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  • 0 Just Be Nice

    As I was researching subjects for this month’s newsletter, I found myself in a deep state of writer’s block. It seemed that any subject I felt strongly enough about to commit a couple of hours, and 1,200 to 1,500 words to, had been used before. I write these newsletters in hopes of sharing insightful nuggets that I have learned over the course of my 40 plus years in the workforce. I’ve written about leadership, perseverance, overcoming obstacles and other subjects along those lines. Diving deeper into those waters is something that I will continue to do, but I wanted a different ocean experience for this newsletter. I wanted something bigger, and something to challenge my style, but I had a hard time finding that “something.” So, eventually, I did what I never like doing, yet knowing full well that I should; I asked for help. I told my wife that I couldn’t come up with anything that I thought was exciting or inspirational, and I asked her if she had any ideas. She replied to me with a question, “Why does it have to be exciting, or inspirational?  Why not use a subject from your blog page, everyday day life navigation stuff, like just being nice?” This is what I said in response, “Okay. Thanks, Baby. I’ll look at something like that.” But this is what I thought, “But I WANT to be exciting and inspirational!” Nothing was written that day. Nothing exciting, nothing inspirational. The next day I called my mentor, let’s just call her Kathy, for the sake of this newsletter, and I said, “Hey Kathy, I’m stumped. I want to write something a little different, but I want to keep it exciting and inspirational.” It was as if my wife called ahead and spoke to Kathy, because after very little back and forth exchange, spit balling ideas, my mentor suggested that I, “… revisit some of your blog page subjects. How about writing something about the power of simply being nice?” Even though it was a phone conversation, I could see the smile on her face, as that light bulb flicked on over her head. Two out of two people, whose opinions I sought out, suggested that I write something about “being nice”. So here we are, and my initial question as I sat in front of my computer screen was: Do we really need to be reminded to be nice?  My immediate reply to my own question was, “Yes. Yes, we do.” I see it almost every single day. When I’m not writing exciting and inspirational newsletters, I’m a traveling salesperson. I travel by plane just about every week, almost always making a connection, so I’m in (at a minimum) four airports in a typical work week. As a society, airports do not bring out the best in us. When things go exactly as planned: flights on time, the weather is nice and turbulence free, and the seat next to you is empty, it is still stressful. I’ve been doing it every week for over 25 years, and it’s still stressful! We could point out all the stressors, but those points are not pertinent to THE point. We, as passengers, have almost NO CONTROL over the things that create the stress and anxiety when flying. And, for the most part, the people on the ground managing our flying experience have no control either. I can assure you, the gate agent who just informed us that our flight was cancelled, due to a mechanical issue, was not the last mechanic to work on that 737 bound for San Antonio. She is not in any way trying to prevent us from attending an important meeting or stop us from seeing our beloved but cranky Aunt Edna. In fact, she is trying to get us there. So, it is in our best interest to just be nice. On a Thursday in December, I was standing in line for over 45 minutes at the United Airlines help desk in Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Several flights were cancelled due to weather. I watched person after person curse out the staff at the help desk. I’m pretty sure the good folks at the help desk did not create the weather, I doubt very seriously that they even forecasted the weather, yet here they were taking all the blame. Just a thought: The one person who can help you get to where you want to go is standing in front of you AT THE HELP DESK! Be nice. I didn’t get to go home that Thursday… well, you know…weather! But I did get to go home Friday morning in a first-class seat. Just because I was nice. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it did on that day. I see problems at the airport, at the rental car counter, at the front desk of hotels, even at the grocery store… all the time. What I have never seen, is an anger reaction that solved one of those problems. This being nice strategy doesn’t just apply to travel. We need to employ the strategy in the workplace, at school, at home, and throughout our daily lives. We are all “influencers.” We always have been, in some way or another, and not through TikTok or Instagram, it’s in our daily behaviors. We see some paraphrased version of this quote, all the time: “We can’t control the actions of others, but we can control how we react.” It is about as basic as any common sense, self-help, enlightenment kind of quote there is, and yet, it can be difficult to adhere to. When someone at work is being difficult, whether it’s a boss, a coworker, or a client it is hard to just let it go, to let it just roll of our shoulder, but you need to find a way. Being nice and being pleasant in our response doesn’t weaken us. It makes us stronger. If someone is knowingly and willfully pushing you, pushing your buttons, to get a reaction, responding with kindness, in whatever form you put it in, shows that you’re not going compromise a value that is yours. You’re not avoiding confrontation, or backing down, it’s actually the opposite. Think about that: By reacting to someone’s aggression by being nice, you are imposing your will into the situation. You’re rewriting the script and steering an ugly or uncomfortable setting out of their darkness and into your light. That’s power, that’s leadership, and that’s influence. It takes practice. You need to employ proactive exercises to make “just being nice” part of your daily life. Compliment a friend or a co-worker…I have found that everyone appreciates a nice comment about their shoes! Buy a cup of coffee for a stranger. Finish a conversation with, “I appreciate you”, instead of a simple “thanks.” You might be surprised to find out how good it feels to make someone else feel better when there is nothing in it for you. (But there is something in it for you!) When being treated aggressively or unfairly, practice a calm kindness in your reply, “Okay Aunt Edna, I understand that you’re upset. I can see that you were passionate about my arrival on a Thursday. I can’t help that, because of the weather in Chicago, but I bet if we talk calmly with each other, we can figure out a way to make the best of it and still have a great visit.” Being nice won’t always put you in a first-class seat, but it will always make you look first class. At first, just being nice might seem cheesy and maybe even a little weak, but it’s not! Actually, it is the opposite - it’s quite powerful. In fact, just being nice, is exciting and inspirational.  

