You’re sitting in an interview, and the hiring manager is about to wrap everything up.
Just when you think you’re free to leave, the hiring manager asks, “Do you have any questions for me?”
In an effort to think on your feet, you blurt out, “How much does this position pay?” Immediately you realize this probably wasn’t the best question to ask once you see the expression on the hiring manager’s face.
There are two mistakes job seekers make during the interview process: They don’t have questions prepared for the interviewer, and they ask the wrong questions.
As you prepare for your next job interview, here are 10 of the worst questions you should avoid asking a hiring manager:
1. “Can you tell me more about your company?”
Before any interview, the first thing you must do is research the company. If you ask this question, the hiring manager will think you didn’t do your homework before the interview.
2. “How much vacation time would I receive?”
Never ask about additional perks or benefits during a job interview, especially not the first one. This question should only be asked if the the hiring manager brings up the discussion first.
3. “How quickly could I earn a raise?”
Again, this question is a big no-no. Questions regarding compensation should not be asked unless the hiring manager brings up the topic.
4. “Do you perform background checks?”
When you apply for a job, it should be a given that the employer will perform a background check. In fact, 69 percent of employers perform background checks on all job candidates.
5. “Who is your company’s competition?”
If you’ve done your research prior to the interview, you shouldn’t have to ask this question. Hiring managers expect you to have a good idea of how their company is positioned before you enter the interview.
6. “How important is attendance?”
Asking about attendance during an interview can send a red flag to the interviewer. You should automatically assume you should arrive to work on time and avoid taking off unnecessary vacation days.
7. “Can I work from home?”
If a company allows employees to work from home or telecommute part of the week, it’s typically stated in the job description. There’s no need for you to ask this question during a job interview.
8. “Do you have casual Fridays?”
Casual Fridays and other perks like company parties and entertainment are things you can learn about once you’re hired. Save this question for your manager or coworkers once you’re hired.
9. “What is your review process like?”
Although you might be genuinely concerned about your performance or how managers give feedback, avoid asking questions about the review process. This can make hiring managers worry about how well you’ll perform on the job once hired.
10. “I don’t have any questions for you.”
Whatever you do during an interview, don’t tell the interviewer you don’t have any questions. Every hiring manager expects candidates to have at least one question to ask at the end of the interview.
Asking the wrong question during an interview can definitely cost you a job offer. By avoiding these questions and doing your research, you’ll be better prepared with thoughtful questions to ask at the conclusion of a job interview.
Do you have the skills needed to stand out? If you are not sure what works on the job, see our list of traits to master
At work we all need a special trait or talent that sets us apart from our colleagues and makes our bosses notice us. It could be the ability to strike up a conversation with just about anyone, the ability to sell just about anything, or just be great at learning anything new. If you think you don’t have any one specific skill and don’t really know which one you should cultivate, read to see which skills get full marks from experts.
The art of networking
Shaily Gupta, group head, human resources at financial services group Edelweiss, Mumbai, says her advice to campus hires in the company is to focus on connecting with people, through simple, but powerful gestures like “offering services” and “lending help”. She believes this helps create an ecosystem of well-wishers, enhances their circle of influence, and holds them in good stead as they move ahead in their career. In a Harvard Business Review article, How Bell Labs Creates Star Performers, authors Robert Kelley and Janet Caplan have identified nine work-related strategies that differentiate a star from the average performer. The top strategy identified by them is networking.
Gupta prefers to use the phrase “making friends” to “networking”, because networking is often perceived as a process of making connections with the intent of getting something. However, Bob Burg and John Mann, authors of Go-Givers Sell More, have articulated the basis of networking as “Shifting your focus from getting to giving…living with generosity creates a swelling tide that raises all ships. Not just yours; not just the other person’s, everyone’s”. Therefore, think about ways you can add value and contribute to the success of another, as this can fetch you immense goodwill which could pay you rich dividends at some point.
In human relations, spending doesn’t deplete, it multiplies. Mumbai-based Raj Bowen, managing director, PDI Ninth House, a Korn/Ferry International company that offers talent management and leadership solutions, agrees and attributes the ability to get along and work well with people as one of the top skills that has helped him in his career. He recollects a personal experience where he was successful in continuing a cordial relationship with a colleague even after having performed the unsavoury task of terminating his service for non-performance.
