5 Things You Should Never Let Your Boss Hear You Say

office-gossipIf you want to get ahead at work, there are certain things you should steer clear of saying in the office. Even if what you’re saying is true (and everyone knows it!). Every time you want to lash out at an irritating manager or co-worker, take a breath and watch your words. Finding productive ways to work through your frustrations will put you that much closer to landing that promotion. Sometimes it’s as easy as walking away from the situation and taking a deep breath, other times it’s as hard asconfronting the person professionally. (And sometimes it’s as fun as taking a coloring break.)

However, the answer is never to let your boss overhear you say these five things in your moments of frustration. Read all about them in our article on career site The Muse.

How to Lead from the Front: Advice from a Marines Captain

Angie Morgan, Marines Captain and co-founder, Lead Star

Angie Morgan, Marines Caption and co-founder, Lead Star

Jessica recently attended a one-day leadership conference hosted by The Quorum Initiative, a selective group of high-level corporate women devoted to creating more opportunities for women in the workplace. At the event, amongst an impressive and smart group of women across industries–from finance and law to media and academia–she participated in an inspiring workshop given by Angie Morgan, a former Marines Officer and co-author of the book, Leading From the Front: No-Excuse Leadership Tactics for Women, along with fellow Marine Courtney Lynch, with whom Morgan also runs Lead Star, a leadership development consulting firm that has worked with companies from FedEx to 3M to Bank of America.

Morgan and Lynch were among the fewer than 1,000 female officers serving in the U.S. Marine Corps at the time — a scant one percent versus, for example, the U.S. Air Force, where nearly 20 percent of the officers are women — and she believes that the leadership training that she learned during her military service is transferable to the private sector, and can help anyone become a stronger and better leader. Below, Morgan shared with us some advice for how to lead from the front both in work – and in life.

JK: I imagine there’s a lot of fear and nervousness when entering the military for the first time, just as there is when you get a new job or position. How can fear stand in the way of success and how can you quell it in order to lead?

As you go through life, you get more comfortable with yourself and more reflective. I can easily recall that one of the biggest fears I had early on was the fear of failure. Up to that point in my life, everything had come pretty easily to me. I had good grades without studying too hard and did well at sports. In the Marines, I had to quickly learn a skill set that I wasn’t socialized learning and it was really challenging. I had never played with G.I. Joe or watched war movies growing up. When I started training, I was very overwhelmed and, on any given day, I felt like I was behind.

When there’s a fear of failure, your ego goes up and you start to get very defensive. I had excuses for my poor performance, but those weren’t helping me. What I had to come to terms with in order to succeed and get out of that place was absolute humility and an ability to ask for help. I never needed help before, so that was humbling. The fear of failure can influence your ego in unhealthy ways. Often you don’t want to raise your hand and ask for help because it makes you vulnerable.

That fear manifests itself in different ways in different people. For me, it was a lack of confidence; for others, it’s over-confidence.  Sometimes it’s even complacency, such as “I’m too afraid to fail so I’m not even going to try.”

In order to combat the fear, moments of self-appraisal are pretty helpful, such as “This is what you’ve done, this is how you’ve overcome this similar situation before.” That’s important for leaders to do. You have to remind yourself that you have the ability to influence your success and failure in pretty powerful and profound ways.

JK: If the Marines believe that everyone can be an effective leader, then who is following those leaders? In other words, can you be effective if you have all leaders? Or can those following a leader also be leaders and, if so, how?

In our society, we tend to see leaders as people who have positions of authority. In the Marine Corps, they teach you to have influence, and anyone can have influence. Someone can be a go-to person at any level. The Marine Corps teaches everyone to be a leader – they teach basic fundamental behaviors that influence outcomes and inspire others. Leadership can happen anywhere. Through Lead Star, we like to go to corporations and help them understand that leadership can be demonstrated at any level of the organization, especially among those who are individual contributors. What we like to do is start with professionals at an early stages of their career so they can develop their leadership skills well in advance of any promotion or managerial role. That way, they are prepared for the people responsibilities when they get to advance.

JK: With Millennials, they often want their superior’s job in six months or have tremendous confidence because they were told by their parents that they could do anything. At that age, how do you show leadership and not hubris?

