May 11, 2015 / Leadership

Ask Mariposa | Attire and Career Success

Janelle asks: I’m interested in making a career move within my company. Though our office is business casual, most of my peers dress fairly casually and it doesn’t seem to be an issue. I want to show management I’m serious about the next step up but don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb by dressing up. In today’s business environment, especially in a casual company, how important is attire to career success?

Tawny Lees, COO, responds :

Great question! How you present yourself can be very relevant to being seen as promotable, even in a casual office. In addition to having requisite talent, managers and leaders need to inspire confidence, and this is largely conveyed through presence. Others make judgments based on how you present yourself. Dressing with a certain amount of style in a casual environment says you are serious about your career and projects confidence. Consider the image you want to project. You might start by observing how your leaders dress, as they set the tone for acceptable behavior and attire. Evolve your work-wear by integrating some of those details, such as wearing a blouse or collared shirt instead of a tee shirt or a nice pair of shoes instead of sneakers. You can likely find a way to feel like yourself, while taking it up a notch to project your desired image. Nuance is key – don’t go overboard and be the sore thumb you mentioned!  If you are totally baffled, try a personal shopper at any major retailer; they can help you pick out some perfect pieces, and usually at no extra charge.

Good luck!

April 7, 2015 / Leadership

Ask Mariposa | Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Andrea asks: I’ve been working in my industry for about 18 years and have aspirations for advancement. I joined my current company 9 months ago in my position as a mid-level manager. I was excited to join and hit the ground running. Soon after I started, I learned that the CEO was stepping down. An interim CEO was named until a permanent replacement could be found.  Eventually the company hired an external leader, and as it turns out, I know this person from a previous development program we were in together and am not impressed. I would prefer to work in a company with a CEO I can learn from. Our new leaders are young, untested, and in my opinion, unprepared for the realities of some of the systemic challenges among the staff. I have opportunities for a lateral move with other companies but am not sure if I should leave after just one year in position. I’m also concerned that my chances for advancement will be hindered with this new leader. What advice do you have for me?

Sue Bethanis, CEO, responds:

Thanks for your question, it’s a good one, and one we hear often. It is also a hard question to respond to without a little bit more context, because it is certainly not a black and white situation.  There are many things to weigh before you would choose to leave.  Here are some questions to think about:

  1. Are you set in your opinion about the CEO? For example, are there one or two things you could learn from him/her? What are some things you could possibly learn from each other?
  2. How long has the CEO been in the position, and could you give him/her 90 days to see if he/she hits the ground running in the positive way you didn’t expect?
  3. If you do want to leave, is the leaving after one year an issue for you because it will look like you’re jumping around? Instead of worrying too much about that, try focusing on doing everything you can to ensure you are supporting the current company in its efforts to succeed and the company is supporting you.
  4. As a mid-level manager, I am assuming you aren’t reporting directly to the new CEO, and instead reporting to someone else. If this is the case, and you have a good working relationship with your manager, this is golden, and I suggest putting more weight on that.

I hope the questions I have posed are helpful to you. Happy to discuss further offline.  Good luck to you!


July 31, 2014 / Articles We Like

On "Brainstorming Doesn't Work; Try This Technique Instead"

Are your brainstorming sessions lacking enough original ideas? Most likely your idea generation process could use a small tweak for better results. We suggest reading Brainstorming Doesn’t Work; Try This Technique Instead because this process has been shown to increase the amount of original ideas by 42%!

In the Fast Company article written by Rebecca Greenfield, “Brainstorming Doesn’t Work; Try This Technique Instead,” you’ll learn about brainwriting, a “write first, discuss later” technique for idea generation. This technique avoids the typical problems of groupthink, conformity pressure and encourages creativity.  Try it!

Read it now.

What other techniques are you using to encourage original thinking in brainstorming?

Comment below! Or pose a question via Ask Mariposa.

June 26, 2014 / Leadership

Ask Mariposa | My Performance > My Confidence

Ed asks: I’m a senior executive with a track record of high performance.  My performance levels have led to interesting career growth opportunities as well as increasing amounts of responsibility over the years.  Given all I’ve achieved, my peers and colleagues believe I have a high level of confidence.  But, the truth is, I don’t feel that way inside. I wish I felt as confident as my performance indicates it is. What steps can I take to work on closing this gap?

