Key Traits of a Leader

Guest Post by Lisa Gallagher

Great companies don’t just rely on agile business models or modern organizational frameworks. In fact, how successful a business is depends on its leadership positions. The people in place to manage the general staff affect employee productivity, and, ultimately, the company’s bottom-line. A Gallup report highlights that managers account for about 70% of the differences in employee engagement. With engaged employees less likely to make mistakes and more productive, you can see how important leadership is to an organization.

If you were wondering what makes an effective leader, here are four non-negotiable traits to look for:

Knowledgeable

It may seem simple, even obvious, to say that a great leader is knowledgeable. But it’s important to note that the term “knowledge” applies to many things — industry knowledge, technical skill, and most recently, digital literacy. Industry knowledge is essential for executives and managers to make intelligent business decisions. Technical skill ensures that business processes are conducted with a high level of finesse. Finally, the rapid digitalization of the business industry calls for the ability to navigate the virtual sphere. According to Cortellazzo et al., researchers from the Ca’ Foscari University, leaders have had to adapt to the changing business landscape brought about by digital transformation. Thus, they must develop both human and digital competencies to lead effectively through continuous learning, training, and experience.

Knowledge is essential as it dictates how leaders act and respond to different business situations and hindrances. Knowledge is power, after all. Without it, an organization cannot optimize operations. To build your knowledge, attend educational seminars or enroll in short courses that will boost your skillset. Alternatively, you can learn from your current network and even seek out a business mentor.

Self-aware

Self-awareness is another seemingly straightforward trait. However, the concept is complex. A study by Dr. Tasha Eurich, a Ph.D. holder in organizational psychology from Colorado State University, found that self-awareness has two categories: the internal and the external. The former involves seeing oneself clearly, including one’s strengths, flaws, and areas of improvement. Meanwhile, the latter is more focused on knowing where one stands in relation to other people. Leaders must be self-aware both internally and externally to improve themselves based on their own criticisms as well as that of their constituents.

Self-awareness is vital for leaders to identify their boundaries as well as gaps in their performance. This allows them to be more open to feedback, whether it’s self-critiquing their work or suggestions from their peers. To practice self-awareness, encourage team members to suggest points of improvement and process them with a rational, not emotional, mind. It’s also good to introspect, to ask yourself whether you’re embodying the characteristics of an effective leader. This will make pausing to consider your current capabilities a habit, which boosts your self-awareness.

Communicative

Communication is a multifaceted trait that entails listening, speaking, and the nuances involved in both. The goal of communication is the transfer of knowledge. Effective communication ensures that the message is put across and there are no misunderstandings. And since leaders communicate with teams, business partners, and customers regularly, communications skills are a necessity. It’s also worth noting that the recent pandemic has largely affected how people communicate with each other. Great leaders can communicate well, despite these changes.

For instance, masks are now commonplace in physical gatherings. Dustin York, the director of Maryville University’s degree program in communications, spoke to Advisory about how people can practice good communication skills even while wearing a mask. Because the mask hides facial nonverbal cues, one should then make use of the rest of the body, as he stated in the aforementioned article on Advisory. York also suggests keeping one’s toes and torso aligned to their conversation partner or smiling with the eyes. These minute practices reassure your conversation partner that you’re listening, making it easier for both of you to converse. Effective leaders know how to pivot their communication strategies, especially if there are physical and abstract barriers in place.

Resilient

Finally, leaders must be resilient. Resilience refers to the ability to withstand all forms of difficulties. And it’s clear why this is a crucial trait for leaders. In fact, our blog post on ‘Developing Resilience’ highlights how resilience is rooted in preparations.

To prevent or be prepared for future challenges, leaders need to equip their team to deal with said problems. This involves planning, implementing relevant procedures, then testing them. For example, training your team to be a collaborative group plays well in the current work landscape. Creating a culture that values digital literacy means they will have been prepared for remote work that is on trend now. But note the resiliency also means knowing when to rest. Even the best leaders can’t operate 24/7, so remember when to retire for the day. This balance between preparation and rest will strengthen your resilience. You’ll be ready for anything — and so will your business.

Becoming a laudable business leader is a daunting task. It requires the traits mentioned above, as well as other skill sets specific to the industry. So, if you want to be a great leader, you need to start working on these traits now.

Wow! It’s been a minute since I posted something here on Rivers of Thought!

