What happened to my blog?!

You guys!! Yikes, I haven’t written anything in months! There has been A LOT going on. I started writing this blog post a couple of months ago, and it started off highlighting how crazy last year was and all the things that derailed me from taking care of my blog and sharing things with my readers. But, as if that wasn’t just life keeping me busy, life really threw me a curveball…I was laid off from my job a little more than a month ago. So, I think in retrospect I can say that the last 13 months have been a whirlwind.

So, I figure this blog post can be a reflection on the year, and some of the things I’m looking forward to this year…especially given the most recent changes for me professionally.

  1. I started a new job – and got laid off – I left a place I called home for eight years, and a place where I would say 95% of my best friends are from. It was hard, but is turning out to be one of the better decisions I’ve ever made. So, I left this last sentence here because it’s important for me to think about the fact that, at one point that move was a good one. It hasn’t been feeling like that as of late, but it’s a journey and I’m on it, so I have to try to make the best of it. I just have to remember that I made some amazing contacts and friends during the year I spent at that company, and that my friends cannot be replaced.
  2. I started working primarily from home – This was directly related to the new job, but it was quite an adjustment. It’s interesting because so many people tell me they could never be productive at home, but I actually found that I got more done. When you’re in an office there’s a lot of relationship building going on, which is natural, but also takes up a lot of time that you could be spending at your desk being productive. On the flip side, I no longer had that interaction and sometimes missed it. So, flip side now is that I may get that interaction back once I land a new gig, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t kind of looking forward to that.
  3. I traveled a ton domestically – this was also directly related to work, but undoubtedly an amazing experience. I tried to think about just how many places I traveled to and had to list them to ensure I didn’t miss anything (but I still feel like I missed one or two):
    1. Austin, Texas
    2. Orlando, Florida
    3. San Diego, California
    4. Portland, Oregon
    5. Chicago, Illinois
    6. Washington, D.C.
    7. New Orleans, Louisiana
    8. Atlanta, Georgia
    9. Tampa, Florida
  4. I adopted a cat (begrudgingly) – there was a little black and white kitty that was wild (somewhat) and my mom had gotten her fixed so she wouldn’t surprise all of us with kittens in the garage. One day we realized she had been attacked on her neck. It didn’t look good and being the empath that I am, I decided that she would be taken to the vet hospital, and that if I paid to get her all fixed up, she would have to stay inside with me. I now have a black and white cat named Lilly – she also goes by Lulu, mow-mow, and Lil (insert eye roll here). If you know me, you know that I have Ruby who I love very much, but also that I had a cat named Allie for 17 years who was special to me, so taking on another cat wasn’t exactly on my list. It took some months, but this cat who was scared of everything now sits on my lap every night while I watch TV. She has turned out to be a sweet cat (despite the number of rugs she destroyed and the vet bills I endured).
  5. I bought a new car! So, I wrote a blog post about my first year driving an all electric vehicle. Well, a year in it was still a really cool thing and I liked it a lot…three years in I was over it. Range anxiety is a real thing my friends! Maybe I should write a blog post on what it’s really like to have only one vehicle and have that vehicle be 100% electric? It made life a little more stressful, and who needs that? So, in true Nikki fashion I went in the complete opposite direction and now have a fully gasoline 4×4 SUV.
  6. I put my health and fitness first. Since October I have REALLY concentrated on getting healthier, eating better and just moving more in general. I have started working out 5-6 days a week, I began incorporating Pure Barre and the stairmaster (P.S. – I HATE the stair master), and signed up for a round of Faster Way to Fitness. I plan to write more about all of those things in future posts, but a little more than 15 pounds down and I’m just feeling so much better both physically and mentally. I know people always says that working out does so much more than make you lose weight. It really changes your vibe in general.

I’m keeping it a little short but sweet as a reintroduction. But, I have so much more to write about and share. I’m also planning to increase my presence on Instagram. There is so much more I can be sharing there as opposed to always just here on the blog. I am realizing we have to be grateful for what we have and when we have it. I lost my job but I have also gained a lot the last month – and for every door that closes a window opens – boy is that cliche of a saying so true!

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Part Two: Something we don’t talk about – Women CEOs

Hi all,

This is the second installment of my review and insights about the Korn Ferry Institute’s report on women CEOs. If you didn’t read the first one, please do! I will ground us quickly by highlighting what I discussed previously. The last post examined what characteristics are most prominent in women CEOs according to the Korn Ferry Institute, and next up I will share with you how the traits previously outlined are the ingredients needed to become a CEO. The main question Korn Ferry poses though is, what values and interests or motivators, referred to as drivers, guided the women’s career decisions?

According to Korn Ferry the drive for these women CEOs was described in one word, challenge. Thriving on challenge, and having been less interested in competition was a huge factor for women CEOS. Korn Ferry found that routine job promotion is generally not enough to stake the thirst for challenge, and found that their interviewers stepped knowingly into less-than-desirable, ill-defined roles because they saw potential in these opportunities, like diamonds in the rough. Tell me, have you ever done that? I know that I have. I didn’t do it with the end potential that I wanted to be a CEO someday, but more for the potential that the opportunity would give me a skill I may have been missing, or teach me something I needed to learn. There have been times where I’ve been in a job that I wasn’t maybe crazy about, and kept telling myself that there would be a lesson or something I would gain from that experience no matter what. And, often times it doesn’t feel like that will be the case in the moment, but it always turns out that there is a lesson to learn in everything…whether big or small.

