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Last year, I gave a seminar on leadership presence for the executive team of a high-tech company in northern California. The next day, the president of the company phoned and said: “I have an administrative assistant who is the brightest, most creative person I’ve worked with. The problem is, we’re relocating and she can’t move her family out of the Bay Area. I’d like to offer her a coaching session with you so that when she applies for a new job, she will come across just as terrific as she really is.”
Of course, I agreed and looked forward to meeting this talented woman. When she came into my office, I greeted her: “This is a real pleasure. I’ve heard so many nice things about you. Tell me about yourself. What is one thing you do exceptionally well? What would you most want a prospective employer to know about you?”
The woman was silent for several seconds. Finally, she sighed and said, “I really don’t know. I do a lot of things well, but when I do them, I don’t notice.”
So I had some tips for her … and you:
Keep a success journal
When we think about success, we often imagine it in terms of reaching a long-term goal or experiencing a major achievement. But big wins are relatively rare and I find it’s just as important to keep track of, reflect on, and celebrate not just our major victories but also our seemingly minor ones.
Try recording your small wins in a success journal (on a daily basis – perhaps right before you go to bed) and watch how this act of awareness boosts your self-confidence and performance.
Play to your strengths
Success is most often a result of developing, and playing to, your strengths.
Lee Strasberg, the famous acting teacher, once said, “I can train you for anything except that for which you have no talent.” Stop focusing on your weaknesses – the areas where you have no talent.
Instead, identify those specific competencies and accomplishments that make you special – and develop your strengths to the fullest.
Nurture a positive attitude
In Chinese, the ideogram for crisis combines two characters: the symbol for danger and the one for opportunity. So is the glass half-empty or half-full?
It’s both. The only difference is where you focus your attention.
Neuroscience tells us that when the fear system of the brain is active, exploratory and risk-taking activity is stifled. In today’s fast-moving, competitive business environment, a positive, upbeat, can-do attitude is vital for success.
Accelerate your learning
We can become psychologically attached to the status quo because it’s familiar and comfortable. But the reality of a high-speed VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world is that current knowledge quickly becomes outdated. The result is that your value to an organization depends less on what you know and more on how quickly you can update your knowledge to respond to changing conditions.
If you haven’t already done so, now is the perfect time to join a professional association, meet with colleagues, and read trade magazines in and out of your field to update your knowledge of trends and issues.
Develop your sense of style
The way you dress not only impacts how others respond to you, it changes the way you see yourself. (Anyone who has watched the first dress rehearsal of a play can attest to the transformational effect of wardrobe on the wearer.)
“Style is never just about clothes,” says Sophia Hyacinthe, CEO of Immaculate Wardrobe. “There is a direct correlation between how you dress and how you feel. Style is about power. It’s about the feeling you get when you walk into a room knowing that what you’re wearing is a reflection of your most powerful self.”
Manage time to improve focus
This strategy is from Gustavo Oliveira, Fernanda Neis and John Chisenhall, who train executives with techniques in the DeRose Method.
To heighten productivity, they advise clients to work for 25 minutes without distractions (multitasking is controlled distraction but a distraction nonetheless), then take a five-minute break.
Repeat this procedure roughly every four hours, and then take a longer break.
Get up close and personal
Michael Massari, senior vice-president of national meetings and events for Caesars Entertainment, conducts meetings for 18,000 team members in various locations. Massari believes in the power of face-to-face encounters.
“You are twice as likely to effectively present your proposal and to convert prospects into customers with an in-person meeting. The likelihood of getting a ‘Yes’ increases, because it’s so much easier to say ‘No’ in an email or on a phone call. If I had my way, and if it were physically possible, I would always meet in person.”
Play the violin
A young man once asked management expert Peter Drucker how to become a better leader. “Learn to play the violin,” Drucker replied.
I couldn’t agree more. People with interests beyond their professions are more resilient under stress and more effective on the job.
From music to art to sports to socializing with friends and family, you deal better with work-related issues and challenges when your life includes a healthy counterbalance.
Master the two most important body language signals
From a body language perspective, your bosses and co-workers are constantly evaluating you for two sets of non-verbal signals.
The first set of signals (and people evaluate in this order) conveys empathy, likability and warmth. These non-verbal cues include smiles, positive eye contact, open palm gestures and (most of all) giving people your undivided attention.
The second set sends signals of status, power and authority. You display those through posture – standing or sitting tall with your feet hip-distance apart, head straight and shoulders back, and by expansive and emphatic hand gestures, typically around waist level.
When you project both empathy and power cues, you have a winning combination for being perceived as caring and confident, which is a dynamite duo for creating a positive impact.
Network, network, network
Capital is defined as “accumulated wealth, especially as used to produce more wealth.” Social capital is the wealth (or benefit) that exists because of your social relationships.
Your network is your social capital – the value created by your connections to others. There is no more valuable commodity in today’s business environment.
Gayle Hallgren-Rezac and Judy Thomson, networking masters and the co-authors of Work the Pond! Use the Power of Positive Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life, share the strategies of great networkers: “Networking is not about promoting yourself or getting new business. It’s about creating or deepening professional relationships.”
Try this at your next networking event: Enter each conversation with the goal of finding something that you can do for the other person. The minute you take the focus off promoting yourself and put it on assisting others, you dramatically improve your ability to connect.
Become more visible
If you believe that working hard, keeping quiet and waiting for your talents to be discovered is the path to success, take a tip from Dana Simberkoff, chief risk, security and information officer at AvePoint: “If you want to be evaluated positively, it’s not enough to be a legend in your own mind. You need to make sure that executives in your company are aware of you, your work and your accomplishments.”
In fact, a recent study with 240 professionals in Silicon Valley found the chief factor in getting a promotion was visibility. That’s why you can’t afford to fade into the background at meetings. Instead, sit up front, engage and contribute.
You can further increase your visibility by volunteering for projects (especially those that create impact), giving presentations or speeches, writing blogs and taking a leadership role in your professional organization.
I hope the new year brings you all the success you so richly deserve!
Troy Media columnist Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead.
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