To Make Networking Less Exhausting, Bring a Talkative Colleague

Networking can be good for your career, but introducing yourself to a roomful of people can also be draining. The next time you attend a conference or professional happy hour, consider bringing along a coworker to help. The two of you can divide and conquer, meaning you’ll each talk to different people and then share notes. That way you’ll both expend less energy while still gathering a large number of contacts by the end of the night. Choose a colleague who is more extroverted than you and who gets excited by socializing with others. Come up with a plan for who will talk to whom. And remember that it’s OK to take a break during the event to restore your energy. Even if it’s just a few minutes long, it might give you the boost you need to get back to making small talk.

Adapted from “How to Keep Networking from Draining You,” by Jordana Valencia


How to Nourish Your Team’s Creativity

CEOs in a recent poll agreed that creativity is the most important skill a leader can have. What seems less clear is how to actually cultivate it. Every leader is hoping for that next great idea, yet many executives still treat creative thinking as antithetical to productivity and control. Indeed, 80% of American and British workers feel pressured into being productive rather than creative.

Leaders can’t afford to have people holding back potential breakthroughs. Knowing this, it is important to recognize that radical, disruptive thinking is not something that can be mandated. Too many leaders try to demand creativity on the spot: They offer cash rewards for new ideas, sequester teams in endless brainstorming sessions, and encourage competitive hierarchies that reward some people for out-innovating others. While all of these strategies are intended to manifest organizational creativity, none do— and they often backfire.

As Teresa Amabile and Mukti Khaire explain, “One doesn’t manage creativity. One manages for creativity.” Your role as a leader is to create a working environment in which critical thinking, new ideas, and creative solutions can flow unencumbered. Here are a few guidelines for bringing out your team’s creative best.

Define creativity for your organization without making it a formulaTom Stillwell, CEO of the Clio Award–winning marketing agency Midnight Oil, explains: “Creativity can be very expensive if you aren’t careful. You could dive into work without clarity on what creativity you want, and end up churning time, energy, and money without results.”

So the first step is to define your terms. If you treat concepts like “design thinking” and “disruptive innovation” as mere buzzwords rather than as muscular strategic concepts, you will end up spinning your wheels, and maybe even stifling creativity.

To create growth, idea creation must be directed toward the benefit of the organization and the customers it serves, something that can only happen through a shared clarity on what creativity means and the purpose it serves to differentiate you from competitors. Take care not to overextend that clarity into a rote formula. Too many R&D groups, with the noble intention of creating “innovative efficiency,” try to codify their innovation processes with such precision that they neuter imagination. A clear definition of the role creativity plays in executing your strategy should get everyone on the same page, ensuring that the entire organization is working toward shared goals.

Strike a balance between art and commerce. In a company, creative thinking must occur on a spectrum between art and commerce. New ideas that exist purely in the realm of art, or creativity for creativity’s sake, won’t necessarily drive the organization forward. And ideas that are singularly focused on commerce or profit aren’t likely to break free from the status quo. To strike a meaningful balance, it is vital that everyone on your team understands the spectrum and uses it in shaping their creative thinking. Whereas some people will have a hard time breaking free from financial assumptions, others will feel constrained by the need to anchor their creative expression to commercial realities. Manage this tension by encouraging people to move out of their comfort zones and toward the center of the spectrum. Effective leaders help their people understand this not as a contradiction but as a healthy tension that can yield the most profitable and breakthrough ideas.

Provide space for both collaborative and individual expression. Too often, we think of creativity as an individual pursuit. However, the Latin roots of the word “creative” — which describe a social, communal experience — reveal a fundamental truth: Creativity is founded upon collaboration. Julien Jarreau, executive creative director at the premier health marketing agency Health4Brands, elaborates:

“Individuality plays an important part in what people bring to the creative table. And yet relinquishing that individuality to a greater collective effort is the ultimate work of generating powerful creative results. I am clear in my expectations that I want collective creation while still honoring individuals. I don’t tolerate prima donnas.” People must learn to derive gratification as individual contributors, while balancing it with a collaborative spirit focused on a greater good. A collaborative environment allows a level playing field where good ideas can be challenged into great ideas. It also fosters the emotional safety needed for creative people to risk sharing their most divergent ideas without fear of judgment. The leader’s job is to set that standard and model it.

