One Bite at a Time

You’ve got a lot on your plate. Between work, home, family, hobbies, and other personal obligations, how can you possibly get [fill in the blank] done, too? Did you bite off more than you can chew? Where will the time come from?

Picture a waitress delivering a BIG platter of the most beautiful spaghetti you’ve ever seen. You’d never look at it and say, “Oh my! There’s no way I can do this. Take it away.”

Just as with time management, you’ve got to swirl a few noodles around your fork at a time. Then, when you’re maxed out, get a to-go box and save some for tomorrow.

What are the two most important bites you can take today? Get those out of the way. Save the rest for later.

(Hint: I’m free for lunch.)

– Jackie Simon

3 Things to Do When You’re Not Feeling It

Here’s a ditty about Jack and Diane. One random Wednesday, Diane meandered into Jack’s office and said, “I just need to tell you I’m not feeling it anymore. I don’t feel inspired these days — and honestly? I’m on the verge of quitting.” (In response, Jack scratched his head and did his best James Dean.)

Ok, so that would never happen. Most of us probably dream about being that honest, or even dream about quitting on days (or weeks) we’re stuck in a rut. But we don’t. We carry the secret around and wait for the solution to present itself.

Are you just not feeling it at work? Maybe you’re not jibing with a new client. Perhaps you’re not feeling the love from your boss. Maybe the work or your company just doesn’t excite you like it once did. Whatever it is, and you’re not exactly sure what it is, you’re not feeling it.

This “not feeling it” phenomenon may be a new experience for you, or maybe you’ve been carrying it around for some time. It could be you’ll snap out of it rather quickly. For a little while, this “out of sorts” feeling or boredom may not have an impact on your work, but you run the risk of negatively impacting your personal brand if it settles in for too long.

Here are three ideas on what to do when you’re just not feeling it at work:

  1. Quickly take stock of the last time you took a day off. Chances are, it has been a long time. Even if you have a vacation planned a couple months from now, it’s time to take at least a day off. I’m not talking about doing that “work from home” thing either. I’m talking about a real day off in which you unplug, keep your laptop in your bag, and resist the urge to peek at your phone. This isn’t a day for errands or scratching items off your to-do list either. It’s a day for you to recharge and reflect. Go to a museum. Enjoy that long lunch you keep meaning to schedule with an old friend. Go for a long walk. Do anything that takes you out of your normal routine and gives you an opportunity to rest and reflect and see what comes from the day.
  2. Think about that thing, that one special something you’ve been dreaming about but just haven’t found the time. Maybe it’s a sailing vacation. Maybe it’s a class you’d love to take but keep putting it off (cake decorating, anyone?). Perhaps you’d love to volunteer and work with kids. Now is the time to sign up. It’s likely you would benefit from external interests to help you relax and breathe new ideas into your life and, as a result, also into your work.
  3. Remember that hobby you loved as a child? Maybe it’s time you got back in touch with something you have long since put aside. A few years ago, a client of mine, through coaching, remembered his love of drawing and architecture. He had forgotten over many years of pursuing his demanding career how much he enjoyed drawing and sketching. As a result of this re-discovery, he was able to feed this valuable insight into research to start his own company. Where is he today? In his first season as the owner of his own small business, where sketching and architecting are key to his craft. He couldn’t be happier. While he has a ton of work ahead to get his small business off the ground, he’s happier in his work than he has ever been because he found a way to incorporate a past love into a new career.

These ideas represent more than just recommendations. They represent opportunity. From this list, after taking up one of the recommendations, see what materializes for you. What opportunity is there for you at work that you perhaps otherwise didn’t realize? What are you starting to realize about the lack of “oomph” you feel in your work? What’s next for you to do to reach for more and take your career growth to the next level?

– Jackie Simon

Become an Instant Expert

Want a new challenge? Looking to identify your inherent talents and strengths? Want to be seen as an instant expert? Teach! Spread the word! Share your knowledge!

