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Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Communication

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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When your manager is difficult

They’re always wearing a frown, criticizing staff, and shooting down ideas. They are a storm cloud, blocking out sunny moods and lightheartedness. They are difficult managers.

Many of us have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with a difficult manager at some point or another. It’s amazing how a single person can sour the mood of an office, isn’t it? Their callous attitude can bring everyone down, deflate motivation, and squash innovation and creativity.

How can you possibly defeat such an energy vampire? Isn’t it easier to simply quit your job and find better management elsewhere?

Even though it can sometimes be difficult to overcome an unsupportive manager, there are a few methods you can try before raising the white flag and heading somewhere else. Start with the following five tips:

Remain calm

The way you react to your manager can have a profound effect. If you return a snippy attitude with snippiness, or if you return anger with anger, you’ll only end up more frustrated. Instead, work on detaching yourself from your manager’s poor attitude. The next time he riles you up, remove yourself from the situation (physically or mentally), count to ten, and think about the encounter logically. Is it worth it to respond in kind? Probably not. Instead, find your inner calm and return childish behavior with calm reason.

Refocus

Although it may take significant effort on your part, it is best to focus on a task, not the criticism. Unless your manager has good reason for her critiques, it is best to let them slide off your back. Strategize and forge ahead as best you can, keeping the goal—not the criticism—at the center of your mind.

Be direct, if possible

Sometimes, it’s a good idea to be direct with your manager. If one of his criticisms seems off-base, ask him to explain what he means and how you and your team can perform better next time. Alternatively, you might try bringing up your feelings in a one-on-one meeting with your manager. Let him know how you’re feeling, why you’re feeling that way, and what would make the situation better. Use the D4 model of feedback as a guide and be sure to bring up specific examples.

You’ll have to be brave to directly face your manager, but honestly, what do you have to lose? Sometimes a direct approach can be a breath of fresh air. It’s possible your manager is unaware of the profound effect of his words and actions and simply needs someone to point it out.

And if your directness completely flops? It may be a sign that it’s time to move on to greener pastures (but be sure to consult a career coach before doing anything too drastic!)

Have perspective

An article by Liz Ryan of Forbes Magazine encourages us to see our difficult managers as minor parts in our lives. She says, “Eventually you reach a point where no manager can make you fearful, because you realize that any boss is just a bit player in your movie. You are the director and the star. You could leave any boss at any moment and it wouldn’t kill you — it wouldn’t be ideal perhaps, but you’ll survive. Keep that in mind!”

Ask what you can do better, specifically

It’s possible your manager’s expectations are simply not aligning with your work. The only way to find out is to ask for specific feedback on specific projects. Small changes in your work may have a big impact on your boss’ attitude.

Be empathetic

If your manager suddenly becomes more grim and angry than usual, it’s possible she’s going through a rough patch in her personal life. Many of us leave our personal struggles at home and cover up hardships as best we can in the workplace. This might be the case with your difficult boss. With that in mind, be empathetic and understanding. Don’t take harsh words too personally. Remain calm and talk to your boss as an individual, not as a brutish machine, out to get you. Your empathy may make all the difference.

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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4 Ways to Delegate Effectively

When done properly, delegation is a win-win. You end up saving time, and the person you’ve passed work onto feels valued for their unique skills. Why is it, then, that more people swamped with work don’t delegate?

One big reason is that Delegation Takes Up-Front Work

Many leaders find it takes time and effort just to bring others up to speed. Leaders might also feel like they need to supervise for a while to make sure things are done properly. With all this effort, it seems easier to just do the job yourself. But not so fast! Delegation can pay off in the long run if properly executed.

At first, you’ll need to work harder and longer when you’re preparing to delegate tasks. There will be meetings, training, negotiations, and the inevitable hiccup. But if you take the necessary time to delegate in a meaningful way, you’ll end up saving far more time and energy over time.

How? Follow these four guidelines:

Know Your Team

Know the people who work alongside you. Don’t just learn their names or where they went to school; familiarize yourself with their interests, talents, and experiences. When it comes time to delegate, you won’t have to guess who is best suited for the job. You’ll have an acute understanding of your team and their abilities.

Knowing that your assignments are in good hands will take much of the stress off your plate. Take a step back, resist the urge to look over your team members’ shoulders, and trust that they have the capabilities to successfully execute tasks. BONUS:  your team will appreciate your trust in them and will be more motivated to problem-solve and create solutions on their own.

Plan Well

If you’re delegating to a group of people, you’ll need to hold a meeting or two beforehand to help build unity within the group. They’ll go off and tackle bits of the greater project, sure, but it helps them to know how their contribution functions within the whole. It also helps you stay mentally organized as you’re the one keeping track of all the loose ends.