  • 0 Developing Influence

    Brainstorming about what it takes to move to the next level might   invoke important leadership themes- giving and receiving feedback, leveraging your networks, positive non-verbal communication, and so on.  One critical attribute of an effective leader is having the ability to influence or persuade. In fact, influencing is an efficient way to lead- even if you are not yet in a position of authority. Influence, to be clear, is NOT the same thing as exerting power over someone.  In fact, to effectively influence requires leaning into behaviors that are quite the opposite of being pushy. Yes, the best influencers are confident, but they also demonstrate a genuine sense of humility, openness to different perspectives, and an emphasis on what truly matters- even when things are going off the rails. The trouble is, influence can be hard to define because it encompasses all of the many leadership competencies. At its core, influence is a multi-disciplinary collaboration tool. What’s the Use of Being Influential? Being influential makes it a lot easier to get things done. People look to the influencers to define the bottom line and keep things on track. And know this: when the things you say are convincing to others, it’s also a testament to the way your peers think of you and, even more broadly, a good indicator of your ability to lead. Those who are in positions of power are more likely to consider influencers as candidates for leadership. Developing influence takes some effort across a variety of categories, so let us help you get started: Step One: Build Your Credibility Remember that thing about not being pushy? It would be impossible for anyone to develop a true breadth of influence without first assuring that they have built credibility and trustworthiness with their peers and colleagues. Without sound relational skills such as being an active listener and thoughtfully considering outside perspectives, attempting to solve a problem or nudge a team toward a conclusion might come off as too aggressive or even defensive. Showing humility is one way to assure others of your integrity. Here’s how to do that: Show respect for other perspectives. Let people who think differently have the floor too and demonstrate deep listening by saying things like “that’s a good point” or “can you explain that one part again?”  And, for goodness sake’s, don’t interrupt!! Give credit where credit it is due. If someone else has done something positive for the cause, make sure to let others know. Don’t steal their thunder. Admit your mistakes: Be accountable. When you take responsibility for your mistakes, people can often be pretty understanding. Digging in on something tends to have the opposite effect.   Step Two: Show Your Competence When working in a group, especially in cases where different viewpoints might be slowing down the process, don’t simply rely on your words to convince teammates you know what you’re talking about. Find opportunities to go the extra mile by gathering relevant knowledge or finding pertinent examples. If you are involved in a formal mentoring relationship, you might even share strategies you’ve learned from your mentor. For especially tough issues, try contacting a situational mentor for guidance on an issue in your team’s workload. Step Three: Be Captivating Work on your storytelling skills. While it’s true that using direct language is most effective, providing imagery when addressing a problem can be a way to show your calm, strategic thinking. Stay away from any squabbles and keep bringing the group back to the task of finding the solution. It sounds strange, but it also helps to be likable by smiling and making eye contact. Search for commonalities and use that as your launch pad instead of getting stuck where people don’t agree. Some tips for being a good storyteller: Practice ahead of time- don’t wing it. Plan a good opener- maybe it’s a good example, or a quote, or a joke. Be clear and concise- you don’t have to slam the point over their heads but get to the end quickly. Use interesting body language- gestures and well-timed pauses show your warmth and sincerity.   Step Four: Find Your Allies Your biggest supporters might automatically come from the groups you work with on a daily basis. But it’s also important to make sure you have a supervisor, a peer or even a mentor who is in your corner to help you think through problems or come to your aid if needed. Sometimes those relationships take more effort because it might be up to you to set up those meetings to assure you are engaging with those people regularly and maintaining those relationships. Step Five: Help Others Find Their Voice Be generous. You might be comfortable giving your opinion and admitting mistakes, but those around you won’t always have such confidence. When you see passion in another teammate, ask them to speak or celebrate their wins. You don’t have to make it awkward, just say you simply wanted to make sure no one missed it.  

