Two women seated facing eachother intense conversation

How to give feedback to peers at work without offering insult

A peer of mine, “Bruce,” was up for promotion. As part of his assessment, I was asked to provide 360° feedback for him, contributing to the confidential feedback alongside his boss, peers, and subordinates.

I liked and respected Bruce, and for the most part my feedback was very positive. But in the comments section I wrote:

“Bruce often gives me critical feedback or advice which I have not requested. I’m sure his intention is good, but it feels somewhat demeaning. He is my peer, not my boss. If I want feedback I will ask him for it. I think this behavior may undermine his effectiveness as a colleague and a leader.”

Two women standing talking holding coffee

How to motivate employees without raises? Ask them.

Many of my clients are struggling right now with how to motivate their employees (and sometimes themselves). Everyone is tired of the pandemic, and Delta is not helping anything. Masks? Vaccination passports? Are you kidding me? We are so done with all of that. But it’s not over yet, not by a long shot.

On top of that, people are just generally tired. Many of us have been working extra hard under very difficult conditions for the past 18 months. We’d like to see some reward and appreciation for all that effort, and it sometimes seems to be in short supply.

It’s all adding up to a lot of churn right now. People stayed in their jobs during the pandemic, even if they were not happy, because many felt lucky to have a job at all. But now the floodgates have opened, and people are switching jobs all over the place. A lot of those people are the most talented, high-performing employees that companies want to hang on to. 

Group family dinner at a wooden table

How to bring a team back together? Start with casual sharing

At last, at least in some locations, groups of people are beginning to reassemble. As an extravert, I’ve been longing for this day to come. I’m grateful that we had Zoom to carry us through all those lonely months, but you will never convince me that interacting with others virtually can create the same levels of trust, intimacy, and pleasure that meeting face-to-face can produce. 

That doesn’t mean the return to in-person feels entirely natural. As an individual, I have to figure out where I feel comfortable rejoining the world. And as a manager, I have to figure out how to bring a team back together when we’ve acclimated to the digital versions of each other. 

work from home or in the office debate

Why a rigid work-from-home policy might mean more freedom

All the business leaders I talk with these days are struggling with the same issue: Whether and how to bring their employees back into the office.

Some are firmly convinced that everyone needs to come back full-time right now. Others are equally convinced that employees should be granted total flexibility — come in when you want and as much or as little as you want. Many are somewhere in between these two extremes. And almost everyone is feeling confused and uncertain about what is best.

Unfortunately, there is no one right answer. In each company, it takes a unique set of circumstances to retain your best people while maximizing the good work you get out of them. Still, there are a few guidelines to keep front-of-mind.

Getting the benefits of coaching in the workplace firsthand

I had been a therapist for a few years when my mentor gave me a stern challenge. “Gail,” she said. “You cannot be a top-notch therapist until you have spent some time in your own therapy!” She gave me two reasons for this dictum. First, it’s important for therapists to unpack their own emotional baggage, so that it doesn’t get in the way of being fully available and empathic to their clients. Second, therapists need to know what it feels like to be a client, so they don’t do dumb things that get in the way of their client’s healing.

To be honest, I wasn’t very open to her suggestion. I had a good life, I was a happy person, I had a wonderful family and friends — why did I need to see a therapist? But I really respected her opinion, so I decided to give it a try. And she was right. It was one of the most valuable experiences of my life, both personally and professionally.

keyboard on fire

Why a mean email is the wrong way for leaders to give negative feedback

A long time ago I had to work with a very frustrating administrative assistant. I was a relatively new consultant and as far as she was concerned, it was way below her dignity for her to provide support to the likes of me. One day she said to me, “I am corporate and you are small business.” She was an expert at playing passive-aggressive games, like preparing documents for me at the very last minute before I had to go into a meeting. 

Frankly, she drove me crazy. I used to lie awake nights trying to figure out how to deal with her. I mean, for goodness sake, I’m a psychologist! And I’m generally regarded as pretty easy to work for. Surely I could fix this problem.

