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 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.

How Flexibility Is Trumping Face Time for Millions

Millions have their dream work schedules. Here's how to get yours. (Image Michal Marcol)

“If only I could find a great job that allowed me to….” Career dreaming. I’m frequently in these conversations. Maybe it’s my 40-something age, that I’m a working mother or a coach. All I know is that there’s a lot of unrequited longing for people to find nontraditional work arrangements that allow them to build the life they desire.

Some people want to work part-time or be home-based so they can see their kids more. Others want a flexible schedule so they can start a business. Many desire consulting careers that allow them to do satisfying work on their own terms. A few brave dreamers even want to have time off in summers for extended travel.

With the anemic job market, getting this dream job can seem like more of a dream than ever.

Except that it’s actually more of a reality than ever.

We’re in the midst of a convergence of factors — cloud technology, mobility, and a skittish job market — that are creating a new normal for the U.S. workforce. Employers see contracting and part-time work as a safe bet. Companies like Cisco and Booz Allen Hamilton are leading the way with telework policies that encourage people to work where they live. Technology has created a job market of the world, instead of your hometown.

A recent study by Telework found that 26 million people telework. And contrary to the stereotype of teleworking professionals as primarily working mothers, most are male, knowledge workers in mid-career.

Work scenarios that both men and women only dreamed of getting five years ago are becoming common realities. For most people desiring a nontraditional work environment, it’s not a matter of if it exists, but knowing where to find it.

I sat down to talk to Jennifer Folsom from Momentum Resources about this trend, and to get a broader perspective. Momentum is a recruiting firm that places people in full-time, part-time and flexible careers. Originally founded with the idea of matching working mothers with challenging, highly skilled jobs, the company has grown to include placements for men and women in a variety of work assignments. Business is booming.

KH: What’s the back story of how Momentum was founded?

JF: The founders, Tanya Cummings and Whitney Forstner, met while working together in the recruiting field for a Fortune 200 company. Both had become mothers, with one staying home and the other working part-time. Neither was particularly satisfied as they wanted to return to the workforce on their own terms with companies who promoted flexibility and appreciated their strengths and commitment.

It became obvious that there was a huge population of people who were being overlooked for great jobs because they didn’t want an in-office, 9-5+ schedule — yet they wanted a challenging career.

What do you feel is the current opportunity for people who want nontraditional work schedules?

If you can produce you’ll get what you need. Face time is so five minutes ago! It’s all about results, which nullifies the schedule and location argument.

Technology plays a role too. Most of the technology you need to work remotely is free or cheap. Between Skype, Google docs, Dropbox, and smart phones, you can be global and mobile easily.

Keep in mind that even though part-time or flexible job opportunities are not often advertised through traditional job boards, the concept of nontraditional work schedules is really taking hold.

What trends are you seeing from companies?

First, contracting continues to be a strong trend. Companies are still a bit leery, especially in certain sectors, of bringing on full-time associates. Contracting allows companies to hire great people without having to make a long-term commitment.

Within the contract model, we are seeing a lot of part-time and flexible job opportunities. Companies are interested in bringing on top talent without having to pay a full-time salary. Companies get dedicated, experienced professionals for less and employees get a great job that meets their lifestyle needs.

This is a benefit to everyone, not some sort of favor. You no longer have to accept a discount for working part-time or a flexible schedule. You should get paid the pro-rated equivalent of the full-time rate.

For people reentering the workplace, what’s your best advice?

We counsel people every day about how to get back into the workforce, how to find a more flexible role and/or how to transition into a new career. For those looking to return to work, here’s my advice:

  • Be confident in your decision to go back to work — and own it.
  • Establish and leverage your professional network. You will be surprised with how many people want to help you find a job. Networking is key.
  • Develop a strong resume and target list of jobs you’d like to have at organizations where you’d like to work.
  • Be your own advocate. No one knows you better than you. Sing your own praises.

How about for those shifting careers?

For those looking to shift careers here’s my number one suggestion: connect the dots for everyone! If you’re an attorney, people will assume that you still want to be an attorney. If you are looking for a job outside of your current industry, you have to paint the picture for folks. Be specific —  tell them exactly what you are looking for and how your skill set fits that new job or industry.

