Thursday, January 31, 2013

How to Stop Hating Your Team

Hate working in teams? Sometimes, I do too. I don't have time to deal with the drama queen, the negative Ned and the overzealous employee who thinks he is the next Donald Trump.
That's why I was a bit reassured to know I'm not alone, and there is hope. Teams don't have to be about as fun as a toenail fungus, if I just change my attitude and those in charge do a better job putting teams into motion.
Read how in this latest story I did for Gannett/USA Today....

If you think workplace teams are a great idea but would be thrilled if you weren't on one again in your lifetime, you're not alone.
According to a new University of Phoenix survey, 95% of respondents say teams serve an important purpose, but only 24% prefer to work that way. Younger workers like it even less. Many say they would rather work alone.

"I think the fact that less than a quarter of workers would prefer to work on teams is a pretty shocking statistic although it doesn't surprise me personally, says Barry Feierstein, chief business operating officer of University of Phoenix. "Teams are hard."
Different generations, different agendas and different personality types thrown together creates tension, Feierstein says.

Another problem: Team members may resent being put on teams that add to their workload or force them to work closely with people they would rather avoid. Add in the various authority levels of different team members and "you've got a dance you have to make figure out work," he says.
The survey also finds some of the other reasons that contribute to the negative feelings about teams:
  • Gossip.
  • Passing the buck.
  • Disagreements that turn physical. (Believe it or not, 15% have reported that problem.)
Feierstein says he has never been on a team where a confrontation turned physical although he's seen "staplers and books sent flying through the air," so it could be respondents were judging such interactions as physical.
The University of Phoenix integrates teamwork and collaboration into its curriculum because officials there believe those skills need to be developed before students enter the workplace, he says.
This may be a more important skill than ever because the students have grown up communicating with technology, one-on-one cellphone texting, online with Facebook friends or tweets to the world. In other words, students may have more difficulty working face to face on teams, he says.
"It used to be that you interfaced with friends on the phone or by meeting them face to face," he says. "You learned to listen to the tone and have empathy for what they were saying. But now, because of technology, collaboration has become more sterile. Personalities are not able to come across and you can't pick up on nonverbal body language."
That's why Feierstein says the survey should be used as a call to action.

"For me personally, it will make me more aware that when I'm on a team most of the other people in the room don't want to be there," he says. "That's something as a leader I need to acknowledge and deal with."
Team members need to know that the leaders understand their lack of excitement, "but that we will win or die as a team."
Anyone who continues to express negativity should be reminded that such bad attitudes won't be tolerated, he says.
"I think you've got to be honest with people that you know they may have had bad experiences in the past because that will help take away some of the anxiety," Feierstein says. "You've got to approach this situation so that you can help the team develop a way to trust one another."
Team members can help make the experience more pleasant.
"If I were a more junior member, I would view it as a chance to build awareness of myself, as a way to build my network and to show other people my skill set," he says. "You can learn a lot if you go into it with a positive attitude ... that will help you be more effective."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Got Charisma?

Martin Luther King, Jr.  Bill Clinton.  Oprah Winfrey.  John Kennedy.
When you think of such people, charisma is probably a word that comes to mind.  Were they born with it? Or did they learn it?
Most studies agree that charisma is a combination of factors. You may be born with traits that lean you toward being charismatic, but many of the charismatic attributes shown by the people listed above also werelearned and developed throughout their lives.
And you can learn them, too.
Over the years I’ve talked with many leadership and behavior experts, and they’ve offered their insight into how anyone can become more charismatic. Among their suggestions:
  1. Be disciplined.  You must train yourself to be totally focused when another person is speaking. You can’t be darting glances around the room, answering a text message or thinking about your busy schedule. This is not often easy to do when there are many distractions, so it’s something you have to practice. Charismatic people often are described as making the speaker feel that he or she is the only person in the room.
  2. Convey the right message. Enter a room with your head up and your shoulders back. Make eye contact and work to eliminate speech patterns that include “uh” or “you know.” Try to mirror the body language of the person you engage in a conversation. That helps others feel more comfortable with you and establishes a quicker rapport. Nod your head at times while in a conversation to show you’re listening, or add “me too” when appropriate.
  3. Always be prepared. Who will you meet today? What will be the topic of conversation? Learn to take a positive mindset for whatever is coming up. Instead of dreading a networking event, for example, think of it as a chance to learn something new or (read more here)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