Provide structural guardrails without constraining freedom. Creativity is messy. It won’t follow strict protocols or processes. At the same time, it needs structure to thrive. How much structure and discipline is ideal? How much freedom will yield optimal results? A leader helps build collective capability by setting objectives and deadlines, providing creative spaces and designated times for diverging, and allowing teams to practice creativity. Put the tools and processes in place, and turn the team loose.

One of the greatest challenges for leaders is determining what role they should play in helping generate creative ideas and solutions. When leaders have more experience or talent than their team, deciding when to insert their own ideas instead of coaching others can be hard. Deadlines and slipping performance targets increase the leader’s risk of imposing their will, which just reinforces self-doubt on the team and perpetuates the cycle of the leader having to insert the “answer.” If you are going to participate in the ideation, take your leader hat off and, as convincingly as you can, inform your team not to treat your ideas any differently. Only do this if it strengthens the process and avoids muting their participation.

There is nothing more satisfying that watching your people fulfill the human need to create and having their creative contributions benefit the organization and the markets it serves. Doing this requires understanding the inherent tensions that come with leading creative endeavor. It takes intentional, thoughtful leadership to help your team unleash their most creative and powerful work.

Ron Carucci is co-founder and managing partner at Navalent, working with CEOs and executives pursuing transformational change for their organizations, leaders, and industries. He is the best-selling author of eight books, including the recent Amazon #1 Rising to Power. Connect with him on Twitter at @RonCarucci; download his free e-book on Leading Transformation.




How to Decide Which Tasks to Delegate

  • Category Teams

Ping! Something needs your attention. Is it an email? A tweet? A text? A reminder on your phone? A calendar invite? Ping! Another one. Ping!There’s that sound again. Or maybe it’s a visual cue, an ever-ascending ticker count on your app icons or inbox.

Quick, why don’t you just respond right now? Says the devil on your digital shoulder — your sender will be instantly satisfied and you’ll be rewarded with a hit of dopamine. But wait! The angel on the other side pipes up, imploring you to aim for focus, strategy, meaning, and impact instead. A bit dazed, you return to center: What were you working on again? What was more important than whatever just came in? It’s hard to remember.

When I reach Peak Ping — a sense that I don’t have room for yet another request without sacrificing my sanity or my strategic projects — I take a moment to focus on what matters most, and remind myself that I don’t have to fly solo in my day-to-day work.

Our “angel” of favorite tasks and projects is someone else’s devil, and vice versa. That means there is someone out there who can delight in the devil of your details. The skill is learning how to delegate. Even better than you do right now. Even if you think you already delegate effectively to an extent, I bet you have room for even greater efficiency and resulting peace of mind, whether on the home or work front. We all have a Peak PingAchilles heel, whether it’s something as mundane as the laundry or as important as monthly bookkeeping.

Many of us know the vague benefits and aim of delegation — to build teams who can share the workload so that you do the highest expression work that only you can do. But in practice, we hoard and bottleneck out of a variety of fears: the work won’t be done up to spec, it will take me longer to assign than quickly do myself, this is work no one wants to do, it will cost too much, what if this person can’t be trusted, and so on.

I used to believe all these little white lies that I told myself. It was my inner perfectionist talking, rearing her head and leading me straight back down the path to burnout, where I had been too many times before. Even I am not immune to falling into the “But I can’t delegate this!” trap and treading water again. But all of these fears are a myth.

Delegation is what resuscitated my business from the brink of collapse in 2013. Delegation is what helped me triple my income in 2014 from the three years prior, and delegation is what has helped me earn more so far this year, as I write this in May, than the previous three years combined.

Hiring more help, while it does make a dent in the budget, has helped me far out-earn the cost of creating a team that I know I can rely on.

At a certain point, everything that can be delegated should be; with rare exception. Conduct an audit using the six T’s to determine what tasks make the most sense to offload:

Tiny: Tasks that are so small they seem inconsequential to tackle but they add up. They are never important or urgent, and even if they only take a few minutes they end up taking you out of the flow of more strategic work. For example, registering for a conference or event, adding it to your calendar, and booking the hotel and flight — on their own each of these things may not take much time, but taken together, they all add up.

Tedious: Tasks that are relatively simple probably are not  the best use of your time. Very straightforward tasks can (and should) be handled by anyone but you. For example, manually inputting a 100-item list into a spreadsheet and color-coding it, or updating the KPIs in your presentation deck.

