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4 Tips for Online Personal Branding

Are you branding your passion?

After years of being inundated by the “me, me, me” of social media, the term ‘personal branding’ has become little more than a hackneyed synonym for shameless self-promotion. Like my page… Endorse me… Follow my blog…

Whether you like it or not, the fact that you’re reading this article means that you’ve probably already established a digital footprint. Social media is here to stay. It’s where we get our news. It’s where we do our searches. Social media has become something of a parallel universe.

Your brand is already out there. Neglecting it, or pretending it doesn’t exist won’t do you any good. Instead, here are four tips for skillfully navigating the virtual landscape without smacking of desperation or disingenuity, and having some fun in the process.

1. Be yourself

Your online presence should be a reflection of who you are, as well who you aspire to be. Cultivating a personal brand is not about contriving a staid counterfeit identity, but of sharing what’s important to you, and intermingling your personal passions and professional expertise in authentic ways.

With a dozen or so major options to choose from, it should be easy to find a mix of social media platforms that comfortably matches the way you’d like to share your interests and insights. If you’re a pilot who likes cooking, Pinterest might be a natural choice. If you’re a makeup artist who’d enjoy video blogging, then you can start with Vine or Instagram and then move on to YouTube.

I use various platforms to express diverse and quirky facets of my personality. While I am a business executive who is passionate about transformation, I am also an avid reader, unabashed self-improvement enthusiast, and proud Caribbean native. My twitter account and Facebook page are a steady stream of inspiring quotes and encouraging aphorisms (which some may derisively dismiss as cornball platitudes), while I express my inner pedant, by tracking and sharing my book lists on Goodreads. What you share may not suit all tastes, but there are appreciative niches waiting to welcome the real you.

2. Give more than you take

In it’s purest sense, social media influence should be a reflection of the value you bring to your online community. There are many who place undue importance on building online turf by obtaining a large audience, or even faking it by buying followers. It is a far more valuable use of time to concentrate on the quality of the content you’re delivering, and on expanding your knowledge and deepening relationships though genuine engagement.

Don’t just ask people to follow you, but try to interact with and learn from them based on your shared interests. Don’t ask others for endorsements, get to know their areas of interest and expertise, and recommend them first. Don’t just insist that your friends and colleagues read your articles, but try to comment on, share and discuss theirs, as well. To be interesting, be interested.

3. Exercise good judgement

Your Internet-based articles, comments, photos, and tweets bear the invisible insignia: “This is who I am”. Each seemingly insignificant piece of shared flotsam becomes part of your composite digital identity. It’s essential to control what you put out there, and that you take precautions against harming your reputation or that of others. Don’t presume that because you don’t have a large twitter following, it’s okay to post shaming, racist or otherwise negative content for laughs or a rant.

You don’t have to be a slave to what other people may think of your online content, but be sure to exercise your best judgement, always.

4. Measure your influence

I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition.
— Bill Gates

Klout is a service that acts as a scorecard of your online influence. Klout analyses hundreds of social media markers (likes, shares, comments, followers) from up to thirteen social media sites, and creates a ranking score in the range 1 to 100. While Klout’s methods of scoring are undisclosed, your Klout score gives you an independent, albeit potentially fallible indication of how your influence measures up when compared to other online users.

Klout will also help you track how your influence varies over time. When I checked in on Klout for the first time in a few months last August, I realized that my score had plummeted to 65 after averaging 75 for a year or so. I knew it was time to get back into gear, and started actively sharing content, and connecting with my social media communities again. Within a few weeks my Klout rating was back up to the previous average. For the past three months, it has remained consistent, varying between 79 and 81.

You don’t have to sign up for Klout to be tracked by the service, but it’s a good idea to add the platforms you have a presence on to help aggregate your score.

Want more?

For more information on levering your online presence to build your brand, read Gary Vaynerchuk‘s feisty book ‘Crush It: Why Now Is the Time to Cash in on Your Passion‘. Almost four years ago, I read it in an afternoon, and it inspired me to immediately click on GoDaddy.com and buy a URL in my name.

For two more balanced perspectives on building your personal brand read these articles by Forbes contributors:
1. Why Introverts Excel at Personal Branding by William Arruda,
2. Personal Branding As Leadership by Glenn Lopis

Please join the conversation, and let me what you agreed or disagreed with, and what you’d add to this list!

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5 Ways to Inspire Millennials at Work

 

Business leaders, entrepreneurs and other professionals often bemoan the apparent lack of commitment, loyalty and ambition present in Generation Y employees. Those 80s and 90s babies buck workplace convention. They talk back. They want to dress differently, are bored easily and come across as wanting life handed to them on a platter. Why is it that Millennials seem to want to frustrate us by constantly asking ‘Why?’

Isn’t this much the same way each new generation has been perceived by the one before it? How many lectures did you hear during childhood about how much ‘easier’ things are now? Didn’t your grandparents go on similar rants with your parents? Could it be that Millennials are unwittingly challenging us to raise our standards?

The truth is that each generation gets progressively smarter, stronger, more creative. “More entitled, too!”, you might add. Perhaps. Technology is advancing at a mind-numbing rate. We’re all for advancement, but what really bothers the old-fogies is that many of the old rules don’t apply. We find it incongruously unfair that flip-flop clad software geeks who skateboard to work are changing the world daily.

How can we bridge the generational chasm? How can we positively influence the young adults who don’t happen to be Silicon Valley billionaires, but turn up somewhat disheveled and slightly late to work each day? How do we engage the Snapchat generation? More importantly, how do we start inspiring Gen Ys to start focusing their energies on developing the skills necessary to make them tomorrow’s capable leaders?

I read an excellent article by Graham Winfrey titled ‘Are Millenials Giving Up on Working?‘. The article’s accompanying infographic by training firm Virtuali highlights the following disturbing statistics:

  • 66% of millennials are disengaged at work
  • 91% of millennials plan on leaving their job within 3 years

Below, I have adapted the infographic’s five points to consider for increasing engagement and inspiring leadership in Millennials:

1. To inspire leadership, be a leader

The Millennial understanding of leadership is not one that springs forth from rank or title. Gen Ys will not bestow loyalty and obedience solely on the basis of tenure or seniority. “They have no respect!”, you may say, but young people believe that respect should be earned, and that leadership is lived out in our actions every day. To be a leader in the eyes of the younger generation, demonstrate that you are worth following.

2. To inspire leadership, consistently provide development opportunities

Young people do not view training programs as perks for good performance or a rewards for good behavior. As a consequence of growing up in the information age, Millennials believe that leadership development should be a universal benefit provided by employers. Adopt this attitude and watch your younger charges begin to bloom.

3. To inspire leadership, more show; less tell 

At its most effective, learning for Millennials should be personal, relevant and enjoyed. As leaders, we should seek to provide learning opportunities every time we interact with those under our direction. Provide clear proof to those you lead that you are personally invested in their growth and development, and their engagement will begin to skyrocket.

