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Creating Successful Leaders

Tag Archives: leadership coach Margaret Smith

Stressed woman at laptop biting pencil
Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

For many leaders, stress seems to become the norm. They are constantly dealing with managing people, projects, and clients…all in between attending many, many meetings.

Stress does NOT have to be the norm. You can still be a good leader AND cut your workload (in fact, freeing yourself up and de-stressing may make you a better leader).

Here are 4 ways to start cutting stress:

1. Delegate

If you want something right, you have to do it yourself, right? …Right?

Not at all.

Sure, if you hand off a task, it might be approached in a different way than what you intended, but that doesn’t mean that approach is wrong. It’s just different…and different can be good! “Different” can bring variety and new ways of thinking or solving problems. Part of delegation means letting go some of your control. It means opening yourself up to others’ methods and perspectives.

Effective delegation involves handing over the reins with enough instructions to make things happen, but also giving a certain amount of freedom to the person who will be performing the task. Remember: even if the person is a bit slow or clumsy at the task at first, they will learn. Give them time.

2. Step Away From the Office

Despite what you might think, you are not a machine. You are human, and humans need to occasionally rest and rejuvenate.

Schedule meaningful breaks into your daily schedule–time when you’re completely unplugged from work. Go on a walk, read a book at lunch, get a massage, or attend your child’s soccer game.

In addition to your small daily breaks, schedule vacations into your year. Even a few days at a cabin on a lake will do wonders for your stress levels.

3. Prioritize

What are the items or tasks that truly need your attention? What are you unable to delegate to others?

Prioritize your task list, based on the assignments you need to handle personally. Your other to-do items can probably be delegated or outright skipped. For instance, are you really needed at every single meeting? Can your team handle certain meetings on their own?

Make a to-do list at the beginning of each week, in addition to the start of each day. This will help put big-picture tasks in perspective. It is also helpful to hold a quarterly planning session to look at the even bigger picture in the office.

4. Make Meaningful Connections

Being a leader can seem lonely at times. To overcome the isolation, make an effort to communicate with others and make meaningful connections. This will inevitably involve being vulnerable and allowing your authentic self to come to the surface.

Of course, you have to maintain some professionalism when communicating with your team, but you shouldn’t be afraid to show them that you’re human. You have interests; you make mistakes; you have a family and a life outside the office walls.

Just the act of reaching out and asking someone about their day will help you form better bonds with that individual. And, when you feel that you have friends (and a support system) in the office, that can cut stress significantly.

As a leader, you don’t have to let stress consume your life! Take charge of your leadership by delegating tasks, taking meaningful breaks, and developing an internal support system. Now, breathe!

If you’d like to read more about how to beat stress, take a look at my post on stress-busting techniques.

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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Water with text over it that says Is Transparency Part of Your Leadership Brand?
Background image by kalhh from Pixabay

When you think of a leader, what qualities do you picture? Do you picture someone who is competent, confident, and a good speaker? Do you see someone who can fire up the room and motivate their team? Or, perhaps, do you picture someone who is data-driven and brainy—someone who’s gears are always turning?

While these are all worthy leadership traits, I believe one crucial leadership component is consistently overlooked: transparency.

Without transparency, it is difficult to cultivate trust (for more on trust, read this past post!). People begin to wonder what you’re doing in the shadows, and question why decisions are made.

Being a transparent leader, means being honest. It means being yourself at all times (though sometimes you may be a more formal version of yourself, while other times you may be a more casual version). For a transparent leader, there is no room for being two-faced. I have found that people catch on quickly when someone isn’t being candid or is telling two versions of the same story to two different groups of people.

Another aspect of the transparent leader is courage. It takes a good deal of guts to be honest with your team when things are not going especially well. If performance is flagging or the company is going through growing pains, don’t hide those difficulties. Instead, engage your team and encourage them to become part of the solution.

Transparent leaders communicate. They keep an open-door policy, and welcome any feedback, thoughts, or opinions…even if some of what they hear is negative or critical. In fact, this kind of constructive feedback is exactly what an organization needs to grow and improve. Transparent leaders make others feel comfortable approaching them—they cultivate a spirit of mutual trust.

Take a moment to ask yourself: How transparent is your organization? How transparent are YOU? If your personal transparency needs a little work, take action!

  • Start talking to your co-workers. Be as candid as possible AND be a respectful listener.
  • Encourage feedback. Schedule one-on-one meetings to gain feedback and then ACT on sound suggestions or ideas.
  • Be vulnerable. You’re not perfect, and it’s okay for others to see that.
  • Facing a crisis? Don’t try to hide it. Be open about the company’s issues, and work as a team to solve them.

When you become an open and candid leader, a lot can change. You may find your relationships with team members improve, workplace culture becomes a little more open and honest, and you feel less anxious about having to hide business difficulties from your co-workers. In the long term, your transparency will hopefully encourage others to act in kind, which will eventually foster an open and communicative work environment.

