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Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Advice from a Life Coach

Stressed woman at laptop biting pencil
Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

For many leaders, stress seems to become the norm. They are constantly dealing with managing people, projects, and clients…all in between attending many, many meetings.

Stress does NOT have to be the norm. You can still be a good leader AND cut your workload (in fact, freeing yourself up and de-stressing may make you a better leader).

Here are 4 ways to start cutting stress:

1. Delegate

If you want something right, you have to do it yourself, right? …Right?

Not at all.

Sure, if you hand off a task, it might be approached in a different way than what you intended, but that doesn’t mean that approach is wrong. It’s just different…and different can be good! “Different” can bring variety and new ways of thinking or solving problems. Part of delegation means letting go some of your control. It means opening yourself up to others’ methods and perspectives.

Effective delegation involves handing over the reins with enough instructions to make things happen, but also giving a certain amount of freedom to the person who will be performing the task. Remember: even if the person is a bit slow or clumsy at the task at first, they will learn. Give them time.

2. Step Away From the Office

Despite what you might think, you are not a machine. You are human, and humans need to occasionally rest and rejuvenate.

Schedule meaningful breaks into your daily schedule–time when you’re completely unplugged from work. Go on a walk, read a book at lunch, get a massage, or attend your child’s soccer game.

In addition to your small daily breaks, schedule vacations into your year. Even a few days at a cabin on a lake will do wonders for your stress levels.

3. Prioritize

What are the items or tasks that truly need your attention? What are you unable to delegate to others?

Prioritize your task list, based on the assignments you need to handle personally. Your other to-do items can probably be delegated or outright skipped. For instance, are you really needed at every single meeting? Can your team handle certain meetings on their own?

Make a to-do list at the beginning of each week, in addition to the start of each day. This will help put big-picture tasks in perspective. It is also helpful to hold a quarterly planning session to look at the even bigger picture in the office.

4. Make Meaningful Connections

Being a leader can seem lonely at times. To overcome the isolation, make an effort to communicate with others and make meaningful connections. This will inevitably involve being vulnerable and allowing your authentic self to come to the surface.

Of course, you have to maintain some professionalism when communicating with your team, but you shouldn’t be afraid to show them that you’re human. You have interests; you make mistakes; you have a family and a life outside the office walls.

Just the act of reaching out and asking someone about their day will help you form better bonds with that individual. And, when you feel that you have friends (and a support system) in the office, that can cut stress significantly.

As a leader, you don’t have to let stress consume your life! Take charge of your leadership by delegating tasks, taking meaningful breaks, and developing an internal support system. Now, breathe!

If you’d like to read more about how to beat stress, take a look at my post on stress-busting techniques.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Two business people talking at a table
Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

Do you have trouble getting what you want? Are you often overlooked or not listened to? Do you know a change needs to be made, but you’re having trouble framing your argument?

It sounds like you need to tap into the power of persuasion!

Being persuasive doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being sneaky or underhanded. If you use persuasion in an honest way, it means articulating something so others can see your point of view. Sometimes, you have to be persuasive to make positive changes or advance your career.

How do you become persuasive? Try a few of the following techniques:

1. Prepare

No matter if you’re leading a meeting, having a one-on-one with your boss, or proposing a new idea around the water cooler, it’s necessary to come prepared.

Do your homework, research the ins and outs of your proposal, AND anticipate potential problems or questions others may ask. If you know your stuff, you’ll automatically be more persuasive.

2. Be Confident

When you’re speaking, don’t use words like “I believe” or “I suppose.” Be confident when making a claim. Say it boldly, and people will listen.

Research shows people are more likely to listen to someone who is confident than someone who is an actual expert. Of course, you don’t want to spread false information, but when you do have something to say, say it with confidence!

3. Frame Your Words Carefully

Consider these two sentences, and tell me which is more effective:

“I’d like to be considered for the management position because I’m interested in furthering my career.”

“I’d like to be considered for the management position because I’m interested in new opportunities and challenges.”

The second one, right? These sentences both convey someone wishing to be considered for a promotion. Yet the second sentence focuses on personal growth and a desire to learn, while the first seems to say that the person, at the end of the day, is really only in it for themselves.

Before going into a meeting, practice your phrasing in front of a mirror, until you feel comfortable delivering it.

4. Be a Mirror

When trying to persuade someone, mirroring their body language, tone of voice, and volume makes you seem empathetic. In fact, if you’re an empathetic person to begin with, you are probably doing this without realizing it! People instinctively try to form alliances whenever possible, and by copying their mannerisms (subtly, of course!), you’re signaling that you understand them and are on their side.

5. Know Your Audience

Pay attention and start noticing what matters to people in your office. Do certain topics of conversation keep coming up? Are people interested in family, football, pets, or local music? What values do they seem to have?

Getting to know the people around you is invaluable to building rapport and gaining trust. Ultimately, if others find you easy to talk to and pleasant to be around, you won’t even have to think about being persuasive—people will want to listen to what you have to say.

