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Many of us pride ourselves on our ability to tell it like it is, but fragile egos and fear of litigation make engaging in "straight talk" a challenge. Managers often find it difficult to be candid without crossing the line, and words, phrases, and attitudes that might have been fine yesterday can become taboo overnight. Learning to speak in a respectfully straightforward manner is a key management skill that will serve you throughout your entire career.
It takes skill to hit right between the eyes without leaving your target feeling as though you’ve invaded their space or overstepped your boundaries. By implementing these four key principles, you can ensure that your words come off as crisp and expedient, not insensitive or rude.
Keep it neutral. Aim for clarity, but position your message in a way that won't evoke a defensive response. Sarcasm and unmitigated criticism lead others to put up walls rather than encouraging positive, productive conversation.
Make empathy your strategy. Put yourself on the other side. What does this person stand to gain from fixing the issue at hand? Approach it as though you’re a team with a common goal, and focus on the big picture rather than the things that bug you.
Have a helpful intention. Don't assume the person is aware of how their behavior appears or affects other people. In opening up a dialogue, you may even learn that your own behavior plays a role of which you were previously unaware.
Stay professional. Just because your situation is contentious or makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean you should dance around it. You’ll get better results being considerate and direct.
Sound doable? Let's put these strategies to work in a few common office scenarios.
Your boss is a control freak. Don’t: "All my other managers have always been happy with my performance. I don’t get why you’re all over my every move. What’s it going to take to satisfy you?” Do: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been watching me closely as of late. I want to know how I can better give you what you need and instill confidence in my ability.”
A gossipy coworker is driving you nuts. Don’t: “Barb, why must you be so overly concerned with everyone else’s business?” Do: “Hey Barb, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but people are starting to express discomfort about the way you're constantly discussing others. I just wanted to give you a heads-up that you might want to tone it down a bit.”
An employee’s work is consistently subpar. Don’t: “Gee, Charlie, you make more mistakes than everyone else combined. Do you know what you’re doing?” Do: “Charlie, I know you’re trying hard, and I appreciate that. I’d like to help you improve the quality of your work so it’s level with the rest of the team.”
A peer is stepping on your toes. Don’t: “Look, Jennifer, I’m in charge of product PR. Not you. I think we’ll get along much better if you let me run things my way.” Do: “Jennifer, you seem to be very interested in how product PR goes down. I’d like to know how you think my team can work together more effectively.”
You may think that your solutions are more subtle than the “don’t"s listed above, but even if that's true, you’re only being more subtle about the way you insult, degrade, and de-motivate. Don’t be subtle—be direct, but with finesse. Only then will your efforts be met with the positive results you desire.
—Andrea Zintz, Career Coach
Since the economic downturn began, it seems that “playing it safe” has become a national pastime. Companies have laid off employees, instigated hiring freezes, and focused on cost-cutting measures rather than seeking to grow and prosper. While many of them have money, they are afraid to use it due to uncertainty in the marketplace.That’s called playing it safe—and it's the opposite of playing to win.
The problem is that growth demands risk - of time, of money, of talent - on endeavors that can be said to have a reasonable expectation of success (the operative word here being “expectation,” not “guarantee"). Leaders take risks where others are paralyzed by the possibility of failure. Some companies understand this—they aggressively launch new products, enter new markets, and venture into uncharted territory. These are the companies that set the pace, earn the profits, and reap the benefits of their leader status.
The same principle applies to individuals. Polls reveal that a large percentage of employees - anywhere from one-third to over one-half - say that they will look for new jobs when the economy picks up. For now, however, they are content to play it safe. Meanwhile, others are proactively seeking opportunities—and finding them.
There are no guarantees, but there are always opportunities. Playing to win means finding and exploiting these opportunities to get ahead. Do you have to leave your current job in order to do so? Maybe, maybe not. If you're content where you are, look for opportunities to grow and advance within your position. Learn a new skill. Propose a new idea. Ask for more responsibility, or for more resources to do your job better. If your efforts are ill-received, give it some time and ask again. Push back on the status quo.