My last post was a Christmas wish and now it is St. Patrick’s Day! To say the first 10 weeks of the year have been a blur is an understatement. While it may seem from the perspective of this blog that I have not been doing much. Nothing could be further from the truth! Let me catch you up on a few of the goings-on!

 

JANUS Program

In January I had the honor to deliver a two-day workshop based on my book Amplify Your Job Search to a group of America’s finest! I spent two days at Camp Mackall in North Carolina with 30 Green Beret. These were soldiers who were within 18 months of their transition date out of the military and into civilian life. The JANUS Program provides transition assistance to our heroes to ensure a smooth entry into life outside the military. Job search skills training is an integral part of that transition.

This was only the second live event I had participated in since the COVID lockdowns in 2019. I was a little hesitant to fly given the pandemic and some of the wacky things going on at our Nation’s capital in January, so I rented a behemoth SUV and drive to North Carolina. The drive was mostly uneventful, other than the six inches of snow that fell as I crossed the mountains one way and the dense fog I encountered coming back the other way.

 

Institute for Digital Transformation

Late in 2020, I was welcomed back as a Fellow of the Institute for Digital Transformation after a several-year hiatus. The Institute’s mission is to help prepare leaders and organizations for transformation. The Journal is the Institute’s blog. My first article since returning appeared in March 2021. “Is it time to disrupt the IT service desk” takes are hard look at the state of the IT service desk, the impacts of the pandemic on the service desk professionals, and offers up some thought about transforming the service desk through people, process and technology.

The Institute has also been hard at work on the creation of the Digital Transformation Manifesto.  With so many conflicting ideas about digital transformation, we thought it was time to release a manifesto in the same ilk as the Agile Manifesto. The manifesto will provide a definition of what digital transformation is…and what it is not! Be on the lookout for it coming soon!

 

Status Go

In January, we celebrated our 100th episode since launching Status Go in 2018. That is 100 episodes of great, actionable content from nearly 100 guests on topics ranging from technical, strategy, and leadership, to gender and racial diversity, and everything in between.

So far this year, we’ve released (or dropped in the vernacular of the podcast biz) twelve episodes, including:

Forbes Technology Council

I continue to write several times a year through the Forbes Technology Council. This is one of the many councils Forbes has developed. These councils provide a community of thought leaders across several disciplines such as human resources, finance, and, of course, technology. One of the benefits is the access to write content to appear on Forbes.com. In 2021, I have had two posts appear.

In February, I published the third installment of my Race in Tech Series, The Funnel. This post blows up the myth that there are not enough minority candidates in the job pool and challenges business leaders to “open the aperture” by reviewing their job qualifications. The Funnel looks at several organizations that are working diligently to expose unseen candidates to organizations across the country.

Part one in the series is Race in Tech, Part I: Inside the Numbers, a look at research results into the current state of employment in the tech sector.

Part two in the series is Race in Tech, Part II: Being ‘The Only’ provides a glimpse into what it feels like to be the only underrepresented minority at work or at an event. I go on to highlight some organizations whose mission is to support “the onlys”.

 

People Development Magazine

In March, I wrote a piece for People Development  Magazine, published out of the UK, Gender Equality in Tech – It got worse…and it may be your fault is a hard-hitting piece that reveals the adverse impact the pandemic has had on gender diversity. If you are in a leadership position in the tech sector, the reason for this regression may rest on your shoulders. For this article, I asked eight women around the world what actions men who want to be allies for women in tech can do immediately to start to tilt the scale.

Leadership Thought: A Gift of Wisdom

The Gift of Wisdom – Leadership from Around the World

 

We have entered the holiday season. Many around the globe will be celebrating in December. Hanukkah begins on December 12th, Kwanzaa begins on December 26th and Christmas on December 25th. 

No matter your faith, I have a gift for you this season. In this space, on the first Tuesday of the month, I typically share a thought about leadership. Today, my gift to you is to share the gifts from leaders around the world…the gifts of wisdom. 

Beginning today and continuing for the next 24 days, read insights into leadership, personal growth, people development, and more. People Development Magazine is a digital publication from Christina Lattimer from the UK. Christina has gathered posts from authors, speakers, and coaches to be shared each day in the form of an online Advent Calendar. I have the honor of being included in this year’s postings (but I am not telling which day 🙂 ). 

