Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Value of Being Emotionally Bright

Do the smartest people make the best managers and leaders, or even teachers?

I used to think so, but that was before I hit the teenage years, when I had a full head of hair and was still trying to figure out the world through what my parents said – and what they didn’t say.

The problem with many smart people is that they like to show you how smart they are and treat their points of view as “the word,” without giving one drop of consideration to the views of others. I used to fall into that trap, even though I’ve never considered myself a candidate for Mensa. I think back about those moments and cringe in shame.

So, I was pleased when I read about a recent CareerBuilder survey that said more employers value “emotional intelligence” in an employee or prospective employee over raw intelligence. And now that I’m in a leadership position, I see it as well.

Emotional intelligence, or EI, is a general sense of how one can control his or her emotions, sense, understand, and react to the emotions of others, and manage relationships. Do that well, especially in a management or leadership role, and you make the workplace run better. Do it poorly, and you can make others miserable enough to want to work elsewhere. I’ve worked with people who had the EI of Mister Rogers, and others who had the EI of Hannibal Lecter. I’ve been in the presence of people of average intelligence who were good leaders because they got the best out of others, in large part because they made the extra effort to understand them. And I’ve seen brilliant people who made terrible leaders.

In each case, I’ll go out on a very short limb here and say the former is better.

What makes someone with a high sense of EI a more desirable employee? The CareerBuilder survey uncovered the following:

• They’re more likely to stay calm under pressure.
• They know how to resolve conflict effectively.
• They’re more empathetic to their team members and react accordingly.
• They lead by example.
• They admit their mistakes and learn from them.
• They take criticism well.
• They can have thoughtful discussions on issues without involving their emotions.

The key qualities that typify someone with a high EI are humility and the ability to listen, both of which can be honed if you consciously practice them. You not only need to be visible and available, you need to be courageous to admit it when you don’t have an answer and depend on team members who might. You also need to understand that the most important part of communication is not talking, but listening. Some team members just need to ask for your expertise; others feel the need to have someone to vent frustration and feel better. You should be prepared to do both – willingly and genuinely.

Monday, July 25, 2011

End a Sentence with a Preposition?
What Would You Do That For?

If there's one thing I had too much of during my elementary school years, it was the rules of English grammar. (That may be a reason why I became a journalist, but probably a minor reason.) It seemed that - in every ... passing ... year - we had a lot of homework that consisted of diagramming sentences (boring!) and learning parts of speech.

That included learning a long list of prepositions to the tune of "Yankee Doodle" (bleccch!), which brings me to one of the rules that was hammered into our heads: Never end a sentence with a preposition. Examples:

* Who are you going to the store with?
* What are you going to write about?
* What country are you from?
* Change we can believe in! (from Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign)

So, yes, a few decades later, it's one of the grammar rules that's often broken. Would my teachers cringe or wail in anguish if they saw this today? Only if they failed to change with the times, which is a distinct possibility for a couple of them.

Writing, today, has become more conversational, due in no small part to the Internet and the quest for brevity in nearly all forms of writing as publishers fight to grab the oft-challenged attention spans of time-pressed readers. Also, writing conventions change with the times. I recently read two novels: one written 10 years ago, the other about 100 years ago. The first one was a much quicker read, the other harder because the writing isn't as succinct and to the point for today's audience.

My rule as an editor: If I see a sentence that ends with a preposition, and there isn't an easier way of expressing the writer's thought, it stays.

Now, if you want to review a comprehensive answer about ending a sentence with a preposition, here's a page I can refer you to. ;-)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Job Perks Are Coming Back!

I know a guy who took a job about a year ago that was about 100 miles from home after he was out of work a few months. So, to make the change a bit more bearable, he rented an apartment close to the office and stayed there weeknights, heading home each weekend.

The lengths some will go to get a job in a challenging economy ...

Just recently, his boss told him he could work from home; not the apartment, the one for which he pays a mortgage. So, just like that, life got much simpler.

But it also got me thinking that things are getting better out there. Why? Because more employers are concerned that they'll lose valuable people to competitors with an improving job market. There are workers who will be more than happy to free themselves from a job or company they don't like but had to hang onto for financial security. Then there are others who, amid still-high gas prices, will look for something that's much less than a 100-mile commute.

Sure enough, two recent surveys underscored the growing concern among employers about losing top talent, as well as their willingness to restore perks - such as telecommuting - that were eliminated or reduced during the recession.

“Whether it’s something simple, like free bagels in the lunch room every morning, or something more substantial, such as tuition reimbursement or flexible scheduling, these perks can be an essential part of worker morale and job satisfaction,” noted John Challenger of the outplacement and executive coaching consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

According to a recent Challenger survey, 39% of respondents said their companies were forced to reduce or eliminate perks during the recession. But with the economy starting to spring back, about 18% said their companies have been able to restore all pre-recession perks, while another 41% have brought back some of them.

We all like to have jobs that help us keep our lives in balance. A recession can throw that out of whack for both employers and employees. It's about time we're heading back toward balance.

What's your favorite employee perk? Tell me what it is - and why - in a comment below.

Monday, June 27, 2011

3 Tips to Survive a Work Life without Structure

There's something to be said for a day-to-day life that's structured and predictable. You know, something like get up at 6, be in the office by 8:30, home for dinner by 5:30 p.m. Then, lights out at 10. Lather, rinse, repeat.

For much of the last 15 years, that's the way things have gone for me, ever since I left the daily newspaper biz. The timing for a change was right since my two kids were young and hadn't entered first grade yet.

