Good Question: Can contradictory personality traits combine to become super powers?

In a special edition of Good Question, we’re sharing an excerpt from When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership. The book is unconventionally co-authored — through an exchange of emails — by Harvey Schachter, a management columnist, and Sheelagh Whitakker, a board member and retired CEO (notably, the first woman CEO of a TSX listed company). The pair have never met, but through emails share what they have learned over the years while challenging conventional wisdom on notions of ambition, success, ethics, getting communication right, gender at work, and legacy. In Chapter 10, they both explore a very good question: can contradictory personality traits combine to become a superpower? You can use the same exercise to meet your oxymoronic self — and perhaps discover that your contradictions aren’t self-defeating.

 

OUR EXPERT: 

Sheelagh WhittakerSheelagh Whittaker
Retired CEO, board member, and author. 

Sheelagh Whittaker loves to laugh. A savvy strategist and CEO, shrewd observer of the zeitgeist, and engaging storyteller — imparting wisdom from her invariably humorous stories — she rose to corporate top echelons back when people thought the glass ceiling was an observation deck. She has served as CEO, board member, and mother in Canada, the US, Britain and Australia. Her co-author, Harvey Schachter, is the dean of management column writers. Specializing in leadership, management and workplace issues, Harvey curates and synthesizes business how-to books and missives full of purported insights, and directs the reader to those worth consideration. Trenchant and practical, his delivery is sensitive to his reader’s need for insights delivered in small doses.

 

Hi Sheelagh,

Journalist Stewart Alsop called Bill Gates a “practical visionary.” That’s an odd combination, an oxymoron. But if he had just been a visionary without that practical side, he may not have been as successful as he was. If he had just been practical, there would be no Microsoft powerhouse today. The oxymoronic combination of traits was critical.

Walmart founder Sam Walton embodied not one but three critical paradoxes. He was relentlessly focused on winning but totally flexible and willing to try anything that seemed reasonable. He was creative but also willing to copy anything that worked well elsewhere. And he was an excellent motivator, willing to give people space to try out their own ideas but he also checked up on everything anyone did.

That comes from a 1997 sleeper book I loved, Paradoxical Thinking by Jerry Fletcher and Kelle Olwyler, which argues “the route to sustaining high performance is to consciously and actively encourage yourself to be paradoxical.” 

To find your core personal paradox, they suggest listing your personal qualities and characteristics – at least twenty – such as the types of actions you like to take, roles you like to play, and words that might be used to describe you. Then combine those into paradoxical pairs using oxymorons. For example, in one workshop they unearthed the following from participants:

  • attack sheep
  • lazy do-it-all
  • spontaneous planner
  • ruthless helper
  • creative imitator
  • passionate robot
  • hesitant risk-taker
  • velvet jackhammer
  • insecure tower of strength
  • ambitious slowpoke

Look for combinations of words on your list that are already opposites. You may, however, need to invent a phrase to describe yourself. The authors note that names of animals can be helpful – shy and timid making you a mouse, powerful and fearless turning you lion-hearted.

You’ll probably be uncomfortable with some of the characteristics you’ve named. “If one side of your core personality paradox seems like a limitation, you probably have felt for much of your life that you ‘shouldn’t’ act that way or you would be ‘better off’ if you were different. It is likely that you have tried to suppress or eliminate that quality of your personality. Yet this is not the direction to go,” they insist. 

Instead, reset your perceptions by listing the positives and negatives of the preferred and disliked sides. From those, develop a high-performance oxymoron combining the best of both sides, and a negative oxymoron combining the not-so-goods. In an example in the book, a woman defines herself as a “self-doubting overachiever,” liking the overachiever but disliking the self-doubting element. However, when she completes the self-examination, her high-performance oxymoron is quite helpful: “Thoroughly prepared expectation exceeder.” The nightmare scenario, though, is when she becomes a “hopeless wheel-spinner.” She has to try to be the former and not the latter.

Enough!

When I first read the book and for many years afterwards, I considered myself a “gentle tiger.” I still do, but recently I have focused more on a newer oxymoron: “rebellious loyalist.”

What about you? 

 

Hi Harvey,

I’d be interested in understanding your loyalties.

Meanwhile, I had a lot of fun with performance oxymorons. Right off I tried on “likeable bitch” with a good friend of mine who responded quickly but kindly, “Sheelagh, we are who we are. But maybe there are other ways to phrase it.”

Undaunted, I experimented with “irrepressible?” and came up blank. I guess I am simply irrepressible.

Other ideas included:

  • insightful boss
  • feminine feminist
  • ambivalent disciplinarian
  • effervescent recluse

While playing with performance oxymorons I was reminded of a very clever job category that existed in EDS – that of EDS Fellow.

EDS Fellows could be described as corporate individual performers. Early on, someone (maybe Ross Perot himself) recognized that we needed to attract and nurture brilliant mathematical and operations research minds to help us stay ahead of the game. Clearly, we did not want these people to spend their time managing others. We could handle that; we wanted them to spend their time experimenting and coming up with new ideas. 

A career path entitled Individual Performer was created, to which a very special class of IT artiste could aspire to be promoted. An EDS Fellow had the status, salary and perks of a vice president and no mundane day-to-day responsibilities. It was a brilliant solution to a motivation and retention problem and the EDS Fellows were revered by the organization.

I’ve got it – “irrepressibly curious.”

 

Hi Sheelagh,

You never follow the rules, do you?

But maybe you’re, as they say, aligned! Unlike me.

I’ve always worried my contradictions hinder my leadership, compared to others who are not as divided within themselves. The book offered me hope that maybe my contradictions aren’t self-defeating. You may be the model I need to follow. Together, we are probably an oxymoron.

 

 

Good Question: How do I deal with a professional identity crisis?

Woman Thinking

Q:

“My whole life feels like it’s been upended this past year, but my career in particular has me feeling lost. I can’t imagine a bright future, or plan my next career move, or even wrap my head around how my work has changed right now. I’m questioning my career choices and my professional identity — but questions are all I’ve got. Where do I even start to get some answers?”

 

OUR EXPERT: 

Christine Laperriere
Executive Director, Women of Influence Advancement Centre

Christine Laperriere is the executive director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, president of Leader In Motion, a leadership development organization, and the author of Too Busy to Be Happy — a guide to using Emotional Real Estate to improve both your work and your life. A seasoned expert in helping women professionals advance their careers, she’s had the honour of guiding hundreds of women in various companies and roles to reach their full potential. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and executive coaching, along with years in design engineering and management consulting.

 

A:

Many of us are still stuck in lockdown limbo, and there’s no denying that this global pandemic has changed the professional world forever.

With home offices replacing cubicles and some job-related perks that may never return (RIP business travel), I’ve found that COVID-19 has forced many of my clients into a career identity crisis.

Part of it is certainly the unknown: What’s the world (and my day job) going to look like tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Next year? Some industries are worried that they won’t get back to pre-pandemic levels of business for years, if ever. And part of it is having an abundance of downtime (if you don’t have kids, of course) to reflect on your professional journey so far. Are you happy? Does your job make you feel professionally fulfilled? There’s nothing like saying, “You’re on mute,” five to 25 times a day to make you reassess all of your life choices.

So, if you’re feeling like you don’t know where to go from here, the most reassuring thing I can tell you is that you’re not alone. This is a common reaction to a crisis, and with some deep, inward reflection, you can find your next step — or should I say lily pad? (More on that below.)

The Lily Pad Effect: Stop trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up.

Though it’s certainly one of the most popular questions, I truly believe asking ourselves what we want to be when we grow up is also one of the most tragic. It assumes that there’s only one destination. While that may have been true in decades past, the modern working world looks a lot different.

The vast majority of my clients have a much different, non-linear story.

It isn’t based on one single decision (like “I’m going to go to dentistry school and become a dentist”), but a series of decisions over time. Let’s call it a migration.

So, if you take that idea and relate it to the Lily Pad Effect, each lily pad is a decision, a step, a chance to grow. Each lily pad takes you further along on your journey, just as it would act as a point of support for a frog crossing a pond.

