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 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.

Why I’m Following Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz

LONG BEACH, CA - OCTOBER 26: Howard Schultz, C...

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is showing how to do well by doing good. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

For most leaders, the middle of the road is an alluringly comfortable place. It’s safe, well-trodden, and known. Unfortunately, what it isn’t is inspiring. Consider any inspirational leader and you’ll notice their proclivity towards the unconventional, the creative, and the tough choices. The great leaders eschew the middle of the road for the road less taken. And the best take the high road while they’re at it.

One of the benefits of our current age is that you can be a student of leadership wherever you are. Simply find a leader who builds both considerable success and followership — and you relate to — and thanks to the Internet you have a ready-made  teacher. I’m personally learning quite a bit lately about inspiration from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

In fact, any manager today should be engaging in their own Schultz stalking (from a respectable distance, of course) to learn how to use their personal presence and platform to create a virtuous cycle. Yes, Schultz is insanely successful at what he does. And he’s done it by taking gutsy stances — many of which he does not because he has to, but because he feels they’re right.

Schultz also strikes the delicate balance of being decisive, assertive, and approachably real. And unlike iconic leaders in the vein of Steve Jobs or Jack Welch, he’s the kind of leader you’d like to have a beer (or yes, coffee) with.

So how does he do it? What can leaders of all stripes take away?

Lesson #1: Schultz defaults to being open, and willingly shares his story.

Many have heard Schultz tell his story. He grew up in the Brooklyn projects, the son of a struggling blue-collar worker who held a variety of service jobs with no health insurance. Schultz went to college on an athletic scholarship, worked for Xerox and other companies in sales, and eventually went to work for the tiny Starbucks company.

After seeing coffeehouses on every corner in Italy – places that not only served coffee but also served up a meeting place for the locals – he ended up buying the company and building his idea into the multibillion-dollar Starbucks brand. He did it despite the chorus of naysayers who were certain no one would ever buy a $4 cup of coffee.

Schultz is refreshingly forthright about all of it — giving ample opportunity for others to see themselves in his struggles.

Lesson #2: He’s not afraid to create a company that’s more than — even if there’s no precedent. What Schultz had in mind was more than a $4 cup of coffee. He envisioned Starbucks as “the third place” that people spend their time between home and work. Schultz’s goal is a “customer experience,” not just a good cup of java. That idea is so well-rooted in our culture today that it seems as if it were always a foregone conclusion.

Schultz’s vision could have stopped there, but it didn’t. As he told an audience at UCLA in September 2008 in this video, his goal from the start was to build a “different kind of company” – one with a “social conscience” and a “soul.” He believes in a balance between making a profit and being a benevolent employer and a benevolent part of community.

Schultz incorporated a number of revolutionary concepts others thought financially unwise, including comprehensive health insurance for part-time workers and investing in the communities where it does business. We all know how that turned out — it became a major part of the Starbucks brand.

Lesson #3: Schultz admits failure, takes accountability and keeps learning.

Schultz is quick to own up to his own missteps, and a much publicized near disaster. When Schultz resigned as CEO (but stayed on as chairman), Starbucks grew so rapidly that it lost the signature “neighborhood feeling” that had made it so successful.

Schultz came back as CEO in 2008 and realized he had to take drastic action. He scaled back, closing 900 stores. And he took action to regain the “neighborhood feel,” shutting the remaining 11,000 U.S. stores for one day to retrain 115,000 people. Next he took 10,000 managers to New Orleans for a business meeting to galvanize those on the front lines.

The managers (and Schultz himself) also contributed more than 54,000 volunteer hours in projects such as painting, landscaping and building playgrounds in Hurricane Katrina’s wake.

Lesson #4: He lives by the adage, “to whom much is given, much is required.”

Schultz doesn’t hesitate to use his influence to spread his ideas about corporations with a social conscience to the wider world. His activism earned him the No. 1 spot on Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year list for 2011.

He also gets people to respond. When Schultz called on corporations to join him in a moratorium on political contributions until Washington politicians came up with a bipartisan plan to address long-term fiscal issues, more than 100 signed on, including the CEOs at Pepsi, Disney, Intuit,  Whole Foods, J. Crew, AOL,  the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ.

Even the president took notice. David Kaplan of Fortune magazine reports that President Barack Obama called Schultz personally last September to discuss the issue.

In late 2001, Schultz once again showed his willingness to use his platform by announcing his Create Jobs for USA Program. The grass-roots private fund makes loans to small businesses in underserved markets nationwide. The Starbucks Foundation seeded the project with a $5 million donation, and asks its customers to contribute. For a donation of $5 or more, they receive a red, white and blue wristband with the message “Indivisible.” More than 100,000 wristbands were sold in the first days of the launch, a testament to Schultz’s clout and the trust behind the brand. Corporate partners Google Offers and Banana Republic have since joined in the effort.

Lesson #5: Schultz understands his job is to inspire others.

Schultz is often described as self-effacing, and it’s clear that he’s not doing this for pure ego gratification. (Note how quickly he dispelled rumors he was running for president late last year rather than reveling in the attention.)

But Schultz does understand the importance of being visible for the right reasons, and of using his spotlight. We expect to see our leaders and it’s a gift to be able to learn from them in real time. I, for one, can’t wait to see what Schultz does next.

Have a favorite leader you follow? 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.

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.

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.

How To Fire Someone Without Losing Sleep Over It

All companies terminate employees, but they don't have to degrade them in the process. (Image David Castillo Dominici)

Sometimes, after you fire someone, they stay with you. You know the ones — the guy who worked hard but just didn’t have the strategic expertise you needed. Or the person who was a kind, decent, C-player you simply couldn’t afford to carry. Not to mention the one who was hired to do one job, but as market conditions necessitated the position to change, the person couldn’t make the jump.

Most terminated employees don’t fall into the saboteur bucket. They aren’t out to harm anyone. They aren’t a cancer eating away at your organization. They aren’t stealing from the company. They just don’t fit. (Despite everyone’s best intentions and wishes otherwise.)

And you still have to fire them. And it hurts, literally. A study conducted at 45 hospitals across the United States indicated that managers doubled their risk of heart attacks during the week after they fired someone.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the warning signs that employees should heed that their job may be in jeopardy and exit on their own terms. I guess I’m on a bit of a crusade to find a better way than the standard Trumpian “You’re Fired!”

This indelible sound bite is more than reality entertainment — most companies manage to make the process more degrading than it has to be.

In my book The Power of Presence, I discuss how to let someone go in the most presence-filled, trusted way possible. (Yes, this is probably making employment lawyers reading this twitch.) But I still believe there’s a better way — almost always. One that sets everyone up to go forward with more self-esteem, less overall risk, and mutual reputations intact.

The reason terminations are handled as they are is to mitigate legal risk. Hence the accepted formula: Say as little as possible, get the person out of the office quickly, and have the individual sign a severance document agreeing not to contact clients or sue.

This legal advice assumes the employee can’t be trusted and may have criminal intentions. As a result, the employee often gets 15 minutes to pack up personal belongings and an escort out the door. Email is scanned and computers are confiscated. The whole process arouses antagonistic feelings that might have been avoided if the employee were treated with dignity.

It also leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the employees left behind, who may feel upset by the cavalier treatment accorded a co-worker—and wonder how they’ll be treated under similar circumstances.

None of this process eliminates risk — in fact, it may increase it! If you’re worried about a lawsuit, know that fired employees who sue a company often base that decision on the treatment they received on the way out. A 2009 study, Preserving Employee Dignity During the Termination Interview, examined workers’ reactions to common firing methods. It found that employees generally liked being praised even as they were getting fired, but that any favorable effects of the praise were eroded when a security guard escorted the worker out after the meeting. In addition, having a third party in the room “was viewed as demonstrating a lack of respect,” according to the study, published in the Journal of Business Ethics.

Another study cited in Wall Street Journal found that workers were ten times more likely to sue when not given a reason for their termination.

I’ve made it a point to learn from companies that terminate employees and still treat them in a respected and trusted way, and adopted many of these practices in my own company. Here are some approaches I’ve seen to help people exit a company with dignity and a softer landing:

  • Give someone early notice if you feel that person’s performance is leading to termination. Don’t assume the employee will exploit the situation and stop doing his or her work. Act as a mentor to help the person find a more suitable role in another department or another company, or to consider a new path.
  • Offer to let the person resign on his own accord with two to three months of pay (either while working or as severance).
  • Hire the employee as a consultant on a part-time basis to wrap up unfinished projects.
  • Create a corporate policy of outplacement where terminated employees can use a desk, office or other resources as a base of operations.
  • Make introductions to company recruiters who can locate a more suitable position.

There is, of course, another side to the equation, and that’s how the employee behaves—whatever the reason for the termination.

In some cases it’s a for-cause termination, as outlined above. Sometimes it’s a layoff. And sometimes an employee resigns to accept a better opportunity elsewhere.

Here’s a universal truth – and it can affect your future: People remember how you leave, more so than what you did prior to that.

If you’re treated respectfully, given the tough circumstances, you have an opportunity to build trust and respect by being helpful, contributing your best up to the last minute and refraining from spreading negativity. Work with the company to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone.

Business circles are small, and your integrity and reputation are portable. For everyone, managers and employees alike: taking the high road is an investment in your future.

Do you have a better policy for letting people go? Comment here or on Twitter @kristihedges.

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

Are You Lonely in the Leadership Role? Study Says You’re In Good Company.

English: Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and...

Leadership can be a lonely job, but it doesn't have to be. (Wikipedia)

This month, Harvard Business Review featured a story about how lonely it is to be the CEO. The article echoed what anyone who’s been a leader or run a company knows well — it’s isolating at the top. Especially for new leaders, the issue can be surprisingly unsettling.

The authors cited survey findings that “half of CEOs report experiencing feelings of loneliness in their role, and of this group, 61 percent believe it hinders their performance. First-time CEOs are particularly susceptible to this isolation. Nearly 70 percent of first-time CEOs who experience loneliness report that the feelings negatively affect their performance.”

Your first reaction may be: cry me a river.

Corporate CEO behavior and lavish salaries haven’t exactly instilled empathy. Should we care if billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos aren’t reaching the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?

I would argue, any leader’s isolation has negative ramifications on others. And it’s not just CEOs who experience this kind of loneliness — it’s team managers, entrepreneurs, and community leaders too. In fact, anyone who finds themselves peerless can feel isolated. This isn’t good for decision-making, culture, or performance.

The best leaders have confidantes who can give it to them straight, speak truth to power, and keep them in the know. Stanford management professor Robert Sutton warned against the “toxic tandem” of leadership, where those in charge become more self-absorbed and less attuned to others’ perspectives precisely when they need outside information the most.

Many times those in leadership positions don’t feel they have a right to experience loneliness. After all, they worked hard to land their coveted position. But it’s a near universal human response to experience times of isolation in a leadership role. As I discussed in The Power of Presence, relatedness is extremely important to our well-being and effectiveness. Neuroscientist researcher David Rock has shown that it’s “hardwired” with biochemical roots.

Because the leader’s actions reverberate, one person’s isolation becomes a larger problem when it leads to poor decision-making, negativity, fatigue and frustration. And who wants to work for an unhappy person?

If you’re in a leadership role, you can guard against being isolated by making connection a priority. Don’t feel bad about it; view it as a necessity.

1. Find a peer group. When I was a first-time CEO, I really struggled to find equilibrium. Eventually I joined Vistage International, which is a CEO professional development organization with chapters around the country. Every month, I was able to discuss confidential issues with 15 other leaders battling similar circumstances. It had a significant impact on my business and my well-being.

For new entrepreneurs, I’m a fan of The Founder Institute, of which I’m a mentor. Members build camaraderie with fellow start-up entrepreneurs, and learn valuable skills to launch a business. Many times, business owners don’t even know fellow entrepreneurs before they join. Having that kind of network helps you learn from each other’s progress and roadblocks.

2. Form a personal board of advisors. CEOs routinely put together a board of advisors, which is helpful from a business standpoint. However, you may still need to be “on” with that group. Instead, look for those with whom you can speak openly and form your own informal advisory group. These can be peers in different divisions, or similar companies, or even retired industry professionals. You may even be able to tap into the advice of a trusted colleague who reports to you. The point is to have 4-5 people you can go to regularly to bounce around ideas, discuss fears and challenges, and gain perspective.

3. Get a coach or a mentor. Of course, as a coach, I have a strong bias for the value of working with a leadership coach. In defense of this point, I worked with a coach for years before I became one. One of the reasons a coach is helpful is because he or she can discuss issues with no vested interest in the client’s decision — unlike nearly everyone else in their life. A good coach helps you see blind spots and get underneath issues, not just attack them at the surface.

That said, a coach isn’t for everyone. Often, you can find a mentor who serves the same function in an unpaid relationship. Finding a leader with past experience relevant to yours, who is motivated to be your mentor, can be a big advantage. That person knows how hard it is to be in your shoes because they were there once. Perhaps it’s why they’ll jump in to help you now.

Do you ever experience loneliness in your leadership role? What do you do about it? 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. This post also appears on Forbes.com.

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