What companies do you see as trend setters in nontraditional schedules and options?

Mid-size and small businesses are the trend setters in this space. They are nimble enough to be able to offer flexibility and know that it can be a real value-added benefit for both the employee and the business. These clients are using contractors to hire exactly the expertise they need for the job at hand. That may mean a 2/3 time project manager and a 1/4 time in-house counsel.

Are there any silver bullet qualities job seekers have that gets them hired? What qualities are coveted by employers?

Nothing beats A+ communication skills, both verbal and written. Our clients also love to see creative problem solvers and “get it done” types of people. They need those who can strike the balance of being able to work successfully in a team and without direction.

How do you create the job you want from the one you currently have?

Figure out what’s important to your manager. Ultimately it’s up to them. They may not need to see you every day, but might want you online or on instant messenger. If you want a four-day workweek, but your boss is afraid your top client won’t reach you, then commit to checking in twice during that day.

What are some examples of nontraditional jobs you’ve placed recently?

We placed a half-time CFO, a very competent professional who was exactly what the company needed. This part-time schedule has allowed the employee to start a business on the side.

Another client, a finance professional, quit her full-time job to do financial consulting part-time for two companies. This has allowed her to pursue her passion of starting a community theater.

Finally, a federal sector finance professional reentering the workforce got certified in financial software. Within three days, we had two offers for her. She recognized the most in-demand part of the market and went for it.

Have you figured out how to have your dream schedule? 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.

The Real Reason Most New Year’s Resolutions Fail by February 1

The Biggest Loser's Bob Harper will tell you; big goals require more than a New Year's resolution. (Image via Wikipedia)

As we start another year, like clockwork, all the resolution stories start to appear.

Make 2012 your year! Set your goals! Get the job! Live your dreams! Lose weight!

And yet, as the economics of gym memberships illustrate, most people honor New Year’s  resolutions for a short time. Tara Parker-Pope wrote in her New York Timescolumn that a third are ditched by the end of January. Four out of five people simply give their resolutions up.

It’s the a new year all right, but it’s the same you.

Does that mean we shouldn’t even bother thinking big? Not at all. In fact, I’m a fan of setting big goals for yourself and saying them <gasp> out loud. Like so many of you, I stand in awe of people who state audacious goals then go about accomplishing them.

I love the new year for the fact that it inspires us to do something we have the power to do all year long. At any time. Even on a random Wednesday in August.

I would argue our problem isn’t that we shouldn’t think big, but that we consider ourselves too small of a player in the quest for our own goals. We set all-or-nothing New Year’s resolutions that we can’t possibly keep, and frankly don’t expect ourselves to.  Most resolutions are general, vague, and unrealistic. We don’t really believe we can hit them because we’re not committed to our own locus of control.

We fail because we always expected to. We live up (or in this case down) to our own expectations. Then we can pull out all of our familiar excuses of being too busy, overwhelmed, or inadequate to face the challenge. It also plays into the cynical zeitgeist which supports the gravitational pull of the status quo.

You may be familiar with the field of positive psychology which was started by Dr. Martin Seligman, author of bestsellers on the topic like Authentic Happiness. Seligman began his work by trying to determine why so many people are depressed, including young kids. This interest spawned a new field, in which behavioral approaches have been found to combat “learned helplessness” and help people face adversity with positivity.

One of the root causes that Seligman identified was a national mood of entrenched cynicism. Starting in the 1960s, it became intellectually cool to be mistrustful and negative. The Pollyanna attitude to “Accentuate the Positive” was washed away and never returned. You can see this alive and well in public opinion polls or news coverage which celebrate the negative. (And don’t even get me started on the disaster that is the 112th Congress.)


Consequently, we’ve been trained to be critical and think small. We’re cautious of new ideas and motives, and we wait for the other shoe to drop. We get a lot of social reinforcement for this posture by being heralded as savvy, analytical, and smart.

Unfortunately what cynicism is not is inspiring — to us or anyone else. It will never get us the job of our dreams or the lifestyle we aspire to. If there’s even a hint of cynicism or learned helplessness in your New Year’s resolution, it too will be dead by February.