Why use a business adviser? For the outside perspective

The top company executives had been interviewing candidates for the CFO role. They found someone they really liked and were convinced he was the right guy for the job. In fact, they were already driving him around the town to show him attractive neighborhoods where his family could live. By the time they asked me to interview and assess the candidate, his hire was all but a done deal. I was just answering a few last-check questions: Was he the right leader for the job? Would he be a good fit with the company culture?

Man looking out window while working at computer

4 observations on returning to the office and the 3D world

We’re all old hands at virtual work by now. That technology that seemed impossible a year ago? We’ve figured it out. Working with kids and pets underfoot? No problem. Avoiding going into the kitchen for a snack every half-hour? Well, maybe that one we’re still working on.

And now we’re starting to think about returning to the office and the world of 3D work. Many of us are vaccinated and itching to get back to in-person collaboration. Others have found working from home (WFH) quite satisfying and aren’t quite so thrilled at the prospect of putting our business “uniforms” back on and heading out into the world of face-to-face interactions.

Man on walking steps confidently wearing a fashionable suit

How to build self-confidence at work in 5 steps

Reading an article about how to build self-confidence at work recently, I stopped on the first piece of advice: “Believe in yourself.” If you believe in yourself, you don’t need to be reading an article about self-confidence. You’re already there.

After decades of working with clients who lack self-confidence, both as a therapist and later as a coach, I have learned there are five actual steps people can take to become more self-confident. 

Female sprinters racing around a track

How to make sure merit pay actually rewards performance

Many years ago I worked for a mental health clinic that employed a variety of professionals, including two social workers. When annual raises were announced, one of the social workers, Anne, had received a larger raise than the other one, Judy. 

Judy was annoyed at the disparity, so she went to the Medical Director to ask for the reason. Dr. Frank explained that both women were doing a good job with their clients. But in addition to her day work, Anne was very involved in the community, representing the clinic at evening events and serving on some community boards, while Judy was not engaging in those activities. Anne’s visibility and contribution to the community reflected well on the clinic, and so she was rewarded for her commitment. 

I don’t know whether Judy was satisfied with this explanation. But it is to Dr. Frank’s credit that he was willing and able to provide a clear explanation for the difference in the two raises. Too often that is not the case. Too many organizations have a “trust us” approach, where decisions about promotions and raises are made in a “black box” with no clear rationale.

Why it’s a bad idea to bring your whole self to work

“If you’re looking for a firm with a strong team connection where you can be your whole self … ”
“We welcome all, and seek talented individuals who can bring their whole self to work … ”
“We appreciate different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives — encouraging everyone to bring their authentic selves to work.”
“We cultivate a community of playful personalities that thrive in a fast-paced environment where our employees can be their most authentic selves.”

These quotes are from recent job postings at well-known companies. They reflect a powerful trend in current thinking about the kind of environment that talented employees are seeking. They also imply that this kind of environment will bring out the best in their people.

This wording may be useful from a marketing perspective. But let me tell you, as guidance for getting ahead and moving into a leadership role, it’s dead wrong.

Two business women walking a hallway in the office

One of the most in-demand jobs may surprise you

What does the job market look like post-COVID? I know, we’re not quite there yet, but I’m certainly seeing a lot more business leaders moving into great new roles, as well as a lot more optimism about the near future. So what’s the landscape like?

Here in Illinois, Crain’s Chicago Business just published a list of the 10 most in-demand jobs (subscription required). At first glance, the list did not surprise me. The top eight jobs are all technical IT jobs — except one. But that one, the HR specialist at No. 5, did surprise me. 

In this digital world of ours, where so many of us have been living on screens and keyboards for the past year, why is there a big demand for specialists in the management of human capital?

Various colors of sewing thread organized on a board

Career inspiration: 7 lessons from an artist’s journey

There’s a mind-blowing new exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, Bisa Butler: Portraits. Butler creates enormous, extraordinary portraits of Black Americans, using elaborate quilting techniques to piece together brilliantly colored pieces of fabric. I have admired beautiful quilts for years, but I have never seen anything remotely approaching the artistry and impact of Butler’s work.

Who is Bisa Butler? The story of her career so far provides some valuable guidance in how to succeed at the career you were born for.