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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Images of seagulls in a row depicting when a team is too similar

Every team is unique, which means every team encounters its own challenges and pitfalls. Sometimes communication between team members breaks down. Other times productivity dips due to colleagues not seeing eye to eye on a particular problem. But what do you do as a team leader when you are faced with the opposite problem? What do you do when your team members are too similar?

Strong teams rely on their members as individual engines of creativity, each with their own specific skillsets. While it’s not necessarily always an issue to have a team with overlapping abilities and points of view, a lack of diversity of thought can stifle creativity or hamper problem-solving. When Joe, John, and Jack all offer the same, incomplete solution, that’s a sign things need to change.

Being an effective team leader means being able to bring out the best in your team and point it in the direction that will allow you to accomplish your goals. So, if your squadron suffers from being too similar, you might want to consider some of these solutions:

1. Brainstorming Homework

Homogenous teams tend to lump together in groupthink if given the opportunity. A way to combat this habit is to isolate each individual team member’s strengths and abilities in an environment where they’re allowed to contemplate without the influence of their like-minded peers. Assign different tasks or divvy up a single task into components to each of your team members, and have them come up with solutions or ideas on their own. This can give better insight into each of the individual members’ limitations and quirks, and be used as a road map for what qualities or ideas to encourage folks to bring to the table at full team meetings.

2. Role Play

Sometimes team members can’t call upon different perspectives because they haven’t been given the opportunity to engage with them. Identify strategies or types of problem solving you would like to bring out more in your team, and give them the opportunity to utilize these methods in practice exercises. It may be helpful to bring in someone from another group or department familiar with the process to serve as a guide.

3. Switch Up the Roster

If there is a persistent problem in addressing challenges, the roster may be in need of some alterations. You can experiment switching out team members on specific tasks, bring in different staff for certain projects, or even bring on a new hire to inject energy into a complacent group. Variety and situational changes keep people alert and help draw their attention to the issues that are causing these changes.

4. Competition

Who says innovation can’t be a contest? Incentivizing behaviors is a timeless and effective way to instigate desired results. Offer a small reward for team members who are able to provide new or sought-after solutions to ongoing problems. If the desire is to correct a more systemic homogeneity, consider creating broader rewards for seeking outside collaboration or professional development that can be integrated into your team’s stagnant dynamic.

Team dynamics are tricky, and often problems are not resolved by any one solution. Try out a couple different strategies, and don’t give up if one doesn’t foster the changes you are looking for. As long your team is persistent and committed to growth, you will likely find an answer.

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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Margaret Smith speaking with a group of women

Hello readers! I am beyond excited to introduce my online leadership course, The Ten-Minute Leadership Challenge!

It’s based off my book, but is packed with a ton of great additional information that is meant to guide leaders of all levels and backgrounds. The course includes ten, go-at-your-own-pace lessons, each one focusing on a specific leadership attribute. You can choose to go through the lessons in order or focus on the ones that need your attention most.

Expected course outcomes include learning to…

  • Focus and hone self-awareness
  • Define career goals and your “living legacy”
  • Create a business case to ignite real change
  • Gain respect and recognition
  • Improve your office community
  • Navigate tough conversations
  • Earn the confidence of your colleagues and superiors
  • And much more

I’ve pulled out all the stops with this course and I’m confident you’ll find it valuable. Check it out today and step into your leadership!

Walking up steps

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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Halloween and leadership

Happy Halloween, everyone! For today’s post, I thought I’d do a fun one. Let me know if you have other ideas, or if you think there are ways Halloween actually DOES resemble good leadership.


In the past, I’ve talked about how the MN State Fair and Independence Day teach us lessons about life and leadership, but today we’re dealing with a much different event: Halloween. When I think about all the qualities a good leader should possess, I see very few of them in Halloween–that holiday of monsters and ghouls.

How is Halloween the antithesis of good leadership? Here are four ways…

1. It revolves around fear.

Capable leaders do not need to lean on fear-based tactics to get what they want. They don’t need everyone beneath them quaking in fear, wondering when the next outburst or disciplinary action will occur.

Instead, capable leaders put their hearts first. They care about the wellbeing of their team; they take the time to get to know and understand others; they make sure they assign tasks that are well-suited to individuals.

Leading with your heart does NOT make you a softie. Rather, it demonstrates thoughtful leadership and respect for others. Of course, there will be times when you, as a leader, will need to deliver tough news or discipline a team member, but those occasions should be few and far between. Your team should be incentivized by common goals, not fear.

2. It disguises who you really are.

Good leaders don’t wear masks. They are brave enough to let themselves be vulnerable and let their true selves shine through. That means communicating clearly and authentically, behaving according to core values, and being transparent.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be more formal in certain situations and more relaxed in others. Being authentic has to do with the crux of who you are. There are some values, behaviors, and beliefs that make you you. Stand by them. Don’t wildly alter your personality or your opinions to please the crowd–this kind of behavior will only make others question your authenticity and lessen their trust in you.