Are you playing it safe, or are you playing to win? While none of these endeavors guarantee your success, they at least put the option on the table. Go ahead, weigh the risk-profit ratio before making a decision—but please, quit doing things just because they're "safe." When the economy does improve, you'll be an MVP for playing to win while others were hanging out in their comfort zones.
—Alan Allard, Career Coach
It's been a treat having Alan on the site this month! For more from our executive career and life coach, pick up his e-book for Amazon Kindle here.
I recently watched an interview with Rory McIlroy, one of the world's top professional golfers. I'm sure it won't surprise you to know that Rory has a coach—one who helps him not only with the physical aspects of the sport, but also with the psychological aspects of winning. In sports, the right coach can make all the difference, but coaching isn't just for athletes! Most - if not all - of us can benefit from receiving some guidance on our careers and our lives.
But what if you don’t have the budget for a coach (and your company won't pay for one)? Easy. Become your own coach! If you're up for the job, here are three insights to get you started.
Define your goals. A good coach begins by helping you identify your priorities. What do you want to achieve (or become) in the next 6-12 months, and why? Your first assignment is to develop a crystal-clear understanding of your desired ends. Take a look at each area of your life - health, relationships, finances, recreation, career - set some life-altering goals.
Establish accountability. Coaching is effective because it reminds you what reaching your goals will mean to you. It also gives you someone that will hold your feet to the fire - in a good way! - when you begin to entertain reasons why you can’t make good on your word. How do you build accountability when your coach is, well, you? Find a trusted friend or coworker to share your goal with and update periodically on your progress. Your primary accountability should be to yourself, but a little extra support can go a long way.
Stretch yourself. To reach your version of success, you have to stretch yourself. We can’t cling to our current beliefs and behaviors and expect anything to change. What are you doing to challenge yourself on a regular basis? When is the last time you took a risk? Coaching yourself means demanding more of yourself, even if you risk making mistakes along the way. Only by pushing yourself can you discover how far you can go.
The bottom line? Not having a coach doesn’t let you off the hook when it comes to self-development, growth and transformation. You can be your own coach. Look at your goals, build an accountability system, and add one goal that you don't think is quite so realistic—just to prove yourself wrong. What are you waiting for? As any good coach will tell you, the best time to start is now.
—Alan Allard, Career Coach
I have three questions for you today:
Now that those three questions are out of the way, forget about them. Instead, ponder the real question at hand: Why should your boss give you a raise?
“You've got to be kidding me!" you might be thinking. "I haven’t had a raise in two years. I’ve taken on additional responsibilities and done a good job. It's only fair.” Okay, let’s go with that. Put yourself in your boss’s shoes for a minute or two, and see how convincing that reasoning is to you.
The fact is, it doesn’t matter what you think your company should pay you—not really. You aren’t the one who chooses your salary. That honor belongs to your boss (or someone above him or her). If you want a raise, you have to think from that person's perspective—and that person is unlikely to throw more money in your direction without a good reason.
You may indeed be worth more than you are currently being paid. But unless you are able to influence the decision maker, nothing is likely to change. Your worth will ultimately be determined by someone other than you. Does the person who holds the power really know what you do and how well you do it? How do you know that they know?
For every ten employees who believe that they deserve a raise, only one can honestly speak to a boss's opinion of their performance. What about you? What are you worth, who knows it, and how do you know they know it? Once you can answer these questions, you are that much closer to getting your raise.
—Alan Allard, Career Coach
In the now-classic book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey popularizes the terms "dependent-independent-interdependent" as they appy to behavior and relationships. Let’s take a look at each of these terms from a team perspective. Where do you fit in?
The Dependent Team Member. "Dependent Roberta" has a lot of value to offer her team...but she doesn’t believe that. She constantly compares herself to others, always finding herself inferior. Instead of taking initiative, she waits for her boss or her team members to give her direction. She is afraid to make decisions, fretting over what will happen if something goes wrong.
The Solution: Roberta lacks self-worth and self-confidence, and she finds it hard to own her talent and success. She needs to identify and own her strengths while progressively taking steps to become more independent.
The Independent Team Member. "Independent Jackie" takes initiative, solves problems, and completes her projects...as a lone wolf, not a member of the pack. She is competent, but comes across as somewhat aloof. She thinks in terms of competition rather than collaboration, and she rarely shares any credit.
The Solution: While Jackie is a strong performer, her tendency to overestimate her talent and devalue the contributions of her team make her an ill fit for a supervisor or manager position. She needs to develop a different kind of confidence—one that allows her to not only give to her team, but also accept what they can give her.
The Interdependent Team Member. "Interdependent Sheila" doesn’t do good work...she does great work, because she brings out the best in others and allows them to help her shine. She freely shares her ideas without worrying that someone else might get the credit. She is quick to listen to and implement smart ideas and suggestions, no matter where they come from—she is confident in her skills, but knows that two heads are better than one.
In short, Sheila owns her talent and successes while recognizing and celebrating yours.This is the sweet spot—if you are here, congratulations! If not, decide today to take steps to get there. In order to do well at work, you have to work well with others.
—Alan Allard, Career Coach
Nothing says “party time” quite like a strobe light. A staple of dance halls and cosmic bowling alleys, the strobe casts a magical spell on anyone who enters its field of glory. The strobe can give you whiter teeth, a more vacant mind, and downright formidable dance moves. The strobe can make that guy whose elbow bends backwards the most popular guy in the room.
Sure, life under the strobe is grand...for about five minutes. Then you realize that all you're consuming are refracted parts of a whole. It’s all stimulation and no satisfaction—no constancy from one moment to the next; nothing but darkness and disorientation between each fleeting high. The party is one big illusion, but your needs are as real as ever.
Your head starts to spin. Your mouth runs dry. You ask for some water. “WHAT? I CAN'T HEAR YOU!" comes the cheerfully indifferent response. You try to mime a gesture of pouring and drinking, but your efforts are mistaken for one more wacky dance move. The strobe doesn’t lend itself to a cohesive plan or a forward motion. The strobe just makes it more entertaining to stay stuck.
We’re often tempted to fill our free time with mindless distractions—with easy living that doesn’t actually replenish our reserves. A hard day’s work and a hard day's night can reward in equal measure, but only when we also engage in meaningful forms of repose. We all must eventually step off of the dance floor, and when we do, harsh fluorescents needn’t be our only other option. There is room in between for the soft glow of a desk lamp and the raw simplicity of natural light—for skill building and thoughtful reflection in addition to parties and reality TV.
Go ahead, revel in the blithe pulse of the strobe light. Just don’t get lost in a stream of haphazard motion without a beginning or an end. We ought to give our downtime the same thought we give our careers—to ensure that we are rebuilding the other parts of ourselves that require care. Breaks filled with all play and no push can be tempting, but in practice, a nonstop party reads more like a nightmare than a dream. When you blind yourself to other ways of recharging, you’re more likely than ever to extinguish your own glow.
—Emma Aubry Roberts
If I asked you to identify one person in your office whom everyone would label "The Complainer,” I bet you could do it faster than you can text or tweet. This person has something to say about the room temperature, the coffee, the work load—probably even about you from time to time. For better or worse, this person has earned their reputation.
You're probably not "The Complainer" at your office. But before you pat yourself on the back, think a little harder about how you communicate with your boss, your colleagues, and, well, everyone else. You probably complain more than you'd like to admit—especially around those with whom you feel safest and most comfortable. Our friends and confidantes are the people we most frequently subject to that squeaky complaint faucet.
If you are nodding your head sheepishly, decide today that you will resist the urge. Call it the Never Complain Rule—you may not hit your goal all the time, but any improvement will pay off. After all, complaining is an easy way out. It turns us into victims rather than professionals. When faced with unpleasant or challenging situations, we can complain, or we can provide solutions—and I think we all know which one we'd rather hear from someone else. Make up your mind to honor the Never Complain Rule at work. And if you're really ambitious, make up your mind to take it home.
—Alan Allard, Career Coach
What determines how you feel about your job—the job itself, or the attitude you bring to it?
Trick question! In all fairness, both are important, and both affect us. Having said that, most people would agree that that the mindset with which we approach our work is critical, and we can’t talk about mindset without talking about the mind itself. Recent discoveries in neuroscience show that we have more control over how the brain functions than we had originally thought. In fact, they've coined a saying: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
Okay, you say, but what does that mean for my brain at work? Well, you and your job have two things in common: positive and negatives. Your brain doesn’t get to choose which one it focuses on, but you do—and your selection will shape how you feel about your job. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad I get to choose which brain I take to work. After all, if you were the boss, wouldn't you prefer to reward the happier, more positive employee?
