Leaders and Feedback – How to Get it and How to Give It


I was chatting with a colleague the other day, and the subject of feedback came up. She mentioned to me the difficulty she was having in getting meaningful feedback from her management. She felt that she was doing a good job at work, but like most of us, she wanted to improve. Feedback would certainly help!

In another conversation, an HR leader I spoke with mentioned the same problem but from a different perspective. She was bemoaning the fact that her managers were bringing her situations where employees needed to be terminated, and yet there was no evidence (or at least not enough evidence) of feedback being given from the manager to the employee leading up to the desire for termination.

It has also been noted in studies and in my own experience that when the Millennial generation joined the workforce, feedback was desired at a level not yet seen in the workplace. Where annual reviews had been accepted as the norm, this new generation demanded almost daily input into their work. I know I looked for it, and many of my employees demanded it.

So why is it still so difficult to give and to get feedback? Three issues that come up:

  • Growth in technology inhibits casual conversation
  • The business of our calendars
  • Feedback takes time and the value is realized over time

With the growth in technology we have seen an increase in the number of employees working from home or from alternate locations. This makes communication more difficult than in the past when you could simply stop by a manager’s or employee’s desk for a quick chat. Or catch up with someone in the hallway. Communication now must be intentional.

Also we are all so busy! How many times have you asked, “How are you?” and heard the answer, “Busy!” We just don’t have time to stop and have these conversations when there are 6 fires that need our immediate attention. I once had a manager tell me, “I don’t have time to sit down and talk to him because I am too busy cleaning up all of his messes.” (See this post on why it is important to take the time now to gain the time in the future).

In addition, it can be difficult for managers to see the value in having a conversation when it does not immediately impact their current situation. I’ve heard managers say, “If they are doing their job, I don’t need to interfere or distract,” or “I’ll let them know if they screw something up,” or even “I don’t want to be a micromanager. They should know if they are doing a good job or not.”

To be honest, I often told my leaders that I liked to manage by exception. I told them I would praise them if they did something amazing and would call them out if they did something terrible, but otherwise I would keep out of their way. I said that, and yet I still gave regular feedback. We met regularly, we planned for their futures. We discussed their strengths and their weaknesses. We strategized and we dreamed. We also vented when necessary. This was all a critical part of their development as leaders.

Those of you in a position to give feedback should remember that the best way for you to be successful is for those under you to be successful. Focusing on their growth and development is a great way to help them succeed and in turn to help you succeed.

So here are some tips, first for those of us seeking feedback from others:

  • Schedule regular meetings with your manager. These can be as short as 15 minutes a week if you have a busy manager. Setting a consistent schedule for feedback and putting it on the calendar creates the formal space for this kind of communication.
  • Ask for specific feedback. Don’t ask questions like, “How do you think I am doing?” This is difficult to answer, and it will be hard for your manager to give you anything you can work with. Instead, after a meeting ask “How do you think I handled that meeting?” or after submitting a report, “How did you feel I handled that ambiguous data?” Asking about your performance on a specific task is much more likely to get you actionable feedback.
  • Understand your manager and her particular style. Manage up. Pay attention to the signals she is giving. If you stop by her office daily to ask, “How do you think I did today?” and you notice her rolling her eyes, switch tactics. Find something that works for both of you.
  • Think critically when deciding who to ask for feedback. Be sure (or as sure as you can) that the feedback you will get will be constructive and not destructive. I learned early in my career that the definition of “constructive” can vary widely amongst managers.
  • When you get feedback, remember that it has as much to do with the person giving it as it does with your specific performance. Take the feedback, but keep in mind the agenda of the person giving the feedback. There is always something to learn from every bit of feedback you receive – it just might not be exactly what you were looking for.
  • Some advice for those giving feedback:

    • Schedule regular meetings with your staff for the specific purpose of providing feedback. These can be as short as 15 minutes each week. They can be by phone or Skype, but get them on the calendar. I normally met with my managers formally for an hour every two weeks, although we had regular daily interactions as well. Don’t cloud the meetings with fire-fighting. Instead be intentional about that 15 minutes and stick to feedback and employee growth topics.
    • Have the difficult conversations. Don’t wait. Make the time. A quick conversation now can alleviate a long, drawn-out processes later.
    • Praise your employees. As often as you can. Look for ways to do this regularly. This gives you more credibility when you have to have those tough conversations.
    • BE CONSTRUCTIVE. Focus your conversation on behaviors and results, and never on personal characteristics. I was once told that I was a “monster.” Tell me what I was supposed to do with that?
    • Seek outside validation if you need to give highly critical feedback. Be sure that you are seeing the whole picture.
    • Listen. Feedback is not just the manager speaking to the employee. It should be an exchange of ideas between two people attempting to reach the same goal.
    • Be open about your expectations and your personal style. Help your employees to interact with you as efficiently and effectively as possible.

    Feedback is an important part of the success of your company. Keep at it, and see what wonderful things come!

    What other tips do you have for providing/accepting feedback? I’d love to hear from you! Drop a comment here on the blog or shoot me an email!

    As always, keep it positive!

    Job Seekers Beware – Not All Advice is Good Advice

    Some advice may not be as good as it sounds

    I have now been in the hunt for my next big opportunity for over six months. In that time, I have had the chance to try many different methods of searching.

    I have applied to positions online. Contrary to popular opinion, I have found success with this method. I’ve had many interviews that resulted simply from submitting an application. And another little secret – I don’t often include a cover letter. My experience in the corporate world says that cover letters are used as a method of eliminating candidates more than anything else. See a typo? See a strangely phrased sentence, or a over-the-top assertion? Eliminate that candidate!