This is one of my favourite concepts that unfortunately, didn’t make it into my book, Too Busy to be Happy. (But there’s a lot of other important info in there, so I encourage you to take a read! You can download a sample here.) The Lily Pad Effect is a great way to look at your professional life, along with each choice you make in your career.

There’s nothing like saying, “You’re on mute,” five to 25 times a day to make you reassess all of your life choices.

The key to the Lily Pad Effect is to not be so focused on the final destination. Figure out your next jump — or your next lily pad. You may go there, hang out for a little while, and for a period of time, it feels great because the sun’s out and the lily pad is warm. But then the sun starts to set, and that lily pad falls into the shade. It gets cold, and so you move on.

And this is what I use to coach clients who are grappling with a career identity crisis. Look for your next lily pad. It doesn’t have to be forever (and it probably won’t be) but take a look at the lily pads (or opportunities) around you and make the best decision based on what you can see and the information you have. Each lily pad will bring you closer to a new set of lily pads, and the pattern will continue over the course of your career.

If I look at one of my clients who’s in marketing, a job in legal and compliance probably doesn’t seem like one of the available lily pads — it would likely take quite a lot of jumping to get there.

But if I assess the lily pads around that client, I’d find that moving into sales or customer service might be within jumping distance. Or maybe a different role at the same company, or the same role at a different company. Those jumps would be feasible based on that client’s experience and career trajectory, and they would likely feel more comfortable making the leap.

Look at your career dynamically.

Like being a parent or a partner, being a professional is an ever-evolving journey. The role looks different in your 20s than it does in your 40s, and it’s time that we all approach our careers with the same mindset. It’s easy to get overwhelmed trying to predict what the final destination should (or could) be, but if you think of your career milestones as stops on the journey, the moves become a lot more manageable.

Instead of trying to figure out what you “want to be when you grow up,” try figuring out what you want to do next. What would feel good for the next two or three years of your life? What interests you right now? Once you have an idea, you can start planning what you can do to get there.

Do your research.

Any move you make, whether it be within your company or to a totally new pond — er, field — should be considered research or information-gathering. This is a critical component in finding your passion and professional fulfilment. Every role you take on teaches you about your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes, and the type of company you might want to work for — if you want to work for a company at all. Maybe being an entrepreneur is more up your alley?

Whichever way you turn, there’s an opportunity for discovery.

Wherever you are in your career, remember the Lily Pad Effect. Consider each lily pad a small step along your journey, and use each stop to learn more about what drives you. Eventually, you might find a lily pad that you really enjoy and you’ll spend your workdays basking in the sun.

 

 

Good Question: How can I make a career pivot in a pandemic?

Woman working from home

Q:

“This last year has allowed for a lot of personal reflection. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong career, but I don’t know if now is the time to do something about it. How can I make a career pivot in a pandemic?”

 

Chanele McFarlane

OUR EXPERT:

Chanèle McFarlane
Certified Career Strategist

Chanèle McFarlane is a multiple award-winning Certified Career Strategist, TEDx Speaker and Writer. As the Founder of her career advice website, Do Well Dress Well, she has built an international audience around her approachable and practical advice on personal branding and career strategy. Chanèle is a sought-after public speaker who has spoken for several organizations, universities and colleges across North America. Her expert commentary has been featured in media outlets such as Fast Company, Elle Canada, FLARE Magazine and more. She is also an on-air career expert who has appeared on Breakfast Television, Global News’ The Morning Show, CHCH Morning Live and Rogers TV Ottawa. Chanèle has been recognized as one of PR in Canada’s Top 30 Under 30, one of the Top 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada and one of the Top 25 Women of Influence.

 

 

A:

Well, this is certainly the question I have been asked most often over the last year!

The first thing I want to say is that if you’re questioning whether now is the right time to make a career pivot, the answer is unequivocally yes. 

The news is currently full of negative narratives surrounding the labour market. Everyday there are headlines that suggest the future of work is bleak and that unemployment rates will continue to increase.

Yes, some industries such as travel have been severely impacted, but there are others that are very much thriving with opportunity. For example, the healthcare and online education industries have grown exponentially since March 2020. People are successfully making career pivots and landing new jobs during the pandemic —  and you certainly can too! Sure, there is a lot of uncertainty right now, but with the right strategy, it’s very much possible.

As someone who has made several career pivots (I even did an entire TEDx talk on it!), here’s my best advice for navigating a pandemic career pivot:

Start with self-reflection

I always suggest beginning your pivot process with deep self-reflection through a Stop, Start and Continue exercise. This requires you to create three lists: 1) What would you like to stop doing?; 2) What would you like to start doing?; and 3) What would you like to continue doing? By no means will these lists be exhaustive; you can certainly continue to edit them at any time. However, this exercise is particularly helpful in eliminating some of the initial overwhelming feelings we tend to get when we’re starting the pivot process. What you write down serves as a great starting point and helps you get one step closer to figuring out your next phase.

Conduct a skills audit

Once you’ve completed this exercise, keep your pen in your hand because you’re going to continue the self-reflection through a skills audit. First, take some time to jot down all of your transferable skills. In other words, what skills do you have that are valuable in any industry? This could be things like communication, problem solving, and project management. Next, do you have the skills required for the future of work? According to Forbes, having a growth mindset and critical thinking are among the top skills for 2021 and beyond. We live in a ‘skills economy’ which means that in most industries, employers place the highest value on your specific expertise, compared to your educational credentials.

Do your research

Once you’ve done some self-reflection and auditing of your skills, it’s time to do some research! Read up on the industries that pique your interest, review job descriptions, and look through the Linkedin profiles of people who have the roles you’re interested in. What did their career path look like? What skills do they have? What education and/or professional credentials are required? 

Additionally, you want to ensure that there are actually employment opportunities available in your industry of interest — and that the future outlook is positive. The Government of Canada’s Job bank website is an excellent resource for this research. In fact, they’ve developed a page that outlines the Outlook for COVID-19 Impacted Occupations for each province. It’s important that you don’t skip this step because you could run the risk of investing time (and potentially, money!) into attempting to pivot into a dying industry.

It’s also a great idea to reach out to people for informational interviews to ask them about their jobs, how they got into the industry, and any advice they have for someone looking to get started. Attending events is also an excellent way to build your knowledge and expand your network.

Choose education wisely

You may do your research and come to the conclusion that you won’t be able to pivot successfully unless you gain more educational credentials. I would never discourage anyone from continuing their education, but I challenge you to really think if you actually need to go back to school or if you just need to see the value in your existing experience. Women tend to count themselves out of opportunities by seeing themselves as underqualified. In Linkedin’s March 2021 Workplace Confidence Index, they found that women were far more likely to consider education as a job-seeking strategy, with 40% reporting that they would be willing to go back to school part-time or online, compared with just 26% of men. If you were to read a job description and you realized you had 9 out of 10 requirements, would you still apply? You might not need further education but perhaps just a little more work experience. If you’re currently employed, find opportunities to take on new projects and/or find a volunteer organization looking for pro-bono support on a site like Catchafire.

If  you uncover that pursuing more education is in fact the best choice, be sure to choose a program that connects you with industry professionals and allows you to gain as much real-world experience as possible. When we feel stuck in our career, it’s seems easy to just decide to go back to school but remember that your skills and work experience are still the most valuable for competing on today’s job market.

Immerse yourself in the industry

Now once you have a good sense of what field you’d like to pivot into, it’s time to completely immerse yourself in it! When I was looking to make the pivot from digital marketing to employer branding, I made sure to immerse myself in anything and everything related to the industry. I followed the top thought leaders on social media, I signed up for events, and I read tons of articles, studies and books to fill my knowledge gap. You want to gain a strong sense of what’s happening in the industry, the language they use, and who the key players are. This will be invaluable when interviewing for roles because you’ll be able to demonstrate your understanding of the field and, more importantly, your commitment to continuous learning.

