Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Is There a Downside to Teaming?

I did a basic team building presentation for a volunteer organization last week and was absolutely shocked by the answers to one of my questions.  Now I will admit, I learn something from every presentation I do and pretty much every person I talk to.  But this incident stood out in my mind and really made me think.

team building, preferences, engagementAs part of the presentation, I have a slide with two columns and twelve rows titled "Which Do You Prefer?".  It is a basic checklist that I recommend using during the start up of a team to find out more about the people with whom you will be working and how their styles may differ from your own.  In addition to asking if you prefer "Agenda" or "No Agenda" I ask "why."  For instance, one person reflected that if the meeting is about something they know well, they do not require an agenda ahead of time.  If it is a new topic they may want the agenda up to a week ahead of time.  There is even a silly question as to whether you prefer coffee or tea.  Obviously, the team will not break down if you don't know your teammates' preferences but the idea is to get people talking and to notice that what one person prefers without thinking another may not even like.

One of the questions is Independent Work vs. Group Assignments.  In a room of 40 people only 2 people preferred Group Assignments.  The group was all women, relatively varied in age but probably more under 40 than not, and came from different areas of the organization (I spoke with almost ever person before the program).  Assuming that one of the reasons people join organizations is to socialize with other people, I will admit, I was expecting a majority to prefer group assignments.  Boy was I wrong.

So what is behind this overwhelming response?  The organization has over 2000 members so this is not the result of one leader's actions like you sometimes see when working with a small in-tact team.  The members were on committees that cover the spectrum from individual responsibility to working with hundreds of volunteers on one activity so it wasn't a self-selection issue.  And I have to admit, the hands went up really quickly on this one so each person was very clear on her own preference.

I don't know the "why" answer, but I do know that from now on this question is on the top of my list when working with volunteers, clients, teammates, or new employees.  This is classic low-hanging fruit.  If a person prefers Independent Work and you consistently give them assignments to work together with three other people to ask another person a question, you are going to lose them.  If a person prefers Group Assignments and you consistently give them assignments to research something on the internet and report findings back at the next meeting, you are going to lose them.  And, as I learned once again, you cannot assume you know what people want (or how a group will respond to that type of a question), you must ask them.

Do you have a preference for Independent Work or Group Assignments?  Does it change based on whether you are at work, at home, or volunteering?  What do you do to cater to the preferences of those you work with?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

They are Called the Greatest Generation for a Reason

In a fight between the Congress and the Administration, score goes to...the WWII veterans.  Depending on which side of the aisle you prefer (or whether you are inside or outside the beltway), you may have different views over what the government shutdown is about and/or means to you.  Regardless of what your personal beliefs are, I hope you will take a moment to follow what I consider THE story of the day (picture and link are from www.newschannel9.com).    

I have several friends who volunteer escorting the Honor Flights of WWII veterans to visit the memorial created to honor their service to our country and first learned about the potential issue through their facebook posts this morning.  (The Honor Flight website is currently down, hopefully crashed by people donating money in light of today's news stories, but it is www.honorflight.org.)  This organization flies veterans to see "their" memorial at no cost to the veteran.  The ages of the WWII veterans makes simply "rescheduling" these visits a non-starter.  The organization and its volunteers are fighting against time and are doing everything they can to get every veteran to see this memorial.  

This morning, several previously scheduled flights took off for Washington, DC, with hundreds of individuals from Iowa and Mississippi unsure what type of welcome they would get.  They were greeted by volunteers who have a passion for uniting these veterans and this memorial, and barricades indicating that the open-air memorial was closed due to the shutdown.  

In his book, The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw says about the men and women of this generation, "
At a time in their lives when their days and nights should have been filled with innocent adventure, love, and the lessons of the workaday world, they were fighting in the most primitive conditions possible across the bloodied landscape of France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, and the coral islands of the Pacific. They answered the call to save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs. They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest. They succeeded on every front. They won the war; they saved the world. They came home to joyous and short-lived celebrations and immediately began the task of rebuilding their lives and the world they wanted."  Now do you really think just because these veterans are of advanced age, they were going to look at the barricade, read the sign, and turn around and go home?  

I am guessing there will be politicians who use this morning's event as a "why my side is right" or "look what I did for the veterans," but I refuse to participate in that discussion.  What happened today happened because these veterans have never and will never step down from a fight with a bully who is trying to use them as a pawn.  That is why Tom Brokaw described them as "the greatest generation any society has ever produced," and that is why this morning, hundreds of veterans from Iowa and Mississippi got to see, up close and personal, the memorial that was created to honor their service.   Special thank yous go out to the men and women of the National Park Service who put up such small barriers.  It should be noted that the newschannel9 story quotes a spokeswoman for the Park Service as saying they did not want to keep the veterans out but were ordered to close all memorials.  The National Park Service employees were clearly between a rock and a hard place and did everything they could in light of the existing circumstance (including allowing the "storming" of the memorial to be a peaceful and respectful one).   

When I read about what these veterans gave up, endured, and fought against to create the world they wanted, I am ashamed at what we have done with the legacy they left us.  I thank them for the reminder today, that you can always take a stand for what you believe in.  I hope that they can continue to be a symbol of what can be accomplished when we work together for a common (positive) goal.  

Who is a member of the greatest generation that you have learned something from and what did you learn?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Single Moms - Part 3 - The Light at the End of the Tunnel

When you are childless and go through a break up it is hard.  I remember chocolate ice cream, Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs, and whole weekends spent on my couch.  And then slowly you get back into things, maybe go out for a night on the town with friends or speed dating (preferably combined with a wine tasting).  The entire process is about you and, well, processing what you have gone through.

When you go through that break up with a child, however, it is different (still hard).  The process now becomes about making sure your little (or not so little) one is comfortable with the new normal and you are forever tied with "the one that got away" through your child (or children).  What's more, you now are doing most of it on your own (possibly without financial support) and quite frankly, that is draining in a way I can't even begin to explain.

No matter what the circumstances of the parting of ways, no matter how amicable or how much of a relief it is, your mind still needs to process the loss.  If you spend your time keeping everything and everyone else together that may not happen as quickly as it otherwise would.  For some that is good, children don't understand mommy wants to sit on this couch and eat this ice cream and watch this sappy movie and cry.  More likely you are going to the park or watching Dinosaur Train.

The back end of the process is a lot less noticeable as well.  There are no late night happy hours for me, just impromptu play dates with friends and their children.  What I have noticed though, is over the last week or two, I am not crashing as soon as the baby is down (except of course for those nights he refuses to go to sleep).  I once again have time to write, read, and think in the evenings.  If this keeps up I may even have time to take a relaxing bath one night!

Over the past year, co-workers, fellow volunteers, friends, and family have supported me through a very difficult time.  I am still working furiously to try to recover financially, but emotionally, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I see glimpses of the old me and it is like running into an old friend.

Not everything in life is about work.  If you are truly lucky, as I am, work can be a safe haven to fuel your passions when things outside of work are falling apart.  But in the end, if you can't find a healthy balance in both arenas, you will end up seeking the help of a medical professional.

