Career Coaching

BELIEVE (the Ted Lasso effect)

We watched a lot more TV during COVID. Actually, I watched a lot more TV to be close to my family. My bookworm and cinephile habits aside, I don’t enjoy sitting on the couch at home staring at the “boob tube”, as my parents used to call it. So, I fold laundry while I watch TV and resolve the guilty feeling of laziness with chores.

We watched The Expanse, Lovecraft Country, Ozark, Donovan, sprinkled in with Bridgerton (surprised us both), The Great (historical fiction), and Gentleman Jack (based on a true story). Movies failed to hold my attention these last 18 months… I needed something lighter. Enter Ted Lasso, the too-hapI’m not saying that it was mindless fun, but there was something about Ted Lasso. We’d wait in anticipation for it to drop each Friday.  It made me smile, my heart warm and my soul comes back to life.  It’s interesting, most of the people who I asked about the show either lit up or had no clue. It made me wonder, why did Ted Lasso have such a strong appeal or total lack of interest from people.

I have played, coached, and refereed soccer for 43+ years. Most of my friends and all my family are familiar with my zeal for the sport. I played on the field until 2018, chasing a ball around the pitch, focused on my teammates, and keeping the ball out of my net.  You’ve heard me espouse Title IX (50th anniversary in 2022), the scene my mom made when there were no girls teams, so she said I get to play on a boys team. That led to helping my high school and college women’s teams get off the ground in the 1980s

Ted Lasso is not about soccer; nor is it about football, the sport he initially coached. This quirky comedy, which appears to be more brain candy, drives at some series points on leadership, empathy, and how imperfect human beings can recover from mistakes and losses without losing a positive outlook. I’m not trying to write a review of the show but want to dig deeper and figure out why Ted struck a chord with me.

I relate to Ted as a coach, his optimism and innocuous approach to the game are compelling. I love the subtext in this show, suggesting that a true leader can succeed in any discipline. Knowing how to build teams and inspire people, and how to collaborate with area experts to drive at goals and win the day. The most important lesson Ted teaches is that authentic leaders have the power to inspire people, by caring for and being genuine with their teams. I also love that he struggles with his own demons and that acknowledging them becomes an even better leader.  Maybe, I’d like to be admired the way he is, even when his enthusiasm drives you insane.

The women in Ted Lasso’s life add to refreshing messages of fair play and teamwork in the series. Even more so, it’s truly wonderful to see real female characters that aren’t backstabbing each other.  Rebecca is a middle-aged white woman who just inherited a soccer team from her philandering husband in the divorce. She’s out for revenge when Ted shows up. What could go wrong?!  Enter Keeley, the perky footballer girlfriend, and supermodel who finds her own power as she helps Rebecca to reclaim her own. Rebecca’s childhood friend Bex is exploring her sexuality and makes a few appearances in the series, intermittently connecting with Ted as he tries to get over his divorce. Lastly, Ted Lasso tackles the topic of mental health via Dr. Sharon Fields, the therapist who helps to heal the spirits of players and the team. Diversity abounds in the show, real life is reflected on the screen through these large-as-life characters.

I will close with the word from Ted that motivates me each day.  I made a copy of Ted’s drawing for my son’s high school football team to tape up in their locker room and see before games, BELIEVE! Things that inspire me consistently are hard to come by as normal continues to shift, but I can hold onto the concept of belief, because what else do you have? I believe we can be better, smarter, stronger, and more compassionate human beings, each day.

Careers, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Spin your Story (Determine Your Own Destiny)

I just read the McKinsey article about huge turnover in the labor market, referred to as the “Great Attrition.” Companies are facing a conundrum across industries. The researchers at McKinsey layout a simple challenge to businesses: be part of the continued disenfranchisement of employees or become known as a “Great Attractor”, an organization that is successfully recruiting top talent over the next 12 months.  

The past 18 months of COVID Pandemic panic was tough on a lot of businesses (including mine) but thankfully since January 2021 businesses in several industries came booming back. This is great news for me as a recruiter and for the talented candidates that I place with client companies.  

The McKinsey challenge to organizations forces employers to confront the disconnect between their mindset (transactional) and the mindset of employees (relational). For HR professionals, career coaches, and recruiters, this is not exactly breaking news – but the impacts of worker discontentment are glaring post-pandemic. I’ve been watching a rise in burnout and a shift among employees to being more introspective about what really matters.   It prompted me to ask a follow-on question: 

What type of story will you tell to your employees and the talent you hire in 2021-22?

LISTEN, LEARN, AND UNDERSTAND

The first step in  “romancing a candidate” is a mindset.  I coach my clients to highlight the company’s strengths that matter to candidates (e.g. focus on the relational!) 

The current job market favors the candidates and for companies to attract talent, the costs are high. As a recruiter, for example, the talented people that I identify are sometimes not active job searchers.  This means they were not considering a change until presented with an opportunity. Attracting these candidates requires companies to think more about what makes their organizations wonderful places for people to work. 

