Tag Archive for Workplace

Obama vs. Sandburg: Embracing Both Perspectives

Following a recent interview with Michelle Obama regarding her new memoir, “Becoming,” there was a news cycle firestorm regarding her comments on the ‘Lean In’ movement that began when Sheryl Sandberg authored the book with the same title.

What struck me most about the controversy was the intense backlash surrounding who is right and who is wrong – Sheryl Sandberg or Michelle Obama.

Unfortunately, this is a reflection of the all or nothing thinking that typically permeates the human condition, yet is exacerbated by our polarization around every issue these days.  As politics becomes more polarized, we see the same intense approach to taking sides in every segment of our society.

Rather than thinking in terms of Either/Or, we need to move toward embracing the concept of Both/And.  For example, a very well known quote from Alcoholics Anonymous summarizes Both/And thinking beautifully:  Take what you need and leave the rest.”

Obama is recognizing the reality of the struggle.  Sometimes, it’s just not feasible to lean in.  There may be personal or family health issues, divorce or concerns with the kids – all are possible among the myriad of life crises that we endure.  On top of the additional stress these life issues manifest, it’s critical to reduce our own personal self-shaming during these periods.  It’s okay to say to yourself, “Right now, it’s just not realistic or feasible to be all-in for a promotion at work.”

Let me be clear, this does not mean that during the other times, when your personal life is chugging along smoothly, that we embrace some of the concepts that Sandburg addresses in her book, “Lean In.”  Once again, polarity causes us to think in terms of Either/Or, such as changes need to be made at a policy level OR we need to take personal responsibility and change our own actions.

“The most common way people give up their power is by believing they don’t have any.”

–Alice Walker

One of my favorite quotes by Alice Walker is very appropriate when talking about personal responsibility.  In other words, if we don’t assess our own behavior, possibly we have abdicated control of our own life.

The Lean In movement doesn’t promote that we can always have it all.  The reality is that we can’t have it all at the same time.  The myth of being a superwoman is not just unrealistic, it’s ridiculous.  Often, we can’t have it all; however, rather than shaming yourself, learn to recognize when now is not the time and don’t use bad timing as an excuse to tell yourself “I can’t.”

In other words, let’s figure out what you can do, when you can do it and have a plan.

Please give me a call at 513-561-4288 or connect with me via email at kay@highheeledsuccess.com, so we can empower you to achieve your goals.


Don’t Let Women’s Unique Vulnerabilities Get in Your Way

It’s February, the middle of winter…blah, blah, blah, am I right?!   While we’re plugging along at work and also juggling the many roles women have, we often struggle to take care of ourselves.  Valentine’s Day and Heart Health Month remind me that this is the most important time to be sure that we value and love ourselves first.  My mentor mantra for women is: Take care of yourself, so you can be the best version of yourself with your family and in the workplace.

Throughout my decades-long career of coaching women to achieve the next level of success, I have become very aware of the fact that women have their own unique vulnerabilities.  While we strive to achieve c-suite level careers and equal pay in both the corporate and non-profit sectors, along with increased opportunities to start our own businesses, we cannot ignore that women’s life stages and ever-changing roles are unique.

My High-Heeled Success® list of women’s unique vulnerabilities is below.  Please read the list and honestly assess which of these eight characterize you and don’t flip out if they all do.  That’s not uncommon.  Think of this as a self-assessment, and maybe pick one or two that you can work on right away.

Women’s Unique Vulnerabilities

  • Tendency to belittle and de-value themselves
  • Strong need for perfectionism
  • Allowing emotions and feelings to color their experiences
  • Doing more than one task at a time
  • Assuming much responsibility from role overload
  • Difficulty relinquishing control
  • Difficulty nurturing self
  • Taking stress everywhere they go

Now that you’ve taken time to focus on yourself, to assess yourself, you’ve taken a high-heeled step or a track shoe leap in the right direction.  The beautiful thing, the loving thing is to care for yourself this Valentine’s Day and every day.  When you take this time for yourself, hopefully doing for others – whether it’s volunteering at the local homeless shelter, helping a child with his or her class valentines, planning a night out or caring for parents or in-laws – will bring you more joy.  Without time for you, the caring can reap resentment.

As long as you acknowledge what our unique vulnerabilities are, note them and think about how you can manage them, you will be surprised by how the results will also impact your work-life balance and your career success.

If you are eager to make a greater impact in your career, it would be my honor to be part of that process with you.  Please give me a call at 513-561-4288 or connect with me via email at kay@highheeledsuccess.com, so we can empower you to achieve that goal.

©Copyright 2018.  Kay Fittes.  All Rights Reserved.

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.

©Copyright 2016.  Kay Fittes.  All Rights Reserved.

How to Thrive and Advance in a Male-Dominated Workplace

From day one, male babies are dressed and swaddled in blue, females in pink.  Boys play with trucks and like to wrestle, girls play with dolls and learn proper manners.  Young men play to win on sports teams, young women do things in groups where everyone tries to get along.  Yes, there are exceptions to these generalities like girls who play sports, or young men who focus on academics or the arts.  Even in these scenarios, there are learned behaviors that carry through to adulthood and the workplace that shape the way males and females interact; and it can be confusing, because they are vastly different.

If you work in a male-dominated setting, you must understand the environment in order to thrive in it.  Similar to adapting to a new culture in a different country, or learning a new language, we have to understand the world around us before we can fully engage and participate.  This is not to say that after a year of living in France (for example), or learning their language, that we become French!  However; we would learn how to get along with and interact with the French better than if you held onto your American ways.  Similarly, if you work in a male-dominated company, and that is still the construct of most American workplaces, to learn the customs, manners and speech that goes with the culture will not only help you be a part of it, but even lead within it.  If your hard work is going unnoticed or unrewarded, if you are frustrated because your voice or ideas are not heard, or worse, if you find yourself complaining about your situation, it’s time to learn some strategies and get in the game.  It’s not about relinquishing yourself or your feminine side, rather, it’s about using what you have and what you know to successfully survive, strive and thrive.

It is important to remember that, just like the French were the first people in France, men and the male culture of the workplace have been in business for centuries. Globally.  It surprises me sometimes that women are miffed or incredulous that we haven’t changed this culture in the last 50 years, when the rules and behaviors of men in business date back to the days of barter and trade, and when you had to sometimes fight and even kill to survive.  Think about history.  Shifts in civilizations and cultures take centuries if not millenniums before change occurs.  If we are to succeed in a male-dominant culture (workplace), we need to shift our efforts from changing it, to improving our circumstance within it.  Indeed, the optimal outcome is that equality in the workplace prevails, but for now, we need to focus on this point in time and our place within the grand shift.   If we pursue success with this mindset, rather than the thought that we aren’t being granted a fair shake, we will get a lot farther a lot more quickly.  The three keys to success lie within adapting these styles to survive, strive and thrive within the world around you:

  • Communication
  • Behavior
  • Leadership

Communication Approach

Imagine you are in a business meeting in Paris.  Speaking in English will not get your point across (I know many are bilingual, but stay with the example).  Of course you are frustrated because English is all you know.  Similar to speaking to someone hard of hearing, perhaps you shout in English to get your point across.  This accomplishes not your goal, but instead succeeds in irritating those around you, and worse, their disdain or disregard for you.  In essence, you are a nuisance, even if you have a meaningful or even life-saving point to make.  You’ll never get your point across with this approach.  What do you do?  Learn French and try again.

At this point, I know you’re wondering ‘what is the language of men in business, the language that they hear, understand and respond to?’  Well, it’s not so much a language, as it is a communication style.  Whereas women are masters of rapport building, men want to get straight to the point.  Women are congenial conversationalists, men report and declare information and ideas.  Generally, women speak in turn, whereas research has shown that men interrupt and dominate the floor.  Tone and intonation matter also matter.  In your business communication, stick to facts, steer away from feelings.  Keep on topic, and by all means avoid drama at all costs.  You might be cringing at this point, thinking back to certain communications gone bad.  You can change and move forward.  It is possible.  Communicate as if you are on a mission, with a limited amount of time to accomplish a very important task, and that it’s imperative that everyone understand your vision.  Because, in fact, you are.  Your mission is that of staking your professional ground and advancement.

Communication – Survival Strategies:

  • Avoid chit chat and rapport building.
  • Get straight to the point and stick to it.
  • Declare your points versus posing them as questions or ideas for pondering.
  • Avoid your high-pitch voice, and drama.  Communicate with a strong even tone that exudes confidence.

Behavior Modification

Using France as an example again, the culture has a certain set of values and etiquette that apply in all situations.  To immerse into the culture, you must strive to understand your environment, and adapt in order to be a part of it.  It’s not about abandoning who you are, or changing your ways completely.  It’s about gaining knowledge of how things work in the world around you, making adjustments to become a part of it, and ultimately effectively contribute to its betterment.  The goal is to change how you are perceived and understood, so that you will assimilate into and be accepted into the culture.

In this case, adapting to your environment means being a team player, but according to the male definition of ‘team’.  From a young age, boys learn that to be a team player you must sacrifice for the good of the team, sometimes break the rules, and not take things personally.  You don’t necessarily like all the players on the team, but get along with them anyway because they allhave the same goal, which is to win with an organized strategy.  These learned behaviors are engrained and come into play again in the business world.  Conversely, from girlhood, females like to be friends with everyone on the team, make sure the outcome is best for everyone involved, and work to support the team by following the rules.  These concepts are at odds with each other.  If you find yourself in a male-dominant business team as a minority, it’s necessary to play by their accepted rules – whether or not you agree with or like them.

