Work Management

What your nightmares are telling you about work

by Kaitlin Madden

Work dreams come in many forms. There’s the exciting “I finally got a promotion” dream, the awkward “I kissed a married co-worker” dream, and the boring “just another Tuesday at the office” dream.

And then, there’s the kind of work dream that awakens us from our sleep in a cold sweat. The horrible “I drew a blank during a presentation in front of the CEO” – type dream, also known as the work nightmare.

As awful as work nightmares can be while we’re having them, though, they can actually be very constructive, says Lauri Loewenberg, dream expert and author of the book “Dream On It, Unlock Your Dreams Change Your Life.”

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How to dress up for Halloween at work without losing your credibility

by Kaitlin Madden

There are few times of year when I look forward to my daily commute more than I do around Halloween. There’s just something about watching Marge Simpson check her BlackBerry on the subway or seeing a full-grown man walk into a downtown office building in a banana suit that is seriously entertaining.

But, in the course of my people-watching over the next few days, I also know there will be times when I feel seriously uncomfortable; Feelings brought on by getups that will make me wonder “Where does this lady work that she doesn’t have to wear pants?” or think “Yikes. That is one brave man, right there.”

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Why whiners don't win at work

by Kaitlin Madden

If you want to get ahead in your career, never let ‘em see you sweat. Or yell. Or argue. And whatever you do, don’t cry.

As it turns out, a level head and a pleasant disposition will get you further in your career than even book smarts will.

According to a new CareerBuilder survey, 71 percent of human resources managers say they place more emphasis on emotional intelligence — a person’s ability to control his or her emotions, sense the emotions of others and build relationships — than they do on IQ. Fifty-nine percent of employers even said they wouldn’t hire someone who had a high IQ but low EI.

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You want a promotion, but do you deserve one?

by Rachel Farrell

Everyone thinks they deserve a promotion. But how do you truly know if you deserve one?

"When it comes to career advancement, you want to stack the deck in your favor," said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder in a recent press release. "While strong job performance and leadership skills will weigh heavily on prospects for upward mobility, employers will also look at whether the employee conveys an overall professional image both internally and externally."

Bad breath, disheveled clothing, piercings and tattoos ranked highest among attributes that would make an employee less appealing for a promotion, according to a June 2011 survey by CareerBuilder. The survey was conducted among 2,878 hiring managers across industries.

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I.T. Is About Brand Management

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By Jason Chow

Sham Kar Wai started selling clothes in 1988 because he couldn't find the British punk fashion that he liked in his native Hong Kong.

As a 21-year-old, he ran a tiny shop in the Causeway Bay district stocked with Doc Martens and European versions of Levi's jeans while also working as a data-entry clerk in a bank.

Fast forward 23 years: Mr. Sham, who grew up in a government housing estate and ended his formal education at high school, has turned the single store into I.T Ltd., a clothing conglomerate with sales last year of 3 billion Hong Kong dollars (US$386 million) in sales last year. Publicly listed in Hong Kong, the company is valued at more than HK$8 billion.

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Leadership Styles

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Adapted from “The Wall Street Journal Guide to Management” by Alan Murray, published by Harper Business.

Leadership is less about your needs, and more about the needs of the people and the organization you are leading. Leadership styles are not something to be tried on like so many suits, to see which fits. Rather, they should be adapted to the particular demands of the situation, the particular requirements of the people involved and the particular challenges facing the organization.

In the book “Primal Leadership,” Daniel Goleman, who popularized the notion of “Emotional Intelligence,” describes six different styles of leadership. The most effective leaders can move among these styles, adopting the one that meets the needs of the moment. They can all become part of the leader’s repertoire.

Visionary. This style is most appropriate when an organization needs a new direction. Its goal is to move people towards a new set of shared dreams. “Visionary leaders articulate where a group is going, but not how it will get there – setting people free to innovate, experiment, take calculated risks,” write Mr. Goleman and his coauthors.

Coaching. This one-on-one style focuses on developing individuals, showing them how to improve their performance, and helping to connect their goals to the goals of the organization. Coaching works best, Mr. Goleman writes, “with employees who show initiative and want more professional development.” But it can backfire if it’s perceived as “micromanaging” an employee, and undermines his or her self-confidence.

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The Purpose of Power

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By Gary Hamel
May 11, 2011

Power has long been regarded as morally corrosive, and we often suspect the intentions of those who seek it. Indeed, the lust for dominion is so unseemly that few of us would openly admit to a craving for clout.

Hence, it might surprise you to learn that one of the world’s most distinguished management thinkers has recently produced a detailed manual for the power-hungry.