Work/life balance is not like a scale that must balance perfectly every day.  It is more like a pendulum
that swings back and forth (or three dimensionally if you have volunteer, church, and outside interests) to the area that needs the most attention.  But no matter how far it swings in one direction, there is a tension pulling it back the other way in search of a balance.

I feel like my pendulum is pulling back from a year's worth of "family" demands.  I have learned to find time to volunteer, spent time with friends, and engaged in new work pursuits that have truly challenged me.  All the while, constantly learning about the little monkey who lives in my heart and home.  For me, that is the epitome of work/life balance and I am loving all of it.

*~*~* Single Moms - Part 1 - You Will Never Be As Hard on a Single Mother as She is On Herself
*~*~* Single Moms - Part 2 - Toddler Gone Wild

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Back to School Time For the Kids - How Will You Model Lifetime Learning This Year?

This time of year always makes me nostalgic.  While I get to go to class throughout the year and each time is like a mini flashback, there is nothing quite like the build up to the start of a new school year.  A friend of mine published a blog post on those "school" supplies that moms love the most, and I must say, her list (and the instant "Oh yeah I need those!" reaction we all have reading it) make me think that I am not the only one in the start-of-school-envy boat.

We all know that kids pick up on what we do even (especially?) when it doesn't match what we say.  So, what are you modeling for your children about lifelong learning?

I have a friend whose morning post today was that her daughter asked to start off her first day of school by attending a 6:30 AM sales meeting (celebrating a record sales month) with her mom.  It is easy to see that her second grader sees learning as an integral piece of the pie; that she sees execution as a by-product of that learning; and that she sees the two go together hand-in-hand.  (If you knew my friend you would know right away where her daughter gets that amazing sense of purpose, balance, and love of learning.)

But for the rest of us mere mortals, it is so much easier to stop at a fast food restaurant on the way home because making dinner and doing the dishes and doing everything else just to get ready for the next day is just too much.  We constantly have to nag our children to do their homework, but how often do they see us learning?

I have such fond memories of when my mother studied for her real estate license.  (Those big books filled with multiple choice questions!!!!)  I still remember Dewey, Cheatam, and Howe and their real estate antics.  But more importantly, I am convinced that seeing my mother approach learning in the same way she expected me to is one of the reasons I love to learn to this day.  And it is one of the gifts I want to pass on to my son.

So, if you want to be the kind of role model that my friend and my mother are for their daughters, why not start today.  It is the first day of school after all!

Crack open your trapper keeper or pad folio, your composition book (stolen from your child's supply) or a moleskin journal, your colored pencils or your favorite Cross pen, a crayon or your highlighter, and one of those five leadership books sitting around the house you've been meaning to get to.  You know you have them, they have been mocking you for years.  Really don't have any?  That is fine, both Kindle and Nook have apps for PC and Mac and you can download them and a book in about ten minutes.  Need a recommendation?  Check out the list below.  Just pick one book, read one chapter tonight, and write down the answers to these questions.
  1. Why did you pick this book? (Because it was on the list and you want to be a better leader isn't going to cut it here.  Seriously, at least 200 words if you need the challenge, why did you pick this book?)
  2. What did you learn by reading the first chapter?  
  3. Did anyone comment on what you were doing?
  4. How did that make you feel?
  5. What would it mean to you personally if you could read a chapter and journal each night in pursuit of your own professional development?
Think about ways you can make this family time.  Set a timer with everyone at the kitchen table (you have laptops, iPads, and wifi, yes you can all work at the kitchen table) doing their "homework each night.  Talk about what you learned with your children - think they don't understand?  You will be surprised.  Your greatest sounding board could be sitting across the table from you.  Don't talk down to them, seriously ask them what they think and then listen.  

The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson.  The premise of this book is that "great innovative breakthroughs can be explained by the intersection of disciplines and cultures."  I like this book as a starting point because it gets you thinking about making connections between all the different experiences you bring to the table - that perspective which only you can provide.

Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie.  This book includes a code for you to go online and find out what your top five strengths are.  The book breaks the strengths down into four domains and shows you how they each work to produce results.  The premise of the book is that you will get further developing your strengths than working on your weaknesses (unless, of course, one of your weaknesses is a career derailed).  I think the unstated genius of the book is that to have a balanced team (or someone to work with) you can choose someone with strengths in areas you are not strong in. Why work to build competence in a weak area when you can partner with an expert!

The Introverted Leader by Jennifer Kahnweiler.  Dr. Kahnweiler shows Introverts how to their preference and her 4 P's Process to become better leaders.  For those of us who have a preference for Extraversion, the book shows us a process that works regardless of preference and gives us a perspective on what those with another preference need.  The chapters cover all the major work areas so it is also a great place to start a reflective professional development project.

The Four Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney.  Strategy without execution is really nothing more than a day dream.  This offering from the FranklinCovey brain trust is for those people who want to focus on achieving results.  The idea of prioritizing Wildly Important Goals and working towards them creates positive, proactive, engaged teams.

The Next Level by Scott Eblin.  The Next Level is about the transition from specialist/technician to executive, from the doer to the planner, from the specific to the general.  It is about what you need to let go of when you move up the chain (doing everything yourself) and what you need to pick up (seeing the big picture).  In other words, being the go-to-person is what got you where you are today.  But "what got you here, won't get you there."  You need to be able to let go what you are good at and what you have been rewarded for in the past to pick up the new skills and presence you will need to be a successful executive.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hit and Run

Last week my NCIS Season 10 DVDs came in the mail.  Each episode is a treat in and of itself after I got rid of cable last year and became a Netflix-only household.  (As a single mother with a toddler, I was averaging about 30 minutes of quality TV time to myself a day so it seemed a real waste of money.)  Overall I have been pleased, but there are a few shows, like NCIS and Big Bang Theory, that I honestly miss.  

Anyway, one of the episodes really struck me the more I thought about it.  The title was Hit and Run and in it, Abby's character flashes back to a childhood "investigation" while working a current hit and run investigation and comes to the conclusion that all her work is for nothing as she doesn't change anything and bad things still happen.  Of course, Gibbs' character shows her what a difference she truly makes by just being herself and the episode closes with her smiling.  His speech is about her "hit and runs" where she does something nice that touches someone in ways she never knows.

It made me think, how often does someone pull a hit and run on us.  Truly hurt us in a way they'll never know with an action that may have been innocent in their eyes but truly hurtful in ours?  How often do we do that to other people?  To the extreme, this is the bullying and harassment that can lead to withdrawal and suicide by those on the receiving end.  More likely, it is the slow cynical chipping away of someone's positive outlook.

What about the good Abby-like hit and runs?  To the extreme these are those random moments when you do something nice for someone at a crossroads in their life and it completely changes their outlook without you even knowing what you did.  More likely, it is something as simple as a kind bus driver, coffee shop patron, or stranger on the street that makes you smile during the day.

