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, 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 (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


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…

View original post 338 more words

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

No Buts About It

When I was a newly minted teacher (please bear in mind, I started working when I was three), I was told that the word ‘don’t’ was anathema, verboten, that-which-is-never-said when disciplining young children.  So, instead of  saying “Jennifer, don’t run in the hall”, the correct guidance was “Jennifer – walk”.  “No shouting” became “Use your inside voice”.   On the one hand, I thought this was really trite and yet theoretically it seemed reasonable.   It was harder to change my speech pattern than I thought;  frequently used vocabulary become habitual.  Ultimately, this one lesson has remained in my head throughout my career.  In your day-to-day conversations,  do you think of how you’re framing your comments?  Have you listened to yourself lately?  Do your words inspire or deflate?

There are two incredibly demoralizing and powerful words that are regularly invoked in conversations – “no” and “but“.  I realize that there are times when both are necessary.  That said, there are more occasions than not when their utilization causes a far more adverse impact than we may intend.  How many people do you know begin their sentences with the word “no’?  If you listen, you will find that many do.  Even when agreeing with someone,  a response often begins with a negative.  A recent example of a conversation with my son:

“Hi sweetie pie, how are you?”

“No, I’m good.”

“Are you going to go see ________?”

“No, yeah in a little while.”

Though you could toss this up to idiosyncratic conversation, I can regale you with more examples in the workplace, at dinner with friends, in any number of environments than you would care to read.  We are in the habit of saying ‘no’ first.  When providing someone with feedback, we invoke the word ‘but’ as we try to give someone objective, constructive observations of his/her performance.  “The quality of your presentations are excellent, but you need to increase your productivity”.  As soon as the word ‘but’ is introduced into the sentence, the positive sentiment is diminished – if not completely forgotten.  And yet we do this all the time – at work, home, wherever…In my presentations I ask people to insert the word ‘and‘ in place of ‘but’ – the perception of the sentence changes remarkably.  At the end of the day there is no one without strengths and weaknesses.  As a developer of people’s’ abilities, it is your responsibility to find the most effective way to encourage growth and improvement.  Leave out the ‘but’ – try it.  It’s harder than it seems.

I further challenge you to count the times you say the word ‘no’ in a day.  Chances are you often don’t even think about or mean it, you’ve just incorporated into your pattern.  It takes little thought to recognize the impact of our words.  Arguably they are more important than ever before given that we live in a time when we speak with each other less and less, and assume people’s’ intents from 145 characters.

Conversations at Vermillion
Conversations at Vermillion (Photo credit: JeanineAnderson)

But don’t take my word for it – no, you really should find out for yourself.

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

The Feeling Is Mutual

It’s 1:45 in the morning and I’m sitting here at the Knights’ Round Table, with a cup of coffee and a heavy, unbreakable silence that pervades the house.  Even the Knights have dispensed with their evening wanderings — ensuring that the kingdom is secure before retiring to their abodes (e.g., my bed).  The last training session for this program ended today…um, yesterday, and my mind is racing with post-mortem thoughts that needed a place to go.

(In case you’re wondering I don’t look nearly as refreshed as this woman does)

I have told you about the level of engagement of the participants, the richness of our dialogue and the development of professional bonds which will likely continue and thrive.   On this, our last ‘official’ time together, the group surprised me (which is rare – I don’t ‘surprise’ easily).  I returned to the conference room after making a phonecall, and there they were standing together by the door, snapping their fingers and singing “we love you” (the melody was unclear but it definitely had a beat because everyone was dancing.  So…I danced too..)  To make this brief, we were laughing and I was fumbling around with my sense of wonder when they gifted me with a memory to last a lifetime.  They told me they thought I was terrific and wanted to thank me for our sessions.  A gift of personalized stationery and a  custom made t-shirt with a motto of mine (that’s a secret which will be revealed in another post).  What was just as astonishing were the personal messages each person wrote on a card to me.  Expressions of appreciation for the program and hopes for continued dialogue, one person called meeting me a ‘blessing’, every one commenting upon the impact the course had on them and their delight with the content and me as the facilitator.  I don’t want to overstate the incredible feeling this evoked in me, nor do I want to make this post about me.  It’s about them

