Executive Coaching

Exuding Executive Presence

Female executive Iowabiz post dec 2016

Rita Perea is President of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully establish executive presence, lead high-performing teams, engage employees, manage change and create work/life balance.

Most of us have had the experience of being with or in front of a director, manager or senior leader who had a powerful presence. Maybe we left the meeting saying, “I want to be like him/her someday!” Executive Presence, or EP, is also known as charisma, the “it” factor and the confidence code. In a survey of Chief Information Officers conducted by Gartner, E.P. was second on the list of the top 20 leadership traits that make a difference in people’s career trajectories. That same group ranked technology skills as 12th on the list.

What is the “it” in the “It” factor and how do you get more of “it” to increase your executive presence?

Executive presence is not about being ego-based or the most outspoken or gregarious person in the room. It is, however, all about making a genuine connection with others, one-on- one or when addressing a group. EP is also about operating from a place of deep awareness and presence- your true north- with conviction and caring. Certain qualities, traits and skills demonstrate that a leader has executive presence.

My newest book, The New Executive Presence- Leading with Consciousness and Awareness, explores how you can enhance your executive presence by focusing on the following traits:

  1. Composure - Emotional intelligence, self-awareness and understanding others, is important when we discuss executive presence. The ability to recognize emotion in other people, and control your own emotion in response to them is key. Keeping your composure in difficult or challenging situations is learning to manage your responses.
  1. Communicating with confidence- To show executive presence it is important to communicate confidently both what you say and how you say it. First you must look the part so begin by choosing your wardrobe carefully and dress for success. Next practice standing tall with good posture, making eye contact with different people in the audience by using the “one thought, one person” technique, and being sure that your facial expressions match your message. Last but not least, pay attention to your voice and be sure the volume, pitch and pace are appropriate for your message. When you are practiced, polished, look and feel your best, you exude confidence. People want to hear what you have to say.
  1. Connection- People who embody executive presence have the ability to draw others towards them and make a genuine connection. The ability to be present, focused, not distracted and actively listening to another person lets them know that they matter to you. This connection, in turn, motivates and engages others.
  1. Conciseness and clarity- We have all been around people who ramble on and on when they are asking a question or making a point. We intuitively know that being verbose kills executive presence. To command attention and demonstrate EP , ask yourself “what is my message in 10 words or less?” If you can’t articulate it briefly and with clarity to yourself, others will lose the meaning as well.
  1. Credibility- The content of your message is critical, but even more fundamental is your choice of words to deliver the message. Useless words such as “um”, “so”, “sort of”, “you know”, “you guys” immediate hinder your credibility with the listener and detract from your powerful presence. Putting yourself down in front of others or mentioning “this may not be a good idea, but...” will also minimize your message. People take note when someone with strong conviction and credibility delivers a well-prepared and polished message.

With honest personal reflection, practice and a bit of coaching, Executive Presence can be learned and is within your grasp. Make a commitment to yourself to enhance your EP to be more effective and at the top of your game.

Rita Perea can be reached at:
Website and blog: www.RitaPerea.com
Phone: 515-577-5666
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Time to prune?

 Tree pic 

Rita Perea is President of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully establish executive presence, lead high-performing teams, engage employees, manage change and create work/life balance.

During my first meeting with a new client I play the role of detective. It’s the time when I am trying to pinpoint what the client’s goals are and why they are seeking the support of an executive coach. I am also listening for clues to tell me how much frustration, anxiety, despair or, conversely, happiness they are experiencing in their personal or professional life. That first meeting is usually very telling.

Susan, a new director in a large organization, shared her frustrations with me: “I have this new position that I worked really hard to get. My company wants me to be involved in the community. I serve on 13 boards and I’m feeling so overwhelmed! I never get to see my family. My kids are in bed by the time I get home every night. I am not feeling effective anywhere -- my job, my personal life, my community involvement. I need time. Time is the thing I need more of!“

I always suspend judgement as I listen to my clients’ stories. But, you have to admit, volunteering for so many different, and demanding, board positions sounded less like community involvement and more like a full-time job as a volunteer. Is it any wonder that Sue felt that she needed more time in her life? Susan had all of the time that we all get to accomplish our important “to dos.” She just needed to take a little bit of that time to prune the deadwood, bundle it up and send it away.

The end of a calendar year is the perfect time to take stock of all of your activities during the past 12 months. It is a natural time to honestly assess if each commitment has gotten you closer to reaching your goals. It’s a great time to reflect on what worked well and what you think you might do differently to create a more healthy, balanced and productive professional and personal life. The end of the year is the perfect season to prune.

In the gardening and landscaping world there are seasons for planting seeds and watching them sprout; cultivating the new growth as plants are lovingly tended to; reaping the abundant harvest of the plants; and, finally, during the fallow season, clipping out the deadwood or the stalks that are no longer productive and, if left, could damage the plant. This phase of eliminating the plants that are spent or the branches that are no longer useful is called pruning. If a gardener does not prune, their plants, shrubs and trees will get overgrown and the landscape will become overwhelmed. It’s like that in our lives too, both at work and at home. If we don’t take the time to prune those things that are not necessary for our own growth and which may be taking too much time or dragging us down, then our interior landscape can become overgrown. Like Susan, we might feel frantic and as though life is out of control.

How do we survey our personal landscape, sharpen our saw and prune?

Try these four steps:

1. List: Compile a list of every group, organization, board, committee, work team you have been assigned to or committed your time to. In addition to those for your job, don’t forget your family roles, church and community activities. These are all a part of your personal landscape.

2. Reflect: Honestly and fearlessly review your list to decide which items are “absolute must dos” (include those activities that feed your soul) and which activities are not necessary but only “nice to dos.” At this point your ego may be jumping up and down saying, “but if I don't do it (serve on this board or be the Cub Scout leader), who will? No one can do it the way that I can!” While that may be true, if you hoard all of the board seats or leadership experiences for yourself, you are robbing others of the opportunity to grow. My new client Sue was actually preventing 13 other individuals from participating in a growth experience by saying yes to volunteering for 13 different boards.

3. Prune: Now get out your pruning shears (or red Magic Marker) and begin to mark items off of your “nice to do” but not absolutely necessary list. If this is hard at first, make an effort to cross off just one activity from your list. Maybe the group that you don’t really feel a connection to or the committee that ties your stomach into knots of anxiety before you attend? Notice if there are any feelings coming up as you consider crossing items off your list. Are you breathing a sigh of relief? Celebrate taking this first step toward freedom. Is guilt welling up inside? Are you telling yourself you “should” do something because “if you don’t, who will?” That is not a super great reason to continue to give your precious time away.

4. Repeat: Feeling better already? Try steps 1-3 again to continue trimming the activities down to a manageable size. You will continue to feel more balanced, peaceful, confident and less overwhelmed. When the boughs begin to break in our internal landscapes, we can lack the energy and focus to complete our obligations with effectiveness.

Thoughtfully trimming even one item from our long list of commitments can create a sense of freedom and open our awareness for greater innovation. Taking the time to prune what is not working in our lives gives us the courage and confidence to begin a new year with purpose and poise.

©Rita Perea, 2016

How to find the perfect coach - Part 3

RitaPerea_17-web-2- Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

If you are considering hiring a coach to help you zoom ahead to reach your goals, then you have come to the right place! Because business coaching is an unregulated industry, it is critical that consumers understand what they should expect to receive for their investment of time and money. This is the last article in a three-part series devoted to helping potential coaching clients get armed with important information to discern the type of coach they are searching for, identify the qualities found in a great coach, and, finally, determine if their potential coach is a great fit during their first meeting together.  

Big Decision One: Private pay or employer-funded?

One of your first decisions is to weigh the options to hire the services of a coach that you pay for out of your own pocket (private pay) or asking your workplace to pay for your sessions (employer-funded). There are advantages and disadvantages to consider in both payment arrangements. In my private coaching practice, I provide services to both types of clients. For some of my clients it is more advantageous for them to pay for my services without the knowledge of their workplace. Private pay affords the highest degree of  privacy and confidentiality for the coaching client. You can share anything with your private-pay coach, and it will be kept confidential. Another advantage of self-funded coaching is that you have an unrestricted selection of coaches and an unrestricted range of personal or professional goals to work on achieving. You aren’t restricted to the “flavor of the day” initiative at work.

