Student Anxiety: An Ounce of Prevention (Part Three)

During the past two weeks, we’ve shared the various ways that parents can help reverse the worrisome trends in adolescent anxiety. If you didn’t catch them, you can find them here and here.

This week, we’d like to close our series by addressing the pivotal role our educators can play in reducing student anxiety. Of course, we know that schools and universities are, by definition, bastions of anxiety! After all, students are measured every which way from Sunday and are surrounded by a contagion of similarly anxious peers! That said, there are any number of strategies school leaders can employ that would return student anxiety to more normal, healthy levels. Here are our top five recommendations:

  1. Promote a positive and empowering school culture. The school environment plays a major role in the health and well being of students. How would you describe your school’s brand and core values? What three words best describe the character and learning environment for your students? If your school hasn’t adopted a set of values that administrators, teachers, and students abide by, consider this an urgent priority. Qualities like kindness, compassion, and integrity are foremost on our minds at LifeSmart, and we always encourage schools to take what we call, “the Integrity Challenge.” (This is where students are empowered to only say neutral to positive things about others who are not present.) Another suggestion is to have each class create a brand and core values statement and commit to holding each other accountable. Let’s do this! #positiveculture
  2. Expand leadership/life skills offerings. Evidence is pervasive that high school graduates are not adequately prepared for their next steps. Arguably, one reason is that schools are so focused on their immediate step that insufficient time is devoted to the transition to the next (e.g., high school to college/workforce). We urge administrators to expand leadership and life skills-oriented courses that holistically prepare students for independent living and their next stage. These would include leadership, soft skills, college/career readiness, personal finance, and home management. Such courses build essential skills, instill self-confidence, and help students cope with the pressures of their present and future situations. The better prepared they are, the less anxious they will be. #lifesmart
  3. End the “college for all” messaging. Based on deteriorating college graduation trends and high student demand for mental health services in college, it is clear that many are not college ready and would be better off pursuing other paths. Whether overt or subliminal, messages promoting the college path are commonplace. How does this affect anxiety? Droves of unprepared and dispirited students drop out of college and into uncertainty. Others struggle mightily in college when another path (e.g., trade school, workforce) was a more compatible choice. Still other high schoolers feel inadequate if they don’t pursue the broadly recommended college path. How is your messaging? #whateverisbest
  4. Review homework levels. Given how early students rise before school and require above-average levels of sleep, homework should be reasonable. Yet, we’ve often heard of schools assigning up to four hours of homework on weeknights, creating a workday that is more demanding than their parents! This, together with a lack of coordination among teachers in terms of exams and major projects, is an obvious source of student anxiety. How reasonable is their workload? #theyneedalife
  5. Career selection pressure.  Many high schools are ramping up their career readiness programs, and we applaud that. However, some are taking this to a degree that students are feeling pressure to know what career (and potentially, college major) they should be pursuing. We think that’s taking things too far. In the high school years, students are still discovering themselves and aren’t in a position to weigh all the career alternatives, fully assess their skills and interests, possess all the necessary knowledge to make an informed judgment, and speak with/job shadow practitioners in those fields. We strongly support efforts to build career awareness, but when students feel pressure (as many do!) to know exactly which field they should enter, that’s an overreach. And, remember, many college students change their majors multiple times, and a large measure of college graduates regret the major they chose! Focus on the process, but not the selection in the high school years. Finally, let’s not push STEM as their only ticket to success. It’s not.

Whether you’re a parent, educator, or other interested party, we hope you found value in our series on preventing and reducing student anxiety. We all have a stake in improving these trends, and we wish you the best in your efforts with the adolescents under your guidance.

Making the Most of Your Internship

american-asian-blond-hair-1323588.jpgYou’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Well, with all due respect to the originator of this exaggeration, it’s actually both! These days, it matters greatly whether you have an inside contact and advocate when you apply for a job. (A person dear to us just landed a phenomenal position that began with an internship!) But, if you don’t bring a good skill set, especially those valuable soft skills, you likely won’t land it… or keep it for very long if you manage to fool the recruiter.