  • 0 Take Yourself to the Next Level by Discovering and Developing Your Strengths

    Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day? The chances are that you do not. Some of our talents and strengths go untapped. We tend to devote more time addressing our shortcomings than developing our strengths. It has become all too easy to fall into a weakness-fixing model. Throughout our education and career, too much attention is paid to our weaknesses, to our “opportunities for personal growth,” or whatever popular euphemisms we want to use. We may have noticed from time to time that it’s our bosses, managers, coworkers, teachers and even parents who seem to be experts at spotting weaknesses. In fact, most of them consider it their responsibility to point out our flaws and help us correct them. We ourselves have become experts on our own weaknesses and spend our lives trying to repair them while our strengths lie hidden or ignored. The research, however, is clear: we grow and develop by emphasizing our strengths rather than beating ourselves up over our weaknesses. Understanding our strengths can help us flourish by focusing more on what we naturally do best and by increasing our potential. The goal is to maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. Here are three benefits of focusing on your strengths, discovering who you really are, and becoming who you are meant to be: Benefits of Improving Personal Strengths Builds Self-Awareness When developing a new skill, you will find out more about yourself. You will discover your abilities and strengths and learn how to use them to your advantage. Doing so increases your self-awareness and teaches you new ways to apply your strengths. It can help you understand your personality, values and motivators and recognize how they influence your behavior and decisions. By increasing your self-awareness, you can make better choices that align with your strengths so you can avoid situations that are not a good fit. You will have a better grasp of what makes you unique and how that impacts you, your team members, your boss, and your organization. Builds Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem Discovering and developing your strengths can boost your confidence and self-esteem and positively influence your professional and personal life. You need self-confidence and self-esteem to overcome challenges. Confidence and self-esteem don’t come from just one action; they persist despite bad moments. Just acknowledge that you make mistakes, and your increased self-confidence and self-esteem will help you bounce back faster. You’ll accept that you’ve done your best and can chalk it up to a learning opportunity. Improves Communication Skills Strength development allows you to understand yourself better, helping you set clear boundaries with others. Additionally, acquiring skills such as interpersonal and leadership helps you find ways to communicate effectively with others, allowing you to create seamless streams of communication so everyone remains on the same page. For example, in the workplace, effective communication handles conflicts better and strengthens organizational culture. This ensures business success and looks great to recruiters looking for work environments with high job satisfaction and employee engagement. When we improve our communication skills, our relationships become stronger and more meaningful, and our collaboration and teamwork become more efficient. We all have unique talents we use in different ways to bring out the best in ourselves and others. Development is the key to succeeding with our strengths. It is those “Aha!” moments we experience when exposed to new ways that allow us to understand and describe to others what makes us uniquely powerful. As long as we work, grow relationships, strategize, complete goals (big and small) and influence those around us, we will have the chance to deepen our awareness of our strengths. Here are four “Cs” that may help you discover and develop your strengths, taking you to the next level. First, be curious. Perhaps you think you are strong in one area, but you are unsure. This is where you need to discover which activities or projects interest you or that you might be good at. Research available resources and see what it would take to commit to developing your strengths. There are many online self-assessments available to help. Perhaps take a strength-finding assessment. This is an effective tool to help you learn about your talents and strengths. These types of assessments help determine your greatest talents and give you a detailed list of actions you can take to develop them. Once you identify your five top strengths, you can examine how they show up in your life. Another resource you can use to discover your unique talents, abilities and ways of thinking is getting a mentor. Leveraging the expertise of a mentor can help you determine how to take advantage of your strengths by integrating them into your ongoing discussions and goals. Second, be creative. Think outside the box. Each day, find a new way to use your strengths for your benefit, but do not overwhelm yourself by overanalyzing your behavior. For example, rather than trying to figure out what strengths you may have to match a particular organization, take the reverse approach and perhaps think about what organization most needs and then figure out how you might best contribute. This helps you focus on developing skills that are beneficial to the people around you, which is key to finding a career that is both meaningful and personally rewarding. Third, be confident. Confidence is one of your greatest strengths. When trying to improve yourself in any capacity, you have won half the battle if you believe you can accomplish almost anything. Self-confidence comes from knowing you have the ability to succeed. Without it, you will be less likely to try new things, seize opportunities, take risks, or go for the things you really want in life. Your struggle with your own mind is often greater than any other challenge you may face. You may have tough days when you are unsure of yourself, but you will build momentum as long as you get back on track quickly. The more tasks you complete, the more you can convince yourself that you are capable. Fourth, create a plan that focuses on developing your biggest strengths by setting goals. People are more successful when they set goals. Write down what you would like to accomplish and by what date you would like to accomplish it. Remember to be realistic and review your goals frequently to keep yourself on track. Post your goals in places where you will see them throughout the day (e.g., your refrigerator, bathroom mirror or computer monitor). This will keep you on track and motivate you to reach these goals quickly. If you have trouble creating a plan, reflect on ways you can apply your core strengths to help you in a potentially stressful situation. Final Thoughts Discovering your true strengths is the path toward improvement and success. When you pay attention only to your weaknesses and try to overcome them, you are placing emphasis on becoming what you are not. When you focus on your strengths, you are true to yourself by becoming more of who you really are. You cannot be anything and everything you wish you could be, but you can be the best of who you already are the real you.  