    I have “worked my network,” or put another way, I have been to every coffee shop within a 60 mile radius. I love this method of job searching. It gives you the chance to meet with people one-on-one, to practice describing what you are looking for, and a chance to learn about all kinds of new things. Plus, it is proof over and over again that good people do exist and that they genuinely want to help. This is the method most often recommended to job seekers. This morning I heard a statistic that says 70% of positions are found using this method.

    I have gone to networking meetings. Many of these have been geared toward job seekers and others are groups I belong to or have some close connection to. Most of the job-seeker networking meetings have an invited speaker, and this is the topic of this blog post.

    Let me start with this – everyone who helps those of us in need is doing so from the goodness of their hearts. I believe this from the bottom of my heart. Most of what they have to share is good advice for someone, but what is important to remember, is that it is not always good advice for everyone.

    It is essential that those of us listening to this advice keep a critical ear toward what we are being told. The results of not doing so, I firmly believe, could be significant damage to an individual’s search.

    Here are two examples of good advice that needs some additional scrutiny:

    1. Your focus should be on how you come across as a person.

    This advice was given in a workshop on how to get more interviews. On the face of it, I would say it is sound advice. Give it a little thought, however, and you might come to the conclusion that the whole reason you are not getting interviews is because of some fatal flaw in your personality.

    For some folks, I suppose, this might be true. But honestly, if you are changing yourself just for your interview, are you likely to be successful in the position? If you can’t be authentic in the interview, are you likely to feel comfortable being authentic at that workplace?

    Even more important, this would indicate that the entire reason you are not getting interviews is your fault! This is dangerous waters for a job searcher. The entire system of job searching is complicated and full of unwritten, inscrutable rules that we may never understand. If we begin to feel that we are the problem, we are likely to become downtrodden and depressed.

    It is critical that we keep an arms length from rejection during this process. Learn from it, and move on. Do not internalize it.

    2. Before applying for a job, do all the research you can think to do.

    This was at another job-search meeting. The speaker was suggesting that before submitting an application, we research LinkedIn, news stories, financials, anything we can get our hands on.

    Again, solid advice, maybe. Checking LinkedIn will give you an idea of whether or not you have a first degree or second degree connection in your network. It will help you identify who is in leadership at the target company. This helps you get a better idea of what the culture might be at the company. You can also reach out to those leaders and perhaps network ahead of submitting the application.

    Searching news stories helps you contextualize what the current status is of the company – what problems you might be able to help solve, or what situations you might want to avoid completely.

    The problem with this advice? If you have to do all of this research before submitting an application, how likely are you to ever apply? And as the saying might be rephrased, you’ll miss 100% of the jobs you never apply for.

    This advice is particularly dangerous for women who already put themselves at a disadvantage when applying for jobs or promotions. Research shows that women only apply when they feel they are 100% qualified for a position. Imagine how much information they might find in this type of research to dissuade them from applying.

    My thought – submit the application. Then start the research. And only do what is necessary up front. Find the connections and reach out. But don’t worry about the rest until you have an interview. Time is absolutely precious during this process – don’t waste it.

    There is so much advice out there. This is only two examples of how good advice can cause trouble in the job search. Be careful, be skeptical, stay positive, and take care of yourself! Know that you are worthy, and that everyone out there wants to see you succeed.

    Keep it positive!


    In Praise of (Temporary) Unemployment

    My son at the beach

    For many months now I have been grinding away at the job search. I have been working tirelessly at networking, applying, emailing, and attending meetings and events. When I am not doing that, rest assured I am thinking about it.

    In the first few months, I got dressed early in the morning and headed out – to coffee, a presentation, an interview. The days were full. So full, in fact, that I have done many, many interviews/phone meetings sitting in my car because there just wasn’t time to get home. I even did one driving between two meetings (I took unpopulated back roads).

    This level of activity has made me happy. I love being productive and on the go. I feel certain that I have been doing everything in my power to find my next opportunity. And I think I am probably right. But it has also been exhausting.

    Last year, when the holidays hit, I was forced to slow down. No one was hiring at the end of the year, and it seemed they were all on vacation anyway. I remember being told at the end of November that I was moving on to the next round of interviews, but that they wouldn’t be scheduled until the second week of January when everyone was back in the office. Frustrating. I wrote a post on how to survive.

    Even though my calendar wasn’t as busy, my brain still was working. Every waking moment (and many of the rest) were filled with thoughts of what I needed to do next. I was starting to have more bad days than good, to feel more frustration than optimism. I felt guilty if I took some extra time to walk the dogs or hang out with the kids. I spent the entire month of December sick, and got sick again in January and February. And March.

    And then a couple things happened. Nothing dramatic or even that exciting (sorry). The first was I hit the seemingly impossible 6-month mark of unemployment. The second was finally getting to the ocean, putting my feet in the water, soaking up the sun, breathing the salt air. I truly believe there is something absolutely magical about the ocean. Those two things in concert have changed my perspective.

    So, while I was dutifully recording my blessings from the very start, and I was trying to take time for myself, I now realize that I never really did. I’m going to change that now, or at least try. To start, I would like to share openly some of the amazing blessings of being unemployed (for a short time I hope).

    But first, some tips for you:

    1. DITCH THE GUILT – Don’t even bother with it. Sleep in and enjoy it. Don’t worry about what the world thinks. You do you.
    2. EMBRACE THE AMBIGUITY – This process of finding a job is not something you can control. Own that now and relieve yourself of hours of frustration.
    3. FIND WHAT MAKES YOU SUPER HAPPY AND GET IT ON YOUR CALENDAR NOW. LIKE RIGHT NOW. For me it was the ocean. I wish I had gone much, much sooner. 
    4. KEEP A GRATITUDE LIST AND KEEP ADDING TO IT. Review it when you feel low. Put some of it on sticky-notes around your mirror or on your desk or in your car. Share it with a friend. Share it here with me!

