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Educate or Deteriorate? You Choose.

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educationYou bought a new car. It is fresh off the lot. You have driven it for a while and it performs really well. A few years pass. You realize you washed it more in the first year than the next 6 years combined. New models are coming out every year with new technology just waiting for your car to get old. Rust starts to collect on the quarter panels. Oil changes are not the only thing that you have to pay extra for anymore. It is more trouble than its worth. Eventually, it is scrapped for a new car.

Now think about yourself and your career. You graduate college and you have been out for a while now. You know a fair amount of things going on in the world and you are amazing at your job. A few more years pass and there are a lot of younger people under you or close to you that want your job. They know the latest technology and are hungry for the work. You are used to certain ways of doing things and this new technology seems like a passing fad. Eventually, you wonder why you were traded in for Liz from accounts.

What happened? Whatever you knew is just part of everyday business and what you do not know is holding you back. You forgot one of the most important things in life: Continual education. You lost touch with the world. Education is a basic fact of life. It would be a tragedy to think that you were to stop learning when you graduate college. Do not fall into the you-can’t-teach-an-old-dog-new-tricks category. Make it a point to be in the always-open-to-learn-something-new category.

That is not to say it is always easy to learn new things. It can be scary. However, once you learn even the smallest thing, you will be all the wiser. Nearly everyone has the capacity to learn something new. When she was alive, I taught my 91-year-old grandmother how to use her cell phone. She lived through the depression and held out from getting a cell phone as long as she could. She was physically old, but she did not let her mind catch up with her physical age. At 91, she was happy to learn something new.

Alright Don, we get it. What do you suggest we do about it?  

Never stop learning. Sure you may tweet and share things to look like you know what is going on, but it is just an act. You read the headlines. It sounds interesting, so you re-post it. If others are traveling at 60MPF you are too. You do not realize that sometimes it pays to travel at 40MPH to better understand new material, or at 80MPH when you know exactly what needs to be done. After I graduated with my MBA, I quickly found out that to reach your highest potential, you need to find the internal motivation to teach yourself new tricks everyday. Yes, everyday. It does not have to be some earth-shattering idea, it just has to be something.

How do you apply this in everyday life? Here are the 10 things I do to keep myself fresh of new ideas and changing industry trends.

  1. Go to the library. You do not have to waste your money on buying all the latest magazines and books. The library has them for you. When is the last time you were there? That’s what I thought. Books on CD work great too. I just finished a Seth Godin book on CD recently from my local library.
  2. Subscribe to key blogs. Many industry leading individuals and companies have key blogs. It may take some digging to find key ones that appeal to you, but once found, make it a point to read them as often as they post.
  3. Go to local events. Nearly every industry has local, and national, events centered around education. I say local events because they are the path of least resistance. These events allow you to learn directly from industry leaders.
  4. Network. Local events always offer some sort of networking option. Always take advantage of this. At a scholarship fundraiser for my alma mater last weekend, I heard of a recent forensic science graduate to who was introduced directly to the head of the Michigan crime lab. This was an invaluable chance meeting. Do not miss out on these opportunities.
  5. Watch the news. Before work every day I watch the news with my beautiful bride. It keeps me up-to-date on local happenings. The sports update is especially helpful. If you are a real go-getter you know that finding the time to watch all or even part of a major sporting event is difficult. Watching the news will help you see all the major plays and the outcome. That way, you will not miss out on an opportunity to continue a conversation at a networking event.  Similarly, you will also keep knowledge of other events in your mind to help shape decisions you make in the future.
  6. Set up lists.  Lists on Twitter help a lot when it comes to educating yourself. I have a list set up in Twitter called Influencers, among others. This list allows me to see what is important to some very influential people in my industry. Reading this keeps me very well-informed.
  7. Subscribe for webinars. Webinars are easy. Most of them are a half hour to an hour in length and a number of them are free. You can log in to a webinar anywhere and many times they make materials available afterwards for reference.
  8. Ask a colleague.  Sometimes this is very difficult. You do not want to come off like you do not know anything but you know they have the information. It is best to simply ask a colleague what she thinks about a certain situation if you find yourself hitting a brick wall with your own knowledge. After all, you are supposed to be functioning in a team. Collaboration will flourish, if you are open, and you may learn more than you bargained for.
  9. Ask to listen in. Ask your boss if it is okay to sit in or listen in on key meetings. I have done this many times. Shadowing your boss, writing down their key thoughts, and remembering what you learn will help you excel by leaps and bounds.
  10. Blog. Do something like what you just read. It has been the biggest payoff for me.

Choose wisely. Will you educate or deteriorate?

