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Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Better Business

As a career coach, I am well aware of the rigors of the modern workplace. Many businesses are understaffed or have ultra-high expectations for their employees, demanding sixty or eighty-hour work weeks. There’s a lot of rushing around, and forging ahead on projects…even if the plan or objective isn’t crystal clear. And that can cause a lot of trouble in the long run.

If there’s no room for question-asking, a work team could end up missing a crucial deadline, misinterpreting a client’s needs, or taking a project in the completely wrong direction. The team will then have to back-pedal and try to correct their errors, costing the company time and money.

The simple way to prevent such mishaps is by simply asking questions.

Good leaders not only ask questions, but encourage others to ask questions. This creates a culture of openness and candid interactions. Questions also can open up a dialogue about the best course of action, rather than limiting future actions to one set of ideas.

Utilize questions to…

Clarify

When a client or manager is introducing a new initiative or project, be sure to ask questions to make sure you understand everything correctly. If you are the one explaining a new concept to others, be sure to ask if they have any specific questions about the actions and objectives.

Learn more about asking great clarifying questions in my video on clarity.

Put Forth New Ideas

There is usually more than one path to a solution. When you ask questions that challenge the current way of doing things, you open up new ways of thinking and acting. These are the “What if…?” questions. They are the questions that encourage your team to think outside the box and become more innovative and creative.

Challenge

There’s a tactful way to challenge an idea, project, or statement. Use questions to uncover any holes in a plan, and gently offer a solution. A tactful challenging question may sound like this:

“I know your team has extensively tested the product on U.S. audiences, but have you considered our international market?”

OR: “I know we’ve been using the same financial tracking equipment for years, but have we thought about exploring XYZ Equipment?”

Dig Deeper

Use questions to really sink your teeth into a project and learn about the thinking behind it. “Digging questions” help to unearth any potential flaws in a plan and open up a dialogue to explore other possibilities.

These questions might ask, “How did we conclude that this is the best course of action?” or “What are some alternative ways we could market to X?” or “How does the data back this decision?” These kinds of questions will challenge your team to be more reflective and thoughtful about their current course of action (and potential future actions) and how they arrived at certain decisions.

 

Creating an open atmosphere that encourages asking questions can tremendously strengthen an organization. When people feel comfortable enough to ask clarifying questions or explore alternative routes, that opens the floor to increased creativity, candidness, and a sense of collaborative decision-making.

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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You wake up…and check your work email. You come home…and keep your phone handy just in case. You get ready for bed…and shoot off a few emails before the clock strikes midnight.

Your constant connection to your work might be more damaging than you think.

Here are 10 ways working after (or before!) normal office hours can harm both your team and YOU:

1. It pressures people to be “always on”

Even if you’re sending a casual email about a thought you had about work, think again before hitting SEND. Your email sends the underlying message that you’re working and others should be too. And that’s not great.

We all need downtime to recharge. It’s important to have designated “away from work” time in which ideas are allowed to naturally percolate. If we don’t have this down time, we begin to feel worn down and turn to auto pilot mode, in which we simply keep busy instead of pausing, evaluating, and allowing for outside-of-the-box thinking. As Ferris Jabr, writer for Scientific American says, “Downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself.”

2. It creates unhealthy competition

Just mentioning a late night conversation between yourself and a co-worker is enough to spark unhealthy “who can outwork who?” competition. When there are no limits in place, after-hours work can spiral out of control.

Some companies are beginning to place strict limitations on when colleagues are allowed to contact each other regarding work. Such limitations give employees breathing room in which they can round out their lives with other activities besides work.

3. It prevents you from being present

You can’t enjoy a baseball game, dinner with a friend, or a family game night if you’re constantly checking your work email or waiting for a work-related phone call. The constant presence of work means that you can’t give your full attention to anything else, including yourself. This distractedness is not great for building and maintaining healthy relationships…and it’s also not great for your mental wellbeing.

4. It can lead to quicker burnout

That feeling that you’re always being watched—that you must constantly check in or suffer the consequences (or at least some shaming from your peers)—can quickly wear you down. Today, Americans are working harder than ever for fewer rewards. Hard work has simply become the norm and, according to a study conducted by Quartz and Kronos, burnout is responsible for “up to half of all employee attrition.”

5. It throws off your life balance

Remember those things you used to think were important? Like hanging out with friends, eating a nice meal out, curling up with a book, or practicing a hobby? Well, those things are probably still important to you…they’ve just been shuffled off to the side.

A healthy life is a life with balance. If you’re overworked, you are denied the chance to explore outside interests, build strong relationships, and truly become a part of your community. It’s great to find meaning in your work, but that’s not all there is to life. Find the right blend of family, hobbies, relaxation, and community involvement that works for you.

6. It stifles creativity

Everyone needs a little space and downtime for ideas to surface and creativity to flow. Not to mention, it helps to actually be immersed in the world outside the office to create new life experiences that could, potentially, be linked to your work.

