Career Wellness

Stretch Your Rubber Band

One of the concepts I often share with my coaching clients is that of ‘stretching the rubber band.’ rubber band

You know how when you are going to use a rubber band, you stretch it first, making it bigger than it needs to be, before placing it where you actually need it? You can also use this concept when you are trying to develop new skills or stretch your existing skills. Before you are in a situation where you actually need that skill, practice stretching it way beyond where it needs to end up.

For example, let’s say you want to become more concise in your speaking habits. Rather than just trying to reduce a little (which is hard to measure), take a situation you commonly find yourself in, or that you know you have coming up, and think about what you would say if you could only say three words in that situation. Or, for one whole day, practice speaking to people only in sentences of no more than six words.

If you struggle with engaging with others, give yourself a day to run errands and commit that you will make eye contact and say hello to every person you pass on the street, or stand in line with at the grocery store.

If you want to be a better listener, use verbal mirroring all day for one day (you’ll be exhausted, trust me!) Verbal mirroring is repeating literally every single word the other person is saying, generally done silently in your head.

These all seem like silly examples but that is the point–they are extreme. By getting the feel of a behavior that is more extreme than what you actually desire in the long run, it provides perspective. When you later use the behavior you actually want to use, it won’t feel nearly as uncomfortable.

Think about it–what are you working on and how can you stretch that rubber band in a safe environment before you have to really perform? Now, get out there and try it.

Career Wellness Checkup #19

Now that you own your strengths, are you ready to own your weaknesses?

You can call them opportunities or challenges. Whatever makes you feel good. But the point is this: in this modern culture of defer, deflect, or deny anything that sounds less than 100% positive, we can unintentionally limit our potential for growth. If we don’t acknowledge any weaknesses or any gaps, what incentive do we have to try to improve?

I believe wholeheartedly in strengths-based performance. Tapping into our natural strengths gives us energy and easy wins. And we need that. But how do we expand our impact?  By expanding our capabilities.

There once was a time when I used my natural strength of observation to great effect.  I lay on my back (or my belly) and observed the world. And I learned a lot. All good stuff, that I used later in life. But I had a weakness.  I could not yet crawl. And this really limited my world, and my impact on it. So, I worked on crawling.  And, even though I never became a world-class crawler, it sure changed my life.

Okay, I admit that was a tongue-in-cheek example, but it illustrates that we cannot focus only on that which we already do well.  We must take an unflinching look at those things which we don’t. Rather than looking away from them and trying to pretend they don’t exist, face them. Then, decide what to do about them.

What are those things with which you struggle?

Name them. It’s okay.  We all have them.  The best leaders acknowledge their weaknesses and use various strategies for minimizing the impact on their effectiveness.  Here are a few:

1) They ask “How critical is this competency?”

In other words, there are certainly many things which we aren’t good at that we simply don’t need to be. Acknowledge them, and then forget them. Do not invest any more of your mental, emotional or physical energy on them. You’ll need it elsewhere. I was never a fast runner. Fortunately, this has nothing to do with success in my career. So, I invest 0% of my energy in developing that skill.

2) They ask “Do I need to do this myself or can I leverage another person for this?”

No leader is an expert in all things. The best ones, though, surround themselves with those who do possess the critical skills that they don’t. They enlist others in their vision and harness the horsepower of others.

3) They ask, “What skills are complementary to my strengths and will magnify them?”

Sometimes possessing a particular competency ourselves is critical. These are the ones in which we need to invest. For example, the most impactful innovators are those who not only do the research & design, but have developed some skill in presenting their ideas to others. Innovators who can’t or won’t speak up will never get their ideas heard. There is a fantastic article here in the Harvard Business Review on the topic of developing complementary skills. I encourage you to read it.

4) They invest time and energy in developing those competencies. 

It’s not easy.  It’s almost never quick. No pain, no gain as they say.  But the investment can pay off big time.

So, are you ready to own your weaknesses?

Career Wellness Checkup #18

Do you know what your strengths are in terms of professional knowledge, skill and ability?

There’s a lot of talk out there these days about branding. Not for nothing, as my dad would always say. It really does make a difference. A strong brand is the only way you stand out from the crowd. I’ve seen time and time again, it’s the differentiating factor between those who are seeking opportunities and those who are sought out.

I’m not saying you need to crow it from the rooftops, or that everyone needs a website or a slick marketing piece. But you do need to be able to articulate how you can add value. Not just what you do, but how your unique combination of tools makes a tangible difference to your organization, your clients, your co-workers. And before you can articulate it, you’ve got to own it yourself.

Think about it – What are you the go-to person for? What seems easier for you than for most people? What kind of problems do you love solving or challenges do you love facing? What do you know better than anyone else?

Ask others – Where do I add value for you? What seems easy for me? How would others describe me and what I’m good at?

Use assessments – There are plenty of personality, knowledge and skill assessments out there which can give you some general ideas about your strengths relative to the general public or specific populations.

