Fashion and the (Real) Working World

African Businesswoman

I started binge watching Suits on Netflix recently.  Working in the legal world, I was immediately drawn into the intrigue, back room deals and manic world of Pearson Specter.  The $1,000 suits on the men, the Manolos and pencil skirts on the women…gorgeous.

But…let’s talk about real clothes for real working women.

First all, if you are a working mom and can look even 20% like any of the women on Suits – you are my hero.  Truly.  I can’t even come close.  Most days I’m lucky if I can make it out of the house dressed.  And I don’t even have really young children.

If you’re anything like me, deciding what to wear to the office is a confusing, frustrating, mind-numbing exercise.

Let’s start with the pencil skirts.  What are the chances that you have a clean, neatly laundered and pressed skirt just hanging in your closet?  I thought so.  Wearing a skirt requires maintenance so, the big question – have you shaved your legs recently?  That will be the difference between going bare-legged, wearing sheer pantyhose or the thickest tights you can find in the drawer. Which leads to digging through said drawer to find a pair that doesn’t have a huge “how-on-earth-did-that-get-there” hole in it.

Now, let’s talk shirts.  I don’t know about your office but mine seems to be able to only maintain one temperature – 2 degrees below meat locker.  Which means that all of those lovely short-sleeved or sleeveless tops must be covered up with whatever sweater you have hanging in the office or, even better, the “office sweater”.  You know the one – the one that is so ugly the person who retired 5 years ago wouldn’t even take with them.  And in a lovely shade of orange/puce/brown that goes with everything.

Next, the shoes…ah, the shoes.  I love shoes, any and all kinds but anything with over a half and inch heel makes my knees and feet cry.  The 3 and 4 inches heels, make my back cry.  I honestly don’t know how I used to wear those.  How do the heels look?  Do they need to be cleaned?  Did you manage to pick the one pair of heels that make that annoying “clip, clop, thump” sound as you walk down the hallway past the boss’ office?  Or, for those of us who live in the colder climates – what are the chances we left those shoes at the office to change into from our boots or should be bring yet another pair?

Accessories? There is this woman that I work with that has the most amazing necklaces and somehow manages to pair them with just the right earrings and for fun, throws in a bracelet or a watch. Me?  I really try hard every morning to remember to put on earrings that match. The only accessory I can truly say that I will always be wearing is my Fitbit Flex.  It’s hot pink and goes with nothing but counts steps and calories and let’s me eat more so I’m good with it.

The next time you look out your office window and you see that woman – you know, the one in the perfect pencil skirt, with the sleeveless shirt, the gorgeous heels and the pearls – remember, she’s either just stepped off a movie set or she’s on holidays.

Leading From Within

Villagers proudly walk across the Chutu Bridge...

Villagers proudly walk across the Chutu Bridge to mark its official opening Dec. 30, 2008. The Chutu Bridge connects Saraw village to commerce opportunities in the Del Rawod district leading to economic prosperity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lot of times you’re going to see problems with an organization that you work with.  Honestly, you’ll probably always see opportunities for improvement.  The easiest way to get to real, sustained improvement is by leading from within the organization.  Pointing out the problems doesn’t solve them.  Finding ways to actually solve those problems, building coalitions, and teams, and coming up with solutions is the way to effect real, lasting change.

One easy example of this that I can give you is the number of girls on the wait list for Girl Scouts.  There are more girls that need quality opportunities for troops than there are troops available.  So, rather than comment on it, and ignore the problem, I am starting a brownie troop this fall.  More than that, I will be working with those parents to identify patrol leaders within the troop, so that we can split into manageable size groups, and plan the year out for the girls.  By not expecting someone to just step up and lead an entire troop, but to take a small piece, it becomes more manageable for those parents.  It’s easy to get small pieces of consent than large ones from people. But that’s a whole other psychological study.

So, I see a problem, and I’m finding ways to solve the the problem by leading within.  I’m building a model for how I think things should work, and exerting leadership.  I’m also getting more people on my side, because I recognize that I’m only one person.  It takes a lot of adult involvement to have successful programs for our kids, so I’m working on that as well.

