After twenty years being the boss, managing teams, boards, committees and volunteers; developing and implementing hundreds of successful programs and events; executing everything with a keen attention to progress to goal on several well thought out strategic plans and of course, my favorite, blowing our budget goals out of the water; I have shifted gears and am determined to be the star employee that I was fortunate to have throughout my career.
For anyone who has ever made a late in career transition to a new field, industry or role, it’s not easy but it can be enormously rewarding if you follow a few basic guidelines;
You CAN Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
Be Teachable. You can’t subscribe to the adage “you can’t teach an old dog, new tricks,” if you are going to attempt to continuously improve, develop new skills and stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. Lessons come in interesting packages and via unexpected deliverers. Stay open. Be malleable. Let the discomfort of being corrected or even reprimanded, wash over you so that it may cleanse you of any bad habits that you may not have been aware you were carrying around. Don’t get defensive. Try to see things from another perspective. The thing that continually amazes me about communication is that two people can walk away from a conversation with an entirely different understanding of what they just heard. Mind boggling! The more you can attempt to see things through a different lens, the better you will understand what makes that person (client, colleague, friend, family member) see the world the way they do and perhaps even, why.
Start Your Answers with “YES!”
Try it! I dare you. Figure out a way to say yes to (most) everything. I made the commitment to myself that for the first six months of this new professional adventure, that I would say ‘yes’ to anything and everything and the results have been great.
“Molly, do you golf?”
So, dear reader, you know what I’m going to share with you. I don’t golf. I have NEVER golfed. The closest I have come to golf was driving the beverage cart around at the Bobby Orr Invitational in my early twenties when I worked in public relations and marketing for BayBank in Boston. (remember BayBank?) Golfing represents everything that makes me uncomfortable. Etiquette, prestige, being quiet.
What did I say? You got it! “YES, I golf!”
Next thing I know I’m signed up in my company’s foursome in a golf tournament hosted by one of the state’s largest Chamber of Commerce. Scary? Absolutely! Fun? Heck Yea! I met some great people, acquired a new skill, dispelled some of my own myths about the sport and felt good about having a small part in contributing to a compelling charity.
Perhaps a more business-oriented example is when I was asked; “Molly, do you feel comfortable running lead on this?” Define comfortable. It would be a stretch to say that I was comfortable. I was brand new. I was (am still) learning the ropes. The possibility of screwing up was high and I had no parameters or definition of what leadership was seeking in this project or how they would define success. But I respected the entrepreneurial leap they wanted to take to seize this unusual and timely opportunity and realized that it was a means for me to showcase my project management skills and hopefully (if things went well) instill confidence in my judgment.
You know what’s coming…. “YES! I’d be happy to run lead!”
I won’t belabor the details. The project went well. We were able to swiftly produce a beautiful marketing collateral item for an important networking event involving several key stakeholders within a very aggressive timeline. Me answering “Yes,” worked again.
Offer Solutions, Not Problems
Any person who has ever worked for me will tell you that this is one of my favorite mantras. When I look up and see you standing in my door, I hope that you have already exhausted the first four items I am going to suggest. Don’t say “We have a problem.” Instead, say “Here is what I propose as options for us to handle this situation.” Brief me (briefly) on the situation at hand, tell me what you have already tried so that I don’t suggest any of those and then provide YOUR recommendation on what YOU think may be a potential solution. That jumpstarts our brainstorm together to a far more productive space. I know what has happened. I know what you have already done to mitigate the problem and I have been offered some ideas about what we might consider as a solution. Much better!
I am trying to follow my own advice and do just this when I approach the fine folks I report to. Essentially thinking to myself how much I appreciated those members of my team that followed this protocol and trying to do the same.
Because I am still new, the tendency may be to say, “What should I do?” but instead I say “Here’s what I’m thinking we should do. Am I on track? Or should I go in a different direction?” This allows for course correction but demonstrates initiative and a solutions-oriented approach.
Have a Positive ‘Can Do’ Attitude
I know… Obvious! Simple! But having a consistently enthusiastic zest for your work (and life) requires intention. Everyone has bad days of course but not everyone needs to know about yours. I tell my kids “smile and the world smiles back.” They get annoyed with me but guess what, it works.
I’m sure you’ve experienced the difference in service when you are on your ‘A game’ versus a day when you are just barely getting by. People respond to the energy we put out. Even the tone of your voice on the phone makes a difference. If you are doom and gloom, mopey and negative, that is what you will receive back. If you are upbeat and positive, you just may turn someone else’s day around and accomplish what you need to far more seamlessly.
Whatever you do, try not to let someone else’s negative energy bring you down. Stay positive even if you must fake it a little until it comes naturally.
Another probably intuitive one but again worth a reminder. Appreciation to your company, your boss, your clients, your colleagues, is imperative to your overall success and the success of your company.
Saying thank you is so easy. I am especially adamant about thanking your customers. Thank them for choosing you. Thank them for believing in you. Thank them for working with you. Show your thanks in both straightforward and creative ways. A simple email after a meeting thanking them for time spent. A personal message written on their invoice, thanking them for their prompt attention. A card in the mail thanking them for being a great client/customer/member. You get the idea. If we serve from a place of gratitude, we demonstrate how much we value the other person and their business.
If you have the means, you can show your gratitude with physical tokens of your appreciation; flowers or a gift, but your words are your best method of expressing your gratitude.
So, whether you are an ‘old dog’ or new, say “YES!” without hesitation, face challenges with a solutions-oriented mindset/positive attitude and be grateful every day for the opportunities you have to use your skills.
Molly Hodgson is a Senior Business Partner of Organizational Strategy at Human Resource Partners. As the newest member of the team, Molly enjoys sharing her unique perspective of transitioning from a leader who has helped several nonprofits achieve great success to helping HRP’s clients do the same.