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

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

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

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

1. Know Yourself

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

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

2. Lower Your Voice

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

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

3. Pay Attention To Pacing

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

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

4. Practice What You Will Say

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

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

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Purple Lotus flower
Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay

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

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

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

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

To get started, try implementing these five practices:

1. Greet others

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

2. Hold inclusive meetings

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

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

3. Don’t gossip

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

4. Acknowledge achievements

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

5. Listen

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

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

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Two people in a cafe with tables

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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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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First published in 2016.

If you’re on the hunt for a new job, you’re probably well-aware of the importance of a compelling cover letter. It’s how you can stand out from the crowd, how you can demonstrate a slice of your personality that you really can’t convey in your résumé. It’s also a great way to take a deeper dive into some of your past experiences and really highlight your accomplishments.

How do you write a cover letter that gets noticed? Seems like a daunting task, right?

It doesn’t have to be. I’ve laid out several simple pointers below that will guide you through the cover letter writing process and help you create something that is polished and memorable.

Remember: Cover letters are not just a repeat of your resume—viewing them as such will put you at a serious disadvantage.

Cover Letter Basics:

  • Name, address, and date at the top of the letter
  • Cover letter addressed to a specific person if possible. If individual unknown, send letter to the title of recipient (Production Manager, Technical Director, Human Resources, etc.)
  • State your interest in the position
  • Make note of special skills that qualify you for the job
  • Provide contact info and a time you can be reached
  • Thank the contact and close with “Sincerely”
  • Always ask someone else to proofread your letter and resume—don’t miss simple grammatical errors!
  • Sign your letter with either blue or black ink, NO EXCEPTIONS
  • Be concise and to the point (no cutesy statements or overbearing comments)
  • Use the same paper as your resume
  • Avoid using “I” too often or repeating the same words

Beyond the Basics:

  • Focus on two (or, at the max, three) major accomplishments in your career and really dive into them
  • Use concrete facts whenever possible. For example:
    • I saved XYZ Company $3.5 million dollars in their annual budget by…
    • During my time at ABC Inc., I trained over 200 people in…
    • I helped Company X grow by 4% through my….
    • I was the top salesperson at ABC, Inc., selling $$ annually
  • Let your authentic voice come through, but don’t sound too casual. It’s a fine line to ride and you may need a friend to weigh in.
  • Do your homework. Understand the company’s values and what they’re looking for in a new employee and make sure you highlight those parts of your experience.

Interested in learning more about creating an effective cover letter or interested in consulting a professional to ensure that you land that next job opening? Contact Me Today to learn about career coaching and UXL’s public workshops!

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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Hands holding a tape measure
Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

How do you measure value? Is it in the skills your co-workers bring to the table? The projects you are able to complete? Is it strictly monetary? Different groups of people have different ways of measuring value and success, each with their own unique spectrums and criteria. If you only determine value from one perspective, it may leave you unable to recognize the skills and true value your employees bring to the table. If you find yourself stuck in such a rut, here are some different approaches you may want to consider when measuring value:

1. Engagement

Too often, teams’ leaders don’t take into account the level of engagement a given project will inspire among their team members. When selecting projects or assigning tasks, you may find it helpful to weigh your decisions on a scale of value that places that engagement above other elements. Work that excites your team will create a more efficient and productive flow.

2. Personal

What are your own motivators for doing the kind of work that you do? If you decide to take on work that is uninteresting but lucrative, what do you stand to gain by earning that money? Too often we set aside our own interests and priorities to follow procedure or defer to someone else’s interest. Your time as a professional is valuable and cannot be given back. Take this into account when determining the value of prospective work.

3. Constructive

What does your team stand to gain as a whole from a project? Is there an opportunity to call upon skills someone has been developing, or will there be any kind of collaboration with professionals in a different field or department? Often opportunities are valuable not just in the work they provide but from the skills they allow people to build upon from their undertaking. If you take a step back to measure value in this way, take stock of these big-picture benefits that may otherwise go unseen.

4. Monetary

Of course, some work is more straightforward in value and function. Teams cannot operate without a budget and opportunities must often be weighed against the most important benefit they bring to the company: resources. While money doesn’t need to be a driving measure of value, it should certainly be taken into account.

5. Public Facing

What does taking on a potential project mean for your brand? For the way people view yourself and your fellow employees? Social media and reputation are a valuable commodity in the digital business landscape and must be curated with care. Controversy or the appearance of dubious ethics can impact even the largest businesses. Don’t undervalue this important piece of social currency.

Value is subjective and multifaceted. The more ways you’re able to consider what is valuable in your organization will help put it in a stronger position tomorrow than it is today. Don’t be afraid to sit down and consider all the possibilities!

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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via Pixabay

I often hear people complaining about the “new generation” of workers as being disloyal to the company. They change jobs like gym shorts, and can’t commit to a single business for more than a few years. While that may be true, have you ever stopped to think about WHY that’s the case?

1. Stagnant Wages

For many young and not-so-young (the oldest Millennials are approaching 40 now) people, the workplace landscape is MUCH different than it was when Boomers and Gen Xers began their careers. Wages have stagnated and benefits aren’t what they used to be. In many cases, the only way to get a raise is to negotiate one by switching jobs.

Solution?

Make sure your business is competitive. Offer fair wages, and regularly give raises to account for cost-of-living increases. In addition, make sure your list of benefits is attractive and competitive in the industry.

2. Boredom

“But what about their short attention spans!?” you might say. “We can’t seem to capture their interest.”

Sure, job boredom may play a role in Millennial job-hopping, but this is often a preventable woe. If more than one or two of your staff seem bored or distracted, it’s probable that there’s something systemic going on. It may be that…

  1. They are not well-suited for their role
  2. They are so efficient that they complete their workload much faster than previous generations of workers
  3. They have checked out because they feel like they don’t fit in in the workplace
  4. They have checked out because they don’t think they have a voice

Solution?

In all these scenarios, communication can help prevent boredom. Regularly check in with your staff and make sure they are feeling engaged and supported. Give them the space to express how they are feeling and vocalize what they’d like to see changed. Then, work with them to strategize ways to make positive changes.

If your young workers are checking out because they feel like they don’t fit in, counter that by encouraging team-building workshops (consider Insights Discovery as a starting point), after-work outings, or collaborative projects. Pay attention and make sure your seasoned workers are giving the newer workers a voice.

3. Lack of Freedom

Nobody likes it when others look over their shoulders to supervise their work. It conjures images of elementary school, when teachers had to keep a classroom of rambunctious youngsters in line in addition to teaching multiplication tables. Such treatment in the workplace could induce anxiety and the feeling of being hemmed in. No one works well under that kind of pressure.

Solution?

Your staff are not elementary children and should not be treated as such. It’s a good idea to demonstrate trust in your team by giving them a long leash when it comes to projects, minimizing your involvement, and being open to different styles of working and different solutions.

Another thing: consider allowing your staff to occasionally work from home. We live in a time where technology enables many people to work remotely on at least some of their projects. As long as the work is being done, who cares if they work in their pajamas?

If you have a retention problem, ask yourself if any (or all!) of these three factors are coming into play, and then DO something! I’m here to help.

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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