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All articles from the 'Self-Leadership' Category

How to Successfully Manage Up to Your Boss and Across to Your Peers

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 book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.

 

 

What Does It Mean to Be a Great “Self-Leader”?

Often, when we hear the word “leader,” we think of an individual who leads others. But people-leadership is only one part of an executive’s journey. Yes, people-leadership skills are absolutely critical to success … but on their own, they are not enough to help you reach your full potential. Before you can effectively lead subordinates, you must first effectively lead yourself.

Self-leadership is the missing piece for so many executives—
a key area of leadership that often gets neglected.

In other words, you cannot successfully manage others until you’re adept at managing your own mindset, actions, and reactions.

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How do I know this is true? It has become clear to me in my career as an executive coach, during which I have worked with hundreds of leaders from more than 60 nationalities and a wide variety of industries. Before that, I was an executive myself in multinational corporations, building brands across dozens of countries on four continents.

My first lesson about self-leadership occurred years ago during an unexpected encounter with John Pepper, then-Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble (P&G). It was a hot August night in Cincinnati, Ohio, the home of P&G’s world headquarters. I had just flown in the day before from China, where I was living and working for P&G as an expat, to attend a global meeting for the company’s marketing leaders. Once the all-day event was over, I holed myself up in a corner of the darkened 9th floor—my old stomping grounds when I worked there—in order to catch up on emails.

Glancing at my watch, I realized it was almost 9:30 p.m., so I packed up my things to head back to the hotel. Making my way through a half-lit hallway, I reached the elevator bank and pushed the “down” button. As I glanced up, I realized the elevator was descending from the 11th floor.

Back then, the 11th floor of P&G’s world headquarters was called “Mahogany Row” due to the beautiful mahogany desks that graced the space. Those desks belonged to the highest-level leaders in the multibillion-dollar corporation—P&G’s C-Suite Executives: the CEO, the COO, the CFO, the CMO, the CIO, the C-I-E-I-O (you get my drift).

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Standing there watching the elevator numbers counting down from 11 … to 10 … to 9, a thought flashed through my mind: “I wonder if anybody from the 11th floor will be sharing the car with me.”

As if on cue, the elevator doors opened, and sure enough, there stood John Pepper. As I stepped inside, it suddenly hit me: I was going to have nine floors—count ‘em, nine—of one-on-one time with the company’s #1 executive.

Because I had presented to John many times, I knew he was aware that I was managing key company brands in Greater China, an important strategic location for the company. I also knew that after 30 hours of long-haul travel and attending an all-day meeting, the pistons of my brain-engine weren’t exactly hitting on all cylinders. That’s when I heard inside my head the wise voice of one of my favorite mentors, saying, “Brenda, always be prepared with a question for upper management in case you run into them. Because if you don’t ask them a question, they will ask you one.”

So, to avoid being faced with a brain-challenging inquiry in my exhausted state, I turned and said, “Good evening, John. It’s nice to see you. Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“Not at all,” he answered. “Feel free.”

“There’s something I’ve been wondering about,” I said. “I understand what it takes to progress from Assistant Brand Manager to Brand Manager. And I’m clear about what’s required to move from Brand Manager to Associate Marketing Manager and from there to Marketing Manager. I’m even clear on what it takes to advance from Marketing Manager to Marketing Director and from Marketing Director to Vice President. But above those levels, what is required to get promoted from, say, Executive Vice President to Senior Executive Vice President? In other words, at the most senior levels of the company, why do some leaders keep moving up the ladder and others don’t?”

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I’ve never forgotten what Mr. Pepper shared with me late that August evening. “Those who do not make it to the highest levels of the organization are the executives who stop being ‘coachable.’ They believe they no longer need to accept feedback. They don’t try to keep learning or growing, and they don’t believe they need to stretch themselves anymore. They sit back, earn the big paycheck, and take in all the perks that come with a grand title. They believe they’ve ‘made it.’ Those are the leaders who don’t last long because being coachable is fundamental to leadership success.”