    And now for my list. Read it for enjoyment, or maybe even for inspiration.

    Here is my praise for unemployment:

    1. I am meeting new people. I have met at least 100 new people, and all of them have been amazing. All of them! Sometimes our interests align well, sometimes not as well, but in every instance I have come out better for having met. I hope they have too!

    2. I am catching up with old friends. The old saying about silver and gold holds true here. Old friends are pure gold. Anytime I am feeling down, I know that all I have to do is get a coffee, lunch, cocktails, or a phone call on the calendar and I’ll be right back up on my feet again.

    3. The flexible schedule. I am just now learning to be grateful for this and to embrace it without guilt. The other day I took my dogs out to the woods for a long hike. And it was awesome! Another day I took a nap. In the middle of the afternoon. It was incredible! 

    4. The chance to be around for my kids. At least a couple days each week, I am there when my kids get home from school. Sometimes this frustrates us all – they can’t get away with YouTube-ing away their afternoons and I lose a couple hours of “work” – but in general I think these three kids are just about the most amazing people on this Earth and I LOVE listening to their stories about the day. I even managed to bake cookies for them once!

    5. The chance to explore who I am and what I really want out of life. To be honest – this one I struggle with. I sometimes feel that the longer I have, the more confused I get on this subject. I keep discovering more sides of myself I want to explore. I performed in a musical! Maybe I want to go back into singing! I’m doing quite a bit of public speaking. I love it! I’m doing some coaching. Maybe I should fully focus on building my own business. Ack! But also YES!

    6. Back to the kids – I get to be the one to take them to appointments and practices and rehearsals. In the past, my husband did much of this. Now, I get the chance to support the family in this way. Plus any parent knows some of the very best conversations with your kids happen in the car.

    7. I am writing. I have the space to write. And it feels so so so good. Even more, I am learning how to get the validation and productivity I crave by creating something myself. That’s pretty powerful.

    8. Getting a clearer understanding of what my needs are vs. my wants. A few months ago, I would not have considered this a blessing. I was angry when a book came up and I had to fight the urge to Amazon that thing right onto my doorstep immediately. Now I have learned to enjoy the exercise of deciding – do I really need that book? Will I actually read it? What about the 24 other books I have in line ahead of this one. Is this one really more important? 

    9. Finally – and I still struggle with the guilt on this one – I often get to sleep in. At least a little. My beautiful husband handles all the morning chaos, and lets me sleep. This is usually good given that sleep is hard under this much stress – many nights I don’t fall asleep until well after 2am. I will love him forever for this small, daily gift.

    Unemployment is not something I would wish on anyone. I am not having a whole bunch of fun. I am not happy about my situation. It is a stressful rollercoaster that no one wants to be on. But we can get through it. By being positive. By believing that something wonderful is out there – we just need to keep working to find it. 

    And in the meantime, we can find ways to enjoy the beauty and gifts we have in our lives. I am so thankful.

    Stay positive, and count your blessings!

    The #1 Critical Leadership Skill

    There are many critical skills necessary for effective leadership. There are hundreds of books written on the subject, covering topics as varied as humility, positive attitudes, building on your strengths, communicating effectively, and so on. A quick Google search tells us that the top leadership skills include communication, delegation, motivating the team, and trustworthiness, among many others.

    Leadership is a difficult and complicated concept. There is no doubt that these skills are crucial to successful leadership. A wise, successful leader will surely look to develop all of these skills in order to be the best they can be.

    Underlying these skills, however, lies one critical skill that needs more discussion. It is the absolute essence of leadership, and without it, none of the other skills matter much. It may be that this skill is seen as so elementary that we skip right over it, assuming that someone who considers themselves a leader has already developed this skill.

    My experience says this is far from the truth. What skill is this?

    The ability to make a decision.

    After all, why do we have leaders? In order to make decisions! Hard ones, easy ones, decisions over which direction to go, who to hire, which product to sell, what processes to improve, and so on. Decisions are central to the operation of business. One might say that a decision to not make a decision is still a decision, but this is not the skill I am talking about today.

    Making decisions is hard. After all, if things go awry, it’s your responsibility, your head on the plate! This can be especially daunting if large teams or entire companies are relying on your decisions. That is, however, part and parcel of the whole leadership gig. If someone chooses to become a leader, she/he must understand that this critical skill is at the heart of her/his new responsibilities.

    Have you ever worked for someone who struggled with this skill? It can be the most frustrating experience of all time. Some of the greatest complaints and vexations I have heard over the years come as a result of a leader’s failure to make a decision.

    It can look like this:

    • Employee: We’ve done the research
    • Leader: Yes, but did you look at this? Go back and pull more data

    Or this:

    • Employee: Here is the recommendation we have developed
    • Leader: Let’s take this to the group and see what they think

    Or even this:

    • Employee: So, the decision I heard was to move forward on this.
    • Leader: Yes, well, let me get back to you on that

    These are just some of the ways ‘leaders’ avoid decision-making. Constantly looking for a definite answer that does not exist by continually searching for information is one of the most popular methods. In this situation, the leader feels no decision can be made until all possible data has been explored.

    Another popular method ‘leaders’ use to avoid making decisions is constant consensus building. In this case, the leader turns the decision over to a group. He works back and forth from one team member to the other until those members are in agreement on a decision. The leader may try to explain this as delegating or as listening to his team. Unfortunately, this is simply his/her way of avoiding the responsibility of making the call.

    Another method used to avoid decision making is to simply not decide. By putting off the decision, the leader hopes to kick the decision down the road until someone else makes it or the situation resolves itself.

    First, some advice to leaders: Double-check yourself to be sure you aren’t accidentally using some of these techniques to avoid decision making. Some decisions are hard to make, but that’s why you are in the position you are in. You have been hired to make these difficult decisions, so go do it. I wrote a previous post that may help you here.

