How To Know If You’re Reaching Your Potential

Marissa Mayer

What Marissa Mayer’s appointment as CEO of Yahoo says about our own choices. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Earlier this month, it seemed everyone was opining on Yahoo’s new 37-year old, pregnant CEO, Marissa Mayer. The media and blogosphere had much to say on what her selection meant for women, Yahoo, Silicon Valley, pregnant women, working mothers, fashion, and an entire generation. Most public comments were positive. After all, who wants to be on the opposing end of that discussion?

However, in private, with muted tones and usually between mothers, there was another conversation I repeatedly heard. It went something like this: “Is she crazy or just naive? Does she understand what’s about to happen to her physically and emotionally? I wouldn’t have taken that risk if I were Yahoo. I wouldn’t have taken that job right before giving birth. She’ll figure out how impossible it is to balance so much eventually.”

It’s not that anyone wished Mayer to fail, but there wasn’t exactly optimism for her success either. You’d expect working women and pro-working mothers to be buoyed by her brave decision to take on two such demanding roles simultaneously. But something wasn’t adding up so neatly.

This all got me wondering (and looking in the mirror). Is it possible that parents who’ve made other career choices are so vested in their own perspectives that they can’t imagine someone else making a dramatically different choice work? Or maybe our view of our own potential simply falls short of what Mayer believes is her own? She shoots higher, and so far, scores.

Now we could easily wrap this up with “different strokes for different folks” or “opportunities of the privileged” bows. But I spend too much time as a coach in conversations about knowing, and meeting, personal potential. One of the hardest human actions is to understand if you’re living up to your full capacity, or if you’re making excuses, settling for less, or adopting others’ expectations as your own.

This becomes ever important as move through life, and align our dreams for ourselves against the reality of our lives. There’s a direct relationship between the size of this space and a person’s dissatisfaction or  restlessness. For so many people, there’s a yearning inside to be as much as they can in their short time on earth, using their unique strengths. Sometimes success can come from a hard-driving career or big salary, but just as often people seek to reach their potential in other ways.

I’m not advocating any one way of living our best lives, only that we’re as clear as possible why we make the choices we do. I am constantly in my own interior conversation about my potential too, so this one’s near and dear to my heart. Here are some questions that help me gain clarity. These can be especially helpful when opportunities or forks in the road present themselves.

1. What does success look like for me?

2. What does this bring me that I currently lack?

3. Does this notion of success give me intrinsic joy, or is it a vestige of a childhood dream or someone else’s desire for me?

4. What excuses do I tell myself to avoid taking risks, and how valid are they?  How easily can I debate them?

I remember reading an interview with a triathlete once, who said that she felt that parents use their children as an excuse to not live a fuller life. Yes, kids need time and care. And there’s always room for what’s truly important to us. Too often, parenthood provides an easy excuse for what’s actually complacency, fear or plain laziness.

As a parent of two elementary aged children, I have to say that at times this is true for me. I feel like I’m pinging back and forth between my ambition, my responsibilities as a parent, and the lure of the comfortable and familiar. Around and around.

And personally, I stand in awe of a 37-year old, 6-month pregnant woman who becomes the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Not because she’s the first this, or the youngest that. But because her vision of her own potential is big, bold, and rocks convention.

Mayer’s appointment has us talking, and more importantly, questioning what’s possible.

Share your thoughts here or @kristihedges. And if there’s a particular management or leadership issue you’re struggling with, let me know. I’ll consider it for a blog post.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage OthersFind her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.

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How to Get Inspired

Pure Joy!

Kids are naturally inspired. How can you get some for yourself?

Last week, I spoke to a group of trainees in one of  the top wealth management programs in the world. If you saw the Pursuit of Happyness, then you know their life. Six months of intensive work, endless cold calls to find clients, and a high all-or-nothing benchmark of client money to get under management by the end of the program.

Most fail or drop out.

I was there to discuss how to cultivate personal presence to earn a client’s trust. You can imagine that I had a highly engaged audience as this was a singular goal for the entire group. The room was filled with motivated, energetic go-getters. Yet, one guy stood out. He was lit from within. His entire presence said positivity — not in a screaming, effortful way, but in a natural, grounded way. His comments were thoughtful, encouraging and self-aware. He was clearly inspired about not just this new career, but about life.

My money’s on him to make it, and be a smashing success.

I think a lot about inspiration. My life’s work is helping others communicate to influence, engage and build followership. Mostly, I focus on how to inspire other people, as I discussed in this prior post.

But it’s impossible to inspire others without being personally inspired. Inspiration is an internal light that, for most of us, shines intermittently. There are occasions when we have it in spades, and other times when we can’t buy it.

Inspiration is a unique feeling in the human condition. It starts inside of us, and emanates outward. It’s raw energy moving us forward. Others can see it, and feel it. We’re drawn to it.

And it’s different from motivation, which is a reaction to outside circumstances. You may be motivated to get a new job to buy a new house, but you’re inspired for you.

How do we exactly get inspired when we’re not? Or get out of a rut of comfort or complacency?

I’ve done my own research in this area, and it continues to be a learning edge. I’m generally an inspired person. However, like everyone, I lose it and know how flat life is without it.

One of my goals with my work is to bring more inspiration into the world. (It’s lofty; but hey, I’m inspired to do my part.) Here’s what I’ve found works in my research and experience to get a jolt of inspiration when you need it.

1. Carve out thinking time.

Neuroscience research shows that insights happen when we have a quiet mind. Sixty percent of problems are solved through these a-ha moments. Since insights trigger inspiration, we have to seek out times to think. In our data-saturated, distracted lives, this requires being purposeful. As I wrote about here, the book The Thinking Life offers practical ideas for incorporating thought time into your day. One favorite tip is making drive time, quiet time. Another is carrying a journal to work through ideas while waiting for meetings or appointments.

2. Seek new input.

Boredom and routine sucker punch inspiration. The new — whether ideas, experiences, or perspectives — help us to make mental connections. Novelty forces us out of our ruts and gives us fresh concepts to process. How you go about getting new input can vary with your style. I’ve seen people find success by starting a business book club, joining an outside industry committee, or committing to seeing friends regularly. Heck, you could start doing hot yoga. Just do it. And hit refresh regularly.

3. Take a step.

MLK said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” What gets us stuck is that we’re unsure of the entire plan. We’re in analysis paralysis trying to fit all the pieces together before we begin. But we may never see all the pieces from our vantage point at the bottom of the stairs, and so we have to start the ascent without clarity.

At times having a green field of opportunities is hardest. When I sold my last business, I remember feeling that I could take so many different avenues that it felt scary to start down any of them. I find this same condition with my stay-at-home mom friends seeking fulfillment by launching a new career. There are so many ways to go that the easiest choice is no decision.

Back to #2, that first step creates new input that leads us places we can’t imagine at the outset. Movement leads to inspiration. Plus, so much of life is experiential. You don’t know how you’ll feel until you’re there.

4. Get creative.

Inspiration often comes from using other, less-used parts of our intellect. Visuals have been found  to light up various parts of our brains, as has music. That’s why good motivational speakers incorporate both in their presentations. If you need inspiration, look at art, or photography. Put on music and go for a walk (my fave). The brain is a quirky organ. Often when we focus on something altogether unrelated, we gain an insight on a problem we’ve worked hard to solve for months.

5. Fill up your energy tank.

It’s Maslow’s hierarchy at work — if our basic human needs aren’t fulfilled then we’ll never travel up to the point of self-actualization. Fatigue undercuts inspiration at every turn. As does continuous stress. If those are your living conditions, you’ll battle to be inspired every day.

Tony Schwartz’s work has raised the dialogue from time management to energy management. Consider how important energy is to your ability to inspire yourself and others. What’s more critical? When you feel depleted, don’t accept it as a normal part of your life. You know all the ways to gain energy: eating better, exercising, reducing stress, sleeping more.

Another, less finger-wagging way, is to find fun. Seek out people who give you joy, and take time to enjoy them. Same goes for activities. We’re at our best when we have an inspired career, in an even more inspired life.

How do you inspire yourself? Comment here or @kristihedges.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage OthersShe blogs at kristihedges.com

How Social Media Icon Chris Brogan Would Run Your Virtual Team

Chris Brogan

Social media guru Chris Brogan offers ideas to make virtual teams hum with the right tools and communication.

Ah, the life of a virtual manager. You may not have asked for it, but chances are you have it. Research finds that 80% of managers lead virtually at least part of the time. Converging factors of telework, globalization, new communications technologies, and recurrent cost-cutting have made virtual life the norm inside companies. Yet, managers aren’t trained for it, and few do it well.

