Monday, March 3, 2008

Becoming Who You Were Meant to Be

If you’re a woman with children, you are probably used to being called “Bobby’s mom” or "Chloe's mom." Or if you’re working for someone else, you might be known as “Susan’s assistant” or "the HR gal." There are monikers that could be worse, of course, but maybe you’re getting a little tired of being known by such titles.

Branding, for many women, is something that begins in college. You declare a major and that’s the first time you say who you are. Or, you get your first job, and the boss pigeonholes you.

But over the years I’ve spoken with many happy and successful women, and they all say that more women need to take steps to develop their own reality, not function according to someone else’s perception. More females in the workplace, in other words, need to take off their masks of who they think they should be and became the real person they are – and find much greater professional satisfaction and personal happiness as a result.

Where to start? You may need to:
· Dig deep. There’s only one you — you are special and unique. That means you need words to express your personal beliefs, values, how you want to live and what you consider most important to your well being. The challenge is creating interest and enthusiasm for what you have to offer, and using it to enhance your image in the business world.
· Define dreams and put them into action. Create a mission statement for yourself and write it down. You are very likely to get what you ask for, because when you finally get serious about what you really desire deep in your soul, others start paying attention. Someone once suggested to me you should be able to rattle off your personal mission statement in 12 words or less if someone held a gun to your head (yikes!), while someone else said your statement should feel like a drum roll should proceed it.
· Go after the target audience with a vengeance. No matter what your mission or goal, identifying and earning the devotion of your target audience is critical to your success. Just don’t be fake, because people will sense it and immediately tune you out.
· Crush inner fears. It’s important to overcome insecurities that can stop you in your tracks. In many cases the thing you are afraid to do is the one thing you must do to solidify your brand.
· Recruit supporters. Get friends, family members and colleagues to help you create an atmosphere of success. Listen to their advice, since it comes from a place of genuine caring about you.
· Look good. You must not only make your exterior appealing to your target audience, but also make it a genuine reflection of who you are.
· Get comfortable in your own skin. Guess what? You’re not perfect. No one is. But you can develop your personal style and make it part of your brand. How do you show others that you’re creative, or dependable or funny? We’re all born with charisma --whether or not we all use it is another question.
· Devise a plan and get on with it. If you’re not going to do it, who will? Keep your eye on the prize and work towards it.

Finally, one last note: tune in Tuesday at 10 a.m. CST for a lively and provocative discussion with Christopher Flett on my podcast, “Smashing the Ladder With Anita and Diane,” where we’ll talk about all the things women do right – and wrong – in their careers. And, there will be plenty of good information for the guys, as well.

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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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Monday, January 14, 2008

Discussing Politics at Work

After this last weekend, I knew I couldn't put off writing about this any longer.

I need to write about politics. Well, more specifically, about what's being said in politics these days and what will be said in the months to come.

As the presidential races heat up, the talk is getting a bit harsher from all involved. Race and gender biases by various candidates are being subtly -- and not so subtly -- bandied about. Religion, income, personal relationships and quite possibly the cereal eaten every morning are being scrutinized and analyzed by pundits, other politicians and the media.

And part of this debate is taking place around the workplace water cooler, in the lunch room, at the conference table and probably in the restroom. It's inevitable that the workplace will become part of the national conversation.

Still, politics in the workplace is a tricky thing. For one, some people would rather have a sharp stick stuck in their eye than discuss politics. For another, some bosses get very nervous when employees starting debating race and gender and whether a government conspiracy is keeping Big Foot in hiding at Camp David. They have enough on their plates without refereeing discussions on immigration, the environment and Social Security.

At the same time, it's inevitable that despite what bosses want, politics are likely to be discussed at some point in a cubicle near you this year. So, what's the best way to handle it so that you maintain harmonious relations with your boss and your co-workers? The key is remembering that we're a nation of diverse opinions, and the moment you quit showing respect for someone at work having a view different than yours, then you have crossed the line -- and that could cost you and your career.

Some things to think about:

1. You can keep your mouth shut. No one says you must express an opinion about a candidate -- you are at work after all. Just sort of smile and say, "I'd rather not get into it," and find something else to do (like your job). Stay cool and don't let someone drag you into political discussions by making outlandish statements that will get your hackles up. Responding emotionally in such a situation can backfire and lead to you offering explanations in the boss's office.

2. Discreet is your middle name. Wearing an Obama T-shirt to work, plastering your cubicle with Clinton bumper stickers or having a Huckabee screen saver is not a good idea. That sort of blatant political stand is best saved for your personal time. Feel free to wear your underwear with the donkeys on them -- it will be your little secret.

3. Keep it off company time. Don't make phone calls, use the Internet, the copier, the shredder, the pencil sharpener or the stapler for anything that smacks of political work. Ask members of your political group or organization to contact you at home or through private e-mail.

I believe we will have some exciting dicussions about candidates in the months to come, and I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from participating in these talks. Just remember that if you want to make sure your career or workplace relationships aren't derailed by politics, keep your political message at work confined to "Let's all remember to vote."


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Friday, November 9, 2007

The Workplace: What Men Don't Tell Women

Bitch.
Whore.
Geisha.


These are just a few of the names Christopher Flett says that some men call women in the workplace. Not to their faces, he says, but behind their backs.

Ugh.

Those names make me uncomfortable, and angry. Plenty of other women will feel the same way, and I think we could have some pretty heated discussions among the sexes in the days to come. But Flett, who has been called the “shock jock of management,” says that it’s time someone exposed the “alpha male” business strategies towards women, and he’s just the one to do it.

A self-proclaimed “reformed alpha male,” Flett says in his new book, “What Men Don’t Tell Women About Business: Opening Up the Heavily Guarded Alpha Male Playbook,” that while men may have put the glass ceiling in place, it’s the women who keep it there with their behaviors that have some men calling them ball busters, whores, geishas, and other less-that-complimentary names like “man” and “mother.” (Trust me, these are names that put women down.)

Flett told me that he used to be such an obnoxious alpha male that would try and hire staff away from other companies just to hurt those businesses. But when his dad got cancer and told Flett “that he was embarrassed by the way I was acting, I had a reset switch.”

Now Flett says he’s out to expose ugly alpha male strategies to the females of the workplace who are often hurt the most by them. And that includes revealing some uncomfortable truths, such as the name-calling.

“Fifty percent of the women who hear my message love it, and the other 50 percent hate my guts,” he says. “But I don’t mince words. People are so busy trying to be politically correct, the message just gets muddied.”

Many women have joined the discussion about Flett’s book online, and say they have benefited from having alpha male strategies revealed. Some men say they abhor such business strategies as well, and they have no place in the workplace today. Flett says that it’s time women realized that they have the power they need and they don’t need to fight for it – they just need to take it.

He provides this final example: “I’m Canadian, so I speak a little French. When I take American clients to France, I get a better room, food and other upgrades because I can speak a little French. What I’m saying is that if women can learn to speak alpha male, and understand that this information is power, then they’re going to benefit from it.”

C’et la vie! , indeed.

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