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!

August 26, 2014 / Blog / Coaching Skills / Stress / Work-Life Integration

Five Tips for Setting Boundaries in the Always-on Workplace

I recently attended a panel event on the topic “Lines in the Sand: Setting Boundaries in Today’s Global, Always-On Workplace.” It seems pretty obvious that being “on” and accessible at all hours of the day, on weekends and even during vacations is not a recipe for success – individually or for organizations. People need time to disconnect and recharge in order to be at their most creative and productive when they are working. (Not to mention in order to be a pleasant parent, partner, friend, etc.) But sadly, many organizations constantly push boundaries. It is up to individuals and leaders to keep defining, communicating and demonstrating effective boundary-setting to ensure healthy, productive, engaging work environments.

Here are several great tips from the event:

Establish agreements
Openly establish agreements and boundaries with co-workers. Figure out what works for you and the team and stick with it unless there are extreme circumstances. For example, set a regular start and end time to your day in the office and a time that you might usually scan email later in the evening or first thing in the morning. Or perhaps you will take calls while commuting. Have a clear understanding about how and when you will cover for each other when someone needs to be out of the office during the day, for vacations, etc. Discuss boundaries around weekends. Define “emergencies.”  Teamwork and transparent communication are key.

Boundaries outside of work are important too. Agreements around device-free time, children’s bedtimes, gym time, sleep-in days, etc., can go a long way to enabling regular downtime.

Get clear on what’s important
Get clear on what is important to you outside of work; otherwise it is easy to let work creep into too much of your personal time – robbing you of your work effectiveness and of having a joyful life! For example, many people say that family is important – but get really clear and specific about what is important. Is it important to have dinner together every night? To read bedtime stories? To attend events together? To have family-focused weekends? Clarity and inspiration will make it easier to set and keep boundaries.

Also get clear on what is important at work. Many times boundaries are crossed due to false crises. Don’t create them and don’t overreact when others create them. Often good listening, a few calm questions and quick brainstorming of options can reduce anxiety and panic and allow for a more reasonable approach to an issue that doesn’t have to include it being taken care of tonight. Granted, there are times when crises are real and extra time is needed, but those don’t have to be the norm.

Use technology to your advantage
Leverage technology – especially your calendar. Indicate working hours and/or block out times when you are not available for meetings, including appropriate morning and evening hours. Use auto-reply if you will be unavailable to respond for a longer-than-usual amount of time, e.g. – you are in an all-day meeting. Our love/hate relationship with our addictive mobile devices requires some care too. These things which keep us “on” are also very capable of helping us be “off” by auto-replying to texts if we are driving, in a meeting, sleeping, etc., or by alerting us when a specific person contacts us. (Many apps available.) You can also establish no-device zones or times, e.g. at the dinner table, in the bedroom, on Saturdays.

Be brave – yes is not the only answer
Saying no to a direct request of your time is not easy, especially when the request comes from your boss or an important client. But oftentimes an over-eagerness-to-please can cause you to say yes when you are making an unneeded sacrifice. Always giving an unequivocal yes and/or being overly flexible can set up bad behaviors and expectations from that boss or client. Take a pause and a breath before immediately answering yes. Ask questions to clarify needs and timing – it’s okay to offer alternatives while making sure needs are met.

Remember you have a choice
It can be easy to get overwhelmed with the “always-on” nature of the workplace today and to slip into a victim mentality about it.  But you always have a choice. Focus on what you can control and do your best to maintain healthy boundaries. If your boss or organization has a very different philosophy or culture about boundaries, then it may be time for a new role or organization. You deserve to be thriving, not just surviving.

Let us know your best tips for thriving in today’s always-on workplace. What works for you?

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!


June 13, 2013 / Ask Mariposa

Ask Mariposa: Communication Barrier Tips

Janelle asks:  I’m experiencing communication barriers with my direct reports.  On two projects, I’ve asked them to take the lead on things but they’ve dropped the ball.  What tips can you offer to help with my communication?

Tawny Lees, COO responds:

How frustrating!  When making requests, many communication barriers can occur. When you reflect on these requests, were they posed in a direct manner, i.e.: “Will you?”, or indirect, such as “Can you please…?”  Indirect requests are not straightforward enough to solicit an immediate yes/no response.  Also make sure any request is very specific – you’d be amazed at how often they aren’t! Include:

  • Who:  will do the work
  • What:  specific action and/or result needed
  • When:  time frame
  • Why:  context/purpose

Then, make sure to listen for a true response, which should indicate a yes, no, an alternative proposal or a commitment to do it at a later time.

One final tip:  direct requests might sound strange at first, so we recommend practicing them.  Successful use comes from mastering your tone of voice, which should be firm and clear to prevent communication barriers.

For more information, we suggest:

May 31, 2013 / Ask Mariposa

Ask Mariposa: Distracted Or Do I Need Listening Training?

James asks:  I’ve received feedback several times in the past that listening is one of my strengths.  However, a colleague recently suggested I attend listening training.  I have a lot going on at the moment, but is listening training the answer?

Tawny Lees, COO responds:

If you are like most of our clients, you face a great deal of pressure and demand on your time.  Perhaps you have taken on a new role or have been tasked with an important initiative. Without realizing it, you might be encountering moments of distraction that prevent you from being fully present and listening as well as you would normally. Before you pursue listening training, try these tips before your next meeting:

  • Become present.  Before your meetings, take 5-6 deep belly breaths. Take a moment to get clear on the focus areas for the discussion.
  • In the conversation, keep your focus on others as you listen. Try to match their pace, tone and energy.
  • Repeat back key words said to demonstrate you are listening.

