Coach Stef

Personalize Your Service: Make Your Business Pop!

Sometimes a product or service has your name on it.  Literally.  It happened to many of us thanks to Coca-Cola’s recent “Share a Coke” marketing campaign.  Bottles were printed with various names on them and distributed at random, creating the fun challenge of finding your name or a friend’s name on a bottle.  My friend Stefan, the Maître de Cabine (Cabin Chief) at a major European airline sent me this photo which is untouched and unaltered.

Foto Stefan Stefanie

What’s really clever is the clear note of customization, while the product and branding is as consistent, familiar and unique as always.  The value of striking this balance has been on my mind, since a recent interview High-Profile Clients—Worth the Hand-Holding? .   I was quoted on anticipating clients’ needs and news to provide them the maximum value with every conversation and project.

When I showed Stefan the article, he replied, “Exactly.  On my flight today from Chicago to Zurich, I had 229 passengers with 229 different needs.”  His comment made me realize: being the in-flight service manager for overseas flights may be the ultimate intense client relationship situation.  How many of us are within a few steps of our clients for 8 or 9 hours at a time ?!  Intrigued, I asked Stefan how he personalizes service while adhering to all the airline rules and regulations.  His response reflects the high-touch elegance many of us associate with Europe:

When preparing for a flight, I review the passenger list so I can personally greet our top customers, and maybe chat a little.  The passengers often feel honored that "the man in the uniform" not just only asks "coffee or tea?" but is also informed about them.

We have to find out how people "tick" and what they want most.  After many years, I’ve come to understand and train my staff to recognize:

    • the "gourmet" is on board to eat and to try every single wine, wants to enjoy our in-flight service and wouldn't mind an 8-hour meal service!

    • the "worker"  looks at a laptop from take-off to landing. Sometimes when you look at the screens, you see they're actually playing solitaire, but they usually don't want to be disturbed and are very reserved.

    • the "sleeper" just wants to sleep. They might eat something - however it has to be served (and cleared away) ASAP.

    • the "communicator" needs a lot of attention, rings the bell all the time, has a question every time you walk by and wants to know everything. They also enjoy it very much to talk to the Cabin Chief as they feel it makes them look important.

The skill for us is to find out which category the passengers belong to … because you sure don't want to talk to a "sleeper" about the weather!  A "worker" sitting next to a "communicator" is a red flag we need to notice.  Of course, there are many other categories and people belong to more than just one category. For example, a combination "gourmet/sleeper" can be challenging! 

Right there, Stefan shows us how to take the concept of market segmentation and put it straight into action. 

Now, for those of us down on the ground ... how can we better customize our services?  In your work, “customers” might be colleagues in other divisions, contacts at strategic partners, or multiple bosses.  You may not be able to diversify bottle labels, or offer extra legroom, but we can still find out and respond to what different people want most. 

Here’s an example from my experience: 

An executive client with over 200 people reporting to her and a heavy travel schedule requested I reformat our post-meeting action plans.  She threw down the challenge, “no more than three finger rolls, Stef.”  She meant how many times she had to touch her screen to scroll through the email on her Iphone.  Yet, she always had multiple projects in play at once and it’s my job to capture all cogent points and follow-ups.  Thanks to her, I added color, subsections and weblinks when helpful.  I’ve have been using this condensed format with all my clients ever since.  Guess what?  They all love it! 

Three questions to kick off your own client customization campaign:

  1. If you were to categorize your clients according to traits and preferences, what would be the three or five meaningful groups?
     
  2. How could you respond differently to each group, while maintaining consistent product/service quality and branding?
     
  3. What questions or opinions might you ask to better tailor your communications, reporting or service approach – while maintaining the essence of what makes your business special?

For a strong final quarter of 2013, let’s all keep in mind: It’s not just business, it’s personal!  Please contact me with any examples you’d like to share about how you make your customers feel like your products or service has their name on it. 

Which Way Should You Lean ?

In response to the widespread publicity on Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, Money Magazine asked me to comment for their counterpoint article Lean Out. I was quoted as advising that if you seek greater authority or higher pay at your current job, you should ask your boss what it would take to get promoted and, “If there isn’t anything you can do, you should be leaning out.”

Since then, readers, colleagues and clients posed some thoughtful questions, which I would like to share, along with my responses:

If I start to expand my circles or upgrade my online profile, what will my boss and coworkers think?

