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questions to build trust in leadership

It may seem surprising, but asking questions can actually make you a more trustworthy leader. Questions do not diminish your authority or make you appear weak. Rather, by asking the right questions, you can gain valuable insight, open the floor for more meaningful conversations, and demonstrate that you respect your team.

Which questions are the “right questions?” The simple answer is: open-ended questions that stimulate conversation and don’t presuppose an answer. A question such as “Don’t you think Client X would benefit from our new product?” is not open-ended and not productive. It is only searching for agreement, not a true dialogue.

Instead, try asking questions that begin with words like How, What, or Why. These question words typically allow for a wide range of answers, not just a yes or no response.

The other half of asking good questions is practicing active listening. Leaders build trust by seeking their team’s thoughts, opinions, and ideas, and listening closely to the answers they give. This show of respect is integral to building trust

Next time you’re in a meeting (either with your entire team or a single individual) try asking some trust-building questions. Here are 10 to get you started—choose ones that are applicable to your team and situation.

  1. What resources do you need to complete your task?
  2. What is holding you/us back from success?
  3. How can I help?
  4. What are some possible solutions you envision?
  5. Who/what are we lacking to achieve success?
  6. What can I do to help foster more creativity?
  7. Why do you think                            is happening?
  8. What are your current frustrations?
  9. What is our biggest risk in this endeavor? What is the Plan B?
  10. Is this assignment a good fit for your talents? (Why or why not?)
  11. How does this add value to our mission?
  12. What effects will this decision have?
  13. How can we improve                     ?
  14. What opportunities can bolster our business?
  15. What else would you like me to know?

This is just a sampling of the questions you can ask your team. Get curious. Involve them in decision-making. Ask good questions and build trust.

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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Do you feel driven by a larger mission or purpose, but you’re distracted by day-to-day responsibilities? Does it feel like you’re only inching ahead when you should be sprinting? Are you wondering how on earth to make a positive impact when you’re so darn busy?

You’re not alone.

Many people want to make a difference in the world, but have trouble finding their footing. They might feel like they’re too busy, distracted by other responsibilities, overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, or unsure of where to begin. How can you become a change agent when so much is holding you back?

Take heart, it is possible for even the busiest person to make waves. Start with these seven steps:

1. Start thinking conceptually

Conceptual thinkers are able to take a step back from their daily work and explore the bigger picture. They think about widespread, systemic change. They reflect on what kind of action is needed to make an impact at all levels. For example, if a conceptual thinker’s goal is to cut pollution, they might consider local action first—promoting carpooling or biking, participating in local advocacy groups, etc. Then, they might consider statewide action—pollution-cutting legislation, campaigns to build more bike lanes. Lastly, they might consider systemic, nationwide action such as advocating for federal laws that require stricter efficiency in cars.

To become a conceptual thinker, start researching the cause you are passionate about and find out how the local, statewide, and national pieces connect. Figure out who the major players are and what is already being done to help. Then, reflect on potential actions you could take to participate in the “good fight.”

2. Set incremental goals

Goal-setting works. If you’re determined to make a difference, try setting several concrete goals and working backwards—what steps do you need to take to get there? By breaking down your goals into bite-sized pieces, they will be more manageable and you’ll be able to celebrate small victories along the way (for more on goal-setting, see my past blog post).

3. Find like-minded dreamers

There’s no need to be alone in your advocacy. Seek others who are as interested in your cause as you are and become a part of their community. You might find these like-minded folks online, through meet-up groups (such as Meetup.com), in local clubs, through work groups, or even among your friends.

Once you find your community, lean on them for support and inspiration. They are the ones who can help you when you’re feeling stuck or unsure of your next steps.

You can also use members of your community to be accountability partners. Challenge them to hold you accountable for sticking to your advocacy goals through regular check-ins. Don’t forget to return the favor!

