Monthly Archives: July 2015

Feeling meh? 5 tips for getting the career you want

Feeling meh? 5 tips for getting the career you want

I had a really good job – interesting work, well paid, lots of travel.  It ticked all of the boxes.  One day I woke up and wondered what I was doing and how I got to this point.  I felt dissatisfied, unfulfilled and started to wonder if this was all there is.  Really?  This is it?  Blimey.  Cue implosion and rapid change of direction. Many of us drift through our careers and go from job to job without really thinking about where we want to get to or what we want out of life.  Life can be something that just happens to you and you get on with it, and often it’s fine.  But what if you take control and make things happen?  Read on for my 5 tips on getting the career or business you want.

1. Decide what you want.  A few lucky people know what they want to be when they grow up from an early age and go off and do it; most of us flit from idea to idea.  At various stages in my life I would have answered the ‘what do you want to be?’ question with: nun, doctor, choreographer, fashion designer, interpreter at the UN and war correspondent.  All of which would have been totally unsuitable (except perhaps interpreter).  My sister on the other hand always said ‘nurse’ and that’s what she became as soon as she could.  WE are much more successful when we play to our strengths and interests.  So think about what you want – not your parents, friends, colleagues or teachers.  You.  And go and do it.

changing_direction_choosing_a_path2. Find out how to become whatever you want to be.  What training or qualifications do you need?  What sort of life and work experience must you have?  Who should be in your network?  How will you get to know with the people who should be in your network?  What skills should you be developing?  What funding and support is available?  How closely do your current skills and experience match the requirements of your dream job.  Then go and do all of them.

3. Get a really good mentor, someone who understands you and where you want to get to and can help you with support, encouragement and really good advice.  If you’re in a firm or company this may well be someone who is a just bit older or more experienced than you and you may just be assigned to someone. That’s OK but if you can, choose mentors who will challenge you and be really honest with you. Their feedback may hurt temporarily but understanding and acting on your shortcomings will only help you make progress.  The best mentors I ever had could be brutal sometimes but they were telling me things for the right reasons and their insights were always invaluable (thanks guys!).

4. Not everyone can become a board director or partner or the next Richard Branson.  If, for some reason, you can’t quite get to where you want to be try and find a way to get as close to it as you can.  I recently worked with a client who wanted to be an opera singer but health problems meant that she wasn’t able to perform professionally.  She carved out a very successful career in arts administration, which kept her involved in professional opera and musical theatre, and she enjoys taking part in amateur productions as well as teaching singing.  No, she’s not on stage at the Royal Opera House but she’s living and working in a world she loves.

5. It’s never too late to change direction.  There’s also never a good time to change direction.  If that’s what you really want to do just go and do it.  (Change can be very unsettling, download my tips on coaching with change here http://www.alchemybusinesscoaching.biz/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Coping-with-change.pdf

I don’t regret any of the choices I made in my career but I do sometimes wish I had got to some places sooner.  Once I thought about what I really wanted, worked out how to get there and took the appropriate action everything clicked into place.  I would love to hear about your experiences so please share your thoughts, ideas and insights.  Or if you’ve got that ‘meh’ feeling about your career or business why not have a coaching session on me?

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The one key skill every leader needs

The one key skill every leader needs

Jane came in to my office looking troubled. ‘I think I’m OK as a manager but how do I become a leader?’ she asked. ‘I’ve just had my appraisal and I’ve been told I need to work on my leadership skills’. I’ll cover dodgy appraisals in a later blog, this one is all about which leadership skill I think you need to start developing now.

Although many of my clients worry about their leadership skills (see here for the differences between leadership and management  they sometimes struggle to describe a good leader to me.  I don’t think that’s because there’s a lack of good leaders, rather it’s because leadership is nebulous – it’s hard to describe and get hold of but you definitely know good (and bad) leadership when you see or experience it.  So I often start by getting clients to think about leaders they admire at work, in sport, politics or life.  What do they say and do, how do they act? Why are they good leaders?  It’s an unscientific approach, sure, but the answers my clients give are pretty consistent, in fact Zenger and Folkman’s list in this inc.com article by Peter Economy contains just about all of the attributes of great leaders my clients have identified over the last 5 years: http://www.inc.com/peter-economy/top-10-skills-every-great-leader-needs-to-succeed.html

So where do you start?  Well the good news is that most people are on track already – they are honest and have integrity (#2 on the list).  Most people also display professional and technical expertise, if they didn’t they would not be on the leadership track (#7).  Communication skills (#5 ) and relationship building ability (#6) are vital, that goes without saying and have been the subject of many of my previous blogs, like the last one.

There is one skill I wished I had developed earlier and worked hard on though. Now I see so many business owners, managers and executives struggling with the same problem: displaying a strategic perspective (#8). According to Economy ‘Great leaders have a long-term vision of the future, and they avoid getting bogged down in the here and now. While they can be tactical when necessary, they maintain the strategic outlook necessary to guide their businesses to the best future possible.’

I think this nails it.  Managers tend to focus on the here and now, ‘they do the doing’ as one of my clients calls it; leaders focus more on the future.  Letting go of the day to day, delegating, spending time on activities with a longer-term benefit and thinking ahead are all vital skills for any leader but ones that we seldom develop organically.  We’re all too busy doing the doing.

Executive_thinking_strategicallyMoving on in your career can change what we define as doing however.  I was really bored when I was first made MD, all the stuff I used to do was getting done by my highly competent team.  What happened?  Yes, I refused to let go, micromanaged and generally interfered in whatever the team was doing.  I mentioned this to a former boss who’s still a mentor of mine. He shook his head, appalled, and said ‘But that’s not your job any more, your job is to think now’. That comment completely changed my outlook. Getting paid to think? Wow! That’s what leaders do. So if you want to develop your leadership skills try cuttingdown on the doing and start thinking.

Source: Peter Economy, ‘Top Ten Skills Every Great Leader Needs to Succeed’ ,http://www.inc.com/, 29 December 2014

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Getting things done: 8 rules for effective delegation

Getting things done: 8 rules for effective delegation

Many years ago I shared an assistant with three of the other managers in the department. Sally was enthusiastic and very pleasant but she made a lot of mistakes (and I mean a lot). Because of the mistakes I tended not to give her anything too complicated to do, it was quicker and easier just to get on and do it myself. It meant I had more to do but at least things got done the way I wanted them done and to my standards. The fact that I had to stay late sometimes and do Sally’s job for her used to really annoy me but it was easier to say nothing. One day I asked Sally to do something and as I walked away I heard her tell a colleague that she hated working for me, I asked her to do nothing but ‘crap’, I never gave her anything interesting to work on and was never clear about what I needed or when I needed it. She wondered how she was supposed to learn anything working for me. I was furious! I didn’t give her stuff to do because she messed it up! And of course I was clear about what I needed and when. Wasn’t I? I thought I was a good manager but overhearing Sally’s comments shocked but ultmately helped me (although I would have preferred it if she had spoken to me directly of course). The fact is that many of us find delegating really, really tricky. If that includes you here are my 8 rules for effective delegation:

1. Be direct and clear about what you want people to do.

2. Know the answers to any questions they might ask before you go to them with the task. Questions might include: Why do you want it doing? By when? To what standard? Who’s it for? What’s it for? What happens if I get it wrong? Is it a standalone task or part of something bigger? What’s the context or background? What are the stages I have to go through with it? Who else should I involve? If they don’t ask relevant questions themselves make sure that you cover the answers in your briefing anyway.

3. If you want things doing in a particular way, style or sequence tell them how you want it doing and explain why you want it doing that way.

4. Accept that they’re unlikely to do it exactly the way you would do it. Does that matter? If the end result is OK, how important is the way they got there? If how they do it does matter tell them, perhaps even provide a checklist, flowchart or crib-sheet they can follow.Lady_using_a_checklist

Lady_using_a_checklist5. Provide the right resources to do the job well. This might be time, it might be information or equipment or tools or money. It might be additional training or help, or an introduction to someone who can help in some way.

6. Use good management. Let them get on with it but check in to see how things are going. Never, ever micro-manage or hover. Ask for updates and feedback, see if they need any help, guidance or support but be sure to use open questions here. Examples might be:

  • What are you finding hard or challenging?
  • What do you need?
  • How can I help you?
  • What can I do to support you?

7. Give your team work that is challenging but not totally beyond their capabilities and experience.

8. Remember that time spent training someone is never wasted: you’re developing a team member and freeing up your time in the end.

If delegation is something you find difficult why not have a coaching session on us to find out why you’re struggling and look at what you can do about it?

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Alchemy A-Z of being in business: N is for networking

Alchemy A-Z of being in business: N is for networking

I got to my first ever networking session early and headed to the bar. I really didn’t want to be there but I was the boss so it was expected of me. As the barman made my drink someone marched up, shook my hand and introduced himself.  I froze. I didn’t want to talk to this guy, I didn’t know him and certainly didn’t like the look of him so I grabbed my drink and, while he was placing his order, headed off to the opposite side of the room where I could see someone I knew.

The thing is, I wasn’t at a singles night; it didn’t matter whether I liked the look of people or not. I was there to represent my company and make new business contacts, not chat to old ones.  I missed a big opportunity because the guy turned out to be head of procurement at a target client and I never got the chance to talk to him informally again. I was rude to him and disrespectful and he never did become a customer.

That was my first experience of ‘proper’ networking. Like many people I really didn’t enjoy it at first but the good news is that networking is a skill you can develop; it really does get easier and more enjoyable with practice.  I would go so far as to say that if you’re in business networking is something you simply must learn how to do. It’s a great way of getting yourself and what you do known in the local business community but it can help you do so much more: make new contacts, find new clients and opportunities, develop relationships with trusted suppliers and advisers, find people who can support you and even make friends. Here are my top tips for successful networking:

exchanging_cards1. Choose the networking event wisely. If you’re not at your best first thing in the morning try a lunchtime or evening meeting rather than an early breakfast. Next, look at the type of people who go along. Free events are often busy but they tend to attract micro businesses, freelancers and sole traders who may not need or want your services.  If they’re not the right sort of customers and clients for you then look for a different event.

2. Think about what will work best for you. Regular meetings of a small group will help you really get to know your fellow members and build great relationships but they can take up a lot of time. Formal meetings with a commitment to give referrals can really get you moving and bring discipline to your networking although you may find the pressure to identify opportunities for other members a bit too much.  Informal, large events can be fun and energizing but also a bit random, sometimes they’re just too big.  Women new to running their own businesses may find all-female meetings good for building confidence and keeping motivation high.

3.  Make sure you have a great elevator pitch or 60 seconds speech: a short description of what you do and the benefits to your clients. Tell a story, be entertaining but please don’t bang on about how long you’ve been in business, get very technical or try to cram in everything you do. The point of the elevator pitch is to pique interest and lead to a longer conversation, you’re not selling anything at this stage. Make sure you keep it short, always stay within the allotted time. Practice and time new pitches.

4. Go into it with a positive attitude. If you think an event will be rubbish and a waste of time you’ll be absolutely right.

5. Talk to, not at, people. A networking event can be the start of a mutually beneficial relationship but there’s a long way to go before you get to that point. So chat to people, find out about them, have a conversation, start to build that relationship. If you bombard them with all there is to know about you then you’ll never see them again.

6. Follow up. Soon after the meeting send an email or text saying how much you enjoyed chatting and maybe suggest a coffee if appropriate and you want to find out more about them. Connect on LinkedIn with a personalized message reminding them where and when you met. Don’t send them all your promotional material unless they’ve specifically asked for it.

7. Learn from the experience. After a networking event think about what went well, what you could have done differently and what you would do better next time.

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