6 Ways to Wow an Interviewer Via Video Interview

Not long ago someone wanted to interview me via Skype. I froze.
I badly needed a haircut. I had bags under my eyes after a week of no sleep because of a bad head cold. The t-shirt I was wearing had a big stain from the tea I had spilled on myself earlier.
A Skype interview? Oh, yeah, that was so never going to happen.
But if you're a job searcher, you've got to always be ready for that call asking for a video interview. That's why I think this latest column I did for Gannett/USA Today is a good lesson for all of us about being ready in this time of the webcam....

Would you buy a car without first seeing it or taking it for a test drive?
Probably not, and employers feel the same way about job candidates. They want to know that a job candidate is reliable, will fill their needs, and won't quit when the road gets bumpy.
But how do employers "test drive" candidates before making a job offer without being too time consuming or expensive?

One solution has been video interviewing. Companies like HireArt weed through job applicants and send short videos of good fits to potential employers.
As part of that test drive, employers also may request candidates take on challenges to show their aptitude for a job, HireArt's co-founder Elli Sharefsays.
An engineering company may pose a coding challenge to an applicant, or someone claiming social media expertise may be asked to come up with sample tweets, Sharef says.
"We really think video interviewing is going to take off because for the first time it's possible with the number of webcams and the increasing number of job applicants for each position," Sharef says. "Employers just find having such richer candidate information is helpful."

That's why chances are good that sometime in your professional career you will have to do a video interview.
To make a good impression, experts say you should:
• Be enthusiastic. Channeling energy when you're staring at a computer screen may be difficult, it's important you appear upbeat, Sharef says.
Think about why you're passionate or excited about the job, then pump yourself up to sit down and let that show through. Think about listening to your favorite music beforehand or reading inspirational quotes to get yourself in the right frame of mind.
• Dress professionally. Wearing your fraternity T-shirt or having messy hair hanging in your face won't make a good impression.
If you don't appear professional, an interviewer will be distracted and you'll convey the message you didn't care enough about the job.
Wear the same kind of clothes you would to an interview. Avoid busy patterns on clothes because they become distorted on screen. Don't wear jewelry such as bracelets that might make noise as you move.
• Check your background. Beer bottles, dirty laundry and your 12 cats shouldn't be visible.
Clean up the area as much as possible, and make sure your face is lit clearly. Lighting only from above can cast shadows on your face and make you look tired.
Any noisy children or pets need to be out of the area.
• Sit tall. You may not even realize how much you slump before a computer until you see yourself on video.

Make sure you're positioned so you're directly in front of the screen. Keep your eyes on the video camera "eye" so that it appears you're looking directly at the viewer.
Make sure you don't swivel in your chair, and avoid nervous gestures such as jiggling your leg, which can cause your whole body to move.
• Be a bit spontaneous. It's OK to practice what you want to say so you come across as articulate and confident in the video, but Sharef says one successful candidate notes he only used a couple of "takes" so he would come across as genuine.
"You don't want to be reading notes," she says.
• Do your homework. When crafting your video pitch, find ways to note that you understand the industry and the company.
For example, you may want to talk about the company's commitment to sustainability as a reason you would like to work there.
Finally, ask a friend to watch your video interview and get feedback, or practice before a mirror and record your pitch so you can work to eliminate indecisive words such as "maybe" or "kind of."
You need to sound confident and well spoken during an interview. Any flaw can get you deleted quickly from an interviewer's files.

Monday, January 21, 2013

5 Ways to Look Better at Work

While looking in the mirror recently you discover a gray hair. In your eyebrow.
You also begin to notice that everything is starting to, well, sort of droop. Sag, actually. Your latest photo in the company newsletter bears an uncanny resemblance to your mother. And your great Aunt Edith.
You’re starting to feel more than a little old when your new manager doesn’t know who Ringo Starr is.
This is when you start to worry that others at work are noticing that you’re getting older. Have they noticed the body you once had that resembled a sleek sports car now sort of evokes thoughts of a wine cask on legs?
Looks can be deceiving, you tell yourself. Maybe you’re not running a 5K race every weekend, but your wisdom and experience should still be valued in the workplace, right?
In a perfect world, yes. But the truth is that people make judgments about you based on the image you project. So if you look old, then they will assume you are old. And maybe out-of-date. And possibly lacking current skills.
This doesn’t mean you need to race to a plastic surgeon and have everything nipped, tucked and hoisted while praying you don’t end up looking like a jackal.
But there are some ways you can spruce up your image at work and not look like someone who is trying too hard. They key is to just become a better version of yourself, and not try to turn the clock back unrealistically.
So here are some ways not to look old at work:
  • Stand tall. Hours of sitting hunched over a computer and years of wear and tear on your body can start to damage your posture. Have someone take a picture of you standing from all angles, then examine where you can improve. Get a feel for how you need to align your body to stand taller. Often stomach exercises can help strengthen your core and help you stand up straighter, as well as practicing yoga. Consider having someone videotape your walk so can see how to adopt a more confident and upright stride.
  • Start at the top. Hair, or lack of it in many cases, can be the first tip that you’re getting older. Hair that is allowed to go gray can become more frizzy (read more here)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Why Anxiety May Prompt You to Take Bad Advice

When I was in my early 20s, I took some really bad advice. I listened to people I should have ignored and did what they advised. I regretted it for years, and told myself one simple truth I would live by: "I will listen to myself from now on. If I make a mistake, it's my own fault. That, I can live with."
The worst part for me was knowing that I made a big mistake because I listened to other people, even though I knew in the back of my mind I shouldn't have. I knew these people had their own agenda, and I should have been more aware. But, I was young and the young make mistakes.
This story I did for Gannett/USA Today, explains why this may have happened, and I hope it may save you from taking some bad advice....

Most of us feel anxious about our careers from time to time.
But a new study suggests we should be careful about what we do with that anxiety or we could make some very serious missteps.
Experiments show that when people are feeling anxious, the majority not only will seek advice but also take it, says Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at the The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. However, the anxiety affects their ability to discern between good and bad advice.

