Brenda's Blog

Part IV – My favorite productivity tips & tools for 2018

By now, you’ve likely put New Year celebrations behind you and are fully into 2018. How will you build your brand as a leader this year? On that same point, how will you become more productive and use your time more effectively this year than you did in 2017?

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Back in mid-December, I promised you four short blog posts to share with you easy-to-implement productivity tips & tools. This is the fourth, which includes how to tackle the three biggest time-wasters I’ve discovered from an assessment of my executive coaching clients’ time logs. (For more in-depth time-management strategies, check out my book Leading YOU™: The power of SELF-LEADERSHIP to build your executive brand and drive career success).

And if you missed my first three blog posts, here are the links so that you can apply those tips to your 2018 productivity plan: Installment #1, Installment #2, and Installment #3.

Here’s wishing you a fantastic leadership-brand-building year ahead!

My Favorite Productivity Tips & Tools #10-12:

Tip #10: Email management

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Our phones and computers typically make a sound or vibrate every time we get an email, tempting us to pause what we’re doing and take a look. But unless we’re waiting for specific important material, doing so is a mind distractor – and a major time-waster.

Here’s how you can prevent email from taking up more time than necessary:

  • Come to terms with the truth: The idea that we can “multi-task” is a myth. Indeed, researchers have demonstrated that our brains are simply not capable of doing two things at once. All we can truly do is what is called “rapid refocus” – quickly shifting from one focal point to another. But, rapid refocus tires the brain, actually making us less productive and exhausted by the end of the day.
  • Instead, dedicate focused time in your schedule for reading, writing, and responding to emails. Give yourself (and your team) specific guidelines for email management, and stick to them. For example, let others know that you’ll be working on email without interruption at specific times each day, such as 9:00-10:00 a.m. and 3:00–4:00 p.m.

Tip #11: Saying “no”

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If you’re like most people I’ve worked with, you’ve said “yes” when you really wanted to say “no” more times than you’d like to admit. Why do we do this? There are many reasons, ranging from cultural norms to fear of conflict. But not learning how to say “no” can harm more than just your health. It can actually damage more relationships than it preserves. So what can you do?

  • Get clear on how your life would be better if you could learn to say “no” effectively. Make the longest list possible of all the benefits of saying “no.” For example, your list might include less stress, more time with family, and fewer feelings of resentment toward others.
  • Assess how many tasks or activities you’ve taken on because you didn’t say “no.” Review your to-do’s, and put a checkmark next to each task/activity that you would honestly like to cross off.
  • Recognize opportunities to say “no.” How often do you say “yes” when you’d rather not? Note the times when it felt right to say “yes,” and those when it didn’t.
  • Begin by saying “no” to smaller requests. A sympathetic yet firm “I’m not able to do that right now” works well. If you’re asked why, simply reply that it’s conflicting with your other key priorities. Most reasonable people will accept this as an adequate response.
  • If someone tries to convince you to change your “no” into a “yes,” calmly ask that person to respect your decision as final.
  • Make saying “no” a regular habit. After some practice, you’ll find yourself able to say it to increasingly bigger requests.

 Tip #12: Meetings “triage”

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According to a European survey, the average employee will attend 6,239 meetings in his or her career – a staggering number! Yet 60% of those responding to that same survey said they find meetings “pretty pointless.” Why go? Most people feel they have no choice but to attend. If you’ve been in this position, what can you do?

  • Choose your meetings wisely. Ask for an agenda in advance, and assess if you can honestly offer or receive value from attending.
  • If you truly need to be at a meeting, do you need to be there the entire time? Maybe you can only add value to a particular agenda item. Plan your time – and attendance – accordingly.
  • Could you attend the meeting via video or by phone? (Just be careful: It’s easy to get distracted with emails and other tasks while attending remotely.)
  • If you don’t feel your time is well spent attending a particular meeting, let the planner know that you appreciate being invited but that you feel your attendance isn’t necessary. Then, offer to read a summary of the meeting and follow up with any comments you might have.
  • What if you’re in a meeting that’s being poorly run? Make a calm but firm suggestion: “We seem to be getting off topic. How can we get back on track?”
  • If you’re the person in charge of planning a meeting, make sure it’s truly necessary, and create a tight agenda.

A Bonus for YOU

For more insights into how to take back control of your time, listen to the recording of New Zealand’s “time queen” radio host, Robyn Pearce, as she interviews me about time management:

www.BrendaBence.com/TimeManagementInterview

As always, let me know in the comment section, below, if these tips help you increase your own productivity! Here’s to 2018, and here’s to YOU™!

Part III – My favorite productivity tips & tools for 2018

Happy New Year!  The year 2017 is officially a memory, and 2018 has the full promise of increased productivity, which will help you strengthen your brand as a leader. That’s what this newsletter is all about. So, here’s to accomplishing more than you thought possible in the next 12 months!

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If you read Installment #1 and Installment #2 of this four-part productivity series, you already know the first six productivity tips I recommend you put into practice in 2018. (If not, I encourage you to click on the links and read those first.)

The three next tips I share below involve using tools you most likely already have but in a different way, making it easy to become even more productive as the new year starts.

As always, I look forward to hearing back from you. Do feel free to write me in the comment section below, and let me know how these tips are working for you!

My Favorite Productivity Tips & Tools #7-9:

Tip #7: Connect your laptop/desktop to a second monitor and use two screens.

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I won’t lie:  I initially resisted this idea – big time – because I didn’t want to use up space on my desk. I look back on that resistance now, and laugh at myself!

The productivity I’ve achieved from having more than one computer screen at my desk is so much more important than the seeming “issue” of losing a little desk space (and honestly, a second screen – and/or even third – won’t take much space). What do two screens or monitors allow me to do more easily?

  • Easily copy and paste between files
  • Quickly compare two documents
  • Smoothly transition between different programs
  • Access information more quickly while running multiple programs

The list goes on and on, and being able to accomplish these tasks so much more quickly and efficiently has definitely increased my productivity.

The only downside is that I’ve gotten so accustomed to two screens that, when I’m limited to only my laptop (e.g., when I travel), I immediately recognize how much my productivity decreases without two screens!

A second screen is a small expense these days, and I believe you’ll quickly discover that your increased productivity is well worth the expense.  In our office, we use 24-inch screens, but even larger can be used.  (Before you buy one, make sure your computer’s video card can handle the monitor you want.)

Tip #8:  Create “Signatures” in Microsoft Outlook.

Do you find yourself frequently answering the same types of questions via email? I do.  For me, it’s inquiries such as, “Where can I order your books?” or “How can I find out about your availability for speaking or coaching?”

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Similar to the Shortkeys tip I shared with you in my first productivity blog post, I use the Microsoft Outlook “Signatures” function to respond at length to regularly asked questions I receive via email.  (In our office, we use the version found in the Microsoft Office 365 subscription.)  As of early 2017, Outlook had more 400 million users worldwide, so it’s a widely used program both at work and at home, both on PCs and Mac. (Of course, the Signatures function is just one of hundreds of ways you can use Outlook to save time and increase efficiency.)

Just like you can create an email signature that goes out on every email you send, so you can create Outlook “Signatures” to respond to regularly asked questions.  The Outlook Signature feature also allows you to include a graphic, hyperlinks, and more. Thanks to labeling each signature created in a clear way, I can easily click on the specific one I want. It automatically inserts the words, saving me time (not having to type the same answers over and over), but still allowing me to personalize the response as I want to.

How could YOU™ use Outlook Signatures to prevent unnecessary retyping, and save you time?

Tip #9: Send audio messages via WhatsApp.

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Created in 2009 by two former employees of Yahoo!, WhatsApp has become the “go-to” app around the world for no-cost texting. One advantage is that you can use it if you have WiFi service but no cell signal so it’s popular with people on the go. Facebook acquired the app in 2014 for $19 billion, and it now has more than 1.3 billion users worldwide. It’s currently tied with Facebook Messenger as the most popular instant messaging app. Quite a success story!

While I love using WhatsApp for instant messaging and group chats, I’ll admit that it can be a bit slow and tedious to type messages on a phone. That’s why I enjoy using WhatsApp’s audio messaging function, recording a voice message instead of typing. It’s not only faster but it’s more personal, too, and I can make a more meaningful connection with the receiver of the message.  Plus, I can use inflection in my voice to clarify anything that words alone don’t quite communicate in writing.

If you don’t yet have WhatsApp, you can download it here. Once you do, in what ways could you use WhatsApp audio to your advantage?

As always, let me know in the comment section below, how these tips help you increase your productivity! Happy New Year, and I look forward to communicating with you throughout 2018.

Here are my favorite productivity tips & tools – Part II

Billionaire John Paul Getty was a serial cigar smoker until he realized one day that – based on what he would earn hourly – he was spending the equivalent of $50,000 per year … smoking. That wasn’t $50,000 worth of cigars – it was $50,000 worth of his time. That kind of perspective definitely helps highlight the “time is money” concept, doesn’t it?

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Think about the words we use to speak about time. We spend it, waste it, and save it – just like money. We put a premium on it. If you thought of every minute of your day as being worth, say $1,000, wouldn’t you look at that minute differently?

As I said in my last blog entry, this is a time of year when we really feel the squeeze of our to-do lists. The holiday fun can become a chore as we try to juggle work and family obligations and pressures – to use our time most effectively.

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So, in the spirit of giving, here is my second installment of productivity tips and tools that I’ve discovered over the years. This time, I want to focus on the person which most busy individuals neglect – themselves! My hope is that this post will set you on a positive, new course for 2018 so that you always find time for YOU™ in the midst of the many demands you face.

To respect your precious time, it should only take 5-10 minutes to read these tips. As always, let me know what you think! Feel free to share your response in the comment section below.

My Favorite Productivity Tips & Tools – Tips #4 – 6

Tip #4: Get clear on how you really use your time.

Most of us never stop to think about how we actually spend our time. That’s why I recommend creating a “Time Log.”  How?  For 7-14 days, track all that you do every 15 minutes, from the time you get up until the time you go to bed. That may sound daunting, but I promise – doing this is an eye-opener!  The key is to be honest with yourself… just observe what you are doing, objectively – and write it down. Don’t try to sugarcoat it.

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This simple exercise has helped hundreds of clients get clear on what they honestly do each day (not just what they think they do). In my book, Leading You: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success, I provide a format for a time log and walk you step by step through creating a log so that you can not only get clear on how you are using your time – but, once you analyze the outcomes, to help you shift to using every precious minute of your life more wisely.

Bottom line: Change your perspective about time, and you will act differently toward the time you have. Try it!

Tip #5: Make physical exercise a regular part of your day.

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Successful serial entrepreneur Richard Branson gets more done in a day than most of us could dream of. To what does Sir Branson attribute his ability to be so productive?  He’s very consistent in his answer: He owes much of it to his daily practice of exercising – first thing in the morning.

I raise this because one of the most frequent complaints I hear from my coaching clients is, “I never have enough time to exercise!”

Now, granted, Branson gets up at 5:00 a.m. every day to work out , which may not be feasible for all of us. But with a little ingenuity, there are ways to work in that all-important productivity-producing exercise, which will not only likely add years to your life (hence, ultimately more time) but will also give you more energy to accomplish what you want every day.

Here are a few examples:

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My favorite way to exercise while working!

  • I use a treadmill desk while attending to emails or other computer work.  I can fit in a good walk while getting work done. I love it and strongly encourage others to explore it, too.
  • No room for a treadmill in your office?  Trying sitting on a fitness ball at your desk, which is good for your core and your balance. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to bounce up and down on it throughout the day!
  • Use a Steppie Balance Board to stand while you work. It strengthens your balance and give your core and leg muscles a nice workout.
  • Jump on a trampoline at your standing desk. Now, honestly, I’ve never done this personally, but a friend of mine swears by it. Try it – maybe you’ll like it!

The point is:  There are ways to exercise even while you work, and that will increase your productivity.  Don’t let lack of time be your excuse.

Tip #6:  Use so-called “down time” wisely.

Have you ever thought about how much time you spend in line, waiting for meetings, driving to work, sitting in airports, waiting for immigration officials, or sitting on airplanes? How about using that time to develop your skills?

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One of my favorite ways to use that seeming “idle” time is to listen to audio books. They can teach you valuable lessons which you can use both in your work and life. Why sit idle when you can use the time to set the stage for self-improvement and advance in your career … while you wait? That’s why I’ve make sure that all of the books I’ve written are recorded and available in audio form, too.

 I hope these tips are valuable to you as ways to improve your productivity and use your time smartly!  I’ll post another few tips soon. In the meantime, all the best to you – enjoy this precious “time” of the holiday season!

Here are my favorite productivity tools to help make 2018 your best year yet

“It’s December already? How did that happen?”

These are words I’m hearing a lot right now in my executive coaching practice.

Yes, indeed, it’s that time of the year – when we realize a new year is just around the corner.  That usually means joy, celebration, and hopeful expectations about what the new year will bring.

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But it’s also a period when a lot of clients share with me that they are feeling pressure – trying to squeeze in last-minute deals to meet tough year-end revenue and profit goals at work while the tensions at home rise due to children facing final exams and everyone trying to squeeze in meaningful family connections – and holiday shopping.  There never seems to be enough time!

In my book, Leading YOU™, released earlier this year, I focus an entire chapter on the importance of managing time. A critical part of self-leadership and building a great brand for yourself as a leader is how well you use the 24 hours you have each and every day.

Over the past 15 years as a coach and speaker, I’ve experimented with a lot of productivity tools – some “techie,” some not. Some have been absolutely amazing – saving me loads of time.  Others fizzled.

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So, as we prepare to end 2017 and move into 2018, I thought I’d share my findings with you – the very best productivity tools I’ve discovered over the years. This, to help YOU™ get a jump-start on your productivity in 2018, and to face the new year with cool, calm, and collected confidence.

I’ll share these tips every few days in the coming weeks. To respect your time(!), I’ll keep these tips short and to the point, sharing just a few in each blog post. They shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes to read.

Here are my first few productivity tools, below.  I’d love to hear what you think!  Feel free to share your response in the comment section below.

Tip #1:   Use voice-activated software to dictate emails.  I can type about 100 words per minute, but no matter how fast I type, I can still speak the same words more quickly.  So, to save time on typing and emails, I use Dragon Naturally Speaking, a voice-activated software.

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I speak into a headset, and DNS types whatever I say – just as quickly as I say it. This single tech solution has saved me hundreds of hours of typing time!  I can complete my morning email routine in less than half of the time it used to take me, making DNS one of the best time-saving techniques I have ever used.

What if you have an accent and/or you are not a native English speaker?  No problem.  DNS also trains itself to learn your voice so, it will recognize and type whatever you say. Available for both PC and Mac.

Tip #2:  Use Shortkeys for your most common phrases.  When you’re in a quiet place where you can’t dictate using Dragon Naturally Speaking, Shortkeys comes to the rescue!

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Have you ever noticed that you tend to type the same phrases over and over again? I do, too. Words like “Thank you, and best regards, Brenda” or instructions to a team member, such as “Please set up an electronic invitation for this event.”  Instead of wasting my time typing those frequently recurring phrases again and again, I set up Shortkeys so that it recognizes a code for my key phrases (e.g., “tybr” for the first phrase above, and “eli” for the second phrase). Boom!  They are typed out immediately upon using those codes. As such, Shortkeys has also saved me countless amounts of time throughout my day.

Tip #3:   Be productive – even in the shower!  As an author and blogger, I always have ideas popping up in my head that I want to jot down. So, you will find a notepad and pen handy in all rooms of my house and office – always within reach.

But, what about those amazing ideas that hit me when I’m in the shower?  They often used to fade away before I had a chance to jot them down, causing me frustration and lost inspiration.  Maybe you’ve had that happen to you, too?

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Not anymore. Earlier this year, I found Aquanotes, completely waterproof notepads that allow you to record your great ideas while you’re in the shower.  Use the suction cups on the back of the notepad to stick it to the shower wall, and use the soy-based pencil to write down your great ideas – guaranteed not to smudge.  I even take an Aquanotes pad and pencil to the swimming pool, as I can write on it while completely immersed in the water!  

I hope you’ve enjoyed this initial installment of “My Favorite Productivity Tips.”  I encourage you to try them out and/or give one or more of these tools to someone this holiday season!

I’ll write more soon. In the meantime, please send me a note via the comment section below, and share any other great time-saving tips you’ve run across.   I look forward to hearing back from you!

Take care, and all the best – Brenda (this phrase was typed with Shortkeys…)

Why we’re so excited – a note from Brenda’s team

A Note from the Brenda Bence Team:

We are excited to announce that Brenda Bence has been nominated Top Global Coaching Guru this year! (Last year Brenda was listed at #22 based on write-in votes; so this year, she has been “officially” nominated by GlobalGurus.org.)

Brenda has been nominated again this year as a Top Global Branding Guru, too, so we are feeling doubly grateful.

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A portion of the final ranking by Globalgurus.org takes into account votes that Brenda receives from clients, friends, colleagues, and community. We would be grateful to you if you could support Brenda this year by voting for her.  [See further below for how to vote.]

Since Brenda is not always the best at tooting her own horn, we thought we’d step in and do it for her.  Here’s a bit of background about Brenda that you may or may not know:

  • Brenda spent the first 20 years of her career building mega brands for Fortune 100 companies, where she was a senior executive responsible for billion-dollar businesses across four continents and 50 countries.
  • She then started up her own company 15 years ago to help companies and leaders achieve greater success through building strong brands for themselves. She does this through executive coaching, professional speaking, and delivering corporate learning programs.
  • Truly international in scope, Brenda has coached over 700 executives hailing from 60 nationalities (across 6 continents) and from more than 70 industries.
  • Brenda regularly travels the world to spread her leadership branding message. She holds the CSPGlobal professional speaker designation, a title that only a handful of speakers have attained, indicating her ability to engage and address multi-cultural / multi-generational audiences around the globe.
  • She has written 10 books on leadership branding which have been sold into 15 countries and been translated into several languages.  As a thought leader, Brenda has also authored hundreds of articles which have been published in more than 400 media outlets across the world.
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HOW TO VOTE – WE APPRECIATE YOUR HELP!
As mentioned above, a portion of the final ranking by Globalgurus.org takes into account votes from Brenda’s clients, colleagues, and community. So, we would appreciate your support this year by visiting this website below and casting your vote for Brenda!

Here’s How to Vote:

  • Go to http://globalgurus.org/
  • Select the Category, then click on Vote Here [Remember: Brenda has been nominated for both Coaching and Branding, so you could vote twice – in both categories – if you are feeling particularly generous!]
  • Log in via Facebook or Twitter [this step is required in order to keep the voting honest]
  • After logging in, select the Category again, and then click “Vote here”
  • Scroll down to view the photos, and click on Brenda’s name
  • Scroll down a bit more, and then select either Good, Very Good, Great, Exceptional, or Inspirational.

Voting continues until December 30th. On behalf of Brenda and the rest of the BDA International team, we thank you for your ongoing support!

Why this blog entry was so challenging to write…

As I sat down to write this blog entry, I realized it is probably the most challenging one I’ve written. Why?

 Because I need to ask you for help to take this survey.

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I’ve always been fairly independent, so asking for support isn’t the easiest thing for me to do.

When it comes to offering help to others, you bet – I’m in! I love to provide support wherever I can.

But … asking for help from others? Well, that’s a different situation altogether. Not so easy.

As I sat back and thought about this, I gained some helpful insights around why we find it so difficult to reach out with requests … and also uncovered a few hints and tips around what to do about it (see the feature article below – maybe this challenge resonates with you, too?)

In the meantime, here’s my request for help and the background behind it:

For my next book, called The Choice (which will be released in 2018), our team has created a survey.  For this survey, I need to get at least 1,000 responses from across the globe – from as many countries as possible.

Through the support of many helpful friends, family, clients and colleagues, we are about one-third of the way there, which is great. But we still need several hundred more responses to reach our goal.

I promise you that completing the survey takes less than 2 minutes of your time.

If you could please click on the survey link below and answer three simple questions, I am confident we will end up with enough answers to be able to include the results of the survey in The Choice manuscript!  Thank you in advance.

Here is the link:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TheChoiceSurvey

Asking for Help – Why is it So Hard?

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I know from my years of coaching executives that I’m not alone in my discomfort when it comes to asking for help. Indeed, many people struggle to it. (In fact, a large reason why people procrastinate is because they know they need help to do it, and that will require asking others for assistance.)

Once I realized I needed to ask for your help with my new book survey – and as I observed how quickly that idea made me uncomfortable – I’ve been reflecting on this topic.

Why are we so afraid to ask for help?

I uncovered some real fears lurking underneath. (Which is beautifully ironic, since one of the key topics covered in The Choice is the role fear plays in holding us back!) In any case, as a result, I’ve come to believe that there are three key reasons why we struggle so much with the issue of asking help from others.

Here’s my take on this … do any of these sound familiar to you, too?

  • We fear that needing help makes us look incompetent or incapable. After all, in today’s online, self-help world, shouldn’t we be able to find the answers ourselves to just about every possible question?

No – nothing could be further from the truth. We like to think we’re self-sufficient, but everyone, no matter how talented, needs support now and then. Indeed, I’ve witnessed firsthand that the most successful leaders must ask for assistance – they simply can’t do it alone. Getting comfortable asking for help is one of the reasons leaders rise to the top.

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  • We’re afraid that asking for help could lead to too much help, causing us to lose control of the project or situation.

This, too, is an unfounded fear because all we have to do is keep our eye on the ball to make sure the control stays where it belongs. It takes pro-activity, boundary setting, and open communication – positive traits of any good self-leader.

  • We’re afraid we’ll be indebted to someone else. What will we have to do in return if we ask for help from someone? It can feel like a burden or an obligation.

In my experience, this fear is also unfounded. Chances are, you’ll feel happy to return the favor when you have the opportunity, and it’s important to keep in mind that supporting someone isn’t an accounting entry or a quid pro quo situation. (“If you do this for me, then I’ll do this for you.”) Most often, it’s best to offer support with no strings attached. So, the next time a request comes your way, just do what is asked out of the goodness of your heart. It’s a fabulous feeling.

Top Tips to Get Comfortable Asking for Help

If you, too, find it difficult to ask for assistance, here are a few tips to consider:

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  1. Unless you aren’t in the same location physically, ask in person and in private. It will be more comfortable for both of you, and you’ll be able to see how the other person responds to the idea.   If you aren’t able to meet face-to-face, ask via online video (Skype, Zoom Room, or a similar service). Asking via a phone call can work, too, but try other, more personal means before exploring that option.
  2. Be honest about what you need. Prepare so that you can be clear about what you are asking from the other individual.
  3. If the person seems hesitant, tell them you’ll understand if they feel they can’t help. Then, be sure not to hold it against them. They may have good reasons they feel are too private to share with you.
  4. No matter what, don’t forget to say, “Thank you!”

Of course, executive coaching is one of the key ways leaders gain help. So many leaders put off working with a coach because they don’t want to appear imperfect, but once they experience coaching, they’re universally glad they asked for the help from an outside, objective observer. It’s harder to advance your skills in a vacuum than it is to work with a professional who has been trained to help guide you toward what you want to achieve. That objective ear is invaluable for helping you reach the next level.

Putting This into Action

Reflect on a challenge you are facing right now in your work or personal life.

Think of three people you could reach out to and ask for help, using the guidelines above. I suspect you have more support around you than you realize! And by tapping into those resources, you have a better chance of achieving your aim than if you just go it alone.

Good luck – thank you again for completing the survey!

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TheChoiceSurvey

Why You Probably Aren’t Getting Enough Feedback… and What To Do About It: Self-Leadership Challenge #15

Management guru Ken Blanchard often quotes his friend, Rich Case, as saying, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” If that is the case, how often and how well are YOU™ being fed?

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If you’re like most leaders I’ve met in my executive coaching practice, you aren’t getting enough regular feedback. That’s why the best self-leaders ask for feedback regularly. If no one is offering you feedback because of your heightened position, or if you don’t feel you’re getting honest opinions that you can use, you have to take the initiative to go after it. There’s simply no better way to excel in your current position and accelerate your career.

Of course, asking for feedback may not be something you love to do. Let’s face it: It can be somewhat painful to learn about your shortcomings, even if there are only relatively small issues that need improvement. But the other reality to face is that not accepting criticism can cause your career to come to a crashing halt. So, it becomes a matter of trading off the long-term pain of a career that isn’t reaching its full potential for the short-term potential pain of a little constructive criticism. That feedback could ultimately help you move forward and perhaps even help you reach heights beyond what you thought possible.

Once you know what needs improvement, you’re then armed with the information you need to move forward. There’s a certain excitement from developing your self-leadership skills and getting better at your job. It’s almost guaranteed to rejuvenate you and give you renewed energy in your position … if you let it.

Why Don’t Leaders Seek More Feedback?

Despite the known benefits of getting input from others, too many executives continue as usual without getting enough feedback about their performance. Why is that? These are the five main reasons I’ve seen. Do you recognize yourself in any of these?

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  1. As you climb higher, you become less coachable.
  2. You let your ego/pride stop you from getting feedback.
  3. You’re concerned that the feedback you do get won’t be genuine.
  4. The feedback received doesn’t come from the right people.
  5. You’re content to just continue on as you’ve always done, as long as nothing appears to be wrong.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Feedback

The bottom line: It’s critical at all levels of an organization to get feedback from others. Here are some do’s and don’ts that will assist you in getting feedback you can truly use:

Do make it clear to feedback providers that you’re sincere and want their remarks to be honest. Encourage them to be candid, and let them know that’s exactly the kind of input you’re looking for.

Do ask for feedback from coworkers at different levels from within the organization—your boss, your subordinates, key peers, and colleagues. They might have varying perspectives on your work and your behaviors, so getting all of their opinions will help you see a multitude of viewpoints from a “surround-sound” perspective. That can help you grow in different ways.

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Do say “thank you” when someone shares feedback with you—and that’s all you need to say, whether you agree with what you heard or not. This holds especially true if they offered perceived “negative” inputs. If you’re not the sort of person who’s good at taking criticism, there’s nothing wrong with “rehearsing” ahead of time. Try to anticipate the points people might tell you, and prepare yourself emotionally to react well. You don’t need to commit to making a change on the spot; you can decide what to do with the feedback later. Just thank your feedback provider, genuinely, and remember that they’ve given you information you can use. View it as a gift – because it is.

Do listen closely, and take notes on what is said. Don’t try to remember your feedback providers’ remarks in your head because if you’re feeling any emotion or anxiety, no matter how prepared you think you are, your mind will likely get cluttered. Plus, when the person sees you writing down their remarks, they’ll be convinced you really are sincere about getting honest feedback. And it will be helpful, later, to have your notes in front of you as you review the inputs and plan what to do with them.

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Do devise an anonymous questionnaire if you think you might not get genuine feedback any other way. Again, those who hold very top positions may find it difficult to persuade subordinates to speak with honesty or to criticize “the boss” in any way. Your own comfort level might even be enhanced if you can ask questions in writing. Design the questions in whatever format will suit your purposes: You can write questions that require simple “Yes” or “No” answers, or those that rate you on a scale of 1-6 or 1-10. Or you can combine these styles, even asking a few “narrative” questions, e.g., to write a sentence or a paragraph in response. You’ll be able to see which types of questions bring the most useful information and remember that for future surveys.

Do hire a coach to interview selected colleagues and subordinates if you think those feedback providers might be too intimidated to give you straightforward inputs directly. Have the coach assure the feedback providers that their comments will be kept completely anonymous. Their responses will almost certainly be more forthright if they know that no one will share “who said what” with the feedback recipient.

Do create questions that correspond to specific key self-leadership qualities or skills that you want to improve. Here are a few suggestions—you can pick and choose—but always try to start off with “positive” input questions (e.g., the first two below) as people are generally open to sharing opportunities to improve inputs once they’ve had a chance to share positives first.

  • What would you say are the top three things that I am doing well (what should I continue doing)?
  • What would you like me to start doing?
  • What would you like me to stop doing?
  • What do I do too much?
  • What do I do too little?
  • What do you need from me that I haven’t been providing?
  • How could I communicate better?
  • What could I do to help improve overall productivity?
  • If you were in my position, what would you suggest I do differently compared to what I’m doing now?
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Don’t make your request too open-ended by saying something like, “Give me feedback, please.” People won’t know what to say, and they’ll likely be lost trying to figure out what you’re looking for. But if you ask them specific questions, such as those from the list above, you will probably end up with very useful inputs that can drive tangible strategies for improving your performance and strengthening your self-leadership skills.

Don’t ask for feedback from colleagues or direct reports when they are in a group. I once witnessed a CEO who did this. Instead of asking his staff for feedback one-on-one, he surprised them in a group meeting with the question, “Okay, let’s get it out on the table now: How am I doing?” Later, many of the direct reports told me they felt “ambushed.” Most of them glanced down at their hands and said nothing. Only one person in the meeting had the courage to tell the CEO what he thought, and guess what happened to that individual? The boss held a grudge against him and didn’t treat him fairly from that moment on.

Don’t get defensive, no matter what kind of feedback you get. You’ve asked people to be honest with you (and you did mean it, right?), so if you don’t accept the criticism gracefully, there’s a good chance they will never offer honest feedback again. Just think about the CEO in the above example—if you had been in that meeting, can you imagine ever offering him honest feedback again? No way. So, he will become yet another senior-level executive who will never find out what people really think of him, simply because he was too insecure to accept genuine criticism. Of course, that kind of insecurity goes strongly against the grain of self-leadership. It’s extremely important to train yourself to keep silent and listen actively while receiving feedback.

For more self-leadership tips, pick up a copy of my latest book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.

How to Successfully Manage Up to Your Boss and Across to Your Peers: Self-Leadership Challenge #14

A potential new executive coaching client, Ethan, came to my office one day, confused and distressed due to the results of his 360-degree feedback report.

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The good news was that his direct reports adored him. “Best boss ever!” one had written. Another gushed, “I love coming to work because I get to work for him!” They described him as open-minded, friendly, sincere, a good listener, firm when he needs to be, a boss who clearly communicates his objectives, and then follows up effectively. Without a doubt, Ethan was doing things right when it came to leading his team.

The not-so-good news came from two other sources—first, from Ethan’s two bosses, one direct and one dotted line. These two superiors saw him in a completely different way, evidenced by their critical comments. Here are just a few examples:

  • Lacks initiative
  • Lacks visibility
  • Doesn’t facilitate discussions
  • Doesn’t offer visionary ideas or examples
  • Needs to be more tenacious
  • Doesn’t lead from the front
  • Needs to develop a broader network among his peers and next-level managers

The second source of not-so-good feedback news came from Ethan’s peers who were equally critical:

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  • Should get involved more
  • Needs to hold discussions to resolve matters
  • Doesn’t engage the broader group
  • Has unclear objectives
  • Communicates poorly
  • Doesn’t get enough support to make things happen
  • Shows a lack of ownership

Ethan was shocked and upset with the results. “How can the outcomes amongst the three groups be so different?”

I asked Ethan to reflect on how much time he spent—in any given week—with direct reports vs. his boss and/or peers. He paused for a second, and then responded, “Come to think of it, I probably spend about 95% of my time with my direct reports.”

The “penny dropped,” as they say, and Ethan realized he was spending much less time managing “up and across,” which automatically meant that his bosses and his peers simply didn’t see him in action all that much. The feedback was a clear indication that Ethan wasn’t managing all of his stakeholders with the same level of focus.

I have seen this challenge with multiple coaching clients. When you are at the mid-level of an organization, you are learning how to get results from the individuals and teams you supervise. So, it’s understandable that, up to that point, you would focus on “managing down.” After all, early in your career, leading staff is a major factor in your success; it helps you get promotions, raises, and gain status and a good reputation within the organization.

But that isn’t how it works as you move up to higher positions in an organization. With increasing necessity, balancing time with all stakeholders becomes more critical. Indeed, managing superiors and same-level colleagues—managing up and across—becomes just as important to your career as managing down. Let’s explore this common gap in a senior leader’s self-leadership arsenal.

Managing Across to Peers: How “Connected” Are YOU™?

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Two of my coaching clients, Joelle and Hritesh, were partners in the same law firm. Their styles and priorities were vastly different: Joelle consistently built her internal network, taking time for peer lunches, connecting with fellow partners for dinners, and setting aside work for five-minute chats with colleagues in the office. She also took time to connect people in her network with each other, helping them build their own networks and relationships. In short, she demonstrated good self-leadership when it came to managing across.

Hritesh’s focus, however, was primarily external, and he spent the bulk of his time keeping clients satisfied and bringing in business. He didn’t really see the importance of building internal relationships—after all, he had cases and files to move off his desk, and there never seemed to be enough hours in the day for anything else.

Both partners brought in roughly the same amount of revenues, and for a while, they were at the same level in the firm’s organizational structure. But within just three years, Joelle had advanced very quickly, catapulting herself up not just one, but two levels higher within the firm. Hritesh, on the other hand, remained in the same post despite his aspirations to move up. His one central mistake: He hadn’t built solid internal relationships.

It isn’t uncommon for people to reach levels close to the C-Suite and not make it to the highest levels of the organization because of one thing: They didn’t cultivate positive relationships with their peers on the way up. So, learning to manage across is a very important self-leadership skill. After all, a peer today may become your subordinate – or your boss – tomorrow.

How Do You Coach “Up?”

If you’re like most leaders, you probably think of “coaching” as what you do when you lead and direct others who work for you. But it can also be an extremely effective tool when applied to any relationship, including coaching up to bosses and across to peers. Here are a few tips to follow:

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 1.  One of the best techniques for coaching up and across—that is, for guiding bosses and peers to new, more effective behaviors—is to first, make an objective, factual statement, and then ask powerful, open-ended questions that are aimed toward the big-picture, higher-level arena within the organization. It takes a bit more time and creativity than simply telling bosses and peers what’s on your mind, but asking good, strategic, open-ended questions builds relationships, trust, and transparency and can have positive, long-lasting effects.

By open-ended questions, I mean questions that don’t elicit a one-word “yes” or “no” response but require the other person to elaborate. By asking and not telling, you will get others to pause, reflect, grow, and come up with answers.

2.  Pick the right time. Neither you, your superior, or your peer should be in a rush or tired at the end of a long day.

3.  Get into a good frame of mind. Approach the conversation with curiosity. You’re here to explore, so don’t go into the discussion attached to a specific desired outcome or expectation.

4.  Get out of the “me vs. you” mindset, and rise up into “we.” Ask yourself:  What positive outcomes can come from this conversation that will not just help us work together more effectively, but will support the overall objectives of our team, our function, and the company?

5.  Prepare—and practice out loud—the words you want to say until they sound natural and you feel comfortable.

As you can see, self-leadership requires that you make a conscious effort to regularly manage up to your boss and across to your peers.

Reflect… Are you spending enough time with each of your various stakeholder groups?  Assess your current situation, and devise a plan to start managing more effectively up and across within the next two weeks.

For more self-leadership tips, pick up a copy of my latest book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.

How Well Do YOU Manage this Critically Important Balance? Self-Leadership Challenge #13

My executive coaching client, Myra, struggled with what I call the “Strategy vs. Execution Dilemma.” She was a successful leader, in the running to become a Senior Vice President. She had gotten there by being known for producing, for always making sure that she and her team members were seen as delivering desired outcomes.

At the surface, this would seem like a good thing, right? So, you can imagine Myra’s surprise when, during her performance review, her boss told her point-blank that the promotion she wanted so badly wasn’t going to happen. The reason? Myra wasn’t considered a strategic thinker. Ouch.

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Myra immediately reached out to set up a coaching session. As she settled into the chair across from me, she admitted right up front that it was probably true. “Ever since my boss gave me the feedback, I’ve been thinking about what he said … and it’s true. I do typically make sure the team and I are busy doing things, reaching our daily, weekly, and monthly objectives toward delivering our major projects. And that means I do spend the bulk of my time attending to details. That’s been a good way to get where I am. But clearly, it isn’t going to get me to where I want to go.”

After a bit more reflection, Myra shared that this tendency actually went way back. Getting things done efficiently and with excellence was how she impressed teachers as a student in school as well as every boss she’d ever had. And she had always been rewarded well for her “get it done” behavior, too—earning good grades as a student and collecting raises and promotions once she got into her career. Clearly and consistently, she proved that she was a go-getter and a producer.

