Strategically stand out

Lessons From My Year of Decluttering

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Earlier this year I told you I had begun a process of clearing both physical and mental clutter in my life. This has been quite a big undertaking, but I am on the other side of it. Life feels much easier and lighter. I want to share what I've learned about clutter (no matter what kind) and how you can begin to address yours.

What Is Clutter?

Most of us think of clutter in the physical sense — for example, a pile of papers on your desk or a closet full of outdated clothes that don’t fit anymore. But let’s take a look at a much broader definition.

  • Clutter can be anything that drains your energy, whether that's a messy physical environment or a relationship that depletes you.

  • Clutter encompasses what you keep tolerating and allowing to frustrate you. This could range from a repair job that you keep putting off to bad habits that you know you need to change to perpetual underperformance from team members or ongoing issues in your other work or personal relationships.

  • Clutter can include remnants of the past or parts of your life, personal or professional, that just don't fit anymore.

  • No matter what form clutter takes, it can distract you, deplete your energy and affect how you “show up” with others every day.

Managing Relationship Clutter

As I examined the clutter in my own life, tackling my physical environment was easy. I cleared stuff out of my house, replaced the old, drafty front and back doors, installed new porch lights and got a new yard service. Essentially, I got rid of all the visual reminders of what didn’t work, which released some of my mental capacity for other things.

The next step was to look at my relationships, which was much thornier work. When you have to continue interacting with people you find draining, things get a bit more complicated. It’s not as easy as tossing out old magazines!

You can, however, take steps to minimize the impact of these relationships:

  • Think about both how a particular relationship serves you and how it's holding you back. Get clear about the one or two reasons you want to stay engaged in this relationship. This will allow you to be more intentional about the choice you are making to continue the relationship and why.

  • Next, identify one thing you could do differently with this challenging person that would allow you to maintain your relationship and your energy. Experiment with setting boundaries for yourself. For example, you could shift your interaction to more phone calls vs. in-person meetings, shorten the time you interact or change the cadence of how often you interact.

  • Identify at least one way to restore yourself after you have to spend time with a frustrating or energy-draining person. For example, if you know a colleague that sets you off will be at a meeting, plan to do something energizing right before or after. It can be something as simple as taking a quick walk. Focus on what works for you.

  • Start taking steps to address underperformance that feels exhausting to deal with. Check out my previous blog post on how to stop tolerating ongoing performance issues in your team.

Declutter Your Behavior

You might discover, though, that the most damaging clutter in your life isn't in your physical environment or your relationships, but rather in your mindset or behavior. If this resonates for you, review these resources to leave your limitations behind:

  • Notice your "thinking traps." These affect your stress level and confidence.

  • Identify one or two behaviors that undermine your executive presence. This could include acting as you did in a past position instead of adopting new practices to help you succeed in your current role. For example, I see leaders involved in far too many details and failing to delegate and more fully leverage their teams. Or they fail to recognize that how you get results is just as important as the results themselves.

  • Take a look at my products and services, which will give you many more resources to draw on when you're looking to make lasting change.

No matter what area of your life you want to declutter, remember to enlist support from people who understand your goals and give you energy.

I want to challenge you to identify one thing you will do this week to start decluttering.  And remember that small steps can lead to big results.

How Are Your Blind Spots Getting in Your Way?

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Blind spots. We all have them. But do you really understand how they’re getting in the way of your success?

Imagine racing a high-performance car. You are looking ahead, planning your next move to sustain your performance without compromising your speed. You need to switch lanes and have just a split second to decide which way to go. But you can’t see because your car has a huge blind spot. What do you do? Do you slow down and risk losing the race? Or do you move to the next lane, with unknown consequences to you and others?

Like a race car driver, a high-performing leader moves at a fast clip — zipping from one move to the next, making quick decisions; all the while focused on getting results. If you are like many leaders, you have limited time to reflect. You may not realize that you have blind spots — behaviors that could be hindering your progress and possibly putting others at risk.

So, what can you do? Here are three tips to help you identify and address your blind spots:

1. Ask others for feedback

Identify people with a range of perspectives who will be open and honest about your performance and ask them for feedback. Be sure to ask what you do well, how you may be getting in your own way, and what you should do more or less of to be effective in your role.

As you prepare to request feedback, think about the importance of anonymity and the approach that will yield the most insight. For example, you can use your company’s 360 or upward feedback tool, use a simple online survey tool like SurveyMonkey, sit down and have a direct conversation, or work with an executive coach who can interview others on your behalf and summarize the key themes. Whatever you decide, be sure to choose a method that fosters honest, candid feedback and gives you enough context to interpret the comment.

2. Validate the feedback

Everyone reacts to feedback differently. You may find yourself choosing to deny it or ignore it. However you feel about the feedback, I would urge you to at least validate it. Look for evidence and examples through your own observations, reflection, and conversations with others. Whether you agree with the feedback or not, entertaining the possibility that “it might be true” will open you up to noticing things you might not otherwise see.

3. Take Action

So now that you have gathered and validated the feedback, what should you do? Just remember that feedback has value only if you do something with it. Start by choosing one or two areas that you’d like to focus on first. Be careful not to overload yourself with action items, and remember that your action items don’t have to be huge. Small steps can lead to big results.

What Kind of Leader Are You?

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If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t given much, if any, thought to your brand as a leader. When I coach high-performing managers and leaders, leadership brand comes up time and again — because being deliberate about assessing and developing your brand can have a huge impact on your success.

