How Advice From Leaders Early In My Career Almost Derailed Me

There is no shortage of articles that share stories of all the amazing things that former bosses taught the writer.  Maybe your former boss taught you to be resilient, bold, careful, approachable or accurate.  Maybe they were successful leaders, or maybe they were only mediocre.  Either way, we tend to try to look for the silver lining when remembering those people that mentored us.  The flip side is looking at bad bosses and the impact they have.  Again, no shortage of articles on this topic.  My take today will have a little different spin.  I’d like to think back to good bosses that did impart some not-so-valuable nuggets along the way.

I spent the first years of my career working for some amazing companies that truly had brilliant leaders.  I do credit them for almost all of my good business habits.  However, there were a few times that they gave me advice that could have helped derail my career, had I listened.  Here are five things the Traditionalist and Boomer leaders taught me early in my career that I was smart enough to ignore.

  • Work as many hours as possible-  I can’t tell you how many times in my twenties that someone older told me to always arrive before the boss and leave after the boss.  I’m not sure why, but I listened.  At first.  Then, I realized that not only did this make me quite tired, it didn’t equate to better performance or results.  Not one leader ever mentioned that they noticed I was doing this.  So, early in my career, I decided to focus more energy on creating great work product instead of putting in time before/ after the boss’ hours.
  • OT is a badge of honor– Related to the concept of working early in the morning and late at night is the idea that by putting in a lot of OT, you’re doing well.  Let me be clear, OT is NOT a badge of honor.  Like before, I fell into this time tracking trap too.  My first couple years, I was logging 500- 600 hours of OT a year.  Now, as a salaried employee I was not getting pay for this, it was just an exercise to see if I worked more than 40 hours per week.  Again, once I realized that this did not yield better results, I stopped.  I began to adopt the theory that I would work as hard as I could to produce a great result, in whatever time frame that took.  Often, it’s not requiring OT.  Sometimes it does.  I think this approach has been a much healthier one for me and certainly led to me being more engaged at work and at home.
  • Drink if the leader or client drinks- Maybe this was a 90’s thing, but looking back, I can’t believe this advice.  Early in my career, I had several leaders who told me this.  They said that even if I didn’t drink the alcohol, to order it to be polite to the host or client.  Now, I have the stance that as an adult, you do what makes you comfortable.  Believe me, if a client wants a drink, that’s fine.  It doesn’t mean I have to order one just to look cool.  Same with a boss.  On the flip side, if I want to order one, I will.  It really depends on the setting, the situation, the people involved and my own mood.  The point is not to let colleague or boss peer pressure you into ordering alcohol.
  • Always wear professional clothing-  When I first received this advice, it was quite specific.  Those were the days when business suits reigned and specifically, a skirt suit for women.  I found that wearing suits usually made me feel stuffy and quite unnatural.  I know some people love them, and that’s great.  However, I’ve managed to have a successful career with my altered approach.  I recommend dressing for the occasion.  At times I addressed or worked with people in manufacturing settings, I would dress more casually.  If the situation was a group of highly professional business people, a nice dress and blazer tends to do the trick.  Either way, the point is that I am not smart or full of ideas because I wear a suit.  As long as clothes are clean and pressed, go with what makes you most comfortable. For me, this even means wearing jeans and dressing them up or down.
  • Don’t get too close with anyone at work–  The idea that HR is an island and we are “nobody’s friend” stuck with me for years.  This likely meant I missed out on some really great relationships in my lifetime.  But, I’m not bitter.  I have learned in the past few years that being myself (professional when needed, fun when it makes sense) is the best approach.  I don’t mind clients getting to know me personally.  Many know my kids and what my family likes to do in our free time.  In return, I like to know about them too.  I care about their families, their dreams, their challenges, their health.  They are friends and business partners.  It’s a much more human, caring way to work, and I love it!

As you can see, I’ve tried to adopt my own approach to my work style.  Had I followed all the advice given to me, I definitely would not be where I am today.  So what about you?  Have you worked with some great leaders who gave any bad advice?  What have you hung on to and what have you cast aside?  Tell me in the comments.