Rebrand your résumé and online presence

Making a successful career pivot also requires you to do a bit of rebranding. Update your résumé and Linkedin profile to emphasize your transferable skills, as well as any key industry terms. As you immerse yourself in content and events in your new industry, start to share this information publicly on your social profiles, especially on Linkedin. (With nearly 700 million users and more than 4 million hired through the platform in 2019 alone, you’re missing out on opportunities if you’re not actively using Linkedin!). It’s important to let your network and potential employers know about your new career focus, especially if you already have an established personal brand that’s heavily centered around your previous role or industry. Re-share interesting articles, talk about the events you’re attending, and engage with people in the industry by leaving insightful comments on their posts. Once you get comfortable with that, I encourage you to start writing your own articles. Over time, not only does creating content help you to reinforce your own understanding, but it is one of the best ways to attract new career opportunities. After all, you never know who could read it — anything is possible on the internet!

I know it may seem like making a career pivot is a lot easier said than done, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Author Cal Newport puts it best though: “Compelling careers often have complex origins.” That couldn’t be more true. Once you’re on the other side of the pivot, you may just realize that this new role or industry is exactly what you were meant to do and you’ll uncover a career path beyond even your wildest dreams. 

What is the most overlooked variable when companies are scaling?

Woman contemplating

You’ve invested time, resources, and finances into your tech business, and now your aim is to scale increasing your revenue while keeping your costs down. There are a number of important factors to consider when in pursuit of that goal, from finding the right team of people to continuously establishing what makes your business valuable. 

We spoke with mentors and partners involved in ventureLAB’s Tech Undivided program — industry experts that offer each cohort of entrepreneurs strategic and tactical support, helping them refine their product-market-fit, amplify their sales, hone their pitch, and navigate funding. Here’s what five advisors had to say in answer to the question: “What is the most overlooked variable when companies are scaling?”

Customers need to be able to easily understand what you're selling, why it’s special, and why it matters to them.

Pouneh Hanafi

Pouneh Hanafi

VP, Marketing and Partnership, Tulip

First, it’s important to clarify the difference between growth and scaling. Growth is increasing revenue and resources in a linear way. To scale is increasing revenue without a significant increase in resources. Therefore, scaling a business successfully requires getting the most out of what is currently available to you, like your financial and human capital, but more importantly, your product or services.

One of the most overlooked variables in scaling a business is solidifying your positioning. While it may sound simple, businesses need to demonstrate their unique value proposition to potential customers if they’re looking to scale. Customers need to be able to easily understand what your product/service is, why it’s special, and why it matters to them.

It’s very common for founders to get stuck on the idea of “what they intended to build” and not realize that, over time, their product has changed with possibly a different use case. Many entrepreneurs fail to look at their product through the eyes of their customers and, as a result, they build a distorted self-perception based on their own definition of their product positioning. 

Entrepreneurs looking to scale their company need to develop a clear articulation of their positioning and competitive strength in the eyes of the customers. That is why it’s important to take the time to listen to your customers — especially the early adopters. Your early adopters will not only give you feedback on product improvements, but they will also help you understand where your product or service fits in the market. 

By solidifying their unique positioning in the market, businesses can establish themselves as the go-to resource and lure customers from competitors — both factors are key elements to scale. It’s important to note that while it’s essential to solidify your positioning, you shouldn’t be afraid to fine-tune it as your company grows.

The type of people and skills needed as a startup are not necessarily the same when you’re scaling.

Heather Crosbie

Heather Crosbie

Senior Advisor, ventureLAB

Founders often don’t realize that the type of people and skills needed as a startup are not necessarily the same when you’re scaling. The Founder may not be the right leader to take the organization the next step of the way. The first employees may no longer share the vision or bring the depth or type of skills that you need. 

Vision, smarts, and grit got you this far. However, as a CEO of a scaling company, you need to have knowledge and depth in the leadership of a complex organization. You need to be more strategic in your thinking, not always in the weeds, putting out fires. You need to develop people strategies to ensure you can manage the growth, with the right people. Working on governance issues –– like policies and procedures and building a Board of Directors –– is also critically important. And much more.

What is it you’re good at? What is it you enjoy doing? Do you love the chaotic, start-up phase of your company, but not so much management in the scale-up phase? It is understandably difficult to accept the reality that the company needs new types of people as you grow, but to do so will ensure the sustainability of your company.

Put thought, time, and investment into building your revenue generating team.

Jan Frolic

SVP, Global Engagement, Women of Influence

When you are ready to scale your business make sure you have put careful thought into the team who is doing this alongside you. Specifically, put thought, time, and investment into your revenue generating team. Define and potentially redefine how you value the sales people in your company.  

Very often salespeople are the last to be hired, and the hiring is done quickly and sloppily. More often than not they are considered the disposable income earners, and job security is based directly on unrealistic sales goals. This insecurity and undervaluing creates high turnover rates, an overall poor work environment, and a much, much longer revenue generation cycle.  

As you scale, keep in mind that a committed team of compassionate networkers who know your company, who are a reflection of your core values, and who believe in your mission could be your single most valuable asset. Compassionate people create connections, and connection is your silver bullet to mutually beneficial working relationships, revenue building, and long term client retention. Empower your teams with the luxury of time to build these relationships as you grow. Do the upfront work to value your salespeople, so you know you have the right people as the face of your company and its messaging. Then trust them to do their jobs without fear of sales quotas, commission penalties, and weekly sales updates taking up all of the extra emotional space that could be used to actually build your company.

Have finances and human capital in place  so you can attack opportunities when they arise.

Douglas (DJ) Saxon

Douglas (DJ) Saxon

CFA, Venture Partner, OKR Financial

Growing and scaling, although very much alike, have a key distinction that makes all the difference between being successful and just surviving. Growth involves the addition of resources (capital, people, technology) to increase revenue, whereas figuring out how to scale involves increasing revenue while being able to keep costs at a minimum.

In my personal experience, working with multiple companies across all stages, one of the most overlooked variables when companies are trying to scale is the team. Now, this doesn’t mean adding bodies to the equation is the secret weapon to scale faster; the fundamental analysis here lies more on the kind of person you are hiring. Do you have the right people with the right skill sets and experience to tackle the growth problems and opportunities that lay ahead? Some founders are hesitant to give up control or tend to micromanage their way towards slow growth. Hire smart people and trust them to do the work. 

There’s a second variable that also remains overlooked by founders, which is capital: the best time to start thinking about raising capital is before you actually need it. But it’s not just any capital we are talking about, it’s actually non-dilutive financing. Seeking out every dollar of government funding available to your particular company is the smartest way to keep going, and by getting creative in your consideration of capital sources you can really extend your runway. Getting a loan against those receivables might not sound that attractive at first glance, but when you do the math, it can help you scale without giving away equity. 

Having the resources (economic capital or human capital) in place allows you to attack opportunities when they arise and not have to wait on diligence, term sheets and negotiations while your opportunity passes you by. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for VCs to leverage a lack of runway a company has to grind down valuations by stalling you out. Having the capital to stand strong and wait for the right deal is something missed by first time entrepreneurs.

Scale is the sum of critical achievements and you need targets and assigned ownership for each.

Jolie McMillian

Jolie McMillian

Tech Sales and Operations Leader

Do you have a clear and defined understanding of what “scale” means for your business? As important, is everyone involved — from your funders to your employees — aligned to that? Once you have clear alignment on scale definition, work your way backwards from there, creating key milestones. 

Scale is not one number. Depending on your model it can/should be: Revenue, growth, acquisition, churn, hiring/retention, profit, and NPS goals. Why? Because all of these play a foundational role to scale. “Scale” will be the sum of these critical achievements, and you need targets and assigned ownership for each. 

How do you move those numbers in the right direction? Start by defining your value, your differentiation, and your vision. This will become your mantra that gets repeated in every single interaction. Everyone is drowning in messages and content, so aim for creative simplicity.  

You can look to your competitors to inform your differentiation and solutions. What do they do well (or not)? Who are they targeting? How have they scaled? Plot this info on a visual matrix, and patterns and gaps will emerge that you can use to build your strategic roadmap.

You can also look for patterns among complimentary solutions — brands you can emulate who share target customer attributes. Reach out and ask well thought out questions on how they scaled, the mistakes they made, and their past, present and future plans. Remember to deliver value nuggets in return.