    Now, for employees stuck in a position of having to deal with indecisive leaders, here is some advice for you:

    • Anticipate the need for data when presenting information to your boss. This is an important element of managing up, regardless of the type of boss you have, but particularly important when dealing with this type of boss. Know your stuff, have your numbers.
    • Seek buy-in from others involved in the decision-making. Sharing that other leaders are already on-board can be effective in helping your leader make the final call.
    • If your boss requires consensus, work with your co-workers ahead of time to be sure everyone is on the same page before the meeting. This is the same advice as above – simply a different group of people.
    • Don’t give up. If your boss is the type to put off decisions, just keep coming back. Try different ways of presenting the information. Sometimes a quick hallway conversation can be better than a formal meeting/presentation, or vice-versa. Often times leaders need to hear things several times before they actually hear it.
    • If all else fails, and it is absolutely terrible that it can come to this, get yourself a new boss. Life is short, and we all deserve happiness and fulfillment at work. Don’t hang around too long expecting something to change! Make your own tough decision and move on!

    Good luck to you all!

    As always, stay positive!!

    Job Searching Through the Holidays

    Job searching is one of the hardest things to do. Add in the holidays and it is recipe for headaches, heartaches, and a whole host of other ailments.

    Many people see the holidays as a time to take a break, a time to be with their family and friends and to put aside their work applying for jobs, attending networking events, setting up coffee dates and lunch dates.

    For others like me, it is not a time to let up. It is a time to reach out, to check back in with people I have already spoken with, to connect with old friends, to try new things or old things in new ways. It is not a time to give up, let up, or step back.

    There are several motivators at work here. First, my absolute need to keep moving, keep working, keep trying. I just don’t know how to stop. Mixed into this is some FOMO (fear of missing out). I am a bit nervous that if I take a day off, that is the day I would have been connected with exactly the right person/job/situation. This is not rational, but it is part of who I am.

    There is also my positive attitude driving me forward. This situation is a new adventure and is helping me to develop a new set of tools to put in my “Life Tool Belt”. I want to keep exploring. I am curious to see what all is out there. I enjoy imagining myself in different job situations, different cities, different companies. I love meeting new people and talking with them about important things. 

    Finally, and on the other side of the coin, is the fact that Christmas will not look the same for my family this year. We are a very fortunate family. We like to celebrate big. The space under the tree is normally stuffed full of presents. This year, with money and the future so uncertain, we will be scaling things back. Way back. I think my kids understand – I have certainly tried to prepare them. But I don’t want this to last, and so I will continue to look for a new opportunity.

    I have two recommendations for those of you looking for work/life balance while looking for work. Both suggestions came from mentors of mine who have both been in the same situation:

    SUGGESTION 1: Develop a point system. It can be as simple or as complex as you would like. Assign activities different point values, and set a daily goal for how many points you need to earn. For example, you might set a daily goal of 5 points. Setting up a lunch could be one point, connecting with someone on LinkedIn could be a point, and filling out an online application could be 2 or 3 points (those things take time!). Once you have reached your daily goal, you are free to spend the rest of the day as you choose, without guilt!

    SUGGESTION 2: Set a goal for work hours. This fits better for those used to working traditional hours. Get up in the morning, take a shower, and get dressed like you are going to work. Schedule time off as you normally would at work. If you need to do things during the day, schedule work hours in the evening. By treating this like a real job (as it is), you are more likely to ditch the guilt when you spend time on non-search related activities.

    All of that said, I have discovered that just about NO ONE shares my desire to engage in recruiting activities this week (the week before Christmas), and I am sure that this will continue next week. Emails are going unanswered, interviews are delayed, new job listings have dried up, and no one is available for lunch. 

    So this week and next, I am trying to embrace the “other side.” I am spending as much time as possible with my kids. I am playing with my delightfully mischievous puppies. I am finding fun, creative ways to enjoy the holidays. I am trying to relax and breathe and believe that there is something truly magical waiting for me in 2019.

    Don’t get me wrong – I still applied for 3 jobs last night, have sent several emails this morning, and have scheduled as many coffee/lunch dates as I can. But I am also stopping to take a breath and enjoy the season.

    I hope you do too! Happy holidays!!

    As always….stay positive!

     

     

    Four Non-Traditional Leadership Development Tools

    There are many traditional tools out there for growing your leadership skills. There are books, seminars, videos, workshops. They will teach you how to listen, to delegate, to strategize, and to make decisions, and many of them are worthwhile.

    There is another aspect that leaders need to develop and I would like to offer some non-traditional methods to develop it. I believe that an excellent leader constantly develops her deep knowledge of herself. This is critical in order to lead authentically. Knowing yourself helps you to truly understand and articulate your values, and to stand confidently and surely in front of your teams each and every day and lead.

    Over the past few years I have been introduced to many different techniques to help me understand myself better. Some of these techniques were familiar and easy to implement. Others were a little bit out there (what we lovingly refer to as ‘woo’), but still can be very useful once you accept the strangeness of the experience.

    Here are four non-traditional techniques for you to try:

    Journaling

    Why journaling? There is something about writing things out that helps us to process. It helps us to think things through and get to the bottom of our feelings. Formulating our thoughts into cohesive sentences can aid in the organization of our thoughts and plans. Sometimes, getting our thoughts out of our heads and onto paper helps us to see things differently and can help us to be more objective about ourselves and our decisions.

