Thursday, March 29, 2018

Why It's so Hard to be a Nice Boss

When I was about 16, I was elected president of a high school club. I was happy, of course, and thrilled that my peers had selected me.

It all went downhill from there.

Somehow, I let that title change me. I became very serious, looking at every decision as if the future of the free world depended on who we selected as the band for our next dance. For those who stepped out of line -- watch out. I wasn't above calling them out before the entire club, asking them to explain their actions as if they were preschoolers.

My presidency didn't last long, thank goodness. I was voted out during the next election, and rightly so.

But I learned an important lesson: It can be tough to be nice when you're in charge.

A couple of years ago I was talking to a young manager who told me that as a boss, she was going to be one of the "cool, nice ones." She had worked for many different managers, and was popular with her colleagues. She just knew she could be a boss who was able to maintain great friendships with the people who worked for her.

I recently ran into her, and the story has changed a bit. "I couldn't believe I did this, but I was nearly screaming at one of my employees on the phone and said if she was late again for work I was putting a note in her personnel file. I told her I didn't want to hear any excuses and hung up on her."

Yep. That's definitely a story I've heard before. People believe that once they gain a title, they will not change or do anything differently. But as my 15-year-old self can testify, that's not always the case.

There are a few hard truths that new bosses need to understand. Among them:

1. You're going to have a**hole moments, no matter how nice you are. There's a lot of things that are going to change your thinking about being one of the "cool, nice ones." Some worker will lie about why she's absent (she's not really sick, she just doesn't feel like working) and she will lie more than once. Eventually, you're going to talk to her about it -- and then she's going to do it again. She's going to continue to push your buttons like a 2-year-old who won't stop coloring on the walls. She's going to drain your energy and your niceness until you end up screaming at her on the phone. Just accept that you're going to have such a moment, but it doesn't make you a horrible boss. It makes you a human one.

2. Know your breaking point. Once you've had your little a**hole moment, then you can learn from it. Did you let the lies from the worker continue too long without scheduling a sit-down with the employee and clearly communicating the consequences of her behavior? Once you've reached the point that you're yelling at someone, you've gone off the rails. You need to think about how you'll handle such situations better the next time.

3. You're going to work harder than ever. Many people believe that once they get a new title they're not going to have to pull weekend shifts or answer emails at night or have their vacations interrupted with calls from the office. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Being the boss means that you're going to have more responsibilities -- and that may mean covering a shift when you're short-handed and working on the weekend to help the team meet a deadline. If you're going to get resentful about it, maybe you should reconsider if you're really cut out to be a boss.

4. You will be treated differently. Being a manager can be lonely. Team members may ask one another "How are you? How as your weekend?" -- but they may never ask you. You may not be asked to lunch when everyone else goes. They may be huddled together, talking and laughing -- and stop cold when you approach. You may get your feelings hurt, but try not to take it personally. Just think back to how you viewed your boss. Did you want her to go shopping with you on your lunch hour? Did you want to hang out after work? Probably not. It doesn't mean you're not a perfectly nice person -- it's just that now you're the boss, and that changes everything.

Much of being a good boss depends upon maintaining the attitude that you will need to learn and grow every day. You will be faced with new challenges, and that demands time and energy. As long as your team sees you as having their backs, being fair and treating everyone with respect, you will indeed be one of the "cool" ones.

Monday, March 26, 2018

A Broadway Actress Shares How to Beat Stage Fright

At sometime in your career, you're going to be asked to stand up in front of others and talk. It may be a group of five teammates, a department of 50 people -- or in front of a conference audience of 500 people.

This can produce anxiety for anyone -- even those who are professional speakers have told me they get that little flutter in their stomach before every public speech. But that's OK -- what you don't want to happen in the kind of panic that is similar to being pitched out of an airplane without a parachute.

I've heard many tips over the years about how to conquer the fear of speaking in front of others, and have used those tips myself.