There isn’t a job, teammate, or company who is perfect, and a negative attitude will only put your career at risk. Fortunately, the brain is malleable, and a quality called neuroplasticity gives us the capacity to grow new neural connections. If your immediate reaction to that is too late or sounds like a lot of work, I'd say that's a pretty good indication that you've got some rewiring to do. Start firing off different neurons before your neurons get you fired.
—Alan Allard, Career Coach
“I'm doing a great job at work!” are the exact words that Amy*, one of my clients, said to me at the beginning of our call this week. Before my ego could inflate - I am the one coaching her, after all! - she told me what had prompted her statement. As it turns out, Amy's "great" work had nothing to do with me—and everything to do with Amy.
Amy happens to be a superstar at her company. In fact, after less than six months, she was called into her C.E.O.’s office and asked why she was thriving in such a challenging environment. Huh? Instead of telling you what makes Amy so good at what she does, let me share with you what could have kept her from being a strong performer.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because when we see someone who is at the top of her game, it’s easy to assume that person just, well, has it easy. We convince ourselves that we could be just as successful if not for our bad luck, terrible manager, or unexpected distractions.
But maybe - just maybe - there’s more to the story. Could it be that exceptional performers also become overloaded, fail to receive necessary support, and deal with personal challenges when they leave the office? Could it be that they, too, wrestle with self-doubt and occasionally wonder how long they can keep it all up?
Amy has experienced all of these things, but they haven’t stopped her. She shows up every day and she works hard, because that’s what you have to do to succeed. Challenge yourself to do great work even when work isn't great. If you spend your life waiting for the perfect job, you could be waiting a long time.
—Alan Allard, Career Coach
*Name has been changed.
I don't know you or how well your career is going. I do know that there are three keys to job satisfaction that are worth contemplating. Which ones have you unlocked? Which ones have eluded you? Evaluate how well you're using the three keys...or not.
Passion. The late Steve Jobs (of Apple fame) is a legend, and his passion played a huge role in his success. Before everyone knew his name, however, Jobs was a college dropout who enrolled in a calligraphy class for fun. Ten years later, that same class had a profound influence on font design for the Mac computer. Who would have guessed?
What about you? Not inspired by your current job, but not ready to make a big change? Take a cue from Steve Jobs, and follow your heart without putting your job in jeopardy. Register for a class, volunteer in your community, or take on a research project. Learn something new, or revisit a hobby that you've let fall by the wayside. You never know where it will lead you, but finding out sure could be fun!
Aptitude. If you have an “aptitude” for something, you are naturally good at it. That doesn’t mean you can skimp on learning or practice. It just means that you have an innate capacity to perform. Aptitude applies to company culture as well—some people prefer to work at a deliberate and steady pace, while others thrive on the stimulation of a fast-moving environment.
All jobs come with specific demands. Not everyone can be a surgeon, a hotel manager, or a truck driver—all worthy professions with wildly different aptitude requirements. If you don’t love your job, maybe it’s the wrong fit for the way you're naturally wired.
Demand. The needs of the marketplace fluctuate and, therefore, so do opportunities. Jobs become obsolete or get outsourced, and some pay better than others. When you find a job that engages both your passion and your aptitude, you must then ask yourself, Will this pay me what I need to be happy?
If the answer is no, all is not lost! Adjust your priorities and expectations—can you be happy doing something you love and making less money than you’d like? The answer is up to you, but the demand for your skills and passions is not. Maybe earning less to do what fulfills you isn’t such a bad tradeoff.
Passion, aptitude, demand: your career needs all three in order to thrive. Figure out where they intersect, and find a way to get there. Steve Jobs isn’t the only one to have used these three keys to open the vault—every month, we feature many others who have done the same. Now it’s your turn.
—Alan Allard, Career Coach
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings have set a world record, winning three Olympic gold medals in volleyball. Their eleven-year success streak is coming to an end - Misty is retiring from the game - but the lessons we can learn from Misty and Kerri are as applicable as ever.
