Standing out in the Crowd

Gaining a competitive edge in today’s business world requires a unique combination of skill, experience and the ability to stand out in a crowd.  Searching for a job, shining in your company, or being an industry expert; these activities and goals require various and many talents to be sure.  However; making your mark requires more than skill and experience.  You have to be truly unique to rise above the competition and stand out in the crowd; a daunting task.  In a society with pervasive social media noise and 24-7 news feeds, and a business climate saturated with voicemail and email overload, standing out in the crowd is challenging at best.  So how do you do it?

Deliver the unexpected.  In the business environment, this can range from a creative resume or job search approach to going above and being truly unique in the workplace.  The Huffington Post recently highlighted a young Australian job-seeker who created a candy bar wrapper out of her resume and sent it out on a chocolate bar to would-be employers.  When the story hit the news, she received offers from as far away as Europe.  Someone else I know sent her resume along with three copies of US News & World Report’s top-rated hospitals issue when applying for a marketing job at Cincinnati Children’s.  She shared how she would like to contribute to their marketing efforts to help keep them in the number 3 spot in the country.  Unique and unexpected; these two candidates stood out above the crowd.

In your daily job, experts give so much advice on how to stay ahead of the pack and get noticed.  ‘Under promise and over deliver’ is oft-quoted guidance.  Also popular are; be on time, work hard, be professional, stay goal-oriented, etc.  While these are solid ideas, the one I believe will make the greatest impact is effective communication skills; both speaking and listening.  In John Maxwell’s book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, he maintains that “The ability to communicate and connect with others is a major determining factor in reaching your potential.  To be successful, you must work well with others.  To do that at your absolute best, you must learn to connect.”  Being powerful in your communication is unique in the workplace.  If you want to stand out above the crowd, try listening more and talking less.  You’ll be amazed at the attention and people it draws.

Now, let’s turn our attention to standing out in the crowd as a speaker.  In my experience as a speaker and an audience member at any event, I have found one common thread that garners the most attention – delivering the unexpected.  The element of surprise –  something that catches people off guard, makes them pause and think, or knocks them of their normal course of thought; these are the things that cause you to rise up above the crowd.  I have two personal stories of the unexpected; one giving, the other receiving.

I attended a James Malinchak Speaker Bootcamp in Los Angeles one year, and wanted to get noticed among the hundreds of attendees that would be there.  In researching his bio, I learned that James was a former UC basketball player under coach Tony Yates, whom my husband knew through a friend.  Prior to heading to LA, I purchased UC spirit items and made a gift bag for James, and obtained permission from Tony to give his cell number to James.  When the opportunity arose at the bootcamp, I presented James with the gift and shared Tony’s number.  James was absolutely blown away by the gesture because it had been years since they last spoke, and Yates had had a profound impact on James as a coach.  No doubt, this connection was memorable for James and it definitely made me stand out in the crowd.  He referenced me many times over the course of the bootcamp, and in doing so I made 10 times the connections than I typically do at such events.

Just a few weeks ago, after joining a coaching program, they followed up with the unexpected.  I was surprised when UPS delivered a package one day, as I hadn’t recently ordered anything.  To my pleasant surprise, the organization sent a surprise gift to me as a new member.  I had absolutely no idea it was coming, and the bonus of this gesture increased the value of the investment I’d made with the program.  The unanticipated event made them stand out above myriad other membership programs I’d joined in the past.

As a speaker and presenter, passion, humor, and storytelling are the top three elements of delivering the unexpected to my audiences.  People are wowed when I come in from the back of the room with boxing gloves asking, “Do you come out punching every time you speak?”  This combines a little bit of humor with the unexpected.  Women love the red vinyl shoes I use to mark the way to the training room for public workshops.  This is storytelling in a sense, in that it connects with how to achieve High-Heeled Success.  I’ve been known to use many props in my workshops, some humorous, some to drive home an important point, and others to underscore an idea I am passionate about.  One of my favorite props is a wand that lights up and plays a magical chord when I wave it (thanks to Jenifer Quin-Wilson for the gift of the want).  The wand is an unexpected object that underscores breakthroughs, ‘ahah’ moments, and steps of courage that many women take when they grow and develop in my workshops.

Are you delivering the unexpected in what you do every day?  If you need help standing out above the crowd I’d love to help.  We can explore ways to develop your presentation skills, increase your passion, your delivery or storytelling skills.  Connect with me via email at kay@highheeledsuccess.com, or give me a call at (513) 561-4288.

The Art of Self-Care; Lessons from Michelangelo and Painting the Sistine Chapel

How fast, how much, how high? From an early age we are measured by our achievements. From first words as a baby and sporting accomplishments as an adolescent and teen, to top grades in high school and college and how high the salary at the coveted job – we are measured, judged and evaluated. Messages from social media, management, self-improvement books, and prominent business people or publications encourage raising the bar, achieving your greatest potential, and place ‘best in class’ on a pedestal.

Goal setting and accomplishments are important, but we need to balance and evaluate the toll they take on our personal life and health. Letting ‘how many’ or ‘how high’ define and rule our lives can lead to significant, and sometimes life-altering burnout. When we feel over-worked, stressed out or trapped, it’s time to see what we can let go, and take steps toward self-care. Over the years, I’ve discovered three behaviors that pose the greatest risk to self-care for my clients; 1) being prone to perfectionism, 2) taking on too much and 3) have difficulty relinquishing control (lest someone else doesn’t do it as well, or worse, does it better!) This is nothing new for humans, nor is it unique to women. Let’s explore a lesson in history to learn how detrimental these behaviors can be when taken to the extreme.

It took four years for Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Although completed centuries ago, he exhibited the same self-sabotaging behaviors enumerated above in his approach. They are fairly easy to identify.

Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint a fresco on the Sistine Chapel ceiling in 1508; a vaulted structure almost half the length of a football field and 15 feet wide. Michelangelo had never painted anything in his life; sculpture was his primary art form. After reluctantly agreeing the task, and reviewing the ceiling, he sketched a composition that was to include 300 figures in the finished fresco. Never working with this medium, he recruited other accomplished fresco artists to demonstrate the technique on the ceiling, but not liking their procedure, he sent them away and decided to do it his own way. He constructed a scaffolding of his own after not liking the one provided, and painted in a standing position with his head continually bent backwards. He worked hard, and slept little.

After completing the first section, he took the scaffolding down and reviewed it from below. Upon finding it was too small, he reproduced the entire work. Although he did take a significant break in 1510, he over scrutinized his completed work during that time. (Note: the break was due to a disagreement with the Pope, not for relaxation or self-care). Finding numerous areas to improve upon, he set about finishing his work to correct any perceived imperfections in the first section. Even after finishing the masterpiece, he never considered himself a painter. Michelangelo developed significant health issues as a result of painting the massive fresco, which included a goiter, going half blind, significant back issues, and arthritis.

In this extreme example, it is very easy to identify Michelangelo’s perfectionist tendencies; building his own scaffolding, not using proven fresco techniques or the help of accomplished artists, complete reproduction of a finished work and nitpicking his own skills. Let’s compare his behavior with some common modern world example in the workplace:

  1. Creating a new work procedure without input from others, which equates to the “I know best” syndrome.
  2. Scrapping our work and effort or that of a co-worker because it’s not ‘good enough’ and going back to a blank canvas.
  3. Going through every detail with a scrutinizing mentality to find fault.
  4. Dismissing anyone who doesn’t measure up or meet your standards.

Perfectionism is one of the most detrimental and common roadblocks not only to self-care, but ironically to success as well. Perfectionist tendencies not only deplete our own energy; they are exhausting for the people around us because they take up a considerable amount of time and effort. A manager with perfectionist tendencies has the potential to breed a culture of fear in an organization, create a ‘watch-your-back’ mentality, and completely demotivate a team; none of which lead to success. In addition to physical fatigue, it can be mentally draining as well. Consumed with getting it right or presenting flawless work detracts from things that bring joy, the mental capacity to focus on things we like, and true accomplishment.

It’s plain to see that Michelangelo took on too much, the second most common factor contributing to burn out and not taking care of ourselves. Can you imagine saying ‘sure I’ll paint a 5,00 square feet vaulted ceiling’? While we don’t sabotage ourselves to that degree, our own ‘taking-on-too-much’ tendencies show up in over-scheduling our families and ourselves at work and in our personal lives. Going from one thing to the next makes us feel like a mouse in a maze, and sorry is the poor soul that gets in our way. We can begin to think we should be able to do everything well, and paint others into a box when we expect the same of them, or get angry when they are inefficient or not quick enough.

The problem with taking on too much is that we are so focused on what and when we have things to do, that we can’t see beyond our calendars and to-do lists. It’s all too easy to see how taking on too much impacted Michelangelo. He slept little, suffered much discomfort during the process, and ended up with horrible physical ailments as a result of his work. In modern-day society, our over committing creates a continuous sense of urgency and stress for ourselves, our families and co-workers; and health hazards which can include physical reactions to stress like numbness, stroke, or a heart attack.

Lastly, not relinquishing control can be the final brush stroke of self-sabotage. During the initial work, Michelangelo hired assistants to help him paint, but became frustrated with their efforts and fired them all for not meeting his standards. To his credit, he did keep some of them on to mix paints and plaster. Perhaps he could have taken a month or two to mentor one of them, and ultimately cut his worktime down significantly. Instead, he took all work upon himself and encountered intense disagreements with the Pope Julius II about the finish date; suffered the setback of recreating a huge portion of the mold-damaged work (alone); and put other projects on hold.

When we refuse to ask for help, delegate tasks, and keep everything under our direct government, we will eventually run out of creativity, patience and sanity. Our rationales for not delegating are similar to the plague of perfectionism; we think we are the only one capable of the work, and of doing it just right. While it can be hard to let go of control at work and home, in the end, delegating contributes to working strategically and intelligently. We also provide the opportunity for others to grow and shine.

Delegating, letting go of perfectionism, and not taking on too much requires us to slow down a bit. It necessitates taking stock of the people in our professional and personal lives, and appreciating the palettes of qualities and skills they bring to the big picture. Further, when we delegate it not only reduces stress, it builds relationships and allows us to show our true colors to people; to be real with them. When we are our true selves, and allow people to bring their abilities to the forefront it is easier to let go of perfectionism. When we delegate, we appreciate. Taking things off our plate allows us margin for taking care of ourselves, and the opportunity to be thankful for the gifts and efforts of others.

After doing the hard work of letting go in some areas, you will also have more time to rest and rejuvenate. Read Kay’s Corner to discover three ways you can begin positive habits of self-care.

Dealing with Lack of Motivation

We’ve all suffered from lack of motivation in our careers at some point, there’s no way around it.  External stress factors beyond our control, negative emotions, feeling overwhelmed with the task at hand, feeling ill equipped; these are just a sampling of reasons that may impact our motivation levels.  Whether for an hour, a day or a season, dealing with lack of motivation is a common issue for which many of my clients seek resolution.  People ask for a secret formula or silver bullet with which to combat lack of motivation.  Oh, how I wish I had the cure!  People are often surprised when I share that the best recipe for lack of motivation is creating a vision of passion and purpose.

That prescription doesn’t always settle well.  Some clients actually ask me if I can inspire and motivate them, either through a pep talk, words of wisdom, or actually checking in and keeping tabs on their progress with a certain project.  The last of which I would never agree to.  News flash folks – relying on others to motivate you doesn’t work!  Sure you can gain inspiration from a book, a class, a Ted Talk, or even enlist the help of an accountability partner, but sustained motivation must come from within.

Motivation isn’t conjured through emotion or the environment.  You can’t wait until the mood is right, or strikes you just so.  Neither can you wait for the circumstances in your life to align in the perfect fashion.  Waiting for the precise mood and perfect setting is like counting on the lotto to serve your financial future; it ain’t gonna happen.

