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I recently returned from hiking 135 miles of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. The Camino was originally established as a pilgrimage trail when St. James was instructed to bring Christ’s message to the end of the world. Well…he reached Santiago, Spain, saw the ocean spreading out before his feet for as far as the eye could see, and declared that he’d made it.

This was years before Columbus approached Queen Isabella and King Fernand to request funding for his trip to the West Indies. And well over a thousand years before I set foot on the trail.

What started as a solitary journey by one devotee turned into a pilgrimage route. Although many people still journey the trail solo, they are never truly alone. Community is everywhere on the Camino. And it is powerful.

Although I embarked on my journey with my husband and a small group of friends, I found it easy to connect with others along the way. We hailed from different backgrounds, different countries, different demographics, and were hiking the trail for different reasons, but we all melded together easily in a multi-colored bouquet of humanity.

Rarely have I found so many people so welcoming. We ate together, shared our stories, and sometimes divulged our deepest secrets. I was surprised by what complete strangers were willing to share with me—but then again, many people hike the Camino as a way to release past hurts, and what’s the harm in sharing your story with someone you’ll likely never see again?

As I walked the trail, I marveled at how safe and protected I felt. You know how when you’re walking down the street in your normal, everyday life and you hear someone come up behind you? Usually, you glance back, you become on guard.

On the Camino, you welcome footsteps and a chance to get to know someone new.

All of this got me thinking: What if everyday life were more like the Camino?

  • We’d welcome strangers to our tables
  • We’d be more open with others
  • We’d smile more often and aim for connections (instead of putting on our headphones and ignoring each other)
  • We’d trust
  • We’d care less about a person’s background and appearance and more about who they really are
  • We’d live life with open arms and open hearts

Even if you’ve never walked the Camino, you can still bring the spirit of the trail to your life. Challenge yourself to be more open and candid with others; practice being more welcoming to co-workers and acquaintances. You’re entire world may change.

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 your manager is difficult

They’re always wearing a frown, criticizing staff, and shooting down ideas. They are a storm cloud, blocking out sunny moods and lightheartedness. They are difficult managers.

Many of us have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with a difficult manager at some point or another. It’s amazing how a single person can sour the mood of an office, isn’t it? Their callous attitude can bring everyone down, deflate motivation, and squash innovation and creativity.

How can you possibly defeat such an energy vampire? Isn’t it easier to simply quit your job and find better management elsewhere?

Even though it can sometimes be difficult to overcome an unsupportive manager, there are a few methods you can try before raising the white flag and heading somewhere else. Start with the following five tips:

Remain calm

The way you react to your manager can have a profound effect. If you return a snippy attitude with snippiness, or if you return anger with anger, you’ll only end up more frustrated. Instead, work on detaching yourself from your manager’s poor attitude. The next time he riles you up, remove yourself from the situation (physically or mentally), count to ten, and think about the encounter logically. Is it worth it to respond in kind? Probably not. Instead, find your inner calm and return childish behavior with calm reason.

Refocus

Although it may take significant effort on your part, it is best to focus on a task, not the criticism. Unless your manager has good reason for her critiques, it is best to let them slide off your back. Strategize and forge ahead as best you can, keeping the goal—not the criticism—at the center of your mind.

Be direct, if possible

Sometimes, it’s a good idea to be direct with your manager. If one of his criticisms seems off-base, ask him to explain what he means and how you and your team can perform better next time. Alternatively, you might try bringing up your feelings in a one-on-one meeting with your manager. Let him know how you’re feeling, why you’re feeling that way, and what would make the situation better. Use the D4 model of feedback as a guide and be sure to bring up specific examples.

You’ll have to be brave to directly face your manager, but honestly, what do you have to lose? Sometimes a direct approach can be a breath of fresh air. It’s possible your manager is unaware of the profound effect of his words and actions and simply needs someone to point it out.

And if your directness completely flops? It may be a sign that it’s time to move on to greener pastures (but be sure to consult a career coach before doing anything too drastic!)

Have perspective

An article by Liz Ryan of Forbes Magazine encourages us to see our difficult managers as minor parts in our lives. She says, “Eventually you reach a point where no manager can make you fearful, because you realize that any boss is just a bit player in your movie. You are the director and the star. You could leave any boss at any moment and it wouldn’t kill you — it wouldn’t be ideal perhaps, but you’ll survive. Keep that in mind!”