For Gen Y, it’s important to have a mentor to help them understand that growth doesn’t have to be vertical but can be horizontal. Give them challenges and to help the develop their expertise and experiences – whether they want to start their own business, move into another role or move up. Most companies are faced with a significant percentage of their workforce getting near retirement age and the need to mentor younger employees. You can’t change the way the younger generation operates, so you need to embrace it. I think we’re going to see a lot more mentoring models out there, and it’s a good thing.

JK: I love your story in the book about making cold calls as a manager right along with your staff and how it inspired them and made them work harder. Why is it important as a leader to show that you are not above rolling up your sleeves? 

I’ve been to so many programs that teach leadership and often we gloss over two important qualities – trust and humility. Frequently people get promoted into managerial roles and think about their staffers, “You work for me,” but that’s not true – you really work for them. Sometimes the smallest things can have the most profound impact on your team’s performance or your employees’ performance. Even asking someone “How’s your day?” and sticking around for the answer can really help.

JK: In the book, you and your co-author Courtney give personal examples of when you had to give up or change things in your life in order to focus on succeeding in one area. How do you determine what to give up and how to maintain balance?

One of the things I like to do when I’m making decisions is really reflect upon my priorities and if something in front of me doesn’t fit it to one of my priorities, I say no. The “decision-making lane,” as I like to call it, allows me to stay on my path. In a perfect world, that works great. You can get comfortable doing everything but if you want to succeed at one thing, you have to narrow your focus. You can’t do everything well.

JK: In your workshop that I participated in at the HOW conference, you talked about three critical qualities of a leader: credibility, decisiveness and confidence.  Can you be a leader without all three?  If you lack in one of these areas but want to lead, how do you advise addressing that weakness?

There are many leadership qualities that are interdependent on one another. For example, if you’re confident, but indecisive, that will slow your team’s progress down. Or if you’re decisive, but lack confidence and can’t express this in your decisions, you’ll have a difficult time rallying people to support you. Leaders are well rounded and it’s important to know qualities associated with leadership behaviors so you know what needs to be developed.

JK: As a PR professional, my industry has to deal with crisis management on a daily basis and I love the phrase in your book used in the Marines – “aviate, navigate and communicate” – to handle a challenging situation. Can you explain the three steps?

Consider that you’re flying an airplane and you see the “red light” blinking, indicating an emergency. Your instincts are to panic and freeze, yet that won’t get your plane on the ground. You need to aviate – keep your plane in the air, so keep your hands on the control. Navigate – keep on attempting to get to a destination. Communicate – reach out to others to get the help you need, such as flight crew or air traffic control.

JK: You talk a lot about the importance of accountability in the Marines and in the real world and believe that effort and excuses don’t equal progress. Why is it so important? What if you have a team member who tries hard and takes responsibility for failures but just isn’t getting results?

We define a leader as someone who influences outcomes and inspires others. Results matter. While it’s important to take accountability for personal failures, they next step is identifying what you’re going to do about it to deliver a different, more positive result. An important part of being a leader is being credible – credibility is derived from your character and your competence. If you’re looking to influence others, your results will capture their attention.

If you’re purposefully committing yourself to developing your leadership skills, my guidance would be for you to start thinking about important leadership qualities and assess how good you are at expressing them. Then, after you’ve identified areas of improvement, make a commitment to yourself to pick three things that you’re going to focus on. When you’re intentional with your development, you end up surprising yourself with how quickly you can develop a specific skill or behavior.

How do you lead from the front?  Share with us here, on Facebook or Twitter.

7 Ways to Bounce Back from Career Mistakes, Missteps and Misunderstandings

Collectively, we’ve spent nearly more than thirty years in the public relations industry, where dealing with crises is par for the course. In fact, in a recent study, PR executive was ranked the 5th most stressful career behind commercial airline pilot, firefighter, military general and enlisted military personnel. Hard to believe that we’d rank amongst jobs that literally have the lives of others in their hands but, as we say in our profession, we’re “paid to be paranoid.” In our book, , Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired and Rewarded at Work,we dedicate an entire chapter to crisis management.