But now, that seemingly positive behavior was holding her back. Indeed, while Myra and her team were delivering consistent excellence in execution, she wasn’t doing the strategic work necessary to take her team, her function, and, therefore, the company to the next level.

Given her busy day-to-day world, it had never occurred to Myra that taking time to sit quietly and think strategically was actually what she was being paid to do. But, now it struck her that she was actually only doing part of her job—in short, she was underperforming as a leader by not taking regular time to focus on strategy.

For Myra, thinking strategically would represent a shift. It would take time away from attending to the day-to-day details of her workplace. It would mean sitting still, not visibly “doing” anything except thinking, reflecting, and challenging herself mentally. She had been so busy “doing” all of her life, and the road to success had been paved with accolades related to her level of activity. So, this shift felt incredibly awkward, even “wrong,” “wasteful” and “not productive.” She had fears of people judging her for being lazy.

Can you relate to Myra’s situation? If so, you’re hardly alone. There seems to be an unspoken belief at work that just sitting and thinking is not a justifiable use of time. Some clients have told me that they feel so guilty if they aren’t visibly “doing” something all of the time that they close the door or pull the shades in their office when they need to take time to think. They want to avoid being perceived as “not productive.”

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As children, we’re often warned to stop “daydreaming”—both in school and at home. Our parents, teachers, and other authority figures may not have had much respect for staring out the window. Today, even though you are now in a higher-level position, that old conditioning may still be in your head, causing you to feel as though you’re wasting time if you schedule “strategic thinking” in your calendar. But, just like Myra, this belief may be holding you back from future career success.

When this self-awareness surfaced in our discussion, Myra’s initial dismay and frustration turned to excitement as she began to contemplate the possibility of spending more of her time thinking strategically. But she wasn’t sure what that would look like or how to go about doing it.

How to Balance Thinking and Doing

Here’s what I asked Myra to do, and you can try it, too, right now: Grab a piece of paper, draw a circle on it, and let it serve as a pie graph that represents 100% of your time. At the top, title it “Strategy vs. Execution.”

Divide the graph into two pieces—one portion that reflects how much time you currently spend executing tasks and attending to details (execution/doing) and the other that reflects how much time you currently spend on thinking strategically (strategy/thinking). Be honest!

Label this circle “Current.” If you’re like many leaders I’ve worked with, your chart may reveal that you spend anywhere from 80-90% of your time executing, and only about 10-20% strategizing.

Next, underneath the same circle, draw a line, a colon, and another line that looks like this: ___________ : ___________.

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Let this represent the optimal ratio for these two aspects of self-leadership—how you probably should split your time between strategy and execution, given your current position. Is it 60% strategy/40% execution, 50:50, or something else? The best ratio for you will depend upon your organization and the expectations of your position (be sure to keep in mind the position you hope to achieve in the future, too).

Now that you’ve reflected on how much time you should optimally spend on strategy, it’s time to make changes. I’ve found that the only way strategic thinking will “happen” in the middle of a busy week is for you to actually make it happen. How? Well, here’s what Myra did: She started with reserving one hour of strategic thinking per week and increased those hours over time until she had reached her optimal ratio. As a result, her next performance review was much improved, and within a year, she was once again being considered for a Senior Vice President position.

Make a commitment to set aside strategic thinking time, like Myra did: Shut your door and just think. To start, I suggest you begin with one hour, once or twice a week. Don’t agree to take calls during that reserved time, and don’t be tempted to go to meetings. Just look at either your team, your function, or the entire company (as appropriate, given your position), and reflect on where and how your area of the company gets stuck, how to improve that and move forward, and how the company’s progress and prosperity might change for the better as a result. Don’t think about any details at this stage—only strategy. Decide that you’ll set aside at least that much time every week, no matter what.

That’s how great self-leaders achieve a positive balance of thinking and doing.  So, how does YOUR ratio look right now when it comes to strategy vs. execution?

For more self-leadership tips, pick up a copy of my latest book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.

Announcing the First-Ever International Speakers Summit from June 19 to 30, 2017: Yours for free as a reader of my blog!

In addition to following the tips mentioned in my blog post about presenting powerfully, I invite you to take your presentation and public speaking skills to a whole new level by tuning in to the first-ever online International Speakers Summit – which is absolutely free!

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There has never been an event like this before. Over the 12-day period of June 19-30, 2017, you’ll be given unprecedented access to tips of the trade from nearly 60 top professional speakers, including myself, Jack Canfield, Simon T. Bailey, Rob “Waldo” Waldman, Lenora Billings-Harris, Stephen Shapiro, Tony Alessandra, Terry Brock, Fredrik Haren, Michael Port, Mark Bowden, Daniel Gutierrez, and – literally – dozens more!

When you tune in, you’ll discover:

  • How to craft a winning presentation or speech
  • How to present in a way that reflects who you really are
  • How to get asked to speak more frequently and strengthen your internal and external brand in the process

And much, much more.

It will be lots of fun, too!

As one of the speakers participating, I’ve been given complimentary passes for all of my blog readers, so I’m very happy to be able to share this benefit with you!

CLICK HERE today to reserve your complimentary pass. Please don’t wait because spots for this event are filling up fast!

I look forward to seeing YOU™ at the International Speakers Summit!

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