Positive games can empower your career

How the games we play can

help us through tough times.

Board game with a block path on the cityWhen I asked George, a fairly new manager, about his work, he hesitated. Then he said, “Objectively, it’s going really well. But I don’t know how long I can stand it.”

The good news was that, after two years of building collaboration and creating expertise, George’s team was exceeding all its goals and had been recognized as a shining “center of excellence” within the large organization.

But now leaders in other divisions were trying to steal some of the glory and resources. They were attempting to poach George’s critical experts by having them reassigned away to other challenges.

When I asked George how many team members he’d actually lost, he said, “None. But I’m so exhausted from the constant fight to protect them that I’m not sure if I can keep this up. The stress is just too much.”

I thought about how much George loves board games and recalled a party where he and friends had played fiercely for hours. The intense players shouted and mocked each other. But at the end of the game they simply laughed about the competition and rejoined the festivities.

I asked George whether he could take a step back from the challenges to his team, and view his colleagues more like other players in a strategic game. George realized that he was finding the battles at work to be tiring because they had begun to feel too personal. It felt like a slap to his face when other managers responded to his success by threatening the important program he had built so carefully.

George resolved to start taking office politics more lightly. He would remind himself that decisions impacting his program reflected complex patterns, and seldom were about him. He became more adept at quickly disengaging from daily skirmishes and regularly refocusing on his bigger goals. As he concentrated on keeping perspective, George found work to be fun again, and less stressful.

A game involves goals, challenges, rules and often interaction with other players. If you’re struggling to understand a problem at work, try approaching it as a game:

  • Define the game. If a workplace issue feels like a confusing mess, look at it in a different way by framing it as a game you must learn to play. Ask yourself: What are my goals? What moves will take me in that direction? Who are the other players? What are the consequences of each type of move?
  • You can play more than one game. “Paul” felt torn. His ultimate career goal was to get a prestigious government job. But it felt like he was cheating his employer when he shifted his focus from current responsibilities to building his profile in broader circles. He said, “my career took off when I finally realized that you can play two games at the same time. Every morning I not only thought about how to excel at my day job, but also visualized how to prepare for my dream job. That additional focus and drive made me a better employee at the same time it opened doors for the future.”
  • Understand others’ games. In your workplace you are seldom in direct competition with your colleagues. It’s like you are playing your games, and they are playing theirs, and you occasionally bump into each other on the field. The best players try to understand their colleagues’ goals and look for ways to offer help. Collaboration happens when you see how your goals overlap and find ways to play together.
  • Make work more fun. If work feels boring, think up a game that will make it more interesting. Challenge yourself to do something faster, better, or in a different way. Set a goal that involves learning a new skill, varying your habits or broadening your network. As you find ways to make your tasks more interesting and enjoyable, you’ll become more productive.

If you think about your career as a very long-term game, you’ll be less likely to become bogged down in this week’s problems. Regularly ask yourself where you’d like to be a few years down the road, and look for ways to get the skills and resources that will help you get there.

 Photo credit: Fotolia (c)denis_pc.jpg

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged with: ,

Handling Big Project Letdown

Does finishing a big project

leave you with the blues?

I wasn’t surprised when my client “Lisa” cancelled a couple of our meetings, because I knew she was working flat out on a demanding project. Her assignment was to organize a large conference and implement a complex media blitz in support of a new kind of product for her company.

From what I read online, the conference and all the surrounding hoopla were a big success. The activity reached a crescendo on a Friday and I looked forward to speaking with Lisa on the following Tuesday, hoping that she would be enjoying a victory lap around the corporate headquarters.

But when we spoke, Lisa was on the verge of tears. She couldn’t forget the tiny things that had gone wrong, and she feared some people were disappointed. On top of that, the routine marketing work that had piled up while she was preoccupied with the product launch now felt daunting. She needed a plan to quickly get through the backlog, but was reluctant to ask for extra work from her exhausted staff.