I understand the natural tendency to worry about the outside reaction to your efforts to advance yourself. Rather than viewing this as a solo act or self-aggrandizing endeavor, engage your boss and coworkers in the process - ask for feedback or time to brainstorm your action plan. Present initiatives tied to strategic goals and market objectives, and discuss how you can capitalize on them together.

If you provide internal training and demonstrate and share the depth and breadth of your knowledge within your organization - it reflects well on your entire department. In one case, when I trained a client to speak with the media and introduced him to an editor at The Wall Street Journal, we also invited the CEO to participate in the interview. Hence, my client became responsible for the CEO’s most prestigious press quote to date, while also gaining the same exposure himself.

Can I lean out while still maintaining my primary focus on my current job?

The Lean Out article shares several excellent examples of professionals who decided to leave corporate roles for options which better suit their values. Is this the only way to lean out? Absolutely not!

In fact, when you start to “lean out”, you also increase your chances for promotion within your current company or potentially at another.  You can “lean out” in ways that are win-win to simultaneously enhance your career and add to your company’s bottom line. There doesn’t have to be any conflict at all (see the next question).

You recommend leaning out, but how exactly can I lean out? What can I do?

Consider three levels of leaning out, all of which benefit you:

  • Enhance your own professional standing
    "This quarter, I will invest $300 to advance myself by..." Reality check: If you don't invest in yourself, how can you expect anyone else (including your boss) to invest in you? Maybe it’s time to upgrade your LinkedIn profile with details to properly convey your achievements, such as a customer acquisition milestone or the performance recognition award you received but neglect to mention out of modesty. Or, maybe this is the time to take a course you’ve been thinking about for years, buy an elegant new suit, hire a temp to organize the mounds of files in your office. Do whatever works for you, but make it count!
  • Extend your company presence beyond your immediate group at work:
    "This quarter, I will invite the following 5 people to lunch ..." We’ve all heard "It's not just what you know, it's who you know." But beyond that, it's how well you know them. Seek out those beyond your immediate group at work who can mentor and enrich you – perhaps colleagues with whom you can exchange ideas, and former subordinates who have now gone on to new and higher roles.
  • Expand your industry and media presence:
    "This quarter, I will step out of my comfort zone by…” Maybe you will talk to the press, lead an event in your area of expertise for your alumni group or attend a trade show to make new contacts. It may be a challenge, but you'll reap the rewards of increased job security and confidence.

If you are interested in accessible, actionable steps along these lines, my ebook The Power of Professional Presence: Get Their Attention and Keep It! (available on Amazon and iTunes), contains recommendations for kicking your online profile up a notch in Chapter 5, and ways to prepare for and succeed with media interviews in Chapter 6. Please contact me if you have any other questions or comments.

88 Shades of Orange and Black

Every year over 20,000 Princeton alumni return to campus sporting wardrobes of every variety of orange and black you can imagine…and some you may not!  Kind of unique, kind of amazing, kind of inspirational.  This year on the occasion of our 25th college reunion (that’s the big one), Charlene Huang, the president of my Princeton class asked me to gather some advice for the recent grads of 2013. 

As follows from the previous blog entry, the theme of intergenerational communications and mutual learning is top of mind for me.  So, I was glad to reach out to some of my friends and classmates.  Here are some of the responses from a variety of roles and industries:

®      The most important piece of advice ever: dance. In every way shape and form. In a literal way, it's great exercise. Mentally, it has been proven to activate parts of your brain so it helps to fight off diseases like Alzheimer's. In a spiritual way, it will bring you closer to whichever divinity you worship. But most important of all, dance to the beat of your own drum. Make up your own steps. Dance with passion and abandon.

®      Bravery isn't lack of fear. Bravery is doing what you know is right in the face of fear. Be true to your inner compass. Once you stray, it's very difficult to come back.

 Maru Calderon, global marketing strategist

®         A good joke will be remembered long after a faux pas.

® Things you think won't ever happen might well actually happen, and that's OK!

Charles Harkless, consulting firm leader


®  On the day you turn 34, if you haven't done so already, drop the worst junk from your diet and start exercising regularly. In 2038 you can come find me at the 50th tent to thank me for the suggestion.

Gordon Van Gelder, publisher


®  Strike up conversations -- you never know where a chance encounter may lead. 