Today’s gift is “Simple Techniquest to Create Great Leaders” by Dr. Todd Dewett. Read it and get a taste of the gifts to come. Sign up to have each gift of insight delivered directly to you. 

Use the waning days of 2020 to grow your leadership! 

A Culture Plan - Are you planning to fail?It has been said “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” I have spent my career building plans, executing plans, leading teams to develop and execute plans: project plans, IT strategic plans, business strategic plans, and others. Never have I written, never have I seen, a culture plan, much less a strategic culture plan. 

In one of those “Doh!” (picture forehead-slapping a la the old V-8 commercials or even Homer Simpson’s “Doh”), I was interviewing Mike Mead, chief information officer for CNO Insurance, for Status Go, the podcast I host for InterVision. In the episode, Mike talks about the importance of culture and gives us a call to action, “Look at what is your culture. Is it the culture you want? If it is not, do you have a plan? We have a plan, a project plan, for changing ours.”

A project plan for a culture change, I’d never thought of that before! 

It got me thinking…and googling…

 

My Search

I’ve had culture on my mind throughout the work-from-home-shelter-in-place-pandemic. You may recall the question I posed in my blog post “Is Culture a Place?” Mike’s challenge got me thinking, what is a culture plan? How do you go about writing one? What do you include? Can it be used to extend a culture to remote/distributed employees? 

My google search led me to tons of articles on creating a culture plan. Some of the articles were really good, others were too simplistic to be of much use. (Sorry, but if the words easy or simplistic are in the title, you are overlooking how incredibly hard culture change is to achieve.) I was pleased to learn the process of creating a culture plan is really no different than creating any sort of plan. 

  1. Know where you are (the “as-is”) 
  2. Know where you want to be (the “to-be”) 
  3. Develop the steps to get you from the “as-is” to the “to-be”
  4. Identify success factors
  5. Identify risks 
  6. Define the metrics to measure progress
  7. Put a governance structure in place
  8. Execute

I found a lot of great information out there. One that really stood out to me was the “Strategic Culture Plan” by Galen Emanuele of ShiftYes. In it Emanuele lays out the three steps you will need to take: Gather Feedback; Create the Plan; Implement the Plan. It actually aligns quite nicely with the eight steps I mentioned. The meat of his work is in Step 2, where he defines five sections for creating the plan. I believe the reason most culture initiatives fail (and why so many toxic cultures exist) is in sections one and two. 

Creating Your Plan

Section one is your driving story and purpose. Emmanuel asks you to answer two questions:

  • What is your company’s origin story?
  • Why are you in business — why do you exist, what is your ultimate or higher purpose as an organization?

This reminded me of a post I read a few years ago, “Your ROI is not a vision”. People don’t get behind numbers, they get behind a vision and a purpose. What is yours? If everyone on your team does not know the origin story and why your organization exists, you are doomed at the outset. Financial metrics are important, but they are not your “why”. 

The second section is an interesting combination of values and a code of conduct. Too often we stop at defining our values. They end up being nice platitudes on a poster in the break room but fall by the wayside in the day to day operations of the business. “We value teamwork” is meaningless without clear examples of what is meant by teamwork. 

I encourage you to grab a copy of the “Strategic Culture Plan” from ShiftYes. Gather feedback. Do you have the culture you think you have? Do you have the culture you want to have? If you answer no to either of these, develop your culture plan and build the culture you want, intentionally! 

While you are at it, listen to my interview with Mike Mead on “Status Go”. If you are reading this before it airs, I’ll be sure and let you know when it does! 

I started this post with confirmation of the saying “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. I’ll end by dispelling a different saying “old dogs CAN learn new tricks”! 

Leadership Q&A #AmplifyYourJobSearch“I keep getting interviews, but no offers.” This statement is usually followed by the asked, or implied, question, “why?”. You’ve been searching for weeks that have turned into months. You are getting multiple invitations to interview. Perhaps, you have made it into the second and third round of interviews…multiple times…only to be told no. This is frustrating, to say the least. It is demoralizing. It can be depressing! (need help to stay motivated? Read How do you stay motivated during a job search

Let’s do a little digging. 

