How to deal with difficult employees

I came across this great infographic the other day and it got me thinking about the steps to deal with difficult employees.

There are a few things that I’ve learned over time when issues crop up around communication and difficult people in the workplace:

  1. It’s often not isolated to one person or one issue;
  2. Band-aid solutions, or worse, “hoping it will go away,” are used more often than not and rarely solve the problem, and
  3. In most cases, the problem can be resolved.

Here are 9 steps to take when you’re dealing with  difficult employees (From wrike.com’s infographic with a Padraig spin):

1. Get to the root cause (the key person)

This can be tough but often when an issue surfaces in the organization, the person who initiated it isn’t necessarily the person that is vocal about it or creating the turbulence.

Ask some team members who you are usually open and forthcoming with, to shed some light and figure where the discussion/issue/problem starts.

2. Maintain your distance

It’s easy to get caught up in the drama or to even contribute to the negativity. Do your best to stay objective and solutions focused. You have an opportunity to lead by example and keep your cool. You’ll earn respect AND have a better chance of truly solving the issue.

3. Be a fly on the wall

It can be tempting to jump in and referee a situation but sometimes you can learn a lot by sitting back and observing what is actually unfolding. How are frustrations being expressed? Is there any resolution happening on its own? Write down your observations and brainstorm solutions for each area of drama.

4. Get to the root cause (the key issue)

Now that you know who is involved and have made some observations about how they act out – see if you can figure out exactly what it is that is bothering them. How are they seeing the world? What is it that’s bothering them that perhaps isn’t an obvious problem to you or others?

5. Solicit input

Of course, you don’t want to contribute to gossip or speculation but if you’re able to subtly get a sense of the issue from other perspectives – mentors, peers, other members of the team, it can be helpful. Do your best to see the issue from as many angles as possible.

6. Decide if you need to take action

Sometimes the difficulty is circumstantial or fleeting and there are instances where issues unravel on their own. Perhaps even the disruptor is helping in the long term?  If you decide you do need to take action – double check that you’re the right person to address the issue and then think through how you want to start this essential conversation.

7. Talk to the difficult person

I called this step “talk to the difficult person,” but this step is ALLLL about listening. Without making assumptions, talk to the person and really hear their perspective. Check out this article on how important silence is in conversations.

8. Collaborate

There is an opportunity to work together to resolve the issue. If the other person understands your concerns, brainstorm solutions together and get their buy-in to solve the issue. Remember to show your willingness to work together.

9. Check in regularly

Change may not happen overnight and it may take multiple check-ins to encourage a change in behavior. Continue to show your support and to take the steps you agreed to take on your end.

Coach’s Questions:

Which “problem employee” are you tiptoeing around, or hoping they’ll change their ways? Given the suggestions above, what can you do this week, to start to improve the situation? How can you avoid escalation of issues with difficult team members?

 

 

Why you should write your own retirement speech TODAY

My 13-year-old nephew, when he was a bit younger, was famous for asking interesting, open-ended questions. Perhaps he’ll be a great coach, one day!

One of those questions that stuck with me was, “Uncle Patrick, if you could have any superpower, what would it be?”

My answer was that I’d like the power to go back in time. When he asked why, I said, “because there are things I know now, that I wish I’d known then…”

Since no one I know has that superpower, I was thinking about the question from a different angle and wondered, “if, right now, you could write your own retirement speech, what would it say?”

Imagine you were to sit down today and write out a page or two, talking about the career you’ve had (and the one you’re still having), and that page or two would be read to everyone by your colleague or boss when you retire — whether that’s a year from now, five years, 10 years or even 25 years from now.

What would you want it to say?

Most of us hope that speech will be kind and generous, but more so, personal. That it will be easy for the speaker to talk about the contributions you’ve made and the legacy you’re leaving. That it will be easy for them to enumerate our strengths and how we contributed those strengths to some sort of success.

But what do you want those strengths to be, and what success do you want spoken about?

What will they say about the kind of leader you were? The kind of colleague? The kind of peer? 

What will they say when they speak about what you stood for? Do you want them to describe how you challenged others to be successful? Or perhaps how you always made others feel appreciated. Do they speak of your attention to detail, or perhaps your bold honesty?

When they talk about how you improved yourself over the years, what would you want them to say?

Writing this part of the speech is important to help us identify what we might like to change, and to accept the changes we’ve made.

For example, in my own speech, I’d like them to say, “With good work and determination, he rose rapidly in his career in government. That brought with it a shift — Patrick began striving for perfection, he wanted no criticism, he needed to prove he was worthy and capable of the roles and titles he was given.

That pressure took its toll on him, and those around him for a number of years until in his 40s, he shifted gears. He went back to school, became a certified executive coach. He describes that time as finding himself, again.