4. To inspire leadership, perfect your communication skills

No matter how much experience you have or how many accolades decorate your office walls, it is your behavior that will cement your value and reputation in the hearts and minds of younger employees. Above technical know-how, Millennials value your ability communicate clearly, how well you listen, your receptiveness to new ideas, and how effectively you show you care. Work on honing these skills every day.

5. To inspire leadership, provide diverse work opportunities

Gen Ys crave novelty and variety, and will not be willing to give their all at workplaces that do not offer new and interesting opportunities. To young people, loyalty is a two-way street. Here’s where some creativity is required. Shake things up sometimes. Make it part of your people strategy to provide new knowledge to your people on an ongoing basis through cross-training, departmental rotations and intra-office secondments.

Please share your own experiences and ideas for inspiring and engaging younger people in the workplace. Do you find it challenging to inspire them to give of their best? In what ways are you actively creating robust succession paths for leadership?

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31 Essential Email Etiquette Tips

In today’s fast paced world, the information we need is often right at the touch of a smart phone button. The convenience of tapping or typing out quick emails and responses makes it tempting to hit send without giving much thought to what we have written. The tricky part is that unlike with personal messages, business emails blunders may have serious and far-reaching consequences. Our tone may be misinterpreted by the reader, we may inadvertently include confidential information, we may offend a reader from a different culture. Not taking the time to consistently deliver professionally drafted emails will invariably color our attitude to work as being inattentive, immature or sloppy.

The standard of quality of our email correspondence forms as much a part of our professional presence as the way we speak and the way we dress. Every email you send will either help to build your reputation as a competent professional, or run the risk of destroying the way you’re viewed at work. Etiquette may seem like a stuffy, old-fashioned concept, but there is nothing old-fashioned about having excellent standards. Perfecting and consistently applying good email etiquette will go a long way toward boosting your reputation with colleagues and bosses for years to come. It’s never too late to start forming positive new email habits.

Here are 31 essential professional email etiquette tips which should help you make a positive difference in most professional environments:

 

1. Ask yourself: Is it email worthy?

Avoid introducing highly confidential or private matters over email. If you would hesitate about broaching the topic publicly, then you should carefully consider the appropriateness of the contents before hitting send. Some topics should only be discussed behind closed doors, and face to face. Make a commitment to thinking twice about discussing sensitive issues via email.

2. Use a well-crafted subject line

Never leave an email subject line blank. Readers often decide if and how soon to open an email based on the subject line. Make a habit of giving your readers a concise snapshot of the contents to follow by using a precise and unambiguous subject line. If the topic in an email thread has changed, keep the subject line current, as well. Consider keeping the original subject in brackets.

3. Use an appropriate greeting

Each new email should always begin with an appropriate greeting and the name of the person you’re writing to. Dear _____, Good day _____, Hello _____and Hi _____ are all appropriate email greetings, in decreasing order of formality. Out of courtesy, try never begin an email with just the recipient’s name, or by going straight into the content. Save very informal greetings for casual friends.

4. Open on an agreeable note

Being pleasant to deal with, even in challenging situations, will increase your influence and help others enjoy working with you. On the other hand, being a Gruff Grady or Pessimistic Pete may have colleagues ignoring your emails until they’ve worked up the courage to open them. Make a commitment to conveying warmth in the very first line of every email. Sharing related good news, giving a sincere compliment or a personalised word of appreciation is a great way to open an email message.

5. Be concise

If your email recipient cannot quickly process what you have written, this is guaranteed to reduce the probability of a prompt response. Be concise when writing emails. Use clear language and avoid rambling sentences. Respect the recipient’s time. Don’t attempt to convey long drawn out incidents or complicated concepts via email. Be clear and up front about the email’s purpose and what you’re asking.

6. Maintain a positive tone throughout

Just like spoken communication, effective written communication is best achieved with a positive attitude. Using active, positive language and a high level of respect and courtesy in your emails will set the tone for your reader to mirror your behavior, and respond in like manner. Select your words carefully. Avoid negative or emotionally laden words, accusing statements and blaming. Practice using empathy, neutral word choice and clarifying questions instead.

7. Be structured and thorough

Be thorough. Email replies should answer all previously posed questions. Always respond point for point before introducing new information or making requests of your own. Avoid table-tennis email matches by making your best effort to pre-empt further questions by crafting a well-considered, thoughtful and efficient response.
Be structured. If you’re asking three questions, enumerated them clearly. When you’re responding to emails, do the same.

8. Use the AIDA formula

Use the AIDA formula when composing emails to improve the likelihood of a positive response to requests.

A: Get the attention of the reader with an appropriate subject line.

I:  Stimulate their interest with a pleasant opening sentence.

D: Create desire by explaining the details of the situation, clearly stating what’s in it for them.

A: Give a call to action with a request that outlines what you wish to happen next.

9. Use white space

Always make your emails simple to read and easy to scan. Do your best to minimize the need for scrolling, bearing in mind that many emails will be read on mobile devices. Make use of white space by limiting the length of each paragraph, and keeping your email to a maximum of three or four short paragraphs. Each paragraph should only be three or four lines long. Use paragraph titles in bold if you must cover more than a single topic in one email. Use bullet points or enumeration to add clarity to your content when possible.

10. Conclude intentionally

Make it a habit to close your email with confidence. Confidence breeds attraction and respect. End your email in a positive, optimistic manner that demonstrates you have confidence and anticipate the required response outlined. If you expect a response, conclude by saying so e.g. “I look forward to your response”, or “I look forward to us setting a meeting time”.

11. Sign off cordially

Your closing should be both warm and reflection of your personality. ‘Warm regards’, ‘Many thanks’ and ‘Cheers’ are all appropriate email sign offs. Don’t ever just close with your name alone, or worse – by abruptly leaving the reader hanging.

12. Always use a signature

Always use an email signature. A signature is an important contact tool, which makes it easy for your recipients to reach you. Set up an automatic signature on each of the email platforms you use, including all mobile devices. Your email signature should include your full name, position, company name and telephone contact number.

13. Use Cc and reply with care

Avoid drama, confusion and unnecessarily clogged inboxes, by taking the time to send email messages only to the right people. Be careful when replying to emails where numerous others have been cc’d. Instead of automatically clicking ‘reply all’, ask yourself if every one of the recipients needs the information in your message. Remove recipients who aren’t relevant. It is not necessary to respond if you have only been included in the cc line.

14. Use exclamation points sparingly

Excessive use of exclamation points puts you at risk of appearing overly emotional or immature, and of offending the reader. Only use exclamation points lightheartedly to convey excitement, never to convey anger, frustration or disappointment. As a rule of thumb, use a maximum of one exclamation point per email, and say no to using multiple punctuation marks e.g. ??? or !!! or ?!?

15. Be cautious with humour

Humour, irony and sarcasm can easily get lost in translation without the tone of voice or appropriate facial expressions to back them up. Comments perceived as funny when spoken may be interpreted very differently, perhaps even as offensive, when written. In a professional exchange, it’s better to leave  humour out of emails unless you know the recipient very well.

