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Earning thanks

In past posts, I’ve written about how to live in gratitude and express your thankfulness to others. Gratitude can make an enormous difference in your outlook on life, your motivation, and even your health…but what if others are not returning the favor? What if you feel that your co-workers, boss, or family members are constantly failing to recognize your contributions?

That lack of appreciation can get downright frustrating. It can make you feel unmotivated and uninspired. It can also make you wonder if you really are doing good work, since no one seems to notice.

Although we shouldn’t fuel our days entirely on other people’s thankfulness, it’s good to feel appreciated and valued—a worthwhile contribution to the team. If you’re fed up with your lack of recognition, try these four tips:

1. Know when to say NO

If you’re feeling like others are taking advantage of your generosity, it may be time to draw a firm line in the sand. Know your limits and be brave enough to say no when you’re feeling overworked, or when an assignment does not fall within your area of expertise. Although it can be difficult to do at first, saying no can help establish healthy boundaries and earn you respect (if you’re tactful about it! For more, read 10 Diplomatic Ways to Say NO)

2. Make yourself visible

It’s possible others are not expressing their gratitude to you because they are not aware of the work you are doing. Make an effort to check in regularly with your boss or your work team and give a brief update about your current projects. BUT, be sure to reciprocate and ask others about their projects and progress. Demonstrate that you care about others’ work and they will likely return the favor.

3. Express your feelings

Don’t just keep your frustration to yourself; tell others if you’re feeling underappreciated or ignored. How do you do that without exploding your emotions onto others and causing a rift? Try using the D4 model: Data, Depth of Feeling, Dramatic Interpretation, and Do. First, state the facts of the situation—what happened and why? Then, express how you felt about it and what meaning (interpretation) you give to the situation. Finally, suggest an action plan.

The D4 model could play out like this: “Susan, I put in ten extra hours last week to assist with your project and I’m frustrated that you didn’t acknowledge my help. I believe this is part of a larger problem in the office: we do not appreciate each other’s contributions. Going forward, I would like to change that by recognizing outstanding team members at meetings or awarding bonus gift cards to employees who put in extra effort. What do you think?”

4. Continue to show gratitude

If you take the time to recognize others’ achievements—whether in a company meeting, a private comment, or a written note—others are likely to reciprocate. You’re contributing to a culture of gratitude and when you lift up others, you’ll be lifted with them.

 

You deserve recognition for your hard work. If you’re frustrated by your office’s lack of appreciation, get cracking on one (or more!) of these four steps. Remember: don’t be accusatory or snide. Approach your situation with a level head and the understanding that most people are not giving you short shrift on purpose—they’re likely so wrapped up in their work and lives that they’ve simply forgotten the power of a simple “thank 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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I’ve been reflecting about my time on the Camino de Santiago. Last week I wrote a post about community on the trail, but this week, I want to focus on something a little different: Steps.

When we go through life, not every step forward is easy. Sometimes, we have to make hard choices, delve into difficult projects, or have tough conversations. Sometimes we’re so tired, brain dead, or feeling so darn defeated that we can’t imagine plunging ahead.

While hiking the trail, I didn’t always feel strong. At times, I was sore, achy, thirsty, or just plain burnt out. But I got up every morning and kept going. I didn’t have a choice. And, you know what? It got easier.

With every step I took throughout the day, my legs loosened up. With every encounter with a fellow hiker, my spirits lifted.

It all started with that first step in the morning—the one that shakes off the cobwebs and starts everything going.

In life, it’s easy to look at the big, scary future and stay rooted to the spot, not daring to move forward. Maybe you’re anticipating looking for a new job, moving to a new city, or starting a brand new relationship (personal or professional). Or maybe it’s as simple as looking at your to-do list and completely shutting down since there’s SO MUCH on that darn list.

In these cases, start with a single step. What’s ONE thing you can do today—right now—that will take you one step closer to your goals? If you’re gearing up for a job search, spend five minutes right now reading over your old resume and taking a few notes. If you’re moving into a new position at work, take a couple minutes to jot down a list of questions you have about your new role. If you’re staring down a gigantic to-do list, pick one easy thing and get it done right NOW.

Any step you take is valuable and, once you start with step one, you might just feel some momentum and continue on. This is how progress is made and journeys are completed: one step at a time.

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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As a career coach, I am well aware of the rigors of the modern workplace. Many businesses are understaffed or have ultra-high expectations for their employees, demanding sixty or eighty-hour work weeks. There’s a lot of rushing around, and forging ahead on projects…even if the plan or objective isn’t crystal clear. And that can cause a lot of trouble in the long run.

If there’s no room for question-asking, a work team could end up missing a crucial deadline, misinterpreting a client’s needs, or taking a project in the completely wrong direction. The team will then have to back-pedal and try to correct their errors, costing the company time and money.

The simple way to prevent such mishaps is by simply asking questions.

Good leaders not only ask questions, but encourage others to ask questions. This creates a culture of openness and candid interactions. Questions also can open up a dialogue about the best course of action, rather than limiting future actions to one set of ideas.

