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.

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?

A “Can Do” Attitude, or Fake it ‘Til you Make It

December 9, 2010 at 7:30 am | Posted in Career Moves | 10 Comments
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We all get overwhelmed sometimes.  Our “to do” lists, seem never ending and for someone like me, you don’t want to talk to me until I cross a few things off.  But when it comes to your personal “to do” list, you only have to answer to you.  Most people have to report to someone when it comes to their work “to do” list.

My company has been working hard to define our job descriptions to ensure we are meeting the needs of the organization.  It’s a work in progress, so flexibility is a must.  So that’s why I was caught off guard when I asked one of my colleagues if she wanted to talk to her supervisor about taking on a project that I knew was in her job description and she said no.  No? What do you mean no?

Now, let me back up for a second because I’m sure some of you are wondering why I would be making this suggestion to a colleague.  No, she doesn’t report to me, which is why I kindly asked her to talk to her supervisor about it, because I knew it was something that needed to be done and it was her supervisor’s job to help her manage her workload.  But I happen to know that this particular project has historically had no coordination and she was hired specifically for projects such as this one.  For the greater good of the organization, I wanted to ensure there was a process in place for this project.

So back to this strange answer “no.”  Firstly, she didn’t say “no” flat out. She gave me some long excuse about her other work and how she didn’t feel she had the capacity for this project (the project doesn’t demand much attention right now, but it will demand some, come Spring).  Whatever the case, she basically wouldn’t take the assignment and I was dumbfounded.

I don’t think I have ever said no to a project that was within my scope of work. I’ve said, “it’s on my list, but not a priority,” but never no.  It’s actually this “can do” attitude that has gotten me as far as I am in my career.

It’s not that I know how to do everything.  I have taken on many projects where I actually didn’t know how to do the assignment (not how to go about it, literally didn’t have the skills in place to do it).  Did I know how to do simple animation before my old company required it?  Did I have any design skills prior to my first job?  Had I ever built a web site from scratch before a client needed it?  Could I write a one page document on just a few sentences of information?  I said yes to these projects time and time again knowing that I’d be able to use critical thinking skills to figure out the answers. It was my own personal professional development.

You don’t ever have to stop learning, but if you say no in the work place, people won’t come back to you because they will feel like they cannot rely on you. Not a reputation you want in the workplace.

I always try to follow this advice: you gotta fake it until you make it.  If you don’t challenge yourself, then don’t expect to progress in your career.  Unless of course you are satisfied with status quo.  I know I’m not.

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