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Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Communication

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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find voice and own it

Your thoughts matter.

Do you believe that simple sentence? Have you internalized your worth as both a human being and a key component of your workplace?

I’ll say it again: Your thoughts matter.

Far too often, people feel like their ideas, opinions, or points of view do not mean as much as others’. They feel minimized or silenced. They feel some kind of invisible barrier, holding them back from speaking up.

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever been at a meeting and decided against speaking up or voicing your opinion? Have you ever felt shut out of a conversation, even though you had something to contribute? Why?

Unfortunately, a few dominant voices tend to rule the workplace. Whether they became the “big players” through experience or by aggressively asserting their point of view, these are the people who do not easily share the floor with others.

So, how do you break in? How do you find your professional voice and speak it?

Start small. Try a few of the following steps and keep building your confidence–and your voice–through intentional actions.

  • Practice speaking your mind in one-on-one meetings or informal lunch gatherings.
  • Build your confidence before you go into a meeting. Try using Amy Cuddy’s power pose or repeating affirmations.
  • Set a concrete goal (i.e. I will speak up at least twice during our next meeting).
  • Have a candid discussion with those who shut you out of meetings (they may not even realize they’re doing it!). Don’t be confrontational, be conversational. Present your case by using the D4 feedback model.
  • Involve others. If you notice someone else itching to say something, be an advocate for them. Say something like, “It looks like Susan has something to say.” Your gesture won’t go unnoticed and (hopefully) the favor will be returned at some point
  • Be prepared and know your stuff! Do your research before walking into a meeting and come prepared to ask at least three good questions (I’m a huge proponent of asking good questions!).
  • Keep it up. Even when you’re not feeling especially assertive, keep up your confidence through affirmations, intentional breaks (get away from your desk!), and by practicing good all-around self-care.

Your voice is valuable! It’s time others heard it.

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 are a Millennial, you’re probably already well aware that you’re fighting an uphill battle in the average workplace. Millennials have been given a lot of flak for being lazy, self-absorbed, and disloyal. Journalists love writing articles about Millennials that cast the entire generation in a poor light. While the criticisms may be true in some cases, they are absolutely NOT true in many others.

(I’ve written a couple blog posts about the fallacy that Millennials are bad employees. Check out Millennials and Loyalty and Millennials and Altruism).

Unfortunately, many people have bought into the racket and are overly cautious about their Millennial co-workers. So, how do you cut through the distrust and prove that you are, in fact, loyal and you DO want to work hard?

Try the following 5 strategies:

1. Demonstrate Your Respect

I’m sure you have tons of brilliant ideas that you’d like to implement RIGHT AWAY, but hold your horses. If you’re starting out in a new job, take your time to get to know your co-workers, get a feel for the environment, and understand protocol. Be sure to respect the ideas and practices of those who have been in the organization for longer than you have, even if you don’t necessarily agree with their methods. A little respect can go a long way.

When you do feel you need to speak up and offer an alternative opinion, do so in a courteous manner. Acknowledge the commonalities between you and the other person or people with whom you disagree, and THEN offer your alternative or dissenting opinion. Remember: your tone of voice and mannerisms can also speak volumes. Pay attention to your body language and be as polite as possible.

2. Surpass Expectations

If you’re looking for respect from your co-workers, then make sure you’re not only turning in your assignments on time and being as punctual as possible, but also make an effort to go the extra mile. Do a little extra research for that report. Help out a struggling co-worker. Turn in a project a day early.

You don’t always have to surpass expectations (and probably shouldn’t), but it doesn’t hurt to make an effort to shine from time to time. Just make sure you’re not rubbing your excellence in others’ noses!

3. Think AND Talk About the Future

What’s your five-year plan at your company? What are your goals? Think about your personal expectations for your future self (if you’d like some help with goal setting, check out this past blog post), and commit to them.

Don’t be afraid to let others in on your goals, especially your immediate supervisor or mentor. How do you talk about your goals with others? Try framing them in the form of a question. For instance:

“I’m determined to do XYZ this year, but I’m not sure about [a certain aspect of reaching that goal]. What are your thoughts?”

OR: “I’d really like to [become a project lead, take on X responsibility, earn a promotion to X position]. How were you able to do this? Any tips for me?”

4. Be Humble

You don’t know everything. Not only that, there are things you don’t even know that you don’t know! With that in mind, be open to learning and trying new things. Listen. Pay attention. Learn.

5. When Things Aren’t Ideal, Communicate

Instead of thinking about leaving as soon as things get tough or the job doesn’t seem to suit you anymore, communicate. Approach your supervisor, let her know about your discontentment, and strategize ways to overcome your slump (better yet, strategize ahead of time, and let her know your ideas in addition to a collaborative brainstorm).

