Friday, January 31, 2014

Single Mother Part 4: A Letter to Mothers Everywhere

I ran into a friend who has a newborn last night and she honestly said "this is hard!" I couldn't help but laugh at her honesty and the very mirror of my own daily feelings. Luckily, I was laughing with her. I started thinking about all my amazing mother friends who make one, two, or more look so easy and juggle it with a bunch of things I can't even imagine. I wonder, do they all struggle at one time or another? Judging by the number of popular mommy blogs I have read, I am willing to bet my friend and I are not the only two. But here's the thing, her simple statement made me feel like a weight had lifted off my shoulders. Because it was okay for someone I admire and respect and believe could run the free world if asked to say this is hard. So this is for all those women out there who have struggled at one point in their lives (whether by themselves or with a supportive partner) with that all important "mommy" role.

I love you because I know whether you tried for years to conceive, planned and executed conception on a schedule, had a surprise pregnancy, there was a point in your pregnancy (maybe when you were throwing up for the umpteenth time, suffering from unstoppable heartburn, or in the midst of labor) you wanted control of your body back to yourself. And it didn't mean you loved that baby any less.

I love you because whether you gave birth to or adopted your child, that first time you held them in your arms you fell in love whether you believed in love at first sight or not.

I love you because you will read all the books/blogs/advice channels about whatever challenge you had with your little one and at some point figured out that there is not one "solution" for any parent/child combination. And while it is lovely for people to try to help with good advice and we are so thankful for so much information accessible at our fingertips, there is a time where you have to close the books, turn off the computer, and look into those trusting eyes and make a pact. We are in this together. We will try our hardest. We'll try new things and some will work and some won't. And then you will know it is okay to trust your instincts because you are an amazing, caring parent and you can do this.

I love you because that first time you leave your house without the little one will be hard. Whether it is in the first week, month, year, or decade. There is a time when you will trust your child with someone else. It is okay to be deathly terrified and feel like you just snuck out after curfew at the same time. It is okay to say no to someone who fits all the "requirements" but gives you a feeling that you aren't quite sure. It does and doesn't get easier with time, in different ways. And that is okay, too.

I love you because you feel just a moment of humor when a significant other or close family member struggles taking care of a little one. Because just like you, they have now learned that what worked yesterday (or three minutes ago for that matter) is not working now. And that is how your entire life is and maybe now they understand and appreciate you just a little more.

I love you because you will be amazed with every stage your child reaches. And sometimes you will think back to those times vomiting/with heartburn/in labor/filling out form after form for adoption agencies and think why did I even care, it was all worth it.

I love you because you will struggle and struggle to teach your child to talk and then someday secretly (or verbally) wish they would just be quiet for five minutes. And then you will feel guilty about it. But that is okay, too because we have all been there.

I love you because you are going to deal with more human excrement, in ways you could not imagine, than you ever thought possible. And you will start to analyze it. And you are going to talk to other people about it (significant others, health care professionals, and child care workers at the very minimum). And you are going to wish they were already potty trained and then feel guilty for wishing their lives away. So then you will wish for just one day that doesn't involve dealing with human excrement. And then you will wish for just five minutes. And then you will laugh at yourself and get through this stage. Probably by telling your friends about it.

I love you because someday you will be next to your child's bed, at the doctor's office, in an emergency room, or in a hospital room wishing you could switch places with your bundle of joy. You may start negotiating with your Got and confessing all your sins for just a sign that everything will be okay.

I love you because you will start to function with less sleep than any sleep study in existence says is necessary. You will recognize that your child needs to learn to self-soothe (and they will learn) and by the time they go back to sleep you will be wide awake. And sometimes you might let them sleep with you just so you can get a good night's sleep.

I love you because you will make your child cry. Probably in public. Probably in front of a bunch of people who will silently (if you are lucky) judge you and your parenting skills. Not because you are a horrible person but because you are an amazing parent who knows that setting boundaries is a critical part of raising a healthy child and sometimes (always) that is more important than what other people think of you.

I love you because someday you will be so proud and think you have it all together and your child will throw up on you while you are walking out the door.

I love you because when your child is learning something new like talking, putting together a puzzle, or reading, others will jump in to "help" them find the right word or piece. But you will hold back and count to 10, 20, 100, whatever it takes so that they not only learn the task at hand but they learn persistence, resilience, and that they have a patient environment to try new things. Even if you are the least patient person in the world. You can do it. I know you can.

I love you because at some point when you are being used as a pony or a jungle gym, you will want to never be touched by anyone ever again. And sometime later when you are snuggling a sleeping child, you will feel guilty. And at some point you will stop blaming yourself and find ways to distract your child with another toy when you need a few minutes so you can truly savor their love when they give it to you.