An advantage with an employer-funded service is that there is no out-of-pocket expense to the client. However, a disadvantage may be that the number of coaching sessions may be limited to just one or two, and you may need more.  

Big Decision two: A coach who is outside or inside the organization?

The next big decision is to determine if you want a coach who owns a private practice and works independently (an external coach)  or if you want a coach who works for the same organization that you do (an internal coach). Many large organizations today have coaches on staff to work with their employees. Again, there are obvious cost advantages and privacy considerations when working with an internal coach. It may be difficult to work with someone who is your coach but also your co-worker. Oftentimes coaches who are also employees lack experience and credibility in working at the senior levels of an organization. They may have a limited perspective.

Engaging an “external” coach, someone who is an independent contractor or consultant, can be advantageous because they would naturally have an independent, outside perspective of your issues. They typically are highly skilled and have credibility at the senior management levels. And, a coach who is an independent consultant, and not an employee of your organization, is going to give you greater confidentiality and privacy.

In the end you will need to explore the pros and cons of paying for the coaching yourself or seeking funding from your employer. Will you use the services of an independent coaching professional or a co-worker? Carefully weigh the benefits of each choice and then decide.  

Completing your research

Maybe you have gathered the names of potential coaches by asking family or friends. Or perhaps you found them through a Google search. It is important to read each coach’s website information thoroughly to determine if they are a possible fit. 

Examine what types of clients the coach serves and what objectives they have achieved. Think about whether their approach would work with your personality. Consider whether you prefer someone with expertise in a particular industry or business setting. Also determine what meeting schedule and format would work best with your lifestyle and needs. Some people do best with just once-a-week, in-person sessions, while others prefer having 24-hour phone access to a coach. Some coaches only work via Skype or the telephone. It is all great, as long as it will meet your needs.

Also, look into the coaches’ training. When I hear about coaches hanging out their shingle after completing an online certification, it raises some red flags. The coaching process should be a warm, person-to-person interactive experience based on well-researched techniques, not a one-size-fits-all canned approach. Coaches’ in-depth knowledge and ability to customize their programs are what allow them to maximize clients’ growth. Personally, I think coaches who have undergone in-person training and have extensive background experiences offer superior services.

Scheduling the all-important first meeting

Your first meeting with a potential coach is much like interviewing someone for a job. Completing an initial consultation can help you determine which coach is the right fit for you. When you contact potential coaches, tell them how you heard about them and ask to set up time to talk. Clarify whether they charge for this meeting (many times it’s complimentary). Usually you will set up an appointment to speak over the phone, on Skype or in a face-to-face meeting.

When interviewing your coach, be sure to ask the right questions to find out the right information. Here are some you may want to jot down and bring to the meeting or refer to immediately following the consultation:

Questions to ask the coach:

  • What is your training?
  • Do you hold any special certifications?
  • What are your areas of expertise (e.g., executive, business, career)?
  • Could you supply client references?
  • Do you cap the number of clients you work with at any given time?  
  • What is your coaching philosophy?
  • What are your fees, and what do they include?
  • Do you include any special surveys or tools in your coaching process?
  • How long would each coaching session last? One hour? 90 minutes? Two hours?
  • How many coaching sessions do you recommend?
  • Do you offer evening or weekend times?
  • How do you measure results, and when should I start seeing them?

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Does he or she make me feel comfortable?
  • Is this someone I could work with on a weekly basis for several months?  
  • Do I genuinely like this person?  
  • Do I feel like this coach listened to me and heard what I was saying?
  • Does the coach seem knowledgeable about the areas where I need assistance?
  • Does his or her coaching process and format work with my current schedule and commitments?

By the end of your initial consultation, you should clearly know what to expect if you decide to work with this coach. This includes the approach, format, methods, fees and billing structure. At the end of the first meeting, your coach may ask you to sign a letter of agreement. Please know that you don’t need to make a decision on the spot — if you’re not sure, take your time. You want to go into the coaching process with confidence and enthusiasm, not second guesses.

By getting clear about your goals, doing your homework and asking the right questions, you will be well on your way to finding your perfect coach and achieving at extraordinary levels.

© 2016 Rita Perea. All Rights Reserved.

How to find the perfect coach - Part 2

RitaPerea_17-web-2- Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

You are ready to move forward, stretch yourself, and invest in performing at the “top of your game” in business. You want to achieve, reach your potential and self-actualize as a leader. You know that you can inspire others to be all that they can be. And you are ready to hire a one-on-one professional coach to help you reach your goals. Now what? What is your next step?

In part one of this series I shared that coaching is an unregulated industry and that, because it is an investment of time and money, researching a coach’s background is a crucial step. It is important to be thoughtful in identifying both your needs and the specialization your potential coach brings to the table to help you reach your goals. Just as you would not see a family practice physician to fill a cavity in your tooth, you would not hire a business coach to help you sort out your personal relationship problems.  

If we are serious about hiring an outstanding coach, our next step in this process is to educate ourselves about the most important qualities that an exceptional and professional coach will possess. In contrast, we can also identify the indicators that a coach is not so great. Take this checklist with you when you interview your potential coach to determine if they possess these attributes.  

The Top 9 Qualities to Look for in an Exceptional Coach:

  1. A good questioner. Does this coach ask relevant, probing questions to move you forward? Great coaches will ask questions that may not be easy to answer but that will cause you to think about your behavior and the changes you want. Professionally trained coaches use specific questioning techniques to help you express your thoughts and feelings. Coaches who lack a solid technique will skip over the deep questioning to only tell you what you want to hear.
  1. An active listener. Good coaches have been professionally trained to use six levels of active listening and body language -- such as nodding their head, making eye contact, taking notes -- which helps you know that they are fully present and engaged in what they are hearing you say. On the contrary, not-so-good coaches engage in “autobiographical listening,” which turns your coaching session into a litany of stories that are all about them and their experiences, not all about you, as it should be. Not-so-good coaches appear distracted, unorganized and distant. Not-so-good coaches do not accurately remember the details of what you have shared with them.
  1. Highly intuitive. Coaches who provide wonderful experiences for their clients use their intuition as an inner compass to map the way. Astute coaches guide their clients and facilitate their growth in both the personal and professional arenas by always looking forward to identify and navigate through potential obstacles. Not-so-great coaches may tend to use the “one size fits all" approach, rationalizing that if the process worked for one person, it can be put it on auto-pilot and used with everyone.
  1. Organizationally adept. Excellent coaches are organized coaches. They show you, by their actions, that they have strong planning and goal-setting skills. They are all about helping you achieve the results that you are seeking. They model and help you learn the planning skills you need to reach your goals. Contrast a thorough and organized coach with one who breezes into a meeting late with papers flailing about from their notebook. Which one would you want to put your time and money into?
  1. Results-oriented mindset. How does your coach measure your progress toward your goals? Does your coach use surveys or profiles to establish baseline data? All great coaches will gather data in some way to help you determine and reach your goals in a timely manner. Not-so-great coaches believe that it's OK to hook you into their coaching program forever. Your coach is working for you, and you should get transformational results from the resources that you have invested in the process.  
  1. A pleasant, inspirational demeanor. Great coaches inspire growth and change in their clients. Professional coaches are pleasant and upbeat “people people." They are self-assured and confident without being egotistical. A good coach delights in your successes and motivates you to move forward. By contrast, not-so-good coaches may produce guilt or anxiety in their clients. Not-so-good coaches may be highly critical and undermine your self-confidence. Not-so-good coaches keep you stuck in the same place so you keep “coming back for more.”  
  1. Provides encouragement. Working with a coach is like having your own personal cheerleader in your court. Wonderful coaches provide encouragement by providing a check-in system between coaching sessions. They may phone you, email or send a note of encouragement your way to keep your motivation high as you are practicing your new skills. Likewise, they will want you to reach out to them when you need a little pep talk or booster shot.
  1. Practices confidentiality and builds trust. When you work with an excellent coach, you will feel safe and at ease. A great coach will work hard at building a trusting relationship that will be the bedrock of your work together. A great coach will go to great lengths to create a confidential, professional and safe coaching environment. A less-than-professional coach will hold their coaching sessions in a public setting where others may overhear the conversation. Or, worse, they may share too much information about another client with you, which leaves you wondering if your information has been shared too.
  1. Ability to provide follow-up resources. Does your coach give you ideas, book titles and connections to other people who may help you reach your goals? Does your coach check in with you between coaching sessions? Excellent coaches have outstanding, up-to-date resources that they can easily access and provide to their clients. They have the office support systems in place to do so easily and in a timely manner. Great coaches are impeccable with their word, do what they say they will do, and deliver what you need to keep you moving in the right direction.