16. Be sensitive to your audience

People from varying backgrounds speak and write differently. Miscommunication occurs more often over email when we can’t see each other’s body language and facial expressions. Higher context cultures e.g. Asian, and Caribbean may appreciate a more polite, personal approach compared to lower context cultures where you can get straight to the point. Learn to balance your approach, and when in doubt, choose to err on the side of courtesy.

17. Respond in a timely manner

Emails should receive a response as swiftly as you would return a phone call—generally within the same working day. If you can’t provide the response or action within the required time frame, acknowledge the email and state clearly both your intended delivery date, and what your plan of action is e.g. research, contact supplier. While you may not be able to respond to every email immediately, avoid keeping the sender waiting for more than two business days.

18. Proofread before you send

Always read through each email before sending. Proofread to verify that you have not forgotten important details. Check thoroughly for spelling and grammatical errors and to ensure clarity of meaning. Set your email program to automatically spellcheck before sending. Be sure to double-check that your recipient’s name is spelled correctly.

19. Ban text-speak from your emails

Many common text-message abbreviations, emoticons, acronyms and slang are not appropriate for professional emails. Make it a habit to avoid using shortcuts to real words, even when you’re sending emails from mobile devices. Save the abbreviations such as Gr8, 4 u, IKR and BTW for instant message conversations with casual friends.

20. Avoid using ALL-CAPS

Writing emails, or portions of your emails in capital letters is considered to be shouting. Be courteous to your readers. Don’t yell; always avoid using all caps in written correspondence, even for emphasis.

21. Do you need to talk instead?

You may have started composing an email only to realize that the topic is too cumbersome to be effectively handled via this medium. Never use email as a means of covering a mistake, dodging an uncomfortable situation, or avoiding personal contact. ‘Well I sent you an email’ is a refrain too often used to avoid taking full responsibility. Pick up the phone and request a meeting when the topic is a potential “can of worms” i.e. has many parameters to be explained or negotiated or that may be potentially confusing.

22. Give a heads up when needed

Some emails should never be sent cold. It may be much more effective to prepare your reader in advance for what you are about to send. If your email is more than a few lines long, be sure to contact the person in advance to let them know. If you agree to do this in advance, emails also serve as great reminders of the salient points from quick meetings or telephone discussions.

23. Never send an angry email

If you are upset, disappointed or displeased about something, take a moment to calm down, then deal with it face to face, or over the telephone. Refrain from delivering bad news, reprimands, or firing an employee or supplier via email. Email is forever. Avoid writing something you may regret. Even if you are in the right, never adopt an arrogant, condescending, or demanding tone. Practice composing every email as if you were addressing a future employer or your most important client.

24. Be considerate with attachments

When providing email attachments, be sure to carefully list each item you are attaching, with a brief explanation of why you are sending it. Use meaningful file names for each attachment, and avoid sending large and numerous attachments unless necessary.

25. Run away from one-liners

If you’re expected to respond to an email, don’t cherry pick the points you will address. Be courteous enough to address all points thoroughly and respond using full sentences. Unless necessary, avoid sending one-liners such as ‘sure thing’ and ‘oh ok’, which do not advance the conversation in any way. If a response is not expected or required, don’t send one.

26. Avoid read and delivery receipts

Email delivery and read receipts are discourteous, and run the risk of annoying the reader, before he/she has even had a chance to read the message. If you want to know if your intended recipient has received your message, politely request a reply within a specified time frame, or pick up the phone and ask.

27. Respond to angry emails with care

When you receive an angry email, it is important to respond with great care. Investigate the details of the situation fully and speak with the offended party in person. When you respond, apologize first. Nest, express both concern and an empathetic understanding of the impact of the circumstances. Thirdly, explain. This way, it does not look like you’re merely letting yourself off the hook with an excuse.  Finally, offer a remedy or solution.

28. Respond to calendar invitations

Meeting invitations are emails, too. When you receive a meeting invitation via email, it is impolite to ignore it. Respond within an appropriate period of time letting the meeting organiser know if you plan on attending. You can accept, decline or accept tentatively. If you’re declining, be sure to edit the message before sending—briefly providing a polite explanation of  why you won’t be able to make it.

29. Avoid SPAM

Cute poems, off-color jokes, threats of 7 years of bad luck, Nigerian bank account promises, and other email hoaxes are often vehicles for malicious content. Worms, viruses or Trojan horses can find their way onto your computer and the company’s information systems via these emails. Delete junk mail as soon as you receive it. In professional settings, make a commitment never to forward this type of unsolicited email to anyone.

30. Your email is a reflection of you

Are your emails scattered, disorganized or filled with typos and grammatical mistakes? Are your emails curt, too short or have a rude or negative tone? Do your emails ramble on without getting to a clear point or request? You may not think so, but if your colleagues or bosses think so, they may also think poorly of your professional standards. Make your email a reflection of you. Begin with the end in mind; think of the professional image you want to project and make it a habit to ensure that your emails always reflect this.

31. Share the knowledge

Don’t assume your direct reports are familiar with the email etiquette standards you expect. Explain to them clearly the guidelines everyone should follow. As a minimum, ensure their email signatures are set up and that they adhere to standard company fonts and stationery. Share this post with your colleagues if you’ve found it to be useful.
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10 Ways to Stop Talking Too Much

Are You a Chatterbox?

Do you know someone who talks too much? I’m sure you can think of an acquaintance or colleague who makes you want to head in the opposite direction as soon as you see them coming. Maybe you’re bringing to mind the aunt or uncle who starts off asking how you’re doing, but without even giving you a chance to respond, launches into the tedious details of the medical procedure they underwent six months ago. The person you’re thinking of may be a sweet, friendly and well-meaning magpie. Or he may be an extroverted windbag—always cracking jokes and full of gossipy tidbits.

Guess what. The person you’re thinking of is you! To the irritation and dismay of those around us, we ALL talk too much sometimes. Whether our chattiness is needy or noisy, when we start over-sharing, we become tolerable only in small doses. We leave the person we’re yammering to wondering why we keep rambling on long after they’ve lost interest.

On the occasions when we talk too much, we miss the generous stream of verbal and non-verbal clues heaped on us by our disinterested audiences. We miss the folded arms, stony faces, wondering eyes and vague remarks of the bored. We fail to notice how conversations sometimes break up as soon as we appear. Like the fat kid at a birthday party, we obliviously eat more than our fair share of cake.

The Dangers of Talking Too Much

We all gossip sometimes. Occasionally, we become over-excited and hog the flow of conversation. Most of the time we manage to keep our chattiness from getting out of control. We have all had instances, however, where running our mouths has had far-reaching consequences:

  • Talking too much can destroy our friendships
  • Talking too much can cause strife in our family lives
  • Talking too much can cause co-workers to distrust us
  • Talking too much can keep us from advancing at work
  • Talking too much can get us fired

One of my newest coaching clients is a talented and engaging young man. He completed university well ahead of his peers and is holding down a good job with a large company. He has identified one major challenge he’d like to work on: sometimes he talks too much. I’m inspired by this young man’s wisdom and bravery. He has recognized what most of do not—that the words that come out of our mouths should always be under our full control. Together we will work through strategies to help him develop high levels of discipline governing his speech. This will place him even further along the road to success in his career and in life.

