Category Archives: Work-Life Balance

In The Turn

How to Create a Personal Board of Directors and Accelerate Your Career

The meeting was over, and I returned to my office feeling extremely satisfied with the results. Then I heard a knock on the door and looked up to see a co-worker who had come to gently set me straight.

As it turned out, what I thought had been a successful meeting regarding a major decision instead had left others confused about my thinking and concerned about what was ahead. I thought I had done a great job of communicating and inspiring, only to learn I hadn’t taken the time to provide some much-needed context. In my eagerness to drive the decision, I had left out valuable details to earn buy-in.

We’ve all had situations when our self-awareness gets lost in self-denial, Or in my case, lost in my own POV. Realistic self-assessment is incredibly difficult. We’re either too easy or too hard on ourselves, and neither is good.

  • When we’re too easy, we begin to think our way is the best and only way, and we disregard the diverse views of others. We become overly confident, take chances we shouldn’t and think we’re more effective than we really are.
  • When we’re too hard on ourselves, we question every decision. We’re more hesitant than we should be and don’t trust our instincts enough. We need too much validation, don’t feel worthy of respect and suffer from the imposter syndrome.

Either way, we are not leading at our best and those around us suffer as a result.

The biggest problem: Getting feedback

It takes hard work to strike the right balance and have a fair appraisal of ourselves so we can play to our strengths while continually striving to improve our weaknesses.

The biggest problem is we often don’t get the feedback we need to inform our self-perceptions. It’s challenging for others to tell the truth or share less than flattering observations with us, especially if we’re in a position of power. We often don’t get accurate, honest comments about how our words, actions and intentions are perceived.

One of the best ways to gain regular, meaningful feedback is to put together a personal board of directors – a team of mentors who will tell it like it is when we need to hear it most.

Wendy Davidson, the president of U.S. Specialty Channels for the Kellogg Company, introduced this idea to me several years ago, because she believes her personal board has been invaluable to her highly successful career. I couldn’t agree more.

Benefits of a personal board of directors

Consider some of the countless ways a personal board can advance your career. They can:

  • Offer practical advice about how to tackle new opportunities to increase your chances of getting key decisions right the first time
  • Serve as an informal coach who can provide wisdom about challenging situations or interactions with others
  • Share subject-matter expertise to expand your understanding on a specific topic
  • Point you toward resources and tools that will further your development and learning Introduce you to people to help expand your network
  • Hold you accountable for changing an attitude or behavior impacting your professional performance
  • Offer diverse points of view and different life experiences to challenge your thinking and broaden your view of the world
  • Provide “big picture” perspective about your career as you consider job opportunities or career moves

How to form your board

The concept of a personal board of directors isn’t new, and most leaders I know see it as a great idea. But many never give the time and energy it takes to form and take advantage of such a board. So, how do you actually pull it off? It’s not as hard as it seems, but it does require a bit of thinking and planning. I’ve mapped out a simple process with these three steps to establishing a personal board of directors:

1. Assess your biggest needs

Start by listing of your five biggest challenges/needs — things that are potentially holding you back in your career or impacting your work/life balance. Some examples:

  • Unfamiliar with practical financial principles that impact my strategic thinking abilities
  • Not managing my emotions effectively under pressure
  • Not enough knowledge of front-line operations
  • Working too late in the evenings on a regular basis
  • Feeling confused and overwhelmed by complex decisions

If it helps, turn these challenges into simple “goal statements,” such as:

  • Develop a working knowledge of the most useful financial principles for my role
  • Keep my cool more often when I am facing deadlines

2. Identify prospects

Once you have a better sense of your needs, think about who could help you most. Consider asking people who:

  • Are in a position you aspire to have someday
  • Come from another company in your industry (that you don’t compete with)
  • Come from an entirely different industry
  • Are experts in an area you need to learn more about
  • Can feed your spirit and encourage you to invest in yourself
  • Are willing to be brutally honest to help, not hurt
  • Will always have your best interests at heart

List each prospect’s name, organization, area of expertise, and which one or more of your five goals can they help you with. Make sure you have current contact information for each prospect.

Make as long a list as you like, but an ideal personal board has 3-5 members. You’ll need more prospects since everyone may not be able to help.

3. Make the ask

Once you have your list, take some time to write a short script or a few bullet points to guide your conversation so you can articulate your thinking clearly and succinctly when you call each prospect.

For example, you’ll want to explain why you are forming a personal board of directors, what is involved if someone agrees to join and how each person could help you with one or more of your five opportunities for growth.

Here’s an example of what you could say and why you need to say it:

  • I’ve been evaluating my career, identifying my strengths and my opportunities for growth. I’ve set some specific goals for myself that I believe will further my career. (establishes that you have done your homework)
  • I greatly admire what you have accomplished, particularly ___________ (name something related to one or more of your five areas for growth). This expertise and your career success would be invaluable to me. (explains why you are asking them)
  • I have decided to form a personal board of directors and would love to have you as a part of this team of super mentors for me. (clarifies your plan of action)
  • What that simply means is I would like to connect with you once every few months to ask for your advice or seek your expertise when I know it could make a big impact on me. I would like to treat you to lunch or dinner, or we could arrange to meet by phone/video call, too – whatever is easier for you. (tells them how much time would be involved on their end)
  • I would like your help as I continue on my developmental journey. Would you be willing to be on my personal board of directors? (makes the ask)

Start with your top prospects and work your way through your list, ensuring that you create a board with diverse strengths and expertise. Make notes of the feedback you receive to help shape how you bring your board to life and what their preferences might be for how you engage with them. Even prospects who cannot take the time to join your board now will likely have some advice for you.

TIP: Don’t fear ‘the ask’

One piece of advice Wendy shared with me is not to be afraid to ask. Many times, we worry that asking for help is a burden to others. Wendy reminded me that looking to others for advice can be a compliment. You’re saying, “You have something that I can learn from, and I’d like you to be a part of my career moving forward.”

Next steps

A few suggestions on next steps:

  • Once you have secured the agreement of and feedback from your board members, send them a thank-you email or hand-written note.
  • Look ahead on your schedule to identify times you can connect with them in person or by phone/video. Make a note to reach out to them several weeks in advance so they can make time to meet.
  • Prepare for each meeting so you can give them an overview of what’s going on in your career. If you have a specific request, let them know the topic in advance so they can think about how to help.
  • Always send a thank-you note any time your board members help you. Let them know the result and the impact they have made.

If you want to take a deeper dive on this topic – to hear the full story about how and why Wendy created her board, and how she used this throughout her career – read Chapter 3 in my book, Leading Through the Turn.

I am proud to say Wendy is on my personal board of directors, and I am on hers. Her impact on my leadership journey has been profound, and it is an honor to help her whenever I can. Imagine how your personal board of directors will impact the trajectory of your career. Don’t be afraid to ask!

 

 

 

Copyright (c) 2018 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

Setting Smarter Priorities: 5 Steps for Creating More Margin In Your Life

It happens innocently enough. Your boss hands you an extra assignment that turns out to be a major undertaking. Or a colleague takes a leave of absence and you’re asked to absorb his workload. Or you agree to chair a youth sports league fundraiser because you feel guilty you haven’t been that involved lately.

Before you know it, you’ve got too much on your plate with too little time to get it all done. While you could do a beautiful job on any one of these obligations, the total soaks up every last bit of white space in your life, leaving you little to no margin. You feel anxious and overwhelmed. You worry you may no longer be able to keep up if something doesn’t let up. And you know if a problem arises, everything could come unraveled.

If this frenetic pace sounds all too familiar, you are not alone. Good leaders are in high demand, and chances are you’ve been handed things or asked to lead because you get things done.

It’s good to be a willing leader – and being asked to lead affirms our “achiever” status. But it’s not good when the volume impacts our ability to produce good thinking and solid execution. It’s even worse when the stress jeopardizes our health, our state of mind, and negatively impacts our outlook on life.

We need more margin in our lives, especially as the demands and the pace increase. That’s why it’s important to develop discipline – and a system – for capturing, evaluating and prioritizing the responsibilities you take on. When you are intentional about thinking through what you do and why you’re doing it, you are in a better position to manage your schedule, minimize your stress and maximize your joy.

A Different Approach I’ve been guilty of taking on way too much for a lot of my leadership journey. As I have learned to become a destination leader with a journey mindset over the past several years, this has gotten better. Recently, I decided to try a new approach to evaluating my workload and setting priorities with the goal of creating more margin in my life.

So far, it’s really working, and I am far happier with how I am handling the projects I’m leading. I have more energy and focus around my work and greater clarity about what’s a need-to-have vs a nice-to-have. Most importantly, I have created more space for family and more downtime for myself. Here’s how it works.

Step one: Evaluate your responsibilities Start by making a master list of everything you have on your plate for the next 90 days. Write each item down on the left-hand side of a page. Include both work and personal responsibilities – I group them together so it’s easier to see that I’ve considered all aspects of my life.

Across the top of the page, write the following criteria, creating a column for each. Then working your way down your list, rank each criteria for each responsibility on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the highest. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Impact – How big an impact will this assignment make? Is it going to prevent or solve a major problem? Will it help to further a key organizational goal?
  • Growth – Is there an opportunity for me to grow my knowledge, skills or expertise?
  • Relationships – Who cares about this project? Who was the requester? Who else is engaged? Who will be impacted by my efforts?
  • Time – How much of my time is really required? Will one quick hit do it, or is continuous engagement needed? (NOTE: Be realistic; we tend to underestimate how much time something will take to get it done well.)
  • Role – How important is it that I take the lead? Am I uniquely qualified, or could someone else just as easily take this on? Can I play a supporting role? Can I delegate this as a development opportunity to someone else?

Here’s an example:

Step two: Set your priorities Tally up your scores for each responsibility, putting a mark beside your highest scores. Look for a natural break point in the scoring to divide into two lists:

  • Top priorities – projects that scored the highest because they are more important to you across multiple criteria;
  • Secondary priorities – lower-scoring projects, which could be considered “nice to have” but not “need to have.”

If it helps, consider your work and personal items separately so you can ensure responsibilities from both parts of your life make the top-priority list.

Step three: Protect your time Once you know your top priorities, review your weekly and monthly schedule. Identify ways to protect your time so you can focus on these more important projects. For example:

  • Block out time each week so you are assured of having uninterrupted thinking and work time.
  • Mark “do not disturb” on your calendar periodically to prevent meetings and calls from creeping on to your schedule.
  • Set a time when you will reply to email and calls in a batch so you are not constantly interrupted.
  • Recapture time for your priorities by cutting down on things like social media or binge-watching Netflix.

Be sure to block time for important family obligations, connecting with friends and investing in your personal well-being, such as health and mindfulness activities. This is part of the margin you want to reclaim for your life. If you don’t intentionally create time for these things, they’ll fall off your schedule very quickly.

Step four: Prune your list Now that you have a better feel for how much time you need to devote to your top priorities, consider your secondary priorities. Do a stop/delegate/wait analysis:

  • What can you stop or say “no” to doing altogether?
  • What can you delegate to someone who can move it forward for you?
  • What can you push back on your schedule to tackle another time?

As you ask yourself these questions, think about what you’d rather be doing when you create more margin in your life. Use that vision as motivation to prune more things.

Step five: Take action Finally, implement your decisions as soon as possible. Here’s a tip: If you’re finding it hard to say “no,” try saying “not now.” I have a friend who often says, “I have a high interest in that project, but low availability.” Your primary goal is to protect your time for the immediate future, so you can:

  1. Accomplish your top priorities; and
  2. Create more margin in your life for connecting with family/friends and investing in your personal well-being.

Additional Resources for Getting Your Life More Organized Do you fear your tendency to be disorganized is contributing to the problem? Ask yourself if either of these statements describes your life:

  • You have half-done to-do lists scattered throughout your life, yet you can’t seem to get anything meaningful done.
  • You try to file things away mentally instead of capturing them in a master list. Neuroscience research tells us you can only hold four or five thoughts in your head at any one time, which explains why we tend to forget so many things we intended to do.

If these statements are true for you, you need to put “getting more organized” at the very top of your priority list. Here are some additional resources:

  • Getting Things Done, a best-selling book by David Allen, sets out a tried-and-true approach for capturing, organizing and taking action on your to-do list.
  • Keep your master list in one place so you can access it wherever you go. Consider tools like:
    • Evernote
    • Wunderlist
    • – Using the Notes function on your phone
    • – Keeping a written journal – there are many popular products on the market such as productivity planners, Maruman or Moleskin journals

Here’s to a more organized and rewarding 2018 that allows you to focus on your top priorities while creating greater margin in your life.

Any tips to share? I’d love to hear from you – email me at elise@elisemitchell.com.

 

 

Copyright (c) 2018 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

4 Ways to Achieve Greater Work-Life Balance and Become a Happier, Better Leader [BONUS]

One aspect of leadership I am asked about more frequently than almost any other – by both men and women – is work-life balance. That elusive, sometimes mythical concept that it’s possible to have a career, a family, and a life.

Can you really have it all?

As I point out in Leading Through the Turn, I believe you can have it all, just not all at the same time. But many of us still struggle with the idea of work-life balance. Why? Frankly, not much about life feels in balance:

  • Our leadership experiences are often mentally and physically exhausting.
  • We constantly give in to the temptation to focus on destinations with little to no regard for the journey of life.
  • We tend to compartmentalize things like work, family, and hobbies, rather than seeing them as interrelated.

But there is a better way. It looks more like work-life blending, a true integration of both parts of life.

Jane Lin-Baden, my good friend and colleague, is one of those leaders who artfully weaves work and personal interests into her life. Jane is the Asia-Pacific CEO for Isobar, a digital agency that is part of Dentsu Aegis Network, our global parent company. She oversees 2,500 people in 13 countries throughout the region. She’s led eye-popping revenue growth, and she and her teams have won countless awards.

But she’s also a wife and mom who enjoys boxing and making custom cosmetics. When we visited recently about the challenges and joys of leadership, Jane shared four guiding beliefs that help her successfully integrate work, family, and personal passions. These are things any of us can incorporate, regardless of where we are in our leadership journey. Read on, and I promise you’ll also discover plenty of tips for becoming a happier, better leader.

