Whether it’s a holiday party, networking event, or conference happy hour, for many professionals, few things instill as much dread. Not only can they be draining, they can also be fraught with feelings of anxiety, discomfort, or self-consciousness.
Across the years I’ve coached numerous introverts who have a large social component to their jobs. For instance, one client, who I’ll call Keisha, was being groomed for a CEO role. Although she was smart, capable, and skilled at the technical parts of her job, she recognized that to be successful, she would need to become a lot more comfortable establishing and building relationships.
With that in mind, she recognized that a big part of the role to which she aspired would be to go to community events. So, she started to challenge herself by attending more of them. However, although she knew she was doing it for her development, Keisha still found herself dreading the events, and feeling self-conscious while she was there. She knew she would have to get over this to be able to accomplish her career goals, but how?
Do you find yourself feeling anxious when you have to socialize after work? If so, here are a few tips to help you conquer your fear of work social events.
1. Be Aware of How You’re Teeing Up the Event in Your Mind
For many people who dread social events, the discomfort can begin well before they’re in the room. In Keisha’s case, it often started the minute she put the event on her calendar. Immediately, she began focusing how “fake” people would be, how incompetent and awkward she was going to look, and how tired she would be at the end of the evening. With that kind of a lead-up, no wonder she never looked forward to going!
If you find yourself thinking only about what could go wrong at an upcoming event, make an effort to be more balanced in your assessment by also thinking about what could go right. Perhaps you could meet some interesting people. Maybe you’ll make a valuable connection. Perhaps you’ll improve your ability to connect by giving yourself some practice at the event. At the very least, maybe you’ll probably enjoy some good food! By looking on the bright side, you might find that you give yourself a few more reasons to look forward to those sorts of engagements.
2. Take Off the Pressure By Starting Small
Sometimes, people can dread going to social events because of the amount of pressure they put on themselves. In Keisha’s case, if she wasn’t a social butterfly who charmed everyone around her and left with a dozen business cards, she concluded that the event hadn’t been worth her time. With expectations that high, no wonder she felt like a failure every time she attended a work social engagement!
If you feel uncomfortable in these social situations, set small goals for yourself. Perhaps your first goal will be to actually go to the event, and stay for a certain period of time. Then, you could work your way up to talking to one person or exchanging one business card. Once you’ve done that, you could strive to talk to a few people, or to initiate a follow-up lunch. By making your goals a bit of a challenge but still achievable, you’ll be able to leave events feeling proud of yourself, and committed to stretching yourself a bit more the next time.
3. Recognize that You’re Probably More Likable Than You Think You Are
When contemplating whether or not to attend an event, Keisha frequently worried that people wouldn’t find her interesting or likable. Research suggests that she wasn’t alone. Many of us experience the “liking gap,” which is defined as underestimating how much others like us, or view us positively. In one research study, researchers found that people underestimated how much others liked them and enjoyed their company in a variety of settings (a brief conversation in a lab, getting to know a dorm roommate over several months, meeting with others in a workshop).
By recognizing that you’re likely a whole lot harder on yourself than others are, you will put yourself in a position to better challenge some of the negative self-talk and criticism that could be holding you back.
4. Plan in Advance
If you feel uncertain in social situations, then “winging it” will probably increase your anxiety. So, make sure to devise a plan in advance. Have some potential conversation starters ready, so that you’ll feel more comfortable getting the ball rolling. Read the news that day, for potential (uncontroversial) topics that you might talk about. Invite a more outgoing colleague, who might be able to initiate conversations (and be intentional about observing him or her to get some strategies for when you’re flying solo).
You might also want to read some books on connecting with others. Some suggestions to get you started include: The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane, and Presence by Amy Cuddy. My Executive Mindfulness Online Course will also give you strategies that you can use to manage any uncomfortable feelings or negative self-talk. The more prepared you are and the more tools and strategies you have to draw on in the moment, the more comfortable you’ll likely feel.
5. Be Curious
Instead of thinking of these social events as times when you need to put on a show and impress, take the pressure off by putting the focus on others. Be curious and ask questions to learn about the person with whom you are speaking. By showing a genuine interest, you’ll be able to keep the conversation rolling, and also determine points of commonality. Then, as you find those points in common, you’ll naturally build a stronger connection.