The perfect professional coach is out there waiting to help you reach your goals and soar beyond your wildest dreams. While it involves a bit of research and heavy lifting on the front end of the process to find an exceptional coaching fit, the results and rewards are well worth it. In the third and final article of this series, I will help you discern if you want to hire an independent coach or use one provided by your employer.  I will also suggest some questions to use when you interview coaches for the job of becoming YOUR perfect coach.  

© 2016 Rita Perea. All Rights Reserved.

How to find the perfect coach - part one

RitaPerea_17-web-2- Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

You know you’re ready for change. You want it! You need it! You’re revving your engines to move full speed ahead. But … you aren’t sure how to determine your destination, map out your journey and keep the gas flowing to get there. So you putter along, moving forward but not at a rapid pace.

I have fantastic news for you! You CAN zoom ahead. All you need is assistance from someone like me — a professional coach. Coaching is customized professional development offering accelerated, results-oriented change. I am a cheerleader and project manager all rolled into one. When someone like you comes into my office, I help you figure out what you want to achieve, map out a path for success, and then hold your hand and cheer you all the way across the finish line. I believe you can do it! I know you can do it! And I can help you make it happen!

Hiring a professional coach is an investment in your personal and professional self. It’s recognizing that something needs to change in order to exude the confidence and clarity that high performers experience. It is also reaching out for support and help to get there.

Coaching isn’t for people who have “hit rock bottom.” I have some people who come to me feeling overwhelmed, but in general, individuals who seek out coaching are truly the best and brightest. Their goal is to shine brighter. To that end, coaching provides customized professional development and heightened self-awareness as no other method can offer.

According to published study results from Manchester Inc., executives who received coaching services realized a sixfold return on those services. Wow! Imagine accomplishing almost as much in a single day as you previously did in an entire week — including the weekends. How could you not take advantage of these benefits? The most significant improvements came in the area of working relationships, up 77 percent; teamwork, up 67 percent; and productivity, up 53 percent. These results speak for themselves. Working with the right coach can truly give you the boost you need to experience the life you’ve always dreamed of both inside and outside of the office.

As a word of warning — coaching is not therapy! The point of coaching is to help you determine where you are currently at and how to move forward. If you need to delve through deep emotional issues from your past, a coach should refer you to the appropriate trained professional for that type of treatment. Please know that a qualified, reputable coach will not attempt to solve these types of psychological problems; instead they will help you define and accomplish objectives that can be achieved through setting goals and supporting you to achieve those goals.

Like any other improvement technique, results depend greatly on the quality of the service and the depth of your commitment. You need to be open and ready to challenge your old habits and patterns and replace them with new ones. Once you’ve prepared yourself, following an intentional process for hiring a wonderful coach will help you get the results you want.

Another word of warning: Buyer beware! Coaching is an unregulated industry. That means that anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves a coach. It is very important to find a trusted adviser who will provide you with the professional service you are seeking. While the benefits can be exponentially positive, it's important to do your homework to find the right type of coach who has the correct training, background and experience to help you meet your business or personal goals.

Step One: What type of coach do you need?

Coaches specialize in different areas and should have had rigorous training, background and experiences to support their areas of expertise. The first step in finding the perfect coach is to determine the type of coach you are seeking, or the area of expertise that they need to have, to help you get the results you are looking for. Just like you wouldn’t hire a plumber to fix your car motor, you would not hire a life coach to help you unravel your business finances. Take a look at the list of coaching specialties below to begin to pinpoint your exact needs. Some talented coaches offer more than one type of coaching in their practice.

  • Life or personal coach. This is an adviser who focuses on supporting you as you make changes in your personal life with areas such as dealing with teenagers, aging parents, relationship strategies, household management, etc. Life coaches help you develop a solid self-awareness and foundation for changing habits that may be keeping you stuck.
  • Career coach. The function of a career coach is to help a client discern the type of job they are searching for, to create or polish up a resume, and to provide support through a successful job search. A career coach may also assist with helping a client make a successful career transition from one industry to another in a strategic and planned way.
  • Executive or leadership coach. An adviser who assists senior leaders (CEO, president, vice president-level), nonprofit executive directors, supervisors, managers, and program or department directors to strategically reach short-term and long-term goals. This may also include those who are aspiring to increasing levels of responsibility. Executive coaches tend to look at all aspects of a client's world, both personal and professional, to help them hyper-increase productivity and team performance, and to support them as they squeeze the juice out of life and work.
  • Business coach. If you are an entrepreneur or a business owner, a business coach can assist you with analyzing the structure and financial information of your business and help you decide where changes are recommended to help you reach your goals. A business coach can help you identify opportunities for all functions of your business, from personnel (getting the right people into the right positions), to exploring marketing plans, to increasing your sales.
  • Health coach. A relatively new category of coaching, health coaches support their clients in making nutritional and exercise changes to experience a more healthy lifestyle. The best health coaches are charging a fee for their health or medical expertise to help you achieve well-being. If a health coach is selling a product and offering advice for free with the purchase of that product, they are really just a glorified sales person. Knowing where your coach received their training to become a coach is important.
  • Spiritual coach (also known as a spiritual director). A spiritual coach offers support as clients discern their life purpose, their connection to that which is beyond, their spiritual beliefs, their spiritual traditions and practices, and explore their intuition and transcendence. A spiritual director may be steeped in only one religious tradition or may be “inter-Spiritual” — honoring all seekers, questioning agnostics and atheists.
  • Wealth or money coach. An adviser whose intention is not to sell financial products to make a commission, but rather to offer unbiased advice and recommendations about all aspects of your personal financial picture. This could include exploring budgeting, improving cash flow, analyzing purchases, shopping for insurances, and achieving financial short-term and long-term goals.
  • Time management and work-life balance coach. I have combined these two specialty areas because they both support a client in discerning their relationship with time and their habits or patterns that add to or detract from harmony and productivity at work and at home. While this may be a stand-alone professional development strategy, time management or work-life balance coaching is typically included under the umbrella of another type of coaching, life coaching, executive coaching, etc., to help a client become more productive.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of coaching services, just the most common list of offerings. It is a great first step in understanding what you, or one of your employees, may expect from a coach and why you might consider investing in one.

In part two and part three of this series I will help you discover the extraordinary qualities of a good coach and provide some interview questions that you can use when making a decision to move forward with a coach. This will help you be all set to zoom ahead and hire the perfect coach.

The power of listening well

Fotolia_115165574_SRita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

Successful verbal communication is a two-way street: speaking and listening. We all know people who are boastful big bags of hot air ... they talk a good game but they are poor listeners. This can shipwreck dialogue and two-way communication, which, in turn, causes stress, tension and misunderstandings. Have you ever been involved in a communication mishap that could have been avoided with the use of better listening skills? Have you walked away from a conversation feeling disappointed that your important message was not heard? You are not alone. What can we do about it?

You’ve heard the adage, “Be interested rather than interesting.” Research shows us that people who have high emotional intelligence are able to adapt their behaviors to enhance interpersonal relationships with others - this includes being an active listener.

Listening is complicated! Active listeners are listening both with an emphasis on enhancing the interpersonal relationship and to gather information. People have natural listening styles or ways that they process what they’ve heard. A Comprehensive listener will listen to gather information and put it together to create the big picture. An Evaluative listener is automatically judging the information they are listening to. Discerning listeners have a natural style that sifts and sorts fact from fiction. An Empathic listening style helps the listener tap into the feelings of the person they are listening to. Listeners who have an Appreciative listening style listen for the entertainment and enjoyment of listening, not necessarily to gather information. Understanding our own personal listening strengths and our opportunities for growth is tapping into the power of listening.

