October 07, 2015

Are Millennial Moms Cooler than I am?



I am talking to 34-year-old Shannon O'Reilly-Fearn while her twin daughters are asleep. She tells me by phone that she was completely overwhelmed when she found out she was having twins. Now, wants to help other mothers of multiples, which is why she founded her business TwinLove Concierge.

So far, Shannon has been running her two-year-old company for about a year and put every penny she has earned back into it. That doesn't concern her at all. The more we talk, I learn that Shannon is tech savvy and well networked. She knows just where to go online to talk to other mothers of multiples. She has even used social media to find young moms in other cities to help her expand her business and spread her concept -- classes and consultations for expecting mothers of twins, triplets and other multiples.

Not only is she networked, Shannon is fearless and wants to create a company with a mission to help others. She represents the mindset of millennial moms, one I admire. I have my talents, but Shannon is WAY cooler than me when it comes to understanding how to market her business online and where to go to find her target audience.

Watch out employers, Shannon is the manager you want on your team, finding niches and bringing innovative ideas to your organization. But the Shannons out there, moms born after 1980, don't want to work for you if they can be home with their kids earning income AND fit their lives and their work together on their own terms.

In her new book, Millennial Moms: 202 Facts Marketers Need To Know To Build Brands and Drive Sales,  Maria Bailey, marketing expert and author, say there are an estimated 13 million millennial moms Millennialmoms_cover
in the U.S., only about a third of the 42 million millennial women, which means their true impact of millennial moms has yet to be felt.

 “To be competitive, businesses need these women who know how to build online relationships and understand the way millennials are communicating,” Bailey says.

In my Miami Herald column today, I delve into more of the ways millennial moms are different. To me, the most important way is mindset. These moms expect help from their spouse. They expect to balance work and family. They expect to earn income even while home with their kids. They expect to have online relationships with other moms and they expect to try new ideas out, even if the ideas don't work they way they originally expected.
If businesses want to hire and keep these talented women, they are going to need to do something different than they have done the last decade. They are going to need to go online to recruit these women, create enticing career paths, and engage with them on their unique terms. 
It's going to get interesting, but I see big changes ahead for the next generation of mothers in the workplace. It's about time!




September 17, 2015

How to survive a business lunch as a vegetarian

Years ago, I went on a business lunch with my co-worker and a banker. Half way into the lunch, she revealed that she kept a strict kosher diet. I hadn't realized that she had carefully selected both the place we went to and what she had chosen for lunch. What amazed me was that the woman regularly went on business lunches and somehow managed to stick to her kosher diet.

It couldn't have been easy!

A few weeks ago I thought of this co-worker when I got a phone call from Ana Marquez, a senior account executive with RBB Communications in Miami. Ana explained to me that it has been a struggle for her to stay a vegan because of all the business dining she does. "When a client invites you to lunch, you can't always dictate what they give you for food," she explained. 

Think about this scenario a vegetarian commenter wrote on a blog: "I have a lot of business lunches and when the discussion - 'oh why did you order that, you should try.....' it is sometimes difficult to come up with something diplomatic, to not sound like you are judging their choice - which is how so many people hear any explanation...." 

When we go to work, we bring our whole selves and that includes our eating habits and beliefs Sometimes, it's a struggle to make your work life and personal life fit together. Today my guest blogger is Larry Rice , president of Johnson & Wales University’s North Miami Campus. Four years ago he adopted a plant-based lifestyle after learning about its health benefits. It has been a challenge.  

Larry rice

About four years ago, I made a lifestyle change that has changed even the most simple business lunch with colleagues: I began following a plant-based, loosely known as vegan, diet.

Since I started this journey, rarely a week goes by without the following question from peers, colleagues, friends, extended family, and of course the occasional brave souls who just can’t help themselves when they notice something is missing from my plate.  They ask, “Do you miss eating ‘real food’?”  I think I disappoint many with my usual response, “Not ever.”   

My greatest challenges when I transitioned to a plant-based lifestyle were the social changes among the people within my circle of influence. I was not prepared for, nor did I understand, to what extent eating animals protein had been a part of my culture and identity.