Creating and sustaining motivation begins with identifying your vision.  What do you really want out of life, or in the short-term?  If you’re not sure what your short or long-term goals are, you have a little work to do before you can get motivated.  Create a list of things you want in the short-term and in the future; maybe even as it relates to retirement.  Make sure they are achievable and realistic.  With my individual coaching clients, I provide them with a set of vision questions that always jump starts the process.  Above all make sure it is your vision, and that it is aligned with your spirit and your passion.  This is a very important distinction and part of the process.  You must be true to yourself when determining what you want, anything short of that will hinder the process of motivation.  My point here, is that if your goal is actually someone else’s dream for you, or their dream that they want you to be a part of, it won’t fill your heart with hope.  Others’ expectations of us often hinder us from living out our own vision or dreams, which is no way to live, and is certainly not motivational.

Which brings me back to the prescription for motivation.  Once you’ve identified your own future goals, bring them to life with a ‘vision board’.  Whether it’s a dream home, new car, vacation, new wardrobe, promotion, or certain retirement lifestyle, imagine what that looks like.  Using either a small poster board or document on the computer, fill it with pictures and words of your short and long-term goals that comprise your dreams.  Put the board in a place where you will see it every day; on your bathroom mirror, refrigerator, in your office or workspace.  Over time, you can add to it, or change aspects of it if necessary.

Now, with the end goal in mind (and your vision board), remember why you started in the first place to help you with motivation.  You may not currently be in your dream job, or particularly excited about the project or task in front of you, but remember this: it is a means to an end.  Knowing that the work at hand is part of the path to your future dreams will motivate you if you make that connection in your mind.  Piecing work tasks and projects together over time are the building blocks to your vision.  Holding that knowledge top of mind will serve as an excellent source of motivation.

Is a vision board a fail-safe, sure-fire method to motivation?  Of course not.  However, it is an excellent way to deal with the negative emotions that can be de-motivators and hold us in our patterns of inactivity.  And, although no one can intrinsically motivate you, and be responsible for your actions, you can surround yourself with positive people and enlist their help.  Share your hopes and visions with a friend, spouse, significant other, or trusted colleague.  Sometimes a more neutral party, or a coach, can be most effective in aiding you in your vision.  If you feel comfortable, show them your vision board.  If they are willing, ask your accountability partner or coach if you they can check in with you once or twice a month.  Not that they will play the role of keeping you on task, but to serve as someone who might offer up a sobering dose of reality, or knock you out of an immobilized state if you’re feeling stuck.

Just a word of warning as I close.  As I mentioned, we all suffer from lack of motivation from time to time.  It’s just part of life.  However, if you are feeling chronically unmotivated, and at the same time not finding joy in the things you used to enjoy, you may be suffering from depression.  If you feel this describes your situation, please seek the help of a physician or mental health professional.  Identifying the root of the problem is essential.  If you suffer from typical lack of motivation, and would like help identifying your goals and dreams, and making the connection work for you, I would love to help.  Please reach out either via email at kay@highheeledsuccess.com or call me directly at 513-561-4288.

Crafting and Assessing your Reputation

Everyone has a reputation.  Through our actions and interactions over time, we build a reputation that defines and eventually precedes us; whether for good or for bad.  Most people really don’t know what their own reputation is, and you may even doubt you have one.  Let me assure you – you do!

Spend a minute going through your mental Rolodex and think of one relative, one friend, and one colleague.  As you go through this exercise, jot down the first adjective that comes to mind that identifies their reputation.  You may characterize some acquaintances as having some fairly common reputations; perfectionist, cynic, unreliable, or even a risk-taker.  Many people have one defining reputation, and a few ancillary ones as well.

As easy as it probably was for you to quickly peg someone else’s reputation, you might find yourself equally stumped about your own.  Perhaps you think you couldn’t possibly have a reputation.  Think again.  You have a reputation that precedes you in the workplace, and others can identify it just as easily as you did in the above exercise.

The nuts and bolts of a good business or career reputation are not too difficult to surmise; being on time or early for work, a positive attitude, a strategic thinker, problem solver, a good work ethic, being a team player, even having someone’s back, doing ‘whatever it takes’, etc.  All the things that make us like others, or working with them, are qualities that build a good reputation.  Take a few minutes to inventory your strengths, and since you aren’t broadcasting your answers, be real about your gifts.  Are you a great public speaker, an analytical thinker, good deal maker, key negotiator, master task executer?

While that may have been easy, figuring out what blemishes may reside on your reputation is quite another endeavor.  People usually fall into three categories during this exercise.  Some people name their shortcomings with proficiency and ease, even adding disparaging qualities or inadequacies that are not merited.  The second group of people have some idea of where they lack skill, knowledge or savvy.  Then there is the group that thinks they are free and clear of any faults, blemishes or failings whatsoever.

A bad or blemished reputation is a mixture of actions, inactions and poorly reflecting behaviors.  The tough part is coming to grips with the reality that you may need to do some damage control.  So, what causes blemishes on a reputation?  Below is a list to get you thinking:

Unmet promises.  Examples include delivering an assignment late, not showing up for a meeting, poor contribution to a project, or consistently delivering low quality work.

Poor follow up.  Are you non-responsive to emails, voice mails or meeting requests?  Do you recap meetings or provide project updates with regularity and on time?  After submitting a proposal, do you follow up with your client to clarify questions or cost?  Follow up and follow through shows others that you can carry work through to a successful completion.

Lateness.  Are you on time for meetings and work in the morning?  Do you take a 1-hour lunch, or push the limit and take extra time more often than not?  Being late tells others that you value your time over their time, agendas or activities.

Excuses and Whining.  Shirking responsibility and pointing the finger will quickly degrade your reputation.  Complaining about your job responsibilities to others wastes both your time and theirs, and is completely unproductive.  It also labels you as high-maintenance and someone to stay away from.  Results speak louder than words of blame and excuses.