You’ve applied to dozens of jobs. You’ve been invited to interview multiple times. First question, how many times have you made it past the initial screening interview? If you are consistently being screened out of the process at the first interview, the problem may be your resume…well, better stated, the problem may be a disconnect between the story your resume tells and the story you are telling in the interview. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying the disconnect is intentional. The mere fact that your resume is getting selected for a screening interview, tells me your resume is a great match for the jobs to which you are applying. Think back over those interview conversations. Were you prepared? What story did your responses tell? Was the interview by phone, by video, or in-person? What went well? What didn’t? 

You may be applying for the wrong jobs

There are two basic approaches to conducting a job search: shotgun and laser. In the shotgun approach, you are blasting your resume out to just about every job opening you see. If your resume is in decent shape and the keywords are generic in nature, you are sure to pass through many applicant track systems and be presented for human review. This is sure to land you your share of first interviews. 

Ask yourself, are the jobs you are interviewing for really jobs you want? You may need a job, that is a fact. Are you really a fit for the job? The interviewer has been trained to weed out the mismatches. That is their job. 

Is the job one that aligns with your strengths, values, passions, and purpose? If not, it may be difficult for you to show interest and excitement in the position. If you can’t envision yourself working at that company, performing that job, chances are the interviewer won’t be able to envision it either. 

What about your presentation?

No, I am not talking about using PowerPoint or Keynote during a job interview. I am talking about how you presented yourself. 

Phone: Was the audio clear and crisp? Were you in a quiet place, away from distractions and interruptions? Did you use a headset, instead of holding your phone to your ear, or worse, yet a speakerphone? Poor audio could result in a poor connection, literally! 

Video: Think about the audio connection just as you would for a phone interview. Go a step further and think about your surroundings? Will the video quality be adequate, with adequate bandwidth? Is the lighting sufficient (you don’t want to look like you are in witness protection nor under intense interrogation)? What other things are in view of the camera? Do they depict the “you” you want the interviewer to see? Don’t use the virtual background feature of the video call platform, they can be distracting. Finally, how do you appear in the video? Do you make eye contact with the camera (not the image on the monitor)? Do you lean in or slouch back. Approach it like you would an in-person interview. Speaking of an in-person interview…

In-person: How are you dressed? In this time of more and more casual attire at work, this can be tricky to navigate. You want to dress to fit in, not necessarily to match. Let me explain. If the company is business attire, done. Wear a suit (suit, pants- or skirt-suit).  Otherwise, dress a notch above the company dress code. If the company is business casual, consider a suit, at the very least dress at the top end of business casual with a jacket. If the company is casual, dress business casual.  Even if they wear flip-flops, shorts, and rock t-shirts to work…don’t! 

And, what of your skills? 

Be honest with yourself, brutally honest. How do you come across in an interview? Interviews are among the toughest meetings we ever have as professionals. You are on display. You are the focal point. You may need a job. You may really need a job. It can be stressful. Our anxiety can be on full display. 

One word: rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! Ok, technically that was three words, but you get the point. Rehearse in front of a mirror. Rehearse in front of a friend, family member, or colleague. Rehearse in front of a stranger. Introduce yourself first or that could be awkward! Kidding! Reach out to a professional network or job seekers network and ask about mock interviews. Even the most veteran of professional can use some rehearsals with candid feedback! 

Are you selling? 

The answer is yes! If you are not, you should be! This is a balancing act. You want to come across humbly-confident, not arrogant, or braggadocious. However, you are selling product…that product is YOU! As in all selling, the buyer has a problem. You have a solution. That solution is YOU! 

Rehearsing can help a lot in this area as well. Go beyond just rehearsing. Review your resume. What stories does it tell? Which stories apply to the interviewer? Tell the stories that solve their problem. 

We are taught the use of the word “I” should be avoided (as-in I did this or I did that). An interview is not the time to use the word “we”. If you are describing a situation in which a team accomplished something, state that it was the team, of course. However, be sure to include your specific role in contributing to the success. 

Preparation is vital!

Are you prepared for the interview? Even an initial screening interview should be treated as a final interview. Research the company. Know the interviewers. Understand the company’s competition. 

As you do this research, think of questions to ask during the interview. Make these questions about the company, the interviewer, or the competition…not about the benefits you may receive! Never-ever ask what the company does, know what the company does. 

Be prepared with your answers to their questions. When asked, “tell me about yourself”. Do not recite your resume verbatim. The interviewer can read. Summarize your accomplishments (the accomplishments that solve their problems). 

Leverage Glassdoor to learn about their interview process and some of the questions they may ask. Be prepared to answer them. Rehearse your answers…out loud! 

