inspiration, leadership, management, motivation, training, work life

The Education Politic

Yesterday the University Of Virginia Board Of Visitors reversed its decision and reinstated Teresa Sullivan as the school’s President.  The Washington Post provided front page coverage about the closed-door political nonsense that fueled her immediate suspension and the passionate populous reaction that drove her reinstatement.  The bottom line?  Ms. Sullivan is a leader that faculty, students and alumni want to follow.  The paper quotes one department chair – “You can move fast, or you can move incrementally.  But it doesn’t matter unless people follow you…People follow her.”  I have often said, one of the biggest failures in leadership is the hubris to think that you never have to change your position and turn around to see who’s there.  Your perspective on your team must be as comprehensive as possible.  You have to move around.

Ms. Sullivan’s misstep rested in her immersion in the U-Va culture without keeping on eye on the education politic – the Board.  Her dismissal was orchestrated behind closed doors, by people who rued her patience and thoughtful approach to issues.  They were looking for sweeping change – in what areas I don’t know.  In my view, such dramatic action would have resulted in the Board creating a scapegoat as well – I don’t think she could have won regardless of her approach.

This is a bit of an attenuated way of writing about why every constituency associated with the University passionately advocated for her return.  Here are but a few of the takeaways that  I think are worthy of consideration…Rather than clean house upon arriving, she asked her team to give her eighteen months to prove herself and for them to prove themselves in return. She traveled solo from campus event to campus event, alumni fundraiser to alumni fundraiser, sporting event to sporting event.  She involved herself in truly understanding the needs of the student, the faculty and the alumni –  her informal and consistent communication was welcome.  Sullivan’s efforts to maintain transparency included reports that weren’t filled with fluff, outreach that was personal and consistent and worked to establish a “relationship-centered presidency”.  Of no less importance, she honored her commitments and had a ‘set of rules’ that were easy for her team to get behind (i.e., no surprises, don’t filter bad news, if the going gets tough make sure everyone is aware of what’s happening and finally “people and time are our greatest resources; don’t waste them”).

She established and maintained trust.

There is no doubt Sullivan has vision and strategy.  Her professional experience is as impressive as her degrees.  But none of this would really matter if she hadn’t fostered the trust and confidence in the people she served.  Leaders serve. Such a concept suggests a different approach to people, strategy and vision than that which we typically consider in any for-profit environment.  Her weakness was in not learning how to bob and weave, and one can’t minimize the need for that kind of facility.  As Sullivan notes, “There are aspects of administration, they’re like a chess game…You’re looking forward three or four moves.”  Apparently Theresa Sullivan was looking forward – and probably around her as well.  She just wasn’t paying attention to the knife in her back.  I think her approach should resonate with every leader; I think it probably won’t.  I  wish there were term limits on department heads and leaders in companies – and their tenure was predicated upon votes from more than a board and/or shareholders.  I believe it would foster an urgent review of what it takes to really have unanimous support.  For U-Va?  Today is a good day.

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inspiration, leadership, life lessons, management, mindfulness, motivation, work life

Taking Chances With Success

Hi all…please join me out here on this branch..careful, I don’t want you to fall as you consider just how much you’re willing to ante up at work.

There was a fascinating article in the New York Times this past Sunday about Dov Seidman, CEO of the company LRN.  The mission of LRN is intriguing to HR nerds like me – helping companies “inspire principled performance in their operations”.  Pretty cool, don’t you think?   He has written a book (which I have not yet read) titled, “How:  Why How We Do Anything Means Everything”.  In short, he has taken his company in a surprising and challenging direction – developing a form of self-governance that boldly eliminates many of the sacred cows that few have ever dared to sacrifice.  He threw out the org chart, eliminating titles (but for his).  The structure is as flat as possible, with authority and decision-making viewed as part of their shared, collaborative mission.   There are no titles; performance reviews for each employee are completed by a personally selected group of reviewers and a mentor. Self-evaluations include perspective on performance as well as a score.  Employees are “trust[ed] to weigh the feedback they collect into their own ratings”.  All of these scores are published internally.  Vacation time is unlimited – presuming that people will be candid and plan their time off with an appreciation for their colleagues and the good of the organization.  Management committees do exist, though my sense is that there are a very discreet few.  In an effort to reflect his commitment to transparency, Seidman opened his own review for comments from anyone who wanted to offer his/her views, and published his own assessment along with all the others.

