I am excited to announce that I am now a blogger with The Huffington Post. I will be writing about women and business, diversity, corporate culture and career management. You can find me at http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/jen-lawrence-/ and if you want to fan me over there, that’d be swell! My first article is on returning to the workforce after taking some time away from the corporate world and can be found here.
So, do you want to live your life like a boss, calling the shots and living on top? Consider living life like a boss. We’ve taken six top tips from the business world that can improve your personal life too.
Have a vision. Any CEO worth their salt has a clear idea of where they want their company to go. Often, there is a vision statement that serves as a guide for customers and employees. At Starbucks the mission is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” LinkedIn has a vision of “connecting talent and opportunity at massive scale.” What is your vision for your life? Do you want to pursue your dream of entrepreneurship? Do you want to be fit, happy and healthy? Do you want to take a few years off to have kids? Do you want to travel the globe? Think big. As Tory Burch said in her commencement speech for the entrepreneurship program at Babson College, “If it doesn’t scare you, you’re probably not dreaming big enough.”
Break things down into smaller steps. Having a great vision is only the first step. If Starbucks simply directed its employees to “inspire and nurture the human spirit” and left it at that, it’s doubtful anyone would have mastered the art of the half-caf vanilla latte. You need to figure out realistic steps to move you toward your dreams. Want to go back to school to get a master’s degree? How are you going to save the money to do that? Can you get your company to support you earning your degree on a part-time basis? Can you save up and then take a sabbatical from work? Perhaps you want to sail around the world. Can you get a job as crew on someone’s boat? Would you be content to forgo lattes and designer shoes for a decade to finance a one-year sailing holiday? Almost anything is possible if you are willing to do all of the small steps required. It’s like eating the proverbial elephant: Do it one bite at a time.
Recognize your strengths. Companies that are successful focus on what they do best. Walmart manages the supply chain to drive lower prices. Apple creates beautiful devices that are easy to use. Disney owns creative storytelling. What do you do best? What key strengths are identified in your performance reviews? Are you a great communicator? Are you a whiz with numbers? What nice things do people write in your birthday cards? Are you charming? Does your openness and honesty draw people in? The key to success lies in identifying what you are good at doing and doing that a lot. In the movie Love Actually, character Colin Frissell knows that his key to success with women hinges on American women finding his English accent charming: “Stateside I am Prince William without the weird family.” His friends think he’s crazy to move to the U.S., but he knows to play to his strengths.
Enlist help. In the Reese Witherspoon movie How Do You Know, Tony Shalhoub’s character reveals the secret to life: “Figure out what you want, and learn how to ask for it.” Rarely can we get everything we want on our own. Successful business leaders are masters at enlisting other people to help them work toward their goals. You can do the same in your personal life. If you want to start your own business, ask a successful entrepreneur if they’d consider mentoring you. If you want to be a better parent, ask someone with functional adult children the secret to their success. Mentors do not have to be formal. As Net-a-Porter’s Natalie Massenet revealed to Financial Times, “I don’t have a mentor in the strict definition. I take as much advice and inspiration as I can from the people I am close to. Sometimes, though, I ask myself: “How would Audrey Hepburn handle this?” The world is full of people who can help you if you are brave enough to ask.
Take stock. Companies are very good at determining how well they are achieving their goals. Sales figures are compared to monthly targets, inventory is counted seasonally, employee performance is reviewed annually, and financial results are reported and analyzed quarterly. It makes sense to take regular stock of your personal progress too. Perhaps you said you’d write a book by age 40. If you have only a fuzzy recollection of your 38th birthday, perhaps you need to get writing. Maybe you wanted to travel a lot, and have yet to apply for a passport. Often it seems like the big things you want to do are pushed aside by all of those little things you have to do: taxes, grocery shopping, returning online shopping mistakes to the post office. In Think Like Zuck, Ekaterina Walter writes that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg regularly asks himself “Am I doing the most important thing I could be doing?” Why not ask yourself the same thing? Are you spending most of your time and energy working on fulfilling your vision? If not, why not?
Focus on the next play. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner has adopted a “Next Play” philosophy for his company based on the practice of Duke Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski. Krzyzewski would routinely shout the phrase during games as a reminder that the next play is always more important than the last one. At LinkedIn, Weiner does not want employees to rest on past successes, or be paralyzed by their mistakes. This approach works equally well outside the office. Got a promotion? Fabulous! Go for celebratory drinks with the gang and then get down to work. Got dumped by a total jerk? Shake it off, as Taylor Swift would counsel. The great thing about life is you can’t be fired or cut from the team. There is always a next play.
Eleanor Roosevelt wrote “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” While she was encouraging personal boldness, the message is also applicable to corporate life. In 2010, Audi stated its bold goal of “becoming the leading brand worldwide in the premium car segment.” They aimed to overtake BMW, who has held the No. 1 sales position for the last decade, by 2020. This audacious goal has helped increase their overall performance significantly — courage pays off. Here are six ideas for bringing Roosevelt’s sense of bravery to the job:
Differentiate between smart risk and silly risk
Being courageous at work does not mean challenging the boss to a dual at the next board meeting. We would never recommend that you walk into a meeting unprepared, take an overly aggressive trading position or give your boss an ultimatum. While these are risks, they are not smart ones. A smart risk pushes you slightly out of your comfort zone without pushing others out of theirs. Smart risks include asking for the sale, asking for the promotion or asking for more responsibility. A manager, coach or mentor can be very helpful in encouraging you to take smart risks.
Have a strong vision of what you want
I used to be terrified of needles and would do everything in my power to avoid them. Then, when I wanted to have children, I had to have needles almost every day. Suddenly they were not as scary, as my clear vision of family life trumped my fear. The same thing happens at work. You might be terrified of public speaking, but if you want to take on more interesting work in your field, the opportunity to keynote at a conference will help you get over your fears. Have a clear vision of what you want, write it down and tape it someplace prominent. The daily risks you must take to get you where you want to go will not seem as scary.
Practice makes perfect
You can practice courage by taking small risks on a regular basis. This could mean anything from asking to be part of a new project, to writing an article for an industry publication, to offering to mentor a new employee. Take on small stretch goals and then climb, jump or borrow a ladder in order to reach them on a regular basis. You’ll get used to feeling brave.
Courage can be borrowed
In a third century B.C. parable from Zhan Guo Ce, a fox is caught by a hungry tiger. The fox, trying to figure out a way to save himself, tells the tiger that he is king of the beasts and should not be eaten. The tiger does not believe the much smaller animal so the fox challenges him to follow him through the forest and see how the other animals react. The two set off together and the other animals, seeing the tiger, run away in fear. The fox takes full credit for their fearful response and the tiger, believing him, spares his life. While this parable mainly seems to be about the gullibility of tigers, it also shows how we can borrow courage. Surrounding ourselves with courageous people can help us to feel bolder. We can attend conferences with like-minded people, join a mastermind group or invite someone we admire for lunch. There are lots of people out there who are taking risks and doing interesting things. Spend more time with them and you will find their courage is contagious.
Practice courage in your personal life
If you are nervous taking risks at work because the stakes feel too high, start building those courage muscles at home. Take the microphone on karaoke night, volunteer for that school committee or sign up for zip lining. If you learn the benefit of taking calculated risks in your personal life, you’ll be more comfortable taking them at work.
Assess the risk
Part of what makes bold actions scary is the inherent downside. Before doing something brave, it can be helpful to contemplate what might go wrong. It’s useful to look at the potential problems (what might go wrong) and the potential causes (why it might go wrong.) You can look at preventing these problems and minimizing the impact should the problem still occur. As an example, perhaps you are contemplating buying a house but are terrified it will burn down. As a way to prevent fire, you can make sure the electrical system and stove are in good working order. As a way of minimizing the damage of a fire, you can install an alarm system and sprinklers. Assessing risk can help you to be more courageous, as it’s easier to take a leap of faith when you are fairly certain it won’t lead to disaster.
We hope you do something today to flex your courage muscles — it’s fun, makes your job more interesting and can serve to inspire others. Most people regret what they don’t do more than what they do, so take a page from Eleanor and do that thing that scares you just a bit.