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Lost Utopia: Why Did Holacracy Fail?

 

What if we lived in a world without hierarchies? A society without leaders and followers–but only doers?

Such is the premise behind Holacracy, a radical “flat” management system. Under Holacracy, organizations are decentralized, managers and other leaders removed, and finally, employees are empowered. Everyone works together, striving towards a shared goal and vision, with little of the deep-seated power and authority issues that may be present in traditional workplaces.

Or so the theory goes.

In the immortal words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished.” Holacracy’s idealism, as well as its failure to grasp human nature, has led to serious flaws, ones which will only worsen as time goes on. And to make matters even more dire, as Holacratic systems implode, they take their client companies with them–names like Medium or the David Allen Company (ironically, itself a pioneer of an alternative management system).

What is Holacracy, anyway?

Holacracy’s biggest innovation is its radical re-thinking of the way organizations operate. In essence, it does away with existing hierarchies altogether, throwing out the traditional, pyramid-shaped organizational charts, which typically consist of the CEO at top, with managers and employees in descending order. This management model, wherein decision-making and power flow from the top, is the paradigm for management today–as well as the one which the majority of workers are most familiar with. Chances are, if you’ve ever spent any time in the workforce, you’ve likely operated mostly (or entirely) under this model.

Instead, Holacracy opts for decentralized, decision-making, empowering employees–and, along the way, boosting innovation by reducing bureaucratic barriers and red tape. Under a Holacratic system, a company structure revolves not around power–but around roles. Rather than centering around instructions from a centralized authority (such as a CEO or manager) who sets priorities, allocates resources, and hires/fires, work is defined around roles. Such roles consist of responsibilities–and to make things more complex, roles are being constantly redesigned. Though there is a nominal form of authority (“lead links”, rather than managers), this position doesn’t control colleagues, but rather the responsibilities associated with each role–in theory.

Under this model, each employee would fill multiple roles, with teams making decisions locally; at its most ideal, the company resembles a thriving hive of self-directed, low-level activity, which would fuel expansion in multiple directions. Indeed, the main argument for flat management is such cooperation: supporters believe that such workplaces can more easily encourage collaborations between those who don’t normally have the opportunity to do so, leading to increased creativity.

Easy to say and read, but how does the hypothetical stack up against the real world?

Holacracy at Medium

In some ways, it’s easy to see why Holacracy is popular–and why such a radical system would be adopted by Medium. Founded by Evan Williams,currently the CEO (and previously a co-founder of Twitter), Medium was originally conceived as a platform for all writers. In this sense, Medium is an experiment in social journalism, a hybrid model that includes longform content from across the spectrum, from professional investigative reporters to hobbyists. In one interview, Williams stressed the importance of curating people’s reading habits (and perhaps affecting public empathy and knowledge for the better) through sharing detailed, well-written think pieces.

Since then, Medium has launched a range of hard-hitting, varied content, from a haunting investigation into disappeared African migrants to a surprisingly insightful, heartfelt explainer on Chinese tour groups. Yet even as Medium’s outward-facing presence remains intriguing, successful, and even whimsical at times, trouble may be afoot behind the scenes.

This is due, mainly, to Holacracy. Medium adopted this system back in 2012, when the blogging platform was still in its early stages. When Medium adopted Holacracy, the company adhered to a number of key, typically Holacratic tenets, which included, among others, the removal of managers in favor of maximum autonomy for employees, distributing decision-making power and discouraging consensus-seeking, and codifying a tension resolution process.

Several years later, Medium dropped Holacracy.

Losing the Human Factor

So what happened?

A big part of the equation boils down to human nature. Put simply, humans simply aren’t designed to operate like software. In every facet of a Holacratic system, humans (and specifically, their humanity) are treated as barriers to efficiency, not to be adjusted for and empathized with, but subordinated. It is certainly true that Holacracy replaces one (potentially) dictatorial system, that of managers–only to replace it with another: process.

In a rebuttal to Holacratic practices published in Gallup Business Journal(which relied heavily on the organization’s existing polling and research), there appear to be two main flaws, related to the loss of the human factor. First, employee engagement is lowest when employees feel ignored; in fact, managers can make or break their experience, accounting for some 70 percent in variance among engagement scoresGreat managers focus on strengths: workers that know their strengths are 8 percent more productive, and such teams have some 12.5 percent higher productivity. To remove this vital link, then, is to deprive an organization of an important asset.

Second, Gallup has found that clear expectations are a basic human need. Beyond a self-established job description, employees need to speak with someone about responsibilities and progress. The importance of a manager in providing consistent communication, ensuring accountability, and helping nurture growth, is among the great drivers of organizational success–especially in the long-term.

All of these problems were evident at Medium. To return to the previous Fast Company profile, readers will notice several red flags, the most blatant of which is the lack of managerial duties and the cumbersome facilitation procedures. For instance, though the article is a long read, not once did the company ever mention matters of salary–particularly salary raises, which are often a frequent source of tension, and require a skilled manager to sort out. In the absence of such a person, who determines pay? Who explains to employees how much they can expect for a raise, or work with them on how they can improve their performance to get a bigger pay raise next time? Granted, one can delegate this responsibility to the lead link–but that would defeat the purpose. Recall that in Holacratic theory, lead links are saddled with defining responsibilities and roles, not managing.

Moreover, the emphasis on process over people and substance didn’t help. Paul Bradley Carr, writing at tech-news site Pando Daily, puts it best: “Holacracy is great until you try to use it in a big company, at which point everyone gets bogged down with paperwork and [nonsense].” Nor is Carr the only one to express such a view. Yu-kai Chou, a pioneer in gamification, reached very similar conclusions independently. “Designs,” Chou writes, “work best when they are human-focused, not function-focused.”

Was Holacracy doomed to fail?

In hindsight, perhaps these problems should have been expected. After all, the founder of Holacracy, software engineer Brian Robertson, never held a formal management position, only working as a CTO, engineer, and entrepreneur. This lack of experience (and perhaps, empathy with the human condition) shows: just take a look at the entry on processing tensions from the Holacracy Constitution: note that tensions aren’t defined as the normal disagreements between two (or more) autonomous individuals, but rather, as a “gap between what is, and what could be better.”