My supportive wife and two daughters began this journey with me. Some of my colleagues, including my assistant, also follow a plant-based diet. Yet, it was shocking how many acquaintances and colleagues noticed.  No matter how discrete I was, whenever I would join others for lunch or dinner, I found myself having to explain, sometimes in great detail, why I was no longer eating animal products.

These days, my challenges come from dining out for work.  My job requires me to participate in many business meetings over lunch or dinner, so I can offer a few friendly dining etiquette tips which are helpful whether you are following a special diet, or dining with someone who is doing so.

  1. Always remember the art of dining out is about the fellowship or establishing connections. Don't let your eating preference (or your colleague’s) hijack the conversation.
  2. Don't be defensive or evasive when asked questions. Colleagues may innocently ask how you vary your diet or get certain nutrients. They may also divulge their interest in eating plant-based a few days a week and ask for restaurant recommendations. Be willing to share.
  3. Take initiative. When meeting colleagues for lunch or dinner meetings, I'm often asked to select the restaurant either out of consideration for my lifestyle, or because colleagues want to try a completely plant-based meal.
  4. Be patient with the server. Many servers confuse vegetarianism, veganism, and plant-based.

Today, there are a number of great resources out there to educate people who are considering a plant-based lifestyle. The book Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease, along with the documentary Forks Over Knives and the CNN special “The Last Heart Attack,” prompted my interest in plant-based cuisine and helped me develop the lifestyle I follow today. I have also been fortunate to work at Johnson & Wales University, where colleagues in our College of Culinary Arts are a great source of information.

What’s most important, in both my personal and professional interactions, is that I see my diet to be a change in lifestyle and a personal choice. People have to make choices that are right for them. As such, I am always willing to have a conversation, but I am mindful that I should not impose my views on others.

Ana told me recently she has expanded her vegan diet and become a vegetarian, giving her more food options for business lunches. The good news is that slowly, the restaurant industry is offering more choices to customers including more vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, she says. For people who dine out for business and have diet restrictions, it's still a challenge. But Ana says, it is becoming more doable!



September 09, 2015

Balancing work, family and teaching on the side



My friend Jodi Laurence, a healthcare attorney, just started teaching health law at night. She smiles from ear to ear when she talks about her experience in the classroom.

Have you ever thought about teaching? I don't mean teaching full time. I mean teaching during your off hours...maybe at night or on the weekends...

Those who fit teaching it into their work life balance love it. They say they are getting a lot more out of it than money. 

I've been thinking about the rewards of teaching as a side gig ever since I met Aaron Olsen at a conference in Miami. Aaron lives in Chicago, works as chief talent officer at Aon and just wrote a book called Leading with Strategic Thinking.  He told me his book idea grow out of his experience teaching at night at Northwestern University. He also told me that he and his wife, a stay-at-home mom, take turns teaching one evening a week so that someone is always with the kids. I asked Aaron how he balances work, family and teaching and he shared his insight:

Aaron_olson-6215 croppedMe: What has been the most challenging part of juggling work and teaching?
Aaron: The challenge is really the time, as any hour spent in class or grading student work is time I could otherwise be spending at home. It takes some mental energy too, but thankfully the class I teach is directly related to my day job so it isn't switching gears that much.

Me: Do you feel as if you need employer buy in to have a side gig as a teacher?
Aaron: Yes, I went to my employer to get explicit permission when I was first approached by the university. We have a "no moonlighting" policy at work but this was seen as a case that was complimentary to what I do for the firm. In fact, they really liked the idea since it reinforced our company's brand as a thought leader in the field.

Me: Did your wife always teach or will this help her keep her foot in the door of the working world while raising kids?
Aaron: Jeanne does use her teaching as a way to stay active professionally. It helps her maintain her network and is also a way to keep current in her field.

