A theme usually emerges from each year's most popular stories from SmartBrief on Leadership or its blog. This theme is often positive -- better communication, self-improvement or developing others. This year, however, the results hinted at a negativity, even pessimism.
Why is this? We're the ones writing and editing the headlines, so maybe the mood is dour here. But there's a larger sense of people being unsettled at work. It could be politically motivated, but it doesn't have to be.
People of all walks of life and wealth have expressed dissatisfaction with the economy and/or their own financial situation for years. Gallup's employee engagement research shows how many employees are unhappy. There is a constant demand to be better, sometimes solely to outrun cost-cutting or outsourcing or technological disruption. And the public unmasking of powerful people's awfulness might not be news to many, but it's nonetheless disquieting.
So, what do we do? What we always try to do here with this newsletter: Work hard while having some purpose beyond work. Pick something, and try to be a little better at it today. Try again tomorrow. Be kinder to yourself and to others. Figure out what is in your control, however little, and grab on to that.
Read on for an interview with NPD Group's CEO on how she deals with some of these challenges, as well as the five most popular stories from this year.
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SmartBrief spoke with Karyn Schoenbart, CEO of market-research firm NPD Group and author of "MOM.B.A.," about a number of leadership issues. In particular, she discussed difficult workplace situations and how to deal with them, both as a leader and in managing your own career. Read an excerpt below and check out the full discussion.
On motivating in difficult situations
"I can think of several of them. In 2008, we had the recession. In 2001, a major, major client pulled out … from all market research companies. They stopped providing their information, which was a big blow. It wasn't just to us; it was to everybody.
"I would say three things that, as a leader, I try to do in any of those situations. Number one is to be really transparent. We are a private company, but we still do quarterly WebExes to all 1,600 employees, and we share with them financial performance, and we share with them highlights and lowlights of what happened in the last quarter. And we're very transparent about what's going well and what's not going well so that there's trust. So, that's number one, because even in bad times, you're going to stay with a company if you trust them; you're not going to stay with a company if you don't trust them. So, transparency equals trust.
"The second thing is to still have a vision. 'OK, this is bad, but here's what we're going to do about it. And maybe we haven't figured it out all yet. But we're still going to be tracking this business, (and) we're still going to' -- whatever it might be for somebody's particular business. And how the employees fit in. So, here's the vision, and here's how you can help. Again, that might require multiple levels of communication. You want to show people there is a vision, and how they fit.
"The third thing is demonstrating confidence. I have confidence in our vision, I have confidence in you as employees, and also you have confidence in me. So, I would say transparency, which equals trust; vision; how they fit; and confidence."
What about when people are miserable at work? How do they cope?
"Very often, if you look back on a long career -- and I've been doing this over 30 years -- some of your most learning opportunities are during a tough time. Dealing with a difficult person, dealing with a difficult boss, dealing with a difficult economic situation. So,you kind of have to take a look at the broad perspective and say, 'These are notches on my belt. And if I learn how to get through this, then that's going to make me a stronger worker, stronger manager, stronger leader.' … Then, of course, try to focus on the positive. I'm big on keeping lists. So, you keep a list of the things that you're not happy about, but you also keep a list of the things you do like about your job or you are happy about. And try to keep that list going so that you see that balance. When you're feeling down, you can look at the positives."
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Each year, thousands of SmartBrief on Leadership readers share the SmartQuote with colleagues, family and friends. This year's most-shared quote is below.
Care about people's approval and you will be their prisoner.
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