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.
 

Self-Awareness: The Ultimate Goal for Teens this Summer

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“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” -Ralph Ellison,  Invisible Man

I love visiting with high schoolers and college students about their career plans. It takes me back to when I walked in their shoes. I remember feeling excited, confused, and a little bit anxious, but stayed positive for the most part. Eventually I found my way, but it was a circuitous path that taught me a lot about life and myself.

Some of my mentees are quite certain of their career interests and have laid out detailed plans to get there. (I’m the first to affirm them, but also let them know it’s okay if they change their mind as many often do.) However, most of my conversations go something like this:

Me:      So, what career or major are you considering?

Them: My parents want me to take up ____. My dad (or mom) has had a great career in it. But my friends think I should go into ____.  My school counselor has even different ideas. It’s confusing.

Me:      So, what do you think?

Them:  (Anxious pause) I don’t know yet.

Several things always strike me about these exchanges. One is how often they focus on what others think, rather than themselves. Two is the depth of anxiety, doubt, and pressure they are feeling about their future career. And, three, they are making this critical decision without the benefit of self awareness. They’re shooting in the dark, and it’s a shame. In fact, earlier this year, Gallup released the results of its survey of college graduates and found that an alarming 40% of Bachelor’s Degree recipients now regret their choice of major! 40%!!! Fortunately, there is a better way!

Just as when we build our dream house, good career planning begins with a solid foundation. In this case, it is a foundation built on the understanding of self—knowing who we are, how we are gifted with unique talents, experiences, and attributes, and what we’re interested in and passionate about. The who, what, and why… of us! If we don’t fully understand ourselves first, finding a career that fits is a random exercise, at best.

Career assessment surveys are indeed helpful, but tend to focus on skills and interests rather than the complete picture of self. As such, we encourage educators, mentors, and parents to take a broader view.

At LifeSmart, we take a holistic approach to self assessment that helps students discover the unique value (assets) they have to offer to this world. It considers a wide range of asset categories that builds self confidence, a sense of identity, and inspires a healthy life vision. Here is an abbreviated summary of some of the asset groups we believe are essential for career and life readiness training:

  • Foundational Assets:
    • Physical: strength, speed, agility, endurance, dexterity, vocal, visual, auditory, sport-specific, appearance
    • Mental: intelligence, aptitudes, analytical ability, reasoning, creativity, conceptual thinking, intuition, memory, concentration, subject specific
    • Behavioral: personality (pace and people/task focus), attitude, social attributes, outlook, emotional intelligence, communication, productivity, soft skills
    • Spiritual: faith, values, inspirational experiences, encouragement
  • Aspirational Assets:
    • Experiential: credentials (academic, career, skills, service), life experiences, leadership, perspective
    • Interests: knowledge pursuits, recreation, leisure, industry, activities, entertainment, travel, nature, spiritual life, creative arts, social
    • Passions and Dreams: desires, causes, purpose, personal and professional goals, bucket list items

Knowing that self awareness comes through self discovery and affirmation from others (note parents!), we’ve developed a personal leadership assignment you can access here. It not only helps identify your unique assets/strengths, but it also captures the invaluable perspectives of others who know you well and have your best interests at heart. This is a great personal leadership assignment that can be led by educators or parents. Be sure to explore other self awareness resources, too.

It’s important to remember that some of these assets will be used directly in our careers while others help in different arenas. Regardless, by taking an inventory of our unique assets, personal nature, and desires, we’re much better equipped to select a great career match that fits us like a glove.

Successful people lead from their strengths, but first they have to know what they are. Help the students and children in your life understand their uniqueness and value. It’s one of the greatest gifts we can give—for their eventual career and for all of life.

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

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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!

Can Good Business Principles Make Us Better Parents?

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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.

 

Taking Responsibility: A Life Skill We All Need to Master

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Here’s a hypothetical scenario to consider: It’s finals week, and you’ve spent the last few days studying and cramming (and drinking more caffeine than you care to admit). Deep down, you know you should have started studying earlier in the month, but with your intramural flag football games, your Instagram addiction, the spontaneous beach trips, and Netflix binge watching, there just wasn’t enough time! Although you’re doing all the “right things” now by highlighting your reading and going over old quizzes, you’re rushed, anxious, and more stressed than you’ve ever been. It’s no surprise, then, that when all is said and done, you see a disappointing C- at the top of your final. Regrettably, you know you could have done better.

