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, 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!

 

 

Quotes from Brene Brown and Stacey Abrams
Communication, Uncategorized, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Let’s Talk About A New Set of Rules

In light of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, it seemed time to really think about how we will live, work, or govern as we go forward.  The existing systems have been shown to lack equality for all and over the past four years have definitely not worked for the vast number of people.  What I’ve read in Abby Wambach’s “Wolfpack”, listened to on Brené Brown’s podcast Dare to Lead with Joe Biden, and watched Resmaa Menakem’s interview with Tara Brach, all reinforced the idea that we must create new rules that protect and support all people. 

wheel of power and privilege

Let’s start with the basics and better understand how the present system works.  Marginalized populations shift and morph depending on the situation.  If you examine the “Wheel of Privilege,” it demonstrates how we may be part of white privilege at one moment but for example, in an all-male environment, then white women become the marginalized population.  This hierarchy includes many complexities that include gender, race, orientation, religion, and more.  It’s important to know this is fluid depending on the situation and is a man-made creation that can be changed.

WOMEN CHANGE RULES

To change things, we must act collectively, support each other, and have champions from the privileged groups. The women’s soccer team has been fighting to receive equal pay in the workplace for several years now.  They play more, win more, and have revenues that exceed the men’s national team but still earn substantially less.  Abby Wambach, US Olympic champion, and her team have not given up.  

With a daughter of immigrants and a woman of color being elected to the most senior office in our country, we have an opportunity to create a new set of rules for all women.  Abby shared a look at the history of women’s roles and how stories demonstrate the inculcation of these norms into our society.  Her example of “Little Red Riding Hood,” a story read to many little kids, describes how if we leave the “acceptable path” we will get eaten by the wolf.  Abby says, “We must wander off the path and blaze a new one: together”.  This is what Kamala Harris has done, and in her acceptance speech on Sunday, she did what so many other Black women have been done by blazing a new way, like Jada Pinkett Smith during her Red Table Talks, or Michelle Obama when she wrote, “Becoming.  It’s what Abby calls women to do, create “New rules”, while reminding us to  “Champion each other” by recognizing that it took 100s of trailblazing Black and white women for Kamala to achieve this accomplishment. 

COALITION BUILDING

We can’t make change alone, and the rise of the #MeToo movement, #BlackLivesMatter, and the support of marriage equality laws, demonstrate how as a nation we can evolve.  What stood out, for me in Biden’s acceptance speech, was his acknowledgment of the marginalized populations that came together to win the election and the focus on building and healing.  He was very specific in recognizing the Black women that mobilized the vote and truly made a difference in the outcome, people like Stacey Abrams in Georgia, and LaTosha Brown who founded Black Votes Matter registered voters and brought the Black vote to support the Democratic ticket.  The popular vote shows that 71,492,918 people supported Trump and 76,402,525 supported Biden.  This means quite a number of Americans now feel disenfranchised and with the rhetoric from Trump continuing on conspiracy social networks, how do we bridge this gap? If you look at history and the successful results of these popular movements, it’s the coalition of all types of Americans that forces change. It’s the recognition that power-sharing, as described by Brené Brown is healthier, that it’s infinite and a more cohesive way to lead.

HEAL THE TRAUMA

Resmaa Menekem, an MSW, was interviewed by Krista Tipper (On Being) for NPR, by Tara Brach (yoga/meditation leader), and many others.  We are reading his book, “My Grandmother’s Hands,” for my anti-racism seminar with LGW.  After hearing the interview and reading the first four chapters with my study pod, I felt like this is it! Resmaa created a guide to healing trauma so we can heal as human beings and build communities of diversity and strength. These last 11 months of COVID have left much more space to be contemplative.  I’ve received more requests for career coaching than ever before.  We, as a human race, are thinking about what’s really important as the death toll in this country alone exceeds 250K.  

