What Wonder Woman teaches us about employee engagement

It might seem like Wonder Woman doesn’t have much to do with employee engagement. After all, the beloved icon uses bullet proof bracelets, the lasso of truth and super human strength to protect humanity (and rack up box office gold) while companies focus on employee engagement to improve productivity, reduce turnover and enhance results. However, given that Wonder Woman’s compassion, courage and commitment to doing what’s right truly saves the day, organizations can learn a lot from our superheroine about engaging their workforce. Lessons include:

  1. Operate with clarity and purpose – Okay movie fans, if you haven’t seen the film yet, spoilers are ahead. In this inspiring flick, Wonder Woman is clear her mission is to protect innocent people and stop Ares, the God of War, from destroying humanity. That’s something we can all rally around, right? Companies that have that kind of clarity about their mission, vision and values connect better with employees and generate stronger results. In fact, a Gallup Survey found that a 10% improvement in employees’ connection with the mission or purpose of their organization would result in a 12.7% reduction in safety incidents, an 8.1% decrease in turnover, and a 4.4% increase in profitability.
  2. Build strong teams – Despite her strength and smarts, Wonder Woman couldn’t have prevailed without the support of the rag tag team brought together to infiltrate enemy territory. (Plus there’s her future affiliation with the Justice League, where Batman, Superman and their brethren all work together for the greater good.) Super star employees are great, but super star teams are even better. Investing in training, leadership development and succession planning to help people reach their potential – something which ADP reports only a third of U.S. employees give their companies high marks in those areas – is a win-win situation.
  3. Embrace ethics – Wonder Woman had the choice of ruling as an all-powerful being with the villain, or staying true to herself but battling it out. She picked the second option, finding the inner strength and ethical fortitude to prevail. Companies that choose the ethical path, even when it can impact short-term profits, connect deeper with employees. For example, corporations like AFLAC, Accenture and Marriott International were recognized as one of the world’s most ethical companies which no doubt influenced their inclusion on Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work
  4. Care about others – Her deep concern for others prompted Wonder Woman to plunge onto a battlefield to free a French town occupied by German soldiers during World War I. Companies that genuinely care about the communities and people they serve inspire greater employee loyalty. Many organizations are placing an increasingly higher value on corporate social responsibility. At National DCP, our community outreach effort focuses on health and wellness, hunger relief and sustainability issues and we’ve been rolling out an employee volunteer time off program. Some employees see corporate social responsibility as a key factor in choosing where they work; Horizon Media estimates that 81% of millennials expect companies to publicly pledge to be good corporate citizens.

As a kid, Wonder Woman was my favorite superhero/superheroine.  (Though she had some hefty competition from my close namesake – She-Ra, kick-butt cartoon goddess extraordinaire – in the 1980’s). In addition to being a positive role model and empowered character, it is gratifying to see how her behaviors can inspire better corporate cultures and employee engagement too.

How does your organization engage employees? Who is your favorite superhero or superheroine and how has that impacted who you are today?

Self-Advocacy: Five Tips to Claim Greatness

I have been a sucker for riddles since first encountering them in the form of bad jokes (Q: How do you catch a squirrel? A: Climb up a tree and act like a nut.) on the side of a Dixie cup in kindergarten. But my all-time favorite is one that has provoked thought for generations – “If a tree falls in a forest but nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Quantum physics aside, what resonates personally is the message that not expressing your thoughts or opinions can hurt you professionally and personally. And even when you have had a career of phenomenal achievements, a hesitancy to practice self-advocacy can cost you in terms of pay raises and promotions.

Knowing that you are ready to claim your greatness (cue inspirational background music at this point), here are five tips for mastering the art of self-advocacy:

1. Be willing to self-promote. Okay, self-advocacy doesn’t mean taking a megaphone out when the CEO walks by to shout “reduced costs by 43%” or “launched new software system on-time and under-budget” like a used car salesman. However, thoughtfully sharing your ideas and accomplishments in the service of others is effective. Let’s say you have been asked to speak at an industry conference. Internally, send an email and/or report about how this speech will benefit the business, thanking everyone who contributed to the innovative program you’ve been asked to present. Notify your firm’s communications team, offering to write a blog post or newsletter content about key learnings from the conference. Post a LinkedIn update about this activity. Consider presenting a webinar to others in the company about how your topic could be used to ignite ideas or improve performance.

