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As my career coaching client rushed in the door for our lunch meeting, her eyes darted around the coffee shop until she found me. Hurrying over, she sank into the chair across the table. “Wow, what a crazy morning,” she commented. “I don’t think anything has gone the way I’d hoped today.”

When she pulled out her notepad and pen from her bag, she bumped the table, dropping both on the floor. “See what I mean? Nothing is going right.”

In a word, my client was frazzled. Ever had one of those days?

“Let’s do something to change that,” I told her. “Are you game to try something?”

She smiled. “With the day I’ve had, I’ll try anything.”

I had her stand a few feet away from the table. I told her to remember what she was facing, which happened to be a tall, round table with two men seated at it. Then I explained what I wanted her to do.

She was to march in place for a count of 50. When she lifted her left leg up high (to her waist level), she was to lift her right fist to her chest. When she lifted her right leg up, she was to lift her left fist – alternating her arms with her legs.

But there was a catch. She was to march in place with her eyes tightly closed.

She cocked her head sideways and laughed.

“Don’t worry, no one’s going to think you’re crazy,” I joked. “When you get to 50, stop marching and stand still until I ask you to open your eyes.”

“Okay, then. Here goes,” she said. She closed her eyes, started marching and counted each step until she got to 50. Then she stopped.

“Now, slowly open your eyes and tell me what you’re facing,” I told her.

She opened her eyes and gasped. “How did that happen?” she asked. She was facing a window that had been almost directly behind her when she started marching.

“I could have sworn I was marching in place and hadn’t moved at all,” she commented. “I can’t believe I got so turned around.”

That was exactly my point with this fun exercise. Every day we’re impacted by the little things that happen around us. If we don’t keep our eyes open and our minds calm and present, we can accidentally end up off course and feel like we’re off balance.

Whenever your day feels like it’s not going well, do something to physically and mentally change the situation. Take a quick break. Go for a walk outside in the sun or to get a cup of coffee. Whatever works for you. Then visualize what you want to accomplish and see it happening in your mind.

For my client, resetting her day to get it back on track happened when she sat quietly for a few minutes taking deep breaths, and visualized holding a successful progress meeting with her project team that afternoon.

Bottom Line: The choice is yours as to the kind of day you’ll have. If you feel like things are going off track, take a quick time out to get things back on course.

~ Lisa Quast

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Recently, I was sitting at dinner in between two friends who were having a disagreement about which skill set was more important, management skills or leadership skills.

It felt a little bit like watching a tennis match, with the ball being swatted back and forth from one person to another. The friend on my right would make an excellent point about management skills and then the friend on my left would counter with a reason supporting the need for leadership skills.

To be fair, they both had great comments about each skill.

Management skills. Necessary to run a business or organization. Requires planning, budgeting, staffing, organizing projects, controlling outcomes, solving problems and improving efficiency in the use of resources.

Leadership skills. Includes guiding the direction of an organization, department or team, creating a vision for change, communicating the vision, inspiring people, allocating scarce resources, aligning people and motivating others to commit to achieving the vision.

It was an interesting discussion because I hadn’t really thought about one being more important than the other. I had usually seen them as synergistic because both management and leadership skills have been necessary for me to excel in my career. It had just depended on the type of job and level I was at, as to which of the two skills I had leaned on more heavily.

For example, in my entry-level to intermediate jobs, I used more of my management skills because I needed my area of the company to run as productively and as efficiently as possible. However, I always made sure that our daily tactical and operational activities were aligned to the company’s overall strategy and that we all understood how what we were doing was impacting the organization’s bottom line.

The higher I was promoted in management, the more I needed to use my leadership and strategic planning skills. But I would never have been as successful in those executive-level jobs without my previous day-to-day management and business operations experience.

That’s because my executive-level jobs weren’t just about determining our strategic plans, they were also about working with management teams and various project teams throughout the organization to implement those plans and to track, measure and manage our results.

I shared my thoughts with my two friends, telling them that in today’s fast-pace, high-tech, global economy, the new reality is that both management skills and leadership skills are necessary.

“This has become even more important, especially in technology industries, where employees often lead cross-functional teams and no one is a direct report to them,” I said. “Being good at understanding how things function and managing daily business operations now goes hand in hand with being able to influence others through leadership skills.”

“So what you’re saying is that young people today need both skills to succeed,” my friend said.

Exactly. Both management skills and leadership skills should be developed because both are necessary.

~ Lisa Quast

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You’ve been working hard and thought that, by now, you’d have received that promotion you wanted. But it still hasn’t happened.

