Posts tagged #young professional

Let's Go To Dinner: The Best Business Etiquette Primer

Photo by  Jay Wennington  on  Unsplash

I went to my first “official” business dinner on a recruiting trip my senior year of college. My lack of experience translated to lots of nerves, and I was thankful that I had already accepted the job and was attending as a courtesy rather than as part of the interview process.

As I attended more work dinners, made mistakes, and read up on the in’s and out’s of business etiquette, I learned to relax and enjoy the experience because I was prepared. My many faux pas - from ordering a messy burger that I had to eat with my hands, bringing a presentation to a dinner without page numbers, and sharing an opinion that did not come out the way I intended - along with a good dose of Emily Post - taught me how to be a better dinner guest.

I had the pleasure of hosting a business etiquette dinner for our group of summer interns a few weeks ago, and we had a great time enjoying delicious food and wine as well as talking about the basics of formal dining and the many gray areas; things like, what do you do with your cell phone during dinner? What if you get sick? How do you politely tell the server that your bottle of wine is a bad bottle? And, why are there so many forks?

First things first.

After toasting the interns, I told them first things first when it comes to dinner etiquette: focus on making everyone else comfortable.

What do I mean by making everyone else feel comfortable? When you think about any aspect of the event, from conversation topics to how expensive of a meal you order, your first goal is to make everyone you are with feel comfortable. For example, one question that came up during our dinner was what to do if you are feeling sick. In that situation, it depends, and the answer ties back to the people you are dining with. If you are ill to the point of needing medical care, take care of yourself regardless of who you are dining with that evening. Similarly, if you are sick with something contagious, let your dinner mates know as far in advance as possible that you will not be able to attend, lest you pass along your ailment. Otherwise, if you have a headache or do not feel well, but are not in medical danger, it depends on how well you know your dinner party. Let’s say you are taking some business clients out to dinner. If you tell them you have a headache or heartburn, they will feel terrible the entire evening that you inconvenienced yourself to come out and will focus on finishing as quickly as possible so you can get home - not the intent of your dinner. In this case, you use all the energy you can muster to entertain and engage them. Conversely, if you are with colleagues who you know well, you can certainly share that you are not feeling well and ask them to excuse any behavior that seems out of character.

The place setting.

A good starting point of dinner etiquette is learning the format of a different place settings, including formal, basic, and informal. These explain what all the utensils are used for, why there are so many forks and glasses in a formal place setting, and which bread plate belongs to each person (which is easy to mix up)! For example, I have had numerous instances where someone has accidentally used my water glass or bread plate. Knowing the correct place setting will give you confidence when you walk into a dinner that you are not going to make the same mistake! And, if you happen to forget, you can use your hands to remind you. Take your thumbs and first fingers and make a circle with each hand, extending your middle fingers straight. Your left hand will look like a lower case “b”, which stands for “bread” and your right hand will look like a lower case “d”, which stands for “drink”. Easy!

Your food.

I mentioned earlier that I learned my lesson when I ordered a messy burger and fries at one dinner. Now, I study the menu in advance and pick out one or two things that I want to order that are easy to eat and moderately priced. That way, when I arrive at dinner, I can focus on talking to other people and spend less time studying the menu. This also helps ensure that I do not “out order” the host, either in terms of quantity of food or price of food. When gauging what to order, follow your host’s lead and order the same courses of food as well as spend a similar amount of money on your meal.

Dining faux pas.

As I prepared for the etiquette dinner, I learned of two new dining faux pas: first, never blow on your food to cool it off, instead, wait for it to cool on its own; and second, never salt your food before tasting it unless you want to offend the chef’s seasoning selection.

While not necessarily faux pas, there are other practices to avoid if you want to support the idea of making others feel comfortable. For example, if you are entertaining someone, ask them for recommendations on the kinds of food or restaurants they like before you make a restaurant selection. Years ago, I wanted to impress a couple people at dinner and chose a high-end steakhouse, not thinking about the fact that they were informal, barbeque-style people and would prefer something more casual. Had I taken this into account, we all would have been more comfortable at dinner and enjoyed our time more.

Interested in learning more about preparing for and attending a business dinner? Complete the form below to receive a free, six page PDF with 27 business dinner FAQs.

