Leadership Pt 1 – Developing Meaningful Relationships


Developing Meaningful Relationships

Some believe that great leaders are born, not made. I’ve worked with hundreds of leaders and believe this is simply not true. Successful leaders, those who make a real impact, share some common traits that can be developed and honed. With my clients, I routinely work with the C-suite to develop leaders and lay the foundation for a strong culture and ultimately, a strong business.

This blog is the first in a series that will provide simple strategies leaders can employ to sharpen their leadership skills. They are simple, on-the-job self-directed exercises that can be incorporated into a regular workday.  For best results, keep the following in mind:

  • Do each suggestion with a clear purpose in mind.
  • Approach each exercise with a spirit of experimentation.  Not all will work equally well and some may have to be adapted to meet your unique needs and situation.
  • Take time to reflect on how well each exercise went.  Consider questions like the following: What changes did you see? How did you feel about each exercise? How did your direct reports react?

It may also help to keep a journal of each exercise and notes on the outcome. Do not worry about format or grammar. The value is in taking the time to be intentional about your goals and reflect on the outcome.

Building Meaningful Work Relationships

  1. Write a thank you note or “job well done” memo every day for a week.  Be certain your notes are sincere and specific. Make note of how recipients react.
  2. Offer at least one sincere compliment a day to an employee at any level of the company.
  3. Practice common courtesies: apologies, hallway greetings, thank you cards, get well messages, sympathy notes, etc.
  4. Increase visibility by maintaining a visibility log. Use this log to keep track of the percentage of your workday that you are out of your office and talking to team members.
  5. Make a point to ask team members more about themselves, not only about work-related interests but also about their outside interests.
  6. Make a list of ten questions about work performance that interest you. Then make a point to ask all ten questions over the course of a two-week period. The point is to engage your team members in personal and meaningful conversation.
  7. Identify the team members who you have the most trouble with or who you know the least.  Make a point to engage in a friendly one-on-one conversation with each of them.
  8. Make a list of your traits that you believe interfere with your management relationships.  Work to correct each one as you interact with others.
  9. Identify team members with whom you have your strongest relationships.  Make a list of traits that the relationships have in common. Work to nurture these traits with others.
  10. Go a full-day listening without interrupting once.

Measurability Tip – Paper Clip Accountability

Place five paper clips in one pocket. Each time you compliment or meaningfully connect with a team member, transfer one paper clip to another pocket.  At the end of the day, all the paper clips should have moved.


By Christine R. Spray


Photo: ID 109409641 © Edhar Yralaits | Dreamstime.com

The who, when, why and how of effective delegation


Effective Delegation

Are you maintaining a healthy work-life balance?

Is your team taking ownership of projects?

Do you have ample time to check in on progress toward strategic goals?

Can you confidently take a break from your business and know everything will be OK?


If you answered NO to any of these questions, it may be a sign you are not delegating enough.

Not delegating the appropriate work to the right people as often as necessary can have serious personal and professional ramifications. The quality of work may go down, deadlines for urgent deadlines can be missed, strategic planning may likely be put off due to constant task execution, and burn out becomes a higher possibility.

One of the EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System) Five Leadership Abilities® is Delegation. Your ability as a leader to delegate and elevate is a discipline that is directly proportionate to the growth of your company. This allows you to elevate to your true skill set AND elevate the skill set of those around you. If a business requires 120% to run well, the effective leader will delegate and elevate the extra 20% that can’t be done personally. When you arrange the workload so you are working on the highest priority business objectives, and your leadership team and staff are working on meaningful and challenging assignments, you have a recipe for success.


When to delegate

Delegation allows you to make the best use of your time and skills, and it helps other people in the team grow and develop to reach their full potential in the organization. Delegation is a win-win situation for all involved when done correctly. Keep these criteria in mind when deciding if a task should be delegated:

  • The task should provide an opportunity for growth of another person’s skills.
  • Weigh the effort to properly train another person against how often the task will reoccur.
  • Delegating certain critical tasks may jeopardize the success of your project.

Management tasks, such as performance reviews, and tasks with specific staff assignments, should not be delegated.


To whom should you delegate?

Once you have decided to delegate a task, think about the possible candidates for accepting the task. Things to consider:

  • What experience, knowledge, skills, and attitude does the person already have?
  • What training or assistance might they need?
  • Do you have the time and resources to provide any training needed?
  • What is the individual’s preferred work style? Do they do well on their own or do they require more support and motivation? How independent are they?
  • What does he or she want from his or her job?
  • What are his or her long-term goals and interests, and how do these align with the work proposed?
  • What is the current workload of this person? Does the person have time to take on more work?
  • Will delegation of this task require reshuffling other responsibilities and workloads?

