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Creating Successful Leaders

Put learning agility into practice

Leaders who “refuse to let go of entrenched patterns or who do not recognize the nuances in different situations tend to derail.” This quote from the Center for Creative Leadership is absolutely true. In today’s global, interconnected market, leaders must be agile enough to navigate a diverse range of disciplines, cultures, and skill sets.

Learning agility is a term that often gets bandied around, but how, exactly, can a leader learn to be agile? How can this concept actually be put into practice?

First of all, learning agility is as much a mindset as it is a practice. For instance, if you’re in a rut with your career, it’s possible you aren’t taking full advantage of learning opportunities. There are many possible reasons for this: perhaps you’re afraid of failure, or worried about getting outside your area of comfort and expertise. However, without allowing yourself to encounter new experiences, you’ll have no shot at developing the necessary life skills to navigate through an increasingly interdisciplinary economy. You can’t expect different results from doing the same thing over and over again; Albert Einstein defined insanity as such.

So, to be agile in practice, you must first retrain your brain to be open to newness. It may not be comfortable at first, but hopefully you’ll find that new experiences are rarely as daunting as we build them up in our minds.

When aiming for “brain retraining,” consider four different attributes of learning agility (as discovered in a study by Colombia University): Innovating, Performing, Reflecting and Risking.

Innovating:

This refers to challenging the status quo. Instead of going along with what’s worked in the past, an innovative leader embraces new challenges and is open to new ideas. An innovator asks questions, takes on new tasks and experiences to increase their perspective, and constantly tries to approach issues from multiple angles.

Performing:

To possess learning agility, you must be able to perform under  stress and deal with the inevitable ambiguous or unfamiliar situation as it arises. An agile learner does this by staying present, engaged, and a keen observer of new information. This includes listening skills; a good performer must embrace, not avoid, verbal instruction.

Reflecting:

This goes beyond simply thinking about the new things you’ve learned. Reflecting means using new information, skills, and experiences to generate a deeper insight into yourself, those around you, and any problems you’ll face. Good reflection should always ask the question, “What kinds of changes do need to make in order to  accommodate  these new experiences?”

Risking

Learning agility is a body of skills and attributes that can be boiled down to one character trait: the ability to put yourself out there. This means that you volunteer for opportunities that don’t guarantee success. In fact, an agile learner values the experience of failure, as it is a much better catalyst for growth than continual success. Risk here means risk that leads to opportunity, not thrill seeking.

If these attributes don’t describe the way you operate, don’t panic. “Being open to failure” isn’t natural, fun, or frankly, very common. Don’t think of these traits as a list of must-do’s in order to be successful. To put it in perspective, these are the conclusions derived from studying a large and diverse group of leaders; no one leader perfectly reflects all these qualities.

That said, staying humble and open to change is the most important starting point to attaining agility in leadership and learning. If you can do that, the rest will follow.

Mitchinson, Adam and Robert Morris, Ph.d. “Learning About Learning Agility.” Teachers College, Colombia University, April 2012. http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/LearningAgility.pdf

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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The wrong way to say thank you

You’re probably aware of the power of appreciation. It can motivate others, elevate moods, and actually improve employee retention rates. Employees who are recognized for their achievements report increased happiness at work and greater satisfaction with their superiors.

But—believe it or not—there IS a wrong way to express appreciation for your employees. How?

  • If the recognition seems forced or insincere
  • If the recognition is ubiquitous (EVERYONE gets a gold star!)
  • If someone is left out (part of a team is recognized for their achievements, while some are not)
  • If the recognition is generic or impersonal (a mass email)
  • If the recognition does not suit the individual (some people do not like being called out in front of a group, while others thrive on that type of recognition)

The last thing you want to do is come across as phony, insincere, or misinformed when you’re showing appreciation. How, then, do you, as a leader, demonstrate your true appreciation?

  • Be observant and aware (know who is performing above the norm and deserves recognition)
  • Regularly check in with your team and get to know them (this will help you understand when someone is personally excelling and how best to recognize that individual)
  • Pay attention to the little things
  • Focus on both work-related and non-work-related activities (if someone helps out a coworker who just had surgery, that deserves recognition too!)
  • When you say thank you or write out a thank you card, mean it. Your sincerity will shine through.
  • Be specific. Don’t just say “thanks for a job well done.” Point out specific achievements or contributions.

Employee recognition is important, and it’s crucial to go about it in an authentic, personalized way. Build trust with your team by being sincere, specific, and candid when you give praise. Believe me, people will notice and appreciate your authenticity and effort.

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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Taking Risks

Think of an entrepreneur or a historical figure who inspires you. Do you have someone in mind? Maybe you’re thinking of Nelson Mandela or Martha Stewart or Albert Einstein. Maybe you’re thinking of Rosa Parks or Benjamin Franklin or Elon Musk.

What do all of these seemingly different figures have in common?

They were willing to take risks.

It’s easy to stay within your comfort zone and not venture too far outside the lines. But where does that get you? Nowhere extraordinary.

Even if you think you’re adverse to risk-taking, hear me out. Your risk-taking doesn’t have to put your career or wellbeing in jeopardy. You don’t have to throw all your money at an idea in order for your actions to count as “risks.” What you DO need to do is move forward, boldly (and that means something different to everyone).

