Cabernet Coaches: Power of Consistent Connection

ccWBistro7.2014Cabernet Coaches

Power of Consistent Connection

I call them Cabernet Coaches. No, they aren’t highly specialized sommeliers or vineyard strategists—and some of them actually prefer the chardonnay. Rather, these are the loosely gathered and rather eclectic group of women I meet with for weekly Wednesday night happy hours.
It’s not about the drink specials. It’s basic elemental networking without the use of that stifling—and for some, intimidating—buzzword. It’s real grass roots relationship building. And it’s a concerted strike back at a world that would keep us too busy for connection beyond those coworkers, neighbors and team moms lying directly in our paths.

How, and more importantly, why do we do this?

It’s a conscious choice to maintain connection. This means that when one of us gets the big promotion or adds a significant other to her life, we continue to value our friendships by maintaining a regular time slot for them on our calendars. “Disappearing friends”—those who get swept away by a change to relationship status or a bend in the career path—can fade like a mirage in the rearview mirror, so we aim for consistent contact. Frenetic schedules may not allow for regular lunch dates with everyone in our expanding circle—but once a week, we purposefully maintain connection.

It’s a conscious choice to create new connection. We’re completely inclusive. Invites have been extended in groceries, at doctors’ offices and on Facebook. There is something to be gained and given in every encounter. “Loneliness makes fools of us all” (Date Like A Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt & Advice Between Friends, epigraph)—and as we grow connection, we stem isolation. With affirming friends, we are less likely to wither in bad jobs and relationships. We gain momentum from the good choices of others and gain resolve to affect change in our own lives. And, we expand our options by creating a larger pool of friends. Nothing pleases me more than to discover two previous strangers meeting for lunch following a Wednesday night meeting.

It’s a conscious choice to value self. Sometimes, driving across town and traffic to meet with a few friends amidst the pressures of a busy workweek takes significant motivation. Many of our conversations begin with “I should be…” but they always seem to end with gratitude for time well spent. Generally, two hours around a high top table won’t negatively impact the productivity of a week, but it will often reenergize us to better adapt and achieve what is required. And, happy hour appetizers always trump microwaved leftovers as a dinner option.

It’s a conscious choice to build a bigger, better life. Our Wednesdays are more of a flow than a settled gathering—with friends bringing friends, and built around the absences caused by travel, parenting our children and all the normal demands of life. But it’s a repeat calendar entry for many of us—an almost sacred appointment that we strive to keep regardless of changes to relationship status or career. It’s a commitment to growth and a leg up over the status quo. New faces, fresh ideas, divergent careers…our little group is far more intriguing than anything we might be missing on reality TV.

We consciously create opportunity while banishing guilt by utilizing “ish” time—meeting at “5:30ish until 7:30ish”—to minimize time pressures. The demands of careers and kids, along with the havoc divorce can wreak on a life, often lead to stress and isolation. Life can become task-driven—with pleasure buried beneath loads of laundry and sales goals. So no one’s early, no one’s late and any “disappearing friends” are always welcomed back with open arms, tissues if necessary, introductions to the newbies and a toast… Whether we clink water glasses, chocolate martinis or cabernet is irrelevant. What matters is the steady encouragement and affirmation that comes with the table space.

Shared joys are amplified, and empathy can buoy a sinking heart… Has a friendship ever surprised or delighted you? Saved you? How have you navigated the inevitable disappointments, friendship “drift”—or worse, a complete betrayal? How has Connection—or the lack of it—impacted your enjoyment of life? Do your relationships make you a better person—or make you want to be a better person? If you’re interested in contributing your friendship story to the book, please email me via the contact page to set up an interview. Thanks! Heather

 

How Can Busy Parents Get Ahead at Work?

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

How Can Busy Parents Get Ahead at Work?