Your prospects and existing customers will also be invaluable as to sharing strategic plays to scale, so don’t be afraid to share your targets and plans with the ones you trust, and ask them to support and guide you. You will be surprised as to who will appear on your Hero’s Journey to manifest doors that were once walls.

Good Question: How can I negotiate continuing working from home? Fotini Iconomopoulos shares her advice.

woman working from home

By Fotini Iconomopoulos

Q:

“My company announced that we’re going to start going back to the office soon — and I’m not looking forward to it. While some of my colleagues are excited about the prospect, I’ve gotten really used to having zero commute, more flexibility, and fewer distractions. How do I convince my boss to let me continue working from home?”

 

 

OUR EXPERT: 

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Negotiation Coach, Keynote Speaker, and MBA Instructor

Fotini Iconomopoulos is an award-winning negotiation consultant, keynote speaker and MBA instructor based in Toronto. She works with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to small business entrepreneurs to help them achieve their goals. She is regularly featured in the media and Harper Collins will be releasing her book in March 2021. Her father unknowingly influenced her career path at the age of 6 when he nicknamed her “the negotiator.” You can learn more about her work and find more of her tips at www.fotiniicon.com.

 

 

A:

Your situation is very common! Many are excited about getting the heck away from the home office and back into civilization, but others are… not so eager. 

Maybe you’re not ready just yet or maybe you want this arrangement to become permanent. Whatever the situation, there are things that you can do that will help you in your negotiation with your employer. In fact, I’ve been helping folks with employer negotiations like these for years, and COVID-19 just made working from home requests a lot easier — you’ve been trialing this (hopefully successfully) for months!

I always advise to keep track of the successes and wins you’ve had while working from home, and to lay the groundwork by dropping them into your conversations regularly. But even if you haven’t been doing that, you can make up for it with the steps below:

1. Position yourself for success

Before you even propose continuing working from home, make sure you make your employer aware of how well it’s been going. How did you make the transition seamless with your team? Did you increase productivity? Any big wins to bring up (despite the chaos)? Have you been more accessible without fighting traffic? If you have some quantitative results, even better. The more positive things you have to share about this remote work experience, the harder it will be for them to deny your request.

2. Consider it from their perspective

‘They’ are both your peers and your employer. Consider how your remote work will affect others. If you think they might have some objections, consider those now so you can address them and handle them before your employer has a chance to raise them. You’ll be acknowledging their concerns and building trust. Especially if you have solutions or learnings for their concerns.

3. Share testimonials and best practices

You already brought up some benefits earlier and now you can use the social smell of what others are doing and how they’re doing it successfully. Share testimonials from colleagues, clients, and other departments if you’ve got them. Other industry leaders and organizations who have already declared that remote work will be around for a while are a great way to use peer pressure to your advantage. A company with similarities to yours will be most compelling — so don’t pick some culture that seems like apples to oranges to them.

4. Be specific

Proposing a trial is usually an easy way to success (as it usually brings enough momentum to continue down that path) and you just had a lengthy trial run to work to your advantage. If you’ve figured out a formula for success, this is the time to lay out the plan. If it’s x number of days per week/month in the office, a rhythm of regular meetings or communication, specific working hours, or any other process that has made this a successful trial, be sure to spell it out.

5. Ask questions

Questions always come up because carefully crafted ones will get the others to convince themselves and make things less adversarial. Asking questions is something you also need to be prepared with in case you get resistance. Dig deeper than what they’re saying at face value. ‘How’ or ‘what’ questions are always my favorites: “How can we adjust this plan to make you more comfortable? What specifically about this is important to you?” Be ready to get them into problem solving mode before you just give up.

As I’ve said before, negotiations don’t have to be combative. Implementing a few of the tips above will make it a discussion instead of a boxing match.

 

Good question: How can I come across more professionally in virtual meetings? Liz West shares her advice.

Q:

“My calendar has quickly filled up with virtual meetings. While I’m getting used to the technology (hello, mute button!) and trying to present myself well (goodbye, pajamas!), I still don’t feel like I’m giving off a professional vibe — definitely not like what I’m used to with in-person connections. Any advice for upping my virtual game?”

 

 

OUR EXPERT: 

Liz West
Emcee/Moderator & Video/Media/Speaker Coach
BeWellSpoken

Liz West is a seasoned television personality who has reported, anchored and hosted for five networks across Canada including CTV, CityTV and W Network. She is a sought-after emcee and moderator for live and virtual events and is co-author of Scratch Your Buts – Seven Words that Get in the Way, a guide to becoming a better communicator. A former Presentation Skills Instructor at Centennial College and experienced media trainer, Liz works with individuals and teams who want to be their best at the podium, on camera, and in the boardroom.

 

A:

So, you’ve suddenly found yourself faced with having to sit in your home office and be your professional self “on camera” — all the while you are surrounded by your laundry, screaming kids, and your cat is wrapped around your foot. The good news is that for video calls, you really only need to worry about what the camera sees, not what it DOESN’T see. There are several simple steps you can take to set yourself up for success by looking and feeling more professional in Virtual Meetings.

Here are my top 3 Virtual Presentation Must Do’s:

1. Make eye contact.

Nobody walks into a meeting and sits on the floor while everyone sits in a chair, so why are you looking down during a virtual call? It’s not so much that nobody looks good from that angle (although that is a fact), it’s more about maintaining the natural eye-to-eye contact that we use in all aspects of our non-virtual life. Talking eye-to-eye creates an understood equality, which opens up a conversation to having the best possible outcome.

To fix the “up your nose” shot in your new virtual office, grab some books, a shoebox, or anything that is flat and solid and lifts your device six inches or so off your desk surface. If you are feeling really confident, let yourself look at your camera lens so that you even appear to be talking to your guest. Raising your eye level to a natural height will really help connect you to the participants of a video chat.

2. Pay attention to lighting.

How many times have you been on a video call and you can’t really see one of the people on your screen because it’s too dark? You wouldn’t have a meeting at your downtown office in the dark, and the same rules apply during a video conference. To fix this problem you need light. Any light. Ideally, sit with your face towards a window, because natural light is ideal. Do NOT have your back to a window or your side to a window. If you don’t have a window, then face a simple table lamp or standing lamp, so that you are well lit. Light is a woman’s best friend when it comes to video.

3. Get into prime position.

Remember that your “shot” is quite small, so you want to fill most of it. Having a little head at the bottom of the screen while we all admire your stucco ceiling or Royal Daulton collection is just plain distracting. Position your camera so that your head and shoulders take up most of the frame. And sit-up straight, so that your body is in an active position. The added energy you use to do this will help you stay engaged in what can be a very disconnected environment.

By upping your virtual game, on those video calls you will look and feel more like the professional you are, and can take a deep breath and forget about the laundry, your kids, and the cat (for a while).

 

 

Good Question: Does Covid-19 mean my career plan has to go on hold? Christine Laperriere shares her advice.

Q:

“Before Covid-19, I was on a career plan to move into a Vice President role in the next 18 months or so. I knew I had more to do to secure the position, but I was doing great work, growing the right relationships, and my last performance review confirmed I was on track. Now, everything has changed. Working remotely, I can’t just stop by someone’s desk or easily get a few minutes with senior leaders — who all seem to be in crisis mode, so I hate to bother them with career discussions. I know I’m lucky to just have a job. Should I accept that my career aspirations are on hold?”

 

 

OUR EXPERT: 

Christine Laperriere
Executive Director, Women of Influence Advancement Centre

Christine Laperriere is the executive director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, president of Leader In Motion, a leadership development organization, and the author of Too Busy to Be Happy — a guide to using Emotional Real Estate to improve both your work and your life. A seasoned expert in helping women professionals advance their careers, she’s had the honour of guiding hundreds of women in various companies and roles to reach their full potential. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and executive coaching, along with years in design engineering and management consulting.

 

A:

Let me start by saying, you’re not alone. So many of us are scratching our head and trying to figure out what to do next. And yes, you are fortunate to be employed, but it can still be frustrating to feel that your hard earned career momentum has been lost. The good news is, your aspirations don’t need to come to an end — you just have to adjust your strategy.