6. Give Yourself a Pat on the Back
When you leave the event, make sure to congratulate yourself. You did it! To celebrate, make a list of things that went well for you, no matter how small. Did you accomplish the goal you set for yourself? Did you actually enjoy yourself at any point during the event? Having a list to look back on can help you to get inspired the next time you’re overcome with a feeling of dread when thinking about attending an upcoming event.
Also, so you can use these events as an opportunity to learn and get better, make sure to note one or two things that you could work on next time. Could you come up with a few different openers? Could you take some deep breaths before you enter the event to calm yourself down? Could you talk to one more person next time? Make sure to do this in the spirit of wanting to grow, as opposed to being harsh and self-critical.
As for Keisha, she was shocked to find that across time, she conquered her fear of attending work social events. Once she took the pressure off and saw them as opportunities to get to know new people, she not only stopped dreading them, she actually started to look forward to them, and viewed them as a fun part of her job. Try out these tips, and eventually, you just might find that you feel the same way!
Need some additional strategies to help you to deal with social discomfort? Click here.
Do you feel reluctant to speak up at work? If you are, you’re not alone. As a corporate psychologist and executive coach, I’ve worked with a lot of people who refrain from expressing their ideas in the office. In most cases, they aren’t staying quiet because they don’t have anything to say – instead, they ‘re purposely choosing to censor themselves.
Why are people reluctant to speak up?
In my experience, I’ve found that people are reluctant to speak up for a number of reasons. In some cases, it’s based on organizational concerns. For example, if you work in a toxic workplace, you may have seen other people being punished for speaking up. Consequently, you choose to stay quiet because you know it may not be safe to say what you really think.
In other cases, you may think that it simply isn’t your role to communicate your thoughts. This dynamic often plays out when there are people of different levels in the room. Frequently, the more junior ones will be reticent to speak up because they don’t think they’re supposed to. At other times, they may want to say something, but are concerned that it may be at odds with their senior colleague’s views.
In some instances, aspects of your personality may prevent you from speaking up at work. For example, if you lack confidence or feel like an “imposter,” you may question the value of your ideas. As a result, you might keep your thoughts to yourself because you don’t think they’re worthy of being voiced. Or, if you are introverted, shy, or uncomfortable being in the spotlight, you may choose to stay quiet so as not to call attention to yourself.
A fear of confrontation can also cause you to be reluctant to share your ideas. For example, if you’re afraid of conflict and don’t want to challenge others’ perspectives, you may stay quiet to avoid having someone disagree with you. Or, you might refrain from speaking up at work because you’re concerned that if you express a difference of opinion, you will hurt someone else’s feelings.
At the core of all of these reasons is a desire to remain safe. This is a perfectly reasonable desire; however, in the above scenarios, many of the perceived threats are based on your own insecurities. While this might feel more comfortable, do you really want to allow your self-doubt to prevent your from fulfilling your potential?
Why should you make your voice heard at work?
Given that there is a sense of safety in staying quiet, why would you want to speak up? After all, doesn’t sharing your views open you up to potential conflict or embarrassment? While that is a possibility, I’ve found that people often overestimate the risk. In my experience, if you’re in a reasonably supportive culture, there are many more benefits than disadvantages to speaking up at work.
Think of it – you have a unique perspective. No one else in your organization (or the world, for that matter) has the exact same outlook and perspectives as you do. Therefore, when you share your thoughts, they can potentially help the organization and spark other ideas in the people around you. Research suggests that cognitively diverse teams solve problems more quickly. However, if you’re not sharing your opinions, your team isn’t able to benefit from them.
Speaking up can also help your career. After all, you were hired for the contribution that others thought that you could make. This means that when you speak up, you can maximize your impact on the organization. If, however, you choose to keep your opinions to yourself, there’s a good chance that your value could be overlooked (or at least, underestimated). I’ve observed this many times, when I’ve worked with brilliant people, who didn’t speak up. Instead of being seen as the thought leaders they could be, they were perceived as mediocre employees without the potential to advance.
Finally, for many people, speaking up at work simply feels better on an emotional level, than stifling themselves all the time. (I can personally attest to this, as noted in this article). Instead of feeling frustrated, you could feel empowered by asserting yourself. In addition, it may help you to feel more connected to your work, because you could have greater influence on your environment.
So, should you just take off Your filter and say whatever you want?