2. Make data your BFF. Looking for a raise or promotion? Research the stats to substantiate the ask. Salary surveys applicable to the role you hold in your geographic market can easily be obtained at sites like www.salary.com. Benchmarking practices that other companies are engaging in can also be effective. For example, you can see the value of starting a data analytics team in your organization and would like to lead it. Talk to three to five comparable organizations about how they handle data analytics, the benefits and drawbacks of specific approaches and then craft the recommendation for managing this area in your organization, including why you are qualified to generate maximum ROI. Just remember that the delivery of your message matters as much as the content behind it.

3.  Aim high. Understanding your skills, strengths and weaknesses, where do you see yourself headed in the organization? Now, what happens if you aim higher? Over twenty years ago, a friend of mine enrolled in community college classes took a temporary accounts payable job in a Fortune 500 company. In this first exposure to a professional work environment, he started dreaming about one day becoming a department director. But over time, as hard work and smarts lead to new, bigger opportunities, he started aiming higher. Today that individual works at the C-level of a billion-dollar company, running its highest performing division.

4.  Build a career/life strategy. Taking the long-view of your career, which includes breaks for maternity leave or sabbaticals, can help in planning a career path that meets your professional and personal needs. In this Wall Street Journal article called “What’s Holding Women Back in the Workplace?” Microsoft Corp. executive Julie Larson-Green noted “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s only life.” The key is being proactive. Accenture’s Getting to Equal 2017 report found that building a proactive career strategy is one of the critical accelerators in closing the gender pay gap for women. Whether you are just entering the workforce or already work in management, you can consciously design your professional experience at any point. Look at others whose career/personal trajectories you admire – peers and people at all levels of the organization, not just those in more senior roles – and ask for time to obtain their insights.

5. Give your inner saboteur a time out. In the professional executive coaching world (yup, we have one – think of a bunch of individuals who get excited about human potential and organizational development, sort of like how Comic-Con enthusiasts view pop culture), that internal voice that sometimes holds you back is called the “inner saboteur.” It might have started many years ago to help keep you safe in some way, but now the saboteur chimes in with thoughts like “what if you fail,” “maybe you’re not good enough” or “don’t rock the boat,” when you strive to make big, positive changes in your life. We’ve all had them at some point. Unfortunately, trying to ignore these thoughts can be ineffective. Instead, listen to what they say, thank them for any benefit gained from their protection in the past, explain why you have decided to behave differently now – and then take the major leap forward. I have seen people do this effectively in a journal entry, as a visualization exercise or as an imagined conversation in their head. Whatever the case, giving the inner saboteur a time out to focus on self-advocacy instead helps you claim your greatness.

What steps have you taken to practice self-advocacy? Have a story to share about asking for and then receiving what you want?

Five Ways to Get What You Want (Sorry Mick Jagger)

There is no doubt Mick Jagger rocks it out; his poster graced my bedroom wall growing up while peers were drawn to the comelier visages of Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez or John Stamos. But unlike his refrain from the enduring Rolling Stones hit “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” believing that you can achieve your heart’s desire is important in personal momentum.  Here are five ways to get what you want in your professional and personal life:

  1. Have a clear vision. There’s a big difference between stating “I want to be successful in a big corporation” and “I want to be a Vice President leading Business Intelligence in a Fortune 500 company.” Being specific about the essence of what you desire, i.e. leadership of a function in a certain size business, without being tied to how it takes shape or form (B2C versus B2B, narrowing it down to a particular industry) is the first step in making this vision a reality. Then bring it to life by creating a vision board, writing about it, designing a screen saver to reinforce this goal, posting the intention where you can see it, etc.
  2. Move forward with intention. Using the corporate job example above, research the credentials of others who hold the kinds of positions you ultimately desire. Identify key factors that helped them stand out; perhaps it was actively speaking at industry conferences, going after complex certifications or being proactive about starting new initiatives. There is power in understanding the lay of the land. Someone I respect just moved from a warm, fuzzy culture to a place where directness combined with political one-upmanship is critical to rise to the top. Take the time to understand those behaviors and cultural landscape as cues for how you can succeed in your career path.
  3. Honor your life goals. My friend Steve loves to travel. Formerly a Senior Vice President at a major bank, he took a career sabbatical last spring to see the world. Naysayers claimed it would be hard for him to re-enter corporate America without a job in hand. Fast forward nearly a year later. In addition to enjoying spots like Auckland, Prague and Spain, Steve fell in love and is about to start a terrific new job working for the best boss he ever had. Yup, a total case of #winning.
  4. Practice resilience. Called stupid by his teachers as a child, Thomas Edison has 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb before getting it right. Stephen King’s manuscript for “Carrie” was rejected 30 times before it became an international bestseller. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and had his first business fail before starting Microsoft and becoming the youngest self-made billionaire. There are always going to be setbacks and challenges along the way. How you handle adversity and pick yourself back up directly impacts the likelihood of achieving goals.
  5. Go for “Yes, and…” Do you believe getting what you want will necessitate a difficult choice? You know, having a happy family life or a successful career, living near loved ones or moving across the country for an exciting opportunity…you get the picture. Rather than focusing on “either/or,” look to the concept of “Yes, and…” which involves accepting an idea and then adding to (rather than negating) it. This standard improvisational comedy practice has been adopted by a growing number of businesses who realize it fosters ideation, brainstorming and greater collaboration. Take a moment to consider how “Yes, and” can jumpstart the path to your heart’s desire – whether it is getting into better shape, going back to school to earn a degree or being selected for a popular reality TV cooking show.

Have a story to share about getting what you want? Know someone who has inspired you in this area that we should learn about?

How to become an “A” student in the Art of Deep Listening

In RUN-DMC’s catchy 80’s hip-hop tune “You Talk Too Much,” the artists castigate people who never shut up, right down to the line “Your mouth is so big, one bite would kill a Big Mac.” in this world of polarizing presidential candidates and non-stop social media rants, their lyrics continue to resonate as society overall seems a lot more focused on gabbing than listening. However, if you want to develop stronger connections and positive outcomes inside and outside of work, being able to listen intently to others is an essential skill. My husband, a rather foxy British expat, likes to say people have two ears and just one mouth for a reason – you create much more value from listening than constantly running your mouth. I couldn’t agree more. So here are a few tips for becoming an “A’ student in the art of deep listening:

1. Step outside of the “me” zone. It is human nature to filter information from the perspective of one’s self. If Janet Yelllen is going to announce the Fed’s latest stance on interest rates, my first thought is “OMG, how will this information impact our new home mortgage?” (Apparently my inner monolog sounds like a Valley Girl). When you hear about a business merger or leadership change, naturally people wonder how it will impact their job. But in order to really comprehend and connect with another person, take yourself out of the equation. Let’s say a co-worker is talking about a challenge with his or her boss. Rather than hijack the conversation with colorful stories about the three worst leaders you’ve encountered, focus solely on what that individual is trying to communicate. Ask clarifying questions. Hear their highest hopes, worst fears and let them know someone cares. Bottom-line, people often just want to be heard and acknowledged. Paying attention to their comments and offering the desired level of outrage/support/solutions being asked for forges stronger connections for both parties.

2. Tune out other distractions. Here’s a revolutionary idea…close your laptop and push away the smartphone during a discussion to give the person who is speaking your full attention. What was that, an outraged gasp at the notion of not checking for new texts every 17 seconds? As this NPR story posits, while technology is supposed to help people do more than one thing at a time, humans overall aren’t particularly good at multi-tasking. Turning away from your electronics to tune in to the conversation at hand is a smart idea. Giving someone your full attention increases engagement and connection with that individual, while increasing your retention of information.

3. Reinforce their key message points. Check in with the object of your conversation to ensure you fully understand what they are trying to express. While facilitating a recent strategic planning session, I reiterated the essence of each individual’s insights after they spoke, creating connections with other themes and discussion points being shared by the group. This practice allows people to confirm the intent of their messages and clarify points if needed – all while reinforcing how important their contribution is to the session.