If there is a question you hate to answer, be prepared to answer it! Rehearse your answer until you cannot get it wrong! Turn a negative into a positive! 

Beyond the first conversation

If you are bringing your “A” game to interviews in these five areas, I have no doubt you will move forward in the process…and soon! 

Next time: If you are making it to the final round of interviews and still aren’t getting an offer, I will offer some strategies to help you get that offer in hand! 

 

Have a question? Send it to me at jeff.ton@tonenterprisesllc.com and I will be glad to share my thoughts. 

 

Many of these ideas are featured in my new book, Amplify Your Job Search – Strategies for Finding Your Dream Job! Learn more and order your copy by clicking on the cover:

Amplify Your Job Search

#AmplifyYourJobSearch Network Amplifier

The Network Effect is commonly applied to business and economics to describe the effect on the value of a product or service by adding more users of the product or service. There are great examples of the network effect all around us. Think of the value of Facebook or LinkedIn if only a handful of people belonged. Think of the value of your phone if there was no one else to call. 

The network effect can also be applied to, well, you! The broader and more diverse your network is, the more valuable it becomes…to you…and everyone you are connected with. Nowhere is this more apparent than when you are involved in a job search. Speaking from personal experience, I did not fully understand the value of a network until…I needed one!

What’s the connection between networking and being in transition? Over 85% of all jobs filled today can be attributed to the candidate having a network connection into the organization. That connection may have let them know of the opening (hidden job market). They may have provided a warm introduction to someone in the company, perhaps even the hiring manager. They may have sent a recommendation to the hiring manager, HR department, or an influencer within the organization.

Networking: Getting Started

Networking of this type may not come naturally to you. I know it did not to me! One of the best secrets I learned is it’s not about you. Even if you are in transition. Even if you are seeking your next gig. It’s about the other person. You are not reaching out to ask them for a job. Take that pressure off yourself! Reach out seeking to learn. You want to learn about their job, their company, their industry. Ask them questions like, “Tell me about your role with XYZ company, What led you to that position?” Get them talking. 

Of course, you will need to share a bit about you and your career journey, but don’t make it a monologue. Tell your story…briefly. When you are in transition, you will want to include two “asks” in every networking conversation you have. Always ask what you can do for them. You may not think you are in a position to help, but you are. Even if they answer with nothing, think of a connection, think of a relevant book, recommend a relevant podcast. The second ask should be “Is there anyone else in your network I should be talking to?” Your goal is to come away with introductions to two or three people. 

Network while in transition

In my book Amplify Your Job Search: Strategies for Finding Your Dream Job, I provide guidance for building or expanding your professional network. There are several ways to quickly build connections. Look for industry groups in your area, for example. They may not be conducting face-to-face meetings in this environment, but they certainly have virtual meetings you can attend and meet other professionals. Many cities have groups specifically for job seekers. Locate those groups and start attending meetings. You will meet others. This will not only expand your network, but they will provide reassurance that you are not in this alone. 

Think about groups you already belong to such as church groups, civic organizations, hobby clubs. All of these groups provide opportunities to meet others and grow your professional network. They also provide common interests for those awkward initial conversations. 

Of course, social media provides key platforms to connect with other professionals. LinkedIn can be a goldmine for networking. Reach out and make new connections. Invite them to coffee (virtual or otherwise). You will be surprised at the number of people who will want to help. 

Tribes and networking

Networking can sometimes feel a bit random. To help guide you in developing a strong network I recommend two resources. The first is Igniting the Fire Starter by Jason Barnaby. In his book, Barnaby describes the essential roles we all need in our immediate network, or “tribe” as he calls it. These roles include The Listener (someone who is a good listener), The Dreamer (someone who asks “what if”), The Devil’s Advocate (someone who points out potential traps), The Organizer (someone who helps think through the “this before that”), The Catalyst (someone who gives a kick in the pants when we need one), The Connector (someone who loves to make introductions), and The Expert (someone who has “been there done that”). Check out Jason’s website at www.firestartertribe.com to learn more and to download the free Tribal Inventory. 

Diversify Your Net

Think about your network. Does everyone look like you? Do they sound like you? Is everyone thinking like you? If so, you need to diversify your network. In her book, Network Beyond Bias, author Amy Waninger, provides two great tools for identifying the gaps in your network. The first is CHAMP. Who in your network fits the CHAMP roles? C is for your customer, H is someone you would hire or recommend to be hired, A is for associate, someone in your peer group, M is for a mentor, and P is for protege (who do YOU mentor?).