Here are 10 steps we can all take to help us take control of unguarded speech:

1. Take Responsibility

Whether you’re an occasional over-talker, or a full-time blowhard, recognizing that there is room for improvement, and that you have the power to change is the first step to succeeding at any personal goal. In his brilliant book, ‘The War of Art‘, Steven Pressfield writes, “There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny.” All bad habits can be broken.

2. Keep A Log of Transgressions

Benjamin Franklin built his strong character by recording his progress on personal development tasks every day. He was famous for keeping a special notebook for this purpose even into old age. Keeping a record of the number of times in a day when we shoot off at the mouth can help us to gauge the severity of our over-talking. To become more mindful of when your mouth should be kept shut, record the following in a notebook daily for at least a week:

a) Each time you offered up criticism or hurtful opinions about other people
b) Each time you let confidential or unflattering details slip about a friend, family member or colleague
c) Each time you blurted out inappropriate personal information or secrets
d) Every instance when you rambled on in conversation giving unsolicited details

3. Become a Good Listener

Listening is hard work. To become good listeners, we must develop a genuine interest in other people. One of the adages from Stephen Covey’s best-selling book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People‘ is “Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then be understood.” Look for opportunities to ask people open-ended questions about themselves. When they respond, instead of looking for the first opportunity to jump in and relate a similar experience, ask them to elaborate.  You will find that others enjoy talking with you a lot more when you give them the opportunity to talk about themselves.

4. Be Sensitive to Cues

A conversation should be an ongoing exchange. As in a game of tennis, if someone decides to hog “the ball” instead of volleying, the game will be over. People will generally let us know when we’re hogging the ball—we just need to pay attention to the cues. Their eyes will stray, they will fiddle and seem distracted. They respond to our drone with a few polite smiles, nods and okays, all the while thinking of clever ways to escape. Learn to sense disinterest in others and either engage them or be the one to end the conversation.

5. Practice the One Sentence Rule

Practice responding to any question in a single thoughtful sentence. This will require some effort. Compose your response carefully before speaking, instead of thinking aloud and rambling on. Then pause, and wait for a response. If your conversation partner is interested in what you have to say, they will dig deeper and ask questions. If they don’t, this is a clue that you shouldn’t continue talking. You should aim to own only 30%-40% of the talk time in any conversation.

6. Calm Down

For some of us, talking too much is a defense mechanism—a sign that we are feeling nervous, tense or uncomfortable. One great way to slow down our racing inner clocks is to spend a few moments in meditation each day. Sit or lie quietly with your eyes closed and a half-smile on your face. Focus on your breathing. Feel all the rhythms of your body as you inhale and exhale. Do this upon waking, and several times per day for ten breaths. Work toward spending as much as 30 minutes daily bringing your mind in tune with your breathing. You will begin to feel a greater sense of control and calm in everything you do.

7. Embrace Solitude

Sometimes when we talk too much, we’re performing—working hard on presenting the best version of ourselves. We’re uncomfortable being alone, and may find ourselves constantly craving an audience. Stillness requires discipline. Spend 30 minutes to one hour a day engaging the practice of a quiet activity that requires concentration. Read a book, or listen to an audiobook. These quiet activities will help you to exercise your mind without simultaneously engaging your mouth.

8. Work up a Sweat

Talking too much may be the result of having excess nervous energy. Vigorous exercise is a great way to rid ourselves of the desire to keep talking. When we tire out our bodies, our brains settle down as well. Even people who talk too much as a result of ADHD benefit from significantly reduced symptoms as a result of regular exercise.

9. Build Mystique

People are more interested in those who have a bit of mystery about them. We don’t need to blurt out all the details of what’s going on in our lives all the time. Speak generally. The less we say, the more interesting we become to friends, co-workers and even lovers. Keep some things to yourself, and allow others to discover more about you over time.

10. Commit to Self-Improvement

At times, we over-talk as a result of insecurity. With bosses, colleagues and strangers, we overuse conversation is an attempt to improve our image. We brag about our achievements and season our conversations with names and details that help us seem more successful, and our lives more glamorous. This insecurity may also cause us to become judgmental toward others. We inadvertently criticize people and spread unflattering gossip as a way to bolster our self-image. When we discipline ourselves to invest more time working on becoming better, we have less of a need to cover up our inadequacies by trying to convince others of how great we already are.

 

 

 

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10 Ways to Spot A Weak Finance Executive

My career in finance and accounting began in 1997 when I landed a job as an Audit Associate with Ernst & Young. In the years since, I’ve worked with three of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms, as well as Financial Controller and CFO in several industries before removing my accounting hat to take on the role of General Manager.

The expectations of the role of the chief accountant, finance manager, financial controller, finance director and chief financial officer have evolved over the years. The accounting profession is no longer the realm of ‘bean counters’ in dark, dingy offices piled high with papers and over-flowing with adding machine tape. Today’s accounting professional is no longer just an administrator or cost cutter, but a part of the heartbeat of the organization’s success.

More than ever, there is an increasing demand for highly skilled accounting professionals. Today’s finance executive is a key partner in the business, creating value and providing a high return on investment. Top performers expand their repertoire of skills beyond the purely financial to become true leaders within their organization. Unfortunately, weak financial managers still outnumber the excellent ones. Here are ten ways to spot them:

1. Weak finance executives frequently miss deadlines

Ineffective finance managers forget that for financial reports to be effective, they must be provided to decision-makers in a timely manner. The most basic requirements of finance managers are that they have fundamental accounting skills and the ability to provide timely reports by effectively managing the finance department. Strong financial executives work well under pressure to produce timely, reliable and accurate information.

2. Weak finance executives confuse working hard with delivering results

Finance is a demanding field that often requires working long hours. Ineffective finance professionals seem to get addicted to putting in long hours without tying the strenuous effort to tangible goals and visible improvements. Excellent finance managers put in the work required, but become noticeably more efficient over time. They focus on adding value and becoming better at what they do, rather than just burning the midnight oil.

3. Weak finance executives are stuck behind their desks

Have you ever met a chief accountant who lives behind his or her desk? While the finance function crosses all areas of the business, ineffective financial executives are out of touch with the day-to-day happenings of the organization. Failing to understand the importance of having “a finger on the pulse”, ineffective finance managers do not assert themselves as leaders, they fail to expose themselves to the front line, and miss the opportunity to get to know others. As a result, ineffective financial executives find themselves ignored by both colleagues and line staff.

4. Weak finance executives do not have the support of the GM or CEO

Your financial controller might be a poor one if he or she has not developed a strong relationship with the boss. The relationship between a financial executive and the general manager  is one of the most critically important to the success of the organization. Skilled finance professionals make it a priority to win the trust of leaders and make sure that there is open and frequent communication.

5. Weak finance executives are poor communicators

Poor financial executives lack well-developed communication skills. They often appear uncomfortable interacting with others and fail to engage effectively with people at all levels of the organization. Skillful financial executives clearly and concisely communicate the financial performance of the company and the availability of resources both orally and in writing. They are also not afraid of delivering bad news and will provide information to bosses and shareholders without having to be asked.