Lisa felt overwhelmed. She had a bad case of Big Project Letdown. She described what she felt:

  • Exhaustion. Because the project was so important, Lisa had been working long hours without taking time out for her normal life. At night she was tossing and turning. She had quit going to the gym, she hadn’t spoken with her girlfriends in weeks, and she couldn’t remember the last quiet dinner with her husband.
  • A sense of loss. Although the project had been challenging, it had also been invigorating. For its duration she was included with the senior team, and for the first time she met frequently with her CEO. And while the pressure was on, her staff rose to the occasion, following her lead and making her proud. Now that the big push was over, everything felt dull and flat.   The prospect of tackling overdue routine work felt like dull drudgery compared to the creative activity involved in the special event.
  • Depression. Lisa realized that she was tired and also bothered by the thought of dealing with all the overdue tasks. But her unhappiness was so intense that she was disconcerted by her own mood. She said, “I know it was a success, so why do I feel so awful? What’s wrong with me?”

Lisa felt better as soon as she realized that it’s normal to feel a letdown after you’ve made a great effort. One reason is that during a big push your brain chemistry changes to help keep you going. Professor Loretta Graziano Breuning suggests that your dopamine spikes when you really need it, and perhaps working with the big boss triggers your serotonin. But when your “happy chemicals” go back to their normal levels, it feels like something is wrong with your world.

After taking an afternoon off, Lisa gradually bounced back from her post-project crash. Since then, she has learned to plan ahead to assure a speedy recovery after each major event.

falling and screaming businessmanStrategies like these can help you to avoid or recover from Big Project Let-down:

  • Manage expectations. Part of Lisa’s problem was that for weeks she told people, “I’ll get back to you right after the conference.” When she came into the office that Monday, the barrage of “can we talk now?” messages made her feel like she was under attack. These days she uses project management software to help make realistic commitments about when her team will be able to handle backlogged requests after a major event.
  • Take breaks. Lisa’s unrelenting pace disrupted the pattern of her life, causing stress at home and in the office, and keeping her awake at night. Now she has learned to keep up her fitness routine and build some quiet time into her schedule. She has found that taking regular breaks, like outdoor walks, can help her make creative breakthroughs.
  • Plan ahead. Lisa is happier if she has something to look forward to. When there was nothing new on the horizon after the conference, the future felt bleak.   So she has learned to look for interesting projects and fun events down the road. By planning activities and vacations way in advance, she always has something to anticipate.
  • Debrief. One thing that helped Lisa is that immediately after the conference she and her team carefully reviewed what went right, and what could be improved in the future. By examining the project details, she developed a clear understanding of what led to the successful elements, as well as specific ideas about how to do things even better next time. Then in the following days, when she had moments of feeling like a failure, she was able to talk herself to a better place by reviewing the evidence.
  • Celebrate. Lisa realized that she probably wasn’t the only one who was feeling down in the days after the conference. She wrote notes to the many people who had helped, and she scheduled a particularly festive lunch to thank team members for their hard work. She continued to celebrate by taking her patient husband out to dinner. As she drew other people into her celebration, she was able to really enjoy the success.

It’s normal to feel emotional after a significant project or a long-anticipated event. Sometimes the best way to move forward is to notice what you are feeling, and maybe even write about it. Then look for ways in which the end of one big project might be viewed as the start of your next one.

photo credit: Fotolia 69737339
Posted in Career management, finding new energy, professional growth, workplace issues Tagged with: ,

Try 4 tips from leadership coaches

Coaching strategies can

help you coach yourself

The old top-down, command-and-control style of leadership seldom works in today’s organizations, where the goal is often to promote cooperation in the midst of rapid change.

To succeed as a leader you must know how to communicate a vision, build a network of relationships, and foster group learning and decision-making. This is true whether you’re the big boss or are just learning how to guide a team.

Leadership coaching has become a key tool for facilitating change in individuals, teams and systems. And in places where the traditional hierarchical model of management no longer works, leaders who know how to act like coaches are building cultures that allow collaboration and innovation to thrive.

leadershipcoachWorking with a coach is one way to broaden your leadership skills and deepen your understanding of modern workplace dynamics. But even if that’s not an option, these strategies from the field of coaching can help you grow:

  1. Know yourself. Research shows that self-awareness is a vital characteristic of successful leaders. The more you understand about your own internal dialogue, the better you are at engaging with other people. And the more you notice about the impact of your behavior on others, the better are your choices for next steps. Coaches use open-ended questions to help clients notice their inner voices and daily decisions.   Another way to promote self-exploration is to keep a journal or regularly engage in some other form of expressive writing. Write answers to questions like, “what would I do here if I knew I couldn’t fail?”
  2. Listen more actively. When people turn to you for guidance or assistance, there are many times when you have no idea how to help. But offering expertise is not the only way to give support. Humans have an innate need to be heard and acknowledged. And by listening deeply to another person, you can let them know they do matter and at the same time provide a way for them to come to terms with some of their issues.
  3. Try peer coaching. Consider finding a partner or small group with whom you can trade coaching time. Create a structure in which each person has a designated to time to talk about current activities and challenges. When you play the role of the “coach” it’s your job to ask questions and listen compassionately to the answers. Then when you are the “client” you can talk about what’s been happening lately and how you feel about it.
  4. Try some training. An enjoyable and effective way to become more adept at conversations with your colleagues can be to take an introductory coaching course. You’ll build your “listening muscle” and have opportunities to practice asking questions that lead others to new insights. For a training option that would work for you, visit the International Coach Federation website.

Coaching comes in many forms, but the broad theme is always to help you be the best version of yourself as a professional, a leader and a whole person. By learning a bit about how coaching works, you can build your self-knowledge and at the same time become better at assisting others to fully engage in their work.

READ ABOUT WHAT COACHING CAN DO

If you want an insider’s view of what coaching actually looks like, I can recommend a new book: “Being Coached – Group And Team Coaching From The Inside.

“Being Coached” is written by two accomplished coaches – Holly Williams, my pal from the Georgetown Leadership Coaching community, and her colleague, Ann Deaton. The authors don’t offer a how-to guide or academic discussion, but instead tell us a tale from the perspective of individual managers who are going through a group coaching exercise just as their company is faced with the need for a drastic change in strategy.

While the plot involves group coaching, the real story is about what coaching is like for each of the participants. For example, there is Ellen, the Chief People Officer, who faces the fact that she can’t manage all the company’s human resources by herself. During coaching she learns how to ask for help, and challenges her colleagues to either “work together or fall apart.”

Another new book touching upon the impact of coaching isA Whole New Engineer, by David E. Goldberg and Mark Somerville. If you are interested in the cutting edge of higher education, you’ll find this book particularly interesting.

The authors — two highly accomplished academic leaders whose field happens to be engineering — describe how each grew beyond the traditional university path to lead in the creation of science/engineering programs that also foster self-awareness and empathy. The book is an intriguing and readable mixture of anecdotes and current thought about how growth and learning happen. As a leadership coach, I am particularly interested in the suggestion that a more conscious element of coaching can enrich the classroom experience.

Posted in coaching, leadership, self improvement Tagged with: ,

Don’t let age bias limit your opportunities!

Age Discrimination Starts Early!

These Strategies Can Help.

numbersWhile finishing her MBA at a top tier university, Sarah was enthusiastically recruited by a large company. She accepted their offer to join the marketing department. Once there, she connected with a powerful mentor who helped her snag plum assignments. For several years Sarah was the most junior professional in her group, and she enjoyed being treated like a young star.

After a few years, the growing company made a wave of new hires and Sarah began to feel neglected. She said she was stuck with routine workwhile the interesting new projects went to her younger colleagues.

Sarah was asked to supervise the internship program, but didn’t enjoy the work. She said the interns didn’t have the right work ethic and were obsessed by technology. One day as she entered the kitchen, she heard them making fun of her for being clueless about the power of social media.

When Sarah came to me for coaching, she complained that she was past her career peak. She felt like she was cut off from the company’s high potential challenges and might be too old to compete for another good job elsewhere. Sarah was 34 at the time.

Sarah felt she was the victim of age discrimination and to some degree her concerns were well founded. Ageism is rampant in the workplace and can be hard to fight. And even 30-something careerists like Sarah can find themselves sidelined by employers seeking fresh talent.

Sarah found ways to demonstrate her energy, talent and enthusiasm, and soon worked her way out of her slump. One thing that helped her was finding examples of older professionals whose age did need not seem to limit their success. She noticed that while some in her circle were dissed for being out of date, others seemed timeless despite their years.