What do we do if we want to tap into the powerful habits of listening well? Practice the behaviors of outstanding listeners. Here are a few tips to help:

  1. Create a safety net. Complex and sensitive dialogue can occur when the listener creates a safe environment for the speaker to share their information.
  2. Clear barriers and obstacles. The listener lets the speaker know that they are fully present and attentive by putting away phones, laptops and any possible distractors that may interrupt and disrupt the dialogue.
  3. Seek first to understand. Author Stephen Covey said it best: “Seek first to understand and second to be understood.” The listener is gathering information for the purpose of comprehending what the speaker is trying to deliver. The listener asks clarifying questions to understand more fully and paraphrases what has been heard to measure the accuracy of the listening experience.
  4. Nonverbals speak loudly. It is estimated that 80% of our communication is delivered not through the spoken word, but through nonverbal cues. The goal is to listen with your eyes as well as your ears. Outstanding listeners pay attention to eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and postures to gain additional information.
  5. Employ empathy and offer support. The listener can identify with and acknowledge the feelings and emotions of the person delivering the information. The listener can validate those feelings in a neutral, nonjudgmental way.
  6. Ask probing questions for critical thinking. Powerful listeners do not take over a conversation so their topics become the topics of discussion. Instead, they explore the dialogue fully by inviting more information through the use of gently probing questions. By asking clarifying questions to understand the assumptions of the other person, the listener helps them see these ideas in a new way.

Enhanced listening skills can help employees avoid stress, tension and miscommunications in the workplace. With self-reflection, focus and practice, we can all harness and elevate the power of listening well.

© Rita Perea, 2016

Making the most of PIPs

Performance review image July Iowa biz.com- Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

Do you remember playing the “Chutes and Ladders” board game as a child? Squeals of delight ensued as we moved our pawns ahead the number of squares indicated by the spinner. Bad luck if your game piece landed on a chute; you had to move backward on the game board and lose precious momentum in getting ahead. Good luck was landing on the first step of a ladder. Your game piece was rewarded by automatically advancing to the top of the ladder and getting ahead on the game board. Landing on a ladder meant that you had a good shot at winning. Everyone wanted to land on a ladder. But landing on a chute meant that you most likely would lose the game and walk away from your friends in disgrace. It was a tough and powerful life lesson. And not one that you wanted to repeat.

Sometimes it can feel as if our careers are one big game of chutes and ladders. Except that life is not a game, and being blindsided and sent backward in our careers can have serious economic and social consequences for us.

Moving up the career ladder in a sequential fashion is the stuff that corporate dreams are made of. Career advancement is what every American is taught to strive for. And some even feel entitled to it. Move forward. Get ahead. Be a success and a winner.

What happens if an employee or supervisor is not making the progress, meeting their goals or performing as expected? Enter the PIP. This is not the Gladys Knight kind of crooning PIP. This PIP is a Performance Improvement Plan. These plans are known by several different names: Plan of Assistance, Employee in Need of Improvement Plan, Needs Improvement Plan, etc. This is a serious chute that can derail a career. Recently I have seen an increase in the number of individuals who have been involuntarily placed on a PIP. The message the plans are designed to send to an employee is clear: Improve your performance, or we will sever our relationship with you. Shape up or ship out!

Usually an employee who receives an improvement plan has had a performance review that has been less than stellar. The review would indicate which areas of performance do not meet expectations and need improvement. For an employer, an improvement plan is the natural next step in the “shape up or ship out” program.

Sometimes an employee is caught off guard, blindsided that they are not meeting expectations until the moment the PIP is presented. This employee would naturally feel a flood of emotions: shock, confusion, disbelief, anger, frustration, shame, embarrassment. An important note here from good personnel law is that an employee should never be caught off guard with an improvement plan. A performance review noting deficiencies should have been completed and presented to the employee prior to the design and presentation of an improvement plan. Unfortunately, however, it is not a perfect world.

So, what do you do if you receive a PIP?

  1. Do not share on Facebook or any other form of social media. PIPs are confidential human resource tools that will be placed in your permanent personnel file. Only discuss your PIP with your supervisor and your human resources manager. Keep it confidential.
  2. Clarify if this is the first step of progressive dismissal. You have to know how serious this is and if you are in danger of being fired from your job.
  3. Clarify the PIP goals and how the success of reaching those goals will be measured. What are the specifics of the goals that you are being asked to improve? Will you be required to discuss and provide documentation of your progress toward your PIP goals with your supervisor? How often, and what sort of data does that person want to see? What needs to happen, and what to they need to see to release you from the PIP? These are vital questions. It is hard to make a bulls-eye if your don’t know where the target is.
  4. Clarify the timeline for improvement. Most PIPs are 30, 60 or 90 days in duration. Some may be longer depending upon the complexities of the goals and the number of people or projects you manage. Clarify the frequency of meetings that your supervisor would like you to have with him/her to discuss your PIP progress. Weekly progress meetings are very common.
  5. Is the organization providing you with resources to help you meet your PIP goals? Do you get to attend a seminar or hire a professional coach (like me!) to help you focus and exceed your improvement goals?
  6. Do some soul-searching. This is a golden opportunity to take stock and decide if you and the organization are really a good match. Do you want to continue to work for this organization? Can you honestly do the job you are being expected to do? Do you have the skills needed to do the job? Is it time to polish up your resume and begin a job search? Is it time to resign? Or is it time to put on your winning attitude and make a commitment to not only meet, but to exceed, the improvement goals you have been given? If you are going to “go for it,” then you need to be focused and all in.
  7. It helps to talk about your emotions in a safe and confidential place. If your emotional reactions to being placed on a PIP are severe, such as you are crying all the time or angry at everyone, ask your HR manager for the phone number to see an EAP, or Employee Assistance Program, counselor. This is a benefit offered by most employers for all employees who find themselves facing emotionally difficult situations in both their work and personal lives.

Life lessons and career setbacks are complicated and not easy to navigate when you feel alone. It is important to give a plan to improve your work performance very serious consideration and to take diligent action steps so both you and your company will emerge as winners in the end.

© Rita Perea, 2016

Escaping email overload

Fingers on keyboard photo- Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders and managers to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.   

     In these times, we’re all being called upon to do more with less — less time, less money and fewer people. This pressure can create a hamster-on-a-wheel feeling as we scramble to get everything done. Although the rules of business have changed, many people haven’t received updated skills training on how to manage the flow of information into their lives, especially through email.

    Recently I conducted a leadership institute with a group of directors from various organizations. During our group sessions and individual coaching meetings, I asked about their biggest source of stress in their jobs. Almost every single person said the amount of email they received and responded to each day topped their list. This overload caused them to develop unhealthy habits surrounding email, including working tremendously long hours and a life without balance.

    Effectively overcoming this time crunch and email overload requires developing new habits. But before you, or anyone else, can change, you need to know exactly what you’re already doing. That’s why I ask clients to do a time audit. During this process, you look at how you use your time over the course of three days. By logging your activities in 15-minute increments from the time you get up in the morning until the time you go to bed at night, you can pinpoint where your time is going and why you feel like you don’t have enough.

    Although many people don’t see it this way, spending time is like spending money. Just like you have a certain amount of money in the bank that you can use to achieve your goals and enjoy life, you have a certain amount of time each day that you can spend on your personal and professional activities. When you overdraw from your banking account, you run into problems. The same is true when you try to take too much out of your time account. It doesn’t work, and you feel stressed. That’s why you need to make sure you’re spending your time effectively and efficiently to accomplish your objectives for the day.

    After you complete your time audit, you can identify where you’re “overspending,” and clearly define the ideal life that you’re trying to create. As you ponder your balanced lifestyle, think about activities such as exercise, vacation or simply getting work projects done on time. Once you’ve envisioned your ideal, you can create a plan for how to build that lifestyle within the constraints of your responsibilities at work and at home.

    At work, one of the biggest keys to achieving this balance involves limiting the octopus-like control of email over your schedule. If you’re spending every spare minute answering messages, when can you move forward on projects?

    Another key to "work flow wow" is limiting the frequency and length of time you spend checking email. Many people feel like they need to respond immediately to all email, even if it’s not a priority. In brief, here’s my solution: Limit yourself to checking email three times a day. Preferably you’ll do this in 30-minute time blocks in the morning after your project time, before you go to lunch, and before you wrap up for the day.

