Why Strong Leaders Have the Courage to Show Vulnerability

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“A great leader needs to love and respect people, and he needs to be comfortable with himself and with the world. He also needs to be able to forgive himself and others. In other words, a leader needs grace.”

~ Leo Hindery, Jr. ~

Bill did his best to model fearlessness, capability, and decisiveness for the people he supervised—all the qualities associated with strong leadership. In all his interactions with them, though, they seemed anxious and afraid. In meetings, he could never seem to spark a robust discussion—they would just give lip service to his questions. He couldn’t understand why they acted just the opposite of the example he tried to set.

Bill didn’t realize that his attitude of invincibility was not actually setting a good example. Rather, playing the part of the fearless leader was stifling discussion and creativity. He was forgetting that success requires risks, and when taking risks, a leader is by nature in a place of vulnerability. His attitude that failure is not an option masked the reality that we all risk failure when we reach toward high goals. Pretending he was invincible showed his deep fear of failure, which is a weakness, not a strength. Like Bill, if you want to become a strong leader in your company, have the confidence to believe that even if you do fail on any one project, you’ll bounce back and succeed in the future. When strong leaders show vulnerability, it projects this confidence to the world.

That doesn’t mean you should walk around griping about your insecurities all day. Rather, just be comfortable enough in yourself to show you know you’re far from perfect, and learn to view mistakes and weakness as learning opportunities.

1. Being authentic

When you show your vulnerabilities, you are being authentic, and that helps others to see you as trustworthy. In other words, let people see your whole self rather than picking and choosing the aspects you want them to see. People can tell whether you’re being authentic or not, particularly when you work with them every day. When you’re authentic with them, they’ll learn to trust you more rather than feeling that on some level you’re deceiving them.

2. Creating a culture of openness

Talking about your own mistakes will help the people you manage and work with to feel comfortable talking about theirs too. This will help create a culture of learning from mistakes by examining, with honesty and transparency, what went wrong. The whole group will then learn from each individual’s experiences, rather than everyone keeping things bottled up inside.

Further, this culture of openness will help your team understand the full history of a project, rather than just knowing it succeeded or it failed. The team will understand how each decision played a part in reaching the final outcome.

Likewise, be transparent about what’s happening with the company, and if you don’t know something, say so. When employees know you’re doing your best to keep them informed, they’ll trust you more.

3. Making team members feel needed

A leader who’s afraid to be vulnerable might fear that if an employee is more intelligent or capable than him in certain ways, that employee might upstage him. A vulnerable leader has let go of the need to be the mastermind behind every decision. Remember that you don’t have to know how to solve every problem to be a good leader. You need to know how to find and nurture the people who do. Don’t feel threatened by their abilities—recruit them actively, and provide them with the mentorship and incentives that will help them succeed. Give team members meaningful responsibilities with opportunities to use their own creativity, and let them know you appreciate that they can do things that you can’t.

4. Being easier to work with

If you’re hard to approach at work, imagine how much energy it takes for people to confront you about their concerns. That energy would be much better spent on team projects than on this unnecessary stress. Being the first to admit your shortcomings makes you more approachable, and it shows insight and self-awareness. It also makes problems easier to correct, allowing work to flow more smoothly. Sharpening your communication skills by learning to listen actively, use open body language, and stay fully engaged will help you make the most of these conversations.

5. Learning to grow

Strong leaders proactively ask for feedback, which puts them in an inherently vulnerable position. They might sometimes feel dismayed by the feedback they receive, but they realize this feedback provides a valuable opportunity to grow. By going outside of your comfort zone to ask for this feedback, you’ll move beyond the limitations that a false sense of invulnerability can impose.

As you become a stronger leader by showing vulnerability in these ways, your team members’ trust and respect for you will grow. Relax, take a deep breath, and let your ability to work with your own imperfection shine.

Make a list of five ways you can show your vulnerability with people you supervise. Try doing one every day over the course of a week. Do you notice a difference in how team members relate to you? Email Joel to discuss your results.

Talkback: Have you ever had a boss who was good at showing vulnerability? Did it help you to grow as an employee? Share your experiences here.

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Stress free ways to ask for a Promotion

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“Either you run the day, or the day runs you.”

~ Jim Rohn ~

Bob wanted to step up. He felt it was time to earn more money. But how should he ask for a promotion? What steps would make it most likely he’d get a “Yes”?

He knew good managers want to see their employees move up the ladder. So he decided to approach his boss. What did he think was necessary for a promotion? Were there things Bob was… or wasn’t doing that would merit that raise?

Bob scheduled a meeting to discuss his performance and his future role with the company. At the same time, Bob decided to assess his value to the company in a specific, factual way. He looked at the projects he’d covered in the past. He checked with co-workers for their assessment of his strengths and weaknesses.