Believe me, everyone has slumps. It’s possible you’ve mastered your work and are now bored, or you might feel ill-suited to the work you are doing (in both cases, a change in responsibilities might help you re-engage). It’s also possible you’ve become unhappy with the work climate and don’t care for certain co-workers or certain office practices. That is a larger problem, but can also be surmountable in some cases (it might just mean talking to certain co-workers and strategizing on how to better work together).

Direct communication is key. The last thing you want to do is mope around for a month, make everyone around you unhappy, and then quit. That doesn’t do ANYONE any good! Talking out your discontentment (in a respectful, matter-of-fact way), and strategizing solutions is a much more proactive approach.

 

How will you prove yourself in a workplace that is determined to write you off? Start with these 5 strategies, give them an earnest try, and be patient–others’ attitudes toward you may not change overnight. Remember: if you find the workplace to be overwhelmingly toxic, there’s no shame in moving on. Just make sure to give this decision plenty of thought and consider talking with a career coach before you make your move.

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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Be a caring leader

More and more evidence is emerging that leading with love, compassion, and authenticity is much better for building a sustainable, happy team than leading by force and intimidation. According to Forbes.com, many old leadership models were based on the military and have a tendency to emphasize leaders as people who should be feared.

It’s taken a long time to start changing this model, but it’s happening, slowly but surely. As managers of all levels are coming to realize that people respond to love and compassion, leadership tactics are changing and many people are opening up to the idea of love leadership. One in-depth study by Joe Ricciardi shows that, “A team member who feels ‘loved’ by his boss is significantly more likely to see his boss as a good leader. Leading your employees is a natural outgrowth of loving them.”

The study went on to find that three simple leadership approaches can greatly increase the success of your team:

1. Genuinely Care

Above all, be human. Get to know your work team, ask them questions (and genuinely listen to the answers!), and share a little bit of yourself. As in all relationships, getting to know another person is a two-way street and you have to have the courage to be vulnerable sometimes and open up.

It’s the littler things that make a difference–hand-written thank you notes, noticing when an employee goes above and beyond their responsibilities, remembering the name of a spouse or a child, recalling a co-worker’s recent trip or a hobby they enjoy. If your memory can be slippery, jot down notes in an excel spreadsheet (a sheet for each team member) and take a look at those notes before meeting with someone.

Your efforts will make others feel comfortable in the workplace and help them to actually look forward to coming in to work–something that leads to long-term retention.

2. Be Passionate

Your enthusiasm is contagious. Love what you do and demonstrate that love through positivity, a sunny attitude, and excitement. If you are looking forward to taking on a new client, tackling a new project, or meeting a certain goal, share that enthusiasm with your team. Let your positive energy shine through during team meetings, email memos, or one-on-ones.

And if you’re not loving your job? If you’re in a leadership role, that could be a genuine problem. Evaluate your discontentment and ask yourself what’s causing it. Work with a career coach to help you get to the root of the problem and then strategize on how to move forward. Leading with love means you not only show your co-workers love, but that you also love and embrace your leadership role. It’s hard to follow a leader who is unenthusiastic about their work.

3. Be Committed

Commitment is a big part of being a caring leader. Commit to the wellbeing of your employees. Commit to your team’s current projects. Commit to your clients/customers. If you’re truly committed to your team, you will be with them every step of the way, through both their successes and failures. Part of this responsibility means shouldering a good portion of the blame if something goes wrong. As former President Truman said, “The buck stops here.” Those are words to live by.

Part of being committed means investing in your team. Focus on individual and team development by making sure team members are involved in ongoing training. Also, make sure they have the chance to learn from each other (and you!) during skill share or mentoring sessions.

 

How will you step into your role as a caring leader? What can you do to show others you genuinely care, you’re passionate about the work, and you’re committed to both the team and their work projects? No matter how you decide to amp up your love leadership, the important thing is to DO IT. Start today and see what small changes you can make to commit to being a more caring, compassionate 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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*This post was originally published in 2015 and has been modified slightly.

Clarity in Communication

Having clarity comes in two parts. You have to give clarity and ask for clarity. If you are in charge of a project or leading a team, don’t assume that everyone already knows your expectations. Make those expectations clear and leave room for others to ask questions. Put yourself in others’ shoes and anticipate the questions they might ask. Then, practice giving the answers, or at least jot out a few thoughts on how to answer the questions.

On the flip side, if you’re on the receiving end of a project or initiative, don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions. It is much better to make sure your idea of the project’s end state aligns with the actual anticipated end state then to muddle your way through it and hope you’re doing what’s expected of you. One good way to make sure you completely understand your assignment is to repeat back what you think you heard. Something like: “Okay, Bill. It sounds like you’re saying we need to come up with a better social media marketing strategy for product X, and we have two weeks to get you a proposal. Is that correct?”

