Career Karen

The Winter of Business

“I write probably 80 percent of my stuff over the winter.” -Bob Seger

Using the metaphor of seasons, every business – no matter what type – goes through a winter season.

Spring is fresh and new.

Summer is vibrant and steady.

Fall is transition and change.

Winter… oh winter… winter is stillness.

In winter, the leaves aren’t flourishing on the trees. The ground is covered with snow. The wind is cold.The lakes are frozen over. The land is sleeping.

Business is similar. One of the important reality checks for any business is preparing and planning for winter seasons.

Before winter, pioneers would prepare for the barren months. They’d store up food, stack up firewood and winterize their homes. They prepared for winter.

Why would business be any different?

Don’t fret the winter season. Rather, prepare for it. Add it to your projections. Calculate it into your budgets. The ‘what if’ of business.  Some call it Risk Management.

After all, the winter of business isn’t so bad.

Ok, sales are down. Profits are waning. Payroll just got a little tougher. Spending is lean. And it’s part of running a business.

I’ve always believed that when times get tough, it’s our chance to re-create, re-think, re-strategize and re-maximize our opportunities.  

Winter is the preparation for new growth and your business is like a tree. It’s in those times when you strengthen your roots to handle more, not less.

What can you do to strengthen your roots? What new thinking can you activate? What areas have you not yet explored? Look for the new.

There’s always room for improvement.  Here are a few examples:

  1. Is the company running smoothly? Are there any areas internally that need adjusted?
  2. Have you done an outstanding job expressing value, recognition and reward for your staff’s contribution and do you have plans to improve your already impressive customer service?
  3. Are employees being re-trained to empower them to be a great winning team? Is your leadership unified and building the same vision, together?
  4. Is your message relevant and attracting new customers? Is your marketing campaign looking tired and ineffective?
  5. Is your product of superior standards? Are your procedures consistent across the boards?
  6. Are you setting and implementing new goals to keep you moving forward? Are you maximizing your resources and opportunities?

See what I mean?  Winter isn’t so bad. Strengthen your roots. You need strong roots to grow strong trees and produce a fruitful grove.

Embrace your winter.

– Karen Thrall

*also published on


Career Libby

New Kid on the Block

I have started a new job. Technically, I don’t start for a few more months, but I’ve been offered and hired and already sent to a meeting.  It was great, this meeting; it is a terrific way to get the lay of the land. It also made me very aware of my “new kid” status.

I was at my last job for over eleven years so not much was new to me, but now everything is new – it’s slightly disconcerting but it’s also very exciting.

  • Lingo: All the jargon and lingo for this organization is new to me – it’s a new industry full of new acronyms and terminology. I got lost about ten minutes into the conversation but kept jotting down everything I didn’t know – I’ve got a laundry list but it’ll be fun to cross each one off as I learn!
  • Reputation: I came from an organization where a lot of the staff where actually members – to them, I probably seem like some kind of anomaly in their midst. I am not sure of my reputation. I know that I’m held in high esteem by upper management, my new boss, but I’m not sure about my peers: Did they like my work? Did they learn from me in the past? Was my style collegial or off-putting?
  • Relationships: The staffer running the meeting seemed hesitant to have me there at first – maybe there was concern that I’d try to interfere or insert myself. It all ended up fine in the end: he welcoming, me complimentary.  But it was a reminder of the process that I’m going to have to go through to get to know people and have them get to know me: gaining trust is not an easy road…it takes hard work and a sensitive eye.
  • Work ethic: In my old job, it was (until the end) a situation where everyone knew I would get my work done and do it well. I don’t have that level of trust yet so I think that means I’ve got to work harder than ever before. My position is virtual, and aside from a few meetings, I haven’t been required to physically go in to the office – it’s my choice to go in once a week for staff meetings. I think it’s important to have that face time to build trust and new relationships, observe how I interact with people, understand that the job is important to me and that I’m a team player.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been the new kid on the block, but I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure they know I’ve got the right stuff.

– Libby Bingham


Find the Tina(s) to Your Amy

While this article was posted last year, it just recently came across my path: What No One Tells You About Your Career When You’re 22 by Katie Burke. The concept itself isn’t new – passing along wisdom gained through experience to those who don’t yet have said experience – but among the advice you might expect to see, there was one piece that stood out to me.

We would expect to see advice about receiving feedback, strengthening weaknesses and taking ownership, but number three on Burke’s list if “find the Tina(s) to Your Amy.”

“A lot of people talk about how developing friendships at work can improve your personal life, but these relationships can also have a huge impact on your career path. Just look at Tina Fey and Amy Pohler — they’re best friends who also push each other to achieve amazing things in their respective careers.”