He feels that empowering employees is a hierarchical phenomenon, and fuels supervisory power rather than individual initiative and commitment.  His approach is to give each employee as much ownership over their career as possible.  After completing a study of companies world-wide, he acknowledges that few companies are practicing self-governance.  And, he admits that the process within his own organization is far from complete, and has been “enlightening, frustrating, nerve-racking, authentic and urgent”.

There are many companies that give lip service to such ideology, and place questionable value on walking the walk defined by their mission statements.  Whether you are a department head, chief officer, vice-president, king…doesn’t matter.  What do you think about the pros and cons of such a daring premise?  Could you do it?  Would you do it?  What would it take for you to step out on a limb and try something totally new to see if it flies?  I am most  impressed by Seidman’s efforts to be authentic in the workplace, to ensure that his personal philosophy is in sync with his professional environment and do more than shake the tree, but actually climb.

 

inspiration, leadership, life lessons, management, mindfulness, motivation, training, work life

We Should Never Graduate

A friend of mine posted this quote on Facebook yesterday (an old friend of recent re-acquaintance).  I couldn’t walk away from my own thoughts about its implications, and my complicity – in both positive and negative ways  – over the years.  You know me well enough to know that I have yet to transcend my own limitations, unable to keep my mind still long enough to even utter a mantra;  I am not about to denounce a material world which has afforded my family a comfortable lifestyle, and some accessories which make my sloppy outfits look well-considered.  In other words, before you jump up in defense of capitalism and financial success as a social definitive – sit down.  I’m not arguing with you.

I am however, absolutely passionate about my belief that learning is a lifelong exercise, and organizational leaders are in the position to educate all the time.  I’ll go a step farther – they have an imperative to educate.  And with that in mind I have got to ask you – what are you teaching?  Does your department, company, organization commit to moral management or success-at-any-cost?  Are you developing people’s abilities to complement their career progression or are you focused on the immediate needs which you find critical to meet?  Are we defining our own personal success primarily by the amount of money we make (with the caveat that we are earning what we need to and perhaps a bit more)  or are there any other markers that we value as much?  More importantly, do we inculcate that philosophy to the people that we are charged with developing and growing?

What are the stories of compassion that balance the perpetual theme of acquiring stuff?  How well-rounded are the people we know and work with?  Where do the paths of wisdom and management-speak meet?  I may not be articulating this well – I am trying to avoid the cliché of saying that we all do the right thing everyday, and instead suggest that compassion, morality, critical thought are as essential to the development of a thriving workforce than any other issues of which we speak.  And it takes thought and planning and commitment to the larger theme of lifelong education.  Challenging our children, our friends, ourselves to consider where we are placing our priorities as we enter in and out of the chapters of our lives.  That to me, is what reading the whole book is all about.

friendship, inspiration, leadership, life lessons, management, mindfulness, motivation, work life

Which Way Wednesday – You Choose

I love this story, having heard and read it many times before.  You probably have too.  The imagery put me off a little at first – using wolves as the metaphor for our two inner selves.  I associate wolves with aggressiveness,  fearlessness and a very hostile reaction to Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, despite my awareness that they are also nurturing, protective and inclined to stay with their pack.  So retrospectively – it seems the analogy is perfect, doesn’t it?

We choose everyday.  Certainly in the law firm environment in which I worked, I saw far more self-serving behavior than anything else.  The intensity of the competition, the race to be the best, the ego needs that demanded assuaging, the unspoken reality that you ‘eat-what-you-kill’.  The challenge – which was honestly fun to accept – was choosing to remain part of the firm’s collective conscience.  Did I do this perfectly?  Absolutely not.  Was the lure of inferiority nipping at my heels – you’re kidding, right?  This is me.  Of course it did.  And did I act at times out of anger?  Yes although probably more in a passive aggressive way, because in that regard I’m wrapped pretty tight.

