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find voice and own it

Your thoughts matter.

Do you believe that simple sentence? Have you internalized your worth as both a human being and a key component of your workplace?

I’ll say it again: Your thoughts matter.

Far too often, people feel like their ideas, opinions, or points of view do not mean as much as others’. They feel minimized or silenced. They feel some kind of invisible barrier, holding them back from speaking up.

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever been at a meeting and decided against speaking up or voicing your opinion? Have you ever felt shut out of a conversation, even though you had something to contribute? Why?

Unfortunately, a few dominant voices tend to rule the workplace. Whether they became the “big players” through experience or by aggressively asserting their point of view, these are the people who do not easily share the floor with others.

So, how do you break in? How do you find your professional voice and speak it?

Start small. Try a few of the following steps and keep building your confidence–and your voice–through intentional actions.

  • Practice speaking your mind in one-on-one meetings or informal lunch gatherings.
  • Build your confidence before you go into a meeting. Try using Amy Cuddy’s power pose or repeating affirmations.
  • Set a concrete goal (i.e. I will speak up at least twice during our next meeting).
  • Have a candid discussion with those who shut you out of meetings (they may not even realize they’re doing it!). Don’t be confrontational, be conversational. Present your case by using the D4 feedback model.
  • Involve others. If you notice someone else itching to say something, be an advocate for them. Say something like, “It looks like Susan has something to say.” Your gesture won’t go unnoticed and (hopefully) the favor will be returned at some point
  • Be prepared and know your stuff! Do your research before walking into a meeting and come prepared to ask at least three good questions (I’m a huge proponent of asking good questions!).
  • Keep it up. Even when you’re not feeling especially assertive, keep up your confidence through affirmations, intentional breaks (get away from your desk!), and by practicing good all-around self-care.

Your voice is valuable! It’s time others heard it.

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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4 steps to start job searching

If you’ve been feeling discontent in your current role and are thinking about seeking a new one, NOW is the time to get started. Don’t wait until you’ve had it “up to here” with your current job and are feeling desperate to get the heck out of there. Instead, take a few simple steps to prepare for a potential upcoming job hunt. Your future self will thank you!

1. List Your Accomplishments

Spend some quiet time reflecting on what you’ve accomplished in the past year or two. Are you able to quantify any of your achievements? For example:

  • I helped reach XX% more customers through a new marketing initiative
  • I helped save the company $XX through the implementation of new technologies
  • I led XX people in a team project.

If you’re not able to quantify an achievement, are you able to describe it in a sentence or two? Have you won any awards or gained any recognition that might impress future employers? Make a list of everything you’ve accomplished.

2. Update Your Stuff

It’s time to take a peek at the ol’ resume and make sure it’s up-to-date. Additionally, make sure your resume reflects the skills that will be required in your potential future job. If a chronological resume doesn’t quite capture your relevant skill set, try creating a functional resume, which highlights skills/abilities instead of listing your jobs chronologically.

While you’re at it, update your LinkedIn profile as well!

3. Focus on Your Connections

  • Start writing out a list of anyone and everyone who may be a valuable connection or reference when you begin your job hunt. It’s helpful to use a spreadsheet program, such as Microsoft Excel.
  • After you’ve made a list of at least 10-20 people, find their contact information and add it to your spreadsheet.
  • Then, order your contacts from “most likely to be an asset” to “least likely.”
  • Finally, make notes about whether or not you regularly keep in touch with each person. If you do not, jot down a plan for how and when you’ll revitalize your connection with that person.
  • Start networking and reconnecting! I can’t emphasize enough how important personal connections can be in a job hunt.

4. Search for Skills Gaps

If you’re thinking about pursuing a role that it significantly different from what you’re currently doing, take some time to identify any skills gaps you may have. What are 10 key skills required for you dream job? Which skills do you already have? Which could use a boost?

If you’ve identified some major skills gaps, consider enrolling in a certification course, a continuing education program, or conducting an informational interview with someone who works in the position you’re pursuing.

 

Even if you’re not quite ready to start your job search in earnest, you can take several small steps to get started. Today, I challenge you to reflect on your accomplishments, update at least a few items in your resume, start listing out your valuable connections, and identify your skills gaps. Even if you only have half an hour, you can at least get started on your path to a new job. It’s time to invest in 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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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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