Resmaa interview with Tara Brach

I’ve listened/learned, I’ve protested, I’ve written letters to encourage voting, but how do we change the rules?  How do we make real change happen?  Menekem talks about trauma in white bodies, black bodies, and blue bodies.  He has worked extensively with all three groups and while our trauma may be different, the ways to heal are similar.  His book is revelational, in each chapter he asked you to pause, digest, do some exercises and really think.  I’ve found that often even after I’ve completed an exercise, I go back and add more details that I remember.  We all have trauma, some are personal, some is intergenerational, some we don’t even know exists.  If we don’t identify and heal it, we can’t truly come together and cause positive lasting change for all.  

RULES TO LIVE BY

Let’s make a new set of rules that are inclusive, that support respect, decency, and don’t cause harm.  There are several quotes from Brené that have resonated lately, I’ve pasted them on my wall. They inspire me. I intended to do my best to not just break the rules, but come together with others who don’t look like me.  Together, we can create a new set of expectations on how our workplaces, communities, and country can look.

Resources

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.

If you’re on LinkedIn, let’s connect!

Careers, Communication, Jobs, Mentoring, Networking, Resumes, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Imposter Syndrome, Stop it Dead in It’s Tracks

September is my favorite time of year and each year when it rolls around, I always forgot it’s also the most stressful one for me followed only by June and not even considering the “holiday season”. What do these two months have in common? Well that’s when the academic calendar starts and finishes. No, I’m not a teacher, but I have been a parent for thirty years now. My youngest is 15 and just started high school. School sports, back to school night, birthdays, and more, September is jam packed. This year I finally got to pause in October and reflect on a reoccurring theme, Imposter Syndrome. When a topic pokes at me several times, I think it’s time to tackle it and share it with others. Here are several scenarios where I observed Imposter Syndrome in myself and others, plus action or tools to overcome the anxiety.SituationI must have forgotten about how busy September is when I accepted the offer to present three workshops to the biomedical grad students at Georgetown University. It was a professional/personal brand themed day and as a guest trainer I added insight to pitching, presenting, and primping your social media. It’s one of my favorite activities, running interactive sessions where we all learn from each other. These workshops had a slight twist to them though, they weren’t focused on the mechanics of preparing for an interview, or creating a resume, the emphasis was on developing your own brand.TaskFor this reason, I had to do more prep than usual after 20 years of delivering my career workshops. Each and every audience has different requirements/needs, so I do customize my delivery. This time though, I got nervous and asked for feedback from the career center director, several times. Finally, I went out and made some special handouts which I hadn’t done in a long time. The day of the event I had more butterflies in my stomach than usual. Normally presenting raises my energy and I thrive.Action

Upon arrival we realized that the 25-30 students who had signed up, weren’t all going to be there. We shifted the tables to make things more intimate and created a U shape around the screen. Then we realized that to be responsive to the group that did join us, I was going to have to customize the content even more so the Prezi (newly learned presentation software better than Powerpoint), was basically useless.

Two bumps in the road, Bill Stixrud, local author, psychologist, always says expect obstacles to appear, and have a Plan B. Sometimes you need Plan C and D too. As the students and I discussed the various topics, preparing your pitch for networking, presenting the best resume/linkedin page, and leveraging your network, I gradually calmed down. My goal was to share as much information as possible, be responsive to the students, and earn my fee. As I continued to converse with the students, I remembered that I have wisdom and insight that was valuable for all the attendees. Feedback from the sessions will be helpful too. One of the grad students who attended mentioned she was running a workshop on Imposter Syndrome the following week. That made me pause and really think. Was I battling the insecurities of Imposter Syndrome after all these years?

Situation-Task

Two days later, on an early Thursday, I met with one of my career strategy coaching clients. My goal was to help her prepare for an important interview. She’s a bright PhD with several years of experience. We laughed but also stopped to reflect when she too described sometimes wondering if she was good enough or “for real”. According to several articles on the topic, when we tackle new tasks or have a major event, we often have relapses into insecurity. I saw that anxiety provoking monster of Imposter Syndrome poking it’s ugly head up again as she explored new jobs through interviews.

Action

The articles also shared that highly intelligent capable individuals often suffer intermittently from Imposter Syndrome. The tendency of Type A people is towards perfectionism. That rang several bells for me. I recognized my client had a similar profile and encouraged her to be well prepared as a way to regain her confidence. Also, I suggested she recognize doing a good job is important but also recognize when it’s time to let go and accept “good enough”. It made me read, reflect and remember another example from my childhood.

Savvy Psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, states that the syndrome is often seen in higher amounts within minority communities or when someone is an outsider. The fear of not belonging or feeling that they don’t deserve to be in a given setting is all part of Imposter Syndrome. To overcome these feeling we have to recognize that perfection is not the goal, “good enough” is plenty.

As a kid I remember not participating because of fear of failure and now I know this was an early sign of this syndrome. I was a talented athlete who dedicated considerable time to honing my skills as a soccer player. Being the only girl on an all boys team though, was a clear example of being an outsider in an environment that could make me doubt myself. On the field with solid passes, and strong defensive play, the feeling always disappeared.

A review of our many talents and abilities can help ease the feelings of doubt the syndrome causes. See my list below for other suggestions on beating back Imposter Syndrome.

Situation

Recently I was accepted into Leadership Greater Washington. The first time I wasn’t accepted so this was a second effort. The application process requires recommendations and entry is competitive. 65 people are selected each year to participate which includes a diverse group of community leaders. I was thrilled when I heard the news, but did I deserve to be there? Those familiar butterflies were back as I attended the orientation.

Action

I signed in, received my name tag and looked nervously into the room. Who would I talk to and about what? I took a deep breath, walked in and saw a classmate seated with her leg stretched out in a brace awkwardly in front of her with crutches dropped on floor below. Instantly, I forgot my nervousness and jumped into a conversation. We started to talk about sports injuries and the anxiety began to fade. We had a lengthy conversation spanning topics from waterskiing to her father attending the same school International school I did in Bangkok, Thailand. When I forget about myself and concentrate on others, the thoughts of being an Imposter quickly leave my brain. It’s one of the coping mechanisms I have adapted over my lifetime.

Results

For me that’s often the solution, just jumping in and focusing on others. This concept was driven home even further after I returned from the retreat. Day one had been fabulous, but day two I had gotten stuck with my “trainer hat” on. My husband was the one who reminded me that I am a participant, not observing and that by engaging in activities that take me out of my comfort zone, I could let go of any of that remaining anxiety. I also reminded myself that everyone around me was probably feeling similar. Best way I know to overcome the feeling of being an imposter was to remember I have lots of things to share, I’m an interesting talented genuine human being, and that’s all I can be.

Conclusion

There are several other stories I can share, from men, women, old and young. The common thread is that we all seem to have some form of Imposter Syndrome at different stages of our lives. Rather than allowing it to cripple us, I’d say embrace it, develop methods to channel that anxiety into being our best selves. Below are some suggestions to store in your tool box. And in the words of Bill Stixrud, remember to always have a Plan B in life. Or as someone once told me, “Fake it till you make it!”

Tools

Definition: Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

Signs you have it:

  • Can’t take a compliment?
  • Feel like a fake?
  • Convinced you’ll be unmasked at any moment?

Ways to overcome Imposter Syndrome:

  • Find a strong mentor or supporter to be in your corner
  • Recognize what you do well, write it down
  • Realize your expertise, share it with others
  • Let go of perfectionism, “good enough” is more than acceptable

Sources of Additional Information

https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx Kirsten Weir, article in the American Psychology Association published in 2013

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-impostor-syndrome/ Ellen Hendriksen, article in Scientific American

Professor Dr. Carol Dweck (author of Mindset) at Stanford suggests praising effort not a characteristic in our children to prevent building Imposter Syndrome in our kids. Kind labels about brains or beauty can be detrimental or imply you either have “it” or you don’t with no where to grow. With one failure they could feel your label is incorrect. We never want to discourage our children from trying new things out of fear of failure or that our “label is wrong”. She also adds, that by building in an expectation of early failure we help build resiliency. Bill Stixrud quotes her research in his book, The Self-Driven Child.

