Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Importance of Taking A Vacation

Taking A Break Pays Off!

By Mary Abbajay

As great as a week (or two) at the beach sounds, would you believe that one-third of working Americans will not use all of their allotted vacation time this year? And if they do, half of the time they take their work with them. Sure, the economy is rough and many of us are holding on to our jobs for dear life, but come on. Take that vacation already. Here’s why.

The American Way

What is it about Americans? About 40 percent of American workers don’t take any vacation at all. Twenty-five percent of American workers don’t even get vacation time. In the industrialized world, Americans rank last in terms of vacation. We average two weeks a year while Europeans average six.

While the current economic situation may affect how and where people vacation, it is probably having a residual effect of the simple act (and paid perk) of taking a vacation. People may actually be afraid to take their vacation time for fear it will make them look less dedicated, or give someone else an opportunity in their place, or are simply afraid to leave their company for any reason, be it self importance or inertia.

But the fact of the matter is that taking a vacation is a proven way to reduce stress and rejuvenate yourself. You may be afraid to do it, but you will be much better off for it.

The Benefits of a Vacation

Imbibing fruity drinks is not only the only benefit to a vacation. Studies show again and again that vacations reduce stress, promote creativity, stave off burnout, strengthen personal and familial relationships and help job performance. Vacations de-stress and re-charge. Seriously, vacations are an absolute physical and emotional necessity. We are healthier for it, by sleeping more, eating better, maybe even exercising a bit. We get away from work, and that is a good thing.

Every management guru (and good boss) knows that taking frequent breaks from work promotes better brain activity and creative thinking. When someone is exhausted or stressed, their mind shuts down to the point where they are no longer productive or effective. So you have to occasionally get away from work to be the most productive at work. Most high-tech companies have this figured out, which is why they feature lavish and funky break rooms with baristas, couches, scooters, massage therapists, video games and the like to help their employees disconnect and recharge.

The yearly two-week vacation is the equivalent to the fifteen-minute break in the workday; it is an essential component to one’s mental and physical health, and the hallmark of a productive person. What are you waiting for?

Making the Most of It

Now that you are convinced of the imperative of taking a vacation, it is essential to remember that not all vacations are created equal. What’s great for one person may be a nightmare for another. And some vacations may actually cause more stress and make you worse off. Like to lie around and do nothing? Then that ambitious trek through all the cathedrals of Northern Europe may not be the trip for you. Conversely, if you are a type A who loves to go go go, then two weeks on a remote beach may make you crazy. The vacation you take should match not just your interest but your energy level as well.

By the same token, what you take on vacation is important, too. By that I mean try not to take your work with you. Why are you taking your Blackberry and laptop with you? Unless you are running your own business, where your absence will be detrimental, you are not getting paid to respond to emails and voicemails. So leave the work gadgets behind. However, for some people, just knowing that they can stay connected might help them alleviate the anxiety of even taking a vacation. In that case, by all means, take them with you. Remember: the point of a vacation is not necessarily to do nothing. The point is to disconnect and disengage yourself from your work.

If you are a business owner put someone in charge. If you have to take your gadgets with you, try to use them for monitoring and updates, rather than running the show. Try to observe, rather than involve yourself.

It’s also important to know yourself well enough to know what length of vacation will work best for you. Some people like to take one big one, while others like to take lots of four-day weekends. It’s all about you and how quickly you can disconnect from work. Several short vacations throughout the year can be as beneficial as one good long one. Whatever recharges your batteries best is what you should do.

And you should take the time to lay the groundwork for your vacation. A few weeks before your vacation (after you’ve cleared it with your boss), inform your colleagues, clients and anyone else who may be impacted by your absence when and how long you will be gone. Make sure those who need to know, know. Make a list of all your current projects and their status. Ensure that your back up is clear about where to find all information. Make sure you put an away message on your email, phone, and cell phone, and be clear about your time frame. And be sure to include a contact person for your absence. Make sure your office knows under what circumstances you should be reached. And finally, you have to trust your colleagues to manage things while you are gone. It’ll be OK. Honestly.

Getting Back to Work

The hardest part about taking a vacation is coming back and returning to hundreds of papers, emails and voicemails. But you don’t have to face Monday morning with dread.

First of all, try to return a full day ahead of your scheduled return to work so that you can catch up at home. If I am going to be on vacation and return to work on a Monday, I try to get home by Saturday so that I have all day Sunday to get my house in order – unpack, check and answer messages, do laundry, sort through the mail, grocery shop, etc. That way, when I return to work, at least my home front is back in order.

On Monday, start early. Try to arrive before others so that you can get a jump on things without being distracted. Turn off your vacation responders or change your messages. Then, start with e-mails. Go through them quickly, deleting junk and prioritizing the rest. Ditto the mail and your messages. Then, schedule an appointment with your boss or assistant for later in the morning

to bring you up to date quickly. And instead of having a half dozen conversations with colleagues about your trip, try to get everyone together at once over coffee or lunch. Don’t let being away suck you into a stressful, overworked situation from the get-go. Just prioritize and stay focused. And remember to take a break.

You can hear Mary discuss this topic on the radio. Click on The Working Life audio:

Mary Abbajay is a partner in the Careerstone Group, a full service organizational and leadership development consultancy that specializes in creating effective, productive and positive workplaces where high-engagement meets high performance. She can be reached at

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Managers Help Employees Cope

This week in the Washington Business Journal, Jennifer Nycz-Conner writes about how managers can help employees cope with the extra workload created by lay-offs and hiring freezes. I was honored to be included in crafting advice for managers.

You can read the full article here:

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Partnership Paradox: How to Choose a Business Partner

The Partnership Paradox
How to Choose a Partner and Manage the Partnership

Starting your own business is an enormous undertaking. The to-do list seems endless, as does the number of decisions you must make. One of the most critical, strategic decisions you will make is whether to take a partner. This is one of the earliest and most important decisions entrepreneurs face. This choice will have a lasting impact on not only the success of the business, but on your emotional health as well.

Horror stories abound about the partner from hell and about partnerships gone wrong. Deciding whether to take a partner and choosing the right one is a strategic imperative, and if given proper focus and consideration, you can make the right choice, one that can have a profoundly beneficial impact on your business.

Do You Need a Partner?

The first thing to do is assess your situation and decide if you need a partner. Statistically speaking, businesses started by partners do better than businesses started by individuals, but that doesn’t mean your situation warrants or will be benefitted by a partnership.
Sometimes going it alone is the right course of action

There are many benefits to going it alone. First, it certainly is simpler. As president and chief executive, you'd have the authority to make crucial decisions and shape the future of your company without having to reach agreement with another individual or a group. Of course, this can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whether you work better as a consensus builder or as a maverick. If you're a sole proprietor you can brainstorm with employees and advisers, but ultimately company decisions and responsibilities will rest on your shoulders.

Second, without a partner, you will own it all. You won’t have to share the business's wealth, rewards or achievements. You will have complete control and complete recognition. Third, you won’t have any emotional ties with anyone and no conflicts or issues (personal or professional) to resolve with a partner. If you have the resources, the experience and the wherewithal, you should seriously consider going it alone.

On the other hand, there are many benefits to forming a partnership, including sharing the financial burden, the responsibilities and work load; benefitting from your partner’s experience, skill set and network; and added capital contributions. With a partner, you share the risk and the rewards, the breaks and the burden.

A partner can also provide valuable psychological, motivational and emotional support during tough business times. You can help each other out, lean on each other and work together to reach a shared goal. Two heads can be better than one.

