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Creating Successful Leaders

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Many of us have opportunities to meet new people regularly. Whether at a conference, seminar, or simply a gym class, we may be brushing shoulders with others who could prove to be value networking connections. But oftentimes we’re either A) too timid to strike up a meaningful conversation or B) bad about following up or keeping in touch once we do make a new acquaintance.

Let’s change that pattern! It’s time to turn potential alliances into solid connections. Start by following these five steps:

1. Speak Up

So many of us miss opportunities to connect with others because we’re nervous to strike up a conversation with someone new. At a conference or workshop, it’s so much easier to stick with the group of people you already know and not venture outside your comfort zone. It’s also easier to stick your nose in your phone or laptop during breaks, and not bother to seek out new acquaintances.

I challenge you to dip a toe out of your comfort zone and start talking to strangers! It may be intimidating at first, but honestly, what’s the worst that could happen? The other person may not be receptive to your efforts…so, you move on.

2. Ask Good Questions

If you’re attending a business event, you might consider coming up with a few questions ahead of time to ask would-be connections. Go over the day’s agenda, and think of relevant questions you could ask.

Another way to engage new acquaintances is to be genuinely curious about them. Go beyond “What do you do?” Dig deeper and ask questions about their client base or how they became interested in their work in the first place. Or, connect on a more personal level and ask about their background and interests (without being too nosy, of course!). If you’re going to go this route, you probably want to offer something of yourself first. For example, “I’m thrilled about all the book recommendations we’ve been getting at the conference. Do you like to read too?”

Asking questions creates bridges between people. Just make sure you’re mostly asking open-ended questions (not ones that can be answered with yes or no), and you truly listen to the reply. You don’t want to completely miss what someone says because you’re thinking up a response.

Asking questions creates bridges between people.

3. Demonstrate Your Value

When you’re connecting with a professional acquaintance, it’s a good idea to think about how you can help them, instead of focusing on what you can gain. Make it clear that this relationship is a two-way street, and you have valuable skills and services to offer.

4. Connect Within Three Days

Be sure to follow up with new acquaintances within three days, while your interaction is still fresh in everyone’s minds. Send a short email and/or connection request on LinkedIn. You might also give a brief reminder about how you met, saying something like, “It was great talking about data collection methods at the ABC Conference on Thursday. I’d love to continue the conversation sometime…”

5. Create a Follow-Up Schedule

Designate time to follow up with new acquaintances. Set your dates and plug in a calendar reminder to make sure you follow through. Don’t be too pushy, especially if you don’t get a response from your acquaintance, but do make an effort to reach out. Consider framing your message like this:

Hi Rachel,

You crossed my mind the other day because [FILL IN A REASON]. I wanted to reach out and see how you’re doing with your XYZ business. Have you had any more issues with [FILL IN DETAILS]? If you’d like to grab a cup of coffee sometime soon, please let me know. I have some free time at the end of next week.

Take care,
Margaret

You worked hard to make your new acquaintances; don’t let them fall between the cracks! Your connections could prove to be fruitful, both for you and the people you meet.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

I know how it goes. You attend a professional conference (either by choice or because your company sent you), you learn a few things, you become motivated to make changes…and then you leave and neglect to follow up on any of it.

What good are these events if you never implement anything you learn?

It’s time to change the way we approach conferences. Start with the following four steps:

1. Do Your Homework

Before the conference begins, be sure to look up the schedule and note anything that appeals to you—relevant break-out workshops, lectures on interesting topics, events that might build your network. Going in with a plan helps you be more efficient with your time and prevents you from being roped into a lecture or workshop that might not actually suit your interests.

2. Ask Questions

Once you determine which sessions you’re going to attend, jot down questions you could ask the speaker/presenter. Keeping these questions in mind helps to deepen your relationship with the subject matter and keeps you engaged (if your questions are answered, great! If not, find time to ask them, if possible).