Following on the communication style differences, relationships men have with co-workers is quite different than those of women.  For starters, and in most cases, discussion of interpersonal topics are not for the office.  When someone (male or female) is friendly at a given point in time, it doesn’t mean they are your friend.  You can get along well in a meeting, or on a team, but understand that it doesn’t mean you now have a buddy, or that someone that has your back.  You have to have your own back.  Period.  Know your boundaries and act accordingly.  These rules are not true for every office, or every company, but if you’re reading this and experiencing an ‘ah ha’ moment, it is probably true for your office, and you are now aware of it.

Behavior – Strive Strategies

  • Get to know and understand the rules in your office.
  • Play by the rules, and understand you might lose a ‘friend’ in the process.
  • Get along with everyone, even if it hurts.
  • Fair is not always in the playbook.  Realize this, and accept it, but not to the point of compromising integrity.
  • Make frequent, meaningful contributions to the team, always with the end-goal in mind.

Leadership Style

There is no one or right way to lead, but there is a wrong way, which is trying to reach unanimous consensus among the team, or worse, sharing an idea and asking everyone’s opinion before making a move.  Some women try to apply their social rules of female relationships when in a leadership role; play nice, get along, everybody’s happy.  That’s doesn’t work in the office.  Not everyone is, nor can they be, on equal ground.  As a leader, it is inevitable that some decisions you make won’t be popular or liked by some members of your team.  How you react could be the linchpin in gaining the respect of your team.  If you have a high need to be liked by all, or want to assuage any and all dissonance within your team, it will be your downfall.  In sum, you will lose the respect of your team.

Many men, especially those who played team sports, inherently understand and operate this way by default.  They lead with their head.  Heart rarely plays a role at the office.  This is not to say that men are insensitive, it’s just that they are conditioned to compartmentalize emotions in the decision making process.  The higher up you go, or want to go, this type of strategic decision and action tends to get more intense.

Leadership – Thrive Strategies

  • Review the facts, formulate a strategy or decision, and be direct with your delivery.
  • Don’t agonize, assuage or apologize.
  • Stick to your guns. Backtracking is perceived as being weak or inconsistent.
  • Accept some dissension as normal and move on.  Eventually employees will too.
  • Understand that people want a leader to lead and coach.  Act accordingly.

These male-focused strategies of communication, behavior and leadership may seem cold and without regard to relationships.  Cultivation of relationships as a team player, or leader is a fundamentally important part of team building.  This observation may seem to fly in the face of the strategies I’ve outlined, but let me assure you, it does not.  Acting as the Lone Ranger won’t get you very far.  Workplace relationship cultivation has the goals and objectives of the business or organization are at the heart.  In a friendship outside of work, seeing a movie, shopping or chatting over coffee is appropriate.  At work, activities and behaviors that strengthen and further both the individual and the company are the core activities that cultivate relationships.  Examples include mentoring a younger employee, picking up a project for someone in dire need of help (not chronic need), showing up to all meetings (even the boring ones), or recognizing someone’s contributions or praising their work in front of a group.  These actions will gain the respect of your co-workers, set an example for others to follow, and in most cases, benefit you in some way.

Adapting your communication, behavior and leadership style, using the methods outlined within will help you survive, strive and thrive not only in a male-dominated culture, they will take you far in an all-female, or equally mixed environment as well.  I liken these methods to the environment one would expect in a higher-education classroom setting;

  • Direct, no nonsense, fact-driven, communication.
  • Appropriate, calm and participatory behavior.
  • Principle-based, direct and unwavering leadership

Has any of this advice struck a chord with you?  Did you find yourself identifying or struggling with some of these areas in your work life?  I’ve coached hundreds of women through challenging situations, freeing them of encumbered beliefs or behaviors, setting them on a path to success.  I can help you too.  Please contact me for an initial consultation to explore the possibilities of working together.

©Copyright 2015.  Kay Fittes.  All Rights Reserved.

Resolution Reframing

So, how’s your New Year’s resolution coming along?  If you didn’t cringe at that question, you among the elite 8% of the American population.  A 2013 college study found that 92% of people don’t follow through on their resolutions.*  These statistics should not be a surprise.  Throwing everything you’ve got at a new way of doing things once a year, and expecting results is a monumental task and hope.  Instead, I believe our resolutions should be a weekly event and check-in.