So . . . now what? Do you take issue with the professor or teacher, complaining that the questions were too hard? Do you accuse him or her of biased grading, or being out to get you? Do you compare your test to those of classmates who earned better grades? Worse yet, do you recruit your parents to petition on your behalf?!? You’re concerned it might affect your admission into your dream university.

Or, do you take personal responsibility for your grade and accept the fact that you underprepared? Will you own the outcome (which was likely a product of your own actions)?

We call this topic “Accepting Personal Responsibility for Our Mistakes and Shortfalls,” and it’s a life skill that every single one of us needs to master. Believe me, it’s no easy feat. However, it’s a sign of maturity, integrity, and a hallmark of a true leader. Being able to put complaints, self-pity, and the desire to blame others aside is a sign of self-awareness. Moreover, accepting responsibility causes us to live with an accurate perspective of reality.

Blame shifting and negative behavior justification distorts our reality—causing us to live in a world where we believe we do no wrong or that we deserve good outcomes. It’s rooted in insecurity, and it affects our decision making, job performance, academic achievements, relationships, and more. Everyone else screws up but us, right? Wrong! The real reality is that we all mess up, but have the capacity to accept the consequences and learn from our mistakes.

Refusing to own up to our shortfalls creates a blind spot in our lives—one that may cause us to miss out on great opportunities. That professor who was “biased” against you? She could have turned out to be a great tutor or written you a great recommendation for grad school. The coach who you were convinced benched you every game because he “didn’t like you?” He could have been a great personal trainer and helped you improve your game. That classmate who was “jealous of you?” She could have helped you become a better friend. That boss who fired you “unjustly?” He could have helped you widen your professional network and provided you with great connections had you delivered on the job.

The long and short of it is this: as we grow into well-rounded, confident, and contributing members of society, it’s crucial that we accept responsibility for our mistakes and shortfalls. Although it may seem difficult at the time, this practice will make us better friends, employees, players, and students who have an accurate and healthy view of ourselves and the world around us. Here are a few ways to get started mastering this life skill:

  • When you are hit with a negative situation, turn to self-reflection first.
  • After some reflection, if you still believe you’ve been wronged, address the situation calmly and with an open mind.
  • Ask for constructive criticism from teachers, coaches, and bosses.
  • Always be honest with yourself and others.
  • Invite those close to you (parents, close friends, pastors, mentors) to hold you accountable and speak truth and encouragement into your life.

Humility, personal responsibility, and self-awareness are of high value, so start this practice now!

Can you think of a situation where you stood up and took responsibility for your actions? What good came from it?

 

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Professionalism

 

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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: Work Ethic/Motivation

Some people dream of success while others wake up and work hard at it.

~Winston Churchill

The harder I work, the luckier I get.

~Samuel Goldwyn

It’s supposed to go like this: We convince the employer we’re the best person for the job. The employer agrees and offers it to us, complete with a compensation package. We accept the offer and celebrate, recognizing they could have easily offered the position to someone else. In return for the paycheck, we work our tails off, do our best, and… WAIT, STOP THE TAPE! Not so fast!

In my conversations with employers of young people, I hear more complaints about work ethic and dependability than any other traits. Among the issues they cite: absenteeism, late arrivals, distractions, failure to meet deadlines, deficient work, whining (especially toward more “menial” tasks), and entitlement attitudes. Some employers have given up and are now recruiting retirees to avoid the “baggage.” (Their word.)

And, they’ll tell you it wasn’t always this way.

To be honest, I think the responsibility for this generational shift lies primarily with parents. We do our children’s chores, either to keep them happy or because we can do them better or quicker. We overcommit them with one activity after another and feel guilty if we also ask them to sweep the garage. We allow play to come before work. We permit hours and hours of time with their endless technology, media, and entertainment options. It all adds up and manifests itself in a big way during the teen and young adult years.

Oh, and, educators will tell you the lack of motivation is apparent in their classrooms, too.

