" He Who is Afraid of Asking is Afraid of Learning... " ~ (Danish Proverb)

Strengthen Your Strengths – The Introvert’s Place in an Extrovert’s World! (Productivity Series, 2012 )

We’re all motivated by something

I remember being in sales and realizing that $$$ was not enough to make me jump out of bed every morning. I tried not to dwell on this too long or I would not have lasted in the job; needless to say, I escaped it as soon as I could. The challenge to compete against myself (not other sales professionals) every week is what kept me on top. So, therein began a quest to determine what really motivated me and how to keep its momentum going.

Then, as I continued to write the “Productivity Series” this year, I began a post about how important it is to understand motivation as a function of productivity. Quickly, I realized that it would be remiss of me not to explore personality as a function of motivation first.

Everyone knows someone who is “quiet type”, the “social butterfly”, or a “connector” (to borrow a term from Malcom Gladwell). I certainly do, and find myself always seeking to determine how people are wired as soon as I meet them. But the more I observed others’ behaviors and studied their motivations, I began to question my own…

I wondered why certain events, people and situations drained me yet they had no apparent effect on anyone I knew. I watched as others derived energy from the energy of those around them, observed their need to constantly “think out loud”, and to diligently seek opportunities to never be alone. I, on the other hand, coveted “alone time” – carefully interspersed with work and social activities – my priority being the former not the latter.

And, as a project manager, I have to interact heavily with others almost every minute of every day – tasks require resources to get the job done and stakeholders to provide opinions and approvals. So, every day that I wondered why I was drained, I became even more so. But, was I a freak? A minority? Unable to function in the real world?

Somewhere along the road of questioning, I recalled a personal profile I had done over 10 years ago – and all I could remember was the first letter the profile assigned to me.

I.

‘I’, as in ‘I’ is for introvert.

So, that is where my study began. The research began not for entertainment but rather for reassurance. And I learned. I learned that not all introverts are loners, hermits nor antisocial as society would like to label them. And not all extroverts are exhibitionists and constantly need attention. There is a spectrum. I could be an introvert who really did enjoy interacting with people, who can be successful and very vocal, but who needs a larger proportion of time to recharge. And even my extroverted friends needed to stop for a moment, though less frequently, or they would spin into a frenzy themselves.

The fact is, we live in a socially distorted world where too much emphasis is placed on seeing and being seen. And, until recently, I wondered – do I need to be someone I am not - constantly – to get ahead or simply stay in the race? Well, thankfully there are experts, dating as far back as the 18th century – willing to answer that for me.

Almost every man wastes part of his life attempting to display qualities which he does not possess. ~Samuel Johnson

But as recently as this year, Susan Cain chimed in as well. Cain’s lecture, “In Praise of Introverts”, at the recent TED Conference has been viewed well over 1 million times and surpassed any other TED conference speech. I pause to wonder – who’s listening? There are surely many more introverts (perhaps in hiding) and those who appreciate what introverts can accomplish, than we realize.

It was over the last century, says Cain, that society began reshaping itself as an extrovert’s paradise—to the introvert’s demise. She explains that before the twentieth century, we lived in what historians called a “culture of character,” when you were expected to conduct yourself morally with quiet integrity. ~ Jenna Goudreau, Forbes Staff (from the article, “The Secret Power Of Introverts”)

Cain extols the value of introversion and points out that introverts are the outliers in the population who manage to do the homework that leads to the biggest creative breakthroughs which benefit everyone. Her speech is nothing short of brilliant, and well worth the 18 minutes you will spend, whether you are an introvert, extrovert, or not entirely sure.

The most important and underlying lesson one can take from her speech is this: honor and value your strengths, understand them and build on them – because if you stop berating why and what you are not , you can actually see the benefits and build upon the opportunities in what you are .

If we could all spend more time strengthening our strengths – and not our weaknesses, and honoring our internal wiring instead of fighting against it, we would all waste so much less time and energy and produce so much more.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

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Being Productive Amidst Frenzy (Productivity Series, 2012 )

It’s easy to be productive when you do not have a care in the world, are fully rested and nothing is overwhelming nor aggravating you. But what happens when you have work to do, demands to be met and are just not able physically or mentally to accomplish them? Are you confused, overwhelmed and not sure where to begin? Are you unable to decide if you are confused? Then, you probably are confused…

This is where planning becomes your best friend and worst enemy. A plan allows you to see what you need to do and cycle through each item/step robotically. That said, if you’re not in a completely coherent nor efficient state of mind, the plan could also resemble a trap from which there is no out.

I’ve discovered a few tips which help when overwhelmed and unsure how to get anything done…

  1. Create a list – You have heard it here before. If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. Regardless of whether you stick absolutely to the plan, it allows you a bar from which to come in under or over safely.
  2. Prioritize the list – Particularly when you feel like you cannot do anything, allow yourself to prioritize the one thing you can do…realizing that if certain things do not get done, you – and many others – will survive.
  3. Tackle the list according to priority, one item at a time – Harvard Business Review expert – turned Energy Project founder – and the CEO every other CEO wants to know, Tony Schwartz, has advice for us all in a world of overwhelming demand. According to Tony, the brain is not designed to do multiple cognitive things at a time. Lower quality, higher personal costs and overall sloppiness are the results.

    So, what does Tony recommend?

    • Determine in advance what needs to be done (i.e., plan…) and tackle each item individually and with focus
    • Understand how your body and mind work
    • Do not demand constant responsiveness…of yourself AND others. All this does is reduce the likelihood you will be productive
    • Encourage renewal
  4. Listen to your gut – If you could only accomplish one thing today, or this week, what would it be? Putting guilt aside and assuming you have the luxury to choose, what could you do to make you feel like you have done something although it’s not everything? Most of the time, that is better than nothing….
  5. Get some air and move about – Whether a short walk, a brisk run, time at the gym, or just sticking your head out of a window – your thoughts will clear enough for you to move forward in ways bigger than you previously imagined.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

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: Blast Your Project

Evernote is for Everyone! (Productivity Series 2012)

So thus far in 2012, as my year-long quest toward re-defining the limits of productivity continues, I’ve theorized about giving yourself a break in order to move forward and about the upside of trial and error. But now, I thought I would stop for a moment, and interject something practical – as opposed to theoretical musings…

Organization is definitely my thing. But, recently I realized that organization ≠ productivity. Imagine my disappointment and horror.