Being overwhelmed/Dropping the ball.   Are you consistently frazzled by your workload?  Do you respond with emotion and drama to your ‘to-do’ list versus handling it in a professional manner?  This type of behavior often leads to dropping the ball with responsibilities because so much effort is spent on swirl and reaction that it steals time from productivity.  If you fall into this category, come to my June 18 Equilibrium in High-Heels Workshop.  You will leave with a full toolbox of techniques to successfully balance work and life.   (See details and register here:  http://www.highheeledsuccess.com/events-20160618.html.)

Interrupting.  Whether in meetings, on the phone, one-on-one, or butting in on someone’s conversation, this pet peeve can create a huge black mark on your reputation.  Interrupting causes others to lose their train of thought, can convey a ‘know-it-all attitude’, and tells others that you are not listening.

Be a Leader, Not a Follower.  Do you merely carry out the plans and projects assigned to you, or do you truly think about your work?  The learning curve in a new role can be steep, and it’s perfectly acceptable to execute tasks as assigned during this period.  As you grow in your position, however, stagnating or doing the bare minimum will negatively affect your reputation.  Leaders truly thing about the work at hand, how it will impact other initiatives and the future of the business.  Leaders also anticipate outcomes, consequences, and new opportunities by looking at the big picture.  Acting on these types of leadership thoughts by crafting a plan or proposal for consideration is definitely thinking like a leader and will reflect positively on your reputation.

Social Media Errors.  Last, but definitely not least are social media faux pas.  Posting pictures or statuses about any of the following subjects should be done with the utmost discretion and prudence: alcohol, sex, religion, politics, dating, and opinions about your workplace.  A picture enjoying a craft beer with a friend is fine.  Posting pictures of heavy partying is not.  Uploading a picture of you and your date at dinner is suitable.  Posting about the private details of your dating life is not OK.  Positive remarks about your company or one of its initiatives is fine, ranting about your boss is not.  Hopefully, you get the idea.

Did some of these areas strike a chord with you, or create some self-awareness?  If you think you need to do some damage control in any of these categories, it’s time to put a plan together.  To uncover the truth about your own reputation, you’ll need to humbly enlist the help of others and be open to feedback and growth.  Check out Kay’s Corner (in the May 2016 newsletter) for a three-step action plan to rebuild or repair your reputation.

Asking for What You Want in the Workplace

Childhood experiences can affect us for a lifetime, whether for good or for bad.  I share one such memory with you as it relates to this month’s topic.  I call it my Lemon Drop Story:

It’s a lazy July afternoon when my grandmother and I strolled into Neibur’s grocery store, in the tiny town of Cobden, Illinois, population 500.  Time has forgotten Cobden and Neibur’s; the store could have easily been a set for a movie set in 1904.  It has wooden floors, baskets of fruit, burlap bags with potatoes and barrels of hard candy.  To my 8-year-old eye, the most important barrel is the lemon drop barrel, I LOVE lemon drops.  Tiny and shy, I stand close to my grandmother and eye the lemon drops.  I am just about ready to summon the courage to ask for some lemon drops, when Mrs. Neibur comments, “Helen you are so lucky to have such a quiet and well-behaved granddaughter, she isn’t like most of the children that come in here throwing a fit for candy!”  My grandmother replies, “Yes, Ethel, we are so fortunate, Kay never asks for anything.”  Those words were like a knife, a reminder that good little girls never ask for anything.  I swallowed my request, as usual, and left the store with only visions of lemon drops.

That day is etched in my memory and behavior.  It has taken me a lifetime to ask for what I want, and it is still an ongoing battle.  The good news is, deep-seated thoughts and behaviors can change!

In my experience coaching women, I have identified the top five reasons why women don’t ask for what they want.  Interestingly, the barriers that block women for asking for what they want are the same for women in traditional workplaces and women entrepreneurs.  The number one culprit is thinking you shouldn’t have to ask for what they want because others should already know their wants and needs.  This thinking is flawed for several reasons.

First and foremost: no one is a mind reader.  You and you alone are responsible for communicating your wants and needs simply because you are the only one who knows.  Even though this basic truth is so simple, I can’t tell you how many times women raise it as the main reason they will not ask for a raise, promotion, or more time off.  Second, your manager likely has a lot on their plate and many other employees in their organization.  If you don’t speak up, it is reasonable for them to assume you are good with the status quo.  Lastly, if you allow others to decide what you want and need, you are yielding your power to control your career path to someone else other than you.

Fear of seeming too greedy also tops the list.  The underlying issue with this feeling is not valuing your work contribution enough.  If this fear plagues you, think about how much time, effort, talent and attention you pour into your work.  Communicating your wants and needs to be fairly compensated or recognized for your competence is not greed.  It is simply logical and reasonable.

Some women are concerned about appearing too needy if they ask for what they want.  This fear is similar to feeling greedy, but centers around personal self-esteem versus competence.  Your relationship history can play into this fear more than you may realize.  Have significant others downplayed your desires as too needy or ‘high-maintenance’ in the past?  Over time, such collective messages build up and can block out the truth; you have every right to ask for what you want and need.  Notice I did not say you are ‘entitled’ to your every want and need, but asking for what you desire in and of itself is not needy.  The key here is discretion.  Repeatedly asking for unrealistic desires will definitely garner a reputation of being needy.  If your request is fair and reasonable given what you do, or are willing to do, in return, then it is not needy.

Some women feel they should wait their turn for reward, recognition or favor.  Perhaps because they came from a large family, are ‘others’ focused, or feel that the wants and needs of others are more important than their own.  Newsflash: if you wait around in the workplace for your turn, you’ll be sitting alone in the same cubicle for a very long time.  Fulfilling your wants and needs is an independent function relative to the timing of when others’ have theirs met.  Being considerate of others is a courtesy issue, always putting the needs of others before your own is an issue of low self-worth.  You are worthy of having your wants and needs met.  Asking, not waiting, is the first step.

