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Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Better Business

Pink lotus flower

One of the key leadership attributes in my book, The Ten-Minute Leadership Challenge, is TRUST. I truly believe business and leadership success is built on trust. You need it between co-workers, between supervisors and staff, between the business and its customers. If trust doesn’t exist, the organization flounders and is likely to fail.

One of the ways to build trust is through transparent behavior and communication. It goes beyond honesty and into the realm of integrity. Though honest and integrity may seem like the same thing, they are actually quite different.

Honesty is simply telling the truth. You can tell the truth and still omit information or focus on one part of the big picture. To relate honesty to a work example, think of a check-in meeting you might have with your team. In this meeting, everyone goes around and reports on their project, giving highlights on how things are going. When you have the floor, you talk about one specific part of your project—the only part that is going well. You’re being honest, but are you acting with integrity?

I would argue that, no, you’re not. You’re leaving out the parts of your project that are going poorly and casting yourself only in a positive light. That might get you by for a while, but what happens when your project implodes and you turn in subpar work? What happens when you hit a wall and need to desperately seek help?

This situation calls for more than honesty. It calls for you to be vulnerable and discuss the parts of your project that are leaving you stymied or frustrated. It calls for integrity.

If you act with integrity, you do what you know is best. It may not be easy, but it is right.

In this situation, you might call attention to the areas in which you are struggling. You might set aside your pride and ask for additional resources to help you complete the project as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Another situation in which integrity outweighs honesty has to do with office gossip. If you know a damaging bit of news about a co-worker, you could tell others about it. You’re being honest, right? But are you acting with integrity?

Again, the answer is no. Even though you’re not fabricating the damaging news, just telling it can be harmful. It can erode trust.

That’s the difference between honesty and integrity: Honesty is blunt, truth-telling and integrity involves considering the big picture and attempting to do what is right. Acting with integrity helps create trust.

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Two women meeting over notebooks

If you’re like many people, you dread your annual performance review. It’s not the prospect of getting in trouble, it’s that performance reviews can be just…tedious. They often feel like a distraction–something you have to get out of the way before you can move on with business as usual.

It’s unfortunate that performance reviews have received such a bad reputation because they can be enormously valuable!

Instead of shying away from this year’s performance review, kick yourself into high gear and focus on taking advantage of everything a performance review can and should be. Think of your review as an opportunity to do one or more of the following:

1. Ask for a Raise

According to Grant Sabatier, author of Financial Freedom, one of the best times to ask for a raise is during a performance review. Sabatier says, “Your annual performance review is a natural time to ask because your boss is already thinking about your value to your company. If you come with your market-value research, you are significantly more likely to get a higher raise.”

Just be sure to put together a solid case for asking for a raise (find a few hints in my past blog post), and practice your speech in front of the mirror or to a willing partner. The goal is to sound as confident as possible when making your ask.

2. Identify Weak Points

Performance reviews are a great time to ask critical questions about yourself, your work performance, and what you can do to improve. Think of it as a time to gather as much information as possible to have a successful year ahead.

If you don’t understand or agree with a piece of feedback, don’t argue or get defensive! Simply ask clarifying questions and attempt to understand where the feedback is coming from. If the advice seems sound, develop a plan for putting it into practice.

3. Create Change

It’s easy to complain about everything you don’t like about your workplace behind your boss’ back. Not only is that counterproductive, it can bring down the attitude of the entire office. Instead, keep a list of things you’d like to see changed, tweaked, or eliminated. Be sure to brainstorm potential solutions as well.

When it comes time for your review, present your list to your superior in a respectful, solutions-oriented way. Get excited about the potential changes, and show you’re willing to put in some time to make them happen. Instead of seeming like a complainer, you’ll be viewed as someone who is motivated and bold enough to take initiative to make positive change.

Performance reviews don’t have to be a slog. Think of them as opportunities to carve out a better year for yourself and the workplace. Get excited for your next review and start planning the conversation you’d like to have with your boss. Here’s to a self-made year!

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working with a mentor

With any job, we all rely on guidance from our supervisors and peers to learn the ropes and develop new strategies for accomplishing tasks. These people serve as coaches and mentors, and can be a principle reason for creative and professional success.

A mentor’s experience is a resource as valuable as any skill in your personal toolbox, but finding the right person for the role can be challenging in a new environment. As you begin your search, you may find a few of these strategies useful:

1. Identify your process and values

As we grow, we try out and exchange work habits and strategies to make ourselves more effective. Finding a mentor who speaks to you starts with understanding yourself and how you work. What are the values that drive you? How do they translate to the type of work you do and which projects or responsibilities you’d like to take on?  What are the pain points and blind spots of your working style that others may need to accommodate for or address? These questions are important to ask and reflect upon when seeking a mentor. Knowing their answers to some degree will help when approaching others for help.

2. Look across disciplines

Everybody brings a unique mix of experience and ability to the table in an organization. A person’s job description doesn’t always tell you everything about the perspective they bring or their ability to teach. If you are worried or intimidated by reaching out to folks in your own department, making connections outside your usual circle and observing how people attack problems may shed a learning light you never considered before.

3. Establish rapport

Mentors are not always our closest friends, but a good mentor will be someone who respects your goals and spends time to observe and understand your learning process. Get to know folks who’ve joined the team before you and communicate your respect for their role and the work they’ve done. If you’re not familiar with these details, friendly chats over lunch or a drink can provide a way to accrue insight casually and over an extended period of time.

4. Develop yourself and network

Professional associations often offer conferences and seminars to learn the ropes of new skills or discuss innovation within a given industry. If you feel like your office lacks the means to provide the guidance you seek, attend trainings and make connections – either with fellow learners or the speakers. Handing out business cards and picking someone’s brain for 15 minutes may be all it takes to find a new teacher.

Finding a mentor isn’t always easy, but the returns for your efforts can be transformative. Keep an open mind, and be honest with yourself if you aren’t getting what you need on the first attempt. If you keep at it, often the right guidance is never too far away . Stay positive and get cracking.

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have a productive debate at work

Team dynamics can’t always be 100% collaborative. When an office encounters external challenges, like a change in size or shift in industry focus, argument and individual vision can become important points of engagement to keep a team productive and cooperating as a whole unit.     

Productive debate is a form of healthy communication, and making sure everyone understands the same ground rules for conducting those debates is important. When there is a problem that can’t be solved with a short conversation, co-workers need to be prepared to present their viewpoints in a way that remains approachable and non-combative. Shane Snow talks about some of these strategies in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review.

So what are the ways to have a productive debate at work?

Having a facilitator who remains fair and impartial can provide a strong foundation for such events. Usually, a manager or supervisor can take on this role, but team members may find it appropriate to select a different candidate. There should be a consensus on who is directing the conversation.

No personal attacks. All debate stops the moment your team members begin to react defensively. It is impossible to weigh decisions with logic and reason when folks are emotionally threatened or wild. Keep talking points centered around the problem that is being discussed.

Reinforce to team members that you are sharing solutions. There may be information that is shared throughout the course of the debate that changes someone’s position or opinion, and that is okay. There are no sides that need to be taken. You are striving for an honest and meaningful solution to a problem. If somebody with an opposing viewpoint shares an idea that you agree with, be sure you acknowledge the position. Compromise or consensus is more likely when people feel heard.

Remain curious throughout the process. You’re likely to learn something new about your team members through uncomfortable or contentious subjects. Try to frame these lessons as positive incentives, and encourage your team to participate and act in good faith. A team’s real strength lies in the ability to navigate conflict.

The desire to avoid debate is easy to understand, but arguing productively is essential to any team’s growth and learning process. Keep a level head and you’ll go from 12 Angry Men to 12 Contented Team Members.

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questions to build trust in leadership

It may seem surprising, but asking questions can actually make you a more trustworthy leader. Questions do not diminish your authority or make you appear weak. Rather, by asking the right questions, you can gain valuable insight, open the floor for more meaningful conversations, and demonstrate that you respect your team.

Which questions are the “right questions?” The simple answer is: open-ended questions that stimulate conversation and don’t presuppose an answer. A question such as “Don’t you think Client X would benefit from our new product?” is not open-ended and not productive. It is only searching for agreement, not a true dialogue.

Instead, try asking questions that begin with words like How, What, or Why. These question words typically allow for a wide range of answers, not just a yes or no response.

The other half of asking good questions is practicing active listening. Leaders build trust by seeking their team’s thoughts, opinions, and ideas, and listening closely to the answers they give. This show of respect is integral to building trust

Next time you’re in a meeting (either with your entire team or a single individual) try asking some trust-building questions. Here are 10 to get you started—choose ones that are applicable to your team and situation.

  1. What resources do you need to complete your task?
  2. What is holding you/us back from success?
  3. How can I help?
  4. What are some possible solutions you envision?
  5. Who/what are we lacking to achieve success?
  6. What can I do to help foster more creativity?
  7. Why do you think                            is happening?
  8. What are your current frustrations?
  9. What is our biggest risk in this endeavor? What is the Plan B?
  10. Is this assignment a good fit for your talents? (Why or why not?)
  11. How does this add value to our mission?
  12. What effects will this decision have?
  13. How can we improve                     ?
  14. What opportunities can bolster our business?
  15. What else would you like me to know?

This is just a sampling of the questions you can ask your team. Get curious. Involve them in decision-making. Ask good questions and build trust.

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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Use storytelling at work

Did you hear any captivating stories as you sat around the Thanksgiving table this past week? If so, you might have noticed that the speaker used certain techniques to draw you in–vivid descriptions, facial expressions, a narrative arc. A good storyteller makes these things seem natural.

If you think about it, storytelling has A LOT of cross-application when it comes to work. In the past, I’ve discussed how it can be a powerful sales tool, but it can be useful to anyone in almost any industry. Use storytelling techniques to:

  • Be a more engaging, charismatic leader
  • Keep others’ attention when you’re presenting during a meeting
  • Snag a new client
  • Make a convincing argument or illustrate an idea
  • Present a point to your team

Ok. You’re probably convinced that storytelling is useful, but it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to everyone. How do you work on developing your storytelling techniques?

1. Practice

You probably won’t be a natural storyteller at first, but the key is to PRACTICE. Think about scenarios in which storytelling might come in handy, and then make an effort to do it. Be sure to practice the story you’d like to tell beforehand–do it aloud and in front of a mirror to work out any rough patches.

2. Consider the main point

Your story can’t just be a story. It has to have some kind of relevance to the topic at hand. If, for instance, you’re trying to prove the effectiveness of a product, tell a story about how the product helped a specific person. If you’d like to demonstrate to a potential new client that your company is trustworthy, tell about a time that your team came through in a pinch.

3. Remember the classic story arc

Every good story has a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning should hook your audience, while the end should clearly give the main message and potentially be a call to action. If your story is jumbled, others will have trouble deciphering the main message or become disengaged.

4. Use a “lead-in”

It’s odd to jump straight into a story with no lead-in. You’ll want to tie the story to the topic that’s being discussed before plunging in. Frame up your story with a lead-in like one of the following:

  • “I am confident product XYZ is a good value to our customers. One example that comes to mind is…”
  • “I think it would be beneficial if we changed to system X. One reason is that…”
  • “This reminds me of something I witnessed last year…”
  • “We have to consider statistics, of course, but anecdotally, I once noticed…”
  • “I’d like to give you an example of why I think X would be a good idea…”

5. Practice some more

You may not hit the nail on the head the first time you try storytelling. Keep at it and modify your techniques as need-be. Does your delivery need work? Do you need to use better vocal inflection? Are you having trouble articulating your main point?

Assess, try again, repeat. Skilled storytellers don’t develop overnight.

 

Need more storytelling techniques? Feel free to 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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This blog post was first published in October, 2012.

Cell phones, e-mail and the internet were intended to help ease the stress of life, yet it would appear they actually make the work week longer, the pool of contacts larger, and the deadlines closer together.  We instinctively fight to stay afloat, throwing ourselves through all sorts of hoops without a moment’s rest. After all, how can we expect to take even a moment for ourselves when our to-do pile grows bigger by the minute?

 

take time to pause

We can, and we should, insists Nance Guilmartin in her book, The Power of Pause. Herein she argues that pausing before undergoing a task gives you a better shot at success, in that it provides you with the opportunity to reflect, weigh options and make judgment calls uninfluenced by charged emotions:

“We’re quick to say yes to someone’s request because we don’t think we have a choice. We just hit the Reply All or Send button on an e-mail instead of considering our options, picking up the phone, or walking down the hall. We jump to conclusions based on assumptions, expectations, or wished-for outcomes that are frequently far from reality.”

Taking a step back while under stress is counter intuitive and takes practice to master. Yet, whether you wait a minute, an hour, or a day, “your ability to make better choices is sharpened, and that can lead to significantly better results for you and for your clients,” says Guilmartin.

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A moment of pause enables us to see the big picture of our circumstances. An angry e-mail from a client, for example, seems to demand immediate reply. But is action without true pause the best route to take in this situation? No, Guilmartin says, because during a stressful, disagreeable exchange, the chance is high that our emotions will get in the way of maintaining good relationships with those around us.

In a situation such as this, a pause allots us time to ask key questions aimed at the heart of our stress. To do this, Guilmartin suggests that “you use a simple phrase to help you shift from jumping to a conclusion, even if you think you are right and have the facts. Ask yourself this seven-word question: What don’t I know I don’t know?

In other words, are you missing something important you haven’t considered? In the angry client e-mail example, it could be you didn’t communicate sufficiently with the client at the outset or some important detail was lost in the shuffle.  Pausing to reevaluate both what went wrong and how to respond will optimize the chances of moving forward with the client in a fair, productive manner.

To put it another way, pausing actually increases brain performance. The next time you’re faced with overwhelming circumstances, remember that you have the choice to take a time-out. I encourage you take it. In so doing, you’ll give yourself the gift of perspective, time to weigh your options, and a moment to clarify your goals. Not only do you have this choice, even though it may not seem like it at the time, research shows that choosing to slow down helps you in the long run.

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Herbert Benson, “Are You Working Too Hard?” Harvard Business Review, November 2005, 54-56.

Nance Guilmartin, The Power of Pause: How to Be More Effective in a Demanding, 24/7 World (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 36, 153.

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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