Regardless of how organized I am, I still risk not being productive if I do not have the correct organizational and productivity tools to use (and the knowledge) to use them. This also requires me to assuage my technophobia and embrace all things ‘i’, ‘cloud’ and ’smart.’ Enter the iPhone, iPad and iCloud. Still a PC user at heart, I needed some help to determine how to take all of the various bits of knowledge, research and reminders and make them accessible to me anywhere, anytime and in a format that made sense.

It’s taken months to finally make my Dell laptop speak to my iPhone and both of those to speak to my iPad. Enter: 3 different email addresses, 3 calendars, 2 sets of contacts, different categories of notes and reminders, apps and programs – and we have all just entered a technological abyss. That is, unless, you – like me – happen to know someone who is blessed with the technology gene and could make the whole integration seamless and painless, putting the fun back into functional!

HOWEVER, all that said, I am proud to admit that I made a discovery of my own!!! It has changed not only the way I organize information, but how I organize my brain. And, unlike custom closets or shoe racks or garage shelf built-ins, the brain is a far more chaotic space much in need of spatial compartmentalization. Let me introduce you toEVERNOTE.

Perhaps you have already discovered this wonderful utility, and maybe not. Even if you have, perhaps like me, you learn new things about it every day.

Did you know that, with Evernote, you can:

  1. Download the program onto your PC or MAC (in addition to the Evernote app for iPhone and iPad, of course)? So, you are not just limited to using Evernote on a smart device.
  2. SYNC the notes you enter (whether entering them on your computer, phone or tablet) so that they’re accessible to you anytime, anywhere? This is huge – unlike other similar “note” programs, which are local, you do not have to wait until you get home to complete that note or add to it or email yourself appendages.
  3. You can create NOTEBOOKS. This is what I call organizational utopia. I can have a notebook which contains all of my notes of inspiration, another notebook with notes pertaining to past, present or future blog entries, another with notes for each room in my house, notebooks for Pro and Con lists, etc., etc., etc. The possibilities are endless.
  4. You can create To-Do lists
  5. And, last, but certainly NOT least. You can not only tag your notes but then SORT by these tags. Say, for example, that you are an avid reader of investment articles and blogs online. And you like to make notes on each one or create lists of websites to which you’d like to refer back. You can tag each note by the investors the article mentions or the opinions stated therein, and then SEARCH back by these tags. All of a sudden, you see everything that you ever read which mentioned Warren Buffet and have a virtual bucket of Buffet. Similarly, I could create a notebook for each project I am tracking, each with its own notes, tags and to-do lists. All of which are easily searchable and would allow me to pin my finger on any type of milestone, date or project deliverable I needed!

Clearly, these are only my observations thus far, and there must be many other uses, tips and tricks for this wonderful program. Insert your own topics or areas that need organizing and the list goes on and on. I look forward to exploring them all. And, if you have not tried Evernote yet, do!

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

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The Steve Jobs’ Effect

Trial and Error…Trial and Error…Trial and Error… (Productivity Series, 2012)

It’s difficult for anyone of us to stay on task, sometimes. Staying motivated, productive and upbeat takes a strong dose of discipline, positive self-talk and balance. Even if your strides have been moving steadily and momentum is helping you along. One small setback, unexpected brain lapse, moment of exhaustion, or negative voice (your own or another’s) is all it will take to stop your pace and freeze you in place. Then we wonder, is it really going to happen? Is it worth it? What’s wrong with what I am doing? Why is this all so hard?

I have been a contributor on the implementation of a new CRM (customer-relationship-management) system as part of a larger project with which I am involved. The system is robust and has many fine attributes. It’s also brand new, and does not work intuitively in most cases. What was supposed to be made easier is now more complex, and what was flawed but work-able before is now simply foreign. We’re forced to rely on each other and many external resources to move us forward, shed light on complexities, provide us with new methods to test, and try again..and again, and again.

Needless to say, no one is able to move as fast as necessary in this won’t-slow-down world in which we live and work; and as quickly as we move forward, we have to stop and rewind to determine why something failed. Efficient? Maybe not. Part and parcel of learning and experiencing a new way of doing things. Why yes, indeed.

We can (and do) get very frustrated with this CRM system. We submit copious numbers of trouble tickets and wait for the Gods of technical support to shine the solutions down on us so we can test the solution, then – resume the swift speed at which we feel we should be moving, and doing, and accomplishing.

Our only choice during this implementation has been to try, and try again..and again, and again. And, eventually it does work. Issues are fixed or we find acceptable work-arounds. The process takes time, but eventually, we do end up right where we needed and need to be. So, even when we feel at our least productive – it is in the patience and the process that our solution and ultimate productivity reside.

And, too, our goals and dreams may take longer than we wish. When resolutions do not appear instantly and people do not behave exactly as we think they should, we panic that the paint will dry while we are in the middle of creating the masterpiece that is our life. Yet, if everything went along exactly as planned, at the speed we believe we need, we would never stop to learn the lessons along the way nor meet the people who show up to help us learn them. Life, too, is about trying again..and again, and again.

Our primary source of success is not speed, despite what we might think. It’s the unwillingness to give up nor give in. Solutions do lie ahead if you’re patient and persistent enough to follow the course and all that it shows you along its path.