This isn’t about me though – it’s about you.  Do you realize the elements within you that aren’t aligned – the ‘ fight’ if you will for emotional sustenance, attention and control that wrestles within you?  Certainly it is far preferable to feed the goodness, cultivate it, share it – make it the stronger part of who you are, so that you look upon the end of each day as one you lived well.  Sometimes though, we do feed the wrong elements of our being – do you know when you’re doing it?  When at work?  At home?  How does it reinforce the perception that others have of you?  Thoughts for a Wednesday morning, considerations for a lifetime?  Choose well today my friends and make it a good day.

 

anxiety, inspiration, leadership, life lessons, management, mindfulness, motivation, training, work life

Stress Much?

Whenever I used to frown, my mom would say “Don’t do that, your face will stay that way.”  She was right – the picture above is a self-portrait.  That’s not true – I only mildly resemble a sharpei.  But you do get my point.  Depending upon the success of my nights in the arms of Morpheus (I love that line), I can wake up with a start, my brain flitting through the worries du jour, the have-tos that I neglected to do the day before (which I realize diminished their importance as obligations) and the ‘should have dones’ that didn’t even register.  Once I have coffee, all bets are off and I wave the white flag because my mind begins to travel at a speed that has yet to be measured scientifically.  Perhaps I have a bionic brain – the thoughts fly with the speed of sound, I just don’t necessarily get anywhere.

I’ve reached the point though where I can laugh at this (btw, in the picture above I am laughing – can you tell?).  These exercises in self-flagellation are futile, and bear nothing like those scenes in “Fifty Shades Of Grey” where ostensibly everyone is enjoying the experience far more than me, and their vocalizations don’t resemble my “Oh damn” or “I can’t believe I forgot to do that – you dummy”.  Sometimes I say things even worse, but no need to repeat them here.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  We know better.  We know it is better to step back, breathe, prioritize and discard the non-essential.  I’ll go a step farther – we also know this is learned behavior, and as such can be ‘unlearned’.  I think there is something self-reinforcing in experiencing this kind of stress.  In a convoluted way it reminds us that we’re important, our contributions matter – within the circle of our life, our actions are critical to keeping the cosmic wheel turning.  Is that enough of a motivator to keep stressing ourselves out?  Um…no.  Because in the final analysis, our ‘musts’ are not about fundamental survival, coordinating organ transplants (unless you’re an organ transplant doctor, in which case I apologize) or responding to life or death situations.  We are creating this level of pressure in our own minds.  It isn’t until the you-know-what hits the fan that we realize that we’ve been stressing over things that are overblown in our own minds.

We are making ourselves slightly crazy.  And our sanity rests to a large degree in our perception of how big our requirements loom.  If we accept that every routine day is  inevitably disrupted multiple times, some things don’t go as planned and other events are out of our control.  So be it.  Perhaps we can gain some control over what we choose to get exorcised about.  Maybe today we can start our day differently – committing to ourselves that as involved as we are going to get in our day, we are not going to let it gain zombie-control over our life (my understanding is that once you give a zombie control of anything, they pretty much grab the whole enchilada).  When our tendency is to over-react to the problems in front of us, instead we will create some distance so that we can look at them for what they really are.  One challenge at a time, fix it and move on.  Maybe we can honestly acknowledge the days that seem to pass without asap incidents or increases in blood pressure, for there are those too – and it doesn’t mean you’re not a diligent, capable and important.

Just try it and let me know how it goes.  Let me know what happens when you take a step back instead of running directly into the fray.  If I have any success with this, I’ll let you know too.  Unless I am attacked by a zombie, in which case all bets are off.

anxiety, friendship, humor, inspiration, leadership, life lessons, love, management, mindfulness, motivation

What’s Love Got To Do With It? Probably Everything

I don’t think anyone gets to hit their thirties without carrying some baggage.  The twenties are a period where we practice at adulthood, and when we screw up (as we are all wont to do), we have the most reasonable explanation in the world – “I’ve never been an adult before, this whole on-your-own thing is new to me.”   Basically the twenties are life’s Mulligan (no I don’t play golf, but my husband does and I love the idea that someone can get a do-over  just by asking for it).