Sandra Joseph, who played Christine in "The Phantom of the Opera" for almost 10 years, is now offering a few tips of her own in her book, "Unmasking What Matters: 10 Life Lessons from 10 Years on Broadway." Among her suggestions for conquering stage fright:

  • Tell a story. Perhaps it's when you're with your spouse or your best friend, but take the opportunity to bring up a subject that you're passionate about. You want to feel confident sharing your thoughts with this person -- don't try this with someone who makes you nervous or insecure.
  • Step outside yourself. As you're sharing your thoughts, try to sort of step outside yourself to observe how you're sharing this story. What tone of voice do you use? What hand gestures feel natural? How are you holding your body?
  • Recall. The next time you need to speak to others in a high-stakes situation, try to bring forth those same qualities and characteristics that propelled your speech with your best friend or spouse. You want to be authentic -- use the gestures and speech patterns that are natural to you.
Just as Broadway actors train for many years to become proficient in their craft, you have to practice public speaking to become good at it. Try with small groups in the beginning, and work your way toward confidence with every attempt. Careers are built on the ability to effectively communicate and share ideas with others -- conquering stage fright is just another skill you need to learn to be successful.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A "Smelly" Career Problem

Today is National Fragrance Day, which may mean diddly squat to you.

Except if you're at work, and someone has decided to microwave last night's leftover shrimp scampi. Or, loaded on the Paco Rabanne cologne. Someone else decides to burn a wintergreen candle on their desk.


It's not that there is anything wrong with any of these scents, but they can become a problem in the workplace where not everyone shares your love of Dragon Noir perfume or the smell of popcorn at 8 a.m. As a result, more employers are paying attention: An OfficeTeam survey finds that 19% of workers say their companies have scent-free policies.

One of the biggest issues is that if someone has a problem with a certain smell, they're likely to suffer in silence. The OfficeTeam research shows that 46% of workers say they keep mum on a smell they don't appreciate, while 17% confronted the person and 15% asked human resources to do something about it.

As most of us know, anytime someone is "suffering in silence," it can find an outlet in other ways. Your heavy use of cologne may be enough for other teammates to avoid including you in a meeting on a key project. Your smelly lunches may so secretly annoy a cubicle mate that she doesn't warn you that you've got a mistake in a report.

Also, keep in mind that sometimes heavy scents can trigger migraines or allergies from co-workers, and do you really want to take on their work when they're forced to go home because they're ill from your perfume or aftershave?

I'm not saying your desk candle is going to sabotage your career, but why risk it? You want to ensure that people enjoy working with you -- not secretly complain you're stinkin' up the place.

Monday, March 19, 2018

This is Why Failure Can Be Good for Your Career

Failure on the job can mean a lot of different things. It can mean that you failed to deliver a project on time, and the boss is ticked. It can mean you lost a huge client and the boss is livid. It can mean you failed to figure out how to create an app that was going to be a big deal for your career. (The boss isn't really mad, since he had no idea you were working on it in the first place.)

The result of failure can vary. You may get fired. Or, you may get a note in your personnel file. Perhaps failure drives you to the local pub for unlimited jello shots.

But what's really important to your career isn't the fact that you failed, or even that you were reprimanded or fired. Not even the massive hangover you experience matters in the long run.

What really matters is this: Did you take advantage of the failure?

That may sound weird, but not to people like Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was fired as the head of Disney and DreamWorks.

In a recent interview, Katzenberg says that he's learned to be a better leader because of failure. "When you're put in the wrong place at the wrong time, you learn amazing things about life, you experience moments of sacrifice and learn how to be a leader," he says.

Before failure can pay off for you, you have to confront it, embrace it and walk through it. That means you don't try to sugarcoat it, blame someone else or try to pretend it didn't happen. You look failure straight in the eye and figure out what happened and why.

This won't be easy, especially if it's something that is near and dear to your heart. You may need to take a break in the early days after a failure -- spend time doing something you love or let your friends, family or faith ease your pain.

Then, you need to:

1. Realize you are not alone. As mentioned, Katzenberg credits failure with helping his career. Other famous failures include Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and Thomas Edison. What would this world have been like if these people had just given up? Never doubt that you have something to offer the world, so don't let failure stand in your way.

2. Pick it apart. What really led to the failure? Was it really the poor data or was it the fact that you didn't communicate well enough with the IT team? Was the reason the customer left because the company got a better deal somewhere else -- or the fact that you didn't really understand the customer's needs and concerns? There are always lessons to be learned from failure, even if it's never to drink jello shots again.

3. Find support. It can be difficult to know things are going off the rails with a project or customer when you're so deeply immersed in the work. That's why it can be so beneficial to get feedback from others. Don't look for support from those who will always agree with you (like your Nana or your dog). Look for those who have been known to disagree with you in the past. Let them pick apart your process or idea and spot flaws. That's the kind of support you need -- people who are ready to challenge you to make you better in the long run.

No career runs smoothly. There are always bumps in the road, but don't let that throw you in a ditch where you remain. Get up, start over and get on with it. The sooner you accomplish that, the sooner failure becomes a distant vision in your rear view mirror.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

How High Potentials Get Themselves Fired

Perhaps you have highly sought after technical skills, or you're known for having such a creative mind that companies believe you can help propel their brands to new heights.

The world is yours, right? You have so many calls from recruiters that you've lost count.

Unfortunately, even though a company should reap the rewards of hiring people like you, some of them will find out that it was a bad idea.

A new study from VitalSmarts of 1,000 managers and employees finds that 88% of managers have at least one "high-potential" (HIPO) worker who doesn't live up to the moniker. Colleagues are even more fed up poor HIPOs, with 96% reporting they have at least one teammate who can't manage to regularly hit performance standards.

What gives? It seems that the sub-par HIPOs have certain traits in common: an inability to stay focused on the right priorities; failure to communicate or avoid surprises in their work day or responsibilities; and not meeting deadlines.

Those surveyed report they believe HIPOs get overwhelmed, trying to do so much that they soon fall behind. Or, they get mired in busywork instead of focusing on more meaningful tasks. In addition, they can be rich in technical skills but absolute crap at organizing their work and setting priority.

While HIPOs may believe that a company would never in a million years let them go (after all, they are high performers) that may be a fantasy. Specifically, 48% of manager report that such performance gaps cost organizations more than $25,000 per low-performing HIPO.

The bottom line is that no HIPO should believe he or she is invincible. More companies are getting adept at using data to track employee performance, and if you're an unorganized HIPO who can't seem to get key tasks done, then you could be vulnerable.

Here are some things to do if you believe you may be a HIPO in trouble:

1. Meet with your manager. Get clear on what goals he or she deems are the most important in the short term and the long term. These are critical. Also determine if you're communicating effectively, and what you can change or improve.

2. Set up a system. Just because you're an IT whiz doesn't mean that downloading the latest app will keep you organized and focused. I have known some truly brilliant people who still use a day planner. Figure out what works for you and don't worry what anyone else thinks. You want to spend  more time focusing on critical tasks, not wasting time with six different organizational systems.

3. Set aside thinking time. You can do this while commuting every day or or taking your dog for a walk. Turn away from any kind of screen and simply let your mind be at rest and wander where it wants. I've come up with some of my best ideas while doing the dishes or drying my hair. HIPOs are expected to not only meet short-term goals, but to develop innovative ideas.

Finally, never get too comfortable in any job. Remember that you're always being assessed, no matter your skill set or how you performed in your last job. If you take the attitude of always seeking improvement, then that's good for your employer -- and your career.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Should You Ignore Weekend Emails from the Boss?

I once had dinner with a friend who worked for a telecommunications company. In the middle of our conversation, she stopped talking and looked unhappily at her phone.

"I'm sorry," she said, looking at her vibrating phone on the table. "But I've got to deal with this if it's my boss."

She checked her phone.

"Give me a second," she said to me, frantically tapping at her phone.

When she replaced her phone on the table, I asked her if such messages on the weekend were common.

"Oh, you'd think we were curing cancer, the way he demands we answer his messages immediately," the woman told me. "It's awful."

I asked her if she ever thought of ignoring the messages even for an hour, and she burst out laughing.

"I need this job too much," she replied.

I then asked her if she ever thought about talking to her boss about the issue.

"No. I can't. I wouldn't know what to say," she said.

For my friend, and all the other people out there who may be putting up with a boss that bugs them endlessly when they are away from work, I have a few suggestions:

1. Make sure you're right. Are you sure that your boss really wants an answer right away? Or, did you just reach this assumption based on information from others or because there was one or two instances that demanded such a reaction time?

2. Communicate clearly. I hear from bosses all the time that they get frustrated when employees believe they are mind readers. If you want to know the protocol for weekend emails, then you need to ask your boss directly. "I know that you send emails on the weekend, and I wanted to ask if I need to respond right away if it's a non-emergency issue. I like to take the time away to really recharge so that I'm energized on Monday. Sometimes that means that I don't have the ability to respond right away."

3. Monitor your own behavior. You may be part of the problem, and not even realize it. For example, do you send an email to a colleague on the weekend? Perhaps that colleague then feels obligated to send an email to another co-worker -- and cc's the boss. Bam! Now the boss has to send out an email, and that means you have now triggered receiving emails from the boss on the weekend. If you do feel like you've got to send the email before it slips your mind, use a tool like Boomerang to send it Monday morning.

Finally, if your boss does expect you to respond on weekends to non-emergency emails, then it's not likely you can ignore them. That's when you have to make the decision on whether the company's culture is a good fit -- or you need to find an employer that respects your time off.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

3 Dumb Moves That Kill the Careers of Smart People

"Success is a lousy teacher," Bill Gates says. "It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose."

The working world is littered with the careers of people who didn't listen to Gates (or probably their mothers who offered the same advice). Some of these include entrepreneurs who started their business and achieved immediate success -- only to be serving lattes a year later because they crashed and burned. Or, there is the rising young star at a company who seems to be on a path straight to the c-suite -- until he irks an important client.

There are lots of ways to ruin a career, but I'd like to talk about some of the dumbest ways smart people manage to screw up their path to success:

1. They think they're too good for friends. I'm not talking about the kind of friends who you hang around with after hours. I'm talking about friends in the office. People you are nice to, and they are nice in return. You buy them a cup of coffee for no reason. You offer to stay late to help a co-worker finish a report. You cover for an unprepared colleague in a meeting. Those are the kinds of friends you make at work who will have your back, warn you when you're not making good decisions and help you be successful because they want you to do well. You do not earn and sustain success in a vacuum.

2. They try to multitask. Whatever you may feel about the financial guru Suze Orman, no one can doubt her success. She's worth millions and has retired to a private island in the Bahamas. She once said that she does one thing at a time, and she does it very well. Multiple studies have shown that we don't do things very well when we're in a meeting, sending emails, checking Instagram and thinking about where to go for lunch. Stop multitasking. It doesn't work, and increases the chances you'll make a stupid mistake and feel more stressed.

3. They don't do their homework. Let's say you've had success in shooting out random ideas in a meeting. Everyone is impressed. So creative! So out of the box! So smart! That leads you to believe this can work in other situations. But sooner or later, it doesn't. You make dumb statements to an important client showing that you don't know much about the customer's overall strategy. You blunder is asking basic questions during a presentation by your boss, showing you didn't read earlier reports. Skimping on your homework may have worked in high school, but you're in the big leagues now. Do your homework or find yourself being kicked down the career ladder.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Research Reveals the One Thing That Can Derail Your Motivation

It's not unusual to hear people say that when they've been job searching for a while, they sort of lose their motivation. This loss of initiative can also be found when people are working on projects for work or trying to come up with an innovative idea.

I've been through this myself, many times. When I feel my motivation lag, the one thing I don't do is pay close attention to others who seem to be excelling. I don't want to read their tweets or Instagram posts about how much progress they're making with a career goal.

But a new study shows why my strategy may only make things worse when it comes to re-charging my initiative.

Szu-chi Huang, an associate profession of marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, finds in her research  that when you (and I) avoid information about others striving to reach the same goal when you're in the middle of a process or effort, it's because you (and I) don't want to look bad by comparison.

So, instead of becoming re-invigorated by seeing others still striving, you sort of check out and your initial excitement begins to fade like a cheap dye job. Because you can't see the finish line yet because you're in the middle of your efforts, you may just abandon your efforts completely.

Why does this happen? Huang says it's because you need a motivating "anchor," and you don't have one when you cut yourself off from others who are in a similar position.

So, the next time you feel yourself start to fade in the middle of a project or process, try checking out social media and absorbing how others in a similar situation are still striving. That should be enough to get your motivation flowing when you need it most.