Once you have a better idea of your strengths, you can think more strategically about how to employ them. Using your strengths with more intention can create a powerful impact. And that’s good for your career.

Finding mentors: an easy how-to guide

Now that you know how important mentors are to career success, you may be wondering how you can find one of these scarce resources. Good news: they’re not scarce at all!

If you think you cannot find a mentor, you’re looking in the wrong place.  Or more accurately, you aren’t seeing what is already there. We are surrounded by potential mentors and it is up to us to make the most of these resources. Here’s a quick how-to guide:

Find informal mentors

Look around and see who you’d like to emulate. Perhaps they’ve done well and moved up the organization to the highest level.  Perhaps they’re an amazing public speaker, business developer, project manager or whatever.  Ask for a little bit of their time.  It’s easy to reach out and say “I really admired the work you did on X.  It’s something I’m working on developing myself.  Would you be willing to share some insights with me?” Then schedule a 15 minute call, or lunch, or coffee…any time together will work!  Then, when you get that time, be prepared and be curious.  The conversation will flow easily.

Identify mentors-from-afar

This is what I like to call people who you can learn from even if you cannot get one-on-one time with them.  I have many, many of these in my life and career.  I’ve never said to them, “will you mentor me?” I’ve simply noted what I admired about them and tried to absorb some of it. For example, a CEO I worked with from whom I learned to be a better public speaker.  Or the HR director whose motto was ‘never make a decision for the manager, but never let the manager make the wrong decision.’ Boy, I learned a lot about influencing skills from her. Even my mother-in-law, who could strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

How can you do this? Say you observe someone in your organization who is great at leading productive meetings. The key word is observe. When you are in a meeting with them, watch and listen to them very closely.  Pretend you are a scientist.  Where do they sit? How do they sit? What do they say? When are they silent? What facial expressions and body language do they use?  Dissect everything.  Now, think about what would happen if you incorporate some of these behaviors into your own style.  Sure, you may have to tweak a little; some you may try and throw out, but I’m absolutely certain you will learn and grow as a result of this.

Allow your manager to mentor you

This may sound obvious to some, odd to others. I cherish almost every one of my past managers as mentors as well, starting with the wonderful woman who gave me my first opportunity in HR and taught me the ropes. In my experience, most managers really want to do more than tell people what to do all day. They enjoy seeing their team members develop and generally get a lot of satisfaction being instrumental in that.  Don’t wait for the once-a-year development discussion.  Continually ask for feedback, suggestions and opportunities to try out new skills.  If you do this in addition to maintaining your normal high performance, your manager will love you and become one of your biggest career advocates.

Raise your hand for formal mentoring programs

We don’t want to forget the formal opportunities that do exist. Find out if there are any formal mentoring programs in your organization, professional association, in your school, in your community, in your church. You might be surprised at what is out there.  Then, find out the criteria for involvement and if it fits, raise your hand!

Now that we’ve adjusted the lens a little bit, are you seeing mentors everywhere? Congratulations!  The next step is easy: name at least one.  I challenge you to take the next 10 minutes and identify at least one person who can be a mentor to you – formally, informally, your manager, or a mentor from afar.  I’ll bet you can do in 1.  Make it a personal goal to learn something demonstrable from them in the next 30 days.  And, let me know…did you do it? What did you learn?  Comment below to share your experience.

Career Wellness Checkup #17

Do you have a mentor outside your organization?

Last week, we discussed internal mentors and why you should have one.  Having a mentor outside your organization is also critical.  Why? Simply because they are not part of your corporate culture.

  • They will have a different view and can provide you perspective you wouldn’t otherwise have. Plus, it’s good to know what’s happening ‘out there’.
  • They have no skin in the game. They are not competing with you internally; they have no conflicting agenda that might shade their advice to you.
  • Life changes, business changes. If you should leave your company by choice or not, you need contacts and advocates and sounding boards who are not attached to your company and all the emotional baggage that may come with it.

Career Wellness Checkup #16

Do you have a mentor inside your organization?

Mentors are an important factor cited in study after study on career success.  If you are committed to your career success, you should not ignore the power of mentoring.

I’m not talking about waiting for your organization to tap you on the shoulder and offer you a place in a formal mentoring program (if it even has one).  A mentor can be formal or informal, long-term or short-term, broad or narrow-focused.  Yes, I’m using the term ‘mentor’ very broadly.

Formal mentoring programs can offer fantastic opportunities for growth, but what if the tap never comes?  And, even if it might some day, why wait?  Whether you use formal or informal channels, make having a mentor from inside your organization a priority.

Having mentors inside your organization is important because they are operating in the same world you are. They will be more familiar with the corporate culture, policies and processes, which can be of great help to you in navigating them. They also may end up serving as an advocate for you internally, and goodness knows, we can never have too many advocates.

Career Wellness Checkup #15

So you’re on social media.

How well are you managing your brand?

