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Creating Successful Leaders

Tag Archives: Margaret Smith Minneapolis career coach

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There are times in life when we feel lower than low. These are the times when your car fails, your plumbing breaks, you get sick, and your boss hands you a bunch of extra work…all in the same week. Or, you might be trying to cope with a traumatic event or a soured relationship. Regardless, life has a way of turning belly-up when you least expect it.

During such troubled times, how on earth can you find inner peace?

1. Remove yourself from the situation

Literally stepping away from the situation gone-wrong (whether it be a tense meeting, a failed dinner recipe, or a laptop with a mind of its own) can help give you space and perspective. Granted, you can’t step away from every situation immediately, but when you can, relocate to somewhere peaceful so you can clear your head. There’s nothing like a little space to give you perspective and time to think things through.

2. Let go

For the things you can’t control (and that includes many things in life), practice letting go. Your frustration over crummy weather, a traffic jam, or a client’s decision to take their business elsewhere won’t get you anywhere. Instead, learn from the situation and move on.

3. Practice gratitude

When things are going awry, it’s often useful to focus on the good things in your life. No matter how bad things get, there will always be one or two things (at the very least!) that are going well. Focus on the positive—your talents and abilities, the healthy relationships in your life, the roof over your head—and let those things carry you through the day.

4. Free write

Journaling or free writing can help you work through your problems and, perhaps, find a solution. At the very least, these activities will help you vent. Find a quiet space, grab a notebook, and go to town. The act of writing is a healthy release, and can help you work through your troubles in a constructive way.

5. Calm your mind

Let your mind release and let go of all that tension you’re carrying on your shoulders! Practice meditation (several different apps, such as Headspace or Calm can help you get started), focus on taking deep breaths, or do something a little more active, like going on a walk or practicing yoga.

6. Treat yourself

If things are really tough, make a point of treating yourself. Schedule a spa day or massage, get a new haircut, or plan a weekend getaway. Even taking yourself out for a nice meal will help. If you have the time, and a little cash to spare, you might even plan a bigger trip for yourself. Studies have found that simply planning a vacation can elevate your mood.

7. See yourself on the other side

Even though things are tough right now, things can and will get better. Picture yourself on the other side of your troubles. Imagine that future you—the one who made it past all your current hardships, and emerged wiser, stronger, and ready to step forward into a brighter world.

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Many of us have opportunities to meet new people regularly. Whether at a conference, seminar, or simply a gym class, we may be brushing shoulders with others who could prove to be value networking connections. But oftentimes we’re either A) too timid to strike up a meaningful conversation or B) bad about following up or keeping in touch once we do make a new acquaintance.

Let’s change that pattern! It’s time to turn potential alliances into solid connections. Start by following these five steps:

1. Speak Up

So many of us miss opportunities to connect with others because we’re nervous to strike up a conversation with someone new. At a conference or workshop, it’s so much easier to stick with the group of people you already know and not venture outside your comfort zone. It’s also easier to stick your nose in your phone or laptop during breaks, and not bother to seek out new acquaintances.

I challenge you to dip a toe out of your comfort zone and start talking to strangers! It may be intimidating at first, but honestly, what’s the worst that could happen? The other person may not be receptive to your efforts…so, you move on.

2. Ask Good Questions

If you’re attending a business event, you might consider coming up with a few questions ahead of time to ask would-be connections. Go over the day’s agenda, and think of relevant questions you could ask.

Another way to engage new acquaintances is to be genuinely curious about them. Go beyond “What do you do?” Dig deeper and ask questions about their client base or how they became interested in their work in the first place. Or, connect on a more personal level and ask about their background and interests (without being too nosy, of course!). If you’re going to go this route, you probably want to offer something of yourself first. For example, “I’m thrilled about all the book recommendations we’ve been getting at the conference. Do you like to read too?”

Asking questions creates bridges between people. Just make sure you’re mostly asking open-ended questions (not ones that can be answered with yes or no), and you truly listen to the reply. You don’t want to completely miss what someone says because you’re thinking up a response.