Now, to tackle the notion that women thrive on challenge and are less interested in competition. Korn Ferry also heard from their CEOs that sometimes they were so intensely focused on whatever challenges were before them that they neglected longer-term career planning and mastering the “political” aspects of the organization. A typical refrain they found was: “I was head-down, delivering results in my current role.” It is hard to not get caught up in that, especially if the thought of competition or playing office politics is not interesting. Korn Ferry found that they are largely disinterested in inside-the-company competition. They preferred to let their results speak for themselves. I have always been this way, but have also found that unless you have someone in your corner helping exhibit your good work, it can sometimes go unseen and not “speak for itself.” According to Korn Ferry, this challenge-centric mindset explains a striking observation from their interviews: 63% of the CEOs either didn’t mention organizational barriers or explicitly said they were not hindered by being a woman. In some cases, organizations were seamlessly facilitating their growth and grooming them for leadership. I guess I’m a little cynical, and find this surprising, but also somewhat comforting. Maybe a tide is turning a bit for women in the workforce?

Independence balanced with collaboration

Korn Ferry’s assessment also revealed higher-than-expected scores for a driver called independence. These scores also indicated another dynamic – these women were happy to get things done on their own, and overall Korn Ferry sees female CEOs exhibiting benchmark levels of collaboration, so this hasn’t impeded their desire to foster and lead teams, to build consensus or to share responsibility. Korn Ferry does explain however, that there is a cautionary flag here. Those who become overly autonomous in how they work can later find themselves without the support, networks, or advocacy that they need around them to become CEO and stay there. There’s that key again, support, networks and advocacy. Many of the women Korn Ferry interviewed had strong late-career sponsors who pushed their careers forward, but then discovered they didn’t have the broad support they needed for their agenda as CEO. Others found themselves blindsided by competitive executives, or without enough allies when they discovered others were waiting – or rooting – for them to fail. So, a little bit of politics and keeping your head up may be a better route to go in the long run?

So, then Korn Ferry posed the question, “why doesn’t such drive produce more female CEOs?” According to them, the fact that women must exhibit such a huge appetite for challenge to reach CEO speaks volumes about the systemic barriers many women still face. Their adaptations to that working environment, further, can harm their chances of success. So, there’s a fine line to toe here. According to Korn Ferry, we will never know, for instance, how many women didn’t become CEO because they were more independent than well-networked, or because their humility undermined how they were perceived, or because organizations didn’t recognize their drive. Those are very situational reasons and of course are hard to measure, but definitely something to make you think about. Finally, Korn Ferry discovered that multiple studies have documented that women are more likely than men to leave positions in which they are unsatisfied. That doesn’t mean work is difficult or unpleasant. The CEOs who were interviewed quit or turned down jobs when:

  • The company didn’t meet their standards for integrity
  • The role lacked a sense of larger purpose or
  • It was a place where people were treated very poorly

I think this is important to note. If it doesn’t feel right, morally or supporting a larger purpose, we will find something else to do or somewhere else to go. I have always believed, if you’re REALLY not happy…LEAVE! It does nothing for you to stick around when you are unhappy, and that goes for any situation!

So what type of things motivate women in the workforce? According to Korn Ferry, more are motivated by work-life balance. The participants in their interviews never shied away from hard work, and they took no shortcuts. But they did, on average, express more desire or work-life balance than Korn Ferry’s CEO benchmark. All of them were currently or had been married, and said they had supportive spouses, though some didn’t find that until a second marriage. According to Korn Ferry, being a CEO is not a one-person job, and this was acknowledged by the participants. A CEO’s partner has to “lean in” too. The partners of the women CEOs often took primary responsibility on the home front, managing the logistics and outsourcing of childcare, while choosing to stay home or take jobs with more flexibility. Some even said that their career affected what kind of mother they were. One said, for example, her children were resentful of her career commitments when they were young, but came to admire her accomplishments when they were older. I mean, I guess it’s nice that her children came to admire her eventually, but yikes – that kind of resentment is a bit scary if you ask me. According to Korn Ferry, many pointed out that being a mother added to their abilities as executive leaders and it gave them a particular grounding and sense of perspective, as well as gave them practice on patience and compassion, along with setting appropriate boundaries, creating clear expectations, and making unpopular decisions.

Korn Ferry also found that women are motivated by purpose  and creating a positive culture. Purpose and mission were central to their messages as leaders and working to create a more positive culture was a primary way those women carried out purpose and mission in their companies.

So as Korn Ferry does for every section, they outline key takeaways for women and for organizations. I want to continue to highlight them for you because I think if you take nothing else away from these installments, you takeaway from this section something that could be useful for you in the future.