1. Be your best self (and help others do the same).

One of Jane’s primary goals – “to be my best self and to help others do the same” – reflects a selfless approach to authenticity that helps everyone involved achieve greater balance.

Being your best, both personally and professionally, leads to a more holistic view of life and a healthier perspective on how to balance the different demands you face. It also makes it so much easier for others to really get to know, understand, and follow your leadership.

And “helping others do the same” allows you to more readily create an atmosphere of acceptance and appreciation for the differences in others. Learning to respect the various talents and life choices of teammates is particularly important as everyone strives to find some sense of balance between their work obligations and personal responsibilities.

“It’s important to remember that people can be in very different stages of growth and development,” Jane said. “Everyone has their own pace, and maintaining a healthy pace is crucial for a sustainable work-life experience. Leaders must help everyone be their best no matter where each person is in their personal and professional journey.”

2. Pursue your passions.

Find the time to invest in other parts of your life. This can come through hobbies, volunteer work, or other activities. We typically seek things that interest or challenge us. When we follow our hearts and pursue our passions, a boundless joy and deep sense of satisfaction complement the rewards we already receive from our work. I was inspired by how Jane integrates her many passions into her busy life. The breadth of her activities reminds us not to limit ourselves, and to look for the ways our hobbies help develop us as leaders.

  • Jane trains volunteers who assist people dealing with tragedy in their lives. Her focus on helping the brokenhearted enables her to bring empathy to the workplace. Compassion is not something found on a P&L, yet it’s a quality of many great leaders.
  • Boxing is a hobby Jane enjoys, not merely for the exercise but because it enhances her concentration skills and her ability to think on her feet. In the heat of the battle, you must keep your wits about you. You must be completely focused on what is happening and alert to the unexpected, a critical leadership skill especially in times of great change. Boxing also reinforces Jane’s belief in aiming high. When throwing a punch, you always look slightly above the point where you want to hit.
  • Jane’s love of art lives through her interest in making custom cosmetics. She enjoys the creative aspects of this hobby, which was influenced by family members who have backgrounds in chemistry. She’s created her own formula and can customize the products for friends. Thinking creatively can significantly enhance your problem-solving capabilities and enable you to bring fresh, new ideas to your work.

3. Learn from lowly tasks.

Some of the most valuable experiences in your leadership journey come from unexpected challenges and unpleasant tasks. These character-shaping moments can pay big dividends by helping you become the leader – and the person – you want to be.

Jane shared a story about a valuable lesson she learned from a rather lowly assignment while working at Sotheby’s London in her first job after college.

“I loved art,” she told me. “And I always wanted to have my own auction gallery. My very first assignment was to clean up their archive room, where they stored almost 80 years of auctioning history files. Nobody wanted to go into that room. I remember telling my mom I was too educated to be doing something so mundane.”

So Jane turned it into a post-grad research assignment.

“I decided I would lock myself in that room for six months and go through every file to better understand the industry and figure out if this was the career path for me,” she said. “I wanted to do my best and make sure that when I left that room, I would know more about it than anyone else.”

That six-month journey taught Jane the importance of tenacity, humility, and optimism. Even the lowliest of jobs has value and should be done to the best of your ability. This particular experience helped her as her career blossomed, particularly when she faced challenging situations. But she also applied those lessons in her personal life, which contributed to greater balance.

“I believe we are given certain obstacles in life specifically to refine our character,” she said. “We all must face an archive room. You must make the most of a difficult situation and learn whatever you can from it. As a leader, you are also in a position to encourage and support others who are going through something similar whether at work or at home.”

4. Make good choices. Much of leadership is about making choices and finding the best path forward. This is especially important when striking a balance between your professional and personal life.

You can’t take on everything and always expect to be your best. You must be selective, delaying or turning down some worthy opportunities so you can focus on others. Being selective about what you take on at work allows you to reserve time and energy for family and personal pursuits. Likewise, being intentional about your personal obligations allows you to minimize unnecessary stress when time demands and schedules collide.

Jane makes choices at work easier for herself and her team by establishing a clear vision and goals. This enables everyone to keep their focus where it should be and to say “no” to things that only distract from reaching those goals.

At home, she involves her family when making major decisions about her career. For example, when Jane was offered the CEO role, she sat down with her family to weigh the pros and cons. “I needed them to know what the trade-offs would be, because we are a team and I knew we were going to go through them together.”

The lesson here is powerful: Life is short, and how we spend our time has a great impact on those around us. We are accountable to more than just ourselves. We are also accountable to our teams at work and to our families at home. Consider both when you make key decisions.

Download our leadership cheat sheet outlining these four guiding principles and 13 tips for becoming a happier, better leader here.

 

 

Copyright (c) 2017 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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