4. Anticipate resistance…and create a plan to overcome it

Daily life and unexpected troubles are sure to get in the way of becoming a change agent. You might get bogged down by a large project, a family illness, or unexpected financial troubles. Don’t fret! These things happen. If something suddenly gets in the way of achieving your advocacy goals, wait until the trouble has passed, revisit your goals, and rethink them. Reset your deadlines and develop a new plan for making a difference. Everyone has to deal with setbacks from time to time—just don’t let a setback become a defeat.

5. Don’t do everything yourself

The greatest change agents recognize that they do not have to go it alone. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with a project—say, you’re running a blood drive and more people signed up than you originally anticipated—reach out to others and ask for help. Don’t think of asking for help as a sign of weakness; great leaders are also great delegators.

6. Build your resilience

You’re going to feel worn down by work, life events, and all the good work you’re doing to become a champion of change. That’s normal. When you’re feeling exhausted, take a conscious break, unplug from your duties, and give your overworked brain time to cool down. You can build your resilience by stepping away for a while and then facing your challenges once you feel rejuvenated. Part of resilience also involves recognizing that things are not always going to go perfectly, but you can and you will overcome the bumps in the road. Think of each setback as an opportunity to try again, not as a failure.

Are you excited to go out there and make a positive difference? I’m excited for you! Though you are but one person, there’s so much you can do. Start small, develop your plan, build your support group, and start making an impact. The world needs your contribution.

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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slow down amid holiday craziness

Tis the season…of a thousand little tasks! Between holiday get-togethers, cooking, decorating, and shopping for presents, it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed by the holiday busyness. It’s too bad that the season of joy, family, and camaraderie can also be the season of stress, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

In between the hustle and bustle, you can find small ways to slow down and relax if you know how. These tiny breaks are necessary for your emotional and physical wellbeing, your relationships (personal and professional), and your mental clarity. Slowing down can help defuse stressful situations or allow you to step back and have a greater presence of mind when you’re faced with a problem.

Here are 8 ways to slow down amid holiday craziness:

1. Pause, breathe, re-center

You’ve probably heard this before, but allowing yourself time and space to just breathe can reduce stress and help you see the bigger picture. Try different “quick relaxation” techniques like counting to ten, focusing on your breath, or taking a short walk.

2. Stay active

When you’re busy running errands and rushing to get work done before your holiday commitments, you may feel too exhausted to hit the treadmill or attend that yoga class. The truth is, physical activity won’t deplete you, but will help energize you and keep you healthier and happier in the long-term. Don’t neglect your fitness, even if it means buying a pre-packaged dessert for the potluck instead of making one from scratch. Your health comes first!

3. Read for pleasure

Instead of zoning out in front of the TV after a long day, try stimulating your brain in a different way by reading or listening to a book. It’s a great way to relax and spend a little time away from the ever-present screen.

4. Take a walk

When was the last time you simply went for a walk without any destination or distraction? I challenge you to leave your cell phone at home, bundle up, and start walking. Let your mind wander wherever it wants to go, breathe easy, and let yourself relax. You maybe surprised by how energized you feel afterward.

5. Enjoy time with friends

Pick a no-stress activity and enjoy it with friends! Your friends deserve a break from holiday headaches just as much as you do, so why not unwind together? Hit up a coffee shop or a happy hour, wander around a conservatory, or park yourselves at a local library and read books side-by-side. No need to do anything too elaborate—in fact, the simpler the better.

6. Cherish mealtime

How many times have you scarfed down lunch at your desk? Or eaten dinner in your car? How many times have you cleaned your plate without truly thinking about what was on it?

In our modern world, we have gotten away from making meals the center of our lives. Cheryl Johnson, founder of Box Lunch Lifestyle, challenges us to spend just fifteen minutes each day doing nothing but eating our lunch, appreciating it, and sitting quietly (followed by 15 minutes of “you time”). This time allows us to decompress and be mindful of the food that is nourishing our bodies.

7. Don’t worry about perfection

Though it’s easier said than done, one way to slow down the constant thrumming in our heads is to realize that you don’t have to always achieve perfection. You don’t need the perfect tree; you don’t need to make the perfect holiday meal; you don’t need to buy the perfect gift. Cut yourself some slack and don’t stress if you fall short of perfection. Your honest effort is enough.