Of course, that's not for everybody. Maybe you don't have kids, or you like the thrill or challenge of something new every day. It can be exciting. It's even better if you engage in a lot of knowledge work at home through your computer. You can set your own schedule, working when you want (if you're not trying to meet a deadline), and catching a little daytime TV from your living room.

If your work life consists of cobbling together an income from different sources, it also means you must be effective at selling yourself to prospective clients, which is easy if you can articulate the value you can offer, and you have work samples or references who can back you up. You also need the persistence and courage to endure lean times when there won't be enough work, because your earnings will likely be inconsistent from week to week. So, it takes personal and financial discipline as well.

Workers in their 20s who have yet to land full-time gigs may know what I'm talking about. Some who recently graduated from college are cobbling an income from different sources. And they can afford to since they don't have family responsibilities. I took that approach for about 18 months when I was in my 20s. There were days in which I would leave the house at 7 a.m. and not return until close to midnight. (This was before the Internet made it easier to work remotely rather than be physically present to do your work.)

As we trudge through a slowly recovering economy, there are many of these people who are working such unstructured schedules or merely among the "underemployed" - working less than 40 hours a week because they can't find full-time work. If you're among them while you look for something permanent, take these three bits of advice:

Save more of what you earn. If you're not earning a lot, this will be hard. But sock away as much as possible in a "rainy day" fund so you'll have some money for those leaner weeks or months when you're not doing enough because few need your help.

Cultivate and work your network. Face-to-face networking is the best, but LinkedIn and Facebook also provide great platforms to connect with people who may be able to help you find stuff to do. Just be ready to help them first. The best payoffs in networking come when everyone helps each other. If you're not thinking of networking as a two-way street, you shouldn't be networking. Give a lot to get even a little.

Don't forget health insurance. You may be in excellent health, but find coverage that can be there for you in case of an accident or sudden illness, as well as any prescriptions you may need. Even if you have to pay out of pocket for an annual checkup, you need to protect yourself against the potential financial catastrophe that can befall someone who's uninsured.

Do you have an "unstructured" work life? How do you make it work?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

From Readership to Community, Thanks to the Web

A few years ago, I had the honor and privilege of experimenting with the future - or maybe it's the present and future - of media that is turning long-held journalistic principles of interaction on their head.

I was the editorial director for a new web community of executives. Then, the notion of "web community" was quite new. And the woman who spearheaded the effort is a pioneer in the genre that, at the time, was just a few years ahead of itself.

We were offering valuable content to its members, asking them to contribute their own content and to keep the conversation moving along by commenting on fellow members' writings. And this was before social media became the behemoth it is today.

It wasn't journalism in the way I had practiced it up to that point. But as I saw the waning influence of print and the rise of the web as an information medium, the stage was set for a revolution of sorts (some will say "paradigm shift," but that's a cliche I just don't want to use - blecch!) in how journalists and news providers interact with the public.

It's that notion of community that has forced many journalists to emerge from their foxholes and interact with their readers. And while some have embraced it, others have had a hard time with the change. Traditionally, the typical journalist has been an inward-looking sort focused on the facts and getting the story out to the masses, then going home - maybe after stopping at the local bar for a scotch on the rocks - and repeating the process the next day.

But the web has turned journalism inside out, forcing many reporters and editors to belly up to a laptop instead of a bar. Why? You might say it's all about marketing, trying to build more buzz for a good story. But it's more than that. The tools of online community - blogs, Facebook posts, Tweets, and the like - are also about bringing a key element of American society, the media, closer to the people it serves. Some giants in the media field have begun to embrace that, looking for social media experts who have strong journalism instincts.

A reader wants to know more than what he or she reads in a story? The journalist can provide that in a matter of keystrokes, or even through video. Someone wants to take issue with a part of the story? The reporter or an editor can be available to respond.

This is not just a matter of practicing good public relations. It's part of being a community that invites members to participate and add to the discussion. It's what journalism has been trying to attain for decades. Now, it has the tools to help reach it.

What do you think? Should journalists be more involved in "online communities?" Share your thoughts in a comment below.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

IT Drives the Future of Health Care

An article on last week brought a smile to my face regarding the promise of information technology in improving a sector of the economy that will impact all of us to a greater degree over the next two decades: health care.

For all the concerns surrounding the delivery of health care -- costly defensive medicine, data privacy, coordinated care, the rising cost of insurance, and health care reform among them -- technological innovation looms as a key to the solution.

The article profiled a Texas hospital system's use of iPads and iPhones and how they're allowing doctors and nurses to have more face time with patients, rather than sit behind a computer at a nurses' station inputting data. Just think of it for a minute: Nurse or doctor visits patient, records blood pressure and medication changes on a tablet, which updates the patient's electronic medical record so that it's easily viewable the next time another nurse or doctor checks in with their tablet.

More of the same can be done for patients receiving health care at home, since it removes some of the stress from the nearest hospital that would otherwise have admitted the patient. That allows the hospital to devote more time to tend to patients who need more acute care, thus removing costs from the system. That can slow the rate of increases in health insurance premiums or, even better, lower them.

It's already happening and we should expect more of it. Information technology is at the forefront of this change and will play an even bigger part going forward, especially after the federal government announced this week that it's investing nearly $5 million in projects that support innovations in research, and encouraging health care IT development through such mechanisms as prizes and challenges.

If innovation and improved service delivery in IT can improve health care while controlling costs, especially as the Baby Boomers age, it's hard to see how anyone loses.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Don't Put Your Job Search on a Summer Vacation

The unemployment rate for May rose, which may discourage job seekers in finding new jobs as we head into summer.

Don't fall into that trap! There's a good reason why you should keep pushing as the temperatures get hotter. Read my latest blog post on Jackalope Jobs.