Time-Consuming: Tasks that, although they may be important and even somewhat complex, are time-consuming and do not require you to do the initial 80% of research. You can easily step in when the task is 80% complete and give approval, oversight and/or direction on next steps.

Teachable: Tasks that, although complicated-seeming at first and possibly comprising several smaller subtasks, can be translated into a system and passed along, with you still providing quality checks and final approval. For example, teaching one of your direct reports how to draft the presentation deck for the monthly all-hands meeting, and even how to be the one to deliver those updates to the team.

Terrible At: Tasks that not only do not fall into your strengths, but an area where you feel unequipped. You take far longer than people skilled in this area, and still produce a subpar result.  For example, the visual design of those PowerPoint slides for the team meeting, or even hiring a professional designer for an upcoming presentation outside of your organization such as an upcoming TEDx talk.

Time Sensitive: Tasks that are time-sensitive but compete with other priorities; there isn’t enough time to do them all at once, so you delegate an important and time-sensitive task so that it can be done in parallel to your other project-based deadlines. For example,  leaving your iPad on the plan after a flight (as regretfully I recently did); working to recover it before it goes completely missing into the airport lost and found abyss by calling customer service daily (with long hold times). Calling an airline to change seat assignments for the following day while you are in all-day meetings.

One of the central differentiators for determining what to delegate is checking in frequently (if not daily) to examine what’s on your plate and ask: What can you and only you do? How can you delegate the rest?

Your assignment: Over the course of the next two weeks, make a note of tasks that fall under the 6 T’s above (either do this on a sheet of paper, or in a tracking template like this one with columns for different categories at home and work). For more ideas on what to delegate, check out this list of 75+ tasks I’ve delegated in the last year.

Even if you’re not sure yet who to delegate to, or even how, start by capturing the what. Then watch as your mind (and the angel on your work shoulder) magically start creating solutions for next steps from that new vantage point of space and self-awareness.

Jenny Blake is a career and business strategist and speaker who helps people build sustainable, dynamic careers they love. She is the author of PIVOT: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One (Portfolio/Penguin Random House). Her latest course is Delegation Ninja: Turn Frantic into Freedom. Learn more at, and check out her Pivot Podcast.




Why Self-Improvement Should Be a Group Activity

Continuous personal development is fundamental to career growth, professional satisfaction, and having a broader impact in the world. And while the self-help industry and leadership professions have made a fortune on our obsession with getting better, failure rates remain alarmingly high.

In one survey, of more than 1,000 people who’d set goals for personal development, more than 96% of them failed. Another source suggests that 80% of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned by February. Why so much failure? It may be due to a lack of commitment or to choosing development areas that are overly corrective (such being more punctual or learning to control your temper) rather than focusing on strengths (such as running a faster mile or finding new ways to apply your keen analytical skill).

A dangerously flawed assumption undergirds these explanations. They infer that an individual’s development happens…individually. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite our common cultural notion of “self” improvement, the most successful efforts to self-improve have other people at their core.

The research of Stanford professors Geoffrey Cohen and David Sherman explains why this is so. They suggest, in their self-affirmation theory, that our need to maintain positive self-perceptions leads to us minimizing the impact of our shortcomings. That’s because when attempting to learn new things our egos become naturally self-protective. We reflexively hide, setting the stage for self-improvement efforts to fail. In other words, human beings are infamously bad observers of our own reality. Our ability to calibrate where we are effective, or not, and which talents are worthy of investment, or not, requires the eyes and insights of those best positioned to help decide — those on the receiving end of our behavior. Further, it’s much easier to sustain commitment to hard personal change with the active participation of others.

Here are five ways to build a “self-improvement team” and ensure that your personal change efforts will stick.