This failure to grasp humane problem solving is key to Holacracy’s failure. Julia Culen, a partner at a consulting firm which attempted Holacracy (she later left), explains this in detail. Not only is Holacracy unrealistic in that it offers a one-size fits all solution to a variety of diverse problems (which vary from one company to the next), its dogmatic emphasis on process stymied any discussion and thus, solution of the truly pressing issues. In Culen’s case, Holacracy diverted energy and time from figuring out her firm’s actual pain points, such as lack of innovation, unclear strategy, critical market feedback, and low morale. Note that none of these problems can be solved through reorganizing the firm into circles, roles, and points.

In truth, Holacracy isn’t a fully developed product, but a work in progress. And despite well-earned criticism, flat-management structures can be pulled off effectively. In fact, Holacracy isn’t the only game in town; a number of companies, most notably GE, have implemented their own flat, self-managed models with much more success.

In our next installment, we’ll discuss Holacratic alternatives–and what they get right.


Originally published at nslsfacts.org

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Leadership Lessons from Game of Thrones

SPOILER ALERT: Some of the references take place in Season 7

Game of Thrones is a massive cultural phenomenon. By some accounts, it is responsible for close to $1 billion in revenue growth (after all, some actors earn close to $500,000 per episode). At the same time, the show generates a slew of thought pieces, from plain-vanilla recaps to longform pieces analyzing the social and political climate of Westeros.

But what about leadership? In some ways, drawing leadership lessons from Game of Thrones is a tricky proposition; as any fan of the show will tell you, Machiavellian scheming and betrayal, while acceptable during the rough-and-tumble Medieval setting of the show, isn’t exactly in vogue at the moment. Put simply, plenty of the show’s role models, ethical individuals who try to do the right thing, often meet a gruesome end.

Yet look beyond this feature of GoT, and it’s clear that there are lessons to be gleaned–even amidst the increasingly grim, harsh world of Westeros, where winters last for years and industrialization is stymied by weather, dragons, and incessant war. That’s because certain leadership principles hold true across societies and historical eras.

Unite in the face of a common enemy

In Game of Thrones, the existential threat isn’t simply the Starks, Lannisters, Greyjoys, or any number of diametrically-opposed, Great Houses. True, they’re all fighting each other for control of the realm, squabbling like crows over a corpse (hence the title of the fourth book in the series, A Feast for Crows). Now the devastation wrought by this war for power is real–but the greater issue isn’t replacing one House with another.

Instead, it’s the White Walkers, a race of otherworldly beings who threaten to bear down on Westeros with their zombie armies–a threat believed to be a parable for climate change. Certainly the parallels are there: squabbling governments fighting over petty issues, even as the real menace lurks in the background. Add to that the fact that, until the latest episode, many didn’t even believe that White Walkers existed–until proof was brought to them. Arguably, of all the leaders, only Jon Snow had the foresight to see the real enemy–even if he did not succeed at first in persuading the others to follow.

Sound familiar? In a situation like this, it takes real clarity and foresight to mediate age-old blood feuds and rivalries, and rise above internecine warfare to confront a greater challenge. Whether humans can rise above tribal differences and unite for a greater good remains to be seen–in both Westeros and our world.

Don’t overextend yourself

Few characters in Game of Thrones are as tragic as Theon Greyjoy–even if his character may well be in line for a redemption. Born as the son of the seafaring Greyjoy clan of the Iron Islands, Theon was handed to the Starks as a hostage following the failed rebellion of his father, Lord Balon Greyjoy. From this sprang a deep identity crisis, for even as Theon grew up in a comfortable (if not exactly warm) environment in the North, he still yearned to please his distant father–and fit into his brutal ways.

This conflict led Theon to not just betray the Starks, taking their ancestral home (the castle of Winterfell), but also to overextend himself in doing so. Eager to prove his mettle as a true Iron Islander, Theon holds the castle, even amidst the face of an increasingly hostile landscape. Even without the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that Theon and his meager troops were outmanned and outnumbered: they’re faced with both hostility within the castle and without–something further exacerbated by Theon’s (supposed) killing of the two young Stark boys, Bran and Rickon. Ultimately, Theon was captured, tortured, and nearly killed–bearing trauma that will likely accompany him through the rest of his days.

In life, as in Westeros, overextending yourself can be devastating (though not generally fatal). History is rife with examples of empires (both governments and companies) whose grasp far exceeded their abilities. Just look at Zenefits, the billion dollar HR startup that, ironically, had huge problems with HR. In a nutshell, it grew way too quickly, to the point that reps selling insurance didn’t have the proper credentials, or backend interfaces remained underdeveloped, leaving inexperienced staff to manually input and send information to insurance and payroll providers.

Granted, Zenefits is still around, even if its luster has diminished greatly. Yet one has to ask if these growing pains (as well as the ensuing scandals) were worth it.

Ignore the importance of social norms–at your peril

Don’t misunderstand: there are plenty of flawed, arbitrary, and downright unacceptable social standards in all our societies, Westerosi and modern alike. This includes stereotypes about race or preconceptions about gender; obviously, these ingrained beliefs should be resisted as actively as possible.

Yet to violate certain standards of ethical behavior is to incur a strong taboo, and in fact, can lead to defeat. Take Lord Petyr Baelish, the schemer popularly known as Littlefinger; cunning, manipulative, and intelligent, Baelish was always two steps ahead of his opposition. In fact, his rise from a poor, minor lord to Master of Coin (Treasurer) and later, advisor to both the Lannisters and the Starks was remarkable: in a land where blood and money accounted for everything, he was a rare, meritocratic success.

Yet his success would ultimately be his downfall–as Baelish broke far too many codes of conduct. He murdered and betrayed without remorse, setting sister against sister, marrying off his ward to a sadistic psychopathand even killing his own wife, using her simply as a stepping stone to gain her lands and power. Even by Westerosi standards, this was excessive: after all, the society prided itself on being bound to the embodiments of the (admittedly flawed) system of chivalry–an important tenet of which included the importance of one’s word and moral reputation.

In the end, by transgressing against family, held sacred by the Westerosi (and nowhere more so than in the North of the country), Littlefinger sealed his own fate: the two Stark sisters united against him and put an end, finally, to his plotting. In much the same way, by flaunting similar taboos (such as sexual harassment at Uber or flat-out lying about results at blood-testing startup Theranos), there are “red lines” that we cannot cross. However profitable it may seem to break certain rules, social decorum and the concept of shame remain very strong in our society–as Travis Kalanick no doubt discovered.

