1-2-3…Stop!: The Three Challenges Preventing Women from Achieving Their Dreams.

[fusion_text]By Molly D. Shepard

For over 10 years, I have been informally surveying senior women in business across the country to get their opinions around what is preventing them from entering into the executive ranks and C-suites of their organizations. The pace of upward movement for women in corporate America has been glacial in the last 10 years, but the desire on their part to continue to grow in their leadership and take on more responsibility has flourished in contrast. The wonderful women I have spoken with – from California to New York – are extremely accomplished, educated, credible and aspirational. They have been thoughtful and objective in their responses to the question “why have more women not advanced further?”. What I perceived from their answers is that there are three major obstacles to success – each of which contain many sub-factors that are significant.

The first challenge is the ORGANIZATION.
Let’s begin by reflecting on how long women have been in the workforce. We took our places at machines and in factories when our husbands, partners and sons went to war in World War II. Many of us didn’t leave the workforce and many more of us reared children and girls to aspire to be financially independent and fulfilled by work that went beyond just raising children and taking care of them. If anyone were to say that women have not earned through tenure their place in leadership, they would be wrong and it would be negated by the 70+ years of us working. Women are now over 50% of the workforce. Yes, they are bunched in management positions, but based on their skills, accomplishments and abilities are ready and willing to enter into the more senior leadership roles in their companies. Only 4.8% of the CEOs in the Fortune 500 are female so there still is a lot of room to grow.

The women I have spoken to, which by now is in the thousands, have assured me that raising children has not been a significant factor in being overlooked. They, in large part, did not step aside or down when starting a family. Having a child will make a woman and her partner reflect on time management issues and priorities, but it has not been the singular reason that women give for their difficulty in advancing.

Companies are slowly stepping up to the reality of the new world in which we live. Flexible work hours, open space offices and longer maternity leaves, as well as paternity leaves and family leave for other family obligations, are on the rise. The companies that are most concerned with the recruitment and retention of talent have to open up their hearts and minds to accommodating the more decisive and outspoken demands of the Millennial generation. That is where the future talent lies as the Boomers march onto retirement.

However, these important steps taken by companies have not been able to eradicate the gender bias that exists when it comes to promotions, new assignments, risky ventures and opportunities where there’s a deeper comfort in assigning a lesser qualified man to a high-stakes job then the perceived high risk inherent in giving the position to a woman, no matter her qualifications. Fewer companies than we would think have not prioritized diversity and inclusion as one of their top business priorities. This is in spite of the fact that more and more research indicates that companies with more gender diversity at the top do significantly better, i.e. over 23% all the way up to over 30% depending upon the study in return in equity and profitability.

There are two ingredients to changing a culture from one of exclusion to one of inclusion and that is: 1) when the CEO makes it a top priority for the company, and 2) when there is true leverage to encourage/mandate managers and leaders to exhibit openness and support for women and people of diverse backgrounds. The only way to measure it is through number of hires and promotions – and in this case, numbers really count! There are a few companies that ‘walk the talk’ and should stand out as examples of what can happen when leadership makes diversity and inclusion a priority. KPMG, an enormous global consulting firm, is not only an example of a company that has expressed both inside and outside its deep commitment to women, but also now has a woman CEO. The elevation of women partners and the budget and dedication to their women’s groups and other affinity groups are just part of their commitment to ensuring gender diversity at the top of their organization.

The second challenge for women in business is MEN in the workplace.
In my experience as a leadership development coach, I don’t see men in most cases maliciously trying to either compromise or prevent women from rising up in the ranks of their teams and organizations. Rather, their view of the world and women within it has not changed in large part over the years. Unconscious bias has not been successfully addressed and resides in most companies at the leadership level. As a result, those at the helm unconsciously perceive that women are not ready or equipped to take on the high-powered jobs at the top. Whether it is a perception that women belong in the softer skills areas of industry like Law, Human Resources or Finance or just a misunderstanding of a woman’s strengths and what she can offer the organization, it is not clear. But when a woman comes up for a senior role, it is often the opinion of leadership that either her family commitments would exclude her from consideration or she doesn’t have the ‘grit’ or the toughness to drive the business forward.

