April 11, 2014
by Ellen

Boost Your Brainpower!

I don’t want to jinx it, but is it just me or does it feel like spring? It does. It really does. I haven’t worn a coat in a while, my allergies are going nuts,  and everyone seems a little happier all of a sudden. Finally!

I doubt you lament the change in weather (who misses trekking across the vast tundra between the parking lot and Barsema?). Nonetheless, you may feel like you aren’t allowed to enjoy the spring, what with finals (and maybe even CPAs) coming up and all. But did you know that spending time outside can actually boost your brainpower? Seriously, this is science.

A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has found that even a brief, 20 minute walk through “green space,” such as a park or forest preserve, reduces “brain fatigue”( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23467965 ). According to information from the Department of Urban Forestry at the University of Washington, “nature can help remedy mental fatigue and restore one’s ability to focus on tasks. The result is better performance in the work place and school,” and “experience of the natural world helps restore the mind from the mental fatigue of work or studies, and can improve productivity and stimulate creativity” (http://depts.washington.edu/hhwb/Thm_Mental.html). In short, nature makes your brain work better.

What does this mean for you? Take a walk around the lagoon and find out! You’ll come back to your studies refreshed, refocused, and ready to finish out the semester on top of your game.

 

April 3, 2014
by Ellen

The Ambiguous Email

Email is probably the most common form of communication in the workplace. It has all but replaced letters, phone calls, and simply walking down the hall for a quick conversation. Many of us are alright with this development – communicating through writing enables us to gather and organize our thoughts, reducing anxiety about “sounding stupid.” But, ironically, written communications are more easily misunderstood than oral communications.

Why? Because when something is written, we don’t actually hear the tone of the expression (we don’t hear how the person is saying the words). When we talk with others, we interpret the meaning of their communications through the combination of their words, tone of voice, facial expressions, and gestures. When the communication is only written, the tone and gestures are missing, increasing the likelihood of miscommunication. (We instinctively understand this — with the advent of texting, the use of emoticons has become indispensable. Emoticons, however, are unequivocally inappropriate in the business setting!)

As a result, we are forced to interpret ambiguous emails. For example:

You: “Mr. Smith, My parents are flying in from Houston this afternoon. Would it be alright if I left early to pick them up?”

Boss: “Do what you have to do.”

Hmmm. How would you interpret your boss’s response? It’s hard to say. You might ask your buddy in the next cubicle what he thinks. You might be tempted to ask your boss for clarification but are afraid that would be annoying. So, do you stay or go? Now, if you had simply walked down the hall to ask him, you would have heard his tone of voice, seen his facial expressions and body language, and there would be no doubt in your mind whether he was actually ok with you leaving. Even if you simply called him on the phone, you would have heard his tone and better understood his response (or been able to ask follow-up questions to clarify). The email, rather than reducing your anxiety about communicating, has increased it tenfold.

Sue Shellenburger, with the Wall Street Journal, gives another example in her article “Email enigma: When the boss’s reply seems cryptic” (http://t.money.msn.com/now/email-enigma-when-the-boss-reply-seems-cryptic): “Jill Campen was baffled recently when her boss, Marty Finkle, fired back a one-word reply to her carefully thought-out email asking for his approval on a client-training presentation she had prepared: ‘Done!’ Campen [...] puzzled over the message for a half-hour, then decided she was too upset to resolve the matter by email.” When Campen finally called her boss for clarification, he explained that “[w]hen her message popped up, his first thought was, ‘We’ve already talked about this. I could get rid of this really quickly.’ By the end of the conversation, the two were laughing.” Campen’s situation went from upsetting to comical — because she finally picked-up the phone and called her boss!

Bottom line: Avoid ambiguity — walk down the hall or pick up the phone when possible and don’t be afraid to follow-up an email with an actual conversation.

 

March 28, 2014
by Ellen

The Importance of “Soft Skills”

Jeff Carroll forwarded me an interesting article from Forbes about the alarming dearth of college graduates who possess “soft skills.” As our educational system has increasingly focused on “hard skills” – technical skills and knowledge of a specific subject matter — students have been denied curricula that develop “soft skills” — the ability to think critically and creatively and effectively communicate through writing, in addition to “[s]kills like problem solving, leadership, teamwork, empathy, and social/emotional intelligence.” As one expert notes, “While good grades don’t hurt and specialized skill sets are required for many jobs, there are some hiring attributes that make prospective employees more desirable to employers all over the world: leadership, personal and intellectual humility, the ability to attribute some purpose to your work, and the ability to take ownership of the task at hand.”

My last post emphasized reading as one way to cultivate the ability to “think outside of the box” (a soft skill), and becoming an avid reader is an important step toward personal and professional growth. But there is something else you should realize:  As a student in the LMAS program, you are afforded the opportunity to develop soft skills through the workshops you attend. In fact, each and every one of the workshops focuses on one or more of the soft skills so highly valued by employers — and the common thread through them all is leadership. A leader is someone who has mastered both hard and soft skills. He/she has knowledge of the technical aspects of the profession, as well as the awareness and skill necessary to expand and maximize the application of that knowledge in the real world.

When you leave here with an MAS, Leadership, you will be a master of accounting science and leadership. Your very degree will reflect that you have acquired both hard and soft skills, and prospective employers will take note.

So the next time Jeff asks the group, “Are you a vacationer, a prisoner, or a sponge?” think long and hard about your answer before you groan, “prisoner.” That workshop is giving you an edge over the competition. Be a sponge — participate, take notes, drink it up. Be a leader.

March 20, 2014
by Angela

Pizza with Barry – March 25

On Tuesday, March 25, the LPDC is hosting a meet-and-greet pizza luncheon with Barry Shaw from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Barry is a retired partner from Wolf & Company who volunteers in the LPDC every Tuesday afternoon from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. and by appointment. Barry is available for professional development consultations about interviewing techniques, resume critiques, the transition from student to accounting professional, and much more.

Stop by the LPDC to meet Barry, grab some pizza, and talk about ways that he can help you build your professional skills!

We look forward to seeing you next Tuesday!

March 19, 2014
by Ellen

Lose the Box: Read a Book

The phrase “thinking outside of the box” is a popular one in the business world. It is, apparently, a very desirable skill. But what does that mean, exactly?

Well, there’s a box — that would be the “known,” the existing, the predictable, the readily apparent. And then there’s “outside” the box — the “unknown,” the not so obvious, the world beyond the apparent, the realm of possibilities.

If you are competent in your chosen profession, you can identify and understand the contents of the box (and so can all of your colleagues). Few truly see that a) there is a box and b) there is something outside of it.

So how do you escape the box? Imagination. Creativity. Vision.

How do you cultivate these traits? Reading.

Reading exposes you to other worlds, other realities. You experience life from new perspectives and in new environments. You develop your capacity to empathize. You acquire vocabulary, internalize the elements of good writing, and expand your consciousness. And all of this cultivates your ability to climb out of the box and up the ladder.

Where should you start?  Right here. A few years back, I surveyed my professors and fellow Ph.D. students in the English department and compiled a list of the books that most influenced their love of reading. Pick one…or two…or three… Your brain (and career) will thank you! (FinalBookList)

For more on the career benefits of reading, take a look at John Coleman’s “For Those Who Want to Lead, Read” in the Harvard Business Review blog forum. He makes a compelling case for reading as the key to success in the business world: http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/08/for-those-who-want-to-lead-rea/