The blessing and curse of growing up is the amount of luggage you need to carry.  The smaller suitcase from childhood holds irrational insecurities, the first glimpses of the unfairness of life and the undergarments of self-doubt (has to be underwear, cause it’s light and carrying something too heavy is very tough on a child’s back).  The valise packed to capacity with the hurts of adolescence, the pain of unrequited love and the romance of love that involves back seats (unless you’re from NYC – no back seats available because no one drives), passed notes in class and hallways, whispers and every love song written with your love in mind and promises that typically get broken.  The passionate belief that you know who you are and the equally jarring awareness that you have no idea what-the-hell-you’re-talking-about.  By the time we enter our late teens and early twenties, we’re probably carrying at least one  suitcase, a couple of carry-ons and a backpack.  And that’s presuming that life hasn’t over-burdened us.  I won’t belabor the decades that follow, for each brings another piece of luggage with a personalized I.D. tag.  I’m not even sure if we get a pair of wheelies.

At the end of the day, we’re all juggling an awful lot of baggage.  Whether you are a life partner, friend, or a supervisor of other people – recognize this fact.  I have had the unparalleled joy of working with bosses who picked up a suitcase for me on occasion, so that I could bust through a challenge that I was struggling to successfully meet.  I have been the supervisor who happily let my colleagues know where they could store their luggage so that they had freedom of movement and a chance to feel lighter.  Sometimes they never came back to claim their stuff – and that was just fine with me.  I have also had bosses who  intentionally opened my baggage to see if they could add to its weight (I’ve since bought some luggage locks) – or gave me one more piece to hold.

So from where I sit this morning (in the kitchen at the round table, btw) after a tough night with little sleep and the vulnerability that comes from feeling a little too uncomfortable, I think how lucky I am that my husband helps with my luggage.  How much I try to help him lighten his load.  There is a point in all of our lives when we realize that we’re holding on to more than we need to – and if you have people around who can help you unpack a little, sort through the worn out stuff that no longer fits and discard that with historic expiration dates – offer up a thank you and just think how much lighter you feel.  Happy Wednesday my friends – smile.

anxiety, friendship, inspiration, leadership, life lessons, management, mindfulness, motivation, work life

A Tuesday Whisper. A Hope For A Lifetime

I have to say that after I read this quote, my first thought was “Hmmm, I hope he told this to Zelda.”  My second thought was how complete.  Whether wishing another well in his/her professional or personal life, whether young or old, currently contented or suffering from a case of the emotional itches that disrupt your day.  For all the times I’ve written about ‘rules of management’,  lessons learned from the workplace, etc – the truth is that no one has offered up the ultimate rule book on your life.  You can choose all the time, a scary thought in and of itself, but also so full of promise.  If you want to be a better boss, friend, spouse, parent, child – go for it.  Feel some comfort in knowing that there is nothing stopping you other than your own discomfort, malaise or fear – and those can be stared down with a little fortitude (and perhaps a glass of wine).

To reflect upon your day and feel proud of how you met its challenges and embraced its joys in equal measure.  And to know that you can re-create it however you see fit at any moment.  These are gifts you can give yourself – you deserve them.  Give generously.  Have a great day.

anxiety, inspiration, leadership, life lessons, management, mindfulness, motivation, work life

Un-manic Your Monday

We all know what is going to happen when the morning arrives…You’re going to try and hit the ‘snooze’ button and miss, causing the book to fall off the night table, which will jar the dog, encouraging him to nudge you to let him/her out.  The coffee will begin to drip as soon as you push the button…as soon as you find the button through your half-open eyes.  Get the paper, feed the dog, grab some coffee…and then the rhythm begins to accelerate and your ‘musts’ will over-take your ‘wants’.  You’re in gear and to quote one of the crazy characters from “Madagascar” – you’ve got to move it, move it.”

Manic
Manic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whoa…hold up one minute.  What would happen if you changed the routine a bit?  If you sat down while drinking your coffee, enjoying the silence for a moment.  Just.sit.still.  Not for the whole morning – let’s not go crazy.  Watch the sun rise – it’s a methodical process and involves moving with determination and inevitability, but it is also slow enough to relish.