So, the first step is to get clear on whether you need a partner or not. To do this, ask yourself these questions to assess your situation. Be honest -- there’s a lot at stake:
  • What are my goals?
  • What are my strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are my skill sets?
  • What skills or experience do I need for this business to succeed?
  • What are my financial resources?
  • What do I need to reach my goal, and where/how will I get it?

A critical assessment of what you have, what you need and where you want to go will determine if you can go it alone, if you need to take a partner and what you need to look for in a partner. If all you need is money, find investors or get a loan. If all you need is marketing or web or graphics capabilities, look for a good hire. But if you determine that you can reach your goal best with a partner, go for it.

It’s Like a Marriage, Only with a Bottom Line

In many ways, a business partnership is like a marriage. As with a spouse, you and your business partner are throwing your lots together and working toward a common goal. The qualities of a good marriage are virtually identical to those in a good, productive business partnership. You will likely get out what you put in. A good partnership requires:

A shared vision and goal
Mutual hard work
Open communication
Mutual respect
A balance of power
Effective conflict resolution

Like a marriage, a business partnership is not a decision to take lightly. There is a lot at stake here – money, time, effort, emotions. In addition, you’ll be spending many of your waking hours working with this person, so you’ll have to develop an effective working relationship. Choose well.

The Pitfalls

People make the same mistakes over and over again when choosing a business partner. We choose people either too much like ourselves or we choose people who are so different than ourselves that we are in constant conflict. Oftentimes two people who are technically brilliant start a business but neither has a head for numbers, a knack for rainmaking or any idea how to run a company.

People also rush the decision, which can be catastrophic for your mental and financial health. But perhaps the biggest mistake is not in the choice of partner but in how the partnership is structured and managed. Many partnerships do not get started on the proper, structured footing, with all the roles ad responsibilities spelled out. This is a critical. Partners should agree on the vision and the goal and should know who is doing what, the chain of command, etc. From the beginning.

And now a word about partnering with friends and family. This is rife with danger. Walk this line very, very carefully. Whoever coined the phrase, “It’s not personal, it’s business,” never had a business partner. With partners, it’s almost always personal on some level and at some point in the relationship. And if your partner is a friend or family member, it’s personal from the get-go.

Family and friendship dynamics will always seep in. If and when
something goes awry in the business (and it will), it will affect your relationship. And if something goes wrong in your family or friendship, it will affect your business (and your employees). There is very often little or no separation between family and friendships and the business.

While friends and family are often likely and good candidates for business partners, be aware of and consider the many pitfalls. If your partner is your brother or best friend, it is extremely difficult to keep personal issues out of the business, and business issues out of the personal. This is not to say that it can’t be done, but it is to say that you should be very wary of this approach.

I have seen this work brilliantly and I have seen it end very badly. Personally, I’ve been business partners with family members and friends several times, with varying degrees of success. I lost a very dear friend, who was a business partner at the time, over a business disagreement. On the other hand, I had an immensely fruitful and successful business relationship with my sister for 15 years. What was the difference? Well, I always said it worked because my sister and I had a lifetime of experience fighting and making up! But I think crystal clear goals, expectations and responsibilities helped make our partnership a success. Just be careful.

The How’s of Choosing a Partner

The next step is to choose your partner. In the first section, you determined your goals, analyzed your strengths and weaknesses and determined what you need to reach your goal. Now it’s time to choose a partner. Start by reviewing the answers to the questions you asked in the first section, the ones that assessed your strengths, weaknesses and goals. Now, think about what you need and draw up a set of criteria that you're looking for. You will use these criteria to judge potential partners later. The criteria must include a person’s:

  • Skills
  • Experience
  • Network
  • Financial investment potential or stability
  • Personality
  • Relationship needs

Ask yourself:
  • Is there someone who can help me reach my goals?
  • What are his or her strengths and weaknesses?
  • What does/doesn’t he/she bring to the table?
  • Do we have the same value system?
  • What is his/her work ethic?
  • Will she/he complement, duplicate or hinder me?

Think about the criteria and the questions carefully. The goal is to choose a partner who complements your skills, not duplicates them. For example, if you are terrible at sales, then you should focus on someone for whom sales is a strong suit.

Think about the personality traits you can and can't work with
This requires you being really honest about who you are and what you bring to the table. Are you a control freak? If so, be honest about it and pick someone who isn’t a control freak! Two control freaks may not work well together. Similarly, are you a big picture/pie-in-the-sky type? Then you might want to pick somebody more detail-oriented and grounded. Are you a fast decision maker or do you like to think, think, think? Picking someone who is a slow decision maker might be a good thing or it might drive you crazy.

Also, what kind of relationship or psychological support do you need in the relationship? Do you want someone who is warm and nurturing? Do you want someone who is all business? Determine what type of person you want to work with and go from there.

Most importantly, pick someone who is as excited and as driven as you are to make this business idea a success. And pick someone whose work ethic matches your own. Find out early on whether your partner thinks a six-day workweek is to short or likes to punch out on Thursday and breeze back in on Monday.

Who NOT to Pick

Just as there are many qualities to look for in a partner, there are some obvious and not so obvious red flags, too.

First and foremost look at the person’s finances. You may not need a partner who brings any investment to the table, but you do not want to choose someone who is financially unstable. This is harsh but true: financial troubles often indicate a person who lacks discretion, self-control and good judgment. Running a business requires careful and sound financial decision making, and someone who has shown a lack of this in their personal life may not be the best choice for a business partner. Your partner doesn’t have to be a millionaire or possess MBA-type skills, but he or she does have to be financially mature and responsible. Furthermore, it may be some time before your new venture makes money, and if your partner comes into it desperate, it won’t be a good working relationship.

Second, pick someone who is mature and stable. Avoid people who are flaky or skittish or who have a history of flakiness. How can you tell? Well, have they had problems committing to other jobs or projects? Do they have a good reputation or a bad one? Can they commit and stick to your new venture?

Along those same lines, pick someone for whom drama is something they watch on TV, not a mantra for their personal lives. We all know people who thrive on drama. They should not be your partner. Also avoid people with a lot of personal baggage. Starting and running a business requires 100 percent of your attention. If someone is a drama king or queen, or who is distracted by their personal life, they will detract from your success. Avoid choosing them.

How about a maverick? Well, mavericks tend to be confident, self assured and energetic. But mavericks can also be a problem. They often shoot from the hip, don’t think things through and, by their very nature, are not good collaborators (that’s why they are mavericks). Tread lightly. I personally would never choose a maverick as a business partner.

Other red flags to seriously consider include if the person doesn’t listen well; doesn’t have strong emotional intelligence; has poor morals or ethical standards; doesn’t play well with others; doesn’t have a strong network or networking skills; has legal or emotional problems; is boastful or otherwise full of himself. These and any quality that rubs you the wrong way are all red flags. Pay attention to them because the problems that nag at the back of your mind now will be magnified 100 fold when that person becomes your partner.

Put a Ring on It

Or, in this case, legalize it. You’ve found a business partner you know and respect and you want to start a business together. Great. Now put everything in writing. Don’t be complacent or lulled into thinking that nothing could go wrong, that a handshake and mutual respect will be enough for your partnership. This is business; you need legal documents that spell everything out and that protect you and your partner from each other and the vagaries of business.

Luckily, none of these documents is rare or unusual. They are standard documents that can be procured on-line and customized or may be drafted for a nominal fee from any corporate lawyer.