Eric Nitzberg, Executive Leadership Coach, responds:

Your confidence levels have not become a barrier to performance.  However it will take some work to unwind the stories you’ve been telling yourself over the years about your limitations.  One way to start working on this is to recognize when your internal narrative is at play.  When you are in situations when you are feeling unsure, what are you thinking?  How does your body feel?  Begin to notice what transpires in these moments, and write them down.  Once you’ve identified your internal narrative, you can work on interrupting these habitual responses with more positive experiences.  Reflect on prior successes when you’ve overcome similar feelings and have pushed through to positive outcomes.  You can also try positive affirmations to change the narrative in these moments, as well as any meditation or mindfulness technique to get centered.

Somatic work might also help you embody your own leadership.  Work on getting more into your body to feel and experience your own strength.  Practice several ways you might walk into a room, perhaps to give a presentation.  Observe the sensations in your body and where you feel them. Notice your posture.  What feels good to you?  Meditation or mindfulness practices can help with this as well.  Practice tightening and relaxing your body while you sit with your eyes closes and notice what you feel.  The idea is to consciously embody the strength that resides within.

You might also want to watch Amy Cuddy’s 10-minute TED talk, Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are. In this talk, you’ll learn how standing in a confident stance even when you’re not feeling confident can impact success.

Good luck!

April 28, 2014 / Design Thinking / Creativity / Innovation / HR / Talent Management

Ask Mariposa | Understanding Customers’ Needs

John asks:  Recently there seems to be a widening gap between product development and our understanding of customers’ needs. The products aren’t hitting home like they used to. Obviously, there are many changes we need to make – where do we start?

Sue Bethanis, CEO of Mariposa, responds:

Well, there are many facets to the this question, and believe me, you’re not the only one feeling it; so many people we talk with are zeroing in on this dilemma.  Here’s one idea that may hit home: START with customer empathy, and put on your anthropologist hat. GO see how your customers are using the products on their turf.  You know, Steve Jobs was famous for not conducting Focus Groups, but he still knew Apple’s customers REALLY well.  He was seen regularly hanging out at the Palo Alto Apple store, and checking out how customers were using Apple’s products.

March 27, 2014 / Coaching Skills / HR / Talent Management / Leadership

Ask Mariposa | Overworked and Undervalued

Erica asks: I am currently performing job duties that are a step up from my job classification and working roughly 50 hours overtime!  Internal hiring for this advanced position has been delayed for 6 months.  Since I am already doing the work for this position and getting paid at a lower classification, I feel as if I am being taken advantage of.  I want to approach management about this, but not sure how.  What do you suggest I do?

Tawny Lees, COO of Mariposa, responds:

Hi Erica,

Thanks for your question – it’s a good one! And not uncommon. I strongly suggest you talk to your manager about the situation and work together to identify a solution. Here are some specifics for preparing for and handling the conversation:

  • Get really clear about your intended outcomes before having any conversations with management. Do you want to be considered for the higher position? Are you okay with the temporary workload if you are paid appropriately? Do you not want to perform these extra job duties at all?
  • Once you are clear on your intended outcomes, brainstorm (by yourself) some ideas about how you and your manager can meet your needs and the business needs. Promote you and then back-fill your position? Hire a contractor for 6 months? Share the workload with a few other people? Cut back on some specific deliverables for 6 months?
  • Reach out to your manager and ask for a meeting to work together on a plan for handling business needs while the team is lacking a person in the position.
  • Stay positive, constructive and solution-oriented while being firm about what you are and are not willing to do.

I’m sure you are tired from all the work, so my final suggestion would be to get some rest and downtime before you do this thinking and before you have this conversation. You will be much better able to think clearly and manage your emotions.

Good luck!

January 31, 2014 / Articles We Like

On "Customer Experience: How To Manage What You Don’t Own"

This article by Erik Long & Will Carter resonates because many businesses today rely on a complex web of external partnerships to deliver value for the customer. While external partnerships are often not within an organization’s direct control, certainly they can be influenced – and they must be – as they are part of the ecosystem delivering on the organization’s brand promise.

The article Customer Experience: How to Manage What You Don’t Own shares insights and tips that leaders can apply across all aspects of business, from marketing to human resources, to improve the customer experience. Read it now.

What actions are you taking to identify and influence your company’s unowned touch points? What tools have you used like journey mapping? What other tools do you use to capture and understand your customers’ experience?

Comment below! Or pose a question via Ask Mariposa.