Instead of getting frustrated, now is the time for a little introspection and self-analysis. Here are five things that might be holding you back – and how to overcome each obstacle.

You’re doing average work. Doing so-so work won’t get you promoted. You’ll need to do outstanding work that will get you noticed by management. Look at the results you’re achieving in your current job and make sure you’re not just meeting – you’re exceeding – all your manager’s performance expectations.

You’re not managing up. Beyond doing outstanding work, you need to make sure your boss sees the contributions you’re making. If you currently aren’t providing regular progress updates to your manager to demonstrate the contributions you’re making to the organization, fix this situation fast!

You’re not ensuring adequate face time. Part of managing up is making sure you’re spending enough time working face-to-face with your manager and co-workers. Learn from and listen to those around you. Don’t forget to network informally through coffee chats and lunch discussions to build strong relationships and help colleagues get to know you as a trusted advisor.

You’re not being a team player. No one likes a person who is out for themselves. To be promoted, you’ll need to demonstrate that you’re a trustworthy and likeable leader. Leaders are focused on the success of all, and they give credit where it’s due. They have can-do attitudes and are expert communicators and listeners. Become the person who inspires those around you to do great work by giving compliments, jumping in to help whenever needed and supporting colleagues in their career development journeys. In a nutshell, if you’re not a team player – become one!

You’re not asking for more responsibilities. Upper management rarely gives promotions to employees who don’t ask for additional responsibilities. Why? Because they’re looking for employees who consistently strive to go above and beyond what’s asked of them and who want to become leaders within the organization. Volunteer for projects or work assignments. Hone your strategic mind by training yourself to seek solutions when faced with problems, and by presenting solutions to your manager, not problems.

If you’ve been striving for a promotion but haven’t gotten it yet, take some time to consider what might be holding you back. Analyze your skills, communication style and your interactions with your boss and colleagues. Use the results of your personal reflection to improve your skills and adjust your behaviors, so you’ll be ready for that promotion.

~ Lisa Quast

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You survived the holiday season and your in-law’s lengthy visit. Now, everywhere you go, people seem to be talking about their 2018 New Year’s resolutions.

You’ve thought about setting some goals for the New Year, but if completing last year’s list of resolutions didn’t go very well then you’re not alone. Before you give up on your goal-setting efforts, how about trying something different?

For many people (including me!), it can be tempting to bite off more than we can chew. Instead of coming up with a long list of 2017 goals, here are three options.

Pick one skill to learn. This year, instead of creating a long list of resolutions, choose ONE topic – and then do everything you can to become an expert in it:

  • Think about the next job you’d like to have and the key skills necessary to be successful. Choose one of the skills you don’t yet have or that you’d like to learn – make that skill your area of focus for 2018.
  • Read books, attend local seminars or take an online class on your topic.
  • Consider certificate programs at Seattle-area colleges or universities. These are usually evening, weekend or online programs so working adults can fit them into their schedules.
  • Take advantage of your organization’s internal training classes or tuition reimbursement program to help defray costs.

Create a positive habit. Choose ONE habit you’d like to instill into your daily routine. For example, let’s say you want to become better organized. Instead of arriving at work and jumping into responding to emails or answering voicemails, grab a cup of coffee or tea and plan your day:

  • Take the first 15 minutes each morning to consider everything you need to accomplish – and write it down.
  • Prioritize your list so you can see the most important activities all the way down to the least important.
  • Then, schedule the time on your calendar that you’ll need to complete your high-priority tasks and projects.

Break a negative habit. Choose ONE habit you’d like to break. We all have a few negative habits we’d like to stop, whether it’s telling ourselves we’re too tired to exercise or reaching for sweets in mid-afternoon. One of the best ways to overcome a negative habit is to replace it with a positive one:

  • First, identify the bad habit (lack of exercise, eating sweets in the afternoon, interrupting others, late to meetings, etc.) – and write it down.
  • Determine the triggers. Be your own detective to uncover why you engage in the behavior.
  • Brainstorm activities to replace the bad habit. If you reach for sweets in the afternoon, try asking a co-worker to go for a walk. If you tend to interrupt others, try biting your tongue and asking questions to understand (not reply).

Make 2018 the year you try something different when it comes to setting New Year’s Resolutions. You’ll be glad you did!

~ Lisa Quast

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“Good morning!” you called out to your co-worker as she took off her coat and settled into her chair in the cubicle next to yours.

“What’s good about it?” came her mumbled response.

During the staff meeting later that morning, your boss shared that you and your colleague were selected to participate on a cross-functional project team. You were excited, but she moaned, “Great. As if I don’t already have enough to do.”