    By breaking the control of email over your schedule, you will not only increase your productivity but also your inner peace. Before you implement the email skimming process described below, consider these keys to success:

  • Turn off any email alerts. Even if you don’t constantly check your email, alerts will create psychological distraction that can cause you to take up to 25 percent longer to complete tasks.
  • Don’t email when you should call. If you’re writing over five lines, picking up the phone can be more efficient than using email.
  • Email doesn’t stand for immediate response. You need to get out of the habit of feeling that you must respond immediately to others or expecting them to do the same for you.

    Now that we’ve covered some of the ground rules, here’s a guide to skimming your inbox. Each time you open up your inbox during your allotted time blocks, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is answering this email going to bring me closer to achieving one of my goals?
  • Can this email wait until tomorrow?
  • Will delaying my response keep someone from accomplishing his or her work?
  • Could I respond to multiple emails in a single email reply?
  • Can I delete or ignore this email without serious repercussions?

    As you begin this process, you’ll find that very few of these messages actually get you closer to your goals and even fewer require immediate responses. I highly encourage you to try out this method and start to experience workflow wow!

© Rita Perea, 2016

Why delegate?

Iowa Biz blog delegation photo puzzle pieceRita Perea is president of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders and managers to successfully establish executive presence, lead high-performing teams, engage employees, manage change and create work/life balance.

One of the most important, but unfortunately overlooked, leadership skills to develop for career success is delegation. Some people define it as “letting go.” I believe that it is really a matter of streamlining your workload to increase your available time to manage people and projects more effectively. Better delegation ultimately results in a more motivated, involved staff, less stress and enhanced work-life balance.

American businesswoman Jessica Jackley, who co-founded Kiva micro-loans, believes that, “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” She credits much of her success to the art of successful delegation.

In the past, delegation was typically a top-down activity with the work load flowing from the top of the organization downward. Today with our flatter organizational structures and remote work teams, there are many more opportunities to delegate: up to managers, down to subordinates and horizontally to peers and workmates. Often overlooked is the fact that delegation requires a high level of trust to work well. You want to find those people in your organization where you have a relationship based on trustworthiness, mutual respect and mutual purpose. That is the natural place for successful delegation to occur.

As I consult with executives to sharpen their leadership skills, I share these seven essential keys for successful delegation:

1. Plan it out: Consider how you will manage a project before you delegate it. If you can’t manage it, maybe you should rethink delegating it.

2. Decide on the intended results and the level of responsibility: What are the goals that you need this project to achieve? What is the level of decision-making responsibility that you are willing to delegate along with the project? Are you giving the other person free rein to make project decisions or do they need to check in with you or someone else at every turn?

3. Select the right person for the job: Remember, delegation is built on the foundation of a relationship built on trust, mutual respect and mutual purpose. Be sure that the person you are delegating to has the skills needed to accomplish the project, has the organization’s best interest in mind and will support you in your endeavors.

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate: Do you wish that people could read your mind? Maybe it is a good thing that they can't. Write out the pertinent details of the project for the person you are delegating to. Provide some structure or a visual model of what you are seeking as an end result. Provide clarity in the goals, controls and agreed upon check points to discuss the project's progress.

5. Write it down: This is a little trick that I learned when I was managing a large team and delegating frequently. I kept a delegation notebook to help me track key details and checkpoints in projects. I would capture notes in my notebook in front of the person I delegated to. This let my direct report know that I was not going to forget what I was delegating to them. It was a visual clue that I had a tool for tracking the details and holding them accountable. It was easy for me to point out that we had a discussion and agreed upon key details when I had it documented in my delegation notebook.

6. Hold the other person accountable: Sure, there are times when deadlines are missed, mistakes are made, and we might want to extend the benefit of the doubt to the person we delegated an important project to. Before you get sucked into some sob story about why a project is not farther along in the timeline, realize that being held accountable is a professional development opportunity for your co-worker. Think twice before you accept their excuses. It might be better to get them back on track and manage the project a bit more closely with weekly meetings or updates in a constructive, positive way.

7. Create a motivating work environment: A recent Gallup poll indicated that 61 percent of all American workers did not receive praise for their work last year and believe that they are disengaged employees. To create a more motivating culture, say the magic words  “please” and “thank you”. Show people that you value their contributions. Give praise to co-workers for a job well-done. People who feel genuinely appreciated will want to work with you on projects and will put their best efforts forward.

Delegation is a powerful tool for empowering others to shine at doing their best work. If done well, it allows you to spend focused time at work doing your best work, too, which decreases stress. Decreased stress increases positive work-life balance. And who doesn’t want to feel more balanced and in control of their time and their life?

Time for an attitude adjustment?

Attitude_is_everything1Rita Perea is president of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders and managers to successfully establish executive presence, lead high-performing teams, engage employees, manage change and create work/life balance.

Do you know someone who continually shoots him or herself in the foot? Maybe you roll your eyes as they share stories over and over again about everything that goes wrong in their lives.

Researchers tell us that these negative stories create new neuropathways in the brain reinforcing continual negativity and defeat. The negativity creates a downward spiral of thinking, which, in turn, creates more negativity. Eventually, like Linus clinging to his blanket, your friend or co-worker is tightly gripping his or her negative attitude and expecting the worst.

Is this person you? Is it time to become clearer, more confident and feel a sense of well-being in work and life? Is it time for an attitude adjustment? If you are ready to be more successful, these five keys will help you change your thinking and change your life:

  1.  Identify the clever stories We can tell ourselves these doom and gloom stories over and over again and reinforce our feeling of “being done to.” Are we always the victim in a situation? Do we feel helpless as if there was nothing we could have done differently? These clever stories are often fiction and keep us stuck in the cycle of negativity. Take a look at the facts, without the emotion, and determine the clever story that is keeping you from moving forward.
  2.  Stop being reactive When we have a bad attitude, we tend to be externally focused and feel as if the world, people, our boss, the economy - everyone and everything - is conspiring against us. While none of us can anticipate everything that is going to happen, letting the possibility of uncertain events dictate our daily activity is self-defeating behavior. Instead, cultivate a proactive approach by thinking ahead about possible challenges you may face in different situations and create an action plan. A proactive approach helps us focus internally, clear our head, adjust our attitude, gain our confidence and control those things that we really can control. Our proactive success leads to more success.
  3. Dump the drama We live in a reality television show world. Many of us can’t wait for the next episode of our favorite show to get our drama fix. Unfortunately we can enjoy that sitting-on-the-edge-of-our-seat feeling so much that we want more and more of it. We might find ways to create it in our work life or our personal life. Our negative attitude can actually invite drama while pushing the supportive and positive people in our lives away from us. A Chinese proverb reminds us, “The wisdom of life lies in eliminating the nonessentials.” Whether we find it in our personal life or our work life, drama is one nonessential that, when eliminated, will help us experience a higher-level of productivity and positivity.
  4. Sow the seeds of self-discipline Most people know the difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it. Having a positive attitude can lead to more self-discipline. Self-discipline can be the difference between achieving our goals and only dreaming about reaching our potential. Self-discipline helps us define that part of the world where we can make a difference. Zig Ziglar once said, “When you choose a habit, you also choose the results of that habit.” Sowing the seeds of self-discipline every day will create a sense of accomplishment and the feeling of freedom.
  5. Cheer someone on When we are in the position of managing others and have the responsibility to evaluate their performance, it is easy to get stuck in negativity and criticism. Have you ever uttered these words: “Really? If only everyone else did things like I did, the world would be a better place!” Really? When you find yourself being stuck on the merry-go-round of being critical, its exactly the time to find something good about the situation. Get out your pompoms and cheer someone on. Put on your rose-colored glasses, paste a smile on your face, take a walk around the office and spread a bit of good cheer. Find something genuinely positive to say to other people. Pat people on the back for a job well done. It will give you, and them, an attitude lift. And, here’s a little secret... cheering someone on works magically with our family members, too.

Adjusting your attitude to radiate positivity and possibility will help others take notice, support you and ultimately succeed. No one reminds us of the power of our thinking more than Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Time for a reboot?

