Thursday, April 11, 2013

Business Casual Attire and Professionalism

Dear Debbie,

What are your thoughts about business casual attire? My company is switching over and I'm unsure whether to change the way I dress and whether it will make me seem less professional

This is a great question, especially for women. I have had this conversation with other women often in the last several years as more businesses relax their dress codes. I, along with probably every other professional woman out there, have struggled with what to wear to work. Everyone runs the risk of seeming less professional if their attire choices are wrong, but the stakes do seem to be higher for women.

Let’s look at the differences at play for men and women when it comes to business casual attire. Clothing decisions can be simple for men because they do not have a wide array of clothing choices. Yes, they have different slacks and shirts but their main decision basically boils down to, “Which pants and what color golf shirt should I wear today?” For men, typically a pair of khakis and a golf shirt or open collar shirt is what constitutes acceptable business casual dress.

Women, on the other hand, have so many options that the definition of business casual can become muddled. Does business casual mean skirts or pants? Short sleeves, long sleeves, or sleeveless? Close toed shoes, open toed shoes, or sandals? How low cut should my blouses be? How much jewelry, if any, can I wear?

First, check your company policy closely and always abide by it, even if others don’t. Within those parameters, I advise women across the board in all industries and professions to play it safe with dress decisions. When in doubt, go with the safer choice. If something has even a remote chance of making you or others feel uncomfortable, don’t wear it to work.

While I like the idea of casual dress, when you are representing your company in front of clients or the public, you should be in traditional business attire. In addition to showing respect to your clients and to your company -- you just never know who you might be introduced to or run into as you are out and about!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Leadership Traits

Dear Debbie,

In your opinion, what are the most important traits for a leader to have? Are these qualities the same for men and for women?

The most important traits for a leader to possess – and exhibit – are integrity, courage, a high level of emotional intelligence, and great communication skills. Of course, there are many other characteristics of a good leader, but these are the main ones that come to mind.

The first two traits on the list, integrity and courage, should be givens in the business world but unfortunately they do not apply to everyone who rises to a leadership position. Part of integrity and courage is having the ability to be honest with yourself and others at all times and in all situations. It takes integrity and courage to always do what you think is right, especially in the absence of parameters or guidelines, which you will likely experience with time in any leadership position. And, it particularly takes integrity and courage to do the right thing when people are trying to persuade you otherwise.

Many times, doing the right thing without a precedent also takes a tremendous amount of emotional intelligence and mental toughness which not everyone possesses. A high level of emotional intelligence enables you to behave decisively and calmly, even under the most difficult circumstances. Leaders simply must be able to separate feelings from facts.

To be effective, these qualities must be combined with the ability to communicate clearly to and with all types of people, regardless of their backgrounds, positions, and goals. Poor communication ability has stalled many careers. If you aren’t a strong communicator, chances are that you will not be a strong leader.

I think you’ll find that these traits apply to all great leaders, regardless of gender.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Want to Succeed Wildly?