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Posted on June 24, 2019 and filed under Career Insights.

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.

Feeling Stuck? Create a Career Plan Based on your Values

Photo by  Kelly Sikkema  on  Unsplash

In preparation to remodel our basement, I have spent hours going through and cleaning out cardboard boxes of old papers, books, and memorabilia from childhood that is currently in storage.  My mom saved many mementos: school programs, report cards, newspaper clippings, photos, and cards that document the first 22 years of my life. While most of the items brought back fun memories, I was pleasantly surprised to find a personal career plan that I created in high school.  I had forgotten about the exercise until I read through it and vaguely remembered putting it together in a life skills class. (Side note: While that class was the most practical I have ever taken, at the time, I thought it was pointless. The 17-year-old version of me said, “what did I need ‘life skills’ for? I was going to college and would have a fabulous career naturally unfold.”  Youth).

What was most interesting to me was how relevant my plan was to my early college and internship decisions.  While I may have forgotten about it during the past 10 years, I looking at it now, I saw how it served as a guidepost to me in the early professional decisions I made as it related to college selection, majors, and internships.

I wish I could say that I continued creating or updating a career plan during college; however, my previous thought pattern about the unnecessity of a detailed, well-thought-out plan ruled. In college, my “career plan” morphed into securing a job that was impressive, prestigious, and paid well.  Needless to say, I lacked some focus and maturity. After starting off in consulting and thinking that this would be the fulfillment of my career dreams, with the ultimate goal of being the youngest partner at the firm and retiring at 50 years old, I found myself unemployed in 2009 during the recession.  Out of necessity, I decided to be more intentional about my career plan.

During my unemployment, I treated career planning and job searching like a full-time job.  From networking everywhere I went to researching graduate programs in business and law along with the related job prospects, to meeting with any professional who would give me 30 minutes to ask questions about their career and allow me the opportunity to share my story, I spent three months hyper-focused not only on getting a job, but on getting the right job that would put me on a career path that aligned with my interests and values.

I found that career planning has two parts.  The first is understanding who you are, what makes you tick, and the kind of work environment you thrive in so that you can focus your college studies or job search on industries companies and jobs where you can give the most and do so with joy and fulfillment.  In my experience, finding the right work environment is a big part of the difference between a job and a vocation. A job is work that you have to do, a vocation is the fulfillment of a calling. When I hire people, I always want to find people who feel like the job is fulfilling a calling or greater purpose for them.  While a vocation does not mean that every day will be perfect, it does create a sense of purpose for people and allows people and the organization to thrive.

Your work environment can be things like being in a creative or technical field, working mostly with a team or working in isolation, being based in one office or traveling, operating in ambiguity or in a black and white environment, or working in a particular industry that holds a unique interest for you.  For example, when I interviewed Michelle McClay (link), she shared how she was interested in healthcare from a young age and wanted to be a doctor. When she decided not to pursue medical school, she transitioned to healthcare administration and now works in the healthcare industry in a non-clinical role.

The second part of career planning is a more specific and practical application of your answers above as it relates to specific jobs, evaluating specific companies and job opportunities related to your answers.  For example, toward the end of my unemployment I was fortunate to receive four job offers all within a 24 hour span, which was nothing short of miraculous after months of failure. Having multiple options to choose from, with roles that were quite different, prompted me to find an objective way to evaluate each opportunity.  Emotionally, there was one job I wanted because it allowed me to remain in Cincinnati and closer to family, but the growth potential and stability were lacking. I felt that I needed better criteria than emotion.

Instead, I created a job assessment grid in Excel, writing down the attributes of my career that were important to me in a column, and the four companies in a row across the top.  I weighted each attribute based on how important it was to me, gave each company a score for each attribute, and calculated the overall score for each company to see which came out on top.

My attributes ranged from quantitative (e.g. compensation, benefits, and bonus potential) to qualitative (e.g. growth opportunities, learning and mentoring, organizational stability) to descriptive (geography, industry, type of work I would do).   While I hesitated to move too far from Ohio, this exercise showed me that the best opportunity based on my criteria was to move to St. Louis for an opportunity in healthcare because of the growth opportunities, learning and mentoring, and organizational stability.  As a startup within a larger organization it was a bit of a risk, but less so than the smaller firm on my list. And while it was not the most financially lucrative, it held the most long-term financial promise.