Of course, I’ve seen lots of opportunities in my career to make changes in organizations by leading from within.  At my last job, I found that building relationships with other groups, and crossing those boundaries was key.  I had to make those changes from within the organization, and get them to hold, so that we could work together.  I had to convince two parties with differing priorities to work together peacefully, and exert that pressure on both, by leading from within and in between both groups.

I think that you’ll find that in many cases, leading from within will achieve the changes and results that you want to see, rather than trying to do it from above.  I could tell people all day long to start troops.  But it’s much easier if they see me along side them, rolling up my sleeves.  That has been the case in most things in my life and in my career.  It’s a powerful tool.  Use it well.

7 Tips To Be An A Player

Rise above the noise

I think that in our lives there are many opportunities to get ahead, and many ways to fall behind.  Becoming a top performer, or an A player in the work environment and at home are rewarding, fun, and will make a lot of things go easier for you.  It’s almost like you will get the secret keys to the kingdom when you follow these tips.  Some of them are so super simple as to be obvious.  They are simple, obvious, and yet, not everyone follows them.  People we’ve let go, or other people I’ve worked with have consistently failed to heed these tips.

7 Tips To Be An A Player

  1. When given a task, acknowledge it’s receipt.  Simple, highly effective, and super easy to do, right?  You can acknowledge with a simple “got it, I’m on it”, or “got it, it’s going to take me a couple of days to size it, and I’ll get back to you”.  It doesn’t mean that you’re done.  Just that you know you got the assignment. Why is this so important?  Well, for one, it tells me that it isn’t going to get missed in email.
  2. Do what you say.  Say what you’ll do.  If someone asks you to do something, and you acknowledge that you’re on it, then understand that you need to finish that task.  Forgetting about it, and letting it get lost in the shuffle isn’t a good idea.  Make sure you keep track of tasks handed to you until they are either done, or your boss tells you to take them off the plate.
  3. Ask for clarification and prioritization.  If you get a new task in, and are busy, and are handed something else, then check with your manager, or boss to see which one you should focus on first.  Managers are human too, and sometimes they fail to take into account everything that you are working on.
  4. Keep your manager in the loop.  Sometimes things don’t happen the way they’re supposed to.  Depending on your industry, that could happen very often.  Make sure that your manager is in the loop, and knows what you’re working on.  Yes, sending status reports seems stupid sometimes, and even redundant.  Get over it.  Send the status report.
  5. Use your time wisely.  Do the things with the greatest ROI first.  And email, while it’s a necessary evil means that it shouldn’t be all you do.  If you are in sales, visit accounts that will bring referrals, not necessarily the ones that make you feel good.  And attending marketing events isn’t getting you those referrals, either, since all of those people are also looking for referrals.
  6. Figure out what the next move should be, and take it.  I appreciate employees who can see what is going on around them, and who are able to act on it.
  7. They rise above the noise around them.  The best employees are going to take punches as they come, and they are also going to ignore the crazy, silly stuff that other people do.  Sometimes, it’s the customers, sometimes, it’s other groups within your company.  It doesn’t matter.  Stay well out of the fray, and avoid getting dragged down into that mess.  It is a mess, and treat it as such.  Your opinion will be well respected and heard if you ever do have a problem, because your manager will know it’s not you, because you’re drama-free.

I’m sure that there are so many other tips I could add to this.  What are your favorite tips for becoming an A player at work?  Please don’t hesitate to add them in the comments below.  Did you notice how many of these tips were about communication?

Don’t Burn Those Bridges and 1 Tip to Build Them

Don't burn those bridgesThe world is an incredibly small place.  I can tell you countless stories of running across people in strange places from other parts of my life.  My husband and I have never directly worked together, yet have worked with many of the same people.  I used to work with Finney, and now I work with his Wife, Becky.  The point of this is- Don’t burn those bridges, whenever you are upset, mad, whatever, keep building bridges.  Keep building relationships, because they do go around and come around again.