Our self-renewal must be a continual process; a work in progress. If we want to improve ourselves, it must be done in an ongoing, disciplined way, not in a ‘throw-everything-you’ve-got-at-it’ once a year event.  Consider the effort it takes to get an education, work through a project at your job, raise a family, or plan a trip.  It’s not a one-time event.  True, it starts with one decision, but continues with ongoing commitment and work.  So it is with ongoing renewal.  It’s for the long haul.

Instead, I encourage you to reframe the way you think about your life.  Reframing is a new way of looking at something with the goal of approaching it in a better way (see my thoughts on reframing conflict in Kay’s Consulting Corner in my November newsletter).  To reframe your life, I’d like to suggest putting it in buckets such as family, health, professional life and development, friendships, spiritual, daily responsibilities, and recreation.  This method is very similar to the Franklin Covey approach of organizing your priorities, with one additional step, which is formulating your personal mini mission statements.

By creating mini mission statements, you move from an idealist approach of hope, to an action-oriented reality of what you are really willing to do.  I would categorize most New Year’s resolutions in the ‘hopeful’ category, often made without a lot of forethought and a plan to move forward.  A well-written mini mission statement will naturally produce action-oriented goals and to-do lists for each of your buckets.  The basic framework of your mini mission statement is this: “I want to go from X to Y by Z.”  No, it’s not an algebraic equation.  It’s a way to put a start, end and achievable measurement on your goal.

For example:

  1. “I want to go from a level 2 manager (X) to level 3 manager (Y), by the end of the year (Z).”
  2. “I want to go from 170 pounds (X) to 130 pounds (Y) by December (Z).
  3. “I want to work less (X) and spend more time with my son (Y) each week (Z).”

Notice these mission statements are all in different buckets; work, health and family.  They also have reasonable timeframes. Example 1 allows you 12 months to work on projects to reach your promotion goal.  Example 2 focuses on losing just 3 pounds a month to reach your goal weight by the end of the year.  And, example 3 can be as simple as carving out a weekly half hour of time to play a board game or go out for an ice cream.  Small steps toward a larger mission.

The thing I like most about the mini mission statement is that it sets realistic goals, and gets rid of the perfectionist problem.  You know, the one that often plagues women who think they have to ‘do it all’, ‘be it all’ and ‘give it all’?  Mini mission statements for each bucket takes perfectionism out of the equation, and brings your goals into focus.  However; you must commit to reviewing them weekly.

I like to take Sunday afternoons or evenings to reflect on the week, review each bucket and see what I’ve done to fill up the mission.  In 2015, carve out time for yourself each weekend for self-renewal.  Begin this weekend with the following steps:

  1. Identify your buckets
  2. Reflect on your mini mission statement for each bucket, and then write it down using the from “Go from X to Y in Z” framework.
  3. Break down the steps you need to take to get to Z. (Like in the above examples; 3 pounds a month or ½ hour per week.)
  4. As you plan the coming week, refer to each bucket and see how you might make the first step for each mission statement with the things you already have on your plate.
  5. Your first step needs to be small enough that you could it immediately, or at least tomorrow.  These leading tasks will get you going.

The following weekend, review your buckets and goals. How did you do for the week?  The most important part in this process is to refuse to indict yourself.  Each week, there will be something moving you closer toward some goals, chances are it will be the momentum of success.  There’s always more we ‘could’ do, but the focus needs to be on what we ‘have’ done.  Celebrate that and move forward instead of beating yourself up.

The key here is to be intentional, and really think about what you want out of life, rather than letting life toss you around with unnecessary obligations (finishing that Words with Friends game, or having all the laundry done), and sudden enticing opportunities (spur of the moment shopping outing) that can sidetrack us.  I use some of the following tools to help with mini mission statements and tracking.  Some have been recommended by colleagues:

Wunderlist – Simple list of things to do – https://www.wunderlist.com/
Trello – Aligns with the bucket strategy, mini goals and list with deadlines. Allows other people to work with your projects. https://trello.com/
Irunurun – Helps with goal writing and ‘gamifies’ goal tracking with scores for completion. http://www.irunurun.com/
Google Keep – Like Pinterest, but for your thoughts, links, lists and ideas. https://keep.google.com/
SmartSheet – Intuitive project timeline creator with dependent due dates. https://www.smartsheet.com/
Inbox and Calendar labels – Use colored tabs and folders to organize your messages and appointments.  Gmail and Google calendar have this feature, as do most other email and calendar apps.

These helpful apps and tools will help organize your goals, and hopefully make it easier and a little fun as you make progress on each mini-mission.  If you feel like you need ongoing help to reach your mission statements, and some coaching or accountability as you move toward your goals, give me a call to discuss professional coaching.  I’d love to help you meet your High-Heeled Success® and then some!

*Source: University of Scranton. Journal of Psychology study, January 1, 2014.

©Copyright 2015.  Kay Fittes.  All Rights Reserved.