Utilize questions to…

Clarify

When a client or manager is introducing a new initiative or project, be sure to ask questions to make sure you understand everything correctly. If you are the one explaining a new concept to others, be sure to ask if they have any specific questions about the actions and objectives.

Learn more about asking great clarifying questions in my video on clarity.

Put Forth New Ideas

There is usually more than one path to a solution. When you ask questions that challenge the current way of doing things, you open up new ways of thinking and acting. These are the “What if…?” questions. They are the questions that encourage your team to think outside the box and become more innovative and creative.

Challenge

There’s a tactful way to challenge an idea, project, or statement. Use questions to uncover any holes in a plan, and gently offer a solution. A tactful challenging question may sound like this:

“I know your team has extensively tested the product on U.S. audiences, but have you considered our international market?”

OR: “I know we’ve been using the same financial tracking equipment for years, but have we thought about exploring XYZ Equipment?”

Dig Deeper

Use questions to really sink your teeth into a project and learn about the thinking behind it. “Digging questions” help to unearth any potential flaws in a plan and open up a dialogue to explore other possibilities.

These questions might ask, “How did we conclude that this is the best course of action?” or “What are some alternative ways we could market to X?” or “How does the data back this decision?” These kinds of questions will challenge your team to be more reflective and thoughtful about their current course of action (and potential future actions) and how they arrived at certain decisions.

 

Creating an open atmosphere that encourages asking questions can tremendously strengthen an organization. When people feel comfortable enough to ask clarifying questions or explore alternative routes, that opens the floor to increased creativity, candidness, and a sense of collaborative decision-making.

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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leaders as moderators not enforcers

Leaders often burden themselves with being the only ones to make tough decisions and stick with them, even when they may not be popular with everyone on the team. There are times when you, as a leader, must make tough decisions and deal with a bit of unpopularity for a while.

But there are other instances—the majority, in fact—in which leaders tend to take on too much when it comes to making difficult or controversial decisions. They feel, rightly so, that because they’re the ones who must take ultimate responsibility within their organization, they also must personally decide, execute, and maintain new systems or standards.

While it’s true “the buck stops here” when it comes to leadership responsibilities, we must remember that those we work with and manage have loads of helpful ideas we might otherwise not have thought of ourselves. We must also remember that our coworkers and/or employees are capable and eager to do a good job (and if they aren’t, then it’s time to rethink your hiring strategies!).

With this in mind, we should take advantage of our teams when it comes to making, implementing and maintaining decisions.

Moderate The Decision-making Process, Don’t Make All The Decisions

As a leader, make an effort to get your team involved in the process of making key decisions. Your role should be to moderate the group, keeping the discussion focused and realistic, and also to help peers work things out should disagreements arise.

Workers who are involved with decision-making feel more engaged and connected to their work, getting a sense of ownership for the visions the team has come up with together. This inevitably leads to better performance across the board, because ownership and meaning behind one’s work always gives them that necessary fire to push toward excellence.

Leading As The Vision-Implementer, Not The Productivity Police

If a team feels they are being micro-managed, they tend to become distant from their work. That is to say, a babysat team can easily be made to feel that they are not smart or capable enough to do their own work.

On the other hand, we all need standards in place to keep us all on the same page. A great team is well-organized, highly communicative and grounded in a mutual understanding of the standards and expectations.

You can see why involving everyone in big decisions can help you as the leader in the long run, when you need to begin implementing the vision (aka, the daily expectations of each team member). If and when you run up against disagreements or unproductivity, you can always point back to the standards the whole team created and agreed to. Instead of placing blame, encourage ongoing collaboration to iron out any wrinkles in the initial plan.

Maintaining The Vision

Things don’t always apply perfectly from the white board to real life. And, since the business world constantly changes along with the rest of the world, it’s necessary to constantly reevaluate the value of decisions you’ve made and implemented in the past. This means you’ll need to tweak things as you go and ask for feedback from the team, thereby keeping everyone directly engaged in the process.

 

Maintain involved, but not overpowering leadership; involve your team; and don’t be afraid to modify your approach. That is the recipe for empowering individuals and creating a happy, functioning team.

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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The power of vocal inflection

We’d all like to think that what we say is important. When we stand up to give a presentation or if we’re talking with a friend or significant other, we hope that others are listening to what we’re saying.

But the what is not necessarily as important as the how.

How you deliver your words can matter just as much (or more!) than what you say. No matter how compelling your message, if you say it in an unenthusiastic or irritated way, others will pick up on your tone, rather than what you are saying.

Take the simple phrase “Dinner’s ready.”

Let’s say you get home from work and you decide to prepare a nice meal for yourself and your family. You cook up a couple dishes from scratch and time everything perfectly so that your entrée comes out of the oven at the same time that you’ve finished making your sides. You’re pleased as punch with how your meal turned out and you can’t wait to share it with your family.

At this point, you call out in a sing-song voice, “Dinner’s ready!”

No reply.

Your spouse, your children are upstairs doing who-knows-what. But you don’t feel like hunting them down, so you busy yourself with doing a few dishes while you wait for them to come down.

