Opulent Positioning Strategy Backfires

Ben Terris, The Washington Post

Applying my signature mantra “Everything I do positions me” to the recent resignation of Senator Aaron Schock (R-ILL) over extravagant spending habits causes me to ponder the question, “What were you thinking?”

In Senator Schock’s case, it was the over-the-top opulent design of his Capitol Hill office that caught the attention of the media, other politicians and his constituents back home. Was this how a senator’s office was supposed to look? Wasn’t it a tad bit too much? Who paid for the furniture and expensive decorative items?

Certain expectations come with the role of a public servant. The greatest of which is how you best represent the needs of your constituents. Your number one priority is to ensure that the voices of the people you represent in your district are felt, heard and presented. Taxpayer dollars are expected to go towards important issues, like education, job creation and health care, not office furnishings or an extravagant lifestyle. Even though the interior designer donated her services, that act also has faced scrutiny from Capitol Hill, questioning if that donation broke some ethical rules.

The foundation of our democracy – the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – reminds us that individualism – and self-expression – is celebrated as one of our greatest rights. However, there are certain norms and standards that apply to public servants. Beyond the Downton Abbey-esque decor of his office, Senator Schock also had gained a reputation for a flamboyant, ostentatious lifestyle, often posted on social media. (Lady Violet would have never approved of the red walls, by the way The sexy pose on the cover of Men’s Health?. You’ll have to ask her personally at her Twitter account, Dowager Countess).

violet_dowager_countess_of_grantham_downton_abbey_maggie_smith-thumbI have nothing against Downton Abbey. I am a huge fan, so much so that my husband and I transformed ourselves into ghosts “Lord and Lady Creepy Crawley from Downton Abbey-Normal” for a friend’s Halloween party last year. But I digress…

The young, 33-year-old Senator Schock was viewed by many in the Republican party as a leader with a bright future. That future does not look so bright right now because of some poor choices he made during his rise to the top. If he had considered my mantra, “Everything I do positions me,” things might have been a bit rosier for him.

Maintaining positioning power and credibility are achieved through understanding  what is expected of you in a specific role or position and appropriately living up to the standards and ethics of that role. The moment you push the boundaries too far, you expose yourself to risk. The next time you are considering a bold move, answer some important questions: How much of a risk are you willing to take? What are the potential consequences of that risk? Is taking that risk worth it? Those are questions only you can answer.

Embrace the Silence

MeditatingWhen the world is requiring more of your mind, body and spirit, take a moment to pause in quiet reflection and embrace the silence. It has become the norm to do more with less, to multi-task and juggle a busy life. Set your mind at ease with just 10-20 minutes a day to unplug, relax, breathe and meditate. In doing so, you will have clarity of focus and deeper intention of purpose.

I was first exposed to meditation in graduate school nearly 20 years ago. My “monkey mind” could never quite stop and be still long enough for me to understand the power of meditation. Back then, I thought I had to have a mystical experience during meditation. Since those early days, I have come to realize that simply quieting my mind and allowing it to become still is all that I need.

Currently, I am participating in two free online meditation programs that I would like to share with you. There is still time to register…they began within the past few days. The first, Manifesting True Success, is co-hosted by Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey. Each year, Deepak and Oprah offer at least one free online 21-day meditation series which is also available for purchase. The second, Meditation for Busy People (don’t you love that title?) features OSHO, a spiritual leader from India, and is offered through the Mentors Channel. The London Sunday Times has identified OSHO as one of the “1000 Makers of the Twentieth Century.”

So the next time you’re engaged in a conversation and someone asks the question, “What’s new with you?” simply say, “I’m learning to meditate” and see where the conversation takes you!

To Have or To Not Have: A Coffee Chat

coffee-cup-funny-faceSmallIf there is one thing I have learned about the business world today it’s this: People are busy! Their calendars are jammed with meetings, either virtual or in-person. They are being asked to produce more with fewer resources. The bar for performance has been raised into the stratosphere, often accompanied by unrealistic expectations. It begs the question, “How do you use your time each day?”

Time is a precious commodity because there is a finite amount of it available to you. Every person is given 24 hours in one day, 60 minutes in each hour and 60 seconds in each minute. No more. No less. You choose what to do within that given time period every day. Some people handle their time more efficiently than others.

A great time vampire, if you let it be, is the coffee chat. It sounds like a simple request: “Let’s have coffee and chat.” If you are not careful and you don’t qualify the request, that time can quickly turn into this: “Let’s have coffee and chat and spend the entire time talking about me and what I need from you so that I can be more successful in my life.”

Don’t get me wrong. Having coffee with colleagues and chatting about something that is mutually meaningful is time well spent. When someone who you haven’t heard from in 5-10 years wants you to drop everything and have coffee and chat about what he wants to do with his life, then take the time and ask yourself “Is it worthy of me investing my time?”

This is not cold hearted. You are just trying to free up your schedule to do more of the things that you need to do rather than saying “Yes” to every request that comes your way. Here is a foolproof solution to these phantom requests: Have a conversation by phone rather than in person. Not having to drive to a location saves you about an hour round trip. Telephone conversations typically are much shorter than in-person conversations. What could consume two to three hours of your time is neatly reduced to 20-30 minutes. You get what you need, and so does the other person.

The next time someone requests coffee and a chat in person, think about the value of your time. Is it worth two to three hours or 20-30 minutes? The choice is yours.

A Real Pro Uses Good Grammar

Screen shot 2015-03-02 at 3.49.01 PMOne of the most powerful tools that positions you as a professional is your command of the English language. That includes use of good grammar in all forms of communication. The next time you submit a resume to a prospective employer, give it one last review before submitting it. Grammatical error is a top reason why candidates do not get invited to an interview. Instead, the resume goes right into the round file.

In celebration of National Grammar Day (today), I encourage you to set aside SpellCheck for just today and challenge yourself to read, review, analyze and pick apart what you have written and see if you can find those nasty grammatical errors without the help of modern technology.

To me, the most offensive grammatical error is the misuse of one of the tiniest words in the English language, its (which includes it’s and its’). I just received a news release from a colleague announcing a milestone event. In the first sentence, there it was, plain as day: “…celebrated it’s anniversary…” Like hearing nails on a chalkboard, my body began convulsing at the mere sight of it.

Professionals today, many of whom are college educated, even with advanced degrees, do not (sadly) know the difference among its, it’s and its’. So let me lay it out for you here once and for all.

It’s: As you learned in elementary school, an apostrophe indicates a contraction, like she’s (she is), isn’t (is not). In the case of it’s, this contraction stands for either it is or it has. Therefore, when you read a sentence and insert the words it is or it has and it does not make sense, then it requires no apostrophe because it is not a contraction. Case in point: My colleague’s news release should have read: …celebrated its anniversary.

Its: As stated above, its is a possessive form, showing ownership, not requiring an apostrophe because the meaning would change to what we’ve covered above. Think of other pronouns showing possession that all end in s, like his, hers, yours, ours.

Its’: Well, this is just plain silly. This does not even exist, so stop using it.

As you can see, there are only two correct solutions: it’s or its. It’s that simple!

With my pet grammatical peeve out of the way, consider the interesting twists and turns built into our language that only you, the composer, can control. Do you know the difference? They’re or their or there. Read or red. Hear or here. Make sure you’re (not your) selecting the correct word or your (not you’re) level of professionalism may slip a few notches. A misplaced apostrophe may seem small, yet it can have huge impact, like not getting a chance to interview for that job you really wanted. Imagine that.