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Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Leadership

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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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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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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At the end of the month, the event known as the “Great Minnesota Get-Together” will begin. The MN State Fair has been in existence since 1859, a year after Minnesota became a state. It’s one of the largest state fairs in the nation and in recent history it hosts almost 2 million people each year!

With such a long tradition—and with so many attendees—it makes sense that the fair has their system down to a science. In fact, it’s so well run that we all could learn a few leadership lessons from the fair. Here are my top 8:

1. Lighten up

The daily demands of leadership sometimes make it difficult for us to take a step back and have fun. We become so immersed in problem-solving, fielding issues, and navigating tough conversations that we sometimes forget the lighter side of things. Similarly, if you’re walking around the immense fairgrounds you’ll wear out quickly If you’re not having fun!

2. Understand your team

The state fair knows exactly what exhibits, rides, and food stands should be where. The cows belong in the livestock barn. The paintings and sculptures belong in the galleries. The food stands line the roads and rotundas. Your work team is similar. Everyone has their special areas of expertise, and it’s useful to capitalize on them (for more on balancing your work team see my recent blog post on this topic).

3. Be a logistics whiz

All those cars! All those people! Somehow the fair manages to shuffle everyone around smoothly and effectively. In your leadership, it’s helpful to think about logistics. Do you have smart systems in place? Would a new approach help your team work more efficiently or complete their tasks on time? When working with logistics, it’s a good idea to get as much input as possible from your team and gather feedback about what works and what does not.

4. Balance tried and true practices with creativity

Everyone loves cheese curds and cotton candy, but why not try teriyaki ostrich on a stick? Or a Cracker Jack caramel sundae? While it’s good to have tried and true methods, products, and processes, sometimes the system benefits from a little inventiveness. This forward-thinking mentality is what keeps companies like Apple and Google in the public eye (and keeps us doling out dollars for their latest gadget!)

5. Encourage free thinking, but provide guidance

I’m am an advocate of placing trust in your team. Give them the freedom to approach a problem in their own way and create their own path. At the state fair, you’re given road maps and schedules, but you’re free to choose your own route and find the best solution for you. In the same way, it’s a good idea to provide others with guidance, but to give them the freedom to work out their own solutions. Their ingenuity may surprise you!

6. Don’t do everything yourself

Although there is a “board of managers” that runs the state fair, they receive plenty of help with operations. It would be impossible for a board of 10 individuals to oversee every building, clean every bathroom, or set up every ride. This is where smart delegation comes into play. Develop a deep understanding of your team member’s strengths and utilize those strengths as best you can.

7. Reward/recognize good performance

Top performance deserves recognition! Just like an outstanding horseback rider or a talented sculptor deserves to be awarded a prize, so too do your top performers merit recognition. Be sure to commend team members for a range of performance-related achievements, from exceeding sales goals to practicing inclusivity.

8. Weather the ups and downs

We’re all familiar with the twists and turns of roller coasters. They take us for a wild ride until things level out and the ride is over. In the same way, excellent leaders practice resiliency. They take setbacks in stride, strategize, and plan for the future without dwelling on (or moaning about!) their obstacles. Great leaders know there will be bumps in the road and they face these challenges head-on, instead of ignoring them.

 

There is much we can learn from the state fair. When it comes to leadership lessons, the land of corndogs and Tilt-a-Whirls is filled to the brim with them. How else could it host hundreds of thousands of people each day and keep them (for the most part!) happy and entertained?

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it or leave a message in the comments!

 

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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Mentoring and leadership

It comes as no surprise to me that businesses and organizations of all types have set up mentorship programs to increase meaningful relationships among the members of their teams. Why? Because mentoring is one of the most powerful, effective forms of leadership.

Yet I’ve noticed that many are hesitant to adopt the role of mentor. They may feel that they aren’t good enough teachers, or that they lack the confidence to take ownership of their skill sets.

The truth is we’re all mentors, whether we know it or not. And while we may not have fully developed this trait, we all possess the potential to become effective mentors and, at the same time, enrich and empower our leadership.

How does mentoring another give your own leadership a boost?

1. It encourages you to always lead with a good example.

Sometimes we slip into bad work habits and mentoring another causes us to be aware of those bad habits and avoid them.

2. You discover knowledge gaps.

Your mentee may ask questions to which you don’t know the answer. That forces you to research or reach out to co-workers to find the answer, thus expanding your knowledge base.

3. You build communication and people skills.

Mentoring helps strengthen your communication skills in one-on-one situations. Since you are the authority figure, it can also build your confidence and even your public speaking skills.

