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Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Better Business

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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Your Input determines your Output

After recently reconnecting with an old friend, I was reminded of what a huge difference it can make in a relationship to simply keep up with someone. It’s easy to say that life gets in the way, but sending a text or an email to check in on someone else’s life has such a positive effect on a relationship that it is absolutely worth the effort.

In work, as in life, what you put in determines what you get out. A friendship can’t flourish if you don’t put in time; likewise, your career can’t grow if you don’t nurture it. There is, of course, a certain degree of luck and chance to any career, but to leave the whole thing to the hands of fate would be to give up on yourself.

Input #1: Networking

Output: A stronger coalition of career advocates

One of the most important parts of career-building is networking, which certainly requires positivity and a willingness to put yourself out there. In some ways, it truly is a case of faking it ‘til you make it. You’ll never know how attending a networking event will benefit you until you try, but you can pretty much guess what staying in and watching TV will get you!

Input #2: Develop a system

Output: Efficiency and accuracy

Take time to learn your own natural rhythm. You’ll find different information all over the place regarding working in spurts versus staying steadily productive, but if you can find the system that works for you, you’ll see a marked improvement. Maybe you flourish by setting a timer for yourself and focusing on one task at a time for a set period, including your breaks. Experiment with different amounts of time and see how your attention span is affected.

The one thing to keep in mind is all the data showing that multitasking is not only ineffective but harmful to productivity. You may feel like you’re getting more done, but having to change your focus more frequently is keeping you at a superficial level of attention, rather than allowing you to dive deeper.

Input #3: Take care of yourself

Output: Better health and attitude

When it comes to your personal health, fewer things are more important. If you’re not getting enough sleep, eating well, or exercising regularly, your mental and emotional wellbeing will suffer. Take breaks when you need to; walk away from your desk, stretch your legs, and go mingle with co-workers from time to time.

Remember: Physical health isn’t the only health. You have to take care of your mental and emotional sides as well. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, underappreciated, or just plain worn out, your work will inevitably suffer. To get back in balance, I advise you to schedule intentional breaks. Whether this be an occasional afternoon to yourself (to drink coffee in a café, grab a massage, or go on a family outing) or a two-week vacation, it’s a good idea to distance yourself from the office every once in a while. This allows you to rest and rejuvenate, but it also gives you perspective—a chance to reflect on the bigger picture.

 

Ultimately, it all comes back to putting in effort before you expect positive results. Simplifying yourself down to terms of input and output may be a little reductionist—remember that you are a complex and wonderful being, and you need to take care of yourself as well. Take some time each day without any external stimulants coming at you—no television, no social media, no radio—just you, checking in with yourself. If you put energy into maintaining your own health, you’ll be able to put energy into your career. Like a renewed connection with a friend, you’ll find there are tangible benefits to revitalizing your approach to your work.

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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If you had to describe the purpose of your business in one sentence, could you do it? That’s the challenge posed by Daniel Pink’s* brilliant one-minute exercise. He believes that a lot can be revealed by asking employees about the purpose of their organization.

To do this, pass out index cards and ask everyone to write about the organization’s purpose in one sentence. The results can be eye-opening.

I’ll let Pink explain more about the process.

Daniel Pink company mission

https://www.danpink.com/pinkcast/pinkcast-2-6-how-a-simple-index-card-can-surface-your-organizations-purpose/

*Pink is the author of #1 New York Times bestsellers Drive and To Sell is Human. He publishes an informative business-related video every other week on The Pinkcast.

 

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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