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Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Advice from a Life Coach

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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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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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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find voice and own it

Your thoughts matter.

Do you believe that simple sentence? Have you internalized your worth as both a human being and a key component of your workplace?

I’ll say it again: Your thoughts matter.

Far too often, people feel like their ideas, opinions, or points of view do not mean as much as others’. They feel minimized or silenced. They feel some kind of invisible barrier, holding them back from speaking up.

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever been at a meeting and decided against speaking up or voicing your opinion? Have you ever felt shut out of a conversation, even though you had something to contribute? Why?

Unfortunately, a few dominant voices tend to rule the workplace. Whether they became the “big players” through experience or by aggressively asserting their point of view, these are the people who do not easily share the floor with others.

So, how do you break in? How do you find your professional voice and speak it?

Start small. Try a few of the following steps and keep building your confidence–and your voice–through intentional actions.

  • Practice speaking your mind in one-on-one meetings or informal lunch gatherings.
  • Build your confidence before you go into a meeting. Try using Amy Cuddy’s power pose or repeating affirmations.
  • Set a concrete goal (i.e. I will speak up at least twice during our next meeting).
  • Have a candid discussion with those who shut you out of meetings (they may not even realize they’re doing it!). Don’t be confrontational, be conversational. Present your case by using the D4 feedback model.
  • Involve others. If you notice someone else itching to say something, be an advocate for them. Say something like, “It looks like Susan has something to say.” Your gesture won’t go unnoticed and (hopefully) the favor will be returned at some point
  • Be prepared and know your stuff! Do your research before walking into a meeting and come prepared to ask at least three good questions (I’m a huge proponent of asking good questions!).
  • Keep it up. Even when you’re not feeling especially assertive, keep up your confidence through affirmations, intentional breaks (get away from your desk!), and by practicing good all-around self-care.

Your voice is valuable! It’s time others heard 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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leadership and continuous learning

Strong leaders are avid, continual learners. They don’t stop seeking out new opportunities after they’ve graduated or once they’ve landed a job; they treat everyday as another chance to acquire knowledge and skills.

Why is lifelong learning so essential for leadership? How does curiosity and exploration build character, aid in personal development, and position you as a leader? Read on…

1. Continual Learning Preps You For Inevitable Change

In order to remain a relevant leader, you must learn and continue to learn. Just because you earned a leadership role 10 years ago does not necessarily mean you’re equipped to lead today. Each situation you encounter presents new challenges that can only be accomplished with an appetite for new knowledge. There’s a reason why medical doctors are required to continue their specialized education long after they graduate from medical school. Could you imagine going to a surgeon who was using standard practices from the 1940s?

The same is true in any office setting. Standards change; innovations occur. Capable leaders stay on top of those changes, adapt, and guide others to adapt as well.

2. Well-Rounded People Make The Best Leaders

To be well-rounded, you need to learn a wide array of subjects, disciplines, and areas of expertise. You don’t need to be an expert at everything, but it’s important to have a working knowledge of the world outside your niche, as it gives you a greater sense of perspective and maturity. Go outside your comfort zone; read history or philosophy if you’ve always been a numbers person. Take public speaking classes if you’re shy (Toastmasters is a great club for this). Learn a language. Focus on areas you’ve told yourself that you’re bad at, and give it another go. You may surprise yourself.

3. Learning Helps You Problem-Solve

If you’re constantly making an effort to learn new systems, programs, ways of thinking, etc. you’ll be more creative when it comes to problem-solving. If you train your brain to perform many different tasks (no matter what they are), you’re enabling yourself for outside-the-box thinking.

4. Your Actions Will Encourage Others to Keep Learning

As a leader, you set the standards. Your pursuit of innovation and discovery will encourage your team to also prioritize continual learning. Demonstrate that you’re willing to dive into uncharted territory, get your hands dirty, and make mistakes. Your example will help create a team that is willing to get creative, take a few risks, and figure out how to overcome obstacles.

 

How will you commit to continual learning? What will you do this week to help expand your horizons or learn a new skill? Start today!

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Get things done

David Allen has influenced people all over the world with his best-selling book, Getting Things Done. What can we learn from his methods? I’ve highlighted seven key lessons for increasing productivity, each and every day:

1. Focus on your workspace

Where you work is important. Set up your workspace so that it is your “cockpit of control.” That means everything is intentionally organized and you have efficient, instant access to information or tools you need.

2. Don’t multi-task

Focus on one task at a time and give it your full attention. Multi-tasking ultimately slows you down because your attention will be disjointed and you may not complete tasks to the best of your ability.

3. Cut down on distractions with a Thought Bucket

When you’re working on a specific task and something else comes to mind, jot it down in your “Thought Bucket.” That way, you won’t lose your thought and it’s less likely to control your mind. Every week, take a look at your notes in the Thought Bucket. Remove unimportant items, complete 2-minute tasks, and plot out appointments/deadlines in your calendar.

4. Break down goals

If you’re staring down a big-picture goal, it may seem intimidating (and you may turn and run the other way!). Instead, break down your goals into bite-sized pieces and tackle those pieces one at a time. The most urgent step on the project list goes to the Next Action list.

5. Pay attention to time-sensitive items

Allen suggests keeping track of time-sensitive tasks in something called the Tickler File. Use this file to set reminders for deadlines that are coming up within the next 31 days and also 12 months into the future.

6. Keep a Someday/Maybe list

Dare to dream. If you have ideas for projects you’d like to tackle or initiatives you’d like to start in the future, keep track of them on your Someday/Maybe list.

7. Regularly update your information

Allen suggests reviewing and updating all lists weekly. In his view, daily to-do lists are inefficient because of their warped view of time. Weekly lists help you think “bigger picture,” but do not overwhelm.

How about you? Are you a list-maker? How do you organize your day/week/quarter/year? Do you tend to multi-task or lend your focus to one task at a time? If you’re finding that your current system isn’t working, you may want to give David Allen’s a try!

 

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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