Full disclosure: I LOVE Amy Pohler. I adore Tina Fey, too, and since Burke has claimed Fey as her spirit animal, I’ll happily take Pohler. I admire their individual talents, smarts and candor, but the thing I love most is how much they love working together.

One of my favorite quotes from Pohler is “do work you are proud of with your talented friends.” As I’ve grown in my career, I’ve learned I work best with a partner in crime. I step up my game, I enjoy the work more and two heads are always better than one. I also love having a co-conspirator – someone with whom I can plan surprises for the larger team. And I especially love a break from the Real Housewives model – women going after each other for sport. Lifting up two women who go out of their way to support each other and other women around them warms my heart. Those are the examples I want to see.

So among all the advice to lean in, take risks and embrace gratitude, first and foremost, find yourself a partner in crime. The rest will follow and come what may, you’ll have each other to lean on.


Ah, the Apology Battle

Apologies. Everything has something to say about them. Including me, last year. Lena Dunham just published Sorry, Not Sorry: My Apology Addiction on LinkedIn. Not surprisingly, a rebuttal, Dear Lena, stop telling me to stop saying sorry was quickly published in US Today by Lindsay Deutsch. Apologies are a popular battle ground, especially for women – right up there with swearing (some insist on abstaining and other insist it means you’re smarter).

I was doing a training a couple months ago where we were discussing apologies as part of a well-rounded skill set. We wandered off into a similar discussion being had by Dunham and Deutsch about apologies in the workplace and gender. One of the women asked about apologizing when it seems more and more like women are being told not to apologize. In response, one of the men in the training made the observation that maybe we should be looking at it the other way – rather than telling women to apologize less, we should be encouraging men to apologize more.

Apologies (and swearing!) can be powerful, and it’s dangerous to completely eliminate them from your vocabulary. Like most things, we shouldn’t always or never. There is a time and place for everything, and as Dunham so eloquently points out:

“One of the most important things a person in charge can do is own their mistakes and apologize sincerely and specifically, in a way that shows their colleagues they have learned and they will do better.” – Lena Dunham 



The Price of Silence

6 Ways Nice People Can Manage Conflict by Travis Bradberry recently showed up on Huffington Post and I was struck by his first point: Consider the repercussions of silence. When it comes to conflict, we so often tend to think silence is easier – if we can just grit out teeth and get through it, things will be fine. But the behavior continues and we find ourselves rolling our eyes, coughing loudly, making snide comments and, before we know it, we find ourselves in passive aggressive territory, or even just aggressive territory. Both of which are surefire ways to make sure a problem doesn’t get resolved.

The reason this struck me as the first point is that silence is often viewed as not making a decision or the absences of a decision, but I would argue that it’s very much a decision – it’s a decision to allow the bothersome behavior to continue. We think people know their actions are problematic, but that assumes they make a conscious decision to make our lives difficult. And as much as we’d like to cast people in the role of villain, that just simply isn’t the case most of the time. They’re working with the information they have, which if we remain silent, is just one side of the story – their own.

If we don’t take the opportunity to speak up when we have a preference for something else when it comes to a behavior or decision, it’s just as much our fault if we don’t like the result. In the absence of anything else, our silence is our implicit endorsement. So next time you find yourself thinking it’s easier to stay quiet than to share your preference, think about how unhappy you’ll be next time that behavior occurs or a similar decision is made. Because with your silence, the only thing that’s guaranteed is that the same thing will happen again.

Career Karen

I am a Guinea Pig

I can see why people choose not to make high-risk decisions: it’s unpredictable with no guarantees.

If I said to you (cyber invisible person), “Eat this roast beef dinner every day and you’ll lose 10 pounds.”

You would say, “How do you know?”

I would say, “I’m not 100% sure. Looks like all the ingredients for health might be there.  Let’s see if it works.”

Cyber invisible person says, “So in other words, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”  You then walk away and think I’m crazy.

Launching a business isn’t much different.

Do I know I’ll be successful?  No.

Do I want to find out?  Yes.

It’s not you that has to eat the roast beef dinner, it’s me that has to do it first, and find out if it works. Then I can say to you, “I can guarantee you, if you eat this roast beef dinner every day for 2 weeks you’ll lose 10 pounds.” Until I, myself, try it out, take the risk, enter into unpredictability and embrace the reality that there are no guarantees, I can’t offer you anything.

What people want are stories and testimonies of what works, what is successful, what is transformational, what is impactful, what is life-changing, what is guaranteed – they want to see results.