Margot Levin, performance and procurement consultant
(sidenote: Margot and I recently reconnected by striking up a conversation)

 

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®
      When your boss says, “Don’t worry about it.”: it only means “Don’t worry about it right this minute.”

Nick Rossettos, CFO

 

®      Dream in gross, strategize in net.

®      Your plan should not depend on the other guy screwing up, but it should account for the possibility that he might.

Jonathan Weinberg, physician


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®     Play the hand you’re dealt. If you have a pair of 3’s, fold or bluff.   Don’t fantasize that you’re holding a royal flush.

®      Come back for all major reunions. You may not have met your favorite classmate yet.

Adam Weiss, law firm partner recruiter

 

® Take risks with your career -- risks of status, security, money and and traditional measures of success. You have a bigger safety net than you imagine.

Mary Lynne Werlwas, Legal Aid attorney


Waving the Flag

®     Work at what you do and enjoy the most - both on-the-job and off.  If you develop websites in PHP, Python, Linux and Zend, and you have a non-technical passion like publishing a local arts newspaper, don't cease to pursue it.

And don't forget to take a step back to review your accomplishments both on-the-job and off.  These things will see you through when times are tough, and also when things are great!

Evan Williams, corporate website developer

 

 

What were my words of advice to the class of 2013?

“When you feel you might use some guidance, perspective or support, ask for it.  Ask for it proudly, and accept it with appreciation.  Turn to your classmates and alumni – they will keep you on track and keep you smiling. For four years, your university is where you study.  For the rest of your life, it is the people you’ve met and will continue to meet.”

That, and … “Life is too short to drink mediocre coffee!”

The Fountain of Youth … and Opportunity!

As organizations continually restructure, traditional functions and departments have morphed into new configurations of talents and demographics. In the past, leaders were almost always significantly older and more knowledgeable than their subordinates, this is no longer always the case. Professionals in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s may be reporting to, advised by or teamed up with colleagues half their age.

This was the topic of “Your New Office BFF’s” published in the May issue of Money Magazine.

I was asked how executives can navigate this situation to gain the most benefit, while maintaining confidence and job security. In my view, the short answer is: Establish and nurture mutual respect, advancement and value.

Your primary goal is to achieve excellent results together, while building rapport and skills - not making friends, or proving how cool you are. Don’t be overeager to establish personal bonds. That may and can come later, with the right relationships.

There are tremendous advantages of intergenerational collaboration. Working with younger people:

  • Keeps you fresh. I often learn about new trends, terminology and technologies from younger professionals. For example, I first heard about BuzzFeed at a social dinner, seated next to the first project manager they hired. Later on, when the company received major media coverage, I was aware and conversant about it. By paying attention to what your younger colleagues are doing, you can gain a completely new perpective, and more powerful ways to reach an entire generation.
  • Boosts your productivity. Over a year ago, a young guy who regularly carries an iPhone, and Ipad and his Macbook with him taught me to access my Dropbox files from my smartphone. He explained and set up the app in only a few minutes, over a coffee. I have benefitted ever since by being able to view or send client documents, media references, and published articles from anywhere there is a WiFi connection.
  • Provides an applied, casual opportunity for mentoring. You can offer so much based on your decades of experience. In an informal conversation, you can respond to and resolve many of the interpersonal workplace challenges a twenty-six year old faces. When you do, you are not only enhancing your team but also someone’s life and career. That’s gotta be a win-win!

Three quick tips:

1.  Show rather than state what younger people can learn from you. You are not equals. You have more knowledge and experience. Make yourself available as a resource, but don’t push it.

2.  Express sincere interest and appreciation when younger colleagues teach you a technology shortcut or a social media trend. Encourage them to explain carefully, and pay attention to the vocabulary they use. The vocabulary reflects both the innovative methodologies, and the new culture underlying them. Follow up later on by showing them exactly how you used the new skill or idea, and the benefits it had.

3.  Convey your expertise and background with confidence. You will benefit both of you by demonstrating your expectation of and willingness to reciprocate respect. Once you lose their respect, it is a steep climb to regain it.