In all honesty, there are countless parallels and lessons that can be drawn from Game of Thrones. After all, the series (both book and show) is rooted in real history, such as the English civil war popularly known as the War of the Roses (the Yorks and Lancasters/Starks and Lannisters), as well as historical counterpart cultures like Spain, Carthage, and Rome. Still, the leadership lessons are clear as day; even seasoned business executives and veteran leaders can still glean some valuable insights from this sprawling, epic fantasy.


Originally published at nslsfacts.org

The Art of the Non-Obvious: An Interview with Rohit Bhargava

Branding expert and thought leader Rohit Bhargava is the founder of the Influential Marketing Group (IMG)–and the mind behind the “non-obvious” philosophy, which seeks to gather and understand useful, potentially revolutionary ideas on the cusp of breaking through to the mainstream. Though Rohit’s background is in marketing, production, and coding, he has applied his skills to multiple disciplines.

As part of his work, each year, Rohit curates a number of interesting, non-obvious trends and developments. In this interview, we speak about curation, going beyond the obvious, and the value of uncertainty.

NSLS: By their very nature, non-obvious trends aren’t easily noticed. Why is it important for students to hone their skills at spotting the non-obvious?

Rohit: Let me clarify. My process is going beyond spotting; instead, I curate ideas, and from that, better understand new developments and events.

It’s important because ideas are the source that allows us to think differently about challenges in our life. Trends are just an output for me; I come up with a book on trends each year, and it’s a useful output for me. But the skillsets and outputs for others will vary. For example, one person could shift to a more fulfilling career after reading about an idea for them. Someone else could start a business in an emerging field (or even just use a new, unorthodox insight), and gain a significant head start on their competitors.

It boils down to this: curating ideas is seeing connections and coming up with an insight or point of view. The important part is that we have to be better idea collectors and curators.

NSLS: It seems in our entrepreneurial age that there’s more of an emphasis on inventing new solutions and technologies rather than utilizing existing ones–especially if these extant ideas aren’t so obvious.

Rohit: That’s true in the sense that a lot of people will tell you about execution and how important that is. But not many will tell you about how to filter out the noise–some of which is generated by yourself–and hone in on ideas. The important thing here is to go from noise to meaning: how do we put the pieces together, and make it more meaningful? That’s a skillset that we all must learn.

NSLS: That brings us to our next question: what works? That is, how do people create a process to identify–and execute on–these ideas? Put simply, how do we find–and jump on–the non-obvious?

Rohit: There’s a lot of individual variation here when it comes to process. With that being said, there are more general parts of the process that can be applied to plenty of people.

For instance, you can learn to more effectively take notes. People often don’t have a system; they’ll usually write something down, stash it somewhere, and then forget about it. Then the idea is gone!

Further, when it comes to curating ideas, pattern recognition is crucial. You have to be able to look through all these stories from various industries, and come up with a few key takeaways. What does this tell you about the direction an industry is moving in? What possible effects could this have?

NSLS: That’s interesting. In fact, what you mention almost seems a lot like groupthink. People are often surrounded by others with the same viewpoint, and as a result, the group becomes a closed-loop system. No new information is introduced.

Rohit: Absolutely. The easiest advice for breaking out of groupthink is this: when you’re travelling or at a bookstore, buy a magazine that’s not targeted at you–something totally different. For instance, try a sailing magazine, even if you’ve never been out on the water. If you’ve lived your whole life in urban areas, buy Modern Farmer.

In order to find diverse, actionable insights from different industries and fields, you have to consume media that’s not meant for you. Otherwise, algorithms will serve up what you agree with. You must get outside your own bubble, and consciously choose to consume something different.

Groupthink is a huge obstacle to non-obvious curation. People fall into the trap of thinking that, if I don’t agree with someone else, than his/her opinion doesn’t have value. But that’s just not true: creatives and innovators always have people who disagree with them.

Even worse, groupthink can lead to otherwise smart, highly qualified people doubting themselves and even shooting down their own ideas. That’s not just a tragedy, but it’s also a barrier to progress.

NSLS: That seems especially relevant, given that we live in an increasingly divided country with a polarized political culture.

Rohit: Well there’s a totally false idea in our political discourse today: if I’m right, then you’re absolutely wrong. If I believe in something and you disagree, then you disagree with me 100 percent, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

But that’s just not true. Now, my least favorite food is cauliflower. To take an analogy, imagine a plate full of delicious foods–mangoes, potatoes, tomatoes, grilled meats, and yes, even cauliflower. If I told you that you had to eat everything on this plate–including the cauliflower–simply because it was there, would it make sense?

NSLS: Would you recommend any apps to help students curate ideas?

Rohit: I rely on two: Pocket and Feed.ly. Each week, I comb through hundreds of different sources with Feed.ly, looking for stories. Once I find one that’s interesting and has potential, I save it to Pocket. In this way, I’m using Pocket as a pool of sources from which I will draw on later.

NSLS: Can you share 1–2 trends that students should keep their eye on?

Rohit: Lately, I’ve noticed the following:

  1. Fierce Femininity, by which I mean the changing role of women in culture, media, and society. How are businesses evolving? Teams? Leadership?
  2. Passive loyalty. In the past, customers and employees were far more loyal to companies, working and shopping at the same brands for much of their lives. But today, that’s not the case anymore: both consumers and workers will leave at the first opportunity, particularly if they find something better, whether it be a cheaper deal or more opportunity to grow? With this in mind, we have to ask: what is loyalty in the workplace? How can companies meet these challenges?

NSLS: What would you say are the most important skills for recent graduates (and current college students) to focus on?

Rohit: Storytelling is a key one, and perhaps not in the way that you may think. Now, many people hear about storytelling as a crucial skill–and immediately reject it because they don’t understand how to do it, or they’re not a filmmaker or writer.

But really, all storytelling means is to be persuasive, to win audiences over, and to do more than just reciting facts. The power of storytelling can be used by many people today, and not just creatives: marketers use storytelling to convince you to buy a product or service, for instance. When storytelling, use details to build an emotional connection–and don’t be afraid of vulnerability.

Curiosity, and a willingness to ignore your job description. Remember, no one has ever hired an employee hoping that they would do exactly their job–and nothing else. Half of these job descriptions are cut and pasted from Google searches, because most people don’t know how to write copy for job boards. Besides, job descriptions are the end points: people ultimately want you to make their lives easier, to show up, and think for yourself.

So just do it, and don’t stick to specific rules about your job. Those who are indispensable are those who do what it takes to get their job done, and more. If you just show up and do what it takes (and nothing else), your ego will be a damper on your ambitions. That’s not the attitude that gets you ahead.