  • 0 The Power of Loving Your Job

    Is it realistic to think we can wake up every morning saying, “MAN!! I cannot wait to get to the office and start this day!”? Probably not. Would it be cool if on Friday, we got a little bummed because we were going to be away from our job for 2 whole days! Away from this “work thing” that gives us so much joy, purpose, and validation? Probably so. Imagine all the benefits for our societal culture, our economy, our personal health, and the overall human condition if we loved every minute of every day at our jobs. Musicians or artists might feel that way, although I did once hear a performer complain that “…keeping a guitar in tune in the summer is so hard!” So even my “dream job” has its drawbacks, Iguess. For the record, her tuning grievance received very little empathy from the audience.   It should come as no surprise to anyone who has some work experience that companies andorganizations that have higher job satisfaction in their workforce are more profitable and moreproductive than those that rate lower in this statistic. Also, individuals who have more jobsatisfaction tend to be healthier and have an overall happier personal life… duh!   In researching this article, my team (okay, just me) found that statistics for this subject aresomewhat varied. However, digging deeper into the available data we (me) found someconsistencies.. Here are some things you might find interesting: A little more than half of the U.S. work force is “satisfied” with their job. Only about 20% are “passionate” about their job. Roughly 4 in 10 workers say their job is important to their overall identity. Relationships with coworkers was a big part of overall job satisfaction. About 12% of U.S. workers are “extremely” dissatisfied or unhappy with their job. Paid time off benefits were considered the best contribution to job satisfaction, whilehealth care benefits were considered the most important. Almost half (47%) of the workforce who have paid time off benefits said they did not use alltheir allotted paid time off. One study showed that 74% of employees in the U.S. believe that company culture is one ofthe biggest contributing factors to job satisfaction. And finally… Companies with high worker satisfaction outperform low satisfaction companiesby (as much as) 202% Most of the surveys stated that the statistics were consistent with government, non-profit, privatesector, and self-employed workers. In every study, workers aged 54 – 65 were the most satisfiedwith their jobs, and having just turned 64, this gave me a little validation… a small dopamineshot. But the same studies showed workers in their 20s were by and large the least satisfied.Since I have 2 children in their twenties, both freshly out of academia and in the workforce, thiscertainly gave me some pause. I firmly believe we all owe it to ourselves to put forth our best efforts toa t least find someenjoyment in our workday. We spend almost half of our waking life,o n the job, shouldn’t we tryand squeeze as much joy out of that time as we can? That enjoyment can come from manypossibilities; the comradery of our co-workers, the responsibility of an important project, thevalidation of doing things well, the personal reward of knowing your work has meaning, or ishelping others. Sometimes that enjoyment can lead to passion, and when your occupation, yourday job, becomes your passion, you can’t really call it work anymore. It becomes somethingbigger. Several years ago, I ran into a high school friend who I hadn’t seen in years. He was a guy Ialways looked up to; great social skills, hilarious sense of humor, and just a joy to be around. Asour conversation turned to the “what have you been up to” portion, I asked him, “Where are youworking these days?” His reply was something that has stuck with me since: “I don’t work, man.” “Really? Must be nice! How do you pay the bills?” I replied, being a bit nosey. “Oh, I have a job. I’m a flight attendant. I ame mployed by a small airline based in D.C.,but it doesn’t feel like work. The hours are crazy, and the days are brutally long, and I loveevery minute of it!” This was a revelation to my 20-something-year old brain, "...a nd I love every minute of it!" Thisguy was talking about his job, not his softball team or his golf league. His JOB! A job with longdays & crazy hours. For my friend, it was the social aspect of working with the high energy people in his peer group,working with the public and meeting new people every day. Traveling, and seeing the countrywith people he enjoyed being around, was his occupation. He found joy in that culture, and thatjoy became a passion. Up until that meeting, it hadn’t occurred to me that a job, one’s vocation, could be enjoyable. Ididn’t like my job at the time. In fact, the culture where I worked was such that not liking yourjob was kind of part of the job…the expectation. While I did not know this at the time, “culture” iseveryone’s responsibility. The chance meeting with my friend created something of an epiphany for me. I was working in awarehouse for a municipality at the time, and I shared the experience with my coworkers. It tooksome convincing and some inspired persuasion, but I talked the team into creating somethinglike a swear jar. But instead of depositing a quarter in a jar for bad words, we had to pay up percomplaint. Every gripe, every whine, every non-constructive utterance was accompanied by amonetary fine. We had fun with it, we charted it when we could; the first couple of months itadded up quickly. We used the money for an end of the month lunch or happy hour, but morethan anything we used the constant reminder of our bad attitudes to change the way weapproached the day. We were lucky in that there were 5 of us who all bought into the exercise. Wechanged the culture, simply because we were sick and tired of being sick and tired, 8 to 10 hoursa day, 5 or 6 days a week. We found a way to make the best of a situation, that really wasn’t as badas we were making it out to be. It was just a small change, and we all took accountability formaking the change. It can be done… and you can do it. While that was a great learning experience, the job still wasn’t what I thought would befulfilling in the long term. So, I searched for something more. It took a few years to find avocation that would become my passion, but I did. Early in my sales career, I read everybook I could find, attended every seminar, and took every workshop made available to me.None of that stuff felt like work, or “have to” tasks. I found it fascinating. Later in mycareer, largely based on the influence of my mentor, I found real joy in being a salestrainer and a leadership coach. Today, that’s where I find fulfillment when I’m on theclock. I love my job. In my mentoring work, I try to drive this home anytime I have the opportunity: There isreal power, and amazing mental and physical health benefits in enjoying your job. Intoday’s world, it’s NOT just forty hours a week. Consider your commute, consider the timethinking about it on the weekend, especially if you are dissatisfied. If you are not happy inyour job, first, look within. Decide as to whether you can fix it, or at least make it better. I’llbet you, with a little effort, you can. Choosing to make a change is half the battle!

  • 0 January is National Mentoring Month….

    And we hope you take it as an opportunity to spread the spirit! Mentors are not only the people you collaborate with in a formal mentoring program; mentors are everywhere! Each of us has met people along the way who have given us advice, assisted us with a work project, or even introduced us to influencers who made a difference in our careers. And chances are? You’ve been a mentor to a colleague… maybe without even realizing it. The positivity that goes hand-in-hand with mentoring has the power to impact not only individuals but an entire organizational culture. When information is shared between colleagues at different departmental levels, junior employees often feel better rooted in their purpose and develop a vision for where they’d like to go. Those with more seniority who are serving as mentors frequently tell us the act of giving back and absorbing new perspectives energizes their sense of direction while giving them a chance to pause and reflect on how far they’ve come. Here are some things you could do to celebrate your own mentoring experiences: Write a thank you note to someone who has been a mentor to you. Share examples of how their wisdom still resonates with you and your work today. Tell them how you try to pay it forward. Sign up to participate in a mentoring program. See if any informational sessions are coming up or ask your supervisor if they know of any programs that could be a good fit. If you’ve already been a mentee, consider being a mentor this time. You can do it! Get out there and mentor in your community. There are all kinds of groups that need coaches, Big Brothers/Sisters, tutors…. Consider sharing your passions with people outside of the office.

  • 0 How to Remove the Ugh from Performance Reviews

    It’s October! And October just might be the most glorious month of the year. Work is good, the outside air is becoming cooler, the leaves are displaying those beautiful autumn colors, and we’re “knee deep” in football season (even if you don’t like football, the snacks are great!!). But there is an ugh in the air, in the hallways, and around the virtual water cooler, because it’s also annual performance review time. Thus, the ugh. For some reason, even in the best of circumstances, nobody seems to like the task of performance reviews. Why? For the reviewer/manager/supervisor: It often creates uncomfortable conversations. In many cases they are not prepared. They scramble to find equal amounts of “positives” and “needs improvement” points. For the reviewee: Again… it often creates uncomfortable conversations. Sometimes… they wonder why they didn’t know about these things sooner. It can be difficult to respond to your manager on points where you disagree. We need to rewrite the script on Annual Performance Reviews! Why can’t we make this a positive experience? The first thing we need to do is remove the word “annual” from the title, or at least the process. When the “annual” is done, there should be no surprises, that alone could remove a lot of the anxiety and apprehension that comes with this process. As I did the research for this newsletter, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that many of the managers I interviewed agreed that this shouldn’t be a once-a-year discussion. When the labor market is as tight as it is today (The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the national unemployment rate is 3.8%), good employees are difficult to find, and even harder to keep. Good, and frequent, job performance dialog and coaching are critical to maintaining a happy and productive work environment. I can tell you as a manager, employee retention has been the biggest challenge in the post pandemic world, and it effects all segments of the global workforce. There are all kinds of reasons people seek new employment. While many of those reasons can be out of our control, communication and feedback are 100% in everyone’s control. This applies to your staff, your manager, and your peers!   The content or information in an Annual Performance Review should never be a surprise to the reviewee. Let’s look at some ways to take the ugh out!! Timing is Everything If there is an issue that needs to be addressed, the closer to the incident you can address it is (almost) always better. We don’t want feedback to be a surprise, so if there is an issue, the person getting feedback or coaching should be expecting it. In some situations, though, if there is an incident that is highly emotional, it is sometimes better to let everyone take a beat, or a breath. You will most likely deliver a more thoughtful message after emotions settle, and your recipient is more likely to hear what you have to say after they have calmed down. Make it Part of the Culture Feedback is a process that requires deliberate and constant attention. If it needs to be said, then say it. Then, your team will know where they stand, they will know what needs to be done to improve. In this culture, problems don’t get out of hand, or become bigger than they should. Consistency is the key. Be Specific Tell the person exactly what needs to be done to improve their performance. Mention only the facts, and try to avoid vague, or blanket type statements: Instead of: “You always forget to log the mileage charts and this creates extra work for everyone.” It's better stated like this: “Beauregard, you didn’t log the mileage charts yesterday. Now Rebecca will have to go to the motor pool, find the truck and record the mileage. We need to make sure that’s done moving forward. Okay? Try not to exaggerate to make a point. Avoid words like “never”, “always”, “all” and the like. They water down the point, or make it look bigger than it really is. Positives Count Too If feedback is part of the culture, swing that pendulum both ways! (I love the pendulum metaphor! It works in so many examples.) If we only notice, and comment on, the “needs improvement” aspects of the job, and the people we are managing, we’re going to create a lousy culture. If we are only coaching on the negatives, when review time comes, and the reviewee gets a bunch of positive feedback that comes as a surprise, they are likely to think, “Well that would have been nice to know!” High performance by your staff and your co-workers should be an expectation. When those lofty expectations are met, it should be noted… loudly. The ripple effects of this are amazing to the culture of a workplace. If Beauregard sees Rebecca getting constant praise for the outstanding work she’s doing, it might make him want to step up his game to get some of that kind of attention too. Always Remember While public praise is always appreciated, public criticism is not. I’ve written this in so many articles, I should probably make it my tag line: Praise loudly and publicly, criticize quietly, thoughtfully, and privately. Finally… The feedback highway runs both ways. You need to know how to give it effectively, and you need to know how to receive it constructively. If you’re not sure where you stand, or how you are doing, ask. Avoiding job performance dialog does not change facts, it only creates uncertainty. It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep those lines of communication open, active and consistent. When we avoid constructive critique or sweep issues that need some coaching under the rug, performance and productivity suffer. The issues don’t go away, the facts remain, and now we also have a lumpy rug. Equally, when we get too busy to deliver positive feedback, we run the risk of creating a joyless atmosphere… and a joyless atmosphere creates employee turnover. (Remember that 3.8% unemployment rate!!)

  • 0 Sprucing Up Your Good Habits

    Recently I forgot something important. REALLY important. It was an event one of my children was supposed to attend. Something we gasped with excitement over when he was first invited. We immediately rsvp’d, completed a pile of paperwork so he could participate, even proudly told his grandparents about it (“Listen to this cool thing Charlie gets to do!”). A couple of busy autumn months went by, brimming with other events, assignments, and ballgames and… when the day came around, it wasn’t until I was climbing into bed that night when I said, “Wait. Were we supposed to do something today?” I didn’t used to be prone to forgetting. I’m diligent about putting things in my smartphone calendar and this commitment was no exception. “How could this have happened?” is something I’ve asked myself relentlessly since. So, here’s what I think: My mind has grown lazy. If the receptionist at the dentist says, “see you in 6 months” you might see me physically standing there at the desk putting it in my calendar, but frankly they are going to send me 30 reminder texts and emails a couple of weeks before the actual appointment so there’s no reason for me to truly internalize the date. Of course, the phone is always buzzing but it’s sometimes with a weekly meeting I’ve forgotten to delete from the calendar or a notification about a school bus running late for my child who plans to walk home anyway.  What I’m trying to say is there was a time when I HAD good scheduling habits, but then it got muddy because someone was always remembering for me. And at one time I was responsible enough to register for constant text notifications about things like late buses, when messages became too voluminous, I learned to ignore them. With my son’s special event, there was no reminder from them and so there was no remembering from me. How absurd! I don’t need to recreate new habits; I need to spruce up my old ones. Habit Stacking If you’ve strayed from a good habit, one strategy for getting back on track is to attach something new to the way you’ve always done it. For me, from this day forward, the second I take my first sip of coffee, I open the calendar to read it. The good habit was always there: using the phone calendar to organize commitments. Now it’s time to build a small addition: instead of waiting for notifications, actively checking the calendar at the same time every day. This also works if you simply want to pick up a new ritual. For example, starting a mediation routine. If you’re good at exercising regularly consider adding 5 minutes of meditation to the beginning of your routine. If you want to maintain your network more intentionally, send a note to a colleague to say hello each time you open your healthy homemade lunch. Choose the Habits of Leader Pick good places for growth. Make a list of the attributes of a good leader. For example, a productive manager might set their intentions each day, prioritize people over tasks, or listen before they speak. How can you autopilot these interpersonal skills so that they become habits? Pick simple behaviors that you can put on repeat. Some ideas: To be a better listener- Listen to the other person speak and then paraphrase what they said. “So, what you mean is.” “Okay, so to make sure I have this right…” Knowing that you will end each conversation this way will force you to listen to what the speaker is saying instead of letting your brain fill with what you plan to say next. Prioritize people so they can succeed- Don’t simply download the specifics of a project. Think of how to help the people involved succeed. If you are delegating work, make sure the person in receipt of your project knows how the outcome will be measured and evaluated. Begin every meeting by sharing the goals. Be ready with ideas- Don’t present a problem without sharing possible solutions. If you’re good about updating your supervisor with the status on a project and you are honest about problems that might be happening, also take the time to suggest solutions. Keep Your Rhythm Re-energize your plan to keep your rhythm with a good habit. Repetition is the key so perhaps incentivize never missing more than two days in a row. If you decide to revisit your calendar every morning, maybe on Friday’s reward yourself with a specialty coffee or going for a walk during your lunch hour. Take a “small steps” approach to Improvement Be mindful that if you add too much into your already packed routine you might find yourself overwhelmed. Continuous and gradual steps might be a better approach. Try reading about “Kaizen”, the Japanese philosophy of setting small, manageable steps to improve your habits over time. The idea is that if you get a teeny bit better constantly, as little as 1% a day, you can be in a constant state of improvement- even when it comes to things that are going well already. Practitioners of this method find it to be especially useful in business but with some imagination, you can make it work for the individual.   Here are some ideas for staying consistent with a new habit without disrupting your current routine: Make a timestamp. Five to ten minutes a day and that’s it. Look at literature. See if there is a book or podcast that centers on your new habit and read or listen to just a snippet each week. This will help you remain rooted in what you are trying to achieve. Don’t let this new thing be the reason you stayed up too late or fell behind in another priority.