In seeking to quantify his value, he asked himself:

  • What results have I delivered to the company? About how much they were worth?
  • How has my communication improved with the boss? With co-workers? With clients? Can I identify times I’ve helped things run more smoothly or communicated well?
  • What examples can I use to show I’m more efficient than I was in the past? Can I put that in dollars saved the company?
  • How has my insider knowledge of the business translated to a stronger bottom line for the company?
  • What new skills have I developed? How do they bring value to the company?

As Bob worked on this list, he realized his insider knowledge helped him master projects about twice as fast as when he first hired on. He figure out how much that saved the company in employee costs. He noted times when keeping people informed had prevented costly mistakes.

As he went through this process, his confidence grew and his stress level went down. He decided to make a short document of his achievements. That way, if the boss needed to think about his promotion, he’d have some written material to help him decide.

Bob also researched the industry averages for salary— considering his position and location. He realized he was receiving an average pay for an above average skillset. It gave him even more confidence. He emailed his boss that he’d like to discuss a promotion when they met.

Bob planned out how he would ask for the promotion. With this plan, he felt in control and relaxed.

When he sat down in the boss’s office he first asked the boss his views on Bob’s performance. Then Bob asked what it would take for him to move into a higher position.

The boss commented on Bob’s strengths and then mentioned two things he felt Bob needed to improve in order to be ready for the next position. Bob noted those areas and then shared with the boss his list of accomplishments. It was a good conversation, without stress or fear.

He left the document with his boss. At the same time, he asked if they could meet again in a month to review Bob’s progress on mastering those two areas and see if Bob was ready for the promotion.

The next month, when they met, Bob’s boss said, “I reviewed the performance record you gave me. I’d forgotten about the Jones account and how you helped us out of that AGV account snafu. I believe you’re ready to take the next step.”

Later Bob said, “You know, 80% of the promotion effort occurred before I ever got into the boss’s office. It’s not hard to ask for that promotion when you’ve insured your boss is on the same page. It really took away all the stress.”

Want a promotion… but not sure how to get the “Yes”? Contact Joel for expert assistance to put you into the next pay level.

Talkback: How have you reduced stress when you’ve asked for a promotion?

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4 Ways to Develop Effective Working Relationships

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“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”

~ Theodore Roosevelt ~

Paul is all about results. He doesn’t like small talk or discussing things on a personal level. He just wants to get his work done. When he interacts with people, he wants to hear only the bottom line action that is needed to complete the project. He doesn’t want to hear about how people are feeling. This feels ineffective. Building working relationships isn’t something he has ever needed to do until now. He just got a new job in which he is overseeing a staff of twenty people. The culture of his new company encourages building of relationships, connecting and caring.

Here are 4 ways that Paul can begin to immediately learn how to develop and build working relationships. He wants to be more effective in his role and recognizes the importance of growing in this area.

1. Be a reliable team member.

When you demonstrate your reliability, it builds others’ confidence in you. That makes you a person they want to seek out for advice, feedback, and collaboration. Stick to deadlines you set, or give advanced notice if you need more time. Follow through on the little things as well as the big things, from keeping the break room tidy to meeting project objectives.

2. Engage in active listening.

Active listening builds effective working relationships by showing colleagues you take them seriously. It also helps you more fully understand what they are saying. To listen actively, ask open-ended questions about what the other person is saying. When she finishes, paraphrase what she said to make sure you understand it. Focus on what the other person is saying, rather than on what you’re going to say next. Avoid interjecting your own opinion as the speaker explains her point of view.

3. Show empathy for others’ feelings.

Showing empathy goes hand-in-hand with active listening. Validating statements such as, “I’ve felt that way myself,” or “I can see why you feel that way,” help the speaker feel understood, even if you still have a different opinion about the situation. Feeling understood will lower the speaker’s defenses, so he can understand your perspective in turn.

4. Steer clear of gossip.

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s often easier said than done. If gossip starts up in the break room, politely but firmly say you don’t want to participate in the conversation. In doing so, you’ll avoid damaging relationships and will show you have integrity. Making your preferences known, and directly address the workplace gossip that could be hurtful to others, may also help create a more professional workplace culture. Build a culture in which respect, integrity and empathy are the foundations to creating the most effective working relationships.

Developing effective relationships at work will create a more pleasant environment. And remember, these practices aren’t just for some relationships and not others—they’re for relationships with supervisors as well as people you supervise, for team members and folks you work with less directly.

Review the above list and select one habit you can begin applying this week. Take notes on how you do and the progress you make. I would love to hear how you do in implementing the idea you choose. Email Joel with follow-up questions about your results.

Talkback: Have you found these tips useful in your workplace? Do you have others you’d like to share? Post your ideas below!

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Why You Need an Advocate at Work

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“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!”

“What’s that?”

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.

Feeling invisible? Perhaps you could use an advocate or two. Email Joel today, and he will help you put together a plan.

Talkback: Have you successfully recruited advocates to help raise your profile at work? Share your experience here.

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4 Steps to Unleash Your Creative Thinking Skill

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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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