Thinking you could cheer her up, you invited her to lunch at the restaurant down the street. Enjoying the short walk in the cold rain, you wished out loud that it would snow soon. Your colleague responded with all the reasons why she hates it when it snows. Sound familiar?

Whether you’re the office Grinch or you’re dealing with a co-worker with a perpetual black cloud floating over him or her, the holidays are a great time to get your positive groove back. Why? Because as Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist once said, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

What he meant by that statement is the more you think or do something, the more comfortable your brain gets with it. So the more you (or your colleague) complains or thinks negative thoughts, the more it becomes a habit wired into your brain. Which isn’t good for you, your career, or even your health.

Here’s how you can rewire your brain from the glass is half-empty to half-full:

Start a gratitude journal. Each day, take a few minutes to write down two or three things for which you’re grateful. This will help flip your mind-set. Instead of getting frustrated about being chosen for a project team, celebrate that management values your skills – and then work with your manager to prioritize your activities to fit the project into your schedule.

Express your thankfulness. Did someone do something special for you or go above and beyond the call of duty? Tell them how much you appreciate it. Better yet, also tell his or her manager.

Increase your mindfulness. Instead of diving right into tasks, projects or meetings, take a few moments to get centered and organized. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish (goals and objectives) and how your activities could positively help others (and even help yourself). Sometimes the journey is just as important (or even more important) than the end result.

Studies have shown that people who are grateful are more likely to feel happier, healthier and more optimistic about the future. If it’s true that like attracts like, then the holiday season is the perfect time to rewire your brain – by focusing on everything that’s positive in your life and in your career.

~ Lisa Quast

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Your boss just asked you to work late tonight to finish an important report.

Your significant other texted to ask if you’d stop for milk and eggs at the grocery store on your way home from work (whenever you finally leave the office).

Your parents will arrive for the holidays on Friday and you still need to find time to clean the house. And finish the Christmas shopping. And do the laundry. And decorate the house. And wrap the presents. And finish two big projects at work. And…

Feeling your stress level rising just thinking about everything you need to accomplish before Christmas? Here are eight tips to reduce stress, so you can spend more time enjoying the holidays.

Breathe. Just breathe. Close your eyes and take several deep breaths. Even a few moments of serenity can decrease your heart rate (and stress level).

Take a break. Go for a quick walk during lunch or down the street for a coffee or tea break. The fresh air and exercise will clear your mind and rejuvenate your body – and you’ll be able to focus better when you return to your desk.

Get organized. Write a list of everything you need to accomplish, so you can see it in front of you.

Prioritize. Look through your list and rearrange it in order of priority. What can you push out until after the holidays? What can you delegate to others?

Immerse yourself in the holiday spirit. Pull out your ear buds and turn on some holiday music while you work. Extra credit: Drink some hot chocolate with a candy cane swizzle stick, to really get yourself into the holiday mood.

Take time for yourself. All work and no play makes Jack/Jill a grumpy employee. To avoid becoming an office Scrooge, do something to relax, be that stopping at the gym for a quick workout or soaking in a bubble bath.

Laugh (a lot). An international research team at Oxford University found that when people laugh hard, the human body triggers the release of endorphins that help reduce the feeling of pain and promote feelings of general well-being. So go ahead, laugh more… even at work.

Smile (even if you’re not happy). Psychological scientists Tara Kraft and Sara Pressman studied the benefits of smiling and found that smiling during brief stressors can lower heart rate and reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person feels happy.

Whenever you feel your stress level increasing from work, family or holiday commitments, give yourself a brief timeout and try one (or several) of these stress-busting tactics.

~ Lisa Quast

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You volunteered to lead the planning committee for the company’s upcoming holiday party, thinking it would be a great way to demonstrate your fabulous project management skills to the senior management team.

The committee has been working diligently on preparations for the event for several months now, and everything has been running smoothly. You were finally starting to breathe a sigh of relief (and look forward to the event), until you started to hear office party horror stories about past events.

The two employees who got into a drunken fist fight in the men’s bathroom.

The employee who threw up in a potted plant just outside the hotel ballroom and then almost fell down a flight of stairs.

The drunken dirty dancing, with someone’s bra being thrown in the air across the dance floor.

Now you’re having second thoughts about the open bar. You’re also wondering about liability to the company if anything bad happens.

Short of not serving alcohol at the event, there are ways you can plan ahead to reduce potential issues and liability. Here’s how.

Set expectations. The easiest way to reduce liability is to simply not serve alcohol at the event, but since that may not be realistic given senior leaders’ expectations, one option is to serve only beer and wine, not hard liquor. Either way, be sure to offer lots of non-alcoholic options.