He launched Padraig, dove into coaching and became more understanding, more supportive, more compassionate –not just with all those who were lucky enough to work with him, but with himself too. It’s probably no coincidence this is when his business really took off.”

When they speak of the one or two great achievements, what would you like them to be?

Perhaps you want them to speak of a particular project or company — what do you want said about how you brought success to the project or company?

Sometimes we focus too much on that one project or that one role. So besides talking about how far or how fast you climbed the ladder and the titles and influence you had, would you like them to speak about the atmosphere you created? The culture you built?

I’ve thrown a lot of questions at you in today’s Coach’s Question blog and hopefully, some of them will help you write your own speech.

When you do, I encourage you to keep it somewhere that you’ll see it occasionally and you can check in — re-read it and ask yourself how you’re doing. Are you on track? What might you need to adjust to live up to your speech?

If you’re feeling bold, I encourage you to read it aloud to a friend or loved one — it helps you commit to it when you read it to someone else.

Coach’s Question:

What’s going to be in your speech? What are you worried might be in your speech? Or, might not?

 

Mind FULL or Mindful

Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?

David Bader

I’ve recently completed a course in how to be mindful — specifically bringing greater mindfulness to my coaching techniques and also helping clients build greater mindfulness into their day.

I suspect some of you reading this are thinking “mindfulness is just the latest buzzword,” or “sounds too touchy-feely to me.”

I thought that too but, in fact, the idea has been around for centuries in some form or another, and more recently has been recognized in helping business people centre themselves and reduce stress and anxiety, while achieving their goals with greater success.

You might also be thinking mindfulness is meditation — perhaps you’re picturing Buddha, cross-legged, chanting, and smelling incense. In fact mindfulness, includes some components of meditation, some would say it’s a form of meditation, but it’s also more easily accomplished in our busy modern lives.

You could think of mindfulness as awareness. Self-awareness, in particular, and how you’re reacting to and engaging with the world around you. Becoming aware of not just everything around you but also what’s going on inside you and how you are reacting to it.

I’ve always been a pretty skeptical guy — wary of fads and easy fixes. But as I have dived deeper into mindfulness, I’m more and more convinced of its value in the office.

There are a few things I’m sure we can agree are not the best approach to a fulfilling life;

  • flying through our days on autopilot;
  • not living in the moment;
  • focusing on past mistakes and/or future anxieties;
  • reviewing our mental checklists, or
  • worrying about how we’re going to fit it all in.

Not only are these not helpful for achieving a fulfilling life but they often are not even serving our needs in the present moment – or our needs at any time.

Mindfulness is the antidote to the useless but seemingly natural spinning of our minds.

It is a method of calling attention to and observing the “monkey mind,” or the mind that spins without purpose and letting those thoughts go as we would a car passing by.

Stopping, for even a moment, to be truly present can have remarkable ripple effects.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much mindfulness helps me achieve the success and business growth I’m aiming for — you might be surprised how it can help you too.

Here are four ways you can bring greater mindfulness to your days:

Pause for a few moments before you start your day

Depending on when things get going for you, this could be while you sip your cup of coffee at home — savouring the flavour, noticing the steam, the feel of the mug in your hands. Noticing the sounds around you. Feeling your feet on the floor. Just taking a few moments, possibly even with your eyes closed to “notice.”

Or, if you carpool, or ride the bus, try checking in with yourself as you travel — close your eyes, breathe in slowly until your lungs are full, let the breath out slowly until you’re completely out of breath. Do this a few more times, feeling the breath enter and leave. Notice the sounds. Notice the feel of the seat. Notice your body, starting with your feet and moving slowly up to your head — are you sore or stiff anywhere? Are your muscles tense, or relaxed? if your mind wanders, bring it back to noticing your body.

If you don’t take the bus, I don’t recommend trying this in your car until you get to your parking spot! You could also do it when you get to the office, before you start your computer. But, let’s face it — that one is risky — is there a chance someone else barges in, anxious to alert you to the day’s crisis? Perhaps centering yourself for a few moments at home, would be wise.

This doesn’t have to take long, and it doesn’t have to be a full meditation — but take some time to P A U S E and to notice.

Notice how you react to things throughout the day

The next time you have a bad experience at work — a dispute with a colleague, some difficult feedback, a lost sale, make a mental note of how your body reacts. Are your shoulders tense? Have you got a pit in your stomach? Are you clenching your hands or your teeth? Is your face flushed? Has your heart quickened? Has your breathing tightened-up?

Take time to notice how you physically react. Then take a moment to notice how you emotionally or mentally react. What thoughts did you have? Do those thoughts recur? Did your mind continue down a path even after the incident? Jot it down.

Then when something good happens at work — you nail it on a sales call, your boss recognizes your good work, a colleague invites you to lunch — take a moment again and notice your physical reaction. How do you feel? Is the tension gone? Are you smiling more easily? Do you notice any pain or soreness? Do you feel lighter or brighter? What about emotionally and mentally? What’s your outlook like? Are you seeing the world through a happy lens? Are you feeling more empathetic? caring? Do THOSE thoughts recur? Does the feeling linger? Jot it down.

