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Creating Successful Leaders

Millennials and altruism

The next generation of leaders can’t be bought. In traditional business thinking, if you give an employee a raise every once in a while, that’s enough to keep him or her around. Not so for Millennials. According to Forbes Magazine, “They [Millennials] long to be part of something bigger than themselves… Millennials want to lead a balanced life. They want to be happy at home and happy on the job – money is somewhat secondary.”

Additionally, a recent study showed that a whopping 92% of those born between 1980 and 2000 (commonly known as the Millennial or “Y” generation) believe that business success should be measured by more than profit. They want to know that their company is doing good and they want to be a part of it.

I’ve written a past blog post about what motivates Millennials, but this time I’m going to narrow my focus and concentrate on one big motivator: altruism.

Simply put, Millennials care. They’ve been raised volunteering at church and community events, they go on Habitat for Humanity trips, they discuss issues like poverty and social injustice in their classrooms. When all that takes a back burner in the workplace, it can be a bit of a shock for them. They might ask themselves, “Where are all the people who care?” Or “Why doesn’t my company have a heart?” Or “Am I really doing the kind of work I should be doing?”

On the flip side, Millennials are attracted to companies that actively care. 88% of Gen Y women and 82% of Y men believe it’s important to be able to give back to community through work.

What are some things your company can do to engage Millennials (and other caring employees!) in altruistic activities? Here are some ideas:

  • Create a program in your company that rewards good behavior (good attendance, outstanding leadership, team collaboration) with money that goes to a charity of choice.
  • Sponsor fundraisers (such as a 5k run for charity)
  • Create drop-off areas at work to donate used clothing or food items
  • Allow your employees paid time off for charitable work (and keep a board that tracks and celebrates all the different organizations your employees are volunteering for)
  • Promote green living:
    • Provide incentives for biking, ride share, and public transportation
    • Create an eco-friendly cafeteria with reusable or compostable plates, cups, and eating utensils; a compost bin; and locally/sustainably sourced food
    • Provide water bottle refill stations next to drinking fountains
    • Get an energy audit and make the recommended changes. Keep track of your energy savings on a chart that everyone can see
  • Start team fundraising/volunteer work competitions
  • Work on having an open line of communication with your employees so they can bring their altruistic ideas to you!

Margaret Smith is a career coach, licensed Insights Discovery practitioner, founder of UXL, and co-founder of the TAG Team. You can visit her website at

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pecking order at work

I recently watched a highly inspirational TED Talk by Margaret Heffernan, former five-time CEO and “management thinker.” She begins her talk with a study about chickens, performed by Purdue University biologist William Muir. In short, he found that flocks comprised of “superchickens,” or the ones that were the highest producers, tended to fail. They would turn on each other and peck each other to death. The control flocks (groups of average chickens–some high-producing, others not), ended up doing much better and producing the most eggs by far. This is a lesson, Heffernan says, that we can apply to any typical organization.

Many companies make the mistake of pouring resources into the few “super employees” and attempting to groom an elite group to carry the company. This, Heffernan says, often leads to “aggression, dysfunction, and waste. If the only way the most productive can be successful is by suppressing the productivity of the rest, then we badly need to find a better way to work and a richer way to live.”

So, what does make teams successful? According to an experiment conducted by MIT, successful teams were found to have the three following characteristics:

1. High degrees of social sensitivity to each other

2. No one voice dominated the successful groups–the members all contributed roughly the same amount

3. The most successful groups had more women in them (the scientists who conducted this study are not certain why this was the case, but one reason could be that women typically score higher on empathy tests)

In short, groups that are highly attuned and sensitive to each other work better together. Ideas can flow and grow. People don’t get stuck. They don’t waste energy down dead ends.

Heffernan goes on to examine specific ways that companies have encouraged teams to work together and bond. Some companies discourage drinking coffee at your desk–instead, you’re encouraged to go to a common room, take a break, and talk to fellow employees while enjoying that cup of coffee. Other companies have office vegetable plots where people can go and pick weeds or water plants when they need a break. All these little connections lead to a big concept: social capital. Social capital is “the reliance and interdependency that builds trust” and it takes time to really grow and build that trust.

The main lesson from all of this is that we are all valuable components of the team, no matter our I.Q. or level of creativity. Diverse teams that are encouraged to grow, share their thoughts and opinions, and lean on each other are the most successful. It’s time to forget the pecking order and embrace collaboration.

For the full TED Talk, please click below:

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improv workshop

When I first attended a class put on by the Brave New Workshop improv troupe, I was skeptical. How could improvised theater help me, a businessperson? Wasn’t it just for the ultra-creative types and class clowns? It turns out, my skepticism was hugely misplaced.

As I went through several different activities, I began to understand the value of such training for myself and everyone I was with—no matter the personality type. The skills we were learning through improv comedy helped us adapt to new situations, be creative, collaborate with others, and have the confidence to express ourselves, even if we weren’t entirely certain of the next move. These are all essential attributes of a good leader or confident team member.

One exercise especially stuck out in my mind:

We were asked to split up into groups of two. One person pretended to have a box filled with something useless or negative (worms, old gym socks, garbage, etc.) and they were supposed to give that box to the other person and say what they had. For example: “Here, Margaret. I have a box full of old banana peels for you.”

The recipient would have to take the box of useless items and respond in some kind of positive manner, such as: “Thank you, Susan. I will take these banana peels and use them as compost in my garden.”

This exercise works on a few useful skills:

  1. Turning a negative into a positive
  2. Quickly adapting to an uncomfortable situation
  3. Connecting in a positive manner with another person

After the workshop was finished, I felt energized, confident, and ready to take on anything that was thrown my way. I highly recommend using improv workshops as a way to boost your business (and life!) skills and help your team connect on a deeper level.

Contact me if you’d like to hear more about my improv experience!

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decoding hashtags, UXL Blog


Last week, I attended an interesting and educational webinar on hashtags. The webinar was put on by members of the Insights® Discovery team. Through this session, I learned some valuable bits of information that I’d like to pass along to you. Here are a few of my key take-aways.

The Basics:

  • Hashtags are your friends! Use them to make your social media posts more search-able and to connect with other people in your industry
  • Do your research: Know which hashtags are currently popular in your field.
  • #Don’tgooverboardwiththelength Hashtags that are too long are often overlooked
  • Do get creative and have fun with hashtags in your social media
  • Do connect with others in your online community who are using the same hashtags (i.e. #coaching #writer #workingmom)
  • Don’t hashtag every word! It seems desperate and amateur.
  • Know what’s trending and take advantage (some hashtags are used frequently like #tbt for “Throwback Thursday,” in which you’re encouraged to post an old photo)



  • Create a specific hashtag for any event you host and actively encourage attendees to use it. Don’t be shy! Project your chosen hashtag on your powerpoint or print the hashtag on pieces of paper that you put at each chair.
  • If you’re attending an event, see if there is a specific hashtag associated with it. (i.e. #AWP15 for the 2015 Assoc. of Writers Program conference)
  • Live tweet (or use whatever your preferred social media platform may be) and use the given hashtag
  • Connect with other people at the event by looking up the designated hashtag and starting an online conversation

My main take-away: Don’t be afraid of hashtags! They aren’t something “the kids are doing these days.” They are a useful way to make connections and network in your field. Do a little research and then dive in!

Happy hashtag-ing and don’t forget to #havefun

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apples oranges

Your workplace is diverse, whether you know it or not. You may all be similar in appearance, but what about your interests? Work styles? Ways of thinking and doing? Diversity goes beyond ethnicity, gender, culture, and age. It also has to do with diversity of thought and behavior.

Such a mix of perspectives can be healthy for an organization, but only if it’s leveraged correctly. If the minority voices are constantly silenced by the majority, then any diversity your organization may have will not be used effectively.

Understanding and accepting differences in others is fundamental to the success of an organization. It’s what leads to great idea-generation, creativity, and an energized workplace. As a leader, your goal should be to encourage all voices to be heard, and all individuals to be valued.

But where to begin? Insights® Discovery (a tool for understanding and developing unique personalities) provides us with a great model to follow to embrace workplace diversity. Here are their five steps:

  • Build Self-Awareness: Every person brings a unique set of knowledge, experience, capabilities and behaviors to the table. Organizations can and should help their people fully understand themselves and recognize their individual capabilities. We can’t really begin to understand and accept others, unless we know ourselves.
  • Gain Understanding: As individuals, we need to understand ourselves, understand others, and be understood by others. This means approaching diversity with an open mind—a willingness to learn about your co-workers and how they think and perceive the world.
  • Adapt and Connect: Organizations should help their people adapt and connect to get the most from their teams. Adapting and connecting helps you achieve better engagement and interaction with others. Yes, connecting with people who think differently than you may stretch your comfort zone, but you’ll probably be surprised by how much common ground you share.
  • Find Value in Diversity: Insights calls this phase “Moving from frustration to fascination.” Instead of being frustrated by others’ differences, learn about them. Appreciate what they bring to the table and how it adds richness to your work experience. Make your work environment an inclusive one in which differences are appreciated and valued.
  • Leverage differences: The best teams are comprised of a diverse group of people who can bring out the best in each other. This can only happen through honest, open dialogue and a work environment that encourages diversity of thought and perspective.

HOW can you make your workplace open and inclusive? Stay tuned for next week’s blog!

Want more information on how Insights® Discovery can help your workplace? Contact me today!

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

There were many little lessons I took away from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, but one of the greatest ones was about women in the workplace. Her talk revolved around female equality and reclaiming the oftentimes negatively-used word “feminism.”

Being from Nigeria, Chimamanda gave some extreme examples of how women are treated as the lesser gender (not being allowed into nightclubs on their own, expected to be submissive to men, etc.), but she also noted that the problem of female equality is still alive and kicking in the U.S. Take the modern workplace, for example. As Chimamanda notes, “The higher up [the ladder] you go, the fewer women you see.” Last year, only 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs were women.

What follows is an exert from Chimamanda’s TED Talk on selecting an outfit to wear for her first day of teaching at a United States University:

“The first time I taught a writing class in graduate school, I was worried. Not about the teaching material, because I was well prepared and I was teaching what I enjoyed. Instead, I was worried about what to wear. I wanted to be taken seriously.”

“I knew that because I was female, I would automatically have to prove my worth. And I was worried that if I looked too feminine, I would not be taken seriously. I really wanted to wear my shiny lip gloss and my girly skirt, but I decided not to. I wore a very serious, very manly, and very ugly suit.”

“The sad truth of the matter is that when it comes to appearance, we start off with men as the standard, as the norm. Many of us think that the less feminine a woman appears, the more likely she is to be taken seriously. A man going to a business meeting doesn’t wonder about being taken seriously based on what he is wearing–but a woman does.”

“I wish I had not worn that ugly suit that day. Had I then the confidence I have now to be myself, my students would have benefited even more from my teaching. Because I would have been more comfortable and more fully and truly myself.”

The lesson rings clear: Be confident, be yourself! Your attitude and outward projection matters much more than the serious cut of your suit. Dress comfortably and walk into your next meeting with your shoulders up and your head high.

For the complete TED Talk, click the video link below:


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By Margaret Smith

Contrary to what you may expect, promoting the talents of others can actually help to showcase your own skills and strengthen your brand. This magical habit is called delegation, and it’s an essential tool to propelling your own career, improving results, developing your personal brand, and keeping your workload under control.

Let’s all start by taking a moment to acknowledge the often-ignored fact: There is only a limited amount you can do, no matter how hard you work. Because we are not super-humans, it’s essential that we learn to let go sometimes.

This having been said, there is a way to get it all done, and done well: delegation. Often, delegation gets overlooked as a viable tool because it is a lot of work upfront. Instead of doing the task yourself, delegation requires you to share your insights, know-how, and expectations with others.

To Delegate, or Not to Delegate: That is the Question

When faced with a new task, don’t just jump into it right away. Instead, ask yourself, “Would this task be a worthy use of my time?” If you continue to accept projects that don’t align to, or properly utilize, your skills, you’re diluting your brand. Perhaps there is someone else who has the skills to do the task better, or who would be eager to develop skills that the task would involve?

Strategically delegating tasks to others allows you to focus on the tasks that reinforce your real skills—those you want to be known for as part of your personal brand. (If you haven’t yet considered what your personal brand is, now is the time to start!)

How to Handle the “Who?”

When considering who to delegate to, take into account the following questions:

  • What are this person’s skills and knowledge?
  • Does this person currently have space in their workload?
  • What is this person’s preferred work style?

Once you have decided on the best candidate, don’t forget to document the process. When practicing delegation, it’s extremely important to keep track of your processes to save time in the future and develop best practices that promote clarity and efficiency. Just as you, say, develop practices that keep your house clean—washing dishes after meals, placing laundry in a hamper, etc.—creating processes for sharing tasks at work will cut down on confusion and clutter, not to mention saving time and preventing mistakes.

Your Challenge:

Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by your workload, fight the urge to dive headfirst into your pile of tasks. Instead, assess these projects and consider whether or not some of them can be delegated to another member of your team instead.

Do you have any helpful tips about delegating effectively? Please share!

Interested in navigating the changes in your life, finding success in your job hunt, or making the most of your career? Contact UXL Today!

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