Asking questions creates bridges between people.

3. Demonstrate Your Value

When you’re connecting with a professional acquaintance, it’s a good idea to think about how you can help them, instead of focusing on what you can gain. Make it clear that this relationship is a two-way street, and you have valuable skills and services to offer.

4. Connect Within Three Days

Be sure to follow up with new acquaintances within three days, while your interaction is still fresh in everyone’s minds. Send a short email and/or connection request on LinkedIn. You might also give a brief reminder about how you met, saying something like, “It was great talking about data collection methods at the ABC Conference on Thursday. I’d love to continue the conversation sometime…”

5. Create a Follow-Up Schedule

Designate time to follow up with new acquaintances. Set your dates and plug in a calendar reminder to make sure you follow through. Don’t be too pushy, especially if you don’t get a response from your acquaintance, but do make an effort to reach out. Consider framing your message like this:

Hi Rachel,

You crossed my mind the other day because [FILL IN A REASON]. I wanted to reach out and see how you’re doing with your XYZ business. Have you had any more issues with [FILL IN DETAILS]? If you’d like to grab a cup of coffee sometime soon, please let me know. I have some free time at the end of next week.

Take care,

You worked hard to make your new acquaintances; don’t let them fall between the cracks! Your connections could prove to be fruitful, both for you and the people you meet.

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I know how it goes. You attend a professional conference (either by choice or because your company sent you), you learn a few things, you become motivated to make changes…and then you leave and neglect to follow up on any of it.

What good are these events if you never implement anything you learn?

It’s time to change the way we approach conferences. Start with the following four steps:

1. Do Your Homework

Before the conference begins, be sure to look up the schedule and note anything that appeals to you—relevant break-out workshops, lectures on interesting topics, events that might build your network. Going in with a plan helps you be more efficient with your time and prevents you from being roped into a lecture or workshop that might not actually suit your interests.

2. Ask Questions

Once you determine which sessions you’re going to attend, jot down questions you could ask the speaker/presenter. Keeping these questions in mind helps to deepen your relationship with the subject matter and keeps you engaged (if your questions are answered, great! If not, find time to ask them, if possible).

To dive deeper into a topic, ask follow-up questions to fellow attendees as well. Asking open-ended questions such as, “What did you think about [SUBJECT]?” or “What were your take-aways from the presentation?” will stimulate conversation and help keep the topic top-of-mind.

3. Find an Accountability Partner

There’s nothing like a little accountability to help you follow-through on committing to change. If you’re attending the conference with people you know, ask a trusted colleague (or colleagues—the more the better!) if they will agree to be your accountability partner. Say something to the effect of: “I’m really hoping to implement some of the things I learn this coming weekend. Are you hoping for the same? Would you want to do brief check-ins after the conference to make sure we’re both on track?”

Then, follow up! Schedule weekly or bi-weekly check-ins on your calendar (a simple chat over a cup of coffee will probably suffice).

If you’re feeling self-conscious about asking someone to be your accountability partner, try holding yourself accountable by scheduling—and committing to—self-check-ins. Set aside fifteen minutes every week, retrieve your conference notes, and see where you’re excelling and what areas need improvement.

4. Take Notes

Speaking of notes…take them! Jotting down your take-aways (and going over them shortly after the conference) will help you retain the information for longer.

Remember: Many speakers who present at conferences have valuable advice to share. You just have to be willing to listen, absorb it, and act.

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person jumping at sunset

Happy New Year! Now is the time when many people reflect on the past year, examine their life paths, and resolve to make meaningful change. Though you may start the year with the best of intentions (earning a promotion, losing weight, learning a new language), it’s easy to quickly lose steam after a month or two have passed by.

You might slip up once, then twice, then you toss the whole resolution out the window and tell yourself you’ll do better next year. But that doesn’t have to be the drill. It IS possible to commit to the resolutions you’ve made and actually make positive changes in your life.

Try these three steps:

1. Try 90 Days Instead

While this may seem like cheating, it is actually a good idea to commit to a goal for 90 days rather than an entire year. According to David Horsager, author of the Trust Edge, the attention-span and commitment of most people doesn’t usually stretch beyond three months.

However, he argues that most people can make huge strides in just 90 days. If you map out a plan for that stretch of time (outlining not just what you’re going to do, but how you’re going to do it), you can do everything from losing 20 pounds to writing a novel.

2. Lean On an Accountability Partner

Whether a trusted friend/co-worker or a professional coach, it’s a great idea to use an accountability partner. This is a person who knows about the commitment you’ve made, and agrees to hold your feet to the fire. Ideally, you and your accountability partner will have regular check-ins, so they can keep tabs on your progress and you have an added incentive to get things done.

3. Break Down Your Goals

When I’m coaching individuals or teams, I often advise them to take their goal and break it down into “bite-sized pieces.” When you only look at the end state you’re trying to achieve (write a book, get a raise, eat healthier, etc.), it can seem daunting or downright impossible.

Instead, set incremental goals that lead you to the BIG goal you’re trying to achieve. Whenever you hit one of your incremental goals, don’t forget to celebrate! This will give you a little extra incentive to keep at it.

It’s the New Year, and you want to start it out right. No matter what big-picture change you’re trying to make this year, you CAN get it done. Follow these steps, don’t be too hard on yourself if you have an off day, and don’t forget to celebrate your achievements. Happy 2020!


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4 Ways to Stop an Interrupter

Are you dealing with a chronic interrupter? Whether in the workplace or your personal life, it never feels good for someone to talk over you, ignore you, or minimize what you’re trying to say.

How can you possibly deal with the strong personality of someone who constantly interrupts? Try these 4 methods:

1. Speak to the Interrupter in Private

Instead of getting mad, posting about the interrupter on social media, or fuming to your friends or colleagues, it is worth it to have a conversation with the offender. Though it’s never easy to have tough conversations (an issue I addressed in a past newsletter), there are tactful ways to approach the person and convey your message without sounding accusatory.

Make sure you schedule a private meeting with enough time to talk things out. Then, use the D4 model to address the issue:

Data: What are the facts? What actually happened?

Depth of Feeling: How did the instance make you feel?

Dramatic Interpretation: How are you interpreting the situation? What meaning have you given it?

Do: What do you want to do? What do you want the other person to do? Focus on actions taken and actions required.

In this case, the D4 model might sound something like, “I’ve noticed that you often interrupt me when I’m speaking. That makes me feel frustrated and belittled because I get the impression that my ideas and perspectives are not valuable. I wanted you to be aware of this so we could come up with a solution together…

2. Lean On Your Allies

If you’re too nervous to confront the interrupter OR you tried speaking with this person and nothing has changed, try reaching out to others. Let them know the situation and how you’re feeling (it’s possible others are feeling the same way you are!). Then, ask them to help by sticking up for you at meetings and saying, “Now, wait a minute. I’d like to hear what [YOUR NAME] has to say.” Be sure to offer the same support to them, if they need it.

3. Call Out the Interruption

If the interrupter starts talking over you, have the confidence to call them on their bologna! Immediately counter with, “Just a sec. I wasn’t finished,” and then finish what you have to say.

Part of this technique involves being confident that what you’re saying IS valuable. Know that it is. Your voice is important and deserves to be heard.

4. Change Up Your Meetings

If things are really bad, you may want to talk with your supervisor and ask about using a meeting moderator. This is someone who is designated to run the meeting (it may be your supervisor a designated point person), call on people for their thoughts, and stamp out bad behavior, such as interruptions. Though it may feel a bit like a teacher monitoring a Kindergarten classroom, sometimes that’s what it takes!


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Post first published in 2016.

It’s Thanksgiving month, so you’re likely seeing constant reminders about gratitude and giving thanks. A lot of it may seem fluffy, but there are actually concrete benefits to being grateful.