Which leads to…

Check In

While you should trust your team to perform well, it is necessary to check-in every once in a while to make sure everything is running smoothly and no one is struggling with a particular assignment. Keep it friendly, and be open to feedback. Your team may have great ideas to contribute and it’s worth it to take the time to listen.

If you’re worried that it may be too hard to ensure that your standards are being implemented by those you’ve delegated work to, fear not, but be sure to…

Have Clear Deadlines, Goals, and Expectations From The Get Go

And be specific about them. It’s better to over-prepare in the beginning and be able to ease off as your team gets up to speed than it is to go into a project unorganized and be forced to pull people off projects.

Remember: a strong vision, clearly stated, is a powerful tool. Be transparent and communicate your expectations with everyone involved. Make sure your entire team is on the same page and is working toward the same goals and mile markers.

 

If done correctly, delegation can pay dividends. Get to know your team’s strengths, assign clear tasks, and be sure to check in on a regular basis. Effective delegation can set you free to perform other crucial leadership duties.

Questions about delegation? Feel free to contact me today.

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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Banish your self-doubt! Here’s how…

We’re mixing things up today and posting an Infographic on the UXL blog. Enjoy! (Text posted below for those who can’t read it).


  1. Pay attention: Recognize when you’re thinking negative thoughts or telling yourself, “I can’t.” Do certain situations prompt more self-doubt than others?
  2. Talk back: Though it may sound crazy, start talking back to your self-doubt! For instance, if you catch yourself thinking, “No one wants to listen to my ideas,” counter with “Yes, they do. My ideas are valuable and people are interested in what I have to say.”
  3. Use a Power Pose: Keeping your shoulders back and your head held high has a positive psychological effect and can actually boost your confidence.
  4. Do Your Research: Going into a scary situation with a little preparation can make a huge difference. Be sure to anticipate questions others might ask and practice answering them.
  5. Challenge Yourself: The way to achieve growth is to constantly challenge yourself. Once you overcome doubt in one area, move on to another!

 

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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State Fair Animals and Work Team

The Minnesota State Fair begins in just over a week, so I thought I would continue my blogging theme with a fun post about how state fair animals are like the perfect work team. I know, comparing barn animals to people seems like a stretch, but bear with me! The MN State Fair animals are teeming with their own personalities and purposes. They are as diverse as the people who love and care for them. If you’ve ever walked through the chicken barn, you’ll know what I mean! Such variety, even among members of the same species.

Here are 6 distinct personalities that you’ll find in the state fair barns, as well as in a well-balanced work team:

The workhorses

These are the people who dive headlong into their projects with fervent dedication. They may not dwell on logistics or alternative routes—they just do. These go-getters can be compared to people who lead with red energy on the Insights Discovery wheel (for more on the Insights system, click HERE). They forge ahead fearlessly and set an example of “go get ‘em” leadership for others to follow.

The loyal ones

Many pets are fiercely loyal to their owners. They would do anything to protect them and keep them out of harm’s way. Loyalty is one of the ten attributes of an excellent leader (as you’ll find in my book, The Ten-Minute Leadership Challenge) because it is a necessary trait for those who want to succeed within an organization. Loyalty doesn’t mean that people can’t challenge ideas or systems—it does mean that they’re dedicated to their company and will do whatever they can to help it succeed (including challenging faulty aspects of it).

The social ones

We’ve all seen animals who absolutely revel in attention. They just want to be part of a pack—whether among people or their fellow species. In the same way, your extroverted team members thrive when they’re closely collaborating with others. If you want them to be productive, don’t force them to work alone! They’ll do much better (and be happier) if they’re able to bounce ideas off of others and talk things out.

The thinkers

Some animals are quiet and pensive. They take in the world with their silent observations and surprise us when they flawlessly navigate an obstacle course or solve a puzzle. A good team is comprised of at least a few analytical types. These people are data-driven and like to thoroughly think through issues before acting.

The ones that make a squawk

It’s okay to have squeaky wheels on your team. These are the ones who will keep things honest and be the voice of others who are too afraid to speak up. These vocal individuals may even identify problems that could affect your customers or clients, which is always great to catch before anything goes wrong “in the field.” There is a fine line, however, between articulating thoughts and opinions and complaining. As long as the “squawkers” don’t cross the line into griping and grumbling, it’s useful to recognize their opinions and address them.

The givers

Many animals take care of us. They give us milk, wool, eggs or just plain camaraderie. In the same way, there are those in the workplace who are advocates for others. They make sure everyone’s voice is heard and that others are treated with respect. It’s great to have these empathetic personas on your work team. They foster an atmosphere of inclusivity that is often lacking in the workplace.

 

With a little imagination, we can draw comparisons between the animals of the state fair and your perfect work team! Do you have a good balance of workhorses, loyal ones, collaborators, thinkers, squawkers, and givers?

 

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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