Set Boundaries with your Employer


I just read a post on a very respected time management blog about checking into your work email on Sunday to be more productive. Um, NO!

You work hard at showing your value to your employer and you want to be there for others but you also need some boundaries. If you start responding to your work emails on Sunday, over time the boss will start to wonder why you don’t bother on Saturday. Then Friday night. Suddenly, you’re on 24/7 call when you never signed up for that gig.

The need for work-life balance is a real thing. Your employer pays you a check but they’re not the one your kids need to tuck them in at night or your significant other looks to for attention. You also need time to evolve to be the genuine and unique person you’re meant to be. You need time to write, paint, read, create, dream; whatever else you’re meant to do that isn’t part of your day job.

Make sure you and your boss are on the same page as to what’s expected of you outside of normal work hours. If it isn’t spelled out explicitly in your job description, have a frank discussion with them. If you have personal commitments outside of work (and yes, you’re allowed to have a life outside of work) make sure your employer is well aware of your schedule.

If your explanation carries no weight, you always have a choice.

I know of a very successful executive that had been with their organization for years. Towards the end of their career, with a number of years behind them to have shown their worth and commitment to the organization, they needed to adjust their schedule to care for an ailing spouse. They had a new, up-and-coming boss that started questioning their commitment. The new boss couldn’t understand how the employee’s spouse was more important than the organization. Really?! At this point you have to question the direction in which the organization is going when the fundamental concept of family no longer has meaning. This individual made the right choice. They left to live their life.

I’m seeing an alarming trend with my coaching clients where “work” and “life” are one in the same. It seems trite but ask yourself this question; are you living to work or working to live? Working through prioritization exercises and communication tactics, I help people live their purposeful and authentic life. It’s something to which everyone is entitled and it all starts with setting those boundaries at work.

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Time for a Change


It’s the end of the year and my phone is ringing off the hook. It’s peak season for coaches because, as we end the year, many are looking back and realizing they didn’t make the best use of the past year and want help moving forward. Many feel it’s time for a change.

Before you make that jump, here’s one important question to ask yourself. Am I making a change for myself or someone else?

Coaches turn down a lot of potential clients because of their answer to this last question. You might be completely satisfied with your life but feel outside pressure from parents, a spouse or work colleagues to “do more” but if the desire isn’t genuinely yours then coaching isn’t going to help you one bit. In fact, the coaching experience would just be an exercise in frustration for both you and the coach.

To find out if you’re ready for a change, ask yourself these three questions:

  • If I knew today was my last day, could I say I’m satisfied with what I’ve done?
  • Am I doing all I could with my life right now?
  • Can I afford to wait another year to “do more?”

If you answered No to any of the above questions, then it might be time for a change.

So, where do you want to go now? Here’s an exercise I use with a lot of my clients. While you won’t have the benefit of interacting with a coach, it might help you gain some clarity.

Relax in a quiet room with your eyes closed. Take a few deep breathes. Now, imagine your “perfect” (and authentic, what’s going to make you happy) life. Think about all aspects; your career, health, finances, personal relationships and even your spirituality. Think about everything in as much detail as possible.

Once you have that well planted in your mind, imagine someone just asked you this question: “You are so happy these days. You have the perfect life. How did you get where you are today?”

Now, answer the question. Out loud.

A lot of people are surprised by what comes out of their mouth. Often, this is the first time they’ve said out loud something they’ve always wanted for themselves. Or, they knew something was just “off” and this exercise helps them find the words they’ve been missing.

Now, go make everything you just said a reality!

Have a healthy, happy and successful 2015!

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How Well do you Listen Between the Words?


How well do you listen to those that report to you? I’m not talking about stopping and giving them uninterrupted time to say what they have to say. I mean, can you key into subtleties in their voice and non-verbal cues to hear what they’re really saying?

During a feedback session, an employee makes the statement that they need more money. They could honestly feel that they’re underpaid for the service they render but could it also be that they need to feel valued? Income is the most readily visible sign of value in the workplace. Your employee just might not be able to completely articulate their feelings.

An otherwise stellar employee goes through a patch of rocky performance. Their reply when coached is they have too much to do. The issue may be resources and you could start thinking about how to offload work or you can think they’re slacking. But what if you, as their manager, haven’t given them clear priorities and direction in their work?

Finally, you have an employee that simply throws up their hands and says “That’s it, I quit.” You can get indignant and take the stance of “Fine, you’re free to leave any time you want.” (Yes, there are companies like that out there.) or you can hear the cry for help in their voice. What can you do to mentor, coach and lead this person back to being a positive contributor?