4. Recognize what is unsaid. You don’t need psychic powers or a connection at WikiLeaks to understand what people aren’t saying but really mean. During my executive coaching certification program with the Coaches Training Institute, we learned there are three types of listening. Level 1 is all about you, focusing on what your inner voice is saying. In this place, thoughts like ‘I’m tired,” or “when will lunch arrive?” get in the way of fully absorbing the comments of the person before you. Level 2 is focusing intently on what the others are saying. Level 3, known as global listening, is about observing and understanding what remains unsaid. For example, an individual might say everything they are handling as part of the company’s massive ERP project is just dandy while their slumped shoulders, “deer-in headlights’ expression and re-emergence of a stress-related facial tick argues otherwise. Listening on level three means you take in what the person is saying and also factor in their body language, interactions with others in the room and known “life variables,” (you know, stuff like a new baby, change in relationship status, health concerns) to understand the full picture.

Have any advice to share about improving listening skills, or a story about the consequences of poor listening?

Shift your career into “rock star” mode with four lessons from Taylor Swift’s dating life

career advice from Taylor Swift's dating lifeWant to shift your career into “rock star” mode? Consider taking lessons from Taylor Swift’s dating life. On the work front, the 26-year-old has been a star for nearly a decade, helped change the way Apple Music pays artists for streaming and earned $80 million last year with 2014’s top-selling album/tour – all at an age when over 32% of millennials are still living at home with their parents. Impressive accomplishments indeed, regardless of your opinions about Swift (full disclosure, I’m a fan so shake it off, haters). When it comes to her personal life, there is a goldmine of career advice to be gleaned. Four tidbits include:

  1. Capitalize on unexpected opportunities. Swift has been in the headlines a lot lately for her new relationship with British actor Tom Hiddleston (star of the television show Night Manager, Loki from the Thor movie franchise and a much rumored successor to Daniel Craig’s James Bond in case you are a pop culture neophyte). Much of the media hype is due to announcing the breakup from previous boyfriend Calvin Harris just a few weeks before she and Hiddleston were spotted canoodling in public. Timing might not be ideal in terms of public perception, but this DNA-blessed duo decided to go for it. The same is true in your career. If you get the opportunity to lead a highly visible project ahead of others in the corporate hierarchy, go for it. When the job of your dreams appears two years ahead of schedule, embrace the opportunity. Be willing to jump in and claim what your heart desires at work.
  2. Share your enthusiasm. At a recent company meeting, I was delighted to learn how strongly committed one of our Vice Presidents is committed to sustainability when he asked thoughtful, informed questions about that topic although it falls outside of his functional area. Last week, a Manager in Finance with a passion for corporate culture took the initiative to research and create a presentation about engaging employees using more open, collaborative workspaces that emphasized natural lighting. Both of these individuals were already recognized for their excellent work. Sharing their thinking about areas outside of their job description makes them stand out even more. Swift doesn’t hesitate to share the highlights of relationships via Instagram and Twitter, understanding that it makes her more authentic and forges a deeper connection with fans.
  3. Use setbacks as creative inspiration. The pop-country crossover star scored a slew of number one hits inspired by relationships that didn’t end so well. Some of your best career insights can arise from work-related challenges and upheavals. According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 10% of the population was unemployed at the height of the Great Recession in October 2009. In 2015, major companies like American Express, Microsoft and Procter & Gamble had large workforce layoffs. Bottom-line, the chances are good that most of us have already or will face an involuntary job loss at some point. While devastating at the time, the change can force you to take a fresh perspective on what truly floats your boat at work. In addition, think about the great bosses that you want to emulate and other supervisors that inadvertently taught you how not to lead others. How have those experiences impact your behavior and relationships at work today?
  4. Surround yourself with support. From supermodels and actresses to fellow songbirds, Swift has a tight-knit group of BFF’s known as her “squad” that offer support and camaraderie during romantic highs and lows. Creating and nurturing a network of supportive co-workers, allies and mentors is essential to thriving long-term in your career. Have lunch with people from other departments you would like to collaborate with more. Give advice to job seekers in your field. Reach out to connect with others you admire via LinkedIn. Thank the individuals that have helped you along the way and stay in touch.

No doubt Taylor Swift has many music and business milestones ahead, all while we continue to read about her affairs of the heart. What behaviors or events have helped shift your career into “rock star” mode?

See it to achieve it: How to use visualization to succeed at work

bowling

Tips for visualizing success at work or play

If you are serious about bowling, you probably don’t want me on your team. Haven’t bowled in two decades and even then, didn’t score much higher than the typical highway speed limit. But in the name of team building, I went to an upscale bowling alley with a great group of co-workers in town for our company’s annual Key Leadership Summit. Started out with a couple of gutter balls, but then I paused and actively imagined myself doing better. By the second game, I hit two spares and broke a three-digit score for the first time in my life. While I’m not going to be recruited by the Professional Bowlers Association anytime soon, this quick shift made me think about the power of visualization.

Bottom-line, visualization is about “seeing it” – playing a circumstance out in your mind’s eye to achieve a desired outcome. Think it sounds too “new age” for the workplace? A growing number of corporate leaders use executive coaches, for whom visualization is a common coaching tool. According to TrackMaven CEO Allen Gannett, 39% of CEOs in an informal survey he conducted used an executive coach in the last 12 months, a proportion that increased dramatically as their companies scaled. Visualization is widely used in competitive environments worldwide. Many professional athletes use sports psychologists to visualize success before games and recently departed boxing icon Muhammad Ali talked frequently about seeing himself win a fight before he stepped into the ring.

Feeling inspired to try visualization at work? Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Focus on a clear goal. Let’s say you have a job in sales. There is a difference between having a generic goal of “landing new business” and a specific, well-defined objective of “securing $12 million worth of new annual, recurring revenue from two major industry players.” Brainstorm the attributes that you do, and conversely do not, desire to gain clarity on your objective. I use sales as an example, but it could be anything – aim to launch a new ERP system on deadline with minimal delivery disruptions, have all employees adopt a different payroll system within a 30 day period, etc.
  2. See yourself achieving this objective. A few practices to consider:
    • Paint a picture. Over 65% of the population are visual learners, so creating a visual reinforcement of yourself achieving the goal can be a great daily reminder. For example, you might search for multiple images online that represent your successful achievement. Going back to that $12 million sales goal, it could be represented by pictures of bags of money, the logos of sales targets, a picture of the resort in Tahiti you plan to visit after getting a major commission check and more pated into a PowerPoint presentation which you review weekly for inspiration. Or focus on one picture that says it all – a photo of an industry award that you’d like to win – and use it as your smart phone or laptop screen saver. Actor Jim Carrey, a big believer in visualization, wrote himself a $10 million check while he was a struggling actor to keep himself focused on the incredible success he rightly believed laid ahead. Whatever you choose, keep that visual in your line of sight or in a place where you check it regularly to reinforce your intention.
    • Word up. Some people, like me, thrive on words. So I often visualize by writing about a circumstance or desired end-state in my journal. Two years ago, I decided to look for a corporate job that let me combine my expertise in communications along with my certification in executive coaching. Some people thought I was bonkers after having my own PR firm for 13 years. But I knew that my passion had shifted to internal/corporate communications and culture, which was best done working within an organization. I started writing about what was desired in terms of job responsibilities, the opportunity to create new initiatives, the people I worked with, compensation and even the daily commute (which you have to consider in a traffic-clogged place like Atlanta).  It felt real, clear and I kept that positive vision alive by honing it frequently in my journal. Sometime in early September 2014, my journal entry visualization focused on receiving two great job offers on my birthday at the end of the month. Sure enough that is exactly what happened, and a great job beats a slice of cake any day in my world.
    • Audio reinforcement. I have also coached individuals who are motivated by audio and find that hearing a song or spoken word activates that feeling of success they seek. Does rocking out to “Eye of the Tiger” from the 1980’s or Justin Timberlake’s upbeat “Can’t Stop this Feeling” make you feel invincible when driving into work? Or does listening to a podcast from Oprah Winfrey , Tony Robbins, Les Brown or Warren Buffett inspired you to reach for maximum success? Listen to whatever floats your boat right before a big presentation or important meeting, thinking about the outcome you most desire. This tactic can get you pumped up and into the best mindset of achievement at the right time.
  3. Acknowledge victories. Visualizing success and then achieving exactly what you desire is an amazing accomplishment. Celebrate those milestone and let your gratitude act as rocket-fuel for future victories.

