. To get back in balance, I advise you to schedule intentional breaks. Whether this be an occasional afternoon to yourself (to drink coffee in a café, grab a massage, or go on a family outing) or a two-week vacation, it’s a good idea to distance yourself from the office every once in a while. This allows you to rest and rejuvenate, but it also gives you perspective—a chance to reflect on the bigger picture.

 

Ultimately, it all comes back to putting in effort before you expect positive results. Simplifying yourself down to terms of input and output may be a little reductionist—remember that you are a complex and wonderful being, and you need to take care of yourself as well. Take some time each day without any external stimulants coming at you—no television, no social media, no radio—just you, checking in with yourself. If you put energy into maintaining your own health, you’ll be able to put energy into your career. Like a renewed connection with a friend, you’ll find there are tangible benefits to revitalizing your approach to your work.

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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Gain Experience

If you are contemplating a career change or looking to expand your horizons, you know that experience is everything. Being able to add that new skill to your resume or LinkedIn profile can make all the difference to many hiring managers.

Or maybe you’re going back to the drawing board—you have finally decided to go with your gut and pursue your passion…even though on paper you’re not technically “qualified.”

So how do you take steps in the right direction? How do you build up your skillset when you’re starting from scratch?

Going back to the beginning seems overwhelming, but the experience you’re looking for can be found in places you might not expect.

1. Zoom Out

Maybe you’re looking at transitioning from a financial analyst to a graphic designer. While that’s an entirely new set of hard skills, don’t forget to consider the transferable soft skills you’ve built up over the years. If you can work to a deadline, communicate effectively with clients and team members and prioritize tasks effectively, you already have the start to a great skill section on your resume.

2. Start From the Beginning

Heading back to school may not be an option, but there are ways to get an education that don’t require a dorm. Look for online masterclasses in a topic relevant to you—check out Udemy, edX, or Masterclass for some affordable or even free options. There are dozens of useful websites out there, full of the type of specialized information you need to jumpstart a new career.

3. Small Steps

The truth is, any career requires some time at the bottom of the ladder. Look into opportunities as an intern or volunteer in your chosen field. See if there are remote or part-time opportunities that you can fit into your schedule. Positions like this will be less about fetching coffee and more about gaining real time in the field.

4. Leverage Your Connections

Though it seems intimidating to make a big change in your life, you don’t need to do it alone. In fact, it will be a lot harder if you isolate yourself. Ask people in your new field about their experiences. Set up informational interviews and ask the experts what steps they would recommend for someone in your position. If you don’t have any personal connections right now, that’s okay. Utilize LinkedIn, or try sending an email inquiry to someone whose career you admire. People are generally willing to share their experience and offer advice. Before you know it, you’ll be the one being asked to share your journey to success in a brand new field!

 

Don’t let a lack of experience prevent you from pursuing your dream career. I’ve worked with plenty of people who have successfully transitioned from one field to another. Though I’m sure you already have many applicable skills (which can be emphasized in a Functional Resume), it’s essential to gain relevant experience. Get out there with a positive, take-on-the-world attitude and let me know if you need any 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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rebuild trust

So you’ve made a mistake and your relationships are suffering because of it. You may have dropped the ball on an important project, gotten caught in a lie, or failed to follow through when people were counting on you. The possibilities are endless, but the result is the same: your employer, employees, or clients are having a hard time trusting you because of what happened.

Even if you have already apologized endlessly and amended the mistake you made, you may still be feeling reverberations from the incident. You’re facing the unfortunate truth that so many have had to learn the hard way: trust is much more quickly lost than it is built.

How do you begin the process of rebuilding trust? Start with these three steps, and remember to be patient with yourself—trust-building takes time, energy, and a concerted effort.

1. In work, as in life, the first thing to do is own up to what you’ve done. Apologize to the people who were hurt, using language that makes it clear you know where the blame lies. Don’t just say you’re sorry it happened—say you’re sorry for what you, personally, did or did not do.

Accept the blame if it belongs to you. Sloughing it off to the person next to you does not signal that you are actually sorry. Listen to the other party’s grievances and acknowledge their validity without becoming defensive. Make it verbally clear that you not only regret what happened, but you are ready to take action to repair your relationship.

2. Once you’ve made a clear and sincere apology, it’s time to take tangible steps. Be conscious about making commitments and sticking to them. If you say you’ll be somewhere or do something, follow through. The goal is to have people associate you with punctuality and dependability. Turn projects in on time. Follow up on the little things you say you’ll “talk about later.” Give people your full attention when you’re having a conversation. Keep the right things confidential. In short, be present.

3. If you have taken these steps, you have fixed your mistake and proven you are still dependable. In order to actively build a positive impression, look for ways to go above and beyond expectations. Take time to catalogue common goals you have with the person or group you need to rebuild trust with. Think of ways you can demonstrate that these goals are your priority. Go the extra mile on projects—anticipate needs and resolve problems quickly.

 

Psychologist Paul White says that trust is built on competence, character, and consistency. The truth is that trust takes time to rebuild, but if you intentionally consider the ways you went wrong and what it will take to reconstruct a relationship, you will certainly be in a better place than if you ignore the issue. Let the work you put into your relationships become the new point that defines your personal and professional character.

 

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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