Up-Level Your Image.

A wise executive once said, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”

The idea of dressing for success is as old as most boardrooms, but still, we often forget the power of curating an image that helps move us toward our goals.  Your appearance can affect how your co-workers treat you, how your team views you, and how your boss and others in the senior ranks perceive you.   

Don’t let your image get in the way of your next promotion.  Avoid anything that can be described as "too.” Too short, too tight, too revealing, too old, too frumpy and too flashy are all styles to avoid if you're hoping to advance to the next level.  As a general rule of thumb, think polished.  Classic.  Tailored.  Slightly understated.

Also, be mindful of your office/organization culture.  Workers whose style of dress doesn't quite fit can be seen as less serious or effective than their better-dressed peers, and can be passed over when it's time for a promotion. 

What about your hair, face and other grooming choices? Even the classiest suit can't dress up an unkempt, unruly, frumpy or too-young hairstyle, glaring roots, chewed-down nails, visible tattoos and unusual piercings, excessive facial hair or overdone makeup. Your image includes the whole package, so assess your grooming style and see if fits your career aspirations.  Remember, you serve as the face of the organization, and managers will be looking for someone who has “the look.”

Time is in short supply these days.  People draw conclusions about us based on snippets, soundbites and quick visual impressions.  What kind of an impression are you making?  

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Own your stuff.

We all know that making mistakes and having shortcomings are part of being human.  No one can escape these realities.  Yet, these things can help us grow and strengthen – if we are willing to own, acknowledge and work on them.

What does it mean to own your stuff?  It means that you understand that the buck stops with you; that you are responsible and accountable for your behaviors, your decisions and the energy/attitude you project.  It is the ultimate sign of self-awareness, maturity and humility when you step up and take responsibility (publicly and privately) for your stuff.  It’s too easy to point the finger at others, rationalize your actions and otherwise avoid having the conversations that actually matter.

When people move into leadership positions, they often feel that they need to be infallible; that to err or to have shortcomings is somehow not allowed.  It is quite the opposite.  Great leaders openly admit when they have made a mistake, and show how they learned and grew through it.  They show how they pull in others with key strengths to complement theirs and fill gaps where the leader may not be as strong. This modeling of productive behavior builds credibility, and it will inspire others to do the same.  The leader who fears, and ultimately hides or casts blame for their mistakes, undermines trust and sends a message that this kind of behavior is acceptable – or even expected.

Demonstrating humility and accountability for your actions and choices is a powerful way to earn and maintain trust. 

Today, ask yourself, am I really owning my stuff?

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Give honest feedback to others. (Please!)

Okay, we’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: honest feedback is a gift, and a leader’s absolute responsibility. 

None of us is perfect.  We all have things we need to work on.  A leader’s job is to help people continue to grow and maximize their potential, which includes helping them recognize their unique developmental opportunities.  As obvious as this sounds, it is astonishing how many leaders stop short of having these all-important conversations.  Instead, many focus exclusively on the positive (because that’s the easier conversation) and paint an incomplete picture of reality.

Here’s the thing. When we avoid straight-talk about the “other stuff,” the behavior continues and our frustration festers until it gets so maddening (or so counterproductive) that we blow up or it becomes a “performance crisis.”  Meanwhile, the person is completely unaware of the issue and is blindsided by the intensity of the feedback when it finally arrives.  That’s not fair.

In leadership – as in life – we do a disservice to others by not speaking our truth.

When handled well, these honest conversations can be incredibly impactful for a person, opening their eyes to areas where they can be even more effective and giving them something tangible to work on.  These moments can also deepen your relationship as you demonstrate your care and commitment to their continued success.

Today, ask yourself if there is someone you’ve been avoiding giving feedback to, and why.  If you’re intimidated because you aren’t sure how to deliver the message without harming the relationship, seek the advice of a colleague, coach, HR professional or one of the many books and articles available to help, such as Crucial Conversations. 

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Don’t let collaboration cloud accountability.

Collaboration is the name of the game in business today.  We all know that two heads are better than one, and three heads are better than two.  That said, many organizations have taken the idea to an extreme, creating needless chaos and conflict.

In the spirit of collaboration, many bosses hesitate to specify who is in charge of a project.  They assign co- or tri-leaders, or they “empower” a team to self-lead.  As great as this sounds on paper, it usually falls short in reality.  When there is a difference in opinion or an impasse, who makes the call?  If a teammate is not delivering on commitments, who has the ability to take action?  If teammates perceive that they have the same responsibilities and are stepping on one another’s toes, who clears up the confusion?

We see it every day with our clients:  when multiple people are in charge, no one is.  For sure, collaboration is a beautiful thing, and necessary for business success.  But not at the expense of accountability and clarity on roles and responsibilities.  We believe the more effective model is to hold team leaders and project managers accountable for fostering collaboration within their teams --- and collaborating effectively across functional lines --- while maintaining a clear understanding of who is ultimately responsible for the outcome.

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Help others help you!

No leader is successful without the help and support of others.  Your job is to inspire others to invest themselves and go the extra mile for you and the organization.  Just because you are the boss and have positional power over others, it doesn’t mean they will always give it their all.

Here are some tips to help others help you!  

Give clear direction up front, instead of making people second-guess what you want or expect.  This will vastly improve the quality of the end result, and the speed with which it is delivered.

Communicate directly instead of having others channel your messages.  Too much gets lost in translation, and middle-men often wield power and agendas that are not always obvious to you.

Choose your words carefully. You might be exhausted, stressed or annoyed, but beware of expressing your frustration too liberally, especially with people deeper in the organization.  A moment of chiding can have an intensely demotivating impact.

Remember the domino effect. However hard you are working, chances are that those under you are working even harder. If you sneeze, your people catch a cold.  Impact of your actions reverberates.

Keep your “say” aligned with your “do.” Nothing undermines people’s faith like a “say-do gap.”  Before you make a commitment, promise, or express an expectation, ask yourself if you are holding yourself to the same standard. 

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