Friday, May 29, 2009

How to Overcome Obstacles in Your Career


Yesterday I guest posted on GL Hoffman's "What Would Dad Say" blog about learning to be more resourceful. I'd like to expand on that and talk about overcoming obstacles at work.

Today, the workplace is a hotbed of stress. There are lots of people worried about their job, and lots of people who feel overworked. The result is often a roadblock: Workers paralyzed when there is a bump in the road.

So, let's look at what you can do to develop some skills that will help you overcome these moments:

* Outline the worst case scenario. By writing down the potential pitfalls or at least verbalizing them, you face your fears. Fear often immobilizes you, so once you face it you can be better equipped to overcome it.

* Be willing to fight. Don't just accept what happens. Ask yourself what else you can do to overcome the problem. Keep thinking of ways to rephrase the questions, come up with new information or bring in other resources. Don't give up the first time the going gets hard. Keep telling yourself that just like lifting weights, you're developing your "resilience" muscle.

* Envision success. Keep your eye on the prize, whether it's nabbing a big contract or winning over a difficult customer. Always make sure it's clear in your mind what the payoff will be once you get past the obstacle.

* Shake it off.
The boss is often watching closely when you're confronted with a problem. This is when you show your determination. By handling it with humor, grace and focus, you can score some real points just by not caving in to defeat.

* Be realistic. While the boss wants to see you keep trying, it's not going to pay off to let him see you be foolish in your strategies. You may need to back off for a bit and reconsider what you're doing. Perhaps you do need more training to get that promotion.

* Get input. You don't always have to take the advice of someone else, but it often helps you clarify your problem if you can get ideas from other people. This doesn't always have to be someone you work with. A lot of successful people rely on friends and family to get another perspective.

* Invest in confidence. Read inspirational books about how others facing adversity overcame it, or attend events that foster well-being and confidence. Spend time with others who have succeeded and ask them to share their stories of how they dealt with the problems.

What other strategies can you use to overcome obstacles?


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Thursday, April 30, 2009

What Your Boss Really Wants to Hear in Your Next Performance Evaluation


Tests are often the bane of every student's existence -- they hate them and often don't consider them a true evaluation of what they know.

Fast forward many years, and you're once again facing a test. Only this time it's called a performance evaluation and once again, you don't believe it's a true reflection of your abilities.

The problem with tests and performance evaluations is that the power is often in the hands of the teacher or the boss. You don't really know exactly what you're going to be asked, and so may then do poorly when put on the spot.

But what if I told you that there may be a way to figure out what you're going to be asked in your next performance evaluation? Or, at least have answers prepared that will keep you from freezing like a third-grader who doesn't know his state capitals?

All bosses want the same thing. They want employees who are going to make them look better and smarter. And always, always, always, employees have to help them make money. It's the same thing, in other words, that their bosses want.

If you understand that your success depends on helping the boss get what he wants, then you can structure your answers to make sure you meet those goals. This is what you should always keep in mind when heading into a performance evaluation:

1. Find ways you make him look better. Do you review materials before they are sent to clients to make sure there are no errors? Do you follow up with unhappy customers to make sure they have a positive image of your company? Do you forward him key industry news so that he is prepared when he meets with his boss? Helping the boss look better to his boss, to customers and to peers helps the boss see the worth of having you around. Sprinkle examples throughout your meeting, so that he is reminded of how good you make him look.

2. Show that he's a genius. If you can find ways to streamline a process to save time and money, then you're going to please the boss. The boss's boss is probably breathing down his neck to find ways to cut costs and work more efficiently, so anything you can do in that area will score points. Can you come in under budget on a project? Is a new technology you discovered going to bring in more customers? Give examples of how your work travels up the ladder -- you take pressure off him because you're such a smart cookie.

3. Look for bottom-line results. Did you find a mistake from a supplier that shows your company was overcharged? Have you thought of a way to attract a new client? Have your networking efforts resulted in a new strategic partner? Companies are under enormous pressure to bring in new business in a difficult economy, so bosses are going to be even more focused on bringing in additional revenue. Always be sure you mention how your actions show you're watching that bottom line at all times. Because he sure is.