The second tool is the IGGNORE matrix. Who in your network is in a different Industry? Who is in a different Generation? Is there someone of a different Gender? How about Nationality? Are there people in your network with a different sexual Orientation than yours? Are different Races represented? With whom in your network have you Exchanged personal stories, not just pleasantries? 

If you have gaps in your tribe, CHAMP or IGGNORE networks be intentional about filling those gaps. It will broaden your perspectives and insights. It will also open up other opportunities in your search that you may not have even known existed. 

Find Amy’s work at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com to learn more about her valuable work! 

Why Network

Finding your next opportunity is only a small part of why you need a vibrant professional network. Having a vibrant and diverse network dramatically expands your knowledge. As you exchange insights across your network you will be exposed to a vast pool of thought, perspectives, and opinions. The more you give to this network, the more the network will return to you! THAT is the network effect! 

 

 

I’ve written more on the power of a professional network check out some here: Network  (admittedly some of these are about that other kind of networking) 

#AmplifyYourJobSearch“How do you stay motivated during a job search?” Thas was the question posted on LinkedIn recently. My guess is it was posted by someone who was frustrated with their current search and was feeling very de-motivated. A job search can be very frustrating in “normal” times. In these COVID-19 global pandemic times, it can be downright depressing. We’ve been conditioned to send out dozens and dozens of resumes with the hope of getting a response. Many times we hear nothing. Occasionally, we may get a response that is a polite, “thanks, but no thanks” to our skillfully architected resume, receiving no actionable feedback. 

As our search stretches from days to weeks, to months the pressure and the stress mounts. So, how do you stay motivated during a job search? 

Go to work! 

Approach your job search like, well, a job. Your job is to locate your next job. Create a routine. Get up at the same time you were getting up when you were employed. Get showered, dressed, eat breakfast, and go to work. If possible set aside space in your home where you can work, uninterrupted (I know this is challenging with work-from-home spouses and virtual learning school children). 

Set measurable activities

Manage your daily activities. Your time should be focused on the activities most likely to create success. Statistics show that 87% of jobs filled are filled through professional networking. That means networking is your most valuable activity. Spend 80-90% of your time or about seven hours a day on building your network. 

Review your accomplishments

Celebrate the victories. When your spouse asks, “how many jobs did you apply for today?” Tell them about the valuable connections you made, the deep conversations you had, and what you learned from those conversations. Every networking meeting is a step closer to your next job. 

While thinking about your accomplishments, think about all your accomplishments in your career. You’ve done some great work! Acknowledge that to yourself!

Reflect on the journey

You knew journaling was going to find its way into my answer, didn’t you? Start a transition journal. Spend time writing in it each day. Write about your successes, write about the challenges. What are you thinking? What are you feeling? Take time periodically to read back through your journal. Take encouragement from the progress you have made. 

Give yourself some slack

When you were employed, did you ever have one of those days? You know, the kind of day that is a grind just to get up and go to the office. The day drags by. Give yourself some slack. Those days are going to happen in your search. Acknowledge it. Try to make the next day better. Give yourself some grace, take a day off. Rest, recharge, and attack your search again tomorrow. 

Stay connected

No, I don’t mean connected like the internet-connected, I mean, stay connected to yourself and others. One of the key elements of dealing with stress is connectedness. Stay in tune with yourself and your stress. As stress begins to mount, reach out to a family member, reach out to a friend. Talk to them. Share your frustrations, vent. They will understand. Reach out to me, I’m happy to jump on a Zoom call! 

Have a question? Send it to me at Jeff.Ton@TonEnterprisesLLC.com and I will be glad to share my thoughts. 

Many of these ideas are featured in my new book, Amplify Your Job Search – Strategies for Finding Your Dream Job! Learn more and order your copy by clicking on the cover: #AmplifyYourJobSearch #GetHired

Let’s do coffee. I would be hard-pressed to count the number of cups of coffee I’ve had at local coffee shops. Two, three, four times a week for ten or eleven years. THAT is a lot of coffee. Let’s do coffee. It sounds like a tone-deaf imperative in this age of social distancing. However, despite the stay-at-home and social distancing mandates, it is a practice I have maintained, albeit virtually. 