If alcohol will be served, employment lawyer Stephanie R. Lakinski, with Karr Tuttle Campbell, recommends employers communicate in advance that the party is optional and hold it offsite and outside of normal business hours. “Washington has a regulation that prohibits alcohol in the workplace, so the company should not conduct business at the party, and should not pay employees for attending.”

Cap the length of time. The longer the event, the more alcohol that will be consumed. To avoid over-consumption, schedule the event for a specific period, such as 6-9pm, and then stop serving alcohol at least 30 minutes before the end of the event.

Serve heavy appetizers (or dinner). Alcohol on an empty stomach can increase the chances of inappropriate drunken behavior. “Offering a substantive meal or heavy appetizers can mitigate the effects of consuming too much alcohol,” advises Lakinski.

Hire professional bartenders. “Employers can also reduce liability by using third-party vendors to serve employees and cut them off if they are impaired,” Lakinski added.

Designate “safety” managers. Ask several company managers to ensure employees don’t leave the holiday party impaired or get behind the wheel of a vehicle.

Have rides available, if needed. Find out if your company will reimburse employees for using taxis or a ride-sharing service to get home safely. “The biggest liability issue employers face from holiday parties is undoubtedly related to alcohol consumption,” says Lakinski. “If an employee consumes alcohol at a company event and injures someone while impaired, the injured party may be able to claim that the employer is liable.”

It’s always better for employers to spend a few dollars to get someone safely home, than to deal with the potentially negative consequences of someone driving while intoxicated. Cheers to a safe and fun-filled holiday office party!

~ Lisa Quast

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Open any newspaper or news feed and it seems like stories of bad behavior abound. But that doesn’t mean you should allow someone to get away with unethical behavior.

Q: I work on a creative team and had a fellow co-worker/friend ask me for help with the naming of a concept. It took a while, but I came up with the name, which drives and defines the whole concept. My co-worker then presented the name and concept as her own.

 I spoke privately with her and asked that, in the future, she remember to give credit for something we worked on together. She acted offended and angrily told me that she won’t ask for my help in the future “if getting credit is such a big deal.”

 I don’t understand why she was so resistant to sharing the credit for something that wasn’t her idea. She made me feel like a villain for standing up for what was right. Do you have any ideas on salvaging my friendship with this co-worker?

A: Imagine how easy it would have been for your co-worker/friend to have presented the new concept and said, “And thanks to Jane for her creative naming skills! Because of her, we have a fabulous name that also helps drive the overall concept!” End of story.

But that wasn’t what happened, was it? Instead, your co-worker presented your idea as her own. You were right to approach her privately and discuss her behavior. However, her response was not “Oops! I’m so sorry about that. I should have given you credit for coming up with the name of the concept. I’ll fix that mistake right now.”

Instead of being apologetic – either for an honest mistake, or, because she got caught – she went into attack mode and tried to make you feel like the villain.

When someone acts this way, it’s often a pattern of behavior, not an isolated incident. My guess is that your co-worker has done this before, possibly to others in your work group or in previous groups. Her behavior could also be a red flag that she’s insecure about her skills or her position within the organization.

Here are some ways to move forward, but you’ll also want to consider whether the friendship is worth salvaging. You might be better off with a professional, but reserved, working relationship until (if) she can earn your trust again.

Meet with your co-worker (again). Let her know you’ve enjoyed the friendship (until her recent behavior), but to move forward, you have certain expectations.

These expectations include giving people credit where it’s due and acting ethically (with honesty and integrity). If she’s unable to behave this way, you may not want to continue the friendship. You might even be forced to have a discussion with your manager, if her behavior gets worse.

Proactively strive to create a better work environment. Ask the creative team to discuss the type of group culture they want and then brainstorm a list of the values and behaviors that everyone would like to see.

This could include: Arriving to meetings on time, avoiding multitasking during meetings, trying not to interrupt others when they are speaking, acting respectfully towards others and giving credit where it’s due.

To help make positive behaviors stick, the entire creative team will need to be accountable for upholding the preferred behaviors – this shouldn’t fall onto one individual.

You are not the villain. Had the situation been reversed, you would have given your co-worker the credit she deserved. Don’t feel embarrassed for standing up for what is right or ethical at work. The world needs many more people like you, who are willing to speak out.

~ Lisa Quast

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“You’ll be getting a new boss next week.”

Those can be emotionally charged words that can create stress and anxiety for many people. But they don’t have to, if you try thinking about it in a different way.

