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Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Thrive at Work

Your vacation from work checklist

In past blog posts, I’ve written about the benefits of taking time away from the daily grind to rest and rejuvenate. It really is beneficial to your mental, physical, and emotional health to take a vacation and get away from the office for a little while. Taking this R&R time helps you from getting worn down, burned out, and even gives your health a boost.

But, what if you have trouble truly getting away? What if you’re physically in another place, but your mind is still in the office, worrying about clients or invoices? That kind of defeats the purpose of getting away. When you’re constantly worrying about how things are going back at work, you’re not allowing yourself to rest and revitalize.

To prevent obsessing about work while you’re away, it’s a good idea to properly prepare for your vacation. Spend a little time now to enjoy your vacation later.

Use my handy Vacation Checklist as a guide:

-Set an automatic vacation response for all incoming emails. If you’d really like peace of mind, keep the response active for one day after you return from vacation to give yourself a little catch up time.

-Delegate tasks to co-workers or staff. You probably have some weekly or monthly responsibilities that will slip through the cracks unless someone else does them. Ask a co-worker or two if they could take care of those tasks, and assure them you’ll return the favor if and when they go on vacation. BONUS TIP: Schedule the assigned tasks on a calendar, share them with your co-worker, and set a notification for when the task should be completed.

-Anticipate potential fires. If you have a particularly troublesome client or a tricky weekly report that you always write, anticipate any hangups and do a little planning. Tell your troublesome client you’ll be out of town, and give them the phone number of a co-worker (with their permission, of course) who can help them. Train someone on how to write that tricky report. These actions will help you prepare for this vacation and others down the road.

-Check your tech. If you must check emails (though I hope you can take a little break!) while you’re away, make sure you’re able to remotely access your inbox without issue. Once you’ve confirmed that everything is functioning properly, commit to only checking email ONCE PER DAY. Get up, spend a few minutes addressing any pressing emails, and move on with your day.

-Give yourself permission to rest. Many of us feel guilty when we’re given a sustained amount of time to relax and do absolutely nothing for a change. If running around like a mad person is your norm, putting on the brakes and doing nothing can make you uncomfortable. Before going on vacation, come to terms with this. Tell yourself that this is “you time.” You’re investing in yourself, and you are worth it. You can also look at it from a work perspective: By spending this time away from the office, you are equipping yourself to be mentally sharper, emotionally rejuvenated, and physically healthier. You’re investing in your personal wellbeing.

I hope you have a chance to get away sometime soon, and when you do, I hope you’ll allow yourself to be truly present. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Take morning strolls. Notice and enjoy your surroundings. Just breathe.

Margaret Smith is a career coach, author, Insights® Discovery (and Deeper Discovery) Licensed Practitioner, and founder of UXL. She hosts WORKSHOPS for people who need career or personal guidance.
NOW LIVE: Check out Margaret’s NEW online Leadership Course.


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Pink lotus flower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Two women meeting over notebooks

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

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

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

1. Ask for a Raise

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

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

2. Identify Weak Points

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

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

3. Create Change

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

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

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

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working with a mentor

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

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

1. Identify your process and values

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

2. Look across disciplines

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

3. Establish rapport

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

4. Develop yourself and network

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

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

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“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

It seems like everywhere I turn, people are trying to promote happiness.

“Buy this, and it will change your life!”

“Lose weight and feel good about yourself!”

“Enjoy a movie/shopping spree/vacation!”

While I’m certainly not against promoting happiness, I believe we have to think a little more long-term. “Happiness products” and mindsets only give us a temporary jolt of joy. We feel good after we’ve taken a nice, rejuvenating vacation. We may feel happy when we purchase a new piece of jewelry or pair of shoes. And that authentic Italian dinner? Oh yeah, you’d better believe that gives a shot of happiness!

Again, these things are not bad, but it’s a good idea to put them in context of the “bigger picture.” What life purpose do you want to serve? What do you want your everyday legacy to be? (For the difference between “Capital L Legacy” and “lowercase l legacy,” please see my blog post on the subject).

To start thinking big picture, start shifting your focus from happiness to usefulness.

When you’re useful, you create things. You help. You generate ideas. You work toward a larger goal.

When you’re useful, you not only feel productive, you are productive.

Instead of asking yourself, “How can I be happier?” start asking, “How can I be useful?” In my experience, happiness follows. When you’re productive, assisting others, helping your company grow, or creating things, you’ll inevitably feel the satisfaction that goes with accomplishment.

Your legacy is built on usefulness, not your personal happiness. Of course I want you to be happy, but sustainably happy. Instead of scratching every happiness itch, practice making a few intentional sacrifices for the sake of being useful. This is how you will leave a lasting impression on those around you.

So, get motivated! Make yourself useful! It’s fine to start small:

  • Volunteer for a project
  • Help a co-worker who is floundering
  • Grab coffee or lunch for someone who is short on time
  • Clean your workspace
  • Send a thank you card
  • Set intentional goals and work toward them
  • Be bold—speak up at meetings and share your ideas

Being useful feels good. Productivity begets productivity. Before you know it, usefulness will become a core part of who you are—part of your legacy.

What else can you do to make yourself useful this week? I’d love to hear from you!

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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It’s okay to be an odd duck!

Have you heard the phrase, “variety is the spice of life”? That’s true, of course, but it’s also the fuel of the workplace. It’s what drives innovation and creativity. Can you imagine what would happen if we all went quietly along with the status quo and no one ever dared to shake things up a bit? We would have never had the iPhone or the Tesla or the Mars Rover.

In my own life, I’ve dared to take some professional risks that ended up becoming much more successful than I had ever dreamed. For example, several years ago, I decided to advocate for the creation a new branch of my former company. Though I had been nervous to bring forth my idea, and even more nervous to execute it once the idea was approved, I forged ahead. Today, that branch of the company is worth several million, and is a thriving component of the company.

When you dare to contradict the status quo, propose a new idea, or create a bold new innovation, you are engaging the “big picture” side of your brain. Too often, we press ahead with our work, heads down, unable to see the forest for the trees. It pays to look up. Every once in a while, make a concerted effort to step back and question the current way of doing things.

Ask yourself the following big-picture questions and spend time contemplating the answers:

  • Do your goals or end points make sense?
  • Are you (or your company) serving the purpose you’re suppose to serve?
  • Are you working as efficiently or effectively as possible?
  • What changes would benefit the company as a whole?
  • What fresh ideas could be incorporated into your work or others’ work?
  • Have you considered the customer’s perspective and needs?

If you’ve identified areas that could be changed or improved, be BOLD and act! Dare to think differently. Dare to present your ideas to your superiors or co-workers. Your initiative could make an enormous impact.

When you’re preparing to make a bold new change, tap into your reserves of courage. Follow the 5 Ps of Courage (as outlined in my video), and build confidence in yourself and your idea. You can do this! Innovation is built by daring individuals with big ideas.

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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foster team's creativity

Creativity is a key resource in any successful team’s problem-solving toolbox. New projects bring together many different kinds of people, with a diverse array of perspectives and strengths. Creating an environment that fosters not only your own creativity but that of your team as a unit can be tricky and unintuitive at times. Small groups thrive when everyone is comfortable and participates. Here are some tips to facilitate that dynamic and get your team’s creative juices flowing.:

Brainstorming Sessions

Brainstorming sessions are a tried and true way of teasing out new ideas. Have your team gather in a comfortable, neutral space. If the office conference room doesn’t inspire, a change of venue like a neighborhood coffee shop can put people in a new headspace. Break problems down to their smallest components and encourage your team to share ideas as they come – even if it’s just popped into their head. An off-hand thought may transform into a fresh innovation.

Autonomy

Responsibility and control kindle confidence, and allow team members to put themselves more fully into a task or project. Break projects into portions that can be overseen by individual team members. If you have a gauge of your team’s individual strengths and talents, try pairing them with a role that will feed off the team members’ personal strengths. A developing designer should be given the opportunity to apply their knowledge to spatial or engagement issues. An engineer who loves puzzles can be asked to incorporate that strategic thinking with the task at hand.

Connection

A team that gets along can address problems more effectively. Find an activity or outing outside the confines of your assignment that will engage folks and keep them at ease while building up your relationship. This will change depending on the group and their interests. Maybe rec sports are the answer, or trivia night at a local pub. Whatever the outing, make sure it is something everybody would like to do. Take suggestions!

Get Inspired

Are there similar cases and problems that groups in your industry have faced? Creativity is often inspired by work that’s come before. Send your team digging for solutions and situations others have faced that are similar. Discerning others’ methods can provide a helpful opportunity to compare and contrast real-world solutions to your own project’s context and particular needs. Like Brainstorming, a gathered set of tangible ideas allows focus and connections to be drawn instead of working from scratch.

Creativity is an extension of ourselves. By giving your team the space and footing they need to put themselves into a project, and you’ll grow together and see colorful returns. Go forth and expand your palette.

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