Let’s do coffee. It is a commitment I made eleven years ago. It’s my way of saying thank you and paying it forward to those who took time out of their busy schedules to have coffee with me. In 2009, I found myself in a position I had not been in up to that point in my career. I was in a job search. I was in a job search without having a job. I was struck by the number of people who stopped what they were doing to meet for coffee, talk, and help. 

What is it about coffee?

Today, my coffee meetings fall into three broad categories: catching up with friends, sales professionals who want my take on the local market, and, yes, people in transition (and those considering a change). Whenever anyone in the latter category reaches out, my answer is “Let’s do coffee”. 

In fact, “Let’s Do Coffee” was the working title for my new book Amplify Your Job Search – Strategies for Finding Your Dream Job. Until, well, you know, branding (hey, I am kind of the #AmplifyGuy, #RockandRollScarecrow, #RocktheSox guy). The book is a culmination of lessons learned, advice received, advice given, and experience. Sorry for what feels like a commercial interruption, that is not my intent…but, if you want to buy the book you can get it on…nevermind!

Over these years of having coffee, I have seen many professionals who were prepared for their search. They knew who they were and they knew what they wanted. I have seen others who, well, weren’t and didn’t. Other than working with the university’s career services department or with an outplacement firm, we don’t teach someone how to search for a job. (Hence, the need for the book and more shameless promotion of same). 

I believe the difference between those who did and those who didn’t comes down to two essential and related practices: reflection and branding. 

Reflection

Journaling has been a part of many successful leaders for centuries. The library is full of biographies and autobiographies of business leaders, government leaders, and thought leaders. The common thread, most kept some sort of record (uh, journal) of their thoughts, insights, and activities. 

Keeping a journal is a powerful tool. Not only does it help you to keep track of details that would be lost to time, but it provides a way to learn from the past…your past. Part of the magic of keeping a journal is to re-read it, weeks, months, even years later. The magic? The lessons change! Why? The journal hasn’t changed…you have!  

Keeping a journal is a great way to understand who you are and what you want and need from your career. I know I have written of this in prior posts…I just can’t emphasize the importance enough. 

Branding

Personal branding is the other essential element, and yes, it is related to journaling. Branding is who you are and how others see you. I was first introduced to personal branding in the mid-2000s by a boss of mine. I have to admit, I thought it was a load of crap! (Sorry, Ron!). Like many lessons in life, we learn the value of something long after we have been introduced to it. 

We all have personal brands. It’s our reputation. How do people see you? What are their first impressions? What are their lasting impressions? That is your personal brand. The question isn’t do you have one, but rather, is it an intentional one? Do you curate your brand? 

A personal brand is made up of four components: your strengths, your values, your passions, and your purpose. Identifying those components takes deep reflection (hence the relationship with journaling). Have you done the work? Do you know your personal brand? 

Coffee and Leadership

Reflection and Branding are not only essential to a job search. They are essential to leadership. If you don’t journal, I urge you to start today. It is easier than it sounds. If you don’t know your personal brand, begin to explore the key components. THAT is your call to action from reading this post. Start today! 

 

Read more about reflection, branding, and coffee in my new book Amplify Your Job Search – Strategies for Finding Your Dream Job! Learn more and order your copy by clicking on the cover:

Amplify Your Job Search

Share my storyShould I share my story? It’s a question I get asked often. It’s a question I used to ask myself. I was asked the question again a couple of weeks ago. I was on a Zoom coffee call when the question came, almost out of leftfield. Should I share my story? This time the question caught me a bit off guard. I’m afraid my momentary confusion caused me to hesitate, it might have even caused me to stammer a bit. I’m afraid it might have caused my answer to seem less confident, less emphatic than I intended. 

I can assure you that was not the case. I just was not expecting the conversation to turn in the direction it did. You see, this was the first time I had met this person. Typically, I get asked that question by people whose story I already know (at least somewhat). This being the first time we had met, it threw me off…at least momentarily. Let me answer now, with all the confidence and as emphatically as possible…”YES, YOU SHOULD SHARE YOUR STORY”. Your story is who you are, you should own your story! This was one of the most impactful recommendations I have ever received, and I think it can have as great an impact on you and your career as it did for me. 