The McKinsey authors suggest that companies will continue to lose workers and struggle to attract new talent in the “Great Attrition” until they shift toward a relational mindset; and get focused on understanding the motivations and needs of their people. As companies seek to stabilize following the pandemic, workers are reassessing their lives and thinking even more about the mission/ethics of a company, or about the location and the willingness of their employers to be flexible.

Businesses that want to become “great attractors” would be wise to understand what values are important for people who can make their companies succeed. 

WHAT MATTERS MOST

Some companies measure success by shareholder earnings. Others measure it through innovation, low staff turnover, and career satisfaction. Lowering costs and boosting higher profits is a business priority agreed upon across industries by all.  Determining how to get there, however, differs by company, the attitudes of leaders, and the subsequent culture that emerges. 

Universities and college administrators have begun to realize that by not accounting for job market needs in curriculum planning, they fail to prepare students with employable skills. Businesses can take a similar approach and prepare workers for greater success with professional development opportunities that not only advance their careers internally/externally but provide a better-trained workforce for the organization. 

Educational and business leaders can take the same page from the proverbial book to train individuals and prepare them with in-demand skills that fit market needs.

Information is powerful and knowing what forces motivate workers is key to becoming a successful “attractor.”

3 REASONS WHY EMPLOYEES MOVE ON

Based on the article and other studies in work/labor research that pre-date the pandemic, these factors have been identified as the missing components from corporate cultures. Simply put…

“The top three factors employees cited as reasons for quitting were that they didn’t feel valued by their organizations (54 percent) or their managers (52 percent) or because they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work (51 percent).” (McKinsey, 2021) 

The impact of the COVID pandemic was especially hard for working families with young children. The need for flexibility, already a growing priority, became critical for parents as they shifted to home offices and homeschooling, simultaneously. A gaggle of 20+ kids ran around my neighborhood for months, as parents were challenged trying to turn picnic tables into school desks. Now as they resume commutes into the office, many are considering the opportunity cost in a relational way. 

Employers must listen to hear what employees value and remain supportive as needs evolve.  Employees who feel valued stay longer.  Retention not only saves money over time by reducing HR costs but protects institutional knowledge.  As a long-time recruiter, these were facts I often shared with hiring managers when they were resistant to investing in the right hires and the importance of a culture shift to focus on the relational needs of employees. 

Company leadership has the power to create a culture that is responsive to employees and good for business.   

RETROSPECTIVE 

Consultants can provide an evaluation and give feedback to companies about specific strengths and weaknesses. Coaches for executive teams are also great resources for helping to kickstart a shift in an organization’s culture.  

A teacher I had used the phrase: “don’t assume … it makes an ass out of you and me.” Find out from the people on your teams how they feel and what matters. The McKinsey article has a great list of questions to ask!

Discuss with your HR team the best benefits that have an authentic value to employees – find out what’s changed and what hasn’t. My takeaway for you … it was never all about the money!

Here are some of the *relational benefits* that I suggest: 

Careers

RR RESILIENCE TOOLKIT

I began thinking about resilience a few months ago when I noticed a shift in the lives of my clients and friends. The COVID-19 pandemic transformed our lives and the catch-phrase “paradigm shift” began to pop up in conversations. Many people began to rethink career paths, geographic locales, and the importance of relationships.

The dramatic changes across job and social landscapes brought up an important question: What makes a person resilient? Or, how do we become resilient in the future? So I invited colleagues that I admire to join me in unpacking the elements of resilience. What came out of these conversations is a guideline on preparing for career transitions and personal growth.

Developing a Growth Mindset is a big takeaway from my inquiries these past few months, so I developed a toolkit to help my clients build it. I discovered there are 3 major traits for resilience: (1) learn continuously, (2) innovate or have an entrepreneurial mindset,  and (3) the ability to adapt and bounce back from adversity.

Check out the bulleted lists below for detailed guidelines on how to build a resilient career and a thriving life.

Keep Learning!

  • Develop a growth mindset
  • Up-skill w/ online & in-person courses
  • Identify interests through research and inquiry
  • Join networks and schedule informational interviews

Get creative!

  • Innovate in your career through reflective awareness
  • Create new opportunities w/ an entrepreneurial mindset
  • Integrate passions into your work – even if what you’re passionate about isn’t the job itself.

Adapt & Bounce Back!

  • Choose mentors to help you grow holistically
  • Keep a lot of “irons in the fire” & celebrate your wins
  • Diversify your network

 

Careers, Communication, Networking, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Informational Interviews in Action – August 2021

INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS & NETWORKS

Informational interviews are a wonderful opportunity to learn about companies and get to know the people that you might like to work with. Pre-job interview conversations can have a huge impact on your journey, and you’ll want to make a first impression that counts! These seemly in-formal chats are strategic too, and in the blog below I share an example of how effective informational interviews can be. 

OK! I know you’re asking what an “informational interview” is – so first, a little background, and then get ready to jump right in.

WHAT IS AN INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW? 

This is not a job interview because you are not asking for a job. This is an opportunity to learn more about a person, the organization that they work in, and a field or industry of interest. Do your homework before you reach out, and be prepared to share your “Elevator Pitch” on what you bring to the table.

Note: An informational interview is a tool to build and nurture your network.


