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Category Archives: Advice from a Life Coach

Original article published March 11, 2015

Are you stir crazy? Ready for spring? Ready to walk around in sandals and shorts again? You’re not alone! This time of year tends to make people antsy and irritable, and that kind of attitude can cross over into the workplace.

How can you fight the late-winter agitation? How can you possibly be productive when you’re feeling so tense?

One solution is to spend a few minutes each day in your “inner garden.”

By now, most people accept that meditation is a great way to calm the mind, release stress, and get focused for the rest of the day, but many of us think we’re too busy for such “fluff” like meditation. We’re Americans! We’re trained to soldier through the work day without pausing to think about ourselves or our mental well-being.

I encourage you to pause.

When you’re feeling wound-up or things aren’t quite going your way, dedicate a few minutes to yourself. Find a quiet space in your workplace, close the door, and picture yourself sitting in a beautiful garden. A warm breeze is playing on your cheeks; you’re surrounded by fragrant blooms of red and purple and yellow. Just let yourself sit and be restful—do NOT allow your mind to drift to work or the troubles you’ve had that day, and if your mind does wander, gently bring it back to the garden.

If you’re having trouble picturing your “inner garden,” hop online for a few minutes and search for images of “beautiful gardens” or “peaceful gardens.” Then, use one of those images as your focal point as you allow your mind to drift to your garden.

Try building up to ten minutes of meditation time. If that seems like too much at first, start with five minutes. Even though this may not seem like a significant chunk of time, you’ll be amazed at how relaxed and refreshed you’ll feel at the end of it.

I challenge you to visit your inner garden every day this week and see how it helps your attitude and productivity. Until the flowers ACTUALLY bloom again, I hope this technique will help you relax and rejuvenate so you can take on any challenge the day might offer.

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Image by RÜŞTÜ BOZKUŞ from Pixabay

There are times in life when we feel lower than low. These are the times when your car fails, your plumbing breaks, you get sick, and your boss hands you a bunch of extra work…all in the same week. Or, you might be trying to cope with a traumatic event or a soured relationship. Regardless, life has a way of turning belly-up when you least expect it.

During such troubled times, how on earth can you find inner peace?

1. Remove yourself from the situation

Literally stepping away from the situation gone-wrong (whether it be a tense meeting, a failed dinner recipe, or a laptop with a mind of its own) can help give you space and perspective. Granted, you can’t step away from every situation immediately, but when you can, relocate to somewhere peaceful so you can clear your head. There’s nothing like a little space to give you perspective and time to think things through.

2. Let go

For the things you can’t control (and that includes many things in life), practice letting go. Your frustration over crummy weather, a traffic jam, or a client’s decision to take their business elsewhere won’t get you anywhere. Instead, learn from the situation and move on.

3. Practice gratitude

When things are going awry, it’s often useful to focus on the good things in your life. No matter how bad things get, there will always be one or two things (at the very least!) that are going well. Focus on the positive—your talents and abilities, the healthy relationships in your life, the roof over your head—and let those things carry you through the day.

4. Free write

Journaling or free writing can help you work through your problems and, perhaps, find a solution. At the very least, these activities will help you vent. Find a quiet space, grab a notebook, and go to town. The act of writing is a healthy release, and can help you work through your troubles in a constructive way.

5. Calm your mind

Let your mind release and let go of all that tension you’re carrying on your shoulders! Practice meditation (several different apps, such as Headspace or Calm can help you get started), focus on taking deep breaths, or do something a little more active, like going on a walk or practicing yoga.

6. Treat yourself

If things are really tough, make a point of treating yourself. Schedule a spa day or massage, get a new haircut, or plan a weekend getaway. Even taking yourself out for a nice meal will help. If you have the time, and a little cash to spare, you might even plan a bigger trip for yourself. Studies have found that simply planning a vacation can elevate your mood.

7. See yourself on the other side

Even though things are tough right now, things can and will get better. Picture yourself on the other side of your troubles. Imagine that future you—the one who made it past all your current hardships, and emerged wiser, stronger, and ready to step forward into a brighter world.

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Image by Анастасия Гепп from Pixabay

Many of us have opportunities to meet new people regularly. Whether at a conference, seminar, or simply a gym class, we may be brushing shoulders with others who could prove to be value networking connections. But oftentimes we’re either A) too timid to strike up a meaningful conversation or B) bad about following up or keeping in touch once we do make a new acquaintance.

Let’s change that pattern! It’s time to turn potential alliances into solid connections. Start by following these five steps:

1. Speak Up

So many of us miss opportunities to connect with others because we’re nervous to strike up a conversation with someone new. At a conference or workshop, it’s so much easier to stick with the group of people you already know and not venture outside your comfort zone. It’s also easier to stick your nose in your phone or laptop during breaks, and not bother to seek out new acquaintances.

I challenge you to dip a toe out of your comfort zone and start talking to strangers! It may be intimidating at first, but honestly, what’s the worst that could happen? The other person may not be receptive to your efforts…so, you move on.

2. Ask Good Questions

If you’re attending a business event, you might consider coming up with a few questions ahead of time to ask would-be connections. Go over the day’s agenda, and think of relevant questions you could ask.

Another way to engage new acquaintances is to be genuinely curious about them. Go beyond “What do you do?” Dig deeper and ask questions about their client base or how they became interested in their work in the first place. Or, connect on a more personal level and ask about their background and interests (without being too nosy, of course!). If you’re going to go this route, you probably want to offer something of yourself first. For example, “I’m thrilled about all the book recommendations we’ve been getting at the conference. Do you like to read too?”

Asking questions creates bridges between people. Just make sure you’re mostly asking open-ended questions (not ones that can be answered with yes or no), and you truly listen to the reply. You don’t want to completely miss what someone says because you’re thinking up a response.

Asking questions creates bridges between people.

3. Demonstrate Your Value

When you’re connecting with a professional acquaintance, it’s a good idea to think about how you can help them, instead of focusing on what you can gain. Make it clear that this relationship is a two-way street, and you have valuable skills and services to offer.

4. Connect Within Three Days

Be sure to follow up with new acquaintances within three days, while your interaction is still fresh in everyone’s minds. Send a short email and/or connection request on LinkedIn. You might also give a brief reminder about how you met, saying something like, “It was great talking about data collection methods at the ABC Conference on Thursday. I’d love to continue the conversation sometime…”

5. Create a Follow-Up Schedule

Designate time to follow up with new acquaintances. Set your dates and plug in a calendar reminder to make sure you follow through. Don’t be too pushy, especially if you don’t get a response from your acquaintance, but do make an effort to reach out. Consider framing your message like this:

Hi Rachel,

You crossed my mind the other day because [FILL IN A REASON]. I wanted to reach out and see how you’re doing with your XYZ business. Have you had any more issues with [FILL IN DETAILS]? If you’d like to grab a cup of coffee sometime soon, please let me know. I have some free time at the end of next week.

Take care,
Margaret

You worked hard to make your new acquaintances; don’t let them fall between the cracks! Your connections could prove to be fruitful, both for you and the people you meet.

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Microphone with text: 4 Vocal Tricks to Be Heard
Image by 19dulce91 from Pixabay

Have you ever noticed some people have the type of voice that commands attention? When they start speaking, the room listen. People pay attention.

Even if you do not naturally have a “sit up and take notice” voice, there are still steps you can take to improve your vocal tendencies and help yourself be heard. After all, what you’re saying isn’t necessarily as important as how you say it. A study by a UCLA professor found that a full 38% of our impression of someone is formed by their vocal quality, while only 7% of our impression is formed by their message (the remaining percent has to do with body language and facial expressions).

In short, vocal tone and inflection is important. Here are 5 ways to improve yours:

1. Know Yourself

Pay attention to how you talk and how your voice might be perceived. To do this, it’s helpful to record yourself speaking (as uncomfortable as that may be!), play it back, and pay attention. Is your voice low or high? Fast or slow? How do you emphasize words? Do you include a lot of filler language such as “like” or “um?”

Knowing how you speak gives you a baseline for how to improve.

2. Lower Your Voice

According to an article by Susan Berkley in BottomLine magazine, a study revealed that a lower voice (for both men and women) makes that person seem “more competent and trustworthy than those with a raised pitch.” She goes on to say that you can work on talking at a lower pitch by placing your hand on your sternum (for women) or beneath your sternum (for men) and strive to create a vibration.

NOTE: You never want to seem inauthentic when you’re speaking, so don’t try to go too deep. Just lower your voice so it’s still within your natural range.

3. Pay Attention To Pacing

There’s a balance between talking too quickly and talking slowly. If you tend gab at a mile-a-minute, it may be difficult for people to keep up, and you’ll eventually lose them. On the other hand, if you speak too slowly, you may leave room for people to interrupt or talk over you.

Practice speaking at a comfortable pace (again, record yourself OR, if you’d really try to nail your pacing, try joining Toastmasters). Be sure to ask questions as you go, so you can gauge how engaged your audience is.

4. Practice What You Will Say

If you’d really like to be heard, it’s worth it to practice what you’re going to say before actually saying it. This way, you’ll go into the conversation with more confidence and sound more sure of yourself. When you practice, make sure to focus on eliminating filler words such as like, uh, um, or ah. Also pay attention to your pitch and pacing.

You deserve to be heard. Try putting one or two of these tips into practice and let me know how it goes! Also, if you have other tips to share, I’d love to hear them.

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 people in a cafe with tables

It’s necessary to take occasional breaks during the day. In fact, we need them if we’re going to maintain a high level of productivity and accuracy. In past posts, I’ve discussed Tony Schwartz’s Energy Project, which maintains that people work best when they take a break every 90 minutes. That’s a good rule of thumb, but it’s not just about the quantity of breaks, it’s about the quality. Some breaks, as it turns out, are more replenishing than others.

If you sit at your desk, flipping through social media updates, your break is not going to deliver the kind of replenishing results you’d get with an intentional, unplugged break away from your desk.

Daniel Pink explores replenishing breaks in his weekly “Pinkcast.” According to Pink, science shows that the quality of your break matters.

He says there are five basic rules for taking intentional breaks:

  1. Something beats nothing (1 or 2 minutes is better than no break at all)
  2. Movement beats stationary (get out and get moving!)
  3. Social beats solo (this is true for introverts too—find a friend a start up a conversation)
  4. Outside beats inside (catch some fresh air, if you can)
  5. Fully detached beats semi-detached (Don’t talk about work. Don’t bring your phone)

If you tend to gloss over break time, it may be time to re-examine your approach. Leave your phone in your desk, get up and visit co-workers, and take frequent walks outside. These kinds of breaks will help give you the kind of replenishment and rejuvenation you need during a long day.

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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person jumping at sunset

Happy New Year! Now is the time when many people reflect on the past year, examine their life paths, and resolve to make meaningful change. Though you may start the year with the best of intentions (earning a promotion, losing weight, learning a new language), it’s easy to quickly lose steam after a month or two have passed by.

You might slip up once, then twice, then you toss the whole resolution out the window and tell yourself you’ll do better next year. But that doesn’t have to be the drill. It IS possible to commit to the resolutions you’ve made and actually make positive changes in your life.

Try these three steps:

1. Try 90 Days Instead

While this may seem like cheating, it is actually a good idea to commit to a goal for 90 days rather than an entire year. According to David Horsager, author of the Trust Edge, the attention-span and commitment of most people doesn’t usually stretch beyond three months.

However, he argues that most people can make huge strides in just 90 days. If you map out a plan for that stretch of time (outlining not just what you’re going to do, but how you’re going to do it), you can do everything from losing 20 pounds to writing a novel.

2. Lean On an Accountability Partner

Whether a trusted friend/co-worker or a professional coach, it’s a great idea to use an accountability partner. This is a person who knows about the commitment you’ve made, and agrees to hold your feet to the fire. Ideally, you and your accountability partner will have regular check-ins, so they can keep tabs on your progress and you have an added incentive to get things done.

3. Break Down Your Goals

When I’m coaching individuals or teams, I often advise them to take their goal and break it down into “bite-sized pieces.” When you only look at the end state you’re trying to achieve (write a book, get a raise, eat healthier, etc.), it can seem daunting or downright impossible.

Instead, set incremental goals that lead you to the BIG goal you’re trying to achieve. Whenever you hit one of your incremental goals, don’t forget to celebrate! This will give you a little extra incentive to keep at it.

It’s the New Year, and you want to start it out right. No matter what big-picture change you’re trying to make this year, you CAN get it done. Follow these steps, don’t be too hard on yourself if you have an off day, and don’t forget to celebrate your achievements. Happy 2020!

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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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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