So here's the real question.  Which type of hit and run do you want to be known for?  Even if you are already known for the bad kind, you can practice random acts of kindness, acknowledgement, and friendship with those around you.  What would it feel like to look in the mirror and know that you are a positive influence to those around you?  I know I want to know.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Thank You! Challenge

How many times a day do you say "thank you?"  How many times a day do you hear "thank you?"  As I started teaching my toddler son to say "please" and "thank you" I realized that I began saying it more even when he was not around.  Then it occurred to me that I hadn't been saying it enough.  So I started saying it even more around others.

And then I had an experience where a simple thank you changed a person's attitude (for the good).  And I realized the power of a simple thank you in a work environment (as a federal employee) where morale seems to be at an all-time low (at least in the fifteen years I've been around) and people seem quick to snap at one another and "say" things (either in person or via e-mail) that you never would have heard in the workplace twenty years ago.  (And no, this is not a generational issue as it is all generations I am hearing it from.)

After last Friday, just another day of serving as everyone's verbal whipping post, (the joy of being at the bottom of the hill things roll down) I decided that I wanted to try something new this week.  And I'm hoping you will join me and invite others to join.

Think for a minute, what would a day be like if you thanked every person with whom you came in contact.  Not just the ones who give you what you want or are nice to you.  Could you do it?  And not the sarcastic sneer of "thank you" that really means you should be nicer.  A sincere thank you.  Are you up for the challenge?

Here are the rules:

  1. For twenty-four hours you must thank every person with whom you come in contact at least once.  (You can thank them more but no need to get carried away with those you see all day.)
  2. Each thank you must be spontaneous, sincere, and specific.  "Thank you" doesn't count.  "Wow, thank you for such friendly service!" and "Thank you so much for inviting me to lunch with you." do count.  
  3. You can Facebook or Tweet your "thank you's" using the hashtag #thankyouchallenge and they will show on the right side of this blog.  
I'll let you know how tomorrow goes, please share your experiences with me as well!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

People Are Different

You have read about this week's eye gash and trip to the doctor so you can picture a bit of the little (adorable) Tasmanian Devil I live with. But his reaction to this week has reminded me of a very important principle we all forget on a daily basis.  People are different and they react to things differently. 

I'm not talking about the differences between raising "snips and snails" boys and "sugar and spice" girls.  This is far more basic and relates to the lens of our preferences and life experiences through which we view everything that happens to us and those around us. 

Take, for example, a head bump so bad that the gash needed liquid stitches. If this had happened to me I would have, pardon my frankness, milked it for all it was worth. Not in a lazy way or a "poor me" way, but in a "I really need to just take it easy" way. How does my little boy react?  I have no idea. There hasn't been a single slow down, whimper, or change in behavior. Had I kept him home and "pampered" him the way I would have WANTED someone to do for me he would have been bored to the point of crankiness. (He really loves time at school with his friends.)

But yet, so often in life and in the workplace we try to "help" people or judge their actions based on the lens through which we see their situation.  How often do we make things worse, as I would have with my son, by doing that. As a new-ish mother I have come to terms with not knowing and often watch for his reactions and move forward accordingly. But in the workplace we often feel pressured to know what to do and react quickly. 

I challenge you when working with co-workers today to hold back on actions, judgements, and opinions until you have observed, analyzed, and considered other possible lenses through which to view the situation. What did you learn?  How did others react?  How can this approach help you long term?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Single Moms, Part 2 (Toddler Gone Wild)

Today started out as any other, I had two days at work this week and that was plenty of time to get my "must do before I leave" list cleared. I was sitting at my desk tackling the thing I like the least first when my phone rang. That call that no parent, single or otherwise, wants to get. My son had gotten a cut above his eye and they wanted me to take him to the doctor. A little discombobulated I managed to call his doctor's office and make an appointment while emailing my boss and setting my out of office reply. That done I caught a cab and had my little boy in my arms in record time. He was having a snack and threw the ice pack away by himself so he was obviously handling it very well. I agreed that a trip to the doctor's and not the ER. was in order and so we headed on the train and bus 75 minute trip.  The joys of living in a city without a car. The worst part was cleaning and putting Derma Bond on the cut at the doctor'a but luckily he didn't need stitches. My little tough guy even managed a polite thank you in between sobs for the terrific nurse practitioner. 

Two weeks ago, the whole thing would have stressed me beyond belief. In the last two weeks he's tried to jump off a jungle gym only to succeed seconds late over the top of the slide. That trip to the ER scared me to death?  Diagnoses after two hours?  He doesn't like doctors.  Treatment?  They gave him a Popsicle. I am not kidding. In the weeks between, my little twenty-one month old has been testing his physical boundaries and my mental ones non-stop. 

As a single-mom I haven't had a break. I literally crash at night as soon a he does from sheer physical and mental exhaustion. Nights are still a challenge for us so most nights I am up at least twice. Even if he self-soothes himself back to sleep, I am awake. My volunteer and writing times have been cut as those are after he goes to sleep activities. 

Honestly, there have been days that I wondered how I can keep it up. And then Saturday night, in the middle of the worst play date/dinner ever, I got the gift that I needed. I happened to be with another single mom of a boy the same age (who was acting like an angel) when my sweet boy decided to protest sitting and eating. After I made two attempts at walking around the block to calm him down, I asked if she wanted to just take them to the ball field/playground across the street and let them run. I didn't know what else to do. Luckily she said yes.  They ran, and giggled, and played with each other and I even managed to laugh. She confessed that her son had been that way the week before and that really helped. She understood the "never stop" feelings I was having and convinced me to schedule a babysitter and just take a night off. So, while another true friend is playing with my little champion, I got some shopping for an upcoming trip done and am sitting in Barnes and Noble drinking tea and writing.  Just knowing that someone else thought this was hard and I wasn't the worst parent in the world for needing some down time made a huge difference. Reaching out and asking for help from her (to get through that night) and from my other friend to babysit were both very hard for me but I am so thankful they were there to help me push my way through. 

Life is like that regardless of whether you are single or in a relationship, a parent or not. There are times that we have to choose to ask for help or push ourselves to a place we cannot go by ourselves.  Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, rather it is recognition that we are social creatures and we need other humans to get through this crazy world. I am so thankful for my two friends who have come to my aid (whether they knew what they were contributing or not) this week and hope that I am as good a friend to others. 

When do you ask for help?  Who do you ask?  

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Truest Mirror

There is a great song called "Watching You" by Rodney Atkins about how children watch and mimic us at our best and at our worst. It was a sweet and funny song until the first time my sweet little toddler said "s$@t" when he couldn't get his duplos to snap together. I had to suppress a small bit of pride that he had used it in the right context and make a split decision about what to do. Since he was 16 months at the time I ignored it and immediately took the word out of my vocabulary. (Since I get excited about every new word, this worked...this time.).

What I learned is that he is taking in every single thing I do and say. I started practicing saying please and thank you and encouraging his use of them and he is often the first to say it now when someone holds the door for me while pushing the stroller. 