Careers, Jobs, Networking, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Always Mow in Straight Lines…or not?

Earlier in the summer we were out walking in a suburban Crown Point, IN neighborhood. We were home visiting family for the the most American holiday of all, the 4th of July. I slowed down to watch a neighbor mowing his lawn. A pretty normal sight, right?! He was moving much slower than I did when I mowed, granted it was hot, but I was so curious what he was doing. As I watched, he was carefully lining up the tires of his mower with the previous marks he had left from the completed row. It dawned on me, he was trying to have each mowed stripe be straight across the entire front of his home. I laughed out loud.

As we continued walking along the sidewalk, I said, “No way. He’s concentrating so hard on making the lines of his lawn perfectly straight.”

“Well, of course,” my husband responded, “you can’t have crazy lines going all different directions.”

“Of course you can,” I said with emphasis on the “can”. “I go in circles, and when you leave town next I’m going to do zig zags and infinity circles on our lawn!”

We laughed, but I know he wouldn’t be happy when he came home, the dissymmetry would disturb him.

“Different Strokes for Different Folks”

I got a lot of mileage out of that one and it made me laugh but I also had to pause and see the beauty of the metaphor. There are so many different ways to mow your lawn or live your live. Some people feel calmed and secure with straight organized lines or career paths. Others like to wander and mow in circles as they explore options, try out new ways so they don’t get bored. I fall into the second category, and if someone says I can’t do something, I always respond, “Watch me!” And I build a company to meet the need.  I can also appreciate my engineer husband’s pragmatic style because I wouldn’t want the ship to sink or the building to collapse.

Build Strong Foundations

I think we learn a lot from different styles. Some times it’s important to stay inside the lines and go along the straight pathway. Mastering certain knowledge, getting the basics under our belt and gaining experience are all important building blocks. We can think of these skills as the ABCs. Along with the ABCs, we need to include life skills training, like financial literacy or healthy interpersonal relationships. Rigorous study and a straight career path towards a trade or profession is respectable and important. I think a surgeon who knows their anatomy is who I’d want operating on my shoulder to make sure it works afterward.

Those of us who wander, like to explore, and don’t have everything mapped out in advance, but still need the basics too. If you have a solid base of knowledge it keeps your options open. Wanderers need the freedom to explore different ways to do things. “Not all who wander are lost” is so true and I say embrace it.

Different Approaches Improve Outcomes

Even though these two groups of people think about things in different ways or prefer to take action (like mowing the lawn) in specific ways, doesn’t mean they are mutually exclusive. I think often these two ways (and there are many more shades of gray) can compliment each other and bring out the best.

That same shoulder surgery needs to be completed just right, but I also think the person who thinks of innovative ways to do the shoulder surgery in a more effective way will be the person who makes progress in the field.

Practice Self-Awareness & Acceptance

Be aware of how you think and perform best. Recognize the environment that will suit your personal style so you will flourish and contribute to company success. Finally, don’t stick to people who think just like you, but expose yourself to those who do things differently from you so that everyone can share and learn from the experience. If we always do everything the same way we will never grow. Many important discoveries were made through accidents and failures, or by mowing the lawn in zig zags.

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

It’s Showtime! Deliver Your Best Performance

Interviewing is a performance and to do it well you must practice. In the arts it’s called “woodshedding”. It’s imperative to spend time out in the “woodshed” preparing for your performance. I know right now you are saying,

“An interview is not a performance!”

I’m going to say, “But, it is.”

I’ve prepared all sorts of people for interviews over the past 25 years. Some were high school students about to get their first internships. Other’s were Peace Corps Volunteers, after 3 years of field service, and about to re-enter the American workforce. I’ve done workshops for grad students as they launch their careers. Professionally, I have coached 100s of people through the years as they prepare for phone or in-person interviews.

Here’s a comprehensive prep for interviews that you can check out from an earlier blog, Demonstrating Value on an Interview, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/demonstrating-value-interview-melissa-reitkopp/.