Demonstrate leadership through a crisis.
You’ve put in the work to show you can be a leader — now’s the time to prove that you can lead through a crisis. Think about this: in the future, when other leaders in your organization are trying to assess whether you are ready to be a VP, they are going to use their past experiences with you to determine if they can picture you being successful in this new and expanded role. So help them picture it. Stay open minded, stay innovative, and practice as much self-care as you can to help you stay sane (which I know is near impossible for those of us with kids at home, or those who are worried about the health and safety of our family and friends). None of this is easy; and that’s exactly the point — leading through a crisis is very challenging, which is why it’s such a critical opportunity to show your capability and dedication.

Create a communication plan. 
In order to put the first point into action, you need to become thoughtful about your talking points. Think through how you will communicate to others about how you are leading through this challenging time. For example, when people ask you how you are doing, tell them how you are leading. Tell them about how you view the complexities of moving to a virtual environment overnight, how it has impacted the team, and how it has changed your business. And then share with them exactly what your approach has been to lead through this challenge to get the best outcomes possible. As people get to hear how you solve problems, it will build your personal brand even further.

Connect virtually, but with a purpose.
Although I can imagine that few of us really want one more virtual meeting on our calendar, don’t be afraid to reach out to sponsors and mentors and ask them for a few minutes of either coaching around a business issue or a discussion about leading during this crisis. Share stories, support each other with ideas, and most important, don’t be afraid to ask them for help. If you are going to a sponsor, start by explaining how you are approaching leading through this crisis, and then ask for their advice on what you should be considering. What are you missing? How are they approaching this challenge? This meeting approach not only gets you coaching on how to be a strong crisis leader, it also gives you a chance to show your strategic thinking capability.

 

 

Good question: Should I accept every LinkedIn request that I receive? Leslie Hughes shares her advice.

Q:

“Now that virtual networking is taking off, I’m noticing a few more invites coming in on LinkedIn, often from people I don’t know. What’s the protocol on these kinds of connections? I’m not sure which ones to ignore or accept — but I always feel a little guilty not saying yes.” 

OUR EXPERT: 

Leslie Hughes
Principal, PUNCH!media & LinkedIn Optimization Specialist

Leslie Hughes is a LinkedIn Optimization Specialist, Professor of Social Media, Corporate Trainer, Principal of PUNCH!media, and author of CREATE. CONNECT. CONVERT. She was called a “Social Media Guru” by CBC Radio and was featured on CTV’s The Social discussing how to manage your digital identity. Leslie has been working in digital marketing since 1997 and founded PUNCH!media in 2009.


A:

I believe that we should be building a network of quality connections instead of just randomly accepting every request.

I say this for three reasons:

EVERYONE is not a strategy.
In marketing, your goal is to connect with the right people. So, if you only serve clients in one specific geographic location (i.e. North America), you don’t need to connect with people on the other side of the world — unless you believe there is reciprocal value for connecting with them.

Keep your newsfeed clutter to a minimum.
When you connect with someone, you will see their status updates. I would rather read updates from people I’m interested in, as opposed to having a newsfeed full of irrelevant content from people I don’t know.

Avoid SPAM.
When you qualify the people in your virtual network, you’re much less likely to receive SPAM. Thankfully, I haven’t had too many people pitch their services without initiating a conversation with me first. If they did this, I would immediately remove them from my network.

Another way to qualify whether or not you should accept that connection request is to ask yourself: “Would I exchange business cards with this person?” 

To obtain new opportunities, it’s important that you continuously build upon your existing network of connections. You definitely want to add new people that you want to get to know into your audience or sales funnel.

Here are three ways to manage or respond to inbound connection requests from strangers:

  1. Respond without accepting their connection request.

You may not have noticed, but there’s an option to message individuals who have sent you a request before you accept their invite. (Not sure how to do it? Check out my video explainer.) You can put the onus back on the person who has sent you the connection request with one of the following replies:

“Thank you for the invitation to connect. Can you refresh my memory as to how we know each other?”

“Thank you for the invitation to connect. I only accept connection requests from people I know. Let’s get to know each other! Please tell me a little bit about what you do, and who you help.”

“Thank you for the invitation to connect. Do you have any questions about (services you provide), or are you just looking to build your network?”

If they don’t answer, don’t add them to your network. Each person should bring some sort of value to this professional relationship.

  1. Accept their connection request, and begin a conversation

If someone looks like they could be an interesting connection, accept their request and begin a dialogue with them. Use icebreakers about information you’ve gathered from their profile, or acknowledge a mutual connection you have in common.

You could message them the following: “Thank you so much for connecting with me here on LinkedIn. I see on your profile that you know Susan Smith. I used to work with Susan at ABC Company. I’d love to know more about your business and how we could work together. Can we set up a meeting to talk?”

Remember, you must put the “social” into Social Media. Each micro-moment you have with someone will help to build trust over time.

  1. Simply click “Ignore”

If someone is clearly not going to be a valuable connection in your network, then you can click “Ignore” — rest assured, LinkedIn will not send them a notification that you have rejected them.

And my final tip: While we are connecting with people virtually from device-to-device, use the same kind of strategy and etiquette you would use if you were to encounter that person face-to-face. At the end of that device, we are connecting human-to-human.

Good Question: When is Enough Really Enough? Arlene Dickinson shares her advice.

Q:

“I love my work even though I put in 10-hour days, monitor my blackberry for weekend and evening calls that usually require follow-up, and have never taken a vacation that involved being totally unavailable. I am—and have always been—fine with that. My doctor is not.

Recently I started having trouble sleeping and developed headaches almost daily. I go to work tired and pop a few Advil throughout the day. When I started getting winded after short walks, and experienced chest pains for no reason, that’s when I saw the doctor. There’s nothing wrong with me except my lifestyle.

I’ve taken control of what I can—cook more, take-out less; exercise early in the morning before work; and took the television out of my bedroom too. The symptoms aren’t going away. I’ve gone back to the doctor and the message is the same: the way I work isn’t conducive to a healthy lifestyle. If I keep this up, something will go seriously wrong, that’s what my body is apparently telling me.

Here’s the problem: My job requires this level of dedication; my boss puts in longer hours than I do; the people who report to me are under pressure too. How do I make the case that my workload and way of working aren’t tenable without losing my job? How do I achieve a work-life balance?”

 

OUR EXPERT: 

Arlene Dickinson
President and CEO of Venture Communications

Arlene Dickinson is one of Canada’s most successful — and recognizable — entrepreneurs. Best known for her role as a Dragon on the multi-award-winning television series Dragons’ Den, she built her fortune with Venture Communications, and just a few years ago, launched District Ventures — an accelerator, venture fund, and communications firm focused on turning successful Canadian companies in the food and health space into globally respected brands. She is a two-time bestselling author, an accomplished public speaker, a television and podcast host, and the winner of multiple awards for her leadership and entrepreneurial success. Arlene sits on several public and private boards and is actively involved in supporting the community. 

 

A:

My initial reaction is that you’re in the wrong job, period.

Some expectations come from you and some come from the job, and until you manage your need to control, and for perfection, the anxiety and stress will never go away. This is as much about your own desires as it is about the expectation of your workplace.

At some point, you have to accept that’s the reality of your work—late nights, no vacation, etc. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, it just is. The job you’re in might actually require commitment and energy that you don’t have. My advice would be: go find another job, not go talk to your boss.

However, if talking to your boss lowers your stress, then awesome—you should do that. But I don’t think it will because you’re putting the blame for your challenge on your job instead of on yourself, and you are responsible for your own choices.

As an employer, I have an expectation that people will work hard and do their job. But if someone said to me: “I can’t work as hard as you do, but I will give it my best,” then I’m ok with that. How can I expect anyone who works for me to work as hard as me? It’s my company. Most entrepreneurs understand that.

But here’s why I think your work’s not your problem: People often take a job because it’s going to be good for their career, not because it’s best for them. Sometimes we make a career move that’s not a great choice for our talents and abilities, and it becomes a trap: we get overwhelmed by the requirements, but we get the salary, the position, the authority. It’s all great except that we hate it, or it causes us stress. In this case, you love the work, but you have the stress.