What do you first do when you learn to swim? You make mistakes, do you not? And what happens? You make other mistakes, and when you have made all the mistakes you possibly can without drowning – and some of them many times over – what do you find? That you can swim? Well – life is just the same as learning to swim! Do not be afraid of making mistakes, for there is no other way of learning how to live!” ~Alfred Adler

Special thanks to my dear friend, JH, for always showing me ways to not sweat the small stuff and that it’s ok to keep trying…again, and again.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

So here it is, 2012…(Productivity Series, 2012)

So here it is, 2012, and I’ve been anxious to launch my ” Productivity Series” of blog posts. Yet, as I sat down to write, the only thing I could focus on was my past several weeks of waiting and resting (translate: non-productivity). By default, and not design, I’d just been through 3 weeks of doing a whole lot of nothing. R & R, except one of the ‘R’s was missing. I quickly learned that ‘ not doing’ is NOT synonymous with ‘ relaxing .’

I’d been under the weather and forced to come to a complete halt. I tried planning projects I could tackle during the downtime, priorities I could finally shoot to the top of my list. For a planner like me, even my downtime needed to be accounted for. But, it simply wasn’t to be…

I had no choice other than to STOP DOING. My brain simply could not, would not shut off. I kept thinking of all of the personal projects I could ( translate ‘ should ‘) be working on, given this unusual and prime downtime. Shame on me if I did not take advantage !!! So many things I’d been putting off, so many personal development resources at my fingertips; if I did not complete some and begin on all, I’d begin 2012 feeling lazy, unproductive, behind the eight ball, weak and doomed to fail. I chastised my brain for being foggy, and would not let myself off the hook. I even tried to start back officially working and meeting personal commitments before my health would agree, because the calendar said the holidays were over; I was met with disaster, disappointing others with my poor results and sending mixed signals that I could, when – trust me – I could not.

Roughly one month later, and after the proverbial fog has passed, I notice myself with a greater strength and clarity than I’ve had in quite a while. Although my task list was left unattended, and part of “the old” me still wishes I had gained greater ground, I may just have gotten more accomplished by allowing myself to do nothing at all.

I’d ended 2011 hardened, exhausted, and generally tough on the inside and out. Fighting against a self-imposed timeline and working under constraints that no one else was measuring except me. Having had [forced] time to decompress, my mind, heart and intuition are slowly beginning to come together and listen to each other’s signals. With time comes patience and with patience comes clarity. With clarity, I choose to believe that my task list will magically prioritize itself; and I can begin 2012 with far more personal power and anticipated productivity than I would have otherwise, even if I’d spent all 3 weeks mapping out goals. Just maybe, giving myself a break instead of pushing forward aimlessly, is a very appropriate beginning to the productivity posts, after all…

Well, fancy that.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be. ~ Douglas Adams

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

Three Words for 2012 (via www.justinrlevy.com)

A simply awesome concept – MUST READ for 2012!!!

Although I recently “unresolved” to do many a thing heading into 2012 – I wanted to share a most inspiring and intelligent blog post citing “three words” to lead into the year – from a a fellow blogger and someone whose accomplishments and work ethic I admire greatly.

Thank you, Justin Levy for this wonderful blog to start out the new year and for the cross reference to my article on work-life balance as well. Honored to be in such company.

Via Justin Levy

It’s that time of the year again where we look at the new year full of vigor and motivation, ready to take on everything that the upcoming year has to offer. However, it’s so easy to get bogged down and sidetracked from accomplishing our goals that by the time we look up again, the year has already escaped us.

This is why for the past few years I’ve joined Chris Brogan and several other friends in choosing three words that will serve as my guiding pillars for the upcoming year. These three words will help me to accomplish the goals that I have set out for myself, both professionally and personally. Read More….

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

My New Year’s UNResolutions

I’ve realized that there is a distinct difference between planning and resolving. Planning is helpful to get your to-dos, wish list or goals in order. Plans can change, and most often do. Resolutions, on the other hand, imply some level of absolutism – one can infer that to veer from a resolution made is to fail or to have lost the willpower needed to achieve.

So, if I must make any “resolution” for 2012, it would be to NOT make any. Taking that concept one step further, I’d also like to suggest a few things I plan (translate: unresolve) to do:

  1. I refuse to believe any longer that writing down my expenses equates to ” budgeting.” This, perhaps, is the biggest lie I have ever told myself . Tracking what you spend and where is useful, so if you have to start somewhere – start there. But, please, set some limits ( ie, ” budget ” ) in your primary spending categories and be honest with yourself if you don’t stay within these parameters. If nothing else, awareness of your spending habits will increase and you’ll permit yourself the conscious choice of working to support your spending -or- working to meet your basic expenses. BIG difference.
  2. I unresolve to get so hot and bothered about things over which other people don’t seem to be losing sleep. I can’t solve the world’s problems, nor can I make everyone’s work ethic the same as my own. I can, however, set my own standards, measure myself against these, and let go ( translate: walk away) when others’ choices, behaviors or timelines are outside of my control. I’m really hoping to conserve some emotional and mental energy with this unresolution.
  3. For as disciplined and focused as people believe I am, I erred on the side of scattered and unfocused at times throughout 2011. So, I am moving toward less multi- tasking and more focused prioritization. PS: I’m learning that means minimizing distractions, too; so, don’t take it personally if I tell you ” not right this second, but how about –:– time, instead?” That way, I hope to manage my interruptions so they don’t manage me.
  4. Last year this time, I took a goal-setting seminar. I could not tell you one goal I “set” in that 7 hour workshop nor if any were achieved. Since then, and thanks to some brilliant people I’ve met along the way in 2012, I will continue to set goals using new and improved techniques. But more important than even the goals themselves will be the daily or weekly check-in to gauge where I’m at on the goal continuum and what I need to adjust. Goals are like finish-line flags, set in place to give you a marker to aim for. Either you wave it down when you reach it and shout ‘Victory’ or you decide to move the flag and adjust your path as life proceeds.
  5. And, lastly, on my list of “unresolutions,” I will be more positive when talking to MYSELF. Like it or not, life plays tricks on your mind; and although all bad things do come to an end, some of us relive them every day in the negative thought patterns these experiences leave behind. “It has been demonstrated that nearly 90% of our thoughts are negative…and these nasty little beasts can be even more powerful than positive thoughts because we often find them easier to accept.” * So, more so than merely repeating positive affirmations a la Stuart Smalley, I choose to use positive thoughts to challenge those automated negative ones and become MORE aware of my thoughts and words in everyday life.

