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Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Advice from a Life Coach

Interview Question

Most of us know it’s coming. It’s that question interviewers love to ask, just to keep you on your toes: “What are your greatest weaknesses?”

Are your palms sweating yet? Is your brain spinning in circles, trying to figure out how to answer this question? Or, do you have some kind of canned answer you found from a website?

It’s a tricky question, and infamously difficult to get right. On the one hand, you don’t want to reveal anything too terrible that will potentially cost you your interview. Then again, you don’t want to be dishonest or gloss over the answer with something like, “People say I work too much and am too dedicated to the company!”

No interviewer is going to be impressed with an answer like that. It’s disingenuous and doesn’t tell them anything about you, except that you’re good at studying stock answers for interview questions. So how to approach this question?

First of all, be aware that sharing your challenges and flaws—the very things that make you human—can actually help you come off as a more authentic, relatable candidate.

Joe Grimm of the Poynter Institute, an organization dedicated to integrity in journalism, suggests that interviewees faced with this question should always be honest and avoid mentioning character flaws because these are traits that are difficult to change. Instead, mention areas where you’re determined to improve. Consider saying something like, “I’m not as adept with Excel as I’d like to be, but I’m currently improving my skills through internet tutorials.”

Be sure to never talk about strengths as weaknesses. Your “over-commitment” to work is just another way of saying, “I’m a dedicated employee” and interviewers can see right through your wordplay.

Remember: Don’t overthink your response to the point that you panic and don’t have one. As Washington Post journalist Lily Whiteman reminds us, “the worst responses are ‘I don’t know’ and the comical ‘I have no weaknesses.’”

You should also try to cater your response to the position and organization to which you are applying. Anticipate the motivation and interests of the interviewer when selecting your response and personal story. For example, if you are applying for a position as a financial adviser, you might talk about one of the specific areas in which you lack experience—say estate planning for people with over $1 Million in assets. And then (as mentioned earlier), demonstrate how you will familiarize yourself or how you are already working to improve in this area.

Keep in mind, this question mainly exists because it reveals whether you, the applicant, possess key qualities such as self-awareness, authenticity, sincerity, adaptability, and foresightedness.  Reveal that yes, you have weaknesses, but you will not let them stop you from doing the best job you can do for their organization.

Happy interviewing! Please contact UXL today to find out how we can help you transform the future of your business or career through guided professional coaching.

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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Earning thanks

In past posts, I’ve written about how to live in gratitude and express your thankfulness to others. Gratitude can make an enormous difference in your outlook on life, your motivation, and even your health…but what if others are not returning the favor? What if you feel that your co-workers, boss, or family members are constantly failing to recognize your contributions?

That lack of appreciation can get downright frustrating. It can make you feel unmotivated and uninspired. It can also make you wonder if you really are doing good work, since no one seems to notice.

Although we shouldn’t fuel our days entirely on other people’s thankfulness, it’s good to feel appreciated and valued—a worthwhile contribution to the team. If you’re fed up with your lack of recognition, try these four tips:

1. Know when to say NO

If you’re feeling like others are taking advantage of your generosity, it may be time to draw a firm line in the sand. Know your limits and be brave enough to say no when you’re feeling overworked, or when an assignment does not fall within your area of expertise. Although it can be difficult to do at first, saying no can help establish healthy boundaries and earn you respect (if you’re tactful about it! For more, read 10 Diplomatic Ways to Say NO)

2. Make yourself visible

It’s possible others are not expressing their gratitude to you because they are not aware of the work you are doing. Make an effort to check in regularly with your boss or your work team and give a brief update about your current projects. BUT, be sure to reciprocate and ask others about their projects and progress. Demonstrate that you care about others’ work and they will likely return the favor.

3. Express your feelings

Don’t just keep your frustration to yourself; tell others if you’re feeling underappreciated or ignored. How do you do that without exploding your emotions onto others and causing a rift? Try using the D4 model: Data, Depth of Feeling, Dramatic Interpretation, and Do. First, state the facts of the situation—what happened and why? Then, express how you felt about it and what meaning (interpretation) you give to the situation. Finally, suggest an action plan.