Focus on the Presentation  

You can do research, you can prep, you can practice, but if you don’t deliver you won’t get the offer. The goal of any phone screen is to obtain an in-person meeting. If it’s a full day of interviews, the goal is to receive an offer. Once you have an offer, you can decide if you want the position, but otherwise you don’t have any power in the situation.

When you are interviewing, you have the company’s wish list in front you of you. The quality of a job descriptions can vary depending on who wrote it. Some are very detailed and include enough responsibilities for three people. Others are barely there and it’s hard to even figure out what a company wants. You can do your homework on the company and the people you will meet with for the interviews. These are the basic things that most people know to do as they prepare for any interview.

The bottom line though is there may be three highly qualified professionals interviewing for the same position, and they will hire the person they like the most. What this means is that having the skills is important, but connecting and presenting yourself is even more important. I’m not saying be disingenuous. Don’t ever misrepresent yourself. But be aware that you only have 30 secs to capture a screener’s attention on a resume, or 20 minutes on a phone screen, or 90 minutes to really show who you are during a face to face.

My first interview after college was a referral from my internship. I didn’t have any tattoos at the time or other unusual marks/piercings, but I did have an asymmetric hair cut and a pretty serious outlook on life. I got the job, based on recommendations. Later my first boss told me,

“I almost didn’t hire you because you didn’t smile once on the interview”.

I responded, “Interviews are serious things, why would I smile? And besides, I was really nervous!”

Be Yourself

So how do you let your personality come through on an interview in the right amounts without sinking your own audition? Interviews are very much like auditions. The company is trying to see how you fit in with it’s people and corporate culture as well as be able to accomplish the required tasks. How do you present your skills in an interesting way?

As I coached people over the years, I’ve found that “tooting your own horn” or talking about yourself is something that is very hard. Some feel it’s like bragging, others have a hard time expressing themselves. I would argue that your ability to respond to questions with specific examples that demonstrate your abilities to accomplish the goals, is critical. Additionally, turning an interview into a conversation where there’s give and take so the participants connect is crucial. No one-sided monologues, please.

I spend 4-6 hours on the phone with clients and candidates most days. If the conversations were all stiff and formal, I would probably lose my mind. Plus, careers and hiring professionals for a company is a nuanced process. Despite what most people believe, the person hired for a new position is not the most qualified, it’s the person who has the best chemistry with their future employer. For me to discover the interpersonal style and corporate culture of a company, I need to be able to learn more about each person than the formal professional exchanges. When my kids hear me talk to people on the phone, they often can’t tell if it’s a personal or professional call. I take great pride in this observation. But it’s not a fully truthful statement.

Getting to know people in a professional setting is different than in the personal arena and there are some strong boundaries that need to be recognized. Know the difference.

Professional vs Personal

Friendly is fine, TMI is sharing too much personal information. There’s truly a difference between surface sharing and divulging deep personal believes or experiences. Additionally, in the career world, there are do’s and don’t’s about what can legally be discussed.

To find common ground is ideal and a great place to start a conversation. Typically, identifying where someone comes from, if they have kids or animals is easy. When I was in an open bull pen office, my colleagues used to say that they knew all about me. They knew how many kids I have, that we were big soccer fans, and that we had lived and traveled all over the world. The reality was that these are three things that people can connect around and talk about without getting too personal.

Politics, personal life beyond basics stats, partying, imbibing habits, not so hot topics to share. We all have such decisive lines drawn around many of these subjects. It’s really important to find the common ground first. To warm up with casual chatter and then circle back to the job, your interviewer, and the company is key.

Remember smile, speak clearly, look into someone’s eyes when you speak. Your comfort level may be mixed, but fake it, be confident and if you prepared enough out in the wood shed, your performance will be delivered effectively and with aplomb.

Careers, Communication, Jobs, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Under a Microscope, First Days on the New Job!

So you landed the dream job, what’s next? Did you know the first 6-12 months are the most important in any new job or relationship for that matter. Everything is new, people are the most open, and no bad habits have been established, yet. Many companies have a formal review system and new employees have a probationary period for 30-90 days. It varies company to company. But we all can recognize that the orientation period is critical to success.