Let’s face it – while it would be nice to think that speaking up at all times is the right thing to do, sometimes, it simply may not be appropriate. Therefore, the issue of whether expressing yourself will help or hurt you depends largely on what you are speaking up about, and when and how you do it.
With respect to run-of-the-mill topics, speaking up can often contribute to being seen as someone who cares about the organization, takes initiative, and has a desire for influence. As noted earlier, if you have a lot of great ideas, but keep them to yourself, others in the organization might undervalue what you can contribute. And, this may cause you to get overlooked for promotions. So, speaking up can be a good way to get noticed.
However, if you’re known for putting your foot in your mouth, or speaking without tact, then you’ll likely want to tread a bit more lightly. Speaking with consideration and diplomacy is likely to go over a lot better than saying whatever is on your mind, and justifying it by saying “I’m just being honest.” So, if you are someone who is always complaining, pessimistic, negative, or rude, then speaking up all the time will likely hurt you (unless you improve your communication skills).
Finally, if you want to speak up on a very sensitive topic, then it probably makes sense to consult with someone you trust so that you can craft your message appropriately. If it’s a one-on-one conversation you’re preparing yourself for, you might even want to role play different scenarios. You can also practice mindfulness so that you can take a step back and manage your emotions in the moment, to increase the odds that you’ll convey your ideas in a balanced and constructive way.
Some Tips for Making Your Voice Heard
Want to challenge yourself to speak up more? If you do, here are a few quick tips that will help you to do it effectively.
1. Be Sensitive to Your Audience – If you’re hoping to influence others, make sure to think about what’s important to them. Don’t make the mistake of crafting an argument simply based on what would convince you – take others’ needs, motives, and preferences into account.
2. Use Active Listening Strategies – While it’s beneficial to express your opinion, you’ll likely be more effective if others know that you’re open to their perspectives. Look for points of commonality, express empathy, and communicate to others that you’re considering their thoughts. Doing so will open the door to a more constructive conversation.
3. Speak with Confidence – If you sound uncertain or tentative, even a fabulous idea might be dismissed. Therefore, make sure to practice your delivery so that you can come across as more self-assured. Watch out for filler words, volume, eye contact, and vocal intonation (you might even want to record yourself). If you need some help, try Toastmasters. You’ll get lots of practice, valuable feedback, and support from fellow members.
4. Couch Your Opinion, When Appropriate – Sometimes, depending on the situation, the culture of the organization, and the person(s) with whom you are interacting, you might want to take a more measured approach. For example, if you are in a very hierarchical culture, then saying something like “I wonder if…” might be better received than “You really should…” when speaking to your boss. On the other hand, some leaders and cultures really value candor, and less of that might be necessary.
5. Remember that You Won’t Always Get Your Way – If you express an idea that isn’t accepted, don’t get discouraged. Great solutions often come as a result of a group of people feeding off others’ ideas and expanding upon them. Give yourself a pat on the back for challenging yourself to speak up, and commit to keep practicing!
Poet Audrey Lorde wrote, “When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” When done with care, speaking up at work can make you feel more empowered, valued, and engaged on the job.
Recently, I had the pleasure of being on In the Workplace on Sirius XM’s Wharton Business Radio. While I was on the show, I talked with the hosts, Peter Cappelli and Dan O’Meara, about a range of leadership topics – everything from narcissists in the workplace to my experiences coaching executives.
During the interview, I was asked the one area in which I felt leaders tended to fall short. Based on my experience, I suggested that it’s soft skills – aspects like emotional intelligence, placing an adequate focus on culture, and coaching employees. This led to an exploration of how many leaders either don’t recognize the importance of coaching, or lack the skills to coach their employees effectively.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have adequate time during the interview to get into any of those areas in any depth. However, I thought it warranted more discussion – hence, this blog post.
Could you stand to improve your coaching skills?
Take a moment to think about how you approach coaching. Could do a better job of helping others to get ready to advance into leadership roles? Are you purposeful about coaching others who have no aspirations to move up, so that they can improve in their current roles?
If you recognize that you have some room for improvement, don’t worry. In my experience, most leaders could benefit from being more intentional about their coaching efforts. But, if you want to get better at developing people, start by asking yourself these five questions.
1. Do I truly believe that people can develop?
While the “right” answer to this question might seem obvious, I still encourage you to do a gut check to see how you really feel.
