Sometimes I Get The Message

There was a comment waiting for me this morning that was posted on my “About Me” page.  It was from a manager with whom I used to work at the firm.  She moved on to greater professional opportunities years ago, and we keep in tacit touch on LinkedIn.  And though I remember her in detail, from her reluctant smile, that once shared lit up her entire face to her ardent wish to ‘do the right thing’ for her department – I never really expected to receive such a gift.

“Mimi, I saw this recently and thought of you.  So many times as a leader I reflect on your teachings and I am so very thankful to have them in my toolbox.  Thanks for the Lollipop and for the ones I’ve received because of you.”

And she forwarded along this Ted video.  And I cried (no surprise there).

www.ted.com/talks/drew_dudley_everyday_leadership.html

And the bottom line to all of this?  Be transparent, bring joy, offer people the best you have and if you can’t give them your best, certainly don’t bring them your worst.  Sometimes the farther one travels up the professional food chain, the more likely it is to see people getting by with the most off-hand and dismissive of efforts – after all, there is so much one has to do (yes, this is sarcastic).  I am humbled and honored that Vivia took the time to send me this.  I am appreciative of the reminder that this is really what it’s all about – period.  And my lollipop of choice?  Tootsie pops, hands down.

Tell It To Me Straight

248331366923238052_jpHEv0sP_cEveryone I know insists that they want to hear the truth.  I’m not sure everyone I know is being completely honest about this.  In fact, I think that most people prefer to hear selective truths.  I’ll go so far as to suggest that we all filter certain realities just so we can wrap our heads around their implications.

– I believe that my bathroom scale is digitally confused and vindictive – swinging wildly between two weights – one I can live with, the other requiring that I eschew food for the next year.

– I believe we’re all a little neurotic.

– I believe that I’m really not getting shorter, rather the units of measurement have changed since I was a young girl and no one told me.

– I believe that the answers to global warming, cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and world peace are moment’s away from being discovered.  And by this I mean, short moments.

– I believe in miracles.  It all depends on your definition of ‘miracles’.

– I believe that continuing to nest even after your kids have grown, married and established homes of their own, is absolutely fine.

– I believe it’s still ok to keep a pair of sneakers in the garage even though I’ve been married for decades and adore my husband.

– And I absolutely believe it’s ok to cry at Hallmark commercials.

On a more serious note, my reality includes the belief  that every dog has its day – and I’m not talking about canines here.  Somewhere along the way, people who intentionally demean or devalue others will be subject to a painful lesson or two.  Whether they get anything out of it or not, is something else entirely.  Given that this reality developed early in my professional career (perhaps as a way of dealing with a perverted boss who routinely made sexual overtures, comments, etc),  I encourage leaders to read this as a cautionary reminder.  If you surround yourself with people who tell you only what you want to hear, and not what you should hear, and agree to follow directives that are questionable and potentially ill-conceived, you will become a person that even you would not want to follow.  If you can’t effectively develop your people, you’re not a leader.  And of course when the day comes when you realize that people are following you because they are paid a lot of money to do it, you will understand that core values have flown the coop, along with respect, loyalty and collaboration.  Yes, I’m still passionate about this.  I’ve been in too many conversations with too many people lately who are feeling the effects of uninspired  oversight.

I realize I just broke one of my unwritten rules – not to write about leadership or management anymore.  My apologies.  I guess I believe that reality can be adjusted every once in a while to accommodate that which is scratching at your heart.

And at the end of the day, I believe that there are very few pure truths – though admittedly there are some.  What I feel when enveloped in a hug, the way I can make Andy laugh until his stomach hurts, the way the ‘I love you’s’ from my kids can grab me by the throat.  The tender velvet of a horse’s nose, the reality that gravity and I are really no longer friends, the magnificence of a cardinal posing in a fir tree.

Regardless of what you choose to accept or deny, I do believe that ultimately life has a way of working itself out.  I may not be around to see it, I may not participate in the moment – but believe me – today I choose to accept the reality that everything is going to be just fine.