What does risk-taking mean in YOUR life?

Does it mean finally asking for that well-deserved raise? Does it mean approaching your boss with a fresh, innovative idea? Does it mean reaching out to a co-worker who isn’t terribly popular around the office?

Or, does taking a risk involve something a little more extreme, such as making a career change or standing up to an abusive boss or coworker?

No matter how risks present themselves in your life, they are worth taking. Why? I’ll give you four reasons…

1. Opportunities abound for the person who takes a risk.

An employer is much more impressed by someone who dives into the unknown, and word will spread quickly about your willingness to venture into new territory. This will snowball and provide many more opportunities for you.

2. Failures are temporary, while regrets linger.

“When speaking to people in their forties and beyond, many tell me that if they could do their career over again, they’d have taken more risks, settled less and spoken up more often,” writes Margie Warrell in this Forbes article. It is always better to have tried and faltered than to have never gone for it.

3. You’re probably overestimating the odds against you.

Warrell points out that we tend to magnify the negative consequences in our minds, to the point where we no longer think about positive outcomes, which makes for a warped view of reality.

4. As a rule, you are capable of more than you think you are.

This is probably a result of having been conditioned early on to always be modest. But it’s okay to recognize your strengths and feel confident about them. And you’ll never know your ability until you take risks.

 

How will you move boldly forward today? How will you embrace opportunities for risk-taking instead of running from them?

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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How to get others EXCITED about your business

 

I’ve talked to plenty of small business owners and solopreneurs who are absolutely, positively convinced that their business is the best thing in town. They can solve problems, make improvements, and deliver cutting edge innovations. And they might be right. Their business may offer valuable products and services.

So why isn’t everyone and their neighbor making a beeline for their door, eager to hire the business?

It might have something to do with how the business is presented.

Oftentimes, businesses do the obvious: they tout what they do. They discuss their products, features, and benefits. Sometimes, that’s enough, but more often than not, this kind of pitch will fall flat.

Any company can talk about what they do, but what really sets companies apart is the emotion behind the delivery. Instead of trying to explain what you do and how you do it, talk about why you do it. What drives your business? What is at its core? Why are you personally excited about your company’s offerings?

It is this kind of emotional connection that helps companies like Apple succeed. Apple has created a loyal following because they are passionate about innovation and design. They’ve built a reputation that says “quality product.”

What your prospective clients want to know is what sets you apart from “the other guy.” How do you differentiate yourself and stand out?

Use emotion-laden language to discuss what you do. Don’t just say, “We design top-quality widgets.” Say, “Our team is passionate about the user-widget experience.” Or: “We are excited to bring you unparalleled innovation in widget technology.”

So, how do you create this kind of language around your product? As Simon Sinek says, “Start with why.” What is the motivator behind your work? Why do you care? Why are you better than the competition? Why should your target audience care?

Take the time to mull over the WHY of your business and then start a dialogue. Talk to co-workers and potential clients. Deliver the “rough draft” of your message and see if it resonates with them. Then, tweak it until you’ve got it right.

I want to see your business succeed (and I know you do too!). It’s time to abandon the “We are Company ABC. We do XYZ” language and center your message around your “why.”

 

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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Speaking Tips to Build Confidence

As a coach, one of my focuses is on courage. In fact, I’ve developed a whole keynote (and even a little video) around the topic. Tapping into your courage isn’t always easy to do. We each have certain stumbling blocks that make us feel anything but courageous. For some people, it’s speaking.

Whether presenting in front of a group, or simply meeting with your manager in a one-on-one meeting, having polished speaking skills can help you succeed. When you’re articulate and confident, you can convey your ideas with clarity, improve your leadership, build relationships, and better interact with customers and co-workers. In short, having excellent speaking skills makes you seem more promotion-worthy (and who doesn’t want that?).

So, how do you improve your speaking skills and start expressing yourself with confidence?

It won’t happen overnight, but with time and conscious practice, you’ll be able step into any room and clearly communicate your thoughts. Start with these nine tips:

1. Prepare

Usually, you’ll have some kind of idea of what you’re going to have to talk about. Whether you’re speaking up at a meeting or going over your latest project with your manager, it’s a good idea to make a few notes about what you’d like to say and do whatever research you need to do. Anticipate questions and have answers prepared—but don’t be afraid to go off-script if necessary.

2. Pace Yourself

Confident speakers have careful pacing. They don’t speak too quickly, so that others can’t catch what they’re saying, and they don’t speak too slowly and completely lose their audience’s interest. The trick is to find your happy medium and while you’re at it…

3. Enunciate

Have the confidence to speak clearly. Practice your enunciation in front of a mirror or with a partner and make sure you’re sounding strong, instead of canned.

4. Listen

It may seem counterintuitive, but some of the best speakers are also excellent listeners. They pay attention to what other people are saying and respond in-kind. If, for instance, someone is expressing concern to you, it’s a good idea to acknowledge and address that concern. Remember: words are only part of the picture. Body language, vocal inflection, and other visual cues can help determine what’s on the speaker’s mind.