Who are the people you need on your network? According to Linda Hill and Kent Lineback, authors ofBeing the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader, you need to cultivate three networks—an operational network comprising people who will support you in producing your day-to-day deliverables; a strategic network which will help you identify opportunities and threats that you need to be prepared for; and a developmental network that will point you to opportunities like new assignments, projects and experiences which will help you to learn and develop.
The art of making conversation
Face-to-face communication has taken a back seat as we run the marathon for meeting deadlines, producing results and achieving the bottom line. It stands further sidelined as virtual teams become the order of the day. The busy executive, juggling a packed schedule, has little time for small talk. He may even consider it trivial, inconsequential and unimportant, little realizing that small talks can lead to bigger talks. It is a stepping stone for building relationships. A number of studies have identified the art of making conversation as one of the core skills for success. Susan Roane, author of the best-seller What Do I Say Next?—Talking Your Way to Business and Social Success, had asked more than a 100 successful people during the course of her research, as to which skill they would most attribute their success to. The universal answer she got was—the ability to converse. Thomas W. Harrell, professor emeritus of applied psychology at Stanford University, spent a lot of time tracking MBAs who had graduated between 1961 and 1965. He found little correlation between grades and success. Instead, the primary differentiator he discovered between the very successful, and those who were less successful, was their ability to communicate. This is also corroborated by the results of the Job Outlook 2012 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a US-based organization that connects campus placement cells with staffing professionals the world over, which identified the ability to verbally communicate with people inside and outside the organization as the top skill sought by prospective employers.
The art of facilitation
Facilitation, which is more of an art than science, entails a leadership role that helps a group in navigating through a discussion to achieve its stated goal or agenda. Yogi Sriram, senior vice-president (corporate-human resources), Larsen & Toubro, Mumbai, believes that the ability to facilitate a discussion in group situations like meetings, training sessions, conferences, or even in one-on-one conversations, is a crucial skill for success. The facilitator leads the group towards an outcome that it stands committed to and takes responsibility for. This involves the ability to trigger thought and draw ideas and opinions, through active listening, astute questioning, and the ability to cut out the chaff and summarize the discussion at logical junctures.
The art of learning
In today’s environment marked by rapid change, knowledge and expertise are prone to becoming obsolete at the blink of an eye. It is imperative, therefore, according to Sriram, to inculcate the ability and attitude to learn every moment, in order to remain relevant and move ahead.
Sriram draws upon Columbia University professor Donald Super’s Life Career rainbow, a framework that outlines career development in terms of life stages and life roles, when he says that learning transcends age, but the motivation to learn undergoes a change as we move through the different stages of life. Very often we learn because of peer pressure and just enough for performing the task at hand. However, when this pressure is eliminated and learning becomes totally voluntary, one experiences what psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow” in his seminal work Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. “Flow” is the mental state when a person is completely absorbed in what he does or learns, deriving an element of immense pleasure in the process.
The leaders set the tone for a learning organization by nurturing a culture that promotes learning that runs far beyond the annual training calendar. A learning organization is characterized by an environment where people feel comfortable expressing views, even those that diverge from the mainstream; and they are encouraged to take calculated risks, explore unchartered territories, deploy novel ways of doing things, and learn from their mistakes. It is marked by an openness to and appreciation of different ideas and perspectives.
The art of resilience
Legend has it that Thomas Edison, in his bid to produce a commercially viable light bulb, had to create 10,000 prototypes before getting it right. Michael Bloomberg found Bloomberg, the iconic financial data and media company, after he was laid off from Salomon Brothers, the Wall Street investment bank. A rising soccer star who had just been signed by Real Madrid as goalkeeper, Julio Iglesias’ dreams of a soccer career came crashing down after he was involved in a serious car accident. He rose from the ashes, however, to become the best-selling Latin music artist in history. What is the common thread running through these stories? Resilience. Bowen believes that the ability to combat setbacks, catapult adversity into opportunity, bounce back from a derailing experience, and then adapt and continue running the race, is among the most important skills for survival in the current turbulent environment. Contrary to the yesteryears, when people enjoyed the luxury of cruising along a predictable and stable life marked by incremental growth, today life offers a roller-coaster ride characterized by quick peaks, and quicker valleys. Hellen Keller’s famous quote strikes a chord in such a scenario: “When one door closes, another opens. But we often look so regretfully upon the closed door that we don’t see the one that has opened for us”.