It often seems that the mendacious and egotistical have a particular talent for accumulating (and abusing) power—and at some point, most of us have probably been out-maneuvered by a more adept political infighter. But in Power: Why Some People Have it and Others Don’t, Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, gives nice guys and gals the tools they need to even the odds, by summarizing more than 30 years of research and teaching on how to get ahead.

Recently I talked with Pfeffer about why he’s written a book on power at a time when most management gurus are talking about collaboration, community and “open leadership.” Pfeffer’s argument is disarmingly simple: It takes power to get things done. Without power, you’re impotent—irrespective of your talents or the righteousness of your cause.

Pfeffer started our conversation by reminding me of a disagreeable fact: Power is largely independent of intelligence (emotional or otherwise) and job performance. All of us know individuals who are brilliant but who punch below their weight when it comes to office politics. Conversely, we all know dim bulbs who’ve somehow found their way to the top of the tree. Cunning power players can even slough off failure. Think, for example, of all those executive vice presidents and board members who dithered while the banking system burned and yet managed to hold on to their positions, or even grab better ones in the wake of the collapse. It’s not that IQ and value-added aren’t important; it’s just that they’re no substitute for power.

So what’s Pfeffer’s advice for those eager to take charge?

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The Workplace Whodunit: Navigating a Culture of Blame

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By FRANCESCA DONNER
May 18, 2011

In a perfect workplace, credit would be given where credit is due, colleagues wouldn't steal others' ideas, and managers would reward staff for taking measured risks even if the outcome wasn't successful.

In reality, bosses often pass off employees' ideas as their own, employees tend to shun blame, and finger-pointing can become so rife it becomes almost impossible to determine what actually went wrong in the first place. That can erode trust and teamwork, and stifle creativity.

Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist and founder of Dattner Consulting, believes that credit and blame lie at the psychological core of the workplace. He sees credit as a proxy for evolution, learning and adaptation and blame as a proxy for reactive, reflexive and backward-looking behavior.

Author of The Blame Game: How Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure, Mr. Dattner talked to The Wall Street Journal about the importance of risk-taking, why women are more likely to be scapegoats and how managers can strategically bestow credit to everyone's advantage.

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When a Job Is So Bad It Hurts

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By Sue Shellenbarger
March 29, 2011

It’s often believed that working is good for our mental health. But what if it isn’t?

Some jobs are so bad that they are actually worse for employees’ psychological well-being than not having a job at all, according to a new study in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Researchers from the Australian National University analyzed annual data over several years from 7,155 adults, evaluating links between the nature of their jobs and their mental health. They found “the mental health of those who were unemployed was comparable or superior to those in jobs of the poorest” quality.

Poor-quality jobs were defined as those with high demands, low pay and a lack of autonomy and security. Participants were asked, for example, whether a job was “more stressful than I ever imagined,” whether it was “complex and difficult,” or whether it caused them to “worry about the future.” The worse the job, the poorer the worker’s mental health, after controlling for other factors, including personality and financial hardship.

To make sure the pattern wasn’t caused by a selection effect – that is, unhappy people tending to land in bad jobs because they were already unhappy – the researchers studied what happened when the unemployed subjects finally landed work. They found those who moved into high-quality jobs showed significant improvements in mental health. But those who took poor-quality jobs showed clinically significant declines in mental well-being, compared to their own previous mind-states and to their jobless counterparts. Mental health measures included how often participants had recently felt nervous, depressed, calm or happy.

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No Work-Life Balance? It’s Your Fault.

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By Rachel Emma Silverman
April 7th, 2011

I went to the South By Southwest Interactive conference last month, attending a bunch of thought-provoking discussions about the future of the workplace and evolving company culture.

A big theme that emerged over the course of the week was that employees shouldn’t wait for their managers or their company as a whole to instill a culture of work-life balance. Instead, if you want more time for other pursuits, like family, friends or exercise, you need to take matters into your own hands and set your own life-friendly practices. (Sample-–and revelatory– SXSW panel titles: Company Culture: It’s All Your Fault; Stop Working Nights / Weekends and Get a Life!; and Rehabbing Corporate Culture. )

In essence: You’ve got to carve out your own work-life balance. If you don’t, according to conference panelists, it’s your fault (at least in part.) Forget blaming your boss for bombarding you with “urgent” emails after-hours or your co-workers for pestering you in your cubicle so that you never seem to get anything done during the workday. It’s up to you to set limits and expectations — not responding to every message after you leave the office; leaving work at 5:30 PM if you’re done, even if your colleagues choose to stay until 7 for appearance’s sake; or making sure to set practices (such as noise-canceling headsets) so you’re more productive during peak work times. To paraphrase Smokey the Bear: “Only you can create work-life balance.”

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