Climbing the Career Ladder is Difficult With Children in Each Arm

Dear Heather,

Hello, you don’t know me, but I saw your profile on Salary.com. You look so happy in your picture and I would love to see myself so accomplished in the near future! Do you have any advice for a hard working creative woman like me? I’ve been designing and managing at the same stable, but unfulfilling job for the past 8 years. I need a kick in the a** to make a move to senior management ELSEWHERE, but I have little time with a toddler underfoot? Please help!

~Mindy

Heather: What a compliment! Thank you. But make no mistake, that photo was cropped to exclude unfinished laundry, a carry-in dinner and the pile of work sitting in my office! It is hard for working parents –especially in that “it’s a good thing you’re so cute” toddler stage.

The first thing is to identify what is truly holding you back from surging towards a senior management position. Exhaustion? Understandable. Or, is it a lack of time or confidence? It’s time to invest in yourself.

Once you’ve identified your particular barrier, purpose to chip at it until it’s a pile of rubble on your Cheerio-strewn floor. You may or may not be able to combat exhaustion. Your vision of your dream job needs to be tangible enough to wake you up to opportunities even with a standing sleep deficit.

If you’re battling a complete lack of time, you’ll have to break down each necessary task to toddler bite-sized pieces. “Find management job” is overwhelming, particularly with a two-year old eyeing the viability of an applesauce launch. So, write down each step of the process and visibly mark off your progress (I even write things down after I do them for the pure satisfaction of crossing them out). Instead of burdening yourself to “do your resume” when your child has perhaps a ten minute attention span for coloring, plan to tackle a single resume section at a time. Research your job opportunities one company at a time if need be. Dedicate ten minutes on other days to renewing old contacts via email or on a business site such as LinkedIn. Moving forward slowly, ten or twenty minutes at a time, is better than getting comfortable in a rut.

If you want that next job, know you can do the work, have identified the necessary steps and are still hesitating? Encourage yourself. When my energy flags, I send myself a short affirming email, most often with nothing more than a positive quality, quotation or truth as the subject. There is a benefit in both recording and reading such a positive message. Be your own fan. Self-affirmation along with a step-by-step checklist to guide you to your goal will give definition to the dream. Then, it becomes a matter of tackling those details one at a time. Nothing is out of reach for a determined toddler. Tap into some of that focused energy. Good luck, and please keep me posted!

~Heather

Originally published at Salary.com.

Profile Plagiarism

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

Profile Plagiarism

She Likes Me. She Really Likes Me

Dear Heather,
What do you do about someone who just about stole your LinkedIn profile?! I’ve run into “Amy” at a few networking events and noticed afterward that she kept looking at my online profile. At first I was flattered, but I finally looked at hers and found that she has posted, almost word for word, MY profile job description!! I was trying to be nice and introduce her to people at some industry events because she’s new and a little socially awkward but began distancing myself after she asked for my contact list (!). Now I’m angry. How can I handle this? I worked hard on my profile and don’t want her passing it off as her own!

Nikki

Dear Nikki,
Extending a helping hand to “the new kid” is kind, but yes, giving over your LinkedIn profile and contact list is the killing sort of kindness. Hopefully you explained to “Amy” that your contact list would do her no good because it’s comprised of associations you’ve built. A good contact list is not just a string of company titles, phone numbers and email addresses —this basic information is ideally attached to faces, interests and areas of expertise. It includes relationship history. Handing Amy a personal contact list is akin to giving her a storage locker without the combination necessary to open it.

And now she wants your profile? With the website growing by 175K profiles a day (and garnering 25 million daily profile views according to LinkedIn), your online profile is a critical career tool —but it’s also a very personal one.

Understand that Amy’s actions are the maneuverings of an uncertain and slightly desperate person. While perusing profiles for inspiration or structural ideas is smart, the copy/paste thing is rather “5th grade math class-ish.” The significant difference is that at this stage of life there are professional reputations at stake rather than test grades and TV privileges. It was wrong then, it’s unconscionable now.

So, what are your options? Well, you could report her to LinkedIn. People do, and there’s a link for that. Based on the screenshots you provided, it seems fairly clear that she shopped your profile, lifted some sentences and only rearranged the ordering. But it sounds like you’re bound to run into her again, and it might be difficult —or at least awkward— to inflict a LinkedIn ban on a colleague.

My first step would be to contact Amy directly. Perhaps you could even explain the situation in terms of its impact on her own professional reputation: “Hi Amy, I checked out your LinkedIn profile and noted its similarity to my own. Normally, I might be flattered, but we move within the same circle and I fear that many will note the identical language and think that you’re talking about me! You have some terrific abilities and accomplishments that are unique to you, and those are the things that should be highlighted in your profile. Please take the time to rework your profile description without the language used in mine. I understand that it takes a lot of time to get it just right, but it will be worth it to establish your own professional presence. Thank you! Nikki.”

Even better? Phone her. The under-confident can be expert email evaders. If you manage to catch her, boil it down to: “Hi Amy! Good to see you at (fill in the blank). Say, I checked out your LinkedIn profile and noticed that it’s just like mine! That’s going to confuse a lot of people. Would you please take care of that?”

Yes, she could deny it, in which case you retreat to the first option of alerting the powers-that-be at LinkedIn, but at least you’ve given her the benefit of the doubt and a chance to do the right thing. Perhaps her mimicry was the inadvertent outcome of a harried schedule and blurred judgment. Perhaps someone else wrote her profile for her. Perhaps your “wake up” call will prod her to prioritize the creation of her own distinct online profile. Congrats on crafting an attention-grabbling profile —may it facilitate exciting career opportunities for you!

~Heather

*For those of you wondering “could this happen to me?” Of course it can! One easy way to check for plagiarism is to use LinkedIn’s advanced search option. Copy and paste a phrase of your profile —in quotes— into the key words box, hit search and hope that your own profile is the only one that comes up in the results.

Originally published at Salary.com.

Putting in Overtime on a Workplace Friendship

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

Putting in Overtime on a Workplace Friendship

How Much is Enough?

Dear Heather,

One of my co-workers has hit a rough patch in her personal life. She just ended a three-year relationship, is taking it very hard and apparently has little family/friend support. She is a very committed to her job and takes on extra projects on a regular basis. The boyfriend didn’t seem very important in her life (I only met him twice), and I’m kind of surprised she’s taking it so hard. The problem is she has started calling me in the evening fairly regularly. I don’t think she has much going on outside of work and is pretty lonely. I feel really bad for her and consider her a friend, but my husband is getting annoyed and I guess I am too a little. I want to help her but need my family time after work. Any suggestions?

~Mary

Dear Mary,

Your compassion is commendable. Human connection is what makes it all worthwhile, as your friend is discovering in a painfully tangible way. But in this case it’s unacceptable because it is at the expense of your most valuable human connection — your family. Because her present imbalance has the potential of impacting your own work/life balance, you need to sketch in some boundaries fairly quickly.

You are her chosen life preserver. While your empathy is a good thing, keep in mind that life preservers are not intended for use as extended support. They are temporary flotation devices designed to transport a weakened party from an unstable position to where they can stand on their own two feet. The key word is “temporary.” You need to view this as a short-term situation and devise specific steps to help your friend without negatively impacting your family.

You may feel a temptation to set her up with one of your husband’s poker buddies (Jim’s single and hasn’t been arrested in two years). Fight it. This is a very bad idea as it has the potential of doubling those late night phone calls. Bandaging one broken relationship with another rarely does more than create another bandage-able situation.

Instead, help your co-worker begin to establish the balance that has apparently been lacking in her own life. She needs friends and outside interests. Fortunately, those are often a two-for-one. Encourage her to explore the world beyond your office. Offer to accompany her to couple of networking or interest-specific events where she can make new connections to build upon.

Next, establish “help” zones that won’t jeopardize your family life. Let her know you want to talk when you are best able to focus, and that your evenings are too hectic for you to give her full attention. Can you give her your ear at a weekly breakfast or lunch? Maybe meet her for an endorphin-amped workout at the gym?

Finally, do not be afraid to suggest professional counseling: “I really want to help you, but I don’t have all the answers. This is hard, painful stuff. I think you deserve the kind of knowledge and guidance a professional counselor could give you.”

Keep the compassion, but don’t allow it to override your primary obligations to your family. Don’t abandon your co-worker/friend, but don’t be a sled dog either. Your role is not to rescue, but to facilitate your co-worker’s rescue of herself while still retaining that critical balance in your own life.

~Heather

Originally published at Salary.com.

Resolutions for Building a Bigger Life


Resolutions for Building a Bigger Life

Psst…It’s About Connection.

A bigger life. No, this isn’t a reference to carbo-loading before your next triathlon. Nor is it a call to upsize your house, number of dependents or credit card bill. Towards the end of holiday grazing season, it’s easy to focus on dress sizes over life sizes. But a bigger life, one that is rich in connection, will enable traction on long term goals such as legacy-building and dream achievement, creating credible paths to fulfillment and success.

People generally trek into one of two camps as January approaches: either methodically listing their New Year’s resolutions or categorically shaking their heads at such unmeasured optimism. But the majority of us will at least pause for a brief moment of reflection as we cross the border into a new year. For it’s a marker. A roadside sign that shows how far we’ve traveled and how far we’ve yet to go.

Every other “put your best foot forward” article is going to tell you to set goals for your health, finances and career —which is great advice. So do that. But consider that most of these laudable choices will be more effectively achieved with a powerful interpersonal support system.

So pause and measure. How connected are you? Forget the obligatory work comrades, neighbors with whom you have a nodding acquaintance and those sideline parents who are more of a “familiar face” than functional friend. Consider whom you interact with as opposed to those you stand or sit alongside. A life webbed with strong interpersonal connections holds more opportunities and is worthy of your time and effort to build. If you have a lengthy list of “should call” and “should do lunch” names buried under good intentions —it’s grow time.

Clear Space.

Who has the time? None of us. And yet making strong connections will actually save time in the long run. Your more fully developed network will provide you with recommendations for mechanics, accountants and new hires. It will be your backup when you have a sick child or no way to pick up your dog from the kennel. Your network will be both your sounding board and your fan club. Admit it. You need this. So it is well worth devoting calendar space to some connection time.

Choose Your Connections.

If all your friends work in HR or have matching company logo coffee mugs, you need to diversify your friendships. This is like having a team of quarterbacks. Who’s going to catch the ball? Surround yourself with women with varied careers and pursuits. You aren’t going to learn anything new from a high-heeled clone of yourself. And if you don’t know how to throw a decent dinner party —and hang out with similarly stunted friends— you aren’t going to eat very well on the weekends. Seek passion, conviction and commitment. Encircle yourself with accomplished or motivated-to-accomplish women. Energy sparks energy, so look for inner momentum. Solid positive connections will create bridges to anywhere you want to go.

Keep Your Eye on the Glass Ball.

Juggling too much? That sounds about normal. Brian Dyson, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, once described multi-tasked living as a process of keeping rubber and glass balls in the air. While our tasks will differ, prioritizing our families requires that we designate them as one of the glass “do not drop” balls. Redesigning your kitchen is a rubber ball that will bounce. You may even be able to double dribble some of your lower priority social connections as well. But bubble-wrap your spouse/significant other and children and keep an attentive eye on that ball.

Find Two-fers.

One terrific strategy for creating connection time is to incorporate another tangent goal. You plan to hit the ground running in January? Literally? Then seek out a running buddy. But don’t stop there. Regular gym workouts with weight work will make the difference between getting older and aging gracefully, and may actually hold the process at bay for a while. Do your weight sets with a female friend to build in accountability and connection. Split the cost of a trainer and you’re making a more economical financial choice as well —all while growing a relationship with a like-minded friend.

Face-to-face.

Phone calls don’t count unless they’re punctuated by actual face-to-face communication. Choosing to create time for someone establishes esteem for both the individual and the relationship. Value your friendships, old and new, by scheduling regular coffees, lunches or happy hours. Aim to create at least two one-on-one friend spaces in each calendar week. And be open to spontaneous opportunities. Maintain growth by seeking out potential friends and business contacts and following through with at least an initial coffee. A certain number of relationships will fade through job, life or location changes —so continue planting seeds to maintain a continuous season of connection.

Grow Group Gigs.

Growing your connections can be as easy as setting up a regular, open-to-all happy hour meeting. Encourage friends to bring friends to multiply new mutually beneficial links. This low pressure, two-hour commitment will allow you to sift through “contacts” to choose “connections.” And by encouraging an inclusive atmosphere in which all are invited to invite, you create an infinity pool of professional and social possibilities.

Maintain an Inflow.

Yawn. Yes, sometimes. But it is difficult to grow a diverse network from an insulated workspace where time constraints force most of us to focus more on culling the flow into inbox, voicemail and calendar than on expanding our sources. Filtering is a necessity, but closing off the stream will eventually dry up the pond, so aim to schedule regular business/ social networking events. Remember that you don’t have to score a direct association at an event for it to be construed a success. Contacts have contacts (who have contacts) who could become a connection.

Be the Mentor.

Remember those early job interviews when you agonized over resume wording and sending the right message via your choice of pumps? There are women —on this very day— laying out conservative earrings and practicing a firm-gripped handshake and friendly greeting for tomorrow morning. Help them. You’ve earned your confidence. Share it with another. What’s in it for you? Connection to someone who will birth new ideas and improve what you’ve begun. And chances are quite good that you will learn something in the teaching of another.

Resist Connect-the-Dot Thinking.

It’s tempting to view connection as a connect-the-dot sort of endeavor, achieved by working a room with a fistful of business cards augmented by quick phone call “check-ins” between appointments to fan the flame of friendships. But it can —and should— be so much more. Instead of doing the time saving, quick tie knot —”Here’s my card. Let’s connect on LinkedIn”— focus on weaving connection into the fabric of your life. People themselves are the discoveries that lead to innovative ideas and solutions. Your key connections, male and female, will provide valuable support, provide affirmation, spark ideas and help you along the path to being your best self. Having reliable connections —ones you can occasionally lean on and, often, laugh with— is that valuable extra layer that will enable you to weather personal and professional squalls with dignity, grace and assurance. Building a bigger life through connection will perpetuate a better one.

7 Ways to Lead in Business and Basketball

KDurant7 Ways to Lead in Business and Basketball

Kevin Durant’s emotional acceptance of the 2014 NBA MVP award transcended sports and speeches. The Oklahoma City Thunder power forward delivered an eloquent acceptance speech spotlighting his supporting cast, revealing the heart of a true leader, and offering a glimpse into one of the more successful teams in the highly competitive world of professional basketball.

The star athlete’s speech illustrated key elements that can be real game changers in leading a successful team. Here are the big points to take to the office.

Connection Breeds Collaboration.
Durant’s speech has been lauded for the very personal manner in which he thanked others, and Durant focused almost exclusively on valued relationships. “When something good happens to me, I tend to look back at what brought me here.”

A good team draws strength from the relationships between its players. Employee interactions will either foster company success or drain positive momentum. When management actively promotes good employee relationships, it creates an atmosphere conducive to idea generation with better receptivity to constructive criticisms and greater shared motivation toward common goals.

The Little Things Count.
The quick email acknowledgment of an employee’s contribution to a big project, a public “good job” to the gal who brought in a key new client, the pause to say “hello” en route to the elevator — these things might seem little to you, but they’re not. Yes, we toil for paychecks, but small kindnesses prompt bigger efforts.

Durant mentions the special pre-game handshakes that “get him going” and better prepared him for the game. What little thing will spark your regional sales manager to better coach her team? What small encouragement might prompt your assistant personnel director to generate more effective training material?

Little things play a big part in creating and maintaining a positive company culture. Want to attract top candidates? The employees you already have will generate much of the positive (or negative) buzz on social media and in your industry.