To dive deeper into a topic, ask follow-up questions to fellow attendees as well. Asking open-ended questions such as, “What did you think about [SUBJECT]?” or “What were your take-aways from the presentation?” will stimulate conversation and help keep the topic top-of-mind.

3. Find an Accountability Partner

There’s nothing like a little accountability to help you follow-through on committing to change. If you’re attending the conference with people you know, ask a trusted colleague (or colleagues—the more the better!) if they will agree to be your accountability partner. Say something to the effect of: “I’m really hoping to implement some of the things I learn this coming weekend. Are you hoping for the same? Would you want to do brief check-ins after the conference to make sure we’re both on track?”

Then, follow up! Schedule weekly or bi-weekly check-ins on your calendar (a simple chat over a cup of coffee will probably suffice).

If you’re feeling self-conscious about asking someone to be your accountability partner, try holding yourself accountable by scheduling—and committing to—self-check-ins. Set aside fifteen minutes every week, retrieve your conference notes, and see where you’re excelling and what areas need improvement.

4. Take Notes

Speaking of notes…take them! Jotting down your take-aways (and going over them shortly after the conference) will help you retain the information for longer.

Remember: Many speakers who present at conferences have valuable advice to share. You just have to be willing to listen, absorb it, and act.

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Light bulb with thought bubble around it
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“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

Albert Einstein

If you’re like me, you enjoy brainstorming sessions. I’m energized by the creative process—tossing ideas onto a white board and seeing which ones stick. This is typical “yellow energy” behavior (see my post on the four Insights Discovery color energies to learn more). People like me enjoy spontaneous problem-solving, talking through difficulties, and offering off-the-cuff solutions. We also tend to adopt whichever solution seems like the best option, without overthinking it or plunging too deeply into the analytics.

People on the other end of the spectrum (those who tend to lead with more blue energy) are not terribly fond of this method. They like a more analytical approach…and if a solution is offered, they will examine it closely to determine whether or not it might be a viable option.

Neither method is wrong, but both are lacking something in their approach. Some experts argue that focusing too much on solutions is the wrong way to go about problem-solving in the first place. They claim that you (or your team) will ultimately arrive at a better solution if you live in the problem for a while.

The thinking behind this claim goes like this: You can’t really come up with a good solution until you understand the problem inside and out. So, instead either of tossing ideas up on a whiteboard OR getting analytical with potential solutions, this method calls for all parties to take a step back and examine the problem in front of them.

Author and Stanford professor, Tina Selig, calls this approach “frame storming.” She believes that if you want to unlock innovative solutions, you have to “fall in love with the problem.” By spending more time considering the problem, you are more likely to take into account all the factors that are at play. Who is affected? How? Does this particular problem create other problems? Would one type of solution only partially solve the problem or, perhaps, solve it for a short period of time?

Considering the problem might be a way to bring people like me (yellow energy!) together with more analytical types. This approach forces everyone to slow down and consider the dilemma in front of them, before moving to take action.

So, next time you and your team are faced with a sticky problem that requires an answer, try “frame storming.” Agree to spend more time immersed in the issue at hand before even considering moving to a solution.

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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Microphone with text: 4 Vocal Tricks to Be Heard
Image by 19dulce91 from Pixabay

Have you ever noticed some people have the type of voice that commands attention? When they start speaking, the room listen. People pay attention.

Even if you do not naturally have a “sit up and take notice” voice, there are still steps you can take to improve your vocal tendencies and help yourself be heard. After all, what you’re saying isn’t necessarily as important as how you say it. A study by a UCLA professor found that a full 38% of our impression of someone is formed by their vocal quality, while only 7% of our impression is formed by their message (the remaining percent has to do with body language and facial expressions).