It made me think about developing others. You can tell people to do things until you are blue in the face but if you are not modeling the practice you probably won't have much success. Why, because your actions demonstrate the true value (or lack of value) you place on the practice. Unfortunately, the same message can be received if others just don't see the actions you do (think personal development, work/life balance, learning from your mistakes, corrective action with non-performing employees, and decision-making processes).  How do you model the behavior you want when it is not always necessary (or appropriate in the case of working with non-performaing employees) to act in front of those you lead?

Perhaps what you are modeling is behavior change.  With personal development for example, your employees may not see you reading a book about leadership or journaling about what what went well and what didn't, but if they see you changing things up and improving while hearing you talk about the concepts in the book they will get the benefit of the modeled behavior.  Similarly, they may not see you working with non-performing employees, but if they see the behaviors change over time they learn to trust that you are dealing with issues.

With the other things like learning from your mistakes, decision-making processes, and work/life balance you may have to share a bit to truly model the behavior.  Nobody wants to tell others they have made a mistake but if you truly want others to learn to acknowledge, repair, and prevent the mistake in the future they need to see that it is okay to do so.

Do you consciously model certain behaviors that are important to you?  Do you notice yourself improving as you are trying to help others do so just from the modeling process?  Share your stories!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Rule of Thumb for Leadership Development

How committed to that leadership development program you signed up for (or were nominated for) are you?

Better yet, what does committed mean to you?
  • I will try to attend the whole class except for that phone call I need to take and checking e-mails during the program.
  • I will put my out of office on for the time of the program and attend the whole session.  
  • I will do all the pre-work assigned.
  • I will make notes and incorporate something from the program afterwards.
  • I will work for at least six months to integrate the concepts, reflect on application "experiments," and revise my process.
In a world where training professionals are constantly being able to state the return on investment for leadership training, the dirty little secret is that there is often very little return because the participants are not committed to the program.  Honestly, if you are not spending 7-10 hours working with the new concepts outside of the classroom for every hour you are inside the classroom you are probably not getting the most out of the program.  

I can hear you now, my boss just signed me up for a four week residential program, you really expect me to put in a year's worth of time on that?  Here are the cold, hard facts.  If you estimate 50 hours a week in class for four weeks, you have 200 hours of class time which roughly translates to 1400 to 2000 hours of concentrated reflection/application time.  Your employer is probably spending in excess of $25,000 for you to attend that program.  If you go to the program and then don't incorporate anything that was a very expensive program with very little return on investment to your employer.  If you go to that program and spend the next year working with the concepts you learned, chances are good that you will show significant return on investment for your employer.  

But aren't they supposed to teach me everything I need to know?  Leadership development is not like learning how to turn on a new appliance (here is the remote, here is the power button, go forth and be entertained!).  It is not like accounting (if this column doesn't match this column you did something wrong, go find it and fix it).  And it is not like learning biology (the hip bone is connected to the...okay, I can never remember the way that song goes, but you know where I am going with this).  

Leadership development is learning new ways to approach situations that have been occurring since the dawn of time and will continue to occur long after we're gone.  The reason there are so many theories and methods is because human beings are different.  The leaders are different so the leader has to find something that works for him or her (so the resulting actions are authentic) and the people they lead are different so the leader then has to find something that works for each person he or she leads (so the resulting actions are engaging).  The combination of the two is the holy grail for leaders.  And just as soon as you figure that out, a new person or challenge comes along to send you back to the drawing board.  Thus, leadership development is a lifetime pursuit.  

Yeah, right, whatever you say.  My employer will never let me take a year sabbatical to "practice" after this course, you are crazy.  And that is where theory and reality meet.  Reflection and application of learning is not done in a vacuum (or on sabbatical) it is done in your office, with your co-workers, on a daily basis.  Did you try to incorporate that time management principle and your boss gave you that "I don't care what you learned in class about priorities, I want this today" look?  That is when you reflect on how you tried to incorporate the principle, what happened, what you can tweak and try next time, what happened, etc.  

Here are a few quick tips to help you really apply what you learn in your leadership development program.  If you do it all, you will go a long way to hitting that 1:7 - 1:10 ratio of in-class and outside application and reflection time.  

  1. Keep a reflective journal for every program you attend or leadership book you read.  
  2. Keep your class/reading notes in it and follow with your experiments and observations.  
  3. Find the name of a classmate (or get a co-worker to read through the book with you) and meet regularly (every 2-4 weeks) to talk about what is working and what isn't.
  4. Teach small portions of what you are working on to co-workers, employees, and friends.  This helps increase your understanding and helps develop a common language around the principles.
  5. Brainstorm possible applications of a concept or principle for at least 30 minutes (no judgement). Use that list to trigger new ideas when you are tweaking an application.
  6. Ask employees, co-workers, and supervisors for feedback on your efforts and write about what they said that surprised you, encouraged you, or sent you back to the drawing board.
  7. Compare the concepts from this program to concepts from other programs you have attended.  Are there situations where one will work better than another?  How will you know what "tool" from your leadership toolbox to use in a given situation?
And for during class?  Arrive on time, plan to stay until the end, and check e-mails and calls on breaks.  (Don't be like a recent participant I had who came up to me during lunch and said can you go over this piece with me?  I was sending an e-mail at the time and missed it but I am really interested in it.)  

How many programs should you attend?  This depends greatly on the way you learn.  I recommend putting together a multi-faceted plan that involves 1-2 in-class programs, 2 books (don't forget audio books), 5-6 relevant journals/magazines/blogs/podcasts/TedTalks/etc, and a lot of reflection (individual, with a partner, or in a group).  

What are your thoughts?  How do you apply and incorporate the things you learn?  What are you using today from the last class you took or book you read?  What about the first class you took or book you read?

Communication Breakdowns...When Things Go Unsaid or Unheard

Picture this, a beautiful August morning, a sweet toddler cuddles with his single mother, he plays and eats while she gets ready, they negotiate getting dressed, walk out the door...and boom, instant meltdown. Do you want to walk? No! Do you want to ride in the stroller?  No!  Do you want to ride the bus?  Bus!  And cue meltdown because he can't run around on the bus. Exit the bus with a squirming screaming child in one hand and a folded stroller in the other. Child reaches for sippy cup, sits in stroller and quiets down. Whew!  Walk in, put away the stroller and...outside!  No we have to go to class, want to see the guinea pigs first? No!  Cue collapse on the floor for dramatic effect. Thank goodness we are in a daycare where parents and adults look at you with empathy instead of disdain. Pick him up, take him to class, set him down with his cup and snack and cue dramatic collapse. Slowly share snacks with all the kids in the room because they all know I will. Once all the kids are eating their snacks at the table and I give him a hug and tell him I love him the other children say "bye bye" and he looks up and blows me kisses. And just like that he's back an ready for the day. I walk out of the room physically exhausted and shaking. What did I do wrong?  What did he want (other to run around) that I missed?  The terrible twos have just started, can I handle this alone?

I stop for breakfast and hit my favorite parenting sites with a search on temper tantrums 21 months. Their advice?  It is going to happen, make sure they are safe, let them work it out, help them learn communications skills to reduce their frustration and hi them when it is over so they know you still love them. Check, check, check, and check!  (Instant confidence boost!). Okay, I think I am ready to go to work now.  

