“I learned a long time ago that the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.”
~ Maya Angelou ~
Melanie is in a total funk. She’s been supervisor in her high tech company for almost three years now. When she first came on board, she was considered somewhat of a superstar, a high potential, high achieving future leader. Lately, however, she feels she’s been fading into the woodwork. She’s not being asked to take on high profile projects. Sometimes she’s not even invited to brainstorming sessions or brown bag lunches—those informal, off-the-record meetings where a lot of new ideas and strategies are being discussed. What could possibly be wrong?
Melanie unburdens herself to a close pal over lunch. Her friend listens patiently for a few minutes and then interrupts the litany of complaints with this advice: “Girlfriend, what you need is an advocate!”
Immediately Melanie begins to research the whole topic of advocates at work. Shortly, she has put together a four-step plan to raise her profile by using advocates. Here’s the plan:
- Advocate for yourself first
- Make your boss a partner
- Look up
- Look out
1. Advocate for yourself first. Before you can ask anyone else to speak up on your behalf, which is what advocates do, you need to know your own strengths and your potential for growth. Start by creating a three-column spreadsheet with these headings:
- What I do well
- What I like to do
- What I need to learn
Once you have a clear picture of who you are now and what potential you have, you are ready for Step 2:
2. Make your boss a partner. Almost everyone loves being asked for advice. Maybe you already have a good relationship with your boss, or maybe the relationship needs a little nurturing. Either way, schedule a one-on-one and ask him/her to help you create a personal development plan. This can include new projects or initiatives you’d like to tackle, courses or seminars you want to take—anything related to your professional growth is fair game. Come up with a timeline and begin to implement your plan.
3. Look up. The best place to find your first advocate is probably somewhere on the ladder above you in the company. Begin to notice people whose style and executive presence you admire. Then use the same technique you developed in Step 2—ask for advice. Over a cup of coffee or in some other informal setting, share an idea or project you’re working on. Ask for their input. Then ask for their help. “Joe, I need someone who knows me and can help me raise my profile a bit. Would you be willing to speak up about my accomplishments to some of your colleagues?”
4. Look out. Use the same strategy to find people outside the company who can act as your personal publicist. It may be a client, or someone in a professional organization, or just a friend who has contacts inside your company. Ask for their input on your ideas; then ask them to look for opportunities to speak up for you.
And above all, don’t forget to say “thank you.”
Three months after she began to implement her plan, Melanie landed a couple of high profile assignments and found that she was back on the company radar screen and moving ahead again.
Talkback: Have you successfully recruited advocates to help raise your profile at work? Share your experience here.
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“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
~ Scott Adams ~
Deann found herself stuck in a huge rut. As marketing manager for a major Internet company, she had always prided herself on being an “idea person.” Her team was known throughout the company as the place where creativity lived and thrived. Lately, however, she felt as though everything was turning gray. No bright ideas, no exciting new campaigns—Deann knew she had to do something to turn things around. If she was not inspired, how could she inspire her team? And they had a major new campaign to develop in the next month. No creativity = no campaign.
After a few days of wallowing in this unhappy state, Deann decided to conduct her own research project on creativity. She found an astounding number of resources and within a day or two she had come up with her own strategy for reactivating her creative thinking skills. Here’s her four-step action plan:
- Step 1: Acknowledge that you are creative
- Step 2: Let your inner child come out to play
- Step 3: Change your perspective
- Step 4: Pass it on
1. Step 1: Acknowledge that you are creative. This one may be the most difficult. Some people actually believe that either you are born creative, or you’re not. And there’s nothing you can do about it either way. Rather than getting stuck in the argument, Deann chose to make a list of situations in the past where her creativity had been running on high. Successful ad campaigns, new product launches, social media successes—by the time she finished her list, it was obvious to Deann that she had creativity to spare. It had just gone dormant somehow. Time to wake it up!
2. Step 2: Let your inner child come out to play. Children have no inhibitions about exercising their creativity. They will make mud pies, color outside the lines, draw pictures of unicorns—perfect demonstrations of creativity in action. But somewhere along the line, we grow up. We lose the sense of wonder, we become afraid to show off what we’ve got. Or as one teacher put it, “We start school as a question mark but we graduate as a period.” For the next two weekends, Deann did nothing but play. She went to kids’ movies. She took her nephews to the zoo. She bought a set of adult coloring books and paints and almost got lost in a world of color. Now she was ready for
3. Step 3: Change your perspective. As Deann considered her upcoming campaign challenge, she decided to throw out all the existing ideas, many of which were just reruns of past campaigns. Instead, she put together a list of what-ifs to create some new perspectives:
- What if we were doing this campaign in Brazil or China?
- What if our target market was seniors instead of millenials?
- What if we were selling corn flakes instead of high tech apps?
- What if we could be totally outrageous without fear of criticism?
The ideas began to explode in her head like popcorn. Deann was making notes so fast she could barely get one written before another one popped into her head. It was definitely time for
4. Step 4: Pass it on. It’s been said that we teach best what we most need to learn (Richard Bach). Deann knew that the best way to keep the creativity flowing and growing was to get her team together and share with them what she had learned. She decided on a half-day mini-retreat, off site, where everyone could be casual and relaxed. You can’t rush creativity. It’s much more effective to simply create an environment that allows it to happen.
She knew that diversity often inspires new thought, while sitting around with the same old team can cause everyone to fall into a group-think rut. So Deann decided to invite some of her colleagues from other departments to join the retreat. She wanted her team to be confronted with new ways of seeing things.
The results were rewarding. Not only did the entire team unleash a new level of creativity, word of Deann’s changing perspective began to spread around the company before the new campaign was ready for prime time. This created a high level of excitement and anticipation, and when the new campaign was launched, it was immediately labeled “the best one yet.” Now whenever she begins to feel stuck, Deann just takes her team back to her four-step plan for a refresher.
If you’re feeling stuck and under pressure to perform, e-mail Joel for some new ideas. You are more creative than you think. Apply these tips above and your creative skills will develop and grow.
Talkback: How do you keep your creative thinking flowing? Share your ideas here.
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“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.”
~ Margaret Heffernan ~
Anna has always been a competent and conscientious employee, but she couldn’t figure out how to really shine as a leader. Her mentor suggested she evaluate what skills her office needed most and work to fill the gap. Anna realized that office conflicts were wasting valuable time and energy. Coworkers were avoiding conflict at all costs until it came to a head, and several of her coworkers had left the company because of the negative atmosphere. By honing her conflict resolution skills, Anna knew she could really get noticed.
Conflict resolution is an invaluable skill that will make you shine as an employee, because few people do it really well. Helping conflicts to happen in healthy ways will boost ingenuity, foster harmonious relationships, and increase job satisfaction. Whether you’re mediating conflicts for others or resolving a conflict with a coworker or even with your boss, these tips will help you to master this skill.
1. Predict conflicts.
Conflicts don’t always have to catch you off guard. Look for personality clashes and underlying tensions that could surface during a challenging moment. That will help you to circumvent them when possible by curbing bad behavior before it gets out of hand, and to anticipate how to handle tense situations.
2. Let both parties cool down.
Don’t attempt to find a solution while everyone is boiling mad. Give people time and space to cool down and reflect on the situation. Let them know you’ll help resolve the conflict after everyone has had some breathing room.
3. Articulate the conflict.
Clearly state what is happening and why it’s important to solve the conflict. Ask all parties if they agree with your summary of the situation. You can’t solve the problem until you know what problem you’re solving.
4. Get to the root of the issue.
Personality clashes and past disagreements that flare up might cloud the issue. If you’ve taken the time to predict what types of conflicts might arise in your workplace, you’ll have a better idea of their root causes. Ask yourself if you’ve seen a pattern at play.
5. Make sure both parties feel heard.
Schedule one-on-one time with each party, if possible, to make sure they’ve each had the chance to fully air their concerns and feel heard. If you’re involved in the conflict, reach out to a colleague who can help you understand the other party’s perspective, and ask your advocate for advice if need be.