A less common, but also not rare barrier some women encounter is that they only speak when spoken to.  The reasons for this can be complex and varied, but overcoming this hurdle is more important than identifying why it’s a problem.  You are not a child of the 50’s!  Rather, you are a grown, capable woman in a career or position with responsibilities who delivers outcomes for your company.  Whether this is in an entry, mid- or upper-level job is irrelevant.  Speaking up and advocating for yourself is a core competency that any employee must possess for their own protection and advancement in the workplace.

You may have identified with one or more of these hurdles, and feel they are legitimate reasons for not asking for what you want.  The reality is that asking for what you want and engaging in self-advocacy actually garners respect.  That’s right, respect.  When you speak up for yourself, you demonstrate confidence to others and send a message that your contributions are worthy.  You may ask, ‘But Kay, how do I do that?’  The answer is to focus on the outcome rather than the process.

Focus on the benefit, not just to you, but to the person you are asking.  Just like any relationship, those in the workplace, or with a client, are give and take.  Before you ask for what you want, consider what benefit the person in a position of power, or your customer, will receive from your request.  For example, your promotion may take a significant amount of work off her plate.  Additional time off may enable you to recharge your batteries or restructure your life a bit to enable a more efficient work process.  With a raise request or fee increase, you could offer to take on additional responsibilities.  Each scenario provides something of significance to the person who has the power to grant your request.

How can you move past your own barrier, and into a state of mind that enables you to be strong in your communication and self-advocacy?  I can help!  Call me today to set up an appointment, and we can work toward a solution together.

March is Women’s History Month

Most people don’t even know this simple fact.  Further, the majority of Americans do not know their women’s history well either.  In fact, a recent online survey from the National Women’s History Museum reveals that most Americans receive an ‘F’ on their knowledge of women’s history.  By way of example, do you know Ida B. Wells (July 16, 1862 – March 25, 1931), Elizabeth Blackwell (February, 3 1821 – May 31, 1910), or Sally Ride (May 26, 1951 – July 23, 2012)?  Probably not, but do you know Martin Luther King, Sigmund Freud and Neil Armstrong?  Respectively, these two lists of women and men were civil rights activists, doctors and astronauts.

It could be due to the history books we studied in school, maybe the media doesn’t highlight women enough, or perhaps we tend to skip over or discount significant contributions made by women.  Regardless of the reason, the reality is that countless women have made significant contributions to our country, society and government that have and will make a lasting impact, but that sadly, we know little about.  Let’s explore.

From the first US settlers, through the industrial age, and within the last 150 years, women in journalism, civil rights, science and business have continuously worked to improve their fields of study and work.  Today, as women who mentor or touch the lives of other women, knowledge of women’s history is an important and useful tool.  The accomplishments of women before us can inspire, challenge and pave the way for the continued success of our current generation of women.

Know this – someone is always watching you.  Whether it’s your daughter; a neighbor girl; a female colleague at work; a woman you volunteer beside; a young mother you encounter frequently; even a sister or cousin – someone is learning from you whether you realize it or not.  Often, what they emulate is non-verbal.  Your actions and behaviors speak much louder than your words.  Ask yourself what messages are they internalizing about assertiveness, taking a stance or even self-value based on you as a role model.   Would you want a female you care about to emulate your behavior?

Further, if someone is emulating you, they will look to you for guidance and advice.  If in those encounters, you can draw on the example or parallel situation of a woman in history who has made a significant impact, what a powerful lesson and message you can teach.  To know that a woman has forged a path before us in a certain area is very empowering.  Read on for more than just a few examples (I had a hard time narrowing it down!)

Nurse Clara Barton, most famous for treating injured Civil War soldiers, later founded the American Red Cross.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were a fierce suffragist duo who also fought very hard in the war against slavery.  A major contributor to literature, Louisa May Alcott was the first author who produced literature for the mass market of young girls.  She published nearly 300 works, most notably, Little Women, which was published in 1868.

In 1932, Florence Allen was appointed to the US Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit after serving on the Ohio Supreme Court.  She was the first woman appointed as a federal appeals court judge.  Today, 1/3 of those serving on the US Supreme Court are women.

In science and technology, Sally Ride was the first American woman in space in 1983.  Mae Jemison was the first African-American woman in space just nine years later.

As a mentor, leader, counselor or otherwise encourager to other women, we assist in unfolding the future for our younger generation.  As you go out and positively impact women, consider the lives and accomplishments of those before you and share their stories in honor of them, and in the building up of strong women around you.  Inspire them to make a difference and challenge them to reach to higher levels than they ever thought possible.

In closing, I’d like to share this timely video of my own granddaughter, Samantha, speaking about the life and accomplishments of the first African-American female astronaut, Mae Jemison:

Mae Jemison, presented by Samantha Shannon

When Samantha, age 8, learned about her, she was inspired and excited.  Our goal is to inspire you as well.  I challenge you to learn about one woman that changed the course of history and share it with a young female in your circle of influence.

Unrealistic Expectations

Self-expectations are one of the biggest stumbling blocks challenging many women I coach.  Pressure to perform to a certain level on a daily basis in work, career and home or personal life can be overwhelming.  In this month that we celebrate love, I’d like to demonstrate how easy it is to fall away from loving ourselves and suggest some paths back to realistic expectations, which provide opportunities for self-growth and care.  Let’s begin by exploring the ‘ideal’ day.

In your quest to perform, deliver and achieve, are the expectations you put on yourself attainable or loaded with unrealistic vignettes that fill and overflow your life?  What does your perfect day look like?

Here’s one for you:

  • Arise at 5:00 (after going to bed at 9:00 pm).
  • Have a healthy breakfast.
  • 5:30 yoga.
  • Ready, energized and out the door (in the perfect outfit) by 7:15.
  • Arrive at work and take some quiet time to think and plan your day while sipping a skinny latte.
  • Spend the morning in deep concentration to complete a project which is due in three days.
  • Give a late morning presentation showcasing your department’s recent achievements and an outline for continued success.
  • Eat a nutritious lunch.
  • Engage with several colleagues in a fruitful brainstorming session for an upcoming project, offering many thought-provocative ideas.
  • Finish the afternoon getting a solid head start on a project due next week.
  • Leave work at 5:00.
  • Prepare a healthy dinner with ingredients from a fully-stocked fridge and pantry.
  • Check a few things off your ‘to do’ list for your home/personal life.
  • Spend the remainder of the evening engaging in meaningful relationships or enriching activities.