So, what’s the best way to cover both bases and set yourself up for career success while you’re still in high school or college? The answer is to pursue an internship. Yes, even those requesting your services for free! Hear me out…

The Value of Internships

There is tremendous value in obtaining, and excelling in, an internship. When you do, you’ll:

  1. Gain valuable experience. Even if the job isn’t in your dream career zone, you’ll develop skills and perspective on how the “real world” operates. Often, our academics focus more on theory than practice, so this helps fill the gap.
  2. Sharpen your soft skills. In addition to learning the tasks of the position, you’ll build key soft skills like organization, work ethic, dependability, positivity, integrity, and team mindedness.
  3. Build your network. If you take advantage of the opportunity to meet as many people as possible, you’ll expand your personal and professional “sales force!” They may prove invaluable as future references, too.
  4. Pilot test career possibilities. Whether or not the position is exactly what you would be looking for in a future career, it will give you a helpful firsthand assessment of the fit for you. Many discover that an internship will either confirm or reject their initial career leanings. The earlier you learn this the better.
  5. Get a feel for the organization, its culture, and the industry. Hands on experience with the employer will provide you an excellent sense of the culture and industry. This will help you assess whether you’d want to work for them full time.
  6. Gain an inside advantage. IF you do well AND it’s a company you’re interested in, you’ve just gained the inside track for a full-time position. That’s gold!
  7. Enhance your resume and credentials. Employers love to see work experience rather than just academic accomplishments. With your internship, you’ve just improved your competitive edge to land a great position.

Maximizing the Opportunity
 
So, now that you’ve landed an internship, how do you make the most out of it? Here are some strategies to maximize your experience:

  1. Remember, attitude is (almost) everything. It’s important to arrive with the right frame of mind. Take advantage of all the opportunities you can to meet people, contribute to the effort, and acquire as many skills as possible. A positive attitude and strong work ethic are vital. Internships generally involve more basic tasks and responsibilities rather than key decision-making and a corner office. So, keep your expectations under control and deliver excellent work no matter what they have you do.
  2. Exceed their expectations. Be sure you clearly understand the specs of the position and do high quality work that’s on time, every time. Then, seek opportunities to showcase your creativity and initiative by going above and beyond the job description. Think, “How can I add value?”
  3. Remember, you’re each testing the waters. They are observing whether you are full-time material, so rise to the occasion. But, also evaluate whether this is a fit for you. Be sure to consider whether: 1) the organization and culture appeals to you and 2) the position confirms or rejects your career interests. Internships offer a powerful way to sample what it would be like to work in that field and with that employer. They also provide excellent opportunities to meet people in the full-time position(s) you’d likely be seeking. Their insights and perspectives are invaluable. If you find it’s not a fit after all, you’ll still have time to change your plans. 
  4. Meet as many people as possible. Don’t stay planted in your cubicle. Use your internship as an opportunity to meet leaders and people in positions of interest. Have coffee with some of their most respected people and pick their brains. What success secrets and advice can they offer? It’s a great way to build your network and fast track your career by learning from the pros.

If your schedule allows, we strongly encourage you to seek out an internship. And, if it doesn’t, make the necessary adjustments because this a top priority. It’s a foolproof way of learning the ropes and landing your dream career.
 

Parenting “To-Do List” For Parents of Incoming College Freshmen: July

accomplishment-adult-bisexual-1152500Parents, you’re in your last full month. They say you have eighteen summers with your child, and, well….you have entered the ninth inning. In about a month or two, your teen (or young adult) will be opening a new chapter, beginning college, and starting their adult life. It’s a season filled with emotion for all parties, because you’ll be starting a new chapter, too. After all, we say “good bye” to their childhood and “hello” to their adulthood. So, take it all in, but be hopeful. You have a new, adult-to-adult relationship to look forward to.

Right now, your son/daughter may be choosing his or her first semester course schedule, and anxiously and increasingly looking ahead. Reality is setting in (for both of you). This is a great time to go over two related topics, in order to build confidence and be fully prepared: academics and career.

It’s important for your student to fully understand the difference between high school and college academics. There is much more expected, classes are fewer and longer, competition is stiffer, and exams and essay requirements are far more complex. Here are a few things to go over when it comes to academics:

  • Have them set goals for the first year. What would they constitute as a “successful” experience (e.g., a certain GPA, etc.)?
  • At this time, they need to think of academics as their JOB and their PRIMARY focus. I hate to say it, but party animals don’t last long in the big leagues. Their college education is the biggest investment they (and/or their parents) will make in their future so it’s crucial they make a good return on their investment. Study first, everything else later.
  • Don’t go overboard in taking too many credits the first semester. My personal recommendation is to keep it at 16 or less. There are simply too many life adjustments that are made during that first semester at school, so I would advise not overloading the class schedule in order to avoid unnecessary pressure.
  • Their daily schedules will be far less structured than they were in high school (other than making sure they’re at lectures and labs on time, their day is entirely their own!), so developing a daily plan is crucial. Make sure they always schedule in study time, eating time, exercise time, and relaxing time. Have them find a good planner they’ll use on a regular basis!
  • Time management is essential. Does your teen struggle with managing his or her time or with procrastination? Let’s nip that in the bud now! Time is a precious asset, so developing a daily to-do list is paramount. I recommend organizing it by urgency, always understanding that work comes before play.
  • Take full advantage of professor’s office hours. (Trust me, they’re there to help, and showing up at their hours shows them you’re eager to learn.)
  • Develop an effective and repeatable study method. Complete required readings four days in advance before exams so there is ample time to review and build in “reps.” I devote an entire chapter in What I Wish I Knew at 18 to studying in post-secondary academics. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did.

Secondly, now is the time to start (if you haven’t already) talking to your teen about their future career. Isn’t that the main reason they’re going to college, after all? Here are a few things regarding their future career that you can start talking about this summer:

  • The monetary investment in a college education is far too significant to see it as anything other than preparation for a successful career (no matter what some academics say!). Practically, career earnings need to produce a reasonable return on college investment, taking into account their time spent and any debt incurred.
  • Career and major selection should consider several factors, such as: interests, skills, current demand, ability to meet the qualifications, personal preferences (work environment, hours, stress level, team vs. solo, etc.), expected/desired income, etc. It should be one of their best-researched decisions, and, yet, colleges don’t always place career/major selection as a top priority for their students. Encourage them to do career exploration surveys and talk to actual practitioners in careers before making a final selection. And, make sure they contact the department heads to see what percent of graduates landed a job in their desired field. Many, many majors do NOT lead naturally to jobs in that area. A recent survey showed that 36 percent of college graduates regret the major they chose. 36 percent! That’s the downside of not putting in the necessary effort when selecting a major/career.
  • Remember, the vast majority of jobs are filled by people who have an “inside advantage.” Thus, students need to be building their professional network NOW. It is never too early to start networking (and it starts with you, mom and dad!).

As you enjoy this summer with your teen, make it one to remember. Cook their favorite meals, watch their favorite movies, experience your favorite sports or activities together, and take lots of pictures. It’s a great time to build memories for a new and exciting adult-adult relationship that’s just around the corner. Although their new adventure awaits, there’s no place like home.

P.S.—Happy Fourth of July to all of our friends, family, and followers! We hope you have a safe and celebratory holiday with your loved ones.

4 Steps to Ensure You Rock Your College Major Choice

adult-art-artist-668137.jpg

We’ve been talking a lot about preparing for college around here lately. Now that we’ve arrived at glorious summer, it’s only a matter of months (or weeks) before students are moving into dorms and getting settled in the college rhythm. They’ve made one hard decision already—where to attend school. However, another hard decision still awaits them. What should they major in?

Most of us reading this can likely relate to this struggle. It’s a big decision! I remember agonizing over it as a young student myself. But really, it boils down to one main concept: What can you do for the rest of your life that you’ll enjoy and won’t burn you out? What are you passionate about, what are you good at, and how can you tie those things into a career that will sustain you from here on out? Ideally, we all want to end up working for an employer we admire, fully utilizing our natural talents and skills, building friendships, and growing personally and professionally, as opposed to hating our job, spending our waking hours bored or frustrated, and not feeling rewarded.

When it comes down to choosing your major and future career path, here’s how to avoid the latter: Do your homework. Often, people who end up with career misery do so because they made their choice casually or impulsively. However, choosing your major and subsequent career should be one of the most fully researched decisions of your life! Although intuition is important, don’t base your decision fully off of your emotions.  You’ll regret it.