You’re only as good as your team. Misty and Kerri both know that success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. When interviewed, these women are quick to credit their full team of three (including their coach) for their unprecedented success. Do you respect and support your team members? When did you last let your boss or colleagues know that you admire and appreciate their contributions? If you haven't, speak up—the game's not over yet.
You can succeed despite your challenges. Being an Olympic champion means pushing yourself mentally and physically, sacrificing time with family, and - oh yeah - contending with world-class competitors along the way. "I think the only reason Misty and I are gold medalists is because of [American competitors Jennifer Kessey and April Ross]," says Kerri. "They push us so hard. They're one of my favorite teams to beat because they're so good.” The next time you are tempted to complain about your challenges, remember that they make you who you are. Gold medals (or anything else worthwhile) don’t come on a silver platter—you have to give your all, and then some.
You don’t have to substitute work for life. Many of us fail to distinguish between who we are and what we do. Misty realizes that she doesn’t have a career and a life—she has a life, and her career has just been an important slice of it. At the end of the day, who do you have to share your success with? If your career were to end tomorrow, what would your life be like without any friends or family? We can (and should!) work hard, but not to the neglect of the special people in our lives. Value your relationships. You won't always have the people you care about by your side—just ask Misty or Kerri.
—Alan Allard, Career Coach
You've no doubt heard the phrase, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." Well, I have news for you, your teacher has arrived, and that teacher is your job. Of course, your job can't actually speak the way you and I do. But if it could, here are two things it might say.
"Quit complaining about me." You may have a difficult boss or few prospects with your current company, but your job is the only one you've got, so you might as well make the best of it. If you don’t change your attitude, you'll only end up more frustrated and stressed than you need to be. Gratitude opens the door to better things.
"You don't know it all...yet." (Ouch!) To move on to the next level, we must first learn the lessons and pass the tests. If we fail, we are held back until can perform—and rightfully so. Teachers have a way of giving us assignments that further our growth, so start taking your current work seriously and you career will start moving at a faster pace.
The status quo got you to where you are, but it won’t take you where you want to go. Perhaps you need to take on some additional responsibiliies to catch your boss's attention. Can you improve your people skills? Your presentation skills? Your ability to exert influence in meetings? Sure, you’re good, but maybe not as good as you think—at least not in every area. If you want more opportunities, you have up the ante.
The problem isn’t your job, your boss, or the economy. The problem is that you still have some lessons to learn, and you alone are in control of how fast you learn them. You may not have the perfect job, but you have the perfect job for now—and if you don't, perhaps you need to step out of your comfort zone and see what else is out there. What’s that? You’re not good at interviewing? I think you’ve just figured out one of those lessons your job can teach you. If you can’t market yourself, you’ll have to settle for what you have.
—Alan Allard, Career Coach
Olympic fever is everywhere. Even those who don't follow sports can likely find something that excites them about the Games. As a lover of all things edible, my guilty pleasure is reading Olympian food diaries, such as those detailed in this article from The New York Times. The amount of food that hardcore athletes need to consume is spellbindingly gross - a dozen eggs? Pints of ice cream? Entire pizzas? - and while there are healthy ways to refuel, time and volume constraints lead many Olympians to gravitate toward not-so-stellar options instead.
While unlimited pizza and beer may sound like a sweet (er, savory) deal, the Times article sheds light on an underlying truth of Olympic-level eating—these athletes are simply trying to break even. Most of us feel bloated and sluggish when we eat too much junk, particularly those with active lifestyles, so the idea of being forced to consume massive amounts of high-calorie "fuel" is somewhat depressing. In fact, athletes who would rather nap than gorge may envy our civilian metabolisms—our ability to fill our plates based on balance and pleasure rather than necessity.
The same principle applies to our professional lives. We hop on the treadmill with an end goal in mind, knowing that sprinting will get us there faster. We barrel ahead, hoping to break our own records (and sometimes competing against those running next to us as well). The longer and faster we run, the more our stamina increases, and the less aware we become of our aches and pains—but the more ravenous we become at the end of the day. We require something more to fill us up, and we don't always choose wisely. We crave the peace of mind found in those who have chosen to opt out of the race.
