Monday, July 25, 2011

Posture Perfect

I speak about posture with my clients... a lot.  And, by 'a lot', I mean A LOT!  In fact, I spoke about it with a coaching client today.  It is one of the top two elements that arises when we speak about Leadership and Executive presence.  What boggles my mind though is no one is ever surprised that I mention it as a key detractor from their projection of confidence, poise and potential.  In fact... they typically all indicate that they have been told this same thing many times in the past.  Yep, MANY times, and yet... they still slump and slouch.


Your posture is one of the key elements that communicates to others what your relative level of confidence is, either with the situation itself or with yourself.  Round your shoulders forward, compress your diaphragm and sink down into your lower spine and you will look more submissive, unsure, hesitant and, yes, weak.    Lord knows that if you are a parent of a teen, in particular a teenage boy, you have been admonishing them forever to stop slouching!  Why then do so many adults continue to demonstrate this self-same behaviour?

Recent research now shows us that not only does poor posure make a bad impression, but that it can actually make you physically weaker.  According to a study conducted by Scott Wiltermuth (USC Marshall School of Business) and Vanessa K. Bohns (J.L. Rotman School of Mnagement at the University of Toronto), adopting a positive dominant posture, versus a negative submissive posture actually decreases your sensitivity to pain. 

According to the study, those adopting more dominant poses felt more powerful, in control and capable of handling more distress.  They were comfortably able to tolerate more pain than those who were assigned more neutral or submissive stances. 

These results would indicate that adopting a stronger, more positive and dominant posture will not only create a more positive impression with those around you but will actually serve to help you be and feel stronger.  Certainly, when experiencing emotional stress and trauma, you would be better served by standing erect than curling into a ball on your bed!   It seems that the old adage to 'Fake it Until you Make it' happens to be true when it comes to posture.  Even if you are not feeling particularly confident, standing as though you are will help you to feel stronger and more in control.

So.  Don't wait for someone like me to have to tell you what you have known all along...  head up, shoulders back, stand up straight.   Mom would be proud.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ditch the Career...

I'm an Entrepreneur.  I own a couple of businesses; businesses that I started from scratch and continue to market and grow.  Okay... typical of the expectation you have for 'entrepreneurs'.  However, I want you to consider that, regardless of where you work or who you work for, you too are an Entrepreneur.  And... if you're not thinking of yourself as one... yet... you need to start!

Let's face it.  The 'old' definitions of careers just don't fit the world of work that we experience today.  The guarantees that our parents and grandparents once had no longer exist. The 'career' framework has shifted and we must shift our view with it.  This requires us to assume total and complete responsibility for our own futures and, I would suggest, necessitates a shift from thinking of our 'careers' to adopting the perspective that we are thinking of our 'businesses'.

With all of the right-sizing and down-sizing taking place, with the shift in 'how' work is getting done, we are doing ourselves a significant disservice by failing to ensure that we remain marketable and competitive.  We shouldn't need to be formally outplaced from our jobs before we begin to think more strategically about our world of work.  Accepting all this as true, what should we start to consider?