I’m not saying it’s always a perfect scenario. The younger generation may resist “lessons from their elders.” Human nature is stronger than logic. Even if a 27-year-old supervisor inherently believes he has a lot to learn from his 66-year-old coworker, he may not feel comfortable requesting some extra attention to help him through the rough spots. Maybe it’s pride, or embarrassment. Maybe it feels too much like asking his mother for help or being told what to do by his father. I’m an executive consultant, not a therapist so I can’t say, and ultimately it doesn’t matter.

More relevantly: imagine the collective opportunity of thousands of young professionals learning the maximum possible from our generation…and vice versa.

Networking for Fun and Profit (and you profit just from having some fun!)

Years ago, when my friend Liz Lynch published her book Smart Networking, I took her out to lunch to celebrate. She then wrote this amusing description of the scene that transpired Why An Enthusiastic Friend Can Be One of Your Most Powerful Networking Assets  I have bought and recommended her book many times for my clients, friends and associates seeking effective ways to enhance their networking confidence and results.

Since then, Liz has become known globally for her affirming approach. She was even the international ambassador for National Networking week in Australia, where she did a 9-city tour giving 13 talks in 6 days. Yes indeed, I’m proud and impressed!

So when I heard she’d be speaking to a “Princeton Over 40” event in Manhattan, my first reaction was “Oh boy, I’m being targeted by age group, and no longer on the younger side.” My second reaction was, “Well, I don’t want to lose my status as an enthusiastic friend – I’m going!” Taking a tip from Liz, I invited my classmate Adam Weiss, a recruiter for law firm partners, to come along.

Following up on my last blog entry, I had no programmed business agenda and said to Adam before walking in, “Let’s just have some fun and enjoy meeting new alumni.”

Interestingly, in her talk Liz echoed the same sentiments on a more sophisticated level explaining:

  • Establish the bond first, and the business will follow.
  • Concentrate on them, not yourself. Don’t ask for anything on the spot.
  • Find ways to promote and add value for others.

Well, after her talk, it was absolutely amazing what occurred in the room. There was an incredible camaraderie and exchange of ideas. Everyone was supercharged and super friendly. Whether we were all so glad to have been released from self-promotional aims, or the natural affinity amongst us was simply enhanced by Liz’s recommendations it’s hard to say.

But what I know for sure is that within two days. I had connected with every single person I had spoken with during the evening. When does that happen? Unprecedented! A real estate executive and a neuroscientist both purchased my ebook. An attorney reached out to say “Hey, we didn’t get a chance to talk at the event, so why don’t we get together soon?” And, Adam was invited to speak to a select group of law firm partners about his book, The Lateral Lawyer.

When I mentioned this a few days later to Mark Newman, who I met that evening, he commented, “Yes, well… there is something self-referential about networking at a networking workshop.” (Mark has a Ph.D. in applied mathematics and leads a data analytics firm that identifies patterns and potential for everyone from major sports leagues to one of the largest global consumer finance companies.) That comment alone was worth attending the event!  Every time I repeat it, the other person laughs just as I did. As you know, there’s nothing like a shared smile to fortify new relationships.

It was like being back at college in all the best ways – meeting people from different fields willing to share and explain. We had fun and we followed up. I don’t know about you, but in my view – that’s very smart networking!

Buttress Your Career with a Flying Leap

Last evening, I was at gathering at my friend’s favorite pub. In addition to the good cheer and drinks on the table, the question arose, “What is the best way to start off strong in 2013 – from a professional standpoint?”

After all, most of us are thinking about that, aren’t we?

As it turns out, I had recently been asked the same question by Elaine Pofeldt in an article for Investing Answers : Turbocharge Your Career In 2013 With These 3 Surprisingly Easy Moves. Don’t worry – not one of the suggestions is “Set goals!” (As if none of us ever thought of that before!)   Instead, the article begins with goal-setting as a premise and centers on three specific objectives: 1) getting noticed by your boss, 2) snagging a job offer and 3) expanding your professional knowledge.

When I mentioned this article, someone asked me a simple yet enormous question: “Across all your consulting and coaching interests, what message are you are most passionate about conveying at the start of the year?”

On this, the last workday, and in fact the last day of 2012, I’d like to share my considered reply: Treat your career advancement as a continual learning process, but in a positive way – to benefit yourself, enliven your mind, and increase your enthusiasm for what you do and how you contribute.20120523_144911

For example, I have never quite understood about the breakthrough engineering in Gothic cathedrals that enabled the stunning stained glass windows and graceful ceilings onlookers have enjoyed for centuries since.  No matter how many tour guides in how many European cities pointed them out.