You Are Beautiful

You are beautiful

Someone said this to me today.  It came at me during a moment when I least expected it, but when I clearly must have needed this karma, this love, from the universe.

you-are-beautifulI cried.  Not a lot, because I am the razor-sharp person who keeps tears bottled up inside.  But, a few spontaneous tears that seemed to take the weight of the world right off my shoulders.

You are beautiful

How could another person, several time zones away, with her own life and needs, make me feel like the most loved person with just three words?  I have no explanation.  But I do know that by sending me that message, she opened up my eyes and reminded me that our words matter.

ALL of our words matter.  When we compliment someone, we lift their spirit.  When we coach them, we prepare them for challenges and successes to come.  When we discourage them, we hurt them for a thousand future moments, not just that moment in time.  It’s simple really.

You are beautiful

It means something.  It feels like something.  It means that I’m valued, needed, wanted.  Reading those words, caused me to take a deep breath.  Breath to give me courage for things to come.  And it’s those breaths that we all need to get through the good times, the bad times.  The times.

You are beautiful

So, thank you Rachelle Roberts.  Your words made a difference today, and I’m grateful.

 

 

Elements of an Effective Coaching Relationship

As I write this, I am visiting Zhuhai, China, as a speaker at the HR Technology China conference.  You might assume that being at an event like this, all discussions are about technology and the tools leaders need to make managing the people in an organization a smooth, seamless function.  If so, you are only partially correct.  One of the things I love about working to better the people-experience in an organization is that no matter what part of the world I visit, the main theme remains around the “human” side of things.  Making connections between people remains a universal need. zhuhai

I my short time here, I have learned that the Chinese are:

  • Very proud people-  From speaking with Liu Jiawen, the Vice Mayor of Zhuhai Municipal People’s Government to Hua Fuzhou, President of the China Association for Labour Studies,  they communicate that the people of China, and specifically Zhuhai, are proud of their city and the culture it offers to it’s residents and visitors.  I have never felt so welcome anywhere I’ve traveled.
  • A hardworking people- The level of attention to every detail whether in a service role or in a thought leader role is the highest I’ve ever observed.  It’s not just about being at someone’s service either.  It’s the warmest feeling when people are working hard to ensure that you are comfortable and connecting.
  • An innovative people-  Everywhere I look, there are signs of innovation and creation.  The Chinese are demonstrating their commitment to making their cities more accessible as well as more sustainable.  In addition, they are focused on improving the technologies that keep the new ideas developing.

All of these things are important for any country, or organization, to grow and remain relevant.

Elements of an Effective Coaching Relationship:

The common thread I see from the pride, hard work and innovation is that there is constant coaching and reinforcement going on here.  More junior workers are being trained to enhance their skills.  They are taking cues and guidance from the more senior members of their team, and they are welcoming that coaching.  That leads me to the conclusion that an effective coach is only as good as the level of change the coachee is willing to accept.

I’ve written about coaching in the past from the perspective of what the coach can do to build strong skills or connect to the coachee.  Whether it’s in Coaching Made Easy or in Creating A Coaching Culture and the related Rules of Engagement, the focus has been on the relationship between the coach and coachee.  While some coaching relationships go on for years, others last only a short time or are for a specific reason. The coach and employee can negotiate the “why” of it all together.  Coaching is a voluntary arrangement. In order to be coached, the employee has to want the relationship and it has to be “at will”.

I challenge you to think about your own team and the leaders that you work with today.  Are you all focused on the pride you have while working together?  Are you elevating the innovation in your organization?  Finally, are you doing all you can to create that connection as people?  If not, now is the time to adjust.  Focusing on elements that bring meaning to the hard work you’re doing is the catalyst that will drive systematic, cultural change in your organization.  In turn, your business outcomes will be truly transformed.

Thank you to the Zhuhai, China labor delegation, China Star, Steve Boese and LRP Publications for hosting such a wonderful event and for making the learning possible.