When you first start to delegate to someone, you may notice it takes longer to complete tasks. This is because you are an expert in the field and the person you have delegated to is still learning. Be patient: if you have chosen the right person to delegate to, and you are delegating correctly, you will find he or she quickly becomes competent and reliable. Also, try to delegate to the lowest possible organizational level. The people who are closest to the work are best suited for the task because they have the most intimate knowledge of the detail of everyday work. This also increases workplace efficiency and helps to develop people.


How to delegate

Delegation doesn’t have to be all or nothing. There are several different levels of delegation, each with different levels of delegate independence and delegator supervision.

People often move throughout these spheres during the delegation process. Your goal should be to move the delegate to one of the outer three spheres, depending on the task being performed. Make sure you match the amount of responsibility with the amount of authority. Understand that you can delegate some responsibility, but you can’t delegate away ultimate accountability. The buck stops with you!


Keeping control

Once you have worked through the above steps, make sure to brief your team member appropriately. Take time to explain why they were chosen for the job, what’s expected from them during the project, the goals you have for the project, all timelines and deadlines, and the resources on which they can draw. Next, work together to develop a schedule for progress updates, milestones, and other key project points.

You will want to make sure the team member knows you will want to know if any problems occur, and that you are available for any questions or guidance needed as the work progresses.

We all know that as managers, micro-management is not recommended. However, this doesn’t mean we must abdicate control altogether. In delegating effectively, we have to find the difficult balance between giving enough space for people to use their abilities, while still monitoring and supporting closely enough to ensure the job is done correctly and effectively. One way to encourage growth is to ask for recommended solutions when delegates come to you with a problem and then help them explore those solutions and reach a decision.

“The best executive is the one with sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

-Theodore Roosevelt


Key take-away: Delegate and elevate to your true skill set and that of your leadership team.

By Christine R. Spray


Photo: ID 103303519 © Andrey Popov | Dreamstime.com

Employer resources for employee work-life balance


Employer Resources for Employee Work-Life Balance

Happy employees is not something nice for employers to have, it is a need that’s directly tied to the bottom line. Of course, human happiness is worth so much more than a healthy balance sheet. Employers who foster a balanced working environment have employees that are more creative, not afraid to make mistakes, supportive of each other, contagiously happy, AND more productive. And let’s face it, it’s more enjoyable to work with happy people! Encouraging a healthy work-life balance is one of the easiest ways employers can influence employee happiness.

First, it is important to recognize a potentially unhappy employee who may be headed for burn-out. Some signs to look for:

  • Loss of interest: Burned-out employees cannot make themselves care about their work, which is the source of their stress.
  • Lack of emotion: Emotional responses are abnormal when someone is burned-out.
  • Loss of motivation: Former motivators no longer are effective.
  • Possible depression: Burnout is closely linked to depression.

Burnout is directly tied to increased turnover. Consider that when everything is totaled, 150 percent of an employee’s annual salary is the cost of turnover. This number is 200 to 250 percent for members of management.

Offer more employee control

Traditionally, employers set all of the parameters concerning jobs. Keeping all of the control, however, augments stress on employees. Simply offering employees more control over their time can help establish a better work-life balance. Studies show that employee control actually increases loyalty and productivity. When, where and how work gets done is the direct purview of employers. Depending on the type of work, flex time, job sharing and telecommuting may all be viable options for employers to consider.

Ask employees for suggestions

Employees have some of the best ideas on how to improve their jobs and the company as a whole. These ideas, however, are not always communicated. Many employees do not feel that people in management care, and that most managers do not have the time to sit down with each employee. The best way to hear about new, innovative ideas is to create an employee suggestion program. Some tips for improved participation:

  • Make it simple: Create a simple process for giving suggestions; complicated rules do not encourage creativity.
  • Respond: Let employees know that you have received their suggestions and will consider them.
  • Thank: Thank each employee who gives a suggestion, even if they are suggestions you do not use.
  • Reward: Employees who come up with useful suggestions need to be rewarded.

Reward staff

This may seem basic, but rewarding your staff is an effective method for promoting work-life balance. Employees who feel appreciated are more confident, and rewards reinforce the behavior you want to see repeated. Rewards can also provide breaks that reduce stress. Rewards do not have to break the bank. There are simple ways to thank employees for their service.

