Want to be a leader? Get thrown in the fire

May 24, 2011 at 7:31 am | Posted in Career Moves | 2 Comments
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In about two months I will be entering into uncharted territory in my career.  At the command of her unborn child, my boss will be out on maternity leave, leaving me alone without the support and guidance I have grown used to.

Working in a department of one, and then one and a half, plus my boss, who also oversees two other departments, I often turn to my boss as a sounding board, as a partner, as a second set of eyes, as the person making the final big decisions.  I’m still feeling out what decisions I can make and the processes I should follow to get things approved.  It’s complicated and every situation is different.  I also count on my boss to be my ears with the rest of leadership, who often don’t share all the information they have with the minions.  My boss shares a lot of this with me, because it does effect my work.

So I’m losing my crutch.  That’s the part that I have to get used to. And that’s where the opportunity lies.  This is my chance to flex my leadership muscles, to step up to the plate and make decisions when I should and turn to higher ups when appropriate.

This is kind of a big deal, and definitely interesting timing.  My boss is missing our annual conference, and the conference planner just quit.  This is definitely going to be interesting.

So I’m definitely worried, but I know I’ll be ok.  At my last job, my supervisor called me over the Christmas break to tell me she shattered her ankle falling off a scooter.  She was out for 3 months on disability and I had no warning, so I’ve been without a leader before, but somehow this seems different, probably because I feel like I have a lot of opportunity for growth this time around.  My organization is very innovative and good at recognizing hard work, and everyone knows how much I rely on my boss, so hopefully people will be kind to me.

So this is going to be interesting.  I hope I learn a lot from this experience and I hope my colleagues take notice.  I am a leader, I know I am.  And this is my opportunity.

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Don’t Call Me Ma’am

May 10, 2011 at 7:36 am | Posted in Life and Living | 10 Comments
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Last week, I was on a business trip attending an event with a lot of high school students.  Upon my arrival, I was informed that they would be publicly acknowledging my presence on stage.  I was happy to have the heads up for this, because I know that otherwise I would have really been a deer in headlights.  But being a young adult, I have some brain cells that still think and act like a high school student, and on top of that, I still look like a high school student.  I was imagining what all those teens were thinking when they made this special announcement.  Who is that girl? She looks like she’s our age.

And I really did.  It was an event where the students were dressed in business attire, so you literally couldn’t tell the difference, which is not a good thing.  I don’t want to be confused for a high school student, but at the same time, I don’t want to be looked at as ancient either.  So what’s the happy medium?  What does a young adult look like? How come one minute I can be confused for a 17 year old and the next I am being called ma’am.

I hate that.  Being called ma’am.  It really stings.  Do I look old enough to be a ma’am?  Do I look young enough to still be carded?  That’s cool. Keep carding me, but please call me miss. Pretty please?  Because at this point, I’d rather be thought of as younger than older for the most part, although in the professional world, I like to try to appear older so I seem to have more experience, so that people are confident in my work and trust me.

So, I’m young, but I have experience so I’m a pro, okay?  I’m a seasoned professional who is under thirty. Is that okay? Does that work for you?  Give me the respect of someone with 20 years of experience but don’t talk to me like I’m using the senior special.  There has to be an appropriate language to use when referring to a 20 something professional.  I guess it doesn’t help that I work in education.  Luckily, I’m not in the classroom.  If I were in the classroom being called Ms. or Mrs. or whatever, I don’t know what I’d do.

But that will happen.  At some point, I will likely lose the use of my first name almost completely.  But I have a ways to go before that happens.  So for now, if you don’t know my name and don’t care to ask, please call me miss.  Thanks!

Can’t Take the Heat? Get out of the Board Room

February 10, 2011 at 7:34 am | Posted in Career Moves | 8 Comments
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photo via drewjpowell.wordpress.com

As I may have mentioned in passing, I work for an organization focused on preparing high school students for college and career success. So every so often I actually get to see what we preach in action.  This week, I was invited to attend and judge presentations students were making in order to recruit other students to attend events.  As a communications pro, I’ve done many a presentation and of course have studied the art of presenting through sources including Andy Goodman’s Why Good Presentations Happen to Bad Causes. Public speaking is certainly an important skill for anyone to learn and the fact that these kids have real business people to provide feedback certainly gives them the edge.

So some of the presentations were pretty good, and some could use improvement.  But what really surprised me was the students’ capacity to take criticism.  There was one girl in particular who had something to say about everyone’s work.  She said it tastefully for the most part, but many people would still have taken it as a personal offense.  Not these kids. These kids were handled it with poise and grace.

In my career, I have had my work torn apart time and time again.  I used to have my emails edited before I contacted clients.  I’ve had articles come out completely unrecognizable on the other side of the editing process.  In college, when I got my work critiqued, it got to the point where I would give up on pieces where there seemed to be no end to the editing process.  I have learned in my career how to take criticism.  I know many who haven’t.

The problem with not being able to take criticism is that you will never get better.  You think that you know everything and that’s it.  You can’t learn from others and thus, you can’t really teach anyone anything.  You become a non-expert and can even become obsolete.

I have worked with all different types of people – inspiring people that you want to learn from, tough bosses, people who don’t really get what you do, slow learners, fast learners.  But it is the people who whine that get me the most.  I just don’t get it.  You never see whiners become CEOs, even if they whine their way into getting a promotion.  It just doesn’t happen.

Let me be clear in saying that there have been times in my professional career where I have gotten emotional over criticism.  It happened once recently and it was because I felt as though my toes were being stepped on and it was out of the blue so I wasn’t prepared.  But I don’t get upset when someone critiques my work (unless I know they have no idea what they are talking about).

The important thing to remember is that they are critiquing your work and not you.  Just because you completed an assignment that wasn’t up to par with the standards set forth doesn’t mean I don’t want to go to happy hour with you.  We’re adults. Let’s deal with this like adults.  If a bunch of high school kids can, can’t we?

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