The D4 model could play out like this: “Susan, I put in ten extra hours last week to assist with your project and I’m frustrated that you didn’t acknowledge my help. I believe this is part of a larger problem in the office: we do not appreciate each other’s contributions. Going forward, I would like to change that by recognizing outstanding team members at meetings or awarding bonus gift cards to employees who put in extra effort. What do you think?”

4. Continue to show gratitude

If you take the time to recognize others’ achievements—whether in a company meeting, a private comment, or a written note—others are likely to reciprocate. You’re contributing to a culture of gratitude and when you lift up others, you’ll be lifted with them.

 

You deserve recognition for your hard work. If you’re frustrated by your office’s lack of appreciation, get cracking on one (or more!) of these four steps. Remember: don’t be accusatory or snide. Approach your situation with a level head and the understanding that most people are not giving you short shrift on purpose—they’re likely so wrapped up in their work and lives that they’ve simply forgotten the power of a simple “thank you.”

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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I’ve been reflecting about my time on the Camino de Santiago. Last week I wrote a post about community on the trail, but this week, I want to focus on something a little different: Steps.

When we go through life, not every step forward is easy. Sometimes, we have to make hard choices, delve into difficult projects, or have tough conversations. Sometimes we’re so tired, brain dead, or feeling so darn defeated that we can’t imagine plunging ahead.

While hiking the trail, I didn’t always feel strong. At times, I was sore, achy, thirsty, or just plain burnt out. But I got up every morning and kept going. I didn’t have a choice. And, you know what? It got easier.

With every step I took throughout the day, my legs loosened up. With every encounter with a fellow hiker, my spirits lifted.

It all started with that first step in the morning—the one that shakes off the cobwebs and starts everything going.

In life, it’s easy to look at the big, scary future and stay rooted to the spot, not daring to move forward. Maybe you’re anticipating looking for a new job, moving to a new city, or starting a brand new relationship (personal or professional). Or maybe it’s as simple as looking at your to-do list and completely shutting down since there’s SO MUCH on that darn list.

In these cases, start with a single step. What’s ONE thing you can do today—right now—that will take you one step closer to your goals? If you’re gearing up for a job search, spend five minutes right now reading over your old resume and taking a few notes. If you’re moving into a new position at work, take a couple minutes to jot down a list of questions you have about your new role. If you’re staring down a gigantic to-do list, pick one easy thing and get it done right NOW.

Any step you take is valuable and, once you start with step one, you might just feel some momentum and continue on. This is how progress is made and journeys are completed: one step at a time.

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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When was the last time you paused and assessed your thoughts or the words you just said? When was the last time you considered your emotions and wondered why you feel the way you do?

It’s rare to be so self-reflective, but it can play a huge role in both your professional and personal success.

When you deeply understand yourself, you are aware of the situations that make you uncomfortable and the ones that bring you joy. You understand your personal communication style and your ideal conditions for a good conversation. You also know your perfect work environment and how best to be productive.

There are many positive effects of developing a deep understanding of yourself, including elevated confidence. How does your confidence grow when you are intimately familiar with yourself?

1. You can prepare for uncomfortable situations

If you know standing up in front of a group OR working alone OR sharing your ideas with a co-worker or boss makes you uncomfortable, acknowledge that potential discomfort and prepare for it. Preparation might include extra research, practicing your presentation in front of a mirror, or amping yourself up ahead of time.

2. You improve communication

If you deeply understand your communication preferences, you are able to acknowledge them and help others understand them as well. For instance, if you prefer talking over an idea in a one-on-one setting, make an effort to arrange such meetings. Or, if you know you like the limelight, consider setting a timer for yourself to limit speaking time AND make an effort to ask others for their thoughts or opinions.

3. You understand your skills and limitations

At the intersection of what you enjoy doing and what you’re good at doing is your sweet spot. When you are aware of what you do well and what you like to do, you’re better able to pursue or turn down projects, based on your preferences and skill set.