It’s pretty common for me to hear leaders share beliefs such as “You either have it or you don’t” or “I can’t teach you to be a leader.” These beliefs are characteristic of what psychologist, Carol Dweck, calls a “fixed” mindset. Essentially, leaders with this mindset believe that qualities are innate, and therefore, can’t be developed. By contrast, leaders who feel that skills can, in fact be developed, have a “growth” mindset. As a result, they believe that with the right coaching and strategies, people can improve.
Research has found that managers who have a growth mindset are more likely to invest time and effort into coaching their direct reports than those who have a fixed mindset. This makes sense. After all, if you believe that your efforts will have some sort of impact, you’ll be more likely to engage in those behaviors.
If you have a fixed mindset, all is not lost – growth mindsets can be developed.That aforementioned study found that fixed-mindset managers who were taught about the importance of having a growth mindset exhibited a greater willingness to coach an underperforming employee. They also provided better quality feedback compared to a control group of fixed mindset managers.
Bottom line? Believe that your employees can develop, and put more effort into coaching them. As a result of your efforts, you’ll likely see them improving, and this will further reinforce your behaviors.
2. Am I talking about development throughout the year, or am I only doing it during performance reviews?
When coaching leaders, I commonly ask about how they provide feedback to their team members. In response, I often hear something along the lines of, “I give feedback. We always talk about how they’re doing during performance reviews.” For a leader with this perspective, having those annual conversations means they’re developing their people appropriately.
Others may be more sheepish in their response to this question. They know that providing feedback is something that they should do. However, during their one-on-one meetings, when given the choice between checking up on their peoples’ assignments or conducting developmental conversations, discussions about day-to-day tasks always win out.
If you want to get better at developing people, you have to actually do it. After all, imagine an athlete being told, “These are the things you need to work on,” and then not receiving any additional coaching for a whole year. Would you expect her to make significant gains? Similarly, as a leader, the performance review may set the stage for you to go more in-depth in your development conversations. However, the real improvement occurs as you are providing positive feedback and constructive criticism throughout the year.
Therefore, if you’re serious about helping your team members to grow, make the commitment to provide ongoing coaching. You can do this by carving out time during your one-on-one meetings to talk about their development. You can also do it by aiming to provide feedback as soon as possible – whether it’s congratulating them for a job well-done or suggest tweaks for how they can continue to improve.
3. Do all of my direct reports have development goals?
Are you confident that if I were to ask each of your direct reports about what they’re working on developmentally, they would be able to tell me? If the answer to this question is “I’m not sure” then that’s a good indication that you should likely be doing more in the way of coaching.
To grow, it’s essential to know what it is that you’re working on, and how you’re going about doing it. Therefore, make sure to talk with your people about their aspirations, and then collaboratively set goals with them. In addition, work with them to create development plans, so that they have a clearly outlined strategy for how to move forward. This will help to ensure that their development stays top-of-mind for both of you.
4. Am I intentional about giving people opportunities that will stretch them?
As a manager, it feels great to be able to delegate tasks that you know people can do in their sleep. When you do that, you know you won’t get any unwelcome surprises or sub-par work. But, although it’s obviously beneficial to assign responsibilities that people can easily do, if those are the only projects that you’re giving them, then it’s likely that you’re not doing the best job of developing them.
If you want to get better at developing people, make sure that some of the projects you give them are challenging ones that will require them to learn new skills. Consider their development goals, then give them targeted assignments that will encourage them to grow in those areas.
Will doing this require more oversight, effort, and feedback from you as their manager? Yes. Will it also allow you to develop your coaching skills? Absolutely.
5. Am I open to feedback?
As a leader, part of your job is to set an example for the sorts of attitudes you want your team members to exhibit. Therefore, if you want your people to see coaching as a normal part of professional growth, you’ll need to demonstrate that behavior yourself by showing that you’re open to feedback.
You can do this by asking them for feedback during your one-on-one sessions. (A popular way to do this is by taking time at the end of your meetings to ask them about which behaviors they would like for you to stop, start, and continue). You can also make yourself vulnerable by sharing your own development goals with them. Finally, when receiving criticism, you’ll need to make sure to manage your emotions, listen thoughtfully, and guard against defensiveness.