Mr. Pepper’s powerful advice has influenced me ever since. Since then, I have tried to emulate great self-leaders by initiating a daily habit of asking myself, “How coachable am I today?” And I have suggested that my executive coaching clients do the same.

Break the “CCODE”

I believe great self-leaders also follow what I call the “CCODE,” an acronym that is a recipe for self-leadership success. The ingredients are as follows

  • C is first for Courage. The first step in your evolution as a capable self-leader is taking a good, hard look at yourselfyour work habits, your fears, your personal style, your relationships, where you thrive, and where you fall short. A true, no-holds-barred self-assessment takes guts. Confronting yourself and realizing that you have flaws that are holding you back can be painful. It takes courage to open your eyes, look in that mirror, and make changes that will have a powerful impact on your career.
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  • C also stands for Commitment. Self-leadership isn’t a goal to which you can aspire “a bit.” It’s like being a “little” ethical; you either are, or you aren’t. Once you commit to being coachableonce you say you want to examine yourself and make whatever changes are necessary to be an effective self-leaderthen you must devote yourself to the process, embrace it, and keep it at the top of your priority list. It deserves your time,  focus, and attention.
  • O means you are Open to new ideas, new mindsets, and new ways of looking at your life, your work style, and your relationships. You’re also open to changing the way you work. As I mentioned earlier, self-leaders are willing to at least listen to new ideas.
  • D is for Discipline. This means putting systems in place and organizing yourself in a way that supports your progress. It involves arranging your schedule to find time for the changes you want to make. Disciplined self-leaders also make regular self-assessments a part of their routine so that they are continually checking progress and making adjustments.
  • E is for the Energy you must devote to this important mission. Don’t underestimate the amount of energy you’ll need to make changes to yourself. It amounts to conscientious self-care, and that’s not something senior executives are always good at. It’s too easy to blow off daily objectives like getting a good night’s sleep, eating healthy foods, and fitting in regular exercise. But you cannot achieve your goals if your body and mind are tired. That’s why this might be the most important CCODE component because, without healthy energy, the other objectives will be out of your reach.

Those are some of the key basic attributes that make for a great self-leader. In my new book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success, I reveal the 15 most damaging self-leadership behaviors that I regularly see in my executive coaching practice, and I provide dozens of tips and techniques you can immediately apply to correct or improve these behaviors.

In what ways do YOU want to improve in order to be a great self-leader?

 

 

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

We are excited to share that Brenda Bence has once again been nominated as a Top 30 Global Coaching Guru and a Top 30 Global Brand Guru!

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Thanks to you, last year we were thrilled that Brenda was ranked in the Top 10 for both categories. This year, we would again be very grateful for your help in voting for Brenda (see below on how to do that).

As members of Brenda’s team, we know first-hand the amazing amount of care and hard work that she puts into everything she does, helping people all around the world grow as leaders.  We are very proud of Brenda, so we thought we would share just a few of the reasons why we would appreciate your vote:

  • After many years of leading billion-dollar global businesses as a Fortune 100 senior executive, Brenda then started her own company 16 years ago, which is now called Brenda Bence International.
  • Focused on helping companies and leaders achieve greater success through building strong brands for themselves, Brenda does this through executive coaching, keynote/motivational speaking, and delivering corporate learning programs all across the globe.
  • The proof is in the numbers! Brenda is trusted by dozens of the world’s most recognized companies, and she has a 97% customer repeat and referral rate.
  • Brenda’s clients refer to her as the “Executive Whisperer” for her down-to-earth, pragmatic ability to inspire long-lasting transformational change in her clients – all dished out with a high level of engagement and a good dose of humor.
  • Brenda is also the author of 10 award-winning books on leadership branding which have been sold into and translated for several countries around the world. Through her speaking, coaching, on-and off-line learning programs and books, she has impacted hundreds of thousands of leaders worldwide.

Those are just a few of the reasons that we think make Brenda a great choice for the Global Gurus list!  You can also read many of Brenda’s popular articles on her LinkedIn page and her Professional Facebook page.  You can also connect with Brenda there, to get a sense of her unique approach to leadership branding.

HOW TO VOTE – WE APPRECIATE YOUR HELP!

A portion of the final ranking by Global Gurus 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 in both the Coaching and Branding categories!

Here’s How to Vote:

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  • Go to https://globalgurus.org
  • In the menu at the top of the home page, click on “VOTE HERE.”
  • You will then see the various voting categories in a drop-down menu. Select “COACHING.” [You can come back and choose BRANDING for a second vote, if you would like – thank you!]
  • Login via Facebook, Google, or LinkedIn [this step is required to keep the voting honest].
  • Scroll down to until you find my photo and name, then click on my photo.
  • Scroll down a bit more, and then select either Inspirational, Exceptional, Great, Very Good, or Good.
  • Once you have made your selection, click the blue “VOTE” button to confirm.

As mentioned above, the process is the same to vote in the Brand category, except at step #3, select “BRAND” from the drop-down menu.

Voting continues until December 30th, 2018. On behalf of Brenda and the rest of the Brenda Bence International team, we thank you again for your ongoing support!

Best regards,

Daniel Jackman, Director

Jagdish Kaur Gill

Karen Shively

Rachel Leslie

Swas Siripong

Tony Tyner

Eric Myhr

 

 

When Busy Becomes “Bad”

In today’s non-stop world, when you ask someone, “How are you doing?” – the answer is very often “Busy!” We’re all so busy these days, aren’t we?

Whenever I hear that response, I like to dive deeper and ask, “Are you good busy…or bad busy?” There’s a big difference between the two.

“Good” Busy

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What is “good” busy like? Good busy is when you have work and life to deal with, but you feel inspired, excited, and happy to take on those tasks. You know they will lead to accomplishments, new heights, and enjoyable experiences, so you do them with a spring in your step and grounded in a sense of purpose.

Good busy is a feeling of being “in the zone.” You know what you’re doing, you have the support you need, you have a vision of where you’re headed, and every step moves you closer to your North Star. Even if some of the tasks on your list aren’t necessarily “fun,” you still don’t mind because you’re focused on the ultimate outcomes, fueled by the passion you feel for that vision. Your schedule may be full, but you feel a sense of achievement and satisfaction at the end of each day.

“Bad” Busy

By contrast, what about “bad” busy? This kind of busy occurs when you’re faced with tasks you don’t enjoy and that aren’t helping you move toward an inspiring vision that would keep your morale high, even if you get tired. As a result, bad busy can be physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting.

Why does bad busy happen? Here are a few reasons I’ve seen through clients in my executive coaching practice:

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  • You’re doing your job because you have to. You need to pay your mortgage and your bills, and this is the way you’ve always accomplished that. Even though you aren’t passionate about your job, you don’t have faith that there’s another way to maintain the same standard of living. You simply feel obligated to continue with the familiar because, well, you just don’t see any other option.
  • You don’t know if you’re doing a good job at work because you aren’t getting enough honest feedback from anyone. Fueled by fear, your mind races 24/7, always nervous that you aren’t delivering well enough. “What if I’m not getting it right? What if I lose my job?” is the consistent, subconscious self-talk that underlies your days.
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  • You have too many demands and not enough focus on priorities. As a result, you don’t spend enough time with your family, your direct reports, your boss…or yourself. You’re never really present, either. Instead, you worry about what happened in the last meeting or what might happen tomorrow, spending mental focus time concerned about the past or being anxious about the future.
  • You have to travel a lot, and you’re always packing and unpacking, running to and from airports, changing time zones and climates. This leaves you stressed and tired, with that ever-present feeling of never quite being “caught up.”

Reflecting objectively on your own situation, what would you say you have more of in your life right now – “good” busy days, or “bad” busy days?

Shifting “Bad” Busy to “Good” Busy

When I asked the good-bad-busy ratio question of Graham, a C-Suite client of mine, he reflected for a moment.

“I’m not honestly sure,” he finally shared.  “I really do enjoy my work and feel that most of the time I’m living life with purpose. But, I also admit there are times when I feel overwhelmed.  Would you consider being overwhelmed ‘bad’ busy?”

I shared with Graham the four above-outlined scenarios for how to define “bad busy” and asked him if any of those applied.

“On occasion, I experience #3,” he said. “I do have a lot of demands, so I guess I could prioritize better… In fact, now that I think of it, having clearer priorities would reduce my angst and help me get rid of that ‘drowning’ feeling I get occasionally, even if I do enjoy what I do.”

Graham and I then reviewed this toolbox of tips below, for how to turn a potential dose of “bad busy” into “good.”    How could YOU™ embrace these, too?

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  • Get honest about your priorities. What is really most important in your life? In response to that question, clients almost always answer “family.” Yet, after doing a time analysis, they discover that they actually spend the least number of waking hours with family. Does that sound familiar to you, too? If so, how can you begin to shift your schedule to have more quality time with the people who mean the most to you?
  • Analyze how you really utilize your time. How many hours per week do you honestly spend doing the things that fuel your soul, help you feel good, and honor who you really are? If you’re spending too little time on these types of activities, look for ways to change. Life is too short to spend so much of it on activities you dislike.
  • Start small. Choose two hours per week to focus on doing something you love. Since busy-ness typically involves the left, logical side of your brain, try something that will inspire the right side of your brain – the creative side. I’m not necessarily suggesting you take a pottery or art class, but simply to do something that’s very different from what you do throughout your day. That change of habit can serve to reboot your sense of well-being.
  • Sit back and assess the end game for you. What do you want to achieve by the end of your career or life – greater success, financial security, making a difference in your community, having more personal satisfaction? If you keep your end game constantly in mind, you’ll make choices that will lead you there.
  • Recognize that you are not a victim. All that is happening to you is a matter of choice. No one has forced you into anything, so the good news is that you can change it. You may feel that you have little choice, but be honest with yourself – that’s just limited thinking. You can find ways to change your circumstances, leading to far more good-busy days than bad-busy days.

The #1 Antidote for “Bad-Busy”

What is the best strategy to combat “bad busy?” Make regular time to do nothing. (Be honest: When was the last time you allowed yourself to do absolutely nothing?)

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Here’s what I do: I take 1-2 minutes a few times throughout the day to center myself, close my eyes, and take deep breaths. If necessary, I close myself off in a meeting room or find a quiet space in a hallway. These short breaks may seem simple and inconsequential, but you’ll be amazed how much even just a couple of minutes can re-energize you and help you feel better, more centered.

The Wisdom of Doing Nothing

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My favorite line from the 2018 movie “Christopher Robin” is when Winnie the Pooh reminds Christopher that “doing nothing often leads to the very best something.” Very true.

So, when life gets busy, pause and ask yourself, “Is this good busy or bad?” If it’s leaning toward bad, remember Winnie the Pooh’s wise words, and make time to do nothing – so that the “very best something” can come your way.

Easy Self-Development – Grow While Listening

Clients often tell me that they don’t have enough time for self-development or that they don’t know how to grow and develop with the limited free time they do have.

For many of my clients, a favorite way to keep “good busy” is to listen to audio books.

Doing so provides the freedom to listen while exercising, while riding the train or driving your car to work, and when you want some positive, self-focused personal time.

If you are interested in exploring some audio books around the topics of leadership, coaching, and branding, feel free to check out the audio versions of some of my most popular books:

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Leading YOU: The power of SELF-LEADERSHIP to build your executive brand and drive career success

 

 

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Master the Brand Called YOU: The proven leadership personal branding system to help you earn more, do more, and be more at work

 

 

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Would YOU Want to Work for YOU? How to build an executive leadership brand that inspires loyalty and drives employee performance

 

 

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Smarter Branding Without Breaking The Bank: Five proven marketing strategies you can use right now to build your business at little or no cost

 

 

Happy listening to YOU™!

 

 

The Power of Gratitude to Build Your Leadership Brand

As we enter the last quarter of 2018, the prevailing feeling for me is one of gratitude.

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Why? Well, earlier this year I was notified that I have been ranked #9 on the 2018 World’s Top 30 Coaching Professionals list and #5 on the 2018 World’s Top 30 Branding Professionals by the Global Gurus organization. It is truly an honor to be in the company of such influential global coaches as Marshall Goldsmith, Tony Robbins, and Jack Canfield and such excellent brand experts as Sally Hogshead, Joe Callaway, and Martin Lindstrom.

I am always incredibly grateful to you, as a blog reader, for your votes, and for your ongoing support and help. I can’t thank you enough!

With that in mind, let’s spend a little time on the power of gratitude.  After all, to build a successful leadership brand for yourself at work, gratitude – and acknowledgement – are foundational.

Once you’ve had a chance to read my thoughts, I encourage you to take the “acknowledgement challenge” that I’ve outlined near the end of this post.  Try it and see how it goes!  And, please do let me know the outcomes. How has acknowledging others changed your own outlook or perhaps your relationship with your team? Your boss? Your colleagues and peers?  I look forward to hearing your stories!

The Power of Gratitude in Building a Strong Brand for Yourself

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Nancy walked into my coaching office looking exasperated.

“You don’t look all that happy,” I said. “How can I help?”

“I’m so demoralized at work,” she quickly responded. “My boss never gives me recognition or credit for what I do, despite working long hours and achieving great results.”

“Interesting,” I said. “So, tell me, Nancy, how often do you acknowledge what your team members do well at work?”

Nancy paused and looked at me. Then, she smiled and chuckled quietly.

“Truthfully… hardly ever,” she said. “I’m always so busy finding and fixing problems, so I generally don’t acknowledge others. If I’m not offering kudos, I guess I shouldn’t expect to receive kudos back, right?”

“What would you like to do about that?” I asked.

That’s what began Nancy’s “homework assignment” of regularly giving compliments to her team. We set up three key guidelines:

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  1. Focus on what people were doing right instead of wrong;
  2. Compliment at least three people per day; and
  3. Make sure that every acknowledgment was genuine, well-deserved, and specific.

How did it go? Nancy described the outcome of her assignment as “astounding.” Within the span of a few short weeks, her direct reports started coming in to work earlier, getting more done, their spirits were brighter, and relationships were improving.

Nancy learned an important self-leadership lesson – that making a little bit of effort to recognize others can create a significant difference. And that difference was not just in morale, but in productivity and outcomes, too. So, recognizing others isn’t just the right thing to do for those individuals, it’s the right thing to do for the organization as a whole.

By the way, Nancy also started acknowledging her boss when she noticed him doing something well. Guess what came out of that? He began to pay her compliments more often, too. The benefits were full-circle.

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Even just the act of saying “thank you” can have an enormous impact. Think about it: Don’t you respond well when someone thanks you for what you’ve done? As leaders, it’s important that we say thank you to our team, our colleagues, and our superiors regularly, not just on occasion. Not only does gratitude motivate others, but you set an example that can change the entire mood and culture of your organization. And it strengthens how people perceive, think, and feel about you as a leader at work.

Focusing On What’s Right

You’ll notice that part of Nancy’s assignment was to focus on what others were doing right instead of what they were doing wrong. What about you? How often do you focus on what’s going right on the job?  Or, do you find it easier to focus on what needs to improve?

Many leaders do the latter.  It’s far too easy to take the good things for granted while we place our attention on fixing what isn’t working so well. While it’s important to move the organization and your team forward by addressing problems, it’s equally important to acknowledge what is already working.

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Noticing the “good” is actually a big stress-reliever, too. When we worry about what needs to be fixed, we can lose perspective, thinking that the problems are bigger than they actually are. The old adage holds true: What you focus on grows.

On the other hand, if we take the time to recognize where progress has already been made, we can relax a little, even in the face of difficult challenges.

What’s more, focusing on what’s right is a greater motivator for your team and everyone else in your organization. Always concentrating on what’s going wrong is exhausting, demoralizing, and self-defeating. Who can improve and approach problem solving in a positive way when morale is low?  And it does nothing for your brand as a leader either.

Take the “Gratitude Challenge”

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I challenge you to take on the same “homework assignment” that Nancy did, and – over the course of the next 30 days – regularly giving compliments to team members, colleagues, peers, clients, vendors, and yes – even your boss. Not at work right now? That’s fine – practice at home. After all, family members need acknowledgement for what they are doing right, too.

Just remember the three key guidelines:

  1. Focus on what people are doing right instead of wrong;
  2. Compliment at least three people per day; and
  3. Make sure that every acknowledgment was genuine, well-deserved, and specific.

Have fun with your 30-day “gratitude challenge” – I look forward to hearing from you!

As a Leader, How Clear Are You on Your “North Star?”

In these past few weeks of this new year, I’ve noticed a trend among quite a few executive coaching clients. They’re feeling a bit deflated, unsure of the direction of their career, questioning where they are. Without a true sense of purpose, they tell me they are feeling lost and without meaning. In short, they lack a clear game plan to aim for – a “North Star” – that will move them toward what they really want.

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It’s easy to keep going, day in and day out, without thinking about what we’d like our lives to look like in the future. But if we don’t stop to reflect on what we truly want at the beginning of a year, we will likely flail throughout the remainder of the year, untethered and unclear of direction. The next thing we know, it will be January of the next year, and we’ll feel as though we accomplished very little. As Laurence J. Peter, author of The Peter Principle, wrote, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

What about you – how clear are YOU about your North Star?

Plotting Your North Star

To get a clearer idea of your own personal North Star, I encourage you to do what I call the “End-Point Exercise.”

1.  Draw a horizontal timeline and write this year’s date at the farthest-left end of the line. Ask yourself: “At what age will I retire and/or quit working full-time?” Answer honestly, and then write your retirement year at the far right end of the timeline.

2. Now, ask yourself:

“By the time I’m ready to retire, what’s the ideal type of position I’d like to have?”

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“When I get to this stage, what will I need to have accomplished in order to feel that I achieved what I wanted in work and life?”

“What kinds of activities would I like to do in retirement?”

“How do I want my life to look like in all areas – professional, personal, family, social, community…?”

“How much money do I want to have to live the kind of retirement I desire?”

3.  Next, imagine you’re at your retirement party. You’re sitting at the head table, and you’re being honored for your career achievements. Who will be in that room, paying tribute to you? What will they say about you and about what you’ve accomplished? What would you like them to say about you? Envision this scene clearly in your mind.

4.  Be honest when you ask yourself: “From the current direction I’m headed in my career, am I likely to reach that point when I retire?” If not, write down what you need to do – and how you need to be – to achieve that level of career and leadership success. Maybe you need to develop new skills or character traits. Perhaps you need to create new internal or external connections or learn how to “manage up” better, helping senior leaders know more about your contributions. Create a list of all that needs to happen in order to achieve your goal at retirement.

5.  Looking at your list, rank them in order of those you need to work on the most, i.e. the skills and abilities that are currently weakest for you. For example, you may feel that you’re most deficient in making sure that management is aware of your accomplishments, or you may need to develop better self-leadership or people-leadership skills, such as learning how to address conflict or the ability to delegate and lead a well-oiled, high-performing team.

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6.  For the sake of focus, divide your list into time periods. For example, in the coming year, you might decide to focus on strengthening your time management and networking skills. In the following two years, you might focus on increasing your level of delegation, or you may decide to put away more money each month toward your retirement fund. Use these time-dimensions on your list to create an action plan, and include short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals.

Once you have your list, you’ve now got your North Star – your clear, long-term aspirations – as well as some mini-goals you can work on along the way. Those short-term mini-goals can drive your direction for the specific year ahead. And when this year comes to a close, you’ll have something to show for it that will serve as a stepping stone to lead you exactly where you want to be in the future.

Several coaching clients have made surprising discoveries through completing this exercise and, as a result, a few even changed their career trajectory quite dramatically. Others have simply realized they need to develop certain people – or self-leadership skills in order to reach that end point. Whatever the outcome, it’s all related to having a clear and direction-driving North Star.

Where will your North Star journey take you this year… and beyond?

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!