Looking at my options objectively helped me make the right choice for my career.  While it was not an easy choice due to the location, it was a career move that aligned with my values and would put me on the long-term career path that I wanted.

While I unfortunately no longer have my original spreadsheet (my old ThinkPad died years ago), I recreated a career planning template that you can download and use to start creating your own career plan.  There are fields already created as well as customizable areas so you can adjust it to meet your needs.

You may find that you update your career plan over time as the things you value in a job change.  When I was a new graduate learning and growth were the most important things. After getting married and having kids, flexibility and work/life balance have been more important.  I have been able to find these values in one organization by taking different roles that align with my values. In five or six years, I anticipate my values will change again as I will be in a different phase of life.  Career planning allows you to prepare for these seasons of life and find roles and organizations where you can both thrive individually and in turn give your best self to the company.

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


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.

9 Ways to Invest in Yourself This Year

Photo by  Andrew Neel  on  Unsplash

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

With nine months (and some change) left in 2019, here are nine ways to invest in yourself this year.  I have found great benefit from applying these practices in my life, and starting them in my early to mid-twenties has led to them becoming habits today. While there are benefits to all ages, many of these are particularly relevant for young professionals today.

Read More Books.  Research continues to highlight the value of reading.  From the ability to feel greater empathy for others to improving your memory, reading is a low-cost, high impact way to learn.  This year, aim to read or listen to at least six books on topics you want to learn about more.  Take notes as you read and, when you are done, determine how you will act differently. I’ve set a goal to read one nonfiction and one fiction book every month, which is more of a challenge with having a toddler but is still achievable.  

Set Goals.  Several years ago, a mentor introduced me to the idea of personal goal-setting.  I was a fan of setting professional goals at work, but I had not considered applying this concept to other areas of my life.  Since seeing the personal transformation it had on him, I have practiced the same approach. He showed me the goals that he set for himself every year as an example, and each goal had milestones and measures to track progress and measure success.  I have found that setting goals in this way allows me break them down into actionable steps and see progress as I check off each step. Since 2013, I have set annual goals for myself in the areas of financial, physical, professional, personal/family, and spiritual.  I break these down into actionable steps, and then prioritize specific steps every week. It is amazing to see the progress that can be made in a quarter or a year when you take a planned approach.

Network in your Community.  Your community may be where you live, where you work, or a virtual community of people connected by mutual interests.  Regardless, find ways to network and build connection within your community. There may be ways that you can give back, such as volunteering, as well as people who can help you with a goal or keep you inspired to pursue a passion.  

Listen to Podcasts.  Podcasts are an easy and free way to learn about anyopic.  I love listening to podcasts while I am working out or cleaning; while I am not a big fan of multitasking, neither task requires a high degree of mental focus so it allows me to learn by listening while I run or clean more or less on autopilot.  Along with the podcast I launched this year, here are a few of the podcasts in my library: How I Built This, The Tim Ferriss Show, Y Combinator, Sharpen, and HBR Ideacast.  

Update your Resume Quarterly.  Regardless of whether you are in the job market or not, it is always a good idea to keep your resume fresh.  You never know when someone may ask you for it, or when an amazing opportunity might present itself. Rather than asking someone to wait for a copy of your resume while you update it, or sending them an outdated version, take time every quarter to jot down your accomplishments and update your resume with relevant job and professional accomplishments so the information is fresh in your mind.  I’ve recently switched from a chronological resume to a combination resume and am excited with the changes that I have seen.

Become an Engaging Public Speaker.  One of the most important sources of success is the ability to communicate with other people.  Whether you are selling an idea you have or selling your personal value, the most successful people I have seen are those who excel at inspiring others through their words.  During my Year of Speaking Boldly challenge, I gathered and applied feedback and best practices on public speaking, and held myself accountable to present at least once a month.  

Prioritize your Health and Wellness.  If you are not already making time every day to sleep, sweat, and savor good food, it’s time to do so.  Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from Psych 101? Taking care of your physical needs first is the precursor to all other activities and accomplishments in life, including the ability to be creative and achieve your full potential.  In my experience, dedicating time to exercise, sleep, and eat healthy the majority of the time gives me more energy for the day and a clearer head to make decisions and develop new ideas.