These sorts of actions model that everyone has areas for growth. They also show that receiving information about ways in which you can develop is positive. If you want to create a feedback-rich environment, it’s got to start from the top.
Bill Bradley said, ”Leadership is unlocking other people’s potential to become better.” If you want to be the sort of leader who helps others to fulfill their potential, put more of a focus on developing people. You’ll be rewarded with more engaged employees and a higher performing team.
Most of us are aware of the importance of having the right mindset for accomplishing our goals. To achieve your dreams, it’s as simple as thinking positive thoughts and believing in yourself, right?
Perhaps – but it’s not always as easy as it might appear.
As a corporate psychologist, I’ve had the pleasure of working with hundreds of highly motivated clients, helping them to pursue their dreams. And, in that time, I’ve noticed that although a lot of people think they have the right mindset, in reality, many of them are unwittingly making some very common mistakes.
Unchecked, they can derail goals. However, once they’re transformed, magic happens.
Here are the four most common mindset shifts you’ll need to undertake to make your dreams a reality.
1. Turn “I’ll Try” into “I’ll Do.”
Wobbly commitment is a very common mindset mistake I’ve seen in my work with clients – and it’s one that people often aren’t aware of. Although many people think that they have the level of commitment they need to accomplish their goal, a lot of them are actually a little ambivalent.
How do you tell the difference?
If, when you think about your goal, your mindset is that you’ll try things out and see what happens, your commitment is a little on the shaky side. If however, you’ve decided that you’re fully committed to accomplishing your goal no matter what, it’s a whole different story. Once you’ve committed to giving your all, persisting through setbacks, challenging your excuses, and simply not accepting failure as an option, that’s the mindset that will have you well on your way to living your dream life.
As yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
2. Transform Your Fixed Mindset into a Growth Mindset
In her research, Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck has found that in any given area of our lives, we can have either a fixed or a growth mindset. People with fixed mindsets believe that our qualities are innate – you’re either born with them or not. On the other hand, people with growth mindsets believe that with effort and practice, you can improve in any area.
So, for example, a person with a fixed mindset believes that you’re born smart or athletic, and if you didn’t get that gene, there’s nothing you can do about it. However, a person with a growth mindset believes that you can become smarter or more athletic if you work to develop your skills in that area.
Research has found that people with growth mindsets are more persistent in the face of challenges, more open to feedback, and quicker to bounce back from setbacks. As a result, they keep going, and are more likely to accomplish their goals. Lucky for you, even if you currently have a fixed mindset, you can develop a growth mindset with practice. (Beautiful how that works, isn’t it?)
3. Focus on the Journey as Much as the Destination
There’s a reason why you hear this all the time – it’s sage advice. All too often, when people are working towards their goals, too much of their focus is on the fact that they haven’t yet accomplished them.
When you continually think about how much further you have to go, you might feel like you’ll never accomplish your goal, and be more prone to give up. However, if you can think about the things you’re learning, things you’re grateful for, or the ways in which you’re developing, you’ll give yourself many more opportunities to reinforce yourself. In turn, those moments of self-praise will serve as fuel that will create a powerful positive momentum.
4. Don’t Move Away From Your Perceived Weakness, Move Towards Your Goal
On first blush, these two mindsets might sound like the same thing. However, I’ve found that the difference in your main underlying motivation can have a huge impact on whether or not you succeed in achieving your goal. Are you trying to achieve your goal because you see yourself as lacking in some way? Or, are you trying to achieve your goal so you can achieve your full potential and live your best life?
For example, do you want to lose some weight because you hate your body? Or, are you motivated by a desire to be as healthy as you can be? While both can admittedly move you towards your goal, the one that’s motivated by feelings of lack can be more tenuous.
Why? Because you could be more likely to overlook your small wins. You’ll use up valuable mental energy on self-criticism instead of on inspiration and pride. And, you’ll probably be more miserable, thinking about the things you’re giving up, instead of all that you’re gaining as you move towards your goal. If instead, you show yourself some compassion and motivate yourself through carrots as opposed to sticks, your journey will be a more enjoyable and successful one.
Put these mindset shifts into practice, and you’ll increase the odds that you’ll get where you want to go.
Need more help moving towards your professional goals? Click here.