3 Great Resources for International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day and I’m proud to say that now, more than ever, organizations and leaders are making a real difference in how women are welcomed for their ideas, innovation and passion in their industries.  We’ve come a long way in bringing women into leadership roles from when I joined the workforce in the 1990’s.  While not perfect just yet, the number of women leaders is on the rise and the way that schools are recruiting women into traditionally male-dominated professions is increasing.  This means that as leaders and whole organizations, we need to encourage our daughters to study and enter STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers.

According to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, “Supporting women STEM students and researchers is not only an essential part of America’s strategy to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world; it is also important to women themselves. Women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations and experience a smaller wage gap relative to men. And STEM careers offer women the opportunity to engage in some of the most exciting realms of discovery and technological innovation. Increasing opportunities for women in these fields is an important step towards realizing greater economic success and equality for women across the board.”

It has been eye-opening to see some of the resources shared online via social media.  One of the first, and most impressive, celebrations of women was the Infor video I’m sharing here today.  Led by Pam Murphy, COO of Infor, the video highlights real women in HR technology and the women who inspire them.

There are still so many women who are not getting into the technology field, so it makes me happy to see that Infor encourages women in tech.  By recognizing, developing and helping these women shine in a male-dominated field, Infor guides the way on how other organizations can do better.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 2.19.17 PMAnother resource I’d like to highlight today is my friend, Lois Melbourne.  Lois is currently the Chief Story Officer of My Future Story.  With a background as a CEO in a HR technology company, Lois is on a mission to bring education around STEM careers to more children.  She is doing this through a series of books and an app (coming soon!).  I encourage you to check out the first book here.  I know she is already inspiring my junior high aged children to think more about STEM careers.

The last resource I’ll share is an article on the Huffington Post site.  They offer up the opportunity to learn more about 11 new books written by women.  I encourage you to check them out.

What are you or your organization doing to help promote International Women’s Day?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

3 Things to Avoid on Employee Appreciation Day

*Sharing from the dusty archives…

I have to admit,  I am not a fan of fake holidays.  I always figured if anyone in my life needed to use a made-up reason to say they love me (Valentines Day) or appreciate me (Mother’s Day), then they really don’t know me at all.  I would much rather have someone tell me they love or appreciate me on a random Tuesday then sending me a dozen roses that cost $150 on one of those days.  As an aside, this cynicism likely comes from working at a florist in my teenage years and seeing men forget their loved one until the last minute, then rush in to buy said $150 roses just to stay out of trouble.

candy_jar_tootsieWell, we are on the eve of yet another made up holiday…..Employee Appreciation Day.  It’s coming to an office near you on March 4th.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a BIG supporter of telling your team and all your employees how much you appreciate them.  I am a fan of hand written notes, emails, phone calls, taking them out to lunch and more.  What I am not a fan of is the leader who never tells their employee how much they appreciate them, then only does on March 4th as a way to think it’s “all good” for the year.

There are already articles and letters floating around from various organizations telling leaders how they can recognize their employees easily and with almost no thought at all.  It is unreal.  I’m here to say right now that if you are a leader, it is supposed to be hard, not easy.  It is supposed to take time, you are supposed to give feedback and you should put thought into it.  Here are 3 things you SHOULD do on March 4th, Employee Appreciation Day to turn the tides on the “easy” approaches that are not meaningful:

  1. Form Letters-  First, do NOT send the form letters full of jargon and business-speak.  At least, do not send them in the spirit intended.  Instead, print out the letter with all the (insert employee name here, insert project here, etc.) left in.  Then, hand write a note at the bottom sincerely telling the employee how much you appreciate them and that you’d never send them a form letter like the one the note is written on.  It will be quirky and unique.  Another option is to call the team together and start reading the form letter mentioned above to them.  As they look at you completely perplexed, stop reading and tell them they mean more to you than a form letter could ever say.  Go around the room, in front of their peers, thanking them and giving examples of what each person does to bring value to the team.
  2. Donuts-  I know, you’re probably thinking that Krispy Kreme or Duncan Donuts is RIGHT on your way to work and you can grab a couple dozen from the drive-thru.  Don’t do it!  Instead, do some reconnaissance today and find out what kind of candy, gum, or healthy snack each team member loves.  Go to the store and buy each employee’s favorite thing.  It will take more effort, that much is true.  The cost will not be more though and I guarantee that a sincere thank you as you hand the person their favorite snack will be well worth the effort.  I once had a boss bring me a huge canister of Tootsie Rolls “just because” I was working hard.  Since that’s one of my favorite candies, it was a wonderful surprise and I knew she valued me.
  3. Gift Cards- We’ve all heard the expression that money can’t buy you love.  The same holds true with  a thank you.  Sure, a $5 gift card for coffee is nice, but it’s the easy way out.  Instead, do a more personal act of service.  Something like asking each staff member if they would like something to drink, then going to your company kitchen or the local store, or even coffee shop, and picking it up or making it for them.  It becomes an act of service and for a boss to do something nice that makes them go out of their way is much more meaningful to the employee.

So, there you have it.  Three ways you can make a more meaningful impact in the way you thank your staff.  Oh, and by the way….thank YOU for wanting to do more to recognize them.  It takes a great leader to want to go the extra mile!

How To Surpass What Your Job Title Says About You

TEDx-1-e1430710475881I had a conversation with one of my friends from India and we were sharing stories about how throughout our careers we have both been known as people who can do more than what our specific job title would indicate.  We weren’t talking about being able to take on more responsibility in order to receive a promotion, we were talking about learning and using skills from another industry to help further our careers.

Breaking out of YOUR mold

I spent many years learning human resources and honing my skills related to compensation, benefits and employee relations.  It wasn’t until I reached my mid-thirties that I realized that I was compelled to learn more about technology, finance, marketing and communications, and ultimately social.  Spending my free time educating myself was some of the best time I’ve ever spent in terms of the return on my investment.  The best compliments I get now are when someone tells me I’m a good writer, a marketer, or an expert for them in social media.

What are you known for?

When I think of the most successful people I know, these are the people who continuously increase their knowledge.  Here 6 steps you can take to update what you are known for and be more than the definition of your job title:

  • Identify industries you want to learn more about-  Before you invest your time, make sure you have carved out a path that is not only going to be interesting for yourself, but one that will actually provide you improved business opportunities in the end.
  • Read as much as you can online about the topic-  The internet brings the best education to us at our fingertips.  It’s easy to find written works from experts in your chosen field as well as video to teach you what they know.
  • Interview “experts” already in that field and ask for recommendations to get up to speed in that industry- This is the time you really need to break out of your comfort zone.  You will be reaching out to people you may not know and asking for them to help you learn.  Keep in mind that many people like to
  • Listen to podcasts on the subject while driving or working out
  • Register for a course online or at a local university
  • Ask to job shadow someone already working in the industry

With a bit of time, a plan, and a desire to learn and expand, you will be able to position yourself to no longer be defined by your job title.  What have you done to change this in your career?  Share with me in the comments.

*from the dusty archives…

Ideas of How to #WorkHuman Today

It’s been a good week here in the mid-west.  I had a great time leading a webinar earlier in the week with Globoforce.  The topic was how to make our workplaces more human.  Tall order, right?  Well, I hope I provided many examples that HR leaders (and other leaders) can use to make small strides in this area.  In case you missed it, you can listen HERElogo_light_backgrounds2

One of the main points I made in the webinar is that people need a workplace where there is LOVE.  Not the romantic kind of love that is the nightmare of every HR pro around, the kind of love that means that you genuinely care and are concerned for your colleagues.  We all have so many things going on in our busy lives that sometimes, when things are less than perfect outside of work, we can’t help but let it impact us during work.  AND THAT’S NORMAL.  For years, we’ve all been brainwashed that we need to leave all our troubles at the door when we come to work.  We have to be strong, stay focused and produce, produce, produce.  Well, no more!