How have you used visualization at work? What was the outcome?

Want an engaged workforce? Get better at giving thanks!

improve employee engagement by giving thanksBefore traveling to a foreign country, I learn the local phrase for “thank you.” Taking that simple step inevitably leads to great service, whether I’m trying to find the nearest Pilates class, attempt not to look like a dork (too late for that) while sight-seeing or  convince a chef to make the perfect egg white omelet.  The same is certainly true in business. If you are looking to improve employee engagement, expressing thanks goes a long way in creating a motivated workforce.

This became crystal clear to me recently while conducting focus groups with the employees of our $2 billion supply chain management cooperative. Our nearly 1,700 team members are dispersed between  headquarters, seven distribution centers and 32 trucking hubs throughout the U.S. No matter who I talked to, people felt a lot more motivated when their hard work was noticed – and the absence of gratitude lead to a sense of disconnection.

That should be a given, right? Especially if your momma taught you good manners. But sometimes people get so caught up in our non-stop, 24/7 world that they forget to think about how their actions (or non-actions) impact others. That’s why I am sharing three ways to get better at thanking the individuals you work with:

1) Say it when you think it. How many times have you thought someone delivered outstanding service, but didn’t take the time to tell them? Most of us aren’t former members of the Psychic Friends Network (the pinnacle of cheesy 1990’s infomercials), which means we can’t read your mind. Taking 15 seconds to say “we can always count on you to process our expense reports quickly” or “thanks for your hard work in helping our customer solve a problem with their delivery today” makes an impression. Especially when you serve in a supervisory capacity with that individual or the company overall.

2) Pay attention to the details. You can tell someone that they rock at work. But going into detail about the WHY – your idea for a product reformulation saved the company $400,000, the sales presentation you created over the weekend helped us land a huge account – makes the gratitude expressed more meaningful. This focus is effective in one-on-one conversations and also on a big scale. For example,  InterContinental Hotels Group, a former consulting client of mine, has a terrific employee recognition program called BRAVO that lets team members recognize their peers, direct reports, supervisors and just about anyone in the organization. The more specific information submitted about why someone deserves this honor increases the chance of people receiving national recognition and prizes.

3) Be proactive. Look for the shining examples of excellence around you and let the world know about it. My husband came down with a bronchitis-type sickness recently and given that it was a Saturday, reluctantly headed to the local drug store medical clinic for treatment. But the nurse practioner running the place was outstanding and turned out to be a lot more on the ball than his regular doctor. After telling everyone about his good experience, Justin realized he needed to be more proactive in getting her recognized. So he called the Walgreen’s branch, got the practioner’s name, and wrote a heartfelt thanks to their customer service department that no doubt will impact her annual review and hopefully more. Pause for a moment to do the same at work. Let those rock stars in the warehouse, IT, marketing, human resources or any department know that you noticed in writing and copy their supervisor in the process. Tell communications so these people can get recognized in the employee newsletter and Intranet site. Spread the thanks, and you’ll be amazed at how it boomerangs right around into happier people and a better place to work.

When is the last time you expressed thanks at work? What impact did it have on others?

Express Yourself: Why Bringing More Personality to Work Promotes Greater Employee Engagement

FullSizeRender sheRA pixWhether Madonna sang about it, or the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed it, the freedom to express yourself resonates deeply with many of us. Like my 77-year-old mom, who laces her texts with pink hearts and kissy emoticons to express love or my buddies Rich and John, whose Halloween party costumes – ranging from ghosts from the Titanic to 1960’s flight attendants – can be legendary. But when it comes to work, many corporate managers balk at bringing their authentic selves to the office. However, here are three reasons why expressing your personality can actually promote greater employee engagement:

  1. Makes you more accessible. If you manage employees, regardless of whether it is three team members or 30,000, that authority can be intimidating to others. So can senior-level titles. Ever notice how people can clam up when the big boss walks into a room, worried about saying the wrong thing? Yet if your team isn’t sharing what is really happening in the business for fear of reprisals or looking bad, that hurts the company’s performance. Expressing your personality at work makes you more approachable. For example, Chief Operating Officer Gene Long is responsible for the national and international distribution activities for our $2 billion supply chain management cooperative. He’s a recognized industry thought leader and most of the company employees ultimately report to him. Instead of taking himself too seriously though, Gene diffuses tension by making funny, self-deprecating comments. His office features toy trucks representing all of the different fleets managed in his career and the day the Minionsmovie opened, he proudly wore a t-shirt with the animated characters to work. All of which makes him more accessible to employees and ultimately, more effective in his role.
  2. Gives employees “permission” to be themselves. Encouraging people to express their personality shows that you value them as individuals, not just for the job they perform on behalf of the company. With the U.S. economy approaching full-employment, people in high-demand jobs have more options than ever before. Especially when it comes to the 86 million millennials who will be in the workforce by 2020. They are driven by authenticity, as an employee as well as a consumer. Recognizing that as a positive attribute at work deepens one’s sense of loyalty and connection to the company.
  3. Creates a more positive, supportive culture. Getting to know the people you work with goes a long way in creating a collaborative environment. We kicked off the first-ever meeting of our Key Leadership Group (Directors, Vice Presidents and Executive Team) in April by asking participants to talk about a leader that has inspired them. Neil Degrasse Tyson, Sheryl Sandberg and Lou Gerstner were mentioned, along with Julia Child, King David from biblical times and one man’s adorable seven-year-old daughter who inspires him to be a better person each day. We learned something personal about each individual that created delight and a sense of connection. Honoring, encouraging and recognizing stories about team members who volunteer in the community, do something innovative at work, have an intriguing hobby and more is part of our internal communication effort because my company understands how it brings us all together.

Finally expressing yourself at work is great, as long as you keep it professional. Let’s say that you have a passion for magic tricks. Perhaps you express this subtly in your workspace décor, perform an act during the employee talent show or delight kids with a demo during “Bring Your Child to Work Day.” But you probably don’t want to start pulling pennies out of co-workers’ ears during a meeting on company layoffs or walk into a new business presentation with conservative potential clients wearing a top hat and cape.

BTW, I take my own advice here. During the 1980’s I gained the nickname She-Ra, Princess of Power, after the popular kid’s cartoon. My boss called me that one day at work last year and everyone had a good laugh. So I promptly hung a framed poster of the cartoon icon in my office to give anyone that walks by a chance to connect with an inviting conversation starter.

How do you bring your personality to work? What kind of impact has it had on others and your own career?

Four Ways to Love Yourself While Loving Your Job

iStock_000016251684_SmallIn developing business communications, I often quote  thought leaders like Albert Einstein, Jack Welch and Sheryl Sandberg. My all-time personal favorite quote  though comes right out of the mouth of Carrie Bradshaw during the final episode of Sex & the City – “The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the you that you love, well, that’s just fabulous.”

Those are sage words. I’m lucky enough to have a great husband who really loves me, even when I repeat tired jokes about impending zombie apocalypses and often eat 80% of the premium chocolate bar he bought for us to “share.”  But I have had to recalibrate another area of my life recently   – balancing a job I love with taking care of myself.

I returned to corporate America last October as the Executive Vice President of Communications for the National DCP, which is the $2 billion supply chain management cooperative serving the franchisees of Dunkin’ Donuts. (Yes, they stock our break rooms with goodies but I don’t have any samples to share.) The job has been like a Reese’s peanut butter cup of excitement for me – I have gotten to build our internal, external and corporate communications strategy from scratch while also leveraging my executive coaching skills at work each day.  Incredibly fast paced, the 24/7 environment never stops. I have been on the road for much of the past two months and given my level of responsibility, frequently work on weekends while constantly staying plugged into email and texts.