If you’re facing a subtle age bias, a starting point for getting past it is to understand the negative stereotypes on which it’s based. Then make it clear that the stereotypes don’t fit you. Consider these strategies for minimizing the burden of ageism:

  •  Be tech-savvy. You don’t have to enjoy Skyping, sharing on Instagram or building a Twitter community. But if those are the ways that your colleagues or customers communicate, you absolutely must know how to join in. If you want to stay in the game, keep up with the technology. Take classes or find help, buy the devices, and do whatever it takes to keep your skills current.   And when you don’t understand the latest developments, avoid the temptation to indulge in a Luddite rant. Express an interest, ask for assistance and get on board.
  • Look and act fit. Some employers and younger workers believe that their older colleagues may have physical limitations that will prevent them from performing their fair share of the work. And your boss or clients won’t offer you new challenges if they think you are about to have a heart attack. If you want to maximize your career options, it is vital not only that you stay healthy but also that you look healthy and you exude energy.
  • Talk healthy. Most of us have health issues from time to time, but we can manage the way they impact us in the workplace. Beware of sabotaging yourself by talking too much about your symptoms or crises. If you endlessly discuss your health challenges, not only will you be boring, but people may start to think of you as frail and over the hill. Talk about the great hike you took last weekend, instead of how sore you felt on Monday morning.
  • Be stylish. Looking shabby may seem cool when you’re 27. But the older you get, the more important it is to look polished and up to date. If your clothes, hairdo or glasses seem out of style, you may seem like you are past your prime. That doesn’t mean you should dress like a kid, but you should aim for a look that feels current.
  • Don’t bring up your age. If you are older – or younger – than the people you work with, it is very tempting to keep mentioning that fact.   But if you can refrain from alluding to the age difference, there is a good chance that other people will forget about it.
  • Build a varied network. If you are accustomed to hanging out with friends of all ages, you are more likely to blend easily into a group of younger or older people. If you don’t allow age to be a barrier in your social life, you will be more comfortable talking and keeping up with different age groups at work.
  • Listen to your colleagues. A great starting point for building strong relationships at work is to genuinely listen to what other people have to say. If you’re part of the older set, show an interest in what younger folks say and learn from their perspective.

If you put aside your own prejudices about age and look for opportunities to work on projects with people of all generations, you’ll become more skillful at avoiding the burden of age bias.

Posted in workplace issues Tagged with: ,

How to give powerful positive feedback

 Eight tips on how to say

“Thanks!” or “Good job!”

“Josh” was general counsel of a federal agency. He came to coaching after a staff survey helped him realize that many of the lawyers working for him felt under-appreciated. And they had real concerns about his leadership style.

Josh’s initial reaction was defensive and disdainful.   He said, “Grown-up lawyers shouldn’t expect to be thanked just for doing excellent work. They get paid, don’t they? And when I don’t comment they should know everything is OK, because I always tell them when they screw up.”

We spoke about the human need to be acknowledged and appreciated. And I pointed to numerous studies demonstrating that people will be more productive in a positive work environment.

Eventually Josh agreed to try an experiment. Every workday he put three coins in his pocket. Each time he thanked or complimented a team member he could remove one coin. And he couldn’t go home until all three were gone.

After the first week, Josh said he was enjoying the experiment more than he had expected. But he still felt awkward saying “thanks,” so he was looking for more occasions to practice. He found times to say “thank you” at home, in the coffee shop, and wherever he went on the weekend.

The more Josh practiced, the more comfortable he felt offering thanks and positive feedback. And he was having fun with it. He said, “the amazing thing is not that it makes them happy, but that it makes me happy, too.” Soon he quit carrying the coins because he no longer needed them. Josh said he was addicted to his “thank you” habit, and it had changed the way he looked at several parts of his life.

great job stampWell-crafted words of thanks and praise can serve as powerful positive reinforcement, guiding members of your team to achieve, change and grow. By regularly thanking or acknowledging people for their work, you can help to shape a more positive and collaborative office environment, even if you’re not the boss.

These eight tips can help build your “thank you” habit into a powerful leadership tool:

  1. Be sincere. Disingenuous flattery doesn’t work. It sounds creepy and seldom fools people — at least not for long. Get in touch with your sense f gratitude when you express thanks, and speak honestly about how you feel.
  2. Be specific. A vague, casual “thanks” isn’t nearly as effective as a more detailed comment. After saying “good job,” add more particulars, like, “I particularly appreciated the way you involved other team members.” Precise comments not only carry more impact but also provide powerful reinforcement for the performance you want to encourage.
  3. Fully engage. Part of the power of saying “thank you” comes from the fact that you care enough to focus on another person. Get full value from the thanks exchange by making eye contact and listening carefully to any response.
  4. Notice what’s taken for granted. If we maintain a high level of performance, our colleagues may assume it’s just normal and cease to notice it. Then it feels especially good if someone recognizes how hard we’ve worked to keep up the pace. When you express appreciation to a valuable team member, make it clear that you understand what goes into their high standards and good results.
  5. Calibrate your “thank you.” Elaborate kudos in response to some little thing may seem fake and can be embarrassing. And too little gratitude for a huge effort can feel insulting. The tone and style of your tribute should be commensurate with the good work you’re calling out. A casual email can be enough to make somebody feel appreciated for a routine task. But a face-to-face encounter is more appropriate if they pulled out all the stops.
  6. Write. Don’t forget the power of a hand-written note. It still feels good when another person takes the time to sit down and write about what we’ve done.
  7. Be surprising. Formalized praise, such as during an annual review, is important, but it’s not enough. And, over time, routine assessments feel ho-hum, no matter how positive they may be. To show you mean it, express your gratitude or admiration when it’s not expected.
  8. Be quick. Offer your commendation as soon as possible after the activity that inspired it. Words of thanks and approval (like other feedback) have more impact right after we’ve done the work.

Read more ›

Posted in business etiquette, leadership, motivation, positivity

How to be a true professional

Build characteristics shared by

the very best professionals 

“Bob,” my coaching client, had recently changed jobs and was unsure about his new team. He said about his staff, “They’re great. Really good people. They have a lot of skills. But, somehow, they’re not real professional.”

Bob liked his new team members and believed they had potential. But, while he couldn’t put his finger on why, he felt the team’s performance was less than it could be. As he thought about his first year goals, the challenge he took up was to help his team become “more professional.”

As a serious careerist like Bob, you want to be supported by people who are highly “professional.” And, of course, you want others to regard you as a true professional. But just what does that mean?

What is a “professional”?

proThe meaning of the term “professional” has shifted in recent decades.
The traditional professions included doctors, lawyers, architects and other experts who were specially educated, usually licensed and often relatively well-paid.

But today’s definition is much broader. The word can describe anybody who is seriously engaged in meaningful, challenging work. Professionals are found in myriad fields, from IT to the culinary arts, but all workers aren’t professional.

Knowledge can set professionals apart. Today’s professionals are committed to building their skills and expertise regardless of whether they have specific degrees or certifications.

In addition to continuing their education, professionals strive to maintain quality and ethical standards. They believe their work is valuable. And they expect more from their careers than just financial compensation. They want satisfaction, some sense of identity and community, and the opportunity to make a contribution.

What does it mean to be “professional”?

Just because you have a professional type job doesn’t mean others will regard you as highly “professional.” Read more ›

Posted in Career management, leadership, professional advancement, professional growth Tagged with: ,

The puzzle of career women who hesitate

 Why are professional women

still hitting a glass ceiling?

Lately I keep finding myself in conversations about how a surprising number of women aren’t moving confidently into leadership within their careers. I’ve heard some worries from my executive coaching clients, but often the topic has come up at social or business events.

For me it’s a puzzle: why is it that so many terrific professional women are still struggling with issues we thought we’d be able to put to rest back in the 80s and 90s?

This doesn’t seem to be just an us-against-them, women-versus-men thing. I’ve heard insightful men express concern that too few women are reaching their full professional potential. For example, two male professors recently asked me why their star female students seem to have lower job aspirations than their less qualified male classmates?

And in recent months, both at formal industry conferences and in casual chats, some of the most accomplished American women journalists have been talking about how leading newsrooms still seem to be dominated by a male culture. This seems to be the case, in both print and digital realms, despite the fact university journalism programs often have more women than men students.

