Dealing with a Bad Boss? It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way.

Micro-manager. Hyper-Critical. Steals my ideas. According to a Gallup survey, half of us have left a job to get away from a bad boss.

Early in my coaching I had an exciting and profound learning. Clients came to me (very!) eager to get out of their job. My own experience had been one of being in the wrong type of job at the start of my career, so with these clients I focused on Impact: If they knew how their strengths positively impacted their organization, they could find a new job doing that. At the same time, we talked about how to make their current job tolerable. We talked about communicating with different styles of people, especially their difficult boss. We talked about being less reactive and not losing confidence when their boss behaved badly. After a few months, my clients started to say that their boss had let them lead a meeting. Or that their boss had told them “good job” and even acknowledged their good work in front of others. And then, even more surprising, several were offered a promotion. A promotion! When they were ready to walk out the door!

It was at this point that I added Influence to the Impact piece. Being in a job you are good at, by itself, is not enough. While we don’t have control over our boss and others, we can have more control over our relationships to them. And often that can make all the difference.

Here’s the deal. If you don’t learn the tools of Influence at some point, terrible bosses will have a way of following you. And going from job to job in the hopes of finding a good boss is not a strategy. It’s rolling the dice. Wouldn’t it be better to have the confidence that whoever your boss, you can manage the situation so that you learn the best of what your boss has to offer, and that you will have the confidence that comes from feeling safe. From there you can be more creative, do your best work, and increase your success.

All those years ago, without realizing it, I had started my I to the 4th Power method. Since those early years, I have added two more I’s: Initiative and Innovation. Initiative means that you can’t learn to ski down a hill by reading it in a book. You have to be on slippery boards, looking down a steep hill to really get it. And Innovation is about connection to your team. How do you build strong trust with others so that together you can collaborate and solve bigger problems.

3-Month Career Clarity is my core program based on my I to the 4th Power methodology. It was developed over 10 years working with thousands of people in groups and individually. It’s something to consider if you are ready to be proactive about your career strategy. A few of us are gifted and can figure it out. Most of us could use an trusted advisor along the way.

To learn more about the Career Clarity 3-month program, contact me at claire@clearstrategycoaching.com.

In the mean time, this NYT article from this week provides one great tactic. I’d love for you to try it (Initiative), and see how learning more tools of influence really can transform your career.

What Does Being A Good Girl Cost?

What Does Being a Good Girl Cost?
Abigail recently had a bumpy exit from a job.  We’d been working on explaining the situation in interviews, and to professional connections in general.  After several weeks of not getting her groove, I finally said, “Scr** it. Why don’t you just say the truth.  Your employer botched it.  They did a bad job.”  Abigail was giddy!   She literally started giggling. As a quintessential good girl, she couldn’t even imagine bad-mouthing another party. That good girl impulse was blending with the message to “be professional,” which she is very good at.

Being a good boy or girl looks like we are being accommodating, when actually it’s a mask we wear that keeps us invulnerable.  It also keeps us from sharing the best of ourselves. We’ve all heard that leadership looks like “taking the high road,” “having distance on a situation,”  but there’s an important distinction. When we don’t reveal our vulnerability, we can’t stand up for ourselves. And that is not leadership.

How do we remove our masks without sounding like a complainer or fearing that people will side with the other party?  And how do we learn from the situation?
  • Give yourself a moment to complain.  Really feel the anger, frustration.
  • Give yourself credit for being strong
  • Acknowledge your part.  I often hear clients tell me that, “Person XYZ had problems with everyone. They have a long list of complaints with H.R.”  And yet they are still there.  Counterintuitively, acknowledging our complicity in a situation is extremely freeing.  We can forgive ourselves and then begin to brainstorm solutions.
  • Share the gifts from the situation.  Maybe it made you see a talent you didn’t know you had.  And share the strengths of the other party.
What happened next with Abigail has been wonderful.  As she shared a more real (not complain-y) version of her experience, she is finding that people are not be judgmental or doubting of her.  On the contrary; they have shown tremendous empathy, and gratitude for her sharing.  As she describes it, “I’m finding it easier to connect with people.”

Wow. Connection with others.  That is worth a bit of courageous communication.

Managing Overwhelm

Managing Overwhelm

“Tell me how to manage the constant tug of war between work and life.”

I don’t remember now whether this working woman had kids or not. But it hardly matters — so many of us suffer from overwhelm, and don’t have the clarity of focus.

What has us constantly pushing to the edge of our resources? How do you be happier, and less overwhelmed, about the progress you are making? It’s fairly simple. Close the gap between expectations and our reality.

My favorite tools for this are:

1. Look at what you’ve accomplished in the last week, month or year. It turns out we skip over a lot. Taking a few minutes to appreciate how far you’ve come can provide a huge sense of accomplishment, and reduce overwhelm.
2. Manage Expectations: This isn’t about lowering your goals or standards. It’s about dealing with the present and near future, versus thinking too far ahead. It’s also about working on your stuff rather than letting the comparison gremlin create your goals.
3. Be yourself. Know what you are good at and what you contribute and let go of what doesn’t come naturally. It’s not that you’ll never have to do tasks you don’t like. But judgment around what we aren’t naturally good at has a way of weighing us down.

Off now to create my goals for the week, hopefully not too ambitious!

How Do You Hold Your Team Accountable?

This week an executive asked me for techniques on accountability.
How do we hold our teams and colleagues accountable?  And how
to we provide feedback when they don’t hold up their part of the bargain?
The simple answer is trust.  When there is trust in the relationship, people can set goals that both parties will agree to, and they can
have open conversations when things don’t go right.
  1. Get Buy-in: When developing goals, do you get buy-in from everyone involved? Do you listen to the team’s input? Or do you sometimes create unrealistic goals to please management? That can demotivate the team. Your team, and other departments, are often on the front line. They know what’s possible. If they are getting in their own way or creating obstacles, forcing won’t help. You need to listen. It’s a leap of faith, but often people want to move past their stuckness and will do so if you listen well.
  2. Manage external pressure — Feeling under threat reduces creative problem solving. Managing pressure from external forces, like management or other departments, will make your team more relaxed.
  3. Communicate difficult feedback effectively — Give others the benefit of the doubt. And model that ups and downs are opportunities for learning. Be accountable for your own failures, and also be forgiving of yourself. When you provide feedback about someone else’s failure, make it a learning moment. Is the failure a chance improve the process? Did the team not have their heart in it (circle back to “buy-in” above)? Was it a smart risk that didn’t go the way you’d hoped? And focus on the person’s intention. Most mistakes come from failure of action, not intention.
It’s human nature to want to do a good job; to want to be accountable. The more we can remove the shame or discomfort around making mistakes, the more our team and colleagues will step up.

The Small Shift That Gives Purpose, and Motivation, at Work.

How a Sense of Purpose Motivates at Work

 

Ask anyone what gives them a sense of purpose and the answer is almost universal — help others.  That first question is easy — it seems the desire to give back to humanity is part of our instinct.  It’s the next question that gets people stumped:  How?

 

A few years ago I heard a leadership professor say to his class, “Think of Ghandi.  Think of Martin Luther King.  Now think of you — what is your purpose?”  Wow.  That’s just too much pressure. I wonder if those leaders even imagined as young people how big their impact would be.

There is an easier way to get in touch with what motivates us.  I came across it working with people who’d been laid off in the financial crisis.  After a grueling few years, clients were telling me that they wanted to regain a sense of meaning at work.  They asked me to help them find a job in the non-profit sector.  That is not a good idea, I thought.  First, I knew that the culture of non-profits is very different from the culture of for-profit companies,.  As a famous business strategist* said, “Culture eats strategy for lunch,” meaning that wanting it and achieving it are two different things.  The second thing I knew is that, if these clients didn’t know what role or function they wanted to fill, they could set themselves up for quick failure.  Imagine someone detail oriented, good at analysis, numbers and operations, and the non-profit whose mission they love puts them in a development job where they wine and dine wealthy donors to raise funds. They will not be happy.  They will quickly lose motivation.  What working with those clients taught me is that purpose can’t just come from higher purpose.  It comes from what I call it Skill-based Purpose.  And guess what, it’s not new. Skill-based Purpose is our strengths, the unique abilities that make us good at one thing more than another.

Too often people look for a career based on industry or company, not on what function would let them contribute the best of themselves. But aligning with roles we are good at is key.  And… the things we are naturally good at are tricky.  Here’s why:  Because they don’t feel like work.  What we are best at is often hiding in plain sight.  These are the things that lead us to say, “But doesn’t everyone do that?”  What’s more is that our Skill-based Purpose is where we have our greatest impact.  That means it’s where we contribute the most.  Which means that in addition to giving us a sense of purpose, knowing how our strengths contribute to a team or organization provide tremendous confidence and can be leveraged to help us progress as leaders.  And most important, Skill-based purpose is like a well that keeps on giving.  No matter how much someone uses them, they will always energize and motivate them.  The implication is profound.  It means that we can find more meaning and success at work, simply by spending more time using our strengths.  I wonder if Ghandi and MLK didn’t start out just doing what they were good at.  And whether the impact that had opened them to the possibility of their higher purpose.

Where do you begin to discover your own Skill-based Purpose?  When I work with individuals and with teams, we always start in the same place — with awareness of their strengths.  Any of the well-known tools will help, Myers-Briggs, Strengths Finder 2.0, Social Style.  Start there and then ask yourself, or your team, how those strengths show up at work.  It’s the connection to our contribution that makes our strengths come alive with purpose.

What Sunday Night Dinner Has to Do with Today’s Workplace

a group of male and female coworkers sitting around a table, appearing to be in discussionThursday evening we had a multi-family picnic in an NYC playground under beautiful skies. One friend shared that when she was a girl, her extended family had Sunday dinner at her grandparents’ every week. I asked her if her family still does this today. The expected, and given, answer was “No.”

 

My friend’s story was evidence of something I’ve thought for a long time. The fabric of our society has seen foundational changes over the last 40-50 years that have had a profound impact on today’s work culture. Geographic mobility has moved us away from family to pursue opportunity. Companies got leaner, leaving less time and energy for mentoring, and removing the security of lifetime employment. The movements that diversified workforces, which have been great, have also upped the ante on competition. Globalization has increased business uncertainty and pressure, leading many to play the blame game at work. And technology has us missing out on the small talk that can be so vital to community. Reading a NYT article last week I sighed my relief, realizing I’m not alone in my thinking.

 

How do we tackle this? How do we create communities at work that support well-being, collaboration and vital innovation? Normally I give a quick idea to try. But building community takes more than that. One of my favorite go-to tools is the Social Style. It’s an assessment, followed by a 2-3 hour de-brief, that I regularly deliver it to individuals and organizations. It builds communication and emotional intelligence that lets you have really positive and effective relationships with your colleagues. For you, it means enjoying work more and going home with enough energy for the others in your life. For your organization, it means being ahead of the business craziness. How cool it that?

 

If you would like to learn more, please email me or take a look at Tracomcorp.com.

The Power of Effective Feedback

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about mentoring and got lots of feedback about the need for it. So in the spirit of adult learning, I am going to lead by example and be vulnerable by sharing something that happened to me.  Last week, after delivering an all-day corporate workshop, I sent my usual satisfaction survey.  I felt good about most of the day, but felt that one section could have been stronger.  I love what happened next because it was such an important reminder of the power of effective feedback:

  1. The client asked if we could talk by phone. Carving out time to really focus, and giving verbal instead of written feedback, allows for a much richer conversation.  The feedback can be more nuanced, and you can read how a person is responding and adjust.  Plus, the words are less likely to be misinterpreted.
  2. He used the sandwich method: Good/bad/good.  The sandwich method doesn’t work if it’s just a couple of insincere “good” comments around a critique. However, it IS powerful as a way to contextualize the situation.  Human nature makes us focus on what we didn’t do right.  When we are reminded that we did a really good job in the big picture, it reduces the critique and makes it more about “always improving,” less about being wrong.
  3. Be specific.  The more you can untangle the feedback, the easier it is to tackle the improvement.  In this case, the client did this masterfully.  I could tell he had taken the time to think about it, which made me feel like a respected partner.  And, he was also specific about the good, which made me much more open.
  4. Take the feedback with grace.  This step is critical.  It’s uncomfortable to give feedback.  When you acknowledge the person, it instantly reduces the tension.  It doesn’t mean you have to agree.  But when you accept the person’s feedback you can get curious and ask for more specifics, which leads to better information.  Remember that feedback is frequently off the mark.  People are nervous, they may have another agenda or they sometimes offer feedback that they really need themselves.  If you become defensive, you break the flow and you don’t get past the initial awkwardness to the really useful stuff.  Accepting the feedback builds trust.  Then you can explain the choices and intentions that led to the mistake and it won’t sound defensive.
  5. Don’t give up too soon.  After we got past the meaty stuff, I asked the other questions I had.  It was worth it to stay in the discomfort because 1) I got some nice feedback on some positive impact I’d had and 2) We came up with an idea I can use in the future.

Asking for feedback doesn’t have to come across as needy.  It’s an objective request for information that will help you improve.  As a mentor, remember that you don’t always have to know everything when you are the boss.  Cleaning up a misunderstanding is a powerful way to gain your team’s respect.  If you are the reporting employee, remember that if we never make mistakes, we are not learning.  And showing resilience to feedback signals that you are ready to go to grow in the organization.

Do You Really Have the Power to Shift Work in Your Favor?

Career Clarity Club starts on Wednesday! (There are a few spots left – Get the details here)

 

For years I’ve had this idea of “The Houdini Principle.” It goes like this. How do you change your reality when – like Houdini with his straight jacket, chain, and lacquer box – everything is making you trapped.

 

Maybe you don’t see a future where you are, or your boss doesn’t support you the way you’d like. Maybe difficult people make work hard, and the smartphone has you working day and night. Maybe kids are taking up whatever time and energy are left. It’s a lot.

 

What I believe, and what I’ve seen with my clients, is that change begins from the inside out. It takes work, but it’s simple enough. Know who you are and what you need, and learn to negotiate your environment. Then, like Houdini, you can wriggle little by little, take charge, and find the freedom you want.

 

There are three main reasons to join the Career Clarity Club:

  1. You’ve been trying to get the next job or promotion and what you are doing isn’t working and you don’t know why
  2. You are dragging your feet because what you want seems too daunting; it’s easier to stick with what you’ve got
  3. You think it’s you — anyone would be happy with your job, so just put your nose to the grindstone and hope for the best

 

Wriggling free takes attention. Getting guidance from an experienced career and leadership development coach, plus being part of a community of people who are investing real time and energy in their futures works. If you want to but aren’t sure, please reach out to me directly at claire@clearstrategycoaching.com . If you are ready, join the others who have already signed up here: Career Clarity

 

Hoping you will join us on June 6th!

 

 

Why I am Not Feeling Inspired

I’ve left my blog post to the last minute because I’m feeling uninspired. Recently I’ve had a few clients land really amazing jobs and promotions, and that’s exciting. But I also have a few right now who are so talented and have amazing work experience, but are waiting longer than they’d like to land the next position. And like that saying about parenting, I’m only as happy as my least happy client.

 

What I know from my own experience and from working with hundreds of people, is that sometimes career strategy just takes a few easy tweaks. But other times it’s more of a tectonic shift — major movement that is a long time coming, then clicks into place fast. And when that happens everything begins to flow. Things that seemed difficult ease. And things that we didn’t see become clear.

 

This Wednesday I will be sharing The Top Three Career Strategy Mistakes I See. I will share why today’s job paths are different, why sometimes the change we want takes real effort, and why the things I see too many people doing hurt their career. I will share my favorite tips on how to avoid (or course correct) to find more success and more control over your destiny.

 

The Webinar is this Wednesday, May 23rd at 12:00ET. To join me, register here.

 

Have a great week and I hope to see you then!