  • Public acknowledgment of service
  • Extra time off
  • Awards
  • Promotions
  • Parties

Establish consistent communication

Keeping employees informed not only makes them more accountable but also helps them understand where they fit into the overall picture. Such understanding is key for employees to feel valued. Companies using the Entrepreneurial Operating Systemâ (EOSâ) will be familiar with the 5-5-5. This tool is a quarterly conversation managers have with their direct reports to stay connected. It is a regular opportunity to make sure both parties are on the same page with essential roles and responsibilities as they relate to corporate core values. The 5-5-5 is also an excellent way to gauge employee happiness in the role.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Given the unavoidable stress of life, which may be exacerbated at work, employees may face times when they need professional assistance. EAPs provide employees access to counseling and other services. Without the aid of EAP counselors, the effects of stress can spiral out of control. Employer-sponsored EAPs give individuals the opportunity to seek help and learn the skills necessary to improve their work-life balance. Counselors can address a full range of topics causing employee stress, including personal crises, finances,  and substance abuse. EAPs are useful investments because they prevent turnover and reduce absences, plus give employees strategies for work-life balance.

Key take-away: Employers can and should take an active role in helping employees achieve work-life balance.

By Christine R. Spray


Photo: ID 13345878 © Aldegonde Le Compte | Dreamstime.com

Overcome procrastination


Overcome Procrastination – NOW!

Don’t blame it on the Internet. Procrastination dates back to ancient civilization. The Greek poet Hesiod wrote around 800 B.C. not to put your work off until tomorrow and the day after.

There are many reasons why people tend to procrastinate:

  • No clear deadline
  • Inadequate resources available (time, money, information, etc.)
  • Don’t know where to begin
  • Task feels overwhelming
  • No passion for doing the work
  • Fear of failure or success

The ability to select your most important task at any given moment, and then execute that task both quickly and well, will probably have the greatest impact on your success more than any other quality or skill you can develop! If you nurture the habit of setting clear priorities and getting important tasks finished efficiently, the majority of your time management issues will simply fade away.

Assuming that you have already established the foundation of successful time management (setting goals, committing to a calendar, and maintaining focus, as detailed in my last blog post) here are simple ways to overcome procrastination:

  • Delete it. What are the consequences of not doing the task at all? Consider the 80/20 rule, that 80% of your results come from only 20% of your actions. Maybe the task doesn’t need to be done in the first place.
  • Delegate. If the task is important, ask yourself if it’s really something that you are responsible for doing. Know your job description and ask if the task is part of your responsibilities. Can the task be given to someone else?
  • Ask for advice. Asking for help from a trusted mentor, supervisor, coach, or expert can give you some great insight on where to start and the steps for completing a project.
  • Chop it up. Break large projects into milestones, and then into actionable steps. As Bob Proctor says, “Break it down into the ridiculous.” Huge things don’t look as big when you break it down as small as you can.
  • Obey the 15-minute rule. To reduce the temptation of procrastination, each actionable step on a project should take no more than 15 minutes to complete.
  • Have clear deadlines. Assign yourself a deadline for projects and milestones and write it down in your day planner or calendar. Make your deadlines known to other people who will hold you accountable.
  • Give yourself a reward. Celebrate the completion of project milestones and reward yourself for getting projects done on time. It will provide positive reinforcement and motivate you toward your goals.
  • Remove distractions. You need to establish a positive working environment that is conducive to getting your work done. Remove any distractions.
  • Do it now. Do your most important task as early in the day as possible. EAT THAT FROG!

Why would anyone ever eat a frog? If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the rest of the day knowing the worst thing likely to happen to you all day is already over. Your frog is the task that will have the greatest impact on achieving your goals, and the task you are most likely to procrastinate starting.

On a related note, “If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first!” This is another way of saying that if you have two important tasks before you, start with the biggest, hardest, and most important task first. Discipline yourself to begin immediately and then to persist until the task is complete before moving on to something else. Resist the temptation to start with the easier task. You must also continually remind yourself that one of the most important decisions you make each day is your choice of what you will do immediately and what you will do later, or postpone indefinitely. It is OK to say no to requests from others that are in conflict with your goals.

Finally, “If you have to eat a live frog, it does not pay to sit and look at it for a very long time!” The key to reaching high levels of performance and productivity is to develop the lifelong habit of tackling your major task first thing each morning. Don’t spend excessive time planning what you will do. You must develop the routine of “eating your frog” before you do anything else and without taking too much time to think about it.