So, if you are anxious about an upcoming presentation at work, you might seek advice from a colleague. If that colleague offers advice, you're likely to take it — even if it's not that great and could cause you to blow a pitch to a client.
Or, if you're a job seeker and getting more anxious about your lack of prospects, you could be susceptible unscrupulous individuals posing as career coaches who have little good advice to offer.
Schweitzer says he became interested in studying anxiety because "it's so common throughout our day and simmers underneath the surface much of the time."
Uncertainty, unusual situations or unknown outcomes often trigger anxiety, he says.
"We're afraid of what is around the corner," he says.
Interestingly, today's technology even may be responsible for new anxiety triggers: Bad news can be delivered any time through email or texts. Our constant mobility forces us to meet new people all the time, which often triggers anxiety, Schweitzer says.
"We're hardwired to feel anxious," he says. But self-confidence "can inoculate you against the bad influence of anxiety."
But if you've been knocked around a bit, losing a job or a promotion, your confidence may start to ebb and anxiety begins to take over.
"We become less sure of ourselves, and that's when we start to seek advice," he says. "But the problem is that we're less able to weigh advice well."
Another downside to anxiety: Not only does it start to affect individual success but also that of a company.
Anxious workers may begin to absorb bad advice that leads to poor decisions, or they may completely avoid making decisions.
"While anger may trigger a stay and fight response, anxiety triggers flight," Schweitzer says. "We would rather avoid the issue than deal with it. We put off a problem, and it festers."
An employee may avoid working with a teammate who triggers anxiety. But a boss who triggers the same response may cause turnover, he says.
"Maybe you want to ask for a raise, but you'd rather leave than have to ask for it," Schweitzer says.
Schweitzer, who studied anxiety with Wharton doctoral student Alison Wood Brooksand Professor Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School, says that anxiety increases "the cognitive load" so that you may be unable to think about much else besides what's making you anxious.
"That means that there is less mind space to entertain new ideas. We're diverting our own attention," he says. "Anxiety motivates people to resolve their uncertainty, so instead of doing their job, they may be checking with their financial adviser all the time if they're anxious about their retirement, for example."
When you feel anxious, Schweitzer advises you to try to transform the feeling into excitement. Instead of saying, "I'm worried about this project," tell yourself "I'm excited about this project."
The key is changing the way you think about something; "psyche yourself up," Schweitzer says.
Such a pep talk may be difficult at first because people are geared to try to calm themselves when they feel anxious, and others may try to help you calm yourself when anxiety kicks in. Instead, Schweitzer advises channeling that energy into imagining all the exciting possibilities.
"Everyone feels anxiety," Schweitzer says. "But you can learn to refocus that feeling on what can go right instead of what can go wrong."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

How to Impress a New Boss

Is there anything more frustrating than working your tail off for your boss and then one day -- poof! The boss is gone and you've got to start all over with a new manager.

It would be helpful if you could just direct the new boss to a YouTube video that documented all your hard work, but that's not possible. Instead, you've got to be smart about the way you let the new boss know that you can be a valuable member of the team, and not just dead wood hanging around from the last administration.

If you want to know how to do it, read the latest story I did for Gannett/USA Today.....

Just when you think you've figured out how to stay in the boss's good graces and do the work that gets you ahead, the whole thing gets thrown out the window: You're getting a new boss.
The project you worked on so hard last year? The new boss doesn't know about it and doesn't really care to know. The times you stayed late and came in early? Again, the new boss doesn't know and doesn't care.

Does that mean everything you've worked for has been for nothing? Well, yes and no.
Yes, your hard work will pay off because it's given you important experience or helped improve your skills. But because the new boss wasn't around to witness it or benefit from it, you probably won't gain any points with a new manager.
George Bradt, an expert in helping executives learn the ropes at a new company, says that whether you get a new boss or your boss gets a new boss, it's a "major change with an enduring impact," and you've got to "hit the reset button."
"A new boss doesn't care what you did before," he says. "What is valuable is the relationships and the skills you have to contribute going forward."
Does that mean you hit the new boss with a litany of your accomplishments the minute the new person crosses the threshold of the corner-office at your company?
"That's not the way you want to do it. When given the chance, you want to talk about what you've learned in the last year," Bradt says. "That's a way to make what you've done still seem valuable."
While you may have mixed emotions about a new boss, it's important not to express any regrets, anger or skepticism, he says.
"You really need to treat the new boss decently," he says. "Your job is to make this person feel welcomed, valued and valuable."
So how do you get off on the right foot and start to rebuild your reputation?
Bradt, author of such books as, The New Leader's 100-day Action Plan, suggests some ways for workers to adapt to a new boss:
• Determine the work style.
Does the new boss favor phone calls over email or texts?
Does she want you to check in once a week or once a month?
What decisions need the boss' input?
These are all key questions to ask a new boss. Then follow that format even if your previous boss did just the opposite.
• Figure out whether you can disagree and how.
Does the new boss want you to offer your feedback in private?
Is it OK in front of trusted team members?
"Ask the boss what she wants. But don't believe her," Bradt says. "Most people overestimate the appetite for disagreement. It's best to watch what happens to others who disagree ... and follow what seems to work best."
• Become a stalker. This doesn't mean you cross the line and go through the new guy's trash, but it does mean you use whatever resources you can to check out your new manager.
Use Google's search engine, the LinkedIn professional networking site and check out industry publications for mentions.
"Just remember that you don't want to stray into personal or unrelated territory. Always make the assumption that the boss will know anything you looked at," he says. "She will know if you — or your parents — looked her up on LinkedIn."
 Be a teacher. The new boss has a learning curve, just as anyone does with a new job.
Don't try to hide anything because the sooner she gets a realistic picture of what's going on, the more she'll appreciate it. Your relationships can be key to her doing her job better, so help her make key connections and demonstrate you're a team player.
"Everything really comes back to attitude," Bradt says. "If you don't want to help a new leader do well, then you won't do well. And you're going to fail before she does."

