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.

Workplace Observations for 2015: The Year of Employee Aptitude

queens-winning-horseOn this final day of 2014, I’m making some observations about the workplace for the coming year.  Why observations and not predictions?  Recently, I talked with Steve Boese about predictions and trends on an episode of HR Happy Hour.  I am very particular when it comes to using those terms.  Without actual data, I don’t give much credence to predictions.

Since I’m thinking about just one year ahead, I prefer to make some observations based purely on what I have seen and heard in 2014.     

I think 2015 will be the year of focus on employee aptitude.

Why aptitude?  Well, by definition, aptitude is about capability, talent and readiness and speed in learning.  I think all that boils down to employees taking control of their own careers and not expecting organizations to do all the work when it comes to keeping them engaged or trained.  How might this play out?  In several ways:

  • Upskilling for retention.  Instead of approaching it as training the company provides (or forces), employees today are taking responsibility to improve their skills in non-traditional ways.  One example is online training through sources such as Kahn Academy, MIT, YouTube, etc.  With greater availability of free or inexpensive courses and information, employees can stack the deck in their favor when it comes to promotions.  The faster companies recognize and reward these types of efforts, the better retention rates will be.  
  • Wearable health and wellness-  The last year or two, wearable technology has seen an uptick.  Why?  There are several likely drivers.  First, with an aging population, you will see more people start to monitor their health in order to live longer with better ability.  The other factor could be the focus on national healthcare and people fearing that employer-provided healthcare could be coming to and end in the near future.  Either way, there is a greater focus on personal health and wellness and it’s easy to get sucked in.  Personally, I joined the FitBit ranks.  Being able to track my health habits on my phone or computer has been an eye-opener.  I think we’ll see this become even more common in 2015.
  • Empowerment-  If you’re looking for your leadership team to have the ability to focus more on strategy in the future, you’ll need to provide a culture of empowerment for the managers and staff.  Employees like having more control over their work and if empowered to make more meaningful decisions, they will become better collaborators and more willing to stay with the company.
  • Availability of usable data-  Organizations have an abundance of data, but it is not typically usable because they have no means to gather it together in an effective and efficient manner.  With HR tech capabilities today, it makes it more easily accessible and able to be combined.  What this can mean for employees is they will be able to see where they stand in relation to other employees, they can make better business decisions and they will have the ability to make those decisions faster than ever before.

Those are my observations.  What do you think?  Do you have other observations of what 2015 will bring?  Be sure to share them in the comments.


Gentle Mentors Are Not Helpful- Or Are They?

handsI am blessed.  Really.

You don’t have to even believe in God to know that I am blessed in the sense that I have mentors who love and care for me.  Like many people, I have more than one.  In fact, I have too many to count.  Of all those people, 4 are extra special to me because they seem to know my soul, not just what is near the surface.  Two are female and two are male.  Each one guides me in such drastically different ways, yet I am always amazed that their guidance collectively leads me in one direction.

I once had someone tell me that gentle mentors are not helpful.  If you define gentle as someone who is passive or not direct with feedback, then I agree.  But in my world, gentle is someone who can empathize with me and yet still tell me the truth.

How To Be A Gentle Mentor

  1. Have an empathetic ear
  2. Listen, listen, listen
  3. Encourage the person to show emotion- whatever that emotion is
  4. Be honest but not cutting with your feedback and advice

Have you had a gentle mentor?  Have you thanked them lately?  I think we all have a great opportunity to be this type of mentor to someone.

Turning Managers Into Leaders

Guest post courtesy of author and HR professional Ben Eubanks.







Hmmm… Even the person who is the least knowledgeable about cars knows an engine isn’t supposed to make that sound. It signifies a problem. It’s a sign of an internal stress that needs to be resolved immediately.

Internal stress for people usually isn’t that obvious, but it can be just as costly for a business to ignore the signs as it would be for the car owner in the example above.

Managers have a tough gig. They have to manage people and their various personalities, preferences, and performance levels. They also feel stuck in between employer policies and the needs of their staff. And when the going gets tough, who are the first to leave? The best employees, that’s who. They can find another company to work for if they are top performers.

So how can managers change their mindset and still find time to be genuine leaders to their employees? Here are a few ideas…

  • Stop micromanaging– If you’re spending half your time telling others how to do their jobs (and it’s not for one-off training purposes), then it’s either time to replace them or step back and determine if your constant interventions are even necessary.
  • Productivity training– Most people have never had much training on how to be productive. Teach them how to use To Do lists, how to manage their inboxes, and how to use technology to save time and effort.
  • Pay them to lead– As long as the results are good and it’s not at the expense of their “real” job, some companies have seen a lot of success in this area. Chipotle reduced manager turnover by 47% by using these and other related incentives.
  • Motivate someone– Give them the tools to motivate their employees. You never know, acting like a preschooler might actually work for you…

The bottom line

We are living in stressful times, and it doesn’t look like things will get drastically easier any time soon. But when managers can help relieve stress for employees through effective leadership skills, their own stress goes down as well. They feel like they have some level of control over their situation, and that gives people hope.

Do you have any managers who might need to read these words? How do you help your managers cope with stress (either on the job or off)?


Ben Eubanks is an HR pro, blogger, and speaker in Huntsville, AL. He recently authored Rock Your Corporate Culture, a guide focused on helping HR professionals and senior leaders leverage their corporate culture for business success. He thinks of Trish as the big sister he never had and is one of the co-founders of the HRevolution unconference.

Hey Mister! The Etiquette of Addressing People Professionally

My mother joined the workforce in the sixties.  She was a small town girl who came to the “big city” of St. Louis (don’t laugh) and found work at Dempsey Tegeler & Co as a bond teller.  I always picture her going to work in her perfect little suit, pencil skirt and short, fitted “smart” jackets.  And of course, she always had heels and a purse to match.  After all, she was a proper young woman working in the big world.

One thing that strikes me is that even today, she still refers to her boss as “Mr. Stanek“.  I think that stands out because I do not remember the last time that I called a boss “Mr.” or “Mrs.” anything.  And that is sad.  I’ve always been respectful and for some odd reason when I address people I tend use their first and last name.  For example, when I called my friend Paul yesterday, I said, “Hello Paul Hebert.  This is Trish.”

Working in healthcare, I never quite know when to use the title “Dr.” or when to just use the person’s first name.  I usually listen to how they introduce themselves or how other people address them a majority of the time.  Going with that seems to be a safe bet.

I’m finding that most professionals prefer for you to just call them buy their first name and I’ve experienced this from the highest level executives.

How about you?  What is the best way to address people in today’s world?  Should we be more traditional or are there other accepted professional ways to address each other?  I’d love to hear how you handle this.