As an executive coach, I have the privilege of talking with people about their very personal hopes, dreams, worries, and fears. And, over the past little while, I’ve worked with several clients who have been struggling with finding meaning in their lives. A freelance musician told me that reading and writing fiction make her heart sing, but that she doesn’t have the time to do either. An IT executive explained that he craves intellectual stimulation, but feels deeply unchallenged in his job. An HR Vice-President desperately wants to pursue some volunteer work, but feels constrained by her professional responsibilities and a need to tend to her children and husband.
Unfortunately, I hear these types of grievances from clients all the time.
In today’s world, most of us are told to “do what we love,” or at least are constantly reminded of the importance of “work-life balance.” The mythology of the first seeks to remind us that we can make a living doing something pleasurable — even though we’re not all privileged enough to have this luxury. The second presumably instructs us to carve out enough time in our “lives” (separate from “work”) to pursue our passions. Both of these scenarios can be easier said than done.
As a result, many people see the the options as follows: either sacrifice steady income to follow your dreams, or stay in your current situation, feeling stuck because other options seem too risky.
Existential psychologists argue that a central aspect of the human condition is to imbue life with a sense of “meaning.” In his seminal book, Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl wrote that searching for meaning is “a primary motivation” for each of our lives, and that it must be “unique and specific” depending on the person.
Finding meaning is indeed a tall order. Because of this, many resign themselves to inertia, and an ongoing sense of dissatisfaction.
Does this sound uncomfortably familiar to you? If so, consider this as a gentle nudge, and here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Remind yourself that life really is too short.
Of course, we all know that death is inevitable — but how often do we really think about it with a conscious reminder? While this seems a little morbid, reminding yourself that you won’t be here forever is a powerful motivator to shift from inertia into action.
A recent study supports this as well. When a largely female sample of undergraduates were told to live the next month like it was their last in a particular city, they were found to have twice as much of an increase in their sense of well-being at the end of the study compared to a control group. Let this reminder make you more connected to yourself, your desires, the present moment, and those around you. Merely increasing your sense of connection and presence will enrich your sense of meaning day to day. And that’s a great place to start.
2. Take small steps — and notice your satisfaction at each one.
When clients of mine believe they will have to drop everything in their current life to pursue a greater sense of meaning, I’m quick to reassure them that such rash action isn’t required.
I’ll tell them to start doing something — anything! Small as their first action step may be, it will be more fulfilling than procrastinating. If you enjoy writing, for example, then try free-writing just for fun, or create a blog. If you want to be of service, find opportunities to volunteer. Want to create a business? Take a course, investigate how you might do it, or get something started on the side. Instead of having to deal with the gnawing feeling that you’re not doing anything, you’ll find that engaging in activities that bring you joy will give you a greater sense of purpose in your life — even if they don’t become a new career for you.
3. Recognize the meaning that’s already here.
In our ongoing quest for self-improvement, we often overlook the good that is all around us, and lose sight of the present moment. When we reflect on our own mortality, we are not only better prepared to reflect on how we spend our time, but we’re also primed to adjust our perspective at large.
For example, in the aforementioned study, researchers found that participants who thought about their time as limited were more likely to savor their experiences by focusing on the positive. This is like the last day of a vacation, when you try to squeeze out every last bit of enjoyment so you can imprint it into your memory.
Try to shift from focusing on everything that you see as “not enough” in your life, and instead, savor the goodness that is already there. It might just change your overall world view.
A few years before my father died, I asked him some questions about aging — specifically, what surprised him about the aging process, and what he would do differently. He said he had been surprised by how swiftly time passes, and, that if he were to go back, he would probably spend more time slowing down, smelling the roses, and connecting with those close to him. When I asked my mother, she added that she would have tried more things, and not have sold herself short in some areas. (These observations are consistent with other research in this area, suggesting that when people look back on their lives, they regret the chances they didn’t take and not fully savoring the potentially meaningful experiences in their day-to-day lives).
Remember, it’s up to you to live your life in a way that is meaningful to you. I hope you’ll take the challenge, and get started with some step, no matter how small, today.
A mindfulness practice can also help you to experience greater meaning. To learn more, click here.
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There are few things more frustrating than feeling stuck in your job. Languishing in your current, ill-suited position can make you feel completely powerless. You may find yourself constantly wondering about what you could possibly do to get that promotion you so clearly deserve (at least in your mind).