Research indicates that the differences biologically between men and women would make it naturally difficult for men to fully appreciate the way women can look at a problem, dissect the challenge, explore the long-term implications of a decision, listen to all opinions, collaborate with others to ensure the best solution and generally collaborate to come to a decision. For most men, this takes valuable time. The irony is that it can lead to a better and more profitable outcome. The impatience that men may have with the thinking style of a woman can play a major role in her non-selection for senior leadership. A man’s appreciation for a woman’s unique and natural leadership skills is important.

The third challenge for women is WOMEN themselves.
There is lots of discussion as to whether it’s a woman’s socialization, schooling, parenting or DNA that makes her so significantly different from men that she is not being afforded the opportunity to sit at the table. The bottom line is that women have skills and strengths both learned and biological to offer a company at the highest ranks. Because women use both sides of their brains, they can look at a problem from both a short-term and long-term perspective, determine how a customer might react to a change in service, product or strategy and build consensus around a more strategic decision. All of this takes much longer than a man might take if he is using only his left brain which is more linear and logical but lacks the emotional quotient (EQ). So women do need to adjust their leadership and communication styles to make their voice more easily heard.

Even more importantly, women need to shore up their self-confidence even in difficult situations where they’re being confronted, criticized, or in some cases bullied and not back off from participation. A bad day, a harsh rebuke or a bad pitch doesn’t erase all of the accomplishments that might have gotten her to where she is. Women need to remind themselves how good they are all the time. They also need to create visibility for themselves so that the decision-makers and influencers in their organizations know who they are, what they can do and more importantly, what they want to do. It is not fair that a decision might be made about a woman’s future because some people think she’s either too encumbered with family obligations or not interested that they make a decision for her without asking. This means the woman must make it very clear how far she will go to take a new job, assignment or a risk. All this requires the ability to self-promote in a comfortable way her skills and accomplishments. There should be no question in anybody’s mind as to what a very talented woman can and will do for her company.

These three wedges of conflict need to be addressed by people who are thoughtfully looking at their future talent needs and recognizing that women now are over 50% of the workforce. Men need to understand that as good global leaders, they should have diverse teams so that they bring out the best and most well thought out decisions in their meetings. And women need to step up by speaking up and out, strategically network, examine their leadership presence and manage their careers better![/fusion_text]

Q & A With Joe Toto

Joe Toto

The Leader’s Edge/Leaders By Design is pleased to announce
February’s featured coach, Joe Toto.

 Throughout this month Joe will be answering career and leadership development questions submitted by clients and colleagues. If you have a specific question you would like Joe or one of our future feature coaches to answer please submit it to askthecoach@the-leaders-edge.com.


 Dear Coach,

As a newly appointed leader with a much larger role than ever before, what should I focus on first to be successful?

The first area is your organization. Your organization expects you to deliver certain results. As a new leader it is especially important that you establish exactly what these results are with your manager and other key stakeholders who depend on you and your department. Some new leaders jump in with a flurry of activity that may be off the mark of what the organization expects of them and some new leaders wait too long to find out what is really expected of them. You might invest sometime before making any decisions in asking various people in the organization who have a stake in your success, what they would like to see from you and the organization going forward. As the new leader, you can do an assessment very easily in the first few weeks of your tenure.

The second area is your team. They are watching you very closely to see if you are both capable to lead and care about them and their success and development. Have you met with each of them to determine what they do, what they would like to do more of and what their aspirations are for themselves and the team? This personal time with each of them early on will demonstrate your commitment to their growth and development while fleshing out any ideas they may have for better leadership. If one of the team member was overlooked for the job you hold, it is a good time to neutralize any feelings of resentment he or she may have.

The third area is yourself. How will the new demands affect your level of stress and energy and impact on your life and family? What about your own professional growth and development? If you don’t pay attention to these issues, your overall capacity to be successful in your new role will likely be diminished. Build a charter for both your team’s business objectives and for what you will need in terms of support to get the work done and share with your boss to ensure you are both on the same page.

The scope of your role may have expanded and for sure will be more demanding but there are still three areas you need to focus on to be successful. They are your organization, your team and yourself.

 


 

Dear Coach:

My organization seems to have a very political culture. I’m not good at or really interested in politics at work. I prefer to concentrate on the job and get things done but will I be able to?