WHAT IS A NETWORK? 

A network is a circle of people you know, starting with your family and friends, expanding to colleagues/alumni. The (key) people you are referred to or locate through research, are included in your outer circle of network contacts. For more details, here’s an earlier blog on how to build networks.

Note: Track your network and manage it as a living document that continues to expand with each new connection you make.

WHY DO I NEED A NETWORK? 

It’s a great idea to nurture a professional network from the very beginning of your career. In this way, you will have guidance, insights, and opportunities that will organically come your way. Networks are meant to be built and sustained for a lifetime, it’s never too early to start identifying and nurturing those meaningful relationships.

Strong network connections enable a broader worldview. A diverse group(s) of connections can expose you to new ideas and trends across fields of study or industry. Take time to develop new contacts into meaningful relationships and create space for opportunities that align with your interests to come your way.

Even daily business tasks, like responding to a proposal for work or building a PPT presentation, add depth and breadth to your professional expertise and build your visibility/brand. Every interaction you have is a chance to show your value, build your reputation, and bolster your network.

Note: It’s never too late to start building a network and as with all good things, relationships take effort.

READY, SET, RESEARCH! 

Coaching clients over the years, I’ve noticed that some are very resistant to informational interviews. Some have expressed that they feel they are bothering people or not interviewing for real jobs. Don’t believe me? Well, my clients have shared their results, and based on their experiences (meeting people and finding a great professional opportunity) networking does work!

Building a professional network is a numbers game – and informational interviews are a great critical success factor. Through a consistent effort to engage new contacts, you get a lot of interview practice. The more practice you get, the better you get at pitching your value, and eventually, the odds are in your favor. It’s not luck so much as the dedicated effort that will reward you with an offer (or a few). Use the job tracking sheet here or create your own. Remember you are building something that you will come back to and add to regularly.

On average, it takes 3-6 months of networking to connect with the right people and be hired.

JUST THE FACTS

The real-world data points below are an example of how numbers work to get results on your job hunt. Depending on how you design your job search, the results will vary, but the ratios are accurate. 

• 90 renewed (or new contacts) through LinkedIn, email, and other social channels
• 40 informational interviews
• 8 formal job interviews
• 4 positions tailor-made
• 5 offers received
• Evaluation of roles, alignment with priorities, and negotiation of the compensation package

Remember: the more senior the role the longer a job search can take. And the more activities generated, the faster the process develops. How many people can you speak with per week? 1 or more? Set clear GOALS and take the actions to make them happen.

Job and network research should be balanced to suit your work style – and keep track of information so you can see results! Continue to nurture your network after you build it. Keep in touch with new connections and assist if you are asked to, and always be genuine to individuals that helped you along the way.

And there you have it …. Informational interviews in action!

Careers, Communication, Jobs, Uncategorized, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Let’s Talk About Resilience —

Years ago, a client told me that if companies don’t evolve they will go extinct just like the dinosaurs. At the time I thought it was a much better way to explain restructuring within organizations or what is now called intrapreneurship when a company is responsive to the market . I understand that all species must adapt or, through evolution, will disappear.

Fast forward to a couple years ago when I was speaking on a panel at Georgetown Biomedical Graduate School with a panel of deans and administrators. The topic was geared to make educators think about their role in the economic ecosystem. We were asked to discuss how to better prepare students for the workplace. It brought the conversation around to what is often called career pathways, highlighting adaptation to changing economies as critical in the quest to stay relevant. Relevance, as it turns out, goes hand in hand with becoming resilient.

One of my favorite researchers and authors, Brené Brown shared in her book “Rising Leaders” that a key trait of people who are resilient is emotional intelligence (EQ). Yup! It’s worth repeating, emotional intelligence.  In her interview with Abby Wambach, US Women’s National Soccer Player star, she shared insights from her book, “Wolfpack” that stress the importance of change, “Old ways of thinking will never help us build a new world. Out with the Old. In with the New.”

“It’s all about a tolerance for discomfort”, Brené shares and sums it up:”Resilience is more available to people curious about their own line of thinking and behaving,”

Here I would like to delve into what makes people resilient; and focus-in on actions you can take to fortify resilience in your career journey, continuously and enjoyably.

The Definition of Resilience is: 

re·sil·ience /rəˈzilyəns/ (Oxford) noun

    1. The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness; “the often remarkable resilience of … institutions
    2. The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity, “nylon is excellent in wearability and resilience.”

SET THE STAGE

There are arguments over nature versus nurture all the time. Is someone born with existing traits or skills, or does the environment shape and influence them? As we have learned from researchers, it’s never just one thing which delivers us to any particular point in our lives: but rather, a conglomeration of characteristics, experiences and our environment.

As a recruiter, career coach and parent/partner, I believe we have the ability to take inventory of who we are and where we are. We can recalibrate to make healthy decisions that have a holistic impact on the outcome of lives.

Let’s focus on traits we have – or tools we can learn – to empower a rewarding life journey.