What are some other ways to help a performance evaluation go smoothly?


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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Is Your Definition of Success Making You Miserable?


Is your definition of success a fatal mistake?

For some, success is defined in terms of the dollar amount on a paycheck. For others, it's the title on their business card. Others may define success in terms of the accolades and awards they have won.

But the problem with how people define success these days is that when they're forced to change it, they can't. Look at the businessmen who have committed suicide because they have lost fortunes. Consider the workers who are fired and then go back to work, armed with a gun.

Extreme cases, sure. Not everyone considers killing themselves or others when their livelihood is threatened. But it does point out that maybe we need to revisit our own definition of success.

Start by completing this definition: "Success to me is...."

After you complete this sentence, then review it and determine if you're on the path to achieving that success. If you were to lose your job or money tomorrow, would your definition of success still be valid? Or, would you consider yourself a failure?

I remember a job where I worked long, stressful hours and often labored for a boss who had mood swings like a freaking roller coaster. It made for a tense situation, to say the least. One day I was talking to a co-worker and the exhaustion was overwhelming. I felt so dissatisfied, frustrated and even angry. Then it hit me: If I died that day, I didn't want the only thing on my tombstone to be "Always met her deadlines."

Ugh, I remember thinking. I wanted my life to account for more than that. It wasn't until months later that I started making some real changes in my life, changes that I know made me much better able to balance my life and devote time and effort to more than my job.

Right now, times are tough and some of us are beginning to panic. But I think it's a golden opportunity to really think about what is important in your life, and weed out the things that don't really matter.

You are the one who must define what success is to you. One thing I know for sure: You are more than a job title, you are worth more than a number on a paycheck and you are more than an award to hang on your wall. Is the destination you have in mind worth the road you must travel? Only you can answer that.

So, how do you define success?



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Friday, April 18, 2008

Your Success Is Tied Directly to the Boss

Ask anyone who really enjoys going to work every day, and you’re likely to hear that one of the reasons they like the job is because of the boss. A good boss, it seems, can make even the really bad days bearable. But a bad boss — well, a bad boss makes every day unbearable, no matter how good it is.

And while you may be miserable day in and day out working for a bad boss, it actually gets worse. Because if you’re working for a real jerk, it’s likely that you’re putting career success at risk.

That's because you only can achieve what a boss lets you achieve, and if you’re working for the worst boss since Attila the Hun, then you’re going to have difficulties achieving your goals.

The first thing you have to do when you’re confronted with this situation is realize that you’re not in it alone. If you’ve got a problem boss, then chances are you’ve done nothing wrong and other people are going through the same thing.

That's why it’s important that you deal with a problem boss just like you would any major business dilemma: you do your homework; look for problem areas; make adjustments to fit the demands; and take responsibility for making success happen.

For example, if the boss gets along with other people, study how that happens. Look for the flash points you have with the boss, and how to avoid them. Maybe you always want to talk to him first thing in the morning, but he's grouchy before noon. So, you just delay your talks until after lunch, when he'll be more receptive.

Here are some other ideas for improving your relationship with the boss:
• Let the boss know what’s going on. You come across as being insecure when you sneak around and keep things hidden from management.
• Respect the boss’s position. Even though you may not agree with him or her, the position deserves respect. And, if you look at the results achieved, and not the technique, you may actually learn something.
• Ask what you can do to help. You want to know what you can do that will aid the boss in doing his or her job. Periodically repeat the same question in different ways.
• Let the boss know what can be expected from you. Prove that you’re not afraid of hard work and that you can be depended on to follow through on assignments. Remember: bosses hate surprises, but love hearing, “I’ll take care of it.”


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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Mom's Influence on Our Career Success

If you're struggling at work, it's time you stopped blaming the boss or the company. Because according to one psychologist, the inability to rise above the challenges and achieve your career dreams is the fault of....

Your mother.

OK, I know what some of you are going to say. I, myself, am a mother, and I get pretty sick and tired of being the fall guy (woman) for my kids whenever things don't go their way, from the fact that they don't have iPhones to making them do homework. "Make sure you mention this to your therapist when you're older!" I call to them as they stomp off to their rooms and slam their doors, miffed at some horrible thing I've done to ruin their lives.