Do you feel that only after you have accumulated weeks and months of your version of the ‘perfect day’ that you will have it ‘all together’ and possess the discipline needed to be successful?  I have coached many women who feel that anything short of a rigid schedule, and specific daily accomplishments means they have to ‘start over’.  They literally found themselves ‘throwing in the towel’ day after day if they didn’t accomplish certain things within a given timeframe.  Many women perpetuate these behaviors for years before coming to terms with how unrealistic and hard they are being on themselves.

The problem with this thinking is that the ‘perfect day’ doesn’t take into account real life, allow other people to enter our circles, or allow us to be ‘human.’  Unscheduled events happen daily.  Things like oversleeping, emergency meetings, not making it to the grocery store, crisis management, interruptions, traffic jams, the needs of significant others, illness and countless other real-life events.  These things keep us from the perfection we seek, and they will always exist.  Yet, many women constantly fight this uphill battle by trying to strategically devise ways to achieve everything on their ‘to do’ list, and place unrealistic burdens upon themselves that are only achievable in edited movies or airbrushed ads.

Do you find yourself in this situation?  If so, take your version of the ‘perfect day’, and place it on a loved one’s plate.  Would you expect your spouse, significant other, child, sibling, friend or parent to reach the same expectations day after day without fault?  Most likely not, and if they fell short of their own self-expectations you would likely be the first one to advise them not to be so hard on themselves and cut themselves some slack.

Today, I offer the same advice to you – begin to love yourself more by throwing away one or two unreasonable expectations.  Maybe for you, it’s giving up the fact that you can’t keep a perfectly clean house or apartment, post an enlightening article on Linked-In every week, or continue to volunteer at the same level you have been.  Take a look at your January calendar, or three months prior if possible, and place your to-do items in a four column list.  Below are some examples:

1

2

3

4

Non-Negotiables

Necessities

Electives

Unreasonable Expectations

Work

Well check-ups

Volunteering

Every meal nutritious

Pay bills

Car maintenance

Girls’ night out

Perfectly completed work projects

Grocery shopping

Home upkeep

Hobbies

Consistently early bedtime

Eating

Continuing Ed

Vacation

Size 2 clothing

 

Just looking at all the items together should begin to eliminate any notion of having to ‘do it all’.  Keeping our untold amount of responsibilities and activities flowing flawlessly is impossible.  Scrutinize the activities in columns 3 and 4. Beginning with just one item, make a plan to eliminate some of your unreasonable expectations, or reframe them.  For example, instead of shooting for perfect nutrition at each meal, perhaps you stop snacking after 8:00pm, or leave a few bites on the plate.  Similarly, instead of delivering the perfect PowerPoint at work, perhaps it’s 85% ‘there’ when submitted, providing necessary room for feedback, and making room for other important things in columns 1 and 2.

Take a good, hard look at column 3 and see what activities are not serving you well, especially those you feel are sapping your personal time or energy.  Volunteering is great on many levels, but in doing so at this point in your life, are you neglecting responsibilities in columns 1 & 2 just to live up to your own unreasonable expectations?  Your list of elective activities might also include watching TV, social media or other time sapping actions.  If you find little room in your day for things you’ve listed in columns 1 & 2, it’s time to unburden yourself of unrealistic expectations and open up some room for a little self-love instead.

We experience the most stress when the gap between our self-expectations and reality is wide.  Start by changing two or three small things.  Doing so will make an impact big enough to feel, but also provide the feeling of not losing complete control.  Need help with both the practical and mental aspects of simplifying?  I can help put a plan together to streamline your professional and personal life, and provide the tools you need to stay on track.  Through the process, I can help you be accountable to your commitment and provide guidance to get back on track if needed.  Email me today to get started, and take that first step toward loving yourself, and your life, more.

 

Can You Hear Me Now? Are You Listening?

It’s important to be heard, so much so that we go to great lengths to do it; finding the right ‘spot’ for our cell phone connection, posting on social media, repeating ourselves, even yelling at times!  Companies use commercials, coupons, online ads and all sorts of media in order to be heard.  But, is anyone really listening?  Are you listening?

It’s no secret that our digital age attention spans have shortened right along with our patience.  What I don’t think most of us realize is that our listening skills have withered as well.  In fact, sometimes we can’t even remember ‘where’ we ‘heard it’.  How many of you have told someone a story, and finished with; “I think I read that on Facebook, or Google news, or maybe it was in the paper.  I’m not sure, but I heard it somewhere.”?

Likewise, with online digital consumption, are you really ‘listening’ to what you’re hearing (reading), or mindlessly partaking in a time-wasting habit?  We only have so many hours in a day, and frankly, so much time on this Earth.  Listening, and being really present when you do it, is very important for our own development, and the building of relationships with others, but more on that later.  Let’s get to the nuts and bolts of listening.

True listening entails many factors, but I believe at the heart of it is a combination of true desire and compassion.  I have a whole toolbox of techniques and skills to share with you about how to listen, but first you must desire to be a better listener.  You have to ask yourself if you really want to listen to your relative, neighbor, co-worker, family member, or if you’re just waiting to respond and talk.

Active listening begins with a blank slate.  If you truly desire to be a better listener, and receive the message or words someone is trying to communicate, you have to first let go of many things:

  • Your preconceived ideas
  • The urge to talk
  • Surrounding distractions
  • Your agenda
  • Time

After letting go of these barriers to truly listening, you begin to realize it’s like an art form, much of which centers around the eyes rather than the ears.  Intentional use of our eyes, our body language and our mouths, are the three physical components comprising an active listening mindset.  You can really improve your listening skills (and many relationships) by really hearing the person talking to you.