Instead of getting upset or anxious, get strategic. Because getting a new boss can be the perfect time to reset your employee/manager relationship.

Sure, you could spend time worrying about whether your new boss will like you, whether he or she will be supportive of your projects, whether the department will be reorganized… the ‘what ifs’ list could be endless. But worrying won’t change the situation, so why bother?

Since you’re getting a new boss, why not see it as an opportunity get the relationship off to a great start and maybe even propose some much-needed changes. Here’s how.

Update your project list. Most likely, your new boss will want to meet individually with everyone in the department. Start prepping for that meeting by updating your project list document, so you can explain your key projects and tasks. This will also help demonstrate your value to the new manager.

Prepare to provide a personal summary. When you meet with your new boss, it can be helpful to start with some personal information, such as succinctly sharing your experience and what you do for the company. This provides the perfect transition to then discuss the items on your project list document to help your manager better understand your areas of focus.

Research your new manager. It can be wonderful having a boss with experience and skills that are different than your own. Research your new manager on LinkedIn and be prepared to share something you’re excited about. “One of the key areas I believe we need to improve in our functional area is strategic planning. I was excited to see your background in this area and I’m looking forward to learning a lot from you.”

Consider sharing your observations. Gaining a new boss can be the perfect time to try to fix something that’s broken or that you haven’t been able to improve yet. Consider sharing a few things you believe have been working well in the function or group you’re in – and a few things that aren’t working as well as you’d like. You’ll want to gauge how your initial meeting is going with your new manager as to how much negative feedback to share.

Think about when you’d like to discuss your career development. You don’t necessarily have to share your career development plans in your initial meeting with your new boss, but know that it will most likely come up soon. Think through what you want to share. “I really love my job, but…” and then let your new manager know other experiences you’d like to have, other projects you’d like to lead or even other jobs you’d like to learn.

Create a 90-day plan. After getting to know your new boss, create a simple game plan of what you’d like to accomplish with your new boss. Then provide regular updates and ask your manager to participate. “I finished the change management plan for the project and I’d like to get your help with a few key stakeholders in the company. Here’s the help I need from you…”

Management turnover isn’t always easy. There was even a time in my career where I had four different managers within a 12-month period. What I learned from all the turnover is that it was a great opportunity to work together, to help us both be successful.

~ Lisa Quast

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“I feel horrible about my behavior,” my client told me over the telephone. “During our project team meeting today, I yelled at someone and made her cry.”

I asked what prompted his behavior.

“I was feeling really frustrated because we can’t afford to miss the go-live date for the new IT system,” he explained. “Management is counting on us and I felt like she wasn’t listening to me and didn’t care about resolving the issues we’ve run into. That’s when I lost it and yelled at her.”

There was a long silence on the phone.

“I hate how I reacted and I don’t know what to do. The rest of the day, no one on the team would talk to me or look me in the eye.”

What my client learned that day is the importance of compassion, not just toward others but toward ourselves. To learn from his mistake and move past it, he needed to forgive himself and take steps to help ensure his angry outburst wouldn’t happen again.

Here’s how to move forward when you’ve caused someone else pain:

Apologize. If your behavior offended someone (or made them cry), go to the person and offer your heart-felt apology. Let them know you regret your behavior and why. Then share what you’ll do to keep this from happening in the future.

Ask for help. If you’re worried that a similar situation might occur, ask someone you trust for assistance. Find out if he or she is willing to help if they see a situation escalating. This might be agreeing on a keyword the person can say to remind you to take a deep breath, or a certain look or hand signal to indicate that you should walk away for a few minutes to calm down.

Don’t dwell. Part of being human is knowing we’re not perfect and that we all make mistakes from time to time. Dwelling on a mistake can cause you to feel stuck in that moment. You wouldn’t wish that on someone else, so have compassion for yourself by learning from your mistake and moving on.

Focus on the positive. Instead of fixating on your mistake, think about all the ways you can help others at work. When you leave the office each day, think about everything positive that you accomplished.

Forgive yourself. No one is perfect, even you. Be willing to forgive yourself, just as you’re willing to forgive others and to help others through difficult times.

Practice the “STOP” technique. If you ever feel yourself reverting to a behavior you’ve been trying to correct, practice the “STOP” technique – stop, take a deep breath, observe, proceed.

The next day, my client met with the person he made cry and apologized. They had a heart-to-heart talk that ended up strengthening their professional relationship. He also apologized to the entire project team during the next daily meeting, which gave the group the opportunity to express their own frustrations with the go-live issues. Because of this open discussion, several unique ideas were raised that ended up resolving some of the issues.

~ Lisa Quast

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