    This is an easy technique for anyone to pick up and try. Simply grab some paper or open a word document and start writing. The tricky part might be in figuring out what to write. For that I have a few suggestions:

    1. Write whatever is on your mind. What was the last thought you had? What is a current problem you are trying to solve? Write it out, and then write out whatever occurs to you next. Keep in mind journaling is just for you, so don’t worry about grammar or punctuation or organization or cohesion. Just write.
    2. Find some prompts online. There are several places to look for these. One online journal I happen to like is penzu.com. Sometimes just answering answering the question “How am I feeling today?” is enough to get you started.
    3. Buy a journal that comes with journal prompts. For some people, this could be constraining, but for others it can help you to get started.
    4. Ask yourself ‘why’. Then ask yourself ‘why’ again. And then again. And again until you feel you have really reached a meaningful answer.
    5. Make it fun. Go somewhere different to do your writing. Try a park or a museum or a coffee-shop. If you like colors, buy yourself some colored pens. Add some artwork. Ask yourself some crazy questions. I am happy to offer suggestions if you need them!
    6. Make it a daily habit. You’ll learn so much about yourself and your leadership challenges.

    Cost: $0 (or cost of a new journal/nice pen)

    Time: 10 minutes a day

    Meditation

    I will be the first to admit that meditation is hard. My mind is always going a thousand miles per hour, so asking it to stop completely is impossible. But I have found several ways to work with this, and when I do, some of my most brilliant thoughts appear.

    It is like those moments in the shower, or while driving, or while on the massage table (my personal favorite) when your mind is calm and clear and the answers seem to appear from out of nowhere. Meditation can give you that any time, any where.

    Meditation is also tied to mindfulness – being aware of what is happening in the present moment, both with ourselves and in our environment. This has been shown in many studies to be an important part of successful leadership. Leaders who practice mindfulness have lower levels of stress, are better able to adapt to changing environments, and create better environments for their teams.

    To get started, I highly recommend using guided meditations. These are free and easy to find. You can find a bunch of them on YouTube or simply by googling “guided meditations.” The best tool I have found out there is the popular website/app Headspace. You can access the website from your computer or download the app for free on your mobile device. I would often use these quick guided meditations right in my office during my lunch hour.
    If you prefer an in-person experience, there are also classes you can take. The easiest places to look are at local yoga studios (or again, Google). You can also check for classes at your local community centers or holistic healing centers.

    What is important is that you give this a shot, find what works for you, and then keep at it to build a daily practice.

    Cost: $0 (or cost of a class)

    Time: 10 minutes per day

    Oracle Cards

    Have you ever heard of oracle cards? Perhaps you’ve heard of their more well-known cousin, tarot cards? These are cards that can be used by anyone, anywhere, for whatever purpose you would like. In this case, I suggest you use them for personal growth through self-reflection.

    Plus you can get a deck on Amazon or eBay for less than $20. There are some pretty fun decks out there! (One suggestion: go for the Oracle decks, not the Tarot decks. Much easier to interpret and use for beginners).

    I realize this is a stretch for most people in the business world. It certainly was for me until I gave them a shot. But stick with me for a second, and I think I can show you how they might be helpful. I, myself, find them a fun, creative way to work on my development. An example might help.

    First, I shuffle my deck while pondering a particular question. I might be asking myself, “What do I need to concentrate on today?” Then I spread out my cards and pick one. Sometimes I linger over the cards, thinking hard about my question and sometimes I just pick one right away; it doesn’t really matter. But this step can help you practice mindfulness. Let’s say I pull the following card:

    +

    img_20181128_1748403090033284455571341.jpg

    Next, consider the card. What meaning can you pull from having selected that card? You could use this as a journal prompt. Explore how you can apply what is on the card to your question. If you feel the impulse to reject the card – something like, “this has nothing to do with me today!” – explore that feeling. Why do you feel like this isn’t important?

    In this case, when I pull the “Play” card, I might think about how I plan to incorporate some fun into my day. Or I might journal about whether or not I am making time in my life currently to have fun. Or I might consider whether or not I allow my team members to include fun in their work. I could take this any number of directions. Perhaps this came up for me today because I haven’t taken a day off in a long, long time, and I really need to do so.

    The important thing here is that you expand your mind, think in new directions, and consider possibilities that you hadn’t before. Plus it is always fun to see what comes up!

    Cost: $15-$30 for a deck (or borrow one from a friend, or find free sites on line)

    Time: 10 minutes

    Leadership Coaching

    So, let’s say you are a tennis player, and you are pretty good, but you are looking to get to the next level. You could continue to practice on your own, but chances are that in order to make a significant improvement, you’ll need to hire a coach.

    The same thing is true in leadership. If you want to move to the next level, you might do well to find yourself a leadership coach. This type of coach can help you navigate tricky situations in your career/workplace, can help you build on your strengths and can help smooth out your weaknesses. She can work with you to set ambitious goals and then define tactics to achieve them. In short, she can help you get to the next level.

    As with your tennis coach, you’ll need to exercise some judgement in hiring a leadership coach. Not all coaches are created equal. You will want to be sure you are hiring someone who can actually help you. And personalities matter. You’ll want to be sure you can work well together. Keep in mind, this will not be an inexpensive endeavor, but will be worth it in the end.

    I have worked with career coaches myself and found them to be inspiring, challenging, and well worth the time, effort and money. I am now working as a leadership coach myself (part-time), and enjoy this side of the relationship even more. I’m happy to share my experiences with anyone who has interest or questions.

    If you’d like to explore working with me as a coach, reach out! I’d love to have a conversation with you.

    Cost: Variable

    Time: Variable, generally 2 conversations/month

    In general, anything that takes you outside your comfort zone is going to help you grow in new and different directions. I encourage you to try something new. Experiment with something you’ve never tried before. Grow, dream, and accomplish amazing things!

    I’d love to hear if you have other alternative ways of developing your leadership skills. Be sure to share!

    And as always, keep it positive!