A great way to challenge yourself, get unstuck, learn something, and elevate yourself is to share your expertise with others. Maybe it’s a Lunch ‘N Learn session. Or an online training course. Maybe you go balls out and become adjunct at a local college. Be a mentor and have regular meetings. No matter the “who” or “how,” try your hand at teaching. When you listen to yourself teach and see the light click with others, you’ll soon realize how far you’ve come and you can better identify your next move.

–  Jackie Simon

How to Lead Your Boss

We reflected last week on the importance of leading your boss to improve your own effectiveness. In a nutshell, by leading your boss, you’ll find that your job gets easier and you’re showcasing your adeptness to lead, manage, take on greater responsibility and get things done.

You may now be thinking more about leading your boss and how exactly to accomplish that. Here are some suggestions:

For the boss who micromanages:

Let’s say your boss gives you lots of projects but not the space to independently manage them. Once a project has been delegated to you, you find your boss remains in the picture, sending countless emails regularly to inquire about status, jumping in to respond to people on your behalf, and completing tasks before you have a chance to address them.

For this boss, you need to build trust and confidence with her. Show that you can more than competently take the reins. When you receive the next project from your boss, set up a brief meeting to review the project purpose, your approach, timing, and the tasks you’ll own. Clearly set expectations with your boss that her help isn’t needed at this time but you’ll be sure to let her know if and when it is. Then, take the lead. If your boss begins to interfere, pop your head into her office and confidently thank her for her help while assuring her that her help isn’t needed at this time. It may take a few instances of “correcting” your boss on running interference. If after a few corrections, your boss doesn’t seem to be getting the hint, set up another one-on-one to talk openly about the challenges you’re experiencing and to see if you can come to an agreement on mutual responsibilities moving forward.

For the boss who doesn’t effectively prioritize:

It probably feels like you’re spinning your wheels at work most days. One day the direction is blue, the next it’s red, and so on. This boss clearly has difficulty making up his mind. Or, he’s dealing with the exact same kind of boss you are. Someone at the top may be constantly changing objectives, making it a larger, cultural challenge.

To start, meet with your boss as close to weekly as possible to discuss current and upcoming objectives. The key to getting ahead on this one is that you’re taking the responsibility to set up and ensure consistent meetings with your boss to focus and prioritize. Discuss and agree to the priorities, and send a meeting recap. Then, if anything changes, meet with your boss again and lead a dialogue to understand what may be driving the change in priority. The key behavior in this situation is not to gather the changes and then head back out to implement them, but to engage your boss in a discussion about why the shift in priorities occurred. Without creating a perception that you’re a roadblock to change, you’ll want to engage in dialogue to demonstrate your deeper desire to understand what’s driving the change and truly chase the highest priority projects. The next time priorities shift, meet again with your boss to try to understand the bigger picture.

This could be a great opportunity to demonstrate your strategic interest and desire to understand things at a higher level. You’ll put yourself in a better position to make recommendations instead of executing changes for change sake.

For the boss who doesn’t give helpful feedback:

Jack spent a couple of weeks on a proposal for improving quality, and when it was finally done, he clicked Send to run it up the chain. A week has gone by, so he approaches his leader, Jill, on whether she has any input, or received feedback from the executive team on the proposal. Did she even look at it yet?

A lack of feedback can apply to a project you’re working on, or your overall performance. We covered this in a previous post, but if your boss typically says, “Looks great. Everything’s great. You’re doing great. Keep doing what you’re doing.” It’s a problem.

Get in front of your boss to ask questions on performance like, “what do you see as areas of improvement,” or “If there were one area of the proposal you’d like to see built out, what would you suggest.” This approach demonstrates an interest on your part to engage in higher level thinking and to more than just execute on requests.

What’s the common theme in all of these examples? Communication. In each scenario, you’re taking the lead to open the lines of communication with your boss to understand direction and set expectations. You’re leading your boss to achieve a shared understanding of roles, responsibilities, and direction. Your boss may be too busy, or too scattered, to get there with you without your help. Thus, the reason leading your boss is important, if not critical.

I’d love to hear from you. What other situations have your run into and what approach did you use to effectively lead your boss?

– Jackie Simon

Five Overused Strengths (that may be perceived as weaknesses)

Poor leadership can easily frustrate well-intended employees.

