3 Things to Do When You’re Not Feeling It

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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

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

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

Ten Things Your Boss is too Busy to Tell You

You’ve heard from your boss that you’re doing a great job – and that’s probably the truth. But, if your boss had a little more time to sit down with you and talk about the difference-making steps you could take that would get you to the next level, what might he or she say? Here’s a possible list:

1. You’re doing a great job, but you’re too focused on task-based activities. I’d like to see you bring people development and service/product strategy forward. I want to see that more than your ability to manage the day-to-day. What’s your plan?

2. I don’t see a clear succession plan for you. Who are you developing as your next leader/successor?

3.a. You’ve been in this role for 2 years. I’d hate to lose you, but it’s nearly time for you to leave this group for the next step in your leadership and career growth. Where would you like to head next?

or;

3.b. You haven’t moved to the next role because I really need you in this job. I don’t plan to move you forward anytime soon…unless you bring the topic up.

4. Outside perspective is extremely useful to generate ideas and make changes. Stay open to external resources. Don’t get held back by tunnel vision. What external resources are you reading? What classes, presentations, or conferences do you want to attend? Come pitch me on the investment.

5. You haven’t taken a vacation in a while. Take a 3-day weekend at least every 6 weeks and wait no longer than 3 months for a 5-day break.

6. I know you think you can “fix” team member [insert name], but they aren’t the right fit. You should have had them on an exit plan a while ago.

7. There’s a big difference in the level of contributions of a manager compared to a director compared to that of a vice president. There’s a lot more that I need to see from you in the form of strategy and innovation to recommend that you receive a promotion. But, these are also areas that I won’t coach you in. The next step is yours to navigate.

8. Your team is comprised of the colleagues at your peer level. They are just as important to lead as the team you’re directly responsible for. I’m waiting for a leader to emerge among this group … your move.

9. Your salary increase will be 3-8%…until you pitch me for more.

10. At some point, I’ll be moving on. You could be my successor, but we won’t know until you make your interest known.

Could any of these discussion points apply to you? If so, take this week to think about how you plan to raise the topic for discussion with your boss.

Next week, we’ll talk about the pros and cons of remaining an individual contributor compared to leading and managing a team.

– Jackie Simon

Is This Your First Time Asking for a Raise?

Are you preparing to ask for a salary increase? Asking for what you deserve and having a frank discussion about money may be outside your comfort zone, whether you’re early in your career or a seasoned industry veteran. Here is some advice to guide your preparation and discussion with your boss.

First, a list of “don’ts”:

  • Ask too soon. If you haven’t been with the company or in your role long enough, you may have yet to prove your value.
  • Put up your dukes in anticipation of a fight. A conversation about salary should be an open discussion, not one that involves tension or argument.
  • Start the conversation by complaining about your current salary.
  • Compare your salary to that of a peer and present that reasoning in your conversation with your boss.
  • Threaten to leave the company if you don’t receive an increase.
  • Act out or show visible frustration after the conversation.

Preparation is key. Take stock of your contributions and create a thorough, well-written report, even if it’s for your eyes only. Then, list reasons you feel a salary increase is in order. Do your homework by consulting mentors and confidants, practicing your discussion points, and researching the typical salary for your position using sites like salary.com, payscale.com, and glassdoor.com.

Timing is everything. Be sure to approach the conversation with your boss at the right time. Is your company performing well against targets? Are you exceeding your targets? Did you just complete a successful project? Is client and colleague feedback about you at an all-time high? Look for “signals” that will help you build your case for a raise.

Promotion vs. Salary Increase

Here’s another key point to consider: when evaluating your business case for a raise, take stock of the degree to which you’ve taken on many stretch assignments, greater responsibilities, or a more senior role to that of your peers within your department. What you’ll want to analyze is whether your contributions have actually aligned over an extended period of time with a role of greater significance within the team. Are you already doing the work of the role above yours? Or, can you make a case for the value you’re providing and the recommendation to create a more senior role on the team?

If so, what you may want to propose to your boss is a promotion or change in title instead of only a salary increase. Promotions often equate to greater compensation increases than those of a regular raise.

More Than Money

Looking beyond the paycheck, here are a few other things you may also consider asking for:

Placement on a Key Project: If you’ve identified a project that will allow you to up your value and contributions within the company, ask to be part of the project team. Placement on key projects or taking on extra stretch assignments ultimately puts you in a position to be considered for more money or a promotion down the road.

Flex Time: This could consist of compressed work weeks, reduced work schedule, job sharing, or staggered start and end times.

Vacation Time: If you’re an asset to the company and you’ve been with the company a number of years and/or hold a higher-level position, asking for more vacation days is absolutely acceptable.

For more guidance on how to ask for a raise, here’s great advice from inspirational businesswomen.

Have you asked for more money or benefits? Tell me what worked for you! I’d love to know.

Next week, we’ll talk about a leadership topic that you may have put off too long: Firing that difficult employee.

– Jackie Simon