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State Fair Food Life Lessons

To wrap up my series of Minnesota State Fair blog posts, I have to talk about fair food. MN State Fair food is a huge part of the attraction. I even know people who attend the fair solely for the food! There are crowd-pleasing favorites, such as turkey legs, buckets of chocolate chip cookies, and sno cones…but there are also inventive and daring concoctions that make you wonder, “Who would actually eat that?” This category includes everything from “hotdish on a stick” to deep fried spaghetti to BBQ alligator.

To say the least, state fair food is always a surprise. It may delight or disgust the senses, but no matter what you think of it, there are a few life lessons we can take away from fair food.

Here are my top six:

1. It doesn’t take itself too seriously

Italian meatloaf on a stick? Bacon donut sliders? Spam sushi?! This is food you won’t see at a Michelin star restaurant, but that’s kind of the point. State fair food doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s fun, creative, and over-the-top. We could all learn to laugh a little more at ourselves and not worry about obtaining perfection (perfection is subjective term, after all!).

2. It’s daring

When was the last time you took a risk in your workplace or personal life? You’ll never know if your gamble will pay off unless you do it. Vocalize your ideas; try new things; make bold decisions. State fair food isn’t shy and it’s time we emulated its audacity.

3. It’s adaptable

The state fair is proof that almost anything can be adapted to be on a stick. There’s macaroni and cheese on a stick, deep fried candy bars on a stick, and pizza on a stick. It’s portable, and fits the state fair palate. In the same way, we can all try to be a little more adaptable. It’s all about making the best of a situation, going with the flow, and creating new solutions.

4. It’s has range

From corn on the cob and whole fruits to deep fried mozzarella, state fair food runs the gambit between healthy and heart attack! Similarly, each person has the capacity to develop a range of skills and talents (including emotional range). If we challenge ourselves and dare to do things outside our comfort zones, we will grow our abilities and become more well-rounded.

5. It’s creative

It’s hard to deny the creativity of state fair food. Sometimes new ideas work, and sometimes they’re an utter flop. You never know unless you try. Workplaces that encourage creativity don’t always get things right, but at least they’re thinking outside the box and seeking inventive solutions. Remember that creativity isn’t always about arts and innovation—it could be as simple as coming up with a creative new way of gathering customer surveys or plotting out financial data.

6. It’s abundant

Everywhere you turn in the MN state fair, you’ll find food. There’s no shortage of sweet and savory treats. In our own lives, it’s great to live large and be bold. Life is too short to constantly hold back. Express your emotions, vocalize your ideas, and engage others in conversation (even if you have something difficult to discuss). If you’re facing difficulties and you don’t articulate how you’re feeling, chances are things will remain the same.

 

State fair food can teach us an extraordinary number of life lessons. What can you learn from your favorite state fair food? Feel free to comment below!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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State Fair Animals and Work Team

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

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

The workhorses

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

The loyal ones

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

The social ones

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

The thinkers

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

The ones that make a squawk

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

The givers

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

 

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

 

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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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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Energy Management

Time management is not solving anything.

Why? Because we can set aside time to work on specific projects, but if our hearts are not in it, we’ll end up drifting off or doing something completely unrelated (checking Facebook, browsing through new recipes, catching up on the latest news…).

Instead of managing blocks of time, it’s better to manage energy.

It’s more advantageous to work in short, productive bursts than in long blocks of time in which your attention wanders. When you set aside everything else (including your smart phone!) and focus on a single task, you’ll find that you’ll work better and faster than you would if you simply reserved a block of time and let your attention be captured by new emails, other projects, and social media.

The reason it’s better to work in shorter allotments of time is because human beings are not meant to slog through an entire work day without breaks. As Tony Swartz, founder of the Energy Project, says, “human beings are meant to pulse.” We work in cycles. Our concerted attention can only last for so long (typically 90 minutes, according to Schwartz).

There reaches a certain point where no amount of schedule-shuffling will enable us to stay on top of things. We may do our best to manage time, but if our energy isn’t also managed we can suffer from burnouts, stress, and unhappiness (which can bleed into our personal lives).

The lesson is: Don’t focus on your time management–just assume you’ll be busy. Instead, take care of your energy levels throughout the day.

Schwartz outlines some tips for tending to your energy levels during the day in a book he co-wrote with Catherine McCarthy called Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time.

The authors point out that your time is finite, but your energy levels can be replenished if you attend to them closely. They offer a few ways for you to do this throughout the day:

  • Take a break every 90-120 minutes. Physically get up from your desk and enjoy a brief change of scenery.
  • Eat light meals and snacks throughout the day, every couple hours.
  • Dedicate time every day to focus on what you’re best at and what gives you a sense of fulfillment.

They also suggest that leaders pay attention to their employee’s energy needs:

“To effectively reengergize their workforces, organizations need to shift their emphasis from getting more out of people to investing more in them…”

  • Keep a room devoted to taking breaks and relaxing
  • Subsidize gym memberships
  • Encourage staff to move around every so often

And I’ll add a suggestion of my own for leaders:

  • Energy is directly related to feedback. Positive feedback energizes folks and helps them keep the momentum going. Negative feedback, if delivered well, can also motivate people to make improvements. The point is, I find that giving specific, frequent feedback is one of the best ways to help people manage their own energy levels

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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Learning agility and using fear as a catalyst

When learning something new, we instinctively keep it close and secret until we feel confident that we’ve got it down pat. Usually this is because we feel embarrassed by our clumsiness with new skills. However, we can’t learn until we apply our skills, which means a bit of screwing up. You’ll find that even though screwing up might be hard on your ego, it’ll increase the rate at which you learn and respond in unique situations.

This is because of a special nerve in our bodies, called the vagus nerve. As Christopher Bergland explains in this article on Psychology Today, “When people say ‘trust your gut’ they are in many ways saying, ‘trust your vagus nerve.’ Visceral feelings and gut-instincts are literally emotional intuitions transferred up to your brain via the vagus nerve.”

Bergland goes on to say that we can teach ourselves to respond positively to the “gut-feeling” we get from the vagus nerve by being in tune with the loop between our bodies and minds and using this awareness to our advantage. Instead of choking under pressure, which comes from a negative response from the vagus nerve, we can control its signals and stay calm under stress.

Now, I’m not saying that you should go out and look for the most stressful situation you can find and purposely make your learning experience as intense as possible. Many people thrive under pressure, while others do much better using more gradual methods, and I understand that. I do want to encourage you to push the limits you think you have when you’re taking on something new, because:

  1. Most of us underestimate ourselves.
  2. Most of us overestimate the thing we’re learning.
  3. You won’t really know how true either of the above are until you go out and see for yourself.

Examples of diving in:

-Giving a presentation using material you’re new to. Of course, don’t do this at your next big, job-on-the-line presentation, but do try out new materials, approaches and styles when you have a less career-defining presentation.

-Teaching yourself a skill that is outside your normal set of skills. If you’re a numbers wiz, try out some of the good literature. If you’re an extrovert, try meditation. If you’re shy, try the above suggestion!

-Wearing your mistakes as badges, knowing that each falter invariably pushes you closer to mastery.

How do you deal with handling pressure? How does it impact your ability to learn?

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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Are you in a summertime slump

For those of you who live in cold climates like I do, you welcome summertime and everything it brings—picnics, swimming, strolls in the park, bike rides. During the chilly winter months, you envision spending time in the sunshine…and not having to don a down coat and pair of boots whenever you want to venture outside.

When summer comes, it has an energizing effect. Your mood lifts, you finally have enough vitamin D, you’re full of plans and expectations.

But what people often do not think about is their work. Even though summer has arrived, work does not simply end (unless you have a seasonal occupation). We still have to work through bright and sunny days; we still have to show up.

Even though we may feel energized outside of work, the opposite might occur during work. Your motivation might dwindle or your concentration might wander as you think of being outside, enjoying the weather.