8. Ask for help (and accept it)

The entire holiday season does not rest on your shoulders. If you need help, ask for it! Host a potluck, for instance, instead of cooking an entire meal on your own. Hire a cleaning crew instead of stressing about tidying up your house. ASK what others want as gifts (or ask for their Amazon wish list!) instead of trying to guess. Delegation and assistance do not make you any less of a holiday warrior—just an efficient one.

 

My sincere wish for you is that you will enjoy this holiday season instead of stressing about it. Take some time for yourself amid all the hustle and bustle. Pencil it into your schedule if you need to. You shouldn’t have to survive the holidays…you should enjoy and savor them like a cup of gourmet hot cocoa.

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meaningful career

It’s a common challenge: How do you love your job and make money? Some are lucky to achieve both, but many people feel stuck between one or the other. Unfortunately, many artistic endeavors and social services do not pay well, despite their value to society. Because of that, many people are left feeling unfulfilled in their office jobs, wondering if they should be doing something MORE with their lives.

Does that sound like you?

If so, you’re not alone. If your discontentment is severe, consider talking to a career coach (drop me a note if you’d like). If, however, your discontentment is more of a nagging tug at your conscience, you may be able to improve things on your own.

No matter what industry you’re in, there’s usually an opportunity to integrate art, altruism, community, or whatever piques your interest into your work. It only takes a little creativity, initiative, and perseverance. Start with these four steps:

1. Look For Existing Opportunities

Depending on your organization, meaningful opportunities may already exist. Some businesses have groups devoted to community projects, art, or forming connections between like-minded co-workers. Do a little research and see if anything that aligns with your interests already exists.

2. Integrate Interests With Daily Work

Interested in photography? Volunteer to take pictures for the monthly newsletter or company website. Love writing? Ask your boss for writing-heavy assignments or, if you’re working in a team, offer to take on the writing tasks. See if it’s possible to meld your interests with your everyday workload.

3. Take Initiative!

Create your own meaning by initiating groups devoted to volunteering, artistic endeavors, or other projects related to your interests. Of course, you’ll want to go through the proper channels to do this, but you might be surprised by how willing organizations can be when it comes to volunteer or enrichment programs. Chances are, other people will also be interested in your endeavor, which translates into a more tight-knit, content work community.

Some ideas for you to consider include:

  • Creating an artists’ club for knitting, painting, photography, or whatever you’re interested in (Instead of a weekly happy hour, host an “art session” instead!)
  • Volunteering in the local community (soup kitchens, book drives, etc.)
  • Initiating fundraisers for schools, safety, health and wellness, or whatever you’d like
  • Starting a “green” group that occasionally gets together to do roadside cleanups or raise money for parks, clean water, etc.
  • Founding a wellness program that focuses on clean eating, meditation, weekly yoga, or whatever you’re passionate about

4. Look For Resources

Some organizations have funds set aside for “extracurricular” work activities. Do your research! Might your company be willing to sponsor your initiative? Don’t forget, people count as resources too. You may be surprised by others’ excitement and willingness to help.

 

Do you feel invigorated? Energized? Ready to dive in and figure out how to make work more meaningful for YOU? I hope so. Finding meaning in your work is vital for your sustained happiness.

If you’d like a little more guidance, I’m here to help.

 

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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rebuild trust

So you’ve made a mistake and your relationships are suffering because of it. You may have dropped the ball on an important project, gotten caught in a lie, or failed to follow through when people were counting on you. The possibilities are endless, but the result is the same: your employer, employees, or clients are having a hard time trusting you because of what happened.

Even if you have already apologized endlessly and amended the mistake you made, you may still be feeling reverberations from the incident. You’re facing the unfortunate truth that so many have had to learn the hard way: trust is much more quickly lost than it is built.

How do you begin the process of rebuilding trust? Start with these three steps, and remember to be patient with yourself—trust-building takes time, energy, and a concerted effort.

1. In work, as in life, the first thing to do is own up to what you’ve done. Apologize to the people who were hurt, using language that makes it clear you know where the blame lies. Don’t just say you’re sorry it happened—say you’re sorry for what you, personally, did or did not do.

Accept the blame if it belongs to you. Sloughing it off to the person next to you does not signal that you are actually sorry. Listen to the other party’s grievances and acknowledge their validity without becoming defensive. Make it verbally clear that you not only regret what happened, but you are ready to take action to repair your relationship.

2. Once you’ve made a clear and sincere apology, it’s time to take tangible steps. Be conscious about making commitments and sticking to them. If you say you’ll be somewhere or do something, follow through. The goal is to have people associate you with punctuality and dependability. Turn projects in on time. Follow up on the little things you say you’ll “talk about later.” Give people your full attention when you’re having a conversation. Keep the right things confidential. In short, be present.

3. If you have taken these steps, you have fixed your mistake and proven you are still dependable. In order to actively build a positive impression, look for ways to go above and beyond expectations. Take time to catalogue common goals you have with the person or group you need to rebuild trust with. Think of ways you can demonstrate that these goals are your priority. Go the extra mile on projects—anticipate needs and resolve problems quickly.

 

Psychologist Paul White says that trust is built on competence, character, and consistency. The truth is that trust takes time to rebuild, but if you intentionally consider the ways you went wrong and what it will take to reconstruct a relationship, you will certainly be in a better place than if you ignore the issue. Let the work you put into your relationships become the new point that defines your personal and professional character.

 

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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Carrie Green is a successful entrepreneur and founder of Female Entrepreneur Association. In her Ted Talk, she discusses reprogramming your brain for success. Many of us have limiting thoughts (I can’t, there are too many obstacles, etc.) that hold us back from achieving greatness.  Carries argues that anyone can overcome these limiting thoughts by having a strong vision and believing, wholeheartedly, that that vision will come true.

In short, success is no accident. It starts by :

1)Knowing exactly what you want to achieve

2)Knowing why you need to achieve it

3)Knowing the kind of a person that you need to become to achieve it

4) Programming your mind to achieve it (Visualization, Affirmation)

For the full talk, click on the video below. Begin at 10:20 or so for the meat of the lecture.

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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Get things done

David Allen has influenced people all over the world with his best-selling book, Getting Things Done. What can we learn from his methods? I’ve highlighted seven key lessons for increasing productivity, each and every day:

1. Focus on your workspace

Where you work is important. Set up your workspace so that it is your “cockpit of control.” That means everything is intentionally organized and you have efficient, instant access to information or tools you need.

2. Don’t multi-task

Focus on one task at a time and give it your full attention. Multi-tasking ultimately slows you down because your attention will be disjointed and you may not complete tasks to the best of your ability.

3. Cut down on distractions with a Thought Bucket

When you’re working on a specific task and something else comes to mind, jot it down in your “Thought Bucket.” That way, you won’t lose your thought and it’s less likely to control your mind. Every week, take a look at your notes in the Thought Bucket. Remove unimportant items, complete 2-minute tasks, and plot out appointments/deadlines in your calendar.

4. Break down goals

If you’re staring down a big-picture goal, it may seem intimidating (and you may turn and run the other way!). Instead, break down your goals into bite-sized pieces and tackle those pieces one at a time. The most urgent step on the project list goes to the Next Action list.

5. Pay attention to time-sensitive items

Allen suggests keeping track of time-sensitive tasks in something called the Tickler File. Use this file to set reminders for deadlines that are coming up within the next 31 days and also 12 months into the future.

6. Keep a Someday/Maybe list

Dare to dream. If you have ideas for projects you’d like to tackle or initiatives you’d like to start in the future, keep track of them on your Someday/Maybe list.

7. Regularly update your information

Allen suggests reviewing and updating all lists weekly. In his view, daily to-do lists are inefficient because of their warped view of time. Weekly lists help you think “bigger picture,” but do not overwhelm.

How about you? Are you a list-maker? How do you organize your day/week/quarter/year? Do you tend to multi-task or lend your focus to one task at a time? If you’re finding that your current system isn’t working, you may want to give David Allen’s a try!

 

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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