NSLS: Immediately after college, you left for Australia. Can you tell us a bit about what you wanted to do so, and what lessons you learned from this unorthodox move?

Rohit: Be comfortable with uncertainty. When I went to Australia, I planned to stay one year–and stayed five. Through this, I learned resilience–the idea that I could go to a totally different environment and place, and figure out what it takes to be successful. True, Australia is still similar to America (no language barrier, for instance), but if you can go to a place where you don’t know anyone or have no connections, and from that make new friends, a new career, and even a new life–that’s a pretty cool self-confidence booster.

NSLS: When you switched careers and later founded IMG, you went through a very grueling process. You cold-called a lot of people. What do you have to say to those students who may still be unsure about cold-calling or cold-contacting others?

Rohit: Think back on your past achievements, especially to the ones where you overcame a great challenge–one which didn’t think you could pull off. This gives you confidence, and if you can, say travel overseas and build a new life totally from scratch–then you can cold call others. Remember that the only person that can give you confidence is yourself.


Originally published at nslsfacts.org on July 19, 2017.

In Defense of the Gap Year

 

In a society obsessed with work and anxious about the “right” career path, these two words may be the ultimate guilty pleasure. They conjure up images of balmy tropical islands, hiking through waterfalls and jungles, or partying in exotic, warm locations. All too often, Americans believe that gap years are little more than a chance for students to blow off steam abroad, to take a foreign holiday before the advent of “real life,” be it university, work, or both.

Yet the negative connotations associated with gap years aren’t just inaccurate, but also harmful, as they discourage students from undertaking meaningful, potentially life-changing experiences. If anything, gap years are a net positive to students: not only can students experience a vast array of new flavors, tastes, and locations, but they’ll also learn crucial skills, including foreign languages, philanthropy, and of course, resilience.

What does a Gap Year look like?

Gap years often get a bad rap because of our perceptions: we picture young adults sitting around on a couch, playing video games, or surfing the web endlessly. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth: a well-designed gap year has structure, general goals, and a definite end date.

While no two gap years are alike, students (and parents) can follow two general guidelines. First, students should have a plan (and end date) for their gap year; indeed, many students apply to colleges in advance and delay their start dates. Second, they should use the time to pursue their interests, whether it’s a foreign language, a country they’ve always wanted to visit, or an industry that they want to work in.

Perhaps the best example is Malia Obama, whose gap year provides a good template for others to follow. To begin, note that the former First Daughter had a clear plan for both her gap year and her time afterward. Before she left, she first applied (and was accepted) to Harvard; she then deferred her admission for one year. That way, she had a set period of time to work with, lest she be tempted to extend her gap year indefinitely.

Next, Malia also used her time to explore two of her passions: Latin American language and culture, as well as the entertainment industry. In 2016, Malia traveled to Bolivia, hiking the rugged Cordillera Real Mountains, practicing her Spanish, and spending time with a local family. This year, Malia is working at The Weinstein Company, the entertainment powerhouse that produced such titles as Lion, The Founder, and The King’s Speech.

What are the benefits of a gap year?

Clearly, Malia Obama is making the best of her time. Yet beyond the obvious advantages to her well-designed gap year, such as cultural immersion and internship, there are plenty of hidden gains that aren’t necessarily obvious at first glance.

Gap years can mold students for the better

During a major survey carried out over the course of many years, UCLA found that nearly 76% of students yearn for meaning and purpose in life. What better way to find it than by seeking it on your own terms?

This is especially important in face of society’s increasingly narrow definition of success, which has led to a very rigid, inflexible life and career path: students must perform well in school, go to a good college, graduate with a degree, find a good job, buy a house, and so forth. Needless to say, this model is outdated, and doesn’t take into account disruptive, real-world trends, like automationrecession, or other social, political, and economic changes–all of which require lifelong learning and adaptability.

Worse yet, by emphasizing the “right” course of action, we risk alienating students, especially those who seek meaning, engagement, and motivation in their work. Think about it: an aspiring pre-medicine major may be irritated and bored of organic chemistry, tired of grueling tests and a barrage of lab experiments with partners that they detest.

But after returning from a gap year spent in a developing nation or underserved rural area, the pre-med major may well have a renewed appreciation for their work; more importantly, they can develop some perspective, re-connecting with the reason that they entered the program in the first place. For this hypothetical student (and for other, real students), gap years can inject energy and meaning into their college experience. By plunging feet-first into new, challenging environments, they’re building their personality and character, shaping their worldviews, and taking another step on the path to adulthood.

This is supported by evidence, as well. In a 2015 survey, the American Gap Association found a host of ancillary benefits for gap year alumni: 85% of them reported being satisfied (or very satisfied) with their careers, 89% reported participating in community service in the previous month, and 63% reported voting in the 2014 elections (a surprisingly high percentage, given that 2014 was a midterm election and saw the lowest turnout in decades).

Use gap years to learn outside the classroom

For students who have never tasted independence before, a gap year is a rich, layered learning experience. After all, there’s no better way to learn than to live on your own for a year, whether it’s navigating a foreign country and immersing oneself in an outside culture, trying out an industry with internships to decide whether it’s the right fit, or doing both. At the very least, students will be able to build a certain comfort with uncertainty–a crucial skill to have, as most learning exists outside one’s comfort zone.

Furthermore, according to Jeff Selingo, former editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education, employers often seek soft skills, or interpersonal abilities like problem-solving, communication, and flexible, positive attitudes, over hard skills, or technical abilities like subject matter knowledge such as coding or engineering. Given that Generations Y and Z have often been (unfairly) stereotyped as coddled, lazy, and narcissistic, what better way to demonstrate soft skills like independence, initiative, and resilience, than with a gap year?

In many ways, gap years may well be the most misunderstood, maligned trend today. Yet rather than simply going overseas for a bit of rest and enjoyment before beginning their careers, gap years, if done properly, are a valuable opportunity to not simply have fun, but also to learn and grow in the process.


Originally posted on NSLSFacts.org

Leaders are Made, Not Born––Starting in School

For centuries, we’ve debated one timeless question: “Are leaders born or made?”

Since Thomas Carlyle and the Great Man Theory, the question has divided people into three categories: those who think that leaders are inherently different, better people; those who believe that leaders are tested and forged in the fires of adversity; and lastly, those who feel that both nature and nurture are essential ingredients in the recipe for leadership.