Takeaways for organizations

  • Organizations need to re-calibrate how they recognize ambition.
  • The drive in high-achieving women may not manifest as corporate-ladder climbing or jockeying for promotion.
  • Men who might be motivated more by advancement could be more willing to take any promotion as long as it progresses their careers.
  • If women hesitate or turn it down, this can be misconstrued by the organization as a disinterest.
  • Organizations also have a big problem if women aren’t interested in the top jobs that are offered.
  • Sr. leadership and c-suite roles need to be described in a way that captures the challenge and opportunity they present, as well as what outcomes are possible and needed. This is what speaks to women’s sense of purpose and desire to contribute value and shape culture.

Takeaways for women

  • To navigate into leadership roles, women have to resist inclinations to be overly self-reliant, which can be part of that “head down” focus.
  • They need to create a strategic network, because without those relationships they don’t have influence on the things that matter to them.
  • Results don’t speak for themselves; some positioning and packaging is needed for people to notice.
  • Women should seek out not just difficult challenges, but also “high visibility” ones.
  • Negotiating with a partner or spouse as to who takes a big job and who manages the personal side of life is crucial. This can have implications very early on, even in the kind of person who chooses one chooses as a partner.

I hope you enjoyed this installment! Next up I will examine some of the major turning points in women CEO’s lives that impacted their road to CEO per Korn Ferry’s research.

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Part One: Something we don’t talk about – Women CEOs

A couple of months ago I was attending a conference where they had a panel that consisted of Women CEOs, specifically in the utility industry. The panel participants were also the same CEOs who had been interviewed for a Korn Ferry Institute research project titled Women CEOs Speak – strategies for the next generation of female executives and how companies can pave the road. This project was also supported by The Rockefeller Foundation.

Korn Ferry is the preeminent global people and organizational advisory firm. They help leaders, organizations, and societies succeed by realizing the full power and potential of people. Korn Ferry Institute is Korn Ferry’s research and analytics arm, and was established to share intelligence and expert point of views on talent and leadership. They do this through studies, books and a quarterly magazine, Briefings. They aim to increase understanding of how strategic talent decisions contribute to competitive advantage, growth and success. So, as you can imagine I knew immediately that they would have an interesting take on women CEOs (or lack-there-of).

What motivates a study like this? When roughly 94% of Fortune 1,000 CEOs are men you may ask yourself, “what qualities drive the 6% who are women in the most elite reaches of corporate leadership?” To find out, the Korn Ferry Institute studied 57 women who have been CEO – 38 currently and 19 previously – at Fortune 1,000 – listed companies and others of similar size. They analyzed structured interviews with all 57 women and the results of psychometric assessments taken by two-thirds of them. The Rockefeller Foundation, which funded the research, wants to change the astounding fact that only 6% of Fortune 500 CEOs were women in 2017. Re-read that again. Only 6% of Fortune 500 CEOs were women in 2017. I know I have written a series in the past about women in the workforce, and I try hard to not sound like a hell-bent feminist (not that there’s anything wrong if that’s how you describe yourself) but I try hard to support women’s rights but also not be so into it that I don’t have a realistic viewpoint of what is going on. I think this study does just that by taking a very hard look at what is keeping women CEOs from becoming a norm and not a “nice-to-have” at companies. The Rockefeller Foundation, has established a target through it’s 100 x 25 initiative which is to have 100 women leading Fortune 500 companies by 2025. Korn Ferry’s portion of that initiative, called the CEO Pipeline Project, seeks to learn from the women who have already succeeded at becoming CEOs, and what women in the workforce now can do to take the CEO path, and most importantly, what companies and organizations can do to help women succeed along the path to CEO.

I have a copy of the study and found it moving so much so that I wanted to share it here, along with my thoughts – especially given that I have never had a desire to be a CEO, let alone even manage people. Nonetheless, I still felt it was interesting and useful information to share. Also, I feel as if this holds a special place in my heart. When I was working at the utility, I was present for the announcement of the utility’s first female CEO. It wasn’t lost on me that I was witnessing history, and she was also part of this study. I hope you enjoy what I have to share and reflect on with this topic.

To ground this research, Korn Ferry gathered publicly available biographical data about all female CEOs in 2017 Fortune 1,000 companies and compared that to a parallel example of male CEOs who led companies of the same revenue size. Interestingly, when demographically compared, male and female CEOs look very similar, and while the differences are subtle, they definitely add up. Here is a quick comparison:

  • The women were, on average, four years older when they got their very first CEO appointment, though it is worth noting that in the study’s male sample many CEOs were their company’s founder.
  • Overall, the women accrued more diverse experience by working in a greater average number of senior roles, functions, companies and industries.
  • The fortune 1,000 data also reveal that female CEOs are not spread evenly across industries.
  • They are in greater numbers in consumer goods, utilities, and finance (particularly insurance), but less represented in industrial companies and the health and life sciences.

The next question Korn Ferry asked themselves to ground their research, was: “is 100 x 25 attainable?” The answer is yes, but the pace needs to accelerate. They found that in higher-revenue Fortune 500 companies, women held the CEO role at 32 companies in mid-2017, up from 12 just a decade earlier and two in 1997! Now, this next fact surprised me, especially in comparison to other countries…it currently takes 269 days on average to place a female CEO in the US – which is 30% longer than the 207 days to place a male CEO. When compared to Europe and Middle East markets, there is no such delay and women are placed 14% faster than men, and in Asia-Pacific where they placed women 22% more quickly. What Korn Ferry says this suggests is that boards of directors in the US still aren’t open to female CEOs as boards in other countries. So, what gives?

Before I dive a bit deeper, for those of you who have the analytic mind (not me), I will outline the Korn Ferry Institute’s research tools:

  • Korn Ferry conducted structured interviews with the 57 CEOs, asking about key events in each woman’s career progression, including pivoted experiences, set-backs, and factors that enabled or hindered her success. These were analyzed and coded to determine common themes.
  • Their assessment for executive leaders specifically measured:
    • Traits: A person’s inclinations and aptitudes, such as personality traits and intellectual capacity. Traits also include attributes such as assertiveness, risk-taking, optimism, and confidence.
    • Drivers: Deeply held values and internal motivators that guide a person’s actions and decisions. A desire for power, challenge, or work-life balance are things we categorize as drivers.
    • Competencies: The observable skills essential to management success, such as innovation and strategic vision.

Some of the main characteristics identified were personal fortitude and courage – or what they like to call “the right stuff.” That’s what female CEOs exhibited in their assessment scores, beginning with their traits. According to Korn Ferry, their mean score matched their CEO benchmark on 16 of 20 traits, including persistence, need for achievement, curiosity, focus, assertiveness, risk-taking, and empathy. I know, as a woman, that I have many of those characteristics myself, and they are among the characteristics about myself that I am most proud of, so it was no surprise to see those reflected in their study. The places in which women deviated from the benchmark were in humility, confidence, credibility and openness to difference.

I have always believed that how you are brought up and just your own personal makeup is identified early on in life. Korn Ferry’s study found similarly, that personal traits are not immutable, but they are established early in life and difficult to alter. So, the close alignment to the CEO benchmark suggests that these women had the style and mindset of a CEO early in their careers. I thought this was so interesting! So, remember when you hear someone say – that little girl will be a CEO someday…they just might be on to something!

Additionally, Korn Ferry found that humility and valuing others reign over confidence, ambition and drive growth out of early formative experiences, and their outlook is optimistic and fearless. I’ll break them down below:

Humility and valuing others reign over confidence

  • High humility scores indicate a lack of self-absorption and more importantly, an expressed appreciation of others.
  • These women are very willing to give credit to people and situations that contributed to their success.
  • The female CEOs repeatedly made note of people who’d helped and supported them.
  • Credibility is generally shorthand for delivering on your word, but in their assessment it also captures something better described as dutifulness or “good soldier” behavior.

These are so interesting to me. All of those characteristics described above are exactly what I like to see in a leader, and I know for a fact I have made gripes and complaints of a leader lacking in all of those areas. Why isn’t this the norm in all leaders? Maybe that’s the problem – it should be the norm, but it is hard to come by. Could there be a direct correlation between that and the lack of female leadership? Maybe!

Ambition and drive grow out of early formative experiences

  • In the interviews, they heard that these traits have deep roots.
  • Asked about “key events in your career progression that contributed to your development as a person or a leader,” many spoke first not of their career but of their childhood. In their interviews, 23% of the key events the CEOs chose to discuss were about personal experiences unrelated to work.
  • Parents instilled resilience, high expectations, and a strong work ethic in their daughters. Some CEOs had particularly difficult childhoods – a parent was ill or deceased, for example – and they had to take on responsibilities when quite young.
  • More than 40% of the CEOs earned undergraduate college degrees in science, math or engineering. This prevalence of STEM degrees may seem surprising, but similar rates are seen in male CEOs as well.
  • Another 19% studied business, economics, or finance, while 21% were in the arts and humanities.

Their outlook is optimistic and fearless

  • Generally speaking, the women CEOs were not at all cynical about the corporate world they entered.
  • Their traits scores and interviews both indicated that they are highly optimistic, trusting, sociable and empathetic.
  • The interviews underscored how much emphasis these women placed on being authentic and remaining true to themselves.
  • Compromising on their values – or on their vision – is not in their makeup, even if it would mean turning down some opportunities for advancement.
  • Some said they didn’t feel they could give their all to a goal, strategy, or company that they didn’t believe in.
  • These women seek input at critical stages, then solidly make up their mind. And these women are exceptionally focused on pursuing their own vision.

What I especially appreciate about this study, is that they highlight key takeaways from each section for women and then separately for organizations. As you can imagine, especially given the numbers Korn Ferry offered about the slowness in approving women CEOs, organizations and companies can still take a word of advice on how to cultivate and identify potential women CEOs. To give you a taste of how Korn Ferry offers key takeaways for each section, below I have listed the takeaways for the information just outlined.

Takeaways for organizations

  • The traits that made these women CEO material – curiosity, willingness to take risks, persistence, and a need for achievement – were reinforced early in their lives. But these traits are not rare among women, and can be further cultivated in the workplace.

Takeaways for Women

  • An education in science, math or engineering sets a strong foundation for becoming a business leader.
  • While confidence is important, tempering it with equally high levels of humility doesn’t seem to have hurt these CEO’s careers.
  • Women should also pay attention to the issue of openness to difference. Women who are in the minority in an office might presume they are sufficiently exposed to differing (in this case, male) points of view. But CEOs aggressively seek out others’ opinions as they shape their own strategic vision.

I hope you have found this first installment of the Korn Ferry Institute’s “Women CEOs Speak” interesting. To really give you a detailed idea about what characteristics are most prominent in women CEOs is a great way to ground the study and to kick off my series of posts. Next up I will share with you how the traits outlined by Korn Ferry in this blog post are the ingredients needed to become a CEO. The main question Korn Ferry poses though is, what values and interests or motivators, referred to as drivers, guided the women’s career decisions?

Let me know what you think about this blog post and anything else you’d like to share about female CEOs!

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Wishbonedreams Turns Two!

WordPress kindly reminded me that my blog turned two last month. Last year I was so excited and so aware when my blog turned one, that I did a whole reflective post and stats on my first year which you can read here.

This year, I was thinking it would be fun to reflect on my very first blog post, which you can find here Four Girls, a Road Trip & Camping. Two years ago myself and three girlfriends (the same three I was in Italy with), decided to road trip up to Oregon and go camping. And not some like comfy camping – I mean don’t get me wrong we had bathrooms and showers – but we also did good old tent camping. It was a lot of fun, but in reflecting on the post I realize how much my blog has changed. I’m still trying to figure out what the niche is – is this blog a travel blog? Not really. I travel, and occasionally share it on the blog, but that’s not it’s main focus. Is my blog about beauty products and outfits? At times I focus on those things, but not all the time. Is my blog about women empowerment and inspiration? Sometimes! The point here is that I still haven’t determined what this blog is supposed to be like, but people seem to enjoy it so I just write about whatever it is I’m feeling.

When I think back on the time I wrote my first blog, I had just changed jobs and was no longer doing executive communications. I was worried that my need to write wouldn’t be satisfied after removing that part of my daily work, so the blog was something to fill that void. It has definitely done it’s job! So much has changed since then! I am no longer working in that position, or at that company for that matter. I have traveled so much more since then – Italy, Mexico, all over the U.S. – and my relationships during that time have evolved, or gone away all together – both good things if you ask me 🙂 But what I’ve realized the most and appreciate the most is everyone who reads this little blog, and though I don’t always know how people are feeling about it, occasionally I’ll see someone I haven’t seen in a while and they’ll tell me how much they love reading my blog, and that is the reason I keep doing it! I enjoy it, it’s a way for me to express my feelings or share my experiences, but ultimately I love hearing that people enjoy it. For me, that’s the point.

I’m keeping this one short and sweet because really this is to say THANKS to the people who take the time read my little blog when it posts. Life gets hard sometimes and doing this makes me happy, and so I hope that reading it makes you all happy and relieves a little bit of the madness that life provides.

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How to Pack for a Work Trip Like a Pro

When I took my new job I knew that there would be some travel involved. What I didn’t realize was just how much travel. Since the end of March I have traveled to Austin, Orlando, Chicago, New Orleans and San Diego – five different cities and four different states (I live in California), all within a four week period. That’s a lot right? As you can imagine, I had to figure out the best way to pack for these trips, because not only am I out on the exhibit floor but there are always activities during the evening at these things as well. With that said, I had to take to my list-making skills and really plan out what I was going to wear and when.

I gave up on the idea of only taking a carry-on. It’s not worth the stress of trying to put a week’s worth of clothes into a tiny bag, so eliminating that right off the bat was very helpful. I realize that many people only ever want to take a carry-on and by all means I feel that way a lot of the time, but for work it just made more sense to take a bigger bag. Anyway, I figured I would list here the process I use for packing. I realize other people probably have a more efficient way of doing this, but this really keeps me organized.

  1. I scroll through my Pinterest account for outfit inspiration. I used to do this the night before work every day (before I was working from home), and would frequently find cute outfits that I could put together just from looking at some of my style boards on Pinterest.
  2. I make a list of the outfit that I’ve been inspired by.
  3. Then I make a packing list that will include all of the pieces that I am planning to pull, in addition to things like underwear and pajamas.
  4. Pull the pieces from my closet and try them on. This is important…there have been times where I have packed something that I was certain would look great on, only to find out at the hotel that I was very, very wrong. So, now I always try it on first before I pack it.
  5. Take a photo of it once it’s on. Sometimes once I’ve tried it on and packed it, I get to the hotel and think, ‘what the heck did I pack this to go with?’ So, to avoid that, I will take a photo of the outfit I tried on so that I can reference it once I’m in the hotel.
  6. Shoes! Be strategic with shoes. Try to pack a shoe that will go with more than one of your outfits.
  7. Jackets – I try my best to wear the one jacket I’ll want on my trip, one the airplane – that way it takes up less room in my bag.
  8. Throw some dryer sheets in with your clothes! It will keep them smelling fresh. Isn’t that the oddest thing? I pack clean clothes, pull them out after half a day of travel and boom, they don’t smell clean!
  9. I always, always unpack completely once I’m in the hotel room. I used to not do this…I would literally live out of my suitcase and not unpack anything, but now that I’m traveling more for work it’s essential to unpack especially for those pieces that will get wrinkled during travel in your suitcase.
  10. Roll you clothes. I’m sure most people already do this, as I’ve been doing it myself for sometime – especially when I packed 10 days work of clothes for an Italy trip into an international sized carry-on.

That’s my list! I hope you find it helpful. I do have some new ideas though that I’m going to try out for one of my next trips for sure. For example, I keep seeing things about packing cubes. It’s supposed to keep things compact and organized – definitely something I’m going to look into purchasing. I also read that packing your socks and undergarments in a small reusable cloth bag helps with organization as well. Given that we use reusable bags for everything I’m definitely looking forward to trying that. Especially because I’m notorious for throwing all of my dirty clothes in the dry cleaning bag and separating them from my leftover clean clothes when I travel home. And another thing…I have yet to find a suitcase that I just love, so that is definitely on my list for future purchase, so if anyone has recommendations let me know!

Until next time folks!

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Working from home: 10 ways to stay productive AND focused

A little over three months ago I started a new job which also includes working from home. I do have a local office about thirty minutes away from me, so if I do need to be present for something it’s not an inconvenience. I have to preface all of this by saying that I came from a previous work environment where it was often frowned upon to work from home. I will say that it was getting better (allowed one day per week to work remote – to enhance that work-life-balance stuff that everyone talks about, but no one really has), so I had a taste of what it can be like to work from home.

So, when the opportunity was given to me to expand my career, make more money, and work from home I was all too willing to explore it. I mentioned in a previous blog post that I did not make that decision lightly, and I stand by that, but the things that ultimately factored into making the decision I listed above. One of those big factors was a huge adjustment for me: working from home.

When I tell people I work from home their eyes light up and I usually get, “that’s so awesome,” “you’re so lucky!” but I also get the occasional, “isn’t it hard working from home?” “how do you stay focused?” Bottom line is this…it was an adjustment, and my boss at the time was worried that I would get lonely. She had previously worked at the same place I had been working and knew what the culture was like there, but I strangely found myself really happy – at first. I can be very social, but I can also be very, very introverted. It comes and goes. I have found though that working from home can contribute in both a negative and positive way when it comes to my state of mind and how I’m feeling.

The first couple of weeks on the new job I had to go into the office – I wasn’t quite set up for working in the system (IT stuff), so it was good to get to know some people so that when I am in the office I have someone to say hi to and chat with. But after that I was 100% working from home. Now that I’ve been doing it for a little over three months I thought I would put together some tips on how to stay productive while working from home, these are also tips on how I keep a positive state of mind while working from home:

  1. Act like you’re still getting up to go to work – I still set my alarm for 6:30 am. Also, it helps to get a jump start on the day because most of the folks I work with are on the east coast, and in some cases in Germany. Do I get fully showered and dressed at 6:30 am? No, but I do get my cup of coffee, launch the computer and start looking at what my day is going to be.
  2. Separate your work space from your living space – I learned this the hard way. My mom was painting my desk for me (she’s super crafty like that) so there was a delay in getting that space totally set up, which was fine because I was really just trying to get myself acclimated to the new world I had just embarked upon. However, I realized that working from the couch is a terrible idea. Imagine sitting on the couch and working for eight plus hours, then continuing to sit on the couch to watch TV in the evening? It was fine at first, but I realized quickly that having a separate working space from your living space is essential.
  3. Create a schedule/routine for YOU that works for YOU – Do you normally go to the gym like I do? I realized I now had the flexibility to squeeze the gym into the middle of my day. Not only does that break up my day, but it also gets something I dread leaving till the end of the day out of the way. It also gets me up and out of my desk chair. Which leads me to number 4…
  4. Take breaks – this may seem like a no-brainer, but here’s the thing…when you’re working at home you just crank things out. I’ve had days where I didn’t leave my chair for hours, which is not good! So, breaks for me consist of walking the dog, going to the gym, making my lunch and eating it not at my desk, folding my laundry and putting it away, even cleaning the bathroom! Seems ridiculous I know, but it gets you away from your desk to take a break, and in some cases mark a chore off of your list!
  5. Don’t stay in your pajamas all day – While some days this sounds like the BEST, believe me it’s not. Always get yourself out of your pajamas. I mentioned above that I start my morning in my PJ’s, but I don’t stay like that all day. I will often take my morning calls and then get ready for the day – even if that means putting on gym clothes for later – the bottom line is that you get yourself out of your pajamas! Sometimes I will get fully ready – makeup and hair without the intention of going anywhere, just to feel like I’m put together and not a total bum.
  6. Try to work no more than an eight hour day – I know I wrote “try,” and I did this because it’s not always that easy. For example, I took a couple of days off a week or two ago, I paid for it when I returned as I had two ten hour days that week. But it happens…and if it isn’t necessary then DON’T DO IT. Don’t put in the extra two hours every day just because. Would you do the same if you were commuting to an office every day? Probably not. Would you do it if you had deadlines etc.? Probably. Don’t change how much you would or wouldn’t work simply because you’re working from home and it is always accessible and right there at your finger tips.
  7. Keep your desk and general work area clean and organized – I try to clean up a bit every day when I’ve wrapped things up. It can be difficult at times, but if I don’t get to it, but the weekend I will definitely clean things up and get things organized for a good start to the following week.
  8. Make time for people – I have found myself cancelling plans because I get into this weird anti-social funk, which I believe is a result of working from home. Make yourself go and be social. Some weeks I’m dying to visit with friends, and others I’m introverting big time. Either way, try to make time for those people, it will give you a boost of energy and feeling of purpose outside of the house and your work space.
  9. Set daily goals – I did this even when I wasn’t working from home. I have this huge planner that I write my lists in (YES, I write my lists – I don’t keep them typed somewhere). I take great satisfaction in marking something off of my list. But, in all seriousness, if you kept lists or sticky notes everywhere in your work cubicle, do the same at home, it will help you feel comfortable and organized.
  10. Be grateful you get to work from home – don’t forget that working from home is a privilege – it really is! I commuted via train for ten years before getting the opportunity to work from home, and sat in a cubicle for the same amount of time. Don’t forget to be grateful for it, even if it feels like a challenge at times.