Culture of Inclusiveness.
More than once, KD spoke to newer team members, saying, “You just got here” and “I didn’t know who you were…” Immediately, he went on to describe each newcomer’s unique value to the team and to him personally.

Change can be a hard sell. How easy is it for newcomers to assimilate into your company culture? Is your team so tight that it’s slow to warm up to new hires? Consider the drag an exclusionary atmosphere might create on ramp up times for new team members. Employees will generate better results—sooner—when they’re solidly welcomed to a team.

Cultivate Potential.
Throughout a childhood marked by challenges and even teasing for his rim-reaching height, Durant didn’t recognize his own potential. The NBA star’s early dreams extended no further than coaching underprivileged kids in rec league basketball. That’s why, in his speech, Durant thanks those who believed in him before he believed in himself.

How actively do you facilitate employee development? Hiring the right talent is good. A continued focus on growing the human assets of your business is better.

Ignored employee potential represents untapped skill and talent that could be working for your company’s future success. Unrecognized and underutilized talent will wither into wasted opportunity — or be hired away to a competitor. A visionary leader may note unconnected skills and bridge them to enable an employee to expand his contribution.

Be Specific With Praise.
Even with callouts to more than two-dozen individuals, Durant avoided generalities and was very specific in citing unique contributions. Particular memories—of a note from teammate Caron Butler, of GM Sam Presti’s late night text messages—and mentions of players’ unique personal qualities, added authenticity to Durant’s gratitude.

Specific praise lands with more sincerity and effect than general appreciation. Keeping notes of laudable actions will make it easier for a manager to positively reinforce—and motivate—his or her employees.

Culture of Excellence.
“You elevate my game.”

Durant recognized the high caliber play of others pushed him to a higher level of achievement. He cited teammates’ work ethic, consistency, and hard driving competitiveness as significant factors in making him a scoring champion. He recognized his mom’s tenacity and the investment of the coaching staff in pushing him toward excellence.

Professionalism indicates competence and builds confidence. It can show up in the less obvious details like a clean break room and grammatically correct emails. Even if outside the public eye, tolerance of a “B effort” will eventually bleed into public image and company productivity and innovation.

Value high performance over perfection in individuals, while realizing the efforts of multiple highly capable individuals collaborating on common goals should result in near perfect work. And work with everyone to make sure the little details are consistent with your big picture.

Be A Team Player.
While the trophy bears Kevin Durant’s name, his words made it clear he considers it to be another team effort and a shared victory. His mom, his teammates, the coaching staff, and many more were included as critical components of his success.

Celebration is both bonding and inspiring. In larger companies, the magnitude of a key success is often diluted into a featured paragraph in the monthly newsletter or as happy gossip in the elevator. Generously tabulating the contributions of many and including them in a business success expands the motivating impact of a victory.

Originally published at Salary.com:

Photo Credit: ShuttrKing|KT via Compfight cc

Redefining the Work Relationship With an Old Friend

Salary.com Columnist

 

Redefining the Work Relationship With an Old Friend

Have you ever had to “unfriend” a co-worker? Is it possible to be the new boss and still be a good friend? Here’s my answer to a Salary.com

“Boost Your Work/Life Balance” reader:

Dear Heather,

Any suggestions for “unfriending” a co-worker? Or at least taking it down a notch? When I first started my job, “Melanie” and I became fast friends. We were both going through some similar challenges and bonded quickly over daily lunches and the occasional happy hour. But over the past six months, I’ve become her boss and she has made some bad relationship decisions that are beginning to impact her work. She comes into my office and bursts into tears, and I feel like a horrible friend for saying this, but I can’t deal with it! At least not at the office. Any ideas??? I like her. A lot. But she’s over her head with the wrong guy and it is seriously affecting her judgment!