    Doing Hard Things…5 Tips to Get Them Done

    shutterstock_306528359

    As leaders, we are often called on to do difficult things. We have to have hard conversations with our employees. We have to choose one person over another for a promotion. We have to communicate budget cuts, project changes, and communicate decisions that sometimes even we do not understand.

    It’s part of the job.

    This became real to me recently when I had to do a hard thing. In fact, it might have been one of the hardest professional/personal things I have done in my life – and I’ve done some pretty difficult things. I thought I would share what I did to make it through, and even make somewhat of a success out of it.

    For those following my story, you may know that three months ago I was, along with 300 of my dear friends and colleagues, laid off from a company where I had spent the last 17 years. I loved the company, and it was a difficult separation.

    Last month, I received an invitation to the retirement party of my dearest mentor and friend, a senior executive of that company. He was gracious (as the best mentors are) and called ahead to be sure I wasn’t surprised when I received the invitation. I knew that the senior managers, the very managers who had just laid me off, were going to be there. I also knew that, despite this, I would be there to celebrate this individual who had been so instrumental in my development as a person and a leader.

    I knew I would go, and yet I did not RSVP until three days before the event. It was that hard to commit. But I went, and I had a lovely (if extremely awkward) time, and I was so very proud to celebrate the amazing achievements of my mentor.

    In reflecting on this event and other hard things I have coached others through, or done myself, I find that there are several critical steps to getting through:

    1. Know that it is the right thing to do
    2. Know your limits
    3. Act professionally, with compassion and authenticity
    4. Find your allies
    5. Allow space for decompression afterwards

    The critical piece in doing hard things is knowing it is the right thing to do. In some way, for some reason, the hard thing is the best thing. In my opening scenario, it was absolutely the right thing to do to show up for my mentor who had always shown up for me.

    This is just as important in everyday leadership situations. Take a difficult conversation with an employee, for example. One of the hardest conversations I ever had was an embarrassing discussion with an associate about body odor. It was creating significant drama in the area and disrupting the business day. Addressing this was awkward for both me and the associate, but it was clearly the right thing to do. It turned out that it was a matter of medication, and the associate had no idea that anyone else could smell it. The doctor quickly made a change and the problem was solved.

    It is likely that at some point in your career you will have to communicate a decision you don’t understand or even fully agree with. In this case, it is absolutely imperative that you do additional research, talk to your boss, do whatever you need to do to understand where the decision is coming from. In this way, you will learn why others feels this is the right thing to do, and from there you can build your own case.

    It is also important to know your own limits. Sometimes, doing hard things puts you in a position that is not in line with your values or ethics. It is vital that you know where that line is before you come up against it. I encourage every new leader to spend some significant time on this. In my opening scenario, I knew there were certain conversations I was not yet ready to have, and so I did not have them.

    In another instance, early in my career, I was asked to “fudge” some numbers. What I was asked to do was not illegal, it probably wasn’t even technically wrong, but to me it crossed a line. I stood my ground and said ‘no.’ I can’t say I was well liked for that decision, but at least I felt good about myself.

    When doing hard things, it is important to maintain your executive presence, but do so in a compassionate and authentic manner. This is a tough one. When doing hard things, we have to stay professional. We have to stay strong. This is easier if you have your “why” and you know it is the right thing to do. It can be easy, though, to let emotions and sympathy get in the way of doing this the right way.

    At my mentor’s retirement party, I worked hard to stay professional but to share open and honestly with those who asked. I did not engage in gossip, I did not discuss individuals who were not present, and I kept my conversation light and positive. This was a celebration of an amazing leader and I did not want to be a distraction.

    The other half of that equation is to be compassionate and authentic while being professional. I tried to recognize that it was difficult for those with ‘survivor syndrome’ and to honor that. I also did my best to empathize with those leaders who had to make the tough decisions on who lost their jobs and who stayed behind. It is okay to share that what you are doing is hard for you, and that you understand the immediate negative impact on the individual, but that in the end, it will be better for both sides.

    One of the most important things I did to make the retirement party a success was to have my husband with me. He is my fiercest ally and I am always stronger when he is by my side. I also immediately found those individuals who I knew were my allies, who always had my best interest at heart. In this way, I found safety in what would otherwise have felt like a rather threatening situation.

    Finally, the after the hard thing is over, it is important to give yourself space to feel your feelings, to give yourself space to decompress. On the ride home from the retirement party, my husband drove, and I cried the entire way. By the time we reached the driveway, I felt better and was able to fully enjoy the rest of the evening with my kids.

    We all need to be sure we have the space to process the emotions that come up after we do hard things. We need to be able to release the pressure in a way that is safe and productive, and do so as soon as possible after the hard thing. I have several suggestions on how to do this – I’d love to hear if you have some as well.

    Always remember – as leaders WE CAN DO HARD THINGS.

    And as always, keep it positive!

    Job Searching…Tips to Help You Through

    shutterstock_7519961326290406443356109717.jpg

    Tip #0.5: Eat More Chocolate Chip Cookies

    Searching for a job is hard work. As it would happen, I am the queen of hard work. The tougher the challenge, the harder I work. Finding a new job after a layoff appears to be the most difficult challenge I have faced yet.

    I wasted no time getting started. In other words, I panicked.

    Tip #1: Don’t Panic. You will want to panic. Do your best not to.

    The day I learned I was being laid off, I immediately posted an update on LinkedIn. I sent messages to a few recruiters I had come across in my time at my previous company, and reached out to a couple industry contacts. That afternoon I had heard from several contacts within my network and I was off and running (key word: running).

    Tip #2: Walk, Don’t Run. This is a marathon for which you have not trained.

    From there, the weeks have raced by in a blur of phone calls, interviews, and many, many emails. I have met wonderful people from industries across the spectrum. I have reconnected with old friends and have made several new friends.