Individuals like you who are focused on results and getting things done are very valuable to an organization. However, you are on to something when you wonder if you can be successful if you don’t pay attention to office politics. Organizational politics themselves are not going to go away and in fact in their best meaning are often the way astute leaders are able to influence others, sell ideas to get things done and reap the rewards of career visibility.

However, there are two extremes of how political some individuals can be. There are some who use politics for their own self-promotion, agendas and power and even cross the line in some circumstances and engage in unethical behaviors that are not in the organization’s best interests. Then there are some who want nothing to do with politics and think that hard work and the best ideas will prevail and one’s career will be recognized and rewarded. A bit like your own view perhaps?

The keys to getting organizational politics right are to maintain your integrity, build a network so you can influence others and implement your ideas, have your handprint visible in your good work so others recognize it, and in pesky organizational conflicts know which battles to fight.

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The EXCEL process includes three off-site group skills-building sessions, four small group cohort calls, personality and leadership assessments, and a targeted development plan for each individual, all guided by experienced executive business coaches.

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The dates for the three in-person sessions for the 2016 program are:

  • January 21, 2016
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Q & A With Jane Beale

Jane E. BealeThe Leader’s Edge/Leaders By Design is proud to introduce
October’s featured coach, Jane Beale.

Throughout this month Jane will be answering your career and leadership development questions. If you have a specific question you would like Jane or one of our future feature coaches to answer please submit it to askthecoach@the-leaders-edge.com.


 

Dear Coach:

My company is very supportive of people with families and allow women to work from home when necessary, as long as the work gets done.  I have three small children, and find myself working remotely 2-3 days a week when I’m not traveling.  That works well for me and my family, but I’m noticing that I’ve become invisible; I’m not getting invited to the meetings I need to attend, and I’m finding it hard to maintain collegial relationships with my peers.  What can I do to keep from falling through the cracks?


Signed Invisible

 

Dear Invisible:

A common dilemma!  And one that you need to take charge of.  Evaluate your priorities very carefully. I know your family is important to you, and I’m glad you recognize that you have a serious issue. I’d say you need to find balance, but I’m not sure that exists. Most of us have to juggle, multi-task and constantly bob and weave. So make a plan that ensures you’re in the office more frequently (I’m hoping you have some child care options). When you’re in the office, don’t sit at your computer all day; reach out to colleagues and get around the department.  Walk to your colleagues’ offices rather than depend on emails and texts.  Have strategic lunches, find out what people are doing. Try to save your computer and project work for when you can work at home. One of the most dangerous career pitfalls is being invisible. Also, make sure your manager knows your long term career goals and encourage him/her to give you feedback on a regular basis. It is doable.

Good Luck!

Jane


 

Dear Coach:

I recently took a risk that turned out badly. I was working for a company going through great change and was feeling under-appreciated. I received a call from a recruiter, decided to explore some outside options, and was quickly hired by another company in my industry. The interview process was rather complicated and confusing; I got a lot of mixed messages about the company’s culture and values.  Despite some reservations, I took the job. By the time I arrived for my first day, the new company had changed dramatically. The woman I was meant to report to was gone. I’m suddenly reporting to someone I hadn’t met. I’ll spare you the gory details, but will say I lasted 6 hard weeks. The original company has invited me back and I’m inclined to go, but I have a nagging negative feeling about crawling back. I’m also nervous about how to explain this short-term job when I interview elsewhere.  What should I do?


Signed Patricia

Dear Patricia:

Sorry that turned out so poorly!  You can chalk it up to lessons learned.  But go back to the company where you were miserable?  Not a great idea.  Why don’t you make a list of all the reasons you left them in the first place; be sure to look at their mission and values.  Then dust off your resume and investigate what else is out there.  It’s really important that you have a crisp, honest reason for accepting that job and then leaving.   Briefly describe some of the changes that took place there between your accepting the job and arriving there.  And then move on to all the great things you have to offer another company.  Your self-confidence is going to be key.  Taking a risk, even if it doesn’t work out, is nothing to be ashamed of.

Good luck!