Each time I place someone in a job, we get to have a celebratory lunch. It’s one of the best parts of my role as a headhunter. Often I’m asked what kinds of suggestions I have for someone to set themselves up successfully on their new gig.

“That’s a great place to start,” I like to say, “Because being aware that this is the time to dedicate yourself to being successful is the first step.”

Here’s some ideas that I think are worth considering, some seem like no brainers but you’d be surprised. Plus, there are few my dad gave me when I first graduated from college, just a few years ago 😉

Be on time or early. There’s all sorts of subliminal messages about punctuality. It may be OK to show up to a party 30 minutes late, almost considered a norm, but it’s not OK at work. Those first few months will allow you to see what acceptable at the company. You can ask your boss to find out what their expectations are for you. Others may come dragging in later, but not you. It’s time to earn your stripes and gain the respect of your new organization.

What you wear matters. Most people make judgements about who you are within the first 30 seconds of meeting you. I’m a believer in wearing a suit for the interview even if a company is business casual. First day of work you don’t have to put the suit back on, but do wear something nicer than the lowest common denominator. Business casual can run the gamut, be the nicest dressed for awhile till you have settled in.

Don’t make best friends. This is from my father’s advice list. I have to agree with him here because you don’t know the political landscape, yet. You don’t really know the lines of command, the pecking order, or who’s respected or not. You don’t want to ally yourself with anyone at the beginning. Be nice to everyone. Collaborative environments are more productive. Learning to be part of a team and get along with everyone is an important skill to master.

Ask Questions, be thoughtful. It’s good to get feedback but do you remember the kid who always asked “Why?” That kid was smart but also annoying. It’s important to show initiative and to explore to find answers on your own, first. If you have a question or need feedback, do talk to your boss, but also bring some possible answers with you.

Be a problem solver. Along with asking questions goes innovative thinking and problem solving. Lots of people throw up their hands and bring problems to others. I was reminded by a friend that her daddy always told her, don’t just bring the problem, do some thinking first and bring ideas about possible solutions too.

Take initiative. Even if you don’t have something to do, ask others if you can help. When I was a substitute teacher while living in Guatemala, I didn’t have much planning to do. Rather than be idle, I offered to help. Now some people can take this wrong and feel threatened, but the majority will know you just want to learn and be helpful. Who knows what you will absorb and who you will meet?

Watch your electronic use. Don’t be on your phone or surfing the internet, especially on the first days even if you have nothing to do. Yes, we all stare at our screens but we learn much more from social cues and face-to-face contact. There’s no substitute. Engage with others as you start your new job. The bonds you build will be imperative to your continued success.

Feedback helps focus. Do your work, ask for new tasks, and don’t forget to get feedback. Each organization has it’s own ways of doing things. Ask and check to see if you are meeting expectations, and the deliveries are in the form that your new company prefers. Time is money.

Listen more than talk. Sort of stole this from Burr in Hamilton, “Talk less, smile more.” A good skill to develop in any organization is the ability to be quiet, listen and focus on the person rather than on formulating your response. You will find your ability to converse and absorb information increases as well as the respect you garner as a strong consultant or listener.

Share best practices in respectful ways. We’ve all met the person who comes in new and tells us we are doing things all wrong. Or the one who always has a better way to do things. I used to be that person. I annoyed people. They weren’t very receptive. What I learned is that after you have been exposed to the ways of the new organization, if you ask if they’d like other ideas you can present them as alternative approaches with different outcomes. People are much more receptive.

Be willing to roll up your sleeves and do what needs to get done. My father told me whatever I am asked to do, be it answer the phone, prepare a memo, regardless of the complexity, do it well. A can-do attitude goes a long way. Learning all the tasks in a firm, regardless of how mundane can help you appreciate everyone and show you are a team player.

Review and remember. Do homework at night to review and master what you learned during the day. If your homework was worth anything while you were in school, it was because it helped reinforce what you learned in the classroom. Hopefully you have taken a new role because it will help you grow as a professional. This means you want to learn and will need to master new skills or knowledge to stretch your capabilities.