Having Clarity is one of the chapters in my book, The Ten Minute Leadership Challenge, and I go into much more detail in those pages about how to give and ask for clarity.

I’ve also made a short video about Having Clarity based off the principles outlined in my book. Enjoy!

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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BBQ and Delegation

Your perfect barbecue goes something like this:

  • You create the perfect guest list (people you enjoy hanging out with and who get along well with each other)
  • Each guest takes on the responsibility of making a different dish (something they’re good at making!)
  • On the day of the event, everyone enjoys a delicious spread of food and each other’s company.
  • Even if it rains or someone spills the potato salad, you’ll still have the makings of an excellent get together.

Of course, not every BBQ turns out this way. You might encounter drama between guests, or you may end up with seven different desserts, but no potato chips or veggie tray. The trick is knowing your guests’ personalities, knowing their strengths, and delegating effectively.

You can probably already draw parallels between the perfect BBQ and delegating to a work team, but let you give me my take on it:

When you’re leading a team, it’s difficult (and frankly inadvisable) to do everything yourself. If you tried to cook everything for a twenty-person barbecue, you’d end up pulling out your hair and not having much fun.

At work, the stakes are higher. If you’re working on a project, you’ll have deadlines to meet, stakeholders to please, and a team to attend to. Instead of taking on the bulk of the work yourself, TRUST that your team is capable enough to shoulder some of the burden.

Not only will delegating tasks to others lighten your load, it will help your team members feel like they are important parts of the work (just like the people at your BBQ who are providing the watermelon or deviled eggs).

Furthermore, delegating adds diversity of thought.

Your team members will inevitably do things a little differently than what you might have done on your own, and THAT’S OKAY. It’s great to work with a diverse set of ideas—that’s what drives innovation. Just like the person who brings a unique dish (grilled asparagus and ricotta pizza, anyone?), you will find creative new ideas through your team that you might not have found on your own.

Just make sure everyone is well-suited to their tasks.

In the workplace, certain people will love crunching numbers and digging into strategy. Others will love idea-generation. Still others will take pleasure in the artist elements of a project.

The better you know your team members, the better you can assign tasks. Just like you know Bill makes delectable beer-battered chicken, but you wouldn’t trust him to know merengue from tapioca pudding, so too should you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team.

Don’t forget to make things fun.

One of the keys to successful delegation is making sure people are working well together, connecting, and facing any issues with a positive attitude and a problem-solving mentality. Day-to-day work doesn’t have to be a grind. If everyone is well-suited to their tasks and the team is keeping an affable, open line of communication between one another, the work can actually be (gasp!) fun.

You can also amp up the fun factor by hosting lunch-and-learn meetings, creating light-hearted challenges, raising money for a cause, or going on the occasional team outing. Though these may seem like frivolous activities to some, they are actually great ways to help your team members connect with one another, build a sense of camaraderie, and help YOU better understand what makes the people on your team tick. Having a deep understanding of your team members is crucial to effective delegation.

 

So, make a plan, start delegating, and get ready to fire up that grill!

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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Compromises that work

Ever witnessed a child being told they must share their toys with another child? Their reaction to this news wasn’t too pretty, was it?

Although we’ve grown to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around us and we don’t always get our way, that small child’s voice is still inside us, protesting whenever things don’t go how we want them to.

But the truth is, in order to lead in any real sense of the word, you must learn the art of making compromises. But how do you effectively make a compromise? How do you ensure that both parties feel satisfied with the outcome?

  1. Express yourself fully, and listen intently. Explain your reasoning behind your viewpoint. Often our views are skewed by our emotions, which makes it harder to make effective decisions. Articulating your view to another person forces you to take a good long look at your position, and in many cases this allows you to see where your view may not be perfect. On the same token, listen to what the other person is actually saying, not what you think they’re saying. Hear them out before you rush to judgment. Open communication is crucial to getting things done.
  2. Think from the other person’s perspective. If it continues to be difficult for you to accept the other person’s position, do your best to put yourself in their shoes. What’s the reasoning behind their thoughts, ideas, and opinions? Even if you disagree, can you see why they hold these views?
  3. Be committed to results. Compromising pushes two opposing viewpoints past a gridlock into a region where they can move from ideas into actions. In this way, compromise is one of the most powerful tools we have to getting results. A compromise is a mature way of acknowledging that we can never fully get what we want all the time, but we can get more of what we want if we work together to achieve it.
  4. Be prepared to be disappointed, but give it time. At first, you might only see what you didn’t get out of a compromise. This is understandable, but don’t give up on it just yet. In the long term, compromising pays off for both parties, as you’ve established an alliance and proven to one another that you are capable of working together and taking steps forward.

Have a great week!

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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