On a recent trip to Paris, I decided to skip the tour and the guidebook, and just try to soak it in from a café barge across the river. My colleague Michael suggested my next book will probably be called Drinking Things While Looking at Churches in France.

On another trip, on the way back from a beach day in Galicia, Spain, we stopped to see the famous cathedral of Mondoñedo. The signage mentioned the unusual combination of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque styles. I tried to sort it all out, but in the end, just enjoyed looking at the stained glass, marble courtyard and stunning doorways, resigned to take a course someday.

Then, last week, I unexpectedly came across an incredible NOVA episode about the secrets of French Gothic cathedrals, starting with St. Denis and leading up to Notre Dame. I was delighted because it was done as if the director knew how long I’d been wanting to understand, and exactly how to make it intriguing and accessible at the same time. 

I would like to propose that the same sense of fun and curiosity can apply in business. For many years, it has been my dream to reach an audience in Spain and Latin America where actionable career advice is less readily available, and my blend of personal and business goals is consistently well received. But I always just talked about it. Until this month. I just began working with a young woman from Colombia who has superb writing skills, successful experience with my program and the right contact base to continue my Latin test marketing. But guess what? I met her completely by chance. In fact, Melisa took the initiative to get started on the translation of an article she selected.

(Quick confession…I spent the first ten minutes of our recent business lunch gushing my newfound knowledge about flying buttresses and pointed arches. Oh well. You know what they say about all work and no Gothic architecture!)

It’s just like the television program, the opportunity to explore a new dimension arose - and I took it. Now it’s one of my goals for 2013 to publish my first article in Spanish. I have no way of knowing what will come of it.

What about your own professional adventure for 2013?  Amongst the other performance and financial targets you’d like to reach, add in something you’ve simply always wanted to do. For yourself, first and foremost.

If you’d like to share your ideas with me, please contact me. All the best for 2013 !

The Power of Professional Presence (and Pizza)

Recently, I met a 25-year-old French man at a dinner with a mutual colleague in the solar energy field. When Timothée learned about my ebook, The Power of Professional Presence: Get Their Attention and Keep It! , he purchased and read it straightaway. He was gracious enough to write a review on Amazon which included a specific example of how the book had proven immediately valuable:

Very recently, I attended a day-long event hosted by a potential employer. My goal when attending was to really demonstrate I was good at networking with their customers and although I arrived that morning unmotivated, I thought back to the book, focused on my past networking successes and walked into that room much more confidently. I walked out that night even more confident about my capabilities - it's a real virtuous circle!

As an executive coach and writer, I was very appreciative to hear how he had used the recommended techniques to make an excellent impression. It was even more gratifying to later learn he had applied the methods at a job interview and been offered a high-profile business development position for the first ever Middle East Solar trade show.  Naturally, professional presence was a key qualification. So we decided to have lunch before he left for Dubai.

We sat down at a café and launched into a discussion about his new job - the reporting structure, the emerging interest in solar energy in the Middle East, the benefit of providing executive briefings from the start. He asked me several cogent career development questions. I advised him to update his LinkedIn profile right away, so his new contacts would see current information and past colleagues would know he had begun a substantially elevated industry role.

After awhile we looked at the menu and Timothée casually mentioned, “I just went to a restaurant you should try. They have a French (Alsation) pizza on a puffed pastry crust – I had one with chicken, wild mushrooms, gruyère cheese, fresh herbs and a touch of Dijon mustard.”

At business lunches and in general, we mature professional women who are quoted in the Wall Street Journal on executive presence try to maintain a certain degree of composure. Apparently, that wasn’t exactly what happened when I heard that pizza description. My reaction evoked a huge smile and his suggestion, “We can just get up, walk out, get in a cab and go there right now. Based on the way you just gasped… Come on.. Let’s go.”  We did.