Wishing You Success in 2012,
N
atalya

* Excerpted from www.vitalaffirmations.com

From Soybean Farmer to CEO…?

I know far more about project management than I do about the stock market; and whatever I do know about bulls versus bears and price:earnings ratios was handed down directly to me from my father, brother, and of course – Warren Buffett.

Being a Buffett groupie at heart, I have made every attempt to know a little about the companies he owns, why he owns them and how they are performing. And since I have someone extremely capable helping me to decide whether to buy, sell or hold – I get the luxury of spending most of my time admiring Buffett’s persona rather than his pocketbook.

But therein lies the point – his persona has led to what’s in his pocketbook (and therefore the pocketbooks of his shareholders).

Just recently, Berkshire Hathaway (Buffet’s holding company) – announced amidst much speculation that the 81-year old’s eventual successor will be his son, Howie. Should not be shocking. You would expect the same from, let’s say the Trumps or any other prominent, wealthy, family business. But it just so happens that Howie is a corn and soybean farmer, who likely does not own a three-piece suit nor has had any reason to step foot into Berkshire’s Omaha headquarters recently. However, Buffett made his choice clear, stating that:

…His son will serve as a “guardian” of the company’s “values” rather than a CEO. ‘You worry that somebody will be in charge of Berkshire that uses it as their own sandbox in some way,’ ‘That changes the way that decisions are made in reference to the shareholders. The odds of that happening are very, very, very low, but having Howie there adds just one extra layer of protection.’ ~ Excerpted from an article by Clare O’Conner (Forbes Magazine)

Howie is very happy tilling to his corn and soybeans, I assure you, so this is not about nepotism nor climbing the Corporate Ladder. What it is, however, is a strategic and genius decision Buffett has made to assure shareholders that his legacy of values and principles will not die with him.

Anyone can run a business, not everyone can run a business as intelligently, authentically and with the respect of its stakeholders in mind as much as Buffett has.

If only the values of authenticity, sound judgement, fairness, and the readiness to admit and be led by what one knows and does not know were more prevalent. We would all enjoy a measure of success closer to what Buffett has.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

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Thanks – Giving (2011)

For some people, Thanksgiving means cooking amidst chaos, lot of turkey and desserts and converging with others. Well, it would not be Thanksgiving for me without a blog post reflecting on some form of Thanks-giving.

2011 came in like a lion with a loud, thunderous roar, and I’ve spent the better part of 12 months trying to tame it back to the sweet silence of a sleeping Yorkie.

Although I would not have voluntarily signed on to learn any of them, I feel confident that the lessons learned from pain ARE the silver lining when life seems like one big black cloud. The lessons which came, albeit unvited but most welcomed, are noted below.

Everything is perfect. By training ourselves to see the perfection in our most difficult moments – a perspective often seen only in hindsight – we learn to trust life. ~ Cheryl Richardson

  1. When someone, something, or some situation is simply not good enough to be part of your life’s purpose, God will swoop down with a pick-up truck and remove it. And just like you have no fight against a 3 ton truck, nor can you stand in the way of what is intended for your best life. While there may be a trail of dirt left behind, rest assured that beautiful flowers will bloom in that dirt again one day soon.

  2. The next moment is as much beyond our grasp, and as much in God’s care, as that a hundred years away. Care for the next minute is as foolish as care for a day in the next thousand years. In neither can we do anything, in both, God is doing everything. ~ C. S. Lewis via White Feather Farm.

  3. Living your truth and growing your strengths regardless of anyone else’s opinions gets easier the more you do it. Knowing what you stand for, what makes you the best you and not compromising either is the source of motivation and energy which will propel you forward each and every day.

  4. If you have your back when taking a risk, you can pretty much try anything. Don’t terrorize yourself with criticism after doing something daring. Behave in a way that reinforces your commitment to be a cheerleader for your soul. Honor your gift. ~ Cheryl Richardson

  5. There is no price tag that can be placed on integrity, honesty and compassion. You really only get one go-round in this life, so treat others with respect. Be strong enough to stand up for yourself without demolishing another. Ultimately you only belittle yourself and will be the loser for it.

  6. It is not what we profess but what we practice that gives us integrity. ~ Sir Francis Bacon

  7. Stress, turmoil and overextension take a toll. It may seem like you have the necessary strength (translate – adrenaline) to fight through, but there will come a time at the end of the tunnel when the lights go out and that adrenaline turns to fog. At that moment, when it’s dark and you have no energy left – accept the gift that is stepping back and replenishing your mind, body and soul. Don’t keep going. People will understand and can wait a while for that cup of coffee, phone call or trip. The gift of permission and self-care is the gift that keeps on giving.

  8. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love & affection. ~Buddha

  9. Start that bucket list and don’t ever stop adding to it. However you define fun, excitement, adventure and peace will ultimately reveal themselves on that list and will become part of your life without your even trying very hard.

  10. The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who’s going to stop me. ~Ayn Rand

  11. Listen to the voice which has been prompting you to… It keeps whispering for a reason, though that reason may take a while to reveal itself.

  12. There is a voice inside of you that whispers all day long, ‘I feel this is right for me, I know that this is wrong.’ No teacher, preacher, parent, friend or wise man can decide what’s right for you–just listen to the voice that speaks inside. ~ Shel Silverstein

  13. Give Back. It’s so cliché, but everything you’ve heard is true! Find something you believe in ,whether or not anyone else agrees, and offer your time or strengths. You will certainly receive more than you can ever expect.

  14. By being yourself, you put something wonderful in the world that was not there before. ~ Edwin Elliot

  15. Look more closely at the people around you – there will be those who can contribute to your life and soul and others who deplete it. You may be lucky enough to shuffle your buckets of friends, colleagues or contacts and gain more of the former and lose the latter.