Sandy

Dear Sandy, Yep. That’s a tough one: Will you be a consistent boss or an unconditional friend? Can you be both? Probably not. One relationship will have to take the lead here, and it will probably need to be the one that supplies you with electricity and Greek yogurt. While it’s certainly possible to maintain a friendship with Melanie, it probably won’t resemble the original model wherein you dished dirt and dreams and dating dilemmas on your lunch hour. A work-based friendship will require some adjustments when hit with hierarchical changes. It isn’t clear if you tried to address this when you leapfrogged to the boss seat, but the fact that Melanie is bursting into tears in your office tells me that your current boundaries are at least ineffective. Let’s consider two possible courses of action. In the first, Sandy the Boss would schedule a meeting with Melanie in the office and explain how her personal problems are negatively impacting her job performance and, potentially, her future opportunities. You would express your professional confidence and support but draw a firm and unmistakable line between the office and those tearful outbursts. Or…In the second scenario, you would meet with Melanie outside of work in your capacity as “friend.” Sandy the Friend would express concern over some of Melanie’s recent decisions and help her look at options that might stabilize her personal life. She would encourage her to take actions that demonstrate self-respect. She would affirm Melanie’s capabilities both personally and professionally, and then segue to the impact her current personal dilemmas are having on her job performance. Sandy the Boss would then speak up, delineating the need to segregate personal problems from workplace interactions: “Melanie, I want to be supportive of you both personally and professionally, but I simply can’t discuss “Jim/John/Jackass” during our workday. What I can do is assist you towards your career goals…” Integrity demands that the two “Sandys” become one and the same. This is accomplished in the first situation with a somewhat blunt dismissal of the friendship. Ideally, the second scenario would allow you to blend them into one consistent boss who is also a cordial friend. Your status as Melanie’s superior dictates a diminishment to the level of intimacy you once shared, but if you navigate this well, your friendship can, hopefully, endure — albeit in a new form. And don’t burn bridges. Ever. There are no guarantees that your employee Melanie will not one day be your boss. It happens. Extending professional kindness whenever possible is always the best office policy.

Heather

Originally published on Salary.com “Boost Your Work/Life Balance.”

Stuck in “launch” mode? Unsure of your best option in navigating a workplace issue? Looking for perspective on a critical relationship? Or maybe you’re one of the new—often isolated—single majority seeking next steps for this next stage of life… Send an email and your question may be answered in one of Heather’s columns.

Resolve to Build Connection

A bigger life. No, this isn’t a reference to carbo-loading before your next triathlon. Nor is it a call to upsize your house, number of dependents or credit card bill. Towards the end of holiday grazing season, it’s easy to focus on dress sizes over life sizes. But a bigger life, one that is rich in connection, will enable traction on long term goals such as legacy-building and dream achievement, creating credible paths to fulfillment and success.

People generally trek into one of two camps as January approaches: either methodically listing their New Year’s resolutions or categorically shaking their heads at such unmeasured optimism. But the majority of us will at least pause for a brief moment of reflection as we cross the border into a new year. For it’s a marker. A roadside sign that shows how far we’ve traveled and how far we’ve yet to go.

Every other “put your best foot forward” article is going to tell you to set goals for your health, finances and career —which is great advice. So do that. But consider that most of these laudable choices will be more effectively achieved with a powerful interpersonal support system.

So pause and measure. How connected are you? Forget the obligatory work comrades, neighbors with whom you have a nodding acquaintance and those sideline parents who are more of a “familiar face” than functional friend. Consider whom you interact with as opposed to those you stand or sit alongside. A life webbed with strong interpersonal connections holds more opportunities and is worthy of your time and effort to build. If you have a lengthy list of “should call” and “should do lunch” names buried under good intentions —it’s grow time.

Clear Space. 
Who has the time? None of us. And yet making strong connections will actually save time in the long run. Your more fully developed network will provide you with recommendations for mechanics, accountants and new hires. It will be your backup when you have a sick child or “not-as-advertised” blind date. Your network will be both your sounding board and your fan club. Admit it. You need this. So it is well worth devoting calendar space to some connection time.

