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Name Your Failures

No one wants to focus on failure. This kind of thinking is not fun, it drags you down, and it reminds you of your imperfections. While that’s true (and it’s certainly not great to dwell on screw-ups), there is POWER in acknowledging your failures and calling them out by name.

What do I mean by that?

Instead of either A) ignoring a failure and pretending it didn’t happen OR B) letting yourself be consumed by the failure, reflect on it and write about it. This exercise could be utilized for any setback or misstep you experience, big or small.

ALSO, make sure you jot down a note about what you learned from your failure or a strategy to avoid that specific error in the future.

Here are a few examples:

Failure: Not preparing for the company meeting
Main Lesson: I need to set aside half an hour before future meetings to prepare for them.
Action Steps: I will set a notification in my e-calendar whenever I schedule a meeting to help me remember to prepare.

Failure: Missing too many of my daughter’s basketball games
Main Lesson: She won’t be young forever. I need to do a better job of balancing family life with work.
Action Steps: I will schedule her games into my calendar and set them as a top priority. If I can’t make a particular game, I will schedule one-on-one time with her during the subsequent week.

Failure: Sticking with an ill-suited job for too long
Main Lesson: I need to pay attention to my inner GPS and know when I’m experiencing discontentment with my work.
Action Steps: If I start to feel like my job isn’t working out, I will immediately take steps to figure out the best course of action, such as taking time for deep reflection or consulting a career coach.

 

Calling out your failures is powerful. According to Stanford researcher and author, Tina Seelig, keeping a kind of “failure résumé” helps you to compartmentalize your mistakes and avoid them in the future.

Your failure résumé should be a living document—add to it whenever you have learned a life lesson, whether significant or minor. Writing down something as simple as “Don’t send out an ‘emergency email’ to my supervisor on a Friday” or “Don’t offer Karen coffee—she doesn’t drink it,” can help you avoid the everyday, minor mistakes that we tend to make.

Isn’t it time to wrangle your mistakes and keep them somewhere, rather than tripping over them? I think so. Calling them out won’t make your future mistake-free, but it will help you avoid making the same mistake twice.

 

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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Compromises that work

Ever witnessed a child being told they must share their toys with another child? Their reaction to this news wasn’t too pretty, was it?

Although we’ve grown to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around us and we don’t always get our way, that small child’s voice is still inside us, protesting whenever things don’t go how we want them to.

But the truth is, in order to lead in any real sense of the word, you must learn the art of making compromises. But how do you effectively make a compromise? How do you ensure that both parties feel satisfied with the outcome?

  1. Express yourself fully, and listen intently. Explain your reasoning behind your viewpoint. Often our views are skewed by our emotions, which makes it harder to make effective decisions. Articulating your view to another person forces you to take a good long look at your position, and in many cases this allows you to see where your view may not be perfect. On the same token, listen to what the other person is actually saying, not what you think they’re saying. Hear them out before you rush to judgment. Open communication is crucial to getting things done.
  2. Think from the other person’s perspective. If it continues to be difficult for you to accept the other person’s position, do your best to put yourself in their shoes. What’s the reasoning behind their thoughts, ideas, and opinions? Even if you disagree, can you see why they hold these views?
  3. Be committed to results. Compromising pushes two opposing viewpoints past a gridlock into a region where they can move from ideas into actions. In this way, compromise is one of the most powerful tools we have to getting results. A compromise is a mature way of acknowledging that we can never fully get what we want all the time, but we can get more of what we want if we work together to achieve it.
  4. Be prepared to be disappointed, but give it time. At first, you might only see what you didn’t get out of a compromise. This is understandable, but don’t give up on it just yet. In the long term, compromising pays off for both parties, as you’ve established an alliance and proven to one another that you are capable of working together and taking steps forward.

Have a great week!

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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Put learning agility into practice

Leaders who “refuse to let go of entrenched patterns or who do not recognize the nuances in different situations tend to derail.” This quote from the Center for Creative Leadership is absolutely true. In today’s global, interconnected market, leaders must be agile enough to navigate a diverse range of disciplines, cultures, and skill sets.

Learning agility is a term that often gets bandied around, but how, exactly, can a leader learn to be agile? How can this concept actually be put into practice?

First of all, learning agility is as much a mindset as it is a practice. For instance, if you’re in a rut with your career, it’s possible you aren’t taking full advantage of learning opportunities. There are many possible reasons for this: perhaps you’re afraid of failure, or worried about getting outside your area of comfort and expertise. However, without allowing yourself to encounter new experiences, you’ll have no shot at developing the necessary life skills to navigate through an increasingly interdisciplinary economy. You can’t expect different results from doing the same thing over and over again; Albert Einstein defined insanity as such.

So, to be agile in practice, you must first retrain your brain to be open to newness. It may not be comfortable at first, but hopefully you’ll find that new experiences are rarely as daunting as we build them up in our minds.

When aiming for “brain retraining,” consider four different attributes of learning agility (as discovered in a study by Colombia University): Innovating, Performing, Reflecting and Risking.

Innovating:

This refers to challenging the status quo. Instead of going along with what’s worked in the past, an innovative leader embraces new challenges and is open to new ideas. An innovator asks questions, takes on new tasks and experiences to increase their perspective, and constantly tries to approach issues from multiple angles.

Performing:

To possess learning agility, you must be able to perform under  stress and deal with the inevitable ambiguous or unfamiliar situation as it arises. An agile learner does this by staying present, engaged, and a keen observer of new information. This includes listening skills; a good performer must embrace, not avoid, verbal instruction.

Reflecting:

This goes beyond simply thinking about the new things you’ve learned. Reflecting means using new information, skills, and experiences to generate a deeper insight into yourself, those around you, and any problems you’ll face. Good reflection should always ask the question, “What kinds of changes do need to make in order to  accommodate  these new experiences?”

Risking

Learning agility is a body of skills and attributes that can be boiled down to one character trait: the ability to put yourself out there. This means that you volunteer for opportunities that don’t guarantee success. In fact, an agile learner values the experience of failure, as it is a much better catalyst for growth than continual success. Risk here means risk that leads to opportunity, not thrill seeking.

If these attributes don’t describe the way you operate, don’t panic. “Being open to failure” isn’t natural, fun, or frankly, very common. Don’t think of these traits as a list of must-do’s in order to be successful. To put it in perspective, these are the conclusions derived from studying a large and diverse group of leaders; no one leader perfectly reflects all these qualities.

That said, staying humble and open to change is the most important starting point to attaining agility in leadership and learning. If you can do that, the rest will follow.

Mitchinson, Adam and Robert Morris, Ph.d. “Learning About Learning Agility.” Teachers College, Colombia University, April 2012. http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/LearningAgility.pdf

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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Taking Risks

Think of an entrepreneur or a historical figure who inspires you. Do you have someone in mind? Maybe you’re thinking of Nelson Mandela or Martha Stewart or Albert Einstein. Maybe you’re thinking of Rosa Parks or Benjamin Franklin or Elon Musk.

What do all of these seemingly different figures have in common?

They were willing to take risks.

It’s easy to stay within your comfort zone and not venture too far outside the lines. But where does that get you? Nowhere extraordinary.

Even if you think you’re adverse to risk-taking, hear me out. Your risk-taking doesn’t have to put your career or wellbeing in jeopardy. You don’t have to throw all your money at an idea in order for your actions to count as “risks.” What you DO need to do is move forward, boldly (and that means something different to everyone).

What does risk-taking mean in YOUR life?

Does it mean finally asking for that well-deserved raise? Does it mean approaching your boss with a fresh, innovative idea? Does it mean reaching out to a co-worker who isn’t terribly popular around the office?

Or, does taking a risk involve something a little more extreme, such as making a career change or standing up to an abusive boss or coworker?

No matter how risks present themselves in your life, they are worth taking. Why? I’ll give you four reasons…

1. Opportunities abound for the person who takes a risk.

An employer is much more impressed by someone who dives into the unknown, and word will spread quickly about your willingness to venture into new territory. This will snowball and provide many more opportunities for you.

2. Failures are temporary, while regrets linger.

“When speaking to people in their forties and beyond, many tell me that if they could do their career over again, they’d have taken more risks, settled less and spoken up more often,” writes Margie Warrell in this Forbes article. It is always better to have tried and faltered than to have never gone for it.