If there’s a physical manifestation of stress—even though you went and changed stuff, like eating better, sleeping more, etc.—then this is not a lifestyle issue, it’s a career issue. So go find what makes you happy. That’s easy for me to say, right? Because quitting means giving up security…but this is your health and nothing is worth that, is it?

If there’s an expectation to work this way, then you need to make a decision. It’s all about choices and, ultimately, if it comes down to your health, screw it. Nothing’s worth that.

Good Question: how should my company manage online trolls and negative comments on social media?

Q:

“A negative comment was left on my company’s social pages and it’s starting to go far and wide. I am worried it is going to affect business. How can I manage and should I respond?”

 

OUR EXPERT:

Lauren Shirreffs
Founder and CEO, 2Social

Lauren Shirreffs is the founder and CEO of 2Sociala women-led Canadian digital agency that delivers full service, community-minded marketing solutions to organizations across North America. Known as a brand nurturer, expert digital storyteller and passionate problem solver, Lauren continues to be at the forefront of social media innovation and has built 2Social into a thriving bi-coastal agency with offices in Toronto and Los Angeles.

 

 

 

A:

Social media opens the door for two-way communication between brands and consumers, which ultimately helps drive engagement, loyalty and community. However, consumers will often take the time to write a negative comment when they’re frustrated or upset rather than a positive one when they’re pleased with their experience. When negative comments are posted, it’s ideal to have a corporate social media policy and prepared “FAQs” written in the voice and tone of the brand at the ready. These materials provide direction and leave no room for error in these imperative touch points with consumers. 

If you don’t have a corporate social media policy or FAQs at your organization, don’t panic — now is the time to think rationally and clearly. Immediately escalate this comment (ideally within one to three hours from the time the comment was posted) to your marketing manager and collaborate on the best way to approach your response. This is also a good time to prepare for any virality or further customer feedback.

Look at this situation as a window of opportunity to shift a negative comment into a positive customer experience. If done skillfully and strategically, the response can also illustrate to the online audience the brand’s core values and its values as a whole. 

Do:

  • Respond in one to three hours.
  • Be polite, positive, helpful and synonymous with your brand tone.
  • Encourage the conversation to be continued as a direct or private message.
  • Escalate the comment to the appropriate managers with a suggested response that is on tone and on-brand.
  • Document the incident for future references.
  • Add to or develop a FAQ document to share best practices, ensure speedy turn-around times, and support the community management team.

Don’t:

  • Respond if the comment includes any vulgarities, racism, or sexism. It is perfectly okay in these instances to hide the comment.
  • Escalate the comment to a superior and then not follow up on the matter.
  • Continue the conversation on a public forum, such as a wall post.
  • Argue, retaliate, or provoke.

 

Good Question: Why Can’t I Get Hired? Islay McGlynn shares her advice.

Q:

“I’ve applied for more jobs than I can count in the past year, but haven’t landed anything. I graduated from university five years ago, have had two employers in that time, and earned one promotion. I’m still considered a junior-level employee so I’m looking for my next move. At first, I was selective, but my friends keep telling me “Apply to everything!” even if I don’t have every qualification listed on the posting. I put myself forward for anything that’s in my industry. I’ve been called in for many interviews, but never hear back. I bring references, I’m on time, and I always follow up to show that I’m eager. It hasn’t worked and I’m discouraged and demoralized. Why can’t I get hired?”


 

OUR EXPERT: 

Islay McGlynn
Senior Vice President, Executive Support at Scotiabank

Islay is a thirty-year banker with broad experience across Personal, Small Business and Commercial Banking business lines as well as experience in risk management, human resources and operations. She is also the Chair of Maduro & Curiel’s Bank based in Curaçao, the Chair of the Dalhousie MBA Advisory Council and a board member at the Toronto Rehab Foundation.

 

A:

Glad to hear you are persevering! When it comes to seeking new opportunities to advance your career, it’s best to start with a self-assessment of your strengths, skills, and achievements. Think about the type of work you enjoy doing and are passionate about.

 

Accessing the position qualifications

You don’t have to possess all of the requirements of a job posting in order to apply. If you can show that you have similar skills and abilities that you have demonstrated in other roles or volunteer positions, this increases your chances of landing an interview, and ultimately the job.

Are you a right fit for the company? Hiring managers are looking for the right experience, skills, and knowledge and for the right fit with the company culture and the team. As such, you would benefit from doing some research to learn more about the organization you wish to join.

The interview gives you the opportunity to demonstrate how you can contribute to both the job and the team. It is also when your fit to the organization and department is assessed. Your presence and the impression you make during the interview stage is critical to your personal brand and success. So go in prepared!

Be selective! Don’t just “apply anyway”!  Your first instinct was right: The “apply to everything” advice your friend suggested is not my recommended approach. Be selective in your job search. If you reach the interview stage, hiring managers will sense your level of interest and passion for the role based on your responses.

Set yourself up for success by being more selective about your next career move. There is a lot of competition out there so targeting the right level and roles for your skillset and experience will increase your job search results. Look for exciting opportunities that leverage your strengths. This will allow you to shine and position yourself as a valuable team member. The growth, development, and progression you seek will follow when you are in the right role.

Remember that it is important to diversify your search strategies and leverage all the ways possible to land the right role. Let your network of friends and colleagues know you are interested in a new career opportunity.

Good Question: I feel like my boss is against me. What should I do? Linda Descano has the answer.

Q:

When I first started working for her (she didn’t hire me), she took me aside to tell me she didn’t think I would make it at the company and that I didn’t have what it took to be successful in the industry. I took that as a challenge and set out to prove myself and I did — to other people in the company anyway. Last month I applied for an award that recognizes women in my industry. The application requires endorsement from the company and has room for your boss’s input, so I asked her if she would be interested in supporting the award. She refused, telling me there’s no way I could win. I was dumbfounded but found support from another executive in the company.

I just found out that I won. I’m proud, but it’s created tension at work — co-workers congratulate me in front of my boss and it’s awkward. Also, she is my boss and she seems even frostier now than before. I need to manage this situation in order to manage my career (I don’t want to leave the company; there’s lots of potential here). I feel bullied. How do I handle this boss who clearly isn’t on my side?


 

 

OUR EXPERT: 

Linda Descano
Executive Vice President, Red Havas US

In many organizations, it’s the youngsters who school the older workers on all things digital and social. But in Red Havas North America PR’s case, Linda Descano performs as the agency’s head online experimenter—carrying clients and twentysomething team members into the future. Recruited as Red Havas PR’s EVP in October 2015 to lead digital/social strategies for clients like WEX Inc., MilliporeSigma, Rhode Island Commerce Corporation and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, Descano provides cutting-edge counsel and tactical implementation, infusing PR, media relations, thought leadership, advertising, social media, content partnerships and influencer marketing into her campaigns. And as a CFA charter holder, she brings a financial savvy to the table that helps deliver more results for less. Prior to Descano’s pivot into PR, she spent 20-plus years in financial services, designing and delivering industry-leading integrated campaigns underpinned by social media and content marketing.

 

A:

If you are serious about staying with the company, then you must commit to being part of the solution and not exacerbating the tension. That begins with having a clear understanding of what your boss expects from you.

First, schedule a face-to-face to discuss her vision of the key attributes for success at the company, and why she doesn’t think you have what it takes to be successful. Listen more than you talk, and ask for concrete examples. Strike a constructive, rather than accusatory, tone.

The objective would be to align on the top three things that are expected of you, as well as a schedule for regular check-ins.

One idea to explore with your manager is a 360° review, so both of you have more data points to inform your action plan. Document these discussions in an email so you have appropriate records in the event that you aren’t able to reconcile and escalation to HR is necessary.

With respect to the award, always check with your organization’s policy to determine whether any approvals are required before submitting an award application. Even if none were required, I would be transparent and notify my manager in advance of submitting the application. If her endorsement was required and she declined, I would not ask another executive for an endorsement without telling my boss first—and, on the flip side, I would let the other executive know that my manager had declined. Going behind your boss’s back to get what you need may hurt you in the long run, since your behaviour will generate mistrust and does not demonstrate respect for her position.