Communication is key.  With three generations in the workplace, it’s crucial to figure out how to best communicate with all your colleagues. Starting with your boss and closest team members is important. Then learn the communication styles of others. Some people like face-to-face conversations, others prefer a phone call or an email. Some organizations have internal chat systems, some text…with social media there are so many options. Stay professional and remember whatever you put out there into the ether, it’s pretty darn permanent.

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

Grab the Driver’s Seat…Regain control of your career

I attended a talk last week by Bill Stixrud and Ned Johnson who recently published a book called, “The Self-Driven Child,” The science and sense of giving your kids more control over their lives. The authors, a clinical neuropsychologist and a motivational coach/test taking company CEO, both agreed that there are ways to reduce, anxiety, depression, isolation, and lack of motivation in today’s children. I thought about that tag line, “Giving your kids more control over their lives”. Then I thought, doesn’t everyone want more control?

Through the entire spectrum of our lives we struggle to be independent and self directed. When a baby learns those first words, “No!” the baby is looking for autonomy. As we do battle with our teenagers over technology use or homework, they are trying to command their own way of doing things. Later in life we fight to keep our driver’s license even after it’s unsafe for us or others, but losing that right curtails our freedom. This can be a huge blow that some people don’t recover from, that loss of independence. The ideas about control and being self directed can also be applied in the workforce and when it comes to managing your career.

There are critical moments in the development of our brain, according to Bill Stixrud and Ned Johnson. We as parents can help our children develop into healthy “Self-Driven” people, by not hovering, rescuing, or solving all our children’s challenges. If we can give them the tools to take, “more control over their lives” they can become healthier human beings throughout their lives. If we translate the parent-child role to the workplace, we can also see how this plays out in a manager-subordinate role. We are faced with several challenges in the workplace with multiple generations who have different styles trying to work together. If we teach our children to make healthy choices that give them back their sense of control early on in life, then later on they will be more successful in the workplace. With more confidence, an individual can be more self-directed and this results in greater success for all throughout the life cycle.

Raising self motivated children, building a more motivated workforce, are just two aspects to a healthier society or economy. In the arc of our working life, we can learn to be more proactive with managing our career too. We aren’t all going to be entrepreneurs or the CEO, but we can be proactive or be our own advocates in the workplace. Again, these are skills we need to teach our children while they are young or as they grow up, so they can be healthier members of society. What this looks like in the workplace could take several forms.

When you start your first job, you are often just thrilled to have a paycheck. If you’re more focused, maybe you land a role at your target company or doing exactly what you wanted to do. Regardless, what your title is, what you do on the job is key. Plus, you can influence your career pathway. Here are several important tasks to do as you get oriented to a new job and beyond.

  • Learn the corporate culture and the spoken and unspoken rules of the organization.
  • Build clear communication with your immediate supervisor and don’t forget your peers.
  • Master your tasks and gain new skills that will allow you to progress within your firm.
  • Find a mentor in the firm or outside the firm, someone who can give you sage advice or perspective on any given situation.
  • Identify what you need to do to progress as a professional, and set goals to achieve these skills, experiences, or abilities.
  • Learn how to self advocate for yourself and the organization promoting change, growth, or a new ways to do things.
  • Notice a way you can positively impact the organization, pitch your idea!

All of these tasks allow one to take back control and have a say in your own future. It feels better to have control at all ages, when we are a kid, a young adult, middle aged, and aging. How do we retain it in the workplace professionally?

In Teddy Roosevelt’s stirring speech, about the lazy critics in our lives, he said,

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat…”

Like Stixrud and Johnson, Roosevelt felt strongly that by acting or participating we are already taking back our control. If we silence the critics who are not in the arena with us and focus on the experience of being there, then we are already ahead of the game. How this plays out for each person can vary, but it is clear that by regaining our control we lessen our anxiety, depression, lack of motivation or sense of isolation. As we replace these destructive feelings, there is now room for confidence, positive energy, possibilities, connection, and the ability to map our own future. We can’t all be in charge of the company, but we can be in charge of our own lives.