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Creating Successful Leaders

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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meaningful career

It’s a common challenge: How do you love your job and make money? Some are lucky to achieve both, but many people feel stuck between one or the other. Unfortunately, many artistic endeavors and social services do not pay well, despite their value to society. Because of that, many people are left feeling unfulfilled in their office jobs, wondering if they should be doing something MORE with their lives.

Does that sound like you?

If so, you’re not alone. If your discontentment is severe, consider talking to a career coach (drop me a note if you’d like). If, however, your discontentment is more of a nagging tug at your conscience, you may be able to improve things on your own.

No matter what industry you’re in, there’s usually an opportunity to integrate art, altruism, community, or whatever piques your interest into your work. It only takes a little creativity, initiative, and perseverance. Start with these four steps:

1. Look For Existing Opportunities

Depending on your organization, meaningful opportunities may already exist. Some businesses have groups devoted to community projects, art, or forming connections between like-minded co-workers. Do a little research and see if anything that aligns with your interests already exists.

2. Integrate Interests With Daily Work

Interested in photography? Volunteer to take pictures for the monthly newsletter or company website. Love writing? Ask your boss for writing-heavy assignments or, if you’re working in a team, offer to take on the writing tasks. See if it’s possible to meld your interests with your everyday workload.

3. Take Initiative!

Create your own meaning by initiating groups devoted to volunteering, artistic endeavors, or other projects related to your interests. Of course, you’ll want to go through the proper channels to do this, but you might be surprised by how willing organizations can be when it comes to volunteer or enrichment programs. Chances are, other people will also be interested in your endeavor, which translates into a more tight-knit, content work community.

Some ideas for you to consider include:

  • Creating an artists’ club for knitting, painting, photography, or whatever you’re interested in (Instead of a weekly happy hour, host an “art session” instead!)
  • Volunteering in the local community (soup kitchens, book drives, etc.)
  • Initiating fundraisers for schools, safety, health and wellness, or whatever you’d like
  • Starting a “green” group that occasionally gets together to do roadside cleanups or raise money for parks, clean water, etc.
  • Founding a wellness program that focuses on clean eating, meditation, weekly yoga, or whatever you’re passionate about

4. Look For Resources

Some organizations have funds set aside for “extracurricular” work activities. Do your research! Might your company be willing to sponsor your initiative? Don’t forget, people count as resources too. You may be surprised by others’ excitement and willingness to help.

 

Do you feel invigorated? Energized? Ready to dive in and figure out how to make work more meaningful for YOU? I hope so. Finding meaning in your work is vital for your sustained happiness.

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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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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