These resources might also be helpful:

May 21, 2013 / Ask Mariposa

Ask Mariposa: How to Coach Someone Who Doesn’t Want to be Coached

Saul asks: How do you coach an employee that doesn’t want to be coached, but is part of his PDP obligation to be coached for 4 months?  What power suggestions or questions would you use in this situation to motivate behavior or start thinking about the pressure to change?

Tawny Lees, COO of Mariposa responds:

Hi Saul,

Tough situation! As a coach, you know that openness to the coaching process is a pre-requisite to it being effective. So hopefully you can enroll this employee before committing to the engagement!

I suggest you start with open questions and deep listening to truly understand the resistance. “Tell me about you…tell me about what’s going around here…tell me about this PDP plan…”

Often the resistance is fear of the unknown, and an assumption that the coach is working for “others” who have an agenda. Establish rapport and explain the coaching process/relationship (including confidentiality) using positive language like “you and I would focus on what’s most important and helpful for you” or “clients use me as an objective sounding board as they work on their goals and tackle tough problems.” Address any specific objections, questions or worries. Your objective would be to help the employee see that you are there to help him/her be successful. Period.

If/when you see an opening, you could try specific questions about goals and begin motivating. Here are some ideas:

  • “What are your toughest challenges right now?” “What would it be like if you were able to handle those with more ease?”
  • “I find most people like to continually grow and stretch themselves. Tell me about anything at which you are currently trying to get better?” “What benefits would come from getting better at ____ ?”
  • “What could we work on that would have a big impact on your career/work life?”

Good luck! Let us know if we can help further. More on rapport and assessment questions can be found in our ITM coaching model.

April 29, 2013 / Blog / HR / Talent Management

Five Lessons from a CEO on HR

hr-jigsawIn a unique turn of roles Les Hayman “retired” from a long tenure as a CEO to leading Global HR for SAP. In a recent guest blog post, Les summarizes five key lessons that he dubbed: “What I Wish I Knew as a CEO That I Learned Later in HR.”  The five lessons were:

1. Spend more time on making recruitment a core competency in the entire organization. I especially agree with his point that hiring for attitude is more important than hiring mainly for skills. The costs of weak hiring practices are enormous, and while HR should lead the way – it is every leader’s responsibility to be good at recruiting.

2. A large number of people who move into management are not comfortable when they get there and should be given the opportunity to move back out without being penalized, or better still, can stay in a professional role rather than being pushed into management. Les was surprised at the number of reluctant managers he came across, and advocates for valid vocational career paths for professionals. I agree with him wholeheartedly, AND I believe that sometimes these reluctant managers can become highly passionate and effective managers given the right coaching.

3. There are no such things as HR problems, only business problems that HR needs to help resolve. Couldn’t agree with this one more – HR leaders need to see themselves as business leaders before others will.

4. Spend more time on underperformers. While I agree with this, I also believe the right recruitment has to be in place first. And that the “move them up or move them out” approach does not have to be a lengthy, painful process.

5. Put less value on formal performance reviews and more on managing behavior as a moment by moment way of business life. Hallelujah on this one, and the ITM Coaching approach is a great skill for leaders to enable this moment-by-moment way of business life!


To check out the full article:

To check out other writings by Les Hayman:

January 10, 2013 / Ask Mariposa / Coaching Skills / HR / Talent Management / Strategy

Ask Mariposa: How to Be More Strategic

Ask Mariposa

Anne-Lise asked:

I’ve received feedback that I need to be more strategic but I’m not sure how to even begin working on this. Help?

Tawny Lees, COO responded:

Hi Anne-Lise,

First off, please know that you are not alone in getting this feedback and feeling a bit lost! This is a common growth edge for many leaders, especially those who have had more execution-focused roles and are now becoming more senior in their organizations.

Being “more strategic” is a combination of developing a new mindset as well as behaviors. Strategic thinkers take a broad, longer-range approach to problem solving and anticipating the future. They think systemically – identifying the implications of their decisions on other parts of the organization, customers, partners, etc. Strategic leaders also embed strategic behaviors into their routine – taking regular time alone and with team members to think ahead, ask tough questions, review the competitive environment, ponder the future, and plan.

I’d suggest looking at articles and/or books on both strategic thinking and the process of strategic planning to see what resonates with you. From those resources, pick a couple of things to try, and enlist the help of your boss or a colleague to support you with feedback and accountability. Our Mariposa Leadership theme this year is strategy, so you can also sign up to listen in on the free monthly Wise Talk teleconferences for added insight. You could also identify someone in your org whom you feel is very strategic and pay close attention to how they think and operate. Perhaps ask for some mentoring from them.

Developing in this area is a journey – glad you are embarking, it is critical to great leadership!

Share your thoughts on this response in the comments section below, and ask us anything here:

October 27, 2011 / Coaching Skills / HR / Talent Management / Mariposa Articles

ITM Coaching in Action: What, When, and How to Coach in Interrupt-Driven Organizations

How can you coach others in interrupt-driven environments? The ITM Coaching™ model is available to support learning and change. In this article, by Mariposa Leadership, Inc. CEO Susan Bethanis and COO Tawny Lees, the model is broken down into a simple three-step framework with numerous examples to illustrate the concepts in practice.

To download the full article, click here.