Women: Start Working Out Loud

As women, we don’t always feel encouraged to share our contributions at work. Confident women are sometimes seen as less likable, and some women are uncomfortable taking credit for projects and sharing their past successes because they fear backlash (though self-promoting can be a key to opening career opportunities). I believe this shows the importance of women developing a strong voice so they can “work out loud.”

From my perspective, “working out loud” can provide women with two specific benefits: First, it connects the dots so others more clearly see how their contributions create tangible, business results. Secondly, it can bolster their own confidence, which in turn can help make it easier to work out loud.

As a coach, I’ve observed that even seasoned and experienced women sometimes need a bit of encouragement to work out loud. So, I’ve worked to help them understand the value of relying upon colleagues for support. I’ve also provided tips on having more of a voice in the workplace and encouraged them to simply observe when they admire how another woman performs in a professional environment.


Women: Use Improv To Boost Your Status

At a recent networking event, I witnessed the stark difference between how a female lawyer and a male lawyer touted a recent accomplishment. Both are highly respected, with talent beyond reproach. They both head up their own individual burgeoning practices with partners and associates. Both had been named as a Top 50 lawyer in Southern California — certainly an accolade well deserved and only awarded to the best of the best. When the male attorney introduced himself, he simply stated that he was named as a top attorney. Period. A few minutes later, when the female attorney introduced herself, she said she had also received this accolade, then almost under her breath but still very audibly, said, “I don’t know why.”

What? If I could have, I would have hit the replay button so she could omit those self-deprecating words and simply stand in the powerful truth that she had been recognized professionally.

While this isn’t the first time I’ve observed a woman in effect putting herself down, it still sent a shockwave through me. I know from my work as an executive coach that many women struggle with the concept of self-promotion. While it’s 100% factual that this female attorney received a professional accolade, I can imagine that her mentioning it publicly may have felt boastful, so she softened it with the “I don’t know why” disclaimer.

There’s no doubt that engaging in self-promoting activities is a delicate balance for women. On the one hand, conveying one’s contributions is associated with professional advancement, yet by doing so, women risk being seen as arrogant and less likable. So what’s a woman to do?

Turn to the world of improv!

While there are innumerable valuable skills that improv teaches, including the power of “yes, and,” listening, embracing failure, and authenticity, I want to hone in on the idea of status. In work and in life, we cannot get away from the dynamics of status because it’s woven into every interaction, especially in the workplace. And status isn’t limited to simply one’s title. While title can surely convey status, our verbal and non-verbal choices also communicate it. For instance, when the female attorney whispered, “I don’t know why,” she expressed low status.

The good news is that status is not fixed. Rather, it’s dynamic and fluid. It changes according to our relationship with ourselves, others and the environment.

In improv, there’s the concept of high-status and low-status characters. Low-status characters may engage in such behaviors as turning their toes inward while standing, speaking quietly, having drooped shoulders and taking up as little room as possible. Conversely, high-status characters may stand firmly on both feet, have erect and open posture, speak clearly and loudly, and take up a lot of space. For women, practicing high-status behaviors may be a way to engage in self-promotion without feeling boastful.


An Open-Door Policy Isn’t Enough

You’ve likely heard of leaders saying they have an open-door policy. I think every leader I have ever worked for or with has claimed to have such a policy. I say “claim” because simply saying you have one doesn’t actually make it true. It’s not enough to just say you have an open-door policy; as a leader, you have to earn it. While your door may be open, it’s a problem if no one walks through it or is reluctant to do so. You have to create an environment where employees feel comfortable coming to see you. In other words, you have to earn a real open-door policy.


Conflicted About Conflict? Four Steps For Reaching Resolutions At Work

Answer the following question: Is workplace conflict a) uncomfortable, b) necessary, c) preventable or d) all of the above? If you picked D, go to the head of the class.

Conflict is natural and normal, and it helps teams advance their work. In fact, conflict and goal achievement are natural partners. According to Harvard Business Review, conflict can improve ideas, expose risks and generate trust. Healthy conflict also spurs creativity, broad thinking and respectful relationships. Unhealthy conflict, on the other hand, is a Petri dish for distrust, disrespect and infighting.