And then it hit me. My son and I have a serious communication problem right now because he is not fully conversant in mine and I am not fully conversant in his. He thinks I am not hearing that he wants to run and I think he is not hearing that running near a busy street or on a bus are too dangerous. The reason the tactics above work is because it helps move us to a place where we can understand and really hear each other while keeping the values of love and respect up front.

And now my work brain kicks in. How many workplace conflicts are caused by people who are talking at each other and not hearing?  Just because we're adults does not mean we speak the same language. Just because we speak the same language does not mean the words mean the same thing to both parties. So...can we use the values based approach and process outline above to open up a productive dialogue to reduce conflict?

How would that look?  One possible value to consider, "I take pride in what I do and if I am working on teamwork I want to take pride in doing it well."  Another is as simple as "I like and respect the people I work with."

Next step, when someone is over the top stressed, let them vent. Encourage a quiet area where they can do it in confidentiality. Note, problem solving at this point is useless as they are in an amigdala hijack. I recommend a nice leisurely walk or a quiet relaxing location for the vent session. The listener should be as calm as can be and not delve for info or provide solutions. De escalation is the key. 

When they calm down, if they feel safe, they may say what should I do?  Again, refrain from problem solving. Use open questions to discuss what other interpretations may be clogging the communication and what tweets could invite a different reaction (teaching communication skills).  

Close with letting them know they are free to come back and follow up. Thank them for trusting you to be there for you. Reinforce that reducing their stress is important to you. 

What are your thoughts?  Do you use this method without feeling condescending. Do people pick up skills in learning to work themselves through the process and to help others in a similar way?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

What Does a Clean Desk Mean to You?

I feel like I spent the first twenty years of my life listening to my mom telling me to clean up my room and a good portion of the next twenty listening to roommates, officemates, etc. talk about the condition of my home and office.  Since I had my son, I have one room he is allowed to do anything he wants to. At 21 months he is finally figuring out our "put things away" game and I don't have to spend his naps and after he goes to bed cleaning up.  But over the last few months, I've increasingly yearned for a clean desk at work and a clean office, bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom at home.  Maybe it is the uncertainty, craziness, and change in my life combined with the increasing number of ideas and goals running through my head, but I just want a place for everything and everything in its place.

It doesn't exactly stress me out that it isn't there yet, and I move forward a little every week so I am not overwhelmed with the project.  But it has got me thinking.  If a packrat like me who has never been a neat freak can feel this way about clutter, what does it do emotionally to someone for whom neatness and organization is important?  It must drive them crazy!  Do they naturally associate it with a cluttered (and not useful mind)?  Has my cluttered desk over the years been a billboard that says "Overwhelmed: Can't Handle Anymore, Look for Another Superstar."  Truth be told, I've always kind of felt that anyone with a clean desk probably didn't have enough work to do.

I would love to hear from neat freaks and horizontal organizers (everything on the desk but you know what is where) about what the sight of someone else's desk tells you about them.  What judgements do we unknowingly (or knowingly) make about someone who has a different process than we do?  How can we break this cycle and try to understand if not appreciate the differences.  Does it matter if people are in their own office or out in an open work environment?  Chime in!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Mental Recharge

Is there anything better for a mental recharge than physical activity?  I hit the jackpot today.  The Friendship Firehouse in Alexandria, Virginia was having an open house.  That means a whole street blocked off and lined with big, red fire trucks and pint-size firefighters.  I don't have a car and it is five miles away so I took a cab there and started the morning with my little pint-size guy.  We explored the reflective surfaces of the hubcaps, the hidey-holes that store supplies, the thick fire hoses that put out fires, and someone even checked out the underside of an ambulance!  After an exciting morning with friends from his class, we were ready to head home.  And that is where my fun began.  A five-mile meandering walk with a quick stop for lunch about half-way while the little guy was napping.  It was a beautiful day.  And as I walked the stress from the week started to melt away.  Not all of it yet, I am guessing that will be a walk tomorrow.  But quite a lot.  We both got a lot of fresh air, loads of Vitamin D, and our legs stretched.  He's sound asleep and I know I will sleep better.

I walk a lot during the week but it is usually get here, get there, and pretty much always running late.  Today's walk was relaxing and oddly energizing.  I remember fondly the year that I did that type of walk pretty much every night.  While I know those days are gone, I am sincerely looking forward to Fall and a little bit cooler weather that will hopefully allow for a few fun exploration walks during the week and longer outside time on the weekends.  And seriously, what a way to recharge, spending time with the most important little guy in my life and showing him the joy of physical activity and taking time to smell the roses (or undercarriage of the ambulance as the case may be).

What activities recharge you physically and mentally?  Do they have to be alone or do you like to recharge in group activities like family bike rides or a running club?  When was the last time you treated yourself to a recharge day?  Look at your schedule now and plan 30 minutes of recharge during the week and a whole-day activity in the next two weeks.  Your health and mental acuity are counting on you to do it!

Friday, August 2, 2013

When Someone Answers Your Call

In a world where every business number you dial gets you and endless string of prompts and the people who are the public face of a company so often fail to pride themselves in service there are still a few places that "get" customer service. 

One I have recently found is Arlington Red Top Cab in Virginia. First of all, a living human being answers the phone when you call. If you want to be picked up they key in your phone number and ask if you want to be picked up at your home address. Not a problem if you don't, but a nice bonus not needing to repeat your address every time you call. Then, they send you a text when a cab has been assigned, is a mile away, and is  at your location. Each text has the number of the cab so if more than one person is waiting you know easily which one is yours. 

This may sound like a relatively simple process, but the fact of the matter is that it is often the simplest things that get overlooked. What makes them great, is they are there when you call, they know their customers, they keep you updated through the process, and they don't make you guess whether they are responding to your call or just driving by. I wish I could say that about myself 24x7!

What can you do today to make your leadership a top notch service to your employees?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

If You See My July...

I am not quite sure how it is already August. July seems to have come and gone in the blink of an eye. I will admit that Fall is my favorite season, but this year I am hoping that August will slow down just a little to allow me to catch my breath. 

I have a weekend of cleaning, planning, and playing with my son planned to get things back on track. I used a much needed day off yesterday to revisit my main priorities (my "big rocks") and I am trying to keep them front and center as I do my weekly and daily planning. 

How often do you check your priorities? If you haven't revisited them since you took that leadership class now would be a great time. Think about the next six months, what do you want to accomplish in the different facets of your life (work, volunteer, school, family, health, hobby, etc.)?  Put the list near your computer or day planner and schedule your life around what will move the big things forward and what will fulfill you most. The rest can go in your spare time.