I love you because at some point before your child is potty trained, you will realize that baby wipes (whether you buy them or make your own) are pretty much the greatest cleaning supply and wonder how you lived without them.

I love you because you will think every other mother you meet has it easier or harder than you for one reason or another but inside you know that it is a challenge for us all.

I love you because you will remember "when you had a life" or "when you could just walk out the door" fondly. Sometimes wish for a moment or two of that freedom. And know that you wouldn't trade your current situation for any of it.

I love you because no matter how great your support network is inside and outside of your home you will feel alone in the process sometimes. You will need someone to tell you that you are doing a good job and not be able to ask for it. And someone will tell you. And you will cry. And you will not be able to explain to that person how much you truly needed to hear that. And that will be okay.

I love you because you know a million other moments I don't know about or haven't reached yet. And you will be there to laugh with me or cry with me and share the moment with me either virtually or in person.

Want to read more of the single mom posts?   

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

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh - Book Review and Development Guide

Did you put together a list of New Year's Resolutions?  When you were putting it together, did you think "if I can just achieve this, I will be happy?"  Have you felt that enthusiasm start to fade as "life" takes over and those resolutions get pushed to the bottom of your to do list?  Already thinking about doing a New Year's Reboot (no, really, from here on out I will do X.)?  Are you willing to consider a slightly different approach?

Here's my recommendation to you…

Download the unabridged Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh from iTunes or, order the book from or, or pick it up from your favorite books store.  Whatever you do, don't put getting the book on your list of things to do later.  Do it and check it off as an item complete.  Print this article and keep it with you while you are reading.  For extra credit - grab a notebook and start your professional development journal with your reflections.  (Disclaimer: The link below is an affiliate link, but I have no other relationships with any of the other vendors listed above.)

What I love about this book is how Mr. Hsieh weaves stories from his life and career into the best description (and validation) of values-based leadership I have read in a long time.  And he doesn't stop with values-based leadership - he created a values-based company…a billion dollar values-based company!

The book mixes success and failure, logic and people-based decision making, and experiential and research based background.  He throws in a disclaimer that it is not his or Zappos' whole story.  Each of those would probably be great reads in and of themselves.  By tying the two together, however, he has created a wonderful illustration of how living your values in all aspects of your life pull things together.  His successes are by no means "easier," but the pride and passion he exhibits is inspirational. The whole book reflects his value of surrounding himself with and working with the right people (and we even get snippets from their perspectives!).

The book chronicles how Zappos took the first few steps toward creating, defining, and embracing a set of core values and how that translated throughout the chain.  A particularly honest section of the book describes his angst when federal securities regulations forced him to break one of the core values, how he handled it, and the trust his team showed by understanding.  The last part of the book provides his research in the study of "happiness" and how he lives for today while not losing sight of tomorrow.

I believe the impending changes in the workforce over the next ten years will be dramatic and will catch many organizations unprepared.  I believe the great culture experiment (for lack of a better term) at Zappos may provide the answers we are looking for and Tony Hsieh and his team have placed themselves in an excellent position to lead this field of study over the next decade (and have continued to do so since the 2010 publication of the book).  While Zappos won my heart by consistently delivering my favorite Jessica Simpson shoes to my door with WOW service, I believe the great culture experiment and the contributions to values-based leadership and organizations will be Zappos' far-reaching legacy.

Development Guide - Think about these questions as you finish each section of the book.  (Bonus points for writing about them in your development journal!)

Finding My Way - There are times in our life that make us reflect back on how we got there.  Mr. Hsieh's experience is a vivid description of that feeling.  You don't need a massive life high or low to embrace reflection however, it can happen during a quiet walk, a morning commute, or during a particularly uninspiring meeting at work.  Take some time (preferably not when others think you are engaged in what they are saying) to think about all the pieces in your life that have led you to where you are.  Do they fit together, even if in a way only you understand?  Are there outliers in which you learned how not to do something?

In Search of Profits - What moments and values from childhood, teen years, and college are with you today?  While not everyone creates a successful business that they are able to turn over to younger siblings before even reaching high school, I will bet there are a few lessons there that absolutely shaped the way you approach life, love, and business today.  There is a keen self-awareness at work in the way Mr. Hsieh describes his youth and experiences even if they are shaded in humor and humility.  For example, "As for homework, I tried my best to find creative ways around actually doing any hard work."  He goes on to describe submitting 14 lines of morse code in Shakespeare class when the assignment was to write a sonnet.  Personally, I would rather write a sonnet than try to figure out 14 lines of morse code.  Here's the bottom line, he figured out early on how to successfully play to his strengths.  Success does not have to be achieved through learning things you hate and find difficult and uninspiring.  If you play to your own strengths and surround yourself with people who have different strengths you can all operate effectively and productively at your highest ability.  What strengths do you have?  Are there times when you pull them out and wow people and then secretly wonder what all the fuss is about?  How can you use these strengths more often?