Regardless of the specifics of your individual situation, it’s important to pinpoint the source of your conflict, whether it’s with your boss, a colleague or a direct report. If your issues stem from mismatched ethics, value, or integrity — rather than your abilities — then seek advice and guidance from your ethics office or a reliable internal HR resource to help you navigate the best way to proceed.

Good Question: How do I know when is the right time to leave my job?

Q:

A new position has come up in another area that I would love to pursue — but it doesn’t feel like the right time to leave my department. Should I pursue it anyway?

Knowing how much pressure we are under to deliver, I am concerned that my boss will be angry if I leave. I like my boss and my team, and I don’t want them to think I don’t appreciate all they have done for me. And I hate the idea of leaving them with all of this work to do — it will put a lot of extra pressure on everyone.”

 

 


 

 

OUR EXPERT: 

Christine Laperriere
Executive Director, Women of Influence Advancement Centre

Christine Laperriere is the executive director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, president of Leader In Motion, a leadership development organization, and the author of Too Busy to Be Happy — a guide to using Emotional Real Estate to improve both your work and your life. A seasoned expert in helping women professionals advance their careers, she’s had the honour of guiding hundreds of women in various companies and roles to reach their full potential. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and executive coaching, along with years in design engineering and management consulting.

 

A:

In my role, I get the opportunity to interact with hundreds of professional women at varying levels within their organizations, from CEOs to administrative assistants. So many women I coach feel there is “never a right time” to leave a position. I’m going to share a few pieces of wisdom I’ve gathered from working with very successful women.

 

It’s not a marriage.
So many talented women treat their commitment to their jobs in the same way they approach their marriages or families — acting as if they are committed indefinitely. Every employer will tell you that having employees that are extremely loyal is a great asset to their business. The challenge with this thinking is that it can limit healthy personal and professional growth.

Years ago, when I was struggling to leave a relationship, my coach said to me: “You don’t have to make him wrong in order for it to be the right decision to leave.” This was eye-opening. I was looking for where the other party was wrong to help me justify my decision to make a change. I see many professionals who will say they like their boss, team, company, or role — so they don’t know why they feel like they want a change. You don’t have to hate your job to justify leaving it.

 

It’s not a fling.
While it’s important to recognize that being too loyal can be a detriment, I also like to challenge talented women to think of how they build a personal brand of commitment. Changing positions quickly can leave people wondering if you’ve got the grit to work through challenges and stay the course when things get tough. 

I not only ask clients if they’ve been in their existing role for a minimum of 18 months, but also whether they’ve seen some work through to completion — in which they can say with confidence that they’ve gained new critical skills through that working experience. There will always be unique circumstances that merit a quick departure, but repeated short stays can leave future employers questioning your credentials if this becomes your regular rotation. 

 

“You don’t have to hate your job to justify leaving it.”

 

It’s more like a home. 
I like to use the analogy of a home when it comes to how we approach loyalty in our careers. If you think about it, many of us have lived in different homes throughout our lives. Some homes we live in for numerous years, others are only for a short time. Sometimes we move to get away from our loud and rowdy neighbours, other times we move because we’ve simply outgrown the place and it’s healthy to evolve in a new environment that is a better fit for who we are today.

 

Don’t wait for permission.
I’ve worked with many women who feel they need to wait for permission to leave. We want others to say: “It’s okay to take that new role!” The truth is, we have to give ourselves permission to pursue what feels right to us, even at the expense of disappointing others. A boss that values your work is rarely going to encourage you to take on a different opportunity, and that’s a good thing — they see your greatness! This is even more reason why you should take that leap that excites you the most.

Be thoughtful about how you leave your role, and always thank those around you for what they’ve taught you. You’ll find that over time you’ll create a network full of professionals that continue to support you for years to come.

 

To learn more about how you or your organization can advance talented female professionals and leaders more effectively, contact Christine directly at claperriere@womenofinlfuence.ca.

 

Good Question: What is the most effective approach to resolving conflict between two employees on a team

Q:

“In my department, I have a manager and her direct report who are really at odds with each other on a project. People have dropped by my office to tell me that their frustration with each other is really causing challenges during larger project review meetings. What is the best way to approach and resolve this issue?


 

OUR EXPERT: 

Christine Laperriere
Executive Director, Women of Influence Advancement Centre

Christine Laperriere is the executive director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, president of Leader In Motion, a leadership development organization, and the author of Too Busy to Be Happy — a guide to using Emotional Real Estate to improve both your work and your life. A seasoned expert in helping women professionals advance their careers, she’s had the honour of guiding hundreds of women in various companies and roles to reach their full potential. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and executive coaching, along with years in design engineering and management consulting.

 

A:

There are many ways that leaders address this issue—unfortunately, they often don’t lead to the best result. Here are a few common approaches that leaders take, and their pitfalls:

Speak to the manager and delegate getting the issue resolved. The challenge with this approach is that it does not address what leadership issues the manager may have. Sometimes, the manager may lack the skills to effectively engage the employee. Delegating the issue to a manager without the ability to properly address the issue can lead to high turnover and the loss of some great talent before the gap in the manager’s skills surfaces as the cause.

Decide that the manager needs training. Many times, when a conflict arises, leaders quickly resort to communications or leadership training. Training creates many great benefits, but it often uses generalizations, which may not help that manager become more effective at resolving a very specific type of employee issue.

Speak with numerous team members to gather information about the current issues, and then create a plan to resolve them. This approach can require hours of a leader’s time, taking them away from numerous other important and more strategic activities. It also creates a culture in which a disagreement gets put under a microscopic lens and can be overanalyzed if not careful.

Defer the issue to human resources. Bringing in your counterparts in human resources can definitely help to resolve employee issues. The caveat: if leaders regularly delegate issue resolution to another department without feeling fully engaged or accountable to improve the situation, the efforts made may only result in a short-term improvement.

What’s an effective approach that generates a positive outcome?

Teaching leaders to facilitate a single yet powerful conversation between two individuals in conflict. It is a priceless skill, and when leaders are involved in the conversation they grow further insight into the people, management, and business issues that exist within their team. In addition, this approach saves hours of time in individual conversations and encourages a culture in which people address and resolve challenges head-on.

 

Follow these four simple steps to lead a conversation that resolves conflict between two individuals:

 

STEP 1: State the reason for the conversation.

It’s important to highlight that the end goal of the meeting is to create a more harmonious working relationship between the two individuals. Many times, individuals feel the purpose of the meeting is to find out who is at fault for the conflict. Finding fault is far less productive and brings out the more defensive feelings in each individual.

 

STEP 2: Ask each individual to take ten minutes and explain their thoughts around the conflict.

It’s very important that there are no interruptions, and that the other party listens with curiosity and not reaction. This step is critical!

 

STEP 3: Ask each party how they feel they could work together more harmoniously in the future.

Instead of having them focus on past conversations that were tense and unproductive, encourage both parties to talk through how future situations could be more effective. Encourage discussion around how things could be different than they are today as opposed to focusing on finding faults.

 

STEP 4: Create agreements.

Ask each party to agree to a future behaviour change. Many times, once two people have talked through a conflict, they assume that the other person will change in the future. This simply sets the stage for more conflict. If each party can highlight and take ownership of what they can contribute to improving the situation, many times both individuals will feel more collaborative in their future work together.

 

As leaders, how we resolve conflict between individuals is one of the most important things we do to influence the culture of our teams.

 

 

To learn more about how you or your organization can advance talented women professionals and leaders more effectively, contact Christine directly at claperriere@womenofinlfuence.ca.

 

Good Question: My mentor told me that I need to put more effort on critical mandates. Was it a criticism of my work? What am I missing?

Q:

“My mentor told me that if I want to move up, I need to start putting more effort on critical mandates. I feel like everything I do is stuff that has to get done — so I’m not sure what to do with this advice. Was it a criticism of my work? What am I missing?