Me: Do you and your wife intentionally take turns teaching? How does this affect your home life?
Aaron: We trade off class terms over the year - I teach in the winter and spring, she teaches in the fall. The classes we teach are in the evening, so one person is at home with the kids while the other is out. We've also gotten a sitter for one night a week so that we still get some time to ourselves or to stay on top of errends.


In the past few years, landing a side hustle at a local college or university has become easier with schools paring back on full-time faculty and using more adjuncts. Now, as the school year kicks in, a growing number of professionals are juggling side gigs as teachers to gain less obvious rewards. ( I wrote about the trend in my Miami Herald column today)



* A side hustle as a teacher actually helps some professionals excel further at their full-time jobs.

* Others find that by teaching something they are passionate about, they are happier in all aspects of life

* For a professional who wants a new challenge, being on a college campus with young people asking smart questions helps improve skills, expand networks and could even improve marketability.
* Knowing you teach a course, people at work are more likely to turn to you for advice on your expertise on a particular subject.
* Professionals find teaching keeps them current and student questions offer them insight.
Keep in mind that balancing work, home life, and a side job as a teacher can be tricky. Class time is just one component. Teachers must prepare a syllabus, lesson plans and a grading system. According to the American Association of University Professors, the typical equation for calculating preparation and grading time for a three-credit course is three hours for every one hour of class time. It’s safe to assume that adjuncts put in a good 135 hours during a semester. That's a lot of your free time so make sure you're up for it!
Those who do it say it's well worth sacrificing free time for the benefits they receive.


August 14, 2015

Something more important than "fun" at work

I consider my job fun and I love that I do it from home. But at times, interacting with editors from a distance makes me feel unappreciated. I typically only hear complaints or tend to catch them on the phone when they are grumpy. I have learned over many years in the workforce that happiness at work (and what you're willing to put up with) comes not only from our job title, but also feeling like we're appreciated.

My guest blogger today is Neal McNamara, Communications Manager at TINYhr, software to increase employee engagement.  McNamara contacted me to let me know about the correlation between worker happiness and recognition at work and some surprising discoveries his company made when it surveyed employees. You can reach Neal at neal@tinypulse.com. Below is his take on what makes us engaged at work.


NealThe other day at work, I got a very nice thank-you note from a colleague congratulating me for a relatively minor thing I had done.

What’s special about that? The colleague works in the sales department, I work in marketing. We’ve spoken to each other maybe three times. All I know about him is that he likes sports; I don’t like sports at all. We don’t know each other well. That’s why his thank-you to me was so meaningful. He took the time out of his day to pay attention to me, a gesture as shocking to me as it was pleasant.

Showing appreciation for a colleague at work (or even your boss!) is extremely powerful. A new report by the employee engagement specialists at TINYpulse has revealed that frequent recognition reduces turnover, increases the fun-ness of work, is good for branding, and even makes management look good.

TINYpulse is an app that sends one-question surveys to employees every week, which managers use to fix workplace issues. Drawing on survey results from over 500 clients, they were able to find correlations between employees who get lots of work appreciation with other positive aspects of work.

Unfortunately, the study revealed that too few employers are taking advantage of such an inexpensive way to boost morale. Only 47 percent reported getting recognition at work, which means that 53 percent of workers reported low levels of recognition.

Another knockout finding was the effect of appreciation on retention. Any employer knows that replacing an employee is expensive. Replacing an employee can cost up to 150 percent of their salary, and it can take up to eight months before a new employee becomes fully productive.

But take heart: the employees who reported getting lots of appreciation appeared eager to stay in their jobs. They were the most likely to score highly on the question, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how enthusiastic would you be about reapplying for your job?”

The report also revealed a surprising fact about fun in the workplace. The stereotype of a fun workplace might include items like a ping-pong table, free beer, and beanbag chairs. However, recognition dwarfs those perks. TINYpulse found a strong correlation between recognition and workers describing work as “fun.” When asked what makes work fun, 70 percent reported that it was their peers. Only 8 percent credited fun-and-games with making work fun.

The benefits of recognition also extend to the boss. Employees whose bosses gave them frequent, consistent recognition scored high marks. Essentially, workers were more likely to rate their bosses favorably if they got a “Nice job!” when it was deserved.

To put it simply, recognition is powerful. I know because I experienced it firsthand, and it improved my day. As much of a cliché it is, I’ll definitely pay it forward.

That’s an example of how one small gesture can change a whole office.


August 13, 2015

How to return from vacation and stay relaxed


You are on your way back from vacation feeling rejuvenated, but after a few days, you feel like you need another vacation. The tsunami of work comes flooding back with a vengeance. Projects and deadlines you had sidelined now are front and center, and dirty clothes still await your attention.

Is this just the inevitable evil of vacationing from work, or is there a way to return from time off without stress?

The good news is that it is possible to make a smooth transition. This week, I returned from a 10-day vacation feeling great. I followed some of these tips and my return to reality was easier than after prior summer vacations. 

Here are some suggestions for how to return from vacation and stay relaxed:
Start before you leave. Get into the mindset that work may pile up, but you will be going forward with a fresh outlook and a better state of mind. Executive coach Eric Rogell advises you create a “first day back” plan before you leave. “It’s easy to get sucked into emails and phone calls, but those are time and energy drains. Hold off on those and do the important things first. Stick to your plan.”
Delegate. While you're on vacation, if someone else can do it, make sure someone else is doing it. During her vacation this summer in Napa Valley, Kathryn Orosz, a Miami insurance broker and winery investor, designated an associate to cover for her at work. She forwarded email messages that need handling to that person: “They copied me back so I could stay in the loop on how it was being handled. I had to remind myself not to answer anything, just to move the email along.” By delegating, Orosz said she avoided a backlog of correspondence and could jump back in on transactions when she returned, without much stress: “I was just responding on the end of the continuum rather than going back in time.”
Decide upfront how you will handle email. Your decision will make all the difference in your level of post-vacation stress. Rogell said if you’ve created an out-of-office message for your vacation, include directions for whom to contact while you are out and keep the message on for an extra workday. An extra day gives you space to get things sorted out without new expectations piling on. “Use that day to get to the priorities you want to get done,” he said. Even with an out-of-office message, most people check their emails, even if only sporadically. If your emails have piled up, consider making a quick scan, flagging priority messages and deleting all others. Chances are, if it’s important, someone will follow up with you.

Create a buffer.  Professional organizer Diane Hatcher says giving yourself a day or two buffer between vacation and work makes the return much easier. Some people try to maximize their vacation by returning the night before they return to work. They sit on the plane or in the car dreading the next morning and the harsh return to reality it represents. Hatcher advises against that approach. Give yourself at least a day to unpack, wash clothes and open mail, she said. “Sure, unpacking signifies the end of vacation,” she concedes, “but there are consequences of not emptying your suitcase right way.” An unpacked suitcase becomes another thing piled up to tackle while readjusting back to work. “Get it over with, close the door, get dirty clothes into wash, clean clothes put away so you don’t have it hanging over your head,” she said. Instead, you can return to the office ready to take on the workweek.

Schedule properly. Rogell, who loves to take adventure vacations, plans something relaxing the last day of vacation and something fun to look forward to the first post-work evening. He also cautions against packing your work schedule your first day back. Be OK with giving only 70 percent, and don’t force yourself into a 10-hour day, he advises. The goal should be to hang on to that vacation recharge as long as possible.


July 08, 2015

Carli Lloyd, US Women's Soccer Champ, envisioned her goal and we can too


For years, I've been told to envision my career goals to make them come true. 

I've been advised to create vision boards and urged to read books on the power of visualization. And still, I have resisted. I have prefered to take opportunities as they have come my way.

Not long ago, I heard comedic actor Jim Carrey talk about his experience trying to make it in Hollywood. While trying to break into acting, he says he visualized his success and wrote himself a $10 million check for acting services rendered and post dated it Thanksgiving 1995. The amazing part is that just before Thanksgiving 1995, Jim Carrey signed a contract for $10 million.

But today, I am re-committing to visualization after Carli Lloyd explained how it helped her during Sunday's championship game of the 2015 World Cup for Women's Soccer. 

Carli scored twice in the first five minutes and added a third goal roughly 10 minutes later to give her a hat trick in the game (she scored from midfield). While some were surprised at Lloyd’s scoring output for the game, Lloyd wasn’t one of them. Lloyd says that before she left for the World Cup she visualized scoring four goals in a World Cup Final. ( She scored three, but the team scored a total of four in the first half)

USWNT manager Jill Ellis also envisioned success, saying saw her US Women's team lifting the trophy at the end of the game.

While Carli stood out as a superstar, all along the players have said that teamwork and a strong belief that together they could win made their dream of being world champions come true.

For those of us who get bogged down in "doing it all" and forget to envision where we want to go, the lessons from this championship soccer team are inspiring. 

NBC Sports says Carli, who turns 33 years old this month, has evolved from an out-of-shape young player, who was cut from youth national teams and on the verge of quitting the game over a decade ago, to one of the greatest players in the history of the greatest women’s soccer program on the planet now that it has become the first nation to win three titles, in addition to four Olympic gold medals. Carli also won the Golden Ball award for the 2015 World Cup, given out on Sunday to the tournament’s best player.

NBC also called Carli  "the epitome of an athlete who is laser-focused, eyes wide and hungry at every moment on the field." Her secret for success is that she disconnects from her personal life during major tournaments and maintains minimal contact with her family and friends in order to focus solely on herself.

I think we can all learn from Carli's focus on her goals. In the age of distraction, envisioning what you want in your career and staying focused can be a big challenge. But Carli -- and her teammates -- have proved to all of us that it's worth the effort.

You still have half of 2015 left...what goal do you envision accomplishing by year end? How do you plan to stay focused on your goal?


July 02, 2015

More work but we're happy: the new work life balance reality





A strange phenomenon is going on in workplaces. We are walking around, smartphones in hand (sometimes even in bed when we sleep), complaining about how much we're working, and yet -- we're happy in our jobs and have no intention of leaving them.

What the heck is going on? Have we settled comfortably into a new reality?

Here is what new research reveals:  We are putting in more than 8-hour days, working on weekends at least once a month, eating lunch at our desks, and working after hours to complete work we didn’t finish during the day.

Even with our heavier workloads, the majority of employees (85 percent) said they are happy at work and motivated to become future managers. These are the findings of a new Workplace Index study of about 2,600 workers in the United States and Canada conducted by Staples Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples, Inc.

"Workers have accepted that work is no longer 9 to 5," says Dan Schawbel, founder of WorkplaceTrends.com, a research and advisory membership service for HR professionals.  "They might have to answer an email after 11 p.m. I think people have adjusted to the new reality."

So, why exactly are we working so much -- and at all hours? 

More than 30 percent of employees participating in the research say the driving force behind the "always on" work culture is the need to complete work they don't have time to do during the day, followed by a desire to get ahead on their work for the following day.  One in five employees said they spend at least two hours a day in meetings and just as many report the meetings are inefficient (a possible reason we're taking work home?).

While we've accepted the new reality of work life blend, how can we be happier? Here are suggestions given in the Staples Advantage findings.

- Flexibility is key to happiness at work. So true. When I talk to employees I notice the happiest workers have flexibility. In the Staples Advantage research,  37 percent of employees say that if employers provide more flexibility it would increase their happiness.

-Office perks are important too. Employees want simple things like break time to refresh or an onsite gym.

-Improving technology would make a difference. Employees say more advanced technology helps them be more creative and better at their jobs.

-Providing better office design is key as well. Employees thrive in offices with high-ceilings, lots of windows, lounge areas and a laid-out break room designed to promote collaboration and rest.

In a definite sign that workers have accepted the new reality of our heavier workloads, few are planning job changes. Only 19 percent said they expect to make a job change in the next year and money was the top reason.

Schawbel says the research confirms that workers are doing more with less on shorter time frames, and have accepted the 24/7 work philosophy -- if it comes with flexibility.  But he wonders if there will be a point where burnt out employees will push back, especially because the study found about a third of employees consider work life balance the leader contributor of loyalty.

Have you accepted the new reality that 9 to 5 workdays have disappeared? Despite a heavier workload, would you say you are happy in your job?


July 01, 2015

Should your spouse come to the job interview too?


Have you noticed at the Academy Awards, all winners thank their spouses. It's the people you are married to who suffer the consequences of an all consuming job. 

Before taking a job, most of us discuss it with our spouses. We tend to look at what this position means for us and also for our spouse and family -- more money, less time at home, more travel, etc. When I saw an article about a trend toward more companies interviewing candidates' spouses before they take high level positions, it made sense to me. In fact, I applaud the move.

An article in Corporate Counsel says ThoughtSpot, (misspelled in an earlier version) a business intelligence company, invites a prospective employee's partner to meet with CEO Ajeet Singh in the final round of interviews. "I want spouses to know that we're not a company full of mercenaries that are going to bleed their families dry and not care about their life outside of work," Singh told Business Insider. 

While some lawyers advise against companies taking this approach, I think it's fabulous. The legal concern is that the candidate could claim discrimination if the spouses raises a concern and the applicant assumes the offending information was used in the final decision, thus opening a possible discrimination claim. 

Yes, that's a risk. However, when you're hiring someone and you have the buy-in of a spouse, you've already alleviated some of the tension that can interfere with job satisfaction. Americans today are working long hours. We're getting calls from work long after we've returned home. We're checking our email at the dinner table. There are so many ways work interferes with our home lives. So, if you're going to call my husband during dinner, at least tell me the benefits of the job so I can see past the infringement it makes on my home life. 

Recently, board members of a non profit organization were complaining to me. They hired a CEO and expected his wife to be involved, too. In the last year, she's come to very few of the organization's events. She has made it clear, she sees her participation as unnecessary. Had the board interviewed her along with her spouse, they would have known her position upfront.

When your spouse is going through a job search, you are emotionally attached to the outcome. It is much better for your relationship to have someone outside your home coaching him or her through the process. But when the search comes to the point where someone is seriously considering a position, I see it as a win-win for all to air expectations during the interview process.

What are your thoughts? Do you think a spouse should be part of late-stage job interviews? 

June 26, 2015

Are meetings killing your work life balance? How to hold a better meeting


Have you ever been sitting in a meeting thinking "This is such a waste of my time!"

Or, worse...have you ever been in a meeting when most of the participants are tapping away on their smart phones, not even paying attention to the person speaking?

In her new book, Essential Meeting Blueprints for Managers, Sharlyn Lauby says employees spend between 21 and 28 hours a week in meetings and this number continues to rise in double-digit percentages. For those of us who want work life balance, much of our time spent in meetings is unproductive. 

So, what can be done about that?

Lauby Hi ResLauby, author of HR Bartender and  president of  ITM Group, Inc., a training company focused on talent engagement, outlines different types of meetings and how to run them effectively (She does an amazing job!). I pulled out some of her suggestions and presented them as questions .

  • What's the meeting really about? Lauby says the first rule of meetings is to understand why a meeting is being held and what role each person plays towards the meeting's success. People will attend meetings when they understand the reason for them. They will participate and engage if they feel they are a part of the agenda. 


  • Why am I at this meeting? People need to know the reason they're being asked to attend the meeting and the purpose of the meeting. (Is the purpose to convey information, reach a decision, get feedback?) They also need to know their role in the meeting's success and the objective that is trying to be achieved.


  • What kind of meeting is it? Is it a status meeting, a strategy meeting, a problem solving meeting, a brainstorming meeting, a networking meeting, a training meeting, a pitch meeting, a project meeting?  Each meeting has a different purpose and different rules. Status meetings should be focused on conveying information. When there is no information to share, the meeting should be cancelled. This truly demonstrates respect for participants and eliminates ineffective meetings.


  • Are the right people in the room? What a waste of time to hold a meeting when the right people aren't there! Going in, a manager needs to know if there a problem solver at the meeting or a decision maker. He needs to look at whether a meeting facilitator is needed and whether senior leadership should be present. Without the right people, a meeting could go on for what seems like forever or end without a solution. But inviting the people who don't need to be there wastes time as well. People can participate in the process without attending the meeting.


  • What's the solution or outcome? A business meeting can be completely ineffective if the solution arrived at is unattainable or the participants have no clue who is going to implement the action steps. Lauby says in thinking about the implementation plan, the group might want to consider breaking down the solution into smaller components or milestones. It becomes easier to monitor and evaluate results. She says at the end of any meeting, participants should be on the same page regarding the following three things: The actions that need to take place outside of the meeting, the individuals responsible for those actions, the timeframe for accomplishing the agreed upon actions. 
  • What makes a bad meeting? It's a bad meeting or time waster when the meeting leader is unprepared, meeting participants are unprepared, the wrong people are at the meeting, the participants take over the meeting or take it off track, and when the meeting runs much longer than necessary. Unfortunately, most of us have been at a bad meeting.


  • What makes a good meeting? Well-run meetings provide valuable information, help companies solve problems, and allow employees to make better decisions. Participants leave with everyone on the same page. 

Lauby told me as a manager, it should be your goal to have people leave your meeting and believe it was a good use of their time. "The biggest compliment a manager can get is when someone walks out and says, 'that was a great meeting,' Lauby says. "That should be your goal!"




June 10, 2015

How to be a strategic thinker at work and home

When I was younger, I aimed to be strategic at work. I aligned myself with editors who were most respected in the newsroom and proved myself to them. By doing so, I was better able to balance work and family and they were able to sing my praises to those above them. 

Thinking strategically is a crucial skill for achieving advancement, and one that can make your work and home life better in myriad ways.

Aaron_olson-6215 croppedMy guest blogger today is Aaron Olsen, Chief Talent Officer at Aon, a global firm specializing in risk management and human resources. In his spare time, Aaron also serves as an graduate instructor at Northwestern University and is co-author of the book Leading with Strategic Thinking. Aaron and his co-author, B. Keith Simerson, say you become a strategic thinker and leader by going about it in a focused way. Below are their suggestions:

  • Recognize patterns. Strategic leaders  make connections that others do not, taking an active approach to reviewing relevant data and seeking out information and experiences that can provide new insights.
  • Make choices. Strategic leaders take a disciplined approach to decision making that identifies all options and then they select the one that creates the most value.
  • Manage risks. Strategic leaders find ways to maximize the balance between risk and reward, identifying and handling challenges to ensure that a good plan isn’t undermined by unexpected surprises.

By doing these three things well, strategic leaders create results. They also stand out from the crowd, which can open doors for additional career opportunities.

How can individuals get better at doing these three things? One place to start is by looking for opportunities to generate new ideas and get creative.

Here are some practical things you can do to stimulate creative thinking:

  • Get uncomfortable. Engage in communities, conferences, or reading that is outside your typical area of expertise.
  • Ponder. Set aside time in your week that doesn't involve completing routine tasks and think about your work. What works well? What could be done differently?
  • Explore. Visit places where you will encounter unfamiliar people, cultures, or ideas. How do they go about work or life differently?
  • Circulate. Spend time with coworkers in your organization with different roles. What are they doing and how does it relate to your work?
  • Embrace change. Debate commonly held assumptions about your work or business. Are technology or trends creating change that you should apply in your work?
  • Think differently. Imagine a situation in which you (or your organization) could no longer work the same way—what would you do?

Each of these activities can open up a new way of thinking and reveal unexplored opportunities. Finding time for one or more of them in your schedule can be a practical first step towards thinking and acting more strategically.

This summer, ask yourself whether you are spending too much time on low-value tasks and not enough on big-picture strategic thinking. If you're frustrated with your lack of advancement, stagnant personal growth or unclear priorities, take time to put some more effort into strategic thinking and leadership. By fall, you should be able to see results.