Successful, effective people are those who launch directly into their major tasks and then discipline themselves to work steadily and single-mindedly until those tasks are complete. In the business world, you are paid and promoted for achieving specific, measurable results. You are paid for making a valuable contribution. But many employees confuse activity with accomplishment and this causes one of the biggest problems in organizations today, which is failure to execute.

by Christine Spray

Photo: ID 57946835 © Jakub Jirsák | Dreamstime.com

Mastering your time during crunch time


Mastering Your Time During Crunchtime

Every type of business has periods of high demand. Whether you’re currently in your busy season or ramping up to it, some preparation right now can help you keep your workload and well-being in check.

Before you reach a breaking point with work, make the time and effort to implement some simple steps into your daily, weekly and monthly routines.

Set Goals

The key to effective time management, both professional and personal, is goal setting. Working towards a goal will help focus energy and reduce the stress that comes with not having a purpose.

Give yourself the best possible chance of success by setting SMART goals:

  • Specific: Goals should be clear and state what you want to accomplish and why it’s important.
  • Measurable: Measurable, quantifiable goals let you know when you’re successful.
  • Attainable: All goals, particularly short-term goals, must be achievable with respect to all pertinent constraints.
  • Relevant: Goals must be relevant to the situation and align with other goals.
  • Timely: Goals require specific deadlines.

Keeping an overarching positive approach to all goals not only keeps propelling you toward completion but can help release your internal “happy drug”, dopamine. Dopamine produces that feeling of pleasure when goals are achieved. Break down your big goals into smaller goals so you have more frequent dopamine releases.

Set goals for the two quarters preceding your crunch time. Based on those outcomes, set goals for each month prior to your deadline. Further break down monthly goals into weekly goals; remember, give yourself the best chance of success!

Commit to Your Calendar

Anytime, but particularly busy times, your calendar is your best tool for managing your priorities and reaching your goals. The secret is to put EVERYTHING in your calendar.

Before your first work day of the week, review your calendar to make sure all tasks related to your goals have an appropriate amount of time scheduled. Client and team meetings should be included of course, but look closely at every deadline for the week and make sure time is allotted for everything. Do you need to do research on a unique client circumstance? Schedule it. Is there a client who is typically slow to send required documents? Schedule time to make a list of outstanding materials and send a reminder. Many people find it helpful to also schedule a time block for making and returning phone calls, rather than constantly being interrupted throughout the day. Be sure the timeframe for each task is realistic.

There is an abundance of calendar apps and software, for both individuals and teams. A tool that allows setting reminders is helpful for more time-consuming tasks. For calendars shared with others, one nice function is the ability to set a “do not disturb” notice. Sure, things will come up. But set your schedule, protect your boundaries, and you, your colleagues and your clients will all be happy.

Do not forget to schedule personal time too!

Take “Me Time”

Even during the busiest days and weeks, a healthy, balanced life is critical for meeting goals during the busy season. While it may seem counterintuitive, work-life balance can actually increase productivity.

The risks of extended periods of intense work are well documented. Overworking takes a physical toll on your body and health. It can also lead to alcoholism, sleep disorder, depression, and damaged personal relationships.

“Me time” doesn’t have to be a spa day or something else extravagant. True “me time” is much simpler. It’s anything you do just for yourself. There is no set expense or time frame to follow when taking “me time.” It can be as simple as taking a walk or browsing the Internet for 15 minutes. The only imperative concerning “me time” is that you actually take it. This is where the calendar comes in!

Put your “me time” on your calendar, and honor it as you would any other task or meeting. You will likely have to adjust your personal preferences during busy time, say working out for 20-30 minutes rather than your usual 60 minutes. During busy times, it’s also important to put all personal and family obligations on the calendar, too. Your pet’s annual vet visit, movie night with your family, grocery shopping – life must continue during peak work times. The people in your personal life are likely supporting you during this time. Be sure to thank them and recognize that time with them is equally as important as the time at work. Your calendar is your reliable resource to make sure you keep all the balls in the air.

Stay focused

Even with SMART goals in place and reliance on your calendar, everyone struggles with focus at some point. And of course, there are always unforeseen “fires” that pop up.

Many people confuse the urgent with the important. Urgent tasks do need to be done quickly, but that does not make them important. We are often stuck completing urgent tasks at the expense of the important ones. Important tasks are the ones that help us meet goals. Often, urgent tasks, such as fixing the copy machine, are distractions from what is important. Learning the difference between urgent and important helps maintain focus.

The Urgent/Importance Matrix

Recognize too, when you are not making progress on your tasks. It may be a sign to take a short “me time” break. Maintaining flexibility is an important skill that takes practice. There are many influences on your schedule beyond your control. Being flexible simply means you are not resisting the inevitable changes of life. Flexibility is not passivity. It is being able to embrace change. This will reduce stress and improve focus and balance. For example, clients that do not remit their information on time will impact your schedule, so adjust your calendar for that day and move the late client to another day.

Too often, the phrase “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” is used to describe the journey toward meeting goals. However, life can be a bit of sprint during busy time. And like any good athlete, training and preparation are critical. Make the time to set your goals, schedule the time to meet them, keep your eyes on the finish line, and you’ll be a winner.

By Christine Spray

Photo: ID 91665892 ©creativecommonsstockphotos_Dreamstime.com

Leverage your best contacts for mutual benefit


Leverage Your Best Contacts for Mutual Benefit

If you resolve to increase your bottom line in 2018, one strategy to do that is leverage your valuable clients and referral sources more. Setting aside a little time for deliberate outreach can yield benefits to you and your contacts.

Some outreach takes as little as five minutes. For example, when reading your daily paper or industry journal, make a point of selecting an article that would be of interest to someone you know and send it with a personal note. Similarly, as you hear of changes in industries where clients and friends work, send a quick email letting them know of impact they may face. As you are doing current client work, periodically and proactively email a short status update with an invitation to reply for further discussion.

At the beginning of each week, plan to contact at least one current or past client. The nature of your contact can serve to maintain current relationships, as well as identify new opportunities. At some point, take a moment to write down what your best clients have in common (traits, characteristics, type of individual or company, from whom they were referred.) This will focus your contact further.

  • Call a client for whom you have recently completed a transaction just to see how well their expectations were met.
  • Pick up the phone and call a client or contact you have not talked to recently – touch base, check in to simply see how the person is doing; consider inviting them for coffee.
  • Schedule a non-billable meeting with a client to review how the relationship is going and address any concerns your client may have.
  • Contact two clients whose businesses or interests may complement one another and introduce them.
  • Identify five clients of yours you would like to introduce to one of your partners or colleagues with a goal of expanding your work with each.
  • Contact a client who recently ended their relationship with the firm and determine what happened; communicate to those on your team to prevent future client dissatisfaction events.

Schedule time monthly or quarterly for larger tasks. Make a list of your top referral sources; call one of those people and schedule coffee or lunch. Routinely review your contact list for accuracy; make corrections and additions and have your assistant enter them. Identify a trade or professional association that attracts your ideal clients or referral sources; attend and consider membership or leadership involvement.

Don’t forget to look immediately around you. Take a partner, associate, or colleague to lunch or coffee and find out more about their current work. Tell your assistant how much you appreciate his or her role in helping you serve others.

Investing time in yourself also helps your clients and referral sources. Read a book per month on relationship building, networking, or building trust and loyalty. Be mindful of how you are spending your time, so you can track what is paying off. Track your time daily (don’t let it accumulate), or ask your assistant to do it for you. Use your time entries as a marketing tool to demonstrate the value you bring to your clients and referral sources; provide more detail. Reflect upon where (and how) you are spending your time on pro bono matters or community service.

Above all else, give to others first without expecting anything in return.


Key take-away: Your richest source of repeat and new business is already in place. Leverage your best clients and referral sources more conscientiously.


Photo: ID 799632 © Photoeuphoria


‘Tis the Season

Happy Holidays! As we get ready for all the celebrations of the season and spending time with loved ones, I hope you take some time to focus on you, too.

Even outside of holiday season, adults are more stressed than ever. Now is a good time to reframe our mental approach to the holidays, and every day. There are easy ways to keep stress at bay:

  • Have realistic expectations. Life, and holiday dinners, are never perfect.
  • Helping others can offer a personal perspective.
  • Love thyself. Self-care helps you be your best, for yourself and for others.
  • Let loved ones know you appreciate and care for them.

As we close out 2017, my final message to you is this. You are special. You are worthy. You make a positive difference in my life. Thank you for being in my circle.

Best wishes to you and yours for a blessed holiday season.