I have not shared an article on my blog until today when I read 'Want to Succeed Wildly, Adjust Your Attitude' by Vanessa Van Petten. I wanted to share it here because it describes one of the ways in which we as individuals get in our own way of success and achievement. It is something we can all change about ourselves. Vanessa Van Petten specializes in social and emotional intelligence research and development. The focus of her company is on research of youth behavior and helping adults keep up with young adults. Want to Succeed Wildly, Adjust Your Attitude Have you ever wondered what makes someone a world-renowned musician or a critically acclaimed novelist? Malcolm Gladwell would say it all comes down to practice—over 10,000 hours of practice, to be exact. But a study by Gary McPherson, discussed in David Brooks’ book The Social Animal, highlights that there is also an important attitude needed for success. In 1997, Gary McPherson decided to study musicians—namely what exactly contributed to a musician’s success. Was it practice? Genetics? Environment? He studied 157 randomly selected kids as they picked and learned a musical instrument. Some went on to be professional musicians, and others quit playing after they left school. He was looking for patterns. Were there traits or characteristics that all of the successful musicians had? Amazingly, the commonality was not one of the obvious ones. It was not IQ, aural sensitivity, math skills, natural rhythm, or even their parents that dictated success. There was only one question that provided a clue to indicate which students would be successful and which wouldn’t. Before they even selected their instrument, McPherson asked the budding musicians one question: "How long do you think you will play the instrument you choose?" The answer to this question predicted whether or not a student would be successful. If they thought they would play an instrument their whole life, they did better; if they thought they would only play temporarily, they did not play as well. Their success had nothing to do with skills—it was all about their attitude. Logically, this makes sense. If you think you are going to do something for life, you work harder at and you are therefore better. However, we often do not apply this knowledge to our choices and work. For example, how often do you hear someone say, "I couldn’t be a doctor, I am terrible at science," or "I can’t do that project, I’m not good at organization." We do not need any inherent skills to be able to be good at what we do, we only need an attitude that we are going to stick with it. Our minds and skills sets will grow with us as we stick to our goals. How can we use McPherson's study in our own lives and businesses? 1.Set your mind up for success. When facing a business project or when applying to a job opening, throw away unhelpful mindsets like "I wouldn’t be good at it," or "I could never." 2.Forget how and focus on when. When picturing your work or projects, start by adjusting your perception of how long you will stick with it instead of focusing on whether or not you have the right skills. 3.Dependent on others? Don’t forget to tell time. When working with team members on a business project, you can gauge how successful they will be by asking them about their timeline. This is especially good if you are interviewing employees. If you want to know how someone will be at a potential job, ask them how long they expect to do it—this will be a better predictor of their performance than anything else. Knowing how our attitude affects our performance is an essential aspect of furthering our understanding of ourselves, and the probability of our success. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Vanessa Van Petten specializes in social and emotional intelligence research and development. The focus of her company is on research of youth behavior and helping adults keep up with young adults. The Young Entrepreneur Council is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of more than 30 proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Executive Leadership Coaching

Dear Debbie,
What is an executive coach? How do I know if one would be beneficial for me and my career?

Executive coaching is a formal engagement in which a qualified coach works with an organizational leader in a series of dynamic, confidential sessions designed to establish and achieve clear goals that will result in improved managerial performance. The relationship between a manager and a coach is different from other types of professional relationships. For example, a coaching relationship focuses on enhancing performance while a mentoring relationship usually has broader objectives. An executive coach is much more involved in execution and outcome assessment than the typical consultant might be. A coach is not an authority figure, but is someone who is engaged with their client on all levels to provide assessment, challenge, and support.
Above all, a coach is someone who is there for the professional client for collaboration and to offer the type of counsel and support that the executive may not otherwise receive. A great coach will work with clients to assess individual circumstances, strengths, weaknesses, and developmental opportunities.
In some circles, having a coach is something to brag about. In other situations, a coach may be brought in as a reaction to a certain set of circumstances that indicate a performance deficit. In today’s business climate, coaches are seeing an increased demand across the board at the ‘c suite’ level. An executive coach is a perk to which some top executives feel entitled and that some leaders negotiate as part of their total compensation and benefits package. Some companies provide coaching initiatives for new, transferring and high-potential employees, while other individuals seek out coaches and pay for them on their own. In my practice, I see a variety of circumstances that prompt individuals and organizations to engage me in the role of advisor and coach.
If you are considering an executive coach, keep in mind that your perception of coaching greatly affects your readiness to benefit from having a coach. If you have a positive perception of coaching and think that it could help you, you’ve taken the first step toward realizing its benefits. You should assess your own readiness for what will be a serious commitment and an occasionally uncomfortable experience. There are coaching readiness questionnaires that I use with my clients to help them fully understand and assess where they are before the coaching process starts.
When you work with a coach, you can expect to change your skills and your behaviors and develop better leadership abilities. Resistance to any kind of personal change is normal, realistic, and to be expected. It’s not a light decision to engage an executive coach. Only you can accurately assess your thoughts, feelings, and needs. A great coach will use some very sophisticated behavioral and competency based assessment instruments that will enable you to clearly understand where you are starting and what you will need to work on.
Executive coaches have become much more common than they were even five years ago. If you decide that you’re ready to benefit from coaching, take time to find a well-qualified coach with whom you can relate on a personal level. Selecting the right coach has a dramatic impact on successful results. Engaging a well-qualified coach that is a good fit for you will positively affect your individual growth and your future career path. Good luck!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Interviewing Tips

With the current job market, openings are few and far between and I want to make the most of any interviews that I get. Do you have any interviewing tips to pass along? What do you look for when you interview job candidates?