Before you jump into the frenetic response to emails that relentlessly poured into your inbox – wait a second.  Make a short list – what unequivocally has to be done today, which employees are you going to make it a point to see, is there a more efficient way to follow up on incomplete items from last week?  Can you pick up the phone and talk instead of beginning an endless email chain?  What is one thing you could do this week to reinforce your effectiveness?  One thing.  If this question was posed to you by your boss, with the additional caveat that you had to come up with a suggestion – what would it be?  This is the thought for the morning’s drive to work, or the moment between conference calls or when you walk the stairs from one floor to the other.  One thing.  Just think of the satisfaction you would derive from adjusting, substituting or introducing one new approach to your day.  I’m not even going to ask what could happen if you posed this question to yourself on a more regular basis.  You might actually enjoy your day instead of anticipating its end.

So – what are you going to do?  Please let me know – and whatever you do – have a magnificent Monday!

humor, inspiration, leadership, management, mindfulness, training, work life

The-Thursday-Before-The-Friday-Of-A-Long-Weekend

This is the kind of day where people either squeeze as much work into their day as possible so that they can leave the office early tomorrow or begin coasting because the prospect of a long weekend is so tempting there’s little else to think about.  Either way you go (and I would venture to guess that there are very few who defiantly reside somewhere in the middle), own your day.  Everyone has times when they just can’t intensely focus on the work in front of them.  Conversely, our concentration is not always laser-like, powered by energy and commitment.  Just raise your hand and own it –  so that others don’t feel isolated by your focus or annoyed at your laissez-faire, possibly misunderstanding your actions completely.

It’s funny how such candor is anathema in the workplace.  Somehow it’s not ok to have an ‘off’ day. That just defies reality.  Rather than reflecting authenticity, people will try to maintain an illusion of busy-ness at all times.  One of the many things I loved about most of the people I worked with was their willingness – and trust in me – to be able to admit when their heads were elsewhere, if a project was just sapping their enthusiasm, or if they were crushing to make a deadline and needed more hands.  I have no illusions looking back, which is why I inserted the word “most”.  I had my share of coasters and boasters, people who were hell-bent on kidding me almost as much as they were kidding themselves.  I still believe that allowing people the room to move within the rhythm of their lives when possible is the far better way to go.  I was able to keep my headcount low, people cross-trained and facile by creating an environment which emphasized personal ownership of the day ahead.  And laughter – yeah, there was a lot of laughter.  And an enormous amount of  individual and collective effort.  All it took was encouraging people to raise their hands.

discretion, humor, inspiration, leadership, management, motivation, work life

“Bridesmaids” Management Lessons

I know, it’s been awhile since I shared with you the many management lessons I learn while at the movies.  Yet as I watched Kristen Wiig dance her good-byes on SNL last Saturday, I remembered all that I gleaned from the deeply thoughtful, multi-layered and dare I say profound movie “Bridesmaids”.  Perhaps not as obtuse as Bergman, but this was her first screenplay after all.  I am sure this hasn’t been covered by Harvard Business Review because they are still debating the finer points of the movie.  So, I will offer them up first because I need not discuss this with anybody before I publish it…

1.  Just because you hand-pick some people to be part of your team, until they achieve a consistent rhythm of accomplishment through collaboration, they are merely a group.  It’s best to engage (ha – no pun intended) people with different personalities and strengths, for the synergy will be heightened.  So do the odds of potential discord – your challenge involves keeping everyone on track and focused on the goal.  If a group is left on their own too soon,  they may go out for tainted food and spend the afternoon in the bathroom.  Not a very productive outcome.

2.  Drinking is not a productive bonding activity.  As someone who used to conduct seminars on an employer’s commitment to equal employment opportunities and sexual harassment prevention, many of the examples provided involved social/work situations and alcohol.  When you’re with the team and when they’re with each other, everyone is on the company clock.  As inconvenient as that may be, it’s also the reality of the workplace.  Maybe you should consider bowling?