A full plate is a positive thing. Knowing the strain of a hard day's work is a gift in this economy, and if you want the gold, you owe it to yourself to sprint. Glory can be a respectable end in itself. But pushing your body to superhuman extremes demands sacrifice—not only in terms of the time you spend training, but also in terms of your ability to enjoy the fruits of your labor. The ideal balance of work and fuel changes daily. Sometimes you'll run an extra mile, and sometimes you'll regret the fourth slice of pizza whether you "worked for it" or not. Just know that you'll always need to refuel at the finish line, and do your best to fill your plate with care.
—Emma Aubry Roberts
Hello! I’m Alan Allard, and I'll be your career coach for the month of August. This month will be all about you—but before we get started, you might want to know a few things about me as well.
For the past eight years, I have worked as a consultant, executive coach, speaker, trainer, and life coach. My current work deals with helping companies, teams, and individuals thrive in challenging times by improving performance and building resilience. I have a master’s and a doctorate in Counseling, and I spent 12 years working in private practice as a psychotherapist. I also wrote a book called Seven Secrets to Happiness! On a personal note, I am married to my high school sweetheart, and we have two incredible daughters (as well as two equally incredible son-in-laws).
Over the next few weeks, we'll be taking a look at what you can do to increase your success, fulfillment, and happiness—both in your career and in your overall life. Please let me know in the comments if if there are any specific topics you'd like me to address. Thanks, and I look forward to another great month!
—Alan Allard, Career Coach
Never underestimate the value of a good career coach. In your bid for advancement, connecting with an experienced guide who can direct you down the most advantageous path can be invaluable. Whether you're seeking minimal assistance or direction in multiple areas, a career coach can aid in the following:
To determine whether a coach is right for you, note the following during your initial consultation: In addition to assessing your career objectives, does this person also discuss your individual strengths and weaknesses? Is this person offering multiple strategies and plans of action that are compatible with the current job market? Does this person motivate you? Encourage you? Listen to you and respect your input? Is this person attentive? Honest? Straightforward?
A good career coach doesn’t necessarily need to have top credentials—he or she just needs to be good at the job. Sometimes you can hit the jackpot through blind research, but word of mouth is by far the best way to locate an excellent coach. The road to a great career can be daunting, but with the help of a professional whose focus is your success, you can avoid stumbling blocks that might have otherwise caused you to become discouraged or delayed.
—Madeline Lewis, Career Coach
A picture is worth a thousand words, but an email signature speaks volumes with just a few. The way you choose to sign your emails greatly influences the tone and level of professionalism that you exude. With options ranging from formal “regards” to teenybopper-esque “xoxo,” how can you end on just the right note without sounding like you’re trying too hard?
Email culture is hardly a science, and only you can determine what you want to say and how you want to say it. Before you hit "send," consider what message you're really sending—and ensure that your signage is strengthening your emails rather than undercutting them.
Best. Often favored for work-related communications, “best” is a safe (if impersonal) choice. Use it when reaching out unfamiliar contacts or firing off brief emails to coworkers and acquaintances. To impart a touch of warmth without sacrificing professionalism, try “all my best” or “best wishes.” You can achieve a similar effect by swapping “warm regards” for its bare-bones counterpart, though the latter feels stiff and perhaps outdated in those under 35.
X’s and o’s. Also known as “kisses” and “hugs,” these represent the opposite end of the please-take-me-seriously! spectrum. Steer clear in conservative offices, but if you’re going to use them for personal emails or independent business ventures, own them fully. Choose your rendition according to the vibe you’re after—a chic “xx” (double cheek kiss) reads differently than a more traditional “xoxo.” The hippest of the hip only deign to offer one mysterious, nonchalant “x.”
Sincerely. You may associate “sincerely” with grade school letter-writing templates. In practice, however, I find it strikes an emotional chord that “best” or even “yours truly” cannot. Whip it out for sticky situations and thank-you notes. Other adverbs convey a similar charm—my boss ends both personal and professional emails with “fondly, Helene”. Her signage is just unusual enough to make an impression, and even caught the attention of country singer Garth Brooks!