Being a leader is perhaps the hardest challenge any of us will ever face. No matter how long we work at it, practicing the right behaviors is a never-ending task. Knowing – and avoiding – the wrong ones is too. Thus, we offer the following six common leadership pitfalls:
1. Not Giving Self-Confidence its Due.
Self-confidence is the lifeblood of success. When people have it, they’re bold. They try new things, offer ideas, exude positive energy, and cooperate with their colleagues instead of surreptitiously attempting to bring them down. When they lack self-confidence, it’s just the opposite. People cower. They plod. And they spread negativity with every word and gesture.
But all too often leaders ignore (or neglect) this very basic fact of the human condition. Why is anyone’s guess. Perhaps they just don’t understand that it is part of their job to instill self-confidence in their people. It may even be said that it’s their first job. You cannot unleash the creative power of individuals who doubt themselves.
Fortunately, some people seem to be born with self-confidence. Others gain it from life and work experience and come to a company fully loaded. Regardless, leaders can never stop pouring self-confidence into their teams. The ways to do so are myriad. Make sure goals are challenging – but achievable. Give effusive positive feedback. Remind your direct reports of what they do right.
We’re not saying that leaders should blindly extol and exalt. People know when they’re being gamed. But good leaders work relentlessly to find ways to instill self-confidence in those around them. They know it’s the gift that never stops giving.
2. Muzzling Voice.
Perhaps the most frustrating way that leaders underperform is by over-talking. That is, they act like know-it-alls. They can tell you how the world works, what corporate is thinking, how it will backfire if you try this or that, and why you can’t possibly change the product one iota. Sometimes such blowhards get their swagger from a few positive experiences, but usually they’re just victims of their own destructive personalities.
Ultimately, the company ends up being a victim too, because know-it-alls aren’t just insufferable, they’re dangerous. They don’t listen, and that deafness makes it very hard for new ideas to get debated, expanded upon, or improved. No single person, no matter how smart, can take a business to its apex. For that, you need every voice to be heard.
3. Acting Phony.
Can you spot a phony? Of course you can – and so can your people. Indeed, if there is one widespread human capability, it is sniffing out someone who is putting on airs, pretending to be who they’re not, or just keeping their real self hidden. Yet too many leaders spend way too much time creating personas that put a wall between them and their employees. What a waste.
Because authenticity is what makes people love you. Visibly grappling with tough problems, sweating the details, laughing, and caring – those are the activities that make people respond and feel engaged with what you’re saying. Sure, some people will tell you that being mysterious grants you power as a leader. In reality, all it generates is fear. And who wants to motivate that way?
Now, obviously, authenticity is unattractive if it’s coupled with immaturity or an overdose of informality. And organizations generally don’t like people who are too emotionally unbounded – i.e. so real that all their feelings are exposed. They tend to tamp that kind of intensity down a bit. And that’s not a bad thing, as work is work and, more than at home, allows us to maintain some privacy.
But don’t let convention wring all the authenticity out of you, especially as you climb the ladder. In time, humanity always wins. Your team and bosses come to know who you are in your soul, what kind of people you attract and what kind of performance you want from everyone. Your realness will make you accessible; you will connect and you will inspire. You will lead.
4. Lacking the Guts to Differentiate.
You only have to be in business a few weeks to know that not all investment opportunities are created equal. But some leaders can’t face that reality, and so they sprinkle their resources like cheese on a pizza, a little bit everywhere.
As a result, promising growth opportunities too often don’t get the outsized infusions of cash and people they need. If they did, someone might get offended during the resource allocation process. Someone – as in the manager of a weak business or the sponsor of a dubious investment proposal.