Whether you’re on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs or anything else, you need to realize that every word you write, every picture you share and every connection you make becomes part of your brand.

Here are few tips for actively managing your brand in a way that’s healthy for your career:

1)  Stay engaged. Update, comment, share, tweet or retweet regularly.  When you do, it reminds people that you’re there and often leads them back to your profile.

2) Keep your content aligned with your brand.  If you randomly share anything and everything, you will dilute your brand.  If you’re a tech person, share mostly on tech topics. If you’re a finance person, share mostly on finance. That doesn’t mean you should never color outside the lines but maintain the right balance. A little bit creates interest and dimension. Too much creates confusion.

3) Like, comment on or share content of others with relevant content.  People appreciate it when you share what they say and bring attention to their brand. If they like your content, they may reciprocate. 

4) Stay current.  You are always changing and growing.  Therefore, your profiles and what you share should change too. Read your profile on a regular basis and adjust as needed.

Career Wellness Checkup #14

So, you’ve Googled yourself.  Like what you see?  The good news is, your virtual brand is constantly evolving and you have a great deal of control and influence over what direction it goes.  The bad news is there are so many online channels for your message that it can be overwhelming.

Do you know which social networks you should be using? 

Even though I am a huuuuge proponent of LinkedIn, I am even more a proponent of being in the right “space” — the one that makes sense for you, given your profession, industry and goals. Each social network is a community and the members of the community make it what it is.  Take time to learn about those which are being used by people who do what you do.  If you don’t know…ask them!  Find out: Who is there? What do they do there? How do they engage? This will help you decide which is right for you.

Now, for most professional/administrative/managerial/executive workers (which is generally the population that read this blog), LinkedIn is absolutely the place to be. It’s a free, virtual space where you can post your “professional billboard”.  You get to write about you, what you you’ve done, what you’re good at and so on.  What you choose to include here shapes what people will know and believe about you.  Yes, it greatly mirrors a resume.  But you don’t have to send it out to dozens or hundreds of people.  It is there for the viewing at any time.  And, as you connect with people, share your status, comment on or start discussions, it drives people to see your profile, reinforcing your brand. One more word about LinkedIn: It is not just about job search.  In fact, it’s mostly not about job search.  It’s about engaging with other professionals in your network for mutual benefit, whatever that means for you at the moment.

Twitter is less well-understood by many, but can also be a great resource for professionals, both in influencing their virtual presence and in acquiring useful information and contacts.  No, it’s not all about celebrity watching, though if you want that, you can find it there.  You can also find thought leaders in every industry from everywhere around the globe. And you can share your thoughts with others who care about the same things you do.  What you share there (or “tweet”) and who you engage with becomes part of your brand.   If you know a lot about marketing analysis and you engage and share on Twitter about marketing analysis, guess what? Soon, people learn that you have this particular area of knowledge or expertise.  If you’re not on Twitter yet, you don’t even have to join to check it out. Try this: Go to https://twitter.com/search-home and search any topic of professional interest to you. (You can search by using the plain words or by using a hashtag – for ex: Java vs. #Java – you’ll get some different results either way).  You’ll probably be amazed at what you can find.

Career Wellness Checkup #13

The first quarter of the year is gone.  Like many companies, I reviewed how the year has gone so far, and I decided some tweaks were in order.  The titles of my posts (CWC #x) was quick and easy, but not so great for Twitter. So, I’m writing it out now: Career Wellness Checkup #x.

I also realized it was time for a checkup of my Checkup because I did not have a focus on virtual brand and social media in the original Career Wellness Checkup. Crazy, huh?  Considering, here I am on social media talking about it.

I’m revising my Checkup as we speak and here is the first question I’m adding:

Do you know your social profile? 

In other words, do you know where you are “showing up” online?  You should know if you are on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or any other social network.  But do you know what people can & do see about you there, depending on how they are connected to you or not?  And there may be information online about you that you did not put there.

Here’s a fun exercise: Google yourself. If you have a common name, add the name of your city or your company to your search.  You might be surprised at what comes up.

Recruiters, potential clients, potential employers and employees – they all have access to information about you, just clicks away.  What will they see?  Next week, I’ll talk about taking control of your social profile.

CWC #12

Do you know colleagues within your company but outside your workteam?

Too many people downplay and even look down on the idea of proactively getting to know others within their company with whom they don’t directly work.

“I don’t socialize at work.”

“I don’t play politics.” 

“That’s just wasting time.”

These are a few excuses people give.  Yes, I say excuses, because often what I find out is that they are simply uncomfortable reaching out and initiating communication and this is how they justify not doing so. Sometimes I find people are simply unaware of how important relationships are in business.

Talking to more people in more areas of your business gives you a broader perspective, which generally makes your solutions better.  You also may have an easier time gaining approval for your solutions if you have more advocacy particularly across departmental lines.  And, you just may be able to give not just get, and help your organization in the process.  Overall, it helps you to be more effective across the board.  Could you be more effective than you are today?