3.  Don’t accept medication from people you don’t really get along with.

4.  Realize that trust is an earned emotion and do whatever you can to make sure that it is never compromised.  I’ve often said that it is the foundation of every successful relationship – professional or personal.  It is also indicative of behavior that is consistent, reliable, informed and well-intended.  Most critically though – it is fragile – and difficult to restore when broken.

5.  Friends don’t let friends wallow.  Neither do really good supervisors.  Before you write-off a well-established employee, make sure you know whether a decline in performance is a result of a recent change in circumstances.  If you can help him/her – do so.  Performance does not sustain on a consistently positive trajectory – life gets in the way, bad days gets in the way, tragedy gets in the way.  We have to move past the perception that everyone’s performance gets better and better and better every day, month, year.  It’s just not true.

One last thought,  unless you’re Melissa McCarthy I don’t recommend trying to pick up a U.S. Marshall when traveling on business.

What you do on your own time, is entirely up to you.

Next movie moment?  Not sure – I’m thinking  “Star Wars” or “Snakes On A Plane”…More movie and management reviews to come…

inspiration, leadership, management, mindfulness, motivation, training, work life

Creating A Masterpiece

 

There’s a quote from John Ruskin that has been teasing me for the last few days…”When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”  I love the message, and think we often lose or sacrifice one of these two elements in the workplace.  I know what you’re thinking, ‘ are you really going to raise the spectre of love as an essential element of creation at work?’  Yup, I am.  Before you leap to disagree though, think about your best professional years – or moments – and what they required from you.

Certainly success involves skill – though arguably every success is not a masterpiece.  And not every act of love – as well intended as it may be – elicits a feeling of success.  If there is no love for what you commit to doing on a daily basis, I think your efforts are diluted by its absence.  And at least in the areas of work that I know well, there seems to be less attention given to loving what you do, and a skewed emphasis on just getting it done.  A friend of mine asked me recently where the ‘humanism’ in management has gone.  After participating in a panel discussion at a well known law firm, she was struck by the comments of young associates who attended the session.  Their expectations of upper management were narrow and indifferent, acknowledging that these first years in ‘big law’ required many hours of work, but little of the relational connectedness that makes the ridiculous time commitment worthwhile.  The concerns for their development were formulaic, the environment rich in superficial attention (if you’ve never been in the offices of big law, you’re missing some pretty magnificent work spaces) and sorely lacking in emotional investment.  We’re not talking about daily ‘kumbaya’ moments, rather the contagious, energizing sense that people were engaged in doing work that they loved.

The workplace in general is delicately positioned right now – on the one hand, employers want their people to do more with less; however less and less time is being spent considering what new ideas or programs can be put into play to engender enthusiasm and passion for individual effort.  So if you love the profession you’re in, and little is done to foster that indescribably powerful motivator, love will morph over time into benign acceptance.  The reality is that at some point each of us has the ingredients to create a masterpiece.  As a manager, director, chief officer, etc – what are your responsibilities to develop and/or sustain the professional and personal inventories from which your people can draw to create a masterpiece?   Or in the interest of production, does it even matter any longer that people love what they do?  Personally, I’ve done my damnedest to foster both love and skill instead of accepting skill and personal interest every time.  What about you?

leadership, life lessons, management, mindfulness, motivation, work life

I rarely re-blog, so you should know that when I do it’s because the post has quality content that prompts thought and consideration. No one offers this up better than David Kanigan’s blog Lead.Learn.Live – 🙂

Live & Learn

What does it take to be selected as one of the world’s most influential management thinkers?  You think and write like Umair Haque.  Someone who freezes you in your tracks.  And makes you ponder deeply.  This man operates in rarefied air.  This is the second of his posts that I’ve come across from the HBR Blog Network.  Skip my excerpts below and bang on this link to read the full post: The Next Big Thing.

Perhaps we’ve gotten a little too seduced by the quest for the Next Big ThingWhile it’s certain there will be a next big thing…that will redraw the boundaries of productivity, efficiency, effectiveness — perhaps, the biggest thing we need to face next is us.”

“…Not “us” in the vague, internetzy sense of “the collective.” But “us” as in the even more imprecise, yet razor-sharp sense of what pulses through you…

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