The more you do this, the more you’ll instinctively become aware of how you’re reacting to the world — you’ll become self-aware.

You may then be better able to manage your day — if your colleague Lucille causes you to tense up, you can start to stretch a bit before a meeting, you can notice your physical reactions and let them go — un-tensing your neck while listening to Lucille. If nothing else, you can recognize what has occurred, and do something helpful after your meeting.

Anticipating negative reactions and helping ourselves manage our response, helps us feel much more in control and helps us stay present.

You may notice something else that a lot of us find through mindfulness — we let bad things linger longer than the good things. Mindfulness helps us shift the balance on that.

Practice Non-judgemental stance…

… (of yourself, and of others)

This follows immediately on the last point — we want to observe our reactions, but not beat ourselves up about them. Self-evaluation is good but self-talk that blames and shames isn’t.

When you notice in the previous step that your reaction to something is self-criticism, remind yourself to observe it and then let it go. When you make a mistake – observe it, but don’t judge it. Do the same for the wins — take a moment to observe them — don’t just skip past them. Observe the success. Observe how you’re feeling.

There are several methods for learning to take a non-judgmental stance, but the most fundamental one is to become aware of your judgments.

For many of us, judgments are so ingrained that we don’t even notice them. Observe what thoughts, emotions, and sensations emerge within your experience as you imagine taking off a heavy pair of glasses through which you have viewed your experience. Imagine these glasses having thick, cumbersome, and cloudy lenses that result in a skewed, distorted, and judgmental view of yourself, other people, and events.

Try keeping track for a week of the times you make judgments, noting the date and time, place and specific judgment (it’s highly unlikely you’ll catch all of them, and that’s okay).

Jot them down on the note app on your phone, or in a notebook you carry with you. I’m talking here about things like:

  • When you make a mistake: “Why did I do that? I’m so stupid.”
  • When you’re on the road and somebody cuts you off: “What an idiot!”
  • When you’re at the office: “My boss is such a jerk!” or “This meeting is going to be so boring.”

Once you’re aware of the kinds of judgments you make, you can start to catch yourself making them in the moment, before you have a chance to react. It’s surprising how quickly this change can start to happen. Then you can respond to the situation differently such as taking a few deep breaths and visualizing the judgment floating away.

Visualize Success

One of the few times that mindfulness advocates will recommend stepping out of the present, is to visualize success.

You’ve no doubt heard this term used about elite athletes. Whether a swimmer or hockey player, a rower or a decathlete — all elite athletes learn to visualize success in their sport. Not in a general way but specifically — what will it feel like as they hit the ball? How will the ball travel to the outfield? How will their muscles feel as they pull on the oars? What will they hear? What will they smell? Taste? They train themselves to live in the moment of success. Why? Because visualizing that success translates into delivery on the field or pitch or diving board.

A study looking at brain patterns in weightlifters found that the patterns activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were similarly activated when they only imagined lifting.

In some cases, research has revealed that mental practices are almost effective as true physical practice, and that doing both is more effective than either alone.

These realities hold true in all aspects of life, including your career and your business. You might start visualizing not responding when someone treats you badly at work (see non-judgement section above!).

Then you might practice visualizing success in a difficult conversation, visualizing being direct and clear in a difficult conversation with an employee, for example.

When I speak at conferences I picture myself stepping onto the podium, I picture the audience in their seats, I picture how I’m going to say things and how the audience is going to react. I picture myself delivering a flawless presentation, full of emotion and excitement, I picture the audience reacting with enthusiasm.

Remember — mindfulness isn’t about perfecting any of these steps and techniques. It’s a process, a journey. Try some of these. If your mind wanders when you meditate at the start of the day, observe that this happened, without judging, then come back to it.

When you’re trying to be non-judgmental and realize you’ve just been critiquing something, or someone, in your head — congratulate yourself for noticing you’re doing it, and let it go. NONE of us are perfect at this, but the more you practice each of these tips, the more success you’re going to see.

Coach’s Question:

What’s holding you back from trying these steps today? What if it works, what could you achieve?

Why you need to master daily tasks to achieve big goals

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big list writer. I always have been.

Perhaps because I’ve always had a pretty bad memory but also because I’m a planner — I need to know how I’m going to get from here to there.

If I don’t have a list, I get overwhelmed by the details — “Yes, I know I need to do that, but first I have to do this, or I can’t forget that, or what if this happens, or that changes? Aaaagghh”

As coaches we’re acutely aware that different people see the world differently. In some cases, folks don’t need a list, or a plan, to feel comfortable.

However, we coach a lot of amazing leaders throughout North America and Asia and we’ve noticed a couple things — effective leaders often have a list to focus them on the bigger picture and to relieve their mind of the daily stuff. We’ve also noticed that no matter the behaviour profile of the leader we’re working with, starting some form of list making often helps them focus on what’s important.

Knowing ahead of time what your most important tasks are is a game-changer.

How many times have you sat down at your desk only to feel like a pinball, completely out of touch with what you should be doing? Or, how often have you finished a day at the office and realized, “aaarrrgghh, I didn’t finish any of the stuff I needed to finish but I was busy all day!”

If you don’t have a plan, other people’s priorities become your plan. You spend your day doing things that feel urgent but may or may be important (which we talked about in detail here).

So what are some of the daily habits and practices that can help you master your daily tasks?

One of the tactics we see helping most often is to clear your desk at the end of each day, review the list of priorities you had for today, cross off what you have achieved and start tomorrow’s list on a new page.

Note: there’s something to be said for paper lists and I always keep a paper list but this can just as easily be done in your favorite task management tools or apps. Here’s a great list of tools if you’re looking for a new one.

Writing out what’s most important at the end of the day helps because you can “leave it behind” when you leave work and because you know it’s there for you, highly visible, first thing the next morning.

So that might be helpful to you, or to someone you’re leading in your organization. But, you might be wondering, are there tips on HOW to write a good list? Glad you asked!

  1. Write each action item as if you were delegating it to someone else. No shorthand. The more shorthand and code you use, the easier it is for you to gloss over it as you read the list tomorrow. Or, if the item gets punted for a few days, or weeks, you’re quite possibly not even going to recognize it later.
  2. Use a verb and a noun in every item. Don’t just write “client proposal” — try “Draft client proposal,” which perhaps leads to “Send client proposal” as the next step.
  3. Break things down as much as possible so that they’re bite-size and actionable, make it easy for you to check things off.

That leads me to the next three tips:

  1. If there is a time deadline, include it in your list “Draft client proposal by noon” and “Send client proposal by end of day;”
  2. Be clear about ownership — if you’re leading a team and you need “somebody” to send the proposal then get specific about who “Assign Chris to send proposal to client by end of day.”It’s so easy as a leader to expect “someone” will take care of something but never assign it to “someone” and be faced with doing it yourself when the best use of your limited time isn’t on personally writing the proposal.
  3. Be clear too about “relay items.” Relay items are things that need to move through the “system” or the team. In our example above, you are drafting the proposal by noon and then “Chris” is sending it out by the end of day. That makes it a relay item — you have to send it to Chris, once it’s drafted, or the system will stop.

    If you’re writing the list only for yourself you can trust yourself to know that. If you’re delegating items from a list, you have to decide if you can trust the team to keep the relay going, or you need to be specific.

  4. Sometimes we have to start specific, with an extra step. If, for example, someone else was writing the proposal I would be clear with them that we need them to “Send the proposal to Chris by 3pm,” eventually dropping that step once you’re confident that it’s understood.

Finally, I find dividing my list into sections, based on bigger goals, helps me focus on why I’m doing the thing I’m doing, and keeps me focused on the big picture, visionary items.

So my list might look like:

LAUNCH THE NEW STAFF WEBSITE in September

❏ Finalize the website layout with the designer

❏ Confirm with editor that the content will be ready for the site by Friday at noon

CREATE COACHING VIDEOS

❏ Schedule time with videographer

❏ Assign script writing to Shirley – to be complete by Friday

❏ Review the software choices and choose one

❏ Talk to Gary about how he created his videos

SECURE CONTRACT WITH ACME CORP

❏ Send information package to VP of HR

❏ Call David to ask his insight

❏ Schedule lunch with VP and CEO

DAY TO DAY STUFF

❏ Write next week’s blog

❏ Mail the insurance cheque

❏ Schedule the dog training

At the end of the day it might look like:

LAUNCH THE NEW STAFF WEBSITE in September

✔︎ Finalize the website layout with the designer

✔︎ Confirm with editor that the content will be ready for the site by Friday at noon

CREATE COACHING VIDEOS

✔︎ Schedule time with videographer

✔︎ Assign script writing to Shirley – to be complete by Friday

❏ Review the software choices and choose one

✔︎ Talk to Gary about how he created his videos

SECURE CONTRACT WITH ACME CORP

✔︎ Send information package to VP of HR

✔︎ Call David to ask his insight

❏ Schedule lunch with VP and CEO

DAY TO DAY STUFF

❏ Write next week’s blog

✔︎ Mail the insurance cheque

✔︎ Schedule the dog training

So I would then write a new list for tomorrow:

LAUNCH THE NEW STAFF WEBSITE in September

❏ Review the beta draft of the website and send notes to editor

❏ Finalize the colours with Jess and then send them to the designer

CREATE COACHING VIDEOS

❏ Ask Fred for his thoughts on the software choices [NOTICE I added some clarity here on how to choose the software — Ask Fred for his input.]

❏ Choose the software [NOTICE I split the “review and choose” item into two separate items.]

❏ Have purchasing proceed with the purchase

SECURE CONTRACT WITH ACME CORP

❏ Ask Mary to finalize and schedule a lunch with VP and CEO [Notice it became clear to me I had to delegate this task to “someone”]

❏ Prepare notes for meeting

DAY TO DAY STUFF

❏ Write next week’s blog !!

It’s so easy to get stuck in a reactive state or lose momentum from the day before. Writing and keeping an ongoing, centralised to-do list allows you to capture and harness your progress and focus from the day before.

Sitting down at your desk in the morning with a clear plan on what you need to do to move forward on what’s IMPORTANT as opposed to what’s urgent can make all the difference.  If you’d like a refresher on Important vs Urgent, click here

Coach’s Question:

How might you use lists to keep you on track to your long-term goals?

Who on your team might benefit from lists and how can you help them with it?

How to motivate your team to improve performance

A smooth, dynamic team that delivers results doesn’t happen by coincidence. Even if you already have an awesome team, knowing how to really get the best from them can be a challenge.

Here’s a refresher with some helpful tips to make sure that you’re motivating your team without the headache.

Step 1: Learn their “why”

We’ve talked a lot about the importance of knowing your why. It allows you to focus your efforts, make decisions with purpose, and ENJOY your work.

It’s absolutely no different for your team members.

Understanding WHY each of them is working for you / with you and what their driving force is can be a game-changer in terms of being able to position things in a way that suits them. It can help you help them reach their goals which gives them a fantastic reason to work as hard and smart as possible for you and your organization.

Let me emphasize — I’m talking about figuring out what drives each team member individually.  You can’t generalize that “the sales team” is motivated by X or the “why” for the Marketing Team is XX. Two people in the same role may have similar outlooks but we’re all individual and making assumptions about the whole team can lead to ruin.

Step 2: Cater to their communication style

I so often see poor communication at the center of issues in an organization. Clarity in communication can alleviate even the stickiest of situations. Remember, communication is as much, or more, about listening as it is about being heard.  One way to keep your team motivated is to make sure they feel heard.

Taking the time to figure out the communication nuances of each of your team members will save you hours of time resolving issues.

And, when there is clarity on what needs to happen next, what the most important priorities are, and what expectations are – it’s easy for team members to take it upon themselves to prioritize in alignment with organizational goals.

Step 3: Acknowledge and Reward your team

The ol’ carrot dangling thing seems archaic but despite all the changes to society – we’re not that different. We’re motivated by rewards and acknowledgement.

However, we each respond to different rewards and like to receive acknowledgment in different ways. The trick is figuring out who’s motivated by money, who likes time off, who likes flexibility, or autonomy and ensuring you’re rewarding people in the way they like to be rewarded.

The same goes for acknowledgement. One team member might love to receive accolades in a company wide email, while another may prefer a more quiet pat on the back.

Figure out who prefers what and speak to them in their language.

Coach’s Questions:

How do you plan to get to know each of your team member’s motivators? What step can you take today to understand nuances in communication style? What will you do to make a point of acknowledging and rewarding your team members the way they want?

Why introverts make incredible leaders (and what you can learn from them)

When we think of leadership, we often think of the bold, the charismatic, the loud. Meanwhile, the word introvert brings to mind qualities like shy, socially awkward, wallflower or insecure.

But, as a society, we’ve got it all wrong. Introverts are not necessarily shy or socially awkward or insecure. In fact, I know several people, myself included, who I would call outgoing introverts —  confident, engaging people who enjoy leading but who recharge with quiet, alone time.

You might recognize the names of a few famous introverted leaders, according to Inc.com:

  • Barack Obama
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Elon Musk
  • Rosa Parks
  • Bill Gates
  • Hillary Clinton

Even Lady Gaga has said that she identifies with introversion. I mean, Lady Gaga?! She most certainly doesn’t fit the stereotype of an introvert and, if you look into her work she’s more than a pop-singer but also a leader of social movements among her fans.

The bottom line is that introverts are different than extroverts. They experience the world in a different way but these differences are what can make them incredible leaders when their powers are leveraged properly.

Here a few typically introvert strengths that can translate to powerful leadership…

Introverts tend to consider decisions thoroughly

Introverts often need more time than extroverts to reflect, consider, and think deeply. They spend more time observing and listening and then go away to let everything percolate before presenting their thoughts or conclusions. This process can be confused with indecisiveness but can also be a highly valuable leadership trait that can help organisations make smart, strategic decisions.

Introverts excel in small groups and one-on-one relationships

Introverts are excellent at paying attention to the details of individuals and catering communication to suit individual needs. When you’re leading a team, there are many, many ripple effects to morale and productivity when your team members feel seen, heard and understood.