Set Aggressive Financial Goals (and Stick to Them).  Whether you are currently focused on repaying student loans, saving for a down payment on a home, or investing in retirement, you owe it to your 60-year-old self to learn more about personal finance and to develop goals that will allow you to enjoy retirement.  There are a plethora of personal financial strategies and advisors with their own ideas on how to manage money, but here are some universal basics: develop a budget and stick to it, pay off debt as fast as possible and avoid future debt (with the exception of a mortgage), start investing early in retirement, and be proactive about where your money goes rather than surprised at the end of the week or month.  Different approaches work for different people, and it may change depending on your season of life. For example, when I was paying off undergraduate student loans and cash flowing my MBA, I went to a cash system where I paid myself a certain amount in cash every month for all expenses so I could avoid accidentally going over budget by putting purchases on a credit or debit card. Several years later, when we were saving money for a down payment, we transferred money to a savings account earmarked for the house every month.  In both cases, I was able to see my money and either manage my expenses based on how much cash I had left or build excitement and momentum by seeing the number in the house fund go up.

Take Time to Dream.  As a child, I remember the joy of being creative, using my imagination, and dreaming.  While those skills naturally fade as we get older, for millennials, I think the introduction of electronic devices and social media during our childhood or adolescence has caused us to lose any interest in taking time to think and dream as adults.  Instead, it is so easy to fill our idle time by scrolling through Facebook or Instagram to see what other people are doing, or to take the time to post something that we want others to see about our lives. While I have traditionally shied away from posting on social media, I used to fill idle time with scrolling through social media or would turn the television on to have noise on in the background.  Last year, when I was preparing to go back to work after maternity leave and found myself with too few hours in the day, I tried giving up TV and social media and was amazed with how much more productive and joyful I felt.  As I have continued this (with the exception of using social media to share content from this website), I have noticed that I am more observant and present in the moment.  It has also given me time to think and dream about the future.

What other practices do you use to invest in yourself?

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

CHarity Balee Photo 08.09.18 V2.jpg

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?

Celebrating our Mentors: Seven Lessons from my People

Photo by  Nik MacMillan  on  Unsplash

A couple weeks ago, we had the opportunity to celebrate the ten-year work anniversary of someone who has been an important mentor in my life. The celebration included sharing memories of how this person invested in others, with several people sharing stories about feedback that really changed their way of thinking or their style of leadership. It reminded me of how our professional success is tied to the experiences and wisdom of others and their willingness to share these things abundantly.

A few days ago, I listened to an interview with LeBron James and his little-known trainer, Mike Mancias, about how they work to keep LeBron in top condition and improve his career longevity. Consider this: LeBron has already played 50,000 minutes of professional basketball with more minutes (and years) ahead, whereas the average career maximum minutes for NBA players is 40,000. LeBron and Mike attribute his longevity to the training, recovery, and comprehensive program that Mike creates for LeBron. During the interview, LeBron was quick to give credit and accolades to Mike and the impact he has had on his career. While LeBron would be a tremendous athlete regardless, he recognizes the importance of his coach and publicly highlighted him.

While no one can go at it alone, I found that I often associated coaching with athletes or musicians, people with incredible talent who focus their careers on honing a craft or athletic skill. Over time, I realized that I was honing my craft as a professional as well, and in order to grow, I needed to surround myself with excellent coaches, mentors and trainers.

I’ve been fortunate to have an eclectic mix of these people over the years. From colleagues to classmates, family to friends, I’ve been surrounded by smart, accomplished people who are willing to share thoughtful and insightful feedback. This group has become an informal “board” of trusted advisors, and regardless of the topic or challenge, I can find the right person to help. Often these relationships have started informally rather than through a formal assignment, and they have matured over time to build a deep level of mutual trust. When I started looking to build these relationships, rather than find someone who was “like” me, I sought out a diverse group of people; younger and older, male and female, various ethnicities, similar and contrasting personalities. While the group is diverse by these standards, each person shares similar traits like integrity, a relentless pursuit of excellence, and a love of helping others. Over time, I have also been able to share their wisdom with others and have experienced the pride and satisfaction that come with investing in others and celebrating their success.