Soft Skills for Success


Soft Skills for Success

Having the technical skills and knowledge to successfully execute your job duties is only one part of being the best you can be in the workplace. In addition to these “hard” skills, we also need “soft” skills. Soft skills are those skills which allow us to effectively work with others. No matter what your position, organization, or industry, you work with people! Taking the time to build effective soft skills can contribute to a more efficient, more harmonious, and more productive workplace, as well as to your own overall job happiness and satisfaction.

What are soft skills, anyway? Simply put, soft skills are the personal attributes that allow us to effectively relate to others. These skills enhance our personal interactions and lead to greater job performance and satisfaction. Unlike hard skills, which are the technical and knowledge skill set we bring to our work, soft skills are interpersonal and can be applied in a broad array of situations. Soft skills encompass both personality traits, such as optimism, and abilities which can be practiced, such as empathy. Like all skills, soft skills can be learned.

Soft skills are personal attributes that allow us to effectively relate to others. Applying these skills helps us build stronger work relationships, work more productively, and maximize our career prospects. Often we place the focus of our career development efforts on hard skills – technology skills, knowledge, and other skills that specifically relate to our ability to get work-related tasks done. This means we neglect to develop our soft skills. However, soft skills are directly transferable to any job, organization, or industry. As a result, they are an investment worth making.

Soft skills include:

• Communication
• Listening
• Showing Empathy
• Networking
• Self-confidence
• Giving and receiving feedback

Empathy is perhaps the most important soft skill we can develop for better interpersonal interactions. Empathy is the ability to identify with another person’s experience. While we often think of empathy in terms only of identifying with someone’s pain or negative experience, we can apply empathy in a variety of situations. Developing empathy allows us to imagine ourselves in another person’s shoes, to respond to others, and even to vicariously experience others’ feelings of emotions. When we demonstrate empathy, we create connections with others, which can help to build teamwork or otherwise create shared goals. Empathy also helps to forge stronger interpersonal connections between team members and colleagues, which is as important as shared goals or complementary skills when it comes to accomplishing work.

Empathy is one component of what is known as Emotional Intelligence, or EI. Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage our feelings so that they are expressed appropriately. Exercising emotional intelligence helps to create harmonious, productive relationships. There are four key components to Emotional Intelligence:

• Self-awareness: The ability to recognize our own feelings and motivations
• Self-management: The ability to appropriate express (or not express) feelings
• Social awareness: Our ability to recognize the feelings and needs of others, and the norms of a given situation
• Relationship management: Our ability to relate effectively to others

Taken together, these skills make up our Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQI). The EQI is a measure of your ability to exercise soft skills such as empathy.

The word “professionalism” often conjures up images of a cold, distant, brusque person in a nondescript navy blue suit. In fact, many people have the sense that to be “professional” is exactly the opposite of demonstrating empathy and emotional intelligence! However, professionalism is a key soft skill, and it doesn’t require you to be inauthentic, distant, or detached. Professionalism is simply the ability to conduct yourself with responsibility, integrity, accountability, and excellence. Acting with professionalism also means seeking to communicate effectively with others and finding a way to be productive. Professionalism involves what may seem to be small acts, such:

• Always reporting to work on time and returning promptly from breaks
• Dressing appropriately
• Being clean and neat
• Speaking clearly and politely to colleagues, customers, and clients
• Striving to meet high standards for one’s own work

Because soft skills are talked about as traits of a person’s personality, it may seem as though you have to born with them. While some soft skills come more easily to one person than they might to another, soft skills are not inborn. Like all skills, they can be learned. Because we all have our own preferences and ways of moving through the world, some soft skills may be more difficult to learn than others. But if we think back, there are also aspects of our hard skill set that were difficult at first, though they now seem to come quite naturally to us. We develop soft skills in the same way we develop hard skills – we practice! Spending time with people who seem to be able to effortlessly demonstrate a soft skill that you find challenging is one way to build your soft skill set. Another way is to seek opportunities to practice in which the risk of failure is low, until you feel confident in your ability. You don’t have to be born a networker or an empathetic person – you can learn and build these skills throughout your career.

Communication is the most important soft skill, because all other soft skills are built on the ability to communicate clearly and professionally. Communication is more than just sending a message – it is also the ability to receive messages, listen actively, and “hear” what isn’t being said. Many times we focus on learning to speak or write clearly, but this is only one component of communication – and perhaps not even the most important!

by Christine R. Spray
Founder & President of Strategic Catalyst, Inc. and the National Business Development Association

Photo: ID 67245584 © Rawpixelimages | Dreamstime.com

Tips: Plan Ahead for Happiness

Most of us spend more time at work than we do engaged in any other activity other than sleeping. If we consider how much of our lives we spend in our workplace, it quickly becomes clear that spending this time unhappy, unfulfilled, and just counting the days until the weekend is a waste of time and energy. Finding ways to be happier at work can not only lead to better mental health, but can improve your productivity and overall work performance. One key way to cultivate more happiness at work is to plan for it! Develop habits that get your work day off to the right start, and you’ll see greater happiness throughout the day and week.

Have a Nightly Routine

Nothing gets your day off on the wrong foot like rushing around in the morning! Lost keys, skipping breakfast, discovering that the pants you wanted to wear are not back from the dry cleaner – all this can throw your morning into chaos. Taking time the night before to organize what you need for the next day can help avoid this morning rush and let you start your day centered, organized, and with everything you need. Create a nightly routine – and follow it! Choose your clothes for the next day, set up your coffee maker (especially if it has a timer and automatic brew!), and pack your lunch. Take time to place the things you will need for work the next day in your briefcase or bag. You might even choose a space near the door to be your “launch pad,” a space where everything you need for the day is in one place and easy to pick up. Your routine will vary depending on what you need each day, what your workday looks like, and what the needs of your family are. It might even help to make yourself a checklist until the routine truly becomes a habit.

Get at Least 8 Hours of Sleep

Sleep deprivation is bad for your mental, emotional, and physical health. It’s hard to feel productive, happy, and positive when you’re exhausted! Making sure that you get at least 8 hours of quality sleep per night is one step you can take to help prepare yourself to be happier and healthier, both at work and in the rest of your life. Many of us are used to running on just a few hours of sleep, or to getting sleep that isn’t truly restful. There are a few steps you can take to ensure that you get the most restful sleep possible and wake up ready to face the day with a positive attitude.

• Steps to Quality Sleep:
o Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – including weekends
o Have a nightly routine that prepares you for bed – shower, tooth brushing, prayer or meditation, etc.
o Put away the electronic devices
o Make your bedroom a sanctuary

Wake Up Early Enough for Some “Me” Time

Getting enough sleep is important, but waking up early enough so that you have time to transition into your day can also help foster happiness. If you usually hit the ground running and leave the house with just enough time to make it to the office on time, you are kicking your day off with anxiety. Waking up even 15 minutes earlier so that you can have some “me” time can help you ease into your day with a sense of centeredness instead of a sense of panic. Some people like to wake up very early and have an hour or more of “me” time, while others just need an extra 10 or 15 minutes to linger over a cup of coffee or tea. Figure out what works for you!

• Ways to Use Your “Me” Time:
o Read the newspaper or a passage from a book you are enjoying
o Pray or meditate
o Do some light stretching or yoga
o Linger over your coffee, tea, or breakfast
o Spend time stroking your pet

It’s important not to use your “me” time to get a head start on your work day by reading emails, working on projects, or checking voicemail!

Give Yourself Time to Arrive at Work Early

Commuting is often the most stressful part of the workday. Whether you drive, walk, bike, or take public transit to work, delays and traffic jams can get your day off to a stressful start. Too often we make this worse on ourselves by leaving for work at the last possible moment, meaning there’s no room for error, and that we arrive at work with only moments to spare before we have to jump into our first project or meeting. All this can leave us frazzled, anxious, and short-tempered. Altering your morning commute so that you can arrive 10 to 15 minutes early for work helps you ease into your workday instead of having to throw yourself right in. And giving yourself that cushion can also give you much-needed wiggle room in your commute to account for the unexpected. When you arrive early, you have time to transition gradually into your work — check email, get a cup of coffee, check your schedule and to do list, or simply say good morning to your coworkers. This helps you meet the day in a positive frame of mind.

Plan Your Day

Taking a few minutes to plan your day can help alleviate stress and promote happiness at work. You don’t have to plan every minute, but having a sense of what needs to be done, what expectations need to be met, and what time and resources you’ll need throughout the day can make your workday run much more smoothly.

Arrive 10-15 Minutes Early

Arriving at work early is one simple step you can take to foster your happiness at work. When you arrive early, you have time to think about your day and make a plan, rather than having to immediately start with tasks and meetings. Planning ahead so that you arrive early means that you can get settled into your day by greeting coworkers, checking mail, email, and voicemail, take a look at your calendar, and otherwise get an overall picture of what your day will involve.

Build in Breaks

We all want to be productive at work. While it might at first seem counterintuitive, building breaks into your day can help you be more productive and happier at work. Building short breaks into your day helps to break work into manageable chunks. It also gives you guideposts to aim for – and if you make a break something to look forward to, you may find yourself working more efficiently to get to it. Breaks give you time to reset, relax, and tune in. They also help you as you transition into different projects or other aspects of your work. Build regular breaks into your workday as you create your to-do list – and put those breaks on your list or schedule, just like you would any other appointment! You can use your breaks to check email, take a walk around the office or even get outside for a few moments, get yourself a drink or snack, or even just take a few moments to not think about work. You might build in different types and lengths of breaks as well, or consider having a coworker who is your “break buddy.” Breaks should be long enough to give you time to reset but not so long that you get completely distracted – 5 to 15 minutes is a good guideline, with a lunch or dinner break being longer. Even if you can’t get up from your desk or out of your office, taking a quick 5 minute break can leave you feeling refreshed and recharged.

Relate to Others

Even if we work well independently, it is important to take time to relate to others in the workplace. Building work relationships helps us feel less isolated and creates a support network. Relationships also help us feel part of a team or workplace community, which can promote happiness. When we have strong relationships with our coworkers, we may even look forward to going to work! Instead of being a place where we are disconnected, work can become another place where we connect with others.

Greet Your Colleagues

Something as simple as taking the time to greet your colleagues when you come into the office can make all the difference! Can you remember a time when someone just saying “Hello” improved your day? When we take the time to greet others, we make a connection. It is likely that your colleagues will greet you back, spreading the good feeling. Starting the day with a positive interaction with another human being helps you feel connected and can turn a rough morning into a productive, happy day. You don’t have to stop to have lengthy conversations with every person you meet, but taking the time to smile and wish them a good morning is a worthwhile investment of your time.

Note: This article was originally published in the Houston Business Journal

by Christine R. Spray
Founder & President of Strategic Catalyst, Inc. and the National Business Development Association


Photo: ID 60375662 © Warrengoldswain | Dreamstime.com

Starting a Successful Business

It is often said that entrepreneurs are the backbone of the nation. Anyone with the passion and drive can become a successful entrepreneur as long as the planning and execution are done well. The first step to becoming an entrepreneur is choosing the ideal business. The business you choose will be determined by its feasibility as well as your own interests and expertise.

Be sure it’s Feasible

You may be passionate about an idea, but if it is not feasible, you will never be able to make it successful. Feasibility describes how simple it is to accomplish something. Before moving forward with any idea, you must determine its feasibility. This requires an understanding of the market and your customers, which we will cover in-depth in later sections. Ask yourself the following questions:

• Do you have the necessary funding?
• Is there a market for your product?
• What is the outlook for the market?
• Can you price competitively?
• How would you operate?
• Would you have a sufficient customer base for long-term success?

Understand Your Interests

Becoming an entrepreneur is not easy. If you do not enjoy what you do, you are unlikely to be successful. Before you choose your business, you must consider what you enjoy doing and think of a way to make this task profitable. Begin by making a list of your interests and see which ones overlap with feasible business models.

Build Experience

Experience and expertise are definite benefits to any business. They are often used interchangeably, but this is a mistake. This point and the next one will help define the difference between the two while helping you identify your own experience and expertise. Experience is something that you gain from observation, encounters, and actions. Many jobs provide experience.

Be an Expert

Expertise has knowledge and skills that come with education and training. This can come from the work experience in specialized positions and from degrees in certain fields. For example, an expert would be an accountant or a chef would be considered experts in their field. Being an expert at a business makes you more capable of running it. If you are not an expert, there is no reason to give up on your idea. If you are passionate about something, take the time to become an expert.

Set Yourself Apart from the Competition

By understanding your competition, you will be able to make yourself stand out. You have already established which objectives your competition is lacking, and you can fill the niche. For example, some customers may be willing to pay more for customer service that a business focused on low prices will lack. Stand out by:

• Expertise – Take advantage of your expertise to draw in customers.
• Value – Explain how you offer a better value than competitors. This requires understanding the customer.
• Communication – Use creative and innovative ways to connect with customers.

Identify the Customer

Creating a successful venture cannot be done without understanding the customer completely. Success depends on identifying what customers want and providing it. Begin by understanding the demographics of your area. This will give insight into the spending habits and values of prospective customers. You should also hold panels and surveys to better understand what your customers expect from you.

Note : This article was originally published in the Houston Business Journal

by Christine R. Spray
Founder & President of Strategic Catalyst, Inc. and the National Business Development Association