 

OUR EXPERT: 

Christine Laperriere
Executive Director, Women of Influence Advancement Centre

Christine Laperriere is the executive director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, president of Leader In Motion, a leadership development organization, and the author of Too Busy to Be Happy — a guide to using Emotional Real Estate to improve both your work and your life. A seasoned expert in helping women professionals advance their careers, she’s had the honour of guiding hundreds of women in various companies and roles to reach their full potential. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and executive coaching, along with years in design engineering and management consulting.

 

A:

I often coach my clients on how to productively handle negative feedback — but I actually don’t think this is what your mentor is offering. Focusing on critical mandates is key for advancement, and the first step is understanding what this means. It’s not about getting through your task list — everything might have to be done, but not everything is critical — it’s about putting more energy towards what will have a big impact. Here are three easy steps to do it: 

 

  1. Figure out what are your critical mandates. 

    Can you quickly list the three most important things your company needs you to deliver on? Just because a task is urgent (someone in shipping needs a signature for a package) doesn’t make it important (delivering a presentation to align peers on a critical business objective).

  2. Colour code your calendar. 

    If you have three critical mandates, begin to colour code what mandate you are working on at each point in the day. A lot of people feel this sounds too tactical, but ironically, the moment you see where your daytime hours are being spent, it gets very easy to see what is keeping you away from your most important work. I challenge you to try this out for four weeks and then review your history to see what stands out to you. 

  3. Ask for support. 

    As you start to re-prioritize your time to focus on the most important mandates, some other things are going to naturally get less attention. As this is a growth opportunity for you, you may need to reach out to your boss to explain how you’re prioritizing critical mandates, and ask for support. She might need to delegate time intensive, low priority work to someone else, or even advise that certain tasks be set to the back burner until more critical initiatives are complete.

 

To learn more about how you or your organization can advance talented female professionals and leaders more effectively, contact Christine directly at claperriere@womenofinlfuence.ca.

 

Good Question: My boss shared with me some difficult feedback, and it has really thrown me off my game. How can I deal with this?

Q:

“Recently, my boss shared with me some difficult feedback, and it has really thrown me off my game. I feel like I work really hard and am overall doing a pretty good job, and she’s not acknowledging that. How can I deal with this?


 

OUR EXPERT: 

Christine Laperriere
Executive Director, Women of Influence Advancement Centre

Christine Laperriere is the executive director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, president of Leader In Motion, a leadership development organization, and the author of Too Busy to Be Happy — a guide to using Emotional Real Estate to improve both your work and your life. A seasoned expert in helping women professionals advance their careers, she’s had the honour of guiding hundreds of women in various companies and roles to reach their full potential. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and executive coaching, along with years in design engineering and management consulting.

 

A:

It can be hard to hear that your performance has been less than stellar, but with the right mindset, this can be an opportunity rather than a roadblock. There are a few key steps I suggest to help navigate through negative feedback, and come out the other side with a positive outcome.

  1. Recognize it’s normal to feel defensive. Difficult feedback is especially hard to take when you feel like you are working really hard. The natural first response is to think your efforts aren’t being valued. That said, just because this is the normal human response doesn’t mean it’s the most effective one.
  2. Before you process the feedback, take time to process your feelings. I often encourage clients who are disappointed or frustrated by difficult feedback to give 24 hours before trying to process this information. And be sure to do something fun in those 24 hours — whether it is treating yourself to a good workout, a favourite dinner, or even just curling up with a good book and a glass of wine. The important thing is to consciously decide to take your mind off of the feedback for a bit and get yourself back into a higher state of mind. Once you’ve had time to focus on something else, it is easier to get genuinely curious about the feedback.
  3. Play a game of “They are right!” As you decide it’s time to reflect on the feedback, do a “they are right” exercise and see if you can validate their point of view by noticing three to five things you do that endorse the feedback. You don’t need to beat up on yourself — you are just looking to process where this feedback might be helping you see a blind spot.
  4. Consider the upside of difficult feedback. Getting candid feedback and using it to grow can be an absolute game changer. Each person you work with will have varying points of view around where you need to improve. You don’t need to please everyone all of the time, but if you can gain awareness and try new approaches as a result of feedback, it will likely help you grow as a professional.
  5. Book a 90-Day Check in. Nothing is more impressive to a leader than a team member who takes difficult feedback and grows from it. Leaders want people who are coachable and they will naturally support people they see excelling. So, if you want to demonstrate your ability to be coachable, set a reminder to book a follow-up call with your boss after you’ve had 90 days to take in your feedback and practice new approaches. Ask to check in with her to share what actions you’ve taken, see if she’s noticed the improvements you’ve made — and ask for more feedback. 

 

To learn more about how you or your organization can advance talented female professionals and leaders more effectively, contact Christine directly at claperriere@womenofinlfuence.ca.

Good Question: Is it worth it to pursue a lateral career move?

 

 

Q: I’ve been offered a new role that I think is more of a lateral move than a promotion, and my current position is a good one. Since it’s not a big step up, I’m having trouble evaluating whether or not to pursue the opportunity. It’s within the organization I work for now, so that’s not a factor. Any tips on how to decide if I should change positions, or stay in my existing role?

 

Christine Laperriere, Executive Director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, gives her advice:

 

Many accomplished professionals have dealt with this same conundrum at some point during their career, whether it’s an offer of a new role within their current organization, or an outside opportunity to shift gears. And although there are numerous things to consider, it’s useful to consider four common areas that make up a great position:

 

1. Your boss.

As we all know, people often quit their boss, not their job. Having a great boss is the central theme over and over again in why people stay in a role versus leave a role. As you are evaluating whether or not to stay or go, ask yourself how much you enjoy working for your existing boss and think about who your future boss might be if you change roles. And to go a step further, many people today are choosing to start small businesses and forgo a boss all together. This can be a great option if you prefer this style of work — but for some professionals, having your end customers as your “team of bosses” can pose a different set of challenges.

 

2. Your skills.

Another area to consider in a role is what type of skill this role requires to be excellent at the position. As human beings, we love to do work we feel we are competent in and that we have room to excel in. As you evaluate this position, does it leverage your best skills? Is there room for you to grow new skills that will be valuable in the future? If you don’t know, this is a great time to create a list of some of the skills you bring to the table.

 

3. Your Instincts.

Thinking about your natural working instincts can really lead to a few ah-ha moments about why you love or don’t love a specific role. Many years feeling very frustrated in my role as an engineer, I took a Kolbe assessment that helped me see that my personality type was improvising and creative while engineers were typically very data driven. Finally, I understood why even when working for a great boss, I often found I didn’t enjoy my engineering work enough to stay in that role for the long run.

 

4. Your Engagement.

Sometimes people can have the “perfect job,” but for some reason it doesn’t feel rewarding. Work you love comes from being interested in what’s going to happen in that role, with that company, and/or within that industry and customer base. A great job strokes our curiosity in a way in which we feel engaged in what we are doing for long stretches of time — like turning pages in a suspenseful novel, we want to know what happens next. Sometimes, when we’ve been in a job too long, we just lose that “spark.” If this sounds like you, give yourself permission to explore new opportunities; that’s a sign that you might be ready to learn something new.

 

 

So, if you are considering a change in position, I heavily encourage you to compare your existing position in each of these areas to what you know about the prospective position.  That can act as a great starting point to thinking through your decision. Furthermore, consider using this list of categories to help you research new roles and create questions to ask as you are investigating new positions. If you find a role that ranks high in each area for you, it might be worth taking a risk and trying something new.

 

 

To learn more about how you or your company can engage the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, you can reach out to Christine directly at advance@womenofinfluence.com.

Christine Laperriere is a seasoned expert on helping leaders and teams reduce internal conflict, improve employee engagement, and more effectively engage with customers and prospects. Working with the Women of Influence Advancement Centre and through her own consultancy, Leader in Motion, she has spent the past ten years teaching hundreds of leaders how to be more effective through her “Leadership through Conflict & Change” course, and helped many with specific challenges through private executive coaching. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy and executive coaching, along with years in management consulting focused on implementation, change management and culture change initiatives.