Jane


 

Dear Coach:

My manager recently left the company because of illness. She was replaced by someone from one of our subsidiary companies. Unfortunately, the change in command took place during a time of reorganization. I had put my name forward for a promotion and felt optimistic about my chances. When I heard I didn’t get the job, I asked the new manager why. He said that they needed someone with International experience, so of course they couldn’t pick me. Actually, I spent two years in Latin America and 3 in our Hong Kong office; I speak 4 languages fluently and have the highest performance ratings. Where did I go wrong?

Signed Marsha      

 

Dear Marsha:

Ouch! That’s a sad though not uncommon problem; one would think a newly-placed manager would quickly delve in to the files of his/her staff. It seems that often doesn’t take priority. In the future you need to make a point of sitting with a new manager, presenting your credentials and detailing your goals. It doesn’t need to be a long meeting, but you need to make sure it happens. This situation is a good reminder that you need to: a) be on top of your strengths, skills and goals, b) have sponsors in the company who can look out for you, and c) be visible to key stakeholders.

Good luck establishing a successful working relationship with this manager!

Jane


 

Dear Coach:

I was recently passed over for a promotion because I don’t “look like a leader.”  My manager was a little vague in his feedback, but said basically I dress too casually, act intimidated by senior management and can’t be heard on those few occasions I participate in meetings.  I’m a little embarrassed and hurt about it, but know I need to do something.  I came back from maternity leave 14 months ago, and have had some problems balancing everything.  I haven’t really lost my ‘baby weight’ and haven’t been able to wear some of my better suits.  I don’t want to buy new clothes till I feel better about myself.  I guess I understand the part about my voice (I’ve heard that before), but not sure how to address it.  I’m an excellent employee and I’m struggling with wondering why the physical side matters.  Help!

Signed Jennifer
Dear Jennifer:

That conversation was probably as tough for your manager as it was for you and you should be grateful that he took the time to talk.  It can seem superficial to put such weight on the visual side of your presence.  But people expect leaders (and emerging leaders!) to look like credible professionals.  I absolutely feel your pain about not wanting to buy new clothes, but you should go immediately and get some work wear that will make you feel good about yourself.  And make sure your hair and makeup is professional.  You’ll be surprised at how good you’ll feel and how it will fuel your self-confidence.  Also, you must work on the ‘small’ voice.  Ask your HR partner if there are development courses that you might take to work on projecting and sounding stronger.  Hopefully there will be.  In the meantime, ask someone in your group, who you can trust, to help you informally.  He/she can give you feedback after meetings as you practice your skill. And remember it is a skill, and like all skills, practice makes perfect!

Good luck!

Jane


 

Dear Coach:

My manager took me aside after a recent meeting and told me I wasn’t contributing to the big picture, and it’s time I demonstrate strategic skills!  The meeting was a typical free-for-all and I must admit, I wasn’t very aggressive about jumping into the conversation. I did, however, prepare the handouts and I know they were well-done. I’ve been in my position for 2 years, and am considered the go-to person who can always finish major projects successfully. Though I’m invited to most meetings, I frequently can’t attend as I’m at my desk working. I believe I have strategic ability, but not sure how to prove it.

Signed, Anne

Dear Anne:

Many women we’ve worked with have needed to step out from behind their stack of research and data and get involved at a strategic level.  That can be a challenge! When you excel at the details and the execution, it’s hard for you (and others!) to automatically include you in planning and design. A few suggestions: go to those important meetings. Whatever is on your desk will still be there when you return!  Consider it top priority to immerse yourself in the topic and participate in the high-level conversations.

Make sure you get your voice heard at every meeting, even if it seems like a small contribution. Your colleagues need to know you’re involved and have something to say. If you have direct reports, make sure you’re delegating appropriately; they may need some nurturing, but the pay-off will be huge. And use strategic language when you talk! Talk about the enterprise and your contribution to the whole. Don’t just talk about your work and the work of your team. As you climb the corporate ladder you’ll be doing less execution and more of the strategy. I’d loop back to your boss and tell him/her that you understand his comments and will exhibit new behaviors immediately and that you do see the big picture. Good luck!

Sincerely,

Jane


 

Dear Coach,

I just received my annual performance review and was very upset to hear that I’m perceived as someone who doesn’t listen to the opinions of others and that I shut down conversation once I have my solution.  What should I do?

