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Creating Successful Leaders

It’s easy to say yes. We naturally aim to please our co-workers and supervisors; we want to look good in the eyes of the company and get that raise or earn that promotion. But saying yes can be dangerous. If you say yes to everything—every assignment, every request, every invitation—you’ll end up stretching yourself too thin and you’ll possibly end up taking on work that isn’t in your sweet spot or doing things that go against your code of ethics.

Though I’m a proponent of trying new things and being agreeable, there are times when it is in your best interest to give a firm N-O. Here are three scenarios where saying “No” is the best course of action (accompanied by three strategies to pull it off):

1. You have too much on your plate.

If you feel your workload growing out of control and can tell the quality of your work is sharply declining, it’s time to say no. How to do it? The next time your project leader tries to assign you something new, do not immediately say yes. Arrange to meet one-on-one (it is much easier to reason with someone one-on-one than in a group) and lay out your reasons for not wanting to take on the project.

Be prepared. Make a spreadsheet that clearly displays the projects you are currently tackling and how much time you spend each day on each project. Also, come into the meeting with a counter-proposal in mind. If you know of someone else who might have the capacity (and desire) to take on the project, suggest that person to your project leader (be sure to get that individual’s approval ahead of time).

Alternatively, you could suggest a future date that would work for you to start the project (i.e. “I’m busy from now until the end of the May, but I could start working on this project in June.”)

2. You are being given work that is not in your “sweet spot.”

This is a tough one, but ultimately, if you are constantly handed work that does not align with your areas of expertise, you are doing both your company and yourself a disservice. Your company won’t receive the best possible work and you’ll be straying from your career goals.

So, how to say no? Again, a one-on-one meeting with your supervisor is helpful in this situation. Explain to her what your ultimate goals are and what kind of projects you prefer. One of the best things you can do in this situation is approach it with confidence and decisiveness. Know where you’d like to be heading and explain, confidently, how you’d like to get there.

Ultimately, if your company is not supportive of your career goals (or if you find that the type of work you do consistently does not align with your sweet spot), it is time to start searching for something new, either inside or outside your current company.

3. Saying yes compromises your values.

There are times when it just does not feel good to say yes. Perhaps you agree to attend a late-night strategy session, knowing that your daughter has a piano recital that night. Or perhaps a co-worker dumps several assignments on your lap that are really her responsibility, not yours. Or maybe you’ve had to sacrifice your health or nightly down-time because of all the projects you’ve agreed to do. Whatever the case, sometimes saying yes is simply not the right decision.

How to say no? First of all, know your priorities. Does your family come first? Your health? Your mental wellbeing? When one of the things that’s important in your life becomes compromised, it’s time to say no. Keep an open line of communication with your boss and let him know when you feel like work is tipping the scales of your work-life balance.

And another thing: think before you say yes. Always take a moment to pause, assess the situation, and make a deliberate decision. If that means waiting a day or two to mull over the pros and cons, so be it. Ultimately, you need to feel good about agreeing to do something before you say “yes.”

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 that time of year—the time when illness is rampant and, at any given time, two or three of your team members are home sick. If you’re like most people, you’re exposed to dozens of different opportunities every day to pick up germs—in the conference room, at the grocery store, at your kids’ daycare or in the bleachers of their sports games, at your hair salon, in the gym…the list goes on and on!

How can you possibly avoid germs and stay healthy without having to stop and slather on the hand sanitizer? Try these 7 quick tips:

Be aware

This is probably the most basic and important tip of all. Pay attention to your surroundings. Notice where you sit and what you touch during the day. Have other people touched that door handle before you? Have other people handled the grapefruit at the grocery store? Your awareness can lead to better health hygiene.

Keep active

Though it may seem like the gym is swarming with germs (and it probably is!), staying active is a great way to give your immune system a boost and help everything from your circulation to your mood. Just don’t forget to wipe down your machine before and after you use it.

Pack your lunch

Packing your lunch for work is a great practice in general (it saves you money and helps you make conscious, healthy choices), but it’s an especially good idea during cold and flu season. You won’t expose yourself to potential germs when dining out or eating in the company cafeteria, and you can throw in some vitamin C-rich foods, like clementines or leafy greens.

Slow down

If you’re like me, this is the hardest piece of advice on the list. However, it is vital to your health to slow down every once in a while, breathe, and clear your mind. If you don’t have the patience for meditation, try practicing yoga or nightly journaling.

Drink plenty of water

I know you’ve heard this one, but it is SO important. Most people don’t drink as much water as they should, and that can affect your entire system. As the Mayo Clinic says, “Every cell, tissue and organ in your body needs water to work properly.”

Avoid caffeine and soda

On the flip side of drinking more water is avoiding certain beverages. Though you may love your coffee or sugary drinks, they can cause unhealthy highs and lows that can potentially stress your system. Try switching to herbal or green tea for a while—it’s rich in catechins, antioxidants and a range of other beneficial nutrients (according to PushDoctor.com)

Recognize when you ARE getting sick

Health expert Pilar Gerasimo recommends that we look at illness symptoms as “signals for change.” If you don’t want that sore throat to become a full-blown cold, start getting more rest, cutting back on activities, pumping yourself full of vitamins, and catching up on sleep. Your preventive measures could nip illness in the bud before it fully blooms.

A final note: Your health is vital to your happiness, productivity, and mental wellbeing. If you find yourself over-worked or stressed, take a step back, take a break, and start saying NO to certain projects (click here for strategies to effectively say no). It will be worth it in the long run.

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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One of the easiest ways to make a room full of professionals uneasy is to bring up the term “Love Leadership.” In most people’s minds, love is not a term that should be associated with work. Appreciation, sure. Respect, definitely. But, LOVE?

In reality, Love Leadership is not as scary or intense as it sounds. It’s a term that was made popular by John Hope Bryant, CEO of Operation HOPE. In Bryant’s book, Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World, he illustrates how leaders who genuinely care about others will rise head and shoulders above those who lead with fear.

Though fear-based leadership may work in the short-term (i.e. giving someone an ultimatum if they missed an important deadline), it is not a good long-term strategy. Those who consistently lead with fear will ultimately create a hostile work environment where staff will be afraid to express their views, be motivated by consequences, and shy away from open and honest communication. In short, fear-based leadership stifles and harms the workplace.

What does choosing love-based leadership look like?

Leaders who choose to lead with love take the time to get to know their team. They care about each and every person and routinely sit down and hold one-on-one conversations with them. They also care enough to get to know a little about their team member’s personal lives–their family, hobbies, pets, etc. This level of attention helps people feel comfortable enough with their leader to present any issues or challenges they might be facing, discuss new ideas, or candidly talk about progress or pitfalls.

Love-based leaders also let themselves be vulnerable. They are brave enough to acknowledge when they’ve made a mistake; they reach out when they need help. This vulnerability does not make leaders weak–it makes them human.

It should be noted, however, that there’s a difference between leading with love and being “a softie.” One of the chapters in my book, The Ten-Minute Leadership Challenge, is dedicated to “balancing the head and the heart.” Though it is important to lead with love, it is just as important to make “head-based” decisions, like letting a team member go when they are repeatedly under-performing. Just because you lead with love, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t set up clear boundaries and let your team members know when they cross those boundaries (I go into much more detail in my book–talk to me if you’d like to get a hold of a signed copy).

How will you, as a leader, dedicate yourself to leading with love? Step back, take an honest look at your leadership, and recognize how you can infuse more honestly, open communication, genuine caring, and vulnerability into your daily actions and interactions.

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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What are some of the reasons you procrastinate? Are you worried about the task ahead? Do you think you don’t have the right skills? Or, maybe, you’ve put so much pressure on yourself that you’re certain you can never live up to expectations?

Or maybe, just maybe, you have a thousand other things you’d rather be doing instead?

Whatever the case, we’re all guilty of procrastination sometimes. And that’s a bad thing, right? According to some experts, yes. Psychologist and success coach, Elizabeth Lombardo, tells us that research shows procrastination to be “associated with increased long-term physical stress, weaker performance, greater likelihood of illness and insomnia, less happiness, and diminished wealth.” None of those things sound great, but is that really the full story? Are there ever instances when procrastination can actually be a good thing?

“Yes,” says Adam Grant, author of Originals. “Procrastination is a normal part of the creative process.”

According to Grant, many of “the greats” were also great procrastinators. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Ernest Hemingway, Leonardo da Vinci, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Martin Luther King Jr. were all master procrastinators. Evidently, Martin Luther King Jr. “didn’t start writing his ‘I have a dream’ speech until the night before–and he was still jotting notes and crossing out lines right before he walked onstage.”

But, just because some of the great artists, inventors, and activists were procrastinators doesn’t mean procrastination is itself a good thing, right?

Well, not necessarily. Procrastination can actually allow your mind to explore avenues it might not have explored if you had doggedly stuck to your deadline and stayed on task. It’s been shown that moderate procrastinators are more creative than those who complete tasks ahead of time OR those who put things off until the 11th hour.

So, the lesson here is that some procrastination can actually be a good thing, but too much can lead to poor results (or NO results!).

Though it’s not usually a good idea to “play chicken” with a deadline, don’t be too hard on yourself if you do. As Adam Grant says, “Sure, procrastination can be the enemy of progress. But beating yourself up about it only makes it worse. If you’re stressed that you’re stressed, you suffer more.”

Next time you’re bumping up against a deadline, take a deep breath, focus, and let your creative side run wild! Though you shouldn’t necessarily make it a habit, procrastination isn’t the end of the world.

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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questions to build trust in leadership

It may seem surprising, but asking questions can actually make you a more trustworthy leader. Questions do not diminish your authority or make you appear weak. Rather, by asking the right questions, you can gain valuable insight, open the floor for more meaningful conversations, and demonstrate that you respect your team.

Which questions are the “right questions?” The simple answer is: open-ended questions that stimulate conversation and don’t presuppose an answer. A question such as “Don’t you think Client X would benefit from our new product?” is not open-ended and not productive. It is only searching for agreement, not a true dialogue.

Instead, try asking questions that begin with words like How, What, or Why. These question words typically allow for a wide range of answers, not just a yes or no response.

The other half of asking good questions is practicing active listening. Leaders build trust by seeking their team’s thoughts, opinions, and ideas, and listening closely to the answers they give. This show of respect is integral to building trust

Next time you’re in a meeting (either with your entire team or a single individual) try asking some trust-building questions. Here are 10 to get you started—choose ones that are applicable to your team and situation.

  1. What resources do you need to complete your task?
  2. What is holding you/us back from success?
  3. How can I help?
  4. What are some possible solutions you envision?
  5. Who/what are we lacking to achieve success?
  6. What can I do to help foster more creativity?
  7. Why do you think                            is happening?
  8. What are your current frustrations?
  9. What is our biggest risk in this endeavor? What is the Plan B?
  10. Is this assignment a good fit for your talents? (Why or why not?)
  11. How does this add value to our mission?
  12. What effects will this decision have?
  13. How can we improve                     ?
  14. What opportunities can bolster our business?
  15. What else would you like me to know?

This is just a sampling of the questions you can ask your team. Get curious. Involve them in decision-making. Ask good questions and build trust.

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 you hear the word “networking,” what comes to mind? Do you see yourself with sweaty palms and anxiety pressing on your chest? Do you picture people wearing phony smiles and handing out business cards like free samples at the grocery store? Do you think about making awkward small talk over a soup and salad lunch?

Networking doesn’t have to be this way! In fact, it shouldn’t be this way. When done properly, networking is all about helping one another and making valuable connections. It isn’t about forcing business cards onto those who aren’t interested in your services. It isn’t about trying to frantically gather as many new connections as possible. It’s about quality interactions that are mutually beneficial.

To overcome your mental barriers, actually enjoy (gasp!) networking, and start making valuable connections, try using the following guidelines at your next event. Who knows, the next person you meet could propel your career, offer important guidance or support, or connect you with yet another person who can help you meet your career goals.

1. Reframe Your Thinking

Give networking a new name! Instead of thinking of it as “networking,” think of it as bridge-building, growing your community, or meeting interesting new people. By reframing the way you think about networking, you can overcome some of the mental obstacles associated with it.

2. Always Aim To Provide Value

Don’t try to sell your services to someone who clearly does not need them. Your goal should be to provide value to other people, to figure out how you might be able to help them. Ask questions to unearth needs and discover whether or not your skillset or offerings align with their requirements.

3. Create A Tagline

Businesses have their own slogans and taglines—McDonalds has “I’m Lovin’ It,” Nike has “Just Do It,” Maybelline has “Maybe she’s born with it; maybe it’s Maybelline.” These are phrases that stick in your head because they’re punchy and give you some sense of the brand’s image and values. Create your own career tagline to describe what you do. It should be straightforward, but memorable. Some examples are:

“I write business content, so you don’t have to”

“I build beautiful websites with personality”

“I make social media marketing easy”

4. Ask Good Questions

A great way to open the floor for a positive interaction is to ask questions. Be genuinely curious about the other person and learn about what they do, their interests, and how you might be able to help them. Ask open-ended questions (typically, questions that start with “How,” “What,” or “Why”) and actively listen to the answers.