As your career progresses, the same strengths that prepared you for promotion may not be the same that propel you to a level beyond that. The rules of the game change for strategic or people leadership roles. Alternatively, if you feel stalled in your current position, it may be that you’re overusing your strengths and unintentionally holding yourself back.

Here is a list of the most commonly overused strengths and how your colleagues may actually perceive you:

Your Intention: Attentive to Details

How Others Perceive You: Micromanager

As an individual contributor, you excelled at the details and consistently demonstrated your ability to be on top of everything. As a leader, demonstrating this same strength may result in frustration for those around you and set you up to underdeliver key targets. Allow your team to attend to the details and show that they are on top of their objectives, while you focus on setting the vision and leading your team to reach new heights.

Your Intention: Independent

How Others Perceive You: Unable to Build a Team

You built your reputation as an independent, steadfast, reliable emerging talent. Someone who always delivered, no matter the time constraints or challenge. Now that you lead a team and have more resources available, you’re not viewed as someone who delegates effectively or taps into the expertise of others to deliver results as a team. You often work later and longer than your direct reports and feel that the only way to do something right is to do it yourself. The harsh reality is that you’re unlikely to move to the next level of greater responsibility and a bigger team if you’re not maximizing the resources already available to you.

Your Intention: Confident

How Others Perceive You: Arrogant

The same swagger and confidence you built in your role as individual contributor is now rubbing others the wrong way. Whether in your interactions with internal colleagues or external partners, nobody enjoys working with a know-it-all. Drop the words “I” and “me” from your vocabulary. Dial back giving all the answers to ask questions of those around you. It’s possible you don’t know everything. Your team of experts wants to show you what they know and what they’re capable of, so give them a chance and see what you learn in the meantime.

Your Intention: Effective

How Others Perceive You: Lacking Composure

A swear word here, an email marked as high urgency there, a veiled threat to a vendor, and a fist pound on the conference room table has gotten needed attention in the past, raised awareness and assembled resources to work through pressing issues. Now, you’re seen as someone who struggles with maintaining composure. As a leader, you’re expected to set an example for those around you and demonstrate you can achieve results while maintaining a consistent demeanor. Being effective doesn’t mean bringing attention to yourself, it means bringing attention to the issues and demonstrating an ability to resolve them without creating unnecessary disruption.

Your Intention: Ambitious

How Others Perceive You: Pushy

Ambition was a necessary ingredient to helping you achieve promotion. Without ambition, you won’t reach those higher level positions. However, being overly ambitious may cause others to question your motives and distrust your intent. As a leader, be a people builder not a career builder, and focus on helping those around you positively achieve results and receive accolades. Know that your positive intent will be interpreted accordingly and the cream will naturally rise to the top.

For more on utilizing your strengths while leading successfully through others, be sure to check out: Even Great Leaders Have Room for Improvement and Calling “Shotgun!” Won’t Put You in the Front Seat.

– Jackie Simon

The 2 (+1) Most Important Work Relationships to Build (and it isn’t with your boss)

You may believe that your boss holds the key to your career growth, but he or she isn’t the only one you should be investing your time with. Here are the key types of relationships you’ll want to cultivate at work:

Mentor: a mentor is someone who has been in your shoes and is available and willing to provide you advice as you grow in positions of increasing responsibility. This is someone who wants to give back and sees you as a high potential talent. They may be someone higher up in your department or division, or someone at a senior level in a completely different discipline than your own. Ideally, your mentor will meet with you at least once a month for an hour to check in, learn about your most recent wins and challenges, and provide advice on how to navigate current events. The alternative perspective they can provide is deeply valuable.

Bonus points if you form a relationship with a mentor internal to your company and one external. The external mentor can also serve as a valuable networking agent when it comes time for you to make a career move.

To kick off a relationship with a mentor, send an email to the individual you’d love to learn more from and inquire if they might have the capacity to serve as your mentor. Chances are they’ll be deeply flattered.