Of these three schools of thought, the most accurate may well be those who believe that leadership can be acquired.

Leadership is a skill

Leadership is a skill that anyone, in the right environment and under the right circumstances, can learn and perfect.

While many of us believe that a lucky few are born with innate leadership abilities and the necessary “talents” like confidence, creativity, and effective communication–an emerging body of research suggests otherwise. All these traits can be grown and developed through schooling and general life experience.

In a study conducted to find out the answer to this age-old question, three professors from the University of Illinois concluded that leaders are born and made on a 30/70 split. While they say 30% of leadership qualities are in genetics, they also insist that leadership can only happen in an environment that enhances it. Even with inborn abilities, simply being placed in a position of leadership like a class president doesn’t make one a leader. The professors say that great leaders must go through three stages: Readiness, willingness, and finally, ability to lead.

Show me the one “type” of leader

If all leaders were really born with that ability, then we’d have one type of leader, wouldn’t we? Researchers would be able to pinpoint the right mix of skills and spot the point of intersection between introversion and extroversion on the map where a great leader is formed.

But that hasn’t happened because there are many leaders who have completely different traits and personalities. Some leaders are introverts, while others are extroverts. Some are administrative, while others are strategic. Yet in the end, they are all great men and women, and they all achieve success–in their various fields.

For instance, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Eleanor Roosevelt, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffett all were (and are) great leaders. They each succeeded in their own sphere, whether it be business, politics, humanitarianism, or literature. But putting them all in a classroom and giving an exam on “Best Leadership Style” would be unfair. Each have unique strategies and paradigms for leadership.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is at the center of great leadership

Through its Global Learning Institute, FedEx Express is “building the skills and expertise for people-first leadership.” A 2014 case study showed that the program was “yielding an 8-11% increase in core leadership competencies.”

Through the PSP Philosophy, FedEx Express has demonstrated the role Emotional Intelligence (EI) plays in leadership. And it’s determined to cultivate EI in order to improve internal leadership.

The greatest leaders have a combination of skills such as self-awareness and regulation, self-motivation, social skills, and empathy. It can’t be argued any other way: These skills are absolutely essential to effective leadership. But are these the skills one is born with?

Absolutely not.

In fact, they are learned every day through real-life relationships with other people. Meaning, they can be improved or stunted. Thus, the difference between a great leader and an average one largely hinges on EI, all factors considered.

Just like any other skill, EI is a learned skill set. And it’s at the cornerstone of great leadership.

Certain experiences spark leadership

Rarely do people become leaders without first experiencing intense, transformative experiences that act as catalysts for their change in perception and behavior.

Think Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Abraham Lincoln or any other leader and there’s a strong possibility that you’ll identify a situation that might have catapulted anyone to that position of leadership.

“But why them and not anyone else?” one might ask. And that’s where the learned EI skills come in. Without sufficient self-awareness and motivation, for instance, one cannot willingly rise into that position. Without people around that one can work with, a leader cannot be effective in their role.

Leadership is about nurture, not nature

The American Psychological Association published a study that found that given the dynamic and complex social environments in which most leaders operate, effectiveness requires them to possess certain perceptive and adaptive capabilities. Thus, these qualities don’t just appear and they certainly don’t develop in a vacuum. Such traits have to be nurtured, and when they are, they form the grid of components that researchers have called Complexity Leadership. It explains how great leaders evolve and grow into their positions in the society and history.

So, yes, the documentary will always try to make it look like your mentor was a leader right from the start. But the truth is quite the opposite: they were forged into the leader they are today. Through schooling, human interaction, and undergoing life experiences that impacted their perspective and behavior, the leader was made. And they continued to cultivate that skill even after stepping into their position.

Ultimately, that is the path a leader must take.

 

Originally posted on NSLSFacts.org

Five Strategies to Become a Better Leader (Not a Boss)

Although we use these terms interchangeably in popular culture, there is, in fact, a world of difference between a leader and a boss. Among other things, leaders empower, encourage, and inspire, rather than ruling through fear and stress. Here are five differences between the two–and some actionable mindsets for bosses to become leaders.

1 Be a good listener

To see the whole picture, a leader needs a team of people who bring information forward at the right time. A good boss might have several trusted employees who they turn to for advice. A good leader will encourage any team member to approach them with relevant information and avoid playing favorites or penalizing people for sharing negative news.

By creating open conversations, the leader will hear about issues before they become larger problems; moreover, leaders will be privy to positive details which might be otherwise overlooked. Even a seemingly small nuance, such as a thoughtlessly brusque reply or a poorly-phrased remark, can hurt an employee’s feelings or damage their ego. As such, a good leader gets the information early and can stay one step ahead of any simmering tensions or developing conflicts.

2 Create teaching moments

Feedback sessions with the boss can create dread in employees, but it doesn’t have to be this way. When an employee’s course or work needs to be corrected, there is an opportunity to show them how to do it better and make them feel valued. By thinking as an advisor rather than a critic, a leader helps move things in a positive direction. Because the leader is more accessible, they can also catch whatever is brewing early enough to minimize the impact. These moments come about more often when the employee knows their boss is a good listener.

The office door should also be open for celebratory sessions, and leaders should give credit where credit is due. By creating regular, positive feedback cycles, the dread of meeting with the boss can instead become positive anticipation.

3 State, and then show, support

There is a vast gulf between promises of support and actual help, so a leader needs to be visibly and actively behind their team. A boss lets employees take the blame, while a leader is there for both the good and the bad. Of course, being supportive doesn’t mean holding back information like low numbers or poor performance, but instead delivering it in an honest, neutral way and showing the path forward instead of focusing on the past. A leader is also sure to take responsibility when necessary, and will accept criticism for both themselves and their team.

Demonstrating support also creates the trust necessary for employees to come forward with information and willingly engage in teaching moments.

4 Encourage self-awareness

Tensions can run high in meetings or sales presentations where bonuses or recognition are at stake. A leader will promote an environment of reflection and adult self-awareness by encouraging employees to take the time to consider their motivations and reactions. This is a way of allowing people to be adults and manage themselves while remaining professional. Everyone will psychologically process events or changes in their own way, and a leader will allow for individual styles of releasing tension. Some people will need a walk, while others will want to talk it out.

Similarly, team bonding experiences should vary to appeal to different personality types. Keep this in mind during team retreats as well as daily activities such as meetings. What worked for one person might not have resonated with another, so a leader will try different combinations to engage everyone.