What’s my point (beyond “The Power of Puffed Pastry Pizza”)? Well, actually there are three:

  1. Diversifying your contacts is enriching and fun. While you may not be able to select everyone you work with in your office or company, Stefanie Smithcultivating relationships beyond your immediate circle can yield unexpected surprises and benefits.
  2. When you publish or share your expertise, you never know how profoundly you may affect your audience – given what they need and when. I had no way of knowing my book would offer a perspective and path at an exact career turning point for someone who already had exceptional abilities but can now take them to the next level.
  3. As the song from The King and I goes, “If you become a teacher, by your pupils you'll be taught.” At lunch, Timothée observed “In the first chapter of your book, you talk about online presence. But you haven’t written in your own blog about your own book!" When I protested weakly that my ebook and coaching takes up a lot of my time, he didn’t even respond verbally. Just that classic French raised eyebrow … thing.

Guess it worked!

The Power of Professional Presence is available on Amazon here and on Barnes and Noble for Nook here. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download a free Kindle reading app here to read it on your Ipad, Iphone, Android, Mac or PC.

$how Them the Money !

The first quarter of 2011 has brought quite an array of economic and political events. From Wisconsin, to Libya to Japan. It’s been a lot to absorb. Meanwhile, while we try to process all of this external news, most of us are also sorting out what it all means for our own professional paths.

For example, when journalist Elaine Pofeldt interviewed me for this article, “Step Up Your Career This Year”, she asked where seasoned professionals should focus if they want to get ahead this year.

Ironically, the crux of my response paralleled the name of the magazine: Money !

Let’s take some inspiration from the golden 2011 on the cover. We may be in a period of economic recovery, but there is also an emotional recovery in progress.

This is the time to shine, not to shy away from the spotlight. Whether in day-to-day meetings or a broader timeframe, your best strategy is to overtly demonstrate how you add to the bottom line, or the top line, depending on your role.

Am I suggesting your professional worth is measured solely in monetary terms? Absolutely not. But as of yet, there is still no balance sheet representation of meaningful employee development, inventive marketing campaigns, or customer service finesse.

Whether you market international performing stars, run operations for an investment bank, or lead strategic IT projects you need to both align your work with successful results and make sure to communicate about it along the way.

Three tips:

  1. Rather than announcing to your boss how passionate you are about getting promoted, first find out what he or she needs to achieve to be promoted.
    Believe me, you aren’t the only one with this burning issue on your mind. I’m not suggesting you put yourself second in importance - quite the opposite. It’s simply a practical way to start with your end game, rather than guessing what will be valued and rewarded.
  2. Brainstorm a way to tie your priorities and performance to win-win results.
    Maybe your boss’s highest priority is hitting particular regional sales targets and you want tuition reimbursement for an Executive MBA. In that case, it’s probably the right time to put extra effort into expanding your network, reconnecting with classmates, or meeting alumni in target locations. If the hot button is cost reduction, then actively challenge the status quo. Re-evaluate service provider contracts, solicit alternative options for your highest-expense items or bring in an outside consultant to review your operations, technology and organization. I once helped a mail order business increase cash flow 10%, with a procedural change that literally cost under $1200 and took less than two weeks to implement. It’s time to pick the low-hanging fruit, plus what may be available on the higher branches!
  3. Report in with brief, but frequent written updates on your initiatives – biweekly or monthly.
    Include data, even if it is only a measure of the percentage of a project completed. Invite input and suggest additional ideas as they arise. Even if you see or email your boss daily, these bulletins will provide positive news he or she can easily share with others, and increase the sense of collaboration between you. You will likely get more attention and direction than you have in years. This has worked tremendously well for my clients across industries, up and down organizational levels.

There is nothing radical here, I know. More than anything else, it’s about changing your focus, backing up your hard work with easily understandable numbers and taking ownership for sharing ongoing “positive press” for your achievements. As an added bonus: you’ll not only benefit yourself, but your team and clients too.

If you have questions about how this approach applies to your specific role, please contact me, Stefanie Smith Executive Consultant and Coach.

Kick Off 2011 with Your MVP's

New Year’s resolutions ... they can feel terrific when you make them. And then, suddenly there you are – it’s a few weeks into January and now what? The gym is crowded and cleaning out that closet over the weekend is no more enticing than it was in December. Especially with the NFL playoffs so intense and surprising this year!

Here’s a suggestion to kick off 2011 that is more appealing and will also advance your career.

Think of five to ten people you’d like to take to lunch or dinner this year. That’s it. Not more complicated than that. Except of course, you have to follow through and actually extend the invitations.