    What I have found is that people genuinely want to help. I cannot begin to express the gratitude I have for the people who have known me for a long time and have offered their support and assistance, and for the people who barely know me and still have gone out of their way to help me.

    Tip #3: Ask For Help. People want to help you.

    For five or six weeks now I have been running. Every single morning, I have pulled myself out of bed and gotten dressed for work. I often leave the house early in the morning and do not get home until early evening.

    I had thought I would get to play the part of ‘stay at home mom’ for my kids. I thought I would bake cookies to be ready for them when they walked in the door, and would have a clean, shiny house I could finally invite my friends to visit. I would finally get all of my paperwork organized, my email box in control, and the laundry on a regular schedule.

    Tip #4: Discard All Expectations of what life will be like while job searching.

    This has decidedly not been the case. I have not yet baked any cookies, the laundry continues to pile up and my email – well, let’s just say that the unread count in my inbox has grown exponentially.

    This past Monday I hit a wall. I no longer had a full week of meetings/interviews/phone calls scheduled. I was tired – exhausted, actually – and started to feel something like… lost.

    Tip #5: Take Breaks. Take Breaths. See Tip #2.

    I began to question what I was actually looking for. Meaningful work. That’s what I want. I want to be able to contribute in a meaningful way. I want to use the gifts and talents that I have to make the world a better place.

    How do I find this in a job description? How do I express that in a resume, a phone call, an interview? What job title am I looking for? What industry do I consider? What person do I reach out to?

    I wrote a post earlier this year cautioning us all not to put too much pressure on our jobs to provide us with our meaning in life. This, somehow, is hard to keep in mind when searching for a new job. This is a chance to start over, to try something new, to truly find my passion and my purpose. But do I really need to fit all of that in to my next job? Probably not.

    Tip #6: Do Your Homework on Yourself. What do you need out of new job? That is what matters now.

    Since hitting the wall this past Monday, I have been trying to take some time for myself. I finally made it to the gym. I got a massage, took myself out to lunch, and I spent several hours one day meandering around my city, going wherever the breeze took me. I only dressed for work two days this week.

    I have asked the Universe to provide me with some answers. Apparently, she needs to get back to me on that.

    In the meantime, I will be trying to balance things better. Instead of working around the clock, I will schedule time for job searching. I will also schedule time for family (I can’t wait to make those cookies), and will certainly schedule time for myself.

    This is a unique time in my life. I have worked my entire life, whether in a job or in school (often both at the same time). It is no wonder that I am feeling lost with neither currently under way. I need to embrace this and make the most of it.

    Tip #7: Celebrate Along The Way, no matter what it is you are feeling.

    I have been working with a coach and in our last session she asked me to consider the question: What is powerful about being lost? I plan to spend some significant time considering this question. Perhaps this will be the topic of my next blog post. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them!

    To all of you on a similar journey, I wish you the power to balance, the patience to wait for the right thing, and the resilience to make it to the other side.

    As always, keep it positive!

    Networking: A Critical Skill for Leaders

    IMG_20180920_153606.jpg

    Networking is tough. It takes energy. It takes focus. It is essential for leaders across all industries and at all levels. And it is critical that all leaders continuously develop and deepen their networks. This is important for several reasons:

    1. You never know when you will need help. In my case, my recent layoff required me to reach out to my network to help me find new opportunities;
    2. Leaders must maintain a healthy outside perspective in order to bring new and different ideas into their work, and a network provides this;
    3. A leader needs balance in life in order to be fully effective, and even the process of building a network can provide this.

    One of the best moves I made was probably 8 to 10 years ago. At that time, I discovered that what other successful people had and that I did not have was a network. I sat down and planned an attack to increase my network in three different directions: within my company, within my community, and within my industry.

    I did not have to do much to increase my network within the company – it was already rather strong. What I did do, however, was to find opportunities to volunteer and participate in activities, committees, projects, or other events with individuals from all the various business units at the company in order to meet people I did not interact with on a regular basis.

    I made an effort to establish deeper connections with people I talked to regularly. Sometimes this happens in the normal course of business. Sometimes you have to help it along. One thing I did was to form a women’s group to help us connect and to build support for one another across the business. This was successful, so I helped to form a similar group of women at a different level of the organization so that they could experience the same.

    I scheduled lunches with many different people and always had delightful, inspiring, meaningful conversations with people when I did. I stopped to talk with people during the day. Some of my favorite times at work are the serendipitous hallway conversations I have with my colleagues. Building my network within my company not only made my work days much more pleasant, but helped to ensure work was completed more quickly, more easily and with fewer meetings.

    To grow my network within my industry, the first thing I did was join an industry group that met twice each year. I established relationships with these individuals much as I had with my coworkers back in the office. Next I attended industry conferences and networked purposefully. It can be easy to retreat to the hotel room during breaks or to spend the time on your phone, but instead you need to be meeting people and exchanging business cards. Another place I found useful to grow my network was with our partners and vendors. I got to know our reinsurers and established strong relationships with them (side note: reinsurance people are some of the best people in the world!).

    By growing my network within the industry, I brought value to my company and myself by being better informed on products, strategies, new technologies, and a broad range of topics. I also cultivated resources I could reach out to with questions and developed a broader range of understanding of what was possible.

    To grow my network within the community, the obvious place to start was volunteering. I love volunteering. I also participated in leadership training through an organization in town called Artswave and through them was placed on the Board of Directors for a local arts organization. From there, I just kept saying “yes.” I ran the Artswave campaign for my company. I joined Zonta Club of Cincinnati, a women’s philanthropy group dedicated to advancing the status of women through service and advocacy, and now serve on the Board. I also serve on the Steering Committee for our local Women United group. I keep in touch with as many of these people as possible and count them as dear friends.

