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A couple months ago, I had the privilege of seeing Tracey Jones speak at the Women’s Business Bridge annual conference in Stillwater, MN. Tracey is an author, speaker, Air Force Academy graduate, decorated Veteran, international leadership expert, scholar, and researcher. She is also the President of Tremendous Leadership. After her engaging presentation, I picked up a copy of her book, Saucy Aussie Living: Top 10 Tricks for Getting a Second Leash on Life. Told from her dog’s perspective, the book is tongue-in-cheek and goofy, BUT there are many valuable lessons embedded in its pages. One such lesson: Hang out with other top dogs and fumigate the “fleas” in your life.

This lesson boils down to the simple truth that when we associate with high-achieving, ambitious, and positive people, those behaviors and attributes WILL rub off on us. The opposite is true too. If we spend all our time with lazy, incompetent, or negative people, we will inevitably start to take on those characteristics.

The lesson of hanging out with other “top dogs” is a great reminder to pause, look around, and notice both the positive and negative influences in your life. Do some people give you energy and motivate you to be the best version of yourself? Great! Spend as much time around those people as possible.

Do others bring you down with constant complaining, excuses, or negativity? Make an effort to step away from those people and remove their influence from your life. Easier said than done, right? How do you “fumigate the fleabags” around you? It may be extremely difficult to step away from negative co-workers, bosses, or family members. What can you possibly do?

1. Create Healthy Boundaries

Do your best to limit interactions with negative individuals by creating healthy boundaries. This may involve only checking and responding to emails from that person once per day or limiting the number of meetings with that person (or choosing to meet online or over the phone).

Creating healthy boundaries also means standing up for yourself. If you feel like someone is taking over your space, speak out. Let the individual know that you need more breathing room and autonomy.

2. Communicate

If you are less than thrilled with someone’s attitude or lackluster performance, talk to them about it. Don’t be confrontational! Instead, approach the issue from an angle of offering to help. You might say something like: “I noticed you’ve missed a few deadlines lately. Is something wrong? How can I help?”

Communication also helps put negative attitudes in check. If, for instance, someone complains about a co-worker, flip it around by saying, “I don’t see her in that light. Besides, I’d rather focus on XYZ project than talk about Amy right now. Let’s go over last month’s numbers…”

3. Find Your Top Dogs

Once you’ve identified the high-achievers around you, start making an effort to associate with those people as often as possible. When you do this, the “fleabags” will naturally be pushed to the side. Additionally, the positive, go-get-em attitude you’ll adapt from your positive influencers will likely carry over into your interactions with less-driven individuals. Your energy and zest may have a contagious effect. Instead of spreading fleas, you’ll be spreading sunshine!

Regardless of your approach, it is crucial to align yourself with like-minded, motivated individuals. Lean on and learn from them, and don’t forget to give your support in return.

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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“If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive.”

Dale Carnegie

I get it. You’re excited about your new position or role and you want to get in there and shake things up! You see systems that are outdated, processes that don’t make sense, and a million opportunities to improve the current system and make positive change. And that’s great, except…

You may want to pump the brakes.

Why, you ask? Because even though you’re enthusiastic, motivated, and your heart is in the right place, others may not see it that way. Before you start demanding change, you have to prove your mettle. Demonstrate that you can thrive within the system before you go about changing it. Show that you have a deep understanding of your company and your role before you bring forward your ideas for improving things. Easing into change is as good idea for three reasons:

ONE: It gives you a chance to build your credibility. People will see that you’re dedicated to your job, perform well, and work well with others. Do your best work, do it on time, and show that you are a trusted partner (instead of combative and subversive).

TWO: It helps you build an alliance. It’s difficult to make change on your own, and nearly impossible if you don’t have others’ support. As you start thinking about ways to amend the status quo, be sure to make friends, ask for advice, and gather others’ thoughts and opinions. Not only will you be more likely to rally support behind your cause, you will also gain others’ perspectives on the issue, which will help strengthen your plan of action.