Here are four steps to get you moving in the right direction:

  • Conduct a comprehensive self-assessment. Be objective and take an honest inventory of your: a) interests and passions, b) lifestyle and work preferences, c) skills, and d) willingness to obtain the necessary qualifications.
  • Develop a list of potential careers that align with what you recorded in the above four areas. Meet with professors and counselors. Attend career fairs offered at your school. Meet with actual practitioners of the careers you’re interested in, in order to get the inside scoop. Nobody can give you a better read on a career than someone who is working in that space.
  • Investigate the current demand for the careers you’re considering. Is there a high need for them right now, or does it appear to be a profession that’s dying off (or being replaced with something else)? For every major you’re evaluating, thoroughly evaluate the employment prospects. Does the outlook look weak (or the pay look less than sustainable)? If so, move in a different direction. Have frank conversations with department heads at your college regarding the employment outcomes of recent graduates. What percent of their graduates land a full-time job in their major within a year? Some majors sound interesting, on paper, but have limited job prospects. College is too costly to go down that path
  • Seek out work-study, internships, and job shadowing opportunities before it’s time to declare your major. This will give you a firsthand reality check and either confirm or reject your initial conclusions.

Once this process is complete, you’ll have narrowed down your major/career choices to a few finalists. Don’t be surprised, though, if your thinking changes as you take more advanced classes and learn more about that career. After all, most college students change their major at least once. I did twice!   
 
A great research tool is the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, which you can find at www.bls.gov/oco. On this site, you will find the descriptions for hundreds of occupations, in addition to their education and training requirements. Also listed are average earnings and future projections for growth in each profession. Need help starting to identify which jobs and careers might be a good fit for you?  Also check out this website: http://www.bls.gov/k12/index.htm. It’s called, “What Do You Like?” and can help you narrow down your options based on your own interests.

Thanks for tuning in, and we hope this summer is a productive one full of fun, personal growth, and self discovery!

Summer is coming…and we need to talk about money.

background-banknotes-bills-928201.jpg

We are so close to a glorious summer break, I can almost taste it (yay!). Kids will be home, teachers will be off, and the sun will be out. Summer’s arrival also means many teens, grads, and college students will be starting up their summer jobs. Whether they’re nannying, mowing lawns, spinning pies at the local pizza joint, job shadowing a journeyman electrician, or interning at a law firm, the goal is to gain real life job experience, and of course, make whatever money they can before school starts up again in the fall.

This brings us to an important point. When we think about summer, we usually think about sunscreen, vacations, beach trips, and barbecues. But there’s something we are missing, and it’s… money. Have you equipped your teen with the financial know-how they need to succeed in the real world (and avoid major financial pit falls)? Many parents assume their kids are learning personal finance at high school (or college), but unfortunately, many schools assume the students are learning it at home! It’s a crucial topic that all too often falls through the cracks. And, guess who loses?

As your teen embarks on his/her summer job, you can use this newsletter as a launch pad to build their financial literacy. It’s the perfect time! The principles of wise financial management aren’t that tough to master. You simply need to know the basics and abide by the disciplines and key principles. It pays to emphasize the importance of financial literacy since the stakes are so high. So, a helpful starting approach is to teach them to avoid these eight most common financial mistakes:

  1. failure to set goals and plan/save for major purchases (instead, many load their credit cards with debt, making their items that much more expensive)
  2. failure to set aside an emergency fund for unforeseen expenses (which can lead to panic, more debt, or asking parents to bail them out)
  3. spending more than you earn and failing to budget and monitor expenses (out of all of them, this is probably a top learning priority)
  4. incurring too much debt, including student loans and excessive credit card usage (this can be a slippery slope, and can make buying a new car or home one day very difficult/nearly impossible/far more expensive)
  5. incurring significant fixed expenses relative to your income that can’t be reduced in difficult economic times (e.g., spending too much on housing, cars, etc.)
  6. impulse buying and lack of value consciousness when shopping (make, and stick to, your shopping list beforehand! Last-minute, unnecessary purchases do not bode well for your finances.)
  7. failure to begin saving and investing for the future as soon as possible (and missing out on the compounding of money over long periods of time)
  8. failure to appreciate how the little things can add up (e.g., eating out versus in, paying up for name brands, owning a dog or cat)

Number 6 is an especially common pitfall among young people when working a summer job. They aren’t used to having a surplus of money in their checking account, so they go on spending sprees and end up saving much less than they could. A good rule to learn, especially at this time of life, is save first, spend on “needs” second, and IF there is money left over, enjoy some “wants.”

These financial pitfalls don’t just apply to teens and young people working their summer job…they apply to everyone! If you are a parent or a teacher, you, too, should review how you’re doing in each of these areas. Are you sticking to your budget? Taking on too much debt? Saving less than you could be? When you practice these same financial best practices, you’ll be even better equipped to talk about financial wellness with the young people in your life.  Remember, they’re watching you, so be sure to “walk the talk!” If we can successfully avoid these traps, we’ll ALL be in better financial shape!
Now get out there, get to working, and get to saving! The world (and your bank account) is your oyster.

Oh, and have an amazing summer, too!

 

Can Good Business Principles Make Us Better Parents?

business-charts-commerce-265087

I know what you’re probably thinking. “Has Dennis gone off his rocker? Business and parenting? Are you kidding me?”

But, stay with me on this. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

As most of you know, I had incredible business experience for some 30 years before founding LifeSmart. Throughout most of it, I worked for a hugely successful company, Russell Investments, that was awarded “Best Place to Work” any number of times. And, I spent 27 years evaluating organizations and leaders—researching and observing the best and brightest. I learned their best practices and applied them to the best of my ability when managing my employees.

During this period, I also became a father of two kids who are as different as day and night—that would be Michael and Lauren. After some time, I realized that what I learned in the business arena could be applied to my parenting… and, what I learned in my parenting could be applied to my management!

So, here goes—six successful business strategies to help you become a better parent!

  1. Adopt a goal orientation: We all achieve more when we set goals. Whether it’s a five-year strategic plan or a daily to-do list, our goals give us focus, direction, and a target to hit. They help keep us motivated, too. And, so it goes with parenting. What if we were to set goals for our parenting? For our families? And, to encourage our children to be consistent goal setters? No doubt about it, we’ll accomplish more. You can find a sample Parenting Mission Statement here which helps us develop family goals: Parenting Mission Statement. So, be as strategic as you can and don’t let the day-to-day busyness keep you from achieving your longer-term goals.

  2. Utilize effective motivational techniques: Whether we’re in the management or parenting realms, we notice that some people are self motivated while others need a little nudge. Researchers have discovered that among the top motivators of a workforce are being: 1) appreciated and recognized, 2) invited into and involved in decisions, and 3) understood by their “boss.” And, so it goes with parenting a teenager, doesn’t it? We regularly hear complaints from teens that their parents: 1) seem to stress their performance rather than the person they are, 2) make all the decisions or minimize their input, and 3) don’t listen to or try to understand them and their world. The parallels are striking, aren’t they?

  3. Empower rather than micromanage: Most of us loathe having controlling supervisors who hover, nag, interfere, and manipulate. We feel disrespected, devalued, disempowered, and distrusted, and rightfully so. And, so it goes with the helicopter parent who employs these same micromanagement tendencies with their teens. Isn’t it interesting that we detest it when it happens to us at work, yet we can fall into this same trap when we parent? But, when we adopt an empowering parenting style, our teens will develop greater self confidence and decision-making skills.

  4. Promote high standards and strong character: As managers, we certainly want our employees to perform. And yet, the most successful leaders stress the importance of upholding high standards of excellence, including strong character and ethical behavior. Qualities like integrity, dependability, initiative, team-mindedness, positivity, self control, work ethic, and resilience are telltale signs of excellent employees. So, when it comes to parenting, let’s remember to honor the great character traits and behaviors in our children, not just their outcomes. It will serve them well in all aspects of life.

  5. Engage in effective collaboration: In today’s more relational workplace, teamwork is highly valued. Being able to work effectively with others with different skills, styles, and backgrounds in a harmonious way produces happier workers and better outcomes. The same is true of families who value one another, work together on family projects and chores, and invest in their relationships. While the teen years can bring extra relationship challenges when children express greater independence (and sometimes appear to devalue their parents’ input), it nonetheless is helpful to reinforce the “family as team” whenever possible. One team, one dream, does pay off.

  6. Commit to continuous improvement: As the world has become more competitive, companies are managing their personnel more intensively. Nowadays, we have to deliver excellent performance just to keep our jobs. So, it’s not surprising that employees who are committed to continuously improve their skills through training, etc. are best positioned to succeed. And, so it goes with our children. By building a growth mindset and a love of learning and self improvement in our children, parents can prepare them for the demands of the real world and help them fulfill their dreams. So, encourage your children to seize those opportunities to sharpen their body, mind, and spirit. It’s huge.

So, taking a page from the business management playbook can actually help in our parenting and pay dividends, too. Give it a try and let us know how it goes.

To better parenting.

 

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Professionalism

 

adult-arrival-beard-429248 (1)

A man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.

~Alistair Cooke

or young adults who are just entering the workforce, it can be an eye-opening experience. In a culture that has grown more coarse and casual by the year, and where parents and educators expect the other to take responsibility for building employability skills, many employers have significant retraining to do. So, it’s no surprise they are increasingly valuing professionalism in their employees.

When we hear the word, “professionalism,” the first thing that usually comes to mind is appearance and language. However, the scope is much broader. So, let’s review some of the key aspects of professionalism in a workplace context. Each one is important for adults and children to master.

Appearance: this includes dress, hygiene, countenance, body language, neatness, cleanliness, posture, etc. When you start a new job, err on the side of more conservative dress and closely observe how others, especially the most admired employees, appear. They’re your best role models. Workplace functions vary from casual to business-casual to business. Be sure to come properly attired no matter what. Would your CEO be comfortable including you in a major client dinner? There is only one right answer!

Attitude: employers expect you to arrive on time with a positive attitude and ready to rock. You must try your best regardless of what else is going on in your life or whether it’s a Monday morning after a week of vacation. Keep a positive disposition, even if you’re in stressful situations. Positivity is the sign of a winner!

Excellent Performance: true workplace superstars deliver high job performance and contribute to the success of the organization. They go above and beyond. They can be relied upon to achieve their goals and meet deadlines. Also, they work well with others (both inside and outside). Think “dependable excellence.”

Manners and Etiquette: these reflect on one’s personal standards and respect for others. They are especially important in business/social settings and meetings with clients and prospects. You needn’t be an Emily Post, but you must “show well” to others in your basic etiquette. Closely observe, and learn from, those with excellent manners, courtesy, and graciousness. You won’t win an account with exceptional manners, but you’ll surely lose one if they’re lacking.

Ethics and Confidentiality: every employer has basic policies and procedures that must be followed, in addition to laws and regulations. And, depending on the position, employees are often privy to confidential information. Here, your standards must be impeccable and nothing less. A broken trust, or failure to adhere to ethics and policies, can be disastrous. When in doubt, ask!

Representation of Employer’s Brand: most companies have a mission, vision, and statement of values to which employees are expected to honor. Your supervisor and leaders must be able to trust that you will capably represent the company’s values, both at work and in the community. As we’ve increasingly seen, that includes our comments and posts in the public square, especially on social media.

Communication and Relationships: in the workplace, our relational standards need to be even higher than with our personal relationships. Communication, both written and oral, must be more formal and appropriate, and always tactful and courteous. In order to build a harmonious working environment, positivity and constructive communication are the order of the day. Also, many lifelong friendships are formed at work, where mutuality and respect guide our behavior (especially in mixed gender relationships). Finally, one must never use position or power to abuse, disrespect, manipulate, or harass another. No exceptions.

Growth Mindset: successful employees are committed to lifelong learning. They seek professional development opportunities through webinars, journals, podcasts, and the experienced pros surrounding them. All of this positions employees for advancement in their current job and next-level opportunities.

Here are some key reasons why professionalism so important to employers:

  • Employees are representing their employer and its brand, both internally and externally. Thus, professionalism is a personal and organizational issue.
  • Customers and prospects expect and deserve it! Professionalism is a sign of respect we show others. We’ve all experienced unprofessional sales and service calls, and it motivates us to take our business elsewhere, doesn’t it?
  • Employees who struggle with professionalism rarely last long and certainly receive fewer opportunities. This is especially the case if the position is people-centric like sales or customer service.
  • It builds stronger relationships and helps us make good first impressions when we meet new people.
  • It helps us do a solid job, even on those days when we’re not at our best.
  • It helps us bring out the best in our colleagues, especially when we’re in managerial roles.
  • It’s the right thing to do.

 Parents, don’t take for granted that your children are learning these valuable employability skills at school. Take primary responsibility for it, and introduce them to successful professionals whenever you can. Today’s cultural messages are not preparing them in any way, shape, or form to be a professional, and our schools and universities aren’t consistently helping either. The ball is in your court.

 

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Friendliness

A7E8FBAF-9AAC-459A-9FCE-75A3FC66A3F2A friend is one of the nicest things you can have, and one of the best things you can be.

~Douglas Pagels

Friendship improves happiness and abates misery by doubling our joy
and dividing our grief.

~Joseph Addison

Winning friends begins with friendliness.

~Dale Carnegie

“TGIF.” It’s arguably the most common weekly comment I hear or see on social media. Shared by people who can’t wait for the weekend. And, more often than not, by people who aren’t especially happy in their jobs. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t recall ever “TGIFing,” even though I enjoy my weekends just as much as anyone.

For 28 years, I was blessed to work for a company I loved, in a job I loved, and with people I loved (or, at least liked!). Our leaders, George and Jane Russell, believed that success was all about putting employees first. We even had a People Division to ensure that we were doing all we could to bring out the best in our people and create a positive work environment. I made many lifelong friends there that I cherish to this day. We worked in a high stress industry, yet our friendly culture made me look forward to coming to work every day. Not surprisingly, our company routinely won awards for being the “best place to work.”

There were many reasons for our company’s success during my tenure, and a top one was our culture of friendliness. Yes, friendliness! Here were some of our secrets:

  1. Our “employees first” culture, where everyone felt valued
  2. People took a genuine interest in each other and were united in our mission
  3. We valued “likeability” in our recruiting. If it came down to two finalists, we’d pick the person we wouldn’t mind as our next-door neighbor. Seriously!
  4. For the most part, we avoided politically charged conversations that had nothing to do with our work and serve mainly to divide. HINT!!!
  5. Leadership challenged us to live out the values to which our company subscribed.
  6. We had fun and found many occasions to celebrate each other.

From my experience, this culture of friendliness improved sales, cemented customer loyalty, increased morale, reduced employee turnover, built friendships, and brought out the best in each employee. It also helped us deal with conflict and disappointment because we genuinely cared about each other and the company. It helped frame and soften our responses.

All this is why friendliness can be one of the most important qualities of employees and organizations. The fact is, most of us work in diverse organizations with colleagues of different backgrounds, worldviews, positions, and personalities. We may not become long-term friends with everyone, but we can (and should) be friendly to everyone. It’s a win for you, a win for them, and a win for your organization.

So, how friendly are you? Especially with people who are not your friends? Here are some descriptors of friendliness to help you evaluate yours: collegial * affable * kind * considerate * good-natured * positive * cheerful * cooperative * helpful * patient * genuine * good listener. From this list it’s obvious that friendliness is a choice. How are you choosing?

But, let’s be honest. Sometimes we work with people who aren’t destined for “BFFhood.” They may be socially awkward, irritating, self-absorbed, or have personalities or worldviews that clash with ours. In these situations, peaceful coexistence might be the best you can hope for. Regardless, friendliness is still the best way, and who knows, it might just rub off!  And, in case you haven’t, familiarize yourself with the DISC personality test (a free one is available at 123test.com). It might help you understand your colleagues better, improve your communications, and even increase your friendliness quotient.

There’s an old saying that cleanliness is next to godliness. I think friendliness is too.

Enjoy your week and remember to share with your friends. Next week we’ll discuss the all-important quality of Resilience. Catch you then!

 

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Team Mindedness

teamwork

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.

~Henry Ford

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.

~Michael Jordan

None of us is as smart as all of us.

~Ken Blanchard

What do choirs, symphonies, NASA space launches, the Golden State Warriors, military operations, Olympic pair skating, successful marriages, hospital emergency rooms, business projects, and your favorite restaurant have in common? The answer: their success depends on teamwork. Great teamwork. Not surprisingly, as our economy shifts and workplaces become more collaborative, employers are placing a premium on teamwork and interpersonal skills in their staffing decisions.

The fact is, teamwork takes work! There are many moving parts in any team and success is highly fragile. Here are the reasons why: 1) egos and self interest get in the way, 2) weak leadership, 3) personality clashes, 4) underperformers, 5) insufficient skill diversity, 6) blaming and internal strife, and 7) poor communication. Is it any wonder why so few sports franchises are truly dynasties?

So, what makes teams work together skillfully and harmoniously toward a common vision? Here are four essential ingredients: 1) each member delivering great performance, 2) effective leadership in assigning responsibilities to team members, 3) an ability to work well with each other, and 4) putting the team ahead of the individual. Simply stated, successful team members abide by the formula:
We > Me.

Here’s a sampler of the qualities of team minded people:

respectfulness * subordination of self interest to team interest * solutions minded * encouragement and appreciation of others * resilience * loyalty * excellent listening * goal orientation * dependability * diplomacy * conflict resolver * helpfulness * positivity * courtesy * affability * tact. No wonder why team mindedness is such a prized quality in the workplace! How would you rate yourself on these qualities?

Also, it takes great interpersonal skills to be an excellent team player. Relational skills are vitally important in the workplace and often are underestimated by people who unfortunately think success is all about smarts. In the business arena, our relationship spheres include colleagues, customers, sales prospects, owners, the community, suppliers, and, yes, your supervisor. Each of these relationships offers the potential for professional and personal friendships, too.

Here are some interpersonal success pointers we share in our What I Wish I Knew at 18 book and curriculum:

  • Be an encourager rather than a critic
  • Give others credit before yourself
  • Strive to be an agreeable disagreer
  • Work synergistically toward common goals
  • Regularly show appreciation and gratitude
  • Solicit and embrace constructive feedback
  • Remember that how you say it can be more important than what you say
  • Focus on solutions more than the problem
  • Don’t whine; just do it
  • Talk it out, don’t write it out; avoid using written communications on sensitive or emotionally charged topics
  • Give others the benefit of the doubt and avoid assuming bad intentions
  • Take responsibility for your mistakes and shortfalls and avoid blaming
  • Laugh often

Parents, team mindedness and strong interpersonal skills in your children are critical to their success in life. Unfortunately, signs are everywhere that technology overuse is having harmful effects on our children’s relational skill development. Isolation, social awkwardness, and a preference for tech-based communication over face-to-face communication are growing tendencies in a world that values collaboration more than ever. It’s a disconnect that deserves all of our attention.

Stay tuned for next week’s topic: Friendliness.

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Resourcefulness

 

hands-people-woman-working.jpgA resourceful person can see the opportunity when others only see obstacles.

~Garrett Gunderson

In a world that is changing faster than ever, and in a business environment that is more competitive than ever, today’s employers are facing challenges like never before. The implications on the workplace are profound:

  • More innovation is required just to keep up
  • Product life cycles are shrinking so businesses need to be vigilant and nimble
  • Low cost competitors like Amazon can reduce one’s market share in a moment
  • Customers have very high expectations and are more difficult to please
  • There are more problems (challenges) to be solved as well as new opportunities

So, it comes as no surprise that employers are emphasizing resourcefulness, problem solving, creativity, and innovative thinking in their recruiting. Thankfully,  these qualities can be learned and they are found in all personalities, from the highly creative to the analytical.

Generally speaking, employers benefit from resourcefulness in a variety of ways:

  • Increasing revenues: creating new products/services, improving customer loyalty, increasing market share through product enhancements, improvements to sales effectiveness, etc. If you think about it, all of the products we enjoy today were invented in the past by a person or team. Some, like the inventors of the printing press, light bulb, radio, automobile, phone, steam turbines, computer, and vaccinations, were responding to an existing need. They were incredible problem solvers! Others enter a market because they believe they’ve created a better product or value proposition (food and restaurant chains come to mind).
  • Reducing costs/improving efficiency: discovering new ways to produce products or services at lower cost and become more efficient. These savings, too, result in higher profits.
  • Solving day-to-day problems in each of our jobs: no matter what position we hold, unexpected challenges arise. Our business unexpectedly slows. A key employee leaves the company. Raw material prices rise. A co-worker is spreading rumors or missing deadlines. A supplier delays delivery. A client is upset over product performance. Students disrupt the classroom. We fall behind due to a long illness. Stuff happens! Do we cower in fear or embrace the situation using our creativity, analytical, and relational skills?

Is it any wonder why resourceful people are so highly valued in the workplace?

So, what are the qualities of resourceful people? Here are some descriptors: creative, analytical, objective, problem solvers, decisive, visionary, courageous, resilient, determined, opportunistic, skillful, ingenious, enterprising, discerning, and solutions minded. Isn’t it a wonderfully diverse list! Anyone can become resourceful!

Parents, don’t be fooled into thinking that just because your children are strong academically that they’re good problem solvers. It’s not always the case—just ask any employer. But, you can help build resourcefulness by encouraging your children to solve problems themselves and involve them in family decisions like planning vacations, charitable giving, managing a tight budget, or choosing a college. So often, we instinctively tell our children what to do rather than to first hear their thoughts and potential solutions (e.g., “How do you plan to solve the problem?). By first asking for their ideas before sharing yours, you’ll build a quality that will serve them well in life.

Next week’s topic: Positive Attitude. Stay tuned!