You Win Some, You Lose Some - Lots more self-awareness here.  We learn very quickly what Mr. Hsieh looks like when he is disengaged while he describes his search for personal engagement.  I love his thought experiment - make a list of what you would do with $20 million dollars. What would be on your list?  In his time at LinkExchange he solidified his "all are equal" philosophy when he asked his investor to attend the initiation meeting.  Now here's one for you to think about - think of the most senior person in your company/life/etc.  Would you treat them the same way you would treat the most junior person on your team?  If your answer is yes, write down three examples at least one of which you are telling someone you think they are wrong, in which you have done so.  If your answer is no, why not?  Do you feel comfortable with that?  What can you do to change your daily actions to align with your personal values about how you want to treat people?  Am I suggesting you go prank the CEO of your company?  No.  But if you would not prank the CEO, why would you do it to your subordinates (or allow others to)?  (Ditto harass, yell, bully, etc.)  There is another huge line of questions in this chapter that I don't think will be answered in a few minutes reflection but putting some time into would be valuable use of your time - what would make you walk away from money on the table?  What would stop you?  What can you do now to put you in a position that you can if you want to?

Diversify - The chapter in which we learn that Mr. Hsieh's true genius came from a study of poker. Okay, maybe not really, but the thought process itself is genius.  From reading this book, I get the impression that Mr. Hsieh never stops analyzing anything that is going on around him.  Whether it is a rave, a poker game, or his company.  He doesn't look to only business books to find out how to succeed in business.  Think about something you did in the last month that did not involve your work.  Did you watch a good football game?  Take your children to soccer/gymnastics/hockey/dance practice?  Did you watch a funny/serious/sad movie?  Get sucked in by the latest tech craze?  Anything, as long as it is not related to what you do for work.  What did you see in terms of market opportunity?  Team Building?  Marketing and Branding?  Financials?  Strategy?  Continual Learning?  Culture?  Conflict Resolution? Recognition?  Operating from Your Strengths?  You don't have to find something for every category but push yourself beyond your off-the-cuff reactions.  When you think you don't see any more - find five more.

Another piece of this chapter is connectedness.  You cannot do it all alone.  Networking is about building relationships rather than finding someone who can help you now and asking them for help.  It is about creating a wide and diverse network.  With whom do you want to surround yourself?  Qualities, values, skills, perspectives?  Where can you meet those people?  How can you learn about and from them?

Finally, there is another honest example of true self-awareness when he says that he is passionate about proving other people wrong.  I think you can see a recent example of this in Zappos' adoption of "holacracy."  Think about what you are truly passionate about.  For some it is winning, for some it is being the best, and for some it is doing what's never been done successfully.  Don't worry about what others will think about what drives you, just be honest with yourself.  How can you use that to move you forward today?

Concentrate Your Position - This is really about believing in your "tribe" and taking risks.  You also see the loyalty that Mr. Hsieh has earned from his "tribe."  I can't help but think of a going "all in" in a poker game while reading this chapter.  So here are some questions for you.  Is there anyone you work with you trust implicitly?  Would the people you work with drop everything to go to Kentucky for you for an unknown amount of time?  Would you go "all in" on anything relating to the work you are doing now or the people with whom you are doing it?  If not, what relationship building steps can you take today to start forming a strong network on which you can rely?

Platform for Growth: Brand, Culture, Pipeline - I think communication is the real theme of this chapter, from the move to Vegas and the development of the call center philosophy, to the solidification and adoption of the core values.  And here is the twist, none of it is top down.  Everything is a conversation and a product of collaboration.  If you trust the people with whom you have surrounded yourself, then you include them and their opinions in decision-making and innovation rather than guiding or managing them.  Think about the last significant decision you made at work and the last significant decision you made in your life.  How many people did you get input from first?  How many people did you tell what was going on and how it was going to happen?  How could you have expanded your reach in the information gathering stage?  What significant decisions do you have coming up?  What five people can you bring in to the decision making process?  Do at least three of them have strengths, skills, and knowledge that differ from yours?  What will that bring to the process?  How does corporate communication strategy change when it is about a conversation rather than dissemination of information?

Taking it to the Next Level - My two favorite parts of this chapter are the public speaking formula (be passionate, tell your stories, be real, and I will add stick with your strengths) and the Amazon story.  With regard to public speaking, do you do it now or shy away from it?  Are you willing to step outside your comfort zone and take the public speaking challenge?  Find someone who wants to hear your stories (there are ton of organizations out there looking for free speakers!) and commit to a date.  Keep the content in your wheelhouse and work off an outline rather than a memorized speech.  How does it feel?  What did you learn about yourself?  What did you learn from your audience?