Five minutes.

Ten.

When you call for your family again, the cheeriness is out of your voice completely. It’s been replaced by a loud, curt, and semi-dangerous tone:

“DINNER IS READY.”

You’d better believe your family will come running this time!

The lesson here is that vocal inflection matters. It conveys how serious you are about something. It demonstrates your enthusiasm (or lack of). It has the power to energize a room or put everyone to sleep.

Next time you’re about to interact with someone or lead a team meeting, think about your tone of voice. Practice your speech in front of a mirror. In most cases, you’ll want to sound energized, but not over-the-top. Cheery, but authentic. The only exception is if you’re speaking about a serious issue that requires more gravity. Use common sense and let your tone match the message.

For more tips on how to be a compelling speaker, take a look at these blog posts:

https://uxlblog.com/2016/10/05/let-your-voice-be-heard/

https://uxlblog.com/2016/03/09/10-ways-to-have-a-better-conversation/

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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Don't let inexperience stand in your way

There you are, sifting through the LinkedIn ads, searching for the job of your dreams. You find that listing that speaks to you, and you get excited as you read through the list of responsibilities. You even start picturing yourself exceling at each task, getting promotion after promotion, becoming the next CEO…then, bam! You hit that long, seemingly endless list of requirements, including three unrealistically specific degrees, and one hundred years of experience – for an entry level position. You feel defeated. And maybe you shrug your shoulders and instead apply for a different job that only makes you feel “meh.”

I’m here to tell you that the magical person who has all those qualifications does not exist. Perhaps those mile-long job requirements come about due to inexperienced human resources workers who have never written a job description before. Or maybe some employers are hoping to find the best and brightest pool of talent to dip into later by listing a million requirements. Either way, don’t let it discourage you from applying, and here’s a couple reasons why:

  • Interviewers are human. This means you can use your sparkling personality to win them over. Be personable and be yourself. People want to work with people who seem easy to get along with and who are excited about the job.
  • Your qualifications do not have to be so literal. Maybe you have never managed a team before. But I bet you have coached a co-worker through a tough time, or managed a project. Think through scenarios that relate to each qualification in the job posting.

Of course, there will be times when more experience may be required. Huge career shifts may involve going back to school for an entire four-year (or longer) degree. But often there are more subtle ways to gain the experience to help you land the job:

  • Harness your network – Get to know the industry or the company you want to work for by asking your network for help. A friend may be able to land you some informational interviews at her friend’s company, or a former colleague may be working in your intended industry.
  • Volunteer or Intern – Look for opportunities to help in the area you want to work in. That could mean writing newsletters for a friend’s business if you are looking for a communications gig, or interning at a farm for the summer if you are looking at agriculture or horticulture.
  • Freelance – Have you thought about going solo? If you have knowledge in a particular field, like writing or graphic design, for example, and are finding it hard to land a traditional job, freelancing may be for you. According to Freelancer’s Union, there are over 53 million Americans working freelance, and it is continuing to grow as workers seek alternative ways to make money.
  • Take a class or two – There are so many ways to educate yourself without having to go back for a full degree. Sometimes you just need a refresher, or you want to expand your knowledge base. Most areas offer community education classes. And universities have continuing education programs and certifications. Even learning from home can take you far; there are so many classes and professionals offering training online.

 

Don’t give up hope when you see a lengthy job posting. Think through your options to make that dream job a reality. How can you translate your current experiences into the right requirements for the job? It doesn’t have to take a complete overhaul of your life to get the career you deserve.

I am happy to provide guidance along your journey to a fulfilling career. Contact me to learn more.

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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diplomatic and creative ways to say no

It’s easy to say yes.

“Yes, I can take on that project!”

“Yes, I’ll have that to you by next week!”

“Yes, I’ll add another client to my list!”

While it’s great to be agreeable, there is a limit. When you’re bogged down with commitments and your work-life balance is suffering, it’s time to put on the brakes and start saying no. Do it for your mental and emotional health. Do it in order to be true to yourself (in other words, don’t take on projects that do not align with your skills and interests). Do it to set boundaries and stop others from taking advantage of you.

But do it right.

Below are 10 diplomatic ways to say no. Practice reading them aloud in front of a mirror until they become natural.

“Thank you for the opportunity, but my schedule is packed.”

 “I know you would like my help with __________, but I won’t be able to do so unless/until __________.”

 “I wish I could, but as a rule I don’t __________.”

“Thank you for thinking of me, but I have other commitments.”

“I’m really not the best fit for __________. Have you tried talking with                    ? That sounds right up his/her alley.”

“I appreciate you coming to me with this opportunity. Unfortunately, I have too much on my plate right now to take it on.”

“I would like to say yes, but I don’t have time to do this project justice right now.”

 “I’m sorry, but I’m only taking on work related to _________ right now.”

 “I’d like to help you, but my schedule won’t allow any new projects.”

 “Thanks for asking, but I really can’t.

Use these responses to help you take control of your time and schedule. It takes courage, but you’ll thank yourself later if you decide to decline a project that doesn’t align with your values and priorities.

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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