  1. Shift from the linear definition and picture of Career and adopt a more Entrepreneurial perspective.  Rather than looking for or expecting that linear career path, open yourself to a more 'adaptive' version.  This pathway may have more twists and turns.  It may require you to jump to another parallel path, or to go off-roading for a while.  Whatever the case, it is much more experiential and reflective of someone who is able to adapt to changing situations and conditions, shifting their views and approaches to 'fit' with a new reality and changing market.
  2. Be Professional, not Naive.  In a recent blog post, noted author Seth Godin differentiated between these two concepts.  A naive individual will keep themselves busy doing the work of their 'job', while a professional is consistently working to improve; themselves, their systems and processes.
  3. Study the Market.  Watch for the shifting business trends, watch for new growth opportunities and actively ensure that you prepare yourself to take advantage of these.  No one is going to care about your development as much as you should and need to.  You can't take advantage of new opportunities if you are always playing catch up.  It's work to stay ahead of the curve but it's those people who are willing to invest a little time and effort today that will be poised to take advantage of those opportunities in the future.
  4. Network.  I know that you hear this all of the time, but it is only because it is true!  Be clear about what networking means though.  It does not mean... collect as many names and business cards as you possibly can so that you have contacts on hand when you need them.  Your job search, due to a recent layoff, should not be the first time that someone has heard from you in the past 5 years.  Instead, try to put yourself out in front of your network every 6-12 months, whether with a quick check-in call or email, sending them an article you think would be of interest to them, through your blog or newsletter etc.  Work (yep... there's that word again!) your network.  Give something to them first, before you find yourself needing to ask something of them. 
  5. Study the Competition.  I know that you may consider your coworkers your friends, but you need to also consider them your competition.  If they will potentially be vying with you for that next big promotion then don't let your friendships overshadow your need to stay a step ahead.  Watch what they are doing to develop themselves, keep an eye on what skills and experience they are developing.  You might not be well-suited to duplicate it, but you definitely need to ensure that your value-added skills continue to keep-pace with or exceed theirs if you want those future opportunities.  Similarly, you need to be able to address the relative advantages of your mix of skills versus theirs.
  6. Become skilled at Self-Marketing.  This is pehaps everyone's least-favourite activity and therefore one in which most fall short.  However, it is important for businesses to strategically build and market their brand and it is equally important for you to do the same.  Don't expect your hard work to have a loud enough voice to do all of your talking for you.  Ensuring that others know the nature of your contributions and achievements is necessary as a means of standing out from the crowd.  This needn't be an obnoxious recitation of all of your accomplishments at every meeting.  It requires a little more finesse, but it does require you to be very clear about what you bring to the table and to highlight and remind people periodically.  (more on this to come in the following months as I gear up to launch a new program in this area!)
Competition for jobs in the future is only going to get tougher.  Companies are using technology to accomplish more with fewer headcounts, big businesses are arising that require limited staff to operate(consider Facebook at $100 billion, Groupon at a valuation of $30 billion, Zynga at $20 billion, even Twitter at $8 Billion.  These are not businesses that require a big headcount, but they do require a skilled one!), companies are merging, roles are being outsourced overseas... the list goes on.  The Bottom Line to all of this?  You need to do the 'work' today to ensure that you have 'work' tomorrow. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Introvert Challenge

It is no coincidence that many of my clients are Introverted by nature.  Most of my practice is centered within North America, a place in which many Introverts find themselves struggling with trying to fit in and be recognised in working environments that predominantly recognise and reward Extroverted behaviour.  As life here in North America becomes more competitive and fast-paced, with the growing emphasis on the need to be a 'team' rather than an 'individual' contributor, Introverts today are facing more challenges than ever before.  Is it any wonder then that more of them are turning to coaches for help and direction?

It's interesting though, that different cultures have different styles, some of which value Introversion for its many strengths.  Individualism, more characteristic of direct, fast-paced communication (such as that found in the US and Germany) is more closely aligned with Extroversion, whereas Collectivistic societies (such as those found in East Asia) are more aligned with the characteristics of Introversion.

Despite the emphasis on Extroversion in North American society, Introverts make up 50 percent of the population.  Interesting then, to consider that most Introverts feel they are in the minority and that it is important, if not critical, to their careers to adopt more Extroverted tendencies.  Much of the work of coaches, such as myself, tend to be focused on helping Introverts to not just recognise but to capitalize on the strengths they bring to the table;  helping them to develop strategic and comfortable ways to promote themselves and those abilities.