But according to Stephan Poulter, author of "The Mother Factor: How Your Mother's Emotional Legacy Impacts Your Life," there may be more of a direct link between our career success and our mothers than we might understand.

For example, if your mother was a perfectionist, then you might have difficulty taking feedback at work.

"Ninety five percent of the time it's your emotional history spilling into the present," Poulter says.

The perfectionist mother is just one of the five predominant types of mothering style. The others, according to Poulter’s book:
· The “unpredictable” mother. She is overcontrolling, fearful and anxious. Focuses on appearance over substance and creates a child who is often ashamed, never good enough, focused on external issues and ultimately, self-loathing. Poulter advises that to overcome these problems, you must first “consider your opinion the most valuable because this concept stops the agony of people pleasing and worrying about other people’s opinions of you.”
· The “me first” mother. Self-serving, approval-seeking, non-empathetic, critical and arrogant, she sees the child as an extension of herself. The child can feel dismissed, emotionally deprived, self-doubting and angry. As adults, these people must learn to understand that they are “good enough,” he says.
· The “best friend” mother. This is a style quite popular with today’s moms. This peer-styled relationship between mother and child lacks boundaries and leadership, creating an unbalanced emotional dependence. The child can feel abandoned, neglected, angry and “motherless.” As adults, these people must learn to let go of their anger. “If your mother could have done a better job of mothering you, she would have,” he says. “You have to come up with what you emotionally desire and create that network of loving people.”
· The “complete” mother. Secure, insightful and nurturing, this mom understands her child’s needs and desires and how to guide them towards their own personal fulfillment and growth. The child is empowered, secure and prepared to become an adult.

If you're interested in asking Poulter some questions about this issue, please tune in April 15 at 10 a.m. CST to my Blog Talk Radio show where I'll be interviewing him further. (As of this posting, there were technical difficulties with the specific segment URL, so I'll get that posted at a later date.)

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Will You Still Be Working at 95?

I get a lot of mail from readers of my nationally syndicated workplace column, much of it coming from people who have a workplace dilemma they'd like me to help solve (and more than a few letters from the unfortunately incarcerated who would like to be my pen pal). Today, I want to share a recent letter I received from a 95-year-old woman who told me she had been employed full-time from 1929-1971, and has been working part-time for the last 27 years.

For those of you without a calculator handy, or suffering from Monday morning brain freeze, that means this woman has been working for 79 years.

While she did not share with me the specifics of her work experience, or why she chose to work for nearly eight decades, I will tell you that she said she was interested in my book, "45 Things You do That Drive Your Boss Crazy...and How to Avoid Them," and asked me to send her a copy.

Then, she asked me this question: "Where did I fail?"

Where did she fail? I wondered how someone who was still working at 95-years-old could even think of herself as having failed. Did she have jobs she hated? She didn't offer me a clue. Did she have trouble with a boss or co-workers or perhaps never have the career of which she dreamed? I don't know. Her letter was short and provided few details.

So, I will send her my book. I can't imagine that it will tell her something she doesn't know. After all, by the time I entered the workforce she had been there for more than 50 years. What could I possibly tell her that she hasn't known or experienced firsthand? In her lifetime, she has seen men gladly working for pennies a day just to try and feed their children during the Depression. She has seen blacks forced to sit at the back of the bus, then fight -- with grit and intelligence and determination -- into the board rooms of this country. She has seen women start their own companies and go to outer space and possibly become our next president.

"Where did I fail?" I don't think I can begin to answer that question. She will, like all of us, have to answer that for herself. But I think her letter should make each of us think about what we're doing right now to ensure that if we work for one decade or eight, we will not look back and consider having failed.

For each of you, your success will be of your own measure. It will be a reflection of the road you took, the goals that you set for yourself despite the odds against you or the advice directing you another way.

So, my question is this: What have you done right? What important lessons do you have to share with others about surviving and thriving in the workplace so that none us has to ask at age 95: Where did I fail?



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