6. Foster collaboration or compromise.
Solutions that involve collaboration or compromise are the most productive, because they ensure everyone’s needs are met. They’re far more productive than having one party accommodate the other’s wishes completely, or having both parties compete head-on to show their solution is best. While negotiating the solution, consider whether one party is more domineering or vocal than the other. If so, work to draw the more reserved party out to make sure no one’s needs are being overlooked.
7. Communicate expectations with everyone.
Communicating expectations clearly will help avoid future conflicts. Clear communication also makes people feel valued. If the office already has formal protocol related to the issue at hand, communicate it to the entire office. If not, assemble a small team of people to develop a protocol that coworkers can look to in the future.
8. Solicit solutions
Ask for potential solutions from all parties involved in the conflict. If other coworkers have investment in the issue at hand, ask the whole office for solutions. When the people in conflict see its resolution as a joint effort, they’ll be more likely to feel acknowledged, supported, and treated fairly.
Working to build positive relationships with coworkers on a daily basis will help them trust your methods of conflict resolution. Making this effort will poise you to take leadership in the conflict resolution process. Like Anna, as you hone stellar conflict resolution skills, your boss will come to see you as a leader in your workplace.
Anne purchased my book Difficult Conversations which provided her with the practical tactics for some of the crucial communication she was prepared to begin having.
For the next week, take notice of any tension brewing in your office and predict what conflicts might arise from it. Take action each day to address a potential area of conflict, such as asking a coworker what might alleviate her frustrations with fellow team members. Take notes on what worked and what didn’t, and email Joel for feedback.
Talkback: Have conflict resolution skills gotten you noticed? Have you seen them benefit your coworkers? Share your experiences here.
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“Sometimes “No” is the kindest word.”
~ Vironika Tugaleva ~
Ginger feels as though she is drowning in a tsunami. Her inbox is piled high with projects, some of which are way past due. Her email is full of unanswered questions and her text message “ding” is ringing in her ears about every 60 seconds. If she doesn’t do something soon, her work life is going to spin completely out of control. Not to mention she’s losing sleep and shortchanging personal relationships, just to keep her head above water.
Since she’s already heavily involved in market research, Ginger decides to use her extraordinary research skills to come up with a plan for stopping the impending disaster. After scanning a number of relevant books and articles, Ginger comes up with a four-point plan for minimizing her stress overload. Primarily, she realizes that she needs to start saying “no,” a lot.
Step 1: Find out why
Step 2: Find a new pattern
Step 3: Find the “off” button
Step 4: Find support
Ginger figures that 30 days is time enough to get her new plan into place. Just deciding to take action has already made her feel less stressed.
1. Find out why. Ginger’s research introduces her to a new acronym—FOMO. In this day of information overload, lots of people suffer from this condition: Fear Of Missing Out. What if you say no to your boss when he asks you to resolve the next department crisis? He’ll think less of you, he’ll never ask you for help again. You won’t get promoted, and ultimately you’ll be laid off. That’s exactly what FOMO will do to you. What if you don’t read and answer every email the minute it comes in? You’ll soon be ignored by your colleagues and you might miss out on an important new assignment you’ve been craving. Getting rid of FOMO is the first step toward work balance.
2. Find a new pattern. We are all, to one extent or another, people-pleasers. We want our coworkers to like us, not to mention our bosses. We want to be seen as team players, major contributors. The old adage, “If you want something done, ask a busy person,” gets a lot of us trapped on an endless treadmill of tasks and projects, some of which may be virtually meaningless when it comes to career advancement. So the new pattern goes like this: next time someone asks you to take on a new project or step into an emergency situation, you take a step back. Ask why. Get more information about the situation. Take time to think it over and see if it fits your own agenda, goals, and responsibilities. Then make the person who asked feel good about hearing your “no.” We are all too afraid of disappointing someone. The truth is, they will move on. A simple, “I’d love to say yes, Randy, but if I do, I’ll shortchange the projects I’m already working on. You wouldn’t want me to do that to you, and I don’t want to do it to anyone else either. I can’t give you my best right now, but ask me another time, and let’s see if we can get to a yes.” This lets the other person know that you’re doing him or her a favor by not taking on something you can’t do well. And next time might be different.