The Pandemic has pushed the limit of almost every imaginable boundary – for everyone.  We realized that things we thought were important, might not be. Companies that thought remote work or telecommuting would destabilize them, have experienced a smooth transition with a remote workforce and improved productivity – and sometimes happier employees.  Technology tools for collaboration, CRM and workstream management already existed, and others are being created. Zoom is efficient and effective, but also exhausting. Personally, I found boundary setting to be an important tactic to avoid burnout as the days/weeks began to blur into each other. Even without a commute, the workday has grown longer for professionals and parents alike. In the midst of juggling work alongside personal lives, children and homeschooling, a new context for “resilience” has begun to emerge.

We know that emotional IQ allows us to be reflective and more self-aware, and that it is a first step to improve the dexterity we have in adapting to change. EQ is a great trait that helps us drive and become confident decision makers, instead of passengers affected by the course of time and life.

SELF REFLECTION- TAKING INVENTORY

A self-reflective audit of your career roadmap – skills, goals and strategy – is a technique available at any point on the journey. My kids, at different points in their lives, have approached me with this philosophical conversation starter: “what if you don’t know what you want to be or where you want to go?

In creating this feedback loop, you consider the things you are good at doing, what kinds of jobs are available in the world right now, and in the future; and then we make a decision about which skill areas to develop. Occasionally when you try out a new strategy, you learn that your skills don’t match up the way you thought they would for your goals. In that case you can go back to an EQ-based audit of your profession and adapt your toolkit to meet those needs.

Education and professional training are consistently in development – not just for the teachers or medical professionals who need to meet recertification requirements each year. We should all push ourselves (and encourage others) to be continuous learners. In coaching sessions with clients, we take inventory and create a mission statement or pitch to clarify what an individual is good at doing and where they would like to head. We discuss the skillset needed and how to apply a strengths-based strategy for success. Informational Interviews are a great way to test existing capabilities in the professional arena – and get feedback on options that could improve your professional profile.

In times of discomfort, we must lean into the suck, bounce back, regroup and adapt to build a resilient career.

ACCOUNTABILITY-GOAL SETTING

A main source of joy for me in the past year has been cooking.  Cooking goes with eating and this, combined with months of quarantine, has found its way to my hips, belly and bottom. I’m a firm believer in modifying my behavior and I prefer to know why I’m doing something – rather than doing it because I was told so. For this reason, I started the behavior modification program, NOOM,  on Feb 13th. There is science, there is a plan, there is action and accountability. The steps and the process are important to me and should be important to any person or organization wanting to achieve a major objective.

In NOOM, I’m asked to write my goals down and share them with my cohort. This semi-public broadcasting of my objectives is not always comfortable, but as an accountability tool it exponentially boosts my chances of achieving them. The format you use to share doesn’t matter – some members paste pictures into a collage for motivation, others create lists of New Year’s resolutions.  I prefer to journal, so I have something I can look back on, reminding me of where I was and where I wanted to go or what I wanted to change.

Goals that you can form habits around will increase the chance of getting sustainable results. People with a high EQ pause periodically for a mind-body scan of what’s working, what’s not, take accountability and pivot when necessary.

Goals are often malleable – firm but flexible – commitments that adapt to changes in the environment in which they are developed. Becoming resilient is a process of adapting strategies to meet goals informed by a personal and environmental EQ. Nothing like a global pandemic to demonstrate how EQ and adaptation are components of resilience.

HOW TO MAKE IT HAPPEN – ROADMAP FOR RESILIENCE

I want to be clear about the steps in building a roadmap for resilience – goal setting comes after a personal assessment, information gathering and before you set milestones and goals. I’m not saying that this plan is going to be engraved in stone, but an outline with high-level details is a rough-draft guideline that has led my clients to happy lives and sustainable careers.

I like to travel this way also. I pick a location, do my research and make the reservations for important stuff like where I sleep, hard-to-get tickets and hard to book restaurant reservations. These are the “need to haves”. The “nice to haves” depend on energy levels, impulses and the weather. This flexible-but-firm strategy has led to some great adventures over the years. I apply this outline to coaching too – but with value-added goal setting and accountability tools to provide momentum.

Resilience can save a trip or a career with the ability to lean into the disruption with an attitude of problem-solving in order to salvage it – or cut your losses.

ACHIEVEMENT- GETTING RESULTS

The lifespan of a human being is actually pretty short. We hope for long and healthy lives, but in the grand scheme of the universe, we are only here on earth for a little bit of time. The past year has seen the loss of loved ones for many and been a catalyst for deep reflection in almost everyone I know. I find myself thinking more about each moment with the people I love (and those I miss) and what is actually important in the context of a lifetime.

The way I like to plan and apply myself to personal and career goals paid off as I pivoted toward coaching in the past year. My passion for community and volunteerism came to life as I poured energy into non-profit work to help home-bound kids access sports, or make sure newly unemployed people could still get healthy and respectful food. I wanted to help and in the face of many traumatic changes, I needed to feel like I was doing something.

My business has grown organically this year as the result of being grounded, genuine, and demonstrating a tolerance for discomfort. Through inquiry and continuous improvement, I have built the career I want, I continue to visualize where I want to go and adapt based on what I want to accomplish. With a rough plan and an attitude of agility, I am able to influence my life and contribute more wholly to my community and the world.