Introverts leave space for others

Introverts don’t typically strive to be in the spotlight. They’re happy to be there if it serves their purpose, or if they’re called upon in need, but because they don’t seek to be the center of attention, this can mean more space for sharing credit and accolades with their team.

Introverts listen

There is incredible power in leading by listening. Listening to what the team wants, what the stakeholders want, what the clients want, hearing about problems before they explode.

Introverts have the capacity to listen intently not only for what is being said, but for what isn’t, which can help them deliver more of what’s needed.

I recently met with a client who is a very driven, productive, extrovert. He shared with me how astonished he was recently when one of his team members had a personal breakdown despite having told him she was fine. He was confused why she didn’t just acknowledge her struggles and ask for help, but saw it as a learning opportunity to pay attention to more than the words being said.

Coach’s Question:

If you’re more extroverted, what typically introverted qualities will you incorporate into your leadership style? What can you do to support your introverted colleagues and team members?

If you’re more introverted, are you letting your leadership strengths shine? Are you allowing yourself to confidently follow your heart to lead others? How can you support your extroverted colleagues and team members?

5 steps to choose your next career move

Have you ever looked around at your career and wondered if you’re on the right path? Or, maybe you know you’d like to make a change but you’re just not sure how to go about it.

Taking the time to assess where you are in your career is an extremely valuable exercise. Even if you’re perfectly happy, it’s can be good to check in with yourself and your career at LEAST once every year.

Make it a ritual. Set an annual date for yourself, grab a glass of wine with a great view or a coffee at your favorite cafe.

So, when the days come when you’ve decided you do want to make a change – how do you know what that should be? 

Step 1: Identify the real issue with where you are

In order to ensure you don’t end up in a new position with the same issues creeping in over time is to get to the bottom of what’s not working where you are.

Are you bored? Overwhelmed? Unfulfilled?

Do you feel like you don’t fit in with your team? Do you disagree with your boss? Do you feel recognised and appreciated?

Or is the work the problem? Is it too easy or too hard? Is it too repetitive?

What do you like best about your industry?

What do you like best at your organisation?

What do you like best in your department or current area of work?

Take a week and observe the tasks that cross your desk. Which ones light you up and give you energy? Which ones are draining and make you want to procrastinate?

In your notebook, keep a list of the ones that stand out and what category each falls into (love it/hate it).

Step 2: Identify the type of career change you want to make

Figuring out what exactly needs to change is the first step.

You don’t want to make a change quickly because you just need change and find yourself back in the same situation in a year.

Throughout my own career, I followed a mantra for new jobs, and shared it with people who worked for me, encouraging them to follow it too. 

That mantra was, “Try always to run TO something, not FROM something.”  

Finding out what you want to run to is harder than just running from your current role, but figuring it out helps that change be profoundly successful.

Spend some time with a notebook or journal and do 10 minutes of free-writing answering each of these questions.

What are you most proud of, in your career? In life?

When you look at your list from Step 1 of what you love and what you don’t — does your industry provide this? Does your organization? Does your department?

If the industry is the problem, what other industries have organizations that meet your likes?

If the industry seems good, but the organizational level is a challenge, are there other (competitors, suppliers, etc) in your industry that would meet your needs?

If industry and organization seem good but you’re not feeling good in your department, then it might be time to move laterally in the company. What departments might offer the “likes” you’re looking for?

When you’ve gone through all this, and you look at your list of what you love and what you don’t love, and the industries, companies, departments — what would be a great job or role, regardless of money, title, prestige?

What might hold you back from going for that? What’s your gut instinct?

This will help you identify if it’s a complete career change, a change of organisation, a change of department or area of work, or just a step up from where you are.

Step 3: Research your options

Whether you’re looking at changing your career, your organisation, or your current role within your organisation – you’ll want to know what your options are.

Look at job boards and see what kind of roles pique your interest, jot them down.

Look at your company’s org chart and circle any roles you want to know more about. Think about the tasks from Step 1 and 2 and look for roles that have a higher percentage of tasks in your “lights me up” category.

You might want to reflect, in this Step, on:

How much effort are you prepared to put into finding the right next role? How much of a priority is it for you and how important is the next opportunity?

How much risk are you prepared to take in considering the right job or career? In pursuing it?

Step 4: Talk to people who are in roles you’re interested in

You don’t have to have it all figured out by this stage – this is still exploratory.

Find a few people in roles that you’re interested in and take them for coffee. The goal is to find out if the role just sounds good or if it really does align with the things you’re looking for.

A few good questions to ask them are:

  • How did you get to your current role? What has your career path been to date?
  • Do you have any special certifications or education that help you in your role?
  • What do you love about your work?
  • What do you find challenging? (Every role has a downside or challenges – find out what they are).  Keep in mind, what others find challenging, you might love — and vice versa.
  • If you could go back five years in your career, would you do anything different?
  • What are your next career steps?