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Skills You Need to be Great Boss

Most people I know like to complain about their bosses. Sometimes the complaints are trivial, and sometimes not. But when asked how they would do things differently, there is often a pause.
"Me? Well, let me see..." they say.
Few of us consider what it's like to stand in the shoes of the boss, but it's something to consider if you want to move up the ladder at work. Here's a story I did for Gannett/USA Today on what to do if you're interested in moving into the management ranks....
Managers often are portrayed as incompetent nincompoops or royal jerks who should be locked in their cars and never allowed to interact with human beings again.
But that's not the whole story, and most workers know it.
They see their managers deal with the stress of their own bosses, motivating workers who don't care about their jobs and putting up with angry customers who call their mothers unflattering names.
Yeah, who wouldn't want that job?
Apparently, a lot of people. A recent OfficeTeam survey finds that 76% of workers say they are not interested in their manager's job.
But hold on. Being a manager can be rewarding and could be key to your garnering a better salary and more opportunities. And maybe, just maybe, you like the idea of leading people and helping them achieve their goals.
As the economy begins to improve, chances for promotions into the managerial ranks are expected to increase. So how do you best position yourself to move into leadership?
First, if your company has a leadership program, let the right people know you're interested. Talk to the appropriate human resources people and your own boss to start the application process and see what steps you need to take to be considered.
But even if your company doesn't have a formal training program, that doesn't mean you should just rely on the powers that be to recognize your potential managerial greatness. You'll need to work to position yourself to be thought of a potential boss, says Daryl Pigat, branch manager for Robert Half International.
"What I always tell people is to do the job before you have the title," Pigat says.
That means you show leadership abilities such as good communication skills, an ability to stay focused on getting things done and a desire to help others to succeed, he says.
"You want to let it be known that you're ambitious, but don't be cocky," Pigat says.
He also suggests it's a good idea to find a more senior manager to serve as a mentor or to lead a project at work.
"Even if there aren't those leadership opportunities at work, you can always volunteer and perhaps run a fundraiser," he says.
One of the biggest mistakes of workers considering a management job: "They often think it's easier than it is," Pigat says.
Another big error: Assuming that just because you have top-notch skills in a certain area that you'll be a good manager. Having the latest technical skills, won't be enough when you have colleagues fighting like school children or the company tells you to lay off underperforming workers, he says.
"People often forget that managers have managers," he says. "But you've always got to be a steady ship even if you're getting it from above and below."
If you would like to develop skills that position you for management and ensure you won't become fodder for Dilbert cartoons, then try these exercises:
1. Hone your communication skills. Consider Toastmaster's International or some public-speaking classes to help you project your message in a confident way.
You need to learn to learn skills such as persuasive speaking techniques and how to give talks confidently in front of groups of people.
2. Join professional associations. Rubbing elbows with other managers at industry conferences or communicating with them via Twitter or LinkedIn are good ways to cast yourself in a more managerial light.
It's also a chance to develop a relationship with more seasoned professionals who can provide advice.
3.  Get necessary training. Some companies have specific requirements for managers, such as a college degree or certain certifications.
Check with the company about job requirements, and start putting in the time to get the required education or training.