First and foremost, you need a partnership agreement. This is a document that spells out the partnership and includes everything from how you’ll raise money to how you’ll divide responsibilities. It usually includes a buy-sell agreement, which spells out who can sell what and to whom, if one partner is given first right of refusal for the other’s shares. Etc. The agreement also often includes a non-compete agreement in case one partner leaves. Partnership agreements can and should also spell out bonuses, benefits, perqs, sick-time, continuing education, profit taking, what happens if a partner dies, voting rights, shares and sweat equity, etc.

There are many, many things to think about and as much of it as possible should be spelled out in your partnership agreement. You need to put it in writing. Discussing it and agreeing to terms is not enough; your agreement and partnership must be formalized in a legal document. I cannot stress this enough. Don’t skip this because you are friends or afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. This is business. Put it in writing. You must try to consider everything – especially the worst-case scenario – and cover it. It is money well spent to hire an experienced corporate attorney to draft an agreement for you.

Remember, a partnership can be the foundation of your business or it can be your complete undoing. But if you assess strategically, choose wisely, and manage effectively, your partnership can be the cornerstone of your business, and of your success.

You can hear Mary discuss this topic on the radio:

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

How to Simplify Your Work Life

Simplifying Your Work Life

Today’s workplace can feel like a constant assault on the senses. Think of all the tasks confronting you during a typical workday: emails, texts, phone calls, messages, answering questions from team members barging into your workspace, and so on. And that's before you even begin to tackle actual work. It’s enough to make your head spin. But you can master your work life, your workload and your work environment with a few simple strategies.

The Blackberry Jungle

For many reasons, today’s workers are far more stressed than ever before. Long commutes, more work, longer hours and new technologies all conspire to make us stressed and overwhelmed. Despite promises to the contrary, modern technology has actually increased the amount of work we have and do, and it reaches us 24-7. Think about how much more is done electronically, and how many more interactions you have on a daily basis because of technology. Blackberries (or the equivalent) at the ready, we are all barraged with a constant stream of texts, tweets, e-mails and messages. It’s more work, it’s more immediate and it never ends.

Six months ago, everyone talked about how to achieve “work-life balance.” But today, with a faltering economy and unemployment nearing 10 percent, it is increasingly hard to talk about work-life balance when there are millions of people who would give their right arm to have a job and the problem of balancing their work and their lives.

But that doesn’t change the fact that workers are still stressed and overwhelmed at work. Many people are overloaded by technology and by the environment in which they work. And it is causing an unhealthy imbalance in the working lives of many, both on the job and off. You do need to simplify your working life, not just to find balance, but also to do a better job. You may need to simply your working life if:
  • You feel completely stressed at work
  • You feel overwhelmed with too much on your plate
  • Your productivity is decreasing due to an inability to handle your projects
  • No matter how many hours you put in, you don’t seem to get out from under your pile of projects
  • You find yourself spending too much time on things that just aren’t priorities

But there are simple ways to simplify. Here’s how.

First, create space. Studies show that your physical environment has enormous impact on your wellbeing, productivity and intellectual abilities. Your workspace should work for you, not against, and this is why this is a perfect place to start. The very first thing to do is to simply your work environment. Think of it as spring cleaning – get rid of the clutter, organize your workspace and jettison things that are distracting you. Not only will simplifying your workspace help you become more productive, it will also provide a powerful psychological support system for keeping your work life simplified. Very often, clutter begets clutter, in your organizational skills and in your thinking. So, by clearing out the clutter, you will be less distracted and more focused. This is a good place to start, in large measure because you will see results immediately.

The key to simplifying your workspace is to streamline, edit and minimize. Your workspace should be as minimal and efficient as possible. It should have few distractions and no clutter. Look around your workspace:
  • How many things are on your desk?
  • How many things are on the walls of your office or cubicle?
  • How cluttered is your computer desktop?
  • Are there piles of things on your desk or your floor?
If you have a lot of clutter, chances are it is creating or contributing to inefficiencies and distractions in your work life. The key is to create a clutter-free distraction-free, stress-free and productive workspace. First, organize your computer desktop. Move things off that do not need your attention. Too many files on your desktop are visually confusing and a sign of poor organization. Only keep on your computer desktop the files you are using that day or need the most. Move the rest off. And organize them while you’re at it.

Next edit your walls and the surface of your desk. Does all that stuff really need to be there? Yes, you want a few personal and inspirational items, but you only need a few. Pick two and get rid of the rest. What papers or files are on your desk? Decide what you need and file the rest away. They will be close at hand if you need them, but they don’t need to be on your desk, do they? Also, organize your tools. Do you really need a stapler, tape and paper clips on your desk? Put them in a drawer. Move as much as you can off your desk. Keep only the things you absolutely need in front of you, and a personal item or two. That’s it. Put the rest away.

Now, Prioritize Your Work

Once you have streamlined your work environment, you can get back to work. And you must start by prioritizing your workload. Setting priorities is absolutely essential when you have too much on your plate. Look at all your projects and determine the method of prioritization. If you are self-employed, use whatever system aligns with your business. For example, most of my work is based on a deliverable – facilitating a conference, a meeting or a workshop; delivering a keynote address; etc. So due dates are my big thing, and I prioritize my workload based on due date of the deliverable and the amount of time each project will take. Many projects have more immediate dates, but don’t require much work, so my priority list isn’t always in order of due date. I also reevaluate the list often.

If you work in an organization, your supervisor or manager should direct or help you prioritize your workload. You should meet with them to go over your projects and find out what the company or department’s priorities are. When a new project is assigned you should bring up existing projects, go over your workload and reevaluate all of your priories. You should always, always have a clear understanding of this, and you must work with your manager to stay clear on your priorities. People who are afraid to have this conversation with their supervisors are not going to be able to simplify their work life.

And it’s a simple conversation, not a complaint that you can’t get something done or a demand that they give you less work. What you are doing is asking for clarity. Make a list of your projects or workload, go in to see your supervisor and simply say, “I have a lot of going on right now and I would like to go over everything with you so that I am sure I have my projects prioritized properly to meet your expectations.”

You also need to fully understand the project in order to understand the amount of time it will take to deliver. You cannot accurately and effectively prioritize unless you have a clear idea of how long the project will take. As a consultant, I see many people who complain that they are unclear about priorities but, in fact, the real problem is that they failed to correctly assess the amount of time required to complete a project or the importance of the project, and then they are in a constant state of crisis. Make sure you understand the project, how long it will take and then and make sure you understand where it falls on your manager’s priority list.

The Technology Trap

If technology is supposed to make our lives so much simpler, how come we are all working more? And how come we are plugged in all the time? Well, you don’t have to be. Like the clutter on your desk, you have to be judicious about the type of technology you use and how and when you use it. You can simplify here, too.

The first thing to do is take a good hard look at the different technologies you utilize to complete your work. Now, ask yourself this simple question: does this make my work life easier or more difficult? Does it save me time or does it take longer? Which technologies make your work life simpler, more efficient and more effective and which ones actually make it harder or take up too much of your time unnecessarily? For example, is your new PDA really making your life simpler or is it adding a new level of unnecessary complexity? Ask yourself, do I really need to text, e-mail or call John in accounting? Can I walk down the hall and ask him the question? Do I need to start what could be an endless and unnecessary stream of electronic messages when I could have my answer in a minute with a little physical effort or a phone call?