4. You’re better at leading a team

When you understand how your own thinking works, that can create a better awareness of how others communicate and collaborate. It’s all about observation. Your increased awareness can be applied to your team and, through conscious observation, you can come to understand what works for certain team members, and what doesn’t.

Additionally, you’ll be mindful of how you might react when your team members do something that might irritate you, such as turn in a project late or fail to speak up and offer ideas at a meeting. When you’re aware of your emotions, you can react in a more controlled, level-headed way.

 

Knowing yourself—your communication tendencies, you emotions, your personal preferences—can help make you more self-assured. This kind of awareness is what builds an excellent 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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It’s important to like what you do, but is it important to love what you do? As in, this is your passion or calling?

While it would be nice if everyone worked in a job that sparked their passion, not everyone is quite so lucky. You might find yourself veering off from your original plan. Or, your interests may change over time and you might begin to rethink what matters to you in a career.

Whatever the case, you can find happiness, whether or not your career is helping to save the world! Try these five tactics:

1. Think about your role from a new perspective.

According to Harvard Business Review, “The four most common occupations in America are retail salesperson, cashier, food preparer/server, and office clerk.” Even though those jobs don’t necessarily sound fulfilling, they absolutely can be. It’s all in your frame of mind. If you think of yourself as serving others, or as a vital component in other peoples’ day, that can throw the job in an entirely new light.

Additionally, if you think of your work as a service to your family—and your lifestyle—that can help you reframe your job’s role in your life. It becomes just one component of a balanced existence.

2. Integrate your passion into your work.

Even if your career isn’t at the center of your passion, you can still integrate the things you love into your work. For instance, if you love to write, see if you can take charge of the company newsletter or typing up correspondence to clients or re-imagining your company’s website copy. Or, if you’re passionate about helping children, offer to spearhead a company competition to raise money to support children in need. Look for little ways to fit in the things you love at work and you just might enjoy heading to the office again!

3. Look for fulfillment outside of work.

Even if your current career isn’t quite in line with your life’s calling, you can still make an effort to pursue your interests outside the workplace. Take community education classes, volunteer, start a side business on Etsy, join a hiking club—whatever you need to keep your passion alive! If you make a true effort to place your interests at the center of your life, you might be surprised by how much time you actually have to pursue them.

4. Consider another career path

Although this is a last resort option, it’s worth mentioning. If things are so bad—if your job is so soul-sucking—that you have difficulty getting out of bed in the morning and getting ready for work, it may be time to consider a major change. It’s a good idea to exhaust your other options before reevaluating your entire career path, but if you’ve tried everything and are still utterly unhappy, that’s probably a sign it’s time for something new. Be sure to consult a career coach before making such a major leap.

 

If you’d like to work with me to create a custom path to career happiness, please feel free to contact me today. Your career is a huge part of your life and, frankly, you desire to be happy.

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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Do anything in 90 days

What are some of your big goals? Do you want to earn a promotion? Write a book? Climb a mountain?

No matter how lofty your dreams, you can accomplish them—or make significant strides—in 90 days. It’s all about your mindset. If you put a certain goal at the center of your priorities, you can achieve great things in just three months.

Speaker and author, David Horsager, calls this your 90-Day Quick Plan.

The idea behind creating a 90-Day Quick Plan is this: accomplish one concrete goal in 90 days, using a step-by-step strategy. Horsager claims that 90 days is the “sweet spot” for achieving your goals. It’s a meaningful amount of time, yet not so long that the goal will slip away from you. So, how do you start making significant changes in 90 days?

The first step is to create a tangible goal (or up to three). Horsager advises against focusing on more than three priorities. Otherwise, you’ll be spreading yourself too thin. Ask yourself, “Where am I right now?” and “Where do I want to be in 90 days?”

Then, ask yourself the most important question of all: “Why do I want to make this change or reach this goal?” If you have a clear why, then you’ll have the motivation to accomplish your goal(s) in 90 days. For instance, why do you want to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle? Is it so you can be around for your children or grandchildren in 25 years? Is it so you can feel more confident about yourself?

Another example: Why do you want to learn how to create a website? Is it so your business can grow and blossom? Is it because you want to keep your mind fresh and young?

Whatever reason you choose for your “why” is, of course, a personal one and it should be at the very core of your motivation.

After you’ve figured out your goals and why you’d like to achieve them, ask yourself how you are going to get there. Horsager says to be very specific; make a detailed plan and ask yourself how you’re going to stick to it. He advises people to get extremely detailed with their plan by continuously asking themselves, “How, how, how?”

For instance, let’s say you would like to write the first 50 pages of your memoir within the next 90 days. How are you going to do that?

Maybe you’ll decide to write every day. (That’s great, but how?)

You’ll wake up at 5 a.m. every day and write for an hour. (Ok, excellent plan, but how are you going to hold yourself accountable?)

You will let your friends and family in on your plan so that you’ll be held accountable. (Great, now we’re getting somewhere!)

See the importance of how?

Once you have your plan in place (and you have a clear understanding of the why and the how), get started! You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish in 90 days.

Need help formulating your 90 day plan? 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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When your manager is difficult

They’re always wearing a frown, criticizing staff, and shooting down ideas. They are a storm cloud, blocking out sunny moods and lightheartedness. They are difficult managers.

Many of us have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with a difficult manager at some point or another. It’s amazing how a single person can sour the mood of an office, isn’t it? Their callous attitude can bring everyone down, deflate motivation, and squash innovation and creativity.

How can you possibly defeat such an energy vampire? Isn’t it easier to simply quit your job and find better management elsewhere?

Even though it can sometimes be difficult to overcome an unsupportive manager, there are a few methods you can try before raising the white flag and heading somewhere else. Start with the following five tips:

Remain calm

The way you react to your manager can have a profound effect. If you return a snippy attitude with snippiness, or if you return anger with anger, you’ll only end up more frustrated. Instead, work on detaching yourself from your manager’s poor attitude. The next time he riles you up, remove yourself from the situation (physically or mentally), count to ten, and think about the encounter logically. Is it worth it to respond in kind? Probably not. Instead, find your inner calm and return childish behavior with calm reason.

Refocus

Although it may take significant effort on your part, it is best to focus on a task, not the criticism. Unless your manager has good reason for her critiques, it is best to let them slide off your back. Strategize and forge ahead as best you can, keeping the goal—not the criticism—at the center of your mind.

Be direct, if possible

Sometimes, it’s a good idea to be direct with your manager. If one of his criticisms seems off-base, ask him to explain what he means and how you and your team can perform better next time. Alternatively, you might try bringing up your feelings in a one-on-one meeting with your manager. Let him know how you’re feeling, why you’re feeling that way, and what would make the situation better. Use the D4 model of feedback as a guide and be sure to bring up specific examples.

You’ll have to be brave to directly face your manager, but honestly, what do you have to lose? Sometimes a direct approach can be a breath of fresh air. It’s possible your manager is unaware of the profound effect of his words and actions and simply needs someone to point it out.

And if your directness completely flops? It may be a sign that it’s time to move on to greener pastures (but be sure to consult a career coach before doing anything too drastic!)

Have perspective

An article by Liz Ryan of Forbes Magazine encourages us to see our difficult managers as minor parts in our lives. She says, “Eventually you reach a point where no manager can make you fearful, because you realize that any boss is just a bit player in your movie. You are the director and the star. You could leave any boss at any moment and it wouldn’t kill you — it wouldn’t be ideal perhaps, but you’ll survive. Keep that in mind!”

Ask what you can do better, specifically

It’s possible your manager’s expectations are simply not aligning with your work. The only way to find out is to ask for specific feedback on specific projects. Small changes in your work may have a big impact on your boss’ attitude.

Be empathetic

If your manager suddenly becomes more grim and angry than usual, it’s possible she’s going through a rough patch in her personal life. Many of us leave our personal struggles at home and cover up hardships as best we can in the workplace. This might be the case with your difficult boss. With that in mind, be empathetic and understanding. Don’t take harsh words too personally. Remain calm and talk to your boss as an individual, not as a brutish machine, out to get you. Your empathy may make all the difference.

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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