This person’s story was of a battle with alcoholism. They are recovering, but they are an alcoholic. You may be asking why on earth would someone share that with someone they had just met. Well, because it is a story of strength and courage. It is a story of vulnerability. Something in our conversation must have let them know it was a “safe zone” to tell the story and then ask the question. Little did they know the impact they would have on me because they shared. I was honored they felt they could share. They had no way of knowing the number of people in my life who battle the same affliction. 

Why should you tell your story? Because sharing our stories creates an immediate connection. There is something about being vulnerable. There is something in creating trust between people. It’s funny how in sharing our stories and being vulnerable what we are really sharing is our strength. The connection created is real. The connection created is deep. 

When I asked permission to share this story, they responded with “I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to feel vulnerable and safe enough to pose the question and be affirmed by someone else in a leadership role. My strength comes from my vulnerability and ability to connect with others on a deeper level. My alcoholism no longer defines me because I am no longer ashamed.” Powerful. The connection works both ways. 

It was not more than a week later when I was confronted with the power of sharing one’s story again. This time it was with at a meeting of the Indy CIO Network. We had a guest facilitator, Paul Ashley of FirstPerson Advisors, we were to discuss mental wellbeing during a pandemic. Before the meeting, Paul shared his story with the group. Paul’s story is one of battling depression. His vulnerability connected with the group which led to a great discussion. Powerful. Several members shared their own stories. Based on the follow-up conversations, I know it has led to deeper connections between our members. 

My point isn’t that your story has to include battling alcoholism, or depression, or cancer. It doesn’t have to include anything that dramatic. My point is your story is important. It is what makes you who are. Sharing it can create connection. Sharing it can show you care about other’s stories.  Sharing it can help you to lead. 

Post a comment, send an email, give me a call! I want to hear your stories! 

#stress #How are youHow are you? Don’t answer “I’m fine”. I’m being serious. How are you? You’ve been leading through some incredibly chaotic times! You’ve been taking care of your staff. You’ve been taking care of your family. You’ve been taking care of your friends. When was the last time you took a moment to check in on you? 

The first six months of 2020 have been a lot. We’ve now been in some form of physical distancing, stay-at-home orders, and business restrictions for almost four months. We’ve taken part in countless virtual meetings, seeing others only on our computer monitors. Many have not seen family or friends for an extended time. 

About six weeks ago, our country was rocked by the death of George Floyd. The rage of centuries of oppression and racism erupted in cities from coast to coast. Voices have been, and continue to be, raised. Companies have stepped up to meet the challenge to listen and learn. Perhaps your company is one. 

Our businesses are facing unprecedented challenges. Leaders are being asked to make sense of it all. We are confronted by issues on all fronts. What’s a leader to do? 

Pause. Yes, pause. Take a moment. Think about you. How are you feeling? What is your body telling you? 

Please, pause. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you feeling irritable? Anxious? Down?
  • Have you lost some of your motivation? 
  • Are you unable to focus? 
  • Do you have difficulty sleeping?
  • Do you have muscle tension or new aches or pains?
  • Are you unable to have fun? 

If you answered yes to one or more of these, chances are you are under stress. Depending on your answers, you may be under severe stress. 

I know, I hear you. Stress is nothing new. You’re always under stress. Leadership comes with stress. What’s important is you are powering through. You are checking on your team. You are driving your business forward through the challenges. If you consider yourself a servant leader you are justifying the stress by saying your job is to take care of those around you. 

I’m urging you to pause. Get in touch with what you are feeling and why. Rest. Reflect. 

There are five essential elements to counteract adversity and reduce the impacts of stress on our wellbeing. 

Safety – One of our basic needs is to feel safe. If your safety is being challenged are there things you can do to move yourself to a greater feeling of safety? 

Calm – If you are feeling tense or anxious can you calm yourself? Are you able to help yourself feel more relaxed? 

Connection – Do you feel a connection with others? Can you talk to your spouse or significant other? Can you phone a friend? 

Resilience – Do you have a feeling that you can get through these challenges because you have faced challenges before? 

Optimism – Do you have a sense of optimism or hope for the future? 

So. Let me ask you again. How are you feeling? Do you need one or more of the essential elements? Do you know where to get them? Take time to pause, take time to rest, take time to reflect. Your followers need you in your best possible condition to guide them through the next 90 days and beyond. 

Let me know how you are doing. Post a comment or send me a note at jeff.ton@tonenterprisellc.com.