There is a mini backlash going on right now, where people are forgoing fancy tech gadgets for old-fashioned methods – like getting up from their desks and meeting people face to face, keeping day timers, using Rolodexes and index cards, keeping to do lists on notepads, using the telephone, etc. The problem with technology is that you fall into a trap of relying on it for things that may be better and more efficiently handled the old-fashioned way. Decide what actually works for you, and use it. Lose the rest.

Personal Strategies

In terms of your physical work habits, the most important way to begin to simplify your work life is to be realistic about what you can accomplish, both in terms of time and skills. You must know what is important and what isn’t. Then, focus on what is important and let go of the rest.

You also need to learn to say no. If you are completely swamped, say so. Perhaps you can renegotiate the projects you already have or get someone to help with your workload. Just don’t be afraid to say no, whether it’s at work or at home. Be wary about making promises. It is easier and far better to say no at the beginning than to get out of an agreement later.

When you do have a project, seek clarity on assignments and expectations. Find out exactly what they expect from you and what will satisfy their requirements. These are called the conditions of satisfaction, and you should understand them from the beginning.

If you are working with others on a project, you have to determine who is the point person, and if no one wants to take charge, think about stepping up to the plate. Everyone should be on the same page, in terms of what the project is, what the conditions of satisfaction are, who is doing what and when, and when the project is due. Make sure you and others on the team are crystal clear about timelines, expectations, and the criteria for success and completion. In order to succeed and work effectively, you have to be able to communicate properly with each other. And if you have a problem with a member of the team, don’t go over their head. First, talk to them about what you see as the problem.

By simplifying your work life with these strategies, you can be far more productive and much less stressed at work. Start small – maybe start by cleaning off your desk and organizing your computer desktop. Then build to a point where you can prioritize your projects and work on them with focus and clarity. Minimize distractions – physical, visual, technological. By simplifying your work life, you will increase your productivity. And your sanity.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Successful Summer Intern Programs!

The Working Life: Making Your Intern Program Work for You

For many businesses, summer means a swarm of seasonal student interns. These youngsters bring energy, cheap labor and knowledge about the latest technologies into the workplace. Managing short-term, college-age workers can pose a unique set of challenges, though. With some effort, you can ensure that your company’s intern program is valuable, effective and worthwhile, for everyone.

The Typical Internship

Almost every type of organization uses internships, from small businesses to large government agencies. Interns are usually college or university students, but they can also be high school students or post graduate adults seeking skills for a new career. Internships are popular and desirable, for both the intern and the employer.

For the intern, it is an opportunity to gain experience in the field, determine if they have an interest in a particular career, create a network of contacts, or gain school credit. For the employer, internships provide cheap or free labor for (typically) low-level tasks and also the prospect of interns returning to the company after completing their education and requiring little or no training. It’s a great way to get quality work while at the same time developing a pipeline of future talent. It’s a win-win for both intern and employer.

Internships can be paid or unpaid. Paid internships are most common in the medical, science, engineering, law, business, accounting, finance, technology and advertising fields. Internships in not-for-profit organizations such as charities and think tanks are often unpaid positions. Internships may be part-time or full-time. Typically they are part-time during the school year and full-time in the summer.

What Makes a Great Program
The intern program is an incredibly valuable and important business tool. A great internship program covers four elements:

Element 1: Clear goals and purposes
Element 2: Structure and strategies to meet those goals
Element 3: Management support and buy-in
Element 4: The experience of the interns

In order to establish and maintain a successful program, those four elements must be assessed regularly. Your program is expensive in terms of time and dollars, so regular evaluation needs to be part of the strategy.

When evaluating an internship program you need to focus on how well you are delivering on the four major elements. This is crucial. Here are the questions you have to ask and answer for each element:

Element 1: Clear goals and purposes: Determine what you want to get out of the program. What are the goals and purposes? What do we want to get out of it? Is it recruiting and training new talent? Hiring cheap summer help? Marketing our company?

Element 2: Structure and strategies to meet those goals: How are we meeting these goals? How and where are we recruiting? How are we onboarding, evaluating and tracking the program?

Element 3: Management support and buy-in: Are the right people involved? Are the managers of the interns on board with the program? Do they understand the goals? Do they have the proper training and resources to create valuable experiences for both the organization and the interns?

Element 4: The experience of the interns: Are we providing the interns with a valuable experience for them and for company? Did we meet their expectations? Did they have the experience that we promised in our recruiting? Would they recommend our organization to other interns or prospective employees? Remember, your interns are not just free workers or potential employees; they will also be broadcasting their opinions about your organization. So make sure they say the right things.

How to Develop a Great Intern Program
For the company, the most important thing is to get really clear about the purpose and goals of your internship program. You have to know what you want to get out of it before you go any further. Start with your objectives and go from there.

No matter what you decide you want to get out of it, you have to work hard to create a positive experience for the intern. Great internship programs mean spending some time to really make sure your goals are in alignment with your intern’s goals.

Today’s youth are much more interested in doing real work than fetching coffee. Make sure you provide your intern with challenging and “real” work as much as possible.

I’ve worked with some companies that have developed dynamic and innovative intern programs. Here are some ideas that work for them:

  1. Create a meaningful onboarding strategy for your interns. This means bringing them together for an interactive orientation and onboarding. This will help set the tone and create a sense of team among your interns.
  2. Consider integrating professional development workshops and trainings. Bring your interns into sessions with higher ups. This helps integrate them and make them feel connected.
  3. Involve managers and senior leaders as much as possible. Use a cohort approach, sponsor meet and greets or other events to provide interns with an opportunity to network.
  4. Provide interns with a meaty project, something they can work on above and beyond their day-to-day tasks. This really gives them a sense of worth, accomplishment and enhances the idea that they are part of the company.
  5. Do a proper close out with them. Find out what they liked and didn’t like, what they would do differently, what worked and what didn’t.

Avoiding the Pitfalls
Great intern programs all have one thing in common: the organization takes it seriously. Great programs require a great deal of work, thought and follow through. Many organizations just kind of slap them together, but this is a mistake. Here are common mistakes companies make and how to avoid them:

Mistake 1: Not ensuring your managers are truly in alignment with the intern program goals. It is often challenging for managers to take on the additional responsibilities of an intern, but the people managing the interns are key elements in your program’s success.
Make sure you choose the right people to work with the interns and make sure you have trained them properly and that they are on board with the program’s goals.

Mistake 2: Not providing meaningful work or professional development for your interns.
Young adults want to gain experience. This is not about simply fetching coffee; it’s about introducing them to the workplace in general and your company in particular. They want to feel they have made a meaningful contribution, so give them something real to do.

Mistake 3: All flash no fire. This is when organizations that want to use their intern program as a recruitment tool spend the summer wining, dining and schmoozing their interns instead of actually trying to see if they would be a good “match” for the organization. Law Firms are really notorious for this. They throw boatloads of money at the summer law associates trying to lure them. Sounds great, but they aren’t really getting much for their money—research shows that there isn’t much correlation between the money spent and the retention it inspires, and lots of firms are re-thinking this practice. Find a way to make the internship meaningful to both parties.

Evaluating the Program
Effectively evaluating your program is crucial to its success. Here are the right ways to evaluate:
  • Hold meetings with the frontline folks who managed and worked with the interns. Do an “After Action Review” and ask: What were the interns' skill levels like? What work did you give them? How could you have utilized them more? What suggestions do you have for next year’s program?
  • Do exit interviews with the interns. Hire an outsider to do this, so they feel comfortable giving honest feedback. If that isn’t feasible, offer an online or anonymous survey. Getting honest feedback is crucial.
  • Keep track. You need to track quantifiable results from your program. This means you have to follow up with the participants and track returning intern ratio, referrals from interns and other quantifiable data.
The hallmarks of a great intern program are establishing clearly defined goals, providing proper supervision and meaningful work and then following up.