Also, disturbingly, young women in several career discussions this spring told me they feel more threatened than supported by women who are senior to them in their organizational hierarchies. They look to men and generational peers, they said, want they want mentoring.

Part of the problem may relate back to those of us who were among the early women to enter many professions. I was the first woman in Ohio University’s MBA program in the 1970s. And later I joined the first big wave of women who went to Georgetown Law School, and then on to Washington law firms. It was wonderful and exciting, but sometimes it was frightening as well. And the experience left scars.

Even where there was no hazing or explicit double standard, it could be exhausting and bewildering to join male teams where we weren’t really wanted. As a result, despite years of achievement, some “old girls” still experience surprising lapses in confidence. It can show up in little ways, such as: Read more ›

Posted in glass ceiling, professional advancement, women leaders Tagged with:

How to sustain a thriving career!

Things going well for you? 

Build on that winning streak!

RES CAREER Have you noticed that some people can go from success to success, while others stumble fairly quickly, then seem to spend more time down     than up? Of course luck can help, but the people who keep landing on their feet tend to have something in common. The perennial winners don’t take success for granted — they keep hustling, even in the good times.

In work, as in life, things usually are either getting better or getting worse. It’s the like that for organizations as well as for people. Nothing    stays the same for long. So when things are going well, savvy careerists don’t just sit back and let the good times roll.

Just as you must take action in order to break out of a downward spiral, it’s smart to support your momentum when it’s already positive. If you are looking for ways to perpetuate success, in your own career or at the place where you work, consider these strategies: Read more ›

Posted in Career management, career success, managing progress, positivity, professional growth Tagged with:

Be ready to brag when opportunity knocks

Prepare for opportunities by

tracking your achievements

goodworkWhat if a headhunter calls today with an interesting job possibility? Can you quickly show that you’re an ideal candidate?  Or what if a new boss or client has questions about how you’ve been using your time?

Sometimes new opportunities or unexpected challenges pop up fast. But when you’re asked to quickly explain what you’ve been doing on the job, you might not be prepared to gracefully describe your achievements.  Some people even go blank when asked to talk about what they’ve done lately.

To keep moving ahead in your career, there are times when you must know how to describe where you’ve been.  Even if you’re happily entrenched in a job that feels secure, on occasion you’ll need to demonstrate your worth.  Perhaps you’ll want to go after a raise or promotion, or to show that you’re ready to take on a juicy assignment. Read more ›

Posted in Career management, Job seeking, professional advancement, professional growth Tagged with: ,

Enrich your job by leading upward!

To add more value at work,

find ways to lead your bosses.

thumb_leadingupwardAs an executive coach, I’ve noticed that, while leadership styles vary considerably, the best leaders have attributes in common.  For example, they all tend to have integrity, strong value systems and a genuine desire to do the right thing.

The leaders I most admire are consistently willing to step forward and serve, even if a task is menial or unlikely to lead to recognition. And their influence over other people extends in all directions.  In other words, not only are they adept at managing their direct reports, but also they are able to guide other colleagues and collaborators.

Some of the strongest leaders exercise a special skill.  They are able to lead upward, influencing their bosses to make better decisions and become more effective. For example, there’s a client I’ll call “Sam,” who didn’t expect to rise beyond his role as the VP of communications. He had five years until retirement, and he wanted during that time to contribute even more to the company he loved. Read more ›

Posted in Career management, leadership, professional growth, Uncategorized Tagged with:

Beverly E. Jones

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Links to occasional colleagues

ECCA - Website
ThreeJoy - Website
Kerry Hannon - Website
Ohio University's Voinovich School - Website
Senior Entrepreneurship Works - Website
Congressional Management Foundation - Website
WOUB - Website
ShadowComm LLC - Website

Books with Bev’s Tips

Bev’s tips on career change are featured in the books and other writing of leading journalist Kerry Hannon. If you’re thinking about a career transition, try:

What’s Next? Find Your Passion and Your Dream Job in You Forties, Fifties and Beyond


“Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy and Pays the Bills”


Bev at Ohio University,
where she is a visiting
executive with the
Voinovich School of
Leadership & Public Affairs



Bev's garden at Buckeye Farm