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Text over a red lattice
Background image via Alicja from Pixabay

At one time, it was fairly common for a person to spend their entire career at the same company, working their way up the rungs of the organizational ladder. Today, things aren’t nearly so neat and tidy, and career paths are not nearly so straight (or even vertical). Instead of a ladder, many modern workers’ careers resemble a lattice.

How can a career trajectory resemble a lattice?

A lattice fans out in many different directions. It climbs, but not necessarily in a straight line. Similarly, a person might take on a variety of different roles in a number of different industries. They might learn various skills along the way, each one building up their expertise and knowledge base.

This type of “climbing” creates a more well-rounded person—someone who has dipped their toes into many different waters and has developed skills in numerous areas. The latticed career path also inevitably makes people more adaptable—they’ve had to learn the ins and outs of a variety of different workplaces and roles.

If so many modern employees move in a lattice style, how is it possible to map out one’s career? Is it even plausible?

Absolutely. You just have to adjust your thinking. Instead of visualizing your career as “climbing the ladder,” think instead about the different skills you’d like to learn, experiences you’d like to have, and goals you’d like to attain. How will you get there? What training do you need? What roles and responsibilities do you need to fill? These different skillsets and experiences are offshoots of your lattice.

If you’re having trouble with this visual, you can also think about your career path like a tree. While the whole entity goes up, some of the branches are more horizontal than vertical. These branches are the different career detours you might take. You might, for instance, take the time to earn your MBA, learn how to code, or take a class in public speaking. While these little detours may deviate from your main career, they make you more well-rounded and valuable in the end.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how to lay out your non-linear career goals (moving like a lattice or a tree!) in more detail. In the meantime, simply recognize that your trajectory may not be straight, but that doesn’t mean you’re not moving forward and picking up valuable skills and lessons along the way.

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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Image by Анастасия Гепп from Pixabay

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,
Margaret

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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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!

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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Hands holding a seedling
Image via Pixabay

Striking out fresh in any career comes with its own set of challenges. If you’re lucky, you’ll enter into your industry with a few contacts and entry level skills before having to navigate where to look for employment and how to distinguish yourself from a large pool of talent. While this generation of young people are capable workers in their own right, young professionals don’t have the benefit of having experienced an industry for a decade or two like their superiors. Mentoring others provides a unique opportunity to fill in the gaps for these workers and offers many rewarding benefits:  

1 . Better Outcomes and Relationships

Mentoring, like tutoring, is an interpersonal skill. When people feel their voice is heard and being encouraged to grow, they are much more likely to remain engaged with their work and voice concerns more confidently. Any time you can foster better feedback from your team, the stronger the team becomes.

2. Reputation

Building a reputation as a mentor in your industry can become a distinguishing part of your career. Often, companies seek to draw upper-talent from pools of candidates that are known in professional circles to be helpful leaders and actively collaborative. Mentoring your employees demonstrates both of these skills easily and clearly, particularly for mentors who’ve done so throughout their career. As the adage goes: “You get back what you put in.”

3. Professional Development

Just because someone can benefit from the guidance of a mentor doesn’t mean they’re without skills to bring to the table. New workers, especially young people, often come with the proficiencies or strategies needed to approach new technology or use new software. You can take advantage of the personal relationship you strike with your mentee to have them teach you how to effectively use these tools. You both walk away more competent.

4. Networking

Life is long and careers often take unexpected twists and turns. The analyst that started at your company five years ago may quickly rise in the ranks of the industry to a sector you’re interested in doing business with or simply learning more about. The more people you can foster a mentoring relationship with, the wider you cast your net across the next generation of leaders. These relationships may end up among the most important in your working life.

5. Personal Fulfillment

Any teacher can attest to this last benefit. Mentoring is an opportunity to open yourself to others whose perspective may be entirely different from your own. Learning from one another about subjects that extend beyond the scope of your job will enrich you personally and professionally.

Mentoring others is essential to bridging the gap between generations of workers. Stepping up to help guide colleagues through this process will not only reward your mentee and yourself, but your industry as a whole. So take a leap and share what you know!

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 can dream of success and plan all you want, but at some point, the rubber has to meet the road. Your success will ultimately be built on actions, not wishes and dreams. The most successful people in the world not only have a strong vision of where they want to go, but the willpower and drive to get there. And that’s just it: to become exceptionally successful, you have to work exceptionally hard.

Beyond working hard, successful people often have to do what others will flat-out refuse to do. They’re the ones who are getting up early and working on writing their book. Or making cold calls to people who could help on their journey. Or investing in themselves by attending workshops or seeking coaching in order to better define their path. Or reading books and conducting research in their spare time to learn and improve.

This is the “tough stuff” most people refuse to do. It takes sacrifice and drive to, for instance, read a leadership book instead of turning on the television and zoning out. It takes dedication to wake up an hour early every morning and work on whatever you need to do to achieve your dream.

The “tough stuff” may take you out of your comfort zone (networking, cold calls, learning new skills, etc.). It may make you stretch yourself and adapt to new situations as best you can. That’s part of the process. If you’re not okay with a little risk and discomfort, you’re not likely to achieve major success. Risk comes with the territory (as long as it’s risk with a purpose—risk for risk’s sake isn’t going to do anyone any good).

Start with a solid vision of the future, create a plan, then dive into the tough stuff! Ask yourself:

  • Am I willing to make sacrifices to reach my goals?
  • Am I okay with a certain amount of discomfort?
  • Am I ready to learn whatever new skills are necessary?
  • Am I willing to accept I will encounter opposition? And do I have the courage and tenacity to face that opposition head-on?
  • Am I willing to take action and work for my dreams?

If you answered yes to these questions, you are in the right mindset to take on the tough stuff and achieve your success. Let that mindset drive you forward to dream, plan, and DO.

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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Image via Pixabay.com

In a past blog post, I addressed diversity and how it goes beyond physical characteristics and also involves diversity of thought, behavior, and perspective. Today, I’d like to discuss how your diverse workplace can be a welcoming one. First, let’s define what a welcoming workplace looks like.

People in a welcoming workplace…

…feel a sense of belonging, are treated fairly, and have equal opportunities

…feel like they can be themselves and allow others to be themselves

…are fully engaged and part of a team

…remain authentic

The result of a welcoming workplace? Innovation, creative ideas, and fresh ways of looking at things. These are all things any organization wants, but how to achieve them? How can people with widely differing outlooks on life work together harmoniously and accomplish great things?

According to the principles I’ve learned from Insights® Discovery (a tool for understanding and developing unique personalities), inclusion really starts from the top. Company leadership needs to be fully invested in the idea of fostering a welcoming workplace before the rest of the team can truly adopt it.

The organization should consider these questions:

  • Does the leadership recognize the diversity of its team?
  • Do they know how to adapt and connect with all the people on their team?
  • Do they know what motivates certain people on their team? Do they know what derails them?
  • Are there open lines of communication in the office?
  • Are questions and concerns addressed or ignored?
  • Does the leadership make an effort to hear from everyone at the table?

Company leadership can facilitate an open, welcoming environment, but it takes the rest of the organization to keep it up on a day-to-day basis. That takes awareness and reflection. We should be asking ourselves questions from time to time like: “How does the work environment feel?” “How comfortable is it for me? For my co-workers?” “Does the minority have a voice in the office?” “Are we encouraged to raise questions or concerns?”

It takes time to build a welcoming environment, but the results are worth it. Each person has the ability to add unique value to the organization, so it’s important to create an environment where that value can come through.

If you’d like to delve into creating a welcoming workplace in more depth, I encourage you to contact me so we can discuss your organization’s needs. Thanks for reading!

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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