6. Weak finance executives have a limited understanding of the business

Your finance director might be a poor one if he doesn’t have a solid understanding of all aspects of the business. A common red flag of an inept accountant is a failure to grasp critical processes and non-financial drivers in areas such as sales, production or marketing.  An effective finance executive will have well-developed commercial skills. He or she will be intimately familiar with functioning of the various cycles in the business, their strengths and weakness, as well as their relative levels of criticality to success.

7. Weak finance executives fail to attract, build and retain effective teams

An excellent finance director is only as good as the team supporting him or her. Many executives fail to remember the importance of attracting the best and the brightest people. They fail to create a nurturing environment which challenges young professionals. Many managers expect hard work from their junior accountants without providing them with coaching, rigorous development plans and a clear path for advancement. When ineffective finance managers fail to build loyalty and trust, they find themselves suffering the disrupting cycle of losing key people, rehiring and retraining.

8. Weak finance executives provide poor cash management

While every company encounters liquidity challenges at some point, companies with unfit accountants encounter frequent difficulties meeting important financial obligations, paying key suppliers, and missing payroll. A strong financial executive will think ahead in order to skillfully juggle scarce funds, negotiate with suppliers and perform miracles to ensure that staff are never paid late.

9. Weak finance executives fail to appropriately challenge the management team

Inept CFOs often find themselves intimidated by their colleagues, and allow them to get away with murder. Having the self-confidence to appropriately challenge fellow executives about targets, variances and overall performance is a critical requirement of the skillful financial executive. Incapable accountants demonstrate shaky leadership qualities and lack the gravitas to hold the executive team accountable.

10. Weak finance executives fail to add value 

Weak accountants are undisciplined, pay insufficient attention to detail and often produce low-quality reports which are riddled with errors. Ineffective finance managers have the under-developed interpretive skills which result in poor forecasts based on faulty models with incorrect assumptions. A sound finance executive is fiercely committed to achieving results. He or she is passionately engaged in achieving the goals of the company, and this hunger drives excellence in his or her work. Competent financial executives are highly disciplined, fluent with their numbers, able to think strategically and have the ability to translate plans into effective action.

Here’s a short version of this blog post as a Slideshare presentation:

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31 Dragon-Slaying Quotes from ‘Do the Work’ by Steven Pressfield

I have just finished reading the book ‘Do the Work‘ by Trinidadian-born author, Steven Pressfield. This short, powerful read, written in the no-nonsense style of a manifesto, is designed to prepare you to face the dragons that stand in the way of you accomplishing your highest goals. What are these dragons? They are the ones we all face when we attempt to do something we believe in. Among them are fear, self-sabotage, procrastination and self-doubt. They say “present, please” every time we attempt to pursue any important objective—from conquering addiction, to learning how to play a music instrument, to getting over an ex or preparing for a marathon. Whenever we decide to abandon the status quo to become our better selves, fearsome foes appear, and stand in our way, ready to fight us to the finish.

Steven Pressfield knows a thing or two about facing the adversity of procrastination, distraction, perfectionism and ego. As he worked to achieve his dream of becoming a successful writer, he struggled for almost 20 years. Pressfield worked in odd-jobs including being a bartender, picking fruit, driving a tractor, and being an attendant at a mental hospital. He was even homeless, and lived out of the back of his car before finally publishing his first novel, ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance’. Steven has brilliantly dissected the opponents of personal success, and labelled them with the catch-all term “Resistance”.

Written from the point of view of a writer, this book is a deafening call to action. Steven Pressfield grabs us by the collar and gives us a sound reminder that accomplishing anything worthwhile is always going to be the hardest thing. No one gets a free pass. It’s always going to be difficult, but it is always going to be worth it.  He teaches us how to recognize resistance, how to marshal the unexpected allies needed to crush Resistance, and how to “ship” i.e. get your project to “The End”.

Do the Work‘ is a quick read, you’ll be finished the 109 pages in an hour or two, but the words will resonate for longer. I hope you will click on the link below to order it and read it for yourself as soon as possible. This will be a powerful weapon in your arsenal, as you clear the path to your own greatness as an entrepreneur, awesome parent, published author or any other important mission you’ve set for yourself. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book.

Resistance – The Dragon

“On the field of the self stand a knight and a dragon. You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.” — Steven Pressfield

“The only intercourse possible between the knight and the dragon is battle.” — Steven Pressfield

 

The Dragon is Inside of Me and You

“What comes first is the idea, the passion, the dream of the work we are so excited to create that it scares the hell out of us.”  — Steven Pressfield

“Resistance is the response of the frightened, petty, small-time ego to the brave, generous, magnificent impulse of the creative self.” — Steven Pressfield

“Fear of success is the essence of Resistance.”  — Steven Pressfield

“The opposite of fear is love—love of the challenge, love of the work, the pure joyous passion to take a shot at our dream and see if we can pull it off.” — Steven Pressfield

“Our enemy is not lack of preparation; it’s not the difficulty of the project, or the state of the marketplace or the emptiness of our bank account. The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do.” — Steven Pressfield

“Resistance is a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.” — Steven Pressfield

“Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill” — Steven Pressfield

 

How to Fight Resistance and Win

“Don’t Prepare. Begin.” — Steven Pressfield

“Fear doesn’t go away. The battle must be fought anew every day.” — Steven Pressfield

“Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” — Steven Pressfield

“Don’t think. Act. ” — Steven Pressfield

“A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.” — Steven Pressfield

“Start before you’re ready. Good things happen when we start before we’re ready.” — Steven Pressfield

“Stay stupid. Follow your unconventional crazy heart.” — Steven Pressfield

“Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be—and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway.” — Steven Pressfield

I like the idea of stubbornness because it’s less lofty than “tenacity” or “perseverance.” We don’t have to be heroes to be stubborn. We can just be pains in the butt.” — Steven Pressfield

“Once we commit to action, the worst thing we can do is to stop.What will keep us from stopping? Plain old stubbornness.” — Steven Pressfield

“Research can become Resistance. We want to work, not prepare to work.” — Steven Pressfield

“Get to THE END as if the devil himself were breathing down your neck and poking you in the butt with his pitchfork. Believe me, he is.” — Steven Pressfield

“Figure out where you want to go, then work backwards from there.” — Steven Pressfield

“You are not allowed to judge yourself. Suspending self-judgment doesn’t just mean blowing off the “You suck” voice in our heads. It also means liberating ourselves from conventional expectations—from what we think our work “ought” to be or “should” look like.” — Steven Pressfield

 

There will be Failure Along the Way – This is Guaranteed

“That our project has crashed is not a reflection of our worth as human beings. It’s just a mistake. It’s a problem—and a problem can be solved.” — Steven Pressfield

“A crash means we have failed. We gave it everything we had and we came up short. A crash does not mean we are losers… A crash means we are on the threshold of something new.” — Steven Pressfield

“We can never eliminate Resistance. It will never go away. But we can outsmart it, and we can enlist allies that are as powerful as it is.” — Steven Pressfield

 

Why Fight the Dragon of Resistance?