One reason workplaces quickly become less human and don’t have that love and compassion is that we don’t know many of our colleagues.  I was watching CBS Sunday Morning, my favorite news show, and they did a story about Freshbooks and how they are innovating in the way they encourage connection among colleagues.  Freshbooks is a Toronto-based company that has instituted voluntary “employee dating” at work.  This isn’t romantic dating, it’s setting people up on blind dates with colleagues for purposes of getting to know their co-workers better.  You can catch the whole video HERE.  Basically, employees volunteer to be matched with someone they don’t know.  The woman who makes the matches tries to select people who would never normally cross paths or work on projects together.  The two parties then have a “work date”.

While awkward at first, 100% of the employees who participated say they would do it again and it was worth it.  They are able to learn more about what other parts of the organization are up to AND they get the benefit of making a new work connection.  Think about what would happen if you tried this in your company.  Would it lead to greater connection, more collaboration, more innovative ideas?  I’d venture to say that it would.  That’s what I call #WorkHuman in action.

So, my challenge for you as we go into this next week at work is to view your workplace through a different lens.  Is it human?  Do you feel real connection there?  If you can’t answer yes to those, then find ONE thing you can do differently to start changing the tone.  It may just be taking a stranger to lunch.  I’d love to hear how it goes in the comments…

 

Hate Your Boss? How to Bridge the Personality Gap

Free-Rating-Buttons-PSDDo you like your boss?

Maybe that’s not a fair question.  The real question is… “Do you like your boss enough to stay with the organization?”  In my career in HR, I’ve fielded complaints ranging from dislike of micro-managers to working for someone who is so distant that a relationship never forms.  I’ve found that as I’ve worked with executives over the last 18 years, one thing stands out…. if there is not a match in style between the leader and the subordinate, ultimately that working relationship will suffer.  Over time, either the employee will become dissatisfied and leave the company, the leader will not be satisfied with the employee and performance will suffer, or both people stay in the relationship and the department never reaches it’s full productivity potential.

Awhile back, I was reading an article in Scientific American Mind on Attachment Theory.  The article was about the role that Attachment Theory plays in romantic relationships.  It struck me that although they were focusing on romantic relationships, the theory plays out in our work relationships as well.  Attachment Theory was first discovered by Mary Ainsworth, an American psychologist.  Her work with a British researcher, John Bowlby, resulted in the idea that people who have a strong attachment to others, specifically their caregivers, are more likely to survive.  The three types of attachment are:

  • Secure– This person has a solid base and is able to explore their environment.  They’re more likely to learn and thrive and are comfortable with intimacy.
  • Anxious–  This person is overly worried about where the other person (ie. parent, romantic partner or boss) is and what they are doing.  By being preoccupied with that, they are not easily able to focus their attention on the situation at hand.
  • Avoidant– This person believes that if they allow a close, trusting relationship to form, they will lose their independence.  They try to minimize closeness in their relationships and keep other people at arms length.

The impact of this in the workplace can be huge.

If there is a mis-match of the boss’ attachment style and yours and you do not recognize it, your relationship may never see success. One or both of you will be disappointed in the other person.  This disappointment will cause friction over time if not addressed and eventually, something has to give. Recognizing your own attachment style can help you in your relationships because then you can make adjustments to aid in bridging the gap. According to the article authors, Amir Levine and Rachel S.F.Heller, “attachment principles teach us that most men and women are only as needy as their unmet needs.  When their emotional needs are met, they usually turn their attention outward.  This result is sometimes referred to in the literature as the ‘dependency paradox’: the more effectively dependent people are on one another, the more indpendent and creative they become.”

As we help leaders, or as we review our own leadership style, the message is clear.  We need to help stack the deck by working toward having a more secure and trusting relationship with our boss.  This is where HR can really help an employee focus efforts on strategies to reach that goal instead of focusing on all the problems in the working relationship.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these attachment styles and how you’ve seen relationships play out in the workplace.  What has worked and what hasn’t?