I have a lot of interviewing tips, but first let me give you a few things to think about. Before you start thinking about the actual interview, I would challenge you to define those things that make you different from all of the other people who might be vying for the position. What makes you special? What makes you particularly well suited for the job? Put yourself in the hiring manager’s seat and ask what would really “wow” you if you were comparing job applicants.

Think about those traits and skills that are at the top of your “strengths” list and determine which of these set you apart, and which apply to the job. Keep it simple. I suggest defining three or four things that really make you stand out from the crowd, and practice describing those traits aloud. That way, when you are asked in an interview why you are right for the job you will have already thought out the answers and will be ready to sell yourself smoothly.

When I’m interviewing, I look for that proverbial first impression to see how the person comes across. Is he or she friendly, comfortable, well mannered, and well groomed? Is he or she confident, poised, and ready to contribute to the team? During the interview, I’m asking myself how this person will fit into and be received by our team. I’ll bet the hiring managers you meet will be thinking about this, too.

So, I will leave you with this suggestion. Enter the room like you own it but are willing to give it up. Project a comfortable, confident, and engaging demeanor. Most important, articulate your strengths and skills and how you can contribute value to the team. Good luck!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Taking Charge of My Professional Development

Other than an annual performance review that is administered by my immediate manager I do not get much, if any, feedback on how I am doing. I really want to develop skills that will serve me well in competing for future promotions. How should I go about putting in place a structured developmental plan that will provide me with regular beneficial feedback?

There are specific steps that I will recommend for you to take in order to get regular feedback, however this may be more challenging than it seems. The reason I say this is that you should first look at your organizational culture and determine whether it is a feedback rich environment. If it is not and this is more of an mandated exercise than a true developmental tool, then you have your work cut out for you in seeking additional feedback.

We know that organizations in which there is regular and ongoing feedback generate more creativity and innovation. However, when there is limited or little feedback, such as in your case, it is difficult to foster more unless the culture supports it.

Regardless, I would still attempt to set up regular meetings with your immediate manager as well as establish mentors outside of your chain of command who can give you ongoing and regular feedback to further your development. Presenting your request in a positive light as a way to improve your performance as well as to help the company will hopefully help you get some action.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Women Helping Other Women

I work in a predominantly female workgroup and find that the women who are in management are not very open to helping develop and promote other women. Is this an isolated situation or do you see this in other organizations?

Unfortunately, the research and studies have shown that women are not as apt to help other women as men have historically done in the workplace. In a recent informal study conducted by CNN on bullying in the workplace, it was found that most of the bullying is done by women and most is directed toward other women. Honestly, this is a workplace phenomenons that saddens me greatly. I so long for women to be mentors to one another and to encourage each other in corporate life.

Some people contribute this negative behavior to something called the Queen Bee syndrome, which implies that when a woman has clawed and scraped her way to a senior position, she isn’t as anxious to help others because perhaps nobody helped her. This is an unfortunate response, for many reasons. First, it’s a negative outlook to have. Second, helping deserving professionals of either gender to reach their potential is one of the most rewarding and satisfying facets of being a leader. Helping others to develop and grow is one of the most positive work experiences that a leader can have.

All I can say about women who aren’t open to helping other women is this. We can’t control what others do, but we can control ourselves. The best way to break this cycle is to approach your own career differently. Lend a hand to women coming up along with you or behind you, and to men as well. Be known as a woman who is secure enough in her own abilities and career to help others develop their own talents. You’ll have a richer professional life as a result, and you won’t be sorry. I promise.