Stakeholder: a stakeholder is someone who is more senior to you within the company who is also your advocate. Behind closed doors, in key organizational meetings, a stakeholder is someone who will actively advocate for you to be promoted into positions of increased responsibility. They are someone who is familiar with your personal brand and want to see you take on more responsibility because they know you’re more than capable. An ideal stakeholder is a leader in a department you work closely with who is familiar with and admires your contributions and work ethic.

To develop a relationship with a stakeholder, think about key senior people within the company you admire. Cultivate relationships with this leader by being the best version of yourself possible. Show up each day and be productive at work, in meetings, and in your contributions.

How is this different from a mentor? A relationship with a stakeholder is more organic and natural. You won’t begin an email to them with, “I’d like you to be my stakeholder,” as you might indicate in a note to a prospective mentor. A stakeholder relationship happens more fluidly. It happens through an email you might send to them about an insightful article you thought they’d find interesting, thanking them for the input they provided in a meeting, or complimenting them on their team’s contributions and the great impact it had on you. This relationship happens over time and as a result of many positive data points about you and your contributions.

Separate from these two key relationships, and one not to be overlooked, is a relationship with your company’s CEO. The CEO is a brilliant person to be able to observe and form a relationship with. Make sure your CEO knows more than just your first name.

In many companies, access to the CEO isn’t possible. Perhaps she works in another city or the company is really just too large for you to feasibly get in front him/her. If it’s not the CEO, then why not your boss’ boss’ boss’ boss? Your mission is to identify the most senior individual within the company you have access to who you can also build a mutually beneficial relationship with. This person could be your mentor, but if nothing more, this individual will be a valuable person for you to observe during meetings, make note of how they deal with challenging issues, how they carry themselves each day and how they build relationships.

In the title you’ll note that I suggest your most important relationship isn’t with your boss. Why is that? Certainly, it’s an important relationship and one you should focus on ensuring is the most positive and productive it can be. That said, for true and significant career progression, it’s important for you to cultivate relationships at a level outside of your boss so you can promote your personal brand external to your current position and department, and develop advocacy.

So, where do you start? Your focus for the rest of the week is to get out from behind your desk and start engaging with interesting, available, and outstanding leaders you can learn from. Bring some unique ideas forward … and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You’re a rising star, and it’s time to get the visibility you deserve.

– Jackie Simon

Should Happens

Shoulding all over yourself. Sounds terrible. Do it too often and your life can really become a mess. “I should ask for a raise,” “I should have prepared better for my speech,” “I know I should go back to school,” “I’ve been told I should start a business.”

How often do you find yourself using the word “should” to describe your “almost behaviors?” How realistic are your expectations?  People hide behind “should” when they don’t feel empowered. What are the true roadblocks you feel are in the way of changing your “should” to “did”?

–  Jackie Simon

Sell it like it is

You may be giving a lot of thought lately to the next step you’d like to take in your career. One that will result in greater responsibility, upward mobility, and increased salary and bonus opportunity.

Have you considered sales?

It’s a question I love to ask people in the process of developing a vision and plan for their careers. Some embrace the idea of sales while others immediately shoot it down. Why is that? I often find it’s because individuals have a preconceived notion of what sales involves and have dismissed it very early on.

Maybe you have dismissed sales as a next step because you believe it’s:

  • Many more instances of “no” than “yes”
  • An unending loop of PowerPoint decks and presentations
  • Travel intensive
  • Tied to weekly/monthly/quarterly sales goals you own and are accountable for hitting

Could there be some merit to these points? Absolutely. Depending on the role, sales can certainly involve all of the above.

But, there so many other facets to sales-like roles within organizations that actually can take a “none of the above” spin to them.

The key reason to consider a stint is sales is to prepare and position you for great opportunities down the road.

Sales teaches professionals to present ideas, position possibilities, motivate thinking, and negotiate outcomes. It teaches individuals to enlist others and get them onboard and turn a no into a yes.

Sales teaches professionals the valuable skill of influence. And, mastering the skill of influence is extremely important to your growth and career development no matter the role you’re in.