“There is an enemy. There is an intelligent, active, malign force working against us. Step one is to recognize this. This recognition alone is enormously powerful. It saved my life, and it will save yours.” — Steven Pressfield

“If you and I want to do great stuff, we can’t let ourselves work small.” — Steven Pressfield

“When we conquer our fears, we discover a boundless, bottomless, inexhaustible well of passion.” — Steven Pressfield

“Picasso painted with passion, Mozart composed with it. A child plays with it all day long. You may think you’ve lost your passion, or that you can’t identify it, or that you have so much of it, it threatens to overwhelm you. None of these is true.” — Steven Pressfield

“Slay that dragon once, and he will never have power over you again.” — Steven Pressfield

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You Don’t Have a Job, You Have an Opportunity

The tradition of having a job is over. If you work at a desk, if your work involves access to the Internet, you don’t have a job, you have an opportunity. So says creative thinker, entrepreneur and successful author, Seth Godin. In the video below, he encourages us to try new things. He challenges us to start being curious again, to ‘poke the box’. What’s the worse that could happen?

The easiest time in the history of the world to start a business is now. Try. We should each take responsibility for viewing our lives as a series of opportunities to try new things and create new projects. Failing is okay. Just don’t stop trying. If you’re not failing, it means you’re not trying, you’re no longer in the game, you’re not playing. And if you’re not playing, it means that you’re missing out on opportunities to win in the future.

Check out this 20 minute video or, better yet, click on the link below to buy Seth Godin’s book Poke the Box.

 

 

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5 Reasons Why You Need A Career Development Plan Now

Photo by David Niblack

Do you have a career development plan? I am not talking about the bottom section of your last performance review. You’ve written a few vague goals outlining what you would like to achieve over the next year. We both know that those objectives hardly get remembered until it’s review time once again. Your company will not be invested in your career development if you don’t drive the process yourself. Here are five reasons why you need to craft your own career development plan and stick with it:

1. A career development plan will keep you from getting stuck in a rut

The days of being promoted at work solely based on tenure are long gone. If you have grown comfortable performing only the tasks you were trained to do when you were hired, then you might as well make up your mind to be overworked and underpaid for the rest of your life. What’s worse is that the system is rigged so that you will eventually be made redundant, and someone with higher entry-level skills will be paid less to do your job even faster. Without a clear career plan, you will be taking the slow and painful route to failure.

Don’t believe me? Look around you. Try to find one or two people in your organization who have done the same thing for years and generally accepted as being on the “going nowhere” track. You may find it difficult to immediately identify someone, but look closely. He might be the ever-faithful driver/building superintendent/superman who has never quite learned how to curb his temper. It seems unfair that he has been overlooked by management, and never given the opportunity to develop. He is loyal, but also more bitter and morose than ever. You may also recognize your candidate in the perky but unproductive receptionist. She smiles as she buffs her nails and talks on the phone all day. She may not seem worried now, but will her two boyfriends take care of her bills forever?

There are all types of people who get stuck in a rut at work. The one thing they all have in common is that they’ve taken their professional development for granted. Don’t be one of those people.

2. A career development plan will help you take responsibility for your weaknesses

Whether or not you’d like to admit it, everyone around you knows exactly how well or how poorly you’re doing at work. All the little foibles you have quietly and conveniently minimized in your own mind, are well-known by your colleagues. Maybe you’re slightly late for work, two or more times per week. You’ve gotten into the habit of abusing your lunch hour, asking a friend to cover for you. Maybe you occasionally nod off at your desk or in meetings. Perhaps you’re a manager who knows less about your work than your staff. Thankfully, your subordinate buddies help you compile month-end reports because you actually don’t have a clue.

Sure you get away with it now, but you’re not fooling anyone. No matter how sweet and well-liked you are, not addressing those little quirks now will mean career suicide later on. You could cross the wrong person, and they might throw you under the bus in retaliation. The management might change. The company could start cracking down on inefficiency. Without notice, you could be exposed for the slacker you are. You’re probably getting defensive, and thinking: there are things I can improve on, but I’m a not a slacker. Why play this hazardous cat and mouse game with yourself? If you are not consistently getting better and better at what you do, sooner or later, you will lose.

3. A career development plan will help define your future career path

Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living. I say that the unplanned career is not worth having. According to the book “The Go-Giver” which I just read this week, there are three universal reasons why we work: Survive, save, serve. Survival and saving have to do with meeting your basic needs and having some time and money left over to enjoy life. Service has to do with making a meaningful contribution to the world around you. Most people get stuck on the first two stages, but never figure out a way to reach a place of purpose in their work.

When you don’t develop the habit of establishing and achieving clear goals, you also miss out on the opportunity to steer your career along the path of significance. Would you like to wake up one day and realize that you plodded through your days in a job you hated, instead of making a difference? Of course you don’t. Crafting a career development plan will give you the opportunity to gradually assess not only the tasks you do well, but also identify the things that bring joy and meaning to your work.

4. A career development plan will help you to take charge of your own advancement

Carving out the time, and drumming up the discipline it takes to craft a career development plan for yourself will force you to be accountable. Instead of blaming external forces for every negative turn that occurs at work, you will begin to take responsibility for your own actions and reactions.

Creating a career development plan will put the power back into your own hands. Instead of excusing yourself for being late because of traffic, you will be able to recognize that you have stayed up too late flipping through channels on TV, and neglected to pick out your clothes or organize your kids for the day ahead. Instead of being passed over for a promotion because you didn’t have the requisite skills, you get the computer training you need by taking afternoon classes, to position yourself for the promotion you want.

5. A career development plan will give you the confidence you need to succeed.

A career development plan will give you ownership over all aspects of your career. You will begin to know your strengths and weaknesses inside out. You will decide on meaningful targets and set a realistic plans to meet them. You will know what you want to accomplish, and how far you’ve already come. You will find yourself going to work each day with a sense of purpose. New motivation for your work will seem to grow out of nowhere.

When performance review time rolls around, you will no longer have to struggle to list your strengths or outline your achievements. You will be able to confidently prepare for assessment and promotion meetings. You will be able to update your résumé with ease, and not choke up at the thought of going on a job interview. Creating and maintaining a career development plan will place you firmly on your path to success.

 

In upcoming posts, I will give you the tools you need to take charge of your own professional advancement by creating your  personal career development plan.

Please feel free to share your thoughts, experiences and feedback with me in the comments section below:

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10 Great Ways to Rise Above Office Politics and Be a Winner in the Workplace

“Mondays aren’t so bad, it’s your job that sucks.” -Anonymous graffiti artist

It’s Monday again, groan… This is the exasperated refrain that can be heard around the world, in every language at the start of each new work week. In the photo of street graffiti above, we are cheekily chided: “Mondays aren’t so bad, it’s your job that sucks.” In a typical case of “it’s funny because it’s true”, the accusing words resonate with us. But are those irreverent words really true? Do the millions of people around the world who dread each Monday’s arrival really have jobs that suck? With all the drama, frenemies, nonsensical rules and un-stimulating environments many of us experience at work, maybe do have horrible jobs. Or maybe not.