If You Are the Intern
Internships are a great way to test the waters of a particular field or company. Internships are also a great way to network and make contacts in your field. Plus, internship experience is great resume fodder. More and more organizations consider internships an integral part of career development, sometimes even more so than other summer jobs.

If you are entering an internship, here are some tips to make it worthwhile:
  1. Take your internship seriously—even if your employer doesn’t.
  2. Think of your internship as a 12-week interview.
  3. Be clear about your personal and professional goals for the internship.
  4. Find out about the company’s goals and find ways to meet them.
  5. Request meaningful work. Volunteer to work on big projects.
  6. Make connections. Network and socialize with colleagues and other interns. Take the time to really get to know a wide assortment of colleagues.
  7. Show appreciation. Write thank you notes and send emails.
  8. Stay in touch! Follow up with the company.

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Laid Off? Now What?

The Working Life: What To Do If You’ve Been laid Off

It happens to thousands of people every day. You get laid off from your job. For many, it’s a terrifying situation, but with a little work, not only can you handle it, you can find a way to move forward.

First of all, it’s important to remember that getting laid off is not the same thing as getting fired. When you get fired, it basically means that didn’t perform the job you were hired to do to the satisfaction of your employer. Getting fired is usually due to performance issues, breaking company regulations and policies or the inability to work effectively within the organization.

Getting laid off, on the other hand, usually means that your employer had to reduce its workforce. This is generally due to economic hardship or restructuring, and you or your position were part of the trimming of the proverbial fat.

While the reasons and intentions behind a firing or a lay off are different, the impact is often the same. You are out in the cold with no job and it feels terrible.

Prepare Yourself
In today’s climate, it is best, as the Boy Scouts know, to be prepared. Rarely does a lay off or a firing come out of the blue. The minute you start hearing rumors or seeing the signs you should start to prepare yourself for the worst-case scenario. Here’s what to do to prepare yourself:
  1. Review your salary and benefits package so you have accurate information of what you can negotiate with HR. The more prepared you are the better off you will be to negotiate an optimal severance package.
  2. Make a list of things to discuss with HR, including benefits severance, help with future employment, training, etc.
  3. Update your resume. This is critical and should be done while still employed. It is much easier to create a positive resume when you are coming from a place of success rather than a place of despair. Do it while you still have a job.
  4. Reconsider any upcoming large expenditures, like trips or other purchases. Now is not the time to buy a new car or go to Paris.
  5. Make sure you have 3 to 6 months of liquid living expenses.
  6. Update your Rolodex or PDA with contacts you may need and start to network immediately. Copy your e-mail address book, phone numbers etc. You may not be able to later.
  7. Gather or copy any awards, accommodations, citations, letters of recommendation, etc. from your workplace that you will need.
The general idea is to reduce as many hurdles as possible to transitioning out of your current job and into another one. You may not have a lot of time or a lot of notice to clear out, so you need to be ready. And with a resume, it is a lot easier to make a minor revision than a major overhaul. So keep your resume updated just to be on the safe side.

The HR meeting

While all the tips above are critical steps, you need to be especially prepared for your meeting with HR. It may come very quickly, with little or no notice. One day you are gainfully employed and the next you are out of a job and sitting in front of your company’s HR person who is handing you a check and telling you your computer access has been cut off. So you need to have your wits about you.

Even though you are being laid off, you can still negotiate. And depending on your position, you may have a lot of things to negotiate. Think of this as a business transaction. There are lots of things to discuss, and this is where being prepared can really help. You will or may need to discuss:
  • A severance package
  • Vacation time, comp time and sick time buy out
  • 401 Ks, stock options and other financial compensation tools
  • Your expense accounts
  • Health insurance – how long will the company pay? What is your share?
  • Other benefits like company cars, club memberships, education and other perqs
  • Transition services like training, employment counseling, relocation, etc.
  • Reference policy and reference letters
  • Copies of awards, commendations, etc.
Before you are shown the door, you need to have your head about you to be able to discuss these and possibly other things with your former employer. And the more prepared you are the better your outcome.

Leaving nicely
Though you may be sorely tempted, now is not the time to tell management what you “really” think about them. I’m not saying you need to empathize with the company that is letting you go, but it is important to remember that it probably was a tough decision for your boss or the organization. No one relishes cutbacks.

You want to leave on the best possible terms for two reasons. First, your next employer may call them for a reference. Second, many companies rehire laid off employees when their economic situation improves. Don’t burn any bridges. Leave nicely.

Wallow, Then Get Going

OK, so you’ve lost the job and now you are at a loss. This is serious. Getting laid off is a major life change that delivers a psychological blow. It rapidly forces people into an unexpected and many times undesirable change, one that is surrounded by a sense of fear, anger, and ambiguity. It’s a hard thing to handle, and it is imperative that you take
some time to adjust to this jarring turn of events. My advice is to take a few days to a week to wallow, feel sorry for yourself and decompress. This is the time for the sweat pants, Oreos and daytime TV.

Then, after a few days, that’s it. No more wallowing. Get up, dust yourself off, get dressed and accept that your new job is to find a job.

The first thing to do is to find out if and when you are eligible to file for unemployment. Check with your local unemployment agency. Programs vary from state to sate, but they generally run between 14 and 21 weeks. There is also a 13-week federal extension program that is worth exploring.

What you don’t want to do is dip into your 401ks or other retirement accounts. Every working person should have 3 to 6 months of living expenses salted away for a rainy day. This may be it. In your meeting with HR, you should have determined your severance package and benefits, like health insurance, so you should have a good idea of what your income and expenses should be in the near term. Sit down and budget your expenses. Now is a good time to cut back where you can.

Next, start networking. Get out there and let people know that you are on the market. Get that resume circulating and start lighting up the phones. Call friends and colleagues. Troll for information. Work your network. Keep in touch with your former HR person and stay updated.
For many people, however, being laid off is a great time to re-evaluate your professional goals and interests. For some, this is the opportunity to make that career change they have longed for. You can use your lay off to make changes in your career development. If you can afford to, take a class, learn a new skill, explore other fields. Take a temp job or internship in that field. That’s a great way to start exploring a new field, start a new network, gain new skills and meet potential employers.

If you don’t want to change careers or fields, temp work is still a great way to get your foot in the door of another company. You can earn money while networking, staying professionally sharp and meeting potential employers.

Many others, however, have been in the same field for 20 or more years. For them, getting laid off is truly terrifying. They may not have the new skill sets to find new jobs. For this group, you will need to find a recent college grad, maybe your son/daughter/niece/nephew, to show you some tips. Don’t let the new fangled Internet distract you from the core competencies of job searching, which are always a stand out resume, superb interviewing skills and a strong network that can alert you to opportunities.

With planning, preparation and perseverance, you can get through being laid off and find another or a new career.

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Dealing With Difficult Co-Workers

The Working Life: Dealing with Difficult Coworkers

The Saboteur. The Exploder. The Demeanor. These monikers sound like characters out of a James Bond novel. In reality, they are sitting in the cubicle next to yours.