An active listening mindset includes effectively using:

Your eyes –

  • Give your undivided attention and focus.
  • Look the person in the eye.
  • Avoid looking at a clock.
  • Don’t fidget with something or doodle.

Your body language –

  • Use positive body language to affirm the listener; a nod of the head, a smile, an expression that matches their emotion.
  • Let the person ‘see’ you listening as if you’ll be tested or quizzed on the conversation.
  • Make mental notes (or physical) to which you want to respond
  • Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes as you listen.
  • Really think about your response before talking.
  • Keep your facial expressions in check.

Your mouth –

  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Refrain from asking about small details while someone is talking – save it for later.
  • Begin talking only when the person is done, or at a natural pause.
  • Resist the urge to ‘relate’ by sharing a similar story that is the same or ‘better’.
  • Allow the person to finish their own thought rather than completing their sentence.  You may be surprised at what they say versus what you anticipated to hear.
  • Respond with conversation that reinforces what you heard.
  • Don’t criticize or demean the person with negative feedback.

Active listening is challenging.  We all have a story to tell, and want to be heard. However, the payout is great on many levels.  On a basic level, you will truly receive and process what you hear, and benefit from it either professionally or personally.  The upside could make your job easier, or help you understand a friend better.

An often unanticipated benefit of true listening is the incredible validation you offer to the speaker.  Providing undivided attention; making a facial or emotional connection to their words; and speaking words that affirm what they said are all gifts to the listener.  Together, they build trust with the listener, create a positive foundation for new relationships and bolster existing ones.

Another positive product of active listening is self-growth.  The discipline it takes to actively listen will make you a stronger person, enable new learnings, and promote strong relationships and friendships.  Combined, these benefits contribute to an overall healthy lifestyle, both on the job and on your own.

I encourage you to choose one thing to let go of, and one thing to engage in your next conversation and discover what the benefits have to offer.  After you’ve tried it a few times, let me know how it went.  I promise, I’ll listen.

 

Promoting Yourself Inside and Outside of the Workplace

You’re good at what you do, great in fact, and you know it. But, who else knows it? Further, do the right people know how good you are at your job, or about your excellent skills and abilities? If not, you could be at risk of being the best-kept secret in town. One of the top challenges for women in the workplace is that many work hard, keep their nose to the grindstone and no one knows about their outstanding work. Do you fall into this category? Your co-worker and manager might be aware of your capabilities, but how much farther are your successes being publicized?

If your manager or company doesn’t provide opportunities for you to create awareness for yourself as an employee or grant your position exposure to the levels where you think it needs to be, you may want to invest in some self-promotion strategies.

If you are new or not well-known within your department, company or industry, you can start small and build your strategy outward. Taking the first step can be challenging, but well worth the investment. In this article, I offer three ways to engage with your company on a larger scale, as well as three ideas that tie in with the holidays.

Special Projects – If you work in a mid- to large-sized organization, search your company’s website for news about special projects, or upcoming event or conferences. If your company is smaller, approach your manager or the person who hired you to inquire about special opportunities. Find one that aligns with your interest or skill set and determine how you can become involved. Avoid thinking things like ‘that’s not my style’, or ‘I’m too busy’. Step out of your comfort zone, and carve out the time in your schedule to get involved. Working on a collaborative short-term project could open your world to new people, ideas, and processes and, in turn, provide the perfect platform to showcase your talents.

Philanthropy – If your company is aligned with a charitable cause – get involved! Attend a philanthropy-related meeting with the intent of taking an active part in an upcoming event. Prior to attending, educate yourself on the cause and be ready to discuss it or ask questions should the opportunity arise. Volunteer for a role that either shows your skill set or allows for the most visibility or opportunity to interact with many co-workers.

If your company does not have an association with an organization or cause, be the catalyst. Research different causes that naturally align with your company’s service or product, and identify the best fit. Discover ways your company could help the organization as well as ways your company could benefit from becoming involved. Present the idea to your manager or your HR manager, and be ready with a first step suggestion. People working together for a cause builds community, and if you head up the cause, you will be viewed as a leader. If the idea is rejected, you will, at least, have demonstrated initiative, creative thinking and gained exposure as someone who has fresh ideas and the energy to do work.

Publicize and Promote – How do people in your company, or those in the community become well-known? Public speaking, blogging, networking at community events, or having the ear of the people in their company or industry are some of the most effective ways to build your ‘personal brand’ and become well-known. Pick one activity based on your comfort level and expertise and simply begin to build. Sharing your business expertise or experiences on a blog is a solid way to begin. WordPress, LinkedIn or Blogger are all simple and easy tools to use to begin a blog. Creating an inventory of content on your blog, and sharing it on social media will reach large audiences over time. Networking opportunities abound through local Chambers of Commerce, or larger city business organizations which offer mixers or events for meeting local and regional business owners. Invite a friend to join you during networking events so you can introduce each other to other attendees and assuage any potential nerves.

Over time, these incremental activities will build on themselves as your arsenal of knowledge. Eventually, you will have built up enough experience and content to compile and e-book, conduct a workshop, or give a small talk at a conference or networking event. Publishing, leading seminars, and public speaking will definitely build your personal brand and gain the attention of the upper management in your company.

Seasonal Ideas

This time of year provides a unique opportunity to engage with people on a more personal level. Try any one of the following ideas depending on the size and culture of your company and/or department.

Holiday Gathering – Organize a holiday get together. This doesn’t have to be at your home, extravagant or the picture perfect event. People enjoy the opportunity to gather during the holidays, especially when someone else does the planning. Reserve a conference room for a lunchtime event (which can be a potluck), select a local restaurant for a casual dinner party, or designate a day for a short after work happy hour event in a location suitable for everyone to mingle. Plan a fun activity that joins the group together for a while to make sure all attendees are included at one point during the evening. Ideas include a quick game of Left, Right, Center; White Elephant Game or a Christmas trivia game.