Words have meaning but facial expressions and those sighs and tears in the corner of the eye mean a whole lot more!

I think we’re at a point in our society where talking about feelings and emotions in the workplace is no longer taboo. Emotional Intelligence training is popular now and that shows that soft skills are just as important in management and leadership as critical thinking and decision making. If you have a difficult time connecting with your employees’ emotions, look inward to see what might be blocking you. You might be harboring feelings about your own work that you’re afraid to face. You might also have the belief that work is no place for emotions. Whatever your roadblock, opening up to your employees will help you be a better leader.

The same is true for your significant other, family and friends. Learn to listen between the words. Open yourself up to what they’re feeling and you’ll have an easier time relating to their current state of mind and you will likely communicate in a more supportive manner.

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Have Courage and Don’t Wait Until it’s Too Late


I attended a memorial service over the weekend. It was very informal being a casual gathering of friends and family. It had an “open mic” format where, through the course of the evening, anyone could step up to the microphone and offer a few words about the departed. A few family members gave their stories early on and then things waned as an awkward silence set in. Eventually, everyone went back to chatting quietly at their individual tables.

After about 30 minutes, a very tiny, timid and teary-eyed woman approached the microphone. In a quiet, but still very audible voice, she started by saying that she was ashamed to be at the service. She went on to explain that she was the departed’s half-sister. (A few gasps went out indicating this wasn’t a widely known relative.) She had never been a large part of this person’s life but, now that she had heard some of the stories, she was begging to hear more. She encouraged others to come up and say just a few words about her sister so that she could learn more about what she had missed from not being more involved in this person’s life.

I thought two things; what guts that took and how this was a classic “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” moment.

We all lost someone over the past week—Maya Angelou. Her insight into courage opened the eyes of many to their full potential.

One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.

I’m sure this woman shows courage in other aspects of her life too but I wonder what kept her from connecting with her sister more deeply when it was something she obviously wanted. I think her initial statement gives a clue. Our fear of rejection and shame often holds us back from pursuing things we want. It isn’t until the need or desire for what we want exceeds the fear that we can pursue our dreams.

If there’s something you’re striving for, whether it’s a personal change or a mended relationship, envision the pleasure of having met your goal and consider the risk of delaying in your pursuit. Put the negative self-talk and the idea of shame aside and have courage. You can succeed but you’ll never know for sure until you try. Don’t wait until it’s too late!

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For True Success, Look Inward First Then Choose Well


Are you chasing after more money, a promotion or some material possession thinking that’s what’s going to make you happy? If you achieve that milestone, you’ll likely still feel unfulfilled and then you’ll set off after the next shiny object. This cycle will frustrate you and burn you out. It’s critical that you look inward to learn your desires and passions then choose to set goals around fulfilling them.

Certain things catch your eye, but pursue only those that capture the heart. -Ancient Indian Proverb

To help you focus on what’s important, consider this one question. Given unlimited time and resources and knowing there’s no way you can fail, what would you be doing with your life? Jot down your answer and think about what’s keeping you from pursuing your desire. The reason this question is so powerful is that it encompasses the three most common reasons why we forgo our wishes; we believe we don’t have the time or resources (usually money but it could be knowledge, popularity, looks, etc.) or we’re afraid of failing.

Do you have an idea as to what’s been holding you back? You may have a list of a dozen “good” reasons why you’ve given up on that dream of yours. Now here’s one more question for you; your life is full of choices…how well are you choosing?

Looking back on the choices you’ve made can be uncomfortable. However, you can be glad in knowing that they’re in the past and your next choice is still open to you. So, what will it be? Will you choose to stay right where you’re at because you don’t have something you think you need or are too afraid or will you find a way around these roadblocks you’re putting up for yourself and create the life you were meant to lead? The choice is yours.

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One Word You Should Never use with an Employee or Colleague


When I’m coaching a first-time manager, we spend a lot of time talking about communication. They often come to understand over time that their words have power over others. They can build and motivate or they can cause distrust or harm the work relationship.

The one word I advise managers (or leaders at any level really) to strike from their vocabulary is “Why?” Think of the emotions that one word embodies. You’re immediately calling to question the root of the other person’s position. This places them on the defensive and it will be difficult to have an open exchange of ideas when one person is simply trying to protect their ego and self-worth.

I can hear all of my analytical friends screaming “But I need information! I need to know why something is happening or why a decision was made.” I’m not saying you can’t dig deeper into a situation or look for cause and effect. What I am saying is that there’s a much better way to engage subordinates and colleagues without placing them on the defensive.