There you have it! These are just my tips with a mere three months in, but I think they are helpful. I’m sure they will change and I’m sure in another three to six months I’ll have more to add to this list, but these ten things I have found helpful in the early stages of working from home. Does anyone else work from home and have tips and or tricks to add that I didn’t list here? I would love to hear them!

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Book Review Part Two: The Confidence Effect by Grace Killelea

This is part two of my book review of Grace Killelea’s “The Confidence Effect.” If yo haven’t read part one, definitely take some time to read through it. Where we left off was discussing Killelea’s 4Rs of Success. This second installment will discuss her take on understanding and mastering relationships and how important that is to the Confidence Effect.

We will start with relationships. According to Killelea, the first tool in moving from competence to confidence involves understanding and mastering the power of relationships. This is often an area people think they should navigate alone, but according to Killelea, the fact is that powerful relationships can greatly enhance and accelerate our ladder to success. I know that I keep saying I love the message Killelea is trying to convey, but folks…it’s so true! We often think that the work place is no place for relationships (and I’m not referring to romantic relationships), but legitimate connections with the people you work with. Killelea considers this “the power of relationships.” Our relationships are connected to our networking abilities, which she considers one of the “secret ingredients” to becoming confident to the core.

Many women form fun, lasting, and friendly relationships at work that don’t necessarily contribute to their growth as potential leaders but do promote their physical and emotional well-being. This is healthy and good. It enhances our experience at work. I most definitely can relate to this, and at times to a fault. I have a number of very special relationships I have made at a number of my previous places of work, and while they didn’t all necessarily benefit me in terms of promotion etc., they gave me an emotional sense of worth at work, which at times can be very lacking when it comes to your day-to-day activities and deadlines.  According to Killelea, these powerful relationships come in many different forms:

  • The team member who supports, challenges, nurtures, and enlightens you
  • The manager who drives you to excel
  • The peer who supports, encourages, and aids your desire for personal and professional growth
  • The mentor who continually questions and challenges your choices, often with a positive result
  • The people you trust who tell you the truth
  • The leader who inspires you
  • The powerful allies and sponsors who can open doors and provide you with opportunities

I have always been brought up to kill people with kindness…no matter what. I have even been criticized at work for being, “too nice.” But, you know what? People have nice things to say about me. I haven’t been labeled unapproachable or someone who always says “no.” That is extremely important to me, because it better reflects exactly who I am outside of work. Here is one of the main reasons why, because you never know – peers become managers, managers become leaders, and team members get promoted, shifted, downsized, or move on to different organizations or companies. According to Killelea, the larger and more powerful your network, the more dynamic, changing and powerful you become as you grow along with it. And, consequently, the fewer relationships you’ve fostered in and out of the workplace, the fewer resources you’ll be able to draw on in times of need.

The next topic is something I personally experience and believe is so important: mentors, sponsors, advocates, and champions. It’s important to note here that these are not one in the same, but indeed have different roles they play in your life. EVP and COO of Cox Communications, Jill Campbell, insists on the matter of mentors versus sponsors, “People talk a lot about having mentors. I think that’s important. But I think it’s equally important that you have a sponsor. Women tend to think that their work is going to get them there, but they’ve got to figure out somebody in the organization that is going to take notice of them and who says, ‘Wait a minute! What about Jean?'” According to Killelea, identify advocates and develop an authentic relationship with them. The key here for me is the word “authentic.” Don’t choose someone to be your sponsor because he or she is a director or a VP and can help you climb the latter. In actuality, that person probably won’t want to give you five minutes because 1. they are generally very busy people and 2. they will pick up on how un-authentic or authentic you truly are.

