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Creating Successful Leaders

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As I wrote about in a couple past blog posts (about volunteerism and simplifying your life), I recently spent 15 days in Poland, volunteering for World Youth Day. The experience was powerful, to say the least. Every day, I witnessed thousands upon thousands of young people from all across the world united in a common purpose. But one of the things that struck me most was the warm welcome we received, both from the people of Poland and from the other pilgrims.

As an American, I don’t necessarily expect other countries to welcome me with open arms. There are many ugly preconceived notions about Americans (that we’re spoiled, loud, bullies, etc.), some of which can be true, depending on the American! Many countries also disagree with our foreign policy decisions. With that in mind, I was absolutely shocked when the group of Americans with whom I was traveling experienced nothing but friendly greetings and amicable interactions.

As we traveled through the beautiful Polish countryside and visited quiet, quaint villages that brimmed with amazing history, we were graciously welcomed by the Polish people. They were proud to be hosting World Youth Day and happy that we had traveled to their country to experience the event. Each person in my group did a home stay with a Polish family and, despite language barriers, we were treated respectfully, fed well, and received incredible hospitality.

At the event itself, my group of American youths met and mingled with other youths from 167 countries around the globe. Instead of focusing on their differences and the gaps between them, they focused on their similarities and the things that bound them together. It melted my heart to see so many diverse people hanging out together, eating together, playing Frisbee together (I even saw some nuns and priests tossing a disc around!), getting to know each other…all in a peaceful, harmonious setting.

I think a lot of folks, including our world leaders, could learn from the example of these young people. They focused on building bridges, rather than putting up walls between one another.

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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Shawn Achor Happiness

Most of us believe that if we work hard, we’ll be successful and if we’re successful, we’ll be happy. While that sounds logical, it may not be the case. Psychologist Shawn Achor studies “positive psychology” and the human tendency to be unsatisfied, no matter how good our circumstances seem to outsiders.

He studied students at Harvard and found that new students were extremely happy during the first couple weeks of enrollment, but then happiness dropped precipitously and the students began feeling more discontent, stressed, and pessimistic. Through this study and several others, Achor has concluded that your external factors cannot predict your happiness level. He has found that 90% of your long-term happiness is predicted by how your brain processes the world.

In other words, your personal happiness depends on YOU!

But how can you elevate your positivity and, thus, improve your career and personal life? In his TED Talk, Achor urges us to focus on small acts that create ripples of positivity. These acts could be as simple as journaling, regular exercise, daily meditation, random acts of kindness, or listing three things for which you are grateful at the start of each day.

When people began implementing these small doses of positivity in to their lives, Achor found that they made a huge impact. Instead of being constantly dissatisfied, people began seeing the world through an optimistic lens. And that’s important because a “happy brain,” according to Achor’s research, is a high-functioning brain. He calls this the happiness advantage and has found that when we are in a positive frame of mind, our creativity, intelligence, and energy levels are all given a boost.

To learn more, please watch Achor’s remarkable TED Talk:

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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good habit bad habit

We are creatures of habit.

Most of us have a daily routine that we stick to—waking up at a certain time, making coffee, eating breakfast, commuting to work. It’s how we bring order to our lives and make sense of the day. For those of you who follow a set routine, you understand the power of habit. What happens to your day if, say, you’re unable to have your morning coffee? Or you get stuck in traffic on the way to the office? Things tend to feel strange and your day may feel off-kilter.

That’s why bad habits are so hard to break.

A habit, whether good or bad, is comfortable. It’s part of the fabric of your life. If, for example, you begin working through lunch and eating food purchased from the vending machine, after a while that will feel normal and the habit will be hard to break. On the flip side, if you make sure to pack yourself a nutritious lunch every day and take time away from your desk to eat it, you’ll get used to that routine.

Even though you may consciously realize that your bad habits may cause lasting, damaging effects, it’s difficult to break away from them. In their book, The Power of Focus, authors and entrepreneurs Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Les Hewitt strategize on ways to build healthy habits and shed the unhealthy ones. They recommend working on changing one bad habit at a time and replacing it with a new, healthy one.

Here’s how to do it in 4 steps:

  1. Clearly identify your bad or unproductive habits

This is a step that involves a good deal of reflection on your part. You may need to call upon external help (such as assistance from a therapist or life coach) to help you clearly label your bad habits. In some cases, a daily habit may not seem too terrible on its own (i.e. getting 5 hours of sleep at night or working late and missing family dinner), but the long-term consequences might be severe.

  1. Define your new successful habit

Identify a new, healthy habit and envision what that will look like in your life. Canfield, Hansen, and Hewitt advise you to “create a clear picture of what this new habit will do for you. The more vividly you describe the benefits, the more likely you are to take action.” Remember, it’s okay to start small and build up your arsenal of good habits as you go along.

  1. Create an action plan

You’ve honed in on areas in your life you want to improve, deciding to take different (usually opposite) courses of action to beat out bad habits. Now, you’re ready to get the ball rolling. Take the time to “make a decision about which specific actions you are going to implement.”