There are many, many reasons why a strong work ethic and motivation (both inextricably linked) are so important in the workplace and in life:

  • It is an admired character trait and a MUST for a productive life
  • We owe it to our employers who are paying us for excellent work
  • It directly affects our job performance, pay potential, reputation, job security, and promotability; also, several careers pay directly by output and sales, which are heavily influenced by our work ethic and productivity
  • Our team members are depending on us
  • It is a necessity for building grit and resilience
  • We make ourselves easier to manage in the eyes of our supervisor
  • Businesses are much more “bottom line” focused than in the past and less tolerant of mediocre performers; we have to compete to keep our jobs!
  • A strong work ethic can overcome an average skillset
  • We receive the “psychic benefits” from a job well done
  • And, we accomplish so much more

Individuals with a strong work ethic and motivation:

  • are self starters and needn’t require reminders
  • don’t require rewards each time for hard work; it’s intrinsic
  • are proactive and take initiative
  • are productive and efficient with their time; they focus just as much on working smart as working hard and accomplish more than others during their work time
  • are conscientious, take directions, and follow policies and guidelines
  • are lifelong learners
  • avoid complaining about the less interesting aspects of their job
  • meet or exceed the requirements of the job
  • give their employer a high return on investment

Parents, here are some tips to help build these essential qualities:

  • Instill the values of a strong work ethic and motivation by modeling it yourselves and teaching your children why it’s so important
  • Have your children do age-appropriate chores and message that doing them is not optional (this is where your tough love really pays off!). Introduce them to a wide range of chores, but be somewhat flexible when choosing which ones they are routinely responsible for. Use chores as a learning experience. They’ll be on their own soon!
  • Limit the amount of time they spend on technology and media and adopt a “work before play” strategy
  • When it comes to career selection, encourage them to choose options they will enjoy and be interested in. We are naturally more motivated when we do the things we like.
  • Encourage them to choose friends who take these qualities seriously. Peer influences are huge. If our kids surround themselves with positive and productive people, it will rub off. And if they don’t, that will rub off, too!

Let’s do everything we can to build an intrinsic work ethic in our younger generation and reverse these trends. Today’s tough love will pay dividends in the long run, and, one day, they might just thank you for it.

Next up: Resourcefulness. Have a great week!

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Dependability

I learned that, “Mike, you get your first job on your ability and every job after that
on your dependability.”

~Mike Royer

If your actions don’t live up to your words, you have nothing to say.

~Da Shanne Stokes

“You can count on me.” Hearing these words is every supervisor’s dream! Just as every parent loathes having to give reminders to their kids to do their chores or homework, bosses are in the same boat with their employees when they fail to deliver. And, in my conversations with employers who hire young people, unreliability is easily one of their most common complaints. To wit…

A teen working as a server for an area restaurant was to show up for her 5:00 p.m. shift. Rightfully, the owner could count on that. However, imagine his surprise when he received a call at 4:55 that she was sick and unable to come to work. Apparently unaware of the inconvenience this would cause, she obviously felt that five minutes notice would suffice. As if that wasn’t enough, at 5:10 she would be posting pictures on Facebook of the beach party she was attending a mere ten miles away. To add insult to injury, she was surprised when she showed up the next day and was promptly fired. Sadly, variations of this story are more common than you’d think.

She made the mistake of thinking that the employer existed to serve her rather than the other way around. For her sake, I hope it was a lesson learned.

In the workplace, and in life, dependability is one of our most valued character qualities. It means that we do what we say. That we can be trusted. That we are confidently willing to be held accountable for our actions and actions. And, that we will be easy to manage!

Here’s what dependability looks like in the workplace:

  • You deliver excellent work on time, every time. No reminders necessary. A good practice is to complete your work one to two days ahead of the deadline. That way, if something comes up, you have some cushion.
  • You comply with company policies, ethics, laws, and regulations without failing.
  • You represent the company and its values both internally and externally with customers, prospects, suppliers, and the community.
  • You not only do your work well, but you also seek opportunities to advance the overall organization.
  • You don’t make promises you can’t keep. If anything, you “underpromise and overdeliver!”
  • You are punctual and bring a positive attitude to work every day.
  • If something comes up that threatens your ability to meet a deadline, you inform your supervisor as soon as possible. No last minute warnings and excuses! Remember, bosses hate negative surprises!

Dependability serves us well beyond the workplace, too. Whether it’s in marriages, friendships, community service, etc., we all admire this quality in people.

Parents: sometimes it seems like dependability is a quality you’re either born with or need to learn! Our more compliant children do their chores or homework without our reminders, while it’s a struggle with others. Why not make dependability a family value and help our children understand why it’s so important. In this day and age, many young people seem to view it as optional, only to experience a rude awakening when they enter the workforce. One day they’ll thank you for it.

 

Next week’s topic: work ethic/motivation. Stay tuned for more in this series, and please share with your friends–especially if they have teens are students who will soon be entering the workforce!

In case you missed last week’s post in this series, you can find it here.