Exciting stuff, indeed. Until you realize that your healthy eating habits have left the building, normally high energy level has plummeted and the bags under your eyes wouldn’t fit in the airplane luggage bin. As I’ve been working on balancing my love for work with loving myself, here are some tips that are yielding results:

  1. Treat nutrition like a project plan. You’ve mapped out that new project launch in detail and know three quarters of financial forecasts like the back of your hand, but never give a thought to what you are going to eat each day. So diving into leftovers from another department’s catered breakfast or fast food discards tends to constitute most of your lunches. I’ve been planning ahead by bringing healthy lunches and two sets of snacks into work, which helps me pass up the leftover cookie pile. The same is true for work travel. Keeping natural protein bars or nuts in your briefcase or purse curbs your hunger in transit. If i know where our team is headed out for dinner, I will check out menus online in advance to select healthier options.
  2. Get enough sleep. This one can be hard, especially if you have to get up early and go to bed late after a work dinner. I love exercising before work but have realized that sometimes getting seven hours of sleep is going to do me more good than anything else and adjust my schedule. Plus its natural for sleep deprived souls to gravitate towards lots of caffeine and sugar to stay awake during the day so getting enough rest helps you make better choices.
  3. Start and end the day focusing on yourself. My best days are spent journaling, even for 10 minutes, before I go to the gym first thing and then work. At night, I try to stop checking emails an hour or two before bed and drift off reading a good book or listening to a positive recording.
  4. Take breaks and time off. My boss told us to book vacations in advance to ensure we keep our commitment to taking time off. So I listened to his advice and now have fun breaks scheduled for September and December; just writing about this makes me smile. But also try to balance the hard work with more frequent, smaller breaks. I have had to work a number of weekends recently and plan to take an upcoming Friday off to just focus on myself.

How have you handled making time for yourself with a challenging job? What practices keep you healthy and happy on a daily basis?

Eureka! Great ideas for locking in your “aha” moments and keen insights

easy-buttonEver had a brilliant idea or insight, only to get so lost in the swell of daily life – an impending work deadline, hungry kids, trying on 14 versions of little black dresses to find one that actually looks good for your high school reunion – that it slowly trickles out of your memory before you can do anything about it? It’s a pretty common occurrence in today’s 24/7 world. Who knows if Thomas Edison would have invented the light bulb if he was distracted by Twitter and I’m sure Marie Curie’s research on radioactivity would have suffered if she spent her weekends binging on the last season of “Orange is the New Black.” With a bit of foresight though, you can easily lock in those “aha” moments with these practices:

  1. Write it down. This means keeping a notepad and pen handy beside your bed, work desk, in your car and other places, or typing notes into your smart phone, to capture this lightening when it strikes. Jot enough notes that you can reconstruct that flash of brilliance when more time permits. For example, you might have a sudden insight on the best way to exercise despite an illness or recurring injury. Use keywords or an outline that will quickly remind you of the details that need to be filled in.
  2. Create a visual reminder. Many of my coaching clients are motivated by visual stimulation and memory. Recently one woman had some eureka moments about her career and love life that were centered around claiming what she wanted and taking chances. She came up with the visual reminder of a bottle of hot sauce, downloaded an image of her favorite brand online and then pasted it in several places, including as her computer screen saver, to serve as a reminder throughout the day. Your talisman can be a piece of jewelry, a photo or whatever floats your boat. A few years ago a friend gave me an “easy” button from an office supply store (you see an image of it pictured above) to help me remember success doesn’t have to be hard. It lives on my desk and I press it, enjoying the little voice that says “that was easy,” whenever that concept needs to be reinforced.
  3. Add embodiment. The truth is that emotions show up in so many places in our physical selves. When I keep thoughts bottled inside and don’t speak my mind, it usually ends up triggering a constricted throat or labored breathing that disappear once the emotions have been expressed or acknowledged. Let’s say that you realized that speaking authentically from your heart is going to improve your relationship with your spouse but then resentment over trash not taken to the curb or dirty dishes left in the sink starts to slither in. In this case, you might want to put your hand over your heart, sort of like delivering your own pledge of allegiance to love, as a reminder about what you truly feel.

What great ideas, realizations or insights have you had lately? How do you lock those moments in to help you achieve what your heart desires?