We are a skeptical bunch, us mammals. Even animals show skepticism. One will try it before the pack does. Once it’s tried and proven, then they start to fight over who gets to be next (except for lemmings…).

What do I conclude?

I’m a guinea pig.

I’m wired for experimentation.

I’m wired to risk. I’m wired to explore. I’m wired to try it first, and then decide if it’s a good idea.

I have a philosophy. “When I’m 96 years old, will I regret not doing this?” It is foundational in my decision-making. If I respond to the question with, “Yes. Absolutely, yes.” then I know I’m to proceed. If I say, “Mehhh, I can take it or leave it,” then I don’t proceed.

I am only interested in searching for the ‘absolutely yes’ residing in my heart.

I remember as a young girl spinning the globe, closing my eyes and stopping the spin with my finger. Wherever my finger landed I’d say, “I’m going here.” At a young age I already understood the concept of a “Bucket List.” I didn’t care where the globe stopped; it was the thrill of the unknown.

I remember my friends and I would roll a big tractor tire down knolls in the farm pasture.  You’d crawl inside and someone would launch you down the hill. One day we wanted to try a new, steeper hill. Who wants to be the guinea pig?  I raise my hand enthusiastically, “yes please!” Without question, I wanted to experiment the new hill. (Being our first attempt, I accidentally got significant airtime and was completely disoriented when they pulled me out of the tire.  I still smile with fondness, reminiscing about that moment.)

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s in my DNA. Since a little girl, I’ve had wide-eyed wonder when a new opportunity surfaced. If I knew I wouldn’t bore you with stories, I truly could write countless memories that repeat this conviction. Undoubtedly, it’s a conviction because it lives powerfully within me. It remains a current part of my lifestyle and stems all the way back to 4 years old.

It’s my normal.

What a profound realization I’m having this morning.

I am intricately designed to desire the unknown.

As I reflect and translate it into my professional world, I think that’s what separates entrepreneurs from other business leaders. We welcome those not-knowing moments.  We respect mystery.

Entrepreneurs believe the world is ours to explore. Behind every door is a wonder and a beautiful surprise. We believe we can overcome obstacles with determination and endurance. We can be seen as either relentlessly stubborn or unwaveringly committed. I choose the latter.

To all the entrepreneurs out there, wide-eyed wonder is your normal.

– Karen Thrall

*also published on




Career Karen

4 Pillars Of Wisdom For Start Up Companies

If you’re going to start a business, here are four areas to keep track of and be diligent with:

  1.  Keep your personal living expenses at an all time low. You’re on a tight-string budget. Accept it. What you used to do, you can’t do – FOR NOW.  It will pass. Only buy discounted deals, go bargain shopping, drive a car that’s cost efficient or ride your bike, eat frugal meals and keep your personal costs low, low, low.
  2. Consider a part-time job. A non-stress, easy, no pressure job to bring in a bit of cash flow.  Entrepreneurs take big financial risks.  Even if it’s minimum wage for 20 hours a week.  That’s still $800+ a month going into your bank account.  You can use that money to pour back into your business.
  3. Ask your friends and family for help. Right at the start.They believe in you and want the best for you. They will help however they can. Don’t be afraid to ask. They may not help financially, but they can help with other resources: time, talent, network connections, skills, volunteer work, etc.
  4. Always be networking. Meet new people every week. Every week tell yourself you’ll meet 5 new people that correlate with your business. When they meet you, they will like you and your passion for what you’re doing. They will remember you and one day, if not immediately, they will want what you offer.


– Karen Thrall

*also published on


Boss Blind Spot

There seems to be something in the air. Several of my friends are on the job hunt, and they’re at various places on the spectrum of “seeing what’s out there” to “get me the hell out of here before I gouge my own eyes out.” And while their circumstances are all varied in terms of how long they’ve been there, what their next move might be or whether or not they’ve got families to support, they all have one thing in common. They’ve gotten new bosses within the past year and their work lives have become intolerable.

We’ve long known that people don’t leave jobs, but rather, leave bosses. But knowing that and seeing it in practice across organizations and professions is another matter. And while I don’t know the specific details with every situation, I know several of these bosses have lost people before. I also fully understand that I wouldn’t necessarily know if something was being done – corrective action shouldn’t be public, of course – but it’s hard when high turnover is the only piece of the puzzle people see. Employees know which bosses have high turnover. They see who leaves, how long they lasted and they end up usually watching the whole thing happen again before they know it. One of my friends who just left her job was the third person to leave her team in less than a year. And the team is only 5 people to begin with – including the boss that everyone keeps leaving, who has only been there two years himself.