Choosing Connections.
If all your friends work in HR or have matching company logo coffee mugs, you need to diversify your friendships. This is like having a team of quarterbacks. Who’s going to catch the ball? Surround yourself with women with varied careers and pursuits. You aren’t going to learn anything new from a high-heeled clone of yourself. And if you don’t know how to throw a decent dinner party—and hang out with similarly stunted friends— you aren’t going to eat very well on the weekends. Seek passion, conviction and commitment. Encircle yourself with accomplished and motivated-to-accomplish women. Energy sparks energy, so look for inner momentum. Solid positive connections will create bridges to anywhere you want to go.

Family Focus.
Juggling too much? That sounds about normal. Brian Dyson, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, once described multi-tasked living as a process of keeping rubber and glass balls in the air. While our tasks will differ, prioritizing our families requires that we designate them as one of the glass “do not drop” balls. Redesigning your kitchen is a rubber ball that will bounce. You may even be able to double dribble some of your lower priority social connections as well. But bubble-wrap your spouse/significant other and children and keep an attentive eye on that ball.

Two for One.
One terrific strategy for creating connection time is to incorporate another tangent goal. You plan to hit the ground running in January? Literally? Then seek out a running buddy. But don’t stop there. Regular gym workouts with weight work will make the difference between getting older and aging gracefully, and may actually hold the process at bay for a while. Do your weight sets with a female friend to build in accountability and connection. Split the cost of a trainer and you’re making a more economical financial choice as well—all while growing a relationship with a like-minded friend.

Face-to-face.
Phone calls don’t count unless they’re punctuated by actual face-to-face communication. Choosing to create time for someone establishes esteem for both the individual and the relationship. Value your friendships, old and new, by scheduling regular coffees, lunches or happy hours. Aim to create at least two one-on-one friend spaces in each calendar week. And be open to spontaneous opportunities. Maintain growth by seeking out potential friends and business contacts and following through with at least an initial coffee. A certain number of relationships will fade through job, life or location changes—so continue planting seeds to maintain a continuous harvest of connection.

Group Gigs.
Growing your connections can be as easy as setting up a regular, open-to-all happy hour meeting. Encourage friends to bring friends to multiply new mutually beneficial links. This low pressure, two-hour commitment will allow you to sift through “contacts” to choose “connections.” And by encouraging an inclusive atmosphere in which all are invited to invite, you create an infinity pool of professional and social possibilities.

Networking Events.
Yawn. Yes, sometimes. But it is difficult to grow a diverse network from an insulated workspace where time constraints force most of us to focus more on culling the flow into inbox, voicemail and calendar than on expanding our sources. Filtering is a necessity, but closing off the stream will eventually dry up the pond, so aim to schedule regular business/social networking events. Remember that you don’t have to score a direct association at an event for it to be construed a success. Contacts have contacts (who have contacts) who could become a connection.

Be the Mentor.
Remember those early job interviews when you agonized over resume wording and sending the right message via your choice of pumps? There are women—on this very day—laying out conservative earrings and practicing firm-gripped handshakes and friendly greetings for tomorrow morning. Help them. You’ve earned your confidence. Share it with another. What’s in it for you? Connection to someone who will birth new ideas and improve what you’ve begun—and chances are quite good that you will learn something in the teaching of another.

Resist Connect-the-Dot Thinking.
It’s tempting to view connection as a connect-the-dot sort of endeavor, achieved by working a room with a fistful of business cards augmented by quick phone call “check-ins” between appointments to fan the flame of friendships. But it can—and should—be so much more. Instead of doing the time saving, quick tie knot—”Here’s my card. Let’s connect on LinkedIn”—focus on weaving connection into the fabric of your life. People themselves are the discoveries that lead to innovative ideas and solutions. Your key connections, male and female, will provide valuable support, provide affirmation, spark ideas and help you along the path to being your best self. Having reliable connections—ones you can occasionally lean on and, often, laugh with—is that valuable extra layer that will enable you to weather personal and professional squalls with dignity, grace and assurance. Building a bigger life through connection will perpetuate a better one.

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