Honestly, it can be incredibly tempting whenever you leave a phase of your life to move on to let people have it.  Switching schools?  Let the old administration and teachers have it!  Problem is, people remember stuff, particularly negative things.  That means that they are likely to come back to haunt you later.  Remember my comment about coming across people in other environments?  It happens.  People go different ways in life, and sometimes they don’t cross again.  Sometimes they do.

Life is about building relationships.  You may have heard by now that when you’re looking for a job, it’s not what you know, but who you know.  Build bridges, because you never know when you’re going to need them.  Keep going, because it’s important that you have as many friends as possible.  One simple example I’ll give you is my current business.  My employees have largely come from people I know, or people they know.  I found Becky through Finney.  Alisa was one of my dad’s caregivers.  And Christine, I met in Girl Scouts.  Many of our clients come from networking contacts we’ve built, or people we’ve known for years.

Building relationships is worth it.

Here’s your 1 Tip to Build Bridges

  • Meet people face to face.  Go out for coffee, for lunch, for dinner.  Meet them where they are.  Even if you’re in a technology job, or whatever, go out to lunch with former co-workers.  Meet new people, and go out.  Keep building, and watering those relationships.  People are important.  Real relationships are super important.  Women frequently don’t spend the time networking and building relationships, because they have families, and other concerns.

What do you think?  Have you ever benefitted from maintaining a relationship?

Leaving a Photo Legacy

Photographic proof that she was real

My mom passed away about three years ago.  One of the things I quickly realized as I went through family photos was that there were very few pictures of her anywhere.  Of the few pictures I had, many of them had her sticking her tongue out at the camera, or flipping a bird at whoever was behind the camera.  She didn’t like her picture taken.  She was, in reality, a beautiful person. As her child, being beautiful didn’t matter to me.  Just that it was my mommy.  To me, she was everything.  As the years crept on, I realized that I too, was refusing to have my picture taken.  Primarily, it’s because of my weight, and I also really don’t like the way I look.  My hair is frizzy, and curly, and it just… is my hair.

That meant, that in many of the previous few years, there were very few pictures of me either, because I was always careful to be the person taking the pictures, so no-one would guess.  I realized that would leave my children with a legacy of no pictures of their mother, or with their mother.  I also realized that had absolutely no professional head shots or other photos that I could use for any professional or semi-professional application.  It was at that point that I decided to get over myself, and start to have pictures taken.

In the past three years or so, I have had professional photos taken for head shots for work, and I’ve made a point of having family portraits taken.  I’m in those portraits.  My hair is still its usual crazy self.  And I’m still overweight.  But I stopped letting that keep me from having pictures taken.  I started posing for pictures, and actually taking selfies of myself.  No-one made fun of me.  I guess I look exactly like I do in real-life in pictures.  Love it or hate it, it still is.  It also sends a powerful message, particularly to my daughters, that I’m OK with how I look, and that they too should be OK with how they look.

_DSC1921It’s something that all of us as adult women should do- accept ourselves for who we are.  Even if we want to change something, still get photos taken.  Send a message that just because we don’t like how we look in pictures, we’re not going to shrink away from the camera, or refuse to have a picture taken.  Remember that actions speak louder than words, and if we tell our daughters and girls in general to cherish themselves for who they are, we need to do the same for ourselves.  It starts with pictures, and leaving a photo legacy of yourself.

 

 

The Fatal Mistake Many People Make

English: Gravestone of vocalist and prima donn...

English: Gravestone of vocalist and prima donna Emmi Schmidt (Emilie Schmidtová, 1836–1866) by sculptor Emanuel Max Česky: Náhrobní kámen operní pěvkyně a primadony Emmi Schmidt (Emilie Schmidtovové, 1836–1866) vytvořený sochařem Emanuelem Maxem z červeného karelského mramoru (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve had plenty of time watching new people in jobs over time, and it’s always interesting to see how they approach their jobs.  Many times, though, I see people who have huge goals, and they would like to achieve those goals yesterday.  The problem is that they fail to plan for exactly how much hard work, initiative, and leadership it is going to take to achieve those goals.  They come into a job over-entitled.  They expect to be handed the choice tasks, and be handed promotions, and many times are completely surprised when that doesn’t happen.  It is a fatal mistake many people make.

