Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Influence: It’s Not Just for Managers!

Ever identify a need for improvement but think, “That’s above my pay grade,” or “I’m not the boss, who will listen to me”? Org Chart Paralysis often prevents us from stepping in and stepping up. We may not think we have the authority to make change happen. Influence is not just about job title, though, and managers do not have a monopoly on great solutions. With a little creativity and persistence, you can showcase your leadership skills while bringing solutions to the table. That’s a win-win career-building opportunity!

I had barely figured out where the coffee pot was at my new job when an opportunity to significantly improve my group’s work processes landed in my lap. I was a newly-hired Project Management Assistant, and in every meeting, my new colleagues were grumbling about
  •       Lack of organization
  •      Version control nightmares
  •       Lost documents
  •     Missed deadlines
  •       General lack of trust

My teams were working inefficiently and ineffectively every time they had to collaborate on a task. Reports, presentations, white papers and a host of other documents routinely became victims of confusing and unproductive email loops. Meanwhile, we had intranet collaboration sites languishing unused because they were not user-friendly. I was still grinding my way through my undergrad at the time. What could I offer these experienced Ph.D.’s that they had not already considered, and why should they listen to me?

That fresh perspective (and the willingness to step up) was the secret! Because I was new, I could ask questions like “Describe your perfect experience”, and build on those common needs. Because I was working with multiple groups, I was able to see the overlapping commonalities.  Because I was bold (at least on the outside) and friendly, I was able to engage allies, including those who were eager for change but did not have the bandwidth to take on the challenge. I could not tell them how to change, but I could show them the benefits.

It took a lot of hard work, persistence, and creativity, but over the next three months we completely revamped the way our teams interacted, and in the process created a best practice for our organization. Along the way, I became a Subject Matter Expert and now other teams from diverse groups frequently reach out for help improving user experiences and work processes in their areas.  (Note: I still do not have a Ph.D.!)

Ken Blanchard said, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” There are many ways to grow your influencing skills. As a WGU student or alumni, you have access to an entire suite of free Professional Development Resources, including courses to enhance your soft skills. Read books like “Influencer”, a VitalSmarts product, or “The Silent Language of Leaders” by Dr. Carol Goman. Does your employer offer educational reimbursement? Take some classes! Invest in your Influence skills.  Finally, contact Career & Professional Development for personalized assistance in creating your own professional development plan today!

About the Author

Sarah Ratekin earned her Master of Science in Management and Leadership from Western Governors University (WGU) and is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration from WGU as well. Veteran, professional, and working mother, Sarah is passionate about process improvement and employee engagement, along with a host of social causes to which she lends her energy. She lives outside of Indianapolis, IN with her family.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Skills Companies Need Most in 2018 – And the Courses to Get Them with

Whenever there is change, there is opportunity. With report after report showing the world of work changing faster than ever today, it is fair to assume there is more opportunity than ever.

To capitalize on the opportunities available, using a combination of LinkedIn data and survey results, determined the soft skills companies need most. Next, they provided courses that teach those skills, which are available on

57 percent of leaders say soft skills are more important than hard skills. Learning these skills will help you stay ahead of change and make the most of all that opportunity in 2018.

The soft skills companies need most – and how to learn them on

1. Leadership
Recommended Courses: Body Language for Leaders, Strategic Thinking, Leading Without Formal Authority
2. Communication
Recommended Courses: Communicating with Confidence, Influencing Others, Giving and Receiving Feedback
3. Collaboration
Recommended Courses: Effective Listening, Building Business Relationships, Finding Your Introvert/Extrovert Balance in the Workplace
4. Time Management
Recommended Courses: Managing Your Time, Creating Great Workplace Habits, Getting Things Done

If you are a student or alum of WGU you have free access to all of the courses mentioned above. To access visit the Professional Development page of the WGU Career & Professional Development website.

For personalized career assistance to help with your career goals and next steps, please contact us!  

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Selecting a Graduate Degree Program as a K-12 Teacher

If you are currently a K-12 teacher and have begun thinking about your future in education, this blog might be of interest to you! There are many reasons for teachers to consider obtaining a graduate degree, but the question we most often hear is “Which one should I choose?” Only YOU can answer that question, but hopefully the guidelines below will assist you in isolating your choice.

1. Ask yourself “Where do I want to be in five years?” Do you see yourself in the classroom, the principal’s office or in the district office? Acknowledging if you want to work with students, work in leadership or work in specialized curriculum will help you begin to narrow down your options.

2. Consider the question “What interests me?” Your Master’s degree is a chance to specialize in something that is of interest to you. Think about what aspect of education you enjoy and take time to objectively identify your values, personality, interest and abilities through self-assessment. Focus your Master’s program in a direction that aligns with who you are and the aspect of education you enjoy most.

To get started in identifying your interests, look around your school campus and think about the various education positions. Whose job do you wish you had? Whose position appeals to you the most? Do you prefer to work with students or with adults? Do you like mentoring new teachers? Do you want to lead others as an administrator? Do you enjoy working with students with disabilities? Are you a master curriculum writer? Do you thrive with technology specialization? These questions are incredibly important as you begin to finalize your choice.

3. Be realistic about your motivators. If you are a new teacher who just wants to advance on the district pay scale, a specialized Master’s program is not for you. You should select a generic Master’s degree with the least specialization and the least required courses. Understand however, if immediate salary advancement is your only motivation, you are excluding yourself from specializing in a specific field that might bring career advancement later down the road.

4. Be honest about your work environment. If you have a strong passion for technology, but your district has severely cut their technology budget, a Master’s degree in this field might not be the best choice for you. If you are willing to transfer to a different school, this opens up new possibilities.

5. If you are beginning to feel burned out in Education, don’t select a Master’s degree in Education. Why continue to do something you are no longer enjoying? Consider moving into other industries that combine an education background with another specialization, such as business.

Hopefully answering the above questions will help bring you to a fairly conclusive decision about which program to choose. If you would like to explore more information on the various Teachers College Master’s programs offered at WGU, we encourage you to view the various degree guides that offer salary information, industry growth statistics, job market forecasting and job searching resources.

If you have additional career related questions, please feel free to contact the WGU Career & Professional Development office at or call 1-877-214-7008.