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You Want To Talk Leadership? Talk To The Hand.

I realize that I’m opening Pandora’s box here and as such as I write this not without a some anxiety.  But I’m so vexed by and tired of the iterative articles about leadership, management, developing a vision and motivating people who I’m going to take the risk.

Stop reading these books.  Stop looking for a blueprint that is going to provide you with the path towards the outstanding development of people.  And definitely move away from any books which offer you ‘ten steps’ to a better anything.  Ok, here’s the one caveat to this whole mini-rant – if you find all of  this redundancy interesting, have at it.  Just don’t expect it to add to your tool kit, complement your style and/or turn you into an outstanding leader. And you know what?  There’s really nothing all that new under the ‘how to’ sun.

 

“Hypocrite”, you say – and you’re right.  I offer consulting services about these very topics.  I speak to groups about leadership and team engagement (though I admit that I am not your run-of-the-mill consultant and build programs that are hardly boiler-plate and mildly irreverent).   I’ve read more books than Doan’s has back pills.  And I come away with a different perspective.  If you want to be a great leader of people, learn about yourself  and the people around you first.  Do the obvious – build trust – be consistent, do what you say you’re going to do, engage people in dialogue, watch what they’re doing every day and ask for input.  Provide feedback – informal, formal – whichever,  as long as it’s consistent and regular.  No excuses – find the time.  Give people work that is going to help them expand their minds and their abilities.  Trust that they will do it well and if they struggle,  jump into the gosh darn fray and help them figure it out!  Credit the efforts of others and learn to be generous.  Set the bar high and make sure you’re hitting regularly and owning it when you miss.  Share information – often.  Problem solve out loud and encourage your team to understand how you think.  Not that much is confidential and the more you consider too ‘sensitive’ for others, the narrower the views you offer of the organization’s direction, which further compromises peoples’ understanding and ownership of their jobs.  Get over yourself and get into your people.  Reward accountability with more substantive responsibility.  Praise in a way that matters to the person.  Counsel in private.

And – if you’re going to be in charge of a department, a company, a branch office, etc, find yourself a leader you admire in your organization and ask them to actively mentor you.  Tell them you want him/her to call you on your mistakes, help you exceed the basic criteria and guide you in the nuance and delicacy of effective communication.  Role-play tough conversations; have someone read your draft performance reviews to make sure they’re substantive and meaningful.  And if you want to read a book – do so!!  Read biographies of the outstanding leaders in history (preferable those written by great writers so you don’t nod off), read poetry and essays about the human condition.  Read articles from futurists and pragmatists.  Read humor – it keeps us humble.  Expand your world view.  It’s bigger than your organization.  Practice being true to yourself and those around you.  Fall down.  Get up.  Ask for a hand.

 

To me these are the real lessons.

And the real lesson is for the C-level folks who are putting people into managerial positions and giving them how-to seminars to attend or provide in-house training and consider their jobs well done by doing so.  You’re not going to groom anyone for anything that way.  I left the firm as the culture I adored began to erode.  Whatever it now is, it is not something  for which I would evangelize.  Word is that there are vestiges of its value system, but time is moving the organization forward into a bureaucratic behemoth that is sacrificing much of its identity for newer, slicker and more expedient.  Times change, companies do what they need to do.  So it goes.  But what doesn’t change is the need for outstanding leadership and we have got to stop thinking that a ‘how to’ book or a lecture is the ultimate answer.  Get busy with the practice and doing and trying.  Organizations need to make effective mentorship a yearly objective for which executives will be reviewed and compensated.  That’s how you deepen the bench.  That’s how you strengthen your team.  You won’t find it on page 128.

Good Morning Monday

“[T0day] is a new day.  You shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense.” — Emerson

By Sunday night, the glow of the weekend begins to fade and the anticipation of another week begins.  Stomachs get tight, hands begin to rub temples and the list of all that needs to be done begins to grow into an unwieldy paper dragon flying around in your head wreaking all sorts of havoc on those synapses which had fired so calmly for two days.