  • Do an informal, monthly 360-degree review. A company’s annual or semiannual data collection efforts to provide 360-degree feedback to leaders on how they are doing is all well and good. But waiting a year or two for feedback can be dangerous. In my work with executives trying to stretch into new areas of leadership, I have them gather a team of five to seven people made up of colleagues, friends, and even family. The people are told about specific areas the leader is working to develop and asked to watch for progress and setbacks. Each month the leader checks in to ask “How am I doing?” Each person shares three to four observations they’ve had during the month and, for setbacks, offers suggestions for improvement. This not only accelerates the ability to adopt new behavior but also ensures that their intentions and actions are congruent. It also builds others’ commitment to the leader’s success and prompts them to reflect on their own impact.
  • Create accountability for change. To muster the grit needed to persevere through change, people must believe there will be a consequence for not changing. Even when people can articulate genuine desire for improving and the benefits they will gain, they often lack the drive to see personal development efforts through. But if they know they will have to answer for progress, it’s game changing. As an example, during company-wide leadership development efforts with our clients, we establish peer-coaching relationships between leaders from across the organization. These provide a safe place to discuss setbacks on development efforts, celebrate progress, get advice on new approaches, and challenge each other when commitment wanes. Knowing that someone is going to ask you about commitments you’ve made creates a level of accountability that raises the ante on following through. Discouragement can set in for those who naturally fixate on failures of past efforts to change, capitulating to the “See, you knew you couldn’t do it” voices in their head. But being able to express feelings of discouragement or self-doubt to a peer confidant curbs our natural instincts to isolate and sabotage. Having a trusted colleague to help correct faulty self-beliefs and, yes, provide a bit of scolding for self-pity or backsliding can make all the difference.
  • Join others on similar journeys. Mutual reinforcement from others working to improve similar areas can be a powerful source of motivation. Look for a peer, or even a group of peers, with whom you can meet regularly. Online learning communities, discussion groups, or courses can provide a shared learning platform. The exchange of empathy, success stories, and “watch out for…” insights can build confidence and commitment to press through setbacks, and can accelerate the adoption of new behavior. When I work with executives in organizations, I create cohorts of four to six leaders that travel together on common learning pathways. There are ground rules about psychological safety and confidentiality that make being vulnerablenonthreatening. They are able to push each other out of ruts. Most powerful, having a sense of deep ownership for one another’s success creates a momentum for change that the rest of the organization benefits from.
  • Create a laboratory to practice in. Improving any aspect of our lives — building new skills, changing bad habits, adopting new approaches, or shoring up weaknesses — is an ongoing, arduous process. It requires making mistakes and learning from them. Just as an aspiring virtuoso pianist must practice scales, there must be a place to hone whatever new behavior is being adopted. Without practical application, change becomes a cognitive exercise that imagines what change might be like but never attempts to actually change. One introverted executive I worked with struggled to speak in front of groups of any size, but his role demanded that he do it well. We used local community groups and internal departmental meetings as safe, low-risk places for him to practice simple presentations and Q&A sessions. Another client needed to be more consistent giving one-on-one feedback, but her conflict aversion made it difficult for her to deliver tough messages. We created scenarios of varying types of difficult conversations, and she used professional acquaintances outside of her organization to practice two to three times per week. Whatever improvement a leader is attempting to make, it will require ongoing experimentation and rehearsal before change becomes the new normal.
  • If you hire a coach, make sure it’s the right one. While it’s surely not a requirement for self-improvement, hiring a coach can be a very effective approach to development for some people. There are an abundance of leadership, life, career, and performance coaches available. But finding the right coach is harder than most think. In one global study of coaching, 65% of failed coaching efforts were due to a mismatch between the coach and the client, and 53% were due to the questionable expertise of the coach. To select the coach that’s right for your self-improvement, there are two factors to consider. The first is chemistry. Does the coach make you feel at ease? Do you feel you could be vulnerable with them? Does conversation about important issues feel natural? Chemistry can be easily confused with comfortand it’s important to distinguish between the two. This isn’t someone you will socialize with or take a ski trip with. This is someone to whom you will entrust deeply personal thoughts and aspirations. More important, it’s someone who will challenge you and give you hard feedback. The second factor is relevant capability. Do they have expertise that specifically matches the area you want to grow in? Have they successfully helped others on similar developmental paths? This factor is often confused with having credentials. The fact that someone has been an effective trusted advisor to others and has letters after their name doesn’t mean they will be effective for you. 

If you’ve ever failed at a personal improvement effort, examine whether there was sufficient involvement from others. As one critical study discovered, personal transformation cannot happen apart from social transformation. Including others who have a vested interest in your personal change means you increase the odds of your success and, in turn, help them increase the odds of theirs.

Ron Carucci is co-founder and managing partner at Navalent, working with CEOs and executives pursuing transformational change for their organizations, leaders, and industries. He is the best-selling author of eight books, including the recent Amazon #1 Rising to Power. Connect with him on Twitter at @RonCarucci; download his free e-book on Leading Transformation.