Visualize each actions. What practical steps do you need to take to form a new habit? What actions will boost your chance of success? The action plan will propel you from visualizing changes you wish to see, to actually feeling empowered to make them. What’s more, having a written copy of your plan (and placing it somewhere where you will see it!) will help hold you accountable.

  1. Set a start date.

Get yourself psyched up for the start of a new chapter in your life. Setting a start date is vital to your action plan and helps you start strong.

Canfield, Hansen and Hewitt use the example of someone who takes too much work home on the weekends. They look honestly at the consequences of this habit (“Family time restricted, feeling guilty, important relationships become polarized”), visualize the benefits freeing up the weekend completely (“more relaxed, reduced stress levels, create unique family experiences”), and make a 3-step action plan to get there:

  1. Design my work better by not overcommitting.
  2. Delegate secondary tasks to staff to free up my time.
  3. Have my family keep me accountable. No golf if I don’t follow through!

Start Date: February 3rd

As with any change we make in our lives, repetition is key. To make better habits, you’ll have to keep fighting the brainless tendency we have to continue the bad habits we’ve created. This may be difficult at first, but if you stick to the action plan and keep your focus toward the future, you’ll soon find that you’re actually doing the good habits without having to think about them. Think about how good that will feel!

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

Source: Canfield, Jack, Mark Victor Hansen and Les Hewitt. The Power of Focus. Florida: Health Communications, 2011.

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tips for successful networking

Even if you’re not looking for a new job, networking is still a valuable pursuit. It’s a chance to learn more about your industry, the jobs you didn’t know existed in your field, how to advance your career, or how to start your own business. For some people, networking can feel like shallow interactions that are barely masking the attitude of “what can you do for me?” but this doesn’t need to be the case. With a positive disposition and helpful strategies in place, networking can be the start of a nurturing, collaborative, trustworthy community for you.

Practice your intro

You may not be selling a product or an idea, but in networking scenarios, you need to market your skills and talent. When people ask you about your job title and your pursuits, have a clear, short summary ready to go. Practice it in the mirror or record yourself, if you can; hearing your voice played back can help you determine where to pause or when to punch up your pitch for optimal recollection, for you and your potential contacts.

Set goals for yourself

Networking goals will vary between people and industries, but it is important to set them. It’s far too easy to sweep that type of work under the rug, but setting goals will keep you accountable. Create goals that are achievable: attend at least one networking event within the next month, reach out to three new people in your industry, or schedule a meeting with an existing contact. Once you meet those goals, make new ones.

Treat every encounter as important, because it is

While it is easy to think of networking as a means to a new job, there is more to be gained from these interactions. Don’t dismiss someone because they can’t help you right now: the benefit of continued communication could come around in three months or three years. Keep in mind that they could also introduce you to someone else who needs your skills.

Follow up

After you meet these new contacts, you need to reach out before they start collecting dust. Use the method of communication that works for both of you: phone, email, Skype, or face-to-face. Check in regularly and ask them about what they’re working on, what projects they see for the near future, and the skills and experience needed to complete their work. If your skills don’t align with their needs, you might recommend someone from your network. Consistent, thoughtful communication will hopefully result in contacts thinking of you when relevant opportunities come across their desk.

Bring people together

As you your network grows and you learn about the skills and needs of your contacts, you may realize that one needs the services of the other. This is what networking is all about: helping people connect. Hopefully, they will get a chance to repay the favor: when one of those contacts comes across a job posting or freelance opportunity in your field, you know they will think of you first.

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As I mentioned in last week’s blog post, I am currently volunteering in Kraków, Poland for World Youth Day. This powerful experience has got me thinking about volunteering, humility, and living a life of service.

The effects of volunteerism can be life-changing. I know they were for my son, John. When John was a young man, he spent some time volunteering in Guatemala, a few weeks before Christmas. Before heading down there, John had carefully composed a Christmas wish list with several items that he wanted.

During his ten days in Guatemala, John lived and worked near a group of impoverished families. The camaraderie of the people and their optimistic attitudes in the face of severe poverty had an enormous effect on him. When John returned home, the first thing he did was tear up his Christmas list, saying, “I don’t need any of these things to be happy. Those people live in a house they made with scraps, have one light bulb in their home, and always have big smiles on their faces.”

What a profound lesson for a young person to learn!

Of course, I’m not advocating that you give up everything you have and live in a shack somewhere (especially in Minnesota during the winter!). What I am saying is that simplicity is often the key to happiness. When you’re not bogged down by the constant desire to want more, you give yourself a certain amount of freedom. You also make room in your heart to focus on the parts of life that truly matter—friendships, family, volunteerism, etc.

I urge you to make an effort to streamline and simplify your life. Don’t get attached to “stuff.” Instead, look at the big picture and focus on that.