 

I admit, I obsess – more often than not about the things I ‘should’ be doing with little regard for anything that I already did.  It doesn’t make for many internal feel-goods, I must say.  More importantly though I make myself crazy (with a nod to the reality that I’m already a garden-variety nut).  When I was working full-time this was just an accepted form of doing business.  Everyone had lists that seemed to procreate at night, so the next morning there were even more items than when you left.  A year later, I’m still a work-in-progress.  Learning to align what is important to me  with that which really has to happen is a tough assignment.  And it’s one we all have to assimilate at one point or another or we’re denying ourselves the one thing we know we have – right now.  Now, don’t dismiss me with the thought that I have no idea what’s on your plate, the pressure you’re under, how hard you have to drive yourself.  Not true – I do know.  I also know that you are far more important than anything you’ve got going on today.  And if you don’t at least try to take a bit of care of yourself today, at some point you won’t need to consider tomorrow.

So if you’d be so kind as to put one thing on your list this morning – and place it first.  YOU.  Find a little space today for you.  Close your office door for ten minutes (if you have a door).  Stay off of email for a few minutes and stretch your legs.  Let the call go to voice mail.  Not for so long that you begin to sweat and itch.  Just long enough to let your body catch up with your mind.  Long enough to close your eyes and smile with the delight that for ten little minutes you were unencumbered.

Happy Monday everybody..

Thoughtful Thursday

Oh Al I swear, you’re a genius!  Even before ‘multi-tasking’ became part of the social lexicon, you were decrying its effectiveness.  Good on you big guy, and lucky for the woman you were kissing in the car.  Better to pull over and focus.  A taboo idea I know – doing one thing at a time and getting it right.

When I was at the firm, he who juggled the most balls in the air without dropping any, won.  Yes, there were migraines, emotional short-circuits, missed anniversaries and birthdays – but man, could people juggle conference calls, client meetings, intra-office drama, toggling between dual monitors in their offices while checking Blackberries and texting on their iPhones.  Conversations – if that is what one chooses to call them – were stolen in the Starbucks line, or in fifteen minute intervals, or checked in a box.

You’re right – balls got dropped.  Perhaps not the ones that determine the size of a year-end bonus, and most assuredly not those that would compromise the zealous representation of one’s clients.

I spent a lot of time with people who had dropped the other stuff along the way – without thinking that the ramifications would be so profound.  The parent who routinely watched her daughter play in a sports tournament while emailing on her iPad and chairing a conference call and genuinely fretting because she and her child weren’t close; the husband who couldn’t reconcile the wonderful woman he had married with the raging, angry alcoholic she had become – for she had never shown any signs.  The affair that grew over time because neither person was ever home long enough for intimacy and friendship to grow roots there – though they insisted they tried.  They didn’t intend for this to happen.  The thrown blood clot that resulted from excessive time on planes and trains.  The pseudo-friendships that ended up defining one’s inner circle because there was no time to cultivate genuine loving relationships, and the resulting  isolation and loneliness that prompted yet another script for antidepressants.  The young associate who wept in my office upon discovering that this brass ring for which she had sacrificed much was not what she thought it would be and didn’t want to ride the carousel anymore – but for the enormous debt, mortgage and car payments.

No signs?  Really?

I didn’t judge it then, I’m not judging it now.  I do find the sincere disbelief…well, surprising.  We all struggle to do the right thing in the face of competing demands and increasing competition.  But what do you want to win?  And who are you kidding if you think that everything you are juggling has equal weight and heft, allowing you to balance it all equally?  The reality is that those weights change and morph according to time and circumstance.  Sacrifices will be made and balls will drop – that’s the reality.  There is also this inalienable truth – you have to decide what to focus on, what values you will only compromise so much and how to give the people you love the best of who you are.  Maybe you should focus on that kiss.