Share something that currently gets relegated to spare time that you will make a priority and how you will accomplish that. Now, do something today, now, to move that forward. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

If at First You Don't Succeed

Goals should be things that are a stretch.  They should be things that aren't easy to achieve.  If you are truly setting goals (and not benchmarks) you will sometimes fail to hit the mark.  Take, for example, the 31-Day Blog Challenge I participated in this month.  Add in the most teaching and program days at work I have had in a while, designing a new program that has to be presented to and approved by my equivalent of the C-Suite, getting a cold from constantly going back and forth between 107 degree F heat index and 70 degree F air conditioning, and top it off with my first trip to the ER with my 21 month old son because of a fall (official diagnosis and treatment: a small bruise and a popsicle).  Needless to say, I have failed my 31-Day Blog Challenge.  And I failed it in front of all of you.

So, we are making this a teaching moment on goal setting and resilience.  I will continue blogging through the end of the month AND I will redo the challenge on my own in August.  It is still a huge stretch for me but the amount of things I have learned this month have better equipped me to meet the challenge.

What was the last goal you failed to achieve (publicly or privately)?  Will you join me in trying again with your new wisdom behind you?  Let's do it!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Little Good News

I figured out why I am so excited about the Royal Baby Boy. There is an old Anne Murray Song - A Little Good News that says it perfectly and is my song for the day. 

I rolled out this morning
Kids had the mornin' news show on
Bryant Gumbel was talkin' 'bout the fighting in Lebanon
Some senator was squawkin' 'bout the bad economy
It's gonna get worse you see, we need a change in policy

There's a local paper rolled up in a rubber band
One more sad story's one more than I can stand
Just once how I'd like to see the headline say
"Not much to print today, can't find nothin' bad to say", because

Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town
Nobody OD'ed, nobody burned a single buildin' down
Nobody fired a shot in anger, nobody had to die in vain
We sure could use a little good news today

I'll come home this evenin'
I'll bet that the news will be the same
Somebody takes a hostage, somebody steals a plane
How I wanna hear the anchor man talk about a county fair
And how we cleaned up the air, how everybody learned to care
Whoa, tell me

Nobody was assassinated in the whole Third World today
And in the streets of Ireland, all the children had to do was play
And everybody loves everybody in the good old USA
We sure could use a little good news today

Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town
Nobody OD'ed, nobody burned a single buildin' down

Nobody fired a shot in anger, nobody had to die in vain
We sure could use a little good news today 

Though dated is hauntingly applicable in today's world. Even if you are not a fan of the British Monarchy or babies in general, join me in celebrating that, just for a moment, all over the world, the news agencies put a happy story up front. Congratulations to Will and Kate!

Monday, July 15, 2013


There will never be a perfect time, sometimes you just have to make a move. 

For what?  Honestly, it doesn't matter. We are constantly saying I will do that when I have more money, I will apply for that job when I have more experience, I will volunteer when I have more time, etc. 

There will never be a perfect time. 

If you spend your life waiting for "when" you will miss some amazing opportunities. 

Does that mean you should take a fantasy vacation on your credit cards or apply for an executive chef position if you have never even been able to make toast?  Of course not. 

It means you need to break your big goal down into small goals and make one move today that will get you closer.  Start  putting $25 a paycheck in a savings account for that vacation. Pick a new recipe to try for dinner. Read a book, a magazine, or a blog in an area that interests you. Research volunteer opportunities you can do with your child or in the time you have after your child goes to sleep. Walk around the block after lunch or dinner. Just one move to get just one step closer. 

What will you do today instead of waiting?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Why Starting at the Bottom is the Best

I learned something the other day watching my 20 month old son learning how to climb a small rock climbing wall.  There is a reason it is good to start at the bottom - you have less room to fall and it is so much easier to get back up when you do.

The same can be said about the business world.  I hear people talking about younger generations in the workforce "wanting to run the organization their first week."  Suffice it to say, they simply feel like their skills are not being fully utilized, but that is for another article.

This article is for people of any age starting a new career.  Appreciate the fact that you get to learn from the ground up.  Just like a child playing on a rock climbing wall, you are going to slip every now and then.  In the business world, it is called "failing forward" and it is a legitimate form of adult learning.  In fact, on-the-job experience is actually the most effective way for adults to learn.

Experiment with new ways of doing things but don't forget to watch how others navigate the path as well.  That way you are actually choosing rather than just following or rebelling.

Test your footing before you move on to the next step.  If you're not stable where you are you can't climb higher and if you slip back you lose the progress you've already made.

Look three or four steps ahead as you plan your way.  Don't just think about where you are now.  Copying policies and procedures may not be the most exciting job in the world, but if you're going to change them you have to read them sometime.  Why not start now.

Look at your career as an adventure.  Don't get caught up in what you think you should be doing.  Follow your dreams and your passion.  Things will not always be sunshine and roses and resilience is easier when you are fully committed.

Never stop reaching.  Once you've climbed the wall you planned look for another wall to challenge you.

So get your footing on the trainer wall and then you can expand to greater things.  You will have the confidence that only experience can bring and you will climb quicker than you would if you started with the a mountain first.

What is the next wall you want to climb?  How can you gain experience in a safe learning environment first?

Photo Credits: Girl on Wall - Caroline Knox; Man With a View - Heather Ellis.  Thank you to Caroline Knox and Justin Snead for the great pictures!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Business of Leadership Development is Not Easy

There are many books, courses, blogs, and podcasts out there that can help you become a better leader. So why aren't we a world of master leaders?  Simply, because the business of leadership development is not easy.  

When I took a developmental rotation from my position as an attorney to my position in as a leadership development professional I had many people tell me that I had sabotaged my career.  To this day, I am constantly asked if I am having fun or when I am going to go back to my "real" job.  In other words someone with a law degree is only at their highest and best use if they are doing legal analysis.  

I would like to point out two things...

First, the work I do on a daily basis as a leadership development professional is harder than any legal analysis I have ever done.  Legal analysis goes something like this.  You have a rule, you have a set of facts, you apply the rule to the set of facts and determine whether the facts are within the rule or not.  An acceptable answer is "It could go either way" because humans write laws and humans are constantly searching for and finding the loopholes.  (See Will Your Leadership Put Your Organization on the Front Page of the Washington Post for more of my thoughts on this perpetual cycle.)  In my position, if there was a hole in the law I would get to try to figure out how to close the loophole and then do it all over again when someone found a hole in that.  The cycle is a challenge for a few years and then it gets repetitive and frustrating.  Leadership development, on the other hand, is a constant challenge to find what drives people, what will help people develop, where the organization is and needs to go, etc.  Because the people I am working with always change, the process always changes.  The challenge is constant and increasing in this economy.

Second, in a recent Pew Survey, only 18% of those surveyed agreed that lawyers contribute "a lot" to society's well being.  Ouch.  The military, teachers, medical doctors, scientists, and engineers led the list.  When I look back on my role as a lawyer, I cannot honestly say that I contributed "a lot" to society's well being.  Yes, I filled a basic reactive need to keep the bureaucratic and legal system running.  But mostly, I enable a lot of lawyers to bill their clients extreme amounts of money (often more than they would have paid in taxes) to avoid paying taxes.  As a leadership development professional, I have unlimited bounds to contribute "a lot" to society's well being.  Much of the work I do helps the people I work with (and myself!) become not just a better leader but a better person.  Emotional intelligence and all those "soft skills" are not manipulative tools to get people to do what you want them to - they are ways of treating other people with the dignity and respect they deserve - in the workplace and outside of it.