THREE: It gives you time to learn about the status quo, what works, and what doesn’t. While it’s tempting to barge in and overhaul an entire system that seems to be flawed, it’s a good idea to pause and study the system you’re attempting to fix. Are there parts of it that are actually working? Are certain things going well for certain people? Will there be resistance to your change? If so, why? Taking the time to study the current mode of operations will help you understand the greatest flaws and greatest assets of the system, and what should be fixed first. Your thoughtful approach will also demonstrate respect to those who have been working within the current system for years, and have not (for whatever reason) acted to improve it. Change can be a touchy thing, and you certainly don’t want to imply that everyone has been doing things wrong, and you’re the one with all the answers.

In short, don’t kick over the beehive when you begin a new role. Ease into it, learn how things are done, and start gathering information about what works and what doesn’t. Then, test the waters by floating ideas past others. Build your alliance, and then take action. With this methodical approach, you’re bound to gather some honey, rather than a few angry stings!

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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You tried to do something and failed, but all is not lost. Failure can be a valuable learning experience if you take the time to examine what happened and make a plan to try again. Following the steps below can be useful for overcoming failure in any aspect of your life.

1. Disconnect your self-worth from this one instance of failure.

Sometimes the hardest part of overcoming failure is getting past the emotional implications. Failing at something doesn’t make you a failure. That would mean everyone is a failure because everyone has failed at something at some point in their life. It may help to say it out loud or even write it down. Once you internalize the knowledge that you are not a failure, you can take what you learned and use it move toward success.

2. Figure out what went wrong.

When you can look at the situation objectively, take some time to examine exactly what happened. What did you do or not do that contributed to the result? It’s important to focus on the things that were within your control. If you’re having trouble, a sequence of events is a good place to start. Be sure to note what you did well along with what you could have done better.

3. Make a plan.

You now know what needed improvement and what you did well. For each thing that needed improvement, what are the alternative actions you could have taken? Which of the alternative actions are realistic for you? Can any of the things you did well be improved further?

4. Decide whether to implement.

This is an often-overlooked step to making a plan. Break each action of your plan down into the steps it will take to execute. Do these actions look realistic for your life at this moment? Be honest and gentle with yourself. If the answer is no, that doesn’t mean you should scrap the plan. You may Simply need to rethink a step or two to get you where you need to go.

Here’s an example of what this process could look like:

Scenario: You didn’t pass a professional certification exam.

  1. Realize that failing a single test doesn’t make you a professional failure.
  2. You got high marks in one section, but the others weren’t great.
  3. Search for prep courses or other study materials; try to find out how much time the average test taker spends studying.
  4. Decide whether the additional time spent studying is feasible for your current life and whether having the certification is worth the extra time you would spend.

Don’t internalize failure and allow it to inform who you are as a person. Take the information you learn about the process and yourself and use it to improve your chances of success the next time around.

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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Stacked rocks on shore
Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

It happens to all of us: we reach a tipping point that makes us want to explode, run away, or do something completely rash that we’ll later regret. Maybe a troublesome co-worker hasn’t completed their portion of a project again. Maybe a client is making unreasonable demands. Or maybe you’re about to give a big presentation, and you’re all nerves. How can you deal with a stressful situation and maintain a confident calm?

Try these three techniques:

1. Use the “100 years test”

Picture this: A car cuts you off in rush hour traffic as you’re making your way to work. You can’t find a parking space in the employee lot due to a big client event, and you’re late to an important meeting. At the meeting, you realize you’ve misplaced your notes and have to bumble your way through your presentation. THEN, just to put the cherry on top of your awful day, you realize you’ve parked illegally and your car’s been towed.

You’re fuming—mad as a bull in a china shop. You’re about to return home to your family, and probably lash out at them (unfairly) and make everyone around you feel just as rotten as you’re feeling right now. But wait! This is the perfect time to utilize the 100 years test. The test goes like this:

Will any of this matter 100 years into the future? Will the dangerous driver, your tardiness, your flubbed meeting, and your towed car be remembered in the annals of history? Likely not. All of those unfortunate events pale in comparison to the way you treat your family and the legacy you leave with them.

Remind yourself what truly matters. Every day, we have to deal with a hundred minor inconveniences. Don’t let yourself get hung up on those unimportant annoyances. Instead, use the 150 years test and instantly put things in perspective.