But leaders who don’t differentiate do the most damage when it comes to people. Unwilling to deliver candid, rigorous performance reviews, they give every employee the same kind of bland, mushy, “nice job” sign-off. Then, when rewards are doled out, they give star performers little more than the laggards. Now, you can call this egalitarian approach kind, or fair – as these lousy leaders usually do – but it’s really just weakness. And when it comes to building a thriving organization where people have the chance to grow and succeed, weakness just doesn’t cut it.
5. Fixation on Results at the Expense of Values.
Everyone knows that leaders deliver. Oratory and inspiration without results equal…well, a whole lot of nothing. But leaders are committing a real dereliction of duties if all they care about are the numbers. They also have to care about how those numbers came to be. Were the right behaviors practiced? Was the company’s culture of integrity honored? Were people taken care of properly? Was the law obeyed, in both letter and spirit?
Values are a funny thing in business. Companies love to talk about them. They love to hang them up on plaques in the lobby and boast about them to potential hires and customers. But they’re meaningless if leaders don’t live and breathe them. Sometimes that can take courage. It can mean letting go of a top performer who’s a brute to his colleagues, or not promoting a star who doesn’t share her best ideas with the team. That’s hard.
And yet if you’re a leader, this is a sin you cannot squint away. When you nail your results, make sure you can also report back to a crowded room: We did this the right way, according to our values.
6. Skipping the Fun Part
What is it about celebrating that makes managers so nervous? Maybe throwing a party doesn’t seem professional, or it makes people worry that they won’t look serious to the powers that be, or that, if things get too happy in the office, people will stop working their tails off.
Whatever the reason, too many leaders don’t celebrate enough. To be clear here, we do not define celebrating as conducting one of those stilted little company-orchestrated events that everyone hates, in which the whole team is marched out to a local restaurant for an evening of forced merriment when they’d rather be home. We’re talking about sending a team to Disney World with their families, or giving each team member tickets to a show or a movie, or handing each member of the team a new iPod.
What a lost opportunity. Celebrating makes people feel like winners and creates an atmosphere of recognition and positive energy. Imagine a team winning the World Series without champagne spraying everywhere. You can’t! And yet companies win all the time and let it go without so much as a high-five.
Work is too much a part of life not to recognize the moments of achievement. Grab as many as you can. Make a big deal out of them.
That’s part of a leader’s job too – the fun part.
Being likeable will help you in your job, business, relationships, and life. I interviewed dozens of successful business leaders for my last book, to determine what made them so likeable and their companies so successful. All of the concepts are simple, and yet, perhaps in the name of revenues or the bottom line, we often lose sight of the simple things – things that not only make us human, but can actually help us become more successful. Below are the eleven most important principles to integrate to become a better leader:
“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway
Listening is the foundation of any good relationship. Great leaders listen to what their customers and prospects want and need, and they listen to the challenges those customers face. They listen to colleagues and are open to new ideas. They listen to shareholders, investors, and competitors. Here’s why the best CEO’s listen more.
“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” -Robert McAfee Brown
After listening, leaders need to tell great stories in order to sell their products, but more important, in order to sell their ideas. Storytelling is what captivates people and drives them to take action. Whether you’re telling a story to one prospect over lunch, a boardroom full of people, or thousands of people through an online video – storytelling wins customers.
“I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I’ve become. If I had, I’d have done it a lot earlier.” -Oprah Winfrey
Great leaders are who they say they are, and they have integrity beyond compare. Vulnerability and humility are hallmarks of the authentic leader and create a positive, attractive energy. Customers, employees, and media all want to help an authentic person to succeed. There used to be a divide between one’s public self and private self, but the social internet has blurred that line. Tomorrow’s leaders are transparent about who they are online, merging their personal and professional lives together.
“As a small businessperson, you have no greater leverage than the truth.” -John Whittier
There is nowhere to hide anymore, and businesspeople who attempt to keep secrets will eventually be exposed. Openness and honesty lead to happier staff and customers and colleagues. More important, transparency makes it a lot easier to sleep at night – unworried about what you said to whom, a happier leader is a more productive one.