  16. Don’t you dare, for one more second, surround yourself with people who are not aware of and can appreciate the greatness that you are. ~Jo Blackwell-Preston

    So, if I am thankful for anything this year – it is for everything and everyone that cleared my path to self-discovery or stepped aside so I had the luxury of moving forward, taught me gratitude for the smallest things (as they add up to the big things), and learning to live more in the present .

    And to one in particular – your leaving our lives closed a tiny hole of negativity which rippled down the stream eroding all it touched, and left in its wake a body of peace, happiness and strength the size of an ocean. So, thank YOU. :)

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

Lessons from a CEO…about being a CEO in business and in life.

I’m not a CEO, although I did write a book about how it feels to be be on a precarious trajectory to becoming one. And, aside from being the CEO of my own career path, I don’t think I will soon be signing up for any open positions…

But anyone who’s been up, down or on some middle rung of the corporate ladder (and life) can certainly relate to the wisdom and musings of the 26-yr. old CEO whose article 26 Lessons from a 26 Year Old CEO was simply too good not to re-post, and whose success in business and in life have surely just begun.

And…I’ll go ahead say it up front, #s 9, 18, and 24 are among my ultimate fan favorites. :)

26 Lessons from a 26 Year Old CEO
Reprinted from Forbes Woman
By: Shama Kabani - CEO of The Marketing Zen Group

On April 25th I turned 26, and a few weeks later my web marketing agency turned two. What started as a single person mini-business, has turned into a 27 person global web marketing firm in just two short years. I’ve been immensely grateful for the opportunities life has presented me with. And, as I look forward to the future, it would only be fair to look back as well. Here are 26 lessons I have learned as a young entrepreneur and CEO:

1. A written vision of what you want your company to look like in 3 years is important. The pen (or keyboard!) has power. It isn’t enough to envision your goals in your mind. You must have a blueprint on paper. Every decision you make, ask yourself: does this help me get closer to my vision?
2. Learn to listen to your clients. When we started, we were only offering social media consulting services. But, clients quickly demanded more. We eventually ended up serving as their web marketing department. The marketplace will tell you what it needs. You have to listen, and then deliver.
3. Half the job is keeping up. The pace of technology will only continue to quicken. It doesn’t matter what your industry is, you have to keep up in order to constantly leverage it for your business.
4. Always think in terms of value — not price. Always judge based on the value something or someone brings to the table. Price is arbitrary.
5. Only hire people who have fire. This is especially true if you are running a small to medium sized business. In a large corporation, there is room for many types of personalities and people. In a smaller business, passion is a must in every position. Hire people who are driven to do well and see your business succeed.
6. If you must fire, be graceful and professional about it. This is hands down the worst part of being a CEO. It is tough to let people go, but for the greater good of the business, sometimes it must be done. It doesn’t matter if you are firing or being fired, don’t burn bridges.
7. Learn to forgive. Things happen. People change. You can’t move forward in business — or in life — if you can’t forgive and move on.
8. Cash flow is crucial. This is especially true in a recessionary economy, and if you are growing quickly. Work with clients to get payments upfront.
9. Balance is overrated. Aim for joy. When work is fun, you don’t feel the need to take as many breaks. Balance in today’s world looks very different than it did just 20 years ago. Embrace it.
10. Don’t underestimate the power of PR. The power of the press may now be in more than just the hands of journalists (umm…social media, anyone?). Learn to be a friend to the press.
11.Treat your team well. People will follow a leader who treats them with respect. Learn to value your team’s input, and always reward them for a job well done.
12. Focus is the most underrated skill that you must master. 90 percent of the time, what is on your computer screen is not resulting in a positive ROI. Learn to focus on what truly matters in your business. Then, do it consistently.
13. Multitasking doesn’t mean greater productivity. Don’t put “good multitasker” on your resume. Numerous studies have shown that multitasking decreases brain power.
14. Age isn’t just a number. Age does matter. Managing a Gen Y employee is different than managing a baby boomer.
15. Appearances matter. I just interviewed an intern who showed up in an outfit more appropriate for an 8 a.m. class. I had to wonder how he would represent us in front of clients. Whether we like it or not, appearances matter. Dress appropriately.
16. Learn to view situations objectively. Just because you would or wouldn’t do something, doesn’t mean others are the same way.
17. Life is short, and very easy to take for granted. Sounds like something you’d read in a self-help book, but true nonetheless. Life is temporary, and the only thing that matters at the end of the day is how you treated those around you.
18. Pets make the workplace better. I propose that every office should have a mascot. Ours is a little Maltese-Poodle mix named Snoopy. No day is a sad day.
19. A support network is crucial. As much as you try, you can’t do it alone. Building a personal and professional support network is imperative.
20. Give luck its due. Luck has played a huge part in my life. I don’t deny it. I am just grateful for it.
21. Hard work is a given. Struggle doesn’t have to be. I’ve learned that there is always work that will need to be done. The task list is never complete. So, just enjoy it!
22. It IS lonely at the top. And, yes, the view & the food are both amazing.
23. Ignore the trolls. They like the power the anonymity of the internet gives them. Don’t pay them any attention.
24. Be picky when choosing your friends. My friend list (and I don’t mean Facebook) is short. Surround yourself with people who inspire you.
25. Karma exists in business and in life. The old adage says “what goes around, comes around.” The older I get, the more I see this being true. Think twice before you act.
26. Being a CEO means being a CVO. CVO stands for Chief Value Officer. Always ask yourself: How can I create value for our clients? Our prospects? Our internal team? The answers will guide you to building a better company.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

Powerful Women & Stereotypes

I would not call myself a ” powerful woman. ” I rarely try to yield it, despise those who sadly mistake authority for power and prefer to be respected far more than feared.