Your career, just like your happiness, is an individual journey; and with a loose plan and a few well-refined skills (plus a good coach) we become resilient as we adapt to change. It’s all about the ability to bounce back!

 

 

Melissa Reitkopp blog image with soccer team in the background,
Careers, Communication, Uncategorized

Let’s Talk About Engagement

I’ve been immersed in a six-month anti-racism seminar through Leadership Greater Washington DC.  Because of the insights, information, and tough conversations it has motivated me to strive to be a better person and in the workplace to strive to be a better recruiter.  With my new awareness, I am more aware of my unconscious bias, seeing racism everywhere and gaining a better understanding of where and how to be an ally or “bias interrupter” as Professor Lisa Nishii describes it from Cornell’s ILR school.  I just finished my second of four courses toward my Cornell DEI certificate program.  Today I want to focus on engagement as a key ingredient to retaining talented staff and how this plays a role in diversifying our workplaces.  Both engagement and diversity strengthen organizations and yield higher performance for individuals and companies.  

Engagement – what it looks like

You can recognize an engaged person easily.  As a coach on the soccer field, I’d take an engaged, motivated person over a superstar any day of the week.  Engaged people care about what they are doing, they do more than is expected of them, and their genuine enthusiasm builds a stronger team spirit.  It’s motivational to the individual and to the group. Abby Wambach, Olympian, US Women’s Soccer leading goal soccer, writes in her book, “Wolfpack” about the necessity for women especially, to compete together rather than with each other for the good of the team.  This can be on the field, in the workplace, or on the board of an organization. 

Engagement – what we need to maintain it or get it

We can see when someone is engaged. Understanding why they’re engaged, how to maintain engagement, and how to get others engaged is crucial.  I often thought motivation came from inside a person and you can’t give it to people who don’t have it.  After learning more about the motivators, I think I will approach leading or coaching others to become engaged in a different way.  It’s so important for a manager to understand what motivates each person on their team to become engaged, remain engaged, and thus have great success for everyone.  

Psychological meaningfulness is what you get from the task at hand.  Does the job or responsibility have challenge?  Is it important if you complete the task or do it well?  Do you feel rewarded or get positive feedback from your actions?  Is there a match between interest, skills, and task?  When I take on the planning of our board/staff retreat, it’s because I want to help set the agenda.  I have strong feelings about what we need to work on and where we need to improve.  I also enjoy getting the details right, from making sure each person attending has some special swag and tasty food to make them feel loved to the content of the gathering.  I pay attention to what matters to each person to create a meaningful experience.  If leaders, managers, or coaches can align goals and needs that match a person’s skills/interests, we achieve psychological meaningfulness for all.

Psychological safety is when each person feels valued, trusted, and has equal respect.  A leader can set up an environment where there is transparency that enables each person to bring their genuine self to work.  When I’m feeling safe and not vulnerable I am able to act differently, share ideas more readily, and even fail.  I remember vividly a moment with my leadership cohort when I threw out a random idea for a class name.  It was really out there but came to me during an improv activity with the group.  I not only blurted out the idea but made a graphic and explained why it was a good idea.  The group definitely had mixed responses and there were some laughs about the silliness of the idea.  Yes, I was disappointed, but I didn’t retreat, and I didn’t withdraw or stop contributing.  This was a result of feeling safe and respected by my classmates and not made to feel like I had three heads and a tail.  When we create an environment where each member of the team, the organization, or the board feels truly safe, then we will retain their engagement and have better outcomes.  We can even learn from our failures.

Psychological availability describes physical and emotional resources to get a job done.  I didn’t think much about this before, but having more life experiences, I now understand.  During COVID with so many working parents juggling jobs and kids doing virtual school, there is a mental weariness.  If we don’t recognize the impact, even though we have found a “new normal,” we will lose engagement.   Consider scheduling a typical morning meeting.  Some employees will just not be available for those early morning meetings when they have to get their kids set up for school.  If we don’t think about our planning or demands from the job in a different way, we are not providing people with the physical resources they need to juggle work and a pandemic.  

Without the physical space, we traditionally have to go to an office or return home, we no longer have natural buffers or places to renew.  It’s super important to build different work schedules so that employees can find time to exercise or meditate during these trying times so we can be focused and productive when we are “at work.”  

The second part of psychological availability is investing in our teams with professional development, ongoing support, or feedback.  By giving someone tools to do their job well, it increases their ability to successfully complete any given task.  When I work with candidates for a job, I always help them prep for an interview.  This calms people, makes them realize they have a lot of valuable skills to share, and gives them more confidence when they are in the actual meeting. I enjoy setting someone up for success.