Surgical Boot photo

Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

The end of the year is the perfect time to take stock... to ask ourselves the tough questions about what we wanted to accomplish in all areas of our work and personal lives this year. These aspirations are called our “ideal state.” What we really did achieve is called our “current state.” The end of the year is a great time to discern if there are any gaps between our ideal state and our current state. If so, it may be time for a reboot.

A reboot begins with honest and careful scrutiny of what is currently working for you and what is not moving the needle to propel you toward your goals. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Perhaps it’s an unhelpful habit, such as procrastination, that is getting in your way?
  • Maybe you have bitten off more than you can chew and have gotten involved in too many meetings? This can cause hectic rushing and an overwhelming feeling that works against clarity and poise.
  • Or maybe you are stuck in your comfort zone -- doing the same things you have always done? If so, you are probably getting the same results you have always gotten.

Wherever you’re stuck, a reboot can help you get unstuck.

To help you move to your ideal state, it might be time to revisit your personal marketing plan to determine the perceptions that others have of you after they interact with you. This could include many points of contact people have with you, from your voice message and the way that you answer the phone, to the clothes you choose to wear, to the photo you have on your social media accounts. Every interaction another person has with you is the opportunity to create a positive impression and enhance your personal brand.

Success expert Stephen Covey believes that with any project we should “Begin with the end in mind." A personal reboot should be no different. As I took stock of my goals at the end of last year, and turned an eye toward celebrating my 15th year of business this year, I determined that it was time to do a deep dive into updating my own business and executive presence plan.

There was no urgency -- I was reaching my goals. However, I believed I could achieve more if I focused on aligning my website, www.RitaPerea.com, and marketing materials with my long-established branding voice. The goal being exuding the positives that I am known for -- dynamic and inspirational professionalism, expertise and integrity. Let the reboot begin!

Reboots feel good. Like the feeling you get when you have cleaned out a closet or organized the files in your desk. Sure, all worthwhile endeavors do take a bit of time and effort, but at the end you get that great feeling of being organized, aligned and free of clutter. Here is my secret sauce for a successful reboot.

Step One: Our first order of business is to determine the three to five authentic words that we hope others will use to describe us after they have had an experience with us. This is called our “personal marketing voice.” Sometimes it is easier to determine how you want to be described if you also think about how you do not want to be described. For example: Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting IS solid, dynamic, inspirational, experienced, high-integrity and professional. It IS NOT fly-by-night, weak or gimmicky. You get the idea here. Contrast is a great informant.

Step Two: Use these words as a lens to look through when making daily choices. If I have a business meeting to attend and I want people who interact with me at that meeting to describe me as solid, dynamic, inspirational, experienced, high-integrity and professional, then I am going to dress and act in a manner that is congruent with those descriptive words in my personal marketing voice. Note to self: If your branding voice is authentic then you will be most comfortable looking like and acting like the descriptive words you have chosen to represent you.

Step Three: The next step of the reboot is the opportunity to integrate every experience point with our personal branding voice to spur others to have a positive perception and to take action. It is time to take our list of descriptive words and look at every activity we participate in through the lens of those words. At the end of each interaction we want to ask ourselves “How would that person describe me to others?” In addition to our website and social media interactions, as mentioned above, these interactions include:

  • Community involvement
  • Networking opportunities
  • Manners/ etiquette
  • Interactions with co-workers
  • Interactions with clients
  • Making cold calls
  • Making warm calls
  • Speaking in front of a group
  • Involvement in professional organizations/ associations

Step Four: Just as we reboot our computer each time we turn it on, every interaction with another person gives us the opportunity to be an honest and reflective practitioner. We can continually reflect and refine by asking ourselves “How did that go?” “What went well?” “What did not go so well?” and “What could I do differently next time to truly live my personal branding voice?”

While a reboot takes honesty, time, effort, and perhaps some monetary resources, your return on investment can be exponential. You will feel aligned, squeaky clean, shiny and brand new. What a wonderful way to begin a new year. Here’s to your success in 2016!

7 tips to push past your fear of public speaking

Rita Perea is president and CEO of  Podium photo for Iowa Biz blogRita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consultingspecializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

Here it is... Your big chance to impress people. You’ve been given the amazing assignment of developing and delivering a “knock-their-socks-off” presentation to the entire North America team of directors in your company. If you hit this presentation out of the park you will be noticed for that promotion you've had your eye on.  There is a lot riding on the success of this golden opportunity. You are up for the challenge!

And then...When you mentally picture yourself standing at the podium delivering your message, alarm bells begin going off in your head. Your heart starts pounding.  You feel like you have been punched in the gut. The fear of public speaking is rearing its unwelcome head.  

The most important question to ask yourself is what do you do to regain your self confidence and hit a home run? 

I was asked to be part of a public discussion where the issue of “Presenting with Confidence” was the hot topic. Drawing on my 25-plus years of public speaking experience, and my business of coaching others in this area, I wanted to offer you seven tips to push past the fear of public speaking.  

1. Plan Your Content and Delivery

Another way to think about this is Message and Methods. First pinpoint how much time you will have at the podium. Step two: write down all of the critical, must-have information that you want share with your audience during the time you’ve been given to speak. Step three: Review your notes and determine the top three critical points in your message. Step four is the time to focus on how you will deliver your top three points to your audience. These are the methods you will use for your presentation. Powerpoint? Whiteboard notes? Graphs and charts to illustrate your critical points?  

Bonus tip:  This first step is the hard part. Do not wait until the day before the presentation to do this prep work! In the professional speaking world a good rule of thumb is 4 to 1: Four hours of planning for every one hour of presenting.  

2. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!

Now that you know what you are going to say and how you will say it, it’s time to practice the delivery. Many people find it helpful to record their voice as they are practicing their presentation. Videotaping yourself is also a great way to identify voice inflections, hand gestures or body language you may want to change. 

3. Warm up the audience

After weeks of planning, the day of the big presentation has finally arrived! Be sure to arrive at your event location as early as possible to check the technology set up and the microphone. After you are confident that you are all set up, and the audience begins to trickle into the room, give people a warm “hello” and shake their hands. This will help you build rapport with your audience before you begin the delivery of your message. This is also a secret weapon for fighting the butterflies you might be feeling in your stomach. 

4. The first 30 seconds

A surefire, no-fail way to calm your nerves and begin to maximize your impact is to walk up to the microphone, take a deep breath and smile! The combination of breath and the smile will help you gain control of your emotions and oxygenate your voice for better clarity. After smiling, begin building audience rapport by graciously thanking your event planners or hosts before launching into the presentation. 

5. Stories bring the point home

No one is asking you to be a comedian here. As you develop your content and presentation delivery strategy (tip #1), be sure to sprinkle in a few well-crafted, tasteful stories to help illustrate your critical points. Brain-based research shows that cognitively we use stories that drive an emotional response to learn new information.  You want to create stories that create emotion in the audience members so they will remember the points you are making. 

6. Actionable steps

Your presentation has inspired your audience to do something new or different - to find out more about the topic, change a thought or perception, persuade others, or have different behaviors.  Whatever those few actionable steps are that you want them to take, leave behind a reminder on a document, card, bookmark, etc. as the call to action in your presentation. 

7. Leave them wanting more!

There is never enough time to answer all of the questions that an audience may have. When it is time to end, tell the audience that you will be available to talk individually and answer questions after the presentation. Be sure to provide your phone number and email information so you can be contacted with follow-up questions.  

While public speaking is the #1 fear for most people, with preparation, practice and poise you can overcome your nerves and present with confidence. 

 ©Rita Perea, 2015


Balancing life and work: It’s all about energy management

Burn out image for Iowa Biz

Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life. 

I wonder if you’ve ever felt like you’ve hit a wall? Could you just sleep for months? Are you tired of being tired? Feel like you don’t have the time or the energy to do one more thing or take on one more project at work or at home?

You may be heading toward burnout. In the e-book series I’ve written, From Frantic to Fabulous: Transforming Your Work and Your World, I share that burnout is a form of being mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. When a person is burned-out and exhausted, they lack  joy, enthusiasm and motivation. There may also be deep feelings of ineffectiveness and frustration. Burnout can be caused by extreme stressors at home, at work, or both, which may be causing us to do too much, over-function and expend more energy than we have. 