So, if you’re ready to take a look at your brand, here are four steps to get you started:

1. Find out what you are known for today.

Whether you realize it or not, you do have a brand. The question is how well it's serving you. As you define your current brand, limit yourself to three, one-word adjectives. Reflect on performance reviews and common themes you have heard from others in the past, and consider collecting feedback from others. You can conduct an anonymous online survey, ask people yourself, or have someone else (like an executive coach, mentor, or supervisor) gather feedback for you. Whatever you do, choose an approach that will give you candid information. Remember to ask people to give you specific examples. What do you say or do that demonstrates your brand? You have to understand what it looks and sounds like.

2. Determine what you want to be known for.

Your desired brand must be authentic (i.e., true to you); this is not about misleading anyone. Again, limit yourself to three one-word adjectives. I once coached a female executive (let’s call her Michelle) about her desired brand.

She wants others to view her as:

Credible – Michelle wants others to recognize her specialized industry expertise because it is important for the role and business she is in.

Confident – Michelle wants to have a physical presence that conveys that she is a strong player.

Respectful – When she disagrees with a point of view, Michelle wants to do it in a manner that still encourages ideas and input from others.

3. Define how to reinforce your desired brand.

Again, it’s important to determine what you would say or do to reinforce your brand. In Michelle’s example, demonstrating credibility might involve proactively sharing specific industry information with the leadership team in the context of a top priority or project. Confidence might entail speaking louder, making direct eye contact when addressing a group, standing or sitting taller, or speaking up at least once in every leadership meeting.

4. Take action to close the gap.

Identify one or two actions you will take to close the gap between your current and your desired brand. This may mean that you have to stop or start doing something. Using Michelle’s example of being respectful, she has to stop interrupting others when they speak and resist that urge to jump right in.

Just remember that your leadership brand is important context for how you show up as a leader — in your everyday words and actions. By proactively defining and managing your brand, you will get better results. So, what are you waiting for?

Do You Have Mentors or Sponsors?

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Whether you’re a man or a woman, you’ve probably heard time and again how important it is to have at least one strong mentor to guide you and help you develop the skills to get to the next level in your career. Most large companies even offer formal or informal mentoring programs. So you might think that both genders benefit equally from having a mentor. However, a Harvard Business Review article, Why Men Get More Promotions than Women, highlights that men benefit more than women.

The article shares research from a 2010 study by Catalyst, a leading nonprofit organization that works with businesses to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women and business.

Here is one of the most notable findings from the research:

“Although women are mentored, they’re not being promoted. A Catalyst study of more than 4,000 high potentials shows that more women than men have mentors— yet women are less likely to advance in their careers. That’s because they’re not actively sponsored the way the men are. Sponsors go beyond giving feedback and advice; they advocate for their mentees and help them gain visibility in the company. They fight to get their protégés to the next level.”

The article goes on to say that men and women both mention receiving valuable career advice from their mentors, but men predominantly describe being sponsored. Women explain that their mentoring relationships help them better understand themselves and how they work, and what they might need to change as they move up the corporate ladder. Men, on the other hand, tell more stories about how their bosses and mentors have helped them strategically plan their career moves, assume responsibility and leadership in new roles, and openly support their authority.

The research certainly has implications for organizations as they design mentoring programs and explore how to best support the advancement of women. But there are also important implications for what you should personally do. Here are three suggestions to think about:

1. Recognize the distinction between mentorship and sponsorship.

Both mentors and sponsors offer tremendous value in helping you develop yourself and proactively manage your career. Mentors typically serve as role models, providing guidance and perspective to help you further develop your skills and navigate challenging political situations. Sponsors, on the other hand, give you exposure to opportunities and visibility to influential leaders, and advocate on your behalf.

2. Have mentors and sponsors in your network.

Recognize that the skills required to be an effective mentor may be different from what it takes to be an effective sponsor. Mentors can typically hold any position in the organization and can help you close gaps in your skills, while sponsors have clout and yield considerable influence on key decision-makers. Remember to have both mentors and sponsors in your network, using your career goals as important context for whom you engage.

3. Be mindful of whom you choose.

It may be more comfortable for you to choose individuals who look like you. In fact, the research shows that men tend to gravitate toward men and women to women. However, when it comes to sponsors, more important than gender is the person’s role and level in the organization. Remember that it’s critical to gain sponsorship from leaders who hold senior-level positions and have influence and power. As you think about mentors, think about the skills you are trying to build and who may be able to help you fill those gaps.

So, to get you started, take a look at your existing network in the context of what you’re trying to accomplish personally and professionally. This will serve as an important guide to identify whom to engage as mentors and sponsors to get the support you need.

Networking for Results

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When we expanded our business into the Dallas/Fort Worth area, several people commented on how quickly we plugged into the local business community and asked what we did to make it happen. Here are three simple strategies that have worked for us and our clients.

1. Get clear.

Networking can be a full-time job if you let it. So before you dive in, clarify what you want to accomplish personally and professionally. Developing specific goals will help you focus on who and what matter most, make the best use of your time, and make networking less overwhelming.

Let's take the example of Susan, a leader who told me that she really needs to start networking but finds it draining and difficult. Given her busy schedule, she just doesn’t know how to make it happen. I asked her what she was trying to accomplish. Susan explained that she is ready to take on a bigger role at her company, but that she cannot travel extensively. She admitted that her ideal role may be difficult to get at her company, so she will need strong sponsors to make it happen.

