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stepping-stones

So many today feel disillusioned with their jobs, and I think much of it can be attributed to thinking about the career path all wrong.

In an article on the Harvard Business Review blog, Nathaniel Koloc, CEO of ReWork, writes that “as many as 70% of working Americans were unfilled with their jobs,” according to a Gallop Poll conducted in 2013. The reason for this is a general sense of disconnection many feel between the work they do and the values they hold. What’s more, a lot of folks don’t see their career path progressing toward anything they find meaningful, and so, they settle for mediocrity as the norm.

This type of thinking can be detrimental, as it leads to boredom, apathy and the very unpleasant feeling of being helpless and stuck. It’s a cycle, too: when you feel stuck and then settle for mediocrity, you’re less motivated and inspired to take risks and chase after what you really want.

A way to rethink this is to challenge the traditional “career ladder” model of professional life. “Sure,” writes Koloc, “many people accept that the career ladder is broken, but most still attempt to increase the ‘slope’ of their career trajectory.” The idea that our careers are linear progressions is pretty deeply embedded in our society. We still assume, despite the rapidly-changing job environment, that our work will steadily move “up” in salary, stature and social impact. Then, when it doesn’t, we become discontent.

Our professional paths are much more like stepping stones laid out horizontally, not ladders. In other words, we have opportunities all around us we often don’t consider when we have the “ladder” mentality, which tells us that in order to be a good worker, we must always being looking up.

A great point Koloc makes is that our interests and passions change as we grow older, and thinking of your career path as a series of stones all around you fits much more aptly with this natural part of human growth. Are you interested in the very same things as you were ten years ago? Probably not, and even if you are, I’ll bet you’ve added a few more interests over the years. Koloc’s point, I think, is that because we change gears all the time as people, there’s no reason to cling onto the career ladder approach to jobs, because even if you get a promotion in the field you’ve been working in for years, your true passions may have shifted away from your work while you were busy on the ladder.

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potential

Just because you might not have a list of awards or credentials under your belt doesn’t make you an unfavorable candidate for the job. In fact, quite the opposite.

A study conducted by Zakary Tormala and Jayson Jia of Stanford and Michael Norton of Harvard Business School reveals that potential has more of an alluring power than achievements do.

Although going for the individual with more achievements is the safer option, Tormala et al. argue that “the uncertainty surrounding individuals with high potential makes them more interesting, which draws people in, increases processing, and can have positive downstream effects on judgment.” High potential gets noticed.

Sure, with an old pro you can feel more confident that they’ll perform up to standard, but pruning a new recruit reflects better on your own resume. But if you think about it, wouldn’t you rather bring on an undeveloped talent and have them flourish under your supervision than recruit an old pro who’s already done it all before?

If you’re just breaking into a new field, don’t be intimidated by a veteran’s long and decorated list of achievements. A common mistake inexperienced applicants make is downplaying or entirely ignoring the fact that they are a new face.

Use your inexperience as a distinguishing advantage. Instead of saying, “I must admit that I haven’t worked in this area before, but…” say, “With me, you’ll get the rare opportunity to train me in ways tailored precisely to this business. No bad habits here!”

 

Tormala, Zakary, Jia, Jayson, and Michael Norton: “The Preference for Potential.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 103 (2012): 567-583. Accessed June 10, 2013. doi: 10.1037/a0029227.

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collaborationYou probably know that successful businesses are built around good collaboration, but you may not know that sometimes collaboration can actually be a negative force in an organization. Author Morten T. Hansen addresses the issue with an example in his book, Collaboration:

“When oil giant British Petroleum (BP) started to promote cross-unit collaboration,” writes Hansen, “leaders encouraged the formation of cross-unit networks focused on areas of shared interest. Over time, this idea flowered into an unforeseen number of networks and subnetworks…which consumed increasing amounts of managers’ time.”

This tendency toward overdoing it stems from the notion that more structure equals better results. But this often backfires, costing time and money. In reality, collaboration is the result of good chemistry between individuals united behind a single cause. Instead of implementing rules for how to collaborate, or “forcing it,” we should promote an environment that allows individuals to collaborate naturally.

I came across a YouTube video by Angela Fernandez Orviz that does a good job of illustrating how collaboration sparks creativity and innovation.

After watching the video, I arrived at a few points:

1. Seek out diverse strengths and personality types

As Orviz states, we must utilize a large network of disciplines in order to address issues in a global world. Most groups must diversify their business to stay relevant. This means integrating all sorts of professions, be they doctors, scientists,  journalists or salespeople.

2. Keep an open mind and embrace Divergent Thinking

Set your own ego aside and keep your mind open to many different ways of solving a problem. Each member of the team brings a specialized skill and viewpoint to the table, and it is up to the group as a whole to be open to everyone’s take on the matter. The brainstorming process may take longer as a result, as you’ll see ideas come from every angle possible, and you may face some frustrating road blocks. Hence, I strongly recommend that you…

3. Agree On The Objectives Early On

Before you even begin brainstorming, draft a written document that all members of the team agree on that specifically states the aims of the project at hand. This will act as a road map that keeps the collaborative process within a workable framework. In this way, you’ll be able to allow for divergent thinking and creative meandering, resting assured that you’ll eventually find your way to real solutions. Solutions which could not have been reached without many minds and strengths working in unison.

 

Hansen, Morten T. “Collaboration: How leaders avoid the traps,  create unity, and reap the big results.” Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2009, page 12.

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In his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport makes a startling observation: “When it comes to creating work you love, following your passion is not particularly useful advice.”

How can this be? Don’t passions lead to great careers? That’s the common thinking, but Newport found that this is actually a dangerous way to search for a rewarding career. Your passions don’t always translate well from what you’re interested in to what you do for work, for one thing. For another, how can you know what a career will be like if before you’ve tried it? An aspiring musician may be passionate about music, but can they honestly say they’ll be happy with music for a career? Of course not; after all, I don’t think any of us have ever had a job that perfectly met our initial expectations of it.

Newport isn’t saying that being passionate is a bad thing. He’s instead warning us not to put too much confidence in our passions as the sure way to a rewarding career. It’s the other way around, in fact, as he explains:  “Passion is a side effect of mastery.”

It turns out that  current research (the Self-Determination Theory) has pointed to three main components that make you more motivated in your work:

Autonomy – the feeling that your actions throughout your day matter, and that you have control over your own work

Competence – knowing that you’re good at your work

Relatedness – connection to others in your place of work

These three ingredients, according to the Self-Determination Theory, enable you to achieve mastery in your work, and from there passion and happiness will naturally result. 

That’s right: rewarding careers are created through finding, refining and pursuing your skills, not your passions.

It may take a while longer to enact this principle, but I think Mr. Newport is onto something. We too often give “passion” too much credit when it comes to finding a great job and growing in it.

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Reference:

Newport, Cal. So Good They Can’t Ignore You. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2012.

 

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...Calvin could use a little help...

…Calvin could use a little help…

Let’s face it: the world can be a competitive place. If you’re passionate about something and wish to pursue it, others are definitely doing the same. If you think you’re very good at something, there’s someone out there who’s better. Everyday, we must navigate through a world in which everyone is fighting for numero uno.

This is why persuasive skills are a must-have. To be successful in your endeavors, whatever they may be, you’ll need to convince others that you are worth their time.

The following are a few techniques to help you be more persuasive.

1. Frame Your Words Carefully

Consider these two sentences, and tell me which one 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.

Politicians use framing all the time. Consider the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice.” If you swap the “pro” with “anti” to make them “anti-life” and “anti-choice,” you see what each side is trying to emphasize.

These are subtle, yet intentional ways to make your proposal more enticing.

2. Mirror Body Language

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

3. Fluid Speech

Too many “umm’s,” “err’s” or other fillers gives off the impression that you aren’t confident, and confidence is crucial for successful persuasion. Work on making your speech smooth, fluid, and controlled. Don’t rush through your proposal or argument. Instead, relax your shoulders, take a deep breath, and speak as you would to a good friend.

If you feel the need to utter an “err,” here’s a tip: Often, when in a position of pressure, such as an interview or a presentation, we are inclined to speak much more quickly than we usually would. If you feel an “um” coming on, it’s a cue that you need to slow down and take a breath. Change out the filler word with silence. This may sound crazy, but actually, a few seconds of silence between sentences gives off an impression of confidence and control of the situation. Watch politicians speak, focusing on how they take tough questions, and you’ll see what I mean.

4. Break The Touch Barrier; Use First Names

You’ll need to use common sense for this one, since some situations aren’t going to allow for you to do this. However, because we humans subconsciously desire to bond, physical touch can make it more likely that the person you’re persuading will accept you as an ally and feel inclined to agree to your proposal. This can be a light pat on the shoulder, a joking “punch” on the arm (not a real punch, obviously), or a reassuring and gentle arm squeeze. Again, you’ll need to use your intuition on this. I wouldn’t, for instance, do the joking punch thing at a job interview.

In the same vein, work on using someone’s first name mid-sentence  This does two things. First of all, it instinctively demands the person’s attention. Should, for any reason, the person begin to show signs of losing attention, inserting their name into your speech will snap them back into the present. Secondly, it triggers the same subconscious bond that physical touch does; it gives them the sense that you’re on the same team.

5. If you believe in your proposal, others will too

This is the most important trick. Too often I see people clearly uninterested in the thing they’re trying to sell/promote/propose. This is perhaps the single biggest turnoff when it comes to persuasion. How in the world do you expect others to get behind you when you’re not behind it yourself? Enthusiasm and passion are contagious; use this as a persuasive tool.

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Body language has the ability to speak volumes when we communicate with others, often making a stronger impression in their memory than our words. In fact, 55% of communication comes from body language.  It’s important to be aware of how your posture, facial expressions and eye movement affect your overall impression when talking to a client or shooting for the big promotion.

Most of us understand body language very well and assume we also possess good “body speak.” However, you’d be surprised how many people I encounter who could work on this very important skill. Take a person involved in a team meeting for instance, who, rather than stay engaged in conversation and not miss opportunities to share in amazing problem solving, instead becomes overwhelmed with his Blackberry.

The reason why body language is so powerful is because it mirrors your internal thoughts and feelings. To illustrate this, let’s go over the what’s, how’s and why’s of positive body language.

Eye contact (or lack thereof) shows how attentive you are. Maintaining eye contact throughout a conversation clearly tells the other person that you care about them, that you’re listening, and that you are trying to form a connection with them. On the flip side, frequently losing eye contact to little distractions suggests that the person before you is only slightly more interesting than other things going on around you. Don’t do this! Prove you’re listening through your steady, confident gaze.  It’s okay to blink!

Keeping your body turned toward the person you’re speaking with is a physical sign that you are opening yourself up to them, ready to devote your time and full attention. It gives off the impression that your guard is down, that you trust them, and that they are welcome. This may sound like a no-brainer, but the alternative to this stance—having your body turned partially away—gives off a defensive signal, so you’ll want to be aware of how you sit/stand.

Your hands…what to do with them? To piggyback on the above point, your hands, arms and shoulders should coincide with your open body stance in order to say, “You are welcome, I trust you, and you are worth my time.” Crossed arms, tensed shoulders and fidgety hands display discomfort and/or distrust. This is a big no-no! Keep those shoulders relaxed and those arms open. Particularly, crossing your arms conveys a judgmental attitude; conversation is all about finding common ground, and you won’t be able to do this unless your body shows that you’re willing.

While these may seem obvious, it is never a bad idea to brush up on your skills. Here are a few less obvious body language cues which may take time to become aware of and utilize, but are of equal importance:

Being still. It is easy to get tensed up and fidgety, especially when you’re in an interview or giving a presentation. Maintaining a calm, relaxed stance in any situation shows confidence when you speak and provides comfort and welcoming when you listen. The trick? Breathe! Slow, deep breaths calm you, allowing you to be still, engaging, attentive. 

Nodding. Nodding is the universal “I follow you” sign. How can you possibly mess up something so simple? One word: Speed. Overly-fast, excessive nodding can be overwhelming and distracting to the person you’re speaking with. It also gives off the impression that you’re impatient, rushing them to the finish. This can make for a jarring experience for the other person. Instead, nod only when you really do agree or follow, and ask strong questions when you do not. Like the point above, when you do nod, it should be slow, calm, smooth. 

Leaning forward. You’ll find that you do this naturally when you’re engaged in something, be it a conversation, a ball game or your favorite TV show. Leaning backward communicates that you’re hesitant to engage with a person in conversation.

These small body cues go a long way. They help a person remember you, and if your body language is positive, the memory of their experience with you will follow. Practice these skills in front of a mirror, or with a partner. But also make an effort to become more aware of other people’s body language as you go about your day. How did certain poses, expressions, or behaviors make you feel? Paying attention to these cues will help you hone in on your own body language, and you can tweak your skills from there.

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Listen up, people! Forbes contributor Jessica Hagy is saying the same thing that I say all the time: Other people play a central role in your career and your life. One of the primary benefits of working on a team, or getting others involved in your work is the ability to harness a diverse set of perspectives, skills, and approaches.

According to Hagy, there are 6 distinct types of people who are essential to your success, especially when it comes to those big, risky steps forward.

Jessica Hagy’s The 6 People You Need in Your Corner

The Instigator
This is a person who isn’t afraid to shake things up or say something that pushes you. They also motivate you to “get up and go” and “make things happen,” says Hagy.

The Cheerleader
This is someone who believes strongly in you and places a lot of faith in your skills and performance. Hagy explains that it is important to “make this person rewarded, to keep them engaged” because this person serves as the “voice of motivation.”

The Doubter
Although it may not always seem like it immediately, the Doubter is an important member of your team because they lead to a solid strategy. Even though you may experience some exhaustion or resistance to the questions this person poses, this person helps you to see problems before they arise. Remember that this person is ”looking out for you,” Hagy reminds.

The Taskmaster
The Taskmaster is the person to thank for the actionable points, or your ‘to do list’ at the close of each meeting. Although it can feel a little bit naggy, the vigilant attention to getting things done keeps things moving forward and helps you to meet your deadline. Hagy refers to this person as “the steward of momentum.”

The Connector
Look to the Connector for “new avenues and new allies,” says Hagy. Sometimes you have a goal or idea, but lack the connections or know-how to make it happen—this person can help you connect with those who can help.

The Example
When I speak, I commonly refer to this person as an advocate or mentor. This is the person who inspires you, who you attempt to emulate in your work and your career. Hagy refers to this person as “your guiding entity, someone whose presence acts as a constant reminder that you, too, can do amazing things.”

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