That said, I cannot deny that I’ve worked in high-level positions and been responsible for high-profile clients and high revenue projects and teams. Doing those things – successfully – requires a certain work ethic, authoritative approach, surrounding oneself with excellence and – simply put – a refusal to settle for mediocrity. Have those traits that won me a fan club for my capability and output – sure. Have they also won me many naysayers who secretly think of me as witch with a Capital B – most definitely! Have I compromised my compassion for others and overlooked my own respect of those with similar standards of integrity and quality – never.

I’m just glad that, according to a Forbes magazine recent article, I’m not alone. But rest assured, even if I were, I would be happy to stand on my own.

10 worst stereotypes about powerful women
Forbes Magazine, Thu., Nov. 3, 2011
By: Jenna Goudreau, Forbes Staff

Women continue climbing the rungs of power — building their ranks as heads of state, corporate leaders and media influencers — but their minority status means they still face harsh, limiting assessments based on their gender. “Women are being judged more, even by other women,” said Valerie Young, author of “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women.” While male leaders are allowed to have complex personalities, powerful women are often summed up by hackneyed stereotypes that undermine them and their power. Forbes Woman tracked down many of the world’s most powerful women, from IMF chief Christine Lagarde to Jill Abramson of The New York Times, to ask: What is your least favorite stereotype about powerful women? Gender and career experts also weighed in on the dangerous notions about female success and how they seep into the collective subconscious. The following represent the 10 most hated and pervasive stereotypes.

No. 1: Ice Queen
Halley Bock, CEO of leadership and development training company Fierce, notes that the ruthless “ice queen” stereotype is rampant. Cultural depictions, like frigid magazine editor Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada” (and her real-world counterpart Anna Wintour of Vogue) and back-stabbing boss Patty Hewes on “Damages,” paint successful women as unsympathetic power-mongers. It is, of course, a Catch-22. “A woman who shows emotion in the workplace is often cast as too fragile or unstable to lead,” Bock said. “A woman who shows no emotion and keeps it hyper-professional is icy and unfeminine. For many women, it can be a no-win situation.”

No. 2: Single and lonely
Harvard lecturer Olivia Fox Cabane notes that the strong perception that powerful women are intimidating to men and will need to sacrifice their personal lives may stop women from going after power. Even those women who aren’t interested in marrying, face harsh judgments. Men get to be “bachelors” while women are reduced to “spinsters” and “old-maids.” In fact, when Janet Napolitano was nominated Secretary of Homeland Security, critics said her being single would allow her to “spend more time on the job.”

No. 3: Tough
The first female Executive Editor of The New York Times, Jill Abramson is anything but stereotypical. She had a hard-charging career as an investigative reporter at The Wall Street Journal and edited her way to the top of the Times masthead. She’s also a true-blood New Yorker and is writing a book about puppies. Despite her complexities, she must contend with being called “tough” and “brusque,” making the “she’s-tough stereotype” her least favorite. Said Abramson: “As an investigative reporter, I had tough standards and a formidable way of framing and reporting stories, but I don’t think of myself as a tough person.”

No. 4: Weak
Costa Rica President Laura Chinchilla, the country’s first female leader, told me that successful women face typecasting largely because society is still adjusting to women’s recent decision-making power. Chinchilla believes the most pervasive stereotype is that women are “weak,” a perception that may stem from women’s greater desire to build a consensus. “We understand success not as the result of just one person but as the result of a team,” she said. “[It’s a] different way of dealing with power [that] is misunderstood as a kind of weakness.”

No. 5: Masculine

The notion that powerful women must be, lead and look like a man really aggravates Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund. In a video interview with Forbes she said — pumping her fist — she hates the idea that “you have to look like a businessman.” She admitted she sometimes feels the pressure to look the “right” way, but tries to resist not being “overly businesslike.”

No. 6: Conniving
When NBC’s Curry first started her career, she was told she couldn’t be a news reporter because women had “no news judgment.” Now, she’s at the top of her game and says the stereotype that most offends her is “the idea that a woman can only be successful because she somehow connived or engineered her rise — that she could not rise simply because she was too good to be denied.” She has experienced it herself, saying that she gets asked if she “forced” NBC to give her the anchor job or if there was a “backroom deal.” Curry told me, “I find it really annoying.”

No. 7: Emotional
Ellen Lubin-Sherman, executive coach and author of business guide “The Essentials of Fabulous,” believes one the most dangerous stereotypes female leaders will face is that they are prone to emotional outbursts. Despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s consistent cool-headed demeanor, when she teared up on the campaign trail, the media pounced. Similarly, former Yahoo Chief Carol Bartz is frequently cited for her “salty language,” which has been used as evidence that she is “emotional” and a “loose cannon.”

No. 8: Angry
“Anger is a sign of status in men, but when women show anger they are viewed as less competent,” said Young. First Lady Michelle Obama was condemned as an “angry black woman” when she was campaigning for her husband in the 2008 presidential election. The Harvard-trained lawyer conscientiously softened her image and speeches in order to be more “likable,” becoming better known for her fashion and her unending support of her husband than for her stance on political issues.

No. 9: A token
Women hold just 16 percent of corporate board seats. But instead of focusing on balancing things out, they are often devalued as being a “token” of diversity rather than having earned the post. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was often the only woman in the room, but her gender didn’t get her there. “While companies take their diversity goals seriously, they are not going to settle for less than the best person for the job,” said Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA career center at Northeastern University. “Women are hired because of their education and experience and what they can do for the company.”

No. 10: A cheerleader
Billie Blair, president and CEO of Change Strategists, notes that prominent women who are considered feminine and warm may be dismissed as “cheerleaders” rather than the strong leaders that they are. When former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was running for VP, Blair was amazed to hear a male client describe her as “a cheerleader, not a coach nor a quarterback.”

Wishing You Success Maintaining Your Standards In Spite of Stereotypes,
N
atalya

Project Management in the Most Unexpected Places

I love project managing. Work is never dull, and each new project brings it own unique set of people, tasks, skills and lessons learned. Of course, at times, there are conflicts, unexpected detours, challenges, and there are always risks. Kind of like life.

Over the course of my career, each project has brought with it new faces, new personalities, new skills, sometimes new cultures, and always new perspectives on how to improve for the next time. But, there is one variable which remains fixed: the human factor.

I recall working on a project back in 2002, on an implementation for a world-wide communications conglomerate (hint: first carrier of the IPhone) with staff spread across every US timezone. Upon completion, I felt like I was a car that had been sent through one of those enclosed car washes – the only difference being that I did not come out shiny and looking like new. In that situation, I was forced to deal with every personality type on the planet AND come to terms with my own. Having had that [scathing] experience, and learning from my mistakes in dealing with those “personalities”, I learned that it’s really not about the deliverable but rather about the humans behind those tasks that matter most toward the end result.

Just recently, in fact….

I fulfilled an item on my bucket list and began volunteering with Habitat for Humanity . The obvious rewards of such an experience aside, I walked away from the job site realizing that I was now involved in yet another project, unexpectedly.

Several weeks into this experience, it’s become evident that the human factor supersedes all else, with complete strangers working together toward a common good which reaps no benefit to them other than the opportunity to make someone else’s dream of owning a home become a reality, watching out for each other’s well-being on tall ladders, on top of a roof, lifting bales of sod covered with invisible ants, and in the heat of the Florida sun. And, then collectively standing back grateful to have been involved, having learned a few new tricks and tips, and preparing themselves to set out once again in seven days on the next project at hand.

Though I was not charged with managing this “project”, I took my PM tool belt with me and found myself surrounded by at least 50 other willing participants, each of whom I would be proud to work with on any project. Interestingly enough, though, the diversity of personalities on each task have mirrored those of the most eclectic projects I have worked on!

  • Roofers seem to have something to prove, mainly to themselves :) , and go straight for the challenge. No room for failure there and it’s all about the focus (and the ego…).
  • The landscapers are more like a social club – enjoying the task, injecting creativity and inspiration with a lot of laughter, and taking a moment to stand back, enjoy the view, and smell the roses (literally!).

That said, every volunteer is there for the same reason: a successful build – which meets inspection, and on which no one gets hurt. So, the common good is paramount regardless of what task is assigned to you. In Corporate Utopia, the same would apply; for a successful project brings success to the organization, which – in theory – should mean job security and recognition for a job well-done. Note: I used the term “Utopia.” This simple truth has eluded most projects I’ve worked on (aside from some of the more recent); the lack of camaraderie and extent of CYA among resources and departments still confounds me to this day.

There is no “I” in teamwork, after all….

Author’s Note: Having been a “roofer” my first several weeks, my comments regarding the roofers’ mentality v. landscapers’ apply as much to me as any other. But, I did not realize this until I had the opportunity to landscape this past week…and I think I’d rather see myself as one of latter – in home-building and in life.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

Photo Credit:: Habitat for Humanity of Broward County and Integration Destination.

What’s on Your Bucket List…?

So, in reflecting upon the untimely death of Steve Jobs – it occurred to me that no one, at least in my lifetime, has embodied what it means to truly live life as you believe, leave no room for regret or self-questioning, and realize the success which inherently comes with that approach.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.” ~ Steve Jobs, Stanford University commencement address, 1995

Some of us may come upon this philosophy of life more easily than others. We are of two extremes, we wait, believing that time will forever be on our side and that there will always be time to do or accomplish what we know already lives in our hearts -OR- we wait, believing that we do not have the time, ability or green flag from the Gods to go forth and prosper…both are fallacies. Me, I must be bi-polar because I have fallen prey to both extremes – only now realizing that a) time is a very finite commodity and b) why not me and if not now, when…?

I have a sister who embodies the meaning of “carpe diem”; yet as much as I have admired her penchant to jump into new experiences, surround herself with exciting opportunities and not over-think life’s fleeting pleasures but rather embrace them when they arrive, I still tended more toward safety than adventure and thriftiness in life over indulgence. Until 2011.

According to the Urban Dictionary,

Bucket List:

A list of things to do before you die.

Comes from the term “kicked the bucket“.

One day I woke up, wrote a bucket list and went on my way. It contained innocuous items like “plant a grapefruit tree” (I love grapefruits), “re-visit Las Vegas”, and “do yoga at least 1x per week”. Nothing that would excite most people.

And, having accomplished none of those items to date, they remain on my list, but have been superseded by other unexpected and more exciting bucket list items such as building a house with Habitat for Humanity, jumping out of a plane, or ziplining across the North American wilderness, and others yet-to-be-determined.

While my mind is already working on the next spontaneous adventures – I know that that they will drive their own transformation into reality without too much interference from me as long as I remain open to their possibility and be willing to make the time – N.O.W.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition…. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” ~ Steve Jobs, Stanford University commencement address, 1995..

On that note, below is an excerpt from one of my favorite speakers and authors, Cheryl Richardson, which encapsulates just what I have been trying to explain:


Stretch, Grow & Find Joy!

  1. Say “yes!” When presented with a new opportunity that challenges you to stretch outside your comfort zone, make your default position a resounding “yes!” Sure you can weigh your options, see if the opportunity makes sense, or spend time determining whether or not you’re qualified to participate, but do yourself a favor and work your way backwards from “yes.” Start with the assumption that all will be well and look for what’s right about making the decision to do it.
  2. Keep an open mind. Once you’ve decided to engage in a new activity, temper your tendency to prejudge the experience. Show up open, with a clear heart and mind, and be willing to step into the role of student. Since I’m often in the position of teacher, it’s a challenge for me to shut off my know-it-all mind. Instead, I naturally look for what I already know as a way to feel comfortable, and I certainly don’t ask for help. But I’ve been growing . As soon as I heard my brother-in-law, Walter (a really good golfer), give my sister Lisa helpful pointers, I invited him to coach me on the next hole. And I became coachable. I listened carefully, and did what he told me to do. I allowed him to correct my stance, the position of my arms, and the direction of my club. As a result, I ended up with one of the best shots I’ve ever had in my short history of golfing!
  3. Surrender to the experience. I don’t know about you, but I find the older I get, the less interested I am in overanalyzing or judging how an opportunity might play out once I’ve decided to go for it. I say “yes” and surrender to whatever happens. Over the years, I’ve wasted too much energy trying to control a situation to keep myself safe. Time and again I find that if you let go, trust in the inherent goodness of the Life, and show up present and ready, you give yourself the best chance of experiencing joy. And I’m all about joy these days...

Every day we’re given opportunities to stretch, grow, and experience something wonderful and new. ~ Cheryl Richardson

Don’t wait. Do. Live. Enjoy.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

Photo Credit: Al’s Narrative

The Steve Jobs’ Effect

With the recent resignation of Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, it is difficult to read the headlines of any major news site without some reference to this unfortunate – though many say not unexpected – event.

So time for me to write a blog this week, and I thought -”what impact has Steve Jobs had on me, my productivity, the way I look at technology…?”

Well, let’s start with the fact that now I actually look at technology without trying to fight it with an invisible sword. After battling the smart phone war within for 5 years, I was woo’d over by the IPhone’s promise of a built-in, dynamic GPS that could get me anywhere I needed to go. Three years later, I am proud to say that, while I’ve yet to use its GPS functionality, I have become an avid IPhone aficionado with an APP for everything including but not limited to: my grocery list, hurricane tracking, the Today Show, my favorite blogs and radio stations, The Harvard Business Review, Kindle, Skype and – of course (being a wordie at heart) – Scrabble. And, though I have not crossed over fully yet, I do have friends and family who love their IPads and MacBooks and simply would not look back.

Reasons to be an IPhone groupie aside, as I read more and more of the articles about Steve Jobs, I realized that his success was born of and founded upon truths which should be fundamental to us all….

(Author’s Note: Listed in no particular order – these are by no means his only lessons, but rather the ones which impacted me most. ) *

Steve Job’s insights into life :

  • “If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, would you still want to do what you’re about to do today?” [N] Of any of his statements, this one held the most weight for me. Perhaps because I knew it came from someone who has/is facing death head-on or perhaps because such a simple question should have an equally simple answer. And if the answer is not simple, then perhaps it’s not the right answer…so keep asking yourself this question…I know I will.
  • Don’t pander — better.We didn’t build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves.” [N ] For some it is the hardest way, for others it is the ONLY way – whether you fail or succeed, live as YOU believe. For without beliefs on which to stand, your work ethic and moral compass will falter like a weakly rooted tree in hurricane force winds and eventually topple over. And, although it IS important to win friends and influence people (Thank you, Dale Carnegie), it’s equally (if not more important) to be true to your own standards and let those standards lead the way regardless of consequence. Often the consequence of leading by others’ opinions results in your certain demise.
  • Build a temple. “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.…” [N] Jobs’ statement holds its weight by framing work as a temple. If you are a person of great faith, or even one who understands history and faith, then you know that you would never think of entering a sacred temple without the greatest respect for what is housed within it. And so holds true for your own work – whether personal or professional, it is up to you to value what you do and its inherent worth; build a moat of respect and success around your own output and the integrity of your reputation.
  • Have taste. “The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste. They have absolutely no taste.” [N] Jobs defines “taste” as the opposite of “tackiness” and goes on to say that “…We might just be approaching the tackiest point in history known to man.” First impressions, lasting quality, and sincere effort just are not where they should be today and have not been for a very long time. So, Jobs’ took the high road to ensure that his products blew all others out the water in aesthetics, function and thoughtfulness. And for anyone who has ever sat at an Apple store’s “Genius Bar”, you have experienced that service and the kind of camaraderie among customers and employees alike which arises only when shared beliefs in a product and level of service are at the forefront.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

Image Courtesy of : victusspiritus.com

Quotes courtesy of – MSNBC, random interviews, Huff Post, Umair Haque

Agendas…Not Just for Meetings Anymore

Unlike the kind you get at a meeting, most people’s agendas are not as clearly presented. Also known as a “hidden agenda“, you need no longer be taken unawares when you realize that …


…many people will have goals they wish to accomplish at the expense of others…

Some may be well-intentioned; others not so much.

  • Consider the caring mentor who takes a young friend under his/her wing- guiding gently over a cup of coffee or introducing activities and people who will assist the young person’s growth and future. Not wishing to be overt nor overbearing, the young person is a beneficiary of the mentor’s [hidden] and well-positioned agenda. Realize, however, that the mentor – perhaps unknowingly – is invested in fulfilling an internal need of helping others even more so than seeing beneficiaries blossom; for in the act of mentoring, the internal goal of self-fulfillment is realized.
  • Then, consider the insecure, social climber who seeks out her unsuspecting future husband based on his pedigree, and proceeds to pursue her hidden agenda of wealth, happiness and social success via her new surname. Her bubble soon bursts when she realizes that a name cannot buy social acceptance nor the approval of those from whom she seeks it most; when her [hidden] agenda is foiled, she must find ways to rebel against the same unsuspecting spouse and whom she must now blame for her own disappointment. And, such is the behavior of most hidden agendas- they ultimately turn on their very own originators and result in a lose-lose situation.
  • Now, most familiar to me, are hidden agendas of the professional kind. Often times, in a professional environment, people believe that the only way to advance is at the expense of another. Make him look badly so I can shine. Or, similarly, let her be the voice of dissent and project negativity and dissidence while I instigate her so she can achieve my goal. Ultimately, however, you can be diligent and not the pawn for another’s dissatisfaction. Pay attention to what others do and say and how they require your direct or indirect participation in relation to an outcome or desired goal. Although I am not a proponent of the perpetual cynicism and doubt, unfortunately the reality is that you do need to develop awareness in order to avert malevolent intent and the furthering of others’ hidden agendas at work.

  • Sometimes a person’s agendas are hidden even from themselves, because they are in denial about it.

Wishing You Success Identifying and Avoiding Hidden Agendas,
N
atalya

Quotations courtesy of The Fifth Dimension