If you want to make a change, put forth an idea, or simply be heard, it’s a good idea to hone your personal power of persuasion. It may not come easily at first, but with practice, you’ll be a pro!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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young boy reading and laughing
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Revised from a post originally published in 2015.

We live in a stressful world. Research from the American Psychological Association shows that the majority of Americans experience a significant amount of stress. In a 2014 survey, 67% of those surveyed reported experiencing emotional symptoms of stress and 72% reported experiencing physical symptoms of stress.

One great way to fight your stress is through the power of laughter.

I attended a Brave New Workshop (BNW) class several months ago and one of the subjects they addressed was laughter. BNW is an improvisation group that works with people to boost confidence, connectivity, mental agility, and attitudes. Throughout their classes, you’ll often hear groups roaring with laughter. This isn’t an accident.

According to a publication put out by BNW, “Laughter is a powerful tool in helping individuals move away from fear and into discovery.” In a recent study, researchers from Loma University showed that laughter reduces cortisol, thus reducing stress. Other researchers have shown similar results of the stress-decreasing quality of laughter and have paired it with improved immune system response.

So, watch a funny movie, go to a humorous play, play an interactive board or card game with friends, or take an improv class. Begin to see the humorous side of life 🙂

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Image by SnottyBoggins from Pixabay

A couple months ago, I had the privilege of seeing Tracey Jones speak at the Women’s Business Bridge annual conference in Stillwater, MN. Tracey is an author, speaker, Air Force Academy graduate, decorated Veteran, international leadership expert, scholar, and researcher. She is also the President of Tremendous Leadership. After her engaging presentation, I picked up a copy of her book, Saucy Aussie Living: Top 10 Tricks for Getting a Second Leash on Life. Told from her dog’s perspective, the book is tongue-in-cheek and goofy, BUT there are many valuable lessons embedded in its pages. One such lesson: Hang out with other top dogs and fumigate the “fleas” in your life.

This lesson boils down to the simple truth that when we associate with high-achieving, ambitious, and positive people, those behaviors and attributes WILL rub off on us. The opposite is true too. If we spend all our time with lazy, incompetent, or negative people, we will inevitably start to take on those characteristics.

The lesson of hanging out with other “top dogs” is a great reminder to pause, look around, and notice both the positive and negative influences in your life. Do some people give you energy and motivate you to be the best version of yourself? Great! Spend as much time around those people as possible.

Do others bring you down with constant complaining, excuses, or negativity? Make an effort to step away from those people and remove their influence from your life. Easier said than done, right? How do you “fumigate the fleabags” around you? It may be extremely difficult to step away from negative co-workers, bosses, or family members. What can you possibly do?

1. Create Healthy Boundaries

Do your best to limit interactions with negative individuals by creating healthy boundaries. This may involve only checking and responding to emails from that person once per day or limiting the number of meetings with that person (or choosing to meet online or over the phone).

Creating healthy boundaries also means standing up for yourself. If you feel like someone is taking over your space, speak out. Let the individual know that you need more breathing room and autonomy.

2. Communicate

If you are less than thrilled with someone’s attitude or lackluster performance, talk to them about it. Don’t be confrontational! Instead, approach the issue from an angle of offering to help. You might say something like: “I noticed you’ve missed a few deadlines lately. Is something wrong? How can I help?”

Communication also helps put negative attitudes in check. If, for instance, someone complains about a co-worker, flip it around by saying, “I don’t see her in that light. Besides, I’d rather focus on XYZ project than talk about Amy right now. Let’s go over last month’s numbers…”

3. Find Your Top Dogs

Once you’ve identified the high-achievers around you, start making an effort to associate with those people as often as possible. When you do this, the “fleabags” will naturally be pushed to the side. Additionally, the positive, go-get-em attitude you’ll adapt from your positive influencers will likely carry over into your interactions with less-driven individuals. Your energy and zest may have a contagious effect. Instead of spreading fleas, you’ll be spreading sunshine!

Regardless of your approach, it is crucial to align yourself with like-minded, motivated individuals. Lean on and learn from them, and don’t forget to give your support in return.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Image via Pixabay.com

“If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive.”

Dale Carnegie

I get it. You’re excited about your new position or role and you want to get in there and shake things up! You see systems that are outdated, processes that don’t make sense, and a million opportunities to improve the current system and make positive change. And that’s great, except…

You may want to pump the brakes.

Why, you ask? Because even though you’re enthusiastic, motivated, and your heart is in the right place, others may not see it that way. Before you start demanding change, you have to prove your mettle. Demonstrate that you can thrive within the system before you go about changing it. Show that you have a deep understanding of your company and your role before you bring forward your ideas for improving things. Easing into change is as good idea for three reasons:

ONE: It gives you a chance to build your credibility. People will see that you’re dedicated to your job, perform well, and work well with others. Do your best work, do it on time, and show that you are a trusted partner (instead of combative and subversive).

TWO: It helps you build an alliance. It’s difficult to make change on your own, and nearly impossible if you don’t have others’ support. As you start thinking about ways to amend the status quo, be sure to make friends, ask for advice, and gather others’ thoughts and opinions. Not only will you be more likely to rally support behind your cause, you will also gain others’ perspectives on the issue, which will help strengthen your plan of action.

THREE: It gives you time to learn about the status quo, what works, and what doesn’t. While it’s tempting to barge in and overhaul an entire system that seems to be flawed, it’s a good idea to pause and study the system you’re attempting to fix. Are there parts of it that are actually working? Are certain things going well for certain people? Will there be resistance to your change? If so, why? Taking the time to study the current mode of operations will help you understand the greatest flaws and greatest assets of the system, and what should be fixed first. Your thoughtful approach will also demonstrate respect to those who have been working within the current system for years, and have not (for whatever reason) acted to improve it. Change can be a touchy thing, and you certainly don’t want to imply that everyone has been doing things wrong, and you’re the one with all the answers.

In short, don’t kick over the beehive when you begin a new role. Ease into it, learn how things are done, and start gathering information about what works and what doesn’t. Then, test the waters by floating ideas past others. Build your alliance, and then take action. With this methodical approach, you’re bound to gather some honey, rather than a few angry stings!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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You tried to do something and failed, but all is not lost. Failure can be a valuable learning experience if you take the time to examine what happened and make a plan to try again. Following the steps below can be useful for overcoming failure in any aspect of your life.

1. Disconnect your self-worth from this one instance of failure.

Sometimes the hardest part of overcoming failure is getting past the emotional implications. Failing at something doesn’t make you a failure. That would mean everyone is a failure because everyone has failed at something at some point in their life. It may help to say it out loud or even write it down. Once you internalize the knowledge that you are not a failure, you can take what you learned and use it move toward success.

2. Figure out what went wrong.

When you can look at the situation objectively, take some time to examine exactly what happened. What did you do or not do that contributed to the result? It’s important to focus on the things that were within your control. If you’re having trouble, a sequence of events is a good place to start. Be sure to note what you did well along with what you could have done better.

3. Make a plan.

You now know what needed improvement and what you did well. For each thing that needed improvement, what are the alternative actions you could have taken? Which of the alternative actions are realistic for you? Can any of the things you did well be improved further?

4. Decide whether to implement.

This is an often-overlooked step to making a plan. Break each action of your plan down into the steps it will take to execute. Do these actions look realistic for your life at this moment? Be honest and gentle with yourself. If the answer is no, that doesn’t mean you should scrap the plan. You may Simply need to rethink a step or two to get you where you need to go.

Here’s an example of what this process could look like:

Scenario: You didn’t pass a professional certification exam.

  1. Realize that failing a single test doesn’t make you a professional failure.
  2. You got high marks in one section, but the others weren’t great.
  3. Search for prep courses or other study materials; try to find out how much time the average test taker spends studying.
  4. Decide whether the additional time spent studying is feasible for your current life and whether having the certification is worth the extra time you would spend.

Don’t internalize failure and allow it to inform who you are as a person. Take the information you learn about the process and yourself and use it to improve your chances of success the next time around.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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You can dream of success and plan all you want, but at some point, the rubber has to meet the road. Your success will ultimately be built on actions, not wishes and dreams. The most successful people in the world not only have a strong vision of where they want to go, but the willpower and drive to get there. And that’s just it: to become exceptionally successful, you have to work exceptionally hard.

Beyond working hard, successful people often have to do what others will flat-out refuse to do. They’re the ones who are getting up early and working on writing their book. Or making cold calls to people who could help on their journey. Or investing in themselves by attending workshops or seeking coaching in order to better define their path. Or reading books and conducting research in their spare time to learn and improve.

This is the “tough stuff” most people refuse to do. It takes sacrifice and drive to, for instance, read a leadership book instead of turning on the television and zoning out. It takes dedication to wake up an hour early every morning and work on whatever you need to do to achieve your dream.

The “tough stuff” may take you out of your comfort zone (networking, cold calls, learning new skills, etc.). It may make you stretch yourself and adapt to new situations as best you can. That’s part of the process. If you’re not okay with a little risk and discomfort, you’re not likely to achieve major success. Risk comes with the territory (as long as it’s risk with a purpose—risk for risk’s sake isn’t going to do anyone any good).

Start with a solid vision of the future, create a plan, then dive into the tough stuff! Ask yourself:

  • Am I willing to make sacrifices to reach my goals?
  • Am I okay with a certain amount of discomfort?
  • Am I ready to learn whatever new skills are necessary?
  • Am I willing to accept I will encounter opposition? And do I have the courage and tenacity to face that opposition head-on?
  • Am I willing to take action and work for my dreams?

If you answered yes to these questions, you are in the right mindset to take on the tough stuff and achieve your success. Let that mindset drive you forward to dream, plan, and DO.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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