My new gig with BIZCATALYST360

Okay, I know I said in my last post that I wouldn’t be starting a bunch of new stuff this year.  In my defense, I committed to this in 2013, and am just now going public with it. I’m thrilled to have been invited to become a contributor to the business knowledge forum BIZCATALYST360.com.

As a contributor, I’ll be sharing some of the things I discuss on this blog, and also some broader topics which may not be directly career related. What I love about the site, is the variety of topics curated there including business, technology, leadership, ethics and much, much more. I hope you’ll stop by and check it out. I’ll be writing there soon. In the meantime, check out some of the fantastic articles by my colleagues.

Words to live by in 2014

In my last post, I encouraged you to think about what would make 2014 great for you. I’ve been doing the same.

I don’t generally make New Year’s resolutions; however, each year I identify an overall theme or idea I want to live by.  For the past few years it’s been: to be uncomfortable as much as possible. In other words, to constantly say “yes” to new things, to push myself, to make possibilities become realities. Because the more uncomfortable you are, the more you grow.

A year of adventures

Thank you Hawaiian Fire Surf School

And, it’s worked quite well. I’ve gotten my own business running on all cylinders, developed some wonderful clients, taught at my former college, become a public speaker of sorts, started a new networking group, traveled to several new places, learned to surf (barely), learned to play the piano (sort of), kayaked and went paddleboarding for the first time, started a creativity blog with some friends, made some goofy videos with said friends and a lot of other cool or (at least fun) stuff. It’s been great and I wouldn’t trade the last few years for the world.

But this year, I’m feeling the need to slow down, not just for the sake of slowing down, but to focus on creating quality. The things I’m doing, I want to do better. Each project or commitment, I want to look at more closely and ask, how can I do it better?

Make it Sparkle are my 2014 words to live by.  What are yours?

Envision an amazing 2014

These past few years, I’ve had quite a few “aha” moments. Those moments when I realized my dreams were coming true: from launching my own consulting practice, to teaching in the Master’s program from which I graduated, and now working with WOMEN Unlimited ten years after completing that wonderful program. In each case, it felt like serendipity, but the truth is, I had envisioned each of them and had taken steps along my path leading me toward them.

What about your path? What is ahead for you? And specifically, where will you be in 2014? The power of vision + action is incredible. So, take a few moments to ask yourself these questions:

What would make 2014 a truly amazing year for you? 

Take some time to think deeply about it. No one else can, or should, define this for you. Be open and honest with yourself. Admit those things that you are scared to wish for.

What are you doing to make that vision a reality?

What are you really doing? Not just thinking. While there are things you can’t control, they tend to work in your favor if you attend to those things you can control.

Who can help you?

We cannot be successful in a vacuum.  The good news is successful people tend to enjoy helping others become successful too. Who is doing what you’d like to do? How can you learn from them or get support from them?

Taking these last couple weeks of the year to rejoice, renew and reflect on your present and the path ahead can launch your success in the new year.

All the best in 2014!

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.

Hidden Secrets of LinkedIn – Tagging

Now that LinkedIn has been around a good while – over 10 years – most people I come across are on it. Some are very active, some aren’t.  There are few features of LinkedIn, though, that even the most active users don’t seem to be aware of.  Here’s one very useful one:

Tagging

Did you know you can tag your contacts?  Tagging your contacts makes it easy to filter them by different categories and easy to send a quick group message.

Many of your contacts are automatically tagged when you connect, based on the invitation you sent.  If you said they were a colleague in the invitation, they’ll be marked as such.

But you can add tags too.  You can create up to 200 unique tags.  Do you want to quickly be able to see just your contacts who are recruiters?  Or, people you know through a particular professional association? Create the tag, and then tag your contacts.

To see what tags you currently have, go to your list of connections. The left hand column will look something like this:

LinkedIn tags

Next to the word ‘Tags’ is the word ‘manage’.  Click ‘manage’ and you’ll be able to add any tags you like.

For example, I created an ‘HR’ tag, a ‘recruiters’ tag and a ‘consultants’ tag.  If I want to make a referral, I can quickly scroll through them to find the right one to refer to.

You have to mark each person with the tags you create.  This can be a time consuming process, but worth it. To do this, click on a contact.  Their details will show in the right hand column.  Now, click on ‘edit tags’, mark the tags you like, and save.  See below.

LinkedIn tagging

As you accept new invitations, you’ll want to tag people right away.  Trust me, it’s easier this way.

Once you’ve tagged your contacts, when you click on that tag in the left hand column, you’ll see only the people with those tags.  In the right hand column, you’ll see the words ‘Send message’.  To send a group message, just click this.  A new message window will pop up, pre-populated with their names.  Now compose and send.

That’s it!  It may look a little complicated here, but after you’ve done it a time or two, you’ll find it easy.

Managing your virtual brand

In a recent post, I asked if you’ve Googled yourself.  If you haven’t yet, you should.  See what is showing up about you online. Is it what you want people to see?  Is it even about you? Sometimes what you’ll find at the top of “your” search results are links to people with the same or similar name who have done things you don’t want to be known for.  I’ve addressed previously why this can be damaging, so I won’t replay that tape.

If this is happening to you, or you don’t know how you’re showing up online, what can you do?  One option is: do the legwork yourself.

1)  Google yourself, and look at the results beyond page 1; conduct several searches using various forms of your name if you have them, locations and other indicators which may pull different results to the top.

2)  Search for yourself on any social platform you’re a part of.

3)  Bury negative or out-of-date information by creating newer, positive content and generate links to it.  LinkedIn is a great way to do this, since LinkedIn results in general almost always show up on page 1 of a Google search of a name.  Update your profile, share your profile with contacts, invite new contacts to connect, share a LinkedIn update with a link to your blog or personal website, if you have one.  All of these will help “good” content move in on top of “bad” content.

4)  Address false or damaging content with providers if possible.  Occasionally, you will find that online content providers and platforms will remove data if you can show that it’s incorrect or damaging.  For example, someone created a fake profile in your name with your information all over it, but their content. How online providers handle this varies greatly, but it’s worth a shot if there is something truly harmful to your reputation out there.  Do be careful about who you contact, and what information you provide to “confirm” your identity.  If it’s a big name like LinkedIn, you’re fine.  If it’s a company you’ve never heard of, check out their reputation by Googling them along with the word ‘complaint’ and looking at sites like RipoffReport.com or Pissedconsumer.com.

Another option is: get help.  There are many companies who will clean up your online reputation for you, for some pretty nice fees. This will definitely save you time if not money. Again, do your research to make sure you will get what you pay for. Getting recommendations from friends is best if you can manage.

There is also a free online product that a friend recently told me about: Brandyourself.com.  I have not used it myself, but checked them out online, and think they’re worth a look. They have a free account option, and of course a paid account option if you want more support.  Even if, after checking them out, you decide to do it yourself, they’ve got some great articles on their blog that I think you’ll find useful.

What other tools or resources do you recommend for managing your brand?

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.