3. Find the “off” button. This is where technology becomes your friend. Turn off the signals that tell you every time an email lands in your inbox, or a text message arrives on your cell phone. Check these on a regular basis, of course, but don’t put yourself at their mercy. Program your email to sort your incoming messages—important clients in one folder, your boss in another. You might even go so far as to get two email addresses—one for people who need to reach you immediately, and one for everybody else.
4. Find support. It’s a good idea to talk over your strategy with your boss, of course. Take the approach that you know you’re doing less than your best and you want to create space to improve your performance. Depending on your situation, you might ask to be dropped from certain projects or committees, or you might ask for short term help to clear out the backlog.
Ginger was lucky that she recognized her problem before it caused her serious trouble. Long term work and communications overload can damage your health, your relationships, and your work performance. Ginger took steps to resolve her situation, and over time she learned to say “no” in a way that made others feel she was doing them a favor.
Are you facing a personal tsunami at work? Email Joel and get some tips on how you can avoid the oncoming disaster.
Talkback: What’s your strategy for saying no? Have you successfully conquered FOMO? Share your experience here.
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“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door ”
~ Milton Berle ~
You’re good at your job – you have great reviews, get excellent results, and you’re well-liked. Maybe you’re fairly new to your career, or maybe you’ve spent years at the same job without a promotion. Either way, if you if you keep performing, your success will be rewarded…right?
Unfortunately, no. Talent and results alone will not see you succeed. That may seem like a harsh statement after all the hard work you’ve done, but time and again, studies have shown it to be true – good work alone is not enough. You will need to take control and guide your own career in order to attain the success you have worked so hard for.
So what are you going to do? You’ve already done everything in your job description to meet and exceed expectations, so what’s next? In the new art of getting ahead, you’ll need to expand your efforts, and manage the following.
First, take stock of your own true strengths and weaknesses, and then compare them to the perception of your skill level in your organization. Ask yourself:
- Would I consider someone with my perceived skill to be ready to take on the next level challenges at work?
- What are the gaps in my skills?
- Am I missing out on opportunities to showcase my talents?
- Considering my next desired move, what traits would I most like to highlight?
2. Increase your visibility
To get ahead, you have to get noticed. If your upbringing, culture or general personality means you’re someone who is uncomfortable with “tooting your own horn,” don’t despair. While you will have to graciously take credit for the work you’ve done, self-promotion is hardly the only tactic. Consider some of the following to help you make yourself more visible:
- Identify an advocate who can speak on your behalf – with a senior partner, manager or trusted advisor working to raise your profile, you won’t have to be so aggressive in self-promotion.
- Take on high-profile assignments – working on projects with a higher visibility will translate to higher visibility for you. Taking on those things your boss or executive deems important will help make sure that your added value is noticed.
- Leverage opportunities to interact with leaders – seize those chances to rub elbows at meetings, on projects or at volunteer functions with the influential people at your meetings. Engage them in conversation, ask questions and talk to them about your successes.
3. Exert your influence
Finally, leadership requires influence to be successful. People follow leaders they believe in. Influential leaders can build connections across business units, within their teams, and with management above. People – above and below – need to see that you can inspire action and positive change. This is critical and far more potent than any attempt to lead through authority, title or power. Consider your strengths and weaknesses in the areas of:
- Reputation – Consider your work history and where you’ll need to build more value to create a solid foundation.
- Skill set – Examine your areas of expertise. Consider the tools you’ll need to succeed.
- Executive presence – No matter what level you currently lead, when you have executive presence, people are attracted to you as a leader. There are always opportunities to practice that assured sense of self that draws people in.
- Likeability – Does your leadership motivate others? Practice positive, mindful direction – success comes when others inspired by your presence and want to do their best work on your team.
- Persuasion – It is a powerful tool to be able to sway others. Persuasive leaders know how to build consensus and see their point of view.
There’s no doubt that it takes a lot to get ahead. Beyond just hard work and solid results, you need the tools at hand to get noticed and attract others to your cause. Practicing these skills will put you in good stead to land that big project or promotion you’ve been seeking.
Talkback: What techniques have you used to change your perception or increase your visibility? Comment below and share your successes in getting ahead.
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