So why is the business of leadership development so hard?  Here are just a few of the challenges I see in the field.

1.  Leaders are not self-aware.  Emerging leaders are often those most interested in leadership development (and usually have the least access to it).  They are eager to learn new things, relatively untainted by the existing culture, and cognizant of the fact that there are things they can learn.  Senior leaders and executives often approach leadership training as something they need to investigate for their employees.  Some of the people I respect the most as leaders are the first ones to tell me what they learned from a program that they didn't know.  Leadership development is a lifetime process.  Anyone who thinks they are "finished" probably needs the training most of all.

2.  The constant focus on training return-on-investment does not factor in the investment made by the participant to apply the concepts.  Leadership development professionals are often asked to show their return on investment.  This is difficult because for every hour in class a participant needs to spend 7-10 hours actively applying the concepts, reflecting on the results, and adjusting their course.  Quite frankly, very few people do this.  Even more frankly, if the participant is not willing to invest this time, it is probably not worth it to send them to any training.  Leadership development professionals do not have a magic wand to make people better leaders after they sit in a room answering e-mails on their blackberry for a few hours.  All leadership development professionals teach processes that must be applied to create change.

3.  Leaders really want people who will do what they say and not question their decisions or methods.  I recently spoke with a person who asked their executive about the "optics" of a decision the executive was pushing and the executive told the person that was the executive's job to worry about not the employees.  I put this behavior in the category of career derailer for any leader and serious worry for an executive.  Not only does this behavior instantly decrease employee engagement but "optics" and "ethics" particularly should be every person's concern.  That is how organizations stay out of trouble.  If you do not reward critical questioning from your employees, or worse, actively stifle it like this executive did, you are certainly headed for trouble.  While listening and developing others are constantly taught, if a leader does not truly value the skills, his or her actions will defeat any training provided.

4.  Leaders think leadership training is what "their people" need.  In addition to the self-awareness piece mentioned above, there is a modeling problem here.  If you are not attending training along side your "people" you are exhibiting that it is important only for lesser leaders.  No one wants to be viewed as a lesser leader so they fear the implication of being seen at leadership training.  There is also a common culture developed when an entire organization or team hears the same training.  They develop language to talk about conflicts and decisions that focuses on the process and ideas not the people.  If the executive is not aware, they can defeat all the work a team is trying to do by violating the common culture even if it is unintentional.

5.  Training funding gets cut first from budgets.  This is a fact.  It is often tied to the return on investment question, but there is also that "it is fun" or "soft stuff" stigma attached.  Organizations struggling financially or ethically should hunker down and increase leadership training, because true leaders and a sustainable pool of leadership talent are the only things that can turn the organization around.

6.  Technical experts think their expertise makes them experts in leadership.  I have an expertise in a type of tax law.  But if you ask me about criminal law, most of my knowledge will come from Law and Order reruns.  In past jobs I have worked with brilliant scientists whose worked changed the world as we know it and yet they needed my help to put together a budget.  Technical expertise in one area does not make you an expert in other areas.  For most areas we commonly accept this as a given.  For some reason, we feel that being a technical expert will make a person a good leader of other technical experts and expect them to just pick it up.  We need to recognize leadership as a discipline and skill and give people training in it before we throw them to the wolves.  (And those technical experts who have competed with co-workers for a leadership position and then had to work with the non-selected applicants afterwards know that "wolves" is not an exaggeration.)

7.  Lack of respect for the discipline.  All of these things have led to a true lack of respect for the discipline even though the number of books on the topic should be a clear indicator of the sincere need for it.  As should every scandal in the news that is traced back to poor leadership.   

So the next time you meet a leadership development professional, ask them questions.  Ask them lots and lots of questions (we love those).  Because in asking questions you are opening yourself up to learning.  It is a first step, granted, but you can't take the second step until you take the first.  

Are You Ready for Leadership Development

From Dan Rockwell @Leadershipfreak (well actually from his wife via his blog)..."People who already know can't be taught."  The whole blog piece is hilarious but I wanted to focus a bit on the serious side of the message.

Let's start with the big question I hear so often.  "Are leaders made or taught?"  My opinion is that some people have an innate understanding of leadership concepts in the way that some people have an innate understand of how to throw a baseball or play a guitar.  It is easier for them to learn and master but they still have to practice if they want to make it to the big time.  For the rest of the world, there are thousands of models, books, courses, blogs, podcasts, etc. (if not millions by now) to help them learn what the others seem to innately know.  But it is like going to a piano lesson, if you don't go home after the lesson and practice, you might as well not go at all.

In other words, true leaders master their craft through a lifetime of learning, practice, and reflection.

The next question I hear repeatedly is "There are so many books, models, and classes out there, where do I start?"  This is where self-awareness and reflection come in.

How do you learn best?  Reading or hearing?  If by reading, pick up a book.  If by hearing, pick out an audiobook or attend a class.

The most important thing, however, is to reflect on WHY you picked that method, what you learned, how you tried to incorporate it, what worked/what didn't, and what you will try next time.  I recommend using a daily leadership journal for this.

Now you have to pick a model or process that fits your values, style, and process.  If you make a huge jump to something that doesn't make sense to you or fit with your style it will never last (just like working out).  Pick something that fits you.

The hardest part of all leadership, however, is self-awareness.  If you hear a best practice in a class and automatically say "I already do that" it is time to check yourself.  I have spent five years studying leadership and I hear new things daily.  I also catch myself doing something against everything I know daily.  We are human.  Part of the learning process is recognizing when you are operating at your best and when you are not because no one operates at their best every moment of every day.

If you think you don't need leadership training you probably have a very low realization of how others view you.  I have met people that I do not think need leadership training and they are the first people to tell me what they learned from a presentation and how they will incorporate it.  Reading books and going to lectures will not in and of itself make you a better leader.  For every hour you spend reading or  in training you should spend 7-10 hours practicing, incorporating, and reflecting on the process.  If you are not doing this, you will not get a return on your investment in the training.  

Friday, July 12, 2013

Day 12 of the Blogging Challenge

When I signed up for the 31 Day Blogging Challenge my main objective was to train myself to write every day.  I found so much more.  The challenge leader has provided daily support, encouragement, and tips that I look forward to reading every morning.  The challenge also includes reading and commenting on other participant's blogs.  I have found some wonderful bloggers and am thoroughly enjoying sharing this process with them.

I think sometimes when we take on a challenge we may anticipate some of what we will gain, but often, we learn so much more than we ever expected.  If we can keep that in mind as we begin challenges maybe it will push us a little harder?

Twelve days into the challenge, I have already topped my previous high monthly views.  For those bloggers who have posts with views in the millions, the activity on my blog may not be earth shattering.    For me, it is truly inspiring.

If you have a blog or want to start one, I recommend signing up for the next challenge.  If you do, let me know so I can cheer you on!