5. Team Playing
“Individuals play the game, but teams beat the odds.” -SEAL Team Saying
No matter how small your organization, you interact with others every day. Letting others shine, encouraging innovative ideas, practicing humility, and following other rules for working in teams will help you become a more likeable leader. You’ll need a culture of success within your organization, one that includes out-of-the-box thinking.
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” -Charles Swindoll
The best leaders are responsive to their customers, staff, investors, and prospects. Every stakeholder today is a potential viral sparkplug, for better or for worse, and the winning leader is one who recognizes this and insists upon a culture of responsiveness. Whether the communication is email, voice mail, a note or a tweet, responding shows you care and gives your customers and colleagues a say, allowing them to make a positive impact on the organization.
“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” -Ben Franklin
There has never been a faster-changing marketplace than the one we live in today. Leaders must be flexible in managing changing opportunities and challenges and nimble enough to pivot at the right moment. Stubbornness is no longer desirable to most organizations. Instead, humility and the willingness to adapt mark a great leader.
“The only way to do great work is to love the work you do.” -Steve Jobs
Those who love what they do don’t have to work a day in their lives. People who are able to bring passion to their business have a remarkable advantage, as that passion is contagious to customers and colleagues alike. Finding and increasing your passion will absolutely affect your bottom line.
9. Surprise and Delight
“A true leader always keeps an element of surprise up his sleeve, which others cannot grasp but which keeps his public excited and breathless.” -Charles de Gaulle
Most people like surprises in their day-to-day lives. Likeable leaders underpromise and overdeliver, assuring that customers and staff are surprised in a positive way. There are a plethora of ways to surprise without spending extra money – a smile, We all like to be delighted — surprise and delight create incredible word-of-mouth marketing opportunities.
“Less isn’t more; just enough is more.” -Milton Glaser
The world is more complex than ever before, and yet what customers often respond to best is simplicity — in design, form, and function. Taking complex projects, challenges, and ideas and distilling them to their simplest components allows customers, staff, and other stakeholders to better understand and buy into your vision. We humans all crave simplicity, and so today’s leader must be focused and deliver simplicity.
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” -Gilbert Chesterton
Likeable leaders are ever grateful for the people who contribute to their opportunities and success. Being appreciative and saying thank you to mentors, customers, colleagues, and other stakeholders keeps leaders humble, appreciated, and well received. It also makes you feel great! Donor’s Choose studied the value of a hand-written thank-you note, and actually found donors were 38% more likely to give a 2nd time if they got a hand-written note!
The Golden Rule: Above all else, treat others as you’d like to be treated
By showing others the same courtesy you expect from them, you will gain more respect from coworkers, customers, and business partners. Holding others in high regard demonstrates your company’s likeability and motivates others to work with you. This seems so simple, as do so many of these principles — and yet many people, too concerned with making money or getting by, fail to truly adopt these key concepts.
Highly respected management guru Warren Bennis once stated that as a successful leader you need to be effective and efficient at the same time. Effective being defined as “Doing the right things.” Efficient meaning “Doing things the right way.” In summary, a successful leader would do the right things in the right way. It’s so simple. At least in theory. Why not in reality?
The answer in a nutshell: Most organizations do not spend enough time on “detailing how to implement” nor do they put the required high level of attention, commitment, and passion into getting things really done in an excellent manner until the very, very end. They do not have leaders who are capable of and willing to focus with firmness and love on Executing in Excellence.
Many corporations severely underestimate the immense importance of a rigorous Obsession of Execution Mentality, which needs to run throughout the entire organization. Every single employee would need to embrace and to love getting things done in a complete manner. Let’s apply some common sense by addressing the following question: How valuable are your objectives and your strategy – even if they were developed by the brightest people in the most sophisticated way – if you just can’t realize them? If you do not have a leader who can make people achieve the defined goals and plans?
Execution is the Great Unaddressed Issue in Today’s Business World
What I’ve observed over the years is that many corporations would spend an awful lot of time on trying to figure out what they should do. For example pondering in which market segments to invest, which products to launch, which services to offer, should they focus on growth, on cutting cost and so on. Afterwards, in a second step, they again would invest a significant amount of time to discuss the “how.” Thinking about the strategy they would like to follow. Should they improve the quality of their offering, or should they instead increase volumes to benefit from economies of scale, should they focus on their home market or should they go international, etc.