Please know that when you walk into a new job, especially early in your career, you’re going to be handed the worst, least desirable jobs.  How you handle those assignments will depend on where your career will go.  As you progress further, you can afford to direct what you want to do a little more than you could at first, but don’t think that you can completely pick and choose.  Do keep your manager in the loop on what you’d like to do, then do what you’re given with grace, and style.

If you are hungering for more, then you need to identify problems in the group or organization, and find ways to fix them.  Then set about fixing them.  If they are small issues, go ahead and fix them.  If they’re larger, make sure that your manager is on board with how you’re spending your time.  You will show your value to an organization by being able to identify and fix problems.  By working hard.

Forget being a prima-donna.  No-one wants to work with a prima-donna.  You know the kind- the ones who don’t want to be handed the tough assignments, who won’t work overtime, or who think that they are more valuable to the organization than they actually are.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you are overly valuable to an organization, unless you own it and run it.  Be humble, and work hard, and you’ll go much farther than someone who presumes too much.  Of course, you need to make sure that management and leadership know exactly how hard you’re working, and that they’re looking for it.  But, you will avoid that fatal mistake.

Stay Professional No Matter What

Cat

Cat (Photo credit: Tjflex2)

There are going to be plenty of times in our professional (and personal) lives where people are really going to annoy us, and royally piss us off.  Sometimes, it’s enough to make you quit your job, and other times you just dig in your heels and stay.  You may be on your way out of a job, and wanting to leave a parting gift for HR, and management, so that they get the message that they’re really screwing things up.  Resist the urge.  Stay professional no matter what, and keep your professional reputation intact.

Remember- it’s not just a cliche that the world is a very small place.  It doesn’t matter if you live in a city with 10 million residents.  Or that we live in a global economy.  Your reputation will follow you wherever you go.  It will either be positive or negative, and everything that you’ve done to that point will build on that reputation, and image of who you are as a professional.  Everything you do builds your reputation and your personal brand.  Think about that for a minute.  To me, that’s enormously humbling, a bit scary, and the magnitude is a bit overwhelming as well. I do mean to say that everything you do, good and bad.  Every negotiation.  Every job you’ve done, and even your personal life affect your personal brand.

That’s not to say that you can’t do damage control, that you can’t change, and become a reformed person.  That you can’t change your life.  But it does make it a whole lot trickier, because people unfortunately have long memories, especially for negative stuff.  Due to how our brains work, we are so wired to remember the negative, and less the positive things.

That means that when you are interacting with people, you need to stay professional no matter what happens.  Think about your negotiation style.  Is it super hardball?  Is that what you want to be known for?  How do you achieve resolutions to conflicts?  Are you a leader or a follower?  Do you come up with new and novel ways to solve problems?  Do you drop assignments at work?  Chances are, if you’ve ever dropped an assignment, you are perceived as at least somewhat unreliable, and unprofessional.  I’ve had situations where I’ve had to totally resist the urge to stomp on someone because they really deserved it.  Truly they did.  But that would break with the professional, kind persona that I choose to portray instead.

I’ve been in situations that have tested me pretty mightily.  I’m sure that you have too.  We all have.  It’s how you handle the tough situations that shows how professional you are, and how well you are going to manage professional mine-fields.  Navigating the easy stuff, well, that’s no test at all.

 

Doing What It Takes

Double-crested Cormorant -- near Miller Lake, ...

Double-crested Cormorant — near Miller Lake, Ontario, Canada — 2008 August. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most important lessons in entrepreneurship is learning to do whatever it takes to get the job done.  That can mean doing research on something you’ve never done before, or rolling up your sleeves and just wading in, even if you have no idea what you’re doing.  A few examples of this have come at me full force lately.