Use a printed invitation as the way to promote yourself with this idea. After the event details, include your name, title and contact information as the hostess. Whether people attend or not, you will have made an impression of someone who takes initiative and has creativity.

Holiday Giving – Organize a soup kitchen Saturday event, Toys for Tots collection or canned food drive for your office. Create a simple one-page flyer with the details of the event Include your name, title and contact information as the hostess. Distribute the flyer to each co-worker, and hang in a central place for high visibility. This method demonstrates the same characteristics as the invitation, as well as an ‘others-focused’ outlook, which translates into leadership skills.

Gifts of Thanks – Are you an independent contractor or freelance service provider? The holiday season is a unique opportunity to thank your clients (past and current) for their business. Gift ideas range from homemade goodies and packaged gifts of food to calendars or other business tools for the New Year. Personalize the latter with your company info, and enclose a handwritten note expressing your gratitude for their business. You could also include a quick list of accomplishments for 2015 and some business ideas or opportunities for 2016.

Gift giving to potential clients during the holiday season is also an effective way to promote your business and create awareness. In this category, personalized business gifts are more appropriate since they communicate your company name and services. A follow-up visit or note in the New Year is another great touch point in the process of promoting yourself and your business.

To Summarize…….

Whichever method you choose to create awareness of your skills and publicize your capabilities, do so with intention. Have the end-goal in mind when you begin, whether it’s a promotion, in-place salary increase, or job change. Build a plan of the activities and events so each one exemplifies a skill or capability that is a prerequisite of your end goal. If you need help building this strategy, give me a call and we can create a game plan together through one on one coaching (call me about the special pricing running this month on the Fast Start coaching package!). Attending my January workshop, “Kick Start Your High-Heeled Success™” will also arm you with a toolbox of ideas to help your career soar.

Lessons in Leadership

Do you aspire to a leadership role within your organization, but the climb up the ladder seems insurmountable?  Start with small steps!  Leadership doesn’t happen all of a sudden at the top rung.  Developing leadership style, skills and tactics begins on the ground floor.  Let’s explore how to lay a game plan that builds to successful leadership.

A high profile title is not a prerequisite for being a leader.  You can be a leader whether you are in an entry level job or somewhere in middle management.  The best place to begin is to master your job responsibilities and execute them with excellence and authority.  Executing with authority should show mastery of your skills, and does not refer to upper-handed or arrogant authority.  Consistently executing your job deliverables with excellence (and without drama or martyrdom) will demonstrate your ability to drive projects and business forward, which is a true hallmark of a leader.  In tandem, scrutinize your work process and how it flows into your organization and aim to identify ways to implement change improvements.  A combined, continued effort in delivering with excellence and aiming to refine processes will self-promote you as a leader within your group, no matter its size.

Look for opportunities to lead outside of work.  This minimizes risk as you are developing your leadership muscle.  Search for volunteer or mentoring opportunities that relate to your career path.  Investing time and talent in this way will both hone your professional skills, and build your experience base with credible examples that will translate into your work life.  For example, serving on a marketing committee for a non-profit organization, and helping to build their mission statement and guide the development of marketing execution tactics would be an impressive story to share during an interview for a promotion level position.  Likewise, mentoring a young college student or recent grad in your area of expertise would position you as a developer of others.

Reframe leadership.  Are you currently in a leadership role with subordinates (employees?) who are intimidated by or reluctant to receive authority?   If so, shift try shifting focus from telling and directing to being a solution finder.  Problems and challenges, which need fixing and resolution surface constantly in an organization – that’s why it’s called work!  Instead of calling out the problems as belonging to someone, or as an evil that needs to be dispelled, start with a discussion about the solution instead.  Or, again, if you’re not in a leadership role, you can still be a leader in this area.  The blame game rarely has a winner. In your current work drive, or that of your teams, look at the overall project and find areas or people that need assistance and offer solutions instead of pointing the finger.  Everyone wins with this approach, and it will shine a leadership spotlight on you in the process.

Determine what your leadership stance will be on important issues.  That way you can be ready to troubleshoot potential problems as they arise.  Some key business areas where it’s important to have a developed leadership stance include: finance and budget; human resources; infrastructure and hardware; organization changes; communication protocols; and project development and timelines.  Depending on your line of work, your company may have additional important areas which merit a leadership stance.

The first approach to developing a leadership stance in these areas is to understand and align to your company or organization vision and mission, which will often provide a sound framework to build upon.  In the absence of a specific vision or mission, your company may have stated principles, guidelines or a history that can shape your stance.

Once you’ve studied and fully understand your organization’s outlook and drive in the aforementioned areas, use them to develop your leadership stance in the important business areas surrounding your work.  To demonstrate, if your company values diversity and inclusion as a principle, it is a necessary part of any hiring process.  For example, a human resource leadership stance would favor interviewing all possible candidates regardless of ethnicity or sexual orientation, and would exclude favoritism such as nepotism or the ‘good ole boy’ system.

Lead with both a commanding and collaborative style.  This requires a fine balance between speaking with authority and confidence, yet at the same time being inclusive and making a concerted effort to engage all people in your work process or project.

Leading with a commanding presence and style includes speaking with confidence, and without apologizing, or asking for permission to speak.  Speaking with confidence also means waiting for the right moment, and to speak with an authority that doesn’t intimidate.  Aim for a communication style that inspires and provides a cohesiveness that encourages active participation and a feeling of ‘we are all in this together’.

Inspiring communication invites collaboration.  Likewise being inclusive by asking others their opinion or to help brainstorm a solution builds collaboration within a group.  Further, you can encourage people to collaborate by sharing a past example of success and asking for input from the responsible individual.  For example, if building out a project timeline, highlighting Jane’s successful management and delivery of a global marketing program, and then asking her to share her strategies with the group both encourages Jane and prompts collaboration with the group.

Without a doubt, leadership has its challenges and rewards.  If you would like more guidance in these or other areas of leadership in your organization, please give me a call today to start an exploratory conversation of how we can work together to your success.