In a third step, and following good management practice as it’s being taught at every business school, they would focus on the tactics, i.e. drafting action plans in order to implement their strategy and to aim to achieve the predefined goals.
Lacking A Culture of Executing in Excellence
Many companies naively believe that once they have drafted the action plans, and listed what has to be done by whom by when by using which resources, the work is done. Almost in a Harry Potteresque manner. Or they think things gets taken care of by anonymous subordinates somewhere in their organizations.
I met executives who regarded detail work as something which is beneath the dignity of a business leader. You might assume that most likely they have spent too much time either in the sun without wearing a hat or with overpaid consultants. Or, possibly even worse, they might have done both things simultaneously.
I would argue, however, that they are completely wrong. Execution is an art; an art that separates successful organizations from less successful ones. As such Execution is one of a leader’s most important job. Full stop.
The fundamental problem is that an army of business leaders still think of Execution as the tactical side of business – something which they delegate while they indulge themselves in the perceived “bigger” topics. Consequently they do not comprehend that Execution is not just tactics – it is a discipline and a system of its own. It has to be ingrained into an organization’s objectives, culture, structure, and processes. The leader himself must be the grandmaster of Execution. Both in big and in small companies.
How to become a Master of Execution
In their excellent book Execution – The Discipline of Getting Things done, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan list the following three building blocks that need to be in place in order to make Execution happen in your organization.
Building Block One: The Leader’s Seven Essential Behaviors
To install and to keep up the real spirit, concept, and processes of Execution – and to avoid becoming a micromanager – there are seven essential behaviors which characterize a leader of execution:
- Know your people and your business: Be engaged with your business, live your business, and be where the action is.
- Insist on realism: It’s the heart of execution. Start by being realistic yourself. Then you make sure realism is the goal of all dialogues in the organization.
- Set clear goals and priorities: Focus on 3-4 clear priorities that everyone can grasp. Speak and act simply and directly.
- Follow through: Lack of it is a major cause of poor execution. Implement detailed action plans and make specific people accountable for results.
- Reward the doers: If you want people to produce specific results, you need to reward them accordingly. Either in base pay or in bonuses and stock options.
- Expand people’s capabilities through coaching: Pass on your knowledge, wisdom and experience to the next generation of leaders. Every encounter is an opportunity to coach.
- Know yourself: It takes emotional fortitude to be open to whatever information you need, whether it’s what you like to hear or not.
Building Block Two: Creating The Framework For Cultural Change
Most efforts at cultural change fail because they are not linked to improving the business outcomes. The ideas and tools of cultural change are fuzzy and disconnected from strategic and operational realities. To change a business’s culture, you need a set of processes – social operating mechanisms – that will change the beliefs and behavior of people in ways that are directly linked to bottom-line results.
The basic premise is simple: Cultural change gets real when your aim is execution. You don’t need a lot of complex theory or employee surveys to use this framework. You need to change people’s behavior so that they produce results. First you need to explain people what results you’re looking for. Then you discuss how to get those results, as a key element of the coaching process. Then you reward people for delivering the results. If they come up short, you provide additional training and coaching, possibly withdraw rewards, look for other tasks and/ or jobs for them, or even let them go, if it were the best option for all main stakeholders. When you do these things correctly and sincerely, you create a culture of getting things done.
Building Block Three: The Job No Leader Should Delegate – Having the Right People in the Right Place
An organization’s human beings are its most reliable resource for generating excellent results year after year. Their judgments, experiences, and capabilities make the difference between success and failure. Sounds familiar? Yet the same leaders who exclaim that “people are our most important asset“ usually do not think very hard about choosing the right people for the right jobs. They either do not have precise ideas about what the jobs require (not only today, but tomorrow) or they’re too busy thinking about how to make their companies bigger. What they’re overlooking is that the quality of their people is the best competitive differentiator.