  • 0 In the Spirit: The Many Gifts of Mentoring

    As the year draws to a close, it is a time of joy, reflection, and memory-making—setting the perfect scene to squeeze in some mentoring magic. The holiday season brings with it a unique focus on both gratitude and promise, providing a great opportunity for mentoring partners to look back on the work they have done together so far while also considering how they might deepen their work, strengthen their connection, and make even more progress together.   Set the stage for a successful partnership by embracing some of the many gifts of mentoring.   Time. We know—it’s a busy time of year! But it’s also a meaningful time of year when many of us are in a state of mind conducive to reflecting on the past year and thinking positively about the next. If you can find even one hour to connect, give the gift of your time! Take a break from the hustle and bustle to spend some quality time with your mentoring partner. Whether it's a virtual meeting or a coffee date, partnerships can use this time to reflect on the progress made throughout the year and set goals for the upcoming one.   Support for Navigating Challenges. For some people, this time of year is not all holiday cheer. In the same way that the season can amplify feelings of joy and hope, they can similarly magnify feelings of loneliness, grief, or fear.  Mentees may be facing difficult circumstances or navigating emotional challenges in their professional or personal lives. Mentors can make things a little brighter simply by showing up and being attentive, supportive, and understanding. They can provide a safe space for their mentee to share their challenges or concerns while being actively listened to and cared about. Often, the relief that comes from this type of support is less about having your problems solved than being able to share them with someone you trust to help you navigate them.   Reflection and Resolution. The end of the year really is the perfect time for mentors and mentees to share reflections on what they’ve accomplished and what they’ve learned together during the past year. Honest introspection and evaluation can help partnerships consider what tweaks they could make in the new year to foster even more success. And what better time to finetune goals than on the eve of a new year full of fresh possibility and opportunity. A conversation like this can provide a renewed sense of direction and purpose and reenergize the partnership.   Professional Development Opportunities. While you’re already thinking and looking ahead, dive into ideas for professional development opportunities. As mentoring pairs revisit mentoring goals and refine their plans for their partnership and beyond, it’s a great opportunity to think about ways mentees can enhance their skills and acquire new ones to prepare for future roles. They can identify targeted training, valuable resources, or collaborative projects that will help the mentee take actionable steps toward their professional objectives.   Networking Opportunities. Seasonal engagements like holiday gatherings or festive events can be a great opportunity to facilitate introductions with professional contact who can help mentees reach their goals, present or future. And even if mentors don’t necessarily have an event to invite their mentee to, they can still offer to help their mentee prepare for networking opportunities of their own, such as an office party. Reach out to share effective networking strategies and help them calm any nerves.   Gratitude. There is never a wrong time of year to give the gift of gratitude. That said, mentors and mentees alike can tap into the thankful spirit of the season and express their heartfelt thanks for their partner’s time and efforts and the growth and progress they have achieved together. This mutual appreciation does more than warm the heart—it strengthens the partnership and reinforces the dual commitment to ensuring it is impactful for both partners.  

  • 0 FINDING MY FAVORITE FAILURE

    One of the books on my nightstand right now is Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferriss. In this collection of “mini-interviews,” Ferriss poses a series of 11 thought-provoking questions to more than 100 successful performers, athletes, writers, and entrepreneurs and compiles some of their answers in a quick-read fashion that lands with impact.   While I’m enjoying the respondents’ answers, what I’ve found most powerful are the questions themselves. A few that resonated for me were:   How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours? What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.) In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?   As the parent of a teenager, I found the first question particularly compelling. It’s sometimes easy to forget how much struggle and heartache many of us must experience before we arrive at a place in life where we can have a “favorite failure.” It can take years to learn how to stop fearing failure and being consumed by regret at the thought of it and instead recognize how setbacks have led to an outcome even better than we’d originally hoped for.   If I could give my son a gift, it would be the ability to skip the “failure-resistant” phase of life and move straight to Ferriss’s outlook, which is that, while you can’t avoid failure, you can avoid failure without reward.    When we find out the hard way what doesn’t work, it only helps us get closer to the things that do, in part by uncovering our strengths and weaknesses. As Ferriss puts it, “You don’t ‘succeed’ because you have no weaknesses; you succeed because you find your unique strengths and focus on developing habits around them.”   Reflecting on my own experience returning to the workforce after many years of staying at home with my family, I struggled with multiple disappointments as I navigated applications and interviews and several kind but disheartening rejections! “We appreciate your interest, but we’ve decided to go in another direction” and “We’re unable to move forward at this time” and a number of other polite messages seemed to scream failure and no hope of ever overcoming the gap on my resume.   While perhaps not gracefully, I did learn something from each rejection. I took note of questions and comments during interviews and spent hours tweaking my resume to highlight things interviewers seemed interested in. I found people with experience and insight and sought their advice to help prepare for interviews, learning how to emphasize the heavy volunteer work I’d done over the years to keep my skills sharp and relevant.    Within a couple of months, I finally landed a job, and a good one at that! Not the “dream jobs” I’d set my sights on originally, but one that ended up being even better because it brought me to an organization where I found unique opportunities that I wouldn’t have had elsewhere.    Three personal strengths that helped me get through the painful process of reestablishing my career have also played a direct role in the exciting opportunities I’ve experienced since. They aren’t particularly unusual or impressive—strong writing skills, work ethic, and drive to build relationships—but it wasn’t until I tapped into them and started building on them that I finally began finding success.   Those characteristics may sound like fluff on a resume but applying them consistently over time in the right setting with the right people allowed me to set myself apart, show my potential, and establish key connections that ultimately helped open doors for me.      What personal strengths have you built upon to find success? What setbacks helped reveal them to you or, as Ferriss would ask, what’s your favorite failure?  