Engagement = Positive Performance

My daughter’s high school soccer coach played varsity baseball in college and won 5 straight state championships.  He was also a guidance counselor at a rival high school.  He didn’t win because of his knowledge of the game (and yes, he knew more than the basics).  He won because he recruited/attracted/retained elite travel players to his program.  He focused on team building, he built a system of seniors and juniors adopting the freshman and sophomores.  He had a “secret psych” program where the kids would make or buy small gifts for each other before each match.  Often my daughter would spend more time on decorating a t-shirt for a teammate than her homework.  He built a dynasty that every female soccer player wanted to be part of because there was meaningfulness, safety, and availability.  Each person played a vital role, on or off the field, their voices were heard, their mental and physical well being was cared for.  They weren’t always the most talented, but their engagement was light years beyond other teams and that made all the difference in the outcome.  Invest in engagement, it will bring huge success to any organization.

abstract art
Careers, Communication, Jobs, Uncategorized, Work Strategies

Let’s Talk About Power

Yesterday I decided I was going to bite the bullet and start listening to podcasts and TedTalks while I walk the dog or clean up the kitchen on my breaks. Normally, I leave these times for my mind to go blank and relax. There’s just not enough time in the day to sit and read all the materials I need to for my online classes, or for my own intellectual curiosity. The podcasts I’ve been gravitating to lately are Michelle Obama and Brené Brown. Both are favorites. I noticed Brené had recently interviewed Joe Biden on leadership so I downloaded that one.  

Brené opened the conversation with a discussion about her leadership research over the past 10 years and she spent about ten minutes giving us a foundation on what types of power leaders wield. It made me stop and pause while walking the dog when I heard the descriptions of power and totally became a conversation about leadership and power dynamics.

Here’s my take on leadership, the responsibility it carries, and how power is not a negative word when wielded responsibly.

Leadership and Power Go Hand in Hand

We learn about different forms of leadership and government when we are in school— authoritarian, dictatorships, socialism, democracies, etc.  Depending on where you grew up, you may have experienced different types of leadership in your home within a society governed by a president, a dictator, or a supreme leader.  Leaders are not just political but head companies, care for families, and coach athletic teams. They have many different styles, forms, and effectiveness. 

Different Types of Power

I actually listened to this part of the UnLocking Us podcast twice to make sure I got this right.  Brown used a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. to define how power is used during a speech he delivered in ’68 Memphis, TN. “Power is the ability to achieve purpose and affect change,” King said. In this definition, there is no judgment of whether power is good or bad or if using ‘power’ is positive or negative.  

Power Over

Is a form of power where the holder believes that power is finite, needs to be hoarded, and retained by any means. To do this, those in power instill fear, divide, isolate, marginalize, and dehumanize groups of people to destabilize and weaken any resistance. Decency or self-respect is absent or seen as being for “suckers” and definitely a sign of weakness. They value being right over truth and blame others for problems or challenges, the scapegoat mentality.

Power With or To or Within

Are forms of power where the holder understands that when shared it expands exponentially.  The holders of power recognize their role is to serve others.  This ability to empathize and connect allows the power holders to be transparent, accountable, and open to hearing different perspectives and voices.  Rights and freedoms go hand in hand with the willingness to value cultural differences and know they enrich outcomes as well as all-important consensus.  Those that share power are transformative leaders who are human-centric.

WOW.

Brené was not discussing our current political race.  Although I couldn’t fail to see the parallels.  Because I know we all have our political opinions, I don’t need to go there, you can go to the polls to make your opinion heard.  What I do want to discuss is how power in the workplace, the boardroom, or on the field can be used responsibly.

Down Side of Power Over Us

A dictator or authoritarian leader will say that their decisions are final and they like to rule with a firm grip.  That governing or leading this way is much cleaner, smoother, and gets things done.  It also breeds environments that in the long run can be detrimental to employees and the financial well-being of the organization.  

Recently I interviewed someone that was very well-loved by their current manager.  So much so that when they were promoted, they didn’t leave their old responsibilities behind because their manager couldn’t let go.  The inability of this manager to appreciate, be a sponsor, and push their talented subordinate forward is an example of “power over.”  There’s fear of losing talent, of letting go of power, and of keeping control through not letting go of authority.  This is detrimental to the professional, the organization, and the leader in the long run because the person will probably have to leave the company to continue to progress in their career.

Power over us can also be used to divide and build unhealthy competition in the workplace.  On the Zoom call or when we used to have team meetings in the conference room when an employee is talked over or their comment is ignored and then later repeated with a positive reception, this causes division and marginalizes members of any organization. The people in power or with privilege must recognize this and use their power to break the cycle of privilege or unconscious bias.  If not, this lack of awareness or the destructive use of power will continue to perpetuate unhealthy environments where employees will disengage and there will be turnover.  Both cost an organization on an institutional level and on a financial level. 

Upside of Power With/To/Within

When power is wielded with an inclusive lens it takes more effort to hear all voices.  By building an environment of trust, mutual respect, and a place that allows for shared power, there are also shared responsibilities. As individuals and as a group, we have a responsibility to make decisions and carve out road maps that are beneficial to the majority. Building consensus is not easy and when power is seen as a finite resource, it can become impossible.  

By dividing people we focus on ourselves only and this prevents us from thinking about what’s important and necessary for the benefits of all.  If we allow people to be heard, we can strengthen our workplaces/communities/groups with innovative ideas, see solutions from different perspectives, and learn from our mistakes. To move the spectrum of power from “Over” to “With” will require that those in the privileged groups recognize the benefits of strength we gain by sharing the power with the marginalized groups.  If we think about this with scarcity and fear, we will stay divided and weaken our workplaces and our communities. Too much of anything can be bad for us is something I’ve heard, even good things. Let’s remember that power is neutral only humans have the ability to make it good or bad. There’s no “I” in the word “Team.”

What are your thoughts on power in leadership? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Abstract art with words that read "Let's Talk About Bias"
Careers, Communication, relationships, Uncategorized, Working Professionals

Let’s Talk About Bias

We each are born with filters, some innate and others learned.  How we see and how we react are based on the schema that we use to evaluate each and every situation.  We look for patterns, commonalities, things we recognize, and filter it through that primitive pattern of triggers to tell us to run or stay.  Bias is in all of us.  It’s not bad until it is.  Shaming and blaming doesn’t get anyone anywhere.  I’ve been learning a lot about bias lately between the six-month series sponsored by Leadership Greater Washington and is co-led by Howard Ross and Dr. Karyn Trader-Leigh an executive coach.  I’m also a student with an eCornell Certificate program on DEI, it’s made me do a lot of deep thinking and led to hard conversations across diverse groups of people.  Howard recently re-released his book about “Every Day Bias” and shared his insights from over 30+ years as a diversity trainer and his firm is Udarta.  Here’s what I learned when I looked inward to my past experiences and examined them with a new lens for bias.  

EMPATHY CAN REDUCE BIAS

First, let me preface my experience by saying, I recognize that I have many privileges and I can only speak about my intermittent experiences of being part of subgroups based on gender or religion.  By sharing this example, I want you to understand that it was through this experience that I recognized, on a micro-level what I couldn’t possibly comprehend when you have to experience racism or bias each and every moment of your life.  When I was 8 my parents moved us around the world to Bangkok, Thailand.  I wore a school uniform, learned to play soccer, and stuck out like a sore thumb.  Worse things could happen.  Eventually, we returned to the USA.  I was the only girl playing soccer and so my mom put me on a boys team because Title IX said so.  I had to prove myself and gain acceptance from the boys.  Both things had to happen for us to be a team. This experience shaped how I viewed the sexes in the workplace and how I experienced life from the non-dominant group.  I still need and want to listen and learn more about what it’s like to be discriminated against so I can be a better ally. Here’s what I learned that helped me start to make sense of it.

Being an outsider some of the time (we are part of different subsets of the population), or not part of the privileged group actually has pluses.  Howard Ross explained in his presentation to Google, how those outside the mainstream group have more mirror neurons.  Mirror neurons allow an individual to be more empathic and thus better able to relate to others. This ability to be more empathic actually means life hurts a lot more, but it also allows me to relate to others better.  If we think about how empathy and bias interact we can see that by being able to relate to how others feel we are able to remove some innate bias that we may not have known existed. When we see others as humans just like us, that can break down barriers and bias at the same time.  As a person who often looked in from the outside, I gained empathy, could relate to different kinds of people more readily and this has led me to a career working with people and helping them find the best professional pathways.

DEFINING BIAS

Let’s look more closely at bias, and let’s remove the negative connotations to the word.  Bias is normal and where we come from and our life experiences shape how we see the world.  We can even inherit bias from trauma and multi-generational traditions. What is negative about bias is ignoring it or remaining unaware.  If we lean into the discomfort and look at the different biases in each of us, we can actually learn from them.  The ability to become conscious and aware of our blind spots enables us to do something about them.  In the workplace, this can mean examining our system for hiring, retaining staff, or promoting talent.  It’s important to dig deep and consider our childhood experiences and how they impact us as adults in our personal lives and in our professional lives.  

WHY CONSIDER BIAS

According to Howard’s book and presentation, diversity is a great goal, but unless we are inclusive, not much will change for the long run.  We can decide to diversify an all-male workplace or an all-white workplace, but if the team does not see the value or buy into it, we are not creating an inclusive environment.  During the eCornell course I recently took on DEI topics, we learned that companies with engaged diverse workplaces are more successful-meaning they are healthier with less turnover and increased profits.  If the majority of an organization doesn’t learn about bias and how it can be detrimental to the organization, no matter how many people are hired that look different from the existing workforce, their ability to be included directly impacts the success of the company.  We can educate our workforce and make people aware of unconscious bias and that’s how we can start to change the systems.  It’s only part of an on-going process.

One example I learned about that really struck me was fascinating and something that happens daily.  While at home or at work, we have to make millions of decisions, to shower or not, what to feed the kids or what to eat ourselves, what we wear, how we say hello to our co-workers, and the list goes on to bigger and more complex decisions.  For most of these decisions, we aren’t even aware of how or why we make them.  Instead of acting from our “Fast Brain” or on an instinctual level where Howard says we make determinations (quick decisions) and then rationalize the outcomes.  

Some of the decisions are fine, but others are not and they are all filled with our own bias. We can be making small or large mistakes that impact how we are perceived or interact with other people. Microaggressions fall into this category. Who we chose to ask for directions or get into the elevator with and where we stand also are “Fast Brain” decisions. Some are negative and some are positive, it’s the awareness that we are looking for or consciously thinking about our decisions that matter.