In the spirit of sharing, here are seven of the most memorable lessons I’ve learned from my coaches and mentors.

Figure it out. If you have a chance to listen to the most recent podcast with my friend Ashton, you will hear about this firsthand. I’ve known Ashton since college, and have always been impressed with her ability and desire to figure things out. From projects around her home that most people would outsource, to targeted social media advertising and market research, Ashton never shies away from learning something new or letting someone else figure it out for her, and she has taught me, by example, to do the same.

Speak boldly. Up until a few years ago, I was a “safe” presenter. I relied on PowerPoint slides for content, and focused more on tactics and action items than emotions and stories when I spoke to a group. A few years ago, my manager challenged me to become a bold, visionary speaker, and it changed the trajectory of my life. While I was initially nervous and resistant to step outside my comfort zone, after embarking on my Year of Speaking Boldly challenge and seeing the benefits that came with this change, I became more vulnerable as a leader and speaker, and found that I connected with people in a more meaningful way in all areas of my life.

Give, even when you receive nothing in return. During one of my internships, I had an informal mentor who went far above the expectation to coach me without receiving any credit or value for it. She spent a lot of time working with me on my final presentation, challenging me to revamp the story I was telling. Thanks to her feedback, my final presentation received excellent reviews as well as a full-time job offer. That fall, she spent hours on the phone counseling me on sorting through interviews and job offers, even though I ended up not accepting the offer to join her team. She showed me the importance of doing the right thing for people, even when you end up not benefiting from it.

Know your people. When I first became a manager, I struggled with balancing my time between getting my work done and engaging people. I liked checked off my to-do list every day and saw rounding with people as a waste of time. My husband, who had been in leadership positions for many years before I was, drilled the importance of getting to know the people on my team. He showed me how this builds trust between people, helps people feel valued, and allows you to better understand the issues and challenges people are facing every day.

Stay humble. I’ve had two people highlight this advice, demonstrating how important it is to stay humble. Growing up, my dad always challenged me to stay humble, especially when he saw me becoming too proud or too focused on accomplishments. This advice came full circle from a trusted colleague, who has graciously shared feedback with me over the years, with an emphasis on instances where my actions may be perceived in a way that lacks humility. I am grateful for two people who serve as counselors and who keep me in check here.

Speak slowly, loudly, and clearly. When I was a child, I spoke fast and soft, making it difficult for others to understand what I was saying. My mom spent a lot of time helping me speak slowly, loudly, and clearly so others would always understand what I was saying, as well as helping me have the confidence to continuing doing so.

Channel your weaknesses into strengths. Growing up, I was a stubborn, competitive kid. I was a sore loser, and I had a strong will that resulted in many disagreements with my parents. Thankfully, they helped me learn to use these traits to my advantage, channeling my stubbornness into determination and drive, and my competitiveness from outward to inward. These traits have helped me continue to forge ahead in the face of adversity, and have challenged me to compete only with myself rather than with others.

What I do not remember to do often enough is to thank them for the time and perspective they are willing to share with me. The celebration was a wonderful reminder of how important it is to share gratitude with the people who invest in us. To the people who shared these lessons with me - thank you for investing in me and having the courage to be honest and share your feedback.

Posted on February 11, 2019 and filed under Career Insights.

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


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.

Ashton Haider Brooks on "Her Midwest Work Ethic, Cross-Country Career Moves, and the Importance of being Scrappy"

I am excited to share my conversation with Ashton Haider Brooks, Chief Marketing Officer for The Human Experience. I’ve known Ashton since my sophomore year of college when we met through our business fraternity. Ashton exudes energy, and her problem-solving skills at all areas of life put me to shame. While we love to talk about work and business ideas, I learned a lot about her life growing up and how that put her on the career path she has today. Check out our conversation here or on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or Spotify under “The Savvy Young Professional”.


Ashton Haider Brooks is a marketing professional with a vast experience in consumer goods. She has helped develop a variety of brands, as well as launch over 25 products across the globe. She recently completed her MBA from the University of Southern California with a focus in global strategy and entrepreneurship. She currently serves as the Chief Marketing Officer for a SaaS start-up in Austin, TX.

Posted on February 4, 2019 and filed under Career Insights.