And if you have the time, consider volunteering! Instead of writing a check and thinking that you “did your duty,” take the time to really dig in and get to know and understand the people and causes that you care about. Build relationships, develop understanding, and walk a mile in others’ shoes—only then will you begin to understand others’ needs and visions of success and how to help them achieve their goals.

After John returned from Guatemala, he resolved to live with “just enough.” Now, as a grown man, he still sticks by that mantra and does his best to live simply and appreciate what he has.

How will you simplify your life today?

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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volunteerism and purposeThis past Tuesday, I headed to Kraków, Poland to work as a volunteer for World Youth Day (WYD). This worldwide event takes place every three years and is a gathering of like-minded youth who value service, love, and faith. The festivities are actually held over the course of a week, so the name World Youth Day is a little deceiving. During my time in Poland, I will be mentoring youth from my hometown of Stillwater and volunteering my services to help make WYD 2016 a success.

It will be a long, tiring trip (among thousands of youth!), but I’m certain it will be worth it. I have found that any time volunteering is NOT time wasted. Volunteering is one of the things in life that keeps me energized, motivated, and (most importantly!) gives me purpose.

I firmly believe that the path to a happy life is to find a purpose. For me, that means spending time giving back to my community and the world at large. Even in my work as a career coach, I try to give back to my clients. I approach my work with the mentality, “How can I help YOU?”

Part of the reason I became a career coach was because I wanted to give back. After retiring from my career at 3M, I knew I wasn’t finished. I had spent nearly 30 years building up a skill set, and I wanted to share it with others!

For many people, retirement doesn’t mean “quitting,” it means opening up a new chapter of your life and giving back in different ways. I am reminded of a story I heard of a couple that retired, purchased an RV, and began traveling around the country. After only a month or two, they began to grow bored and anxious to do something more meaningful. At the same time, they also realized that they kept bumping into other retired couples who were doing the same thing—traveling around the U.S. in their RVs. That’s when they were struck with the idea to form a volunteer group with their fellow travelers and do something meaningful at each of their stops.

They decided to work with Habitat for Humanity (since nearly every city has a local chapter) and formed a group called the “Care-A-Vanners.” That group spends one or two weeks in each city they visit, building homes for those in need. And, since they are traveling as a group, the Care-A-Vanners have developed meaningful relationships, while at the same time utilizing their talents and making a difference.

Having volunteered several times through Habitat for Humanity, I am aware of the profound impact their projects can have on other’s lives. My husband (who is a carpenter by trade) and I frequently travel to Clarksdale, MS to help with Habitat’s building projects and we often see and reconnect with the same group of people. I even have a pen pal in Clarksdale—a young woman who I mentor. You might say that we’re accountability partners for each other! I help her focus on her dream of going to college and she reminds me of the very real impact of volunteering and spending quality time with another human being.

Do you know your life’s purpose? If you’re having trouble nailing it down, I challenge you to try volunteering. There are so many causes that need your help—environmental, educational, political, social justice—that you’re bound to find something that motivates you and gets you excited to make a difference.

Let me know how your purpose-seeking is going! Write me a note in the comments section, or send me a message. Happy volunteering!

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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wanted2

You’ve probably heard phrases like, “You don’t get what you don’t ask for” or “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” There’s a reason those idioms are popular—they’re absolutely true!

It isn’t enough to secretly wish for something; the best way to get what you want is to take clear, direct action. Oftentimes, that means having the courage to call upon others for help or guidance. It means starting a dialogue and expressing your desires.

Why do we so often hesitate to ask for what we want?

This hesitation can stem from a fear of feeling vulnerable or unworthy, or the belief that successful people never ask for help. All of these fears work within us to maintain the status quo and prevent us from seeking the change we desire.

Don’t let your pride keep you from asking for what you want. This is a lesson I learned as a senior leader at 3M and one that I now apply to my current work as a career coach. It’s okay to lean on others and ask for help. You don’t have to do everything on your own!

Whether you’d like to ask for a raise, take on a new project, or revamp an outdated work system, have the courage to speak up. Seek out the areas where you desire change and begin asking the right people for help.

Harder than it sounds, right?

In order to overcome the hesitation you might feel to ask for what you want, I’ve put together these 9 guidelines:

  1. Be honest with yourself about your current dreams and needs—know what you want.
  2. Seek support from the experts and professionals around you who can best support your goals.
  3. Always believe that what you’re asking for is possible.
  4. Be genuine about your wants and honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Consider sending an email or making a phone call to introduce yourself to those who you think may be of service. Outline your needs, but don’t be pushy. Take the time to build a trusting relationship.
  6. Always be passionate about what you request.
  7. Never let fear prevent you from acting.
  8. Anticipate that not everyone will be able or willing to help, and always allow for a gracious opportunity for others to bow out.
  9. Be persistent—try, try, and try again until you achieve success.

Don’t let your inner saboteur get in the way of your own success—believe that you are deserving of what you want, and have the courage to ask for it.

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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