We want to build in more “Slow Brain thinking” where we build in a pause, see the bias, and make a choice that is based on rational thought.  Daniel Kahneman coined these terms and discusses them further in “Thinking, Fast and Slow”.  Next time you go to a business function (in person or virtually) pause before you decide who to approach and pick someone that doesn’t look like you or who you didn’t initially gravitate towards.  I was at a Career Summit for AAAS and was part of a panel discussion for STEM Fellows.  They had lunch beforehand and gave me the option to eat in the speaker’s room or join the 150+ professionals who were attending the meeting.  The room was full and there was a strong buzz of conversation. I took a deep breath and decided to meet some of the participants.  With a pause, I looked around me, and decided to join a partially filled table that was a mix of young and gray-haired, and a mix of white and people of color, and sat down to introduce myself.  That’s how you start to change things.

STRIVE TO BE BETTER

I’ve been recruiting for over 25 years now.  In the past two years, I have made new friendships across the D/M/V region during my time with LGW.  I’ve continued to take seminars and the Anti-Racism series with LGW continually opens my eyes to what I know and what I don’t know.  The course at Cornell, while basic, touches on topics that are evergreen and need attention.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Change doesn’t happen overnight.  To make systemic long-reaching change we must examine our basic bias, see it, and work to overcome it. An organization is handicapping itself if it cannot attract, retain, and grow a diverse workforce.  

The only way to do this is to create an inclusive mindset where we periodically refresh ourselves over the course of this journey.  We gravitate to what we know and we have filters built-in from our life experiences which we can’t control.  What we can control is not focusing on the shame of bias, but we must embrace it, be aware of it, and continue to fight to overcome it.  Read more about these ideas and for a guidebook to building diverse and inclusive workplaces check out Howard Ross’ book, “Everyday Bias, Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgement in our Daily Lives.”  Dolly Chugh’s book on “The Person You Mean to Be” is also a wonderful resource full of great examples and exercises to practice.  To build some empathy and understanding I’d recommend Ta Nehise Coates letter to his son in his book, “Between the World and Me,” he was able to allow me to walk in his shoes and gain a taste of what it’s like to be a Black man in the USA.

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Team putting fists together to show teamwork
Careers, Communication, Interviews, Jobs, Resumes, Uncategorized

What Can You Do for a Company?

Paraphrasing from JFK, I suggest during any job hunt or interview, don’t focus on what you want to do, but what you can do for a company.  These are indeed interesting times.  Many sectors are seeing an increase in unemployment, while other sectors have job openings and a lack of talent to fill those roles.  Many of my career coaching clients are coming to me not because they don’t have a good job, but more often now because they are really thinking long and hard about what they want to do.  I discussed in another blog, “Mortality Smacks Many in the Face,” how a brush with death (209K dead from COVID in the US alone) can wake up anyone.  We only have a limited time on this earth, so what do we want to do with our waking hours since most of us still have to pay the bills?

First, we have to do an assessment of our skills.  Often I find clients telling me I’m a good communicator, or I’ve got great project management skills.  These are what I consider soft skills that anyone can develop.  They are necessary to be successful but what differentiates you from others are the hard skills.  Do you have mad computer skills and can do a data migration?  Are you a talented health economist who can improve quality and reduce costs? Are you extremely knowledgeable about education systems and training?

There are plenty of assessment tests out there, you can do a formal one or you can do an inventory of your skills.  What I have found is that the things you love to do, tend to be the things you are best at doing.  Part of the assessment process is figuring out which of the skills or tasks you do you would like to continue doing in your next role.  Once you’ve done this, you can craft a resume to highlight these areas and a LinkedIn profile that complements the resume.   Sometimes a traditional resume can accomplish this, and sometimes a different format, one that is a mix of functional and chronological is better.  There are so many free tools available these days that anyone can create a very professional-looking resume. If you’re looking for resume templates, check Google docs or Canva.  The key ingredient to a strong marketing presentation of yourself is a strong pitch.  See my blog on pitches for more details on how to create one.  

A pitch highlights and shares your best skills and in what environments you have used them.  But, what a pitch really does is translate for a company what you do, how you do it, and what that means to them.  It’s one thing to list all your accomplishments, it’s another thing to translate them into what you can do for an organization.  They want to know how you will impact the bottom line and what you bring to the table.

The purpose of a resume or a LinkedIn profile is to capture someone’s attention so they want to learn more.  Ideally, a profile will gain you entry to an informational or formal interview.  What you do with that time is key.  Preparation matters.  Ask good questions and demonstrate you have done your homework and know how to listen.  A client and friend shared how much she values the STAR approach when responding to interview questions.  If you aren’t familiar with behavioral interviews it’s simple, S=Situation, T=Task, A=Action, and R=Results.  If you can share short concise powerful stories in this format that illustrate your capabilities and demonstrate the results, this is incredible.  It leads you to the final punch, translating the results into how a company benefits from bringing you into their team. A good match results in a satisfying career and a successful company.