Posts tagged #career advice

Perspective may be Your Greatest Leadership Asset - and How I am Broadening Mine

One activity from my MBA program, like many programs, was to guess the age of the woman in the picture below - did we see an old woman or a young lady? The class argued both ways, some of us seeing an ear where others saw an eye, or a chin where others saw a nose. While the picture is an optical illusion with both women represented, the idea was to show us that a group of people can look at the same picture, see two different things, and both be right. The same is true in life.

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As I step back and reflect, it’s amazing to me how much my perspective has changed over the course of my life. While this is expected and logical from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, I’ve also experienced a marked change in how I view certain situations as an adult. The more I experience as an adult, the greater understanding I have toward other people in similar situations and feel like I can empathize with them as well as often offer practical advice .

Much of these experiences center on the professional: losing a job, balancing grad school and full-time work, relocating to new cities for work, transitioning from an individual contributor to a leader, and returning to work from maternity leave. One thing that these experiences showed me was that there are multiple options or answers to consider in most situations; things are not as black and white as I sometimes thought. I found myself trying to balance the differing opinions of people around me and use my experience and perspective to solve problems that used to seem straightforward and, with the onslaught of many valid opinions, were actually quite complex. As I became more interested in the idea of how we develop and expand our perspective, I read this quote in an article by Kevin Eikenberry “The most self-aware leaders recognize that perspective is one of the most valuable things they bring to their role – and the best leaders, whether they would describe it this way or not, all use the power of perspective to be more effective and successful.”

Every year, I step back and set personal and professional goals for myself. This year, I was challenged by a colleague to also identify goals that test my character or behaviors, and I decided one of my goals was to broaden my perspective, specifically to “gain new perspectives by finding opportunities to get out of my comfort zone and see the world through the eyes of people who are different than me.“ With everything I’d read and saw, this was the most important character trait I could work on this year.

The intent of my goal was to find ways to cultivate greater awareness and empathy for people in all walks of life by getting outside my comfort zone and seeing the world through their eyes. While reading books, listening to people more, and asking questions were ways I had already been trying to gain different perspectives, these methods seemed insufficient and felt too “safe” for what I wanted to achieve. I wanted to do something that pushed me outside my comfort zone a bit, knowing that I was not ready for an extreme immersion yet.

The first step (ideally of many) I’ve taken to getting outside my comfort zone has been volunteering in a hands-on role with a local charitable organization. In the past, I’ve enjoyed volunteering but often donated items or money, or did something that did not immerse me with the people who benefited from the work of the organization. Now, I interact with each person who comes in to the food pantry during my shift, and I am able to connect the work I am doing to a real person which has deepened the experience. For me, the geographic location and the unfamiliarity of the overall environment have pushed me outside my comfort zone. At first, I was a bit apprehensive about volunteering; worried I would say the wrong thing to someone or somehow offend them, but over the past six months I’ve realized that people are the same in many fundamental ways: they want to be treated with respect and dignity, they want to connect with another person in a meaningful way, and they are appreciative of the generosity of others.

One thing I have learned through talking to others about this topic is that there is a continuum of experiences available when you think about broadening your perspective and getting outside your comfort zone. It starts with things like reading different articles and books or listening to people with different opinions, then moves to sitting down with people who have different perspectives and asking them questions (similar to Stephen Covey’s concept of seeking to understand rather than be understood) and can manifest itself in actual experiences that immerse you more with people who have different perspectives, such as volunteering or taking a particular job or career path. As I’ve gotten more comfortable, it opens the door to trying other things that will give greater awareness for the perspective of others.

The second thing I have learned is that gaining additional experiences in all walks of life are especially important for aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs. While having a variety of professional experiences is critical to pull from in these roles, it is equally important that people in these roles understand the many different types of people who support their products or services, both employees and consumers. In my experience, the leaders who are regarded as the most connected and authentic are those who can build a relationship with anyone, from what are traditionally called “front line” or “back of the house” employees to vendors to customers. These relationships are often successful because the person meets each person where they are, makes them comfortable, and has an awareness of their perspective that they consider when when making organizational decisions and communicating these decisions. While this awareness may or may not change a decision, it shows respect through a willingness to consider alternative viewpoints and cultivates overall acceptance of the decision. You could have the greatest product idea, the most funding, or a litany of experiences and education that prepare you for a leadership role, but without channeling the power of perspective you put at risk your relationships with people, your credibility, and your success.


Posted on June 17, 2019 and filed under Career Insights.