At increased risk of feeling burned out are those in the “sandwich generation” -- still working demanding jobs, having elderly parents whose needs for care may be increasing, and having children or teenagers at home. With so many demands on their time and energy, these folks feel as though all of the responsibility falls on their shoulders and there is nowhere to turn for relief. They are constantly wondering when will things get back to normal again, not realizing that this is their “new normal” and they need new strategies to navigate through the exhaustion they feel. 

One of those strategies is something I call Energy Management or “EM.”  A bit different from time management, energy management recognizes the physical reality that a person really does have only so much physical, emotional and mental energy, called personal energy, to expend before they need to recharge their internal batteries through rest, sleep and alone time.

Think of it this way: your personal energy is like that cup of coffee you enjoy so much every morning. Once you drink all of the coffee in the cup, you have to refill the cup to enjoy more coffee. Likewise with your personal energy; once your energy is depleted you need to rest and recharge to restore yourself to maximum efficiency again. As with the batteries on our smartphones, if we don’t recharge the batteries, our device does not work. If we do not take the time to recharge our personal energy battery, we don’t perform the best in our work and our world. 

An EM strategy is on Sunday or first thing Monday morning, take a look ahead at your week. Ask yourself what are your goals and what do you want to achieve for the week.  Then begin to make thoughtful choices about the activities you will participate in and the actions you will take based on a projection of the amount of energy those activities or actions will use. The idea is to pace yourself each day so that your energy coffee cup lasts the entire day and you are not crawling home from work exhausted each night. 

 A real life example might be:

  1. Your goal is to get one sale closer to reaching your year-end numbers.  
  2. Looking at the week ahead, you know that you need to travel out of state for sales appointments on Tuesday and will return late on Wednesday evening.  On Thursday you have the opportunity to attend a power-packed breakfast event and on Thursday evening a community networking reception. Friday is a business as usual day with a gathering of friends after work.   
  3. Because you see that Tuesday and Wednesday will be long travel days, and your energy coffee cup will likely be empty both nights, you may zero in on Thursday’s schedule with the goal of conserving your energy. This is where making those important energy management choices comes in to keep your energy cup as full as possible.  
  4. You ask yourself- Is it crucial to reach my goals that I attend both an early morning event and an evening event on Thursday? Maybe the smartest choice is to call the event host (on Monday morning because a few days notice is polite) and extend your kindest regrets to acknowledge that you will be unable to attend the event.  
  5. Or, maybe you manage to attend both events on Thursday, because they are critical to your success, and then arrange for a day off on Friday so you can rest and recharge.  

By making thoughtful EM choices you aren’t “burning the candle at both ends.”  Instead you are wisely conserving the energy in your energy coffee cup while attending to your goals. Managing your energy leads to being more engaged and present, happy and healthy.   

And, just maybe, will have the energy to have a really fun weekend again! 


Stuck in the crab bucket?

Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior and emerging leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life. Crab bucket photo

While strategically defining my executive coaching client’s personal brand, and finally landing on several solid words that internal and external stakeholders would use to describe him, he offered a look of concern.

 “What’s up?” I asked.

 “Well,” he started out hesitantly, “this makes me think of a recent event I wanted to run past you.”  He continued, “An old friend invited me out for a beer. He also invited some of his old chums as well. As their conversations digressed into places I didn’t want to go, I saw clearly that my core values and my friend’s are not aligned anymore. Even worse, there was tremendous pressure on me from the chums to join in with the raucous humor. Boy was it really uncomfortable when they put me under terrible pressure to digress with them. I was concerned that someone would overhear what was being said and recognize me. Then I got really angry at my friend for putting me in that situation and I abruptly left.”  

I shared my little story about the crab bucket of life...

Have you ever noticed the more successful you become, and the more that things go “your way”, some family, friends, team members, even business partners, will do and say things to sabotage you and keep you down?  This happens all of the time but often we aren’t aware of it. It can cause us to feel uncomfortable, confused and worried about what’s going on. 

Enter the crab bucket...

We all know what a sea crab looks like.  They live near the ocean, have a shell and six long legs. They use their legs to grab and hold onto things. Their legs propel them forward on their journey across the beach. What you may not know is that crabs are social creatures. They travel around sandy beaches and shorelines in biomasses. 

Now for the interesting part. If you put a bunch of crabs in a bucket and watch them, you will see that they will begin to crawl on top of each other to get out of the bucket and back to the beach. They begin to use their little pincher legs to crawl up the side of the bucket. It is amazing to watch!

If you watch even more closely you will see that the one successful crab who makes it to the top of the bucket -- his front leg is positioned on the edge of the bucket and he is ready to propel himself over the side to freedom -- gets pulled back down into the bucket by his crab friends. The other crabs reach up, grab his leg and pull him back down into the bucket with them! The poor crab is lost forever in the swirling vortex called the “Crab Bucket of Life”.

In our own Crab Buckets, often those trying to keep us down are unaware of what they are doing. These behaviors are usually unconscious and spring from their feelings of fear and jealousy; fear that they aren’t good enough and do not measure up. Some are also jealous, coveting our success. Keeping another person down helps them feel better about their position in life.  

My coaching client immediately understood that his friends may have been jealous of his success and were denigrating him to make themselves feel better. Then he asked, “But what do I do about it?” I offered the following three-steps: 

Step One:  Recognize that it is happening and that we are being kept down in the crab bucket. Some people who claim that they care for us or want the best for our future can be the largest crabs in our bucket.

Step Two:  Remember that the best defense is an offense. It helps to keep a professional but cordial distance from those crabs in our lives. Don’t let them get close enough to pull you down and sabotage you.

Step Three:  If you are feeling like you have been pulled down, ask yourself, “Am I in the crab bucket or out of the crab bucket?”

Being inside the smelly crab bucket feels like drama and emotional chaos. It is hard to breathe and you find yourself not thinking clearly, maybe even feeling confused.   

If you are living outside of the crab bucket you smell the clear, crisp ocean air and see the beautiful blue skies. Living outside of the crab bucket is emotional freedom and it feels wonderful to be moving forward toward your goals.  

Using these three simple steps will help you stay out of the drama that others are creating and keep you focused on what is important to your success. 


Are you leading or managing?

Blue gears image- Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting Associates, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

 “A leader knows what’s best to do; a manager knows merely how best to do it.” - Ken Adelman

What do these words mean to you?  

  • Strategic vs. Tactical
  • Visionary vs. Realist
  • People vs. Process
  • Leader vs. Manager

In today's economy the lines between leading people and managing people have become blurred.  

There was a time when the responsibilities of the manager and that of the leader could be separated. My grandfather was a "boss" in a factory. He didn’t have to give much thought to what he was producing or to the people who were producing it. He was being paid to follow orders, organize the work, assign the right people to the necessary tasks, coordinate the results, and ensure the job got done as quickly as possible. As a manager, his focus was on efficiency.

But in the new economy value comes from people's knowledge, and it is important for managers to find a way to engage and inspire workers. Defining a purpose and explaining the vision are the cornerstones of employee engagement. People look to their managers to answer the question “why?” in addition to assigning a “how”.  Today's managers must now motivate workers, not just to maximize efficiency, but to engage them- nurture skills, develop talent and inspire results.

The late management guru Peter Drucker was one of the first to identify the presence of the “knowledge worker,” and the profound differences this would cause in the way business was going to need to change and be conducted.

With the rise of the knowledge worker, “one does not ‘manage’ people,” Drucker wrote. “The task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.”

In your day-to-day interactions with the  “knowledge workers” in your organization, where are you spending the bulk of your time? Are you being tactical? Strategic? Are you managing? Are you leading? Are you engaging employees with both of your leadership and management hats on? You are not alone. The lines have indeed blurred in this new economy.  


Begin building team trust

Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates, specializing in working with Senior Leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

Trust and people image for Iowa Biz blogWhen working with company leaders to build high-performing teams, I share my mantra, “Culture is created by default or by design.” This means that either a culture’s values and expectations are clearly defined, designed, lived and reinforced daily or the culture just sort of bubbles up from the depths of who-knows-where, creating itself. As leaders and managers I think that we can all agree that defining what we want our organization’s culture to be and then taking steps to achieve and reinforce that design is a much better alternative than leaving it up to chance. It is hard to manage chance. 