5 Seek solutions and contributions openly

A leader is not afraid of appearing vulnerable by admitting they don’t know the answer. They understand that the team members may know something useful because they are more directly involved in day-to-day activities. By being open about what is needed, a leader will foster an innovative, problem-solving environment.

Remaining open to suggestions is also crucial for a leader to correctly delegate, rather than order, activities. Imagine a meeting where the boss instructs someone in what to do, so they stay quiet even though they aren’t the best person for the role or know the task won’t make a difference. Then imagine a meeting where the leader presents the situation, asks for input from the group, and then delegates based on their contributions. The difference in results between the two could be the difference between failure and success.

Leadership is about bringing out the best in people through creating a workplace in which everyone can thrive and contribute to a healthy organization. The overarching theme for these five core competencies is harmony between people, goals, and the overall company mission. A good leader understands how these elements relate to one another and help advance everything and everyone together.

Originally posted on NSLSFacts.org

How Sustainability Impacts the Bottom Line

For a long time, the prevailing consensus on sustainability was negative. Often, business strategists and executives scorned sustainability, believing that, at best, it was barely profitable. Instead, many of them insistedgreen initiatives were nothing more than a marketing ploy: an appeal to environmentally-conscious consumers, a certain demographic that bought specialty foods and followed the latest green-living fad.

But to paraphrase one famous singer, the times they are a-changing. Today, more and more companies are embracing sustainability–not as a cynical PR stunt, but as an integral, key part of their business model. And this change isn’t limited to leaders at small, niche companies or managers at large corporations: instead, it’s increasingly common in both.

Let’s take a look at a case study, examine the link between sustainability and profitability, and explain how leadership can take concrete actions to green their business–in every sense of the word.

Going Green is Good for Business

Believe it or not, sustainability and profitability go hand-in-hand. One surveyrevealed that S&P 500 companies that include sustainability as a core part of their business strategy saw impressive benefits for their financial health. When compared to companies that did not incorporate environmental planning into their operations, those organizations with a sustainability focus reported higher returns on investment (anywhere from 18–67 percent), saw less volatility in earnings (as much as 50 percent), and stronger dividends (up to 21 percent).

But this study, conducted by nonprofit CDP, isn’t alone in uncovering the link between green business strategy and financial strength. In fact, such examples are plentiful: in 2015, UK department store chain Marks & Spencer saw a $225 million net benefit from simple changes, such as reducing packaging materials, food waste, and installing energy efficient technology (such as LED lights and water monitoring devices) in company facilities.

Moreover, consulting firm Pure Strategies conducted a large scale study of sustainability efforts at 153 companies, from multinational concerns like Johnson and Johnson to smaller corporations like The North Face. Researchers found that surveyed companies reported a total savings of $5–8 billion: of that number, some $800 million came from increased sales, with an additional $800 million in manufacturing cost savings. The remainder of the value came from risk reduction, productivity gains, and enhanced growth opportunities.

Case Study: When Companies Adopt Renewable Energy

Perhaps the most obvious area of cost savings may well be that of renewable energy, specifically solar panels. First, some background: though it was once more expensive, solar panels have finally arrived as a viable power source. In December 2016, the World Economic Forum reported that solar and wind power was either the same price or cheaper than fossil fuel-based energy. Solar, in fact, is the cheapest of all, coming in at approximately $64 per megawatt hour in India–half the price of a comparable, coal-fired power plant.

Given this economy of scale (home solar installations remain somewhat expensive in the United States), it’s interesting to see that large companies are driving solar adoption. One report found that of the Fortune 100 companies, 71 organizations implemented renewable energy goals. In fact, 22 firms have committed to powering all their operations solely with renewable energy, among them Wal-Mart and General Motors. Their enthusiasm is backed up by economics: in 2014, 53 Fortune 100 multinationals, including PepsiCo, Intel, Dell, and UPS, saved a total of $1.1 billion by transitioning from fossil fuels to green energy tech.

Leadership in a Time of Climate Change

Each year, the MIT Sloan School of Management conducts its Sustainability and Innovation Global Executive Study, which yielded some disheartening conclusions: Sloan staffers found that, despite widespread excitement from investors, employees, and consumers alike, executives have been slow to adopt sustainability-specific measures.

Just witness the disconnect between shareholders and managers: though 75 percent of investors believe sustainability improves revenue (and almost 50 percent cited poor sustainability as a reason to divest), only 60 percent of managers in publicly traded companies consider sustainability performance a key factor in investor’s decisions.

Yet this state of conflict is unnecessary. As JetBlue’s Sophia Mendelsohnexplains, sustainability isn’t just a feel-good strategy; instead, it’s a problem-solving mindset that can tackle concerns from multiple parts of an organization–with one solution. As an example, Sophia points to going paperless, forsaking printed tickets or boarding passes, and instead allowing customers to check in via tablets and smartphone. By moving to an electronic solution, Sophia explains, an organization could satisfy several key players: management, whose goal is to create innovation; customer service, whose objective is to streamline processes; and accounting, whose aim is to save money and cut unnecessary costs wherever possible.

Though not every company has a dedicated sustainability leader like JetBlue, there are still smaller, effective measures that leaders can take in order to trim waste, green their company, and in the process, bulk up their bottom line. These include:

  • Engage in systems thinking. Climate change will introduce new problems and crises–but also, new technologies and opportunities. It’s up to leaders to encourage employees and managers to take the initiative, coordinating across departments to alter previous, wasteful habits and protocols. One such example is going paperless; another could be as simple as switching to LED light bulbs, or as complex as installing (and maintaining) a solar-powered system for facilities. Whatever change occurs, systems must be carefully mapped beforehand; given the subtle, interconnected nature of organizations today, it’s possible to accidentally wreck a system by introducing small changes.
  • A willingness to collaborate with other entities. In our hypernetworked world, collaboration is king. As such, it’s critical for companies to work with others (from competitors to nonprofits) to build a fertile ground for new ideas, as well as to set industry standards and best practices. Take the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a trade group of fashion companies (including big names like Levi’s, Puma, and The North Face) that seeks to green global supply chains (which often use exploitative labor practices and harmful chemicals). SAC has even created the Higg Index, a benchmarking platform for member companies to share facilities and factory information–and reduce carbon footprint and waste.