In short, vocal tone and inflection is important. Here are 5 ways to improve yours:

1. Know Yourself

Pay attention to how you talk and how your voice might be perceived. To do this, it’s helpful to record yourself speaking (as uncomfortable as that may be!), play it back, and pay attention. Is your voice low or high? Fast or slow? How do you emphasize words? Do you include a lot of filler language such as “like” or “um?”

Knowing how you speak gives you a baseline for how to improve.

2. Lower Your Voice

According to an article by Susan Berkley in BottomLine magazine, a study revealed that a lower voice (for both men and women) makes that person seem “more competent and trustworthy than those with a raised pitch.” She goes on to say that you can work on talking at a lower pitch by placing your hand on your sternum (for women) or beneath your sternum (for men) and strive to create a vibration.

NOTE: You never want to seem inauthentic when you’re speaking, so don’t try to go too deep. Just lower your voice so it’s still within your natural range.

3. Pay Attention To Pacing

There’s a balance between talking too quickly and talking slowly. If you tend gab at a mile-a-minute, it may be difficult for people to keep up, and you’ll eventually lose them. On the other hand, if you speak too slowly, you may leave room for people to interrupt or talk over you.

Practice speaking at a comfortable pace (again, record yourself OR, if you’d really try to nail your pacing, try joining Toastmasters). Be sure to ask questions as you go, so you can gauge how engaged your audience is.

4. Practice What You Will Say

If you’d really like to be heard, it’s worth it to practice what you’re going to say before actually saying it. This way, you’ll go into the conversation with more confidence and sound more sure of yourself. When you practice, make sure to focus on eliminating filler words such as like, uh, um, or ah. Also pay attention to your pitch and pacing.

You deserve to be heard. Try putting one or two of these tips into practice and let me know how it goes! Also, if you have other tips to share, I’d love to hear them.

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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Purple Lotus flower
Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay

Have you ever worked in an office that’s brimming with hostility and disgruntled staff? Have you ever felt like just a number–like you’re practically invisible to everyone else? Or, on the other side of the coin, have you ever dealt with a pushy, aggressive boss or co-workers?

Sure, all of these situations are bad for morale. They make you uninspired and unexcited to go to work every morning. BUT, the consequences of an unfriendly workplace are even more widespread than that. This type of environment can decrease productivity, increase turnover, and actually affect the company’s bottom line. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that, “ostracism, incivility, harassment, and bullying have direct negative significant effects on job productivity” and lead to higher job burnout.

In short, hostility in the workplace affects the both entire organization and the individual.

But, what do you do? You’re just one person, right? While it’s difficult to change an entire workplace dynamic, there are a few steps you can take to try to make improvements. Make kindness part of your leadership brand—truly live by the golden rule and treat others how you’d like to be treated (or, even better, treat others as they want to be treated).

To get started, try implementing these five practices:

1. Greet others

It may seem like a small thing, but the simple act of greeting someone you pass in the hallway can make a significant impact. According to author and Georgetown professor, Christine Porath, it’s a good idea to use the “10-5 rule.” When someone is within 10 feet, acknowledge them, make eye contact, and smile. When they’re within 5 feet, say hello. In one study, healthcare facilities that implemented this practice saw a marked increase in civility and patient satisfaction.

2. Hold inclusive meetings

There is, perhaps, no easier way to shut down voices than to hold non-inclusive meetings. Ideally, meetings are a chance for everyone to ask questions, propose ideas, or voice concerns. If only one or two voices are heard during most meetings, that quickly sends the message that the rest of the team is not valued.

Be a meeting leader. Bring others into the conversation by saying things like, “This topic would directly affect Kelly’s department. Kelly—do you have any thoughts about this?”

3. Don’t gossip

The office gossip machine can be cripplingly toxic. Just don’t do it. For more about shutting down gossip, take a look at my past post.

4. Acknowledge achievements

You don’t necessarily have to give out plaques or achievement pins, but it is a good idea to acknowledge people’s accomplishments in some way. Whether a shout-out at a meeting or a handwritten thank you card, make an effort to let others know they are valued members of the team.

5. Listen

You may not have the solution to cure workplace woes, but others might. Especially if you are in a leadership position, it’s a good idea to meet with people one-on-one and LISTEN to their ideas on how to improve the workplace. After all, your perspective is not the only perspective. You might be missing a key piece of the worker satisfaction puzzle.

Start making kindness a central part of your leadership brand. If you’re working within a less-than-friendly environment, start becoming the change you’d like to see take place. Acknowledge others, be inclusive, don’t give in to gossip, and (above all), practice active listening. Your actions could make a world of difference.

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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Two people in a cafe with tables

It’s necessary to take occasional breaks during the day. In fact, we need them if we’re going to maintain a high level of productivity and accuracy. In past posts, I’ve discussed Tony Schwartz’s Energy Project, which maintains that people work best when they take a break every 90 minutes. That’s a good rule of thumb, but it’s not just about the quantity of breaks, it’s about the quality. Some breaks, as it turns out, are more replenishing than others.

If you sit at your desk, flipping through social media updates, your break is not going to deliver the kind of replenishing results you’d get with an intentional, unplugged break away from your desk.

Daniel Pink explores replenishing breaks in his weekly “Pinkcast.” According to Pink, science shows that the quality of your break matters.

He says there are five basic rules for taking intentional breaks:

  1. Something beats nothing (1 or 2 minutes is better than no break at all)
  2. Movement beats stationary (get out and get moving!)
  3. Social beats solo (this is true for introverts too—find a friend a start up a conversation)
  4. Outside beats inside (catch some fresh air, if you can)
  5. Fully detached beats semi-detached (Don’t talk about work. Don’t bring your phone)

If you tend to gloss over break time, it may be time to re-examine your approach. Leave your phone in your desk, get up and visit co-workers, and take frequent walks outside. These kinds of breaks will help give you the kind of replenishment and rejuvenation you need during a long day.

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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person jumping at sunset

Happy New Year! Now is the time when many people reflect on the past year, examine their life paths, and resolve to make meaningful change. Though you may start the year with the best of intentions (earning a promotion, losing weight, learning a new language), it’s easy to quickly lose steam after a month or two have passed by.

You might slip up once, then twice, then you toss the whole resolution out the window and tell yourself you’ll do better next year. But that doesn’t have to be the drill. It IS possible to commit to the resolutions you’ve made and actually make positive changes in your life.

Try these three steps:

1. Try 90 Days Instead

While this may seem like cheating, it is actually a good idea to commit to a goal for 90 days rather than an entire year. According to David Horsager, author of the Trust Edge, the attention-span and commitment of most people doesn’t usually stretch beyond three months.

However, he argues that most people can make huge strides in just 90 days. If you map out a plan for that stretch of time (outlining not just what you’re going to do, but how you’re going to do it), you can do everything from losing 20 pounds to writing a novel.

2. Lean On an Accountability Partner

Whether a trusted friend/co-worker or a professional coach, it’s a great idea to use an accountability partner. This is a person who knows about the commitment you’ve made, and agrees to hold your feet to the fire. Ideally, you and your accountability partner will have regular check-ins, so they can keep tabs on your progress and you have an added incentive to get things done.

3. Break Down Your Goals

When I’m coaching individuals or teams, I often advise them to take their goal and break it down into “bite-sized pieces.” When you only look at the end state you’re trying to achieve (write a book, get a raise, eat healthier, etc.), it can seem daunting or downright impossible.

Instead, set incremental goals that lead you to the BIG goal you’re trying to achieve. Whenever you hit one of your incremental goals, don’t forget to celebrate! This will give you a little extra incentive to keep at it.

It’s the New Year, and you want to start it out right. No matter what big-picture change you’re trying to make this year, you CAN get it done. Follow these steps, don’t be too hard on yourself if you have an off day, and don’t forget to celebrate your achievements. Happy 2020!

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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