Furthermore, many people go on vacation over the summer, so it’s sometimes difficult to complete team projects or use others as a resource. As Inc.com says, “Summer is nearly always a slow season. You, your team members and your customers are either breezing away on weeks-long vacations (or wish they were), and those who are in office are struggling to cover their teammates’ absences and keep up with demand.”

With low motivation, absent team members, and the constant desire to be outside, it’s easy to fall behind during the summer…which can make you feel even less enthusiastic to come to work.

What to do?

1. Try working in shorter bursts.

Look at your clock and tell yourself, “Okay, I’m going to work for XX number of minutes without taking a break. Ready go!” Start small and gradually increase your work time.

2. Set goals

Write down three tangible things you’d like to accomplish today. If you’re working on a large project, what bite-sized item(s) can you accomplish that will help you complete it? (For more on effective goal-setting, visit this blog post.)

3. Move around

Making sure you get your blood pumping and your body moving is important to not only improving your health, but your concentration as well. And don’t forget to move from your desk during the day. Try working in a different location for a few hours and then return to your designated workspace.

4. Set challenges for others

If you’re in a leadership position, get your team motivated by setting up friendly challenges. It helps to focus on a short period of time (such as two or four weeks) so you can maintain enthusiasm for the competition. Consider giving rewards that people actually value, such as a half day (or two) of paid time off.

5. Bring summer to the workplace

Just because you’re in the office, doesn’t mean you have to pretend like summer isn’t happening! Have lunch on a patio, invite co-workers out to ice cream, or wear bright summery outfits. As a leader (or an HR manager), you could also plan company outings every once in a while that take advantage of the nice weather. Try going to a baseball game, having a company picnic, or doing some outdoor volunteer work together.

 

Carry some of your summertime energy into the workplace. It’s amazing what a small shift in attitude (and a little planning!) can do. Besides, while others are in their workplace slump, you can take advantage of the season and rise to the top. Your dedication will be noticed.

Contact me for other ideas on how to shake your summertime slump!

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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The power of vocal inflection

We’d all like to think that what we say is important. When we stand up to give a presentation or if we’re talking with a friend or significant other, we hope that others are listening to what we’re saying.

But the what is not necessarily as important as the how.

How you deliver your words can matter just as much (or more!) than what you say. No matter how compelling your message, if you say it in an unenthusiastic or irritated way, others will pick up on your tone, rather than what you are saying.

Take the simple phrase “Dinner’s ready.”

Let’s say you get home from work and you decide to prepare a nice meal for yourself and your family. You cook up a couple dishes from scratch and time everything perfectly so that your entrée comes out of the oven at the same time that you’ve finished making your sides. You’re pleased as punch with how your meal turned out and you can’t wait to share it with your family.

At this point, you call out in a sing-song voice, “Dinner’s ready!”

No reply.

Your spouse, your children are upstairs doing who-knows-what. But you don’t feel like hunting them down, so you busy yourself with doing a few dishes while you wait for them to come down.

Five minutes.

Ten.

When you call for your family again, the cheeriness is out of your voice completely. It’s been replaced by a loud, curt, and semi-dangerous tone:

“DINNER IS READY.”

You’d better believe your family will come running this time!

The lesson here is that vocal inflection matters. It conveys how serious you are about something. It demonstrates your enthusiasm (or lack of). It has the power to energize a room or put everyone to sleep.

Next time you’re about to interact with someone or lead a team meeting, think about your tone of voice. Practice your speech in front of a mirror. In most cases, you’ll want to sound energized, but not over-the-top. Cheery, but authentic. The only exception is if you’re speaking about a serious issue that requires more gravity. Use common sense and let your tone match the message.

For more tips on how to be a compelling speaker, take a look at these blog posts:

https://uxlblog.com/2016/10/05/let-your-voice-be-heard/

https://uxlblog.com/2016/03/09/10-ways-to-have-a-better-conversation/

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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