  • 0 Finding Your Creative Flow

    All of us have things we love to do outside of work that keep our attention rapt. How great does it feel to get so involved in what you’re doing that time flies and you can think of nothing else! In this month’s newsletter, we’re going to talk about finding that same intensity of focus in our work.   Making space to be creative Before we dive into the concept of a “flow state“ let’s make space in our schedules for being creative. Here’s why: the most optimal time for reaching deep concentration and originality is when the challenge at hand is compatible with your competencies. Cleaning the junk out of your email inbox, for example, is unlikely to inspire the greatest contributions to your work. That’s because deleting blinking ads and coupons is annoying but not very hard to do. Try to automate mundane tasks that keep things orderly but don’t require a lot of heavy lifting. In the case of email housekeeping, you could tidy your inbox at the same time every day. Set a 10-minute timer to avoid overthinking the process. Make folders for things you aren’t ready to delete but shouldn’t be distracted by right now. Perhaps email isn’t your easiest task but take the effort to decide what is. To isolate the items in your workload that can be compressed into automation, make a list of your departmental responsibilities. Put them into categories such as “simple”, “moderately challenging”, and “complex.” Tasks that don’t take up too much brain power shouldn’t overstay their calendar time either- even the ones that are tedious. Plan your approach for these tasks, be prescriptive in how often you’ll tackle them and how long they should take, and then slide them in your schedule at regularly occurring intervals. “The Secret to Happiness” Now that your daily routine is a little airier, it’s time to talk “flow state.” First, some background on the topic. Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi gave a Ted Talk on what he claimed to be “The Secret to Happiness.” Growing up in post-war Europe, he was surrounded by hopelessness. He noticed that some of the adults around him remained devastated by WWII and couldn’t find their way around the sadness. He began considering what makes people truly happy and quickly realized it wasn’t money. He zeroed in on creatives such as artists and musicians because of the devotion they have for their craft even without the promise of “making it big.” What would make someone work that hard for such little reward? His years of study revealed that all kinds of people take on hobbies and sports they find so satisfying that they lose all sense of space and time when doing them.  Their contentment is their reward. Csikszentmihalyi says we can all access our creativity and retreat into this intuitive mental state or “flow.” We’re not talking about things that are a cinch (please see section on automating tasks that come easy to you!). The idea is to find yourself so deeply focused on whatever you are doing, that nothing- not your phone, fiddling with the music, or wondering how long until lunch- is going to distract you. It’s being completely present. Not only is regularly dipping into a “flow state” satisfying, if we can access this process at work, flow can help us to be productive, motivated, and even foster an appreciation and sense of loyalty for our organizations.   Finding your flow state It’s true that you can’t totally manufacture the flow state. Often, getting in the zone is most powerful when it happens spontaneously. But you can certainly optimize the chance of finding your flow by following these steps: Choose the right task. We already decided what’s too easy. A recent article in BBC Worklife warned, alternatively, against choosing something unfamiliar because the process of learning something new can be too frustrating. You can’t get the flow going if you’re irritated. - Pick something you’ve done before, and you find a little bit challenging but isn’t so unfamiliar that you get stressed either. Just like you did with the simple tasks in your workload, try making a list of the exciting components of your job. When do you feel most invested? What captivates your attention? What do you find meaningful about your work?   Ready your work environment. A quiet, orderly workspace, with minimal distractions is best. Put your phone away and close your calendar. Put on a sweater if it’s chilly. Some people like working with quiet instrumental background music, others prefer stone silence. You might also try a “brown noise” playlist on Spotify. Brown noise is a low-frequency sound that is meant to provide a feeling of calm and focus.   Set a clear goal. This step is very personal, of course. Start broad- what is the overall purpose of this exercise? To improve upon a certain system? From there, continue fine tuning your thoughts to establish your desired outcome, how to measure your success and report your results.

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