I have someone who began as an advocate for me while he was a director, and my boss, and who eventually became my mentor as he moved into a higher leadership level of VP. We established an authentic relationship that to this day means very much to me, and while he advocated and helped me move through my career, once he stepped into a busier and more demanding role he became my mentor and someone I could come to with work-related issues or tough decisions I knew I was going to have to make. He is that person who will ALWAYS give it to me straight. I came to him one day very upset because I had gotten some feedback that I felt was completely erroneous. He put it into perspective for me. While he didn’t agree that the feedback I received was 100% accurate, he did want me to think about it in a way of, “what if a tiny bit of it was true?” Then what? While I was surprised by it, I also understood what he was trying to do. Everyone needs someone like that in their professional life.

Killelea says that advocates are at tables that you are not, and they can open doors for you. They can speak on your behalf, and really fight a battle for you or get in front of you, when you would never have the opportunity or you don’t know the opportunities that exist. An example I have of the importance of an advocate was during a scary time where layoffs were happening. I lost all of my team during that layoff. Only two of us were left standing, and we were reorganized onto other teams. I was also brand new to that team (only about 3 months) so I felt even more vulnerable to losing my job than most. When I realized I was OK and I was staying I had to leave the office to get some air. I had never, and have yet to experience this since, but literally it felt like the air had been sucked out of the room. On my way out of the office to go for a walk around the block, I ran into that person I described above. He asked me if I was OK. I told him yes, but that I had lost all of my team and had been moved to a new team. He told me that when he saw the plan for layoffs the first thing he asked was if “Nikki was going to be OK.” He told me that if I had been on the layoff list he would have figured out a place for me on his team. That meant more to me than anything…especially given the day I had been having. That is an advocate (BTW he was still at the director level – remember, I mentioned that he moved from advocate to mentor for me over time).

Simply put by Killelea, relationships strengthen your network, and in turn, your network strengthens your organizational brand. Remember, all of your workplace behavior reflects on your brand. The stronger your brand, the stronger your confidence level – real and perceived. Killelea says to think of your brand as as the unwritten – but undeniable – “echo” that remains after you leave the room. So, ask yourself:

  • What is left behind for people to remember?
  • What is the impression that remains long after you’re gone?
  • How did you treat people?
  • What did you say?
  • How did you say it?
  • Whom did you say it to?
  • How was it received?

For women especially, how you treat people and how proficient you are in your current role is what really helps determine how strong – or weak – your personal brands may be. Killelea explains that a good place to start building those relationships is also through LinkedIn, which has become such an important platform to have as updated in real time as possible. Killelea also points out that many times women think they’re networking when, in fact, they’re not – so Killelea has a basic definition: IPO: Information, Power and Opportunity.

Information – Networking is first and foremost an information gathering – and giving exercise. If you’re socializing, great, but don’t call it networking. If you come away from a social, business, or marketing event and know nothing more than you did when you arrived, then you’re not networking. Collecting a handful of business cards is not networking.

Power – Power comes from knowledge, which is why all three of the IPO components are so vitally important to your networking activities.

Opportunity – too many women all think that opportunity will magically waltz into their cubicles and whisk them away to the corner office. They believe the world is “fair,” they will be promoted. Fact is, opportunity is waiting to be discovered around every corner, in every new relationship, and at every meeting.

Killelea says that one of the many misconceptions about networking is that it requires a stern, stiff, and well-rehearsed elevator speech with which to introduce or “sell” yourself. When in fact, IPO – information, power and opportunity – is the fuel that jump starts new information and cements new relationships. Be genuine and your authentic self and the rest will follow when it comes to networking, plus you’ll be more comfortable and not feel like you’re selling a version of yourself to someone.

Another section of the book I found useful was about delegation. Working hard is not the answer. For too many women, working hard seems to be the answer to everything, as if by doing everything, all at once, by ourselves, we can prove we’re worthy of that promotion, raise, or corner office. According to Killelea, in having this perspective we may overlook those team and subordinate relationships that can help us achieve more with less. Learning to delegate allows you the space and the time to lift your head among the crush of work to build your brand and network.

Something that strikes me, and I often see happen, and as Killelea points out, as we move into more senior roles, the work should become less tactical (operational) and more strategic (high-level leadership). This is true and all find and good unless you delegate and then quickly step in to micromanage. This happens I think frequently and unconsciously with women, however we have got to let the reins go! A good delegator, does just, delegates, and then if it looks like it’s going south and the person needs some help, then it’s time to step in and help right the situation. Help is the key word there, not yank it from that persons hands and take it over to fix it yourself. Fail fast, but give your team the chance to do it first. According to Killelea, true delegation relies on trust: trusting team members to do the job to your standards even when you’re not there to micromanage them every step of the way.

I could go on and on about how great this book is, but then you wouldn’t have to go read it yourself, so I’ll wrap things up. As I mentioned in my first installment of this review, I had picked the book up at a time where I don’t think I was in the right head space to receive it. I think that books such as Killelea’s really have to come to you at the right time, but I hope that just by reading this blog post you have a good taste of what the book has for you. It helped me think introspectively, as well as take a look at and examine how I may come off to others. I was able to take inventory of where I am now, how I got here and the people who helped me along the way. I encourage you to do yourself a favor and read it for yourself (and take notes), it’s well worth the time!

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