In particular, there are two leaders who could strongly influence her career path. Susan needs to make sure that they know who she is and how she is adding value. As a backup plan, Susan needs to build her external network to identify opportunities outside her company. Because we clarified Susan’s goals first, she could quickly develop a list of people she needs to network with internally and externally.

2. Be consistent.

Most people focus on their networks when they need something. They typically view networking as optional vs. core to achieving their goals. If this sounds all too familiar, I would urge you to set aside time each week to strengthen your network. Remember that it doesn’t have to be time- consuming. Even 5-10 minutes per week can go a long way. For example, in less than five minutes, you can send a quick email about an event or article of interest, make an introduction to someone your contact would enjoy meeting, or ask for advice or input.

As you develop your strategies, think about what would be of service to the person with whom you are cultivating a relationship. Whatever your approach, communicate regularly so that you stay top of mind.

3. Show your stuff.

The best way for people to get to know you is by seeing you in action. Volunteer for something that showcases your strengths, fits with your passion, and helps you develop strong relationships with the right people. When you get involved, others will notice how you think and the value that you bring — as long as you follow through on your commitments. Otherwise, you risk damaging relationships instead of advancing them. Again, you don’t have to invest a lot of your time, but be clear about how much time you can give and carve out something manageable.

Because networking can feel overwhelming, start by developing one achievable goal. For example, you could carve out ten minutes this week to clarify what you want to achieve through networking. If you already know, invest those ten minutes instead to reach out to someone with whom you want a stronger relationship. Remember to look for opportunities within what is already on your calendar (e.g., meetings, calls, etc.), rather than adding more to-do’s to your list!

Do You Know What Really Differentiates You?

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As I have coached high performing leaders over the years, I can’t help but notice some common themes. As they move up the ladder, sometimes they take for granted how hard it would be for someone to fill their shoes. Or they underestimate the value of their perspective, one that has been shaped by a unique set of personal and professional experiences.

So, today, I want to ask, “When is the last time you stopped to think about what makes you truly unique and valuable to an organization, whether it’s your current employer, a client or prospect?” If you’re like most people, you spend little to no time contemplating what differentiates you—unless you’re actively job hunting or lobbying for a pay increase or promotion. Yet going through this process can help you step up your game, leveraging your unique value in a way that serves you and your company.

To clarify what sets you apart, start by answering the three questions below. Remember that this won’t take the place of a more thorough personal leadership branding exercise, but it will get the ball rolling in the right direction.

What common themes do you see in the type of work others ask you to do?

Sometimes it takes other people repeatedly pulling you into certain types of projects or opportunities before you notice that what you bring to the table is unique and valued. Think about some of your experiences over the past six to nine months. What jumps out at you?

What have you heard others say about your work?

What do others value most about your work? I want you to think about it from two vantage points, what you do and how you do it. Also consider what you have heard people consistently say, whether or not their feedback made it into your performance review.

What skills or perspective do you have that would be hard to replace?

Finally, get to the aspects that cannot be easily replicated, i.e., your unique approach, perspective, skills, or background. People often openly point these out when they initially meet or get to know you. So, think about conversations you have had with people who have known you for little time, as well as those who have known you for years. What have you heard them say?

It may help to start by asking a few people you trust for input. But even if you don’t, you should gain some insight from answering the questions yourself. If you want to take the exercise one step further, identify one small step to highlight or leverage your unique value, in the context of your career goals and what’s important to business.

What’s Your Impact?

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Every day we engage with people from all walks of life in our professional and personal lives. Each interaction results in an exchange of energy, information, and ideas—positive and negative. Through the following three questions, I challenge you today to think about the impact you have on others.

What kind of energy are you giving off?

First, are you the kind of person who brings a conversation to a halt with your “healthy dose of realism” that others might call pessimism, or are you someone that people receive positive energy from? As you go through your day, notice how people respond to you by observing their body language, tone and actions. Recognize that some of their reactions may be more about them than you, but others may be directly related to what you are saying and doing. By paying attention more closely, you may notice some important patterns.

How do you impact results?

Next, ask yourself how the company or others benefit from your involvement or participation, whether you’re participating in a meeting or on a conference call. What do you typically contribute? Are you the person that “hangs back” or dives right in with your ideas? How much do you focus on moving things forward versus staying below the radar or just trying to wade through? Even if you’re “showing up” to participate, are you actually adding value?

What do others take from your behavior?

To bring the last point home, I want to share something from a meeting I was facilitating with an executive women’s group last week. We talked about how leaders are always in an “invisible spotlight.” In other words, people are constantly watching them, noticing what they are doing and drawing their own conclusions.

So, whether you realize it or not, you are sending indirect messages with everything you do. What are yours? Is it that you’re overwhelmed and need to be managed carefully or you might make life miserable for everyone? Or are you that unwavering leader that can provide direction and guidance consistently no matter what is going on? Recognize that small actions can add up to big messages when you put them all together.

Remember that you have an impact on everyone you interact with, but you do have a choice about what kind of impact you want have. So be intentional and purposeful about it and make sure that what you do reinforces your leadership brand and aligns with your values.

So, what one small step will you take this week to have the type of impact that’s important to you and your team?

How Hierarchy Impacts Your Presence

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When you participate in events with professionals who hold a much higher or lower position than you, does it make you uncomfortable? As someone not yet in the executive ranks, do you wonder how you can make a positive impression on that senior leader who barely knows you? Or, as a senior leader, do you wonder how awkward it will be to talk to someone who is at a completely different stage in his or her life and career?

Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, has truly mastered the art of removing hierarchy from the equation when she engages with others. I have learned a lot from observing her, and she wrote the foreword to my book Show Up. Step Up. Step Out. – Leadership Through a New Lens. As I have gotten to know Colleen, I have noticed three things that she consistently does. As simple as these strategies may seem, they can make a huge difference.

1. Relate to people as people

Imagine for a moment that titles and positions have no relevance. How would you approach the person if you were just trying to get to know her and trying to make her feel comfortable talking to a stranger? What would you want to ask? What would you share about yourself?

2. Be yourself

People can always sense authenticity. Rather than trying to live up to a certain image, remember what others appreciate about you and let that show – whether it’s your sense of humor, ability to tell stories, or some other aspect of your personality. In advance of your interaction, think about how you want to “show up” and what you want others to take from their conversation with you.

3. Take a genuine interest in others

The simplest way to take an interest in others is by asking questions and being fully present as they answer. Allow yourself to go beyond surface level small talk. To get started, you can always ease into a conversation by inquiring about people's interests, families, or vacation plans. This will allow you to quickly find common ground to build on and set the stage for an even better conversation next time.

So, this week, I want to challenge you to think about how hierarchy impacts your presence and to try one of the strategies above. You might be surprised at the difference it makes.

© 2013 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

Build Your Personal Brand by Claiming the Spotlight

You've heard me make the case for "tastefully tooting your own horn" as a way to build your personal brand. Well, recently, I got a chance to take this to a whole new level for myself – one way outside my comfort zone. At the tail end of 2014, I found out I was a finalist in four categories for the Stevie Awards for Women in Business.

Initially, I didn’t even consider going to the awards ceremony in New York, and the thought of stepping into that kind of spotlight made me really uncomfortable.

But then I had a change of heart during a conversation with my executive coach. As we talked, I realized the importance of raising the visibility of my personal brand. People who know me well know how much I care about having a bigger impact – to reach more people, give them valuable resources and make a difference. I realized that this would be an important step in that direction. So I bought a plane ticket and headed for New York.

I was surprised at how vulnerable I felt about the whole thing. After all, in a situation like this you are being evaluated by a panel of judges and compared to your peers. And not everyone goes home with an award. So, it was a big deal for me to show up at the awards ceremony, and it was an even bigger deal to take a friend along. I went into that evening figuring I had no chance at gold, and certainly no need to prepare an acceptance speech. The Stevies drew 12,000 nominations from more than 20 countries.

Early in the evening, though, things began to unfold differently than I had predicted: I won a gold award! By the time the whirlwind of an evening was over, I had two gold awards: Mentor and Coach of the Year-Business and Female Entrepreneur of the Year for businesses in my size and category. I also came away with one silver award and one bronze. Because I was seated with honorees from PepsiCo and AT&T, two of my clients, I had my own cheering section. By the end of the night, I was excited — and drained (in fact, too drained to go and celebrate that night in NYC)! When I got back to Dallas, my executive coach laughed out loud when I told her I “survived” my awards ceremony.

This story might surprise you, given how often I’m in the spotlight speaking and presenting and successfully coaching others on tasteful self-promotion. But being in this kind of spotlight was really different, and stretched me in new ways. I am so glad I went, and I urge you to find opportunities to step out, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Here's why:

  • We all need to acknowledge and celebrate success. As high performers, we often push ahead to the next project without pausing to notice the impact of what we've already done and how many people we've affected. As I reflected about my company’s growth and performance, I realized how many lives we have touched and in what way. If I didn’t have to find a way to fit four awards in my luggage, I’m not sure I would have really noticed in the way I did that night.

  • Increasing your own visibility can help others. To tap into your knowledge and strengths, people have to know what you have to offer! Look for opportunities to showcase your value, impact, and skills so that others can leverage and learn from them, and you can make a bigger difference.

  • Being open to the possibilities can take you to places you never expected. I had to really stretch to put myself in a situation that might not have gone as well as I'd hoped. It has taught me lessons that will benefit me and my clients.

If you normally shy away from the spotlight, think about how you can step out more in 2015. Maybe it's applying for an award; maybe it's taking on a high-visibility role or project that scares you. Get motivated with my videos on self-promotion as a way to build your personal brand or the Leadership EDGE SeriesSM booklet "Strategically Standing Out." And remember, small steps can lead to big results.

P.S. Check out the full list of Stevie Awards for Women in Business winners.

The Real Way to Get a Raise (Hint: It's Not Karma)

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It's been almost a month since Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella suggested that women who don't ask for raises earn "good karma," and the fallout continues. Nadella has apologized for the remarks, and now says he was "completely wrong." I agree! (Listen to one of my radio interviews on the controversy here.)

The upside of his remarks is that it initiated more conversations about the pay gap between men and women. Did you know that a recent Glamour magazine survey found that 39 percent of women ask for a higher salary when they land a new job, compared with 54 percent of men? The same survey found that only 43 percent of women have ever asked for a raise in their current jobs. For men, that figure is 54 percent.

Additionally, Nadella's advice to leave their pay up to karma may be sending some women in the opposite direction. Alexis Fritzsche, who works in sales in San Francisco, told the New York Times that Nadella's remarks are spurring her and her friends to ask for raises.

If you're feeling fired up to go after your own raise, I've got some strategies to help you succeed.

Why We Don't Ask — and Why We Should

Unfortunately, Nadella isn't alone in his views about women who ask for a raise. Researchers found that women get penalized more severely than men when they try to negotiate for higher pay.

That study shows that women's fears about asking for a raise — that we'll be seen as greedy, aggressive and not "nice" — aren't baseless.