With regard to the Amazon memo, imagine for just a moment that a change of this caliber is coming down today in your organization.  How long after the initial memo, do you think it will take you, your co-workers, and your subordinates to get back to work.  (Just FYI, less than an hour is unimaginable to me.)  Honestly, whatever you guessed, probably needs to be multiplied by at least three.  Even assuming a great deal of loyalty to the co-founders at Zappos, loyalty is not enough to let this pass that quickly.  Now go back and dissect "the memo."  What is it about the memo that reached people to the point that they were able to jump back to work?  This is definitely an information dissemination memo where conversations and collaboration could not be utilized.  Are there thematic elements that make it work?  Can you use the memo to put together a template for your communications?

End Game - Do it, write down your goal in life and keep answering why.  Think about what you want your path to happiness to look like.  My favorite framework is #1 because I think it works from an individual development level and from a leadership (volunteer or paid) level.  Which framework speaks to you and how can you incorporate it today (and this week, and this month) to increase your happiness now and decrease your use of the words "someday I will…"?  Whenever you are stuck, go to the last page of this chapter and write the answers to his questions in your journal until you know the answer.  They are amazing questions!

Epilogue - Extra Credit - if you like what you've heard and/or read and want more - join the movement at

What did you think about the book?  Did the Development Guide help you process it internally?  What will you do differently as a result of what you have learned about yourself?  Is there someone you want to share the book with (and hopefully this guide)?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Want to Engage Employees and Volunteers? What Incentives Are You Providing?

strategicserendipity.blogspot.comEmployees or volunteers - it doesn't matter one bit when you are dealing with the concept of engagement.  Why?  As Stephen Covey said, "You can buy a person's hands, but you can't buy his heart.  His heart is where his enthusiasm, his loyalty is."
In other words, you can make someone come to work and do a specified set of tasks through the "carrot" of a paycheck.  Getting a person to go that extra step, however, requires enthusiasm and loyalty, engagement and value alignment, and a core belief that the people with whom you are working have more to offer than the completion of the specified task list in your mind.  Without these you just have a body in a seat.  In the work world this is nicely described as disengagement, sometimes referred to as retired-in-place, and can lead to passive sabotage.  In the volunteer world it will usually lead to loss of volunteers.  In both realms, keeping people and keeping them productive requires keeping their hearts.  With or without the paycheck "carrot" the key to leadership success is the same.

Peter Clark and James Q. Wilson defined four incentives that organizations can use to attract and retain members:

Clark and Wilson Incentives that organizations use to attract and retain employees and volunteers

Obviously, individuals are usually seeking some sort of combination of the above.  In a volunteer context, they are probably seeking to boost an area that is lacking in the rest of their associations.  The bottom line, however, is that which incentives you want met and which ones the person next to you want met are probably completely different.  As individuals, we usually show "understanding" by trying to address those things we would want in the same position.  And this is where we usually lose people.  By concentrating on what we would want we either cultivate of team of people just like us (losing the enhanced perspective that comes from diverse points of view) or we are constantly in a state of recruiting to fill vacant positions.  Either one is a loss to the organization as a whole.

When dealing with personality differences, the first thing you need to do is recognize where you stand (and thus from where your default responses/instincts com).  Next try to learn more about the people with whom you are working.  In the case of incentives above, the "easy" answer is to ask them.  But this kind of disclosure requires some level of self-awareness and trust in you on their part.  You are better of working to build those first.  During the relationship building stage, use observation and listening skills to figure out when they give their most and when they seem to lose steam.  Once the relationship is built, the honest question can be asked (don't just operate on the assumptions you made during the relationship building).  Work with the individual to come up with an incentive structure that meets his or her needs as well as meeting the organizations' needs.  Bright-line rules, systems, and policies only meet the needs of the people like the ones that created them.  In the long-run, while this is a much easier way to lead, it can cripple your organization.

How does your organization provide material incentives to employees and members?  Solidary incentives?  Status incentives?  Purposive incentives?  How can you make sure that the front-line leaders in your organization recognize and provide each of these incentives to the people with whom they work?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Journal Prompt

How do you interpret Einstein's quote?  Write about one thing you learned yesterday, one thing that made today special, what you hope for tomorrow, and what you question in the world, your life, or your career.  

Friday, January 3, 2014

Journal Prompts in 2014!

In addition to regular blog posts I will be adding professional development journal prompts for those looking for inspiration.  You can find them on Pinterest, too!  Happy journaling in 2014!