From that place of frustration and paralysis, it’s only natural to feel inclined to blame others (like your boss!), and to avoid recognizing how you’re contributing to the situation. But instead of blaming your boss for being blind to your potential, here’s a hard truth: you may not be as ready as you think you are.
I recently coached someone I’ll call Karen. She was a marketing professional who was feeling stuck in her middle-management position. She was, however, seen by others as a high-performer in her role — a subject-matter expert who was reliable and hard-working. Yet, despite years in the same position, she hadn’t ever been promoted into a broader leadership position.
Given that she was getting positive performance appraisals, hitting goals, and maintaining positive relationships with her co-workers, she was at a loss for what the hold-up was.
As an executive coach, I’ve worked with numerous “Karens” — employees excelling as individuals at work, but who think that should guarantee them leadership positions. The reality is that being a leader is vastly different from just doing a good job. In Karen’s case, she had done absolutely nothing to demonstrate that she was ready for the next level. She was simply really good at doing what she was asked to do — and delivered consistent results, reliably.
Put yourself in the shoes of hiring managers. Every time they promote someone into a new role, they’re taking a risk. Your job is to make their promoting decisions as easy as possible. Your job is to show them that you already have what it takes to succeed in the job you want. Realizing this can be a profound catalyst in shifting perspective.
In order to secure the promotion Karen thought she deserved, she had to shift her perspective. Instead of just focusing on doing well in her existent role, Karen needed to explore what skills she would need to be successful at the next level. That was the focus of our work together.
Based on this exploration, we highlighted three areas for her:
1. Strategy: Instead of spending all of her time on executing tasks, Karen and I realized that she would need to be more strategic — a thought leader who brought new ideas to the table.
2. Accountability: Karen realized her own passivity, and recognized that she needed to be more assertive. Rather than trying to avoid ruffling feathers, she would need to demonstrate that she could make difficult decisions and deal effectively with conflict.
3. Confidence: Finally, Karen recognized that she would need to exude more confidence and speak less tentatively. By showing she was confident in herself and her vision, others would be more prone to follow her.
Instead of continuing to believe that she would simply develop the skills she needed after getting a promotion, Karen needed to demonstrate them now. She had to make it easy for those around her to see her as a leader already, so they wouldn’t see a promotion as a leap of faith, but as an obvious next step.
Once Karen realized that she had to embody leadership skills, the next step was to figure out how exactly she would do that. As one action item, we focused on honing Karen’s prioritization and time management skills, so that she could create windows of time in her schedule for strategic-planning. We determined new areas of study for Karen that would help her develop a broader knowledge-base from which to draw potential business strategies in her area.
To exude more of a leadership presence, Karen recorded herself speaking so that she could hear her tone of voice — and make changes as needed. She found that the lilt of her voice sometimes made it sound like she was asking questions, not making statements. She asked for feedback from others, and joined Toastmasters so that she could improve her presentation skills.
At our sixth monthly session, Karen announced, “I got the promotion!” Her hard work had paid off, management had seen the difference, and she was being rewarded with more responsibility, a new title, and more money.
If you’re in a similar position as Karen, here are some tips for you:
1. Excel in your current role.
Be honest with yourself. If you’re simply meeting the expectations of your current job description, you’re not pushing yourself beyond the basic requirements — which is necessary for securing a promotion. In this case, the reason you haven’t gotten a promotion is pretty straightforward.
2. Reflect on the skills needed for the role you want.
Think about the role you want. What sort of competencies does it require? If you’re unsure, you might want to ask others in the organization for ideas. Consider both technical skills and leadership skills. Once you explore possible skills, enumerate them clearly so you can familiarize yourself with them.
3. Actually learn those competencies — and embody them.
Like Karen, your next goal is to figure out how you can develop those skills. Some might be as easy as taking a class. For others, you might benefit from working with an executive coach who has experience developing others and helping them to work through problems.
The bottom line? Merely checking the boxes and doing a “good job” often isn’t enough for getting a promotion. Bosses, like most people, can be fearful of making the wrong choice that will lead to potential problems or others questioning their judgment. Therefore, your best bet is to focus on embodying the promotion even before you’re up for consideration. That way, you’ll make the decision a no-brainer, while also setting yourself up for an easier transition.
Interested in becoming a more effective leader? Click here to take my leadership personality quiz to learn more about how your style affects those around you.