5 Tips for Branding Yourself as a Leader at Work

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handshakeYou want  to be a leader right? Let us start off by not going through work catatonically, each day waiting for something to happen to us. You need to take action for your own life and make things happen for you. Our goal is not to be the person wondering who took the last french crueller out the kitchen. Our goal is not to be worrying about petty he said she said inner office gossip. So, how do you become a leader to realize your goals?

Once you consistently show that you care and are working towards something greater you will begin to receive more respect at work. Caring for yourself and for the greater good of the business is only the first step to bringing you closer to your goal. Here are 5 ways that anybody from Administrative Assistant to Project Manager can become a leader at work without the Director or C-suite level title:

  1. Look the part: What does your boss wear to work? If they wear a suit to work so should you. If they have nicely pressed clothes, you should discover spray starch. You see the trend. Mirror your boss in the kind of clothing choices you make at work. This is not to say you have to wear ‘old’ looking items. Take style tips from them and make it uniquely your own. Your boss will notice and will appreciate the effort you are putting into your presentation. As I mentioned in a previous post “When you look better, you feel more confident. When you feel more confident, you perform better. When you perform better, you get noticed. When you get noticed, you get rewarded.” How you present yourself is the very basic level of personal branding.
  2. Active listening: When you listen carefully you understand what is really going on in the business. Many times leaders are chosen by seniority which means that the leader is most likely from a different generation than you. Different generations have different mindsets and ideas for how to get things done. You may hear a problem and be the next one to help develop a company or industry-changing initiative. All this can happen by just listening more.
  3. Do not form cliques: Dictonary.com describes a clique as “a small, exclusive group of people.” The key word here is exclusive, meaning that you are excluding yourself from others in the company. Once you are in a clique you are usually obligated, under peer pressure, to think like the clique and do what others in the group do. This can put your climb up the career ladder at a stand still. It is important to continue relationships with anyone you come in contact to at a company. Think of it as inner office networking.
  4. Your boss is number one: Make your boss look their best. If you go above and beyond to make your boss look good, they will pay you back. Zig Ziglar said, “You can get everything in life you want, if you help enough other people get what they want.” This could not be any more true in this situation. Chances are your boss wants to move up the career ladder too. They need your help to achieve those goals. If you fail, they fail. Once you help them achieve their goals you will reap the benefits.
  5. You are never too busy: Even though you may be busy, others do not need to hear about it everyday. Along these same lines, never say ‘its not my job.’ Always leave open the opportunity to take on something additional at work. I know this is the hardest task of all. However, if you are open to new projects, you are open to new ideas. The more you understand the totality of a company and its goals, the better off you are. If you constantly say you are busy, your boss may just leave you out of the conversation. Once you are out, you are out. That is it. Then your competition comes in and takes what could have been your glory. Only you could have done it better, right? One implication of this is you may have to take a break from stalking people on Facebook at work.

These five tips in branding yourself as a leader at work may have been review for you or they may have been completely new ideas. Either way, I hope you were able to take away the one underlying lesson of it all – flexibility. How can you become more flexible to achieve your personal goals at work?

17 Quotes to Inspire Your Personal Brand

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It is amazing what a good quote can do to help you start off your day. A good quote lets your mind get moving on a positive note. It lifts you up. It keeps you motivated. I started off my year with a blog post on this thought – Do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Each of these quotes keep me on top of that goal. Now that the year is a third over, have you stayed on top of your new year’s resolution?

It is amazing the power of what just a few words have on people. Think of “We the people,” “I have a dream,” “Ask not what your country can do for you,” and what did it do? It opened people’s minds and gave them something bigger to hope for. Open your mind. Find a few quotes that motivate you to keep your personal brand operating at full capacity. It will not only keep you more productive at work but will help achieve that work/life balance that so many are constantly striving for.  Start by reading these:

  1. “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” – Steve Martin
  2. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
  3. “Creativity is a drug I cannot live without.” – Cecil B. DeMille
  4. “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.” – Ayn Rand
  5. “It’s always too early to quit.” – Norman Vincent Peale
  6. ” The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
  7. “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!” – Audrey Hepburn
  8. “Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.” – Leo Burnett
  9. “If plan “A” fails — remember you have 25 letters left.” – Chris Guillebeau
  10. “You can get everything in life you want, if you help enough other people get what they want.” – Zig Ziglar
  11. “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” – Albert Einstein
  12. “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.” – Gandhi
  13. “An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it.” – Bill Bernbach
  14. “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” – Milton Berle
  15. “Do something worth remembering.” – Elvis Presley
  16. “Don’t bunt. Aim out of the ball park. Aim for the company of immortals.” – David Ogilvy
  17. “Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own.” – Bruce Lee

Which of these quotes inspires your personal brand? What other quotes would you add to this list?