The truth is, we all face difficult situations at work but not everyone knows how to handle them. Often people let mistakes and crises cripple — even paralyze — them, but bouncing back from roadblocks in your career is not as daunting as you might think. We really believe that every crisis is an opportunity. Most errors are reversible, and it’s important to remember that how you respond in tough times shows who you are as a person as much, if not more, than how you are in good times.

Need some guidelines? Here are a few tips for how to handle your next crisis:

#1:  Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst.

  • Go with your gut. When you see a red flag, pay attention. How many times in life have you kicked yourself for not listening to that little voice in your head that says, “Something is wrong here”?
  • Have a plan and a back-up plan. In PR, we try to lay out a strategy and do our best to identify potential pitfalls and problems on the horizon. While we may not always be able to predict what’s coming our way, by doing the exercise and putting a solid plan on paper, you’ll be prepared to deal with it if the issue ever sees the light of the day.

#2:  Be a Problem Solver.

  • Stay calm. In a crisis, people tend to get anxious. Maintaining a sense of Zen will not only allow you to think more clearly but will also set the tone for those around you.
  • Get focused. You want to quickly assess the damage and determine how to move forward.
  • Find a solution. Next, you need to figure out how to address and remedy the situation. Start by considering your end game — what’s the ultimate outcome you’d like to see? — and work backwards from there.

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Using Social Media to Burn Bridges: A Good or Bad Idea?

Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a story about the trend of kissing off your former employer (or soon to be!) in a very public way online, whether on Twitter, Tumblr or YouTube. While this may be a “cathartic” experience, as one person interviewed in the piece said, this kind of behavior can have negative repercussions that will affect your future career. Here’s some advice from Be Your Own Best Publicist for what to think about before you post a big f-u to the job you just left on your social media channels:

Your digital legacy outlasts you. Your online profile lives on even after you don’t. Every tweet you make ends up in the Library of Congress. Your Facebook page stays up unless someone physically removes it. And Google is your first resume these days. If you blog/tweet/post nasty things about a past employer, it won’t take long for potential employers to find it. Most HR professionals are checking out candidates’ social media profiles these days and wouldn’t look too kindly on someone who publicly bad-mouthed their last company or boss.

Patience is a virtue. In a world of instant gratification, where it takes a second to tweet, post or email something, we tend to act immediately instead of taking a breath and thinking about it before doing the damage. In the old days, you’d write an angry letter, put it in a drawer somewhere and re-read it a day later. (In many instances, it went back in the drawer or in the trash, never to be seen by its intended recipient). Now, when we’re upset, we vent in real time without always considering the consequences.

The high road is usually the best route to success. You may have had an abusive boss, a terrible job or were fired without good reason. But any time we interview someone and they trash-talk their former workplaces, it’s a huge turnoff. In PR, we teach our clients to deflect tough questions such as why they’re better than their competitors so they’re not spending an interview saying negative things about someone else, but rather positive things about themselves. If asked why you left your last job, simply say, “It wasn’t the right fit for me” or “I learned a lot but was ready to move on to a new opportunity.” Enough said.

Gripe all you want — in private. Listen, we all have bad experiences at work and feel like yelling “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” but try to limit your complaining to a small circle of friends and family, who will let you vent your frustration before you post it on Facebook. Or, instead of blogging about it, write it in a good old fashioned journal that the world won’t see. Remember “Dear Diary”? Not everyone needs to read about your deepest darkest emotions on WordPress.

Have you ever publicly griped about work?  What were the consequences? Tell us here, on Facebook or Twitter.

Going Back to College: An Inspiring Lesson on the Future of PR

UM students working on their group presentation

Millennials are often painted as lazy, entitled, impatient and unfocused but a group of college students with whom Jessica recently spent a weekend dispelled all of those stereotypes and gave us hope for the future.

At the first-ever PR Workshop for the University of Michigan’s Communication Studies program, 30 undergraduate students dedicated their entire weekend — giving up their Friday night and showing up at the ungodly hour of 8:30am on Saturday and Sunday (including having lost an hour to Daylight Savings Time) — to get a crash course in the public relations field.  UM does not offer vocational classes — nor did it when Jessica was enrolled there many moons ago — but because so many students have expressed an interest in the PR industry, the brilliant and energetic Susan Douglas, who heads up the department, decided it was worth doing a pilot program that involved alumni in the business sharing their lessons and knowledge with the undergrads.