3. It is greedy.

Good leadership isn’t about collecting as much “candy” as possible and hoarding it for yourself. Instead, it’s about understanding that your accomplishments were not achieved alone–others deserve credit (candy) too.

When someone goes above and beyond their work duties, recognize that individual. When your team delivers, reward them. That doesn’t mean you should dole out “candy” willy-nilly; it means you should pay attention and give others credit when credit is due.

And remember: you rarely accomplish big things on your own. Recognize the help you’ve received along the way.

4. It doesn’t provide vital nutrients.

Candy can’t subsist you forever, and neither can gimmicky reward programs or activities. Don’t get me wrong–I think it’s a great idea to have team parties, cookouts, and competitions. HOWEVER, if those fun activities are not supported by key core elements, they are meaningless.

In short: Who cares if you have a weekly office party if there is in-fighting or poor communication between staff?

Make sure the bones of your operation are solid (there’s a skeleton reference for you!) before you start adding extras. Are your employees comfortable with their assignments? Is there an open line of communication between leadership and staff? Is there a safe, effective way to voice complaints? Are employees being treated civilly and with dignity? Is office gossip clouding relationships?

Yes, it’s wonderful to have friendly competitions and parties (just like it’s wonderful to enjoy the occasional chocolate bar!). Just make sure you prioritize core office values first.

 

What do you think? Is Halloween a metaphor for poor leadership? Let me know your thoughts!

Have a fun, safe Halloween.

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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Gain Experience

If you are contemplating a career change or looking to expand your horizons, you know that experience is everything. Being able to add that new skill to your resume or LinkedIn profile can make all the difference to many hiring managers.

Or maybe you’re going back to the drawing board—you have finally decided to go with your gut and pursue your passion…even though on paper you’re not technically “qualified.”

So how do you take steps in the right direction? How do you build up your skillset when you’re starting from scratch?

Going back to the beginning seems overwhelming, but the experience you’re looking for can be found in places you might not expect.

1. Zoom Out

Maybe you’re looking at transitioning from a financial analyst to a graphic designer. While that’s an entirely new set of hard skills, don’t forget to consider the transferable soft skills you’ve built up over the years. If you can work to a deadline, communicate effectively with clients and team members and prioritize tasks effectively, you already have the start to a great skill section on your resume.

2. Start From the Beginning

Heading back to school may not be an option, but there are ways to get an education that don’t require a dorm. Look for online masterclasses in a topic relevant to you—check out Udemy, edX, or Masterclass for some affordable or even free options. There are dozens of useful websites out there, full of the type of specialized information you need to jumpstart a new career.

3. Small Steps

The truth is, any career requires some time at the bottom of the ladder. Look into opportunities as an intern or volunteer in your chosen field. See if there are remote or part-time opportunities that you can fit into your schedule. Positions like this will be less about fetching coffee and more about gaining real time in the field.

4. Leverage Your Connections

Though it seems intimidating to make a big change in your life, you don’t need to do it alone. In fact, it will be a lot harder if you isolate yourself. Ask people in your new field about their experiences. Set up informational interviews and ask the experts what steps they would recommend for someone in your position. If you don’t have any personal connections right now, that’s okay. Utilize LinkedIn, or try sending an email inquiry to someone whose career you admire. People are generally willing to share their experience and offer advice. Before you know it, you’ll be the one being asked to share your journey to success in a brand new field!

 

Don’t let a lack of experience prevent you from pursuing your dream career. I’ve worked with plenty of people who have successfully transitioned from one field to another. Though I’m sure you already have many applicable skills (which can be emphasized in a Functional Resume), it’s essential to gain relevant experience. Get out there with a positive, take-on-the-world attitude and let me know if you need any guidance!

 

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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*This post was originally published in 2015 and has been modified slightly.

Clarity in Communication

Having clarity comes in two parts. You have to give clarity and ask for clarity. If you are in charge of a project or leading a team, don’t assume that everyone already knows your expectations. Make those expectations clear and leave room for others to ask questions. Put yourself in others’ shoes and anticipate the questions they might ask. Then, practice giving the answers, or at least jot out a few thoughts on how to answer the questions.

On the flip side, if you’re on the receiving end of a project or initiative, don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions. It is much better to make sure your idea of the project’s end state aligns with the actual anticipated end state then to muddle your way through it and hope you’re doing what’s expected of you. One good way to make sure you completely understand your assignment is to repeat back what you think you heard. Something like: “Okay, Bill. It sounds like you’re saying we need to come up with a better social media marketing strategy for product X, and we have two weeks to get you a proposal. Is that correct?”

Having Clarity is one of the chapters in my book, The Ten Minute Leadership Challenge, and I go into much more detail in those pages about how to give and ask for clarity.

I’ve also made a short video about Having Clarity based off the principles outlined in my book. Enjoy!

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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