January 29, 2014 / Ask Mariposa

Ask Mariposa | A Damaged Working Relationship

Jamie asks:  My colleague and I had a disagreement over the future of our project.  She thought we should cut our losses now, while I thought we could still grow a customer base in a specific territory.  Before I knew it, tensions escalated based on assumptions I made about her commitment to the project.  We still haven’t decided what direction to take this project and now we aren’t interacting as well as we used to.  I’d like to address the situation.  Have any advice?  

Tawny Lees, COO or Mariposa, responds:

As you know, in business, decisions and actions ought to be based on reality and facts.  It sounds though as if the situation escalated because you may have jumped to conclusions, rather than keep the discussion focused at the facts level.

One mental model you can use next time you encounter a disagreement is the Ladder of Inference.  The ladder describes thinking steps that lead one to jump to inaccurate conclusions, where decisions and actions are made far from reality.  The ladder looks like this:

ladder of inference_smallImagine at the base of a ladder lie reality and facts.  As we head up the rungs of the ladder, we select data from the set of facts to add meaning based on our own prior experience and beliefs, make assumptions, draw conclusions, develop beliefs based on these conclusions, then finally, take action that seems “right” (because it’s based on what we believe.)  As you can see, beliefs drive what information we choose to see, which may or may not be based on reality!   And acting on assumptions can lead to damaged relationships.

In your next discussion, we suggest getting into rapport with her by matching your body language, voice and words with hers.  This will help level-set any uneasiness you both might be feeling.  Then, describe the thinking process of the Ladder of Inference, and let her know where you were “on the ladder” in your last discussion.  Revisit the project facts from there.  You’ll be able to move to decision when you’re both focused on the reality of your project!  Good luck!

For more information on the Ladder of Inference, read Overcoming Organizational Defenses by Chris Argyris, Allyn and Bacon, 1990.

December 12, 2013 / Ask Mariposa

Ask Mariposa | Becoming a T-shaped Leader

Danielle asks:   I was promoted about a year ago and am leading an HR team at a small but rapidly growing company.  My boss recently mentioned I need to broaden my perspective and skill set to be more effective, especially as we continue to grow.  I was surprised to hear this considering my role and background in HR.  What do I need to do?

Tawny Lees, COO of Mariposa, responds:

Great question!  Often times, depth of business expertise can lead to a promotion, but the skills required for leading at the next level change.  Effective HR leaders in rapidly growing companies possess a balance of both vertical and horizontal skills, referred to as being“T-shaped.”  The vertical piece refers to the depth of your specific functional business expertise (like Benefits/Comp/Recruiting, etc. for an HR Manager.)  The horizontal piece refers to your skills, experience or perspectives that help you contribute and collaborate across the company, outside of your particular area of expertise.  The combination of vertical and horizontal skills increases your ability to adapt and flex to change, and collaborate, which is key in environments which are constantly changing or require constant innovation.

T-SHAPEDAsk yourself:

  • What factors are impacting your business, thus driving change for HR?  Of those, which do you need to know more about?
  • Do you have prior experience that could lend an empathetic view, if not skills or abilities?  You might have knowledge or skills but may not have leveraged it in your role yet.
  • Can you participate in any committees or special projects to broaden horizontally?

T-shaped leadership is cultivated over time.  You might want to consider outside conferences, courses, travel or community projects while you build skills on the job.

Good luck, great question!


November 12, 2013 / Ask Mariposa

Ask Mariposa | Dealing with Change

Toby asks:  Our new VP has been on the job for six months and is trying to change everything about the way we do our work.  This has left middle management feeling vulnerable.  The consistent message received is that everything that was done for the past 4 yours was all wrong and needs to change.  How do we roll with the changes yet keep morale from tanking?

Sue Bethanis, CEO of Mariposa, responds:

Thanks for your question! The first thing I suggest doing is ASSESS the situation: 1) what changes are good? 2) which ones are not so good? and 3) which ones are hard? After you have done an ASSESSment, figure out for yourself which ones you can roll with and don’t need help, which ones are hard, and thus you need help with?  Go to your boss and ask for advice/help on the hard ones.  And ask him/her to give you some of the reasoning behind the ones that you deem to be “not so good.”  Have your assessment of the situation ready to give your reasoning as well, and let him know how the “not so good” changes have affected you in a negative way.

To learn more about the skills of Assess, check out our Executive Guide to In-the-Moment Coaching.

November 12th, 2013|Categories: Ask Mariposa|Tags: , , , |
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