Ask what you can do better, specifically

It’s possible your manager’s expectations are simply not aligning with your work. The only way to find out is to ask for specific feedback on specific projects. Small changes in your work may have a big impact on your boss’ attitude.

Be empathetic

If your manager suddenly becomes more grim and angry than usual, it’s possible she’s going through a rough patch in her personal life. Many of us leave our personal struggles at home and cover up hardships as best we can in the workplace. This might be the case with your difficult boss. With that in mind, be empathetic and understanding. Don’t take harsh words too personally. Remain calm and talk to your boss as an individual, not as a brutish machine, out to get you. Your empathy may make all the difference.

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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Banish your self-doubt! Here’s how…

We’re mixing things up today and posting an Infographic on the UXL blog. Enjoy! (Text posted below for those who can’t read it).


  1. Pay attention: Recognize when you’re thinking negative thoughts or telling yourself, “I can’t.” Do certain situations prompt more self-doubt than others?
  2. Talk back: Though it may sound crazy, start talking back to your self-doubt! For instance, if you catch yourself thinking, “No one wants to listen to my ideas,” counter with “Yes, they do. My ideas are valuable and people are interested in what I have to say.”
  3. Use a Power Pose: Keeping your shoulders back and your head held high has a positive psychological effect and can actually boost your confidence.
  4. Do Your Research: Going into a scary situation with a little preparation can make a huge difference. Be sure to anticipate questions others might ask and practice answering them.
  5. Challenge Yourself: The way to achieve growth is to constantly challenge yourself. Once you overcome doubt in one area, move on to another!

 

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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leaders as moderators not enforcers

Leaders often burden themselves with being the only ones to make tough decisions and stick with them, even when they may not be popular with everyone on the team. There are times when you, as a leader, must make tough decisions and deal with a bit of unpopularity for a while.

But there are other instances—the majority, in fact—in which leaders tend to take on too much when it comes to making difficult or controversial decisions. They feel, rightly so, that because they’re the ones who must take ultimate responsibility within their organization, they also must personally decide, execute, and maintain new systems or standards.

While it’s true “the buck stops here” when it comes to leadership responsibilities, we must remember that those we work with and manage have loads of helpful ideas we might otherwise not have thought of ourselves. We must also remember that our coworkers and/or employees are capable and eager to do a good job (and if they aren’t, then it’s time to rethink your hiring strategies!).

With this in mind, we should take advantage of our teams when it comes to making, implementing and maintaining decisions.

Moderate The Decision-making Process, Don’t Make All The Decisions

As a leader, make an effort to get your team involved in the process of making key decisions. Your role should be to moderate the group, keeping the discussion focused and realistic, and also to help peers work things out should disagreements arise.

Workers who are involved with decision-making feel more engaged and connected to their work, getting a sense of ownership for the visions the team has come up with together. This inevitably leads to better performance across the board, because ownership and meaning behind one’s work always gives them that necessary fire to push toward excellence.

Leading As The Vision-Implementer, Not The Productivity Police

If a team feels they are being micro-managed, they tend to become distant from their work. That is to say, a babysat team can easily be made to feel that they are not smart or capable enough to do their own work.

On the other hand, we all need standards in place to keep us all on the same page. A great team is well-organized, highly communicative and grounded in a mutual understanding of the standards and expectations.

You can see why involving everyone in big decisions can help you as the leader in the long run, when you need to begin implementing the vision (aka, the daily expectations of each team member). If and when you run up against disagreements or unproductivity, you can always point back to the standards the whole team created and agreed to. Instead of placing blame, encourage ongoing collaboration to iron out any wrinkles in the initial plan.

Maintaining The Vision

Things don’t always apply perfectly from the white board to real life. And, since the business world constantly changes along with the rest of the world, it’s necessary to constantly reevaluate the value of decisions you’ve made and implemented in the past. This means you’ll need to tweak things as you go and ask for feedback from the team, thereby keeping everyone directly engaged in the process.

 

Maintain involved, but not overpowering leadership; involve your team; and don’t be afraid to modify your approach. That is the recipe for empowering individuals and creating a happy, functioning team.