Asking questions can help you learn about the other person’s personality and their business needs. It allows you to play off their social cues and lets them drive the conversation. In other words, it’s the perfect tactic for anyone who suffers from networking anxiety!

Showing an interest in others is not only good for building your personal image (others will see you as generous and curious), it’s also a great way to do some detective work. Just don’t forget to tell the other person a little bit about yourself as well!

5. Follow Up

You’ve put in all the legwork to connect with others—don’t let it go to waste! Make a concerted effort to follow up at least a couple times, add your new connection to your email list, and befriend them on LinkedIn. In other words, make yourself present in their sphere. Even if they do not need your services at the moment, they may need them eventually.

Get out there and make this year your best bridge-building year yet! Keep in mind that you’re probably not the only one with networking jitters. Do your best to relax and ask good questions, and you’ll put both yourself and others at ease. You’ve got this!

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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Image via Pixabay.com

Do you feel driven by a larger mission or purpose, but you’re distracted by day-to-day responsibilities? Does it feel like you’re only inching ahead when you should be sprinting? Are you wondering how on earth to make a positive impact when you’re so darn busy?

You’re not alone.

Many people want to make a difference in the world, but have trouble finding their footing. They might feel like they’re too busy, distracted by other responsibilities, overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, or unsure of where to begin. How can you become a change agent when so much is holding you back?

Take heart, it is possible for even the busiest person to make waves. Start with these seven steps:

1. Start thinking conceptually

Conceptual thinkers are able to take a step back from their daily work and explore the bigger picture. They think about widespread, systemic change. They reflect on what kind of action is needed to make an impact at all levels. For example, if a conceptual thinker’s goal is to cut pollution, they might consider local action first—promoting carpooling or biking, participating in local advocacy groups, etc. Then, they might consider statewide action—pollution-cutting legislation, campaigns to build more bike lanes. Lastly, they might consider systemic, nationwide action such as advocating for federal laws that require stricter efficiency in cars.

To become a conceptual thinker, start researching the cause you are passionate about and find out how the local, statewide, and national pieces connect. Figure out who the major players are and what is already being done to help. Then, reflect on potential actions you could take to participate in the “good fight.”

2. Set incremental goals

Goal-setting works. If you’re determined to make a difference, try setting several concrete goals and working backwards—what steps do you need to take to get there? By breaking down your goals into bite-sized pieces, they will be more manageable and you’ll be able to celebrate small victories along the way (for more on goal-setting, see my past blog post).

3. Find like-minded dreamers

There’s no need to be alone in your advocacy. Seek others who are as interested in your cause as you are and become a part of their community. You might find these like-minded folks online, through meet-up groups (such as Meetup.com), in local clubs, through work groups, or even among your friends.

Once you find your community, lean on them for support and inspiration. They are the ones who can help you when you’re feeling stuck or unsure of your next steps.

You can also use members of your community to be accountability partners. Challenge them to hold you accountable for sticking to your advocacy goals through regular check-ins. Don’t forget to return the favor!

4. Anticipate resistance…and create a plan to overcome it

Daily life and unexpected troubles are sure to get in the way of becoming a change agent. You might get bogged down by a large project, a family illness, or unexpected financial troubles. Don’t fret! These things happen. If something suddenly gets in the way of achieving your advocacy goals, wait until the trouble has passed, revisit your goals, and rethink them. Reset your deadlines and develop a new plan for making a difference. Everyone has to deal with setbacks from time to time—just don’t let a setback become a defeat.

5. Don’t do everything yourself

The greatest change agents recognize that they do not have to go it alone. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with a project—say, you’re running a blood drive and more people signed up than you originally anticipated—reach out to others and ask for help. Don’t think of asking for help as a sign of weakness; great leaders are also great delegators.

6. Build your resilience

You’re going to feel worn down by work, life events, and all the good work you’re doing to become a champion of change. That’s normal. When you’re feeling exhausted, take a conscious break, unplug from your duties, and give your overworked brain time to cool down. You can build your resilience by stepping away for a while and then facing your challenges once you feel rejuvenated. Part of resilience also involves recognizing that things are not always going to go perfectly, but you can and you will overcome the bumps in the road. Think of each setback as an opportunity to try again, not as a failure.

Are you excited to go out there and make a positive difference? I’m excited for you! Though you are but one person, there’s so much you can do. Start small, develop your plan, build your support group, and start making an impact. The world needs your contribution.

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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