You know how much energy I received from their collective and individual enthusiasm.  You can imagine the loyalty that I feel towards such a devoted group, and how much I want for them to continue striving to be the best managers in their offices.  And they will.  At one point, J asked me, “so what motivates you”?  And I realized that for me there is nothing more gratifying than positive connections.  I facilitated a program – their interest in the content fed my enthusiasm, my soul and my sense of purpose.  We can impact many, we can impact one.  And if fortune is kind, and those moments become integrated into a person’s way of doing business, his/her approach to others and their lives in general, then they have hit my motivational sweet spot.  These participants nailed it every Thursday – and yesterday gave me more than I feel I can ever return (but will continue to try).

I am sorry for their senior managers who don’t recognize the quality in their ranks, the innovative thoughts and strategies that are simmering on the back burners of ‘those in the trenches’.  If you don’t seek feedback from your direct reports about what they are seeing, what alternative approaches they are considering and whatever out-of-the-box ideas that are constantly germinating in the minds of those seeking to enhance and engage the workplace, you are missing the greatest resources available to you.  The workplace is morphing before our eyes – our challenge is to respond with forethought and consideration.  It serves no productive purpose to wait until the tidal wave of change washes over our offices and we are left shell-shocked and reacting to change far too late to do more than clean up the mess.  We have some tough decisions to make over the next few years – our staffing paradigms will change, virtual management is no longer a thirty minute sit-com called “Max Headroom” – it’s a reality.  Technology is allowing clients to demand 24/7 availability while it is also removing our gift of dialogue and the nuance of the written word.  The values upon which most firms were founded no longer hold up under scrutiny (hello Dewey LeBoeuf).  Who will respond to these waves of change?  People like those who attended this workshop.  These are the people who will do the hard prep if you ask them, ask provocative questions before they become moot and who truly want to create the best professional environment possible.  I send them love and thanks – they taught me so much and in exchange I feel like I really gave so little.  I only offered my time, some insight that experience and training have afforded me, and a genuine focus on their development.  It was my responsibility and my privilege.  When they return to their offices, I hope someone in a senior position does his/her job – listen to what these people have to say – and consider acting on their ideas.  I will miss them next Thursday, but I will remember them forever.

leadership, management, motivation, training, work life

Second – We All Work For Somebody

When Eric Clapton did a cover of the song “Serve Somebody”, it was clear he was talking spiritually.  It’s one of my favorite songs and I fold into the music and the words like Gumby (note to those reading this who are too young to remember Gumby, Eddie Murphy skits where he is pretending to

be Gumby or the cartoon show based on the character – I’m sorry).

This is Gumby..


…he has nothing to do with this post..

In the context of this commentary, when I reference ‘serving somebody’, I’m talking about work.  After all, we all report to someone – a boss, a management board, committee, owners, clients, etc.  I have written about my perspective on management’s responsibilities; I have not been as prolific about the corollary – the responsibility of direct reports.

There is an interesting article in “Inc” magazine titled “8 Things Great Bosses Demand From Their Employees” By Geoffrey James.  In brief, James maintains that the following represent the most important expectations an employer has of his/her direct reports:

“1.  Be true to your word

2.  No surprises, ever

3.  Be prepared on the details

4.  Take your job seriously

5.  Have your boss’ back

6.  Provide solutions, not complaints

7.  Communicate in plain language

8.  Know your real job”

Recognizing that direct reports could say the same things about their bosses, my view is that the list for them is longer and a bit different.  That said, if both groups could successfully meet these eight expectations, I think most organizations would be way ahead of the game.  Given that everyone answers to someone – what do you think of this list?  Does it seem reasonable?  Doable?  Do you take these expectations on, or are you waiting for your boss to do so (in which case, I would strongly recommend that you go ahead and do the right thing – it will serve you better in the long run).  What’s missing?  Regardless of where you are within your business community, I’d love to hear from you.  If we can make our work environment better, why not try to do so!

Gumby at the DIA
Gumby at the DIA (Photo credit: Jordawesome)