5. Empathize

Aim for understanding. When you have some kind of idea of what the other person is thinking or feeling, it will be easier to talk with that person on their level.

Part of empathy may involve asking clarifying questions to make sure you’re understanding the other person’s point of view.

6. Have a personality

Everyone’s speaking style is unique. You might be more boisterous or reserved. You might prefer more formal or casual language. Just make sure your best authentic self is shining through.

7. Cut convo fillers

Those “Ums” and “Ahs” and “You knows” can be distracting and can make you seem less confident. Practice eliminating them from your speech.

8. Put away distractions

When you’re speaking, give your full self. Put away your phone and pay attention. You might be surprised by the nuances you can pick up and then feed off of when it’s your turn to speak.

9. PRACTICE

As I mentioned above, it takes time to become an accomplished speaker. If you flop at first, don’t give up! Continue to engage others, practice your statements in front of a mirror, and keep at it. Try not to measure your progress against others, but regularly check in with yourself and recognize your personal progress. Did I mention, KEEP AT 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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New Manager

For years, the story has been the same: The number one reason an employee leaves a company is because of their manager.

To me, that says something loud and clear: We are not investing enough time and energy into our managers. Sure, they may receive some cursory training about their new role, but they rarely get anything beyond that.

Below, I list nine important items we SHOULD be training our managers on. Each item links to a blog post about that particular topic. All of these items are covered through the Build A Boss program, which my colleague, Karen, and I offer to business teams. We have found that these are universal items that managers in all industries can benefit from.

Instead of simply awarding a promotion and stepping back to let the manager “figure it out,” companies NEED to be working on the crucial skills that make their managers think like leaders.

Nine of these crucial lessons are encompassed in the following articles…

  1. “Just Be Yourself!” Leadership and Authenticity
  2. 4 Ways To Delegate More Effectively
  3. Balancing Head And Heart: Friendships At Work
  4. Resist the Urge to Micromanage
  5. How To Confront Someone (Without Making It Worse)
  6. Having CLEAR Conversations
  7. Creating an Inclusive Workplace with Insights® Discovery
  8. “The 6 People You Need in Your Corner” from Forbes Magazine
  9. What is the difference between a BOSS and a LEADER?

 

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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Tap into Team 3

There’s a valuable source of information, assistance, and support you have access to at your office. I’m not talking about the internet, your training manual, or how-to guides. I’m talking about your co-workers.

Your work team can be an incredible asset to you, if you let them. Oftentimes, we either don’t trust others to help us with projects OR we simply don’t know what our co-workers have to offer. This is a shame because a lot of talent ends up going untapped and unutilized. How can you change that? How can you leverage the resources available to you through your team?

Start with these three steps:

STEP ONE:

Get to know your team. Talk with them, listen to them, invite them to share lunch or a cup of coffee. Unless you make an effort to reach out and connect, you’ll never truly know what others have to offer or what their talents are. You also won’t have a strong sense of their weak spots—the areas in which they might need additional assistance.

When you make an effort to get to know your work team, you’ll have a better understanding of how you might all function together. Who is detail-oriented, and who is better at working with the bigger picture? Who is talented at crunching numbers or analyzing data? Who is best at optimizing the customer experience? Who will always meet their deadlines…and who might need a little bit of a push?

Knowing who you’re working with, inside and out, is essential for knowing where to turn when you need a little extra assistance or when you need to assemble a team that is best suited for a specific task.

STEP TWO:

Extend trust and be trustworthy. Trust is a vital component of any successful work team. Sometimes, we take on too much and try to do everything ourselves because we believe that no one else will be able to do the job quite as well as we can. While that may be true, it’s usually a matter of perspective. Others might do a task in a different way than you, but it is not necessarily the wrong approach. By letting others occasionally take the reins, you’re opening the floor to a wider variety of perspectives and methods—and that’s a good thing! As long as everyone understands the big-picture goals, the path to getting there can be flexible.

Trust others to take on projects that are suited to their talents. Trust them to meet deadlines, do excellent work, and bring innovation and creativity to the table. Unless they violate that trust in a major way, have the courage to relinquish some control and be trusting.

On the same token, be trustworthy. Be someone whom others can count on. Your reputation as a reliable worker will be noticed. Even if you don’t think others recognize your steadfastness, they will. Don’t worry. Just keep at it and be a model of trustworthiness.

STEP THREE:

Communicate. If you want something done, ask. If you’re unsure if you—or someone else—is unsuited for a particular task, say something. If you’re pinched for time and need to meet a deadline, ask for help.

Instead of hinting at what you need or want, be direct and open. Keep an open line of communication with others and regularly check in with them about your projects. Along with expressing your needs to others and soliciting their help, you must be willing to return the favor and assist them when needed. You, too, are a resource for others and your talents will be needed from time to time.

Of course, it’s okay to say no to certain tasks or projects that do not fit your areas of expertise or your schedule. Be open about that too!

 

Tap into the skills and resources surrounding you. Your teammates have a lot to offer and you are all part of a network that will work best when everyone’s strengths are utilized. Get to know your co-workers, build trust, and establish an open line of communication.

 

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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