When I coach clients about conflict, I tell them to look at it like any other key business issue. For instance, if a supplier became habitually late filling orders, they wouldn’t just ignore it. If they received a deluge of complaints about slow customer service, they wouldn’t simply sweep it under the rug.

I believe the same should be true about conflict. But because conflict can be so personally uncomfortable, clients often don’t see that it’s really just like any other key issue that must be addressed. Instead, they tend to look the other way. So, it’s critical to be strategic by first assessing the type of conflict you’re experiencing and then deciding the best strategy to address it.

To begin, I find it’s helpful to figure out what kind of conflict is going on. There are four general conflict categories, according to Amy Gallo, author of the HBR Guide to Managing Conflict at Work. Those categories are task, process, relationship and status.

• Task conflict is about the actual work at hand. It’s often about the goal or how to perform the work itself. When addressed effectively, I believe task conflict can actually be healthy because it could help a team perform more optimally.

• Process conflict is about logistics, details and how to do a certain job. I’ve found that sometimes, this type of conflict can be a mask for a deeper issue. For example, an argument about logistics might actually be rooted in a conflict related to relationships or status. To some, the true cause of the conflict might seem too risky to bring up, so they focus on a safer topic.

• Relationship conflict relates to personality differences. While this type of conflict is not specifically about a goal or priority, it can derail a team’s performance. Emotions can flare, back-biting can arise and gossip can become infectious.

• Status conflict is about power. Wanting to maintain control, influence and territory are all characteristics of status conflict; you disagree about who’s in control.


Three Essential Coaching
Skills For Managers

On any given day, the demands that managers face are enormous. Not only do they have to manage up to senior leaders; they have to manage down to their teams. They have to be attentive to executing on organizational strategy and priorities that are set by those above them, while they also have to be equally attentive to building the skills, talents and productivity of their own team. The middle-manager is definitely that: sandwiched in the middle.

How does a middle-manager navigate such a trap? Well, one answer is coaching the members of their team.

Coaching helps team members develop self-reliance and autonomy where they find solutions to their own answers. It also allows employees the opportunity to grapple with problems while they’re coached toward solutions. Coaching also creates a motivational and stimulating atmosphere that steers employees toward peak performance. In short, coaching is an effective skill that all managers need to develop and use. So, by coaching employees, a manager can better equip their team to be productive, which frees up the demands on at least one part of that “middle” sandwich that managers contend with.

Admittedly, managers are squeezed for time. So, the obvious question is, “How in the world can I fit in coaching sessions with each of my employees?” Yes, scheduling an actual coaching session may be ideal, but in reality, managers can simply infuse coaching into regular conversations with employees. I remind my clients that any conversation is an opportunity to coach an employee. It’s not limited to scheduled, one-on-one meetings, but for those everyday interactions at work, too. And in fact, those are the most powerful because they build on each other more quickly. I remind my clients that by simply infusing a few coaching skills into daily, routine conversations with employees, they will indeed end up coaching their team members toward greater productivity.



Women: Make Your Presence Known

Women are strong leaders who continue to infiltrate into more prominent and visible positions. Take, for example, the new Congress that just swore in a record 127 women. Or that women lead organizations such as GM, Anthem and IBM. This side of the equation undeniably demonstrates examples in which women have reaped success.

There is, however, another side of the equation, too: a dangerous one that all women should be alerted to. It’s the micro-missteps women make that undermine their leadership. We’ve all been guilty of such missteps, myself included. Any one misstep may not be enough to hamper a woman’s success, but when there’s a collection of them, danger abounds.


Influence Others By First Making An Impact

Influence comes in many forms and fashions. Its scope isn’t limited to one-on-one interactions but includes all aspects of work, including team discussions, decision making and meetings. Influence is also agnostic when it comes to title or position. These aren’t always enough to persuade others, nor are you always in a position of power. Regardless of your title, your position or the situation, the purpose of influence all comes down to one word: impact.

What makes impact important? It creates value. And to make an impact, you have to develop and put to use the skill of influence.