Signed, Joyce

Dear Joyce,

It’s not uncommon to want to rush to a solution; we all work hard and fast, and there’s not always time to truly collaborate.  I assume you’re in a senior position and that the voices you aren’t hearing belong to peers and direct reports.  Even if you believe you know the answer/solution to a question at hand, you need to give others the opportunity to be heard.  Do this before offering your solution.  When people think they’re not being heard, they often close down. If you’re in a real time bind, make sure you save time at the end of meetings (10 minutes or so) to allow others to share their thoughts.  You may be surprised by what you hear, and your colleagues will feel part of a team. By implementing my suggestions I’m confident that your next performance review will be much different.

Sincerely,

Jane

Q & A With Mary Jane Reed

hs_maryjaneThe Leader’s Edge/Leaders By Design is proud to introduce
November’s featured coach, Mary Jane Reed.
Throughout this month Mary Jane will be answering your career and leadership development questions. If you have a specific question you would like Mary Jane or one of our future feature coaches to answer please submit it to askthecoach@the-leaders-edge.com.

Question:  Eighteen months ago, I accepted a high-level position at a new firm. Overall, it has been a great experience and I feel as though I am making an impact. My boss seems pleased with my results but since I rarely see him, I would like to get some feedback on how others in the firm perceive me. How can I go about getting honest feedback?

Connie

Dear Connie,

Kudos on proactively seeking out and being open to feedback! There are 2 potential approaches you could use.

First, ask your HR Department or call us at TLE/LBD to identify an outside coach who could work with you and interview your key stakeholders, direct reports, peers, and most especially, your customers. I have found that people tend to be open and candid as long as they know that their comments will not be attributed to them. The coach can then prepare a non-attributed summary of the key themes heard during the interviews.

 If your budget does not enable you to hire a coach, then consider developing a simple 3 to 4 question form for distribution to colleagues in order to seek their feedback anonymously. Questions might include:

·         What am I doing well that I should KEEP on doing?

·         What am I not doing effectively and that I should STOP doing?

·         What am I not doing that I should START doing.?

No matter which road you are able to go down, you must be willing to listen to the feedback you will receive and be willing to make the necessary changes.

Good luck!

Mary Jane


 Question:  I’ve read about the importance of building a strong network of colleagues.  However, I am an introvert and feel uncomfortable meeting new people. “Networking” seems so contrived. How can I overcome this feeling and step out of my comfort zone?

Anna

 

Dear Anna,

You are correct. Networking is indeed an important career skill and should be built on authentic conversations and relationships.

 

One option is to start with a simple goal of meeting one or two new people a month. If it is an internal colleague, invite them for coffee to gain a better understanding of their work, career objectives and personal as well as work challenges. Have a few questions prepared in your mind. The key is to get them talking. Listen attentively and ask clarifying questions or seek their opinions on organizational issues. Often, the conversation may take a personal turn such as family, vacations, and children. Make notes after the meeting so you can remember these details when you meet again in the future. And, make and maintain eye contact.

If you are attending a professional or company meeting and there is a Networking reception, do not become overwhelmed by the “sea of faces”. Simply stand quietly by the entrance and notice if there is a person standing alone or with one other person.  Making sure to not interrupt a personal conversation, approach them by introducing yourself, and ask if they are enjoying the meeting or their favorite presenter from the day.

 

I have found it helpful to keep one’s hands free so delay picking up food or drink until later in the reception. Consider it a success if you were able to have a good conversation with 2 people. Ask for their business card and send a crafted email following the conference referencing points within your discussions.

 

Good luck!

Mary Jane


 Question:  As a unit leader, I am close to the people on my team but cannot seem to get through to others in the company.  Do you have any suggestions to help me breakthrough?

Marcie

Dear Marcie,

 

It could be that you and your team are focused inwardly on your own work and team results. If this rings true, one approach might be to conduct interviews with your key stakeholders (those people who depend on your work and/or peers in your larger department). Develop a short interview and schedule mutually convenient times to meet with your key stakeholders individually.

 

Ask for feedback on what you and your team do well and areas for improvement. Ask them about their own unit’s objectives and challenges and ways your team can support them. These types of questions generally encourage people to open up and talk. Once you have established rapport you may then demonstrate a sincere interest in their career within the organization.  Sincerity is the key.

 

The biggest by-product of such interviews is the establishment of a working relationship upon which you can expand in the months ahead.  With their permission, take notes and thank them for their time and thoughts. Once you have completed 3 or 4 interviews analyze your feedback, look for common themes and develop appropriate action plans especially if they asked for your help.   It is essential that you follow up in detail based on this feedback.  To engage their input and to then do nothing.. .is deadly!

 

Good luck!
Mary Jane

Q & A With Judy McHugh

Judy McHughThe Leader’s Edge/Leaders By Design is proud to introduce December’s featured coach, Judy McHugh.

Throughout this month Judy will be answering your career and leadership development questions. If you have a specific question you would like Judy or one of our future feature coaches to answer please submit it to askthecoach@the-leaders-edge.com.


 

Dear Coach, 

I have a new boss who recently joined the company. She is knowledgeable and nice, however; I am finding that she is not as inclusive as my former supervisor. Previously, I was included in more senior-level meetings where discussions took place that might impact the projects I work on. My former boss looked at my participation as an asset, that I might anticipate an issue that could be resolved more effectively if I was included in the dialogues. Naturally, I enjoyed being a part of these discussions with upper management and now feel left out and uninformed. How do I approach my new boss about this without sounding like I’m whining?

Signed, Marilyn

 

Dear Marilyn,

You have a legitimate concern that you should feel confident is important to bring to your boss’ attention. It is highly likely that your new manager is not intentionally excluding you, but instead is unaware of the protocol or your desire given her newness to the organization and her role. It would make sense for you to share that you were previously included in these meetings and that both you and the other attendees, including your previous boss, found your presence beneficial to the discussion and positively impacted the projects’ successes. Perhaps you can ask your previous boss to share his or her experience with your new boss to further impress upon her the positive outcomes that were achieved.

In addition, it is part of your manager’s role to help you continue to grow as a leader. She may appreciate understanding how your involvement in these meetings has enabled you to learn and further develop, and added value to your current and potential future roles.

Finally, you may wish to share how your attendance in these meetings could be helpful to your boss given her newness to her role and the organization. You can exhibit your support of your boss during these meetings which will reflect positively on her as your manager. In addition, you may be able to better assist her with any follow-up items that need to be attended to since you will have first-hand knowledge of any requests.

Most importantly, assume that your boss will be appreciative of your offer to attend these meetings rather than see it as a conflict. This view will give you more confidence during your conversation with her. At the same time, anticipate any concerns she may have before you meet with her, so that you are prepared to address them.

Good Luck!

Judy

 


 

Dear Coach, 

I’ve recently received 360 feedback that I don’t exhibit confidence and executive presence. While everyone believes I am hard-working and talented, they feel that this lack of “gravitas” will keep me from moving forward in the organization. What exactly is gravitas and how do I get it?

Signed, Janelle

 

Dear Janelle,

In the context of exhibiting confidence or executive presence, gravitas generally means being viewed as an authentic, influential and effective leader at the senior level. Several things are important to be mindful of in order to be perceived in this way.

First, remember that what you say verbally is only part of the picture. Focus on your visual and vocal delivery in addition to your words. Speak loudly and with conviction. Ensure that your posture is good and that your arms are at your side when standing or that you are sitting up straight and not fidgeting. In addition, gestures should be appropriately aligned with your message. Dressing the part is also essential.

Second, speak your mind when you have an idea to share. Don’t wait until someone else beats you to it. People will respect your opinions if they are well informed and you present them clearly and concisely. At the same time, ensure that you listen carefully to others and ask questions to show your acknowledgement and interest of their ideas.

Third, leave self-deprecating language in the past. It is often how you say and position your thoughts, rather the thoughts themselves, which get in the way. Avoid saying things like “this may not be the perfect solution, but…” or “I’m sorry I don’t have complete information, however…” Be strong in your delivery and skip the “I think’s” and the “You knows”.

Fourth, behave in a manner indicating that you know your contributions are valued (because your feedback clearly stated this). Before going to a meeting or giving a presentation, write down recent accomplishments and knowledge you possess that are relevant to the topic at hand. When you are well prepared, you are less likely to give in to fear or intimidation and more likely to exhibit confidence. Remember, you deserve the seat you have at the table or your place in front of the room.

Finally, the old adage practice makes perfect is often true. Before an important presentation, ask someone you trust (perhaps your coach if you have one) to observe your delivery and provide feedback ahead of time. Gravitas is something we all possess – believe that you have it and others will too.

Good luck, Judy


 

Dear Coach,

I love my job and am passionate about the work that I do. I am also fortunate to have a wonderful team supporting the important projects we are responsible for. Occasionally, when I am in a meeting, an important project that my team and I devoted significant time and effort to, or a team member, will be criticized by someone who does not have all the facts (sometimes that someone is my boss). When this happens, my immediate reaction is to become defensive and emotional. This causes my boss to give me feedback that I need to address other people’s concerns in a calm manner and think about the best interest of the organization. This upsets me as I am always thinking of the best interest of the organization. What do I do?

Signed, Emily

 

Dear Emily,

I believe you when you say that you always have the best interests of the organization in mind. Now, you need to present your views in such a way that this is apparent to your boss and others outside of your team. Below are what I believe are some helpful tips.

First, given that you know that you are always thinking of what’s best for the organization, assume that others are also thinking this way. Understand that their goal is not to criticize you, your team member, or your project. They are most likely concerned about something that may be impacting them, their team member or their project that they hope you can resolve or provide an explanation for. Having this frame of mind in situations of conflict is important.

Second, try to meet individually with stakeholders/meeting attendees prior to the actual meeting. Find out ahead of time if others are having any issues with work you or your team members are doing that may affect them. Get those challenges out on the table and acknowledge their concerns. Share with them how you might resolve things and how long it may take. This may prevent them from raising the issues at the meeting.

Third, if unexpected issues do arise at a meeting, take a moment before reacting to them immediately. It may be better for you to say that you appreciate their concern and the problems they are experiencing and that you will look into the situation and get back to them at a later date. If you do have an answer for them, ensure that it doesn’t sound defensive. Stay calm; it may help to have a glass of water handy. Taking a sip of water or a deep breath before answering someone when you’re in an emotional state may enable you to keep your voice level. Don’t let things escalate in the meeting; if you feel yourself heating up, take the conversation off-line.

There is nothing wrong with advocating for your project or team member when it is the best thing for the organization. Responding to challenges, real or perceived, in calm and confident manner will go a long way towards preventing people from questioning your motives.

Good luck, Judy

Q & A With Maribeth Renne

Maribeth D. RenneThe Leader’s Edge/Leaders By Design is proud to introduce January’s featured coach, Maribeth Renne.

Throughout this month Maribeth will be answering your career and leadership development questions. If you have a specific question you would like Maribeth or one of our future feature coaches to answer please submit it to askthecoach@the-leaders-edge.com.

 


Dear Maribeth, 

I have been in my current position with my company for over five years.  Although I have done everything I can think of to be promoted, there is just no place to go – no ‘up’ – for me in this organization.  I know it is time to start looking elsewhere and I have updated my resume and am beginning to search for new opportunities.  My question is this: do I need to write a cover letter when I respond to job opportunities?  Won’t my resume suffice?

Sincerely,

Bethany

 

Dear Bethany,

A well written cover letter provides another opportunity to demonstrate to the employer that your qualifications match their requirements.

Cover letters:

  • give us an opportunity to make a positive impression and distinguish ourselves;
  • provide an opportunity to make a case for fit and build rapport;
  • give us a chance to cover things we can’t express in our resumes such as passion for the role;
  • enables us to show our professional communication skills to a potential employer.

My recommendation to you is to write an original letter for each job opportunity.

RESEARCH:  Prepare to write your cover letter by doing your research.  Look at the company’s website, its executives’ Twitter feeds, and employee profiles on LinkedIn. Check various news sources. Take notice of culture and adapt your tone in your letter. Know what the company does and some of the challenges it faces so that you can share your relevant achievements and accomplishments.

MATCH: Match your accomplishments and real-life experience to the needs and requirements in the job posting. Highlight achievements that are relevant to the position. Highlight pertinent “soft” skills and strengths. Show your fit. Use the same terminology as the company and whenever possible, try to find out who will receive the letter and use their name.

SHOW PASSION: Show passion for the position and tell the reader why you would love to join the organization. In the first sentence, state why you’re excited about the job and why you are the right fit.

Finally, Bethany, always remember to make the letter eye-appealing. Make sure it is not too long. Keep it to one page only with not more than four paragraphs and lots of white space. Remember to check and double check for grammar and spelling errors.

I commend you for actively managing your career and recognizing when it is time to look for new challenges. Good luck, Bethany!

Regards,

Maribeth


Dear Maribeth,

I was recently given responsibility for an additional business unit and I’m thrilled because it provides me the opportunity to prove that I’m ready for the promotion I’ve been long seeking. An extremely organized person, I’m fully utilizing all my project management skills to keep all the balls in the air. I’m well supported and have the resources I need. So what’s my problem? Since taking on the new unit, I have been SO stressed out!  I always feel like I’m in a big rush and hear myself barking out orders and sighing audibly when faced with long-winded colleagues in meetings.  Instead of making my mark, I’m afraid I’m going to ruin my good reputation! 

Help!

Ginger

 

Hi, Ginger and thanks for writing.

First off, congratulations on being selected for this opportunity that you have wanted for so long and have worked so hard to get. With your drive, expertise and skill, and support and resources, it sounds like you have an excellent chance at being successful. You just need to take a few steps to ensure that you don’t derail.

Too often, when we finally get a chance like this to shine, we put so much pressure and stress upon ourselves that it can be detrimental to our performance. Too much stress can cause us to be irritable and impatient and make it difficult for us to focus. It sounds like this may be happening to you, Ginger, but the good news is that we can alleviate stress and be at our best by learning and regularly practicing some stress management techniques.

Ways of Alleviating Stress at Work

  • Give yourself a break: It may sound counterintuitive, but one of the best things you can do when you feel overworked and overwhelmed is to step away from the work. Invite a favorite colleague to go with you for a healthy snack or take a walk around the block. Put lunch dates on your calendar so that you will remember to give yourself a midday break. Keep conversations light and refrain from talking about work topics.
  • Stand up and stretch: Breathe slowly and deeply through a few of your favorite stretches and yoga poses. Just five minutes will rejuvenate you and help you center yourself.
  • Laugh: Yes, laugh! The fastest way to recover from stress is to laugh, let go, and move on. Laughter serves to put thing back into perspective in times of stress. Keep a ‘funny file’ on your computer that you can go to when you need a good laugh.

Ways to Keep Your Body Strong and Able to Fight Stress

  • Eat and sleep: Choose healthy, good-fuel foods to keep you at your best and get enough sleep.
  • Engage in exercises with relaxation as the goal: Swimming, rowing, running, and walking are all repetitive-type exercises that serve to zap stress.
  • Enjoy time with friends and family: Sharing time with people we love nourishes and replenishes us.
  • Begin a mindfulness meditation practice: As ABC News Anchor Dan Harris says in his book, 10% Happier, “meditation is simply exercise for your brain. It’s a proven technique for preventing the voice in your head from leading you around by the nose.”

Basic Mindfulness Meditation

I suggest that you begin your practice by scheduling three minutes in the beginning of your day and three minutes at the end of your day to engage in the following steps. Slowly over time, you may want to work up to twenty minute practice sessions.

  • Find a quiet, comfortable spot
  • Set a timer so you are not distracted by watching the clock
  • Sit comfortably in your chair with your spine straight, feet flat on the ground, hands in your lap or on the arms of your chair. Relax and focus inward
  • Now focus your attention on your breath
  • Breathe slowly and normally and really feel your breath. Notice as it moves through your nostrils, into your chest, and gently pushes out your belly button.
  • Slowly exhale, concentrating on the air being released from your belly and chest and traveling over your vocal cords. Notice the tension the breath takes out with it and the sense of relaxation that takes its place.
  • Each time your mind strays from the breath and begins thinking of something else, gently return your attention to the breath. It’s okay if your mind wanders; just bring it back to the breath.

Learn and engage in some of these stress management techniques, Ginger, and with your drive, skill and expertise, you will perform at your best in this new challenge and stand a great chance at being promoted to that dream job.

Best wishes,

Maribeth