Accompanied by the Jerk, the Complainer, the Empty Pit, the Victim, the Micromanager, the Know-It-All, the Gossip and the Constant Competitor, these difficult and obnoxious coworkers can drive you to distraction. Worse, they can impact your work and the work of others, poison the atmosphere and hurt your company’s productivity, not to mention its bottom line.

Dealing with difficult coworkers is a skill that can be mastered, however. With a little knowledge, a lot of understanding and a few tips, you will be able to marginalize these negative forces, overcome workplace difficulties and get back to work.

Use Your E.Q.
One of the best ways to deal with difficult coworkers is through your emotional intelligence. People with high E.Q.s are able to understand the motivations and sources of bad behavior, and this is critical to dealing with the problem. Most difficult people are people with very low emotional intelligence; they have no clue what they are doing or either don’t know or don’t care about the impact of their behavior. But you should use your E.Q. to recognize difficult coworkers and try to discern the motivation behind their behavior. That, in turn, will determine your reaction to it and whether the behavior warrants intervention.

Some people just like to vent, and have no idea that this is annoying and distracting to others. Some people like to cause trouble and make others miserable. Some are simply stunted emotionally -- they never learned how to play nice with others. Others get corrupted by power. Some coworkers may be in over their heads, which creates a situation of personal stress and fear.

Still others are replicating behaviors that have made them successful in the past, but which now serve to undermine the workplace. Some are just overly ambitious and are trying to get ahead at any cost. And others may just be reacting to the unwritten value system of the organization. It’s sad but true, there are many organizations that actually promote and reward difficult behaviors.

Assess, Strategize and Act

Very often, we are terrified to confront others in situations where we really should. In many cases, we enable people to behave poorly by not standing up to them and asking that the behavior stop. This is because most people don’t have an effective model or paradigm for making clear requests and delineating clear boundaries. But dealing with difficult people can usually be handled in 2 or 3 minutes using a well thought out and simple request. There is a right way to do this: assess, strategize and act. Here are the steps:

  1. Don’t take it personally. Detach yourself emotionally from the situation. Take a walk, calm down and sort through your emotional landscape until you can look at the situation clearly and objectively.
  2. Assess the situation honestly. Ask yourself, What is really bothering me? Why does it bother me? What value of mine is being trampled? What boundary is being crossed? How is this hurting my job or ability to perform my job? Can I ignore the behavior and do my job?
  3. Third, explore your contribution to the behavior. This is crucial, as many people suffer from a “victim” personality. You know the Victim. This is the person who is always blaming others for their failings or for their poor performance. This is the person who is always waiting for others to change their evil ways and is never willing to look at their own contribution to the problem. So, take a good hard look at yourself. What has been your contribution to the situation? How are your actions, opinions, perspectives, or behaviors impacting the situation? You have to be willing to change your own behavior before you seek to change others. Name your contribution and own your piece of it, so that you can change and stop.
  4. Fourth, determine what behavior you want changed or stopped. Think about what exactly you want to change.
  5. Think about and practice how you will speak to your coworker. You must find a way that will resolve the situation and not perpetuate it. Remember, don’t phrase it personally. You do not want to come across as attacking the person, just seeking change in a behavior. Make the request in a calm, clear, non-personal and unemotional manner. Do not judge or use the word “should.”
  6. If you are a manager or supervisor, use business tools to make the request and follow up. This includes memos, e-mails, follow-up meetings, performance reviews, etc.
There are lots of mistakes you can make when dealing with difficult or irrational coworkers. First, don’t take it personally. Don’t get emotionally hooked or drawn in by this person. Second, don’t respond at their level. Instead, use your E.Q. and take the higher ground. Third, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that people “should” behave differently or behave to your own internal code of conduct. Understand that others do not necessarily accept your value system and internal ethos. For example, just because you think that managers should care about their employees, or that managers should be fair and give you credit or that coworkers should be teammates or should be respectful and friendly, doesn’t mean that is the way it is. Get real about your workplace.

It is never easy to approach a coworker about bad behavior. In many cases, you do not need or want to go over the person’s head. It should be dealt with one on one. But there are many times when it is advisable to include a third party, either a supervisor or someone from HR. This should only be done if you’ve tried to resolve the situation yourself to no avail, if the difficult people begin to create a toxic and threatening atmosphere, when their behavior is threatening organizational productivity or if you believe that person is truly unhinged. Then get a higher up involved.

When the Boss Is the Problem

If the toxic person is your boss, then you have a tough situation. In any workplace, it is a smart move to “manage up,” which means you should manage and establish a relationship with your boss in a mutually beneficial fashion. You need to make the boss look good and do what it takes to be in his or her good graces. There is nothing wrong with a little ingratiation (which is not the same thing as brown nosing). If you’ve established a good relationship with the boss, you may be able to talk it out. But if not, you've basically got three choices, none of which is great.

First, leave the company. Second, accept the situation and develop strategies to unhook yourself emotionally from your boss’s behavior. Third, try to change your situation at work. Get a new job within the company, try to get your boss fired, or try to change your boss’s behavior.

None are terrific options, but if you choose option two, here are some tips to detach yourself emotionally.

  • Tip 1: Reframe how you see things. Change your mental model about what is going on. Instead of seeing your boss as an insensitive jerk, try to see him as someone who is scared and in over his head.
  • Tip 2: Hope for the best, but expect the worst. Stop expecting your boss to be someone he/she isn’t. Prepare for worst case encounters
  • Tip 3: Practice emotional detachment. Stop linking your self worth to jerks at work. Find another way to value yourself.
  • Tip 4: Limit your exposure. Meet with your boss as rarely as possible. Do whatever you can to create buffers.
  • Tip 5: Build pockets of safety. Find people with whom it is safe to vent and create strategies. A sort of victim support group.

Study and practice
It is not easy to handle and deal with difficult coworkers or supervisors. Even with the above tips you will need to practice your approach. There are lots of places to get help, though, and here are three books I highly recommend for further study: “Working with you is killing me,” by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster; “The No Asshole Rule,” by Robert Sutton; and “Crucial Confrontations,” by Kerry Patterson.

With a little understanding, a little detachment and some practice, you can figure out the problem, the source and what to do about it.

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Emotional Intelligence At Work

The Working Life: Emotional Intelligence

Many different things go into the making of a good leader and a strong individual. Knowledge, drive, ambition, resourcefulness, force of will, intellect, etc. But there is one factor that almost all successful people share - emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to use your emotions in a positive and constructive way in relationships with others. It's about engaging with others in a way that brings people towards you, not away from you. Emotional Intelligence is about recognizing your own emotional state and the emotional states of others and being “choiceful” about how you interact and engage with them. It is about choosing to engage people in a positive and constructive manner, and it can help tremendously in the workplace.

The E.I. Personality
Emotional Intelligence is divided into 4 basic competencies. Each competency has several skills or personality traits.

1. Self Awareness
This is recognizing how emotions affect one's performance. It requires an accurate self assessment, a candid sense of one's personal strengths and limits and then being able to accurately identify one's own areas of improvement. Self-aware individuals are reflective and learn from experience. They are open to candid feedback, new perspectives and self-development.

2. Self Management
This is the ability to manage one's internal states, impulses, and resources. It means being choiceful in interactions with others and the ability to manage or control reactions to difficult situations. Personality traits include self control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability, innovation and optimism.

3. Awareness of Others (Social Awareness)
This is the awareness of other people's feelings, needs, and concerns. It means having empathy, seeking to understand others and being able to read and tune in to the emotional state of others. Social awareness skills include understanding others, developing others, service orientation, leveraging diversity and having political awareness.