Maya Angelou wrote “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” I’m with Maya. I can’t promise you that after reading this you’ll be bounding out of bed gushing with anticipation for the work week ahead, but here are ten tips to help you get out of your own way, and become a winner at work.

1. Be Strategic

Focus on what you are longing to achieve. When you go to work each day, you should have your life goals in mind. Do you want a raise or a promotion? Are you working at accumulating the downpayment for a house? Are you planning on starting a family? Concentrate on the future, and you will find yourself less concerned with gossip and petty complaints.

2. Take the High Road

When you’re stuck in close quarters with the same people for eight hours day after day, sooner or later someone is going to do something that will make you really angry. You’re only human, and tempers will flare. The key is to not let it get the best of you. As a person with big goals in mind, don’t ruin your reputation just to get a few moments of gratification by publicly venting your anger. In explosive situations, walk away, have a drink of water, take a break, but by all means do not blow your top. In the same vein, don’t resort to becoming passive aggressive and taking things out slowly on the person who upset you with sarcasm or political maneuvering.

3. Craft a Personal Vision

What do you want to be known for at work? How will accomplishments in this job affect future career aspirations? When I was fresh out of university as an audit assistant with Ernst & Young, I made a list of qualities I wanted to strive for in my work. “My Commitment to Excellence” was my professional manifesto, printed on an 11′ x 4′ card and posted on my cubicle wall. It listed a handful of values and practices I wanted to be held accountable for by myself, my colleagues and my bosses. This was probably taking it a bit far, and it makes me laugh to think of it now, but it helped me to go from being an unmotivated, mediocre student to a top performer at work.

4. Choose to be a Victor, not a Victim

Every situation in life comes with its own set of limitations; work is no different. There are inevitably going to be circumstances which occur at work which will be both unpleasant and outside your control: the sick day policy might change, you may have to suddenly start working shifts, there may be a wage freeze imposed. Only losers waste time pining over things they cannot control. Be a winner; decide today not to waste your time and energy complaining about things you can’t control. Get over it and move on.

5. Set Growth Goals

We all have things we can do better in life. You will not become a winner by basking in mediocrity. Commit to being much better than average. Set a goal to become one of the top 10% of performers at your workplace. Pay close attention to performance reviews, and create your own personal self-improvement plan. Get ongoing feedback from your colleagues and supervisors, and set yourself daily goals and measurable targets.

6. Become an Effective Communicator

It has often been said those who are able to communicate effectively have an advantage at work and in life. Make a decision to become one of the best communicators among your colleagues. Good communicators know how to effectively employ eye contact, body language, tone of voice, and they are adept at choosing the right words. Challenge yourself to speaking up, and to being courteous and friendly in every interaction. Most conflicts arise or are fueled by ineffective communication, so your new skills will go a long way toward helping you avoid workplace misunderstandings.

7. Embrace the Big Picture

If you’re going to be a winner in the work place, you’re going to have to trade in your myopic mindset for one that embraces the big picture. If you had your supervisor’s job, would you be spending time grumbling in the lunch room about the new policy on tardiness? Probably not. Make an effort to learn more about how the organization functions, why certain decisions are made, and what makes it tick. Finding out the reasons behind unpleasant mandates can give you a different perspective, and will neutralize the powerlessness that comes with not knowing why.

8. Stay Organized. Stay Busy.

My grandfather used to say “the devil finds work for idle hands to do”. Many people develop the habit of lack-luster performance out of sheer boredom. If you go to work every day waiting to be told what to do, watching the clock and longing for home time, you are bound to hate your job. You’re bored. It is no wonder you’ve become embroiled in office gossip and politics just to liven things up. Instead, make a commitment to go to work each day with a purpose. Have a list of the things you would like to accomplish, and volunteer to help out if you run out of things to do. In this way, you will no longer have time to wonder who is talking about you behind your back.

9. Think Win-Win

To truly be a winner in the workplace, you must learn to think win-win. This will require you choose to compromise, not to give in, but to evaluate all the options and choose a path that will not only benefit you, but all concerned. It’s a give and take. If you make a decision to work on this every day, you will develop the reputation of being a fair-minded person, and a good negotiator. You will find yourself gaining a lot more than you would have by selfishly fighting for your own gain.

10. Nurture Your Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm can be an elusive quality. Many of us only show it in response to exciting events, others hardly ever, and yet there are those who appear to exude it from within. An enthusiastic person has a winning attitude. They choose to see the opportunities in every challenge they face. They know how to generate energy and positive vibes even in the worst of circumstances. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, wrote a groundbreaking book called ‘Man’s Search for Meaning‘. In it, he celebrates the kind of attitude it took to make it through a Nazi death camp alive. The person who is able to think positively in sticky situations, and devise a desirable conclusion, is the person who will win. Commit today to becoming an enthusiastic person.

 

Being a winner in the work place starts with a decision, it starts with you. Here’s to happier Mondays in the future!

Let me know what you thought of this post in the comments section, and if there’s anything else you would add to the list. If you liked it, be sure to share it with someone you care about.

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11 Tips for Brand New Senior Managers

You’ve finally gotten the promotion you’ve dreamed of. You’re finally in charge. Being the new corporate head, division chief or general manager will be harder than you could have imagined. Here are ten tips to help you negotiate this unknown territory and remain grounded, while achieving the results you can be proud of.

1. Check Your Ego at the Door

You’ve gotten to where you are because you’re a superstar. You are brilliant. You worked harder than your colleagues and got promoted faster, too. Maybe you had passable technical skills, but excellent networking and people skills and brown-nosed your way to the top. None of that will help you now. It’s not about you any more. It’s no longer just your career. Your performance will now be dependent on the results you achieve through your team.

2. Listen

Companies usually appoint new leaders out of need. Perhaps the old CEO retired, or the previous division head was fired. Now it’s on you to achieve those unrealistic results. Even if you have been with the company for years, you must go in with a clear mind and survey the territory with fresh eyes. You may be tempted to believe you already have all the answers. Resist that temptation. Pretend you know nothing, and listen. Listen to your managers and direct reports. Listen to your line staff. Listen to your suppliers. Listen to your customers. Listen. Create forums where people will be frank with you. Take it all in, and fill a brand new slate.

3. Craft A Vision

After taking the helm, you will be expected to chart the course for the organization. You need to decide where you want to go, and the strategies you will use to get there. Your people need something to believe in, but you have to believe it first. Craft an inspirational and aspirational vision that will serve as your company’s proverbial ‘pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night’.

4. Create Buy-In

Regardless of how much talent and previous success, industry expertise and respect you’ve gained before taking up your new job, the troops will not automatically become loyal followers of you or your vision. You will have to earn it. You will have to win them over little by little and day by day by being consistent, passionate and respectful. Tell them the “why” behind the vision, and they will hear their own concerns reflected. Start with your leaders first, then communicate and over-communicate the vision company wide to make sure that the message does not become distorted.