I’ve yet to meet a professional who says they prefer virtual leadership. Instead, it’s a part of the job generally endured and managed as best as possible. Death by meeting has been replaced by a long slow soul-crush by global conference call.

But what if, instead of simply coping with virtual management, we were inspired because of it? How could we reach more people, in authentic ways, and build stronger connection?

Sounds like a leap, I realize. But there are those who do this every day, and do it well — social media experts. And they have a lot to teach virtual managers.

Consider that some social media pros have been in the game of building virtual connection since the blogosphere was fringe territory. They’re the first to try new technologies and apply analytics to measure effectiveness. As companies adopt internal and external social networks to support productivity — and managers decide what works for them personally — we can learn significantly from the experts who call this world home. And at the top of that list of social media gurus is  Chris Brogan.

Chris is a social media pro’s pro. His blog is in the Top 5 of Advertising Age’s Power 150. He’s the New York Times bestselling author of  Google+ For Business: How Google’s Social Network Changes Everything, and Trust Agents, among others. He speaks and consults with the world’s premier companies about the intersection of technology, media and customers acquisition. Chris has more than 200K followers on Twitter (and that’s just one social network).

He’s also generous with his time. Chris recently shared his thoughts about virtual teams.

KH: I speak and coach around leadership presence and influence. One question that comes up frequently is how to influence virtually as teams are increasingly scattered across offices and countries. I have a theory that social media provides some lessons. What do you think about that idea?

CB: I think that social media is like Oreo cookies to virtual teams’ milk. It’s a perfect fit. If you can’t “be there” then be there. Flip open the Google Talk cam or the GoToMeeting with Hi Def Faces and you got something.

KH: You talk about the human digital channel. How does that apply to relationships inside an organization?

CB: The human digital channel as I talk about it is a sales channel, but inside organizations, the same premises relate. I talk about needing sustainable, relationship-minded business practices. Internally, this is true as well. We have a paperwork glut. We have a trust deficit. These things could be fixed, if people cared to fix them, and then ALL of business would function better.

KH: If you were running a virtual team, what would you do to make it cohesive and productive?

CB: Daily brief meetings with all of my team would be good (either via video or IM), and then I would do weekly or monthly check-ins where we talk through issues. Other times, I’d really promote the use of just having video cameras on and open while working so that you get that “random banter” element that’s missing in virtual experiences.

KH: How does social media allow you to exert influence and build trust simultaneously?

CB: I try never to exert influence, but instead let people’s trust in what I’ve done before encourage them to believe that the ideas I point people towards will be of value to them and not always (or rarely) of profit to me.

KH: What technology tools would you say are best for team building?

CB: I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about the tools as the way to build a team. I’d say it’s a lot of touch that helps build a team. A Google+ business group or even a personal circle where everyone has cross-circled each other would work swimmingly for keeping a log and keeping communications in one place simply.

KH: Are there different rules for building a sense of community online versus offline?

CB: There are. Online requires more touches (contact with people) and it requires effort to ensure proper tone and inflection are understood. Some people scoff at emoticons but I use them quite often to point out that my mood when saying something is good and cheery. What’s missing the most online is body language cues, and people don’t realize just how much they need these cues. To that end, you can work extra hard to communicate conversationally (in tone), and people will start to understand that flavor.

KH: Can anything replace the impact of face-to-face communications?

CB: No. Face-to-face is still the gold standard and will be. It will never be the lesser of options. However, as business rules and global opportunities change, we might see the % of face-to-face time slip. I tend to work 70/30 virtual to in-person.

KH: You’ve made a career out of being at the forefront of social media. Tell us about your latest book, Google+ for Business. Should we all be flocking to it?

CB: Over 100 million users and growing in the first six months, run by one of the wealthiest companies in the world, and run by the #1 search engine (which drives almost all people’s business search efforts) in the world, and people are still saying, “I’m not so sure. I just started using Facebook.” To me, if you’re not actively working on your Google+ experience, you’re just asking to be left behind when the next wave hits. I don’t say this because I wrote a book. I wrote a book because I say this.

Have any inspired, creative ways to manage virtually? I’ll feature in a future post. Share here or @kristihedges.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage OthersFind her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.

How New College Grads Can Get a Great Job With Any Major

Despite the negative hype, the best new grads always find jobs regardless of major. Here’s how to be one of the best.

It’s college graduation time, but can you celebrate? Accordingly to recent news, 53% of recent college graduates are either underemployed or unemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years. And the numbers are worse for majors like humanities, art history, philosophy or anthropology. It’s enough to make those just about to graduate feel hopeless. But don’t. This blog is for you new college grads — you can get a job, and a good one, no matter what any research says.

Even in the toughest job markets, the best candidates find great positions. You simply have to know how to be one of the best.

I get what an uphill battle this seems. I also graduated in a terrible job market, the early 1990s. I was the first person in my family to go to college, so higher education was my one golden ticket. I took out student loans readily, praying I’d be solvent enough to pay the bills. I was a communications major, with an English minor. I had zero personal connections to secure a plum job after graduation.

I heard all the same scary messages about student debt and the difficulties finding a job without a technical major.

And it all worked out anyway. Even perfectly.

The emotion you feel is fear — and you deserve to feel it. I could feel phantom anxiety pains just thinking of being a 22-year old, toiling away in a retail job waiting for real life to start, with no certainty except accruing student loan interest.

Which, as it turns out, isn’t that certain as Congress resorts to brinksmanship over student loan interest rates. The favorite storyline of national news is whether a four-year degree is actually worth the price.

It is absolutely worth every penny. A few years into a career, I’ve never met anyone who regrets their college education. It’s a core part of who we are as professionals and as people.

As an executive coach, and an employer who has hired many new college graduates, I can tell you that you have more control than you think. It’s normal to feel trepidation as getting into the workforce is one of the biggest life changes you’ll have. Feel it, and move on. Don’t let it incapacitate you or strip you of hope. Do not give up or get stuck.

If you want the best chances of landing that amazing job you’ve dreamed about, apply yourself to this advice.  You’ll be the star candidate everyone is clamoring to get.

1. Have a vision for yourself. Personal ambition is one of the most compelling qualities a young professional can display, and sets you apart immediately. Take the time to figure out what you want for yourself, and don’t be afraid to express it — even if it’s a goal you’ll build towards.

Many new grads don’t know exactly what they want because they haven’t experienced enough of the workplace yet. It’s fine to have a vision for now, i.e. I want to be in a position where I can be part of a team, contribute my problem-solving abilities, and gain exposure to the industry.  Some day I’d like to own my own business.

A very common mistake is to communicate that you “just want a job” in order to show you’re hungry. That makes you look unfocused and desperate. (This works a lot like dating.)

2. Embrace your major. Conventional wisdom suggests that unless  you’re a software engineer, nurse, or some other in-demand, specialized field, you’ll be out of luck. Don’t buy it. Never apologize for your major. You picked it for a reason, and own it with pride.

Many new hires at companies are generalists, who work hard, learn, and get trained on the job. Your goal is to figure out how your major helps you in your job seeking.  For example, if you’re a philosophy major, discuss how it’s helped you manage opposing viewpoints and complexity. (Great for sales and customer relations.) Or talk about how political science has taught you about getting work done in complex organizational structures, which is spot-on for management consulting.

Being well-rounded is still a positive. One of my most useful classes from college was art history, which I took on a whim. I can’t count how many times knowing a bit about art has helped me in everything from cocktail conversation to marketing design.

3. Network and don’t stop. I got advice in college to meet with every person who will give you a meeting. It hasn’t stopped working for me. Ask every professional person you know to meet with you, and explain your vision for yourself. Then ask them who else they would suggest you meet with, and reach out to the new folks. Follow up regularly to let people know how their intros have benefitted you. People are more willing to help young people than you’d guess. (And the worse they can say is no.)

From this, you’ll start building a solid network. Most people get jobs from connections, so this is the path to land your job. And as a side benefit, you’ll learn new information from each person you meet, and expand your knowledge of various professions.

This is key — keep doing this after you get a job! The average tenure for a first job is 1-2 years. You’ll want to keep making those key connections even when you don’t need them. In fact, that’s the best time to do it.

4. Milk your internships. Most grads have done internships, which don’t pay much (if at all) so this is where you can collect. Keep in touch with people at your internships and contact them when you’re in the job search — whether or not you can or want to work there. To point #3, ask them to lunch and let them know what you’re looking to do. Call them up on a regular basis to check back in. You want to be top of mind when they hear of opportunities.

If your relationship is particularly good, ask if the company will allow you to work from a vacant desk while you job search. It gives you a professional base of operations, and also allows you to be in the water cooler talk of the organization.

5. Don’t take one interview or meeting for granted. Approach every meeting with the utmost professionalism — you never know who will refer you for a job. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve met with new college grads and they’ve done little to no research, show up in rumpled, unprofessional attire, and seem to be doing me a favor.

Do a Google search of each person and know their backgrounds. Have a grasp of their company and industry. Come with great questions to ask. And by all means, be crisply dressed in professional clothes (and shoes), with an organized briefcase.

6. Use some old-school tricks. Everyone knows it’s important to send a follow-up email to say thank you. But if you want to make a lasting impression, go a few steps further and mail personalized thank you cards. Take the time to write a thoughtful note explaining what specifically was helpful about the meeting.

Another old-school idea is to bring reference letters to the meeting. These are written by someone who can speak to your work ethic, such as a former employer or a professor. Letters show that others are willing to go above and beyond for you. They are so rarely used they make an immediate statement.

7. Do a social media audit of yourself. Prospective employers will search your name online if they are serious about hiring you. Make sure all your social media privacy controls are set, and take down anything that shows you in a light you’d rather not share. Employers can’t say this, but if someone smokes, or looks like a partier, they’re going to pass. Who wants a new hire who takes constant smoke breaks or comes in hungover?

For some of you, this may sound like a lot of well…work. And it is work. In fact, it’s exactly the same behavior employers will want to see after you’re hired. By demonstrating it now, you’re showing them what kind of employee you’ll be — a star performer.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. Find her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.

Why Public Speaking Training is Often A Waste of Money

Steve Jobs shows off the white iPhone 4 at the...

If you want to present like Steve Jobs, you're not going to learn how to do it in a public speaking training. (Image Wikipedia)

My career has been focused on helping executives communicate more effectively. For a good part of it, I ran a  PR firm where I personally trained leaders to be better presenters and speakers. I’ve worked with hundreds of CEOs and professionals down the chain, individually and in groups. I’ve videotaped, massaged talking points, managed body language, and provided all the best practices.

Then, several years ago I stopped. I took down that part of my shingle entirely. Because I realized that for most people, public speaking training is not worth the time nor the money.

Now, some of you might argue that it’s been useful for you. You get feedback on your style and mannerisms. You may find out if you’re doing anything that’s overly distracting. And you practice speaking, albeit in a forced setting that doesn’t resemble real life.

But you could have nearly the same information (and save thousands of dollars) from reading a presentation skills book on your own and taping yourself with a Web-cam.

Presentation training can even do more harm than good.

For those who’ve been through speaker training, you know the drill. You leave feeling less authentic than ever, with piles of “correct” postures, gestures, and speech effects to practice.

Don’t tilt your head! Stand up straight! Don’t pace too much! Walk more! Make eye contact with more people! Make eye contact with a few people! Gesture bigger! Gesture smaller!

(And I’d be willing to bet that after you leave the training, you’ll forget 90% of what you learned after a few short months.)

I say this not just from my own experience training, but from talking to scores of executives who have been through training conducted by others — often some of the best brand names in the business. (Usually former TV journalists, actors or other professionals who haven’t worked inside a business.)

Speaker training is helpful — if you want to be a professional speaker.

But for nearly all executives, you’re not training to be perfect orators who can mesmerize a room. You’re trying to develop presence to connect with and inspire others. You want to build trust and credibility, and be clear and energetic. You want your seat at the table to count.

This type of presence does not come from perfect, robotic gestures and words with lyrical  cadence. As I discuss in Power of Presence, the type of presentation ability that propels careers and builds followership comes from the inside out. You can learn it — but not in a training class on superficial attributes.

Presence comes from developing intentionality and making individual connections. These days, as a coach, I’m often in the position of having clients “undo” many best practices they learned in public speaking training. Only then can we work on what engenders trust and respect.

So if you’re considering taking the requisite speaker training class, or have participated in one in the past, please keep these thoughts in mind:

There’s not one right way to present.

Even among presentation trainers, there’s widespread opinion about what techniques are actually most effective. The studies behind these claims even contradict themselves. That’s why some trainers will tell you to make large gestures and others will say they’re distracting, for example.

This simply echoes the interpersonal reality that what appeals to one person doesn’t appeal to another. Two colleagues could watch you present in a meeting and have completely different opinions about your effectiveness. In the end, much of your style has to be what works for you.

Great presenters don’t follow the rules.

While there are general truisms like speaking while glued to notes is boring, beyond a very few behaviors, you can view a wide range of approaches from great presenters. Steve Jobs didn’t gesture with proper technique or follow the most recommended speech framework. Watch a few TED talks. You’ll find plenty of reticent, wonky presenters who are fascinating. What makes a person a strong presenter is that their presence shines through, showing their passion and expertise for their topic.

Authenticity overrides form.

We are used to observing a diverse set of human behaviors, and have adapted well to reading authenticity. We readily sniff out a person who cares, and we hone in on that. Authenticity creates a trust bond and establishes credibility. The rest becomes superfluous.

Further, when you focus on presence and authenticity, you calibrate your style to the occasion. It’s alienating to have a speaker present in perfect speechifying form to an intimate group more suited to a seated back-and-forth dialogue.

You already know how to do this.

People know how to communicate authentically, and present ideas in their own naturally effective way. You do it all the time with friends and family members. It’s when we’re under stress and in anxiety-filled situations that we forget what we already know.

The next time you’re discussing an issue in a relaxed situation, notice your own body language. That’s what you should be repeating when presenting — not trying to adopt someone else’s — no matter how much they charge. Then put yourself in real-life opportunities, starting small, where you can practice and build confidence.

What’s your experience with presentation training? Comment here or @kristihedges.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage OthersShe blogs at kristihedges.com.

Can You Spot These Mad Men Behaviors In Your Office?

Christmas Comes But Once a Year (Mad Men)

Think Mad Men office behavior is a relic of the past? Don't be so sure. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m all in for Mad Men. The show had me at the pilot episode. There’s something about creator Matthew Weiner’s subtle characterizations juxtaposed against the stark realities of culture that get me season after season. The viewer knows how the era ends — it’s only the characters who remain in the dark, wrapping themselves around ideals which are about to implode.

And so it continues as Mad Men recently kicked off its fifth season. The generational shifts were more apparent than ever, and the broiling culture change that’s about to alter the nation’s identity is starting to emerge. Don Draper in bell bottoms? Give him three years.

I don’t write about TV shows (alas), but about leadership. And that’s one of the reasons I love the show, because it’s also a workplace drama. Generally, I watch it and thank my lucky stars that “girls” are no longer relegated to the secretarial pool, managers have to show decency, and people can’t smoke in the office.

For my Gen X brethren, even if we feel safely distant from such bad corporate behavior, our parents can certainly validate it. In the New York Times, writer Elisabeth Donnelly discussed how her mother didn’t find any of the throwback culture entertaining as she was more than happy to leave it behind.

But have we actually left all of it behind? As I watched this week’s episode, I was struck by how many of the themes are still relevant to today’s workplace. Yes, we’ve come a long way and here’s what has stayed the same:

The old guard can’t see the change that’s coming. Whether it’s the coming from the flower children or the millennial generation, when there are cultural, ideological shifts, those in charge refuse to believe. The ones creating change know with certainty what will happen — they have informed intuition and a sense of destiny on their side. But those in power dig in their positions with the time-honored idea that “this too shall pass” — especially since their generation knows better (thank you very much).

But of course change is the only constant. Everyone does get with the program eventually. Notice how no one is trying to deprogram millennials anymore? Rather, we’ve shifted to incorporating their ideas and embracing their work styles.

An inequality in work distribution is felt acutely. In Mad Men, Peggy and Pete are frustrated that they’re doing most of the work, while the senior partners are slowly checking out. This same storyline could be written for today. We don’t expect senior leaders to produce in the same way they did in earlier job functions — in fact, they shouldn’t. However, the need to show value falls on everyone. When it’s not there, even for a short duration, we all know it and respect is lost.

Nepotism makes everyone squeamish. In the Mad Men office, employees are on pins and needles trying to navigate working with firm partner Don’s new wife, Megan. Whether nepotism is as overt as promoting your spouse, or as subtle as surrounding yourself with cronies, it makes people uncomfortable. It upset the dynamic, prevents honest discussion, and stifles ambition. This may happen less now, but it’s hardly dead. Last week I was in two separate conversations with executives dealing with it in their offices.

Working mothers with young children need major organizational support. Watching the ultra-poised Joan  struggle to come into the office and fight for her job was enough to make any working mother sigh. (Perfect symbolic scene, by the way, as she awkwardly balances getting the stroller through the front door and we see the lost ease of her movement.)

While much has improved for working mothers, much has stayed the same. More companies have policies to help women combine motherhood and work, and yet, we still see far too many competent women dropping out because they can’t work it out to their satisfaction. Organizations that offer flexibility with an ambitious career track are all too few. For women who do manage successful careers with kids, when we talk about it common descriptors are “hard” and “exhausting.”

Ultimately, the reason Mad Men has such a fiercely loyal following is because the characters speak to us, and we can relate to them. Perhaps the enduring lesson of this season will be how cultural patterns of forty years ago are eerily familiar.

What did you think of Mad Men’s premiere? What workplace themes did you pick up? Comment here or @kristihedges.com.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage OthersThis post also appears on Forbes.com.

Having A Greg Smith Moment

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 15: A man pauses in front...

Many people have their own "Greg Smith" moments when their values are tested at work. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

When I read Greg Smith’s blistering op-ed about Goldman Sachs in the New York Times two weeks ago, like many, I was floored. My first thought was “How brave!” quickly followed by, “Is he crazy?” Publicly quitting your job with a resignation letter to the world stating that your former company is “ripping people off” with “morally bankrupt” leadership is not a good career move.

(No matter if he can get a great book deal as the media quickly pointed out. The guy was already raking it in at Goldman, after all.)

Despite our collective cynicism about his motivations, I’m choosing to take him at his word that he could no longer quietly take the misalignment between Goldman’s values and his own.

Though Goldman attempted to undermine his credibility by calling him a “disgruntled, mid-level employee,” numerous accounts corroborate what Smith himself said: he was a star performer on a fast-track who felt compelled to call out an ethical breakdown in one of our vaulted institutions. One of Smith’s colleagues described him as having a “clear moral compass.”

I can’t speak to the accuracy of Smith’s account at Goldman, or why it took him 12 years to figure all this out. And frankly, that’s not why I’m writing about it.

At some point in our careers, many of us will find ourselves in a place where what we’re asked to do at work directly contradicts our own deeply held values. I’m not talking about the small indignities that come from having a boss on a power trip or a job you hate. But rather the piercing jabs at your conscience that make you wonder who you really are.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, count yourself lucky. Many of us can call up more than one. (I spent the first part of my career in politics so I’m fully stocked.)

As a coach, I counsel executives every day on how to be more effective, to reframe problems, and salvage damaged relationships. Most corporate issues can be overcome.

Except when your values are at stake. Then it’s time to go.

There’s no grey area in integrity. On more occasions than I can count, I’ve coached people who were asked to sacrifice deeply held values for their jobs. They may think it’s just this once, but it’s never a single point in time. It eats at them, eroding how they feel about the company and themselves. It’s a destructive cycle.

You don’t have to publicly lambast the company on your way out, and in fact I’d certainly not  recommend it. As I wrote previously, people remember how you leave, not what you did prior. (Do you think anyone cares how well Greg Smith performed for a decade?)

Many years ago I heard a talk by a former executive who served jail time for the savings and loan scandal in the 1980s. He wasn’t a bad guy; on the contrary he was self-aware, warm and normal. He described how he went down the path of his undoing by one tiny ethical lapse at a time, until he was squarely in criminal territory. His warning to his CEO audience: clearly know your values and don’t break them. For anything.

With that advice, Greg Smith would have quit far ahead of any unstoppable need to write in the New York Times.

If you’re in the middle of your own Greg Smith situation, whether it’s caused by an interpersonal situation or the broad corporate culture, give yourself permission to move on. The circumstances don’t have to be egregious to everyone, only to you. Ethics are personal. Quitting doesn’t mean you’re weak; it means you’re strong.

“If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.”  — attributed to both Alexander Hamilton and Malcolm X

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” — Gandhi

Have you had to overcome a breach of your values at work? Comment here or @kristihedges.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author. This column includes excerpts from the author’s book, Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others.

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