Let’s say you want to pitch your senior vice president on a great new product or service idea. Or, you want a promotion to the next level and have great ideas on a position the company could create that you’d be great for. Or, you want to get in front of the CEO of your company because you’d love her to be your mentor. To achieve these things and get attention, you need to influence others within your organization. You need to sell them on the possibilities and benefits.

If working directly with clients and pitching products and services doesn’t sound like a great direction to you, there are still other options. Perhaps you’d enjoy product or technical sales support, product marketing or management, or account/customer service support. Roles like these often involve learning how to position products and services and work with clients to positively influence their experience with the company.

Let’s say you see yourself owning your own business down the road. Mastering sales skills sooner than later will be a tremendously valuable and important skill for you to make your business a success.

If a role change isn’t a possibility for you at this time, here are a few other ideas on ways to learn and build your sales and influence skills:

  • Ask friends or family members who work in sales to teach you some techniques
  • Shadow sales team members within your company
  • Invest in a sales training course or two
  • Read a few books that focus on sales development
  • Follow blog posts and Twitter feeds from sales leaders

Whether it’s taking on a selling or sales support role or expanding your professional development to include sales training, you’re sure to acquire valuable techniques for presenting yourself and your ideas to influence buy-in.

Ultimately, building this skill set will put you on a great path for positions of greater responsibility and compensation.

Next week: Should Happens.

– Jackie Simon

3 Things You Can Do Right Now to Get Ahead

Thank you note

  1. Always write thank you notes. Handwritten is best. Leadership is about demonstrating gratitude, kindness, and thoughtfulness to those around you. Whether one of your team members has gone over and above on a project or you received a raise or a special introduction to a key contact, show your appreciation for the extra steps someone else took for you by graciously thanking them.
  1. Get that difficult [email, phone call, conversation, meeting, decision, discussion] out of the way first thing in the morning. Why let it hang over your head all day (or week or month)?
  1. Act now; apologize later. There will be times that you’re called to make a big decision or take action without having key information available or the opportunity to work through known channels or procedures. Do the best you can with what you know and take action. Even if things don’t go exactly as planned, you’ll very likely navigate the unexpected successfully and learn a lot along the way.

That’s it, you ask? That’s it.

Next week, we’ll talk about the most important skill set you should develop for significant career (and compensation) advancement.

– Jackie Simon

Is leading others right for you?

The 12 Worst PowerPoint Mistakes Litigators Make

(Ask your doctor) if leading others is right for you …

In your current position, you may have debated the merits of remaining an individual contributor versus taking on the role of people leadership. There are strong arguments either way, and I often find people are polarized on the issue. Through my conversations with professionals, here are a few “side effects” they have identified in why they’d prefer to not lead teams. They:

  • feel it may be a hassle
  • would no longer just be responsible for numero uno
  • believe they’ll lose work-life balance
  • would miss the opportunity to be an innovator in their role
  • couldn’t imagine not doing the fun work — creating, designing, dreaming, and developing

This sounds like a pretty solid list of reasons to me. For those who have the people leadership bug, here’s a short list of “symptoms” associated with overseeing a team:

  • Leading people means leadership
  • More money
  • More influence
  • Title
  • Greater responsibility
  • Clearer career path
  • Upward mobility

Another great list of reasons. So, when it comes to leading a team versus remaining an individual contributor, what’s the best prescription for career growth? In short, there’s really no right or wrong answer. There are, however, three key things I’d like you to consider:

  1. You don’t have to manage people to be a leader.
  2. You also don’t have to manage people for the greatest gains in compensation, influence, title, and career progression. It’s about creating or finding the right role.
  3. Your decision is only problematic if you’re denying yourself what you really want or you haven’t taken the time to truly explore and understand which direction will best fit you.

If you’ve viewed people leadership as a possibility but have shied away from it up until now, there are many ways you can ease into it (mentoring, pairing, leading meetings, leading teams without the direct reporting responsibility) to build your confidence before you take the plunge. There’s something to be said for having it happen organically.

And, if you’re curious about achieving greatness as an individual contributor, network internally and externally to learn how you can truly maximize your path.

Get really clear on how you envision your career evolving, then go for it!

Next up: 3 Surefire Strategies to Get Ahead

– Jackie Simon