Time away from the office can lend a fresh, new perspective. As Maura Thomas, writer for Harvard Business Review says, “Experiments have shown that to deliver our best at work, we require downtime. Time away produces new ideas and fresh insights. But your employees can never disconnect when they’re always reaching for their devices to see if you’ve emailed. Creativity, inspiration, and motivation are your competitive advantage, but they are also depletable resources that need to be recharged.

 

The next time you are tempted to send out an email after-hours, pause. Think about the potential consequences to both yourself and your work team. It’s time we all start respecting and appreciating our time away from the office.

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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leaders as moderators not enforcers

Leaders often burden themselves with being the only ones to make tough decisions and stick with them, even when they may not be popular with everyone on the team. There are times when you, as a leader, must make tough decisions and deal with a bit of unpopularity for a while.

But there are other instances—the majority, in fact—in which leaders tend to take on too much when it comes to making difficult or controversial decisions. They feel, rightly so, that because they’re the ones who must take ultimate responsibility within their organization, they also must personally decide, execute, and maintain new systems or standards.

While it’s true “the buck stops here” when it comes to leadership responsibilities, we must remember that those we work with and manage have loads of helpful ideas we might otherwise not have thought of ourselves. We must also remember that our coworkers and/or employees are capable and eager to do a good job (and if they aren’t, then it’s time to rethink your hiring strategies!).

With this in mind, we should take advantage of our teams when it comes to making, implementing and maintaining decisions.

Moderate The Decision-making Process, Don’t Make All The Decisions

As a leader, make an effort to get your team involved in the process of making key decisions. Your role should be to moderate the group, keeping the discussion focused and realistic, and also to help peers work things out should disagreements arise.

Workers who are involved with decision-making feel more engaged and connected to their work, getting a sense of ownership for the visions the team has come up with together. This inevitably leads to better performance across the board, because ownership and meaning behind one’s work always gives them that necessary fire to push toward excellence.

Leading As The Vision-Implementer, Not The Productivity Police

If a team feels they are being micro-managed, they tend to become distant from their work. That is to say, a babysat team can easily be made to feel that they are not smart or capable enough to do their own work.

On the other hand, we all need standards in place to keep us all on the same page. A great team is well-organized, highly communicative and grounded in a mutual understanding of the standards and expectations.

You can see why involving everyone in big decisions can help you as the leader in the long run, when you need to begin implementing the vision (aka, the daily expectations of each team member). If and when you run up against disagreements or unproductivity, you can always point back to the standards the whole team created and agreed to. Instead of placing blame, encourage ongoing collaboration to iron out any wrinkles in the initial plan.

Maintaining The Vision

Things don’t always apply perfectly from the white board to real life. And, since the business world constantly changes along with the rest of the world, it’s necessary to constantly reevaluate the value of decisions you’ve made and implemented in the past. This means you’ll need to tweak things as you go and ask for feedback from the team, thereby keeping everyone directly engaged in the process.

 

Maintain involved, but not overpowering leadership; involve your team; and don’t be afraid to modify your approach. That is the recipe for empowering individuals and creating a happy, functioning team.

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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Buzzwords lack clarity

They come in the form of KPIs, ROIs, or CTAs. They are the low-hanging fruit, the synergy, and the ballpark figures. They want to help you drill down, push the envelope, create a survival strategy, and do some heavy lifting.

This is the corporate speak that tends to spin its way into our conversations. It’s fine to use it every once in a while—especially if your audience is familiar and comfortable with the language—but it’s usually best to keep jargon to a minimum. It ends up clogging up conversations, confusing potential customers, and muddying the meaning of a sentence.

Simply put: If too much jargon is used, clarity is lost.

Instead of using a euphemism for a term, express what you actually mean. Instead of asking someone if they have “the bandwidth” to perform a project, ask them if they have the time, resources, and appropriate support. You’ll end up getting a more specific, straight-forward answer rather than a simple “yes” or “no” reply.

Be especially careful with corporate speak when you’re meeting with prospects, new clients, or potential new employees. Businesses tend to use industry-specific terminology which may be difficult for others to interpret. For instance, a company with a global presence might use the term “business process outsourcing” (or BPO), while a company specializing in education might use the term “digital literacy.” In both cases, the terminology may feel natural to those within the industry, but could confuse those outside the industry.

Language matters. The terms you use can contribute to an open, inclusive environment, or they can obfuscate meaning or leave certain people feeling confused or irritated. Do your best to use clear terms and don’t forget to ask for clarification when you need it. Chances are, if you’re confused by an acronym or unusual turn-of-phrase, others will be too.

Let’s aim for simplicity and precision in our workplaces! If you’d like some additional guidance, be sure to check out my short video on clarity.

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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confidence, the key to success

Think of someone who is wildly successful. You might picture Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Brené Brown, J.K. Rowling, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of your company…or any number of people who have made it big.

What do they all have in common? What traits could an author possibly share with a techie?

The answer is simple on the surface, but difficult in practice. All of these successful people have an underlying firm belief in themselves and what they do.