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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Buzzwords lack clarity

They come in the form of KPIs, ROIs, or CTAs. They are the low-hanging fruit, the synergy, and the ballpark figures. They want to help you drill down, push the envelope, create a survival strategy, and do some heavy lifting.

This is the corporate speak that tends to spin its way into our conversations. It’s fine to use it every once in a while—especially if your audience is familiar and comfortable with the language—but it’s usually best to keep jargon to a minimum. It ends up clogging up conversations, confusing potential customers, and muddying the meaning of a sentence.

Simply put: If too much jargon is used, clarity is lost.

Instead of using a euphemism for a term, express what you actually mean. Instead of asking someone if they have “the bandwidth” to perform a project, ask them if they have the time, resources, and appropriate support. You’ll end up getting a more specific, straight-forward answer rather than a simple “yes” or “no” reply.

Be especially careful with corporate speak when you’re meeting with prospects, new clients, or potential new employees. Businesses tend to use industry-specific terminology which may be difficult for others to interpret. For instance, a company with a global presence might use the term “business process outsourcing” (or BPO), while a company specializing in education might use the term “digital literacy.” In both cases, the terminology may feel natural to those within the industry, but could confuse those outside the industry.

Language matters. The terms you use can contribute to an open, inclusive environment, or they can obfuscate meaning or leave certain people feeling confused or irritated. Do your best to use clear terms and don’t forget to ask for clarification when you need it. Chances are, if you’re confused by an acronym or unusual turn-of-phrase, others will be too.

Let’s aim for simplicity and precision in our workplaces! If you’d like some additional guidance, be sure to check out my short video on clarity.

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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Whether we’re talking about an individual or a large corporation, branding is important. As an individual, your personal brand is what others see—the qualities (whether good or bad!) and the characteristics that comprise your reputation. As a company, branding is similar. It’s the reputation that people associate with the company when they hear its name or see its logo.

When many people hear the word “brand,” they think of a logo or tagline. They might see the McDonalds arches, the Nike swoosh, or the green and yellow of a John Deere tractor. But there’s more to it than that. Much more.

On an individual level, how you look and what you say make a difference. Of course they do. BUT, your appearance and your words pale in comparison to what you DO. You might be the sharpest dresser in the office, but if you fail to turn in your work on time, you’ll be perceived in a negative light.

Your appearance and your words pale in comparison to what you DO.

Similarly, a company may have a knock-out logo and a great tagline…but those elements mean nothing if they can’t deliver a quality product or service.

So what does make a quality brand? What are some of the factors you can put into place to elevate your personal brand in the eyes of others? (The same guidelines apply to both individuals and businesses!) Consider these four…

1. Put others first

Make other people the center of everything you do. Whether co-workers or clients, consider their needs and how best to serve them. In order to do this, it’s essential to get to know others on a deep level. Listen carefully to any concerns and frustrations, as well as positive experiences. Constantly ask questions and begin to develop an understanding of those with whom you work (be they your customers, team members, or boss).

2. Be authentic

Others can see right through a faux personality. Let your best self shine!

3. Check your ego

As much as you’d like to take credit for the success of an entire project, be sure to give credit where credit is due. Acknowledge the achievements of your team members and be sure to tell them you appreciate their contributions.

Additionally, keep in mind that your ideas are not the only ideas. Build a positive personal brand by being inclusive of others and open to their thoughts and opinions.

4. Be bold with your ideas

Much like a company, individuals are more likely to be successful if they are innovators. If you have a bold new idea, talk about it! Create action. Present your idea to your boss and ask permission to pursue it. This kind of bold, self-starter behavior is what many bosses look for when considering who to promote. Just make sure to present your ideas in a respectful way that opens the door to a discourse…not a “my way or the highway” speech.

5. Focus on the day-to-day

How you act, what you say, and what you do every day can either build or detract from your personal brand. Don’t underestimate the importance of your daily interactions. Your consistent, positive presence is important for building and maintaining your brand.

Make sure your daily actions are, in general, supporting your big-picture goals. If you’d like to, for example, rise to a leadership position, think about how your typical to-do list offers opportunities to achieve that goal. What can you do to put your big-picture goals in the center of your day?

 

As you work on building your personal brand, remember: success doesn’t usually come over night. Focus on small actions and interactions. Everything matters.

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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