This allows you to get first-hand information about the role you’re potentially interested in. If you learn at the end of the coffee meeting that it’s really not for you, that’s great, repeat Step 4 until you find some good options for you.

Step 5: Reflect & Decide

Take some time to go back through your notebook or journal and think about why you want to make a change, what exactly needs to change in order for you to be fulfilled, what types of responsibilities you want more of, and what options you have.

Think deeply about what you really want from your work and what you want to contribute and commit to taking the next step towards your goals.

Give some thought to a few more questions:

Why do you work?

List all of the reasons you work or have a career or job – for example, you might list things like? Prestige among my peers, to feel I’m giving to my community, to feel useful, to pay the mortgage, to continue the family business, to meet people, to earn some extra money, etc.

When you meet new people, how do you want to describe yourself in relation to your job or career?

Coach’s Question:

What is the next step you’re going to take to help you decide what your next career move should be?

Do you notice the sound of silence?

How comfortable are you with silence in a conversation? How common is it for you?

If you’ve grown up in North American culture, you probably have very little silence when you’re in a conversation with someone and chances are pretty good you’re not really comfortable with it either.

Studies have found the North American tolerance for silence during a conversation is one or two full seconds, at most, whereas in Japan it’s 8.2 seconds and almost as long in Finland.

Can you think of a time when there was an 8 second gap in a conversation and it didn’t turn you into panic mode trying to think of something to fill the space?

The thing is, space isn’t inherently a bad thing. The concept of “dead air” and silence being equated with a lack of conversation skills is a social construction – nothing more.

In fact, not only is silence not a bad thing, it’s can be a really good thing.

With silence we can gain wisdom, develop greater self control and demonstrate selflessness. It also lets people reflect, think deeply, say things they might otherwise hold back.

You may have witnessed this in negotiations or the last time you bought a car or a house.

People who sell large ticket items are often aware of the value of silence. A salesperson who outlines the benefits of their product and then shares the price might hear from their potential client, “Hmmm, it’s very expensive.” A simple, “I understand,” followed by a space is often met with the potential client saying, “But it’s gorgeous, I’ll take it.”

I’m not suggesting any one culture is better than another but when it comes to silence, the Japanese are on the right track. Silence really is golden — particularly when you allow silence into the conversations with people you lead.

How much silence do you have now?

Take some time this week to observe yourself.

Start with one to one conversations.

How much silence are you leaving after you ask a question?

How much before you respond to someone else’s question?

If you pause before answering, are they jumping in with other questions?

What about in group meetings — how much silence is there?

If there isn’t much silence, how much reflection might be happening? Or not?

So how do you bring more silence into your conversations?

Here are a few ideas for how to use silence to bring out the best in your conversations:

  • When you’re in a group meeting, pause, before jumping in. Count to two. Pause when you start speaking, count to two. Pause after asking questions, count to two.
  • When you’re meeting one on one with someone, particularly folks you lead, try asking open-ended questions as we suggested before in this blog. And then count to five. Yep, five. Let the other person take time to reflect before answering. If they haven’t answered by the time you count to five, it likely means you’ve asked a great question and they’re thinking about it — count to five again.
  • Another great technique is to pause after they speak. Ask a question, listen for the answer. Listen to understand, not to respond,. When they’ve concluded their response to you, take a few moments to reflect on what they’ve said. If you’re having a hard time, count again – this time to five or more. Ideally, use this time to think about what they’ve said. Maintain soft eye contact with them* and just reflect. See what happens. You may find they dive back into the conversation with deeper meaning and self-reflection.

*Soft eye contact means maintaining eye contact, without staring. Letting your eyes show you care.

As coaches, we frequently use these techniques in our coaching conversations. This is, in part, to allow ourselves to reflect upon what the client has said, to hear the feeling, the emotion, the deeper sense, but also to see where the client goes. Clients often dig deeper, or start to ask themselves some questions out loud, they themselves start to reflect on what they’ve just said. It’s spectacular — this is often where the “ah-ha” moments happen.

If silence feels awkward and you’re not sure how to maintain it, try asking, “and what else?” or something similar. “How does that make you feel?” “What did you think about that?” These slightly probing but engaging questions, fill the void a little bit, and help the other person to pause and reflect even more.

Coach’s Question

Where could you bring more silence to your conversations? What benefits are you missing in your meetings, and in your conversations with staff, by not allowing silence to do the heavy lifting?

What kind of leader do you want to be?

 

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

 

A lot of us don’t sit down and, with intention, decide what kind of leader we want to be. We learn, we lead, and we share. We practice continual improvement and we just work on being better today than we were yesterday.

There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, please don’t ever stop doing that.

But…

Every single day that we show up and contribute, we’re creating a legacy as the kind of leader we are, for better or for worse.

Whether we’re strategically building towards something we decided with intention or passively and reactively building, our choices and actions every single day are cumulative.

And, not only are we moving either towards or away from the kind of leader we want to be – we’re building our legacy as we go. What we leave behind is our contribution and that contribution is in service to the people we work with and those who follow in our footsteps.

What we leave behind is our contribution and that contribution is in service to the people we work with and those who follow in our footsteps.

How, then, can we actively choose?

How can we be mindful of the kind of leader we’re working towards and the legacy we’ll leave behind?

How can we decide exactly what it is we’d like to shift or change or influence? And how do we decide to be content with who we are?

Here are a few questions to get you thinking about exactly what kind of leader you are and whether or not you’re on track to be the kind of leader you want to be.

If your work were to be described as movement – what would it be?

 

What if, instead of thinking of leadership skills as a personal achievement, we consider them a contribution to a social movement. 

What is at the core of why you do what you do?

Is your leadership movement to help staff to feel empowered? Is it to be the leader who built a flat-organisation? Is there a human-centred cause at the root of the work that fires you up? What’s yours?

Is it to be the leader who built a flat-organisation? Is there a human-centred cause at the root of the work that fires you up? What’s yours?

What daily habits and micro-interactions are contributing to your leadership goals?

 

With health habits, every food choice we make is either neutral, helping, or hurting our health goals whether conscious choices or not.

In that same way, we are either working towards the kind of leader we want to be or not. The micro-choices we make every single day add up to who we are as a leader.

Do you keep your door closed? Do you schedule check-ins? Do you stop and ask your team how they’re doing – even in a moment of stress? How do you respond when you’re dismayed or unhappy?

How much do you delegate and how often do you redirect? Do you frequently run up against deadlines and ask your team to do the same?

What are your core values?

 

What have you noticed are deal-breakers for you in relationships? Is honesty high on your list?

Are there exceptions? What about altruism — putting the greater good ahead of yourself? Are there exceptions to that one?

Organizations sometimes have great definitions of the core values they look for in a leader (George Mason University has a nice succinct list here) — what would your own list look like?

Can you define it?

Coach’s Question:

How will people talk about the impact you had when you move on? What daily actions are contributing to your legacy? How can you start to ensure your daily choices are moving you towards your leadership goals and vision?  

Want better ideas? Ask better questions

If you’re like most of us in the 21st Century, you’re probably looking to be innovative and effective. You, or people around you might be talking about being “disrupters” in your industry.

You and your team might be trying to “do more, with less.” And of course, with access to the internet and a world full of data, that should be getting easier and easier. But, it isn’t getting easier.

You’re drowning in information and the decisions get harder and harder.

So, how in the world do you get to the good ideas? How do you find the information that will be helpful or innovative or groundbreaking? How do you explore that data and find what helps?

Well, like so much of what we talk about in this blog, it’s a simple idea that can be tough to implement – ask better questions.

If you’re a leader, whether by formal title or informal influence, you’re probably going to find asking questions a bit disconcerting. After all, you’ve gotten your title and your influence by having the answers. Now it’s going to look like you don’t know what you’re doing. Or is it?

Asking really good questions doesn’t leave people thinking you don’t know anything. In fact, in most cases it leaves people thinking, “Wow, what a great question, she always knows just what to ask to push us to better things.”

So what makes one question better than another?

Ask big questions early on in a project

Why are we doing this? What will success look like? It might surprise you how often you hear wildly divergent answers, from your team or your colleagues, to some of those fundamental ideas — it’s worth exploring them.

Ask some unexpected questions

What if we didn’t have any money, how would we do this? If something major threw us off track on this project, at what point could we say it’s “good enough?”

Ask open-ended questions

Letting go of that need to know the answer comes easier if you try to be really curious. “Tell me more about that… What makes you think that?”

If you struggle with asking curiosity-based questions you can try literally saying silently to yourself, “I’m curious to know…” before asking your question out loud.

“I’m curious to know, how might we do that with the deadlines we face?”

Encourage others to ask questions

One of my mantras when I was leading large groups of people was, “If you come to me with a problem, bring some solutions too.” It was meant to encourage thinking and discussion and sometimes it worked. But, it also left people floundering to find some solutions on their own before even coming to me. That was the opposite of what I wanted.

A better approach, if you’re going to have a mantra like that, is something like, “Come to me with problems and bring some curious and thorny questions we should ask ourselves about it.” That not only starts the conversation with some good questions but also encourages a questioning, thoughtful approach to problem-solving.

Coach’s Question:

What’s holding you back from asking questions, more than giving answers? Is it worth it? What big idea might you uncover if you asked better questions? What challenges are you or your organization dealing with, that might benefit from some big or unexpected questions?