2. Excuse yourself

If you feel yourself reaching your boiling point, sometimes it pays to physically remove yourself from the space or the people who are causing you anger or anxiety. Just creating some temporary relief from the stressful situation can help to give you perspective and restore your calm. Take a short walk (outside, if possible!), meditate at your desk for five minutes, or squeeze a stress ball for a few minutes. Think about the situation while you’re physically removed from it, and then return to the space when you’re feeling calm and ready to deal with whatever has set you off.

3. Assess the “threat level”

Like the 150 years test, assessing something’s “threat level” is a good way to look at a non-optimal situation from a more neutral standpoint. This is a concept articulated in the book True Blue Leadership by Tracey C. Jones. Ask yourself, “Does this current annoyance threaten my family, my life, or my soul?”

When it comes down to it, these three crucial components should be first and foremost in your mind. If the annoyance is non-threatening (a chronically late co-worker, a bad hair day, an upset client), remain calm! There’s no need for a “fight or flight” response. Tell yourself, “I’m dealing with a nonthreatening situation. It’s best to stay calm and collected.”

How will you Keep Calm and Carry On this week? Try one or two of these three methods and let me know how it goes!

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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Pink lotus flower

One of the key leadership attributes in my book, The Ten-Minute Leadership Challenge, is TRUST. I truly believe business and leadership success is built on trust. You need it between co-workers, between supervisors and staff, between the business and its customers. If trust doesn’t exist, the organization flounders and is likely to fail.

One of the ways to build trust is through transparent behavior and communication. It goes beyond honesty and into the realm of integrity. Though honest and integrity may seem like the same thing, they are actually quite different.

Honesty is simply telling the truth. You can tell the truth and still omit information or focus on one part of the big picture. To relate honesty to a work example, think of a check-in meeting you might have with your team. In this meeting, everyone goes around and reports on their project, giving highlights on how things are going. When you have the floor, you talk about one specific part of your project—the only part that is going well. You’re being honest, but are you acting with integrity?

I would argue that, no, you’re not. You’re leaving out the parts of your project that are going poorly and casting yourself only in a positive light. That might get you by for a while, but what happens when your project implodes and you turn in subpar work? What happens when you hit a wall and need to desperately seek help?

This situation calls for more than honesty. It calls for you to be vulnerable and discuss the parts of your project that are leaving you stymied or frustrated. It calls for integrity.

If you act with integrity, you do what you know is best. It may not be easy, but it is right.

In this situation, you might call attention to the areas in which you are struggling. You might set aside your pride and ask for additional resources to help you complete the project as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Another situation in which integrity outweighs honesty has to do with office gossip. If you know a damaging bit of news about a co-worker, you could tell others about it. You’re being honest, right? But are you acting with integrity?

Again, the answer is no. Even though you’re not fabricating the damaging news, just telling it can be harmful. It can erode trust.

That’s the difference between honesty and integrity: Honesty is blunt, truth-telling and integrity involves considering the big picture and attempting to do what is right. Acting with integrity helps create trust.

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What is a personal mission statement and why should you make one? I’m glad you asked!

A personal mission statement goes beyond your career. It goes beyond New Year’s resolutions. It’s the backbone of who you are—the cornerstone of your legacy. A personal mission statement is the thing that drives your accomplishments and helps you to think “big picture” instead of getting bogged down by the day to day.

In practice, a personal mission statement is one or two sentences that define your overarching life goals and values.

Sound a bit daunting? It doesn’t have to be! Let’s break down how to create a personal mission statement in four easy steps:

1. Write out a list of your values and goals

Just free write. Don’t overthink this. Take ten minutes and write out words or phrases relating to things that you care deeply about or that drive you in life. For example, your list might have words like this:

  • Family
  • The environment
  • Financial freedom
  • Cooking
  • Starting a business
  • Empowering women

2. Spend some time thinking about the things you value, care about, or want to strive for.

Though the items on your list may all be important, some will be more important to you than others. Consider:

  • What do you want to be known for?
  • What excites and interests you?
  • Where do you feel your talents can be best applied?
  • Can you combine two or more items on your list? (i.e. Empowering women through creating your own business revolving around female health and wellness)

3. Write your statement

Put your thoughts and notes together and write out a personal mission statement. It can be something simple like:

I strive to put my family at the center of my life while also working in a leadership role in my current company.

Or, it can be a tad more complex:

My personal mission is to serve the natural world through volunteerism, a career at an environmental nonprofit, and by striving to lower my carbon footprint.

4. Rewrite your statement

Sit with your statement for a while. Pin it to your bulletin board. Look at it and say it out loud from time to time. Does it feel right? Does it encompass everything you’d like to accomplish? Or is it missing some key element?

Tweak your statement accordingly (and keep tweaking, if it needs it!)

Then…Act!

A personal mission statement is meaningless if you put it in a drawer and let it grow dusty. Pin it where you will see it every single day. Look at it often and use it as a motivator—some fire under your feet to accomplish big things and drive you toward your goals.

Think of your statement as an end goal and then strategize ways to reach that goal. What actions do you need to take to put your personal mission at the center of your life? What needs to change? What needs to stay the same or amplify? What resources will you need? Who can you turn to for guidance and support?

Use your personal mission statement as that little bit of gas in the tank that will propel you through your days…no matter how sluggish or uninspired you may be feeling. And remember: if you happen to stray from your personal mission, it’s okay! Use your statement to right your course, restrategize, and press on!

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clean corner desk


Spring is in the air! This is the time of fresh starts, newly budding flowers and trees, and…spring cleaning. Maybe you’ve been on a Netflix Tidying Up kick in which you’ve parted with clothing and objects that “no longer bring you joy.” Maybe you’re preparing to give your entire house a good, thorough scrub. That’s great, but have you given any thought to your professional life?

Just as we sort, scrub, cleanse, and revamp our personal lives, so too is it healthy and productive to rejuvenate our professional lives.

I recommend setting aside at least half a day (or an hour a day for several days in a row) to sort and reorganize your professional life. Take the time to deal with overflowing inboxes, ancient file folders, outdated information, and that stack of free stuff and business cards you’ve accumulated from work events.

Here are five places to start:

1. Your Email Inbox

There are times when I’ve simply selected all my emails in my inbox and deleted them en masse! Though I don’t necessarily recommend that, I do recommend purging the build-up in your inbox. Do you really need all those old newsletters and appointment reminders?

If deleting things seems scary, create a file folder called “Archive,” select all your emails, and move them into that folder. That way you can always access them if you need them. Then, create a system of file folders to deal with any new incoming mail (i.e. you could create a folder for each of your clients, each co-worker, or folders for specific subjects, depending on the nature of your work). When new email starts flooding in, delete the junk, sort important notices into files, and keep your “to-dos” in your inbox until you address them.

2. Update Your Resume

When was the last time you took a look at your resume? Does it need a revamp? Even if you’re not actively looking for a job, it’s a good idea to keep your resume up to date. Make sure your current job description is accurate, all the dates are correct, and any irrelevant or outdated information is deleted. You may also want to update your reference list.  A career coach, such as myself, can help you give it a refresh.

3. Update Your LinkedIn Profile

Just like your resume, your LinkedIn profile might be stale or outdated. Give it a once-over and update your information.

4. Clean out your file folders

Yes, it is time to recycle those old tax documents from 1992. Take the time to leaf through your filing cabinet and get rid of information that is simply not necessary. You may also find that some documents can be scanned into your computer and saved in a digital file, rather than a physical one. Though this may seem like a daunting task, it is easy to break it up over the course of several days by, for instance, going through 10 folders every day.

5. Dump old business cards

If you’re like me, you’ve accumulated hundreds of business cards over the years. I’m willing to bet that most of them have been shoved in a drawer somewhere, never again to see the light of day! Sift through your desk drawers and get rid of those cards. If someone’s information is important, save it in a digital contact book or connect with that person via email or LinkedIn. While you’re at it, get rid of all the magnets, stress balls, and other doodads you’ve squirreled away in your desk drawers. If you haven’t used it in the last year, chances are you won’t ever use it.

Your professional life deserves a scrub-down! Commit to making a few positive changes to set yourself up for success. I guarantee your neatly-sorted professional life will help you feel better, save time, and may even motivate you to (gasp!) actually want to spend time in your office.

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