Sure, there are always reasons people leave other than their boss. And people may often share reasons other than their boss because they’re afraid or don’t want to make trouble. But as leaders within our organizations, it’s critical to look at the common denominators. Other employees certainly will be, and if they’re even perceiving the boss as that main common denominator, it may be time to check your own blind spots.

Career Libby

Being Bossy

I’ve been reflecting on what it takes to be a good boss. First of all, I know it’s not easy, but it’s probably the most important component of any successful and satisfying career or professional experience. Ask someone about a negative experience with a job and chances are good you’ll get a lot of emotional reminiscing about a particular boss – the memories are still vivid and can evoke stress even years later. I think we all know a “bad” boss when we experience it, but what are the attributes of a “good” one? Certainly it will vary from person to person, but here are a few that I feel are universal:

  1. They respect you. Respect can be shown in a myriad of ways, but it is the one thing that is critical for a successful professional relationship. As a worker, you must feel like your work product is valued and contributes to the goals of the organization.
  2. They see you as an individual. Everyone is different and a good boss will be able differentiate how to interact with each of their staff in a way that works for that individual. It is an important skill to be able to understand how people are motivated and what is important to them – this is where you can find areas of commonality which can strengthen commitment.
  3. They support your professional development. A supervisor who wants your skills to grow is both a sign of respect and a way of telling you that you are a valued member of the team. Not only does it help them achieve their goals, but it makes it more appealing to stay part of the team for a longer time. Insecurity about seeing someone improve their skills – or even learn something the boss doesn’t know – is not conducive to building relationships.
  4. They trust you. Trust is a tricky thing – it has to be earned, but there have to be opportunities given in order for people to show they’re trustworthy…tough! But this is a foundational piece to working with someone, and therefore important to cultivate. In this case, perception is just as important reality.
  5. They listen to you. A professional relationship is not a one-way street. It is critical that a supervisor can listen to, seek out and value your ideas and opinions. If you don’t feel like your views are important, what’s the point?

When you have a truly respectful relationship where both parties feel smart, valued and equitable, the results can be amazing – work can actually be fun! It is important for supervisors to feel secure and to take the time to get to know their staff. When they can model good practices, find out what’s important to you and to be honest, the relationship can grow over time and reap benefits for both parties.

– Libby Bingham

Ashley Career


My husband and I were walking through Old Town Alexandria recently and our conversation veered towards work. Out of nowhere he says, “Isn’t it weird how when men are successful leaders, everyone admires them and talks about how much they respect them, and when women are great leaders, people just think they’re bitches?” (Sorry for using French so early!) Dear husband of mine, it’s not just weird, it’s unfortunate and wrong.

I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In a few years ago and, since Nick isn’t a reader, I imparted  as much of Sandberg’s wisdom as I could to him. On our walk, I reminded him about the Lean In movement and the unfortunate “bossy” tag we give women in leadership positions. I asked him how he would describe me and my leadership style. He used words like fiery, intense and “a little bit rage-like…” Whatever that means (though I envisioned a female version of Bernie Sanders). We laughed, and then I got serious. Not exactly what I was hoping to hear from the #1 man in my life.

Oddly enough, earlier that week, someone used some very different, very flattering adjectives to describe me: energetic, upbeat, approachable, and always smiling. Jackpot! …those comments came from a woman. Then, the very next day, another female coworker called me the “team mom.” I can hardly tell that story without choking on the words. I can’t win.

My husband is a wonderful man and great husband. He’s always proud of me, encourages me, isn’t afraid of my need for the spotlight, and he believes in me. He cheers me on to success and dares me to continuously do more, and do better. I adore that about him. But when he started describing my leadership style, I wondered if my husband, my biggest cheerleader, is using these descriptors, do other men view me that way?

Recently, after some recurring and tense interactions, my (male) boss confronted me so we could work it out. We calmly worked through the “whys” and addressed how we could work better together. He let something sneak into the conversation that made the recent frustrations on both ends make much more sense…“well, let’s face it, you’ve basically been running the team.” Bingo. It was a compliment, and yet maybe a warning. My leadership skills were too much for him to handle, and were overpowering my boss’ own management style. (Team mom, or faux boss?)

So what’s the deal?! How do I break free from the perceptions and the descriptors, that my male and female counterparts are attributing to my leadership style? I don’t have the answers yet, but I’m making some strong observations and hopefully will start to really stand on my own two feet as a leader. I do know that I’m grateful to be a part of history where the expectations of women have changed and we feel and are a part of real progress. I’m grateful that we can participate in a dialogue around the challenges we still have to overcome…and that we can do it over a glass of wine or bourbon, neat.

– Ashley Respecki