Often leaders may not know enough about the people they’re appointing. They may also pick people with whom they’re comfortable, rather than others who have better skills for the job. They may not have the courage to discriminate between strong and weak performers and take the necessary actions. All of these reflect one absolutely fundamental shortcoming: The leaders aren’t personally committed to the people process and deeply engaged in it. However, it’s a job you have to love doing as a leader.
Execution-oriented companies are closer to reality, they change faster, are more flexible, and as a result are more successful. They have comprehended that sometimes – and especially if they lack certain know-how, time or peculiar capabilities – they are better off choosing the second or third best option available (the What), and then executing it (the How) better than any of their competitors. Contrariwise, if an organization is able and fortunate enough to select the best chance at hand, but at the same time being not capable of executing it excellence, their realized targets might easily be far behind the ones of group one.
Leading for execution is a straightforward and a very rewarding exercise. The main requirement is that you as a leader have to be deeply and passionately engaged in your organization and honest about realities with others and yourself. Putting an execution environment and mentality in place is hard, but it’s one of a leader’s most important job. This is true whether you’re in charge of a multinational or your own smaller company.
1. Create A Brand
While everyone has to sell themselves for a career, a freelancer must sell themselves and their skills on a daily basis. The longer it takes you to get your message across, the more likely you are to lose the potential client’s attention.
Creating your own brand gives you the chance to communicate your skills and what makes you different from your competitors in one clear and easy to understand message.
Be sure to take a look at what your competitors are doing, what people in your industry are talking about to see if your particular skill fills a need, if there are any threats to this industry, where the opportunities lie, and what weaknesses you have which need work. Basically, remember to do a SWOT (Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis before creating your brand.
A brand isn’t just about a good looking logo and an easy to remember catch phrase (although this does help). A lot of research needs to go into the process.
It takes time to build up the awareness of a brand, but you need to work out what you are selling, why you are selling it, and what makes you different from everyone else before focusing on what design your brand should have.
2. Online Presence
Your online activities are a big part of building your brand’s reputation. So, it’s important to make sure what you do online is in sync with your overall branding.
Your website or blog gives you the chance to build your reputation as an industry expert. Don’t just talk about yourself though. See what others are doing, and discuss oncoming trends or industry changes. Adding your expert opinion to an industry update or new trend helps you show off your knowledge of the industry. Once you have given your expert opinion, remember to share your updates via your social media profiles.
Remember to consistently work on your online presence, and provide potential customers with up to date contact information, as well as projects you have worked on or are working on.
Remember to engage with your audience, whether online or offline. If someone asks you a question, even if it’s through your social media or as a comment on your website, be sure to give them an answer as soon as you can, even if it’s just asking them to contact you through a another means (i.e. via telephone), so you can give them a more in-depth response.
You can also engage with people through your work (i.e. as a photographer), you can create a photo book tailored to your online reader’s interests, which they are then likely to buy via your website. Be sure that this project is in line with your brand, though.
For example, if you’re a wildlife photographer, consider creating an annual photo book for your general audience themed on the most ferocious animals you photographed. If you’re concerned about the printing costs of such a project, consider using online publishers with print on demand services.
This is relevant for every career path, but it becomes even more relevant for a freelancer, as a contact from a networking event, especially a creative industry networking event has the potential to turn into a long term customer. Search the web for networking events in your local area, as well as in your creative niche, and be prepared when you go.
This means have your business cards on you, as well as some examples of your work via a business book or portfolio. However, only use these tools if the person you are talking to is interested and asks to see these. Networking isn’t about forcing your details on people, but about making a real connection with people. You may discover a like-minded freelancer with whom you can compare notes.
5. Know The Rates
When you charge clients for your services, make sure that you are asking for the going rate. It’s important for you to cover your expenses and make a profit, but make sure you aren’t overselling or even underselling yourself.
Ask your team to identify their biggest productivity killer and inevitably two issues will rise to the top of the list: managing their inboxes and their meeting schedules. I’ll tackle the former in a future post. For now, I’d like to focus on increasing the value of meetings by sharing a practice our team has implemented to great effect.
At LinkedIn, we have essentially eliminated the presentation. In lieu of that, we ask that materials that would typically have been presented during a meeting be sent out to participants at least 24 hours in advance so people can familiarize themselves with the content.