How I Conquered by Fear of Public Speaking: A Year of Speaking Boldly

Photo by  Teemu Paananen  on  Unsplash

Up until my senior capstone presentation, I would have told you my feelings about public speaking were positive.  In fact, I grew up performing; between dance, musicals, plays, church recitals, and school presentations, I was comfortable, and even enjoyed, being on a stage or in front of a room.  For example, there is a home video of me in kindergarten narrating “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” (in Spanish, no less) while my classmates acted it out and I am vying for as much attention as possible.  This was indicative of how much I enjoyed performing in front of people the first 22 years of my life. I saw speaking and performing as an opportunity to engage others and share something that I was interested in or passionate about.

After my capstone presentation; however, my feelings shifted from positive to fearful.  Why? I’ll blame a lethal mix of too little sleep, too much stress, one too many Starbucks Red Eyes, and too little food leading up to the presentation.  The combination caused me to faint mid-presentation. My blood sugar dropped from lack of food and the effects of too much caffeine, stress, and exhaustion. Thankfully, another student in the front row (in his ROTC uniform, no less) jumped up and caught me as I fell, sparing me from additional injuries.  

From that point, I started to fear public speaking.  I worried that something similar would happen, and that it would not end as gracefully as my capstone project.  Even though I logically knew that the situation was isolated, my body still went into overdrive every time I had to speak or present in front of a crowd.  I was in good company - there are estimates that 75% of Americans fear public speaking. That’s 238 million people!

Rather than confront my fear, I avoided it.  When I had to present, I created methods which increased my comfort level, such as putting a lot of information on a slide, or sticking to basic subject matter rather than sharing anything personal or telling stories that might make me more vulnerable.  It was not until a mentor gave me feedback on my presentation style, and told me that it would hold me back from leading at the level I aspired to, that I decided to take a different approach.

This feedback was the motivation I needed to do something different, but I was not sure where to start.  I spent a lot of time reading and researching presentation tips, observing other presenters in person and through online TED talks, and talking to public speaking coaches.  Over time, I compiled a lot of information from many sources about how to develop presentation skills and to inspire people through what I said. Then, I watched Susan Cain’s TED Talk about the power of introverts and heard her challenge herself to have a “year of speaking dangerously”.  This challenge was a way for her to step outside her comfort zone and become more comfortable promoting this idea she had across thousands of people. I thought, if she can do it, I can do it, and used the idea to start my own year of speaking boldly.

Using a challenge forced me to add structure to an ambiguous piece of feedback.  I decided that I would present at least once a month, using the skills that I had acquired to make my presentations more engaging, interesting, and collaborative.  I would keep adding and practicing new skills over time, so that by the end of the year, I was a dynamic, interesting, and inspiring speaker. I also asked people to share feedback with me over time so I could reflect on the positives and continue to improve in other areas.

That was four years ago. Since then, my challenge of speaking boldly has opened my eyes - and my life - to opportunities that I never imagined. While I still get nervous before presentations, I also have fun during them and I can tell my audience is enjoying themselves, which makes it even more rewarding for me. Presentations give me energy and give me a boost rather than deplete me. And, seeing that hard work, good advice, practice, and working with others can measurably improve something for me has given me the confidence to try other things that seem challenging or impossible.

One thing I wanted when I started this challenge was a cheat sheet that would help me structure my preparation and remind me to use various techniques and tactics that make speakers more effective. Since I never found one, I created one. This goes through my entire thought process and the methods I use to prepare, but is brief enough for the busiest of professionals to use. Good luck!


Dr. Elizabeth Piontek on "Finding her path, personal branding, and the business of medicine"

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I had the pleasure of spending a Saturday morning with Dr. Piontek, (who goes by Libby) a friend of mine in Kansas City to talk to her about her career, how she developed a personal brand, and what she has learned about the business side of medicine. While her experience is focused on practicing medicine, her recommendations are applicable to young professionals across industries and professions. You can listen to our entire conversation here, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or Spotify under “The Savvy Young Professional” podcast. Also, check out five takeaways from our conversation below.

On finding your career path. During high school, Libby initially wanted to go into veterinary medicine and spent time shadowing and working with a vet. Through this experience, along with a foreign study in marine biology, she realized that being a veterinarian was not the path for her, and she decided to go to medical school instead after completing a similar shadowing experience with a few physicians. During her residency, one of her mentors, who was a urologist, encouraged her to pursue this path instead of infectious disease, citing her natural talent. By spending time shadowing different career paths and taking advice from mentors, she found a career that she loves and that gives her purpose.

On discipline. Completing fourteen years of school and residency sets an extreme bar for discipline and delayed gratification. Her trick to getting through it? Focusing on the next goal or milestone only rather than thinking years down the line. This helped her compartmentalize semesters of school and rounds of residency into manageable efforts.

On promoting yourself. As a physician in private practice, Libby has had to find ways to build relationships with general practitioners for referrals and build a reputation in the community. She cites her success at spending time building relationships with other physicians in person to invest in trust and credibility, and taking opportunities to be promoted as an expert in her field. While she does not advocate the use of social media in medicine, she has found personal ways to build relationships which have helped her establish a reputation and a customer base. For non-physician young professionals, this is comparable to in-person networking.

On always learning. While medical residents put in some of the longest work weeks of any profession, taking the extra time to learn during this time is critical. The “80 hour rule” was already in place when Libby started residency (which states that residents cannot work more than 80 hours in a week for safety reasons), she, like many doctors, resist following this protocol when there is so much to learn and observe. For Libby, it was about equipping herself with the most experience and knowledge possible so that she would excel when she was operating on her down. While most other professionals are not in a life or death situation, it is still valuable to observe, learn, and train as much as possible early in your career so that you can pull these tools out of your toolbox and lead on your own when the time comes. Taking these opportunities, even if they require extra time at the office, more work, or travel can be both personally rewarding and professionally valuable in the future.

On balancing work and family. As a mom with a young son, Libby experiences the challenges of balancing her busy workload and spending time with her husband and son, as well as taking care of herself. To maximize the amount of time she has to spend with family, she asks others for help and delegates and outsources work to her nanny. Libby also emphasized the importance of having a supportive spouse who can step in to help, especially on days where she has limited flexibility.


About Dr. Piontek

Dr. Piontek was born and raised in a suburb of Kansas City and still lives in the area today.  After attending Furman University where she studied biology and graduated with honors, she earned her MD from the University of Missouri. She interned and completed her residency in Urology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, NE.  Dr. Piontek is Board Certified by the American Board of Urology and is a member of the American Urological Association. Along with being in private practice she serves on the Editorial Board of the Missouri State Medical Association.  You can read her most recent paper in the January/February issue. Her schedule covering three clinics, two hospitals, and two surgery centers keeps her busy, along with being a wife and mom to a 18 month old boy.


Charity Balee on "Adversity, Taking Risks, and Finding Purpose in her Work"

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I had the opportunity to spend time with Charity Balee, a colleague and friend, learning more about the challenges she faced early in her career, how she was able to transition from real estate to healthcare, and her secret to implementing change. Charity has contagious energy and enthusiasm, and I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did. Along with a summary of our conversation, the full audio version is available here, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or Spotify under “The Savvy Young Professional”.


Takeaways from our Conversation

Take risks - Growing up with a single mom, Charity saw her mom work hard and take risks to start businesses and support their family. Her mom’s example has inspired Charity to be more comfortable taking risks in her own career, knowing that hard work will pay off.

Keep going in the face of adversity - After the housing crisis ended her career in finance and real estate, Charity transitioned to healthcare sales. Despite high performance, she found herself without a job twice, both times after moving for her job and after receiving performance awards and sales commendations. While frustrating and discouraging, she never let the layoffs discourage her from finding an even better next opportunity.

Find your purpose - Charity studied real estate and finance in undergrad and originally started in the mortgage industry because she loved being part of the process of finding people homes for their family. After the housing crisis in 2008, she knew she needed to find another industry that could bring her the same level of purpose. While she is on the business rather than the medical side of healthcare, her role in supporting caregivers so they can focus on patient care has given her a tremendous degree of purpose.

Learn from others - In Charity’s current role, she is often charged with leading complex and sensitive change with physicians and nurses on medical supplies and equipment. Rather than focusing on the future state and what needs to change, Charity goes into each conversation with caregivers with one goal: to learn something. By listening and learning, she is able to empathize, find creative solutions, and balance the need for fiscal responsibility with patient care.

Be intentional with your family - Over the past five years, Charity has traveled full-time for work, with her husband and two sons living at their home base in St. Louis. While she is on the road during the week, Charity is intentional about connecting with her family via Face Time every night for bedtime, and spending dedicated time with them on the weekend. She has found that this structure works for her and her family, and has fostered a great level of appreciation for the time they have together.


About Charity Balee:

With over 14 years of account executive experience, 10 within healthcare, Charity specializes in leading cost reduction strategies, developing and fostering effective collaborations with executives and physicians, and developing long and short-term business strategies. 

Charity worked for a variety of organizations before joining The Resource Group and has an educational background in business with a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Memphis and a Master of Business Administration from Webster University. 

How do you lead when the situation is not black and white?

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The other day, I was talking to someone about a management situation they were facing at work — specifically about how to help guide people to balance work and personal commitments. While it seemed like a simple question on the surface, after digging deeper, I realized that there were a number of factors and considerations with both positive and negative implications depending on how the situation played out.

This is not uncommon. One of the first things that surprised me upon becoming a manager was the level of ambiguity my job had. Previously, as an individual contributor, situations and work projects were pretty straightforward. As a manager of people, I immediately found myself in situations where the answer was not black and white. Sometimes it was a new problem to solve, other times it involved people and the application of various company policies or issues with other people. In my experience, it was easier to solve the ambiguous problems given my access to experienced people and information. The people questions were tricker. They came with requests that I did not always know the answer to, questions about balancing work and personal commitments or complaints about a work relationship that was strained. They often wanted help or support, but the right solution was not always clear. This resulted in frustration on my part, as I felt ill-equipped to handle the situation and therefore considered myself to be failing in my new management role.

Thankfully, I received excellent advice on how to handle these situations, which was to ask people to stop bringing me problems and start bringing me solutions.

The person closest to the problem often has the best insight on the solution. Why? They can visualize a better state and they are the most invested in finding the right solution. Given the opportunity, they will often rise to the challenge to think through the many considerations and consequences of a decision, and provide a well-thought-out plan and recommendation. This not only saves you time, it also teaches others how to think through the facets of a problem and to provide a logical, defensible solution. With a reasonable solution that you both agree on, you also minimize conflict and dissatisfaction caused by differing expectations. Furthermore, if someone decides to make a tough decision for themselves - for example, having a direct conversation with someone they are experiencing conflict with rather than asking their manager to have the conversation - then they are likely more content with the decision than if it is handed down to them from someone else.

There are opportunities where it is important to be more involved in a decision or a situation; if a strained work situation is escalating, for example, or if the proposed solution is not feasible. These can also become excellent coaching opportunities. Some of my best management training occurred when I talked through situations with my manager and heard their perspective, as it gave me a new way to think about things.

Once I stopped talking and started listening, asking, and trying to empower others, I found that the right answers were much clearer and that we were both were happier with the decision. It shifted my relationships from ones of “asking for permission” to ones established on trust, and the majority of the time, people respected that trust. It also prompted me to take my own advice and remember to always bring solutions, not problems to others as well.

Have you tried this approach in the past? How has it worked for you?

A Teaser: Four Themes from my Conversation with Ashton Haider Brooks

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First, thank you to everyone who listened to episode 2 of The Savvy Young Professional podcast! It has been a fun (and nerve-wracking) adventure to try something new, and I appreciate the feedback and words of encouragement so many of you have shared.

One suggestion I received from several people is to share a longer, written “teaser” of each podcast that shares a bit more with readers who might not have time right away to listen to the podcast or who do not typically listen to podcasts (though the teaser will hopefully convert you)! In response to your feedback, here are four takeaways from my conversation with Ashton Haider Brooks. The full podcast is available here or on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or Spotify under “The Savvy Young Professional”.

Find a hobby and make it your career. Ashton grew up with a father who was in the business world and a mother who was creative, loved art, and made the world a more beautiful place. While Ashton had an interest in art and photography as a teenager and young adult from her mom’s influence, she used her dad’s influence and business savvy to find a way to translate what she enjoyed about photography into a career in advertising, drawing on the foundation of art and creativity in the ad world. She is still in marketing and loves the field.

Always offer to do more. During the recession in 2009, Ashton graduated and found herself in a slumping advertising market. Thanks to free rent with her mom, she found a job with a craft brewer in Chicago that paid her one case of beer a week. While she was only scoped to help with events, she offered to help start their blog, run market research, and anything else the team needed. She quickly moved from a salary of beer to a salary of money, and used this experience to land a job at one of the most prominent ad agencies in the world several months later.

Interview the company. During our conversation, I appreciated Ashton’s vulnerability and openness in sharing an unfortunate experience she had with a negative work environment, including but not limited to harassment and unsafe work conditions. When I asked her for advice on how others could avoid finding themselves in a similar situation, she talked about interviewing the company while you are interviewing, including asking tough questions of the people you meet with and taking tours to see the work environment. These actions would have helped her better understand the culture and pass on the opportunity.

Figure it out. Ashton’s dad emphasized to her early on to never pay someone to do something she could do herself, and she has lived by this advice. In the years I have known Ashton, I have seen her figure out everything from home repairs to targeted online sales and market research. She finds a way to teach herself what she doesn’t know rather than outsource it or shy away from the challenge.

If you haven’t had a chance to listen to our full conversation, I hope this piques your interest! Thanks again for reading (and listening) along.

Posted on February 6, 2019 and filed under Career Insights.