But, at the same time, it's more necessary than ever to ask if you want the pay you deserve. Believing that "good work speaks for itself" won't get you too far in today's busy workplace. Even if your boss has the best of intentions to notice and reward everyone's accomplishments, she also has a lot of other demands competing for her time and attention.

How to Ask for (and Get) a Raise

Know your value.

You can't sell others on why you're a valuable asset unless you're crystal clear about your unique skills and contributions. Identify your key strengths and how they make a difference to the bottom line.

Share your value regularly.

Make it a habit to tastefully self-promote. You are not bothering people or being a showoff by letting them know what you've accomplished – as long as you do it in a way that is relevant and useful to them. As I said earlier, your boss is busy and may not know all the great things you are doing. Part of her job is to best utilize your talents, so you're helping her out by keeping her informed. Check out my video series for more ideas on the right way to self-promote.

Make it a win/win.

The way you frame your request is key. An ultimatum will put your boss on the defensive. Instead, communicate your commitment and your desire to provide value and feel valued.

Practice!

Your tone and confidence make a difference, too. Rehearse ahead of time in front of a mirror, especially if you know it's hard for you to ask for what you want, so that you can get used to hearing and seeing yourself ask.

Plan for obstacles.

Know how you might get in your own way during the negotiation and plan for that. Decide on what you will do if your boss says no to your initial request. What alternatives can you offer?

You'll find more ideas on the right way to ask for a raise in this Miami Herald article I was part of and this radio interview.

The good news is that the Glamour survey I mentioned earlier found that 75 percent of the women who ask for a raise get one. You can, too! Let me know if you use these strategies and how they worked for you.

 

Check In on Your Relationships

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In October, we've been working with the theme of relationships. In our first post of the month, I challenged you to identify your most important relationships at work and focus on improving the ones that were a little rocky. How did that go for you? Using the approach below, let’s take a look at your progress:

  • First, list the priority relationship(s) you wanted to improve. For example, maybe you focused on your relationships with your boss and with one of your direct reports.

  • Next, for each person, jot down what has improved.

"My boss is taking more time to understand my ideas instead of cutting me off or multi-tasking when I speak." "My direct report has gone from complaining to me all the time to now beginning to offer some productive suggestions."

Remember, relationships take time to cultivate. Even small changes can be positive indicators. Notice what has happened as well as what doesn’t anymore. For example, you may no longer be having difficult conversations with the person.

  • Then, identify what worked. The third step is the most important one. Here, list what worked. Notice the actions you took that improved the relationship. With your boss, maybe the difference-maker was engaging in strategic self-promotion or strengthening your relationships with her trusted advisers so they could share positive feedback about you (the messenger does matter). With your direct report, maybe you saw changes start to happen when you made the effort to find out what was important to him, limit the time he was allowed to vent, and help him remove barriers in the way of his goals.

By taking the time to notice what helped you strengthen these relationships, you will more proactively put these strategies into play. In effect, these are your personal best practices and leveraging them is a powerful strategy that many often overlook.

I hope that you'll take away some new insights on your relationships from our work this month, and I challenge you to keep investing just a few minutes each week. It doesn’t have to be time consuming, but your focus on relationships should be consistent. You'll find ideas on how to do that in my new Leadership EDGE SeriesSM e-booklets "Building Influence" and "Building a Powerful Network." And remember that small steps can lead to big results!

Step Out to Close the 'Confidence Gap'

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Did you read the recent article "The Confidence Gap" in The Atlantic? The authors, broadcast journalists Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, explore the disparity in confidence between men and women and how that affects women's success in the workplace.  "Compared with men, women don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they’ll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities," Shipman and Kay write.   And they add, "A growing body of evidence shows just how devastating this lack of confidence can be. Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence."   But there is good news: Confidence can be learned, Shipman and Kay write.   A confidence makeover doesn't happen overnight. Instead, I believe that you start to build confidence as soon as you take just one small action to "put yourself out there" more than you have in the past.   Are you ready to take that first step toward more confidence? Here are a few ideas:

  • Ask for something you want.

  • Make a suggestion that you believe in, and that might meet with resistance.

  • Speak up in a setting that’s less comfortable for you, such as meeting with senior leaders.

  • Volunteer for an assignment that will require you to stretch beyond your comfort zone.

  • Reach out to a leader you admire and respect but have hesitated to contact before.

After you've decided on what your action will be, try to get to the heart of what makes it challenging for you. What has held you back from actions like this in the past? Maybe you've worried you might lose credibility or even fail on that "stretch" assignment, or that you were wasting a senior leader's time by asking her for advice.   Once you clarify what's held you back in the past, consider the kind of support you need to make your bold move this time. What words of encouragement would you need to hear? Who do those words need to come from? You or someone else, such as a mentor or a former boss?   Finally, find a way to hold yourself accountable for your confidence-building move. What do you need to do to make sure you carry out your plan for putting yourself out there? Perhaps it's just scheduling time in your calendar to take action, or a follow-up call from someone you trust.   This week, identify the first step you want to take toward "stepping out" in a more visible way. Each small step will help you close that "confidence gap". And remember, small steps lead to big results.

Celebrate Your Success Story

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Your shoes would be hard to fill. As we continue our April theme of being bold about what makes you unique, I encourage you to take some time to reflect on how you've succeeded so far. Even accomplished leaders sometimes take their distinctive skills and abilities for granted.

What themes do you see in your success story? Think about the kinds of work that you typically get asked to do. That's a good indicator of your strengths. What have you heard others say about why they value you work? What skills and perspectives do you have that would be hard to replace?

For inspiration, here are some stories of women with humble beginnings whose boldness took them to the top of their fields:

Marissa Mayer, CEO at Yahoo Long before her Silicon Valley days, Marissa Mayer worked as a grocery store clerk. But even then, she was known for fast results. To work in the express lane, she had to scan 40 items a minute.

Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO at PepsiCo Showing early on that she could take on tough challenges, Indra Nooyi paid her own way through college. When she came to the U.S. to attend graduate school at Yale University, she took a job as a receptionist in her dorm. She worked the late-night shift — from midnight to 5 a.m.— because it paid 50 cents more per hour.

Tina Fey, writer/producer/actress Living in Chicago in the mid-'90s, Tina Fey worked as the child-care registrar at a YMCA before famed improv troupe Second City invited her to join. In 1997, she sent scripts to "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels, who then hired her as a writer.

This week, I challenge you to look back on how far you've come in your career and identify the top two things that have helped you get where you are. From this, you'll see how you've been bold and all of the unique things you've already done. And, I hope, you'll be inspired to do more.

How Well Do You Toot Your Own Horn?

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In April, we’re celebrating how your uniqueness is the key to your success. And while we’re at it, we want to encourage you to “toot your own horn” more about those successes.  

We’ve talked before about how self-promotion isn’t selfish if you’re providing your boss and others valuable info about your work and why you can’t assume that your accomplishments will speak from themselves.

This week, look a little more closely at how you’re doing with self-promotion. Which of these profiles best describes you?

Active self-promoter. You regularly put yourself out there to share valuable information about your results and how you are getting them. You know the right people to connect with and you focus on staying visible to them. The challenge for you may be to do this without coming across as self-centered.

Selective self-promoter. You get that self-promotion is important, but you have difficulty doing it on a consistent basis. Like many others, your activities here may be more externally driven (i.e., by the timing of promotion and pay decisions, restructuring at your company, or other events that drive the need to communicate more about your performance).

Heads-down worker. Your mindset is “I just need to get my work done.” You value results and quality, and you believe that if you do a good job people will notice (see our previous blog on why that’s not necessarily so). You may quickly dismiss self-promotion as a “game” that you don’t want to play.

Praise deflector. Do you have a shield that redirects any compliments you receive (“Ellen was the one who really made the project work!”) or minimizes your accomplishment (“Meeting that deadline wasn’t really a big deal.”)? If so, be mindful of the messages you are indirectly sending to others about your performance.

Most people tend to fall in the middle two categories. Active self-promoters and praise deflectors are more rare. You may also find that you fall into a couple of categories. If so, pay attention to how you are showing up and with whom.

This week, take a few minutes to simply notice how often you take opportunities to share your accomplishment and results with others. Where would you like to be on the self-promotion scale above?

This article is adapted from our video “Assess How Well You Toot Your Own Horn Today.” You can find it and other videos from our “Tastefully Tooting Your Own Horn” series on the Learn page of our website.

Be Bold – Be Unique: The Power of Risks and Relationships - Deborah Gibbins, Chief Financial Officer, Mary Kay Inc.

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We are going to look at how to make your mark by leveraging your unique strengths.

Deb Gibbins employs her skills by taking risks and building strong relationships. As the chief financial officer at Mary Kay Inc., Deb oversees the company's strategic planning and financial growth. Before joining Mary Kay in 2013, Deb held senior leadership roles within PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay North America division and Arthur Andersen LLP.  She serves on the board of directors for the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.

In her professional life and her community roles, Deb is viewed as a connector.  She consistently looks for ways to build a bridge or initiate a relationship that would help people she meets.

I asked Deb to participate in the WBAP/KLIF Texas Women in Business series, sponsored by Newberry Executive Solutions. Her input was enlightening.

Q.  What has contributed to your successful career?

A. First, a willingness to embrace discomfort. I’ve accomplished far more by accepting messy assignments, the ones no one else wanted, than seeking the assignments that appeared to be a piece of cake.  I’ve learned so much by closing my eyes and jumping into a pool of problems and figuring out how to solve those problems, one by one.

Second, I approach most issues with a sense of humor and not taking myself too seriously. Lastly, I recognize that I have to lean on the support of my friends and family.  I think about my relationships as a bank account.  In order to make withdrawals from that relationship account, you have to take the time to make lots of deposits. I remind myself every day I benefit from people who were willing to sponsor and mentor me along the way.

Q. Tell us about a challenge you overcame in your career.

A. I find that most people struggle with knowing the right time to make a career change – a new assignment, a new function, a new company. Trading off the comforts of the known with the rewards of trying something new is always a challenge. When I am faced with a career change, I consult my trusted advisors – sponsors, mentors, friends and my husband — for their advice.  And then I make an old-fashioned list of pros and cons. I weigh the benefits with the risks and assess what I can do, if anything, to mitigate the risks. More often than not, I opt for the change, and once I do, I never look back. When you make a decision, embrace it and don’t lose sleep thinking about “what if.”

Q. How does the future look for women leaders in business?

A. The future for businesswomen who want and have the aptitude for leadership is bright. But not all women want to lead. For those who do, I increasingly see more recognition for the value of female perspective and a woman’s approach to strategic decision-making and risk-taking. The biggest challenge will be ensuring there is a solid pipeline of talented women leaders. Today, there is often a gap in the pipeline as talented women step out of the work force to raise a family.

Q. What advice would you give to women who are looking to make their mark in business?

A. I am so fortunate to work for a company founded 50 years ago by one of America’s greatest female entrepreneurs, Mary Kay Ash. Mary Kay wrote several books full of advice for succeeding in business. The principles of Mary Kay Ash are just as relevant today, and I look to them when offering advice on making a mark in business. Two of my favorites go hand in hand. First, "be a risk taker” and encourage those around you to take risks. Second, “don’t rest on your laurels." In today’s fast-paced world, you are either moving forward through self-improvement or falling behind.

As you consider the two prominent themes in Deb’s interview, risk-taking and relationships, challenge yourself to step out a little further –  and leverage your relationships to give you the support you need.  For more tips on how to do this, check out the chapter “What is sitting on the fence costing you?” in my book Show Up. Step Up. Step Out. available on Amazon.

Photo Credit:  Mary Kay

Self-Promotion Isn’t Selfish

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This month, we’ve been exploring how to be bold about your unique strengths. Part of being bold, of course, is letting others know about those strengths and your accomplishments. Self-promotion makes some of us uneasy, so I want to debunk some of the negative stereotypes about it you may have.

“Bragging is self-centered.” Sharing information about what you’ve accomplished can be relevant and useful to others. Take your boss. Her job includes both leveraging your talents for the company and helping you develop. To do those things, she needs to hear about your strengths, talents and successes.

“My accomplishments should speak for themselves.” We all have lots of lots of people and priorities clamoring for our attention. Even when your boss or a client intends to note your successes, sometimes they’ll slip by unless you share them.

“I don’t have time to self-promote.” Making others aware of your strengths and successes isn’t an “extra,” it’s essential to your job.

These points are part of our video “Change How You View Self-Promotion.” You can find it and other videos from our “Tastefully Tooting Your Own Horn” series on the Learn page of our website.

Ready to go more in-depth on this topic? You’ll find more advice on effective, tactful self-promotion in our WOW! ProgramSM and WOW! Highlight AudioSM, as well as the book “Show Up. Step Up. Step Out. Leadership Through a New Lens.”

 

Be Bold – Be Unique: Debbie Storey, the Servant Leader

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I’d like to highlight my colleague Debbie Storey. Debbie is senior vice president talent development and chief diversity officer at AT&T. Debbie leads AT&T’s efforts to foster an inclusive workforce and develop diverse talent. She also participated in our Texas Women in Business segment, airing on WBAP/KLIF radio in Dallas, Texas. I work with many leaders at AT&T, and Debbie’s name comes up frequently in conversations as someone they look up to as a role model. She is one of the few leaders you will meet who truly invests in others. She wholeheartedly believes in the power of coaching and developing others, and makes herself accessible to do so. In Debbie’s world, there is no hierarchy. She treats each person with respect, takes a genuine interest in them, and offers support.  Her leadership style is truly a differentiator and has notable business impact. I have seen how it fosters greater commitment, loyalty, and results.

During her Texas Women in Business interview, Debbie shared some insights into her career and strategies that have helped her gain success.

Q. What has contributed to success in your career?

A:  I wanted to be a leader from an early age but never wanted others to follow me because of my position. Rather, I wanted them to follow because they were inspired to achieve a vision. I have always cared most about helping people grow, achieve, and succeed. I focus on creating a vision, connecting them to that vision, and then coaching them to do their part to achieve it.  That means challenging them to innovate, take risks, and celebrating big and small contributions and successes.

I also believe that I am not the smartest person in the room. In other words, that I alone don’t hold the answers. The higher you go in an organization, the more you have the opportunity to move into new roles or unfamiliar territory and the less you have to rely on others around you for answers.  The best leaders don’t necessarily have the best answers, but are highly skilled at knowing the right one when they see it. I am not focused on executing my own mission, but on serving those I am leading (whose care I am charged with) and truly listening.

Q. In your opinion, how does the future look for women leaders in business?

A: Women are more educated than ever before, studies show that women excel at the skills considered essential for top leadership, women enter the workforce with as much ambition as men, and companies with more women at the top and on boards outperform in terms of business and financial performance. The data is irrefutable – women are good for business.

There are more conversations taking place – in the media, the board room, and at the highest levels. So, there is more awareness and focus, which will ultimately lead to more opportunities. On the other hand, we are not making progress rapidly so we still have a lot of ground to cover. The bottom line is that success will not be measured by the number of women at the top, but rather when every woman has a choice about the path she wants to pursue – without artificial barriers and with abundant opportunities and resources.

Q. What advice would you give to women who are looking to make their mark in business?

A: There are four things I would advise women to do:

  1. There are many things in life that will catch your eye, but few will capture your heart. Pursue those.

  2. Understand the importance and power of building the right network and never hesitate to leverage that network to get feedback, advice and sponsorship

  3. Make your interests and your aspirations known. You will be overlooked for opportunities if others aren’t aware of what you aspire to

  4. Remember that comfort and growth cannot peacefully coexist. If you want to grow – and I think we all innately want to grow – you have to get out of your comfort zone. Your knees may shake but as you begin to step forward they will strengthen and carry you forward.

As I reflect on Debbie’s comments, I want to challenge you to think about how you will take the lessons from her career and apply them to your own life. For more strategies that you can start putting into play today, take a look at Show Up. Step Up. Step Out. Leadership Through a New Lens available on Amazon.

Be Bold – Be Unique: Lisa Amoroso, Senior Director, Diversity and Inclusion, Frito-Lay North America

During April, we continue to focus on what makes each of us unique. As part of our Texas Women in Business sponsorship on WBAP/KLIF, we asked Lisa Amoroso to share what has really helped her get traction in her career. Lisa is the senior director of diversity and inclusion for Frito-Lay North America. She joined Frito-Lay in 2003 as a supply chain manager and has continued to advance in the company. One of the things I appreciate about Lisa is her boundless energy – her spark. She brings it to every role and task. During the years that I have known her, she has always been willing to push the envelope to do the right thing, and has gotten a lot done with limited resources.  Here are a few nuggets from her interview:

Q: What has contributed to success in your career?

A: There are four key competencies that have benefited me the most in my career.

  1. Agility: The ability to flex to cultures, work approaches and people’s style and to shift priorities

  2. Relationships: Building a comprehensive network and leveraging it effectively

  3. Execution: Being clear on the outcome and delivering it

  4. Perseverance: Pushing through adversity

Q: How does the future look for women leaders in business?

A: I believe the future is brighter than ever before. Companies are more aware of how critical women are to business outcomes, so they are working on becoming more attractive to women. For example, at Frito-Lay, our leaders have engaged our associates in cultural changes that will drive a more inclusive environment where women can thrive.

Q: What advice would you give to women who are looking to make their mark in business?

A: Three things come to mind.

1.  Find the place where you can excel. Each of us has strengths and passions, so figure out what role will allow you to leverage your strengths the majority of the time. I was fortunate to find a company early in my career that allowed me to explore different roles to discover those that I am passionate about.

2.  Don’t doubt yourself.  Stop the negative inner voice and exude inner and outer confidence.

3.  Don’t sacrifice anything you believe in – especially your values and family.

Lisa has her sights clearly set, and definitely leverages her passion and energy to achieve her goals. To help you keep your passion in the forefront, check out the chapter, “Keep Your Passion Front and Center”, in my book Show Up. Step Up. Step Out.  available on Amazon.

Photo Credit: Lisa Amoroso

Download my GIFT to you: Show Up. Step Up. Step Out

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Celebrate Women's History Month and "step up" your leadership skills with a free Kindle download of Neena Newberry's new book — Show Up. Step Up. Step Out. Leadership Through a New Lens. Each chapter offers insight and strategies that get results. You can download a free Kindle reader if you don't own a Kindle. This book is for men and women who want to take their careers and business results to the next level. Give Neena five minutes, and she'll show you a new way to become a better leader. As a former business consultant and executive at Deloitte, Neena draws from more than 20 years of experience in the corporate world working with Fortune 500 companies. Her advice will help you see the opportunities in front of you, put what you know into play, and consistently focus on what really gets results.

"I think Neena hit a home run with this book, and I hope you will enjoy looking through her 'new lens.'" Colleen Barrett, president emeritus of Southwest Airlines

Focus on one chapter each week to increase your impact and results, and by looking through a new lens in three critical areas: • Show Up clarifies what you want others to understand about your leadership and where you can have the biggest impact. • Step Up focuses on uncovering blind spots, getting past roadblocks, and creating strategies to improve your effectiveness. • Step Out recognizes your power to build a strong network of support and to help others step up.

Don't miss this opportunity to get your free copy on March 25th and 26th, and forward this gift to others who could benefit from the tools and strategies in the book. If you get value from it, share your thoughts in a review.

Remember to download the free reader if don't have a Kindle. (http://amzn.to/19dHFW8)

Focus on What Gives You Energy – Donna Epps, Partner at Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP

As part of our Texas Women in Business sponsorship on WBAP/KLIF, we asked Donna Epps to share her insights.  Donna is a partner in the Deloitte Forensic practice of Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP, the national leader of the Anti-Fraud Consulting group, and Co-Leader of Deloitte’s Governance, Risk and Compliance practice.

When it comes to navigating a complex and dynamic business world, Donna understands the importance of focus and energy.  During her more than 26 years in public accounting and professional services, she has audited public and private companies, and has led examinations of regulatory compliance at the state and federal level for certain communications companies. She has worked with the management of multinational public companies in complex, multiyear restatements of financial statements. She has also provided merger and acquisition-related services, and dispute services, particularly in the areas of purchase price and other accounting-related disputes. Donna also assists clients in corporate investigations, with a focus on SEC and accounting-related matters.

In her current role, Donna focuses on helping companies develop and implement proactive enterprise risk and compliance programs. With a focus on value protection and creation, these programs incorporate strategic, operational, compliance and financial risk.

Donna shared her thoughts on success and the future of women in business. I hope these comments resonate with you as well.

Q. What has contributed to your successful career?

I have been lucky to have several mentors and sponsors throughout my career who have provided guidance and support. Throughout my various roles, these people have greatly contributed to any success I’ve had so far. Don’t underestimate the importance of having the right people in your corner to help you.

Q.  What advice would you give to women who are looking to make their mark in business? 

Women should focus on the things that give them energy and make them want to get to work every day.  Knowing that some of these areas may not play to her strengths, she should build her team to complement her skills and experience.  She should also consider working for organizations that will invest in her development, providing strong training programs throughout her career.  Finally, women need support, in their personal and professional environments, to bring the right balance as needed. This will help them maintain energy over time.

Q. How does the future look for women leaders?

The outlook for women in business is strong, with many current opportunities for women. Keep your focus, find energy every day and seek out firms that are invested in your future.

To learn more about how to give yourself an energy boost, read the chapter in my book Show Up. Step Up. Step Out. entitled How Well Do You Manage Your Energy available on Amazon.