Ultimately, climate change may well be the most serious existential crisis that humanity has faced–thus far. Yet the positive news is that sustainability, and making a dent in wasteful, carbon-heavy practices, is good business: it makes customers happy, yields substantial cost savings, and even contributes to the massive, ongoing struggle against climate change.


Originally published at nslsfacts.org 

The Most Important Women Leaders You’ve Never Heard Of

 

This blog was originally published on NSLSfacts.org
Throughout history, there have been plenty of women leaders who left their mark. You’ve probably heard of a few of them; Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Angela Merkel. But there are quite a few female leaders who aren’t household names–and who have inspiring stories all their own.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Sirleaf left an abusive husband at a young age, then left her homeland of Liberia for America to get her education, eventually earning a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard. Her return home saw her dive headfirst into the often dangerous world of Liberian politics, and she was arrested and thrown into prison by political rivals. After her release, she worked across Africa for the UN, but could not resist returning to her homeland.

Once her rivals were out of power, she came back to Liberia and was eventually elected president in 2005. She became the first elected female leader not only in Liberia but all of Africa. Upon inauguration, she announced a national peace and reconciliation initiative aimed at healing the wounds of all the domestic upheaval and civil turmoil that her country endured over the course of two decades. She was re-elected to a second term in 2012.

Jeannette Rankin
Rankin was born in Montana, the daughter of an immigrant carpenter and a schoolteacher. From a young age, she never shied from hard work, even single-handedly building a wooden sidewalk for a business her father worked for. Even in her youth, she was stricken by the fact that women worked just as hard as men–but were barred from voting.

While studying at the University of Washington, she became involved in the women’s suffrage movement. Working as a lobbyist for the National American Woman Suffrage Association, she helped gain the approval of the state’s voters to guarantee women the right to vote in 1910, a decade before women nationwide gained suffrage.

But Rankin was far from done. Thanks to a far-reaching campaign, Rankin won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1916, becoming the first woman in U.S. Congress. She continued to be a passionate advocate for suffrage in her new position and introduced the legislature that became the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women nationwide the right to vote.

Begum Hazrat Mahal
From humble roots, Begum Hazrat Mahal eventually led her people towards freedom. Her husband, Wajid Ali Shah was the leader of their province of Awadh, in British-occupied colonial  India, until being exiled by the colonial authorities to Calcutta in 1856. While he was gone, Mahal took the reins and led the people of Awadh, a rare distinction at the time.

A year later, people across India rose up in rebellion against the ruling British East India Company, a powerful trading corporation with its own army and territory. Mahal, infuriated by the Company’s unchecked power and suppression of religious freedom, led Awadh in a revolt against their oppressors. The revolt led to the end of the East India Company’s domination of the region, with the British taking political leadership away from them.

Although her efforts were answered with exile to Nepal, and it would be a century before India gained true independence from Britain, Mahal is remembered today as a pioneering leader who, for the sake of her people, defied overwhelming odds. She was put on a commemorative stamp in 1984.

Gertrude Bell
She wasn’t born into royalty, so Gertrude Bell instead had to earn the title “Queen of the Desert.” Working for the British Empire, Bell traveled the Middle East extensively around the turn of the 20th Century as a writer, archaeologist, diplomat, and photographer. She enthralled audiences back home with her books chronicling her experiences and was eventually drafted into service for British Intelligence in World War I.

Bell impressed her superiors to the extent that she became a vitally important part of British diplomacy in the region. She was given the title “Oriental Secretary” and worked closely with T.E. Lawrence and Winston Churchill to establish the nation of Iraq, where she was beloved by the people and still spoken of in positive terms today among Iraqis who remember those tumultuous times.

Hatshepsut
Known as “the first great woman of history,” Hatshepsut was expected to serve as a placeholder after her the death of her husband, Thutmose II (also known as Thutmosis II), but refused and is remembered as one of Ancient Egypt’s greatest Pharaohs.

Among Hatshepsut’s accomplishments were the establishment of vital trade routes that allowed her people to travel far and wide throughout Africa, trading for valuable materials. She is also remembered as one of the great builders, embarking on a series of projects that, according to Egyptologists, “far outstripped those of her predecessors.”

Hatshepsut even survived an attempt on erasing her legacy. After her death, the stepson she was supposed to be merely serving in the place of, Thutmose III, ordered her monuments defaced, statues to be torn down and official references altered so that he would not have appeared to have been secondary to a woman for so much of his life. He was not successful.

Live, Dream, Travel: The Best Jobs for a Digital Nomad

 

Not too long ago, a great many workers’ days started with an alarm clock and a commute to a suffocating cubicle.  Now, with the world at our fingertips, a growing proportion of work is conducted entirely online.

What this means is that you do not need to be based in any one city, or even one continent, to get the job done. Today’s employee can wake up in Berlin, log into a job in New York, conduct a conference call in Tokyo, and fall asleep on a beach in Indonesia. This might sound like a fantasy, but it’s reality for a digital nomad.

Of course, not every job will accommodate this lifestyle. If you’re looking to be a firefighter or a surgeon, you’ll likely find it best to stay in one spot. On the other hand, if you’d rather set out into the world with just your laptop or tablet to keep you connected, there are plenty of jobs in this economy that can give you the free movement you’re looking for.

Freelance Writing

Blogs and other web outposts are constantly looking for fresh takes, and as you’ve probably seen, quality writing is at a premium. If you have the talent to string words together in a way that people will want to read, you can get work on a per-piece basis for one of the many content-rich sites out there. You might not ever meet your editor in person, but all that matters is the words on the page (or screen, more likely).

Graphic Design

Along those same lines, there is a vital need out there for compelling visuals. Even the best verbal content can fall flat without a well-designed graphic component. Graphic design work is certainly out there for those with the skills for it. Even better, tablet computers have made great leaps forward so that you can do what you need with a stylus on a touchscreen, with no need for a big expensive workstation.

Translator

What better way for a world citizen to earn their way than as a translator? The versatility that comes with being a digital nomad means you can immerse yourself in languages in a way that would have been difficult if you were stuck at a desk back home. Need to check a primary source in Swedish? Easier to do in Stockholm than in Seattle.

Executive Assistant

Don’t laugh, this isn’t as out there as it might sound. Being an executive assistant goes much further than getting coffee. More important is the ability to organize and communicate rapidly, all of which can be done online. Being a ‘virtual assistant’ gives you the opportunity to work flexible hours while satisfying the needs of multiple clients. Whether you do this while on the beach or on a rooftop deck isn’t something they’re worried about.