Here’s where you get to pull out a coaching competency from your leadership tool belt and use a little appreciative inquiry. Rephrasing your Why? question into one coming from a position of strength and collaboration will always lead to a more productive discussion. You want to look for the best of the situation and create an environment where you envision possibilities and collectively decide the path forward.

Here’s an example: “Why did the shipment go out late today?!”
might become: “We’ve had a really good record of getting shipments out in the past. What factors lead to that success? It appears we were late this month, what changed?”
You’re working to discover a cause and solution together. You still get your question answered but the bonus is that you’ll likely also have a solution to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Every question you ask causes a series of thoughts to run through the mind of the one being questioned. We know our thoughts create our reality so if your questions cause doubt, insecurity and defensiveness in the minds of your colleagues, that’s the mindset you’ll be fostering. If you can approach others in a way that creates vision, possibilities, and collaboration then that’s the type of team you’ll be building. Which group might be more productive and creative when problem solving?

Over the next few weeks, try dropping the “Why?” questions and note the impact it has on others. (This works in personal relationships as well as those at work.)

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How to Make Your Own Luck


St. Patrick’s Day is just about here. You’ll see all sorts of lucky symbols and charms like horseshoes and four-leaf clovers. All with the idea of reaching that pot of gold.

What’s your particular pot o’ gold? Are you waiting for that perfect job, relationship or simple “stroke of luck?” I’ve never seen a Leprechaun so if you’re waiting for magical delivery of what you desire, you might be waiting a long time. Instead, how about taking luck into your own hands and simply make it happen?

When I work with an individual that seems to be pining for some unfulfilled need or desire, they’re usually stuck in one (or all) of the following stages of “wish fulfillment.” Here are a few ideas to help you get unstuck

You have to know which pot of gold you’re seeking. You may want greater wealth. OK, it’s not going to fall out of the sky. What can you do to reach greater wealth? Maybe it’s a better job, saving more, paying off debts; you get the picture. You need a solid destination. Think about what you really want and write that down.

You might have a clear picture of where you want to go but also have serious doubt that you can ever get there. Think like a Leprechaun; there’s nothing stopping you from reaching your goal with the use of a little magic. Fortunately, that magic resides in all of us and that’s the ability to mold our thoughts and perceptions. Stop wishing and simply know that you’ll reach your goal when you give the process all of your positive energy. Try a little projection exercise. Write an article to be published sometime in the future; 6 months after you reach your goal. Write about how you got there and how you feel now that you’ve fulfilled your desire.

You know where you want to go and have no doubt that you can get there. Where many fall short is in planning. Look for the brightest rainbow that’s going to get you to that pot of gold. Without a solid list of tasks, completion dates and milestones, you won’t be able to measure your progress which can have a negative impact on your mindset. For this stage, simply write out your plan and commit to sticking to it. Think about finding an accountability partner to help you stay on task.

For each petal on the shamrock
This brings a wish your way –
Good health, good luck, and happiness
For today and every day.
~Author Unknown

Let me know what wishes you’ve granted yourself!

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Setting Goals for Cupid is a Huge Mistake


I have a friend that’s going through a goal-setting phase of her life. Everything is getting planned out and there’s a laundry list of things she wants to accomplish and I have no doubt she’ll achieve them all. The discussion went on, however, to including the “goal” of establishing a lasting relationship. I heard the sound of a scratching record in my head. Sorry, but falling in love simply isn’t a goal you can set. However, you can do everything in your power to help it along.

Be Open
Explore new interests, go to new places and consider interacting with different types of people. The more open you are to experiencing new things and new people, the greater the likelihood that you’ll meet someone.

Be Confident
You’re the best version of you out there. You’re unique, you have gifts and talents that no one else has and that makes you special. The right person will see your best so you can be confident in your being.

Be Patient
The greatest danger of setting a relationship goal is the probability of getting discouraged if you don’t meet some arbitrary deadline you’ve set for yourself. “If I don’t have a boy/girl friend by New Year’s Eve, I give up!” Even worse, you might find yourself jumping into a relationship that isn’t right just for the sake of saying your in a relationship.

Be Realistic
In addition to a timeline goal, you might have a list of demands your partner needs to fulfill before you’ll consider moving forward. You can be picky but be realistic too. If you can’t think of at least one person in your direct social circle or someone you’ve met recently that meets your criteria, look at the list again. If you’re looking for a wealthy executive but you only associate with young artists, that connection may never happen.