    Each of these experiences brought me new friendships and a deeper connection to my community. I also gained new insights that helped me to solve challenges within the workplace and gave me new ways to grow my leadership skills.

    One unexpected area I did not originally intend to explore or expand but that has brought me more personal satisfaction, support and connection, was my personal network. Over the last three years, I have met some incredible friends who are now my biggest support net as I go through my current transition. Both through my doctoral program and my personal development efforts I have established a stronger personal network than I have ever had before in my life. I am grateful every day for these beautiful friends who have taught me so much and helped me grow.

    From my networking efforts, I offer you the following suggestions:

    1. Be intentional. Build a plan. Nothing too intricate, nothing too specific. Be sure to include SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) goals, but make sure you stay flexible. Keep in mind that networking is more an art than a science.
    2. Look in all directions to build your network. I looked at company, industry and community, but you might also consider your hobbies, your religion, or your personal network.
    3. Use every opportunity you can, but be gentle with yourself. As I mentioned, it is so easy to retreat back to the hotel room at conferences, but instead you need to push yourself to use that time to make connections. Sit down next to someone and start up a conversation. Introduce yourself to a vendor. Then take the breaks you need. Remember that the goal is to form meaningful connections, not just exchange business cards.
    4. Say Yes. Put yourself out there. Volunteer for events and speaking engagements. Take meetings and talk to new people. You never know where the next great idea is going to come from so keep reaching out.
    5. Be open to new and unexpected opportunities. Sometimes the most valuable connections will come from the most unexpected places. Let the universe work its magic for you!

    I would love to hear your thoughts on networking. Please share!

    Good luck! And as always, keep it positive and smile!

    Leaders, Say “Yes!”

    There has been a significant movement recently to empower women (and everyone else) to say “no.” This is, in fact, a very important skill for us all to develop. When we say “no” to something or someone, we embrace the power to determine our own path in life.

    Recently, I was asked to chair a particular committee with a non-profit I work with. Normally, I hold with the saying one of my friends often repeats: “If you are asked and you are able, you must say yes.” In this case, however, I knew for certain that this was not a good fit for me. What might be made incredible and vibrant in one person’s hands would merely survive in mine. This was not what the organization needed. So I gathered my power and graciously declined. I sincerely believe the organization is in a better place for it.

    This post is about exercising a different muscle. This is about the need to say “Yes!”

    In many situations this can be even more daunting than saying no. Saying yes means putting yourself in new, different, and sometimes scary situations. It means assuming responsibility, becoming vulnerable, taking risks. It might mean something new and exciting, or it could lead to total failure. We don’t know until we try.

    One of my favorite books I look to for inspiration on building this skill is Shonda Rhimes book, “The Year of Yes.” In this book, Shonda shares with us what it took for her to realize she had been saying “no” to just about everything. She then shares her commitment to say yes to everything that scares her for a full year, and the amazing things that happened in this year and beyond. (I highly recommend the book – you can find it here).

    In our careers as leaders, it is imperative that we say yes. When you are asked to consider a new assignment, say yes. When you are asked to move into a new role, say yes. When you are asked to handle a meeting, a presentation, a trip – say yes. It will be easy to say no – it will likely go unnoticed and immediate repercussions will be minimal. In the long run, however, you will miss out on important opportunities and your growth will be stunted. At some point, the offers for ‘new’ and ‘different’ will stop.

    For me, saying “yes” in recent days has looked like the following:

    • I raised my hand and said “yes” to joining the Women United Global Leadership Council. That meant that earlier this month I traveled to Washington D.C. and met for two days with amazing women from around the country who are all focused on improving the lives of women and girls in our communities. I have made connections with women who have inspired me and I am certain will be important to my life going forward.
    • I said “yes” to myself and went to summer camp (yes! summer camp! for grownups!). I was nervous as could be (I nearly withdrew my reservation several times) – I had never met anyone there in person before I arrived. Turns out it was the most powerful thing I could have ever done. I made life-long friends and learned more about myself that week than I had in a long time.
    • I said “yes” to being in a fashion show for a non-profit group I work with. Talk about scary! This is pretty far outside my comfort zone. I am holding to the belief that somehow this is going to help me build my confidence. I’ll definitely be making use of my power poses! (Shonda loves the power pose).
    • I said “yes” to presenting my research from my doctoral program to two different groups over the next few months.

    In every single one of these situations, saying no would have been very easy. I could have never raised my hand, never signed up, or politely declined the invitations. No one would have blinked an eye. No one would have even noticed. Perhaps I wouldn’t have either.

    Instead, I now have a strong network of like-minded women, a circle of the most amazing friends a person could ask for, and a future means for sharing my passion around my research. All because I said “yes.”

    I am not by any means perfect at this yet. There are times you have to choose between two yeses. This is especially difficult when it comes to saying yes to your own body. We can either say ‘yes’ to feeling healthy, vital, and strong, or we can say ‘yes’ to the temporary joy that comes with eating what we want, when we want. In her book, Shonda says, “This Yes is about giving yourself the permission to shift the focus of what is a priority from what’s good for you over to what makes you feel good.” I struggle with this daily.

    I also struggle with following through on all of my yeses. For example, I had signed up for a free seminar on goal setting to be held the other day. When it came time to go, I had every excuse why I shouldn’t go – I was in the middle of cleaning the house and couldn’t stop, it was a free seminar so how good could it be, I am already pretty darn good at goal setting…. The reality was that I was nervous about going somewhere new with people I didn’t know doing something I knew could raise emotional issues for me. I didn’t go. I’ll try harder next time.

    So what are you saying “no” to in your life that might be holding you back? Where can you find the confidence and the courage to say “Yes!”? Can you imagine what might happen if you do? Please share! I would love to hear your thoughts.

    Go get it! And keep it positive and smile!