Thursday, July 11, 2013


How can one small word strike fear in the hearts of many.  I applied for a independent contractor position teaching yesterday and received an e-mailed rejection today.  At first that little gremlin that lives in my head said "See, I told you so!"

But seriously, it is just an e-mail.  From someone who probably knows nothing about me because 10,000 other people probably applied for the same one job.  (Shhh, that is the story I am telling myself tonight.)

Mia Hamm said "Failure happens all the time.  It happens every day in practice.  What makes you better is how you react to it."

So once I got through the disappointment and the rationalization, I realized how quickly they both passed.  Why, because then I got to the point where I realized I had put myself out there for something I was interested in and now had a contact.  So I wrote another e-mail (one I hope will be answered) about what skills I could enhance to be competitive for future openings.  Who better to tell me that than the person who has to go through all those applications.  (I may be okay with it but I am still sticking to that 10,000 number.)

Then something amazing happened, it occurred to me that while I am looking for a part-time job to supplement my income, I can really find out what are the types of jobs and key skills that are necessary for the next job search I make.  The big one.  After my detail to the best job a person could ever have is over.  That little paradigm shift made me actually look forward to applying for jobs and interviewing people who are posting jobs like those I want to be ready for in a few years.

All that because I stepped outside of my comfort zone last night, applied for something I have been thinking about applying for for a couple of years now, and received a very polite and prompt rejection e-mail.

What paradigm shifts have you had that turned something you originally feared and often avoided action because of that fear into something you looked forward to?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Happiness is Something We Create

Country music fans will recognize the title of this post as a line from Sugarland's "Something More."  (If you don't recognize it, it is definitely worth a download.)  What I love about the song is that it is about finding and following your passion.  Living up to everything there is in store for you.  But not in a "fate" type of way, but in a proactive - create your own happiness type of way.  

Another song I love for this is "Firework" by Katy Perry.  It challenges you to open the door to the perfect road.  

These are just two of the songs I regularly listen to in the morning to get ready for the day.  Consider it a pre-game ritual.  

Does music boost your spirit and energy level?  What songs do you listen to to get you inspired?  Do you make it a routine?

Something More by Sugarland
Firework by Katy Perry

Monday, hard to wake up
Fill my coffee cup, I'm out the door
Yeah, the freeway's standing still today
It's gonna make me late, and thats for sure
I'm running out of gas and out of time
Never gonna make it there by nine

There's gotta be something more
Gotta be more than this
I need a little less hard time
I need a little more bliss

I'm gonna take my chances
Taking a chance I might
Find what I'm looking for
There's gotta be something more

Five years and there's no doubt
That I'm burnt out, I've had enough
So now boss man, here's my two weeks
I'll make it short and sweet, so listen up
I could work my life away, but why?
I got things to do before I die

[Repeat Chorus]

Some believe in destiny, and some believe in fate
I believe that happiness is something we create
You best believe that I'm not gonna wait
'Cause there's gotta be something more

I get home 7:30 the house is dirty, but it can wait
Yeah, 'cause right now I need some downtime
To drink some red wine and celebrate
Armageddon could be knocking at my door
But I ain't gonna answer that's for sure.
There's gotta be something!

[Repeat Chorus]
Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
Like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?

Do you ever feel already buried deep?
Six feet under screams, but no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there's still a chance for you
'Cause there's a spark in you?

You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

'Cause baby, you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth

Make 'em go, oh, oh, oh
As you shoot across the sky

Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make 'em go, oh, oh, oh
You're gonna leave 'em falling down

You don't have to feel like a waste of space
You're original, cannot be replaced
If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow

Maybe you're reason why all the doors are closed
So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road
Like a lightning bolt, your heart will blow
And when it's time, you'll know

You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

'Cause baby you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go, oh, oh, oh
As you shoot across the sky

Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make 'em go, oh, oh, oh
You're gonna leave 'em falling down

Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
It's always been inside of you, you, you
And now it's time to let it through

'Cause baby you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go, oh, oh, oh
As you shoot across the sky

Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make 'em go, oh, oh, oh
You're gonna leave 'em falling down

Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What Do You Do With Customer Service Feedback?

I received this e-mail from Change.org in the mail today...talk about one simple act - way to go Henry!

My name is Henry.

As you may not know, after considerable expense of my time and money and at some cost to the peace in our home, I planted over a thousand flowers at Washington DC's Dupont Circle Metro North Station. Metro ordered me to stop. If I stop, the flowers could die before they bloom.

I was stunned and saddened that I would face “arrest, fines and imprisonment” if I continued to tend to the thousand flowers I planted at the Dupont Circle Metro North Station.

Out of the goodness of my heart, last Fall I planted over 100 bulbs in the very same neglected garden squares. Months later they bloomed, sharing their joy and beauty with fellow Metro Riders.
This Spring I returned. I weeded and two trash bags were filled with more than 300 discarded cigarette butts, shards of glass, wads of gum, tree branches and assorted fast food restaurant garbage.
But Metro doesn't want me there citing various concerns. To help avoid legal concerns, I even offered to sign a waiver to hold Metro harmless. I am willing to work with Metro to explore long term solutions to making the Dupont North Station entrance more attractive.

During this time when our country faces numerous challenges, it does not makes sense to discourage and delay the creation of something beautiful. The world is not as bad as it is often portrayed in the news. This is an opportunity for all of us to make something beautiful.
I hope you will sign my petition. Thank you.

Did Henry follow the proper procedures, probably not.  I honestly don't know what they are or how Henry would have found out what they were if he wanted.  Is there a WMATA policy, procedure, or rule being violated?  Probably.  But can we look deeper at what is going on here for just a minute and try to look for a WIN-WIN solution?

First, WMATA needs to understand that one of its customers is giving it serious feedback.  And it is not just about aesthetics.  Check out the two trash bags of debris he removed.  If WMATA has someone whose job is to keep the area clean that is obviously not being done.  What is more likely is that there is a position for that but it has not been filled due to budget cutbucks.  

Second, WMATA needs to consider the public image of letting all the work and flowers die.  Henry's proactive act probably did cheer up thousands of visitors every day.  Given the mechanical issues WMATA faces, wouldn't it be better if your customers smile before getting to the station and finding a loaded platform with people pushing you this way and that?

Third, Henry's actions are sustainable and repeatable.  Why not use Henry as a poster boy (sorry Henry) for creating community gardens around all the metro stations.  The metro stations already are recognized as community centers, community gardens are a popular trend to give city folks an area to tend, adopt-a-highways in the late 80's started the trend by getting active groups to clean up highways for free, and it would be a huge (positive) PR move for an organization that struggles with constant negative customer feedback.  

I challenge the leadership at WMATA to seek to understand what this customer is telling it and work to find a WIN-WIN solution that is sustainable and repeatable to firmly establish the metro stations as community centers and allow the local communities to take responsibility for keeping it clean and pleasant.  

Let's hear it for Metro's New Adopt-A-Station Community Garden Partnership!  (WMATA, feel free to change the name if you don't like it, just please run with it and put Henry as a committee lead to help other gardens blossom!)

In the meantime, if you want to sign Henry's Petition, Click Here.