4. Relationship Management
This competency is about successfully engaging with others. It includes the ability to communicate, relate and listen well to others and to induce desirable responses in them. People with this ability understand that emotions are contagious. They can adapt their communication styles to people and situations.

EI in the Workplace

Emotional Intelligence is extremely useful at work. Most workplaces rely on different people working together to create a product or service. The workplace is not “all business.” It is a social network and, as such, it is a hotbed of emotions, egos, stress and conflict. Emotional Intelligence can help you develop robust relationships, solve problems using both logic and feelings, maintain an optimistic and positive outlook, cultivate flexibility in stressful situations, help others express their needs, respond to difficult people and situations calmly and thoughtfully and respond to change with grace and calm.

Many people assume that a high IQ is more important than high EI skills. While both are important, many studies show that EI is a much more accurate determinant for success and career growth than technical skills or a high IQ. Today's workplaces are fast moving and full of change. The ability to roll with the punches is huge. You'll get the best out of your employees if you create an emotionally intelligent workplace and you'll be a better employer or leader if you use your EI.

Emotional Intelligence really comes into play when it comes to managing and dealing with difficult people, including customers, employees, colleagues, and bosses. Your ability to understand and empathize goes a long way. EI is important for managing change, understanding the political landscape for a new project, dealing well with setbacks or workplace obstacles, motivating and influencing others and working with or for a team with different personalities.

Some people are born with natural EI sills. In certain fields, EI goes hand in hand with success, like sales. Some people are natural born salesmen. Many companies actually use EI competency testing as criteria for selection into highly engaging positions like sales. A recent survey showed that companies that selected their sales people by using EI competency criteria decreased their first year turnover rate by a whopping 63 percent.

But EI can also be taught and many companies hire consultants like me to host workshops to train employees on emotional intelligence. If companies are truly committed to creating a positive workplace, this can be a great way to start.

EI works on the self-employed as well. First of all, very few people actually work “alone.” Even if you are a sole task producer you still have to create something for a customer and client, so your ability to manage your relationships, even if it is just one or two, is pretty important. And you still have to manage yourself. Your state of mind will absolutely affect your work product. Being able to manage your own emotional landscape will definitely help improve your work product and process.

How Employers Can Use EI
Employers and managers should think about what kind of climate will get the best out of their employees. It always makes me cringe when I see leaders use oppressive tactics to drive performance. It really isn't a successful long-term strategy, especially if you hit hard economic times. A person's relationship with their employer is and has always been a leading factor in an employee's decision to stay or go, and contributes greatly to their productivity.

So if you want to improve your image as a leader, get feedback and be willing to make improvements in yourself and your management style. And remember, being emotionally intelligent is not about “being soft” or forgoing the bottom line. It's about creating and maintaining constructive and generative relationships and environments, and that helps your bottom line.

EI is critical for top leaders. In fact, the higher your position in a company, the more important emotional intelligence becomes. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, the biggest reason that managers fail is because of poor interpersonal skills. Another survey showed that 85 percent of the difference between a good leader and an excellent leader is emotional intelligence.

You can easily see this when you ask people what qualities they think make a great leader or boss. Eighty-five percent of the qualities they name are usually EI qualities while only a handful turn out to be technical skills. EI is critical for a good leader.

How to Measure Your EI
There are lots of books out there that you can use to test your EI. You can also go online to find lots of tests, like

Employers are always looking for people who are not only book smart, but are also charismatic, optimistic and resilient. They want people who are not afraid to use emotional intelligence to get ahead. Find out where you stand so you can use your EI to get ahead. Whether you are an employee, a boss, a manager or are self-employed, EI is a critical component of your success.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Working Life: Introvert vs. Extravert Leaders

The Working Life: Introvert vs. Extravert Leaders

Are you an innie or an outie? I’m not talking bellybuttons; I’m talking about your leadership style. Leadership, like personalities, comes in different shapes and sizes. There are extraverts and introverts. Some leaders are the “strong and silent” type while others are larger than life characters full of charisma. There are challenges inherent in both, but they can be overcome with a little education.


Introversion or extraversion is not about how shy or social you are. It is about how individuals derive their energy.

An introvert’s essential stimulation, their source of energy, comes from within, from their inner world of thoughts, ideas and reflections. The introvert directs and receives energy from his inner world. They like to focus on their own inner world of ideas and experiences. They direct energy/attention inward and receive energy from reflecting on thoughts, memories and feelings.

The extravert, on the other hand, gets their essential stimulation from the outer world, the world of people and things. The extravert directs and receives energy from the outside world. They focus on the outer world. They direct their energy and attention outward and receive energy from interacting with people and from taking action.

This is not about sociability or shyness; it’s about where your energy comes from. I know lots of shy extraverts and lots of gregarious introverts. Introverts can certainly be very social and engaging, but the difference is that it is extremely exhausting for introverts to engage. It drains their energy to focus externally.

How do you know what you are?

It’s important to understand two things. First, introversion or extraversion is a personality trait, or more precisely, a personality preference that rests within every person. A preference is a manner of interacting with the world that feels the most comfortable naturally and frequently.
Second, everybody has both qualities in their personality. But, according to psychologists and personality researchers, we tend to lean consistently one way or the other.

The most widely understood and researched metric on introversion/extraversion is the Meyers Briggs Type Indicator, also known as the MBTI. It is an excellent test to take to determine your personality type. You can simply Google MBTI or the words introversion and you will be directed to lots of information and sources for learning more about your personality preference.

A quick place to start, however, is to simply assess the way you feel about interactions based on the energy explanations above. Are you energized by interactions or enervated by them?

How introverts and extraverts differ in the workplace

Introverts and extraverts can have significantly different characteristics in the workplace. It is all about where you prefer to focus your attention and get your energy. In general:

  • Are attuned to their external environment
  • Prefer to communicate by talking
  • Prefer action over reflection—can act and respond quickly
  • Work out ideas by talking them through: They speak to think
  • Learn best through doing or discussing
  • Share thoughts freely
  • Are sociable and expressive
  • Extend self into the environment
  • Enjoy working in groups
  • Are drawn to inner world
  • Prefer written communication
  • Prefer reflection over action—may need time to “process” before action
  • Work out ideas by reflecting and thinking: They think to speak
  • Learn best by reflection
  • Guard thoughts until they are (almost) perfect
  • Private and contained
  • Defend against external demands
  • Enjoy working alone or with only a few people
Extraverts are very good at remaining aware of the external environment, maintaining their networks, and taking quick action. Introverts are really good at paying attention to the infrastructure, conceptualizing problems, and looking deeply into issues. Both possess excellent, though different natural skill sets.

The leadership difference

The Introversion/Extraversion personality preference is important to leadership because it directly pertains to how people relate to other people, especially in terms of communication and engagement with others.

In every industry or sector, three of the most important skills leaders need are the ability to inspire, motivate and enable others to act. To do this requires a communication and personal engagement style that promotes a sense of trust and confidence with one’s employees and co-workers.

Because introverts are more naturally inclined to focus their energies within they sometimes forget the importance of connecting and communicating with others consistently and openly. In a sense, the introverted leader often has to work a little harder on the people side of leadership.

Now, successful leaders come in many shapes and sizes. Great leadership requires the development of many, many skills. So, while I don’t think that either type is more innately skilled at organizational leadership, there is some data to suggest that introverted leaders may have a few more challenges to overcome in the American workplace culture. So, in some ways extraverts have a bit of an advantage. But it is hard to tell whether this is about skill or the perception/projection American organizations place on their leaders.