The key is to make an actual list of contacts who can mentor you (or you can mentor), or who you consider to be winners, admire or enjoy spending time with for whatever reason. Calling, Skyping, emailing, texting, Facebooking…nothing can replace the old-fashioned breaking of bread together. Not for me at least!

So…

Is there a former colleague you’ve lost touch with inadvertently, who is now in an interesting new field? What about a college or business school classmate who sent you an email awhile back? How about that guy in another department who you are on conference calls with all the time, but have never spoken with face-to-face?

This is the perfect time to reconnect. You don’t have to plan everything for this month. It’s a great idea to spread out the meetings over the year. People are busy. They may have to cancel once or twice. Or, they may be based out of town, so you want to plant the seed about scheduling time for you on a future business trip.

As an executive consultant and coach, it is often ironic and a challenge to walk one’s own talk. In fact, I thought of this blog entry while reading my own quote in an MSNBC.com article Looking for a job in 2011? Here’s how to stand out.

It’s always striking to read one’s own words weeks after an interview in a different context. I realized focusing in on the people you really want to spend quality time with isn’t just about job search, it’s about career and life enhancement.

So, yes, I started my own list and am proud to say, I have the first lunch on the calendar, with a dynamite executive I haven’t seen in well over a year. Now … time to schedule the next one. If you have any questions or thoughts, please contact me and share them.

The Secret to Leadership. Hint: It's another "L" word.

As an executive coach, I am often asked, in several different ways "What is the secret to strong leadership?"  But in 2010, this question really rose to the top of my mind for two reasons.  First, I was asked to write a series on leadership for the American Management Association.  Second, I was privileged to be the speaker at the New Jersey Society of CPA's Annual Convention for a special leadership session of over 111 (as CPA's, they are exact) CFO's, audit firm partners and attorneys.

So to say the least, the pressure was on.  Three articles and 15 Power Point slides later, I derived a set of ten core leadership principles to energize your team, clients and colleagues.  But, here is the message I'd most like to share today, introduced with a simple, yet striking quote:

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
John F. Kennedy

Some of us were born to lead.  All of us were born to learn.  You can learn to become the leader you aspire to be. 

Great boxers might be counterpunchers who can quickly and powerfully respond to their opponents or “throw the first punch” type advancers. But pound for pound, the greatest world champions master both styles and switch between them. In the June 1980 “Brawl in Montreal,” Sugar Ray Leonard lost to Roberto Duran because Duran attacked fast and furiously. However, in the November rematch in New Orleans, after five months of intensive training, Leonard counterpunched to the point where Duran famously gave up, saying “No más, no más.” Later, in the 1986 “Superfight” in Las Vegas, Sugar Ray Leonard beat Marvelous Marvin Hagler by decision thanks to his acquired counterpunching prowess.

As a leader, you too can learn to “roll with the punches”:

  • Adapt your leadership style according to individual personalities and evolving circumstances.
    Leadership is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. What one employee considers interfering, another regards as welcomed attention from the boss. Leaders come in many shapes and forms - so do followers. Look at both yourself and your team members with a practical, non-idealized perspective. Save your rose-colored glasses for your personal relationships.

    You may micromanage some, MBWA (Management By Walking Around) some, and MBO (Management By Objectives) others, as long as your motivations for flexibility are clear to all. Adroit leaders adjust flexibly to new events such as regulations, layoffs, industry mergers, clinical trial results, or unexpected market research findings.
  • Reflect on your own leadership style and practices.
    What do you do best? Is it time to change an old habit? What is the longest you can go without checking in with your direct reports? Between scheduled meetings, calls or status updates, who calls or e-mails first? Challenge yourself to set leadership objectives for the upcoming three months. Schedule a meeting with yourself or a coach to take an honest look back and determine how you can best move ahead.
  • Solicit suggestions about increasing your own impact.
    Meet with your team and simply ask, “How could I free up 20% of my time?” The answers may be valuable, or not. But chances are, you will gain some innovative ideas for redirecting your energy towards exceeding objectives rather than worrying about them.

Becoming a great leader is an evolving process.  In the words of a football coaching legend:

“Leaders are not born. They are made. They are made just like anything else…through hard work. That's the price we have to pay to achieve that goal or any goal.”
Vince Lombardi

There will certainly be challenges along the way, but the rewards - for both you and your team - can be profound.   If you'd like to read more, please contact me or read Amp-Up Your Leadership: Power Up Your Team

 

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