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 To Win Hearts and Minds In Your Next Corporate Presentation

tony hsieh, ceo, zappos.com

For corporate presentations, passion trumps perfection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I knew it would be controversial when I wrote a post a few weeks ago stating that for most professionals, public speaking training is a waste of money. I heard from trainers around the globe that their way was different and uniquely helpful. Which may be true. My point was that the majority of public speaking training is focused on the mechanics of body language and speechifying that while interesting, isn’t what the average professional is being asked to do.

Professionals need to influence others and move groups to action, present to senior executives and boards, and inspire change operationally. Most rising executives want to be noticed and secure a seat at the table.

To achieve these professional feats, they need presence, credibility, and passion.

And yes, you can learn these skills in some presentation trainings — just not in most of them.

My advice to anyone out there who is considering honing their presentation skills: if you opt for training, make sure your instructor will be able to show you how to do the following.

1. Get comfortable.

It’s stating the obvious, but for most people, presenting is difficult when it’s uncomfortable. Staring down a board of directors with bad news, for example, might be one of those times. Or proposing a new business line to the senior team.

You’ll do better if you can find a way to be as calm as possible, given the stressful situation. For many people, this means practicing so you feel you have the information down pat. For others, it’s figuring out what gets you in the zone — deep breathing, music, laughter, warm-up conversations in the room, etc. I recommend setting a situational intention (discussed here) to focus your conscious thoughts behind the emotion you want to impart to others.

2. Accept discomfort.

If the stakes are high, no matter how much you try to get comfortable, some butterflies are going to remain. Instead of trying to eradicate the feeling or letting it spiral, accept the anxiousness. Acknowledge it, and realize that it has no bearing on your performance. At all. You can physically perform just as well, nervous or not.

Plus, nerves can even help you emote and show energy. After all, nervousness is excitement directed inward.

3. Speak to the individuals, not the group.

Common public speaking advice is to know your audience. But in typical corporate presentations, which are to groups and teams, you do know them. The problem is that they are all over the map in what they care about so it can be hard to tailor comments. A frequent misstep is to try to cover everyone’s concerns or speak to the middle.

Learning to top-line your points to hit the right ones is a critical skill. For mixed groups, my general advice is to speak to the highest level in the room in the level of detail they care to know. Let the others ask questions to fill in the gaps or clarify specifics. Meetings gravitate to the highest level naturally.

Remember, you are speaking to individuals with individual concerns. Don’t litter your comments with what you care about the most, and beware of falling in love with your content. It’s about the other person, not about you.

4. Bring double the passion, and half the content.

Corporate presentations generally have too much detail, slides, and content and are delivered flatly. Now we do this with good intent. We want to make sure we cover any questions and show that we know our stuff. Unfortunately though, well-cited research shows that people forget about 90% of what they learn within 3-6 days. So while it’s smart to get your content down, we generally over steer on the amount of it. (Hint: Put non-essential slides in an addendum to have just in case.)

If you want to be memorable, put equal focus on bringing energy and passion to your presentation. Show how much you care through stories, examples, imagery, and dialogue. People forget what you said but remember how you made them feel. Your presence plays a large role in that.

Plus, there’s power in a passionate purpose. We invest psychically in people we feel have the wherewithal to make change happen.

5. Ignite discussion, don’t replace it.

Most corporate presentations aren’t speeches at all — they’re discussions. You’re aim is not to use up the air time with your points, but to incite discussion and facilitate outcomes. If people are talking then they’re engaged.

Any presentation can be constructed as facilitation. Create your main points, ask a pointed question, and manage comments. Then repeat. This skill takes practice, so learn it any way you can, whether through a training or observation of others.

People will feel far better about your ideas if they felt that you wanted and accepted their input. Plus, any idea that feels like it’s ours we’re more likely to buy into. And isn’t buy-in of our ideas the ultimate goal?

Comment here or @kristihedges.

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

Save An Angry Customer With These Three Words And Other Trust-Building Moves

Labor-Community Coalition activists march down...

Trust is easy to lose in business, but can be recovered. Does JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon know how? (Image credit: AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)

“How can I get my employees to be straight with me?” That question came from the back of the room a few weeks ago while I was delivering a workshop on leadership presence. We were addressing concepts of approachability and influence, and the participant raised a frequent complaint about the employee-manager dynamic. Often it’s a relationship that’s passable but not very open or rewarding.

And while we would all benefit from straightforward communications, there’s usually more static than clear reception. More often than not, the culprit is trust.

Trust is the gatekeeper in any relationship. But in those where an inherent guardedness exists, such as with sales or management, trust plays an even greater role. In my book, The Power of Presence, I dedicated an entire chapter to the concept of trust, based on my favorite model of trust from The Trusted Advisor. (More in this prior blog.) With its factors  of credibility, reliability, intimacy and self-orientation, the authors’ trust equation is both a prescriptive and a diagnostic for enhancing trust.

I recently sat down with fellow Forbes blogger Andrea Howe, co-author of the Trusted Advisor Fieldbook with Charles H. Green, to discuss how to build more trust into relationships.  Howe travels the country helping organizations — including many professional services companies — lead with trust.

KH: What did you set out to do with your latest book?

AH: The goal was to create a book that combines inspiration and practicality. We wanted to further demystify and discern common issues that professionals encounter on a day-to-day basis, and define what trustworthy responses look like. For example, how do you build a trustworthy organization? How do you develop business with trust? How do you deal with a client who seems to be a jerk? We outline specific situations and show how you can look at them through the lens of trust.

KH: What does trust have to do with your career?

AH: Everything. If you look at all the angles of a career — your personal advancement, doing what you need to do to get ahead, creating connections, building a network, leading people, being a thought leader — trust has a greater and greater impact. I don’t know how you do those things in an extraordinary way without cultivating trust along the way.

Without high degrees of trust we can all muddle along. If you want to differentiate you need to make trust part of your everyday thinking and actions.

Being a trusted advisor is a term that’s used widely, like “Xerox.” But it’s really about setting yourself apart.

KH: What are some typical or recurrent trust-testing situations?

AH: I work with a lot of people in client-facing roles, such as in professional services. One big trust-testing moment occurs when you’re in a business relationship with someone and they confront you with a question when you either don’t know the answer or are unsure how your answer will land with the other party. Whenever this happens, this tests our ability to establish intimacy and take risks. While we naturally feel afraid about the outcome, this is actually one of our most important trust-building opportunities.

My co-author Charlie Green always says, “The thing we’re most afraid to say is often what will build the most trust.” Especially for leaders, this means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

In general, trust-testing situations happen when we’re afraid…of looking badly, losing the deal, stepping into a territory that’s outside our comfort zone. That’s what drives our high self-orientation. Fear kills trust in the moment if we don’t manage it and overcome it.

KH: Are there tips to take the trust path in a pinch if you feel that fear?

AH: First recognize you’re in that moment of fear. If not, you’ll be driven by it. How you manage it varies widely from person to person. This can range from taking a deep breath to acknowledging or thinking out loud. It’s okay to say: “Boy do I wish had a beautiful, articulate answer for that. Let me think out loud about it.”

Getting curious is a great antidote for high self-orientation, as it requires you to get away from yourself and into the other person’s world. If you can find ways to acknowledge what’s going on over there, and ask questions to find out more, this shifts your attention.

For example, if a client comes at you angry or dissatisfied, a typical reaction is fear or anxiety. Instead you could acknowledge that you’re disappointed in the result as well, and ask to hear more about the customer’s experience. Say, “Help me understand.” And be genuine. Set an intention in the moment to get the whole world of the other person.

KH: How do you handle building trust when it’s been eroded, such as from an undermining colleague or a deal gone bad?

AH: We all have examples like that, where things have gone south and we’re prepared for the worst. But it’s how we handle it that makes or breaks trust, not the circumstances.

There’s a poignant story in the Fieldbook that involves an unhappy customer who has endured significant staff turnover on his account. The project manager had to call the customer and say that, yet again, there would be a change in resources. In this instance, the project manager let the customer vent, acknowledged his frustration, and offered to help him find a better service provider. Not only did the project manager’s empathy and courage de-escalate the situation, but the customer, in turn, affirmed his loyalty to her firm.

Most situations are far more recoverable than we think. We try to recover by showing our competency, but instead we need to show more vulnerability. It doesn’t work as a tactic, but by being real. All kinds of situations can turn for the better in an instant. It’s normal to be convinced in our own minds that things won’t change, or to conveniently rationalize that it won’t make a difference because then we don’t have to lean in and do the hard thing. The only catch is it simply isn’t true that we can’t recover. The question, more often, is are we willing to do what it takes to recover.

KH: How can companies strengthen their ability to be trusted employers?

AH: Companies that have a trusted culture live the trust principles. They are other focused, collaborative, drive medium- and long-term perspectives, and are transparent. Many companies say they do this, but most don’t. The ones who have trust at their core live it out. For example, when a scandal hits, they say “we messed up.” They aren’t afraid to tell it like it is. They are willing to have faith in their employees and stakeholders. And their stakeholders tend to respect, value and trust people more who are real. It’s not about not making mistakes—because we all make mistakes—but taking responsibility for them.

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. This post also appears on Forbes.com.

Four Steps to Recover After You Lose It at Work

Tears, frustration and anger are common in the workplace, but you don't have to let an accidental outburst derail your career. Here's how to recover. (Image credit: David Castillo Dominici)

One of the most useless pieces of advice out there is to not take work personally. Work is inherently personal. It’s your ambition, capability, intelligence, and likeability intertwined, at play, every day. It’s better to consider that given how personal work is for most of us, what’s the best way to manage and cope when things don’t go as we desire.

Because sometimes they don’t. And though we struggle to do our best, we lose our composure.

I regularly coach through how to repair damage from these blow-ups (whether my client is the cause or the recipient). These stress-filled moments happen anywhere and to anyone. It can be a manager who hurls anger at a politically motivated colleague, or lashes out in frustration at an employee. Or the outbursts take the form of tears. (And no, not just from women.) People sometimes cry in response to negative feedback or out of sheer aggravation. We’re human; it happens.

Most of us have been in this emotional neighborhood. And we feel awful afterwards. The last thing we want is for our credibility to be permanently damaged.

We want to recover from the  incident, but we’re often paralyzed over anxiety that we’ll make matters worse. After having an emotional outburst, you can temporarily lose trust in yourself to communicate dispassionately.

If you find yourself in this situation, here are some guidelines to follow:

1. Let the steam leave the room.

Give yourself enough time and distance to collect yourself. For many situations, letting the issue rest overnight is a good rule of thumb. If the issue hits a duller nerve, an hour away at lunch might do the trick. Be intentional about giving yourself some space but be mindful of not using it as an excuse to dodge the issue.

2. Make amends quickly and decisively.

We all understand that dust-ups happen, but all the same, they leave a wake. You want to circle back to the person as soon as you’re relatively calm, and apologize for the behavior. Key note: this  is not the same as apologizing for the reason for the behavior. You may be entirely justified in your feelings. Don’t get stuck on that point.

You don’t have to say a lot. You can deliver a simple “I want to apologize for raising my voice earlier today. It’s not how I wanted to approach this issue.” If it’s highly charged, you may want to make the apology quickly, and set a date to circle back later to discuss the wider issue.

3. Repair interpersonal relationships.

There are certain people that set us off more than others. You may even find yourself gearing up for conversations with them because they cause you to react to negatively. As management consultant Steve Tobak explains, these are exactly the people with whom you need to proactively strengthen relationships. Even though it seems scary and intimidating, if you need to work with them, you’re better off expanding your perspective by getting to know their motivations. You may even learn that you’ve been misinterpreting their behavior.

4. Figure out what’s behind the emotion.

Tobak also cautions to explore where the frustration comes from. Some people are prone to anger — researchers have even identified an “angry gene” that hotheaded people have. We also know from neuroscience research that humans have universal triggers that put us into fight or flight mode. Author David Rock calls this set of emotional derailers SCARF — status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. When we feel threats to them, we overreact from instinct.

I find that it can be helpful to cross-examine yourself. Start with the incident and repeatedly ask, “What’s that about?” For example, if you blew up at a colleague the first answer might be, “He made me angry by ignoring my request.” Then ask again, “What’s that about?” The second answer might be, “I feel like people here don’t respect me.” Keep going until you get to the root issue.

When you figure out what the core issue is, then decide how much merit it has in the first place. Often times, it’s more unconscious emotional trigger than fact. If you recognize and label it, you can gain the wisdom to help avoid outbursts in the future.

Share your comments here or @kristihedges.

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


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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