Bear in mind: Just because the material has been sent doesn’t mean it will be read. Taking a page out of Jeff Bezo’s book, we begin each meeting by providing attendees roughly 5-10 minutes to read through the deck. If people have already read it, this gives them an opportunity to refresh their memory, identify areas they’d like to go deeper on, or just catch up on email.
If the idea of kicking off a meeting with up to 10 minutes of silence strikes you as odd, you’re not alone. The first time I read about this practice it immediately conjured up images of a library or study hall, two of the last forums I would equate with meeting productivity. However, after the first few times you try it, not only won’t it be awkward — it will be welcome. This is particularly true when meetings end early with participants agreeing it was time well spent.
Once folks have completed the reading, it’s time to open it up for discussion.There is no presentation. It’s important to stay vigilant on this point as most people who prepared the materials will reflexively begin presenting. If you are concerned about appearing insensitive by not allowing individuals who worked hard on the materials to have their moment, constructively remind the group this is a new practice that is being applied to the entire company and will benefit all meeting attendees, including the artist formerly known as The Presenter.
With the presentation eliminated, the meeting can now be exclusively focused on generating a valuable discourse: Providing shared context, diving deeper on particularly cogent data and insights, and perhaps most importantly, having a meaningful debate.
If the material has been well thought out and simply and intuitively articulated, chances are the need for clarifying questions will be kept to a minimum. In these situations, you may be pleasantly surprised to see a meeting that had been scheduled for an hour is actually over after 20-30 minutes.
Of course, even the best prepared material may reach a highly contentious recommendation or conclusion. However, the good news is meeting attendees will now be able to dig into the subject matter and share their real opinions rather than waste time listening to an endless re-hashing of points they’re already familiar with, or worse still find irrelevant or redundant.
In addition to eliminating presentations in favor of discussions, the following are a few additional practices I’ve learned along the way when it comes to running effective meetings:
1. Define the objective of the meeting. Asking one simple question at the onset of the meeting, “What is the objective of this meeting,” can prove invaluable in terms of ensuring everyone is on the same page and focused on keeping the meeting on point, rather than allowing it to devolve down endless ratholes unrelated to the matter at hand. I’ve seen some companies go as far as including the meeting objective on the cover sheet of the materials.
2. Identify who is driving. Each meeting needs one person behind the wheel. More than one driver and it’s going to be prohibitively difficult to keep the car on the road. The primary role of this point person is to ensure the conversation remains relevant, that no one person ends up dominating the discussion, and that adjunct discussions that arise during the course of the meeting are taken offline.
3. Take the time to define semantics (and first principles). It never ceases to amaze me how often meetings go off the rails by virtue of semantic differences. Picture a United Nations General Assembly gathering without the real-time translation headphones and you’ll have the right visual. Words have power, and as such, it’s worth investing time upfront to ensure everyone is on the same page in terms of what certain keywords, phrases, and concepts mean to the various constituencies around the table.
4. Assign someone to take notes. This should not be the equivalent of a court stenographer documenting every word uttered, but rather someone who is well versed in the meeting’s objectives and who has a clear understanding of context that can capture only the most salient points. This not only avoids the classic Rashomon effect — multiple people recalling one event in multiple ways — but also creates a plan of record for what was discussed and agreed to. This can also be particularly valuable for invitees who weren’t able to make the meeting.
5. Summarize key action items, deliverables, and points of accountability. Don’t end the meeting without summarizing key conclusions, action items, and points of accountability for delivering on next steps. This summary is usually the first thing to suffer if the meeting has run long and people start running off to their next scheduled event. However, it’s arguably the single most important thing you’ll do at the meeting (and is ostensibly the reason for the meeting to begin with). Have the discipline to ensure attendees sit tight and remain focused while next steps are being discussed and agreed to.
6. Ask what you can do better. I like to gather feedback at the end of meetings I’m responsible for (particularly if it’s a new standing meeting) by asking whether or not the attendees found it valuable and what we can do to improve it in the future. There is no better way to ensure the meeting is necessary. If it’s not, either change the objective and/or format, or take it off the calendar.