In our capitalistic society where we have seen a trend of greed-fueled profits being created at all costs, it is now more important than ever to deliberately add the value of trust to our teams. We have good teams but we want to make them really great high-performing teams. What makes the difference between good and great? Trust. It is hard for people to perform at their very best when there is an absence of trust and a feeling of always looking over your shoulder while working with team mates.  

Teams that lack trust tend to exhibit these behaviors:

  • Spreading gossip as truths with the intention of hurting others
  • Creating a scapegoat: someone to take the blame for the team problems
  • Creating a scapegoat: someone who becomes the center of team jokes
  • Deliberately hiding or misconstruing information
  • Showing a lack of respect for others demonstrated through words, actions or both

As a leader who wants a high-performing team, what is one step that you can take or one action you can model that will begin to build trust?  The answer is simple but not easy- “Be impeccable with your word.”  

“Be impeccable with your word” comes from the wisdom of Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements. “Be impeccable with your word” means that as a leader you will model:

  • Speaking with sincerity  
  • Telling the truth as you know it  
  • Not elaborating, embellishing details but accurately portraying a situation
  • Saying only what you mean
  • Following through on what you promise
  • Avoid using words to devalue yourself or to gossip about others
  • Use the power of your word to move things in a positive direction, not tear things or people down or create negativity and fear 

Simple, right? To begin building trust, monitor and evaluate the words that you use and the things that you say. Can you honestly say that you are “impeccable” with your word and building trust with your team? If not, make a change. Reflect on the words you are choosing. Which words can you use instead to be more inspirational, motivational, respectful, truthful and trustworthy?  

Model being “impeccable with your word” with every interaction and you are well on your way to creating the high-performing team and trusting culture that will support exceeding goal expectations. 


Do the Math: Negative Company Culture = Unhappy Employees

Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates

When speaking to business leaders, the question I ask is “Was your company’s culture created by design or by default?”

I pose this question to evoke the realization that if a company is not being deliberate about designing and building the desired culture of the organization, then it is being created by default.

Employee engagement photo for blog post

Company culture is all around. It consists of the accomplishments and activities that are celebrated, reinforced and rewarded deliberately as well as unconsciously. The culture of an organization matters. How can you expect to retain your high performers and attract more like them if your company culture is less than sparkling?  

Along with managing the attraction and retention of great employees, companies also have to manage their brand as an employer.

Ms. or Mr. Business Leader, have you ever stopped to ask yourself how people outside of your company describe your organization?

What is your company’s reputation?
Is it a good company or a bad company to work for?
What makes it good or bad?
Are your employees happy or unhappy at their jobs? 
Do you, as a leader, value what every single employee contributes to the effort or do you exude an attitude of “Don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out?” 

We all know about the reputation of the company that people refer to as “The Cult.” This organization is run by a heavy-handed self-promoting owner.

This is a culture of rewards and punishments. In this organization people are expected and encouraged to work very long hours. Having a personal life outside of work is discouraged. The culture demands that, like the life of an alcoholic revolving around a drink, the lives of employees should revolve around their job.

Work-life balance is not valued. People are viewed as only widgets, a means to an end, as evidenced by the obscene pay disparity. You can imagine that the turnover rate at “The Cult” is high. Once the get in the door, the mission of top talent is to get out before they burn out.  

Another company that has a less-than-stellar reputation for a nasty culture is known as “The Cauldron.” In this organization, whispered gossip and character assassinations are fostered. “Stirring the pot” is unconsciously encouraged among employees through inappropriate humor with certain “problem” individuals becoming targets. 

Significant changes in the organization occur without employee warning or knowledge.  This keeps employees “off balance” and in fear. In addition to high staff turnover, there is also a high level of absence due to illness, both continually decreasing productivity.  Employees feel defeated and afraid. This culture is clearly unable to attract and retain high-performers.  When prospective top talent gets a whiff of the stinky cauldron, they run in the opposite direction. 

What can be done internally to change a company’s culture and enhance it’s brand to attract top talent?

The 30,000 foot answer sounds simplistic but it takes making the Golden Rule, “treat others as you wish to be treated”, well, golden.  Every minute of every day with every interaction, this becomes the mantra, the heartbeat of the organization.  Treat others as you wish to be treated. Learn that, model that, be that, live that... let it ooze from your pores. 

At the very core of a company whose cornerstone is the golden rule, is an organization built upon respect. Respect is the bedrock of productivity and stability. 

Everything else - the mission statements, employee handbooks, policies, procedures and decisions- are then deliberately crafted to design the desired workplace culture while looking through the lens of the golden rule.

Things shift and behaviors become aligned.  People begin to feel valued, not as machines just being used for capitalistic pursuits and then tossed aside, but as human beings respected for their contributions. Engaged and balanced employees attract other happy and engaged employees.

Isn’t that the kind of culture in a workplace that we want and deserve?

Let’s give it a try... If we all started to treat others as we wish to be treated, what a difference it would make - not only our workplaces, but also in our world.

Mind your manners for employee motivation

IowaBiz.com delivers cutting-edge content written by business and thought-leaders.  I am honored to begin sharing my 25-plus years of leadership experience and future-forward thinking to inform and inspire Business Record readers in the area of Employee Engagement.

The 2014 “State of the American Workplace” report by Gallup Research exposes some dismal statistics about employee engagement:

  • 61 percent of Americans received no praise in the workplace last year
  • 70 percent of workers are “emotionally disconnected” from their jobs and not productive
  • The cost of employee disengagement is more than $450 to $550 BILLION per year

This is bad news. American employers are spending billions (that’s with a “B”) on employees who are becoming sick, taking time off, not performing their primary functions when they are on the job or spending time with their friends on social media instead of working. Or worse yet, they are embroiled in lawsuits due to toxic, disengaged employees who created hostile work environments. 

 Gallup defined three key types of employees: 

  • Engaged - Works with passion; Feels a profound connection to the organization. 
  • Not Engaged - Putting in hours instead of energy; Emotionally disconnected;  Unproductive; Checked out. 
  • Actively Disengaged: Miserable at their jobs; Actively undermining coworkers and sabotaging projects.

As business leaders, it is important to ask ourselves which category would the majority of our employees fall into? Engaged? Not Engaged? Actively Disengaged? With so much time, energy and profit at stake, it is important to take an honest look at the people you manage and lead.   

Now for the good news... Employers want engaged employees. And most employees want to be engaged. Business leaders can use common sense and be strategic to move the needle and foster employee engagement in their organizations.  

How do we create a culture of engagement? Create a culture of gratitude. 

One of the simplest ways to motivate and engage employees in any organization is to show appreciation for a job well done. Yes, a good, old-fashioned look-them-in-the-eyes-and-say “Thank you” goes a long way in motivating people to “keep up the good work”.  

In addition to the face-to-face thank you, there are variations to convey gratitude to someone. Which of these strategies might work for you and your employees or co-workers?

A hand-written thank you note or note of recognition - One of my executive coaching clients was proud to share a note that a prominent business leader took the time to write to him. To the client, this was a tangible expression of appreciation that he could look at over and over again. He marveled that the business leader would take the time out of his busy day to write a note. This gesture was very meaningful and motivational. Think about the culture of gratitude you could be creating if you set aside five or ten minutes each day to write thank you notes to those who deserve your appreciation.

Use positive, non-verbal recognition gestures like “thumbs up”- Simple actions such as giving “high fives” recognize others and help spread contagious enthusiasm throughout the workplace. We want all of our employees to want to be at work and to enjoy it.  Contagious enthusiasm makes a workplace a fun and engaging place to spend time in.

The verbal gold star - Many of us grew up receiving gold stars for a job well done.  Psychological researchers state that those behaviors which get rewarded get repeated.  Give out a verbal gold star by telling someone in a sincere way how PROUD you are to work with them, to be their supervisor, for their creative idea, etc. The verbal gold star is an easy way to reinforce those wanted behaviors on your team. 

Let’s take the first step to show our appreciation to others and turn these dismal statistics around. Who will you say “thank you” to today?

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