Digital Publishing

Once you put in the work to build an audience, a successful blog can bring in quite a bit of income. Revenue from advertisements, sponsored posts, and affiliate marketing can fund your travels, while you stay plugged in wherever you go. If you’ve got the content, and the views, it’s more than possible to make a good living. You don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to be a player in digital media. Of course, you can jet there if you so desire. It’s up to you.

Coder

It’s not only media jobs that digital nomads can thrive in. The explosion of apps and web solutions means that there’s a huge need for talented code writers, many of whom telecommute from all around the world. As computers have gone from gray boxes in rows of cubicles, coders have gone from office drones to any type of person you can imagine. In this world, being a computer expert doesn’t mean you’re cooped up in a basement anymore.

Tutoring

Thanks to cheap and easy video conferencing, tutoring in nearly any subject you can think of can be done completely online. Whether helping people learn a language, sharpen their math skills, learn an instrument, or even become a dancer, if you’ve got the know-how, sharing it (and getting paid for it) is easier than you might imagine.

A “world of opportunity” is no longer just a metaphor. We’re at a unique point in time where those who want to travel the world and stay employed don’t necessarily have to choose one or the other. If you’ve got the skills and can use them while staying connected, the possibilities are global.

8 Critical Skills for Today’s Workplace

 

From economic downturns to increasing automation, the job market seems to change from month to month. But even during this economic uncertainty, the fact of the matter is, there are a number of necessary skills one should have for our digital workplace.

1. Microsoft Office

It may seem basic, but don’t scorn the sacred triumvirate of Microsoft Office: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. As simple as they may seem, these three are also universal, vital programs for day-to-day business operations–no matter what industry you may be in.

Take Excel, for instance: even if your first thought is of finance, where analysts constantly crunch data in endless rows of formatted cells and special formulas, its versatility lends itself to many fields, including basic accounting, product sales, and even scheduling and booking.

Along the same lines, be sure to understand Google Drive, which offers a cloud-based, free-to-use version of Excel, Word, and Powerpoint. Not only is Drive a close match for the functionality of Microsoft Office, it is also superior to other, comparable tools (such as Dropbox). The key to Drive’s success is its ability to collaborate, allowing different users to come together to work on projects across different time zones and locations.

 

2. Public Speaking

Though it’s often labeled as a soft skill, public speaking is arguably one of the hardest to learn (yet most important) tools in your repertoire. After all, it’s an ability, that, unlike more nebulous qualities like loyalty or adaptability, can be easily assessed: either you can speak in a logical, eloquent, and engaging manner–or you can’t.

Best of all, public speaking is a transferable, desirable skill across a variety of sectors, such as law, television and film, marketing, and government, to name a few. Quite frankly, given the existence of public speaking organizations like Toastmasters International or the National Speakers Association, there’s really no excuse not to learn public speaking. Doing so, after all, will jump start your career and fast-track your life.

 

3. Foreign Languages

In an age of increasing globalization, being able to speak multiple languages fluently is incredibly valuable. If you, a proficient, multilingual speaker, work at an international corporation, you are likely to be first in line for a number of perks, from business trips to dynamic, emerging markets to spearheading your company’s expansion into a new country.

Basically, your employer will know that you can create and maintain professional relationships across many countries and cultures–without the embarrassing, potentially expensive mistakes that another, less fluent newcomer might make. Furthermore, people who speak multiple languages are usually more observant, have good memory, and are better at resolutions.

 

4. Social Media Management

You’ve probably seen it in your own life, but social media is the future of advertising, marketing, and branding–as well as the primary method for businesses to instantly interact with consumers. True, everyone and their mother might have a social media account, but to really create a clever, engaging online presence is half-science, half-art, and all skill. An effective social media manager will be creative, up-to-date on the latest news and trends, and most importantly, have eyes and ears for the perfect, pithy copy and the ideal image.

And it’s clear that social media will only grow, especially as consumers do the bulk of their reading and shopping online. So read up on the art of social media, get familiar with management tools like Hootsuite and Buffer, and you’ll have a job in no time.

 

5. Graphic Design

Though it’s true that graphic design is outsourced more and more for cost reasons, you’ll still be able to make a living from freelancing. If you choose to do so, it’s critical to be fluent with Adobe Creative Cloud, the gold standard of graphic design programs, which encompasses Photoshop, Illustrator, and Indesign, among others.

Just remember: especially in our world, where average attention spans are shorter than goldfish, every industry uses some form of visual media to pull in returning customers, new users, and cold prospects alike. Learning graphic design will open plenty of doors and jobs, and thanks to the power of the Internet, can even allow you to become a digital nomad, working full-time while traveling from one country to the next.

 

6. Content Writing and Blogging

Yet another skill that is particularly notable for being location-independent, content writing and blogging is a growth industry: in the last quarter of 2015 alone, it grew by 20%, or as much in two months as it did in the past two years.

The reason for this? In a nutshell, content marketing gives customers value, and sells your brand indirectly. The proof is in the numbers: even though content marketing costs 62% less than outbound marketing, it generates three times as many leads.

Clearly, content marketing isn’t going away anytime soon, and freelancing jobs will continue to increase. It’s in your best interest then, to write on a wide variety of topics, and do it well.

 

7. Web Development

Creating and running a website is a common and sought-after task for all industries–not to mention an ideal skillset for someone interested in working remotely.

After all, a well-made, engaging website will provide potential consumers a great first impression in today’s online world, serving as a critical marketing tool for online businesses. From a website, consumers can learn about a company’s history, products, and brand narrative, browsing product displays, promotions, and even team histories.

 

8. SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which consists of strategies and tips to boost a site’s search rankings, is a bit mysterious. After all, the algorithms of search giants are notoriously opaque, and the subject of endless speculation among marketers.

Still, in a country where 51% of the population shops online (totaling $22 trillion internationally), SEO is incredibly important. Since it often seems that there’s an infinite volume of information on the web, it’s in any organization’s best interest to stay current and high on search rankings, in order to pull in business (or for nonprofits, donors), generate buzz, and stay current. Clearly, any job seeker that can demonstrate this proficiency will be much in demand with employers.

Whether you’re a first-time applicant or seasoned worker seeking to change your company (or industry), creating or modifying a resume can be challenging. However, these skills can help elevate your resume, pushing it out of the slush pile and directly into the hiring manager’s hands. And in a world where thousands of job seekers compete for a small number of openings, that may be all you need.