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Common Communication Gaffes: Oops…and How to Avoid Doing It Again

We’ve all done it — accidentally sent an email that we immediately wanted to retrieve.  In the world of instant gratification that we now inhabit, where we’re expected to respond in the blink of an eye and be available 24/7, it’s bound to happen. Case in point: the publicist who recently replied all to an email calling a blogger a bitch, not realizing that said blogger was one of the recipients. Oops!

We also recently read a post on Mediabistro about a young job-seeker who emailed a cover letter (of sorts) to a PR firm from his/her iPhone that was filled with embarrassing mistakes.

We’re not perfect either. In our book, Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired and Rewarded at Work, Jessica talks about the time she called a (now former) editor at one of her company’s magazines a jerk and accidentally included him on the email (sometimes multitasking is not a good idea!). So what can you do in these kinds of circumstances?

1) Apologize for your actions (aka stupidity). Honesty truly is the best policy when you screw up. After Jessica did the slow-mo “Nooooo!” once that email had gone into cyberspace, she picked up the phone and called the guy she had badmouthed, fessed up and said she was sorry. (By the way, he hadn’t even seen the email yet!  Awkward!) They ended up having a heart-to-heart conversation about how her staff felt he was treating them and he had had no idea he was coming across like, well, a jerk. Luckily, the situation led to the smoothing over of a bumpy relationship. But it easily could have made it worse — and it was certainly not the way she would have done it if she had had her druthers.

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What a Scandal! How to React When Your Reputation is On the Line

With Weinergate in full swing and ‘The Sperminator’ and Strauss-Kahn incidents just barely in the rearview mirror, a lot has been said about the various scandals in the news of late (weirdly, all by powerful men making sexual slip-ups) — and the impact of said debacles on a person’s reputation.  But as PR experts, we’ll address the most recent situation with NY Congressman Anthony Weiner, who late last week was accused of having sent lewd photos of himself to unsuspecting young women on Twitter.  He responded by inviting reporters in to interview him about the scandal and then giving cryptic, defensive answers to simple questions about whether, in fact, he had done the deed and whether it was his, ahem, wiener featured in the offending pics.

After denying, deferring and dismissing these accusations, Weiner finally admitted today in a press conference that he had sent photos of his “member of Congress” to several women through Twitter and Facebook and had previously lied about the situation. In our book, Be Your Own Best Publicist, we spend an entire chapter on crisis management and we thought we’d share some of that advice with Rep. Weiner and others who may find themselves in personal or professional pickles.

  • Assess. In PR, when we encounter a crisis situation, the first thing we do is examine the potential damage and consider the best course of action. Staying as calm and objective as possible will help you see potential solutions.

 

  • Admit. If the crisis involves lying, as Weiner’s did, you should fess up and admit your mistakes as quickly as possible.  Honesty is always the best policy. It’s never good practice to lie — trust us, it will inevitably come back and bite you in the ass. And, in the age of YouTube and Twitter, your cover-up will replay over and over again, harming your reputation more than if you had just told the truth.

  • Address. When you do apologize, it’s best to explain why you’re sorry about what you did and, if appropriate, the reasons behind your behavior or actions. Show true remorse for your error in judgment. No fake tears (Do you hear us, Congressman Weiner?), no robotically reading off a prepared statement (Hello, Tiger Woods!).

  • Atone. Try to clean up your mess by righting the wrong as much as you can. Make sure you make it up to the people you’ve hurt (especially if they include your wife). While you can’t reverse the past, you can attempt to have an honorable future.

  • Adapt. A scandal may interfere with your life in lots of ways. It may destroy your family or ruin your career. Either way, you need a game plan for how you’re going to adapt to your circumstances and their effect on your future. Maybe you won’t be the next Mayor of New York City but as we happen to live in a culture of forgiveness, it is possible to make grave mistakes and come back from them (Martha Stewart, anyone?).

Bottom line: The best way to deal with a crisis and do damage control is to face it head on and come clean. Not a lot of people like a cheater — but no one likes a bold-faced liar. We all make mistakes but admitting to them is the first step in repairing a tarnished reputation.

Share your thoughts with us here, on Facebook or Twitter (@bestpublicist).