Be Yourself
Most important, make sure you’re living a genuine and honest life. If you’re acting like someone you’re not just to attract someone, it’s not going to last. We all want someone that will accept us for who we are and you can’t find that person if you’re pretending to be someone you’re not.

Have you ever set a goal for Cupid? If so, how did it turn out for you?

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How to be Mindful and Present at Business Meetings

We have busy lives. At any given moment, we have information flying at us from ten different directions. Our family, coworkers and even people we meet in passing need our attention. How much attention do we actually give them?

One setting where your divided attention can be detrimental to your success and that of others is a business meeting. Meetings can be boring and nonsensical but they can also be a place where ideas are exchanged and problems are solved. That only happens if everyone is engaged and they offer up their best input. That’s difficult to do when you’re distracted.

Here are a few suggestions to get the most out of a meeting and to show-up in your best light.

Use an Agenda
If you’re leading the meeting, please create an agenda and stick to it. Value the time your attendees are giving you and they’ll be more willing to meet with you in the future.

Set Ground Rules
If this is the first time your group is meeting, set-up some ground rules as to how the meeting will be run and how you’ll communicate with each other. At a minimum, the rules need to include something to support the idea that everyone’s opinion is of value.

Turn off the Gadgets
It’s common courtesy but set your phone to vibrate or turn it off. Better yet, have everyone in the meeting pile their phones in the middle of the table and no one touches them until you’re done.

It’s become more acceptable in the past few years to have your laptop or mobile device open during a meeting. Often, attendees have the intent of taking notes or they want to have information “handy.” I’ve lost track of how many 30-minute meetings turned into 2-hours meetings, however, because people had to “just answer this quick email” or “John in accounting just sent me an urgent message. Just give me a second.” Multiply this by the number of people in the meeting and you can see how the technology that was supposed to help has become a disruptor.

Have attendees stick to paper-based notes. In his blog post How to Take Notes Like an Alpha-Geek, Tim Ferriss (of 4-Hour Work Week fame) states “I don’t use digital notetaking tools. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve noticed that some of the most innovative techies in Silicon Valley do the same, whether with day-planner calendars, memo pads, or just simple notecards with a binder clip. It’s a personal choice, and I like paper.” I’m of the same mind. I take notes faster on paper and not having the distraction of the technology allows me to focus on what’s being said without interruption.

Make Eye Contact
Make eye contact with the current speaker. It doesn’t need to be a constant, creepy leer. Instead, let them know you’re listening intently by making that connection when they get started. You’ll likely look away as the conversation moves forward and you take notes or look at presentation material but that initial contact will make them feel valued. You’ll want the same when it’s your turn to talk.

Acknowledge Input
Even if it’s completely off-the-wall, acknowledge any input given. It may have taken great strength for someone to finally put themselves out there during the meeting. Encouraging them will ensure they keep offering their insight and, you never know, their next idea might be the gem your business needs.

Close on a Positive Note
Even if the discussion was tense and traumatic, end the meeting with a positive message. If you’re discussing how to shut down your business after 20 years, it could be something like “I really valued all of the input you gave today. Jane’s suggestion about the outplacement service can really help make this process less difficult for our employees.”

In your next meeting, pay attention to how you’re showing up. Are you writing a long letter to your mom when you’re supposed to be taking notes or are you valuing others and being of value?

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How to be Thankful


It’s Thanksgiving Day in the US. It’s a day full of family and food and the one time each year when many people finally stop to look at their life and see that they can be grateful for what they have instead of longing for all they want.

If you’re currently at a difficult point in your life, however, seeing everything for which you have to be grateful may not come naturally. Maybe your finances are at a downturn and you see the holiday commercials for cars, gadgets and new clothes and feel a sense of scarcity. Maybe your relationships haven’t been going well and we’re entering the time of year when people have a lot of parties and you’re thinking of staying home this year. Or maybe you feel isolated because you don’t have a lot of family and friends. Regardless of your situation, there are many things to be thankful for. You just have to look for them.

Close your eyes and breathe and concentrate on your body and how you feel. Recognize whatever level of health you have and know that any desired improvements are completely within your power. Open your eyes and look at your surroundings. Recognize the comforts you have available to you and know that any desired improvements are completely within your power. Think about your friends, family, career and financial situation. Recognize the potential that exists for you in each of those areas and know that any desired improvements are completely within your power. Be thankful that you have the freedom of choice to make your life whatever you desire.

Today, be thankful and grateful for what you have now while creating a vision for where you want to go in the future. Remember to be thankful next year for all of the progress you’ve made!

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