For example, a recent study found that: 60 percent of the population are extraverts; 40 percent are introverts; 71 percent of executives identified themselves as extraverts; and 29 percent of executives identified themselves as introverts.

So it is definitely fair to say that the American business environment selects extraverts as leaders more often than introverts, and that generally speaking the workplace has more extraverts in it than introverts. It is also true that the qualities of extraverts are the ones most people commonly associate with leadership.

Challenges for introverted leaders

Introverts possess many skills that are associated with great leadership. Introverts are associated with deep reflection and a desire to think through decisions. Introverts are naturally disinclined to be in the middle of the fray, if you will, so they can provide an outside perspective on what is happening. They are very good at analyzing and assessing. Because they are listening more than talking, introverts can also gain deeper understandings of situations.
By the same token, introverts face greater challenges than extraverts. These include isolation; projections or aloofness, snobbery or being disinterested; lack of communication; and lack of engagement.

Leadership is largely about motivating and inspiring others. Great leadership is about rising above the transactional into the transformational. In order to do this, one must be adept at engaging and inspiring others. And the only way to do this is to focus on the outer world. This is not impossible for introverts; it is just more difficult for them. It requires a bigger stretch and a significant energy commitment.

Here are some specific strategies introverted leaders can utilize to become better leaders:
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Learn to think out aloud. Include others in brainstorming.
  • Use listening skills to create trust and build rapport. One of the greatest “projections” people make about introverts is that they are great listeners. So use this to your advantage.
  • Don’t forget what to reflect back what you’ve heard. People want to know that they have been heard.
  • Involve others and articulate your thinking. Share information freely. Introverts have a habit of delivering full-blown solutions or edicts without articulating the thought process or motivation behind them, so learn to articulate your thinking and involve others.
  • Be accessible. Engage others substantially. Network!
  • Followers need to see you. They need to trust and understand you. They need to think you have their best interests at heart. So get out there.
  • Take care of your solitude. Carve out specific times of solitude for recharging yourself.
Challenges for the extravert
Extraverts don’t have it made, though. There are lots of challenges for them, too. Their outward energy can intimidate other people who may not feel they are being heard. Extraverted executives may overwhelm and intimidate people, push ideas prematurely, and unintentionally reveal confidences. Then, when ideas are leaked or taken as decisions rather than mere brainstorming possibilities, the executive feels betrayed. Extraverts have to be careful. They like to think out loud, which can lead to problems.

Here are some ways extroverts can be better leaders:
  • Ask yourself, why am I talking?
  • Provide space for other people to contribute.
  • Ask more questions, and really listen. Resist the urge to immediately start providing your opinion.
  • Tell introverts ahead of time what you’d like to discuss.
  • Be careful what you say. Remember, as leader, your talking out loud may confuse people. What you say carries a lot of weight. Too much talking out loud may make you appear indecisive. If you are going to “extrovert” or brainstorm ideas, make sure people know that is what you are doing.
  • Be careful of oversharing. Not everything needs to be discussed out loud.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Networking Now!

The Working Life: Effective Networking

With all the demands on our time made by our professional and personal lives, many of us assign networking a low priority. After all, we already have so many commitments to our co-workers, friends and family, that is difficult to set aside extra time to venture out and meet new people. But networking is absolutely essential to a strong career and a strong professional life. A little effort will go a long way.

What is networking?
Networking is the art of building and sustaining mutually beneficial relationships. Networking is about meeting people and building relationships before you need them; finding ways to be of service to others; sharing knowledge and contacts; connecting with and to other people.
The world is a social system. All walks of life are based on social interactions.

We accomplish things in this world by working with other people. Networking is important because it can help you strengthen the social relationships necessary to succeed. Having a strong network can help you reach many of life’s goals. Think of networking as a key part of your career foundation.

However, it is important that you understand that networking is NOT selling anything, asking for a job, schmoozing, hustling, manipulating, or using other people. You aren’t asking for anything when you network; you are building a relationship, a beneficial one, of course, but a relationship first and foremost.

Networking isn’t easy. Building relationships is time consuming. Many of us already feel overscheduled, overworked, overburdened, or just want to leave the office after our 9 to 5 day. Our time is precious. But the question you have to ask yourself is, can you afford not to network?

Think about your personal and professional goals. People generally like to help other people. Most people have a bigger network than they realize; they just don’t know how to utilize it.
By not consistently widening our circles of acquaintances and contacts, we may be severely curtailing our chances for advancement and success. I’ve read that on average most people know about 250 people, and each of those people know another 250 people and so on and so forth. Imagine the information and resources that could be available to you if you use that network to your advantage.

The who’s and how’s of networking
You should network and create alliances with people you like, people you find interesting, both inside and outside your industry. Network with people who have common goals. Connect with people whom you like and who like you. Make time for people who make you feel positive, energized and worthy. And, even though networking should be broad, you definitely want to network with people that can help you, because someday, they just might.

The Internet is an increasingly popular place to network. Chat rooms and social network sites are great for either initial contacts or for maintaining contacts, but face-to-face is where you can really cement and build strong and lasting relationships. People are still people, especially in the business world. There is nothing like a personal encounter to build a relationship. Or a career.

In terms of actually getting out and networking, there are two approaches, structured and organic.

The structured approach tells people that you should go into every networking situation with clear goals of whom you want to meet and what you want to achieve. The organic approach, on the other, is about just letting natural attraction work its magic.

Whichever approach you use, just remember one thing: that in order to be successful you have to be authentic to make a real connection to another person. Think of it like dating—you don’t want to be seen as that desperate person hitting on people. You don’t want to come across as pushy, rude, aggressive or single-minded. You want to be genuine. And never forget the goal is to connect with a person, not their title.

The etiquette of networking
Let’s start with a business card. When it is appropriate to hand one out?
First of all, your business card is not disposable; don’t be throwing it around like confetti.
Your business card is an extension of you and your professional stature and should be treated as such. Offer your card to people only after you’ve made a meaningful connection. Never ask someone senior than you for their card; they should offer it first. And don’t offer yours to them unless they ask for it. That said, when you are about to enter a networking situation, always keep a supply of cards handy and easily accessible, along with a pen. When the CEO of your dream company asks you for your card, you don’t want to fumble for it.

Now, your appearance and demeanor are crucial to successful networking. I talked above about authenticity and being genuine, and this is imperative. You don’t want to appear slick and on the take. You’ll get the most out of business networking by being authentic, engaging, and memorable. Here are some tips:
  • Be sincere.
  • Make a positive impression with good manners, eye contact, body language and an excellent handshake.
  • Focus on the other person. Be curious about who they are, ask questions and listen.
  • Remember people’s names.
  • Focus on quality interactions, not quantity.
  • Be positive and upbeat.
  • Never complain or gossip. You never know who knows whom and what might get around.
  • Don’t dismiss someone just because of his or her title.
  • Don’t scan the room. Even if you are just curious, you will be labeled as the guy who is looking for someone better to talk to.
After a business networking event, it is crucial to follow up properly. Immediately send a note or an e-mail to people whom you enjoyed meeting and tell them what a pleasure it was. If you made an offer to connect that person with someone else make sure you follow up. Networking is a two-way street. You have to give to get.

If you find someone you really liked, then get together for lunch or coffee.
Remember, meeting someone is just the start; building a relationship takes a little more effort. But networking the right way is always worth it.

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