4. You build credibility

Not only will you build credibility in the eyes of your mentee, but other people around the office will see you as reliable, a go-getter, and someone who knows their stuff. You have enough knowledge and poise to tutor another; you must have what it takes to perform your job well (and maybe even land a promotion!).

How to be a Mentor?

Now that we’ve discussed the benefits of mentoring to your leadership, let’s look at the best ways to be a mentor:

Mentors Lead By Example

In an article from The Journal of Leadershipeducational consultants John C. Kunich and Richard I. Lester detail some key aspects of strong mentoring.

A mentor must behave at all times, both publicly and privately, as if the protégé were the mentor’s shadow.

Even in your life outside of work, when people might not be watching, you must stay consistent with your values. At the end of the day, good leadership relies upon a life of integrity. When you take a protégé under your wing, you give them clearance to assess your actions. Don’t take this lightly! It’s a big responsibility, yes, but it’s also immensely rewarding to be able to show your mentee the ropes simply by doing the work you do best.

Mentors Share Their Networks

One of the greatest resources an “old head” owns is a network of people who can help cut through the usual tangle of red tape and quickly obtain the desired result.
Networking usually relies upon sharing contacts and leads, so what better way to give your protégé a head start than equipping them with contacts? Set them up with meetings or informational interviews, give out contact information, or hand them one of your friend’s business cards. I’m sure you can think of people in your life who’ve let you into their already-established network, and I’m just as sure that you appreciate that they did.

Mentors Set Goals And Instill The Value Of Goal-Setting

It should become apparent to the protégé that there are significant differences between workable goals and pleasant but less reality-based dreams, hopes, or wishes.
Because great leaders are able to transform bold visions into reality through the implementation of planning and goal-setting, as a mentor you must also stress the importance of this skill, and work with your protégé on developing goals for themself. A good way to do this is to guide them through the process of differentiating between wishes and workable goals. Get a feel for your mentee’s hopes and dreams. Have them transfer their dreams into workable goals, and write out a long term program with them to get there. With you there as an adviser and a guide, your mentee will learn that visions truly can become reality, but only through long term planning, consistency and gradual steps.

 

Reference

Kunich, John C. and Lester, Richard I. “Leadership and the Art of Mentoring: Tool Kit for the Time Machine.” Journal of Leadership 1-2: (2001) 118, 125, 126.

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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build a boss program

Last week, I talked about a program that career coach, Karen Kodzik, and I created called Build A Boss. We noticed a gap in how managers are trained—many are only trained on bare bones office mechanics and not how to effectively lead people—so we sought to fill that gap. In last week’s post, I discussed new leaders and how Build A Boss can help them achieve success in four key areas. This week, I’m going to focus on established leaders and how they can get back on their feet after a significant change.

I’ve worked with many people who have years of leadership experience in a certain area. Then, a change happens. Maybe they move to a new company, shift positions within their current place of employment, or are faced with a drastic restructuring of their company’s way of operating.

Whatever the case, this kind of change can be jarring for a manager who has only practiced a certain brand of leadership. Fortunately, there are coaching companies like UXL that can help established leaders bounce back and reimagine and reinvigorate their leadership.

Although it is helpful to enlist the help of a coach, there are certain things you can do on your own to help you through a difficult leadership transition. Try these six “quick tips.”

Quick Tip 1:

Set aside “you time.” Take the time to reflect upon your personal attributes and strategize on how to build your strengths.

Quick Tip 2:

Don’t get caught up in your perceived weaknesses. You can’t be good at everything! Practice smart delegation and enlist the help of your team.

Quick Tip 3:

Schedule more one-on-one meetings. Getting to know and understand each team member is crucial for building trust, understanding their areas of strength, and understanding team dynamics.

Quick Tip 4:

Take an effective, science-based self-assessment AND have your team take it as well. One of my favorites is Insights Discovery.

Quick Tip 5:

Open up your communication. Create ample opportunity for your team to give (and receive!) feedback. During meetings, make sure to be inclusive and encourage everyone to share their thoughts and ideas.

Quick Tip 6:

Be goal-oriented. Set small monthly and quarterly goals, as well as one or five-year goals. Remind yourself of your goals often. Be sure to set both personal and team goals.

 

Established leaders can learn new tricks. Open yourself to new ways of practicing leadership and remember, there’s no need to go it alone! Enlist the help of a coach and seek support from your team members and fellow managers. Leadership is an ever-changing thing and it’s always a good idea to refresh your ideas about what it means to be an effective, capable leader.

 

Contact me for more information about one-on-one leadership coaching.

Know an emerging leader? Or someone in a new supervisory role?
Our next Build A Boss workshop series is at St. Kate’s University on May 11, 18, and 25.

build a boss leadership program

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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