We need to create big ideas, and also value our own ability to achieve them. We need to shed cynicism for a belief in own sense of agency. A good start is by setting resolutions, or any other goals, that are tangible, actionable, and possible. Here’s how:

  1. Set goals that matter to you, and that you can put energy around. Don’t make them just because it’s what you do in January. Be ready to commit.
  2. Every resolution should have a plan to accomplish it. Don’t just vow to change your career, determine what steps you’ll need to take.
  3. Rather than making all-or-nothing resolutions, build in milestones. For example, instead of attempting to hit the gym every day, commit to exercising 2-3 times a week and gradually increasing.
  4. Believe in your own ability to change. Consider that every day, people in the worst of circumstances — whose lives have been wrecked by factors like addiction or trauma –decide to change their lives and do. If they can; you can. Whatever has happened in the past has no impact on what you can do with your future. None.

I’ll end with this passage by author Marianne Williamson, which has inspired so many to  step into their goals, even when they feel unachievable. Ponder it, and see if it does the same for you.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”

Have ideas for making resolutions real? Share here or @kristihedges.

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


Want to Publish a Book? Here’s What Worked for Me.

Want to publish a book? It's a long road to here but worth the trip.

I would venture to guess that on a survey of bucket lists, publishing a book would rank at the top 10%, somewhere near running a marathon and exotic travel. I’m a new author, so people regularly share their own publishing dreams with me and ask for advice. Many of us have an inner drive to impart our ideas, and though I can’t say with certainty what a magic formula to publishing a book is, I can say what worked for me. Hope it can work for you too.

Two weeks ago, my book Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others officially released. I started the process about two years ago nearly to the day. Way back, I floated the idea by a seasoned author and he asked me, “what are you trying to get out of your system?”  I thought it odd at the time, but now I can see that any idea you commit that much time and energy to expressing should be one that you’re willing to keep top of mind for years. In some ways, writing a book is part research practicum and personal exorcism.

Tip #1: Make sure you care about the topic, and care a lot.

My book is about cultivating leadership presence, which has been my personal Rubik’s Cube. I’ve been studying it, advising on it, confounded by it, and tweaking it since I was old enough to realize its great power. I can think of nothing else so meaningful in our lives yet harder to get a personal handle on. We’re all presence voyeurs. We notice it immediately in others yet it’s extremely difficult to understand about ourselves.

When your presence is working for you, it opens doors, makes careers, lands the job, closes the deal, and propels you to your goals.

When it’s working against you, it holds you back in every way.

As a working class kid with nothing to fall back on and zero connections, I learned early that I needed to develop a presence that made others invest in me. I often relied on the kindness of strangers to open doors. This is partly a gift, because it taught me self-reliance and how to cultivate confidence at an early age. I’ve had a wonderful career starting in national politics, then founding and running companies, and now advising at the highest echelons of corporations.

I believe with every fiber of my being that my presence has created those opportunities for me. To say I’m passionate about helping others find and strengthen their best presence is an understatement.

Tip #2: Have an authentic voice.

As you circulate a book idea to agents and publishers, you’ll start hearing about the author’s voice. This took me awhile to get. I worked on a book proposal five years ago about working mothers, and couldn’t get traction for it. Looking back, my voice wasn’t authentic. I was writing what I thought others wanted to hear, including me, rather than what I truly believed.

This time around, I wrote as real and honestly as I could. I shared openly about my own struggles and mistakes in cultivating presence personally and coaching others to do so. I was sincere about what works as well, what’s hard no matter what, and how others can adopt straightforward practices to become more influential and engaging.

As part of being authentic, I was unafraid to take issue with the cultural norms (and many books supporting it), that to be influential you need to exhibit a perfect, calculating, Trump-like alpha presence. That simply does not feel natural to most people, nor do we seek it in others. My experience with clients who have been through a typical “command and control” communications training is that it can create more anxiety and discomfort than it solves. I based my approach on what I have repeatedly seen to create sustained behavior change. You can build stature without cutting your true self down.

Tip #3: Find others who believe in your idea, and watch out for cynicism.

There is a lot of cynicism in the publishing industry, and people who pride themselves on letting you know how low an author’s odds are. I certainly get it — the industry is experiencing a seismic shift and the business fundamentals are in flux. And it was already an industry where there are far more ideas than buyers. Many authors opt out and decide to self-publish, but I chose to stick with the traditional route for the expertise and support from a publisher.

All this is to say, it will take some thick skin to find an agent (recommended) or publisher to sign you. (For a step-by-step process of the proposal process, check out Paul B. Brown’s Publishing Confidential. A must read.) Agents work on commission so they increasingly serve as gatekeepers to understaffed acquisition editors sifting through heaps of proposals.

Most of us don’t have a network of agents or editors to bounce our ideas off, so we need to seek out people likely to be supportive of what we have to say. I reached out to authors who had written like-minded books for their suggestions and introductions. I spoke with several agents. Some were encouraging, others were lukewarm, and one told me, “mark my words, this will not be published.”

Here’s how it played out for me. I spoke on a panel with an author who believed in my message. He introduced me to his agent, she saw promise, and we clicked personally. She secured meetings with several publishers, both large and niche, with a good amount of interest. In the end, we went with AMACOM, a publisher who believes in and supports practical business books. It’s a great fit.

There are plenty of voices dying to tell you why your idea isn’t worthy of publication. But if you believe in it, then adjust when the advice is constructive, and keep on keeping on.

Tip #4: Be ready to put pen to paper.

Chances are, when you get a contract from a publisher, you’ll have about six months to write the book. This may feel like a good amount of time, but it goes very quickly, especially when you’re also working your day job. For me, it meant writing on average a chapter a week. That’s a hustle! (Some people opt to have a ghostwriter for this reason; I enjoy writing so elected to write it myself.)

I could manage it because I had all the content, and a good bit of the research, already complete. My book is centered on an executive presence methodology called I-Presence, which helps leaders be more intentional, individually connected, and inspirational. I developed the program several years ago and have fine-tuned it since having applied it to numerous coaching situations and workshops. I had research, anecdotes, stories, and results at my fingertips. While it had to be written in a book form, the thesis was fully baked.

From what I’ve heard, the days of having years to write a business book are gone. So the closer you are to having your book conceptualized and the content established, you’ll save yourself stress and produce a better result. Also consider early what authors or experts you want to quote, as the permissions process is lengthy.

Lastly, know that for many publishers, they want you to drop off a complete manuscript before editing begins. While you can call and ask questions, it’s not a roll up your sleeves, months-long working session with an editor. Again, it’s another reason to go into this with a thesis you’ve long considered, and perhaps even edited content.

Tip #5: Be a shameless promoter of your ideas, not yourself.

Even as someone with a communications background, I had to adjust to the sheer amount of promotion that’s involved with a book, starting well before it’s published. There’s social media, speaking, Internet marketing, traditional media, and on and on. It’s continuous, as authors need to build and sustain communities. For most of us, promoting ourselves is not how we want to spend our time, and there are cautionary tales everywhere of “professional promoters” who we fear we’ll be compared to. Getting comfortable with it requires reframing. I wrote about my experience in Forbes, suggesting that instead of self-promotion we should consider idea promotion instead.

Authors do have it easier than most because we’ve written (or seek to write) a book about an idea that we care about deeply. If I could do it again, I would have started earlier on social media pushing those ideas out into the world with the purpose of helpful sharing. It’s turned out to be one of the parts of being an author that I enjoy the most — this discussion and debate of ideas. It doesn’t have to be about me, and frankly it’s better when it’s not. I’ll gladly take an opportunity to promote the life-altering concepts in my book, many of which are paid forward from others, because I have seen their impact on careers and lives. I’m happy to be the conduit, and let the ideas take center stage.

My final piece of advice is to take the risk, and try. Yes, the odds aren’t favorable. And yes, 11,000 business books get published each year. Why not yours?

This column also appears on Forbes.com.


Why Boredom is a Dangerous Thing

Boredom
Image via Wikipedia

If it were fun, they wouldn’t call it work. At least that’s what a friend of mine likes to say. Perhaps it conveys what many people feel — their jobs are fairly boring.

If you’re a leader, this sentiment should really, really scare you.

From my perch as a coach, I see boredom as an insidious, undermining influence in companies. When people are bored they produce mediocre, uninspired work. Boredom camouflages passive resistance. Bored workers find all kinds of nonproductive outlets to keep themselves amused. After all, the human mind doesn’t deal well with soul-crushing boredom.

I recently ran across a New York Times article that discussed how much time people waste at work. The author cites a study by Microsoft stating that people work an average of 45 hours per week, but of those, 16 hours are unproductive. Another study by AOL and Salary.com states that American workers actually work only 3 days per week, with a good portion of the non-work time used surfing the Internet.

Hmm, think boredom is playing a role here?

Of course we all get bored from time to time. We certainly can’t expect to be fully engaged every second of our day, and boredom can come and go depending on work demands. Personal stages of life certainly play a role. (Full disclosure: I happen to be sitting in the age group where existential crises rain down as fast as new sports cars.)

That said, when boredom creeps in for you — or you can sense it in your team — be on guard. If it doesn’t pass in a few weeks, you need a plan. Boredom is contagious, and leads to performance and retention problems galore. You should eradicate it like a bad case of bed bugs.

As a leader, can you fight it? Can you make other people less bored? Is that your job? Yes, yes and yes.

It’s called motivational leadership. And tackling boredom is the most common reason it’s needed.

Here are four options if you want to reinvigorate your team, and yourself.

1. Stir the pot.

Seasoned leaders will tell you that at times you need to change things up. We become energized when we stretch ourselves and solve problems in new ways. Consider the idea of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow, which you can watch him discuss in this TED talk or read about in Dan Pink’s Drive. People are at their most energized and alive when they can push their capabilities enough to reach, but not so much as to be overwhelmed.

You can encourage flow by changing work groups or project teams. Assemble a special team and give the members 24 hours to solve a pressing work problem. Introduce a concept such as Google’s 20% time, where each employee can spend one day a week working on any issue of their choosing (from which many innovative ideas have emerged). Put team members on rotations in other functional areas like GE does.

There are more ideas than room to list them. The point is to do something thoughtful and strategic, yet invigoratingly different.

2. Make powerful declarations.

Declarations are the most underutilized tools leaders have — the simple act of saying “We will do X.” Making bold statements helps to align organizations, put a stake in the ground and galvanize action. Let’s be clear though. For declarations to work you must be capable of hitting them, though it should take effort to get there. They are a leap into a shared future.

Be careful not to water them down with “I hope” and “We might” statements. Make them, be confident, and have a plan.

3. Infuse new blood.

I’ve learned the lesson repeatedly that new people change an organizational dynamic immediately. If they’re good, they raise the bar for everyone else. Take a look around your organization. Is everyone pulling their weight? Would new people add skills you desperately need?

Sit down and consider how you would staff your team, taking your current employees out of the equation. If it’s drastically different than how you’re structured now, you may need to rethink your team. It doesn’t need to be an overhaul. If you can’t add people now, consider consolidating positions to make room. I’ve cut my own salary to bring on a new person. If you need the new energy and expertise, it ends up being a decision that pays off quickly.

4. Find a new you.

It could be a scenario where you are the one who’s most bored. If you’re a leader, chances are everyone else already knows it. Another person’s energy is something we quickly calibrate, with extra attention directed upward to those who control our fate.

Regardless of whether or not you’re the one in ultimate charge, when you’re bored, you need to address it. For some it’s realizing when it’s time to move on. As I wrote about before though, bad economies tend to create boredom havens for people who don’t feel it’s safe to leave. When that’s the case, your best bet is to take the initiative. Change your job around, tackle a pet project, have a strategic off-site with yourself, work with a coach. Do what it takes.

Boredom quickly turns into complacency, which has brought more than one mighty company down. If you want to motivate others, first make sure to motivate yourself.

Have some interesting ways to tackle boredom in your company? Share them here or on Twitter @kristihedges.

 This post also appears on Forbes.com.

The Cure for People Who Hate to Self-Promote

IMF's Christine Lagarde

I have been sitting in a stew of self-promotion lately. And like many of you, this feels like a hot seat.

With a book coming out, I’m required to promote myself to a greater degree, and in different ways, than ever before. Sure, I’ve promoted my own company, and coach leaders to build influence by playing on a larger stage. I used to own a PR firm, and have promoted others for decades. I intimately know what’s required to communicate successfully and why.

But when the promotion is all about you, it can be hard. There’s no use ignoring that fact. It’s better to answer the question:

How can you self-promote more comfortably, with grace and confidence?

There’s a definite, but hard to personally determine, line in self-promotion. We’re all striving to be on the side of savvy assertiveness, and not on the other side where cheesy, self-absorbed shysters hang out. The trick to being more comfortable is to better understand where the line is and why, so we can feel confident that our actions are steering us virtuously.

I decided to embark on a little research, and this month’s Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women list provided a neat sample. There are of course, many icons on here, and this year’s top 10 includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, IMF Head Christine Lagarde, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. It’s a formidable group.

All of these women have had to navigate tough environments, face harsh critics, and get comfortable being in the spotlight. No shrinking violets on this list.

However, when looking at the top names on the list from the lens of self-promotion, one point is clear: none are known as self-promoters. In fact, they  have used their positions to be known as idea promoters. Even Lady Gaga (#11) uses her celebrity to provocatively push social causes. (Though I realize she’s a harder case to make, but stay with me here.)

There’s a lesson for all professionals, and certainly leaders, who need to more aggressively brand themselves for the sake of their companies, causes or careers. You don’t have to self promote. Instead, use your presence and platform to promote ideas that matter. Consider yourself the vehicle — albeit a critical one — and not the primary beneficiary.

Getting slightly more comfortable?

Now try these steps to see how you can stop worrying about self-promoting and start idea promoting instead.

1. Find a cause that combines your career and your passion.

Determine what you value about your career, industry, and profession. What would benefit others to have more of? What practices should be stopped? Consider what you talk about to your close colleagues or dream of changing with your co-workers. For example, Facebook’s Sandberg talks often about the importance of women to forge ahead in ambitious leadership roles, and IMF’s Lagarde is tackling ethics in the financial sector.

2. Put yourself in places to take advantage of your position and provide a larger platform.

In my book, Power of Presence, I call these shining moments in the daily grind. Now that you have your ideas, you have to find opportunities to express them. If you’re lucky enough to work in a company that has a PR department, offer to speak at conferences or with reporters on your chosen topics.

If you don’t have available resources, check out associations to which you belong and offer to be on panels, or list yourself as an expert for reporters with sources like Profnet. Write a blog, author articles online, or develop a Twitter following. Or you can head up an initiative right inside your company. As I wrote in a previous post about reinvigorating your job, you can make thought leadership a professional side project by starting a small think tank or industry watch group.  This is easier than it sounds with social media platforms.

3. Extend your reach.

This may be the most uncomfortable part, but it’s also where the leverage lies. This is beyond professional networking; it’s idea networking. Find others who share your ideas and figure out ways to work together. Who is already a thought leader on this topic? How could you contribute to an existing community?

This requires you to make brave requests because you may not know the other people, or may hold them in considerable esteem. Ask for introductions wherever possible, and offer your help. For example, a colleague of mine blogs about social media, and just joined forces with an entrepreneur group to talk to members about building their businesses through social media marketing. A few years ago, a friend invited a well-known CEO speaking at a conference to grab coffee and discuss a shared interest, and ended up getting a coveted seat on a high-profile industry board. You never know what can happen.

Some of you may be thinking, “Isn’t this self-promotion in another form?” And of course you are promoting yourself alongside your ideas. But remember that this is about becoming more comfortable, and to that end, consider others you respect who put themselves out there for causes they genuinely care about. There’s a reason that nearly every book on career building discusses the need to promote yourself — if you don’t, it’s unlikely that anyone will do it for you.

So figure out a way to be more visible and feel most comfortable, and go for it. I’ll be right there with you talking about my passion: helping leaders communicate powerfully and authentically.

How do you feel about self-promotion? Comment here or on Twitter @kristihedges.

This post first appeared on Forbes.com.

%d bloggers like this: