Can I Really Count on You? by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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We’re all busy, and we all have a lot of personal and professional priorities tugging at us. It’s easy to fall into the trap of over committing ourselves. There are several pitfalls to this bad habit. One of these is having to cancel on commitments you’ve made, whether it’s bringing cookies to the class party or having to miss an important business conference because we’ve fallen behind at work. index2

Over committing yourself takes a toll on you, leaving you tired and feeling guilty. But, it also takes a toll on those you have to cancel on, and takes a toll on your reputation, too.

One of the most important characteristics of a good leader is that this person is a “person of their word”. If you want to be viewed as a leader in your business, your community or your family, you must be someone others can count on.

When we drop the ball and don’t come through on a commitment we’ve made, it isn’t usually intentional, and it isn’t usually because we believe the commitment wasn’t worth our time. It is generally a problem of over-scheduling ourselves or being unable to say no when we’re asked to do something.

Both of these problems are worth taking the time to solve. Keep a calendar at all times that includes your personal commitments as well as business commitments, and be sure this calendar makes room for down time. When you can see in print how busy you are, you might think twice about committing to something else. In addition, you can see right away if you already have an appointment on your calendar that would interfere with this upcoming event.

Learning to say no is very difficult for many people. However, if you are regularly backing out on commitments you’ve made, the damage you’re doing to others is worse than if you’d said no when asked. If you say no upfront, the person has time to make other arrangements. When you back out at the last minute, or fail to follow through, you may leave others in a bind.

Being a person of your word is important in all of your relationships. If you tell a customer you’ll call them back on Tuesday with an answer to their question, it’s important to call them on Tuesday, even if you don’t have an answer, simply because you said you would. If you promised your daughter you would be at her dance recital, you can’t pick that night to work late.

Take stock of how much people can really count on you to do what you say you will. If you find you’re lacking in this area, make strides to improve your credibility.

Are You Really Listening? by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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Listening is a critical skill. Many of us think we’re good at listening, but what we are doing when others are talking may not be really listening. In many cases, we’re just waiting for our turn to talk.

You see, often our minds are formulating our response to what’s being said while the other person is still talking. This isn’t really listening, and often our response isn’t based on the entirety of what was said, because it was created before we had all the information.images2

The next time you’re having an important conversation with someone, do your best to turn off your natural urge to start thinking about what you’re going to say and just listen to what’s being said to you. Then, taking all of what you heard into account, formulate your response.

We often listen only with the intent to respond because we believe we need to have a response at the ready. This isn’t necessarily the case, and you’ll find that people won’t be upset with you if you take a minute to think about what is said before you answer.

The more intense the subject and the more passionate you are about your opinion on the subject, the more likely you are to not really listen to what the other person is saying. (Think about fights with your spouse.) You’re eager to make your own argument. This is when listening only to respond, however, is most dangerous. You may be shutting out the feelings and opinions of someone who is important to you. In your quest to be heard, or to be right, you’re jeopardizing the entire relationship.

So, next time you’re having a conversation with someone, whether it’s business or personal, practice listening just to listen. It isn’t easy at first, especially if you’ve never realized that you listen to respond. Over time, you’ll learn to really hear what is being said and you’ll formulate well thought out responses more frequently. You’ll likely find that you make better decisions, and that your relationships with those you love are better, too. That’s when you can truly say you’re a really good listener.

When in Doubt, Check it Out by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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As a busy professional, there can be many things that legitimately get in our way of reaching our daily goals. Crises at work must be managed, as well as crises at home. However, sometimes we’re simply our own worst enemy, causing ourselves our biggest headaches of the day by simply not prioritizing correctly, not asking the right questions, or not planning ahead.index

We can greatly increase our productivity by learning to avoid these pitfalls. One of the biggest is making assumptions about what we are expected to do or how we are expected to do something. There is nothing worse than working hard to complete a project only to realize you either didn’t accomplish the project’s goals or you didn’t do it correctly. Problems like this can plague us in everything from simple household tasks to large, complex work projects. The bigger the project, the more problematic it will be if we don’t get it right the first time.

Don’t Let Your Pride Get in the Way

Sometimes we fail to ask questions out of fear of looking stupid, or because we think we should know how to do something. This is a huge mistake, regardless of the reason behind it. You sully your reputation much more by making assumptions about how to do something and then doing it wrong than by asking questions or gaining clarification.

Don’t Waste Your Time Doing It Wrong

Protect your time by ensuring you really understand what is expected of you before you begin any task. Seek clarification by explaining your perception of how to perform the task to see if you are on the right track. If not, seek further clarification. In some cases, it’s a wise idea to ask if there are written objectives or instructions.

It takes far less time to ask a few questions than to have to do something over again, and it hurts your pride a lot less, too!

Once you get in the habit of ensuring you truly understand the requirements of any project, you may find that you gain some precious time in your work day because you don’t have to repeat steps or entire projects. This can help you to be more productive and have more free time, as well.

Seriously! You Think You Can Manage Time? by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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People spend a lot of time talking about time management. In addition, people often complain that they don’t have enough time to get everything done. But, the truth, as we all know, is that all of us have exactly the same number of hours in every day. It’s not about how much time you have, it’s how you manage your priorities.images

Many people would benefit by handling time management exactly backwards of how they currently handle it. Instead of trying to fit in all the things you want to do, try prioritizing those things and allotting time to them. For example, you know what your work hours are, so use that time frame to prioritize what you want to get done in those hours.

This is a fundamentally different approach than making a “to do” list for the day and then working as many hours as needed to complete it or leaving for home at the end of the day with things unfinished. Plan how many hours you want to work for the day, and then prioritize your tasks. Some tasks will be things that must get done that day, while others will have some time flexibility. Prioritize your “must do” tasks into time slots on your calendar, along with appointments for the day. Then, fit your other tasks into the available time with the highest priority tasks scheduled first.

Putting your tasks on your calendar with specific time allotted to completing these helps prevent time wasting and gives you a sense of urgency in getting  your most tasks completed, if you can be disciplined enough to treat these just as you would an appointment.

By prioritizing this way, you should have all of your most important tasks completed at the end of the day, with some of your next highest priority completed, too. When you make your schedule for the next day, some of your uncompleted tasks will move up in priority.

This system allows you to leave work on time most days, freeing you up for the things you need and want to do in your personal life. Prioritize your off hours in a similar fashion if you’re one of those people who tends to over schedule their personal time, as well.

This system won’t guarantee you’ll never have to work past your preferred work hours to keep everything going. However, it will ensure that you are aware of your time and you most important priorities during that time. This will help you go a long way toward better use of the time you have each day to meet your professional and personal goals.

Spring Tune Up for Your Health by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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Spring is the time of year when all things are new. Our minds turn to spring cleaning, swapping out winter clothes for summer ones and renewing the look of the front of our home. As you’re contemplating all these other items, don’t forget to maintain your health, too.images

It’s easy to forget little things like yearly physicals, having your teeth cleaned, or getting those recommended tests that come with age, but it’s important not to let these items be forgotten.

Maintaining your health through regular checkups and preventive tests and procedures is no different than maintaining your home or car. If you don’t clean out the gutters and have the oil changed, it will lead to problems that take far more time and cost far more money to repair. Maintenance is a way of protecting your investment, and what bigger investment do you have than your health?

Routine physicals and preventive measures take little time and cost little money. In fact, most preventive measures are fully covered by health or dental insurance because insurance underwriters understand that it’s cheaper to cover the preventive maintenance than to have to pay to fix the health problem later. That’s a lesson we’d all do well to internalize.

Maintaining your health is important for your family. They depend on you and need you to be in top form. You can’t take care of them if you don’t take care of yourself first. In addition, teaching your children that health maintenance is important will help to set them up to be conscious of their own health later in life.

Maintaining your health is a smart business move, too. Your business is an investment, and you are that investment’s most important asset. If you lose time due to sickness, the business suffers. Too much time lost to sickness could ruin the business entirely.

So, as you make your “to do” list for the spring, take a look at your health records. If you’ve neglected having checkups or preventive procedures, get these on the calendar as soon as possible. The time away from work or other activities you’ll have to devote to getting caught up is nothing compared to what it could cost you in time, money and well-being if you choose to neglect yourself and have health issues as a result.

Customer Service and Beyond by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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Good customer service is a secret to success in any business. Though the details vary by industry, the basic customer service principles are the same. Providing excellent customer service to your clients helps ensure your business thrives. In most businesses, gaining customers is expensive, so keeping these customers after you’ve won them is critical. Providing good customer service is the single biggest thing you can do to keep those customers. Here are five customer service principles that transcend industries.index2

  1. Know your product or service. You should be able to talk knowledgeably about your products. When customers have questions, you should be able to answer these. When you don’t know the answer, you should be committed to getting the answer quickly for the customer.
  1. Provide timely service. Don’t make customers sit on hold or wait in ridiculous lines. Of course, there are times when business is busier than other times, but do your best to keep the customer’s wait short.
  1. Be friendly. If you’re a customer facing employee, you don’t get to be in a bad mood. Be nice, every time, even when the customer isn’t nice to you.
  1. Keep your promises. If you tell a customer you will call them on Thursday with the answer, then call them on Thursday. If you don’t have the answer, at least let them know that you are still working on it and give them a new time when you will call them back.
  1. Follow up. Be proactive in following up on customer problems. Rather than assuming a problem is resolved because the customer didn’t call back, take the time to call and ask if the problem is resolved.
  1. Be reasonable about rules. It’s imperative that companies have rules. However, do your best not to apply rules arbitrarily, or use these to avoid doing what is right. When the rules just don’t make sense for the customer’s situation, be willing to go to bat for the customer to get an exception approved. Be willing to admit it when a rule shouldn’t apply.

Discuss these six principles within your organization and assess how you’re doing as a group. While these all seem like obvious things to do, they may not be everyday practice. Look for ways to improve your customer service using these ideas. Your customers, and your bottom line, will thank you.

Are You a Salaried Entrepreneur? by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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index2As a business employee, you may believe you have little influence on the decisions that are made about how the business is run. Depending upon your particular situation; this may or may not be true. However, there are reasons you should act like an entrepreneur even when you don’t own the business. Take a look at some of the benefits you can realize by having an entrepreneurial mindset instead of an employee mindset.

  1. You’ll make better decisions. When you adopt an attitude as though you own the business, you make decisions based on the best interest of the business, considering far more pieces of the puzzle than when you act like an employee.
  1. You’ll share ideas. With an employee mindset, you might be reluctant to share your ideas for improving a process or reducing costs. But, if you’re acting like a business owner, you are eager to share your ideas for improvement, even if some of these don’t pan out.
  1. You’ll learn more. With the attitude of an entrepreneur, you’ll take every opportunity afforded to you to learn about the business, the industry and leadership.
  1. You’ll be more cost conscious. With an entrepreneur mindset, you won’t be wasteful with money. Instead, you’ll look for the potential return on every investment before making it. However, when you see true return on investment or a significant bottom line improvement that comes from spending a little cash, you’ll be eager to spend it, and able to articulate justification for spending it.

Acting like an entrepreneur even when you aren’t one can offer some very valuable learning experiences, and can entirely change the way you look at your job. It will likely make you a better employee, a more thoughtful manager and a better financial steward. It might also get you promoted, as those in the chain of command notice your efforts.

Even if acting like an entrepreneur doesn’t bring you any rewards in your current job, you can be sure that it will provide a learning experience that will help to prepare you to run your own business one day if that is something you are intending to do.

Be-Do-Have by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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We all know it’s important to have goals. We immediately increase our chances of succeeding when we set specific written expectations and measure ourselves against these regularly.

Today, let’s look at goal setting a little differently by looking at who we have to be and what we have to do to in order to have what we want. It’s aindex slightly different spin on the traditional goal setting.

First, start by looking at what you want to have in life. Are you looking for career success, financial security, a legacy or a family life? There will likely be two or three major things you want in life. Once you’ve determined these, move on to the next step.

Think about the kind of person who has the things you want. For example, if you are really longing for a family, but you spend 80 hours a week at work, you will immediately recognize that, right now, you are not being a person who could manage a family. If this is a top priority for you, it’s time to consider if you can work toward your family goal by doing things the way you currently do them.

Next comes the hard part. Determine what you need to do to have the things you have defined as your priorities. Your new goals will be to implement the actions required to bring you the things you desire. If you desire a different career, for example, write down the steps it will take to get you into that field or that company.

As you write down specific tasks, you may find that there are things you believe you want that are incongruent with steps you are willing to take. When this is the case, it’s time for soul searching. You must either decide you are willing to make changes in your life to get what you want, or you must accept the fact that you don’t really want to reach that goal as much as you thought.

No matter what you decide, this is a valuable exercise, because it really helps you to put your goals into perspective, and to prevent spinning your wheels.

Each desire that you have will require a fairly specific set of actions, and will, to some extent, require you to be a particular type of person. Defining your personality and the actions you need to take will help you focus your life on reaching those goals that are truly important.

Holding Yourself Accountable by Ciindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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As leaders, we regularly hold others accountable for their actions and for doing their jobs. In many cases, we find it easier to hold others accountable than ourselves. It’s easy to make excuses about our bad habits or our failure to stay focused. images2

Learning to hold yourself accountable and ensuring you live up to the standards you set for others is one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself as a leader. To help ensure you stay true and accountable, begin practicing the following skills.

  • Write down your goals. Know what you’re working toward and when you plan to have achieved it. Monitor your progress regularly and make adjustments when progress isn’t going as planned.
  • Write down your tasks. This is the first step toward holding yourself accountable. Make a list of what you will do either daily or weekly, in order of priority. Work on high priority items first, and then move to lesser priority items. At the end of the day, if you haven’t made it through your list, decide how to handle this issue, either working late to complete the items, or moving them to the next day’s list. Over time, you’ll get a good handle on how much you should get accomplished in a day, and you’ll begin to see patterns emerge regarding what gets in your way of accomplishing your daily or weekly goals.
  • Have an accountability partner. Work with someone who will hold you accountable and you hold them accountable.  Have regular check in calls and document progress.  Work with someone who is comfortable to call you out when you get off track and visa versa.
  • Give yourself incentives to ensure you get work completed or meet goals. You can use positive or negative reinforcement to help you stay accountable. For example, promise yourself you can have a special night out if you complete all your tasks this week. Conversely, you could deny yourself something you normally do because you enjoy it if you don’t meet your weekly goals.

Holding yourself accountable takes discipline. These exercises are designed to help you develop this self-discipline to the point that you don’t even have to consider whether or not you’ll meet the requirements you set for your self. Once you have this self-master, you’ll be well on your way to being the leader you’ve set out to become.

The Benefits of Volunteering by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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As a busy professional, you might believe you don’t have time to do volunteer work. In fact, you might even believe that spending time away from your business to work as a volunteer is time wasted, especially if your business is in growth mode. However, here are some reasons you should take the imagestime to volunteer, no matter how busy you are with work. You might be surprised to find that volunteering can actually benefit your business.

  • Volunteering changes your perspective. You will see lots of things in a new light by working with a nonprofit organization. You will certainly get an appreciation for volunteers and recipients of the organization, and you may also learn some new management techniques by watching how the organization is run.
  • Volunteering clears your mind. Working in an environment that is completely different than your work environment and performing tasks that are not related to your job can be very good for your mind. You will get much needed mental “down time” for your brain.
  • Volunteering makes you feel good. You will get a sense of fulfillment from doing good in your community. This can translate into an overall sense of well-being and purpose in your life. Many people feel energized by giving of their time.
  • Volunteering can be a great way to network. You can meet a lot of other people while volunteering, including people you might never have met through any other channel. This extra networking may benefit your business, too.
  • Volunteering helps you create a personal legacy. As you get older, you will look back on your life and reflect on the things you did that made the world better. While you will hopefully feel that way about your career, you will not likely feel that spending 70 hours a week at work made the world a better place. But, you will almost certainly believe that about the time you spend giving back to your community.
  • It’s a great lesson for your kids. If you’re a parent, volunteering teaches your children about giving back. This is a lesson you can only teach by doing. If your children grow up seeing you volunteer, they will likely follow in your footsteps when they are adults. If your children are old enough, look for opportunities for the two of you to volunteer together.

There are so many reasons to volunteer. The good you will do and the fulfillment you’ll gain will reward you just as much as the organization you choose.