Studies have shown that moods lift, outlooks become more positive, and relationships are healthier when we practice gratitude. From a business perspective, showing appreciation for your clients, co-workers, support staff, or employees helps to foster a more pleasant atmosphere, boosts morale, and slashes employee turnover.

But, gratitude shouldn’t be treated as a one-off thing. We shouldn’t get through Thanksgiving and go, “Well, that was fun. Now, on to Black Friday!”

A grateful mentality should be a sustainable one. We’re talking about an attitude shift here, not just a temporary state of mind. Why change your thinking for a month, when you can change it for a lifetime?

The trick to sustaining an attitude of gratitude? Practice every day.

The moment you wake up, instead of dreading the day ahead, think about the many blessings in your life. These could be simple things–the hot coffee in the pot, your friends and family, the roof over your head. Think about three things that bring you joy, comfort, or stability. You can choose to write about these things in a gratitude journal, or simply meditate on them for a few minutes.

Then, see where your day takes you. This morning burst of gratitude should help give you a positive boost and, if you confront rough patches throughout the day, you can always think back to your morning meditation and remember the three things that you were grateful for.

(It is worth noting that being a grateful person doesn’t mean that there aren’t negative aspects of your life. If the negative parts get too overwhelming, it may be time for a significant change. But that’s a topic that I’ve addressed in other posts.)

When you’re grateful and appreciative, the world changes. Your personal outlook becomes brighter, the people around you seem more pleasant (or at least tolerable!), and your relationships become more amiable and love-filled.  Try adopting a gratitude-filled lifestyle and watch your world transform!


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Two business people talking at a table
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Do you have trouble getting what you want? Are you often overlooked or not listened to? Do you know a change needs to be made, but you’re having trouble framing your argument?

It sounds like you need to tap into the power of persuasion!

Being persuasive doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being sneaky or underhanded. If you use persuasion in an honest way, it means articulating something so others can see your point of view. Sometimes, you have to be persuasive to make positive changes or advance your career.

How do you become persuasive? Try a few of the following techniques:

1. Prepare

No matter if you’re leading a meeting, having a one-on-one with your boss, or proposing a new idea around the water cooler, it’s necessary to come prepared.

Do your homework, research the ins and outs of your proposal, AND anticipate potential problems or questions others may ask. If you know your stuff, you’ll automatically be more persuasive.

2. Be Confident

When you’re speaking, don’t use words like “I believe” or “I suppose.” Be confident when making a claim. Say it boldly, and people will listen.

Research shows people are more likely to listen to someone who is confident than someone who is an actual expert. Of course, you don’t want to spread false information, but when you do have something to say, say it with confidence!

3. Frame Your Words Carefully

Consider these two sentences, and tell me which is more effective:

“I’d like to be considered for the management position because I’m interested in furthering my career.”

“I’d like to be considered for the management position because I’m interested in new opportunities and challenges.”

The second one, right? These sentences both convey someone wishing to be considered for a promotion. Yet the second sentence focuses on personal growth and a desire to learn, while the first seems to say that the person, at the end of the day, is really only in it for themselves.

Before going into a meeting, practice your phrasing in front of a mirror, until you feel comfortable delivering it.

4. Be a Mirror

When trying to persuade someone, mirroring their body language, tone of voice, and volume makes you seem empathetic. In fact, if you’re an empathetic person to begin with, you are probably doing this without realizing it! People instinctively try to form alliances whenever possible, and by copying their mannerisms (subtly, of course!), you’re signaling that you understand them and are on their side.

5. Know Your Audience

Pay attention and start noticing what matters to people in your office. Do certain topics of conversation keep coming up? Are people interested in family, football, pets, or local music? What values do they seem to have?

Getting to know the people around you is invaluable to building rapport and gaining trust. Ultimately, if others find you easy to talk to and pleasant to be around, you won’t even have to think about being persuasive—people will want to listen to what you have to say.

If you want to make a change, put forth an idea, or simply be heard, it’s a good idea to hone your personal power of persuasion. It may not come easily at first, but with practice, you’ll be a pro!


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