The first example has been the most visible one to the outside world. I’m learning to become a lobbyist, for my own business.  I never, ever thought I’d be taking myself down to the North Carolina Legislature, asking for clarification on licensing regulations, and a lifting of a ban on new licenses.  See, there has been a moratorium on new Home Care, personal care licenses for the last three years.  That moratorium was due to expire on June 30.  In theory, at that point, we were supposed to be able to apply for the expanded license.  The reality is that there is a provision introduced in the budget which extends the moratorium on new licenses.  Yet, there is so much change going on at the legislature, we started lobbying for new licenses for private pay home care agencies.  So we are sending letters to the legislators, and making calls, and this week, heading down to meet with several of them.  How exciting.  I never thought I’d be doing that.  I had to walk into a situation I knew very little about- and still don’t appreciate all of the subtleties and nuances of, and get to work.  Because, that’s what you do when you own a small business.  You wade in and do it.

A second example has been setting up email mailing lists for the businesses.  I’ve never used any of these programs before.  I have limited information.  I just had to rely on google, and just pick something.  It turns out that I know from Dan Ariely‘s books that most people will just not decide because they’re scared to be locked into a choice.  Frequently, it’s better to make a choice, than to thrash on for months or even years.  So, I made a choice, and went with Mail Chimp.  The great thing is that for the first number of email addresses and emails, they are free.  They will grow with my business, and I like that.  I’m not an email marketing guru, but I just made a decision, and did what I had to do.

I could probably go on and on about all of the different times I’ve had to put on my boots and wade in and just get stuff done.  People assume that since I do it so confidently that I have either done it before, or I really have a clue.  The reality is that I don’t.  I just know that the cost of failure is pretty low, but the cost of failing to act is much higher.  So, I make a judgment with limited information and just go for it.  I think it’s about all I can do, in reality.  Doing what it takes is the name of the game in entrepreneurship.

How To Piss Off Colleagues

Deadlines

Deadlines (Photo credit: FLEECIRCUS)

Honestly, there are so many sure fire ways to piss off colleagues at your job, it’s almost hard to start.  There are some sure-fire ways to achieve the goal of royally pissing off your colleagues.

 

  • Never take credit for any problems that arise.  This is especially effective if you happen to be in the middle of every conflict that arises in your workplace.  Sure, it’s not you, and it’s everyone else’s fault.
  • Get upset and royally defensive over everything. I like this when someone asks you how your day is going, and you get upset. That really makes the team gel right together.
  • Snip at everyone for their faults. Make sure you blame them publicly every time they make a mistake.  Take extra care to point those mistakes out to your boss and highlight them, for special effect.  People love to be thrown under the bus, and it makes them super eager to work with you.
  • Cry about everything and anything.  I’m a real fan either crying or being a bitch to people whenever the going gets tough.. Pick one, or both!  Alternate between them.
  • Don’t answer your emails.  That way your boss wonders if you’ve gotten the assignment or email.  Then get super annoyed because they assume you didn’t see the email.
  • Drop assignments randomly.  Combine this with not answering emails, and you’ll make yourself look super reliable, and like someone your team can rely on!
  • If you don’t know how to do an assignment, don’t ask any questions.  Just wait until someone notices it didn’t get done, then get defensive.
  • Claim credit for other people’s work.  The bigger the assignment, the better.
  • Suck up to the boss, and make sure that you tell the boss how badly everyone else is doing their jobs.
  • Foist off parts of your job on random people, because you can.
  • Work three hours a day, and claim 12.
  • Answer your phone in an unprofessional manner.  The more crass and obnoxious the better.  That always sends a great vibe to any potential clients.
  • Claim credit for work you haven’t completed.  Act surprised when people discover that you haven’t completed a task.  Then blame someone else for not doing it.

Seriously, there are so many ways to piss off colleagues, it’s hard to know where to start.  What are your favorite ways that colleagues have pissed you off in the past?

 

 

 

Posting in Haiku

English: Tibetan tangka with eight syllables &...

English: Tibetan tangka with eight syllables “dza” (18th century), obverse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve started posting my regular tweets in haiku format, as an experiment, and as a bit of fun for the summer.  Haiku poetry has a simple format, and does not need to write.  Thus it’s easier for me to come up with. The standard format for haiku is 3 lines, with 17 syllables total.  There are 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third.  I figure it’s a bit of an intellectual exercise, and a bit of fun as well.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried writing in Haiku, bit it’s actually quite a bit of fun, and a little bit of a challenge.

What do you think?  Could you do it?