Much of success is a mind game. If you are confident in your beliefs and your actions and you exude that confidence, others will be confident in you. If you move forward boldly, you will be perceived as a leader and someone who can be trusted.

The power of confidence is real. It’s what drives entrepreneurs to create start-ups. It’s what helps people step up and lead a team. But can you really switch on your confidence? Aren’t some people naturally more confident than others?

While you may not feel naturally confident, you DO have the tools to boost your self-assurance and step into your leadership. As Margie Warrell of Forbes says, “Confidence is not a fixed attribute; it’s the outcome of the thoughts we think and the actions we take.”

Warrell goes on to discuss research into brain plasticity and says that, “we can literally rewire our brains in ways that affect our thoughts and behavior at any age. Which means that no matter how timid or doubt-laden you’ve been up to now, building self-confidence is largely what psychologists called volitional. Or to use layman language: ‘By choice.’ With consistent effort, and the courage to take a risk, we can gradually expand our confidence, and with it, our capacity to build more of it!”

How can you start building your confidence and working toward success? Start with these four steps:

1. Have a clear mission.

What do you believe? What drives you? What is your vision for yourself and the future of your company? Create a roadmap of where you’d like to go and keep it at the forefront of you mind. Enlist the help of a career coach or counselor.

2. Fill your thoughts with positivity.

Practice building up your confidence every morning (or every time you’re feeling self-doubt) by telling yourself positive affirmations and actually believing them.

3. Stop limiting yourself.

Reach outside your comfort zone. The only way to achieve growth is to constantly stretch yourself.

4. Have courage.

Courage is one of the ten leadership attributes in my book, The Ten-Minute Leadership Challenge. Having courage means that you’re willing to stand up for your beliefs and defend others, if necessary. It means taking the occasional risk, even if you’re not feeling brave.

BONUS: 5. Start seeing setbacks as opportunities, rather than obstacles.

If your ideas are challenged, your project faces difficulties, or you’re told “no,” don’t give up! Instead, look at your setback as an opportunity to reframe your idea or your work. Author Stephen King was rejected dozens of time and told that “no one is interested in horror.” What did he do? He edited his work and kept on submitting it, standing firmly by his genre. It’s okay to rework your ideas, but stay steadfast to your core beliefs.

 

YOU have the power to be successful. Your internal monologue can either drive you toward success or make you shrink back into your comfort zone. Be bold, be confident, and above all BELIEVE in yourself, your capabilities, and your ideas.

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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quit saying no problem

You’ve rearranged your schedule, taken the time to prepare, and said “no” to other commitments. You’re just about to head into the meeting for which you’ve worked so hard to get ready and then…you get an email: “Something came up. Can we postpone the meeting to next week?”

Many of us have the tendency—even if we’re frustrated by the situation—to respond, “No problem. We can do next week.” But the thing is, there is a problem.

Sometimes people have legitimate excuses for not showing up, canceling something at the last minute, or not getting an assignment to you on time. BUT, if you tolerate this kind of behavior regularly, you are essentially giving other people permission to walk all over you.

Not to mention, many people cancel or postpone meetings simply because they don’t feel like going. They see the meeting as a low priority item—something that can be blown off. And THAT is a huge problem.

So what do you do?

How can you convey your frustration to your client, co-worker, or boss without coming across as a complete ogre?

It’s a tricky situation, especially in my Midwestern home base where politeness is the norm (even at the expense of your own discomfort or annoyance!). But, the issue must be addressed. Otherwise, this kind of cavalier attitude toward meetings will continue. You will be at the mercy of someone else’s whims.

Start putting your foot down. Try these four different approaches (or a variation) and begin holding others accountable.

1. Express that you’ve been inconvenienced.

Try responding with: “Actually, I rearranged my schedule and was counting on this meeting to direct the rest of my week’s work. Next week is pretty packed for me, so I won’t be able to meet then. Is there any way you can make today’s meeting, even if you’re a few minutes late?”

2. Tap into the other person’s emotional side by telling them how the situation made you feel.

Try: “This is the second time we’ve pushed back this meeting. That makes me feel as if my time isn’t valued.”

OR: “We’ve had to reschedule this meeting multiple times. I’m beginning to get frustrated, since I end up wasting time each time we reschedule. Can we make a firm commitment to meet next Tuesday?”

3. Tell your side of the story.

“I spent most of the morning preparing for our meeting instead of working on the XYZ project, which is due next week. This cancellation really throws a monkey wrench into my schedule. Is there any way you can shuffle some things on your end and make at least part of today’s meeting?”

4. Come up with an alternative plan.

“Since it seems like you’ve had to cancel several in-person meetings, why don’t we aim for a phone meeting next time? Say, tomorrow? 10 a.m?”

 

Your time and presence are valuable. If others tend to drop appointments or not follow through with their commitments, it’s time to take a firm stand. Let them know, as tactfully as possible, that yes, there is a problem.

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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