5. Be Knowledgeable

To be successful, you will need to have a thorough understanding of all direct and indirect financial drivers: revenue streams, the cash and inventory cycle, direct costs and administrative expenses and operating and customer service key performance indicators (KPIs). You need to gain a thorough knowledge of these indicators to set the right goals and targets for your department heads. Creating a culture of reporting will be key. Your team should know what their KPIs are and how they are doing compared to target on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis, and so should you.

6. Be Independent

It’s lonely at the top. Certain members of your team will try to ingratiate themselves to become favorites or be granted special privileges. Resist it at all costs. Have zero tolerance for this type of suck up behavior. Do not compromise your independence. Failing to do so will have you paying favors indefinitely. It will also create and over-politicized culture, and will earn you the mistrust of the less-favored and potentially more principled and hard-working team members.

7. Nurture Your People

You won’t be a leader if no one is following you. While fostering cronies and gofers is not acceptable, you still need to nurture your team. It is important to develop a mentoring relationship with each of your key players so that you can help them be their best. Theodore Roosevelt once penned the wise words: “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

8. Foster Accountability

Being a nurturing leader does not mean you will stand for substandard performance. Your aim should be to continually get better results as they perfect their skills. You should have zero tolerance policy for excuses and finger-pointing. When someone comes to you with a problem, require that they also come armed with a suggested solution. When one of your direct reports makes a mistake, he or she should quickly accept responsibility, suggest a possible way out, and move on.

9. Celebrate Wins, Even Small Ones

While driving hard for improvement, innovation and accountability, it is important to take note of the successes. Failing to notice even small improvements will leave your team feeling unappreciated and will lead to frustration and burn out. Find ways to systematically celebrate wins and ensure that you apply it consistently. Your team will thank you for it.

10. Focus on Continuous Communication

Constant effective communication will be key to ensuring quality and consistent growth. Listening should be something the entire organization internalizes. Everyone’s voice is important. Create open and honest lines of communication at all levels of the organization. Make communication systemic by setting up weekly pow-wows and department meetings, regular staff polls and annual leaders’ retreats.

11. Never Stop Learning

No matter how much you know already, as a new leader, it will never be enough. Read as much as you can and keep reading. Seek out other business leaders who can mentor you and challenge you to become a better leader. Keep an open mind in all situations. Be humble. You are the boss, but develop the mindset that every single person in your organization has something they can teach you.

 

Are there any other important tips you would share to new business leaders? Feel free to share your experiences, and feedback in the comments section below. Good luck on your leadership journey!

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Crucial Confrontations

Slightly ahead of my annual goal, I have just completed book number fifty-three for 2012. ‘Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior‘, was released a few years ago by authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. The book teaches how to confidently address violated expectations and resolve accountability issues without harming relationships.

The Scenario

[Husband lying on the sofa watching TV.]

Wife: Honey, can you please remember to take out the garbage tonight?

Husband: Yeah

[Thirty minutes later.]

Wife: Honey, are you going to take out the garbage?

Husband: In a minute.

[One hour later.]

Wife: Honey, the garbage!

[Snore.]

How Do You Respond to Bad Behavior?

We have all been there, situations where someone disappoints us not just once, but repeatedly. Your wife takes so long to get herself dolled up that you are late every time you go out together. Your assistant hands in sloppy assignments. Your boyfriend drinks too much and embarrasses you. Your boss screams at you. Your best friend borrows money and does not pay it back.

How do you respond to similar disappointments?

A) You handle yourself with grace and aplomb. You introduce the topic of the broken promise or inappropriate behavior in a safe environment, explain your disappointment, carefully get feedback from the other person and mutually agree on a plan of action.

B) You condescendingly remind the other person that the infringement has now been committed for the two-hundredth and thirty-seventh time.

C) You silently replay your fantasy to strangle him or her and curse under your breath.

D) You grudgingly ignore the first few instances, whine to your friends about it, and then explode like a crazy person when it happens a third or fourth time.

If you answered A, then you’re already applying the skills taught in ‘Crucial Confrontations’. If you answered B, C or D, then you’ve done what most modern human beings have been conditioned to do. We respond to conflict in one of two ways–fight or flight.

Crucial Confrontations

The pre-programmed responses do not work. Failing to adequately resolve touchy, controversial or complex issues at work can lead to major organizational problems and can be very costly. Picking fights or ignoring ingrained family problems because we feel ill-equipped to deal with broken rules or failed promises is a common cause of long-lasting family tension and strife. In ‘Crucial Confrontations’, the authors teach how to skillfully handle sticky situations without resorting to silence or violence. The book explains how to carefully prepare for an accountability session, how to conduct one and how to follow-up so that the behavior does not continue to occur. These skills applied in a disciplined manner will empower you to face the challenges that plague families, teams and organizations and resolve them permanently.

In a coming post, I will discuss some of the valuable lessons from ‘Crucial Confrontations’ in more detail. If you are struggling with unresolved conflict, I recommend that you read this book right away.

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Leadership Lessons: Small Things Go A Long Way

Since most of us aren’t independently wealthy, we work in order to pay the bills and make steps toward building a secure financial future. If we are to do truly great work, however, we must feel both inspired and appreciated. That’s the really tough part. As the leader of a company, I spend a great deal of my time remaining committed to the part of my vision that aims to make it a great place to work. Actually, I use the word “love”. I aspire to lead in such a way that employees “love” working there.

I wrote in a previous post that employees want to feel special, to be treated like individuals, respected, and made knowledgeable. The big things, like annual staff awards are good and very necessary. However, like the played out ‘Employee of the Month’ selections, sometimes only the “stars” get noticed. Recognition begins to feel more like a popularity contest, leaving the mere mortals feeling neglected.

My management team and I have decided that while we will continue to reward excellent overall performance, we will commit ourselves to finding new ways of recognizing and celebrating the little things that happen every day. One of the very simple, and easy to implement ways we do that is using our ‘Value Board’.

The core values we have embraced are action statements, as opposed to lofty concepts. They are simple to understand, and easy to remember:

1. Do the right thing
2. Treat people right
3. Think outside the box
4. Make a difference

We encourage managers and staff alike to take the time “catch” team members living our values. On wall-mounted cork boards, we post these acts on index cards and sticky notes, as a small token of our admiration and thanks. In the hustle and bustle of the work week, with phones ringing off the hook,  customer queues and reporting deadlines, it is great to walk down the hallway and know that there are people really shining. While this simple initiative may seem corny to some, when team members look up and notice that some extra effort shown was not overlooked, but recognized and appreciated, it is priceless. Small things really do go a long way.

It is amazing how quickly the cards accumulate, as team members from every department take the time to notice others living our four core values, and shining every day. It reinforces excellence and goes a long way toward creating a culture of appreciation. We plan on taking things a step further by randomly selecting monthly prizes, to further celebrate team members who lived our values that month.

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It’s amazing how quickly the good deeds pile up!

 

I would love to hear  some of the ways in which your Company celebrates small wins and provides recognition across your organization.