3. You’re probably overestimating the odds against you.

Warrell points out that we tend to magnify the negative consequences in our minds, to the point where we no longer think about positive outcomes, which makes for a warped view of reality.

4. As a rule, you are capable of more than you think you are.

This is probably a result of having been conditioned early on to always be modest. But it’s okay to recognize your strengths and feel confident about them. And you’ll never know your ability until you take risks.

 

How will you move boldly forward today? How will you embrace opportunities for risk-taking instead of running from them?

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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How to get others EXCITED about your business

 

I’ve talked to plenty of small business owners and solopreneurs who are absolutely, positively convinced that their business is the best thing in town. They can solve problems, make improvements, and deliver cutting edge innovations. And they might be right. Their business may offer valuable products and services.

So why isn’t everyone and their neighbor making a beeline for their door, eager to hire the business?

It might have something to do with how the business is presented.

Oftentimes, businesses do the obvious: they tout what they do. They discuss their products, features, and benefits. Sometimes, that’s enough, but more often than not, this kind of pitch will fall flat.

Any company can talk about what they do, but what really sets companies apart is the emotion behind the delivery. Instead of trying to explain what you do and how you do it, talk about why you do it. What drives your business? What is at its core? Why are you personally excited about your company’s offerings?

It is this kind of emotional connection that helps companies like Apple succeed. Apple has created a loyal following because they are passionate about innovation and design. They’ve built a reputation that says “quality product.”

What your prospective clients want to know is what sets you apart from “the other guy.” How do you differentiate yourself and stand out?

Use emotion-laden language to discuss what you do. Don’t just say, “We design top-quality widgets.” Say, “Our team is passionate about the user-widget experience.” Or: “We are excited to bring you unparalleled innovation in widget technology.”

So, how do you create this kind of language around your product? As Simon Sinek says, “Start with why.” What is the motivator behind your work? Why do you care? Why are you better than the competition? Why should your target audience care?

Take the time to mull over the WHY of your business and then start a dialogue. Talk to co-workers and potential clients. Deliver the “rough draft” of your message and see if it resonates with them. Then, tweak it until you’ve got it right.

I want to see your business succeed (and I know you do too!). It’s time to abandon the “We are Company ABC. We do XYZ” language and center your message around your “why.”

 

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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Less Time at Work 2

There’s a persistent myth that in order to get anywhere in your life or career, you have to put in long hours. As Americans, we’re working harder than ever—putting in a full month’s more of work per year than we did in the 1970s. We’re also the most over-worked nation in the developed world. According to the ILO, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.”

And here’s the thing: it’s making the other parts of our lives suffer. We don’t have time to take care of ourselves (which is evident with skyrocketing obesity and stress); we take fewer vacation days; we don’t have as much time to spend with our family or friends. Not to mention, it’s nearly impossible to squeeze in volunteer or community time when we’re consistently working more than forty hours per week.

“But wait!” you might be saying. “Don’t I have to put in the hours to prove myself to the company? Won’t I look bad since everyone else is working sixty hours per week?”

My answer to that is this:

It’s much better to work SMARTER than it is to work HARDER.

For instance, if you’re energized from getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly, your performance will increase and you’ll get things done in a shorter amount of time. Looking at it from another angle, when you’re able to step back from your work, this allows you perspective. Instead of being “in the weeds” you can reflect on your work from a distance, which can help you to strategize better and approach your projects with a clearer view of what you want to achieve and how you want to get there.

Not to mention, you’ll feel better and happier when you’re paying attention to other areas of your life besides work. A professor at the Wharton School of Business found that when people in his study spent more time on family, community, and self, “their career satisfaction increased by 21% and their work performance (self-assessed) improved by 8%. Happiness with family life grew even more.”

It’s time we stop “out-working” each other. Such a mentality is, frankly, a race to the bottom. Instead, be a leader in effective time management and work/life balance:

  • Take breaks when you need to
  • Spend time with your family
  • Practice self-care
  • Focus on ONE project at a time, be fully present (and complete tasks more effectively!)
  • Step back and recalibrate your goals
  • Take that vacation
  • Make service to others and your community a priority

A culture shift away from our “worker bee” mentality is absolutely necessary and it starts with YOU.

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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