Some quick thoughts and tips for Introverts to consider, that even you Extroverts may benefit from...
  • Email can be a great communication tool for Introverts, providing them with the time they need to fully formulate their thoughts before sharing, and a communication forum that is comfortable.  Consider using this as a strategic way of sharing your thoughts and insights, not just as a tool for arranging a meeting time.
  • The longer a meeting goes on, the more thoughts and information an Introvert has taken in and is processing.  As a result, they are less likely to be vocal.  Instead, consider speaking up early in meetings.  Your thoughts will be cleaner and more direct and you will have demonstrated already, to those present, your willingness to contribute. 
  • Introverts are not likely to be the most vocal person around the table.  Therefore, when you do decide to share something, it is important that you say it in a voice that makes it easy for others to hear you.  It is worth investing some effort in using audiotape to cultivate a voice (strength, variability, volume) that helps convey your message.  You may not speak often, but you do want to speak in a way that lets your audience know that you are worth listening to.
  • Posture can also make a big difference.  Introverts will often shift their mental focus internally, in order to process new information.  As they do, their body positioning and posture tend to also shift and change.  Typically, the head and eye contact will drop, shoulders may round forward... all of which serves to soften the overall posture and presence of the individual.  Instead, work to maintain an upright posture, shoulders back, head up and eyes forward.  Even when not speaking you can still convey to others that you are confident and comfortable.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Value of 'New'

I had the pleasure of not only spending this past long-weekend at the cottage, but to have our eldest grandson (not quite three and a half) spend the weekend with us.  It was a pure joy watching him explore the cottage, the beach, the water, the creek, the paddle boat... No hesitation, just the constant refrain... 'Let me try that!'

Now that I'm back at the office and reflecting back on those moments, it occurs to me that many of us, as adults, have lost this willingness to try and experience new things.  We get so caught up the comfort of familiarity that we often go out of our way to avoid trying something new or different.  I see this with clients all of the time; clients who 'want' something different in their lives, as long as they don't have to 'do' anything different!  We're scared of looking silly as we learn or develop a new skill, we're concerned that others might 'see' or 'talk' about our lack of skill, we're afraid of the changes that something new might bring with it.  We have a host of reasons for not trying.

Not introducing something new into our lives is fine, as long as we are fully and completely satisfied with everything that we are, do and have in our lives.  I'm not convinced that anyone could fully and honestly say that this is true for them though.  Would there be nothing that you didn't harbour a secret interest in learning or experiencing?  Nothing that you hadn't wondered how it would feel to try it, to do it?  That curiosity is what we find most appealing about young children, but often the first thing that we restrict in ourselves, as we let our fear of the unknown or 'new' gain dominance.

Change seems to be a scary word today.  Too much seems to be changing around us, too fast.  For many, 'new' is synonymous with change and therefore 'new' is to be avoided.  However, let's reframe the thought of introducing newness into our lives.  Instead of 'new' equalling 'change', consider that...
  • New = Growth
  • New = Discovery
  • New = Learning
  • New = Opportunity
So...  let's work on creating an answer to the age-old question...  What's new with you?  The phrase 'nothing' is no longer an acceptable answer.  Your task is to now go and find/create/experience something new in your life.  It needn't be large, but it also needn't be small.  Think instead of something that you would like to experience or learn.  What would you like to try, have, be, do, taste, feel, see, learn...  Whatever word kick-starts a thought for you - Go With It! 

Nat King Cole started his amazingly successful singing career as a piano player.  In his mind... he played piano.  Period.  When playing in a bar, he was confronted by a patron who asked him to sing a song.  His response... I don't sing, I play piano.  However, when the owner of the bar told him to sing or he was fired, he sang.  He tried something new for him.  They heard something new for them, and his new career as a singer was launched. 

Now, we may not experience this level of success from our attempts at 'new', nor do we need to.  The point is though, had he let his comfort zone of being a 'piano player' overtake him, he would never have discovered a hidden talent and a hidden love.  What talents and skills are you keeping buried in your failure to explore something new?  What joys might you discover if you were to introduce yourself to new people, activities, places, things? 

Don't just think about this article.  Do something about it.  Take action.  Because... you know... the next time I see you I expect an answer to my question...

What's NEW with you?