Love. You know exactly what you’re doing when you throw this bad boy in there. Say it when you mean it, and avoid it when you don’t. Just make sure you’re ready to stand by your decision to use the L-word.
Those unsatisfied by this short list can select from the many other options available - “yours,” “cheers,” and “take care,” to name a few - or avoid the issue entirely by signing with just a name. As for me? I waffle between “best” and “thanks” at work, but for personal emails, I prefer to craft a short sentence around a neutral topic, such as food or the weather. Think if it as my way of saying, “Hey, I may be sending you an email, but I wish we were going for lunch or turning cartwheels in the sunshine.”
Just kidding, I can't do a cartwheel (lunch though?),
Emma Aubry Roberts
High achievers often have great difficulty letting go of control. Many view a new project or idea as their “baby,” and letting someone else take it for a “walk” can be scary and stressful. However, these people must recognize one key fact: We cannot do it all. Trying to juggle everything is a recipe for disaster. Many great entrepreneurs have found that their businesses were only able to flourish once they handed over a degree of responsibility to others! Delegation is about boosting productivity, not about falling short.
Of course, learning to delegate is easier said than done, and knowing which tasks to let go of (and when) can be tricky. Start by taking inventory of how you are spending your time. Which tasks are easy enough for someone else to perform without sacrificing work quality or losing valuable time to extensive training? Any tasks that are time-consuming but relatively simple can be turned over to an employee, assistant, or intern.
Bear in mind that the kind of help that you enlist will affect your willingness to share the burden. Maintain high standards, and be optimistic that you can and will find someone competent to assist you. With a little legwork (and perhaps even a bit of trial and error), you will find someone who is both reliable and intelligent. You may even find that the your assistant's contributions exceed your own expectations or abilities!
Ultimately, your focus should be on the core elements of your business. This means plotting strategy, meeting with prospective clients, and thinking about the big picture. Managing your calendar and answering mundane emails are tasks that you can (and should) outsource to someone else. Find a reliable person with a track record of success, and trust in the value of your time. Then shift your focus to where it belongs—and watch your time (and efforts) multiply.
—Madeline Lewis, Career Coach
Difficult people can make being productive quite a challenge—especially when the job at hand is difficult enough as it is! However, learning to manage strong personalities is a key aspect of success, as well as a part of life. If you want to achieve your goals, you'll need to learn how to be productive despite being surrounded by difficult individuals.
The first step, of course, is mental discipline—maintaining a positive outlook. But how can you keep your spirits up when you are surrounded by negativity? The simplest and most effective strategy is to stay focused on what you are looking to achieve, both short-term and in the long run. You may find it helpful to write out a list of your goals and review it periodically.
With a little thought and planning, you may also be able to diffuse the irritating qualities of people you deal with on a regular basis. Analyze the source of the the behavior—perhaps your demanding boss is unhappy with her life, or your surly coworker suffers from low-self esteem. Listen, observe, and see if you can get to the root of the matter. You can then devise strategies to reduce, minimize, or even eliminate trouble wherever possible.
Understanding your environment, as well as the problems and motivations of those who inhabit it, gives you an opportunity to deflect and control any issues that affect your work. Stay calm and focused, and keep the concerns of others at the forefront of your mind. In a perfect world, you'd never have to deal with difficult people—but if you can't learn how to manage the needs of others, you are the one who will suffer.
—Madeline Lewis, Career Coach
There is a "right time" for change to manifest. I learned this lesson from a senior leader who had a knack for getting top management to approve new programs. Over time, I was able to observe her strategy. She had an excellent sense of timing—she knew the top leaders well, and she understood when change was likely to be accepted by them. She was patient, but never wavering.
I learned a lot from her, namely:
Developing a stronger sense of timing will be an asset to you in any industry.
One way we devalue our accomplishments is by comparing ourselves to others. There is always someone who has done more, done better, or done something more outrageous than us. When we look at the world through this lens, we can never measure up, and that becomes a source of misery.
Why do do this to ourselves?
For the most part, I think comparing ourselves to others is simply habit. Many of us have been doing it for years, and it becomes a way of reinforcing limited beliefs we have about ourselves that keep us stuck.
Well, it's time to break out of the box. We can do this by keeping the focus on ourselves, more specifically: